The whole thing was basically about brood meddling – a scheme promoted by a bunch of shooting organisations and the Hawk and Owl Trust and opposed by the RSPB, me and, it seems, a large majority of birders. Oh yes, and by Chris Packham, who felt so strongly about it that he resigned as President of the Hawk and Owl Trust over this issue.
But wait! Actually neither I nor the RSPB totally oppose a bit of brood meddling – once the Hen Harrier population in England has been allowed to recover to c60 pairs which would indicate that the British grouse industry could be trusted (at least a bit) we would cautiously sign up to it too. Remember that last year there were four pairs of Hen Harrier in England (this year there were 12) and that there should be and could be as many as 330 pairs if they were left unmolested. So we are talking, rather hypothetically since Hen Harriers still ‘disappear’ in England each year, and are killed for sure too, about when we might feel that the massive concession of brood meddling should be given to grouse moors. Philip Merricks thinks we should have a trial now and so do shooting organisations – the rest of us either oppose it completely, or think that the criminals should mend their ways before they are given any such concession. You don’t quite get that flavour from what Philip Merricks says in the podcast.
Philip and I agree on several things. He says that the current situation isn’t working (but erroneously seems to think that masses of police effort goes into catching wildlife criminals on the grouse moors of the Establishment – funnily enough, it doesn’t (funny that!)). Philip’s solution is to reward and appease the criminals, my solution is to ban driven grouse shooting because the criminals are criminals, intransigent criminals, and intransigent criminals who have shown they can’t be trusted. But banning driven grouse shooting is about so much more than Hen Harriers (read my book).
Philip calls YFTB ‘loony’ – he’s right.
Philip seems to believe, as I do, that moorland owners know who is doing this killing. He seems to have talked to quite a few in the industry gets the impression that gamekeepers ‘will take revenge’ on birds of prey if they don’t get what they want. Sounds like a pleasant bunch of people doesn’t it? And he’s very well-informed about people using night vision technology – did you notice that?
Philip seems very keen on my (and Keith Betton’s) book, Behind the Binoculars, quoting, and requoting, one small passage from my interview with Ian Newton. Ian, to my knowledge, has never before said anything publicly about brood management but he does so in Behind the Binoculars. Perhaps you should buy a copy to see exactly what he says on the subject but I’ll give you just a taster – Ian says he doesn’t think there is much enthusiasm for brood management amongst grouse moor owners and also ‘how many grouse moor managers would you trust on this after what’s happened in the past?’ – and that, of course, was before the events of this year, the year of disappearing male Hen Harriers, and was actually said early in 2014, before that year’s Hen Harrier season (and before the disappearance of Sky and Hope). But do read the interview with Ian and a little later in the interview when he opines that ‘many gamekeepers will be killing birds of prey habitually‘.
Philip shows himself to be out of touch with birders with much of what he says. He’s also out of touch with political reality in many ways. First, he seems to think that the Hawk and Owl Trust is occupying some middle ground in this debate – no you aren’t! It’s the extremist wing of the debate. It’s the landowners’ wing of the debate. It’s as though the Hawk and Owl Trust, under Philip, has crossed the floor of the House of Commons and joined the other side. The middle ground is currently occupied by the RSPB who will stomach brood-meddling (as would I) once Hen Harrier populations increase, but who would also stomach driven grouse shooting despite its many environmentally damaging aspects. My position is clearly more extreme than that – I’d like to see driven grouse shooting banned. Yes it’s an extreme position – an extremely sensible one! Sign here if you agree, please.
Then Philip accuses me, in particular I think, of being political. That’s always what the forces of conservatism say to people who want change – as though keeping things the same isn’t political! Really! So, yes, I am political but no more so than Philip himself.
Philip also trots out the completely hopeless analogy of talking to grouse moor managers being a bit like talking to the IRA in the past. Now I don’t want to venture into Irish politics but there are a couple of things that Philip might want to reflect upon. First, we’ve done the talking for years and years before he came on the scene with his ‘let’s give the criminals what they want to solve wildlife crime’ solution. Done that. Didn’t work – they’ve had their chance. Second, the IRA weren’t allowed to achieve what they wanted – there is no removal of the border between the north and south, there was no concession of democracy to terrorists, they (and I almost am scared to point this out since they have guns) didn’t win!
Philip says that the Hawk and Owl Trust is forging ahead with complete staff and trustee unanimity – that’s not what I hear. Some keep telling me, and others, that brood meddling is going nowhere and I keep saying that I’ll believe it when I hear it from Philip. Well the excellently entertaining podcast is about an hour of Philip telling the world that we all need brood meddling straight away so that isn’t quite right. But it is a useful reminder that I should cancel my direct debit to HOT – so I have.
Bye bye Hawk and Owl Trust. As far as birders are concerned, you blew it!
The Hawk and Owl Trust will be at the Bird Fair this weekend and will be keen to take your money and explain why brood meddling will help the Hen Harrier.