The resolution of conflict or what’s right and wrong?

Photo: NASA via wikimedia commons
Photo: NASA via wikimedia commons

Shared Planet is a stimulating programme and many people were stimulated to express their irritation over the latest programme about conflict resolution in nature conservation. The Hen Harrier/grouse shooting conflict was used as an example and was discussed by a variety of people – not a very wide variety of people however.

It’s well worth a listen and Raptor Persecution Scotland’s take on it is worth reading too..

There were a few things that came up that were quite interesting. Dr Juliette Young of CEH seemed to think that gamekeepers are protecting Hen Harriers, which rather devalued how much notice some would take of the rest of what she said.


Photo: Tim Melling
Photo: Tim Melling

Simon Lester regards Hen Harriers as a problem even though diversionary feeding means they don’t take many grouse during the breeding season on ‘his’ grouse moor at Langholm.  He still thinks that a Hen Harrier brood management scheme is essential despite the evidence of the efficacy of diversionary feeding.  It’s a pity that he wasn’t strongly promoting diversionary feeding considering its great success.  Where is the conflict between hen harrier and grouse shooting at Langholm – all gone? He was given a lot of air time with nobody putting the other side nor questioning whether his remarks were true or not.

But Mr Lester was clear that he wasn’t necessarily going to believe the science anyway. ‘There is a scientific arrogance that dismisses anecdotal evidence‘ and ‘A lot of the science that is done here doesn’t always reflect what happens in reality‘. Simon Lester is a gamekeeper.

Monty Don seemed to think that avoiding the moral aspects of conservation conflicts was a good idea. And Dr Young thought that avoiding arguments over values was a good idea too – it seemed to me. Well, that might be true if all you want to do is have a bit of peace and quiet in the world, and compromise, and put up with a bit less bad than you had before. But that is hardly the way that has led to improvements in the world. It should absolutely be the moral values and what type of world we want to live in that should guide our action.

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons
Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

One of the arguments over grouse shooting is one between the grouse shooters who want to carry out their profit-making businesses at the expense of protected wildlife and those who would rather that the law was upheld, the wildlife protected and the money spent in other ways.  That is, I’m really glad to say, an argument about values.

Another aspect of the argument over grouse shooting is between those who find the killing of any semi-wild creature abhorrent and those who feel they ought to be able to shoot grouse for fun. That’s an argument about values too.

To say, as seemed to be said, that you can, or should, set those values aside and resolve the conflict is what is normally called a fudge.

The Hen Harrier/grouse shooting conflict is a real one.  And for decades the law has been on the side of the Hen Harrier.  This isn’t a little tiff between two equally worthy and deserving sides – it’s a conflict between a  money-making business that depends on criminality and protected wildlife.  It’s like a conflict between the very few people in the country who are pickpockets and the rest of us. the pickpockets are criminals who are making money from breaking

Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.
Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.

the law. The conflict is that we don’t want them to carry on nicking our money and they want to. Some conflict, eh?  The criminals are suggesting that the resolution is that they carry on nicking our money, because they want to, but they’ll leave us a bit more than they used to leave.  Let’s not bring values into this, say some, let’s just sign up to being less exploited than we were.

That’s not what I say – I say we should ban driven grouse shooting and you can say that too by signing here.



29 Replies to “The resolution of conflict or what’s right and wrong?”

  1. Glad now I decided to give the programme a miss. Thought better of Monty than that. Good analogy to pickpockets Mark.

    1. m parry – well, I would suggest that it is well worth a listen. One should listen to or read something with which one disagrees every day!

      1. Mark, Well said. I heard Philip Pullman say on a radio programme that all atheists should read the bible because how do you know what you don’t agree with if you haven’t read it. That principle is a good one to follow, although it does lead to the OH asking why you are muttering to yourself a lot when reading.

  2. Listening to what was said I began to wonder just how the hen harrier managed so well for so long without gamekeepers protecting their interests throughout England’s uplands. I am now beginning to wonder if Hope and Sky, the two missing Bowland Hen Harriers committed suicide after eating both satellite transmitters.

  3. Mark, I disseminated your e-petition about banning driven grouse shooting on my accoustic music session list (over 80 desperate emails) asking them to look, sign and pass on. These generally are liberal minded individuals. Of the ones I have spoken to face to face, very few did – a couple even said that gamekeepers know best about moorland management. It’s an uphill struggle at best to engage a wider public in conservation matters and politicians know this. Political emphasis on conservation matters needs to be done, not just by lobbying, but by initial cantidate selection at local and national level. That requires all conservationists to become engaged in grass roots politics and demand answers to specific local and national conservation issues. I’m sure you know as well as I do that you get the politicians you deserve.

    1. John – many thanks for your efforts. A few hundred more people giving the dissemination of this e-petition some welly and it will secure even more signatures. It really doesn’t matter how many people don’t sign – it’s all about how many people do!

      thank you again.

      And I agree with you about grass roots politics.

