I wonder if I should be flattered to be featured by name in a recent guardian blog on adders? Nicholas Milton’s article made for moderately interesting reading, but went somewhat astray when it described me as a “gamekeeper”. Milton explained (with a scarcely concealed roll of the eyes) that in highlighting the fact that buzzards kill adders, I am just another ‘keeper, out to cause trouble for birds of prey at the expense of all other issues. Further, that in doing so, my words serve as a barrier to progress in issues relating to adder conservation while neatly tying in a “convenient excuse” for the “reintroduction” of [buzzard] culling.
In fact, I am not a gamekeeper (as the first sentence of my “Patrick Laurie” section (above) explains). I am a journalist, and I consider it my job to write about the things that concern me. Although I have many ties to the shooting industry, I have made it my business to champion the cause of a game bird that is no longer viable in a sporting sense. Even if I was a gamekeeper, there would not be many others “like me”.
My response to seeing snakes killed by buzzards was not to demand that all buzzard heads should roll, but to ask if the life of every single buzzard in Britain is individually more important than the survival of an entire species. I’m quite certain that buzzards are not the one and only cause of adder decline, but a mixture of habitat loss and fragmentation has put these birds in a position to drive home the final nail in the coffin. In this glen, a single pair of buzzards must account for quite a number of snakes each year. The wheels are in motion to restore quality habitat and build it into the landscape, but this will be for nothing if there are no snakes left by the time it comes to fruition. The same is true for black grouse and, in many other areas, grey partridges. We need to be able to talk about the effect these birds are having, and being poo-pooed out of hand as a rabid pot-stirrer is not a means of accessing “rational debate”.
As I said on May 20th 2012: “I don’t stand to make any money from snakes, and I’m not the stereotypical grouse shooter portrayed by the media as a tweedy hawk throttler. I am genuinely worried by rising numbers of buzzards, and I can see that conservation is about much more than just looking after your favourite species“.
Mentioning that predation pressure on adders is a “controversial” issue is easy on paper (particularly when you don’t explore the concept), but it does little to highlight that some of the greatest concentrations of adders are on Scottish grouse moors where foxes and crows are controlled by gamekeepers.