Guest blog – Hunting for the Wild by Ben MacDonald

Ben Macdonald is a conservation writer, field director in wildlife television, and a lifelong naturalist; passionate about restoring Britain’s wildlife, pelicans included, in his lifetime.  He has been the conservation columnist for Birdwatching magazine, as well as a contributor to the RSPB Nature’s Home and BBC Wildlife. He has worked on a range of TV series, including for the BBC, Netflix and Apple – most recently the grasslands and jungles programmes of Sir David Attenborough’s Our Planet: broadcast worldwide on Netflix since 5 April 2019.

In the introduction and setup of his book Inglorious, Mark makes the point that grouse moors are big business.  Since then, the times have moved on, and many, including the host of this blog, are beginning to look not only at the destruction wrought on wildlife by grouse moors, but upon our economy – and most importantly, at what could be thriving there instead. 

Very often, however, there is still the underlying mistake that even if grouse moors ‘cost’ us in terms of environmental damage, that they are somehow integral to the economy: that fundamentally, grouse is ‘big business’.  Oddly, as long as conservationists of any affiliation repeat this, there will be no chance of change.  The future of hen harriers cannot and will never ever induce governments to act – but business interests do.   So do people’s jobs. 

Big business, after all, powers our country.  It can at its best generate thousands of jobs, create new sectors of employment, and keep rural communities alive.  Fortunately, grouse moors do none of these things.  Whilst other countries with robust ecosystems – from Alaska to Finland – enjoy thriving rural communities in which hunting estates can play a valuable role, northern England does not.  In the following excerpts from my book Rebirding, I compare the economies of nature tourism and grouse shooting.  We do not get personal, we do not denigrate any individual and we do not name particular estates.  We simply look at which of nature ecotourism or grouse farming is better able to generate jobs and revenue in our country.  Nature, it would seem, is in fact the biggest business of all.  

For the 50 footnotes to this section, statistics, and many other arguments for the riches of nature – please read Rebirding.

www.blackwells.co.uk

Grouse versus jobs

In England, according to the Countryside Alliance and the National Gamekeepers Organisation, when reporting to parliament in October 2016, the country’s 175 grouse moors support 1,520 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs.  Only 700 of these jobs are directly involved with grouse moor management. A further 820 are in related services and industries. It is not clear reading the report what these jobs are.

In Scotland, a report written by the Fraser of Allander Institute in July 2010 stated that 140 ‘core’ estates in Scotland, who responded to their enquiries, supported 493 jobs.  The report’s authors estimated that if this held for all Scottish grouse estates, these would support a total of 1,072 jobs. Adding this total to the English one makes for no more than 2,592 people employed in grouse shooting across Britain, of which no more than 1,772 are directly involved with the management of grouse moors.

As of September 2018, the number of people in employment in the UK is 32.4 million.  Grouse shooting, if we include the ‘related services’ jobs too, therefore accounts for 0.008% of the jobs in Britain – that’s one job in every 12,500. In terms of ownership, the 175 English grouse-moor landowners currently represent 0.0003% of the English population. Astonishingly, however, the grouse moors of England and Scotland cover around 8% of Britain: an area of 16,763 square kilometres. To put this in context, this is an area, again, almost twice the size of Yellowstone, seven times as big as the Lake District and ten times the size of Greater London.  Such an area, alone, would cater for the full restoration of Britain’s wildlife, even if every other land use stayed the same.

Those grouse jobs, therefore, equate to one job for every 6.5 square kilometres of land used by grouse shooting. No other European country has, or would tolerate, such extraordinary wastes of national land, in employment terms alone. Preventing most forms of ecotourism, grouse moors block jobs on a massive scale. The economics get worse, however, when you look at what grouse moors contribute for their 8% coverage of our country.

Back to the Fraser of Allander Institute’s report, commissioned by the industry-friendly Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.  The report states that in Scotland just 43% of estates made a profit on their grouse-shooting activities. Only 46% of employment on studied estates even came from grouse- shooting jobs.  Scotland’s 1,072 grouse jobs, it estimates, cost £14.5 million in wages and contribute £23.3 million to GDP.  Millions always sound a lot, if taken out of context. The UK, however, the fifth largest economy in the world by GDP, was worth, in 2016, $2.647 trillion, or £1.88 trillion at the time of writing.   That Scottish grouse-moor contribution, with the conversions done, therefore comes to 0.001% of UK GDP.

