Monday, 22 December 2014

Well-managed shoots a force for good: our letter to The Independent published

Simon Barnes ("Conservation begins at home", 14 December) comments that if Prince William wants to be a conservationist then he must stop shooting. Unfortunately, this might not have the desired effect. Our research shows that well-managed shoots (including grouse moors) are a force for good.

A study of an abandoned grouse moor recorded that, in less than 20 years, lapwing became extinct, golden plover declined from 10 birds to one and curlew declined by 79 per cent.

Andrew Gilruth
Director of communications
GWCT

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Friday, 19 December 2014

20 years at Langholm – what have we learnt?

Image: Laurie Campbell
by Andrew Gilruth - @AndrewGilruth

The early years: revealing the genuine conservation conflict

It was on Langholm Moor (1992-1997) that the GWCT and partners1 demonstrated that hen harrier populations can render grouse shooting uneconomic. In six years, harrier numbers rose from two to 20 pairs. Shooting was abandoned because the hen harriers ate over a third of all grouse chicks that hatched.

With no grouse shooting, the local culture, economy and employment suffered and the control of generalist predators ceased. By 2003, 20 harrier nests were back down to two and numbers of breeding grouse and waders had more than halved2. Predation was identified as the most likely cause of the declines. Grouse moor managers felt their worst fears had just been proven – this was a real lose-lose situation.

Today the moor is home to a second vital study: searching for a win-win situation

For the last seven years, the GWCT and partners3 have put huge energy into achieving Langholm’s core objective: an economic driven grouse moor that hits all its conservation targets…

…and thereby demonstrates how to resolve the conflicts between raptors and red grouse.

How is it going? How easy is it to run a grouse moor? There is, now, a much better understanding of the challenges – but Langholm has not yet resolved its core objective.

To avoid any ambiguity, five conservation ‘tests’ were set in advance. The new seven-year interim report predicts (there are three more years to go) that if we stick to the existing conservation methods this second study will:

Habitat improvement – Pass
Raptor recovery – Pass
Red grouse recovery – Fail
Other wildlife recovery – Might pass
Resolve wildlife conflict – Fail

Why have the grouse not recovered?

The quality of keepering and legal predator control is good, as is grouse health, but grouse mortality all year round is high and 78% of adult grouse found dead were identified as having been predated by raptors.

If we adopt new conservation methods, we could pass them all

It would be easy to give up now, but the partners at Langholm believe they can pass all five conservation tests – if new conservation ideas are used. The fact that all sides continue to work together in search of a solution is what makes Langholm unique. It remains the only place in the UK that can not only test, but also monitor, new ideas to resolve the conflict between raptors and grouse.

What new conservation ideas?

The Langholm project hopes to publish its plans in early 2015. These are likely to focus on raptor predation because existing monitoring indicates that grouse recovery is not being restricted by habitat, disease, lack of food, weather or other mortality.

Langholm has inspired change – and it’s about to do that again 


FREE Hen Harrier Recovery Plan guide

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What's inside your FREE guide

✓ essential hen harrier facts
✓ details of the hen harrier recovery plan
✓ summary of the issues and arguments surrounding a proposed ban on driven grouse shooting
✓ key figures and scientific findings

Download your FREE guide >

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

1 The Joint Raptor Study (JRS) was a collaborative research venture, undertaken jointly by the GWCT and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), but funded and guided throughout by a consortium of interest groups that included the RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the Game Conservancy Scottish Research Trust, Buccleuch Estate and Peter Buckley of Westerhall Estate.

2 Baines, D., Redpath, S.M., Richardson, M., & Thirgood, S.J. (2008). The direct and indirect effects of predation by Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus on trends in breeding birds on a Scottish grouse moor. Ibis (Supplement 1), 150: 27-36.

3 The Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (LMDP) is a partnership between Scottish Natural Heritage, the Buccleuch Estate, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Natural England.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Top 10 GWCT blog posts of 2014

We launched this blog at the start of 2014 in an attempt to share more news and insight with GWCT members and non-members alike. By promoting our blogs posts through our free weekly newsletter, Twitter and Facebook we have been able to reach an ever-growing audience and look forward to publishing more informative blog posts from across the Trust in 2015.

As you will see from the list of our 10 most-read blog posts below, one issue in particular has dominated this year...

1. Mark Avery calls for grouse shooting ban...
2. The selfish, stupid actions of one man
3. Hen Harrier Recovery Plan - the RSPB's fears allayed
4. Defra led Joint Action Plan for Hen Harriers - what the GWCT thinks
5. Chris Packham - "So grouse moors are good for ecology?"
6. Defra about to save hen harriers?
7. Has the RSPB found a silver bullet?
8. Pine Martens and Capercaillie
9. What the GWCT thinks of Defra's statement on their hen harrier recovery plan
10. GWCT letter to The Times on grouse moor management


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Friday, 5 December 2014

This week's blogs: Pine martens, Big Farmland Bird Count launch, Moths

Take a look at what we've been writing about this week:

RSPB delighted to support Big Farmland Bird Count

Guest blog: Richard Winspear of the RSPB discusses the Big Farmland Bird Count.
Read more >

Owls soar again after mild winter: Our letter to The Times

As well as being a good year for voles, it has also been a good year for some insects...
Read more >

Pine Marten study - our letter to The Herald

Our response to piece about proposed Pine Marten trial in Scotland.
Read more >

Seminar on Agroecology and Sustainable Intensification

An invite to a one-day seminar designed to explore the potential for agro-ecological approaches to contribute to the sustainable intensification of agriculture.
Read more >

Pine Martens: our letter to Scottish Daily Mail published

Our response to piece about proposed Pine Marten trial in Scotland.
Read more >

Pine Martens and Capercaillie

Andrew Gilruth discusses a proposed study involving removal of pine martens and the effects on capercaillie numbers.
Read more >

If you can't measure it - you can't manage it

Guy Smith, Vice President of NFU writes a guest blog championing the Big Farmland Bird Count.
Read more >

Smartly dressed for long December nights!

