Dr Coffey – do the right thing

Therese Coffey

Dr Therese Coffey is the junior minister in Defra and some time fairly soon will be asked to sign off a government response to Gavin Gamble’s e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting assuming that it passes 10,000 signatures (which it will).

Dr Coffey closed the debate on grouse shooting almost a year ago in a very poor manner. She blatantly ignored the widespread existence of wildlife crime on grouse moors and sent a strong signal to the wildlife criminals that the government, yes the government, was turning a blind eye to criminality and that she as biodiversity minister was turning a blind eye to the killing of protected wildlife. As I say, it was shameful.

This is the type of hubris that governments and politicians exhibit when they believe that they are so secure in their jobs that they can get away with anything, however crass and however much it flies in the face of the evidence.  But things have changed greatly in the last 12 months.

For one thing, the last general election removed any thought that the Labour Party was dead and buried and it showed that a similar act of hubris, talking up fox hunting, hurt the Conservatives in the ballot box.

For another thing, we have a new Secretary of State at Defra who has already moved on ivory sales and penalties for animal cruelty – Michael Gove won’t see grouse shooting as a vote winner for his party and he won’t see why his department should be so aligned with wildlife crime as previous ministers have allowed it to be.  We’ve also seen the Minister of State in Defra, George Eustice, trailing the possibility that post-Brexit grouse moors should not receive agricultural support in our future farming policy. And whereas the lines in the Bluffer’s Guide to Moorland Imbalance were seen to be useful tactically a year ago they are now more generally seen as hopeless, wrong and a liability (see here just for examples).  An air of electoral, economic and environmental realism might just be blowing through the Defra corridors – it’s not quite an Ophelia yet, but keep signing Gavin Gamble’s e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and the chill breeze will strengthen.

But also, and this comes as no surprise, the killing of birds of prey has continued apparently unabated in the past year.  The results of the 2016 Hen Harrier survey show a decline in numbers in all parts of the UK but more importantly there were, again, no Hen Harriers nesting on English grouse moors and only 7 pairs (3 of which were successful) in the whole of England and yet the Defra response was wholly complacent. To say that the Defra Hen Harrier Inaction Plan has been a massive failure is to give it more credit than it deserves. Did I, and other, tell you so?  Yes, we did. And then yesterday North Yorkshire Police were hunting for a missing satellite-tagged Hen Harrier on grouse moors in the Yorkshire Dales National Park to add to the very long list of ‘the disappeared’.

Rory Stewart signed off the previous two government responses to e-petitions on banning grouse shooting – and they were utterly hopeless (see here and here). They stoked up resentment and public determination to sort out grouse shooting and helped to lower Defra’s reputation as a serious government department even further. Dr Coffey could begin to put that right and she should start her civil servants thinking about that right now.  Does the Conservative Party want their mindless and unquestioning support for a rich person’s hobby which is underpinned by wildlife crime to be an election issue whenever the next general election will come? If not, then do something to defuse the situation now because I predict that Labour will be on this subject soon and the ‘Rich toffs’ hobby floods your home‘ and ‘Public pays wildlife criminals to trash National Parks‘ headlines won’t necessarily go down that well anywhere in the country but will certainly endanger Calder Valley, Pendle, Morecambe and Lunesdale, Rossendale and Darwen and the seat of the former Chief Exec of the Countryside Alliance in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, Simon Hart.  But aside from electoral self interest, surely Dr Coffey wants to do the right thing for the public even if it means losing the braying approval of some of her more antediluvian MPs.

And to help Dr Coffey, this blog will provide her with some reminders of the issues over the next few weeks before the government response emerges – we haven’t got to 10,000 signatures yet after all.  Blogs will be entitled ‘Dr Coffey’s reading list’ and there may be quite a few of them.

