Guest blog – Ban driven grouse shooting by Gavin Gamble

Gavin Gamble is a thirty-something Naturalist, Environmentalist and occasional ink-slinger currently studying Natural Biology and Environmental Science with the Open University alongside full time employment. He is also the author of the latest petition to ban driven grouse shooting from our uplands.

 

 

 

 

I suspect many of Mark’s regular readers readers will by now know my name but very little more than that, so Mark has kindly invited me to share a little more about myself – probably more than he bargained for!

I have been, what I would describe, as a casual naturalist since I was old enough to walk; I grew up in the South Leicestershire suburbs just a stone’s throw from open countryside and spent much of my youth mucking around in woods, fields and farmland getting acquainted with all things that walk, wriggle and fly. I was a sociable youngster but also very content in my own company or more importantly, the company of the natural world and that connection with nature and wildlife has remained perhaps the one constant in my life. A life-long passion for birds, invertebrates and plants has seemingly kept me on the relative straight and narrow.

Of course school, friendships and dare I say girls provided plenty of distraction and there were undoubtedly patches where the woods were less appealing than the shenanigans of teenage life. This soon rolled into the discovery of pubs and clubs and I could have so easily lost touch with the natural world that I had held so dear as a child – in fact it’s sad to say that this is a common trend; our innocent selves start out with such good intentions, such open minds and a typical curiosity of the world around us only to dissipate with age as a ‘real life’ of jobs, bills and responsibility kick in. For myself, with age came a whole host of insecurities and social anxieties that I had only recognised in passing as I was growing up, something ‘different’ that I couldn’t quite put a finger on. These anxieties I have do play a significant role in my life, but they are something I am learning to live with and indeed something that the natural world has helped me unshackle from.

When, In late 2015 my wife and I discovered that we were going to struggle to have children and in early 2016 when our cycle of IVF failed, I (or we – my wife is a passionate Environmentalist too) were left bereft and at a cross roads. I retreated back to the one place I knew I could find solace – the natural world. I spent a long time getting to know my local edgeland like the back of my hand, discovering and rediscovering its inhabitants and the time spent surrounded by these daily wonders began to heal any open wounds I had. Since those dark days it has been essential to look upon the world with fresh eyes, to re-evaluate what is important, what our strengths are, where our enjoyment can be found and where our energies can be placed. It became obvious that we should put our time into the environment, into the natural world and it is this conviction that drives much of our daily lives now. We are both now vegan, we campaign in various ways on environmental issues and I have decided to take the leap into turning the things I enjoy into my career by studying with the Open University. Amongst many other things, it is the nightly light-trapping of moths and the recording of data for the Leicestershire county recorder, Adrian Russell, that has taken much of my recent attention whilst my other constant love is writing – it has been satisfying to merge the love of writing with a kinship to the natural world through various blogs, local and national publications. (You can read my latest offering in the January issue of Countryman magazine).

So, what of driven grouse shooting? Well, It’s fair to say that I am a latecomer to the debate. In 2013 I started the Leicestershire Raven Survey, charting the rise of breeding Ravens in Leicestershire after a long absence. They are undoubtedly my favourite bird and whilst researching Corvus corax there were plenty of alarming statistics thrown up. Like many, I had pictured the Raven as an ‘upland’ bird and whilst Raven strongholds in the UK mainly exist in uplands and craggy coastal spots I was soon aware that this hadn’t always been the case. Ravens once covered the length and breadth of Britain but persecution by farmers who (wrongly) blamed them for killing lambs drove them to the extremities of the UK. Only now are they recolonising the middle Counties and lowland countryside. My research on Ravens led me back to the uplands and this is where I first learnt of their continued persecution, mainly on Grouse moors.

