‘Monro’ posted over 100 comments on this blog between 11 October and 14 December on the subject of Hen Harriers and grouse shooting’. On 14 December, because I was getting a bit fed up with his repetitive comments, I offered him a Guest Blog to get it all off his chest in one go. I didn’t hear anything from him until last weekend when Monro revealed himself to be Tim Bidie (which I rather suspected from his email address).
Tim writes: I am a 60 year old retired British and Sultan of Oman’s Army Officer living overseas, in Oman, running a small business advisory consultancy in Muscat, helping small to medium sized British and European Companies achieve business there.
‘THE GOOD INTENTIONS PAVING COMPANY’ (Saul Bellow)
‘Every seed is awakened and so is all animal life. It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being and we therefore yield to our animal neighbours the same right as ourselves, to inhabit this land.’
Sitting Bull, the victor of Little Bighorn, was a hunter gatherer who valued wildlife. There is no contradiction there. Animal life was exploited, yet cherished.
Most countrymen in England today hold to that same belief.
Eradication of apex predators in Britain by man has allowed other, smaller, predators to flourish, at the expense of various prey species, particularly ground nesting birds. That creates a responsibility for wildlife management.
The introduction of reared gamebirds into the countryside is no different to the introduction of beef cattle. Both end up on the table. The gamebird, arguably, has a better life and death.
Poultry, lambs, gamebirds, all require protection.
This point of view is a minority one in the country at large. But Beatrice Hall’s comment “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” should still hold good in 21st Century Britain.
Anything less would be a tyranny of the majority:
‘Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant — society collectively over the separate individuals who compose it — its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development and, if possible, prevent the formation of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs as protection against political despotism.’
On Liberty, English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
A good recent example of the tyranny of the majority was the hunting act of 2004, lacking, as it did, any foundation in peer reviewed and published evidence.
A former cabinet minister referred to the forcing of that act through parliament as ‘the most illiberal act of the last century’
The Prime Minister of the time later wrote:
‘On hunting, I think yes on balance it was (a mistake) in the end. It’s not that I particularly like hunting or have ever engaged in it or would. I didn’t quite understand, and I reproach myself for this, that for a group of people in our society in the countryside this was a fundamental part of their way of life. Anyway, we came to a compromise in the end that, as I think I say in the book, was not one of my finest policy moments’
And the ‘Good Intentions Paving Company’ kicked in:
As a direct consequence of the two dog follow up limit imposed by the hunting act, admitted by animal rights activists to be useless for flushing foxes from cover, thousands of shot and wounded foxes in England, unrecovered, now die a hideous lingering death underground.
It has kicked in elsewhere in the countryside as well.
As a direct consequence of opposition to a nationwide grey squirrel cull, thousands of red squirrels die a dreadful death from squirrel pox, carried by grey squirrels, every year.
As a direct consequence of the failure of predator control in national parks, populations of ground nesting birds, including hen harriers, are wiped out, never to return.
Rspb researchers themselves are in no doubt as to the major threat to ground nesting birds:
‘Curlew nesting success tended to be higher, and population changes more positive, on sites with higher gamekeeper density (as a surrogate for predator control intensity). Nesting success tended to be lower, and population changes more negative, on sites with a greater area of conifer plantations surrounding the open moorland where the curlew bred. Fox abundance indices were higher on sites with a greater area of surrounding woodland…….changes in upland land use are associated with curlew declines, with predation a likely mechanism.’
Upland land use is associated with curlew declines, with predation a likely mechanism, and this may apply to other breeding waders. The removal of isolated woodland plantations from otherwise unafforested landscapes may help reduce predation pressure across a range of systems including moorland. However, direct predator control may also be important to conserve ground-nesting birds in these landscapes…..
In conclusion, even the best habitat management options for lapwings are not, in general, in the uplands as they are today, compensating for poor levels of breeding outputs across large areas of north England, Wales and Northern Ireland. While the suitability of the breeding habitat is clearly important, increasing evidence from other studies suggests that predation will also be an important factor…….
So, will the ‘Good Intentions Paving Company’ rumble into action once more by the passage of another expensive and illiberal bill through parliament, banning grouse shooting in England, based on zero peer reviewed and published evidence from England?
For the rspb ‘birdcrime’ report cannot be relied upon to support new legislation to licence grouse shooting England, let alone banning it altogether
It is not, in fact, even an rspb document, a joint effort between the rspb and paw, from which, curiously, both organisations disassociate themselves: ‘The views expressed in birdcrime are not necessarily those of the rspb or paw’
The actual evidenced, attributable, birdcrime detailed consists of 32 prosecutions, only 5 of which have any connection with game shooting, 21,000 Pounds Sterling in fines and two custodial sentences.
