Private Eye, sea eagles, hill farmers & grouse moor burning

White-tailed eagles are never far from the news and even feature in the latest edition of Private Eye:

The Committee on Climate Change reports referred to in the article can be found here.

They’re really worth a read. The following text in the report ‘Land use: reducing emissions and preparing for climate change‘ will be of particular interest to those of us concerned about grouse moor management:

4.2. Identifying and removing barriers to transformational land use

Changes on this scale will require a coordinated, national approach. There are several key barriers that will prevent the scale of action that is required to meet long-term climate change mitigation and adaptation goals:

Missing and incomplete markets for public goods.

At present, the private social costs and benefits related to land use can differ widely, leading to sub-optimal land management strategies from a social perspective. For example, there has been a large-scale effort through government programmes to increase the value land owners place on preserving the carbon locked up in peat soils, in order to incentivise peatland restoration over and above activities such as maintaining heather cover and burning to support grouse shooting.

Between 2007 and 2013, £27 million was paid out to land owners who had taken up moorland restoration under the Higher Level Stewardship scheme. Water companies invested £45 million between 2005 and 2015 in programmes to work with landowners to improve peatland condition as a way of improving water quality.

However, so far these restoration efforts remain insufficient to incentivise the degree of restoration that is needed in the face of climate change. The condition of upland peat SSSIs in England is continuing to decline, from 19% in favourable condition in 2003 to 10% in 2016.


Some interesting stats in that last sentence, and worth bearing in mind the next time the grouse shooting industry’s spin doctors try to infer that grouse moor SSSIs are an indication of ‘environmental quality‘.


12 Responses to “Private Eye, sea eagles, hill farmers & grouse moor burning”

  1. December 4, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    Let’s face it, substantial redeployment of marginal farmland – which is farmland because CAP subsidies require it to be farmland to yield subsidies – is inevitable given our impending withdrawal (yeah, right!) from Europe’s CAP and commitments to avoid dangerous climate change. We’re quickly approaching very interesting times as far as large-scale UK land sparing and rewilding is concerned…..

  2. December 4, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    “The condition of upland peat SSSIs in England is continuing to decline, from 19% in favourable condition in 2003 to 10% in 2016.”
    Strange that this is happening when Thérèse Coffey is trumpeting the increase of priority habitat from 125,000 acres to 130,000ha being created by ‘partners’, which is being relayed to constituents asking about the Peoples manifesto for Wildlife.
    Perhaps it is just a different meaning of the words ‘priority habitat’ and ‘created’.
    I would suggest that creative is possibly more likely to be applied to the words of Thérèse Coffey and NE.

  3. 3 Nigel Raby
    December 4, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    Its good to think much of this marginal land could taken out of meat production. However my concern is what they’ll want to use it for instead? More Shooting springs to mind!

    • December 4, 2018 at 1:50 pm

      I’d suggest it’s incumbent upon the conservation community to create alternatives. In the US and Latin America, for example, there’s a strong tradition of civil society and charitable Land Trusts, set up to take on land being withdrawn from agriculture. Look at what they’re achieving on Florida (a State with some of the highest land values) – building a huge conservation estate through acquisition (purchase, lease, conservation concessions).
      I’ve suggested we create a Natural Land Trust in the UK – maybe one in each county even – as an alternative to the National Trust (i.e. one where all wildlife is safe).
      This would be distinctive in that it wouldn’t undertake intensive management of land acquired, cutting long-term costs compared to conventional practice (by RSPB, Wildlife Trusts etc, which are focused on creating and managing anthropogenic habitats rather than natural habitats).
      If we created Natural Land Trusts in counties with appreciable marginal uplands now, we’d be very well-placed to take land on later, and that might give policy makers – Gove et al., – confidence that land redeployed for natural forest regeneration for carbon sequestration would be cared for.

  4. 5 Greer Hart, senior.
    December 4, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    Being a conservationist of world wide wildlife, and member of most charities in Scotland and the UK of such work, I feel that the strong animal welfare side of me gets me concerned over some of the proposals to reintroduce species of bird and mammal that have been exterminated over the centuries by shooting estates and farmers. The public is often reassured that full consultation has taken place with people in our rural environment who earn a living from the land, and who have imposed their will on what shall live and die on the landscapes, both “wild” and agricultural. In a time of fast as light communication, a vast network of people have now got a chance to move funds to rescue endangered species, and against cruel practices such as the Far East dog meat trade. Petitions can gain thousands of signatures in a day, against political and racial injustice, and funds for disabled people requiring immediate medical attention. This has given the Scottish public a chance to see into the once carefully protected from the public eye, country landscape with its blood sports and environmental degradation, along with the marine environment and its over-fishing, along with fish farm pollution. The once few in number animal welfare campaigners have been augmented by hundreds of thousands more, disgusted with the way livestock has been, and is being treated from farm to live transport to horrendous slaughter in Europe and the Middle East. As the Doors of Mars have opened, a “war” has developed against the abuse of life forms and their habitats, and its great champion, David Attenborough has warned the United Nations about the implications of our industrial misconduct since its revolution in making goods for a vast and increasingly consuming world market. The hill farmer may face extinction or restriction due to global warming requiring methane from herbivores to be cut, but why should our Scottish hill farmers and other ones, suffer, when Adani, an Indian industrial company, wants to finance in Australia, a large open cast coal mine that will further exacerbate the global climate change? Why should they be the mugs by losing their traditional way of life by giving up livestock, when the Indonesian and Malaysian governments and business classes, are burning down rainforests and setting fire to swamp lands, releasing enormous amounts of greenhouse gases, and the smoke from long burning peat fires, blotting out the Sun all over China and other Far Eastern countries.

