Yesterday the Sunday Times (Scotland) ran an opportunistic piece, presumably at the behest of a load of gamekeepers.
Written by Deputy Editor Mark Macaskill, it was claimed that a ‘moorland consortium’ had invited Chris Packham to visit a grouse moor to watch them set it alight, in response to Chris’s derision of muirburn whilst COP26 was taking place just down the road.
It transpires that the ‘moorland consortium’ in question is the one representing Scotland’s regional moorland groups, some of whose members are either currently, or recently have been, under police investigation for alleged raptor persecution crimes (e.g. members of the Angus Glens Moorland Group, Tomatin Moorland Group, Strathdearn & Speyside Moorland Group, Grampian Moorland Group, Tayside & Central Moorland Group), but this doesn’t appear to be a barrier to getting the deputy editor of the Times to publish favourable articles. Friends in high places, no doubt.
Anyway, a quote from the moorland groups’ co-ordinator, Lianne MacLennan, included this line:
“There is an opportunity to foster a better understanding and take the heat out of a polarised debate“.
I spoke to Chris about this and at the time of writing, Chris hadn’t received the invitation but he was still pushed for a quote by Macaskill. That quote was then minimised in the print edition of the article (apparently due to lack of space) and not fully presented even in the digital edition, where space is not an issue.
It’s strange that when journalists ask for a quote they don’t use it in full. This happens a lot.
Here is Chris’s quote, in full:
“Thank you for the invitation. Whilst I have a genuine desire to reach a point when real conservationists and some of the responsible factions of the game shooting industry can again sit around a table and make progress, I fear we are not yet at that point.
So I would gladly visit an estate to witness the burning . . . as long as I was also shown the whereabouts of all the graves of illegally killed raptors were buried. Until the wholesale slaughter of our precious birds of prey ends, I’m out. Its an intractable blockage to progress – stop the killing and we can start talking. And also, science, proper science, isn’t about whether Mars Bars get singed or not. Just saying . . .“
[Chris with the corpse of a male hen harrier that had been caught in a barbaric trap that had been set illegally next to the harrier’s nest on a driven grouse moor. Photo by Ruth Tingay]
Here is a copy of the digital edition of the article:
Packham urged to take heat out of moorland burns
Mark Macaskill, Sunday November 21 2021
Chris Packham has declined an invitation to witness the controlled burning of Scottish moorlands after his comments during the Cop26 climate talks that Scotland was “sticking two fingers up” to a world in ecological crisis.
The naturalist and host of BBC Winterwatch, who was the victim of an arson attack at his home in Hampshire last month, used social media to highlight muirburn, which he believes contributes to carbon emissions and should be banned. He was accused of claiming, falsely, that peat, a natural carbon store, was being burnt on grouse moors.
In an effort to “take the heat” out of the debate, a moorland consortium asked Packham to be their guest on a Scottish estate to see muirburn in action.
Packham said that he was willing to engage with the shooting industry but pointed to the illegal persecution of birds of prey as a stumbling block.
“Whilst I have a genuine desire to reach a point when real conservationists and some of the responsible factions of the game shooting industry can again sit around a table and make progress , I fear we are not yet at that point . So I would gladly visit an estate to witness the burning . . . as long as I was also shown the whereabouts of all the graves of illegally killed raptors. Until the wholesale slaughter of our precious birds of prey ends , I’m out . Its an intractable blockage to progress – stop the killing and we can start talking.”
Bodies such as the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) insist that muirburn removes surface vegetation while leaving underlying layers of moss and peat intact. The practice is approved under licence from NatureScot, the government agency.
Environmentalists argue that burning on peatlands releases carbon into the atmosphere, undermining efforts to reduce emissions to help control climate change.
During the muirburn season from October to April it is estimated that the equivalent of 87,000 football pitches is burned.
Lianne MacLennan, co-ordinator of Scotland’s regional moorland groups, said that muirburn was conducted carefully and pointed to a Scottish government report last year which suggested that many bird species fared better where muirburn had taken place, although further research was required.
“Muirburn plays a vital role in preventing the type of climate-busting wildfires that lost a million tonnes of carbon in Moray and the Flow Country in 2019 and can help retain carbon in peatlands,” she said. “ We have written to Chris Packham in the hope he will come out and see what actually happens when trained, professional gamekeepers carry out the activity.”
A letter sent to Packham on Friday stated: “There is an opportunity to foster a better understanding and take the heat out of a polarised debate.”