I’d like to thank Duncan Thomas…

The days of 13-15 May 2014 were very important in the genesis of our campaign to ban driven grouse shooting – you may recall that the first of three e-petitions was launched just two weeks later and that started the whole thing rolling.

I wrote about those days in short summary in this blog (see Upland balance 19 May 2014, Unprofitable farming 23 May 2014, National Trust – High Peak 22 May 2014) and again in Inglorious (see pp 184-192) but I can add a few words and some thoughts now that we have come to the end of the beginning of the campaign.

I was speaking at an upland conference at Newton Rigg college – the subject of the conference was ‘balance’. There was a strong turnout at that conference from the shooting organisations – Richard Ali was there (whatever has happened to him?) and, when asked, he said that BASC wanted to see hundreds of Hen Harriers in the uplands. We have still to see their cunning plan for achieving that – it was just nonsense of course. The sort of thing one has to say in public, even if it makes one’s organisation look foolish to those who know rather more about the subject. There were other BASC staff there too, some I liked and others too.  The chair of the Moorland Association, Robert Benson, was there and so was the Moorland Association’s Director, Amanda Anderson.

Things didn’t start that well – when I arrived all the other speakers were housed in a local hotel but someone had forgotten to book me in.  This seemed to be the type of welcome I was to expect.  That was sorted out and I spent the night in an excellent local B&B.

There were lots of people I knew at the conference and I had quite a jolly time, but the shooting brigade were noticeably cool and basically cold-shouldered me through the two days. Interesting.

I was asked to speak about raptors and my talk was near the end of the conference. I spoke a little more broadly, talking about what we had heard about agricultural funding in the uplands and how, yes, that was a question of balance but those deciding the balance of payments should be those paying (we taxpayers) not those receiving our money (the landowners). When it came to raptors I honestly cannot remember exactly what I said but it would have mentioned Hen Harriers, used the phrase ‘wildlife crime’ (while looking at senior members of the shooting community – you could have heard a pin drop) and made the point that the law is the law and everyone has to stick to it.

In the questions Amanda talked about the need for balance which seemed to mean that we couldn’t have any more Hen Harriers unless moorland owners let us and they wanted concessions on brood-meddling etc before they would let any Hen Harriers in – those weren’t the words she used then, but that was what I took from them.

And then in came Duncan Thomas with his ‘I used to be a police Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer you know’ speech. Duncan put forward the view, although he claimed that it was an absolute fact, that disturbance from birdwatchers was the major factor in losses of Hen Harriers and it wasn’t much to do with illegal persecution.  We’ve heard this line often since and it’s utter nonsense. Note how it was given as the reason for failure of Hen Harrier nests in Geltsdale and Bowland last year when male Hen Harriers disappeared from active nests, and note how the nesting success of those nests is still being trotted out (without mentioning the disappearing males) by the likes of the not-so-talented Viscount Ridley.

I was congratulated by others for standing up to the shooting brigade as the conference ended (though often in hushed voices as the people didn’t want to be heard aligning themselves with my view in the presence of powerful upland land owners) and I got emails from attendees at the conference for a few days later.

As I drove away from Newton Rigg it was a glorious spring day. I drove through the Trough of Bowland and pondered the conference.  Earlier I had spoken to my former RSPB colleague, Pat Thompson, about the fact that I was thinking of launching an e-petition on the subject of grouse shooting to follow John Armitage’s and Chrissie Harper’s ground-breaking petitions.  I remember I had some complicated plan swirling around in my head and as I sketched it out to Pat I was thinking to myself ‘This is too complicated’.

On that drive through Lancashire, and over Pendle Hill, and on to Hebden Bridge my mind was clearing. Faced with the continuing spin, intransigence and denial of the shooting industry, we needed something clear and challenging – not a tweak but a call for a step change.

That night I spent in Hebden Bridge – in the Crown Hotel which had been flooded in 2012, and I spoke to the hotel owner (it’s in Inglorious) about being flooded and the economic and personal pain it caused.  We needed to end driven grouse shooting for the sake of people and wildlife. And the people who could most easily bring about change, the shooters themselves, were not the least bit interested in change. Their intransigence needed taking on.