It wasn’t until I read Mark’s book, Inglorious, that the scale of persecution of a vast array of wildlife in the uplands became apparent to me. The persistent culling of mountain hare, the degradation of habitat and of course the almost extinction of Hen Harriers, especially in England came as something of a shock. I hadn’t imagined such wanton destruction of wildlife rearing its ugly head on my own doorstep. Delving further into the environmental impact, the water treatment issues, the flood-risks, the mismanagement of an internationally important carbon store in the form of upland peat, well, It all left me feeling at a loss, ashamed perhaps. I don’t live in the uplands, though I’ve spent time in the Peak District, and so to many it may seem strange for a lowland Leicestershire lad to feel so strongly for an upland issue but that is kind of the point – this is a British issue, it has repercussions for all of us in the long term and of course, courtesy of our taxes, we are all paying for it too.

I started the petition knowing that Mark’s before me had been a roaring success, signatories wise at very least but also knowing that the debate that followed in parliament hadn’t quite matched the expectations we all had. There is no quick fix and of course the battle has been raging now for decades but with the shooting lobby and pro-driven grouse shooting community almost declaring victory post-debate, it felt important to me, if nothing else, to keep the momentum going and to keep the debate in the public and political eye. We couldn’t afford for the last debate to simply be the end of the line. I am aware that not everybody on our side of the argument is best pleased with my willingness to launch another petition so soon and I can easily understand their concerns; Is it too soon? Maybe. Will failure to secure a second debate hurt the cause? Maybe. If anything less than 123,000 signatures this time around gives the pro-grouse shooting lobby something to shout about, then that is purely a measure of what they consider success. It’s a pretty weak measure – that alone tells me enough really.

So what about licensing? Well, it is clear I’ve taken a hard-line approach – after many decades of talking and gathering around tables little progress is being made, not least by some of the large NGOs. Can we really afford to dither much longer? With growing evidence of continued illegal raptor persecution, a refusal to shift position from moor owners and those that govern them are we really left with much option but to call for an outright ban? In my view, probably not. That isn’t to say I’m not in support of licensing, because I am. It would at least be a step in the right direction and with the RSPB seemingly willing to discuss the licensing option at least that would add some clout (though I’d much prefer the RSPB, at now the fourth time of asking, to back a ban or perhaps even just discuss it with it’s membership). The trouble I have is that raptor persecution is already illegal, prosecutions are pretty much non-existent and evidence gathering is a logistical nightmare so would licensing change any of that? By who and how would the licences be enforced and with what budget? Would the eyes be in the right places? What are the loopholes? So many questions on licensing are still unanswered but in the interim, do I back it? Yes. I suppose I do.

There are signs of renewed hope. Each year, Hen Harrier Day is gaining more traction, more popularity and more exposure. With the recent Scottish petition now securing a study into the full economic impacts of driven grouse shooting and with the SNP adopting a policy supporting the licensing of driven grouse shooting things certainly seem to be moving forwards, north of the border at least. It is also encouraging to see the youth are now enthused by the debate, with Findlay Wilde and Dara McAnulty becoming as prominent speakers in the debate as any seasoned veteran naturalist. Raptor persecution continues to make headlines and with each disappearing bird new vigour is thrust into the debate, the stories get more coverage in the national papers and this year BBC Inside-Out even broadcast their own investigation into driven grouse shooting to the television sets of many of us.

The debate, clearly, is still prominent. Can we put an end to illegal raptor persecution in our uplands? Can we halt and reverse upland degradation? Can we secure a better future for our upland wildlife, our upland economy, improve our environmental credentials? I believe we can. I believe it is just a matter of time. As Chris Packham now famously advised: We will win!

I would like to thank Mark for his continued support with the petition and also providing me with a platform to introduce myself (and rant a little) on this blog. I would also like to thank the many, many people who have contacted me with support, suggestions and offered help in a huge variety of ways and who continue to do so unquestionably. Most of all, I thank the 19,000 or so of you who have already added your signatures to the growing campaign, have taken the time to speak out and share your passion for the natural world we all live in.

