A fun evening in Chesterfield

Yesterday evening I headed off to Chesterfield to talk to a local group of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. It was a fun evening and it’s good to talk in or near upland areas where the issues are local ones.  There was a good turn out of people and I was speaking in a church hall that is being used as a place of worship while the church itself is renovated – so there was an altar and a large Christ on a cross behind me as I spoke.

I gave my usual talk but from the start it was obvious that the audience was swelled by a band of gamekeepers from the local Peak District estates (Strines, Moscar, Broomhead, Snailsden, Park Hall and Hope Woodlands and Crag I’m told).  They arrived and left on a couple of minibuses so I hope they enjoyed their evening out when they could have been watching the footie on TV.  I was delighted to realise that quite a few of these ‘keepers read this blog although they clearly don’t agree with all of it. And they don’t appear to read it quite carefully enough as several of them told me that I have written things here on this blog which I never have – it’s all there in the public domain still, so, lads, have another read.

I’ve spoken in a room with gamekeepers many times – I don’t change my talk, I give essentially the same talk every time – and I said to these lads that I’d be happy to come and talk to them all at a gamekeepers’ meeting if they’d like. I wonder whether they will take up the offer. I did say that I might want to bring a friend!

But when I know that gamekeepers are in the audience I look them in the eye at particular moments in the talk – particularly when talking about bird of prey persecution. It’s always very interesting how many of them look away at those moments, even the ones who have looked quite confident of themselves as they come into the room.  They won’t meet my gaze.

It seemed like a great opportunity to get the other side of the argument out to the audience and the leader of the pack, a land agent who didn’t wish to be identified, but whom I’ve emailed today, said a few words at the end although he wasn’t helped by the fact that some of the ‘keepers wanted to shout out their own points so it all got a bit disorganised.

But Mr Land Agent had his say and asked me difficult questions like whether I cared about Lapwing.  He was essentially using the GWCT bluffers’ guide to grouse shooting discussions which I will be covering in quite some detail next week so I’ll leave most of my discussion until then.

But as many of the audience, the non-gamekeeping part of the audience, pointed out, Mr Land Agent did not attempt to deny the fact of widespread raptor persecution on driven grouse moors.  He had the opportunity but he chose not to bother. Rather telling that, I’d say. A hobby of killing birds for fun which depends on wildlife crime in order to survive in anything like its current form is doomed and does not deserve a place in our society in future.  And that makes the demise of driven grouse shooting inevitable – and I think the grouse shooting industry realises that full well.

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  1. nimby says:

    So a far cry from the reception / treatment received by Simon Lister (ex-Head Keeper Langholm Moor) when he was a panel member at Bird Fair debate 2016?

    Such behaviour does their case no favours IMHO but we might be charitable and consider that it's the level of toxic lead residue in their grouse burgers or pheasant casserole perhaps?

    • Mark says:

      nimby - I'm not complaining, I'm attacking their industry and I'm not surprised they want their say.

      • nimby says:

        I didn't think for one moment you were Mark. I realise and appreciate that you were probably aware of the likely 'mix' you would be addressing & you're more than [IMHO] a match for their entrenched attitude.

        They ignore, they laugh, they send spin bowler the next chapter is being written ....

  2. Carole says:

    You are obviously getting them rattled! Let's hope some of the gamekeepers absorbed what you had to say and will think about it later and maybe start to see the error of their ways. Interesting that they only felt safe with 2 minibus loads.

    • nimby says:

      To be sure Carole

      Read some of the pieces in the August edition of BASC Shooting and Conservation magazine (Insight by Peter Glenser, Getting our message across by Conor O'Gorman , How grouse shooting benefits conservation by Ian Danby and Leading Questions by Matt Ellis are a few examples). Setting aside selective stance, to be expected the tone in these articles is very telling.

      For sure they're rattled ....

    • Mark says:

      Carole - there were some, a few, pensive looks.

  3. Bob Berzins says:

    I think it was Nicholas Soames in the Westminster DGS debate who said gamekeepers are the unsung heroes of conservation. I'm sure many people have now seen the HIT videos of the Moscar keepers in action. Wonder how many would agree the Right Hon Gentleman?

    • nimby says:

      When a complaint was made about the Rt Hon. Sir his Party Leader had to admit that he had no control on his back benchers, very telling perhaps?

