Countryfile last night

I didn’t watch Countryfile live last night as I was doing some work – but I caught up with it in the evening.  I thought Bob Elliot from the RSPB was great (as always) and I also thought that the edit was fair.

It was filmed on 28 July at Geltsdale in Cumbria (and the day after at the Game Fair) – that seems a long time ago. It wasn’t until the next day, when I was at WOMAD, that we passed 66,666 signatures!  Did the programme mention the e-petition? I don’t think they did although I was told they would, perhaps in the introduction. But that  doesn’t matter too much since we passed 100,000, rather remarkably, before the programme broadcast.

It took ages to film the short pieces that you saw on TV – we started in sunshine, moved on to a midge cloud and then it started raining. Could you tell?

There was a good introduction to the subject (about 5mins 45secs into the programme) and the difference between walked up and driven grouse shooting, and the number of birds killed including rare footage on national TV of what grouse shooting actually looks like in reality.

Duncan Thomas of BASC is worth his weight in gold of course ‘The shooting community is very good at policing itself‘ – he claims.  Where are those 300 pairs of Hen Harriers that should be in English hills then Duncan? Just three pairs this year – none on grouse moors. Where are the Golden Eagles in Scotland, the Peregrines in the North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales and Peak District? If that is success, heaven only knows what failure looks like! And the shooting community seems to believe it has cover from this government which has not ramped up its feeble fight against wildlife crime but instead introduced a Hen Harrier plan for grouse moor owners (from which the RSPB quickly walked away when they saw that there was no good faith from the shooting industry).

When Andrew Gilruth was asked whether he accepted that there was a problem with illegal persecution, particularly of Hen Harriers he did not face up and say ‘Yes’.  Apparently it isn’t as big an issue as I was ‘trying’ to make out.  Simple denial of the evidence – both scientific evidence and legal evidence.  Is Defra beginning to see that they should not have aligned themselves so completely and keenly with this mistaken view of the world?  As I wrote yesterday, it is incredibly damaging for a hobby of shooting birds for fun to have to admit that it is also underpinned by wildlife crime.

Andrew then plays the ‘But there aren’t many Hen Harriers on non-grouse moors either’ card. This is true in England but not remotely true in Scotland or Wales where there are much bigger areas far from grouse moors and in those areas much bigger populations of Hen Harriers because they are much safer from persecution.  Andrew and the GWCT know all this perfectly well but these days they cannot admit these facts in public because it is very damning for a hobby of shooting birds for fun to have to admit that it is also underpinned by wildlife crime (did I say that already? Well it bears repeating every time because it is what the shooting lobby cannot answer).

If you want to know why there aren’t Hen Harriers at non-grouse moors too, then all you have to do is read Chapter 1 of Inglorious (most especially pp20-32) for an explanation of the science (and the references are in the back of the book. I would particularly recommend reading Bibby and Etheridge 1993; Etheridge, Summers and Green 1997;  Potts 1998; Green and Etheridge 1999; and Fielding, Haworth, Whitfield, McLeod and Riley 2011 for a thorough understanding of the subject but I trust have explained it reasonably well in that chapter.  You’ll notice that those references contain science from around 15 years ago – none of this is a mystery – the science has been in place, refereed, and published for years and years. Andrew Gilruth and the GWCT know that too.

It was quite clever how Countryfile showed the end of the segment of the discussion that they aired. Andrew said, again, that I was exaggerating and I said I wasn’t. Go away and read the science and read my book – that is partly what it’s there for – and you’ll be able to make up your own mind about whether raptor persecution is a decreasing problem.  But it is the problem that the shooting industry/hobby can’t fully admit in public even though they will joke about it in private.

Moving on to the second segment of the grouse shooting discussion (at c27 minutes). It was introduced by a good explanation of the wider ecological problems with intensive moorland management.

Here Andrew goes back in time to the olden days to try to pretend that drainage and burning are not an issue.  Andrew knows that work by many scientists has raised the concerns about this issue and he knows that there is science to back it up. Some of the more accessible science is summarised in the EMBER study which was published in October 2014 – plenty of time for GWCT and Andrew Gilruth to have read it but he ignores it. If you don’t want to ignore it then you can read about it here and also in Inglorious (a reference book for the campaign against driven grouse shooting – see pp225-7 and the references in the back of Chapter 5).  Also check out the remarks of the Committee on Climate Change (see the new chapter in the updated paperback version of Inglorious  (p287)) where they say ‘The damaging practice of burning peat to increase grouse yields continues, including on internationally protected sites‘ – that was written by that expert committee in 2015 – not 40 years ago, as Andrew Gilruth knows very well. And do you want more on flooding? Then look at George Monbiot’s article last winter (referenced in p286 of the paperback Inglorious) and look at this map of drainage ditches on Walshaw Moor – a test case on moorland management and the subject, along with other moorland sites, of an ongoing (not 40 years ago) complaint to the European Commission by RSPB (see pp 156-7 of Inglorious).  You see, there is a lot of hard evidence on all this which Andrew Gilruth ignores completely in his comments. He has to ignore it because it is very embarrassing for the hobby of shooting Red Grouse for fun to admit it is damaging the ecology of the hills and increasing flood risk for ordinary people.  So, if you can’t address the issue talk about something that might sound vaguely relevant but only is just that, vaguely relevant.

