Gamekeepers’ attempts to suppress Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative report

Earlier this week we blogged about how the Moorland Assocation had blocked the publication of an official press statement on the failed Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative (here) and then shortly afterwards how the RSPB had terminated its involvement with this project (here).

We said at the time that it wasn’t just the Moorland Association that was disrupting this ‘partnership’, but that the local gamekeepers had also played their part. Here’s the evidence, sourced via an FoI to the Peak District National Park Authority:

On 8th November 2017, Rhodri Thomas (Peak District National Park Authority) sent around a copy of the draft Bird of Prey Initiative (BoPI) Report 2016-2017 to all members of the BoPI, asking for comments before the report was published. Here is that draft report: Draft BoPI 2016 2017 report

On 10th November 2017, Amanda Anderson (Director, Moorland Association) had a telephone conversation with Rhodri Thomas about the draft report. We don’t know the full details of that conversation but judging from Rhodri’s email to Amanda shortly afterwards, it’s clear that Amanda was questioning the accuracy of the report:

On 25th November 2017, Amanda wrote to Rhodri and sent him a copy of the draft BoPI report with comments from the local gamekeepers, compiled by ‘Richard’ (a gamekeeper). The main thrust is that the gamekeepers don’t accept the report as accurate, apparently do not understand the BoPI’s terms of reference six years on, and don’t want the 2016/2017 report to be published. Here is a copy of those comments:

Gamekeeper comments in response to draft 2016 2017 BoPI report

And here is Amanda’s email to Rhodri, basically supporting the gamekeepers’ comments:

On 26 November, Rhodri emailed Amanda with his intitial thoughts on the gamekeepers’ comments:

On 27 November 2017, Rhodri wrote a more detailed reponse to Amanda about the gamekeepers’ comments:

Rhodri also sent Amanda his annotated comments to the gamekeepers’ complaints, rejecting the vast majority as being either irrelevant or inaccurate. Here it is (and it’s worth a read): Rhodri response to gamekeeper comments on draft 2016 2017 BoPI report

On 29 November, Rhodri sent the final version of the 2016/2017 BoPI report to the whole group, but before he did, he also sent this explanatory email to Amanda and Robert Benson (Chair, Moorland Assoc) to clarify why he had rejected the majority of the gamekeepers’ comments:

Later the same day, the Moorland Association refused to sign the joint press statement announcing how the BoPI had once again failed to meet any of its targets, and so the 2016/2017 report was quietly posted on the Peak District National Park Authority website without any formal announcement. We blogged about that decision here.

The emails and documents we’ve posted here provide just a flavour of the efforts Rhodri and his team have made to keep the partnership on track and to maintain the focus on tackling rampant illegal raptor persecution within the Dark Peak. In our view the Moorland Association and the gamekeepers have been working to an entirely different agenda (and the BoPI results support this view) whilst enjoying the PR gains of being seen as partners working towards improved raptor protection in the National Park.

The Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative is the epitome of a sham partnership and we applaud the RSPB for calling it out, and getting out.

35 thoughts on “Gamekeepers’ attempts to suppress Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative report”

  1. Unfortunately just further evidence of gamekeepers (and their employers) having no intention of changing their illegal ways. As licensing will be almost impossible to police looks like banning driven grouse shooting will be the only way.

  2. That is a real tour de force! Congratulations to RPUK for your tenacity in obtaining all the information and for such a coherent presentation. However, it is ultimately depressing that a collaborative study such as this will never work. A ban on DGS can be the only outcome.

