The ‘tipping point’


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Is the clock ticking for grouse shooting? Or at least for ‘driven grouse shooting’, the more intensive form where the need for large numbers of grouse to be available for shooting creates ‘Dalek-like gamekeepers’ with a one-word vocabulary, ‘Exterminate! Exterminate!’ And that’s exactly what happens. Anything that might remotely eat a grouse chick is ruthlessly destroyed, particularly birds of prey. And, what’s more, just to be on the safe side, even creatures that don’t eat grouse – hares for instance – are often also exterminated. Why? Because they just might spread ticks to grouse and attract predators that could then help themselves to a grouse dinner. Hares, for God’s sake!

Hundreds of fully protected birds of prey – majestic eagles, harriers, hawks and falcons – shot, poisoned, and trapped. Eggs removed. Nestfuls of helpless chicks stamped on. The complete removal of a whole suite of creatures from our uplands to allow a few days of killing by the rich and privileged. It’s beyond belief that this is going on in Britain. It’s all very well for us to be outraged by what’s going on in the likes of Malta – and quite right that we are – but this is happening here. And what’s more it’s getting worse. A six year study of Hen Harriers in England – Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project – found that there were fewer Hen Harriers on England’s uplands when this important initiative ended than when it began!

Birdless moorland

So this is where we are.

Will these practices continue unchecked for the benefit of the ‘wealthy few’ in our society?

Is there any light at the end of this sad, depressing tunnel?


Well, perhaps the intransigence of the whole grouse-shooting fraternity towards changing anything at all might ultimately come to bite them on the backside. There is a precedent here. Remember the ‘right to roam’ issue some years ago? Officially called the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW), it allows the public access to those areas of mountain, moor and heath from which they were previously excluded.

Many wealthy landowners were confident that it would never become law because they were the rich and powerful. They had the political clout to stop it. But they didn’t. With Labour taking power in 1997 the political pendulum swung left and the weight of public opinion made it happen. Had something been done earlier to appease public concern, to show some understanding of the issue, then who knows what the outcome might have been. But no, those concerned stuck their heads in the sand with two fingers pointing skywards and lo and behold there was suddenly a right to roam.

There comes a “tipping point” on every issue; a time when it’s possible to still have some influence over what happens, and then a time when it’s too late. Was the ‘ignore it and it will all go away’ attitude over the CROW Act a classic example of doing too little too late?


And could the grouse-shooting industry be heading that way? Could history repeat itself? Can the industry afford to ignore the growing swell of public opinion? There is already a significant momentum for change gathering pace – and we have an election around the corner.  The signs are there to be seen:

  • In 2012 an epetition raised over 10 000 signatures in favour of vicarious liability for raptor persecution in England. Those who persecute birds of prey frequently do so at the direction of their employers or others with vested interests, and this offence of vicarious liability would bring those parties to justice. So the moor owners, rather than just their gamekeepers, would be liable. This recently became law in Scotland. The government in England, is currently ‘monitoring’ the Scottish situation.
  • Earlier this year another epetition advocating the licensing of grouse moors passed the 10 000 threshold.
  • In the light of the ‘head in the sand’ attitude of the grouse shooting industry a third epetition is gathering momentum – please sign it if you haven’t already – concerning the banning of driven grouse shoots – the most harmful to other wildlife.
  • After a fair bit of fence-sitting the RSPB has come out in favour of a licensing scheme for grouse moors. If there’s no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on your moor then you keep your license. Found guilty of illegal raptor killing? Then you lose it for a period until you put your house in order. What could be wrong with that?
  • Increasing exposure of the issue in the media is visible including a recent piece on the BBC’s Countryfile, in the BBC Wildlife magazine and in the current issue of Birdwatch, not to mention newspaper reports, blogs and other social media. Numbers of tweets about this are increasing week-by-week.
  • Hen Harrier Day. On August 10th there will be a series of peaceful protests to raise awareness amongst the public about the plight of this raptor and the criminal activity pushing it to the verge of extinction as a breeding bird in England.

