Is a grouse shooting apologist making up stuff to attack the RSPB? Surely not!

Slightly away from our usual blog topics, some of you may have seen a full page advert in some national newspapers today, placed in the form of an open letter to RSPB Scotland (see: Times Coalition advert) by a consortium of companies hoping to be involved in the construction and/or operation of a massive offshore windfarm. This follows news yesterday that RSPB Scotland has lodged papers at the Supreme Court, seeking leave to appeal a previous Court of Session decision that reinstated Scottish Government consents for the development.

While we’re not qualified to comment on the rights or wrongs of the proposed development, some of the media commentary on the back of the advert is particularly interesting.

In a front page article in the Scottish edition of The Times, as usual protected by a paywall, journalist Magnus Linklater says that the RSPB’s suggestion that the 64-turbine development off the Firth of Forth would threaten local populations of seabirds, was made despite a “detailed environmental survey commissioned from the British Trust for Ornithology, which estimated that the turbines would harm no more than 100 gannets a year”. The article goes on to suggest that the companies behind the proposed development say that the impact of the scheme would be “marginal”.

Linklater suggests a significant role played by the BTO in undertaking survey work to inform the developers’ case. Interestingly, the figures in the Scottish Ministers’ own assessment seems to markedly contradict the “100 gannets a year” figure attributed to the BTO by Mr Linklater. According to the official assessment, the cumulative impact of this development is to harm 1169 gannets a year, considerably higher than the “no more than 100 gannets a year” quoted by Linklater, and it appears that a good few other seabirds are predicted to die every year as well. Check out the ‘Cummulative’ column in this table from the Scottish Ministers’ official assessment report:

Perhaps the BTO will clarify this huge discrepancy in the number of birds predicted to be harmed?

However, it is perhaps the editorial piece in the same paper that is of considerably more concern. It suggests that the RSPB is “stepping outside its charitable brief in mounting a legal challenge to Scottish minsters” and goes on to say that “nothing in the charitable guidelines within which it operates sanctions this kind of campaigning”.

We beg to differ, as does an excellent article here (well worth a read). This Times leader has got a sinister stench not dissimilar to the Nasty Brigade’s ongoing campaign against the RSPCA in an attempt to prevent prosecutions under the Hunting Act. It’s pretty clear to us that campaigning to stop the predicted deaths of thousands of seabirds is exactly what the RSPB should be doing (alongside all their other stuff, of course).

Given this, why on earth would a journalist want to portray the RSPB in a bad light, suggesting that it’s threatening jobs and opposing the rights of parliament? Why would a journalist quote erroneous data to support their assertions? Could it be that this was seen as an opportunity to mount an attack on the RSPB by a regular apologist from another sector that frequently tries and fails in this very tactic?

Mr Linklater has a long history of voicing negative opinions about the RSPB or writing pro-gamebird shooting/anti-RSPB articles in the media (see here), and its not the first time he’s come out with some fake facts (see here for a summary). Interestingly, George Monbiot wrote about this anti-RSPB bias five years ago, and also drew attention to the fact that Mr Linklater is one of three trustees of a sporting estate in Scotland. Surely a grouse shooting apologist wouldn’t misrepresent the BTO? Oh, wait a minute – remember this?

Incidentally, in another depressingly one-sided, non fact-checked piece of ‘journalism’, anti-BBC, ex cricketer and You Forgot the Birds mouthpiece Ian Botham went off on one about RSPB in the Daily Mail on the Inglorious Twelfth. We haven’t bothered to read it all (because we’re still laughing at his recent car crash interview on BBC 5 Live) but we’re told that he claims that ‘the RSPB are like Venezuela’. We’ve heard that Venezuela is rather good for birds, so we’re sure that will please the RSPB.

Given that this upcoming court challenge is very clearly the RSPB standing up for birds that aren’t even raptors, we’re sure they’ll be waiting for Beefy’s ringing endorsement.

UPDATE 17 August 2017: Magnus Linklater and his fake facts, caught out again (here)

18 Responses to “Is a grouse shooting apologist making up stuff to attack the RSPB? Surely not!”

  1. 1 Simon Tucker
    August 16, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    Have you asked the BTO if they actually did this work? Remember, the anti’s are pretty good at quoting non-existent BTO surveys or suggesting that their survey was somehow approved of by the BTO. BTO surveys are carried out by armies of volunteers and the data is then analysed by either the BTO or academic / commercial sources. So who did the analysis and can anyone find a link to the paper in which this analysis was made?

    Also, bear in mind that there have been attempts in the past (the right-execrable Louise Mensch immediately springs to mind) to accuse the BTO of a lack of impartiality: something that would be severely damaging to its reputation and relatively small membership.

  2. 4 phill wilthew
    August 16, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    you have to read the ian Botham interview in the daily mail its a good laugh

  3. 5 Nimby
    August 16, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    I too would be surprised if the BTO had actually undertaken survey work specifically related to the proposed development. The developers may have purchased data from them to use/interpret (or mis-interpret) in their supportive documentation.

