Monday, 19 August 2013

Grousing About M&S

Like several others when I heard Marks and Spencer were starting to sell grouse in a select range of stores I took to my email. I'll be honest, I'm  currently carnivorous and I support local food where I can so I have no truck with Britain's top retailer stocking grouse.
Having worked for a major M&S supplier for many years and spent a not inconsiderable amount of time inside Baker Street, I consider myself reasonably well-versed in their modus operandi and I know from personal experience that the standards they set within their supply chain are usually superior to that of most other retailers. They take ethical compliance seriously.

I view their involvement in the grouse 'supply chain' as a positive move. I'd genuinely like to see them build into a key part of the industry, if they do a strong ethical stance could bring big financial pressure to bear on grouse moors. Maybe where our voices fall on deaf ears the threat of losing the market M&S could open up might just prove to be a key factor in ensuring compliance with wildlife protection laws.

So my email was not to call for M&S to stop selling grouse but to engage with them to highlight the illegal persecution issue and put pressure on them to make a public statement about illegal persecution.

Here are a couple of extracts from their response:

We have the highest standards of animal welfare and only source from suppliers we know and trust. Our game range is sourced from well-managed estates across the UK stretching from Nottinghamshire to the Scottish borders, with the majority of product coming from Yorkshire and Northumberland.

 There are no breeding pairs of hen harriers on the grouse moors we take from and there are severe penalties for anyone that interferes with Hen Harriers - this is actively enforced not just for Hen Harriers but all species of raptors.

I'm just about to reply and I will be asking M&S as a first step to make it policy and make it public that any estate that has an employee convicted of an offence against raptors will be immediately removed as an approved supplier and stopped from supplying M&S in the future. I would encourage others to contact M&S (email: and make the same request. This should be an 'easy win' for them from a customer service perspective, a declaration that illegal persecution will not be tolerated in their supply chain and a clear signal to their suppliers of the consequences.

I'll also be pointing out some of the reasons why 'there are no breeding Hen Harriers on the grouse moors they take from' and providing one or two links to projects like Skydancer for bedtime reading for their technologist in this area.

Edit: I have also suggested that they get a committment from the moors supplying them that in the event of a breeding attempt by Hen Harriers that the moor will work with the RSPB and support the attempt using the diversionary feeding techniques currently being developed at Langholm.

Friday, 16 August 2013

White-winged Black Tern - Bothal Pond

Having worked over Saturday and Sunday last weekend I had been reporting on the East Chevington juvenile White-winged Black Tern without any expectation of seeing it. Post-work I blagged an hour from the wife and headed to look at the sea hoping for a first Sooty of the year. After an hour with zero shearwaters of any description i cut my losses and headed for the gull roost in the Ash Lagoons.

I was there scanning through the assembled c.150 Golden plovers for something more interesting when I got a text from Steve Holliday to inform me that the WeBS counter at Bothal Pond had been watching the juvenile White-winged Black tern up until 17:00. I decided to call in on the way home, a road accident diverted me via Ellington but I was pleasantly suprised to reach a Bothal Pond with no birders but the aforementioned tern parading around the south end.

Persuading the wife to jump in the car with my camera, I hung about watching it and up to seven Ruff and a Greenshank till the camera bag was dropped off. I managed a couple of record shots before the group of Greylags that had been at the west end decided to head east into the area the tern was feeding. It promptly disappeared, sadly just five minutes before photographer Frank Golding arrived.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

GWCT Buzzard Position - Some Comments

Just been reading the statement first published on the Game &Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) website on 24th May regarding the Buzzard licensing row in the Spring (read here). Whilst fairly unsurprising it's worth highlighting a few points.

The statement reads (my bold) "The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust considers that an informed and coherent debate on the possible role of licencing in achieving the recovery of some species of wildlife in exceptional circumstances is needed. We pledge our commitment to maintaining this debate in a spirit of rational and evidence-based dialogue.
We have conducted an extensive amount of own work with black grouse, grey partridge, a range of upland waders and water voles amongst many other species.  This work provides clear, peer-reviewed scientific evidence that the effective, and legal control of some generalist predators in some circumstances is essential to the recovery of some species under threat. On rare occasions, the control of predators may be required provided this strict conditions required by licences are met."

