Quick thoughts from the Sheffield conference

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:

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.



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41 Replies to “Quick thoughts from the Sheffield conference”

  1. I wish I owned the last chance saloon: it must be highly profitable as it is usually dragged out by people trying to avoid doing anything. As I said to Phillip Merricks, this spring was the last chance – grouse shooting had the chance to show its good faith with the admittedly flawed HH plan by allowing just a handful of HH to succeed on English moors. They have demonstrated that they have no intention of allowing HH to breed which renders pretty well everything else under discussion irrelevant. The only consensus I can see is the inescapable one that Hen Harriers cannot breed on English Grouse Moors – even the worst fact meddlers can’t dodge round a good solid score of 0. As Phillip reminded me that I said to him in 2104, the game is entirely in shooting’s court and whilst they may console themselves with the present Conservative Government, every insult, lie and dead raptor drags the inexorably towards the point where the wind changes against them.

    What they have missed totally is the real rule of politics: being in power is the time to put things right, because you do not have the immediate political pressure as when the mood is against you. Far from digging in, this is the time for grouse shooting to demonstrably and publicly put its house in order, the only way to resolve this conflict in its favour. What do you think the chances are ? Not high, I would say.

  2. I also noted that Angela Smith MP said that she “Loved these moors with a passion” – I think that’s worth remembering along with all the all the other good points she made and we noted (city peregrines but none in the Peak) as we take the debate to the next level. In Smith we have someone who is able to look at it from a public perspective perhaps and is keen to see public benefit delivered? It was indeed interesting to hear that she voiced the view that the “voluntary approach was looking increasingly remote” which could mean that whilst politicians prefer consensus there is a recognition that there is oft, or has to be an outcome from a shoot out in a “last chance saloon”?

    Steve Redpath appeared to my naive interpretation to fail to grasp that ‘conflict resolution’ too is probably also in the ‘last chance saloon’ so far as this particular issue was concerned?

    Maybe that’s why there appears a push for ‘brood meddling’ but that is fraught with problems not least because illegal persecution has not stopped nor has a ‘threshold’ been agreed for breeding pairs in England, so not even eligible as a solution IMHO. As for licencing without independent policing, they jest?

    But, ever an agnostic and awaiting the Baynes & Merrick et. al. conference alluded too, will they like Sheffield invite all stakeholders (including members of the public) or just the landowners to speak because they are regarded as the ‘key’ players? That’s not to say they are not important, they are absolutely but they are one group of many in the equation?

    Philip Merricks also said that the illegal killing was an “utter, utter disgrace” and “really despicable”, unfortunately no solution was offered about how to address this really, seriously ‘key’ fact. He also said that the Government had made it clear that they would not ban or licence [DGS]. Like you I wish it had been recorded if only to provide transcripts. Our verbatim notes of elements of talks would not stand up in a court of law and would probably be denied anyway, ‘without evidence’ as they remind us?

    To use the quote of Lambert again, “juggernaut” …. let’s keep it on track;)

    PS I have JM as a commentator not a speaker, I can be a bit of a pedant sorry:)

    1. Angela Smith MP for Penistone. A quick search of Facebook lists an Andy Richardson and an Andrew Fox both educated at Penistone Grammar School. How amazing is that? A little bit of trivia amongst the serious chat.

      1. Fight Dirty – interesting trivia indeed. I think we can rule out the Richardson being anything to do with the mega-rude Richardson banned from this blog.

        1. Mega rude and mega silly broadcasting his IP address while making implied threats of wildlife crime – alledgedly.

  3. Hello Mark
    As you know, I don’t read your blog but I have just received a text suggesting that I look at your blog of last evening.
    As you and others have posted comments wanting to see my presentation to the Sheffield Conference please find it below.
    When I have a moment, I will post comments of my own thoughts on the conference.
    PS Angela Smith gave me a paper copy of her presentation which I will have to email to you as in its present format I am not able to post on your blog. Would that be helpful?

    Sheffield – Raptors and Grouse Moors Conference
    Many thanks for the invitation to the conference.
    Our daughter spent 4 very happy years at Uni here in Sheffield.
    She got to know and love the moors and now she and her husband are managing a nature reserve in Kent.
    A quick introduction:
    I manage two National Nature Reserves (Elmley and the Swale) and two former RSPB Reserves
    The two NNRs are on the Sheppey Marshes. These reserves now hold the largest concentration of birds of prey in SE England.
    Large numbers of Marsh Harriers which, as you know, are rarer than Hen Harriers in the UK.
    And 40 miles south we manage the Romney Marsh Reserve which now holds good numbers of Marsh Harriers and other raptors.
    Hence you can see that I come from a land management background.
    And, as another introduction I should say that I don’t shoot and never have shot. Can I repeat that.
    As you will have seen on the programme, I am from the Hawk & Owl Trust
    I served as a Trustee for 6 years, twenty years ago and a couple of years ago was asked if I would come back to Chair the Trust.
    The Mission Statement of the Hawk & Owl Trust is “Working for wild birds of prey and their habitats”
    And of course the overwhelming majority of these habitats are on land managed by farmers and landowners.

    And of course, on the moors, these habitats are likely to be managed by gamekeepers. And this is where we come to the crux of the problem for this conference. Whilst the Hawk and Owl Trust, are more than happy to be working with farmers and landowners in creating and managing habitas, it is not so easy doing this with gamekeepers on the moors when it is clear that a number of them are
    continuing to break the law by persecuting these birds especially Hen Harriers.

    A despicable and utterly appalling crime and sadly something that has been going for a very long time. And which is continuing.

    I recently called in to see a former RSPB Chairman and RSPB Gold Medallist, Derek Barber and he showed me this invitation to a 1971 Press Conference drawing attention to the killing of birds of prey.
    Forty-five years later it is really important that all continue to focus press attention on these despicable crimes.
    But the persecution still continues. Forty-five years later.
    One appalling example of this was the setting of a pole trap on the Mossdale grouse moors.
    As soon as I heard about this, I went to Mossdale to have a look for myself.
    I met and spoke with the head keeper and the owner.

    It is clear to me that the setting of a pole trap (a disgusting trap that holds victim birds by the legs until they die) by an untrained, unsupervised, young keep was real dereliction of management and supervision and training by the head keeper and ultimately by the landowner.

    So what is the best way to bring this persecution to an end?
    We all want the same thing. We all want the end of the killing.
    The only difference is how we do it.

    Three routes:
    1) I am sure Mark Avery will be telling us that banning driven grouse shooting is the answer.
    2) And the RSPB think that licencing the grouse shoots would do the trick

    But Government have made it clear that they will not go down the banning or licencing routes. And it looks as if this Government or a similar Government might well be in power for quite a time
    3) So, if these first two routes are off the table, that only leaves the Government’s preferred option – the Defra Six Point Plan
    Of which we will have heard much in the earlier presentations from Adrian Jowitt of Natural England.

    What unites us all to day is that we all want the illegal killing of Hen Harriers to come to an end.
    How we achieve that is the only difference between us.

    All will know of the of the desperately low numbers of birds of prey in the 1970s and 80s due to the effect of persistent organochlorides (DDT etc)
    The scientist who set up and appointed the team (which included Derek Ratcliff) that researched and then cracked the problem was Norman Moore.
    One of the giants of conservation and a great conservation biologist.
    Norman Moore was a real guru for me and gave me much valuable conservation help and advice. I was hugely privileged to be asked to give an address at his Memorial Service in Ely Cathedral earlier this year.

    And here are some wise words from Norman from his semi-autobiographical book “A Bird of Time”:
    “Like many applied scientists I started my career believing that the principal block to effective action was lack of scientific knowledge, and that once the true facts were know the appropriate action would follow almost automatically. Experience taught me that in most cases enough was already known to solve the problem. The difficult part was to explain the necessity for action to people with different points of reference and habits of thought, particularly when immediate self interest made them unwilling to try to understand another point of view.”

    This is hugely applicable to Hen Harriers on grouse moors.
    To end the persecution of Hen Harriers and I am sure that most agree that the real need is to resolve the conflict between gamekeepers and environmental campaginers who quite rightly continue to draw attention (in a variety of ways) to raptor persecution which tragically is continuing.

    The most comprehensive book on confliction resolution is “Conflicts in Conservation – Navigating towards solutions” which has contributions from sixty or so academic conservationists.

    Let me give you three quotes from the book:
    “As the authors in this book show over and over again, the apparent conflict between people and the environment are better tackled by appreciating that the conflicts are actually between different groups of people.” – Foreword by Prof Georgina Mace.

    “History, while illuminating past responses to conflict species, can also be a barrier or hindrance to conflict resolution. While we are all victims of the past, we can also be prisoners of that same past”.
    – Dr Rob Lambert.

