The RSPB is getting into a bit of a pickle, and that’s a shame. It has had a really bad week with its natural allies and that week comes after a slow slide in confidence throughout 2016 in the organisation’s ability to make a difference on raptor persecution at a policy and advocacy level.
The purpose of this post is not to rub the noses of RSPB senior staff and Council in their current predicament, but to suggest we all need to find a way of making sure that the RSPB recaptures its passion and focus on wildlife crimes.
But, for the next few paragraphs I do have to set out the position the RSPB is in, and that might be uncomfortable reading for them.
Things started to go wrong, seriously wrong, when the RSPB welcomed the Defra plan for Hen Harriers. The RSPB had spoken out against it for months and months, particularly the brood meddling element, but when the plan was published they missed the opportunity of saying it wasn’t good enough and switched to supporting it and welcoming it. The RSPB should not have welcomed a plan which they had opposed, rightly, for months and months. This was very odd, very unpopular with many RSPB supporters, but welcomed on Martin Harper’s blog by the Chief Exec of Songbird Survival (‘Great news Martin‘) and the decidedly pro-shooting writer Rob Yorke (who seems to think of himself as a ‘neutral’)(This can work for the public benefit but only with a skilled independent leadership ‘brokering’ a way forward in this deeply complex issue. Dissenting voices must be heard but not be allowed to derail the process.‘). At the time there was a selection of less positive comments from what I assume are ‘ordinary’ RSPB members (or perhaps ex-members):
Keith M – ‘Well Martin, you asked for views. As a very long standing RSPB member who has lived and worked in the British uplands almost all my adult life I am deeply disappointed that the RSPB has agreed to this so-called ‘action plan’, let alone welcomes it. ‘
Me! – ‘I know these things are difficult but the RSPB has welcomed a plan that has no target, has no new resources for tackling wildlife crime, has no progress on vicarious liability or licensing of shooting estates and yet gives a nod to a pointless and expensive reintroduction and to brood meddling. And RSPB welcomed it? That’s like saying ‘thank you’ when you have been ignored and then slapped in the face.
As a result, the shooters are going around saying ‘The RSPB welcomed the plan – let’s get on with brood-meddling now’.
Alex M – ‘I cannot agree that RSPB should welcome the action plan. Please excuse my scepticism in my comments below, because I am not happy at the RSPB welcome. Why does the RSPB say it’s not perfect, but welcome the actions?‘
Prasad – ‘I really don’t believe the RSPB are pushing hard enough on this. There used to Action Pages in the RSPB magazine. What happened? The RSPB is fantastic but needs to grow some cojones and have some trust in its members’
Ian Whitaker – ‘Welcome is hardly a term I would use in respect of this plan.’
James C – ‘Martin. You have got nothing for your efforts, absolutely nothing. Licensing? Vicarious responsibility? Anything, anything at all? Why are you celebrating business as usual? Correction business as usual plus the prospect of legalised nest theft. Martin can you please try and justify how you have been spending your time?‘
And then last week, the RSPB made a statement on Hen Harrier numbers which was vague (and we don’t buy the excuse that saying how many Hen Harrier nesting attempts have occurred so far this year in England might lead otherwise unsighted people to find any remaining nests and dispose of them!) and bent over backwards to praise the Moorland Association for saying that crime was bad! The same statement said that the RSPB ‘also remain committed to Defra’s hen harrier action plan‘ which makes it sound as though after an early breeding season which takes things backwards, the RSPB is even keener on the hopeless Defra plan than ever before! That can’t be how the RSPB really feels – so why say so?
And so that statement went down very badly too, although not with the Chief Exec of Songbird Survival ‘Interesting and balanced account Martin‘ nor with self-styled neutral Rob Yorke ‘While not diverting from the persecution issue, which I acknowledge in full, ‘indirect human interference’ does not help when over zealous ‘ownership’ from those watching birds may inadvertently disturb nesting harriers.‘ but was received less well by some others:
Avenue Wild – ‘I am angry, where is the RSPB’s backbone? If it’s not obvious to you by now that the Grouse Shooting industry is taking you for a ride then you should resign! It seems there has been one big push from Grouse Moors to get rid of Hen Harriers before a recovery could start. No HH no problem to sort? I always said I would not cancel my membership but boy am I getting close. I will expect a letter any day now asking for my hard earned cash for a reintroduction programme. Grow a pair and do what needs doing before we lose HH, on your watch!!!!‘.
