Towlersonsafari

Driven Grouse Shooting a UK Disgrace?

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@@douglaswise with regards to Chris Packham's academic qualifications as a teenager he conducted a scientific study on The Population and Breeding Density of Kestrels in the Lower Itchen Valley, he went on to study Badgers in the New Forest and has a BSC in Zoology from the University of Southampton. In 2010 Chris was awarded the Dilys Breese BTO Medal for ‘his outstanding work in promoting science to new audiences’. So yes he does have some academic qualifications, he may be a vegetarian and believe in animal rights and hold some pretty strong views on various conservation matters however he is not allowed to express these views in his natural history programs. At the time

 

A BBC spokesperson said: “Chris Packham is a scientist and author in his own right and is not solely employed by the BBC.

 

"If Chris Packham wishes to express his personal views outside of his employment on BBC Natural History programmes, he is entitled to do so.”

 

 

From an article in the Mirror

 

In other words as far as the BBC is concerned the articles he writes in BBC Wildlife magazine are distinct from what he says on SpringWatch or any of the other programs he presents, he can write what he likes but he can't say what he likes when he's on TV.

 

I don’t agree with everything Chris Packham says and I don't watch all of his programs because I admire his knowledge rather more than his presenting style, but I think Chris Bonner of the Countryside Alliance was just using the BBC’s rules on impartiality to try and silence one of their most vocal and therefore dangerous critics. I probably agree with Chris Packham’s views on hen harriers but I don’t agree with what he said about farmers and the badger cull. If somebody from the BBC says something rather ill-advised outside of their job because they are angry should they be sacked for it, his comments on the badger cull were I think made on Twitter. In his BBC Wildlife magazine article he attacked the RSPB, the National Trust, the Wildlife Trusts etc for not speaking out against the badger cull and not being more vocal about harrier persecution, basically that they don't stand up for wildlife enough, this is what prompted calls for him to be sacked. I don’t think what he said was that controversial and although the Countryside Alliance's view is not completely without foundation I find their attacks on him slightly reminiscent of Ian Botham's attacks on the RSPB in that the intention is the same and I don't think it helps their cause in any case. It actually just makes them appear frightened of his influence.

 

A major problem with this whole issue and with UK conservation is that we have much as I said in one of my previous posts completely messed up the ecology of this country so that in a sense nothing can ever really be natural. We are or soon to be the most densely populated country in Europe, and as explained our entire landscape is anthropogenic we cannot turn the clock back 10,000 years to a time when our wildlife managed itself. Because nothing is really natural anymore this allows people to claim that we have too many sparrowhawks for example and that they need to be controlled to save our songbirds. Chris Packham would argue that we don’t have enough predators that populations haven’t recovered enough while on the other hand Robin Page who writes for the Telegraph would argue that our anthropogenic countryside can no longer support large populations of predators.

 

Robin Page runs a conservation charity called the Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT) that promotes wildlife friendly farming; I fully support their aim to increase farmland wildlife however I am not a big fan of Robin Page because of his Victorian views on raptor control. He certainly doesn’t have any scientific credentials at all and I believe that his views on sparrowhawks for example have no scientific basis. He wrote an article in the Telegraph lambasting Chris Packham for his views and agreeing that he should be sacked, he did to be fair cite some scientific papers suggesting that raptors pose a threat to certain bird species e.g. buzzards and ring ouzels. Of course he in fact also used to work for the BBC presenting One Man and his Dog but doesn’t anymore so he can write whatever he likes which is quite often some criticism of the BBC as he is forever claiming that they got rid of him and won’t allow him on any of their programs because of his non PC views on raptors or whatever. He frequently criticises the program Countryfile for presenting a sanitised view of the countryside and was forever complaining that they wouldn’t allow him on the program until they did a short feature on the CRT in which he featured. One of his major accusations against Chris Pakham is that he doesn’t understand the countryside but I think it’s important to say that not understanding the countryside and not understanding ecology are two different things. I after all said earlier that there are plenty of countrymen who don’t understand ecology and Robin Page is the perfect example. I might in fact say that Chris Packham understands ecology but doesn’t necessarily understand the countryside and Robin Page understands the countryside but doesn’t understand ecology. By understanding the countryside what I mean is how the countryside works which is about country life about farming, shooting, hunting, the rural economy and other things besides wildlife.

 

'Prada-wearing Chris Packham knows nothing of the countryside'

 

I would actually say that UK conservation needs both Chris Packham and Robin Page at least people with differing views debate after all is healthy.

 

You said that you think @@Towlersonsafari’s objection to killing hen harriers was motivated by animal rights (well obviously he can respond on this point himself) I would counter this by saying that it’s not relevant because killing hen harriers is illegal. If his objection was to the killing of grouse which obviously isn’t illegal then it would be relevant.

 

Going back to Chris Packham I would say that the fact that he is a serious naturalist and committed conservationist is of more relevance to his stance on hen harriers than his views on animal rights. His views on animal rights (exactly what they are I don’t know) coupled with the fact that he once studied badgers are certainly relevant to his views on the badger cull but then badgers while protected are not endangered. He would argue that the scientific case for the badger cull has not been made but you could say that that view stems from his believe in animal rights. This is another problem people involved in controversial issues like this will often cherry pick the science that supports their existing viewpoint and ignore that which doesn’t.

 

As to your point about the GWCT vs Raptor Persecution I have looked at the GWCT website and on one of their appeals pages it states the following GWCT Campaign4game

 

Thoroughly researched scientific evidence is the only way to prove or disprove whether a particular practice benefits, damages or has no measurable impact on wildlife. When the research is applied on the ground, it’s the best way we have to counter the threats of sometimes hostile media and other individuals and organisations.

 

The stance of conservation charities about buzzards clearly shows little love for rearing gamebirds. Also, we have been seeing new reports from these powerful and well funded organisations that appear opposed to gamebird releasing.

 

You may never meet the team of people who research and share the science. But when they prevent the sport you love becoming a casualty of hostile headlines, you’ll feel their influence. The research and practice of sound science and its wider recognition will bring more benefit to wildlife and conservation and help counter the one-sided discussions in the media.

 

 

 

I would suggest that the GWCT is hardly an impartial organisation either. When the organisation was founded it was the Game Conservancy Trust. They say on their website

 

In October 2007, The Game Conservancy Trust became the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust to reflect the depth and breadth of the scientific research it carries out.

 

 

If I were being cynical I would suggest the name change was more about rebranding themselves as a wildlife conservation organisation as opposed to one solely concerned with preserving game for shooting. I'm not claiming GWCT doesn't do genuine good science but I would suggest that for people like @@Towlersonsafari and certainly anyone from Raptor Persecution they cannot be considered unbiased the object of some of their research is clearly to find evidence with which to defend their sport.

 

When I suggested that I would support some licensed control of raptors I should say not for genuine conservation purposes because I don’t accept that such control is necessary but as a compromise and a way out of the harrier situation. Raptor control may be necessary to protect grouse or other gamebirds for shooting but it is not necessary to protect other wildlife except in a very few cases to protect certain highly endangered species. If I’ve understood correctly the GWCT’s position is that they would like to see licensed control of common buzzards to protect for example pheasants. In other words keepers should be allowed to kill some native buzzards or destroy their eggs in order to protect non-native pheasants that have been reared on game farms and released into the countryside. I would find it extremely hard to support that, if the buzzard population posed a genuine danger to the survival of other wildlife I might have a different view but it doesn’t.

 

Robin Page in the Telegraph article cited two papers one on Postfledging Survival, Movements, and Dispersal of Ring Ouzels (Turdus torquatus) the other one was on The Role of the Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) in the Decline of the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) in Britain I have read both of these papers.

 

The second paper is I have to say not at all convincing and the study was conducted in London so I'm not sure it’s possible to extrapolate from this that situation is the same in the countryside or across the rest of Britain. It seems to me that he has shown that there is a strong correlation but of course correlation is not causation and his methods seem somewhat flawed as he has disregarded any factors that he was not able to measure but then I’m not a scientist you might be better able to appraise his methodology. What he is in fact arguing so it seems from some of what he has written elsewhere in reply to some of the criticisms of his paper is that after the sparrowhawk population crashed due to DDT etc the house sparrows in London suddenly became naive about predators, becoming too bold so that when the hawks recovered they were easy prey. I find that a little hard to believe but if true the sparrows should lose their naivety and recover as the overly bold ones are killed off, either way Robin Page and the (in my view) ecologically illiterate organisation Songbird Survival are trumpeting this research as proof that raptors are responsible for declining songbirds.

 

If you feed the birds in your garden and you see a sparrowhawk taking birds off your birdfeeders far too often well then you need to reposition the feeders to make it harder for the sparrowhawk to ambush them and ensure they have plenty of escape routes.

