Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Launch of the Birds of Spurn !

On Sunday I went across to the official book launch associated with the " Birds of Spurn". This was held at Westmere Farm ( where Spurn Mig Fest activities have been held ) and was a roaring success. I admit to having an ulterior motive in that, after living on the Isle of Islay for 16 years, I was looking forward to seeing some familiar faces following my return to South Yorkshire. I enjoyed things, thoroughly and absolutely, but no way  was it intended as  "my day " but that of the author, Andy Roadhouse.

And so we all met in the converted barn at the farm in eager anticipation of getting our hands on a copy of the book.  What people need to appreciate is that during the compilation of the book Andy has been ill with terminal cancer. There were times when circumstances were pretty bad , but throughout the whole of those times his doggedness and sheer tenacity have shone through culminating in what is a first class publication.  I'll put out a review of the actual book later, but suffice to say that I am the proud owner of a copy !!  Copies will be available at the BirdFair and , similarly, copies can be ordered via the Observatory. get yours now !!

Here's Andy signing copies for the awaiting throng.  Since the inception of formal activities in recent times, all of which are covered in the book, an amazing number of species has been recorded at Spurn and an unimaginable amount of migration tabulated.  What has not been (dared ) mentioned is that, with the breach in the peninsula in recent years, we may now be seeing the end of Spurn as many people know it and, therefore, this will be a modern history of the ornithological significance of a particularly important area.  Hopefully, Spurn as is at the moment will continue to be in place for many years to come, but things may change dramatically in the next decade or so and so this book will serve as a very detailed , intimate history of an important UK ornithological site. The halcyon days of Spurn, a major contribution to ornithological literature and an absolute gem of a "memory bank" for so many people.  Get your copy whilst you can !!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

E-petition to ban grouse shooting exceeds 100,000 signatures !

As I write this at 1800 hours on the 13th August the E-petition to ban grouse shooting has reached  103,068 signatures !!!!   And all this the day after the so called "Glorious Twelfth "  celebrating the commencement of the grouse slaughter season.


You know 100,000 signatures of opposition reached the day after your "celebration" is like having a 21st party and then, the day after, countless people expressing the wish that you'd never been born !!   Not the endorsement I'd take heart from.

This opposition will grow, without a doubt.  The fact is that it's no longer just opposition to the activity but the environmental consequences now wrapped up in the chosen management of grouse moors, the unrelenting persecution of raptors and the side effects, such as flooding, which the management contributes to.  It all started with the somewhat transparent intention to wop the conservationists and rid the landscape of Hen Harriers......sadly other research has now emerged that hardens the case against the whole activity whose "back is very much against the wall".  The absence of any peer group initiative aimed at improvements to the situation, the rather misguided use of ill-prepared spokesmen and distorted "defence" arguments have gone a long way to pouring further discredit on the pastime.

Arrogance, insularity, thuggish behaviour on social media and an insistence at remaining above the law will simply harden peoples' resolve and intention for change.

This is the time, not to "Go Back, Go Back ",  but to take matters forward and express some sincere intention to clean up an industry whose situation is declining further and more rapidly as each day goes by.  

Friday, August 12, 2016

Latest update on the Visitor Centre, Spurn.

Just a brief entry to update the situation relating to the application by the YWT Ltd  to build a Visitor Centre at Spurn.  At its last meeting the East Yorkshire Council rejected the application, following which the YWT indicated via its website that it would take the matter to appeal.

Given that, until recently, I've lived in Scotland for 16 years I suspected that there might just be elements of the appeal process that were different in England nowadays or, indeed, had changed in the intervening period. As it is it must be close to 15 years since I was involved directly in an appeal process and then it was in the Isle of Man !

So I contacted the Council and raised various points of query that were occurring to me and yesterday, I'm pleased to say, I had a call from one of their officers to explain the situation , following which I had the opportunity to raise any further questions. I was impressed !  It was a comprehensive briefing and I hadn't actually any more queries to raise.

Basically the applicant has six months to lodge an appeal and submit the necessary details from the point at which the proposal was rejected. At this point in time no such appeal has been lodged , but it is understood that the YWT Ltd intend to do so as has been indicated on their web site.  Following these formalities being satisfied an Inspector will be appointed who will have full access to all the objections submitted previously. The objectors ( and I suspect local stakeholders  ) will be advised of the process and the arrangements and formalities involved, which includes the opportunity to submit further material as necessary. Details of the appeal itself will also be available and , of course, an indication will be made of the timescale involved.