      Honourable, I think perhaps not given his comments about conservation champion Chris Packham? Evidence of his true nature?

      I am still somewhat perplexed how it was that Gov.UK petitions require 100k signatures to secure a debate yet the defend grouse shooting received around 25k and they got an invite to the debate and worse still a disproportionate time allocation. Democracy or Parliamentary farce?

      • Jonathan Wallace says:

        I don't think there is anything sinister about that. If you hold a 'debate' about something it is usual (and good) practice to involve speakers on both sides of the question being debated. It would have been entirely appropriate for defenders of grouse shooting to have presented their case at the debate even if there had been no petition at all in favour of grouse shooting.
        The fact that the evidence presented by the supporters of grouse shooting was flawed or misleading was not the fault of the committee hosting the debate - it was the job of Mark and Jeff Knott to present a better case and point out the flaws in their opponents case (which I think they did pretty well) and then for the debating MPs to weigh up the evidence presented by the two sides (which they did an awful job of). The biggest shame as far as I am concerned is that, while Tory supporters of shooting turned up in force (as they were entitled to do) Labour barely showed up despite a manifesto claim to being "opposed to all forms of animal cruelty and damage to environment".

  4. Ian Carter says:

    I actually feel sorry for the keepers (some of them anyway). The family home normally comes with the job and I think it's made very clear what is expected of them, usually by people with power and not always known for their tolerance. Can you imagine a keeper having to explain why his beat still has hen harriers and peregrines? It would take a brave individual willing to put principles before well-being and employment prospects. They need the protection of vicarious liability as much as the birds of prey.

    • Mark says:

      Ian - I know what you mean and I feel that too - a bit. But how many 'keepers have ever broken out of that trap, or even looked like they wanted to do so? The NGO have always acted like they do what their masters require rather than what is in their members' long term interest, IMHO.

    • Palustre says:

      I don't agree Ian. I think your view was my starting point too (I think it is my lefty liberal default) but then I realised; if my boss asked me to break the law and commit a wildlife crime, I would not do it, even if that decision put my job on the line. Furthermore, if my 'industry' could only be viable when propped up by wildlife crime, I expect I would notice early in my career / training and seek another career path, perhaps toward keepering of a more progressive moor (they do exist, e.g Glen Tanar in Deeside) or a walked up moor or, heaven forbid, into wildlife conservation (there are many transferable skills). I reserve my sympathy for those 'keepers who have been forced to change their career path / move their home because they are decent and don't want to break the law, not for those who take the easy option of 'following orders'. Ian, if your boss asked you to kill birds of prey or you would lose your job, what would you do?

      • Mark says:

        Palustre - welcome and thank you for your comment.

      • Ian Carter says:

        Palustre - I guess we all like to think we'd do the right thing. But if my kids were settled in the local school, the family were happy in the house they'd lived in for years, the chances of employment in conservation were not great, and I was already used to lots of legal killing of other animals then I'm really not sure. I don't believe for one minute that all upland keepers happen to be afflicted with a deep character flaw that causes them to start blasting away at raptors. It is surely more about the appalling system they find themselves in, run by a far smaller number of people (who probably do have some deep character flaws).

    • Mairi says:

      Having lived in 'tied-cottages' in the distant past, I can say it is possible to leave the system if you are determined to do so. It is a system that should be out-lawed.

      • Dennis Ames says:

        Mairi,of course it should not be outlawed it fulfils a very good purpose on many farms where it is important that livestock workers are close to the animals in their charge so any emergency can be dealt with as well as those workers not having to travel long distances early in the morning.

        • Mairi says:

          In an ideal world, I would agree with you, Dennis, and I'm sure there are many instances where the system works well, probably mostly in the farming industry - with responsible, just employers and equally good employees. However, for many reasons that would take too long here, the system itself is outdated and often under the control of todays equivalent of a liege lord!

          • Random22 says:

            It is one of the reasons that the farmers in the east of England cannot get British people to work for them, most of them insist that their pickers live in tied accommodation (caravans and bunkhouses) because it prevents workers complaining and it means they can rake back up to 90% of the wages in "rent". Transient workers, who can go back home in the off season to somewhere with much cheaper living costs, can put up with it but people who live in this country full time need their own home and wages liveable on in the UK. It is a giant scam.

