Monday, 29 September 2014

Mark Avery - gets it right… and wrong

by Andrew Gilruth - @AndrewGilruth

Last week the GWCT wrote a blog post “Sadness as Hen Harrier chicks go missing”. As a fact based conservation charity the GWCT did not use pictures of staff looking sad. Nor was there suggestive speculation that “…it was the keepers who done it…”

This appears to have been too much for Mark. He suggests the GWCT is not on the “same side as nature conservationists”. Daft. The GWCT is on nature’s side… like… conservationists. He is right that the GWCT does not lash out at farmers, gamekeepers or politicians on a regular basis – so it is true that we are not like all conservationists.

It is also true we have spent thousands of hours on the ground in the uplands to monitor and understand the facts. That is why we have not supported Mark’s petition to ban driven grouse shooting in England. He is absolutely right to confirm there is no evidence we represent the views of grouse shooters. Good. The GWCT is a charity. We are not a representative organisation.

We have contributed to and support the proposed Defra-led recovery plan for hen harriers. It focuses on success. It aims to see a healthy population of English hen harriers – alongside sustainable grouse shooting. Most importantly for the GWCT it will retain the conservation benefits to other threatened species delivered by gamekeepers.

The science behind the hen harrier recovery plan is settled. There remain a few conservationists arguing that the public will find the idea of adopting a successful conservation technique used for 15 years in France as ‘unacceptable’. A recent opinion poll said quite the opposite. Let’s hope a hen harrier recovery plan is in place before the next breeding season.

Chris Packham – “So grouse moors are good for ecology?”

by Andrew Gilruth - @AndrewGilruth 

Chris Packham asked me this after reading a mountain hare culling story in yesterday’s Scottish Sunday Herald. He was right to ask - the feature was packed with emotion….
“massacre”… “extermination”… “slaughter”…

… there were few facts. Some facts were wrong. Both OneKind (an Edinburgh-based animal welfare group) and the RSPB were reported as stating the national mountain hare population is “declining”.

Is it? The recent reports of a 45% decline in hares were derived from mountain hares counted whilst people were surveying for birds, not hares. When we actually surveyed for hares we found that over 80% of the UK’s mountain hare population is in Scotland. The GWCT established in 2008 that the Scottish range of mountain hares is not shrinking. Range contraction is often the first sign of a population in trouble. And our very long term data suggests changes in numbers of hares by more than ten-fold are quite natural. See GWCT National Gamebag Census data and Mammal Society for more on mountain hares.

UK National Gamebag Census data for mountain hares (1901-2009)
The story could have reported mountain hares seem to do best in areas managed for red grouse. Intensive fox control and rotational burning by keepers appears to benefit both grouse and hares. Scottish mountain hare densities are regularly ten times higher than are typical in other European counties. As the Mammal Society states:

“Their [mountain hare] numbers have declined locally where favorable habitat such as former grouse moors has been afforested or heather has been removed by excessive grazing by other animals. Young forestry plantations can support high densities of hares which sometimes cause significant damage to trees, but these high densities decline once the forest canopy closes, and the ground vegetation is diminished.”

There has been a good deal of media activity recently about culling mountain hares to prevent disease being transmitted by tick. Our research suggests that hares can be culled as part of a tick disease control; ultimately this will support grouse numbers and thus hares. And it is worth noting that:

1) We still commonly see hares even in areas where there are intensive culls suggesting that the population may be more robust than some think.
2) Regular shooting may well be necessary on some moors to prevent numbers getting too high and damaging the heather.
3) EU legislation seeks to promote sustainable management of mountain hares, not protection per se. There is no evidence that such culls are not sustainable at this stage.

However, we have always been clear that the priority for disease control should be deer reduction hand-in-hand with treated sheep before considering hare culls. If hares are locally lower than peak numbers we think moors should consult neighbours to make sure shooting and natural declines are not coupled across large landscape areas.

I have not checked that Ralph Percy, the 12th Duke of Northumberland, has been listed by Country Life magazine as one of the UK’s top aristocratic landowners. Nor that his grouse moor is 8000 acres. I will leave that to others… as a commentator from Ireland recently said on the Raptor Persecution Scotland website

“We had lots of biodiversity [in Ireland] before we made upland moor management impossible. We were more concerned with getting rid of the owners simply because of historical conflicts. We also got rid of the heritage that these landowners protected. The UK’s uplands are one of the wonders of the world. These Uplands continue to inspire milions [sic] of visitors and have done for centuries.

The biodiversity and beauty they contain are not just natural. This beauty is part of the UK heritage. Grouse moors are as intimately connected with this heritage as The Beatles are with Liverpool. People can support strange truths when heritage collides with politics.”

