The Moorland Imbalance (3)

In their little booklet, the GWCT address five areas that they say are commonly-heard criticisms of driven grouse shooting. This week I’ll deal with each of them.

The GWCT correctly identify this as an area of criticism ‘There is illegal persecution of raptors by grouse moor keepers‘ but go on to use the ‘few bad apples’ defence.

The booklet has a few words, a very few words (but two attractive photographs) about Hen Harriers but the scientific evidence for persecution of other raptors on grouse moors (eg Peregrine Falcons see Linking nest histories, remotely sensed land use data and wildlife crime records to explore the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations Biological Conservation 2012 and here; and Golden Eagles see here) is not mentioned nor referenced. GWCT seem very reluctant to admit to the science that shows the massive scale of illegal persecution of raptors other than Hen Harriers. I can understand why if they see themselves as the PR agency for grouse shooters but it looks like rather shoddy stuff from an organisation that keeps bigging up its scientific credentials.

When it comes to Hen Harriers, the booklet is extremely evasive. It fails to document the scale of the decline of Hen Harriers in recent decades (such as their disappearance from their former stronghold in the Forest of Bowland) and it fails to admit to the virtual absence of breeding Hen Harriers from driven grouse moors across the UK. It fails to mention the fate of tagged Hen Harriers and where they die. And it fails to mention or reference the conservation framework document which shows that the UK has suitable habitat for c2600 pairs of Hen Harrier (and yet only holds c600 pairs) and that England has habitat for c330 pairs of Hen Harrier and yet now has single figures of nesting attempts in recent years.

Instead we are told by GWCT that there could be 82 pairs of Hen Harrier in England without ‘affecting land management’ – by which they seem to mean ‘without inconveniencing the incomes of grouse moor managers too much’ – an astonishing admission in itself since it would mean there would be c40 pairs of Hen Harrier nesting on English grouse moors and this year there were none.

The scale of the absence of this protected bird from the British uplands is impossible to hide but the GWCT make a pretty good, although shameful, attempt.  They fail to reference the RSPB study (using Scottish Raptor Study Group and other data) that did most to nail the impact of illegal persecution of Hen Harriers on grouse moors 20 years ago  (Etheridge, Summers and Green 1997. The effects of illegal killing and destruction of nests by humans on the population dynamics of the Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus in Scotland. JApplEcol 34: 1081-1105) and they fail to refer to or quote from the Natural England progress report on their Hen Harrier study ‘A future for Hen Harriers in England?‘ published in 2008.

The growing number of folk who understand the issues will look at this account with their mouths hanging open in shock.  This is shoddy work indeed. GWCT is an organisation that has lost its way.

The criticism that GWCT must surely have heard is that there is systematic, ruthless and illegal persecution of raptors on grouse moors across the UK and that the grouse shooting industry has had decades to clean up its act, adopt new practices and put its house in order and has completely failed. That ‘claim’ is based on very strong science – this little booklet does nothing to rebut that science. And that’s because it is very strong evidence.

Listen! That is the sound of grouse shooting trembling in its shoes.

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22 Replies to “The Moorland Imbalance (3)”

  1. It appears that they are mixing up their fruit analogies - not so much a few bad apples as cherry-picking the evidence to suit their position.

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    1. Jonathan - no cherry-picking at this end. If you read this publication will find (p38) "it has been shown that illegal culling by gamekeepers can restrict hen harrier numbers on some grouse moors". This is not new. We have been repeating this since 1998. Not much ambiguity there. Sorry.

      Hen harriers are covered (p35-38) and includes:
      - how many there are in the UK
      - number of nests in England
      - hen harriers need the habitat and nest protection game keepers can offer them
      - the proven conflict between driven grouse shooting and birds of prey
      - the scientific work we have been undertaking to try and resolve it

      We believe that it is in the interests of both driven grouse shooting (and the moorland management that comes with it) and raptors - to establish a remedy that supports both. We explain why this is so. Its nothing new or selective.

      Mark failed to share what we actually said (p49) "Such persecution is illegal and the perpetrators should be prosecuted. The fact that some people break the law is not justification for destroying the livelihoods and way of life of their innocent colleagues." It's hardly controversial stuff.

      I hope this helps. Best. Andrew

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      1. Andrew - you are shameless.

        Your 'it has been shown that illegal culling by gamekeepers can restrict hen harrier numbers on some grouse moors' is a very weak and evasive version of the whole truth which is that 'it has been shown that illegal culling by gamekeepers practically eliminates breeding Hen Harriers from UK grouse moors and greatly reduces their population levels away from grouse moors too'.

        Would you like to sign up to that version please?

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      2. Andrew, you really do need to read 'Inglorious' by Dr Mark Avery. It's not too difficult a read and has all the evidence to show that Driven Grouse Shooting and a healthy population of Hen Harriers are mutually exclusive. This is how we know that criminal activity is what is keeping Driven Grouse Shooting going.

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        1. Andrew, I have just been reading the section on the GWCT website entitled 'Hen harrier and red grouse'. Maybe you should re-read it, because it gives the reason to ban driven grouse shooting.