    “The main impediment to success (in finding a solution to the Hen Harrier issue) has been the unwillingness to compromise. Both sides have focussed on winning rather than seeking shared solutions.” – Prof Steve Redpath

    Now on to the Hawk and Owl Trust’s involvement in the Defra Plan. As we will have heard from Adrian Jowitt from Natural England and as I am sure you all know there are six elements to the Hen Harrier Recovery Plan.
    1) Law Enforcement
    Intelligence led by senior police officers

    The Hawk & Owl Trust very strongly supports this. This law enforcement is crucial
    Congratulations to all involved in these elements.
    More power to your elbows.

    2) Monitoring of Hen Harrier Breeding sites and
    Winter roost sites

    This is absolutely crucial and the Trust is delighted that this is being stepped up by volunteer raptor workers and others.
    We have several of our own guys doing this and indeed as I have said before our own reserves on the North Kent Marshes and on Romney Marsh that holds good numbers of wintering Hen Harriers which are very closely monitored.

    3) Sat tagging and satellite tracking

    This is something with which we are involved. Tags have been supplied and funded by Trust members and fitted by the expert Stephen Murphy from Natural England. Trust staff and volunteers assisted him in his crucial work.

    You will be able to follow the movements of these birds when they leave the nest site area on the Trust’s website.
    Crucially the more Satellite tags that are fitted by RSPB and others the less likely it will become for criminal gamekeepers to shoot them in other areas.

    4) Diversionary Feeding
    I’ve been to Langholm twice and seen how effective this is – I am sure we will hear about this tomorrow from Sonja Ludwig.
    The Hawk & Owl Trust supports this strongly and advocates that it should be carried out more widely.

    5) Southern Re -introduction
    Again this will have been described by Adrian and is something which is being worked up into a viable project at a series of meetings. The Trust is closely involved in these meetings and the possibility of introducing Hen Harriers from the Continent to suitable habitats in Southern Englandlooks to be very promising.

    6) Trialling (NB this is a Trial) the removal of eggs or young chicks
    When a threshold of Hen Harrier is reached, the incubation and rearing of them would take place in the world class facilities that the Trust uses which are owned and managed by a Hawk & Owl Trustee, and then they will be released back on to the moors.

    I am really pleased to say that because the Trust has made a determined effort to get to know and understand moorland owners and moorland managers we have quite a list of moorland managers that would be keen, – as they say “proud” – to act as receptor moors for these translocated birds.

    The key issue about the Defra Hen Harrier Recovery Plan is that all six elements of the Plan play their part and you can’t cherry pick the bits you like and ignore the bits you don’t. For the very first time the Plan creates a reason for keepers NOT to persecute Hen Harriers. The brood management piece of the plan holds the key to unlocking the log jam in thinking and in action that has resulted in this appalling persecution continuing for so long.

    Hence gamekeepers who fear for their jobs continue the despicable persecution of these wonderful birds.
    This is an appalling crime but it is a crime for which there is that a reason.
    As Mark himself said in his book (a really good read) “Behind the Binoculars” – where he interviewed Prof Ian Newton
    Question from Mark Avery:-
    “Although it is illegal, killing Hen Harriers is a perfectly rational reaction by gamekeepers to the conflict between Hen Harriers and Red Grouse shooting. If you leave hen Harriers alone they will eat a lot of the shootable surplus of Red Grouse, so grouse interests often don’t leave them alone, they kill them. It’s an intractable problem. Do you have any solutions to it?
    Answer from Prof Ian Newton:-
    Really, I think you are left having to accept a third proposal: that harrier densities could be limited on grouse moors, to levels that allow some Hen Harriers to survive but allow driven grouse shooting to survive too. The idea was to move the eggs or chicks of some harriers, but the difficulty was in finding landowners willing to accept them. But I think that would be a potential solution.

    Prof Newton lists three possible solutions but concludes that “really you are left having to accept a third proposal which is in effect point 6 of the Defra Plan.

    Ian goes on to say that the difficulty will be in finding land owners willing to accept the birds but I am really pleased to say as the Trust has made a really big effort to understand and talk to moorland managers, we now have a list of moorland owners who will accept these birds.

    But as I have said before this is a Trial

    The trial will discover whether removing the reason to commit the crime stops the crime?
    Which will be the key.

