The media war

1408 p001 cover_with comp v2.inddFirst things first, no-one much would be talking about Hen Harriers today if it weren’t for Hen Harrier Day and an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.  Well done us!  Standing in the rain in Lancashire, Northumberland and Derbyshire (and in the sun in Dorset – yes, I’m envious) is changing the story.

Chris Packham roundly trounced the Moorland Association on the Today Programme this morning (listen here after 1 hour 22 minutes  – just before the sport)).  Amanda Anderson tried the ‘cuddled by a keeper argument’ to persuade the world that grouse moor management is good for Hen Harriers even though there are practically no breeding Hen Harriers left in England.  And she couldn’t quite bring herself, or her organisation, to agree that gamekeepers kill Hen Harriers ‘it may well have happened’.  It’s understandable that the Moorland Association doesn’t want the world to think that its membership has quite a few criminals embedded within it.

Matt Ridley penned an article in yesterday’s Times along the lines that gamekeepers and grouse moor owners are great conservationists. He omitted to say that most of the people convicted of crimes against birds of prey, hardly the badge of honour for your finest nature conservationist, are gamekeepers. How could this have slipped his mind? Perhaps because he is the brother-in-law of green-blob hating ex-Defra Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, and the nephew of the late Nicholas Ridley, and is himself now the 5th Viscount Ridley.  Matt and I knew each other well, and were friends, at Oxford a long time ago; he is very bright but our view on the world is rather different these days. Matt trots out his opinions in his Times piece but any ecologist would be shocked by the nonsense he writes. For example, Black Grouse and Merlin would be in danger of dying out if it weren’t for gamekeepers apparently. In which case grouse shooting ought to be our greatest export saving the wildlife of Canada, Norway and Russia but apparently those countries think that their nature can just about rub along without all that tweed killing the predators and then another lot of tweed killing the grouse. But The Times readership may have lapped it up…

…except of course those people who read (pronounced ‘red’ not ‘reed’ of course) the Times for Simon Barnes’s rather different take on the world. After Jim Dixon’s awkwardly worded piece on Hen Harriers on Saturday (see comments on this blog including several quite reasonable ones from Jim himself (he sounds slightly, just slightly, sorry for his choice of words)0 and now Viscount Ridley’s paeon of praise for the gamekeeping ‘profession’ it seems very clear where The Times’s heart lies on this matter.

The Telegraph is certainly no better – Robin Page thinks that if Hen Harriers are allowed to come back they will wipe out the Lapwing.

Both Ridley and Page have to have a go at the RSPB in their columns. I’m not sure why exactly – it’s not as though the RSPB has been incredibly outspoken in its condemnation of grouse shooting over the last few days. I guess it’s just a habit for ‘real countrymen’ with column inches to fill.

It’s a bit disappointing that there is no mention at all, as far as I can see, of any of this in the Guardian or the Independent.  Pray, why not?

I wouldn’t say that we are winning the media war, but I would say, again, that no-one would be talking about Hen Harriers today if it weren’t for birders such as Birders Against Wildlife Crime, Chris Packham and others, aided and abetted by Birdwatch (though not by Birdwatching as a few people have mentioned), Rare Bird Alert, the League Against Cruel Sports, the Green Party and a few others.  Everybody is now talking about the lack of Hen Harriers as a problem that must be solved and although the Moorland Association can’t bring itself to admit that amongst its members are likely to be many of the criminals who are responsible for the lack of Hen Harriers in England, much of the rest of the world is beginning to realise that is the case.

The e-petition that will most easily and unbureaucratically put an end to this nonsense is here and is heading for 14,000 signatures fairly quickly. If it gets there by 0838 tomorrow morning that will be inside 11 weeks – a remarkable achievement of public outrage at wildlife crime.  This e-petition is currently the 11th most-signed ever referring to Defra’s area of responsibility and is in the top 1% of such e-petitions. Your signature can push it even higher up the list.






39 Replies to “The media war”

  1. Part of the reason we aren’t ‘winning’ the media war is that many of the people writing in the media are as you have highlighted connected with the establishment, the very same that driven grouse shooting draws so many of its customers from. I would appeal to all that have been involved in the Hen Harrier campaign to step up the pressure. We need to take the arguments to the Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and comments sections of organisations such as the National Gamekeepers Organisation, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, BASC, Scottish Gamekeepers Association. We need to let them know that the illegal killing has to stop and that we won’t until it does. Once we’ve all had the opportunity to refuel our batteries after the last few days we’ll be talking about what next with everyone involved. Sunday was only the start on the long road to recovering our Hen Harriers and changing the ways and intensity with which our uplands are managed.

