A grouse about dodgy data

Posted on the 11th August 2009

How does the Countryside Alliance do it? Two days before the start of the four months grouse shooting season, it has released the results of a questionnaire poll that ‘clearly shows that grouse shooting is vital to the local employment, businesses and people of England’s uplands’.

So how can the Countryside Alliance (CA) make such bold economic statements about the whole of English upland communities? To conduct its poll, it chose two very small Durham villages on the edge of the Blanchland grouse moor. Blanchland and Hunstanworth have a combined population of only 276 in 108 households within the parish boundaries.

Just 49 per cent of the households returned the questionnaires. The CA survey took no account of the households that did not respond because they had no axe to grind, did not have an opinion, nor could be bothered to report on an issue they considered unimportant in their lives. Nevertheless, the CA claims that nine out of 10 people in the two small communities agreed that there would be a negative effect upon the communities if grouse shooting stopped, and 9 out of ten also agreed that shooting parties within the short four month grouse season made local businesses viable for the benefit of all. Similarly, according to the CA, 40 per cent of the households believed that grouse shooting can help retain young people in the community. Starkly, there were only two full-time gamekeeper jobs, only three responding households with young people between 18 and 24, and 57 per cent of residents aged over 55.

In his press release summary, CA Chief Executive Simon Hart makes no mention that his poll is only representative of less than half of two small communities. The data must be examined to reveal the extent of spin. To say that these two communities are representative of every English upland community is nonsense, convincingly because their location alongside a grouse moor weights their opinions. Thirty years ago, the nearby former industrial boom town of Consett would have returned similar poll responses about its dependence on steel between 1840 and 1980. Consett’s polled opinions about steel could not be linked to every other similar sized English town situated 260m above sea level.

The CA has serious form in regard to twisting survey results to the point of breaking. Only two months ago, it released the results of a random telephone survey, which concluded that 60 per cent of the public wanted birds of prey controlled, if they were damaging wildlife on which people’s livelihoods depend. Such results, which depend upon a series of leading questions posed to bystanders, are part of the track record of the Countryside Alliance. In 2004, a ubiquitous poster appeared claiming that 59 per cent of the public said ‘Keep on Hunting’. Scrutiny revealed that the questions had been misleading and the poll results had been manipulated. The Advertising Standards Authority warned the Countryside Alliance to take greater care in future when announcing the results of opinion surveys and noted its undertaking not to make the false statement again.

So, just five years after this stern warning from the Advertising Standards Authority, the CA is up to its old tricks. It relies upon its polls not attracting close attention. It exists to promote and protect cruel blood sports by whatever fanciful justification it can publish. The Countryside Alliance is the master of half-truth and spin.

Kit Davidson
Shooting Consultant, Animal Aid


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