GWCT gets a ‘fail’ from us on its homework

In a blog here on Monday we asked the GWCT to fact-check the DEFRA myth that non-native gamebirds have no impacts on nature conservation at a distance of further than 500m from release sites.

We asked three specific questions and GWCT has failed to answer two of them (but got the other one right – maybe because we gave them the answer). Any student knows that you should read the exam paper carefully and do your best to answer the questions. GWCT failed to answer the questions and did what many a failing student does – write down everything they can think of that pops into their minds in case it might be relevant. That’s a fail.

We got something wrong too on Monday though – when we wrote ‘We appreciate that GWCT might feel uncomfortable correcting the factual errors of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs but we are sure they will wish to stand by the scientific statements of their staff in preference to sucking up to DEFRA. we assumed that GWCT would stand by their own staff member in addressing question 3 which was:

Does the GWCT stand by the view of their own Head of Advisory, Roger Draycott, who on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today said, and we quote, ‘the majority of birds [Pheasants] don’t disperse more than a kilometre‘ which clearly means that some disperse more than a kilometre and suggests that many disperse further than 500m.

We were wrong because GWCT have not stood by their own staff member, Head of Advisory no less, who said that some Pheasants disperse more than a kilometre and GWCT instead did choose to support DEFRA’s flawed buffer zone proposal. If you are taking advice from the GWCT just be aware that they might not stick by it if a politician says something else. So that’s a fail because GWCT didn’t even remember to answer the question.

What about the other two questions?

Question 1 was;

Does the Madden and Sage review (see here, and Rufus Sage is, after all, a staff member of GWCT) mention anywhere that Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges have minimal impacts on biodiversity beyond 500m from the point of release? (hint – it doesn’t)

GWCT do answer this question (although you have to look hard for the answer and they only attempt an answer in their twelfth paragraph) where they say ‘500m is not explicitly discussed in the review’. Yep, that’s what we thought, and said, and so GWCT at least get a few marks for anwering that question (eventually) and noticing that nowhere is a 500m buffer zone suggested, discussed or justified in that review. The answer was contained in the question though so GWCT don’t get many marks for that. The 500m buffer zone is simply a made up figure and it isn’t made up based on the science.

Question 2 was;

Do the references in Madden and Sage (eg Turner (2007), Beardsworth et al. (in prep), Sage et al. (2001)) state that Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges travel no further than 500m from their point of release in their first year of life?

GWCT do not answer this question so that’s a Fail here too. What they do say is that they think 500m is too big a distance, whereas we think it is too small. We cite the relevant references in the Madden and Sage review and discuss why they do not in any way add up to justifying a buffer zone as small as 500m while the GWCT just wave their hands around and support the DEFRA 500m buffer zone myth without citing any science.

Like a poor student, GWCT pad out their non-answers with lots of words to try and make it look as though they know lots and have been working extra-hard – but their homework adds up to ‘There is no scientific justification for a buffer zone as small as 500m but we know which side our bread is buttered so we are going to agree with DEFRA’.

You’ll find that GWCT spend more time writing, inaccurately, about Wild Justice than they do about the biological issue at question. That speaks volumes too. We’re not going to respond to those inaccuracies here and now because that would deflect from our main message – the proposed 500m buffer zone is not based on science and even the supposed experts on gamebirds, GWCT, cannot point to its scientific justification. That alone should be enough to persuade you that there isn’t a scientific justification for it. We think that DEFRA will launch their consultation on the subject on Monday and then you will have the chance to say so.