Friday, 26 September 2014

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Sadness as Hen Harrier chicks go missing

It was reported with great sadness yesterday that two of the 16 hen harrier chicks that fledged in England this year have gone missing.

The satellite tags fitted to them in the Forest of Bowland have stopped transmitting. These transmitters, the same as those used by the GWCT on woodcock, can fail but it is highly unusual. On rare occasions they can suddenly start transmitting again but from our experience that tends to be after a bird has been sitting on a nest and the bird moves back into sunlight and the battery is able to recharge.

Every hen harrier chick matters. As Bob Elliot, RSPB Head of Investigations, pointed out the loss of signal from these two birds (three days apart) suggest either natural predation or human intervention as the likely cause. Either way, it is desperately sad news. Chris Packham has highlighted technology is on our side and we need to keep watching.

The English hen harrier population is too low. The species needs its own action plan and Defra has committed to producing one. Let's hope it gets published soon so it can be properly debated and hopefully implemented at the earliest opportunity.

A report from the Midland Game Fair

by Austin Weldon, GWCT Advisory Team

I’ve just returned from two very enjoyable days at the Midland Game Fair in Shropshire. Not as big as the mighty CLA but certainly a great day out with plenty of variety on show and well worth a look if you have the time next year.

Our membership recruiters, David Thurgood and Steve Richardson booked a bigger stand than usual and we filled it with examples of fox snaring dos and dont's and best practice guidance. We also had the new DOC trap from New Zealand exhibited by Dave Butler from Perdix Wildlife Supplies and Dawn Warr from Dorset, a wonderfully talented artist and taxidermist.

We welcomed a number of new members whose support is greatly appreciated and will help to fund future research. It’s great to see that some of these are younger people which is so vital to the future of our countryside.

We have had great success with our fox snaring demonstrations this year at both the CLA and midland game fair. It’s apparent that wildlife managers and gamekeepers are keen to ensure they follow best practice and understand the current legislation governing this method of managing foxes. Here is a link to our snaring guidance booklet, it contains important information for snaring practitioners.

Our advisory department also offer fox snaring training days which represent superb value and can even be combined with corvid training for those with limited time. If you would like more information please click here.

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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Cover Crop update from the Allerton Project

The spring and summer period has been a very busy one for James Watchorn (project gamekeeper) and Richard Barnes (senior advisor, Kings Crops) as the establishment of a range of innovative habitat features continues.

Kings’ support of the stewardship crops at the Allerton Project is now in its third year and the team are starting to reap the rewards of a varied and beneficial crop mix. The combination of annual, biennial and perennial crops now meets the needs of a host of species, ranging from invertebrates through to a wide range of farmland birds. Integrating different crops within each plot site is enabling the management workload to be spread and, most importantly, is providing year-round continuity of habitat across the farm.

There has been a broad range of visitors to the farm over the summer months and the crops provide a fantastic backdrop and highlight the benefits of game management. The different mixes allow the discussion to be relevant and informative regardless of the group’s background or initial key interests.

Of particular note have been the autumn-sown wild bird seed mixtures and a demonstration of perennial wild flower, nectar flower and holding crops. The autumn-sown wild bird seed mix provides essential brood-rearing and insect-rich cover from early April to July as well as food through the following winter. This complements the perennial mixtures, which offer the continuity of cover and insect availability all year round.

FREE Game Cover Crops Guide

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Monday, 22 September 2014

Gamewise magazine - winter 2014 issue previewed

The latest issue of Gamewise, our exclusive members' magazine, will hit doorsteps at the start of October so here is a quick preview of what's inside:

Conservation News

Raising our game in a challenging world

Teresa Dent joins the board of NE

Owen Paterson visits the Allerton Project

CLA Game Fair and the Julian Gardner
photographic award winners

Former chairman Charles Williams

Expert Advice

Expert advice for October to March, brood cover Q&As


Shrubby cover Q&As, gritting holidays, creating a beetle bank

Latest courses, books, shooting sticks Conservation Features

Open Farm Sunday, cover crop corner, all change for Stewardship, recycling

Graham Hartwell from BASF explains how big businesses and wildlife conservation charities can work together

Helping to boost lapwing chick survival

Publishing the hen harrier Joint Recovery Plan

An update on the satellite-tagged birds and concerns for our resident population

Sign up for the second Big Farmland Bird Count taking place next February


Teresa Dent reflects on the Game Fairs

Letters, membership survey competition

Research, news, Common Agricultural Policy, Scottish Fair, education and events

Mike Short shares his recipe for crispy kale

This season’s Christmas cards, gifts and sweepstakes

A round-up of events around the UK

Plan your autumn/winter - events from October to March

What’s hot

Last year’s winner of the GWCT Cotswold Grey Partridge Trophy and new trustee Richard Benyon MP

Not a GWCT member yet?

