Gamebirds victory (1) – what sort of victory?

Seven week old pheasant chicks, often known as poults, after just being released into a gamekeepers release pen on an English shooting estate

On Today on Saturday morning (in the last 10 minutes of the programme) Mishal Husain described Wild Justice as a campaigning organisation, and we wouldn’t disagree with that, but our victory in this matter is not a campaigning victory it is a legal victory. We have not persuaded government to change their policy or the law, we have shown them that their behaviour has been unlawful (for years) and that they must change to be within the law.

Maybe you think this is a fine distinction which isn’t worth making but I think it is. Campaigning, of which I have done quite a lot, is difficult because whilst you are campaigning for change of one sort there are others who are campaigning for change of another sort or for nothing to change at all. Government might listen, or pretend to listen, but then do the opposite of what you want them to do. You can’t win them all and one usually doesn’t win very many.

But using the existing law to show that a statutory body is behaving unlawfully is very different. If you are right about the law then they have to change – there is no acceptable ‘Yes, you’re right but we don’t care’ answer. And a consequence of that is that yelling off-stage by interested parties who don’t like what the law says is irrelevant – the law is the law.

Wild Justice won a legal victory last week. We didn’t change the law and we didn’t change government’s thinking, we just showed DEFRA that they would be in big trouble if they didn’t change their ways, because of the law. At a time when we have a government highly unsympathetic to the natural world then a close attention to the law can sometimes achieve more, and more quickly, than years of campaigning.

But there is plenty of campaigning to do too, of course. Most things that are wrong with the way that we manage the natural world are not illegal, they are often completely legal but completely destructive. In those cases the law may not be any use at all – until your campaigning has changed the law.


18 Replies to “Gamebirds victory (1) – what sort of victory?”

  1. A very good analysis Mark. As you say there is a big distinction between campaigning to change the law and ensuring organisations and especially Governments abide by the law.
    I think the more we see of the actions of Wild Justice the more we are beginning to realise what a profound impact it is having, whether win or loose.
    For many years now a Tory Government has gone unchallenged regarding its actions where wildlife and nature are concerned and almost all of those actions are highly unsympathetic and damaging to nature because of their alliances and vested interests. Take the shooting industry as one of many examples. This lack of challenge in the past has enabled them to drift more and more away from what the law requires and closer and closer to serving the demands of their vested interests without much reference to what the law says.
    Now for the first time this Government is coming up against an organisation that takes action against it when it does not perform legally. This is a very major step forward for nature and is having and will have, a profound effect.

  2. How you frame a problem is how you solve the problem. If you describe the actions of Wild Justice as campaigning then you can get the public to agree that perhaps a bit less campaigning might be better. However if you say that Wild Justice was against the existing law being flouted for the benefit of a few rich people then I’m afraid the public is not going to have much sympathy.

    1. Come on Stuart – that is a bit of a negative response isn’t it?

      (a) the legal approach has brought about a significant step-change with respect to the management of game shoots and

      (b) one approach does not preclude the other. There are a number of tools in the bag and it makes sense to use them all and to choose whichever one is best suited for the particular task at hand, knowing that the others are all still there waiting to be taken up and applied to best affect.

      1. You misunderstand what I said. I should have said more but I thought the point was made. If Mishal Husain categorises what Wild Justice is doing as campaigning then she is diminishing what actually took place – as mark says – the government was forced to uphold the law. Whether journalists realise there is an inherent bias in the words they use might be open to question but for me there is no doubt. The mechanisms of framing are well understood and the technique is widely used to push the narrative in one direction or another. You just need to look at what Johnson, Cummings and Gove do on a daily basis to see it in action.

          1. Jonathan, absolutely no need. My comment was rather short and perhaps a bit vague. I agree the multiple approach is sensible but the legal one sure does pack a punch.

      2. Just in case there is any doubt. Chris, Ruth and Mark should be up for sainthood. They’ve done more for conservation in a few months that has been achieved in decades. Finally, we have people with the will and the cohones to take a big stick and beat the people who rely on prevarication to do absolutely nothing. More power to them.

  3. The background issue is that we know that they are going to change the law and that their underlying philosophy is one of deregulation.

    I do have a fear that we are simply pointing out rules that “need to be fixed”.

  4. Hopefully the lockdown will prevent a lot of driven grouse shooting this year. It should do anyway. Depends on whether people obey the law though. These people don’t think much of breaking other laws.

    1. Most if not all of any grouse shooting this year will already have finished its quite rare for there to be much grouse shooting, certainly driven in November despite the season having over a month to run.

  5. A great victory Mark and congratulations to you and the team for making it happen. I like the fact that Wild Justice is a campaigning organisation, and without the campaigning bit I doubt you would have successfully raised the money to pay for the legal action… the two have to work hand in glove.

    On the legal bit though, I do worry that the Government might pull the N2K rug from under you. Relying on EU environmental law does illustrate just how much we are at risk of losing come January 1st. How reassured are you, that the case law derived from EUCJ rulings, on which you have relied for this case, is going to be applicable in the UK in the future? And is that another campaign which we all need to start thinking about and planning for?

    1. Miles – many thanks. See the Wild Justice statement here on the dangers of N2K removal penultimate paragraph of the statement in bold)

      Yes we are a campaigning body – but this is a legal victory. We didn’t campaign for change, we used the existing law to get change of behaviour. As we did with the general licences and where we hope to see fruits of that in the new general licences which DEFRA should already have published according to their own timetable.

  6. Thanks Mark. Perhaps I should write something about that particular threat. It’s interesting that the Govt is now going to formalise area-wide activities deriving from N2K case law (on disturbance and nitrates for example) through the Environment Bill, even though there is no long term commitment to maintaining the N2K case law basis for those activities.

    The other thing I noticed was that Defra seem to have only committed to review impacts on N2K sites and a 500m zone around them, whereas you are pushing for 1km. Is this a play on their part, perhaps seeking to mollify their shooty ministers, I mean the shooting lobby.

    1. Miles – you are welcome to write something here but I’ll certainly point people towards it if it is on your blog. this piece of mine a month ago in the New European is relevant

      Yes DEFRA think 500m is good enough – precautionary. Wild Justice does not. That is not something that is not feasibly settled in a legal challenge but will be open to consultation so we can all have our say. I will be blogging tomorrow about a wide varieety of reasons why 500m is not nearly good enough.

      1. excellent thank you. I missed your new european piece so will read that first. It may mean I don’t have to write anything!

        yes the 500m thing seems pretty dodgy and I expect there will be several years of argument and more evidence gathering/modelling before an appropriate cordon is decided.

  7. Its going to be very interesting to see how DEFRA and NE finalise the new within the law rules for alien gamebird release. Indeed how they gather data to elucidate the problem and support any rule changes given how underfunded and understaffed NE now are. There are now of course so few places in lowlands within the UK that are not affected by gamebird release so gamebird free baseline data may be hard to come by. My own view is that the GWCT recommendations of the maximum number of birds per hectare in release pens are far too high and in any case should vary according to habitat type. We ourselves live adjacent to a Nature reserve and SSSI and in the middle of a commercial shoot. Release pens are over 500 m away yet the NR is often, particularly the day after a shoot, a place of very high Pheasant density. It is the big commercial enterprises like this that are the major problem, some of which were originated as part of farm diversification, with 1000s of birds trashing the landscape. In an ideal world I would like such enterprise to be long gone but I somehow doubt that will happen. Whatever changes do occur will be down to WJ for which we should all be very grateful.

Comments are closed.