Tuesday 14 September 2010

RSPB: It's war

This apparently, is the RSPB's view of a hen harrier.
You can
buy one on the RSPB website for £6.99.
It makes a daft squeaking noise.

 This what a hen harrier actually looks like, taken from the excellent
Tooth & Claw website. Rather like the one I - a shooter (gasp) - saw on Skye
recently and reported to the local raptor group, who were delighted to
hear of a harrier they didn't already know about.

I spent an interesting hour or so at the CLA Game Fair chatting with Mark Avery, conservation director of the RSPB, about a whole range of topics - not surprisingly the conversation centred on birds of prey, what part shooters and shooting played in what the RSPB persists in calling "persecution", and what might be done about it.

I thought we made some progress. I thought he listened, tried to understand, perhaps even believed some of what I said. At the very least, I thought he grasped the idea that shooters, by and large, were a force for good in the environment. He even suggested he might, one day, be willing to discuss licensed control of birds such as buzzards when their numbers become excessive and they become a threat to biodiversity and/or game interests.

Nah. I might as well have gone and sunk a pint on my own in the Gunmakers Arms. Arriving in journalists' inboxes today, embargoed for Thursday morning, is a blatant all-out attack on shooting, blaming shooting for every dead bird of prey and a load more they didn't find. It's entitled "20 YEARS OF SHAME AS WAR CONTINUES AGAINST BIRDS OF PREY". Expect it to dominate Thursday's environment headlines.

UPDATE: Here we go - the Telegraph's soppy
Louise Gray has regurgitated it as expected: 

"The RSPB is concerned the shooting industry appears unable to self-police and the Society believes new legislation is required to make the managers and employers of those committing these crimes legally accountable," thunders the release. "Options such as vicarious liability – that holds these people accountable for crimes committed by their staff - and removing the shooting rights for individuals and errant estates need to be considered. These measures would provide a significant deterrent without imposing a burden on legitimate shooting interests."

Actually Mark, they wouldn't. They'd be a complete flop. For the reasons I explained at the Game Fair, and a whole lot more besides.

But you don't care. Because the RSPB, once a respected conservation organisation, has become a loudmouthed, power-hungry, money-greedy political lobbying organisation that cares only about more members, more political clout, and more influence over more land.

Before the RSPB gets a penny more public money, or is allowed to influence the management of public land, I demand a fully independent review of their competence at running their own reserves. From what I hear those reserves could and should accommodate many more breeding pairs of hen harriers and other rare species. The only possible explanation for the shortfall is the organisation's lack of competence. Because they cannot own up to uncomfortable facts - like the appalling destruction to wildlife caused by pet cats, or the need to control numbers of predators such as buzzards and eagle owls to preserve biodiversity - for fear of losing members and bequests.

UPDATE: The National Gamekeepers Organisation makes some good points in its response to the RSPB's nonsense, saying: "it is important to debunk the myth that there is a war being waged on birds of prey by rural stakeholders such as gamekeepers. The facts show this is simply not so, and the public should be sceptical about the motives of those who hype the issue when a host of other, less photogenic birds are in serious decline”. Well worth a read.


vicky said...

I'm a bit depressed now.

Meconopsis said...

Not as depressed as me!

The RSPB once was a great organisation one that I used to belong to many years ago. Somewhat similar to a once great Shooting organisation which I fear has now been infiltrated by others unknown.

lottie said...

Hi James, what do you suggest the RSPB and other conservation organisation do (or not do) instead? Perhaps you could make a few more detailed points in a future blog - I'd like to hear your suggestions.

On another note, I've never understood farmers and shooters obsession with buzzards. One farmer I know in Devon swears buzzards take off with whole chicken while my father (a not very pro-predator farmer with a small shoot) says that buzzards struggle to take off with a half grown rat. Indeed I've never seen a buzzard (and we have plenty!) bother game birds, other ground nesting birds or poultry. Sparrowhawks are the only BOP I've know to take pheasants and partridge. Although I have little experince of grouse shooting I understand that harriers and other predators can have a huge impact on grouse numbers and therefore profit - so something has to be done about BOP conflicts there, but what I have no idea.

I think licences to cull some 'problem' BOP is a good idea...but certain species of BOP do get a very bad rap from some camps. We need some sensible middle ground.

James Marchington said...

Hi Lottie,
Good to have you back here. Talking to a lot of keepers around the country, I hear many reports of buzzards discovering pheasant release pens are an easy source of food, and killing 20 or 30 at a time. Apparently it's best to leave the carcases where they are, or they'll kill 20 or 30 more. I'm sure it varies enormously from one location to another.

I also hear reports of buzzards decimating populations of other ground nesting birds (eg lapwings) - at specific places and times.

Much of the time, or course, buzzards are causing no bother to anyone.

We've come a long way since the days when farmers/keepers just wanted to eradicate every predator, animal or bird. Those were harsh times, and priorities were very different.

I certainly don't have all the answers. But first we need to be sure of the questions.