        • Random22 says:

          The farmers could rent the cottage out independently to the workers if needed. That would remove a lot, but not all, of the power imbalance. I'm sure you know this already. Insisting on workers living in tied accommodation is an attitude for the past, not the future.

          • Dennis Ames says:

            That is all absolute rubbish,the whole point of tied cottage is.
            No rent ever paid.
            The worker benefits as well as farmer by living on the job.
            Today's farmers are nothing like a liege lord.
            It is in fact the only solution on livestock farms,can you imagine the uproar from general public if a animal needing attention had to endure pain for twelve hours because tied cottages were done away with.
            I lived in tied cottage for ten years very satisfactorily and so speak from experience.
            It is important to tell the truth and not write things that you obviously know nothing about and get other people believing things completely wrong.
            Repeat the whole idea of tied cottages is that the worker benefits as no rent paid and farmer gains from worker close in case of being needed for livestock emergency,of course many other benefits and in today's world do you really think owners of tied cottages can do anything underhand with the strength of unions.You must be joking thinking like that on a blog which often proudly shows a member of Labour party card.

  5. Trapit says:

    It's a shame the venue could not have remained open another half hour.
    The land manager, although trying to cover a number of issues, and obviously hoping to speak for the many, took most of the allotted time for questions. This I feel led to some of the frustration felt by a number of keepers , in not getting their points across, well not before close of proceedings anyway.
    Maybe a series of meetings geared more to,and allowing time for, discussion would be a good idea.

    • Mark says:

      Trapit - Mr Land Agent had a generous amount of time given that he, and others, had come to a talk by me, not a debate. I'll happily come back to the Peak District to talk to a room full of gamekeepers as I told them at the end of the event, which seemed to surprise them rather a lot.

      • Gerard Hobley says:

        I wasn't party to all the conversation at the end. The land agent's obvious hostility always looked spiteful in the face of calm and reasoned discussion. I think there were some people coming across as quite aggressive too. I would also like to think that some of the gamekeepers there were amenable to an honest debate on the subjects raised, superficially it looked that way to me.

        If you want I'll go to a meeting with you, with the gamekeepers although I find it difficult to keep my mouth shut sometimes.

  6. Coop says:

    Apologies to those who might find my references to facebook tiresome, but I'm a firm believer that falsehoods from the DGS lobby should be exposed at every opportunity, and I'm sure some of you may find this amusing.

    The latest pearl comes from an individual who attempted to use the recent pair of Manx Hen Harriers in an inept effort to deny illegal persecution:

    "Why do you keep blaming keepers - these two were tagged on a isle of man grouse moor and died of starvation! Nothing to do with shooting or gamekeepers"

    "The important point with regards to the two Manx birds is that these tags (in the absence of interference) continue to transmit after death. Thus enabling recovery of the carcass. However, a significant number have, without warning, ceased transmitting after the locations of the final transmissions were logged. Are we to take it as simple coincidence that these locations are areas managed for driven grouse shooting? Essential reading...


    "Not definitive in the least and with positive bias"

    "We could argue all day as to the definitive nature of the above report, Mr -----. Would you like to see more examples from the significant amount of available evidence?"

    " What like this ---- ------? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cumbria-36367964"

    " I'm at a loss to understand how your last post has any relevance to the subject at hand, Mr -----. Would you mind explaining your thinking?"

    " Its very simple. Many people constantly blame gamekeepers and countryfolk for the issue of raptor survival, when actually they need to realise that the majority is down to vermin, corvids and starvation. Every time a tagged bird goes missing they blame grouse moor management and when the birds turn up the forget to mention it And if they die of natural causes that fails to get a mention also. The reason for the magpie/osprey post is simple. The rspb had this happen on their reserve and filmed with their own nest cams!"

    " My thanks for the swift reply, Mr -----. Unfortunately, you seem to have little understanding of the issue being discussed, or the facts pertaining to it. The above is a perfectly natural occurrence, which has nothing whatsoever to do with raptor persecution on driven grouse moors. Nobody is stupid enough to deny that wild animals die as a result of natural causes, but illegal persecution is a fact, and no amount of denial, divertion and obfuscation from the DGS lobby can hide the truth.

    You claim that:

    "Every time a tagged bird goes missing they blame grouse moor management and when the birds turn up the (sic) forget to mention it And if they die of natural causes that fails to get a mention also."