    Bringing back the Beaver, the Sea Eagle, the Red Kite has raised the ire of farmers and shooting estates. The poison, snares, traps and shotgun pellets our Birds of Prey have to suffer due to not being wanted because an entrenched and powerful group has the leeway to do so, as punishment according to law, is not likely to be punitive, or even an arraignment possible. Has no brain in conservation wakened up to this seemingly endless suffering of birds and animals, and why is it so, and on whom should the blame be laid? The blame is on the protagonists who fantasise of what reintroduction jape to get involved in, with the Lynx, the Wolf, the Bear and Heaven knows what else will enter their dreams! They are even going to introduce the Sea Eagle back on to the Isle of Wight, and hoping it will eventually colonise a wide area to the east and west. Consultation is going on, but will it take into account the rise in sea levels and the over-population of the UK wanting more land for house building? What are these birds going to feed on, in what could be very depleted terrestrial and marine environments. Scotland just may not have an environment capable of satisfying so many raptors, for example, the annual massacre of Mountain Hares must be having some impact on such birds.

    The only way forward is to change the old system of what is used as an excuse for perpetuating the bad among shooting estates, and the protesters who do so too much, and reach a settlement that will wipe conflict from the management of the Scottish countryside. Cerberus figures, such as dynastic Fergus Ewing have to be retired from the scene, as we need people from both sides of this crucial debate over setting up a more humane way of conserving Scotland’s wildlife, which would be compatible with those who earn a living from the land, and who wish to acknowledge the need for Scotland to play its part in saving the natural world of planet Earth. The old establishment/old boy-girl network connivance with those who should know better has to be disentangled, and the Scottish public more involved in running the rural economy and the money flow out to it by those who live in an urban environment.

    • 6 Dave Shaw
      December 5, 2018 at 10:28 pm

      yes let’s help people live from the land. Rewilding is about helping people benefit from nature and eventually when some of the pilots show how this can be done without trashing the land those who are currently resisting may see the opportunities there. They may even have no other choice if the subsidies that sustain sheep and grouse shooting and the corrupt institutions that allow ecological criminals to escape the rigours (a joke in itself) of the law refrain from doing so..

      Reintroduction is feasible because habitats are being created and there is plenty enough habitat and prey for them. Sea Eagles would do well on the Isle of Wight. You can be sure those advancing the cause have done their homework. They are capable and visionary people. Rising sea level and house building are totally irrelevant in this context. If you follow the information freely available from Britain and abroad you wll discover that:

      sea eagles can live close to people
      they do not generally have an impact on farmers’ livelihoods
      they are generalist feeders so do not need to live on coasts
      their rising population reflects them increasing towards the limits the habitat can sustain
      huge areas of scotlands (and the Upland areas of the Uk generally) are very largely poor in wildlife because of shooting and persecution and because habitats have been degraded by farmers and hunters. some areas of lowland England, even close to large cities have much greater biodiversity:

      oF course on this latter point climactic factors come into it, but consider why small areas of let’s say 6 square miles of scrub 40 miles from London have kites, buzzard, sparrowhawk, now goshawk, hobby, kestrel and peregrine, nightjar, cuckoos, tree pipits, nightingales and woodcock as well as the Uks best populations of purple emperors and also provide a good living for the owners of the estate.?

      You are wrong on beavers too. They can live in very human dominated landscapes – like Belgium for example, in areas under fairly intensive agriculture. The Belgians don’t have a problem with them, so why should we?

      And you also mentioned wolves, as everyone does, as though the very name explains their unsuitability for life in Britain. They are also in Belgium too, and the only reason we have not had the first colonists here is that they can’t swim the North Sea.

  5. 7 Les Wallace
    December 4, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    Thank God marginal farming is being challenged like this rather than being treated like a sacred cow. About 12 billion Quid’s worth of food is thrown away in the UK each year, about a third of the total we grow\buy. We have an obesity and poor diet crisis, people having little idea of where their food comes from and little in the way of basic cooking skills so healthy diets and preventing food waste are less likely. So rather than spend money on public education that will help public health and conservation we publicly subsidise shitty unproductive farming that’s far better for flooding and killing off wildlife than making a worthwhile contribution to food security. There’s a long list of reasons for change in the uplands that to me are far less contestable than CC, hopefully they’ll let not be pushed into the background by CC rhetoric, it switches people off, reducing floods doesn’t. I noticed that a major ecological restoration plan in mid Wales is being attacked by farmers , doesn’t look as if they’ll budge an inch, but that could be their undoing.

