Right arguments – northern, rocky maths

Photo: Tim Melling
Photo: Tim Melling

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.







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28 Replies to “Right arguments – northern, rocky maths”

  1. The establishment have become unaccustomed to people standing up to them. The political opposition stick to putting over a slightly gentler form of the status quo. The tired arguments they have expressed demonstrate how out of touch they are with what actually goes on.

    It is good to see people actually mobilising. Thankyou.

  2. Mark,you have all the right arguments,right on your side only fly in the ointment is the establishment have all the press on the job.they do not want to put the truth out there.

  3. Crikey, with mathematical skills like that no wonder Northern Rock went belly up and if it was left to Ridley that's the way all Hen Harriers would end up as well!

  4. The Matt Ridley opinion didn't read that fluently - bit like a string of bullet points he'd been given to string together as the puppet in the place to do the job. I thought someone suggested intelligence somewhere in his locker?

  5. 74,000 full time jobs supported by Grouse shooting! Really? Really really? All 74,000 totally involved 37.5 hrs a week 52 weeks a year involved in nothing but grouse shooting?

    1. I should have added, do you think Ms Swift would be able to tell us where and what those jobs are? I am genuinely fascinated to know.

    2. 74,000? As Churchill would no doubt say "that must be bollocks!". Surely this makes the number of jobs supported by grouse shooting greater in number than the British Army!

  6. £50m pa?

    Define 'conservation'

    What proportion is tax 'sheltered'?

    How much comes from government 'support' payments?

    Come to that, how much of what is paid by grouse shooters is actually real money that they are spending rather than deductible corporate spend?

    Does the money really matter?

    In the words that Homer Simpson famously almost said...

    "You've had your party, now get the hell out of my uplands"

  7. Hang on a mo!

    If the driven grouse shoot fraternity don't like what Simon Barnes was writing and apply some leverage, then they get wind of Hen Harrier Day and want to quash its impact by running a pro grouse shooting piece. What they need to do is ensure that whoever writes it includes this list of dubious, fictitious and downright false points.

    Same leverage applied to Matt Ridley, only he doesn't like being coerced and neither does he believe the guff he's been given to include... so he trots it out, exactly as he's been given it, knowing that folk will recognise that it's not him!

    The guy's a genius, he must be on our side!

  8. Note also the sneering reference to "a damp day of protest". Calm down dear. They simply can't resist patronising and belittling people. And they go on about the waders, but the truth is that if they thought for a moment that they got in the way of the shooting, the Lapwings and the Curlews would equally be toast. (See also Grouse, Black).

  9. So, 1.5M hectares of managed Grouse moor at £56 per hectare government subsidy, that's £84M of our money they are getting (if my figures are correct).
    I think the RSPB would happily spend £50M on Grouse Moor conservation if they were getting £84M to do it...

    ...I wonder how much of an estate manager's "conservation" budget is spent on the "pest control" strand of conservation...

  10. Interesting that you characterise the Telegraph, Times, Sunday Times and Spectator as the ‘establishment’ right wing press.

    Would that be the same ‘establishment’ right wing press that:

    - exposed the MPs' expenses scandal, despite the ‘establishment’s’ attempts to redact the names and details, the greatest political story of abuse in the modern era (Telegraph)

    - brought down the then Conservative Secretary for Trade & Industry, Nick Ridley (Spectator)

    - is owned by the avowedly republican Rupert Murdoch (Times & Sunday Times), and employs Andrew Gilligan sacked by the ‘establishment’ BBC for exposing the then Labour government’s ‘sexed up’ intelligence dossier (that helped take us to war in Iraq in 2003) …..and Rod Liddle (Associate Editor of the Spectator) forced to resign by the ‘establishment’ BBC for ‘left-wing’ bias during the Hunting Ban debate?

    Just saying......

    Meanwhile, here is the GWCT’s take on Dr Matt Ridley’s piece, from yesterday’s ‘establishment’ Times - http://gamewildlife.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/gwct-letter-to-times-on-grouse-moor.html

  11. Just had a look at the Robin Page article, and his evidence for the impact of birds of prey on other species is basically, ' stuff I've thought up' and 'things my mates have told me'.

    Rather encouragingly, he takes a thoroughly deserved pasting in the comments section.

