RSPB Council – think again


It’s quite some time since I asked the Chair of RSPB Council about the RSPB position on driven grouse shooting – it’s almost 100 weeks ago. And Prof Ormerod was kind enough to reply too (see here).

Before launching the current, third, e-petition on driven grouse shooting I went to talk to the RSPB about whether there might be a form of words, not using the ‘ban’ word perhaps, or at least not exclusively, that would enable them to support an e-petition on this subject.  But I was told there wasn’t. That was when I went off to LACS and talked to them, and their support has been super. Thank you LACS!

In his kind reply, Prof Ormerod (I’m going to call him Steve from now on, I know him well enough!) said that RSPB Council had considered this matter in about February 2013 to establish their line. It might just be time to think again?

RSPB has hinted, several times, that the world might get fed up with driven grouse shooting unless there is some change for the better, but we haven’t seen any such change, have we? Let’s just pick out a few things:

  • Since then, the ‘British grouse industry’ has launched a series of attacks on the RSPB – that’s hardly indicative of progress is it?
  • Last year five male Hen Harriers ‘disappeared’ under very suspicious circumstances including one from the RSPB’s own Geltsdale nature reserve – that’s hardly progress is it?
  • The RSPB’s complaint to the EU over grouse moor management from Walshaw Moor to the ends of the earth is not yet resolved (although rumours are that there might be some progress on that)  – but as yet there is no progress on the ground at all.
  • The evidence for harm to the environment and society from grouse moor management has grown (eg the EMBER study) – so the evidence base is stronger.
  • The Committee on Climate Change has criticised grouse moor management on environmental grounds – further strengthening the evidence base.
  • The government published a plan for grouse moor managers and called it a Hen Harrier Plan (and the RSPB were weak enough to welcome it despite it not giving them, or Hen Harriers, anything useful) – that is definitely not progress.
  • But the support for a ban on driven grouse shooting has grown from 22,000 signatures in nearly a year, to c34,000 signatures in six months to 31,000+ signatures in far less than six weeks – now that is progress and the RSPB is not part of it.

Let’s just do a few thought experiments;

What if Hen Harriers disappear from nests again this summer? What is the RSPB going to do? Express its disappointment but stick with the government and the grouse industry and hope that things will eventually get better?

What if evidence emerges of killing of, or attempts to kill, Hen Harriers on grouse moors this season?  What will be the RSPB response?

What if the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting gets another 30,000 signatures in the next five months and reaches 60,000 signatures? Will the RSPB ignore all those voices? Take a look at the map of signatures – these are your members by the look of the map – will you continue to give the discredited grouse shooting industry, who fund attacks on the RSPB remember, one last chance, and another, and another?

What if, though this seems unlikely to me, we actually achieved 100,000 signatures this time around without any RSPB support? Will the RSPB brief against a ban on driven grouse shooting in any debate in parliament? Really? How many members would that cost you?


I’m sometimes told by RSPB staff that the RSPB has traction with the minister Rory Stewart although it is rather difficult to see what this influence is from the outside. Are you sure you aren’t being played for suckers? I asked, in a chance meeting at The Lodge last week, what the best thing was that Rory Stewart had done – and there was a long pause before the answer came ‘He has come out in favour of the EU’. Well so have I! And I have the same number of votes as the minister on that issue. We have seen nothing from Rory Stewart on lead ammunition and nothing from him on the upland environment that justifies hanging on to any hope that he is going to do anything useful at all.  Of course, you may, and should, know better than I, but a lot of other folk think you are betting on a rank outsider here.

I guess the rest of the world is wondering whether the RSPB has a line in the sand or whether it is having sand kicked in its face.

So, Steve, I bet there is a Conservation Committee meeting in June, and a Council meeting in July, isn’t there? There is just enough time for the RSPB to look at its position and decide to be a bit more dynamic on these issues; we would welcome RSPB support for a debate on the future of driven grouse shooting.  How about it?




24 Replies to “RSPB Council – think again”

  1. The RSPB are on the verge of losing the respect and even membership of a significant part of the core membership. The level of mud slinging directed at the RSPB is utterly contemptible, you would expect it from low lifes of which there seems to be a near inexhaustible supply from the field ‘sports’ sector, but what is coming from their representative bodies is little better, disingenuous garbage designed to take advantage of public ignorance and even prejudice – sadly not everyone can see through what an affront to common sense it is that predator numbers can seemingly expand at the expense of their food supply, or because it’s a big charity the RSPB must have ‘lost its way’.