Peter Thompson gets his moth trap out.
Read more >


Owls soar again after mild winter: Our letter to The Times

Dear Sir

As well as being a good year for barn owls, it has also been a good year for some insects (report 3rd December).

Insects are a crucial food source for the young of many bird species. This year’s good summer has meant that insects have flourished and so too has the wild grey partridge population. According to the latest figures from our Partridge Count Scheme, we have seen a 42% level of chick survival because the newly hatched birds were able to feed well in their early weeks of life. Below 33% survival, grey partridge populations go into decline. This is extremely good news for this recovering farmland bird, which has suffered an 86% decline over the past 40 years.

Insect numbers are governed by many factors including the weather and farming techniques. It is noticeable that many more farmers are adopting techniques that allow them to produce insect rich covers in and around their arable fields. In a good year, birds such as grey partridges are reaping the benefits of this more wild friendly environment.

Professor Nick Sotherton
Director of Research
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

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Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Pine Marten study - our letter to The Herald

Dear Sir,

The recent article by Rob Edwards (Leaked plan to get rid of pine martens ‘deeply flawed’- Sunday 30 November) had a rather ‘fur better than feather’ feel to it, missing the point of our potential study with its core story of capercaillie decline and the stringent attempt to recover Scottish populations. Indeed the vulnerable, protected capercaillie does not appear in the text until about half way into the article.

Great effort has gone into improving Scottish forest habitat for the ‘horse of the woods’, but the decline still continues. The long-term decline seems to be caused by poor breeding success due to cold, damp weather and high numbers of predators. And studies at RSPB’s Abernethy Forest have shown pine martens to be a significant nest predator.

No one really knows how significant pine marten are in the overall population decline of capercaillie but we, along with partner organisations SNH, FCS and the CNPA, are proposing a project to find out.

There is no plan to lethally control the pine marten population across Scotland. If the research indicates increasing pine martens are a factor in capercaillie declines, translocation efforts may be focussed only on a small area in Strathspey, helping protect 75% of our remaining capercaillie.
This type of intervention is not new to the conservation world.

The pine marten is not in decline in Scotland, it population is in fact increasing. This is good news for the conservation of that species. As with all of nature, fur is no better or worse than feather, balances must be struck and  a multi-agency approach to sensitive wildlife management is what we strive for.

Yours faithfully,
Dr Adam Smith
Director Scotland
GWCT

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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Pine Martens: our letter to Scottish Daily Mail published

Image: Laurie Campbell
Dear Sir,

Your article ‘Facing eviction, the bully boys of our woodland’ (p26, Monday, December 1) unfortunately begins with an inaccuracy in the opening paragraph. The pine marten is not in decline in Scotland, it population is in fact increasing. This is good news for the conservation of that species. With regards to the rest of the article, as with all of nature, balances must be struck and a multi-agency approach to sensitive wildlife management is what we strive for.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Adam Smith
Director Scotland
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

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Monday, 1 December 2014

Pine Martens and Capercaillie

Image - Laurie Campbell
by Andrew Gilruth - @AndrewGilruth

If you walk through a Scottish pine forest and are lucky enough to hear and then see a ‘Horse of the Woods’ you will be amazed. That’s because the sound, like clopping hooves, will likely be coming from a one meter tall bird, a cock capercaillie, trying to attract a mate. Unfortunately this experience is becoming less and less likely. There are just 1,300 male capercaillie left in the UK (a 42% decline in 17 years) and the capercaillie is declining around the world.

Great effort has gone into improving Scottish forest habitat, but the decline still continues - sometimes more, sometimes less rapidly. The long-term decline seems to be caused by poor breeding success; cold, damp weather and high numbers of predators leading to the poorest breeding success. And studies at Abernethy Forest have shown pine martens to be a significant nest predator.

How important are pine martens in causing these declines?
No one knows; but we need to if our conservation efforts are to be best focussed. So there is a proposal to find out. The pine marten population is growing in Scotland and the idea is to study the pine marten population in four forests for six years. In two of the woods martens would be removed for each of three years, perhaps equating to 10 pine martens each year, to see if this will increase capercaillie breeding success. Then the treatment would be reversed and martens would be removed from the other two forests.

Is this a cull?
No. There is no plan to lethally control the pine martin population across Scotland. If the research indicates increasing pine martens are a factor in capercaillie declines, efforts may be focussed only on a small area in Strathspey, helping protect 75% of our remaining capercaillie.

Is this level of intervention new?
No. Predator control for conservation is already undertaken.

Is it true the capercaillie has been extinct before?
Yes. The capercaillie became extinct in the 18th century following extensive felling of pinewood habitats and a run of cold, wet summers in the 'Little Ice Age'. It was re-introduced into Scotland, by landowners with an interest in shooting, in the mid-19th century. By the 1970’s there were 20,000 capercaillie in Scotland.

Are capercaillie still shot?
No. There was a voluntary moratorium on shooting from the late 1980s and full legal protection came in 2001 - but the decline of the capercaillie still continues.

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Friday, 28 November 2014

This week's blogs: more common sense, woodcock, BFBC launch, BBC letter

Despite being busy with the GWCT staff conference this week we have been able to publish several blogs on a range of topics:

BASF delighted to be sponsoring Big Farmland Bird Count

Graham Hartwell of BASF looks ahead to the Big Farmland Bird Count ID days in January.
Read more >

Harrier plan: our letter published in BBC Wildlife Magazine

Read our letter which appears in the forthcoming issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine.
Read more >

Woodcock - Sexing, migration and Christmas presents

Peter Thompson discusses our Woodcock Watch project and suggests a unique Christmas gift.
Read more >

We don’t need more laws – we need more common sense
Andrew Gilruth warns of campaigning charities pushing for more laws.
Read more >

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Harrier plan: our letter published in BBC Wildlife Magazine

Below is our letter which is to be published in the next issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine:

Harrier plan

There is genuine conflict between hen harriers and red grouse (A Brush With Nature, October) but science has shown that if you lose red grouse shooting, you lose both hen harriers and the incentive to manage heather moorland.

