Well done RSPB!
In my Birdwatch column, the political birder, for March I wrote about the e-petition started by Chrissie Harper which asks for the law in England to be brought into line with those in Scotland in respect of vicarious liability for wildlife offences.
Vicarious liability is an unfamiliar phrase for those of us who are not legally trained but it means that employers, such as landowners, would share the responsibility with their employees, such as gamekeepers, if the employees broke wildlife laws in the course of their work. Similar responsibility exists for things like health and safety so it’s hardly a new idea without any precedent.
It is my opinion that we need such a tweak to the legal system to recognise that the poor old gamekeeper, dependent on the landowner for his wages, house and livelihood, may be the person who pulls the trigger or puts out the poison but it is the landowner who often requires these deeds to be done. Of course, there is nothing in writing, it’s not in the keeper’s contract but that’s hardly surprising since we are talking about crimes.
All praise to Chrissie Harper, who is quite a character, for kicking off the e-petition and a further ‘well done’ to the Hawk and Owl Trust for their strong support.
There have been murmerings and rumblings about what the RSPB is doing on this subject so I was pleased to be able to report in my Birdwatch column that the RSPB were fully behind the e-petition. Martin Harper, the RSPB Conservation Director told me that ‘the RSPB fully supports the petition‘ that the RSPB ‘do plan to promote (it) to our members‘ and that the RSPB ‘hope and expect to exceed the 100,000 threshold to trigger a parliamentary debate‘.
Well done RSPB! And all that is very good news as the e-petition is currently hovering at around 8000 signatures, despite Chrissie’s very good work, and so it stands 92,000 short of that magical 100,000 figure. It’s good that the RSPB has nailed its colours to the bird of prey mast – hardly surprising though – but it will require a good deal of effort to get that figure across the 100,000 finishing line by November this year. So, please do sign the e-petition here and now so that the RSPB has a smaller task in the future.
It’s perhaps not surprising, although it is very disappointing, that the biodiversity minister, Richard Benyon, himself a landowner with a gamekeeper, is not keen on vicarious liability. As I say, it is disappointing as I’m sure Richard himself and his keeper have nothing to fear, but it looks a little as though he is defending his fellow landowners from his Ministerial position.
When the Minister was asked about this subject in the House of Commons by Labour’s Angela Smith MP, who knows a thing or two about raptor persecution as she has some of the Peak District in her constituency, Mr Benyon said ‘this is also a good opportunity to applaud gamekeepers for the wonderful work they do in providing excellent biodiversity across our countryside.’.
It is notable that two out of four current Defra ministers, Mr Benyon and James Paice, are former trustees of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. The GWCT itself has an impeccable record of speaking out against illegal persecution of birds of prey and yet scattered among its many supporters and funders I’d be very surprised if you didn’t find some who loathe birds of prey and a few who take that loathing as far as illegal activity.
So we might struggle to find keen supporters of vicarious liability for wildlife crimes amongst the landowners of the hunting, shooting and fishing sector of the Tory party. If there are any large landowners out there who support this legal change then do, please, make yourselves known and I will shout your praises from this blog.
What then, of the Labour Party? If the landed toffs are a bit reticent about a legal change that might, just might, see some of their mates facing questions in court then where is the working man’s and woman’s party on this subject? Surely the working class gamekeeper should not take all the blame when carrying out the orders of his rich employer? I’ll try to find out and let you know.
Please sign this e-petition and get your friends to sign up too.
The week ahead!
This week is the week of the Cheltenham Festival so I have lined up some Guest Blogs to help see us through the week. It’s a bit like Roman Abramovich has ‘guest’ Chelsea managers for a day or so (without the money, glamour or football).
Tuesday – as every little helps with a week of racing you can read Matt Williams’s thoughts on the RSPB/TESCO relationship.
Wednesday – Andrew Lucas writes about climate change and travel to see wildlife
Thursday – is Ladies’ day at Cheltenham and here too, and that’s a bit of an issue according to Sue Walker
Friday – I may be running out of money and energy at the races but Leo Fisher will be writing about renewable energy here.
Enjoy – and wish me ‘luck’!