Mark writes: below you’ll find a long series of comments on Inglorious by Ronnie Graham (of whom I know, but who don’t know personally). I thought you might find it interesting because Ronnie is interesting – a shooter and a raptor worker. His comments are reproduced in whole below and my comments (which I have tried to keep brief, are the annotations in red). I’m grateful to Ronnie for taking the time to give me so much feedback.
Updated Sunday 1pm – there was another whole page of Ronnie’s comments that I missed!
‘After our short exchange on Twitter I bought and read you book “Inglorious” and as agreed thought I’d send you some of my comments on it and the subject of raptor persecution in general.
I’m a long standing member of Dumfries and Galloway Raptor Study Group and have been monitoring and ringing raptors for over 30 years covering species such as goshawk, sparrowhawk, osprey, buzzard annually and more occasional hen harrier and merlin as well as having a long term nestbox study for tawny owl. I also ring many other bird species each year and have currently colour ringing projects with reed bunting and jackdaws.
I suppose I differ from most (but not all) raptor enthusiasts as I have had a long association with game shooting and stalking. Although I don’t shoot driven game very often these days I still very much enjoy a flight at the ducks, a morning out looking for a roe or working my Hungarian Wire Haired Vizla on rough pheasants or partridges.
This “foot in both camps” situation has found me in some strange situations with various birders and raptor workers that assume quite blindly that everyone involved in conservation is completely anti shooting and that all shooting and pest control is negative. Also and more amusingly with shooters and gamekeepers that assume, just as blindly, that everyone involved in shooting is pro-all types of shooting and pest control and will stand up for the SGA and NGO party line which is almost always some ecologically retarded clap-trap.
I should say from the outset that I absolutely abhor any form of raptor persecution and the illegal persecution of mammals. Not in the way that SGA, NGO or SLE abhor it. I really do abhor it!
Now then, about your book ‘Inglorious’
Although as expected it was very one sided it was generally a good and entertaining read. One-sided? the opening sentence of the Preface is ‘This book has a point of view – it sets out the case for ending driven grouse shooting in our uplands’. But the book does not ignore the difficult issues for that point of view. I found the errors in the references to Scotland a bit annoying and really think it would have been better to stick to the English situation which is probably what you are most comfortable and at home with. The constant dodging with data between the UK and England was also slightly confusing. Didn’t you find the errors about England irritating too? How interesting! There is a challenge about writing such a book in a devolved UK. The biology of the situation doesn’t differ in the four UK countries but the politics do. And, since devolution (which is deliberately explained briefly in Chapter 4) is a relatively recent thing in the UK, there are some things that need to be covered which were pre-devolution, and some that happen in a devolved UK. And the solutions to the problems of raptor persecution, ecological damage can be dealt with differently in different UK countries. I wish I’d written a little note about that at the beginning of the book – maybe for the paperback.
I took the following notes and made these comments as I read the book which I hope you find constructive and interesting.
1) Inside the front cover your introduction states that grouse shooting takes place in “The Pennines, The North Yorkshire Moors, The Cheviots and throughout Scotland” This is incorrect as it also only takes place in certain areas of Scotland e.g. Angus Glens, South Lanarkshire, Scottish Borders. Written by the publisher not me – but it’s true enough for a book flap.
2) Page 49, you describe beaters and loaders as “poor” this is a rather outrageous statement as I have seen doctors, dentists, retired businessmen and many quite wealthy people involved in a grouse shooting day as beaters and loaders. You also describe the cost of the day divided by the number of guns. i.e. 8 shooters = £35k this is not how the cost is calculated. On a paying day you would pay per brace of birds shot (or per bird for pheasants or partridge). Poor things! The example I used, as I wrote, was from an advertised day’s shoot at the 2014 Game Fair. It’s an example, and it’s correct.
