Don’t laugh, but here’s the new Moorland Association chairman, Lord Masham

The Moorland Association, a lobby group for England’s grouse moor owners, has elected a new Chairman and its choice speaks volumes.

Mark Cunliffe-Lister (Lord Masham in some circles) owns the Swinton Estate in Nidderdale. This estate may sound familiar to some readers, and that’s because we’ve had reason to blog about it several times over the years.

The grouse moor on Swinton Estate is where satellite-tagged hen harrier Bowland Betty’s shot corpse was found in 2012 (see here) although there was no evidence to suggest her killing had anything to do with anyone on the estate, it was just rotten luck that she died there. The grouse shooting industry then pretended that she hadn’t been shot at all, even after forensic evidence confirmed she had indeed, been shot (see here). It was just rotten luck that people preferred the opinion of expert forensic scientists from the University College London Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science instead of the non-expert opinion of some non-expert, non-scientists at the Countryside Alliance.

In another example of rotten luck another shot hen harrier’s corpse was found on a grouse moor at Swinton Estate in 2019 (see here); this time it was a satellite-tagged bird called River who had disappeared on the estate in November 2018. The day after she vanished, at dusk an unidentified gunman had been seen with two dogs walking through a known hen harrier roost site on the estate (see here). Again, there was no evidence to suggest River’s killing had anything to do with anyone on the estate, it was just rotten luck (again) that she died there.

[Hen harrier River’s corpse being retrieved from a grouse moor on Swinton Estate in April 2019. Photo by RSPB]

In another case of rotten luck (there’s a lot of it about in Nidderdale), a Swinton Estate gamekeeper was convicted in 2014 for setting an illegal pole trap on the estate (see here).

[Photo of the illegal pole trap set by a gamekeeper on Swinton Estate, photo by RSPB]

Now, some might argue that the Swinton Estate should have been expelled from the Moorland Association after this gamekeeper’s conviction. However, that would have been most unfair – pole traps had only been banned in the UK for 110 years at that point, it’s not as though the poor fellow had had sufficient time to adjust to the new rules. So what better way for the Moorland Association to show its support than to elect the estate owner to become Chair? Bravo!

Swinton Estate was back in the news last year as it reportedly hosted successfully breeding hen harriers for the first time in many, many years. Swinton was so enamoured with them that it donated the chicks to Natural England’s brood meddling scheme which, according to this article in last weekend’s Yorkshire Post Country Week (see pressing below), is a ‘hen harrier conservation’ project which ‘alleviates the overpopulation of hen harriers in one area by redistributing them into unpopulated areas‘!!!!!!!!! Wow! Let’s just take a moment to admire the breathtaking distortion on display there.

Meanwhile, according to Lord Masham, ‘the project was working well‘….er, really? What a forgetful silly billy Lord Masham is – he ‘forgot’ to mention the difficulty in finding another land owner willing to host the brood meddled hen harrier chicks on release (see here), he ‘forgot’ to mention the suspicious disappearance of several of those brood meddled chicks after release (see here), he ‘forgot’ to mention the decision to use a new type of untested satellite tag on some of those brood meddled chicks (see here), he ‘forgot’ to mention the 31 (at least) hen harriers believed to have been illegally killed since 2018, the year when grouse shooting industry reps would have us believe that hen harriers were welcomed back on the grouse moors, he ‘forgot’ to mention last year’s scientific paper that demonstrated 72% of satellite tagged hen harriers were believed to have been illegally killed on or near grouse moors (see here), he ‘forgot’ to mention that far from being ‘overpopulated’, thanks to illegal persecution on grouse moors England has single-figure hen harrier nests where there should be 330+ (see here), he ‘forgot’ to mention the ongoing police investigations in to the alleged witnessed shooting of two hen harriers on grouse moors this year (see here) and he ‘forgot’ to mention the ongoing legal challenge against brood meddling by actual conservationists (see here) who can see it for exactly what it is – a Government-sponsored sham (see here).

