I spent Thursday evening, Friday and Saturday morning with a disparate bunch of supporters and opponents to banning driven grouse shooting at the Sheffield conference on raptors, peatlands and the uplands. It was valuable in all sorts of ways, not least in meeting some blog readers and supporters whom I rarely see (for some of them it was actually the first face to face contact) and meeting some old colleagues and meeting new people and having a civilised discussion with some people who think differently from me.
Here are a few quotes and comments:
Angela Smith MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge (264 signatures), talking about solving the issue of wildlife crime:
‘Chances of success with the voluntary approach look bleak’
‘Banning driven grouse shooting is a legislative option’
‘…licensing [of shooting estates] is an option too’
‘Politicians will not be able to stand aside and let species like the Hen Harrier go extinct in England’
‘The challenge is clear – for the voluntary approach to work a precursor is that illegal activity has to stop’.
‘Last chance saloon’
‘Killing has to stop’
Those are all notes I took at the time and I hope they are accurate quotes but I don’t have shorthand and I don’t have a transcript of Angela’s actual words – but they certainly give an accurate impression of what she said.
Philip Merricks, Chair of Hawk and Owl Trust:
Here’s another occasion where I wish I had a full transcript – mainly because it was a bit difficult to follow at the time. Philip certainly said that illegal raptor persecution is ‘appalling’ and he was keen on brood meddling. He was kind enough to quote from my book Behind the Binoculars and the interview with Ian Newton – I recommend everyone rushes out to buy the book now to read the full interview and what Ian said about the Langholm study, gamekeepers and predation generally.
When asked whether all Hawk and Owl Trust members were supportive of brood meddling it was unclear what Philip thought, but he seemed confident that the other trustees were fully behind him so that’s nice.
Adam Smith, GWCT Scotland:
I enjoyed his talk which I thought was quite good (Andrew Gilruth was a silent member of the audience for once) but I don’t seem to have taken many notes. That probably means that I agreed with quite a lot of it and didn’t strongly disagree with much of it. Although Adam was out there selectively quoting another of my books, this time it was Fighting for Birds, where I recommend that you read the chapter on the Raptor Haters.
But Adam did throw a few mild criticisms the way of the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework, suggesting that there were inaccuracies in it (aren’t there always in everything?), and so it was interesting to hear from Alan Fielding a little later in the conference.
Alan Fielding (an author of the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework):
Alan is a stimulating speaker. He suggested that we don’t know much about Hen Harrier movement and natal philopatry (we certainly would like to know more – is that not always the case too?) although I think he overdid it. But he showed some interesting Hen Harrier nesting areas on Mull and Kintyre and elsewhere which do not conform to the ‘Hen Harriers need grouse moors’ model – but then, facts from the real world do not conform to that model.
Alan also made the good point that although places like Mull have no foxes they do have lots of potential avian and mammalian predators of Hen Harriers, their eggs and chicks, such as eagles (of two species), other raptors, corvids, mink, otters etc and yet the birds are at high densities and doing well. It’s an interesting point.
In answer to a question from an academic lauded by Songbird Survival who was in the audience Alan said that the reanalysis of the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework data which has been ‘about to be published’ for well over two years would, if it ever were published, reduce the predictions of Hen Harrier numbers a bit. Did he say that the predicted potential English population would come down from 330 to 280 – or did I get that from someone else at the conference? And he went on to say that the calculations were incredibly conservative so the actual possible numbers were probably much higher. We have always known this because you only have to take the Langholm densities to see how many Hen Harriers we are missing in England. So that seems to put Adam Smith’s worries to bed – sleep easy Adam!
Rhodri Thomas from the Peak District National Park:
Rhodri said that the Peak District Bird of Prey initiative, set up after the publication of Peak Malpractice, had failed to meet any of its targets for the ‘easy’ raptor species of SE Owl, Peregrine and Merlin and that it now had no targets at all and wouldn’t be setting any for the species such as Hen Harrier and Goshawk. It seemed to me that there was a lot of talk at this conference about consensus and agreement to move things forward but that the years spent nationally and in initiatives such as the Peak District one have shown that talking can replace action and lead to time being wasted. The voluntary approach is worth trying – but it has been tried and where are the volunteers? Go back up this post and read Angela Smith’s words again.
Rhodri was kind enough to correct something I said in my talk referring to the number of Peregrines in the Peak District compared to within the M25 – although I wasn’t very far out actually! I was misinformed, so I will now stick to saying that there are more Peregrine Falcons nesting in central London than in the moorlands of the PDNP – that’s shocking enough. And while I’m at it, I also got the economic claims for the value of grouse moor management slightly wrong too – as often, I was far too generous to driven grouse shooting in what I said.