Then we go back to the worth-his-weight-in-gold Duncan Thomas at a sunny, non-midgy Game Fair. He says ‘If we didn’t manage that moor for grouse shooting the moor would become a wild sterile place‘. It is truly laughable isn’t it? How did nature manage before men in tweed came along with fires and drains and medicated grit and spring traps? How did species evolve without that help from gamekeepers and the hobby of shooting wild birds for fun? Duncan, you are priceless.

Shooting is fun!’ says Duncan with a big grin on his face but pointing at clay pigeon shooting which might well be fun and doesn’t have me asking for it to be banned. That is the most honest argument for grouse shooting – it’s a hobby for some people to shoot birds for fun. Some won’t like that at all, others of us will just about stomach it but not want to participate. But that hobby has all this baggage of wildlife crime and ecological damage hung around its neck and that makes it unacceptable, to me at least.

The programme then goes back to the wonderful Bob Elliot in search of a solution and he puts the case for licensing. He puts it well and it has many things to recommend it.  I’m sure the RSPB will be promoting it hard to MPs who take part in the debate which we expect to see on the subject later this autumn.

All in all – a good gallop through the subject which will have alerted many to the issues but perhaps left them not quite knowing which side they are on. That’s fine – particularly if they now go away and find out a bit more about the subject.



24 Replies to “Countryfile last night”

  1. High Peak joins the 500 Club; among the highest rates of raptor persecution in the country, coincidence? To you and me it’s a well known urban metropolis, but there are persistent rumours that they have some driven grouse moors squirreled away somewhere or other.

  2. That’s possibly the first time the words “wild” and “sterile” have appeared next to each other in the same sentence. So well done DT.

  3. I have not watched Countryfile since they glamourized game keeping some months ago despite being an avid viewer before hand. However, I watched the piece on grouse moors yesterday evening and was very impressed Mark. Not sure how you manage to be so polite, but then I suppose we all have to be. Glad your leading the campaign to end this nasty hobby!

  4. I agree with your overall assessment of the feature, Mark and I thought Charlotte Smith did a good job.

    One or two folk have expressed the view that it could have been more hard-hitting, with pictures of traps and dead birds and animals. However, I do think that there was some very powerful subliminal messaging going on: moody, threatening music; the grainy footage of grouse-shooting which gave the impression that it was some kind of clandestine activity; a whole load of pictures of guns and ‘shooting for fun’, which I think most people would find a big turn-off and, as you say above, our friend who is truly ‘worth-his-weight-in-gold’.

    I also think that the images of fresh-faced young people in wild places, taking part in DoE activities, made for an interesting contrast. Without saying anything, this presented a vision of outdoor recreation which most people would have warmed to and which made the driven grouse shooting sections even less appealing.

    I may be entirely wrong, but – bearing in mind the audience for Countryfile – this may well have been a case of ‘less is more’.

  5. The petition has made up the difference after deduction for the Bott episode already, in just a day. Back up to 109,000. No problemo!

  6. I thought it very fair. I know which side I think won the argument but then I am biased.

    I had some fun today plotting the number of persecution incidents (gleaned from RPUK) and what I could discover online of the number of pairs of Peregine in Bowland. As the plots for the first shoot up, those for the second crash – pretty close to being synchronised. The number of incidents reported do indeed appear to be declining sharply (although still very high compared to the 1990s & early 2000s). However, this may not be the good news Mr Gilruth supposes since it may just be that the success of previous campaigns simply means there are now fewer targets, I mean protected raptors, to shoot/poison/trap! As for Mr Duncan, has he ever considered a career in “stand-up”?

    1. John i have often wondered if it would be mathematically possible to prove that raptor crime is related to grouse moors. I know there have been lots of studies which have to me proven the case but i was thinking of a purely mathematical one. I think it would have to be done for each species.
      Each crime incident, prosecuted or not could be measured from the edge or a driven grouse moor. Surely, because we all know the result, it would show the chance of it being a valid hypothesis.

      1. I’ve often thought the same. One problem I’d imagine would be that a drop in reported raptor crime might just mean that the perpetrators are getting better at concealing their activities (It always astonishes me that any are caught at all given how the cards are stacked in their favour). Obviously, I’d imagine any link would be clearer with missing radio-tagged birds.

