GWCT & YFTB: it’s getting harder to differentiate between them

The Mail on Sunday ran a story yesterday suggesting that the RSPB was responsible for the catastrophic decline of the English hen harrier breeding population. It went like this:


You might think this article was the handiwork of the grouse shooting industry’s propaganda machine, You Forgot the Birds (YFTB). It’s got all the hallmarks – anti-RSPB rhetoric, dodgy use of science, published in the Mail etc. But there’s no quote from YFTB favourites, Ian ‘King of Bollocks‘ Botham or the equally scientifically-illiterate Ian Gregory.

Instead, there’s yet another idiotic quote from Andrew ‘More Crayons than Credibility‘ Gilruth of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), who suggests that the cause of the collapsing hen harrier population is the RSPB not killing enough predators. This disingenuous gibberish from Gilruth is akin to ivory poachers arguing that the loss of elephants in Kruger National Park is down to the failure of the National Park Authority to protect them – and nothing to do with illegal killing for profit.

So did this Mail on Sunday article originate from YFTB or from GWCT? It’s pretty hard to tell just from reading it, but what you might not know is that YFTB issued an embargoed press statement to journalists in late October 2017 (that wasn’t published) that went like this:

Gosh, spot the similarities?

Is the GWCT’s Andrew Gilruth now moonlighting for YFTB?

27 thoughts on “GWCT & YFTB: it’s getting harder to differentiate between them”

      1. Whilst it’s true that Dacre isn’t the editor of the Mail on Sunday, he is editor-in-chief of DMG Media which publishes that paper so is not without influence. Not that he’d have to push too hard as the editor of the paper, “Geordie” Greig, is the son of a former director of gunmakers James Purdey & Sons and a member of the ultra-exclusive club “White’s” which is chock-a-block with the land-owning gentry a good number of whom own grouse moors. According to Wikipedia the club’s menu “revolves around the best of British game: grouse, partridge, wild salmon, gull’s eggs, potted shrimps, smoked eel and smoked trout”.

  1. Doesn’t Paul Dacre own a grouse moor? It’s surprising the Daily Mail doesn’t already direct more of its bile in the direction of the RSPB.

  2. So, like this, ‘if the RSPB managed to improve the breeding success of Hen Harriers on land managed by the RSPB, then there would not be such a focus on the Hen Harriers delicately balanced status which would allow us to blow them away on the Grouse Moors, as we already do, but that could be overlooked, as it always has been….if only the RSPB would sort themselves out !!

  3. The Game Conservancy (why support their pretence that they give a damn about wildlife) are beyond a joke if they are happy for anyone working for them to give their support to such b.s.

    I suppose it is too much to hope that like BASC they might decide it’s time to get rid of people like Gilruth whose only role seems to be providing a fig leaf for the worst excesses of driven grouse shooting?

    On the other hand, I have to say I’m very glad to be working for the organisation that is the target of Gilruth, Botham etc. If we weren’t at the forefront of exposing wildlife crime and providing evidence that results in the prosecution of wildlife criminals then we wouldn’t have to put up with such ridiculous attacks.

    Might it also be worth mentioning that there hasn’t been a single successful harrier nest on a driven grouse moor in the period that this article refers to, whilst the bodies of shot hen harriers keep on piling up?

    ps – Ban driven grouse shooting.

    pps – thanks for copying over the Mail’s article, saves me having to look at their odious website myself.

    1. Fair point Anon. – Very little chance of making the statistics if you measure success by the numbers of chicks fledged per nest when you don’t clearly don’t have, or are unwilling to have any nests on driven grouse moors. A low fledge rate is better than no nest at all. This is exactly what you would expect of the Daily Mail – a scant disregard for the evidence. I suspect though, that this is the sort of subject where their readership may not be quite so supportive. They’ve taken a measured risk by running the story and it could backfire again.

  4. Presumably you saw this:

    What gives with this Gilruth guy?

    He seems to be trying to focus all GWCT attention on himself rather than the good science they’re doing on predator control.

    In saying that, unless I’ve missed it, I haven’t seen any science on how many foxes we’ve got nationally nowadays, what are the drivers behind any population increase (there are some obvious candidates like the hunting ban) and what the impact is (e.g. increased wader predation in the English lowlands).