  3. Oh God. Those keepers comments are depressing. Sounds like a truculent teenager complaining that they’re all out to get him. I’m sure that at some points there are exaggerations in public responses to news of persecution and not all keepers are armed evil bastards. But come on, why, when the report sought to blame no-one in particular, do they have to try and deflect attention elsewhere? Yes, falconry could be to blame for a vanished clutch of merlin eggs/chicks, so could foxes (if any were left alive on keepered moors), the report did not say it was gamekeepers, so why so defensive?
    If someone was running a project on my patch and I’d not met the project officer, I’d ask to see them. they had 6 years to contact Jamie. How can they turn around at the end and say “we know there were more birds of prey, but we kept it secret because we never met the BOPI staff”? Surely MA asked them to?
    They’re like children. The pressure has been mounting for years for them to demonstrate an ability to do their job within the law and they have failed. Now it’s not their fault! Surely if you know you’re ‘on watch’ you’d behave impeccably? It was in their interest to be co-operative, just imagine if they’d informed about all those invisible birds they saw. Any subsequent failures and they could have strongly suggested was the result of increased monitoring, who knows, somebody might even have believed them. But no, they’re not sophisticated enough for that – just bury our heads and keep denying everything.
    Well done Rhodri for persevering, but what it has really showed is that they are unwilling to meet halfway and their idea of a partnership is that everyone else does what they want them to.
    Rant over.

    1. I was going to post simailar comments to that but was pressed for time this evening. We said. These people had 6 (count them 6) years to report meet engage with other parties. Now they claim victimisation

  4. Quite interesting reading. Off course there are a variety of reasons for nest failures and examples of most of these are well known. I also found some of Richard (the gamekeeper) comments to be reasonable, but most seemed to be based on significant paranoia? I imagine that campaigning against driven grouse shooting has been the talk of recent meeting and that people are galvanising their opinions under the leadership of the Countryside Alliance. They aren’t helping themselves are they?

  5. The only way this could have worked is if trust had developed between keepers and raptor workers at some level. This was always going to be difficult given their relative experiences. Most raptor workers experience tells them NOT TO TRUST KEEPERS because of past persecution incidents they have experienced and most Keepers feel that raptor workers ARE OUT TO GET THEM because of the same experiences. Yet this report does not contain any accusations, but the failures contained trigger the paranoia of the keepers. It was a long shot that it might work but that it hasn’t is whilst disappointing hardly a surprise.
    We need a partnership that excludes the shooting lobby and their employees, its not RSPB that should be walking from this the MA and keepers should be expelled.

  6. Wow – what a remarkable insight into the culture of victimhood in which these keepers appear to exist. Well done to Mr. Thomas for his patience and professionalism and RPUK for bringing this to us.

    1. Really?
      ‘I have spoken to them [RSPB] and said that I am not prepared to agree a statement that unequivocally lays the blame for poor bird of prey numbers on persecution, in the absence of unequivocal evidence.’
      Although i am sure the RSPB wouldn’t have worded it so bluntly, this is simple statement of fact. Even in 2010 there was enough evidence.
      I agree the rest of his correspondence was fair but not this political soft-soaping.
      Respect, RSPB.

      1. I think this is an essentially neutral viewpoint and acceptable. For example In the past, I have spent many years arguing with with christian fundamentalists about various things, one of the most important being how do you know anything in the absence of evidence. Even endeavours which correlate bird of prey disappearances (without detailed tracking data) with land use actually only generate circumstantial evidence and it could be argued that a disappearing bird over a grouse moors just proves that the bird spent most of its time over grouse moors. After all, all living things die, therefore where you die is most likely to happen where you spend most of your time. That much of the evidence is circumstantial is not necessarily a problem, I am a scientist trained to study atoms and I can take a view with confidence that all evidence for atoms anyway is circumstantial actually. Indeed the atom is really a philosophical concept rather than a thing and it is certainly not a tiny tiny ball bearing, so small it can not be divided further. There are other causes of death for raptors besides illegal persecution. In the Peak District I think the last few years have been quite bad in terms of the weather with quite wet summers, although I don’t have detailed meteorological data to hand, so I think this could have had a bad effect on Merlin populations for example. Again, short eared owls in the PDNP have good and bad years and I think 2017 was a bad year, possibly for the reasons offered by gamekeeper Richard. My personal pet hate is dogs running all over the bog during breeding season. A big problem on the eastern Moors. So personally I wouldn’t unequivocally lay the blame for poor raptor numbers on illegal persecution. However I do not accept that it is insignificant.

