Spectator blurred vision (2)

The not-so-talented Viscount Ridley, writing in the Spectator, reproduced the tall tale of breeding wader numbers that was also used by Ian Botham in his stumbling discussion with Chris Packham on the Today programme.

We also know that the BTO quickly distanced itself from any approval of these quite fantastic claimed numbers of breeding waders.

Some earnest seekers after truth have contacted Matt Ridley asking where he got the figures he quoted, and whether they could see the source material.  They have been told ‘Thank you for your email.  It was a privately commissioned survey and I saw it on condition that I do not disclose where. The surveyors were BTO-registered bird census people.’.

So it is a secret survey that no-one can see – except Ian Botham can talk about it on the Today programme and Matt Ridley can write about it in the Spectator.

Ian Botham and Viscount Ridley are both associates of Ian Gregory of Abzed, the company which boasts about its role in You Forgot the Birds (funded by the grouse industry).

This blog believes that the ‘data’ were collected by a bunch of ringers (not BTO-registered bird census people – and Viscount Ridley has a DPhil from Oxford in animal behaviour so he certainly knows the difference) and are not the result of any standardised repeatable survey. This blog also believes that it knows from which estate the ‘data’ come.  It would be very surprising if these data were collected on heather moorland on the site in question – many of the waders will have been ringed on the low ground. To date no surveyors, ringers or scientists have stepped forward to speak up for these highly unlikely population estimates and I would be surprised if any do – but we’ll see.

There is no doubt that the breeding success and numbers of some ground-nesting birds are higher on land managed for driven grouse shooting.  That is not news.

Matt Ridley does not seem the least bit keen to justify what he wrote. This is what he wrote:

On another North Pennine moor, a survey of breeding birds was carried out this spring. The results have gobsmacked conservationists. On this one grouse moor, there were at least 400 pairs of curlews breeding. This is about as many as in the whole of Wales. There were 800 pairs of lapwings, 100 pairs of golden plovers, 50 pairs of oyster-catchers, 40 pairs of redshanks, 200 pairs of snipe, 50 pairs of woodcocks, 60 pairs of common sandpipers.‘.



20 Replies to “Spectator blurred vision (2)”

  1. With record numbers of breeding waders like that, that/their Pennine Moor needs to be put forward for some kind of award? Odd they don’t name, or maybe cloud cuckoo?

    Broadcast far and wide that they do not verify their science, so effectively not admissible in ‘court’? All excellent evidence for the forthcoming debate, we should present a dodgy data dossier?

    OK, where to complain, to press standards or the honours committee for ‘dodgy non validated data’?

  2. But not one, single Hen Harrier, of course. You don’t get them on grouse Moors in England.

    In contrast to some others who could claim lack of education as an excuse, Viscount Ridley was educated as a scientist and has written several scientific books and knows exactly how unacceptable quoting data with no public – or peer reviewed – source is. Basically, it is meaningless. And more bad news: apparently, under Theresa May ‘evidence’ is back in fashion.

  3. The pro grouse moor video I mentioned previously – a Year in the life of a grouse moor – it’s on Bert Burnetts FB page has also got a segment featuring a group of scientists measuring the wonderful biodiversity of the moor. Interestingly they were from Germany, but I think a bit of crossover is healthy. Another reason for their involvement though is maybe that they are from an organisation called The Game Conservancy Deutschland. As far as I can gather from their website, my German is poor and I couldn’t find a translate option, they are the Teutonic counterpart of our very own GWCT, they even have a partridge as part of their emblem. This of course does not automatically mean that the report produced will be garbage, but I wouldn’t like to bet on it. I’d love them to solve the riddle of where all the wildlife disappears to when myself and other non grouse shooting nature lovers walk on the grouse moors, never see it.

    1. If it’s the same survey previously highlighted by Raptor Persecution UK (and there can’t be that many groups of Germans coming over to survey grouse moors, surely?), they also conducted one of their (less than acceptable minimum) survey visits in the middle of a snowstorm – ideal survey conditions, no doubt.

