Batting on a fair wicket?

August 7, 2016

Last year we won the Ashes! Hooray!

And no one rang me to ask my opinion. But that’s not surprising because I know very little about cricket. Ian Botham does. He was one of England’s greatest ever players, indeed a true cricketing legend, so his opinion would actually be of some value.

You will have noticed that ‘Beefy’ has become a spokesman for a campaigning body called ‘You Forgot the Birds’. A strange choice because as a sportsman he’s not necessarily someone with any ornithological expertise. But then for a ‘spokesman’ he doesn’t often have that much to say. His colleague Ian Gregory did last year. I’ve read it and heard him speaking on Radio. I Googled him to see if he had any actual qualifications when it comes to voicing an opinion on anything avian. Apparently not, he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics which might explain his lack of any basic level of knowledge in ecology and animal behaviour and his presentation of arguments devoid of pertinent scientific facts. He operates Centaurus PR, a lobbying company who ‘are currently running high profile engagements on, amongst other things, e-cigarettes (legitimising), climate change (denying) . . .’  They seem to employ a lobbying tactic known as ‘astro-turfing’, rarely seen in the UK which is the ‘practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organisation (e.g., political, advertising, religious or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants’.

Also involved are Martyn Howat who puts it about that he was the former director of Natural England but says less about the fact that he was also a former chair and current Council member at BASC (British Association for Shooting and Conservation). He is joined by a TV presenter called Johnny Scott. I’d never bumped into him so I Googled him too. Turns out he’s Sir John Scott, 5th Baronet of Beauclerc, Bywell St. Andrews, Northumberland and also has numerous connections with hunting and shooting interests. So whilst they claim to be ‘a group of conservationists, landowners and bird enthusiasts’ they are actually ‘shooty types’.

That must make their job of trying to besmirch the reputation of one of the world’s greatest conservation charities pretty difficult. So far YFTB have come up with a few dubiously sourced ‘stories’, one about funding and spending and another other about a valuable restoration project, neither of which got much traction outside of the Daily Mail. Paul Dacre, editor of the Mail, owns a grouse moor and therefore may have links to some of the YFTB people. Then last year they actually just started making things up. The Telegraph ran a piece about a Natural England report which suggested that the RSPB were responsible for disturbing Hen Harriers nests. But the following day The Guardian revealed that no such report existed. How embarrassing, and clearly both NE and The Telegraph were not very happy. And in today’s Mail on Sunday they are having a go at me . . . you can read it here: Mail on Sunday article

I think it’s important that we see YFTB for what it is – a lobbying group acting on behalf of the shooting fraternity. So who we might ask is covering it’s costs? Well, up until last year it was all very shady but then hedge fund manager Crispin Odey exposed himself as a donor. He is a man who kills birds for pleasure on grouse moors and because the future of grouse shooting is being widely questioned in the wake of a raft of new scientific evidence which has revealed that its management and practices, including the continued illegal persecution of raptors, is significantly destructive, he probably feels a little threatened. And when people feel threatened then they can get a bit lazy with the truth.

My hypothesis, and that’s all it is, is that this is a concerted attempt by shooting interests to manipulate government policy processes to try and get their demands met on grouse shooting by neutralising the RSPB and people like myself who side with them. And that rather like that other faux conservation body ‘Songbird Survival’ there are overlaps with the ‘so called’ Countryside Alliance.

But this time Beefy is batting on the wrong wicket because we haven’t forgotten the birds, we are only worried that if his grouse moor chums keep killing our Hen Harriers then very sadly we will one day only have memories of them. Howzat!

Chris Packham