    The RSPB’s attempts to work constructively with this bunch of glorified thugs has only allowed it to have the complete and utter piss taken out of it- Langholm 2 was a perfect example. A while ago I got a sad email from one of the poor RSPB staffers involved, obviously knew things weren’t going well, but holding out hope that it would come together. Well it didn’t neither have the various partnerships against willdife crime. And when what they want to say is a bit too strong even for them to say publicly well get YFTB to do it. Then there’s Songbird Survival, such a transparent, ludicrous and rather creepy way to get the public on board with a specifically anti raptor agenda – who does the RSPB really think is pulling the strings there? SoS have recently taken to stressing how wonderful Scotland’s treeles spaces (i.e Grouse Moors) are! YFTB is infuriating and laughable, but SoS is downright creepy.

    The RSPB are getting nowhere with this and the professionalism, diplomacy and patience they’ve shown has been taken as a sign of weakness. They need to change tack. Yes continue dialogue with grouse moor reps, but also make it clear, publicly, there are other issues apart from the conservation one, the EMBER report outlining water treatment charges incurred by public, plus flood risk and how a genuinely more wildlife friendly management of the uplands would alleviate these too. Don’t blurt out how good shooting pheasants can be for conservation without the proviso that we need to look at the actual ecological footprint involved, how much land here and abroad is farmed to produce feed to raise game much of which will never be consumed by humanity, and press for a full study on the subject. Long, long overdue. It’s pretty poor that the League Against Cruel Sports is ahead of the game addressing wider conservation and environmental concerns of driven grouse shooting when it’s primarily an animal welfare organisation.

    The RSPB can raise the pertinent issues and allow them to be discussed within its media without being accused of being anti hunting, it just needs to be more pro democracy. I find it difficult to believe that there haven’t already been some meetings in dingy back rooms, or more likely in some grand halls where plans to help the next lot of hen harriers ‘disappear’ from RSPB reserves haven’t been hatched. If it does do what it really has to there will be lots of people who will stick up for it and with it, especially against any comeback from a nasty government which has shown its true colour is not even blue, but brown.

  2. The rspb hierarchy are are deluded & they have buried their heads in the sand. They have betrayed their members in not facing squarely up to the issue.

  3. I fully agree with the current situation as described by Les.

    I was an RSPB member as a youth when the Scoiety was a very different animal. I withdrew my membership over some of their policy in the 1970’s and subsequently married back into membership! Our joint membership teeters on a brink just now, happy to remain members because of Birdlife International, albatross work, UK oversees territories and reserves in the UK but I reckon we can put our money and voluntary efforts elsewhere to do similar good.

    My ageing mother recently redirected her RSPB membership elsewhere, to what she felt were more worthy causes and in protest at this lack of spine. For someone to voice her concern for the real issues of raptor persecution, flooding, water quality etc to then get a reply thanking her for her support and hoping “that you will continue to enjoy the birds in your garden and countryside” seemed to sum it up.

    1. Oddly enough Mike, I got the same patronising reply when I cancelled my membership and placed my monies elsewhere …….. Funny how cut and pasting has become the vogue ………..

  4. All weekend on my twitter feed I have seen tweet after tweet about killing birds in Malta and encouraging people to send tweets to appropriate people so they would get the message (which I did). I saw one tweet from the RSPB saying something about young wildlife photographers. I found the difference quite striking. The RSPB are increasingly becoming an organisation devoted to encouraging children to put up nest boxes in gardens. We need more than that. Much more. Our birds, actually all our wildlife, needs champions but increasingly this is coming from individuals not organisations. Time is running out and membership organisations need to get their finger out!

    1. The RSPB is so huge it is like a blind man trying to describe an elephant by touch.
      As Les mentioned it does fantastic work, especially overseas, vultures being my biggie.
      I am highly suspicious of high up executives of such a powerful institution (even if that power is only a potential). It seems that politically minded people will rise to the top. Merricks of HOT is a perfect example.
      I have nothing against someone like Baroness Young of Old Scone but is this someone who is really going to stand up for the average person who is pissed off at the actions of rich landowners on grouse moors. It would be great to think that their are warriors fighting from within but i am just to cynical.
      Might it be better for the RSPB to devolve into smaller units. Let wildlife crime policy be independent of all the political crap.

