Dear Minister

Rory Stewart
Rory Stewart

Dear Minister

You ought to be thinking of replying to our latest e-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting – we have now been waiting for over three weeks for a response. In that period, though, the e-petition has gained another 17,000+ signatures. You should be aware that the campaign to end driven grouse shooting is gaining momentum all the time and so you should expect your response to this e-petition to be scrutinised carefully.

Because of that, maybe you would like to make sure that the Defra response is more accurate than last time (and the time before) and does not just look like something that the Moorland Association told you to write.

I’ll take you through the awful response that your department produced last time, but before that I would be interested to know whether you do in fact sign off these responses yourself? You are, of course, responsible for them anyway as they cover your remit, but do you actually look at them? I have asked this question several times before without an answer and I’ll call the Defra press office later this morning to ask them. I can’t see any reason why we taxpayers should not know whether you have personally signed off the nonsense coming from your department; can you?

Also, just to remind you as you draft or authorise your department response to this e-petition, remember that two important things have happened since your last awful response: you have published your plan for grouse moor managers (which you called a Hen Harrier plan) and the north of England experienced heavy floods over the Christmas period, and as you must be becoming aware, these floods are made worse by upland land management of which intensive management for driven grouse shooting is one aspect (see here, here, here).

I’ll now take you through the nonsense you allowed your department to put out as a ‘response’ to this e-petition’s predecessor last year on 17 September.

I’ve structured your response in a different way from the way it appeared but it’s all here and it appears here in a nice Conservative blue colour.

First, Hen Harriers; Defra wrote:

In response to the issue of illegal killing of protected wildlife, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 affords protection to all wild birds and certain other species. Despite the protection afforded to birds of prey, such as the hen harrier, incidences of illegal killing of birds of prey continue to occur. To address this, senior Government and enforcement officers in the UK identified raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority. The National Wildlife Crime Unit, which is part-funded by Defra, monitors and gathers intelligence on illegal activities affecting birds of prey and provides assistance to police forces when required. Despite instances of poisoning and killing of birds of prey, populations of many species, such as the peregrine, red kite and buzzard have increased.

With regards to hen harriers, it is encouraging to learn that there were six successful hen harrier nests this breeding season, fledging 18 chicks, figures which show it is on track to be the most successful year since 2010.

The Uplands Stakeholder Forum Hen Harrier Sub-group was set up in 2012 with senior representatives from organisations best placed to take action to address the decline in Hen Harriers. These include Natural England, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Parks England and the RSPB. Defra welcomes the involvement of all parties.

The Sub-group has developed a draft Joint Action Plan containing a suite of complementary actions intended to contribute to the recovery of the hen harrier population in England. We are working with Sub-group members to finalise the Plan.

And now you have published your Grouse Moor Managers’ plan masquerading as a conservation plan for Hen Harriers but this hasn’t fooled any of us (except, it seems, the RSPB).  Yes, we’ll have to see what happens this year but your plan does not have any targets for Hen Harriers (or Peregrines, Red Kites, Goshawks, Golden Eagles or anything else) does it?  You won’t be off the hook on this one until all the SPAs return to favourable condition, including to the number of successfully nesting Hen Harriers which formed part of the reason for their designation, will you?  You haven’t made any commitments on that subject at all. Your plan is a non-plan – but I guess you will trot it out in your response. I’ll tell you now, that is only likely to accelerate the rate at which people flock to the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting, because you have a non-plan and everyone can see that.

However, if you have read the copy of Inglorious that I sent you (and for which you have never thanked me – not very polite of you) then you might recall that I think that the Hen Harrier issue is only a part, perhaps even a relatively small part, of why we should ban driven grouse shooting.

Let’s move on to your department’s opening defence of driven grouse shooting, for it cannot be taken as anything other than a stout, but utterly flawed, attempt to tell us all that driven grouse shooting is a good thing. Why did Defra do that?

When carried out in accordance with the law, grouse shooting for sport is a legitimate activity and in addition to its significant economic contribution, providing jobs and investment in some of our most remote areas, it can offer important benefits for wildlife and habitat conservation. The Government’s position is that people should be free to undertake lawful activities should they wish to do so. However, we encourage all shoot managers, owners and their staff to follow best practice to reduce the chances of a conflict of interest with birds of prey.

