Dear Andy

Email to Andy Clements, CEO BTO

Dear Andy

Interesting news about your successor – Juliet will find you a difficult act to follow. And congratulations on your extended term as a Natural England Board member. This email is relevant to both your BTO role and your NE role but it is directed at you solely as the BTO CEO.

As you know, I am, amongst other things:

  • a long-term BTO member and supporter
  • a fairly long-term BBS volunteer
  • a scientist by training with some experience and great interest in how science is used to inform environmental policy decisions
  • an environmental campaigner

For all those reasons, and others, I would like a copy of the following report please; KETTEL, E & SIRIWARDENA, GM. 2018. Comparisons of breeding bird population and abundance trends within and outside two specified areas located in SW England. Report to Natural England. British Trust for Ornithology, Thetford, Norfolk, UK.

I couldn’t find any reference to this report on the BTO website but maybe that was my incompetence – is it there? If so, please provide a link to where it is mentioned and/or published. The report is referred to here

The NE report states that the BTO study found the following:

A review of Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data by the British Trust for Ornithology (Kettel & Siriwardena, 2018) examined population growth rates of 70 bird species inside and outside badger cull areas to identify associations between badger removal and bird numbers. The study did not investigate the causation of changes, so the significant associations identified should only be considered relevant to a HRA if there is an ecologically plausible mechanism for the association.

The findings of the review were mixed, with some species showing positive effects on population growth in cull areas, and others showing negative effects, but with only weak, overall effects at the guild level. Most species appeared to be unaffected by culling and there was no clear pattern for species more likely to be sensitive to badger (or other terrestrial mammal) predation to be more responsive.

All bird guilds considered, including ground-nesting species, showed some evidence of a balance in favour of positive associations with culling. However, some individual species did exhibit a significant negative association.

Overall, the authors concluded that associations with unmeasured and uncontrolled features of land-use and land management are probably a better explanation of the observed patterns than changes in badger abundance. This conclusion is broadly consistent with the general observation (discussed above) that the removal of a single predator usually does not result in detectable changes in bird populations.

… and I’d like to judge those interpretations for myself.

I’ve heard suggestions that the BTO study may not be up to much and although I’m sure the BTO study did the best it could, I wonder whether the NE interpretation of the study is full and accurate. I can only make these judgements, rather obviously, by reading the report itself which is now around two years old.

I hope you would recognise that as a BTO member and a contributor to the monitoring scheme on which the report was based I have a legitimate reason for my interest. Moreover, it would not be right, would it, if the science on which a statutory agency relies to make controversial policy decisions were to be kept secret?

I’m happy to pay for postage of the report and a small fee for an administration charge but since I give my expert time to the BTO collecting data I’d hope that you would regard yourself as already in my debt rather than wanting to charge me for access to environmental information.

I trust you won’t regard this as a big deal – I’m simply asking for a 2+ year old report.

This email will be published on my blog fairly soon, as will your reply.

Many thanks,


4 Replies to “Dear Andy”

  1. Be interesting to see how quickly this is replied to and whether you get the report or an excuse.

  2. What strikes me about this is the stark contrast with the extravagent ( and unsupported) claims of the damage badgers do when it suits the proponent’s ( usually farmers or ‘rural champions’) case.

    1. Absolutely. I had a long (and ultimately fruitless) discussion on Facebook with a local farmer who was adamant that the loss of local Lapwing and Curlew (which he couldn’t quantify) was solely caused by badger predation (which he couldn’t justify). He had no evidence at all, let alone anything published or peer-reviewed. They never do.

      And I don’t think he even understood, let alone accepted, my argument that even if there is a correlation, the badger cull was justified purely as a measure to combat bovine TB so you can’t legitimately use some alleged secondary benefit to justify it.

      It sounds horribly arrogant, but I sometimes feel that you’d have to teach these people how to think before you can debate with them.

  3. Might the non-publication issue be related to the actual remit of the report tender / contract written by NE? After all data can be interpreted many different ways and presumably NE want to appear to underpin decisions by science?

    I’d also like to think that the BTO would not sully themselves with poor science, their brand was synonymous with quality, but who knows in these trying times.

    Thank you for challenging the seemingly covert nature of this issue.

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