Dr Coffey’s reading list (10)

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 over 9600) 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.

Photo: Gordon Yates

I wonder whether Therese Coffey has ever seen a Hen Harrier? Her Suffolk Coastal constituency used to be a much better place to see them at winter roosts than it now is – I remember seeing lots on some evenings when I was a voluntary warden at Minsmere in 1976. But it’s what these magnificent birds get up to in the uplands that makes them an endangered breeding species in England.

The case for banning driven grouse shooting does not depend on Hen Harriers – but they are a key part of it. Hen Harriers eat Red Grouse which people will pay £75 per bird to shoot – Hen Harriers won’t pay a thing. That’s why Hen Harriers are killed systematically, routinely and illegally on grouse moors and by grouse shooting interests.

Science by the statutory nature conservation agencies describes the impact of illegal persecution on the conservation status of the Hen Harrier as being greatly influenced by illegal persecution. In fact they state ‘England is unlikely to achieve this [favourable conservation status for hen Harrier] unless illegal persecution is considerably reduced.’ Since writing that the England population of the Hen Harrier has declined further.

There is suitable habitat for c2500 pairs of Hen Harrier in the UK – the population has varied between c750 and c520 pairs in five national surveys over the past c30 years. The difference in numbers is very largely due to wildlife crime. Wildlife crime on grouse moors clears out any pairs that return to the grouse moors each year (often young birds) and grouse moors act as a sink down which the population flows. So crime on grouse moors removes the Hen Harrier as a nesting species in those areas but also lowers the population levels elsewhere (see analogy involving soup and mashed potato in Inglorious pp 30-31).

In England, where Dr Coffey has responsibility, there could be as many as 330 pairs of Hen Harrier occupying the existing habitat – in 2017 there were 7 pairs (three of which were successful) and in previous surveys back to 1988 there have never been more than 19 pairs. Before that time there were more pairs than that in the Forest of Bowland alone!

No, it’s not a few bad apples – it’s an industry underpinned by wildlife crime. So why does Defra so firmly put itself on the side of the wildlife criminals?

When Gavin Gamble’s e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting gets to 10,000 signatures then Dr Coffey will need to sign off a government response. She’s not going to agree to a ban on driven grouse shooting – that will fall to some future Defra minister – but she cannot continue as have her predecessors to ignore the scale of wildlife crime on England’s grouse moors. We know that criminality is endemic, she knows that criminality is endemic and the moorland owners know that criminality is endemic.

Dr Coffey – do you want to look ridiculous?

But acknowledging the problem entails proposing a solution. Will Dr Coffey stick her head in the sand or will she act like a proper minister rather than a mate of the criminal elements that hold far too much sway in grouse shooting? We’ll see – but there is nowhere to hide for Defra. If Dr Coffey sticks her head in the sand then she won’t see us but we’ll see her, and she’ll be in a spectacularly ridiculous position.


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)
Website Pin Facebook Twitter Myspace Friendfeed Technorati del.icio.us Digg Google StumbleUpon Premium Responsive

Get email notifications of new blog posts

Registration confirmation will be emailed to you.

1 Reply to “Dr Coffey’s reading list (10)”

  1. I always feel that too many will lament the loss of the beautiful Hen Harrier only when it is gone. But while it is just hanging on, money is still the end goal for those people. Well done Mark, one day the message will get through 🙂


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.