The latest in the series of BAWC podcasts ahead of Hen Harrier Day (it’s difficult to keep up!) is a fascinating interview with Andrew Gilruth of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. You should listen to it here.
I don’t know Andrew Gilruth, as far as I recall we’ve never met, but I was very impressed by his performance. It was very slick and it was a long interview on a difficult subject. If I were his boss I’d be pleased with how he had performed.
I do know Charlie Moores, a bit, and I was impressed by his questioning too – it’s not an easy job and I thought Charlies did it with his characteristic politeness and a few pointed questions.
Good though I thought Andrew Gilruth’s performance was, I found it unconvincing. You see what you think.
He deserves some plaudits for being fairly clear that the cause of the lack of Hen Harriers on grouse moors across the UK is indeed criminal activity by gamekeepers. It’s not often that we hear this, and it’s not often that clear. Well done, Andrew! In other words, driven grouse shooting is currently based on illegal activity as many of us have been saying for quite a while.
The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s response to driven grouse shooting (the pastime and business of many of their members) being based on illegal activity is to say that we have to tackle the crime and the motive for the crime. This sounds quite clever but isn’t very clever in this particular case. Tackling the crime, catching the criminals, is very difficult given where these crimes happen (on remote hillsides at any time of the day) and that’s one of the reasons why so much wildlife crime occurs in the uplands – the criminals know they won’t get caught.
Tackling the motive for the crime is a bit tricky too because it is based on the biological reality that Hen Harriers, given the chance, will eat Red Grouse before grouse shooters get the chance to shoot them. We can’t tackle the biology very easily.
The motive for killing Hen Harriers is, thus, entirely rational (though illegal) and is designed to maintain the profitability of driven grouse shooting as a business and a ‘sport’. So how do we deal with the motive? We can’t change the biology and the proponents of driven grouse shooting have shown no sign of wanting to give an inch. This is one reason, not the only one, why we should quite simply ban driven grouse shooting. It’s a sport or a business that depends on illegal behaviour and its proponents want to keep making money and/or enjoying themselves by shooting grouse and they don’t want Hen Harriers (Golden Eagles or Peregrine Falcons) mucking it up. That’s why the whole thing is intractable, that’s why licensing of grouse moors is unlikely to work and that’s why we should ban it.
This clearly wouldn’t suit the GWCT and their grouse-shooting members, so they have come up with a ‘plan’ referred to in the interview. The ‘plan’ is sometimes called the ‘joint plan’ but it is only agreed by those who are the proponents of grouse shooting. It’s not a plan that is agreed by the RSPB which is a member of the group trying to come up with a plan, and it’s not a plan that has been published by Defra which convened the group. You can see why Defra hasn’t published it – it isn’t a joint plan, and it isn’t an agreed plan. It’s the preferred way forward from those representing the industry that is responsible for large amounts of wildlife crime in the hills.
What is this plan? Well, we don’t really know, because it hasn’t been published! But it seems to involve Brood Management for Hen Harriers – removing them from grouse moors, not by shooting them, but by taking them somewhere else, being nice to them, and letting them go. It’s all a bit complicated and involved really isn’t it? Just for a minor sport or pastime? But GWCT are very keen on it.
Andrew was a bit naughty, not very naughty but just a little naughty I thought, in referring to this as having worked in France and Spain as if there were some very similar intractable conflict there where it had proved to be the silver bullet. In those cases it is used not to manipulate broods so that the land owner isn’t inconvenienced, but to rescue broods that might otherwise be accidentally killed by legal agricultural operations – harvesting your crop!
Charlie asked a telling question, which was poorly answered, and is one that I have asked here without answer, and that is – how many Hen Harriers will be allowed to survive through this mechanism? Given that there could be, looking at the available habitat, around 340 pairs of Hen Harrier nesting in the uplands of England, and this year there were just three, how many would we get from this scheme? The GWCT answer was that they can’t tell us but let’s get on with it anyway. Ha Ha!
I suspect that the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation ask the same question too. I wonder what answer they are given by GWCT. Not only is this not a ‘joint plan’, it’s not even a ‘plan’. It’s a distraction.
And it’s not just about Hen Harriers of course.
PS Notice how Andrew mentions the conflict between Hen Harriers and Red Grouse – there isn’t one, they live together across northern latitudes – the conflict is between a protected part of our wildlife heritage and grouse shooting as an industry.
PPS Notice how lame is the answer about diversionary feeding – even when Hen Harriers’ impacts are reduced by 86% grouse numbers don’t increase. That is a bit odd but, as Charlie says, it does rather let Hen Harriers off the hook. This result is a bit puzzling.
PPPS Notice how many mentions Andrew gives the RSPB. They must be the very best of mates really mustn’t they? You’d almost believe that GWCT held the RSPB in the utmost respect, until you read the comments by GWCT’s Chair, Ian Coghill, on this blog (no doubt in an entirely personal capacity) where he rarely fails to criticise the RSPB in one way or another.