Simon Barnes again

My blog, yesterday, about Simon Barnes’s departure from The Times caused quite a stir.  It was read by more than 4000 people and received comments here but also mainly on Twitter.

Opinions were divided as to whether Simon’s departure (and yes, I should have called a sacking a sacking, not a redundancy – but sacking sounds so harsh) was anything or nothing to do with his outspoken stance on the evils of driven grouse shooting but that is why a quiet word in the ear is so effective – no-one knows it has happened.

I do know the story of one journalist whose life was made very, very difficult when he wrote some good stories, in journalistic terms, that were unpopular with some powerful people.  He moved to another paper to escape.

And I was amused to see that The Shooting Times (@ShootingTimes)  was claiming that its conservation writers, in which they count Robin Page, are amongst the best –  and apparently writes ‘every bit as well’ as Simon Barnes? Really? The Shooting Times also tweeted ‘Leaving aside unhinged theories over grouse moor owners, Simon Barnes’ departure from The Times might make it more balanced, less thunderous’ so there isn’t any doubt where the shooting fraternity’s sympathies lie. In fact, their enthusiasm to deny any role merely makes one wonder… (no, on this, they can’t win!!).

And it was a journalist on the Shooting Times who, a long while ago, told me that he had been threatened with losing his job at ST after writing something that was a bit critical of some grouse moor owners.  The threat came from a moorland manager who claimed he could fix for the journalist to be dismissed. And the name of the same moorland manager came up when another journalist wrote a critical piece for another shooting organ about the excesses of some grouse moors.  And I tell the tale in Fighting for Birds (p284) of the grouse moor manager who told me, in my own office at the RSPB, that he was a very powerful person in the Conservative Party and would make sure that the RSPB did not get a look in with the new government when and if the Conservatives got back into power (which they have). So, it isn’t impossible that such people seek to exercise whatever influence they have – and, in a way, I don’t blame them for doing so.

But we don’t know. It’s all speculation – but not completely idle speculation in my opinion. And remember, that Simon wondered about it too…

What is more certain ground is that many people respect and admire Simon Barnes as a writer – on sport, nature and anything else he writes about.  Many say they only read The Times for his writing, and whilst that may be an exaggeration, it captures a feeling of many others.

Zac Goldsmith MP (@zacgoldsmith) tweeted ‘Simon Barnes is one of this country’s most brilliant nature & sport writers. Very sad the Times has let him go: markavery.info/blog/‘.

Ben Goldsmith (@BJGoldsmith) tweeted ‘Wtf… why has @thetimes dropped Simon Barnes, brilliant writer on sports and nature?! He’s why I buy The Times: markavery.info/blog/’.

Prof Bill Sutherland (@Bill_Sutherland) of Cambridge University tweeted ‘Sad to hear the great sports and nature writer Simon Barnes has been sacked from the Times. Mark Avery speculates why bit.ly/1q9zX8v‘.

George Monbiot, author and Guardian writer, (@georgemonbiot) tweeted ‘Simon Barnes sacked by the Times. suspects might be due to his robust line on grouse moors. Censorship?: markavery.info/2014/06/25/cur…’.

London Wildlife Trust (@WildLondon) tweeted ‘Gifted nature writer Simon Barnes ‘let go’ by @hetimes – raptors to blame? @MarkAvery reports: markavery.info/2014/06/25/cur…’.

British Wildife Magazine (@britishwildlife) tweeted ‘V sad to see the great Simon Barnes leave The Times.  @MarkAvery on why it may have happened: markavery.info/2014/06/25/cur…’.

Journalist and writer Mike McCarthy (@mjpmccarthy) tweeted ‘Everyone interested in nature should read: Mark Avery on why Simon Barnes has been sacked from The Times see markavery.info/blog‘.

Quite a lot of Guardian readers would like Barnes in their paper…

I’ve been meaning to write about the wonderful World Land Trust for days, where I met Simon last week, I’ll try to do that later today  – and I’ll tell you who doodles.

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48 Replies to “Simon Barnes again”

  1. Despite my mentioning Robin Page in a reply yesterday he DOES NOT write anything like as well as Simon Barnes. It is interesting exercise in relativism when the Shooting Times reckons the debate is now more balanced without an opponent. Sadly, as comments have stated, many of us do not read (or buy) The Times so it is difficult to know what action to take but this is certainly a subject that requires wider coverage at the Bird Fair in a few months.