          The answer to the second question ends with.. "Without new kinds of management such as diversionary feeding and brood management, you cannot have viable grouse shooting alongside large numbers of hen harriers."

          Diversionary feeding was shown to be ineffective in the Joint Raptor Study and the idea of brood management is a nonsense...are you suggesting brood management for eagles, goshawks, peregrines, red kites, buzzards and other species persecuted on grouse moors?

          This leaves the only other method of reducing hen harrier numbers..which is to kill them. This, as you know, is illegal.

          Those grouse moors that do not participate in raptor persecution benefit from those that do, or they wouldn't be able to run as a business. Therefore all DGS relies on the illegal persecution of raptors.

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        2. It's a fun read. Agreed. Mark was kind enough to give me a few mentions. Please do not forget, as Mark points out in the first line of his Preface, that his book contains the evidence to support a particular view - it does not even pretend to be a careful analysis of all the evidence.

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          1. Andrew - you poor thing! You seem addicted to misrepresenting the views of others. It's quite difficult to get away with it when the views are written down and can be checked. It's even more difficult to get away with it when you misquote the words of a person on that person's own blog. Come off it!

            You say 'Mark points out in the first line of his Preface, that his book contains the evidence to support a particular view - it does not even pretend to be a careful analysis of all the evidence.'.

            Whereas the Preface actually starts 'This book has a point of view - it sets out the case for ending driven grouse shooting in our uplands.' and over the page '...describes how I weighed up the evidence both for and against driven grouse shooting, and eventually came down in favour of radical change.'.

            But thanks for providing another example of how poorly, and personally, the GWCT makes its case these days.

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          2. "It's a fun read."Really?

            Although it's an excellent book, which has helped blow the lid off the underhand activities of those involved in DGS, I suggest to you that those who find Inglorious a "fun read" have a decidedly warped sense of what fun is. But then, such a mindset is entirely consistent with those who take pleasure in such a cowardly, worthless activity.

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      3. Can't wait for the testimonials, Andrew.

        'Having read The Moorland Imbalance I know realise that my previous opinions were entirely shaped by the raw propaganda perpetuated by the likes of Avery, Packham, RSPB, and the International Comintern. Where once I fretted about the absence of raptors during my walks across Merry England's moorland I know realise I should have merely knocked on the keeper's cottage door where I would have found said gamekeeper, Henry H, and his dear friends Andrew and Amanda having a nice cup of tea and a piece of tiffin'.

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      4. Andrew

        The claim that "it has been shown that illegal culling by gamekeepers can restrict hen harrier numbers on some grouse moors" is simply disingenuous.

        Maybe you will point to which managed grouse moors breeding Hen Harriers thrive on? After all if this just happens on some, then breeding Hen Harriers must be thriving on other grouse moors i.e. the majority.

        "Some" most definitely gives the impression of a minority and there is the tacit impression in your claim that Hen Harriers thrive on most grouse moors, and it is only on the minority, and a small minority at that where they do not. If the tacit premise of your assertion is true, or has any validity at all, then you should be able to give many examples of managed grouse moors where breeding Hen Harriers thrive.

        "Some" is not a synonym of "all" or "most". Yet the failure of breeding Hen Harriers on managed grouse moors, particularly England is almost total. Again you need to give us examples of where breeding Hen Harriers are successful on many managed grouse moors, for your claims to be valid and credible.

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        1. Indeed. Hence, this is a review the scientific evidence not personal opinions. See p37-38. We know that 50% of the suitable harrier habitat in England has no driven grouse shooting yet has few harriers (including nature reserves). This is likely to be a combination of harrier nests being predated, lack of food, disturbance, and possibly failing to have enough birds to settle in an area to make it attractive to others. If these factors are true outside grouse moors some of these they may also be true on grouse moors. It would be wrong to assume otherwise.

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          1. Andrew - pure Gilruthian casuistry at its best (and worst).

            Your little booklet is one of the poorest reviews of science I can recall seeing outside of the petrochemical industry, the tobacco industry or the pesticides industry. Even to pretend this is a proper review of the relevant science is gobsmacking. Which GWCT scientist would like to claim the credit for it please?

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          2. No Andrew you do talk or rather write some complete tommy rot. I would dispute the 50% figure but even if you are correct in that the reason there are almost no harriers breeding in England is because they are so mobile and all or almost all fall victim to the keepers gun as evidenced by the NE sat tagging data when we can all get a proper look at it.
            What about all the vacant Peregrine eyries on grouse moors, the declining shorties, the lack of Goshawks Golden Eagles, and now according to a paper in the latest Scottish birds virtually every thing else declines in the face of modern intensive management except the bloody grouse

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          3. I've previously dealt with this exact same false argument in depth in exchanges with @munro or @monrover, depending where they were commenting.

            Firstly and most importantly all moorland is not equal. The most productive moorland is utilised for driven grouse shooting. Moorland which produces lower numbers of grouse becomes devalued as shooting land. This is the selectivity mechanism by which the most productive moorland is utilised for driven grouse shooting.

