Regular blog readers will be familiar with the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative (BoPI). This so-called partnership was established in 2011 and was originally a five-year project which aimed to restore declining populations of some raptor species in the Dark Peak region of the Peak District National Park.
BoPI partners included the Moorland Association, The National Trust, Natural England, Peak District National Park Authority and the RSPB. Two local raptor study groups (the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group and the South Peak Raptor Study Group) were also involved.
The BoPI was deemed necessary following years of evidence of wide scale raptor persecution on grouse moors within the region (e.g. see RSPB summary reports here and here). However, the Moorland Association put its own ludicrous spin on the situation by publishing an article to announce the launch of the BoPI but using the misleading headline: ‘Birds of prey thriving on grouse moors’.
By 2015, the BoPI had failed to meet any of its targets (see here). However, in a press release the Peak District National Park Authority said the BoPI would continue and claimed there was “renewed commitment” from the project partners as well as “new rigour and energy” to restore the breeding success of raptors in the Dark Peak.
Strangely, the BoPI failed to publish an annual report in 2016.
In late November 2017, the BoPI published its 2017 annual report, which was bundled together with the 2016 report (see here). Once again, the BoPI had failed to meet any of its targets and for the first time since 1984, there were no successfully breeding peregrines in the Dark Peak. This was clearly a failing partnership.
The results came as no surprise to anybody, but what was surprising, and as we blogged at the time, was that there wasn’t an accompanying press statement from the Peak District National Park Authority or from the BoPI – the annual report was quietly uploaded to a page on the Peak Park Authority’s website that you had to work quite hard to find.
Well now, after an FoI request, we know why.
There was a clear intention by the Peak District National Park Authority to issue a press statement on behalf of the BoPI, but this was blocked by project ‘partner’ the Moorland Association.
Here is the draft press statement produced by the Peak District National Park Authority on behalf of the BoPI with the intention of publishing it at the same time as the 2016/2017 report:
It was pretty measured and accurate, and all project partners had agreed to it, apart from the Moorland Association. Here’s the email from Amanda Anderson (Director, Moorland Association) to the Peak District National Park Authority rejecting the draft press statement, and written in the knowledge that if the project partners couldn’t agree on the draft statement by a set deadline, no press statement would be issued and the 2016/2017 report would be published on its own with no publicity:
And here is the response to Amanda from Rhodri Thomas of the Peak District National Park Authority, who clearly has a sense of humour (note his final sentence, in reference to the publicity about grouse moor owners wanting licences to kill Marsh harriers):
It’s quite clear why the Moorland Association would seek to block this press statement, given the dire results of the BoPI’s 2016/2017 report. Even a skilled PR manipulator like Amanda would struggle to conjure up any positive PR spin from such a catastrophic project failure.
What’s surprising is that the other BoPI partners would accept this situation and allow the 2016/2017 report to be published without any accompanying publicity. In their defence, it may be that the publishing deadline didn’t allow for any more discussion on the issue (the Peak Park Authority was obliged to publish the 2016/2017 report by a certain date because we’d asked for a copy via FoI and so the Park had to comply within the regulatory timeframe). Nevertheless, the press statement could still have been published, but with an additional disclaimer stating the Moorland Association did not agree with the report’s findings. That’s fairly standard practice in situations such as this.
But perhaps the other BoPI partners are not just sitting back and accepting the disruptive role of the Moorland Association in this partnership charade. Perhaps there are on-going discussions behind the scenes about how to address the problem. We’d like to think so, especially as we now also know, through this recent FoI, that it’s not just the Moorland Association that’s trying to prevent any negative publicity about on-going raptor persecution in the Peak District National Park. The local grouse moor gamekeepers are also complicit in this role, and we’ll be blogging more about that shortly.
We also now know that the Peak District National Park Authority, despite its best efforts to hold this partnership together, is struggling to see a future for the collaborative aspect of the BoPI. Good, it’s a bloody sham and the sooner the grouse shooting industry is prevented from masquerading as fully-supportive conservation partners, the better.
On a related topic, have a listen to this recent podcast interview with Amanda Anderson, which includes a discussion about the Moorland Association’s involvement in raptor conservation ‘partnerships’ (starts at 17.55).
UPDATE 14.30hrs: RSPB terminates involvement with failed Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative (here)
UPDATE 25 January 2018: Gamekeepers’ attempts to suppress Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative report (here)