GWCT fact-checking website – does it measure up?

The release of the GWCT fact-checking website is interesting. I wonder whether this marks a significant change in direction of GWCT or just a spasm. We’ll see as time passes. But I would give it a cautiously warm welcome at this stage and hope that it might represent a wish of GWCT to retrace their steps and recapture some higher, more moral, ground.

I’ll come back to speculating on what might be going on here at the foot of this post, but first let’s have a look at this new and sparsely populated resource.

Hen Harriers killed on grouse moors

https://www.whatthesciencesays.org/are-hen-harriers-illegally-killed-on-english-grouse-moors/

This is GWCT speaking the truth – and it is welcome. I could quibble with the wording on the right a little, but I won’t. The phrase ‘illegal killing is thought to be the main factor preventing their recovery in England’ is very welcome. And the fact that it comes from GWCT is also very welcome. And very useful. I have never seen, for example, a DEFRA minister say anything as clear as that. It is simply what the science says but that hasn’t led to similar admissions from the Moorland Association, BASC, Countryside Alliance, Natural England to any great extent or DEFRA. And so, let us be fair, this is GWCT speaking out more clearly, on the science, than any other pro-shooting organisation. So, it is to be welcomed.

Particularly because GWCT were not so candid when that paper originally came out last year, and this original statement of obfuscation is still present on their website today.

https://www.gwct.org.uk/blogs/news/2019/march/gwct-response-to-new-hen-harrier-paper/

There is quite a contrast between what GWCT in the shape of Andrew Gilruth said, and still say, on their own website and what is said on the GWCT Fact-checking website. I wonder how GWCT aim to clean that up?

Pheasant biomass

https://www.whatthesciencesays.org/estimating-the-number-and-biomass-of-pheasants-in-britain/

This again is useful and broadly correct. It is useful because I have seen these facts questioned (wrongly, I agree) in, at the moment confidential, legal papers.

But again it contrasts with at least the tone of what the GWCT Chair, Sir James Paice, said about this very matter on the GWCT’s blog in June this year (see my blog at the time), and still does on the GWCT’s own blog, where you could easily have got the impression that GWCT was criticising the RSPB’s grasp of the facts. The tone and content of the Fact-checking website are much to be preferred.

Lead ammunition

https://www.whatthesciencesays.org/lead-shot-your-questions-answered/

In this case the Fact-checking website simply sends you to the GWCT website. And we know that in this case, what the GWCT now says about lead ammunition is much improved, far less spun and more accurate than what they used to say not that long ago (see comparison published on this blog almost exactly a year ago). So, in this case, after some pressure from quite a few people, GWCT became a lot more honest about this subject. Good job, otherwise we’d all be sending them their own words for fact-checking!

So, what’s going on here? I’m not sure but I would not want to dismiss it out of hand, I would cautiously welcome it and let’s see how things go. I will look carefully at which subjects GWCT choose to look at and check because that may or may not reflect some bias. After all, if one only chooses to correct the errors that it is convenient for you to correct, and never those that are inconvenient that wouldn’t be very straight. But this website has got off to quite a good start and it’s certainly the case that I, and perhaps you, will take what the GWCT says about, say, Mountain Hares, more seriously if they accept inconvenient truths more readily.

And I detect a more reasonable tone from Andrew Gilruth on Twitter over the last few weeks too. Again, it might be me being too generous and it will be interesting to see whether it lasts through the usually torrid time as we approach and pass the Inglorious 12th.

Maybe the GWCT has regrouped, realised that only it represents science in the range of shooting organisations we have in the UK, and realises that its recent reliance on spin has undermined its scientific reputation (as I have often pointed out on this blog). The trouble is making money out of science, and maybe GWCT has found a solution to that.

Or it may be that GWCT has seen the writing on the wall for various aspects of shooting, in particular driven grouse shooting. If burning of blanket bog and maybe of all peatlands is to be ended by DEFRA, and lead is going to be banned sooner rather than later, and a more restrictive regulatory regime or higher penalties or eventually even a complete ban on driven grouse shooting are on a nearer horizon than previously, then it would be wise, at some point, to adjust one’s position to the new normal and let the dinosaurs of the Countryside Alliance and the rude oiks in BASC look unreasonable as GWCT looks more reasonable in comparison.

It may all be different by tomorrow, but it looks interesting today.

And what has happened to the Moorland Association? More on that later today.

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21 Replies to “GWCT fact-checking website – does it measure up?”

  1. If the GWCT is shown to convey accurate information they are more likely to be given air time on the BBC and get quotes in the press, so this also works as a PR exercise.

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    1. Lyn - indeed. Maybe they have fealt the pinch recently. the Gilruth years have been pretty dire for GWCT's reputation in my humble opinion.

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  2. Agree that much of the content looks good but why not brand it as the GWCTs fact checker rather than the UK’s? That is highly deceptive in my view and means they lose all the points (and more) that they gain from the (mostly) useful, well explained content. All they need to do is call it GWCT’s fact checker.

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    1. Ian - I agree but maybe that will come. Maybe they are testing the water. Or maybe this is a spasm. If it is a cynical ploy then GWCT will lose even more credibility and will find it even more difficult to recover. They know they are being watched closely by many interest groups.

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  3. They have still recently been sending letters to various papers very much in the Killtruth-Gilruth obfuscation role.

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    1. Paul - these things take time to bed in. Is this science-wash or a real change. Only time will tell. But it is to be encouraged from what I can see so far.

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      1. I accept what you say Mark, but it just seemed odd that these letters have recently continued in the face of what does indeed seem a change for the hopefully much better and more honest approach. Personally I will view them with some suspicion until Gilruth is gone or gagged.

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        1. Paul - I can understand that. I will look at things closely too. I'd quite like to see Mr Gilruth using his undoubted wily skills to say sensible things in the future. That would be good.

          And if this much less spun approach is a false front then, as I said, there is no coming back for GWCT.

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  4. Largely to be welcomed I would say. If they have published a 'fact check' stating that claims that hen harriers are illegally killed on grouse moors and that this is the main factor preventing their recovery are true then it is hard to see how they can resile from this. If Gilruth or anyone else speaking on behalf of the GWCT should now seek to downplay the importance of illegal persecution of hen harriers in contradiction of this they would look rather foolish to say the least.

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    1. Jonathan - exactly. And if the Moorland Association did then we all say 'That's not what the science says - even GWCT accept taht'.

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  5. Ummmm ! I think the jury is out on this one and will remain out for some considerable time. Having read about their record it seems the “change on clothes” has to be motivated for a good reason . It could well be that as Lyn Ebbs says, it is a ploy to gain more publicity and then to gradually revert back to less accurate and even misleading statements.
    I think we need to keep a very careful watch on this as it will very probably not help to ban driven grouse shooting.

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  6. And apparently the data gathered by this new app which ha sbeen launched will be sent to the GWCT... just wonderign whatthey want it for and why?
    https://www.birdguides.com/news/raptor-app-launched-for-gamekeepers/

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  7. I read the fact checking in detail and it does appear to be very measured and balanced - especially given the emotions around the various subjects. What is odd is they are using a different 'brand' to claim some degree of independence and objectivity. It's only when you look at the 'About' page you realise who is behind it! If there was a shared editorial control it would have more credibility - pipe dream!! They need to be consistent in what they say across all media assets to can traction - and try and get the rest of their 'shooting mates' to accept the facts. If they would just take their analysis to the logical next step - e.g lead shot is really bad - so we should change of policy now!! If only..

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    1. Geoff Carss - thank you for your first comment here.

      yes, it is a little odd, but I am still regarding it as a step forward.

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  8. An interesting test of GWCT's integrity will be whether they will fact-check the question "Are hen harriers killed illegally on driven grouse moors in Scotland?". Correct answer: "True. Many more than in England."

    The focus on England only is interesting. Maybe it is just a matter of time before they ask and answer questions about hen harriers in all UK countries.

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    1. Rhys - I did notice that, but I also noted that they listed your excellent 1997 paper referring to the Scottish situation.

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  9. I agree that this is a welcome development, useful as it stands now and with the potential to become better still. The emphasis on providing references for the 'facts' stated is good too.

    But, as others have noted, I think that the branding of the site (especially in the light of some of the Tory's escapades in the last General Election campaign) is a real problem. There does seem to be a deliberate effort to present the site as a neutral public conservation service when in fact (as can be seen from the subjects covered) in its current form, it is a resource primarily for shooters. It's subtitle, 'THE UK'S CONSERVATION FACT CHECKING RESOURCE', makes a grandiose claim which again is undermined rather than supported by the content. There seems to be a real intent to hide the fact that it is a resource provided by the GWCT, with content written by the GWCT. Even on the 'About' page of the site, you have to get to the 4th or 5th paragraph before you discover the site seems to be funded and written by GWCT. All of which is odd and quite a long way off the 3rd principle of the IFCN for 'a commitment to transparency of funding and organisation'.

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  10. Hmmm. Start of with honest fact checking and then once trust is gained push biased assessments at Hen Harrier Day and of other key moments.
    It's a bit "Fact check UK" - have they hired Dominic Cummings favourite PR agency?

    After all GWCT:

    - Took out a Google add on the first Hen Harrier Day directing people a page supporting to brood meddling

    - Andrew Gilruth took a photo of an the empty field where HH day meet took place at Rainham and said there was a poor turn out. It was take before the field was opened to the public...

    - Shared everything negative You Forgot about the birds and Botham said about the RSPB, even the proven false claims but claimed to just be informing the public and had nothing to do with YFATB

    - constantly attack RSPB and conservationists not supporting their lowland HH introduction, claiming it's the same at red kite program and completely ignoring that persecution is main cause of HH decline. Same with brood meddling too.

    I'll suspect it's a matter of time until the 'facts' are simply what fits with GWCTs agenda

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    1. Neil - yes, GWCT have all that to live down. But only time will tell whether they mean to make a new start.

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