Judging a Book by its Cover

Looking into the issue

Some very odd things are happening. This is a black grouse blog and my book is only a small part of the story, so I don’t want to dwell on the subject of the book too much. However, the publicity involved in the book’s publication has raised some interesting questions which are relevant not only to black grouse as a whole, but also to the general public’s perception of moorland management.

I gave an interview to the Scotland on Sunday newspaper last week; it was a twenty minute conversation which was then edited down to a sensationalised news piece that was not only badly written and factually very dubious, but which also tried to explain how I am promoting the idea that shooting every black grouse in the country here and now is a good idea.

The article is available on the Scotland on Sunday website, and any regular readers of this blog will easily see how my opinions have been twisted. If I worked for the RSPB and received a call to comment on claims that black grouse need to be shot ASAP for their benefit, I would totally agree that the theory seems specious and simplistic.

Amongst many, many other things, my book argues quite simply that black grouse would benefit from investment by the shooting community. Nobody is making money from black grouse, and as a consequence, it makes good financial sense to damage their habitat by planting it with trees or grazing it into non-existence. If people were making money from black grouse, there would be an interest in conserving them. There was obviously a great deal more to justify my stance, hence the fact that I wrote an entire chapter about it.

It’s hardly surprising that I should have been misquoted and misrepresented in the Scotland on Sunday. During the interview, the journalist admitted that she hadn’t read my book, so she could hardly comment on what I had written. I’ve worked as a journalist for long enough to recognise that the article in the news on Sunday was an attempt to make a story out of a half truth. It was apparently controversial, unusual and allowed the paper to print a big picture of a pretty bird.

When the article went online, it began to pop up all over the place. I usually enjoy reading the “Raptor Politics” blog, because it’s an interesting perspective on conservation news that I don’t normally have access to. I was surprised to find that the editors had picked up on my book because it has nothing to do with the blog’s self professed remit to discuss raptor persecution, but was quite pleased to find that they had written an article about it. However, it was less pleasing to find that the article wasn’t a reaction to my new book. It was a reaction to and a partial regurgitation of a badly written article which had discussed a single issue from my book in order to sell newspapers.

The same misleading ideas from Scotland on Sunday came through again in Raptor Politics – the falsehood that I have called for an end to the moratorium on shooting black grouse being the primary topic of conversation. If I needed any more proof of the fact that the editors of Raptor Politics hadn’t read my book and knew nothing whatsoever about the points I make, there was the tell-tale mention of the unimportant but wholly spurious announcement that I am a farmer – There was something smugly patronising about the blog’s haughty dismissal of my book, which hadn’t even had the chance to show its cover before it was judged. There was no attempt to get facts right or dig any deeper than the information provided by a half baked press release which had apparently drifted in through an open window. It occured to me that they didn’t find the truth of the matter because they just weren’t looking for it. They had seen “grouse” and “shooting” in the same sentence and had begun to slaver like Pavlov’s dogs. It just went to show me how deeply entrenched people are in their own opinions.

Yes, raptor persecution is an issue which we need to talk about. But how on earth can a natural history of black grouse draw flak from a blog that is managed by people who seem to love birds? Black grouse have got nothing to do with failed peregrine nests in the Trough of Bowland (wherever or whatever that is), but apparently, the very suggestion that their future might be entwined with the shooting world is enough to drag them into a swirling mess of judgemental politics and fevered self-righteousness.

Part of the reason why I wrote a book about black grouse in the first place is because I believe that we need to know more about these birds. When putting the final touches on the book, I found to my surprise that it would become the first ever natural history of the species. I was surprised by this, and redoubled my attempts to publicise the plight of a bird which still continues to struggle in many areas. Instead, my use of the word “shooting” has drawn down the shutters and made seemingly reasonable people jump to conclusions and dig themselves in even deeper along established lines of battle. Scoffing, judgemental articles which seek only to pour scorn on gamekeepers serve no purpose in the struggle to save black grouse. In fact, it’s quite hard to imagine what purpose they do serve other than to perpetuate conflict.

Black grouse are in real trouble, and it will take a concerted effort from conservationists and shooters to help. If we can’t work together, nothing will ever change.

Perhaps I should have broken this post up into a few smaller ones so that it’s not as long, but I don’t want to protract this silliness.

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