    Whether it will work, I don’t know but grouse moor managers tell me that it will.
    I sincerely hope so.
    It’s up to these guys out on the moors to make sure it does.
    And the way they will do that is for ALL of them to stop the persecution.
    We will find out whether this attempt at conflict resolution works
    And once again the decision on whether it has worked or not will rest on whether the persecution stops and Hen Harrier numbers build up.
    For the sake of Hen Harriers, I hope that it does.
    – ENDS –

    1. Is there not a seventh solution to the problem? Compulsory purchase of Grouse Moorland for the purposes of flood alleviation?

      This would surely be in the national interest given the expense to the tax payer of mopping up after a serious flooding event in areas (Hebden Bridge?) that have been demonstrably put at higher risk due to current moorland management practices and which we are constantly told is only going to get worst as climate change effects escalate.

      There are plenty of precedents for this, HS2 is apparently going ahead (despite the departure of the chief exec) and will therefore chew up private land as part of the process of delivering benefit in the national interest.

    2. Philip may I enquire your source of your remark that “But Government have made it clear that they will not go down the banning or licencing routes.”

      Sadly the much promoted conflict resolution has failed, full stop. All the ‘consultants/experts/specialists’ keen to continue along that line have failed, sad but true.

      There is no basis for Government to continue the procrastination any longer. Pretty projects will just not hack it with the public suffering the impacts of upland moor land mis-management.

    3. It seems that Philip still thinks that it is keepers own decisions to kill harriers and cause their nests to fail. I well remember 20 years ago a well respected keeper saying to a conference of raptor workers that in his long experience keepers persecute because THEY ARE TOLD TO BY EMPLOYER OR AGENT. It is not their decision. I hjave seen no evidence in the intervening years to make that view wrong.
      The idea that the Mossdale underkeeper set pole traps entirely off his own bat without the knowledge of the head keeper is quite simply ludicrous. You are being spun a line Philip it is not keepers who set the persecution agenda its owners and agents. I know of a few keepers sacked because they would not persecute and considerably more employed on particular estates because they would

      1. Completely agree Paul. Merricks is either incredibly naive (given his position and credentials) or a fool to believe that Agents and or employers don’t instruct persecution. I know for a fact this is the case as I’m sure many others do.

        1. Grouse shooting estates are by their nature very hierarchical institutions and the idea that a lowly ‘keeper would make a decision to break the law in this way on their own initiative I find unlikely in the extreme. Having met Mr Merricks but once, and then very briefly, I’ve no idea whether he’s incredibly naive or a fool. However, he clearly comes from the “patrician class” (note how he disdains to read this blog) so I’m not surprised that he was so readily inclined to accept assurances from one of his own and transfer the stain to a vulgar plebeian.

      1. This all sounds so reasonable put like that. Why would anybody want conflict if a middle ground could be sought. Consensus and compromise has to be the way forward. Live and let live.
        But haven’t some key points been missed here?
        Firstly, if you agree to brood management, you have to have broods in the first place.
        Secondly, while I know the trustee in question is good, I doubt that even she’s good enough to train a HH to stay on a ‘friendly’ moor. They have wings.
        Thirdly, it completely misses the point that this is about a lot more that just HH’s.
        It’s about how our land is managed for the good of the many, not the few.
        It’s about keeping a balance of species that co-existed for thousands of years before man came along.

        Mr Merricks tells us that the Marsh harrier is rarer in the UK than the HH. Quite true. But the MH is much more common in England than the HH and it shouldn’t be! It needn’t be. It’s mans choice. Man has chosen to play God and increased the numbers of Red grouse by exterminating many other creatures that once lived in a symbiotic harmony.

        What Mr Merricks doesn’t say is how long we have already been talking, how many years we have already been trying to find this compromise.
        Neither has he said what number of HHs is allowable before management of broods starts.

        Why not tell it like it is. This is about greed! Money!
        It’s about a political system that favours the few. That favours money above all else.
        Go back and reread Carson’s Silent Spring. Listen again to Yello Taxi.
        The only thing that has changed since the sixties is that things are now far worse than when those words were written.

        What sort of person kills for fun? And do we, should we, be talking to them? Negotiating with them?

        Mr Merricks, this is 2016. 2016!

