Massive piles of dead Ravens

Thanks to Rob Sheldon we now know the scale of Raven killing licensed by SNH in Scotland over recent years.

Licences have been issued to kill over 4,000 Ravens – a species otherwise protected by law – by the Scottish government’s nature conservation agency.  With friends like this, protected wildlife needs no enemies.

Read Rob’s blog here. This is just yet another example of two things: the fact that nature conservation is entirely subservient to landowning pressure and the growing power of individual conservationists compared with the wildlife NGOs who ought to be flushing out this type of disgrace and combatting it.

I have no real issue with the possibility that any protected species might be killed under some circumstances – but the statutory agencies ought to be the gatekeepers of that threshold and ensuring that only under rare and well-documented circumstances should applications get through that doorway.  I expect that Rob will be going back to SNH to request the details behind those licences and I’d be fascinated to see the applications.  It couldn’t be the case, could it, that SNH are operating an open door policy for applications to kill Ravens? 

Well done Rob! SNH ought to take care over issuing licences next year – otherwise they might find themselves the subject of further judicial reviews. And I will gladly chip in to fund them.


Grouse moors – poor value

This report was published a few days ago by Common Weal – a member of the Revive coalition (see here and here) that is looking to reform intensive grouse shooting in Scotland.

It’s interesting, although not stunningly so.

The report compares the economic gross value added (GVA) and jobs, both per hectare, of grouse shooting with other land uses.  Grouse shooting comes at the bottom of the list on both measures!

GVA removes subsidies from the calculation but includes taxes from the activity – a better approach than that of the highly flawed PACEC report.  But the main land uses considered include housing and horticulture which are unlikely to occupy much of the grouse moors of Scotland very soon (that’s my guess). But the figures are interesting.

For example, though this comes from my head not the report itself (though it come from the figures in the report), if we banned driven grouse shooting and lost all of its economic value, and built houses on 1% of the land previously under grouse moor management, then that would produce four times the annual economic value from the whole land previously used for grouse shooting and nearly as many jobs. And we could just have rewilded upland on the other 99% of the land.  It’s worth thinking about…

Just for fun, if we apply the GVA value for Scottish grouse shooting to England (slightly dodgy, but this is just for fun), then the claimed 860,000 acres of English grouse moor (348,000 ha) have a GVA of £10.4m. Ten million quid per annum? Chicken, or grouse, feed!  And a very different figure from the Moorland Association’s figure of £67.7m pa value to the economy.  I can imagine that English grouse shooting has a higher GVA than Scottish grouse shooting, but it’s still chicken feed!

But for a proper economic analysis we would need a study which incorporates the externalities as economists say – one which takes into account the non-market impacts of a land use.  These would include carbon storage, increased water treatment costs, lowered aquatic biodiversity, higher waders numbers, much lower or non-existent raptor numbers and increased flood risk from the management that is contingent on grouse shooting. I have a plan to get that study done (but it isn’t a very current plan so don’t hold tour breath!).

And any activity which is underpinned by wildlife crime does not deserve its place at the upland table – even if it were economically vlauable – though it is pretty clear that grouse hooting is economically trivial.


Your National Parks and AONBs need you!

If you are going to respond to the consultation on National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, and I do hope you will, then you have until 18 December (that’s Tuesday) to do so.  Maybe a task for this weekend?  Here is the link.

It doesn’t take very long to respond to the 24 questions – maybe 20 minutes – and that time can be reduced considerably if you want to use my draft response as a guide to what you might say (although I’m sure you can do much better yourself).  I didn’t answer all the questions.

The first five questions are easy – provided you know your name etc.

Question 6 asks for a photo that sums up NPs /AONBs and I used this one – feel free to use it too if you like.

Question 7:

Very little as far as nature conservation is concerned. They are landscape areas not nature areas.

Question 8:

Massively under-achieving for biodiversity/wildlife/nature. Considering that NPs were set up to preserve and enhance natural beauty they have done a spectacularly poor job.
UK NPs do not deserve the name of National Parks – they are masquerading as something which they are not.
Public land ownership and management should be pursued so that society can achieve conservation, recreation and landscape goals within NPs.
Some damaging land uses dominate upland NPs eg intensive grouse shooting, plantation forestry with non-native species (mostly a thing of the past but trees live a long time), and overgrazing by sheep. Our upland NPs are ecologically knackered.
Consider some of the logos: Yorkshire Dales NP has a ram as its logo – a symbol of upland mismanagement! The Forest of Bowland AONB has a Hen Harrier as its logo – once the English stronghold of this fully protected bird it is now reduced to very low numbers in Bowland due to illegal persecution. Upland NPs such as Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors and Northumberland and AONBs such as Bowland, North Pennines and Nidderdale should be this species’s stronghold. Northumberland NP – Curlew, doing badly in all NPs.
It’s a good job that so much money is invested in logos and signs otherwise one would never know that one was standing in a protected area from the wildlife one can see around one. Upland NPs are not places the naturalist seeks out but drives past to get to richer areas for biodiversity.

Question 9a:

They play a very poor role – upland NPs (and AONBs) are wildlife crime scenes where fully protected birds of prey such as Goshawk, Red Kite, Peregrine Falcon and Hen Harrier are illegally but ruthlessly excluded by grouse shooting interests.
NPs should be sites used for rewilding – they should be the places we go to see Red Squirrel, Lynx, Pine Marten, Beaver, Golden Eagles etc and where the tree line is natural and the peatbogs are pristine.

Question 9b:

Could they do much less? Upland NPs are irrelevant to nature conservation at the moment.

Question 10:

The Sandford principle states that the protection of natural beauty (landscape and wildlife) take precedence over other issues. Let’s get back to that.
In modern Britain, where wildlife is losing out everywhere to economic activity, NPs and AONBs should be areas where nature conservation is a primary aim. They should demonstrate our brilliance at nature conservation not our indifference to it as they do at the moment.

Question 11:

We should buy out landowners at fair prices so that the state owns much more land in upland NPs and AONBs. Farming in upland NPs is unprofitable without subsidy – let’s use the saved subsidy to acquire land at fair (but relatively low) prices.
Landowners and farmers are important stakeholders in delivering the upland NPs’ aims – but they should not have a veto on biodiversity improvement.

Question 12:

I’d like to see much better access to upland NPs – tourist villages which provide hubs for access. They should be destinations for wildlife lovers. Who says that they are going to an upland NP for their holidays? We should be booking our accommodation in upland NPs a year in advance to ensure that we can enjoy their wildlife and landscapes in our holidays. No-one has ever said ‘I’m going to [English upland NP] for a week’s holiday and I am so excited by the wildlife I will see. I’ve been looking forward to it all year!’. Why not?

Question 13:

The question should be are the people who live and work in NPs and AONBs suporting the public value of NPs and AONBs? When it comes to grouse shooting they are not.

Question 15 (I skipped 14):

Most upland NPs seem to be run by a cabal of upland landowners.
We need greater public ownership of the land so that NP management can be decided rather than expensively nudged and negotiated.
I would like to see an English NP service somewhat along the US model which delivers access, recreation and wildlife.

Question 17 (I skipped 16):

Ahem – how about going back to what these areas are for first? If upland NPs were rather more welcoming places and were noticeably different in being richer in wildlife, more welcoming and obviously set up for visiting and recreation then maybe a wider range of people would come.

You might want to have a word with the grouse moor gamekeeper I met once in Nidderdale AONB. A group of us were leaving the moor after a walk and he aggressively told us that we weren’t allowed there. When we sid that it was open access land and that we were he said ‘Not at this time of year’. When we replied that we had checked the website and there were no closure orders applying to this land and no notice on the stile that we had used he told us that we should contact him before coming there again. Not exactly the most welcoming of encounters and completely and utterly false.

Question 18:

I would like to see upland NPs having more duties and targets and more powers and money to achieve them. The status quo is hopeless – change requires a stated direction and the means to get there.

Question 19:

Why not merge AONBs with NPs wherever possible? And merge NPs where they are contiguous too.

Question 20:

The current upland NPs are so worthless it would be foolish to replicate such designations elsewhere. I’d rather see all upland NPs abolished than kept as they are now.

Question 21:

There is hardly a country on Earth that has such decrepit NPs as those in the UK uplands – go visit!

Question 22:

Upland NPs could be renamed ‘Typically biodiversity-poor areas but with a line around them that makes bugger all difference’.  A snappy phrase? But more accurate than pretending that we have real NPs.

Question 23:

Staying in the EU would be handy!


A meaningful vote?

This evening Theresa May will win the no-confidence vote against her and the hard Brexiteers will have been put firmly in their place.  I’d bet on it.In fact, I have bet on it. After coming back from a walk at Stanwick Lakes this morning (an unsuccessful search for a male Hen Harrier that has been around for a few days!) I looked at the odds on TM the PM winning the vote. At that time she was already 1/2, and a few minutes later she was 1/3.  The odds have tumbled through 1/4, 1/5, 1/6, 1/7 and 1/8 – which represents a one in nine chance of defeat.  Well, the odds for political contests have not been very reliable in recent years but I think we can be pretty sure, though not certain, that she will get through.

The question then, is does she scrape through or get a moderate vote of confidence from her own MPs? Or is it? I’m not sure – I think that the PM will stick at the job even if she gets by by a single vote out of a sense of duty and a realisation that a leadership contest is not even in her party’s interest, let alone the country’s.

So, it was a foolish manoeuvre from a bunch of silly Conservatives, mostly silly men.

So this vote changes nothing except to reduce further the standing of the UK in the eyes of the world, the standing of politicians in the eyes of voters, and of Conservative Brexiteers in the eyes of their Conservative Remain colleagues.

Not, then, a very meaningful vote.

But I might be wrong – we’ll see very soon.


Natural England PhD – Hen Harrier reintroduction

Natural England, that cash-strapped former conservation agency, is funding  a PhD into raptor translocations.  But it will use the case study of the reintroduction of Hen Harriers in England. Short thesis!