Shared Planet – some more thoughts

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

I’ve listened to Shared Planet a couple more times and it irritates me each time I hear it – but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad programme or that I wish it hadn’t been aired.  I think it’s a jolly good idea to read or listen to opinions with which we disagree every day. And I make that easier for some people by writing this blog…

Why does it irritate me?

I think for these reasons:

  1. I wanted to interrupt and say ‘No – that’s not right’ or ‘But what about this’ all the time.  That’s just the same feeling that many people get when listening to Any Questions or Question Time. It’s just one of those things. I hope that I have caused the same level of irritation amongst others, often (and I know I have).
  2. There was an anti-science element running through the programme which Prof Bill Sutherland did something to redress.  The juxtaposition of ‘science’ and ‘local ecological knowledge’ is a new one on me. It sounds a bit like ‘rational thinking’ versus ‘self-interested prejudice’ but it certainly wasn’t explained.  Mary Colwell did well to jump on (in the nicest possible way) Simon Lester when he said that he didn’t really believe the science being done on his own patch but this wasn’t followed up at all in the programme. And it was difficult to fathom whether Juliette Young believed on basing resolution on the evidence or whether it was just a question of finding a solution that suited everyone a bit better.
  3. The interview with Simon Lester was very revealing but what it revealed wasn’t made explicit. The Langholm project has been dragging on for years now and is a project aimed specifically to help resolve the Hen Harrier/grouse shooting conflict.  For the Head Gamekeeper at Langholm to be so dismissive of the science being carried out by a range of organisations on his own patch was quite shocking. For him to be allowed to wander off into lethal control of Buzzards (for which, in my understanding there is no scientific support from the research which is being carried out on ‘his’ land) is also both shocking and revealing.
  4. There was a lot said about the need for trust – but nothing said about where trust comes from. The dismissal of science and the plugging of lethal Buzzard control and a brood management system by the Langholm Head ‘keeper, where diversionary feeding has been shown to work at Langholm, will do little to build trust. Nor has the continued reduction by criminal action of the Hen Harrier population by grouse shooting interests – which was touched on by the programme.  I don’t trust the grouse shooting industry any more. I don’t completely trust the organisations involved such as the GWCT, Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation or BASC as far as their motives are concerned. But I certainly don’t trust them to be able to speak on behalf of the criminal elements who are killing Hen Harriers (etc etc etc).  Who claims to speak for the criminals? And why should we trust them? Give us 40 pairs of Hen Harriers in England with no conditions attached and you can win back our trust (or mine at least).
  5. There is a bit of an industry growing up around academics and conflict resolution too.

But you should listen to the programme (which was nothing if not interesting and stimulating) and see what you think, and then sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

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10 Replies to “Shared Planet – some more thoughts”

  1. It is not a surprise that Mr Lester felt able to make these comments. A predecessor at Langholm was able to make similarly inappropriate comments while the Joint Raptor Study was under way at Langholm in the 1990s, in defiance of the moratorium to which his employers were a party. It reflects the standard of people management in shooting and the deference in the industry to the views of 'countryman' gamekeepers.

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  2. Mark, do we know how many harriers were annually 'removed' or 'disappeared' at Langholm to keep the population at zero prior to the outset of the Langholm study? I don't recall ever seeing a figure publicly mentioned and since the population went from effectively zero (or one or two pairs) to double figures quite quickly, I've always wanted to know. The study website says "The unprecedented build-up in harrier numbers at Langholm was probably a consequence of complete raptor protection, the grass/heather mix, the stage in the vole cycle and possibly the control of other predators". I assume someone must have reported what complete raptor removal was before it became complete raptor protection?

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    1. Peter - that's a very good point. those who know how many raptors were killed would be wise not to admit it, and those who don't know are too 'polite' to keep banging on about it when the estate is being so cooperative in the research. But it is an elephant on the hill - as it were.

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  3. This may interest you Mark,

    Earlier today as part of my MSc at the UEA we had Professor Nick Sotherton of the GWCT give us a talk on "Agri-environment policy responses and prospects".