Once Defra civil servants and Dr Coffey have reminded themselves of the issues then here is a short list of ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s for her to smarten up Defra’s act -and for which this blog and others will praise her:

The government response should:

  • be published within 2 weeks of Gavin Gamble’s e-petition reaching 10,000 signatures
  • announce that vicarious liability for wildlife crimes will be introduced in England because of the unacceptably high levels of wildlife crime
  • announce that Defra will ask the RSPB to come forward with proposals for licensing of shooting estates within a month and that Defra will respond to them by Christmas
  • acknowledge the level of concern about driven grouse shooting which led to 123,077 signatures being gained last year for an absolute ban on this hobby (I’m not expecting Dr Coffey to say anything nicer than that about a ban)
  • confirm that Defra is looking at removal of farming subsidies from grouse moors in its post-Brexit agricultural strategy
  • confirm that the evidence for wider environmental damage of heather burning has increased recently and that this is an issue that government will address and that this will require widespread changes to grouse moor management (burning and draining)
  • mention where the government is with dealing with the RSPB complaint to the EU over unsustainable moorland management due to grouse shooting practices
  • acknowledge that the plight of the Hen Harrier has not improved in two breeding seasons since the Defra Hen Harrier plan was launched and that the grouse shooting industry has not cleaned up its act and is on a last warning
  • announce that the details of the 15-year Natural England Hen Harrier study will be published by Christmas 2017 in a government report with further recommendations for Hen Harrier conservation
  • acknowledge that wildlife crime applies to many other protected species other than the Hen Harrier
  • announce that the National Capital Committee has been asked to compile a report on ecosystem services and grouse moor management
  • announce a review of the economic costs and benefits of intensive grouse moor management will be carried out by independent academics and published by Christmas 2018.

The government response should not:

  • say that funding of the NWCU is a sufficient response to combatting bird of prey persecution in the uplands (because nobody who knows has ever suggested such a thing)
  • say or suggest that grouse shooting provides a nett economic benefit to the nation (because there are no such figures)
  • suggest that the current Hen Harrier Action Plan is remotely fit for purpose
  • praise gamekeepers
  • conflate benefits of all shooting (economic or environmental) with benefits of grouse shooting (because it makes the government department and/or its ministers look either stupid or biased)



26 Replies to “Dr Coffey – do the right thing”

      1. Very well, “Avery”: at least use the correct diacritical marks within the Minister’s name. And if you wish to be picky, you missed a comma from your last reply.

        1. Weavers – did you phone a friend? I’ll assume you agree with all the points made and that’s why you resorted to failing to pick a nit otherwise.

          1. We just need Andy “AR” Richardson to rock up and then we’ll have both Weavers and Butthead.

          2. I’m not sure what point Mr Weavers is trying to make here. If he’s referring to the absence of a full stop after Dr, he might be interested in the following (from the online EnglishForums):
            “In British English it is not necessary to indicate an abbreviation with a full stop (period) after the abbreviation when the last letter of the abbreviation is the same as the unabbreviated word, while the opposite holds true in North American English. This means that while the abbreviation of Doctor is usually written as “Dr” in most of the Commonwealth, it is usually written as “Dr.” in North America.”
            If he’s moaning about the absence of accents in her name, he might also look at her official website, where her first name is printed at least 6 times on the home page without any accents. It clearly isn’t something that worries her greatly – but some people’s minds are smaller than others.
            Apologies to all if he was talking about something quite different.

        2. “I’m not sure what point Mr Weavers is trying to make here. If he’s referring to the absence of a full stop after Dr,…”

          He’s not – he’s referring to the accents over the two ‘e’s in her name. I can’t imagine she is terribly bothered by the omission – it must happen very often given that producing them on an English language keyboard is something of a faff.

          Since Mr Weavers found only this trivial detail to object to I assume that he is otherwise in full agreement with the substance of the post.

          PS I love his “if you wish to be picky” in his final comment; kettle? pot? black?

  1. A note to anyone thinking of writing to Dr Coffey.

    She doesn’t, in my experience, know about or particularly care about wildlife or landscape. She does, however, care about communities and about the local economy, even if she might have a different political outlook to you or me.

    So if you want to write something that she might read and pay attention to, focus on the community/ local economy aspects, and perhaps the rule of law issue, if you want to influence her thinking.

  2. Well done Mark – don’t be baited by pedants. But equally – just demolish the myths when you strike back at the inaccurate reports you tackle so well. Chasing missed keystrokes is beneath you and the excellent arguments you make.

    Great article on BBC Inside Out tonight by Simon Hare. Time the BBC made a full length documentary on driven grouse shooting and wildlife crime I think.

