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Driven Grouse Shooting a UK Disgrace?


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#21 douglaswise

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Posted 09 May 2016 - 04:28 PM

@Towlersonsafari:

 

Thank you for your courteous response in #12.  I will revert to your later comments in due course.

 

@Bugs:

 

You asked what the consequences would be of stopping shooting altogether in the UK.  This is a huge question and I haven't the time to answer it detail.  I'm not at all sure, in any event, that I have the necessary knowledge or expertise to do so.  Below, I summarise some of my thoughts:

1)  Loss of avian biodiversity, but increase in corvids.  Song birds and upland waders would decline.

2)  Increase of mammalian predators (foxes), decrease in hares and hedgehogs.

3)  Possible small increase in some raptors (eagles), no change in others (harriers) and decline in yet others (merlin).

4)  Lower uptake of government-subsidised agri-environmental schemes by landowners.

5)  Loss of rural jobs.  Increased incursion of NIMBYs into countryside, bringing their typically suburban attitudes with them.

6)  Massive resentment and demoralisation through what would be deemed unjust deprivation of a favoured pastime by an ignorant urban-based majority, already high because of legislation that interfered with hound sports.

 

Actually, driven shooting isn't that common in most of Western Europe and it would be instructive to make comparisons with the UK situation.  I would suggest that the UK would stand up very favourably by most conservation criteria. 

 

@ZaminOz:

 

I have the mental image of you living up to the stereotype of your country.  To whit:  Bloody chinless Poms with their fancy twice-barrelled shoot guns (actually the last derogatory phrase came from Texan friends, but I liked it so couldn't help stealing it).  I can picture you and your mates striding over a moor with a good supply of tinnies (I think) and wearing slouch hats with corks dangling from their brims.  You suggest that driven grouse shooting sounds more to you like shooting rather than hunting.  I will, no doubt, be conforming to my own national stereotype by pointing out to you that the Brits don't hunt with guns.  They, like you, describe the use of shotguns for shooting birds as shooting.  Hunting involves the use of hounds for the pursuit of foxes and deer from horses and of hares on foot (beagling).  If it isn't too much for an Australian to take in all at once, I'd add that, if I'm using a rifle to kill deer, I'm actually stalking and not shooting.

 

Driven grouse shooting is most certainly not all about numbers, but you'd have to watch or participate to understand what it is that provides pleasure to participants.  A lot has to do with the relative isolation and landscape beauty that many safaritalkers find so compelling.  This is quite apart from the fact that the birds are wild and extremely challenging to hit.  Bear in mind that our population density is such that we only have about 1.5 acres each.  I have been attempting to focus on conservation value rather than morals/ethics.

 

I hope you will understand that my comments are tongue-in-cheek and I do understand that you qualified your own comments.

 

@Tomas:

 

I accept that killing of protected raptors is illegal. However, there is provision within the law to obtain licenses on a case by case basis, which would allow killing on specific sites.  The trouble is that, however strong one's conservation argument, these licenses are, in practice, never issued.  I will explain my thinking in my next post to @Towlersonsafari


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#22 Towlersonsafari

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Posted 09 May 2016 - 05:01 PM

Hello @douglaswise I cannot agree with your conclusions 1-4. Also I have made no comment on the ethics of shooting in my arguments nor do I accept any Town v country arguments.For what is worth my father's family are farmers. I would like to try a regulation system as there are too many "bad estates" out there.There are some examples of good practice of course but I do think the time has come.l would add that my research is mostly about Scotland. I look forward to reading your views especially about the medication and its use in the environment

#23 Game Warden

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Posted 09 May 2016 - 05:59 PM

@douglaswise Do your comments about @ZaminOz's nationality really add anything to the discussion? If made in jest, realise that sometimes humour doesn't neccesarily translate well. 

 

Anyone who might want to contribute to the discussion may well be put off and if anyone looking in on Safaritalk, thinking of joining, reads what you've written, may well be put off from doing so. 


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#24 douglaswise

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Posted 10 May 2016 - 10:43 AM

@Game Warden:

 

If, in your judgement, my contributions to Safaritalk are likely to repel new readers, feel free to expel me.  I have already been admonished for displaying emotion in reacting to @Towlersonsafari's malevolent and misleading attack on a whole community which includes many of my friends and colleagues.  Further, I was surprised that you considered the subject relevant to Safaritalk, allowing @Towlersonsafari an initial free hit on a subject about which he knows little. Sauce for the goose is clearly not sauce for the gander.  In my view, subjects for your Debates section should be selected by you and you should invite people with some expertise to start them off with lead posts.  @Towlersonsafari would, in my view, possibly qualify for this role had the debate been about the illegal killing of raptors.  Indeed, he could have focussed on the post you initiated on the illegal killing of a red kite in Yorkshire.

 

Now you are trying to intervene, like a cricket umpire, in the time honoured activity of sledging between the British and Australians.  I was admittedly indulging myself in a single paragraph of dubious relevance. You ask if my comments to @ZaminOz were made in jest.  Come on! Even if my, possibly feeble attempt at humour was lost on you, what do you think my "tongue in cheek" comment was all about? How much more politically correct and regulation-bound do you want this site to get?

 

Debates ought to be evidence-based.  Too often, evidence is ignored.Some correspondents repeatedly parrot their own opinions and neither modify nor justify them in the light of evolving evidence and counter-argument.


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#25 Towlersonsafari

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Posted 10 May 2016 - 12:03 PM

Dear @douglaswise, let me assure you that if I wanted to be malevolent you and anyone reading my posts would certainly know about it. I have referred to peer reviewed evidence. you may not like it, but  I respectfully suggest you may convince more people of your cause if you deal with the evidence, and not attack the messenger.

To remind you the points to be discussed ( or not as you wish) are;

illegal killing of birds of prey

environmental damage-fences and roads/tracks not subject to proper scrutiny 

Killing of mountain hares at some estates where there is no evidence it affects grouse numbers and where the Cairngorm  authorities and SNH have asked for voluntary restraint

The use of medication and if there is a health hazard

increasing industrialization turning the sport from a country pursuit to a business where profits can be made  increasing the problems above

agricultural subsidies being used for the sport.

You can of course ignore the points I raise, that is your perfect right.  but you have in the past expressed a wish for  emotion free evidence based discussions.You may wish to practice what you preach



#26 douglaswise

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Posted 10 May 2016 - 07:36 PM

@Towlersonsafari:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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



#27 kittykat23uk

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Posted 10 May 2016 - 08:57 PM

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Found that:

 

"

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Full details here:

http://onlinelibrary...e inconvenience.

 

 

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

 

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


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#28 ZaminOz

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Posted 11 May 2016 - 08:49 AM

@Game Warden @douglaswise

 

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

 

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


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#29 douglaswise

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Posted 11 May 2016 - 09:52 AM

@kittykat23uk:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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#30 Towlersonsafari

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Posted 11 May 2016 - 11:49 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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#31 Towlersonsafari

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Posted 11 May 2016 - 11:57 AM

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

Read more at http://www.thefield....OyEX6wxoBJHC.99

 

Conservation conflict: ending the conflict

very apt timing! 


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#32 Tomas

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Posted 11 May 2016 - 02:00 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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#33 douglaswise

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Posted 12 May 2016 - 10:58 AM

@Towlersonsafari:

 

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

 

1)  Medication risks:

 

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

 

University of Leeds and the EMBER study.

 

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

 

Fencing and grouse:

 

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

 

Economics:

 

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

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

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

 

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


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#34 Towlersonsafari

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Posted 12 May 2016 - 12:09 PM

Hello @douglaswise,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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#35 inyathi

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Posted 13 May 2016 - 01:30 AM

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Here are some of the websites I used as sources

 

A Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers in the United Kingdom

 

Interview with Brian Etheridge about the Hen Harrier in the UK

 

A future for the Hen Harrier in England?

 

Raptor Persecution UK you forgot the biology


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#36 Towlersonsafari

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Posted 13 May 2016 - 05:36 AM

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

Edited by Towlersonsafari, 13 May 2016 - 06:16 AM.

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#37 douglaswise

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Posted 13 May 2016 - 02:47 PM

@inyathi:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

There are several potential models for conservation.

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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#38 douglaswise

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Posted 14 May 2016 - 09:53 AM

@kittykat23uk:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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



#39 douglaswise

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Posted 14 May 2016 - 10:11 AM

@Inyathi:

 

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



#40 inyathi

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Posted 15 May 2016 - 12:53 PM

@douglaswise

 

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

 

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

 

 

My longer response will follow shortly


Edited by inyathi, 15 May 2016 - 01:26 PM.






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