If you'd like to receive Gamewise and enjoy the other benefits of supporting the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust you can join online for just £5 per month. Our team of dedicated scientists couldn't conduct their vital, ground-breaking research without the support of our members so your support would be highly appreciated.

Friday, 19 September 2014

10 public goods and services delivered by grouse moor management

We've recently published a new guide entitled 'Making the most of moorland' which you can download FREE here.

The points below are taken from the guide and list the public goods and services that grouse moor management help deliver:

1. Employment and investment in remote rural areas

2. A key cultural landscape

3. Support for nature-based recreation

4. Reduced risk of damaging wildfires

5. Carbon storage

6. Flood risk alleviation

7. An alternative to and mitigation of forestry, farming and renewables in the uplands

8. Retention and restoration of heather moorland

9. Conservation of globally important ground-nesting species such as waders

10. Bracken and tick control, benefitting graziers

Get your FREE grouse moor management guide

Find out more about grouse moor management and the role sporting management plays in sustaining our upland ecosystems. Get your FREE guide - click here >

Monday, 15 September 2014

It’s all a question of balance - our letter to The Times

Below is a letter written to The Times by Professor Chris Stoate of our Allerton Project in response to a letter entitled 'Magpie Menace', published on Monday 15th September:

Dear Sir

The whole tragedy about our declining bird populations is that in most instances we know what to do but we are not doing enough of it and well.

In urban gardens cats might certainly contribute to declines, but in the countryside there are a myriad of other threats that face vulnerable birds – foxes, crows, magpies, all of which have been increasing in number and provide a major threat during the breeding season to vulnerable birds. 

On our research farm, the Allerton Project in Leicestershire, we wanted to test the benefits of a game management system.  We analysed 11 years of nest data from 6 songbird species on 3 lowland farms, with and without game management. 

Monitoring nesting success when predator control was carried out showed that this resulted in increased nesting success for five of the six species. More importantly, there were also increases in numbers – blackbird from 66 to 143; song thrush 14 to 64 and chaffinch 135 to 229 over a six-year period.  An increase in the now scarce spotted flycatcher could also be linked to an improvement in nesting success.

Good conservation is about providing the right mix of conditions that enable populations, not just individuals to thrive, such as creating the right habitats, protection from predators and providing supplementary food. Land managers just need the right incentive and advice to make this happen.

It’s all a question of balance.

Professor Chris Stoate
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust Allerton Project

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Friday, 12 September 2014

This week's blog posts from the GWCT

Take a look at the different blog posts published from across the GWCT this week:

A great new opportunity (Allerton Project Blog)

We are to be part of a major new Defra initiative called the Sustainable Intensification Platform (SIP). Read more >

'Shooting for the Future' course - book your place today (GWCT News)

We're once again working with BASC in partnership to deliver a two-day course to help improve shoot management and shooting skill. Read more >

We have to be brave and realistic when making decisions (GWCT News)

Letter written by Dr Andrew Hoodless and published by The Times in response to their recent piece on hunting. Read more >

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First Woodcock Watch location updates for September (Woodcock Watch Blog)

We've received our first location updates for September from a number of our tagged woodcock. Read more >

Hen Harrier Joint Recovery Plan petition passes 10,000 (GWCT News)

We're pleased to announce that the petition calling for Defra to publish the Hen Harrier Joint Recovery Plan has passed the 10,000 signatures mark. Read more >

A particularly "buzzy" Sunday morning! (Peter Thompson's Blog)

You might well imagine that there could not be a gentler, more relaxing pastime, than setting a moth trap over-night and then sitting down with a cup of coffee in the morning, to find out what might have got itself caught...Read more >

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Wednesday, 10 September 2014

'Shooting for the Future' course - book your place today

We're once again working with BASC in partnership to deliver a two-day course to help improve shoot management and shooting skill. The course will be taking place at our Allerton Project in Leicestershire on 26th and 27th September and will be delivered by experts in their field, based on up-to-date research and current good practice thinking.

The course will be divided into two days: the first will concentrate on shooting techniques and the second day will focus on modern shoot management activities.