In England, the Moorland Association estimates that the economic value of the grouse-shooting industry is £67.7 million. That’s under 0.004% of GDP.  This brings the combined contribution of grouse shooting, in England and Scotland, to less than 0.005% of the United Kingdom’s GDP, a contribution made from 8% of its land!

It gets a little worse again. In 2014, Friends of the Earth used Land Registry data to identify 550,000 acres (223,000 ha) of grouse moors across northern England (see Figure 19). Of these, just 30 estates covered 300,000 acres (121,000 ha) of our uplands. It was found that these estates received £4 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies, in 2014 alone, from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.  Not only are jobs and wildlife being prevented from returning across England’s uplands – the public are paying for this to happen. So with grouse moors using 8% of Britain to no profit – often, even their own – how does ecotourism stand up in comparison?

Grouse versus tourism

National Parks England provides for some 48,000 full-time jobs in the tourism sector.  The grouse moors in England create 1,520. Tourism-based jobs in our national parks, even before there is charismatic wildlife to see in them, trump the jobs economy of grouse moors 32 times over. Whilst England’s national parks harvest at least £4 billion in tourism and recreation expenditure, grouse moors in England, adding £67.7 million, contribute 44 times less to local economies.

In contrast, the grouse-moor money supposed to reach rural communities appears to form part of a closed ‘loop’. Some £52.5 million is spent on land management, which deprives our nation of beautiful wild uplands, birds of prey and such basics as trees. A further £15.2 million covers travel and accommodation.  But this accommodation is for the tiny minority of the British public who pay to shoot grouse in the first place.

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) estimates 40,000 shooting visitors to grouse moors annually across the UK, which represents around 0.06% of the British population.  The Moorland Association claims that 6,500 ‘visitor nights’ were generated by grouse shooters in 2010.  If 40,000 shooters visit grouse moors, this means just 16% of them spend a grand total of one night each in a bed and breakfast. By contrast, dolphin watching on the Moray Firth alone generates up to 52,200 overnight stays in a year.

If you look at the revenue of grouse moors, it’s irrelevant to most businesses in the countryside around. A shooting day with thirty beaters (grouse chasers), nine loaders (gun-helpers) and drivers for five vehicles may cost the industry around £1,800, and a really large shoot can cost up to £30,000.

The only jobs created in this interchange of money are for gamekeepers – at the cost of the tens of thousands of jobs that arise in ecotourism economies, which could incorporate these rural jobs, too, if an area ten times the size of London were not used for grouse shooting. By contrast, in 2009, the RSPB’s reserves brought £66 million to local economies, and created 1,872 FTE jobs. This is comparable to all of England’s grouse moors, but in just a fraction of their land area.

Compared to 40,000 visitors to grouse moors, Scottish National Heritage finds that 240,000 tourists visit western Scotland for whale-watching each year: a mere snapshot of one local ecotourism economy. An estimated 290,000 people visit osprey watch-points around the country. A minimum of 250,000 people fuel local economies by visiting our seabird cities. Around the RSPB’s South Stack reserve on Anglesey, in 1998, 43,000 visitors spent £418,000 in the local area – money that actually feeds into local pockets.

Even today, the English adult population makes just over 3 billion visits to the natural environment each year, spending £21 billion as they do so. In Scotland, nature-based tourism is estimated to produce £1.4 billion per year, along with 39,000 FTE jobs. That not only shoots down grouse-moor economics, but all the grouse jobs in Britain come to just 6% of this regional total.

The RSPB has over a million members. The National Trust has a membership of 4.24 million. ‘Nature-minded’ people in the UK, it would seem, are up to 11,000% more abundant than grouse shooters. We are very much more profitable to our economy – and the proof is out there for any government to see. Ecotourism economies trump grouse economies on a staggering scale – and that’s even before we have restored most of our nation’s wildlife….

Eight percent of a nation’s land, burned by 0.0003% of its population, for the creation of 0.008% of its jobs and under 0.005% of its economy, is a destructive national embarrassment.  But as conservationists, it is easy to say what shouldn’t be going on.  It is more useful to point, instead, to what should.  In the words of the conservationist Alan Watson-Featherstone, we need to say what we would like to see.

