Botham fizzles out?

A new friend
A new friend

I’m glad that the Mail on Sunday’s latest rant at the RSPB for being a nature conservation organisation didn’t spoil Martin Harper’s weekend.  It shouldn’t have done, because Botham appears to be bonkers. But there will be some, and Martin may be one of them, who work for the RSPB and feel a bit dispirited when a nature conservation charity with such a fantastic track record for protecting birds, yes, and other wildlife, is taken to task so unfairly by a bunch of shooters.  It’s not nice to be slagged off in the press and I was never sure whether wholly ill-informed attacks were any better than partly-informed attacks. Does the fact that criticism is unfair make it easier to take or just make it a bit more irritating? I could never decide – it depended on the day.

But the signs are that these and other attacks, coupled with the behind the scenes obduracy of the shooting organisations in just about every area where they need to give ground (burning of blanket bog, lead ammunition, wildlife crime, there may be others) , are bringing it home to RSPB staff and RSPB Council that we are not ‘all on the same side really’.

There is common ground for some forms of shooting and nature conservation to co-exist, and to co-exist quite politely and quite amicably (albeit not completely amicably) but the shooters left that centre ground some time ago. For years the shooting press has been slagging off the RSPB.  In just about every issue, Shooting Times used to contain disparaging remarks about the RSPB and I guess it still does.  This is a strange way for an industry or ‘sport’ that depends on public tolerance to behave.  And it’s a clear indication that shooting just does not have the leadership that allows it to change.

IMG_2604And the Botham, Howat (his ears must be burning from the comments of his former colleagues in Natural England) and Scott attack on the RSPB is just another manifestation of the bullying tactics.

All the signs I see, partly on social media, but I often speak to groups of birders too, and I’m always meeting conservation professionals, is that this current attack on the RSPB has badly misfired from the point of view of the attackers. There was not a shred of disquiet amongst the few hundred members attending the RSPB AGM over this matter. They were all rather worried that the RSPB might have to spend time defending itself rather than conserving birds but that was about it (as the GWCT’s observer at the event will no doubt have had to report back).

Having spoken to an RSPB Group last week and a BTO regional conference at the weekend (and many other such groups over the last few months), there was chatter about the Botham-led (or that should be Botham-fronted, because he is nowhere to be seen arguing the case) attacks, but largely along the lines of ‘what is he on about?’ and ‘I used to like Ian Botham. Great cricketer, but he doesn’t know what he is talking about here’.

The things that the RSPB is most criticised for, amongst its older and loyal membership that I meet, are a squirrel called Bob and a magazine called ‘Nature’s Home‘ but these are criticisms in the ‘I wish they weren’t a bit naff’ category rather than in the ‘They have completely lost it’ category.

1408 p001 cover_with comp v2.inddNo, as with the staff and the Council, the impact on RSPB members, of all this flak from shooters,  is to wake them up to the fact that in some areas, and in some cases, and because of some people, shooting is on the other side of the argument from nature conservation and that the RSPB should be absolutely clear about that.  There is also a realisation that being nice hasn’t worked, and being firmer and more demanding must be the way forward. In other words, the membership is being radicalised by those who have most to lose from that change of approach.

That’s what I think is happening anyway. For one, small indication of that, if you look at the comments on the Mail on Sunday piece, and press the tab that says ‘best rated’, then the comment that gets the most ‘likes’  (over 290 when I looked) is one by me which says:

It is time for the RSPB and the public to take a stronger line with grouse shooting which depends on illegal persecution of birds of prey such as Hen Harriers. If anything the RSPB is being too soft. Find the e-petition ‘ban driven grouse shooting’ via a search engine and add your name to over 19000 who want the rich man’s ‘sport’ banned altogether – and ask the RSPB to support it too. Botham and his shooting friends should be shown that their attack on the RSPB has misfired.’

The second top-rated comment on this article is also by me (this one has 278 ‘likes’) and says:

Ask yourself, how many people who like birds and watching birds are likely to side with a bunch of people who shoot them rather than a bunch of people who campaign on behalf of the natural world, manage many of the UK’s best and most famous nature reserves (as often seen on Springwatch/Autumnwatch), have a fantastic track record of conserving birds such as the Avocet, Red Kite, Bittern, Corncrake, Stone Curlew, Dartford Warbler, Osprey etc etc and of saving sites of wildlife importance from being concreted over for airports (eg the North Kent Marshes), windfarms (scores of sites – probably some near you) and other developments. This government has been so awful for wildlife that we need organisations such as the RSPB to be much more vocal in standing up for wildlife. I hope they take a little bit of notice of the criticism, but not very much, and then decide to take a stronger and more vocal approach to defending wildlife.

hen harrier(1)Now you shouldn’t take too much notice of what you read in the Mail on any day of the week (except this excellent review of A Message from Martha  (and I do hope they list Martha as one of their books of the year!)) but that reception to those comments, if backed up by what RSPB staff are hearing and seeing elsewhere, added to what they find within their own consciences, should move them to the conclusion that they need to roll up their sleeves and stand up even more firmly for themselves and for nature against the shooting establishment.
Things have changed a great deal in the last 18 months since the RSPB Council embarked on its current path. The main things that have changed are that the shooting community has been given a chance to compromise and not taken it, satellite tagging is making it clearer to all how Hen Harriers disappear under suspicious circumstances and the evidence has strengthened for ecosystem disservices from heather burning. Those are the substantive changes.
But the other important change is that the debate is now a more public one and the public is ahead of the RSPB’s position.  The RSPB was criticised by its supporters, quite a lot, because the summer issue of Nature’s Home was Hen Harrier-light and that was rectified by this autumn’s issue which still finds itself a little off the pace of the debate, of course.
A public debate means that the criminal elements within shooting can hide their identities but not their impacts.  Shooting is under the spotlight, and driven grouse shooting is under the brightest glare.  But the RSPB position is also under a spotlight and RSPB members want more action. As time goes on, the pressure on driven grouse shooting will only increase and the RSPB membership will look ever more closely at the RSPB’s role in sorting out the enormous wildlife crime scene known as the British uplands.
And now that the Hen Harrier sub-group seems almost to have ground to a halt the RSPB is free to make the move to supporting a ban on driven grouse shooting called for by 19,000+ people in this e-petition. It will never be too late to make this move, but the next six weeks would be the best time to do it. There must be an RSPB Council meeting coming up soon.

15 Replies to “Botham fizzles out?”

  1. I think I first saw the quote on here, but this, as I said to a friend who thought Beefy had a point, is classic ‘Stage Three Response’

    First they ignore you.
    Second they laugh at you
    Then (Third) they fight back
    Then we win!

  2. As a RSPB member I must agree that I find their wishy washy attitude to the grouse moor debate frustrating. Like yourself Mark, I appreciate that they do a great deal of excellent work but on this issue they don’t seem to far away from getting splinters in their backsides. It’s as if they’re trying to play Devils Advocate when surely the vast majority of the membership they are so reliant on would wish them to fight tooth and nail for the Hen Harrier and the other victims of Driven Grouse Shooting.

  3. RSPB would have more to worry about if they weren’t getting this sort of flak – it is a good thing that some shooters are rattled enough to feel the need for this sort of attempted bullying – but the path they’ve chosen can only lead to their own loss and I fear increasingly they may have left it too late to avoid some pretty serious repercussions.

  4. As an RSPB member I ask any RSPB management reading this to take a much stronger approach against driven grouse shooting. I am behind the RSPB all the way and together we can eliminate this vile practice once and for all. They had their chance to clean up their act, they chose not to, and are still trying their best to not have to, now they have to go.

    1. Appreciate it’s hard for many not to want to keep on defending the RSPB, but let’s be thankful as ‘we’ predicted the attack has spectacularly back fired and the three misfit bullies have gone to ground, I suspect that rather like some politicians they don’t like evidence based challenge. I wonder if there has been a slight increase in membership as a consequence of ‘establishment bullies’ criticising a charity whose members are content that they do champion conservation on ocassions?

      Let’s now focus on the next tier of challenging illegal behaviour and I’m sure somehow they will continue to shoot their ’cause’ in the foot?

      Endorse Bimbling’s reminder quote, a refreshing call for continued critical mass?

  5. I believe this attack on the RSPB is a good thing. As irritating as it is, their claims against the RSPB are easily refuted as complete nonsense, and the whole thing is raising the profile of the outdated practices of shooting even higher. It’s encouraged the RSPB to sharpen its claws and take a firmer stance, at last.

    The louder the shooting community shouts, the more precarious their position becomes. Let them shout, I say.

  6. Be careful what you wish for:

    ‘It appears that the curlew may have become extinct as a breeding species here (Exmoor)….The decline appears to have been quite rapid……(since) 2008……predation by foxes and crows….may be implicated….as elsewhere across its southern British range.’

    ‘Llanbrynmair moor. I used to bike over there and walk it. It used to have golden plover and dunlin, and curlew and short eared owls and hen harrier, red grouse, black grouse, sacrificed by the then Nature Conservancy Council in the 1980’s. Sacrificed, for forestry. It’s now under alien conifers and larch. I was up there three years ago and I’m not ashamed to say, I cried. It’s like going and looking at war graves. That was what came to mind. Row upon row of war graves. Every single tree is a death knell, is a nail in the coffin of that moor.

    No point going up there looking for birds now, they are virtually all gone.’

  7. Given the sheer weight of (membership) numbers I am perplexed as to why the RSPB would ever have felt it particularly important to nurture relationships with the Shooting Community. Indeed I would love it if they started to use funds to prepare Private Prosecutions against any estates suspected of breaking the law.

    1. The impression I get, though I could be wrong, is that the people of the shooting community have a lot of influence, and own a large amount of land that needs to be conserved.

      1. Emily – I am sure that is a correct impression gained through your year’s industrial placement with the GWCT (which you mentioned in an earlier comment here). You are very well placed to see the influence they have.

        1. It’s hard to conserve the little land the UK has when most of it is privately owned. I can’t imagine it’s easy trying to stay on everyone’s good side whilst pushing conservation practices, I guess some people might think we’re meddling!

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