You reckon?

RaptorPersecutionUK wrote about this letter in the Shooting Gazette recently (see here).

Mr Davis’s main point, that shooting organisations need to get together and make a plan of attack (an interesting choice of words), just isn’t going to happen any more than it does at the moment. I’d say that the shooting organisations do quite well in organising themselves, probably better than wildlife conservation organisations, but they won’t do much better and that is partly because the organisatons (BASC, GWCT, NGO, SGA, Moorland Association and, I guess, the Countryside Alliance and Scottish Land and Estates) have different remits, different memberships, different purposes and that’s probably a good thing. And in any case, their problems lie in their very nature – killing wildlife for fun is never going to be a universally popular hobby and the way things are going it will become less and less acceptable to many people. And then there is so much crime against wildlife associated with shooting that the behaviour of shooters (no, not all shooters, but shooters not non-shooters) is so bad that they turn what would otherwise be the grudging indifference of people like myself into a passion for radical reform. And then there is the lack of honesty of a few individual shooters and of some of their representatives in those organisations of which Mr Davis writes, which just removes any lingering respect that many of us might have for shooting. An industry or a hobby which cannot recognise or admit its failings, and cannot act to reform itself, really isn’t going to win many friends outside of a narrow band of participants.

Although I am sure that Mr Davis really believes that only a handful of gamekeepers have let everyone down I don’t think that those organisations of which he writes really believe that – and nor do I. And nor does Prof Ian Newton FRS who in an interview in Behind the Binoculars said;

… many gamekeepers will be killing birds of prey habitually.

Mr Davis thinks that ‘a fraction of 1%’ of gamekeepers are at it whereas Prof Newton thinks that ‘many’ are ‘habitual’ wildlife criminals. That’s quite a gap.

If there are 5000 gamekeepers in the UK then 1% of them is 50 individuals. But Mr Davis tells us that a fraction of that number are letting the side down. I wonder how many that is? 30? 20? 10? Let’s imagine that it is 20. Gosh! Those 20 people are pretty busy since they are the main reason why England had 13 pairs of Hen Harrier in 2018 whereas the science suggests that the habitat exists for c330. So those 20 folk are really working hard to keep English Hen Harrier numbers down aren’t they? And they must go to Scotland too to make sure that there are hundreds of ‘missing’ Hen Harriers there too. And all those disappearing satellite-tagged Hen Harriers, scattered over wide areas of the country (including a few in Wales) – are we to believe that the 20 bad apples are touring the uplands of Britain with their guns, traps and poisons?

And they are doing a job on Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Red Kites and Goshawks too, remember. A fraction of 1%? I somehow doubt it, but if there really were that few, then there must be many people in the shooting community who know who they are. They must be seen popping up in strange places all the time and I’m sure people will know who are these well-travelled individuals.

I think a moment of careful thought would put the number of wildlife criminals a lot closer to Prof Newton’s estimate than Mr Davis’s.

A tree covered in apples – how many are rotten? Photo: Maseltov, via Wikimedia Commons


20 Replies to “You reckon?”

  1. We might believe them if they helped themselves by turning in this less then 1% that are spoiling their hobby or swapping to non poisonous shot instead of littering or countryside with lead shot, but no they just want us to leave them in peace to shoot things for fun. Well we are not going away and we will win. You have been warned!

  2. Even if only 1% of gamekeepers and shooters commit crimes, the remaining 99% always cover up for them and look the other way. That is what makes them all (morally) guilty, and that is why the industry is institutionally corrupt and needs to go.

  3. Well reckoned Mark. I am sure you are right in your calculations. During my birding and botanical visit to Upper Teasdale last Spring I saw lots of red grouse but in respect of raptors only one distant kestrel in the whole week I was there..
    No, the killing of raptors and other upland wildlife such as mountain hares, that pose the slightest threat in the eyes of certain grouse moor game keepers and other trigger happy individuals is nationally endemic and widespread, make not mistake about that.

  4. My frustration about this is, as you say, the shooting organisations do quite well in organising themselves, probably better than wildlife conservation organisations. I lament the lack of joint effective or sometimes even action, from environmental NGOs.
    The ridiculous position of the RSPB in eventually agreeing to ask for a judicial review of brood meddling in the full knowledge that you had already done so, was an exercise in total stupidity, and may yet cause them huge financial pain if the judicial review does not go in their favour.
    Had they praised your decision, and explained the risks which they were taking if they had joined you, they would have not only avoided potential financial penalty but done something which I believe they are very reluctant to do, harness the power of individuals which may be done without reputation or financial risk.
    It is the environment which suffers because of this reluctance, and we should keep banging on abut it.

    1. Alex – but the RSPB case might win and ours might not. I’m glad that the RSPB bought a lottery ticket.

      1. I see your point Mark, but have little information to go on so far as to the cases made.
        Your point about the lottery ticket is very pertinent. An investment of say £30000 for a potential return of a bill running into millions.
        Only time will tell if the risk of a different case being made will be worthwhile.

