Dr Coffey’s reading list (2)

Therese Coffey

Dr Therese Coffey is the junior minister at Defra. When Gavin Gamble’s e-petition in favour of banning driven grouse shooting passes 10,000 signatures then Dr Coffey will need to sign off a government response.

In order that she does not make Defra look even more foolish than they do already I am providing a reading list for the minister to inform her response.

Photo: Tim Melling

Let’s look at the Peregrine Falcon (as featured on today’s Tweet of the Day by the way).

It was all of six years ago that a paper was published which analysed long-term datasets from the North of England Raptor Forum (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) which showed that Peregrine Falcons nesting in the uplands of England fare far less well on grouse moors than just down the road on moors not managed for grouse shooting.

This is the paper; Amar, A., Court, I.R., Davidson, M., Downing, S., Grimshaw, T., Pickford, T. & Raw, D. (2012) Linking nest histories, remotely sensed land use data and wildlife crime records to explore the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations. Biological Conservation. 145: 86-95.

Here is the written evidence submitted by the senior author of the paper ahead of last year’s debate on grouse shooting.

Here are quotes from two of the authors at the time of publication (2011);

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.”.

These data are not explicable by the ‘a few bad apples’ hypothesis – they indicate widespread, routine and systematic wildlife crime associated with grouse moors in the north of England. The published analysis used data from 1980-2008 and things have not improved since then – in many areas they have got worse. So, for 40 years or so we know that grouse moors have been depleted of a protected bird which should grace our National Parks and AONBs but instead is illegally persecuted.

Government has not addressed this problem and in Dr Coffey’s ‘nothing to see here’ speech last October she did not even acknowledge that there was a problem that government should address.  Clearly the Defra Hen Harrier Inaction Plan will not help Peregrine Falcons (and hasn’t and won’t help Hen Harriers either).  Nor will funding of the NWCU deal with this issue – it hasn’t so far and it can’t in future.

So, minister, what’s your plan?

Please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and to put Dr Coffey on the spot.

 

The government response should:

  • be published within 2 weeks of Gavin Gamble’s e-petition reaching 10,000 signatures
  • announce that vicarious liability for wildlife crimes will be introduced in England because of the unacceptably high levels of wildlife crime
  • announce that Defra will ask the RSPB to come forward with proposals for licensing of shooting estates within a month and that Defra will respond to them by Christmas
  • acknowledge the level of concern about driven grouse shooting which led to 123,077 signatures being gained last year for an absolute ban on this hobby (I’m not expecting Dr Coffey to say anything nicer than that about a ban)
  • confirm that Defra is looking at removal of farming subsidies from grouse moors in its post-Brexit agricultural strategy
  • confirm that the evidence for wider environmental damage of heather burning has increased recently and that this is an issue that government will address and that this will require widespread changes to grouse moor management (burning and draining)
  • mention where the government is with dealing with the RSPB complaint to the EU over unsustainable moorland management due to grouse shooting practices
  • acknowledge that the plight of the Hen Harrier has not improved in two breeding seasons since the Defra Hen Harrier plan was launched and that the grouse shooting industry has not cleaned up its act and is on a last warning
  • announce that the details of the 15-year Natural England Hen Harrier study will be published by Christmas 2017 in a government report with further recommendations for Hen Harrier conservation
  • acknowledge that wildlife crime applies to many other protected species other than the Hen Harrier
  • announce that the National Capital Committee has been asked to compile a report on ecosystem services and grouse moor management
  • announce a review of the economic costs and benefits of intensive grouse moor management will be carried out by independent academics and published by Christmas 2018.

The government response should not:

  • say that funding of the NWCU is a sufficient response to combatting bird of prey persecution in the uplands (because nobody who knows has ever suggested such a thing)
  • say or suggest that grouse shooting provides a nett economic benefit to the nation (because there are no such figures)
  • suggest that the current Hen Harrier Action Plan is remotely fit for purpose
  • praise gamekeepers
  • conflate benefits of all shooting (economic or environmental) with benefits of grouse shooting (because it makes the government department and/or its ministers look either stupid or biased)
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FSA advice on lead-shot game

The government response to the Lead Ammunition Group’s report, back in July last year, was that the Food Standard Agency’s advice is adequate.

The FSA advice on human health aspects of eating game shot with lead is pretty good (although it could be better if you read the minutes of Lead Ammunition Group meetings) and contains the words ‘…people who frequently eat lead-shot game, particularly small game, should cut down their consumption. This is especially important for vulnerable groups such as toddlers and children, pregnant women and women trying for a baby, as exposure to lead can harm the developing brain and nervous system.’ and ‘There is no agreed safe level for lead intake. Independent scientific expert groups across the European Union advise that exposure to lead should be reduced as far as possible.‘.

