Monday, 18 October 2010

The price of being labelled non-native is... death

The RSPB can be very unsentimental at times. Next year it plans to spend £1.7million killing rats for being non-native and threatening biodiversity on a remote Pacific island. The rats, you see, were brought there by sailors (well their ancestors were) so they've no right to be there. And they are eating 25,000 seabird chicks "alive" annually (perhaps they could be forgiven if they euthanased their prey humanely first). The rats' nefarious behaviour (eating to stay alive) is threatening the Henderson petrel, found nowhere else in the world. So they must die. Every last one of them.

It's ok cos they're just rats, and it's a long way away. Just try the same argument with eagle owls in the uk and you get a very different response, as Mark Avery discovered recently. One rule for the cute 'n cuddly...

Meanwhile, back home, Scottish gamekeepers are getting a kicking in the Guardian today, after a "study" by bird of prey experts estimates that only 1% of the "naturally occurring number" of hen harriers are breeding successfully on the UK's grouse moors. It's all based on a figure plucked out of the air for how many harriers "should" be living on Britain's grouse moors. Strangely, no figure is given for the number of harriers, etc, etc, that "should" be living on the RSPB's reserves.

Oh, and entirely coincidentally, these revelations appear just as Scottish ministers are considering proposals for "licensing grouse moors" and making owners liable for "persecution" of birds of prey by gamekeepers. Cos that would help wouldn't it? I cannot believe the RSPB honestly think the measures they're suggesting will "save" a single bird of prey.

Still, that's not the point. All this spin and lobbying has little to do with harriers, and a lot to do with gaining power over more and more money and land. And of course they get the full support of a significant number of Scots who would like to see foreign landowners exterminated, like non-native rats.


Alan Tilmouth said...

I'm just about to dip into a sausage casserole so I'll be brief for once. It isn't 'OK because they're rats and far away' as you well know. It's OK because we put them there and they were never there naturally. Eagle Owls almost certainly did occur naturally in the British Isles the issue is that some people/organisations interpret this and the fossil record in different ways.

James Marchington said...

Yeah, watch the eager conservationists poring over the fossil record looking for evidence of rats having once lived on Henderson island. Sorry Alan, I don't buy it. This mealy-mouthed lot can make a scientific sounding case for whatever they want. They make out they know it all, fact is they don't know squat. If RSPB know so much, let them tell me precisely how many hedgehogs there are in the uk, how their numbers have changed in the past couple of decades, and what are the reasons for that change. Ditto bumblebees, otters, badgers, woodcock, kestrels... Oh, they'll give you a fine old yarn that suits their current agenda, but when push comes to shove they can't run their own reserves properly, so they certainly shouldn't be let loose on the rest of the UK.

Oh, and I happen to know a chap who knows the keeper who originally released those Bowland eagle owls. Native my arse!

Alan Tilmouth said...

I don't think many people doubt that many/most of the Eagle Owls in the UK originate from released birds but all? The problem being that because they were once here, the releases may well have been augmented by natural occurrences given that there is an increasing population in western europe.
You sound increasingly like a religious zealot, claiming conspiracy and offering little but rhetoric against reasoned, evidenced and peer-reviewed science. Why would the RSPB know how many hedgehogs there were? Royal Society for the Protection of BIRDS, the clue is in the title. Much of the science used by the RSPB actually comes from studies produced by the BTO. Information gathered, using established census methods by 3500+ observers in the field (including me). Most if not all of those observers are meticulous, dedicated and unpaid providing good quality data that when viewed as a whole can be used to base conservation policy on. Alternatively we could base national conservation policy on the sources you seem to rely upon, anecdotal, second-hand, hand-me down opinions that haven't changed for generations, mostly reliant on old wives tales or designed to justify the unjustifiable.

James Marchington said...

I've nothing against sound data collected meticulously. What bugs me is when certain organisations invoke it to support their dubious aims.

RSPB (which is constantly extending its remit to cover all nature, everywhere) spins populist lines to further its anti shooting agenda, while pretending not to have a problem with shooting.

eg: "we do not feel that widespread control of magpies under licence (i.e. killing in
gardens under the guise of conserving wild birds in the countryside) is appropriate, yet
this is a common practice. It would be straightforward to exclude use in domestic
gardens from the general licence, on the understanding that any specific problem could
be addressed through individual licensing. It remains uncertain whether the intention
of this general licence is to permit the killing of magpies and other corvid species to
protect gamebirds, since the purpose of such activity is to produce a shootable surplus
of game and not their conservation. We question how licensing of this activity complies
with the provisions of the Birds Directive." - RSPB response to Natural England's general licence consultation... based on what scientific data exactly? None at all - just the RSPB's new-old wives' tale that magpies (& sparrowhawks etc etc) have absoultely no effect on songbird populations. Cats too apparently.

Lazywell said...

Talking about "cute 'n cuddly", I see that the stoat has joined their number. You may have read about the stowaway stoats that have made it to the Orkneys where they obviously represent a threat to ground nesting birds such as waders. But rather than culling them they are adopting a live trapping approach before relocating them to the mainland. As the SNH spokesman said, "The welfare of any captured animals is of utmost importance and we are working with the Scottish SPCA to ensure that the stoats are handled and transported with the minimum amount of stress to the animal." I don't know who was responsible for coming up with this crazy solution, which I suspect is doomed to fail, but we do know that the RSPB doesn't control stoats on its reserves as a matter of policy, however dire the circumstances.

As for the Guardian story about harriers and grouse, the timing is indeed very odd. Not least because the so called 'study' it refers to is in fact a chapter in a wide ranging book about species management that came out in the Spring and is based on the proceedings of a joint organisation conference two years ago...

Alan Tilmouth said...

We go round in circles, magpies and Sparrowhawks may indeed have an effect on the populations of other species BUT only because those populations have been reduced to such a small size by MAN that the natural cycle of predator/prey relationship can break down.
So who do we blame? Do we go off and kill the magpies and sparrowhawks or do we try and find ways of doing what we need to do to feed ourselves and allowing space for the planet's other inhabitants at the same time?
The RSPB statement is quite right, should we really issue licences to kill Magpies if the real reason behind it is support of a minority interest that c.50,000 people participate in. Rather than killing anything that gets in the way of the profits maybe the gamekeepers and landowners should spend a little more on decent predator proof pens and runs.

James Marchington said...

Hi Alan. I find it hard to take this sackcloth and ashes 'it's all our fault' approach to the environment. The wildest of wild places in Britain were shaped by man, we can't go back, and many of our most loved birds and other wildlife wouldn't exist were it not for farming and other land use (including shooting, fishing etc). Magpies are hardly threatened, there's a good argument (albeit disputed) that they impact songbirds; why shouldn't someone kill a few in their garden to protect their beloved bird table birds? It's ok with rats, what's the difference? Number of legs perhaps.

James Marchington said...

...and there is NO 'natural cycle of predator/prey relationship'. That is a total fairy tale. If such a balance ever existed (it didn't) it would have evolved in very different conditions to 21st C Britain.
It simply doesn't stand up to logical analysis - both predator and prey would have to predict not only each other's populations, but any other factors such as availability of alternative food sources, competition, etc BEFORE deciding how many offspring to have.

vicky said...

predator proof pens, that's funny! magpie culling is not instigated to protect game bird eggs. The birds that lay these are prefectly safe in lying runs, cages or even indoors and the eggs are collected frequently for incubation. A high magpie population would not cause a problem on a game shoot; Gamekeepers kill magpies for the sake of wild birds, including perhaps feral pheasant populations but certainly grey partridge if they have them. BOP casualties could not be prevented by any sort of pen as the release pen is just that- a slightly safer place for birds to eat and sleep but which they are free to leave- this must involve being able to fly in and out! Maybe you think shooters just lets birds out of a box and blast away?
I hope your sausages were either veggie or outdoor reared organic....