Driving and thinking

On Wednesday evening I gave a talk to the Bangor Bird Group in North Wales. There was a good crowd there and they were pretty stirred up after seeing the debate on Monday.  No sign of any of them giving up. I hope I entertained and energised them (I think I may have done) but they certainly energised me with their enthusiasm

Yesterday I took a long route home through the mountainous parts of Wales. The Conwy Valley looked lovely and the autumn colours were very fine.  Driving always gives me an opportunity to think. I was thinking about ‘What next?’ for the campaign against driven grouse shooting? What is the next target? What should my role be now that we have had a debate in parliament and shown the strength of feeling by the size of the petition?

I’m talking to individuals and organisations about the way forward. It is a sensible time to reflect on what is the best way forward so I’d ask you for your patience for a while, but do feel free to drop me an email (as many have done already) or post a comment here.  I’ve had lots of phone calls from friends wishing us all well for the next stage of our campaign.  Thank you to everybody.

So, I have been enjoying the autumn colours and driving and thinking, and with friends there has been some thriving and drinking, but do not fear for any diving or sinking – the only way is upwards and onwards!

Today I am heading down to Chelmsford to give a talk this evening and then Saturday afternoon I will be on a panel discussion at the Badger Trust conference. More time to think and to talk to friends.

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28 Replies to “Driving and thinking”

  1. The issue is now in the public arena and it’s going to stay there. A few thoughts re future strategy, well in future RSPB and any other organisations working with grouse moors need to say they are making the moors better for wildlife, but that doesn’t mean the moors are actually good for wildlife. The RSPB has given the impression that grouse moors can be good for wildlife full stop – not really, it should point out that their ‘management’ is not beneficial for so much. Then we could maybe email all our MPs and MSPs etc pointing out that the moors take up a large proportion of the country so are relevant to all. We could set them a questionnaire to ask a few basic questions to test their knowledge (or lack of it) and these could include ‘how did our wildlife survive for thousands of years without grouse moors’ ‘why if driven grouse shooting is such a conservation and economic asset are no other countries adopting it?’, ‘Has there ever been a study into alternatives to driven grouse shooting to see if there are better options economically and ecologically’?.

  2. Ref Badger Trust Panel,one thing no one has ever explained is how farmers who have probably had a closed herd never buying cattle for perhaps forty or more years suddenly get a BTB outbreak in their cattle.
    Please lets not get the lame excuse that they did not do proper bio-security,improper fencing etc that must be rubbish these farmers have gone to great lengths to protect their herds from all sorts of diseases so they are not likely to risk all that work and effort over some lax thing.
    As unfortunate as it is the most likely thing and it seems to be happening in this area is that as BTB spreads the Badgers infect these herds.
    People who claim the need for tighter controls need to find out what happens before saying that.
    For instance a herd never having a reactor in history now has to have his cattle tested for BTB every six months.
    It does seem the test is not 100% but other countries using it have been much more successful than us and it certainly was relatively successful until Badger control changed about 1998.
    Oh for both sides to take more middle of the road goals and less all one side or the other.The Badger Trust senior people certainly do not endear themselves when one describes farmers as total wildlife killers.Whatever do those actively doing good for wildlife think when hearing things like that and for sure any considering wildlife programs at the very least think again.
    Of course farmers are no different to any other group of people,there are some amongst them who break the rules but the penalty of getting BTB in a herd is so great to surely discourage them from deliberately promoting it into a herd.
    The penalty of not being able to sell any stock except for slaughter is probably in dairy herds greater than the financial loss of the cattle testing positive.

    1. Dennis, I entirely agree that a more balanced discussion about bTB would be helpful, but I don’t see it happening. The way that the NFU dominates government thinking serves only to entrench bTB and opposition attitudes.

      If there was evidence that culling reduced TB, we’d be having a different discussion. But the culls have manifestly failed to reach their targets and may even be making the Tb situation worse.

      The extreme cost of culling is also very hard to justify against the non lethal methods not supported by the NFU. Vaccination has to be the long term solution but its development is having to be crowdfunded by conservation organisations not paid for by Defra.

