Wednesday 21 October 2009

The RSPB should go and...

Yes, I can guess how some readers would complete that headline. 'Boil their heids' would be one of the more polite answers.

But it's a serious question. I was talking to the RSPB's conservation director Mark Avery - he's the one who appears at the CLA Game Fair each year, taking the inevitable flak from shooters and keepers. During the conversation, he asked me "What exactly do you want the RSPB to do?"

I was stumped, and promised to get back to him on that one. Which is why I'm asking readers of this blog to help me out.

So what do we want the RSPB to do? Realistically.

They're not going to go away. They will continue to direct their appeals at well intentioned but ill informed members of the public. And let's face it, they're not all bad by a long way. Much of their work is well directed and hugely beneficial to wildlife and the countryside.

My initial 'wish list' contains more negatives than positives: Stop using shooters and keepers as bogeymen in your fundraising and publicity; stop focusing on 'iconic' birds of prey as if nothing else matters; etc.

On its own reserves, the RSPB can run things how it likes. But in the 'real' world outside that bubble, birds must take second place to food production, commerce, transport, and the rest. The British Isles could be filled with hen harriers and all sorts of wonderful wildlife if we just cleared off all the humans, bulldozed the houses, and turned the whole place into a huge nature reserve.

Of course that won't happen, but there's much more we can do to reduce our impact on the natural world, and live alongside wildlife. And paradoxically, shooters do much better in this area than 99% of the population. I suppose what I really want is for the RSPB to acknowledge that, and stop portraying us as the enemy. Longer term, I'd like them to embrace 'harvesting nature's bounty' as an intrinsic part of conservation.

So, starting with that as a strategic objective, what do I tell Mr Avery?

Can individual shoots work more closely with RSPB officers, for the benefit of wildlife generally? (And would keepers trust them enough to allow them on the place?)

Perhaps we'd like a 'good keeper scheme' where the RSPB acknowledges the work done by individuals to improve the wildlife generally on their shoot. Heaven forbid, though, that they should see this as some sort of 'licensing' system by the back door, where they 'inspect' shoots to see that they conform to some standard.

Or do we just want them to clear off and mind their own business? Trouble with that one is, if it's got wings and a beak, they reckon it is their business.

Over to you... comments and ideas please.


Meconopsis said...

If the RSPB told their members to go and hug a local Gamekeeper they would probably loose thousands of members. Once hugged the Keepers would show the public what conservation is all about. The would see for themselves the gamecrops that support many thousands of Finches through the winter and the damage that raptors do to the struggling song bird population.

Go on Hug a Keeper. If you are young and Blonde james will give you my email address !!

vicky said...

The RSPB should;

Consult with shooting/conservation organisations to find ways to allow shooting to continue whilst limiting it's negative effects on wildlife and ehnacing its positve effects.

It should praise good keepers/ shooters/ shooting guides ith awards- carrots, not sticks.

It should introduce it's members to sustainable shooting through he pages of it's magazines/ newsletters/ website and shooting mags could respond by publishing stories of how the RSPB and shooting organisations were working together.

The RSPB could become something of a barometer; it's members could give the shooting community information of species numbers which would help existing orgnisations spot trends in quarry and predator decline or success.

I see LOADS of scope for the shooting community to benefit from RSPB cooperation nd vice-versa. SHhame it's all pie-in-the-sky thinking.

robbyuk said...

From my experience I know how passionate dedicated hunters are about the species in which they persue and i agree completely with the last comment by Vicky although I think more positive publicity about the conservation work and maybe a section on the importance of nature reserves in country sports mags would also help the balance.For me the grey area is the termination of raptors and other protected species for the sake of certain game,This could be upended into a positive and a starting point for which both shooters and the rspb could work together to stamp out.The presence of raptors is a good sign that the eco system of a certain area is in good shape and these birds are as important to it as any other species.

James Marchington said...

Great to see some ideas in the comments here. I think it's fair to say that shooters are working with RSPB and others to stamp out illegal killing of raptors - just look at the Scottish Gamekeepers for instance, and the GWCT's work at Langholm etc. Shooters get fed up taking the blame when there are plenty of people having a go at raptors (pigeon fanciers, farmers etc), and the vast majority of shoots are delighted to see birds of prey around the place.

vicky said...

The bird of prey issue is one of control, similar to the badger problem. If licenced control of top predators could be introduced I think things would improve. If a keeper or farmer found his land has more raptors than it could support he could apply to reduce their breeding success by egg pricking for instance. The RSPB could be involved in deciding what density of raptors given farms/estates could carry. Knowing there was a legal way to control problem predators would definitley reduce indiscriminate use of poisons.