The Scottish Moorland Group (SMG) has today issued a press statement which refutes the findings of the latest scientific study that has shown hen harriers are being wiped out on Scottish grouse moors in North-east Scotland.
This is no surprise, of course. What is surprising is the ‘evidence’ (ahem) put forward by the SMG to dismiss the findings of the study. Here is their press statement:
Moorland group denounces ‘deeply flawed’ hen harrier report
Tim Baynes of the Scottish Moorland Group said: “There are serious problems with this report, most notably that there has been very little Harrier surveying conducted recently in the area, with only 4% of harrier breeding areas covered in 2014. The authors identify 118 harrier breeding areas which they have traditionally surveyed but by 2012 only 38% of these were being covered, in 2013 it had decreased to 10% and by 2014 the number covered had halved again.
“We work with Scottish Natural Heritage and others in the Heads Up for Harriers Partnership and in 2015, five grouse moor estates were asked by the project to host nest cameras to determine the causes of Harrier nest failure, some of which were in the north east of Scotland. In all cases nest failures were shown on camera to be due to weather or fox predation – nothing to do with human disturbance.
“Sadly, this seems to be another instance where raptor study groups have made little or no attempt to engage with land managers who could have helped their research. Even once data is produced, it often incomplete or only selectively shared in an attempt to besmirch grouse moor management. Looking backwards in this way is really unhelpful when collaborative initiatives are being developed by other organisations to ensure a more positive future.”
So, let’s start with Tim (Kim) Baynes’ assertion that “there has been very little Harrier surveying conducted recently in the area, with only 4% of harrier breeding areas covered in 2014. The authors identify 118 harrier breeding areas which they have traditionally surveyed but by 2012 only 38% of these were being covered, in 2013 it had decreased to 10% and by 2014 the number covered had halved again“.
It seems that Tim (Kim) is unable to read and/or comprehend scientific papers. Had he read the actual paper, he would have seen the following statement:
“There was thorough coverage of all suitable Hen Harrier breeding habitat during 1980-2014” (with the exception of one area where coverage was incomplete between 1980-1987).
He would also have read the following statement:
“Annual coverage was thorough and the vast majority of Hen Harrier breeding attempts were believed to have been recorded“.
So why would Tim (Kim) say that survey coverage of hen harrier breeding areas in 2012, 2013 and 2014 was only 38%, 10% and 5% respectively? Well, it appears that Tim (Kim) has chosen to ignore the methods section of the paper (there is a reason the methods section is there, Tim, it tells you how the data were collected!) and instead looked elsewhere to find some data that, on the face of it, support his claim of incomplete survey coverage. His data sources are the annual reports of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme, which do indicate that the number of checked hen harrier home ranges during this period is lower than the claims made in the paper. You can imagine Timbo, or one of his idiot subordinates, finding these data and thinking, ‘Yeah! We’ve got them now! Let’s write a press statement!”.
What thicko Tim (Kim) has failed to comprehend is (a) the data provided in the SRMS annual reports are grossly under-recorded (because not all raptor workers submit their data to the SRMS because they don’t trust SNH to use the data wisely – see earlier post on SNH’s failure to designate the Ladder Hills as a Special Protection Area for hen harriers!) and (b) the primary survey data used in the hen harrier scientific paper were collected by the papers’ authors. They did not rely on the SRMS data for their calculations. If they had done so, they would have mentioned this in the methods section of the paper. They didn’t mention it, because, they didn’t use SRMS data – they used their own! Is that simple enough for you to understand, Tim? By the way, what are your scientific credentials? Are you suitably qualified to assess the scientific rigour of this, or any other scientific, peer-reviewed publication? No, thought not.
Let’s now turn to another statement in Tim’s press release:
“We work with Scottish Natural Heritage and others in the Heads Up for Harriers Partnership and in 2015, five grouse moor estates were asked by the project to host nest cameras to determine the causes of Harrier nest failure, some of which were in the north east of Scotland. In all cases nest failures were shown on camera to be due to weather or fox predation – nothing to do with human disturbance“.
Again, at face value, this appears to support the grouse-shooting industry’s claims that illegal persecution isn’t an issue for hen harriers on grouse moors. But Tim’s statement doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t tell you that those five grouse moors were in fact, not driven grouse moors. i.e. they were not intensively managed for grouse-shooting and neither were they on the radar as raptor persecution hotspots. So actually, the results from these nest cameras don’t tell us anything about the impact of persecution on hen harrier breeding success on estates where we know hen harrier persecution is endemic. What we’d like to see, as the Heads up for Hen Harriers project goes forward, is nest cameras being placed on driven grouse moors in areas where persecution is known to happen. It is pointless, propaganda-fuelling bollocks to place cameras on nest sites in areas where persecution isn’t an issue (walked-up grouse moors) and then use those results to claim that persecution isn’t an issue on driven grouse moors.