      Some farmers have had excellent results, even in hotspots, by measures such as providing badger setts with their own mineral licks. It’s anecdote, but worth investigating surely? yet NFU and Defra dismissed the experience of farmers – actual farmers NB – because it didn’t fit the narrative of lethal control being the only option worth pursuing.

      I don’t think anyone needs convincing that bTB is a huge problem. The question is why is Defra, as the puppet of the NFU, is so ideologically committed to a means of control that was predicted by their own expert advisors not to work, is not working even locally to any significant or sustained degree, and is extremely expensive. And why are Defra, as the puppet of the NFU, so opposed to potentially more effective, and certainly more cost effective, alternatives being developed?

      If non lethal methods were even being properly trialed alongside culling, in different test areas, Defra would be on firmer ground. But as we’ve seen with DGS, they are the very opposite of an evidence driven organisation. The bTB saga shows the cost of being an “evidence avoiding” organisation, and both farmers and badgers are paying the price.

      1. jbc,of course there are lots of different attitudes but although you never suggested it I need to point out that I never said I support this type of cull and am not anti Badger(doubt lots of farmers are anti either).
        My only problem with those who deny any problem with Badgers and think they are not infective to cattle is that no one ever explains how these closed herds get infected.
        From what I see it can only be Badgers,one herd where I know the owner in that position lost 25%of his herd and I doubt that herd had bought any cattle for 50 years.

        1. Thanks Dennis. I certainly don’t deny that badgers can transmit to cattle and vice versa either so we’re in agreement there. Finding the solution’s the problem, of course.

    2. Let me remind you that BTB is an acronym for BOVINE – of or relating to cattle – Tuberculosis, not Meles Meles Tuberculosis.
      Why just highlight badgers anyway? BTB is endemic in many wildlife species; rats, deer, goats, pigs, camelids (llamas and alpacas), dogs and cats, as well as many other mammals, and they were more likely than not, all infected by bovines in the first place.

      1. Wendy,seems you are one of those committed to Badgers,good luck to you but it doesn’t really matter whether Badgers originally infected cows or the other way round fact is like a chicken or egg situation.Why Badgers,well that is the one that does seem to be involved.
        What is so strange is we have hundreds of thousands who are experts on this almost none with experience of having land with both cattle and Badgers and without exception almost ridiculing those farmers who experience this all the time.
        Are you the one person who knows for certain that cattle infected Badgers and that all the wildlife you mention are infected.
        I very much doubt you really know the size of this problem.
        I doubt we can inject all the Badgers with vaccine
        Almost certainly there is not even enough vaccine to do so if it was possible.
        The amount of vaccine needed if we tried to inject all the cattle is unbelievable my guess would be the average weight of those animals on average would probably be 350KGs so how many Badger size doses would be needed for each dose for cattle.
        One answer is to go back to pre 1998 control system when the BTB was kept to about 10% of what it is now with much less bio-security so with improved methods today we could eliminate this disease in both species or at the very least get it at very low level for the benefit of both species and everyone concerned.

  3. I’m a little disappointed with the Rspb and the stance that they took with the debate. This would have been the ideal time to really get there point across and support your petition. I think it needs to have a long hard look at itself and really think about what it is meant to be doing for its members. It is out of touch with what it’s members would really like to see it doing. I am not saying that I would withdraw membership, but I have been close.
    You have led your petition with great strength and leadership and I think the Rspb let you down.
    Onwards and upwards

  4. I do hope your drive to Chelmsford is as inspiring as the road to Conwy – and look forward to hearing about the next step ‘onwards and upwards’.
    On those occasions when I bother to read Hansard I’m always irritated by the Olde Worlde feel of that place. But the driven grouse debate was even more annoying than usual, with all that back-slapping, self-satisfaction from Nicholas Soames and the other tweddy gents.
    Well done though for making the debate happen, and keep up the good work.