In Rebirding, I’ve set out a few ideas for how our countryside could one day look, with upland hunting estates run in the manner they are in Scandinavia – as low intensity wilderness areas, with a whole variety of stakeholders at play.  The hunt for wilderness need not preclude hunting.  In our quest for a better world to live in, however, let’s not forget the economies of nature.  Those arguments, not only the moral and ecological ones, are on our side as well.

REBIRDING is available from a variety of online bookstores including Amazon:

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20 Replies to “Guest blog – Hunting for the Wild by Ben MacDonald”

  1. Ben that's the most powerful and comprehensive demolishing of the phony case for grouse shooting being vital for rural economies I've ever read! Thanks for doing all the calculations and assessments. I've rough guessed before that a thousandfold more people could be enjoying our uplands more as non grouse moor as opposed to grouse moor, so thank you for coming up with a proper answer for that point. You've also really underlined that grouse shooting is effectively a waste issue, in that it's just not a case of land farmed or put under commercial forestry for produce that could have been useful, but ended in landfill, but the 'product' itself was never useful in the first place - there was never any need in the first place to degrade the land or lose our wildlife for this. As you say change would make 8% of our land available for conservation and the people who truly appreciate wildlife, is there any other way our fauna and flora could be helped in such a single, simple stroke? For far, far too long the estates have been using jobs blackmail to get away with what they do - the tables are now being turned with a vengeance. Thanks!

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    1. Les, you are most welcome. Now to think about what could be there instead - and I genuinely believe that it could act in landowner's own interests too. How often do you get angry driving through a Swedish hunting estate? How often do you even notice that it's a hunting estate? Just a teeming wilderness - from which people hunt, in different ways, as one might expect in a democracy. More wildlife economics in the book if you're keen. Ben

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      1. Definitely keen this is a favourite topic of mine !https://markavery.info/2018/09/27/guest-blog-driven-grouse-shooting-your-bluffs-been-called-by-les-wallace/#comments There's currently a petition being reviewed by the petitions team at the Scottish Parliament about getting a national flood Alleviation strategy put in place using naturalistic methods, principally targetted tree planting in the uplands with future beaver translocation where possible. Uplands of course means grouse moors too! Yet another nail in the coffin for keeping grouse moors. I had planned to get your book anyway, now I'll look forward to it even more. Your article in BBC Wildlife Magazine about how our missing megafauna was responsible for creating the ecological niches many of our birds fill was brilliant.

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  2. Looks like a good book. Perhaps worth pointing out that it can be ordered direct from the publishers (rather than via the tax-avoiding amazon)?
    https://pelagicpublishing.com/products/rebirding-rewilding-britain-and-its-birds-macdonald-pelagic-9781784271879

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    1. Thank you Michael. Whilst I do appreciate your comments on Amazon, and yes as an author the extra money from buying direct certainly doesn't hurt either, Amazon does provide a valuable reviewing system that can be very helpful to new writers like myself. Just a thought - but you're right to push the publisher's site too.

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  3. Ben Hello,

    May I ask from whence you got the figure of 16,763 km2 for grouse moor coverage? It looks suspiciously like the figure from 'Grouse in Space and Time' by Peter Hudson published in 1992.

    Why this figure rather than the much more recent figure of 8,551 km2 from Douglas et al 2015? Or any number of other figures?

    Matt

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    1. I take it you're the Matt Cross who writes in Shooting Times and who's been trying to debunk the figures used by anti DGS campaigners in regard to land area of grouse moors? You in turn were utterly debunked by RPUK weren't you? https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2019/04/16/almost-a-fifth-of-scotland-is-managed-for-grouse-shooting/#comments

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      1. Excellent attempt at avoiding answering why this whole argument is based on a 28 year old statistic!

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        1. But we hadn't established it was from that source had we? You implied it was originally and then stated it was categorically without any confirmation that was so. As the RPUK feature showed you're pretty rubbish at dealing with facts, but you write as to undermine the integrity of others. Incompetence is one thing, but disingenuity is another completely and none of us should have patience or sympathy for its practitioners.