    1. Spot on Alan ! The use of social media can spread the word to our advantage amazingly well and quickly! the Thunderclap being a fantastic example. We have to keep the pressure on constantly. The massive success of the Hen Harrier Day is a fine block to build from – onwards and upwards everyone !

  2. The only write up in The Guardian referring to the plight of Hen Harriers V’s driven grouse shoots and Hen Harrier Day, was on the 3rd of August.
    The Independent have a Glorious 12th piece in today I see, but no mentions in this piece or in previous posts At All, of Hen Harrier Day!
    Very strange, lazy journalism if you ask me. But then of course the editors and such have to consider the money involved – it would not surprise me in the least, if many of the people who actually own these newspapers or if not, major investors in them, rub shoulders with estate owners, possibly/probably including royalty and partake in the ‘Glorious 12th’ themselves.
    Where’s the caring sharing Prince Charles when he is needed? What good is he, if he only cares about productivity and land management for the sake of farming and agriculture if he cannot even stand up for endangered wildlife in his own country and on his and his parents own property?! Same goes for Prince William. Where does their loyalty lie?

    We should also create and send a post card to Charles & William. Perhaps one with of a heather moorland full of tiny white waving flags in it headed; ‘British birds of prey can’t take any more persecution. If they could wave a white flag and surrender the skies for the sake of survival they probably would but they can’t. So Please, stop shooting them. Yours Sincerely …( signed by the sender )

    Worth a try.

  3. I’ve just watched a piece on BBC Northwest Tonight about grouse moors and the glorious 10th of Hen Harrier Day. (My words, not theirs). It was the usual establishment view and propaganda that I’ve come to expect from the BBC. Telling us that over 50 million a year is spent by grouse moor owners on conservation and they claim that helps preserve habitat for hen harriers. As Mark has pointed out on several occasions, obviously they aren’t doing a very good job of it and they’re not doing a very good job of it with ‘our’ money. Jeremy Duckworth, a moorland owner & manager in Bowland tried to put the blame elsewhere by saying that hen harriers haven’t bred off moorland either and this suggests that they are under a lot more threats than the ones they face from persecution, which he does condemn. Thank goodness Mark was interviewed to give some much needed common sense, but it was edited to the bare bones. Probably available on BBC iplayer soon.

    1. Mark will probably redact this but the Duckworth estate in Bowland (Bleasdale) has had harriers regularly in the past, some of which sometimes most of certainly failed with all the usual hallmarks of what happens on grouse moors all over the UK.however they have not nested successfully there for some time although they have displayed. Perhaps Jeremy is just slightly suffering from amnesia or hypocrisy.

      1. Perhaps Mark has redacted some of this. I certainly don’t understand a word of it!

  4. Not sure about talking strategy and tactics on a public forum but I’m trying to focus on reinforcing the message that grouse is ‘Tainted’ and grouse moors are too. This I hope builds on the Ethical Consumer position. Not being able to sell grouse will make next to no difference to the economics of the intensive moors but getting more people to see that the grouse on your plate in the restaurant is tainted with extensive criminality might help with getting a broader understanding of the issue.

    1. bimbling – I’ve used the phrased ‘the uplands of northern England are an enormous wildlife crime scene’ a few times today.

      1. These are the simple, response invoking phrases that we should use in our conversations. It would have been brilliant if Chris Packam could have slipped something like it into the interview this morning. They sound suitably outrageous and will always prompt searching questions seeking justification. A justification which as we all know is all too easy to give – a species persecuted to oblivion!

  5. Obviously RSPB and supporters do not like me criticising them,well how poor is it that we have had three individuals who have had epetitions not really backed by this magnificent organisation.We have individuals such as Mark and lately Chris Packham doing so much more than that fantastic organisation.We have smaller organisations like BAWC doing so much more and incidentally whereas these individuals have done everything out of their own pocket then the RSPB have over a million of us filling their coffers hoping they would have taken up the Hen Harrier cause much earlier.
    So my congratulations and thanks go to all the individuals and smaller organisations,well done.
    To any RSPB supporters brassed off if I have the audacity to criticise them,hard luck as while I am allowed to comment on here I will say it how I see it.
    Your only hope of stopping me is to get Mark to ban me.

  6. Just seen a rather unsatisfactory take on this story by Channel 4 News. They went with the cuddled by a keeper argument again and wouldn’t admit keepers kill harriers. They also failed to mention the other practices conservationists disagree with.