    With apologies to any Conservative supporters reading this blog, there is every indication that the protest vote in the General Election will go to Labour after feelings were made clear in the recent Euros and Council Elections. As I mentioned yesterday, there is likely to be further move away from conservation issues in the future if we stay with what we have or go down the radical road offered by UKIP. In this respect, it is more than possible there is a certain amount of sweeping the decks is going on and whether that will be reversed this time next year remains to be seen.

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  2. Well it seems as though Simon has upset Lord and Lady Posh Paws and the rest of the bang shoot brigade with his article attacking hen harrier persecution. Good on yer Simon. I have been a reader of the Times for more than 25 years but I didn't buy it yesterday and I won't buy it again. A poor stance by the this paper, please get yourself back on track.

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  3. "sacking sounds so harsh"

    It is. A spade is a spade, whether you call it a hand-held soil inversion implement or not. So let's be calling it how it is.

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    1. Filbert is quite right I'm afraid! Start calling things by the wrong name in employment matters & you then have very boring tribunal processes to deal with. Anyway - as Simon was sacked, it would only be the feelings of The Times that you're sparing and I don't think we should bother doing that!

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  4. Simon is such a good writer on both sport and nature conservation that it is difficult to nie impossible to believe the Times ceased to employ him in whatever way to cut costs. Quite why he has gone is not clear but it is clear that certain elements in the "great and the good" (sarcasm) don't like his views and may have the influence to do something about it------sad really it means in moral terms that they're afraid of loosing the argument, Sorry chaps you already have, its the practicalities we're debating now.
    As to this leading to a more balanced view, NO and Robin Page is nowhere near as good a writer and even if his views were not complete and utter tosh.
    I'm sure Simon will find further employment and look forward to that and continuing to read what he writes.

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  5. Simon Barnes = The Hen Harrier of Journalism?

    Extirpated in the middle of the night by dodgy dealings? Qietly organised on behalf of wealthy, influential clients? Tried to survive in an intensively, over-managed environment? Near extinction totally unconnected with powerful grouse-shooting interests? Some other cause of his sudden, unexplained disappearance?

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  6. Being a day late in catching up on the Simon Barnes/Times issue perhaps gives me the advantage of being reflective. And I like to think I can claim to have played a tiny part in helping Simon’s elevation to his position as senior sports correspondent. Namely that when, as a junior reporter, he wrote what I thought was a rather good piece criticising the recruitment of a former West Indian star fast bowler into a village cricket competition. Amongst the chorus of, dare I say it, pompous letters in the Times, insisting that winning was all, my letter of support for Simon stood out. And I was rather pleased that I had thought up and included the phrase “a display of misplaced competence”, in my letter. And regarding competence, I am pleased to say that many years ago we developed a programme to bring over each year a guide from Simon’s beloved Luangwa Valley reserve to monitor breeding birds on our own Elmley reserve in Kent. Including that great man Abraham Banda, whose competence is legendary in Zambia.
    What has all this to do with Simon being “let go” from the Times? Perhaps my message is that too much conservation writing has become too single issue or single focus. Most Times readers would know or care little about hen harriers or grouse moors. Simon has a deep passion and that risks coming across as being seen as demonising the entire profession of gamekeepers and grouse moor owners when it is a minority who break the law. Those are the ones that need condemning.
    The hen harrier/grouse moor tragedy is capable of being resolved. But that will only happen if there is goodwill on both sides. To widen the gulf between those who care passionately about hen harriers and those who carry the management responsibility for their habitat is not wise and is a move which will not help conservation in the long term. Moreover this risks creating a sense of alienation amongst those who spend their working lives out on these remote moors. They are the ones who have resources and ability to create wide benefits for conservation. The situation is eerily similar to the wide gulf that existed in those disturbed times of the 1970s and early ‘80s when farmers and conservationists were at war with each other. And yet through thoughtful nurturing by some great men led by Dr Norman Moore, then chief Scientist of NCC (Natural England’s predecessor body) the two sides came together and out of that togetherness developed the concept of agri-environment management which has grown to be a unifying force between today’s farmers and conservationists. A development which is universally supported.
    As someone who has the responsibility of managing two National Nature Reserves below sea level in south east England and being someone who doesn’t shoot, I couldn’t be further in distance or habitat terms from grouse moors, their management and their funding streams. But the principle of reconciling different interests is identical – namely to harness the energy, experience and enthusiasm of land managers for wider objectives. It can be done, as Simon Lester, the head keeper at Langholm is demonstrating. Why not develop his conservation management and diversionary feeding of hen harriers more widely and with the well developed and well tested conservation techniques of brood management, repopulate the areas of the UK, lowlands as well as uplands, that hen harriers used to occupy?
    It can be done. But only with goodwill on all sides. Is that too much to ask?

