The RSPB and game shooting

Saturday’s welcome announcement from the RSPB that they are reviewing their position over game shooting is just that – welcome. None of us yet knows what that review will look like nor what, if anything, the RSPB has in mind might change; but we can guess. First, you don’t announce a review if your attention is to keep everything the same – well, you might, but only if you are a bit dim, and the RSPB is not dim. Second, there is not a snowball’s chance in Hades that the RSPB will get closer to the shooting community under the current circumstances so the RSPB is thinking of putting clearer water between themselves and the current state of recreational shooting, I guess. But is that a narrow stream or a mighty river? We don’t know, and I won’t guess at this stage.

There have been two guest blogs here from the previous RSPB Chair of Council, Steve Ormerod; in 2014 and 2016. Let’s have a quick look at them.

In August 2014 the RSPB Chair said, amongst other things:

‘Eighteen months ago, the RSPB’s Council of trustees debated the growing environmental impact of intensive, driven grouse shooting and reached conclusions about how we should respond.’

‘Our new £2m EU LIFE+-funded 5-year project to track hen harriers will improve monitoring and surveillance of England’s most threatened bird.’

‘It was on all of these grounds that RSPB Council concluded that we would, in the absence of effective self-regulation, call for licensing of driven grouse shooting to deliver better environmental outcomes.’

‘…we do not consider a call for a ban on grouse shooting to be the right step. This is not because we are constrained by our Charter or our charitable objects, but rather because we think the next rational step from self-regulation is regulation. We also think that the introduction of a licensing system is a proportionate measure in the absence of self-regulation by the shooting industry.’

‘We are also committed to working with Defra and partners on the Hen Harrier Joint Action Plan, which we are helping to ensure is an effective species conservation plan.’

This seemed to me to be a bit limp at the time, and I said so (click here and here) but it wasn’t outrageous.

And then in May 2016, in the period after the RSPB had reluctantly signed up to the DEFRA Inaction Plan for Hen Harriers and a while before it pulled out of that ill-conceived ‘joint’ plan, Steve Ormerod was kind enough to write another guest blog here (click here). Here are some quotes from that:

While the RSPB shares much of your analysis about the threats and the new data that gives clarity to those impacts, our approach to finding a lasting solution is clearly different.’

So, having carefully considered your suggestion, I don’t feel the time is right to review our plans. Of course, as with any policy area, we will periodically assess progress and any changes to the external situation and respond accordingly.

On hen harriers specifically, we are very clear that the Defra Hen Harrier Action Plan must lead to real change (see here), including the cessation of illegal killing and a more positive outcome for those harriers that settle on England’s moors and hills in this and future years. For this plan to build credibility it must clearly deliver positive progress. Everyone – including the grouse shooting community – must play their part to deliver its key objective: more hen harriers.

I responded to Steve’s piece the next day (click here) with several predictions that were met, and the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting romped to 100,000 signatures, with no RSPB support, in about four and a bit months!

More recently, in January 2018, the new RSPB Chair, Kevin Cox, wrote a guest blog here (click here). Here are some quotes:

‘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.’

‘… 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.’

‘ 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’

‘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.’

And now we hear that the RSPB is looking again at its policy on these areas and game shooting in general.

If this were government, rather than the RSPB, I might well be saying that the review was just an exercise in letting time pass whilst peeping out of the long grass, but I don’t think that is the case here. I think the RSPB has realised that it has been too weak, too slow to change and not ambitious enough for a better environment, so it is feeling corporately a bit guilty and wants to put its house in order. It must know that a bit of tinkering here or there, having announced a review, won’t go down very well with those of its membership that are exercised over this issue – and there are thousands and thousands of them. But there are, let’s be clear, tens of thousands and tens of thousands who aren’t the least bit aware of this issue, or the debates around it and may not get interested in this subject even when given the chance. There will also be, in a membership of over a millions, thousands of people who are pretty relaxed about grouse shooting and would be nervous of change. So, I’ll be very interested to see how the RSPB deals with this matter with its members.