For two years a group of stakeholders, including the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the RSPB, the Moorland Association and Natural England, has been working to produce a recovery plan for hen harriers that also ensures the future of grouse shooting and the moorland that provides a breeding habitat for waders such as curlews, golden plover and lapwing.

Andrew Gilruth
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

FREE Hen Harrier Recovery Plan guide

Download your FREE guide to the hen harrier & grouse shooting issue >

What's inside your FREE guide

✓ essential hen harrier facts
✓ details of the hen harrier recovery plan
✓ summary of the issues and arguments surrounding a proposed ban on driven grouse shooting
✓ key figures and scientific findings

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Sunday, 23 November 2014

We don’t need more laws – we need more common sense

Image - Laurie Campbell
by Andrew Gilruth - @AndrewGilruth

“Is it time for new laws in England and Wales to hold landowners responsible for raptor persecution by their employees?”

Beware of campaigning charities pushing for more laws. They take years to formulate and they can become addictive. A charity can grow rich as the fundraising team make the most of all those press releases, launches and meeting with officials. The policy team love it: they will be centre stage at the important meetings. The PR team love it: new legislation is easy to understand, easy to explain, unlike some conservation issues. Campaigning charities don’t even have to pay for it – they expect the taxpayer to do that. The best bit is at the end: they don’t carry the blame if it’s ineffective – the politicians do.

We don’t need more laws – we need more common sense

For years, reported incidents of wildlife crime have been falling twice as fast as the national crime rate. So this is either a fast diminishing problem and so we don’t need more laws; or these criminals are getting better at hiding their crime. Since laws can’t fight hidden crime, making new ones is not going to make a great deal of difference. Just look at Scotland - in 2011, after years of campaigning, they passed new laws. The police have not made a single prosecution. It has not solved the situation.

What we need is more common sense. Clearly we need to tackle the cause of crime, as well as the crime itself. Take a close look at the motive for the illegal killing of a hen harrier by a gamekeeper on a grouse moor. A joint study by the RSPB and the GWCT demonstrated that hen harrier numbers can quickly increase in a small area, eat too many grouse, and put the gamekeeper out of a job. Sadly, once the gamekeepers are made redundant, there is not enough food, so the hen harrier population crashes back down. A lose-lose situation.

Laws can’t solve everything

The RSPB are jointly funding a ‘best practice’ driven grouse moor at Langholm. The idea is to show gamekeepers how you can have hen harriers alongside grouse. No illegal killing. After 7 years of determined effort, it has achieved two important objectives but has failed to achieve the one key objective that would reduce the motive for illegal killing. The motive remains in place and new laws will not change that. Despite the RSPB’s investment at Langholm clearly showing that such laws can’t resolve the conflict they still continue to campaign for new laws.

We don’t need more laws – we need more wildlife crime officers

We all know this. There is no surprise that law enforcement is an essential part of the proposed Defra recovery plan for hen harriers in England. There are five other parts to this plan – none require new laws. Perhaps it is time for campaigning charities to spend less time telling everyone else what to do and reflect on what they need to do? Right now, the RSPB are also campaigning to stop Defra implementing its hen harrier recovery plan. They only want the ‘workable’ parts to be implemented – or put another way ‘the bits the RSPB likes’. Sadly the bits the RSPB like are just more of the same. Surely it’s time to stop objecting and start embracing conservation techniques that increase bird of prey numbers around the world – the ones that remove the motive for crime?

Our birds of prey need new thinking and new leadership - not new laws.

Get your FREE Hen Harrier guide

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What's inside your FREE guide

✓ essential hen harrier facts
✓ details of the hen harrier recovery plan
✓ summary of the issues and arguments surrounding a proposed ban on driven grouse shooting
✓ key figures and scientific findings

Download your FREE guide >

Friday, 21 November 2014

This week's blogs: first woodcock return, BFBC launch, an amazing story

Lots going on at the GWCT this week - here's a roundup:

Monkey III first woodcock to return to UK

Monkey III is now back in the UK making him/her our first to return this winter. His/her current location is within 5 km of the location we caught and tagged him/her in March this year.
Read more >



Launching the 2015 Big Farmland Bird Count

The 2015 Big Farmland Bird Count is fast approaching and planning is now well underway. Things kick off on the 5th December with a launch event in Suffolk.
Read more >

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How about this for an amazing story!

Peter Thompson reports on an amazing bird ringing coincidence in Portugal.
Read more >

Hen Harrier Recovery Plan - the RSPB's fears allayed

We address the concerns the RSPB have over the brood management scheme contained within the Hen Harrier Recovery Plan.
Read more >

A famous person and assorted wildlife turn up in strange places

Peter Thompson reports from a recent trip to London.
Read more >

Hedgerow management

Peter reports from a hedgerow management workshop for farmers involved in the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area
Read more >

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Our letter to The Telegraph on RSPB criticism of shooting community

Dear Sir

William Langley’s comment piece on the RSPB makes disturbing reading and it is a great shame that the RSPB has decided to criticise the shooting community by saying that it has no ‘legitimacy’.

Game management techniques, carried out legitimately by gamekeepers and shoot owners have been the driving force behind many techniques developed to help conserve and protect other species. Supplementary over-winter feeding, for example, originally designed to feed pheasants and partridges is now being carried out by farmers to feed other hungry birds during this lean time and nine years of research shows that this can double bird numbers in a stroke.

This country is the envy of the world for its extremely enlightened approach to conservation. However, we must not lose focus. Let’s celebrate the success of the shooting community and recognise the considerable input that it has made towards wildlife conservation.

Andrew Gilruth - @AndrewGilruth
Director of communications
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Updated 1.00pm - 20th November

It has rightly been pointed out to us on Twitter that the RSPB were in fact referring to the 'You Forgot The Birds' group rather than the shooting community as a whole:

"The RSPB has come under attack, over the last couple of weeks, by a self-appointed group backed by individuals with shooting interests. It has no legitimacy and has put forward a number of inaccurate and misleading statements about the RSPB."


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Friday, 14 November 2014

Hen Harrier Recovery Plan - the RSPB's fears allayed

© Laurie Campbell
by Andrew Gilruth - @AndrewGilruth

Yesterday the RSPB finally called for Defra to publish the Hen Harrier Recovery Plan. Fantastic news.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, is to be congratulated on finally making it publically clear that there is indeed a Hen Harrier Recovery Plan, negotiated by Defra with “the shooting industry and conservation groups”, and that the RSPB is currently the only participant vetoing the implementation of the plan. This is a very important development, as it allows everyone to understand the nature of the remaining problem and focus on its resolution.

The RSPB have published their list of worries about one element of the 6 point plan; brood management. Fair enough.

It is helpful to listen to other people’s worries. For each of these I have explained why they are not worries for me.

Brood management is an internationally recognised conservation technique for increasing bird numbers, not reducing them. When the population of breeding hen harriers starts to climb in England (not before) and a hen harrier builds a nest within 10km of an existing hen harrier nest, the chicks (not the adults) will be taken into an aviary for six weeks before being released back into the wild as adults. This will not only ‘protect’ the chicks but should also help restore hen harriers across all suitable hen harrier habitat – not just on grouse moors.

Worries about the Hen Harrier Recovery Plan not going to plan:

Q: What would happen if the recovery trajectory is not being followed and brood management does not secure the recovery demanded?
A: Brood management is a conservation tool to increase bird numbers, not to reduce them. It has been shown to work in France and Spain for Montagu’s harriers. The RSPB has no difficulty in using it with other species. At this year’s AGM, the RSPB’s members listened with delight to how brood management was being used in an attempt to save the spoon-billed sandpiper, one of the rarest birds in the world. Taking clutches of eggs from the tiny number of nests left in Asia and transporting them across the world to England, where they were hatched and reared in protective custody before being flown thousands of miles to be released into the wild. A classic case of successful brood management. Will it also work in the UK for hen harriers? Delaying the Recovery Plan will only delay answering this question.

Worries about the Recovery Plan working too well:

Q: How many hen harriers will be tolerated in the wild under a brood management scheme and what happens if that threshold is passed?
A: Are we delaying the recovery because we are now worried that there will be too many one day in the future? We have years to think about this. What we need to do is get the number of hen harriers up in England without delay.

Q: What happens to the remaining adults (and their broods) on the moors if they lay a replacement clutch or they move to an adjacent estate and lay a clutch?
A: The plan would not change. If a second clutch is laid in the same nest (or in a nest within 10km of another), they would be removed to an aviary too. Since this would help increase the hen harrier numbers even faster, it is odd that this is being seen as reason to delay implementing the plan. Hen harriers are ground-nesting birds and the chicks are very vulnerable to predation by foxes, badgers, crows, ravens, goshawks and buzzards. Brood management ensures that if five chicks hatch, five chicks survive. This is in stark contrast to the five chicks that hatched on a Derbyshire grouse moor this year, three of which were killed by predators before they could fly well enough to escape.

Worries about the recovery going to plan:

Q. Where will the aviaries be located to house chicks and what specifications will they need to meet?
A: Hen harriers will be kept in aviaries under the same standards of care as legally required for the hundreds of birds of prey already in aviaries and those used by the RSPB for their translocation work. This is certainly no reason to delay the Recovery Plan because we may not need an aviary for years. Should suitable aviaries not be available when required, the hen harriers would just stay where they are on moors. Again, this is not a reason to delay starting the plan.

Q. How many harriers will be housed in aviaries as the scheme develops and what is the preferred ratio of natural and housed broods to secure delivery along the population growth trajectory suggested in the draft Action Plan?
A: Since this would depend on how fast the hen harrier population recovered, the numbers are not known. Are we suggesting we don’t wish to start because it may all go to plan?

Q. What happens when fledglings are released back to their natal moor, or return there from alternative release sites, and cause disturbance to grouse shoots?
A: Nothing. Is this a reason to delay the Recovery Plan?

Worries about the paperwork:

Q: What legal mechanism is being considered to allow for the licensing of brood management under the provisions of the EU Birds Directive? Under the Habitats Regulations, why has an appropriate assessment of brood management not been required given that it is likely to operate in Special Protection Areas for which the hen harrier is a qualifying feature?
A: Let’s not overcomplicate this. The French and Spanish have been doing this for 20 years. If there is any EU paperwork we still require, let’s just ask them to email it over. There is no reason to delay the plan on this basis.

Q: Who decides which nests go into captivity and which don’t, and will there be an appeal process if an estate believes it is being penalised for carrying a brood(s) not taken into captivity? Under what form of regulation will an appeal process take place, who will undertake the appeal, and how long would it last?
A: Natural England (NE) is the only organisation in the UK that can authorise conservation measures that involve intervention of wildlife. They issue thousands of ‘licenses’ every year, including to the RSPB.

Q: Who will be legally responsible for the harriers in captivity and what will happen in the event of wild harriers becoming ill or dying in captivity?
A: If hen harriers are temporarily taken into captivity, Natural England will have to issue a licence. They issue thousands of these things. If they give you a licence, you are responsible.

Q: When will a decision be taken to progress with brood management in an area during the nesting period and who will make it?
A: This will be detailed in the Natural England licence.

Q. Who will provide training for those licensed to keep the birds in captivity and how will they be recruited?
A: Exactly as existing licence holders are trained and recruited. Should this present a problem the brood management can’t proceed, but this is no reason to delay starting the plan. Until hen harrier numbers grow we won’t even need to do this.

Q: Who will administer, regulate and monitor the scheme and how will this element be funded?
A: Natural England will regulate any intervention. If funding needs to be found, as with the spoon-billed sandpiper, you approve the plan and secure funding. Delaying the plan only delays answering this question.

Worries about the alternative solutions:

Q: If the scheme is deemed legal, why don’t we wait until some recovery of the population, at least until it reaches a point where it causes national economic concerns to grouse moors and where alternative solutions are deemed impracticable, before introducing a trial of brood management?
A: The RSPB has spent seven years funding an economic driven grouse moor demonstration at Langholm. No alternatives have yet been shown to work. If an effective alternative is found then that could be adopted. This works in Europe so why not test it here now? If there are no known alternatives, why are we delaying the Recovery Plan any longer?

Q. Why won’t there be a requirement for diversionary feeding to be widely attempted before a brood management trial is introduced?
A: Diversionary feeding is an existing and important part of the plan. As the RSPB has helped to show, diversionary feeding, on its own, does not work.

Q. Why hasn’t Defra considered lump sum compensation to estate owners and workers where harrier numbers reach levels that make management for grouse shooting unprofitable, seeing this as a payment for the production of a public good?
A: This question has nothing to do with the brood management scheme. The conflict resolution process aims to achieve more hen harriers alongside economic driven grouse moors. This suggestion fails to achieve that.

Worries about the maths:

Q: With disease control leading to increasing red grouse abundance and cessation of population cycles, how will we know when the time is right to impose a brood management scheme, i.e. how will we establish whether the problem is serious given that the current model for assessing impact was developed some years ago?
A: This year Aberdeen University published very similar numbers to the ones produced by the GWCT in 1998. Should any new model data be published, that can be accommodated when the plan is reviewed. This is no reason to delay starting now.

Q. With regional variation in grouse productivity and survival, how will the model for assessing the impact of hen harrier predation be used at different temporal and spatial scales?
A: The Recovery Plan is about increasing hen harrier numbers, not grouse numbers.

Worries about funding:

Q: Given that the English population could reach c.340 pairs, how much could a full brood management scheme cost to operate and who will be responsible for paying?
A: We don’t know. Unless we start we will never know.

Q: How much is the state prepared to contribute to a brood management scheme?
A: I expect the funds available from the taxpayer will be about as much as the state contributed to the brood management scheme for spoon-billed sandpipers – nothing.

Worry about illegal persecution:

Q: What happens to the scheme in the event of an illegal persecution event on any one of the participating estates?
A: The police would be immediately contacted. Is this a reason to delay implementing the Hen Harrier Recovery Plan? The RSPB translocation of white-tailed eagles and red kites continued even when they knew they may be illegally killed – why is it different for hen harriers?

Worry about public opinion:

Q: What level of public support is there for brood management?
A: Has someone suggested that there is public support for delaying the recovery of hen harriers? Did the RSPB delay funding the brood management of spoon-billed sandpipers while considering public support, or did they just get on with it? Perhaps the public are more interested in hearing if it all works. Let’s get on and let them know the results. I dread to think what the public would think about us delaying it much longer.

Worries that have nothing to do with the Hen Harrier Recovery Plan:

Q: If a scheme is permitted, would Defra consider a scheme for other threatened species that pose an economic disadvantage to individual landowners?
A: No idea. Why on earth is a question like this being used to delay the recovery of the hen harrier population?

Q: How will the scheme help to tackle the persecution of other raptors, which are being restricted to settling in the uplands by criminal acts?
A: The Hen Harrier Recovery Plan is intended to increase hen harrier numbers. Why are we delaying the plan for hen harriers using this type of question to delay the hen harrier plan?

Get your FREE Hen Harrier guide

Download your FREE guide to the hen harrier & grouse shooting issue >

What's inside your FREE guide

✓ essential hen harrier facts
✓ details of the hen harrier recovery plan
✓ summary of the issues and arguments surrounding a proposed ban on driven grouse shooting
✓ key figures and scientific findings

Download your FREE guide >

This week's blog posts: woodcock update, inspiring next generation, our links with natural world

This week's blog posts from across the GWCT:

Next generation inspired at successful Young Shots day

GWCT Advisor Austin Weldon reports from our recent Young Shots day.
Read more >

Hedgerow management

Peter Thompson reports from a hedgerow management workshop held for farmers involved in the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area.
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Latest November location updates - Amy, Monkey III, Nastasia & Rocky

Nearly half-way through November and several of our tagged woodcock are getting closer to returning to the UK including Monkey III, who had been silent for three months.
Read more >

Remembering our links with the natural world

During this week of remembrance, Peter Thompson discusses a couple of things have struck him about our relationship with the natural world.
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Thursday, 13 November 2014

Next generation inspired at successful Young Shots day

by Austin Weldon, GWCT Advisory Team

The 29th October saw Roger Draycott and myself tutoring the next generation of game shooters and conservationists on our young shooter’s course. I have to say that this is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Several of the young delegates had travelled from far and wide to join the day – showing real dedication. The day started quietly with everyone a little unsure and apprehensive but as the day developed many of the youngsters had clearly made great friends and were chatting away between the presentations and activities.

We began with the clay shooting, ably run by Explore 4x4 and the first job was to hand out ear defenders, eye protection, demonstrate how to handle the guns safely and check for eye dominance. Once this had been established the shooting began at a variety of crossing and going away targets offering something for the complete novice or more experienced shooter alike. Shooting and safe gun handling occupied the morning and then after an excellent lunch we headed back out to talk about game and wildlife management.

Roger’s parent’s farm is tucked away not far from Newmarket and is typical of the area. An excellent effort is made to balance a viable farming business with plenty of opportunities for game and wildlife to thrive through environmental stewardship and the youngsters learnt about hedgerow management, wild-bird covers, over-wintered stubbles, woodland and pond creation. This gave us plenty to talk about and demonstrate to the group.

We also covered at length the subject of legal, humane and target specific predation control demonstrating the different methods available and how to use them properly. This in particular generated a number of questions and clearly had the group captivated.

The rain unfortunately closed in during the afternoon which was timely for us to head back under cover to run a short quiz testing the group on what they had learnt about game management during the day. We concluded the day with a pigeon preparation demonstration showing how to remove the crown from a bird and also fully pluck and gut ready for the oven. Each delegate was given their own bird to dress and then take home with them and I must say they were very well prepared. 

Register your interest

We run Young Shooter’s courses for 12-15 year olds around the country. If you have an aspiring young shot at home why not email advisory@gwct.org.uk to register your interest. We would be delighted to let you know when next year’s course dates and locations are finalised.

The GWCT is enormously grateful to the Norman Clarke fund, which has provided funding for this series of courses for youngsters. The late Norman Clarke was an immensely popular shooting instructor for Holland and Holland.

Friday, 7 November 2014

This week's blog posts: gamekeeper sentenced, woodcock return, value of farmland

Take a look at this week's posts from across the GWCT:

The selfish, stupid actions of one man (GWCT News)

Andrew Gilruth (@AndrewGilruth) responds to the sentencing of gamekeeper Allen Lambert, guilty of "the worst case of bird of prey poisoning" recorded in England.
Read more >

There's gold in them there hills! (Peter Thompson's Blog)

Peter Thompson discusses the value of farmland, which has increased by 12% so far this year in England and by an incredible 187% over the last decade.
Read more >

The myths of migration (Woodcock Watch Blog)

Chris Heward (@woodcockwatch) investigates the origins of the goldcrest’s traditional folk name of ‘Woodcock Pilot’.
Read more >

Our letter to The Telegraph on bird population crash (GWCT News)

Chris Stoate (@CStoate) discusses our research at Allerton and how bird numbers have benefited from game management.
Read more >

Flurry of activity as woodcock begin their return
(Woodcock Watch Blog)

A number of our tagged woodcock have now started their journeys back to the UK and we have received a flurry of location updates.
Read more >

Harvesting mice in Guildford! (Peter Thompson's Blog)

Peter visits a live trapping project set up by the Surrey Wildlife Trust.
Read more > 

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The selfish, stupid actions of one man

by Andrew Gilruth - @AndrewGilruth

Yesterday a gamekeeper, who deliberately killed 10 buzzards and a sparrowhawk received a 10-week jail sentence (suspended for a year) and was ordered to pay prosecution costs of £930. A spokesperson for Natural England said:

"The sheer scale of offences in this case is shocking and we hope that this sentence will prove a deterrent to others”.

Not unsurprisingly, many people disagree with the sentence that was handed down.

Allen Lambert, 65, who worked on the Stody Estate, near Holt in Norfolk was a gamekeeper. Sporting organisations were quick to condemn his actions. The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) did not hold back:

"The NGO stands for gamekeeping within the law and we condemn these actions utterly. The selfish, stupid actions of one man - who was not and never has been a member of the NGO - must not be used to tarnish the good name of gamekeeping, which does so much for the countryside and its wildlife. The gamekeeping profession genuinely deplores those very, very few among their number who break the law. They are the pariahs of the modern keepering world, losing the right to call themselves gamekeepers in the eyes of their peers."

Last week the RSPB distributed copies of their latest Birdcrime report. It makes dreadful reading. The disgusting actions of a few falconry centre owners, egg collectors and bird dealers are also listed. The pages and pages of crime statistics are depressing and they have certainly produced a series of provocative press releases.

But amidst the horror of stories such as those involving Lambert and his ilk there is some positive news.

Below I have indexed the total number of wildlife incidents reported to the RSPB since 2009 (prior to this the figures are not comparable) against all crimes reported by the police. Thankfully both are falling. Better still the number of reported wildlife incidents is falling twice as fast as all crimes.


It’s a crude analysis but it would indicate that all the hard work to reduce wildlife crime achieving just that. The Police and all those involved in the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) should be proud. Let’s hope cases like the one in court yesterday become history.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Our letter to The Telegraph on bird population crash

Dear Sir

The massive population crash in wild birds reported this week is a tragedy but for many of those who work and live in our countryside this news will be of no surprise.

Research by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust support the report’s findings that changes in agricultural production is having an impact on farmland birds, despite our efforts to reverse the decline through agri-environment schemes. There is now huge urgency to start thinking outside the conservation box and adopt more novel approaches to supporting wild birds in order to fast-track their recovery. Our research over many decades has clearly shown that the principles of game management (provision of habitat, providing supplementary over-winter food and the control of predators) doubled farmland bird numbers over an eight year period on the Trusts own Allerton Project research farm in Leicestershire. 

Professor Chris Stoate
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust Allerton Project

2015 GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count

Our second annual Big Farmland Bird Count takes place between 7th and 15th February 2015. The purpose of the count is to highlight the positive conservation work carried out by farmers and gamekeepers across the country. We're asking people to spend 30 minutes recording the species and number of birds seen on one particular area of the farm. Click here for more >

Friday, 31 October 2014

This week's blogs - GWCT Conference, Woodcock, World Population, Water Friendly Farming

Please take a look at the blogs we've published this week:

2014 Conference as it happened on Twitter
(GWCT Blog)

Read a compilation of all the tweets from our annual conference.
Read more >

Residents and Migrants
(Woodcock Watch Blog)

Chris Heward discusses the data received from resident woodcock during the project.
Read more >

Do you have Leopards and Cows in your own back yard?
(Peter Thompson's Blog)

Following the discovery of a brand new species of frog found living under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty in New York City, Peter urges you to keep your eyes open.
Read more >

The Elephant in the room - world population growth
(Peter Thompson's Blog)

Peter continues the debate with Phil Jarvis regarding the effects of the growing world population.
Read more >

Water Friendly Farming results
(Allerton Project Blog)

Latest results to emerge from the Water Friendly Farming project were presented to a mixed audience of MPs, civil servants, researchers and NGO representatives in Westminster.
Read more >

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Monday, 27 October 2014

Our letter to The Times on the decline in farmland birds

Dear Sir

The long-term downward trend of farmland birds is indeed shocking (report October 24th).  But often, the answer is not to focus on statistics but to concentrate on the solution to help our precious wildlife.

Almost 1,000 farms and estates are members of our Grey Partridge Count Scheme and are now seeing a positive upturn in grey partridge numbers because of targeted management. An example is a remarkable grey partridge recovery project in Sussex that has helped restore wildlife to levels reminiscent of an era long before the intensification of agriculture. The restored hedgerows are now bursting with birds such as lapwing, skylarks, corn buntings, and linnets, which are all benefiting from the sympathetic management provided for grey partridges. Year-round habitats including brood rearing and over-winter cover, field margins that provide essential chick food insects and legal predator control aimed at protecting young chicks during the breeding season are the driving force behind this extraordinary wildlife revival.  At the start of the project in spring 2003 there were just 3 adult grey partridges. This spring there were 291 pairs and following a good breeding season this year, autumn counts revealed an impressive 1,654 grey partridges.

The fact that seventy per cent of English farmers are now signed up to stewardship schemes is a fantastic achievement.  However, better advice and targeted environmental schemes; to meet the ecological requirements of individual species combined with legal predator control in certain circumstances are essential to turn around the fortunes of our declining wildlife.

Dr Julie Ewald
Senior Ecologist
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

2015 Big Farmland Bird Count

The GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count will be taking place between 7th and 15th February 2015. We're looking for people to spend 30 minutes recording the species and number of birds seen on one particular area of the farm. Find out more >



Friday, 17 October 2014

This week's blogs: Woodcock, Educating future land managers, Supporting CFE, Brood cover

Here are this week's blog posts from across the GWCT:

Allerton Supporting CFE

Watch this brand new CFE video on how farmers help protect the environment, featuring some familiar faces from our Allerton Project.
Read more >> 

Brood cover - your questions answered

GWCT advisor Mike Swan tackles questions on brood cover.
Read more >>

Educating our future land managers

Peter Thompson on working with students from the Royal Agricultural University on the Marlborough Downs.
Read more >>

Woodcock sponsorship - a truly unique Christmas gift

Find out how you can buy the ideal Christmas gift and help our vital woodcock research.
Read more >>

A is for Apple!

Peter Thompson spends an enjoyable couple of hours at the Blackmoor estate’s apple day.
Read more >>

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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Brood cover - your questions answered

Mike Swan of the GWCT advisory team tackles questions on brood cover:

Q Why establish brood cover in the autumn?

A
Broods need to have a rich supply of creepy crawly insects under a canopy such as that provided by flowering cereals. To achieve this, the plants need to be well grown by mid-May when the first pheasant chicks hatch, and autumn sown crops can ensure this.

Otherwise, if a spring sowing is delayed by the weather, the plants may be little bigger than rosettes when the chicks hatch. Autumn sowing also gives the chance of a second try in spring in the event of a failure.

Q Which crops should I grow?

A Complex mixtures are available, but in truth a simple cereal accompanied by the inevitable broad-leaved weeds is all that is needed. Any cereal will do, but a winter triticale (wheat/rye hybrid) is a good choice. It is not prone to the diseases that can affect other cereals and is not particularly palatable to grazers like rabbits.

Q How do I grow triticale?

A Triticale is an undemanding crop. It can be drilled just like any other cereal, but you can also broadcast it. We grow three-metre wide strips alongside good nesting cover like beetle banks, fence lines and hedges. Having rotovated the ground, we scatter the seed from a bucket and use a harrow to bury it, then roll it to ensure good contact with the damp soil.

This should all be carried out in October, for quick germination, ensuring the plants are well established before winter.

Q Is there any grant aid available?

A Depending on how long you keep the crop, this type of brood strip could qualify as either an unharvested or unfertilised cereal headland, as part of the current Stewardship schemes. Since our strips are re-established each autumn, we do not leave them long enough for the higher paying unharvested option. In practice, it may be best to accept that these strips are a small extra conservation measure that is hardly worth ‘claiming’ for. This also gives you the freedom to manage them as you wish if any problems arise, without having to worry about complying with the rules.

Our Advisory Service

Learn more about the services our advisory team provide including face-to-face advisory visits.



Friday, 10 October 2014

What the GWCT thinks of Defra's statement on their hen harrier recovery plan

Photo: Laurie Campbell
by Andrew Gilruth - @AndrewGilruth 

Defra has provided a 300 word response to the e-petition asking for the publication of their hen harrier recovery plan. What does it tell us? A great deal. Defra could have just said “we are continuing to look at it”. The fact they provided such a clear and positive response should be welcomed by all those that signed the e-petition (and others interested in the recovery of the hen harrier population).

My observations are:

1) Defra are still working hard on their plan – “seeking final agreement”. Sounds good to me.
2) Defra are clearly focused on the outcome – recognising the plan will need to be “pragmatic”.

Tellingly they recognise:

a) Urgent action is required: the English”…hen harrier populations are so low that recovery across their former range is unlikely to occur unaided”. We can no longer just sit and talk. A plan ready to be put in place before the next breeding season is significant

b) Additional targeted action required: “the Government considers that hen harriers merit additional action to reverse the decline in their population numbers”. Actions that have not yet been used in England will be required? Let’s hope so because Langholm Moor indicates we will need to do just that. After 7 years of diversionary feeding there is still no grouse shooting.

c) Pragmatic solution is needed: “since the Sub-Group members all have a role to play in delivering the suite of actions, it is important to secure as much agreement as possible before publication so that it can be implemented in the co-operative and pragmatic way needed to help the recovery of the hen harrier in England”.

d) Secure as much agreement as possible: Sounds, to me, like the Defra team are quite clear about what they want to do with their plan. Defra are not saying they will wait for everyone to sign up to every detail. Fair enough. This recent survey indicates 67% of RSPB members (a good proxy for those passionate about birds) support translocation (7% opposed). 