So, there you have it thanks to an efficient Council.  It rather looks as if the process will extend into the autumn at the earliest and could well extend into the winter before things are finally determined.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Pleasure killing and management mayhem - the reality of grouse shooting?

I suspect that, tomorrow,  there will be many Press articles, Blogs, comments on Facebook and such like relating to the "Glorious 12th ", the commencement of the grouse shooting season. Rather than sit alongside  what I also suspect will be regurgitated facts, reworked summaries and repeated statistics I thought I would at least try to present something on the subject which took a slightly different approach, even if it did deal with the self same subject area.  No over emphasis here on raptor persecution,  wildlife regulations, economic relevance or E-petitions. No, I want to try and persuade people to think more deeply about what they believe grouse shooting  represents and to come to a personal judgement of its relevance and what should lie ahead.

 At the Hen Harrier Action Day at Edale on Sunday the question of "tradition" was raised. Now the Oxford English Dictionary states "  Tradition     a custom, opinion or belief handed down to posterity, especially orally or by practice . "  Some see grouse shooting as a traditional activity, but I feel the almost automatic acceptance of any such described activity being allowed to proceed into posterity needs to be questioned. But let's see !  Autumn blackberrying is a traditional pastime, enjoyed by many and harming no one, and can perhaps serve as a useful yardstick for comparative purposes.  By contrast, try a bit of independent grouse shooting and be prepared for the consequences !  So, immediately the availability of the pastime is limited to the central players ( the grouse moor owners and friends ) or to wealthy social aspirants, with relatively little relevance to the public at large.  In some senses the pastime would be described by many as elitism and, indeed, subscribe and be associated with the sector of Society that Herbert Spencer alluded to in his now discredited ideas on social Darwinism. !  Even I don't go that far !  If the story ended there then it might be largely ignored, at least tolerated, but the fact of the matter is that since its inception as an activity in Victorian times things have changed dramatically. Associated practices are now deemed to have negative environmental  impacts and be harmful , need to be questioned and regulated at best.  Nobody would advocate that female genital mutilation,  a "traditional" practice in some parts of the world is acceptable,  but there are parts of  "traditional " grouse management that are outmoded  and no more acceptable in the modern age.  Anxious cries from Uncle Hubert that things have always been done this way are somewhat irrelevant in the face of modern day research evidence that shows such outdated methods as having negative  and totally unacceptable impacts. Indeed some of the activities transgress the line in a legal context too !

   The practice of heather burning in order to provide optimum conditions for the grouse is now considered to be harmful in environmental terms.  The UK plays host to an appreciable proportion of all heather moorland habitat, but studies completed by the University of Leeds show negative side effects occurring via management that are even supported by money from the public purse in the form of Environmental Stewardship payments. Results can be read elsewhere, but show the practice to result in carbon emissions, to affect the potential for carbon capture and to contribute to circumstances leading to flash flooding in adjacent areas. In an era of ever emerging concern about climate change and of changing weather patterns practices which clearly exacerbate such circumstances must surely be held open to review for the common good?  Alongside all this is the assumed rights of management,which sees all perceived predators of grouse being removed and other wildlife such as Mountain Hares being eliminated.  What practice has any conferred right to eliminate our natural heritage in the cause of personal commercial gain and satisfaction and to do so in direct contravention of our laws ?

So it could be said that, in summary, we have an absolute minority, hell bent intent on retaining a so called "traditional "  activity that can be shown conclusively to have detrimental environmental side effects and to
be removing  constituent members of our national fauna illegally , all in the cause of fun or commercial gain.
Uhmm, time for reflection I think !  Where are its redeeming features I ask ?

Now all this ( in my personal opinion ) is bad enough , but there is one aspect of grouse shooting which I consider to be utterly repugnant and I am NOT anti-shooting per se .

