GWCT drowning not waving

Wouldn’t it be terrible if the GWCT went bust? In a recent letter to supporters, who clearly aren’t being supportive enough, Teresa Dent has told them that GWCT has a hole in its finances. Well, who would have thought it? Anyone would have thought that there was a global financial and health crisis…

Maybe the Duke of Westminster could find some change down the back of the sofa for them – poor old things. If not, a whip round the trustees would plug a few gaps with Richard Benyon worth £130m according to the Sunday Times rich list.

Richard Negus says that the GWCT is admired by shooters and non-shooters alike so there won’t be any problem raising the money. Maybe a polite enquiry of the RSPB’s membership would do it – a quid each and that first £1m would be in the bag.

If that was what Sir James Paice was aiming for in this ‘blog’ then it might not deliver the goods. I quite like grumpy Sir James but surely it was Andrew Gilruth (on one of his four days a week?) that must have written this? The RSPB is neutral on the ethics of legitimate field sports but that doesn’t mean that it has to say how great the vast numbers of Pheasants infesting the countrysuide are. I thought Pat Thompson played it straight down the line on More or Less. I hope he gets a massive pay rise for getting a reaction out of the very sensitive GWCT. I expect GWCT has written to the RSPB telling them off.

I’m pretty sure that my kids won’t be looking at the GWCT suggestions of presents for Fathers Day but if they are then I certainly don’t need any more gun oil for a while, nor a book called The Knowledge (which I assume is for GWCT’s many London taxi driver members – I had that Philip Astor in the back of my cab once! Who?) nor another copy of the excellent Wilding (cheaper on Amazon and at Waterstones, I see).

The GWCT has lost its way. It wants to be regarded as the scientific force that once it was but it doesn’t have the leadership to do it – spot the scientist amongst its trustees! As rare as Hen Harriers on driven grouse moors. And it wants to be a campaigning organisation but BASC is actually very irritatingly miles better. So what is the point of it any more? Competition for money from the landed is pretty tight and, I’ve said it before, the last thing that shooting needs is the facts being told straight – that’ll see the end of shooting as we know it. GWCT has been left behind by other shooting organisations and left alone by those in nature conservation that once rather admired it, on a good day.

I think that GWCT share price is in terminal decline.

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24 Replies to “GWCT drowning not waving”

  1. Well said Mark, I shan’t be shedding any tears for GWCT and I don’t have a penny to provide to them. I do have an old halfpenny I found in a draw recently maybe that would solve their problem.

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  2. ‘....GWCT is admired by shooters and non-shooters alike...’

    Really?

    There’s no doubt that GWCT has done some good science but fundamentally it’s an organisation that exists solely to promote and protect the interests of landowners and their hobbies. It’s exclusive in every sense of the word. I don’t admire it and I won’t support it.

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  3. GWCT once did and perhaps still does some good work but the other side of that well worn/devalued coin is the behaviour of the likes of one Andrew "Killtruth" Gilruth. He behaves like a "Bloody handed" apologist for the criminals in DGS. The penny in my pocket--- not a chance in hell.

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  4. Writing as someone who has worked with, but never for, the GWCT, I fear that Mark may have let petty personal attacks on him and views that he holds, by the PR department of the GWCT, cloud or distort his view on their worth. The GWCT is far more than one man’s rantings, even if that is the aspect that is commonly perceived.

    The loss of the GWCT may remove some advocacy for field sports (which could make Mark’s life easier) but it would also remove one of the very few training grounds for field ecologists of the future. Each year, the GWCT supports and funds numerous BSc, MSc and PhD students on a wide range of projects that are predominantly field-based: movement tracking, habitat assessment, breeding monitoring, population monitoring. Critically, the projects also commonly involve a dimension of interaction with farmers etc – those who own the countryside and whose actions directly affect it – and working alongside such people with often very different attitudes to issues of ecology and conservation is a rare skill and not one easily acquired without direct experience. These are exactly the kinds of practical skills and interactions with ‘real people’ that are vanishing rapidly from many university courses (I know, I teach on them). Yet such hard and soft skills are essential if we are to continue to monitor ecological change and develop and enact successful interventions to halt damage. The GWCT provides one of the very few access and training points for such skills. The RSPB does likewise, so too does the BTO, but beyond these organisations the opportunities are few and far between.

