The term ‘nasty brigade’ was coined by Chris Packham in an opinion piece he wrote for BBC Wildlife Magazine in October 2015. He was referring to certain organisations within the shooting industry, which led to two of those organisations (Countryside Alliance & GWCT) making a formal complaint to the BBC – a complaint the BBC later rejected (see here).
Packham was spot on. The Nasty Brigade was, and continues to be, an entirely appropriate term. Evidence of this continuing nastiness has emerged in the last couple of weeks…
In November 2016, Dr Pat Thompson, senior upland policy officer at the RSPB, gave a presentation at the Northern England Raptor Forum’s annual conference. The title of his presentation was, ‘Driven grouse shooting: born in the 19th Century, fit for the 21st? – The impact of management practices and the need for change‘.
Pat is a highly-regarded researcher within scientific and conservation circles. He is widely-published on the topic of upland management and if you’re lucky enough to get to hear one of his talks, you’ll find it to be balanced, measured, and fully supported by evidence. His talk at the NERF conference was no exception and was based on one of his recent scientific publications on grouse moor management (you can read that paper here).
During Pat’s 45-minute talk, he took the audience through the environmental benefits and pitfalls of current grouse moor management, and he also talked for a couple of minutes about the politics of grouse moor management, using this slide to illustrate his words (apologies for the poor resolution – this photo was taken in a dimly lit room):
Now, it turns out that someone at this conference was videoing Pat’s talk and that video footage somehow found its way to the Nasty Brigade, who, in turn, a couple of weeks ago published a very short clip of Pat’s talk (just the part when he was discussing the political side of driven grouse shooting) in an attempt to embarrass both Pat and his employer, the RSPB.
The video clip has since been taken down but the associated blogs written by Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance (see here) and Andrew Gilruth of the GWCT (see here) both remain in the public domain, although both have been slightly edited since their initial publication. And then last week the Shooting Times joined in on the attack and published a re-hash of the CA and GWCT blogs, despite knowing that Pat was on sick leave and unable to respond (see here). Nasty tactics indeed.
But if you take the time to think about the statements that Pat made, you’ll find that, unsurprisingly, every single one of them is based on fact. Not the ‘alternative facts‘ so favoured by the Nasty Brigade, but actual, real, demonstrable facts. For example:
Personal attacks on opponents of driven grouse shooting: These are well documented – Chris Packham and Mark Avery have been subjected to a near-constant barrage of personal abuse on social media (and from establishment figures in the Westminster Parliament) for at least two years, as has one of the authors of this blog (see here) and the Bowland Brewery was even the victim of a targeted hate campaign just for supporting the RSPB’s Hen Harrier conservation project (see here).
Attempts to distort and discredit science on burning (GWCT, YFTB): Both the GWCT and You Forgot the Birds attempted to discredit an RSPB-led scientific paper on heather burning by quoting another paper that suggested the RSPB had ‘twisted’ the facts. The problem was, the other paper hadn’t yet been accepted for publication at the time GWCT and YFTB were quoting from it – it was still at the stage of being a ‘submitted manuscript’ and hadn’t even cleared the process of scientific peer-review. You might expect this sort of behaviour from YFTB but for the GWCT (a supposedly science-based charity) to engage in this abuse of scientific process was disgraceful. Mark Avery blogged about it at the time (here, here, here).
Abuse of good name of BTO: Ian Botham (of YFTB) made claims in a Daily Mail article published in August 2016 that the BTO had undertaken a bird survey on a Pennines grouse moor that showed it was “bird heaven”. The same fairy tale was picked up by Matt Ridley in The Spectator. Presumably, the use of the BTO’s scientific credentials were supposed to add gravitas and authenticity to these findings. Unfortunately for Botham and Ridley, the BTO had nothing to do with that survey and they quickly distanced themselves from the survey results (see here).
Lamentable debate in Westminster: An entirely appropriate description of proceedings. It wasn’t a debate because only one side turned up in any number, leading to a procession of vested-interest politicians standing up and telling lies.
Phoney claims – restoration, burning, birds of prey, waders etc: There are so many examples of phoney claims made by the Nasty Brigade that it’s hard to pick one. The ones that spring to mind most readily are the most recent ones made by the likes of the Gift of Grouse, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, Scottish Countryside Alliance etc about the status of raptors on driven grouse moors and the probable cause of ‘disappearing’ sat-tagged raptors (e.g. see here, here).
Organised attempt to keep raptor workers off some estates: This is happening on certain estates in North Yorkshire where gamekeepers have been licensed to monitor Schedule 1 raptors (yes, really) which will prevent genuine raptor workers from visiting those nest sites for monitoring purposes and thus lessen the chance of illegal activity being seen and/or reported.
So as you can see, Pat’s comments are all supportable with evidence. Naturally, the CA, GWCT and Shooting Times articles all try to suggest that Pat has been ‘caught out’ not toe-ing the RSPB party line but in our view, the Nasty Brigade has scored a bit of an own goal with this latest display of nastiness.
Far from embarrassing Pat and the RSPB, what this actually does is show that the RSPB can, and does, speak out. All too often the RSPB is accused of fence-sitting, especially on the issue of driven grouse shooting, and in a lot of cases that criticism has been well founded. So let’s celebrate Pat’s comments, applaud him for making them in a public setting, and thank the Nasty Brigade for bringing them to everyone’s attention.