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.