            It just so happens that this is the most attractive habitat for Hen Harriers to use for nesting and breeding. In Europe Hen Harriers nest in a far wider range of habitat than in Britain. Indeed they would nest in a far wider range of habitat in Britain if you understand the mechanism by which this happens. Birds such as Hen Harriers which range over long distances first fill their primary choice for nesting. Once these territories are filled, other Hen Harriers have to utilize second choice habitat and so on.

            In other words for Hen Harriers to nest in a wider range of habitats there needs to be a large breeding population successfully rearing lots of young in their first choice habitat. But this is what happens. The most attractive habitat for nesting Hen Harriers is utilised for grouse shooting. The Hen Harriers try to nest, and either their nests are destroyed by shoot managers or the adults are killed. Therefore these managed grouse moors act like a sink, luring in Hen Harriers attempting to nest, but which never succeed because the shoot managers are actively persecuting them. This is why nesting attempts never spread to second choice habitat.

            There are after all plenty of attempted nesting by Hen Harriers on managed grouse moors, but they all mysteriously fail, year in, year out, with absolute consistency.

            Apologists for shooting like to point to Bob McMillan's study of breeding Hen Harriers on Skye between 2000-2012. Out of 88 breeding attempts 47 failed, mainly it was thought because of predation. However, as always the shooting apologists cherry pick. They highlight the breeding attempts which failed, not the ones that succeeded in breeding i.e. with random natural factors a significant number of breeding attempts succeed (shooting apologists only cherry pick Fox predation, and refuse to acknowledge the other implications). Foxes were thought to be the reason for the majority of nesting attempt failures.

            But here's the thing, Foxes are controlled on managed grouse shoots, so the chance of Hen Harrier nesting attempts failing because of Fox predation should be much lower. Yet, bizarrely the Hen Harrier nesting attempts fail year in, year out with complete consistency on managed grouse moors. If this was just due to the random effects you posit, you would expect breeding success as well as failures. It is the none random pattern of failures which tells us beyond any shadow of a doubt, that it is due to persecution, not the random factors you suggest.

            Do you really think we are that stupid to accept the hypothesis you posit, that it is simply down to decades of bad luck that all the breeding attempts by Hen Harriers on grouse moors fail? Do you realise just how improbable this is?

            There is also good reason to believe that the persecution by shooting interests is getting more organized, with shooting interests killing them on known Hen Harrier roosts, and quite likely targeting nests outside the property of these managed grouse moors.

            I notice you completely evaded my challenge to provide examples of managed driven grouse shoots where breeding Hen Harriers thrive. Only this would justify your deceptive use of the term "some". Can it really be just incredible bad luck that Hen Harriers never breed successfully, year in year out on managed grouse moors? How did they ever survive as a species for 1000s years if this was the case? And why do Hen Harriers and their close cousin the Northern Harrier manage to breed successfully, in the absence of managed grouse moors in other countries?

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    2. Cherry-picking is a noble pursuit embedded in the post-normal science that underpins all policy matters especially where views are polarised. Without it nothing would ever get done, however desirable that might be. It is the favoured technique of the Framing profession, formerly known as Spin-Doctoring, lying by omission, etc, re-framed to distance itself from the ignominy of the past

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  2. "it has been shown that illegal culling by gamekeepers can restrict hen harrier numbers on some grouse moors"...

    "Can"?!

    How about "does" or "is restricting"?

    "Some"?!

    How about "most"?

    Mealy-mouthed tweed-wash fooling nobody except those who wish to be fooled.

    PS Hen harriers "need the habitat and nest protection game keepers can offer them"...

    Astonishing how they ever survived without game keepers isn't it? Are there many game keepers in the western isles?

    PPS Any thoughts on the omission to mention persecution of golden eagles and peregrines amongst others Andrew?

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  3. No, the truth is that illegal culling has not restricted Hen Harriers in England - it has made them effectively extinct and it is not a question of bad apples casting a slur on all the good gamekeepers - as things stand, every single Grouse Moor and every single Grouse keeper is implicated, because if they are not acting illegally themselves they are benefitting from the actions of others and the crocodile tears shed in public do nothing to mitigate that complicity.

    What nests are keepers protecting in England, I's also be interested to know ? That Hen Harriers can breed very successfully in a vole year was demonstrated by the FC in Kielder this year, also demonstrating what can be achieved when Harriers aren't persecuted. I worked out that those 3 pairs of Hen Harriers could probably re-populate the whole of the 300 potential territories in England in just 10 years were persecution removed.

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  4. More drivel from AG

    "hen harriers need the habitat and nest protection game keepers can offer them"

    Er, no they don't. As every informed reader of this blog is well aware, Hen Harriers have remained extant for millennia, in the presence of a full suite of potential predators, without human intervention, and still do so in other parts of their global range.

    As for any perceived benefits to other species: Well, Himalayan Balsam seems great for bees. So let's ignore all the wider impacts, and encourage its spread throughout the land!

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  5. " Hen harriers need the habitat and nest protection game keepers can offer them".So on that score the game-keepers are doing a terrible job as there aren't any!They do need the habitat, but the protection they need is protection from the gamekeepers! If there really was a defence, it would be come and see all the Hen Harriers on our moors.

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