Following totally artificial circumstances being created to assist grouse breeding we then see a process emerge which aims to shoot as much of "the product" as possible. No ? Then tell me of a shoot whose activities have been curtailed on the day due to the numbers of grouse shot being excessive. In fact the opposite is quite the case with large bags being the subject of pronounced pride and general promotion. This is little more than organized slaughter on what might be described as the UK's Killing Fields.  Google search the subject and exceptional days can be seen in the literature, held up as if to represent the apogee of success and attainment.  This intended bonanza of pleasure killing exemplifies what the core objectives of the practice is about, what its reputation rests on and what it feeds its commercial success on. And save us the romantic nonsense of being on the fells, the wind and sun on your face etc etc.......I've done that all my life and never raised a gun to a grouse ! And don't give me the " shooting expertise" argument either ! I watched Steve Scott secure his Olympic Bronze medal for clay shooting,  30 out of 30,  brilliant and very impressive.

There is one last aspect I'd like to touch on as it remains core to why circumstances are not being reviewed or improved when it comes to the practices of this industry, as its certainly nothing else. The sheer arrogance in which this industry operates is beyond belief. In fact, "belief" is the word as the constituent members , who in any other context would be judged to be part of the Establishment, have simply set themselves above the law , are proceeding as they think fit with "their" pursuit and to hell with the rest of us. Faced with the growing evidence of associated  " negatives"  any manager worth his/her salt would be looking closely at what might be done to improve matters. Do we see any evidence of that, do we see any peer pressure emerging, do we see any appetite for change ?  I don't believe so.  Sadly misplaced efforts containing misplaced notions, sadly supported by DEFRA, do little other than kick the prospect of an abiding solution into the long grass to accompanying chuckles from Uncle Hubert ( Saves the blighters right! ).

So, on balance , what do you think? Is this something that should be immune from review and regulation or something that deserves serious examination  and change ?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Hen Harrier Action Day, Edale, Derbyshire.

With Hen Harrier Action Days now very much in vogue ( 12 is it over the weekend ? ) I suspect all but some in Scotland enjoyed the same sort of tremendous weather which those further south were blessed with, including that in Northern Ireland. A good day, one in which solidarity with the main concern ( raptor persecution ) could stand alongside equally important emergent concerns relating to land management, climate change and flooding risk.

Edale enjoyed fine conditions throughout, a good turnout and the benefit of an informative programme provided by a variety of speakers. Against this there was ample opportunity to meet new friends, embrace old ones and generally enjoy the atmosphere.  I certainly did !  Having been absent from "mainstream" activities due to being domiciled on Islay for 16 years ( my choice, it was great too ! )  many people I bumped into were old friends . Great !!

Alan Davies very ably oversaw proceedings, perched on a ladder, to achieve better sound projection.

This was the beginning of a succession of presentations including, from, FindlayWilde  ( passion, young people, what we need to do ) which very much encapsulated what Hen Harriers represent, the new Police Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire who, in no uncertain terms, pledged both the support and the priority to be afforded all forms of wildlife crime.  A sincere undertaking that I suspect will demand a lot of hard work but which the Derbyshire "force" appear more than willing to confront.

                                                       Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire.

Following this Mark Avery set out the general picture associated with the campaign, its hopes , timescales and possible hurdles, and the immediate objective of achieving 100,00 signatures to the E-petition to ban grouse shooting  ( which has currently reached in excess of 74,000 ! )  at which point it would hopefully then achieve  a debate on the subject in Parliament.


There was more to follow  after a break for lunch and chats!

A presentation by Natalie Bennett ( Green Party Leader ), who'd travelled four hours by train to get there (!), summarized many of the environmental problems we faced , but pledged the Party's support for the banning of the outmoded, outdated activity grouse shooting currently represents, was then followed by Jon Stewart  ( National Trust ), who set out a very attractive vision for the Peak District and its future , followed by not dis-similar points presented by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.   

So, all in all, a great day with friends, colleagues and like-minded enthusiasts. Possibly the next consideration might be moving such days into the urban environment and presenting "the case" to the urban based populace as opposed to the "converted ". Certainly a lot of support for the petition has come from the inhabitants of the Hebden Bridge area, who suffered dreadful flooding in recent times, which they maintain is a consequence of the management techniques associated with the grouse moors located on the high land above their village.

But all such is for future, Today's occasion more than achieved its objectives and much more besides ! My final image is of three friends who have dedicated much to Hen Harriers , and achieved much too.  Mark Avery, the architect of the current initiative to ban grouse shooting and two dear friends, Bill Murphy and Bill Hesketh ,  who, for as long as I have known them since the late 1970's, have dedicated their lives to studying and monitoring raptors in the Forest of Bowland. For them all, this initiative  needs to succeed..