Friday, 31 October 2014

This week's blogs - GWCT Conference, Woodcock, World Population, Water Friendly Farming

Please take a look at the blogs we've published this week:

2014 Conference as it happened on Twitter
(GWCT Blog)

Read a compilation of all the tweets from our annual conference.
Read more >

Residents and Migrants
(Woodcock Watch Blog)

Chris Heward discusses the data received from resident woodcock during the project.
Read more >

Do you have Leopards and Cows in your own back yard?
(Peter Thompson's Blog)

Following the discovery of a brand new species of frog found living under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty in New York City, Peter urges you to keep your eyes open.
Read more >

The Elephant in the room - world population growth
(Peter Thompson's Blog)

Peter continues the debate with Phil Jarvis regarding the effects of the growing world population.
Read more >

Water Friendly Farming results
(Allerton Project Blog)

Latest results to emerge from the Water Friendly Farming project were presented to a mixed audience of MPs, civil servants, researchers and NGO representatives in Westminster.
Read more >

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Monday, 27 October 2014

Our letter to The Times on the decline in farmland birds

Dear Sir

The long-term downward trend of farmland birds is indeed shocking (report October 24th).  But often, the answer is not to focus on statistics but to concentrate on the solution to help our precious wildlife.

Almost 1,000 farms and estates are members of our Grey Partridge Count Scheme and are now seeing a positive upturn in grey partridge numbers because of targeted management. An example is a remarkable grey partridge recovery project in Sussex that has helped restore wildlife to levels reminiscent of an era long before the intensification of agriculture. The restored hedgerows are now bursting with birds such as lapwing, skylarks, corn buntings, and linnets, which are all benefiting from the sympathetic management provided for grey partridges. Year-round habitats including brood rearing and over-winter cover, field margins that provide essential chick food insects and legal predator control aimed at protecting young chicks during the breeding season are the driving force behind this extraordinary wildlife revival.  At the start of the project in spring 2003 there were just 3 adult grey partridges. This spring there were 291 pairs and following a good breeding season this year, autumn counts revealed an impressive 1,654 grey partridges.

The fact that seventy per cent of English farmers are now signed up to stewardship schemes is a fantastic achievement.  However, better advice and targeted environmental schemes; to meet the ecological requirements of individual species combined with legal predator control in certain circumstances are essential to turn around the fortunes of our declining wildlife.

Dr Julie Ewald
Senior Ecologist
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

2015 Big Farmland Bird Count

The GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count will be taking place between 7th and 15th February 2015. We're looking for people to spend 30 minutes recording the species and number of birds seen on one particular area of the farm. Find out more >

Friday, 17 October 2014

This week's blogs: Woodcock, Educating future land managers, Supporting CFE, Brood cover

Here are this week's blog posts from across the GWCT:

Allerton Supporting CFE

Watch this brand new CFE video on how farmers help protect the environment, featuring some familiar faces from our Allerton Project.
Read more >> 

Brood cover - your questions answered

GWCT advisor Mike Swan tackles questions on brood cover.

Educating our future land managers

Peter Thompson on working with students from the Royal Agricultural University on the Marlborough Downs.

Woodcock sponsorship - a truly unique Christmas gift

Find out how you can buy the ideal Christmas gift and help our vital woodcock research.

A is for Apple!

Peter Thompson spends an enjoyable couple of hours at the Blackmoor estate’s apple day.

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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Brood cover - your questions answered

Mike Swan of the GWCT advisory team tackles questions on brood cover:

Q Why establish brood cover in the autumn?

Broods need to have a rich supply of creepy crawly insects under a canopy such as that provided by flowering cereals. To achieve this, the plants need to be well grown by mid-May when the first pheasant chicks hatch, and autumn sown crops can ensure this.

Otherwise, if a spring sowing is delayed by the weather, the plants may be little bigger than rosettes when the chicks hatch. Autumn sowing also gives the chance of a second try in spring in the event of a failure.

Q Which crops should I grow?

A Complex mixtures are available, but in truth a simple cereal accompanied by the inevitable broad-leaved weeds is all that is needed. Any cereal will do, but a winter triticale (wheat/rye hybrid) is a good choice. It is not prone to the diseases that can affect other cereals and is not particularly palatable to grazers like rabbits.

Q How do I grow triticale?

A Triticale is an undemanding crop. It can be drilled just like any other cereal, but you can also broadcast it. We grow three-metre wide strips alongside good nesting cover like beetle banks, fence lines and hedges. Having rotovated the ground, we scatter the seed from a bucket and use a harrow to bury it, then roll it to ensure good contact with the damp soil.

This should all be carried out in October, for quick germination, ensuring the plants are well established before winter.

Q Is there any grant aid available?