    To my knowledge, this has happened once, and the RSPB swiftly publicised the fact. Furthermore, it did not make any accusations regarding the missing bird at all. Also, you yourself have attempted to use the news item regarding the Manx Hen Harriers, which died of natural causes, yet you now claim that it "fails to get a mention".

    If you bothered to read the report on Scottish-tagged Golden Eagles, you will be aware that the tags used (and I repeat myself here) continue to transmit after death (just as they did in the case of the Manx birds), yet many mysteriously cease transmitting when in the environs of driven grouse moors, and no carcasses are ever found. The correlation is clear for all to see!
    It's historical, well-documented fact that gamekeepers in the DGS "industry" routinely and legally persecuted raptors until 1954. It's also well-documented that illegal persecution has continued throughout the interim period, and has driven the near extinction of Hen Harrier as an English breeding species, while severely restricting the species' population in Scotland.

    " In the U.K., a full recovery of Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus breeding numbers is prevented by illegal culling by some gamekeepers who fear the species threatens the future of grouse moors."

    Who made this statement? Non other than the late Dick Potts, the head of the Game Conservancy Trust in 1998. I suggest that you undertake some research into the issue, which (hopefully) might, further your understanding. I'll post a few links (one by one, as facebook doesn't seem to like multiples in the same post) which illustrate the scale of the problem."

    I shan't bother you with all the links here, folks. No doubt you've read them already. We continue..

    " ---- ------ you know it and I know it - Chris packham et al constantly blame keepers when they have little if any evidence - there is always a rotten apple but these are few and far between. Yes I retweeted the FACT that two missing hen harriers were found to have died of natural causes because YOU and OTHERS seemingly fail to do so, it provides factual balance to the bias and rhetoric that is oft spouted. Is everything that I have posted FACT - yes indeed"

    "There is a large pile of evidence right in front of you, Mr -----, if you bother to read it. All your "retweet" does is show how reliable the tags in question are, even when immersed for several hours. Which is contrary to the desperate claims from the DGS lobby that these birds are disappearing due to tag malfunction. You are, indeed "hoisted by your own petard".

    This is the level of idiocy within the DGS ranks. They don't even feel it when they shoot themselves in the foot! 😉

    • Les Wallace says:

      You're absolutely right, my favourite was the ex gamekeeper who now makes field sports videos who on one of his own claimed the RSPB were bad land managers as could be seen from their management of the Mars Lodge Estate..a serious criticism indeed as the Mars Lodge Estate is actually run by the National trust for Scotland. I never lose an opportunity to remind him of that.

      • Coop says:

        Breathtaking, ain't it, Les? It took me quite a time to reply to the Osprey "evidence", because I was flabbergasted that someone could be quite that stupid! Feel free to chip in here...


      • Al Woodcock says:

        The same ex Gamekeeper is claiming on his FB, that when he turned up at one of the HH days, his presence made people change their speeches and he spoiled the whole event. However, someone on Twitter shortly after the HH day, asked him why he looked so scared when he turned up. I know which version I believe.

        • Les Wallace says:

          Well I was there and he certainly didn't make people change their speeches or indeed spoil the day which was very enjoyable. I did hear him mutter something like 'this place is dead' - which was certainly not true. The scary thing is that there will be people taken in by this or want to believe it. The same guy did a video on the supposed wildlife value of grouse moors in which the near deafening level of wader calls was almost certainly dubbed on. He also posted a comment on a wildlife rescue centre in South Wales that, temporarily I assume, mistook a juvenile cuckoo for a kestrel. A group of people volunteering to help injured wildlife, a very difficult thing on several levels, and they get ridiculed by a nasty piece of work. It was then that I started to despise him and it was no surprise when he later encouraged the harassment of a noted raptor worker. Yet he has a good number of FB friends and many in his community look up to him. If only the general public knew what many of these people are really like they'd be finished.

  7. Gerard Hobley says:

    It's interesting isn't it. I was going to get up and say something at that meeting, about how in my 20's in rural North Shropshire, amongst the people who I lived with, drink driving was pretty much the norm. Personally I would not drink drive but there were very many people that did. I'd bet a large sum of cash, If I was there now there would be far, far fewer people drink driving and what has changed? Public opinion.

    Things change and we live with it. If you come from virtually any community in the UK, nowadays change is pretty much the only constant.

    I still think it's a problem with elites, not accepting that they have to live with change.

