RSPB getting tough?

There are two recent RSPB blogs which are well worth a read – aren’t they all, always?

Martin Harper’s blog is pretty outspoken as these quotes will make clear (but please read it all):

  • it was a deeply frustrating debate – especially to the 123,000 that called for a ban and of course those seeking reform. Our initial reaction tried to pick out some positives, but that was a real challenge. Clearly there is widespread opposition from within the driven grouse shooting community to any real reform.
  • …if pressure for reform remains then the quality of the parliamentary debate will inevitably improve as people won’t be able to brazenly ignore the facts like some did on Monday.
  • When more crimes get into the public domain it will be harder for MPs to turn a blind eye.
  • …this week, we are raising awareness of the fate of the hen harrier Rowan, found dead in Cumbria in October, and which appears to have been shot. The fate of this bird graphically illustrates that illegal killing of hen harriers is ongoing, contrary to the impression given by some MPs in the Westminster Hall debate.
  • …we remain appalled by the environmental condition of the uplands and the ongoing illegal killing of birds of prey

Guy Shorrock says some interesting things on the Investigations blog too reflecting on 25 years at the RSPB and recent events:

  • Sitting at the debate, I already knew the nature of Rowan’s recent demise and wondered whether Thérèse Coffey, present as the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was also aware. Against that, I listened with some disbelief at the nature of the debate that unfolded. To be frank, I wasn’t hopeful for a great deal to come out from the process. However, I thought at least this was an opportunity for some serious environmental concerns to be properly aired. Hopefully this would lead to a commitment from the government to at least look at options to tackle the pernicious problem of raptor persecution and a range of others environmental problems in our uplands.
  • At the end of the debate Therese Coffey read out a prepared statement that basically it would be business as usual. We know what has gone before is not working, so I simply don’t understand this response. With just three pairs of hen harriers breeding in England this year, just how bad do things have to get? I do wonder how history will look back on the quality of this debate and whether future society will judge us for failing to take meaningful action.
  • …despite raptor persecution becoming one of the government UK wildlife crime priorities in 2009, I have not seen any meaningful improvement in the levels of enforcement.
  • Compared with elsewhere in Europe and North America, game shooting in the UK is almost uniquely unregulated even though it is far more intensive in nature than almost anywhere else. To the best of my knowledge, no other industry in the UK has to rely on killing rare protected birds. Driven grouse moor management should be no different and simply has to adapt its business model to a more sustainable form of land management to conform to modern day conservation and the wishes of wider society.
  • Unless those in charge are held to account, I believe there is absolutely no chance of a significant change in some of the serious environmental problems associated with grouse moor management. Scotland has made some progress with the introduction of vicarious liability and this should be put in place across the rest of the UK as soon as possible.
  • As highlighted at Westminster Hall, it seems economics plays a very large part in this debate. However, the government do not appear to have done the sums to assess how the benefits from employment and income generation to local communities from grouse shooting compare with counteracting the cost of any environmental damage, loss of wildlife tourism opportunities or the huge sums of agricultural subsides paid into the uplands.
  • Whilst I will not be at the RSPB a quarter of a century from now, I would hope to still be here and to have witnessed a real change in the condition of our uplands and for the shame of raptor persecution to finally end. However, for these hopes to become a reality I believe this government needs to start taking take meaningful action now, and not just watch from the sidelines hoping it will all sort itself out.

I welcome these tougher statements and look forward to the RSPB taking a tougher stance on these issues. We’ll be chatting soon.



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31 Replies to “RSPB getting tough?”

  1. I've been an RSPB member for over 35 years, whether I remain a member or not depends on their attitude to this. It's good to see this tone in the blogs, but actions speak louder than words.

    1. As a former decades long supporter of the RSPB I thank you Mark and SG (in the Debate Rules article) for providing the pointers to these RSPB blog entries.

      The organisation is clearly reading the comments expressing discontent with their performance and to be fair appear to be responding positively. Just so long as it's not merely a charm offensive to divert the threat of membership reduction.

