Guest blog – Driven Grouse Shooting on Borrowed Time by RSPB chair Kevin Cox

Kevin Cox was appointed Chair of RSPB Council in October 2017, having previously served on Council from 2011-2016. He has been a Council member and trustee of World Land Trust for the past 12 years, as well as Chair of its trading company. He helped Birdlife Bolivia set up a protected area for the critically-endangered Blue-throated Macaw and he remains a Friend of the Barba Azul Reserve. From 2011, he was Vice-chair and then Chair of Devon Birds, stepping down last year to take up the RSPB role.  Kevin lives on Dartmoor where he takes a keen interest in the conservation of the moor, especially for upland and woodland birds.


Without significant reform, driven grouse shooting is on borrowed time.

The intensification of land use to ensure bigger populations of red grouse and, thus, bigger bags of birds shot may deliver a short term economic benefit but it is unsustainable in the long term.  The grouse shooting industry imposes costs on wider society in terms of affecting water management, reducing the ability of moorland to store carbon, the diminution of other wildlife on the moor either legally or through the continued toleration of the illegal killing of birds of prey. The fate of hen harriers has become a totemic, even surrogate, reflection of the wider impact driven grouse shooting is having on our hills.

During my time on RSPB Council and now as its Chair, this is an issue that we have regularly returned to. Let me be clear – the current industry approach to driven grouse shooting is at the root of a number of significant issues. It is clear that voluntary attempts to solve this have patently failed. The status quo is not an option.

We believe licensing of driven grouse shooting is the best way of addressing this. Effective enforcement is a function of the chances of getting caught and the penalties if you are. Licensing significantly increases the penalties, up to and including stopping shooting on an estate for the worst transgressions like illegal killing of birds of prey. That is a real penalty for any driven grouse moor and a serious force for ensuring standards are driven up to the highest level.

RSPB has led on this in a number of ways – through the evidence collected by our tireless investigations teams across the UK; through the use of technology to track hen harriers; and critically we have taken the issue of burning on the deep peat of our blanket bogs to the European Commission as a formal complaint, which has set up a challenging agenda for the UK Government to respond to.

We sincerely believe that a reform of the industry is possible (though by no means easy or guaranteed) and that licensing provides the industry with its best hope of a long-term future alongside tackling the conservation and environmental issues that continue to dog the sport.

Licensing is not an inevitable step on the route to a ban. It is a viable alternative, targeted at what really matters for conservation – the underlying intensive land management that strips some of our precious upland landscapes of their value for all but a few of us. It is a recognition that not all grouse moors are equally culpable. It is an opportunity for grouse moor owners and managers and for the wider shooting community to demonstrate it is capable of grasping the nettle and leading the change.

Regular readers of Mark’s blog will be fully aware of the movement of individuals and organisations that are now scrutinising the performance of the driven grouse shooting industry – we welcome this and recognise that shades of principled opinion will exist. Amongst the current activity is the petition organised by Ed Hutchings tackling directly the need to license driven grouse shooting – we are supporting Ed’s petition and further action will follow. We are promoting the petition to our active campaigners and we shall provide an update on this issue in Nature’s Home magazine.

Driven grouse shooting is in the spotlight as never before and we will continue to play a constructive role, seeking to reform and cooperate where possible. But reform there must be and it must come from governments across the UK. Otherwise calls for a ban will only intensify. E-petitions can help maintain and intensify that spotlight further, so if you haven’t done so already, please sign and promote Ed’s petition. We will continue to support it but the more we can all do to get the numbers up, the more the spotlight will intensify and the greater the likelihood we can bring about change.

PS I wrote this blog before this week’s news that Natural England has issued a licence for a trial brood management scheme of hen harriers. RSPB are implacably opposed to this and we are currently considering the best way to respond.




63 Replies to “Guest blog – Driven Grouse Shooting on Borrowed Time by RSPB chair Kevin Cox”

  1. Excellent blog by Kevin Cox and fully agree that in the end driven grouse shooting will need to be radically reformed.
    The recent news of issuing of licenses for brood management of Hen harriers is a complete farcical and just demonstrates that this government will go to any lengths to avoid tackling the real issues associated with this nasty blood sport. This ridiculous issuing of licenses just demonstrates how much this Government wants to preserve the privileges and vested interests of its supporters. They seem to conveniently over look all the other destruction of wildlife and the trashing of the moorland environment that driven grouse shooting brings about.
    Overall I doubt very much whether this Government can provide better protection of our wildlife and the environment in any significant way as the maintenance of privilege and vested interests dominate there actions, or lack of action, so much.

