Brood meddling: the proposed social science study

We’ve recently been blogging about DEFRA’s hen harrier brood meddling scheme, due to start in the 2017 breeding season. A series of FoIs has uncovered some of the plans to date (e.g. see here, here, here).

Today’s blog relates to the proposed social science study, which is being viewed as an integral part of the brood meddling trial.

The proposal has been submitted by Steve Redpath (Aberdeen Uni & Trustee of the Hawk & Owl Trust) and Freya St John (Kent Uni), both well known for their interest in wildlife conflict management.

Here’s the proposal: social-science-proposal-brood-meddling-june-2016

Basically the proposal is for a seven-month long study, estimated to cost ~ 50K, to assess how grouse moor managers, gamekeepers and conservationists ‘feel’ about hen harriers and about the different aspects of the wider Hen Harrier Inaction Plan.

Not being social scientists there’s a very good chance that we’re missing something here, and we’d be happy to be corrected, but we’re struggling to see the point/value of this study. Apart from the obvious flaw that the study will rely upon grouse moor owners and gamekeepers telling the truth (good luck with that, researchers!), the attitudes of all these ‘stakeholders’ are already blindingly clear, surely?

The vast majority of driven grouse moor owners and gamekeepers don’t tolerate hen harriers, to the extent that the English hen harrier breeding population is on its knees because these birds are routinely killed. Conservationists place a high nature conservation value on hen harriers and want grouse moor owners and gamekeepers to abide by the law and stop killing them.

The whole premise of the brood meddling scheme is to see whether driven grouse moor owners and gamekeepers will ‘tolerate’ hen harriers if they can be assured that there won’t be more than one breeding pair per 10 sq km. The claimed purpose of brood meddling is to reduce the pressure of predation on red grouse caused by parent hen harriers hunting to provide for their broods (and yet strangely, the industry isn’t up for trialling diversionary feeding). But this predation pressure is not the only aspect of hen harrier ecology that the grouse shooting industry objects to. It is also known that they don’t like to see hen harriers flying over the moors during the grouse-shooting season because the harrier might disrupt the flights of red grouse being driven towards the guns. So who thinks that releasing young hen harriers back to the uplands in August/September is going to work?!

The proof will be in the pudding. Will those captive-reared hen harriers survive once they’ve been released? Their satellite tag transmissions will provide the real answer, not the result of some questionnaire that’s been answered by members of an industry that’s based on criminality and that has proven itself untrustworthy time and time and time again.

42 thoughts on “Brood meddling: the proposed social science study”

  1. This appears to be designed as a PR exercise and no doubt all the grouse moor managers and gamekeepers will be intensely briefed before being asked to respond. This is simply a measure to try to sway public opinion via biased questioning and the resulting conclusions. I’ve no doubt at all that conservationists who support brood meddling will be presented in a positive light while the saner ones who oppose it will be characterised as obstructive

  2. Measuring the changed attitudes against what benchmark? What previous surveys have been undertaken?

    Surely this study could be done without resorting to interviewing individual criminals? They lie, there are hundreds of thousands of court cases, that prove criminals lie. Ever since the Hen Harrier was protected over 50 years ago, the game keepers and land owners have not changed their attitudes and continued to say the right thing in public and carried on killing in private.
    It would be much more accurate to undertake this research by reviewing the public attitudes exhibited in deeds, in the press and in online discussion fora etc.

    But what’s accuracy to do with this project? This project is about two things, firstly white washing the plan, a secondly creaming some of the slush money off to the apologists.

  3. It seems to me that the social science study should be undertaken by a criminologist.

    Or am I missing something?

    1. A very interesting post.

      The proposal doesn’t make it clear. But this would be a study of criminal activity. So the conflict here is between the police and the grouse managers. Or possibly DEFRA (for the landowners) and the Home Office (for the police). Oddly there is no mention of the need to maintain the confidentiality of responses, nor of the ethics of dealing with known criminals.

      Instead, the study is described in terms of a conflict with conservation organisations! This is very strange. The conservationists are merely innocent observers. It seems very unfair to blame them for the problem.

  4. I agree with Dave. Would anyone commission a study of the attitudes of un-prosecuted house-breaking thieves and victims of such crime by experts in “conflict management”?

