Dr Coffey’s reading list (4)

Therese Coffey

Dr Therese Coffey is the junior minister at Defra. When Gavin Gamble’s e-petition in favour of banning driven grouse shooting passes 10,000 signatures (and it stands at c9250 today) then Dr Coffey will need to sign off a government response.

In order that she does not make Defra look even more foolish than they do already I am providing a reading list for the minister to inform her response.

Please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and put Dr Coffey on the spot.

The Peak District is a National Park where birds of prey are persecuted, armed men sit in the heather watching over model raptors in the heather,  Mountain Hares are killed and dumped in stink pits, new roads are built to facilitate grouse shooting and codes of burning are routinely flouted.

Here are some excerpts from last year’s written evidence ahead of the Westminster Hall debate on grouse shooting from Peak District locals:

Arne Swithenbank:

  • I walk frequently in the Staffordshire Moorlands where the Leek Moors Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) covers 3,785 ha or c.38km2.  Contiguous with it to the north is the 1,325 ha (c.13km2) Goyt Valley SSSI.  These areas were designated (in 1988 and 1990 respectively) for the exceptional qualities of moorland and upland field habitats including diversity and rarity of plant species found there and in particular the range of species and breeding densities of upland birds such as Curlew, Golden Plover, Snipe and birds of prey such as Short Eared Owl and Merlin.
  • I have lived and worked in the Staffordshire Moorlands since 1989.  In 1997 a pair of Hen Harriers nested within the Leek Moors SSSI at the head of the Goyt Valley – a location just within the High Peak Constituency of Andrew Bingham MP.  I remember going to view them from an RSPB/Peak Park organised round-the-clock watch. More recently I have seen these moors subject to a significant intensification of management with burning of the vegetation in unsightly large quadrangular patches, re-furbishment of shooting butts and creation of parking facility.
  • The RSPB and others have for decades been attempting to bring this issue to the fore by dialogue with government and the land owners.  Nothing effectual has been achieved.  This year, however, in another extraordinary revelation the Director of the Moorland Association, Amanda Anderson, was quoted in a Sunday Times article as saying that, “If we let the Hen Harrier in we will soon have nothing else.”  There seems to be open admission from shooting quarters, even at the highest level of their leadership, that they actively keep Hen Harriers out.
  • It is clear that left to their own devices the landed estates, promoting an ever increasing commerciality of grouse shooting, have become the proponents of a run-away menace. When I walk over Axe Edge and Axe Edge Moor I follow a route which evidently the keepers also use to put out grit trays for the grouse (like many bird species grouse must ingest grit to assist with digestion of their coarse food).  With the grit the keepers add a  worming medication and it is said to be this ultimately which has enabled grouse numbers to be promoted at otherwise unfeasibly high densities, and hence achieve this modern day gross resurgence in grouse shooting.
  • Whether or not you are as convinced as I have now become about the appropriateness of a ban on driven grouse shooting I hope you will at least be convinced that significant correction is called for and at the very least there needs to be both a ‘cultural’ shift in attitude to the law from the land owners and managers, and the backing from Government of significantly strengthened enforcement.  It surely cannot be too much to ask that the law of protection for our wild birds be obeyed and enforced.  A new means of making that happen needs to be found.

Clive Swinsco:

  • I write as a constituent of Sheffield Hallam Constituency to suggest that the law on grouse shooting should indeed be changed; preferably by a Government ban on driven grouse shooting as soon as possible.
  • I have lived on the beautiful outskirts of Sheffield for many years . . .on moving to this scenic area I often enjoyed superb views of Short-eared Owls (our only day flying Owl) in the Redmires & Strines areas. I cannot recall the last one I saw since drive grouse shooting appears to have been ‘re-activated’ in these areas. However, I think, the issue which really disgusted me whilst learning more about the grim toll of ‘collateral’ damage from grouse shooters to our wildlife, was the senseless destruction of Mountain (Blue) Hares! Apparently, this is because, sometimes, Mountain Hares acquire ‘ticks’; which they, sometimes, pass to Red Grouse — which, of course, must be prevented at all cost — so they can be blasted out of the sky — for fun!!!???