The Defra statement indicates the publication of the Defra-led hen harrier recovery plan may be closer than we all think.

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✓ summary of the issues and arguments surrounding a proposed ban on driven grouse shooting
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This week's GWCT blogs - Hen Harriers & Defra, Peter Wilson, Cornish Farmers, RSPB, Gritting

Please take a look at the new blogs published by the GWCT this week:

What the GWCT thinks of Defra's statement on their hen harrier recovery plan (GWCT News)

Our reaction to Defra's response to the Hen Harrier recovery plan petition.
Read more >

Following in Peter Wilson's footsteps (GWCT News)

Find out how Olympic Gold winner Peter Wilson started out at one of our Young Shooter's days when he was just 14.
Read more >

Cornish farmers - doing their bit for wildlife (Peter Thompson's Blog)

Peter Thompson visits Cornwall and sees first hand how farmers are helping wildlife.
Read more >

Your chance to find out what the RSPB think about shooting (GWCT News)

The RSPB's Chief Executive Mike Clarke has agreed to give a talk at our forthcoming annual conference on 29th October.
Read more >

Time for a gritting holiday? (GWCT News)

GWCT Advisor Hugo Straker suggests taking a year off from using medicated grit to help safeguard the future of your grouse.
Read more >

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Thursday, 9 October 2014

Following in Peter Wilson's footsteps

The next GWCT Young Shooter’s day will be held during half term week near Newmarket on the 29th October. This course proves very popular, and is a great way of introducing youngsters to shooting whilst also giving them a good understanding of conservation and game management in the modern countryside. In fact, Olympic gold medallist Peter Wilson first discovered his talent for clay shooting on this very course!

Peter said “I was just 14 and entered a small competition during the young shots day, which aimed to introduce youngsters to all that’s involved in running a day’s game shooting. I had not shot clays before and I won. I loved the competitive part, especially winning and since then I have not looked back”.

The emphasis is very much on outdoor activities, and as well as shooting, the day gives an insight into the biology and conservation of our most valued game and wildlife species. Students do not need any specialist equipment but need to come prepared with outdoor clothing and sturdy foot wear. The course is open to all boys and girls aged between 12 and 15 years.

During the day students will:

• Receive training in the safe use and maintenance of shotguns
• Get the chance to shoot clays under the guidance of a professional shooting coach (shotguns and safety equipment provided)
• Learn about sportsmanship and identifying quarry species
• Learn about predation control in game and wildlife conservation
• Learn how best to conserve game and farmland wildlife

The course is very kindly supported by the Norman Clark Memorial Fund, Norman was an immensely popular shooting instructor at Holland & Holland.

Tickets are £48 inc VAT and this covers shooting tuition, gun hire, safety equipment, cartridges, clays and lunch.

Book your place - limited availability

You can book your place online or by calling on Lynda Ferguson: 01425 651013.


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Your chance to find out what the RSPB think about shooting

We're very pleased that the RSPB's Chief Executive Mike Clarke has agreed to give a talk at our forthcoming annual conference on 29th October. Mike will be talking about the role of shooting in conservation and this is your chance to ask him questions.

Members and non-members are welcome to attend the conference which is taking place at the Royal Geographical Society in London and you can book your place here. Be quick though - tickets are selling out fast.
GWCT Adviser Peter Thompson will be talking
about delivering conservation on a landscape level

In addition to Mike, Sir John Randall will also be speaking about the importance of the GWCT's research and making it widely available.

It's going to be a packed day with lots of opportunities to quiz our scientists and guest speakers. You can view the full agenda here.

Book your place - limited availability

You can book your tickets easily online or by contacting us on 01425 651010.

P.S There is an optional tour of the RGS Collections – “Icons of Exploration: material relating to Livingstone,  Stanley, Shackleton and Scott”. This will need to be booked in advance. 

Event details

Location: Ondaatje Theatre, Royal Geographical Society, 1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AR (Entrance: Exhibition Road Doors)

Date: 29 October 2014
Time: 10:00am to 4:00pm
Price: £40.00 (members), £60 (non-members), £10 (optional tour)
Telephone: 01425 651010
Email: membersconference@gwct.org.uk

Monday, 6 October 2014

Time for a gritting holiday?

by Hugo Straker, Advisory Department

Medicated grit, developed through GWCT research, has led to a “golden age of grouse”, giving even lean years a population rivalling the best of the ‘boom and bust’ cycles. It’s been an unqualified success.

But as tempting as it might be to keep up the gritting regimens that have delivered worm burdens of zero, taking a year off from gritting can safeguard the future of your grouse. Research has shown that parasitic worms in livestock can develop resistance to drugs in 3-5 years; with a short generation time, low and frequent drug doses, and high prevalence, strongyle worms tick all the boxes that suggest resistance is likely to happen.

A gritting holiday makes it less likely for worms to develop resistance, avoiding the huge cost and productivity implications that resistant strains will cause. When resistance develops, our current drugs become increasingly useless and the battle is already lost.

Our scientists have been working with several moors since 2011 to test the impact of gritting holidays. These early studies have shown that they can maintain low worm burdens while minimising the risk of resistance.

Grouse Technical Services aim to address issues affecting grouse productivity on a long-term basis, and there’s arguably no issue that better exemplifies poor practice putting short-term gain ahead of long-term sustainability than overuse of worming medication. We perform worm counts as one aspect of our services and can help to develop your medicated grit strategy, bringing expert advice backed up by the latest research.

Find out more about Grouse Technical Services >