Let's not forget that the RSPB gains the more desperate it can make the situation appear. "We're all doomed - give us your money quick!" Hence their excessively enthusiastic support for the global warming scam - it's worth millions to them.

In the last, what was it, 13? years of labour government, the RSPB and other opportunists have formed a symbiotic relationship with government, allowing them to influence the legal framework and enforcement policy, and positioning themselves as the trusted expert advisors.

Whether pre-meditated or not, this has had the effect of pursuing a political agenda - one of 'nationalising' our wildlife.

Go back a few decades and the farmer/landowner managed the wildlife as he saw fit. Now it belongs to 'us', and in 'our' name the RSPB etc, with the collusion of government, tells the landowner what he can and cannot do.

In some ways that's a good thing, in others not - but it's important to understand what has happened as a background to sorting out the problems.

Our wildlife legislation today is a total mess. Some species have little perceived value, while others (badgers, harriers) are untouchable. Wildlife law is constantly used by people with a political agenda, to attack those who they don't like, rather than for its proper purpose of protecting the environment.

'Biodiversity' is invoked as a holy grail by people who don't even understand what it means. And as for 'cruelty' and 'welfare' - just pawns in the game.

Anyway, there I go, moaning again! Thanks for your interest, and I'll try to delve deeper into this whole fascinating area in future posts.


Sooty said...

Well don't give up James there must be room for all opinions and yours always seem moderate for your important post in life.My guess is that Mark genuinly meant what he said but for sure probably the RSPB has some in high office with a stronger agenda than Mark.Seems a pity every time things look a little bit promising it all kicks off once more simply because all camps have bad eggs but all get bunched together.If only someone knew the answer.

James Marchington said...

Thanks Sooty for your encouraging comments. I don't think giving up is an option. I am what I am, and our fabulous wildlife and countryside is a big part of that.

I do wonder what planet Mark is on at the moment - his latest blog post appears to be demanding public money on the grounds that we'd better get some places ready for Dartford warblers in case they decide to move north to avoid global warming.

vicky said...

Lottie; if you read some of he other blog post comments on the RSPB this year you'll see that the shooting community has lots of ideas on how to manage BOP and other predators. And hat we don't want to wipe them out, and that e don't like illegal poisoning any more than the RSPB!
My main idea is;
Assessing the maximum numbers of predators a farm or estate can support. Over this number licences could be issued for egg pricking, capture and release elswhere or for shooting of currently protected mammals if they are the problem.

Large birds like buzzards can affect pheasants, free range hens etc very badly without ever predating them. The sight of a large bird circling can panic birds causing crushing/suffocation, a drop in egg numbers etc etc. Some farms will have circumstance which cause them to suffer more than others.

James Marchington said...

Entirely agree, Vicky. I do have a natural aversion to yet more regulation and micro-management though - we end up paying to have some busybody come round and tell us what to do on our own patch, which we probably know a good deal better than he/she does, plus he/she is full of the latest bull indoctrinated at college. We've become very willing to allow the state into every corner of our lives, telling us what to think, say and do. The pendulum will swing back, I just hope too much damage isn't done in the meantime.

Meconopsis said...


Re the Dartford Warblers and forward planning did the RSPB not do this when they took over Geltside moor to welcome lots of "persecuted" Hen Harriers? Only to find a pair of Eagle Owls arrived instead.

How much money and time have the RSPB spent on DNA tests trying to prove that these birds are not wild incomers who arrived under their own steam but captive bred escapees.

The Sea Eagles arrived by jet into Edinburgh airport and were kept in averys for weeks on end fed on venison etc only to be let out into the wild to cause who knows what damage to livestock.

Having said all of the above I admire Mark Avery at least he is out there meeting all the right people and making his organisation seen in all the right places.

Yes wherever you go on the net there is an RSPB banner recruiting more members thus more cash for the purchase of more land.

What do we have to counteract the mighty RSPB propaganda machine ?

Nothing at all just a bunch of infighting pathetic worthless organisations cutting prices of memberships for their own greed. Issuing codes of practice booklets telling us how to go wildfowling or dispatch a gamebird in the correct way. Nanny state or what ? Patronising I would say !

At least we have the Scottish Gamekeepers association who can be seen working away via their little website. It might not be fancy but they are Keepers and look after their cash. All the meetings they attend can be seen on the blog page and a superb magazine comes through the door 4 times a year packed with all the info a sportsman concerned with loosing his or her rights needs to know.

vicky said...

PS the cuddly hen harrier is really naff.

Sooty said...

Hi Meconopsis think the Sea Eagles are a very emotive subject simply because of its size but I follow their progress as much as possible and have only once seen evidence of trouble to farm animals or birds.They do not appear the terrible killers portrayed by worried people,think it more likely they may frighten poultry into a heap because of their size but to me they are portrayed as killing everything is a terrible exaggeration.

Alan Tilmouth said...

The NGO is again simply trying to bury the truth in statistics. They can't seriously be trying to lump poaching in with 'wildlife crime'? Complaining about fish & birds being taken that are destined for the pot or gun anyway is a little 'pot and kettle'. (I'm not condoning poaching either but at least what's killed will be eaten).

