Towlersonsafari

Driven Grouse Shooting a UK Disgrace?

139 posts in this topic

@@Towlersonsafari:

 

As you'd already been informed, I was intending to reply to you with further comment and it is, I suppose, useful that you have repeated a list of your initial grievances. Since the list has remained unchanged, you have clearly failed to understand or accept as true the various comments I made in my initial response to you (#11) and I very much doubt that you have taken the trouble to read the Moorland Association website which I commended to you. Your approach seems to be advocacy for a fixed position, one that is not amenable to modification should any inconvenient facts get in the way (as evidenced by your posts #13 and #25). My delay of a response till now has been, in part, because I have been attempting to educate myself on the conservation status across their European ranges of the raptors you are so concerned about. I have also been attempting to find further recommended reading for you and others who may wish to learn about the subject of driven grouse shooting. I can now strongly recommend a 34- page document that is free online, published by BASC: "Grouse shooting and management in the United Kingdom: Its value and role in the provision of ecosystem services". It is well referenced and contains a plethora of incontestable information (e.g. areas of moorland in UK, areas where grouse shot, employment generated, economic data, how shooting days work and annual gamekeeper activities) even though critics may be inclined to be suspicious about claims of conservation benefits produced by a pro-shooting organisation. I suppose I should admit that I'm not sure whether any of the very many referenced papers and official reports in this document were award-winning as was the case for much of @@Towlersonsafari's source material! (He hasn't told us who made the awards.)

 

@@Towlersonsafari denies malevolence. He starts his attack by branding driven grouse shooting as evil. By implication, the same charge applies to those organising it. They are charged with "industrialising" a country pursuit and turning it into an inequitable means of making large profits. This seems very chippy and smacks of envy. In any event, as far as I'm aware, it is not immoral or illegal to make a profit. He has signally ignored the fact that I have explained to him that most proprietors of driven grouse moors, though usually men of means, are not in it with the intention of getting rich and their inputs often exceed their returns, though they may provision themselves and their friends with subsidised sport through selling some or even most days. The fact that post #13 ended with a far from complete list of Scottish grouse moors and owners thereof was, I suppose, an illogical attempt by @@Towlersonsafari to suggest that they must be highly profitable. Has he studied the relevant estate accounts? It is ironic that the first on the list embraces Langholm Moor (studies on which demonstrated that build up of hen harriers rendered driven grouse shooting non-viable, resulting in gamekeeper redundancy (reference in post #11). No evidence for "industrialisation", large profits and the greed of proprietors has been offered, merely unjustified assumptions. I would suggest the charges constitute either slander or libel (get muddled about which is which), but I'm no lawyer.

 

In demanding regulation or licensing, if not abolition, of driven grouse shooting @@Towlersonsafari gives the impression, intentionally or otherwise, that driven grouse moor proprietors have an untrammelled ability to manage their land in any way they see fit. Nothing could be further from the truth. They generally share grazing rights with crofters or commoners over whose policies or decisions they have no control other than through negotiation and, but for "tick mop" flocks, often don't make use of their own grazing rights, preferring, instead, to make more room for their graziers who struggle to survive by farming. . They are mostly sited in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or Sites of Special Scientific Interest. This exposes owners to arrays of, often chippy, bureaucrats who can require access at any time and demand absolute compliance to many annoying regulations, which seem to provide no conservation benefit. I particular, it is incorrect to suggest that new roads and tracks can be built without proper scrutiny. Planning permission is often already unreasonably declined and heavy fines imposed on those not seeking prior permission to build. I have failed, so far, to mention public access problems, which allow those who may be totally hostile to the owners' endeavours to roam over the moors looking for something to complain about.

 

Towlersonsafari has, in fairness, admitted that fence collision problems are mainly forestry related. However, he seems to believe that intensification on driving moors has caused spread of fencing on to the moors themselves. He has not addressed the question of who builds or benefits from such fences. I would guess it would be the graziers,as I can see no benefits for those whose interests are confined to grouse. The quote he uses to support his case is certainly not aiming blame at driving moor owners. I accept that, on more marginal moors, attempts to devote effort to support grouse are being abandoned and owners turn to more intensive farming or forestry to make ends meet. Both activities will increase amounts of fencing and, on the farming front, heather moorland is sometimes destroyed, limed, ploughed and turned into improved grassland, capable of carrying a greater density of sheep or even cattle.

 

I note that @@Towlersonsafari continues to whip up fears over the use of medicated grit. This offends me, given that it was, for years, my "special subject". My reassurance in post #11 was clearly not reassuring enough, despite my having told him that his concerns would have been thoroughly considered by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. Flubendazole is a relatively old anthelmintic (wormer), one of many in the group called benzimidazoles. It has a narrow spectrum of activity, is insoluble in water and a very wide therapeutic index (large difference between effective dose and harmful overdose). It has been licensed for veterinary use in virtually all mammalian and avian species throughout the world for a considerable number of years. It is also licensed for human use in some countries. I am unaware of any adverse effects having been reported from any licensed use, but can't discount them altogether. To the extent there is any concern, it relates to development of drug resistance such that efficacy can be lost. @@Towlersonsafari has raised two issues. There have been occasional reports that medicated grit has remained on the hill after the start of the shooting season. This would allow human ingestion of drug as a result of eating shot grouse and is a technical licence infringement. Moor owners and gamekeepers have been made aware of this and it shouldn't still be happening. However, very little of the ingested drug is absorbed so that, at a guess, one would have to eat an impossibly large number of kilos of grouse meat to obtain anything approaching a human anthelmintic dose, which, itself, would be totally harmless. The second concern related to possible harmful effects of the medicated grit on moorland invertebrates. @@Towlersonsafari need have no fears here because, I think, he has muddled two groups of anthelmintic drugs. As mentioned, flubendazole specifically kills nematode worms (marginal effect on tapeworms) and not much else. Avermectins, on the other hand, have wider efficacy ranges. This may result in failure or delay of faecal decomposition due to drug presence in faeces at concentrations which are sufficient to kill or inhibit some invertebrate decomposers.

 

I think that @@Towlersonsafari is quite clearly in a muddle about ticks, tick diseases and host animals, but, nevertheless, sees another opportunity to add to his list of charges. Looking back to my previous treatment of this subject, I think I may not have explained matters clearly. I will try again, but bear in mind that this is not a "special subject" of mine. Let's start with ticks. One can assume that they will be present on most, if not all, grouse moors. Various stages of the tick can feed on grouse and waders and there is evidence that too many can harm chicks. Is this the so-called tick disease to which @@Towlersonsafari refers? I am not familiar with the term, tick disease. However, if he is thinking of the phenomenon described, he would be quite correct to discount the significance of hares. However, though it is good practice to attempt to reduce tick density by bracken control and sheep dipping, the main concerns about ticks arise when they act as vectors of a range of other diseases. Bacteria transmitted by ticks can cause tick pyaemia or tick septicaemia - nasty, but of not importance in grouse population dynamics. I think tick born fever, producing flu-like symptoms, is caused by Rickettsia and transmitted by a different species of tick. I mention it because some Safaritalkers may know of it - I certainly became infected in South Africa. Then there is a range of viral diseases that are tick transmitted. (Zica virus is topical but not (yet?) transmitted by UK ticks. We need be concerned over Lyme Disease virus (increasing prevalence) with respect to our own health and over Louping Ill virus and its effects on grouse populations. Sheep and deer are the main incubators of the virus. Surprisingly, mountain hares (but not rabbits) can also multiply it. Most English moors are both louping ill and mountain hare-free, though there is always a risk of louping ill introduction through long distance movements of infected sheep. There are other moors with louping ill - infected sheep, but no hares or few deer. However, a few moors have sheep, plenty of hares and louping ill. These are most likely to be those in Scotland which have the potential to be turned into driving moors or, alternatively, erstwhile driving moors that have lost viability because of louping ill introduction. In the absence of a high density of hares, the methodology required to control the virus is quite well understood and implementation, though onerous and expensive, can follow clear-cut guidelines. However, if hares are present at high density, any attempts to bring back grouse will almost certainly fail without severe reductions of hare density. It is worth mentioning that hare density is most unlikely to be high unless there has been a fox control policy in place, given that leverets won't do well in the presence of foxes. Thus, any "persecution" of hares is likely to be confined to a few moors. @@Towlersonsafari said, in his first post, that he was unaware of any evidence that hares were implicated in viral transmission to grouse. I am not surprised, because I wouldn't necessarily have expected laymen to be aware of the relevant scientific evidence, though I would have hoped that laymen who were in the business of trying to smear the reputation of driven grouse shooting might have, first, been prepared to study the literature. He has slightly modified his stance in that his later post claimed that he was unaware of any evidence that hare control had ever led to increased grouse productivity. Well, shortly before my retirement, I was aware of a moor which had apparently gone virus free and, in consequence, had massively boosted its grouse stocks. The owner and associated researchers were firmly of the opinion that hare reduction policies had played a significant part. However, absolutely clear-cut evidence is difficult to obtain when several control methods are used simultaneously. Has @@Towlersonsafari investigated the current state of research on the subject? Can he provide evidence that something that seemed to offer prospects for the control of this disease have subsequently been found wanting or unnecessary? If the latter, is he suggesting that hare reduction is not a necessary pre-condition for hare control? Should this be so, I'm certain owners would be delighted. Hare control is costly and bad PR.

 

It seems that the only real whinge that @@Towlersonsafari is left with is the illegal killing of raptors, which he blames on grouse moor owners and their employees. He hasn't explained how further regulation would help reduce an illegal activity. In fact, I would suggest that his immoderate and inaccurate attacks on other aspects of grouse moor management would so alienate land managers that he risks making matters worse. Has he ever considered entering a constructive dialogue with them instead of calling them greedy, evil bigots? I would be delighted to engage in constructive dialogue over raptors and will take up the issue in a later post. I am not denying illegal killing. Equally, I would hope that @@Towlersonsafari would, after reflection, withdraw all other charges.

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In respect of mountain hares, my opinion is that it cannot be condoned to completely eradicate mountain hares from suitable habitat with the intention of denying the population the ability and time to re-establish. Which as you mentioned @@douglaswise has apparently occurred on a few estates in Scotland. Furthermore, I would say that the evidence to date suggests that there is no substantiated evidence to support the theory that culling hares reduces tick-borne disease in red grouse.

 

The Hare Preservation Trust states that, "The current number of mountain hares in Scotland is unclear but the latest annual research published in 2013 by the BTO has indicated a disturbing decline of 43 per cent since 1995. Population densities are known to vary at least ten fold, reaching a peak approximately every ten years. The reasons for these fluctuations are unclear, but may possibly be related to parasite burdens.".

 

"There is increasing concern about the status of the mountain hare with reports of it being virtually extinct in some parts of Scotland where it was previously abundant. In some areas excessive grazing by deer, sheep and cattle have depleted the heather so that less food and cover is available for the hares. However, they have also declined on moorland devoid of deer and sheep, leading to the conclusion that human interference is responsible for the decline in hares".

"The mountain hare is listed in Annex 5 of the EC Habitats Directive (1992) as a species: "of community interest whose taking in the wild and exploitation may be subject to management measures." This means that certain methods of capture such as snaring are prohibited, except under licence. Mountain hares have historically been considered as "small game" but shooting is becoming increasingly commercialised....(D.N. this is not all attributed to the grouse industry)

 

While the mountain hare is persecuted directly for sport it is also snared and shot in large numbers because it allegedly carries a tick borne virus which kills grouse chicks and is therefore seen as a threat to the grouse shooting industry. The Habitats Directive requires member states to ensure exploitation of Annex 5 species is: "compatible with their being maintained at a favourable conservation status." Since there are no official records of the number of hares being killed it is difficult to see how this requirement can be met. But anecdotal evidence of culling levels strongly suggests that EC wildlife law is being broken in Scotland".

 

Furthermore, a paper published by the Journal of Applied Ecology titled: "Culling wildlife hosts to control disease: mountain hares, red grouse and louping ill virus"

 

Found that:

 

"

1. Culling wildlife hosts is often implemented as a management technique to control pathogen transmission from wildlife to domestic or other economically important animals. However, culling may have unexpected consequences, can be expensive and may have wider implications for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

 

2. We assess the evidence that culling mountain hares Lepus timidus is an effective and practical way to control louping ill virus in red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus.

 

3.  Evidence from the available literature is limited, restricting our ability to reliably assess the effectiveness of culling mountain hares to control ticks, louping ill virus, or increase red grouse densities. Furthermore, the information required to assess the cost-benefit of this management strategy is lacking. The population response of mountain hares to culling is not well understood and the possible effects on their conservation status and the upland ecosystem remain unexplored.

 

4. We conclude that there is no compelling evidence base to suggest culling mountain hares might increase red grouse densities.

 

5.Synthesis and applications. Widespread culling of wildlife is not necessarily effective in reducing disease or improving economic returns. The use of wildlife culls for disease control should be proposed only when: (i) the pathogen transmission cycle is fully understood with all host-vector interactions considered; (ii) the response of wildlife populations to culling is known; and (iii) cost-benefit analysis shows that increased revenue from reduced disease prevalence exceeds the cost of culling."

