Viscount Ridley has a DPhil from Oxford University in zoology, experience of working on wildlife conservation projects in the UK, India and Pakistan, and a 33-year career as a journalist covering environmental and scientific debates. He is also a member of the science and technology select committee of the House of Lords. So, despite previous lapses (see here) one would hope that he would get his facts right when submitting evidence to parliament.
He continues to quote the unverifiable and, frankly, not easily believable, ‘survey’ of waders on a northern grouse moor (and surrounding land I believe, not just grouse moor, but…whatever!).
But one of his most astounding claims in his evidence is that…
‘Hen harriers are absent from Wales‘.
This will come as a great shock to Welsh ornithologists who have monitored the increasing numbers of Hen Harrier in the Principality for many years.
Let’s just look at the national surveys, shall we?
1998 National Survey – 28 pairs in Wales – (Status of the Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus in the UK and the Isle of Man in 1998. I.M.W. Sim, D.W. Gibbons, I.P. Bainbridge, and W.A. Mattingley Bird Study Vol. 48, Iss. 3, 2001)
2004 National Survey – 43 pairs in Wales – (Status of the Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus in the UK and Isle of Man in 2004, and a comparison with the 1988/89 and 1998 surveys. Innes M.W. Sim, Ian A. Dillon, Mark A. Eaton, Brian Etheridge, Patrick Lindley, Helen Riley, Richard Saunders, Chris Sharpe, and Matthew Tickner. Bird Study Vol. 54, Iss. 2, 2007)
2010 National Survey – 57 pairs in Wales – (The status of the Hen Harrier, Circus cyaneus, in the UK and Isle of Man in 2010.Daniel B. Hayhow, Mark A. Eaton, Stephen Bladwell, Brian Etheridge, Steven R. Ewing, Marc Ruddock, Richard Saunders, Chris Sharpe, Innes M.W. Sim, and Andrew Stevenson. Bird Study Vol. 60, Iss. 4, 2013)
So the not-so-talented Viscount Ridley is completely wrong isn’t he? Hen Harriers are not absent from Wales (and many of us have seen them there too!). In fact Hen Harriers colonised Wales in the 1950s so the not-so-talented Viscount Ridley is about 60 years out of date (which isn’t that bad for a supporter of driven grouse shooting).
Now is this just cheap point-scoring? Partly, yes, but not completely because the grouse shooters need there to be an absence of Hen Harriers from places like Wales (not that there is anywhere like the land of my mother) because their presence is a bit embarrassing for them. What the not-so-talented Viscount Ridley was claiming was that ‘Hen harriers are absent from Wales, the Lake District and Dartmoor because, like other ground-nesting birds, they cannot breed well in areas with high fox numbers (and low prey densities)‘.
Let’s just deal with the Lake District and Dartmoor first. The reason there are no Hen Harriers in the Lake District is that there isn’t that much heather because the Lake District is grazed to within an inch of its life and also because there aren’t many Hen Harriers anywhere in the north of England because they are shot past an inch of their lives! If there is enough suitable habitat for Hen Harriers in the Lake District they would undoubtedly find it and colonise it if enough of them were allowed to survive. And Dartmoor is difficult to colonise because it’s a long way away from any other nesting Hen Harriers in England and, again, there aren’t many of them to provide the recruits.
But Wales! Wales works very strongly against the not-so-talented Viscount Ridley’s explanation. Wales doesn’t have anything like the density of gamekeepers that the north of England has, so instead of its fox population being really low it might well be pretty high. Lots of foxes but not many gamekeepers. Hmmm! And…tarrah! Lots of Hen Harriers too. And increasing numbers of Hen Harriers to boot.
Wales is a good contrast to the English situation. There is habitat for about 330 Hen Harriers in England and this year there were three pairs (1% of suitable habitat is occupied) whereas Wales could have about 250 pairs of Hen Harrier and over the last three censuses the population more than doubled in the absence of widespread gamekeeping, and despite all those foxes has reached 23% of its potential. I wonder what this year’s survey data will reveal – I have no idea – it will be interesting to see.
It’s hardly a secret that Hen Harriers nest in Wales and are increasing in numbers. The standard reference book, the breeding Atlas tells you so and the so does the also excellent, The Breeding Birds of North Wales.
Here’s a map from the Atlas which seems to have dots in Wales:
I expect Viscount Ridley will be writing to the Petitions Committee to correct his evidence on this matter (there are others)
I’m asking you to write to your MP this weekend and ask them to attend the Westminster Hall debate on 31 October and make the following points:
- wildlife crime is rife in the uplands. This has major conservation impacts on birds of prey (see my written evidence). Illegal killing of birds of prey is not caused by a few bad apples but is endemic to the activity of driven grouse shooting.
- intensive management of our hills for driven grouse shooting causes many other problems (increased flooding, increased water treatment costs, culls of Mountain Hares, damage to protected habitats, increased greenhouse gas emissions) which could be tackled by stronger regulation and government should consider that as a serious option for those issues
- but the government is not seriously addressing wildlife crime. The grouse shooting industry has shown no willingness or ability to tackle this issue despite decades of saying that it will. The status quo is not an option. Banning driven grouse shooting is the most effective way to end wildlife crime against birds of prey in our uplands and anything else will be weak and ineffective.
Please write to your MP and ask them to pass on your letter to Defra ahead of the debate if they are unable to attend and make these points themselves. Tell your MP that you will also write to them after the debate and that this is an issue about which you feel very strongly.
- Posted in: Uncategorized