    PS I see that there are some well-reasoned (and modest comments) from one David Fursden including references to his ducks whilst batting. Might that be the same David Fursden who opened the bowling at Oxford with Imran Khan? And who now writes perceptive reports on the Future of Farming for Defra?

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    1. Philip - I see you are now Chair of the Hawk and Owl Trust - do you speak for them? I expect you are speaking in a purely personal capacity.

      It is not too much to ask for there to be goodwill on both sides - unfortunately it isn't present on the moor-managing 'side' and that tactical and strategic error is what has led the exasperated to run out of patience and over 5700 people to sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting. http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/65627

      What would the Hawk and Owl Trust's position be on banning driven grouse shooting in England? I note that your President is Chris Packham and that this is how he is quoted on the Hawk and Owl Trust's website:

      “The Hawk and Owl Trust feels that it is completely unacceptable for any bird of prey to be killed – and should remain absolutely illegal. It is time for all who want to make Britain a better place for birds of prey to take a firm stand,” said Chris. “We want to see the bad old days, when land managers tended to reach for the shotgun first, consigned to the past.

      “Yes, birds of prey are predators – but predation is both natural and essential for life. It drives evolution through natural selection and improves the genetic stock – the fitness – of both predator and prey species.”

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    2. Sorry Philip,
      I cannot agree that it is the minority of grouse owners and their keepers who are wildlife criminals. If that were the case there would probably still be pockets of harriers left in England, but the only ones this year are on United utilities land , yes grouse are shot there but its really a nature reserve with shooting. Of course its not just Hen harriers either there are NO occupied Peregrine nests to speak of throughout the whole of the Pennine chain on land where grouse are shot, Short eared owls are becoming as rare as hen's teeth. It cannot be given those facts, an efficient few, it has to be the majority. A colleague, a retired WCO once said the only keepers that don't kill harriers are the ones with no harriers.
      Supplementary feeding fine, but where its applied to single pairs in thousands of acres it still perpetuates the myth that these birds are an anathema to grouse shooting when the figures show for every 5000 acres of grouse moor there should and could be two pairs of harriers without damage to the number of grouse going over the guns ( so thats the minimum we should accept and expect)
      Brood management will not and should not provide harriers for any lowland reintroduction programme, they should be allowed to go near where they came from and besides which there should be no brood management until we have healthy populations.
      H and O trust walked away from the Environment Council led harrier dialogue because presumably of the obduracy of the game lobby, as did NERF and nothing has changed.
      For any future plan to work there need to be both targets and sanctions, currently the DEFRA proposals as I understand it have neither, so we are no further forward than 6 years ago.

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  7. It seems unlikely that we will become any the wiser regarding Simon Barnes sacking at The Times. We may however get some indication with the coverage it gives to events on 10th August!

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  8. Don't know why someone of the calibre of Simon Barnes was writing for the Murdoch press anyway. Hopefully now, he will join a newspaper more suited to his talents.

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  9. Mark, I replied from my iPhone yesterday but nothing seems to have appeared. So here goes again.
    Yes, I was writing in a personal capacity. My time as chairman of the FWAG Advisory Council convinces me (and most others) that the greatest conservation gains are made by reconciling interests rather than by confrontational, adversarial attitudes which all too often are counter productive. It appears that you and I have a different approach. You prefer the adversarial, whilst I believe that working together in the long term will deliver greater wildlife gains.
    It goes without saying that all within the Hawk & Owl Trust (and I hope elsewhere) condemn the illegal killing of birds of prey. As set out by the President on the H & OT website.
    To answer your question, the H & OT has, to the best of my knowledge, never discussed the banning of grouse shooting. Hence it has no position on the issue.

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    1. Philip - thank you. Mobile phones are tricky things aren't they - nothing arrived 'here' from you until now.

      Please don't tell me what I think. No, I don't favour adversarial attitudes. Not until the approaches of reconciliation have been given a fair crack of the whip and failed completely. That is where we are with the grouse shooting community - there have been decades of attempted compromise and things have got worse not better. The time for talking has to come to an end eventually otherwise the intransigent, and in this case, criminal, get their way because the reasonable bend over backwards to be reasonable. If you bend over backwards too far you fall flat, not on your face but on your backside.