For those of you yet to sign, I hope I have convinced you to do so. If you would like to add your voice, please sign the petition here.

 

 

 

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Wild food (19) – Hedgehog Fungus by Ian Carter

The feature that gives this fungus its name is both a godsend and a pain in the neck. The mass of spines on the underside, instead of the more usual gills or pores, make this otherwise rather nondescript species virtually impossible to confuse with anything else. So, if you are relatively new to foraging and wary of making mistakes, this is a good one to look out for. It is often found in deciduous woodland and can grow in the same places as the peerless Chanterelle, which is another good reason to keep an eye out for it.

Those spines though, once they have served their purpose in identification, do tend to cause problems. They are unbelievably brittle and splinter into hundreds of tiny pieces if you so much as look at them. They quickly litter your kitchen table and you’ll be finding them in unexpected places for days afterwards. I once tried to get around this by handling the caps with the utmost care until they were safely in the frying pan – which was a mistake. The spines survived the cooking process and turned an otherwise promising lunch into something akin to mouthfuls of dry gravel.

The best bet is to scrape the spines off in the woods as you gather them. It’s all a bit fiddly but once that’s done they taste very good indeed, though they do need to be well-cooked. They can often be found in large numbers, providing you with several days’ worth of mushrooms on toast in one picking.

According to John Wright’s unrivalled Mushrooms book in the River Cottage Handbook series, eating them may reduce chemicals in the body associated with tiredness. I’m not sure how good the evidence is for this but as a firm believer in the placebo effect it’s something that crosses my mind every time I eat them.

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Climate change and birds revisited

Last week I was thinking a bit about climate change and birds and thought I’d had a good idea. And I had had a good idea – it’s just that others had had it too and published a paper on it two years ago!

The good idea was to look at the ‘envisaged potential’ bird distributions which were modelled in the Climatic Atlas of European Breeding Birds and see whether they were supported by recent bird survey data from across Europe.  Are species which were envisaged to increase their breeding ranges actually increasing in those places and are those that were envisaged to lose distribution actually declining in numbers in those places?

Well, this was looked at in a paper in Science a couple of years ago. I’ve looked at the paper and it”s very interesting but it’s behind a paywall, and although I think (their system is very complicated!) I’ve asked Science for permission to use one of their figures from the paper I haven’t had a reply so I’ll just describe it in words!

The authors used Europe-wide EBCC bird monitoring data to make an annual multi-species index (analogous to the farmland bird index for UK) of populations of species that ought to be increasing according to atlas-type models, given observed climate change. And they made another index for the species that the models say ought to be decreasing. Note that the trend prediction, based on the model and observed recent climate change, is made for each country separately for each species, so for example, the Dartford Warbler population data for the UK contributes to the indicator for species that ought to be going up and the Dartford Warbler population data for Spain contributes to the indicator for species that ought to be going down.

So, what did they find? On average, populations of species that ought to go up are approximately stable (not increasing) but populations that ought to go down go down a lot. There is a real difference across all species and countries between species predicted to do well and those predicted to do badly – that’s quite impressive. In fact it’s very impressive considering all the other things that are going on.

But the researchers were a lot more ambitious and cleverer than that! They repeated the analysis for birds in North America (this was a massive undertaking – I’m very impressed) and found that populations of species that ought to go up,  go up a lot and populations that ought to go down are approximately stable. So again, there is a real difference in the way that envisaged increasers and envisaged decreasers actually behave and those differences are in line with actual climate change.

But the researchers did something even cleverer. If you plot the ratio of the ought-to-go-up index to the ought-to-go-down index against time, the results for USA and Europe look remarkably similar. If the DIFFERENCE between the two groups of species is due to climate change, this similarity of the index ratio plots between USA and Europe is exactly what you’d expect, because warming has occurred to a similar extent on both continents . That’s another line of evidence in favour of these trends being driven by climate change.

