The RSPB is getting into a bit of a pickle, and that’s a shame. It has had a really bad week with its natural allies and that week comes after a slow slide in confidence throughout 2016 in the organisation’s ability to make a difference on raptor persecution at a policy and advocacy level.
The purpose of this post is not to rub the noses of RSPB senior staff and Council in their current predicament, but to suggest we all need to find a way of making sure that the RSPB recaptures its passion and focus on wildlife crimes.
But, for the next few paragraphs I do have to set out the position the RSPB is in, and that might be uncomfortable reading for them.
Things started to go wrong, seriously wrong, when the RSPB welcomed the Defra plan for Hen Harriers. The RSPB had spoken out against it for months and months, particularly the brood meddling element, but when the plan was published they missed the opportunity of saying it wasn’t good enough and switched to supporting it and welcoming it. The RSPB should not have welcomed a plan which they had opposed, rightly, for months and months. This was very odd, very unpopular with many RSPB supporters, but welcomed on Martin Harper’s blog by the Chief Exec of Songbird Survival (‘Great news Martin‘) and the decidedly pro-shooting writer Rob Yorke (who seems to think of himself as a ‘neutral’)(This can work for the public benefit but only with a skilled independent leadership ‘brokering’ a way forward in this deeply complex issue. Dissenting voices must be heard but not be allowed to derail the process.‘). At the time there was a selection of less positive comments from what I assume are ‘ordinary’ RSPB members (or perhaps ex-members):
Keith M – ‘Well Martin, you asked for views. As a very long standing RSPB member who has lived and worked in the British uplands almost all my adult life I am deeply disappointed that the RSPB has agreed to this so-called ‘action plan’, let alone welcomes it. ‘
Me! – ‘I know these things are difficult but the RSPB has welcomed a plan that has no target, has no new resources for tackling wildlife crime, has no progress on vicarious liability or licensing of shooting estates and yet gives a nod to a pointless and expensive reintroduction and to brood meddling. And RSPB welcomed it? That’s like saying ‘thank you’ when you have been ignored and then slapped in the face.
As a result, the shooters are going around saying ‘The RSPB welcomed the plan – let’s get on with brood-meddling now’.
Alex M – ‘I cannot agree that RSPB should welcome the action plan. Please excuse my scepticism in my comments below, because I am not happy at the RSPB welcome. Why does the RSPB say it’s not perfect, but welcome the actions?‘
Prasad – ‘I really don’t believe the RSPB are pushing hard enough on this. There used to Action Pages in the RSPB magazine. What happened? The RSPB is fantastic but needs to grow some cojones and have some trust in its members’
Ian Whitaker – ‘Welcome is hardly a term I would use in respect of this plan.’
James C – ‘Martin. You have got nothing for your efforts, absolutely nothing. Licensing? Vicarious responsibility? Anything, anything at all? Why are you celebrating business as usual? Correction business as usual plus the prospect of legalised nest theft. Martin can you please try and justify how you have been spending your time?‘
And then last week, the RSPB made a statement on Hen Harrier numbers which was vague (and we don’t buy the excuse that saying how many Hen Harrier nesting attempts have occurred so far this year in England might lead otherwise unsighted people to find any remaining nests and dispose of them!) and bent over backwards to praise the Moorland Association for saying that crime was bad! The same statement said that the RSPB ‘also remain committed to Defra’s hen harrier action plan‘ which makes it sound as though after an early breeding season which takes things backwards, the RSPB is even keener on the hopeless Defra plan than ever before! That can’t be how the RSPB really feels – so why say so?
And so that statement went down very badly too, although not with the Chief Exec of Songbird Survival ‘Interesting and balanced account Martin‘ nor with self-styled neutral Rob Yorke ‘While not diverting from the persecution issue, which I acknowledge in full, ‘indirect human interference’ does not help when over zealous ‘ownership’ from those watching birds may inadvertently disturb nesting harriers.‘ but was received less well by some others:
Avenue Wild – ‘I am angry, where is the RSPB’s backbone? If it’s not obvious to you by now that the Grouse Shooting industry is taking you for a ride then you should resign! It seems there has been one big push from Grouse Moors to get rid of Hen Harriers before a recovery could start. No HH no problem to sort? I always said I would not cancel my membership but boy am I getting close. I will expect a letter any day now asking for my hard earned cash for a reintroduction programme. Grow a pair and do what needs doing before we lose HH, on your watch!!!!‘.