  4. In relation to the Langholm conundrum, was it Sonja that offered the two possible explanations you cite: “It seems that either something else gobbled up the grouse or the Langholm habitat is a bit rubbish still”? Or is that your own gloss? After all, the project’s seven year review, agreed by all the partners, concluded as follows: “We have met the nature conservation objectives of the… SSSI (heather habitat) … [H]abitat has improved to a point where we do not believe it is limiting grouse numbers … The targets of expanding the area of heather and improving heather condition have both been met.” See http://www.langholmproject.com/PDF%20downloads/7yr%20review.pdf

    Pity that your summary of the renowned and independent ecologist Professor Steve Redpath’s presentation was quite so perfunctory, since his role in the formulation of the Hen Harrier Recovery Plan was fundamental. And again, it is not clear from your post where Steve’s views end and your own criticism of them starts. It was fortunate, therefore, that Mary Colwell (@curlewcalls) posted some helpful tweets about his talk from the conference.

    1. Lazywell – hi!

      Yes I think it was Sonja – although those weren’t exactly her words, of course. I talked to her just before I left and congratulated her on the talk and we talked about the strange recurring absence of an increase in red grouse numbers at Langholm when predation by harriers is almost completely removed. It has to be, surely, some deficiency in the habitat or some other predation that causes it? I guess it could be disease too?

      Sonja said that she was hoping that the analysis that she is doing would clarify what was going on. I hope it does too. But prompted by you to think more about it now, it would be most satisfying if the explanation for the lack of uplift in late-summer grouse numbers also explained the same thing back at Langholm in the original diversionary feeding trials, because the same thing happened then too, didn’t it? I’m sure you remember.

      I’ve seen Mary’s two tweets of Steve’s talk. Steve frames the issue as a conflict – and then argues that there is a place in the middle which is where resolution can happen. Trouble is, as Angela Smith and I pointed out, the crime needs to stop before anyone will trust the reformed criminals. This is a problem of criminality not a conflict between opposing interests each of which is in some way morally equal to the other. Do you know any wildlife criminals Lazywell? If you do, please have a word with them.

  5. Hello again Mark

    (1) Re your comment about my paper instantly “appearing as by magic”. I would like to think that it was a basic form of courtesy (and not very difficult) that when this morning I read on your blog that yourself and Nimby would like to see it, I straightaway posted it on your blog.

    (2) Re the Raptor Persecution blog referred to by Slioch, I’m sure all are aware that the immovable conditions apply when all actions of the Defra Hen Harrier Recovery Plan are underway . As all will know at the moment all that has happened is that the plan has been launched and meetings are taking place to scope the way forward for Southern reintroductions and for the brood management scheme elements of the six point plan.

    (3) I mentioned above that Angela Smith MP gave me a copy of her key note speech for the conference. I have scanned it but in that format I am unable to post it on your blog. Do want me to email to you for you to do this?

    1. Philip – it was very kind of you to post your notes, and they appeared as if by magic. Thank you.

      Raptor Persecution UK blog – it’s great isn’t it. I did enjoy reading the transcript of your speech.

      I take it that you haven’t spotted any errors in what i quoted from Angela’s talk? No, I don’t have any more time than you to transcribe it, thank you.

      1. Philip, if you send Angela’s scanned notes to Mark and if you, Mark, send them onto me. I’ll do the biz!

    2. Thank you Mr Merricks, your notes and the transcript [via RPUK] are helpful.

      Might I seek further clarification please, you say “But Government have made it clear that they will not go down the banning or licencing routes.”

      What or who is the source of this statement? Angela Smith MP, and I appreciate she is not in government, suggested politicians prefer concensus but the precursor was cessation of the illegal persecution. Now it maybe that that is a Labour party stance and your information emanates from Conservative government source?

      For avoidance of doubt, I am not a member of any political party. I am an agnostic and vote accordingly. Sadly decades of failure by land owners on whose land illegal persecution continues to escalate leaves me convinced those who argue for never ending conflict resolution have failed. Lest we forget that it is not simply about an iconic bird but a far wider range of issues around the ‘management’ undertaken on the upland driven grouse moors particularly.

      Step back completely now and bring in a new cohort of negotiators perhaps? The public who fund so much deserve better than self interest agendas?

    3. Merricks please could you explain the difference between a plan being ‘launched’ and being ‘underway’ and if there are there other terms which you might use in the future in order to move the immovable.

  6. Mark
    You are very keen to repeat the views of Angela Smith MP (Labour Party). You have not been backward in coming out on your membership of the Labour Party. Please can you be explicit on the matter of any briefing that you may or may not have provided to Angela Smith MP or any of her “team” listed on her website (that briefing might have been the standard ‘firm briefing’, a copy of “Inglorious”, specific communications by email, etc). I, and maybe other readers, would like to know if there is any self referential referencing here. That is, your views and information have influenced, and are now being relayed back by, a Labour MP.
    If the above is the case, you might like to institute the practice followed by some web authors of including a declaration of interest.
    Roger Buisson
    Statement of absence of conflict of interest – I am not a member of any political party and have not sent any briefing on hen harriers or any other matter to Angela Smith MP.