You constantly refer to the cost of this grouse shooting and refer to it as an industry. I think you miss the point here. Most grouse shooting is privately owned and the only way of getting to shoot is by private invitation. I would say that to be invited to a grouse shoot on the 12th of August is probably unrivalled as a corporate invite amongst those involved in the sport. Many, many huge deals both political and industrial will have been discussed and hands shaken on these heather moors. I don’t constantly refer to grouse shooting as an industry – I sometimes refer to it as a ‘sport’. In this I follow what the proponents of grouse shooting do too. You’ll notice, or maybe you haven’t, that the PACEC report talks about the shooting industry and YFTB says it is funded by the British grouse industry. When shooters want to ‘big up’ the economics of grouse shooting they call it an industry and when they want to appear poor and struggling they describe it as a sport. Whatever! The book makes the point that it is an uneconomic industry (once ecological damage is costed) and an unsporting sport (as historically held as an opinion by shooters themselves).
Of course driven grouse shooting can be bought but the really big days especially at the beginning of the season are mainly for the rich and privileged few, there by invite with reciprocation expected.
If you take the definition of “industrial” literally as “the production of goods or services within an economy” I suppose you are correct. This is just in the same way as the RSPB may be described as an industry. But my guess is that you use this term to try and paint a picture of driven grouse shooting as the factory farming of grouse produced and shot for vast sums of money making rich industrialists even richer. This is nonsense as grouse moors are generally run as a risky hobby. A couple of wet, cold springs could leave a vast hole in a grouse moor owner’s pocket.
I suppose we have to ask ourselves, if we had a few quid to invest (and a low moral threshold) would we invest in a grousemoor? My answer would be no, not in a million years.
3) Your repeated description of the hen harrier as a beautiful and graceful bird is interesting and one that I could never contradict. But it does beg the question, is the fact that a bird is beautiful a reason to protect it or to reverse the argument should ugly birds not be protected? I personally think that a goshawk is equally beautiful to a hen harrier but people seldom see goshawks especially from the comfort of their cars. Golden eagles too are undoubtedly beautiful and majestic and to see the power in its level flight or to watch it soaring high in a mountain landscape is truly magnificent.
This brings me to the question, why have you prioritised the hen harrier and given it more emphasis than any other persecuted raptor. Surely the golden eagle as an extinct breeding bird is a step or two more endangered as an English bird than the hen harrier? The goshawk, golden eagle, buzzard, red kite, short eared owl etc. are all killed with impunity on these moors so why just choose a single species? All those species are mentioned in the way you suggest. It’s kind of up to me how to structure the book. There has been a worthless Hen Harrier group set up by Defra and there is no doubt that the Hen Harrier has a predominant place in these discussions. Though you should have noticed that in Chapter 3 I kept pointing out that the Hen Harrier’s henchman, the Peregrine, seems to slip under the radar of these discussions.
To jump ahead in your book, this is also true of Hen Harrier day. Why not call it “Raptor Day” Does this name not suggest that only hen harriers are endangered and illegally killed on grouse moors when in reality there are far more species being put in jeopardy to entertain the few. I also wonder why you kept this event so curiously English and printed T shirts with St George’s Crosses on them. This was viewed in Scotland by many as an English event and was shunned by some (including myself) why would you need to show off your national flag like lager louts in Benidorm. Where will the birds that recolonise England come from? Do English hen harriers know where the political boundaries are? You’re getting a bit confused. Do you want me to stick to England or not? But this comment is not about the book – it’s about real life. It’s called Hen Harrier Day because that’s what Alan Tilmouth called it in 2013 (as it says in the book). In 2014 there were four Hen Harrier day events – all were in England although there were hopes that Scotland could organise one too but it didn’t. In 2015, there were seven Hen Harrier Day events, five in England and two in Scotland. What people wear at them is up to them! I am particularly pleased with a photo of Chris Packham and me wearing tartan bonnets and with ginger hair in the rain in Derbyshire in 2014 – you should have been there.
4) Page 63 You say that “The Duke of Buccleuch is the largest landowner in Dumfries” and the “second largest in Roxburgh” Dumfries is a town on the river Nith in Dumfriesshire and Roxburgh is a tiny village on the river Teviot in Roxburghshire.
To be the largest land owner in Dumfries you would only require a moderate farm and to be the second largest in Roxburgh a fairly large garden would do!
