Henry’s Game Fair


I’ve been to many Game Fairs but this was Henry’s first.  He was a little bit nervous but he had a gaggle of burly minders with him. As well as myself there were Lawrie and Phil from BAWC and Alan Davies from The Biggest Twitch.

It was a rather quiet Game Fair I felt, fewer exhibitors and fewer people than usual – we were there on the very sunny Friday – but under the surface there was plenty going on.

Above our heads, Red Kites bravely circled over Gunmakers Row, the stands of the main shooting organisations and near the people shooting clay pigeons. Henry didn’t get off the ground, but he did fly around all the major shooting organisations as you will see from the following photographs.

I was at the Game Fair for a debate with Owen Paterson (ex Sec of State Defra), Philip Merricks (Elmley, and chair of Hawk and Owl Trust) and Ian Coghill (of the TGC(W)).  In return for entering the lions’ den the CLA gave me lunch (of which more later) and a couple of entrance tickets so I thought I’d take Henry along for free, thanks to the CLA.  Henry says ‘Thank you, CLA!’.

Our first stop, even before out first bacon sandwich, was at the RSPB stand.


Henry felt he was amongst friends here (and he was). The RSPB even had a photograph of Henry – just look at the expression in the eyes of the photographed male Hen Harrier – Henry to a T.  It’s uncanny.

The RSPB had put some noses out of joint that day by releasing the text of what their Chief Executive Mike Clarke was going to say at an RSPB event later in the day. You can read what Mike said here. The RSPB questions the wisdom of releasing tens of millions of pheasants into the countryside every year and points out that burning the uplands has been shown to be rather a bad thing. You can see why BASC and others were a bit miffed.

But the most interesting part of Mike’s speech was possibly a reminder that the RSPB does not yet support a ban on driven grouse shooting followed by ‘But the longer it takes any industry to address its problems, the stronger those calls will become.‘.

The RSPB has been under attack, off and on, for about nine months from a group of shooters fronted by ex-cricketer Sir Ian Botham, and funded by the British grouse industry.  The RSPB is showing admirable restraint in not yet supporting a ban on driven grouse shooting but Mike is right – the calls for a ban are getting stronger all the time and you can add your voice here. The ‘logic is impeccable’ as one reviewer of Inglorious (a book about why we should ban driven grouse shooting) wrote earlier this week.

Next stop was our friends at the (W)TCG (even The Fidel – a well known shooters’ magazine (see later) can’t believe the GWCT’s name).


As we arrived, the CLA President Henry Robinson was doing a walk about and glad-handing the exhibitors. Here he had a chat with Teresa Dent, the Chief Exec of the G(W)CT but made a swift exit when Henry arrived (exit – pursued by a Hen Harrier? Well it makes a change for the people to ‘disappear’ instead of the male Hen Harriers these days!).

Teresa then fled too – and I thought that the G(W)CT were keen on Hen Harriers?

A few steps up the road we found the Countryside Alliance.


As we arrived we saw the CLA President being ushered out of the back of the stand – did he think we were chasing him? I hope not, Hen Harriers go for much smaller prey.

We met a few other folk and said ‘Hello!’.  Isn’t this Charles Nodder the political advisor of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation? I do believe it is.


And then we met Amanda Anderson and her Chair, Robert Benson, from the Moorland Association – they were good sports.


Duncan Thomas of BASC was in finger-pointing mood, as often, and I love the expression on Alan’s face as he listens to a load of boloney about how five male hen Harriers ‘disappeared’ through being disturbed by the people protecting them.


Henry doesn’t look too disturbed though.

pow4And then on to William Powell, shooting agents, where we decided not to ask for a photo opportunity with Mark Osborne (who was holding forth to a group of what looked liked potential clients).

But enough of all this jollity! I had work to do – I was going to a debate.

But first, there was lunch, and before lunch we just said ‘Hello!’ to The Defil, a magazine for Game Fair attendees for sure.


And then I had to leave Henry for a while as I was taking luncheon in the CLA Members’ enclosure, in fact with the Vice President and his guests.  I had to leave Henry, pining, looking over the picket fence that separates the members from the hoi polloi at the CLA Game Fair.