All other incidents are ‘reports’ listed according to the rspb’s own recording format, which vary from other published reports.
The report makes claims an order of magnitude greater than any attributable evidence within it.
‘The failure of any hen harriers to breed successfully in England in 2013 is primarily the result of years of illegal persecution on intensively managed grouse moors, which also affects populations in southern and eastern Scotland.’
‘Hen harriers are one of the most intensively persecuted birds of prey on UK grouse moors’
With the benefit of hindsight, since the report was written, we can now see that, at least on Langholm, breeding pairs are up from 2 in 2013 to 12 pairs in 2014, as a consequence of nothing other than a mild winter.
This improvement, for the same reason, is also noted in England, three successful breeding pairs.
The only recent evidence of the killing of hen harriers is three young hen harriers killed in England 2014 by predators, and a peer reviewed and published report showing over 50 hen harriers killed on Skye alone 2009-12 by foxes, confirmed by CCTV as causing hen harrier ‘disappearances’ leaving no trace of evidence:
‘….most fox intrusions occur when broods are at the later stage of development and that is supported by results from the Skye study’
‘……studies of two areas of Mid-Argyll and north Kintyre, where breeding birds have disappeared and this has been attributed to a large proportion of failures due to predation, possibly by foxes (ap Rheinallt et al 2007). J. Halliday (pers. comm. 2013) has updated these data showing that four territories in Kintyre occupied in 1997–2008, were abandoned and this he attributed to a high incidence of failure due to predation, with foxes the most likely predator.’
‘In 50% of the camera activations in this study, there was no other evidence to suggest that there had been a fox intrusion at the nest, in other words there had been a ‘clean lift’ by foxes at the nest. There is a risk that failures could be attributed to other causes.’
Even JNCC 441, the 2011 government report most often cited as evidencing ‘persecution’ of hen harriers does nothing of the sort. It simply uses, references, the rspb’s own ‘birdcrime’ data, with a massive caveat ‘for the probable cases of persecution, it is possible that some of the nests may in fact have failed for natural reasons’
The rspb is not a small organisation. It has not far short of 100 million pounds available to spend every year.
It calls for new legislation to licence grouse moors. Why, then, is it unwilling to fund the research necessary to provide a peer reviewed and published evidenced report in support such a potentially expensive (to the taxpayer) and illiberal scheme?
By the way, hands up who thinks a licensing scheme for grouse moors will never, ever, spread to all estates where gameshooting, even walked up only, just for the pot, takes place?
Alongside this controversial stand sits another one.
The rspb stands out against the Defra hen harrier joint recovery plan, citing difficulties with the idea of brood management. Yet, all the while, hen harriers that could have benefited from brood management in England are being killed by predators, three birds killed out of three breeding pairs in 2014.
Brood management is a widely used and successful conservation technique:
‘Reproductive success has been further increased through the careful manipulation of nesting birds. For example, infertile eggs are exchanged with fertile ones and excess chicks are removed from large broods and given to foster parents.’
…..direct manipulation is currently illegal under the Birds Directive, but in theory…… they could be translocated; there could be a brood management scheme. In this last case, there would be no limit on hen harrier settling densities, but should numbers of nests containing chicks on a given area exceed a certain threshold level, then young from additional nests would be removed, reared locally in aviaries and then released back into the wild (as proposed by Potts,1998). Within the law, a similar technique is currently employed in France and Spain, where hen harriers have been successfully reared to protect them from being killed by agricultural harvesting (Amar et al .,2000)…….. translocations motivated by the desire to remove hen harriers from areas where they are already persecuted would be illegal and would contravene the IUCN guidelines for species reintroductions.’
The rspb’s idea that brood management for hen harriers would be illegal seems to rest on the idea that they are being persecuted in England, a point of view for which no peer reviewed and published evidence exists.
The rspb knows from its own reports, the value of gamekeeping to ground nesting birds.
It knows the threat to these birds from predators.
It knows that poorly sited non native forestry plantations allow predators to flourish close to sensitive upland bird populations.
It even knows, recommends, funds, the benefits of brood management for threatened species other than the hen harrier:
But the rspb still holds out against the Defra hen harrier joint recovery plan and contends that expensive new legislation is required to licence grouse moors.
If grouse moors are to foot the bill, many will simply remove keepers.
So the ‘Good Intentions Paving Company’ is all set to strike again, yet further reducing the number and variety of upland birds, particularly ground nesting, including the hen harrier, in England.
In the words of 4 Non Blondes: