Yesterday, Dorset MP Chris Loder’s Twitter notifications must have been off the scale as hundreds of angry people took him to task for his shocking comments (here) about not wanting Dorset Police to investigate the suspicious death of a white-tailed eagle, found dead on a Dorset shooting estate in January (here).
[The dead white-tailed eagle being collected for post mortem. Photo by Dorset Police]
Last night Chris Loder added fuel to the fire by posting this on Twitter:
This ridiculous statement (“plaguing our farmers“, FFS!) attracted plenty of well-deserved ridicule but it also generated even more anger and in some cases, unfortunately, personal abuse towards Mr Loder. But even when photographer Pete Cairns pointed out that the two photos of the eagle with a lamb had been staged, by Pete, for a separate project and then mis-used to illustrate the Scotsman article to which Mr Loder was referring, (this was a captive eagle with an already-dead lamb placed in front of it), Mr Loder was not for backing down.
It’s a familiar argument, of course, to those of us who have listened for years to prejudicial-driven hysteria about white-tailed eagles, although typically this has come from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (who remembers them writing to the Scottish Government warning that sea eagles might not be able to distinguish small children from prey?!) but to hear it from an elected MP in southern England was quite a shock, especially a Conservative MP whose senior Ministers keep pretending that bird of prey conservation is important to them (e.g. see here and here).
However, even DEFRA Minister Richard Benyon could read the room on this one and yesterday typed a suitably-exasperated tweet to Chris Loder, which was probably code for, ‘Shut up, you’re not doing us any favours here’:
I’d speculated yesterday that perhaps Chris Loder’s dissatisfaction that Dorset Police’s time and resources were being put towards an investigation into the suspicious death of the sea eagle might have something to do with the fact that the Conservatives have received substantial local party donations, over a number of years, from a prominent Dorset estate that just happens to be owned by a very wealthy landowner who appears to be part of the hunting set and whose spouse appears to have played a prominent role with the Countryside Alliance (here).
That may well be part of the story, but it’s also clear from his posts last night and from online information about his farming background that he’s susceptible to, and believes in, the anti-eagle propaganda routinely pumped out by the National Farmers Union, an organisation who refused, formally, to support the Isle of Wight Eagle Reintroduction Project because of a perceived fear of the impact the eagles would have on livestock, despite extensive consultation and evidence-based assurances by the project team that live sheep would not be at high risk. [But note that not all farmers agreed with the NFU’s stance and a number are supportive of the project].
This morning I’ve been sent some more information that suggests Chris Loder’s position may also be influenced by his family’s farming connections. Detailed research undertaken by Guy Shrubsole (author of the brilliant website Who Owns England) has revealed that Chris Loder’s family appears to run a tenanted farm on a large Dorset estate (a different estate to the one that’s been making donations to the local Conservative party) and on that estate there’s also a sizeable pheasant shoot.
As before, there is no suggestion whatsoever that either Chris Loder, his family, or the estate on which his family runs a tenanted farm, has anything whatsoever to do with the death of the white-tailed eagle in Dorset. What I am suggesting is that it is worth bearing in mind that when Chris Loder is proclaiming eagles as the farmers’ enemy and pronouncing that the police shouldn’t be spending time and resources on investigating the suspicious death of one of those eagles, found dead on a Dorset game-shooting estate, it’s worth remembering these vested interests of his.
And as interesting as this all is, I think it’s also a distraction from the main topic of interest here, and that is, when are we going to see the toxicology report of the dead eagle found on a game-shooting estate in Dorset in January and the dead eagle found on a game-shooting estate in Sussex last October?
And on that same subject, when will Natural England release the post mortem results of the two satellite-tagged hen harriers found dead in October last year (see here)? Or tell us about the investigation into the satellite-tagged hen harrier that probably had its wings pulled off 11 months ago (see here)?