Wednesday, 29 July 2009

RSPB at the Game Fair

I take my hat off to the RSPB's Mark Avery. Whatever you think about his approach to conservation, he has the nerve to show up at the Game Fair each year and face the inevitable flak. The ear-bashing I took from a couple of unreconstructed old-school keepers on our stand is nothing compared to what he faces.

I've never had a one-to-one with Mark, but I recognise in him a mischievous streak. I think he enjoys being provocative, and deliberately sets out to wind up the establishment to get his point across. Read his tongue-in-cheek checklist for 'Game Fair Bingo' and you'll see what I mean. He knows exactly what different people think of him and his organisation, and he chuckles at their predictable responses.

His Birds of Prey Pledge is a clever ruse. He challenges all and sundry to sign it. If they refuse, what does that say? That they want to massacre birds of prey?

I was tempted to sign it myself at the weekend. After all, I do believe that illegal killing of birds of prey is wrong. I do condemn the (mercifully few) disgusting poisonings and shootings of kites, buzzards, eagles and the rest, as do the vast majority of shooters, shoot owners and keepers that I know. More than that, it would affirm my belief that shooters and conservationists can and should (and indeed do) work hand in glove for the benefit of Britain's wildlife.

But I didn't. And Avery's latest blog post illustrates perfectly why I didn't. I don't want to be numbered among the people who he can claim "want legal protection of birds of prey to remain". It's far more complicated than that. Illegal killing is wrong - but we badly need a debate about legal methods of controlling raptors when they become as common, and as destructive, as crows and foxes.

And I certainly don't want to support someone who writes off the Countryside March as "the Countryside Alliance... filling the streets of London with angry people." I was there, and I was a lot of things: worried, apprehensive, indignant, and fed-up with my life being treated as a political football by people who wouldn't know a combine from a corncrake. For Avery to dismiss me as some sort of rent-a-mob is downright offensive.

I think it's time for Avery to grow up a bit. This issue is too important to be sidelined while he gets his kicks from needling what he sees as the toffs and their keepers, or tries to manoeuvre our organisations into a carefully crafted corner. Whether it's for his own amusement or part of some wider agenda, he's driving a wedge between shooting and conservation.

I stood at the back of the crowd on the Friday as Avery banged on about the need to 'marginalise' the illegal killing of hen harriers by keepers. A dour old keeper standing next to me muttered "It's already marginalised you tosser." Precisely. By thumping out the same old tune, Avery is alienating thousands of people like that keeper who instinctively support everything the RSPB stands for, but can't bring themselves to work with an organisation that clearly despises them and wants them extinct.

Instead of a confrontational message about birds of prey, perhaps the RSPB stand at next year's Game Fair will feature a welcoming message to shooters and keepers: 'Come and talk to us about how we can help you do even more for the wildlife on your shoot'. Then again, maybe it won't.

1 comment:

vicky said...

My dad and his friends had to shelter from the storm in the RSPCA stand...I don't think they signed anything despite best efforts!
Perhaps you should write to Avery and explain why you (and many others) didn't sign his isn't right to twist peoples words like he has. It's like signing one to say you want safer roads then the headline saying 'hundreds want cars banned'!