  2. One issue with licensing that particularly bothers me is that of ‘proof’. As far as the police and courts are concerned, that is an issue today.. they will not accept video of wildlife crime in action unless the camera has the landowners permission. So how will licensing change that? There are so many loopholes that dgs can squirm around.

    1. Mairi – the burden of proof would be lower but I agre with you. However, despite the RSPB saying that it isn’t, licensing really is a step on the road to a full ban.

      1. I don’t see why it has to be a step on the road to an all-out ban. Our ends objective here is nature, climate and people friendly upland management. If a licensing scheme introduces standards that take us there, there’d be no need for an outright ban. What’s left would be fine.

        At the moment, we have really intensive, and increasingly intensive, grouse moor management to accommodate a particular form of shooting.

        If we progressively reduce management intensity, we must reach a degree of intensity that protects peatlands, reduces burning, increases upland ‘roughness’ (thus attenuating more run-off), provides safer habitat for a respectable number of hen harriers and other birds of prey, and breeding waders…..AND offers reasonable numbers of red grouse.

        If we get to that point there’d be nothing to ban presumably? I’ve not seen details of the RSPB licensing proposal for England because they don’t appear to know the details or have any supporting evidence base. All we get from the RSPB is ‘licencing is the way…’, with nothing of substance to back it up and nothing by way of concerted effort to secure it.

        Actually, I think the RSPBs credibility with its greatest fans is also on borrowed time. They were once described as a ‘devastating lobby’. Timid springs to mind these days.

      2. Licensing doesn’t mean a ban is inevitable, but given the English national character of rule botherers it does mean we won’t get a ban without having tried licensing first.

        Licensing won’t always have a ban in its future, but a ban will always have had an attempt at licensing in its past.

    2. I think that they should be expected to demonstrate compliance with laws and policies, paid for by themselves, audited independently, as a condition of the licence. They need to demonstrate that they have followed best practice. Before licencing can begin a number of people need to get together to define best practice, but I am dubious about applying the same methods of land management on different moors.

  3. Kevin, this is very welcome.

    I want to think the best of RSPB, but now these cards are on the table I’ll be looking to see action following the words. Please don’t do a May and say all the right things before doing nothing about it. We expect disappointment from politicians, but we expect better of RSPB.

    There was a time when enemies of the environment feared RSPB. YFTB shows the contempt the grouse industry now holds you (us) in. Its time to hold them to account. Put the full weight of RSPB behind licencing now, and put RSPB back on the political map. We’ve been waiting a long time for this, please don’t disappoint us again.

  4. So long as people are allowed to shoot driven grouse, there will be estates that continue to persecute birds of prey and get away with it. There are multiple problems with policing and enforcing licensing effectively. When you are up against an entitled culture of ‘this is my land, so I’ll do what I like it on it’, licensing looks more like a hope than a strategy.

    If the RSPB throws its full weight behind the position Kevin has set out, it can only increase the pressure and spotlight on driven grouse shooting – which will eventually lead to a ban. This will however prove a long process and many more harriers, eagles and other raptors will have to suffer before we get there. I fear this may prove to be a case of too little, too late.

  5. It’s hard to judge this argument without some clue as to what a license would entail.

    Would it for example limit the number of grouse that can be killed ?

    1. If the RSPB has been asking for licensing for years why haven’t they drawn up a draft licensing scheme to get a discussion going with NE; the Police; the Judiciary etc?

      Let’s see the RSPB put something on paper which can be modified with consultation but at least get in first with what they think would achieve the aim of protecting/restoring the upland ecosystems that DGS has damaged. Be pro-active rather than just murmur disapprovingly. Get behind the marvellous investigations teams and take things forward.
      “Fine words butter no parsnips”!

      1. Perhaps because the RSPB are not involved in driven grouse shooting as an industry but, rather, implacably opposed to it as an enterprise under-pinned by extensive criminality. It is not their role to spend their members’ money on “what ifs” but on hard and fast actions: like the investigations they undertake.