The first sentence (and indeed the second) is very embarrassing – which is why I wondered whether you really did sign off this nonsense. They say, ‘when done legally, grouse shooting is legal’ which is hardly a response to an e-petition calling for it to be made illegal is it? What did they teach you at Eton, minister?

We’ll come back to the economics of grouse shooting a bit later.

You state that grouse shooting can offer important benefits for wildlife and habitat conservation without saying what they are. What are they? I know what some of them are but the problem you have is in showing that this land management system delivers nett conservation benefits, ie when you add up the benefits and the costs what is the balance? Has Defra ever done this rather difficult analysis? Where is it published? Is it a peer-reviewed paper or just something you picked up from the Moorland Association?

In any case, you will, I am sure, agree that it isn’t the shooting that delivers any benefits, but the management – and you would have to concede that the management does not have to be followed by shooting, don’t you? So, if we wished, we could manage the moors in a similar way, not shoot the grouse, and still have the conservation benefits couldn’t we? In fact, we wouldn’t have to manage the moors at anything like the intensity they are managed now in order to maintain open habitats (if we wished to do so) and to maintain the range and distribution of all moorland species – don’t you agree minister? In other words, it’s a fiction that we need grouse shooting, or even that we need the management that underpins driven grouse shooting to maintain conservation interest, particularly given that there is a long list of conservation disbenefits that are derived from the management underpinning driven grouse shooting.  And all of that assumes, wrongly, that we want the uplands to stay more or less as they are – which we don’t.

You have probably noticed that the National Trust are moving away (very slowly – they are a bit hopeless) from management for driven grouse shooting for ecological and conservation reasons and that the Wildlife Trusts and RSPB don’t shoot grouse, or carry out intensive moorland burning on their nature reserves. So, on what basis is Defra saying that we shouldn’t ban driven grouse shooting on conservation grounds? Perhaps you could be much clearer on this matter next time around.

And your department doesn’t seem very certain of its ground anyway (how wise!) because your response only said that grouse shooting ‘can’ offer conservation benefits, not that it ‘does’. Well, does it?

So, if you want to look as though you have bothered to address the wildlife conservation case you should tell us why banning driven grouse shooting would necessarily lead to a nett loss of wildlife interest. Could you do that please?

I should point out to you that according to the Langholm study (see Chapter 3 of Inglorious which you have had for 8 months but show no sign of having read) then it is necessary for birds of prey to be killed for driven grouse shooting to be feasible.  There is strong evidence that driven grouse shooting can only exist because of persistent, widespread and unremitting illegal persecution of birds of prey such as the ones mentioned earlier above (and the one pictured below). It is your job to conserve these species under English, UK and EU legislation – you aren’t doing your job, minister. Can you look this wonderful Hen Harrier in the eye minister?

Photo: Gordon Yates
Photo: Gordon Yates

Shall we move on to the economics, minister?  This was your previous attempt at the subject:

The overall environmental and economic impact of game bird shooting is a positive one and it has been estimated by the industry that £250 million per year is spent on management activities that provide substantial benefits for conservation. For grouse shooting in particular, according to the Moorland Association (http://www.moorlandassociation.org/grouse-2/) estates in England and Wales spent £52.5m on managing 149 grouse moors for shooting in 2010; Scottish landowners manage a further 150 moors for shooting grouse. The industry also supports 1,520 Full Time Equivalent jobs and is worth £67.7 million in England and Wales. In Scotland grouse moor management is estimated to be worth £30 million per year.

First, you state that the overall environmental impact of game bird shooting is a positive one. This e-petition is about driven grouse shooting and you haven’t backed up your statement with any evidence. Poor show – the tens of thousands of people who support a ban on driven grouse shooting have quite possibly, thought about this rather more than you minister. You ought to give them some evidence rather than such a contentious, unjustified statement.

But you also state that the economic impact of game bird shooting is a positive one. For grouse shooting you rely on a rather duff survey of the people who carry out grouse shooting to estimate the value of grouse shooting – can you see the snag in that minister?  According to your figures grouse shooting is worth a paltry £100m to the UK economy each year. You know this isn’t true, don’t you minister. This figure, which is not very accurate anyway, does not take into account the externalities (as economists call them). Defra has a large team of economists so I’m surprised that you spouted this nonsense when they could have told you that it is nonsense. According to the GOV.UK websiteDefra economists provide analysis, appraisal and evaluation for all aspects of Defra policy, to ensure policy decisions are informed by high quality and robust evidence in order to meet Defra’s strategic objectives.’. Have you passed your previous response to my e-petition by the eyes of your team of economists, minister?

