17
Apr
16

More cock and bull from Ian Botham

shrivelled bananaIan Botham used to be best known for his world-class reputation as an English cricketer. These days he’s better known to some of us as being the grouse-shooting industry’s teller of cock and bull stories [definition: an absurd, improbable story presented as the truth].

Cock story here (We’ll spare you the repulsive accompanying image but it looked a lot like this picture on the right).

Bull stories here, here, here, herehere and here.

Today’s Mail on Sunday contains another Botham-penned cock and bull story, aimed again, of course, at the RSPB. It’s a long rant that volleys off in as many directions as one of the shotgun cartridges Botham fires at game birds, with pellets spraying everywhere in the hope that one might hit the target.

He seems to think that the RSPB has it in for eagle owls, although the evidence he provides is, well, shaky to say the least. By the way, Beefy, if you’re going to pretend to be a knowledgeable ornithologist, at least learn how to express binomial nomenclature: it’s GCSE-level stuff that the genus always starts with a capital letter. Anyway, he alludes to ‘something he read’ last month about the RSPB wanting to ‘nip the colonisation [of eagle owls] in the bud’ although he doesn’t provide a link to said article. Fortunately, his friends over at the GWCT have provided a link, and it’s to an article published in the Yorkshire Post in March – we’ll come to that.

Incidentally, isn’t it strange that the GWCT blogged about eagle owls today, a Sunday, the same day as Botham’s article was published? It’s almost as if the GWCT knew Botham’s attack was coming and wanted to join in, helpfully loading the cartridges into Beefy’s gun before he squeezed the trigger. Take note, RSPB, the GWCT is one of your so-called ‘partners’.

Anyway, back to that article in the Yorkshire Post (here). In it, the journalist cites an unnamed ‘RSPB Officer’ as saying if there was a significant increase in eagle owl numbers it might be wise to ‘nip the colonisation in the bud’. This, it seems, is the basis for Botham’s rant. Yes, really, that’s it.

But who was this ‘RSPB Officer’? Was it even an RSPB employee? It seems strange that what he/she purportedly said is at odds with the ‘official’ RSPB position on eagle owls, as published on the RSPB website (here).

Now, even Botham, with his questionable judgement, must have realised that this ‘evidence’ was flimsy and nowhere near enough to justify another full-scale attack on the RSPB so he’s padded out his story with some other ‘stuff’. This consists of much of the usual guff, including his oft-repeated claim that gamekeepers ‘are putting their house in order’ and no longer killing raptors. Here’s a nice pie chart that says differently:

gamekeepers prosecuted - Copy

Before today’s article in the Mail on Sunday, many of us had been wondering what this season would hold. There are some, an optimistic few, who thought that with the publication of DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Inaction Plan, things might settle down, the sniping in the media might stop, partnership-working might do what it’s supposed to do, and hen harriers and other upland raptors might just be left alone.

Having read today’s article, many of us (so far over 27,500) believe that’s cock and bull.

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57 Responses to “More cock and bull from Ian Botham”


  1. 1 Howard Fearn
    April 17, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    Surely if the grouse industry is so interested in welcoming top predators then they would have long since supported the return of golden eagles to their English estates? Or is it simply that eagle owls will deter and even decimate hen harriers and other raptors, which is exactly what they want? All very convenient for them. BTW, which ‘other raptors’ still nest in Bowland (as stated in GWCT article), despite the presence of eagle owls?

  2. 6 Jim Clarke
    April 17, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    Bullies like soft targets and the RSPB have proved themselves to be a soft target over and over again. Mind you it is all a touch comical; Botham et al keep kicking the organisation which has failed to push for a ban on grouse shooting while everyone else just keeps on fighting for it. I’ve got to say though that I’m itching for him to try and present himself as a good guy as some charity event anywhere near me; i wonder how he will handle a protest, temper, temper, I suspect.

  3. April 17, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    It does indeed look like the GWCT is co-ordinating its attacks on the RSPB with Botham. I noticed this paragraph in particular.

    “Next month the elite scientific body, the Royal Society, will publish a scathing critique of the way the RSPB has been distorting science to suit its own political agenda against grouse moors. In their article, a dozen of the world’s top ecologists will say that RSPB press releases displayed ‘only passing resemblance to the key findings’ of scientific research.”

    So here he presumably refers to the embargoed paper on heather burning, which was broken by the GWCT when it published a summary of the “findings” on its web site a little while ago. I doubt that understands the paper or has even seen it and is just parroting the GWCT’s opinion.

    Overall it’s a pretty pathetic effort. But the driven grouse shooting petition must be rattling the grouse lobby and they’re probably trying to frighten the RSPB off from supporting it in any way.

  4. 8 Jim Clarke
    April 17, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    ‘But the driven grouse shooting petition must be rattling the grouse lobby and they’re probably trying to frighten the RSPB off from supporting it in any way’. Looks like the strength of it Peter. Makes you wonder if the RSPB has a snapping point though, if the constant attacks start to really hurt them (and this really can’t look good to their membership) will they, eventually, bite back?

