Guest blog by Hugh Webster: response to Tim Bidie

Mark writes; this was originally posted as a comment on yesterday’s Guest Blog by Tim Bidie but it seemed so good to me (and so long) that it might  be better to publish it this way.


P1020999Hugh Webster is a a biology teacher with a PhD in Behavioural Ecology, earned studying competition between large carnivores in Botswana.





Credit to Mr Bidie for engaging in debate. At least he tries to make rational points and these can be weighed up.

Accordingly I have tried to reply to each of Mr Bidie’s major assertions:


Assertion 1: 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.

Reply 1: Grouse shooters shoot hundreds of birds for fun and may then eat one or two. Unwanted dead birds end up burnt in pits. Animal life is cherished by these people to the extent that populations are managed to ensure a shootable surplus. How caring! Animal (and plant) life that conflicts with this goal is certainly not cherished; witness the gamekeepers’ snares and antipathy for predators in general.


Assertion 2: 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.

Reply 2: Of course removing apex predators can allow smaller predators to flourish and yes that can have an effect on their prey, although note that this effect is not always straightforward. When apex predator wolves were removed from Yellowstone in the 1920s by misguided wardens (bit like gamekeepers), the smaller predators like coyotes flourished but so too did the wolves’ prey, the deer. Equally removing all predators (as occurs on red grouse moors and as so many “countrymen” seem to advocate) releases their prey completely from predation pressure with consequent impacts on vegetation and increasing susceptibility to disease.

So this lamented absence of apex predators sounds to me like a strong argument for the reintroduction of wolves to Scotland, sea eagles in England and lynx across the UK, reestablishing the true natural balance. When you consider how these animals are faring across equally or more populous countries in mainland Europe you see how weak the arguments against this are. Natural predators do a much better job of “managing” wildlife than man ever will, selecting the weak, the slow and the diseased while hunters shoot those with the biggest antlers!


Assertion 3: 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.

Reply 3: A better life maybe, but a better death… well, only if it’s a clean shot and nobody surely pretends they guarantee that.


Assertion 4: Poultry, lambs, gamebirds, all require protection.

Reply 4: Or we could all become vegetarian and live alongside predators, produce less greenhouse gases and not need to farm so much of the world, leaving space for other species. Imagine! No, that would be ridiculous.


Assertion 5: 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.

Reply 5: Firstly, who says? What is their evidence? (You like that remember). Secondly, surely they are dying a hideous, lingering death as a direct result of being cherished, sorry, shot, by someone? Why were they shot? What would happen if they weren’t shot? To “control” them? There is no evidence (that awkward word again) that shooting foxes has any effect on the overall population as far as I’m aware. Americans have been gassing, shooting, trapping and generally giving hell to coyotes since they arrived on that continent, yet there are more coyotes now than ever. Still seem to be plenty of foxes here too. Do we need to shoot more? Or is their biology/fecundity such that wily foxes will always persist and shooting them is just causing some animals suffering for no real productive purpose?


Assertion 6: 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.

Reply 6: As a direct consequence of gamekeepers eradicating pine martens from below the Great Glen grey squirrels have taken over the UK countryside and cause thousands of red squirrels to die of squirrel pox. Where there are pine martens today in Scotland and Ireland there are no grey squirrels (or at least their population densities are inversely proportional). Solution? Martes martes.


Assertion 7: 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.

Reply 7: Which parks? Which ground nesting birds? What are they telling you in Oman? Plenty of curlews and lapwings here in the (very well keepered) North York moors. Good luck finding a hen harrier though. What about the alternative narrative? That as a direct consequence of persecution hen harriers have all but been removed from the English uplands?


Assertion 8: 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.

Reply 8: So the problem isn’t the predators then?


Assertion 9: 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.

Reply  9: So we need to increase funding for detection efforts and start taking sentencing more seriously? Agreed. We are all on the same side after all!


Assertion 10: 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:

Reply 10: Why didn’t they do this CCTV study in England? Oh yeah… no hen harriers. But somehow on Skye they have hen harriers and foxes (which eat some of the harriers, naturally enough). But in England we have foxes in most places, but neither foxes nor hen harriers, on keepered moorland. How odd. Oh, and as for evidence of how fledged harriers have died, what about the lead in Bowland Betty’s wing?

Website Pin Facebook Twitter Myspace Friendfeed Technorati Digg Google StumbleUpon Premium Responsive

Get email notifications of new blog posts

Registration confirmation will be emailed to you.

66 Replies to “Guest blog by Hugh Webster: response to Tim Bidie”

  1. 1. Grouse are very popular in restaurants in London and overseas. They are certainly not burnt in pits: 'the French "go mad over grouse as there's nothing like it there".

    2. The expensive reintroduction of apex predators, ten years after the hunting act prevented hunting from acting as an apex predator, or a simple parliamentary amendment? Hmmmm.

    3. Abattoirs are more humane than gamebird shooting?

    4. Hands up who votes for global vegetarianism?

    5. Each lamb taken by a problem fox is 1% of a low paid smallholders income. Hunting will find and kill that fox, selectively. Even the best shots wound 8% of foxes:

    "pairs of dogs are utterly useless in flushing to guns". The admission by the (LACS) organisation's chief executive Douglas Batchelor was discovered in a leaked internal memo.'

    6. The grey squirrel is non native. Solution? Get rid of it.

    7. North York grouse moors keepered so teeming with birdlife. Exmoor ex grouse moors unkeepered so red grouse, black grouse, curlew, golden plover, green plover, hen harrier and no doubt merlin all now extinct there as a consequence of increased predation:

    8. The best habitats cannot compensate for elsewhere precisely because of predation:

    9. Or we take the view of the Police that this problem is so small that it is not an appropriate use of taxpayers money and Police time.

    10. 'The claim made by Natural England that the autopsy reports on this hen harrier prove it was shot is completely unsustainable and would not last a second in a court of law.'

    1. Hi Tim,

      You are grimly sticking to your guns huh? No doubt your unwillingness to give up on a lost cause served you well as an army officer, but I think in this case your position would gain credibility if you accepted some of the widely accepted facts. When you contest everything it looks as if you are the sort of guy who would argue black is white. In this spirit I will freely admit that abattoirs are not perfect and that it is not likely, nor even possibly desirable that the whole world becomes vegetarian.

