I was going to ignore this but…

Read this, then this, then forget about it.


But hang on a minute. maybe we shouldn’t just ignore this attack on the RSPB by the shooting community – for that appears to be what it is. And it is timed to appear just before the RSPB AGM.

Sir Ian Botham owns a shoot and until now has been absent from the commentariat on nature conservation – why has he suddenly got all interested in the RSPB?

Martyn Howat was a former Natural England staff member and is a former Chair of BASC Council and is still a Council member.

Sir Jonny Scott (5th Baronet) is steeped in all forms of fieldsport.

It’s hardly a well-disguised attack by shooting on the RSPB is it? Martin Harper writes that the RSPB wonders whether this attack was ‘motivated by the fact that we have hardened our position on grouse shooting’ which is somewhat ironic when the RSPB is being incredibly weak on grouse shooting but I guess he is right.

No doubt this will be the opportunity for those who preach consensus and lack of confrontation to condemn this move by shooters? So let’s hear BASC repudiate the attack by one of their Council and also their centenary Patron on the RSPB.  Shall we hear Ian Coghill or Lazywell (from GWCT) stating how much they abhor this attack? Will Philip Merricks deplore such a move by shooters? I expect the Shooting Times to be leaping to the RSPB’s defence, and The Field. Well, we’re all on the same side really, aren’t we?  Well, we’ll see.


There is some rather shoddy attention to detail in the attack. What is that bird perching above Beefy Botham’s head? It’s very nice, but it isn’t something that I’ve seen in the UK. It looks like a New World wren and I would plump for Carolina Wren but I wouldn’t be perfectly sure. Beefy, can you help me out please? Are you criticising the RSPB’s position on bird conservation in North America?

Beefy seems to think, but Martyn Howat should know better, and does know better (so he ought to be ashamed of being associated with this nonsense), that only nature reserves count as nature conservation. Wildlife legislation, and lobbying for it to be improved, is apparently not nature conservation. Banning DDT wouldn’t have been nature conservation. Opposing neonicotinoid pesticides is not nature conservation.  Banning the slaughter of birds for their plumage to be used by the milinary trade was not nature conservation.  Opposing an airport in the Thames Estuary is not nature conservation. Opposing the destruction of Lodge Hill is not nature conservation. As is so often the case, the shooting community is living in a different century – and not even the twentieth in this case.

And apparently the RSPB Research Department (see here, here and here) doesn’t count as conservation expenditure.  Really?  It says something about the shooting community’s attitude to science, as amplified by Simon Lester’s remarks earlier in the week.

And Birdwatch has been busy correcting the way it was misrepresented in the yftb website on Twitter (@Birdingextra).

But I am shocked that the RSPB admits that 10p in the £1 isn’t spent directly on nature conservation. Which is that 10p? We should be told.


Things may be coming to a head. Shooting is rattled by the attention it is getting. Strangely enough this isn’t primarily from the RSPB but it is from wider society with the RSPB lagging quite a way behind. Despite the fact that I am keen to see an end to driven grouse shooting I still wouldn’t count myself as anti-shooting as a whole.  But if shooting wants to make this a much bigger fight then maybe we should.

The RSPB should ask itself what real evidence is there that the shooting community as a whole is a force for good in nature conservation in the UK. And what signs are there, that in areas where shooting is failing (eg over-burning, raptor persecution, lead shot) what evidence is there of a more enlightened attitude from shooting over the last decade? How long can the RSPB go on treating the shooting community as an errant friend who can be brought back into the fold when that friend shows no sign of genuine friendship?

And shooting should ask itself whether it wants to be associated with constant attacks on an organisation with a growing membership and huge public support?  Will BASC, GWCT and the Moorland Association jump to the defence of their friends in the RSPB? Let’s see which side they are on.  Eventually even the RSPB will decide that enough is enough if shooting continues to attack the RSPB. And if the staff and Council of the RSPB don’t decide that then maybe its membership will.


Media coverage: The Independent, Mail.



48 Replies to “I was going to ignore this but…”

  1. Interesting how “yftb” and its “members” appears to be completely unaccountable to anyone at all, even down to have no real details about itself on its website.

    RSPB must be doing something right if it’s worth this bunch of worthies launching such a public attack. RSPB is clearly a significant player. They’re worried. RSPB, please do carry on! (I speak as an RSPB member).

  2. Given the number of birds that get blasted out of the sky on his family’s shoot, I’m starting to wonder if Beefy is an appropriate nickname after all. But I suppose Pheasanty doesn’t quite have the same ring to it…

  3. Unsurprising that the guy registered as the website owner (Ian Gregory) has connections to Matt Ridley. This smacks of the higher echelons of shooting reacting to all he recent publicity and deciding the best form of defence is attack. Unfortunately they miss the point that you make Mark, most of this year’s protest has come from grassroots birders who are not part of the RSPB management. It has not been an RSPB campaign but it’s much harder to attack a group of individuals who don’ have a vested interest.