  5. April 17, 2016 at 9:27 pm

    Whilst it was depressing to wade through so many ignorant and crass comments supporting Botham on the Daily Mail website, it did have its comic side. Where else could you expect to find so many notoriously illiberal and xenophobic Daily Mail readers leaping to the defence of an illegal immigrant (Eagle Owl) and showing so little concern for a natural born Brit (Hen Harrier)?

  6. 13 Les Wallace
    April 17, 2016 at 11:59 pm

    Strange one. Utter guff re Botham, GWCT and Mail on Sunday of course, but grain of truth in their assertion that the RSPB has not been very positive about eagle owls. Something I have not been happy with myself for a while so I’d be a bit dishonest if I didn’t mention it. Not to say the clowns mentioned aren’t clowns just that the RSPB needs to be more consistent and sensible re this particular predator – I have certainly read an article that quoted a RSPB staff member claiming eagle owls could pose a threat to rare birds such as the corncrake. Isn’t that far too close to the type of comment made by certain people who wear deerstalkers not to ring an alam bell (e.g sea eagles on the Norfolk Broads will eat the bitterns!)? I’ve also seen Tim Melling of the RSPB in a video (think Tony Warburton might have been in it too) in which there were rather negative remarks about E.Os that I found surprising and disappointing especially as Tim M has spoken very eloquently about raptor persecution in the Forest of Bowland on Talking Naturally and was great in a video on the Walshaw Moor debacle. I’m hazy on fine details, but definitely recall these and other situations where RSPB staff sounded more like the Countryside Alliance than a conservation organisation, one of the very few occasions I’ve been peed off with it, in this case seriously pissed off.

    The crux of it is whether or not the eagle owl is a native bird. Tony W has written a brilliant paper on this and he comes down firmly on the side of it being a native. For me and I’m sure a lot of others it doesn’t really matter. Even if it is a true alien, it’s hardly going to be an invasive species. It lives on the other side of the North Sea/English Channel with virtually the same set of species that live on this side, co-existed and co-evolved for many, many millenia, but just separated for a few thousand years thanks to melting glaciers. No big deal, it’s the signal crayfish, grey squirrel, Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan balsam that cause the problem not the midwife toad, bitterling, little owl, brown hare or alpine newt. The rhododendron might seem like a powerful exception, a mainland European species that’s an absolue bastard, but it turns out what we have is actually a hybrid with a couple of American species.

    I suspect the RSPB’s issue is that if the E.O is technically an introduction they are frightened people will start accepting that this isn’t so damaging conservation wise, in some cases obviously it can be – disastrously so, so that’s why they’ve made some slightly hysterical comments for public consumption. If this is the case then I think the RSPB has to give the public credit for having more intelligence and have a wider, more honest and effective discussion about the nature of invasive species so efforts can be targetted more effectively where they are really needed not ‘introduced species hit the panic button’, which I feel is what the RSPB has at times done with E.Os. I don’t think anything I’ve said here will bolster the case being made by the opposition, pillocks will always be pillocks irrespective of anything we say, but the RSPB needs to be more mature in its attitude to this native or near native predator.

    Of course another reason the YFTB and pals may be punting for the E.O is their belief that it could nobble other birds of prey. In that infamous promotional web page they produced – the one in which the muscovy duck was down as a British bird – they also mentioned the E.O and said the RSPB didn’t like it because they ate other birds of prey, actually they do, sometimes quite a lot. Roy Dennis once did a fantastic documentary on E.Os in britain and went to a dutch quarry to see how they lived on the continent. The remains of several buzzards were found which Roy D was quite excited by, more natural intraguild competition/interaction etc. The supposed hen harrier wing that was found ina E.O nest in the Forest of Bowland (and they’ve been hammered there too) turned out to be a common gull wing, but nonetheless the idea must have excited the YFTB mob. It never has decimated other BOPs though, so they’ll be disappointed.

    It would be wonderful IMHO if the E.O gets fully established here, fantastic bird and one of the bigger predators we are desperately short off. In 1996 I worked on a farm in Ipswich and I was absolutely gutted to find out that a few years previously an escaped eagle owl had adopted the farm as its home for a few months, became quite the mascot and developed a taste for local cats that were left out at night, so instead of pussy killing birdie, birdie ate pussy. So disappointed to miss it, but eventually saw a little owl which was some compensation. Bit amazing then that three years later back in Scotland we were rung up by next door neighbours to tell us we had an E.O perched on the side of the house in broad daylight. A bit earlier I had heard crows, jackdaws and gulls going absolutely crazy and wondered what the hell was happening. Well yes an E.O was perched on the side of the house for about another half hour and eventually flew off just clearing the back garden fence and I don’t think its wingspan can have been any shorter than 5 feet at least. I phoned the RSPB Scotland office to tell them and the girl that answered couldn’t have cared less. Not end of story though. Last autumn my brother in law described what he said was a massive owl on his back lawn when he went outside one night. E.O? Hard to see how it could be anything else, but what clinched it for me is that the house they were living in was in a wood with two very big, old and dilapidated properties with no windows, and roofs that were caving in. From what I’ve read E.Os really like roosting and nesting in this type of situation. Obviously haven’t really told anyone, except a friend who works for the SWT, and wouldn’t feel comfortable saying anything to the RSPB. Get such a buzz thinking there might be a E.O a few miles away.

