You may remember that last year the likes of Ian Botham and the not-so-talented Viscount Ridley were using an unpublished ‘survey’ to prop up their view that grouse shooting is great for wildlife. At the time, Matt Ridley refused to disclose the data on which he based his claim with ‘It was a privately commissioned survey and I saw it on condition that I do not disclose where.’. That ‘study’ is still unpublished – what was vaunted a year ago is still invisible.
This year, the same tactic of quoting a ‘survey’ that the public can’t see was used. In Ian Botham’s unpleasant article in the Mail on Sunday the second paragraph was ‘Research by scientists at Newcastle and Durham universities suggests that grouse moors are not the ecological deserts some campaigners claim them to be, but are teeming with endangered birds.‘. Well, we should all read that.
But when a reader of this blog contacted Newcastle University they received this prompt reply ‘Many thanks for your email and interest in our work. The research is ongoing and we will be producing a final report in due course and submitting a paper to a scientific journal, hopefully early next year. The media coverage was based on a Preliminary Report to the funders of the work, so at present I’m afraid that there is no publication in the public domain.’
So, there is no publication or even a summary available to the world, and it will be a long time before this research will be published, if it ever will (who knows, on past performance, although this time there are real academics involved?). I somehow doubt that the study contains the words ‘grouse moors…are teeming with endangered birds’ though existing studies (notably Tharme et al, 2001) show that some species of wading bird are commoner on grouse moors and other bird species are less abundant. Oh yes, and Red Grouse are commoner on grouse moors too. If that is what this study comes up with then it won’t be a great surprise. I’ll be interested to see what it says about Black Grouse numbers and raptor numbers (such as – were there any? and which species?) but obviously we’re going to have to wait a while.
If the study looks only at grouse moors then it won’t tell us very much, but if it tackles comparisons between grouse moors and other moors then it faces a scientific difficulty of matching both types of site for other variables such as location, altitude, topography, surrounding woodland area, soil type etc – that’s always a bit tricky. It’s not an easy comparison to make. Let’s hope that this study has a large sample of sites spread randomly across moorland areas.
This use of secret reports which cannot be seen, evaluated or criticised by others is a shabby tactic by an ever more-desperate grouse shooting industry. The academics involved have been put in a very difficult position by their paymasters. Do they sit silently by as their research is interpreted correctly, or perhaps incorrectly, in the media when the analysis is not even finished, no paper has been submitted for publication, and long before the data are in the public domain? Why did they not ensure that the funders signed a no-publicity clause to cover the work until it was fully and properly analysed, written up and published?
And see a blog posted today by Raptor Persecution UK where our old friend Magnus Linklater ( see The raptor haters? – Magnus Linklater, August 2012 and his guest blog here also in August 2012 (which attracted nearly 200 comments) but also his review of Inglorious in The Times) is caught out again in a similar way.