The RSPB’s annual report on people being nasty to birds for 2011 is now published. It tells the usual sorry tale of wildlife crime illustrated with depressing images of trapped, poisoned and shot birds.
The report highlights the Law Commission’s review of species legislation as the golden opportunity to improve protection for birds of prey and other wildlife – and so it is.
In the RSPB’s 13 point (unlucky for some?) manifesto for change the first recommendation is that there should be an offence of vicarious liability which would mean that those ultimately responsible for wildlife crime would be held responsible.
This is what the RSPB report says:
‘There is strong evidence of a link between raptor persecution and land managed for driven grouse shooting in the uplands of England and parts of Scotland. We believe the widespread and systematic nature of this activity classifies it as serious and organised crime. The current level of convictions and available penalties carry little deterrent value, partly because the law does not target those who encourage or require their employees to break the law by killing birds of prey.
An offence of “vicarious liability” was introduced in Scotland in 2011. This imposes criminal liability on persons where their employee or agent or contractor commits an offence, unless they can show they were unaware of the offence and had exercised due diligence. The RSPB believes it essential that those ultimately responsible for enterprises where raptor persecution can be proven to have taken place be made accountable.’
Quite right too. But reading that will make many wonder why the RSPB has not yet thrown its weight behind the epetition on this subject which was set up by the passionate and quirky Chrissie Harper. Comments have already been made on the Raptor Politics website, here, on Martin Harper’s blog, and I’ve heard it mentioned elsewhere too, questioning the RSPB’s lack of significant action on this subject over the last year. It’s not quite too late – or maybe it is – the epetition closes in five weeks time.
I checked with the RSPB back in January whether it was going to put significant effort into supporting this epetition and was assured that it would. That was why, and was the only reason why, I wrote in my Birdwatch column, ‘the political birder‘, back in March:
‘The e-petition has already reached 6000 signatures but clearly has a long way to go to. Some have criticised the RSPB for being a bit slow and appearing luke-warm about this issue but when I spoke to Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Conservation Director, he assured me that the RSPB fully supports Chrissie’s e-petition, plans to promote it to the RSPB membership and hopes and expects the 100,000 figure to be reached.’
Well, it hasn’t happened yet. And that’s a shame.
It’s a shame because if the epetition were approaching 100,000 signatures now, instead of sitting in the 10,000s, that would be a fantastic springboard for the RSPB’s submissions to the Law Commission. It would demonstrate popular support for a bunch of dull-sounding (but vitally important) legal reforms.
And it’s a shame because it makes the RSPB look as though it doesn’t care that much about this issue (which I know it does – it cares passionately) or worse, it looks as though it wouldn’t support the call for vicarious liability because it came from the grassroots rather than from itself (which I am sure isn’t true either).
It’s a shame. It’s not a disaster, but it is a shame. It’s not a disaster because vicarious liability will come eventually, I am sure. And it’s not a disaster because vicarious liability is not a silver bullet, it is only one of the (non-toxic, maybe bismuth) pellets in a cartridge of many other projectiles which need to hit their target.
So where do we go from here? I hope that all readers of this blog will support the RSPB’s manifesto for change on wildlife law and respond to the Law Commission’s consultation. I haven’t yet but I will – and I will use the RSPB Birdcrime 2011 report as my basis for doing that.