The Times they are a-changing

Hen-Harrier-Day-300pxGood bye Simon Barnes and hello Jim Dixon in Saturday morning’s Times.  That’s somewhat ironic given that Simon wrote about the lack of raptors in the Peak District and Jim is the Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park.

Jim emailed me to say he was sorry that he couldn’t come to our protest rally in his National Park but his ears were probably burning on Sunday morning as his name was mentioned. Quite a few local naturalists were surprised and incensed that Jim wrote, presumably in a personal capacity, ‘…a bird that has a proven disruptive influence on wild grouse exists uneasily with raising large bags of grouse for sport. The naturalists will be angry tomorrow, but it’s hard to see anger doing any practical good for hen harriers. Enlightened moorland owners and a new generation of keepers who show respect for nature hold the future of this special bird in their hands‘.

Some saw that as unnecessaily understanding of the criminal activities that have reduced hen harriers to such low numbers in the English uplands, and unnecessarily dismissive of the views of the people whose taxes pay for the National Park activities.  It might also be seen as a little presumptuous to write about a group of people’s views many days ahead of them expressing those views, and a little odd not to come and see if your guess about their views was right or not. Well, that’s what I heard people say, but Jim didn’t, because he wasn’t with the sodden 570 on Sunday morning.  If he had been, he would have found a lot more smiles than anger.

Simon Barnes is irreplaceable…


55 Replies to “The Times they are a-changing”

  1. Spot on about Simon Barnes. As for the other gentleman, well, the time-servers etc. will always be with us!

  2. Oh dear, this is clearly a man who feels he has no need to make a favourable impression on the many birders, countryside users, and ordinary members of the public who are sick of Hen Harriers being illegally killed by the same people Mr Dixon eulogises as the species’ saviour. I’m sure the NT and the local Wildlife Trusts will be delighted to have their efforts dismissed out of hand too. Little wonder he didn’t turn up.

  3. Well, well, well!!! I didn’t realise Jim Dixon had turned journalist. I would refute entirely his assumption that angry naturalists can’t have an impact and I believe much can come out of the current collective opposition to the shameful activities of the shooting fraternity. Whilst I couldn’t attend on Sunday ( see my own Blog ) I, along with endless others , will continue to oppose the raptor persecution which continues to occur on a wide basis. Enlightened moorland owners might hold the key to future success with harriers but, in the meantime , what do we do with the seemingly endless succession of incidents that arise as far as raptor persecution is concerned and the people who are responsible. Ignore them, as appears to be the Establishment position?
    Jim, as I’m sure you’ll be reading this eventually, as a past colleague I’m disappointed in your outpouring , which can be read in various ways. The time has come for action and condemnation, which is what “the angrys” are calling for, not some vague expressed prediction for the future. We can all do better than that.

  4. Have you read Matt Ridley’s article in The Times today? I have just got around to reading it. ‘Gamekeepers are one of nature’s best friends.’ Oh dear.

  5. Maybe he is invited to a Grouse shoot as a non paying guest.
    The Peak is a special place with a disgraceful record of raptor persecution,time something was done to make it a special place for raptors as well as people.

  6. There is a way to deal with people like Mr Jim Dixon.
    Just as M&S are boycotting grouse, I will henceforth boycott both the Sunday Times and the Peak District National Park.

  7. Jim Dixon column BORING…read the first bit and too irritated to read the remainder of the dribble. I’m also irritated that the Times have given the small weekly col inches to someone with an agenda…and someone who probably already earns a good salary as an administrator. Doesn’t this just show the narrow establishment attitudes of the old style media – if I were the Editor I would have given the column to Findlay Wilde. But they cannot think out of the box – pity we can’t padlock the box and junk it along with all the misinformation, propaganda and downright distortion of the facts that have been the cause of so much recycled paper.

  8. It’s not just goodbye Simon Barnes; from today’s Times it appears to be hello ‘Matt’ Ridley as an expert on conservation! (“Gamekeepers are one of nature’s best friends” – (£)) Viscount Ridley is of course best-known as the nephew of the worst-ever Secretary of State for the Environment, even worse than the last incumbent, and as Chairman of Northern Rock bank when it failed and we all had to pay for his mistakes. He now is apparently an expert on Hen Harriers, telling us that the British population is stable at 630 pairs and that the species cannot thrive without gamekeepers’ protection.

