Actions speak louder than words

Have you seen the RSPB’s latest Birdcrime publication which came out in December? It’s beautifully produced and has a lot of sense in it. Here are some quotes from Martin Harper’s introduction.

‘Persecution is so common and widespread that it is the most important factor limiting populations of some treasured and iconic species,including hen harriers, golden eagles, peregrines and, in some areas,goshawks and red kites. This is a stain on the conscience of our country.

‘Actions speak louder than words.

‘In 2013, no hen harriers bred successfully in England for the first time since the 1960s. These spectacular birds have been virtually lost from the English uplands, despite enough habitat to support more than 300 pairs. They are also absent from vast swathes of suitable habitat in southern and eastern Scotland. Concerted action to restore hen harriers to their former upland haunts is long overdue.

‘In Scotland, we have seen welcome progress. We think that it is right for estate owners to be held responsible for the actions of their staff who commit wildlife crimes. Vicarious liability has been introduced here, and we believe it may be acting as a deterrent, reducing poisoning incidents. With these initial positive signs, it’s doubly disappointing that similar measures have not been introduced elsewhere.’

‘Governments across the UK must demonstrate real commitment and action to tackling illegal persecution, not just in words, but through actions.

‘The once-in-a-generation opportunity we highlighted in Birdcrime 2011 to consign illegal persecution of birds of prey to the pages of history is slipping away. Actions speak louder than words. The time for decisive action is now.’


And this is a quote from page 30:

‘The RSPB believes that an option to withdraw the “right” of an individual to shoot game, or businesses to supply shooting services, for a fixed period following conviction for a wildlife or environmental offence, should be considered. The Law Commission is currently drafting revised wildlife legislation for England and Wales. It has proposed a form of regulation of hunting by means of licences. This is a step that the Governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland should also be considering.’

That all makes a lot of sense to me.

I also notice that the Scottish Raptor Study Groups are calling for licensing of grouse shooting in Scotland in line with the RSPB’s views.

Also in line with the RSPB’s views is John Armitage’s e-petition on the Downing Street website which is gaining a new lease of life as it enters the final month.  In two days it has gained 270 signatures and it stands a chance of gaining the 10,000 signatures which require a response from government.

Please sign it, because, as the RSPB says, ‘Actions speak louder than words’.

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39 Replies to “Actions speak louder than words”

  1. Can we not see a sheet with the full tax return from these Red Grouse moors? For instance did Mr p join a syndicate as part of his tax return and did Mr j pay for his shooting as part of his corporate days out? Why did the tax payer have to sub that new road into the moor and what about all that draining that caused the flood in the local village! When the public know they are fisically paying for these moors like with stewardship then more people will be able to get involved in stopping the killing of birds of prey which could bring money into a community in a different way.

    1. I would also like to see what level of subsidies from the taxpayer goes to these landowners. Do thy receive large sums of cash?
      The papers today are mentioning a newspaper owner (I think he is) getting substantial sums!

      1. Mark W - yes upland landowners will get agricultural payments in much the same way that other land owners can. They won't be that high per hectare in the uplands. So, yes, your taxes may be going to a landowner whose gamekeeper kills birds of prey illegally - but then again, they may not!

    2. On the subject of raptor protection, the Barn Owl Trust has initiated another petition - this one about control and labelling of rodenticides - which is also worthy of your attention and signature.

  2. The forward and manifesto for change make it seem from rspb that Vicarious Liability is essential in England.
    Did they really think that doing nothing to help Chrissie's petition was going to achieve this.
    rspb you have completely failed the H H and really find it difficult how you can make out you really do care
    You missed a great chance thinking that you had Governments ear and they would bring it in without any pressure.
    At the best you intellectuals are very naive and have completely failed Hen Harriers and at worst well words fail me.

    1. Dennis - I find it difficult to disagree with you. I want to think up a good reason why the RSPB has been so quiet on this subject - but for the life of me I can't.

    2. RSPB don't seem to agree with these epetitions and often "damn them with faint praise".

      I have become so disillusioned by their apparent lack of true resolve regarding bird of prey persecution that I have resigned as a member of RSPB but have made a donation in excess of my membership fee to their BoP Protection Appeal; I will continue to support them in this way and by (happily) paying my entrance fee when I visit their reserves.

      I notice John Armitage's excellent petition is presently featuring on BirdForum and no doubt gaining some excellent support there.