I had a lovely lunch sitting between Kate Green (Country Life) and Nigel Farage (UKIP). Kate was seated between me and Owen Paterson, she said to stop us using up all our arguments over lunch! But the debate, which I will touch on in a moment, wasn’t an event of great fireworks or blood on the Harewood House grass – it was all very civilised really.  Even tame. Perhaps a little dull.  Sorry!

Philip Merricks and I chatted to Nigel Farage and he was very good value. We mostly turned down wine but Nigel went for a beer, and then he nipped out for a fag half way through his pork. He told me that he was going grouse shooting later this autumn and I told him a few reasons why he shouldn’t and then we moved on to the EU and Europe. All very interesting and rather jolly. I had the chicken caesar salad –  I wonder what Henry found to eat.

Then we were off to the debate about whether wildlife and land owners were friends or foes. Of course they are neither and both, it all depends.


As I said on the day, I rather admire Owen Paterson, even though I don’t agree with him on many things (although we agreed quite a lot at the debate), because he is a politician with opinions (many of them wrong) which he has thought through (though not enough) and then acts on. I wish there were a few more Labour politicians like that.  And that’s why lunch with Mr Farage was interesting – he came across as genuine and thoughtful, even though I don’t agree with him very much either.

So here, from memory, are a few of the things I said, in two groups – those that probably went down well with the audience, and those that probably didn’t:


  • agri-environment schemes aren’t working well enough
  • we will need GM crops, probably, in future
  • why are badgers fully protected when foxes aren’t?
  • I admire the CLA more than the NFU (and the NFU Pres was at the back of the room)
  • using land to grow biofuels is crazy


  • we should ban driven grouse shooting
  • we taxpayers are investing lots of money in the countryside through grants and subsidies, so we should have a say in what goes on there
  • why are foxes not fully protected when badgers are?
  • we should put more effort into demand management (as well as supply) to deal with food security
  • the statutory sector and wildlife NGOs should own more land on which widlife conservation is a priority
  • the market doesn’t deliver the types of insecticides we need – eg neonics
  • yes badgers eat Skylarks but the RSPB’s Hope Farm has both, and Skylarks quadrupled in numbers there once some simple agri-environment measures were implemented – why doesn’t everyone do the same?

At the end of the debate lots of people wanted to buy my book but I had to tell them that the CLA hadn’t allowed my publisher to arrange a book signing, so the crowds went home disappointed and to spend their money on Amazon instead where Inglorious is the 2621st best-selling book in the UK at the moment (and no doubt, only for a brief moment).

I must tell you about the conversation with a group of people who didn’t actually introduce themselves to me but were keen for a chat. There were two women (one was silently disapproving of me – I thought – and the other was charming ) and two blokes (neither of whom was charming).  The charming woman was very keen to buy Inglorious and had a grouse moor in Durham – I’m sure I would have talked to her for ages. One of the chaps kept telling me that it was a well known fact that the RSPB plants poisoned raptors on people’s land, and so I told him that they didn’t when I worked with them, and I very much doubted they did now – but he was adamant. I suggested he should take it up with the RSPB.  The other chap demanded a ten-sentence reason for banning grouse shooting so I, not unnaturally, suggested he bought my book on the subject but he told me that he didn’t read books. Before I could say something similar, the charming woman pointed out that he might not be giving the very best impression of grouse shooters and I had to smile. I started on my ten sentences but the other chap kept banging on about the RSPB so, with regret, I had to bid them goodbye and headed off to the aforementioned RSPB stand where the aforementioned Mike Clarke was making his speech to a rather small group of people – the event having been boycotted, apparently, by BASC and the CLA in a fit of pique.

The Derbyshire Police Commissioner, Alan Charles, also spoke, as always, with passion about wildlife crime. Maybe that’s why so few shooters turned up – the truth can hurt.

But I met two of my favourite grouse moor owners and had a long discussion with George Wynn Darley and a lovely chat with Sir Anthony and Lady Milbank too.

All in all it was  very good day. The e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting is scooting along, Henry went into the lions’ den and wasn’t ‘Ceciled’, the supporters of grouse shooting are clearly very rattled by the focus being put on their ‘sport’ and are finding credible responses difficult to come up with.