  7. 14 Chris
    April 18, 2016 at 1:40 am

    Strange how the RSPB website in relation to the Eagle Owl has been totally re-written since I first brought it to your attention last year. It carefully avoids admitting that common buzzards are known to feature as a prey item. This would make an eagle owl also very capable of killing male hen harriers which are quartering the ground for prey, and I did suggest back then it cannot be discounted as a reason for some disappearances.

    I believe there should be active discussion now, on removing them from upland areas where they may well be further depressing hen harrier numbers. In my view, taking them into captivity is not realistic, there are already too many being bred and held in captivity, as is also the case with many other raptor species.

    I have said before, real conservation sometimes requires difficult and less pleasant measures to be put into place to protect our biodiversity. Please note here ; I would not advocate a total eradication policy, I don’t believe that would be necessary or desirable.

    • 15 Les Wallace
      April 18, 2016 at 8:39 am

      I wrote up my previous post very late last night in a bit of a hurry and hadn’t had the chance to look at the GWCT or original Botham ‘article’. Have now, god they were appalling, and what infuriated me most was the GWCT implying, virtually stating it was fact, that licensed Raptor workers were responsible for disturbing E.Os in the Forest of Bowland. Pretty disgusting and vile smear tactics, we are used to them, but still shocking that they came from such a ‘professional’ body. The perception that E.Os are a significant predator of other BOPs has obviously made them a pin up for the shooting lobby, so utterly bizarre situation whereby one of the biggest BOPs of all is being put on a pedestal by a shower of predator haters who blatantly work in cahoots usually to demonise raptors and those trying to protect them (well in this case they still did the latter). Bert Burnett had to get the topic on his fb page of course, he referred to E.Os displacing peregrine which would keep the pigeon boys happy.

      Yes E.Os can prey on raptors, and they may well suppress goshawk and buzzard numbers in some places, but goshawks can kill and eat sparrowhawk’s, and golden eagles can reduce hen harrier populations I believe. What I am positive of is that they would never do what the estates do make some BOP species hover on the brink of local extinction in many places.Those who think they can put away the carbofuran, pole trap and never have to face even the very small risk of ending up in the clink for beating a protected species to death with a stick by ‘adopting’ the E.O are in for a big disappointment. E.Os I’m sure never have made any contribution or ever will to the disgustingly low numbers of hen harriers in the north of England.

      What was really interesting was that Botham spouted the ignorant and arrogant drivel he usually does, but in order to push for the E.O made positive comments about the ecological role of larger predators and even stated lynx would help cut deer numbers! This is the man who was a loud opponent of beaver reintroduction because he was worried it would hurt his fishing. The shooting lobby may well tie themselves in knots over this, not renowned for even collective intelligence they are in such a pathetic rush to vilify the RSPB they have possibly undone themselves at least slightly. Has any of their reps ever made a positive, public statement about lynx reintroductions before? Will this force them to be more positive about the return of the sea eagle? The way they are all fawning over a major predator, for misguided reasons, may well backfire on them.

  8. 16 Mr Greer Hart, senior
    April 18, 2016 at 2:45 am

    After reading this, I looked up the article in the Daily Mail, and the Comments, the latter refuting the diatribe of Mr Botham against the RSPB. I stopped my membership of the RSPB after the dreadful leasing of Hopetoun House for its annual Bird Fayre, however, I kept up buying raffle tickets and donations to specific projects, as I have faith in its competent staff in making vital contributions to the overall conservation of wildlife in the UK. If it has problems with its pension fund, mercenary selling of bequethed land, over spending on advertising and fund raising etc., then there should be a genuine cause for concern. Members have the power to demand actions to clear up such problems, and the public can just stop making donations or cancelling memberships.

    All charities that reach a certain size that enables them to become powerful enough to exert political pressure, and take legal action against those that offend their purpose of being in existence, will attract severe and sometimes embarrassing criticism from those they have offended. The RSPCA and the WWF have received criticism for the way they have conducted their affairs, some of which has been justifiable and the rest from those of whom have been disadvantaged by their actions and policies. Perhaps, such large organisations should be, like monopolies in the business world, broken down into more manageable, but viable, and clearly defined groups with no contradictory purposes.

    The present day reality is that ANIMAL WELFARE charities and pressure groups have grown in size and number, and demanding that the “old” conservation of species organisations, should not condone any cruel methods in their operations. The recent TV and Press mention of the anger of such groups over the Wildcat Conservation Project, which involves the trapping cats (feral, domestic and possible hybrids) in areas Scottish Wildcats are supposed to be found. That would involve gamekeepers or estate managers volunteering to use traps, and killing of any cat offending the genetic purity of this species). Execution would be by shotgun blast to the head. The Royal Zoological Society for Scotland, the SNH, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and others are involved in this business of creating a pure population of Wildcat. With the SWT Red Squirrel Project, gamekeepes have been recruited to cull the Grey Squirrel intruding onto Red Squirrel sites. The SNP appointed Dr Aileen McLeod the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, set the cat among the pigeons, when she praised the gamekeepers for their work in giving us such well-managed countryside, and a healthy food, such as leaded grouse. Chris Packham was vilified by Mr Botham for describing the shooting estates as an “evil community”. In a way that is so, as so many allegations have been about their powerful owners influencing those responsible for dealing with crime (Police, Fiscal Service and Judiciary – locally so), and killing Birds of Prey and other forms of wildlife is illegal, but not much detterent for doing so has been shown, due to few prosecutions and limp punishment if a case goes against the offended.