        The guy is ultimately trying to broker a compromise statement, in order to get the report out. I think he does a fairly good job.

        1. I am absolutely sure the RSPB wouldn’t have used a phrase like ‘ unequivocally lays the blame for poor bird of prey numbers on persecution’
          In fact we can see what phrases they used this week and it was simply along the lines that raptor persecution is the overriding factor. That is pretty much as unequivocal as anything gets in ecology.

          ‘The guy is ultimately trying to broker a compromise statement, in order to get the report out.’

          I would call it ‘Watering it down’ and even the watered down version wasn’t published.
          That is why i call it making deals with the devil (or more precisely criminal apologists). It just doesn’t work, they are playing us and up until now have been doing a damned good job.

          1. The difference, of course, is that any followers of this blog, conservationists on the ground, wildlife enthusiasts and visitors to these national parks will accept natural losses and get on with it. Where there is persecution and clearly it may not be the reason for every single loss – it’s substantial – and that is not acceptable. Why would anyone who gives time and enthusiasm to the protection of wildlife continue to do that and not argue against blatant criminality carried out for purely commercial interests.

          2. My fault, unequivocal meaning without doubt. When I wrote this I looked at the word “unequivocal” I kind of thought about it meaning without equivalent in terms of the actual cause of nest failures.

  7. Wonder who drafted these responses , there is no way these are are the thoughts and words of gamekeepers they follow the same old mantras and red herrings we have heard for years – the dark side, money and privilege talking here not some unemployable flunky.
    Shows yet again ( how many times?) their arrogance and their entrenched position , the days of talking to these buffoons is long gone ,public pressure and changes in the law to FORCE them to change is the only way forward they will never VOLUNTARILY give one inch.

  8. 6 years in and the gamekeepers don’t even know what the project is about!!! It looks like the MA did not brief them about what they were supposed to do? Why is the national park wasting public money?

  9. My goodness: it is astonishing to see how much twisting and turning the gamekeeper went through to avoid acknowledging that there is illegal persecution of birds of prey. Again, it just shows the problem: the people who are best placed to stop the illegal persecution are more interested in pretending it is a myth than dealing with the problem.

    [Ed: last paragraph deleted as libellous]

  10. I wonder how the MA will spin this?

    One thing that can be said in the RSPB’s defence ,of the way they have dealt with this issue, is that they have kept their powder dry until now. Now they have unequivocal proof that this ‘working with all parties’ does not work and that the shooting lobby use it a PR cover. There is no way the shooting lobby can call the RSPB out as extremists, since they have been ‘working’ and engaging with them for at least 6 years.

    Sometimes a more subtle approach may be more effective than kicking the door in.

  11. There should have been conditions set into this initiative from the start, a temporary cessation of shooting if no progress is made, any incidents of persecution resulting in a penalty in the form of a temporary ban on shooting, any further incidents resulting in a season ban, this would still be possible to do if the National trust is committed to the initiative, this is the only way forward, you cannot negotiate with professional bullshitters and time wasters.
    With the RSPB walking away the Moorland Ass has succeeded, it has managed to keep driven grouse shooting alive again for the foreseeable future in the dark peak, that was and still is its main intention. No ground has been given or lost by them.

  12. It’s so ironic that accusations are thrown around blaming raptor workers for being reluctant to share information on breeding raptors, including nest locations. The truth is that past and ongoing experience has taught them that to do so would place the birds’ and the nests’ continuing existence under threat. So the raptor workers have a justifiable reason for not imparting this sensitive information to the suspected criminal element. Looking at the corollary, what possible reason can the gamekeepers have for keeping nesting raptor locations secret from the raptor workers? There’s too much blame being apportioned to the raptor workers for this “lack of coordination.” It’s the last thing most gamekeepers want. They just want to be left alone to carry on business as usual.