    1. Roger – you are a suspicious bunch aren’t you. I did not brief Angela on the subject although I did see her in parliament on Wednesday at two events, and then saw her on the evening before the conference at a meal with other speakers. Do you know, I saw her talking to BASC employees – perhaps they briefed her. What do you think? I think it was pretty clear that Angela probably prefers the licensing approach to the ban approach from what she said. Angela and I did speak though – she was keen to tell me that I ought to vote for Owen Smith in the leadership election. A female Labour peer whom I met by accident on the train home on Wednesday evening did the same.

      Had I briefed Angela Smith on the matter then there would not have been anything disreputable in someone talking to a decision-maker about what might be the right decisions to make – or do you think there would be?

      Do you think the RSPB might have spoken to Angela? The rotters! Trying to change the world by talking to people – it’s awful isn’t it?

      The reason that you know I am a member of the Labour Party is because I make a point of mentioning it on my blog now and again, specifically so that readers can be aware of where I am coming from. I am considering asking all commenters on this blog for information on their salaries, voting history, inside leg measurement and all their sexual partners before allowing them to comment in the interests of full disclosure. You have noticed this part of my website have you https://markavery.info/home-2/about/ ? And yes, the information on income is a year out of date – I’ve mentioned that before, but when I get around to updating it it won’t look very different from 2014 or 2013.

      The last time I looked the Labour Party membership was rather large. Do you think everyone else has access to the party from Jeremy Corbyn down? I hope I’m not the only one who seems to be getting nowhere in persuading Labour to get a grip of driven grouse shooting, farming and most other environmental issues. Or indeed, getting a grip of reality itself these days.

      I have provided some copies of Inglorious to MPs – at my own expense. Were they bribes do you think? off the top of my head, most of these have gone to SNP and Conservative MPs. As you know, I sent my own MP a copy (which he returned in a state which suggests that it had not had a very hard read). And I have helped various readers of this blog compose letters to their MPs.

      Sorry – did you have a point?

      1. Crikey (or some other mild expletive), sorry to have set you off on that rant, I was only looking for a bit of openness. That was my point. Openness. An answer of “no briefing” would have kept me happy.
        Roger Buisson (inside leg 29″, one partner of the opposite sex and content to use my own name submitting to a blog)

  7. It was good of Philip Merricks to post details of his presentation here. However, I cannot be alone in being astonished by his statement that he doesn’t read your blog (although he seems to have minions willing to do so for him). Surely, as the blog of a leading campaigner on the issue of Hen Harriers & grouse moors this ought to be a regular port of call (even if he doesn’t engage in discussion). If nothing else it would allow him to ‘take the temperature’ of those outside his own rarefied ‘bubble’. I’m all the more taken aback when it seems that, at the drop of the proverbial hat, he’s willing to head up to Yorkshire for a quiet tête-à-tête with the owners of a grouse moor where criminal activities have been exposed. This evident lack of curiosity about the views of other conservationists is strange and, perhaps, explains a good deal.

    1. I note a distinct difference in ‘tone’ between the article Mr Merricks wrote for the Telegraph and his submission to the Sheffield conference. Horses for courses? A rather vacillating approach to the on-going problems on grouse moors and one, which I fear, is not going very far in the long term, while actively impeding other efforts to address the problems of mismanagement and persecution in the uplands.

  8. It took quite an effort to digest all these comments, and in an important sense from a purely personal perspective, it is gratifying to read so much common sense as an antidote to the rambling and disingenuous mutterings of the shooting interests. However, let’s admit that we are up against a mighty enemy, not intellectually, but in terms of wealth and power. There are several underlying factors which continue to trouble me. One of the foremost is the inability to be honest and open, on either side. The shooting side can’t admit to the scale of the problem, or that their case in support of positive conservation benefits is simply a bunch of lies. Those of us on the banning side can’t reveal aspects we know to be true for fear of legal action.

    Our lips are sealed regarding the lack of integrity and honesty shown by certain individual research scientists, partly because we rely so much on science for evidence that we don’t wish to tarnish its reputation or credibility. In private we tend to reveal our knowledge to each other, but say nothing in public. While this is understandable to a degree, as the odds tend to be stacked in favour of those who can afford the best legal teams, I feel there is also a reluctance to admit there could be faults on both sides. The Langholm experiment is an interesting case study.

