Dear minister 2 – the impact on nature conservation

Dear Therese Coffey

Therese Coffey
Therese Coffey

It is relatively easy for the public to forget that Defra is supposed to be on the side of wildlife when its most public actions are often to support economic activities at the expense of wildlife and to do this without bothering too much with the science. Take badgers, bees and buzzards for a start and we have only looked at one letter of the alphabet.

The grouse shooting industry will, obviously, claim that their management, designed to produce an unnaturally high density of Red Grouse for shooting, is generally good for wildlife. Little could be further from the truth as the examples of written evidence given below illustrate.

As a scientist yourself you will surely realise that wiping out most predators (foxes, stoats, crows, raptors etc etc) and regularly burning most of the vegetation may be effective to favour one particular species (so that it can be shot later) but does not support a wide range of species.  Nowhere else in the world does such management take place – only here in Britain and only because we’re trapped in the Victorian mindset of driven grouse shooting.

We will be listening carefully to what you say when closing the debate today – have you listened to wildlife experts?

Dr Mark Avery



Written evidence by Dr Ian McLean (ex JNCC): ‘Drains are cut to increase Heather cover at the expense of Sphagnum areas in order to favour the feeding habitat of Red Grouse.  This is particularly damaging to the large assemblage of insects and other invertebrates associated with wetter areas, pools, flushes, seepages and their margins.  These invertebrates are of great interest and value in their own right, but are also part of vital food webs that sustain plants (e.g. via pollination) and insectivorous mammals and birds.  The uniform Heather-dominated moorlands created for DGS are therefore impoverished with regard to their invertebrates with important adverse consequences for the diversity of wildlife in these areas.‘ and ‘…the management regimes used to produce high densities of Red Grouse for DGS are strongly negative upon invertebrate communities‘.

Written evidence from RSPB: ‘we are concerned by the impact of increasingly intensive and sometimes illegal grouse moor management on upland wildlife and the upland environment

Written evidence from the Wildlife Trusts: ‘We have serious concerns that grouse shooting management has a number of negative impacts on wildlife and the environment, including protected species.

Written evidence by Jim Welford: ‘I have been visiting Rosedale in the North York Moors for many years … it is now a wildlife wasteland and for anyone with a love of wildlife it is very depressing.’

Written evidence from Tweed Ecology Ltd: ‘Braithwaite’s assessment of Greenlaw Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the largest SSSI in Berwickshire is particularly damning: – ‘Botanically, this is moorland at its worst, as the cycle of muirburn optimised for grouse has gradually eliminated almost all diversity, with the last plants of lesser butterfly orchid (Plantanthera bifolia) (2000) and petty whin (Genista anglica) (2002) apparently eliminated recently.  Other losses have been lesser twayblade (Listera cordata) (1968), common twayblade (Listera ovata) (1980) and hairy stonecrop (Sedum villosum) (1952).  It is sad that a code of muirburn practise has not been developed to foster wider diversity.‘ and ‘Juniper (Juniperus communis) is killed by burning.  While muirburn can provide the bare ground required for juniper to regenerate on moorland, too often indiscriminate muirburn can lead to the loss of juniper from sites.  Again, reference to the Short Flora of Berwickshire (Braithwaite, 2014) is instructive:- the Berwickshire distribution (of juniper) shows a strong negative correlation with open heather moorland managed for grouse.  It seems inconceivable that there were not once colonies up the Dye Water and some of its tributary burns’.  The upper Dye Water passes through some of the most productive grouse moors in Scotland.  Braithwaite goes on to say that the remaining junipers in upland Berwickshire ‘grow on steep slopes, some in gorges with remnant woodland, and some on more open slopes, but all in places protected from muirburn’‘.


6 Replies to “Dear minister 2 – the impact on nature conservation”

  1. Aside from the obvious one that will be debated later today, the pressing question of the hour is “Does Mark Avery ever sleep?” By 09.00 on a day that will surely prove a very busy one, we have two quality blogs on the issue. Thank you once again for your Herculean efforts.

  2. Yes massive thanks from me too Mark, I never thought this day would ever come, good luck to you Sir

  3. I have been very impressed by the quality of writing in your series of ‘Gems from the written evidence’. From the compelling eye-witness accounts (fell runner, raptor workers, gamekeeper, crime investigators etc), to the learned submissions of ecologists and the professional indictment of DGS by ‘name withheld’ – it’s all been thrilling to read.
    You should be very proud, Mark, for being the catalyst for all this outpouring. Many many thanks for your dedication.

Comments are closed.