      2. To which yesterday’s shooting advocates would remind us …. but you have no proof (as in prosecutions), as if this makes everything alright?

        Whilst the 12 minutes (there’s an irony) were better than I’d imagined from the BBC / Countryfile, I did think that Charlotte Smith ought to have ensured that advocates respond to the points made by their ‘adversaries’. I will be marjet testing folk tomorrow about what they thought of it, the glossy Countryfile interpretation – would they sign the petition on the basis of and what they thought of the ‘tradition’ etc. But you just couldn’t put a price of DTs performance, he’s a real challenge to ‘Sir’ in terms of assisting us with ammunition?

        Well done again to Mark and Bob for their excellent endeavours. Here’s to more such public discussion ….

  7. Whilst out delivering leaflets today, all of the people I actually spoke to, referred to Countryfile. I think you and Bob ‘won’ this encounter hands down.

  8. Sorry, slightly off subject but have you seen the “Protect grouse Moors and grouse shooting” petition? Currently attracting 146 signatures in the last hour.

    I particularly enjoyed the reference to the importance of moors for stone curlew, and the link to the Countryside Alienate website.


    1. Perhaps they stone curlews ….

      It’s all the toxic lead they ingest with bbq’d grouse burgers?

      Poor taste joke, sorry all!

  9. Definitely a win for the good guys, Gilruth was typically evasive despite as you say “Gunning for Wildlife” know fully all the evidence. DT lived up to his reputation, we must ask him to help us more often, he really is priceless. He was just the same as a WCO, you couldn’t make it up.

  10. Gilruth is a slippery customer.
    I have had a string of e-mail correspondences with him. He is a big fan of red herrings, cherry picking and just about every logical fallacy you can think of but he again and again kept coming back to the fact that he and G[WCT] go by Potts 1998.
    If so he doesn’t seem to like admitting it in the media.
    I think again he must be cherry picking the conclusions about how great grouse shooting is which wasn’t backed by any science.
    The science in Potts 1998 led to this conclusion ‘If all potential habitats were occupied, present numbers could more than double, to an estimated 1660 nesting females’
    ‘The breeding range of the species in the U.K. is considered restricted, with densities reduced in many areas, especially on the grouse moors of northern England (Thompson et al. 1995). Illegal culling by gamekeepers is considered to be mainly responsible (Etheridge et al. 1997)’.

  11. Mark, I’d like to feed information to you but don’t have a private contact address for you. You have my email, so would be pleased if you could get in touch.

  12. Having missed the stroke of midnight by a few minutes today’s total maybe out by a couple of signatures (i’m happy to download the data if anyone really wants it exact, or do let me know if you caught it).

    Today’s adjective: revelatory.
    Today we learnt that grouse moor management really is all about conservation, and it’s so effective that it can protect a species, Stone Curlew, that doesn’t breed within 100 miles of a grouse moor, and in an entirely different habitat to boot. Stunning effort! We also learnt the Countryside Alliance has been rebranded ‘Countryside alienate’. Readers will no doubt have opinions as to which is more appropriate.

    The day ended on: 109,455

    Today’s signatures: 2063

    Last week (6th-12th August)
    Peak day (12th) = 11,689
    Total for week = 25,635
    Daily average = 3662
    Petition total (end 12th)= 97,895
    Constituency average (end 12th) = 150.6

    This week
    13th = 6504
    14th = 2993
    15th = 2063
    Daily average = 3853
    Constituency average (end 15th) = 168.4

  13. Great to see our Geltsdale midges getting the publicity they deserve! Sadly the ticks carry ‘Lime disease’ so hopefully you made sure you were clean in the shower Mark!

  14. That was quite a clever move of Brian Cox bringing charts of sea-rise and C02 rise.
    Might be something to consider since we know before hand what all the grouse-moor-raptor-persecution-deniers are going to say.

    So a graph to counter their arguments (that must be about two).

    The SLE figures on income on all grouse moors (even if taken as a fact) would be easy to debunk as a positive contribution to society.
    Mull brings in £5m per year from tourism for eagles (that isn’t total tourism on Mull just eagles). SLE reckons grouse moors bring in £155m per year.

    It is very simplistic but divide total grouse moor area by Mull area and multiply that by £5m.
    That must be higher than £155m.
    Subtract all the hidden costs of grouse moors and it is game over (no pun).

  15. *To be fair to Andfew Gilruth he was RIGHT about the decline in raptor crimes. With an ever decreasing number of raptors on the moors then logically the number of incidents will decrease as there are less to harm

    *Sarcasm implied

    1. Douglas – yes, I only thought of that afterwards. Grouse shooting’s aim is for there to be no crime as there are no birds.

  16. Did you notice the narrator say black grouse are one of the birds that “thrive” on moorland? Still, at least they didn’t go as far as including stone curlews…

Comments are closed.