 

Full details here:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01834.x/abstract;jsessionid=BAB6B40429E7256F7513D64EC9062542.f03t01?systemMessage=Wiley+Online+Library+will+be+unavailable+on+Saturday+14th+May+11%3A00-14%3A00+BST+%2F+06%3A00-09%3A00+EDT+%2F+18%3A00-21%3A00+SGT+for+essential+maintenance.Apologies+for+the+inconvenience.

 

 

I am not saying that management of moorland for grouse is bad, per se. in fact it does provide vital habitat for a host of upland species including mountain hares, especially in the UK where Mountain Hares are primarily associated with heather moorlands, particularly those which are managed by burning in strips for red grouse. Their numbers have declined locally where favourable habitat such as former grouse moors has been afforested or heather has been removed by excessive grazing by other animals. Young forestry plantations can support high densities of hares which sometimes cause significant damage to trees, but these high densities decline once the forest canopy closes, and the ground vegetation is diminished.

 

So I would not support an outright ban, but I do believe that the authorities and landowners do need to work in cooperation to ensure that grouse moors can be managed economically whilst still providing vital reservoirs for biodiversity.

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@@Game Warden @@douglaswise

 

Matt - apologies if I inadvertently caused the debate to drift way off topic... No intention to frustrate anyone intended ;0]

 

douglaswise - Don't worry, no offence taken... except the part where you assume that I am the typical Aussie... Whilst my passport and address may indicate Aussiness... I am in fact Zambian by birth, upbringing, substantial life experience and no small degree of nostalgia. That said any thrashing that the Wallabies give the English Roses is well received by me and mine ;0]

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@kittykat23uk:

 

It is good, at last, to have the opportunity to discuss one of the issues relevant to driven grouse moor management on an evidence-based level. I remember from past correspondence that you have a particularly soft spot for hares (or was it rabbits - at my age I live in constant fear of Alzheimers?).

 

I absolutely agree with the first sentence of your response. I do not condone the eradication and subsequent long term exclusion of mountain hares from moorland managed exclusively for grouse. However, you seemed to think that was exactly what I was implying in the case of a few moors. I was attempting to suggest that very severe reductions in hare density might be necessary as part of a package of louping ill control on a few specific moors. A successful control campaign could be be followed by reduced efforts at heavy hare culling, allowing density to rise, but probably not to original levels. If the louping ill control campaigns don't succeed quite quickly, hare control would be abandoned anyway because they are costly, known to be unpopular with the public and, truth to tell, tend to worry the consciences of many moor owners who, typically, don't see hares as pests at all except insofar as they've been encouraged to believe that they constitute a severe threat to grouse through louping ill. (Here, I'm discussing heavy control measures. Moderate levels of sustainable shooting are a different issue. Most sportsmen don't want to shoot hares, but a few may be wish to do so and pay for the privilege. As far as I'm concerned, this is fine so long as the estate's hares are not at low density. I would add, however, that income from hare shooting is likely to be trivial rtelative to grouse or deer).

 

The fact that I accidentally misled you made me re-visit my previous post and check a few things on the internet. This has made me squirm with embarrassment. My only excuse was that I became sloppy at the end of the post - I was tired, having been frequently interrupted, and was on my second whisky (henpecking wife absent and hence unable to restrict me to a single treble!) However, to have characterised Lyme Disease as having viral causation was a complete aberration. Inexcusable! It is, of course, bacterial and can respond to prompt antibiotic treatment. In a later sentence, I wrote "is he suggesting hare reduction is not a necessary pre-condition for hare control". Clearly nonsense. The final two words should have been have been three, namely "louping ill control". Having revisited the relevant literature, I realise, too, that my memory may have let me down because I think I mentioned that hares can become viraemic and amplify virus. While, to an extent, they can multiply virus, they don't become viraemic (virus in blood, able to infect all ticks taking blood feeds). Hares multiply virus in tissues surrounding bite wounds made by infected ticks. Thus, any uninfected tick feeding in the vicinity of an infected tick or recent bite therefrom will become infected (known as co-feeding). However, if they feed on another part of the body remote from infected ticks, they won't become infected. Thus, hares are of some importance in viral amplification, but to a lesser extent than would have been they case had they been susceptible to viraemia. The only relevant species to become viraemic are sheep and grouse. Deer do not, but are important to the extent that, like sheep, they are relatively large and capable of sustaining large tick populations. So, my apologies.

 

I read your information with interest and I will check on the current state of play as regards louping ill control and research thereon with old contacts (if any are still alive and active in the field). I would agree, however, that any attempt at disease control on estates with high deer densities are likely to be a waste of time and money. At best, one can only consider tick control through bracken erdication, tick mop flocks and limited additional disease control with vaccination where sheep are present. You linked to a review article towards the end of your post which mentioned that Laurenson's work was the only one to show benefits to grouse from hare control. However, the authors stated that her study was confounded by the fact that other control measures were implemented simultaneously along with hare reduction. I thought this comment odd because nobody in their right mind should even contemplate hare reduction as a sole method to control the virus. One needs a full belt and braces approach with hare reduction as a last resort. Perhaps, in the early days when it was first realised that hares played a role, some owners went took prophylactic action against them in ignorance of the complexity of the problem. This is pure speculation. Knowing many moor owners and keepers as I do, I feel satisfied that the vast majority will be keeping up with current research advice and that such advice will, in part, be shaped with hare conservation in mind.

 

I think your approach in highlighting the benefits that keepered grouse moors provide for hares while questioning the desirability of their destruction for reasons of louping ill control was very fair and balanced. I basically agree with you. However, I would still like to talk to the active disease control researchers directly to get up to date thinking. If I get anywhere, I'll report back.

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Hello @@douglaswise. first, you are right, I did use the word "evil" I used it to add impact and to hopefully engender debate; I used it to add a bit of controversy and "bite" I know that , reading your many posts as i do, such na approach-controversy, mischief, a slightly antagonistic approach-would be something you would never do and it was unworthy of me or to put it another way, dear Mr Pot, please meet Mr kettle.

i look forward to a discussion about the illegal killing of birds of prey and indeed other predators (is that evil?) i think you must agree that the figures I quoted for golden Eagle occupancy are unacceptable, and the scarcity of Hen Harriers in England is a wrong that needs to be righted.

As for the medication issue, I must admit I was hoping for you thoughts when I raised it, knowing a little of your veterinary background from your posts.i think-certainly i hope-that I queried if it was known if their were any implications? for example i cannot find any reference to a study of the effects of Flubendazole in invertebrates and if their is a build up in the food chain.If I have missed it, please let me know. there are examples of unintended consequences as is well known-DDT and its effects on birds of prey .I am not saying that Flubendazole presents a similar risk, but that i am naturally suspicious of the argument that it must be ok else it wouldn't be allowed.

As to my other areas of concern-just because someone even as knowledgeable as @@douglaswise says something, does not make it true, not without evidence. i referred to the The EMBER (Effects of Moorland Burning on the Ecohydrology of River basins) study by the University of Leeds was conducted over five years to examine the impact of heather-burning on ten river catchments in northern England, half of which were regularly burnt for grouse shooting and half which were not. Key findings were that burning had impacts on peat hydrology, peat chemistry and physical properties, river water chemistry and river ecology (Brown et al. 2014)-that is evidence warning of the dangers of uncontrolled or excessive burning. Now most moors-including those managed by the RSPB,practice controlled burning-and a heather moorland is at its best when there are different ages of growth-indeed i wonder if the heather, like the Fynbos relies on some burning to flourish? @@douglaswise describes very well what may be considered best practice here in an earlier post

Fencing-is practiced increasingly on those moors that are aiming to make a profit as it keeps deer out-i did reference my argument. And here we come to an important issue. I maintain there is an increasingly commercial attitude that encourages such enterprises to be as less committed to the environment that other better run moorland estates. To provide more evidence, I submit the following,

The estate agency, Knight Frank publishes an annual Sporting Property Index (SPI). The latest data show that over the ten years 2004 - 2014, grouse moors have outperformed all other sporting properties (deer forests, salmon rivers etc.). The average capital value of a grouse moor over this period increased by 49% which equates to a 4.1% return on capital. The survey noted that returns from a “well-managed and heavily invested moor may be significantly higher because greater numbers of birds are being shot each year.” (Knight Frank 2014). In terms of annual profitability, the most recent study by the Fraser of Allander Institute shows that the percentage of landholdings whose grouse moors made a profit rose from 2.1% in 1994 to 17.6% in 2001 and 42.6% in 2010. , it is probable that the majority of grouse moors in Scotland are now operating at a profit (Fraser of Allander Institute 2010). It is likely that public subsidies are contributing to this profitability. As part of the new system of public subsidies for agriculture paid under the EU Common Agricultural Policy, the Scottish Government sought to exclude sporting estates from being eligible for the area-based basic payments scheme in cases where shooting was carried out and agricultural activities did not account for the majority of the applicant’s income. However, the EU rules on the so-called ‘negative list’ (which typically includes land such as airports and sports grounds) do not at present allow such a move. Sporting estates and grouse moors are eligible for payment of an annual basic payment provided they meet minimum qualifying criteria for agricultural activity. Grouse shooting estates are therefore eligible for farming subsidies and, since managing a sheep flock is an agricultural operation (even though its principal purpose is mopping up ticks), many should be eligible for substantial subsidies. In the case of Glenogil Estate (see Box on page 10) this exceeds £300,000 per year in public subsidy and other estates are likely to be eligible for similar amounts. Such agricultural operation can then also be used to justify the necessity for more extensive and intrusive roads being constructed in the hills.

So it is a factor to consider int he overall debate as to how we accommodate those who wish to shoot grouse as, ethical and moral considerations aside, they are entitled to do provided the damage to the environment is not prohibitive? Is there a way in which both sides can be satisfied? I have nothing against making profit., as my arguments make clear.but those estates run for profit seem far removed from the experience that @@douglaswise describes.And they are more likely to cause damage.

another thing, just because it is expensive to run a grouse moor, does not justify the activities I describe. I pay for my hobbies of wildlife watching, cricket, the occasional Talisker, theatre etc-i dont expect public subsidies. Now for moor owners, I do have sympathy, believe it or not. I am in favour of a regulation system where owners are rewarded for the looking after of the heather, perhaps based on.an agreed number of predators, the cost of targeted burning, accepting reduced bags, no killing of hares as described in my first post-perhaps a local committee overseeing local moors and agreeing carrying capacity for Hen Harriers for example-is that too foolish a wish? I just don't think matters can be allowed to rest!

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Sorry to post so soon again- but @@douglaswise I have just come across this article in the Field (not my usual reading)-I don't know if I can cut and paste it but it is from someone called Rob Yorke and refers to a book called "Conflicts in conservation: navigating towards solutions published by Cambridge University Press

Read more at http://www.thefield.co.uk/country-house/conservation-conflict-ending-conflict-32001#Wqd1OyEX6wxoBJHC.99

 

Conservation conflict: ending the conflict

very apt timing!

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I truly enjoy reading this posts even if the tone is sometimes sharp I must say that it is refreshing much better than any other forum I ever visits, the tone is mostly polite and nice.

Conservation is a heart topic for me and thou I am more comfortable to discus in my home language Swedish not the least because of my dyslexia, I hope that I get thru anyway.

When it comes to poaching of birds of prey I think the authorities should do something about it by going after the people doing this, I also think that licenses to hunt some birds of prey when their is problem individuals is a good idea.
Or like we do in Sweden sometimes with migrating birds of prey, catch them and give them a ride for some Swedish miles, 10km=1 Swedish mile, then they go on their merry way without stopping at the habitat where we don't want them to hang around because of grouse or pheasant. Very seldom but sometimes you can get permission to kill birds of prey but very seldom.

I have been working at farms in Sweden that are raising grouse and trying to get a population to grow from almost nothing to how it was before the pesticides and the big big mono cultures of different crops. I also know that especially the goose hawk is not liked by this farmers that instead of having a lot of crops and pesticides try to bring back the wildlife and earn money from hunting. I have done some dirty deed when I was younger and worked as a "slave" on this farms, but would never shoot a hawk again illegally. The other birds of pray like the harrier and other medium sized and really big birds of pray we do not usually see as a problem.
The birds of prey actually increases in these areas because of more mice, rats rabbits and insects other birds also benefits a lot from the hunting.

So my conclusion when it come to northern Europe and the farmed biotops there that are used as hunting farms is that all wildlife benefits greatly. The moors of Scotland is of course different but I would think they also benefits from hunting.

When it comes to shooting as many birds as possible for one day a few times every year it is not my coup of te but I know that the wildlife benefits and the disturbance to the wildlife is very small because of the few times maybe only 2-3 times a year the area is hunted. I personaly like to hunt over a Setter or a Spaniel and my most enjoyable hunts I have had alone over my Spaniel in the fields or with my Finish Spitz in the deep Swedish forest.

Hunting is the best way to keep areas wild. Exemptions is there because of bad practice sometimes and those should be dealt with but that GB should not be ashamed over this hunting, not at all. There are much worse things that goes on.
I specifically do not like at all when a lot of hounds are used at the same time after the same prey like deer or in Sweden sometimes bear.