  7. My wife (biology. Bath 1997) and I (Zoology. Bristol 1992) used to lap up books from Matt Ridley and for that matter Richard Dawkins.
    But they just keep making themselves look well… stupid these days.
    On and on they go.
    Putting their feet in it.
    Blithering on about subjects they know very little about it seems.
    A terrible shame as far as we (at least) are concerned.
    We did regard them both as “very bright” (your words Mark – but they fit) but both (for different silly outbursts admittedly) lost all their shine some time ago.

  8. Matt Ridley seems to make a habit of presiding over northern crime scenes. His opening gambit was the collapse of Northern Rock, bailed out by the taxpayer and now he’s up to his neck in more tax payer funded criminality, covering up the extermination of our birds of prey. How he walks down the street without the boys in blue feeling his collar I do not know. He must be one of the best examples of one law for them.

    1. Lazywell – haven’t read it to be honest. Was a bit busy at the weekend. Charles would be more difficult to dismiss, although, from what I am told, not necessarily in this particular case.

      1. If you haven’t read it, how did you feel able to dismiss it disappointedly as “Nonsense” on Twitter this afternoon??

        1. Lazywell – that the RSPB is the biggest enemy of the Hen Harrier? not difficult! Complete and utter nonsense when gamekeepers are bumping of a protected species and reducing its population by 99% in England.

          Btw (as they say) e-petition reaches 14,000 signatures on the Inglorious 12th – I know how pleased you must be.

  9. Matt Ridley – “With unnaturally high numbers of foxes and crows in Britain – because of human roadkill and garbage……” I don’t know about you guys, but I haven’t seen human roadkill for while – I thought we buried humans these days. Interesting too that MR knows what the natural population of foxes and crows should be – perhaps he’s doing a wildlife Phd in his spare time?

    Thought Chris P was brilliant on Radio this morning – its quite a talent to be able to stay on track when you have so few minutes to get your point across. The Moorland Ass seemed to be trying to justify all the persecution because it resulted in lots of Red Grouse …. ok… but then they shoot them too. Duh? Outcome? Zero.

    The concept that a crime isn’t a crime if it can be justified is the thin edge of a very thin wedge. Next stop anarchy.

    We shouldn’t really be surprised if the national media are not very enthusiastic about this story – can’t now recall who said it [or exact words] but didn’t one politician suggest fracking in the north of England because ‘there wasn’t anything much there’.

    Can we have a petition to bring back Simon Barnes please?

  10. It is strange that there has been no mention in the Guardian, but hopefully George Monbiot will do a piece, as he has written on the subject before.

    I’ve just watched Channel 4 news and they did a feature on grouse shooting/hen harriers about half way through. In this instance, I thought the RSPB guy came across really well, making it very clear that hen harriers are being illegally killed.

    It is a worry that the Times and Telegraph employ people who have no idea about the natural world. Who would listen to Matt Ridley (the former chairman of Northern Rock when it collapsed thanks to his love of high-risk business), if he was talking about economics let alone the environment. Matt Ridley is a climate change denier and is related to the two worst Environment Secretaries in living memory.

    Robin Page also shares his ignorance on the hen harrier and is someone who has a particularly unpleasant, reactionary view of the world. I’d be interested to hear more about these wardens in East Anglia though, who complain that there are too many marsh harriers predating wader chicks and who carry out work near to where they are trying to nest in the hope of disturbing them.

    1. Apus – I totally agree that the RSPB spokesman was much more impressive on Channel 4 news this evening than on the BBC TV breakfast news this morning.

  11. I’m a member of the RSPB, but have to agree with Dennis about their response to grouse shooting, as it is not enough (although it could also be aimed at the other major conservation organisations too).

    If they are so keen on licensing, why did they not get behind the last epetition? They could also have supported the one on vicarious liability too.

    Licensing will never work, as the majority of criminals who persecute birds of prey are never convicted.

    1. The RSPB have supported a call for the introduction of VL for some time. Have a look at this report
      I signed all three petitions and supported their aspirations but feel that only Mark’s addressed the real issues that would appeal to a wider audience.

      I have been wardening on my local RSPB reserve today and spoke to several visitors who hadn’t heard about the protests on Sunday, didn’t look at social media and I’m not sure they were interested beyond doing a bit of birding! 14000 signatures is a good result to date but with the thunderclap reaching over two million I would expect it to go exponential! I signed a petition today for 38degrees that has 80000 signatures in two days. Our audience is too small.

      1. 38degrees and several other e-petition organisers email everyone who has previously signed a petition of theirs requesting they sign the next one!!! As they operate worldwide its hardly surprising that the figures dwarf ‘UK only’ petitions. Some people probably spend their entire life just signing petitions – not sure this isn’t devaluing the whole idea.