Which is all well and good. They then go on to highlight the details of the licences

"Our assessment of these is that some mis-reporting has contributed to the confusion surrounding these licences. Some press releases have been unclear or have omitted small but significant facts. The details, as far as GWCT understands, are as follows;

Licence A – WLM/2013/0571 – issued to a pheasant shoot – given permission to remove 4 nests and eggs containedLicense B – WLM/2011/1801 – issued to a poultry farm – given permission for 5 birds to be trapped and removed"

 Notice anything? GWCT using their peer-reviewed science and conservation arguments in support of licences that have nothing at all to do with conservation. Predator control for conservation may or may not be the right thing to do in certain circumstances but those liceneces, issued by Natural England had nothing at all to do with conservation and GWCT clearly seem to be trying to link the two. In fact in the case of these licences that there was no conservation value in their issue is above debate.

GWCT then go on to talk about The Buzzard Stakeholder Group, that was the group that came up with the 'research proposals' cancelled after huge public protest last year. Their statement reads:

The recent controversy has implications for the work of and possibly even the future role of the Buzzard Stakeholder Group (BSG).  We consider that had the BSG  been allowed to function as intended, the licences might not have been requested on the basis that they would have pre-empted the research planned by the group. The fact that research was on-going could not have been used, in itself to refuse a licence, but the applicants might have thought it wise to have benefited from the research before proceeding with licence applications.
Last year the BSG was working towards agreement of research.  The original proposals had three significant parts:

  • what could be done to divert attacks
  • discovering why some release pens suffered predation by buzzards and others not
  • investigating the  effectiveness and necessity of egg removal and buzzard capture
The suspension of the research planned by the BSG has meant that none of these areas of inquiry have been investigated.  GWCT urges that high priority is given to carrying out this research. It is important, in our view, to recover a measure of consensus to reconcile the conservation of buzzards with responsible game management and free-range farming.

It has been interesting in recent weeks that Andrew Gilruth, GWCT Director of Membership and Marketing has been extremley active on Twitter in a very dogmatic fashion. Highly critical of the RSPB and attacking vocal critics of illegal persecution for 'negative campaigning'. Apparently we all have our heels dug in and need to compromise, and 'need to listen to the needs of gamekeepers' as they hold the solution to resolving issues such as the lack of Hen Harriers (you don't say!).

Given his public calls for compromise it stands as somewhat disappointing then that GWCT were unable to compromise on the Buzzard Management proposals and remove the third element involving egg removal and buzzard capture from the 'research'. Without these 'lethal and capture' options the research framed above would have been productive and useful for Pheasant shoots and provided some useful indicators of how to manage their release pens without the need to remove or illegally persecute the local Buzzard population.Seems to me Andrew Gilruth and GWCT need to swallow some of their own prescriptive medicine and learn a little about compromise.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Hen Harrier Day

Tomorrow is the 12th August, the so-called 'glorious twelfth' when on grouse moors all over the country the shooting community will be engaged in the first day of the new grouse shooting season. This year the land they stand on in England won't have produced a single Hen Harrier chick, I find that incredibly sad.

Tomorrow is a day for everyone who cares about Hen Harriers and what they have come to symbolise to take a small action, post a picture on your blog for the day, tweet a few words about how important it is, send your MP a picture and tell them how you feel about their absence, change your cover picture on Facebook. If you're on Twitter please use the hashtag henharrier Not on social media? stick a picture in your front window, tell your next door neighbour why.

We need to take back the 12th August, we need to send out a message that they may be gone but they are not forgotten and we won't give up trying to change the conditions, people, businesses, laws and actions that brought this sad state of affairs into being. We need to remind everyone, every 12th August until our uplands are once again a safe home for harriers.

Hen Harrier courtesy & copyright Sergey Yeliseev

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


Spent Saturday night and most of Sunday and Monday on and around Mull with my son Joel and a few others. The aim had been to go snorkelling with Basking Sharks at Skerryvore but rough sea conditions prevented this.

We got as far as the pale blue calm (and cold) waters of the Cairns of Coll. No surprises bird wise but Joel saw his first ever White-tailed Eagles, three including a juvenile, we had ridiculous views of the Tysties along the promenade at Oban and dramatic scenery every time we sneezed. Throw in a bit of wild-camping, some boat-skippering and hand-feeding Lesser Black-backed's off the upper deck of the ferry on the way back and we had an enjoyable weekend.