Thank you Steve!

14.06.11 mh Cardiff Univ Steve Ormerod 13I am grateful to Steve Ormerod for his guest blog of yesterday. It was good of him to respond, as he did – he didn’t have to at all.

As Steve wrote, the RSPB and I share almost completely common ground on the problems as we see them. Maybe we differ here or there, but I’m not sure that we do, and it will almost certainly be over small things that could be ironed out. Where we do disagree, but we disagree as friends, is in what are the best solutions to the problems.

And we do disagree on those things so I’d like to set out why I think the RSPB position is not wrong exactly, but less than perfect, and less fit for purpose than a ban of driven grouse shooting.

But first, let’s get a few minor comments out of the way.

I don’t think anyone, least of all me (and I do mean least of all me), has anything but the greatest respect for the RSPB Investigations team(s). Actually that isn’t quite true – there are quite a few criminals who don’t like them much but maybe even they have respect for them. However, it is the role of advocacy and changes in public policy to put the Investigations team out of work. They are collecting evidence, in 2016, of crimes that have been illegal for 62 years since the 1954 Protection of Birds Act.  We need to use that evidence of crime, and the evidence collected scientifically too by the RSPB, raptor workers and others, to demonstrate the need for change – and we need to identify the types of changes that will work best.

Second, I’m not quite sure that I’d say that RSPB Council has shown steadfast courage when slagged off by YFTB – they are more like innocent victims in a car crash that wasn’t their fault. That’s not exactly brave. Maybe if RSPB Council or staff put their names out there on an e-petition to…well, presumably to introduce licensing, then that might show a little bit of bravery and leadership. How about it Steve – an e-petition to introduce licensing? But then, the RSPB could have got something close to that if, when I visited The Lodge in February, staff had taken the opportunity to work on the wording of a new e-petition with me, but that offer was rejected.

Although the RSPB says it is very keen on licensing of shooting estates it failed to support John Armitage’s e-petition on that very subject which ended only just  over two years ago. And RSPB failed to support Chrissie Harper’s e-petition on vicarious liability the year before. As comments on your blog yesterday made clear, it seems to many that the RSPB is timid in asking for the things that it says that it wants, and in seeking the support of its membership and the wider public for those things.

The RSPB complaint to Europe is indeed excellent and I have been glad to keep the issue alive over the years with over 50 blog posts on the subject here and a good chunk of a book devoted to it too. It is very important. And you are right to say that it ‘has the potential to alter fundamentally the context of the debate about the future of our English hills, and in time land use practise in other parts of the UK’ but it also has the potential to deliver nothing at allBy which I mean that success is not guaranteed and that the complaint can only be one part of a strategy for progress.  We’ll see.  Experience shows that in policy work one must hope for, and strive for, the best but often you get the worst.

I wonder what you mean when you say that you ‘can’t stress enough how important this year’s breeding season has become.‘ and ‘we are very clear that the Defra Hen Harrier Action Plan must lead to real change (see here), including the cessation of illegal killing and a more positive outcome for those harriers that settle on England’s moors and hills in this and future years‘. So I just wonder what the RSPB position will be if there are very few Hen Harriers nesting in England this year (I’m not expecting an answer now – but the RSPB will have to answer that question in a few months).  As Mike Clarke said at the Game Fair ‘…the longer it takes any industry to address its problems, the stronger those calls [for a ban on driven grouse shooting] will become.‘  The calls are getting stronger all the time and many wonder when the RSPB’s patience with an intransigent industry and a hopeless government department in Whitehall, will run out.

Well, those are all pretty minor points really – ones we could have a friendly discussion about over a drink some time. But where we differ is over the proposed solution (where I am sure we could also have a friendly discussion over a drink some time too). I have targetted driven grouse shooting and call for it to be banned and the RSPB asks, very quietly, for all shooting estates to be licensed.

Arguably your proposition, including all types of sporting estate (including deer stalking and fishing?) including pheasants and partridges, is the more radical option. But that means it is also, very complicated. Despite the RSPB’s enthusiasm for a licensing system that covers illegal activity and unsustainable activities, for all types of sporting estate, we haven’t seen this drafted. This sounds like a pretty complicated piece of policy work – rather more so than the points system for drivers losing their licenses.  I can see how it could work in the best possible world, but not in this one.