      1. These criticisms of the RSPB are fair comment. However, they ignore the fact that much of the Birdcrime report is made up of examples of raptor persecution incidents and the perpetrators being brought to justice. The recording and publishing of these crimes and the detective work required to bring prosecutions is largely down to the work of the RSPB’s Investigations Unit. Without this effort, it is unlikely that these crimes would be brought to light or justice properly served.

        1. Bushshrike - you are right. The Investigations team does a very good job - and a difficult one.

          I think that some of the criticisms here are to do with two things - a an apparent lack of passion and conviction from the RSPB generally on this subject and a lack of enthusiasm to find a policy solution to solve the issue (which is difficult - tell me about it!). If you don't offer people hope of a solution, and you don't appear to be sharing their anger then they begin to drift away.

  3. In response to Dennis' comment VL is a draconian step, BUT the right step i.m.o, perhaps the rspb were thinking at the time of the e-petition for VL it would do more harm then good, put yourself into the mind of these individuals/shoots, if you thought a new law would see you prosecuted would it not create an "open season" on the rest of the HH population before the law came into effect? Perhaps now the situation is so severe and the number of complaints why the rspb hadn't backed the VL pertition which has made the rspb adopt VL? Perhaps they did listen to you Dennis...perhaps.
    However I still feel it's not enough, for example where the rspb talk about periods of bans for those found guilty etc why not enforce the current law, for example to own a gun in this country you need a liscense so those who have been found guilty of commiting a crime with a gun shouldn't be allowed a gun under the current legislation so why isn't it enforced.
    Lets at the same time take a leaf out of our Americans cousins and put a price on the birds of prey. If anyone is found guilty of killing/shooting/trapping/poisoning ANY bird of prey they are fined £20,000 (or perhaps a years salary for a gamekeeper) also make it a mandatory prison sentence too, this might deter most if not all those who see it fit to persecute raptors and owls. After all given the current sentences handed down to those found guilty is hardly a deterent if anything a prosecuted gamekeeper may find it easier to find work with shoots who don't want raptors.

    1. GRIZZLYBEAR - welcome! Since the RSPB was the main organisation pushing, successfully (hooray!), for VL in Scotland it just seems odd that my former employer baulked at asking strongly for it in England. The RSPB clearly wants and supports VL - as Birdcrime shows - but wouldn't join with others to call for it. Now the RSPB wants licensing of grouse moors, it seems - but won't join with others, or involve their members, to call for it. I am confused - or is it them?

      1. I too am confused by the differing messages I get from various blogs.

        Mark, have a look at your blog of12th March 2012. I seem to have been encouraged by the RSPB to sign petitions concerning this for a couple of years.

        Here is a quote from the RSPB website:

        Martin Harper is the RSPB’s conservation director. Commenting on the Government’s announcement, he said: “Every year threatened species are killed illegally, putting some species at a great risk. Despite ministerial assurances that tackling wildlife crime is a ‘core priority’ and the Government being given a clear roadmap by a group of MPs on how to tackle wildlife crime, Ministers have ignored these recommendations.

        “The Government’s rejection of even simple wildlife crime measures at this crucial time displays a worrying lack of commitment to tackle this significant conservation issue.”

        In October last year, the Environmental Audit Committee, under the chair of Joan Walley MP, investigated wildlife crime and made recommendations, including:

        · Securing long-term funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit;

        · Tightening up controls on poisons used to kill birds of prey, allowing offences of possession to be linked to tougher sentences.

        Martin Harper said: “We’re also very disappointed by the Government’s response to introducing vicarious liability legislation, which would allow landowners to be prosecuted for crimes committed by their employees and make a real difference to tackling bird of prey persecution.”

        The Association of Chief Police Officers supported vicarious liability in its evidence to the Committee, and the Law Commission is considering the merits of such an approach in England and Wales.

        Martin Harper added: “We urge Ministers to give careful thought to the Law Commission’s forthcoming recommendations on reforming and strengthening wildlife laws in England and Wales.”

        The protection of birds of prey is one of six, nationally-agreed wildlife crime priorities. In the UK: illegal persecution is known to affect the conservation status of both the golden eagle and the hen harrier. Last year in England, just one pair of hen harrier nested successfully: there is space in England for at least 330 pairs.

        Martin Harper added: “The Government has committed to avoid any human-induced extinction of species before 2020 – losing the hen harrier as a breeding bird from England would see it fail to keep that promise.”