If not, then maybe you should this time. They will/should tell you that management for driven grouse shooting has been criticised for the impact it has on UK carbon emissions by none other than the Committee on Climate Change and that carbon emissions have costs that should be taken into account in any economic appraisal of driven grouse shooting.  They may also tell you that the EMBER study showed that water treatment costs are higher for watercourses leaving catchments dominated by driven grouse shooting and that these extra energy and economic costs should also be taken into account. Then they will tell you that another aspect of the EMBER report, backed up by further study, is that the management of moorlands for driven grouse shooting increases flood risk. This is a subject that you should know something about by now minister, and you will have heard a lot of evidence requiring better management of the uplands so that they hold more water for longer in times of downpour. Driven grouse moors are not very good at providing this ecosystem service and those costs should be allocated to them too. You would have to admit that part of the additional costs for flood re are because of intensive grouse moor management – and that these costs are spread across the population and should be taken into account in a proper economic analysis too.  And EMBER also shows that aquatic biodiversity is reduced in grouse moor catchments, probably leading to lower fish stocks for anglers and others, and that this is a further external cost that must be taken into account. And whilst we are at it, the lack of sightings of birds like the Hen Harrier above are also ‘economic’ costs that can be estimated and laid at the door of driven grouse shooting.

I think driven grouse shooting is simply a silly hobby, but if you are going to try to justify it on the grounds of its overall economic impact being positive, then you must, you really must, do a half decent job on a thorough economic analysis.  I have no doubt that that analysis would demonstrate that driven grouse shooting is costing us all money.  Please don’t trot out this nonsense again unless you are wishing to send the signal that you really don’t give a monkey’s about the facts nor about public opinion.

Your previous response clearly recognised the subject of ecosystem services (Grouse shooting takes place in upland areas and the Government is committed to helping create a more sustainable future for the English uplands. They are endowed with natural assets that are important for delivering a range of valuable “ecosystem services”, including food and fibre, water regulation, carbon storage, biodiversity, and recreational opportunities for health and wellbeing.

With regards to carbon storage in particular, the Government recognises the significance of peat as a natural carbon store and acknowledges that historic land use and management has caused degradation of UK peatland and resulted in the loss of stored carbon. The last decade has seen increasing numbers of conservation initiatives (such as Nature Improvement Areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest) which have halted the loss of and re-established areas of peatland in UK and therefore reduced the loss of peat stored carbon.

The Government is also taking measures to protect peat including the pilot Peatland Code. The pilot Peatland Code was launched in September 2013 with the aim of promoting the restoration of UK peatland through business investment. It is hoped the Code will assure restoration delivers tangible benefits for climate change alongside other benefits such as restoring habitats for protected species and improving water quality.) even though you chose to ignore all these factors in your flawed economic analysis. 

Your remaining point was this:

Defra will also be investing over £3 billion in agri-environment schemes (Environmental Stewardship and the new Countryside Stewardship scheme) in the next Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. Addressing loss of biodiversity will be a priority for the new scheme. In addition, and as a core element of the approach to securing synergies across a wide range of rural habitats, funding will look to maximise opportunities to deliver biodiversity, water quality and flooding benefits together.

The main point coming out of this is that it isn’t Defra, it is the taxpayers and the voters, who are paying all that money to the uplands. We deserve a much better deal for our money, and, minister, let’s be clear, we expect you to pull your finger out and deliver it. It is not your job to put the case of the Moorland Association to us, the public, as though the government is entirely signed up to it, unless you really are. Are you?  Can you possibly believe this guff?

Well, I guess we’ll see when you sign off the next Defra response to the ever-growing e-petition on banning driven grouse shooting.

All 27,000+ of us look forward to a much better response this time around.

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59 Replies to “Dear Minister”

  1. One point not asked for is their 'tax returns'. If they are making so much money what do they actually give back to the country? My thoughts are very little if any! Take in the mass subsidy they receive and then you would expect something back other than employing keepers to kill BOP. And there is the so called cash from their other businesses which is also 'tax free' as it is supposed to keep the shoots going!