  5. I was doing my own driving and thinking yesterday, coming back from the north Cornish coast where we have been enjoying fine late autumn weather.
    However, being on holiday did not stop me from watching the ‘debate’, reading the transcript and all the very many comments that have been made in the last few days.

    Many people seem surprised by the arrogance and ignorance shown by those that ‘represent’ us. Surprised at the rudeness and disrespect shown to you and others. In fact, surprised by the whole process. Unfortunately, ’twas ever thus.

    But that means that through your petition, many people now have insights into the workings of parliament that they didn’t have before. They have seen politicians in their true light. This is a good thing.
    I took many other good things from Monday.
    Throughout you were referred to as ‘Mr’ Avery. That was a good thing. When people try to diminish you, you are already starting to win.
    You and others were insulted and abused. Another good thing. They are worried.

    We could have been offered licensing. This pointless process would have tied your hands for at least five years while you were obliged to ‘give it time to work’. Meanwhile the criminality would have continued as before.
    Likewise, maybe worse, we could have been offered a ‘thorough independent investigation’. Another pointless process that could have taken years and resulted in yet another cover up.
    As it is, we were offered nothing. Zilch, zero. Good! We don’t have to wait for delaying tactics then. We can keep the momentum.

    You were called the ‘perpetrator’……….We’ll be back!

    I wasn’t disappointed because I have never had faith in, nor respect for politicians or our political system. It has always seemed to me that most go into politics to feather their own nests and further their own agendas.
    I have never voted because I have never found any candidate that I could trust enough with my precious, hard fought for, vote.
    Yes I’ve been called lazy, apathetic. Yes I’ve heard all the same arguments over very many years. How I should vote for the least bad. Now let me ask this.
    If you are now a disgruntled Tory, are you going to vote Labour or liberal next time? They couldn’t even be bothered to turn out, let alone represent.
    If you are a seething labourite, are you going to vote Tory? A protectionist racket for a few elite, people who are so cock sure of themselves that 123077 petitioners can be dismissed as box tickers. Irrelevant peasants led by troublemakers.
    Who is there to vote for? UKIP! Trump? The fact that these guys are getting votes at all shows the desperate state of politics nowadays, and not just in this country.

    So what now? Well for sure, going forward, 123077 won’t be enough. This complete disregard for both us and our wildlife has to be shown and proved to many more people if we are to ever get change.
    We can get change, but only through numbers.

    Many commenters have suggested direct action and surely peaceful protest has to be an option. Not riots. Not threatening behaviour. Just peaceful protests along the lines of HH days. Marches across grouse moors must also be an option.
    Publicity has to be at the forefront of everything we do now.
    Somehow we have to find a way of getting a big NGO on board. They too have shown disregard for the wishes of members. (See YWT and Spurn for proof)

    Somebody also suggested a crowd funded legal challenge. Well I for one would be willing to put up some dosh if a friendly lawyer could be found.
    Surely some of Westminsters own rules were broken on Monday?
    How did a second petition that only had a quarter of the votes needed, end up being discussed along with Mark’s? Must be a challenge there. And Steve Double’s opening speech must have broken rules.
    At the least, it would get us some more publicity.

    It would also be a good idea in all future public appearances, for Henry to be wearing a bullet proof vest. Specially if Andy Holden is the one inside, running across a grouse moor!

    Last thought. Is it possible to grow palm oil on rare heather moorland, thereby saving precious rainforest?

    Mark, you have truly shown politicians how to lead.
    Environment minister? No, your much more useful in your present position.

    1. I totally agree with your point that the worst outcome from the debate would have been some undertaking to pursue further initiatives that would have wasted yet more years and ultimately achieved nothing, during which time the fire might have gone out of the campaign.
      The absolute intransigence and obnoxious behaviour of the shooters has actually had a galvanising effect on the people who watched it. Let’s hope we look back on this as the day that kick-started the next phase of the struggle.