  5. Mr Davis has completely missed the point. It doesn’t matter what proportion of keepers are killing raptors – in England they’ve managed a clean sweep of hen harriers and every single grouse moor is a beneficiary, and therefore shares responsibility, however few keepers are actually killing harriers. And yet again the reaction of shooting is to shout louder – no hint of recognition that it needs to change. When the CA crow about preventing the banning of lead, low hanging PR fruit if ever there was, the noisy, aggressive rude frontmen of shooting deserve everything they are getting – and a good deal more – and their supporters need to realise they are pulling the house in on all, good or evil. There isn’t much chance of an NRA here – the drift is in exactly the opposite direction, an increasingly urban population failing to comprehend why people kill for fun, fuelled also by the arrogance of the super-rich grouse moor owners who may well become a symbol of the rich get richer Tory years.

    1. It isn’t just the urban population, the rural populations are waking up to the damage that shooters and farmers are causing to the land. The younger farmers, and children of farmers, are increasingly at odds with the way dad and grandad did farming (and this is making the old guard increasingly angrier and rantier that they are no longer the unquestioned mainstream) and looking for change too.

      It has to be said that there is increasing scepticism of anglers too, who breakdown trees and park their off road vehicles on verges and blocking local’s driveways, and who call for culls of riverbirds to protect “their” fish, so the whole hunting, shooting, fishing, and farming lobby is on the verge of falling out of favour with the people in the countryside too. The times they are a changing.

    2. There are plenty of people who live in towns who like to go shooting, and hunting for that matter, this is not an urban/ rural problem it’s a conservation v consumerism problem. As is global warming etc etc. It’s whether you consider the Earth belongs to Man or that Man is custodian.

  6. Just picking up on the line ‘so those 20 folk are really working hard to keep English Hen Harrier numbers down aren’t they?’. I think there might actually be a smidgen of truth in that statement. There are a few (to my knowledge very few) big players in shoot management – you will no doubt know the names. They manage land on multiple estates over a broad geographical area. It doesn’t take a great leap to imagine ‘specialists’ are deployed to fix particular ‘problems’ across the entire management portfolio. It will certainly help should attention be drawn to a particular estate and alibis are required. This is far from saying that criminality isn’t widespread amongst British gamekeepers, indeed when it comes to grouse moors near ubiquitous. Rather, there are likely to be some with a good deal more blood on their hands than others.

    1. Jim – thanks. I, too, believe there is a smaller number of controlling minds involved in raptor persecution.

  7. It’s been obvious for quite some time that it is not just a few bad apple gamekeepers, acting without knowledge of their employers, as the shooting industry tries to claim. Raptors are being killed with incredible efficiency, where a few years back, not one pair of Hen Harriers in the whole of England successfully bred and raised youngsters. If as claimed, it was the odd rogue, you would expect a patchy distribution of successfully breeding Hen Harriers on grouse moors. Yet with almost total efficiency, no Hen Harriers have successfully bred on English managed grouse moors for year after year.

    The very strong circumstantial evidence is that not only Hen Harriers, but other raptors are persistently killed on nearly every managed grouse moor. Because if that wasn’t the case, you would get successfully breeding Hen Harriers, on supposedly the vast majority of grouse moors where supposedly no persecution takes place. It isn’t just Hen Harriers, but other raptors such as Peregrines have similarly vanished as breeding birds from grouse moors, despite thriving in the surrounding countryside.

    The speed and efficiency with which satellite tagged Hen Harriers and Golden Eagles are killed destroys the notion that it’s a few bad apples. Using Occam’s Razor, it would be incredibly unlikely that all these satellite tagged birds just happen to visit as supposed tiny minority of estates where this handful of supposed bad apples is at work. To kill all raptors with this efficiency, means devoting an incredible amount of time to the task, and their employers must be aware of this.

    When shooters and their apologists claim it is a tiny minority engaged in this, the shooting industry of all people, must know this isn’t true. You are talking about the people who know how much effort is involved in legally killing Foxes, mustelids, corvids etc. What I’m saying is that most shooters know very well that to kill raptors with this efficiency relies on a huge amount of time and effort. Shooters who claim it is just a few cases, done by a few bad apples, are being knowingly disingenuous.

    For much of my life I believed in the ethical shooter, who wouldn’t dream of killing raptors. However, I now have serious doubts that this ethical shooter ever existed, and in fact the vast majority of shooters approve of the illegal killing of birds of prey, but just pretend not to approve of it, because it’s socially unacceptable. How else can the almost blanket denial by the shooting lobby of the extent of the illegal killing of raptors be explained? As I say, they of all people, know very well that all the raptors don’t just disappear from grouse moors or any managed shoot by accident. The raptors don’t disappear by accident, any more than the Foxes, mustelids, corvids just disappear. They know very well to keep down predators means intensive work, constantly killing them in huge numbers. So they know very well why and how the raptors have all disappeared off grouse moors etc.