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@Towlersonsafari:

 

I will attempt briefly to address the non-raptor issues you raised in post #30. I think the only issue that could really benefit from further debate concerns illegal killing of raptors. I would like to get on to this subject before I go off on holiday and would like to do so in a manner that is recommended in the excellent article to which you gave reference in post # 31. Incidentally, I'm happy to be christened Mr Pot (suits my current conformation), but aren't you being politically incorrect to allude to a phrase in which colour has derogatory connotations? You can't be too careful, not least because @ Game Warden might get on your case! Anyway, here goes:

 

1) Medication risks:

 

Flubendazole would not be expected to concentrate along the food chain because it doesn't build up in the bodies of its primary target animals. Only a small percentage is ever absorbed and even that is rapidly excreted (as an intermediate metabolite). Thus, the more logical concern would be over its potential ecotoxicity. I have tried to allay your fears, but accept that, just because I say something, doesn't make it true (only 99% of the time! Even my wife calls me Al Right). This is why I referred you to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD). No new drug can be licensed for veterinary use without submission of vast amounts of data, which cost drug companies £ multi millions to generate (a reason why so few new drugs are brought to market). Data on previously licensed older drugs are reviewed every 5 years to ensure they meet the modern, possibly more stringent EU approved standards applicable to new drugs. If the licence holder needs to acquire further data to comply with the more modern and rigorous standards, a limited period of time is allowed for generation of new data, which, if not forthcoming, leads to revocation of the licence. Flubendazole will have gone through this process, which requires information on metabolic pathways and rates of metabolism in different organ systems in the body, routes of excretion and persistence in the environment plus ecotoxicity. I would guess that flubendazole persists for some time in the environment, but that its ecotoxicity is deemed insignificant. However, it is a guess, based on my limited knowledge of the drug's metabolism within the body. What is not a guess is that it is deemed safe by the VMD. I'm not surprised that you haven't been able "to read all about it" in the blogsphere. The information submitted to the VMD is proprietory to the licence holder (it is extremely valuable) and the VMD is not at liberty to divulge it in case it gives competitors the unfair advantage of a cheap route to market with the same or similar product. You might be interested to know, for example, that fenbendazole and flubendazole are essentially similar products and both are highly effective against Trichostrongylus tenuis in grouse. The flubendazole licence holder somewhat surprisingly considered it worthwhile to jump through the new hoops imposed during the review process in order to renew the licence for use in grouse. The fenbendazole licence holder considered that the game wasn't worth the candle (amounts used in grouse tiny). I've simplified a bit. If I hadn't, I could still be writing for months. However, I really do think that you need to put your mind at rest over safety issues relating to flubendazole. I'm assuming your concern was really genuine and not just being used as another stick with which to beat grouse moor proprietors. In any event, I can't do any more to reassure you and don't wish to discuss the matter of safety any more. I will discuss efficacy and how to achieve it if you want because that really was my "special subject". This would explain why medicated grit had been used for many years in the past without dramatic effect and how more recent changes to the product and regime of administration were transformational in greatly increasing grouse productivity on many moors. Actually, I think this may have played a very significant role in improving the profitability of the better managed moors.

 

University of Leeds and the EMBER study.

 

The first thing to say is that, had you read either the Moorland Association website or the BASC document to which I referred, you would appreciate that all or most driving moor owners are already complying with best practice recommendations. Many of them will have made financial contributions to muirburn research. I would suggest, therefore, that it is wrong of you to imply that moor owners are flouting current recommendations just to get more grouse. First, there is no reason to believe that flouting of best practice would necessarily achieve more grouse, a reduction being more likely. Second, best practice recommendations change in consequence of new research (and will probably change again in the future over an issue as complex as this). It is probably correct to suggest that the totally acceptable burning recommendations of the past that were aimed at increasing grouse numbers and which are still desirable on dry moors today were undertaken, as well, on some blanket bog moors where new research has shown them to be inappropriate.

 

Fencing and grouse:

 

I must admit that I was unaware that deer fences were being erected to keep deer out for the benefit of grouse. I therefore spoke to the head of the GWCT's research division. He immediately knew what I was referring to (or, as he put it, "what started that hare running"!). Such fencing has, indeed, been erected, almost entirely in one small area of Scotland (Angus Glen) and did lead to some criticism by environmentalists of the type you repeated in your first post. His version of events was as follows: This was in an area of very heavy (probably excessive) red deer density. Furthermore, deer were moving from high to low ground and between different estates. The heather on the high ground was being devastated, but nearly all stalking income was accruing to low ground estates. After failed negotiations, the infuriated high ground owners put up the fence and culled the deer on their own ground (possibly excessively). My informant did not necessarily condone this, but did make the following points: Heather condition vastly improved and grouse and wader densities increased. He also added that low deer densities were acceptable, even when attempts were being made to control louping ill. Very high, habitat-destroying densities were not of advantage to anyone with the possible exception of those selling stalking. He added that there were plenty of red deer in Scotland as a whole and possibly an excess.

 

Economics:

 

You refer to Knight Frank data which show capital values increasing by an average of 4.1%/annum over 10 years. Clearly, unless an owner sells his estate (possibly then becoming liable for capital gains tax) he will see no benefit. I constantly hear farmers telling me that they are amazed that land has held its value despite catastrophically falling farm incomes. I suppose an explanation is that no more land is being made - it's a finite commodity that attracts wealthy speculative investors (we've had this discussion on the ivory burning debate elsewhere on Safaritalk).

You also refer to the Fraser of Allender Institute survey. My informant on the fencing issue was also totally au fait with this study because it was actually commissioned by GWCT (whether wholly or in part, I don't know). He said that the relatively large percentage increase in profitability was almost entirely attributable to the effects of medicated grit (he even awarded me Brownie points for my contribution!). He did add that incredibly few moors made significant profits and, then, on occasional years only - because grouse numbers can fluctuate between years for reasons other than disease. According to his recollection, the 42.6% of moors in profit should have been expressed as "breaking even or in profit". The vast majority in this category were, anyway, only showing very small net profits, probably less than could be achieved by agricultural intensification or forestry and certainly less than from heavily subsidised wind farming. The fact that increasing numbers of moor owners were breaking even or profiting slightly from their grouse enterprises was, he said, very good news for heather moorland habitat which, in previous times, was being lost at quite high rates because of the costs of maintaining it.

The whole subject of agricultural subsidy is very complex and changes annually. The subsidy is available (necessary) to all landowners or their tenants and depends upon which is doing the farming. On a small area of land my son owns, for example, the subsidy payment is claimed by the tenant for that part of the land that the tenant farms and by the landowner for the rest, provided that his principal source of income is estate income and does not come from outside sources. That was last year. This year, I think the "principal income from farming rule" has been dropped. However, I don't know the situation in Scotland as regards crofters and landowners. I will try to get a better handle on this and revert to you. In the meanwhile, rest assured that upland moor owners are not being treated any differently from any other landowners.

 

I am still investigating hares and louping ill and will have to do that later as I'm shortly out to lunch.

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Hello @@douglaswise,

Thank you for your thoughtful response. It was a good article wasn't it? I am also jealous as my wife never calls me Mr Right!

I will accept your comments re medication.Rest assured it was a genuine concern.

As to excessive burning, I suppose it is a matter of opinion as to what percentage of grouse moors are taking part in it. I think my main concern is that if there are estates that are driven by profit, rather than love of the support and the land, then they will be more tempted.Do we need better regulation especially a s I think you said earlier that more and more grouse moor owners were realizing that a mosaic of habitat was best for everyone .there have been reports that the terrible lakeland flooding was made worse by burning although it must be a stretch to be able to prove that. Can we rely on owners to be aware of the effects on carbon release and on water run off?

Hopefully fencing is a limited problem but one worth highlighting if only to help stop it happening elsewhere.in fact the Angus glens-look at the golden eagle capacity-i think the lowest anywhere-are also the areas where the hare "culling" has been carried out. They are perhaps the most radical-to be polite- of the grouse moor owners.it is an issue because there are far too many Red deer in Scotland and this increases pressure on the unfenced areas.

As I have said i wanted to refer to economics to support my point about increasing profit.Incidentally I have since found 2 examples one in Scotland and one England where subsidies were reduced to grouse moor owners, as a fine, because of illegal wildlife crime.this may be evidence that a more robust system, rewarding best practice, could work but i agree the system of subsidies are complicated and perhaps not for debate here.

i have been on the Moorland Association website. Can I refer you to the Raptor Persecution UK website-probably at opposite ends of the argument here.

There is in fact a DEFRA plan to increase Hen Harrier numbers. The RSPB is dubious-it involves allowing gamekeepers to trans locate young birds to areas where Harriers may thrive down south-but the Hawk & Owl Trust, of which I am also a member, is very enthusiastic-what do you think?

 

Having discussed the other issues, lets continue about the main issue-birds of prey and how they can live on an active grouse moor? I am in fact off to the Cairngorms tomorrow for a week-not to engage in guerrilla activities in the Angus Glens, but to see some Red squirrels, Pine marten, ospreys Crested tits etc, and too continue my forlorn search for the Scottish Wildcat

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I have been reading this thread with some interest and wondering whether I should respond and enter this particular conflict, being a keen birder, a supporter of conservation and a member of the RSPB I have quite strong opinions on this issue.

 

I certainly respect your expert knowledge @@douglaswise on the subject of grouse and I don’t disagree with any of the scientific points you've made but I don't agree with some of the more general points you’ve made in defence of driven grouse shooting, For once I find myself agreeing rather more with @@Towlersonsafari than is sometimes the case, their initial post was pretty confrontational but clearly that was intentional to provoke serious debate. I think that any conservation matter is suitable for debate however with a topic such as this one I suspect that many members not from the UK will likely feel they don’t know enough about the subject to participate or will join in any way without fully understanding what this is actually all about.

 

Therefore I think maybe it would help for those not in the UK to explain what this is really all about and why it provokes so much passion and that is hen harriers.

 

The hen harrier Circus cyaneus is an extremely widespread species found throughout the Holarctic that is the northern part of the northern hemisphere, there are two races C. c. cyaneus found across the Palearctic and C. c. hundsonius in the Nearctic. Some regard these two races as being separate species. The nominate race was once a common bird in suitable habitat throughout most of the British Isles. In the 18th and 19th centuries as firearms technology improved gamebird shooting started to become a popular sport, estate owners employed gamekeepers to protect their birds by basically waging war on predators all predators. All birds of prey and all mammal predators were considered vermin and killed in huge numbers throughout the UK especially in Victorian Times. By sometime in the 1850s the British wildcat Felis sylvestris grampia became the Scottish wildcat after the last English cats were killed they had by this time I believe already gone from Wales. Likewise polecats and pine martens were all but wiped out the former was confined to Wales and the latter primarily to Scotland with tiny populations just surviving in the North of England and in Wales. Our raptors suffered in similar fashion the goshawk became entirely extinct; the red kite became entirely restricted to West Wales, the golden eagle restricted to Scotland. By the beginning of the 20th century the hen harrier was basically entirely restricted to the Outer Hebrides and the Orkneys having been effectively wiped out as a breeding bird on the mainland. The disappearance of this species was not just due to the activities of gamekeepers, habitat destruction also played a part but the primary cause was undeniably deliberate persecution by keepers on sporting estates.

 

For example on Lord Ailsa’s estates in Ayrshire between the 25th June 1850 and the 25th November 1854, 310 birds were killed by the keepers. In Glen Garry 63 hen harriers were killed between 1837 and 1840, the vermin lists from other estates show harriers being killed in similar numbers. (These figures are from the book The Birds of Scotland by Baxter and Rintoul 1953) During the First World War just about every able-bodied man of a suitable age was called up to fight and that included a significant number of gamekeepers many of these keepers never returned from the trenches. At the same time the age of the great estates started to come to an end and many estates hit hard times and were no longer able to employ the huge numbers of staff that they had before the war these two factors reduced the number of gamekeepers and gave our predators some respite from the relentless persecution. A few pairs of hen harriers returned to breed on the mainland in the years after the war, during the Second World War the level of persecution significantly reduced as a result the hen harriers really started to recover in Scotland in the 40s and 50s. In the 1960’s a few pairs had started to breed in the North of England and in Wales however while the Welsh population has recovered reasonably well the English population really has not.

 

The reason the English population has not recovered and that these birds have not fully re-established is entirely due to illegal persecution by gamekeepers on shooting estates where driven grouse shooting takes place. This persecution is now so bad that in 2013 not one single English pair bred successfully this is the first time that none have bred since they returned to England in the 1960s.

 

Scientific estimates put the potential English population at between 323 and 340 pairs; the potential population for the entire UK is estimated to be between 2514 and 2653 pairs yet in 2010 the entire UK population (inc. the Isle of Man) was put at around just 646 pairs. The UK population of these birds is therefore perhaps just a quarter of what it could be. Although there is a reasonable population of hen harriers in Scotland their numbers there are still well below where they should be and this is most apparent on grouse moors where they are once again being heavily persecuted. One reason why the number of harriers increased in Scotland was the establishment of conifer plantations, while hen harriers are primarily birds of open moorland they do like to nest in young plantations. Hen harriers eat a wide range of different things but spruce trees are not on the list so in forestry areas they are not persecuted, foresters have better things to do with their time than control predators at least carnivorous ones, herbivores they’re not so keen on hence deer fences. The rough grass that grows up in between the trees when plantations are still young provides a perfect habitat for voles which are a favourite food for hen harriers. As the trees grow the harriers have to move on as mature plantations are not a good habitat for harriers.