Stewart Abbott:

  • I live on the edge of the Peak District and spend many hours walking and bird watching all around Derbyshire. The one thing that stands out is the lack of birds of prey, I see the occasional Kestrel or the odd Buzzard but I should be seeing so much more. The illegal persecution of our raptors brings shame and embarrassment to our country. We condemn the poachers in Africa for killing Elephant and Rhino yet turn a blind eye to magnificent birds like Hen Harriers being slaughtered in our own back yard.
  • Rewilding our uplands and using the pull of all of the wildlife that it would attract would make these areas of great importance a mecca for wildlife tourism. Letting trees back onto the hills would bring back a more natural landscape and help hold rain water in the uplands rather than draining them. Drainage ditches cut to dry out the peat so heather will grow should be outlawed. The carbon storage of peat is another reason to end these practices.

Bob Berzins:

  • I have enjoyed the outdoors all my life but over the last 10 or 15 years, especially since reports like Peak Malpractice, I have seen signs of wildlife persecution and understood  the significance of damage to protected habitats. As a fell runner I visit all areas of Peak District moors and I have found that officers of statutory agencies and NGO’s are often unaware of what is actually happening in these areas. I now photograph and report any incidents I see and try to follow up these reports so that the differing types of damage are stopped. The uplands of this country are precious and I just want to see all moorland in favourable condition with a full and diverse range of wildlife. I have seen that grouse moor management determines exclusively the shape of our uplands, causes a huge amount of damage and leaves no room for a diversity of species and I am saddened that I cannot see raptors over any grouse moor.
  • Grouse moor managers often state that waders (lapwing, curlew, golden plover etc) do better on a grouse moor and predator control is often cited as the reason for this. My own observation of the number of snares, spring traps and carcasses in stink pits leads me to conclude that hundreds of animals and birds are killed on a grouse moor where we may see 1 or 2 extra waders compared to another (non-grouse) moor.
  • All crows that venture onto a grouse moor are shot, then piled up in stink pits. Some will describe Crows as vermin but the overall effect of this is a complete lack of balance and variety of species and common sense dictates that this is not a healthy and thriving environment.
  • Intensive grouse moor management requires gamekeeping practices to an extreme level. This in turn necessitates repeated vehicle access through rare and protected blanket bog. Natural England is unable to protect this environment. The commercial interests of Grouse Shooting take precedence over conservation. The only way to protect our uplands is to remove the need for such extreme management by banning Driven Grouse Shooting.


Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group;

  • In the Dark Peak area, Goshawk declined from 11 pairs in 2000 (23 in 1994) to just 1 successful nest from 3 pairs in 2015; the other 2 pairs both failed due to confirmed illegal persecution. Without immigration of birds from other areas these birds would be extinct as a breeding species in the Dark Peak, despite this area being a stronghold for the species at the start of their recovery in the 1980s. By comparison the South Peak population continues to grow and achieve a high level of breeding success
  • Peregrine Falcon began recolonisation of the Peak District National Park during the early part of the 1980s and continued their recovery throughout the 1980s and the early 1990s. However, the population saw the same dramatic population crash in the late 1990s and post-2005 no Peregrine Falcon nested successfully on any land away from RSPB and National Trust managed land, despite observations of birds pairing up and displaying breeding behaviour on or adjacent to private shooting estates every year.
  • During the same period the population of Peregrine Falcon in the South Peak area, away from the grouse moors, has more than doubled and pairs have exhibited a high degree of breeding success (see graphs below). This reflects the findings of the 2011 paper Amar, A., et al. Linking nest histories, remotely sensed land use data and wildlife crime records to explore the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations. Biol. Conserv. (2011) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320711003831
  • …the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative 2012-2015 failed to meet its targets, and in the case of Peregrine Falcon there was a negative change…We feel that it is important to mention that had the Initiative shown any reasonable success, it could have been upheld as an example of how raptor conservation and shooting interests could work together to the benefit of all parties. Unfortunately this has not been demonstrated to date and has become a further indication that those involved with driven grouse moor management continue to believe that they can operate above the law. Shooting organisations appear to be unwilling or completely unable to influence their members’ actions on the ground.
  • …we feel that the government need to impose both stricter controls and increased penalties for noncompliance of the law, as a minimum licensing of shooting estates should be introduced. This position will not be sustainable if the persecution does not cease, supporting a ban will be the only option left open to PDRMG

