Sunday, 24 June 2012

More Cull Calls - Cormorants

Hot on the heels of DEFRA's Buzzard plans some of the biggest supporters of those original flawed proposals have ganged together in the last few days to issue a statement about another group of predators that apparently are in urgent need of control. Like something from a Marvel comic many of the well-known baddies have joined forces to launch a new attack this time on Cormorants and Goosanders. The full text can be read here  but basically the various organisations involved would like to see both species added to the General Licence that would allow them to be shot, trapped and killed pretty much willy-nilly to protect fishing businesses.

The rhetoric contained within the press release is fairly familiar with "We do not take this position lightly, but we do so on the basis of clear evidence that these two species have grown, and continue to grow to unsustainable population numbers; overwintering cormorants have increased from around 2,000 in the early eighties to nearly 25,000 in recent years" and "Many cormorants are of the sub-species Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis, and there is no evidence that this inland bird has any history of existence in the UK before the last few decades. Goosanders were also not recorded in the UK in any significant number before the last century. Their massive growth in numbers has upset the natural balance of our freshwater environment."

What is clear from this and the way many of the self-same organisations (BASC, GWCT and CA) talk about raptors in the same language is that putting aside the vested interests that most have in maintaining the 'industries' that have sprung up around shooting and fishing in recent decades there appears to be a fundamental lack of understanding (or is it just spin?) about the recent history of some of the species involved. In the last 100 years we have moved from times when many predators were either removed from the environment by man for various reasons, some deliberate, some accidental through pesticide use for example. Some of these species such as Buzzards and (in a wider European context Cormorants) have recovered in recent times and begun to return to former population sizes. The problem lies in the fact that for most, living memory does not include a time when these species were more abundant so that they are recovering is something that is either missed (conveniently or not I'm not sure) and language like the above is used instead to explain the increases. It is again notable that as in the Buzzard/Pheasant debate the irony of claiming that natural balance has been upset is lost on those that release the chosen prey of their sport in unnaturally high numbers to make and keep businesses viable.

Reading around the statement I was interested to come across the name of 'The Predator Action Group' not an organisation that I have come across before but after spending some time on their website it is one I'll be paying a bit more attention to. Their raison d'etre from their website for example is "The PAG has been formed to research the predation issue and put together a convincing case for some measure of control of predators. In the first instance the PAG’s brief is to report their findings to the Angling Trust. If that doesn’t have the desired effect then it may become necessary to lobby the government direct"

Clearly they have their minds made up about the issue as the notion that any research might not support some of their claims is not one that is entertained. They have set out and appear to be well on the way to raise £50,000 to pay for a lobbyist to do the work they need. A dig into the profiles of some of the individuals involved indicates that most are professionally involved in the Angling industry, owning lakes, tackle ranges etc, magazine publishing etc.

Two of the three predators they are vigorously pursuing come in for a no-nonsense approach, Cormorants for example get "We in the PREDATION ACTION GROUP think that a CORMORANT CULL should be under taken by government agencies employing teams of shooters, with access to severely depleted river systems [where at present no one is allowed to cull] and not left to fishery owners and clubs as is now the case, with pitiful licences issued by Natural England for permission to shoot insignificant numbers of birds.. The whole situation is disgraceful and one huge farce.
As with any destructive predator we in the PREDATION ACTION GROUP believe that a policy of ‘FARMERS DEFENCE’ should exist with fish, because if a farmer is within his rights to shoot someone’s dog worrying his sheep, surely all fish farmers and fishery owners should be able to do like wise, to protect their stock?"

They go on to make claims that "  Its raping of small silver shoal fishes from our freshwater environments means that the larder has become bare for our indigenous water birds such as dabchicks, great crested grebes and kingfishers"

A brief look at the population trends and information via the BTO would seem to make nonsense of some of these claims with an absence of declines that can be attributed to predation by Cormorants and Otters for any of the three species mentioned.

This group aren't another Songbird Survival though, a read of their Chairman Tim Paisley's intro reveals a sophistication and wiliness about the way they are pursuing their agenda. These guys (and ladies) are organised, clever, media-savvy and intent on achieving their aims. They are well aware of the negatives that can happen through not 'managing their message' - note the absence of a call for a cull of Otters on the website despite the repeated call for 'Farmer's Defence' above as they know that public opinion would be anti-cull. Tim Paisley makes no secret of this "Some revolutions have to be achieved by stealth rather than open warfare!" he states as well as openly admitting "The private attitude of some members of the PAG body is different to the public face we want to show to the world. I have no doubt that will change."

He goes on to highlight parts of their strategy " The Angling Trust was set up to represent all anglers and if the Trust is seen not to be working on our behalf where otters are concerned then we have to set about changing that situation through making an unanswerable case and then negotiating. The PAG is side-stepping the membership issue and modelling itself as a ‘research and report’ organ. That way we can claim to represent as many anglers as we choose at any given time because we feel we are working in the interests of all anglers, and the many people associated with angling."

Make no bones about it they want rid of Cormorants and Otters and I'm willing to bet as the continued breeding range expansion and density of Ospreys continues throughout England they will turn their attention to Ospreys too.
This has been a long post and I have more to say on the subject but I'll leave it there for now but this is another issue where I feel as if the conservation community is 'sleepwalking' in the face of sustained and sophisticated attacks on some of our wildlife.


Tim Sexton said...

Widespread re-introductions of White-tailed Sea Eagles will sort out the natural balance, as would more Goshawks. These are the top predators that love Cormorants on their menu. Perhaps if the hunting fraternity hadn't killed these off the natural balance would not have been upset. Clowns!

alan tilmouth said...

Tim you've summed up part of my follow-up post..

Bryan Rains said...

I have just been reading the Oban Times - SNH have the power to issue a license to shoot WT Eagles!!

Pete Woodruff said...

Long as you have said Alan, but never fails to keep the attention focused on the subject and ends on a very important note....'but this is another issue where I feel as if the conservation community is 'sleepwalking' in the face of sustained and sophisticated attacks on some of our wildlife'....well said and very important that you have taken note and pointed this out Alan.