James C – ‘Roll over RSPB, The National Trust (astonishingly) takes the lead; raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/…/national-trust-pulls-grouse-shooting-lease-in-peak-district-national-park‘
Liam G-773377793 – ‘At what point will you accept that your approach isn’t working? Will there be any Hen Harriers left by then?‘
Mike Whitehouse – ‘I am sure you have checked out the comments on Mark Avery’s blog and that of Raptor Persecution UK. Neither you nor the RSPB are attracting a sympathetic press to say the least…I am sorry to have to say this but it is clear that you are losing the support of your own membership.‘
Enough perhaps! But there is a little more as in the last couple of days the North of England Raptor Forum has published this strongly-worded blog criticising the RSPB position and Birders Against Wildlife Crime have done something similar too. These are natural supporters of the RSPB, as am I, who are losing patience with what they see as the RSPB’s inadequate public statements on people killing birds of prey illegally. And by the way, in case you didn’t notice, BAWC have previously been neutral on the proposition of a ban on driven grouse shooting but now have come down firmly in favour of it – that is, reading their blog, partly a consequence of a loss of faith in the RSPB position on the subject.
Time to consult Shania Twain I guess (whom I stumbled across when googling some song lyrics – honest! I’m not a big fan)!
The thing is that we’re all Holding on to Love for you (to save Hen Harriers’ lives) but at the moment what you are doing Don’t Impress us Much! RSPB, You’re Still the One but Don’t Be Stupid (You Know we Love You). When you give it some proper thought you might want to Come On Over and support the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting – but don’t leave it too late, please. And when Teresa Dent or Amanda Anderson are giving you the eye just remember that If You Wanna touch Her, Ask! and we’ll probably say No! You’ve Got Away and From This Moment On you need to come home to your true supporters because, Honey, they’re Home and never went away.
Shania has a few more words of wisdom for the RSPB to end this blog but in a completely serious vein, it is clear that some of the RSPB’s supporters are getting very irritated with the Society’s public statements on raptor persecution. And I am sure that the RSPB is getting irritated by…let’s call them ‘us’ too. RSPB won’t have liked the NERF blog (of that we can be sure), won’t appreciate the BAWC blog, won’t like some of my blogs, won’t be happy with some Raptor Persecution UK blogs and won’t be pleased with the comments they are getting from their own members. We should not fall out more than we have so far – which isn’t very far, but the irritation levels are rising everywhere.
We should have a more unified position but I have to point out that the RSPB rejected that possibility when I came to see them in February to ask whether we could agree a new e-petition which would raise the issue of driven grouse shooting in a way that left open the range of possible solutions (banning, licensing etc). The RSPB rejected that possibility and now faces the situation where well over 40,000 people support a policy position that the RSPB does not support and that figure is certain to pass 50,000, likely to pass 60,000 , might well pass 70,000, could pass 80,000 and might just conceivably pass 100,000 signatures without any RSPB support at all.
We need to to hear much more from the RSPB on the outcome of the Hen Harrier breeding season on Hen Harrier Day not in September. And if the Hen Harrier breeding season continues to be as bad as it looks at the moment we need to see the RSPB clearly setting out a position which isn’t showing massive enthusiasm for the Defra moorland owners’ plan.
The RSPB Council needs to recognise that being nice to grouse shooters will get the RSPB nowhere at all on the Hen Harrier issue (as this year’s initial breeding season update demonstrates) and sucking up to Defra won’t get the RSPB or the Hen Harrier very far either. Doing those things though will further alienate what is your core support and your partners. It’s still in Council’s hands to give the RSPB position a tweak – and they should, before more damage is done. Shania Twain would tell them that if you Dance With The One That Brought You then You Can’t Go Wrong.
The Moorland Association is the trade union for moorland owners and managers in England.
