The grouse moor industry

Henry is, by chance, very topical this week, seeing as how he is in the Forest of Bowland.

Yesterday, Henry reminded us of how many Hen Harriers used to nest in that area in the recent past. The number of nests has often been in double figures – several times higher than the current whole English breeding population.

Today, Henry pines over an image of a ringtail Hen Harrier in Bowland and points to the Natural England report that documented how much better the Hen Harriers in Bowland do when they nest on United Utilities land than on the adjacent grouse moors.  That Natural England report is well worth another read to learn about where, and under what circumstances, Hen Harriers disappear. They really don’t do very well on grouse moors compared with those areas not managed for driven grouse shooting.

And so it comes as no surprise that the feeble You Forgot the Birds campaign is funded by the British grouse industry. This is the ‘campaign’ that made an unsuccessful complaint to the Charity Commission (the fact that the complaint failed is not mentioned on their website). It’s the campaign that criticises the RSPB for standing up for the wrong type of birds – including the Hen Harrier. Well the grouse industry wouldn’t want anyone standing up for the Hen Harrier would they? And this is the campaign that invited farmers to sign up in their droves to an anti-RSPB letter and promised to publish the farmers supporting the letter once their number reached 100 – we’re still waiting.

But what is clear, because bizarrely they have told us so, is that this smear campaign against the RSPB is funded by the British grouse industry. This industry is funding a campaign to make complaints to the Charity Commission, exhort farmers to complain about the RSPB and criticise the RSPB’s conservation work and priorities. What has any of that to do with the grouse industry? If this tawdry campaign were funded by the British roads industry then there would be questions asked. If it were funded by the British farming industry then questions would be asked.

Let’s ask some questions in the expectation that YFtB won’t answer them:

Is the Duke of Westminster one of the funders of this campaign? He is, after all, a grouse moor owner, a past president of the Game Conservancy Trust (as it was at the time I think), and the owner of the Abbeystead grouse moor in the Forest of Bowland. Is His Grace a supporter of YFtB?

Is Lord Peel, another past President of the GCT (now GWCT) and another grouse moor owner, and Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household, a supporter of YFtB?

Is Philip Astor (here and here), whose family own a grouse moor in Scotland and who is a long-standing vice-president of the GWCT a supporter of YFtB?

Despite all being part of the British grouse industry it is hoped that such eminent memebers of society have not sunk to the depths of supporting YFtB but it’s so difficult to tell. Unless they’d like to distance themselves from it.

On the other hand, the GWCT itself, in the blog of its Fundraising and Communications Director Andrew Gilruth is very happy to promote the nonsense from Sir Ian Botham and YFtB.

The crocodile tears over the fate of Hen Harriers from the grouse industry is all a bit sick-making. How about they get their act together and address the wildlife crimes on their own side of the fence, the driven grouse moor side of the fence, before throwing criticism at those doing their utmost to protect these fantastic birds.



PS the RSPB’s Martin Harper was great in despatching the no-balls from YFtB’s Ian Gregory to the boundary on Farming Today this morning (link).

PPS And comments are now visible again on this blog thanks to some excellent work from HUB (London).


18 Replies to “The grouse moor industry”

  1. Martin Harper vs YfTB on Farming Today this morning on radio 4. not a long enough debate, but at least its a start, and I think the RSPB defended themselves very well.

  2. Actually I thought Martin Harper did a rather poor job and sounded needlessly defensive, rushed and flustered. He let the “debate” drift so that to the uninformed the YFTB mob might have sounded reasonable and “practical”. Certainly Ian Gregory sounded more measured and calm. Martin needed to give clear, irrefutable examples of the RSPB’s conservation track record in conservation (avocets/bitterns/cirl buntings/sea eagles/ospreys?) in a more even, confident tone to make a nonsense of the claim that they are “rubbish” at it and he should have given much clearer evidence that gamekeepers are to blame rather than just quote rather vague “intelligence”. Why not alert the public to the damning circumstantial evidence (United Utilitities breeding success versus adjacent grouse moors)? Why not describe the case of Bowland Betty? Or the number of convicted game keepers? Why not highlight how hard it is to secure a single conviction and therefore that any convictions secured can only reflect the tip of the iceberg? These minutes of airtime are precious and need to be meticulously planned for maximum impact with pre-prepared sound bites. The message from Martin Harper was not clear enough.

    1. I haven’t done much radio as it wasn’t really a thing in my day. I’m not sure if you have, Hugh, as you seem quite the expert? But I happen to know that Farming Today is a pre-recorded example of the genre, so any soundbites prepared in advance may be lost in the editing process.

      Meanwhile, I am very interested that this Botham chappie seems able to bring things back from the dead. If it works for dead hen harrier eggs, is it worth my getting in touch, to see if he might also be able to revive a dead liberal philosopher?