A Depending on how long you keep the crop, this type of brood strip could qualify as either an unharvested or unfertilised cereal headland, as part of the current Stewardship schemes. Since our strips are re-established each autumn, we do not leave them long enough for the higher paying unharvested option. In practice, it may be best to accept that these strips are a small extra conservation measure that is hardly worth ‘claiming’ for. This also gives you the freedom to manage them as you wish if any problems arise, without having to worry about complying with the rules.

Our Advisory Service

Learn more about the services our advisory team provide including face-to-face advisory visits.

Friday, 10 October 2014

What the GWCT thinks of Defra's statement on their hen harrier recovery plan

Photo: Laurie Campbell
by Andrew Gilruth - @AndrewGilruth 

Defra has provided a 300 word response to the e-petition asking for the publication of their hen harrier recovery plan. What does it tell us? A great deal. Defra could have just said “we are continuing to look at it”. The fact they provided such a clear and positive response should be welcomed by all those that signed the e-petition (and others interested in the recovery of the hen harrier population).

My observations are:

1) Defra are still working hard on their plan – “seeking final agreement”. Sounds good to me.
2) Defra are clearly focused on the outcome – recognising the plan will need to be “pragmatic”.

Tellingly they recognise:

a) Urgent action is required: the English”…hen harrier populations are so low that recovery across their former range is unlikely to occur unaided”. We can no longer just sit and talk. A plan ready to be put in place before the next breeding season is significant

b) Additional targeted action required: “the Government considers that hen harriers merit additional action to reverse the decline in their population numbers”. Actions that have not yet been used in England will be required? Let’s hope so because Langholm Moor indicates we will need to do just that. After 7 years of diversionary feeding there is still no grouse shooting.

c) Pragmatic solution is needed: “since the Sub-Group members all have a role to play in delivering the suite of actions, it is important to secure as much agreement as possible before publication so that it can be implemented in the co-operative and pragmatic way needed to help the recovery of the hen harrier in England”.

d) Secure as much agreement as possible: Sounds, to me, like the Defra team are quite clear about what they want to do with their plan. Defra are not saying they will wait for everyone to sign up to every detail. Fair enough. This recent survey indicates 67% of RSPB members (a good proxy for those passionate about birds) support translocation (7% opposed). 

The Defra statement indicates the publication of the Defra-led hen harrier recovery plan may be closer than we all think.

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✓ essential hen harrier facts
✓ details of the hen harrier recovery plan
✓ summary of the issues and arguments surrounding a proposed ban on driven grouse shooting
✓ key figures and scientific findings

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This week's GWCT blogs - Hen Harriers & Defra, Peter Wilson, Cornish Farmers, RSPB, Gritting

Please take a look at the new blogs published by the GWCT this week:

What the GWCT thinks of Defra's statement on their hen harrier recovery plan (GWCT News)

Our reaction to Defra's response to the Hen Harrier recovery plan petition.
Read more >

Following in Peter Wilson's footsteps (GWCT News)

Find out how Olympic Gold winner Peter Wilson started out at one of our Young Shooter's days when he was just 14.
Read more >

Cornish farmers - doing their bit for wildlife (Peter Thompson's Blog)

Peter Thompson visits Cornwall and sees first hand how farmers are helping wildlife.
Read more >

Your chance to find out what the RSPB think about shooting (GWCT News)

The RSPB's Chief Executive Mike Clarke has agreed to give a talk at our forthcoming annual conference on 29th October.
Read more >

Time for a gritting holiday? (GWCT News)

GWCT Advisor Hugo Straker suggests taking a year off from using medicated grit to help safeguard the future of your grouse.
Read more >

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Thursday, 9 October 2014

Following in Peter Wilson's footsteps

The next GWCT Young Shooter’s day will be held during half term week near Newmarket on the 29th October. This course proves very popular, and is a great way of introducing youngsters to shooting whilst also giving them a good understanding of conservation and game management in the modern countryside. In fact, Olympic gold medallist Peter Wilson first discovered his talent for clay shooting on this very course!

Peter said “I was just 14 and entered a small competition during the young shots day, which aimed to introduce youngsters to all that’s involved in running a day’s game shooting. I had not shot clays before and I won. I loved the competitive part, especially winning and since then I have not looked back”.

The emphasis is very much on outdoor activities, and as well as shooting, the day gives an insight into the biology and conservation of our most valued game and wildlife species. Students do not need any specialist equipment but need to come prepared with outdoor clothing and sturdy foot wear. The course is open to all boys and girls aged between 12 and 15 years.

During the day students will:

• Receive training in the safe use and maintenance of shotguns
• Get the chance to shoot clays under the guidance of a professional shooting coach (shotguns and safety equipment provided)
• Learn about sportsmanship and identifying quarry species
• Learn about predation control in game and wildlife conservation
• Learn how best to conserve game and farmland wildlife

The course is very kindly supported by the Norman Clark Memorial Fund, Norman was an immensely popular shooting instructor at Holland & Holland.

