Fair Game Fair

Yesterday I went to the Game Fair to chat to Andrew Gilruth of the GWCT in front of a fairly full audience in the Carter Jonas marquee. I’ve been going to the Game Fair for years, my first was over 30 years ago and I’ve never turned down an invitation to attend. A couple of years ago both Chris Packham and I were invited and then uninvited a couple of days before the event.

When the Game Fair can bring itself to host a debate between Chris Packham and Ian Botham then they will have a crowd-pulling event, and they’ll need a bigger tent, but yesterday, Andrew and I had a civilised chat about Hen Harriers, carbon sequestration and what we’d like the uplands to look like. Everyone was very polite to me, some cooly so, but some seemed genuinely pleased to see me. The Game Fair is a smaller event than it used to be, and it has become rather more a gathering of the shooting industry and its participants than it used to be. Whereas in the past, wildlife NGOs used to attend because there were crowds of people at the Game Fair just for a day out, now those numbers are much reduced and unless you want to buy an expensive painting, an expensive day’s shooting or a very expensive bacon roll then the Game Fair won’t grab your attention for very long, I’d say.

What did we say to each other? All the usual things! But it was good to have the opportunity to interact, one to one, for a period of about 45 minutes or so. Andrew wanted to know what I saw as the future for the uplands if not driven grouse shooting and I told him, several times; a cessation of rampant illegal persecution of birds of prey and strong regulation of burning will make the current model of intensive grouse shooting unviable but luckily society will be willing to pay for those same grouse moors to provide ecosystem services such as carbon storage, flood alleviation and better water quality – that’s the future.

Andrew was good enough to say that he and GWCT accept that the Murgatroyd et al. paper (and Fielding et al,. 2011, Etheridge et al. 1997, Natural England 2009) and all those other studies of Peregrine, Golden Eagles etc show that there is a lot of wildlife crime on grouse moors but there were several heads in the audience that were shaking each time I mentioned that unpalatable fact. Others looked stony face. But Amanda Anderson always has a smile on her face. It’s difficult to know what the shooting commnity as a whole really think about killing raptors. I’m sure there are some who genuinely don’t think it happens very much but they are ignoring the overwhelming evidence that it does. Others know that it does, but cannot possibly admit that unsavoury truth. I did mention Ian Coghill’s recent book – see here.

The best that Andrew could do was to say that Hen Harrier numbers had gone up a little over the last five years and that brood meddling was having a positive impact. It’s true that Hen Harrier numbers have increased from practically nothing to around 20-30 pairs, and that brood meddling has been part of that, but this is being used as an excuse not to tackle the massive extent of persecution of all birds of prey across the uplands. Everyone looks a little queasy when one asks how broodmeddling of Hen Harriers helps Golden Eagles, Peregrines, Goshawks and Red Kites on grouse moors.

But we always come back to the fact that a hobby which is underpinned by crime is not going to survive the spotlight of public opinion and if it doesn’t change then it will cease to exist. The problem facing intensive grouse shooting is that it really does depend, very much, on killing loads of predators, some legally and others illegally. The economic model for driven grouse shooting is one which depends on raptors being reduced to very low numbers, and if you aren’t doing that on your own grouse moor then you must thank all the other grouse moors that are working so hard at it that you are benefitting from their efforts. And of course you can’t market a hobby and admit that it depends on crime, so you have to go through amazing contortions to minimise the impact on the reputation of that hobby. It’s an impossible task quite honestly, as time is telling, and as time will tell.

I never feel as though I am in a group of people much exercised by climate change when I talk to grouse shooters. But even some of them are seeing the way the world is going. With muirburn set to be licensed in Scotland and partially restricted in England another plank of driven grouse shooting is rotting away. Even if you kill all the predators, if you can’t create a wholly unnatural habitat through rotational burning then Red Grouse numbers prior to the shooting season will drop. Added to the spread of grouse diseases it’s going to be more and more difficult to deliver high densities of Red Grouse for shooting. This year, I hear, will be the fourth year in a row when Red Grouse shooting in many parts of England will be low. Many moors are looking to a different future.

And that is where the embracing of the provision of ecosystem services – carbon storage, flood alleviation and water quality for starters – has come along at just the right time for the grouse moor owners. There is a new economic and legal land use for the uplands and you’ll be able to do some walked up grouse shooting for old times sake too.

Andrew was kind enough to give me a very pleasant lunch and we talked about general licences, lead and gamebird releases as well as having a gossip. I had a couple of conversations with BASC staff which were worth having and one that wasn’t, and a gamekeeper on the BASC stand told me that the RSPB make up their bird figures.

I’d like to thank Charlie Jacoby of Fieldsports TV for inviting me to the Game Fair, for setting up the chat with Andrew Gilruth and for letting us get on with it. I’d also like to thank him for providing me with a minder called Nobby just in case anyone got a little nasty but they needn’t have worried. Nobby was good company though.

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34 Replies to “Fair Game Fair”

  1. In your blog you state: “ but luckily society will be willing to pay for those same grouse moors to provide ecosystem services”.
    I am sure you have explained who ‘society’ is and what they would be expected to pay in previous blogs but I have missed them. Would you tell me who and how much once more?
    I no longer do game fairs having been going for some forty years mainly for the debates and as you will know very few in the audience are abusive to those with differing views. Most true countrymen and women are unfailingly polite and I apologise for the minority who let us down.

    1. Austringer - the very basis of the evolving English agricultural payments is 'Public money for public goods', this is ready made for payments for blanket bog protection. Many upland landowners are already sniffing around this possibility - as they should.

      People in debates are not unfailingly polite to me but everyone fails some times. But, since you prompt some more comments, I have never, including yesterday, been to a Game Fair where someone hasn't told me what I think/say/do and been completely wrong. It's quite an experience being told that you said something when you know you have never said anything of the sort. That isn't a very good basis for debate but it is one of the reasons I go to Game Fairs when invited - so that people can hear what i think rather than hear a bastardised version from others, or make it up themselves.

      Ages back I remember a young female member of RSPB staff being told several things by someone who self-identified as a gamekeeper, but it ended with him describing her as a 'hard-faced bitch' and walking off. Another RSPB member of staff had a shotgun pointed at his face and was told 'This is what I'd like to do to you lot'. Clearly, despite all appearances, these weren't real countrymen because their unfailing politeness had slipped a bit. I only mention these examples in response to your comment and thank you for the apology.

    2. do you also apologise for the gamekeepers who are unkind to raptors? And the burning that is unkind to people's washing and people's lungs? And the people whose houses are flooded because the hills are no longer able to absorb the rain that falls on them?

  2. well done for taking the fight to the enemy - because, let's face it, that's what so many of the 'shooting community' are

  3. All the things you mention will help the demise of driven grouse shooting. But the main thing with the public will be that killing and maiming animals for fun is sick, and in the end people will be so horrified by that truth (because it's really not about obtaining food), that the thing will be banned.

    1. You're a disgrace, Mr. Simmons, and a coward. I recently resigned my membership of Dorset Wildlife Trust (30-odd years a member), of which you are a trustee, because you would not condemn cat predation of our native wildlife, including the destruction of birds's nests, and the killing of red and amber listed species. That is happening on my property in Dorset, day and night, and I can do nothing about it, thanks to people like you and Mark Avery. I asked you to condemn it, and you refused. You and Avery, and your cowardly allies, make sure nothing is said, and nothing is done. Yet here you are participating in the sham of concern for our wildlife. That is who you are, Mr. Simmons, not who you pretend to be.

      1. I've never met you, Mr Smith. Perhaps that is just as well. However, you seem to have taken a deep dislike to me for reasons that are unclear. As well as being rude and disrespectful, your behaviour is now verging on harassment. I see no reason why I should simply accept this. Would you care to withdraw?

  4. Robert Macfarlane on DID this morning probably had a much larger audience than you at the Game Fair Mark. His advocacy for the uplands and the persecution of raptors was telling. His musical choices eclectic and interesting.

    1. He was advocating FOR the persecution of raptors?? Wow!

      1. No, he was advocating increased resourcing to investigate and prosecute wildlife crime, particularly in the uplands.

  5. " It’s difficult to know what the shooting commnity[sic] as a whole really think about killing raptors"

    They are for it . The only thing they enjoy more than shooting grouse or pheasant is shooting birds of prey. They neither can change nor will change. And you really shouldn't bother engaging them, let their hobby proceed on its way to oblivion.