As the pressure continues to build remember that you can be part of this change. “It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little. Do what you can.” Sydney Smith

Here are a few things to do – and don’t forget – we – you and I – are the momentum for change:

  • attend a Hen Harrier Day event – click on the banner below for more details
  • Make your voice heard on social media!
  • donate to the RSPB’s Hen Harrier appeal – go to the RSPB site here
  • sign the epetition on driven grouse shooting – sign here
  • Write to your MP or to opposition parties to let them know your strength of feeling – see my post Your right to write for details of how to do this easily


Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Barack Obama


Your right to write


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In recent weeks I’ve blogged about the madness of allowing veterinary Diclofenac in Europe, tax-payer subsidies for grouse moor owners and the enforced disappearance of the Hen Harrier and other birds of prey from our countryside. Positive responses to these came in from many sources: people liked, favourited, commented, followed, retweeted and shared. That’s great and thanks. These all show how many people care about nature and wildlife.

Hen harrierBut do our politicians know this? Do they really have a sense of the number of people who care about nature – and the strength of their feelings? I wonder. When was the last time you personally expressed your desire to protect wildlife to your MEP or to your local politician? How many people wrote an email or a letter to their MEP showing their outrage over the licensing of Diclofenac? Yes, some of us will have signed e-petitions but does this really get under the skin of a politician? Does it counterbalance the number of friends and associates he or she may have who favour a more ‘gun-toting/kill them/cull them’ approach to the natural world?

The recent European elections put brand new politicians into the European Parliament. They are – hopefully – keen to represent the opinions of the nation. Our MPs, in whatever country we live, also, we hope, aim to stand up for the electorate’s views. But the question is this – where do they get their ideas of what these views are? Are they based on a general sense of what the people around them believe; their friends and other party politicians and the like? In what other ways are they forming their ideas about the electorate’s opinions?

Well, we know that e-petitions, like this one (which I hope you have already signed), must be responded to by politicians if 10 000 people sign them. It is a way of expressing your view and – if the magic number is reached – of at least forcing a response. That has to be a good thing, even if a large dose of fobbing off can be the result.

But is that it? Is that enough? Should we stop there? We all know that we probably shouldn’t but it always seems such a lot of effort to do more. The bottom line, so to speak, is this – can we really criticise our politicians for some of their decisions when we can’t even be arsed to write to them?

So, what stops us from telling our politicians what we think? Is it:

  1.  Who to write to?
  2.  What to say?
  3.  The time it will take?

In turn: 1. Who to write to? For UK readers, type your postcode into the search at this website and select the recipient of your choice. You can choose your district councillor, county councillor, MP, any of the Lords and, once they take up their positions in early July, the MEPs representing your local area. It takes just seconds to do this! Alternatively find the email or postal addresses of the MEPs for your region at:

2. What to say? The trick is to keep it simple. State the issue you feel strongly about and explain what you want your MEP etc. to do about it. Then ask for their opinion and, if you are asking about a forthcoming vote or report, request that they explain how they plan to vote and their reasons. That’s it. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.* Then give your full name and address. If they don’t think you’re a constituent of theirs, your message may be binned. This is not to say that other politicians can’t be contacted, even those in other countries where your concern may be.  For example, I have written and received replies from a range of politicians and organisations in Greece as part of conservation work there.

3. And finally the time issue. The biggie. How long does it take to fire off an email? How many emails, status posts, tweets etc. do you send out each week? Is one more message really too much? Ok, so some extra time may be required (more than posting a comment about Coronation Street on Facebook perhaps), but do you care enough to do it? The time issue really is more about motivation – the ‘can I really be arsed’ factor. Why not write just one letter as a start and see how long it really takes? And see how you feel having done it.

Do we care enough about the loss of diversity in our countryside?

Do we care enough about the loss of diversity in our countryside?

Wildlife needs our help more than ever. Whether it’s an email to an MEP about killing vultures with diclofenac, to an MP about the rich and powerful using our uplands as a personal playground or perhaps to a local councillor about allowing wildflowers to grow on our roadside verges, it’s worth it.

So, well done for reaching the end of this post. I hope you’re challenged to write. If you do, please leave a comment and let me know. Someone once said ‘We get the politicians we deserve’. I’d like to think a few more of them will discover that there are lots of us out here who love and want to preserve the natural world. If you’re one of them then we simply have to do just a little more. Give it a go.

Do we care enough that these are poisoned?

Do we care enough that these are poisoned?

Do we care enough that these will be legally trapped?

Do we care enough that these will be legally trapped – endorsed by the EU?

Do we care enough that these are shot?

Do we care enough that these are shot illegally?

Do we care enough about wildlife crime?

Do we care enough about wildlife crime?

* It’s worth saying that it can be more effective if a specific politician is targeted at the right time, such as when specific organisations appeal for you to write to a particular person at a particular time. Your message may then have even more influence. But don’t let this stop you from writing to your own representative on your own about the issues you care about. Ultimately, the more you write to a politician the more you will be able to build a relationship with them. This is your right – so get writing!