  8. Jim Clarke says:

    Actually I know of one such moorland manager locally, Ian and Mark. There was a very decent Hen harrier roost present on the land he managed for many years. Then new management came into the area (back to Peak Malpractice again https://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/PeakMalpractice_tcm9-132666.pdf and the usual names) and he got his marching orders. Goodbye to the harriers along with all the neighbourhood's Goshawks (in that particular area there were typically around 9 pairs present) and there has been no significant improvement to this day.

  9. Stewart Abbott says:

    As one of the organisers of Marks talk I was surprised at first that so many keepers turned up. But on reflection at some point as DGS gets closer to a ban keepers will feel they have to come out and defend themselves. No one would blame them for that. It is a shame that the evening couldn't go on a little longer but we had only booked the church hall until 9:30. As Mark says it was a talk not a debate. If there is enough interest maybe a debate could be arranged & if people were happy to pay an entrance fee I would be happy to look into organising one. I have set up an email account at dgsdebate2018@gmail.com If anyone is interested and numbers are good enough I will start the ball rolling. Plus if anyone is interested in helping with the event, if it happens, get in touch.

    • Mark says:

      Stewart - good idea. I'm up for that.

      • Stewart Abbott says:

        Well that's 2 of us then Mark.
        Any chance of putting something on your blog asking interested party's to contact me on the dgsdebate2018@gmail.com address?
        Also if they could indicate which side of the debate they are on so I could keep numbers even.

  10. nimby says:


    Would need a strong independent person to chair to ensure balance and fairness to all interested in a response to a question asked. Might also require people attending to agree to a code of conduct or behaviour otherwise may be asked to leave?

    Might consider offering a few questions pre-submitted to start the debate?

    Issue with charging people might be that they feel that it may confer entitlement? Perhaps consider sponsorship or crowd funding?

    Potential panel members? Maybe the land agent might be happy facing questions from the floor? It would be good to invite Michael Gove, ok unlikely to accept but if don't ask etc. He may send a deputy, someone from Defra?

    Just a few initial thoughts:)

    • Stewart Abbott says:

      Thank you for your thoughts, totally agree with your ideas.

      The idea of charging would be purely to cover the fee for the venue plus maybe a few other small costs. but I would certainly keep it as low as possible.

      It's still very early yet so let's see if I get any takers and we'll go from there.

  11. nimby says:

    Experience in my area shows that if someone does the 'admin' work (notably arranging insurance, risk assessment as well as booking venue etc.) folk will turn up if there's enough 'marketing' & social media promotion especially twitter which is great for spreading the word.

    Payment on the day will not provide assurance you have enough to fund venue hire & folk seem reluctant to commit in advance.

    As you say, see what feedback you get?

  12. Les Wallace says:

    Ten years ago I was a volunteer for WWF Scotland. I remember at a big meeting to talk about volunteering the co-ordinator told us that they had stopped attending game fairs due to the dogs abuse the volunteers on the stalls were subjected too. Maybe paid staff would have been expected to put up with a bit more than volunteers were, but even so it must have been really bad, being at any stall runs the risk of taking abuse from someone. A great, great pity as I would have dearly loved an opportunity for one to one discussion with the other side - the conservation sector is always the one that is labelled as not wanting to talk when it's actually the other way round, the other side's idea of discussion is for everyone else to do and believe what they say. Good for you Mark looking them in the eye.

    • Paul says:

      Yes, I particularly liked Mark's account of their reaction when he looked them in the eye. Says it all really...
      I despise them, probably isn't a helpful emotion but there it is...

  13. Trapit says:

    I'll chuck twenty quid in Stewart.

  14. john miles says:

    There is one thing asking the keepers to come over the fence with their information about killings but what about folk on this side of the fence. I am sure we would not be in this position if certain staff of NE gave the information every one is waiting for on the dead satellite tagged harriers. Sure they might loose their jobs just like the keepers but their work for protecting the harriers would/could allow them a job with another organisation. Even the keepers could get a job with some of these organisations as there seems to be so much killing going on these days on reserves!

  15. Alick Simmons says:


    You should do it. On their turf but with 'rules of engagement' agreed beforehand. I know you will remain objective, calm and factual. It is to be seen whether the other side can manage that. Either way, it can only do good.

  16. Robert says:

    This site has no real knowledge of wildlife nor country people.

  17. Trapit says:

    Quite a few " country people" contribute, Robert.


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