Day one - shooting techniques
  • interactive sessions discussing wounding loss in the field and factors responsible for poor shooting.
  • practical activities including shooting skill exercise, range-judging and patterning workshop.
  • advice from BASC shotgun coaches who will spend two to three hours with each group working on individual shooting skills.
  • constructive feedback session.
Day two - modern shoot management
  • presentations explaining guidelines that help shoots maintain health and welfare of birds, ensuring good returns and high quality sport.
  • afternoon visit to a working shoot, to see hands-on how to put guidelines into practice.
Book your place today - special rates available

Each day can be booked for just £65 if you are a GWCT or BASC member (£100 for non-members) or both days can be booked for a special discounted rate of £120 (£170 for non-members). All fees include the cost of clays, cartridges, lunch and refreshments.

Book for day one - shooting techniques >

Book for day two - modern shoot management >

Book for both days >

Please contact Lynda Ferguson on 01425 651013 or at if you wish to book for a special discounted rate.

We have to be brave and realistic when making decisions

Below is a letter written by Dr Andrew Hoodless of the GWCT in response to a recent piece in The Times on hunting. The letter was published by The Times on Thursday 11th September:

Dear Sir

Chris Packham and Clive Aslet are right that we now have to be brave and realistic when making decisions about restoring our precarious wildlife populations (So we’re agreed: animals have to be hunted - Comment 9/9/2014).

We have studied lapwing populations in the Avon Valley in Hampshire since the 1990s and recent surveys indicate that despite habitat improvements aimed at waders, between 1980 and 2013 lapwing numbers declined from 260 pairs to 71 pairs.

We have monitored 296 nests of which 44% failed due to predation. The total proportion of nests lost was 53%, the difference was down to flooding and trampling.  Data from miniature temperature loggers in 39 predated nests revealed that 49% of nests were predated at night, and were likely to have been taken by mammals such as foxes, with 41% taken during the day, most likely by corvids or gulls.

Clearly, maintaining or restoring appropriate habitat is essential, but, at least in the short-term, some relief from predation seems necessary to enable populations to recover. There is no doubt that lapwings and other waders are in serious trouble. However, 30 farmers in the Avon Valley are working together at a landscape scale to try and save the lapwing. They will seek to reduce predation in this lowland river valley because without  some commitment to reverse these declines, we are likely to lose 50% of these wonderful birds in the next five years. 

Dr Andrew Hoodless
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Our Lapwing Appeal

Click here to find out how you can help support our vital Lapwing work.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Hen Harrier Recovery Plan petition passes 10,000

We're pleased to announce that the petition calling for Defra to publish the Hen Harrier Joint Recovery Plan has passed the 10,000 signatures mark. This means that Defra are now obliged to respond to us in writing.

The petition was launched at the recent CLA Game Fair meaning it took only 49 days for it to gain the required 10,000 signatures.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has signed the petition and supported it by spreading the word. Without your help we would not have been able to get to 10,000 so quickly.

Stay updated on Hen Harriers

We'll have more news for you on this subject as soon as it breaks so please sign up for our FREE newsletter to ensure you don't miss out.

Friday, 5 September 2014

This week's blog posts from the GWCT

It's been a very busy blogging week here at the GWCT, check out this week's new posts here:

Grey Partridge re-introduction courses in northern England (GWCT News)

Land use and water quality (Allerton Project Blog)

Tweets from the 'Controversial Conservation' debate (GWCT News)

British food self sufficiency (Peter Thompson's Blog)

Agenda confirmed for 2014 GWCT Conference (GWCT News)

Farms and shoots show there is light on the horizon (GWCT News)

August Snapshot (Loddington Estate Blog)

GWCT shortlisted as finalists in the 2014 Energy Awards (GWCT News)

Farming - some thoughts from the people! (Peter Thompson's Blog)

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Grey Partridge re-introduction courses in northern England

Our advisory team are running two Grey Partridge re-introduction days in northern England on 1st and 2nd October.

The days are being run together with Perdix Wildlife Supplies Ltd and will consist of a combination of practical displays and presentations covering:
  • habitat management
  • predation control
  • rearing and releasing methods
The course is designed to help anyone looking to increase the number of grey partridges on their farm and will be taken by Dr Roger Draycott from our Advisory Department, leading Grey Partridge Biologist Dr Francis Buner, and Dr David Butler from Perdix Wildlife, a Game Biologist.


Tickets are just £25 each including VAT and each course runs from 10.00am to 3.30pm.

1st October - Raisthorpe Manor, North Yorkshire

Book now for 1st October >

2nd October - The George Hotel, Piercebridge

Book now for 2nd October >

For further information, please contact Lynda Ferguson at or call 01425 651013. Early booking is recommended as places are limited.

“The course really was a success. It was very interesting, educational and enjoyable. It has certainly boosted the enthusiasm around this glen. I think everyone locally agreed that they had learnt something new. If only all courses were like that!”