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    1. Employing people to kill birds of prey would be a serious criminal offence. If you could prove that then they could be prosecuted if you cannot prove that then any accusation made against an individual would be libel.

      But of course you know that which is why you will not make any such allegation against any individual but instead choose to make highly bigoted comments against a group.

      That's cowardice pure and simple.

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      1. It is not employing people "to" kill birds of prey: it is employing people "who" kill birds of prey that is the issue. You accuse Mark of bigotry but why is it bigoted to tell the truth? The vast majority of bird of prey persecution comes from the gamekeepers employed by the shooting estates and their accomplices. That is a fact even you cannot deny.

        Indeed in a subsequent comment you illustrate the situation very clearly: you say that you commit wildlife crime and that the police are complicit in not investigating the crimes that you admit to carrying out and, therefore, failing to present a case for prosecution. For as long as the shooting industry is staffed with criminals and their apologists, like yourself, nothing derogatory that is posted about driven grouse shooting can possibly be bigoted: it is accurate and the truth is not a bigot.

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        1. Simon - almost everything you say is incorrect. To take your last point first. My wildlife crime consists of refusing to shoot the deer that I flush - how on earth does that make me an 'apologist for the shooting industry'? That's like saying refusing to gas people makes me an apologist for nazism.

          It is a nonsense to say that the police have not investigated my wildlife crime - they've interviewed me under caution. I've told them exactly what I do and that if they don't like it they can shove their law up their [EXPLETIVE DELETED]. They've looked at the law and concluded that I do actually have a point. That's why they permit me to carry on breaking it.

          If they passed a law laying down circumstances where one had to shoot hen harriers - would that suddenly make NOT killing Hen Harriers a 'good' thing? Of course it wouldn't. It would be a bad law and breaking it would be a good crime. It is a nonsense to equate wildlife law with conservation, animal welfare or morality. Just because much of it does correspond with those issues does not mean ALL of it does. Where the law is clearly wrong it is right to break it and that applies as much to wildlife law as any other law.

          The essence of Mark's argument is that if people shoot grouse from behind rather that in front the we will help solve global warming, flooding BOP persecution &c &c.

          I don't shoot grouse nor any other creature from in front, behind underneath on top or from the side. I do happen to have other ideas about tackling the killing of protected species, damage due to moor burning &c - none of those ideas makes me an apologist for anything apart from illegal alternatives to killing wildlife.

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      2. Giles, making such allegations against an individual would be libelous as you say without proof. However, under the circumstances that exist on most moorland where red grouse are shot and hundreds of birds of prey curiously go missing and their nests destroyed, choosing to comment on a group is not bigoted, it's called frustration.

        In the last seventy five years not one gamekeeper has been charged with killing a single bird of prey in the Forest of Bowland as far as I am aware. Should we therefore accept gamekeepers are entirely blameless, and the countless missing birds must have committed suicide and their nests self destructed?

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      3. 'If you could prove that then they could be prosecuted if you cannot prove that then any accusation made against an individual would be libel'. Except in Scotland of course. Bless them and their vicarious liability.

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        1. PS. Want to spell out what your 'crimes' are Giles? And back up with some evidence? Wouldn't want to think you are not because of 'cowardice pure and simple'. Do share.

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          1. Oh come on Giles. Maybe everyone on here will agree with the position you say RSPCA, LACS or IFAW and taking and leave it at that. May by not, if you let us know what you have been doing we can decide for ourselves whether to take the matter to the police or not. Over to you Giles.

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          2. Don't encourage him, Jim! We've heard it all before, often! See his blog of May 18th 2012. He got 87 comments!

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          3. To save me reading it all Richard, did he actually say what he was doing?

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          4. Perhaps so Filbert, or maybe just such irrelevant nonsense my brain erased all knowledge of it ASAP to make way for something more worthwhile! Dogs and deer by any chance?

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          5. Certainly. I flush deer out of cover with my dog (used to be dogs - now alas singular). I then refuse to kill them.

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          6. Ah yes Giles, yawn. I'm sure we can play the game again soon enough. Double yawn.

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  2. Play the ball and not the man. It rather undermines your argument if you get personal Mark.

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    1. Ed - he is the man responsible and should not hide behind a wall of civil servants. It's a matter of responsibility, not of personality. If Defra has a weak argument, which it does, then the minister is responsible for it - no-one else. The buck stops with him. A bit of derision for how he is doing his job won't do him any harm alongside all the stroking he gets from others.

