New RPUK/Chris Packham project launching at Birdfair this weekend

We’ll be launching a new project at the British Birdfair this weekend, in collaboration with Chris Packham and a number of others.

Come along to the Events Marquee at 11am on Saturday morning (19th August) to find out more!

For those who can’t attend the Birdfair, we’ll be blogging about the project next week.

Hope to see some of you there – please come and say hello!


Harry didn’t kill Sally

The Sun’s take on the news that satellite-tagged Montagu’s harrier, Sally, has ‘disappeared’ in Norfolk:


Magnus Linklater and his fake facts: caught out, again

So, last night we posted a blog about a Times front-page article and a Times leader article that quite clearly was an attack on the good name of the RSPB.

The author of the front-page article was Magnus Linklater, a ‘journalist’ with a reported association with grouse shooting and a track record of producing fake facts and writing anti-RSPB rhetoric. In his article, Linklater claimed that the RSPB was fighting a proposed offshore windfarm development “despite a detailed environmental survey commissioned from the British Trust for Ornithologywhich estimated that the turbines would harm no more than 100 gannets a year”.

This claim looked decidedly dodgy as the official number of predicted gannet casualties, as published in Scottish Ministers’ own formal assessment of the windfarm’s impact, was actually 1169 gannets a year.

So we decided to ask the BTO if they had actually undertaken a “commissioned, detailed environmental survey” in relation to this windfarm proposal.

Guess what? The BTO confirmed this morning that er, no, they hadn’t!

So, we were right then. This was a grouse shooting apologist making up stuff to attack the RSPB.

This isn’t the first time the scientific credibility of the BTO has been misrepresented by someone in the grouse shooting industry to smear the reputation of the RSPB, and you can bet it won’t be the last.


Natural England Hen Harrier satellite tag data – a new development

Natural England has been fitting tags (radio and satellite) to hen harriers since 2002 as part of what was called the Hen Harrier Recovery Project.

That’s 15 years of tagging.

(Photo by Jenny Weston)

In all that time, they’ve managed to publish just two summary reports: A future for the hen harrier in England (2008) and then in 2014, ‘Initial findings of Natural England’s hen harrier tracking programme 2007 to 2014‘ which didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know (see here for our analysis).

Despite many years of asking (e.g. see Mark Avery’s 2015 FoI request here), Natural England has refused (e.g. see Natural England’s FoI response here) to release any detailed results to the public. This has been both disappointing and frustrating given that the public has funded this 15-year study and especially given the huge and legitimate public concern about the continued illegal persecution of this species.

Natural England’s explanation for not releasing detailed information has been twofold: firstly we were told that NE ‘intended to analyse and publish the results’ and secondly, NE was funding a staff member (Stephen Murphy) to undertake a part-time PhD on this subject and so the detailed results were expected to form part of that PhD thesis.

According to the NE website, the PhD began in 2006 and was due to be completed in 2014:

Eleven years after it began, we decided to ask NE about the status of this PhD. We were suspicious that it wasn’t going to be completed because most universities invoke rigid time limits for students to submit a doctoral thesis (typically 4 years for a full-time study and 8 years for a part-time study). Universities are often rigorously strict with these time restrictions because higher education institutes are regularly assessed on their research quality (which relates to the subsequent allocation of research funding) and are financially penalised for, amongst other things, late doctoral completion rates. Sometimes, in extenuating circumstances, students can be granted a short time extension, but in this particular case, we very much doubted that a lengthy extension of three years would have been granted.

So we recently submitted an FoI to Natural England, along the same lines as Mark Avery’s previous FoI, to find out what was going on and, most importantly, when we could expect to read the detailed results of this long running study. Here’s the response to that FoI:

As you can see, the PhD has been abandoned. The reason is not given and, to be frank, we’re not particularly interested. There can be any number of explanations, either academic or personal, and it’s not really any of our business. Whatever the reason, it in no way diminishes the widely-held respect for Stephen Murphy’s field expertise.

What is our business, is the huge amount of hen harrier tracking data amassed over the last 15 years. Those data belong in the public domain, and Natural England can now no longer hide behind the excuse of a pending PhD submission, allowing the data to be kept secret.

You’ll notice in the FoI response that NE says it is intending to collaborate with ‘highly respected academics with an expertise in raptor research’ to analyse the data and submit for peer-review in 2018. That’s fine, but depending on the choice of scientific journal, the quality of the research and the quality of the peer-review, this process can often take several years before a paper is finally published.

