We couldn’t have done it without you – says Natural England to the criminal elements in grouse shooting

Yesterday’s devastating scientific description of the impact of grouse shooting on the threatened Hen Harrier (the original paper, my blog on its findings) was greeted by Natural England Director, Rob Cooke with the following:

This research identifies the scale of the problem hen harriers have faced on grouse moors. It makes for sobering reading and shows how vital it is that everyone involved in the future of this wonderful bird pulls together. Natural England is working in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders, including moorland communities, conservation organisations, police and landowners to implement the joint Hen Harrier Action Plan which aims to improve the conservation status of this at-risk bird.

Last year’s Hen Harrier breeding season was the most successful in over a decade with 34 chicks fledged across the country. While this was very encouraging we recognise that a continued partnership approach is required to combat illegal persecution of these rare birds and ensure that numbers of breeding hen harriers continue to grow.


Interestingly, this was a later version of the original quote from Rob Cooke which was circulated by the partners in the study which was:

Natural England will continue its satellite tracking work to further improve our understanding of hen harrier movements and behaviour, and will continue work to improve the conservation status of the species. Natural England welcomes the support of many landowners in this, and will continue to work with all landowners and other interested parties to find ways of enabling hen harrier populations to increase from their current critically endangered levels in England


Both quotes are inadequate. But you notice that the original quote is even weaker than the later one and fails to mention the likes of raptor workers, the RSPB and other real conservation bodies by name but just bangs on about working with all landowners. All of them.

You can see why the quote was changed but there is no more evidence needed to demonstrate that Natural England is in the pockets or under the thumbs of upland landowners. This is not a brave champion of wildlife law and wildlife, this is a public body which is not remotely fit for purpose because it has lost its moral compass.

And it’s not even competent. How senior Natural England staff allowed the original quote (we love land owners and we’re working with landowners even though we now know beyond doubt that they are bumping off protected wildlife wholescale [that’s just my summary]) out into the public domain without realising how awful it looks is beyond me. Today Natural England’s Board is meeting. No doubt Teresa Dent will be asking Marian Spain and Lord Blencathra to harden up the organisation’s line on wildlife crime…

I assume that there was an even earlier version which must have been along these lines;

We couldn’t have done it without the moorland landowners and their keepers – without them there would be no dataset of killed and disappeared Hen Harriers. Of course we are going to continue to cuddle up to the rich and powerful criminal elements who burn our moorland, kill our protected wildlife and are mates with our ministers.

And where is the quote from biodiversity minister Therese Coffey? Maybe she is waiting for a mate to write her lines for her…


17 Replies to “We couldn’t have done it without you – says Natural England to the criminal elements in grouse shooting”

  1. Disappointing but actually nothing more than I expected, platitudinous crap rather than the verbal assault on the criminality and a promise to tackle that. Their plan is piss poor and even they must know that. We are placing an awful lot of faith in Tony Juniper to put things right but NE may just be a poisoned chalice too far.
    We have won another “battle” in this war but the crims ( no ! not the Australian cricket team! ) are still protected by DEFRA and NE.

  2. I think NE deserves some credit here. They have pioneered a study involving the satellite tracking of harriers in England (when no-one else was doing it), built up a substantial dataset and now published the game-changing results in a high-profile journal. It has taken a while but the timing is actually not too bad given the point we are at in the debate. And gathering this sort of data (with a big enough sample size to make the results convincing), analysing it to a high standard and then battling Defra to ensure that the results are published in a flagship journal (rather than fudged in an internal report) was always going to be challenging and take a while. In terms of the quote from Rob Cooke, I think it needs to be balanced with the rest of the press release and the paper itself. He was hardly likely to say that NE is now refusing to work with all grouse-moor owners because it has become clear many of them are killing hen harriers. I agree that greater enforcement is required to tackle this problem but it is Defra and the Police that would need to make that happen rather than NE.

    1. Ian I have admiration for those in NE that carry on good work despite their corrupt and biased masters at senior levels and within DEFRA. However the fact remains that both they and more importantly their masters at DEFRA have shown little stomach to really tackle the problem of institutional criminality throughout the grouse shooting cabal, which we have known about since at least 2008. The “plan” is atrocious stealing as it does the four good things that were happening anyway and tagging on BM and the southern reintroduction. I suspect this paper will put pressure on the RPPDG to be rid of the grouse lobby forthwith as they cannot and will not deliver. As to the rest we need a change of government to act on this and even then I’m not that hopeful.
      Hen harrier persecution is clearly well organised co-ordinated serious crime and should be treated as such. For my part even accepting some drawbacks I would ban driven grouse shooting today or tomorrow even though it will put a lot of unemployable Neanderthals on the job market.

