An interesting session

799px-Houses.of_.parliament.overall.arp_Well that was interesting!

The evidence session yesterday took something like twice as long as the time for which it was scheduled because of the interest from MPs. That’s a good thing.

The transcript of the session should be available later today, I guess (which is remarkably quick). I’ll look forward to reading it as I know that between us Jeff Knott (who was very good) and I got most of our points across.  I have never given evidence in this type of event without thinking that I could have done better, and I could have done better.

It was an inquiry of two halves. The first half was quite feisty with some hostile questioning of Jeff and me, although, fair enough, the hostility was mostly aimed at me.  And then we settled down to the calm waters of the questioning of the Countryside Alliance by the Chair of the Countryside Alliance, Simon Hart MP who is paid £30,000 per annum by the Countryside Alliance. The homely atmosphere of the second half was maintained by us all being regaled by raptor observations from the kitchen window of the Director of the Moorland Association who, sees them all the time apparently.  It was a shame that the Moorland Association and Countryside Alliance were given such an easy ride.  Their arguments were not really challenged at all and Amanda Anderson appeared to say, we must check the transcript, that Hen Harriers do better on grouse moors than other moors which will come as a surprise to any Hen Harriers reading the transcript.

hen harrier
Here is the proportion of harrier nests started that fledged at least one chick for grouse moors in red and other moors in blue. Note that harriers on grouse moors bred much less successfully with evidence in many cases that the nest contents had been destroyed by people. This isn’t just a geographical difference between different parts of Scotland because a difference between the two types of moorland was seen within all five regions. Data from Green & Etheridge (1999) Journal of Applied Ecology 36: 472 – 483.

Simon Hart wants a fully costed economic analysis of grouse shooting. So do I, that would be a good idea and something that government should do. Mr Hart seemed to think I should have one so I’ve been up all night writing one. Here it is:

The industry’s claims of economic benefit from grouse shooting are small, in the order of tens of millions of pounds and have been shown to be overestimates based on flawed methods. They do not take  into account increased flood risk, water treatment costs, greenhouse gas emissions or lost revenue from alternative activities such as eco-tourism. But let us imagine, difficult though it is, that they are true – they depend on wildlife crime and therefore should be ignored. Whatever the case for driven grouse shooting is, it is not an economic case.




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72 Replies to “An interesting session”

  1. Hi Mark, the committee website only has written evidence from moorland association and countryside alliance at the moment. Do you know when they are going to upload yours and RSPB’s?

  2. Riveting Mark. I feel you and Jeff covered all pertinent points admirably under relentless and mostly, in my view, biased pressure. The second half was utterly unconvincing and Amanda Anderson’s toeing of the party line verged on waffle and blatant lies at times.

  3. Thank you, Mark. Its great to see this so early in the day. An more thanks for what you did.

    ‘Could have done better’ – a. nothing is perfect- that’s life b. doing your best in the circumstances is first class and c. it is not actually whether you could have done better but whether anyone else could. You’ve done well enough (that’s Norfolk for ‘super amazing, awesome stellar heroic inspirational’.)

    1. I agree, I was able to watch most of it and you were both excellent.

      Amanda’s homely little story about a couple trying to re-populate the wilderness didn’t really advance the argument. Good.

      I thought Angela Smith (?) MP contributed in a well informed way.

  4. The questioning of the Countryside Alliance BY the chair of the Countryside Alliance ?? How was that allowed ?

    1. This is a huge conflict of interests. It puts the whole question and evidence day into a ridiculous position………. Whatever the outcome, that was in no way the right way to do it – delete from records and start again!

    2. The “establishment” at work. This aspect should be publicised to the max. There remains a significant risk of a Trump presidency following Brexit. What more evidence do we need of anti-establishment feeling amongst the voting population?