  5. … especially in conjunction with a scheme where the victims of the crimes are asked to give their property to the thieves freely

  6. And I suppose we, the tax and ratepayers of this country will be footing the bill for this extremely flawed fiasco of a nonsensical research study ??? You just couldn’t make something like this up in the real world !!!

  7. This must surely go out to tender if public funding is involved?

    Too many with vested interests for it to be credible, defra included? What happened to the demands in Sheffield for real science such that they now want anecdotal study?

    Assume this is in addition to the proposed £50k ish to ICBP?

    1. I’ve asked a few academics involved in conflict resolution if they were aware of an invitation to tender for their work – so far, I’ve found no-one who’s aware of it. I wonder how Defra distributes invites to tender for research contracts? Was the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science invited to tender, for example? They do social as well as the natural sciences.

      1. It’s not yet clear who will fund any of the brood meddling trial, including the social science part. They seem to be still discussing it (look at the notes from the meetings they’ve had this year). There is a suggestion that private money may be involved and Natural England rep said in one of their Working Group mtgs that if using public money it would have to be put out to tender.

  8. Just a minor correction to an otherwise good blog post. The Defra inaction plan is not to remove a brood when two broods occur within the same 10km2. No, it is when two broods are within 10 km (as the crow flies) of each other. This means that the brood density that moor owners could tolerate could be as low as 1 brood per 100 km2. In comparison, at Langholm Moor in 2016, there were 7 breeding hen harrier females within around 100 km2 (i.e. in a year without gamekeepers employed) fledging 25 or so chicks. This would mean that if Langholm was located in England, only one brood would have been allowed to fledge naturally. Absurd situation.

    1. Agreed. using the same logic if (and surely it is just a matter of time) two White-tailed Eagle pairs nested within 10km in sheep country in England there would be no difference between the two cases so sheep farmers would be right to demand the right to move them.
      It is utter madness.
      The illegal killing of Buzzards has led me to only one conclusion. All game shooting should be banned.

  9. Keep pointing out the waste of taxpayers money to politicians of all parties [and parliaments] thats the only way youll get to stop this – and any fuss created will keep the message of Ban Driven Grouse Shooting alive – that wasnt created for just one heavily biassed Westminster debate.

    1. I see from a later post that this may be being paid for by private money!..If they dont accept RSPB reports showing their criminality why should we accept a [presumably] shooting industry funded report?

  10. The normal excuse for criminal behaviour is a deprived childhood, what is the excuse for wealthy criminal landowners, and their hired killers ?

    And do they need to have their feelings pandered to by ‘pseudo scientists’ ? A ‘professor’ and a ‘doctor’ no less, for gods sake, grow up.

    1. There are definitely a few ‘maverick’ ecologists, wildlife artists, researchers going about making a bit of a career out of saying nice things about grouse moors. Genuine mavericks are a fantastic resource, even if wrong they test everybody else’s views and are sometimes right, but contrarians and opportunists really are despicable – they know the truth, but to get a bit of dosh or attention will just try and give some scientific credibility to the guff coming from the estates. This proposed study is just tripe, what is it supposed to do say that because keepers and estate owners hate raptors then their prejudice has to be indulged for psychological reasons? The ‘Understanding Predation’ report was similarly bizarre effort, all it said was that conveniently scientific studies can be contradicted by any keeper or other pal of the estates.

    2. The excuse for “wealthy criminal landowners, and their hired killers” is that they did indeed have a deprived childhood – deprived of a love for nature. Deprived has turned into depraved as those “wealthy criminal landowners, and their hired killers” matured into full-blown killers of nature.

  11. A PR exercise with no doubt mainly the grouse owners / keepers and those insane conservationists who think ti a good scheme being asked not eh majority of raptor workers who think it insane. O and the maths 1pr per 10km is 1 pr per 314 sq Km about THIRTY times lower than a natural density that grouse moors could and should tolerate. Talk about pandering to their prejudices what is the scientific basis for this density? None I would suggest utterly scandalous.

  12. It stinks. They’re just going through the motions so that they can say that they’ve covered all the angles. No doubt the CA and MA will have had their heads together to produce another hymn-sheet for social science participants to sing from.

