The missing signatures – mind the gap!

I recently received this email from an RSPB member and keen member of a local RSPB group.
41dtDGw5TtL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_I have just finished reading your book ‘Inglorious’, which I found very informative. I had no idea that driven grouse shooting had such a deleterious effect on wild life, especially on birds of prey, and I now would like to do anything possible to get it banned. My husband and I and many of our friends are keen walkers, and regularly visit the uplands. We would love to see Hen Harriers, Peregrines and Eagles soaring above the moors as we walk!
It strikes me that now is a good time to act, because so many people in the north of England and in Scotland have suffered from flooding this winter. I’m sure not many people realise that managing moors for grouse shooting results in damaging the blanket bogs which would otherwise soak up much of the rain, and is therefore partly to blame for such disastrous floods. Unfortunately there has been no mention of this fact in recent news bulletins.
Now, every RSPB member is unique – after all I am one of them, and I hope you are too – but this email shows what a gap there is between the RSPB and some of their members. In fact, there are two gaps.
The first gap is in understanding of the issue. How many RSPB members are there who do not know that driven grouse shooting has a major impact on bird of prey populations? Hundreds of thousands I would guess. And that is partly because it’s very difficult to get a message across (tell me about it!) because people have busy lives and aren’t paying attention and aren’t receptive to every message that comes their way, but also because the RSPB is very, very quiet about these issues. It’s actually pretty quiet about most issues these days.  The RSPB membership is not sufficiently energised or mobilised about the impacts of grouse shooting on wildlife crime, flooding, carbon storage etc. I give lots of talks on this subject and I am often asked ‘Why hasn’t the RSPB made a fuss about this?’ to which I reply ‘Well they have, but you can’t have noticed, but I agree they could and should be making more of a fuss’.
And then the second gap is one of response. I’m not saying that every RSPB member, if informed about wildlife crime, flooding, greenhouse gas emissions etc, would necessarily support a ban on driven grouse shooting – they wouldn’t. Some would be swayed by the counter arguments that there is a better way to deal with the problems such as the RSPB’s proposed solution of licensing, although note that the correspondent above wasn’t, even though this matter is discussed in Inglorious. But the RSPB is not offering its members an outlet for action on this subject.  Not since the Game Fair back in July have I noticed the RSPB making a statement on grouse moors.  At that time the RSPB said something must change otherwise they could see the calls for bans on grouse shooting would increase. Well, they have increased and the RSPB still remains strangely quiet in public. Six months after the Game Fair, and after flooding where the RSPB knows that grouse moor mis-management will have played a part, the RSPB is not using its membership to bring any pressure on decision-makers or the grouse moor industry itself.
As the keen RSPB member above says, now would be a good time to act! RSPB – mind the gap!
Please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting – it’s the only game in town.
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  1. Phil Aisthorpe says:

    When it comes to influencing the RSPB I think the hobits had it easier trying to persuade Treebeard to lead the Ents against Isengard.

  2. Stewart Abbott says:

    Maybe the RSPB should consider a name change? The 'Royal' part is maybe a barrier & it's not really all about birds anymore is it?


    The Radical Society for the Promotion of Biodiversity ?

    RSPB really does need to get more active, I have considered cancelling my membership but always change my mind because of all of the other great work that they do. However I do wish they would inform members better of all the issues that are effecting our wildlife.
    It's not a good place out there at the moment and the RSPB are in a great position to make a huge difference.

  3. Andy Holden says:

    I have been a member of the RSPB for more than thirty years and never realised just how much effect driven grouse shooting has on our natural environment.
    In past years I have even been 'guilty' of being part of the grouse shooting scene; beating for £40 a day. I did question what I experienced and decided I didn't want to be involved with the shooting scene even before reading 'Inglorious'.
    Until I read the book I always imagined that it must be better to have a moor managed for grouse rather than sheep; surely all that 'protection' of Red Grouse would be good for other birds. But now I realise that both the grouse and the sheep-managed uplands have a detrimental effect on our upland environments and all its wildlife.
    I think it's great that Mark Avery is rocking the boat, nay! near enough tipping it over!
    I am happy to share all the information with my friends on facebook and twitter; I have already had quite a few un-informed friends, and family members wanting to share the same.
    I have had some negative comments from gamekeepers but 'Inglorious' has armed me with plenty of counter arguments.
    It's time the RSPB pulled itself out of the moorland blanket bog (what's left of it) and got stuck in to the driven grouse shooting fraternity whilst the subject is hot. They seem to spend a lot of money dealing with foreign wildlife problems; now they need to concentrate on the UK's Hen Harriers with the same determination.
    Share, share, share!