        You are doing what people who criticise the RSPCA do, blaming a charity / membership organisation for not doing the government’s job for it. What they have done, and explicitly so in this blog, is continually draw attention to the criminality, the environmental destruction and to state their unalloyed opposition to the status quo. That is what they should be doing.

        The only unfortunate thing about the blog: Kevin Cox at one point refers to the killing as “sport” – instead of what it is: a pastime for rich psychopaths.

        1. Sorry, Simon, but as a respected policy advocate the RSPB has a far more expansive role than you suggest. The RSPB is not ‘involved in’ offshore energy, per se, but has invested a lot in a) offshore renewables policy analysis and advocacy; it’s not ‘involved in’ tidal barrages but has commissioned consultants to look at the economics of tidal energy production, underpinning its highly effective tidal energy advocacy. It doesn’t have many Indonesian oil palm plantations bt its staff have co-authored peer-reviewed papers on the biodiversity impacts of oil palm plantation expansion, underpinning its advocacy. It doesn’t own any UK container ports but invested plenty on consultants looking at the economics of port development in the UK, strengthening its casework against Dibden Bay. In other words, the RSPB does what effective think-tanks and policy advocates do, they investigate the various angles of a given threat to biodiversity, they build an evidence base, they advocate specific policies and use evidence to oppose alternatives. That’s how you win – by being informed, convincing, and present in the debate.

          The fact is that, if the RSPB is convinced that licensing will achieve what is needed to de-intensify driven grouse moor management it has a duty to present its case. It’s singly failing to do so. That’s why some of us think it would rather the issue fade into obscurity so it can focus on issues that don’t challenge the establishment of which it appears to be a part.

      2. I think a maximum density of red grouse should be used which is much lower than those densities currently pursued. This would remove this continuous push for ever bigger (premier) bags of birds to shoot. If this is exceeded then they loose their licence.

    2. Whilst I would expect a licensing system to very carefully and fully explain how management on grouse moors could and could not be conducted for shooting to be allowed to continue the one thing I would not expect would be a defining of how many birds could or could not be shot. For many of us this is not an animal welfare issue it is an environmental, habitat management and wildlife crime issue.
      For licensing to work the policing must be vigorous and robust, otherwise it just becomes a fig leaf for the industry to effectively hide behind and I for one remain very sceptical of this.
      However it is time the RSPB really did step up to the plate so this blog is most welcome.

  6. Kevin – Is it possible for the RSPB to stop using the word “sport” when describing DGS. There must be other ways to describe live target shooting, and in a small, but important way, we are all maintaining it’s legitimacy by implying that there is something sporting about their hobby.

    1. My very good friend Bill Hesketh refers to the people who enjoy game shooting as “pleasure killers” and I can think of no better epithet.

  7. Can I now expect when I receive my next (and all others following) copy of Nature’s Home that there will be harder hitting articles of rejection of the relevant Government decisions and about the destruction of the wildlife and environment in the uplands?
    A guest blog here is interesting but not sufficient to mobilise the membership.

  8. I’m nervous about licensing. Look at the current situation with trail hunting on National Trust land. They are licensed, but despite the examples of breaches provide by hunt observers, licences or permits are not being withdrawn by the National Trust because they are dismissing the “evidence”.

  9. I was very glad to read the piece by Kevin Cox on this issue. As an ex-Council member of RSPB I can testify to the fact that it was frequently debated at Council meetings, as Kevin states. Indeed there was a one-off two day workshop at which the matter (along with other field sports implications) was discussed. As others have written, firm action by RSPB adopting a high public profile as well as words is what is needed. One way forward would be to work hard at persuading the more law abiding elements of the sport shooting community to act to isolate the extremist “cowboys” and to treat them as pariah. That would serve the long term interests of these more law abiding elements. From a Scottish perspective there may not be many such “cowboys” but collectively they control a large extent of land.

  10. In my opinion, whilst licensing is to be a welcomed step, real questions need to be asked as to how effective it could be. So, let us assume licensing has been in place since 1954 when hen harriers and other raptors have been fully protected.

    Based on the assumption that if an illegally killed raptors (any species) is discovered on an Estate, and an employee or the land owner of that estate is convicted (and any appeal is rejected) for committing this act, and the penalty in addition to any sanction on the individual includes for a licence revoked (temporarily or permanently), how many Estates would have had shooting terminated based on this since 1954 and up to end of 2017? In England and Wales.