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          1. So Les it is just an extraordinary coincidence that Ben happens to use a figure calculated in 'Grouse in Space and Time' and not replicated anywhere else? I think not. Ben's figure is 30 years out of date.

            So yes we have established that that is Ben' source. Absolutely. Categorically. 100%.

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        2. Matthew - except that the 'whole argument' about low economic value of grouse moors is not 'based on' the land area covered, is it? No it isn't. If the land area covered by grouse moors were 32,000km2 or 4,000km2 then the argument that they deliver very little to the economy would still stand. You aren't addressing the argument you are finding fault (rightly or wrongly,) with one figure. One wonders whether this is a diversionary tactic to distract from the real point - grouse moors don't add up to much economically.

          And just for fun, and by the way, and not to be confused with a serious argument, our understanding of gravity is based on a 333 year-old paper.

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          1. Actually that figure is fundamental to Ben's argument. Hi argument is that grouse shooting's economic contribution is negligible for the amount of land it uses

            "Eight percent of a nation’s land, burned by 0.0003% of its population, for the creation of 0.008% of its jobs and under 0.005% of its economy, is a destructive national embarrassment"

            And it is not just one dodgy figure in this. There are a whole series.

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          2. Matt - actually, it isn't is it? If you substitute 'Four'instead of 'Eight' in the quote you have chosen it makes no real difference to the argument does it? You are feebly quibbling not addressing the core of Ben's argument (not jsut Ben's).

            So that we don't take your remark about there being a whole series of dodgy figures as mere rudeness, do have a go at listing them (and taking account of Ben's point that he used grouse inddustry figures as a preference).

            You do have a point about dodgy figures though - the PACEC report has been roundly criticised as overestimating the value of shooting, and then it tends to be inaccurately quoted by shooters too to make the most of it.

            And then, the real costs of habitat and species destruction are not included in these figures either - never in industry figures that I've seen. The costs of carbon emissions, increased floods, water treatment costs and loss of protected habitats and species would add up to a sizeable bill. Funny that grouse shooters didn't promote Les Wallace's petition to get this job done properly. Did you sign it yourself? You could have tendered for the contract perhaps?

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    2. Dear Matt,

      Twitter does rather condense things, so thanks for your query on here too. The grouse moor chapter contains over 50 footnotes and I always work on the assumption that the grouse moor industry's figures are correct. The figure was brought to light in the 2016 Parliament discussion. However, the book provides the full set of footnotes, as well as a map of grouse moor coverage. I'd be interested if I'd got the figure wrong by a half, especially as the satellite maps are rather good at revealing the extent as well.

      If you do indeed write for the Shooting Times, given that I am not anti-shooting I'd be delighted to write a piece for you on how landowners could rewild their estates, and the financial (as well as hunting) rewards that would come of this. Incidentally, what I am proposing in the book is a model that Alaska, Canada and the Scandinavian hunting models that would benefit landowners and the public alike. We have taken a strange and unusual hunting route in the last two centuries, but I fully believe we have the collective ingenuity to reverse and improve it in the centuries to come.

      Thanks for taking the time to engage.

      Ben

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      1. Hudson, didn't use any satellite maps to produce his 1991 figure of 16,000 km2 Douglas et all did to produce theirs of 8,000 km2.

        I'm afraid I don't commission work. I am but a humble freelancer.

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  4. We need to reach a "tipping point" on public awareness on this issue - as appears to have happened with the climate change issue this week. Our parliamentary representatives..and certainly our civil servants still appear to be in thrall to the grouse owning and shooting community...Good strong factual articles like this one must help with that.

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    1. Dave,

      Thank you for your comment - facts are important, but solutions even more so. Unless we envisage some mass national land-grab (I do not, and you may not either), then it's very important to envisage what the uplands should look like, as well as what shouldn't be happening.

      Extensive rewilding through very extensive grazing, tree regrowth, the reintroduction of cornerstone species, and a place for hunting alongside ecotourism, would make the restoration of our uplands profitable for landowners as well as the public. If this sounds like a pipe-dream, I would direct attention to the inspirational work of Anders Povlsen in the Highlands, who is rewilding his estates, whilst supporting gamekeeper jobs and maintaining a profitable estate. Interesting times.

