Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Don't Dismiss The Public NGO

Yesterday one of the talking points of conservation this year took place, the debate on the petition to ban driven grouse shooting; and it was a debate that I was determined to be at, to see and hear the thoughts and opinions of the people running our country. Something I have not experienced before.  There were lots of issues raised, and I will cover some of them in this post, but others I will come back to in future blogs.

 123,077 angry citizens from a broad range of communities had signed Mark Avery's petition for a full ban on driven grouse shooting, so it is obvious that people believe that there are serious issues with driven grouse shooting. The petition reached the target 100,000 signatures well before the closing date, which was a huge achievement and a sign to DEFRA that people want a change.

Governments forget that the people who signed the petition are actually an NGO, a group of people with a common cause, in this case a group with over 100,000 members.

Now I know I am only 14, and yes I still have so much to learn, and yes I do get ridiculed sometimes for my ideas from other people, including some from the shooting industry, for daring to have an opinion, but I want to address a serious concern I had throughout the debate, before I go in to more details about the points covered in the debate.

Yesterday I tweeted this:

 "As a young person trying to engage in politics, I feel that yesterday's disrespect for a "people's" petition was shameful."

The shooting community were very to quick to pick up on this and all assumed (incorrectly) that this was tweeted because grouse shooting is not going to be banned "yet". Here is an example of one of the tweets back:

@WildeAboutBirds disrespectful? Petition called for evidence & debate & it got it, but you lost the argument. Harsh reality of life, boy.

So let me make something very clear.  I never expected the outcome to be a ban at this stage and this is not what my tweet was about. My tweet referred to the number of pro-shooting MPs who suggested that people who signed the petition were just ticking a box and not really fully understanding what it was all about. This lack of respect for the people who were concerned enough to sign up truly disgusted me. Was this public bullying? I spent hours, days, weeks speaking to people about the issues at various events across the country. I explained about the decline in hen harriers, even though other ground nesting birds have done well on grouse moors, and asked people to look in to it for themselves. No-one was asked to sign up to anything there and then. So people went away from these events and then chose to find the e-petition and chose to sign it, days, even weeks after meeting them. They were certainly not just ticking a box. That dis-respect from the pro-shooters was disgusting and that was the point being made in my tweet, regardless of the outcome of the debate.

So now that I have cleared that up, these were the other observations I made throughout the debate:

Observation No.1 
A comment often stated throughout the debate was "we are here to debate 2 petitions".  Well no, actually we were there to debate just one successful petition. The one that reached 123,077 signatures to ban driven grouse shooting (you only get a debate in parliament if the petition achieves 100,000). Some of you may be aware, shortly after Mark Avery created his petition, a second was set up by the shooting industry to keep driven grouse shooting. I think it's worth pointing out that this petition only got about 20,000 signatures, yet somehow this petition was also included in the debate.  The inclusion of this second, weaker petition turned the debate in the favour of those wanting to keep it, as most presentations were focused on why it should remain rather than why it should be banned. 

Observation No.2
In this case I am going to name a name. Steve Double MP was chosen by the petitions committee to introduce the debate. Does anyone know why he was chosen to open the debate or who makes the decision on this? In my head, I thought that someone who opens a debate would have to explain about why the petition had been raised and explain fairly both sides of the argument. I was quite shocked by what I heard.  I think he was speaking for himself rather than fairly opening a debate as a representative of the petitions committee. It was the most one-sided thing I have heard, so much so that MP Kerry McCarthy stood up and intervened, making the point that he was being very one sided and shouldn't have been expressing his own views at that point.

Observation No.3
The majority of the MP's attending were conservatives, and the many of these were shooters or had shooting interests and had turned up in force making the debate very one sided.   I felt utter disappointment realising that there were hardly any opposition to support and challenge the issues within driven grouse shooting.  Like I said earlier, I don't understand all the processes so I have been in contact with several MPs including Kerry McCarthy and Angela Smith to ask why they thought it was such a poor show from the opposition (so that I can learn more about the debating process).