    What is required is a coming together of ANIMAL WELFARE AND CONSERVATION OF SPECIES ORGANISATIONS, to thrash out a united policy in dealing with the dreadful state of affairs existing in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, with regard to industrialised killing of game birds, and any other creature that may threaten such birds. The idiom is now present of the existence of a large public following of the those who are militantly animal welfare and conservation minded, and who insist on all actions relating to saving some species, must involve minimal suffering. Blood sports and trophy shooting are taking a heavy toll of wildlife, here and world wide. One has only to go online and see the outcry against the slaughter of wildlife for sport, animal parts for quack medicines, pet trade and environmental destruction of habitats. We have to win the battle in Scotland, and thus play our part in setting an international example of being able to contest and win the battle against the persecution and inhumane treatment of animals. WHAT WOULD THE SITUATION BE IF THERE WERE NO RSPB, SSPCA, SCOTLAND FOR ANIMALS AND ANIMAL CONCERN SCOTLAND?

    • April 18, 2016 at 11:02 am

      I agree with most of that but even as a vegetarian can’t see a problem with killing invasive species like Grey Squirrels, Ruddy Ducks and even domestic cats when threatened species are at risk. Of course there has to be sound scientific grounds.
      Not all game-keepers are bad. The spread of the Buzzard and Sparrowhawk are proof of this.
      I am unsure where the Eagle Owls sits in all this. If it isn’t a native it is, as Les Wallace points out, a near native and so should probably be treated as such.

      • 18 heclasu
        April 18, 2016 at 4:05 pm

        If I remember correctly, Roy Dennis in that superb documentary, proved that E.O’s do move considerable distances at times and the fact that one or two have been seen arriving off the sea on the east coast would tend to suggest that they may occur here naturally. Yes, there have been many escapes/releases from captivity, but if one or two are truly wild, then the species should be left alone to get on with it! As mentioned above, they co-exist with other species well enough on the continent.

      • 19 Jack Snipe
        April 19, 2016 at 3:12 am

        anandprasad, I have to take issue with your statement that the spread of the Buzzard and Sparrowhawk constitutes “proof” that not all gamekeepers are bad. I won’t ask where you got this idea, because certain rather lazy-minded conservationists throw it about far too much. As Buzzards subsequently declined by over 50% throughout at least most of western and southern Scotland in the past decade, do you now suggest that gamekeepers have reversed their remarkable Damascene conversion? I have plenty statistical evidence to back up my estimate of the decline. The Buzzard’s range and population expanded considerably during the previous two to three decades, but almost certainly due to an unprecedentedly widespread field vole plague which seems to have spread across most of northern Britain. It has to be said that the scale of this phenomenon passed un-noticed by most of the ornithological community, the Mammal Society and SNH. A subsequent vole crash since 2008 led to much reduced numbers of Buzzards, Hen Harriers, hill foxes and in particular Kestrels and Short-eared Owls. Barn Owls in some areas failed to breed or had greatly reduced productivity. Fortunately the legacy of the Buzzard’s range expansion has remained, giving hope that the population will grow again once the vole numbers recover. Some localised signs of recovery are already taking place. Unfortunately for the Hen Harriers, their population was already at a much reduced level due to persecution, and I have little doubt that their recovery will be impeded and suppressed by the continued illegal actions of gamekeepers.

        Incidentally, I’m not sure that Sparrowhawks have spread, and I’ve certainly seen no evidence that their breeding densities have increased in west central Scotland. I could also ask where is the robust evidence that Grey Squirrels threaten Red Squirrels, apart from some fundamental misinterpretation of statistics, or that Ruddy Ducks REALLY threatened the White-headed Duck? Unfortunately it’s too late now to restart the debate about the latter, but many scientists now realise the cull was a big mistake, undertaken largely for eco-political reasons and based upon fairly poor science. Some prefer to sweep the whole incident under the carpet. We need to be very careful about making sweeping statements or jumping to conclusions, because the enemies of nature conservation will seize upon the slightest opportunity. It’s ironic (and irritating) that so many people who are otherwise defending Ravens against the general licence petition make statements like “I know that Ravens do kill newly born lambs, but…”. Again, where is the evidence? I have intensively studied Raven flocks interacting with lambing ewes for the past 17 years, and have never witnessed a Raven even attempting to kill a healthy lamb.

        • April 20, 2016 at 10:45 am

          It’s irritating that only your anecdotes are facts and other people’s observations have no weight. Especially when you are talking to colleagues on the same side. You have been talking about publishing your Raven research for the best part of 20 years…. it would really help us all if you got the work into a journal.

