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Official complaint made to BBC following coverage on reported adder population decline

The Countryside Alliance has made an official complaint to the BBC following its recent coverage on a reported decline in the adder population, which took place on two separate radio programmes.

The two separate complaint reports, which have been filed online as relating to issues of bias, were made last week and concern BBC Radio 4's flagship news and current affairs programme, Today, and a segment on BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show, both of which took place on Thursday March 2nd, 2023.

Both programmes, which reportedly attract millions of listeners, featured a two-way discussion between a BBC presenter and author Nicholas Milton, who had been promoting his new book. Mr Milton stated that adders will be "extinct across most of Britain in the next 15-20 years" and that the reasons for this include "the release of 60 million pheasants that will kill adders".

He went on to say that: "That will surprise people but the pheasant is a non- native bird, it comes from China and Asia and are therefore very used to dealing with snakes. What the pheasant will do is peck out the eyes, the adder will try to defend itself, but the bite doesn't work. It has a shield of feathers and then other pheasants will join in."

Responding to these claims, both complaints state: 'There is no scientific research or evidence to support this claim. Mr Milton referenced a 'citizen science' project looking at adder populations to justify his extraordinary claims. That cited study, published in 2019, did raise concerns about the sustainability of many small adder populations and it also identified three key concerns that should be addressed to better protect their populations. Those were public pressure; including dog walking, mountain biking, photographers, vehicles, and trampling vegetation while walking, which were recorded on 48% of sites. Habitat fragmentation, which could lead to inbreeding and eventually local extinctions, was reported on 17% of sites. Habitat neglect, a lack of positive management and negative activities such as overgrazing, and the use of heavy machinery was reported on 22% of sites. What neither this study or any other has concluded, however, is that the release of pheasants is a reason for adder population decline'.

The BBC website states: 'We must be inclusive, considering the broad perspective and ensuring that the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected.'

The complaint is clear: there was no balance, rebuttal or alternative opinion offered; be it in the form of a physical representative speaking on the programme, or through rebuttal lines read out by the presenter. Had the Countryside Alliance been approached prior to either pre-planned interview, we would have gladly offered up a speaker or lines to counter Mr Milton's claims, thus ensuring balance.

James Aris, the Alliance's Shooting Campaign Manager, said: " Both incidents demonstrated a clear breach of BBC guidelines. The interviews lacked balance and any attempt to counter the arguments being made by Nicholas Milton. This is clearly unacceptable and BBC audiences deserve better".

He added: " The BBC's complaints process is notoriously difficult. While it may be an arduous journey, we intend to follow both complaints through to the end. It is vital that where issues relating to bias and lack of balance occur, we make our voices heard".

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