RSPB humming Shania Twain

By David Swales (Originally uploaded to Flickr as Hello Shania) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By David Swales (Originally uploaded to Flickr as Hello Shania) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The RSPB today turned its back on the failing and doomed Defra Hen Harrier plan – and quite right too.  Humming a Shania Twain song, ‘Dance with the one that brought you‘ the RSPB turned its back on the grouse moor owners and came back to us. Thank you RSPB.

Where does that leave the plan and where does it leave the RSPB?

The Defra Hen Harrier plan was worthless from the start. It would be disingenuous of me not to say ‘I told you so’ because I did, and so did plenty of others.

In contrast the former minister Rory Stewart said  at the time of the plan’s launch:

‘This new plan will transform the fate of one of our most magnificent birds’ – wrong minister, unless you meant that there would be even fewer of them once the plan got started!

‘We are working closely with conservation organisations and landowners and with their help, this plan will help hen harriers flourish once more while coexisting with a thriving rural economy.’ – wrong minister, the conservationists have just walked away from your failed plan because the wildlife criminals took no notice of you, nor of the organisations that are said to represent moorland owners and moorland gamekeepers. That leaves Defra cuddling up to an industry that has shown Defra as much respect as it does the law.

‘Our wildlife is a crucial part of our national identity. That’s why we care deeply about protecting this vital species for future generations to come.’ – better luck with International Development having left this mess for your successor to try to deal with.

Defra look very foolish today, as they have done every day since Rory Stewart announced his Hen Harrier plan – but at least the RSPB have absented themselves from the team photo at last.  When will Defra, the Environment Department for England, responsible for nature in England, actually do something to tackle crime against protected wildlife?  We should be hearing of government plans to introduce vicarious liability for wildlife crimes into English law – but we won’t. We should be hearing of Defra plans to license game shooting in England – but we won’t. And from the Opposition, remember them (?) we should be hearing of plans to ban driven grouse shooting completely – but we probably won’t.

Tthe RSPB says that reform of game shooting to protect the Hen Harrier will only come through a licensing approach. Not many people agree with the RSPB on this but it is a reasonable, though very timid, view of affairs. And reform of intensive grouse moor management is not just about Hen Harriers, remember.  What remains the case however, is that the most likely route to having that debate in parliament is through getting our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting to pass 100,000 signatures by 20 September.

Last week someone asked me what I thought the chances of getting 100,000 signatures by 20 September might be. I said I thought it was about a 40% chance. If you asked me today, knowing what events are coming up, and what plans we have, I’d put it at a slightly stronger 45% chance. There is everything to play for – it’s going to be close.

Of course, if the RSPB asked its members what they thought, and told them of the existence of an e-petition that would get licensing discussed in the Westminster parliament, then the chances would be 100%.

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16 Replies to “RSPB humming Shania Twain”

  1. I had a feeling this article was going to say the RSPB had taken another look at grouse industry “efforts” to reform and said, “That don’t impress me much”. Pom tee pom.

  2. The RSPB are not being timid, they are being realistic. Licensing has a chance of happening in the foreseeable future; banning does not. Let’s hope Scotland shows the way ahead.

    1. It isn’t being THAT realistic.
      Licensing would have to have a very low threshold of proof to work. Would that even be legal? If it requires the same level of proof as the present laws then you might get, what, at the most one or two estates per year having a licence restriction and i doubt if it will be harsh enough to make any of us happy, ie. to stop persecution. The licences would I imagine be only withdrawn for a very short time (a year?). If massive subsidy withdrawal was not enough to stop the crimes on Glenogil i have doubts about the efficiency of licensing.
      If licensing was really strong it might work. If the level of proof was just having poisoned bate or illegally killed raptors on their land and if the penalties were for 10 years or more that might work. So for example the managers and/or estate owners at Invercauld could have had a life long licensing ban. Or to be timid maybe a 5 year ban and any further breach results in an automatic custodial sentence.
      But certainly it is a move in the right direction although the worry is that it may be just delaying the inevitable whilst the slaughter continues.