Tickets are £48 inc VAT and this covers shooting tuition, gun hire, safety equipment, cartridges, clays and lunch.

Book your place - limited availability

You can book your place online or by calling on Lynda Ferguson: 01425 651013.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Your chance to find out what the RSPB think about shooting

We're very pleased that the RSPB's Chief Executive Mike Clarke has agreed to give a talk at our forthcoming annual conference on 29th October. Mike will be talking about the role of shooting in conservation and this is your chance to ask him questions.

Members and non-members are welcome to attend the conference which is taking place at the Royal Geographical Society in London and you can book your place here. Be quick though - tickets are selling out fast.
GWCT Adviser Peter Thompson will be talking
about delivering conservation on a landscape level

In addition to Mike, Sir John Randall will also be speaking about the importance of the GWCT's research and making it widely available.

It's going to be a packed day with lots of opportunities to quiz our scientists and guest speakers. You can view the full agenda here.

Book your place - limited availability

You can book your tickets easily online or by contacting us on 01425 651010.

P.S There is an optional tour of the RGS Collections – “Icons of Exploration: material relating to Livingstone,  Stanley, Shackleton and Scott”. This will need to be booked in advance. 

Event details

Location: Ondaatje Theatre, Royal Geographical Society, 1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AR (Entrance: Exhibition Road Doors)

Date: 29 October 2014
Time: 10:00am to 4:00pm
Price: £40.00 (members), £60 (non-members), £10 (optional tour)
Telephone: 01425 651010

Monday, 6 October 2014

Time for a gritting holiday?

by Hugo Straker, Advisory Department

Medicated grit, developed through GWCT research, has led to a “golden age of grouse”, giving even lean years a population rivalling the best of the ‘boom and bust’ cycles. It’s been an unqualified success.

But as tempting as it might be to keep up the gritting regimens that have delivered worm burdens of zero, taking a year off from gritting can safeguard the future of your grouse. Research has shown that parasitic worms in livestock can develop resistance to drugs in 3-5 years; with a short generation time, low and frequent drug doses, and high prevalence, strongyle worms tick all the boxes that suggest resistance is likely to happen.

A gritting holiday makes it less likely for worms to develop resistance, avoiding the huge cost and productivity implications that resistant strains will cause. When resistance develops, our current drugs become increasingly useless and the battle is already lost.

Our scientists have been working with several moors since 2011 to test the impact of gritting holidays. These early studies have shown that they can maintain low worm burdens while minimising the risk of resistance.

Grouse Technical Services aim to address issues affecting grouse productivity on a long-term basis, and there’s arguably no issue that better exemplifies poor practice putting short-term gain ahead of long-term sustainability than overuse of worming medication. We perform worm counts as one aspect of our services and can help to develop your medicated grit strategy, bringing expert advice backed up by the latest research.

Find out more about Grouse Technical Services >

Friday, 3 October 2014

This week's GWCT blogs - Heather Burning, Mountain Hares, Woodcock Gifts

This has been our busiest week yet in terms of publishing blogs. Please take a look at what we've had to say this week on a range of issues:

Is it time to ban heather burning? (GWCT Blog)

Heather burning does have benefits - our letter to The Times (GWCT Blog)

Running with the hares - letter to The Herald (GWCT Blog)

Great new woodcock gifts now available (Woodcock Watch Blog)

Calling all farmers - Do not fear, CFE is here! (Peter Thompson's Blog)

Mark Avery - gets it right… and wrong (GWCT Blog)

Chris Packham – “So grouse moors are good for ecology?” (GWCT Blog)

Drilling, Drainage and Dirt (Allerton Project Blog)

Mind your Rhea (Peter Thompson's Blog)

Showing off country sports (Peter Thompson's Blog)

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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Is it time to ban heather burning?

by Andrew Gilruth - @AndrewGilruth 

Today some were quick to seize upon some of the negative findings within a report on heather burning. The University of Leeds looked at the impact on water hydrology. Are they right to leap to swift conclusions? Do we need to immediately ban burning?

The report needs proper review but it looks perfectly sensible - let’s assume all the findings are correct. What next? Bring in a ban tomorrow?

I feel that is a knee jerk reaction.

In the lowlands our farmers are busy ploughing their fields - yet there is plenty of evidence that ploughing causes similar water quality issues… discolouration, siltation etc. We could just as easily rush around saying that ploughing should be banned. We don’t.

We can’t ban ploughing because it is a really important land management tool. Instead a lot of very good work has been done to reduce the impacts by using buffer strips, contour ploughing, rotational ploughing and ways of doing ploughing better so that we get the benefits of ploughing but not the downside.

