There had been rumours for a few days and now it’s confirmed: Simon Lester, the head gamekeeper at the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project has resigned.
A statement has appeared on the Langholm Project website and is reproduced as follows:
Simon Lester, the LMDP’s headkeeper, has resigned from the project and will be leaving at the end of March 2016. Simon has provided tireless leadership to the five-man keepering team which has undertaken the key management actions for the project. These have resulted in significant improvement of the heather habitat, the effective use of fiversionary feeding of hen harriers each summer and the management of parasites and predators. These measures have increased the numbers of red and black grouse, and breeding raptors, notably hen harriers. This mixture of traditional and novel management has been successfully demonstrated to hundreds of project visitors by Simon in collaboration with the project’s science team.
Despite a larger grouse population than at the start, the project has not been able to produce a sustainably large, harvestable surplus of driven grouse to economically underpin the management. LMDP is now close to its formal end point and the board is reviewing what can and should be achieved in the remaining term of the project. The project board would like to thank Simon for his exceptional contribution.
It’s an interesting time for him to go, eight years in to a ten-year project. The official statement doesn’t explain his reasons, and nor should it as they’re personal, but it will inevitably lead to speculation.
Perhaps it’s because there (supposedly) hasn’t been an opportunity to begin driven grouse shooting on the moor, which is one of the fundamental aims of this project, although it has been argued that the decision not to shoot has been a political one. Grouse densities at Langholm in 2014 had recovered to the same densities that had allowed driven grouse shooting to take place there in the early 1990s, so why the decision not to shoot now? Many of us think it’s so the grouse-shooting industry can claim that the Langholm Project has ‘failed’, in order for them to persist with their argument that driven grouse shooting can’t function with all those pesky raptors around, even though years of research at Langholm have not produced a scrap of scientific evidence to show raptor predation has a large impact on the red grouse population. According to Langholm Project director Mark Oddy (of Buccleuch Estates), what is required now is lethal raptor control at Langholm (see here). Ah, there’s that ‘local knowledge is just as important as scientific evidence’ piece of guff theory.
Given Simon Lester’s view on raptor culling (he thinks it should happen – see here and here), we thought he might have stuck around at Langholm to see his dreams fulfilled. Although perhaps he realises that the chances of licences being issued to kill buzzards, based on no scientific justification whatsoever, are limited.
Scrolling down the Langholm Project website, it’s fascinating to see what else has been mentioned, or more interestingly, what hasn’t been mentioned.
There’s a bit about one of the guest blogs that appeared on Mark Avery’s website (here) that reported on a presentation given at a GWCT seminar about the Langholm Project, but strangely, there’s no mention of the second guest blog (here) where Mark Oddy (Buccleuch Estates) proclaimed lethal raptor control as the next step forward in the Langholm Project. How odd!
Scroll down a bit further on the Langholm Project website and you’ll find a statement about the illegal shooting of hen harrier ‘Annie’, one of the Langholm-hatched birds. Strangely, there’s no mention of where Annie’s corpse was discovered other than “an area over 40km to the north west of Langholm Moor”. The statement is strangely quiet about the fact that Annie’s corpse was found on a grouse moor on, er, Buccleuch Estates, part of the same estate where the Langholm Project is based. Why so coy? Just because her corpse was found there doesn’t mean that’s where she’d been shot, so why exclude this important detail?
All very odd.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens next at Langholm. Will they employ a replacement head keeper and continue for the final two years, or will they decide to close the project early and declare it a failure?