22
Nov
21

‘Stop killing raptors and we can talk’, Packham tells gamekeepers

Yesterday the Sunday Times (Scotland) ran an opportunistic piece, presumably at the behest of a load of gamekeepers.

Written by Deputy Editor Mark Macaskill, it was claimed that a ‘moorland consortium’ had invited Chris Packham to visit a grouse moor to watch them set it alight, in response to Chris’s derision of muirburn whilst COP26 was taking place just down the road.

It transpires that the ‘moorland consortium’ in question is the one representing Scotland’s regional moorland groups, some of whose members are either currently, or recently have been, under police investigation for alleged raptor persecution crimes (e.g. members of the Angus Glens Moorland Group, Tomatin Moorland Group, Strathdearn & Speyside Moorland Group, Grampian Moorland Group, Tayside & Central Moorland Group), but this doesn’t appear to be a barrier to getting the deputy editor of the Times to publish favourable articles. Friends in high places, no doubt.

Anyway, a quote from the moorland groups’ co-ordinator, Lianne MacLennan, included this line:

There is an opportunity to foster a better understanding and take the heat out of a polarised debate“.

I spoke to Chris about this and at the time of writing, Chris hadn’t received the invitation but he was still pushed for a quote by Macaskill. That quote was then minimised in the print edition of the article (apparently due to lack of space) and not fully presented even in the digital edition, where space is not an issue.

It’s strange that when journalists ask for a quote they don’t use it in full. This happens a lot.

Here is Chris’s quote, in full:

Thank you for the invitation. Whilst I have a genuine desire to reach a point when real conservationists and some of the responsible factions of the game shooting industry can again sit around a table and make progress, I fear we are not yet at that point.

So I would gladly visit an estate to witness the burning . . . as long as I was also shown the whereabouts of all the graves of illegally killed raptors were buried. Until the wholesale slaughter of our precious birds of prey ends, I’m out. Its an intractable blockage to progress  – stop the killing and we can start talking. And also, science, proper science, isn’t about whether Mars Bars get singed or not. Just saying . . .

[Chris with the corpse of a male hen harrier that had been caught in a barbaric trap that had been set illegally next to the harrier’s nest on a driven grouse moor. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Here is a copy of the digital edition of the article:

Packham urged to take heat out of moorland burns

Mark Macaskill, Sunday November 21 2021

Chris Packham has declined an invitation to witness the controlled burning of Scottish moorlands after his comments during the Cop26 climate talks that Scotland was “sticking two fingers up” to a world in ecological crisis.

The naturalist and host of BBC Winterwatch, who was the victim of an arson attack at his home in Hampshire last month, used social media to highlight muirburn, which he believes contributes to carbon emissions and should be banned. He was accused of claiming, falsely, that peat, a natural carbon store, was being burnt on grouse moors.

In an effort to “take the heat” out of the debate, a moorland consortium asked Packham to be their guest on a Scottish estate to see muirburn in action.

Packham said that he was willing to engage with the shooting industry but pointed to the illegal persecution of birds of prey as a stumbling block.

“Whilst I have a genuine desire to reach a point when real conservationists and some of the responsible factions of the game shooting industry can again sit around a table and make progress , I fear we are not yet at that point . So I would gladly visit an estate to witness the burning . . . as long as I was also shown the whereabouts of all the graves of illegally killed raptors. Until the wholesale slaughter of our precious birds of prey ends , I’m out . Its an intractable blockage to progress – stop the killing and we can start talking.”

Bodies such as the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) insist that muirburn removes surface vegetation while leaving underlying layers of moss and peat intact. The practice is approved under licence from NatureScot, the government agency.

Environmentalists argue that burning on peatlands releases carbon into the atmosphere, undermining efforts to reduce emissions to help control climate change.

During the muirburn season from October to April it is estimated that the equivalent of 87,000 football pitches is burned.

Lianne MacLennan, co-ordinator of Scotland’s regional moorland groups, said that muirburn was conducted carefully and pointed to a Scottish government report last year which suggested that many bird species fared better where muirburn had taken place, although further research was required.

“Muirburn plays a vital role in preventing the type of climate-busting wildfires that lost a million tonnes of carbon in Moray and the Flow Country in 2019 and can help retain carbon in peatlands,” she said. “ We have written to Chris Packham in the hope he will come out and see what actually happens when trained, professional gamekeepers carry out the activity.”

A letter sent to Packham on Friday stated: “There is an opportunity to foster a better understanding and take the heat out of a polarised debate.”

ENDS


12 Responses to “‘Stop killing raptors and we can talk’, Packham tells gamekeepers”


  1. 1 oj55
    November 22, 2021 at 10:42 am

    Quoting from the above digital edition of the article in question:
    ‘Lianne MacLennan, co-ordinator of Scotland’s regional moorland groups, said that muirburn was conducted carefully and pointed to a Scottish government report last year which suggested that many bird species fared better where muirburn had taken place, although further research was required.’
    So not actually proven then, but taken to be so by many I expect; its the type of quote that shouldn’t be published in my opinion.
    And still nothing done by the Scottish government about so why many raptors are found dead: killed on, or close by, driven grouse moors. It sort of points the finger to whom the Scottish government supports in this matter.

