Grouse shooters’ survey

You may remember that last year the likes of Ian Botham and the not-so-talented Viscount Ridley were using an unpublished ‘survey’ to prop up their view that grouse shooting is great for wildlife.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  That ‘study’ is still unpublished – what was vaunted a year ago is still invisible.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.

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6 Replies to “Grouse shooters’ survey”

  1. "Preliminary report to the funders" - we all know what that means: unless the research gives the shooters the results they want it will not see the light of day. If it says what they want, very few in the conservation movement will trust its findings as it is not independently funded.

    A waste of time and money.

  2. I find this the most difficult thing to explain to 'countrymen' - an anecdote does not equal data.

  3. A scientific paper is not valid until it has been peer reviewed and published for critical examination as far as I am concerned. So quoting from work that is still in progress is meaningless.

  4. I will withhold judgement on this research until it is published but it is a truth self-evident that not all land uses or landscapes will sustain equal biodiversity. While a grouse moor may (through the extensive use of predator control) support artificially high numbers of red grouse and some other bird species (although notably of course, not raptors) it will never compete with the forest that would naturally cover that land without the management regime of grazing and burning in terms of invertebrate, plant, fungal or even bird and mammal diversity. Just the fact of a forest's more three dimensional structure offers far more niches and so supports far more species. Bioblitz on a grouse moor anyone? (tip: bring something to read)

  5. DGS supporters remind me of neo-conservative US Christians who vehemently try to deny evolution. They become desperate and depressed in the face of the mountains of evidence that continue to accumulate as the scientific community builds it up, until a straw is offered to clutch at, be it intelligent design, micro evolution, etc, when they leap into action to grasp it and proudly flout it to everyone, just to be destroyed again with hard logic.


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