So that’s the advice, but I reckon nobody knows it’s there and very few people read it. Meanwhile the shooting industry is promoting game as a healthy meat for all it’s worth (and to them it’s worth a lot of money).

Am I right that rather few people access the FSA advice? I thought I’d find out and asked (simply asked, not through EIR or FoI) the FSA how many times that page had been accessed since Liz Truss’s hopeless letter to the Lead Ammunition Group on 12 July 2016. And for comparison I asked about three other similar pages at the same level on the FSA website; irradiated food, arsenic in rice and acrylamides.

Here is the response:

Response
As requested below see below the answers to the information you request:
12th July 2016 – 11th October 2017: page viewed 13,785 times
https://www.food.gov.uk/science/irradfoodqa
12th July 2016 – 11th October 2017: page viewed 4,262 times
https://www.food.gov.uk/science/advice-to-frequent-eaters-of-game-shot-with-lead
12th July 2016 – 11th October 2017: page viewed 40,938 times
https://www.food.gov.uk/science/arsenic-in-rice
12th July 2016 – 11th October 2017: page viewed 32,029 times
https://www.food.gov.uk/science/acrylamide-0

So, we can see that the ‘don’t eat too much lead’ message is not getting out very strongly.  There are a few posts that have appeared on this blog that have been accessed as many times as that over the same period for heavens sake!

Remember, just for starters, that the Lead Ammunition Report contains the following passage;

Can lead shot and bullet fragments be present in game meat at levels enough to cause significant health risks to children and adult consumers, depending on the amount of game they consume?
Yes, almost certainly. In the order of 10,000 children are growing up in households where they
could regularly be eating sufficient game shot with lead ammunition to potentially cause them
neurodevelopmental harm. Tens of thousands of adults, including pregnant women and their
unborn, are also exposed to additional lead by eating game as part of their normal diet lead exposure, and this could potentially cause them a range of low level but nonetheless harmful health effects.’.
Remember – shooters don’t need to use toxic lead shot – they choose it, stubbornly, over non-toxic alternatives that are available in the UK and are widely used in other countries. The shooting community is choosing to shoot toxic lead into game going into the human food chain – never forget that.

Therese Coffey

Saying that the information is out there is nonsense if it isn’t getting to vulnerable groups. The shooting industry is promoting lead-shot game like mad and government, Defra, despite knowing the dangers is doing nothing to reduce the public impacts. Another Defra failure.

Maybe Therese Coffey would like to consider this matter before she replies to my latest letter via my MP.
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Did you see…?

Did you see Chris Packham’s programme on Asperger’s last night? Wow!

I spoke to Chris yesterday on the phone – for the first time for a couple of months – and I might see him briefly this evening.

I hope the Countryside Alliance, Simon Hart MP, Nicholas Soames MP and others watched the programme too.

You can watch it on iPlayer here. It’s very powerful.

And then read Chris’s equally honest and even more powerful book.

 

 

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Last Friday

Friday was a good day. After a couple of days in Edinburgh seeing people including my son, I got the train down to London in sunshine. There were skeins of Pinkfeet flying over as we passed Dunbar, and the autumn colours in this part of Scotland are ahead of the trees back home.

In London, that evening, I gave a talk about why we should ban driven grouse shooting to a crowded lecture theatre in Birkbeck College. I’m surprised that people have nothing better to do in London on a Friday evening than listen to me on what is a fairly serious subject so I was really pleased to get this email afterwards, ‘I had the pleasure of being in the audience this evening to witness your absolute master class in how to convey a clear and persuasive message with humanity, humour and clarity.‘.

I headed off afterwards and it was such a mild evening that I sat outside an Italian restaurant in Covent Garden and had a glass of wine and a pizza.  It was very mild, too mild for Pinkfooted Geese one might have thought, and it’s not often one can eat outside in the evening in London in mid-October.

A woman popped out of the restaurant to have a fag – she asked if I minded and I said ‘no, provided you blow the smoke away from me’ and we got chatting – she was quite chatty and I can be too.  She was waiting for a comedy evening to start in the basement and she asked me what I was doing in London so we got onto the subject of grouse shooting. She said that she had signed my e-petition last time around so I pointed her in the direction of the new petition. I wonder whether she has signed, or will remember to sign.