  2. 2 Keith Dancey
    November 22, 2021 at 1:41 pm

    It would be interesting to know how many of the Times’ and Sunday Times’ senior staff and Board Members are also members of shoots?

    The claim being made by those who drain and burn our moorland is that this INCREASES carbon capture, and BENEFITS ecology. The job of mass media senior journalists who support shooting is to make sure those arguments are never exposed to the widespread ridicule they deserve.

  3. 3 Spaghnum Morose
    November 22, 2021 at 2:05 pm

    Why should anyone need an invite if it is on Scottish open land or even English Open Access land? If they are so sure of the merits of their modern ways of heather burning – in both method, locations, frequency and volume then surely they would not mind who has a wander about the moors and inspects their handiwork to help inform their own conclusions.

    As somebody who ‘back in the day’ melted several pairs of cheap wellies helping out with the old style of burning – it does seem to have improved from what I see these days* but it is still doing a lot of unnecessary harm in a lot of places. And that is all beside the carbon release argument. No doubt on a given day if showcasing to a sceptical audience they will a do their best to make it an exemplary Olympic standard bit of text-book burning according to all of the voluntary codes. But that is far from what happens across the board. I would encourage people to get out there and take a look for themselves at a place and time of their own choosing, paying attention not just to the hotly contested extent of damage to surface mosses and the peat but to the choice of patches being burnt regards watercourses and sloping ground. If every Estate vowed they would leave all of the the watercourses – gills, gulleys, cleughs, sikes, ditches, drains, stream sides and the like alone to re-bog & re-wood it would make a huge difference and I would probably shut up about it…

    *when I have the brazen temerity to go off the 4 x 4 tracks and paths and wander across the heather, that is!

    • 4 Spaghnum Morose
      November 22, 2021 at 2:11 pm

      ps well done to Chris Packham for sticking to a principled line re “stop killing raptors and we can talk”. It is shocking that what is really just plain reasonable common sense is twisted by some as “taking an extremist view”.

  4. 5 Simon Tucker
    November 22, 2021 at 2:54 pm

    Whilst the destruction of peat and the subsequent release of carbon dioxide are prime arguments against muirburn on peat bogs, it needs stopping completely. People rarely seem to mention the impact on those invertebrates and other wildlife, both flora and fauna, that can’t escape the flames.

  5. 6 Tonyb
    November 22, 2021 at 5:43 pm

    “In an effort to “take the heat” out of the debate, a moorland consortium asked Packham to be their guest on a Scottish estate to see muirburn in action.” Easy way to take the heat out, Dont light the fire.

  6. 7 AnMac
    November 22, 2021 at 5:52 pm

    Well done Chris in telling them to get their house in order before we ever sit around a table.

  7. 8 George M
    November 22, 2021 at 7:01 pm

    Aye, they’ve employed the professionals to build the bullets for others to fire thus creating a sense of a melding between experience and research. They reckon now is the time to take charge of the direction the discourse takes.
    Don’t let them,

  8. 9 Alister J Clunas
    November 22, 2021 at 8:14 pm

    “In an effort to “take the heat” out of the debate…”

    One way of taking the heat out of the debate would be not to set fire to vehicles outside Chris Packham’s gate!

    Well done Chris. Do not engage with the criminals who kill raptors.

  9. November 23, 2021 at 7:51 am

    When we talk about Hen Harriers, they talk about waders. Both are a distraction from the total habitat destruction caused by rotational muirburn. The established facts are that muirburn causes a huge biodiversity loss, prevents carbon sequestration and adds to flooding.

    The muirburn code was rewritten a few years ago to try to mitigate some of these impacts, however, they very rarely follow the code, nobody monitors the effectivness of the code and there are no consequences for anyone breaking the code.

    So the ecological carnage of muirburn continues unabated.

    • 11 oj55
      November 23, 2021 at 10:29 am

      And the ecological carnage will continue all the time that the UK governments can’t be bothered or are too disinterested to make sure that whoever is causing the muirburn are not monitored in any way to ensure that they follow the code, to the letter, and therefore they will suffer no consequences.
      It may well be one minute to midnight but Boris Johnson is doing nothing to ensure the green recovery he promised so vehemently at COP26.
      COP out yes.

  10. 12 Roderick leslie
    November 23, 2021 at 2:00 pm

    What remains quite unchanged is that shooting has not made one single concession over the many justified concerns, most of all raptor persecution. The suggestion that there can be any coming together when pne side won’t shift its position by one iota is completely wrong and fundamentally, and intentionally, misinterprets the whole concept of a negotiated reconciliation.


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