    This would surely give a high level indication of the licensing regime’s potential success absent of any dissuasion factor.

    Can this question be drilled down further? In other words, is it possible using historical conviction rates to model how Estates may behave in the future? Given the presumably low discovery rate of illegally killed birds, even lower conviction rate of those that are discovered, is licencing a genuine deterrenr? Licensing does not increase liklihood of a miscreant being caught. It only increases the penalty. So unless other enforcement enabling detection rates to increase is undertaken hand in glove with this, until the risk of being caught and convicted increases, Estates, surely, have nothing to fear as the status quo would more or less be maintained?


    1. Totally agree but if this is all we can get at this stage then lets push for it then move on . We started from a very low base against a powerful and very rich establishment with a general public who were totally accepting of the status quo.
      – This is not their fault at all, its what they have been fed by right wing media all their lives, and to be honest they have greater concerns in simply getting by, they I believe trust their elected government to act in a considered and humane way when deciding on rural issues-.
      The important issue is that we keep up an unrelenting pressure and there are some small cracks beginning to show .If licencing proves to be another small nail in the coffin of this depraved activity where animals are killed for kicks then dumped, then all well and good. I do however agree that bringing these criminals to book will be well nigh impossible. The RSPB seem to have made welcome commitments I hope this proves to be a real change in focus.

    2. You are both assuming that the only metric of any licencing system will be prosecutions for killing raptors. It isn’t.

  11. These are welcome words indeed from RSPB but in Mark’s excellent blog, it is preaching to the converted. The RSPB needs to mobilise its membership to sign the petition. I am pleased to see that they are “promoting the petition to our active campaigners and we shall provide an update on this issue in Nature’s Home magazine”. I would like to think that such a plea will be in large print in the magazine or there will be a separate insert of encouragement to sign. For too long the RSPB has sat on the fence on this one and I am glad to see it finally climbing down. There is not ONE member or non-member birder I speak to who has a good word to say about grouse and pheasant shooting. Time these archaic practices were consigned to the past where they belong. A licensing system may be the first step.

    1. “These are welcome words indeed from RSPB but in Mark’s excellent blog, it is preaching to the converted. The RSPB needs to mobilise its membership to sign the petition”.

      I agree but would add that as I believe the readership of Mark’s blog is well in excess of a couple of thousand, there are clearly many readers here who have not signed Ed’s petition. That is very likely due to an overall preference for the full ban amongst the readers but I would urge everyone who is disturbed by what is happening on our grouse moors to sign both petitions on the basis that both can help to demonstrate widespread public unhappiness over the situation and promote debate which can ultimately lead to change.

      1. Just members on the campaigners list so far I believe Keith. Interesting to see what happens when all 1.2m members are contacted!

  12. Excellent blog Kevin, but I do think the RSPB has to be a dam sight more consistent on the issue than it has been. Whilst Simon Barnes pulled no punches when his articles were published in Nature’s Home (PS could the name be changed back to ‘Birds’ please?) the RSPB seems to have bent over backward sometimes to ingratiate itself with ‘sporting’ interests – i.e publicly making claims about how great grouse moors can be for conservation – which has left me wondering really? How many species are actually being driven off the hills by grouse moor ‘management’, an awful, awful lot I would imagine and even if a very few species do benefit surely that’s not acceptable ‘conservation’ when a considerably higher number don’t? The RSPB doesn’t have to, and I believe never should, wave the flag for grouse moors – it just needs to be objective. Are any pheasant/partridge shoots good for conservation when the birds are raised and given supplementary feeding that involves intensive agriculture here and abroad? Bit of basic eco assessment needs to be done there before anyone makes claims about shoots helping wildlife – not if they’re using soymeal from cleared south American forests they’re not. A few months ago I was at a Vegan festival and was pleased to see a RSPB stall there. I told the guy running it I was very pleased they’d put up images and information re raptor persecution. He told me that it was generally considered ‘too strong’ for the public, but because it was a special event with a certain audience it was OK here. I think that’s a terribly big mistake. What can possibly underline the need for the RSPB more than the contempt for conservation shown by the belief that it is acceptable to kill some wildlife because you think there’ll be more of something else to shoot for fun? I am extremely fond of the RSPB and extremely grateful for its support for projects we’ve done, but it can be infuriatingly inconsistent.