  12. If driven Red Grouse was banned not one keeper would loose his job instead walked up Red Grouse would create more days shooting than driven Red Grouse. With Hen Harriers poring out of Langholm towards Geltsdale surely the question is ' Who is going to try and protect these birds not in the breeding season but from now on'? Already a wing tagged bird has gone missing having flown through Geltsdale onto neighbouring Red Grouse moor. All this talk needs a bit of action. Where are the new jobs to protect harriers now not in March before it is too late!

  13. I wonder if there would be scope for some kind of joint response by the RSPB and RSPCA considering that they're being targeted by the same individuals?


  14. Does the £50m spent on "conservation" include moorland drainage, (with massive negative consequences for water quality, water supply, carbon sequestration and floral diversity), maintaining shooting butts and improving tracks so that oversized bankers can be deposited in said butts as birds are thrown in front of their guns? Not really conservation in my view....

  15. John, I'm afraid you're simply wrong that banning driven grouse shooting and restricting it to walked up days would have no economic impact.

    We've had this exchange before. Look at https://markavery.info/2011/08/14/coping-grouse-shooting-coping-hen-harriers/, and my comment on August 15 at 11:41 pm.

    I know Mark has never been out on a shooting day of either kind. John, I know you are very familiar with the uplands, but I wonder just how knowledgable you are about either the sporting side of grouse shooting, or the economics of grouse moor management.

      1. You're right; there is indeed an element of Back to the Future about this - with lots of the same characters involved too - but the point will be as valid then as it was three years ago.

  16. "The answer is the same to all those questions"

    Same as the problem was in Orkney, That the pattern of grazing on the moor and surrounding land isn't suitable for them!

  17. The outcome of all this is far from certain - remember the forest sales fiasco when 'the public' (led incidentally by a campaigning Daily Telegraph) overturned what all the experts and commentators saw as a done deal. On the maths, I'm glad to see the Countryside Alliance joining the fray - and, as ever, talking mainly to its supporters - they'll accidentally do a great job of promoting the nderstanding f what Grouse management is doing to Hen Harrier. And the stats are interesting 600,000 people shoot and effectively theyare up against the udience of sprIng/ autumn watch - 4 million ? W.at h out for so e big surprises !

    1. You are making the assumption that every one who shoots does not watch springwatch or care about hen harriers or conservation?

  18. Cigarettes....... (Maybe nothing in common with grouse)
    They kill people, and yet there are still politicians who appear out of the woodwork to protect the tobacco industry!
    Jobs will go if we introduce controls - we can't ban smoking in restaurants - etc etc
    BUT if we work together and get the public on our side you can reverse the tide & so with grouse. Publicity, signatures, politicians seeing the light, and the votes!
    We'll get there, it might just take some time.

  19. More news from Dr Cat Barlow. One Hen harrier has gone south to Northumberland.

    'As we've mentioned in previous posts Hen harriers have had an incredible breeding season at Langholm with a total number of 12 nests. We can confirm (thanks to www.langholmproject.com) that there were 12 females, and 9 males (6 monogamous and 3 bigamous). Ten of these nesting attempts were successful and fledged 47 young (brood sizes between three and six), which is more than in all previous breeding seasons since the start of the project combined. The two failed nesting attempts were deserted during incubation (one secondary female and a very late nesting attempt).

    Hattie and Grainne (both female birds fledged from Langholm in 2013 and both bred this year) are still exhibiting their strong bond to Langholm moor and are showing no signs of varying from that pattern. Annie (Grainne's daughter), however, has exhibited the opposite pattern of behaviour from her mother, leaving the natal area around a month after leaving the nest. This opportunity to follow a mother and daughter is throwing up some really interesting questions - such as what drives one harrier to leave the moor after a month and another to stay for a year? We have not yet received data about Sid (male chick fledged from Langholm this year) but look forward to seeing what he is up to and will share this data, here, as soon as we can.

    Annie has flown 85km East and is currently in Northumberland, south west of Wooler.'

  20. I suspect most of those shooting the grouse are Matt Ridley's banker and assorted city slicker mates who are still hard at work following his example by trying to wreck the UK economy with even more fraud and incompetence that we taxpayers will be asked to bail out when TSHTF. A good idea to protect the UK economy would be for the gamekeepers to shoot these bankers when they turn up to bother the grouse. They would do the country a service and if I was on the jury I would not convict them.

  21. The RSPB's moorland nature reserves in Orkney have plenty of nesting harriers, but no grouse shooting. It seems to me that it's not the RSPB that is preventing hen harriers being successful on its reserves elsewhere.
    Even using maths 101, it's obvious moorland - grouse shooting = hen harriers and moorland + grouse shooting = no hen harriers.


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