The results imply that things other than climate are, on average, worse for birds in Europe than they are in the USA.  Interesting.

 

The Science paper is Consistent response of bird populations to climate change on two continents by Stephens and an awful lot of al.s

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Kittiwakes

Kittiwake. Photo Grahame Madge

Blue Planet blues? Think of the Kittiwake. This really is a ‘sea’ gull – the most marine of all our gulls.  It’s a classy looking bird with its black legs and ‘dipped in ink’ wing tips, smooth elegant grey plumage and friendly, intelligent and coquettish look. A strong contender for the Audrey Hepburn of the avian world.

Kittiwakes nest on coastal cliffs and feed out to sea – often far out to sea (see this research reported earlier).

Globally Kittiwakes have declined in numbers by c40% since the 1970s, and as a result are now regarded as globally threatned, but we are losing our Kittiwakes at a faster rate – in Orkney and Shetland breeding birds have declined by 87% since 2000, and on St Kilda in the Western Isles around 96% of the breeding population has been lost.

The causes? Hoovering up of their main food, the sandeel, by fishing fleets, particularly in the past Danish ones, is part of their problem.  But sandeels are also suffering from warming seas. The sandeels depend on relatively shallow and sandy seas and their ranges are shifting northwards to places where there aren’t shallow sandy seas (a bit like climatic shifts of terrestrial species). And there may be other things going on too,  but the bad things outweigh the good by quite a bit according to the trajectory of the Kittiwake population.

The RSPB’s Euan Dunn said ‘We need to ensure that the future management of the sandeel fishery is sustainable. If our internationally important populations of seabirds are going to cope with climate change, then we need to make sure industrial fisheries are not adding to their problems. This is an example of why fisheries policy is vital to the health of our seas. Our thinking on fisheries and marine protection must be as joined up as the seas on which we all rely.’.

Alex Kinninmonth, the RSPB’s Head of Marine Policy in Scotland, said ‘Frequent and widespread breeding failure is now being observed in several of Scotland’s breeding seabird species, particularly those reliant on sandeels. Kittiwakes are among the worst hit and are clearly struggling to cope with the effects of a changing food supply. If they are to have any hope, it’s critically important that we act on climate change, and make sure added pressure from fisheries, pollution and marine development don’t make an already bad situation far worse.‘.

Kittiwake. Photo: Ben Andrew/RSPB

And Audrey Hepburn said ‘I don’t believe in collective guilt, but I do believe in collective responsibility.‘ and ‘For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others’.

 

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18,847 ahead

Yesterday was the last day of the grouse shooting season for 2017 – Gavin Gamble’s e-petition seeks to make that cessation a permanent one and following yesterday’s thunderclap his e-petition is approaching 19,000 signatures and the list of ’50-signature’ constituencies has reached 64 constituencies (last week – 51).  Each of these constituencies has more signatures than the whole of the UK has so far delivered for the rival e-petition in support of grouse shooting (see below).  But there’s a long way to go.  And there is the likelihood, that a third e-petition, in favour of licensing of game shooting will emerge, soon, too.

Here are the leading constituencies supporting a ban of driven grouse shooting so far – many of them are old friends (all with 50+ signatures):