The truth is we already adopt that mitigation approach with burning. As concerns have been identified they have been addressed. Examples include:

- Avoid the replacement of heather with grasses by not burning in areas of heavy grazing
- Avoid serious damage by only having small ‘cool’ burns
- Avoid erosion by not regularly burning on steep slopes

You can download Natural England's Heather & Grass Burning Code here.

So once the new findings from Leeds have been looked at - the challenge is to find ways of mitigating the impacts. Retaining the ancient practice of carefully burning small areas of heather, as used on nature reserves, is important because:

- Burning rejuvenates the heather and removes the accumulation of woody heather and dead shoots
- Stimulates seed germination and encourages shoot regeneration
- Young heather is nutritionally superior to old heather, having more nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium
- Helps prevent the replacement of heather by other vegetation types
- Patches of different aged heather attracts sheep away from the fringes of heather moorland where overgrazing can occur
- Burning can provide fire breaks and reduce the risk of large scale wild fires

In a European context heather moorland of the sort maintained by grouse shooting is one of the rarest habitat types and enjoys some of the highest conservation designations. These wonderful places only exist because generations of owners have refused huge grants from successive governments to drain them, fence them, plant conifers on them, carpet them with sheep and cover them with roads and tracks. Properly conducted grouse shooting is a force for good in the uplands. It can and must study and learn from research but its demise would be a disaster for the landscape, biodiversity, global warming and many small but locally important rural economies.

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Heather burning does have benefits - our letter to The Times

Below is our letter written to The Times in response to today's article on the newly published study into the effects of heather burning on the ecohydrology of river basins.

Photo by Laurie Campbell
Dear Sir

Ben Webster’s report (Burning of grouse moors linked to global warming, report 1st Oct) highlights the results of a new study indicating that heather burning could contribute to climate change. 

Although this measure is largely carried out to benefit red grouse, who eat the young shoots of heather, we must not forget that it has a positive benefit for many other species too. Mountain hares feed on the fresh heather; it provides cover for ground nesting birds and a mosaic of edges and patches across the moor provide vital habitats for many other different species too.

Crucially, heather burning is also a significant management tool to mitigate against the risk of wildfires, which can easily gain a hold and destroy everything that moor owners seek to protect.

With growing evidence that the earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, it is imperative that we support practices that enhance environments for wildlife. Carefully managed rotational heather burning is known to enrich the land for some species in fragile upland areas. What has not been investigated is the impact on these species if burning stopped.

Andrew Gilruth
Director of Communications
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

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Running with the hares - letter to The Herald

Below is a letter written to The Herald by GWCT Trustee John Shields in response to their recent article - 'Outrage over mountain hare massacre'

Dear Sir

Talk about running with the hares.  Rob Edwards’s article was short on facts, and long on people and organisations racing ahead of themselves.

There is no consistent evidence for a decline in mountain hare numbers.  The recent report of decline referred to was derived from hares counted whilst people were surveying for birds, not hares.  The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, working for SNH, found that mountain hare distribution was stable between 1997 and 2007, and very-long term data suggests that changes in hare numbers by more than ten-fold are quite natural.  So it is simply a fact of hare ecology that their numbers vary hugely from place to place and year to year.

Legislation is not the be all and end all, though it can be useful.  The close season brought in by Scottish Government in 2011 was specifically to protect lactating female hares.  However EU designation is not protection.  On the contrary, it regulates the type of activities that can be used to manage hares, thus recognising the importance of hunting this species across Europe.

Compared to the rest of Europe, mountain hares are at uniquely high densities in Scotland because of grouse moor management.  Restricting the ability of moors to manage aspects of what affects the key incentive to invest would result in many fewer hares in fewer places in Scotland.  One has only to look at the decline in hare distribution in places where forestry and sheepwalk have replaced heather moors.

So conservationist bodies and Government must be careful of not appearing terribly naive: if a disease that can otherwise end the investment in moorland management is present, the temporary and limited reduction in hare numbers is justified on long term moorland sustainability grounds.

‘Extermination’ is certainly not what moorland managers advocate or practice for any species; the same goes for the suffering of individual animals.  Control is not ‘industrial', and nor should it be necessary to find a ‘justification’, as the article puts it, for necessary and routine management by properly qualified practitioners, who live and work with the natural environment every day of their lives.  It is they who know when hares have reached unsustainable levels in certain areas, and they who are best placed to manage such situations responsibly.  The detached sentimentalism of Rob Edward’s article does nothing to inform the public of such work.

Finally, and as if to highlight the lack of balance, the article was accompanied by a picture a brown hare, not a mountain hare.

Slow and steady was never more appropriate.

Yours faithfully

John Shields
Trustee, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

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Read this piece by our Chairman Ian Coghill to find out how you can help us promote game management and fight the constant stream of misinformation with our peer-reviewed research.