James Marchington said...

'Bury the truth in statistics' - that's rich, just look at what the RSPB is doing. Read their hysterical rubbish and you'd think every bird of prey was declining and in serious danger of extinction... and yet the only one in serious trouble is the kestrel, with no suggestion that keepers have anything to do with it.

RSPB have had their chance to work with shooters. As far as I'm concerned, they blew it.

Meconopsis said...

Taken from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association blog.

Chairman's Blog

I spent several satisfying hours with my chainsaw yesterday afternoon. Rogue branches and spindly trees bore the brunt of pent-up frustrations after a long morning in Parliament giving (and listening to) evidence to the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee.

Some of the "evidence" we were subjected to didn't stand any scrutiny and the Committee appeared to recognise it as nothing more than propaganda. One feathered charity rep, for instance, waxed lyrical on what he regarded as the excessive size of pheasant release pens in Scotland, but under questioning admitted he was referring to statistics for "North Britain". Useful, perhaps, for the North British Government?

Statistics were generally in short supply from the anti field sports brigade but when the subject turned to wildlife crime they weren't shy of making up for that in rhetoric and wild accusations. Fortunately there was a legal voice in our midst who firmly pointed out that wildlife crime had to be looked at in the context of criminal law, the presumption of innocence, the concept of reasonable doubt and the rules of evidence. That the law and human rights should apply to gamekeepers appeared to come as a shock to our opponents and blew many of their proposals out of the water.

But undoubtedly they'll regroup and fire more salvos before this Wildlife Bill makes it through Parliament. Why is it that some of the organisations most opposed to blood sports appear to take such satisfaction in bludgeoning those with different views? Could it be that they don't have chainsaws at their disposal?

As I have said before there is one little group still fighting for our rights unlike others.

Anonymous said...

I have for years now been getting depressed about my love of the British wildlife. I used to even be a member of the RSPB. I am, however, one of the most committed hunters around. I love shooting, stalking & fishing & then eating what I have harvested from the environment.

The shooting industry has some big problems. Firstly there are a few tossers out there that still think it is acceptable to break the law. I implore all people who read this blog to name & shame those doing so. If we can stop the illegal actions of a few then we will genuinely have a STRONG podium to shout from. Without self-regulating our industry, the RSPB & all their cohorts will always have the moral high ground, which with our level or conservation activity, should be ours.

Next, us shooters need to stand together rather than splitting into petty factions. We all need to work together as we are in real danger of losing this battle, and it IS a battle in the eyes of the opposition, so we must stand strong.

Lets demystify what birds of prey do. I am a very keen falconer and I know a few things that are worth saying.

A buzzard cannot carry a pheasant (although a 6-8 week poult, yes no problem). Do buzzards kill indiscriminately like foxes & return to collect their dead later? They don't. They will kill a pheasant poult if they find a pen full of them, they will killing take their fill and return and then kill another. As you and I would, would prefer fresh meat (particularly when they are feeding young). The flipside to this is that ALL raptors I have ever worked with are lazy creatures. If there is something dead and they do not need to work hard, potentially damaging their feathers killing it and they can just eat their fill, they will.

Do hen harriers kill grouse chicks? Yes they do. One nest of Hen Harriers with, say, 3 chicks will consume up to 50 chicks per day to feed them & the adult birds. We should also remember hen harriers eat rats, mice and other young birds (some of which are not doing too well, like lapwings, gold & gray plover, or curlew to mention a few). So on a moor managed for grouse, let's say half of the 50 chicks eaten per day are grouse. That is 25 chicks - a potential £1,250 of shooting revenue per day. It is no wonder that gamekeepers do not love them. If you think it takes a captive-bred hawk around 12 weeks to get to hard pen (fledgling), that's a huge amount of money.

If landowners are required to protect these animals then perhaps it is time that agricultural subsidies reflected this actually calculated on how many species and quantity of wildlife you have on your ground, so for a grouse moor with two pairs of Harriers they get £105,000 per pair - that sounds like a lot, but that is the actual cost to the owner. The same for eagles, buzzards, goshawks and sparrow hawks (they would all need to have a calculation made). We are told by the RSPB what incredible amounts of money these birds bring into the country IF THIS IS TRUE? then it should be there to spend where it is needed - not on self-funding self-serving organisations that don't actually seem to have a very good track record of looking after birds on their own properties. They rely on landowners to want to lose money supporting birds that do not bring them any discernible positives.

Farmers and landowners who protect wildlife should be paid for it. They feed us all & I know some out there would say "rich land owners do not deserve the cash". Well I would say that managing wild life costs HUGE amounts of money & most landowners I know would be happy to spend that money on staff and the local rural economies, which are doing so badly at the moment. How much money do the RSPB spend on local people and local resources to their reserves? I heard recently that for instance most of their pest control contractors they are currently using for projects in Scotland are coming from New Zealand. With unemployment in rural areas at the moment, you would have thought it’s better to look closer to home.