Duncan Mackenzie, Headkeeper at Clune and Corrybrough Estate

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Tweets from the 'Controversial Conservation' debate

The World Land Trust hosted a debate on 2nd September entitled 'Controversial Conservation' featuring Chris Packham, Bill Oddie, Mark Avery and Andrew Gilruth of the GWCT.

Listen to the debate online

You can listen to the debate online by clicking here.

Below are a selection of tweets from the evening.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Agenda confirmed for 2014 GWCT Members' Conference

We're pleased to be able to confirm the agenda for our annual Members' Conference which is taking place on 29th October in London.

‘Raising our Game in a Challenging World’

We want the conference to be a two-way exchange so we're encouraging discussion and questions after each speaker.

9:00 Optional tour of the RGS Collections – “Icons of Exploration: material relating to Livingstone,  Stanley, Shackleton and Scott”.  This tour must be booked in advance.

10:00 Arrival and Tea/coffee

10:30 Welcome and GWCT’s strategic policy aims - Teresa Dent, CEO
  • Strategic plan and policy aims
  • How policy works post devolution. Who does what? Where do decisions rest? 
11:00 England and lowland policy update - Alastair Leake, Director of Policy
  • Common Agricultural Policy & recent developments on “greening” of agricultural payments; Integrating game management techniques into New Environmental Land Management Schemes,( NELMS).
  • Outcome of recent review of Open and General Licences; Law Commission Review of Wildlife Law; Asulam and the future of bracken control; Lead ammunition review
11:40 ‘Scots on the Rocks’; the struggle for sustainable uplands - Adam Smith, Director Scotland
12:10 The value of shooting to conservation - Mike Clarke, CEO RSPB

12:40 Lunch, Tea & Coffee

13:50 The importance of GWCT-published research being made widely available - Sir John Randall MP

14:20 The Allerton Project - Alastair Leake, Head of Project
  • Progress & future plans for GWCT’s demonstration farm 
  • The shoot, crop agronomy & soil management, visitors centre, partnership working
14:50 Delivering conservation  on a landscape scale - Peter Thompson, Advisory Services
  • GWCT’s future plans for developing cluster farms
15:20 Woodcock: Current understanding of population status & migration patterns - Andrew Hoodless, Head of Wetland Research

15:50 Closing remarks - Ian Coghill, Chairman

16:00 Close

Book your place - limited availability

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

Farms and shoots show there is light on the horizon

Below is a letter written by Peter Thompson in response to The Telegraph's recent article entitled 'UK Wagtail numbers almost halved, report warns':

Dear Sir

Wagtail numbers like many other UK birds are suffering declines (UK Wagtail numbers almost halved, report 1st September). According to the BTO’s Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) other once familiar birds such as grey partridge and skylark are replicating this pattern. But there is light on the horizon.

According to our research where farms and shooting estates have been putting in place targeted options such as summer insect rich habitats, wild bird seed mixes and leaving over-winter stubbles, while also practising legal, targeted predator control, monitoring through our Partridge Count Scheme, has shown a positive increase in numbers. Between 2000-2010, we have recorded an 79% increase in grey partridge pairs on estates that are monitoring their birds as well as implementing year- round management.

This targeted management would work equally well for skylarks and although yellow wagtail migrate over-winter, they would also benefit from summer activities carried out on farms targeting grey partridge recovery.

Peter Thompson
Farmland Biodiversity Advisor
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

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Monday, 1 September 2014

GWCT shortlisted as finalists in the 2014 Energy Awards

We're very proud to announce that our Allerton Project visitor & training centre has been named as a finalist in the 2014 Energy Awards.

We've been shortlisted in the Energy Efficient Building Project of the Year category with the awards take place on 2nd December.

The centre was opened in June 2012 and was converted from a derelict cattle shed by architect Sylvester Cheung. Building materials were sourced from the fields at Allerton including straw for the walls and sheep fleece for insulation. Hot water and heating are provided by the burning of wood chip in the centre's biomass boiler whilst rain water is collected for use in the toilets and showers. Electricity is provided by 16 roof-mounted solar panels.

Below are some numbers that demonstrate the savings we've been able to make:

£3,352 saved on oil costs. Instead 14.5 tonnes of wood has been burnt by the woodchip boiler, cutting our CO2 by 13.8 tonnes.

£225 - the cost of producing our own fuel – 90 tonnes of woodchip. Based on chipping cost at £15 per tonne.

5,930 kilowatts of electrical power have been produced by our solar panels, saving us £711 compared with purchasing from the grid. It has also brought in income through the Feed In Tariff payments, which have generated £2,490. This has reduced our CO2 emissions by 3.11 tonnes.

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