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Hit and Miss by Robin Page

Rural Matters

Article written by 20 August 2015

Robin Page writes regularly for The Daily Telegraph about the British Countryside.  Robin lives on a small farm in Cambridgeshire which has been in the family for more than 50 years. Robin is an accomplished writer having published 31 books to include five books for children and he also presented BBC 1’s television programme “One Man and His Dog” for many years. Robin’s latest children’s book, “Why the Squirrel Hides its Nuts” which was published in March is in aid of raising money for the red squirrel conservation programme.  Robin writes regularly for the Country Diary and is the founder of the Countryside Restoration Trust and is an elected member on the National Trust Council.

You can read his latest article “Hit and Miss” here…

I have had a change of plan this week, I was going to write about Pine Martens, but harvest has brought about a change of mind. As the combine harvesters finished off the field across the road the gunfire reminded me of some of the harvests of yesteryear. Then as the area of standing corn grew smaller, so the rabbits made a run for it and the guns blazed.

So it was again; we have an astonishing plague of rabbits at the moment and no sooner had the combines left the field of stubble (the cut stalks of the crop – rape), pigeons descended to be greeted by  more gunfire.  I am mystified; why after all this shooting don’t we see traditional pigeon and rabbit pie on local menus at this time of year instead of the inevitable “lasagne” and various other dollops of almost unpronounceable and indigestible concoctions.

Then of course no sooner had harvest started than it stopped with torrential rain.

That did not deter numerous Telegraph readers from attending the wet Holkham Country Fair and thankyou to all those who came to see us on the Countryside Restoration Trust’s stand – it was good to see you and thanks for all the kind things you said about the column. Thanks too, to the lady who said “You don’t know me and I don’t know you but thankyou”; she hugged me and ran off.

In a few days time there will be more gunshots, but these definitely will lead to a traditional dish being served on numerous menus  – grouse. Roast red grouse after the “Glorious Twelfth” – I do not shoot – but I love red grouse – roast on the plate, or flying low over the heather; both make a very good sight. Grouse moors are wonderful places and I have been to many in Scotland, the Pennines and the Peak District.

Not only do they supply grouse – and jobs – where rural jobs would otherwise be scarce, they have also become the last valuable reserves for some of our most vulnerable and threatened wildlife – lapwings, curlews, dunlin, golden plovers and ring ouzels etc.

Despite their importance to Britain’s wildlife the normal nonsense is again being stirred up by those appearing to put cheap politics, toff bashing, ecobabble and pseudo conservation before facts and common sense. It is odd; despite toff-bashing, many of the moaners despise the ordinary upland gamekeepers, shepherds and farmers too – yet they are the real moorland experts. The antis want to ban driven grouse shooting and their views will be given great coverage by  their friends in the metropolitan media and politically correct scientists wanting research grants. Their cry will be “There should be 300 pairs of hen harriers in England and there are virtually none”. My answer is simple – good. And has anybody done an environmental impact assessment showing what 300 pairs of harriers would do to jobs and vulnerable wildlife?

The hen harrier is a very beautiful bird of prey but it has an extremely bad habit. Left alone, to its own devices it breeds communally and wipes out – eats – virtually everything around it. This was seen in a study on moorland in Scotland – Langholm – where the science appears to have been rejected by some scientists. It can be seen too in the Isle of Man, a hen harrier hot-spot, until they eat themselves out of food and then live up to their names – say it slowly – “hen harriers”.

A few years ago I met a then RSPB warden who said the problem could be solved by allowing one or two pairs of harriers to nest on each estate and any others should be moved on, for the sake of the lapwings and curlews as much as the grouse. Astonishingly the conservation establishment rejected this simple and sane solution. He no longer works for the RSPB.

Now Mark Avery who was the RSPB’s Director of Conservation at the time – a paid up member (he says) of the Labour Party and the League Against Cruel Sports (clearly a man with an open mind) has just produced a book “Inglorious- the Battle for the Uplands”. I debated some of the issues with Mark at the Norwich Festival earlier in the summer – I was not impressed – doesn’t he like lapwings and curlews?  A Holkham attendee was also at that debate. He said, “He doesn’t like you does he Robin? In the debate he just seemed to give up”. Well if you have no apparent sensibly based arguments you would wouldn’t you? Incredibly, in a recent article (28.8.15) in the Independent, Mark Avery failed to mention the words lapwing, curlew, golden plover, dunlin, ring ouzel once. And I thought he was supposed to be a conservationist?

Nevertheless I am going to get a copy of the book. I have a table that I can’t get level – I’ll put it under one of the legs.

More about the anti-grouse moor propaganda in a later Diary.

A reader from Suffolk has sent me a remarkable photograph of a plaque on a bench. It says simply “In memory of Roger Bucklesby Who hated this park and everyone in it”. And to think that some people believe that I am grumpy.

With thanks to Robin Page and The Daily Telegraph.

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