James C – ‘Roll over RSPB, The National Trust (astonishingly) takes the lead; raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/…/national-trust-pulls-grouse-shooting-lease-in-peak-district-national-park‘
Liam G-773377793 – ‘At what point will you accept that your approach isn’t working? Will there be any Hen Harriers left by then?‘
Mike Whitehouse – ‘I am sure you have checked out the comments on Mark Avery’s blog and that of Raptor Persecution UK. Neither you nor the RSPB are attracting a sympathetic press to say the least…I am sorry to have to say this but it is clear that you are losing the support of your own membership.‘
Enough perhaps! But there is a little more as in the last couple of days the North of England Raptor Forum has published this strongly-worded blog criticising the RSPB position and Birders Against Wildlife Crime have done something similar too. These are natural supporters of the RSPB, as am I, who are losing patience with what they see as the RSPB’s inadequate public statements on people killing birds of prey illegally. And by the way, in case you didn’t notice, BAWC have previously been neutral on the proposition of a ban on driven grouse shooting but now have come down firmly in favour of it – that is, reading their blog, partly a consequence of a loss of faith in the RSPB position on the subject.
Time to consult Shania Twain I guess (whom I stumbled across when googling some song lyrics – honest! I’m not a big fan)!
The thing is that we’re all Holding on to Love for you (to save Hen Harriers’ lives) but at the moment what you are doing Don’t Impress us Much! RSPB, You’re Still the One but Don’t Be Stupid (You Know we Love You). When you give it some proper thought you might want to Come On Over and support the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting – but don’t leave it too late, please. And when Teresa Dent or Amanda Anderson are giving you the eye just remember that If You Wanna touch Her, Ask! and we’ll probably say No! You’ve Got Away and From This Moment On you need to come home to your true supporters because, Honey, they’re Home and never went away.
Shania has a few more words of wisdom for the RSPB to end this blog but in a completely serious vein, it is clear that some of the RSPB’s supporters are getting very irritated with the Society’s public statements on raptor persecution. And I am sure that the RSPB is getting irritated by…let’s call them ‘us’ too. RSPB won’t have liked the NERF blog (of that we can be sure), won’t appreciate the BAWC blog, won’t like some of my blogs, won’t be happy with some Raptor Persecution UK blogs and won’t be pleased with the comments they are getting from their own members. We should not fall out more than we have so far – which isn’t very far, but the irritation levels are rising everywhere.
We should have a more unified position but I have to point out that the RSPB rejected that possibility when I came to see them in February to ask whether we could agree a new e-petition which would raise the issue of driven grouse shooting in a way that left open the range of possible solutions (banning, licensing etc). The RSPB rejected that possibility and now faces the situation where well over 40,000 people support a policy position that the RSPB does not support and that figure is certain to pass 50,000, likely to pass 60,000 , might well pass 70,000, could pass 80,000 and might just conceivably pass 100,000 signatures without any RSPB support at all.
We need to to hear much more from the RSPB on the outcome of the Hen Harrier breeding season on Hen Harrier Day not in September. And if the Hen Harrier breeding season continues to be as bad as it looks at the moment we need to see the RSPB clearly setting out a position which isn’t showing massive enthusiasm for the Defra moorland owners’ plan.
The RSPB Council needs to recognise that being nice to grouse shooters will get the RSPB nowhere at all on the Hen Harrier issue (as this year’s initial breeding season update demonstrates) and sucking up to Defra won’t get the RSPB or the Hen Harrier very far either. Doing those things though will further alienate what is your core support and your partners. It’s still in Council’s hands to give the RSPB position a tweak – and they should, before more damage is done. Shania Twain would tell them that if you Dance With The One That Brought You then You Can’t Go Wrong.