      I don’t particularly agree with the word timid in describing the RSPB but it is a relative term. Compared to the Spanish it certainly is being timid.

      1. The Scottish proposal to license all gamebird hunting seems quite ambitious (and admirable) to me. Licensing seems to work in other parts of the EU and North America. Why not here?

        The background info to the Scottish petition includes: “In other similar EU countries such as Germany and Spain, there are powers for the relevant authorities to remove hunting licenses and firearm certificates, amongst other punitive sanctions, where wildlife crimes are committed. Habitat management plans and game bag returns are also required…”

        I know that some people would like to see killing birds and animals for sport (“for fun”) banned. In the UK that would lead to huge losses of wildlife habitat and beautiful countryside. There are many moderate and sensible people in the shooting community. There is no reason why responsible sport shooting and conservation can’t co-exist to the mutual benefit of both. As I have commented before, the problem is one of greed, not principle.

        1. Sadly Bob, I might have agreed with much of what you say a while back but still the carnage continues so what option … licensing; well looks like the RSPB will support that and in the interim of that failing we’ll carry on regardless and observe the moderate and sensible sorting out the law breakers?

          Lest my comments (about the RSPB) be regarded as churlish, at least they’ve timed the announcement well?

          1. Thanks, Nimby. Yes, the RSPB have timed their announcement very well.

            I think the important point is the carnage and land mismanagement have got a lot worse. That at least ought to prompt governments into some action. I don’t know the extent to which moderate and sensible shooters can influence driven grouse shooting in particular but at least the RSPB are calling for legislation that is achievable in the current political climate. A proper licensing system would presumably be self-funding – including enforcement. Come on, Scotland!

  3. I suppose its better late than never to join the battle, how many years do you think it will be before they put forward a plan about licensing?

  4. Interesting times. Rob Yorke’s comment on Martin Harper’s blog entertained me asI’d predicted his message a couple of months ago – don’t do anything before the 12th (RSPB were a,t the time implying they’d say nothing about HH numbers till October) and in any case it’s the weather. RSPB certainly haven’t pulled any punches in pulling out at a critical moment – the opposite of the great Government practise of burrying bad news.

    In the meantime, the Countryside Alliance continue to pursue Chris Packham ( and freedom of speech) at a time when publicising what has happened to our HH in 2016 can only prove the justification of his ‘nasty brigade’ comments – and its arisky strategy because, like the forest sales fiasco, if they for e the issue they may again create a head on between the establishment elite and public opinion.

    1. mmmh, an unlikely prospect as it looks like the CA are championing the HOT continuing it to a successful conclusion? Might I be accused of being a skeptic if I were to wonder if they’ll need public funding to promote the playing for time again? Since when is landowner consent needed to ensure legislative compliance?

      It was quite astonishing to read …. “When bird populations are in decline across the country, it can ill-afford to spend time, effort and money battling with shooting estates that are in fact sanctuaries for many endangered bird species.”

      Looks like they are preparing for a battle? Terminology, so aggressive and as for the assertion of endangered …. we can live in hope?

      1. It may be that to achieve anything at all, the RSPB will have to do a lot more than simply withdraw their support for the plan, walk away from the situation and let the anti-raptor brigade get on with it without them.
        I hope the RSPB have thought through their next moves carefully and don’t leave a long gap before they do anything…

  5. Like inform their membership of the issues around driven grouse shooting and upland mis-management, the cost to the public purse etc. and particularly the option to sign Mark’s epetition?

    Haven’t heard much from the WTs recently either, are they behind the same hedge as the RSPB still?

    Sorry to bring it up again, I should just accept that they follow their own agendas which is generally partnership approach;0

    Come on, ‘one nation conservation’ please? Just because politics is divided and politicians divisive conservation should act as a grassroots community/movement?

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