Bias

I have to admit from the start of this blog that I bear a grudge against Robin Page.  It's deep-seated and means that I'm not a reliably independent person when it comes to appraising Robin's contribution to conservation, or life in general. 

Is my chip on the shoulder because of Robin's peculiar blend of politics?  No, I can forgive people having extreme views and he's not alone in having the political views that he has.  The wonder of our political system is that it is based on a diversity of views, tolerance of the views of others and free speech.  Thank you Robin for having political opinions. 

Do I dislike the man because he makes a good living from criticising great conservation organisations that, albeit never faultless, do a good job for wildlife? No, after all there are plenty people who criticise conservationists and the conservation bodies should be open to a bit of scrutiny.   Once again, thanks Robin.

Does my longstanding worry result from Robin's unreasonable claims to represent the 'true' voice of the countryside when he patently does not? Again, no, as there are plenty people who do this and Robin's claims to be a ‘true countryman’ are so absurd, I struggle to take him seriously.

What, then, is the cause of my intrinsic bias when it comes to considering Robin Page?  It's quite simple.  Robin judged my apple wine as 2nd in a class with 2 entrants at the Great Gransden Agricultural Show about 15 years ago.  I have never been objective in my assessment of Robin since.

My bias against Robin means that whenever I read one of his entertaining if rather repetitive and intentionally provocative columns, I cannot realistically be expected to be remotely fair in my appraisal of his work.  I am sorry, Robin, about this. Which takes me to a comment or two on Robin’s recent article on the ‘alarming’ rise of predators. 

Anyone reading Robin’s article in the Mail (which you can read here  http://dailym.ai/1zZFjcC)  would immediately rush to protect small children, pets and farm livestock from what Robin describes as ‘the most hated species in Britain (gulls), birds ‘causing the extinction of farmland birds (red kites), and, most terrifying of all, the ‘supreme killers’ (sparrowhawks). 

Robin claims that conservationists are obsessed by raptors and gives the impression that a) no-one can go safely into the countryside without being attacked by raptors, b) there are no ways of controlling gulls (there are) and c) that the plight of songbirds is entirely down to the impact of avian predation.  Robin is a countryman, a conservationist and knows his wildlife.  So this must be true.

Firstly, on gulls.  I’m tickled that Robin quotes Rentokil in support of his tirade against gulls.  So let’s have a look at what Rentokil offer to control and deter gulls. Well, (and there will be other pest control companies) the Rentokil website looks to me (here http://bit.ly/1KdSfit) to offer some good solutions to gulls when they are a problem. Solved.  

What a shame that Robin makes such partial, faintly ludicrous and scientifically-illiterate claims on the impacts of predators on birds. He pays no heed to the very widely understood principle in scientific ecology that as a rule predator numbers are controlled by the availability of prey and, not generally, the other way round. 

Think about it.  A sparrowhawk has to locate, catch and eat its prey and do so enough times a day to meet its nutritional demands.  If it’s feeding young, it must do so at a high rate.  If the population of its prey dwindles, these birds will be less successful.  They’ll go hungry, be less successful at breeding and it will be difficult to sustain the population.

Robin has a point about there being a lack of control of some of the predators and, certainly, if we had a bigger goshawk population, if we had a few more eagle owls and other really big predatory birds and mammals, some of our smaller raptors may be suppressed a bit by these other predators.  I would never have thought that Robin would join with those biologists, seemingly, supporting reintroduction of more top predators.   

It’s also disappointing that Robin dismisses out of hand the good work being done by many conservationists and (some) grouse moor managers who are working together to bring hen harriers back to England.  He quotes a population of 600 pairs, neglecting to say they’re pretty much – all bar less than a handful – in Scotland. 

I am quite clear that an increase in hen harriers in England is achievable, it will happen and the responsible end of moorland managers will play a big role in this resurgence, as landowners have with other species. The bad guys – who persecute hen harriers – will be overtaken by the good guys - who don’t persecute and who will work with them on their moors. 

I think on birds of prey populations we’ve heard more than enough from people who know very little about either moorland management (on the one side) or raptor population dynamics (on the other side).  I think it’s time that the Government should take a lead with conservation agencies, moorland organisations etc. and should convene a proper inquiry into the relationship between grouse moors and wildlife. 

The inquiry should be independent of Government and should be led by scientifically-qualified people able to speak authoritatively and independently on bird population dynamics.  It should have within it people respected for their knowledge of grouse moors, moorland ecology and the rural economy.  Let’s cut out the meaningless self-serving rhetoric on all sides and move to a position where science, evidence, practical solutions and consensus win the day.

Returning to my bias against Robin Page.  I’m sorry Robin if I can’t see the good in what you write, but this is down to my weakness and a tendency to be a little bit partial. Not something you would understand, being a fair-minded and objective sort.

Posted on: May 17th, 2015

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