    There’s another persecution issue which needs our attention – namely an attempt to remove the RSPCA’s powers of prosecution. See these two links:


  13. Interesting, surely it will take a few years (20 or so) for the population to recover to 1 pair per 10 miles^2 of suitable habitat throughout the UK. Where is there driven grouse shooting and a population that could recover to such an extent within the timescale of the proposal?

  14. The comments criticising the social science study (especially those elsewhere on twitter) could be more productive if they pointed out the weaknesses of the study in its own terms. It should be emphasised that this is a psychological study so it is NOT social science. The two are as different as chemistry and biology! There are obvious absences to the study in social science terms the whole driven grouse shooting industry could benefit from a social science investigation that looked at the economics of it (including the economics driving the persecution of raptors) the social structure of the industry (the dependence of keepers on their employers and their deference towards them) the criminal networks that supply illegal poisons, traps, etc., the political networks of influence that continue to support it, etc. It is unclear how the study fits into the overall brood management programme. Both the Universities involved and the British Psychological Society BPS (which regulates psychological research) have strong polices on the ethics of research and the proposal does not mention ethics at all! A good first step would be to lodge formal complaints with both universities and the BPS. There seems an obvious potential conflict of interest in relation to the Hawk and Owl Trust from what I can see here. The universities at least would be legally obliged to investigate the research and how it was commissioned if indeed it has been. If it has reached the state that it appears to have done from what is on this web site it should have been approved by the ethics committee of at least one of the universities concerned. Nothing like this should go to an external funding body before ethical approval. I doubt if it would have got past the ethics committee at my university. A complaint pointing out a potential breach of ethics would have to be answered.

    See here:

    and here:

    for what would be required from the researchers.

    In the case of the University of Kent write in the first instance to:
    Professor Dame Julia Goodfellow
    Office of the Vice-Chancellor – Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Kent
    University of Kent,
    CT2 7NZ,

    In the case of the University of Aberdeen:
    Professor Sir Ian Diamond
    Principal & Vice – Chancellor, Principal’s Office
    The University of Aberdeen
    King’s College
    AB24 3FX

    1. Great stuff.

      In answer to your opening line.
      ‘The comments criticising the social science study (especially those elsewhere on twitter) could be more productive if they pointed out the weaknesses of the study in its own terms.

      It isn’t the study itself that bothers me, idiotic surveys are common.
      What bugs the hell out of me is that it is a part of the brood persecution plan. It has been given a level of validity before it has even happened.

  15. Steve Redpath has a lot to lose if he doesn’t handle this properly. All I see it as is another academic lobbying for another grant to justify their position at their place of work. It is opportunistic and cynical but he cannot afford to be anything other than scrupulous in his methods when he embarks on this nonsense – it will be peer reviewed by people who are not in hock to DEFRA or the government.

  16. I agree with the comments here that the social science project is a complete waste of money and the whole brood meddling project is appalling.

    I can shed some light on the technical aspects here. The emotional response paragraph seems to be a long winded way of saying: Man with gun on moor sees hen harrier – does he pull the trigger?

    Cognitive Behavioural Therapy explores beliefs and in this case it does seem that many gamekeepers have the belief that hen harriers are vermin and need to be killed. Many including me would say this is a dysfunctional belief – these are notoriously hard to shift as they are built up over a lifetime. My opinion is that such ingrained beliefs will not be shifted by a “window dressing” project such as this.

    In other words a total waste of money.

    Graduate diploma integrative counselling, a drop in the ocean to Steve R’s qualifications but I know waffle when I see it.

  17. The whiff of a great big PR stunt is really strong here, even smellier than the “Gift of Grouse.” Because the shooting industry need to clearly demonstrate how they are enthusiastically contributing to upland conservation, they need a study like this that shows how they are learning lessons and blissfully putting them into practice. However there are aspects of this brood management plan that are clearly farcical if it is taken at face value. If it works and the industry adopt it, then surely HH chick survival rates will shoot through the roof in a few years. There must be some part of it that guarantees that the scheme is a token gesture, for example choosing a site where HH are already extinct to trial it and to continue to exterminate the excess. They can then publish a load of “dont we feel good about ourselves” propaganda, which shows how they really tried hard to make it work, “because nothing raises a shooting agents cockles like the sight of a skydancer quartering the wee bog,” all so that everywhere else except the trial area, everything carries on as normal.

