We were planning to write about how Natural England (NE) has morphed into a better lobbying group for the grouse shooting industry than, for example, the anaemic Moorland Association (see NE’s beaming self-endorsement of a smattering of successful breeding Hen Harriers which has been widely cut and pasted in much of the mainstream media), but as so often happens Raptor Persecution UK (RPUK) got there first and did it far better than we could (that’s not false modesty, that’s fact…).
In a glorious takedown, RPUK skewered Team Tony Juniper‘s advert for the industry with a few withering paragraphs:
It’s hard to know where to start with this latest piece of deliberately crafted propaganda. Isn’t it interesting though, that the only other organisations quoted are the GWCT and the Moorland Association? Where’s the RSPB quote? The Police? Forestry Commission, United Utilities, National Trust, and the ‘others’ that were mentioned as ‘partners’ by Tony Juniper (presumably he means the Northern England Raptor Forum)? Weren’t they asked? Or were they invited to comment but refused to have any part in this conservation sham?
And then there’s the actual results – 19 successful nests in the whole of England is nothing like a ‘wonderful result’. It’s bloody pitiful – just 5% of the potential English breeding population estimate of 330 pairs. The fact it’s been the ‘best breeding season since 2002’ says an awful lot about how long and how severely this species has been a victim of illegal persecution, doesn’t it?
And then there’s Tony Juniper telling us, ‘Persecution is thought to be the main factor limiting hen harrier numbers in England…’ No, Tony, it’s not thought to be the main factor, it’s known to be the main factor and has been known for many, many years. Natural England’s own data have been used to evidence this time and time and time again!
It’s hardly worth dissecting the quotes from GWCT and the Moorland Association. It could be argued that these organisations have about as much credibility on hen harrier conservation as the Kremlin has on the destruction of its stockpiles of Novichok.
Deluded Natural England claims 2020 hen harrier breeding season a ‘wonderful result’, RPUK, 03 September 2020
Or perhaps that NE is as good on wildlife protection as Tim Bonner is on linnet identification?
Tony Juniper’s leadership of Natural England seems to have been one of the most disappointing post-appointment ‘volte-face‘ in recent conservation history. It’s some turnaround to go from Friends of the Earth warrior and passionate environmental author to a man overseeing the badger cull and allowing puffery for an industry that blows grouse out of the air, is underpinned by wildlife crime, and traps and snares mountains of native predators to protect shooting’s profits. Talk of pragmatism rings hollow when an NE press-release so blatantly supportive of shooting, fail to mention that the number of Hen Harrier nests has only gone up from 14 to 19 in three years (statistically insignificant when the number of nests on English moorlands should be well over 300), and doesn’t mention just how many Hen Harriers have ‘disappeared’ since just 2018 (see ‘Dead Hen Harriers | 33 and counting‘).
Perhaps we were all expecting too much from him, but wimpish requests like “I urge anyone who is still engaged in the persecution of these magnificent creatures to cease at once” are not the fiery condemnation of relentless and ongoing wildlife crime any reasonable person might expect from a one-time highly-respected conservationist and thinker.
Natural England might (probably will) say that they have a remit to simply report ‘the facts’ (or at least a closely-chosen selection of them) objectively, especially without the sort of comment that sites like this one were developed for. However, following their recent joint pro-shooting report with BASC they must be aware how the parameters are being blurred. And they must surely be aware how their ‘objectivity’ is interpreted by the industry and its lackeys.
Is it just coincidence, for instance, that society suckups like The Daily Mail have been running a sticky amalgam of pro-grouse shooting/pro-royalty stories this week, gleefully clapping their hands at a seven year old being taken shooting by his parents (see “Like father, like gun! Prince George, 7, watches dad Prince William on grouse shoot at Balmoral” which also ‘reveals’ that “Prince Edward and son James, Viscount Severn, 12, also took part in the shoot and were joined by his wife Sophie and daughter Lady Louise, 16, for lunch” – getting them used to blood early on, eh…).
We’re not saying here that Natural England works with the mainstream media to promote shooting of course. Lobbying can be just as much of ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ subtle and not-so subtle support as sitting down over a dinner table and copious amounts of Hennessy Paradis to write a joint plan. But when the government’s own “adviser for the natural environment in England, helping to protect England’s nature and landscapes” rallies its resources to big up the shooting industry so blatantly it does set a tone. And not a favourable one.
Thankfully there is always RPUK, Dr Mark Avery, Chris Packham, and sites like this one to visit if you want to know what’s really going on. Yes, we may all be ‘lobbying’ too, but at least it’s on behalf of critical thinking, the environment, and wildlife…