          • 21 Jack Snipe
            April 20, 2016 at 1:35 pm

            circusmaxim, Sorry to be so irritating, but I’m not exactly sure what you mean by other people’s observations. I try to be careful and only challenge opinions which I find misleading, rather than challenging proper observations (although I do make exceptions in claims made by gamekeepers and other obviously prejudiced groups). I’d be grateful if you could point me to any useful information as I haven’t seen anything as thorough as my data published anywhere. I can only find BBS results being referred to, which for Buzzard is a relatively small sample size and a bit deficient of Scottish data. Even the SRMS data is inconclusive as so few people actually work on the species. It’s time people started to pay attention to local bird reports, where my Buzzard data (and those of “other people” who participate in the systematic recording) are published, albeit with a bit of a backlog just now during catch-up. And incidentally, my study of Ravens with lambing ewes took place in 2005-2007, so 20 years is a slight exaggeration! As it’s work done in my own spare time and I’m very busy on other projects, there has been an unfortunate delay in writing up formally, but you’ll be pleased to hear that the current Raven debate has prompted me to prepare a summary paper for Scottish Birds, should they accept it. I also plan to do a Short Note for the same journal on the Buzzard population change. Incidentally, I am by no means alone in recording a widespread local decline in their population, even more so in the case of Kestrels.

            Anyway, the point of my previous comment was not to leave the notion that gamekeepers have been behaving themselves unchallenged, on the basis of up-to-date evidence of the recent Buzzard decline. Presumably you use the term “anecdote” to somehow devalue the work I have done on the species, as well as the “other people” who have contributed to the local monitoring scheme. What I do find irritating myself is that some Raptor Study Group members do not submit records to Local Recorders, which is their prerogative, but it doesn’t make it any easier for Local Recorders to do their job effectively. Sad to say, there appears to be a hint of scientific snobbery involved regarding local bird reports, but they do a very important job for ornithology and nature conservation. I found it interesting that one of “the main men” working on tagging Buzzards was unable to supply me with any population statistics of the species within his long term study area, not even an estimate, just one example of how difficult it can be to gather hard evidence.

            I take your point.

  9. 22 alan
    April 18, 2016 at 7:40 am

    I haven’t read the article, but do think he has a point.
    Is there any other bird that may or may not have naturally colonized been treated the same.
    They seem to be offered no protection, no debate allowed on whether they have naturally colonised and are actively disturbed.
    Do we do the same with collared doves, Egrets, Bustards, capercalie, osprey, goshawk etc.

    • 23 Les Wallace
      April 18, 2016 at 8:49 am

      And the little owl, unquestionably introduced, no evidence it’s causing any conservation\ecological problems here, but why should it lives on other side of English Channel with the same native species we already had here. Don’t hear the RSPB calling for removal of little owls, there’d be a bloody big outcry if it did. They have not been sensible over the eagle owl at all.

      • 24 heclasu
        April 18, 2016 at 4:06 pm

        …or pheasants!

      • 25 Jim Clarke
        April 18, 2016 at 4:07 pm

        To be fair Les there are limited instances where Little Owls do cause problems but where simple non-lethal methods have been used to rectify the situation. Here I’m thinking of Little Owls hunting petrels on Welsh Islands that are captured, removed, and released on the mainland.

        • 26 Les Wallace
          April 18, 2016 at 9:00 pm

          Never heard of that Jim, think that’s something that can occasionally happen with any predators there have been a few tales of some seabird colonies being hit hard by birds of prey funnily enough. I remember in the seventies the RSPB had a season at Minsmere where one kestrel ate all but one avocet chick. Legally they couldn’t do anything about it even if they wanted to and the fact the kestrel was the emblem of their junior branch the Young Ornithologists Club (I was a member of it then) meant that ‘politically’ it would look bad to interfere with the bird. Not the BOP’s, native or introduced, fault just that some bird species are at such a low ebb population and distribution wise that even natural levels of predation are problematic. As you mentioned there can be non lethal ways to curb issue and that’s a far, far cry from wanting to kill BOPs because you think people will have more gamebirds to shoot.

  10. 28 Cammy
    April 18, 2016 at 10:42 am

    His evidence is as about as good as yours, misleading your readers about the hen harrier (lad) being shot when theres no evidence to suggest it was.
    Cat kettle black rings true here.

  11. 29 dave angel
    April 18, 2016 at 10:46 am

    The consensus of informed opinion seems to be that the eagle owl was never native to the UK and that the current population is from escaped birds rather than colonisation from mainland Europe.

    There is also I believe (and am happy to be corrected by someone who knows about this stuff) a notion that when an apex predator is introduced to an eco system the first thing it does is try to clear out other competing predators, which in this case would be other raptors, which are already under threat.

    If that is correct I can understand why the RSPB are so cautious and Beefy so cavalier about the appearance of eagle owls.

    • April 18, 2016 at 11:13 am

      I live on Mull and there are very good populations of White-tailed Eagle, Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Short-eared Owl and Barn Owl often living in very close proximity. There aren’t many Peregrines and Merlins only breed rarely but i don’t believe anyone is suggesting that the latter two specie are being suppressed by larger raptors.
      Until i see scientific evidence to the contrary, i take the suggestion that eagles suppress other raptors, to a significant degree, with as much weight as that Sparrowhaks decimate song birds.