When she finished her cigarette I watched the four young men who had been drinking beer at another table and realised they were the comedians. Crikey – they looked serious! And nervous.  I know the feeling – although I am pretty accustomed to speaking in public I get a bit nervous and introspective before I give a talk.  I had that evening.

Then a scruffy-looking bloke came and chatted to the waiter – I was still waiting for my pizza. The guy, who I will call Jason, tried to sell me a Big Issue but I gave him my small change (less than the price of the magazine) and on the spur of the moment offered him a pizza. Jason, said he wasn’t hungry, and told me he didn’t drink or do drugs, but he said he’d love a cup of coffee so he joined me at my table and we chatted. Jason said he was in his mid-forties and to my mind he didn’t look good for those years.

I heard the story of his life and he told me he’d like to write an autobiography – which did sound quite interesting – but I can’t really see that happening.

I enjoyed my pizza, ordered another glass of wine and then cheesecake for both of us. When we parted a while later I wished him luck and gave Jason a fiver.  And, of course, I walked off wondering how my £5 would be spent – would it be on a place to sleep, on food or on something that would keep Jason on the streets? The waiters at the restaurant clearly knew Jason but I didn’t ask them for a reference!

I’ve had a good life, I’m having a good life, and I intend to continue to have a good life. Maybe if things had been different Jason might have been sitting outside relaxing and I might have been the guy selling Big Issues. Who knows? And if I was conned out of a few quid when I was hoping to be friendly and human to someone worse off than myself then…well, it won’t have done me any great harm.

I’ll remember Jason when I walk that part of London again. I wonder whether we’ll meet again. Will I remember his name? I doubt he’ll remember me as I think he has more important things on his mind.

 

 

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Dr Coffey’s reading list (1)

Therese Coffey

Dr Therese Coffey is the junior minister at Defra. When Gavin Gamble’s e-petition in favour of banning driven grouse shooting passes 10,000 signatures then Dr Coffey will need to sign off a government response.

In order that she does not make Defra look even more foolish than they do already I am providing a reading list for the minister to inform her response.

This, the first item, is from the written evidence that was asked for, and totally ignored, in the debate on the same subject which was held about a year ago.

This is the summary of a very powerful piece of written evidence which was submitted anonymously:

  • The shooting industry and its representatives should be removed from all positions of power where wildlife crime law enforcement policy are discussed or decided upon.
  • Driven grouse moors should be rewilded.  This at a stroke, would remove the many very serious problems of driven grouse moors and provide real, significant, tangible benefits for the whole of society.
  • Driven grouse moor management normally involves very high levels of wildlife crime as well as a range of very serious conservation issues.
  • The illegal persecution of birds of prey in the UK has a very serious detrimental effect, especially on hen harrier and golden eagle populations.
  • Raptor persecution should be treated as organised crime.
  • Detection of wildlife crime on grouse shooting estates is currently ineffective.  Enforcement need to be far greater, with clear and strong backing from political leadership.  A dedicated Wildlife Crime Enforcement team should be set up comprising perhaps 10 officers for Scotland.  Employers and managers must be targeted for prosecution, not simply those actually undertaking the illegal killings
  • Penalties for raptor killings should reflect the fact that these crimes are of a commercial nature.  Custodial sentences should be made routine for employers, managers and employees.  Financial penalties should be linked to the value of the business.
  • The industry has consistently shown no will to reform itself, despite much help to that end for many years.
  • There is practically no accountably to ensure that those managing driven grouse shooting estates adhere to lawful and decent environmental practise.
  • It is clear that driven grouse shooting should be banned.  However, in the absence of such a ban, it is essential that vicarious liability and shoot registration are urgently required.
  • Society is failing to get any benefit from the huge subsidies given to driven grouse shooting estates, indeed these monies are funding very serious environmental degradation.

And here are some quotes from it too:

  • It is essential to understand that raptor persecution is committed on remote land that is normally free from potential witnesses and by individuals with an intimate knowledge of the land, often operating at night with high tech, essentially military, equipment.  The risk to them of detection is extremely low.  Around 100 confirmed incidents of raptor persecution are recorded each year.  It is not known what percentage of actual incidents this number accounts for, but I believe it will certainly be far, far less than 1%.  The RSPB has received multiple reports of in excess of 100 raptors being killed on individual shooting estates in one year.  Apart from the extremely low detection rate, of the confirmed incidents, the subsequent successful prosecution rate is less than 5%.  As such, the chances of an individual gamekeeper killing a raptor and actually being prosecuted for it are extremely low.  For every successful gamekeeper prosecution, I estimate that there will have been, very roughly, far, far more than 2000 other offences.  Having been convicted, it is likely that the employer will pay any fine, meaning that there is effectively no consequence for a gamekeeper illegally killing raptors or other legally protected wildlife.  [Only one gamekeeper ever, has received a custodial sentence for raptor killing in Scotland.  This is probably the one and only time ever, that a significant deterrent was handed down, and the only occasion where managers or owners were unable to protect their employees from the law.]  When gamekeepers are prosecuted in court, they are normally unusually well represented in court, often by QC’s, even for minor offences, by specialist defence firms.  Having been convicted of wildlife crimes, gamekeepers invariably retain their employment.  This arrangement allows managers and employers to remain very distant from the criminal actions of their staff.  If a gamekeeper was ever to give evidence against his employer or manager, he would have practically no chance of working as a gamekeeper ever again.  Gamekeepers coming forward publicly with information about raptor persecution would effectively make themselves unemployable.
  • Whilst it is invariably gamekeepers committing the offences on grouse shooting estates, they are not the primary problem.  It is the shooting industry, the managers and employers of gamekeepers, who are the real problem and who create the environment for gamekeepers to operate in and who direct the widespread criminal practices taking place.  The desire to produce incredibly high, unnatural numbers of grouse for driven grouse shooting is the motivation for widespread illegal predator killing.  For many years, there has been numerous partnership working projects between conservationists and the shooting industry to find ways to enable this hobby to continue legally, but despite much help, there has never been any serious engagement from the shooting industry and the illegal killings continue.  If the driven grouse shooting industry was serious about tackling problems like raptor persecution it could easily do so very quickly.  It is essential to fully comprehend that this will never happen without serious and meaningful governmental action.
  • I have absolutely no doubt that any voluntary approach or code of conduct will never be effective.  It is clear a robust and enforceable legal framework, backed up with the resources for rigorous enforcement, is needed to ensure the environment is properly protected.
  • It appears that sometimes employers/managers may be aware that their gamekeepers are illegally killing raptors, but ignore it.  On others estates, it appears that gamekeepers are given explicit instructions to illegally kill raptors and are given specialist equipment to that end.  Some estates spend vast sums of money supplying specialist equipment, firearms, night-sights, thermal imaging sights, illegal poisons, to enable their gamekeepers to commit crimes and avoid detection.

 

Please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and to put Dr Coffey on the spot.

The government response should:

  • be published within 2 weeks of Gavin Gamble’s e-petition reaching 10,000 signatures
  • announce that vicarious liability for wildlife crimes will be introduced in England because of the unacceptably high levels of wildlife crime
  • announce that Defra will ask the RSPB to come forward with proposals for licensing of shooting estates within a month and that Defra will respond to them by Christmas
  • acknowledge the level of concern about driven grouse shooting which led to 123,077 signatures being gained last year for an absolute ban on this hobby (I’m not expecting Dr Coffey to say anything nicer than that about a ban)
  • confirm that Defra is looking at removal of farming subsidies from grouse moors in its post-Brexit agricultural strategy
  • confirm that the evidence for wider environmental damage of heather burning has increased recently and that this is an issue that government will address and that this will require widespread changes to grouse moor management (burning and draining)
  • mention where the government is with dealing with the RSPB complaint to the EU over unsustainable moorland management due to grouse shooting practices
  • acknowledge that the plight of the Hen Harrier has not improved in two breeding seasons since the Defra Hen Harrier plan was launched and that the grouse shooting industry has not cleaned up its act and is on a last warning
  • announce that the details of the 15-year Natural England Hen Harrier study will be published by Christmas 2017 in a government report with further recommendations for Hen Harrier conservation
  • acknowledge that wildlife crime applies to many other protected species other than the Hen Harrier
  • announce that the National Capital Committee has been asked to compile a report on ecosystem services and grouse moor management
  • announce a review of the economic costs and benefits of intensive grouse moor management will be carried out by independent academics and published by Christmas 2018.

The government response should not:

  • say that funding of the NWCU is a sufficient response to combatting bird of prey persecution in the uplands (because nobody who knows has ever suggested such a thing)
  • say or suggest that grouse shooting provides a nett economic benefit to the nation (because there are no such figures)
  • suggest that the current Hen Harrier Action Plan is remotely fit for purpose
  • praise gamekeepers
  • conflate benefits of all shooting (economic or environmental) with benefits of grouse shooting (because it makes the government department and/or its ministers look either stupid or biased)
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