(Mis)understanding predation 2

golden eagle carrying off girlOn Monday, a new report was launched by the Scottish Environment Minister called ‘Understanding Predation’. Available for download here: Moorland Forum Understanding Predation report

This study aimed to combine scientific, peer-reviewed evidence with anecdotal fairy tales about plagues of raptors, to inform ‘debate’ about the supposed impact of predators on their prey.

We’ve written about this ‘study’ previously (see here) and we’d recommend you have a read of our earlier comments as our view hasn’t changed.

The resulting report is massive (382 pages). We haven’t read it all. We made a start by looking at the section on hen harriers but couldn’t find one of the references it cites (Wilson et al 2015) and several other statements were referenced with this: “Error! Reference source not found”. This is hugely frustrating. The report authors have obviously used automated citation software but somebody hasn’t done a very good job of proof reading.

The associated press release talks a lot about ‘collaboration’ and about how this is a ‘ground-breaking’ project that should be seen as the way ahead for addressing conflict, but actually, there’s very little evidence of collaboration. The anti-raptor groups participated because it was a way of getting their prejudiced, unscientific views heard; the pro-raptor groups participated because they wanted to ensure the importance of scientific evidence for policy decisions was recognised. They all agreed on the need for action to protect declining wader populations but they fundamentally disagreed on the approach needed. The anti-raptor crowd want raptor culling, the pro-raptor crowd want a focus on habitat management. So really the situation is no further advanced than it was before this project started. A complete waste of time and money then.

If policy decisions about raptor ‘management’ were based on the premise of ‘local knowledge’ (i.e. made-up stories passed down through generations of gamekeepers) rather than scientific evidence, then we’d be culling sea eagles because they’re a threat to babies and small children, we’d be culling goshawks because they’re ‘non-native’, and we’d be culling red kites because they’re annihilating sand martins.

The next step in this project is apparently to decide a direction of research. The SGA has apparently suggested a pilot study to ‘save curlews’ based on the removal of buzzards, ravens and badgers. It’s hard to see this proposal getting wide (any?) public support – if it went ahead it’d probably result in mass demonstrations outside Holyrood at the very least.

Mark Avery has written about his take on the Understanding Predation report here. It’s very funny.


19 Responses to “(Mis)understanding predation 2”

  1. 1 George M
    February 11, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    Who pulled the strings that removed Paul Wheelhouse and parachuted in Eileen McLeod. It’s been sometime since she has been seen on official business without a crowd of tweed covered figures lurking in the background. If she is not punting highly suspect lead shot meat as “natural” then she is holding a fishing rod on the Tay. What about science, Eileen, or has showmanship and vested interests taken over?

  2. February 11, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    I was never too impressed with previous administrations action re wildlife crime in Scotland…but if they dont stop this blatant support for the forces of ignorance in our countryside SNP will be losing my vote and that of many others at the coming election. Does anyone else see the parallels of anti-raptor rhetoric – take one or two unconfirmed “facts” produced by unconfirmed witnesses and apply it to a whole group of people/species – with that of right wing hate groups?…Our representatives need to be very careful over who they are seen to be making alliances with..

    • 3 Voice of Reason
      February 13, 2016 at 8:50 am

      And yet the pattern of “take one or two unconfirmed “facts” produced by unconfirmed witnesses and apply it to a whole group of people” is quite often applied on these pages in the form of “all gamekeepers are….” or “shooters are…” or “the landowners are…” on the basis of all manner of reports and hearsay, not all of which are verified, or which are loaded with assumptions about what ‘probably happened’. Nice touch trying to equate people who (erroneously in my opinion) want raptor control, with right-wing fascists, that’ll help won’t it? Such comments appear to be somewhat loosing the plot.

      I appreciate there are some thoroughly nasty people in amongst the ‘anti-raptor’ brigade, but I’d argue there are plenty of perfectly reasonable people too, they just happen to disagree with you, study approaches such as that used in this report are potentially helpful in reaching more moderate rational people on both sides and getting them to realise that some of their opinions may be based on false ‘facts’ and understanding, and that potentially applies to both sides of the debate, the extremists however will resolutely stick their fingers in their ears and say lalalala, and that also applies to both sides.

  3. 4 Robert Moss
    February 11, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    Bertrand Russell: “It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.”

    Social scientists don’t make this mistake. To them all belief systems, including science and local knowledge, are just perceptions. Controversies can be resolved by getting stakeholders to have a nice little chat, whereupon they will come up with a joint perception to which both can subscribe.

    That seems to be the philosophy underlying this report.

  4. February 11, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    Can we honestly trust a hunt supporter to police the illegal activities of hunts across Leicestershire? It’s not a hard question is it? And there’s only one credible answer; in a single word; “NO!”

  5. February 12, 2016 at 12:07 am

    I they want to try some new direction for research.. why not look at changes in the biodiversity and other environmental impact on an intensively managed grouse moor when gamekeepers are removed. It would be really handy to have an idea of just how quickly the habitats and the ecosystem services will recover. WE ARE GOING TO NEED TO KNOW THIS!

    This report will do nothing other than keep the arguments going. Nobody should give any credence to Uncle Jimmy’s anecdotes… all of the issues have already been methodically measured.

  6. 7 michael gill
    February 12, 2016 at 8:43 am

    It’s like commissioning a report entitled “How we got here” and getting evolutionary scientists and evangelical Americans to contribute. Bonkers

  7. 8 Les Wallace
    February 12, 2016 at 10:48 am

    Re giving credence to local knowledge shouldn’t that have included submissions from those that have been told off hand by keepers what they do, by their own inclination or their boss’ s instruction, to harriers, goshawks, buzzards, pine martens, otters and even wildcats? Accounts from locals about strange goings on they’ve witnessed, or things they’ve overheard in the pub? There certainly is a lot of local knowledge which is not beneficial to the estates, pity that’s not here.

  8. 9 Ben
    February 12, 2016 at 11:27 am

    I am a bit baffled by why this blog, and the people commenting, cannot see the value in ascertaining and documenting the extent of agreement and disagreement between scientific evidence and stakeholder viewpoints (from all sides). This project was never about giving credibility to wives tales. What it does is juxtapose the best-evidenced scientific views with stakeholder opinions. It is extremely interesting to see where (all sides) have opinions which are closely aligned with the science and where they are not. Actually it turns out that it’s not only the land management community which holds views which differ from the science.

    Keyboard-warriors – rather than slag off the report based on your response to someone else’s opinion, why not read the actual report, then reply? It’s here: https://raptorpersecutionscotland.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/moorland-forum-understanding-predation-report.pdf – I repeat, the premise that this approach attributes equal value to science and ‘local knowledge’ is just plain wrong. Read the report and see for yourselves.

    As for RPS, which is a blog that I follow and support (I abhor persecution and I’m a very active RSG member) – I’m very disappointed to see you slagging off the report on the basis of a few broken links. You’ve also resorting to putting the word ‘study’ in apostrophes to imply a lack of rigour. That’s pretty childish stuff.

    How about a slightly more considered response, which goes beyond your gut feeling and takes a measured and thoughtful view? Publishing a review of a report that you admit yourselves that you haven’t read properly doesn’t reflect well on you. Do you want to be respected as being led by science and the law rather than actually motivated by your own entrenched ‘lobbyist’ stance? Imagine if peer-reviews of academic papers started with “this report is massive. We haven’t read it all.” but then went on to slag it off anyway?

    I’m guessing that these comments are moderated. It will be revealing to see if my comment is posted.

    Ben – pro-raptor, RSG member, anti-persecution, professional scientist, pro-RPS but very disappointed by this blog post

    • February 12, 2016 at 11:53 am


      Thanks for your comment. You wouldn’t happen to work for one of the organisations involved with this ‘study’, would you?

      We haven’t read the entire report, and to be honest, we’re unlikely to. What we have done is read enough of it, and the accompanying media guff, to understand that it’s been a waste of time and money. Although probably quite profitable for the organisations involved with its preparation.

      It doesn’t advance the issue of raptor ‘control’, which is at the heart of this project, except to provide a seemingly legitimate platform for those who wish to see licences issued to kill raptors.

      • 11 Ben
        February 12, 2016 at 12:33 pm

        Given your choice to be anonymous, it doesn’t seem entirely reasonable to be fishing around for who I might be and who I might work for. These are personal views. I am entitled to express them in a personal capacity.

        I disagree with your view that raptor control is at the heart of the issue. The project was about understanding the relative importance of different factors in determining the population trends of birds – particularly ground nesting birds such as waders and game-birds. Raptors are one such factor, among other things.

        The report might not advance the anti-raptor-persecution agenda directly, but it did not set out to do so. We’ll have to agree to disagree about whether progress has been made which will reap longer-term benefits. Dialogue is always more constructive than mud-slinging from opposing camps. I say that as someone who would end raptor persecution in a heartbeat if I could.

        • February 12, 2016 at 2:42 pm

          Ben, we’re not ‘fishing around’ for your identity, you offered up some information about yourself and we simply asked whether you worked for one of the participatory organisations. Of course you’re entitled to your anonymity and we’re not going to prevent your entitlement to that.

          We are going to have to agree to disagree if you don’t accept that raptor control is at the heart of this project. It’s so blindingly obvious that it is!

          Dialogue with the raptor killers is futile. Sixty-two years of cosy chats has got us where, exactly?

          • 13 Voice of Reason
            February 13, 2016 at 9:50 am

            It’s rather depressing that the very first response to Ben’s reasonable comments about the report was to question his independence.