  13. As lifetime members, what do we want to see in the next edition of Natures Home? At least a four page article explaining all the issues involved and with a pointer to further reading for members that are interested, i.e Inglorious.
    What do we expect to see? A small snippet in the news section.

    Kevin, prove us wrong. Please!
    Hopefully, you will also point out (as you could have done in this blog) how you expect licensing to work, how it would be funded and policed, bearing in mind that grouse moor owners are under the protection of the government.

    And, as said above, please stop calling it a sport or industry. It is neither, its slaughter.

  14. I thought one of the problems for shooters was that a moorland fit for Hen Harriers would be one where natural, uneconomic to numbers of red grouse to shoot for “sport”would exist. What would be in it for moor owners? How does licensing help here unless it is a step on the road to a total ban?

    Another issue with licensing is enforcement. With a government such as we have, with many Tory MPS and their pals “enjoying” the “sport”, how much effort will be applied to enforce the licencing laws?

    Good to see the RSPB at last put it’s support behind at least the licensing petition though.

  15. I was pleasantly surprised recently, to read a rant about the bad attitudes and methods employed by the ‘big bag’ culture from the ex Gamekeeper on his FB page, and later on Twitter, a lady who shoots had a 16 tweet rant about it, based around the hundreds of dumped game birds as covered by RPUK. We need more people from the industry to openly express their disgust and horror at such behaviour, and not the usual denials, exaggerations, downright lies, misdirection and half truths that we usually see. There’s a glimmer of hope.

  16. A key component of a license for a grouse shooting moor should be the necessity of the estate to show proof that raptors are breeding there in reasonable numbers and evidence that they are managing the estate in an environmentally friendly way. A fee for issuing a licence could provide funds for policing or monitoring the estate.

  17. On its website – – the RSPB states that

    “We want to see:

    • Protected sites in favourable condition
    • An immediate end to the killing and disturbance of birds of prey on and in the immediate vicinity of grouse moors
    • A reduction in the intensity of managed vegetation burning, and a cessation of burning on deep peat soils (blanket bog) particularly on SSSIs and in drinking water catchments
    • The restoration of degraded blanket bog now dominated by heather.”

    It then goes on to say, “We do not believe big-bag driven-grouse shooting will ever be viable without intensive programmes of predator control, grouse medication and intensive habitat management, making the attainment of the above outcomes highly unlikely without change.”

    I remain puzzled what CHANGE in the practices of DGS RSPB envisages, in order to both achieve their desired habitat and species outcomes, while retaining DGS. Is there an existing or possible model of DGS that RSPB supports? Kevin’s Guest Blog fails to clarify this conundrum. He says “We sincerely believe that a reform of the industry is possible … and that licensing provides the industry with its best hope of a long-term future …”. Does RSPB think that the long term future is DGS, presumably in a lower input / lower output form?

  18. Kevin,Sorry to say I expected much better,seems another time when words are cheap.
    Why oh why if the RSPB are now even now years late so keen on saying they will promote(how much??)Ed’s petition whyever did they not start one themselves because they would be sure to get a bigger following that way.
    No Kevin it just does not add up and worse you know it doesn’t.

    1. You do seem to think that petitions are the be all and end all of conservation action, Dennis. Yes, it would be great if the RSPB would promote Ed’s petition more strenuously but the implication of your post that the RSPB has been nothing at all with regards this issue is patently wrong. Words are indeed cheap and all of us commenting on this blog get to say our piece for free but the RSPB has put rather more than just words on the line. Kevin mentioned the EU court case on burning heather over blanket bogs and the widely respected work of the investigations team as two significant examples of where the RSPB continues to show real commitment to solving this problem. There may be good arguments for why the RSPB should change its tactics but continually questioning the good faith of its officers is neither fair nor helpful in my view.

      1. Jonathon,what I cannot understand is why RSPB would wait several years for Ed to start a petition then make it sound good that they are promoting it.
        I feel sure if the RSPB had made the petition under their own banner the signatures would be very much greater.
        Considering the effort put in by RSPB on lots of re-introductions and improving numbers in other projects such as Cirl Buntings then what they have done for Hen Harriers seems out of proportion.
        Footnote no I do not believe they should not have put effort into projects I mentioned.I also doubt I have been involved in anymore conservation petitions than you,you do seem to jump to conclusions based on very little facts.