    I won't go into detail but some of the things he said were along the lines of...

    I would much rather go to a shoot to see wildlife than a nature reserve - That's almost a direct quote, he even repeated it more than once.

    After my questioning on some of his predator control studies (i.e. Hope farm doesn't use predator control yet has a high FBI) fell on deaf ears, he claimed that "some organisations" (he was talking about the RSPB because he pointed at me who had just mentioned them) had an agenda and chose to ignore certain studies. He even went on to claim that the GWCT were "in the middle" when discussing agendas. - Not something he convinced most of us of I imagine.

    He didn't have any kind words to say about the Leeds heather burning study either, he even mentioned that his friend (whom I forget) told him that if controlled heather burning was to be stopped, the whole of the peak district could set on fire! - That really annoyed me as one of my questions (about disease spread in game being exacerbated by culling natural predators) was shot down (in flames!) by the reply "where is your evidence for this?" ha ha

    It was unbelievable at times, glad I got it off my chest. I certainly won't be applying for their MSc projects.

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  4. Just as regards Langholm, yes, the objective of the project has always been to help resolve the Hen Harrier/grouse shooting conflict. But remember the challenge you signed up to on behalf of the RSPB was to show that viable driven grouse shooting was possible in the presence of hen harriers.

    You say that diversionary feeding has been shown to work, and that is true to the extent that a small proportion of grouse chicks have been taken by harriers. Certainly, therefore, diversionary feeding could be part of a solution to the conflict, which is why it expressly features in Defra’s draft Joint Recovery Plan.

    However there still hasn’t been a sufficient increase in grouse numbers at Langholm for any shooting to take place, let alone any driven days. In that regard it mirrors the experience of the relatively brief trial at the conclusion of Langholm 1.

    The question therefore arises as to what is continuing to suppress the grouse population, and at the moment there’s no scientific answer to that question. I therefore have some sympathy with Simon Lester for straying beyond the strictly scientific remit of the project.

    Both Juliette Young and Bill Sutherland on the programme acknowledged that there is value in the anecdotal evidence of experienced practitioners on the ground. It’s to be hoped, therefore, that scientists proceed to follow up Simon’s personal observations about, say, winter predation by buzzards. After all, the original Joint Raptor Study itself essentially came about in order to test the anecdotal evidence of moorland keepers and managers. And as you have been candid enough to accept, its findings led even distinguished scientists such as yourself to change their deeply entrenched views about the dynamics between grouse and raptors.

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    1. Lazywell - a perfectly fair comment only marred right at the end - but otherwise full of good debating points.

      Marred at the end by over-egging my level of scientific distinction and then by over-egging how attached I was (and maybe others were) to the view that Hen Harriers wouldn't make such a big difference to grouse bags. I think that I, and some of my colleagues, were pretty sceptical about how great inroads Harriers would make into grouse bags - and we were clearly wrong! But the scientists in the grouse shooting 'side' were pretty amazed too as I remember it. We did not enter the Langholm study, any of us, thinking that this was an issue where science was on one side and the horny-handed sons of the soil were on the other side. But the main point is, we did take notice of the results - perhaps Simon Lester needs to learn that lesson.

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      1. Not only is there no grouse shooting on Langholm, there has been no grouse shooting there since 1999.

        Grouse numbers and hen harrier numbers are a great deal lower than expected; particularly those expectations that are computer generated!

        The reason is predation, almost certainly by buzzards and ravens.

        The loss of three hen harrier chicks recently in England to predation, almost certainly buzzards, underlines the real threat to the recovery of the hen harrier and other ground nesting birds across England: predation not persecution.

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        1. Monro - you are out of date. Perhaps because you are so far away from the UK? How many harriers do you think there are this year...?

          But you appear to be the only person these days who does not accept the science that the main cause of lack of Hen Harriers is illegal killing by grouse moor interests.

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  5. I've only just listened to this, I am quite amazed about how bad it was. Shared planet is usually reasonable and has many many times used science in arguments against people hurting the planet. Now all of sudden science cant tell us anything.

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