The sun shone, the bacon sandwiches were good and the friends of Henry had a lovely day out.

Ban driven grouse shooting – please sign here.































30 Replies to “Henry’s Game Fair”

  1. Really interesting blog,as a critic of Mike Clarke I have to applaud him taking a stiffer stance on the release of millions of birds for shooting but if RSPB has to be neutral about shooting because of the Royal Charter then the solution is to get rid of it.It is like a boxing match where one boxer has one hand tied behind his back.It is b****Y ridiculous.
    Have to say agree with you about Skylark patches,such a simple solution to help these birds,I think it must be simply farmers do not see it as worthwhile for what they get out of it or just as likely do not even know about it.I feel sure there are lots of things about farming conservationists do not know about and maybe somehow more farmers have to be informed about Skylark patches.

    1. Dennis – many thanks. I’d vote for freeing the RSPB of the Royal tag for sure!

      On Skylark patches – why didn’t the NFU promote them? Peter Kendall almost seemed keen not to promote them. And the payment for skylark patches was better than the payments for other bits of the ELS when you worked it out.

      Thanks for your comment – see you soon – looking forward to it.

      1. Absolutely correct about NFU not promoting Skylark patches but that is just how they are,I think also probably these payments have got so complicated that farmers leave them to professional people and just maybe they take the easy route.
        Somehow it needs more publicity and maybe moving money from less important parts.
        Looking forward so much to 8th and especially 9th hope to meet several of those including yourself of course who put such a lot of time and effort into this event,you humble people always say it is a combined effort from us all but us followers have the relatively easy bit.
        Had to laugh when that guy commented on you getting a fat wallet from this campaign,that must be the joke of the year

      2. I noticed that Martin Harper, of the RSPB, in one of his recent blogs, includes a summary of RSPB’s official position which was very similar to the one given by Mike Clarke in his speech at the Game Fair; but Martin Harper also includes a link to your latest “Ban driven grouse shooting” petition I don’t think that happened with the first petition?

        The RSPB seem to be hinting that, if public support grows for a ban on unsustainable shooting practices and if the shooting community doesn’t start to put its house in order, then the RSPB may change its policy away from licensing driven grouse moors to banning driven grouse shooting . At least I hope this is what is being hinted at!

          1. Exactly Mud-Lark,I will rejoin the same day.
            It is difficult to have to make a stand when there are so many extraordinary employees on the ground who have my utmost respect.

  2. Congratulations on venturing into unfriendly territory to make the case for conservation.

    I presume (and hope) that the comment in your list of points the audience disliked about the market failing to deliver the insecticides we need, specifies neonics as an example of one it has delivered that we don’t need not an example of one we need that it has failed to deliver? (I guess that the current situation in the UK is that these insecticides have been semi-delivered).

  3. …two of my favourite grouse moor owners and George Wynn Darley…I had to read that sentence a few times !

  4. Why should the chap take up the evidence planting issue with the RSPB if they are the ‘suspects’? If a crime has been committed he should report it to the police. Unless it’s a load of old cobblers of course…

    1. Bushshrike – good point. I just thought that he’d probably be put straight very easily by the RSPB – they are good at that.

  5. While you were ‘taking luncheon in the CLA members’ enclosure’, (and you didn’t even bring me a Henry bag – gutted!) I was invited to lunch at the TWGC/CTGW/WGTC/GCWT tent. That was very kind of them but concerns about potential food meddling meant I chose to dine elsewhere.

    1. Glad you didn’t succumb to the risk of lead poisoning through ‘voluntary’ injestion;)

  6. Excellent report. Congratulations on venturing into the lion’s den. That they have a special enclosure for CLA members speaks volumes and rather gives a lie to the claim that the huntin’ fraternity are really a very egalitarian bunch and not the toffs of the popular imagination. Perhaps we ought to have something similar at the Bird Fair although on what criteria I’m unsure!

    1. John – good idea! Swarovski binocular wearers? Those with a life-list of over 3000? 5000? Or a British list of 400+? Readers of Birdwatch magazine? RSPB Life Fellows? there are probably a few people, very few, who qualify under all criteria – but not me!

