Tuesday 8 September 2009

Is the RSPB serious about working with shooters?

[Update: Stuart Housden of RSPB Scotland has made some interesting points in the comments to this post. And Alan Tilmouth has a few things to say on his blog too.]

The RSPB periodically pays lip service to working with shooting estates and organisations. On occasions, you'll even see them paying tribute to a gamekeeper who has dobbed in a miscreant, or acknowledging the cooperation and valuable conservation work by shooting estates.

And then just when you think they can't be all bad, they stick the knife in. As with their "Vision" to resolve the hen harrier / grouse shooting conflict.

The RSPB is one of several partner organisations in the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, designed to look at just that subject. It's a long-term project, in its early stages. There's an understanding among the partner organisations about not running off to the press shouting your mouth off, taking a tiny sliver of the results totally out of context, and failing to give credit to all the other organisations involved in the project.

Which is exactly what the RSPB has gone and done, so far as I can see. How can you work with people like that?

On top of which, their "Vision" is misleading and disingenuous in the extreme. The harrier problem is hugely complex, and there are many many reasons why you might find fewer "recorded" harriers in this or that place than the RSPB in its wisdom decrees suitable.

For instance, I've recently spent a fortnight in Scotland's Wild West. It's a land of wind, rock and water, where the law hardly reaches more than 10 yards from the main road. Far up a glen, a harrier nest was destroyed last year. Trampled. By persons, or perhaps animals, unknown. The chicks were crushed. The RSPB have done such a good job of maligning shooters, that the primary suspect was "shooting interests". But there aren't any. Except me and my dad, who walk-up perhaps 3 brace a year between us. And we have better things to do with our time than go round stomping on harriers. Actually we rather like watching the little blighters.

In the event, the "evidence" rotted before anyone got around to sending it off for analysis. The case was forgotten, perhaps an accident, perhaps a deliberate act by one of the local farmers who stand to make a small fortune out of the new windfarm, and might have seen harriers as an obstacle to their new found riches. We'll never know. Without a "shooting estate" to blame, no-one, least of all the RSPB, gives a monkey's.

I could tell you similar stories about the golden eagles that nest in that glen. Year after year their nests mysteriously fill with rocks. Until quite recently a good few of them ended up poisoned too. And shooting had nothing to do with it.

I could help the RSPB get to the bottom of what's going on in that remote spot. Because I know every crag, every clump of heather, every pool of the burn, like no-one else on earth. And I'm not going to. Because I can't trust them not to double cross me and grab another opportunity to shaft shooters. I wonder how many other shooters are in a similar position?

The RSPB won't be losing any sleep over it. Their Scottish membership figure has just broken another record. Due, in large part, to the lies and misinformation they spread about shooters.


Alan Tilmouth said...

So in summary because there is the possibility that the information you provide might be used in some way, shape or form to criticise a group of people who effectively keep you in employment you will withold it and continue to allow the law to be broken and further wildlife crimes to be committed?
We need more upstanding citizens like you dont we?

James Marchington said...

It's this kind of confrontational 'with us or against us' attitude that stands in the way of real progress here. Put aside your prejudices, find a wildfowling club, go out with them, and learn something.

Alan Tilmouth said...

If being critical of your viewpoint is confrontational then your article was equally confrontational.'With us or against us' doesnt come into it. Either we have laws which we should all strive to uphold or we dont. Is it right to withold information about law breaking because the results may be used by the media or other organisations to criticise an 'interest' group? Please tell me how you justify this.
Also I'm afraid your comments about the RSPB 'running off to the press' are in themselves misleading and disingenous. their 'Vision' report was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology at the same time as another report from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust also using 'slivers of information' from the Langholm Project ahead of the full results. Why single out the RSPB and make no criticism or mention of the GWCT report? Bias in a word.

Stuart Housden said...

I read the Blog with interest.I can answer the question in the affirmative and say the RSPB is serious about engaging with the shooting community,and does so regularly.

First though I would recommend that if you have evidence of offences being committed against birds of prey it is your duty to report them.

We are pleased to be part of the Langholm project, and a good team of conservation, keepering and estate staff has been established.The early results are very encouraging.However we would like more estates to help test and validate the diversionary feeding of hen harriers.To date no young grouse appear to have been predated and the harriers are using the food set out for them.

I know blogs are meant to be controversial-but I do detect someone with some thoughtful ideas lurking behind the headlines!

I would be happy to meet and discuss these issues.

Stuart Housden
Director,RSPB Scotland.

James Marchington said...

Stuart, welcome, it's great to have you contributing on this blog.

In the specific cases I'm referring to, what I have is knowledge and suspicions, which is of course not the same thing as hard evidence. I set out to illustrate a more general point about wild places, and the difficulty of ever knowing what happens out of sight, never mind controlling it.

I do wonder just how far we can go in policing/ surveilling/ managing wild places without losing what makes them so special, but that's another subject.

I'm also keen to show that shooters are not 'the enemy'. It's easy to lump all shooters together and demonise them. The non-shooting public readily latch on to the Elmer Fudd image. But you clearly understand that they are a hugely diverse bunch, some of whom are as passionate as anyone about conservation (and some of whom aren't, as with any group of individuals).

Anyway, I'm delighted this post has opened up some discussion on a subject very close to my heart. I'd love to meet up - I have several visits to Scotland coming up, and will get in touch with some suggested dates.


Meconopsis said...

Can the RSPB tell me in how many cases were Raptors found next to a poisoned bait ??

Alan Tilmouth said...

Andy, I'm not from the RSPB and they may well answer your question directly but look at the most recent RSPB report for Scotland as an example at http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/illegalkilling2008_tcm9-225981.pdf

It is also worth noting the tone of the opening paragraph that reads
"The majority of landowners and their employees in Scotland act
within the law. RSPB Scotland have long-established partnerships
with many land managers and their employees who have assisted in
conservation work with species such as black grouse, corncrake,
capercaillie, osprey and with re-introduction schemes for red kites
and white-tailed eagles. Unfortunately, however, a number of
individuals persist with the out-dated practice of illegal killing of
birds of prey, rightly condemned by landowning representatives as
well as conservation organisations and the Scottish government.
Hardly the demon generalisation that some would have you believe the RSPB guilty of.

Meconopsis said...

The RSPB sometimes use the Raptor problem to get the news headlines that is a fact ! Can someone from the RSPB tell me why very little is ever said of the wild bird trade ?? It is thriving and I have heard of prices this year of £2000.00 per pair of Black Redstarts up to £9000.00 for genuine Scottish Crested tits !!!!!!! Every bird from a Blackbird to Crosbills are for sale and go via the UK to Holland !!

If I know whats going on I am sure the RSPB will know !!