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Driven Grouse Shooting a UK Disgrace?


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#41 inyathi

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Posted 15 May 2016 - 01:26 PM

@douglaswise

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

More to follow


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#42 inyathi

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Posted 15 May 2016 - 01:50 PM

@douglaswise

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

You can download the Red List from the BTO website here

 

How the lists are decided

 

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

 

 

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

Edited by inyathi, 15 May 2016 - 01:55 PM.

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#43 inyathi

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Posted 15 May 2016 - 04:00 PM

@douglaswise

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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


Edited by inyathi, 15 May 2016 - 04:15 PM.

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#44 inyathi

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Posted 15 May 2016 - 04:54 PM

@douglaswise

 

There are several potential models for conservation.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

Whatever the case I stand by my point about tree planting

 

Tree planting 'can reduce flooding'

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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#45 inyathi

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Posted 15 May 2016 - 05:14 PM

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

 

@douglaswise

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Here is the Moorland Associations solution

 

New plans to save England’s hen harriers

 

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

 

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


Edited by inyathi, 15 May 2016 - 05:18 PM.

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#46 Towlersonsafari

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Posted 15 May 2016 - 06:34 PM

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

#47 douglaswise

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Posted 16 May 2016 - 08:31 AM

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



#48 douglaswise

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Posted 16 May 2016 - 09:24 AM

@inyathi:  Response to post # 41

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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#49 douglaswise

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Posted 16 May 2016 - 02:38 PM

@Inyathi:  Response to post # 42

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

@Inyathi:  Reply to post 43

 

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


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#50 Game Warden

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Posted 16 May 2016 - 03:47 PM

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

 

Matt.


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#51 inyathi

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Posted 16 May 2016 - 10:39 PM

@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.

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#52 douglaswise

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Posted 17 May 2016 - 02:58 PM

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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



#53 inyathi

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 01:26 AM

@douglaswise

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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#54 Caracal

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 03:33 AM

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


"Moments that touch the soul are always short but they echo pleasantly afterwards"
Stephen Pern - Another Land, Another Sea Walking round Lake Rudolph.

#55 douglaswise

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 06:49 AM

@Caracal:

 

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


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#56 douglaswise

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 09:42 AM

@inyathi:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Joint Harrier Action Plan:

 

1) Those signing up pledge to protect harriers.

2) Authorities pledge to spend more on enforcement.

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

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

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

 

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

 

A proposed "zoning approach" 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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


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#57 douglaswise

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 02:45 PM

@Towlersonsafari:

 

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


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#58 inyathi

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 11:58 PM

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

Just to clarify one point.

 

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

 

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


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#59 douglaswise

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Posted 19 May 2016 - 09:48 AM

@inyathi:

 

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

 

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

 

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


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#60 douglaswise

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Posted 19 May 2016 - 02:10 PM

@Game Warden:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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







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