The GWCT - making a difference in a difficult year

Without your support, important studies into contentious issues such as heather burning would not ha

Without your support, important studies into contentious issues such as heather burning would not have been possible. Credit: James Elkington/Getty - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

James Swyer looks back over the year and offers thanks to all those who have supported the GWCT in its hour of need

The GWCT was able to prove that pheasants were not responsible for declining adder populations. Cred

The GWCT was able to prove that pheasants were not responsible for declining adder populations. Credit: ANNEYP/Getty - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Last year will no doubt be remembered as one of the most challenging in recent history, but one thing I hope isn’t forgotten is the importance of gratitude. As a charity, it’s something we feel every day, but this year it has been stronger than ever. Without passionate people who care about our work, the GWCT wouldn’t exist.

In March, with the uncertainty over our ability to put on events and recruit new members, our trustees forecast a £1.4 million drop in income. We also knew our members and donors had their own financial concerns. Despite all these challenges, they have supported us more than ever. If you are a member, a supporter of ours or read our free email newsletter, thank you. What you have helped us to achieve this year has been remarkable.

These achievements range from the newsworthy, such as our research helping to advise Defra that Wild Justice were wrong to insist that all game bird releases within 5km of a protected site must be included in their latest legal arm wrestle; to keeping our programme of fieldwork going. We’ve uncovered a fox travelling 25km, due to data fed from its GPS collar, tagged more than 10,000 salmon smolts in Dorset, tagged waders including lapwing and curlew in England and Scotland and undertaken important studies into one of the more contentious issues of the moment – heather burning. None of this would have been possible without your donations.

As I mentioned in the last issue, of the reviews into the impact of game birds from the RSPB and others in 2020, ours was the only one to be peer-reviewed. This matters to us and it should make a difference to policymakers too. We hear a lot of opinions about the countryside, but as an organisation we’re dedicated to an evidence-led debate. That’s why, again with your support, we were able to launch What The Science Says – an online resource intended to fight misinformation by exploring and presenting the scientific facts behind claims made in the press and on social media. This year, it has shown that claims of pheasants ‘driving adders to extinction’ were unsupported by the science and that the data behind claims from the BBC and others that mountain hares were declining on grouse moors was inconclusive. We’ll keep checking the facts in 2021 and hopefully for many years more.

Back to gratitude, there are lots of people who gave the GWCT a fighting chance this year. It would be remiss of me not to thank Rebecca Green, who not only covers our work in the pages of this magazine, but wrote in the September issue that “the GWCT is one of the most powerful tools in our armoury when it comes to defending and promoting our sport, and now, more than ever, it needs our support”. Thankfully, many people took this message to heart. Despite the issues people are facing, November was our strongest month for new members joining online in my seven years at the GWCT.

The increased challenges from Wild Justice and the RSPB show how things might look without the GWCT’s robust science to underpin the case for good game management and the important role private management can play in achieving national biodiversity goals. If you would like to follow the lead of others in supporting our work, you can today.

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