      Some of these chickens are coming home to roost. Rory Stewart is working on a flood strategy - how is he going to deal with the increased flood risk due to intensive grouse moor management?

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      1. Mark - you make a very reasoned argument and I am in agreement with you. However, the Eton remark is unnecessary, for one.

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        1. This is Mark's blog and of course he can write what he likes, but I think you have a point there Ed. Slightly snide comments about Eton or similar only help those looking to dismiss all the well reasoned arguments by lumping them all together as class warfare. We should be careful not to give them such ammunition, however tempting it may occasionally be. Cold, hard facts and numbers will win this.

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          1. Hugh - cold hard facts rarely win arguments. It's a myth. If cold hard facts were important then Defra wouldn't have been happy about rolling out tepid, flabby ones the last time around.

            Making politicians look foolish has always been a part of influencing them - particularly those who show no signs of wanting to do the right thing.

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          2. Mark is completely right about cold hard facts not winning arguments

            here are the cold hard facts about wildlife crime:

            1) I regularly commit it
            2) the police have agreed not to stop me committing it
            3) if I obeyed the law it would involve killing wildlife
            4) neither the RSPCA, LACS or IFAW are prepared to lift a finger to stop me committing it

            and yet in spite of this Mark clings to the nonsensical notion that wildlife crime is in itself a bad thing.

            Politics has precious little to do with facts or rational argument

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          3. Giles, you are muddying the waters. As a generalisation it is perfectly reasonable to say that wildlife crime is a bad thing. Your issue about not wanting to shoot the deer that your dog flushes is a highly specific little anomaly - the intention of the law was not to deal with the circumstances you are concerned about and, whilst it technically may apply to it, there is a reason why you are not in jail in spite of your continued breaching of it which is that no-one is bothered by the 'crime' you are committing (i.e. the crime of not shooting deer). On the other hand when people talk about 'wildlife crime' you and I both know that what they have in mind is not at all the little issue that works you up but rather the real, abhorrent, clearly wrong, harm to wildlife that goes on such as poisoning birds of prey, badger baiting, trading in endangered species etc, etc, etc. It is therefore a complete red herring in the context of this blog and the persecution of hen harriers to keep shouting about it not being wrong to break the law if it is a bad law; the law protecting hen harriers is NOT a bad law and breaking it is wrong by any standards - don't you agree?
            You suggest that it is cowardly to allege that hen harriers and other BOPs are killed at the behest of grouse moor operators/owner without actually naming them but that is not really true. There is a mountain of evidence showing that the persecution of hen harriers is overwhelmingly associated with grouse shooting land and there is nothing cowardly or libelous about pointing this out: even the grouse shooting industry itself has more or less tacitly acknowledged that it kills hen harriers. It is phenomenally difficult, though, to pinpoint exactly which individuals are committing the crimes and without solid evidence to back up a claim it would of course be wrong and legally reckless to start making allegations against specific persons. If you are looking for cowards, though, the real cowards are the people who are killing the harriers away from prying eyes and the people that instruct them.

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          4. Jonathan - when the CA very kindly included me in the Human Rights challenge to the Hunting Act the Government LACS the RSPCA and IFAW's position was that the law was intended to make what I do illegal.

            Are you seriously suggesting that all these organisations would misrepresent their position in court? That would be a very serious allegation.

            Do you actually think for example that Mark here is not in favour of people having to kill driven deer?

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        2. It isn't about Eton. It's about having what many would consider the best education available and not using any of that intelligence when it is a requirement not only of his job description but as a representative of the general public. He is not paid to represent his similarly educated buddies.
          It is about intellectual laziness and or crony-ism.
          Can't understand the 'dislikes'.
          If only the RSPB had such balls.

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          1. I meant 'For me it isn't about Eton' i don't presume to speak for Mark.
            To me his piece was perfectly rational and the passion expressed was just the icing on the cake.
            I'm am as Albert Finney mad as hell myself.
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WINDtlPXmmE

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      2. Mark - you make a very reasoned argument and I am in agreement with you. No doubt the stroking will do him any harm - this is a man that walked unaided across Afghanistan after all. However, the Eton remark is unnecessary, for one. As you say, this is a matter of responsibility and not personality. Don't make it personal.