    1. Also note the shooting industry’s response whenever people propose licensing as a solution to wildlife crime. They say it’s unnecessary, it’ll damage or cripple the industry with regulation, and wildlife crime is at a historic low anyway.

      Now, if it really was just a few bad apples, and this crime is at a historic low, what is their objection to introducing another deterrent? Surely if that was true it would only cripple one or two estates every now and then? Surely it would be in the interest of law abiding shooters to cripple those estates whose gamekeepers break the law?

      The only way it could cripple the industry is if wildlife crime is more widespread than they’ve been letting on. So surely reactions like that are actually admissions of guilt?

      1. I agree. I’m now tending towards the view that the the illegal persecution of raptors on managed shoots may be much more widespread than we ever suspected. The only variation seems to be the effort put into it, not that it never happens on most shoots. That it might actually be very widespread.

        I base this on several things. However, most of all it is the complete failure of virtually the whole shooting world to acknowledge the true extent of the persecution, or rather the evidence for it. They nearly all minimize it to a ridiculous extent. This is indicative of tacit knowledge that it is widespread, and wanting to conceal this from the public by creating doubt about the extent of it. Also the failure to acknowledge the extent of the persecution of raptor persecution the evidence points to, is inconsistent with the narrative of the “ethical shooter”, who if they were really that ethical, would be appalled by what is happening.

        As I’ve said before, shoot managers are more aware than anyone of what effort is required to keep managed shoots free of predators. Therefore, they off all people know that the complete lack of successfully breeding raptors across whole areas of managed grouse moors, must indicate a great deal of effort being put into raptor persecution. Trying to put this down to one or two bad apples is disingenuous in the extreme.

  8. Very few keepers kill Harriers, not because they are the only ones who would but because there are now so few harriers few keepers get that opportunity to kill them. The frequency, speed and wide distribution of killed satellite tagged harriers proves the lie that it is “just a few bad apples.” The argument about a patchy distribution has already been used. what appears to be true is that given the opportunity most grouse keepers kill harriers and even most of the few who do not kill them outside the breeding season prevent them breeding successfully on their beats ( Cf. Walshaw 2018)
    Then look at Peregrines, there are almost no successful Peregrines on grouse moors and haven’t been for over 20 years with the exception of Bowland, where a new head keeper in the late noughties on one estate seems to have caused Bowland to fall into line with the Pennines and North York Moors.
    In the case of other species, Shorties in many areas are rare breeders whereas 30 years ago they were relatively common. Goshawks have gone from most small woodlands on the edges of moors and really only survive in big blocks of forestry. Buzzards in grouse shooting country are as scarce now as they were in the early nineties.
    Thirty years ago persecution WAS patchier and many Peregrines were successful, even the odd harrier nest was tolerated, what changed? Simple answer Langholm 1 made all estates, managers, owners and keepers aware, they didn’t read the fine print they or some of them did decided that the easy answer was get rid. Yes there was a time when this was driven by a few, one very, very rich aristocratic owner was certainly one driver along with several other owners and a couple of powerful agencies. I can remember what happened in 2002 when there was a harrier nest in the Dales that was left alone by both owner and keeper and was successful, both were inundated with constant phone calls from all over the Dales and beyond to get rid, they were letting the side down etc. The result of this was the following year a new keeper, agent and attitude— no co-operation and all 3 harrier nests on the estate failed with all the hall marks of persecution. That peer pressure almost certainly still happens. I don’t think it is now just driven by the few it has become an ingrained way to behave for nearly all. There are few keepers who won’t persecute anymore because most of the others are out of the industry, almost all agents seem worse than the most owners. I have in over 40 years experience of this only ever come across ONE keeper who persecuted WITHOUT INSTRUCTION and one who probably did so. Its pointless blaming the keepers, well almost and current law fails ( because that was deliberately the way it was framed) to get the real culprits in court, the dukes, sirs, leaders through patronage of communities, and bent agents in court until that changes it won’t stop. Its too ingrained in their psyches, their too arrogant, ignorant and wedded to feudal patronage for it to change easily. Yes I want to see keepers prosecuted when caught, but that won’t stop it until Lord Muck or a leading agent is jailed for it, preferably for criminal conspiracy. They all know how it works and nobody shops the bad guys because they will be ostracised and not work in the industry again.
    All else is a smoke screen to dupe the unwitting into believing them few bad apples My arse!

    1. Dear dislike, much of what I wrote is personal experience and fact so the fact you don’t like it changes nothing. A little of the rest is supposition but not much deduced because of that experience. So fine you don’t like it but your dislike changes nothing, I shall wear it almost as a badge of honour and assume you are from the other side colloquially known in this household as TiTs –Tossers in Tweed.

    1. I bet like me you could name most of those original prime movers in the increase and organisation of persecution and the two member groups that orchestrated some of it. They may try now to convince us they are singing a different song but half their area reps are still in the majority camp.

Comments are closed.