  4. Well said of your best Blogs..I grew sick and tired of being told by the police [and government agencies such as SNH] that they had to balance the view of two sides here – when all we were asking for was the Law to be applied.I believe what the predator killers are doing is something called “special pleading”….It should always be remembered that driven grouse shooting was and still is, a vast unplanned experiment created in a time when wildlife counted for nothing, labour was cheap and the views of the majority were irrelevant…it is a failed experiment which needs the large scale and unacceptable killing of natural predators. Time to sweep it away.

  5. I think Mr. Lester’s comment “a lot of the science that is done here doesn’t reflect what happens in reality” could easily be translated as “a lot of the science that is done here doesn’t always reflect what I want it to”.

  6. This a great blog but in the most part, with the exception of dear old Moron Monro, I feel we’re preaching to the choir. Why not also try to get these sentiments about this programme across to the BBC’s ‘right of reply’ programme:

    In addition, why not respectfully challenge Dr Young’s assertions; her contact details are readily available via the power of Google.

    1. Arnie – thank you. I apologise for the delay in posting your comment but I had to learn HTML code on the bus in order to correct the error you pointed out.

      I’m actually more relaxed about the programme than some others are. I’m not going to complain about it – I’m happy to comment on it. Dr Young may be going to write a Guest Blog here – we’ll see.

  7. I happened to find this a very thoughtful programme about the practical realities of conflict resolution in the field of conservation.

    The presenter Monty Don quite openly identified the issue of heavy persecution of hen harriers, while acknowledging in turn the fierce reaction of conservationists.

    In exploring how the process of conflict resolution might succeed, the programme went on to highlight, in a refreshingly measured way I thought, the importance of trust, shared goals and a preparedness or desire on both sides of the argument to change.

    There is a general consensus now that there must be more harriers nationally. The question is how to achieve that shared goal in a way that is both workable and acceptable to all the various actors in the drama. One way is through the draft Joint Recovery Plan facilitated by Defra, in a dialogue where the RSPB is reassuringly and quite properly still engaged. Such a solution would indeed require compromise on both sides, or I guess what you would call a fudge; but the resulting benefits would surely justify qualifying your high moral principles. After all, the pickpockets in your analogy are also building the biodiversity equivalent of schools and hospitals in their community.

    1. Lazywell, what a load of nonsense. We have the protection in place now, it’s illegal to shoot birds of prey. The ‘Joint Plan’ is a tactic to delay the enevitable. If the Pickpockets stopped picking pockets we wouldn’t need a ‘Joint Plan’. As for putting money into the community I would have a guess that it’s a very small percentage of their turnover, a very small gesture, nothing more.

    2. Lazywell – nice try, in your own lovely style. But the pickpockets are putting up water bills, killing mountain hares, over-burning blanket bogs, putting roads and fences across the few remaining open spaces, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing flood risk and pinching the Hen Harriers from my pocket. Give me back a couple of score of pairs of Hen harriers in England and you may be seen as having regained some trust, but there would still be some other issues for us to talk through.

      Your side is in no position to ask for trust when you haven’t given us a single reason to believe that you are acting in good faith. Either you (not you personally – isn’t English an awkward language? (or maybe it’s just my use of it?)) haven’t tried to rein in the criminal elements bumping off Hen Harriers or you haven’t been able to do so. Which is it? either way, ‘you lot’ can’t at the moment be trusted.

  8. Thanks for drawing attention to the Lonely Planet programme which through the wonders of iPlayer, I have now heard.

    For me, the most interesting comments were those of the Cambridge conservation Professor William Sutherland when he focussed on the conservation need for conflict resolution and made the point that this now needs a mixture of the natural and social sciences and that conflict resolution requires a whole new set of skills. Skills which I am sure you will agree don’t appear to be those of most commentators on your blog or yourself.

    Adversarial approaches are great for drawing attention to a problem but when this is achieved (as it is with the hen harrier/grouse moor issue) than a different set of skills are needed for resolving the problem.

    I am old enough to have believed that through intransigence, the huge problems of Northern Ireland could not be resolved. But some brave and bold politicians took a different line, swallowed their pride and more importantly set aside their deep-seated prejudices and today we have peace.

    Is this not the best way forward? To continue to demonise, antagonise and hence risk creating insurgency amongst an entire profession when your target should be the bad apples in the barrel who break the law, is not the best way to resolve the conflict. And for the sake of the future of hen harriers we do need a peaceful resolution.

    1. If, as is being suggested, a few bad apples in the grouse industry are the cause of all the trouble, how is it the responsibility of conservationists to root them out? Surely this burden should fall upon all the good apples in the industry itself. It is their blatant reluctance to commit to this that renders the whole driven grouse industry a problem. A cynic might suggest that the good apples are not as good as they purport to be.

    2. Philip – no I don’t agree that I lack the skills for conflict resolution – I’ve done a fair bit of that in my time. How rude of you (just teasing)!

      On the other hand, yes there are a fair number of commenters on this blog who are clearly not skilled in that regard – someone called ‘Monro’, someone called ‘kie’, another called ‘Henry’, and there are plenty of others too.

      You haven’t, readers will notice, suggested a way forward in your comment – you’ve just said that my readers and I aren’t fit to find it. So, lead the way, tell us your solution…

      Or were you just being slyly adversarial…?

