@douglaswise with regards to Chris Packham's academic qualifications as a teenager he conducted a scientific study on The Population and Breeding Density of Kestrels in the Lower Itchen Valley, he went on to study Badgers in the New Forest and has a BSC in Zoology from the University of Southampton. In 2010 Chris was awarded the Dilys Breese BTO Medal for ‘his outstanding work in promoting science to new audiences’. So yes he does have some academic qualifications, he may be a vegetarian and believe in animal rights and hold some pretty strong views on various conservation matters however he is not allowed to express these views in his natural history programs. At the time
A BBC spokesperson said: “Chris Packham is a scientist and author in his own right and is not solely employed by the BBC.
"If Chris Packham wishes to express his personal views outside of his employment on BBC Natural History programmes, he is entitled to do so.”
From an article in the Mirror
In other words as far as the BBC is concerned the articles he writes in BBC Wildlife magazine are distinct from what he says on SpringWatch or any of the other programs he presents, he can write what he likes but he can't say what he likes when he's on TV.
I don’t agree with everything Chris Packham says and I don't watch all of his programs because I admire his knowledge rather more than his presenting style, but I think Chris Bonner of the Countryside Alliance was just using the BBC’s rules on impartiality to try and silence one of their most vocal and therefore dangerous critics. I probably agree with Chris Packham’s views on hen harriers but I don’t agree with what he said about farmers and the badger cull. If somebody from the BBC says something rather ill-advised outside of their job because they are angry should they be sacked for it, his comments on the badger cull were I think made on Twitter. In his BBC Wildlife magazine article he attacked the RSPB, the National Trust, the Wildlife Trusts etc for not speaking out against the badger cull and not being more vocal about harrier persecution, basically that they don't stand up for wildlife enough, this is what prompted calls for him to be sacked. I don’t think what he said was that controversial and although the Countryside Alliance's view is not completely without foundation I find their attacks on him slightly reminiscent of Ian Botham's attacks on the RSPB in that the intention is the same and I don't think it helps their cause in any case. It actually just makes them appear frightened of his influence.
A major problem with this whole issue and with UK conservation is that we have much as I said in one of my previous posts completely messed up the ecology of this country so that in a sense nothing can ever really be natural. We are or soon to be the most densely populated country in Europe, and as explained our entire landscape is anthropogenic we cannot turn the clock back 10,000 years to a time when our wildlife managed itself. Because nothing is really natural anymore this allows people to claim that we have too many sparrowhawks for example and that they need to be controlled to save our songbirds. Chris Packham would argue that we don’t have enough predators that populations haven’t recovered enough while on the other hand Robin Page who writes for the Telegraph would argue that our anthropogenic countryside can no longer support large populations of predators.
Robin Page runs a conservation charity called the Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT) that promotes wildlife friendly farming; I fully support their aim to increase farmland wildlife however I am not a big fan of Robin Page because of his Victorian views on raptor control. He certainly doesn’t have any scientific credentials at all and I believe that his views on sparrowhawks for example have no scientific basis. He wrote an article in the Telegraph lambasting Chris Packham for his views and agreeing that he should be sacked, he did to be fair cite some scientific papers suggesting that raptors pose a threat to certain bird species e.g. buzzards and ring ouzels. Of course he in fact also used to work for the BBC presenting One Man and his Dog but doesn’t anymore so he can write whatever he likes which is quite often some criticism of the BBC as he is forever claiming that they got rid of him and won’t allow him on any of their programs because of his non PC views on raptors or whatever. He frequently criticises the program Countryfile for presenting a sanitised view of the countryside and was forever complaining that they wouldn’t allow him on the program until they did a short feature on the CRT in which he featured. One of his major accusations against Chris Pakham is that he doesn’t understand the countryside but I think it’s important to say that not understanding the countryside and not understanding ecology are two different things. I after all said earlier that there are plenty of countrymen who don’t understand ecology and Robin Page is the perfect example. I might in fact say that Chris Packham understands ecology but doesn’t necessarily understand the countryside and Robin Page understands the countryside but doesn’t understand ecology. By understanding the countryside what I mean is how the countryside works which is about country life about farming, shooting, hunting, the rural economy and other things besides wildlife.
'Prada-wearing Chris Packham knows nothing of the countryside'
I would actually say that UK conservation needs both Chris Packham and Robin Page at least people with differing views debate after all is healthy.
You said that you think @Towlersonsafari’s objection to killing hen harriers was motivated by animal rights (well obviously he can respond on this point himself) I would counter this by saying that it’s not relevant because killing hen harriers is illegal. If his objection was to the killing of grouse which obviously isn’t illegal then it would be relevant.
Going back to Chris Packham I would say that the fact that he is a serious naturalist and committed conservationist is of more relevance to his stance on hen harriers than his views on animal rights. His views on animal rights (exactly what they are I don’t know) coupled with the fact that he once studied badgers are certainly relevant to his views on the badger cull but then badgers while protected are not endangered. He would argue that the scientific case for the badger cull has not been made but you could say that that view stems from his believe in animal rights. This is another problem people involved in controversial issues like this will often cherry pick the science that supports their existing viewpoint and ignore that which doesn’t.
As to your point about the GWCT vs Raptor Persecution I have looked at the GWCT website and on one of their appeals pages it states the following GWCT Campaign4game
Thoroughly researched scientific evidence is the only way to prove or disprove whether a particular practice benefits, damages or has no measurable impact on wildlife. When the research is applied on the ground, it’s the best way we have to counter the threats of sometimes hostile media and other individuals and organisations.
The stance of conservation charities about buzzards clearly shows little love for rearing gamebirds. Also, we have been seeing new reports from these powerful and well funded organisations that appear opposed to gamebird releasing.
You may never meet the team of people who research and share the science. But when they prevent the sport you love becoming a casualty of hostile headlines, you’ll feel their influence. The research and practice of sound science and its wider recognition will bring more benefit to wildlife and conservation and help counter the one-sided discussions in the media.
I would suggest that the GWCT is hardly an impartial organisation either. When the organisation was founded it was the Game Conservancy Trust. They say on their website
In October 2007, The Game Conservancy Trust became the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust to reflect the depth and breadth of the scientific research it carries out.
If I were being cynical I would suggest the name change was more about rebranding themselves as a wildlife conservation organisation as opposed to one solely concerned with preserving game for shooting. I'm not claiming GWCT doesn't do genuine good science but I would suggest that for people like @Towlersonsafari and certainly anyone from Raptor Persecution they cannot be considered unbiased the object of some of their research is clearly to find evidence with which to defend their sport.
When I suggested that I would support some licensed control of raptors I should say not for genuine conservation purposes because I don’t accept that such control is necessary but as a compromise and a way out of the harrier situation. Raptor control may be necessary to protect grouse or other gamebirds for shooting but it is not necessary to protect other wildlife except in a very few cases to protect certain highly endangered species. If I’ve understood correctly the GWCT’s position is that they would like to see licensed control of common buzzards to protect for example pheasants. In other words keepers should be allowed to kill some native buzzards or destroy their eggs in order to protect non-native pheasants that have been reared on game farms and released into the countryside. I would find it extremely hard to support that, if the buzzard population posed a genuine danger to the survival of other wildlife I might have a different view but it doesn’t.
Robin Page in the Telegraph article cited two papers one on Postfledging Survival, Movements, and Dispersal of Ring Ouzels (Turdus torquatus) the other one was on The Role of the Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) in the Decline of the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) in Britain I have read both of these papers.
The second paper is I have to say not at all convincing and the study was conducted in London so I'm not sure it’s possible to extrapolate from this that situation is the same in the countryside or across the rest of Britain. It seems to me that he has shown that there is a strong correlation but of course correlation is not causation and his methods seem somewhat flawed as he has disregarded any factors that he was not able to measure but then I’m not a scientist you might be better able to appraise his methodology. What he is in fact arguing so it seems from some of what he has written elsewhere in reply to some of the criticisms of his paper is that after the sparrowhawk population crashed due to DDT etc the house sparrows in London suddenly became naive about predators, becoming too bold so that when the hawks recovered they were easy prey. I find that a little hard to believe but if true the sparrows should lose their naivety and recover as the overly bold ones are killed off, either way Robin Page and the (in my view) ecologically illiterate organisation Songbird Survival are trumpeting this research as proof that raptors are responsible for declining songbirds.
If you feed the birds in your garden and you see a sparrowhawk taking birds off your birdfeeders far too often well then you need to reposition the feeders to make it harder for the sparrowhawk to ambush them and ensure they have plenty of escape routes.
As I am a bit of a sceptic my view is that claims that raptors have a serious impact on songbirds or other wildlife are entirely unfounded and are brought up by people in the shooting industry in order to provide further ammunition in their campaign to have the protection of raptors relaxed. People not inclined to support raptor control to protect shooting interests might be persuaded to do so for wildlife conservation especially to save songbirds. So my view is there is absolutely no justification for controlling raptors to protect either songbirds or any other wildlife. The exception would be where a raptor is preying on some particularly rare species, if a colony of little terns for example is being targeted by kestrels. Currently to try and alleviate this problem the RSPB has been trialling diversionary feeding; just recently our kestrel population has declined significantly so they would certainly not be willing to consider controlling kestrels. However a case could be made for control in this kind of situation but for wildlife more generally there’s no justification.
Having mentioned cherry picking of science one of the problems is that there is so much mistrust between the different sides that if the RSPB produces scientific research showing that raptors do not generally impact other bird populations this will be rejected as biased and untrustworthy. Similarly when a paper is produced like the sparrowhawk one, birders and conservationists will automatically dismiss it, my inclination even before reading it was I don’t believe this can be the case but I tried to put that aside. Raptors and songbirds have successfully coexisted (and coevolved) for millions of years without the former threatening the survival of the latter I don’t buy into this idea that because humans have upset the apple cart they are now no longer able to coexist anymore.