That’s not good enough.

At the very least, Natural England should be looking at an immediate short-term output detailing very basic information, such as (a) how many sat tags have been fitted?, (b) where and when were they fitted?, (c) in which counties were they fitted?, (d) what was the fate of each of those tagged birds?, (d) how many of those birds were confirmed illegally killed?, (e) where were the corpses found? (county name and habitat type will do if the exact site information is sensitive), (f) how many tagged birds died of natural causes?, (g) how many tags suddenly stopped functioning in suspicious circumstances with birds ‘disappearing’, where, and in what habitat type?, (h) how many of the tagged birds are still alive?

The release of this basic information should not affect the proposed publication of scientific papers (similar information has recently been released for sat tagged golden eagles, red kites and hen harriers in Scotland) but will allow the public the opportunity to use these publicly-funded results to apply political pressure where it is badly needed.

Keeping these results secret does not help hen harriers but does help shield the criminals within the grouse shooting industry who are responsible for bringing this species to its knees.

If any blog readers wish to contact Natural England to ask for the release of these data, here’s the email address: enquiries@naturalengland.org.uk

We’ll be very interested to hear of any responses.


Is a grouse shooting apologist making up stuff to attack the RSPB? Surely not!

Slightly away from our usual blog topics, some of you may have seen a full page advert in some national newspapers today, placed in the form of an open letter to RSPB Scotland (see: Times Coalition advert) by a consortium of companies hoping to be involved in the construction and/or operation of a massive offshore windfarm. This follows news yesterday that RSPB Scotland has lodged papers at the Supreme Court, seeking leave to appeal a previous Court of Session decision that reinstated Scottish Government consents for the development.

While we’re not qualified to comment on the rights or wrongs of the proposed development, some of the media commentary on the back of the advert is particularly interesting.

In a front page article in the Scottish edition of The Times, as usual protected by a paywall, journalist Magnus Linklater says that the RSPB’s suggestion that the 64-turbine development off the Firth of Forth would threaten local populations of seabirds, was made despite a “detailed environmental survey commissioned from the British Trust for Ornithology, which estimated that the turbines would harm no more than 100 gannets a year”. The article goes on to suggest that the companies behind the proposed development say that the impact of the scheme would be “marginal”.

Linklater suggests a significant role played by the BTO in undertaking survey work to inform the developers’ case. Interestingly, the figures in the Scottish Ministers’ own assessment seems to markedly contradict the “100 gannets a year” figure attributed to the BTO by Mr Linklater. According to the official assessment, the cumulative impact of this development is to harm 1169 gannets a year, considerably higher than the “no more than 100 gannets a year” quoted by Linklater, and it appears that a good few other seabirds are predicted to die every year as well. Check out the ‘Cummulative’ column in this table from the Scottish Ministers’ official assessment report:

Perhaps the BTO will clarify this huge discrepancy in the number of birds predicted to be harmed?

However, it is perhaps the editorial piece in the same paper that is of considerably more concern. It suggests that the RSPB is “stepping outside its charitable brief in mounting a legal challenge to Scottish minsters” and goes on to say that “nothing in the charitable guidelines within which it operates sanctions this kind of campaigning”.

We beg to differ, as does an excellent article here (well worth a read). This Times leader has got a sinister stench not dissimilar to the Nasty Brigade’s ongoing campaign against the RSPCA in an attempt to prevent prosecutions under the Hunting Act. It’s pretty clear to us that campaigning to stop the predicted deaths of thousands of seabirds is exactly what the RSPB should be doing (alongside all their other stuff, of course).

Given this, why on earth would a journalist want to portray the RSPB in a bad light, suggesting that it’s threatening jobs and opposing the rights of parliament? Why would a journalist quote erroneous data to support their assertions? Could it be that this was seen as an opportunity to mount an attack on the RSPB by a regular apologist from another sector that frequently tries and fails in this very tactic?

Mr Linklater has a long history of voicing negative opinions about the RSPB or writing pro-gamebird shooting/anti-RSPB articles in the media (see here), and its not the first time he’s come out with some fake facts (see here for a summary). Interestingly, George Monbiot wrote about this anti-RSPB bias five years ago, and also drew attention to the fact that Mr Linklater is one of three trustees of a sporting estate in Scotland. Surely a grouse shooting apologist wouldn’t misrepresent the BTO? Oh, wait a minute – remember this?