  18. ‘Brood meddling’ – an excuse to destroy protected Hen Harriers.

    Protect; keep safe from harm or injury.

    Meddle; interfere with something that is not one’s concern, touch or handle (something) without permission.

    Easy-to-understand words.

    Do not meddle with a protected species – simple isn’t it…..?
    But for some strange reason the Hen Harrier appears to be unprotected from certain elements of our society, and the so-called protectors want to meddle with the birds’ nesting attempts.
    If Hen Harriers were a public health pest then it could be understandable to control their numbers, as perhaps rats require controlling for reasons of disease-causing for example.
    But Hen Harriers are not a threat to public health.
    They are, however, a problem to a tiny minority of people, the members of our democratic society who enjoy destroying the red grouse, the very bird that they wish to protect by killing raptors (amongst many other species of nature).
    Raptor deaths equals more red grouse equals more red grouse to kill.
    It really doesn’t make any sense does it.

    And what will the non-grouse shooting public gain from this meddling idea?
    Of course they will gain absolutely nothing.
    They, and that includes me, will not be able to enjoy the sight of more Hen Harriers.
    They, and that includes me, will simply become more frustrated with the whole saga of grouse shooting and raptor persecution.

    As long as there are grouse shoots and gamekeepers then Hen Harriers will NEVER be allowed to increase their numbers.
    And that is why there was a call for a total ban on driven grouse shooting, a call that will be made again, many times, because that is the only way Hen Harriers will ever be safe in the UK.

    Take note of Sir David Attenborough’s words at the beginning of last Sunday’s Planet Earth II; “Earth is the only known planet where life exists”.

    Life; the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.

    Death; the state of being dead.

    The shooting brigade’s death destroys this planet – and they cannot see it, do not want to see it, and even if it smacked them in the face they just would not understand it.

  19. The first thing that strikes me about this proposal is that it requires an associated social science study to determine the bias shown by the architects of the questionnaire. And will it take into account the overwhelming majority of signatories who expressed their ‘feelings’ by signing the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting compared with the opposing e-petition (about 3:1 if I remember correctly)? How will the sample of “conservationists’ be defined? What about the general public? The other two target groups, game managers and gamekeepers, are easily definable and predictable in their responses, or at least their true ‘feelings’ about Hen Harriers, but how will the sample of conservationists be selected? How will the true feelings of interested parties such as gamekeepers be separated from lies and replies constructed to mimic someone who cares about the welfare of the harriers? We’re all too familiar with the ridiculous claims that it is only “a few bad eggs” among the gamekeeper fraternity who kill Hen Harriers. Unfortunately the results of this sham ‘study’ are so predictable that they are not worth the £50k to be spent on it. The whole proposal stinks of personal careerism and profit motive. It’s pathetic the way that certain scientists sell their souls to the devil, and bad news for science in general.

  20. Not often I agree with most in here but the proposed study does seem to be waste of £50,000 and god alone knows what it hopes to show. For £500 I could write the report as both sides are so entrenched it doesn’t take a social scientist to figure out the feelings of all concerned. As with all these reports they tend to find in favour of who coughs up the cash for the study so where the funding comes from is crucial.

  21. Would the study include research into the psychology of why some people go to the lengths of killing/getting others to kill many, many wild creatures so that they can kill other wild creatures? Why some of those same people spend huge amounts of money to kill wild creatures that they might or might not eat? Why some people either break the law/encourage others to break the law to enable them to kill wild creatures?

  22. I only achieved ungraded CSE maths,but I think I can fit nine theoretical nests in a hypothetical 20x20km square.
    Is that 400 sq Kms?. Still not good enough.

  23. I’ve calculated on the back of a fag packet that the proposed upper limit of nesting harriers to be “tolerated” would involve at least a 65% reduction from the natural population level if the birds were not persecuted. In addition, the prevention of semi-colonial nesting could effect a serious negative impact on brood productivity. And does the study include the structure of other predator/prey relationships where harriers are removed? From all perspectives this experiment is ill thought out at least, if not contrived simply as a means of controlling harrier numbers “by the back door.”

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