Matt Ridley and I were friends a long time ago, but we haven’t seen each other for quite a while, and although I would gladly share a bottle of claret with Matt, we might start talking politics, climate change or grouse moors and that might spoil the mood. I remember we had a very good time in Washington DC nearly 30 years ago. But I did send my regards to Matt via his brother-in-law, Owen Paterson, at the Game Fair last year.
Matt wrote an awful piece of rubbish for this week’s Spectator on grouse moors. It would take too long to go through it all and point out the errors so let’s just look at a few things – let’s look at what Matt writes about Hen Harriers.
Actually, I can’t resist pointing out that Matt refers to the same piece of unattributed ‘research’ which shows that some unnamed grouse moor is knee-deep in breeding waders as does Sir Ian Botham, but doesn’t make the Botham false shot of ascribing it to the BTO – far too savvy for that! Matt is right to say that the ‘results’ of this survey have gobsmacked conservationists – the BTO has never heard of them!
And Matt seems to have forgotten that his uncle, Nicholas Ridley, long, long, long ago, made sure that new conifer plantations would not be planted in the English uplands and so all that nonsense of the threat of conifers is simply that, nonsense.
But Matt is at his way-off-the-mark worst when he writes about the Hen Harrier. Or was he playing for laughs all along?
Apparently ‘Hen harriers, which are ground-nesting birds vulnerable to foxes, are thriving in Scotland, especially on fox-free islands such as the Orkneys or in places where gamekeepers control fox numbers.’. Really Matt? Really? This is a statement that is verifiable by the data after all – shall we have a look at them?
There ought to be c500 pairs of Hen Harrier nesting on UK driven grouse moors and yet most years (if you exclude the study site at Langholm which is crawling with scientists – GWCT bird botherers?) there are fewer than double figures. That’s thriving is it? Have a look at the statutory agencies’ Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers to check the facts.
There are no Hen Harriers nesting on English grouse moors this year – that’s thriving is it? There should be about 150 pairs or so. Zero is quite different from 150 isn’t it? Whatever else they are doing, Hen Harriers are not thriving ‘in places where gamekeepers control fox numbers’ are they Matt? Are they? No they aren’t.
Apparently, Hen Harriers ‘…have struggled to recolonise England‘ despite all those friendly ‘keepers wanting to clasp them to their moorland bosoms. Not quite right is it Matt? Hen Harriers were much commoner in England 40 years ago, 30 years ago, 20 years ago and even 10 years ago than they are now. That’s not ‘struggling to recolonise’ they are being bumped off! That’s why Defra set up a stakeholder group and why the world is up in arms about wildlife crime. But in the townie pages of the Spectator you can get away with spouting any nonsense about the wildlife of the UK provided you own a chunk of it – then you are an expert.
Shall we just look at the struggles of the Hen Harrier to ‘recolonise’ the Bowland Fells SPA?
From 2000 onwards the number of Hen Harrier nesting attempts each year was; 6 (2000), 4, 4, 9, 8, 11, 10, 12, 10, 7, 10, 6, 0, 0, 2, 6, 0 (2016). That looks a lot more like ‘being wiped out’ than ‘failing to colonise’ to me. Remember that last year, when there were 6 nesting attempts, four males, who had successfully ‘recolonised’, disappeared from active nests. Disappeared rather abruptly. Disappeared in the abrupt manner that shot birds would disappear, for example. Matt, you’re right that Hen Harriers are struggling, but not to recolonise: they are struggling to dodge the wildlife crime.
And Matt gets the facts about last year’s breeding success of Hen Harriers wrong as well – compare what he says with what Natural England said and with what the RSPB said (and which has not been contested to the best of my knowledge). Matt uses the strange phrase ‘controlled by’ to describe some Hen Harrier nests (I seem to remember that YFTB press release using the same phrase) but fails to acknowledge, as clearly stated by the RSPB last autumn, that the RSPB was involved with guarding both the successful Hen Harrier nests on FC land. Did Matt get his information from his mate Ian Gregory? Or maybe Ian Botham? Who knows, but it wasn’t from any verifiable source because it’s plain wrong and has been clearly wrong for months and months.
I’ll come back to Hen Harriers later today, because although our case against driven grouse shooting is much wider than Hen Harriers, wildlife crime is the subject that the grouse shooters find very difficult to cope with. And that may be why Matt writes as he does, inaccurately, about them.
One last thing. Matt goes back in time to the 2014 report on BBC coverage of the countryside matters and uses it to have another swipe at the RSPB and the BBC – unjustifiably I would say (but you can read the report). We know, so I rather think that Matt knows, that the author of that ‘independent’ report is a grouse moor owner herself (provided her husband has shared it with her). I bet Matt knows that don’t you? Funny he didn’t mention it really.
Oh, by the way – there’s an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting that is heading for a debate in the Westminster parliament.