Nick Brown:

  • We had visitors from Holland and France here recently and they wanted to see the National Park’s moorlands and especially its wildlife. I had to tell them that while they would see plenty of heather and some grouse,  they would see hardly any other wildlife and certainly few birds of prey in the Park, just a few kestrels and buzzards but no hen harriers, peregrines, goshawks, red kites or even any short eared owls. They were astonished and I was embarrassed to have to tell them why.
  • Given the utter intransigence of the grouse shooting industry, evidenced by the fact that so few hen harriers now even attempt to nest in England in particular, the only way to restore and revitalise the England National Parks where grouse shooting exists, and the vast tracts of moors outside the Parks, is to ban the activity of driven grouse shooting.
  • This would result short term in a small amount of unemployment, e.g. of game keepers though most could be retained to help with the work to restore the moors and even help to provide the facilities required for a thriving eco-tourism industry to replace grouse shooting.


The Sheffield Bird Study Group:

  • The management of moorlands for the purpose of grouse shooting results in the illegal persecution and killing of birds of prey, including nationally rare and scarce species protected by the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.
  • The management of moorlands to prioritise growth of heather for the purpose of grouse shooting results in the loss of biodiversity, including scarce breeding wading birds, in delicate local ecosystems.
  • In the Peak District adjacent to Sheffield, grouse shooting has resulted in an impoverished environment, in which populations of various species of iconic birds are seriously depleted, adversely affecting quality of life indicators for the region’s residents.
  • Owners of extensive tracts of upland moors receive very substantial public subsidies to manage land in ways that show no accountability to the public interest of those who fund such payments through taxation.
  • Driven grouse shooting be discontinued as a practice that results in land management that is detrimental to the environment and to the avifauna of Britain’s uplands.



Please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and put Dr Coffey on the spot.


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)
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5 Replies to “Dr Coffey’s reading list (4)”

  1. Coffey couldn't care less. The BASC press released her recent appearance at their Tory Party conference reception, which she used to tell them how brilliant they are at conservation - she is well away on their Koolaid, just like her predecessors http://www.politics.co.uk/opinion-formers/british-association-for-shooting-and-conservation-basc/article/government-minister-supports-shooting-community

      1. Oooh - that was a bit harsh, Mark!
        I don't know Ollie from Adam (if you'll pardon the expression), except that he wrote two of the best articles that I've read summarising the evidence session and parliamentary debate last autumn.
        Apologies if I'm totally wrong, but I'm guessing that Ollie may be suggesting that perhaps you shouldn't put too much hope and energy into the parliamentary process, trying to persuade hostile MPs and ministers by logical argument. My experience is that they almost never respond to logic (unless it's overwhelming, which it rarely is). The main thing that influences politicians is electoral advantage, so mobilising public opinion is the key strategy. Letters and petitions may be useful tools in getting the message out to the public, but IMO they're unlikely to change attitudes in government.

        1. AlanTwo - well if mobilising public opinion is the thing, then I guess that a petition is a measure of its mobilisation? Isn't that the point?

  2. Absolutely - hence my 'petitions may be useful tools' bit. What I worry about is anything that is aimed at, and likely to stay mainly within, the London government bubble.
    There's an American saying, often used by one of my favourite climate change commenters, along the lines of: "Never try to teach your pig to dance. Pigs don't dance. It wastes your time, and brasses off the pig." Only he doesn't say brasses.


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