Jan 162016

I finally got around to listening to the podcast of Philip Merricks, Chairman of the Hawk and Owl Trust on the subject of Brood Management a form of proposed legalised persecution of Hen Harriers. First you might want to listen to Chris Packham’s podcast although his is not specifically about managed brood persecution whereas Philip Merricks’s is.
I put off listening to Merricks podcast for months because I knew I would get upset. I know the arguments for and against managed persecution from reading Merricks’s comments in newspapers and on blogs but thought he might offer some further details of the plan so finally gave it a go. What I hadn’t expected was such a poorly argued, illogical and vague presentation.
I started to write about my impressions of the Merricks’s interview the next day after listening to it but there were so many logical errors it was hard to know where to start and realising it was going to take me all day and having compassion on my arteries, gave up.

With this weeks release of the DEFRA Action Plan on Hen Harriers I found it impossible to ignore.

So first here is my response to Philip Mericks podcast. More on the DEFRA plan later.

These were my initial impressions. Almost immediately Merricks shows his total ignorance of last years Hen Harrier persecutions in England. Shocking from someone with such a powerful position on deciding the fate of English Hen Harriers. The second was his style of speaking. He really came across as a desperate politician using all the cheap tricks of that tribe. His countless use of ‘Charlie’ the first name of the interviewer and countless use of the words ‘OK’ and ‘all right’ or ‘you know’. Sorry I can’t bare to listen to this sycophantic drivel again to pick them all out but all designed to manipulate and ingratiate, very unsuccessfully on my part, his views on the listener.
He also hides behind the words of his so called ‘profs.’ Without interviewing these professors themselves it is impossible to know their exact views. He misrepresentation of Mark Avery’s comments are such that I can’t trust his interpretation of what these professors actually said. One can only study their published work.
All those initial impressions aside I will look purely at his arguments. These comments are from memory a month after listening to the podcast and are therefore paraphrased.

Merricks doesn’t produce one valid argument for brood meddling.
Brood meddling is essentially the capping of the number of Hen Harriers on grouse moors to protect the sporting interest of the game lobby. The irony of the scheme is that it is based on the admission of guilt, by the grouse moors estates that they and their gamekeepers are right now illegally killing Hen Harriers. i.e. an admission of organized crime. The scheme depends on the voluntary cessation of this illegal activity in return for the humane removal of Hen Harriers chicks off the moors. Dress it up any way you like but that is the reality and even Merricks doesn’t appear to disagree.

Here are his main points.
1). There is no conservation reason for opposing brood meddling, all arguments are idealist.
This seems valid to a lay person but without defining what he means by conservation it is meaningless. If conservation solely means artificially increasing the national population of one species (i.e. in England) he is right but conservation is a lot more complicated than that. If this was the developing world where a species was going extinct it might make sense as a last resort but it isn’t. We have a good (although declining due to persecution) population in Scotland which would also be just as likely to colonise some areas of the lowlands if left alone and certainly if grouse shooting were banned.
The massive fail is that he is only looking at Hen Harrier numbers and not looking at conservation of the ecosystem as a whole but only one species. Brood meddling will not help the other persecuted species on driven grouse moors, Peregrine (now in serious trouble in the uplands), Short-eared Owl and in Scotland Golden Eagle and Mountain Hare. It will not stop the water pollution, flood risk, habitat destruction, greenhouse gas emissions, roads and ditches on driven grouse moors.
I won’t even go into the meaning of his criticism of idealism (that is a topic for a doctorate). If demanding that criminals obey the law is idealistic then so be it.
One more week to sign the petition to ban driven grouse moors or at least have a debate in parliament.

2) Brood meddling will cut out the cause of the problem (i.e. remove Hen Harriers from grouse moors).
He describes a scenario where a game keeper has a Hen Harrier in his sites, he hastily adds that there is another nest 1km away and this gamekeeper is about to shoot, knows as Merrick points out hasn’t got the faintest chance of being prosecuted but is going to decide to reach for his phone and call the Hawk and Owl trust to remove the nest. Ha, hilarious. The scientific evidence (see previous blogs) show that hundreds of Hen Harriers are killed every year in the UK but prosecutions virtually never happen. This gamekeeper has no reason not to pull that trigger.
Logic fail, the way to cut out the cause is to ban driven grouse moors.