  3. I can only begin to imagine the sad state of good people who joined NE for all the right reasons and fight behind the scenes to ensure the data gets into ‘good hands’. Than goodness for a leadership change but it’s a huge task to bring back the organisation that’s needed

  4. Ian, the report was based on only 58 tagged birds. Even the data for that had to be dragged out and errors corrected (and it still possible that there are remaining errors). The RSPB will have data from ‘over 30 birds’ from last years birds only. They may even have more than 58 birds data already, but they are likely not seen as a trusted partner of NE in the same way as landowners. I hope that using the same methodology they can show how much of an of an improvement there is from year to year if they wished.
    I hope they do publish an annual report, because any data that NE have may take as long as the last to be published in a proper report.

    1. I hope so too – the RSPB Life project started back in 2014 so there must already be plenty of data to analyse and publish. It would be great to see it in a high profile, peer-reviewed paper, and very interesting to compare persecution levels for different periods over the last 10-15 years. One well known trick from the grouse lobby is to finally, grudgingly admit that maybe some bad things did happen but that it was a long time ago and we have now cleaned up our act. That might be a difficult case to make with all the recently sat tagged birds out there.

      1. Now RSPB also know the way to analyse it so there can be direct comparison. However given the number of RSPB tagged birds that have gone missing each autumn and winter I think it unlikely the figures will currently show an improvement with time. I know exactly what Ian means by things were bad but improving claims by the grouse lobby they did that in Yorkshire with the paper on Peregrines in the Yorkshire Dales, Ian, Ian Court and I wrote that appeared in BB and the same with the NERF/RSPB/ Amar follow up paper covering the whole of Northern England, certainly the situation for Peregrines on grouse moors hasn’t improved, if anything it is worse.

  5. I’d suggest it will be helpful for readers to contact their MPs to draw their attention to this study.

  6. Just like to point out that it will not be the fieldworkers and analysts who write the press releases in an organisation like this…..and that the data will stand no matter what spin they put on it. …get the truth out there.

  7. “Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”

    Like Rob, I’ve always been (and am) a great believer in collaboration, because our environmental problems are rarely one person’s gift to solve. BUT, when those you have to collaborate with have an abusive power relationship with you, collaboration is not only impossible, its detrimental. The centre cannot hold.

    With Brexit, Rob decided to lead the team in NE planning for it. I decided to emigrate. Clearly Rob thinks the centre can hold a bit more, despite this lot being quite up front about tearing up the post-war consensus.

  8. There are two approaches to law enforcement – and politics generally.

    one is to categorise entire communities of people as criminal/blaimworthy and attack them on this basis. This is the Avery approach – so the grouse shooting fraternity becomes fundamentally criminal in nature. It’s also the approach of many anti hunt activists- all hunts become criminal and the entire hunting fraternity criminal – as well as the far right all Muslims become terrorist. Such an approach thrives on the creation of division.

    The other is to recognise that it is individuals who are criminal and to work with all communities. Such an approach Aims to build bridges and co operation.

    And yes this comment might be seen as an example of the former

    1. Giles – it is difficult to take advice on civilised discourse from ‘Farmer jailed for four year twitter hate campaign against anti-hunt chief’ https://www.devonlive.com/news/farmer-jailed-four-year-twitter-2150635

      But my point is that criminality is widespread in the grouse shooting industry (and also, incidentally, that the non-criminals also benefit from the actions of the criminals – a somewhat unusual situation). Driven grouse shooting is underpinned by wildlife crime – crime is not an incidental or accidental part of grouse shooting, it’s integral to driven grouse shooting.

      1. Yet some time ago you were praising an estate in Scotland that practices DGS – for its good conservation practices – I wonder if you would still do that now?

        Various sorts of crime is endemic in all sorts of communities – that’s an unfortunate fact – however marginalising such communities is not necessarily the best way forward.

        Of course the government should seek to work with “all landowners” indeed it should seek to work with everybody – whether or not they have been or are suspected of having engaged in criminal behaviour. Everyone has a potential contribution to make in all sorts of areas. Yes even “farmers” who criticise the need to kill wildlife and the failure of LACS to prevent *********************************** [words deleted by Mark because he has no idea if they are true or not [and moreover they are irrelevant to this thread]].

        When Government’s engage in ‘us and them’ politics things become very dangerous. We are seeing that all around the world in all sorts of areas.

        Excluding groups of people on the basis of statistics is especially unhealthy.

        1. ps as far as civilised discourse is concerned – I’m not sure I am THAT bad – we’ve had quote a few civilised exchanges on here 🙂

        2. G – I think you mean Glen Tanar. I wrote about Glen Tanar in The Field in 2011, I think. I think I might well praise them still – but driven grouse are a very small part of what they do (and that’s partly the point).

      2. Don’t you love our press. Giles is a ‘Countryside Campaigner’. And they managed to slip that in in the first 3 word!

Comments are closed.