  6. 8 Dave Dick
    December 4, 2018 at 4:18 pm

    Having become cynical quite early on in my “career” as a conservationist – due to witnessing first hand the dead bird results of allowing various “custodians of the countryside” a virtual free pass over their landuse and species management techniques on our uplands – I remain cynical on this one. On the one hand I am delighted to see the beginnings of a whole ecosystem approach by officialdom re our uplands – on the other, I see very clear signals that the scottish government sees the answer in yet more commercial conifer afforestation. Possibly on a huge scale. Replacing one monoculture with another is not improvement. Bleak, eroding sheepwalk may be very poor for biodiversity but at least its an open space for hunting raptors….Lets get the right trees back in the right places.

    • 9 Les Wallace
      December 4, 2018 at 8:58 pm

      I fear you could be right, while Scotgov have made a big deal about looking at the circular economy and potentially bringing in a deposit system for plastic bottles etc according to green MSP Mark Ruskell if current plans for incinerating ‘waste’ for energy go ahead within four years there will be a seven fold increase in it in Scotland. That means we will be forced to produce vast quantities of waste for decades to feed these monstrosities which will have cost hundreds of millions of pounds to build. For those extracting natural resources who would be threatened by reduce, reuse, recycle this is great news. Anyone hoping that fracking can provide feedstock for cheap plastic over packaging, or commercial forestry used to make virgin fibre toilet paper, glossy catalogues and junk mail will love that – business as usual in fact more of. Recycling and waste reduction in Scotland is currently pathetic and the fact that so few see the connection between that and the continued rape of the natural environment is depressing, and explains why reduce, reuse, recycle have made so little progress in this country. The case for continued subsidy of marginal agriculture for ‘food security’ collapses when we see how much food we throw away. There are supposed to be limited funds available for conservation work, but we spend about 2.4 billion pounds a year on bottled water and producing an unnecessary mountain of plastic bottles in the process. One percent of that being reallocated to saving wildlife comes to 24 million quid, money that was bring spent on useless shite. Of course if we need to feed incinerators there’s even less incentive to do more waste reduction than we’re already doing. Last year on Blue Planet II just by being honest, direct and treating the public like responsible adults David Attenborough did more to push for reductions and recycling of plastic in a 60 minute programme than official, publicly funded bodies managed to do in decades. We need the same approach with paper, timber, food, textiles and metal – but it seems it’s much easier to spend an absolute fortune on incinerators than a tiny proportion of it on credible public education. How much commercial forestry could we avoid by recycling the paper collected by local authorities rather than sending it abroad (and create jobs in the process), phasing in reusable pallets made from recycled plastic, cut down on over packaging and junk mail etc? The fact these questions so rarely appear in any discussion are really indicative of why conservation isn’t so much farther ahead than it is.

    • December 6, 2018 at 8:53 am

      The Scottish government held a consultation on forestry strategy which closed at the end of last month. I replied to it, noting the lack of assistance for biodiversity, the wrong conifer versus native ratio (3 to 1),and other deficiencies. I believe many in government are of the same belief, but it may be that after the consultation, the strategy may take account of input from individuals and NGOs.
      I wish NGOs would work harder to get individuals on board with this. They could do so much more, and I’m sure their members would help by giving individual responses, not canned ones.
      NGOs are so attached to organising with each other they have forgotten about and do not sufficiently enlist the power of their members.
      Being allowed to sit at a table does not guarantee sufficient influence.
      A Peoples Manifesto For Wildlife may become a wasted effort if NGOs and individuals do not do more.

  7. 11 Roderick Leslie
    December 4, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    There’s a big struggle going on between the traditional sectoral – conservation, farming, forestry – approach and outcome led approaches to land use – effectively natural capital. Despite the fact that, as the CC Committee minutes demonstrate – Natural capital is increasingly embedded in political thinking, conservation has been desperately slow to change. It is till the norm for conservationists to attach huge cash bills to their proposals despite the NCC having laid bare the enormous collateral damage caused by current agricultural systems. It plays into the hands of the farmer vs conservationist rhetoric, whereas NC approaches are almost chillingly rational & unemotional. Hard to accept when your deeply held beliefs are challenged -as a forester I simply have to accept that growing peat captures carbon far more effectively than even trees. And, actually, I agree with Dave in being concerned about a knee jerk return to where forestry left off in the late 80s – especially when the NCC have clearly shown the huge (much greater) NC value of woodland near to where people live – which could well meet everyone’s needs with attractive well designed woodland producing places for people, for wildlife (without threatening existing high value sites) , for timber, for carbon and for water management.

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