A strange thing happened last night

100,000I know many of you have spent months refreshing your browsers to check on the progress of our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.  So have I. We can all do it a little less often now as we have crossed the magic 100,000 signature barrier which should deliver us a debate in the Westminster parliament.

A small group of us, including Chris Packham and myself, have taken to texting each other as the e-petition has passed each thousand-signature mark and it’s difficult to get out of the habit of watching the numbers click over. So last night I was watching the petition site as it passed 107,000 signatures and when I next looked it was racing away and passed 108,000 and 109,000 in very quick time. This was initially welcome but then seemed very strange.  It felt wrong and so I tweeted as follows…



…where you can see that I included the House of Commons Petitions Committee to alert them (at about 10pm).

I also contacted LACS Chief Exec (Eduardo Goncalves), Chris Packham and other supporters to see whether they had any idea what was going on – they didn’t.

To cut a long story short, it seems that there was a bot automatically sending lots of signatures to the site (I didn’t know these things were possible but apparently they are – see the tweet by @AdamAdamsSmith above). This has happened before – maybe it happens a lot, but I’m glad to say the petitions site is wise to this and (don’t ask me how) they have a way of detecting it and correcting it.  And so later in the night we lost about 2000 signatures and went back to close to where we were before this little episode.

That’s good.  We’re not looking to gain by underhand means.

It is a sad situation that these things happen – it’s a bit like phishing, and spam emails – the digital world gives us great opportunities but also brings out the worst in some people (as we have seen).

So we are all left wondering who did it. I’ll wager my £5 to your £1 that it was an opponent of our campaign rather than a proponent who was responsible. It was interesting that some trolls (I guess they are people really) raised this slur against us the other day and then a number of pro-shooting (most decidedly pro-shooting) accounts were crying foul while this happened. It was almost as though they were expecting it.

Did you watch Countryfile yesterday evening? More on that later.


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42 Replies to “A strange thing happened last night”

  1. They cannot win on facts, they cannot win on public opinion, all they have left is a bag of dirty tricks.

  2. I'm not generally one for conspiracy theories but this seems to be one of the times the old Roman legal maxim “cui bono?” seems applicable. Since the target of 100,000 has been reached with plenty of time to spare for more, it seems a very odd time for a supporter to start using a 'bot' to bump up signatures. It seems odder still that anyone with the necessary expertise should do so in such an obvious fashion. As it seems to have been done so crudely one wonders if the whole point was to be caught and thus to cast doubt on the whole campaign. It fits the sort of underhand tactics one has come to expect from certain sections of the pro-driven grouse shooting lobby. Well done in spotting the surge and getting your complaint in first which rather undermines any claims that campaigners were trying to rig the result.

    1. I'm with you on this one John ....... I sat watching it last night too ..... whilst keeping an eye on the tennis ........ several of us who were around at the time commented upon it ...... and I took the time to check several other pro-shooting accounts on Twitter and FB at the time it was happening. The comments did not surprise me ... as the voting figures did not seem to surprise them .......

  3. There is no sure way of stopping people voting multiple times in petitions - you just need multiple email accounts. A bot adding thousands is a little bit different and easier to detect using heuristics.

  4. I'm a bit sceptical about the bot thing. To register your signature, you not only need to sign it, but then you need to click on the confirmation on your email inbox.

    1. It's actually quite simple to monitor a mailbox for new emails and then automatically open the links in those mails. That's the bit that makes this easy to spot though, thousands of registrations on the e-petition all coming very quickly from very similar email addresses - it's cheap and easy to set up thousands of email addresses in one domain, but using multiple domains starts to get expensive quickly.

  5. You also need to put in your postcode, I've been asked if I signed more than once, I only have one house & one email address. I like everyone else have been making people aware since the first ever HH day, which was 3 years ago that is how long we have been campaigning for the illegal persecution of the Hen Harrier and other Birds of Prey. It's taken 3 years to get enough public awareness by Mark, Chris Packham, BAWC, Raptor Politics, Raptor Persecution, Mad for Wildlife, Team for Nature, LCD and all the dedicated birders, lovers of wildlife etc., (sorry if I've missed anyone). We all got fed up with the talking and raptors still being persecuted. I applaud the people that do shoot and have supported us.

  6. If it's as easy to cheat as the Twitter trolls make out it's amazing that so few petitions get to 100,000 signatures.

  7. And, finally, the counter petition:

    Protect grouse Moors and grouse shooting


        1. Actually, on reflection, it's so comically inept that perhaps it's another masterstroke from YFTB? If so, is it too much to hope that they wheel Botham out again?

  8. Note that grouse moors protect Stone Curlews! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear....this is a spoof right?

  9. So your logic is that the opponents of your petition hitting 100k and triggering a possible Parliamentary debate have a bot running to push it over the 100k threshold?

    1. billy TF - no, it was already over the 100,000 threshold. My proposition is that it might have been an attempt to smear the campaign.