    • Jonathan Wallace says:

      "They seem to spend a lot of money dealing with foreign wildlife problems; now they need to concentrate on the UK's Hen Harriers with the same determination".

      I am not sure why there is a problem with the RSPB spending money on foreign wildlife problems. There may be many threatened species that I have never seen and never will see but I still give a shit if they go extinct! It is also the case that money spent, for example, on conservation in West Africa will benefit the migratory birds that we like to consider "ours". Thirdly I would also point out that there is still an awful lot of money spent by the RSPB on conservation within our borders.

      None of that should mean they can't put more effort or more effective effort into putting an end to Hen Harrier persecution in GB and I hope they will do.

  4. Bushshrike says:

    'Not since the Game Fair back in July have I noticed the RSPB making a statement on grouse moors.'

    You can't have looked very hard then, Mark. In November the RSPB released its 'Birdcrime' report which makes it perfectly clear what the issues are and where the problem lies:

    The press release for the report on the RSPB's website includes the statement that:
    'The RSPB’s annual Birdcrime report is the only centralised source of incident data for wild bird crime in the UK. It illustrates the nature of the raptor persecution problem identified by a number of scientific studies, Government reports and police intelligence. For example, a 2008 study on hen harriers by Natural England concluded that ‘the critically low breeding numbers and patchy distribution of the hen harrier in England is a result of persecution... especially on areas managed for red grouse or with game rearing interests’ [4].The police National Wildlife Crime Unit’s 2013 Strategic Assessment states that ‘intelligence continues to indicate a strong association between raptor persecution and grouse moor management [4].

    The RSPB supports the licensing of driven grouse moors and the introduction of vicarious liability as these measures could improve enforcement through providing more effective deterrents, which would ensure that no one can profit from wildlife crime.'

    • Mark says:

      Bushshrike - very well hidden and hardly made front page news...

      And the RSPB 'supports' the licensing of grouse moors - except it says almost nothing about it and failed completely to promote John Armitage's e-petition on the subject (see Inglorious pp 159-60, 174-5, 176-7, 188) and supports vicarious liability except it failed completely to support Chrissie Harper's e-petition on the subject (see Inglorious 144-6, 169, 188).

      Maybe the member quoted in this blog 'I had no idea that driven grouse shooting had such a deleterious effect on wild life, especially on birds of prey, and I now would like to do anything possible to get it banned.' is at fault for failing to notice the RSPB's campaign on this subject, or maybe not.

      • Bushshrike says:

        The RSPB publishes a report on Birdcrime, posts it on its website and then puts out a press release about it and you think that's 'very well hidden'? Hmmm. As for not making front page news, I suspect that is not in the gift of even the RSPB. However, if you Google 'Birdcrime' I think you will find lots of articles in the press about it. Lots more than there about your blog anyway 🙂

        As for the member quoted in the blog, he/she can't have read his/her Winter 2014 edition of the RSPB's membership magazine 'Nature's Home'. It's the one with the front cover photo of a hen harrier. Inside there is a ten page spread exploring all the issues about hen harrier persecution and posing the question: 'Should grouse moor shooting be regulated?' Oh look, you've even got a column in it where you are given the opportunity to put forward your own point of view about a ban being the best option!

        • Mark says:

          Bushshrike - the Birdcrime report is truly excellent and helps show the scale of the problem. But the RSPB is not campaigning for a solution (even for its preferred solution of licensing) - otherwise more people would have noticed. And the RSPB did not support either of the e-petitions on the subjects that you say, correctly, it 'supports'. There is a big difference in supporting something in your head, and doing the things necessary to bring those changes about. All sorts of social and environmental evils would still be happening if the people who supported change had not campaigned for change actually to happen.