      2. Jonathon,well I feel sure he has the same chance to come on the comments and tell me why the RSPB did not start a petition years ago instead of backing Ed’s petition,it would surely have been better.
        You must have noticed RSPB have never thought to comment on my criticism and they are free to do so just the same as you suggest I am.

        1. Well, I’d take his final sentence “…and worse you know it doesn’t” as implying that Kevin Cox is being disingenuous. I am also thinking of comments Dennis has made suggesting Martin Harper is motivated purely by his large salary/pension. If that is not questioning good faith I don’t know what is.

          1. Jonathon,Martin Harpers contribution to saving Hen Harriers has so far been pathetic considering his position and that is a fact.
            At the end of each of his blogs he usually or maybe often says words such as I would like to know what you think(meaning from his readers).
            Well you must not disagree or you will be banned from his blog and probably from RSPB community so how pathetic is that.However that is no problem as far as how I see his contribution to saving Hen Harriers.
            I suspect we have had far more problems with RSPB than they have from my criticism.

  19. The RSPB have been promoting Ed Hutchings’ petition vigorously on Twitter for some time, but so far, signatures have only climbed to a bit over 2,000.

    A lot of folk criticised RSPB furiously for declining to back Mark’s (or Gavin’s) Ban DGS petition, with the assumption being that the charity’s endorsement would mobilise its membership base and swell the signature count considerably. As things stand, this hasn’t really happened for Ed’s petition. So it will be fascinating to see how it performs when the RSPB’s efforts to support it step up.

    1. Ollie – the RSPB needs to promote an e-petition with the determination it promotes Big Garden Birdwatch and then we’d see some rapid movement. It is a test of many things. If the RSPB cannot show that it speaks for its members then it will be ignored by future governments as well as this one.

  20. What happens to the land if grouse shooting is banned? It is privately owned and would assume the land owners will turn over to grazing or forestry? They certainly won’t have any motivation to maintain an environment conducive to HH.

    1. David – read my book Inglorious for a longer answer but that wouldn’t happen because these are mostly in protected landscapes such as National aprks, SSSIs etc

      1. Ah! I thought the issue must have been known as not mentioned in comments already. Thank you.

  21. always been puzzled/irritated by the RSPB’s meek acceptance that killing (huge numbers of) birds is somehow okay. In case anyone at the rspb has forgotten Red Grouse are in fact birds – while what is ostensibly a bird Charity talks about licencing the slaughter of any birds I have a hard time offering my support. I appreciate that a birder having a passion for birds is a bit of an inconvenience but there you go…

  22. Well said, Charlie.

    I stopped supporting the RSPB many years ago, as they seemed conflicted about birds, which are worth conserving, which can be allowed to be killed.

    However, conservation is not my only concern – animal welfare is important too.

  23. Again, yes, licencing is a step forward and it may have an impact on some of the damaging aspects of DGS but like so many others here I feel it’s not getting to the heart of the matter. It’s treating a symptom and not the cause.

    As Chairman of a national Wildlife NGO (the Badger Trust) I have known for some time that the deep rooted problem is a broad spectrum, sociocultural attachment to ‘killing for fun’ (and profit). This is a culture I understand very well as I was brought up in it. Those who hunt and shoot and fish do not see it as ‘killing for fun’. They see it as an activity that defines their tribal identity and killing things separates them from everyone else, people they regard as largely ‘inferior’ and ‘other’. Killing is something one is introduced to at a young age (“don’t worry, you’ll get used to it”). It becomes normalised through constant repetition and social reinforcement. Any lapses are condemned as less than ‘manly’ or somehow ‘degenerate’.

    The number of people who actually take part in recreational killing is a tiny percentage of the population but they are also largely ‘the establishment’, the landed and the wealthy, which is to say they are hugely influential. But their numbers are dwarfed even by the membership of the RSPB let alone all the other wildlife and conservation NGOs. For the vast majority of us the very idea of killing things for our own amusement is abhorrent, grotesque even. So why do we tolerate it? Why are we always trying to negotiate with those that do this?