      On the other hand I am not convinced that because some diners in London and France enjoy eating red grouse, this shows that countrymen cherish their prey like Sitting Bull! I have seen photos of disposed pheasants at driven shoots and know people locally who have encountered the same with red grouse. Your confidence that this is not the case as you correspond from Oman is bemusing.

      Nor am I convinced that fox hunting is a serious ecological substitute for apex predators. Instead I think the “useful control” argument trotted out (pun partly intended) by huntsmen is an excuse for their fun.

      We seem to agree that the UK would benefit from the eradication of the grey squirrel though. Since it is far tastier than that other non-native pest the pheasant, I propose we switch to driven squirrel shoots, alongside a coordinated reintroduction program for pine martens which I assume you have no objection to.

      This thing about all the curlew and plover on grouse moors has been gone over on this site many times. For you the piles of dead stoats, foxes, weasels, raptors and even red squirrels and hedgehogs that make this possible justify the end. For me they don’t and never will. What gamekeepers and people like you seem blithely immune to realising is that you can and indeed should have both predators and prey in an ecosystem.

      I’m not sure the Police would like your interpretation of their policy on wildlife crime, though sadly I suspect there are individual officers who share your view.

      Lastly, your contesting the evidence as to the cause of Bowland Betty’s decline is so contrary and obtuse as to defy belief. However, because I sense you are a stubborn man here’s some conjecture for you from a commenter named Merlin on this link: (

      “miniscule pellets as you refer to them are called dust shot or Rat shot in the industry, they are used for small pest removal, cartridges with this size shot in them are not commercially available, they have to be made. Niobium is commonly used in the manufacture of cheap jewellery and to strengthen other metals. Niobium pellets as already stated are freely available over the internet. Rats occur frequently around shooting estates and are treated as pests like virtually everything else that seems to exist on some shoots. They are usually bolted with ferrets for terriers to catch or they are shot with cheap home made cartridges. Rats caught by Ferrets and inexperienced Terriers give off a high pitched scream that would attract other predators. The Countryside Alliance has rubbished this report but has not given an alternative solution as how this Hen Harrier ended up dead on a Grouse Moor with metal pellets in its body. You are defending the indefensible.”

      I further understand that niobium is commonly used in the manufacture of gun barrels.

      Of course the alternative is that Betty was tragically struck by three tiny shotgun pellet sized meteorites and we shouldn’t rule that out…

      1. If grouse were disposed of in pits, a photograph would have been forthcoming by now. They are too valuable. Even those in poor condition for roasting make a sensational casserole!

        Innocent until proven guilty. You are a bright, talented guy. You must feel uneasy at espousing a cause that has so little in the way of real evidence?

        I note your Bowland Betty comment concerning Niobium pellets comes straight off the raptor persecution website.

        Meanwhile Natural England are trying to prove that the traces of Niobium found didn't actually exist at all!

        The Countryside Alliance are quite right. That evidence would not last long in a court of law.

        I agree with Mr Bonner:

        'If someone can find a lead pellet or bullet, or even just a lead alloy, with a minority of niobium, I would be very interested.'

        And this is the basis for new and expensive legislation that will turn the North York Moors, now teeming with birds of all kinds, into another birdlife wilderness like Exmoor?

        Forgive me, but I cannot see how that is in anyone's interests.

        1. According to Tim Bonner, it was the Zoological Society of London that was in the process of producing a paper (and not Natural England as you have claimed), in which it is suggested that niobium was not present.

          As for evidence not standing up in court, the Countryside Alliance's own statement that "Niobium is not a constituent of any known shotgun or rifle ammunition.", is utter nonsense. Considering you have a penchant for repetition, I will again alert you to the fact that Niobium was being discussed as shotgun ammunition as far back as 1988.

          However, because Tim Bonner, and people like yourself, have never heard of such ammunition, does not mean that it doesn't exist. As a result of this failure to accept that some people could be using unknown ammunition types, I enquired as to Mr Bonner's position on the issue of newly discovered species, and as you wholeheartedly agree with Mr Bonner, I will ask the same of you. Are you suggesting that a species only exists after it has been discovered by mankind?

          Furthermore, if it is discovered that niobium was not present in the samples, and the said samples were in fact just lead pellets, then that could suggest straightforward shotgun ammunition. But irrespective of the composition of the pellets, would you care to provide an explanation as to how these small particles, usually used as shotgun ammunition, managed to find their way into the bird, fracturing its tibia and contributing to its death?

          Finally, as you so strongly believe that for a criminal act to have occurred, there must be evidence, followed by a successful prosecution. Does that mean that you believe that Jimmy Savile was not involved in a number of sex crimes, and that Fred West was not a murderer?

        2. 'Meanwhile Natural England are trying to prove that the traces of Niobium found didn't actually exist at all!'

          'In fact Natural England have promised me that ZSL are producing a paper that explains that the niobium reading is an experimental anomaly and dose not mean that there was actually any niobium in the alloy. That was some time ago and we’re still waiting for the paper.'

          Mr Bonner has asked for a lead pellet or bullet with a minority of Niobium.

          If you have one, why haven't you sent it to him?

          West confessed and there was evidence against Savile.

          Regarding species, I am delighted to inform you that you have 12 million Americans who agree with you.

          1. I was involved with Tim Bonner's discussion on the RPS website, so I don't need reminding, however as you have used Mr Bonner's quote, and you have published it here for all to see, it is quite obvious that the report is being produced by ZSL.

            The Countryside Alliance categorically stated that "Niobium is not a constituent of any known shotgun or rifle ammunition.", which is an obvious lie. I have offered evidence that defeats their argument. You, and the Countryside Alliance, demanding evidence of lead-niobium ammunition to determine proof, is absurd. Can you, or the CA produce 100% accurate documentation that they know of all ammunition types used by every single shooter in the UK since 2012, and therefore provide proof that a niobium-lead alloy has never ever been used as ammunition? Incidentally, Mr Bonner (and presumably the CA) first assured us that the Niobium found was indeed in pellet form, and he did specify that they were "not splinters or shards". Can you provide us with an explanation as to how a number of small man-made objects of shotgun pellet size, managed to find their way into the bird, resulting in its death? I know you are an expert at avoiding questions, but please, give us an explanation, and please try and stay within the realms of common sense.

            In relation to Savile and West, you have stated that people must be "innocent until proven guilty". Savile and West were never found guilty by any court of law, so do you believe them innocent or guilty? It's a straightforward question, and a one-word reply will suffice. Innocent or guilty?

            And finally, regarding the species issue, I note that you have again failed to provide a sensible answer, in fact you didn't provide any answer whatsoever, instead relying on a puerile and downright imbecilic link in a devious attempt to evade scrutiny.

          2. If there isn't any lead ammo with niobium, then it wasn't ammo, unless you, or anyone else can provide a specimen. How would this publically known unknown gamekeeper have got hold of it if you can't?

            West and Savile were quite obviously guilty as hell, West confessed after the discovery of evidence and I have referenced a Q.C.s opinion confirming Savile's guilt.

            You are on safer grounds with your enthusiasm for aliens.

            'Live long and prosper'

          3. "If there isn't any lead ammo with niobium, then it wasn't ammo, unless you, or anyone else can provide a specimen. How would this publically known unknown gamekeeper have got hold of it if you can't?"

            Are you seriously trying to suggest that shotgun cartridges cannot be home-made? I've already provided evidence that niobium has been considered as shotgun ammunition, with the proof dating back to 1988. So, if we were to follow your way of thinking, if a gamekeeper bludgeoned a raptor to death with an oak branch, then you are saying that the bird was not illegally killed because oak branches are not commercially available?

            "West and Savile were quite obviously guilty as hell, West confessed after the discovery of evidence and I have referenced a Q.C.s opinion confirming Savile's guilt."

            But you have stated that people must be "innocent until proven guilty", and you have cited this in support of your belief that Hen Harrier persecution does not occur in England. Savile and West were never convicted for their crimes, and that makes you a hypocrite of the highest order.

            "You are on safer grounds with your enthusiasm for aliens."

            What are you going on about now? Exactly which part of my communications could be deemed as me having an "enthusiasm for aliens" If you remember, it was you that brought the alien issue into the discussion, dictating that your levels of imbecilic behaviour are unsurpassed.

    2. Tim, I've just read the ref in point 7. It identified afforestation as #1 cause for wader declines followed by overgrazing. In some other areas (incl Exmoor) it concludes
      "It was considered that both predator control and rotational heather burning may have benefited Red Grouse, Golden Plover and Lapwing (Tharme et al. 2001). The
      decrease in both the number of grouse moors and gamekeepers in recent decades (Barnes 1987, Tapper 1992) may have had a detrimental effect on some groundnesting species, mediated through increased predation, habitat loss, or a combination of both. It is difficult to say to what extent these factors may have influenced the abundance changes found in the present study, but some study areas with high proportions of grouse moors (e.g. northeast Scotland, south Scotland, north Yorkshire) still showed declines which were mainly amongst breeding waders."

      How did you get from "may have had a detrimental effect" to "North York grouse moors keepered so teeming with birdlife. Exmoor ex grouse moors unkeepered so red grouse, black grouse, curlew, golden plover, green plover, hen harrier and no doubt merlin all now extinct there as a consequence of increased predation"

      While you're at it, how did you get from "some study areas with high proportions of grouse moors (e.g. northeast Scotland, south Scotland, north Yorkshire) still showed declines which were mainly amongst breeding waders." to "North York grouse moors keepered so teeming with birdlife."

      The study simply doesn't say what you claim. Not at all. Did you not read the study? Did you not think anyone else would read the study? We expect this sort of perverse interpretation from tobacco apologists, creationists and climate change deniers, and it cuts no ice from you either.

      If there is a different part of the report that I missed which does support your assertions, please accept my apologies and direct me to it. Thanks.

      1. '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.'

        'Which parks? Which ground nesting birds? What are they telling you in Oman? Plenty of curlews and lapwings here in the (very well keepered) North York moors.'

        'In some other areas (incl Exmoor) it concludes "It was considered that both predator control and rotational heather burning may have benefited Red Grouse, Golden Plover and Lapwing (Tharme et al. 2001). The decrease in both the number of grouse moors and gamekeepers in recent decades (Barnes 1987, Tapper 1992) may have had a detrimental effect on some ground nesting species, mediated through increased predation, habitat loss, or a combination of both.'

        Read this and weep:

        Many thanks.

        1. Apologies. That link does not work. Try this:

          1. Tim, again this ref makes no mention AT ALL of predators as a cause of decline. That there has been a serious decline in most upland (and most lowland) birds is well known. Possible causes - in conservation ecology it's normally several factors in combination - include;
            over- or under-grazing (it's possible to have both at once, eg loads of sheep but nothing that eats scrub)
            other changes in Commoning practice (eg bracken no longer cut for animal bedding)
            other changes in agricultural practice (eg change in the way in-bye is used, switch from spring to winter cereals for birds that also use arable for part of the year, etc)
            climate change (definitely a long term issue for Grouse I would think)
            generic poisoning of some kind (DDT, neonics)
            disturbance from recreation (big factor for waders in my area on the E. coast - dog numbers have increased hugely along with human population)
            predators (yes it's always been acknowledged that they can be a factor, which is why RSPB and others sometimes carry out targeted predator control on specific sites)
            Oh - and illegal persecution of various kinds for the rarest species like Raptors

            All of these, with the probable exception of environmental contamination, are highly plausible factors in Exmoor.

            Please either produce a reference that supports your contention that lack of predator control was the cause - at least the main cause - of wader declines on Exmoor and other upland sites or admit you have no evidence. Trotting out one ref after another which doesn't support your assertion is at best starting to make you look silly.

          2. You could have saved yourself the bother.

            It's all there in my reply to Jonathan Wallace at 0845 below.