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  10. Thanks Mark. Perhaps I should have said that your writings give the strong impression that you prefer the adversarial stance whilst I, as I have said many times before, prefer to take a different approach because I (and most others) believe that will bring greater wildlife gain in the long term.
    Reconciling interests does work. AS you know Elmley NNR now holds by far the largest numbers of breeding waders in lowland Britain and yet is widely thought to be the best place in the South East to see really good numbers of birds of prey. Marsh harriers do take a number of wader chicks but the lapwing etc population can still increase because our conservation management ensures really good chick productivity. So it is possible to reconcile different different interests. With good will and support to both species.

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    1. Philip - if only grouse moors were full of waders (they are good for them, some are very good for them) and full of Hen Harriers (you'll struggle to find any across England or Scotland on grouse moors). I'd rather you didn't keep trying to paint yourself as reasonable and me as adversarial - it isn't supported by evidence if you look across our work as a whole.

      I don't know that Elmley has the largest number of breeding waders in lowland Britain, even though you tell me that I do. Is that right? More than The Ouse Washes - maybe (because they keep being flooded), The Somerset levels? (maybe - because they are drained and farmed too intensively), more than the Norfolk Broads ? (maybe), more than the Nene Washes - maybe? Where can I look this up please?

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  11. Apologies Mark but adversarial is the impression that comes across from your writings.
    Re your question, have a look at the last Survey of Breeding Waders of Wet Grasslands. From memory, the last survey which covered 265,000 acres revealed that the 2400 acres of lowland wet grassland at Elmley (ie less than one percent of the area of the survey) held ten percent of the breeding lapwing, eleven percent of the breeding oystercatchers and fifteen percent of the breeding redshank. Since then the numbers of breeding waders at Elmley has risen but tragically the numbers if breeding waders has declined nationally. For the reason that is now understood and acknowledged by Natural England and others that in the past too little attention was paid by conservation managers to chick productivity.

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    1. Philip - you haven't read widely enough then. Isn't it somewhat adversarial to keep telling me I am adversarial? Not that I mind at all.

      I'm not sure that my piece on Open Farm Sunday was terribly adversarial was it? And how about that blog on Plantlife's Seaton Meadows - was I picking a fight there? Maybe that piece on the butterflies at Glapthorn was just looking for a fight too? No, I don't think so. You can try to paint me that way if you like, but don't expect it to be passed without comment here where the evidence is there for all to see.

      I say again, in a different way to make the same point, it is, as a betting man, horses for courses. Where one is talking to reasonable people then much can be achieved but it is madness only to use talk as your means of achieving change - the deaf won't respond.

      I don't have that survey to hand. how many Snipe are there at Elmley? I'm genuinely interested - perhaps you could look out the figures that back up your claim. I guess you are right, I'm not being adversarial. And did you mean numbers or densities? They are quite different as I'm sure you know. Please clarify.

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  12. Gosh, Mark, do you really want me to cherry pick quotes from your writings where you have been adversarial. That would be adversarial of me.
    Unlike you, I don’t believe that the right horse for the grouse moor course is to be adversarial. You do and that is a difference between us.
    Re your question regarding numbers of breeding snipe at Elmley - of course, as you know, they are very rare. As you know better than I, breeding snipe are conditioned to prefer peat soils rather than the silty clays of Elmley. Which are of course, are far too hard and impenetrable for their probing beaks. In fact, you might remember that early RSPB research work on breeding waders was carried out by Rhys Green on peat sites. The results of his excellent work were unable to be transferred to clay soils, which at the time, was not wholly understood or appreciated by conservation managers. I have noticed that Dutch ecologists working on breeding waders often carry a spade with them for that reason. Something that I have not seen in lowland UK.

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    1. Philip - so you do accept that sometimes I'm adversarial and sometimes I'm not. That's progress. I'd agree with that and, as I've said, its' because sometimes it is the right thing to do and sometimes it isn't - yes, you and I may disagree on when but that's progress.

      Just dig out the references or the figures for breeding waders for me please. I'd like to know what they are. And Snipe are of course breeding waders. And was it density or numbers that you meant?