And so, Amanda, Robert, Richard (wherever you are) and Duncan, and others have a share of the credit too, ‘Thank you!’. You helped stop me dithering. It would have happened anyway, but you certainly helped.


32 Replies to “I’d like to thank Duncan Thomas…”

    1. Jim – good advice I think for anyone wishing to sign but who is caught up in one of these to persevere; if at first they don’t get the confirmation email try again – if you haven’t signed until you’ve clicked on the link it would presumably be impossible to sign twice?

  1. We really should get a list together of those we believe have inadvertently contributed the most to getting driven grouse shooting banned.

    My initial suggestions would be;

    In the field: Mark Osborne
    In the media: Ian Botham

    1. On social media – Andy Richardson (a notorious gamekeeper). He has said, and I quote: ‘best keep your eyes on your precious kites….for every action, there’s a reaction’ Tweeted to @_BirdCrime

      And on Facebook: ‘raptors have to be sorted to save jobs’

      …make of that what you will! he certainly isn’t doing keepers any favours.

      1. Al99 – to be fair, not many people take any notice of Andy. He only has a few hundred followers on Twitter.

        And to be fair, he did withdraw the first remark I believe – but he shouldn’t have made it in the first place. Andy does quite a lot of being outspoken in the evening and then calming down the next morning.

      2. Andy Richardson should easily win the ‘Self Parody of the Year Award’. Such an asset deserves recognition; I believe a bottle of Buckfast has been suggested elsewhere.

  2. All of my experiences with Duncan Thomas have been bad, believe me he never seemed to be interested in raptors or their protection. When he was appointed by the Lancashire Constabulary as their Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer I soon began to suspect his motivation was not to help bring an end to the persecution of raptors. It may have been coincidental but shortly after his appearance on the scene in Bowland, raptors in many locations began to decline. I recall vividly during one meeting with Thomas, he smiled and then told me “my main objective is to remove you from the Forest of Bowland.” Those few words characterised perfectly where Thomas’s true loyalties lay and what his agenda was.

    After taking up employment with BASC after leaving the police, Thomas began to show his true colours by criticising the RSPB in particular.

    When working as the WCLO Thomas was pretty good at telling a convincing tale. This is what PC Thomas had to say about the Hen Harrier and gamekeepers in his Shooting Times article June 2009,

    “I would love to detail the many success stories and to name the gamekeepers and estates that constantly produce quality numbers of Hen Harriers and other sensitive species – my frustration is with the reluctance of so many to self-publicise and promote the quality work that goes on behind the scenes.” When Thomas was asked to produce some tangible evidence backing up these claims, the officer consistently remained silent. I suspect most of us are not too surprised why the people Thomas talks about were reluctant to promote the quality work they undertake behind the scenes on grouse moors.

    This is another one of those claims he made when he was a the WCLO taken from the same Shooting Times article, “There are many nests that never get into the public domain, because the last thing the estate needs is hoards of well-meaning individuals flooding the location or creating potentially disastrous levels of disturbance.” Of course, but it is also true that the more individuals visit an area the more eyes there are to discover illegal wildlife persecution taking place on these estates. Looking back at the tragic events which have unfolded in Bowland since Natural England withheld licenses previously issued for over 4 decades to the North West Raptor Group, and bearing in mind Thomas’s wish to remove me from this region before Harriers and Peregrines began to disappear, is it possible there is some connection here?

    In my view Thomas lives within his own fantasy world, often making erroneous claims, in particular relating to raptors, as he goes along. I have often heard others comment Thomas would have made a far better gamekeeper than he did a police officer.

  3. I feel a set of awards coming on – conservation’s equivalent of the Darwin Awards. I can think of over 100,000 people who’d be happy to promote the results.

  4. A well presented item on pm this afternoon. Chris Packham and the RSPB made mincemeat of the opposition. Available on radio i-player about 20 mins in.

    1. A good piece of reporting… we need to hear more of Benson’s condescending delivery… he could be worth at least another 10k. Although I did like his admission of guilt.