        2. Contrary to your comment below the link does work or at least it did for me. It includes the following statement:
          "4.6.8 Predators There is no evidence that predators are having a serious impact on Exmoor’s bird populations. However, the remains of a juvenile snipe was found on Almsworthy Common, but it was unclear whether the bird had been predated or its corpse scavenged. Consequently, the effect of predation on ground-nesting birds, particularly the small populations of curlew and snipe, is unknown. The survey established that Carrion crow and fox (pers.obs) are widespread over moorland areas".

          Once again, your technique of flinging out references in the hope that no-on will actually read them does not stand up to scrutiny. Nothing you have shown supports your contention that Exmoor is birdless because of a lack of keepers or that North Yorkshire is teeming with life because it is well keepered.

  2. Good work Mark many strong points made..although I would dispute one - while there is plenty of evidence of shot pheasants being chucked into pits [Ive seen this myself ], Ive never seen or heard of it on a grouse moor, they presumably are far more saleable. I say this to show that on the conservation side we do try to get our facts right.

    As for the factual evidence on harrier killing by gamekeepers there is of course masses of this over the last three or four decades since proper recording by RSPB and Govt agencies began. I was involved in several cases where multiple shot harriers were being sold illegally to taxidermists and others where keepers were inviting egg thieves to take harrier clutches. [all reported to and with police involvement in investigations]...and that doesnt include the many boasts from keepers about how many they have killed [not fact based so never included in serious discussion]...and finally, which group alone in our countryside has repeatedly called for licences to kill/cull harriers..the gamekeepers.

      1. It's interesting to note that both Raptor Persecution Scotland and the Countryside Alliance are in agreement that illegal persecution of Hen Harriers is responsible for their absence from grouse moors.

        1. But rather more interesting to note that all the evidence concerns Scotland and this petition is exclusively concerned with England, from where there is zero evidence of the illegal killing of hen harriers by grouse shooting interests.

          1. Tim, I'm surprised you're casting doubt on the Countryside Alliance and their assertion that Hen Harriers are persecuted on English grouse moors. If you have evidence countering the CA please post your link.

          2. Assertion is not evidence.

            If the Countryside Alliance had any evidence, they would have presented it to the appropriate authorities.

            A expensively drafted and debated, expensive to enforce, new law in England, since devolution, will now require peer reviewed and published evidence from England since it will only be voted on by English MPs.

            That evidence does not exist. If the 'persecution' is so widespread, given the rspb's expertise with covert CCTV, why is it not obtaining that evidence in support of its lobbying campaign?

          3. Your faith in the RSPB's capacity to catch any wrongdoers is touching, but there are several reasons why it is misplaced. Firstly the RSPB may not discover HH nest on keepered moorland before they are disturbed. Secondly setting up a covert camera on a nest in heather is not straightforward - where would you hide the camera? Foxes are oblivious to cameras, keepers are not. Thirdly, much/most persecution may well occur after birds have fledged. Witness the appalling track record of all the satellite tagged birds. Catching someone in the act of shooting a HH on remote moorland isn't easy. Fourthly, even when such incidents have been observed (Sandringham etc.) it has proven impossible to secure convictions as the bodies are spirited away or the perpetrators are in balaclavas. Fifthly when you do recover a bird with pellets in it (minor miracle!), conspiracy theorists dismiss it as invalid evidence and blame freak meteorite showers. That the RSPB have EVER secured convictions for persecution is testament to their determination and resourcefulness, but you should not assume that these represent the sum of all persecution events. That is absurd.

          4. New legislation affecting property rights in England will, rightly, be debated thoroughly.

            Assumptions will not do.

  3. The study by Innes et al (Recent changes in the abundance of British upland
    breeding birds) does not at all state or support the comments you make in points 7 and 8.

    The paper reports differences in the abundance changes experienced by passerines and waders in the uplands and reports wader declines in many upland areas. It speculates on the possible causes of the declines including predation but does not come to any firm conclusions and emphatically does NOT come even remotely close to suggesting that the n york moors are teeming with life due to keepering and Exmoor devoid of life due to absence of keepers. It does report significant falls in abundance in golden plover, lapwing, dunlin and curlew in North Yorkshire and the South Pennines so the keepering there is not doing much to help those species after all it would seem.

    You keep on insisting that there is no evidence for Hen Harrier persecution and dismissing any that is presented as not meeting your gold standards but it seems that when it comes to supporting your own position you are prepared to stretch and squeeze any information you can get hold of however relevant it may really be to your argument.

    1. There is a mass of evidence showing the beneficial effects of predator control on numbers of ground nesting birds:

      And incontrovertible CCTV evidence of the damaging effects of foxes on ground nesting hen harriers:

      I was specifically asked for evidence regarding National Parks.

      There is good evidence of the beneficial effects of keepering on the North York moors National Park, which backs up my own personal experience.

      Evidence is harder to come by regarding Exmoor but the research that I have referenced clearly points the finger at increased predation causing the extinction of red and black grouse, curlews.

      This is further supported by evidence from SPAs in Wales:

      The refusal to accept that there is a problem with predation in areas teeming with foxes is so perverse it would be hilarious, if it wasn't so tragic.

      1. Tim,

        There is a subtle but key distinction to be made here. Common sense dictates that if you remove a predator then populations of its prey will often increase. This is really not very surprising.

        But it is a very different thing to state that leaving the predator in situ will cause a decline, which is what you are claiming.

        For the millionth time: predators and prey naturally coexist. If native predators truly caused an irreversible decline in their natural prey then they too would soon be extinct.

        When you have small populations of animals breeding in a restricted area, a case can be made to control predators in their immediate environment (as the RSPB occasionally does), but this cannot be a landscape scale tool as it is with gamekeepers removing all predators from moorland.

        1. Common sense has flown out of the window when you remove all apex predators, replace them with hunting, remove hunting and then, realizing your mistake, suggest re-introducing apex predators.

          The CCTV evidence within the Skye report on fox predation of hen harriers is eloquent testimony to fox predation (alone) of ground nesting birds over the country, even on keepered moors with forestry close by.

          I refer you to 4 Non Blondes.

          1. You've missed my point (deliberately?).

            Furthermore hunting never replaced apex predators Tim.

            Meanwhile the continued (and surely to you mystifying) coexistence of hen harriers and foxes in natural balance on Skye is eloquent enough testimony for me.

          2. I fail to see where you get the figure of "over 50 hen harriers killed on Skye alone 2009-12 by foxes". Bob McMillan's paper says nothing of the sort. The data in his paper indicate 38 Hen Harriers were predated by foxes between 2009-2012. Thirty-four harriers fledged in the same period despite foxes.
            Over the longer period 2000-2012, 41 nests were successful while 31 nests failed due to fox predation.

            In addition, the 4 Non-blondes song; puh-lease. Surely anyone with any taste would have instead used "What's going on" by Marvin Gaye.

          3. Hunting with hounds has very similar effects on prey species behaviour as being hunted by a pack of wolves:


            A pack of wolves is an apex predator.

          4. Cameras were only installed on 61% of nests in, as far as I can tell, in only one of the monitored areas. There were only four cameras.

            Over 50 hen harriers killed looks very conservative.

            So there is incontrovertible evidence of fox predation 'disappearing' hen harriers.

            Arguments that setting up cameras is difficult in heather are disproved by this reference.

            The idea that keepers might not want foxes filmed 'disappearing' hen harriers when that evidence will protect their jobs is illogical.

            All the rspb has to do is contact estate owners and ask for permission. Given the vicarious liability law in place in Scotland, estate owners will be delighted to comply.

            So why doesn't the rspb get cracking on producing some peer reviewed and published evidence?

            It does not, because it is only too aware, from the Skye report, of what the results would show.

            And that is just foxes, mainly at night. As well as reeking, so attracting foxes, hen harrier camouflage is not suited to heather. The female has to leave the nest to gather prey from the male, so attracting avian predators.

            Marvin Gaye was a notable shooting man, was he not?

  4. You may also want to check your copy of Birds in England. Exmoor is out of range for red grouse. And whilst we are there, lapwing is not a moorland bird - upland fringe yes, moorland no. Check the species for SSSI qualification drawn up by Ratcliffe - few knew more about moorland birds than he did.

    1. Ratcliffe identified conifer afforestation (a.k.a. the sitka slums) as the greatest threat to moorland birds.

    2. By out of range I mean natural range. The red grouse on Exmoor are accepted as being derived from introduced birds.

      1. There are no red grouse on Exmoor any longer, a population of thousands now extinct.

        They may very well have arrived from Wales, flying across the Bristol Channel, when Wales has a substantial population (no longer) of red grouse.

        1. Interesting link although I am not sure where you got the thousands figure from? The text on the link says “The Exmoor population would now appear to be extinct, with the last birds sighted as recently as 2005.”

          Birds in England (Brown & Grice, 2005) says: “They (red grouse) were introduced to the southwest peninsula in 1915-16 following the failure of earlier attempts in the 1820s and still persist there, with perhaps 20-30 pairs on Dartmoor and 20 pairs on Exmoor.”

          1. Here is an insight as to what a ban on grouse shooting will mean:

            'It has been at least fifty years since there were last red grouse on this area of moorland, and that absence is can be seen in the variety of other birds on the moor. Without grouse, there are no gamekeepers operating on the high ground, so while an extremely intensive pheasant shoot mops up the foxes on one side of the combe, the vermin is more or less free to do what it wants on the other. As a result, even curlews are rare on the high ground, and the most notable bird species is the skylark, which appears to be more or less bomb-proof in the uplands. It’s amazing how often you can visit rank, hopeless and unmanaged hill country and find it totally empty but for the sound of larks and pipits.'


  5. The first reference Tim used to show predation was responsible for declines of hen harriers was a report for a mire restoration project in Exmoor. Absolutely nothing to do with harriers or their predation. Although pointed out to him on this blog, Tim has stuck to his guns and has provided us with another reference that, this time, apparently shows predation has caused declines in harriers. Once more, not only does the paper not mention harriers, or their predation, the study was actually undertaken over a century after harriers had already been lost as a breeding bird from Exmoor. It is generally considered good practice to read papers before citing them.

  6. In response to Tim's/Monro's comments;

    1. You have used a single quote from just one person, and you are trying to use that as ultimate proof, yet you conveniently ignore Mr Webster's stance when he mentions that some grouse end up in pits. Furthermore, you have also ignored various people's opinions on the illegal persecution of the Hen Harrier in England. Hypocrisy? It would certainly seem so. However, many Pheasants, Partidges and Hares do end up in stink pits, and I'm quite sure that the same will happen with some grouse.

    2. If it was up to me, the idea of a reintroduction of apex predators would win all the time. Given your attitude to the reintroduction of the White-tailed Eagle (which according to you is all down to the SNP-led Scottish Government!), we all know that you despise this approach, but I believe until we have top predators roaming our landscape again, we are culturally incomplete. Remember this conversation?

    3. According to you, abattoirs are relatively humane. You once quoted "'Neither wild nor domestic animals appear to have any premonition of death. Thus cattle and sheep are distressed by the clamour and confines of the slaughterhouse but this behaviour is not premonition of death since it occurs to a similar degree in the market place. Furthermore when a gun or captive bolt pistol is applied to their heads in the slaughterhouse, animals make no obvious attempt at evasion. Even the spillage of blood in the slaughterhouse does not appear to disturb other animals awaiting slaughter." (See above link)

    Compare that attitude, to this archive page from The Independent, detailing a pheasant and partridge shoot

    To cut a long story short, go to paragraphs seven and ten for a taste of the incredibly inhumane aspect of game shooting kills. But then again, you have a one-sided approach to the humane issue, choosing to use it whenever you want, but completely ignoring the issue if it suits your own agenda.

    4. Your response to Mr Webster is typically absurd.

    5. If you deliberately release an unnaturally high number of prey species into an environment where there is a chance that predation will occur, then you must accept some losses as a result.

    6. The Pheasant is non native. Solution? Stop introducing them into the countryside!

    7. Your assertion that keepered grounds teem with wildlife, whereas unkeepered areas are devoid of wildlife is nonsensical. This belief has been destroyed by many people over the years, and has already been annihilated here.