    3. Several people have commented on this but I don’t think there is anything wrong in principle with Hart being on the Committee. MPs will obviously put themselves forward as candidates for membership of committees covering issues they have an interest in which in, which I would say is generally a good thing (as opposed to someone who is just warming a seat for the purpose of embellishing her/his CV on the way up the greasy pole). As I understand it the government does not select the members or chairpersons of select committees and neither do the party whips.
      Several members of the panel, including Hart, declared an interest before making their contributions which is right and proper so anyone watching or reading the transcript is aware of where they are coming from. I would be delighted if there were no people that hold the views held by Hart but recognise that some people do and they have a right to be expressed alongside other views that I do agree with. I don’t see anyone here complaining about Angela Smith being allowed to question the four witnesses and she is a Vice President of the League Against Cruel Sports and so, arguably, as biased in favour of Mark and Jeff as Simon Hart is against them. I guess that what is sauce for the goose has to also be sauce for the gander.
      In short I think there is no reason at this stage for anyone to cry foul. The session provided a valuable opportunity to bring the issues before Parliament and along with the written submissions allows all MPs (and the public) to compare the cases for and against side by side. The debate on the 31 will provide a further valuable airing of the arguments. I believe the case against driven grouse shooting is immeasurably stronger than the case for it so this can only be a good thing.

  5. Having watched the recording, the main thing I took away from the evidence session was that yourself and Jeff preformed well, despite the strange questions sometimes thrown at you. The second half was totally unexpected by myself. Not a mention of no hen harriers on driven grouse moors, no “Why did you say, if we let the hen harriers in….?”, nothing challenging at all, despite an admission that the law should be upheld, and possibly wasn’t. It really is a different universe. Your blog item puts it well.
    Well done, Mark, but there is clearly still lots to do.

    1. When Anderson (and whats-his-name) talked about how walked up and non-intensive grouse shooting was not economically (and i think they said biologically sustainable) no one questioned this by pointing out that there are actual moors which do practice that kind of shooting, so why were they lying?
      I am hoping that the silences weren’t believing silences but stunned silences knowing those two were talking total bullshit.
      It seems obvious that Smith didn’t believe the kitchen window propaganda as she know her moors are a disaster area and she was good at debunking Anderson’s moorland restoration out of their own pocket and good will claim. (Someone should tell her she doesn’t have Mountain Hares on her moors though.)
      My broadband was too slow so had to listen to the audio so hope i didn’t miss much but i gather that Mark was laughing at the demand that he produce personally worked scientific and economic reports on various different fields. That was worthy of laughter. The Countryside Alliance must think you are Superintellectman. Well done.

      1. The way these thing work these days is that the challengers have to produce watertight scientific evidence (and then be accused of being experts, in a perjorative sense) whilst for the defenders a smidge of anecdote or ‘experiential’ evidence is more than enough.

        Astonishing that the Chair of CA is not forced to declare a bias. On our parish council, we have to leave the room!). Huge conflict of interest.

  6. Morning, Mark, I watched the first half live then the rest on record. My first impression was that you were faced with a mainly hostile committee! It sounded to me as though you both put the case well, which couldn’t have been easy under the circumstances. The second 2 had a much easier ride, I thought, though the final question was well timed and seemed to cause difficulties! I would certainly like it answered in the debate session.
    Thank you for going through all that, and I hope you have the chance for some R&R now.

  7. Unfortunately (more or less meant) I missed the second half so I look forward (probably rather less meant) to reading that part of the transcript. But I thought the first part went very well, well done. It’s another good step in raising the profile of the issue; I don’t think that any newcomer could have listened yesterday and not thought that an important issue was being discussed. Reframing political (and public) opinion will take a while yet but this was a very good start.

  8. Well done Mark, you did very well under the pressure. So did Jeff. The questioning was quite good even though some important questions never came. I had the impression that the MP’s were interested, albeit some of them from a clearly partial position…to be expected. You made a clear request that the issue be considered further by Defra/efra. You can’t be expected to produce all the detailed data and analysis yourself but they could. Let’s hope so. The debate will reveal more. The central point remains the same, DGS depends on raptor management/killing. That data is clear. The CA admitted it is an issue. That’s progress! Let’s hold them to that! Keep going.

  9. You did indeed get a great many points across. I was sorry I couldn’t attend but watched it all last night. The first half was riveting and comes across much better, being seen to be tested, which is the point. I had to take the CAMA second half in small doses, partly because it seemed quite soppy (or anecdotal and imprecise) – and I needed to get some homework done. Will the MPs do a report? If they did and if they approached it fairly and professionally they would get a great deal from this session.