Most of the article’s content is a re-hash of the Moorland Association’s press statement on Lord Masham’s appointment (see here – well worth a read for a good laugh) but there’s one statement in particular that appears in the article but not in the MA’s press release:

According to the Yorkshire Post article, Lord Masham said ‘there was still the historical perception that raptors were persecuted by gamekeepers….’

And there it is. That one single sentence tells us everything we need to know. An ‘historical perception‘? Yep, it’s clear to see why Lord Masham was elected; he’s going to fit right in. Moorland Association Director Amanda Anderson may well have some competition for the title of Top Contortionist in the coming weeks as we await details of the recent police investigations of alleged raptor persecution on a number of grouse moors….

37 thoughts on “Don’t laugh, but here’s the new Moorland Association chairman, Lord Masham”

  1. Superb article and comment Ruth. Very cleverly written and oh so true, unfortunately. Lockdown has forced me to ‘retire’ and given me the time to read books that I own and interest me , some of them owned a long time but not read because of having to earn a living as a sole trader, long hours working and the ensuing paperwork etc. As Andy Wightman might say ‘ Who owns Britain ‘ ? Or Robert Fisk says ‘ Pity the Nation ‘ . Fascinating.

  2. Uh oh… there’s that pesky “75% of the world’s heather moorland is in the UK” figure again; albeit preceded by the word “around” …just because we’re not sure? And the delightfully nonsensical “There is probably less heather moorland in the world than tropical rainforest”. I see the MA have qualified the former statement on their homepage to say “75% of Europe’s upland heather moor” so at least that’s some progress, but it is still wrong. I made some updates to my blog after GWCTs frankly pathetic attempt to justify the figure. Scroll to the end to see Addendum #2 if you’ve already read the main blog.

    1. Your analysis is a brilliant demolition job of the shooting industry’s claim to be caretakers of 75% of the world’s heather moorland – sorry 75% of Europe’s upland heather moor – oops I mean 75% that hilarious rough sketch map of heather dominated heather upland by Gimingham et al (1979)!

      Thanks. It was a fascinating and fun read. BTW, I like the idea of your research being a bit like the programme More or Less. I would vote for your blog to get a mention!

  3. I’m wondering why heather moorlands have SSSI status. I know many SSSIs are in poor condition. What is the condition status of SSSIs on moorland managed for grouse shooting – can anyone tell me?

    1. If you take a look at Natural England’s Magic mapping system you can see the conservation status of any piece of land (England). And then look at the SSSI unit reports. In the Dark Peak National Character Area the 2011 report said 80% of SSSI land is “Unfavourable Recovering” and all this is grouse moor. The status of these units has not been updated since then and if it was reassessed it would still be unfavourable – favourable means thriving active blanket bog and its all still a long way from that despite millions of public money being spent.

      1. Sadly Bob where I monitor, “favourable recovering” is allocated when they’ve agreed things like a Water Level Management Plan, they don’t have to have implemented it nor do they have to establish it’s worked (achieved rewetting & functionality etc.) #fitforpurpose ?

        I wonder ifg the new breed of Natural England staff have to sign non-disclosure agreements? Can’t blame current staff for wanting to keep jobs and pensions but ….

  4. You really couldn’t make this up. The owner of depending on how you look at it the unluckiest estate in the Nidderdale AONB or one of the estates with the worst ***********history in the AONB.

    The current head keeper has been in post since 2005 and recently introduced himself to a raptor worker as the person turning round the reputation of the estate. How did he manage to keep a straight face as between 2005 and 2008 the estate were unlucky enough to loose half a dozen Hen Harrier breeding attempts to alleged human interference. The ” traditional” Peregrine territory on the moor has never reared young yet was occupied from 1986 to 2005, indeed the only year young hatched (1992) they were found poisoned on the ledge. it used to have Goshawks but they are no more and despite years of trying appear never to have reared young.

    This is an intensively managed moor with lots of annual burning xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx. Last time I visited it also had many, many rail traps housing Fenn traps, one wonders if they have all been replaced to comply with the new regulations to do with stoats?

    One thing is for sure this election shows exactly where the Moorland Association is coming from, what it stands for and whether we can trust its statements on raptors and hen harriers in particular. xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

  5. xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx Driven Grouse Moor owners will have little truck with obeying any licencing system and seek to undermine any attempt to police it, as they do with the law concerning birds of prey and other wildlife laws.

    When they state that there is little money going into our Uplands other than private that from a private source he forgets all the public money in both subsidies and tax breaks in their, the owners, various businesses which get spent on facilitating their hobby at the expense of more social needs .. like health, housing etc., … which could use that money for the benefit of society as a whole.

    Aye, spin and xxxxxxxx from beginning to end, aimed at the gullible while treating the informed with contempt.

  6. Interesting stuff, I would like someone more knowledgeable than me to please tell me what is likely to be going on at Swinton.

    There’s no doubt that Swinton was up until very recently a hot-spot for xxxxxxx xxxxxxxx

    However, from following Gavin Craggs (NE hen harrier monitor) on twitter it seems there has in recent months been a rapid and radical sea-change on that moor, and that there are (factually recorded) harriers roosting there without interference. The estate has apparently helped to build a hide and I think people can book to visit it .

    I am not sure what the true story is – are we to welcome a meaningful change of policy? Or is this just a well-timed “good PR” back story for the incoming new MA chairman’s home turf? Does anyone know if there has been a total change of keepers? – as that might give a clue. Thanks.

    [Ed: Hi spaghnumorose, you must be mistaken. No need for a ‘radical sea-change’ – raptors have always been welcomed with open arms at Swinton and any losses were either rotten luck or merely ‘a historical perception’ of persecution by gamekeepers. The convicted gamekeeper was just a rotten apple, obvs]

    1. The fact that the estate moved the Hen Harrier’s off the estate but wouldn’t allow the young back when they were released tells you all you need to know and see Paul’s comment above.

    2. Thanks for the reply. I’m not being awkward, I just don’t get this can you please expand either on the blog or maybe best in a private email. I just can’t get my head around something. On the one hand the aforementioned raptor workers (Gavin Craggs and his pal) are up there a couple of evenings a week in all weathers looking out for the birds that they clearly love…putting in a lot of hard cold hours and taking a great interest in every detail of those birds. We infer from various twitter threads that the raptor workers and the keepers on that specific estate are on at least friendly terms, that they will probably pass the time of day here and there, and have worked together to build the hide. Now, with regularity a harrier goes permanently “missing”, we all know that and we know what has happened to it. We detest it. When this happens no doubt the raptor workers are heartbroken and angry, I know I would be. I know that I would be fuming and unable to speak or even look at those particular keepers if I thought (and this is crucial) that they were the specific individuals that pulled the trigger while I wasn’t watching. Yet at Swinton relations between the two groups seem good. It is not conceivable to me that those specific raptor workers could in their own private thoughts suspect those specific keepers, and continue to work with them on good terms. This is what I just don’t get – I must be missing something. Thanks for your help.

      1. You’d need to speak to the Natural England fieldworkers for their views on raptor persecution and indeed on Natural England’s enthusiastic support of brood meddling- we can’t speak for them. They might even have an identification of the armed man visiting the hen harrier roost at dusk with a labrador and terrier last winter and an explanation for his behaviour.

        You might be interested to learn that when gamekeeper Alan Wilson was convicted last year for his appalling string of wildlife crimes on the Longformacus Estate in the Scottish Borders, three raptor fieldworkers who had known him and chatted with him for years were shocked to the core to find out what he’d actually been up to.

        That is in no way a suggestion that gamekeepers at Swinton are anything but law abiding, it is simply an example of how one particular gamekeeper was able to fool some bright people for a number of years.

        Everything isn’t always as it seems, and that works both ways.

      2. Spaghnum, I know you are not being awkward, there has been no change in keepering team. The raptor workers who for years have been working in the area, including myself, have had little to do with the keepering team for over 20 years other than a few polite words in passing. Nor one might add have had anything to do with the two NE monitors Craggs et al ( more about this I will not say here) If our moderator supplies you with my email address, which I would be perfectly happy about I will answer more privately. Anand I cannot write the book and get it published, I know too much! Suffice it to say if offered I not shake the hand of the head keeper here or on most other estates and certainly not that of Mark Cunliffe-Lister. ( but I would and indeed have that of Tom Orde-Powlett.