    8. So how did all of these species manage to co-exist before the advent of game shooting? It certainly wasn't down to land management, so it must have been down to the habitat and a natural balance. If, as you believe, that predation is the sole cause for the declines of certain species, and these species can only survive by using the land management regimes of game shooting interests, then would you care to explain to us why the Lapwing, the Curlew and the Golden Plover, or the various native grouse species, didn't become extinct hundreds (or thousands) of years ago?

    9. No, it is all down to having the resources to detect the offence in the first place, followed by evidence that can lead to a successful prosecution. If we take driving as an example, more or less every driver will commit a driving offence during every single drive they make, yet despite much effort by police forces to target the driver (they are an easy target!), very few are caught and then prosecuted. It's the same with drugs offences, despite being another easy target. The conviction rates will be miniscule in comparison to the number of offences.

    10. And the claim made by the Countryside Alliance is utter nonsense. Their "victorious" claim that "Niobium is not a constituent of any known shotgun or rifle ammunition." is a lie. Niobium was being discussed as shotgun ammunition as far back as 1988!

  7. If the shootin brigade want to try and justify their grouse shooting in terms of food production then they need to say how production of grouse-meat per acre per year compares with what food-value could be produced by all the other alternative land-uses.

    There must be so many different and imaginative ways these large areas of land could be managed, surely, rather than these dull monocultures alone?

    And if "jobs" are talked of, then similarly there must be other land-uses that would employ more people as well.

    Isn't a mosaic of land-uses also more biodiverse?

    Maybe I've missed where this is all set out properly, but otherwise it seems that Mr Bidie has got a long way to go to make a case that grouse-shooting is the most efficient and productive way of using such large areas of England as it does.

  8. I wonder what is behind Monro making so many comments in UK newspapers and blogs? It seems very strange for somebody who lives in Oman to have the inclination or the time to comment so relentlessly on articles about shooting, hunting, birds of prey or the reintroduction of native mammals.

    He makes so many negative remarks about wildlife that he comes across as a one man propaganda machine for the shooting and hunting industry; spreading misinformation and insulting people who do not agree with him (just have a look at his exchange with Marco and others in the Telegraph piece on sea eagles to see him in full flow).

    Why does he hate the natural world so much?

  9. So Bowland Betty was not shot Tim! Forgive me but that is utter bollocks, despite the tripe and lies put out by the Countryside Areliars a local keeper was bragging it was he who did the deed. Or what about one of the other keepers in that area who on knowing about a harrier nest on neighbouring land said and I quote" They come on here and they are f***ing dead." He must have meant killed by the foxes!
    You are indeed either blinkered or as bad as the untruth peddlers in the game industry if you rely on any press release from the CA, MA, SGA, NGO or GWCT as entirely truthful. They have been proved less than honest so many times. I can remember being at a lecture by a GWCT staff member on black grouse when he showed a series of graphs of productivity and survival of chicks with and without predator control and said they supported said control as in controlled areas more chicks survived. Yet the graphs showed no such thing, when this was pointed out the subject was quickly moved on (as you do change the subject or quote).
    It seems you don't want to hear the truth about predator/prey relationships or of the ills of game shooting. All that supports your point of view is good and honest, all that supports otherwise is wrong or worse. How do you think that makes those of us who experience the reality of raptor persecution on a regular basis on grouse moors and know the so called "truths" you speak are utter falsities and coming from somebody that doesn't live here and have that experience?
    God knows how good your arguments must be when you talk about something you actually know about, formidable I should think, but on this subject--------a pathetic peddler of dangerous crap.
    Oh and there would probably be far fewer foxes in the countryside, to take ground nesters, if millions of stupid alien pheasants were not released to sustain them by shooters!

    1. If a keeper bragged about shooting Bowland Betty, his name, by now, would be public knowledge. If you have his name, you should make it public knowledge.

      Given the rspb's covert CCTV expertise, if there was evidence of the illegal killing of hen harriers in England by English grouse shooting interests, it would, by now, be available.

      I concede there is a lot of deafness on both sides of the argument. What little academic background I have indicates that I and other commentators can never hope to be wholly objective.

      Nevertheless, please believe me when I say this, if a peer reviewed and published report evidences contemporary instances of illegal killing of hen harriers in England by English grouse shooting interests, I (for what its worth) and many others will stand foursquare behind the rspb's licensing proposal.

      At the moment the best evidence, from last year (making obsolete JNCC 441, Natural England 2008 etc etc.) from CCTV, suggests that it may very well be foxes that are 'disappearing' your hen harriers in England and you badly need to find some evidential response.

      Estates that put pheasants into the countryside take foxes out. That is why they have more species in greater numbers than estates without game cover:

      1. I have made the keepers name public knowledge, and supplied it to both RSPB investigations and the police, unfortunately what is overheard in the pub is hardly evidence unless there is other stuff to back it up. I'm sure if I put his name here Mark(quite rightly) will redact it. How the hell do you put covert cameras on open moorland, they would easily be seen, coupled with all the anecdotal evidence( conversations with keepers etc) would suggest most are killed at winter roosts not at nests.
        Here in the Yorkshire Dales when harriers tried to recolonise in the late 90s and early C21 firstly eggs and young disappeared then when we managed to get nest watches hunting males disappeared or pairs disappeared at the site selection stage, before disappearance some birds would develop instant asymetic moult ( shot damage in wings and tail). This apparently is the pattern all over both England and the Grouse moor areas of Scotland. I've been regularly birding on grouse moors since the late sixties and I've only ever seen one fox in that time and had merlin nests( the other species I study foxed in one year( three nests in close proximity). This fox family was found, reported to the keeper and gone very quickly. It would be quite remarkable (unique even) if the nesting or roosting harriers in the whole of upland England were taken by foxes, when they are rare compared to much more numerous and easier prey. In an area where foxes themselves don't survive long and are rare themselves it goes against all logic, predator prey relationships and against everything keepers agents and owners have said in private conversation about their intolerance of harriers. Its persecution all but the most rabid liars in the shooting industry admit this, why can't you? That is why there is a DEFRA dialogue to try to solve the problem.
        Yes estates that put out pheasants kill foxes but such high density food sources constantly attract and maintain foxes and the keepers do not kill them all. Many, many pheasants wander off into unkeepered land or are killed on roads and become dinner for young foxes that might otherwise not survive their first winter. This is why the effect of mass gamebird release desperately needs to be studied in terms of the effects on local ecology.
        As a retired wildlife crime officer has said on several occasions the only keepers who don't kill harriers are those who do not have harriers on their land.
        You are in danger of following the ouzelm bird in continuing to support and propose the indefensible Tim!