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  3. Spot on Mark. The Eton comment is fine - nothing wrong with making politicians look foolish when they aren't doing their job properly. YOU didn't get 'nasty', stayed on the right side o the line. Well done.

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  4. The Eton comment is irrelevant. What is relevant is that ‘public schools’ are at the root of a divided and unfair society. They undermine progress towards meritocracy and equality of opportunity. They churn out ‘nice but dims’ and the ‘not so nice but dims’ who end up with mega buck salaries and homes in the countryside. Take it from me, I went to one of those [insert expletive of own choice] institutions.
    Solution: Ban charitable status for all public schools.

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    1. The Eton comment is not irrelevant. Public schools are not dividing society. The British have always been obsessed by class. Wealth is a more divisive issue. Plenty of people who shoot were not educated at public schoot and numerous people from conservation have a public school background - Sir Peter Scott is a well-known example. It's not about class and your hackneyed interpretations of public school types are misleading.

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      1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/11372281/Independent-school-pupils-twice-as-likely-to-attend-elite-universities.html

        ''Figures published by the Department for Education show that those educated in fee paying schools are five times as likely to attend Oxford for Cambridge, with only 1 in every 100 pupils from state schools gaining a place at these institutions.''

        I never said it was about class. But you say ‘wealth is a more divisive issue’. Precisely. If you have rich parents you can have the privilege of a private education. Up go your life chances (see above). And so wealth begets wealth without much respect re ability or IQ. And we all know from 5th form biology/stats classes the latter is normally distributed throughout the population irrespective of economic-social status.
        Conclusion: public school system is divisive and anti-meritocratic. The fact that some pretty rough kids went to my public school as well as posh, thick and bright ones, is neither here nor there.
        If I’m being hackneyed, good; the more these facts are promulgated the better. Sorry for being off topic.
        To bring it back to on topic. Yes, Stewart, alias Florence of Arabia -- now he really is bright. I reckon if you press the right buttons he could really light up for you. Start proceedings with one or two quotes from The Seven Pillars of Wisdom …. Then wax lyrical about the wild deserts of Afghanistan and the southern marshlands of Iraq…
        Seriously, he’s done some courageous stuff out in those places. And he is always well worth a listen regarding his thoughts on the problems of that region. I would imagine he will listen back. Good luck.

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        1. It's not about public schools. It's about wealth. In this day and age you have nouveau niche with pots of cash and aristocrats that are paupers. The British can't afford a public school education these days anyway. A large proportion of students are foreign now, mostly from the Far East, Middle East and USA.

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  5. So far this spring we are not seeing many hen harriers returning to England's northern uplands to breed, I believe there are reasons why everyone should be really concerned. Here in the Forest of Bowland it appears that so far this spring at least 3 possibly 4 hen harrier territories occupied last year remain vacant, with a single male harrier seen skydancing on the 2 April. The RSPB seem to be hedging their bets claiming the slow beginning may be the result of a shortage of voles on moorland, this I cannot accept. Of course if it was just down to a diet of voles, then there would be no reason for gamekeepers to shoot hen harriers in the first place. Hen harriers returning to breed on grouse moors have a wide choice of prey items to choose from, including wader chicks, lapwing chicks, curlew chicks, oystercatcher chicks, meadow pipet, partridge, lizards and of course red grouse, so prey in my opinion is not the real issue here.

    Based upon what happened last year when 5 male hen harriers disappeared from moorland at Geltsdale and in Bowland, no one should be in any doubt, this season will be critical for the English hen harrier. I have a great deal of sympathy for the RSPB and their on-going effort to protect hen harriers on red grouse moors, they are faced with an impossible task, placed between a hard place and a stone. There exists the real possibility that male harriers will once again disappear, resulting from a crime impossible to prevent. God forbid, if hen harriers continue to be conspicuous this season because of their almost total absence from grouse moors in England, then we can not blame the weather of a shortage of voles, the situation will be the result of human persecution.

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    1. You are right in that prey is not the issue however it has clearly been shown that the settling rate in a particular area is down to the vole and pipit density. There are other factors including topography so favoured areas are Bowland in Lancs, Geltsdale in Cumbria, Colsterdale in Yorks, amongst others, but whether any settle to breed depend on the density of those two prey items despite harriers eating many other prey species as you suggest. However we can all sadly currently acknowledge that the number breeding is entirely down to persecution (or lack of it in very few areas) in both the wintering and breeding areas.