 

Aside from voles as mentioned hen harriers like to prey on songbirds especially meadow pipits unfortunately they also like to prey on young nidifugous birds these are birds whose young leave the nest almost immediately after hatching and this of course includes red grouse. This is really the heart of the problem hen harriers are undoubtedly a significant predator of red grouse and this is why they are so severely persecuted, if the Scottish population was entirely restricted to managed grouse moors there would far fewer pairs than there are. A study conducted by the RSPB between 1988 and 1995 using wing tags found that females suffered a high degree of killing; the killing by gamekeepers was estimated at 55-74 female harriers each year. Any nests discovered would be destroyed along with their contents although male birds bring food to the females they spend all their time away from the nests so it’s difficult to estimate how many males are killed. Frequently one or both of the adult birds at nests that are being monitored disappears, provided the birds are healthy the only thing that could naturally cause a harrier to disappear is another predator. Various other raptors sometimes prey upon harriers, golden eagles, goshawks, peregrines and eagle owls are all capable of taking them in Scotland there’s evidence that harriers avoid nesting in areas close to where golden eagles occur. However relentless persecution of raptors has ensured that golden eagles are extremely rare in England in fact they are currently extinct the last known bird died earlier this year. Eagle owls which have only recently turned up in the UK either as escapes from captivity or even possibly natural recolonisation are extremely rare there are only a very few pairs in the UK. The goshawk having been originally extirpated from the UK has returned largely it seems due to unofficial reintroductions by falconers however keepers in the North of England are doing their best to extirpate them again. There aren’t now any goshawks in the area of Peak District where hen harriers are attempting to breed. Even where other raptors are still common predation of male hen harriers by other birds is extremely rare, mammal predators like foxes might conceivably kill a female on the nest and would certainly take chicks but the only thing that can account for the loss of foraging male birds is humans. The hen harrier is the most heavily persecuted bird of prey in the UK everyone knows this is why the birds are disappearing but catching those responsible is extremely difficult.

 

The RSPB being a conservation organisation not an animal rights organisation has never campaigned to try and put a stop to commercial shooting they also recognise that management of estates for shooting has contributed to the conservation of a number of important bird species. They have therefore felt that it is better to try and work with the shooting industry and persuade them to cooperate and put their house in order rather than go to war over the raptor issue. However the persecution of raptors especially hen harriers has not just continued unabated it has if anything got worse in recent years, demanding stiffer sentences as they have done plenty of times is really pretty pointless because catching people is so difficult, for this reason the RSPB has proposed introducing a licensing system for grouse moors. Quite simply grouse shoots would not be allowed to operate without a license and any evidence of raptor persecution found on any estate would result in their license being taken away. The shooting had proposed as a possible solution taking eggs or chicks from nests on problem moors and raising them so that the birds could be released on suitable moors elsewhere in England where there’s no grouse shooting this would reduce or even eliminate harriers in conflict areas but re-establish them elsewhere. A win-win as far as the shooting industry is concerned, however the RSPB rejected this idea, their position I believe is that translocations of harriers should only be carried out once the persecution has stopped and the population recovered.

 

While the RSPB favours licensing more hard line conservationist notably the TV naturalist Chris Packham and Dr Mark Avery a scientist with the RSPB for 25 years favour an outright ban on driven grouse shooting. To highlight the plight of the hen harrier they organised a Hen Harrier Day in 2014 urging supporters to come and join them on an English grouse moor a few days before the so called ‘Glorious Twelfth’ (of August) when the grouse season starts, the idea is that this will be an annual event. Dr Avery almost certainly resigned from the RSPB in 2011 so that he could take the gloves of so to speak and really have ago at the shooting industry over this, he recently wrote a book on the subject Inglorious: Conflict in the Uplands, I haven’t read this book so I can’t comment on how balanced or not it is. At the same time taking inspiration from the ‘Cecil the Lion Affair’ an organisation called Birders Against Wildlife Crime created a character called ‘Henry the Harrier’ to represent England’s harriers, this is basically a man in a harrier costume who tours the country drawing attention to this issue. Faced with this growing opposition, with thousands signing petitions in favour of either licensing or increasingly an outright ban, the grouse industry decided that attack is the best form of defence.

 

 

In a spectacularly ill-considered move they paid a PR company to create an anti-RSPB campaign group called You Forgot the Birds fronted by that well known ornithological expert Ian Botham who knows as little about ecology and conservation as I know about cricket. He proceeded to bowl lumps of mud at the RSPB in the hopes that some of it would stick accusing them of wasting their member’s money, not spending enough on proper conservation they even sent a complaint to the Charities Commission who regulate all UK charities. This complaint was rightly rejected as unfounded. As an example of how ridiculous their attacks on the RSPB were on their website they accuse the RSPB of only using photos of photogenic charismatic birds in their campaigns and not ‘ugly ducklings’ illustrated by a serious of acceptable photos and then unacceptable photos the latter contains a shot of ugly scruffy looking domestic Muscovy duck. Or saying pictures you don’t get on the RSPB website and showing a sparrowhawk with a dead sparrow as if somehow birders aren’t aware that sparrowhawks eat sparrows or that there’s anything wrong with the fact that they do. Their ornithological expertise is such that they’ve used a photo of a Carolina wren on one of their banners, perhaps as a member of the RSPB I should get in touch with them to find how much money they spent on protecting this North American bird Unfortunately sections of the media fell for their nonsense notably the Daily Telegraph that published some absurd rubbish last year suggesting that Natural England were about to publish a report showing the gamekeepers were doing a better job of protecting hen harriers than the RSPB. Natural England pointed out that this alleged report did not exist, that the whole story was untrue and that they would not in any case attack the RSPB as they are on the same side on this issue. Mr Botham being such an expert on ornithology even went so far as to offer £10,000 to anyone who would collect the eggs from an abandoned hen harrier nest and put them in an incubator so that the chicks could be released elsewhere even though it was blindingly obvious that the eggs were long dead.

 

So in essence there is now or was a propaganda war going on between both sides, nothing much has been heard from You Forgot the Birds lately (or not this year as far as I know) the grouse industry has perhaps woken up to the fact that creating this farcical organisation was a seriously inept decision. In my view at least they shot themselves in the foot with both barrels and the opposition to grouse shooting will only grow as a result. All of the other accusations and arguments against grouse shooting that @@Towlersonsafari has brought up and the other people bring up really go back to this one issue. Leaving aside the issue of mountain hares which is a real conservation issue I don’t honestly think people would be bringing up some of these other concerns were it not for the grouse industries refusal to do anything to seriously stop raptor persecution. We have in recent years suffered severe flooding in parts of the UK and one of the reasons for this that is often brought up is that we don’t have enough trees in the uplands. Our ancestors one way or another removed almost all of the trees from around the headwaters of most of our rivers and water runs of the uplands much faster than it should as a result. To address this we need to (in my view) carry out significant reforestation work in our upland river valleys particularly around the headwaters and to really hold the water in place for much longer we should after returning the trees return beavers but that is another debate. It’s not just the lack of trees that matters it’s also the entire way our uplands are managed at least according to some people which has led to the perhaps slightly absurd accusation that driven grouse shooting causes flooding. The fact that people are saying this though again goes back to the raptor issue; the grouse industry through its stubborn refusal to seriosly do anything about illegal persecution has invited the likes of Dr Mark Avery to investigate every single thing they do and to find more and more reasons why this activity should be banned. People in the conservation world or people who just love birds have had enough of the shooting industry making up excuses about how it’s a just a few rogue gamekeepers who are illegally persecuting raptors when it quite obviously isn’t.

 

Inevitably with any campaign against a so called ‘field sport’ or ‘blood sport’ there will be people campaigning because they believe in animals rights, there will certainly be a few who believe in ‘class war’ and a little bit of town versus country, at its heart though this isn’t about any of that it’s about ending the persecution of one of our rarest breeding birds. If class plays any part in this, it is because driven grouse shooting is undeniably a rich man’s sport but it’s not so much class envy that drives people to call for a ban it is the sense that the wealthy moorland owners think that they are above the law. I also think that the issue of animal rights and town versus country are so often brought up in order to try and shut down any proper debate on these kinds of issues. The idea that only countrymen have a proper understanding of nature is well ridiculous plenty of countrymen appear to have absolutely no proper understanding of ecology at all and I’ve no doubt there are some ‘townies’ who are keen naturalist and have a very good understanding of nature. I also do not like this view that people who oppose in this case driven grouse shooting or perhaps the trade in certain wildlife products only do so for reasons of animal rights; this is simply an attempt to as it were delegitimise the opposition.

 

I have to point out that I am a countryman and I am as I’ve also made clear many times not a supporter of animal rights, I am not against gamebird shooting after all I can hardly be in favour of well managed trophy hunting in Africa and against gamebird shooting in the UK while it is a sport that I chose not to take up though I had the opportunity, I happily consume the proceeds of those who do like to shoot. I don’t necessarily want to see an end to driven grouse shooting I recognise that it is important for rural employment and the rural economy in some areas and it does benefit some bird species besides red grouse but if stopping it is the only way to end raptor persecution then so be it. I don’t believe that protecting people’s jobs is a reason to tolerate the illegal persecution of raptors or the fact that hen harriers are still common outside the UK across a huge area of the Northern Hemisphere it makes no difference these birds belong in the UK they belong in England their persecution is illegal and it has to be stopped. Also given the extent to which they are persecuting raptors I seriously worry about what happens to any of our endangered carnivorous mammals like polecats should they make mistake of wondering on to a grouse moor. Or even if keepers in Scotland sometimes still kill wildcats as their predecessors once did claiming that any cats they kill are just feral cats, I have not seen any evidence suggesting this is the case but the behaviour of some keepers makes me think it might be. This is part of the problem a lot of people think that gamekeepers today are just the same as their Victorian antecedents and will happily kill any predator that crosses their path and they have only themselves to blame for this. If the grouse industry wants this opposition to go away and not grow and get stronger then they need to find an acceptable solution to the raptor issue. A ban is not very likely certainly a Conservative government is never going to bring in a ban but a Labour government might well consider the idea and if it wasn’t for the impact on rural employment the SNP in Scotland might also very likely consider such a move. Certainly if the grouse industry wants this to go away and not get worse they also seriously need to give up paying ignorant buffoons to throw mud at the RSPB.

 

I don’t know what the ultimate answer is, the RSPB is completely opposed to the translocation of hen harriers I'm not so sure I think maybe this could be a good idea, I suspect their opposition is based on the view that gamekeepers might see this as a greenlight to keep on persecuting any remaining harriers on their moors. What I want though is to live in a UK in which the English (and Welsh) uplands are home to healthy populations of hen harriers and golden eagles our woodlands are home to goshawks. In which white-tailed sea eagles are not confined to the coasts of Scotland but will one day breed right around the English and Welsh coasts as well. This has nothing to do with grouse but a few years ago a plan to reintroduce sea eagles to the coast of Suffolk was stopped following local objections. I suspect the local people who objected so strongly may mistakenly believe that the nearest eagles are around 350 miles away on the East Coast of Scotland unaware that actually the nearest population is only around 140 miles away as the eagle flies in the Netherlands. If the Dutch look after their birds there’s a very good chance that the eagles might reintroduce themselves, no one knows where it came from, but one was spotted on the Suffolk Coast in March 2015 if a pair do show up and try to breed I hope they will be able to do so in safety. If we in the UK can’t even live with raptors why should we expect people in Africa or Asia to live with lions or tigers.

 

Here are some of the websites I used as sources

 

A Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers in the United Kingdom

 

Interview with Brian Etheridge about the Hen Harrier in the UK

 

A future for the Hen Harrier in England?

 

Raptor Persecution UK you forgot the biology

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Posted (edited)

If starting this debate has done anything it has brought forward the masterful summary of the position from @@inyathi. Thank you

Edited by Towlersonsafari
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@@inyathi:

 

I think your post is informed and interesting. It represents excellently the point of view of a serious conservationist who, perhaps, sees things in absolutist (or extremely specialist) terms and in a manner that ignores economic realities. Notwithstanding, you are pragmatic enough to seek accommodation with those whom you perceive to have interests which impact adversely on your own. I note, particularly, that you have correctly, in my view, concluded that the real debate is about the illegal killing of raptors and that most of the other attacks on grouse shooting are either spurious or trivial. I hope this will have "cleared the decks" and allow us to focus on the real debate, which, I believe, resonates well with those involving African wildlife.

 

I really want to be able to discuss ways in which the conservation interest can be squared with the shooting interest. I see the RSPB as an obstacle in this process, perhaps inevitably, as it is a single interest pressure group and, in consequence, is reluctant to be seen to "give way" because of fears over loss of membership income. I know you object to arguments deployed in the defence of shooting which involve mention of "animal rights" views of opponents in an attempt to discredit them. However, I'm surprised that you deny that it is often such views, rather than genuine conservation concerns, that attract some to become members of the RSPB and/or the RSPCA.

 

Anyway, your post got me thinking. Animals rights apply to individual animals. In a sense, conservation could be thought of as "species rights" (animals and plants) and, I suppose, like you, I am a species rightist. I remember, as a research student, being profoundly shocked by a colleague. We were discussing whales and whale conservation and he stated that, as neither he nor most other people would ever see a whale and because he was unaware that they provided significant benefits to mankind, it was of no consequence to him whether they were driven to extinction or not. It is, perhaps, worth wondering whether his views were more typical and representative of mankind than ours. Furthermore, I have to wonder whether he was correct in his lack of concern. As a biologist and believer in evolution, I accept survival of the fittest. Is it really so terrible, therefore, if humans drive many other species to extinction if it is not going to be to the material detriment of our own species? You and I may think it is, but may not this be purely for the selfish enjoyment we glean from wildlife watching (your case) or wildlife watching and shooting (my case)?