    It is slightly entertaining but also deeply intriguing to read comments made by gamekeepers. Keeper Richard’s are no exception, demonstrating a poor understanding of ecology and natural history knowledge in general. What do they teach them at gamekeeper college? His assessment, that “obviously” the five-year targets for raptor recovery were set far too high, was based on what? Apparently the raptor workers’ lack of informing keepers of nest locations is “important to know for Health and Safety.” One can only speculate as to whose health or safety! And what does ‘Richard’ mean when he says that this also wastes the keepers’ time “pursuing predators in springtime” – was that just an unfortunate choice of words or a Freudian slip? He believes that experienced raptor workers should be replaced with “impartial” BTO ringers, but I suppose he can be excused some naivety. He then goes on to imply that Kestrels fare better on grouse moors because keepers keep down the predators – exactly what predators are Kestrels susceptible to? Or do they nest on the ground on grouse moors? Even Carrion Crows very rarely prey on Kestrel eggs or chicks, in fact it seems Peregrines are the most likely predators of Kestrel – surely Richard was not implying that it is Peregrines the keepers are removing?

      1. Gerard, so have I on several occasions, but regarded it as mobbing rather than hunting. I’ve also seen adult Kestrels “having a go” at Hen Harriers, which I’m certain was not anything more than mobbing.

  13. Having watched a Merlin beating the shit out of a Buzzard that strayed too close to its nest, I doubt very much that Buzzards are a cause of Merlin decline.

  14. As far as the keeper’s comments are concerned – you could be excused for suspecting signs of a guilt complex –
    Intransigence and a determination to be anything other than “constructive”. The issue is one arising from complicity and through this owners and managers have compromised themselves – they now find themselves in a position where they are unable to forcefully instruct employee keepers on what essentially has been signed up to and therefore what has to be done to end what can only be described as criminality. This criminality is still occurring, in some part, because past complicity on the part of owners has resulted in a power shift towards the keepers.
    I recognise I’m venturing into dangerous territory here, but I suspect that the individual “keeper” would never have expected his comments to come to the attentions of RPUK. The question is why would the Moorland Association “set up” the gamekeeper(s) rather than take responsibility for their comments as their employers.

    1. Not necessarily guilt. They have probably just been talking with gamekeepers and others galvanising their position. The responses sound like they could have been written by a combination of people from NGA, Songbird Survival to the Countryside Alliance. Essentially I have heard all the arguments before, but in this instance there was no mention of windfarms.

      1. The point is though, what we see is, or is made to look like a verbatim response from gamekeepers or an individual representing the views of colleagues who wouldn’t appear to recognise how weak and damaging their views are. Why would the Moorland Assoc. not see it that way. Is it just a case of literally shooting from the hip in the “knowledge” that the comments would never be publicised. Any neutral observer, politicians included, would immediately see the comments as totally obstructive.

    2. Guilty gamekeepers, except a few exceptionally dense ones, will probably keep off media where they could potentially draw attention to their activities. Keep your head down.

  15. Well done PDNPA and RSPB for highlighting this failed so called “initiative” .
    Shame on you Moorland Association …you have a criminal element in your midst that you fail to recognise and face up to.
    I can only deduct you are in the pockets of these criminals

  16. I’ve dipped my toe into this world of late and its been an experience! A more dysfunctional group I have yet to meet. The poorly informed gossip from the raptor workers, trusting not even their colleagues, The Park who think its all about meetings and the dreadful plod, who simply want to tick boxes. Simply aweful. The best reply the MA should give is to work with brood meddling and make it work. Let’s see.

  17. Congratulatios, Rhodri, for behaving in the best tradition of our public services – without fear or favour.

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