      1. Not an expert and am in fact far more sympathetic to how hard it must be to speak on radio than I perhaps sounded, but just get so frustrated when the BBC “balance” allows the narrative on these issues to become fogged and we have to listen to the likes of YFtB spouting nonsense like “if you had a good record at conservation then gamekeepers would say – yes, let’s listen to the RSPB” without being ridiculed by either the interviewer or the RSPB spokesman.

  3. Some of your followers may be interested in reading my personal take on the persecution of hen harriers and other iconic moorland raptors taking place throughout the Forest of Bowland, which by the way is perhaps much worse today than 20 years ago.

    I have added a link to an article I wrote published this week by Raptor Politics. Your readers I am sure will be most interested to hear what the Duke of Westminster and Dr. Derek Ratcliffe had to say about the loss of hen harriers and their eggs in Bowland in the early 1980’s and again in 1992 & 1993.

    Its not too surprising both men, one a highly respected scientist and the other an avid gameshooter, had different views for the demise of these protected moorland birds.

  4. I’m quite happy to answer, Mark. I honestly don’t know who the funders of YFtB are; certainly no one has ever asked me for support.

    Yes, I am a longstanding trustee of the GWCT, and while I have of course noted your own developing disenchantment with the Trust and its science, I remain proud of the valuable role it plays in many areas, not least its involvement in the process to find a managed solution to the grouse/raptor conflict. For what it’s worth, I haven’t given up on the Hen Harrier Joint Recovery Plan facilitated by Defra, which would unquestionably result in a significant increase in the national population of hen harriers. That has never been challenged by the RSPB, and notwithstanding what may or may not have happened in Bowland recently, I very much hope the RSPB will remain engaged in the process.

    As for my attitude to the RSPB more generally, I have criticised it over the years – at its AGM and elsewhere – for many things, for example its apparent reluctance to apply the results of scientific research (including its own) to the management of some of its reserves. That said, I am pleased to see a gradual evolution in its philosophy and practice as regards the importance of predator control for the protection of ground nesting birds.

    The RSPB and moor owners like myself often have different management objectives. But on the whole I have great respect for it as an organisation, and you will recall that in another place I made it clear last year that I did not support YFtB’s complaint to the Charity Commission.

    1. Philip – thank you! Well that’s one person in the British grouse industry to distance themselves from the nastiness of YFtB. What a gent!

    2. Thanks for your comments Philip. Personally I’ve always considered the peer-reviewed science on farmland bird declines published by GWCT to be second to none – or equal first place to that of the RSPB at least. I really wish, though, that GWCT would lend support to calls for the detail of brood management to be published, for a period of reflection and open consultation. Transparency is crucial to building confidence. It’s no good saying ‘that’s up to DEFRA’ – you should have confidence in your case, and be comfortable with transparency. The outbursts from YFTB does absolutely nothing to convince me that the grouse management folks show good will and intentions. What Botham is essentially saying is that brood management is what one does when hen harrier adults vanish. That’s a terrible message that send out – surely the idea is that adults don’t vanish, they are left alone.

      1. Thanks Steve. To be fair, the GWCT has been pretty open about the broad nature of a brood management scheme, and you will recall that Phillip Merricks provided much more detail in response to Mark’s challenge on this site on 22 January:

        As I’m sure you know, the guy who really has ownership of the proposed project (albeit taking forward an idea originally canvassed by Dick Potts of the then GCT) is Professor Steve Redpath, who on any view is one of our leading raptor ecologists; and one, incidentally, who prides himself on his independence. To be honest, I’m not sure what the protocol or contractual niceties are in this sort of case, but I guess if anyone were to publish an even more detailed account of the scheme it would be down to Steve.

        In the meantime, whatever your doubts about the good will and intentions of the grouse moor community (and Botham), you must surely acknowledge the credibility of the likes of Redpath and Arjun Amar, who believe that such a scheme could represent a significant part of the solution to the conflict.

        1. As many have said Philip there is no point in initiating a brood meddling scheme if there are no broods to meddle with.

  5. It’s interesting to see that the Hawk and Owl Trust has (today) removed two comments posted below their web site item concerning the recent loss of three hen harriers in Bowland – yet the comments facility remains open. I have screen shots of these comments and will inquire as to why they were removed. Both ask is HOT intend to withdraw their ‘brood removal’ proposal, and weren’t answered.

    1. Not surprising, when I challenged HOT on their back tracking from not being involved in Brood management until persecution had stopped to just requiring assurances it would stopped they asked me to contact them by phone/email with any questions I had.

      Despite sending it a few times and asking them on Twitter again Im still waiting for a reply….

  6. I think that Martin Harper did an excellent job on the radio. His anger and frustration came through just enough to underline how contemptuous he was of the idiotic smears the spokesman from YFtB was reeling off. Gave the RSPB’s stance a great deal more credibility, it and we should be rightly angry.

  7. hey mark how about doing a blog about grouse shooting tomorrow – it’s been a while ..

    1. It can be difficult avoiding mention of game management when addressing the plight of hen harriers unfortunately.

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