Talking of propaganda-fuelling bollocks, has anyone read this piece on the Gift of Grouse website? [UPDATE 8th Feb – the linked article is no longer available as its author has asked the Gift of Grouse website to remove it]. It’s a personal account of a young lad’s first ever experience on a driven grouse moor – Invermark Estate – last summer. James Common was there for three months as part of a team of ecologists (headed up by a gamekeeper’s daughter) employed to document biodiversity on the estate. We’ve already blogged about the (lack of) credibility of that team’s report (see here) but this latest article is more of a personal perspective of his time there.
Isn’t it interesting that Tim (Kim), who directs the Gift of Grouse project, would seek to discredit a scientific, peer-reviewed paper authored by acknowledged, experienced experts, but doesn’t question the ramblings of a young, inexperienced ecologist straight out of college?
As you’d expect, James’ account is very positive about management for driven grouse shooting (if it wasn’t positive there’s no way the Gift of Grouse project would be promoting it!) but it reveals an incredible level of naivety. For example:
“Hen harriers also performed admirably – shimmering males and roving ringtails were found with relative ease. Indeed, if these popular moorland denizens had not been present, I may have worried, but they were and so I stand fully content“.
Jesus. If this is the level of ecological curiosity displayed by a young graduate in the conservation sector then there’s no hope. Did he not think to question why, if the hen harriers were so prevalent, they haven’t bred successfully in the Angus Glens since 2006? Apparently not.
Now, Invermark Estate is certainly not the worst estate in the Angus Glens, although it’s had its moments (see here). It is one of the less intensively-managed estates in the region and as such, the level of biodiversity should be relatively good, in comparison to some of its neighbours at least (although where are its breeding hen harriers??). However, James thinks that it’s ‘a tad unfair’ that this ‘good’ estate is unfairly ‘tarred and feathered’ alongside other grouse moor estates where raptor persecution is frequently uncovered. That’s a fair enough comment, although he doesn’t mention that this estate has aligned itself with other, less impressive estates, under the banner of the Angus Glens Moorland Group. If Invermark Estate has chosen to closely associate itself with other estates where raptor persecution crimes keep cropping up, then why the hell should we make any distinction between them?
At least James has the sense to recognise that illegal raptor persecution does happen on some driven grouse moors. That’s more than can be said for Tim (Kim) and his cronies at the Scottish Moorland Group. Does he not realise that by continuing to deny the 30+ years of scientific evidence, his group just looks complicit with it all?
Addendum 7th February 2016 11pm:
For the amusement of those of you not on Twitter, the following is an exchange from earlier this evening featuring Scottish Land & Estate’s CEO, Doug McAdam, who seems to think that data published in a scientific, peer-reviewed paper don’t qualify as ‘verified’, whatever that means. He aborts the discussion when it gets a bit tricky….
Rob Edwards @robedwards53: Hen harriers virtually exterminated on sporting estates in northeast Scotland, says experts. [Links to his article in the Sunday Herald].
Doug McAdam @DougMcAdam: Well “the experts” study seems to be based on very limited data. Comment from Scottish Moorland Group here [Links to SMG press statement].
Simon Brooke @simon_brooke: Hold the front page, wrongdoers say their accusers are biased.
Doug McAdam: Have you even read/looked into the study? Other who have comment here [Links to Gift of Grouse blog].
Simon Brooke: They would say that, wouldn’t they? Do not look to partisan blogs for informed opinion.
Doug McAdam: So you haven’t read/researched it. Thought not.
Simon Brooke: No, I haven’t. Fortunately others have [Links to RPS blog]. Read it and weep. For shame.
Doug McAdam: I rarely put any store in blogs or accusations from anonymous sites. That site is no exception!
Simon Brooke: So we are to trust a pro grouse-shooting blog, but not an anti-crime blog? I wonder why.
Doug McAdam: I’m not telling you to do anything. Anonymous blogs lack credibility and are treated as such.
Simon Brooke: Given that all the assertions in the blog I indicated are easily verifiable….
Doug McAdam: I guess that’s where we differ on this. It hasn’t been verified at all. Accusations without evidence worthless.
Simon Brooke: Have you read the paper? The methodology section either does say what the blog claims it says, or it doesn’t.
Doug McAdam: Read blog you quote, your answer is there. Data not reported to SNH, kept secret etc. Just bizzare. Over and out.
Simon Brooke: It’s hardly ‘kept secret’ if its published in an academic journal.
Doug McAdam: I’m talking about the actual survey data. It’s not officially reported or recorded. Offline now. G’nite.