  3. In so far as this matter will ever impinge on the views of the electorate at large, they, and particularly their representatives in parliament, are far more likely to listen to the BTO than the self serving and sometimes downright silly imbalances of this blog:

    ‘Stopping management for grouse has been suggested as a means of improving the fortunes of Hen Harriers (Thompson 2009). However, although this would remove the main proximal constraint on populations in some areas, it might not translate straightforwardly into increases in Hen Harrier populations. In areas currently dominated by grouse-moor, a shift to alternative land uses such as forestry, high-density stocking with sheep or deer or wind energy development could diminish the value of the land for harriers by decreasing food availability or nesting success (e.g. Wilson et al. 2012, Wilson et al. 2017).’


      1. About Peregrines:

        ‘The increase in England is particularly notable, taking the number of breeding Peregrines recorded in England past the equivalent number in Scotland for the first time.’

        ‘…food supply, bioaccumulation of toxic chemicals, and intra-guild interactions with other raptors could all be playing a role in suppressing Peregrine numbers.’

        About habitat management:

        ‘……BTO Scotland….has just reported on a ten-year monitoring programme set up to examine the effectiveness of moorland management in south-west Scotland…..Management began in 2002 and included muirburn and cutting, grazing, legal predator control and the restoration of hydrological features.

        ‘The expectation that the breeding bird community would increase in response to the management prescriptions adopted was not fulfilled.’

        ‘….moorland habitat condition did appear to have stabilized and further degradation had been halted. More relevant, however, was that declines in bird populations were common across species with different habitat associations and so a causal relationship with the land management changes appeared unlikely.’

        ‘It did, however, remain plausible that the failure to effectively control predators could have contributed to the failure to increase breeding bird populations.’


        About ‘Inglorious….’

        ‘My one frustration though, was that in some areas, it felt a partisan review of the subject, and that some important issues, such as the association between grouse moors and breeding wader populations, were given scant attention.’


        1. Tim – you are funny. That’s a very good example of selective quoting at its most extreme. Let’s just taken Inglorious – the British Birds/BTO 2nd placed Book of the Year for 2015.

          1. Congratulations – but the BTO quote regarding ‘Inglorious…’ is given to underline my comments about imbalance on this blog.

            With balance, this blog could make a useful contribution.

            Without balance, discredited, it is easily discounted as polemical.

          2. Tim – congratulations but my quote of the BTO award is given to underline my comments about imbalance in your selective quotes.

          3. My comments are not meant to be balanced in themselves.

            They are meant to provide balance to your alternative facts.

            It’s a physics thing.

    1. You miss the wider point. ‘The electorate at large’ is getting sick of the silly imbalances of the self serving, privileged few who use their wealth and status as an opportunity to ignore, break or skirt round the law – whether it’s killing protected wildlife or failing to pay taxes.

      1. Ignorance of the law is no excuse and breaking the law offers redress at law.

        If you have evidence of anyone breaking the law, even if through ignorance, they are still answerable to the courts and you should inform the appropriate authorities.

        Otherwise the basic principle of English law is a presumption of innocence.

        The electorate at large is not sick of that and never will be.

        1. Electorate at large not sick of presumed innocence?

          I’m sorry I believe the “at large” you refer to are mostly ill informed on many subjects and see trial by tabloid as an acceptable part of everyday life. If every blog was an unbiased middle road view ther would be no debate. There would be no headlines. There would be no petitions. There would be no resolution.

          I’m not an academic and generally not informed enough to express an opinion. But Marks blog made me look at this topic and others. It made me focus on what other people were saying. Mark provided links to sites with the opposite views, gave a platform for the those views to reach a wider audience, to reach me. I read those views and my opinion has been reinforced by that process. By that balance.

          I often look at the negative comments on here and question whether the writer has actually read the blog or just decided to have a go at Mark today. And yet the forum remains open for debate, for balance.

          And still protected birds disappear, still the law is toothless to react, still the government think it is acceptable to pick and choose which laws apply to which members of the community based on their own agendas.

          Someone has to put their head above the parapet. Over 120,000 of us supported that move last time. That happened by offering an honest opinion, backed by facts with access to opposite views. Sounds like it was a well balanced campaign to me. Can’t remember how many votes the pro lobby got but that still managed to get a debate in the house, someone remind me again how that worked!?

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