When in doubt – ask Shania Twain!

By ShaniaTwain3.jpg: David Swalesderivative work: Bserin (talk) - ShaniaTwain3.jpg, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9710365
By ShaniaTwain3.jpg: David Swalesderivative work: Bserin (talk) – ShaniaTwain3.jpg, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9710365

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.

By David Swales (Originally uploaded to Flickr as Hello Shania) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By David Swales (Originally uploaded to Flickr as Hello Shania) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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20 Replies to “When in doubt – ask Shania Twain!”

  1. Well Mark, this seems a somewhat stronger appraisal from you on the RSPB position than I think you have made before. I think that the time is right, and we RSPB members should consider taking stronger action than the RSPB has done so far, but preferably together with the RSPB. I don't want to leave the RSPB and make my views known away from the RSPB.
    Let us look at some positive things that can be done, and my take on these suggestions:
    1. Get a group together to make a bid for the lease likely to be vacant in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I feel that although it might work and perhaps some work should be done by people who have views on this to come forward with views on how such a proposal might be framed, and there are many ways it could be done successfully in complete accord with the Park Vision, it would fail as the grouse shooting lobby would be well aware of the bid, and would outbid our bid at any level. I personally would however like to see people's views on how such a proposal might work. It might happen now with a friendly NGO to help, but post driven grouse shoot ban we need these ideas, and these solid proposals need to be in place now, able to be discussed by those more knowledgeable than myself.
    2. Get a group together to make a proposal to the Yorkshire Dales National Park to form a Hen Harrier protection group on the new lease. The membership would need to be given access to the moor early in the breeding season. If any harriers were seen to be potentially preparing to nest, licensed members of the group would be allowed to put in place many WiFi cameras well remote from but visible day and night from any potentially nesting Hen Harriers on NP land, communicating securely with a manned control location off a hill track, which could monitor the situation at a distance and not require regular attention. I'm in favour of this proposal. Approach other NGOs and say United Utilities once such proposals are firmed up, with a standard approach and good equipment.
    3. Have a representative group form, which would be known to the RSPB, who would contact all the RSPB management board and the RSPB council to seek their individual views on the position of the RSPB and make those views know publicly. Potentially put forward people friendly to your views Mark, to oppose those people who do not seem friendly to your views at the next opportunity. I'm in favour of this proposal.

    These measures are intended to be additional to what is already being done.
    Is there a consensus on any of these proposals?

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  2. I have been an RSPB member for over 40years and will not resign as they do fantastic work elsewhere. The comment by Martin Harper praising the Moorland Association made me incredibly angry, upset and betrayed in about equal measure. That was my gut reaction as I read it and it still has the same effect on me. To my mind the Moorland Association hadn't done enough to warrant that comment at all. If they had taken action against the estate concerned that would have earnt the praise.

    I am afraid the praise belongs to the National Trust for terminating early the lease on one of their properties and the statement that they made. It totally saddens me to see the RSPB in this position and I fully support Mark Avery's statement above

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  3. Whatever has happened differently now.
    It seems fashionable for loads of criticism to be piled on the RSPB.
    Not that long ago I was regularly crucified for being critical of them,how come it is O K for some to do it but not me.
    Maybe they were instrumental in getting through to the NT to get this decision that could be the start of better times on the way.It seems actually the only good bit of news for HHs for decades.

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  4. It feels like head banging against a brick wall and not someone else's head.
    Martin Harper never addresses any of the extremely serious and valid questions raised about the missing parts of the non-plan. Most, if not all, were covered by Mark on his first blogs on the Planless Plan.
    Martin they are not rhetorical questions. I want answers.
    The questions that really stands out especially after the last blog from Martin Harper praising the MA and was also mentioned by Mark above as a question from Liam G-773377793 – ‘At what point will you accept that your approach isn’t working?‘
    The HOT have made specific claims about when they will pull out of the plan. Whether they stick to those conditions is another question but the RSPB seems even more determined than ever after the recent crimes to stick with it. It is beyond belief. It is like trying to get through to politicians.

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  5. I don't see myself heading in the direction of conspiracy theory by viewing the events of this and last year's breeding success of Hen Harriers as anything other than a concerted and coordinated push by the grouse shooting industry. The methods witnessed this year and the wider range of raptor persecution illustrates this only too well.
    I find the response of the RSPB naive, inadequate and lacking the leadership we should expect from them.