    I’ve been an RSPB member for longer than I can remember but I cannot for the life of me understand why killing millions of grouse and pheasants every year is any different to the pointless slaughter of migratory birds in places like Cyprus, Malta and Italy? Why do we vehemently oppose one and negotiate with the other? It seems to me to be a most appalling example of cognitive dissonance. I have the impression of the RSPB simpering and fawning around the shooting industry, wringing its hands apologetically pointing to marginal ‘conservation’ improvements in the numbers of certain birds whilst completely ignoring the fundamental principle of protecting birds.

    It’s rather like being a member of a child protection charity that is supporting a school that abuses children on the grounds that ‘well, at least they’re getting an education!” There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ driven game shoot. Even if they stopped killing raptors and mountain hares, and all the other collateral damage that these organisations inflict on our wildlife and countryside, they are still killing birds for fun. I’m finding it hard to remain a member of the RSPB while they still condone shooting as an ‘acceptable’ activity.

    The National Trust is currently making a real pig’s ear of the hunting issue (I’m a member of that too and spoke at their recent AGM on this subject) and I really think it’s time both NGOs took a solid stand and came out decisively against both of these hugely destructive and socially irrelevant old pastimes before they haemorrhage any more support.

    1. Thank you, Peter – your thinking on why some are happy to kill living creatures excellently expressed.

      I’m even more glad I’m a member of the Badger Trust now.

    2. Well said, Peter. For me, a fundamental lack of respect for living things other than ourselves is the common factor that underlies many issues relating equally to both conservation and animal welfare.
      In my daily life, most individuals I meet actually do have this respect, although many of them are not fully aware of much of what goes on. I get the impression that this is beginning to change now. However, the intractable problem is that a small minority of people in certain influential professions and positions either never had it, have lost it due to their upbringing, or supress it for fear of loss of face amongst their macho peers.

  24. IF there is a licensing system it will have to go hand in hand with powers to enter land to check the licence is being adhered to, For the regulator ( NE) to do their job properly ( and therefore avoid the risk of being taken to JR by NGOs) they will need to put in place an appropriate compliance checking regime to assess whether licence conditions (e.g “moorland is managed in a way which does not endanger protected species” ) Treasury rules mean that they are obliged to recover the full cost of administering the whole regime – checking applicants, issueing licences, assessing compliance etc from licence holders. Could add up to quite a significant annual bill.

  25. If it chooses, the RSPB can relatively easily rally 100,000 plus supporters behind the licensing option. Let’s hope it has the political appetite to do so.

  26. A licensing system involves the removal of the right to shoot unless certain conditions are met. The key lies in licence the conditions and the monitoring of these conditions.

    What can we predict?

    Firstly, licensing mk1 will be a light touch approach. The bar will be set very low and it will be self regulated. There will be no additional funds for monitoring.
    Gamekeepers will continue to break the law. Hen harriers, other raptors and the entire ecosystem will be trashed.
    There will be a protracted period of earnest discussions, working parties and other trips into the long grass.

    Licensing Mk2. Conditions will be better defined and possibly linked to financial penalties. Self-regulated but no extra money for monitoring.
    Gamekeepers will continue to break the law. Hen harriers other raptors and the entire ecosystem will be trashed.
    Discussions, scientific research, working parties and long walks into the long grass will be required.

    Licensing Mk3…a wee bit tougher….
    Gamekeepers will continue to break the law. Hen harriers other raptors and the entire ecosystem will be trashed.

    It will end in an outright ban in about 20 years time…. because….
    Gamekeepers will continue to break the law. Hen harriers other raptors and the entire ecosystem will be trashed.

    Unless RSPB think it through and mobilise to save all of the species and habitat destruction that will happen before the light touch approach takes its inevitable course.

  27. I agree wholeheartedly with the bulk of the blog but have concerns about the license. Competition between estates for business is very fierce. With operators clearly unconcerned about breaking the law with regards to raptor persecution, I am sure they would have no qualms spoiling other estates to gain an advantage. Once an adjacent estate has lost its license, competition is eliminated.
    No, we need to prosecute more rigorously and encourage estates to ‘ accept lower bags’ or else face a complete ban. They need to breed more to offset losses. Lets face it, those prepared to pay to shoot Wil pay regardless.