  10. Morning Mark
    Thanks also for your efforts yesterday (the same goes for Jeff). I had to turn off during the second half – the stream of vague waffle and gentle questioning was too dispiriting to watch. The bucolic scene of watching multiple birds of prey from the kitchen window was the tipping point for me.

    I’d echo the earlier comment too – there will always be points that you feel you could have done better, but the question is indeed whether anyone else could.

  11. This looked even more frightening than appearing on ‘University Challenge – The Professionals’!
    Well done for staying calm and cogent in the face of much nonsense, bias and barbed comments.
    It was infuriating to watch. And I didn’t even stick long with the second half. I went for a walk to calm down and watched jays squabbling in chestnut trees.
    I do think though that the people backing these activities are rattled; they look rattled and they talk rattled and they were probably relieved to get to the gentleman’s club atmosphere of the second half. They are the ‘power’ having truth spoken to them, and they don’t like it. Good… and well done again.

  12. You and Jeff did a very good job, well done. Likewise the other two trotted out the same old half baked arguments and unproven views which should now make it easier to refute. I felt that with the stage set with a bias, including from the chair, that you and Jeff made clear and proven points which are now registered whereas the opposing camp came in with totally unproven waffle. Fascinating. Yet again our thanks to you both and acknowledgement of the work still to do.

  13. Well done Mark – interesting to see how democracy works!
    It was strange that the chairman told you off for point scoring when you mentioned the RSPB’s case against Walshaw Moor (even though that was clearly not the case), but never picked up once on Simon Harts’ continued little digs, point scoring and presenting his own evidence whilst asking questions.

    Also, why was the young gamekeeper student who started the petition to protect grouse shooting not presenting evidence?

    1. “why was the young gamekeeper student who started the petition to protect grouse shooting not presenting evidence”

      Maybe he was busy surveying grouse moors for Stone Curlews?

  14. Could have done better? There simply wouldn’t have been any session at all without your sterling work. That driven grouse shooting is now an ‘issue’, which it wasn’t a few months back, is in large measure down to your efforts. Despite evident hostility from the chair and from some of the committee, you got your points over well as did Jeff who was brilliantly on top of his brief.

  15. Having watched the proceedings live I was slightly surprised that the committee members didn’t make more of an effort to conceal their individual bias and hostility.

    And there seemed to be more committee members than are listed on the HoC website. Did they co opt additional MPs for their particular ‘expertise’?

    I thought you both did very well in difficult circumstances.

    Could you possibly outline what happens next in terms of procedure and what, if any, input the public can make from here on in.

    1. De – I’ll do that in a blog later today if that’s OK?

      PS – and on Committee Members – it turned into a joint meeting of the Petitions and EFRA Committees so that’s why there were some extra names there.

  16. Well done Mark and Jeff – I thought you both presented a very good case for change. There was a definite shift in the type and style of questioning for the MA and CA, with the atmosphere also becoming more light hearted. The witnesses were even referred to as Amanda and (I think) Liam, whereas you were Mr Avery and Jeff, Mr Knott. It was a shame that they had such an easy ride, particularly on wildlife crime and that there was nobody there who wanted to cut through the fluff and spin. I was unable to watch all of the second half – but off the top of my head, highlights for me were hearing –

    Amanda Anderson watching birds of prey from her kitchen window

    Grouse moors spending £1 million per week on wildlife management – aka killing wildlife to benefit shooters – I struggle to see how it benefits red grouse since they are then shot

    The sickly PR job on behalf of gamekeepers

    That hen harriers do really well on grouse moors, as they eat red grouse and the waders/chicks that live there – if they are doing so well, where are the missing 297 pairs? Their main prey items are actually meadow pipit and field vole. I think I may also have heard that mountain hares do really well too – that is, when they are not being shot by the truckload

    The criticism of the RSPB pulling out of the HH Plan prematurely and nobody asking how it could possibly work with only three pairs in England

    That heather moorland is a natural landscape

    That grouse moors would be full of sheep, non-native conifers or six feet tall bracken if driven grouse shooting was banned.

  17. Mark,

    I thought both yourself and Jeff acquitted yourselves very well. Of course you are bound to feel that you could have done better and that is only natural. The day that you start thinking that you couldn’t possibly have done any better is perhaps the day you should retire, or become a Tory MP.