    2. I concur, Callum: “The RSPB are increasingly becoming an organisation devoted to encouraging children to put up nest boxes in gardens.”

      Is not one of their campaigns “Give Nature a Home” ? Well, nature had a home before politicians allowed it to be trashed – now we are being asked to kindly give our fellow beings a bit of space.

      I too used to be a member in the 70s and agree with the reservations voiced above.

      And yes, LACS is great.

  5. Mark says “It’s quite some time since I asked the Chair of RSPB Council about the RSPB position on driven grouse shooting – it’s almost 100 weeks ago.” Steve Ormerod’s reply was posted on this blog on 18th August 2014. In it, Steve said that “Eighteen months ago, the RSPB’s Council of trustees debated the growing environmental impact of intensive, driven grouse shooting and reached conclusions about how we should respond”. So the position that he outlined dated back to RSPB Council discussions just over 3 years ago. I am not one to suggest that every decision should be reviewed continuously, but 3 years+ is a length of time sufficient to warrant a review of ‘progress’ against any targets that RSPB might have set at its Council meeting of c. February 2013. It would be interesting to learn what such a review concluded.

    Mark goes on to say that “Before launching the current, third, e-petition on driven grouse shooting I went to talk to the RSPB about whether there might be a form of words, not using the ‘ban’ word perhaps, or at least not exclusively, that would enable them to support an e-petition on this subject. But I was told there wasn’t”. If those discussions were not explicitly confidential, I would like to hear more detail on RSPB’s position. It is would be easy to conclude, perhaps with justification, that RSPB is, in this area of interest, behind the curve of current thinking about the uplands.

  6. Well,well,well,how the blog readers change.
    Amazing that quite a while ago when I was critical of RSPB several times on this blog the dislikes stacked up and people were very critical of my stance.
    What has happened to those yellow bellied people who pressed the dislike buttons and criticized me,where have you all hidden.
    Question is has any of these critical people excluding Mark spoken about this issue with Mike Clarke.

    1. I have not emailed Mike Clarke yet, but I’ve detailed various individuals and dept’s at RSPB to register frustration and concerns, which is why I got the rather sad email back from a poor sod involved in Langholm 2. Also left comments on their fb page and at times got involved in arguing, contradicting garbage put on the RSPB Scotland fb page by some nasty field ‘sport’ enthusiasts, I.e accusing RSPB of sending young eagles to their death in Ireland when the reintroduction scheme supposedly didn’t turn out as well as hoped. I’ve also been vociferous at their very poor performance in implementing a proper reduce, reuse, recycle policy. I think you’ll find a lot of us have been doing this Dennis, but it hasn’t got through yet! The RSPB just can’t go on being a punch bag for the shooting lobby, and it is in serious danger of the really serious, knowledgeable and committed members leaving in increasing numbers. That’s obviously happening already.The RSPB could trounce the shooting lobby, not by being ‘anti’ just by being honest. I think we all need to turn up the pressure on the RSPB, it’s getting beyond a joke now.

      1. Les,my point is why when I was critical of RSPB why did my comments get lots more dislikes and criticism than likes and agreement and yet the evidence is in these comments the opposite is happening.
        What has happened to all those critics,just hope the worst has not happened and it is simply that they have been converted.
        By the way not meaning you in any way but I believe anyone not a RSPB member has no right to criticise them with regard to Hen Harrier persecution.
        Anyone at last Augusts Hen Harrier day could have made their point of view known to Mike Clarke and have got his point of view.
        Fact is I believe contrary to how it appears he is at least as passionate about the plight of Hen Harriers as anyone on the planet.

        1. You were a bit harsh Dennis, and a lot has happened or not happened since your original comments which would justify people shifting their opinion on the RSPB. I am extremely fond of it, it has certainly been incredibly supportive of work my friends and I did in a lower income community, and many if not all of its staff are excellent. No one is ever going to be totally happy with an organisation that has to be so big to try and do so many things, but all things considered I think it’s bloody good (it’s the WWF I have little less than contempt for). As an organisation it is certainly far less flawed than I am as an individual. There have been pretty direct comments coming from them re persecution by keepers is not a few bad apples, it’s widespread and there have been noises that they won’t tolerate the current situation for ever…but we keep waiting, and waiting for them to cross the Rubicon. I think the consensus is that they no longer have any reason not to step up a gear, what else can they do after the expensive, time wasting, diversionary Langholm 2 debacle? Now the RSPB deserves our ire if they don’t make a move, before it was frustration.