 

As I am a bit of a sceptic my view is that claims that raptors have a serious impact on songbirds or other wildlife are entirely unfounded and are brought up by people in the shooting industry in order to provide further ammunition in their campaign to have the protection of raptors relaxed. People not inclined to support raptor control to protect shooting interests might be persuaded to do so for wildlife conservation especially to save songbirds. So my view is there is absolutely no justification for controlling raptors to protect either songbirds or any other wildlife. The exception would be where a raptor is preying on some particularly rare species, if a colony of little terns for example is being targeted by kestrels. Currently to try and alleviate this problem the RSPB has been trialling diversionary feeding; just recently our kestrel population has declined significantly so they would certainly not be willing to consider controlling kestrels. However a case could be made for control in this kind of situation but for wildlife more generally there’s no justification.

 

Having mentioned cherry picking of science one of the problems is that there is so much mistrust between the different sides that if the RSPB produces scientific research showing that raptors do not generally impact other bird populations this will be rejected as biased and untrustworthy. Similarly when a paper is produced like the sparrowhawk one, birders and conservationists will automatically dismiss it, my inclination even before reading it was I don’t believe this can be the case but I tried to put that aside. Raptors and songbirds have successfully coexisted (and coevolved) for millions of years without the former threatening the survival of the latter I don’t buy into this idea that because humans have upset the apple cart they are now no longer able to coexist anymore.

 

Gamekeepers in Scotland along with sheep farmers are calling for ravens to be put on a general license so that their numbers can be controlled currently they can be shot on license but such licenses are very rarely issued. Keepers allege that ravens need to be controlled because they are having sever impact on all ground nesting birds especially ravens however the following research publish in Scottish Birds indicates that this simply isn’t true

 

Numbers and breeding success of Golden Plover and Dunlin in an area frequented by Ravens

 

 

We found no evidence to support claims by gamekeepers that Ravens are serious predators of wader nests in the uplands of North-east Scotland (Anon 2010). We found no evidence of any wader chick predation and observed no Raven flocks of more than 15 individuals, let alone 300 birds as quoted by some gamekeepers (Anon 2010). Our review of the local bird reports (Table 3) gave maximum flock counts of Ravens for the period 2001–09 of 19. The bird report counts were by many independent observers over a nine-year period and gave annual average flock sizes ranging from 2.10 to 4.35 with an average flock size of 2.78. This is consistent with the 4.3 average group size found in the present study. We suggest that, where there has been a reduction in wader numbers, this is more likely to be the result of habitat change such as intensive muirburn, heavy grazing or drainage.

 

 

My willingness to compromise is in part based on the fact that that grouse shooting may not be viable in the presence of a healthy population of hen harriers, a ban on driven grouse is not likely and the alternative whatever that might be may not be good for all of those other birds that you listed.

 

Except that is for the corncrake as this is not a moorland species it is a bird of farmland originally found in the rough grasslands, pastures and meadows that once covered much of lowland Britain. It has disappeared from most of the UK because its breeding habits are in essence incompatible with modern farming the problem is that when they return from Africa in the spring they nest in the middle of grass fields, the farmer comes in with his tractor to cut the grass for silage or hay and the birds get chopped up. As the tractor approaches the birds either just crouch down or move in to the remaining grass in the middle of the field, the chicks of course can’t fly the adults obviously can but don’t and so they all get killed. These birds now really only survive on small farms and crofts in the Hebrides where farming is more traditional and less intensive. Their survival there is largely down to the RSPB working with farmers to save them, they found that when cutting silage or hay if the tractor is driven straight in to the middle first and the cutting is done from the center outwards the birds and their chicks instead of being trapped in the middle will be driven to the edge where they can escape.

 

Recently the RSPB has reintroduced captive bred corncrakes to the Nene Washes one of their reserves in Cambridgeshire, this is a very interesting project because corncrakes are migratory, the birds are bred at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo when the chicks hatch they have to kept in complete darkness until they are old enough to be taken to the Nene Washes for release. If they were allowed to see the night sky at Whipsnade they would migrate to Africa for the winter and then fly back to Whipsnade in the spring which would be a disaster. These birds evidently navigate by the stars so if the first night sky they see is from the Nene Washes that is where they will return to. It remains to be seen how successful the project will be and whether it can be done elsewhere on the UK mainland.

 

The following from the heraldscotland makes a somewhat similar point to one that I made earlier but from a slightly different angle which I had considered but hadn’t included.

 

Perverting story of the corncrake fight

 

I have been very lucky to be able to travel to many parts of the world to see birds and other wildlife many other people cannot afford to travel so far, I think a good few UK birders would feel pretty aggrieved if they had to travel abroad to see a hen harrier especially those that can ill afford to travel. Obviously if there were a viable population established in the South of the UK then this wouldn’t be such a problem.

 

One other point I would make with regard to raptors is that many older people who grew up in the days when raptor population were still extremely low due to persecution and pesticides very seldom ever saw raptors when they were young, when they now see raptors quite often they think is a sign that there are too many.

 

So in conclusion I would support some limited licensed control of raptors to protect game for shooting as a way out of this ongoing conflict and in recognition that gamebird shooting does do a fair bit to preserve habitats and does help conserve a variety of birds and other wildlife with the exception of predators. Furthermore it is important to the rural economy. I would expect in return for such a compromise an end to illegal persecution or at least a serious reduction, perhaps enforced by licensing grouse moors as the RSPB suggest, give the shooting industry the carrot of limited raptor control but also the stick of having their licence to operate revoked if the persecution carries on. I would also want it made clear that licenses for controlling raptors would only be issued on a very limited basis that the shooting industry should not come back in a year or two demanding an increase in the number of licenses issued. I would also favour translocating hen harriers to non conflict areas.

 

Having said that in my view claims that raptors endanger other wildlife are entirely unfounded, whether or not mammalian carnivores do and to what extent is another question. As long as endangered mammals are not being persecuted I’m not overly concerned about the control of stoats, weasels and foxes on the grounds that these species are all common and widespread in the countryside away from shooting estates. Since we no longer have any carnivores larger than the red fox it may be that there are too many foxes in some areas and that controlling them to protect wildlife is scientifically justified.

Edited by inyathi
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@Inyathi: Partial responses to posts # 44, 45 and 51

 

Under normal circumstances, especially as I'm retired, I would have had the time to debate with you at greater length and it would have been a pleasure. However, I'm off to the Pantanal in less than 10 days (relevant bird book arrived in post today!) and I have other matters to attend to first. My response will thus, of necessity, be abbreviated.

 

1) @@Towlersonsafari, I suspect, started the debate on this site in the hope of gaining a wider audience for the extreme views of Mark Avery et al who are leading a campaign to ban grouse shooting, using a host of oft-repeated, mostly incorrect or extremely exaggerated objections, motivated primarily by alleged illegal killing of raptors by those with grouse shooting interests. Despite what you wrote, I did not suggest that @Towlersonosafari's views were solely based on his animal rights stance. I suggested, however, that having such views could have had an influence on shaping them. I begin to believe that I was naive in responding to the extent that he has, in consequence, possibly gained more exposure. In fact, there have been few participants in this debate and, despite @@Game Warden's thanking us for attempting to provide enlightenment, I see little evidence that many others besides the main protagonists are that interested.

 

2) I'm interested that you mention Robin Page in this debate. He lives a few miles from me and I have occasionally come across him. I don't disagree that he represents the countryside view (defined by you as country life, farming, shooting, hunting, the rural economy and other things besides wildlife), though he is something of a maverick, rather than seeing matters through the narrow focus of ecology. You are fair to suggest that the countryside view as well as the ecological perspective deserve to be heard in this dialogue. However, I would suggest that a Packham versus Page contest could well generate more heat than light.

 

3) I agree that people often cherry pick the science that supports their existing viewpoint. This is exacerbated by the fact that most laymen, through no fault of their own, can't always access source publications and rely on articles that oversimplify the findings. Further, scientists, themselves are often in dispute with each other.

 

4) I was somewhat affronted that you countered my suggestion that there was no equivalence in output quality between the GWCT and Raptor Persecution UK by attempting to suggest that GWCT is partial and thus likely to produce biased science in favour of the shooting interest. You go on to suggest that GWCT changed from GCT to convey, via its new name, that it wasn't really just a shooting man's lobby group. I recall, as a one-time Council member that I used to criticise the scientific research because the projects chosen and funds allocated were often not aligned to the shooting interests of members. This was before the name change. It was pointed out to me that most funding for the research undertaken by the organisation came, not from members, but from government agencies concerned with conservation issues. The researchers themselves are motivated by their ability to publish in peer reviewed papers of high standing. I think I'm still correct in suggesting that the RSPB spends very little of its income on research. It has reserves to run and is, other than that, a campaigning organisation, just as the Countryside Alliance is.

