Nothing controversial here

On Tuesday evening the World Land Trust organised a second evening of Controversial Conservation. This time it involved Chris Packham, Bill Oddie, Andrew Gilruth (from GWCT), John Burton (CEO of the World Land Trust  and Garry Marvin – and me.

Andrew was a bit outnumbered but he did really well – considering the sticky wicket on which he had to face some hostile bowling.

My points were the usual ones:

  •  Hen Harriers are killed illegally and this is wrong
  • They are killed by grouse shooting interests not by anybody else
  • There are some good things and bad things about management for driven grouse shooting but in my view, and you must make up your own mind, the ‘bads’ outweigh the ‘goods’ by a considerable margin
  • We have talked a lot and the time for talking is passed
  • Grouse shooting has failed to clean up its act – it has had its chance, it’s time for it to cease as we don’t need it socially, economically or certainly ecologically
  • Let’s ban it – sign here

I agreed with Andrew on quite a few things but there was one where I didn’t have the chance on the night to say I agreed – neither of us thinks that licensing would work very well (!).

There was a discussion about how many Hen Harriers do we want – I said that grouse moor managers always tell me (as though it is the party line in fact) that they can tolerate (that’s big of them!) a pair of Hen Harriers on their grouse moor but no more. Since there are c140 grouse moors in England, apparently, that means that everyone should be happy with 140 pairs. I certainly would be – I’m not greedy.

In fact, I would be happy with fewer, as a start. Let’s have 40 pairs of Hen Harrier in England and then, once they are in place, let’s talk about other measures such as brood management.  Let’s not talk about reducing Hen Harrier numbers artificially to help the poor old grouse moor manager until we have some!

Apparently, this is very unreasonable. Apparently, the criminals who have deprived us of a marvellous bird have to be rewarded with a way out before they will give an inch – or a few Hen Harriers. We don’t normally let the criminals set the terms for them sticking to the law. But, to use the phrase which I think was invented by Raptor Persecution Scotland, the ‘untouchables’ have to have their way.  I don’t think so.  If the criminal elements within grouse shooting can’t demonstrate enough restraint to produce 40 pairs of Hen Harrier then there is no reason why we should trust them at all.

I keep mentioning criminals because killing Hen Harriers has been illegal for 60 years. Grouse shooting has not cleaned up its act which suggests that the non-criminals are reasonably happy for the criminals to carry on!  This might be because, unusually, in this case, the non-criminals do benefit from the acts of the criminals (see a blog from long ago on this subject).

I feel fairly sure that we do know the identity of some of the criminals and I feel fairly sure that so do the GWCT (and so I imagine, do the Moorland Association, Countryside Alliance, National Gamekeepers Organisation) but I may, as always, be wrong.

Andrew Gilruth says that he doesn’t know who any of them are. This is a bit of a snag really as it means that GWCT can’t argue, negotiate, or talk for the people who we need to influence. It’s not the good guys who have to change their ways (although if we don’t know who are the ‘baddies’ presumably we don’t know who are the ‘goodies’ either (although, ex-Goodie, Bill Oddie was there in person)).  If nobody knows who the ‘baddies’ are, then how do we get them to sign up to any scheme? Is GWCT saying that the Moorland Association knows who the worst criminals are? Or maybe it is the NGO – they might well know. But, if no-one knows, then we may be talking to the wrong people. Let’s have those 40 pairs of Hen Harrier in England as a sign that the baddies, whoever they are, really do want to change their ways.

Nothing controversial here.  Let’s have those 40 pairs, but until then we should keep arguing for a ban on driven grouse shooting. Please sign here.




9 Replies to “Nothing controversial here”

  1. I think I first heard Dave Dick use the term untouchables (and some others) over 20 years ago when he worked for the RSPB Investigations team.

  2. I think Hen Harrier has had its days. Lets move onto Short eared Owl. Totally wiped out on most Red Grouse moors. Great example at Geltsdale this year. Record numbers in double figures. non over the boarders. Where were the young and adults of these successful birds going to move to? Yes the voles with no predators allowed to hunt them. And what happened next? Removed so that the Red Grouse could fly to the butts!! Both Hen Harrier and Short eared Owls have no place on the majority of driven Red Grouse moors. Fact.

    1. John – this does seem to be what everyone is saying right across the north of England. It is shocking – I am shocked.

  3. Im happy to let Mark get the credit for “untouchables”..I would have used a rather stronger word myself!.

    Ive never been a fan of letting landowners set levels of any species..if we cant trust them to stop criminal killing of harriers now you couldnt trust them to stop at 40..any way I find all that an irrelevance, lets put all our energy into finding alternative uses for grouse moors, involving native woodland as far as possible. Now that the shibboleth of “grouse moors wonderful for the environment” is at last being broken and people are seeing them for what they are – a mismanaged, artificial and destructive [flooding and carbon release]ecologically poor environment – this is no time to be speaking about quotas or compromises. Its time to be speaking about radical alternatives to our Upland environment.

    …Ive no problem with such changes paying their way, they will have to to be effective – although I would like to see the benefits being shared out with the whole community, not just a few landlords and shooters.

    Ideas chaps?

    1. Absolutely!! This has to be the way forward for our uplands, their habitats and wildlife. In my view we should get and keep the apologists for the last century of mismanagement on the back foot and move forward positively. I will continue discussing possibilities with mountaineering and other friends.

  4. Do you know if a podcast of this year’s Controversial Conservation debate be made available Mark?



  5. ” It’s not the good guys who have to change their ways “.

    The rest of this comment has been deleted as the ‘person’ making the comment used a false email address.

    1. Henry – indeed. Because we don’t actually know if there are any good guys really, do we? we are just so polite that we assume that there must be. If they were very, very good then they might have pulled out their digits and done something about the bad guys.

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