I believe that the current Duke of Buccleuch is the largest private landowner in the UK. He is. And his ancestor was in the late nineteenth century. I remember writing that bit. And he is the largest landowner in Northamptonshire too – and was in the nineteenth century too. Those bits got cut out.
5) Page 68, you describe buying a stretch of foreshore. This is not possible in Scotland as the foreshore belongs to Crown Estate, in effect The Queen. This has two main exceptions. The first is in the Northers Isles (where the foreshore belongs to the adjacent landowner and where ancient ownership agreement dictates that the foreshore is owned by someone. The rights to shoot the foreshore for wildfowl are available to everyone with a lawful reason to own a shotgun. I.e. if you can legally gain access to the foreshore then you can shoot wildfowl on it. This is a recurrent them in the book where you make statements which may be true in England but are inaccurate in Scotland. As you may know the laws regarding the taking of game are different in Scotland than they are in England.
6) Page 183, there is no document ever been produced in Scotland or England called a game certificate.
In Scotland there was the game licence and the game dealer’s licence which were both abolished in Scotland with effect from 11th April 2011 as part of the WANE Bill. In England and Wales the same licences were abolished in 1st August 2007. I reckon I could find a reference to a Game Certificate but, I have to admit, in ten minutes of looking, I have failed. So you may be right.
7) Page 72, Vermin is not a term I really like either to be honest. I prefer “pests” or “pest species” but if you take the definition to be “wild animals which are believed to be harmful to crops, farm animals, or game, or which carry disease, e.g. rodents” I suppose it’s quite suitable. The fact that someone finds a wild mammal “cuddly” is neither here nor there and I find that equally nauseating.
Interestingly the second definition of “vermin” is “people perceived as despicable and as causing problems for the rest of society” I suppose there are plenty of them on grouse moors too!
8) Page 91, you say that” hen harriers and red grouse live together in many parts of the world” As red grouse only live in Great Britain and Ireland I find this comment somewhat nonsensical. The Red Grouse is a race of a species that lives right around the world at these latitudes. It seems to be called the Dalripa in Sweden.
9) P83, In the chapter “Langholm the end of the Beginning” you never mention the fact that the 12 females that bred there last year (Last year? Chapter 3 is about the first Langholm study. Are you sure you read it carefully?) were living a charmed life in the absence of golden eagles. If the Langholm moor had a natural population of one or two pairs of golden eagles breeding and hunting over the moor then I would bet there would never be that number of hen harriers or short eared owls breeding in the open moor. If I had a grouse moor I’d make sure I had golden eagles on it!
10) Just a note about the Countryside Alliance March in London 2002. I was there and marched because I felt the government was side lining rural issues. I had seen local primary schools close and a few local post offices and felt a rising tide against field sports too. It was as if we were forgotten within the corridors of Westminster. Fox Hunting was something I was really neutral about. With only a few hunts in Scotland it was just not an issue. Although my late father had told me as a child, ironically growing up on the isle of Tiree with a red fox population of zero, that we should stand up for the fox hunters because if shooting was threatened then we would all stand as one. You can imagine my dismay when in the weeks and months after the march I heard it described in the media as the fox hunting march, with the BBC describing it as the” biggest ever public pro- fox hunting” demonstration.
My father’s prediction proved to be incorrect too as the fox hunting fraternity described shooting foxes and as cruel with as many animals wounded as killed. At that time I shot approximately 30-50 foxes a year and never wounded a single one.
11) The fuss over the CROW act in England was quite baffling to many Scots as we had a general right of access to land anyway. In fact the idea that someone would stop you from entering our hills and glens seemed a very alien concept indeed. The problems that these with a perceived and vested interest in maintaining the law of trespass in England waved about were strange as these problems didn’t start and end at Gretna Green.
12) Page 113, this page jumps from England, UK and EU the way you have explained it is very complex. The Curry Commission was about English farming. It concerned how much EU money they would get. So why have you divided up what England gets with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in your analysis? I think a more cynical person would say that it’s been done to exaggerate your already flimsy figures. You must try harder to understand.
Here and elsewhere you talk about “our” taxes and the taxes of the nurse and the teacher going to pay (via single farm payment) for these grouse moors. I suppose in reality as we are part of the EU that these taxes may be from a German postman, a French painter or a Spanish waiter indeed from anyone from within the EU who pay taxes. The EU does not give us money – they give us back some of the money that we have given them. I’m fine with that and will probably vote to stay in the EU. But the fact is that as nett contributors we finance all of the EU stuff in the UK, and some of the EU stuff outside the UK. The point is, that the money spent in the uplands and lowlands on agricultural subsidy (income support) is our money and we can decide what we get for it (if we get our act together).
13) Page 124, The last 3 lines about Prince Harry seem out of place. Perhaps a printing error. No, it’s a footnote. See top of page.
14) Page 127, You say “South of the Edinburgh Glasgow line there are very few pairs of golden eagles and this has been an eagle no-go area for many years” I would remind you that the sat tagged golden eagle “Roxy” has been flitting around the Southern Uplands including Leadhills Estate, Drumlanrig Estate and various other “Badlands” for about 4 years now and is still alive and attempting to breed with a mate. This area has also been chosen by SNH for a golden eagle population enhancement project which will commence in 2016. It is certainly not a brilliant place for eagles but it’s a long way from being an eagle no-go area.
15) Page 130, you dodge between UK and England and it really doesn’t make a lot of sense. It makes perfect sense! Some of the figures are for England, others for the UK – and it helps to mention those facts.
16) Page 131, How could walked up shooting possibly make enough revenue to pay for the employment and maintenance of a grouse moor or indeed any moor? Plenty of walked up shooting is available either for free or for a few quid. Can you imagine asking for £125 a brace so that a gun could walk a moor and have an occasional shot? It’s just not an option. I suppose it’s the difference between asking a birder if they would like to sit in a cosy hide drink coffee and see lots and lots of cracking birds or walk uphill for miles and maybe see a meadow pipit! You are criticising someone else’s views reported by me.
17) Page 133, the idea that everyone who shoots grouse has a £20k Purdy or Holland and Holland is absurd. It’s much more usual to see guns with over and under shotguns these days and usually made in Italy. The cost of re- barrelling (sleeving) a fine English shotgun would cost much more than a few hundred quid and would devalue the gun considerably. It would indeed be absurd to assume that everyone has a pair of Purdeys. I don’t (have them or assume that others do).
18) Page 133 +144 People generally eat less amounts of game meat than other meats. When would anyone buy large amounts of grouse, partridge and pheasant to eat throughout the year? Everyone knows someone who eats a fair amount of game and is not dead, dying or retarded. My son probably eats more venison and game than anyone at his school and has just passed his exams with straight A’s !
I think you have to ask yourself, if it wasn’t for your campaign against driven grouse shooting would you still protest against lead in game meat? I doubt this very much and find this a very transparent attack on all game shooting. You need to look at the figures already out there for game consumption and you’ll undoubtedly see more about it on this blog. But I don’t have to ask myself the question you pose because I know the answer; I started campaigning against lead ammunition about 15 years before I decided to campaign for a ban on driven grouse shooting. So you’ve got the cart an awful long way ahead of the horse. Try buying another of my books, Fighting for Birds, and you’ll see that’s true.
19) Page 141, sorry Mark but this is like science fiction. You’re looking years into the future and after the uplands have been further ruined by sheep, forestry and wind farms. That is the point of the chapter, yes, to look into the future, so it probably has to be fiction doesn’t it? Read the quotation at the head of the page.
20) Page 145, Should Harper not have asked the RSPB, not assumed that they would support her petition before starting it. Especially if that support was what she was depending upon. In my opinion it’s just too easy to start an online petition without really thinking it through.
21) P171, you talk of driven grouse shooting being in an “entrenched” position. My goodness Mark if you could see the birders, especially raptor workers from my position you would know about “entrenched” as John Wayne would have said “they’re dug it deeper than a tick on a hounds ass” I agree 100% with your comment regarding the Langholm 1 report. I read the review from GWCT and then the RSPB and really wondered if they could be talking about the same report.
I do wonder why you seek to exacerbate this throughout your book by referring to the grouse shooting fraternity as “the men in tweed” this obviously doesn’t just refer to grouse shooters but to all shooters of game, gamekeepers, pickers up etc. then complain about their entrenched position.
Why don’t you refer to the conservation enclave as “the men in bobble hats” or “the bearded boffins” ?
22) Page 185, Are you sure that was Neil’s gross profit, Not his net profit? Did that include or exclude his single farm payment? This all sounds a bit simplistic.
I think you may have put a bit of spin on this. How would RSPB or other NGO’s fair without government subsidies? I know the answer to that question but it wasn’t what I was writing about. Nor does it particularly colour my views.
23) Page 194, If walked up grouse shooting is ok then what about the lead debate? Have grouse that are shot after being walked up got less lead in them than driven grouse? No, that’s why I would support a ban on lead ammunition. I’m not confused about this at all. Are you?
24) Page 197, if the predator control is legal than what is your problem? if these , red foxes and weasels are killed legally and the same numbers are killed each year (they are not declining) then where is the problem? Wader numbers and probably black grouse and capercailzie benefit from this management.
Even RSPB practise predator control in some instances. In quite a few instances. Not what the book is about.
25) Page 214, Pay and Clay! Whenever, I have seen these beginners “have a go” set ups they are very, very simple targets designed to give the potential shooter a go at shooting without the discouragement of missing everything.
Can you imagine these targets whizzing past your head at incredible speed, very low and coming in coveys? The smell of cordite and heather, with some of the most beautiful landscape in the country all around you?
I’d be surprised if a novice would hit any birds far less four out of ten! The next time you hear some anti shooting know all, talk about the spray of pellets and it being impossible to miss, please remember that It’s a very difficult and skillful sport.
Bye the way, don’t close one eye, keep both eyes open. It helps judge range and speed. It also improves balance. (and of course do look down the barrel!)
26) Page 201, this “ban for ever” has not worked too well with fox hunting. Hunts still hunt every week in the season and the Tories had a repeal of the hunting act on the cards until the SNP came to the rescue! Now with EVEL I wonder when we will see this horrible ogre resurfacing its ugly head.
27) Page 242, you talk about the common conception that if grouse shooting was banned then the moors would be full of sheep but don’t actually say anything to dispel this? This is also true of coniferous plantations and windfarm developments. You seem to have skipped the page before. And the whole future of the uplands is dealt with in Chapter 6 which you like so much.
28) Chapter 6, The Sunlit Uplands is in my view just your personal ramblings (that’s exactly what it is – although I’d prefer ‘thoughts’ to ‘ramblings’. It’s my book! Whose ramblings do you think I should include?) about what may happen in your utopian (your word, not mine) uplands. It appears that you imagine these uplands to be filled with day trippers, inhabited by people from the city and countryside rangers who spend their days doing nothing. No doubt dotted with tearooms and themed pubs.
An alternative that I feel would be more likely is that the uplands would be covered with sheep which in turn would degrade and ultimately destroy the heather. Landowners would look to profit from coniferous forestry and some would be lucky enough to get windfarm developments on their land. In turn employment would fall and we would be left with these moors like ghost towns with the odd quad bike and hill walker on them. You don’t seem capable of engaging with what the NT are planning for their land in the Peak District or what many would see as the future of the uplands in general. It’s in the book but it hasn’t got into your consciousness – obviously my fault.
Your idea that the uplands would be predator control free (that’s not my idea – where do I say that?) would be scuppered as shepherds have an insatiable appetite for killing red foxes and are also guilty of poisoning eagles along with ravens and carrion crows with red kites, sea eagles, buzzards etc. becoming collateral damage. Indeed Mark, be very careful what you wish for.