 

5) You revert to the subject of flooding (and the potential to reduce it) of limited tree planting along tributary streams. I am fairly sceptical of the potential claimed benefits claimed by the joint Southampton/Birmingham study. The authors themselves heavily qualified their findings and neither did they appear to put them in an economic context. I guess the study was mainly based on computer modelling rather than field experiments. However, I was only able to access the limited information provided by your link. In any event, any claimed benefits were ascribed to dam creation by fallen trees and creating upstream flooding. I note you would like the trees and then like beaver reintroductions. Have you considered possible effects on spawning fish? (I don't, myself, know what they'd be so the question is not a snide one.) You say that protection might be needed for your reintroduced beavers, but that, obviously, they'd have to be culled if they were doing more harm than good. It's all very well saying that, but I doubt it would be that easy when "friends of the beaver" groups start campaigning against threats to their furry friends. Having said that, I would not be not totally inimical to reintroductions if I could be reassured that fish stocks wouldn't suffer and landowners compensated should beaver damage their interests. As you brought up the subject of badgers, you might reflect upon the huge difficulties that have been faced by those culling legally at Government behest. In fact, as I've repeatedly pointed out, the law allows for raptor culling in areas where they are demonstrably doing damage to landowner interests, but the difficulties of obtaining a permit to do so appear insurmountable. Perhaps, if sensible compromises can't be found, it might be interesting for a landowner to take action against English Nature, for example, for failing to issue a licence when harm can be demonstrated. (I'm afraid that Natalie Bennett's claims are so absurd that I'm surprised you raised them. Look at the Moorland Association website for the consensus view.)

 

6) The whole area of low ground shooting and reared game birds vis a vis raptors is a whole different subject. It is my personal view that, when rearing takes place, landowners or shoot proprietors should be prepared to tolerate a greater level of raptors. I am not suggesting that densities will never reach levels at which severe damage is done, but this is a different subject and a distraction for the debate which is all about wild game birds.

 

7) Hirolas. Frankly, I'd never heard of the species until my penultimate visit to Kenya, despite having been at school there in the early 1950s and visited intermittently ever since. When shown a photo, I asked why it wasn't just another sort of kongoni and I couldn't get too excited. (Does that reflect profound ignorance on my part and create feelings of shock/horror on yours?) I wonder if this species is one that is overdue to become extinct. I would suggest, in my total ignorance, that the hirola may have hung on so long because local tribesmen had, for centuries, limited the density of lions (and now don't). I wonder, too, whether the same applies to Grevy's - I really would miss them and I could live with reduced lion numbers in limited areas if it would keep Grevy's (and hirola) around for a bit longer. In passing, I should note that, at Lewa, it seemed that it was trees that were being protected - electric fencing to keep elephants from eliminating the greatly diminished surviving specimens. Plenty of game, though - vastly more than at the time of my previous visit. I know that I, too, am getting diverted from the subject of grouse, but I really would appreciate your take on this issue.

 

I think I'll stop at this point and, later, rather than respond to you responding to me, I would like to lay out my own recommendations on the best way forward. I don't think that the recently launched Joint Harrier Action Plan is the best way, but it is a, possibly, worthy attempt at compromise cobbled together by opposed groups that has been 15 years in the making.

 

@Inyathi: I don't know where you live in the UK. Do you think a face to face meeting to discuss things might be worth your while?

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@@douglaswise

 

I think we have probably taken up enough of each other’s time on this subject but I will respond to your points in your last post and then call it a day unless anyone else chimes in.

 

When I first responded to this topic my intention was purely to explain to other members mainly those outside the UK why there is a campaign against driven grouse shooting and why this isn’t just an extension of the usual hunting versus animal rights conflict. I realised though being a birder and someone who is committed to wildlife conservation I couldn’t avoid taking sides and present a wholly impartial view. I am not actually in any way involved in the campaign against driven grouse shooting I haven’t signed Mark Avery’s petition; it was never really my intention to write as much as I did. I have to confess I responded and took a slightly absolutist position on certain points in part out of annoyance at some of your points or at least how you phrased them.

 

For example you talk of alleged illegal killing of raptors that might be true in a strictly legal sense but in reality it is as ridiculous as saying that hen harriers allegedly eat young grouse because although everyone claims they do, you happen never to have seen one doing so. Raptors are disappearing, we know this is because of persecution and we know who is doing it and why. The only thing that makes it alleged is because it is extremely difficult to catch the people doing it; it’s this dishonest denial of responsibility that in part leads to the extremism from the opposition. When I say we know who is doing it I don’t necessarily mean named individuals I mean we know it is people connected to grouse shooting no one else has a motive. Someone needs to find a solution to at least reduce the conflict and refusing to accept responsibility only does the opposite; you are really your own worst enemy because you are simply supplying ammunition to the other side. Extremism on one side just breeds extremism on the other; however that is enough on that point

 

I wasn’t expressing my personal opinion on the GWCT and the science or the conservation work that they do however the statement I quoted from their website clearly indicates that what they do is in part motivated by their desire to preserve the sport of game shooting. I if you like cherry picked a particular statement from their website this was intended to make the point that people who oppose shooting for whatever reason will not trust the GWCT or their science when they read statements like the one I quoted. The big problem with this conflict is there is no trust on either side my comment was therefore about how people who oppose shooting perceive the work of the GWCT. As to how much research the RSPB does or funds I don’t know but I do know from the reading I’ve done in the course of this debate that they would argue that their conservation policy is based on the best scientific evidence. You may disagree but they would say that therefore their policy on anything including predator control is based on science, I don't speak for the RSPB that's just my understanding of their position. A lot of people accuse the RSPB of being obsessed with raptors but this is a perception it’s not the reality as I see it as a member, the fact that some of these birds were driven to near extinction the RSPB had to focus on their protection and has to focus on the ongoing illegal persecution of raptors, they reintroduced sea-eagles and kites because to restore these birds reintroduction was necessary this hasn't been the case for that many other birds. This has created the perception of a raptor obsession, I've heard people claim that they only reintroduce raptors which of course isn't true they have as I said reintroduced corncrakes and they are part of the Great Crane Project reintroducing common cranes to the Somerset Levels. The most vocal critics of the RSPB are unlikely to be members therefore they may well not be aware of all that the RSPB does, perception and reality are two different things when looking at either GWCT or the RSPB.

 

I didn’t bring up Natalie Bennet’s point about flooding because I believe it, I brought it up because it says something about this conflict certainly if her views really are as absurd as you suggest.

 

I’m not any kind of expert on the subject of beavers but they have been successfully reintroduced into 24 European countries within their former range although the beaver trial at Knapdale was the only official beaver reintroduction in the UK two other populations have become established. On the basis that we have actually already reintroduced them if partly by accident, the only countries that have not reintroduced beavers are Italy, Lichtenstein and Montenegro. In Norway they have plenty of salmon and salmon fishing and I don't believe any problems with their beavers, so I’m not aware of any evidence that they have any impact on fish spawning. Since I tend to think that like sparrowhawks and sparrows, beavers and fish coevolved I think a significant impact on fish spawning is unlikely but that is purely an assumption on my part that may ignore any complications that we humans have caused. The main argument against their return is really that the landscape and habitat today is completely different to how it was when beavers were last here (which is certainly true) and that we should take the precautionary principal just in case. Whatever the case beavers aren’t really that relevant to the main topic although Ian Botham is also a keen fisherman and has in the past spoken in opposition to the return of the beaver and that fact alone has increased significantly my fondness for beavers, (that's a comment about Mr Botham not about fishing).

 

I appreciate that this is really all about the shooting of wild game and not reared game but it is surely inevitable that if protection of raptors is relaxed in the uplands then there will be demands to relax protection in the lowlands.

 

What essentially you are asking for is the right to control raptors for economic reasons to ensure the viability of grouse shooting and I accept that may be necessary but my support for that position would be contingent on hen harriers being re-established in Southern England. My objection is to illegal persecution I wouldn’t oppose legal scientifically monitored control, I was being slightly confrontational in my first post when I said that if driven grouse shooting has to be stopped to end illegal persecution so be it. What perhaps I could have said instead is that if is stopped then the grouse industry really only has itself to blame but I don’t believe it will be stopped. I accept that if it is the case that driven grouse shooting really is uneconomic in the presence of a healthy harrier population then as far as persecution is concerned keepers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Even if Mark Avery’s petition receives the necessary 100,000 signatures by September to secure a debate in Parliament currently it’s on over 37,000 I think a ban is very unlikely but unless something does change the illegal persecution will just continue and the opposition will likewise continue and that is in no one’s interest.

 

On a general point not to do with grouse, I think it is regrettable that in recent years a number of what I would call animal rights organisations e.g. IFAW amongst others have moved into conservation in a big way I don’t deny that they do some good conservation work but I feel that they have had a malign influence on conservation policy in some African countries notably Kenya. This has also led to a blurring of the line between conservation, animal welfare and animal rights to the point where many people don’t understand the difference; this has been a gift to hunters and supporters of legalising the trade in rhino horn or ivory and so on. The reaction to the Cecil the Lion Affair had a lot do with an animal rights but there is also a serious conservation issue lions are declining trophy hunting may not be the primary cause by any means but it does impact on their population and if it is corrupt and badly managed as may be the case in parts of Tanzania then it certainly has a negative impact. Hunters however would characterise the entire furore as being about animal rights, on another issue debated on ST the auctioning of a Namibian black rhino bull to a hunter that was being presented by many as a conservation issue but really it wasn’t it was purely an animal rights issue as the rhinos death would have no impact on the population. I accept going back to grouse that it is impossible to take animal rights out of the equation but as someone who supports whichever side will deliver the desired conservation outcome that I want and that could be hunting, I object to genuine conservation concerns being seen as a cover for animal rights. However I certainly admit that sometimes this is the case and that some supposed conservation concern may be slightly more manufactured than real, when it comes to this specific campaign supporters of animal rights will certainly jump on the bandwagon. Dr Mark Avery has made it very clear that his campaign is only against driven grouse shooting not other forms of shooting but certainly some of his bedfellows are animal rights supporters. My viewpoint in part relates to an earlier debate about rhino farming where I suggested that worrying about the future welfare of farmed rhinos should farming take off was ridiculous when rhinos are having their faces hacked off by poachers while they are still alive and are being killed in huge numbers. When it’s very clear that rhinos that are already being farmed in South Africa now are very well looked after, such concerns make the whole argument against rhino farming and legal horn trade seem ridiculous and without real foundation.

On the subject of hirolas I’ve never really been to the right part of Kenya to see one although I have been to Tsavo where there is a small introduced population that has never done that well so I’ve never seen one. My knowledge of these antelopes really stems from my various books on African mammals and more recently from what I’ve read on ST. This species in historical times has as far as I know always had a very restricted distribution in Northeast Kenya and Southwest Somalia where it’s now likely extinct, in prehistoric times it was I believe very widely distributed so you could argue it’s naturally on the way out, most likely due to the evolution of other more successful antelopes that have outcompeted it elsewhere. However if you completely removed human beings from the equation (obviously impossible) then even if it is naturally on the way out it would certainly not be heading for extinction at quite so fast. That I would certainly say is the case with Grevy’s zebra because this species originally had a much wider distribution in Northern Kenya and much of Ethiopia and West Somalia, a big problem for these animals is competition with livestock for water and grazing and habitat degradation but in Ethiopia the biggest issue was/is people killing them. As for much of Ethiopia’s wildlife the major problem was the country’s recent political history, when the Mengistu regime was finally overthrown at the end of the civil war many of the country’s parks were invaded by local people (the original owners) who have poached out most of the wildlife and have destroyed much of the habitat. Had this not been the case it’s possible that there would still be good numbers of Grevy’s in Ethiopia or at least they could be restored. Predation by lions on Grevy’s zebras is only an issue because these animals are endangered as a result of human actions.

 

I think perhaps at this point I have said enough and that really it’s time to put this topic to bed. However I will just say as a final point that more people haven’t contributed may be as you say due to insufficient interest but I think it is in part because they lack the necessary knowledge. I lack some knowledge on a good few points but although I did state earlier that I opted not to take up shooting, I did when I was a lot younger spend many days out shooting albeit as an unarmed observer and I did go beating once or twice. While I no longer do any of that I know plenty of people who shoot, it was for this reason along with my knowledge of birds and concern for their survival and that of other wildlife that I chose to enter the fray. I have at times felt that you have been a little confrontational in other debates so I didn’t think you would be unduly upset if I responded in a somewhat similar fashion in this debate. Whether we have achieved anything I don’t know but I have nonetheless enjoyed sparring with you, as your time is limited don’t feel you need to respond I’ve taken up quite enough of your time.

 

I hope you have a fantastic time in the Pantanal and see plenty of jaguars and giant otters and anything else you may be looking for and that you will report back.

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I haven't contributed to this debate due to insufficient knowledge.

 

I grew up in England thinking grouse shooting to be part of country life but really the preserve of the landed gentry and wealthy.

 

I'm not necessarily averse to grouse shooting but obviously there are serious concerns re raptors.

 

One matter I'm not clear on is the declaration of the shooting season. Is the timing and length of the season the same in England and Scotland and who decides whether or not it's to take place.

 

In Victoria the determination of the duck shooting season is made by the State Government each year and I was surprised this year that despite the drought there was still a season declared.

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@Caracal:

 

Grouse shooting season: August 12th - Dec 10th. Same throughout UK. Shoot proprietors decide individually how to plan their seasons within the date range. Their plans will, as far as possible, allow the harvesting of as many grouse as possible consistent with leaving an optimum breeding stock for the following year. Thus, on some moors, when things have gone wrong, there will be either no or very restricted shooting. Those booking shooting, even from overseas, are never guaranteed to get any because planned days will be cancelled if autumn counts suggest that the stock is unexpectedly low. Over and above cancelling days, the proprietor has the opportunity to adjust bag sizes by reducing the number of drives a day or by substituting potentially productive with less productive ones. Typically, guns pay on bag size, not on a flat rate per day.

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@inyathi:

 

I don't think we are really that far apart on our respective positions on raptors and grouse. Below, I will suggest my own preferred formula for boosting harrier numbers and explain why I'm not too enamoured of the Joint Harrier Action Plan. First, I'll make very brief comments in response to your post # 53.

 

Yes, my debating style tends, initially at least, to be somewhat confrontational, which, I would suggest, is far from atypical among academics. Therefore, I am perfectly happy that you, too, were confrontational to start with. This has possibly assisted us during the ongoing discussions to reach some sort of evidence-based synthesis. I apologise if my use of "alleged" in relation to raptor killing annoyed you and appeared to be backtracking. I did think quite carefully before using it and, in the end, decided to go ahead with it. Correctly, you said that extremism begets extremism. There were two reasons for its inclusion. First, raptor killing is illegal and it is the breach of this law that seems to provide greater motivation to many grouse shooting opponents than do genuine conservation issues. (My response has been that, arguably, it has been illegal to withhold permits to kill nuisance birds). I would suggest that a legalistic approach evokes a legalistic response and hence my use of "alleged" at this late stage of the debate. My second reason is that opponents are apt to see grouse shooting as a unified "industry", but it is, in fact, no such thing. There is no unified organisation that conspires against raptors. Illegal persecution is conducted by those individuals who are willing to put their own perceived self-interest ahead of what they perceive as unjust law. They are not law breaking for direct financial gain and, to some extent, though they may be deemed to be wrong in their views, they are acting selflessly in defence of their "flocks". However, there are many others who have sufficient respect for the law or fear of getting caught that do not persecute raptors. It is therefore wrong to tar all with grouse shooting interests with the same brush. (Actually, I think that there have been three reasonably recent prosecutions for killing golden eagles, none involving grouse moor owners or their keepers.)

 

I would like to commend you for the conclusions you draw in the final two paragraphs of post # 51 with which I largely concur. If I may, I'd just like to qualify one part of your final paragraph which states that "in my view claims that raptors endanger other wildlife are entirely unfounded". This depends upon your definition of "endanger". If you are talking at the species level, I think you are correct. If you are talking about population size, perhaps not. I'm not just talking about shootable surpluses. I think I'm correct in believing that the "predator trap" has been demonstrated to apply to several species. This posits that, if populations crash for any reason, be it lack of food, adverse weather, disease etc, said populations may never recover to original levels in the presence of generalist predators.

 

Finally, thanks for your interesting comments on beavers/hirola etc.

 

I will finalise with my preferred solution to the problem, commenting, first, on the Joint Harrier Action Plan.

 

Joint Harrier Action Plan:

 

1) Those signing up pledge to protect harriers.

2) Authorities pledge to spend more on enforcement.

3) Diversionary feeding encouraged (expensive and labour intensive, sometimes no accessibility to nests). Definitely shown greatly to reduce harrier predation of grouse chicks. Never been shown to enhance autumn numbers of grouse. Thus, harriers may destroy any benefit to grouse by killing more post fledging.

4) Re-location methods and their efficacy to be investigated.

5) Brood management of harriers to be investigated. If excessive harrier chick numbers relative to grouse numbers present, a proportion of former will be aviary reared and re-released later. (If re-released on same moor, theoretically similar to diversionary feeding in its effects.

 

This, in my view, offers a slow stepwise programme of research and monitoring that is unlikely to result in the dramatic increase in hen harrier numbers in the near future. I have previously discussed different models of conservation and contrasted the sharing model (everything protected everywhere) with the "sparing" or "zoning" models (different levels of protection for conflicting species in different geographic areas). I truly think that the hen harrier represents a perfect candidate species that one might expect to blossom hugely by the application of a zoning approach.

 

A proposed "zoning approach"

 

Initially one must identify decent-sized blocks of hen harrier- suitable breeding habitat. For demonstration purposes, one would choose two or three, which wouldn't be too adjacent to established driving moors. Their is plenty of available territory.

One would require keepers for predator control and any habitat maintenance and improvement deemed necessary.

One would need to provide a suitable 365 day/annum food supply by a variety of means (e.g. encouragement of voles, release of, say, red legged partridge and provision of some carrion when necessary).