      Ben

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  5. There was no reply button on your comment so I will just pick up here....

    Matt...Matthew. Whichever. My mum and my computer call me Matthew, most other people call me Matt, I'm not fussy.

    As for the dodgy numbers lets go through them. I would contend that 16,000 Km2 is dodgy in that it is 28 years old and was an outlier at the time, subsequent (and previous) numbers are much much smaller. That dodginess renders "the size of Yellowstone, seven times as big as the Lake District and ten times the size of Greater London. Such an area, alone, would cater for the full restoration of Britain’s wildlife, even if every other land use stayed the same." all dodgy and all those 8%s dodgy too.

    Moving on to the Fraser of Allendar Report. Ben omits to mention that as well as the direct jobs it reports, it also says "We also report multipliers for grouse activity, and estimate that every one direct job in grouse shooting supports a further 1.2 jobs elsewhere in Scotland. Every £1 paid in wages in grouse shooting supports a further £0.86 of wage payments elsewhere in Scotland."

    Taking the two prior paragraphs together we can see that "Those grouse jobs, therefore, equate to one job for every 6.5 square kilometres of land used by grouse shooting" is dodgy.

    "The UK, however, the fifth largest economy in the world by GDP, was worth, in 2016, $2.647 trillion, or £1.88 trillion at the time of writing". Why are we using the land area of Great Britain (excluding NI) but the GDP of the UK (which includes NI)? If I was a cynical man I might say it was because it produces the a largest possible ratio of land to GDP possible.

    Now this one is epically dodgy...." Friends of the Earth used Land Registry data to identify 550,000 acres (223,000 ha) of grouse moors across northern England (see Figure 19). Of these, just 30 estates covered 300,000 acres (121,000 ha) of our uplands. It was found that these estates received £4 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies, in 2014 alone, from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. " The best thing here is to read my Twitter thread about Lilburn. https://twitter.com/wildforest_matt/status/1088155047438024704
    But in summary; many of these estates feature multiple land use which attract subsidy in ways that are nothing to do with grouse shooting. As you know there is no subsidy for grouse shooting as DEFRA do not consider it an agricultural activity.

    Next up "Whilst England’s national parks harvest at least £4 billion in tourism and recreation expenditure, grouse moors in England, adding £67.7 million, contribute 44 times less to local economies" Of course many of those grouse moors are in national parks and will have many recreational visitors who will walk, cycle, ride canoe whatever through them, camp on them etc. Grouse moors are not some closed environment no visitor ever enters, they are part and parcel of the extremely popular British upland tourist offering.

    "By contrast, dolphin watching on the Moray Firth alone generates up to 52,200 overnight stays in a year.". That is an interesting comparison, is the suggestion that we should replace grouse moors with Dolphins or that Grouse moors are limiting the spread of Dolphins? If not I fail to see the relevance. Perhaps we should get rid of dolphins because more people go to the Tower of London. Obviously we shouldn't becuase th two like dolphins and grouse do not compete.

    "If you look at the revenue of grouse moors, it’s irrelevant to most businesses in the countryside around. A shooting day with thirty beaters (grouse chasers), nine loaders (gun-helpers) and drivers for five vehicles may cost the industry around £1,800, and a really large shoot can cost up to £30,000." That one I can't make hide or hair of. 30 beaters at £50 a pop is £1,500 just by itself. But I don't understand that paragraph at all.

    "The only jobs created in this interchange of money are for gamekeepers ". That is obviously untrue, as it ignores beaters, pickers up loaders anyone working in associated maintenance and service roles, those in the supply chain, gun makers, cartridge manufacturers etc.

    "Compared to 40,000 visitors to grouse moor". 40,000 is the number of people shooting on Grouse moors, not the total number of people visiting them. I covered a day in Yorkshire last year where walkers and cyclists vastly outnumbered the number of people shooting.

