Remember last month when Channel 4 News did a piece on raptor persecution on grouse moors in Scotland? The one where SGA Chairman Alex Hogg was asked whether gamekeepers were poisoning, shooting and trapping birds of prey and he replied:
“No they aren’t. We would dispute that“.
Yes, THAT programme (see here and here for previous blogs).
Well according to the monthly game keeping rag Modern Gamekeeping, Hogg reckons Channel 4 News stitched him up.
According to the article, Hogg said that during a one-hour interview he was asked the question of whether gamekeepers were killing raptors at least half a dozen times. “By the time the interviewer asked it the last time, I was so annoyed I just said ‘No’ and didn’t give a reason“.
Sounds like he stitched himself up, telling a blatant lie that he must have known was going to be challenged with irrefutable evidence that gamekeepers have been convicted for illegally killing raptors, including members of his own organisation.
He also complains about being interviewed last (after Ian Thomson of RSPB Scotland, Dominic Dyer of Care for the Wild, and Logan Steele of the Scottish Raptor Study Group), and therefore having to respond to ‘claims’ [aka given facts] made by the other interviewees, and not being allowed to talk about waders [and presumably the unproven, non-evidenced claims that raptors are wiping them out and therefore keepers should be able to cull raptors].
He also says, “There were also a lot of figures used that were not official figures held by the police or the Scottish Government“. Really? The figures used were based on scientific evidence and official court records, accepted by every person and organisation in the country except for those with a vested interest in the grouse-shooting industry.
He goes on to argue that the finished programme was “extreme”, designed to provoke an emotional response from the public, and didn’t fairly represent what he was trying to say. How you can misrepresent, “No they aren’t. We would dispute that” in response to a simple question of whether gamekeepers are persecuting raptors is a mystery. Did he mean to say, ‘Yes, we are illegally killing raptors’?
All the Hogg nonsense aside, there is a particularly interesting paragraph in the article, presumably written by the rag’s editor. It reads:
“Presenter Cordelia Lynch then quoted RSPB figures to claim that hen harriers were ‘close to extinction’ on the grounds that none had bred last year in England – ignoring the fact that the bird is categorised as ‘Least Concern’ worldwide with a global population of more than 1,300,000 and its major threat is stated to be ‘habitat loss’. It is also said to be ‘highly vulnerable to the impacts of potential wind energy developments’ (source: BTO)“.
Now, this claim of the species being classified as ‘Least Concern’ is often trotted out by those trying to downplay the seriousness of the species’ conservation status in the UK. It is an accurate statement in as much as this is what is written on the species’ IUCN Red List entry (from where the quote is taken), with the addition of one important statement conveniently left out by the Modern Gamekeeping editor – under the heading ‘Major Threats’:
“Persecution is an important threat locally, notably on game preserves in Scotland (del Hoyo et al. 1994)”.
The species’ IUCN listing is fine to use if you want to stick to a species’ global conservation status and ignore its European and UK conservation status. If you look at the IUCN global status for the three wader species that Hogg and friends are up in arms about, their listings also give little cause for concern:
Lapwing – listed as Least Concern. Estimated population c. 5,200,000-10,000,000 individuals. Major threats include land use intensification, pollution and hunting. [Note, no mention of raptors being a major threat].
Curlew – listed as Near Threatened. Estimated population c. 77,000-1,065,000 individuals. Major threats include afforestation, agricultural intensification and hunting. [Note, no mention of raptors being a major threat].
Golden Plover – listed as Least Concern. No population estimate given. Major threats include cultivation and afforestation, severe weather conditions and hunting. [Note, no mention of raptors being a major threat].
So, on the basis of suggesting that the hen harrier’s conservation status is of ‘least concern’ on a global scale [and therefore why all the fuss of losing an entire breeding population in England?], the statement is equally as applicable to those three wader species, right? We shouldn’t be concerned about any of them because on a global scale they’re all doing just fine, right?
Fortunately, government and non-governmental organisations are a lot more clued in and understand the concept, and importance, of national, regional and local biodiversity. Indeed, the Westminster and Scottish Governments have a statutory responsibility for ensuring that national biodiversity targets are met and maintained (although you wouldn’t know it by their continuing failure to address illegal raptor persecution). Rather than use the broad-based IUCN Red List as guidance, they look to more detailed and relevant assessments such as the UK ‘Birds of Conservation Concern’ scientific review (see here). In this document, the hen harrier and lapwing are red listed, and the golden plover and curlew are amber listed.
It’s quite telling, isn’t it, that those with a vested interest in grouse-shooting should continue to not only deny their involvement in the catastrophic loss of an entire breeding population (hen harriers in England), but also continue to downplay its conservation significance.