    You’ve disagreed with me on this previously Mark, so I expect you might do so again. I’m going to be completely open and admit that I know several field assistants and one research scientist who worked on the Langholm study. I can’t prove this, but two of the field assistants assure me that data was tampered with to give the impression that harriers took far more grouse chicks than in reality. I find this quite easy to believe because it conforms to the findings of my own research, where CCTV records were kept of every item brought to six different harrier nests. Admittedly grouse numbers were on a slide during these years, but even in the early years not a single grouse chick was brought in as a prey item for the harrier chicks. Post breeding, in sixteen years of watching harriers I only once ever witnessed one bird (a female) taking a Red Grouse, which was a full-grown bird. Although no quantitative record was kept at other monitored harrier nests at another grouse moor in the region, the estimated number of grouse chicks being taken to active nests was reported to be “very low.” So even on a grouse moor, it is not safe to presume that the harriers are necessarily taking grouse. The main prey species by number at my study nests averaged out over six years at 90% Meadow Pipits, 9% Field Voles and 1% unidentified small passerines.

    This is one possible hypothesis to explain why, despite supplementary feeding reducing the apparent predation upon young grouse, there were fewer grouse available for shooting at the start of the season. Again, supplementary feeding results were very different at my study site, with not a single item taken by the pair which was being provided (for two years). On one occasion I observed the female go off hunting in heavy rain, flying past the supplementary feeding site which held mainly rabbits and (mountain) hares, and not returning for an hour with only a single frog for its efforts! Again contrary to the findings at Langholm, the decaying mammals did attract lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulls to the vicinity of the nest, causing the harriers to waste a lot of time and energy driving them away.

    I find it impossible to believe that the Hawk & Owl Trust can possibly be relied upon to produce a meaningful result from field trials of brood tampering. Unfortunately a number of years will pass before they have compiled sufficient data for statistical analysis, so at what stage of that process would they make a decision whether to continue cooperation with the Defra plan? It makes no sense to say they will decide at the start of the action, because at that time there will be no data to analyse. It would be interesting to hear the views of one of their scientists. They do employ scientists, don’t they?

  9. Hello again Mark I have just received an email making the point that that readers of your blog should have the opportunity to read firsthand the full draft of Angela Smith MP’s presentation to the Raptor conference – rather than having to rely on an interpretation of her speech. I am sure you would agree. Hence please see draft of her speech below

    Speech for the Rapture Conference

    9th September 2016

    • Can I first pay tribute to Ian and Christine for their introductions?

    • I have particularly known Ian for some time now and it’s a pleasure to share the opening of this Conference with him today

    • I want to start with a comment about my own constituency

    • I have walked the hills in my area for many years, going back well before 2005, when I became an MP. I love with a passion those moors – Langsett, Midhope and Broomhead, partly because I do not come across the lycra-clad brigade in large numbers

    • But the simple and stark fact is that neither do I see hen harriers on those moors. Or even peregrine falcons – I’ve only seen one in recent years, soaring over Broomhead reservoir.

    • That should concentrate our minds more than a little.

    • Grouse moors aplenty, but no hen harriers. No stable populations of other birds of prey.

    • That’s one of the reasons why I feel so passionately about this issue; not only am I a member of the RSPB, and have been for a long time, but I also know there is something wrong with our moorland habitats. There is something missing; healthy populations of our wonderful raptors.

    • Now, I welcome this conference and hope that it can make a contribution to resolving the deeply embedded conflict that characterizes the debate about how best to manage our moorlands

    • Because one thing I am certain of – for as long as this conflict remains unresolved, the number one loser is the hen harrier, which is in danger of disappearing altogether from our wonderful uplands if we do not sit up and get on with the job of sorting out this problem

    • Over the next two days, you will hear a range of presentations from speakers with a wide range of perspectives and who represent different parts of the UK – Scotland, the Peak District and Bowland, for example

    • The discussions will be detailed and complex, and so they should be. This is not a black and white problem, easily resolved

    • So let me just throw in a few, brief comments about what I see as the politics of this debate
    • First of all, let’s remember politics is the art of the possible and it is always preferable to act on the basis of consensus and partnership