Its membership must include most of the people from whose land 300+ pairs of Hen Harriers are missing because of illegal persecution. They must all have sleepless nights over this (particularly with more and more Hen Harriers being satellite tagged).
The Moorland Association is finding it increasingly difficult to look remotely sensible in the eyes of the public as its public statements have become increasingly evasive and bizarre.
When a man was seen taking his model Hen Harrier for a walk in the Peak District National Park the Moorland Association said, in an Arsene Wenger-like way, ‘From the clip, it is very difficult to make out any detail at all, either of a person or a decoy.‘ when the rest of the world had no difficulty at all. This led those wags at Raptor Persecution UK to post this unkind, hurtful and mildly amusing post! Tut, tut lads! Play nicely.
At the same time the Moorland Association tried to cast doubt on the veracity of the film clip by using the word ‘alleged’ and ‘allegedly’ when referring to it and came out with a corker in saying ‘Making judgements based on assumptions of the content of this clip, or indeed the intentions of those who have produced it, would be pure supposition and not something we are going to enter into‘, thus being snide about some members of the public who quite rightly reported suspicious behaviour to the police.
Luckily, we now know that the NT is more clear-sighted than the Moorland Association (not very difficult, perhaps – see here and here). The recent news that NT are ending their relationship with Mark Osborne in the Peak District gave the Moorland Association the chance to say something sensible and what they said was:
‘The Moorland Association is very sad that the National Trust has taken the decision to terminate a sporting lease early. This is the result of a breakdown in confidence in the current tenant’s commitment to the delivery of NT’s Vision and will take effect in April 2018.
We are, however, delighted that the NT has recognised the importance of grouse shooting to help deliver its High Peak Vision and is putting in place a new shooting tenant in order to deliver this.
The MA will do all it can to help this process.‘
The Moorland Association didn’t explain why it was sad, nor did it say whether the terminated tenant in question was a Moorland Association member or funder. And this appeared under a headline ‘NT supports grouse shooting on its land‘ which is spin of the highest order (and least effectiveness).
As others have pointed out, the Moorland Association also misrepresented the National Trust by omitting the last para which is ‘We remain committed to the High Peak Moors Vision. As with all our conservation aims, we review and evaluate progress periodically. When considering renewals of individual shooting leases in future we will take into careful account the extent to which our objectives have been met, in particular relating to increasing raptor populations.’ This paragraph has now been added to the Moorland Association website but you can see why it makes uncomfortable reading for an organisation of grouse moor managers.
And the NT didn’t remotely support grouse shooting, in fact it seems as though they may be coming to the end of their tether about it, and did not say they would bring in another shooting tenant. They said they would ‘be happy to receive applications from partners who can demonstrate how moorland management and shooting can deliver great nature conservation in a way that is compatible with public access‘ in the same way that they might have said they would ‘be happy to receive applications from partners who can demonstrate how moorland management and Morris dancing can deliver great nature conservation in a way that is compatible with public access‘ – it doesn’t mean that that is what is going to happen, does it? People with vacancies often welcome applications for them.
So, the Moorland Association’s comment on the NT action (Hooray for the NT again!) had a misleading headline, missed out an important part of the statement, put words in the NT mouth and was strangely sad about things. How can you take this lot the least bit seriously?
And only recently the Moorland Association were forced to make a statement on the pole traps found on an estate in the Yorkshire Dales NP – a crime committed by the employee of one of the Moorland Association’s members, the van Cutsem family, on the Mossdale Estate. The Moorland Association couldn’t see ( they never can, can they?) how their member would have known about this offence nor how the head gamekeeper could have known about it and therefore took no action such as depriving the estate of its Moorland Association membership. How can you take this lot the least bit seriously?
Defra, however, seem to regard the Moorland Association as a player in the Hen Harrier game – some of their members seem more akin to the hooligan element to me. The Moorland Association were members of the ill-fated Hen Harrier group that came up with a plan for moorland owners that masqueraded as a Hen Harrier plan – what a surprise! It’s fair enough to put the people causing the problems in a room with those who want to solve them but the outcome was not good for Hen Harriers.
It seems odd that with their poor eyesight and sadness the Moorland Association is still a part of the Peak District raptor forum – in fact it seems odd to me that anyone is as it has so far delivered precisely nothing at all.