            He does point out in his comment below one of the more interesting findings in the report (well from what I’ve skimmed so far) and that is the bar plots on page 30 showing how the two stakeholder groups, (those who claim to base their opinions of scientific knowledge, and those who base it on ‘local’ knowledge) were actually not hugely different in their knowledge of current population trends in the key species of interest, and arguably the ‘local’ knowledge group was slightly more accurate. Scrolling down to page 41 to 43 there are more comparisons between the two groups and the actual scientific literature. It seems to me that the scientific knowledge group are a bit better at determining which factors are important drivers of population change (fig 4), and in fig 5 it appears the two groups are no better or worse compared to actual literature when determining the importance of certain predators to certain conservation species.

            To me that suggests several things, perhaps that the people who favour ‘local’ knowledge over scientific knowledge aren’t always wrong, it could also be showing that a few people who claim to bases their understanding on actual science possibly don’t.

            It’s easy to mock these sort of attitude and understanding studies, but the reality is (as the above graphs show) the actual results of the application of the knowledge of the two groups above is fairly similar and it sort of implies that most of the stakeholders probably have a reasonably good working understanding of what is happening with their predator and prey populations. However the conclusions of what to do about it clearly vary widely. I would argue that what is really driving and maintaining this difference is emotional based opinions and cultural forces reinforced within peer groups. If raptor persecution and unnecessary levels of predator control are ever going to end it won’t be due to yet another experimental study published in Journal of Applied Ecology (that much should be obvious by now!) it will be because we develop a better understanding of such entrenched attitudes and the psychology behind them which drives people to do things that most of the facts suggest will have very little benefit, and ways in which these behaviours can be modified. This type of approach is being much more widely used across a range of ecological disciplines where people and their activities have to interact with wildlife, I think it should be welcomed here.

            Of course entrenched attitudes, emotional based opinions and cultural forces reinforced by peer group association aren’t just the preserve of people involved in game management or shooting…..

  9. February 12, 2016 at 11:47 am

    If folk can’t be bothered to read the whole thing, scroll quickly to page 30 and look at Figure 1. This compares the perceptions of scientists (‘scientific knowledge’) and of ‘local knowledge’ with the best available scientific evidence (the BTO Bird Atlas). I defy anyone not to find this fascinating. Put your prejudices aside and take a look.

  10. 15 Merlin
    February 12, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    Over hunting of Curlew and Golden Plover in Europe is thought to be a contributing decline by the scientists but I can’t find any mention of this, Golden Plover still shot in this country despite its decline and interestingly the drying out of peat on upland moors prevents large hatches of craneflies the young depend on, couldn’t see any mention of this also no mention of the impact the release of 40 million non native pheasants have on Grey Partridge and Lapwings. 300 plus pages of cherry picked bull

    • 16 Ben
      February 12, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      Over hunting of Curlew and Golden Plover in Europe is thought to be a contributing decline by the scientists but I can’t find any mention of this, Golden Plover still shot in this country despite its decline.
      >> The report doesn’t currently talk much about the impact of hunting on these two species. If you are aware of sound evidence which links hunting with the decline of these species I’m sure that the authors would be pleased if you got in touch. See methods section for details of how the natural science literature review search was carried out (page 78).

      interestingly the drying out of peat on upland moors prevents large hatches of craneflies the young depend on, couldn’t see any mention of this
      >> See pages 234 and 287

      also no mention of the impact the release of 40 million non native pheasants have on Grey Partridge and Lapwings.
      >> Point 33 of executive summary (page 18) & priority knowledge gaps (page 56). Also see paragraph on page 316 (within ‘Natural Science Knowledge Gaps’).

      • 17 Merlin
        February 12, 2016 at 10:05 pm

        Ben I don’t feel you have answered my questions at all, This document called “understanding predation”, something that has been going on for millions of years appears to have been written by someone with absolutely no idea of the subject. There is talk about the decline of the Golden Plover, Curlew, Grey Partridge and Black Grouse and the authors seem to be blaming predators for their demise yet 3 of these birds are still on the game list and are still being shot in the UK, at what point do you think these species should be removed from the game list, if you are seriously interested in helping these species shouldn’t this be the first course of action.
        Thank you for bringing my attention to were I could read about the relationship between Golden Plover and Crane flies, As I said the drying up of our uplands prevents the hatching of crane flies, the most important part of the Golden plovers reproduction cycle as the young rely on this food source, In the last few decades apart from forestation, intensive Grouse moors have been the main perpetrators’ of drying up our uplands in the quest of more Grouse to shoot, whilst these uplands might provide a suitable nest site away from predators if the young are then deprived of a valuable food source then they can be expected to fare no better than young reared on lowlands and stalked by predators.
        Finally I asked about what the effects of releasing 40 million non native pheasants could have on each of the species you mention, each of these species have a chapter about other influences that could effect their decline, in none of the chapters does it mention the release of thousands of pheasants in a limited area as having a detrimental effect on their breeding success, I find this completely absurd especially in the case of the Grey Partridge and the Lapwing

  11. 18 George M
    February 14, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    Well said, Merlin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Blog Stats

  • 4,104,643 hits


Our recent blog visitors