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  6. There are always several points that need adding here. Who needs permission to enter land when it is 'open access'! Looking for Hen Harriers on a Red Grouse moor does not need permission and certainly does not need a license as you don't know they are there. When you have found them then you need the above but that means telling the owner and that is when the birds go missing.

    As far as the RSPB not doing anything who do you think put pressure on the National Trust? A blog! Everyone knows where the information for that blog comes from. Yes it is the RSPB.

    Langholm now shows that the North of England should be full of harriers this year as protection has allowed birds to arrive very slowly and with no voles to eat. Yes they will be eating Red Grouse as they have had a great hatch and with no supplementary feeding the harriers will have no choice.

    Mark shows a few bad apples in a previous post and that is all that is needed in the RSPB. I tried it in 1990 to my cost [ 'I don't want to get involved as it may upset my career' said one warden who still works for them!] so may be instead of blaming the whole of the apples Mark should be naming names so they can be removed starting at the very top.

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    1. 'As far as the RSPB not doing anything who do you think put pressure on the National Trust? A blog! Everyone knows where the information for that blog comes from. Yes it is the RSPB. '
      I've never heard anyone say that so straw man argument.

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  7. I see two scenarios that might explain the position:

    Scenario 1) Government ministers have realised the urgent need to get control of the grouse moor 'industry', was fearful of what the RSPB might do, persuaded the RSPB to hold fire for a season or two so the government and industry reps could get on top of the situation. The RSPB relented, and so here we are now, with the RSPB simply giving space for the government and industry to act.

    Scenario 2) The RSPB is terrified of upsetting both an unsympathetic government and powerful land-owning and shooting establishment, and has decided to pull away from hard advocacy around grouse moor management and focus its efforts elsewhere.

    I'm struggling to think of evidence in support of the first Scenario, although I see some against it. If the government and industry reps were really feeling pressure, you'd think Defra, Moorland Association, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and others would have issued strongly worded statements condemning recent abuses - use of decoys, gas guns, pole traps, vanished harriers - but instead they've adopted a defensive posture, or actually a 'So what' stance, suggesting they're feeling no pressure at all.

    I can see evidence against the second Scenario: the government is now facing infraction proceedings for failure to address upland mismanagement due to RSPB action - hardly an indication that the RSPB is turning a blind eye.

    So, I'm inclined to think - or rather resigned to suspect - that the RSPB has adopted a strategy of time-limited, behind-the-scenes negotiating backed by some hard action nudging (complain to the EC). But the government and industry is laughing at them. The government is relaxed - there's no serious pressure behind the scenes; there'll be a fudge regarding the infraction proceedings (''I know", says the minister, "let's produce an Action Plan for our Precious Uplands! That need only restate-the-status-quo-with-a-tweak-here-and-there, which'll get the EC off our backs, see us to the next election with Big Landowner appreciative and their votes in the bag......''), one or two grouse moor owners will allow one or two harriers to nest this year, a couple more next, so we can claim an upward trend, then the RSPB will say 'We have progress, we need to give this time'....

    I think the RSPB needs to recognise that a lot of its supporters have also adopted a time-limited-strategy of tolerance towards the RSPB position: if we don't see results, quickly, the RSPB will have more than dissenting voices to deal with - it may well have an exodus of just the sorts of engaged members it needs to a competing bird conservation organisation on its hands!

    I find their 'welcoming' of the 'state-the-status-quo-for-hen-harriers' plan baffling. Better surely to 'note' it, rather than 'welcome' it? The only elements of the plan that are not stating the status quo are surely the shunting of pesky harriers off of grouse moors because they're a real pain in the arse, and steps to deflect attention away from the uplands by sticking some hen harriers in the lowlands. Those two elements will require extra funding - and a lot of it - taken from Defra's depleted nature conservation budget (i.e. other Defra-funded conservation projects will have to be cut to finance a ludicrous harrier removal scheme). The other elements of the plan merely re-state that the government is doing very little to tackle wildlife crime, but will continue to do very little.

    In that book about the history of the RSPB, it was described as a 'devastating lobby', which parliamentarians and vested interests had cause to fear. But gone are the days of charismatic leadership - Barbara Young and Mark Avery commanded attention and respect, Graham Wynne too. I appreciate that one should never underestimate the determination of a quiet man, but the chap at the helm at the RSPB, who's name escapes me, is very quiet indeed.

    Anyway, lets hope we don't see any further raptor persecution, to affirm that the government really is taking action, and the industry reps are capable of getting on top of their industry. If we see another instance of killing, or no sign of the hen harrier population increasing this season, then we have a good indication of failure.

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  8. Mark,

    As an ex-RSPB Council member (my 5 year term of office having expired in October 2014) I am reluctant to show possible disloyalty to RSPB by" breaking ranks" over this issue through detailed comment at this point in time. Suffice it to say that I find RSPB's public reaction to the Defra Hen Harrier Plan disappointing. Perhaps good work by RSPB is going on behind the scenes so I will not pass judgement further and will be prepared to be convinced by RSPB that progress is being made. Nevertheless RSPB will have to do quite a lot to convince the pro-raptor conservation sceptics who have contributed to your blog. I think that you know my views well enough, not least through my involvement with these issues via the Scottish Raptor Study Group.

    Patrick

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  9. Messi,great comment however I think Mike Clarke for that is his name is probably just as good as any predecessor.
    The big problems are in my opinion.
    This Government will never take any action against the moor owners and employees.
    The RSPB now has very little influence.
    Almost all RSPB members contrary to what blog comments and readers of this blog think are basically ignorant of what is happening or are cuddly bird lovers who actually dislike raptors or just do not care or think they will leave it to the judgement of the RSPB to act as they see fit.I realise readers of this blog think their numbers are important but in reality they could not be more wrong and even then some will not resign because of other good work the RSPB do.
    Finally I do not think anyone should count on a Labour Government having any different attitude because except for the present leader the rest of labour politicians would suit the tory's perfectly and what are the chances of present Labour leader hanging on in there.I must add that I certainly do not dislike him in case anyone thinks that I was disrespectful towards him.
    I think the only short term hope for the Hen Harrier is if we can influence the N T to make their tenants stop illegal acts against raptors and hope that National Parks and other areas where tourists go take notice and make a stand against this persecution.

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    1. Last time I visited the RSPB website it was exhorting me to give reptiles a home which I thought was a bit rich as we already funded Portcullis House

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  10. Great blog Mark and I think Alex Milne (we don't know each other 🙂 ) has some really good ideas. It's a common approach internationally - conservation 'easements' in US; buying up tropical forest concessions (long leases) to manage for biodiversity (and C storage) etc. Why not a grouse moor lease? - particularly with National Trust. They surely aren't obliged to "sell" to the highest bidder are they? Why not an NGO or consortium to manage FOR biodiversity and recreation - and demonstrate other ways it can be done. Maybe even walked-up grouse if they really have to shoot but think of all the money (and the biodiversity benefits and ecosystem services) that can be saved by not carbonising the landscape through muirburn. RSPB have done this really effectively on farmland - using public money (agri-envt. schemes) etc. to show that you can farm for biodiversity etc. and still make a profit (I think - but Mark will know all about that anyway 🙂 ).

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  11. It can be difficult to admit you got it wrong, particularly so if you are a conservationist and know you are on the side of the angels. What happens next is going to be a big test for RSPB, and on a much larger scale than just Hen Harriers. Along with the rest of the conservation NGOs RSPB have behaved as if the positive working relations they had with the Labour Government have continued. Clearly they have not, and the Hen Harrier plan is the starkest example of this. As the shock of this year's breeding season develops will RSPB back off with weasly words and obfuscation, with Marketing telling the management that they aren't actually losing that many members ? Or will they hold up their hands, recognise that they have been double crossed and revise their position to reflect the contempt with which the shooting lobby have treated their genuine efforts to reach a solution ? I've been there, I know how hard it is but in the long run having the courage of your convictions is far better than the easier short term fix which, perhaps invisibly, can leave the organisation and its mission permanently weakened.

    The National Trust faces the same sort of challenge. We should not be making plans for how to manage a new shooting lease: having taken one brave and right decision, the NT needs to go on to recognise that shooting has failed it and take the land in hand to manage it for its objectives - conservation of the landscape & its wildlife. Trying to hide behind tradition, the local economy (which may well suffer far worse damage if the NT & NP's reputations continue to be so severely damaged) etc looks like nothing more than pandering (or fear of) to the powerful elite who feel they own the uplands and have unlimited rights, law or no law.

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