      One of the great advantages of Marks blog is the ease of use. Try starting at the RSPB website home page and navigate your way to the blog entries in question. Maybe one of the "creative and novel ways of maintaining the political and public profile of our concerns" would be to provide banner headlines on the home page enabling one million members to navigate straight to these articles rather than keeping them buried for anybody other than regular users?

      At a much greater level the organisation needs to initiate and be at the centre of a mass movement (akin to the anti-establishment phenomen) raising the profile of environmental/natural world issues to the wider public. They can start by energising their entire membership through their so called "get involved" programmes. I felt very let down in the past as I've frequently commented on this blog.

      1. PD - I agree totally about the RSPB website. I find it difficult to find things there that I know are there, let alone the things that might be there. RSPB, and many other wildlife NGOs are not really using social media very effectively to get out their conservation messages which seem to be regarded as lower priority than their fundraising ones.

        1. Mark, well these points provide a further measuring stick (for a turnaround in toughness).

          If it's sustained and effective I for one will withdraw my current criticism and rather than suggest withdrawal of funding to other disaffected commentators will rejoin! Radical I know!!

          Btw, in the debate rules blog entry I provided a disturbing list of species decline stats. Somebody hit the "dislike" button but provided no explanation. What did he/she dislike about that contribution? The content or that I'd published it? Surely a full and frank discussion of these issues would help also?

  2. While it is very welcome that these two RSPB blogs are highlighting the problems in the uplands more forcefully, we need to see these messages given much greater prominence. The RSPB magazine and emails to members could give greater exposure rather than simply using blogs which are probably read largely by the already converted.

  3. Maybe the RSPB should encourage many of their 1000's of members to start going for walks on grouse moors. Mass rambles on grouse shooting days would scupper the shooting plans and put a dent in the pockets of the land owners. they'd soon up in arms about that and would highlight that wildlife crime is unacceptable.

    When its all said and done, and all other avenues to a solution have been explored then direct action is the only option.

    1. Upland moorland is as far as I'm aware Open Access but I'm sure someone will correct me if not? There will be a situation where there may be opportunity to close / shut it down for essential management (shooting red grouse) but it may be that the application has to be advertised?

      Exercise our public rights (on both counts referred to above), after all politicians would try to persuade us that we live in a 'democratic' society? Strength in numbers and 'armed' with the latest technology to record events?

    2. As long as you are not preventing a landowner or their agent engaging in a lawful activity then you would not havd committed a criminal offence. You do need to think very carefully before taking this path. Criminal offences generally mean loss of job and end of career. Be careful.

      1. Yes, governments of late have been very keen to make partaking in any protest against them as life ruining as possible. Glad people are noticing that, I've been saying it for a while. There comes a point though...

  4. One of the most telling written submissions to the Petitions Committee was from Guy Shorrock. Guy states: "This response is written entirely in a personal and private capacity" it's still available on the Petition's website, ref. GRO0244. It is worth comparing with his blog on the RSPB Community website.

  5. Delighted to read the stronger comments from Martin on the RSPB's stance. I've already had some correspondence with the Society since the debate and hope and feel that they are beginning to listen to members' concerns and those of people who signed the petition. I agree with all of CGI's comments on Martin's blog on where we need to go next. Thanks Mark and everyone for keeping the faith.

  6. This is a welcome development, a significant change in tone and I liked Martin's, but really loved Guy's blog. The frustration he and others in the field of wildlife crime fighting feel must be horrendous. One of the commentators on Martin's blog made a reference to a beautiful photograph of trees growing along the banks of a stream at RSPB Geltsdale. Yes it was noteworthy how often do you see that on grouse moors? A wildlife corridor, an enhanced habitat 'mosaic' compared with the laughable old and new heather and that's pretty much it you get on grouse moors, but which they continually boast about ad nauseum. Take it a stage further, increase tree cover along watercourses and then add in large, coarse woody debris to create logjams and then you have a model on a RSPB reserve for Natural flood alleviation measures. Repeat across the uplands and then that's a significant contribution to reducing flood damage to higher quality farmland, homes and businesses downstream.

