My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
We have, today, received a response to our letter to the Moorland Association regarding our call for licensing of driven grouse moors.
While, I don't want to give a running commentary on what will now inevitably become a private conversation, this letter appeared on the Moorland Association website earlier today, so I felt it appropriate to share here.
Later this week, I shall share the principles by which any licensing system should operate.
For now, I'd welcome any thoughts on the Moorland Assocation's response.
Dr Mike ClarkeChief Executive, RSPBThe LodgeSandyBEDSSG19 2DL
The Moorland Association welcomes the RSPB’s support for sustainable grouse moors that “provide a safe home for birds of prey and other threatened species” and agrees that “our amazing upland wildlife” needs our collective care. Thank you for your letter.
I can assure you that the aim of the Moorland Association is to encourage and promote the conservation and enhancement of the ecology and natural beauty of heather moorland. We take great pride in the flora and fauna that are doing well under the careful management of our members; the black grouse, ring ouzel, merlin, lapwing, golden plover and curlew are just a few amber or red listed birds that have refuges on driven grouse moors. All are benefiting directly from grouse moor gamekeepers undertaking predator control and habitat management funded by grouse shooting.
As red grouse are wild, sympathetic management of the moors is all our members can do to safeguard the population and encourage a viable surplus to then be harvested by shooting. With that in mind, it makes no sense to deliberately ‘damage or destroy’ the very habitat on which the grouse depend.
Over 70% of grouse moors are designated as SSSI for flora and fauna largely delivered by the way grouse moors have been managed so well over the last 200 years, with 96% in favourable recovering condition. Clearly, there is still room for improvement, but with designation comes regulation and the Moorland Association feels that a further regulatory framework is at least unnecessary red tape and at worst could be damaging to the huge progress now being made with statutory and other bodies on peatland restoration on grouse moors. Equally, the hen harrier conflict is well recognised and we hope to see Defra’s Joint Recovery Plan, which you have helped write, signed off and implemented so that we can build on the success of this year’s breeding on moorland managed for red grouse in Bowland across England in a sustainable way.
The definition of what sustainable and successful land management in the uplands looks like is perhaps the nub of the question that needs answering. The Moorland Association, whose members look after one fifth of the uplands of England and Wales, need to work with you and other partners and through constructive dialogue create a Code of Practice for all upland land managers based on clear outcomes that also take into consideration the multiple objectives of the land use; be they water quality, conservation, agriculture, access and grouse moor management. Surely a healthy abundance of a suite of waders and an economically thriving local upland community are just as important as re-wetting the moors and encouraging sphagnum moss growth to clean water and lock up carbon?
This is challenging work, but I am sure we are more than tenacious enough to rise to it and rediscover the common ground that I think we still share.
The Chairman and I look forward to meeting you to discuss in the near future.
Amanda Anderson BSc., MSc., PGCEDirector
I wrote to all members of the Hen Harrier Sub-group about the action plan last year and received prompt responses from the RSPB and GWCT, but never heard back from the Moorland Association.
A Code of Practice would suit them fine, as that would be a system of self-regulation - in other words, a document that could be circulated to sympathetic contacts in the media, published, then ignored while the status quo continues.
And what's meant by the line about waders at the end - is it some sort of ghoulish pact they're offering? You look the other way while we slaughter raptors and we'll help boost numbers of Golden Plover?
The shooters like to offer platitudes about harriers, especially their PR wing the GWCT, but I'm afraid that this frankly appalling blog, which appeared on the Modern Gamekeeping website last December, shows what they really think www.moderngamekeeping.com/.../did-you-hear-the-one-about .
Then there was the recently publicised case in Scotland where eye witnesses saw a Hen Harrier hunted down and shot dead on a grouse moor and the Scottish Gamekeepers came out with an embarrassing response, which effectively boiled down to, 'keep your f***ing noses out of our business'.
Mr Ibis - I can assure you that plan to publicly campaign for this.
I agree with Red Kite that the Moorland Association letter is mainly directed at politicians and believe that it fails to address many of Mike Clarke's questions. I disagree with him strongly however that the discussion should once again retreat behind closes doors! The RSPB have been following this strategy for a long time with no apparent progress made. That is exactly what the MA want, long term delaying tactics. Now that the RSPB has come out of the closet it should stay out and strongly argue it's case in public.
Martin, I agree with the comments of redkite. In addition I do have concerns that have been with me since the 3 Harrier Nests were announced. We seem to have fallen into the trap of regarding the increase this year as a success and this has been picked up by the Moorland Association who are going to make the best use they can of those comments. As redkite also indicates I still have this feeling that somehow there are groups that wants legislation replaced by a code of practice.
There is an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting in the UK:
The more people that sign it the more exposure the conflict will get. The letter from the Moorland Association is all very well but the term "predator control" is too wide and far too generic. The reason Hen Harriers are persecuted is because they are seen as predators - so it is meaningless in the context of saving the Hen Harrier from extinction in this country.
I think my initial thoughts area as follows, firstly the tone of the letter seems fairly constructive and does not seem to be a flat rejection of Mike Clarke's letter which might possibly have been the case. Secondly I think the letter is written with a third party in mind, namely the politicians. In other words the tone is trying to be constructive but at the same time saying no to any regulation. Thirdly there is scant consideration of the persecution of birds of prey in the letter. The tone is still one of "controlling predators".
The issue will want caredful handling by the RSPB and to be successful probably much of the discussions will need to be behind the scenes, away from the media, publicity and the websites. However if this fails, in the last resort, publicity and demonstration may be the only way to put right what is currently a terrible situation.