BBC Wildlife – I have a small grouse

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons
Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

BBC Wildlife is a pretty good magazine, but I have a bit of a grouse with them.

In the current issue (May – a lion on the cover) there is an article on Hen Harriers (to which I shall return more fully later today) in which I am quoted (as is Tim Baynes of Scottish Land & Estates).

Our comments, which appear in quotation marks, are in response to the question ‘Do we need grouse shoots?

BBC Wildlife asked me for 100 words on the subject and these were the words that I sent them:

Without grouse moor management our uplands would be different – and better. They would be more like Scandinavia with fewer red grouse but more black grouse. The blanket bogs would be in better condition and store more water (reducing flooding downstream) and carbon as peat. Too much of northern Britain is an industrially managed grouse-shooting factory where one economically important species is given priority over everything else including protected raptors such as hen harriers. Funnily enough, elsewhere in the range of the red (or willow) grouse, the Swedes, Russians and Canadians aren’t planning to introduce grouse shooting to save their wildlife!‘ 100 words

and this is what BBC Wildlife quoted:

Too much of Britain is an industrially managed grouse-shooting factory where one species is given priority over everything else including protected raptors. Without grouse moor management our uplands would be better, with fewer red grouse but more black grouse. The blanket bogs would store more carbon as peat, and more water, reducing flooding downstream.‘ 54 words

If BBC Wildlife had wanted 54 words, I’d have sent them 54 words – and they wouldn’t have been the 54 they used.

It’s a little thing, but when I am quoted I want to be quoted accurately.  If you ask for my opinion then please don’t change it without asking.

I quite like the last sentence of my original quote (which is why I wrote it!) – if grouse shooting is such a great thing for wildlife, why isn’t everyone doing it?

Is it likely that an economic land use introduced into a small part of the world in the last 2-3 centuries is ‘needed’? No!

More on the BBC Wildlife article later today…



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20 Replies to “BBC Wildlife – I have a small grouse”

  1. Because of course the none-shooting lands and RSPB reserves are teeming with Black Grouse... D'oh!

  2. That's rather unprofessional editing Mark. It's not your quotation if they chop and change it as they please.

      1. Irritation would seem to be the appropriate level of response. As far as I can see the published 'quote' does reflect the same stance as the original text provided even if some of the punch has been diluted due to the excisions. Whilst I can appreciate that the demands of page layout may have necessitated a cut in the number of words it was not very polite to not run it past you and I am entirely unclear as to why it was considered necessary to re-order the bit that was retained.
        That said there have been many much more egregious examples of misquoting or quote mining that have resulted in the quoted person's views being thoroughly misrepresented.

        1. Jonathan - you often put things just how I would have liked to do - and you done so again there. Thank you.

          (Isn't egregious a great word? We should use it more often. It is after all the 'E' in Defra)

  3. Every thing points to Red Grouse management destroying Black grouse even to the point they were classed as 'vermin'. The responses from most estates to return Black Grouse have been very limited to planting a few gorges. Even at Langholm Black Grouse habitat has been destroyed with public money to try and increase Reds!!

  4. Kie - record numbers at Geltsdale this year but the dreaded disease from red legs and pheasants may be just around the corner!!

  5. Mark, I have a lot of sympathy for your grouse on this one. Too many people have the same problem - not just with the BBC (although they are reckoned to be the worst offenders) but with the media generally. In the end, the media have absolute control over the content and they manipulate it to suit themselves. Perhaps that's why some blogs are getting so popular.

    The BBC in particular seems to regularly make assumptions about the limited attention spans and intelligence of their viewers and readers, which are founded only upon the remoteness of the North London "intellectual elite" from the rest of us. The result is serial bad manners and arrogance. That is one reason why the BBC licence fee is coming under increasing pressure.

    So, your blog is the only medium where you will be able to properly tease out the issues which are of interest to you and those who read it. In dealing with the BBC, you just need to resign yourself to the fact that any issues that you want to address will be trivialised into soundbites that suit their agenda, whatever that may be.

    Best wishes,


    1. David, many thanks for your comments. Just for clarity's sake, BBC Wildlife Magazine is based in Bristol and is not part of the public BBC, but is published by a separate company, Immediate Media, under licence from BBC Worldwide. It sounds complicated, but effectively Immediate Media returns some profits to the BBC to help subsidise its activities and the licence fee, in return for publishing a range of BBC titles under licence.

      We do however adhere to the same very rigorous BBC Editorial Guidelines as content produced by the public BBC.

      Like you, David, we are big fans of Mark's blog.

  6. I commissioned our hen harrier article (in the May issue, on sale now - It was more than a year in the planning, and we're grateful Mark and others agreed to be quoted.

    I'm proud to be putting the issue of hen harrier conservation on the front cover of a magazine on sale in shops nationwide.

    Like many publications we edit text for space, take that job extremely seriously, follow stringent editorial guidelines (more demanding in fact than those of many national newspapers) and have no editorial line to peddle.

    Like Mark I'm a writer, as well as an editor, and no writer likes being edited. So I understand Mark's frustration because I've felt it myself - that last sentence was great and could be the basis for a whole article in its own right. Unfortunately it's impossible to always commission text to the exact length required for the final page design. We do run quotes past contributors and if that didn't happen this time, then there was a slip-up in our production process.

  7. @ John Miles

    Last month I saw lots of black grouse on Langholm. Which bits of their habitat have the LMDP destroyed?

  8. Blimey Mark,

    I wonder if Tim Baynes was also subject to editing. Happens all the time. Of course, it's far worse by the broadcast media, unless you're lucky enough to get airtime on a live broadcast.

    1. Keith - thanks. You'll notice that I have removed about half the words from your comment and changed the word order. I think I have retained the gist of it. You probably thought that in submitting a comment to this blog it would appear, under your name, without editing didn't you? Although in your case you weren't specifically asked to give your opinion (though I am very happy that you do and have) in a certain number of words as I was by BBC Wildlife.

      It is the policy of this blog to publish comments in full, unedited. In the rare instances when that doesn't happen I have always flagged up, until yours above, in the comment, that words have been removed (and usually given an indication of how many and where). My only reason for editing comments is if they use inappropriate language, are personal, give away information that might be harmful to the safety of wildlife or something like that.

      Of course, if you have a blog you may now publish your full unedited comment and try to tell people that that is what you actually submitted to this blog. Good luck with that.

      1. Ho, Ho, Ho.

        Interesting to note that 'censorship' is alive and well in the UK's media in the 21st century - Robin Page and many others have been saying so for a long time now.

        Of course the print media have always, and will always, sub-edit in order to make it fit into the column/page, around photographs and advertisements and the like. The art of the sub-editor (I'm told) is to make it fit into the available space without losing the thrust or meaning of the copy.

        I guess the magazine's staff felt that the content excised was superfluous and that the sub-editor's rearrangement was more elegant or put the issue at hand more succinctly and would make it more readily understandable to their readership or suchlike - who knows? I suppose the 100 words quoted was a sort of guideline or limit - indicative not authoritative. Haven't seen the article itself, so hard to make a judgement. Might saunter into WH Smith's later and take a peek....... BTO pergrine survey first if the rain stops.

        My original comment (from memory) below. Not a bad effort at sub-editing on your behalf!

        Blimey Mark,

        Surprised you haven't been subject to sub-editing in the past. Happens to mere mortals all the time I'm told. It's far worse in the broadcast media of course, unless you're lucky enough to get airtime on a live broadcast. I wonder if Tim Baynes' comment was also sub-edited........

        BTW, visited Elmley National Nature Reserve on Wednesday - trackback to your blog of 3rd March 2014. What a joy to see such a profusion of breeding waders and other birds there. Haven't seen the like since my days living by the Waddenzee/Wattenmeer in N W Germany. The Merricks family have really nailed the formula for conservation of declining waders - see here I commend their 5 point 'recipe' to all other individuals/organisations trying to do similar!

        The reserve is a glowing example of landscape-scale conservation in action and producing stunning results for red-listed, priority, Biodiversity Action Plan species and others. Not far from London, so well worth a visit for city dwellers who want to refresh their spriits and indeed for anyone else who happens to be in the area......

  9. Peter - A large % of the 'white ground' has been 'mob stocked' to kill it and the keepers want to remove large areas of birch. Hard winters show that Blacks need Birch to survive. This winter I have not seen 1 Black in trees due to the mild weather but remove the trees and blacks will crash when winters return.

  10. Good comment from JW up the page

    However - I think Mark is more than owed a grump for this. Quotes mean quotes as far as I'm concerned - if edited the article could have reported "Mark Avery said that ... etc".

    I hope they paid for the 100 words. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't - too many cheapskate outfits expecting free copy or info in order to help them make a living. I was sent a link yesterday to an online questionnaire to help some survey monkey collect info (for which he gets paid) for a very large world-weary fund which he claims will only take 15 minutes for me to do. That's 25% of anyone's hourly rate - for nothing. It represents a considerable loss of organic walnuts and hand-knitted hummus for Mrs C, so I won't be doing it.

    Instead, I will be suffering from irritable owl syndrome - qv


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