So that left the conservative MPs all delivering their 7 minute talks on the same points with the words just changed round a bit.  You can imagine how painful and frustrating this must have been sitting in the gallery not being able to challenge any of the things they said and having so few people representing us.

 Observation No.4

Mark Avery encouraged people, after the petition reached 100,000, to write to their local MPs, and ask them to attend the debate and give reasons why a ban on driven grouse shooting should be debated.  I did that, and was pleased to see my MP attend, until I heard her start to speak. I then realised we were at totally opposite ends of the debate. 

However, I have to say a thank you to her for inviting me and my family up to the Westminster Terrace for a drink after the debate so we could discuss things in more detail.  I know that we aren't going to agree on driven grouse shooting, but it was good to be able to talk openly and honestly, and listen to each other's points of view.

Observation No.5
The final summary from Therese Coffey (DEFRA minister) was basically all of the above, however making it clear that there was not going to be any change in driven grouse shooting.  In fact there was very little that was going to be looked at.

Minor Observation No.6
This is just a minor point, but if over 100,000 people feel strongly enough to sign a petition, then many of them will want to see and hear first hand the debate itself.  Yet there was only 25 guaranteed seats available in the debate room! Having been there though, I accept that the committee room would not have held many more than that.


The above were some of the observations I picked up throughout the debate and have done my best to explain from my point of view. I am not saying that I am right, but it is how I feel.

So what is there to take out of the debate? Well we can all admit we knew there wasn't going to be a ban on driven grouse shooting from this debate, however we didn't expect it was to be as bad and shocking as it was. However, from when this petition was first started, we have only made progress. Every year we are creating much more awareness, and therefore we are getting more and more momentum. Under the current government it may never be banned, but we may see ways and opportunities to change things for the better.

I will make sure that every hen harrier or other upland raptor that goes missing in suspicious circumstances is shouted from the roof tops and I will call for answers. And I know others will do the same.  And we will be heard; again and again and again! I don't know about any of you, but this debate has made me even more determined to fight for what I believe in.


  1. Thank you for your efforts Findlay and the above summary. At the end of the day, many politicians will only get involved with the anti hunting side if there are votes in it for them. We need those that care to push it in their parties to try and get it onto their agendas, and that will happen as public opinion on a ban grows.

  2. Well done Findlay. Politics is a rotten game, but don't give up. A phrase to live by - "Don't be a bystander".

  3. Well said Findlay. Keep up the standard.

  4. Excellent blog and I praise you for your very well written view especially for someone so young. Everyone who signed that petition now needs to go to their local MP's workshops or surgery and ask them to explain their views on this subject. For those MP's that failed to attend or represent the views of their constituents they need publicly reminding of their elected duties and how they got in office. I just hope people remember how their MP responded to this debate, or not, the next time they come looking for votes.
    I have written to my MP about a number of subjects and he has failed to even acknowledge receipt of my letter. Yes he is another Tory, but very soon he will have a very angry constituent raising this fact at one of his public workshops when the press are there. MP's hate getting bad press reports, it affects votes.
    Keep up the good work, stand by your beliefs and don't be bullied into something you think is not right. You have the head of someone much older and experienced, you will go very far young man. Well done.

  5. A very wel written post Finaly on your obversation regarding this debate. It was such a pity it wasso one sided and I would have wanted to know how the other side were allowed ot bring this up as they did not have the required numbers!! Kepp up the good work

  6. Pleased to see you there, Findlay. Representing young people. When I was young, my father used to really irritate me by saying, when things didn't go my way, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again"
    Now I'm a bit more grown up, I know he was right.
    We'll keep on fighting together.

  7. Masterful blog Fin - you are wise beyond your years and a wonderful exponent of why the environment matters and how it should be much better valued in a democracy.

  8. I can't believe someone could be so condescending and say 'boy'. You're a heck more mature then some of those legally allowed to carry guns and vote, which is a scary thought

  9. Once again, I'm totally grateful to you for, and in admiration of, your dedication to a cause that any right-minded should be in support of. You are showing a maturity well-beyond that of the pompous twit that said "Harsh reality of life, boy".