John Miles is a sometimes rather crotchety commenter on this blog and he sometimes makes the point that he made in this conference from the floor – that the uplands of Britain, including northern England, can provide homes for two main grouse species, Black and Red, and that the management of the uplands for one disadvantages the other. Every time he says it I think he is right and resolve to call grouse moors Red Grouse moors but I rarely do – maybe we all should.
Tim Baynes, Scottish Lands and Estates:
Tim said that the idea of banning driven grouse shooting was ‘bonkers’, which was nice of him. He also said that vicarious liability was ‘a clever bit of legislation’ although ‘not a magic bullet but has had an impact’ which it would be good for SNP MPs to say in the forthcoming Westminster Hall debate, and challenge the Westminster government to introduce as a small step in the right direction.
Sonja Ludwig, GWCT:
Sonja gave a clear talk about diversionary feeding of Hen Harriers at Langholm. I thought it was very good and leaves us with the conundrum that diversionary feeding worked in terms of harriers taking the food on offer and greatly reducing their predation on grouse, but didn’t lead to the expected increases in end of summer grouse numbers. It seems that either something else gobbled up the grouse or the Langholm habitat is a bit rubbish still – I wonder which answer GWCT will plump for?
The talk did remind me though, and maybe it was because Tim Baynes had bemoaned the lack of practitioners at the conference (he almost hadn’t bothered to come apparently), that years ago the Langholm keepers and others had been sure that diversionary feeding wouldn’t work because the gulls and corvids and owls and mammals would take all the food and run amok. Seems not practitioners, seems not.
Stephen Murphy, Natural England:
Stephen reminded us that Natural England had been studying Hen Harriers for well over a decade. That’s a long time isn’t it?
72% of tagged harriers stop transmitting within 12 months (I think that includes radio-tags and satellite tags) which, since they aren’t marine turtles, suggests a high rate of mortality. It suggests that Hen Harriers are being killed of at a very high rate. No doubt Natural England has analysed this possibility in more detail comparing ‘failure rates’ of tagged Hen Harriers with those of other raptors or the same species in other places. They have surely done that.
Adrian Jowitt, Natural England:
Adrian had the most difficult job in the world – to try to make the Defra Hen Harrier Inaction Plan sound sensible. No-one could do that but it isn’t his fault that he failed.
When I started writing this blog I meant to keep it short – I’ve failed. It will now look odd if I don’t say something about all the talks, so here are four very quick comments and an only slightly longer one. But also, first, may I say thank you to the organisers for doing a great job. A conference is a lot of work – and the speakers and attendees have the easy and enjoyable end of things. So thank you to all involved (and as a speaker or attendee one is never quite sure who are all the people involved).
Pat Thompson, RSPB:
Excellent review – and such a lovely guy.
Barry O’Donaghue, Eire National Parks & Wildlife Service:
Lovely guy – interesting comments on communication.
Ian Rotherham, Sheffield Hallam University:
A lot of valuable perspectives – including about access.
Alan Charles, former Derbyshre Police and Crime Commissioner:
We need more like him – strong on wildlife crime being a crime.
…and last but not least…
Steve Redpath, Aberdeen University:
Steve said he wasn’t going to give his usual talk but it seemed pretty much the usual one to me. I gave a version of my usual talk too – you have to really. Steve’s usual conflict resolution talk is about resolving conflicts between people who want different things. The British usually do this in their politics and their home-life by compromise – others fight over things with their fists or knives. The whole business of driven grouse shooting is not really a conflict between two groups it is about the unfairness of a pointless and damaging hobby for the few imposing costs on the many and all for a hobby which depends on crime to persist in its current form. You can see why the conflict resolution process hasn’t resolved the conflict, it’s because resolving the conflict is impossible. What we have to do is not resolve the conflict, but solve the problem. And everyone agrees how appalling wildlife crime is – wildlife crime is the problem. The voluntary approach hasn’t come close to resolving the conflict because there haven’t been any volunteers. And it hasn’t solved the problem, criminal behaviour, because driven grouse shooting would be impossible in all or most of the current grouse moors if the killing of birds of prey were to stop.
This is the time to go back to the top of this blog post and read, again, what Angela Smith said. ‘Last chance saloon‘, ‘The killing has to stop‘, ‘The challenge is clear – for the voluntary approach to work a precursor is that illegal activity has to stop’.
We could all have gone home after Angela’s speech.