And lastly, if you can recommend anything further about writing in this way please add your comments. The more we can learn how to use our influence the better.

A site for sore eyes


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Rosy StarlingsIt’s easy to get disheartened in this world we’ve made, where wild things are of so little importance to so many people, where they are shot for fun and their habitats are trashed in the name of ‘progress’. However, there are still places where people are working hard to preserve the wild things and their habitats. Lake Kerkini, in Northern Greece, is a case in point.

This place is simply a bird wonderland. Just an hour’s drive north of Thessaloniki, nothing can quite prepare you for sheer number of birds on and around the lake. It’s nearly 20 years since my first visit and each time is as magical as the first. And so it proved once again last week. I was there to discuss habitat improvement projects with the management staff on behalf of the conservation organisation, Birdwing ( my wife and I run out here in Greece.

The lake, created by the damming of the Strimonas River in 1932, is used primarily as a reservoir for the irrigation of the fertile Serres plain to the south. Its depth changes by several metres during the course of the year as the winter rains are gradually fed out to the farmland below. The surface area increases from about 54 square kilometres in autumn to a brimming 72 square kilometres in June. This means that, for the visitor, the scene is always changing and, of course, the same is true for the birds.

As we walked towards the lake last week the air was full of the songs of nightingales, golden orioles, purring turtle doves, the harsh chatter of the great reed warbler, the mechanical olivaceous warbler, cuckoos and the explosive Cetti’s warbler. Bee-eaters were everywhere, burrowing furiously into the sandy embankments, arrowing into the air as we approached. All this is standard fare for Kerkini and is a banquet in itself, but the quality was turned up a notch by visitors from the east. On the Sunday of our visit there weren’t any, Monday saw a few but by Tuesday there were large flocks all around the lake. Rosy starlings were everywhere! It seemed that every mulberry tree was alive with their movement and chatter.

Rosy StarlingThere is an area of trees to the north of the lake that, as the water level rises in spring, becomes a ‘drowned forest’ as it stands in over a metre of water. This provides a perfect nest site for thousands of water birds, including cormorants, herons and egrets.

A grey heron, wrestling with a very alive, very large snake, reluctantly took to the air as we reached the embankment. At this time of year, along the shore, there are lots of dead branches protruding from the water and almost every one had a heron of some sort on it, often a night heron or a gorgeous squacco.

Squacco Heron

In the wet meadows opposite, numerous little egrets, a single purple heron, a couple of great white egrets together with glossy ibises probed for food. There were spoonbills with their scything feeding action and several cattle egrets scampering between the plodding feet of the water buffaloes. A lone spur-winged plover waited hopefully for a partner.

Glossy Ibis

Hundreds of great crested grebes were busy on family business, many with nests and some with their stripy young riding on their backs. In the distance black-necked grebes were busy arranging nests out of floating vegetation in amongst the whiskered terns. In the distance we could clearly see the three pelican platforms, each packed full of Dalmatian pelicans.

Pelican platform

This bird, one of the largest in Europe, is globally endangered, with a world population estimated at fewer than 14 000. It has undergone massive global declines over the past couple of centuries, a result of wetland drainage, persecution and disturbance during the breeding season. Here at Kerkini, through conservation efforts, artificial nesting sites have allowed over 200 young to fledge this year alone.

Suddenly there was a movement of spawning fish in the shallows in front of us. Within seconds thousands of cormorants and pelicans were thrashing their way across the lake to join the feast. The lake surface was boiling with splashing, diving and gulping birds. Egrets gobbled up fish that had jumped out of the frying pan onto the shore. Within seconds there was quiet as the fish sank deeper. The birds sat, watchful, waiting, knowing that within minutes another shoal would be spotted and the thrashing, squawking and feasting would begin again.

Cormorants & Pelicans

Masked shrikeA masked shrike leapt up from the track. A hoopoe flew over with its ‘butterfly’ flight. A lesser spotted eagle rose from a field of poppies. Penduline tits called their mournful ‘siuu’. A tortoise ambled past and a black kite scooped a fish from the lake surface.t


Kerkini had once again worked its magic – on such a day it’s difficult to think of a better place to be.



If you’re interested in learning more about Kerkini and other wetlands of Greece, seeing more photos of the birds there and finding out ways you can help preserve and protect them, go to

Lake KerkiniLet’s do what we can to keep these places special.

