At yesterday’s RSPB AGM, Kevin Cox, the Chair of Council made the following announcement;
There is growing concern about the environmental impact (including for carbon, water and biodiversity) of intensive forms of game bird shooting and associated land management practices. This includes both driven grouse moor management (which involves shooting our native red grouse) and largescale release of non-native game birds, primarily pheasants and red-legged partridges, now in excess of 40 million birds annually.
Environmental concerns include the ongoing and systematic illegal persecution of birds of prey such as hen harriers on some sporting estates; the ecological impact of high numbers of game birds released into the countryside increasing the density of generalist predators; the mass culling of mountain hares in some parts of our uplands; the use of lead ammunition; the impact of burning peatlands and medicating wild animals for sport shooting.
In response to the evidence about the scale of the environmental impact and growing public concern, including from our membership, the RSPB’s Council has agreed to review our policy on game bird shooting and associated land management.
This is an emotive and sometimes controversial subject but we want to use our scientific rigour to develop a set of conservation tests for management practices associated with game bird shooting. We will use these to guide the RSPB’s conservation policy, practice and communications, consistent with the ongoing climate and ecological emergency, respectful of our charitable objectives and maintaining the confidence and support of our members.
We intend to do this, informed by the views of members and other stakeholders many of whom we have engaged with on these issues for decades.
The exact process we shall follow to conduct this review will be communicated as soon as possible. The intention is to complete this work as soon as is practically possible but in order to engage people in the right way and ensure we have the best available evidence it might take until the next AGM, though we hope that it will be completed sooner than that.https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/b/martinharper/posts/announcement-of-review-of-rspb-policy-on-gamebird-shooting
And to avoid doubt, we shall in this period, while the review is being conducted, continue to call for the introduction of licensing of driven grouse shooting.”
This is welcome news.
Obviously the RSPB is always up to date with the science, and always reviewing it (although the figure of 40 million Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges used above is way out of date!) and so we shouldn’t imagine that there are many new data out there that the RSPB hasn’t noticed. No, this is more to do with unease among RSPB members, and ex-members, and potential members, and staff and Council about whether the RSPB has been drawing the right conclusions from the evidence that exists and carrying out the right advocacy.
Let’s just take lead ammunition as an example. It has been RSPB policy for about 10 years to seek the removal of lead ammunition from use in the UK but have you noticed the RSPB shouting about this issue? I haven’t, and I’ve been watching and listening closely. It’s also the policy, unless it has changed fairly recently, for WWT to do the same. No review of science is needed, just a bolder approach to following through on what the science says and what the organisation has already decided.
No, this review is about repositioning the RSPB in an important public debate because it is realised that the RSPB has been lagging not leading. Perhaps it has taken a new Chair of Council and a new Chief Executive to grasp this nettle rather belatedly. The campaign of vilification of the RSPB by elements of the shooting industry may, I’m not sure, have slowed down the inevitable repositioning in the past, but its continuation in the face of RSPB reasonableness and patience will have made change inevitable. Eventually even the RSPB loses patience and realises that if it is going to be unfairly attacked then it might as well be unfairly attacked while speaking out rather than while biting its lip. Although it has sometimes appeared that the RSPB would put up with any lies and insults thrown at it, eventually the organisation was bound to realise that appeasement and talking to the wilfully deaf was likely to be a waste of time, and indeed was damaging to the RSPB’s reputation.
It’s usually around now in any conversation that the RSPB’s Royal Charter comes up, and in particular the phrase ‘The Society shall take no part in the question of the killing of game birds and legitimate sport of that character except when such practices have an impact on the Objects.’. This is sometimes used by people with varying views on game-shooting to claim that the RSPB must remain silent on the issue but that isn’t, as you can see, what it says or what is meant. As you can see from the RSPB statement at its AGM, legal game shooting, and the management practices associated with it, have a wide range of impacts on nature conservation and the RSPB can comment on them to its heart’s content, and certainly has and does. What it can’t do, and never has done, is to comment on the legitimacy of killing birds for fun per se. I learned from Tessa Boase’s excellent book (reviewed here) how far back that goes and what was its origin. It may be time to remove that single sentence from the Royal Charter (a more involved process than you might think) because it rather like an appendix in the human body, it has no function and can sometimes be more trouble than it’s worth, time to have it out.
It is particularly welcome that the RSPB is going to involve its membership in these matters. I wonder what that will look like. I predict a few new memberships from hunters and animal rights supporters in order to play their part in the debate! I understand that some membership pressure has helped to push this statement along. I’m pretty sure that the existence of Wild Justice, getting into some areas where the RSPB has been nervous to tread, has also been a factor.
This, as far as we can see at the moment, is a good thing. It is an overdue good thing. But it is only an opportunity not a done deal. Let’s hope, after England’s brilliant performance against the All Blacks yesterday that the RSPB knows where the try line is and can make the right moves to get the ball over the line as soon as possible.
I’ll come back to this issue, I’m sure.