    2. Dennis, I do not recall the posts to which you refer and have no idea whether or not I ‘liked’, ‘disliked’ or ignored them. However, given the tone of your comments here (quote “yellow bellied people who pressed the dislike buttons and criticized me”) I think I’d be inclined to press the ‘dislike’ button on the grounds that I have an inherent distaste for ad hominem abuse. If your aim is to recruit people to your point of view (why else should you post?) then you’re going about it in a very counter-productive manner.

      1. John,you seem to have missed my point and also come to the wrong conclusion as the fact is that as I was so blunt about at that time the RSPB should have supported Mark’s blog what you term as my abuse has actually recruited as you put it to my point of view(because it now seems popular to be critical of RSPB) which ironically after speaking with Mike Clarke mellowed somewhat.It does seem very strange to me that I was more or less a lone voice being critical of RSPB on the H H issue whereas now it seems quite popular presumably from the same people.
        I suppose you would have been happier if my words you quote would have been readers of this blog have dramatically altered there opinion on being critical of RSPB.
        It still leaves the question of why because their stance has not altered one jot in fact as at least two senior RSPB staff are making it plain they are seriously against the persecution on Grouse Moors I could make a good case that they are taking things more seriously.
        I cannot see the RSPB(just my opinion)ever talking of banning Grouse shooting as it has been pointed out by others it is a legal thing to do and there is a law against killing H H.(I am sure the Government would be quick to point that out to the RSPB)

        1. As per, you are wrong on so many counts.
          Suffice to say that I emailed MC over a year ago on this issue and got no reply. That wasn’t a one off. Neither did I get a reply on Diclofenac.
          Replies from other directors, yes, but not from the ‘great’ man himself.
          I happen to know that I am not the only member who has had this same lack of response from him.
          BTW! Where were you when I suggested on this site that we all have a get together at the next AGM?

  7. I guess we also need to consider that as many of us either threaten to or have already cancelled RSPB membership, this is presumably part of their problem. People on the other side of the fence, who may be members, but not support our views, will no doubt threaten to do the same. I guess they have to weigh that up, alongside the attacks from Government and the right-wing press, so it is perhaps a bit more tricky for them than we realise. I volunteer for them and I am a member. I would very much prefer them to take a more aggressive stance but I can see some of the issues. Perhaps, rather than weigh up the sums of it all, it would be better to adhere to the principles it was founded for and let that guide them. Not that I ever pressed the dislike button on your posts though Dennis!

    1. This is a government who just today equated the Junior Doctors striking due to unfair contract imposition with literal actual treason. A government that has threatened other charities with removal of charitable status for opposing them, and a government that tried to muzzle scientific criticism and almost got away with it (introduced a law which said that any science study which received government subsidy could not publish findings contrary to govt. policy). Apparently disagreeing with government policy is something which is not allowed and must be punished. I can only guess at the quandary the RSPB find themselves in, but right now they are probably hoping just to be able to survive as an organisation until the next general election at least.

  8. Mark, I want to recognise the extent to which your current petition, your wider activities, and the comments of your contributors here do to highlight the depth of concern and anger that many feel around the management of the UK’s uplands. I’ll respond to the specifics of the request above in due course.

    The need for reform in the way our hills are managed is a real and serious challenge to the land use practices that support the grouse-shooting industry. The RSPB’s approach has been to engage and seek that reform where intensive management for grouse shooting takes place. In that context, you and the readers of your blog should be in absolutely no doubt about the RSPB’s commitment to improving the environmental condition of the hills. As you know, my own research work takes me there often – and not just in Wales.

    On Hen Harriers specifically, the RSPB wants and needs the Defra plan to drive real change, including the cessation of illegal killing of raptors and a more positive outcome for those harriers that settle on England’s uplands this year. For this plan is to work, everyone – including the grouse shooting community – must play their part to deliver its key objective: more hen harriers.

    Best wishes,

    Steve Ormerod

  9. The RSPB Council seems to be full of former company executives and CEOs.

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