 

This exercise would obviously require financial input. However, costs could be mitigated by running the areas as partridge shoots and even by charging birdwatchers for visits. I would expect that harrier pairs ought to, at least, double in the first year and quadruple by the end of the fourth. Once demonstration areas had filled, more territory could be leased for further roll-out.

 

I have not gone into any detail. I have some expertise in avian husbandry, but am not a raptor specialist. All I'm saying is that, if one wants harriers, it ought to be relatively easy to have them. If continuing resources keep being ploughed into policing and trying to work with a "sharing" conservation model, they are, in my opinion, not being sensibly or effectively spent.

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@Towlersonsafari:

 

I hope you had or are having a good holiday. I am posting this mainly to acknowledge that you are correct that eagles don't commute on a daily basis from west to east in order to find sufficient food. I apologise for having suggested that they did. This arose as a result of misinterpretation on my part of something said to me by someone I trusted to know the subject. He had been referring to eagles hunting in north east and central Scotland and I was under the misapprehension that eagles were restricted to the west. I checked back with my informant. His point was that the eagles breeding in central and east Scotland were generally more productive than those in the west and that this tended to demonstrate that heather moorland managed for grouse proved a better habitat, providing more food than was available to the west coast population. He went on to say that, although more productive, the central and eastern populations experienced greater post fledging losses and that , probably, a lot of this was due to persecution. It is not clear what percentage of which interests are responsible for the illegal killing, but the last three prosecutions were against shepherds.

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@@douglaswise Thanks, yes we are I think not miles apart in our views.

 

I said I wasn’t going to say any more on this but seeing your comment regarding eagles there is an interesting book called The Eagle’s Way by the Scottish nature writer Jim Crumlin

 

 

Eagles, more than any other bird, spark our imaginations. These magnificent creatures encapsulate the majesty and wildness of Scottish nature. But change is afoot for the eagles of Scotland: the golden eagles are now sharing the skies with sea eagles after a successful reintroduction programme.

In 'The Eagle's Way', Jim Crumley exploits his years of observing these spectacular birds to paint an intimate portrait of their lives and how they interact with each other and the Scottish landscape. Combining passion, beautifully descriptive prose and the writer's 25 years of experience, 'The Eagle's Way' explores the ultimate question - what now for the eagles? - making it essential reading for wildlife lovers and eco-enthusiasts.

 

 

He proposes in the book that there is a sort of ancient eagle highway across the middle of Scotland along which eagles travel from one coast to the other, that the country’s eagles are now starting to rediscover. I don't remember the exact details but it's obviously all to do with the landscape in this particular part of Scotland.

 

Just to clarify one point.

 

I would like to commend you for the conclusions you draw in the final two paragraphs of post # 51 with which I largely concur. If I may, I'd just like to qualify one part of your final paragraph which states that "in my view claims that raptors endanger other wildlife are entirely unfounded". This depends upon your definition of "endanger". If you are talking at the species level, I think you are correct. If you are talking about population size, perhaps not. I'm not just talking about shootable surpluses. I think I'm correct in believing that the "predator trap" has been demonstrated to apply to several species. This posits that, if populations crash for any reason, be it lack of food, adverse weather, disease etc, said populations may never recover to original levels in the presence of generalist predators.

 

Yes this is possible, kestrels preying on little terns as I mentioned would presumably be an example, little tern chicks are extremely vulnerable, if even just a single predator turns up at a colony it can have a devastating impact. Of course it is human activities that made the little tern endangered in UK in the first place through the loss of breeding sites and it’s this that has caused the problem. However saying that doesn’t help a colony that is under attack, my point really which I didn’t explain fully is that the answer to this problem is not to start controlling the population of kestrels nationally. Assuming kestrels were not in decline and you decided that control was the answer it would be in effect a case of problem animal control not general population control. You deal with the individual animals that are causing the problem. Some people would advocate that there needs to be a general reduction in the raptor population across the entire country to help our wildlife it is that that I am saying is absolutely not the case. A species may therefore decline and become endangered likely due to human induced causes because it's a bit of a specialist in some way and may then fall victim to a generalist predator that has not declined. In this case we need to try and establish what initially caused the decline and try to address that as well as the predation problem. Otherwise it is somewhat like overfishing our seas and then deciding that the way to achieve more fish is to reduce the seal population.

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@inyathi:

 

I will download "The Eagle's Way" on to my Kindle and read it on the flight to Brazil.

 

I wonder what the effects of increasing eagle density would be on hen harrier density in Scotland. In passing, I thought that I would mention that I was talking on the 'phone to a friend who has a small estate near Dornoch (north east Scotland). We have been visiting her for over 50 years and I am very familiar with her hill ground. My children (now 40+) learned to shoot there, but, unfortunately, the heather has deteriorated and there has been some replacement with improved pasture and forestry and the residual heather has either been subject to uncontrolled burns by crofters or hasn't been burned at all, leaving large blocks of over-mature and unproductive material. There never was any serious keepering over these 50 years, barring a bit of deer and crow control, and I would guess that the grouse density never exceeded 15 sq km in August when my children were attempting to shoot them. We never shot more than 5 brace in our 2 week holiday (only our family was allowed to shoot) and things went badly wrong when the children, after a few years, actually started hitting their targets. I was always worried about taking too many from a wild and unprotected population, so we virtually stopped shooting on the hill and just went up there to train our multiple gundogs on dummies or flush grouse without shooting them with our pointer. I have seen black grouse, harriers, peregrines and even capercaillie on this hill, though none in recent years. However, my friend was very excited about "her" lapwings, which had disappeared from the improved pasture on the high ground some years back. However, good numbers of breeding pairs have appeared on her lower fields this year. This could be in consequence of her low ground being surrounded by a much larger estate which is heavily keepered for pheasants. The other thing she was excited about was having seen an eagle, only the second in her life. Among those who had seen one or two in the vicinity this year, there was debate as to species with the consensus seeming to be white tailed. My friend's brother used to own an estate about 15 miles north and golden eagles were not uncommonly seen there.

 

I have been re-reading the English Nature publication to which you linked ("A future for the hen harrier in England?"). There are certain things about it that bother me. I am not entirely clear that it is reasonable to imply persecution if harriers start and the abandon a nest. Nor would I feel certain about some of the other "persecution categories". The authors make no real attempt to explain why the Bowland Fells appear so superior to other places, nor do they mention what management takes place on the United Utilities land. Is it keepered and shot, keepered but not shot or not keepered at all? It seems that "Lack of provisioning" is principally due to persecution, particularly the killing of males, with some natural predation. Why, therefore, does this category not appear on non Bowland grouse moors and, according to Fig 3, does appear on the Bowland ground? The latter is particularly surprising because the authors appear to have written a contradictory comment to the effect that "on the Bowland Fells none of the 83 breeding attempts failed as a result of disappearance of adults". I know I'm being nitpicking. If I had been asked to referee this paper, I would have demanded clarification. I have always liked to look at raw data before they have been, of necessity, shrunk or summarised for publication. I am not wanting to make a big issue over this. However, I can't entirely rule out observer bias (probably, unconscious if at all). I do think Fig 4 gave quite convincing evidence of persecution, but remain suspicious of Fig 3 and the two figures, in any event, seem contradictory. Perhaps, I'm being stupid. Possibly, the big question is why harriers are not thriving in areas of apparently suitable habitat. Is it primarily lack of food (paper provides some evidence for this) or lack of predator control (again, some evidence) or a combination. Anyway, one is left with the hope that, if its either one or the other or both, there is a readily available solution with a "zonal" conservation approach.

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@@Game Warden:

 

Today, on another thread, you alluded to a pamphlet relating to the importance of rough grassland for barn owls. This was for. the encouragement of voles. It was also stated that the grassland should be greater than 1 km from a motorway, presumably to avoid too many road kills of owls by fast moving traffic. This triggered be to think back to various bits of information that, at different times in the past, were implanted somewhere in my brain. I then started joining dots and came up with a hypothesis - may be rubbish, but possibly worth considering. The assorted information was as follows:

 

1) I had a friend who was a veterinary ophthalmologist. He had examined several raptors killed by traffic. He concluded that they all had severely impaired eyesight caused by toxoplasma (a protozoan parasite). He concluded, therefore, that well sighted birds would be unlikely to become road casualties.

 

2) Earlier in this thread, I discussed ways of upping hen harrier numbers. One of these was to encourage vole production through the provision of suitable habitat.

 

3) Vole numbers are known to cycle over 3-4 years with tenfold differences in density at peak and trough.

 

4) The cycle has been blamed on brain infection with toxoplasma.

 

5) The preferred food item of a hen harrier is purportedly a vole.

 

Obviously, it is tempting to join these dots. Should we consider the possibility that toxoplasmosis is holding hen harrier recovery back rather than lack of food items on unmanaged moors? Grouse suffer hen harrier predation most when vole numbers are least. When eating grouse rather than voles, perhaps eye problems would be less in harriers, allowing more successful reproduction and newly hatched harriers would have relatively disease-free voles at the start of their cycle to flourish on, allowing yet more growth in their numbers.

