Hi! Happy 60th anniversary of the Protection of Birds Act!
It must be around now that you are heading off to Conservation Committee to discuss the RSPB’s conservation work. And then, in July, there will be a Council meeting, I guess, unless things have changed a lot in the last three years (which maybe they have).
One of the more intractable issues on the RSPB’s conservation agenda is the illegal persecution of birds of prey. Clearly, the RSPB is against the illegal killing of protected wildlife – always has been and always will be. RSPB Investigations staff do perhaps more than any others to try to bring law-breakers to account, with some success.
However, the disappearance of eagles over grouse moors, the low densities of Peregrines on grouse moors, and the almost complete lack of Hen Harriers on grouse moors anywhere in the UK, demonstrate that illegal persecution is rife (there’s plenty of science too). And it isn’t guys with dreadlocks walking down Brixton Station Road, or nurses in Newcastle, or teachers in Cardiff who are bumping off birds of prey, it is game-shooting interests with the worst and most blatant examples being in the uplands where driven grouse shooting is the major land use. (I know you know all this – and I know you are concerned about it).
Over the years, I lived through them, the RSPB has talked to the shooting community both formally and informally, both publicly and privately, to try to reach some sort of resolution to this problem. If you flick through your copy of Fighting for Birds you’ll find a brief mention on page 195 of a time when I held out an olive branch of compromise to the grouse shooting industry – and yet, despite enthusiastic noises at the time, no progress was made. If anything, the RSPB has been far too reasonable in the face of intransigence from the game-shooting industry but it is always best to play out the reasonable talking options before taking a harder stance.
However, eventually, even the most reasonable person, or organisation, must say ‘Enough!’. I think I’m pretty reasonable and I’ve got to that point which is why I have launched an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting in England. It seems quite popular.
The RSPB failed (and I think it was a failure) to support previous e-petitions attempting to address the impacts of grouse shooting on protected birds of prey. The first of these was set up by Chrissie Harper and asked Defra to introduce vicarious liability for wildlife crimes in England, as the RSPB had asked for successfully in Scotland. The absence of public and substantial RSPB support for this e-petition was noticed but was not understood by many birders. The next e-epetition was set up by ex-RSPB Regional Director John Armitage and called for licensing of grouse moors. This too received no substantial support from the RSPB, which was again noticed, and again not understood by many birders.
The current e-petition on this subject calls for a ban on driven grouse shooting in England. This is much more difficult for the RSPB to support – I know that – but not impossible, I think.
The difficulty lies in the RSPB’s Royal Charter which contains the following words: The Society shall take no part in the question of the killing of gamebirds and legitimate sport of that character except when such practices have an impact on the Objects of the Society.
There can be no doubt that the near-extinction of the Hen Harrier as a breeding species in England is relevant to the Objects of the RSPB. And Hen Harriers are practically absent from the grouse moors of Scotland too. Unless things have changed a great deal, I am sure that the RSPB believes that the main, and overridingly important, reason for this dire state of affairs is illegal persecution by grouse shooting interests.
So, illegal persecution of Hen Harriers (and other protected species) by grouse shooting interests have an impact on the Objects of the RSPB. It can certainly be argued (I would argue it) that grouse shooting is not a ‘legitimate’ ‘sport’ since it is currently dependent on, and benefitting from, the the widespread breaking of wildlife laws.
Would it, please, be possible for RSPB Council to clarify its position on this matter? There’s no rush – perhaps a statement at the AGM in October would be in order and would allow time for full consideration and discussion. I note with interest Paragraph 3.2 of the Statutes.
with very best wishes