      • 31 dave angel
        April 18, 2016 at 11:57 am

        Well with regard to eagle owls the risk has to be that by the time the scientific evidence is available irreparable damage could have been done, so a precautionary approach might be sensible.

        • April 18, 2016 at 12:21 pm

          Why when they are welcome new species in Denmark? If as you fear, a top predator causes so much problem , i take the view, that there is something wrong with the ecosystem. A healthy Hen Harrier population would surely be able to cope with a few Eagle Owls. The problem is the driven grouse lobby not Eagle Owls.
          I don’t understand why grouse moors in the UK are somehow treated like some kind of special habitat. The rest of the world and here too we managed quite well without them until the invention of the shotgun.

          • April 18, 2016 at 12:25 pm

            P.S. As i understand it the Danish population ( if it still exists) was thought, by the Danish ornithologists i spoke to, a result of a German re-introduction scheme.
            It is odd that they are being re-introduced on one side of the channel and are considered such a threat here.

          • 34 dave angel
            April 18, 2016 at 1:36 pm

            We know there is a lot wrong with the ecosystem. That being the case why put it under even more pressure by allowing the presence of what is in all probability a non native species that is only here as a result of captive birds escaping?

            • April 18, 2016 at 2:33 pm

              The same is true with Hen Harriers in Denmark, they are extremely rare there and they don’t even have grouse shooting or raptor persecution but still Eagle Owls are not considered a threat.
              The problem here is grouse shooting not Eagle Owls.
              I was trying to point out that the difference is ‘cultural’ or at least ‘traditional’. In the UK we have the underlying belief that every square inch has to be managed. This is not the only option, see George Monbiot’s Feral.
              The issue of Eagle Owls and Hen Harriers in the UK could be solved virtually over-night if the political will was there to punish raptor crimes as heavily as in Spain and if driven grouse moors were banned.
              The precautionary principal can also be used with your ‘all probability a non native species.’

        • 37 Les Wallace
          April 18, 2016 at 3:35 pm

          Dave I think we have to make the effort and have the rational ability to categorise ‘introductions’ into different levels of potential threat and even possible benefit to the general ecosystem. There are very good reasons why some species run riot and others don’t. I have yet to find one clear example of a native continental european species, certainly north of the Alps or Pyrenees, that has genuinely caused an ecological or conservation problem when it’s been introduced, accidentally or deliberately in the UK. Sycamore and zander were demonised in certain circles, now they are pretty much accepted, they’ve neither taken over our woods or waterways as predicted. They are essentially parts of our ecosystem that just didn’t quite manage to ‘catch the bus’ to blighty as sea levels rose at the end of the last ice age. They’ve got Alpine newts in Edinburgh which the local herp group accepts won’t cause any problems here as they co-exist with our species on the continent, and actually think make a nice adition to the local fauna.

          I don’t underestimate the damage true invasives do and can say I have scars to prove it (well, a mark on my forefinger from a bowsaw when I was clearing cherry laurel), spent a hell of a lot of time in various places tearing out, ripping out and chopping up rhoddie, cherry laurel, snowberry etc. The panic and protestations I hear about introductions has unfortunately not lead to much being done to stop my local woods being choked out by various invasives from the USA and East Asia, but has been used ludicrously as an argument against very well studied and investigated biological controls to fight existing invasives and even re’introductions’. I have seen in a GWCT rag the beaver being listed as a non native invasive along with gyrodactylus and Japanese knotweed! They’ve had a go at the sea eagle being brought back on the basis that as it wasn’t here for a short while so it’s no longer native!

          All the time the real nasties march on with little hindrance. The RSPB’s silliness over the eagle owl has already back fired upon it, if you sink to using the same spurious reasons that a ‘new’ animal could be a potential risk to rare species, that our opponents use to decry bringing the sea eagle back to East Anglia, or question the spread of the pine marten then you’re not doing yourself any favours as has happened here. Saying that eagle owls could seriously predate corncrakes makes assertions that sea eagles will chomp their way through all of Norfolk’s bitterns and cranes appear almost reasonable. Some very poorly considered remarks and attitudes from the RSPB that happily were uncharacteristic, but none the less a bit fo damage has been done. Fingers crossed in the longer term the YFTB and the like will do themsleves more harm as they’ve tried to be clever which never suits them.

          • 38 heclasu
            April 18, 2016 at 4:12 pm

            Where are most of the corncrakes? Yes, in the Hebrides. We’re not exactly tripping over eagle owls out here!

            • 39 Les Wallace
              April 18, 2016 at 9:18 pm

              Yes exactly maybe we should round up those sea eagles in case they nosh up all the choughs. I’m pretty sure I know which book it is I saw that statement in, but don’t have access to it at the moment. Not the RSPB’s finest hour.

              • 40 heclasu
                April 19, 2016 at 7:16 pm

                It was mentioned by a RSPB ‘spokesperson’ in that Roy Dennis documentary – if I recall correctly. I thought at the time ‘What a w*****’! Don’t know how I would have heard about it otherwise.

