Yesterday we blogged about the availability of the written evidence submitted to the UK parliament’s audit on wildlife crime (see here).
Today we’ve read all the written evidence and our expectations of who might have said what were fully met. Although there’s no substitute for reading things for yourself and drawing your own conclusions, there were a few things that stood out…
One common theme was the use of RSPB vs NWCU (National Wildlife Crime Unit) raptor persecution statistics, with groups such as the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation and the Moorland Association claiming that only the NWCU figures should be used to determine the ‘true scale’ of the problem. The Countryside Alliance goes one step further and says that it objects to what it calls ‘scene-of-the-crime involvement of third party campaigning organisations and charities such as the RSPB’ and calls for urgent guidance to clarify ‘that all crimes and suspected crimes should be reported to the police’. No great surprises there – it’s the usual knee-jerk reaction to the RSPB, but what is interesting is that they forgot to mention just how unrepresentative the NWCU figures actually are! Why are they unrepresentative? Well according to the written evidence of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPOS), not all police forces submit their wildlife crime data to the NWCU, and even if data have been submitted, it’s not always possible to identify which incidents were wildlife crimes as they are not allocated to a specific code! So yes, it is easy to see why these groups want to get rid of the RSPB stats and replace them with the NWCU figures!
Another point of interest was a statement from the Moorland Association on hen harriers. We thought the second paragraph contained particularly sinister undertones:
“The scale of crime against the hen harrier and its impact on the hen harrier population has been overstated and is misleading. A lack of breeding success on grouse moors does not automatically mean that laws have been broken. There are many, many more birds in England than four successfully nesting pairs, which can be seen over grouse moor during migration and at winter roost sites.
Until a full set of special rules allowing the positive management of hen harriers breeding on grouse moors is forthcoming from the Environment Council’s Hen Harrier Dialogue, moorland owners are within their rights and the law to deter the birds from settling on their moors to breed.”
We assume that ‘positive management’ in this context refers to either killing or otherwise removing (translocating) any harriers that are considered ‘surplus’ to an agreed acceptable number (known as a ‘ceiling’). We understand that the Environment Council is seriously considering a ‘ceiling’ on hen harrier numbers for grouse moors; a controversial and long-running argument that we’ll write about another time. But what does the Moorland Association mean when it says ‘moorland owners are within their rights and the law to deter birds from settling on their moors to breed’?
The other comment we found particularly interesting was one made by the Countryside Alliance:
“The recent publication of out of date research into the breeding success of peregrine falcons on grouse moors is a further example of counterproductive allegations against shooting which resulted in misleading coverage in the media. As a result of this, the National Wildlife Crime Unit circulated a clarification to all Police Wildlife Crime Officers in the UK, and to all Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime members, in which it was drawn to the attention of those studying the research paper that the data used was out of date, and that in using such information there was a clear danger that the research paper might be misunderstood as representing the current situation, which it did not.”
The publication being referred to is the recent paper by Amar et al (2011) which showed that the breeding productivity of peregrines nesting on grouse moors in Northern England was 50% lower than the productivity of peregrines breeding on non-grouse moors (see here for earlier blog on this). Now, why would the NWCU feel it necessary to send an email to wildlife crime police officers and other PAW partners about how to interpret this paper? Did they think that these people were so stupid that they couldn’t read and understand the paper for themselves? Why did the NWCU think that the data used in the paper (collected between 1980-2006 from 141 nesting ranges) were unrepresentative of the current situation? Has the NWCU collected and analysed more recent data to demonstrate that the current situation is different? How does sending this email fit in with the NWCU’s stated primary role of ‘assisting in the prevention and detection of wildlife crime’? What sort of message does this email give to those involved with the fight against raptor persecution? Here is a peer-reviewed scientific publication in a prestigious journal that points directly to the significant relationship between grouse moors and raptor persecution. Isn’t this exactly the sort of publication that the NWCU’s Charlie Everitt was referring to in his speech at the recent wildlife crime conference when he said: “We’ve also been looking to the use of science to try and benefit from what science can deliver to us”?
The thing is that the data used in the paper were part of a long-term data set that clearly showed a trend in poor productivity (i.e. not a snap shot but a long-term picture over 26 years), and this trend also mirrored that of other studies that have shown a clear relationship between low raptor survival and grouse moors (go and read some of the golden eagle papers that have been produced over the last ten years). The NWCU appear to have missed this point in their scrabble to appease the grouse-shooting lobby; so much for their intelligence-led approach to combating raptor persecution, eh?
All the written evidence submitted to the audit committee so far can be read here.