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      1. Paul I am so delighted that we were able to agree once again on the important issues raised by my comment. From what you said in your last sentence it seems we are also of the same mind, that this year will be critical for any breeding hen harriers in England.

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        1. Of course we broadly agree we are both raptor enthusiasts. I think every year is, and will be critical for English Hen harriers until we have a thriving , viable population in several places, SPA designations reached and that each pair occupying a new site has a better than even chance of being successful. What is quite clear is that we are some way from even beginning to achieve that despite the “ Hen Harrier plan.”
          I also think it a critical year because it is a harrier survey year where the attitude of landowners to requests for survey permission will quickly show whether that plan is having any influence at all. That coupled with the success or failure of any nesting attempts ought to show quickly whether that plan has any real meaning or is the dead in the water irrelevance many of us fear.
          What we certainly need to do is keep up the pressure, the drivel coming from the likes of GWCT, Botham and Linklater et al shows they are feeling that pressure. This petition is one of the major ways to keep up that pressure and we deserve a much better response from DEFRA than on the last two occasions.
          There is no doubt that the number of birds available to settle anywhere in England is largely down to the level of persecution since the last breeding season and/or where birds wintered. However a whole host of factors including vole/pipit densities, topography, where the birds were reared or tried last year, even the chance of meeting a harrier of the opposite sex at the right time/place will all influence where birds try this year. What we all need to do is make sure that they have the best chance possible when they make that choice. For those who haven’t, sign the petition, for those who have make sure all your contacts know about the petition and if you see a harrier report it to the RSPB hotline.
          Oh and Giles you are being tiresomely irrelevant be a good chap and desist.

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  6. Rory Stewart doesn't need Mark to make him look foolish, lest we forget - he's got DEFRA to do that for him, unfortunately.

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  7. I can see where Ed's coming from. Personally I would have left the mickey taking until after the inevitable lame response from Defra telling us everything will be OK now as we have the HH recovery plan! However, as has been said,it's your blog Mark and perhaps you think that inevitability means you might as well get straight in with the stick! Apart from that, good job as ever.

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  8. Remember the early days when he was seen as an iconoclastic free thinker who could herald a change in the way our uplands are viewed and stop the wildlife slaughter? Didn't last long, he's turned out to be a 'weat fairrt' (gaelic for damp squib) after all.

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  9. Re:Rory Stewart. Mark, if you have read his book 'The Places In Between' you must have some hope. Clearly he is a very bright man, with more real life experience than the PM and a good writer which means he didn't write the tripe from his department. I can only think he is out-numbered and out-manouvered by his fellow Tories and Defra civil servants ; any political memoir reveals how hard it is for Ministers to make their mark unless its in accordance with the status quo. He made a lot of sense when interviewed during the floods and recognised the need for whole catchment solutions but before he can come round publicly to our way of thinking he must change the mindset of his political masters and they are strongly supporting the CLA,MA as many have grouse moor interests or sympathies. I think you should still ask all the questions of him but avoid the Eton jibe or other personal comments of that nature as it provides ammo for the enemy to dismiss you as an extremist class warrior. He may be playing a waiting game, after all a reshuffle is inevitable, and may yet be helpful.

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    1. Standards of Ministerial behaviour dictate that Mr Stewart cannot respond in like way to jibes unless he resorts to Tw*tter where tw*ttish behaviour is de rigeur

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    2. Good points Liz, but unfortunately I'm 99% certain he was the tory MP I saw being interviewed on Newsnight who decried rewilding in the uplands saying that there was nothing wrong with a new bird reserve or two, but you shouldn't try to turn back the clock hundreds of years. His own words straight out of his own mouth.

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    3. Make no mistake Roy Stewart is an ingredably inteligent person, that is why it may be dificult for him to climb to a higher ministerial level in this Tory administration. His constituency interests in Cumbria appear to be directed towards the farming community.

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  10. Giles , I have carefully read your posts over and over , and to be honest you are all over the place. If you are making a valid point, which I doubt, it is totally lost through your desperate attempt to be a smart arse.

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    1. G Myles - The point I am trying to make is that I don't think it should be illegal not to kill wildlife. I'm sorry if that's a bit too complex for you to understand and I shall do my utmost to simplify it if you continue to have difficulty.

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      1. Oh do explain it all again Giles. Though at length this time please, not just the precis. Absolutely fascinating. Once you have done that perhaps it would be time for your next trick? Oh surely you have a second trick Giles?

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  11. It pains me to say it but Giles Bradshaw is making a very strong case. The Hunting Act was meant to protect wildlife from cruelty however it contains no test of cruelty. It does not even define hunting. In the light of this it is inevitable that in some cases it will not make sense. How can we possibly be sure that something is necessarily cruel when we haven't even defined it? And given that the law does allow hunting but on condition that the animals are then shot the bar is clearly set pretty low as far as cruelty is concerned.

    IF walking dogs into a wood and disturbing deer is cruel it should be banned completely, if it is not cruel it should be allowed. To allow it but only on condition that the deer are then killed makes no sense whatsoever.

    At bottom Giles' argument is simple - he doesn't agree with the Hunting Act and therefore he won't obey it.

    This begs the a simple question of conservationists - when should wildlife crime be permitted. I think the only answer we can give is that we should permit it when we don't agree with the law.

    If we don't agree with the law, the police don't agree with the law and Giles doesn't agree with the law then there is clearly nothing to prevent him breaking it. Where laws make so little sense that no one is prepared to enforce them then they should clearly be changed.

    I do hope that any 'ban' on driven grouse shooting won't be worded in such an imbecilic fashion.

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    1. It gets worse. When I walk in the forest I keep my dog on a lead because there is a risk that she would run after roe deer. That wouldn't worry me none, but I don't want some retard with a rifle shooting her to protect the deer that are there to be shot. Even on the lead she/we disturb deer that run away. They run away even if they are hundreds of yards away in a field grazing wheat or barley or oilseed rape when they are supposed to be destroying trees in the forest or causing traffic accidents. It appears that I am breaking the Law by walking near a deer because they always run away. To not break the Law I must shoot the deer with a gun capable of killing a deer but the Law says I can't have one and I wouldn't get a licence to have one because I have no Permission to kill deer as they are not mine to kill so I conclude I must stop leaving the house and garden from which deer are excluded by a deer fence and so must everyone else since deer are so ubiquitous you can't go anywhere where you could not foresee seeing a deer so it's goodbye all connections with that Nature, look, and Goodbye.

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    2. Yes I know that Giles has a very good point but he is boringly predictable about it at every opportunity, probably to the annoyance of not just me.
      However the point you make about bad law must be seen as wrong. Let’s put the boot on the other foot as it were; Gamekeepers or at least a fair proportion of them and their employers hate raptors for they think very good reason- they eat their livelihood and reduce the number of birds to be shot. So they think that the law protecting those raptors a bad law, a poor law, an atrocious travesty, whatever. Thus they break that law, largely with impunity because wildlife crime as we know is generally hard to detect and it is even harder to prove the culprit liable. Many of us of course abhor what they do but in principle it is the same as that which Giles is committing. It would be better, may be even for Giles if he were prosecuted, for that would clearly demonstrate the absurdity of the way that law is written and probably hasten change. As it is currently as long as the transgressions of people like Giles are ignored the law in its absurdity will not change.

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      1. There's a key and rather obvious difference - the law the Giles breaks is seen as a bad law by the police too and lets be honest even by the organisations and individuals who pretend they support it. Where laws are not obeyed or enforced they should be changed.

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        1. Simon C - it is so rare for people to agree with giles here that I always wonder about new commenters on this blog who wade in with 'giles is right'.

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  12. Giles, the hunting bill is flawed well blow me ,next you will be telling me that dinosaurs are thin at one end, thick in the middle and thin at the other. I was being sarcastic. I understand your point, god knows we have had to listen to you droning on about it for long enough.Well done you have found a loop hole and use big words and excessively convoluted ways to explain it ,you are very bright and you flout the law because of it, now move on, there are bigger fish to fry than the flawed hunting bill.

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    1. G Myles by 'flawed' do you actually mean 'stupid' or maybe that you don't agree with it?

      They could pass a law that everyone must wear a bunch of bananas on their head on Tuesday's. If that law was well drafted would it be flawed or just very silly?

      It all really comes down to whether we should obey laws we don't agree with. If people don't agree with Mark's proposed ban - should they also break it?

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