Labour: It’s time to end grouse moor practices that harm the environment

Sue Hayman, the Shadow Environment Secretary has called for an end to rotational heather burning and an independent review into the economic, environmental and wildlife impacts of driven grouse shooting.

Driven grouse shooting uses intensive land and wildlife management to create a false environment in which grouse flourish. Natural habitats and ecosystems are managed in a way that leads to grouse numbers reaching up to 100 times the natural level.

This land management results in soil degradation, the release of carbon and problems with flooding and water quality in surrounding areas. The committee on climate change has estimated that 350,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year are emitted from upland peat in England, the majority of which (260,000 tonnes) is due to burning grouse moors. There are also reported downstream flooding risks associated with burning, gripping and drainage of moorland.

There are also concerns over animal welfare. One of the consequences of driven grouse shooting is the killing and trapping of birds of prey that are natural predators of grouse, including the hen harrier. The effects are so devastating that the hen harrier is on the brink of extinction as a breeding species in England with just three successful breeding pairs in 2016, none of which were on grouse moors. Regardless of the wildlife impacts of driven grouse shooting, the question still remains as to whether it is ever morally acceptable to kill animals for pleasure.

Well, that’s good! It’s been a time coming, but the Opposition is now in the game.

 

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The thunderous Findlay Wilde is a friend of mine

The thunderous Findlay Wilde is a friend of mine – but so are his parents, Nigel and Heather, and his brother Harley.  I stayed with them on Saturday night after travelling up from Rainham and before going with them to Parkgate.

I see on my phone that I have some very sweet-looking photos of 12-year-old Findlay at the Bird Fair in 2014 but I won’t embarrass him by posting them here, but they are a reminder of the fact that although he is a young man of 16 now, it’s not so long ago that he was ‘just a kid’.

And he still has plenty to learn – after Hen Harrier Day events were over at Parkgate he rushed off to twitch a Bonaparte’s Gull and failed, but in so doing he missed the ringtail Hen Harrier that flew past.  Live and learn, Findlay, live and learn (and we’ve all done similar things in our youth!).

But he deserved a break after giving a great talk about the short life of the Hen Harrier named after him. I’d never stood up and spoken to 300+ people at his age, and yet Findlay has now done lots of this type of thing. And his thunderclap boomed out with a social reach of 8.22m people on Sunday morning at 09:30.  Good job!

The thunderclap was supported by a host of the people you might expect: Chris Packham, Natalie Bennett, the RSPB’s Natures_Voice, the Wildlife Trusts, Iolo Williams, me, Team for Nature, Rare Bird Alert, Peter Egan, RaptorPersecutionUK, Birdwatch, BirdWatching, Birders Against Wildlife Crime, RSPB Skydancer and many, many more making a total of 1810 participants and that social reach of 8.22m.

There were, perhaps, some less obvious supporters of this thunderclap such as George Monbiot, Nadeea Volianova (I love trees – unlike men they don’t lie and are always there for you), RSPCA, Louise from the vets, Caroline Lucas MP (ie the whole Green Parliamentary Party from the Commons) and many more.   Thank you to all of them, and all of you who signed up and made Findlay so thunderous.

But who didn’t sign? I can see no names in the list of supporters that Findlay gave me that could be called pro-shooting, in that there is no GWCT, BASC, Countryside Alliance, Moorland Association, Shooting Times, The Field in the list nor any of those proshooting social media loudmouths who claim to be conservationists and keen on wildlife. As far as I can see they are completely absent.  This might not surprise you, and it doesn’t surprise me, but that is surely because we see them all too often as anti-conservation organisations (whether or not they have a ‘C’ in their names) and that despite their protestations of being in love with skydancers, and in raptures at the darkening of the skies by raptors outside their kitchen windows, and their sobbing at seeing a Peregrine caught by its legs in a Fenn trap, that doesn’t actually lead them to criticise wildlife crime in any tangible way. Pah!  I say again – pah!

So if what we might sometimes think of as the dark side didn’t sign up then surely all our friends did?

Not so. I was interested to see that the League Against Cruel Sports weren’t signatories – bit of a surprise!  The Hunt Investigation Team who were giving the RSPB a hard time over the last couple of weeks hadn’t signed up either.  Stop the Shoot and Luke Steele were absent.  All a bit perplexing.

The RSPB were patchy in their support – their most thunderous Facebook and Twitter accounts were involved and that was very welcome, so were some others, but there were some notable absences:

Signed upNot signed up#followers
@natures_voice297k
@rspbscotland24k
@rspbbirders15k
@rspbintheeast13k
@rspburban13k
@rspbsouthwest12k
@rspbcymru9k
@rspb_southeast7k
@rspb_skydancer6k
@rspbmidlands6k
@martinrspb5k
@rspbni5k
@rspbglasgow5k
@rspbnscotland5k
@mike__clarke3k
@rspb_n_england3k
@kevnjcox0.5k

Not the type of support that one might hope for from an organmisation committed to speaking out against wildlife crime…   Just saying.  And just in case you might be wondering whether they were asked to join – the answer is ‘yes’.

