Will the fake news ever stop?
Updated: Jul 22, 2020
Image: Richard Walker
Last week, we reported on Tim Birch, the Extinction Rebellion supporter and Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s conservation manager, who claimed that the bearded vulture was under threat in the Peak District, and “couldn’t have come to a worse spot in terms of bird of prey persecution”. We pointed out then that Tim seemed slightly inconsistent: quoted in The Times as saying that the Derwent Valley had no raptors, he then broadcasted the location of a Hen Harrier nest, and boasted of seeing Peregrines, Buzzards and Merlin in the PDNP.
Now, even more inconsistencies have come to light. Tim states that Howden Moor is the worst possible spot the vulture could have chosen to holiday in. But in fact, not a single incident of wildlife crime was reported on Howden from 2012-2018.
He also claimed that there had been 21 confirmed cases of bird of prey persecution from 2012 to 2018 in the Peak District. Four of these, that the RSPB use to rake in funds, have been proved to be set-ups. Only one of these cases took place on a moor – and this was a raven, found by anti-grouse shooting campaigner Bob Berzins.
The claim that grouse moors have no raptors is perhaps his most ludicrous claim. As well as proving himself wrong by mentioning the raptors he saw himself, the official 2018 breeding birds survey also paints a very different picture. The survey counts 169 winged predators – to which can be added an additional two hen harriers. In 1997 just 27 were counted; a success story in its own right.
If official statistics don’t count for much, then how about the people on the ground? A recent Facebook post by a bird watcher lists the birds spotted while sitting in remote clough in the Derwent Valley for four hours – a day he describes as “one of the best raptor days ever”.
“Sat in one spot I saw hobby, merlin, goshawk, peregrine, kestrel, sparrowhawk, buzzard, red kite (I think), and bearded vulture.” The highlight for him was “a constant battle between a merlin and kestrel giving a fantastic show of acrobatics”.
It does make you wonder how, exactly, Mr Birch can get away with saying the things that he does. As Charles Moore asks in today's Telegraph, "Is there any subject about which it is easier to create fake news than wildlife?".