3) Everything has been attempted to stop Hen Harrier persecution so brood meddling is a last resort.
Wrong. Virtually nothing has been done except talk. Scotland has at least made a start but things NOT tried in England include: Vicarious liability, increased penalties including custodial sentences (see the Spanish approach), licensing grouse moors, increased and publicised permanent withdrawal of farming subsidies and gun licences, general licence restrictions, allowance of video evidence in court, compulsory video surveillance on any attempted nests, bringing pesticide laws in line with Scotland, cleaning up the Police Wildlife shambles particularly in Scotland. The list is as long as a piece of string.
The solution is to ban driven grouse moors

4) Merricks compares brood meddling of Hen Harriers on driven grouse moor managers to the IRA peace talks.
This desperate, cherry picked, rambling is laughable.
If he is going to compare dissimilar situations then I can come up with numerous examples where his logic looks absurd. Does he agree with concessions to IS or al-Qaeda, or on a more local scale any other form of crime? I can’t think of any other crime which would fit his logic.

5) Merricks wants to re-introduce Hen Harriers to the English lowlands.
Hen Harriers breed in lowlands is some countries. Merricks thinks re-introduced birds will become imprinted on their site of release but I don’t think there is any scientific basis for this belief with Hen Harriers which are highly mobile.

Released Hen Harriers will do what they have always done in the UK, move around when they are young until they find a suitable habitat to breed, a habitat with good cover for the nest and high density of prey i.e. grouse moors. If they can find high density of prey in England they might nest there but grouse moors have targets densities of 200 birds/km² before they even start shooting plus high numbers of voles and Meadow Pipits so it is obvious Hen Harriers will be attracted to such an artificially rich larder not to more natural habitats in the lowlands. The only places they might find such high prey densities in the lowlands will be on other intensively managed shooting estates with pheasants and partridge. Out of the frying pan……, great solution.
I would be very surprised if more than a handful choose to breed in the English lowlands. The scientific experiment of re-introducing lowland continental birds to England might be very interesting if it weren’t for the morally repugnant fact that whenever potential breeding birds from Scotland visit an English grouse moor they are shot and there is absolutely no reason to think the same won’t happen to re-introduced birds. It also breaks the guidelines for the re-introduction of species that the reason for their decline must first be addressed. Another reason to ban driven grouse moors.

6) Merrick doesn’t answer the question by Charlie Moores about Chris Packham’s view that brood meddling is a sop to the criminals killing Hen Harriers.
He just says it doesn’t deserve an answer. Strange. Charlie Moores obviously thought it deserved an answer and so do I.

7) Merricks contradicts himself on the subject of satellite tagging the brood meddled juveniles.
At first he says it will stop persecution but later when Charlie Moores points out examples of where it hasn’t he tones down this claim.

8) Merricks flimsy stick after offering the great giant carrot of brood meddling to the shooting estates is that if there is any persecution of Hen Harriers the Hawk and Owl Trust will withdraw from the scheme.
That sounds OK at first glance but then he has previously declared, and just about everyone agrees, that persecution is impossible to prove in a court.

9) He also says that if persecution continues HOT would push for licensing of grouse moors.
Again this fails for the reason 8) above and also in that the RSPB which has over 1 million members is already pushing for the licensing of grouse moors and it hasn’t made the slightest difference. So basically who apart from the HOT actually cares what the HOT thinks. So bit of a flower down the muzzle rather than a real stick.

I am sure there were some more false claims made by Merricks but none of any significance and none important enough for me to remember. I should listen to the podcast again to be sure but it really is painful to listen to. I might remember some more later or I might clarify some points I’ve made but enough for now.




 January 16, 2016

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