          PS Winter 2014 is quite a long time before this year's Game Fair (obvs!).

          • Jonathan Wallace says:

            I can't help feeling that there must be an awful lot of members who would not notice anything short of Henry the Hen Harrier pitching up in their front room and beating them about the head with the Bird Crime Report! It is hard to understand how any member with an interest in birds can still be unaware of this issue - as Bushshrike has pointed out it has been featured prominently in the magazine. I am therefore a bit doubtful as to how many additional signatures the RSPB could bring to the petition if they promoted it (though surely "some" at least).
            I have no idea why the RSPB has chosen not to promote the petition but the fact that they have not does not necessarily mean they support their preferred solution only in their head - I also have no idea what they may or may not have said directly to ministers for example.
            As to rounding up a few more signatures I wonder whether you have considered the idea of an advert in the national press? I don't know what it costs for a reasonably conspicuous advert - say a quarter page - but I imagine it should be possible to crowd fund the money in time to publish it ahead of the 21 Jan deadline? An advert in the right newspaper (probably not the Telegraph!) might bring the petition to the attention of a potentially sympathetic section section of society that has not previously been made aware of it.

        • Anand Prasad says:

          I agree with you Bushshrike but where is the call for action? What happened to the Action Pages section in the RSPB magazine? It used to be the only part i would definitely read along with the brilliant Simon Barnes page.
          I haven't read the edition you refer to, was there a 'what you can do about it' conclusion?

    • Andy Holden says:

      So "The RSPB supports the licensing of driven grouse moors and the introduction of vicarious liability as these measures could improve enforcement through providing more effective deterrents, which would ensure that no one can profit from wildlife crime."

      "Could" yes, but most probably won't improve enforcement. In my opinion as long as there are game keepers on the uplands then raptors will continue to be persecuted no matter any number of new rules and regs, it's the nature of the game.
      The law is being broken NOW and the perpetrators are getting away with it time and time again. And that is why only a complete ban on driven grouse shooting will protect our protected(?) raptors.

  5. Merlin says:

    Is there any chance of you getting your old job back at the RSPB Mark?

  6. Paul Fisher says:

    At last, at last. Excuse me while I sing and dance around the house in glee and relief!!

    At last it's finally noted that the RSPB do not communicate very well. That maybe the RSPB does not inform its members of issues for fear of having to do something. 'Take members money but don't rock any boats' is the order of the day under Mike Ckarke.

    As Stewart says above, the RSPB ARE in a position to make a difference but they are simple not doing it. And yes, I agree, throwing in your membership is counter productive due to all the very good work they do but, but something has to change at the top.
    Members would be surprised at just how much is being kept from them. I have said before on these pages, that it's precisely because people lead busy lives that they pay their subs to these charities in the expectation that the charity will keep them informed of issues and fight on their behalf. That is simply not happening.

    And why oh why are the RSPB not coming out against lead shot? It's not stopping anyone's sport, just changing the ammo.
    Does your corespondent know how many tons of lead are pumped into our countryside every year and the damage it does? Does she know about my other gripe? The one that saw the EU license Diclofenac for use in Spain, knowing full well that it will wipe out all its vultures? That was nearly three years ago and still nothing from RSPB.

    Yes, yes, I know they are working in the background, and yes I know that they are STILL talking. But for ***** sake, what the point of having 1.1 million members if you refuse to use the power that gives you.

    Mike Ckarke, do something now. Email all your members today and ask them to sign the petition against lead shot, the petition against driven grouse shooting and then ask them to write to their MEP about Diclofenac to save Europe's vultures.
    Then you can truly say you've had a good day in the office and earned the money WE members pay you!

  7. Peter Hill says:

    Confused ! ,being a lover of wildlife but not a member of the RSPB I cannot understand why an organisation such as this is not informing a wider audience about these issues.
    The idea of regulating and licensing Driven Grouse Shoots is ridiculous.We already have unenforceable laws re-persecution of raptors ...
    RSPB should be leading the way by calling for an immediate ban on driven Grouse shoots .
    An immediate ban on lead shot .
    Further they should ask that All upland land owners be responsible for restoring their land to a condition that will be of benefit to us all , instead of a "playground" for the rich.