                • 41 Les Wallace
                  April 19, 2016 at 9:26 pm

                  Yes this idiocy from the RSPB has been going on for years, maybe they’ve changed their tune recently, but the damage has been done. This was EXACTLY the same argument used against their proposals to reintroduce sea eagles to East Anglia, and what’s been thrown at the proposed lynx reintroduction. Would it have been too complicated for them to tell Joe Public it’s a European bird, it lives with our species on the mainland, not therefore likely to be significant problem here or did they think we are too thick?

                • 42 Les Wallace
                  April 20, 2016 at 2:44 pm

                  This is from the ‘RSPB British Birds of Prey’ book by Marianne Taylor, 2010. Page 216, last paragraph

                  ‘The RSPB believes that study of the likely impact of Eagle Owls on vulnerable native wildlife must take place as a matter of urgency, while the population remains small. If Eagle Owls are found to arrive here naturally or are assessed to be a benign introduction, they will be accepted as a part of our fauna. However, for the present they are considered a probable introduced species and must be treated with caution. Globally, non native species are regarded as the most important threat to biological diversity after habitat loss. It would be all too easy to be wise after the event, so it is extremely important to monitor the Eagle Owl population now’.

                  Compared to other comments the RSPB has made about E.Os this isn’t too bad, but none the less the tone is definitely on the alarmist side and effectively suggest the E.O is potentially up there with the cane toad. Is there really any justification for treating the establishment and spread of E.Os as any different from sea eagle, red kite reintroductions and translocations or the natural spread and increase of goshawk, marsh harrier, pine marten and buzzard? The remarks made here and elsewhere are hell of a close to what the huntin, fishin, shooting set come out with re native predators. As far as research or monitoring goes the pair of E.Os that featured in Roy Dennis’ documentary lived predominantly on rabbits, they didn’t as much as look at the lambs on the sheep farm they’d nested on for years. Has any study from Germany, Poland, Netherlands, France, Sweden, Russia shown them to be the talons of death to black grouse, hen harriers, buzzards, goshawks, kestrels, tawny owls and of course corncrakes? There are very good reasons for not getting into a ridiculous panic about the introduced or not Eagle Owl.

                  The RSPB staffer who reputedly said the ‘colonisation had to be nipped in the bud’ was probably a piece of fiction and maybe they’ve started being a little more circumspect and less silly, but they can’t say they’ve never been negative about E.Os. We are now in the surreal situation where predator haters are promoting one of largest avian ones obviously because they think the RSPB fears it will decimate other raptor populations. I think the joke will ultimately be on them, it just won’t.

    • 43 alan
      April 18, 2016 at 12:26 pm

      Dave, I understand the informed opinion statement.
      Not the same as actual evidence.
      It doesn’t seem logical to me that Eagle owls which are all around the UK opposing coasts, but that none would travel here.
      Especially when you look at the likes of the snowy owl.
      Nobody is suggesting they are only escapees and haven’t been here before, yet I don’t know of any evidence of snowy owls being here in the past.
      If they can travel the distance required to get here, its seems ridiculous to suggest Eagle owls cant travel a few miles to get here.

      • 44 crypticmirror
        April 18, 2016 at 3:18 pm

        If they can get to the coat of Northern France then they are only one hard storm away from arriving in the UK whether they like it or not. Although I dare say the we welcome foreigners means they turned around and went straight back to the more relaxed French lifestyle as soon as they damn well could (and I wouldn’t blame them one damn bit if they did).

      • 45 Jim Clarke
        April 18, 2016 at 4:27 pm

        Alan, based on the evidence (ringing recoveries etc.) I have no doubt that very, very occasionally a wild Eagle Owl could make it to Britain. I equally know that virtually all Eagle Owls that are seen in Britain, and will be in the future, will derive from escaped birds from the very large number that are imported, and it this factor that is the overriding one in terms of any establishment of a population. Simply comparing one owl to another without reference to other facts is misleading; there has only been (as far as i am aware) a single instance of Tawny Owl making it to Ireland, and no records in Britain of Pygmy Owl (though it has been recorded as close as the Netherlands). The key to extralimital occurrence is either migratory habits (e.g. Scop’s Owl) or inherently nomadic/irruptive breeding ecology (e.g. Snowy Owl, Tengmalm’s Owl, Hawk Owl). Eagle owl does not match either of these behaviors so, though it no-doubt physically could cope with the shorter sea crossings at least, it is very unlikely to attempt it any more than extremely rarely. In short occurrence of wild birds is one thing, establishment of population is entirely different.

        • 46 Jim Clarke
          April 18, 2016 at 4:34 pm

          By comparison Goshawk certainly can (and does) occur as a wild vagrant in Britain but could that have formed the basis of a reestablishment here? Perhaps but it would have been achingly slower than what has actually happened (and may still have been no more than sporadic) where the bulk of the current population is undoubtedly derived from escapes (plus some releases).

          • 47 Jim Clarke
            April 18, 2016 at 5:01 pm

            For those interested in the facts about Eagle Owl in Britain this is the key text;

            https://www.britishbirds.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/The-Eagle-Owl-in-Britain.pdf

            They have been the odd development since (e.g. one or two longer range ringing recoveries, hence my opinion on the feasibility of very sporadic wild occurrence) but little else pertinent, again as far as I am aware, has come to light subsequently.