    Maybe RSPB, GWCT, WildCru etc. could get their spatial modelling bods to look into this in a nice friendly collaborative study. Because that is what’s needed, not this endless bickering

  5. Is it not the case that when a hen harrier nest is surrounded by driven grouse moors the biggest danger to the success cof that nest is that when theparents go to hunt on one of these adjacant. These moors host an artificially high number of grouse, and thus chicks at that time of the year, and as such are attractive feeding areas. of course when the parents access these areas they chance being illegally killed. When that occurs it is inevitable that the nest will fail thus diminishing the the average of harrier chicks successfully fledged on RSPB Reserves. This is a simply case of them doing the killing and blaming the RSPB and predators for the result of that killing. Aye, they are a dubious lot whose primary skill is in deception and ambush .. so no surprise they use misleading logic to help point the way for the bluntest knives in the drawer.

  6. Christ this is tedious trying to win the argument with these bastards . They are totally entrenched and it seems all they need to do is to keep their heads down and churn out the same three mantras – rural economy -more waders on grouse moors and RSPB bad for birds. The thing is so long as they have powerful and rich friends like Dacre and the politicians who either support them ,like the nasty party down south ,or he useless bunch of lazy non entities we have up here who are unwilling to do any thing, then it would seem they are untouchable ,and they know it. I am struggling to think of the “knock out blow” that would seriously dent their position . Without that then this situation will go on unchanged for god knows how long. We have done well to drive them into a defensive position , but what is the strategy now?
    Please don’t cite the SNP’s latest publicity stunts as a positive move forward.

  7. Yup, and it’s on Grouse Moors they survive, with predator control ? Well, we wouldn’t want grubby facts to spoil a good story – like pointing out that not one nest survived on a Grouse Moor, the ’10 times more likely’ were all on Forestry Commission land – so why did FC do so much better than everyone else ?

    First, like RSPB it works with conviction to protect raptors from persecution

    Second, it did better than RSPB for one single, simple reason – between its Hen Harriers and the next Grouse Moor there is a huge swathe of forest, inhospitable to hunting HH. FC Harriers stay safe, wrapped up in a Sitka Spruce blanket. Sadly, RSPB Hen Harriers nest adjoining Grouse moors and stray out onto them – and the results – and contrast – are all too clear.,

  8. Is this the same Gilruth who couldn’t accurately quote the number of BOP crimes reported in Birdcrime 2016?

    As regards the annual figures produced for RSPB and non-RSPB nests from 2015 to 2017, as shown in the unpublished YFTB press release, maybe they’ve failed to notice that, in each of those years, the overall average number of young produced exceeds 1.2 (1.64, 2.00 and 1.43 respectively), as does the overall average for the whole period (1.64). It’s the overall figure which counts, not some figure selectively chosen to make a point.

    Having had superb views this afternoon of an untagged grey male Hen Harrier, I got around to thinking how much the debate is, quite understandably, centred on the loss of tagged birds. It would take a much better brain than mine to do so but I’m wondering whether anyone with expertise in population dynamics might have calculated roughly how many untagged birds are also likely to have been ‘lost’, based on the number of known disappearances of those with tags?

    Incidentally, does anyone know what the name ‘You Forgot The Birds’ is supposed to signify? It’s totally lost on me!

    1. It wouldn’t be out of the question to calculate the percentage of tagged birds lost to known criminality against total tagged and factoring that percentage into a total number of birds fledged in any year or over a number of years with a variable percentage. If say 20% of birds tagged, 5 years ago, are known to have been lost to criminality over the subsequent period, it’s not beyond belief that the same percentage of untagged birds, from that same year, have also been lost.

    2. A bit old now but this paper by Brian Etheridge et al. was based on data from wing tagging.
      We don’t really need more data, we know what is going on, but at least all new data keeps the pressure on, wakes up the media and makes it harder for the politicians to sleep walk through this.
      Only spin doctors (am i allowed to call them con-men) like Gilruth want to play conjuring trick with smoke and mirrors. Great, the more mad he appears, the better he makes our case.

  9. Surely any trace of credibility still attached to the so-called “Game & Wildlife Conservation [sic] Trust” (GWCT) has well and truly been demolished by this latest piece of unadulterated dross? How can anyone take seriously Andrew Gilruth’s status as a scientist at any level? The only excuses I can think of for attempting to make intellectual capital out of such a feeble correlation are downright simple-mindedness or deliberate obfuscation. Does he think we were all born yesterday? A slightly but significantly modified version has been quoted elsewhere, implying that the “better” productivity statistic is from active grouse moors, and not, as stated in this version, “land not run by the RSPB.” This is attributed to the RSPB not killing enough predators, specifically foxes. What the GWCT doesn’t appear to understand is the fundamental distinction between nature conservation and what amounts to intensive farming of a quarry species. Nature conservation should NOT be about reducing natural predator numbers to distort the balance between construed “desirable” and “undesirable” species; it is about managing land (or water) to sustain viable populations of all members of the ecosystem in natural balance. Foxes are natural predators. I’m not familiar with data from elsewhere apart from my own research area, where the mean predation rate of harrier nests by foxes is approximately one brood in three “lost” to foxes. During active keepering, that was significantly fewer than the proportion of harriers (including breeding adults) being killed by gamekeepers. Therefore the viability of the breeding population of Hen Harriers was robust, but only if human persecution is removed from the equation. From a sample of 68 nests monitored, no other predated harrier nest was recorded, despite the presence of Stoats, Carrion Crows and Ravens in some considerable numbers.