      By the way, certainly one way of looking at Northern Ireland was that the criminals on one side were persuaded that they weren’t going to win through criminality since the majority would stand up to them and not give in to their demands. Was that what you meant?

  9. I did listen to the programme live and I screamed when I heard the words of Juliette Young. I did write to her, suggesting, as the programme did dwell on conflict resolution and the people who are have or have not a scientific background. I suggested that as she has an established science background she should first research the subject before suggesting ways of resolution, which in her case repeats statements about raptors and hares which are simply lies, with no factual or scientific basis. I hope she does not mind me repeating part of her reply to me :”My work focuses on understanding these different perspectives, including gamekeepers and all other relevant stakeholders, and finding shared solutions. ”
    There really is no hope when people who should know better, and in this she is not alone, suggest that talking or allowing culling is going to end the problem.
    I think the CEH website, here,, says it all really.

    1. I note that Dr Young has been working on these conflict resolutions for ten years, says it all then? Rather like the none joint plan Defra haven’t published yet?

      “Dr Young is a social scientist …. spent time rehabilitating chimpanzees in Sierra Leone and chasing fig wasps in the Cook Islands before joining CEH. She has a PhD in political science”.

      ‘Political science’ …. therein lies troubled waters?

  10. Thanks, Mark.
    I’m pleased that your subsequent blog indicates that we agree about the input from Prof William Sutherland, the Cambridge conservation biologist on the Shared Planet programme. But your blogs of 6th & 7th October pretty clearly indicate that conflict resolution is at present not high on your agenda. The final and concluding comment from the RSPB hen harrier skydancer project volunteer that those two particular blogs represent several steps backward was a revealing and sad conclusion.
    You ask for my solution. Which is to condemn and throw the full weight of the law at the bad guys; work with the good guys and convert the undecided middle of the road guys by gaining their confidence and making them understand that a healthy increase in hen harrier numbers is in the best long term interests of those who own and manage these grouse moors.

  11. Trust is needed. The grouse shooting industry needs to trust conservationists that after a 10 year long Sabbath, to allow hen harriers and the land to recover from their exploitation, we will then trust them to shoot grouse again but without irresponsible and illegal practices.

  12. Of course I don’t know who the bad guys are as I manage nature reserves in Kent, which is several hundred miles from any grouse moor. If I did know, I would ensure that they were prosecuted using the full rigour of the law. At the same time, my lengthy time with FWAG (Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group) confirms that working with the good guys and converting the others gives the greatest benefit for wildlife and that there is no doubt that it would do the same for hen harriers.

    1. Philip – you’re in no doubt? But your experience in this particular area is rather low, as you say.

      Btw, could almost see Elmley from the train just now. Crossed the Medqay as reading your comment. What do you think will be the result in Rochester and Strood?

    2. As there were NO hen harrier nests in England in 2013, and almost none this year, how can there be ANY good guys? What good guys? If there were any they would have nests, even if the dispersing chicks were always killed by other people.

  13. Sorry Mark, I don’t agree. I reckon that my experience with FWAG who were based from Cumbria to Cornwall demonstrated that gaining land managers’ trust is the most important factor whatever the habitat might be. And of course the Hawk & Owl Trust does manage a 7500 acre moor in Yorkshire which gives me some understanding.
    Re the good guys/bad guys point let me ask you a question Mark – I see from the BBC Shared Planet website that under Simon Lester’s management at Langholm Moor, an amazing 47 hen harrier chicks were fledged there this year. In your eyes Mark, does this wonderful news make Simon Lester one of the good guys or because he is a gamekeeper, is he beyond the pale?
    Pleased to hear that you were close to Elmley earlier today. I was talking to a couple of birders there earlier today who were watching a pair of long-eared owls dozing in the bushes when one of the guys said he had had his best day ever when he saw four harriers on the same day at Elmley. (For those who read your blog and might be not up to speed on harriers, they were: Marsh, Hen, Montague and Pallid) – not bad eh.
    It would be a pleasure to show you round Mark. In fact that reminds me that the H & O T are having an Open Day at Elmley next May and as a newly joined up H & O T member why don’t you come along?

    1. Philip – yes but farming and grouse shooting are rather different, as you will find as you get into the subject. First farming is important because we all need to eat, and grouse shooting is unimportant because nobody needs to shoot. Second, the problems caused to wildlife by farming are almost all the incidental result of individuals going about their businesses legally whereas a good proportion (not all) of the harm done to wildlife by grouse shooting interests results from illegal actions, done knowingly and deliberately. Those differences are rather crucial.

      Is Simon Lester a good guy? I like him. But he said some silly things in that programme which, as I wrote in the blog, won’t have helped.

      A May day at elmley would be lovely. Let’s talk nearer the time, please. And thank you.

  14. As I listened to the programme I was thinking about recent coverage of SNHs apparent desire to reduce the population of Barnacle Geese on Islay by 30% to appease farmers there who are already getting compensation. With 70% of the world population wintering there you’d think it would be SNHs job to defend the geese and let someone else work out a compromise: not just cave in. At some point you have to stop giving half your gains away or pretty soon there is nothing left to protect. What sort of example are we setting countries like Malta?

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