Dr Coffey’s reading list (21)

Therese Coffey

Dr Therese Coffey is the junior minister at Defra. Now that Gavin Gamble’s e-petition in favour of banning driven grouse shooting has passed 10,000 signatures 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.



Today’s reading is basically an extract from my book Inglorious where I spoke to the RSPB Investigations Officer, and former police officer, Guy Shorrock (see pages 37-38):

A gamekeeper in North Yorkshire, on an estate in a region where Hen Harriers haven’t nested for years, said that they were ‘mopping up’ up to half a dozen Hen Harriers a year as the birds came through in spring.

Guy also told me:

A gamekeeper came to see us from a shooting estate in the north of England. I interviewed him twice – once with a colleague and once again with a police officer. This gamekeeper had been dismissed and so you always have to be a bit careful about whether the accounts given were true or malicious, but you don’t have much choice about that – the happily employed raptor-killing gamekeepers aren’t going to be the ones who talk openly about what is happening.

He started giving us the data and told us that over a three-year period, 1996–99, while the Langholm Study was in progress, he and his fellow gamekeepers killed about 30 Hen Harriers each year.

This is a somewhat eye-watering number, but it is entirely feasible biologically, as the population was then higher and it would involve birds wandering through the north of England in winter, birds attempting to settle in spring and those heading from their southern England wintering haunts back to Scottish moors.

The same estate was killing Peregrines too. The gamekeepers made a platform which was suitable for Peregrines to roost on, and one gamekeeper shot nine Peregrines during the year using that one platform. It seems that once you’ve got it sussed out, raptor killing isn’t that difficult and becomes part of the gamekeeper’s routine.

In addition there were many other raptors killed on this estate, according to the dismissed gamekeeper, amounting to 200–300 birds of prey a year – including Buzzards, Short-eared Owls, Goshawks and even, it was claimed, a rare Rough-legged Buzzard. This estate was thought to be at the very top end of upland raptor killing, and apparently took some covert pride in it, but Guy believed that killing 50 raptors a year, each act being a wildlife crime, was and is commonplace on upland grouse-shooting estates.

At the end of the Westminster Hall debate in October 2016 Dr Coffey said ‘I will finish by stating that the Government have no intention of banning driven grouse shooting, but we have every intention of bringing to justice those who break the law.

Go on then, Dr Coffey – how are you going to do that?

The truth is that your department is soft on wildlife crime and soft on the causes of wildlife crime.


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 – FAIL
  • 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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  1. Edward Coles says:

    Just for clarification, in your list of demands do you mean RSPB to draw up license for ALL shooting estates or just grouse shooting estates?

  2. Dave Hickson says:

    This is becoming so boring ! Your blog needs a change of direction

  3. John Turton says:

    Whats boring is people with shooting interests at heart ignoring the truth. Accept change or lose it

  4. Edward Coles says:

    Ultimately, I see no need for licensing all shooting estates. Tougher penalties for criminals & more funding for Rural Police forces.

    • Mark says:

      Ed - ah, you don't really want a solution, I see.

      • Edward Coles says:

        .....I just gave you a solution! Always a pleasure.

        • Mark says:

          Ed - no you didn't. You're just pretending.

          • Edward Coles says:

            *sigh* Ok, Mark. I'll spell it out. Change the Law, dish out some serious fines with custodial sentences. Give rural forces more money & resources to detect & prosecute.

          • Mark says:

            Ed - as you've pointed out elsewhere, there are very few rural coppers so your solution would cost a fortuune. Sigh!

            Change the law how?

    • john miles says:

      How can rural police forces work? One minute they are chasing poachers for the estate and then out shooting with the keepers. Oh then they are supposed to be asking nicely if any one has shot a bird of prey.

      At a meeting in Manchester where the force was looking for constables to get involved with wildlife crime the majority of the police present were interested in shooting not protecting birds of prey.

  5. Edward Coles says:

    ....drones have been a use full tool against hare coursers!
    Change the law, in that rather a fine & a slap on the wrist, a large fine and a custodial sentence.....

    • Jonathan Wallace says:

      As far as I understand large (admittedly this is a relative term - and what is large to a game keeper is probably small change for his employer) fines and custodial sentences are available sentencing options under existing law. The severity of the available punishments is irrelevant though if it is almost impossible to bring a successful prosecution.
      More resources provided to wildlife crime prevention and investigation would be welcome but faced with the ease with which raptor persecution can be carried out unseen in vast remote environments coupled with the omerta practiced by the shooting community (everyone condemns it but somehow no-one ever knows anything that could lead to a culprit...) it is hard to envisage any likely increase in resource being enough to make much difference. As to the use of drones - hare coursing might lend itself more easily to being policed in this way than hen harrier persecution. What exactly do you propose - should a squadron of drones be in perpetual surveillance over every moor? If a drone was launched every time a 'keeper stepped out onto the moor there would rapidly be claims of harassment.

      In short, though I would like to see enforcement of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and subsequent legislation beefed up it does not seem to be the solution to the persecution of birds of prey on grouse moors. There have been years and years of this approach and the perpetrators of the crimes seem to be scarcely inconvenienced by it. All credit to the RSPB wildlife crime investigators for their efforts and for those successes they have achieved but these have been too few and far between to stop the killing.

  6. John Cantelo says:

    I'm sure Dr Coffey's a good Tory so you could always try misquoting Harold Macmillan's most famous speech: "The wind of change is blowing through our country, and whether we like it or not, this growth of environmental consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it". This certainly seems to reflect the opinion of BASC’s acting chief executive, Christopher Grafficus, the chairs of the various organisations who have now spoken out on illegal persecution and, not least, the 123,077 who signed your petition (plus those who've signed the current effort).


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