Defra – a shameful government department

Photo: Gordon Yates
Photo: Gordon Yates

One of the more reasonable aspects of the dreadful government response to our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting is that it regards the fact that there were a few more Hen Harriers this year (although many of the males disappeared of course) as encouraging. It is a little bit encouraging – but not very.

We know, and Defra knows, that the current science (as I keep mentioning, there’s supposed to be some more coming along in a while which may revise the figures downwards) on the basis of currently available habitat, suggests there would be around 330 pairs of Hen Harrier nesting in the English uplands if they were not illegally killed.

I notice that on Twitter both the Countryside Alliance’s Chief Executive, Tim Bonner (@CA_TimB), and the TGCW’s Director of Everything, Andrew Gilruth (@AndrewGilruth), are trying to give the RSPB a hard time about this. In particular, they seem to have a problem with the RSPB mentioning that the science suggests that there ought to be an awful lot more Hen Harriers in England.

Their line of attack seems to be that the RSPB doesn’t keep mentioning how many of other species there might be. Well, apart from the fact that is nonsense anyway, the reason to highlight the 330 pairs of Hen Harrier that could be nesting in England is to make a proper contrast with the 2, 4 and 12 pairs that attempted to nest in the last three years.  And the main reason for doing this is that we know, and the WTGC accepts, that the gap between the handful or couple of hands full of pairs usually on offer and the several hundred that ought to grace our hills is due to wildlife crime. And that’s what makes the grouse moor situation so unacceptable. A ‘sport’, a sport of trivial economic importance, is wiping out a protected species over the whole of the uplands of England. Nearby in Wales, where there is no driven grouse shooting, Hen Harriers thrive.

This aspect of the issue is covered in Chapter 1 of Inglorious (still the Amazon UK #1 best seller in target shooting (what a laugh!)). The Welsh situation is summarised on page 31 (57 pairs of Hen Harrier in 2010 in the last national survey – potential 250 pairs in Wales – but at least the population is in long term increase).

Andrew Gilruth also should remind himself of what it says on page 34 of Inglorious: As an example, the GWCT’s director of fundraising, Andrew Gilruth, when interviewed by Charlie Moores of Birders Against Wildlife Crime in July 2014, referred to Dick Potts’s paper as an early example of how his organisation had long accepted the critical role of illegal persecution in the fate of the UK Hen Harrier populations, and said about illegal persecution, ‘I don’t think that anyone is under any illusion that it needs to stop. I mean, the scientific literature is full of information about what the issue is. The challenge is about what to actually do about it.’

Ah, but that was last year when the CWTG were, laughably, putting themselves forward as the best friend of the Hen Harrier and the best friend of the RSPB.  Things have changed now.

I don’t remember GWCT or the Countryside Alliance promising us any particular number of Hen Harriers in the future – or did I miss that bit?  How many will they allow us to have?

Defra needs to get its act together. Its response to our e-petition made it look as though it was the mouthpiece of the shooting industry in general and grouse shooting in particular. Defra is not providing any leadership on this issue.  What is the Defra plan for Hen Harriers? How many of the 330 pairs of Hen Harrier that should be living in the English uplands will Defra deliver? And how quickly? What is its novel response to the current dire situation?  How is it going to tackle this wildlife crime? When is it going to recognise its nature conservation responsibilities and stop appearing to side with the criminal elements of the ‘sport’ of grouse shooting.

Defra against badgers (despite the science on bTB transmission), against bees (despite the science on neonicotinoids) and against birds of prey (despite the science on Hen Harriers and the law that protects them). What a shameful government department it has become!

Please sign this e-petition to Ban driven grouse shooting.



4 Replies to “Defra – a shameful government department”

  1. Mark, day after day we read you blogs in support of the RSPB. What I want to know is, when is payback time? Isn’t it about time they started supporting you and informing their members about your petition.
    Ok, so if they did that then all talks with GWCT etc would be over once and for all, but what would they really be losing, nothing! I for one do not want to see my RSPB talking with supporters of crime.
    Mike Clarke, you’ve talked and got nowhere, now act for the birds.
    Can I also ask that HOT publicise this at their AGM in a couple of weeks time. Philip, I’m sure you can work this into one of your speeches!

    1. The problem for the RSPB is their charitable status: it is a moot point whether campaigning against an industry that is (unfortunately) lawful would contravene the emasculated state that the coalition put active charities into. My MP, the execrable James Gray, justified the driven grouse industry, and by extension the wildlife crime, by stating some fictitious figure about how much money it brings in to the economy and how many people it employs. Of course, he forgot to mention tax exemption and taxpayer subsidies – but he is a Tory through and through and embodies all that is hateful about their war on our wildlife.

  2. Defra abandoned any use for science a long time ago and became a mouthpiece for the CA and the NFU with a mandate to slaughter any wildlife, protected or otherwise in an effort to appease those in power. They really are a disgrace and certainly not fit for purpose.

    While we have a Government with the hunting and shooting lobby so firmly entrenched then little will change. It dismays me to see the RSPB with it’s millions on members do so little in terms of taking these people on. Words are all well and good but ultimately there comes a time when only action will make a difference.

    Be it for Bees, Badgers or Hen Harriers the wildlife loving people of the UK need to get out there and make their feelings felt.

  3. I have never disliked a government as much as I dislike this one.
    They only have regard for their own type of people and money.
    Nothing else is important to them, not the opinion of the masses, or science.
    They are sucking compassion from our society and polluting other organisations.
    It is useless sending campaign emails to my MP as he is pro hunting, and I just receive a curt reply stating that he receives too many emails, and to contact him if I have a real problem.
    We need people like you to keep these crimes in the public eye, as the rest of us often feel powerless and frustrated!

Comments are closed.