        1. You can see from the Skye report that CCTV can be placed within heather.

          CCTV cameras recorded the eagle owl attack on a hen harrier just a few years back.

          Gamekeepers will support the covert CCTV operation since it will evidence their innocence, and the real culprit. Landowners will support it in order to fend off any vicarious liability legislation.

          So why is the rspb not getting stuck in? Because it is concerned that the evidence will not fit its (expensive) pr narrative.

          I do not say, have never said that there is no illegal killing of hen harriers in England.

          What I do say is that there is no evidence of illegal killing of hen harriers in England by English grouse shooting interests.

          No evidence in response has ever been forthcoming.

          Since devolution, only English MPs will vote, in the next parliament, on new legislation concerning England. They will expect English evidence.

          1. The Skye cameras were concealed from the harriers thats easy to do. I've seen the video of the Eagle Owl at a harrier nest---- attack it was not, same applies a nest in a safe area ( United utilites estate in Bowland, yes it has non commercial grouse shooting but is run essentially as an RSPB reserve with shooting ).
            Your line three is just wrong so wrong I and others have provided ample evidence of harrier persecution to you ( and much much more to the Police and RSPB) you don't read what we write!
            Ah the East Lothian question----- a dogs dinner to dishonour the UK parliament!
            I give up Tim, not because I'm in anyway swayed by your utter nonsense and intransigence( you're just another annoying apologist for the wildlife criminal brotherhood that is grouse shooting) but quite simply because however much we put forward you deny that persecution is the major cause of the poor state of harriers in England. Whilst I and a host of others on both sides of the fence know it's true. DEFRA say its true, Natural England say its true, NWCU say its true, RSPB say its true, raptor groups and their members say its true( the real evidence gatherers), even in their more honest moments BASC, GWCT and the MA say its true but for Tim Bidie its a falsehood, its foxes. I know what I believe. As they say here in Yorkshire " there's nowt so blind as a man who won't see"

          2. I agree this is rather a conversation of the acoustically challenged.

            'there is no evidence of illegal killing of hen harriers in England by English grouse shooting interests'

            Absolutely no-one has presented any evidence whatsoever that contradicts that statement.

            If you accept the killing of 'Bowland Betty' as having been shot, where is the evidence that it had anything to do with English grouse shooting interests?

            Someone above claims to know the name of the culprit, apparently a gamekeeper. Why, then, has he not been brought to justice? That would be because of no evidence.

            Regarding the eagle owl:

            'An Eagle Owl in Bowland, Lancashire, has been caught on CCTV attacking a female Hen Harrier on its nest. Natural England and the RSPB confirmed that while the owl was still present a few hours later, the incubating harrier has not been seen again and its nest has now failed.'


            It is of course the West Lothian question and quite right that English MPs only now, should vote on English legislation.

            That is devolution. That is democracy.

            The numbers of incontrovertibly evidenced 'disappeared' dead harriers killed on Skye quite categorically give the lie to the claim that illegal killing is the major threat to the hen harrier in this country.

            But that just doesn't suit you, or the rspb.

            I refer you once again to 4 Non Blondes.

            The general public are starting to sing the chorus.

      2. Tim, on Patrick Barkham's recent article in the Guardian you comment (as "Monrover" that:

        "Roosting sites are well known and monitored by covert CCTV."

        Really? I agree some are well-known but monitored by CCTV?

        1. There are quite a few Harrier roosting places in this area, all on grouse moors and most are now rarely if ever used as harriers have become so scarce. I know of none monitored by CCTV anywhere------ another untruth Tim?
          The last winter Bowland Betty was alive and in this area I went to a site where I could watch 3 of said sites from one place. The only other monitoring happening was a keeper sat over one of them with a shotgun. Fortunately she roosted elsewhere.
          Incidentally the survival of satellite tagged juvenile harriers in their first winter if they choose to winter on grouse moors is ZERO! This can be neither normal nor natural.
          The two young Bowland harriers that disappeared shortly after fledging, disappeared in an area well known for roosting harriers on an estate where the current headkeeper said semi publically when he arrived that one of his tasks was " to rid Bowland of raptors" That shortly afterwards Bowland harrier and peregrine populations collapsed can be no coincidence--------unless of course they fell victim to foxes, meteorite shower or were abducted by aliens.

          1. If you knew they were being monitored, that wouldn't be very good covert CCTV monitoring.

            The keeper recently convicted didn't know about the rspb covert CCTV operation either.

  10. You claim that keepered red grouse moors in North Yorkshire teem with birdlife and predator control helps ground nesting birds, so with that in mind where are the ground nesting hen harriers in North Yorkshire and the rest of the English red grouse moors? Blaming foxes when foxes are routinely destroyed is simply not credible.

    1. Indeed and, given that the Moorland Ass. say that Merlins are "thriving" on keepered moors in the same habitat and subjected to the same pressures, where are the Hen Harriers? Obviously nothing to do with keepers tolerating Merlins because they rarely take grouse whereas Hen Harriers...

    2. Hen harriers prefer semi colonial nesting sites.

      Grouse moors are busy places. Hen harriers are extremely averse to human disturbance.

      No grouse moor is entirely fox free, particularly at night, particularly those moors with non native forestry plantations close by.

      'The possibility that Hen Harrier nests will be predated by foxes on some
      grouse moors cannot be excluded, and in the context of Langholm, it appears that in 1999, when grouse moor management was still in place, there was a sudden occurrence of four nest failures attributed to foxes, in addition to which, two adults were killed on nests (Baines & Richardson2013).'