    Those are some of the specific bits of dodginess, but the whole thrust of the thing is also dodgy. Ben argues that grouse moors operate "at the cost of the tens of thousands of jobs that arise in ecotourism economies". Yet he offers no evidence that the presence of grouse moors reduces tourist appeal or that there is any unmet demand in the ecotourism sector. The entire blog is premised on comparing things which are not alike, Ben tells of people who go to view Whales, Dolphins, Ospreys, or Sea birds, none of which are prevalent on Grouse moors and none of which are likely to become so if grouse shooting ends. Ben seems to fail to understand that things like isolation, accessibility, elevation, weather and edaphic factors greatly affect the inherent ability of land to be economically productive. Grouse moors, being generally high, remote, cold and poorly served with infrastructre are always going to be relatively economically unproductive.

    Critically, I note that Ben offers no evidence that visitors are more likely to visit moors where there is no grouse shooting or that they spend more money when visiting them. That would be a like for like comparison which would have some value.

    As for Les' petition, no I did not sign it. It began with a string of invective against grouse shooting with which I did not agree and I felt that signing it would be an expression of my support for those sentiments.

    Hope that covers it

    Matt/Matthew

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    1. Matt - thanks for that. I appreciate the work you put into it.

      You clearly have shifted your ground since your first comment - very wise. The point was that grouse moors occupy quite a lot of land and produce rather little income - that is true, and remains true after your nit-picking over one figure.

      The Fraser of Allandar report was commissioned by and published by GWCT - as Ben said, he used figures from the industry where available. That seems to be what he has done. And he quotes it accurately - I've checked, anyone can check.

      You are right to say that many shooting estates get their income from various activities (especially in Scotland, I'd say). This cuts both ways in the arguments - it's a bit difficult to identify land area and the actual income from grouse shooting. Swings and roundabouts and it's difficult to tell which is more important. But Ben is fair in what he says based on the report he quotes.

      UK v GB - as you must surely know, there is very very little grouse shooting in N Ireland so that's not going to make any difference either is it?

      Your current bid for the 'epically dodgy' figure is in what Ben writes about FoE land register stuff. What he writes is true. The fact that not all the land is grouse moor is pretty much irrelevant since all the area which is grouse moor will be getting CAP subsidy (as Ben writes) which does mean (as Ben writes) that we are all paying for, supporting, subsidising, that land use. The fact that a few sheep wander over the land now and again is the excuse for the payment but not a good reason for it. Which is why George Eustice, Defra minister at the time, signalled at an Oxford Farming Conference that those subsidies might well be removed from areas whose primary land use was grouse shooting - one of the more sensible things that a Tory Defra minister has said on the subject for years.

      So Ben's point about little economic activity and contribution to the economy from grouse shooting is entirely sound - it seems to me. And he has been fair with the evidence, it seems to me. Indeed, he is a little too kind really, because as I said in earlier comment, and you ignored here (I don't mind, just mentioning it) there are all those externalities of grouse shooting which need to be taken into account - floods, water treatment, carbon loss etc (and included in the etc is the loss of protected wildlife). These matters were addressed in an earlier book specifically about grouse shooting, which Ben's isn't, and which is still in existence.

      But I'm no economist and I'm guessing you aren't either Matt, so do have a refresher on what top Oxford economist, Prof Dieter Helm, says about grouse shooting (see my review here https://markavery.info/2019/03/10/sunday-book-review-green-and-prosperous-land-by-dieter-helm/) but the most relevant quote is probably this one 'Responsibility for the consequences of grouse moor management lies with the owners. They are the ‘polluters’ imposing costs on the rest of us, and they should pay. A more prosperous uplands would start with the licensing of game shoots and then a levy to put right the damage.'.

      Ben's main argument is different from my main argument and that of Prof Helm - grouse moor management imposes costs on us if the economics is looked at properly. It's a tiny direct income (as Ben says) and a big external cost borne by others.

      But Ben, interestingly and relevantly, points out the tourist value of a whole bunch of wildlife watching activities (so did I in my book in a different way). These are difficult to assess until we eject driven grouse shooting from our hills but the examples given are arresting and good ones. They will make people think and wonder about the alternatives - I guess that is what he was aiming for.

      I'm not here to stand up for Ben's chosen words - because they are his not mine, but your attack on them misses the spot by miles. You read like someone picking some nits rather than addressing the arguments head on.

      I hope you didn't spend too much time on this lovely sunny afternoon writing your comment. I'm going out for a walk and may visit a local wood to listen for Nightongales but they weren't there last year so I am a bit unconfident about propects of success.

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