 

Having started philosophising, I began to wonder whether the sort of debate we're having here is anything other than trivial in conservation terms. Real conservation should, I suppose, be about sustaining planetary life support systems. Isn't species conservation akin to "fiddling while Rome burns"? I suspect that it will pale into insignificance when (or, more optimistically, if) our own species is threatened by inadequacy of ecosystem services (ugh, I hate that jargon!). Previously, on this website, I did, tongue in cheek, point out that our members should appreciate that their activities were anti-conservation because of the inordinate amounts of greenhouse gasses they were responsible for emitting in pursuit of their favourite animals or photographic opportunities. (One return trip to South Africa, for example, is responsible for emitting more CO2 than is typically used by a Brit for all other activities during a year.) But, I'm a hypocrite with possibly inadequate concern over future generations.

 

In many of the African wildlife-related debates we have here, emphasis is placed upon the importance of locals being able to see some benefit from wildlife conservation. We are not talking spiritual uplift here, but tangible material benefit. Wildlife tourism, in the absence of inputs from foreign NGOs and governments, will never be able to fund benefits of sufficient magnitude to achieve the conservation goals of many Safaritalk correspondents. Nor is it likely or reasonable to expect African states to do so, given their more pressing priorities. I'm not sure where this is getting me. However, I'm wondering whether there's any equivalence in the grouse moor story. Why should moor owners suffer because outsiders prevent them from conducting their affairs in an efficient manner without offering them any compensatory benefits? I know the answer, of course. Killing birds of prey is illegal. BUT, why is the killing of damaging pests illegal? This is determined by the relative strengths of lobby groups and their success in influencing law makers (and, I would suggest, is independent of moral or ethical judgement).

 

As a "species conservationist" myself, I would hate to see raptors driven to the brink of extinction. I would condone full legal protection for all seriously threatened species. However, I don't think any of the avian species mentioned by @@inyathi are of conservation concern at the European level (or even the British). However, what about non-endangered protected species? I will start with an analogy. What is a weed? Is it a noxious plant that should be exterminated wherever encountered or merely an inoffensive, even desirable member of the plant kingdom that sometimes chooses to lay down its roots in an unsuitable location? Usually the latter (not sure about knotweed!) I would suggest that the hen harrier is a weed of the grouse moor. Its presence interferes with efficient yield potential of one's crop. Why, in moral or ethical terms, is a hen harrier different from a fox in this regard? In practical terms, of course, they are different - foxes kill harriers, but harriers don't kill foxes.

 

 

@@inyathi, you have tended to focus on hen harriers insofar as grouse moors are concerned. However, the Langholm study indicated that peregrines, by causing quite heavy winter mortality of adults, could impact badly on grouse population dynamics. It is my understanding that peregrines are increasing in the UK, though not necessarily in the environs of grouse moors. It appears that buzzards are also having this effect, now that there has been a big increase in their population density. Having talked to someone with more knowledge than I on the subject of golden eagles (not difficult to find!), I learned that I was not wrong to suggest that a pair could kill a sufficient value of grouse to equal that of keeper's annual wage, but that presupposed that said pair ate nothing but grouse. My informant assured me that this wouldn't happen as it would be energetically inefficient for eagles to target grouse unless there was little choice. Hares, lambs, gralloch would all be preferred. He went on to say that, in his view, it was likely that Scottish west coast eagles were flying to central areas to feed and returning west to roost, given the inadequate prey on the west itself.

 

There are several potential models for conservation.

1) "Sharing": All species in same pot (habitat). Minimum human intervention. Let nature get on with it. Seen in large reserves in Africa. Seems to be what RSPB wants for UK moorlands.

2) "Sparing": Designation of limited areas excluded from requirement to be "shared" with all species. Exclusion of some species for the benefit of others. Requires human intervention. Used, for example, to protect hirola in northern Kenya. Typical of smaller, private South African reserves and, to an extent, to bigger ones (Tswalu, where lion excluded from one part). If necessary, the exclusions may have to be paid for (biodiversity offsetting) so that management can afford to make more effort in the unexcluded areas for the species excluded. However, if the excluded areas provide extra yields from declining species which are greater than would be achievable by a sharing model of conservation, rewards should be considered.

3) "Zonal": Similar to "sparing". Different zones managed for different conservation objectives.

 

How does this relate to grouse moors? First, I think it should be appreciated that heather moorland is an anthropogenic (man made) habitat which can only be maintained by constant management. This, of course, will allow purists to suggest that it shouldn't exist and should revert, for example, to Caledonian Forest. @@inyathi, in fact, would like to prevent urban flooding by afforesting a large area that is now heather moorland. However, flooding normally occurs when the soil is saturated and, whether trees are present or not in such circumstances, makes no difference to rate of run off. Not only is heather moorland anthropogenic, it is also deemed to offer very high landscape value and supports a suite of ground nesting birds of which the most iconic and economically valuable is the endemic red grouse. Of course, it also supports low intensity sheep farming. I think that 95% of heather moorland worldwide is in the UK and it represents around only 4% of UK landmass. I think there is, therefore, a strong case to exclude grouse moors from blanket compliance with the normal protections afforded to raptors.

 

I suggest that no legislation would necessarily be required because, I believe, it is already possible for English Nature to issue permits to kill nuisance birds, even if they are otherwise protected. If any compromise is to be achieved, it seems to me that English Nature (or its Scottish equivalent) must be prepared to make use of its permitting powers and not be bullied by the RSPB and other pressure groups into never doing so. Next, one would need to discuss killing versus translocation. Would permitting happen whenever a particular raptor was present, only when threshold densities reached or only when prey pushed below recovery level in a predator trap? Would permits have to be paid for (biodiversity offsetting)? Would compensation be paid for extra curlew, lapwing, merlin etc production?

 

My own view is that all moors are slightly different and moor owners all differ slightly in their opinions. If options existed in respect of permitting, then I think this would be desirable. For example, on relatively small, but highly productive English moors, one option might be a general licence to kill raptors (as currently for magpies) matched with offsets. Typically, however, I envision that permits might only be offered as or when predator density was high or prey density low.

 

I see grouse moor management as, arguably, our best example of wildlife conservation in the UK and one that is minimally reliant on public funding. I have to admit to being perplexed as to why so many others see it in an opposite light. I have no vested interest to represent and I speak for no organisation. I do not have to be politically correct and am not trying to pretend that keepers and landowners don't kill raptors. I can see no scientific or technical reasons why both sides can't resolve their dispute without compromising their prime objectives.

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@@kittykat23uk:

 

I mentioned in my previous reply to you that I would try to find out more about the hare/louping ill situation by talking to an involved researcher. I have now achieved this objective and feel I can report back with better and more up-to-date information. So, here goes:

 

1) I had previously suggested that there were less than 250 driving moors in the UK, mostly in northern England. Obsolete information. Apparently, now, in Scotland, there are approximately 140 moors that could be classed in this category. Moors in Scotland are of generally greater area than those in England and only parts of some are managed to bring grouse to levels where driving is possible. Furthermore, within the 140 total, some are still building up towards their objectives (moors that would have been drivable in the 1920s, but on which management and hence drivability had lapsed) and those that are in decline. The increase in numbers of drivable moors is ascribable to the fact that extra management inputs are now worthwhile because measures to control disease now work. About 40% of Scottish moors have louping ill present. Correct management will not eradicate the virus, but will lower its prevalence in grouse such that it ceases to be a major problem.

 

2) Management for the control of louping ill starts with sheep and involves both reducing their tick burdens and vaccinating them. Sometimes this is sufficient on its own. However, where very high deer numbers are present, tick numbers can't be reduced sufficiently. It will be necessary to reduce deer density from high to moderate/low. This will, in fact, be beneficial for the habitat, but may result in loss of stalking income. More rarely still, even in the absence of too many deer and the presence of well managed sheep, a very high density of hares is sufficient to prevent adequate prevalence reduction in grouse. Only under these circumstances should hare culling take place. Once effected, one would wish to prevent numbers becoming very high again, but moderate levels will not harm the grouse. The fact that hare culls have, on these relatively few moors, been followed by grouse recovery gives the lie to the statement that there is no evidence that grouse numbers increase in response to hare reduction. However, it is true that they will only do so if other tick and louping ill control measures are in place. This has always been understood and one is tempted to wonder, therefore, why the statement is so often trotted out, if not for anti-grouse shooting propaganda.

 

3) One or two estate owners (ill-advisedly) may have, in the past, attempted total hare eradication. However, it has never successfully been achieved. Hares are highly density dependent and culling, even if very heavy, is followed by extra breeding success in survivors such that their numbers bounce back.

 

4) Hares numbers typically cycle over roughly ten years and there may be up to a tenfold difference between peak and trough (as @Kittykat 23UK, herself, reported). She suggested a parasitic aetiology and, in fact, my own informant tells me that two nematode parasites have been identified (one a Trichostrongylus species, albeit different from that of grouse) as potential candidates. In fact, his research student treated infected hares and demonstrated that they responded with increased fecundity. This, of course, is suggestive, but not definitive proof that these cycles may, at least in part if not totally, be driven by these two agents.

 

5) @@kittykat23uk mentioned a report by the Hare Preservation Trust of a decline of 43% in numbers between 1995 and 2013. Discussing changes in numbers of a population that cycles to the extent that hares do is not particularly informative without knowing the state of cycling in the various sub-populations. For example, even in a single population, numbers can go from, say, 10000 to 1000 without indicating any man-made problem. I find it extremely irksome that this organisation states that hares "allegedly carry tick-borne virus". They irrefutably carry the virus in habitats where it is present. "Allegedly" implies that the evidence doesn't suit their agenda and is accordingly belittled.

 

6) It is far more useful to look at area distribution than numbers per se. The Hare Preservation Trust suggests that there are now areas of Scotland, even areas which continue to provide suitable habitat, from which hares have totally disappeared since 1995, a statement that doesn't appear to be backed up by evidence. I therefore think it worthwhile to cite a paper that found that there had been no net changes in hare distribution between 1995/6 and 2006/7 (Patton, V et al [2010]. Distribution of mountain hares Lepus timidus in Scotland: Results of a questionnaire. Mammal Review, 40: 313-326). They reported that hares were present in 48% of the 90% of Scotland land area assessed and that they were most strongly associated with heather moorland managed for grouse shooting. They also found that approximately 25000 hares were harvested in 2006/7, probably representing 7% (5-14%) of the estimated population.

 

7) Hares have a market value and are a legitimate sustainable crop. Harvesting appropriate numbers can flatten population cycling effects. There is a quite a limited market for selling hare shooting. However, even when unavailable, it makes sense for keepers to maintain sensible densities and not allow overproduction with the probability of subsequently more severe crashes. Game dealers will pay between £3.50 and £4.00 for each carcase.

 

I hope I have filled the gaps in my previous reply to your satisfaction.

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@Inyathi:

 

I wondered whether you have looked at the GCWT website. I am sure you are aware of The Joint Raptor Study and the ongoing Langholm Project, but has your information come purely from RSPB sources? If so, could I ask you to take a quick look at the GWCT website and its treatment of the evidence? It may well be identical to that of the RSPB - I simply don't know. I would also commend you to read the results of the Otterburn Study. This clearly demonstrated the benefits of legal predator control to a range of upland bird species. Foxes, crows, stoats and weasels were controlled. What I found particularly interesting was that the supposedly rigourous control measures only effected an 80% reduction in crows, 45% in foxes and none in the small mustelids. I gather that the researchers attribute the lack of mustelid reduction to their improved survival and reproductive success consequent upon fox reduction (guild of predator effect).

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Posted (edited)

@@douglaswise

 

Sorry it's taken me a while to put together a response to your earlier post as I ended up writing quite a lot.

 

Aside from various books on birds the information I provided came primarily from the websites I linked to and maybe some others I read that I may have missed, actually very little of it came directly from the RSPB aside from anything I may have taken from the interview with Brian Etheridge. One of the reports was from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and another was from Natural England, I should have checked after I posted it but the link to the Natural England publication PDF doesn’t work but if you want to read this document type ‘A Future for the Hen Harrier in England?’ into Google and download it. I don’t blindly support everything the RSPB does.

 

 

My longer response will follow shortly

Edited by inyathi

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@@douglaswise

 

I really want to be able to discuss ways in which the conservation interest can be squared with the shooting interest. I see the RSPB as an obstacle in this process, perhaps inevitably, as it is a single interest pressure group and, in consequence, is reluctant to be seen to "give way" because of fears over loss of membership income. I know you object to arguments deployed in the defence of shooting which involve mention of "animal rights" views of opponents in an attempt to discredit them. However, I'm surprised that you deny that it is often such views, rather than genuine conservation concerns, that attract some to become members of the RSPB and/or the RSPCA.