The rich man’s playground – at our expense


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More than 10,000 people supported a recent petition regarding the licensing of grouse moors in the UK (1). This petition asked that those moors on which there was proven evidence of criminal activity against wildlife – often involving birds of prey – would lose their licence for a period of time. Thus the owner would be deprived of income as a result of their involvement in criminal activity and would have every incentive to get their house in order. Surely this would be a sound piece of legislation. What is there to object to? It makes perfect sense. After all, if there is no criminal activity there’s no problem.

Unfortunately DEFRA (the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) didn’t see it that way. Passing the 10,000 signature threshold, the petition triggered a required response. This duly came and not only failed to support the idea but virtually ignored the whole issue of grouse shooting, instead offering platitudes and waffling on about the economic benefits of shooting in general (2). However, despite the government’s unwillingness to engage with the issue, one would have thought that they would at least have been aware of a strength of feeling about this matter and perhaps trodden a little more carefully as a result.

Not a chance. Instead the government has looked at the subsidy it pays to grouse moor owners (- you mean there’s a subsidy?) and decided that it’s not enough. So now it’s been increased from £30 per hectare to £56 (3). Whoa, hold on a minute. First of all it seems that the government, as part of subsidies given to upland ‘farmers’, pays wealthy owners of grouse moors regular money from us UK taxpayers and now – following public concern about abuses in grouse moor management, for heaven’s sake – is virtually doubling this subsidy. Why? Why do these owners receive any such subsidy in the first place? We know that grouse moors depend on criminal activity in the form of the illegal killing of all kinds of wildlife – from hares to foxes to Hen Harriers – anything that might reduce the number of grouse that can be blasted from the sky. It’s been well documented (4) (5). And now the government is sticking two fingers up at anyone who is concerned about how these vast tracts of our uplands are ‘managed’. Of course, for ‘managed’ read, in many cases, ‘illegally cleared of birds of prey’.

We’re paying to keep this wildlife-free!

In not doing more than simply acknowledging this widely-supported petition the government is, in effect, saying that the leisure pursuits of a small, elite club are simply not to be interfered with. And, what’s more, they’re saying they’re going to pay them more of your money to help them enjoy themselves. So there. Stuff your petition and say goodbye to a bit more of your hard-earned cash.

In the meantime we are deprived of seeing Hen Harriers, Peregrines, Goshawks, Golden Eagles etc. soaring over the hills. And now – you just couldn’t make it up – we’re paying double for the privilege.

Enough is enough. It’s about time we stopped pussy-footing around this issue and stood up to be counted. If you’re interested in joining a peaceful protest about the illegal killing of our birds of prey, organised for August 10th at various venues, see

Hen Harrier – photo not taken in the UK!

Moor than meets the eye?


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Now I’ve heard it all. The Moorland Association is putting itself forward as the champion of a bird of prey! This organisation is the representative body of grouse moor owners in England and Wales. It says, ‘Britain’s smallest birds of prey are flying in to nest on English grouse moors which have helped stave off their downfall.’ A new report, commissioned by the Association themselves, states that numbers of Merlin have increased on moorland that is being intensively ‘managed’ for grouse shooting (1). Many newspapers have picked this up and run the story, giving the Moorland Association a pat on the back in the process. The Merlin does indeed seem to be doing well on some grouse moors and seeing one of these beautiful little falcons on the moors enhances any upland walk. So that’s great.

But, wait a minute, isn’t there another question waiting to be asked here? What about all the other raptors on moorland in the north of England? Where are the Buzzards, the Peregrines, the Goshawks and the Hen Harriers? Also doing well? I’m afraid not. Pretty much absent, in fact, even though there’s plenty of available habitat. It’s been estimated there are sufficient territories for around 300 pairs of Hen Harriers to live in England’s uplands. How many successfully did so last year? None. Not a single chick was raised.

Where are you?

Now, why on earth could that be, given that the management of our moors is in such caring, raptor-loving hands? Relentless, illegal persecution year after year is cited in numerous scientific reports as a major reason for their absence. The same is happening in central and eastern Scotland where there are also eagles to be exterminated. The Golden Eagle, that Scottish icon, would be soaring over many more Scottish uplands if they were allowed to do so (2). So many of these incidents occur on or near managed grouse moors. (3) Coincidence? Hardly. Nothing stops those with a vested interest in ‘grouse production’. Not even the law. Poisoning, trapping, shooting – you name it – of anything that might possibly threaten a grouse chick. They must all be destroyed. It’s illegal killing that is cited again and again. It’s no coincidence that the Merlin happens to be our smallest raptor and not considered a threat by the moorland ‘managers’.