  4. The jokers’ website’s ‘about’ page has a prominent subheading “The Wrong Type Of Bird…” so perhaps the Carolina Wren – for that is what it is – was chosen to send a subliminal message.

    1. The Wrong Type of bird section highluights species they suggest the RSPB doesn’t care about and includes a picture of an Eagle owl with the caption:

      “You eat birds of prey. No Hannibal’s here!”

      Hannibals? I presume they meant cannibals. Idiots.

      Not to mention the superfluous apostrophe.

  5. I like the arbitrary division of RSPB expenditure into spend on ‘people’ (76%) and ‘birds’ (24%). How is paying someone to manage a nature reserve any different from paying someone to research the requirements of a declining species? All of the RSPB’s money is ultimately spent on people. The question is how much of what those people do benefits the birds (answer=more than 24%)

  6. Let’s hope this attack puts some steel into the RSPB backbone. Perhaps like encouraging members to sign your petition!

    1. Kate – thank you. A reverse image search sounds very clever, but I’m glad i got it right! I’ve seen loads, but I find birds a lot easier to id when they are hopping around.

  7. As you well know, Mark, over the years I have criticised the RSPB for many things, for example its apparent reluctance to apply the results of scientific research (including its own) to the management of some of its reserves. But speaking for myself (and I should emphasise again that I contribute to this site in a personal capacity) I have never seen any grounds for a complaint to the Charity Commission.

    Very often the RSPB and the likes of myself have markedly different management objectives, and I have recently expressed disappointment here that it hasn’t been more proactive in support of a managed solution to the grouse/raptor conflict. But on the whole I have great respect for it as an organisation and in particular have always been impressed by the professionalism of its administration.

    1. Lazywell – that’s very decent of you. Thank you.

      Should I expect to see you in Birmingham tomorrow, or is it a little far away from your usual home range? Maybe Ian Coghill will find his way to the ICC?

  8. This brings to mind Mahatma Gandhi’s comment Chris Packham’s quoted at Derwent:
    “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.”

    Perhaps we’re entering the third phase of this?

    1. Very much looks like it. And compare their vitriolic attack with the RSPB’s bending over backwards to be fair and even-handed to the shooting community in Nature’s Home. Even allowing advertising of the Moorland Association’s petition (and who of the general RSPB membership, unless particularly informed, would spot it for what it really is?). Speaks for itself really.

  9. Well what a fantastic organisation the RSPB is,it seems that the influential individuals plus the RSPB saying quite a lot in the mag(oh yes my mag came lunch time,thank you guys and gals)have got the shooters upset.Well done RSPB and those influential individuals.

  10. Well agree with all you say Martin Harper,it is sad when a hero attacks your organisation,probably not even a RSPB member.
    Ban him from the forum,he needs teaching a big lesson.

  11. Nothing on Twitter from CEO Mike Clarke since 9th October suggesting to me that he either isn’t concerned by this criticism of his organisation or hasn’t noticed? Or maybe it’s me and I’m just expecting much more? RSPB is great but leadership is so important isn’t it?

    David Gower – now he was a really good batsman Remember him?

  12. This campaign or whatever the hell it is, is pathetic. Its just as lame as the ‘save the wader’ campaign some in the shooting world ran a few years ago. It does just help reinforce the image to the general public that many in the shooting world are morons. I think the moderates (well done Lazywell) need to speak up before Botham and the other plebs behind this, cause them some more collateral at a challenging time for the industry. They really haven’t a clue, just the sort of crap the Daily Mail love to print.

    As for Martyn Howat, he was always a closet shooting sympathiser during his time at NE – can you believe this guy was ‘hen harrier champion’ for NE. No wonder the species is up a creek in England with folks like this previously responsible for its welfare in the statutory agencies.

  13. Hmm. If I recall correctly, Martyn Howat was the Natural England Director for the Uplands and presided over the “attainment” of the 2010 PSA Target for SSSIs in the uplands. Who really thinks all that blanket bog subject to rotational burning is really in a recovering condition? Perhaps he would like to report himself to the Audit Commission or Defra?

    1. On further reflection, it occurs to me that Mr Howat was also the Natural England Director overseeing the England Hen Harrier Project……little wonder perhaps that Natural England always seemed more than a little ambivalent over the fortunes of this bird. Sadly, this would still appear to be the case.

  14. Well well well, eyes are certainly opening now aren’t they? Heads are popping up out of the heather. I do believe that the next level has now been reached. Onward and upward troops.

  15. Country Life editorial certainly tries to justify all the bad management of moorland as being an acceptable price to pay for … well, not much really. It claims to contribute unknown ‘millions to the rural economy’. Mark is ‘Twitter-happy’. And of course criticise the RSPB for stalling on the Defra HH Framework.
    All in all methinks the shooters do protest too loudly at the criticism levelled at them.
    Well done to all of you who are making this campaign such a success. Come on RSPB – time you fell off the fence, you’ve been sitting on it so long its being to fall apart.