  12. The grouse moors are no less than a ‘war zone’ for wildlife and we need to get that strong concept across to everyone whether they use the grouse moors for recreation or have never been anywhere near them.
    It’s a pity the flowering heather makes them look superficially so ‘gloriously’ attractive at this time of the year especially.
    The next HHD needs to be on the evening of the 12th outside those London restaurants to which the birds are rushed.

  13. Lazywell, I’ve read the Charles Clover piece and the language I’d normally use for it sadly would be blanked by Mark. I’ve spent over thirty years involved with uplands and Harriers and am reasonably widely read on the subject,the article is to put it politely, utter bloody tripe, but given where it is published sadly predicable.

    1. Hi Paul

      I don’t personally subscribe to this conspiracy theory that if you write for The Times or Sunday Times you’ve got to pursue a certain line. Indeed, it’s precisely because Charles Clover is such a respected and independent thinker that his piece was so striking.

      I know you have specific issues with the Joint Recovery Plan, but there is surely no question that it would result in a marked increase in harrier numbers, which is after all the objective which everyone shares. It is therefore disappointing that the RSPB have reverted to a stance of vacillation. That was essentially what Clover was saying, and it is frankly hard to argue with him.

      1. Joint recovery plan…..this is what you need when you drop your marijuana in an awkward place! We just need a ban.

  14. Richard,in my opinion your comment underlines the failure of the RSPB with the case of the Hen Harriers.You correctly state that they have supported V L for some time.In fact strangely they did not support the epetition at all then as that petition closed they seem to suddenly support V L,how very strange
    You say you spoke to several visitors at the reserve and they had not heard of the protests,do you not think that is a serious failing of the RSPB,surely if they really had the Hen Harrier case as a worthy cause they could have given over one million readers of their mag some information about it.
    I am sorry but getting more members by hook or by crook with bits about bugs and beasty’s seems more important than Hen Harriers.
    You say our audience is too small but I believe when Mark had a petition at RSPB there were something like 216,000 signatures(hope this is reasonably accurate)the audience is there it just needs tapping.

  15. One of the worst points in the Ridley piece is that he comes within a badger’s whisker of condoning illegality. Without more, he says; “Little wonder that some must occasionally be tempted to deter or even kill harriers.” Given his history in banking, his equivocation over the rule of law is perhaps no surprise. That his employer condones it (though obviously the lawyers cleared it) is a disgrace.

    Perhaps The Times should make a statement on the kinds of illegality it supports.

  16. If I am to understand that those involved in Hen Harrier Day have real concerns about the future of this bird, rather than wanting to take a swipe at the shooting fraternity, I find it strange that no-one is willing to discuss, or even mention, the Hen Harrier Rescue Plan. Surely a plan in the hand is worth many in the bush, to coin an awkward phrase. Defra needs to publish the plan and consult upon it. Holding rallies, thunder clapping and generally sounding off on twitter are not going to improve hen harrier numbers. Working with those who manage hen harrier nesting sites will.

    1. parakeet feather – welcome. It’s not a Hen harrier rescue Plan – it’s not even a plan. It’s not in the hand, it’s in the heads of one side of the argument.

  17. Parakeet Feather – The issue is much bigger than Hen Harriers, see also persecution of Peregrine Falcon, Buzzard, Red Kite, Goshawk etc.
    Part of the problem is that people who actually hold information that would be quite compelling in the fight against raptor persecution either can’t or won’t be go on an all out offensive against shooting because either a) When you stir the sh*t pot you might have to lick the spoon or b) They feel that we might just be on the edge of change and don’t want to endanger the progress that has been made.
    Whenever someone goes into print about “The return of breed x,y,z” at a traditional upland nest site, ask yourself this:
    What is the history of that site how has it fared over the last 30 years, if you can get in touch with someone who would know and ask them how it fared over 30, 20 and 10 years, that should take you back to a period that includes the the start of the recovery from the effects of DDT.
    If you feel that it might just an unlucky site go further do the surrounding sites, do the surrounding area that way you will see if this is isolated problem, if it’s a long standing issue or if things have got much worse in recent times (here’s a hint they have).
    Let me tell you it is far from pretty and very hard to dress up as anything other than the disgrace that it is, and this in a national park of all places.
    You can be sure that if there isn’t a continuation of improvement for larger raptors in 2015, then there are a lot more people going to join the bandwagon voicing their concerns and some of them might go into great detail about how bad things really are.

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