    Of course what legitimate reason would shooting estates have against implementing such measures on their land? The argument that grouse moors are contributing to flooding is being strongly contested which is not surprising, but refuting these counter claims seems to difficult, or is that just my impression? But grouse moor management precludes the natural vegetation and features which impede water flow and are certainly inimical to what is considered good for grouse shooting ,(those trees and the positively evil SCRUB!). That must be a point that can be stressed more, and if RSPB reserves like Geltsdale take the initiative it would put an awful lot more pressure on the grouse moors. From a conservation viewpoint it would almost certainly be beneficial and even if there was a trade off, if the RSPB did so they would have moral high ground, harder than ever for grouse moors to avoid doing so themselves just because it might reduce numbers of Grouse bagged a bit.

    Apologies for making these statements yet AGAIN (oh god am I McGiles?), but this was a different context so I hope I can be forgiven. That infuriating parliamentary debate just underlined to me the need to 'tool up' a bit re the flooding issue. Any suggestions as to who in RSPB it's best to speak to about this? Have to admit would also be nice to see patches of scrub on the hills in reserves like Geltsdale as well - panoramic views with not a single tree far less a patch of scrub can hardly be natural even in areas that are predominantly open.

    1. Tree cover along water courses = more corvids = more avian predation on ground nesting birds. All ground nesting birds, not just red grouse. I'd be wary of increasing tree cover.

      1. Makes you wonder how Pheasants manage to breed at all, DOD. Root out every last hedge in the English countryside I say, otherwise the blighters won't stand a chance!

      2. That 'reasoning' has helped keep vast tracts of moor treeless seriously reducing biodiversity. Lack of trees especially in a wildlife corridor would not help bats move or roost along moors - where do they currently have to breed, sleep, hibernate? A very significant proportion of our land must be inaccessible to bats and so much else due to absence of true habitat mosaic. And the idea that ground nesting birds can't succeed unless they live in a totally tree free zone is to me a load of clap trap, doubt that they managed for several millions years before muirburn came in without handling some tree cover. Strange how it always boils down to waders, as if there was no other threatened wildlife. How much else is being excluded from the hills for the love (manic obsession) of shooting grouse?

      3. It is a wonder that a bird like a pheasant can survive in the montane forests of its home range with all those trees around.

  7. I think they'd have been better getting tough about 7 months go and getting their members to sign the petition, and 2 weeks ago standing up at the debate and calling for a ban.

    Still, it's a step in the right direction...

  8. Words are cheap.
    Although I feel sorry for Guy having a thankless difficult task.
    Why do the RSPB via Martin's blog talk as if they will get tough and talk about Vicarious Liability also their option of Licensing.
    It seems small talk to me when they could have backed two private petitions crying out for their help on those things.It actually seems they have tremendous cheek saying what he did.
    Forget any serious action by them it is simply cheap talk.Decades of inaction on behalf of Hen Harrier persecution says it all resulting in a large part of the country having almost extinction of Hen Harriers and other raptors.
    The RSPB are actually as well as failing those birds failing members and future generations of young bird enthusiasts.

      1. Mark,really unfortunately I cannot read anything else into their inactivity.
        I feel sure that some people may think it a personal grudge against Martin but nothing of the sort as I am quite happy to acknowledge good work even if I am not a friend of them.
        I just think fact is he has I believe had a top job of influence at RSPB for five and a half years and quite honestly even if I searched I could not find one thing I could congratulate him on in relation to Hen Harriers.
        Their are several important groups the RSPB are in my opinion letting down badly especially now we have lots of young bird and nature enthusiasts coming into prominence and they are losing out on seeing more raptors and probably being young not as vocal as my criticism but their attendance at Hen Harrier days etc shows they care.
        Surely if the RSPB want V L and licensing then they should get on with a petition or some other action.