 

This would depend upon the whether the toxoplasma species found by my, now dead, opthalmologist friend was the same as that found to cause epidemics in voles. I really don't know enough about the subject. Equally, I haven't really thought through the implications of the hypothesis, but I thought others might like to chip in.

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2) Illegal control of protected predators, almost exclusively raptors (eagles, harriers and peregrines). That a certain amount takes place is undeniable and understandable. However, the extent to which it takes place is impossible to assess. Its extent is almost inevitably exaggerated

 

These statements really stands out as disgusting and against all conservation thoughts.

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Hi Honey i'm home! Well it does seem some people have been interested in the debate I started-the 1000+ views can't all have been mine worried if anyone but me was going to contribute. One feels quite protective of a new topic that one has introduced.And, again adopting a "fatherly" approach, there have been some very interesting views expressed.Even if one does not agree with someone's views, it is always useful to have one's own views tested and held up to scrutiny.

Anyway this is what the fuss is about,

post-47279-0-44332500-1463918281_thumb.jpg

 

And this is an example of where it lives, (not the best picture I know)

post-47279-0-86878100-1463919292_thumb.jpg

 

 

So to reply to a couple of points, firstly my motivation in starting this topic, well it is always easier, and often more fun to attack the messenger rather that the message but I raised it as I think it is an important topic and I am very annoyed about the continued persecution of birds of prey.I have, I hope, quoted evidence as to why I think Driven Grouse Moors are the main problem, and I have quoted evidence for my other concerns.I have not attacked the activity because it is cruel,or elitist although I don't regard being called an animal rights supporter as an insult or term of abuse. I prefer as little intervention as possible, including predator control, although as @@inyathi has mentioned, sometimes it is needed, and I hope for a situation anywhere in the world where the natural ecosystem for that area or environment is allowed to flourish as much as possible. That includes in the UK, raptors over heather moorland and incidentally beavers in rivers.

Anyway, back to the discussion.

Is it not illegal persecution but really toxoplasma in voles, the Hen Harrier's preferred prey,that is transferring to Harriers that limits the numbers? No that seems a very unlikely hypothesis.For that to be true then it would surely be affecting Hen Harriers everywhere and not just Harriers but short eared owls,and Kestrels , and there are some areas, away from Driven Grouse Moors where Hen Harriers are thriving-Outer Hebrides, Orkney, Mull etc.

Would an increase in Golden Eagles impact on Hen Harriers?-again no. Both birds seem to thrive in similar areas.There must be some occasions when Golden Eagles will predate Harriers but not to any significant extent and even then, that is part of the natural environment.

The excuse for killing raptors because one doeskin like the law is of course very silly.If everyone only obeyed laws they liked, then that would make life a lot of fun.Also, there is a permit system (to allow a licence to kill a particular predator) that does work. Indeed there are arguments about Natural England granting licences to pheasant shooting interests to kill buzzards.A decision refusing a licence was recently overturned in the Supreme Court (although I have not read the full decision yet)

There is a problem about predator control, in that it can have unintended consequences. A study of ground nesting waders on Raithlin Island removed ravens in the hope of improving breeding success, yet in only resulted in more Hooded crows and breeding success fell. Ravens were controlling crow numbers. Another example is a study showing that Black Grouse breeding near Goshawk nests had conversely better breeding success even though Goshawks prey on Black Grouse-they also kept other predators away. One has to be very careful about destroying a balance that an ecosystem has established.

Are in fact Driven Grouse moors the "Best example of wildlife conservation with minimal reliance on public founds?-Well no no a thousand times no!. They could be, and that makes it so much more frustrating. Assuming one accepts some limited fox control, then it should be perfect for Hen Harriers and other ground nesting birds.And the more the pursuit is driven my profit-and I refer to my evidence at the start of this debate-there is more people getting involved to make money, and not because they are passionate about protecting their way of life. And that does not bode well.This persecution is not a new thing it has been going on for too long and if a compromise is not found then Driven Grouse shooting may end up shooting itself , fatally.

It is beyond doubt that illegal killing limits not just Hen Harriers in parts of Scotland and in the whole of Northern England but Golden Eagles in the East and South East of Scotland Peregrines in upland areas-there are now none breeding in the Forest of Bowland just like there are no breeding Hen Harriers there . There are plenty of papers linking the killing of raptors with Driven Grouse Moors.The latest ,"The Past current and Potential status of Hen Harriers in North East Scotland " published in the journal British Birds

So what is the compromise? The UK government had to come up with a plan to improve the lot of Hen Harriers and involved all the main players including shooting interests.That is the Hen Harrier recovery plan referred to in several posts .It starts with an end to illegal persecution so that when numbers allow birds can be translocated so that pressure on grouse moors caused by predation can be reduced. But is starts with an end to illegal persecution.If the pan works-what a coup for those same shooting interests-showing just what can be done when sides work together. If it fails-could it be the end for this pursuit? because the pressure to end illegal killing will not stop. I would like to end with a link to an article by a Mr Arjun Amar, now at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, but who has worked for both the RSPB and the GWCT. It is support of the Action Plan, and speaks far more eloquently than I could, it is at

www.bou.org.uk/hen-harriers-going-going

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I just wanted to add that whilst in the Cairngorm's I did come across the Glen Tanar estate which combines one day as I understand it of driven grouse shooting and several days of walking up shooting with wildlife watching including hides for photography for watching Hen Harriers Golden Eagle and Merlin (at about £200 per go) is this a way forward?

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@Towlersonsafari:

 

I looked at the Glen Tanar website (www.glentanar.co.uk). I gleaned the following information:

1) The estate is 25000 acres in size of which 10% only is hill ground.

2) It appears that one gamekeeper and two forest rangers are employed. The former's duties include deer control.

3) The estate is heavily focussed on natural regeneration of woodland and there is a serious capercaillie conservation effort

4) Activities include weddings, conferences, holiday lets, salmon and trout fishing, guided walking, mountain biking and wildlife photography (raptors and blackgame from hides).

 

I was impressed by the website. The estate's owners are clearly doing their best to maximise its potential from tourism whilst having true conservation objectives. I was pleased and surprised that they felt that they cold charge as much as they appear to do for visits to the raptor hides. Given sufficient demand and repetition on other estates, there would appear to be a bright future for raptors. There is nothing incompatible with having a 1000 brace grouse moor and a breeding pair of harriers, but, if the latter become, say, 10 pairs, then the grouse will go, followed by the gamekeeper, followed by the harriers themselves.

 

It would seem, from what you wrote, that Glen Tanar might average a bag of 200-400 brace of grouse, by itself probably insufficient to justify a keeper. Obviously, his deer work means that he is not solely focussed on grouse duties.

 

This estate is not THE way forward, but it is most certainly A way forward. It is a mixed estate and atypical of those upland areas that this debate started with.

 

Finally, I would like to point out that there are two excellent videos on the Glen Tanar website. One is titled "Scotland's Guardians" and specifically relates to the employees working on the conservation aspects of the estate. The other was produced by the Angus Glen's Moorland Group and is called "Grouse Moor Management". For those who have tried to follow the debate, but are unfamiliar with grouse and the uplands, the latter video will provide an excellent picture of what it's all about.

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@Towlersonsafari:

 

I'm sorry, but I missed seeing your post # 62 until after I had responded to # 63.

 

I would like to take issue with you over a few of your statements:

 

1) You say that driven grouse moors are the main problem in relation to the low density of hen harriers and you ascribe this to their illegal persecution thereon. However often you repeat this, I don't think it's a sustainable argument. Harriers don't need heather (though grouse do). They can, in theory, flourish in open areas in both uplands and on low ground. There is, therefore, plenty of potentially suitable habitat for them without them ever going near a grouse moor. Why, therefore, are they failing to breed except on grouse moors? I would suggest that it is attributable to predation - in other words, lack of predator control. Certainly, you can't blame illegal persecution in most instances because so many potentially suitable breeding sites are remote from those grouse keepers whom you predominantly blame for such persecution. If voles represent the preferred prey of harriers, why should harriers appear to have a predilection for driving moors where heather is predominant over grass? Voles prefer grass. Isn't it more plausible to believe that breeding attempts by harriers will only be met with success on grouse moors because these tend to be only suitable open habitats where a ground nesting bird is likely to be successful (the irony, of course, being that harriers are, themselves, ground nesting)?

2) You laud the Hen Harrier Action Plan. Fine. However, you haven't really explained how it makes sense to declare that persecution must stop as if this pious statement will make any difference to a practice which is already illegal. Presumably, you view it as part of a carrot and stick approach. Grouse moor proprietors are being encouraged to bear down on purported persecution by their staff by bribing them with promises that they will only have to put up with significant, but not catastrophic losses to raptors. Surplus can be removed before total collapse of a system that supports over a dozen red and amber listed bird species. It seems to me that this is a passive and bureaucratic regulatory approach to conservation. Are surplus birds going to be relocated to potentially suitable habitats which are, nevertheless, unkeepered? If so, I'd guess that your hoped-for increase in harrier numbers will be minimal. Why have you signally failed to engage with my comments on the potential for a "zonal" conservation approach which, in my view, could be vastly better than what's currently on the table?

3) You tend to ridicule my comments on the potential significance of toxoplasmosis. I was in no way suggesting it as an either/or explanation for poor harrier performance when measured against illegal persecution. One has to be somewhat more nuanced. I have never pretended that there is no illegal persecution, but think its extent may have been exaggerated. I was worrying, however, whether my "zonal" approach might fail if one became too reliant upon voles (especially because of their population cycling as well as their potential to transmit disease between species). However, as previously mentioned, one could overcome this with the release of red legged partridges. There are several pathogens which have been offered as reasons to account for vole cycles (tuberculosis, pox virus and toxoplasma) and not everyone thinks that all vole cycles are necessarily pathogen-driven. However, it is known that Toxoplasma gondii has been found in some vole populations, that it infects brains and can spread between species. In consequence of brain infection, behaviour can change and render infected animals more vulnerable to predation. I have also cited somewhat intriguing evidence that raptors killed in road kills have exhibited toxoplasma-induced chorioretinitis. It may well be of no great importance in the great scheme of things, but I thought it might deserve some attention.

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Dear @@douglaswise, thank you for responding to my points, especially as i know time is pressing and you have a holiday to prepare for. However I have not just repeated parrot like the point that illegal persecution is responsible for low Hen Harrier numbers, and indeed golden Eagle numbers in parts of Scotland, I have referred to papers and research. I can refer to more if you wish-there are lots of papers going back a long way. If we cannot agree that illegal persecution is the major cause of the fact that there are no breeding Hen Harriers in England or that parts of Scotland have much reduced numbers of Harriers and Eagles then we cannot agree on a way forward. There is not suitable habitat elsewhere in northern England or elsewhere-unless translocation to southern areas works. the Forest of Bowland is a good example-There is an RSPB reserve but it is surrounded by land owned by united Utilities and leased to the Duke of Westminster for driven Grouse shooting-with catastrophic results. In a natural environment-or semi natural-there will always be some predation-it is part of a functioning eco-system .If predation of Hen Harriers was the main problem then why are Hen Harriers successful where there are no grouse shooting and unsuccessful where there is Grouse shooting? As they say in the USA-you do the math!

2. you say stopping illegal persecution-which you earlier denied as a real factor-is a pious hope-why? because Grouse shooting interests cannot uphold the law? I do not "laud" the plan-I am willing to give it a try as it is a compromise between 2 opposite views. I just hope others are. Already the Scottish government is looking at licencing grouse moors

3. I was disagreeing with your suggestion about toxoplasmosis-and I gave my reasons-which have yet to be argued against.

4. A zonal system-I am not sure that is much different from the Hen Harrier action plan, but if you mean a scheme where local conservationists and local grouse shooting interests got together and agreed for a region-say Yorkshire, The lakes etc, an agreed number of nesting birds of prey each year-with nest disturbance where there were "too many" -all subject to an overall framework-well its at least better than what we have now.

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@Towlersonsafari:

 

I looked at the abstract of the paper "The past, current and potential status of hen harriers in North East Scotland". It doesn't forward the debate. The authors state that it is their belief that illegal persecution and grouse management practices are the main causes of hen harrier decline. The paper itself is behind a paywall. Thus, I can't assess the evidence they cite in support of this belief. All I would note is that nearly all nesting attempts are made on moors managed for grouse and that by no means all of potentially harrier-suitable habitat in North East Scotland is managed for grouse.

 

Your statement that "there is not suitable habitat elsewhere in northern England or elsewhere - unless translocation to southern areas works" is a non sequiter. Habitats stay put, birds move.

 

You say there are no breeding hen harriers in England and go on to discuss Bowland and the iniquities of the Duke of Westminster. @@inyathi brought to my attention a paper entitled "A future for the hen harrier in England?" I discussed it and possible shortcomings in its conclusions in post # 59. I accept that things may have changed in terms of hen harrier numbers since the data in this paper were gathered, but has management changed all that much in the last few years?

 

You ask "If predation of Hen Harriers was the main problem then why are Hen Harriers successful where there are no grouse shooting and unsuccessful where there is Grouse shooting?" You invite me to do the math. OK, but, first, tell me where to find these harriers that appear to be thriving in the absence of grouse shooting. I guess that you'd come up with the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Mull. There are no foxes on Harris or Lewis - could that have something to do with it? (Don't about Orkneys or Mull).

 

I don't want to get too involved over toxoplasmosis and its potential importance (for all I know, it may be none). However your reasons for ruling it out are only valid if you assume that the infection is universally present among all vole populations.

 

I discussed, briefly, what I meant by "zonal" conservation in post # 56. I did not mean what you thought I meant, but I do appreciate that you were on holiday at the time. I also mentioned that, in some circumstances, the better driving moors should be permitted to kill or otherwise remove all raptors, but only by making use of environmental offsetting which could provide some of the finance needed to run actively managed hen harrier conservation zones.

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Posted (edited)

Yes @@douglaswise their are no foxes and little or no grouse shooting on Mull Orkney Isles or the Outer Hebrides save Harris.But for your hypothesis to work that would mean there would be Hen Harriers in abundance in areas of suitable heather moorland where foxes were controlled -and of course there are not. The BTO has a piece on Hen Harriers populations quoting several scientific papers showing especially in Northern England and South & East Scotland that numbers are constrained by illegal persecution on grouse moors.But in the interests of fair play have you seen the paper in Scottish Birds "Hen Harriers on Skye 2000-2012 nest failures and predation" by R C McMillian? Foxes were the main predator of Hen Harriers-no grouse moors- -about half of failures - but quotes another paper which suggests that foxes can influence productivity but not distribution

Edited by Towlersonsafari

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@Towlersonsafari:

 

It is, indeed, my hope and belief that hen harriers could be made to become abundant in suitable areas of heather moorland (or, for that matter moorland with minimal or no heather) given good predator control, good perennial food supply and good nesting habitat. You haven't suggested anywhere to me where these criteria are met except in habitats managed for grouse. However, there is, in theory, no reason why they should not be met. I regard it as extremely unfortunate, for example, that red/ amber list bird counts are so low at Lake Vyrnwy. However, it doesn't lead me to demand a ban on the RSPB, merely that they introduce predator control.

 

Thank you for bringing my attention to harrier nest predation on Skye. I was interested that predation was often not associated with any obvious signs thereof. This suggests, as I had already suspected (post # 59), that the authors of the English Nature paper on English harriers were possibly over-ascribing nest losses to illegal persecution. Notwithstanding, I'm quite prepared to accept that illegal persecution may be preventing harrier recovery in the short term. However, you seem to disregard the medium term outlook. Will you not accept the evidence of the work undertaken at Langholm (www.langholmproject.com/moor.html)? There is a limit to the harrier numbers that a grouse moor can sustain without it becoming uneconomic to shoot and hence to keeper (manage). Harriers are semi-colonial nesters so that numbers can increase tenfold in a few years. Langholm comprises an area of some 78 sq km and the Project employs 5 keepers. The Directors have decided to withdraw the keepering effort because their target bag of 1000 brace of grouse in the presence of harriers was not close to being met, despite the fact that income from 1000 brace would not have met costs anyway. The Project has seen improvement in lapwing and curlew numbers, but withdrawal of keepering can be expected to result in collapses of grouse, harrier and wader numbers (if past evidence is anything to go by).

 

You might be interested in a paper in J. Applied Ecology (2014) 51.,1236-1245. by D.Elston et al. The paper is entitled, "Working with stakeholders to reduce conflict - modelling the impact of varying hen harrier Circus cyaneus densities on red grouse Lagopus lagopus populations." (I generally don't like or trust modelling studies - too difficult for me to understand the maths and/or whether input assumptions are valid). However, the authors conclude that a harrier quota of one breeding pair/40 sq km would not be incompatible with driven grouse shooting and that this means that 70 pairs could survive on the 2800 sq km of English grouse moors. Unfortunately, they didn't factor in additive losses from buzzards and peregrines and their models didn't allow harriers to increase in density over progressive years. Anyway, the fact that grouse driving can continue in the presence a a low raptor density doesn't imply that value of shooting returns don't reduce in consequence. At a guess, I'd suggest that a pair of harriers would cost the shoot proprietor £6000/annum.

 

I am, as you know, advocating the zonal conservation approach with, say, 3 hen harrier zones, each of at least 50 - 100 sq km to be established as demonstration areas. These would be actively managed for harriers. The initial problem may be to get translocated birds to stay and breed in an area with which they had no familiarity in early life. Perhaps, therefore, eggs or chicks should be translocated. However, assuming this could be successfully achieved, it is not unreasonable to hope for a pair density of 0.2/sq km. Thus, three areas managed for harriers, totalling 200 sq km, might produce 40 pairs while only 70 pairs could be sustained on 2800 sq km of grouse moors without serious damage to shooting interests. By my calculations, even the 70 pairs would collectively cost moor owners £420000/annum. Thus, I suggest that some moor owners might like to buy environmental offsets in exchange for permits to kill all raptors on their moors. Others might prefer to bite the bullet and put up with 1-2 nests (assuming they could move surplus birds away). One does wonder, however, whether, to be equitable, they should receive agri-environment subsidies dependent upon their red/amber list bird numbers.

