(Mis)understanding predation

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.

Moorland Forum logo - Copy

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.

8 Responses to “(Mis)understanding predation”

  1. 2 AnMac
    May 13, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    I don’t believe how this can ever be deemed accetable to have such an important issue examined and decisions made on non scientific comment.

    SNH goes out of it’s way to ensure commissioned reports are carried out by properly qualified people so that we have a full understanding of any issues relating to nature conservation of birds, animals etc.

    This just makes a nonsense of such an idea to consider any off hand quote by anyone..to inform important decision making.

  2. 3 Jimmy
    May 13, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    This exercise read like a charlatans charter. Not suprised to see the likes of the SGA and SOS at the heart of it

  3. May 13, 2015 at 6:14 pm

    I’d like to hear from the RSPB and BTO as to the veracity of their blog opinion gathering methodology – both organisations are part of the Forum and listed as participants in this study. And Ian Newton and University of Aberdeen – which I assume means Stephen Redpath – are also involved. Both are part of the scientific committee masterminding the Hawk and Owl Trust’s hen harrier brood removal programme. I’d like to hear from these review panel members too how they agreed to the blog component – what analytical approach they’re intending to use on these blog data (opinions).

  4. 5 George M
    May 13, 2015 at 7:40 pm

    Having read the blog I recognise a few of the names of the contributors, some of whom I have met personally and all have a background in Game management, and a hate driven obsession as regards the RSPB and Raptor groups. Indeed, one of the most prolific contributors has his own Facebook page dedicated to demonising both the RSPB and “townies.” and is an ex office holder in the SGA.. It is my opinion that this exercise is nothing more than a propaganda stunt promoted by shooting interests aimed at changing public opinion by way of presenting so called “personal observations” and designed to appear as “homespun wisdom” in much the same way that some thought the world was flat because the horizontal nature of the horizon appeared to make it so. Undermining this fantasy filled report should be a priority for all interested in raptor protection before it can gain any traction amongst the uninformed. I, too, would like to hear what the RSPB and the BTO make of this quackery.

  5. 6 Dave Dick
    May 13, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    …and no doubt they will be getting advice from a certain Charles Windsor who, we now know from his published letters to government, thinks culling badgers is a good idea…

  6. May 14, 2015 at 9:09 am

    Is there no end to the demonisation of our wonderful raptors? It seems that those, like Mr. Page, who would see them all exterminated will stoop to any level to get what they want by any means possible. Page couldn’t provide an proper scientific evidence to back up his ridiculous story.
    These people are truly uneducated when it comes to raptors and have such a blinkered view it frightens me, I have spent the last twenty years working with these wonderful birds and visit three or four schools a week, I am trying to get young people interested and teaching them that raptors do not waste or kill food, they only catch what they need to survive, if you want to talk about killing and wasting food look no further than the human race.
    I did eighty six wild rescues of owls and other birds of prey last year and have done twenty five already this year, it alarms me when many have been shot, caught in traps or poisoned.
    I work with my local WCO who is very enthusiastic about his job, I know from experience how hard it is to find the culprits and catch them.
    People like Page will not and do not want to listen to people who understand and work with these birds, they want them gone end of.

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