Wednesday 4 November 2009

Can we work with birders?

In case you've missed it, I've been having an interesting exchange with a keen birder, Alan Tilmouth, via his blog Dusted Off Bins and in the comments section to some of the posts on this one.

Basically, Alan believes that the 'shooting community' (if only we were that organised and cohesive!) is systematically persecuting hen harriers and other birds of prey, and that something should be done to stop us.

I have stated my position as clearly as I can, as follows:
Let me state my position clearly. I know that illegal killing of raptors does happen. Although I've never witnessed it with my own eyes, I accept that people connected with shooting are sometimes responsible. I have never seen reliable statistics on the true extent of the problem, and can only speculate on how widespread it is. I am 100% against any illegal killing of raptors. Any gamekeeper or shooter who illegally kills a raptor is not worthy of the name, and I despise him. If I personally came across a case of this happening, I would not hesitate to report it to the authorities, and I would urge any gamekeeper or shooter to do the same. It is not only despicable it drags the reputation of shooting through the dirt.
No doubt there's the odd unreconstructed old keeper who would like to see me keelhauled for that. Well, that's his opinion, and he can cancel his subscription to Sporting Shooter - I don't want him as a reader.

I thought it would be interesting to ask Alan what, in an ideal world, he (and presumably other birders) would like the 'shooting establishment' to do. I suspected there would be many points of agreement, and areas where we could find compromises acceptable to both sides.

Alan posted his 'wish list' on his blog. And to his credit, his answer wasn't 'ban shooting'. In fact several of his points are not far from what happens already, although perhaps shooting doesn't do the best possible job of  publicising its efforts in these areas.

My natural reaction is to resist yet more certification, inspection and red tape - there's enough of that in land management and farming already. I don't suppose the birders would be happy if we demanded the right to inspect their homes on a regular basis just in case they were collecting birds' eggs. But shooting estates can and do work with local raptor groups etc, and it would be great to see this develop.

Below is Alan's list of requests. "Not much to ask" he says. Actually it is rather a lot to ask, but I reckon it's a workable starting point. What do you, the reader, think? If we could get a cast iron guarantee that the RSPB would put its full support behind shooting, provided we complied with Alan's list, could we live with that? Do email me or add a comment below to let me know.
1. The 'Shooting & Game' media should be consistently delivering the message that Illegal Persecution has no place in your sport. It should be a seen as a cancer that undermines the responsible and all particpants should be encouraged to root it out. If the number of column inches devoted to this message were equal to those criticising the conservation organisations such as RSPB and Natural England then people outside shooting may begin to believe their is a willingness to resolve the problem.
2. How about an industry accreditation/stewardship scheme that had Biodiversity Management Plans at it's core and was independantly scrutinised. The rewards for achieving different levels of accreditation could be directly linked to stewardship payments providing financial reward to those managing true biodiversity and achieving the highest standards. A combination of planned annual and random visits would verify the scheme. This could be used as a selling point in the same way as star ratings work for hotels and British Standards and ISO in other industries.
3. Committment ahead of the end of the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project to its findings & if diversionary feeding is demonstrated to work (again)it should be universally adopted (and incorporated into 2). The Brood Management Scheme proposed by Prof Steve Redpath should also be given due credence and tested as to viability.
4. Better promotion of the CAIP (Campaign Against Illegal Poisoning) with free advertising space in shooting magazines. Regular poison 'amnestys' on banned substances such as Carbofuran to take stocks out of circulation and put them beyond use.
5. I'd like to see a rural schools education programme to counter the underlying culture that dictates all birds of prey are bad, one that teaches the principals of predator/prey relationships to help the next generation of farmers, landowners, gamekeepers & shooters avoid the misconceptions that are so prevalent today. Perhaps an urban scheme to enlighten townies on countryside management might also be appropriate.
6. A requirement by law to notify the relevant authorities of the discovery of an active Hen Harrier nest placed upon all individuals.
7. Removal of the pressure being placed upon the Scottish government to issue licences to control Sparrowhawks & Common Buzzard by the Scottish Gamekeeper's Association and other shooting interests in Scotland.


The Amateur Naturalist said...

A sensible, two-way discussion between the parties involved based on a genuine desire to reach compromise and a respect for the other's point of view and lifestyle? Surely not?!

I think it's an excellent starting point and one we can't afford to be too precious about; after all, raising standards and trying to achieve the pinnacle of symbiosis between nature and our sport should be our first priority.