The RSPB has been negligently slow, more through false optimism than anything else I suspect, over the possibility of change through insider advocacy. The RSPB has not campaigned for change, it has not engaged its members in calls for change – and, quite honestly when it has, like in ‘supporting’ Ed Hutching’s e-petition for licensing, that support has been largely worthless. The lack of response from its membership to support a call for licensing of driven grouse shooting must, surely, have stung the RSPB and showed that on this subject their membership did not necessarily trust them ahead of trusting the likes of Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and, yes, myself.

The RSPB can’t quite ditch a call for licensing at a time when the very-long-awaited Werritty report on the subject might eventually appear. How embarrassing if the slow-moving RSPB ditched licensing just as the slow-moving Scottish government process recommended licensing! But I bet the RSPB has finally grasped the bigger picture that intensive grouse moor management is a block to ecosystem services, a block to rewilding, a blight on National Parks, and a major source of wildlife crime and that it really does need to be dealt with properly and quickly. When you have, as the RSPB keeps saying, a climate emergency and a biodiversity emergency and you’ve been waiting for years for action on these matters you can’t really support something as dodgy and time consuming as a licensing system which you fear may be doomed to failure. It’s not rocket science, is it?

We must all encourage the RSPB to be braver than they have been of late for the sake of the climate and wildlife. I wouldn’t say that success is guaranteed by any means.

Please sign this e-petition calling for driven grouse shooting to be banned.

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8 Replies to “The RSPB and game shooting”

  1. Your blog here Mark concentrates on the RSPB but this is a three cornered issue, the RSPB , Defra and the shooters. As you quote above in one of Steve Ormerod early blogs “ the RSPB is committed to.working with Defra on the HenHarrier joint action plan”. I think we also have to ask the question is Defra also committed to working with the RSPB? I think Defra performance since then shows the answer to this question is a very resounding NO they are not. They have shown themselves to be firmly supportive of the shooters. So I think to be fair to the RSPB, this is why they have taken some time to come to their decision to review their policy. Of course with a different Government in power and hence much much better cooperation from Defra this policy review may not have been necessary.
    As mentioned previously I hope the RSPB policy review will encompass all the seriously damaging environmental issues that arise from the shooters activities such as peat destruction and aggravating the climate change crisis, animal cruelty / welfare, as well as raptor and other animal persecution.

  2. I have always thought that the RSPB Investigations Team were eagles led by pigeons. I hope this long overdue review addresses the key issues in a practical sense and then I could rejoin the organisation.

    Keep up the good work Mark.

  3. I think you’re being overly-optimistic about the review and its prospects.

    It surprises me that Kevin Cox has announced that it will proceed but said nothing about the process to be followed.

    He needs to answer many questions including the following:

    Who will conduct the review- one individual or a panel?

    Who will take responsibility for the authorship once it has been published?

    Will the data be collected by means of hearings or by written submissions - or both?

    In what way(s) will the membership be consulted?

    Will the process be transparent or secret?

    Will professional consultants be employed to frame the questions/ interpret the answers?

    What are the timescales/ deadlines? Will there be updates on progress?

    How much will the exercise cost? What is the budget?

    It is surely inevitable that the review will be bombarded with information from all sides of the argument(s).

    The RSPB may well find itself overwhelmed and wishing that it had never launched the review.

    At the end of the day, positions will be more entrenched than ever and we will be no further forward - just like Brexit.

    If the leadership team is not up to the task, the RSPB would have been better advised to have engaged a smart graduate on a three-month contract to a) assess the arguments/info, b) interpret it and c) come up with recommendations and a policy statement.

    1. James - I'm not overly optimistic about the prospects of the review - we'll all have to wait and see what happens, and play a part in making it happen.

      I expect the RSPB will make more information available as time goes on: I'll certainly be iasking for more. But it's entirely reasonable to announce something, at the AGM, and then fill in the gaps later.

  4. Finally the killing of lowland raptors can be brought onto the table. Something had to be done and hopefully this is the start.
    I doubt very much the RSPB will ditch their DGS licensing policy but they should definitely include all game shooting.
    I'm banging the same drum but until it is dealt with or at least comes into the debate, i'm not intending to stop.

  5. Mark - I think the content and the tone of your blog are just about exactly right.
    Just one thing - you end by saying that we should encourage the RSPB to be braver. Have you any suggestions as to the best ways for rank-and-file members like me, who have no special access to the RSPB hierarchy, to go about influencing and encouraging them?


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