    The raison d’etre of the GWCT is premised upon their alleged scientific credibility and the pretence within their title to be a wildlife conservation body. It fails miserably on both counts, and should be discredited by any serious scientist or naturalist. It is a reflection of the weakness of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), as Government Advisers, to accept without question the presence of GWCT on the group established to review grouse moor management practices in Scotland.

    1. ‘Nature conservation should NOT be about reducing natural predator numbers to distort the balance between construed “desirable” and “undesirable” species; it is about managing land (or water) to sustain viable populations of all members of the ecosystem in natural balance. Foxes are natural predators’


      We’ve been over this ground before, but foxes are not naturally an apex predator. They’ve only become an apex predator because of man’s intervention in the eco system. It’s therefore probable that there are far more foxes around than hen harriers have evolved to cope with. I think it’s reasonable to think that predator control in areas with nesting harriers would help productivity. The problem is 1. that so many people would object on principle and 2. who would bear the cost.

      1. Dave, I’m used to this tired old excuse about apex predators, and regard it as rather feeble and naive. If you want to go down that line, just about any sin can be justified on the basis that man has truly f***ed up the natural environment. However I am rather more offended by your apparent reluctance to accept the results of my hard work over an intensive period of twenty years, which clearly calculated the natural predation rate on a population of Hen Harriers on three Scottish grouse moors. If you want to believe the word of gamekeepers over my diligent scientific research, go ahead, but your arguments will only help to fuel the continued persecution of all predators, including harriers, by those very gamekeepers you’re agreeing with. You seem to be oblivious to the fact that if man had not interfered, there would be far more harriers and an even greater range and number of natural predators for harriers to “cope with.” What they can’t cope with is human persecution, so the important objective has to remain preventing gamekeepers from killing harriers, not messing about with natural predators. And stop thinking like gamekeepers, who are the real problem. The other problem, stemming from otherwise well-meaning conservationists, is a lack of understanding of the complex ecology within the moorland ecosystem. This causes a dangerous belief in simplistic and reactionary solutions.

        1. I see.

          So the mesopredator release hypothesis is to be rejected out of hand, in so far as it relates to foxes.

          And it isn’t possible to both control foxes in harrier nesting areas and at the same time strive to eradicate illegal persecution.

          It’s a point of view, I suppose, albeit a bit binary.

          1. Dave, I’m not getting into an extended collateral debate on the mesopredator release hypothesis on this blog, which would not only be off-topic but insulting to most of the members. However although I can see certain flaws in the hypothesis, you have no right to accuse me of rejecting it out of hand. One factor which questions the replacement of natural apex predators with man (gamekeepers, farmers, fox hunts, amateur controllers etc.) is that all the persecution combined tends to result in one of two outcomes – no significant change in population density, or local patches of almost total eradication. Your second point is hardly worth responding to, to be honest, and a bit binary! Of course it would be possible to attempt to control foxes in harrier nesting areas; gamekeepers have been trying that experiment for many decades but still have to kill obscene numbers of them on an ongoing annual basis. I have estate records for one of the moors in my study area, and a rather revealing statistic is that for a number of years, the keepers claimed to have killed exactly two hundred foxes per year, yet my monitoring of breeding dens indicated changes only according to natural fluctuations in food supply. But most importantly, the fox predation impact on harrier nests was not significant enough to affect overall productivity. The Hen Harrier has to live with the risk posed by ground predators just the same as any other ground nesting species.

        2. Totally correct Iain, eloquently put , just the point I have trying to make in my own bumbling way for years.It amazes me how many people including so called conservationists and raptor workers still agree with the small minded attitude of keepers.

  10. I noticed that Lord Ridley of Northern Rock asked a similar question of Defra a month or so earlier but related only to RSPB land and not about productivity on non-RSPB land:

    “To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many hen harrier nests in the UK were located in areas where the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds had primary control over access in (1) 2015, (2) 2016, and (3) 2017; how many of those nests failed to have any chicks fledge; and what were the known causes of those nest failures.”

    1. Was this the same United Utilities site where a hut and access point were constructed on a supply pipe (by the water authority owner) right next to an established Peregrine nest, which was subsequently deserted ?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: