If there were any doubt about the fact that the establishment is mobilising to defend the indefensible – driven grouse shooting – then you only have to pick up the right wing press to have your doubts dismissed.
In the run-up to Hen Harrier Day and the Inglorious 12th the defenders of driven grouse shooting have been Robin Page in the Daily Telegraph, Matt Ridley in The Times, Charles Clover in the Sunday Times and Camilla Swift in the Spectator. Robin may feel a bit out of place with a Charles and Camilla, and a Viscount!
Charles Clover (whom I like and respect) doesn’t really seem to me to have his heart in what he was writing. It looked like a ‘job’ rather than his usual style but I may be wrong. He has a go at me, which is fine by me (particularly as I may be ‘a clever person’) and on Twitter he suggests that in Fighting for Birds (still available to buy at the Bird Fair this weekend!) I say that banning driven grouse shooting won’t work. He should turn back to page 214 and see that, if anything, I could be criticised for being rather slower off the mark than I might have been.
But all these folk keep trotting out the question ‘Why aren’t there any Hen Harriers at the RSPB reserve at Geltsdale then? Eh? Answer me that?’. They should read this blog a little more often and then they would know.
There are only three pairs of Hen Harrier in England this year. They can’t live everywhere. Why does the Yorkshire Dales National Park not have a single pair of Hen Harriers this year – or in most other years? Why is the North York Moors NP a Hen Harrier no-go zone? Why aren’t the hills of the Peak District alive with Hen Harriers? Why haven’t the National Trust got lots of Hen Harriers? Why aren’t our National Nature Reserves full of them? And why are there only three pairs rather than the 330 pairs in England that the science says could exist? The answer is the same to all those questions. The answer is that they are killed off! We know that. Listen to Andrew Gilruth’s podcast again and the GWCT is honest enough to admit it, and that it has been well known and established for years and years.
Hen Harriers are rare, on RSPB nature reserves in England, just as they are in National Parks in England and NNRs in England, and indeed anywhere where they ought to nest in England because grouse shooting interests kill them. And because the Hen Harrier population dynamics is a bit like soup (rather than mashed potato) the whole population drains away under the impact of illegal persecution. We’ve done all this before – Robin, Matt, Charles and Camilla do please try to keep up with the argument!
But do note that these four, and others who comment here, are always very keen to drag the RSPB’s record into this ‘debate’. I wonder why that is? It could be to deflect the argument away from crime in the hills couldn’t it? I’ve taken to calling the hills of the north of England a gigantic wildlife crime scene.
Apparently some gamekeepers will lose their jobs if driven grouse shooting is banned. Yes, of course they will. That would be the price of working in an industry that has tolerated illegal elements in its midst for so long. There aren’t so many fletchers in work these days, nor hangmen, nor manufacturers of gin-traps – the price of progress is that some jobs go, and others are created. Ask a coal miner about it. Or a shipyard worker. Although there wasn’t anything criminal about their industries.
According to my old friend Viscount Ridley, grouse moor managers spend £50m a year on ‘conservation’ which is, apparently, twice as much as the RSPB spends. I’m not sure that either of those figures is accurate but let’s take them as though they are. According to the science (Redpath et al. 2010 quoted in the official statutory sector conservation framework, page 54), in 2008 there were only 5 successful pairs of Hen Harrier nesting in the UK on driven grouse moors when the expected number should have been around 500. On RSPB nature reserves, in recent years, there are about 50 pairs of nesting Hen Harriers (they may not all be successful – in fact they won’t be, because that’s life!).
Now, it might have escaped Matt’s notice that the RSPB has some nature reserves that aren’t grouse moors, and aren’t even moors, and aren’t even on hills, but leaving that aside, the RSPB seems to be able to produce 10 times as many Hen Harriers on half as much money, so are about 20 times better at it than grouse moor managers. It is a ridiculous argument, of course, but it looks like worthy of the Fields Medal for Maths (except I am over the age of 40, so not eligible) compared with the sums of Viscount Ridley either here or in his former role as the Chair of Northern Rock when it went under.
These are apparently the best arguments that the establishment can come up with for driven grouse shooting to continue. I thought they’d do a bit better than that – let’s ban it now.