Having said all that, birders will have to get off their high horses and recognise the vital role we play in providing the very habitats which help them enjoy their hobby.

I for one see no reason for a distinction between us, and proudly see myself as both a birder, naturalist and shooter, as I'm sure many others do.

murphyfish said...

I find myself agreeing with 'amateur naturalist', in that this is an excellent starting point, butI tend to feel some trepidation when ever these two groups come together as there are always some members (on both sides) who feel that their ‘way’ is the only way and to hell with giving ground so that we can all move forward improving the outdoors for all, not just a selfish few who feel that they are ‘owed’ the rights to the countryside and all it’s wonders.

vicky said...

Ok, but where does the money come from? There is much in his 'manifesto' about free advertising space for cmpaigns, diversionary feeding etc. Good, but will the RSPB/BTO etc help fund such moves? Diversionary feeding always worries me; is it right to feed wildlife if an ecosystem can't support it? Ideally harrier numbers would rise only to level where there was sill a suitable surplus of grouse without diversionary feeding. I also feel there MUST be a maximum density of birds of prey in sensitive areas; grouse moors perhaps, but also black cock lekking grounds.One rare bird should not suffer at the hands of another! There must be a way keepers/farmers/nature reserve managers can reduce or control Bird of prey numbers IF NEEDS BE; perhaps trapping and relocation or egg pricking? Obviously this would need tight regulation, but is practical.

I also slighty resent the suggestion that 'we' aren't anti illegal bird of prey killing anyway; does he read shooting mags? Sadly it won't matter what red ape, codes of conduct, star rating etc are introduced. Some bad apples will still kill birds of prey, just as some twitchers will disturb nests in their fervour to tick another off the list. Both sides have bed eggs.

Alan Tilmouth said...

If I may answer some of the points as they have been raised as I see them?

The AM Nat - I think most birders recognise the role played by game management in maintaining habitat suitable for game birds and that there are spin off benefits for other species.

Murphyfish - No you won't please all the people all of the time but moving closer to pleasing most of them most of the time is a good thing surely?

Vicky - Firstly the money comes from us all in my view. If we want biodeversity then we should expect to support it via central govt funding or through our contribution to the EU in the same way as farmers currently get Stewardship payments for environmental schemes.
Diversionary feeding, the point your missing is that the 'ecosystem' can support Hen Harriers it's the profits of commercial game moors that can't. Predators numbers are controlled naturally by the abundance and availability of prey (humans are an exception to this) it is the artifically high numbers of grouse/pheasant/partridge maintained through captive breeding and release that allow predator populations to continue to increase in specific areas until they run out of prey.
Oh and no I dont read shooting mags as such but I do spend time reading news output online from teh likes of James and the SGA and GWCT (or whatever name they have this week ;)). By the way most birders arent twitchers and most twitchers wouldnt be caught dead near a nest they tend to concentrate on migrants in migration hotspots such as coastal headlands. However there are 'bad eggs' on both sides, most birders for example get upset by a minority who have little fieldcraft and resort to constant tape luring to see a bird rather than using patience. No we will never ever prevent all wildlife crime but the current level is too high.

vicky said...

I am well aware most buirders aren't twitchers. My point was most shooters aren't bird of prey murderers but some sections of the birding community think we are.

James Marchington said...

I suspect that what we now define as 'wildlife crime' is probably lower now than it's ever been - it's just that we've changed our definitions and outlook, and people are now monitoring, reporting and counting. That's not to say any crime is acceptable, just that it's not all doom and gloom.

Alan, I think you're being a bit unrealistic. First, prey numbers are certainly not the only factor, and it's not some magical natural balance that sorts itself out if left alone. Ask the warden of a ternery how he'd feel about leaving the foxes to find their natural balance.

It goes without saying that concentrating food in one place will attract animals and birds to feed on it: landfill sites, chicken farms, grain stores, etc. (Incidentally captive breeding and release doesn't apply for grouse).

If I run a free-range chicken farm how is that so different from releasing pheasants in a wood? And is it so wrong if I then need to apply a degree of pest/predator control to protect my investment?

Nature reserves are a wonderful thing, and I love to visit them. But I don't think we can realistically apply the same principles to farming (food security will become a major issue in years to come) and other human activity - we need a sliding scale which accepts that what we do cannot always be first and foremost to the benefit of a natural world which has, let's face it, been shaped by man into what it is already.

Meconopsis said...

I would just like to thank Alan for joining in here. Sensible comments from the other side from a guy with an open mind.