And also bizarrely, the Moorland Association (and the Countryside Alliance, and the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation) are on the Defra (And Welsh government?) Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group. Surely an organisation with such poor eyesight, and which is going through a tough time of deep sadness, should be spared being a member of this group. Although I see that the group hasn’t reported for years and doesn’t seem to do anything at all. Surely, this is some real red tape and bureaucracy that Defra has failed to excise from its work?
Maybe the Moorland Association should spend more of its time finding the bad apples within its own barrel and dealing with them. Since the Moorland Association is blinded with tears of sadness and has pretty dim vision at the best of times, here is a helpful guide for them to find a bad apple (the said apple might be wearing tweed, too).
PS – it’s the one on the left Amanda, though the one in the middle looks a bit dodgy, and I wouldn’t be too sure about the one on the right either (look round the back just to be sure).
PPS – please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting so that the Moorland Association can see clearly how popular their activities are.
Readers of this blog may well be up to date with many aspects of the NT’s decision to terminate a shooting let through the excellent Raptor Persecution UK blog or through Martin Harper’s blog. In essence, the NT has terminated Mark Osborne’s relationship with them on this land because NT did not have confidence that Mr Osborne was working towards the same vision for the area as their own. The NT are looking for tenants who can progress that vision including increasing the raptor populations.
Well, well, well!
It would be unwise to speculate on exactly how the two parties fell out but the NT seem very keen on seeing more raptors and they seem less keen on seeing Mr Osborne managing their land.
The NT has a very good and fairly clear vision for their landholding in the High Peak area of the Peak District National Park, and it is a vision which this blog has supported throughout (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here here) even to the extent of encouraging you, dear readers, to write to the NT when it consulted on that vision. Inglorious praises the NT High Peak vision (pp161-3) and the current Director General of the NT, Dame Helen Ghosh, for standing up for it in a meeting in Penrith in 2014 (185), as well as signalling its potential importance in Chapter 6 (p260).
The NT High Peak vision is a pretty good blueprint for the future of many of our uplands but it is not very close to the state of affairs required for driven grouse shooting. It is very good to see the NT sticking to its guns and requiring its tenants to deliver that vision rather than do their own thing. Well done NT! We knew you had it in you but we were wondering whether it was ever going to come out!
But you can be quite sure that the NT came under considerable pressure from the shooting industry behind the scenes, and sometimes in public, over this vision. That pressure will have been counteracted to a large extent by the focus put on NT activities in this area by this blog and that of Raptor Persecution UK (and no doubt by behind the scenes support by other conservation charities). The NT knew that it was under considerable scrutiny and it seems to have been determined to deliver its far-sighted vision whether the shooters wanted it or not. Anyone who has ‘liked’ my blogs on this subject, commented favourably on them, written to encourage the NT or taken to social media to highlight what NT should do can take satisfaction, and some pride, in this small step in the right direction. The NT is accountable to us – not to the shooting industry.
So, well done NT!
The importance of this move is that it might make others more determined to follow suit and we might see a domino effect. Despite the fact that NT say they will consider a shooting tenant they don’t have to choose another shooter, and if they do, then it doesn’t have to be one who wants to carry out driven grouse shooting – it could be a walked-up shoot. It is even feasible that you and I, and others clubbing together, could buy the shooting rights and then not exercise them. I wonder how the NT would react to such a suggestion? Mind you, I wouldn’t want to pay too much for them.
I’ve written before about how the Peak District could be, and should be, a fulcrum for change. If we could end driven grouse shooting here than we would have a comparison with other sites. When the landscape, wildlife and people didn’t go to hell in a handcart, in fact when they prospered, it would undermine the flawed arguments of the grouse moor industry very effectively. What the NT has done appears to be a small step, but an important step, in the right direction. I know of one reader of this blog who will be very pleased and she won’t be the only one.
Let’s hear it for the falling domino, the NT!
There is more to say about this matter, and about the players in this game, so I will be blogging over the weekend (that’ll teach me to be away from a computer for a couple of days!).
Please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting to send a strong signal that you would like to see all landowners taking firm action against the damaging sport of driven grouse shooting.