    Things are going to change for me in 2017, and I feel that I ought to be contributing more to this important issue.

    Never get disheartened, and please keep up the good work - - - Richard

  10. Hi Findlay,
    i presume Antoinette Sandbach is your MP. I hope you managed to set her straight on some of her twisted facts.
    I would love to have known why she thought a seven fold increase in Peregrines at Berwyn SPA was so bad after keepering was reduced! Sounds wonderful to me.
    She also asked 'why are we not seeing an explosion of hen harrier and grouse numbers on the more than 312,000 acres of land managed by the RSPB?'
    We are accused of ticking boxes but this MP who thinks she is so clever doesn't understand the whole point of the petition. Hen Harriers can't explode anywhere unless gamekeepers and their bosses stop killing them.
    I look forward to your future posts on this subject.
    All the best,

  11. Well done, Finlay, for some wise words.

  12. I say..."You're wise beyond your years Findlay"!!! And I for one am proud of your opinions and well knowledged stand on the saving of the world as we know it. Yes, some things can be improved, and banning certain actions is ONE of them.

    You said" "Now I know I am only 14, and yes I still have so much to learn, and yes I do get ridiculed sometimes for my ideas from other people, including some from the shooting industry, for daring to have an opinion, but I want to address a serious concern".....keep up everything you do dear one. You will go far and you WILL get the notice and respect so well deserved.

  13. Hi Findlay, great blog and I share all your frustration - especially the comment about realising your own efforts with your MP had been in vain. Despite all the suggestions to contact my MP and encourage her to attend the debate, I knew it would backfire as she would have ignored anything her own constituents had said in support of the petition or call to ban driven grouse shooting. I almost wrote to her to beg her to stay away!

    However, the people's movement IS growing, and we are not done yet. With powerful, informed and intelligent voices such as yours also on the rise, we will continue to make ourselves heard!

  14. Hi Findlay,

    Good on yer! Excellent summary. When your opponents on the other side of a debate feel the need resort to such ad hom attacks, obfuscation and downright ecologically illiterate lies you know they're on the back foot.
    Don't get mad, get even and keep at them - for the Harriers!

  15. Well done Findlay
    Having tried, the strange bias has been revealed you, and some impact has been made.

    Many people watch wildlife on TV and are RSPB members etc, including many birdwatchers, but I know of very very few people who actually try to change something themselves, and this can show in their assumptions on how things should/would work in the world surrounding conservation.
    Once one tries directly, maybe regarding a planning issue or inappropriate conservation management, and gains first hand experience, one may come up against these strange but typical human barriers.

    Whilst you didn't instigate the petition nor were positioned to partake in the debate, you did put in personal effort and were disappointed with your MP.

    So you now have that almost first-hand experience of reality in this world of nature that most people will always lack. Look at Chris Packham, how he has risked his career and been widely attacked for expressing his reasoned position. in contrast, there are one or two very famous popular names in wildlife who didn't utter a peep on this matter, and I wonder if they have ever tried to change something important in conservation directly themselves.

    The internet allows for people's voices, positive and negative, to be heard. That you got called 'boy' is a good example of the positive side of freedom of speech, because it shines a light on that author's attitudes. That person was delighted with all the hard-wired imbalances the adult world has to offer you in debate.

    Keep up the good work, and ask people around you to see if they have ever tried to change anything in the world of conservation.

  16. Hi Findlay, I signed the petition and I also read the transcript of the debate. I thought exactly what you did, that it was completely one sided and also very predictable! I wonder if the politicians that are in favour of protecting our wildlife are scared of the wealth of those who favour the slaughter. It is very sad! Keep up the fight! Rose Hislop

  17. Hi Findlay, I signed the petition and I also read the transcript of the debate. I thought exactly what you did, that it was completely one sided and also very predictable! I wonder if the politicians that are in favour of protecting our wildlife are scared of the wealth of those who favour the slaughter. It is very sad! Keep up the fight! Rose Hislop