      1. ...or, proponents ran a bot to push up the signatures; who's to say that that didn't happen in the push to 100?

        1. BillyTF - wasted their money if they did as the site weeds them out doesn't it. As I said, my £5 to your £1.

        2. Obviously, it's impossible to know for sure what the motivations were for launching this bot. However, even if it was someone pro-banning the statistics suggest only 0.0001% of the petition's supporters want to cheat in this matter. Hence it would not so much be evidence of skullduggery by supporters as a testament to the remarkable honesty of the overwhelming majority!

      2. i see those pesky keepers are at it again - sitting at their computers running these bot things to push up numbers on your petition. Got nothing better to do...

        1. m - you are very mean to them. Did I say it was 'keepers. No. Are you a shooter yourself - you seem to have the right grasp of the facts? It might be their bosses mightn't it? Share the potential credit around, why don't you?

  10. The more you look at it, the more it keeps giving: 'Grouse moors and grouse shooting are an integral part of moorland management....for the grouse'. Well stone me, who'd a thought it?

  11. I remember when we were trying to get a vote of confidence against dodgy dave, the government deleted 6k signatures. We thought they were trying to stop us getting to 100k. They failed but we were never sure whether signatures deleted were real or not. However some people who had already signed were able to sign again after the deletions

  12. Mark, I see there is a new petition to protect the grice moors and all the stone curlews thereon. There is a link to the Countryside alienate and a noticeable lack of punctuation!

  13. It could be a coincidence but I did notice this;


  14. Good point by Ridley.

    'Managing heather moorland for grouse means not planting it with subsidised Sitka spruce trees, or over-grazing it with subsidised sheep, or wrecking it with subsidised windmills.

    It is a myth, by the way, that moorland is worse at retaining water and preventing flooding than forest. Spruce plantations in the peaty uplands lack absorbent mossy undergrowth and are scarred by deep ditches, which increase the rate of runoff during storms. Moorland owners have blocked the ditches they were bribed to dig in the 1970s. They now look with bemusement across the fence at the Forestry Commission digging new ditches in deep peat — for which they would be prosecuted if they did it.'

    1. Pete - do you think so? Straw man actually.

      The actual useful comparison is comparing burned blanket peats with unburned blanket peats as in this study http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1002/2014WR016782/abstract It's not an easy read but it's worth the struggle. In the heaviest rains, burned catchments shed water faster - adding to flood risk. That's the important bit.

      Has anyone suggested replacing grouse moors with conifer plantations? Not that I know of? Hang on - yes, those on the pro-grouse shooting side of the argument have - they are the only ones.

      Would Matt's straw man comparison be true of natural woodland regeneration? I don't think so but I'm not the expert on this.

      If it were of course large chunks of Scandinavia, Russia and Canada would be getting their matches out to stop flooding. Doesn't happen does it?

      1. I doubt that the Scandinavians, the Russians or the Canadians plough to plant. They rely on natural regeneration.

        In addition the damage to the soil caused by machine harvesters on 1970's restock sites has to be seen to be believed.

        Certainly in the Borders the acres under sitka vastly outnumber the acres burnt.

        If the shooters sell up the only buyers will be the sitka industry who enjoy many tax and grant advantages.

          1. How can you possibly predict with such certainty future land use when there are so many variables such as tax and legislation and Brexit and politics to mention just a few?

  15. In all consciousness, I don't think I could sign up to a petition that condones the stoning of Curlews. But I might condone the stoning of predictive text...

  16. Some of the pro hunting and shooting pages on social media are saying of the TV and radio debates, that they're putting the wrong people forward (Botham/Gilruth) as they're not as media savvy as their opponents (Packham/Avery) who are much slicker in with their arguments. You could equally argue, of course, that the case against shooting is stronger than the case in favour. Just a thought.

      1. This is the pro hunt dog whistler's FB page. His other page is inactive due to him being banned from FB for posting Dr Tingay's personal phone number, and inviting people to harass her:


        Have a scroll, but be prepared for some not so pleasant (unsurprisingly) posts and comments, Mark.

        1. Here's the other page. Scroll to the 'Botham and Packham clash over grouse shoot' post - in the comments:


  17. Yes I saw a post about the supposed phoney signatures - obvious smear and then this happened! Pretty pathetic, every time you think they've reached the absolute dregs of nastiness and desperation they somehow manage to go deeper. Someone produced a pro grouse shooting video recently and it was pretty clear the almost deafening sound of waders calling that nearly drowned out the interviewer and interviewee on a grouse moor had in fact been dubbed on. Pretty much along the lines of the supposed BTO report on the brilliant wader numbers on grouse moors - it doesn't exist. Then there are all the 'independent' ecologists, wildlife artists and consultants who love to tell us they know the moors and have came to understand just how wonderful they are for willdife - they are nauseating in the extreme. A slot on prime time telly putting this under the microscope would be VERY entertaining indeed.


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