        I signed Chrissie Harper's petition but I took some time to decide as I thought it lacked something in the presentation.

        1. Richard - yes, the RSPB said that they were going to promote Chrissie Harper's e-petition and then didn't with any enthusiasm at all. Therefore, it reached 10000 signatures but no more (which is still far, far better than most such e-petitions). It looks like something similar will happen with this e-petition too. I am perplexed. Actions, or their lack, speak louder than words.

      2. I feel that this approach is probably not the one to spend time on. Employers are already vicariously liable, under the 'respondeat superior doctrine' and under the common law principle of "qui facit per alium facit per se" (one who acts through another acts in one's own interests). This is a parallel concept to vicarious liability and strict liability, in which one person is held liable in criminal law for the acts or omissions of another.

        I would suggest of more importance: supporting those involved in finding a workable HH/red grouse conflict though (a) encouraging them to stay at the table and (b) give them the freedom to find a workable solution. Now that would produce a real game changer. Let's go for the maximum action - assuming we all want a resolution?

        1. Andrew - thank you.

          Let's all stay at the table wears a bit thin once the table becomes antique! And particularly when numbers of Hen Harriers decline rather than increase while the chatting goes on. That demonstrates no sign of goodwill from the shooting community.

          How about everyone sticking to the law while the negotiations go on?

          The lack of Hen Harriers on English moorlands is due to widespread illegal activity - it's time for the criminals to prove they can be trusted. Can they?

          1. Mark, you have perfectly illustrated my point. Obviously everyone should obey the law. I feel this is a deviation. The real question so many are keen to dodge - would the HH population be on the increase if the last resolution HH process not been collapsed by those that walked away? In my opinion, yes. Perhaps it is time to move on and this time give the resolution process full support.

          2. Andrew - that's hardly the real question. The real question is can shooting clean up its act? And, does it actually want to do so? Because if it wants to, then it has been terribly unsuccessful so far. So maybe it doesn't want to. How would you suggest that we tell the difference? Is the shooting community ineffectual or disingenuous? And have you stopped beating your wives too 😉

        2. Well said that man. The talking must continue if a solution is to be found, otherwise illegal persecution will likely continue and we will be no further forward. Moreover, if some interlocutors around the table become jaded, or disillusioned, then change the guard! There is always scope for fresh ideas, faces and fresh determination/enthusiasm when attempting to resolve seemingly intractable issues. In the meantime, continue to bear down on miscreants. The CPS, Procurator Fiscal, judges, sheriffs and magistrates have suitable tariffs at their disposal, and modern surveillance & tracking technology is now cheap enough to deploy widely. If utilised properly, the consequent deterrent and detection rates should be significant.

          The Langholm Project threw up various ideas (eg diversionary feeding, quotas and translocation) and SNH have produced some good thoughts on conflict resolution Why not throw collective weight and resources behind a translocation trial of young HH to south western moors where the potential for conflict is undoubtedly lower and the scope for their protection is higher (eg on restricted military training areas such as those on Dartmoor)? Such a population could then form the basis for regenerating the UK stock.

          On VL, there is effectively a UK 'pilot' scheme going on in Scotland - where the bulk of the UK population breeds. If it is as effective as its proponents hope, then I imagine we can expect an imminent improvement in the Scottish (and subsequently the UK) HH population. If not, then it is clearly not the panacea it is thought to be.

          Finally, anyone know why the Manx HH population is declining?

  4. On the theme of actions speak louder than words I'd like to suggest each of us get hold of a copy of the Birdcrime report, make an appointment to see our MP at their constituency surgery, go armed with it and ask them what they will do to push the govt. to implement the EAC and Law Commission recommendations. Say we'd like them to write to the Sec of State, will be back in a month for an update and leave them with Martin Harper's words about "a stain on the conscience of our country" ringing in their ears. I'm up for it if you are folks - well??

  5. I am a bit at odds with others in relation to Vicarious Liability. I am also slightly sceptical about the validity of E-petitions, given that the Govt withdrew them and then re-created them as their own idea. The badger petition achieved 300,000 which resulted in a parliamentary debate where the outcome was that parliament were opposed to a cull but the Govt went ahead anyway.

    It would be interesting to know how many of these petitions actually resulted in some change.

    I have signed the licensing petition but not the VL one, believing that licensing is a good way forward but that VL as suggested is inappropriate as a criminal sanction and, I believe, unenforceable. The RSPB gave evidence backing VL as an option so they didn't ignore it, but the Law Commission decided against.

    Criminal VL to me is a bit like lending someone your car to do some work on your behalf. You make sure he has a licence and there is insurance in place but you don't expect to then receive a summons for driving at 100m.p.h on the motorway whilst you were actually sat watching your TV. To sum it up for Dennis it is also what could happen when a farmer goes on holiday and employs a herdsman for that time. You tell him everything he needs to know and on your return you get taken to court because he was caught shooting a buzzard eyeing up a lamb carcass. That is Vicarious Liability at its most ludicrous. There are other more suitable sanctions; including the licensing option or the withdrawal of firearms authority under current legislation.

    1. Bob - I'm glad you like the licensing e-petition.

      No, vicarious liability is more like making sure that the employee who uses your car for work is told to stick to the speed limit rather than being told that the quicker he (for let us imagine it is a 'he') gets round all the stops the better (thus encouragihn the poor guy to put his foot down).

      1. Mark, That is an interesting comment because a number of transport employers have been prosecuted for doing exactly that and if the landowner can be proved to do that, there is legislation already in place to deal with it under WCA. The concept of VL seems to be that unless you tell him not to do something that is outside his contract you will be liable. The VL petition also seemed to indicate it wanted the landowner to be liable even if there has been no evidence against the employee and that is bad justice under English law. Scottish law is more inclined towards a European style of evidence.

        There are many examples that could be put up here; for example, a carer who in any other respect does a good job but steals from the people he looks after. Should the care company be prosecuted for his personal misdemeanour simply because they haven't told him not to steal. As much as I dislike the persecution of birds of prey on any land, why aim a piece of legislation at one group of people and not at any other groups.

        The problem to me seems to be more about proving offences and not giving the authorities the green light and money to try and prove it. How can NWCU do anything without knowing what the budget is; hopefully it will end up in NCA and then it might have a chance.

        1. Couldn't agree more re. NWCU - it's long term future shouldn't still be uncertain a year after it was nearly abolished by inaction - a ridiculous situation. Come on HM govt., sort your s*** out and give it a stable footing as part of NCA, do it now!!

  6. Think there are more questions than answers.
    Did the Government suggest to rspb that they would bring in V L,if they did and rspb believed them it shows some naivety.
    Do the rspb get £11 million a year from Government and if so has this had a effect on this issue and in effect put the rspb in the Governments pocket.
    How can the rspb canvas more for the Badger petition than they did for H H petition when we probably have(a guess of course)100,000 breeding pairs for want of a better comparison of Badgers and zero breeding pairs of Hen Harriers.
    The biggest surprise is now that V L petition is closed they declare they want V L,it really beggars belief,talk about lunatics running the asylum.

  7. I like VL because it puts moor owners and their agents on the same footing as every other employer, responsible for an employees actions whilst at work.
    I think the time has come for licencing, the game lobby have shown they will not or cannot put their house in order, so quite simply government must. Remember its not a just a few or even a minority of moors that persecute given what has happened to Hen Harrier and the almost total failure of Peregrine nests on grouse moors, almost all or at it or benefit from it. Nearly every grouse moor in the Pennines is part of a SSSI, so gets HLS money, so yes we do pay them to manage land badly and kill protected raptors.
    As to keeping talking I was one of those that walked away after 6 years of fighting the obdurate resistance of MA, NGO and CA in particular, nothing had changed and nothing would have changed they are only ever offered carrots and not sign of a stick! They also almost certainly cannot deliver members are free to accept or reject their advice. We were told elsewhere by keepers we keep you talking whilst completing the cull!
    We had no real choice but to walk to keep our self respect and it was pleasant stopping banging my head on a wall. The grouse industry is rotten to the core so legislation for licencing is really the only choice they have left to sustain a long term future .

    1. Paul,

      If what Andrew Gilruth says above is correct, then moor owners and agents are already on the same legal footing as other employers. Why would it be otherwise? It is bad practice to invent new, possibly unworkable, laws - witness the hunting ban, handgun legislation etc - much better to simply enforce existing legislation rigorously.

      As to staying at the table, you were clearly one of the jaded and disillusioned who deserved and required a break. I reiterate that what is required in conflict resolution in those circumstances is to feed in fresh and enthusiastic representatives (in your case from whichever body you represented) who are willing and able to take the work forward. The various 'peace processes' and industrial disputes, both nationally and around the world, show what can be achieved by dogged determination to broker deals broadly acceptable to all stakeholders. It usually requires compromises on both sides of the divide. Those talks which collapse after walkouts invariably leave a trail of damage - human and otherwise - in their wake.

      I take it you reported those keepers who told you that "....we keep you talking whilst completing the cull...." to the police and other responsible authorities? Conflict resolution also often requires 'extremists' to be marginalised while 'moderates' make the running.

      1. Thanks for a couple of very sensible and refreshing posts, Keith. I'm rather surprised that Mark hasn't acknowledged them himself.

        For myself, I think some of the criticism of the RSPB here has been a little unfair. Like you I commend them for continuing to engage in the conflict resolution process. They are vital members of the Defra led stakeholders group which is trying to come up with a joint action plan to increase the number of harriers nationally, while ensuring the continuation of viable driven grouse moors and the broader economic and conservation benefits they deliver. That is surely a prize worth striving for, notwithstanding the genuine frustration of John Armitage and others about the current state of impasse.

        Without in any way prejudging what the stakeholders group might recommend, it may be that some kind of brood management scheme, together perhaps with some of the prescriptions derived from Langholm, could provide an answer. I am confident that moor owners would sign up to such an approach.

        1. Lazywell - both of Keith's points were addressed to others I believe!

          We'll have to see what the process comes up with. Will it increase the number of Hen Harriers? Are those negotiating able to restrain the criminal elements in the grouse shooting community, because, if not, then it won't come up with very much will it?

          And we'll have to see to what extent any agreement reached is acceptable to the wider ornithological community too, I guess.

          Interesting times.

  8. Hi Mark.
    I think it is tragic that currently an epetition calling for reduction of otter is getting more votes than licensing to protect (and we hope increase) birds of prey. That both petitions are paling into insignificance in comparison to people voting for the right to cheaper holidays leaves me dumbfounded.

  9. The dialogue process was extremely frustrating at times, but was always going to take some time. Such a process had to be completed and clearly shown to have either succeeded (workable solution and more harriers), or failed (clear indication to government to take off the kid gloves and not bother with further dialogue). Either of these outcomes would have been a good result. In my opinion, a number of the shooting groups (with one exception) had eventually started to show some commitment and after several years the talks were reaching their conclusion.

    At the eleventh hour RSPB dropped out, with Hawk & Owl Trust and the NERF following. The H&OT had not even spoken to their representative within the dialogue group, but based their exit purely on the RSPB's press statement. The H&OT rep even turned up to the last meeting completely unaware of his organisation's exit and had actually been a strong advocate of the process.

    Whilst completely understanding the frustration of the RSPB and NERF and not doubting their motives, what has been the result of their actions? A new dialogue process has been started chaired by DEFRA and the process started again. An additional month or two, after several years' effort, could have prevented this. I certainly know which stakeholders will have been happiest with further delays and prevarication.

    1. Rich - fair points. But the fact that Hen Harriers have fallen further in numbers, almost to being extirpated in England, hardly shows good faith on the side of the criminal elements. It would be good if those breaking the law showed some sign that they might stick to it in future.

      1. I agree - and wouldn't it have been great if the dialogue group had been allowed to reach such a consensus? Continuing illegal killing throughout the talks gave me greater motivation not to let any of the shooting bodies off the hook. I think it was a lost opportunity and doubt the shooting bodies would have acted with such a lack of coordination, as they appear to be more astute than theIr conservation counterparts.

        1. rich - as you know, that was after my time, but i can see that paying for a resolution process that had already lasted years might have seemed a waste of NGO money. The criminal elements have to demonstrate good will and earn respect.

  10. Rich,
    you may or may not be correct but from where we were sitting we had made little if any real progress. The only thing they were really interested in was brood management, something we believed should not be on the table until there was a viable population of harriers ( that is still our view) It seems perverse to be discussing brood management of harriers when their numbers in an area start to affect grouse numbers when to put it simply there aren't enough to make a difference anywhere. We also expected the other side to do this on a scientific basis ie based on the figures from Aberdeen's modelling not a figure based on their prejudice. As it is if what I hear of the proposals is correct there will still be difficulty , remember and you Lazywell, the 330 pairs figure is that based on a density that causes little or no grouse problem. Crucially there is still no bloody stick if it all fails.


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