    1. ps Mark – I would be delighted to host an informal ‘walk & talk’ around the harrier & grouse-free Black Mountains later in the autumn or even in the tougher winter. There’s a fine bothy where I could fry up some bacon butties.
      Would be nice to put a face to some of the ‘voices’…

      1. Sounds fun Rob,

        I’m up for it. It would be nice to revisit my old MRT stamping grounds, although I expect the hills have got a bit steeper in the interim……

        1. Ernest/Keith
          Will do something later in the autumn via Twitter for those that can brave a walk around the ‘Blacks’

  9. It’s not just local naturalists who are incensed. I’m aghast. It’s like the head of HSBC or whoever saying, ‘customers are a proven disruptive influence on profit-making and exist uneasily with raising large bags of money for bankers. And it’s none of your business so sod off.’ This is a national park, for God’s sake, and the chief executive couldn’t have sided more clearly with the grouse industry.

  10. Mark

    Thanks. I was told by the Chair of DWT that there was a lot of anger at the situation ref hen harriers. I can understand that and was, in my Times article, trying to point out that the solution to the problems facing hen harriers lies as much in the hearts and minds of keepers and owners as it does in the understandable anger of the bird watchers. If I gave the impression of being dismissive of the event I was not, as you know I have provided you with assistance in planning the event. I ‘m glad the event went well and was sorry that the rain and a power cut spoilt the day (a bit). I’m pleased that our field staff were able to assist the day and especially that you and Chris Packham spent time with our staff and that you thanked them warmly and wetly for their help. My hope is that the effect of your event is as successful in raising awareness of the plight of the hen harrier as our attempts on the ground working with owners and keepers is in helping hen harriers re-establish a decent population in the Peak District. I made clear to you that the Peak District NPA supported your event because it was raising awareness. I would hope that you can recognise the parallel efforts people here on the ground are making. The resources of this National Park are directed at resolving this problem and not, in any way, condoning the illegal persecution of hen harriers. In all our public statements we’ve condemned persecution as I did in my first Times article. I look forward to working together with all parties for a great future for hen harriers. Please pass my thanks on to Chris Packham. Jim

    1. The solution to the problem is for the shooting industry to stop breaking the law. They have made so many empty promises over the decades that even the most conciliatory optimists on the conservation side of the table have simply said ENOUGH.
      They have proven themselves to be unable and or unwilling to amend their ways. The Hen Harrier is all but extinct in England…including the Peak District National Park.

      If you are so keen to listen to landowners and game-keepers…listen to what they are saying about the advantages of their management works for ground nesting birds. The management of the heather by burning and their intensive control of predators is apparently leading to a boom in ground nesting birds. They are thriving.
      If you believe this to be true, then ask your self why the hen harrier (a ground nesting moorland bird) is not thriving in the same habitat with benefits of the same management?
      Its because they are being killed by the management regime…there is no other reason why harriers (or other large raptors) are not present on grouse moors. If you think there is another reason for their absence…please tell us.

      You need to come out your cloud of delusion and realise that you are being duped…big time.

      The resources of the National Park should be directed towards its conservation- not prolonging the shameful damage that is being wrought on our landscape and on our rarest wildlife..

  11. just read about this on another site “gamekeepers are natures best friends” a full page article in the times today by matt ridley, I feel sorry for Nature, with friends like that who needs enemies

  12. Mark

    I should add for the benefit of your Blog readers that if you read my full article you would see that I refer to evidence of illegal persecution as the main cause of the failure of the success of hen harrier breeding and the great frustration of the lack of hen harriers which led to hen harrier day. I don’t read this as undermining your event, but simply adding another dimension to it, ie to direct the responsibility to owners and keepers.


    1. “Enlightened moorland owners and a new generation of keepers who show respect for nature hold the future of this special bird in their hands” – sadly by the neck!

      1. “Enlightened moorland owners and a new generation of keepers who show respect for nature hold the future of this special bird in their hands”

        Please tell us when these people are coming, the current ones are the worst in living memory!!!!

    2. Use the full resources of the National park to get rid of this damaging activity from the park. LEAD.

  13. Mark, with few Enlightened moorland owners in England, and and even fewer gamekeeprs around who show respect for the hen harrier, I strongly disagree with Jim Dixon’s statement. I do however believe these people hold the future of this special bird in their hands, but not in the way Mr Dixon has implied I’m sorry to say.

  14. Mark

    And, I would agree that that Simon Barnes is irreplaceable which is why The Times is isn’t replacing him, but is changing direction a bit, with a pool of 4-5 writers (of which I’m pleased to be one) reflecting a diversity of perspectives and parts of the country.


  15. Jim, as CEO of PDNP, you should have conservation of Hen Harriers at the top of your agenda. The fact you couldn’t attend such a key event on your own patch speaks volumes. Jeers to you. It’s clear now that pussyfooting around this issue gets nowhere.

    Mark and everybody else who organised and attended and supported the day. Cheers to you. You did your bit and more.