That NT statement:
The National Trust has given notice that the current shooting leases at Hope Woodlands and Park Hall in Derbyshire will end in April 2018.
The charity said it had taken the decision to exercise a break clause in the lease to end the relationship four years early.
Andy Beer, National Trust’s Director for the Midlands, said:
“We have a clear vision for land management and wildlife restoration on the High Peak Moors, which was developed in full consultation with our tenants and other key stakeholders.
All our tenants have signed up to deliver to the vision and understand their responsibilities. We work very closely with our tenants and support, consult and discuss any issues relating to the plan on a regular basis.
However, in this case we have decided, after a meeting with the tenant, that we should revoke the lease four years early as it became clear that we could no longer have confidence that they were committed to the delivery of our vision for the land.
We have given the tenant 22 months’ notice and will start the process of looking for a replacement in 2017, when we will be happy to receive applications from partners who can demonstrate how moorland management and shooting can deliver great nature conservation in a way that is compatible with public access.
We remain committed to the High Peak Moors Vision. As with all our conservation aims, we review and evaluate progress periodically. When considering renewals of individual shooting leases in future we will take into careful account the extent to which our objectives have been me, in particular relating to increasing raptor populations.”
Any further contributions would be very welcome – and it is likely that I will pass the hat around again later in the summer as we race towards the finishing line of 20 September. We aren’t, remember, even half way through our time yet.
Your generous contributions will be spent on promoting the e-petition through Facebook, some videos, posters and leaflets. There are still lots of people out there who know nothing at all about our cause but who would happily sign up to it. Finding those people is the key to getting closer and closer to that 100,000 total.
Thank you again for all the ways that you have helped us get so far so fast.
And by that I mean that two years ago the idea that driven grouse shooting was incapable of being reformed and should simply be banned was entirely novel – now it’s the focus of a growing movement. Thank you again for being part of that movement. It’s fun isn’t it? And it’s important too. And the message is spreading.
I was on the road yesterday afternoon when an interesting and important story broke. And I’m still on the road.
But I believe a team of people at Raptor Persecution UK has been working through the night to keep you up to date.
So go have a look at their blog and I will be back with a considered comment this evening – timing dependent on traffic!
Mark my words, there will be some more coming soon too.
I’ve signed it (even though there are a couple of mistakes in it). You could too.
Another milestone reached.
Many thanks to all who have signed and supported, and huge thanks to Stewart Abbott for the thunderclap yesterday which is giving signatures a boost and pushed us over the 41,000 mark. Also a big ‘THANKS!’ to Natalie Bennett who joined that thunderclap and swelled its social reach.
The West Country continues to be an area of strong support with Bath and Taunton Deane (both CON seats) both joining the list of constituencies with 100+ signatures yesterday.
Zac Goldsmith’s seat of Richmond Park has been stuck on 99 signatures for a few days but looks poised to be the first London constituency to join the ‘100 Club’ any time now.
I was travelling around yesterday and passed through constituencies with over 100 signatures and under 30 signatures – and everywhere in between in a long day of travel.
Maybe I will see you this evening in the Museum of Natural History in Oxford where I’ll be talking about the conservation and wider environmental issues surrounding driven grouse shooting and how you can help by signing this e-petition to get a debate on the future of our uplands.
CIEEM asked its members for their views on matters relating to the UK’s membership of the EU and the potential impacts of leaving on the natural environment and the sector. The results of the survey showed 93% of members supported the UK staying in the EU.
That’s not a close call – it’s a landslide from professional environmentalists (right or wrong).
If you all turn to p273 of your copies of Inglorious then you will find an exhortation from me to use social media in our campaign to ban driven grouse shooting.
Written in January 2015 it lists the Twitter followers of the following organisations and individuals. Here are what they were then and what they are now:
Moorland Association @moorlandassoc 291; 462
GWCT @gameandwildlife 5,500; 9,655
BASC @bascnews 10,500; 14,300
Countryside Alliance @caupdates 10,500; 20,600
Me @markavery 19,200; 26,700
Chris Packham @chrisgpackham 117,000; 159,000
RSPB @natures_voice 145,000; 230,000