      2. Me neither.

        I have just decided to leave the RSPB after being a member for many years. An organisation that does not actively seek views from its own membership cannot be supported on this issue. The message from them is loud and clear - the RSPB knows best - do as we say.

        There are plenty more organisations available that deserve our support such as Raptor Persecution UK, BAWC and LACS. These, in my view, have filled the void left by the RSBP on the singular but important issue. Please do not forget that they, plus the RSPB's Chris P and Bill Oddie supported the petition and so you can rely on them going forward.

        Keep up the good work Mark. Your voice, and that of Rob Sheldon's, are much stronger now that you are ex employees of the RSPB and so less constrained!

        PS. I exclude the RSPB's staff on the ground and in particular their investigations team, who are invaluable, from any criticism.

    1. It is true that there are words and there is action. But how we respond is also a form of action. What is the demerit in taking Martin at his word? What is the merit in dismissing what he says, as you appear to do?

      Of course I agree that there comes a point. The reason I think driven grouse shooting should be banned is because the point where I believed anything the industry said passed a long time ago.

      But has that point been reached with the RSPB? Of course not. Despite having some difficult dynamics to consider, they have been moving steadily in the right direction for some time. Now is not the time for negativity but for support.

  9. I'm leaning towards Accidental's view. Look at how many people are against NHS cuts or pro more housing. Now divide that number by a thousand, and realise why we are being largely ignored.

  10. I for one have always held a high respect for Guy, I have no doubt his job has been very difficult and at the same time frustrating. Things are a changing at the RSPB, it was only a short time ago that condemnation of those in the game shooting industry that continue to persecute protected raptor only spoke out following retirement. At last this seems no longer the case., but this change should have happened much sooner. Just to be clear I do not place Guy into this category. In my view the RSPB must now take a much firmer and outspoken attitude towards the game shooting industry and the problems this industry causes to our protected birds of prey. Like many others who have read Guys candid comments I say thank you for being so forthcoming with the truth, we'll done and thank you .

  11. This needs putting in context.
    Hopefully after the failure of the HH Inaction Plan and the response by the government and the grouse moor puppets at the debate they realise the time for talk is over.
    We'll see but 16 years after that petition and things have only got worse on driven grouse moors.
    Are we going to have to wait another 16 years?

  12. Please, please don't quit the RSPB ! You may not be happy at the pace of change, but resigning is exactly what the Countryside Alliance and Songbird Survival will be hoping for - divide and rule.

    And for anyone who thinks the Commons debate on the petition was a failure, you can already see the effect it is having - for better or worse the shooting lobby have scuppered any real prospect of dialogue and cemented the RSPB's firmer position.

    Rather than targeting the RSPB, I would suggest the charity that needs some membership feedback is the National Trust. Is it's Peak plan more than another Defra 25 year Biodiversity plan - simply a way of kicking decisions into the long grass ? How can the Trust have in the same breathe as sacking its shooting tenant (well done, but probably unavoidable) say that it will be looking for a new tenant, knowing that no Hen harrier will be allowed to nest on any moor shot for Grouse ? NT own far more moorland than RSPB (1 Hen Harrier successful) and FC England (2).

    Fortunately, NT did not terminate the lease immediately so there is time for a really new plan based around NT getting the nesting HH on its land that its reputation urgently needs.

  13. Hi Roderick: as you will know there is a petition about that Peak District moorland estate, the one owned by the NT and from which the shooting tenant is being evicted.
    It congratulates the NT on getting rid of the current tenant but urges it NOT to replace him with another shooting tenant on this massive 8000 hectare estate but instead to restore its damaged ecology and do so with wildlife conservation and environmental services as the land's main function and purpose.
    The petition needs more signatures so whether you are a member of the NT or not, please sign up.
    The petition is run by 38 degrees ( )
    and you can read the full background (and find a link to the petition) at .


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