    1. You are assuming that the only metric for any licence will be the prosecutions for raptor persecution. Ed’s blog explains what other metrics are involved.

  28. Peter, the difference between the slaughter of migratory birds in the Mediterranean, and the shooting of Pheasant , Partridge, and Grouse in the UK, is that the shooting of migratory birds is a conservation issue, the shooting of the above mentioned game birds, nurtured or re- stocked each season is ,to some, an animal welfare issue.
    The RSPB is not an animal welfare charity, their concern, quite rightly, is with illegal and environmentally damaging practices involved in producing these birds.
    Tim, although there can be rivalry between estates, much of it good natured, I feel there would be little danger, overall, in what you fear.
    Actually, there is more likelihood in my opinion that if bodies such as the National Trust, utility companies, MOD, etc; ban grouse shooting on a large enough scale it could make the sport even more exclusive, helping with its appeal ( and pricing).
    Although I have always advocated low ground shoots releasing extra birds to offset losses from Raptors, it is probably not a good idea to ask moor owners and tenants to work on the same principle.
    This would only lead to environmental concerns intensifying, and in any case they are going flat out as it is for maximum bags.

    1. The release of tens of millions of reared birds into the countryside for shooting is VERY much a conservation issue. What is the effect on native ground nesting birds of having largish, aggressive, territorial non native birds being dumped practically on top of you? One ex gamekeeper, without thinking, posted one of his charming ‘wildlife’ videos that involved a pheasant getting into a scrap with a lapwing – how much of this is going on? Then there’s the anecdotal evidence of pheasants wiping out local populations of reptiles, in one case sand lizards I believe. IF foxes are indeed having a real impact on the conservation of some ground nesters could that be as Dr Jenny Smart from the RSPB has suggested down to the injection of vast quantities of animal protein into the environment largely at a time of year when natural supplies of it are declining giving the population an unnatural boost? Then of course the bloody great elephant in the room re the ‘conservation’ benefits of pheasant/partridge shooting, it’s not actually a defense against intensive agriculture it drives it – vast quantities of feed, grain and some soymeal to cage rear then supplement the diet of birds let out for eventual shooting, only a fraction of which will end up in the human food chain – the rest roadkill, stink pits, foxes’ bellies or in the wheelie bin after the person who shot them realizes they don’t know how to prepare a feathered bird, or passes them on to someone else who can’t either. One estate in Norfolk was quite happy to report it used 200 TONNES of grain to give its partridge supplementary feeding. How much farmland could be returned to nature if it was wasn’t being used for this disgustingly wasteful practice?

  29. With the benefit of ALL species which inhabit our uplands and moors in mind there can be only one realistic solution. While man wishes to kill another species for fun and is willing to pay a lot of money to do so there will be casualties, persecuted both legally (but not morally) and illegally, and not just the species being shot for so called sport.

    This is the fundamental flaw in our existence. Our inability to exist without some form of “management” (killing) of wildlife, driven largely by money, greed and those who believe they have a god given right to do what they please with their land. Our predator species suffer the most, many have already been made extinct, the Hen Harrier will go the way of the Golden Eagle in England and no doubt other species will vanish from our countryside if there is continued conflict with shooting interests.

    Its time the large and powerful organisations like the RSPB became a little more militant in their dealings. The softly, softly, lets keep everyone on side approach has failed. The large land owners call the shots both on the moors, in the police and in the halls of Government. Natural England aren’t fit for purpose and the wildlife trusts are run by hunters.

    Many people may class me as an extremist. But when all other options have been exhausted (which they clearly have) then you are left with only one choice of action. Its time we took back control and did things for the benefit of nature and not a rich elite who like to kill animals for fun.

  30. Les, you raise some valid points, a few of them were on my mind when I made my comment, that the RSPB are concerned with the, “environmentally damaging practices involved in producing these birds”
    I have many times in the past witnessed cock Pheasants being harried by one Lapwing after another as they crossed a field, those days are long gone, round here anyway.
    However, I stand by my statement that the actual shooting of reared, or managed(with a view to increasing shootable numbers) game birds,in this country is not a conservation issue.
    Incidentally, I would rather see grain supplementary feeding Grey Partridge, than being used to make thousands of tons of cheap white bread that even those making it know will end up in landfill .
    Probably not a good argument, but I know what I mean

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