How about the Wildlife Trusts? Their support was a bit scrappy but quite good really…

Signed upNot signed up#followers
@wildlifetrusts142k
@scotwildlife32k
@yorkswildlife22k
@derbyswildlife14k
@cumbriawildlife13k
@cheshirewt10k
@durhamwildlife8k
@wildsheff8k
@northwildlife4k

Thunderclaps will soon be a thing of the social media past, I am told, by a young person. And their efficacy as a way of getting a message out has always, to me, seemed a bit uncertain.  But they have been an arrow in our social media quiver and one which the grouse shooters cannot ever have hoped to use to any effect.  Thunderclaps are quite easy to set up and reasonably easy to join, so any organisation wishing to be seen to be supporting a cause doesn’t have to break into a sweat to give its support.

But Findlay the 16-year-old did great!  Without the complete support of those who might have expected to be there by his side, he still rocked the world with a massive social media thunderclap calling for action against wildlife crime on Sunday morning – the Inglorious 12th.

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men and women do nothing with their social media, or do too little, even when it’s a pretty simply task in front of them’ – not quite what Edmund Burke was thinking but maybe he would have done.

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Hen Harrier Days 2018 – a brief summary

A short summary of events over the weekend (and last weekend) ahead of the opening of the grouse shooting season (usually on the Inglorious 12th but this year) on the Inglorious 13th.  [Obviously I wasn’t present at them all – any updates or corrections will be welcome].

 

Sheffield – 4 August

About 180 attendees. Speakers: Liz Ballard, Natalie Bennett, Ian Rotherham, Cathleen Thomas, Jon Stewart, Georgia Locock.

 

Rainham Marshes, RSPB – 11 August

Martin Harper speaks to c230 people on a sunny day at Rainham Marshes.  Other speakers; Ruth Tingay, Natalie Bennett, Chris Packham and myself and a cameo performance by Barry Gardiner.

Grassington, Yorks – 11 August

Photo: Guy Shorrock

About 70 attendees at an indoor event. Speakers: Steve Downing, Ian Court, Stuart Grainger, James Bray, Rhodri Thomas, Guy Shorrock

 

 

Hebden Bridge, Yorks – 11 August

An anti-grouse shooting rally in Hebden Bridge organised by LACS and Stop the Shoot.  ‘Nearly 100’ attendees reported.  Speakers: Luke Steele, Dominic Dyer, Ros Berrington, Nick Weston.

 

Dungonnel Reservoir, Northern Irleand – 11 August

HH Day 2018 Northern Ireland (c) NIRSG

About 50 attendees.

 

Parkgate, Cheshire – 12 August

Over 300 attended the Parkgate Hen Harrier Day rally. Speakers: Alan Davies, Colin Wells, Graham Jones, Jeff Clarke, Findlay Wilde, James Gray, myself and Iolo Williams.

 

Grantown, Highlands – 12 August

Photo: Mat Larkin

120 attendees at an indoor event. Speakers: Harry Huyton, Andy Wightman, Brian Etheridge, Isla Hodgson, Grant Moir.

 

Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwicks – 12 August

Photo: Simon Watts, WILD! Presentations.

Around 190 attendees.  Speakers: Natalie Bennett, Nick Miles, David Lindo, Tim Birch, Emma Marsh, Peter Howe.

 

Sheffield Hallam Labour Party moorland walk, Peak District – 12 August

 

About 40 walkers.

 

So, around 1200 keen participants this year.  Not bad at all.  And a growing number of organisations taking part and organising these events related to grouse shooting, wildlife crime, and Hen Harriers.  The base is spreading and becoming more solid.

Natalie Bennett deserves special mention – attending Sheffield, Rainham and Stratford-upon-Avon HHDay events – top job Natalie, and you are an inspiring speaker!

An attendee at the Highland HHDay event suggested to Grant Moir, CEO of the Cairngorms NP, that it should be renamed the Cairngorms Grouse Park!

Iolo Willaims is going to release wolves and bears into Parliament and we gave Findlay Wilde an Icelandic thunderclap at Parkgate.

Andrew Gilruth had to give up his Saturday to come and take notes of what the speakers said at Rainham.To be fair, he couldn’t help but laugh at some of Chris Packham’s funniest lines.

Also at Rainham, we had the unexpected pleasure of a Labour front-bencher, Barry Gardiner, Shadow International Trade and Climate Change Secretary, attending. And despite not being on the speaker list he was pressed into saying a few words.  Remember, Barry was at the Derwent Dam in 2014 so he is a veteran of these events.  No senior politician gives up any of their Saturday in recess to attend an event unless it is either important or something in which they believe, and I think we can take it from Barry’s presence and what he said, that HHDay scored on both counts for him.

Amanda (If we let the Hen Harrier in…) Anderson has become a figure of fun at HHDays. She was mentioned at Parkgate with her famed kitchen window which looks out onto a sky black with raptors, but she apparently left the Grassington event before the showing of the Bleasdale Peregrine video.  Seen it all before ‘Manda?

 

 

 

 

 

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Two years ago exactly…

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Wuthering Moors 70 – EU infraction proceedings

The Guardian has an excellent story on burning of blanket bogs on grouse moors today.  Well done to Guy Shrubsole who has done a better job than I managed in getting these details out of Defra.

Read the Guardian story here.

The papers released by Defra confirm what you will have heard in this blog: that Defra is under the cosh because the European Commission is pursuing infraction proceedings against the UK for non-compliance with the Habitats Directive in regard to protection of blanket bogs.  The RSPB complaint which was taken in October 2012 (see Wuthering Moors 28, October 2012) is playing out as Defra attempts to persuade the Commission that it has everything under control (see Wuthering Moors 68).

But it is my view (see Wuthering Moors 58, Wuthering Moors 68) that Defra and NE are trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the European Commission by getting land owners to agree a form of words that looks as though it rules out damaging burning of blanket bogs but in fact does nothing of the sort.  It was one of these agreements, for Walshaw Moor Estate, that I successfully challenged earlier this year (Wuthering Moors 67) and where NE had to admit that the agreement they had signed was unlawful.

Here are the minutes of a Roundtable meeting of 1 February this year.

 

It’s a metaphorical rogues’ gallery of moorland owners and note, for later, that the Moorland Association was represented.  It was clearly an important meeting because the Michael Gove himself and Therese Coffey were both present, with an NE Board member and some very senior civil servants.  These meetings don’t happen very often.  I’m miffed I wasn’t invited – what fun it would have been!

Michael Gove reminded those present, because it is only the taxpayer and the public who are kept in the dark about these things, that Defra was facing infraction proceedings from the EU because, for years, we (it wasn’t me, but it was my country) had been burning a protected habitat, blanket bog, in a damaging way which contravenes the Habitats Directive.  Defra wanted those gathered together in the room to go out and spread the word that it was important for all to sign up to voluntary agreements to cease rotational burning of this protected habitat.

Then some wag from the Moorland Association said ‘What about, wink wink, you know, restoration burning if you know what I mean guv [or maybe Gove]?’ and was told that restoration burning was OK and that they could burn the land to blazes up until the time when they signed the voluntary agreement.

There is a strange phrase of ‘suspending the practice of rotational burning on blanket bog would not affect extant consents that have been granted by Natural England‘ which appears contradictory to me unless there is a word missing somewhere.

So that was the meeting. It is Defra asking a bunch of mates to cooperate in the short term so that Defra can get the EU off its back.

We know that one of these long term management plans to restore blanket bogs signed soon after this meeting was that for Walshaw Moor which was full of holes as far as controlling burning is concerned and consented, unlawfully, the building of a track across and through the blanket bog that these agreements were supposed to protect.  This approach could work – but it looks like a scam to me. It is letting grouse moor managers off the hook because Defra is scared to admit that the existing consents have been allowing damaging burning for years  (and we know that NE has allowed another damaging consent to run on for years too) and Defra is too scared or too much in bed with the grouse moor managers, or both, to clamp down on the environmentally damaging behaviours properly.

Remember this has been dragging on for almost six years since RSPB complained to Europe and 18 months before that when the Walshaw Moor court case folded and years before that when NE was trying (as it was then) to get a grip of this damaging practice.

It seems to me that this is a sorry indictment of the state of nature conservation in England these days. We have an industry, grouse shooting, which has been breaking the law (over wildlife protection) for decades and has been allowed to damage a high-priority habitat by the state nature cosnervation agency for years. When the UK was found out then Defra and NE came up with a plan which allows the damaging industry to carry on damaging the protected habitat in a fairly unconstrained way but they get together to construct a pretence of compliance.  It is to be hoped that the EU Commission does not swallow this approach as being remotely adequate to achieve favourable conservation status of blanket bogs.

Here is the initial document that landowners have been asked to sign.  I expect they have signed in droves – after all it costs them nothing and constrains them very little. What do you think? Do you think that the strongly worded paragraph which starts ‘The Consent holder agrees to suspend rotational burning …‘ is rendered useless by the next short paragraph which says ‘NE accepts and agrees that the suspension of rotational burning agreed to by the Consent Holder is voluntary, not legally binding and does not modify any extant Consent(s).‘.  Doublespeak in action (or actually Doublespeak inaction).

 

PS Oh yes, and when I asked Defra whether Michael Gove had met various people in an FoI they said no.  I’ll bet that Amanda Anderson was ‘the Moorland Association’ at this meeting and so I don’t think Defra told me the truth – but if I’m wrong then they will let me know because I’ve asked them. And it couldn’t possibly have been here, could it, that the reported remark from Michael Gove to grouse moor owners about protecting their vulnerable flank was made? Or could it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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