    I’m still perplexed by the Chairs rather bizarre rebuke to you around 14 minutes in, perhaps the subject matter was a little over her head and she felt she had to make some form of contribution? Who knows!

    The assertion that you should have provided a detailed economic analysis of the uplands post-driven grouse shooting was, on reflection, quite a clever tactic on the Countryside Alliances part, Mr Hart certainly earned his money there. It served as a useful diversion (from their perspective) I was disappointed that fellow committee members didn’t point out the absurdity of this request. I wonder if Hansard has a record of the Chairman of the ‘Chimney Sweeps Alliance’ asking Lord Shaftsbury if he had prepared a detailed economic analysis on the alternatives to sending children up chimneys…

    As I see it, the major weakness of these committees is that they allow ‘expert witnesses’ to supply unproven, anecdotal evidence without fully being held to account. Ideally the ‘expert witnesses’ should have to appear again before the committee several weeks later, after having their submissions and arguments carefully scrutinised.

    Angela Smith struck me as being the committee member who had made the most effort to ensure that she was well informed, even though clearly she wasn’t that well informed – and that’s not meant as a criticism of her.

    1. Yes! I was trying to think of a similar analogy this morning (something about slavery was as close as I got) – you’ve hit the nail on the head with the chimney sweep comparison.

    2. ‘I’m still perplexed by the Chairs rather bizarre rebuke to you around 14 minutes in, perhaps the subject matter was a little over her head’
      Presuming that was the Walshaw Moor point, then definitely.

      My psychoanalysis:
      1. Firstly definitely not paying attention at the front
      2. A bit thick
      3. A huge chip on her shoulder about clever people like Mark.
      4. Anger spilling out from points 2-3 so she just had to attack Mark at the slightest, and in that case misunderstood, opportunity.
      5. Maybe she had a huge conflict of interest and was just biased? Must read transcript.

      If it wasn’t so sad it would be hilarious. The Frankie Boyle in my head is laughing.

  18. Well done to you and the RSPB. It went well and for much longer than anticipated — a good sign.

  19. Well done Mark you and Jeff were very effective. I’ve still to see a lot of the session, but I saw a lot and yes panel were ludicrously biased – the NFU linked MP trotting out the usual about supposed loss of bird life once grouse shooting ceased etc. Not an easy situation to be in, but you did well. The jobs argument re the grouse moors infuriates me. The number of jobs, even disregarding that they are poorly paid, from grouse shooting is utterly pathetic against the vast acreage of land given over go it. We definitely need more diversification in the uplands. Will force myself to look through session with Liam Stokes and Amanda Anderson.

  20. Interesting how many people didn’t stick with the second half, I found it most illuminating. I am now expecting the RSPB to make an offer to ‘Amanda’ for her home, sounds like it would make a wonderful reserve.
    I thought that you and Jeff did a cracking job under fire.
    What is certain is that you have won the first round. The subject is now out there and won’t be going away. Yes it will take time, but attitudes can and do change.
    Most interesting of all is that at the end of the session the RSPB sent out an email to members asking them to write to their MPs in advance of the debate on 31st.
    The content of the email from a Vanessa Amaral Rogers is dated 13th Oct??
    It also mentions your petition.
    I wonder how many members will ask the RSPB why they are only being told of this petition now, after it has finished.

    Well done again to both you and Jeff, ‘the times they are a changing’ may be a good Chistmas hit for Henry!

      1. Sorry Lisa, bit late on this one, hope you see it.
        It was sent out about 4pm and certainly looked like it went to all members. Do you know that they have your correct email address?
        Wonder if you got yours Mark?

        Also note that LACS have sent a similar one today, but then they have always been supportive.

  21. Hi Mark having a cheap shot at your fellow witness and getting slapped down by the chair was a bad start. I was impressed by Jeff Knott and I say that from the other side of the debate . I must have missed the hostility bit but will watch it again but it is just that it was a tougher crowd than you get at a Hen Harrier day. The whole thing was a bit of a non-event as it is not going to change any minds.

    1. David – you can take it from me that Jeff didn’t feel as though I was having any sort of shot at him. Thank you for your comment.

      1. David – Can confirm I didn’t think Mark was having a pop at all. If he wanted to have a shot at me, I’m sure he’d have done a much better job than that (and used lead free ammunition)! 😉

        1. Good to find you here, Jeff, since it gives me the chance to say to say once again that I thought that your contribution was superb. Members of the committee tried to bowl a few googlies in your direction and you smacked every one of then over the boundary for a six.

        2. Jeff you and Mark were brill – so very, very pleased I’m a RSPB member. Good put down of DH, thanks for that as well.

    2. Only an idiot, or someone very hard of hearing, would seriously believe Mark was having a dig at his fellow witness.

      1. By that argument the chair of the meeting is an idiot as she had the same impression I had.

  22. IMO that chart would be better if it also showed the number of breeding attempts – maybe on an area basis.

  23. Regarding Part 2; When in the first couple of minutes it was suggested by the Countryside Alliance fella that the 123,000 only voted because of being told to by celebrities (Chris Packham) and pop artists (Brian May?), I turned off.

    1. I’m surprised their petition was allowed to be compared, it’s not a counter petition at all. No-one is proposing to ban grouse shooting, their petition was started to protect Stone Curlews & mentioned the Countryside Alienate (sic), misleading if not a little idiotic.

      If all Liam Stokes and his cronies can do is take side-swipes and produce unsubstantiated figures and ‘facts’ about a failed moorland in Wales I think they have a shock coming. I could feel a sharp intake of breath when one of the panel mentioned scientific evidence.

  24. Thanks for your kind words Mark and just to say I thought you also did a very good job in the face of some pointed questioning. And to confirm, no I didn’t think you were trying to score points!
    Roll on the 31st…

  25. Hi Mark sorry I could not listen to the Q and A session myself out here in Australia but from all accounts you and Jeff did very well. It is just mind blowing that the Q and A session should be lead by an MP who is also the Chairman of the Countryside Alliance. It is just this sort of biased, vested interested approach that gives Parliament and politicians such an terrible name and deservedly so.They should be all ashamed of themselves. Doing what is right and not practising politics all the time is what this country needs but sadly it rarely if ever happens.
    Nevertheless I think the next stage of the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting should be being thought through now, in case the MPs debate on the 31st goes nowhere as I am sure will be the aim of a good number of MPs with vested interests and a similar party line to that expressed by Defra. I am sure you and the RSPB are giving due thought to that just now. Now the” wagon is rolling” we must never give in and keep up the pressure into the next stage.

  26. Well done Mark and Jeff, and let us not forget how far you have got us so far. Sums up our democracy when you listen to the expressions of interests by our politicians before they supposedly listen to an argument and come to a balanced decision on behalf of the public. It is quite wrong that politicians who are “supported” by an industry are then asked to judge the behaviour of that industry. If I was an objective listener, I guess at face value people would believe some of the arguments made by our opponents. That is why they need to be held to account in the same way that Mark and Jeff were. Hopefully, the Greens and some of the Labour party might get involved further down the line to increase the scrutiny. I would also have thought it was more to be expected that the industry would have been able to support its claims, than to expect Mark to have produced the information asked of him! Finally, I had to smile as Liam chewed his pen ferociously when Mark was giving evidence and looked like he wished the pen was a knife!

  27. I found the first half to be awash with facts and figures, backed up by references people could check out themselves, and as others have mentioned the pointed questioning I think was good as it allowed more facts to come out / hammer home the ecological damage.

    Loved Jeff pointing out that yes, ground nesting birds do well on Grouse moors, but a Hen Harrier is a ground nesting bird yet it does badly; its a great rebuke to the lie that Grouse Moor management helps wildlife that I’ve not heard before. It might help some but as an unintended side-effect and only if they don’t interfere in the production of grouse, and we all know what happens to wildlife that do.

    The second half had a fairy tale feel to it, with Amanda looking out her window and seeing all the birds flying around – magical – just like Snow White where the birds came in and helped her do the dishes and fly around cleaning the house, and then with the head of the CA asking her leading questions allowing her to start on the next idyllic story about the family living in the bleak moors bringing life back to the area. Wonderful. Setup in advance I’d suspect, but it was quite cringy and I suspect it might be embarrassing for them.

    1. Good analysis Colin McP.

      But we have to be careful here.