  16. “Enlightened moorland owners and a new generation of keepers who show respect for nature hold the future of this special bird in their hands”

    Please enlighten us as to when these people are coming, the present ones are the worst since the Victorian times

  17. The fact that Jim Dixon did not dare show his face at Fairholmes speaks volumes…..

    1. Rob – well, Jim may have had plenty of good reasons for being elsewhere. He may have had family commitments – how do we know. However, had he been there he would have seen the frustration and passion of hundreds of members of the public that Hen Harriers are not allowed to fly free in our hills and not even in the National Park of which he is the Chief Executive.

  18. Mark

    If I may use your Blog for a response to one or two comments others have made.

    1. I and my organisation have made clear that we support the aims of HH day of raising awareness of the bird and illegal persecution. Similarly, I’ve always been clear that if I or anyone from my organisation has any evidence pointing to persecution we will always inform the police. I abhor persecution and wholly disagree with it.

    2. I have never shot wild birds and would never do so. I’ve never been a guest at a shoot. I will (and always intended to) donate the fee for my Times article to a local conservation Trust – the newly established North Lees Trust.

    3. In my article, in retrospect, I could have made a stronger link between the legitimate anger shown by the interest in hen harrier day and the strategies for addressing persecution. Surely, working with the moorland owners who are beginning to understand the need for a more enlightened approach to moorland management must be a part of that? I thought Chris Packham made a very good case for that on the Today Programme this morning.

    4. I think those behind HH day should be pleased that the issue is getting the issue debated to the extent that it has. But debate is just that, not yah-booing and traducing the motives of those whose views we may not agree with.


    1. Well said Jim,

      And I wouldn’t worry too much about the folks venting their spleen here. Some are just not too keen on hearing any alternative options, voices or opinions.

      Any truth in the rumour that [several words removed by Mark. Keith – why do you think it is only a rumour?]?

      Meanwhile, here’s a Scottish media take on the issue –

      And here’s the potential way ahead, suggested by Prof Steve Redpath, amongst others –

      Finally, no-one is irreplaceable…….

      1. Haven’t… [Note from Mark: maybe all involved are keeping quiet for a reason?].

        1. Misguided strategy in that case, think George Waterston at Loch Garten in 1959, the Forestry Commission on the Struie in the 1980s and so on. Publicity and openness can make for powerful guardianship…..

          1. No problem with that, just curious why nothing official out there. Clearly lots of ‘chatter’ on the subject in circles various, so it hardly a secret, and other similar events elsewhere getting lots of coverage.

            Of course the information might ************************************************************** don’t you think? [chunk of text removed by Mark]

          2. Keith – stop trying to hint at things. It’s a secret. I agree with you that, personally, I would probably not keep it a secret, but then I, and probably you, don’t have all the information. Stop trying to hint at things here. It’s a secret. It’s not really your secret or my secret. Keep it a secret and then comment when it isn’t a secret. OK?

  19. Jim,you probably mean well but to myself and guess many others your comments seem to hold contradictions.
    Surely after all the illegal killing you do not believe talk of more enlightened moorland management,come on someone in your position cannot be that naive.
    What you need to do is get the Peak into a raptor friendly place and forget about these paper articles,getting raptors in the Peak would be a great legacy to leave for future generations.

  20. Could someone tell me how much cash will be given to keepers today? Can you then tell me what for? And then tell me how many Short eared Owls had to be killed along with countless other things only to get the Red Grouse to fly over the butts! Driven Red Grouse can not work with these birds disturbing the flight of the Red Grouse. Nothing about predation just total disturbance to a shooting day when driving Red Grouse. So then ask yourself what all this cash is actually paid to the keepers!!

  21. Jim is on pretty shaky ground – the record of the NP ‘s generally on conservation is poor – I remeber when Derek Langslow of EN pointed out that SSSIs in NPs were no hetter than anywhere else – and in theNorth Yorks Moors the FC’s Goshawk population re-established and got off the ground in the 80s whilst HH never suceeded on the much prized moors and 30 years on nothing has changed.

  22. Its all prevarication. And we’ve had our fill of it!

    We know harriers don’t need keepers.

    We know moors are only quite good for waders because they don’t eat or interfere with grouse (although I have my suspicions about curlew)

    Its a business and industry whose time has passed, long passed.

    Tell everyone you get the opportunity to that grouse is a tainted product and the producers are tainted too. I’ve made a start with restaurants.

    Lets find something far far better to do with our uplands.

