Imagine, if you will, a future government policy for raptor ‘control’ based on the biased, uninformed and unscientific opinion of someone like Robin Page.
‘Ah, that’d never happen’, you might say. ‘Government policy on biodiversity and species protection has to be based on peer-reviewed scientific evidence, not on the prejudices of those with a vested interest in game shooting, right?’
Well, not necessarily.
A new ‘study’ being carried out by Scotland’s Moorland Forum is seeking to use such prejudicial opinions to inform the debate around predator-prey interactions, which will lead, inevitably, to further calls for licences to ‘control’ (kill) raptors, particularly buzzards.
Certain members of the Moorland Forum have been pushing for licences to kill raptors for over a decade (because of the perceived impact of raptors on game birds such as pheasants and red grouse), although so far with little success. This time they’ve changed tactics. Instead of focusing on the (perceived) impact of raptors on game birds, they’re also looking to see whether they can make a case against raptors for their (perceived) impact on certain species of wader.
The ‘study’ has been named ‘Understanding Predation’ (see web page here) and it will combine a review of the scientific literature relating to predator-prey relationships, as well as the opinions of ‘stakeholders’. Incredibly, these opinions are to be given the same weight in this ‘study’ as the scientific evidence. Personal opinions are usually termed ‘anecdotal evidence’ and definitely not ‘scientific evidence’, and for very good reason. But apparently in this ‘study’ opinions are to be referred to as ‘local ecological knowledge’ – perhaps as a way to make them sound more scientifically credible. It doesn’t wash. Anecdotal evidence can be useful, no doubt about that, but to give it the same measure of importance and usefulness as peer-reviewed science is just laughable.
As an example, have a look at the comments that have been made on the Understanding Predation blog (see here). Each of these comments will apparently be used as part of the ‘study’. Apart from one or two exceptions, the majority of the comments made so far are by gamekeepers – some of them prominent members of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association. Seriously, have a read and see the ‘quality’ of the comments that are going to be used to inform this ‘study’. If Robin Page chooses to post his ridiculously flawed article as a comment, then that, too, will be used as part of the study’s result.
There’s also a questionnaire for participants to fill in (see here). We have serious issues with the design of this questionnaire, not least because the questions are leading and inherently devised to place predation as an issue of concern. There’s also plenty of potential for the person filling in the questionnaire to lie. Information is sought about the individual’s interests, occupation and experience. What’s to stop gamekeepers filling this in, claiming to be scientists or claiming to be staff members of prominent conservation organisations, in order to create an illusion that conservationists are concerned about the supposed negative impact of raptors on other bird species?
It’s interesting to look down the list of organisations that have been invited to participate in this ‘study’. The usual suspects are all there, including Songbird Survival. We wonder whether they will be highlighting the results of a study they funded that found no evidence that an increase in predators was associated with large scale population declines in songbirds (see here).
The ‘study’ apparently welcomes input from members of the public so we’d encourage you to participate, either by adding a comment to the project’s blog (here) and/or filling in the questionnaire (here). We’d also encourage you to highlight any concerns you have about the study design – make sure the organisers are aware of your views, either via the comment boxes on the questionnaire or via the project blog.