  1. Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Drew Hendry MP, 110 signatures
  2. Ross, Skye and Lochaber, Ian Blackford MP, 94 signatures
  3. Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron MP, 94 signatures
  4. Skipton and Ripon, Julian Smith MP, 93 signatures
  5. Suffolk Coastal, Therese Coffey MP, 89 signatures
  6. Sheffield Hallam, Jared O’Mara, 88 signatures
  7. High Peak, Ruth George MP, 87 signatures
  8. Calder Valley, Craig Whittaker, 86 signatures
  9. North Norfolk, Norman Lamb MP, 84 signatures
  10. Isle of Wight, Bob Seeley MP, 84 signatures
  11. Penrith and The Border, Rory Stewart MP, 83 signatures
  12. Thirsk and Malton, Kevin Hollinrake MP, 81 signatures
  13. Stroud, David Drew MP, 81 signatures
  14. Dumfries and Galloway, Alister Jack MP, 80 signatures
  15. Argyll and Bute, Brendan O’Hara MP, 78 signatures
  16. Richmond (Yorks), Rishi Sunak MP, 70 signatures
  17. Sheffield Central, Paul Blomfield MP, 71 signatures
  18. Wells, James Heappey MP, 65 signatures
  19. South Norfolk, Richard Bacon MP, 73 signatures
  20. Central Devon, Mel Stride MP, 67 signatures
  21. Derbyshire Dales, Patrick McCloughlin MP, 66 signatures
  22. Harrogate and Knaresborough, Andrew Jones MP, 65 signatures
  23. Ludlow, Philip Dunne MP, 64 signatures
  24. Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas MP, 64 signatures
  25. South Cambridgeshire, Heidi Allen MP, 63 signatures
  26. Perth and North Perthshire, Peter Wishart MP, 62 signatures
  27. Ceredigion, Ben Lake MP, 62 signatures
  28. Scarborough and Whitby, Robert Goodwill MP, 62 signatures
  29. Beverley and Holderness, Graham Stuart MP, 62 signatures
  30. Ochil and South Perthshire, Luke Graham MP, 61 signatures
  31. Waveney, Peter Aldous MP, 60 signatures
  32. East Lothian, Martin Whitfield MP, 59 signatures
  33. Norwich South, Clive Lewis MP, 59 signatures
  34. South West Surrey, Jeremy Hunt MP, 59 signatures
  35. Ribble Valley, Nigel Evans MP, 58 signatures
  36. Tiverton and Honiton, Neil Parish MP, 58 signatures
  37. Somerton and Frome, David Warburton MP, 57 signatures
  38. Rutland and Melton, Alan Duncan MP, 56 signatures
  39. Arundel and South Downs, Nick Herbert MP, 56 signatures
  40. Lancaster and Fleetwood, Cat Smith MP, 55 signatures
  41. Bridgwater and West Somerset, Ian Liddell-Grainger MP, 55 signatures
  42. Torridge and West Devon, Geoffrey Cox MP, 55 signatures
  43. Broadland, Keiith Simpson MP, 54 signatures
  44. Hexham, Guy Opperman MP, 54 signatures
  45. Stirling, Stephen Kerr MP, 54 signatures
  46. East Yorkshire, Greg Knight MP, 54 signatures
  47. Edinburgh South, Ian Murray MP, 54 signatures
  48. West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Andrew Bowie MP, 53 signatures
  49. Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, David Mundell MP, 53 signatures
  50. North Wiltshire, James Gray MP, 53 signatures
  51. Mid-Norfolk, George Freeman MP, 53 signatures
  52. Colne Valley, Thelma Walker MP, 53 signatures
  53. Moray, Douglas Ross MP, 52 signatures
  54. North West Norfolk, Henry Bellingham MP, 52 signatures
  55. St Ives, Derek Thomas MP, 52 signatures
  56. North East Bedfordshire, Alistair Burt MP, 52 signatures
  57. Keighley, John Grogan MP, 52 signatures
  58. Cambridge, Daniel Zeichner MP, 52 signatures
  59. Bristol West, Thangam Debbonaire MP, 51 signatures
  60. Taunton Deane, Rebecca Pow MP, 51 signatures
  61. Banbury, Victoria Prentis MP, 50 signatures
  62. York Central, Rachael Maskell MP, 50 signatures
  63. Preseli Pembrokeshire, Stephen Crabb MP, 50 signatures
  64. York Outer, Julian Sturdy MP, 50 signatures

Meanwhile, rooted in the nineteenth century, there is a rival e-petition in support of grouse shooting which has now amassed 27 signatures.  Here’s the map of signatures (the grey areas are constituencies with no signatures).

 

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