 

I cannot understand why harriers are more important than lapwings. I really miss the lapwings with their evocative calls that were so common 50 years ago (so common that it wasn't unusual occasionally to dine off their eggs). I wouldn't worry if I never saw another harrier again. However, we all differ in our likes and dislikes and I totally agree with @@inyathi that we should do our best to conserve our red list species. Conservation, however, is not synonymous with preservation.

 

Would you support the zonal plan, at least to the extent of having 3 initial demonstration areas? It offers a much quicker fix than the extant Harrier Recovery Project, but is compatible with it.

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Thank you @@douglaswise I will look at the paper.Incidentally We have just stayed on a farm where they receive payments to help lapwings and other ground nesting birds.I would be happy with grouse moor owners receiving payments to have predators including the beautiful Hen Harrier.I do think that the Hen Harriers plan has to be tried. Can I ask what may be a silly question born out of ignorance? Is walking up shooting a substitute for driven shooting? Does it attract difficult folk? I understand it needs less grouse?

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@Towlersonsafari:

 

Walked up shooting is generally undertaken by younger and possibly less affluent guns. It requires reasonable levels of fitness - though shooting over pointers does make it easier. It doesn't require particularly skilled marksmanship. However, it's all about the day out, the dog work, the views etc. Any number can take part in a private party, typically 2-6, and the average number of birds shot/gun would be between 3 and 6 brace. The landowner receives less per bird shot and cannot realistically expect to come close to recouping the costs of managing the moor to a high standard. However, it can provide useful income for mixed or marginal estates where a keeper devotes a high proportion of time to other activities such as deer control/stalking or to forestry maintenance. Grouse usually form large packs by November and it becomes difficult to shoot the necessary bags. Thus, one must aim to get the majority of one's seasonal bag in the second half of August and September. This is the time when foreigners in particular come to shoot and pay premium prices. As driven grouse represent the greatest challenge to marksmanship of any game bird and as some foreigners aren't experienced driven shots, later parties tend to be made up of good shots from the UK and, if they come in November, they will expect smaller bags and pay less. If the moor is productive, one doesn't want any walking up between driven days because of disturbance - unless it is confined to moorland edges around forest blocks or low ground. The grouse moor manager plans his seasonal bag just before the season and fine tunes thereafter with the aim of leaving plenty of breeding stock for the following year, but not a surplus. A lot of driven shots wouldn't want to shoot walked up birds because they are not regarded as offering challenging shooting and a lot wouldn't be fit enough anyway.

 

My own experience of grouse shooting, though limited, has covered driven, walked up and walked up over pointers. I prefer the last because I'm keen on dogs, but an indifferent marksman.

 

In summary, walking up cannot be considered a substitute for driving.

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Thank you @@douglaswise for your explanation.I tried to read the article you referred to but could only see the abstract.So Where does that leave us? We can I hope agree there is illegal persecution of Raptors but we have different views as to the extent.I point out other potential problems and you quite rightly point out that managed grouse moors can have conservation benefits for some breeding birds.We can agree that owners could or should be compensated just like farmers for measurable conservation benefits.We both worry about the Hen Harriers plan but I think it has to be given a try.This years breeding success for Harriers in England is going to be very important as if there is evidence of illegal persecution on more than a very small scale

Then it is going to be almost impossible for a compromise to be found

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@Towlersonsafari:

 

You summarise our areas of agreement in an equitable manner. I'm bothered, however, that at no point do to you directly accept that predator control is a vital part of grouse moor management (though you may take the view that this is implicit and doesn't need spelling out). Sorry you could only get to the abstract of the paper I cited. I hope you looked at www.langholmproject.com/moor.html . The project is being run jointly by GWCT, RSPB, Moorland Association and SNH and I think you could agree that the conclusions aren't, therefore, going to be biased in favour of the shootiong interest.

 

You ask where this leaves us. I don't think either of us is in a strong position to dictate what happens next (I'm certainly not). You would like to see roll out of the Hen Harrier Recovery Plan and I wouldn't disagree. However, let's think carefully about what it has to offer:

1) Moor owners, I suppose, will be asked to sign up to it and, in doing so, will be agreeing not to kill harriers. However, as I've pointed out, they are not going to admit that they have been killing them in the past (and most haven't - at least not directly). They could emphasise more strongly to their keepers that any illegal persecution could prove counter-productive to the long term interests of grouse shooting.

2) More effort will be put detecting illegal persecution. This might have a deterrent effect, but could involve more snooping, disturbance and conflict on the hill. In the case of failed nests, who will decide cause - as between predation, persecution or lack of food supply? I very much fear that an early failure of harriers to respond positively to the implementation plan will, without sufficient evidence, be taken to indicate continuing illegal persecution. I refer you back to the United Utilities Bowland ground and English Nature's report on harriers in England.

3) Diversionary feeding will be allowed during the nesting period. This has been shown greatly to reduce to numbers of grouse chicks taken by adult hen harriers to feed their own chicks. However, it is expensive to implement and has not been shown to improve autumn grouse numbers. (The probable explanation is that more harriers fledge and, having fledged, themselves prey on the grouse that had earlier been saved by the diversionary feeding.)

4) Brood management: If there are too many harriers for grouse to cope with, a proportion of their eggs or chicks will be removed and aviary-reared. However, once they have fledged, they have to be released, possibly just before the time that they typically move to the lowlands. If released on the original moor, they may remain or they may go to low ground only to return the following spring. Long term, what has been achieved from the perspective of the moor owners?

5) Possible translocation: If the young birds are taken away and released in remote areas with apparently suitable habitat, it will presumably be necessary for the relevant landowners to first give permission. Released birds will quite probably suffer high rates of attrition, particularly if vole populations are at cyclic lows.

 

 

 

OK. Give it a go, by all means. However, wouldn't you agree that if translocations could be made to the managed harrier conservation zones that I have been proposing, the results are likely be a lot more positive (for those on the side of harriers!). I would have thought that the RSPB would gain a lot of Brownie points from the moor owners if it was prepared to host at least one or two such zones and accept joint management with, say, Moorland Association, GWCT and English Nature.

 

I do think the situations in England and Scotland differ. The moorland space in the latter is greater and individual estates tend to be larger and less productive. This does make it possible to consider trying "a sharing conservation" model over quite large land areas. In England, with quite a few moors of a size that even a single pair of harriers would be sufficient to make driven shooting unsustainable (based on one pair/40 sq km being an upper limit) a zonal approach is likely to offer the harrier its only hope. One is therefore faced with the need to accept that grouse shoots cannot survive a large recovery of harriers in a shared conservation model and that harriers are very unlikely to recover in the absence of predator control, which would largely cease if grouse shooting ceased. Thus, illegal persecution, in this sense, becomes irrelevant from a harrier conservation perspective. What is not in doubt is the fact that loss of moorland management would do great harm to the conservation of other red list species such as lapwings and curlews.

 

As @@inyathi made clear early in this debate, the crux of the issue relates to the hen harrier. Other attacks on grouse moor management are specious or trivial. I have proposed a potential way in which both harriers and grouse with their accompanying suite of red-listed waders can thrive in an overcrowded land. Please consider it and, if you think it has merit, promote it to your like-minded colleagues.

 

I leave the country tomorrow and won't return till mid June.

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thank you for your post @@douglaswise. It is my understanding that the Hen harrier action plan is already being implemented but I may have that wrong. It certainly has grouse Moor interests involved in it You are certainly right that neither of us have the power to do anything other than debate! I have read and followed the Langhom project with interest and it does show that co-operation can be possible.

I do worry about predator control and what is and is not acceptable-as the only thing I have ever killed on purpose is the Scottish midge-i am too slow for Tsetse fly, you will probably think I am too squeamish. i do worry about killing corvids especially but through no other reason than I am very keen on them! i do differ from @@inyathi in that there is an issue with Golden Eagles but you are right that Scottish moors and English moors are different in size and perhaps need different solutions.

how much landowners should be free to run their own estates is probably a moral question that again we may be on opposite sides on but but can I just say am pleased that you were able to respond to this debate and present an alternative view?

Have a splendid holiday!

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@@Towlersonsafari and @@douglaswise and @@inyathi

 

I just wanted to say that I have been riveted to this debate since it started and although I do not have the knowledge to have been able to add anything to it, I have found the various viewpoints to be most interesting.

We live not too far from the Bowland AONB and we do a lot of our off season walking there. The Hen Harrier issue is often in our local news and this debate has been extremely informative.

 

Thank you all very much for taking the time and effort to put his together.

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