  11. The video shows a keeper shooting a Hen harrier from its nest. The only reason that this did not go to court was the fact the keeper was wearing a balaclava helmet and the policeman present felt he had enough evidence!!

  12. Hi Tim,

    I was intrigued by the link you posted alleging that fox hunting has very similar effects on prey species behaviour to an apex predator such as the wolf. Of course while the review you link to is endorsed by a peer, it is not peer reviewed (if it were much of it would certainly have had to have been re-written), but it makes a case that deserves closer examination.

    While in essence a pack of hounds is similar to a pack of wolves in many ways, I asserted that fox hunting never replaced apex predators and nothing in that review convinces me that this is not the case.

    Leaving aside that wolves hunt to eat whereas huntsmen hunt for fun, wolves prey on a variety of species, not just the targeted prey of a weekly/monthly fox hunt or a rare stag hunt - hence their effects are more complex.

    Wolves will leave scent marks and howl to exert a permanent presence in a landscape that is not mirrored by the periodic release of a pack of hounds - hence their effects are more sustained.

    I know little about stag hunting but the name suggests it involves hunting male deer in the prime of life - not the young, sick and vulnerable that might be the favoured prey of wolves - hence their effects are not identical.

    Furthermore, wolves will leave carcasses in the landscape favouring many scavengers that a hunt does not - hence the influence of apex predators has more knock on effects.

    All of this means that a healthy population of native apex predators has far more complex and pervasive effects than does the circus of a fox hunt. If that is not obvious to you (or indeed Katie Colvile) then perhaps a course in ecology might be time and effort well invested.

    You say that reintroducing wolves would be expensive and problematic but it comes down to a cost benefit analysis which you and I will always add up differently. I wonder though where in the world you do think these predators have a place and why you think it should be the responsibility of the citizens of that country, rather than those in the UK to maintain wild places that enrapture the spirit.

    1. Nicely put, Hugh.

      Furthermore: Last time I looked, Wolves don't create artificial earths, feed, or translocate foxes.

    2. There used to be a great deal of stag hunting in this country.

      You would be very surprised at how similar it is to wolves hunting.

      I don't know what they do now but the harbourers, experienced local hill men, used to seek out the aged, infirm or otherwise out of condition animals, stags or hinds, during the early hours.

      On the day of the hunt, tufters, old, experienced, intelligent and handy hounds, cut out the selected animal from the herd, fascinating to watch and uncannily similar to wolves.

      The rest of the pack is then laid on, the animal brought to bay and swiftly dispatched.

      I have seen for myself, at first hand, the utility of the hunt infrastructure in providing a 24 hour service to deal with injured deer.

      The good intentions paving company at work:

      'This hunting ban has lead to increased suffering of the wild red deer as it is very difficult to locate sick, injured and diseased red deer in the hundreds of acres of dense woodland that exists on Exmoor using only two hounds. This is because sick or injured red deer often with bullet wounds will sit tight and be very difficult to locate and flush out. Pre ban, when the pack could be used (30 hounds) these red deer were usually found and dispatched quickly.'

      There are plenty of wild places in Britain. I support the reintroduction of apex predators, after appropriate local research and consultation.

      I simply don't see the logic in legislating against a natural, selective and self funding form of wildlife management viewed sympathetically by local stakeholders only to lobby to replace it by reintroducing species that replicate its effects in an unpredictable and (for the Scottish Government, taxpayer, regarding sea eagles) expensive fashion.

      I tell you what, you send me photographic evidence of yourself riding to hounds on Exmoor, and I will undertake a course in ecology.

  13. Nobody is saying that foxes do not kill hen harriers, but to say that they are responsible for nearly wiping out the entire English population of hen harriers is ridiculous. Foxes and hen harriers have co-existed for thousands of years, so why is it now that hen harriers are disappearing? It's not like there is a shortage of food for foxes with all these pheasants and red grouse running about.

    Oh by the way, did a fox shoot Bowland Betty too?

    1. A loss of habitat across the country forces hen harriers onto moorland. Their camouflage is not suited to moorland. Their nests reek and are noisy, their fledglings a bigger meal, so they are taken in preference to red grouse, being both bigger and easier to find.

      Foxes, or some other predator, wiped out something like 10% of the entire hen harrier population just last year, in one fell swoop:

      Here's another problem for buzzards and hen harriers in England:

      And another one:

      But no CCTV evidence of any illegal killing.

      There is no evidential basis for a time consuming, expensive to the taxpayer, change in English law.

  14. From "Birds in England" by Andy Brown and Phil Grice 2005.
    It is likely that the hen harrier would greatly increase in numbers and recolonise much of its former English range if illegal persecution ceased. However it continues unabated: between 1990 and 2000 there were 30 confirmed instances of persecution in England involving Hen Harriers. The incidents involved harriers found dead in pole traps,or next to poison baits, trapped on the nest,adults found shot, depleted or destroyed clutches and chicks killed.

    and nothing has changed, most of your so called points above are tripe.

    1. The petition aims to get new legislation passed in England to ban grouse shooting in England.

      Its reasoning is that English grouse shooting interests are 'disappearing' hen harriers.

      But it has no evidence of this.

      Can you link any of those 30 confirmed instances, 1990-2000 of persecution in England involving Hen Harriers, to English grouse shooting interests?

      The hen harrier has been protected in England since at least 1981 so obviously all these confirmed instances went to trial and records will be available of the outcome.

      The book you refer to will no doubt give a reference to back up its statement?

      It might also seem strange to those proposing new legislation in parliament in 2015 that, with so much illegal killing apparently going on, there appears to be no evidence of English grouse shooting interests illegally killing hen harriers in England since 2000?

      1. The lack of any detail is a hallmark of 'reports' passed off as evidence.

        What references does your book give to support its information?

        Adjacent to grouse moors in England or Scotland?

        Evidence from Scotland will not convince English MPs to pass expensive and unpopular new legislation in England.

  15. Harriers have been fully protected since1954!
    Allof those incidents were on or adjacent to grouse moors.
    Evidence of wildlife crime rarely indicates the culprit I've told you that before!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.