I have spent quite a lot of time, some of it in pubs, talking about what would be the legal repercussions of walking through a grouse shoot which is in process. It seems that there aren’t any – at least that’s what I understand from this response from Natural England’s Open Access Contact Centre;
Here are those links:
Having spoken to various helpful people in Natural England, a couple of National Parks and AONBs, and some more experienced visitors to grouse moors, the general picture seems as follows. Most grouse moors are on open access land and most use their allocation of 28 days of closure of open access in the birds’ breeding season (usually May-June). Few, if any, moors are closed to open access on shooting days but if you come across a grouse shoot you will probably be asked whether you’d mind waiting for the drive to be finished or whether you would take a different route. I take it from the ‘your access rights are unimpaired’ phrase above that it would be up to you whether you cooperated or not. It might depend on how one was asked I think. I found this very interesting, and it wasn’t exactly what I expected so that made it all the more interesting.
Also interesting was the fact that pre-Crow Act (pre-2000) National Park rangers were required to be present at grouse shoots to manage public access, but since CROW this does not take place.
It was suggested to me that the best way to find out whether grouse shooting was happening would be to contact the land owner. So I looked through my contact list of grouse moor owners and decided to start with … the National Trust.
You may remember that last year the likes of Ian Botham and the not-so-talented Viscount Ridley were using an unpublished ‘survey’ to prop up their view that grouse shooting is great for wildlife. At the time, Matt Ridley refused to disclose the data on which he based his claim with ‘It was a privately commissioned survey and I saw it on condition that I do not disclose where.’. That ‘study’ is still unpublished – what was vaunted a year ago is still invisible.
This year, the same tactic of quoting a ‘survey’ that the public can’t see was used. In Ian Botham’s unpleasant article in the Mail on Sunday the second paragraph was ‘Research by scientists at Newcastle and Durham universities suggests that grouse moors are not the ecological deserts some campaigners claim them to be, but are teeming with endangered birds.‘. Well, we should all read that.
But when a reader of this blog contacted Newcastle University they received this prompt reply ‘Many thanks for your email and interest in our work. The research is ongoing and we will be producing a final report in due course and submitting a paper to a scientific journal, hopefully early next year. The media coverage was based on a Preliminary Report to the funders of the work, so at present I’m afraid that there is no publication in the public domain.’
So, there is no publication or even a summary available to the world, and it will be a long time before this research will be published, if it ever will (who knows, on past performance, although this time there are real academics involved?). I somehow doubt that the study contains the words ‘grouse moors…are teeming with endangered birds’ though existing studies (notably Tharme et al, 2001) show that some species of wading bird are commoner on grouse moors and other bird species are less abundant. Oh yes, and Red Grouse are commoner on grouse moors too. If that is what this study comes up with then it won’t be a great surprise. I’ll be interested to see what it says about Black Grouse numbers and raptor numbers (such as – were there any? and which species?) but obviously we’re going to have to wait a while.
If the study looks only at grouse moors then it won’t tell us very much, but if it tackles comparisons between grouse moors and other moors then it faces a scientific difficulty of matching both types of site for other variables such as location, altitude, topography, surrounding woodland area, soil type etc – that’s always a bit tricky. It’s not an easy comparison to make. Let’s hope that this study has a large sample of sites spread randomly across moorland areas.
This use of secret reports which cannot be seen, evaluated or criticised by others is a shabby tactic by an ever more-desperate grouse shooting industry. The academics involved have been put in a very difficult position by their paymasters. Do they sit silently by as their research is interpreted correctly, or perhaps incorrectly, in the media when the analysis is not even finished, no paper has been submitted for publication, and long before the data are in the public domain? Why did they not ensure that the funders signed a no-publicity clause to cover the work until it was fully and properly analysed, written up and published?
And see a blog posted today by Raptor Persecution UK where our old friend Magnus Linklater ( see The raptor haters? – Magnus Linklater, August 2012 and his guest blog here also in August 2012 (which attracted nearly 200 comments) but also his review of Inglorious in The Times) is caught out again in a similar way.
You may remember this video released by the RSPB last week …
…and the RSPB blog on the case.
Denton Moor is in the Nidderdale AONB and the relevant part of the moor is owned by the prestigious engineering firm NG Bailey. They commented to me as follows;
RSPB/Marsh harrier incident on Denton Moor
We have been made aware by North Yorkshire Police of an incident involving marsh harriers on leased land owned by NG Bailey.
We are extremely concerned by this and would encourage anyone with information about the incident, or who can help identify those responsible, to contact North Yorkshire Police as soon as possible.
As this investigation is on-going we are unable to comment further.
A lady I spoke to from NG Bailey was very helpful and said that she couldn’t say very much but that this made a change from talking about engineering. Since I spend a lot of my time talking about harriers of one sort or another, talking about engineering would make a bit of a change for me.
NG Bailey own the land but let the shooting. Their headquarters, in Denton Hall, are very close to the moor in question but they have a range of other offices dotted around the country too. The Denton Park Estate, which is apparently owned by NG Bailey, lets shooting days.
The long story of protecting the West Pennine Moors as an SSSI has come to its administrative climax with the publication of the legal documents following an NE Board meeting in July.
Because new SSSIs aren’t that common, and new upland ones certainly aren’t, I actually glanced through the document with some interest, when my eye was caught by some familiar words in any interesting place.
In the list of ‘Operations Likely to Damage’, or OLDs, we find at the end of the list ‘Use of lead shot’. This means that NE require anyone who wishes to carry out this OLD to seek permission (which may be refused) in advance because this activity may damage the features of interest of the SSSI. Well that’s interesting, isn’t it?
This isn’t going to hamper the locals in this SSSI very much, and one wonders if and how it will be enforced, but what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. So I look forward to seeing ‘Use of lead shot’ being added to the list of OLDs for Bowes Moor SSSI, Arkengarthdale, Gunnerside and Reeth Moors SSSI, Bowland Fells SSSI and many others. I’ve asked NE what plans they have to add ‘Use of lead shot’ to the OLDs of other blanket bog SSSIs.
Chris Packham is a great guy – I admire his toughness and his persistence. But he gets an awful lot of very nasty flak from the shooters. Remember the Countryside Alliance called for the BBC to drop their best wildlife presenter a couple of years ago – well, don’t think that has gone away, the nasty brigade haven’t turned over a new leaf.
Chris seems remarkably unconcerned by these attacks, but he deserves our support even if he might shrug them off anyway.
So when you see him at the Bird Fair this weekend shout out ‘Hello Chris – well done mate!’ every time you see him.
And do something more concrete too – buy this book (and Chris has authored many other books too). You can’t lose – it’s an amazing book of honesty, pain, wildlife, awkwardness and a love of nature. This is one of the bravest and most honest memoirs I’ve ever read. I’d like to tell you that you will enjoy it – you might, but I am sure you will be moved by it and get a lot out of it. And you’ll put a few pence in Chris’s pocket too.