    1. If nothing else, the antics of the ‘feudal relics’ have made me aware of your lovely blog. Every cloud…

      1. Sam’s blog made me smile, excellent. ‘feudal relic’ Alan Two, where’d you get that from!

          1. Absolutely not a criticism Alan Two. Later in that thread I very unwisely got into a spat with another commenter. Roundly told off by Martin Harper and Mike Whitehouse (whose comments I respect and agree with). Richard.

  6. In terms of raising awareness, I went to the Nature Matters conference back in September, and one of the speakers was street artist – @AtmStreetart on Twitter. He has already pursued a lot of “endangered species” projects, and I know he’s aware of the hen harrier plight but I’m not sure if he’s already featured it in one of his projects. He might be someone to get on board at some stage (if he hasn’t already!)

    1. Sian – there is, or was, a wonderful Hen Harrier on a pill box on the Isle of Sheppey (from memory) thanks to ATM Street Art. And it was good to meet him at Hen Harrier Day at Rainham Marshes.

  7. The way forward has to be an act of civil disobedience. Identify a member of the cabinet who owns a moor and have a peaceful Mass Trespass on it on the 12th so that shooting on that day is disrupted.

    Also seeing if we can attract a rich patron who can afford to engage a PR firm on the campaign’s behalf (a tough one, but a good move if possible). I’d say some fundraising to see if some moorland can be purchased, even if it is only the size of a couple of fields at first, as a safe haven or wildlife friendly attraction.

  8. I am sure that you will have various ideas for the mid to longer term future and a number of suggestions have been put forward above.
    In the immediate aftermath of the debate, though, my suggestion would be a ‘firm de-briefing’ to MPs. I have written to my MP, Chi Onwurah (who did not attend the debate), expressing my disappointment in the poor showing from Labour and also highlighting some of the fallacious arguments the phalanxes of Tory grouse shooting enthusiasts were able to get away with as a result. I believe it would be beneficial if as many supporters of the petition as possible could write to their MPs in follow up to the debate to make clear that we are not satisfied with the poor effort that Parliament has made over this.

  9. Hi,

    I have managed to read through some of the debate from MP’s; no one had really mastered their brief on the opposition side ( I expect nothing from Tories); Kerry McCarthy got a 6/10 and Caroline Lucas a 3/10. Would you be prepared to stand for Parliament ?

    Also can people be encouraged to look at the land rights history of these moors ? The ones I know were enclosed ? I would guess that they were all once Commons ? Is an Enclosure Act to create a Commons National Park an option ? Rewild into a habitate mosaic with responsible keepers for wader assemblage ?

  10. I have, this day, received a letter of response from my M.P. saying that she will pass on my concerns to the Minister…this was my second letter. Bit late for this ! I am going to use this as an opportunity to have a rant to her about the poor and biased way the debate was conducted and about the poor turnout of representatives for our petition. She’s going to hear about the ‘perpetrator’ , the box clickers, the whole chapter and verse. Then I might just feel a bit less angry ?

  11. I drove the same way home from Anglesey yesterday morning and the colours were indeed stunning ! Onwards and upwards and a huge thanks for your hard work Mark.

  12. Whatever we do, we have to have a more unified approach,so that the RSPB can not almost be used against any action. In exchanging views with he RSPB and they are asking what more I think they could do to tackle the issue. This may well not be the people who actually make their decisions, but they must be sensitive to the criticism and hopefully ready to engage in discussions about the way ahead. We are lined up against a strong (well powerful) and united opposition, so we have to be equally as consistent to unify our message. We also need to get the Greens and the Labour party involved, if we are hoping to make any progress with the Parliament route. I also think we need to turn more of our attention to the outlets that sell grouse,as the more of these that we can get to be aware of the issues, the more they may decide to avoid the controversy.

  13. Mark id just like to say THANKS .Just getting it Debated in Parliament is a Massive achievement in itself.And after all the dust settles,you have certainly thrown down the gauntlet ,and after attending the Debate and seeing the behavior of those certain tory MPs, I believe they are truly worried ! And it as made us even more determined now.Those certain tories reminded me of some last remaining Dinosaurs and we all know how that ended !! Onwards and Upwards !

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