    • So, ideally, the best way forward, as far as our moorlands are concerned, would be to see all interested parties agreeing principles and working through differences to establish moorland management plans that balance sporting interests with the need to restore and maintain a healthy habitat, including of course stable and sustainable populations of raptors

    • Such plans would vary, of course, because our uplands are themselves wonderfully diverse. The grouse moors in my constituency are part of our precious Peak District blanket bog and are badly degraded (show maps) – amongst the most badly degraded in Europe. That does not mean other parts of our moorland landscape are the same. Each upland habitat needs its own plan, tailored to its own precious ecology

    • But it has to be said that the chances of delivering success with this voluntary approach look increasingly remote. Despite the partnership work still ongoing in places like the Dark Peak, which I know you’re going to hear about later, the events of this summer suggest that relationships between the different parties involved are becoming even more difficult.

    • The withdrawal of the RSPB in particular from the Hen Harrier Action Plan is indicative and is a consequence of what the charity sees as a failure on the part of the landowners and the shooting interest to combat effectively the illegality that tarnishes the reputation of those who do want to enjoy their sport responsibly.

    • And, for a politician this is depressing news, for although there are legislative options available to us, the irony is that they become necessary at that point when conflict has deepened and become more firmly entrenched.

    • The first of these options, banning driven grouse shooting presents an apparently straight forward solution but runs the risk of alienating landowners, who in the final analysis maintain and manage our moorland areas and provide employment for many people living in rural areas. It may well also do little to prevent further persecution – there is no guarantee that making grouse shooting illegal will necessarily lead to a cessation of the illegal killing of birds of prey.

    • Licensing is the other option available. Now, I understand that for the grouse shooting community this is also an unpalatable option and in many ways I would join with those who say that a voluntary, partnership based approach is preferable.

    • But let me also say this – the option has to remain on the table. If this conflict continues and if raptors continue to be persecuted, it will have to be considered. Politicians will not be able to stand aside and allow hen harriers to disappear from our uplands altogether

    • Some of you may say, that’s an open invitation to the RSPB in particular not to cooperate with a voluntary approach

    • But I say this in response

    • The challenge is clear

    • For those who want a voluntary approach to work, the precursor to progress is that the illegal killing has to stop. It just has to stop. This is the Last Chance Saloon. The matter is urgent.

    • And, on that basis, all parties, including the RSPB, will have a duty to work together to find a way of delivering healthy, moorland habitats that can sustain the sport of shooting that so many people here today love so much

    • Enjoy the conference; I can stay for only this morning, but I wish you every success in at least taking a few small steps in the right direction

    1. To both Philip and Mark, I appreciate this post, thank you. It may be helpful to pass on the views of one MP to others. I will certainly send it on to my MP if she ever replies to me.

    2. Mr Merricks, why not cut out the middlemen and read the blog yourself? By pointedly doing so only via intermediaries you only increase the image (whether accurate or not) of a remote, somewhat disdainful member of the officer class who clearly thinks he has better things to do than actually engage (even passively) with critics amongst the hoi poloi. You’ve a case to argue and this isn’t an effective way to go about it but then perhaps you feel you case need only be directed at grouse moor owners.

  10. You’ll no doubt be interested to see the GWCT’s entirely neutral write-up of the event. Your contribution summed up as follows:

    Mark Avery said that he was “not interested in compromise”.

      1. I hope I haven’t lost my sense of humour, but I don’t see what’s so waggish about that. I take it you’ve been accurately quoted; it certainly sounds consistent with your stance as it has evolved over the past few years.

        I was also interested by Andrew Gilruth’s reference to an exchange between yourself and Steve Redpath, which for some reason you omitted to mention in your own summary. In fairness to Steve, and for the sake of elucidation generally, I hope you’ll let me quote the material passage: ‘Professor Stephen Redpath (University of Aberdeen) was asked by Mark Avery if his former work at Langholm showed “that driven grouse shooting is underpinned by wildlife crime – Yes/No?”. The response was a simple “No”.’

        From Steve Redpath, who prides himself on his independence, that strikes me as a significant answer.

        1. Lazywell – I will come back to that exchange with Steve fairly soon on this blog, don’t you worry. And why Steve is wrong. And I’m not quite sure that was the exact question asked, and it certainly doesn’t include the introduction to the question (which received a round of applause in contrast to the answer which didn’t – just saying). We all pride ourselves on our independence – I was one of the very few amateurs who was volunteering rather than working at that conference you know?

          PS GWCT not currently famed for accurate reporting – come back later today for one example.

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