    1. There are those who still do not believe, and there are those who ask , quite genuinely, if it is really true.

      1. They don't ask genuinely. They ask in bad faith, not seeking answers but seeking some little wiggle room they can jam an argument in favour of persecution and anti-environmental activity. If they asked in good faith, they'd take it happens and it is bad for an answer the first time around.

      2. I agree Trapit, and there are those veteran beaters, pickers-up and helpers whose loyalty and friendship to a Keeper or an Estate goes back 30+ years who like to kid themselves with the following thought processes: "The really bad stuff must happen elsewhere - my mate ****** wouldn't do that, okay well maybe once or twice, or when his hand was forced, but at least with a heavy heart...or... ...oh damn! He probably does it all the tome. Well, I just hope he's not one of the worst...let's just not think about it anymore and walk the dogs instead..."

    2. Personally, I like the fact that Mark and others engage with the GWCT (not bothered about the other organisations). It likely causes a good few talented field researchers to question their personal morals about why they as an organisation and as individuals are turning such a blind eye and down-playing raptor persecution.

  6. Very well done Mark, I am not sure I could have spent the day at the Game Fair like you have. This is not because of any threats of personnel violence but because I think I could not have kept as calm as obviously you did. I would see “red” too often. For example to call you and Chris Packham extremists is frankly outrageous.. The reverse is clearly the case. It is the shooters who are the extremists.
    However their days are numbered and that includes all the Tory party shooters and supporters. The writing is on the wall for them and their out of date Victorian hobby and cruel and very nasty practices.
    If I had my way no one would be allowed to own a gun of any sort.

  7. Austringer perhaps they've now resumed, but I know that at least 14 years ago WWF Scotland stopped having stalls at Game Fairs up here because the volunteers that manned them received torrents of abuse from the attendees - for no other reason than they were with a conservation organisation - and one which has hardly done any campaigning against any form of shooting, if at all. I was disappointed at that news as I would have dearly loved to get into amiable discussion with the 'other side'. Subsequent interactions with it on social media strongly suggest WWF Scotland made the right decision. I've also lived and worked amongst country people and can't say they're any different from townies like me - eating, drinking, sleeping, using the toilet and watching Eastenders in a house surrounded by fields rather than other houses doesn't make a big difference in how people are and what they know, although some might like to think it does.

    1. It cuts both ways. I have received verbal abuse and physical assault for being a field sports enthusiast. I have no problem with protest provided it is respectful and peaceable. Anything else must be abhorrent. I am sure you will agree.

      Sadly, this will not appear until next weekend and is unlikely to be widely read because the watchers of this blog move on fairly quickly. But I thought I would say it anyway.

      1. To a limited degree anyway I can also say what it's like being a field sports practitioner, I was once a very keen angler. Not the same as being a shooter I know, but there was one particular incident that was instructional. I was fishing on the river Ure when a mink hunt complete with pack of hounds came through causing utter chaos. A mink was treed about 30 metres down from where I was sitting and I nearly jumped out of my skin when it was shot (the rifle was left, untended at the base of that tree until a second mink was treed and the shooter realised he'd forgotten it).

        Then as I was just settling back down a string of hunt saboteurs started filing past. They were unmasked and the occasional one even asked if I'd caught anything, but still I hunkered down on that bank trying very nervously to make myself and twelve foot rod invisible. One or two sabs sang a little song as they went past which I gathered wasn't very complimentary about anglers, it was so low I couldn't really hear it.

        That was it, my entanglement with the terrible hunt sabs. Although I've always loathed fox hunting thanks to the media I never had a liking for hunt sabs, thuggish idiots I thought and even my experience on the Ure didn't change it. Then about seven years ago I started watching videos taken by them and realised with some shame I was wrong, they finally had the chance to show their side of things and not only had they shown great courage and hard work facing up to the hunts and their loathe some followers, they'd been getting publicly maligned on top of it. Talk about thankless task of thankless tasks. It was the hunts that had been violent - sixty year old female hunt monitors being literally pushed around by 'men' half their age and twice their size. There's an enormous library of videos that show violence from hunts to sabs, but you don't need to see all of them to realise how unjustly hunt sabs have been judged by people like me who swallowed the lies we were given hook, line and sinker.

        My point (at last!) is that although I don't know what's been said and done to you, if you think on the whole it's 50/50. tit for tat between field sport practitioners and those against them I can assure you you've lived a very sheltered life. It's only a fact that a very big part of field sports involves a willingness to kill things. Is it such a surprise if their practitioners have a much greater tendency to indulge in aggression, physical and verbal abuse, threats and outright violence than the people who oppose their 'sport'? It's about projection, accuse your opponents of what you're guilty of - death threats, slashed tyres, being cruel to fox hounds. Thankfully modern technology increasingly accessible to 'the masses' is telling the truth.

      2. In general it is desirable to be courteous to people even when disagreeing with them but I'd venture to suggest that unfailing politeness is not necessarily the be all and end all. There are plenty of people who will invariably be charm and politeness personified when interacting with other people but whose charm conceals a ruthless determination to pursue their own interests, even beyond the limits of the law if necessary. I suspect there are more than a few such people involved in the operation of grouse moors.

        1. Unfortunately, you've just accurately summed up Mark Avery as a man who has a veneer, behind which lies something very very different. People's cats are killing wildlife all the time on my property and that of millions of others, and Avery has nothing to say about it. I don't accept this, and I never will, and nor should anyone. Every death by cat is a wildlife crime. Like Avery's allies in the RSPB, he ensures that there is no honest conversation. He seeks to silence my voice, and that of anyone who objects to this disgrace. Then he portrays himself as a heroic fighter for wildlife. He is nothing of the sort.

          1. If he is seeking to silence your voice then he is not being very effective about it since you are commenting on his web-site. I don't know what Mark's stance on cats is but the RSPB is clear enough.
            The bird species that are commonly killed by cats are not the ones that are showing serious declines. There is plenty of evidence that those species that are declining badly are doing so for reasons other than cat predation. It seems to me that the RSPB is correct in not making cats a major priority. Where cats are a specific local issue (for example where a housing proposal might increase cat numbers in close proximity to a population of a rare/threatened song-bird species such as nightingales in southern England) then I would expect the RSPB to include this in its case against the proposal (and this appears to be the case - see e.g. Lodge Hill), but I don't think they would be justified in a general policy against cats.
            Of course people may take a different view but it is not criminal or even unethical to hold different opinions about what are the main conservation priorities or how they should be addressed. By contrast the killing of birds of prey by gamekeepers is very definitely criminal and there is a mountain of evidence that this has a serious impact on population levels of several species. To my mind this makes it a very appropriate priority for action by the RSPB, Mark and every other organisation and individual involved in campaigning against it.

      3. Any protest that is respectful and peaceful is not a viable form of protest. Protests exist to show anger at a broken system and to make that anger un-ignorable by those who seek to ignore it.

  8. Just to be clear where we all are, Jonathan Wallace, are you yourself a cat owner, or merely an apologist? We need to know who has what agenda, transparent or hidden, and who has vested interests.
    Again, to be clear, the RSPB says what it does about cats because it is an institutionally corrupt organisation. It's on the side of the cat owners, because it values their money above all else. I just read a Guardian "article" in which, quote, "he (my cat) nipped home at lunch and brought a dormouse with him". That passes entirely without comment in the home of the soi-disant liberal, fake environmentalists. Dormice are red-listed, and cats kill myriad other red and amber-listed species, and they strip out nests and kill nestlings. I know it to be the case, and so does any honest person. I can cite numerous cases. That would be illegal in any other circumstance, yet cat owners get away with it. How? Because the RSPB and it's allies make sure they do.
    I'm a dog owner. I would never allow my dog to kill anything on anyone else's property, or foul their garden. That is because I have a) concern and respect for the rights of others, and b) concern and respect for the rights of wildlife not to be killed by pets. I regard my property as sacrosanct, and I treat others the same. I don't give a damn if a species is considered to be threatened or not. How dare you, or any cat owner, claim the right for your pet, or anyone's pet, to come onto my property and kill anything? How dare you? Why should I accept that? I don't accept it if a man with a gun comes on to my property to kill things, nor a dog, accompanied by it's owner or not. Yet you see fit to tell me that I should accept it that a cat kills on my property? By what right? There are laws in place to control people with guns, and people with dogs, or dogs without people, yet no law for cats. You, Jonathan Wallace, accept this without question. That rather shows the limitations of how you think. Slavery, bear-baiting, dog-fighting, and a host of other joys used to be legal. I think you'll find that the situation did not change because of people like you, Jonathan, don't you agree? Imagine you down at the slave market. "What do you mean, you're anti-slavery? It's not illegal you know, you can't complain about it".
    Those who seek to rig the game must make sure that they are the ones who mark out the pitch. History tells us that. So the first thing is to blow their cover, and flush out those whose position is actually dictated not by any genuine concern for nature and wildlife, but by the flow of money into their pockets. Which brings us in nicely circular fashion back to the RSPB and it's acolytes.
    As I've said repeatedly, I do not accept, and never will accept, that anyone's pet comes onto my property and kills anything, common, endangered, whatever. I know many people who find this predation deeply distressing, and I am one of them. The RSPB tells them, and me, to lump it. Hence I despise the RSPB. I seek to speak not only for myself, and for wildlife on my patch, but for those whose voice is shouted down by the RSPB and other fake conservationists , and for every single dead prey item numbering in total many millions, every single one of which is a wildlife crime.

    1. Rick - that is enough about cats on this thread thanks. I don't recall cats being mentioned at the Game Fair and you have been warned before about catifying every thread here (and about sending me abusive private emails too). I'll be happy to post responses to your rant but that's it from you on this subject on this thread.

    2. Do be careful Rick, you are clearly so obsessed with cats that you have lost all perspective. I'd advise having your blood pressure checked, it seems to me to be at a dangerous level.

  9. Well thank you for holding me retrospectively responsible for the prolongation of the slave trade, Rick!

    We all know cats kill wildlife and I certainly get no pleasure from seeing the blackbird chicks in my neighbourhood picked off by cats and I doubt that anyone else here does either. What you fail to do, though, is provide evidence that this is actually a serious conservation problem. Blackbirds remain conspicuously abundant in my neighbourhood despite the losses to cats.

    The RSPB may be a relatively wealthy conservation body but its resources are nevertheless finite and so it has to adopt sensible priorities for their use. The evidence does NOT indicate that cat predation should be a major priority for them. There are many other issues that are having more serious impacts on bird populations which the organisation, rightly in my view, is contributing to addressing. As I pointed out, where cats are a specific local issue the RSPB does indeed take this seriously, as in its responses to the development proposals at Lodge Hill so it is nonsense to suggest it is some malign front for cat lovers.

    As you have just demonstrated you get yourself barred from fora such as this, not because you hold views that are at odds with the site-owner but because you embark on intemperate rants in which you accuse anyone who disagrees with you of acting in bad faith and being in league with the devil.

    For what it is worth, I do not own a cat and I do not have any vested interests with respect to cats. I do own a dog (well two actually) and I keep them under control. I do not claim the right for my pet or anyone else's to come onto your or anyone else's property to kill things.

    P.S. I have a sneaking suspicion that had you been around at the time of the slave trade you would have been haranguing anti-slavery campaigners because they weren't campaigning for nicer hats for slaves but as neither you nor I were actually there we'll never know will we? Have a nice evening.

    1. I only agree with one point here and that is the lack of evidence for free-roaming cats being a problem for ecology. The lack of people looking for evidence is also quite apparent though.
      Keeping it brief: Garden birds are doing well thanks to artificially high food availability and this masks the impact of cat predation. This commercial food is farmed and we know farmland birds and insects are doing less well as a result. Feeding birds in gardens also boosts local rat populations which impacts other wildlife. Cat predation takes food away from natural predators (including a lot of birds) which artificially keeps their numbers low while also increasing calls for their persecution. The blame always falls on corvids for any decline in bird numbers rather than seeing cats as a more obvious culprit for example. The RSPB could be doing a lot more to tackle the cat problem without spending much money or resources. A simple change to their advice on the website would be a start as it is often quoted by cat owners in debates online to prove that free roaming cats cause no harm to wildlife.
      Personally I regard the cat debate as a hiding to nothing. Responsible owners are already doing what they can and there is no reasonable solution to deal with the irresponsible ones. Habitat restoration on a wide scale is the only real answer as it will provide places for wildlife to thrive well away from housing where cats will have less of an impact. The RSPB are certainly taking plenty of action in that area and that is where I'm glad my membership money can help.


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