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.[registration_form]