 

 

I’m not denying anything at all I’m making an entirely valid point that opposition to the illegal killing of hen harriers is not about animal rights, undoubtedly some of the people protesting believe in animal rights but that isn’t the point that isn’t what provoked this campaign. Suggesting this is about animal rights will lead those people who don’t know what this issue is really about to think that the people protesting are just the usual animal rights brigade having a go at hunters/shooters for killing grouse. Those people may then conclude that the arguments against driven grouse shooting are all pretty spurious, genuine animal rights organisations are very fond of coming up with spurious and indeed ridiculous arguments. In another thread some time ago I mentioned an Animal Aid publication on culling that blamed the decline in our kestrel population on lack of food due to farmers controlling rats, clearly an absurd suggestion, kestrels don't prey on full grown rats and short-tailed field voles don't I imagine fall victim to rat poison rendering them toxic. By making a point about animal rights you're implying that the arguments put forward don’t really have any substance to them that the campaigners have an ulterior motive to eventually have all shooting banned. And that the arguments are based on misplaced emotion and concern for the lives of individual animals.

 

The RSPCA was an animal welfare organisation that has turned increasingly into an animal rights organisation at least as far as those of us who think that animal welfare and animal rights are not the same thing are concerned, besides the RSPCA has nothing to do with conservation. I would expect that people who join the RSPCA these days do hold animal rights views because well it is an animal rights organisation, although interestingly it has just been reported that the new chief exec of the RSPCA has promised that the organisation will become less political and apologised for past mistakes. That they were wrong to spend huge sums of money (more than £300,000) pursuing a private prosecution against the Heythrop Hunt and wrong to demand that farmers involved in the badger cull should be named and shamed. Having had a good look at their website they do not appear to have any campaigns directed at stopping any form of game shooting grouse or otherwise.They have a page on wildlife crime and on their campaign against the bager cull but notheing about shooting. So I would suggest that the RSPCA is completely irrelevant to this discussion, I’m sure it wasn’t your intention but if I were being cynical I might accuse you of trying to muddy the waters.

 

The RSPB is neither an animal rights nor an animal welfare organisation but of course a fair few of its 1.2 million members may hold some animal rights views and perhaps some of its staff as well, on the other hand I happen to know that there are birders who shoot and RSPB members who shoot. I don’t know what motivates everyone to join but I assume they do so because they care about nature, I would suggest however that anyone seriously wanting to see an end to shooting would join the Legal Against Cruel Sports or Animal Aid or Peta or any other organisation that actively campaigns to ban shooting. Obviously there willl be people who are members of both the RSPB and LACS but then I'm sure their will be RSPB members who are also members of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and or the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and even possibly the Countryside Alliance.The RSPB are not in this case calling for a ban on driven grouse they are as I say calling for licensing, and they of course also practice predator control and deer control when necessary. A few years ago they started a rat eradication program on Henderson Island a B.O.T. in the South Pacific the largest ever undertaken on a subtropical or tropical island regrettably in 2011 this ended having failed, they are now carrying out further research on the island to ensure that their next attempt does not fail. They have carried out similar but successful rat eradications on various islands somewhat closer to home around the British Isles I would suggest that anyone who is a very strong believer in animal rights wouldn’t join the RSPB if they understand what the RSPB does. Sure they don’t advertise the fact that they control foxes or deer very loudly because yes there are undoubtedly some members would not agree with them doing so and might leave as a result.

 

In relation to a comment I made about this not being about class envy I should perhaps have added that a lot of people protesting about this would feel very strongly that the moorland owners do not own the harriers that these birds belong to all of us and that the moorland owners and their keepers they have no right to do what they do. In a sense there is then an echo of the mass trespass on Kinder Scout that secured ordinary people the right to access the moors. The point I was really making is that the suggestion that these conflicts are about ‘class war’ is over used again as a way of trying to invalidate genuine arguments. Of course people who oppose field sports frequently make often somewhat ridiculous comments about class; I said that driven grouse shooting is a rich man’s sport I should perhaps have said in relation to other types of gamebird shooting. Obviously a day’s shooting on the very best moors is very expensive there are moors where the shooting isn’t so expensive and there are ordinary people who aren’t well off but have a passion for shooting and are willing to save up to go grouse shooting occasionally. The point however is that even that type of shooting is going to be expensive compared to say an a very ordinary pheasant shoot and certainly compared to rough shooting where a bunch of guns are just wondering around a farm shooting flushing whatever pheasants or pigeons they can find out of the hedgerows and woods to shoot. Or compared to sitting in a hide on the edge of field with some decoy woodpigeons to shoot the birds as they come to feast on the oil seed rape crop. The idea that shooting generally is entirely a sport of the rich is a lazy stereotype as is also the case with fox hunting where people focus entirely on the rich on their horses and ignore and ignore the ordinary folks, mineworkers and such like who used to go out and hunt on foot. I am not denying that there’s is some element of class involved certainly in some of the language that gets used and I am sure there are a few people who feel so strongly about this that they would favour some sort of Robert Mugabe style solution that involves confiscating the land from its current owners. However even if the country goes mad and elects Jeremy Corbyn that won't happen. The point is that accusations about class envy or animal rights should not be used to try and imply that the campaign against driven grouse shooting is entirely spurious and without justification. And that the entirely genuine anger over raptor persecution is really just a cover for something else.

 

More to follow

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Posted (edited)

@@douglaswise

 

Anyway, your post got me thinking. Animals rights apply to individual animals. In a sense, conservation could be thought of as "species rights" (animals and plants) and, I suppose, like you, I am a species rightist. I remember, as a research student, being profoundly shocked by a colleague. We were discussing whales and whale conservation and he stated that, as neither he nor most other people would ever see a whale and because he was unaware that they provided significant benefits to mankind, it was of no consequence to him whether they were driven to extinction or not. It is, perhaps, worth wondering whether his views were more typical and representative of mankind than ours. Furthermore, I have to wonder whether he was correct in his lack of concern. As a biologist and believer in evolution, I accept survival of the fittest. Is it really so terrible, therefore, if humans drive many other species to extinction if it is not going to be to the material detriment of our own species? You and I may think it is, but may not this be purely for the selfish enjoyment we glean from wildlife watching (your case) or wildlife watching and shooting (my case)?

 

 

Your colleagues view with regard to whales perhaps illustrates the point that we don’t actually know exactly which species provide benefit or perhaps to put it another way we can't be sure that species that we are extirpating do not provide benefits in ways we hadn't considered. However extinction is of course an important natural driver of evolution in that sense species have to die out, at this point in what’s become known as the anthropocene however it is I would suggest extremely difficult to really distinguish between species that have naturally run their course and species that we are driving to extinction. Some species that we are killing off may in some case already have been on the way out and in any case we can’t save everything there comes a point where conservationists have to prioritise. However I do think we have a moral imperative not to deliberately exterminate species but then obviously that doesn’t apply to smallpox and would anyone protest if science allows us to attempt to extirpate various Anopheles mosquito species I doubt it or not too much.

 

Having started philosophising, I began to wonder whether the sort of debate we're having here is anything other than trivial in conservation terms. Real conservation should, I suppose, be about sustaining planetary life support systems. Isn't species conservation akin to "fiddling while Rome burns"? I suspect that it will pale into insignificance when (or, more optimistically, if) our own species is threatened by inadequacy of ecosystem services (ugh, I hate that jargon!). Previously, on this website, I did, tongue in cheek, point out that our members should appreciate that their activities were anti-conservation because of the inordinate amounts of greenhouse gasses they were responsible for emitting in pursuit of their favourite animals or photographic opportunities. (One return trip to South Africa, for example, is responsible for emitting more CO2 than is typically used by a Brit for all other activities during a year.) But, I'm a hypocrite with possibly inadequate concern over future generations.

 

In many of the African wildlife-related debates we have here, emphasis is placed upon the importance of locals being able to see some benefit from wildlife conservation. We are not talking spiritual uplift here, but tangible material benefit. Wildlife tourism, in the absence of inputs from foreign NGOs and governments, will never be able to fund benefits of sufficient magnitude to achieve the conservation goals of many Safaritalk correspondents. Nor is it likely or reasonable to expect African states to do so, given their more pressing priorities. I'm not sure where this is getting me. However, I'm wondering whether there's any equivalence in the grouse moor story. Why should moor owners suffer because outsiders prevent them from conducting their affairs in an efficient manner without offering them any compensatory benefits? I know the answer, of course. Killing birds of prey is illegal. BUT, why is the killing of damaging pests illegal? This is determined by the relative strengths of lobby groups and their success in influencing law makers (and, I would suggest, is independent of moral or ethical judgement).

 

 

The killing of birds of prey is illegal because the combination of very severe persecution by gamekeepers and others and the use of certain now banned pesticides that cause egg-shell thinning. As an indication of how rare red kites were in the 1930s at one point there was just one pair in West Wales that successfully reared young and no other kites anywhere in the UK, genetic evidence shows that the entire Welsh population (prior to the recent UK reintroductions) was descended from a single female bird. This tiny Welsh population took a very long time to recover because this last area where they’d managed to survive the persecution was a lousy habitat for kites. It was only when after years of protection by the local landowners, local volunteers and the RSPB keeping away egg collectors and such like that they were able to spread out into better habitat that the population actually started to really grow. Young kites like many other raptors when they are ready to breed return to the area where they were hatched but the nest that they fledged from will likely still be occupied by their parents, so they will fly around the area looking for the nearest vacant site suitable to build a nest. Consequently the population spreads in a kind of slowly expanding circle, realising that the natural recolonisation of England and Scotland would take a very long time the RSPB decided that birds should be brought from Europe to reintroduce them. The reintroduction has been sufficiently successful that we are now exporting birds back to Europe. 30 years or so ago in Wales I was very excited to see a tiny distant speck in the sky and be told it was a red kite now I see anywhere up to half a dozen or so in a year either flying over my home or when I’m driving locally and more if I’m travelling to Heathrow as sightings are almost guaranteed along part of the M4. Buzzards you can in some places sometimes see 4-5 in the sky at once where previously you would have been very lucky to see even one, so some of these birds have recovered dramatically are there now too many? No I don’t think there are, the kind of people who claim that are the kind of people who if they see one raptor think there are too many.

 

Are there too many on shooting estates and grouse moors well maybe so but this is a different question. On a grouse moor the objective is to have an unnaturally low population of all predators so that the number of grouse will rise enough to provide a shootable surplus would I object to that being achieved by removing some birds through a licensing system not entirely provided these birds are fully protected elsewhere and allowed to live unmolested. Part of the problem with this entire conflict is you cannot completely divorce what is happening now from what happened in Victorian Times and before the persecution of red kites actually goes back to The Vermin Act of Queen Elizabeth I in 1566, conservationists cannot help but see what is happening now as an extension of what happen then and a sign that attitudes towards all predators have not changed. Kites being keen scavengers to a large extent fell victim to poisoned bait put out either to deliberately target them or to target other predators like foxes and crows this is what led to their extinction in Scotland but they were also shot one of the last known English birds was shot in Shropshire in 1863. They are now pretty common and recovering everywhere except that is for the North of Scotland where people still hold on to their Victorian beliefs and persecute them.

 

Should birds that are on the Red List for the UK not be protected? Or only if they are raptors or do you dispute the decision to Red List the hen harrier?

 

 

You can download the Red List from the BTO website here

 

How the lists are decided

 

The assessment is based on the most up-to-date evidence available and criteria include conservation status at global and European levels and, within the UK: historical decline, trends in population and range, rarity, localised distribution and international importance. The lists now exclude three former breeding species, two previously red-listed, now considered to have ceased breeding in the UK (Serin, Temminck’s Stint and the once widespread Wryneck). The only new species assessed by BoCC4, Caspian Gull, went onto the Amber list.

 

You appear to be suggesting and this is where I think many won’t agree that controlling a nationally endangered bird is no different to controlling any other animal; this is another reason for making it clear that this isn’t about animal rights because extreme believers in animal rights often fail to distinguish between killing farm animals and endangered species. Therefore it’s important to state that this is about the illegal killing of hen harriers and golden eagles and other raptors not about killing grouse. People from any station in life cannot pick and choose which laws they want to obey, if you believe a law is wrong then you strive to change it through the democratic process, you don’t ignore it or hope that breaking enough times it will force it to be changed.
As this all rather lengthy I will add the next part slightly later.
Edited by inyathi
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Posted (edited)

@@douglaswise

 

As a "species conservationist" myself, I would hate to see raptors driven to the brink of extinction. I would condone full legal protection for all seriously threatened species. However, I don't think any of the avian species mentioned by @@inyathi are of conservation concern at the European level (or even the British). However, what about non-endangered protected species? I will start with an analogy. What is a weed? Is it a noxious plant that should be exterminated wherever encountered or merely an inoffensive, even desirable member of the plant kingdom that sometimes chooses to lay down its roots in an unsuitable location? Usually the latter (not sure about knotweed!) I would suggest that the hen harrier is a weed of the grouse moor. Its presence interferes with efficient yield potential of one's crop. Why, in moral or ethical terms, is a hen harrier different from a fox in this regard? In practical terms, of course, they are different - foxes kill harriers, but harriers don't kill foxes.