In policy work one must, as I said, hope for and strive for the best, but you often get the worst. Let me give you an illustrative example. The agri-environment system (the old English one at least) also had the ‘potential to alter fundamentally‘ the fate of farmland birds in the countryside, but it didn’t. It didn’t because the industry, in this case the farming unions, fought hard to water down any meaningful elements of the Entry Level Scheme and what they didn’t water down the civil servants did because, quite reasonably, they said that the scheme had to have low monitoring costs.  Now, that was a subject on which hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money were spent every year for decades so quite a lot of thought was given to it – but the vested interests won. In the best possible world it would have been great, but in the real one it produced very little.

Think what a scheme for licensing of sporting estates would look like. It would have to encompass estates of different sizes and types and encompass illegal activities and unsustainable ones.  It would have to involve detailed monitoring of a standard that would  stand up to legal challenge for any estate about to lose its licence would take every legal route to stop this from happening.  I can think of a few other problems with licensing but I’ll keep them to myself, as if you ever do get licensing off the ground, of course I’ll give it my support.  But licensing isn’t an ideal way to regulate unsustainable land use nor wildlife crime and certainly not the combination of the two.  I really don’t see it working. That’s my biggest problem with the RSPB solution to our agreed problems.  If I were a grouse shooter though, I’d obviously prefer the RSPB proposal because I’d reckon I could water it down and maybe get it thrown out!

Mark Avery 110409 12 (2)The RSPB Council really ought to have a re-think – over 38,000 people have signed up for a ban, or at least a debate on a ban, and we are only a third of the way through the life of this e-petition. What level would it have to reach before the RSPB decided, too late, to reconsider?  Imagine we get to Hen Harrier Day and this e-petition is heading for 50,000 signatures, there are very few Hen Harriers in the English uplands and even more Red Kites or Hen Harriers or Peregrines have been found dead on or near grouse moors.  What will RSPB do then?

Anyway, thanks very much Steve for responding so clearly – and we should have that drink some time.  I somehow suspect that you and most RSPB Council members have actually signed this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting but just in case you haven’t, please join us.




13 Replies to “Thank you Steve!”

  1. Interesting you comment on the complexities of a licensing system. But in a similar vein I have also been wondering how a ban would/could work? I’m thinking of the badly worded hunting act and the ways that have been found round that piece of almost un-enforceable legislation. What exactly would be prohibited to enable walked-up grouse shooting remaining legal?

    1. Martin WW – obviously a fair point but not one on which to get too hung up I would suggest.

      First, by having a high profile campaign, something the RSPB lacks, we can make progress through the food chain, suppliers, restaurants and private land owners such as the NT. The ‘ban’ can arrive bit by bit and be completed by legislation.

      But second, the conversations I have had, admittedly not a huge number but with well-informed folk, don’t suggest any massive difficulties in legislating.

      1. Grouse shootings ‘house’ needs to be put well and truly in order. Few would disagree, and one thing I hope the petition will bring/is bringing is a thorough examination of its practises and the ramifications thereof.

        As for your second point, I am left slightly aghast. The Hunting Bill which for sake of brevity, wanted to ban hunting of foxes etc. with dogs, which seems on the face of it a simple idea, had massive difficulties in being enacted. I can’t understand why in this case it should be any different?

        BUT my comments don’t mean I don’t want a ban……before you all start!

  2. Could you both agree on a ban on muirburn? [And bans on medicated grit, direct dosing, snaring and rail traps, and policies of blocking moor grips and reinstating hill tracks].

    1. Muirburn….I reckon a massive reduction and ending 4 weeks earlier than now.

      Medicated Grit/direct dosing……similar is commonplace in foods entering the food-chain BUT it is tightly regulated for health and welfare reasons. Grouse medication should be similar.

      Snaring…….effective at ‘restraining’ target species until they can be despatched if done correctly but very very seldom is. Snares only need to be checked every 24 hrs which means something could be caught in one for nearly 24 hrs. To me completely unacceptable and probably best all round to ban their use.

