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

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 >

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.
Read more >

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.
Read more >

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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 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.

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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 >