 

Well Japanese knotweed is certainly a noxious weed in the UK and I presume anywhere else it may have been introduced outside Japan and the appropriate response is to eradicate it wherever it is encountered. This is certainly my response when I’ve come across this plant and I would argue that this is rather the view Victorian gamekeepers took of hen harriers, the point is that at the moment some keepers certainly in England still take this view they are not treating the hen harrier as a weed in need of control but one that needs eradicating. Even if they are protecting a crop I don’t think your weed analogy is entirely valid, I hardly think you can liken hen harriers to black grass in a barley crop at least I think very few people outside of the shooting world would agree with you. I confess I haven’t spent a lot of time in the North of England so I’ve not visited these specific moorland areas but it would seem to be the case that all of the hen harrier breeding attempts have been on or near moors managed for grouse. For obvious reasons it’s not possible to get the exact locations of nesting sites, the point in any case is that the harriers are exactly where they are supposed to be which is in what passes for their natural habitat. I presume that in this region unlike in Scotland there isn’t that much habitat available that isn’t managed for grouse shooting if there is such habitat they never have a chance to recolonise it and would in any case likely still not be safe. Keepers would likely be concerned by the presence of any harriers anywhere near their moors fearing that if these birds successfully rear young then those birds might seek to nest on their moors.

 

You said you don’t think any of the bird species I mentioned are of conservation concern but both hen harriers and sea eagles are on the UK Red List, the goshawk however is green listed although there may be only 410 pairs. I suspect the fact that goshawks are on the Green List because although they are heavily persecuted in some locations they are not overall as persecuted as hen harriers. Goshawks are after all forest birds so they’re only likely to be present on a few grouse moors that adjoin large areas of forest. A hen harrier is different to a fox because the hen harriers are on the UK Red List foxes obviously aren’t, there are as I stated earlier only around 646 pairs in the UK as opposed some 240,000 foxes. Furthermore foxes are found in just about every available terrestrial habitat and controlling them on grouse moors or on shooting estates generally does not threaten their survival.

 

How many hen harriers there are in Mainland Europe or for that matter in Kazakhstan is in my view of not really that relevant. Some of the waders that breed in the uplands and that benefit from management for grouse are considered of global importance but some although Red Listed in the UK are widespread elsewhere in Europe and Asia and categorised as least concern by the IUCN. For example the dotterel this bird is in the UK now restricted to the Scottish Highlands and the population is put at about 510-750 males that’s not a dissimilar number to the hen harrier why do say dotterels matter but not hen harriers, both are on the UK Red List and both are categorised as least concern by the IUCN. The Eurasian golden plover another special upland bird is on the Green List for the UK and is very widely distributed. I would therefore say that it is completely inconsistent to suggest that UK or English hen harriers don’t matter but the conservation of these other birds is very important. If we decide not to protect a Red Listed bird because it is common elsewhere then we are on a slippery slope. The fact that a species is endangered in the UK then becomes meaningless if people can just argue that it shouldn’t be fully protected because it’s not endangered elsewhere in the world. If the government wants to say build a high speed railway line through prime Daubenton’s bat habitat a European Protected Species who cares there are plenty of them in Russia. Why bother protecting common dormice in the UK there are plenty of them in Lithuania, you could apply the same logic to any species anywhere in the world.

 

Does it matter that bush elephants are extinct in Senegal if Botswana is overflowing with them? Why should a French shepherd have to put up with the newly returned wolves that his ancestors once got rid off when there are plenty of wolves in Romania? But then why should a Romanian shepherd have to put up with wolves either? Are we to say that wolves should be banished to sparsely populated areas of Russia? I mentioned wildcats and referred to the British wildcat as Felis silvestris grampia but the classification of our wildcats as a separate subspecies is disputed some simply regard them as being the same as the European wildcat F. s. silvestris. This is in turn just a subspecies of the wildcat, the species as a whole has a huge distribution encompassing most of Africa and a significant part of Asia as well as Europe and is classified by the IUCN as least concern so should we abandon our now Scottish wildcat to its fate? Should we say it doesn’t matter if they disappear due to hybridisation or persecution? It’s not even clear how many there are left and whether there really are any pure bred cats left in the wild although there are certainly still cats that have all the right characteristics. Or should we fight tooth and nail to save them and strive to build up the Scottish population and eventually reintroduce them to the few really wild and sparsely populated areas of England and Wales where they might be able to survive and where it may be possible to control domestic cat numbers like Dartmoor perhaps.

 

@@inyathi, you have tended to focus on hen harriers insofar as grouse moors are concerned. However, the Langholm study indicated that peregrines, by causing quite heavy winter mortality of adults, could impact badly on grouse population dynamics. It is my understanding that peregrines are increasing in the UK, though not necessarily in the environs of grouse moors. It appears that buzzards are also having this effect, now that there has been a big increase in their population density. Having talked to someone with more knowledge than I on the subject of golden eagles (not difficult to find!), I learned that I was not wrong to suggest that a pair could kill a sufficient value of grouse to equal that of keeper's annual wage, but that presupposed that said pair ate nothing but grouse. My informant assured me that this wouldn't happen as it would be energetically inefficient for eagles to target grouse unless there was little choice. Hares, lambs, gralloch would all be preferred. He went on to say that, in his view, it was likely that Scottish west coast eagles were flying to central areas to feed and returning west to roost, given the inadequate prey on the west itself.

 

 

I am well aware that peregrines are significant predators of grouse but they are now widespread in England and the rest of the UK and on the Green List for UK birds not the Red or Amber List, they're not confined to heather moorland they're not being threatened with regional extinction due to persecution. Yes a few peregrines are killed by pigeon fanciers/racers, their nests are sometimes raided for the illegal falcon trade but away from grouse moors they are not seriously persecuted if a few birds are killed illegally by keepers that won’t threaten the species within England. That is why I have focused on harriers; the entire campaign against driven grouse shooting was started because of anger about hen harriers although people also feel just as angry about other raptors being persecuted.

Edited by inyathi
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@@douglaswise

 

There are several potential models for conservation.

 

1) "Sharing": All species in same pot (habitat). Minimum human intervention. Let nature get on with it. Seen in large reserves in Africa. Seems to be what RSPB wants for UK moorlands.

 

2) "Sparing": Designation of limited areas excluded from requirement to be "shared" with all species. Exclusion of some species for the benefit of others. Requires human intervention. Used, for example, to protect hirola in northern Kenya. Typical of smaller, private South African reserves and, to an extent, to bigger ones (Tswalu, where lion excluded from one part). If necessary, the exclusions may have to be paid for (biodiversity offsetting) so that management can afford to make more effort in the unexcluded areas for the species excluded. However, if the excluded areas provide extra yields from declining species which are greater than would be achievable by a sharing model of conservation, rewards should be considered.

 

3) "Zonal": Similar to "sparing". Different zones managed for different conservation objectives.

 

 

 

What I would guess the RSPB want is for all moorland species to be free to live on our moorlands and for and end to the persecution of protected species and I say perhaps not so much intervention rather than minimal intervention, we can't just leave nature to get on with it a point I will come to shortly. I don't for a moment believe that the RSPB always gets it right they certainly don't their record with regard to trying to increase populations of certain bird species eg capercallies has been somewhat mixed.

 

In your example regarding hirolas the predators that pose a threat to hirolas are all widespread species and none are as endangered as the hirola, fencing off an area of bush and excluding predators to allow hirolas to breed in safety makes perfect sense. It’s hardly comparable as doing so will not compromise the survival of any endangered predators. Those predators that are found in the area can happily live elsewhere and in other habitats.

 

How does this relate to grouse moors? First, I think it should be appreciated that heather moorland is an anthropogenic (man made) habitat which can only be maintained by constant management. This, of course, will allow purists to suggest that it shouldn't exist and should revert, for example, to Caledonian Forest. @@inyathi, in fact, would like to prevent urban flooding by afforesting a large area that is now heather moorland. However, flooding normally occurs when the soil is saturated and, whether trees are present or not in such circumstances, makes no difference to rate of run off. Not only is heather moorland anthropogenic, it is also deemed to offer very high landscape value and supports a suite of ground nesting birds of which the most iconic and economically valuable is the endemic red grouse. Of course, it also supports low intensity sheep farming. I think that 95% of heather moorland worldwide is in the UK and it represents around only 4% of UK landmass. I think there is, therefore, a strong case to exclude grouse moors from blanket compliance with the normal protections afforded to raptors.

 

 

I am absolutely not advocating that large areas of moorland be reforested only certain specific areas just around watercourses but I confess I haven’t looked into this enough to establish how large an area in total this would be. If my concern is for hen harriers it would be perverse to advocate a course of action that in the long term would disadvantage the species as woodland/forest would once it is mature. You mention landscape value, in a recent debate on the subject of reforestation and flooding a spokesman from the NFU (National Farmers Union) made an extremely unconvincing argument along the same lines that tourists would no longer visit the uplands if we planted trees on them. That tourists want to see well managed farmed landscapes with well maintained dry stone walls and flocks of sheep etc that’s not untrue but the idea that they wouldn’t go there if the river valleys had just a few more trees planted in them is ridiculous. It’s not as if anyone is proposing covering the hills in more dark dense plantations of Sitka spruce which certainly would harm the landscape, more broadleaved deciduous species planted in the right places would in my view enhance the landscape or would certainly not seriously detract from it. If you think I’m advocating large scale reforestation in all of our uplands then you misinterpreted what I meant, which was really intended to point out that upland management is seen by some as a cause of flooding. This has in turn led to people blaming grouse shooting for flooding the leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennet actually stated this not very long ago while calling for a ban.

 

Over-managed grouse moors made floods worse, says Green party leader Natalie Bennett

 

Whatever the case I stand by my point about tree planting

 

Tree planting 'can reduce flooding'

 

The important point is to plant just enough trees around feeder streams and tributaries making sure that they are in the right places and not to just go in and plant thousands of trees willy-nilly all over the place. I suggested that beavers should then be returned beavers well people in the town of Pickering in North Yorkshire prevented their town from flooding after they were denied new flood defences by building 167 so called ‘leaky damns’ on up in the hills on the river that flows through the town. This cost £2 million cheaper than conventional flood defences but I would suggest that European Beavers could achieve a similar effect for free. Well not entirely for free a new beaver population would have to be managed so that as is the case in Europe if a particular beaver family are causing problems they are trapped and relocated and if there are too many culled.

 

UK flooding: How a Yorkshire town worked with nature to stay dry

 

I would also suggest that the native fauna including harriers is part of what attracts visitors and I think it is worth pointing out that many of the grouse moors in for example the Peak District are in a National Park. Obviously the concept of a national park in the UK is very different to that in Africa or even the United States in that our parks are all inhabited and farmed we have not kicked out the original inhabitants. When Yellowstone the best known park in the US was created the local Tuka Dika ‘Sheepeaters’ a tribe of the Shoshone-Bannock people were told that they could no longer access the park just as was done to various African tribes. Here people are very much a part of our parks because they and their ancestors created the landscapes that people have come to see, even so one might question what our national parks are for if we are willing to accept the removal of UK Red Listed bird. Birders visiting the Peak District National Park obviously don’t bring in as much money or provide as much employment as grouse shooters but I can only say good luck with trying to convince the British Public that removing an endangered species from one of our national parks is acceptable. Of course you may not be advocating complete removal but I think even reducing the population will be complicated by the fact that the Peak District is a national park even UK parks aren't entirely about wildlife conservation as might be the case in Africa.

 

Every habitat in the UK is if not entirely anthropogenic then certainly only semi-natural except perhaps the high tops of the Cairngorms, that is to say that for conservation purposes every habitat requires varying degree of human management to ensure it retains the characteristics we deem desirable. Yes heather moorland if left unmanaged would turn into some semblance of Caledonian Forest. The natural climax vegetation throughout almost the whole of the UK is woodland leave any piece of land untended for long enough keeping out livestock and it will become scrub and then woodland (assuming there are seed sources nearby). Therefore every habitat if you don’t manage it will eventually become some form of woodland that might benefit a few species would result in the loss of other species that do not favour woodland conditions. To preserve chalk grassland for example you need to practice conservation grazing, to ensure that the land is grazed by appropriate livestock species to achieve the desired sward height that you are looking for to suit the specific rare plants that you want to encourage and the butterflies and other insects that depend on them. This type of grassland is therefore an entirely anthropogenic habitat yet the species that depend on it were presumably already here before the farmers and their livestock arrived to create it. People have introduced many species to this country going back to Roman Times if not before but it’s not likely that people introduced chalk grassland plants or the insects that live on them. Unless these species somehow crossed the Channel it is in my view reasonable to assume that at least some areas of chalk grassland did exist in some form in prehistoric times likely created by the large wild herbivores that once occurred in the UK such as wild horses and aurochs (wild cattle) amongst others. The Caledonian Forest of today will not be the same as that in the past because of this missing large mammal fauna because we no longer have our largest herbivores or any large carnivores. In order to prevent succession and stop habitats reverting to scrub and woodland we are attempting to mimic the effects of our missing megafauna. Ancient woodland which is defined as sites that have been continuously wooded since 1600 or in Scotland 1750 (because this is when good maps became available and predates the time when people started significant tree planting) even if it is in fact a vestige of the original woodland that covered most of the UK 10,000 years it is not the same as that woodland. In UK conservation everything has to be managed and that does also include wildlife when common species become too common they have to be culled, most people except animal rights campaigners except this.

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Posted (edited)

I hadn't realised until I started posting all of this just how much I'd written this one should be last post for now.

 

@@douglaswise

 

I suggest that no legislation would necessarily be required because, I believe, it is already possible for English Nature to issue permits to kill nuisance birds, even if they are otherwise protected. If any compromise is to be achieved, it seems to me that English Nature (or its Scottish equivalent) must be prepared to make use of its permitting powers and not be bullied by the RSPB and other pressure groups into never doing so. Next, one would need to discuss killing versus translocation. Would permitting happen whenever a particular raptor was present, only when threshold densities reached or only when prey pushed below recovery level in a predator trap? Would permits have to be paid for (biodiversity offsetting)? Would compensation be paid for extra curlew, lapwing, merlin etc production?