    But, as ever with these things I am grateful to RPUK for establishing fact not media spun fiction to suit a particular agenda.

    Clearly there is a need for some kind of league table of reliable media sources, and the public really do need to start questioning veracity of PR spin. “Follow the money” I was advised many years ago and as one was taught then, go right back to the original source otherwise you run the risk of repeating errors or worse, risking your own scientific credibility.

  4. 6 Calendula
    August 16, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    Even if it were true, 100 gannets sounds like too many to lose this way

  5. 7 michael gill
    August 16, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    Magnus Linklater’s wife owns a pheasant and partridge shoot

  6. 8 Alan
    August 16, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    For my sins I subscribe to the Times. The editorial is bad for all sorts of reasons, the most basic of which is to suggest that executive decisions by government should not be challengeable in the courts. My comment (1 of only 2) on their comments page: “This is dangerous nonsense, and contrary to what I’m sure the ranting author learned in British Constitution 101. The courts are there in such cases to determine if the executive acted properly and in accordance with the law. What is so very undemocratic about that? Does the Times wish to give the executive unfettered rights to act outside the law? Get a more grown-up leader writer please.”

  7. 10 AnMac
    August 16, 2017 at 10:25 pm

    This sea area off the east coast of Scotland is also in the direct migration route of Barnacle Geese that winter at Caerlaverock and of the Scottish Bean Geese flock that fly direct from Sweden and enter the Forth estuary in late October each year and then returning in late February firstly to northern Denmark before moving north to Norway and eventually to their breeding grounds in Dalarna County Sweden.

    Although small in number (260 birds) this flock is now the largest of it’s kind in the UK during the winter months.

    There is no doubt that this small fragile population would be at great risk of collision in encountering large wind turbines east of the Isle of May. Information from telemetry data that some of the birds carry gives us this accurate information.

  8. 11 Adam
    August 17, 2017 at 12:06 am

    It is irrelevant whether the RSPB believes that ‘the proposed development would kill thousands of seabirds’ (although presumably they do, as this is mentioned in the 2016 case).

    RSPB challenged the decisions of the Scottish Ministers by way of Petition for judicial review. The grounds for judicial review are fairly limited: illegality, irrationality, or procedural impropriety. By raising a Petition for judicial review RSPB operates within ‘the normal parameters of the law’ (whatever that supposed to mean). RSPB cannot directly challenge the merits of the decision; it can only argue that the decision-maker has acted ultra vires (beyond its powers). The courts are, in general, quite reluctant to intervene in the planning process, and won’t assume the role of the decision-maker. Unlike in an appeal, if the courts conclude that the decision was irrational or perverse, they cannot substitute it with their own judgement, but will quash the decision and return it to the decision-maker.

    One of the reasons the reclaiming motions of the Scottish Ministers (and the other interested parties) were allowed (ie the reason RSPB lost the case) was that the Lord Stewart (who had dealt with the case in the Outer House in 2016) ‘trespassed into the province of the fact finder’. It seems that, according to the Inner House, he went further than he should have when he sustained RSPB’s pleas of procedural irregularity; inadequate and incorrect factual basis of the decision; unlawfulness, ultra vires actings and unreasonableness.

    Another error was that RSPB focused on the breach of EU Directives and directly referred to these, when the Directives were transposing them into domestic legislation. The focus should have been on the implementing domestic legislation. The Inner House also noted that RSPB ‘had been given every opportunity to comment and had taken those opportunities’ yet apparently they were ‘unable to provide any specification of any matter which they could have, but had not, advanced which might have caused Scottish Ministers to reach a different decision.’

    The judicial review process will not give the Petitioner the role of the statutory adviser nor will it make the courts the decision-makers. Judicial review is open to any person or any organisation (assuming they can establish sufficient standing). I doubt that anyone with even a vague understanding of the process would seriously argue that it somehow conflicts with the ‘normal democratic procedures of the land’.

    • August 17, 2017 at 12:19 am

      Thanks, Adam. Lucid & interesting, as usual.

    • 13 Adam
      August 19, 2017 at 12:07 am

      “Another error was that RSPB focused on the breach of EU Directives and directly referred to these, when the Directives were transposing them into domestic legislation.”

      What I wanted to say is that RSPB should have argued breach of the implementing domestic legislation (the Regulations) which implemented the EU Directives, as opposed to directly referring to the EU Directives.

  9. August 17, 2017 at 5:22 am

    Let us hope there are 600 jobs at risk, there are far too many of us on this planet and wildlife is and has been destroyed to make way for our whims’. Something should be done to control our population growth.

  10. 15 SMarrity
    August 17, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    Outrageous, unprofessional, journalism, you should be ashamed

  11. 17 SOG
    August 20, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    As the open letter looks to be an ad, would a complaint to the ASA be pertinent? Not that they’d do a lot, though. I don’t know date and page number to get started.

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