      1. You’re right I remember them mentioning this. in the video, sadly I couldn’t copy the link, the head German was of course bubbling over with enthusiasm about the fantastic wildlife that you never saw anywhere else – suspect he’s a better actor than researcher. You’ve also reminded me that a few weeks ago they were posting, I’m sure Bert Burnett was one, about a report from the Royal Society which was going to criticise those claiming grouse moors were causing damage to the environment, the data had been wilfully misinterpreted I believe. Seemed to be referring to the EMBER report obliquely at least. Well where is this damming report from that august scientific body. No sign of it. There’s one hell of a lot of positive research about grouse moors that like their amazing wildlife seems to be invisible to non grouse shooters. There was one pro grouse moor FB page where they stated the week before they had been on a photographic jaunt on one and had photographed marsh harrier (!?!), hobby, peregrine, kestrel and one or two others. Fantastic would have done Minsmere proud. When I suggested they should share these wonderful pics with the rest of us, they dodged the question, then I asked again, and again, and again. Eventually they said the photographer was still working on them. They must still be using photographic film, digital cameras can’t have got to Yorkshire yet.

    1. That could be me Anand, I do the BTO Garden Bird Watch every week. In fifteen years we haven’t recorded a single curlew, lapwing, golden plover, oyster-catcher, redshank, snipe, woodcock or common sandpiper. With them being so common you might expect at least one to drop by and say hello!

      1. I also survey a BBS square every year and surveyed a 10x10km square for the last atlas but i never knew i was ‘BTO-registered’.
        I have never even heard of such a thing.
        And the ‘people’ is a give away that Mr. Ridley knows that he doesn’t know what he is talking about either.

  4. I’m mentioned on page 665 of the last Bird Atlas. Does that make me a BTO-registered bird census person?

  5. As it happens I’ve been shown a privately commissioned survey too and also on condition that I do not disclose where it was or who did it. I can tell you that it was by BTO trained observers and on a moor without driven grouse shooting. It found 850 pairs of lapwings, 120 pairs of golden plovers, 60 pairs of oystercatchers, 50 pairs of redshanks, 220 pairs of snipe, 60 pairs of woodcocks, 70 pairs of common sandpipers, 5 pairs of hen harriers, several fairies, a dragon and a number of Ridley Turtles whose radio tags had failed. Naturally, I can’t possibly tell you where it is, exactly who did it, what their methods were and it won’t be published in any peer-reviewed journal as the landowner doesn’t want to encourage ‘bird botherers’ and the scientists are too shy. Do you think the Spectator will publish this sound bit of research too?

  6. Let’s hope that the Parliamentary debate facilitates cross examination and that all claims are evidence based robust science? Failure to do so, failure to underpin with accurate data is discounted?

    Alan, give them chance perhaps? First they brood meddle with HHs on a prior arranged licensed tender? Then they might want to reintroduce the dodo, imagine its commercial value as a giant turkey, sorted through DNA & more meddling? But, whilst not very easy to hunt, they are sitting ducks for redundant driven grouse shooters used to ‘on a plate’ targets perhaps?

  7. Today’s word: champion
    Despite strong challenges from High Peak and North Norfolk, another win means Ribble Valley are on course to keep this week’s 300+ Cup, and they are now only 3 signatures away from promotion to the 400 Club League.

    The day ended on: 118,515
    Today’s signatures: 135

    This week
    27th: 131
    28th: 157
    29th: 135
    Week’s total so far: 423

    Meanwhile, on the other channel: 103

  8. He should be able to produce a pdf of the study, with authors and estate name redacted, if he’s so keen to protect his sources confidentiality. Requires a black pen and a scanner.

    Please can someone ask, cc his editor?

  9. Sounds like the numbers in Viscount Ridley’s bird survey are as sound as the numbers in the balance sheet of Northern Rock just before it went smash under his leadership. I know he went to Oxford but is charlatan too strong a word?

  10. I own a pair of binoculars and some slightly rain-damaged pieces of paper with BTO species codes photocopied onto them.
    Do I win a prize?

    p.s. I’ve seen a grouse moor and vast flocks of lapwings. OK so the moor was in Derbyshire and the lapwings were in Norfolk but let’s not split hairs.

  11. Re. “The results have gobsmacked conservationists” – doesn’t he mean ‘eco zealots’ or better still ‘animal rights activists’?

Comments are closed.