The following letter by GWCT Chief Executive Teresa Dent was sent to The Times following Matt Ridley's recent piece 'Gamekeepers are one of nature's best friends':
9 year study we carried out between 2000 and 2008 (Comment, 11th August). We studied curlew, golden plover and lapwing, and showed that predation control as normally undertaken by grouse keepers improved the breeding success of these scarce breeding birds by an average of three and a half times. This matters, and as the RSPB recently highlighted “the curlew is Britain’s largest wading bird and is in trouble. The consensus is that low breeding success principally from predation of eggs and chicks …is driving declines”. From an international perspective curlew is our highest conservation priority bird species.
The north Pennines SPA (Special Protection Area) is designated for 3,930 pairs of curlew and within its boundaries are 40 grouse moors employing 115 game keepers. When the SPA was surveyed between 2005 and 2007 curlew numbers were at 5,454 pairs – better than the designation.
The RSPB is right to call for more breeding hen harriers in the English uplands, but let’s make sure that is not at the expense of grouse moor management, or the loser could well be our ‘highest conservation priority bird species’. Our experimental study found that areas of the north Pennines with no predator control would lose curlew at a rate 17% per annum, equivalent to 84% over 10 years.
The Hen Harrier Joint Recovery Programme is designed to create the balance that achieves more harriers, but not at the expense of other species, or the very management that creates the conditions under which they thrive. We are keen for Defra to publish its Plan - in getting it this far, Defra has succeeded in significantly moving forward resolution of the very genuine wildlife conflict which Matt Ridley spelled out – whether his article was as evocative as the call of the curlew I shall leave others to judge.
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust