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« University ethics | Main | The BBC goes dark - Josh 267 »

CEH distances itself from RSPB summary report

I recently covered the report on shale gas by a consortium of environmental organisations headed by the RSPB. I described the report's claim that a study of a shale gas field in the Colorado had found significantly elevated noise levels, and noted its failure to report that the underlying study was actually a model simulation.

Commenters observed that the longer, technical version of the report did in fact describe the Colorado study correctly, and I wondered at the time if this was an isolated discrepancy or whether the short version was systematically hyped up. I have had no time to investigate further but was interested to see this blog post on the website of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), who had reviewed the long version of the report.

Dr Andrew Singer, a soil, water and air pollution scientist from CEH was contracted by the consortium partnership responsible for the report to spend four days to review its scientific content. His role was to provide an independent peer review of the science case put forward in the evidence report’s’ literature review; this was not a systematic review. Dr Singer evaluated the evidence in the report in a similar manner to that used for many literature review papers in scientific journals.

Dr Singer did not examine, or review, the ‘Are we fit to frack?’ summary report published alongside the evidence report. This summary report made ten recommendations related to the potential environmental impacts from the shale gas industry which have been widely reported including on BBC Online.

I have emailed Dr Singer to see if he had become aware of other discrepancies between the two versions, but he tells me that he has not even looked at the short version.

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Reader Comments (33)

I can understand why the RSPB and the NT dislike fracking; they both make a large amount of money by permitting wind power stations on their land and anything that might cut off the flow they will oppose.
Quite why the fishing organisations or the Wildlife Trusts and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) should care is a bit beyond me unless we can assume that like so many other organisations from the RS down (or should that be 'up' these days?) they have been suborned by the neo-luddites.

Mar 24, 2014 at 10:17 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Oh how accurate you are, Mike Jackson!

Mar 24, 2014 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

...Quite why the fishing organisations or the Wildlife Trusts and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) should care is a bit beyond me...

People do what they're told. If you're told that fracking is the worst thing since an uncut loaf, then of course you're against it.

And all these quangos are linked in a web of grants - I'm sure money will come to the WWT from government through RSPB, and even if it doesn't, the recommendation of the RSPB will drive DECC allocations. You don't go against your paymasters...

Mar 24, 2014 at 10:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

"he has not even looked at the short version"

Four days not enough, then..?

Mar 24, 2014 at 10:59 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

This report and its review must have cost these charities a small fortune. That's money that could have been far better spent doing what the charities are supposed to do and not on something they know nothing about.

Mar 24, 2014 at 11:15 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

The RSPB have a plainning application for a wind turbine at The Lodge Nature reserve. Their own survey shows that the turbine might impact (pun intended) the following species: thrushes, green woodpeckers, red-legged partridges, wood pigeons, corvids, woodlark, nightjar, pied wagtail, mistle thrush, grey partridges*. lapwings, finches, goldcrests, skylark*, coal tits, linnet*, cuckoo*, song thrush*, spotted flycatcher* and starling*.

Since it is the RSPB who assess whether ornithological impacts are acceptable it is a given that they have raised no objection to their own turbine.

* UK Bird of Conservation Concern, red-listed

Mar 24, 2014 at 11:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

RSBP - Royal Society for the Prevention of Birds?

Mar 24, 2014 at 11:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterMichaelL

Colour me cynical if you wish, but I find it impossible to believe a reviewer who spent 4 days looking at the long version would fail to read the short one. The short version would be his starting point, would it not? The chances are very high that he is aware of the discrepancy but has been ordered to keep quiet about it, lest the hoi polloi get confused about the 'correct' message transmitted by the mainstream media. It will also enable them to blame the media for the hype, if and it becomes necessary.

A job well done by a jobsworth.

Mar 24, 2014 at 11:54 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx


Perhaps we need a Royal Society for the Prevention of the RSPB..?

Mar 24, 2014 at 11:58 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp


Perhaps we need a Royal Society for the preservation of the Royal Society

Mar 24, 2014 at 12:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeilC

It is not evident that the reviewer was asked to review the short version. His contract may have been specifically to review the long report.

Mar 24, 2014 at 12:13 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Hence, a jobsworth.

Mar 24, 2014 at 12:17 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

An interesting question would be: did he even see the summary report and recommendations, or was he a victim of what Steve McI calls "hunt the pea" or bait-and-switch? After all it is SOP for these people.

Mar 24, 2014 at 12:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

RSPB - Royal Society for the Pulping of Birds

Mar 24, 2014 at 12:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

The pea wasn't hidden. He was contracted to be willfully blind to it.

Mar 24, 2014 at 12:31 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

TerryS, I like this from the application.

Chapter 1: Introduction, Background. 1.5 Ecotricity are working partnership with the RSPB to develop the site in order to directly power thr RSPB's main headquarters at the Lodge with renewable electricity and export any excess electricity to the national grid where it could be made available to other RSPB sites.
[My emphasis]

So they think the electrons generated by their wind turbine flow through the national grid and preferentially head towards other RSPB sites? #TheStupidItHurts

I've had a run in with Ecotricity on Twitter where they said that their customers wouldn't be using any nuclear electricity. When I asked if they could seperate out the electrons they went into full marketing mode. I was impressed with their marketing wordage, not so impressed that they were effectively lying to their customers.

Mar 24, 2014 at 12:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterSadButMadLad

I notice that the RSPB website has a link to Ecotricity (cue picture of spinning wind turbine)...

Bit like the Conservatives having a link on their website inviting you to join the Labour Party...

Mar 24, 2014 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

OK. In fairness, the summary might have been written or withheld until after the review of main report by those who commissioned the report.

If so, then the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) ought to have distanced itself in clearer terms and might have even criticised the media hype which they duly contributed to with a link.

Mar 24, 2014 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

OK. I think I finally got the nub of it. What CEH is trying to say is that this was a bona fide 'peer review' stuff, and not a 'pal review'. Geddit?

Mar 24, 2014 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

A case of "being economical with the truth" perhaps?

Mar 24, 2014 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterD.M.

It is long past time to have an open public enquiry into all charitable trusts.
The amount of money they obtain via the UK gov and grants from the EU is fast becoming embarassing.
One small-scale charitable trust, local, has spent over a milion pounds building what is basically a four-car garage. It was supposed to be a woodland visitor centre, except that visitors are not allowed!
It is hard to not have the feeling that the entire things is a scam to get a decent office building in a rural area.

Mar 24, 2014 at 1:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn

"they said that their customers wouldn't be using any nuclear electricity"

I've often wondered about that. The appalling Dale Vince was on R4 a couple of days ago, and of course no-one asked him how or why his elelctricity was any different from anyone else's. Indeed, he was bragging how easy it was to set up an operation like his, which required almost no technical input at all! It's just a paper exercise, designed to assuage the consciences of green consumers who can't afford their own windmills or solar panels, and who don't want to explore below the surface of the scam.

Mar 24, 2014 at 2:14 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

The hypothecation of electricity, no less.

Presumably this means that my electricity tariff contains a higher percentage of nuclear and fossil fuel. Seems appropriate for a climate sceptic.

Is Ecotricity power supply to the home intermittent?

Mar 24, 2014 at 2:50 PM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist


Very uncharitable - it is much more likely that CEH / Dr Singer were specifically sent a copy of the technical report for review and was not sent / was unaware of the existence of the 'summary', which is a stand alone document. Indeed, chances are the summary report was finalised after the technical one.

Also, I wouldn't exactly describe the work undertaken as 'peer review' as normally meant - more like an Expert review of specific sections of the report (apparently the literature review section(s) only). I have been contracted to undertake somewhat similar reviews, and would not consider it part of my instruction to look at another document if this has not been provided at least as a supporting document.

Mar 24, 2014 at 3:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan Blanchard

Perhaps the RSPB should be investigated by the Charities Commsion?

From the RSPB website

"The Climate Coalition, which includes Oxfam, RSPB, Christian Aid, Greenpeace, CAFOD, and Friends of the Earth, created an exact replica of a water-logged 10 Downing Street house front at the Old Palace Yard, opposite the House of Lords, with a Spitting Image-style David Cameron and Owen Paterson (Environment Secretary) standing ankle-deep in murky floodwater."

Isn't this politics and not charitable work??????? All the usual Alarmist suspects!

Mar 24, 2014 at 3:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

CharmingQuark on Mar 24, 2014 at 3:15 PM

'Isn't this politics ... ?'

Defra calls it 'Making Space for Water': others call it flooding and was probably a 'dry run' for the Somerset Levels.

Mar 24, 2014 at 3:36 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

I've just found significantly elevated noise levels simply by walking from my front garden to the main road 200 yards away. In my front garden I could hear birds twittering and at the main road I could hear traffic and see a high concentration of pigeons living under the railway bridge. I can justify this activity because I needed to walk down to the main road to pick up my newspaper. What is the justification of the computer simulation?

Mar 24, 2014 at 3:40 PM | Unregistered Commenterson of mulder

RSPB - Royal Society of Putin Backers ?

Mar 24, 2014 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterGummerMustGo


I did entertain, albeit belatedly (12:48 PM), the possibility that Singer might not have been in possession of the summary document during his review of the main report. However, His Grace reports that "he [Singer] tells me that he has not even looked at the short version." Is that still the case even after the summary became available for his perusal?

As a layman, I am not very familiar with the distinction between peer review and literature review, so I don't know what to make of CEH's statement that theirs was an "independent peer review of the science case put forward in the evidence report’s’ literature review; this was not a systematic review."

Even though they have not reviewed the summary report, the CEH goes on to say that "This summary report made ten recommendations related to the potential environmental impacts from the shale gas industry which have been widely reported including on BBC Online."

Not a jobsworth when it comes to promoting the summary document, even as they are supposedly distancing themselves from it.

Mar 24, 2014 at 4:37 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

And with that, on this issue, I really should pass on the baton to people more learned than me.

Mar 24, 2014 at 4:43 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx


Perhaps in the rush for the wind turbine application they overlooked the survey report or they had a hungry dog in the building.

"We know that with the right design and location wind turbines have little or no impact on wildlife".

Mar 24, 2014 at 5:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartyn

RSPB is demonstrably NOT acting in the interest of birds, but a mere bureau for dave and cohorts to peddle so called "investments" and park likeminded buddies at indefinite entitlements.

Making our institutes DEPENDENT on government, like RSPB and education and "research", is the right road to totalitarianism.

Mar 24, 2014 at 6:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterptw

I cancelled my RSPB sub some time ago. Suggest everyone does the same.

Mar 26, 2014 at 5:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterMichael Oxenham

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