      1. How about sorting the wheat from the chaff by having an exclusive enclosure for those who have signed the petition to ban driven grouse shooting leaving the no’er do wells that haven’t out in the cold?

    2. Yes an excellent report and well done for attending.

      But the fact the CLA has an enclosure for members does not ‘speak volumes’ for anything apart from the fact it’s for ……ahem CLA members. Members enclosures/members only areas are commonplace, such as the owners enclosures on racecourses (eh Mark!) and that speaks volumes for what?

  7. The suggestion that the RSPB plants evidence is an interesting one, and I’m surprised we haven’t heard more of it up to now.

    There’s been quite a lot of research on the characteristics of science denial, particularly in relation to climate change, although it has relevance to other aspects of denial like creationism and anti-vaccine campaigners. When researchers looked at the characteristics of comments on one well-known climate denial blog, they found that those showing evidence of conspiratorial thinking were most common. Brilliantly, when the researchers published their results in a reputable sociological journal, climate science deniers cited their paper as further proof of a climate conspiracy!

    The five characteristics of science denial described are as follows:

    1. False experts – references to statements by those who actually know little of the subject.
    2. Logical fallacies – for instance, stating that species X or Y does well on grouse moors. This may be true, but is irrelevant to the question of harrier persecution.
    3. Impossible expectations, such as saying unless you can produce the bodies of five missing hen harriers to show they’ve been shot, there is no proof.
    4. Cherry picking data – Mark has some examples of that in his blog
    5. Conspiracy theories. Well we’ve done that one already.

    So do we have a phenomenon here that we could call ‘Harrier Denial’? If so, we can learn lessons from climate science about how to confront it. Trying to persuade deniers with evidence is a waste of time. In fact, it may cause them to cling more tenaciously to their denial, known as the ‘world view backfire effect’. Instead, we need to appeal over their heads to the 90%+ who will be undecided, unaware, or receptive to messages about the issue (including responsible grouse moor owners), and educate them, leaving those in denial to become irrelevant and isolated.

    1. Andrew – thank you for that very thoughtful comment.

      Well, that is what we are doing isn’t it? Henry, Hen Harrier Day, books, T-shirts, Hen Harrier evenings – all aimed at the 90% of the public who don’t know about these problems rather than the 5% who cause them.

      And we will reach those normal people and we will persuade them – it won’t be immediate but it is now inevitable.

      1. Think I take more satisfaction from you saying it is inevitable than anything else.With yourself and others dedicated to saving the Hen Harrier on our moorland as you say it may take a while even a long time but it is inevitable.We are now as Winston said “at the beginning of the end”.
        Thankfully we have really really tenacious people on the case.
        What Hen Harriers need is RSPB on the case.
        Whatever is the sense in giving us these great re-introductions which almost everyone thanks them for and giving us chance to see birds we thought we would never see while at the same time not putting 100% effort into stopping illegal persecution on these shooting estates.

    2. To the list of denialist characteristics you could add:

      6) impugning the motives of those engaged in investigating or campaigning against whatever is being denied: climate scientists are allegedly either motivated by lucrative research grants or are politically motivated lefties; likewise the rspb and other conservationists are all painted as leftists motivated by the ‘politics of envy’. Of course those doing the denying are all as pure as the driven snow!

  8. Mark – Well done. I must say it was very brave of you (et al.) to have gone to the Game Fair and partaken in debate. No doubt you ruffled quite a few feathers (if you will excuse the pun). The fact that various people, literally, took steps to avoid you says it all really.

  9. Oh what a joy it must have been to encounter Duncan Thomas. I wonder if he thinks the emergency services are responsible for road accidents?

    1. Having encountered Duncan quite a few times both as a WCO when he spent most of his time in Bowland pursuing raptor workers rather than real wildlife criminals ( his mates and now members) He nearly always has come out with some real old guff about what causes harrier and peregrine failure and disappearance, he was ************** and is now just making a fool of himself. We don’t believe you Duncan and doubt you believe yourself!. Alan looks a picture of resigned tolerance I hope he gave as good as he got.

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