Incidentally, in another depressingly one-sided, non fact-checked piece of ‘journalism’, anti-BBC, ex cricketer and You Forgot the Birds mouthpiece Ian Botham went off on one about RSPB in the Daily Mail on the Inglorious Twelfth. We haven’t bothered to read it all (because we’re still laughing at his recent car crash interview on BBC 5 Live) but we’re told that he claims that ‘the RSPB are like Venezuela’. We’ve heard that Venezuela is rather good for birds, so we’re sure that will please the RSPB.

Given that this upcoming court challenge is very clearly the RSPB standing up for birds that aren’t even raptors, we’re sure they’ll be waiting for Beefy’s ringing endorsement.

UPDATE 17 August 2017: Magnus Linklater and his fake facts, caught out again (here)


Species Champion Mairi Gougeon MSP speaks up for hen harriers

‘Species Champions’ are members of the Scottish Parliament who have agreed to provide political support and awareness for Scotland’s threatened wildlife, under a scheme organised by Scottish Environment LINK.

Mairi Gougeon (nee Evans) MSP is the Species Champion for the hen harrier, and it was fantastic to see her attend Hen Harrier Day at Loch Leven a couple of weeks ago. She wasn’t the only MSP present – also in attendance was Alexander Stewart MSP (Scottish Conservatives) and Andy Wightman MSP (Scottish Greens) – Andy had cycled from Edinburgh and broke his pedal 5 miles away but still managed to make it on time – impressive!

It was gratifying to see all three of these politicians giving up their Saturday to come along. And they didn’t just turn up for the photo call and then clear off; they spent a considerable amount of time talking with the public, asking pertinent questions (and listening to the responses!) and they all stayed to hear the presentations throughout the afternoon. Mairi even gave a short but very encouraging presentation – you can watch it here (it’s only 4 mins long – well worth a listen, thanks to Guy Shorrock for recording it):

Perhaps of all three politicians in attendance, Mairi had the most cause to be there. Not just as the Hen Harrier Species Champion, but also because her SNP constituency is Angus North & Mearns, which includes the Angus Glens grouse moors, a notorious raptor persecution hotspot.

The history of illegal raptor persecution in this area is well known (see here for a long list of incidents), and it’s also known for its lack of breeding hen harriers – not a single recorded breeding attempt on these grouse moors for 11 years, although there was one breeding attempt in the area this year, but it wasn’t on a driven grouse moor. It’s clear from Mairi’s speech that she is well informed about the situation there.

Here’s a map we’ve created for Mairi to study. It’s a map of her constituency and includes data from the recent expert review of golden eagle satellite tag data and also from the RSPB’s recent map showing the locations of ‘disappeared’ or illegally killed satellite-tagged hen harriers and red kites. It’s quite clear that it’s the grouse moor areas of the Angus Glens that are bringing her constituency in to such disrepute.

Thanks to all three MSPs for their genuine interest in protecting the hen harrier and particular thanks and good luck to Mairi – we hope blog readers will support her endeavours to draw political attention to this species’ plight.


Satellite-tagged Montagu’s harrier Sally ‘disappears’ in Norfolk

If it’s not news of a hen harrier being persecuted, or a marsh harrier being persecuted, then it’ll be a Montagu’s harrier.

The RSPB has just published a blog detailing the ‘disappearance’ in Norfolk of satellite-tagged Montagu’s harrier ‘Sally’ on 6th August 2017.

Sally was an adult female who had featured on the BBC’s Autumnwatch programme when presenter Martin Hughes-Games was given the privilege of releasing her post tag-fitting in July 2016.

Photos from RSPB

Sally had bred successfully in Norfolk for two years, including raising a brood of three this year. She (along with partner Roger) was one of only four breeding pairs in the UK and the only breeding pair in eastern England.

Her last tag signal came from near Bircham Tofts in Norfolk on the evening of Saturday 5th August 2017. She was reliably seen near her nest site at midday on Sunday 6th August 2017 but the scheduled tag signals from Sunday evening onwards never materialised. Since then, silence.

Sally’s ‘disappearance’ comes almost 3 years to the day when another tagged Montagu’s harrier (called Mo) ‘disappeared‘ in the same area, reported at the time to be on land bordering the Sandringham Estate.

If anyone has any information, please contact Norfolk Police (Tel: 101) and quote ref #12815082017.

UPDATE 17th August 2017: Good coverage in The Sun newspaper here

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