29) Several times you mention looking for dippers, grey wagtails and sandpipers along some river or other and although you don’t actually say it you infer (I don’t) that grouse moor management is the problem. I remember working on a trout farm on the River Ae in Dumfriesshire around 25 years ago. I went out one evening with a friend and found 9 grey wagtail nests. Every year I’d ring the double broods in 8 or 10 dipper nests. Common sandpipers were indeed common. Now these birds are much scarcer. This year I didn’t ring any dippers or grey wagtails at all and only found 1 sandpiper nest. Now the areas I cover for these birds are all upland hill burns where there is absolutely no heather burning or grouse shooting in their catchment areas. The land use remains unchanged for decades. What I’m saying is that you can sow that seed of doubt in the naïve readers’ mind but will your personal notion or hunch stand up to scrutiny? I doubt it very much.
So I can criticise your book and your view of a driven grouseless UK but what have I to say that is constructive?
Well, the first thing I’d say is that after 35 years of shooting I don’t ever remember shooting beside a driven grouse shooter. As you say and I concur this is a sport of the ultra-rich. Not the type of people I would normally socialise with. This is why I find it very difficult to understand why the wildfowler or rough shooter will stand up for a sport they will never be able to afford or participate in and a sportsman that they will never meet. The answer In my mind is that they see this in the same light as my father viewed fox hunting. “ we will all stand together and be strong” This is nonsense and when the deer stalker, wildfowler and rough shooter are made aware that the reason for the stricter general licence conditions, snaring/trapping legislation, firearm / shotgun licencing is because these people are not acting within the law that’s when their opinion and allegiance will change.
The mistake that your book and campaign are making is to tar all shooting sports with the same brush and to attack them all.
I firmly believe that the vast amount of raptor/ wildlife crime takes place on grousemoors and these should be the target. Why start a war with 600,000 people who shoot live quarry when you could only have a few hundred grouse shooters to deal with? A group so socially and financially remote from the rest of the shooting fraternity they can easily be singled out and ostracised by other shooters who abide by the law.’
The only way to win this battle is to drive a wedge between the grouse moors, grouse shooters etc. and the rest of shooting sports. Let them know who is affecting their sport and is responsible for tightening legislation. That’s why I wrote a book about just that – you seem to have got thee in the end!
The problem is that the big players in the battle are not focussed on the fight they are expending too much energy on their scattergun approach (pardon the pun) against all game shooting. You only have to look at how The Raptor Persecution Scotland blog has changed into an anti-shooting campaign site. BAWC are also 100% anti shooting, as is Raptor Politics. I’m not sure they would all agree with your characterisation of them – but then, Ronnie, you describe me as anti-shooting whereas I am not.
The rabid hatred these people or groups have for all shooting and pest control blinds them to working with any tactical formation. It’s just attack anything that is involved with shooting, trapping, snaring etc. and of course ignore any positive impacts.
These naïve tactics have led to some strange and unwise coalitions. For instance The League Against Cruel Sports, Animal Aid and OneKind. These groups have zero credibility with any scientific bodies, no one listens to them. The shooting fraternity hate them with a passion, any coalition with these groups only further entrenches and more importantly galvanises the shooting fraternity. Because ‘the shooting fraternity has not given an inch, in fact it is has taken a few more miles, it is not surprising that there is a wide range of organisations who are either totally against them, or getting more and more frustrated that some forms of shooting lead to so much environmental damage and generate so much wildlife crime. The shooting fraternity has, by its intransigence, created these coalitions, such as they are.
The position that the anti-grouse shooting lobby finds itself in is somewhat similar and reminiscent of the UK’s military interference in Iraq. On the surface morally correct and well-meaning but ill guided and without any thought or plan for after the war is over. Says you. this is the bit that you seem to have ignored in Inglorious.
If you have read this far Mark, you may wonder just what my position would be regarding a driven grouse shooting ban. Well, it may surprise you that I would be in favour of a ban. I would however like to see some firm plan for what will happen to these uplands after a ban regarding ownership, land use and employment.
I hope you have found these comments of some interest. I did, thank you.
Ronnie – thanks!
PS – do you like the fact that after all these years I’ve discovered colour?
Signed copies of Inglorious can be purchased from the author – contact me firstname.lastname@example.org