Peregrines – moor is fewer.

I see peregrines quite often these days, but it’s usually in the middle of London (like this image is of one in the middle of Manchester) rather than in the uplands where I would only have expected to see them in my youth.  This is good – I’m glad they have become commoner and more widespread during my lifetime.

But the shocking level of persecution on birds of prey associated with grouse moors is again revealed in a paper published today by the RSPB and the Northern England Raptor Forum.

Using data on peregrine nesting success collected over almost the last three decades, and satellite images from Google earth to identify where the moorland had been burned for grouse shooting, the researchers showed that breeding success of peregrines attempting to nest on grouse moors was only half that of those nesting on other habitats.

Golden eagles do badly on grouse moors, hen harriers do badly on grouse moors and peregrines do badly on grouse moors.  Is it not time that wildlife laws were fully enforced on grouse moors?

Nicholas Le Quesne Herbert MP is the Minister of State for Police and Criminal Justice and was a former public relations director of the British Field Sports Society.  The British Field Sports Society formed the main stock of the Countryside Alliance.

Dr Arjun Amar, of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute for Ornithology – formerly an RSPB scientist and also formerly a scientist at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust – is the paper’s lead author. He said: “I was shocked at just how low the bird’s breeding output was on grouse moors; they were significantly less likely to lay eggs or fledge young.” He added: “The few birds that did lay eggs or fledge young on grouse moors did just as well as those breeding off grouse moors, which suggests that a shortage of food supplies can be ruled out of the equation. The only logical explanation for these differences is that persecution is rife on many driven grouse moors.”.

Paul Irving, chair of the Northern England Raptor Forum, said: “To people who visit and live in the uplands of northern England, the peregrine should be a familiar bird in an iconic landscape. However, the guilty few deny the pleasure of many.” He added: “Now it’s up to the Government and the Police to turn fine words into action. So far, there has been little real progress in tackling bird of prey crime and this needs to change urgently to help species like the peregrine.”.

Birdwatch magazine is asking its readers to tell it what they think about the conflict between grouse shooting and hen harriers, this news on peregrines is just grist to the mill.

Membership of the Northern England Raptor Forum is Calderdale Raptor Group, Cumbria Raptor Study Group, Durham Upland Bird Study Group, Manchester Raptor Group, Northumbria Ringing Group, North York Moors Upland Bird (Merlin) Study Group, Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group, South Peak Raptor Study Group, South Ryedale and East Yorkshire Raptor Group and Yorkshire Dales Upland Bird Study Group.


Church leaders

Have you read the report of the St Pauls’s Institute on Value and values?  I bet you haven’t, even though it has been in the news quite a lot.

Archbisop Rowan Williams’s foreword contains the following words;

An ethical approach to economics requires us to move away from the illusion that
economics can be considered separately from questions of the health and wellbeing
of the society we inhabit. It also involves recognising that we exist in a world
of materially limited resources, so that environmental degradation has to be taken
into account in any assessment of the cost of projects or transactions.

I suspect that getting this right would in itself introduce into the language of
economics a sense that it couldn’t be only about the mechanics of generating
money and might help keep issues of ethics, justice and trust in perspective.
So I welcome the continuing focus that St Paul’s Institute brings to these issues
by providing a challenging and well-resourced space for conversation and I wish
the Institute every success in this new phase of its work.

The report is worth a read.

Will the St Paul’s Institute prepare a report on the Assisi legacy?

Where is the voice of the Church on the damage that we are doing to the world around us?

Searching the Church of England’s website for anything on the natural environment I find the following, also from Archbishop Williams:

“For the Church of the 21st century, good ecology is not an optional extra but a matter of justice. It is therefore central to what it means to be a Christian”

…which sounds jolly good, very good indeed,  but I can’t find much else.  It’s odd, isn’t it, that many of us regard the protection of other living things on Earth as a moral imperative but we rarely see the Church of England saying anything similar in the same places or any other places.  I can’t find the Church of England responding to government consultations on biodiversity anywhere on Defra’s website.  Where is the Church’s moral position on the reduction of life on Earth?


Remembrance of things past?

Carolina parakeets by Darren rees taken on my mobile camera - the real thing looks better!

If you get the chance to go to the Ghosts of gone birds exhibition then do!  I had a look yesterday afternoon and I hope to get back for another look before it finishes on 23 November.

Ceri Levy the curator and co-creator of the exhibition told me he was very pleased with how busy they had been – and certainly everyone I know who has visited the exhibition has come back talking about it.

What I liked doesn’t really matter as that is a very personal thing but I would be surprised if you came away unmoved by reading the words and looking at the images.

Thinking about the ‘gone’ is a good thing to do but we also need to think about the ‘going, going’ too.  If anything we give just a little too much attention to extinction and a little too little to loss of abundance.

With the Carolina parakeet (as in this lovely painting by Darren Rees) was it the last one that died that mattered the most, or the first on the road to extinction?

For me, it is the loss of the formerly common species that tells us more about how we are wrecking the planet’s ecology than anything else – the passenger pigeon, the carolina parakeet, the house sparrow, the corn bunting, the bison, the great whales etc and some of those have gone extinct but others are just vastly depleted.

Others have liked this exhibition too (Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, BBC and Independent again).

Here is how to find the exhibition – it’s worth the effort.


Are you S or D?

Martin Harper wrote an interesting blog last week about S-type conservationists and D-type conservationists.  Which are you?

The gist (you should read the original to check the details – and read some interesting comments) is that there are conservationists (S for supply) who act for nature in its own right through direct nature conservation action (like nature reserves perhaps) and those (D for demand) who take a more indirect and human-based approach (like altering economic policy perhaps).  It’s  an interesting proposition but not quite right in my view.

It’s not quite right because it mixes motivation with approach.  It is perfectly possible to believe that the conservation of nature is a moral imperative which need not benefit our own species (S-type) and yet believe that the best way to achieve nature conservation, practically, is through influencing the economic drivers of biodiversity loss (D-type).

One of the strengths of the RSPB is that, whatever its motivation, it has for a long time been a mixture of S-type and D-type actions – a mixture which is almost unique amongst nature conservation organisations.  And it is a mixture because from nature’s point of view, it needs both approaches and you have to shift resources between them whenever you can see an advantage.

I remember the arguments which used to exist in the RSPB many years ago between S-type and D-type nature conservationists.  A bunch of S-types would argue that more and more resources should be put into buying land because land acquisition was a ‘certain’ route to conserving nature whereas a bunch of D-types would argue that nature reserves were very expensive, covered a tiny area and if we put the same resources into employing lobbyists then we could solve nature’s problems through advocacy that delivered sustainable agriculture, forestry and fishery policies.  To which the S-types would retort that success was not assured through policy and any gains could be lost through somebody else’s future lobbying.  The D-types would reply…no, let’s not replay that again.

A mixed strategy is probably needed because different threatened species need different things and, very importantly, you can make better progress in different directions at different times.  At a time when government takes no notice of NGOs then you might, if you can, better direct your efforts into those practical actions where you can just get on with it and do some practical good.  When government is open to working with NGOs then you might make significant gains from developing a close and influential relationship with government.  You would have to decide where the balance of power lies at any particular time.  And you tell me where we are these days.

It’s a useful thought experiment to consider S-types and D-types but it is to do with choosing the right actions rather than why you want to save nature.  Nature needs both approaches and it needs organisations who are excellent at being Ss, Ds or S&Ds.


The raptor haters? Robin Page.

Robin Page clearly is special.  He has issues.  When you read his own words it is difficult not to think that he has a lot of pent up anger that needs to spill out now and again (see here and here).

And so it comes as no surprise that he is angry about birds of prey – slagging off raptors is almost the badge of honour for ‘real country people’.

Robin was particularly irate about the plans to reintroduce white-tailed eagles into East Anglia but he isn’t keen on any predators (except of course blue tits and blackbirds are predators too).  His latest offering in the Daily Telegraph is a rant about predators and nature conservationists – it’s difficult to know which he loathes more, and previous articles do just the same thing (all of these seem at least as anti-conservation organisation as they are anti-predator: here, here, here, here).

Robin has chosen to be a bit of a caricature of the grumpy old countryman.  Witty and entertaining when having a rant (including when calling me the Oliver Hardy of nature conservation), Robin plays the countryman who loves nature so much that he has a longer list of species that need to be killed than anyone else.  There’s an awful lot of anger that seems to get its release from lashing out in many directions at once.  Marsh harriers, the National Trust, badgers, the RSPB, people who live in towns, the EU and sparrowhawks are all subjects of Robin’s ire.

In fairness, the title of his article ‘Time to prey on the predators‘, and its sub-title ‘ We must cull the killing machines now if we are to preserve the balance of nature in this country‘, appear nowhere in the article.  So we are left not knowing whether Robin himself wrote these words or whether they are another indication of the Telegraph’s raptor-hating policy.

Robin Page’s view of the countryside is highly sentimental.  The answer to most of Robin’s complaints is  ‘yes, they are predators, they eat things, get over it! Don’t look if you can’t stand the sight of blood ‘. The ‘havoc’ allegedly caused by pine martens is the same havoc that they have caused for thousands of years – pine martens have sharp teeth and do eat capercaillies and cuddly red squirrels.  The bitterns that ‘suffer’ when killed by foxes are the latest in a long line of bitterns that have gone the same way over thousands of years but their population is booming.  The stone curlews whose ‘wellbeing’ depends on predator control are also doing very well these days.  That’s life (and death) and nature conservationists know that it happens and can live with it.

Robin collects anecdotes rather than sees the big picture.  If you deal in anecdotes it’s easy to be selective.  And if you have an agenda it’s easy to select the anecdotes in such a way as to promote your agenda.

I don’t know a nature conservation organisation that opposes the sensible use of legal predator control, and I don’t know one that supports the illegal killing of birds of prey.  That seems a position about which it would be difficult to be angry.

Why does the Daily Telegraph promote an agenda that appears to be anti-predator, particularly anti-raptor?

A last word on Robin – I do wish his parents had called him Falcon or Peregrine.