  23. Rod Leslie makes an important point that has a long history. I think I might have been on shakey ground 10 years ago, but I might suggest Rod is now. That he quotes Derek Langslow dates his comment.By and large National Parks are in the uplands and for a long time the quality of the SSSI in them fell short of what they should have been. I think this was in part the lack of focus by National Park authorities and in part the difficult issues of common land, hill grazing subsidies and grouse, water and forest management. Much of that is history now and for the last ten years NPAs have been much more proactive on habitat management. This had recognition, for example in the State of Nature report last year which highlighted, eg, our Moors for the Future work. Add to that the bigger involvement that RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts have, especially in the Peak District and there is now a large and very credible habitat conservation programme happening across the Peak District and many other National Parks. A challenge for us all is that the hen harrier is not yet a part of that successful programme in the Peak District. I’m interested to know why we don’t have HH nesting on RSPB, Wildlife Trust or NPA land despite no shooting policies and good volunteer input on nest watches? Happy to show any of you what we are doing and to hear your views. I live and breathe Peak District issues all the time and my closeness may mean I’m missing something. Mind you, I’m beginning to understand what a hunted bird feels like after today!

    1. Come on Jim, wake up and do your job. A leaders job is to lead. The park authority should be setting the policies and lobbying to have them implemented.

  24. Hi Jim,

    Sorry to but in but….writing personally. the question you pose about why there are no harriers elsewhere is a question that is used to muddy the waters on many occasions by those with a vested interest and I must say I am surprised that you need to ask given the events of 2014.

    It is well documented that Hen Harriers are in a perilous state due to persecution, at levels that have effected it in all areas. The number of displaying males (displaying for a long period of time without attracting a female gives support to this theory).
    None of these areas you point to are islands of conservation continuity they are indeed surrounded by areas where persecution has been recorded, what this means is that we know as a matter of fact that persecution of raptors is practiced in those areas, are we then to believe that birds are going to stay in the ‘safe’ areas and that criminals are going to stay on their land and ignore a predator that has been seen as their number 1 enemy for many years?

    We could point to previous breeding attempts in the PDNP where the Male bird(s) disappeared and fledging was only achieved due to intervention.

    Let’s also not forget that other raptors are vastly under represented in many areas and that there is data to back this up.

    I appreciate that we are working towards a better future together and I feel we have made some big steps forwards in 2014, I am hoping that it is the start of a big step change and that we can ultimately work alongside the shooting interests in our area (but we must acknowledge that illegal persecution in 2014 continues to make this a very uneasy start, but it is a start).

    Back to the original question of why they are not breeding on the land you state, either the habitat is not suitable or the effects of persecution are far reaching on a species that has a limited habitat preference in the UK.

  25. Jim,you are having us on are you not.
    You must know why no Hen Harriers nesting on places you mention.
    Just in case you do not understand,there are very few left to nest anywhere after all the persecution each year.
    Come on give some help to stop it.

  26. Jim’s words on this thread are clearer than his article in the Times – it would be good if he shared this clarity with the Times readers so that there is no misunderstanding of the pressure we need to aim at illegal raptor killers

  27. Fascinating though your discussions about this National Park are..Im not seeing anyone mentioning the call for a ban on driven grouse which several of the commentors here have put their names…That’s not yet another useless compromise with the moor managers, its a call for them to be swept away. Its conservationists giving notice that they want all of our Uplands, including National Parks, to be free of this damaging so-called “industry”.

  28. Blimey Keith,

    Getting a bit Pythonesque about said rumour aren’t we?…., ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’

    If it is the rumour I believe it to be, then I can fully understand why certain people may not wish it to become public knowledge.

    To quote Carlos Ruiz Zafon: “A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.”

    1. Ernest – I didn’t know that quote – I like it a lot. Very good! What a cultured bunch you are!

    2. Well Ernest,

      If it is the rumour you believe it to be, then it ain’t much of a secret after all is it? I get the impression that the ‘secret’ is pretty widely known already. Wonder how many other secrets there are out there?

      As my wife always says, “a secret is something that you only tell to one person at a time”. Certainly seems to be the case here.

  29. Jim

    “I’m interested to know why we don’t have HH nesting on RSPB, Wildlife Trust or NPA land despite no shooting policies and good volunteer input on nest watches? ”

    Surely because those areas of land are smaller, more fragmented, and more heavily used for recreation. Any raptor prospecting for territory in these areas will also encounter the larger, quieter, more contiguous areas which are more attractive to them but unfortunately heavily keepered. So these keepered areas act as raptor ‘sinks’ for the whole region.

    “But debate is just that, not yah-booing and traducing the motives of those whose views we may not agree with”

    I think you can understand the frustration when one sides’ views and motives involve repeatedly breaking the law. Many do not to feel they should have to try to understand
    blatant criminal activity.

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