Our e-petition asking the Westminster government to ban driven grouse shooting passed 20,000 signatures recently. The momentum is growing all the time. I wonder how many signatures we will have amassed by 21 January? We’re not even half way there yet.
I’m often asked why the RSPB doesn’t support a ban on driven grouse shooting and so I’d like to return to that subject now (as it is the RSPB’s AGM tomorrow).
Let me say right from the outset, that the impact of the RSPB supporting a ban on driven grouse shooting would be immense. The RSPB would get a load of flak from the shooting community (but then it does every week anyway) and our e-petition would sail past 100,000 signatures and would be debated in parliament. This would almost certainly greatly increase pressure on Defra to do something on this subject, and would be likely to bring other political parties more strongly into the debate. A parliamentary debate would bring change much closer – even if that change were not a ban on driven grouse shooting, it might be vicarious liability or licensing.
We know, to some extent, why the RSPB doesn’t support a ban on driven grouse shooting because over a year ago Prof Steve Ormerod , Chair of RSPB Council, was good enough to reply to me here setting out the reasons. I wasn’t convinced then, and I’m not convinced now, so after more than a year it’s perhaps, in a friendly way, worth returning to the subject (and it goes without saying that I’m not going to fall out with the RSPB on this issue – but I do think that they are wrong (and presumably they thing I am wrong!)). And Prof Ormerod did say over a year ago that the RSPB Council had made their decision 18 months or so before that – things have moved on a lot in over two and half years.
First, as Prof Ormerod wrote, the RSPB is not constrained by its Royal Charter on this matter. Provided the RSPB thought that driven grouse shooting was inimicable to the Society’s charitable objects of conserving species and habitats then the RSPB could oppose driven grouse shooting as an activity and ask its supporters to support our e-petition. And since our e-petition is very specifically aimed at driven grouse shooting, not at pheasant or partridge shooting (where the arguments for a ban are, in my opinion, rather weak) and not even aimed at all grouse shooting since walked up shooting could continue, no-one could legitimately say that the RSPB had taken an anti-shooting position (where it would be a bigger issue with the Charter).
There is no doubt that driven grouse shooting, as practised now, is inimicable to the RSPB’s charitable objects. No one doubts, and certainly not the RSPB, that several species of birds of prey are at much reduced population levels because of illegal persecution. And it is the RSPB’s science that has helped establish this as fact although it is accepted by statutory agencies and much of the shooting community too.
Also, the intensive management of land for driven grouse shooting damages protected habitats such as blanket bogs. That’s why the RSPB made a complaint to the EU over this issue all of three years ago (15 October 2012) and the effect of that complaint is very hard to discern as yet since neither Defra nor the RSPB have told us much about it. We certainly haven’t seen any great turn around in Defra policy and Natural England practice in the last year.
Also, as Prof Ormerod knows far better than I, for this is an area of his expertise, the evidence has grown over the last year that intensive grouse moor management damages the delivery of ecosystem services such as flood prevention, aquatic biodiversity, water quality and carbon storage.
Now all this stuff is very unsatisfactory as the ecological footprint of a ‘sport’ – not of food production, or of a manufacturing industry, or of a service industry, but of the ‘sport’ of shooting chicken-like birds for fun. It’s a high price for society as a whole to pay for a few people’s fun. But if we would imagine a better, sustainable form of ‘shooting grouse for fun’ maybe we should promote that? Well, walked up shooting is roundly rejected by grouse shooters as less fun and less economically viable (ignoring its lower cost to the rest of us) so let’s take that at their word and say that we won’t be able to persuade shooters to switch to walked up shooting.
So is there a better form of driven grouse shooting? If so, where can we see it please? Which are the model estates where it is practised? Where is the model that all others should follow? Nobody has ever told me where I could find it so I’m thinking that it may not actually exist.
The RSPB seems to think that by licensing driven grouse moors, more can be made to fit the good model – and yet it appears that no-one has identified the good model yet – the moors with birds of prey, pristine blanket bogs, carbon storage rather than emissions, clean water and lowered flood risk. Under the RSPB’s proposed licensing scheme would any grouse moor actually get a license today?
The RSPB suggests that in the absence of effective self-regulation the next step should be regulation (ie licensing) but this presupposes that there is an effective and workable licensing scheme. If the RSPB is remotely serious about licensing as an option then they should publish a draft licensing scheme for grouse moors for consultation. I have no doubt that such a scheme would be rejected by the British grouse industry (maybe by Sir Ian Botham himself) as they tend to reject any move for any change that is inconvenient to their interests, but also rejected by politicians who would say that such a scheme is complex, unworkable and disproportionately expensive. I might be wrong, but I’d like to see the proposals for licensing and the RSPB ought to have some since it thinks that licensing would work. Let’s all have a look, please. And if it looks like a good scheme I’ll be very happy to say so.
We ought also to look at the industry which I would like to ban – the driven grouse industry. We have not seen a single concession from them in the last 20+ months. In fact, we have seen the emergence of the You Forgot the Birds campaign, funded by the British grouse industry which has attacked the RSPB on a wide range of issues, most of them nothing to do with grouse shooting. Does this look like an industry that is up for change of the type that the RSPB suggest? No it is an industry that is ripe for abolition as I (and more than 20,000 others) suggest!
Since Prof Ormerod’s response here well over a year ago we have seen five male Hen Harriers disappear from nests at which the RSPB had some involvement, including one on its own nature reserve at Geltsdale. The chances of so many males disappearing naturally are infinitesimally small and might well be because those birds were indeed targetted to provide the lurid anti-RSPB headlines that we saw (and which allowed YFTB (funded by the British grouse industry) to have another go at the RSPB. Would licensing have stopped this? No it would not.
Also, since Prof Ormerod’s response here we have seen Sky, Hope and Annie, tagged Hen Harriers, disappear or die from shooting. They are undoubtedly just the tip of a bloody iceberg, but would licensing have stopped their deaths? No, it would not.
It seems to me that the RSPB is clinging on to the idea of licensing in spite of the evidence that it would fail to make much of a difference.
The case made out in Inglorious, at some length, is that because driven grouse shooting depends on unnaturally high densities of Red Grouse, to provide huge bags of dead grouse at the end of a season’s shooting, the intensive management cannot easily be ameliorated (and that there is not appetite from grouse shooters to do so anyway). The first Langholm study showed that you cannot easily have protected Hen Harriers and Peregrines and driven grouse shooting – you have to choose which you want. The RSPB ought to choose protected birds of prey!
The evidence has also increased (partly thanks to work by the RSPB) that the intensive burning, drainage, legal predator control and medication of grouse moors are integral to those big bags, and also the cause of ecological damage. So you probably can’t have both. Surely the RSPB should choose sustainable uplands without driven grouse shooting rather than unsustainable ones with driven grouse shooting? Or, the RSPB could show us the good grouse moors and publish its licensing proposals.
So, as you can see, the RSPB and I agree, just about completely I think, on the problem, but don’t agree on the solution. This isn’t unusual amongst friends – they share the same values and perspectives on how the world could be better but disagree on the best route to achieving it. I don’t think the RSPB position is workable and I’m not really sure that the RSPB does either.
The irony in this is that, I guess, the most effective way to get licensing or any other progress on this issue would be for the RSPB to support our e-petition, get a debate in parliament, and then press for change, and graciously accept less change than a full-scale ban. The RSPB is asking for too little and will get less than a little – it should join us and ask for a lot, and then we all might see some progress.