There is nothing wrong with lobbying (it’s what we do after all), but we do think that lobbyists – and the people who ‘report’ their words – ought at least to feel obliged to be as accurate as they can (it’s what we do after all).
So, here’s a little Fact Check-style breakdown for the journos at the Mail Online who copy out press-releases from grouse moor owners with very little analysis – and for any of the Mail’s readers who might wonder just how accurate these ‘reports’ really are…
First off, though, here’s a screengrab of the first part of the article that has (again) ticked us off:
On the face of it, not much to complain about there. Better breeding numbers are always to be welcomed, but let’s just think about this a little more:
- “Soaring numbers“. Many of us will remember as kids finding a pound coin on the ground and thinking we were rich: while we were richer than we were seconds before, we weren’t even close to being actually ‘rich’. Same with Hen Harriers. If you start with ‘naff all‘ and years later, after failing to help solve the issues of relentless persecution, you find that – despite yourselves – you have ‘just a little more than naff all‘, that doesn’t mean that we’re all tripping over harriers. Technically the numbers might have ‘soared’ but we are still a long, long way from having what most people would label ‘soaring numbers’ in the UK.
- “Found on UK grouse moors“. Well, duh. This is like saying that squirrels are ‘found’ in woods or that ducks are ‘found’ on water. Of course they’re ‘found’ on grouse moors, that’s where they try to nest. It’s their breeding habitat. What ‘found’ misleadingly doesn’t explain is what happens to Hen Harriers once they’ve been ‘found’ by gamekeepers. In many cases, ‘found on UK grouse moors’ is an all too temporary state of existence that leads to them then being ‘found’ dead on a UK grouse moor…52 satellite-tagged Hen Harriers since 2018 and counting, according to the renowned Raptor Persecution UK (RPUK)…
- ‘Sixty chicks fledged from 19 nests across England‘. Time to celebrate then? Not at all. Sixty chicks is a pittance. There should be more than three hundred nests ‘across England’ – each fledging at least one chick – but there isn’t close to that number. It’s better than recent years when ZERO chicks fledged, but sixty across a country with vast areas of suitable habitat is pathetic.
- And let’s look at that word ‘fledged’ anyway. It means ‘to rear until ready for flight or independent activity‘. It’s often taken to mean that a chick has survived the vulnerable period in the nest. It doesn’t give any indication of what happened next. And the fact is that ‘fledged’ chick after ‘fledged’ chick is being eradicated by gamekeepers on shooting estates. Of those sixty chicks how many will survive into 2022? The odds are not high. The key metric, then, is ‘survival rate’: it really doesn’t matter if six hundred chicks are fledged if only a handful of them make it to adulthood, because you still end up with very few Hen Harriers…
Exaggerating the upswing in numbers, not looking at survival rates: both examples of the verbal chicanery so typical of lobbyists for the grouse shooting industry. They’re so over-used and so easy to pick apart now, you wonder why they still bother…
Want more? Well, it is fair to point out that further down the page the Mail also says:
As recently as 2017, an RSPB investigation found that not a single hen harrier chick was produced on England’s grouse moors that stretch across more than a million acres of the country.Mail Online, Britain’s endangered birds of prey are making a comeback, 01 Feb 21
…but isn’t that written – given that the article started with eulogising the ‘soaring numbers’ of Hen Harriers and goes on to quote moor owners eulogising their own role in the ‘soaring numbers’ of Hen Harriers – as if persecution is now a thing of the past? Because it most certainly is not.
In fact so bad have things become for grouse moors on the back of ongoing persecution of birds of prey (leading to licencing in Scotland), outrage at peat burning (leading to a sort of caveated ban), the massacre of Mountain Hares (leading to sort of ban on killing them in Scotland), and acres of negative newsprint, that they clearly feel the need to tap up their chums in the mainstream media for a bit of puffery. Puffery like:
Moorland Association members are also actively involved in a brood management research trial to establish if it is possible to rear hen harriers in captivity and then release them to become successful breeding adults in the English uplands. So far, 13 chicks have successfully fledged under the trial.Mail Online, Britain’s endangered birds of prey are making a comeback, 01 Feb 21
Well, this all sounds good doesn’t it? Research (we all love a bit of research) to rear Hen Harriers in captivity. How could anyone possibly object to that?
- First off, every reputable conservation organisation and conservationist in the UK does object to what is widely labelled the Hen Harrier ‘brood meddling’ scheme. We’ve explained why in a post (see – Hen Harrier brood meddling 101), but essentially this scheme is a freebie for grouse moor owners and has nothing to do with conservation. Hen Harriers don’t need to be meddled with – they need not to be persecuted. And the scheme has done absolutely nothing to remove or stop that persecution.
- In fact, thanks to RPUK, we now know that all FIVE of the satellite-tagged brood-meddled chicks from the first year of the scheme (2019) were ‘missing’ presumed dead within a few months, four of them in what are euphemistically called ‘suspicious circumstances’ – legalese code for ‘illegally killed where absolute proof is missing’.
- And thanks again to RPUK, we now know that one of 2020’s chicks, a brood-meddled male originally taken from a nest in North Yorkshire, has already ‘disappeared’ from next to a grouse moor in North Yorkshire.
The damnable grouse shooting industry can pat itself on the back all day long, but once you interpret the puff pieces and understand what is actually happening out on the moors there is absolutely nothing to applaud them for at all.
The fact is that – decades after laws came in protecting them – Hen Harriers are still being illegally killed on grouse moors. There isn’t anything like the numbers of birds that there should be – or would be if they weren’t still being killed etc. Even the chair of Natural England, far too often the shooting industry’s patsy, was moved to admit last month that “continuing illegal persecution is preventing the recovery that we need to see“.
So, Mail Online, now that you know, do you honestly think that grouse moor owners are ‘lobbying to educate’ or ‘lobbying to mislead’? Answers on a postcard please….Oh, and even if you don’t understand what the grouse moor industry is sending you, it really shouldn’t be beyond you to google search Hen Harrier and NOT end up posting an image of a Marsh Harrier instead – that’s just crass…