Game Conservancy research to save the Chaffinch – a nation rejoices!

Scraping the bottom of the barrel for something to say, the GWCT reach for an anecdote from their work rather than the major study. I am grateful for the GWCT’s own blog for highlighting how much in a spin the organisation is by drawing attention to their letter in the Daily Torygraph before Christmas.

Apparently the Chaffinch is a declining species (a real countryman says?) and needs a bit of ‘balance’ to survive the ravages of predators.  Let’s not rake over this old ground again. [As you can see, the Chaffinch has increased in numbers by about a third since 1970].

But let’s also not let the GWCT forget, as they appear to have done, that their very clever and talented (and principled) Nicholas Aebischer was involved as an author of the Songbird Survival-funded reanalysis of the BTO database which examined the issue of predators and songbird species like Chaffinches. It found precious little evidence for any impacts at all. Plucking an anecdote out of the air cannot trump a proper analysis.

Here’s the paper , authored by one of his own staff,which the GWCT Director of Research needs to revise.

And, remember this recent review doesn’t seem to give the GWCT view much support either.

Chart_Q1_150109Remember too, that the GWCT was, arguably, viewed less favourably than any other organisation by the readers of this blog (a wise but not entirely representative bunch of folk).

I used to admire the GWCT greatly, but I certainly don’t in this day and age, and their best days may all lie in the past, or some of them might, with a big change of tack, lie in the future, but I can’t feel that we are currently living through them.

One problem that I’m sure the GWCT has, is that their members, including the large shooting estates, want the GWCT to say things that GWCT’s scientific background and history (and past successes) make it very difficult to say.

The value of the GWCT to the shooting industry is partly that they do some useful research but also that in days gone by, their word would count for something with the rest of us. Now it counts for less and less.  It’s a sad decline, yes I am sad to see it, which has been driven by the shooting industry’s inability to embrace change and move with the times.

I’d like to see a revival in the GWCT’s image and reputation, but it doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.


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15 Replies to “Game Conservancy research to save the Chaffinch – a nation rejoices!”

  1. I largely agree with you Mark that the GWCT is increasingly loosing favour, but in the blog post the chaffinch is only one of three farmland birds mentioned. So maybe some cherry picking by you too. Have you read the autobiography of David Jennings, Of Partridges and Peacocks, a number of chapters discuss the hey day of the interactions between the various organisations in Scotlands past such as the Nature conservancy (now JNCC I think) , ITE, Aberdeen Uni and GCT, those interactions are still there to some extent but the glue holding it together was the view that traditional upland land management was appropriate and just needed tweaking is now passing.

    1. Tom - I give the link to the original work so can hardly be described as cherry picking. And my argument doesn't depend on the Chaffinch, it's about what science the GWCT now decide to trot out in these instances.

      Your comment on the past (and the Nature Conservancy is now, kind of, partly SNH (in Scotland) and partly JNCC, but largely obliterated; ITE is now CEH - and partly obliterated too) is very interesting.

  2. Mark - chaffinch population has recoded declines since 2005 (CBC/BBS). Still, don't let the truth get in the way...

    Pleased to read that so many of your blog readers think the GWCT had a "very good year" in 2014 - give or take a few, similar to the RSPB - happy days...

    1. Andrew - the link to the BTO/JNCC/RSPB data is in my blog. Don't be silly.

      The graph shows the last 47 years of data - last year was, from the look of it by eye, the 12th highest population level in that time. 2012 was the fifth highest and 2011 was the sixth highest. That 'decline' since 20o5 is entirely due to one bad year in 2013.

      You mustn't lose too much sleep over the Chaffinch until you have saved the Grey Partridge whose status really is declining - it's your logo, you know?

      And take another look at the graph of how different organisations are seen by readers of this blog - you pipped BASC in the race to be seen as having had a 'bad' or 'very bad' year. Didn't you notice that? Go on, have another look - the grey bits. See them?

  3. No, the chaffinch decline since 2005 has nothing to do with 2013. It has, however, been attributed to outbreak of trichomonosis...

    For more on the GWCT grey partridge work here

    1. Andrew - do you accept the findings of the study of which GWCT was a part or not?

      And anyone can look at the data - the 'decline' since 2005 depends on 2013 - just use your eyes and look at the data.

      But it's good to put a brave face on it...

      1. If as suggested the decline of the chaffinch was due to an outbreak of trichomonosis surely the removal of any predatory species would have worsened the situation

      2. No. Once you have finished wishing otherwise - read the copy above the graph. BTO stating decline due to attributed to outbreak of trichomonosis in 2005... never mind the truth...

        1. Andrew - no. If the population didn't go down, and it didn't go down between 2005 and 2012 (use your eyes), until 2013 then we'll have to wait and see.

          But although you keep coming back to argue this point you are unable it seems to decide whether the GWCT stands by the major study of which you were a part that exaonnerated birds of prey and mammalian predators in having anything but a small role in songbird declines. Would you like one more go at that? I say one more, but you haven't addressed it at all.

  4. I must say Mark that I share your view of GWCT. They used to do some very fine work but of recent years the standard has slipped enormously. Much less of it is now properly peer reviewed and it is, as this piece of tosh is designed to support a point of view about predator control. Far better to determine whether the predators are having any real lasting effect in the first place and then ask why if it is in fact the case, rather than leap for the trap and gun. That Andrew Gilruth is promoting it makes me even more doubtful of its validity! His recent promotion of a ludicrous view of harrier density being another case in point (a thirtieth of the density science justifies)

    1. That's what I find so dispiriting - whatever the problem, the solution nearly always seems to be to kill either more of one thing or kill something else.

  5. They GWCT response to the letter by David Gardner in the Telegraph is disingenuous and just another attempt to bang on about predator control. David Gardner writes how important buzzards are for a healthy ecosystem and how declining bird populations cannot be blamed on predators. The GWCT open their letter by agreeing that David is right and how important it is to maintain a balanced ecosystem, but then go on how wonderful killing predators is to help certain birds, the opposite to what David wrote!

    The GWCT should just be called the Game Conservancy Trust. The only wildlife it is interested in is what it can shoot, which includes the woodcock, a beautiful bird, which is declining as a UK breeder.

    They have also lobbied for sparrowhawks and buzzards to be added to the Scottish General Licences so that they can be legally killed, the removal of hen harriers from English grouse moors and pine martins from Scottish forests, the latter under the name of "research". Yeah, they seem to really care for wildlife and their idea of a "balanced" ecosystem is lots of red grouse and pheasant, a few golden plovers and chaffinch and nothing else.

  6. Everything else in the countryside seems to have declined, with the exception of people, pheasants, red legged partridge and woodpigeon. Chaffinch are just catching up late.

    Just another indicator of the malaise in rural policymaking.

  7. Just another reason to read the Chaffinch book in the Langford press series on birds for children. [out soon] Given that the decline is totally due to changes in farming practice these so called charities have to claim something to keep their members happy. I remember in the 1980s a flock of 4000 [+2000 Brambling] feeding on fat hen in a turnip field. Now we have 'stubble' turnips with no seed at all for birds!


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