 

My own view is that all moors are slightly different and moor owners all differ slightly in their opinions. If options existed in respect of permitting, then I think this would be desirable. For example, on relatively small, but highly productive English moors, one option might be a general licence to kill raptors (as currently for magpies) matched with offsets. Typically, however, I envision that permits might only be offered as or when predator density was high or prey density low.

 

I see grouse moor management as, arguably, our best example of wildlife conservation in the UK and one that is minimally reliant on public funding. I have to admit to being perplexed as to why so many others see it in an opposite light. I have no vested interest to represent and I speak for no organisation. I do not have to be politically correct and am not trying to pretend that keepers and landowners don't kill raptors. I can see no scientific or technical reasons why both sides can't resolve their dispute without compromising their prime objectives.

 

 

 

Despite my earlier comment about animal rights of course there will be people who will never accept any good that shooting estates do for conservation because they take issue with people killing animals. That aside my view is that all the good conservation work that is done is completely negated by the persecution of raptors so long as raptors and specifically regionally endangered species are being illegally killed it doesn’t matter what benefits managed grouse moors bring to wildlife conservation. You can't expect to be given credit for saving some endangered species with one hand but not expect to be condemned for killing other endangered species with the other hand. To go back to your earlier example of the hirola in the days of the Kenya Colony these animals despite their restricted range would obviously have been much more common, however if early conservationists decided they needed to increase the numbers of these antelopes they would likely have shot most of the predators in the area. That is after all what they did in a great many parts of Africa targeting wild dogs in particular but also sometimes lions in order to boost antelope numbers.

 

 

I wondered whether you have looked at the GCWT website. I am sure you are aware of The Joint Raptor Study and the ongoing Langholm Project, but has your information come purely from RSPB sources? If so, could I ask you to take a quick look at the GWCT website and its treatment of the evidence? It may well be identical to that of the RSPB - I simply don't know. I would also commend you to read the results of the Otterburn Study. This clearly demonstrated the benefits of legal predator control to a range of upland bird species. Foxes, crows, stoats and weasels were controlled. What I found particularly interesting was that the supposedly rigourous control measures only effected an 80% reduction in crows, 45% in foxes and none in the small mustelids. I gather that the researchers attribute the lack of mustelid reduction to their improved survival and reproductive success consequent upon fox reduction (guild of predator effect).

 

 

But this isn’t about legal predator control of non endangered species; I don’t have a problem with reducing the population of non endangered native species so long as the policy is reduction not eradication. Stoats, weasels and foxes can clearly cope with being controlled; my concern though would be if keepers are illegally killing other endangered mustelids like pine martens and polecats. I expressed concern about the possible killing of wildcats in my original post I believe the policy is that if a Scottish keeper is out lamping they may shoot feral cats but they are not allowed or should not shoot any tabby cat they see because even an experienced keeper may not be able to definitely tell the difference. And with so few wildcats left it may be best not to kill hybrid animals if they closely resemble wild cats. If they do accidently shoot a suspected wildcat they will not face prosecution as it is hoped that they will then report that they may have shot one so that the carcass can be collected for study. It is a potential problem for wildcats that if someone shoots one they can claim they thought it was a feral cat or a hybrid and polecats have a similar problem if a keeper or anyone kills one they can claim that it was just a polecat ferret rather than a purebred polecat or that they thought it was. Except they would be much more likely to apply the ‘Shoot, Shovel and Shut up’ approach that some US ranchers apply when it comes to wolves or other animals they want to get rid off.

 

As to solutions well I haven’t seriously looked into the translocation idea to the point of trying to find out how much available habitat there is in the South of England and where it is and how many pairs it could support. On principal I am in favour of reintroductions (within reason) I would welcome the return of the hen harrier to the South of England. However the issue of raptor persecution still has to be addressed it is I believe persecution of golden eagles in the South of Scotland that has ultimately prevented these birds from spreading back into England. If you offer landowners some sort subsidy or Higher Level Stewardship money for accepting golden eagles on their land something along those lines could work, of course some taxpayers might resent their money being spent that way seeing it as in a sense caving into blackmail “pays us money or the eagle gets it” as it were but I don’t see that as a big problem. However such a scheme might work better with a hill farmer struggling to make money from sheep than with a very wealthy grouse moor owner whose money isn’t earned from grouse shooting but has come from other sources, unless the payments are very generous they may decide it isn’t worth the effort.

 

If the population of hen harriers can be built up through translocations enough to create a healthy population in areas where they will not come into conflict with shooting interests then I would not object on principal to estates being issued licenses to remove a few birds to keep numbers down. I would suggest perhaps that the population would need to be sufficient for the hen harrier to be taken of the Red List and put on the Amber List of course what I want to see ideally is harriers on the Green List. The RSPB probably takes a more absolutists position but then I would suggest for them agreeing to let keepers kill a Red Listed bird would be a huge problem and keepers killing even common raptors like buzzards would be a big issue for many of the membership.

 

Here is the Moorland Associations solution

 

New plans to save England’s hen harriers

 

If Natural England or Scottish Natural Heritage starts issuing licences to control raptors on shooting estates then I suspect that the owners of fishing lakes and fish farms will demand that they should be able to apply for licences to trap otters. Some of these people claim that otters are ruining their business would I object to that I suppose no I wouldn’t if it was done purely on a problem animal control basis to remove specific individuals that are causing trouble and not in order to reduce overall numbers. After all as I suggested earlier I believe we should have a managed population of beavers in the countryside that would be controlled on the basis that if say a farmer is losing an farmland to flooding caused by a family of beavers he can apply for a licence to cull them or have them relocated. Likewise if rather than reducing flooding a beaver damn in the wrong place is in danger of causing flooding in a town or village it would be removed. On that basis it would be illogical to not apply the same principal to otters.

 

You suggested that I am an absolutist certainly to some degree I am, I want to live in a biodiverse world not one that is becoming less and less biodiverse but I also have to live in the real world and that is one with an expanding human population conservation issues will become more and more difficult. If I am an absolutist though in this case it is as much as anything about the law, if there were a change in the law then I would change my view, I'm prepared compromise on some legal control I will not compromise on illegal persecution however any decision to control raptors has to be based on proper science and not a lingering Victorian prejudice against predators that many countrymen cling on to.

Edited by inyathi
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@@inyathi whilst I suspect we differ on how much control of animals and whilst I regards animal rights as a matter of respecting wildlife and domestic animals I agree with the vast majority of what you say.Thank you for demonstrating the breadth of your knowledge.AS I am on holiday I will only add 2 things.Hen Harries often over winter "down South" I wonder why they don't breed there? It might suggest trans location will be very tricky although it might be a question of birds breeding where they are raised.Secondly in case anyone thought otherwise Golden Eagles ( a bird with very similar dimensions to a Black Eagle) do not commute en masse from the West coast to the central areas for food they are very territorial and I suspect folk may have noticed! The sole reason why there are good numbers in the West is because they are not persecuted and that is because there is no grouse shooting.Now a fine drop of proper ale is needed

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Another apology. In re-reading the debate thus far in order to be able to respond to @@inyathi's well balanced responses, I discovered that I'd made another howler. Seems I can't tell black from white. Please put it down to advancing senility (ageism is politically incorrect!). I described that one of the many activities of grouse moor management can involve heather restoration. (There has been a reported loss of heather of over 40% on umanaged Scottish moors, for example). I said that heather would be replaced with blackgrass while I should have said whitegrass. It might be worth mentioning at this point that some whitegrass on heather moorland is not undesirable, but it is easy, particularly where there is overgrazing (sheep or deer), to tip the balance too far in its favour to the severe detriment of heather. An optimum mix provides greater biodiversity and suits waders with no great detriment to grouse. If one attempts to produce heather monoculture, of course, it would be to the detriment of voles and hen harriers. This, as a matter of fact, would represent the only action that critics could use to justify their charge of overintensification or industrialisation. However, heather restoration is so costly that restoration is really only justifiable on moors where heather is suboptimal in extent and, though I may be wrong, I don't believe attempts to produce a heather monoculture have been made.

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@@inyathi: Response to post # 41

 

I do not deny that there are good aspects of the RSPB. Many of my acquaintances and friends see the RSPB as being the avian equivalent of the RSPCA, including a senior ex-employee of the former, who left in disgust. I believe that their charter dictates that they can't adopt an anti-shooting stance. Had this not been the case, I suspect it might well have done so. After all, Mark Avery was its Conservation Director for many years. You, yourself, acknowledge that, when RSPB reserve managers undertake necessary predator control, the facts are generally hushed up for fear of losing members and consequential income. What does that tell you? However, you acknowledge that you do not condone all RSPB campaigns and management decisions. I absolutely agree with you that your own legitimate concerns over hen harriers do not stem in any way from animal rights views. However, I am not so sure that this would apply to @@Towlersonsafari. I am in no way suggesting that animal rights is the only and sole reason that opponents attack driven grouse shooting.

 

The RSPCA, as you mentioned, has turned over a new leaf and may well get back to being what originally led me to be a member. Perhaps, the RSPB has already done so, now that Mark Avery has departed.

 

Chris Packham, influential BBC broadcaster on natural history, is, I understand, an animal rightist without obvious academic qualifications and uses his prominent position to campaign against practices of which he has scant experience. Perhaps I've been misinformed. However, I'd refer you to www.countryside-alliance.org/chris-packham-animal-rights-and-the-bbc/.

 

I have looked at the website, Raptor Persecution UK to which @@Towlersonsafari referred me. I was appalled that he should see equivalence between this and, for example, the GWCT website as respective and fair representations of the anti and pro sides. I invite interested readers to make their own comparisons.

 

@@inyathi, I don't think we're really too far apart on this issue and would rather get on to the meat of the debate rather than getting bogged down over this one.

 

I will have to continue later as "her indoors" has ordered me on to the mower.

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@Inyathi: Response to post # 42

 

Now, I think we are getting to the heart of the matter.

 

You ignored my comment that conservation of rare species might be considered a very trivial thing to worry about, given the threats faced by all species that are posed, for example, by climate change. This common lack of perspective risks misallocation of conservation-related public funds (how individuals spend their money is up to them). However, you commendably kept your eye on the ball and focussed the debate back to consideration of BTO red list raptors (about which more later). This was probably sensible and I have already suggested that, like you, I could be described as going along with the concept of "species rights". I agree that it is (for both of us, but not necessarily for everyone) a moral imperative not deliberately to exterminate any species. I would like to emphasise in passing that modern predator control is not about extermination, but, rather, about reducing predation pressure on the species it is designed to protect. However, I do accept that, when labour was cheap and plentiful in Victorian times, it could reach the stage of becoming excessive, certainly in respect of raptors. That is not to imply that raptors are not a threat to game birds and that Victorian keepers were prejudiced and wrong to persecute them. It merely reflects that public perception of what's important changes over time. It has almost certainly changed more among townspeople than many traditional countrymen. It should come as no surprise, therefore, when reintroductions of species that have been absent for over a century, which might cause them a degree of harm, are carried out without their having been consulted.

 

You go on to suggest that, in your opinion, most don't think we generally have too many buzzards or kites, despite their recent explosions in numbers. However, you very fairly go on to suggest that there may well be too many for shooting estates and grouse moors and that you wouldn't, therefore, necessarily object to controls in these situations except for red listed and, possibly, amber listed species. I have absolutely no quarrel with this position (possibly because I don't know enough about their effects on, for example, songbirds). However, I'm not sure that this stance is one that would gain much support from most opponents of driven grouse shooting, for example. @@Towlersonsafari has already made his reservations felt, though you may win him over when he returns from his holiday.

 

Now to BTO red and amber lists. Thanks, by the way, for the link to the list itself. Before you sent it, I was plodding through some of the stati in the UK and Europe of some of the relevant birds on a species by species basis.

 

The presence of heather moorland keepered for grouse is of great importance for the following redlist species:

 

Black grouse, lapwing, curlew, merlin, hen harrier and also, I suspect but lack sufficient expertise to be sure, corncrake, dotterel, whimbrel, black tailed godwit, red necked phalarope, skylark and grey partridge.

 

Add the amber list species: red grouse, dunlin, greenshank, redshank and snipe.

 

Now, a sense of perspective is required, bearing in mind that the UK provides the vast majority of the heather moorland in Europe. The managed habitat is potentially important for 18 red and amber list species. Unfortunately, hen harriers alone among these species are capable of making management non viable to the detriment of the other 17.

 

There are sensible ways of approaching the above dilemma. @@Towlersonsafari's is not one of them.

 

@Inyathi: Reply to post 43

 

I generally agree with what you've written. You do make the point that, even when a species is common in Europe, it still matters if it's rare in the UK. Basically, yes. I would re-iterate, however, that some balance is needed, given that the very important habitat of managed heather moorland is basically a UK phenomenon, and that its privately funded management is contingent upon the ability to produce a shootable surplus of grouse.

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Thank you all for investing your time and sharing your various viewpoints in this discussion. As I admitted earlier, I did not know a lot about this complex issue but appreciate reading through the backgrounds presented here.

 

Matt.

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