      Rail traps….if set correctly shouldn’t cause suffering or result in bye-catch. Should predators be removed from moors? They are removed to a greater or lesser extent everywhere else. What you eat is a matter of massive predator control (nastycides et al) so we have a moral dilemma here. However my view is that if you want to have an artificially high density of grouse to shoot then some form of predator control will be needed (but nowhere near current amount)

      Blocking moor grips….if done correctly then fine but (and there are many fascinating papers on this) it can lead to increased run off and ascociated problems (due to the peat ecology being changed by the peat being drained to start with)

      Re-instating hill tracks…..dunno. Very dependent on locality/terrain/reason etc etc.

      So briefly that’s what I believe. Can we agree?

  3. I’d like to let Steve Ormerod know of another way he and the council (or anyone with clout) could help our membership of he RSPB.
    I subscribe to the RSPB news RSS feeds.
    The North Yorkshire police this week issued an appeal, the heading of which was: “Police are urging members of the public to support them in the fight against red kite persecution, after another bird was found shot last weekend.”
    I see no reason why the Royal Society for the protection of birds could not have copied the full appeal in it’s news section, as after all, we as RSPB members are the most likely to be able to help.
    There must be people in the RSPB who would like this to happen, but it isn’t.
    It is only Wednesday, not too late for it to be a news item.
    I got the news from Raptor Persecution UK, but I don’t see why such obvious news items aren’t repeated by The RSPB, unless you wish to feed the people who think the RSPB should have (except raptors) in the title.

  4. Every time the RSPB fail to inform their membership of any ‘big’ issue, they risk their members finding out from other sources and then asking ‘why didn’t you tell me?’
    The council should remember who pays their wages and bills.
    Do they think that their members are so dense that we can’t make up our own minds if only we knew all the facts?
    Yes they do do good work, excellent in fact in many ways, but why oh why would they rather talk to criminals than their own members. Why this softly softly approach for so many years?
    Several pages of Natures Home could and SHOULD be devoted to these issues.
    Lay out both sides of the big issues and allow the members to decide for themselves, armed with the facts, whether they think that grouse shooting should continue as it is.
    Whether it’s a good idea to kill all our bees. Whether Diclofenac should continue to be licensed for use in Spain.

    Ok, so I get that readers of this blog will find my comments naive but the fact is that after you’ve talked yourself blue in the face, to have the power of 1.1 million members and not use that power is questionable at best.
    Most members would, I guess, believe that the RSPB are keeping them informed. Most members are wrong.

    1. Yes.
      I would even like to see a small low cost updated bi-monthly or quarterly newsletter, dedicated just to raptor persecution, coming through every RSPB member’s letterbox.
      There is already the excellent annual RSPB wildlife crime report but this is only, as far as i’m aware, available on-line i.e. on request. We had to wait 2 years for the Scotland issue in 2014 but that was because that particular issue was a twenty year review. Still it was a long wait.
      There really needs to be a vamped up publicity campaign. Who else has this kind of clout? I remember reading in an old RSPB magazine that the cost of their magazine was much less than people thought. It needn’t be much more than what used to be the Action Pages.
      The newsletter could include an educating style questionnaire in the form of a quiz. Something like the Guardian’s attempt at a bee quiz.

      a. How many female Hen Harriers are killed every year in Scotland? 0, 5, 50 or 500
      b. How many of a have been prosecuted? 0, 5, 50 or 500
      c. How many raptors were confirmed to have been illegally killed in Scotland in 1994-2014? 0, 5, 50 or 500, 1000
      d. How many of c were Red Kites? 0, 5, 50 or 500
      e. How many of c were Buzzards? 0, 5, 50 or 500
      f. What % of those convicted in last 1994-2014 years in Scotland were gamekeepers? 0, 5, 50 or 100.

      a. 55-74
      b. 0
      c. 779
      d. 104
      e. 458
      f. 86

      This should also be essential and non-schedules for the executives. Does Steve Ormerod keep up-to-date. Merrick’s showed on his Talking Naturally interview that he definitely didn’t know what was going on even on the Forest of Bowland.
      Sometimes i wonder if the decision makers really realise how bad it is. They have a lot on their plate and so do the various Environmental Ministers but even so i believe it is a job requirement.