    1. One or two stupid acts “per person who should know better” is really believable…. but he didn’t say how many stupid people he represents. Poor communicator!

    2. The TV and radio reports were essentially identical except that the radio report was topped and tailed by a brief but powerful commentary by Chris Packham making it far more effective.

    3. This one or two bad apples argument smacks of the News of the World’s ‘one rogue reporter’ defence in the phone hacking scandal – that held up really well in the end didn’t they?

  5. Jim

    The 15% tax on shooting goods petition is working now.

    Any idea why only 15%? Could have been the same rate as VAT perhaps.

    I’m still minded that we should remove all subsidies from upland grouse moors until they deliver public benefit and attain the carrying capacity of raptors, especially HHs.

    Now is the time to lobby Govt. Ministers to reform agri-industry welfare payments as there are far more deserved recipients? Farmers delivering good food with environmental benefits no issue with some level of support.

    1. There is still time (’til 9/9) to add a sixpen’orth to this inquiry on the future of agri-environment schemes etc. There are full details on what to do given. I’m just simply making a plea that the really knowledgeable people with the science facts like wildlife NGOs should be prime movers in future decisions. The more folk who add something shows HMG we care and must to be listened to.

  6. Nimby – definitely chose the word ‘ponder’ deliberately; I’d like to know a lot more about the thinking here.

  7. So, for brevity I’ll not try and differentiate 17th and 18th August;

    What we have learnt: Chelsea and Fulham is the rural heart of Merry England

    The day ended on: 115,468

    Signatures 17th-18th: 5019

    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
    16th = 1012
    17th-18th: 5019 (mean 2509.5)
    Daily average = 2932
    Week so far = 17,591
    Constituency average (end 18th) = 177.6

    Just saying; 33 days to go. 33 days at 2000 signatures/day would finish the petition at over 180,000, 33 days at 2500 signatures/day would finish the petition at nearly 200,000.

    Word of the day: shall return i’m sure!

      1. Yep, I see. Is it possible to get a statement direct from the Parliamentary Petitions team regarding what exactly they have had to do each time? Timing of attacks, which bot, IP addresses’ etc?

        Anyway; oh no, we only have somewhere in the region of 114,000 signatures!

    1. Now 114034. Curse these bots! See comments above re. Computer Misuse Act etc.

    2. 114,475 – so up to within a hundred of Jim’s bot inflated total. Let’s assume the petition gets to 115k by midnight. 32 days at 1,000 signatures a day gets it to 147k, so a higher signing rate around bird fair or when people return from holiday might get it to 150,000.

      By my reckoning 16 days at 1,000 day gets the petition to 131,000 by 6 September when the Petitions Committee would consider it for debate.

      All this assumes the signing rate doesn’t drop off, or doesn’t increase due to Mark and others’ fiendishly cunning plans to expose the issues around DGS to further audiences sympathetic to but not yet aware of the petition.

  8. I’ve just written to the Parliamentary Petitions team asking for a full public statement as to what is going on. I want to know all the details – when signatures are going on, when they are being taken off and for which reasons, what is being doing to improve security, what legal sanctions might be available.

  9. I’m surprised no one has yet suggested there are fewer ‘bad apples’ each year – as there can’t have been many Hen Harriers left to persecute by the start of the 2016 breeding season.

  10. I think the regular loss of sat tagged Hen Harriers and Golden Eagles shows along with there being virtually no successful Peregrine nests on any English grouse moors is that it is very clearly not a few “bad apples.” That given opportunity most estates kill these birds, it may be that in any year only a few estates had the opportunity but the vast majority would have acted in the same way. Individual harriers or eagles are not unlucky in being on a bad apple estate, early death is an inevitable consequence of them living on grouse moors.
    That Anderson, Benson, Botham, Gilruth and Thomas seem to be wilfully blind to this and evasive about the truths raptor numbers and distribution tell us is hardly a surprise. Our strength is the truth and good science, it is also their Achilles heel.

  11. Paul, I have given your comment a well deserved ‘like’ because what you say it the truth nothing but the truth so help me god, and the truth is now beginning the see the light of day at last.

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