Let’s just take a step back and survey the scene.
- the number of Hen Harriers nesting in England over the last decade has fallen and this bird is almost extinct in England
- Hen Harrier Day attracted hundreds of protesters (in appalling weather) and achieved a social media reach of millions
- the opening of the Red Grouse shooting season was no longer treated by the media as a ‘celebration’ of a ‘traditional’ ‘fieldsport’ but was marked with discussions over the controversial nature of this industry and its reliance on illegal killing of birds of prey
- a big academic study of the wider environmental impacts of management of the uplands for grouse shooting was damning – grouse moor management is an ecosystem disservice.
- retailers are beginning to shun selling grouse meat because it is tainted not only with lead but also with illegality (here and here)
- an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting is heading towards 20,000 signatures despite not yet having the support of any major wildlife conservation organisation
- prominent members of the shooting community are attacking the RSPB on a broad front and their attack is being publicised by the shooting press, and is not condemned by what are supposed to be the reputable organisations that may or may not represent grouse shooting
- the Hen Harrier sub-group has stalled, it seems due to the unwillingness of the criminal elements within grouse shooting to recognise that they must not only give an inch but actually a mile
A few suggestions from me:
1. shooting organisations – you need to give ground, lots of ground, but even that will only postpone the demise of driven grouse shooting rather than cancel it all together.
2. RSPB – you have done the right thing by investing in dialogue with the driven grouse shooting community. This has been revisiting the measured and conciliatory approach adopted by at least two previous RSPB management teams and going back over 20 years. And you have ended up in a worse position than ever before because of the appalling behavior of the grouse shooting industry. To wit – there are even fewer Hen Harriers, a growing proportion of your membership thinks that you are too soft on shooting (that’s my impression at least), the criminals are still winning and yet they expect you to cave in, and now shooting interests are attacking you quite openly too.
You are not, in any way, constrained by your Royal Charter, under these circumstances, from arguing for the end of driven grouse shooting. Your Chairman has said so and it is indeed true. It is time for RSPB Council to grasp the nettle and shift the RSPB’s position to be in favour of a ban of driven grouse shooting in England – if they do, they will find it was a Dead Nettle all along, nothing to be scared of at all, no sting.
3. Wildlife Trusts – although you have not been as active, overall, as the RSPB many individual county trusts have made very significant contributions locally to this debate and to highlighting these issues. Be brave and be more outspoken – you have nothing to lose but your reputation for being rather timid (and yes, that is the reputation you have).
4. Defra and the government – you are supposed to be in charge but have decided to preside over a long drawn out discussion where you have, if anything, pressurised the good guys to give ground rather than hammering the bad guys. May I remind you that you are neither a neutral arbitrator in this matter, nor are you the Moorland Association in government. You need to uphold the law and protect wildlife from criminal acts. Get a grip or be gone! What is your plan on this subject? What is your view?
How about moving to a policy where there will be a five-year moratorium on grouse shooting in all English National Parks starting in 2015? That will give everyone something to think about. Why are National Parks still filled with grouse butts and access closed to the public for days shooting? What is the model of National Parks that permits industrial scale killing of wildlife inside their boundaries? National Park authorities are basically planning authorities, not much more, who can prevent someone having the wrong sort of extension on their house because it will spoil the character and attractiveness of the National Park and yet permit the blasting of guns for private pleasure of a minority interest. Why? How many Hen Harriers do you think there would be at the end of a five year moratorium in the Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors, Peak District and Northumberland NPs? Wouldn’t it be fun to find out? It would certainly help the next government get a little closer to its 2020 targets and have something to brag about.
Oh yes, and the Labour Party, we know where Barry Gardiner was on Hen Harrier Day (and very welcome he was too, and very appreciated by the crowds) but where are you on this issue?