            • 48 alan
              April 19, 2016 at 8:33 am

              Thanks for that Jim. A fascinating read. For a semi scientific paper it seems a bit pre determined and looks at all possible wild sightings with stringent sceptism but seems to take all escapees at face value. It even seems to state that they were native 10000 years ago, but then starts its timeline with the first known captive bird. I find it hard to accept that Orkney/Shetland birds were escapees, but they could well have been misidentified. Bias aside, it still makes a good case for the population being based on escapees.
              It makes a point on some nesting birds being aggressive which shows signs of captivity as it says its almost impossible to see wild ones nesting. Yet doesn’t seem to consider this with respect to category C criteria of a self sustaining population. I cannot see how it can be argued that there are so many escapees here (65 per year) with a species that lives decades and there is not a self sustaining population.
              Personally i think there are far more in the UK than reported, they are just extra secretive.

              • 49 Jim Clarke
                April 19, 2016 at 1:31 pm

                I think that there are a lot of escapes Alan, but I’m not sure there are so many surviving for extended periods in the wild . I do a lot of nocturnal bird surveying (for native owls, nightjars etc.) and have never found one, and calling Eagle Owls should be pretty obvious. In terms of self-sustaining (either feral or fully wild) it means just that, e.g. with no further input from additional escapes. As far as I can tell there are simply a few scattered pairs (just like e.g. Bar-headed Goose, Black Swan, Monk Parakeet etc. etc.). If anyone can produce any evidence to the contrary i’d be happy to reconsider my position.

              • 50 Les Wallace
                April 19, 2016 at 9:59 pm

                If as I said in a previous comment what my brother in law saw on his lawn was an eagle owl then I’ve stayed at THREE properties in my life that were associated with free flying individuals of this bird. That’s a crazy thought and must indicate how many are around. The one I saw in broad daylight was probably a recent escapee, but even so I think some of these birds have taken up residency in quite conspicuous places for quite a while, the farm I lived at in Suffolk (but before my time sadly) and Inverness town centre was another I believe, so their survival rate may not be too bad although escapees.The breeding population in the Forest of Bowland has been hit hard, but otherwise looked like a species on its way to becoming fully established.

                • 51 Jim Clarke
                  April 21, 2016 at 6:29 pm

                  Either you are are an Eagle Owl magnet or there is considerable regional variation, Les! As far as I can recall there have only been four birds local to me in north Derbyshire & South Yorkshire (at least that got reported) since the first in 1977;
                  1) Present in a limestone dale for two months before being found dead 1977
                  2) Bird in urban Sheffield Cemetery 1994-5 until thought poisoned
                  3) Falconers birds in Sheffield on single date 1999
                  4) Perched on block of flats in Sheffield city centre on a single date 2002.

                  We also had a Cape Eagle Owl (subspecies mackinderi) that was seen in January 1983 but not subsequently, and a Great Horned Owl in February 2004 (thought to have been taken by a fox).

                  While Eagle Owl is certainly breeding annually in Britain (e.g. http://www.rbbp.org.uk/downloads/rbbp-nn-report-2009-10-11.pdf ) the evidence available suggests it is still some way from being self-sustaining.

                  • 52 Les Wallace
                    April 21, 2016 at 6:51 pm

                    Aye, although I only saw one of them, that’s still bonkers. As my sis and brother and law have moved no longer opportunity to house sit there and keep an eye out for it which I would have enjoyed! I think there were a few pairs nesting within the Forest of Bowland, but many have gone ‘missing’. I doubt my phonecall to the RSPB was logged, and I’ve kept quiet about the latest one so good chance they are under reported/recorded.

                    • 53 Jim Clarke
                      April 21, 2016 at 7:33 pm

                      I agree that they are almost certainly under-recorded Les, but after years of vaguely expecting to hear one while out surveying the likes of Long-eared Owl in the Peak District (and elsewhere), and it not happening, I’m just not convinced there are that many out there. I also suspect there is limited flow between the isolated breeding pockets, and that breeding would not be sustained without ongoing escapes. I am keeping an open mind though, and I’m more than happy to alter my opinion if solid evidence comes to light, and, of course things, could over a relatively short time period.

        • 54 Jim Clarke
          April 21, 2016 at 7:41 pm

          Insert the word ‘change’ and move a comma in my last comment as appropriate!

  12. 56 Paul Doherty
    December 4, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    I’ve come distinctly late to this discussion, but as one of the authors of the British Birds paper noted above I can add that we published a further note on Status and movements of Eagle Owls in Europe, again in British Birds in September 2011 (102:544-546). This gave information on the spread of Eagle Owls on the near Continent and further evidence on ringing recoveries and movements. It has been suggested that Eagle Owls are colonising Britain from the north, but we pointed out that Utsira Bird Observatory which is 8 km off the Norwegian coast has records dating back to the 1930s has never recorded an Eagle Owl, nor has Helgoland which has records dating back to the 1840s. The additional information all confirmed that the Eagle Owl is one of the more sedentary European owls. We remained firmly of the opinion that current British records relate to escapes, illegal releases and their offspring and that input of wild birds from the continent is either zero or so low that it is effectively zero.


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