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  13. Thanks, Mark. I guess that my point is that you can be adversarial to the very people who have the greatest potential to do the most for wildlife throughout the farmed countryside. Your book ‘Fighting for Birds’ is a really good read and I would recommend it to anyone (plug, plug). Doubtless anything that you wrote in your major book was something that you thought about very carefully. And had the time to think about it before publication. Hence, what a shame that in your book, you have made four references to the NFU (pp 108, 121, 255 and 319) and two references to the CLA ( pp 140 and 286) all derogatory or mildly derogatory. At the end of the day the NFU and the CLA are the organisations that represent the farmers and landowners who are the custodians of the overwhelming majority of the countryside and the overwhelming majority of its wildlife. And on the very last page (p 319) of your book you list the NFU as one of your three main enemies - is that not really adversarial.
    What a difference to Dr Norman Moore (former Chief Scientist at Nature Conservancy Council) who, in his book, ‘The Bird of Time – the Science and Politics of Nature Conservation’ wrote (p 104) “No group of people can do more for conservation than farmers, the people who manage most of the countryside. Conservationists and farmers have been kept apart when they should have been working together.”
    So perhaps you can see that I believe that the Norman Moore approach will deliver more for wildlife in the long term.
    Re your question about numbers of breeding waders – as you know this is something that really interests me. The data is in the office at Elmley. I will dig out the figures when I am up there over the weekend and pass them on to you. I am probably more interested in them than you!

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    1. Philip - I'd be interested in the wader numbers, genuinely. It's always good to look at the evidence.

      And so, let's look at the evidence you quote above. Much as I would like the readers of these comments immediately to go out and buy the few remaining copies of Fighting for Birds I will quote the six passages to which you refer:

      p108-9: 'There has been a distinct lack of action from those leading the farming community, such as those at the top of the National Farmers Union, to adopt and promote this proven and effective remedy for the skylark's problems despite the research having been done, the effectiveness proved and the money being there. It's difficult to see how conservationists could do more to provide an easy way for farming to look good than this, and yet the majority of the arable farming community has shunned the option and shunned the skylark.'

      p121: The NFU is a powerful force in the world of agriculture and it is a union for farmers. It isn't there to be nice to wildlife - which is just as well because I can't remember it being nice to wildlife for a long time.'

      p255: It's worth remembering that in the UK the National Farmers Union strongly supports biofuel production and also maintains that food production should override biodiversity protection in public policy. In the real world it is difficult to support food production and biofuel production at the same time without looking hypocritical or stupid.

      p319: Recognise the enemies of environmental progress. Once you have your own environmental agenda you will recognise that others are working against it. At present my top three might be the Chancellor,George Osborne; the NFU; and those gamekeepers who shoot hen harriers. Don't let their views go unchallenged and don't let them think that the world hasn't noticed what they are saying, or agrees with it. You must choose your own enemies, but have a look around and you will surely find some.

      p140: Despite the fact that businesses in the local tourist industry were very keen on the proposed reintroduction to coastal Suffolk, the local CLA trotted out a lot of scare stories about eagles scaring and eating free-range pigs and poultry - rather to the embarrassment of their HQ colleagues, I always thought.

      p286:It was a good meeting and we all walked around the farm and looked at the crops and skylark patches. The CLA regard ragwort as a terrible weed and campaigned against it then, as now. we stopped at one point to talk and one of their number said 'You've got a lot of ragwort here' and his companions all agreed with him and each pointed to a nearby different flower. Amazingly, not one of them was actually a ragwort plant.

      Thank you for letting me reprise those rather good passages from my little book - not 'major' - why did you use that word?

      Of these 6 examples, I would say one is an anecdote which shows that people who live in and own the countryside don't always know much about its wildlife, two (eagles and skylark patches) are criticisms of past behaviour, one is a criticism of a self-contradictory policy position, and two are there to make the point that we shouldn't expect a farmers' union [notice that the criticism is directed almost exclusively at the NFU and not at farmers throughout Fighting for Birds} to do nature many favours and it doesn't.

      What exactly are you complaining about?

      Those very passages could have been filled with praise for NFU and CLA if they had done the right thing for the environment. They didn't. You can't expect praise for doing the wrong thing. Or maybe you do?

      By the way, I rather admire David Cameron's completely futile but principled vote against Juncker to head the Commission which he lost 36-2. Do you? Or do you regard him as sadly adversarial? He's on the radio now saying that he was right even though he lost. I probably don't agree with Cameron on this (I'm not really sure) but I admire him standing up for what he believes. Don't you?

      Anyway, I think you'll find me writing a blog on this fairly soon, when I will pick up your points ion Norman Moore, so thanks for the inspiration. And thanks for the comment anyway - I like a decent challenge, and yours is certainly fairly fair comment.

      You must cringe with embarrassment when you see the stuff that is written about nature conservationists in the shooting and farming press. How adversarial are they?

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  14. Philip, you've still not answered the question about it not being a minority of keepers who persecute. Surely the few harriers that have nested on grouse moors over the last ten years cannot all have been unfortunate enough to pick estates that persecute, nor can those harriers that have disappeared during the winter only picked estates that persecute or may be only estates that persecute have suitable sites for peregrines to breed? That seems statistically impossible.

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    1. How unlikely does a theory have to be, before it becomes a conspiracy? Simon Barnes sacked because he likes harriers and had to be silenced? Just the odd rotten apple killing all the harriers? Maybe the latter is just still plausible enough to be a theory as, unlike the immobile barrel variety, the tweed-wearing and gun-toting variety of bad apple are free to travel across the English uplands.

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  15. Mark - Glad that you think that this is all fair comment. You are not alone in liking a decent challenge. I agree with you that some stuff written in the farming press is adversarial about conservation and pretty dreadful stuff. But I can’t imagine any former long serving senior officer of the NFU describing the RSPB as the enemy and putting them in a list of three together with those who break the law. Gamekeepers who shoot hen harriers can be your (and my) enemy but putting them alongside the NFU ??
    My point is- why alienate the representative body of those who manage the majority of the countryside and the majority of its wildlife. When they are the ones who have the most potential to do the most good for wildlife.
    Re your question about the breeding wader numbers – I will dig them out of the office for you today. You have got me really interested.

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    1. Philip - because being nice to the NFU hasn't worked. Being nice to individual farmers does work - and that's why, when I was Conservation Director, the RSPB put much more resource into this aspect of our work whilst still having a go at the NFU because the NFU espouses bad policies which will harm the environment. The Volunteer Farmer Alliance could hardly be called an adversarial approach could it?

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  16. Paul. I am certainly not a representative of gamekeepers and can’t answer for them. I manage nature reserves in south east England – a long way from grouse moors and what goes on there. But might one reason (in addition to those shameful gamekeepers who break the law) why hen harriers fail to rear young might be that their ground nest eggs and fledglings are vulnerable to ground feeding predators such as foxes?

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    1. Philip - you are now talking nonsense. Harriers are absent from most grouse moors in the UK and present in moorland areas which are largely free of driven grouse shooting. So the Hen Harriers are most abundant on the mainland where gamekeepers are at low densities and foxes, presumably, are at higher densities, whereas they are almost absent from the most-keepered areas where foxes are presumably at their lowest densities. You are trotting out a rural myth that is not supported by any evidence at all - we call it the 'cuddled by a keeper' myth.

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    2. Philip - As at 23rd June there are eleven Hen Harrier nests on Langholm Moor and this report:

      http://www.langholmproject.com/project.html

      discusses predator control, amongst other things.

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  17. Thanks, Mark. However individual farmers don't represent the farming industry as a whole, whilst the NFU does. Moreover the overwhelming majority of farmers take their lead and form their opinions from the NFU, not from individual farmers.

    Will be off the air now for today.

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    1. Philip - and that's the point, although many farmers would disagree with you that the NFU represents them at all (there have been many such comments on this blog over the years).

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  18. Wow – Eleven hen harrier nests at Langholm this year. Brilliant. The manager of Langholm, head keeper, Simon Lester and his wife Paula came to Elmley in May and it was a privilege to learn of his inspirational management at first hand. These results do show how gamekeepers can deliver the greatest conservation gains. I hadn’t heard your “cuddled by a keeper” phrase before Mark but it certainly seems to be true at Langholm Moor.

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    1. Philip - if you are coming back to Hen Harriers as a subject then maybe you could answer Paul's question? Or maybe you can't?

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  19. I quite agree with you Mark that many farmers don’t belong to the NFU but the key point is that the NFU represents most farmers and certainly represents the farming industry. And it is the farming industry that has responsibility for the overwhelming majority of the country’s wildlife. So why make an enemy of them?

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    1. Philip - ah, it's me that has made an enemy of them is it? Sounds like you would have favoured Chamberlain over Churchill (not that I am either, of course). That approach worked really well, didn't it?

      And you haven't answered the question about David Cameron being adversarial, I notice.

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  20. Mark, I am grateful to you for asking (and hence galvanising) me to dig out the breeding wader figures.
    The last full survey of lowland breeding waders was published by BTO/RSPB as the Survey of Breeding Waders of Wet Meadows (Wilson et al 2004). This covered 365,000 acres ( sorry not 265,000 as in my earlier comment) of the best areas of lowland wet grassland. Which included Avon Valley ESA, Norfolk Broads ESA, Lower Derwent, Nene Washes, North Kent Marshes ESA, Ouse Washes, Somerset Levels ESA and Suffolk River Valley ESA.
    The survey showed that the North Kent Marshes held by far and away the largest numbers of all breeding waders and far and away the largest numbers of Oystercatchers, Lapwing and Redshank. Not surprisingly the N Kent Marshes held no Snipe or Curlew – the other two breeding wader species covered in the survey.
    In summary, the survey revealed that 2400 acres of lowland Elmley held 10% of the breeding Lapwing, 11% of the breeding Oystercatcher and 15% of the breeding Redshank in the whole of the 365,000 acres of the country’s best lowland wet grassland that was surveyed. In terms of the whole of the North Kent Marshes, Elmley held 53% of the breeding Redshank, 57% of the breeding Oyster catcher and 64% of the breeding Lapwing.
    By the time of the survey (2002) we had been managing Elmley positively for breeding waders for 15 years (since 1987). As you know Mark, during those 15 years we had focussed our conservation management on enhancing wader chick productivity by ensuring that all components of conservation management (cattle grazing, grass length, water retention, rill creation and predator control which we believed were all crucial to ensure satisfactory chick productivity), were managed to the highest standards. Since 2002 it is well documented that breeding wader numbers tragically have declined nationally due to wader chick productivity being largely ignored by conservation managers. Whilst we are pleased that numbers of breeding waders at Elmley have increased due to the reasons above.
    We don’t believe that management for breeding waders is rocket science, we just carry out conservation management that ensures that chick productivity is large enough to ensure a rising population and which creates a surplus that can emigrate and re-populate other sites.
    You may ask what does all this have to do with hen harriers and grouse moors. Namely it shows that large numbers of marsh harriers (and other birds of prey) can exist with large numbers of breeding waders by virtue of focussed conservation management. Just as Simon Lester is demonstrating at Langholm Moor with hen harriers and grouse.
    Please find breeding wader survey table in the next comment from me as my computer skills aren’t good enough to include it in this post.

    Note added by Mark - I'm afraid my computer skills haven't been up to it either Philip (I've tried!). The table does, indeed show that in terms of numbers and densities, the North Kent Marshes, of which Elmley forms a part, is right up there: top, now (interesting historical changes), in terms of numbers, and quite good in terms of densities (I'm sure Elmley itself would be very good in terms of densities). There is a lot of fascinating information in there, and I may try to come back to it some time soon.

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  21. Mark
    I just can't seem to cut and paste the breeding wader survey table and post it as a comment on your blog. Sorry about this. I will send it to you by email and hope that your computer skills are better than mine. Which I am sure they are.

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  22. Mark – I was interested that you thought that I would be “livid” about Shooting Times. As a result of your blog I had an eventful time this morning picking up a copy from our local newsagent as I was diverted by a mag emblazoned with “New Hot Shoot” across the front cover. A publication which had found its way to the country pursuits section down from its more discrete position on the topshelf.

    No Mark, I don’t feel livid – just sad that the grouse moor/hen harrier debate is getting more adversarial. My firm view is that the hen harrier numbers can be increased only if there is good will on both sides. Which is something that is lacking at the moment and which is something that I banged on about at length in my comments to your blog of 26th June headed “Simon Barnes again”. Thanks for allowing that debate on your blog.

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    1. Philip, you say "numbers can be increased only if there is good will on both sides"
      As Mark has repeatedly said conservationists have been offering goodwill to no effect.
      Tell us how you would go about getting goodwill and adherence to the law from the shooting fraternity?

      Bit late I know but have only just come across this blog.

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  23. Simon Barnes is a brilliant writer. His latest article from a questioner at Minsmere was so poignant and an absolutely wonderful piece of writing.
    Robin Page - would not bother with his articles ever, too right wing for me.
    In passing Mark, if you read this comment have you seen the film cowspiracy? If not please watch.
    That film encapsulates what is really destroying the environment worldwide.

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