Gamekeepers in Scotland along with sheep farmers are calling for ravens to be put on a general license so that their numbers can be controlled currently they can be shot on license but such licenses are very rarely issued. Keepers allege that ravens need to be controlled because they are having sever impact on all ground nesting birds especially ravens however the following research publish in Scottish Birds indicates that this simply isn’t true
Numbers and breeding success of Golden Plover and Dunlin in an area frequented by Ravens
We found no evidence to support claims by gamekeepers that Ravens are serious predators of wader nests in the uplands of North-east Scotland (Anon 2010). We found no evidence of any wader chick predation and observed no Raven flocks of more than 15 individuals, let alone 300 birds as quoted by some gamekeepers (Anon 2010). Our review of the local bird reports (Table 3) gave maximum flock counts of Ravens for the period 2001–09 of 19. The bird report counts were by many independent observers over a nine-year period and gave annual average flock sizes ranging from 2.10 to 4.35 with an average flock size of 2.78. This is consistent with the 4.3 average group size found in the present study. We suggest that, where there has been a reduction in wader numbers, this is more likely to be the result of habitat change such as intensive muirburn, heavy grazing or drainage.
My willingness to compromise is in part based on the fact that that grouse shooting may not be viable in the presence of a healthy population of hen harriers, a ban on driven grouse is not likely and the alternative whatever that might be may not be good for all of those other birds that you listed.
Except that is for the corncrake as this is not a moorland species it is a bird of farmland originally found in the rough grasslands, pastures and meadows that once covered much of lowland Britain. It has disappeared from most of the UK because its breeding habits are in essence incompatible with modern farming the problem is that when they return from Africa in the spring they nest in the middle of grass fields, the farmer comes in with his tractor to cut the grass for silage or hay and the birds get chopped up. As the tractor approaches the birds either just crouch down or move in to the remaining grass in the middle of the field, the chicks of course can’t fly the adults obviously can but don’t and so they all get killed. These birds now really only survive on small farms and crofts in the Hebrides where farming is more traditional and less intensive. Their survival there is largely down to the RSPB working with farmers to save them, they found that when cutting silage or hay if the tractor is driven straight in to the middle first and the cutting is done from the center outwards the birds and their chicks instead of being trapped in the middle will be driven to the edge where they can escape.
Recently the RSPB has reintroduced captive bred corncrakes to the Nene Washes one of their reserves in Cambridgeshire, this is a very interesting project because corncrakes are migratory, the birds are bred at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo when the chicks hatch they have to kept in complete darkness until they are old enough to be taken to the Nene Washes for release. If they were allowed to see the night sky at Whipsnade they would migrate to Africa for the winter and then fly back to Whipsnade in the spring which would be a disaster. These birds evidently navigate by the stars so if the first night sky they see is from the Nene Washes that is where they will return to. It remains to be seen how successful the project will be and whether it can be done elsewhere on the UK mainland.
The following from the heraldscotland makes a somewhat similar point to one that I made earlier but from a slightly different angle which I had considered but hadn’t included.
Perverting story of the corncrake fight
I have been very lucky to be able to travel to many parts of the world to see birds and other wildlife many other people cannot afford to travel so far, I think a good few UK birders would feel pretty aggrieved if they had to travel abroad to see a hen harrier especially those that can ill afford to travel. Obviously if there were a viable population established in the South of the UK then this wouldn’t be such a problem.
One other point I would make with regard to raptors is that many older people who grew up in the days when raptor population were still extremely low due to persecution and pesticides very seldom ever saw raptors when they were young, when they now see raptors quite often they think is a sign that there are too many.
So in conclusion I would support some limited licensed control of raptors to protect game for shooting as a way out of this ongoing conflict and in recognition that gamebird shooting does do a fair bit to preserve habitats and does help conserve a variety of birds and other wildlife with the exception of predators. Furthermore it is important to the rural economy. I would expect in return for such a compromise an end to illegal persecution or at least a serious reduction, perhaps enforced by licensing grouse moors as the RSPB suggest, give the shooting industry the carrot of limited raptor control but also the stick of having their licence to operate revoked if the persecution carries on. I would also want it made clear that licenses for controlling raptors would only be issued on a very limited basis that the shooting industry should not come back in a year or two demanding an increase in the number of licenses issued. I would also favour translocating hen harriers to non conflict areas.
Having said that in my view claims that raptors endanger other wildlife are entirely unfounded, whether or not mammalian carnivores do and to what extent is another question. As long as endangered mammals are not being persecuted I’m not overly concerned about the control of stoats, weasels and foxes on the grounds that these species are all common and widespread in the countryside away from shooting estates. Since we no longer have any carnivores larger than the red fox it may be that there are too many foxes in some areas and that controlling them to protect wildlife is scientifically justified.
Edited by inyathi, 16 May 2016 - 11:10 PM.