And so…

Photo: Guy Shorrock
Photo: Guy Shorrock

Let’s just take a step back and survey the scene.

  • the number of Hen Harriers nesting in England over the last decade has fallen and this bird is almost extinct in England
  • Hen Harrier Day attracted hundreds of protesters (in appalling weather) and achieved a social media reach of millions
  • the opening of the Red Grouse shooting season was no longer treated by the media as a ‘celebration’ of a ‘traditional’ ‘fieldsport’ but was marked with discussions over the controversial nature of this industry and its reliance on illegal killing of birds of prey
  • a big academic study of the wider environmental impacts of management of the uplands for grouse shooting was damning – grouse moor management is an ecosystem disservice.
  • retailers are beginning to shun selling grouse meat because it is tainted not only with lead but also with illegality (here and here)
  • an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting is heading towards 20,000 signatures despite not yet having the support of any major wildlife conservation organisation
  • prominent members of the shooting community are attacking the RSPB on a broad front and their attack is being publicised by the shooting press, and is not condemned by what are supposed to be the reputable organisations that may or may not represent grouse shooting
  • the Hen Harrier sub-group has stalled, it seems due to the unwillingness of the criminal elements within grouse shooting to recognise that they must not only give an inch but actually a mile

A few suggestions from me:

1. shooting organisations – you need to give ground, lots of ground, but even that will only postpone the demise of driven grouse shooting rather than cancel it all together.

2. RSPB – you have done the right thing by investing in dialogue with the driven grouse shooting community. This has been revisiting the measured and conciliatory approach adopted by at least two previous RSPB management teams and going back over 20 years.  And you have ended up in a worse position than ever before because of the appalling behavior of the grouse shooting industry.  To wit – there are even fewer Hen Harriers, a growing proportion of your membership thinks that you are too soft on shooting (that’s my impression at least), the criminals are still winning and yet they expect you to cave in, and now shooting interests are attacking you quite openly too.

You are not, in any way, constrained by your Royal Charter, under these circumstances, from arguing for the end of driven grouse shooting. Your Chairman has said so and it is indeed true. It is time for RSPB Council to grasp the nettle and shift the RSPB’s position to be in favour of a ban of driven grouse shooting in England – if they do, they will find it was a Dead Nettle all along, nothing to be scared of at all, no sting.

3. Wildlife Trusts – although you have not been as active, overall, as the RSPB many individual county trusts have made very significant contributions locally to this debate and to highlighting these issues.  Be brave and be more outspoken – you have nothing to lose but your reputation for being rather timid (and yes, that is the reputation you have).

4. Defra and the government – you are supposed to be in charge but have decided to preside over a long drawn out discussion where you have, if anything, pressurised the good guys to give ground rather than hammering the bad guys.  May I remind you that you are neither a neutral arbitrator in this matter, nor are you the Moorland Association in government. You need to uphold the law and protect wildlife from criminal acts. Get a grip or be gone! What is your plan on this subject? What is your view?

How about moving to a policy where there will be a five-year moratorium on grouse shooting in all English National Parks starting in 2015? That will give everyone something to think about.  Why are National Parks still filled with grouse butts and access closed to the public for days shooting? What is the model of National Parks that permits industrial scale killing of wildlife inside their boundaries? National Park authorities are basically planning authorities, not much more, who can prevent someone having the wrong sort of extension on their house because it will spoil the character and attractiveness of the National Park and yet permit the blasting of guns for private pleasure of a minority interest.  Why?  How many Hen Harriers do you think there would be at the end of a five year moratorium in the Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors, Peak District and Northumberland NPs? Wouldn’t it be fun to find out? It would certainly help the next government get a little closer to its 2020 targets and have something to brag about.


Oh yes, and the Labour Party, we know where Barry Gardiner was on Hen Harrier Day (and very welcome he was too, and very appreciated by the crowds) but where are you on this issue?

Peak HH Day G Shorrock RSPB_017

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15 Replies to “And so…”

  1. Mark you have covered all areas of the debate in this blog, as usual you've hit every nail on the head. We need the NGO's to pull their heads out of the sand and crack on with what needs to be done and back the ban. I do a lot of work volunteering with Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and although when you talk to individuals they all talk the talk, as an organisation they are too quiet. It would be great to know where the political parties stand on this issue, (we know Green Party supports the ban) I think we know which side the Conservatives will fall on, but what about Labour?

      1. A rip-roaring day today. The number has soared (quartered?) to well over 19,200 now. The pace seems to be hotting up!!

  2. Brilliant blog post, as Stewart says. But as a former Trustee of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust I must spring to their defense by saying they have been outstanding recently in taking a firm stance (including legal action) to campaign against damaging environmental actions, and have been truly pro-active in trying to protect Hen Harriers here. I am deeply disappointed that DWT have not been invited to speak at next year's BAWC conference on wildlife crime. (I did ask BAWC to do this. It's a very big omission).

    But I do agree the NGOs (TWT/RSPB) need to be more outspoken on this issue. I have done what many of us can do: I have lobbied the CEOs of my own county Wildlife Trust and also Stephanie Hilborne of TWT to take a firmer public stance. I'm not an RSPB member, but the more I read Mark's 'Fighting for Birds', and the more I hear idiotic views like those of grouse shoot owners like Sir Ian Botham (YFTB), the more I want my money to go direct to influencing key national and international decisions on protecting the environment - and definitely not just on nature reserves.

    1. Nick, I too know about all the great work DWT do and didn't mean to give the impression that they don't do enough in all other areas. I was referring to the single issue of fighting against the shooting fraternity and backing the ban on Driven Grouse Shooting. I am a huge fan of DWT, if I weren't I wouldn't give them so much of my time.

    2. I recall once offering the RSPB a donation but with the caveat that it be used for the Walshaw campaign case. They would only take it if it were not a 'restricted' donation!

      I think I have already made the comment that the 'bully beef', Howatt and Scott outburst could quite likely backfire and actually encourage people to join the RSPB.

  3. The numbers of hen harriers in England have incontrovertibly been savaged by natural predation, as has the black grouse, also under threat, which shares exactly the same habitat as the hen harrier.

    Hen harrier day was not without its critics.

    ‘Right now the main obstacle to the recovery and reintroduction throughout England of one of the most entrancing and endangered birds of prey is the RSPB’.

    Sunday Times Aug. 12th

    The academic study referenced above into moorland burning called for more research. The Moorland Association pointed out its shortcomings, in particular, the fact that fires on moorland are by no means always a man made phenomenon; better controlled burning than uncontrolled:

    Grouse meat is an acquired taste, but there will never be any problem in selling it, particularly overseas, like so much of Britain's excellent wild rabbit meat.

    The lack of support for the, frankly, absurd e-petition from major conservation organisations speaks for itself.

    The rspb has a duty to justify its charitable status to the charities commission every year. A recent poll of rspb members has shown that many are concerned at the amount of money it spends on political lobbying.

    TNS online poll of 1,018 people. Fieldwork, September 2014

    The hen harrier sub group is multi agency, attended by some very busy people. It has most certainly not stalled, as the wealth of correspondence here shows:

    One suggestion from me:

    Dialogue not diatribe.

    1. Monro - were you at the GWCT evening the other week? You are not engaging in dialogue you are indulging in diatribe. How witty of you to criticise yourself.

      And your diatribe is inaccurate but repetitive. Is that all you've got?

      What's the weather like where you are?

    2. Monro, "The numbers of hen harriers in England have incontrovertibly been savaged by natural predation, as has the black grouse, also under threat, which shares exactly the same habitat as the hen harrier." from whence comes this drivel! Whilst Hen Harrier ( and Black Grouse) and many of the birds that historically lived in uncultivated open spaces have declined over the last 300 years to suggest that is the current cause of its near extinction in England is just not true, try reading " A future for the Hen Harrier" published in 2007 by NE which quite clearly states that the problem is persecution on grouse moors (where there are very few predators to take them other than man), and it still is. RSPB is not and never has been the problem, except in its kinder than they deserve attitude to the game lobby ( officially known in The Netherlands as pleasure killers). To help the Harrier all that needs to happen is for the killing to STOP NOW, not wait for DEFRAs plan, thats just prevaracation. To see what the problem is in our uplands look at bird populations rather than propaganda and poorly researched headlines.
      Harriers nearly extinct in England where there should be 330 pairs and half the young produced this year apparently already dead.
      Peregrines on grouse moors producing almost no young and maintained for years by immigration from other habitats. Short eared Owls rapidly going the way of the harrier, moor edge Goshawks almost a thing of the past with all the evidence for all of it down to grouse shooting. Denial is no longer an option either do something constructive about it or be tarred with the same brush as the criminals who do this.

    3. Dialogue is always good when carried out in good faith but if it is carried on in a manner which simply seeks to obfuscate the issues and delay actions then there is nothing admirable about it.
      This post is muddying the waters rather than shedding useful light. No-one has ever suggested that hen harriers are never predated by other species than man but the disappearance of the species from English uplands is not because of the presence of hordes of eagle owls is it? Hen Harriers are doing better in various countries where eagle owls are naturally present and in areas of the world that are not 'protected' by gamekeepers; let's not pretend that - with the exception of persecution on shooting estates - England is a uniquely dangerous place for the species.

    4. At long last I have managed to find some reference to the TNS Survey referred to by Monro. It is at I cant find any reference to political (small p) campaigning which is of course why the RSPB was set up in the first place.

      What it doesn't show is the information given to allow people to understand the question. They cannot have answered the question without some other information. How that information is worded is very relevant to the answer. Oddly it is not 1018 RSPB supporters in this survey as inferred in the statement above and elsewhere it is actually 243.

      I sense a FOI request to CLA and TNS.

  4. record bags of Red Grouse this season seemingly untouched by the natural predation that has savaged Hen Harriers? same old stupid comments year after year which is exactly the reason why the time for dialogue has long gone, no consideration for the law, no consideration for wildlife

  5. 68 Hen Harriers resident on Langholm grouse moor this summer. Only a couple of miles from the English border.

  6. Great piece, Mark, and I couldn't help noticing the juxtaposition with the book review of the John Muir biography who, as a Christian, walker and pioneering conservationist is one of my heroes (and I must get that book so another hint to the family to join the one already dropped for H is for Hawk). I can't see how using National Park land for game production and killing remains within Muir's vision. However his legacy lives on with the John Muir Trust who are doing some fine work in Scotland particularly.

    1. John Muir certainly wouldn't have expected many upland ground nesting birds, including hen harriers, to have been wiped out in National Parks across the country.

      He must be turning in his grave.

      'Results, published in the journal Bird Study, found that numbers of Golden Plover and Snipe declined more in upland landscapes where there was more forestry in surrounding areas. The exact causes for this relationship are not known, but waders breed on the ground and as such are vulnerable to predation. The surrounding forest may well be beneficial to nesting crows or foxes, which are the main predators of eggs and chicks of upland waders. Other recent studies have shown that changes to upland wader abundance can be influenced by numbers of predators, and this study suggests that afforestation, in some areas, might be an important factor behind this relationship.'

      Hen harriers are ground nesting birds


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