  5. There just has to be some reason that the RSPB is taking a softly softly approach to trying to solve the persecution of raptors on Grouse moors.
    Facts are it is nearly impossible to catch anyone doing it.
    Sentences if caught are very light.
    Pressure on gamekeepers to do it.
    Very doubtful if Tory Government will ever ban DGS.
    Please someone tell me a Labour Government would jump at the chance to ban DGS.
    The best I could hope for is RSPB,BAWC,H&O Trust,Mark and Chris to want the same thing even if individually they feel they are watering down their personal goals.
    Otherwise Findlay will be a old man and things not much better.
    Only thing I do not want is Hen Harriers being moved forcibly into lowland areas then competing with other raptors,if it happens naturally so be it.

  6. I was thinking that RSPB was actually arguing for a ban unless the licence applicants comply with the conditions/ rules. However, I am not actually sure that I have seen a firm suggestion for the sanction that might be imposed should the licence be breached? I’d like to think it would be a ban….the length to depend on the severity of the breach. I suspect the watering down process would result in punishments like the landowners being forced to wear a beige cravat for a week.

  7. The RSPB is failing miserably in its duty to protect Raptors in this country, this is not a new phenomenon this has been going on for decades. It is in more recent times that the shooting fraternity has increased its intolerance of Raptors preferring instead the possible chance of an extra bird or two in the bag and the increased pot of gold this brings in, we have witnessed the total removal of Peregrine falcons from the trough of Bowland and possibly the demise of the Hen Harrier here too as breeding species, in most of our uplands the same story is being repeated. We have discussed the problems time and time again and pondered over when the RSPB will take meaningful action, the RSPB has set up its own web page “ Hen Harrier appeal” this is taken from that page asking for donations

    “£10 will help pay towards a satellite tag. By tagging the birds we can follow them wherever they roam and take action to protect them when they stray into danger.
    £15 will help pay towards vital frontline staff. With your support our team will survey and protect hen harriers
    £20 will help pay towards surveillance equipment. Using the latest surveillance equipment we can watch over hen harriers more effectively.”

    Here is a simple sentence that could be added to this, for those of you who cant afford to make any more donations or who now beginning to wonder if this is becoming a money making opportunity, for less than 5 minutes of your time you could sign Mark Avery’s online petition to get driven Grouse shooting banned and try to make a difference by putting pressure on the organised criminals running amok in our countryside. Failing this we could hope the present board resign en masse or we could all turn up at the next RSPB agm and try for a vote of no confidence in the board and get someone in who understands what the word “protection” in the organisations title stands for

    1. £200 will pay for the release of a Red kite.
      20p will pay for the lead shot that kills it.

  8. Why does everyone come at this from the sustainability point of view? Why is it always about the numbers of a species and never, or hardly ever, the suffering that animals of all denominations endure on grouse moors? Apart from the grouse whose flesh is used as living targets, what about the horrific and painful deaths avian and mammalian predators suffer at the hands of gamekeepers? Poisoned, trapped, snared, bludgeoned, drowned, shot; it’s horrendous, and all because a bloodthirsty minority of influential people want to fire pellets into living birds. It’s not about feeding oneself or ones family, it is totally about the pleasure some get from the slaughter. I support the RSPB, but with many reservations, that org is as single issue in its own way as the Contryside Alliance is in bringing back fox hunting. I get that birds are wonderful creatures and we should preserve their habitats and their species, but what about those of us who feel the same about foxes, weasels, squirrels etc etc. To die in a snare or of poisoning, or indeed any of the other ways sporting estate managers think up to get rid of those regarded as a threat to their living sport, is simply untenable. Live and let live. Ban grouse shooting in its entirety, because of the cruelty in around the pastime. If I may add, the RSPB might want to examine its own hands for the blood of innocent mammals. It’s not the fault of the predators because human kind has pushed certain bird species a few steps closer to extinction. We should be working together to preserve natural habitat not killing others. We have an anthropocentric view of life on Earth but designer nature doesn’t work. I signed Dr Avery’s petition because I want grouse shooting banned. I would never have signed if on the back of it some were going to argue for licensing as a compromise.

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