        1. Thanks Paul, thanks Ed/Moderator. I guess I need to keep my B.S. detector up at 11 at all times, and keep reminding myself about leopards and their spots.

  7. In order to be elected to the posts of Chairman and Vice Chairman, was it a prerequisite to have a double barrelled name as well as a double barrelled shotgun?

    Both of these men, and Amanda Anderson, are going to have tough time trying to get people to believe that the increase in the killing of raptors during the ‘lockdown’ is just the work of a couple of rogue elements. If they try that, it will be an insult to people’s intelligence.

    Aah, the respectable moorland community.

  8. The continued lack of action in dealing with systemic problems in the game shooting industry and their wilful twisting of the facts is only hastening their demise.
    The steady progress of RPUK and their supporters is changing public perception of the shooting industry and unless the industry have a huge change in attitude and make some meaningful changes – such as outing dodgy keepers, supporting and paying for satellite tracking and stoping massive scale game bird releases (all of which are highly unlikely given their past conduct) even their supporters in government will have little choice but to come down hard on them.
    Keep up the good work of highlighting their poor practices, miss information, criminal behaviour and lack of will to compromise and their group of friends will disappear leaving them on their own in a hostile environment like a startled bunny in the talons of a buzzard!

    1. Sadly Paul I suspect that if the Yorkshire Post been genuine in their reporting they’d have sought another perspective to challenge the track record of shooting estates, they’d also have raised the issue of increased wildlife crime reported during lock-down when there is little monitoring of keeper (essential worker?) activity undertaken ….

      Once upon a time the Yorkshire Post used to have quality investigative journalists, then again we had more wildlife years ago too ;)

  9. Such a good post, great balance and pace.
    I can send a brick wall round if you need something to help your frustration.
    So pleased I live elsewhere, these idiots would drive me to an early grave…….

  10. I can not believe that the article suggests there is very little public money being spent on grouse moors? Clearly the journalist never did any proper research- Natural England produce a map of all the areas in receipt of “stewardship grants” and there is a very large sum of public money being given to shooting estates to manage grouse moors. What this actually amounts to is tax payers subsidising the grouse shooting of rich landowners, whose management of these moors is at times very questionable. It becomes even more concerning when the Natural England map of areas in receipt of stewardship grants is overlaid by the RSPB map of reported incidents of raptor persecution – and all of a sudden it becomes clear that public money is potentiality financing those estates where criminality is taking place? The interview with Mr Cuncliffe- Lister would have been far more credible if instead of the usual “smoke and mirrors” – there had been an open and honest admission that there were problems within grouse moor management and the Moorland Association were going to work with the police and shooting estates to eradicate all criminality and bad practice; and expose those within grouse shooting who were not following the much lauded “codes of practice”, which the Moorland Association would have us believe are at the core of its objectives? Sadly this change of leadership will probably not herald a change in fortunes of Britain’s heavily persecuted raptors.

  11. They live in a bubble unaware of how the public perceive them
    It’s equally laughable and tragic that Cunnicliffe Lister is now chair. Swinton having such a terrible reputation for xxxxxxx xxxxxxx [Ed: I think you mean ‘for having such rotten luck’]

  12. Great writing Ruth. Last Bird Fair you, Mark and Chris were interviewed by that pro shooting `head-in-the-sand` twit. Anyone watching that could see that he preferred dealing with Mark or Chris and that he wasn`t at all comfortable with your brilliant, direct, `no bull` accurate style. You buried him. I learned that you are a powerful force that could bury anyone of that `countryside mafia`. I`d pit you against any of their big wigs. Well done.

  13. Could someone please speak with the journalist Sophie McCandlish from the Yorkshire Post to explain what is really happening on the grouse moors of Yorkshire, I am sure many readers would like to know?

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