  8. Andrew Cannon says:

    I find it surprising Mark that you of all people have apparently never read the RSPB's Royal Charter:
    "The Society shall take no part in the question of the killing of game birds and legitimate sport of that character except when such practices have an impact on the objects"
    Happy New Year and keep up the good work.

    • Mark says:

      Andrew - welcome and thank you.

      I've read that a few times - there were bits that I once was able (almost) to get right off by heart!

      We know that the RSPB's reluctance to promote a ban on driven grouse shooting is not a Charter issue because the RSPB Chair says so (and he is right). See his response on this site on 18 August 2014 where he says 'However, we do not consider a call for a ban on grouse shooting to be the right step. This is not because we are constrained by our Charter or our charitable objects, but rather because we think the next rational step from self-regulation is regulation.'. That was getting on for 18 months ago, and was based on an RSPB Council discussion of 18 months previously.

  9. Andrew Cannon says:

    Thanks Mark and apologies, I'm heartened by your having in fact already engaged with this issue. Any gentlemen's agreement the RSPB may allegedly have made with keen shooter Edward VII in exchange for its charter in 1904 would have been a good deal for birds at the time, of course, as royal approval will have transformed the effectiveness of the plumes campaign. I'm pleased to hear they're apparently no longer constrained by any such deal, if there ever was one. That being the case, their low profile on the ecological and environmental impacts of intensive game rearing is all the more curious.

  10. Dytiscus says:

    I was at an environmental conference this week when the question was asked of 'who are our spokes-people about nature and the environment?'.
    ONLY three names came up - Chris Packham, George Monbiot and Mark Avery.
    (well done Mark).

    As a follow-up, the question was asked of the audience to name the CEOs of our big conservation NGOs - RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, National Trust, Woodland Trust, WWT, Butterfly Conservation - and the answer was deafening - NONE of them.
    Our NGOs don't have the profile and voice that they need in the 21st century.

  11. Paul Frost says:

    I had two conversations on this subject with Mike Clarke, at the Hen Harrier Eve event in Buxton in October. The first chat got off to a very amicable start as I praised the many terrific RSPB reserves I've visited and we spoke of Bitterns and Bearded Tits and all things wonderful. However when I asked him if he could foresee a scenario whereby the RSPB might support the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting, he responded with a terse and emphatic "No". He seemed to become increasingly agitated and evasive as I pressed him on the subject. He insisted that negotiation was the way forward. I pointed out that dialogue had been dragging on for many years without any sign of progress, in fact the opposite and he soon made a run for the bar.

    As people were mingling at the end of the formalities, he made a point of coming to talk to me again. Perhaps he realised he was a bit off with me; one of his members, I thought. So after a few pleasantries I turned the conversation back to the theme of the evening, saving Hen Harriers from extinction as a breeding species in the UK. I was now with friends, both old and newly acquainted, and of course they all wanted the same answers from Mike. It was all very civilised but again he seemed to become uncomfortable and made good his escape.

    Shortly afterwards, a few of us engaged in the same conversation with the RSPB's very likable Jeff Knott. Unfortunately his response was almost parrot fashion to Mikes as if he had been briefed on what to say. All rather frustrating. In fairness to Jeff he gave a decent speech the next morning and has since indicated on social media that he has his heart in very much the right place.

    If the Royal Charter isn't the reason for the RSPB's apathy on this burning issue, then what is? Politics? Please tell me not. As a payed up member I find it bewildering.

  12. Rob says:

    I've not been content with NGOs such as RSPB and others for some time. They've have long-since grown too cozy with the establishment for my liking. I've been reluctant to take my membership elsewhere for years but in 2016 this is what I will be doing, despite many great things being done by some fantastic employees at the working level. Their CEOs are not recognizable and they seem to like it that way - hand's up for example those that have seen Mike Clarke getting angry & passionate about the causes of bird crime on TV and in the mainstream media? We have to rely on presenters and rock guitarists rather than the people our membership funds are paying. Per Paul Frost's experience - I don't try to engage anymore because I know I won't get an acknowledgement, let alone a constructive response.


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