    Many, probably most, such project students never go on to work for the GWCT, but they take their new-found skills to work in a wide range of other conservation roles. Some even go on to become staunch opponents of aspects of field sports. Others deploy their skills to address entirely different ecological problems. From the cohort of students that I have co-supervised with GWCT, one has been taken on by the GWCT to study wader breeding biology, one works for a National Park authority on farmer engagement over catchment areas, one works as an independent farm wildlife advisor and one is still in the academic system.

    Be careful what you wish for – if the GWCT were to go bust, it is very unclear where else these opportunities would be available to train rigorous field scientists and enthusiastic and effective environmental communicators able to reach those capable of enacting change.

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    1. jo - thanks but my view is simply that the GWCT is worth far less than it used to be. And the way that it is behaving reduces that value further in the eyes of many of us (and I am absolutely sure it isn't just me). The blog post started with a link to their Chair's attack on the RSPB - are you holding that up as an example of their scientific professionalism? And it was, at least in theory, penned by their Chair not by a spin doctor and so should be taken to be the sober and considered reflections of the organisation rather than the rantings of one spin doctor. So, address that point please, was Sir James's blog post fair and reasonable?

      I wouldn't want GWCT to cease to exist unless it continues its falling standards of public discourse. No, as usual, I would be a reformer not an abolitionist. GWCT needs to find a way out of the hole it has dug itself. Agree? Or not?

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      1. Mark, The blog post by Sir James (or whoever else you believe wrote it) is irrelevant to the point I expressed. My point was, regardless of one’s views about the political position of the Trust, it provides one of the rare and declining opportunities for UK researchers to gain practical experience in fieldwork and applied ecology. For anyone concerned about good science being used in the UK environment, the loss of training and proving skilled workers would be a tragedy. Your opening line “Wouldn’t it be a shame if the GWCT went bust?” (note the rather snide question-mark rather than the assertion) and some of the subsequent comments by posters on your blog and now also I see on Twitter (holding a party to celebrate such a collapse) are saddening. It’s not a great look when the small world of UK conservation organisations and vocal individuals fight amongst themselves, especially if they advocate the destruction of research capacity. You can take that as applying to both your own stance and that of the GWCT PR department.

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        1. Jo - in that case, your point might be somewhat irrelevant to the blog I posted.

          Except it isn't. You're refusing to comment on whether the Chair of this organisation was right to criticise the wholly accurate as far as I can recall, exposition of the facts made by a fellow employer of scientists.

          And one has to judge an organisation's view of science by hopw it uses it and publicises it not just on whether they fund some students, surely? [Are all question marks snide by the way?]

          I didn't advocate the destruction of research capacity. But I do think that the GWCT is in terminal decline - that's a prediction, not a wish. And I repeat, if GWCT reformed it would be better able to survive.

          You are a poster on this blog and you are complaining that others have different views from yours? That's a bit rich.

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        2. The 'jobs' argument just doesn't wash with me, i'm afraid.
          I hear it time and time again used against appalling practices.
          Yes i do understand your point but it is always for me a question of how much these jobs are costing and it is usually the environment that suffers.

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        3. 'It’s not a great look when the small world of UK conservation organisations and vocal individuals fight amongst themselves..'
          I am pretty sure many people concerned about raptor persecution don’t even consider GWCT a conservation organisation any more.

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  5. I don't know Jo (and I take your point about it being useful for students to engage and work with land managers) but I query your use of the phrase 'those who own the countryside' ("......interaction with farmers etc – those who own the countryside and whose actions directly affect it."). I think that terminology and the underlying sense of entitlement and ownership is a big part of the problems with land management in UK and especially land managed for shooting - it's 'mine' therefore I can do what I want and kill any wildlife that gets in my way or because it's my right to call it a sport or 'tradition'. Of course individuals legally own bits of land but 'the countryside' is a different thing - it's like 'Nature' or biodiversity (or the Planet). We all have rights and responsibilities in relation to it - and the right to live in it and take access and share benefits (and our actions may also directly affect it). I know we're much better off in that regard in Scotland in terms of access - using those rights and observing the responsibilities. But I think using terms like 'ownership' of the countryside plays into the hands of the Countryside Alliance, (probably GWCT as well?), various farming and hunting lobbies - who consistently promote the idea that they are the only ones with rights or who know how best to manage 'the countryside' - to the exclusion of all the rest of us who live, work, have knowledge of, take recreation, pleasure and 'wellbeing' etc.. from the countryside and wildlife and often (NGOs, communities, more enlightened land managers) make a much better fist of real conservation management and stewardship so we have something to pass on to future generations. Hopefully your students get exposure to those sides of the debate and practice of stewardship and biodiversity conservation too.

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  6. I listened to More or Less when broadcast. As usual a question posed by a listener is analysed by the team and they choose suitable professionals for objective background information. In this instance data from GWCT was used and the RSPB scientists made a contribution. The analysis was made by the More or Less team and, to me at least, seemed properly analysed. It was not RSPB propaganda and GWCT was apparently wrongfooted.
    More or Less is a BBC R4 must listen programme, one of their best. It was good on Covid-19 this morning.

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  7. GWCT have contributed significantly to scientific knowledge, particularly in relation to insects in arable fields. But when you are a science based NGO you should be judged on both what you have got and what you do with it. GWCT data shows that we should be concerned about the impacts of pyrethroid pesticides on insects and wildlife, but the only leadership I have seen them provide on pesticide management has been to maintain, up until the current day, that neonics are safe. This is despite piles of utterly convincing evidence that neonics dramatically reduce bee and bird populations. Of all the wildlife NGOs GWCT is the only one to continue to promote neonics as safe. This goes far beyond presenting an alternative interpretation of the facts and one has to question if this type of example setting to young scientists, and indeed the farming sector, should be supported.

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    1. Professor John Holland, head of GWCT farmland ecology research, is actually actively at the forefront of research into alternatives into neonics and pointing out the disadvantages of the alternatives is NOT supporting neonics. At the end of the day, it's all a matter of relativity, no chemicals are safe, and no-one knows this better than GWCT FE team who have been researching farmland insects for decades. Just check out their list of peer-reviewed published papers to this end. It's a shame that your "brand" seems to be ruffling feathers and trashing people, Mark.

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      1. Joyce - thank you for your feather-ruffling first comment here.

        You haven't really addressed Matt's point - just strengthened it. He says that the research is good but he criticises the public stance, or lack of it.

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      2. Opposing the neonic ban is promoting the use of neonics - see GWCT letter in the Times November 2017 - https://www.gwct.org.uk/blogs/news/2017/november/ending-neonic-use-entirely-will-negatively-affect-farming-and-wildlife-our-letter-to-the-times/

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  8. Matt Shardlow makes a telling point about GWCT and neonics. Their current position stands in marked contrast to the one they took when the late Dick Potts was their Director. Dick and his research team at the Game Conservancy were responsible for the best scientific information in the world on the indirect effects of pesticides on wildlife- especially grey partridges. Dick was skilful and bold in publishing and publicising this research and there was a serious risk for some time that agrochemical companies would take the GC to court over it. Very good work on this topic continues at GWCT, but maybe it is not being used so effectively.

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  9. I sympathise with those who have responded that GWCT have historically done good work, and have committed staff who continue to do good work in some areas. But it is surprising that people like that are not aware of the role of some leaders of their organisation in essentially providing a shield for those who continue on with the blatant persecution. They are to all intents and purposes simply apologists for those engaged in those activities. Rather than condemning the persecutors and giving them no place to hide they simply keep repeating that brood management can unlock the conflict citing irrelevant data that omits this bit that matters, i.e. the continuing unremitting persecution. If a deal has really been done to solve the conflict why is it that there has been no hint of a let up in the litany of cases being documented of the sat tagged birds "disappearing", and those as we all know just the tip of the iceberg? We all know what is going on, we are not fools. Those leaders betray their true colours by always studiously avoiding the critical part of the issue, e.g. no comment from them on things like this: https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/b/investigations/posts/eyewitness-describes-shooting-of-hen-harrier-bowland On the contrary, given any opportunity they seem eager to defend and reward the perpetrators, e.g. here in SE Scotland they dished out an auction prize to an estate which was subject to a 3 year General Licence ban after discovery of illegally set traps during a police raid. If they want us to believe they genuinely want to see an end to persecution they need to stop sending out mixed messages and take a lead in condemning the persecution, not turning a blind eye or retweeting estate press statements which dismiss illegality. I suspect many who work for GWCT may not be fully aware of the example they are setting here and would be horrified that they are continuing to aid and abet those who continue to persecute.

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  10. One the best series of comments on Mark's posts that I've seen. I agree with much of what has been said but would address Jo Madden's points about the educational aspect of GWCT. Yes, it is a very important part fo what they do and it would be unfortunate to lose it. But it is only part of what they do and the point has been (very well) made that they are failing quite badly in other parts of their work compared to past times, highlighted by Prf R. Green (presumably Rhys?). That educational aspect could be taken up elsewhere in a better enviroment if GWCT continues to decline in its rigorous application of science and more. If not, it would not be a dissimilar situation to the old chestnut about not having any heaths and moors if there were no gamekeepers.

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  11. An interesting, if time-consuming, exercise is to read and compare the tone and content of the two books on partridges written by Dick Potts some 26 years apart (published in1986 and 2012).
    The first was a brilliant and uncompromising documentation of the effects of intensive farming, particularly the use of herbicides and insecticides, on the numbers of wildflowers and insects, and the knock-on effect on numbers of partridge and many other species. His work, together with other researchers at what is now the GWCT, lifted the lid on the role of farming changes and has been confirmed and extended by numerous more recent studies performed by scientists in many university departments, the BTO and the RSPB.
    His second book is a very different kettle of fish. It does summarise and extend the excellent early work, but in many places it is just a litany of praise for the shooting industry and the benefits of predator control. Let me just give one example from his concluding chapter: 'Management is necessary and accepted for herbivores and sooner of later it will become necessary for predators. Adopting this ethic might have saved the Langholm grouse moor and its harriers, grouse and gamekeeper livelihoods.'
    He also advocates providing grain feeding hoppers at the rate of one hopper for every pair of partridges, and controlling the resulting rats by placing poison bait stations near each feeder containing grain treated with bromadioline, a second-generation anticoagulant rodenticide. Incomprehensibly, he regards all this as part of 'the ecosystem approach' to bird conservation.
    In my view, this change in emphasis mirrors the decline and fall of the GWCT more generally.

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  12. I had the same respect for Dick Potts as I did for Colin Bibby - neither would have allowed organisational priorities to corrupt their scientific integrity. Very sadly that is no longer the case with GWTC and the idea that an evological training in an organistion that would twist thevtruth to its own priorities might perhaps prepare one for the grubbier end of commercial ecological consultancy, but not for real science. For GWTC their Choice of Chairman may not be the winner they think it is - Sir Jim, loser of the forest sales fiasco who managed not just to get homself sacked but also the far more creditable Caroline Spellman.

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