For the Moorland Association to be making capital out of – and seeking credit for – not killing Merlins is rich indeed. There’s no ‘protection’ of raptors on managed grouse moors. As far as birds of prey are concerned, the word doesn’t seem to exist in the moorland managers’ dictionary, which goes straight from ‘persecution’ to ‘public relations’. The bottom line, and there’s no getting away from it, is that grouse shooting depends on widespread criminality. And those responsible are simply stealing our nature. Over and over again.

Where are you?

And where are you?

If you’re interested in getting details about a peaceful protest against Hen Harrier persecution click here.

Collateral damage?


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Imagine this scenario – 99% of all cars have malfunctioned, causing certain death to the driver. Now, after much testing, the part responsible has been identified. And what’s more, there’s an alternative already available. What would be the logical thing to do? Should we change the part in all cars? Or should we just stop using the faulty part in cars in some places but not in others even though we know it will continue to cause cars to fail and drivers to die? Why am I asking such a nonsensical question? Clearly no-one in their right mind would sanction the use of the faulty part somewhere else. But that’s exactly what the European Union has done. The EU has, in effect, agreed to allow the part to be fitted to cars elsewhere, guaranteeing certain death. Only we’re not talking about cars, but vultures.

Let’s pick a vulture species, say the White-rumped Vulture. These were present in large numbers in the Indian sub-continent until the 1990s and were once described as perhaps the most numerous large bird of prey in the world. Since then 999 out of every 1000 White-rumped Vultures have gone. For every thousand there is now one. That’s right, numbers have fallen by a staggering 99.9%.(1)

Various groups tried to find the cause (2) without success until the culprit was discovered, an anti-inflammatory drug given to cattle called diclofenac. Traces remaining in dead cattle, eaten by the birds, caused rapid kidney failure. Now that in itself is bad enough but, in this world of ours where every natural process is linked to others, this was only the beginning. Vultures, as we know, get rid of dead livestock. As a result of no vultures, hundreds of thousands of dead animals have gone uneaten, creating breeding grounds for numerous infectious diseases, including anthrax.

And it gets worse – the loss of vultures has resulted in an increase in the number of feral dogs because there’s more for them to eat, as mammals are unaffected by diclofenac. The bites of dogs are the most common cause of human rabies. A recent study estimates that, during the period in question, there has been an increase in the feral dog population of at least 5 million. It is calculated that this has resulted in 40 million additional dog bites and nearly 50 000 extra deaths from rabies. And it is estimated that the increased number of rabies victims may have cost the Indian economy $34 billion. (3) Thirty four billion! Now the good news – an alternative medication – meloxicam – has been found to be both effective on livestock and safe for vultures.

Egyptian Vulture

So, this is where we are – the culprit has been identified, an effective alternative has been found, the huge economic costs are understood and the situation in India and southern Asia in general is one of slow but encouraging progress. Good stuff. Clearly, to any sane mind, all this points irrevocably towards a ban on the use of diclofenac on livestock. And that’s what has happened in India and southern Asia. A vital link in the ecological chain is slowly restoring itself. So we can relax. But, wait a moment, what’s this? It can’t be the EU allowing the faulty car part to be used in Europe, can it? Not with all those deaths elsewhere? Oh yes it can. Believe it or not it has been discovered that diclofenac has been authorised for manufacture and veterinary use in Italy and it has been distributed to other European countries. (4)

It’s been authorised for use in cattle, horses and pigs in a medication called Reuflogin. It seems that it’s been exported to the Czech Republic, Latvia, Estonia, Serbia and Turkey. And, to top it all, last year the manufacture and veterinary use of diclofenac was approved in Spain, the vulture stronghold of Europe. And how long before it rears its head in Greece, home of most of Eastern Europe’s remaining vultures? After all the efforts to stamp out illegal poisoning the idea of legal poisoning just beggars belief.

It’s hard to get one’s head around this. Are the farming and pharmaceutical lobbies so powerful that they just get what they want? Or, alternatively, does nobody in the corridors of power care, because it’s hard to believe that this can have been done out of ignorance alone? People must have known about the veterinary history of diclofenac so, somewhere along the line, it seems that vultures in Europe are expendable. Collateral damage, as they say.

If you’re interested in doing something about it sign here.

Here today, gone tomorrow?

Here today, gone tomorrow?