  16. It all smacks of desperation. They are of course wrong and I must say that were one to meet any of them I would probably call them a bloody ignorant disgrace. As a previous commentator wrote hope fully it might give the good old cosy RSPB of whom I’m a huge fan some more bloody spine. Sorry Lazy well but they really do need to be far more combative with your lot!

  17. 18th August 2014, a flustered Ian Botham answers his phone: “Hello Ian, it’s Martyn Howatt here. We’ve just seen your Twitter feed and decided we need a man of your impeccable judgement to front up a new campaign of ours, what do you know about birds?”

    Botham: “Well I suppose I shoot more than my fair share, but other than that sweet FA Martyn”

    MH: “That’ll do nicely Ian, do you know the Carlton Club….”

    1. “what do you know about birds?”

      Or lamb. Or wheat and the aetiology of heart disease. Or anything. Cheque please!

  18. “Despite the fact that I am keen to see an end to driven grouse shooting I still wouldn’t count myself as anti-shooting as a whole”

    Sounds strange given you membership and promotion of LACS?

    1. Sorry, I ought to have tagged this onto the above – [b]regardless[/b] of your feelings on shooting, would you not say its pretty shocking and misleading to state

      “Net income (money available for charitable purposes), at £93.2 million…”
      “…is shown after deducting the £20.9 million cost of generating income”

      Whilst pledging openly that

      “90p in every pound goes directly towards our conservation work.”

      Which by their own figures is, at best, sophistry, and at worst a downright lie!

      1. Sorry I was going to tag this “lets kick a charity that pays tax whilst all shooting estates allegedly report a loss whilst claiming huge subsidies out of tax payers money”
        Thought for a second this was groundhog day and Songbird survival had re marketed itself, how can a bloke who shoots birds for sport complain about how a society that protects birds spends its money?

  19. I just love ‘fair question’ number 4 “What proportion of the RSPB’s £122m income goes on bird food?”

    I have a mental image of the RSPB blowing its budget on peanuts and half coconuts to festoon its reserves with!

    Of course that would be so much more in line with its charitable purposes than researching the ecological requirements of endangered species or lobbying government for better use of farm subsidy money! 😉

  20. Day 2 on the rural nutters website gets even better moving onto vertebrate control, although yet again Ian and his rather dim chums cant clearly identify a native bambi. Todays bizarre rant is even more confused, it first lambasts the RSPB for killing things with sound conservation reasons, then goes on to criticise the organisation for not behaving like real ‘country folk’. What do they want, more or less?

    As Ian is clearly an expert in managing sites for golden plover, I think he needs to visit RSPB Dove Stone for a bit of further education. Golden Plover have increased dramatically since 2010 from 77 to 99 pairs this year without a single fox being shot on the bog where they breed. Dunlin have also done well increasing by a mere 150% in that same time period to 39 pairs. Ian, if your mates didn’t burn the hell out of SAC blanket bog, they too would have a lot more golden plovers on their bogs. I actually suspect Ian hasn’t got a clue what a rich habitat for golden plovers would look like, let alone what a golden plover looks like. He really needs a PR adviser quickly as he is starting to look a total pleb. Incidentally Ian, what qualifies you to make such expert claims about conservation?

  21. It is clear that those who get kicks from killing wildlife will do anything to silence anyone who dares criticise them! Botham is well known as Countryside Alliance supporter.

    Personally I can’t anyone who purports to value wildlife also supporting an industry of death which is what the shooting industry is. Not only the terrible persecution of birds of prey but the barbaric snaring of mammals and the intimidation of anyone who seeks to expose all this horror. The RSPB should be against all shooting! I am pleased it is taking a strong stance against wildlife crime but it needs to work for a world free of persecution of wildlife in the name of sport, not give it any support or endorsement. I write as someone born and bred in a rural area and who each week sees how areas where once buzzards, kestrels etc were commonplace have now become sterile dark places as the shooters have expanded.
    All who love birds and our wildlife should campaign for a better, compassionate and decent society where this barbarism is outlawed.

  22. Well done Mark You have started a fantastic movement towards the hen harrier protection. We know the RSPB have jumped on the back of your tremendous campaign. It has obviously ruffled a few feathers (pardon the pun) of the shooting community. Lets stick together and get these criminals on the run. Keep up the excellent work.

  23. YFTB? More like WTF!

    And I thought SBS were a confused bunch of people. The RSPB have clearly rattled some cages and about time too – well done! I love the “wrong bird section” with its inclusion of a muscovy duck… Yes, the RSPB should do more to help those semi-domesticated non-native elements of the UK’s avifauna…

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