      I’ve only presented evidence to a parliamentary committee like this once – at Holyrood on goose management in Scotland. The politicians listening to the evidence / opinions there were, understandably, mostly (almost entirely) concerned with the economics of the situation and the possible effect of their constituents.

      Most of the politicians on the panel posing the questions yesterday in Westminster seemed to have the same concerns paramount in their minds. So, for those of you that didn’t listen to the second half (and those of you who did), listen again carefully to that second session, but from the viewpoint of those politicians, and then whether that second session was such a disaster for the opposing viewpoint.

      Anyway, proper economic analysis of driven grouse shooting needed.

      Even then, I fear abstract concepts of ecosystem benefits (even downstream flooding!) may hold less sway with these politicians than the 50 villagers mentioned by Amanda whose whole way of life may be devastated by banning driven grouse shooting….

  28. I liked the comment above re. chimney sweeps but I was thinking more along the lines of the ban on dog fighting. Correct me if I am wrong but when a similarly cruel hobby that relied entirely on criminal activity for its very existence was banned, it was not beholden on those suggesting the ban to come up with a detailed plan as to what activities would be put in it’s place. That is effectively what Mark was asked to do, and quite understandably, he hadn’t got a pre-prepared answer. Let’s face it the two witnesses for grouse shooting were rattled and that is perhaps as good a start as we can reasonably expect. They will be well aware that the ban on fox hunting took a long time to implement, but that it got there in the end. They certainly know that they are being watched now. Well done Mark and Jeff.

  29. I have asked my MP, James Gray, to explain the obvious conflict of interest around Simon Hart MP.

    I look forward to the enquiry into Child Sexual Abuse being chaired by Rolf Harris as he questions Max Clifford on what is to be done about it.

  30. Having listened to the session again, I was struck by how much the event was hijacked by the RSPB licensing plan. This was a distraction from the the proposition that actually triggered the session – banning driven grouse shooting. Much time was wasted in discussing levels of regulation of grouse moor management rather than addressing the central issue of raptor persecution on grouse moors. We all know that there is already a law against killing raptors. I wonder whose idea it was to have the RSPB giving evidence rather than an organisation such as BAWC or Raptor Persecution Uk.

  31. I thought you did really well in the face of a loaded and clearly hostile committee. Well done to both of you and thank you. I was particularly struck by questioners’ attempts to get you to ‘come out’ as anti-shooting and anti-hunting, as if this would show you up for a ‘weird lefty’. But actually this is completely normal and mainstream. It’s a classic ploy to try to set the consensus. Anyway if there was any balance in the questioning the pro hunting witnesses would have been examined much more keenly.

  32. Mark. If you are going to use a graphic to illustrate a point, try not to use one over 16 years old otherwise it looks like ;
    A) There is new data which may not support your argument.
    B) There is no new data to support your argument; or
    C) It doesn’t really matter because the message gets across because most people who read your blog are of a similar mind.

    1. Concerned statto – or…it is the most comprehensive study still. And it would be practically impossible to repeat even in Scotland because there simply are hardly any Hen Harrier on grouse moors these days.

      Such findings were replicated by the study in England by Natural England that they never talk about these days too. But I don’t have such an arresting and clear graph to hand for that.

      1. Interesting that one with a username which implies a knowledge of or interest in statistics, doesn’t appear to know that the word “data” is plural! 😉

  33. I’ve only just been able to watch now – you both did a great job in the face of an unfriendly, and at times downright rude (what on Earth made her think you were point-scoring against Jeff?!), committee – I can’t believe that all the MPs appeared to be on “their” side – oh, maybe I can since it’s “they” who have something to lose. I have to say I was somewhat distracted by the scaries behind you – who were they?!

    Anyway, as the debate approaches I have written to my MP. She is not one of “them” and so scores points with me for that, but she is very definitely, unfortunately, a career politician and I know what the response will be. I may not even get one. Shouldn’t be allowed.

  34. Doesn’t Amanda Anderson live near Abbeystead/Forest of Bowland?
    If she does, she must be hallucinating as there are no raptors left to gaze at from her window!

  35. Where can we find the recording so many of the commenters have watched? I don’t see any link in Mark’s introduction.

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