My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
The group that has challenged our predator control practices have made some sweeping statements on social media which are misleading.For example, following a first meeting when we discussed predator control at length, we did offer to meet again to discuss some of their concerns in more detail. They refused to do so.They also have made highly subjective statements about the contractors we employ to undertake the predator control. As I explained in the previous blog, we have very clear processes which we follow during the recruitment process. Many predator control contractors will have links to the shooting community but this does not mean they are “bloodsports” enthusiasts and this has no bearing on their ability to undertake predator control for conservation purposes in a professional and humane manner.I have also explained (in a previous comment and copied below for ease of reference) the rationale for why we do predator control and we continue to strive to meet our conservation objectives while operating to the highest animal welfare standards. I have also specifically addressed our use of Larsen traps.At the heart of this is a difference in values and motivations. As a conservation charity, we work to keep common species common and recover threatened species. Others are perhaps more interested in the fate of individual birds. While, of course, I understand and respect these views, they differ from our values and charitable objectives which must guide the choices we make.These debates will of course continue, but I think are best done through face to face meetings rather than through commentary on social media or even email exchanges which is why our offer to meet again still stands.
---------------------------------A few queries have been raised through twitter about our use of Larsen traps and whether we have an exit strategy for predator control.On the former, as I have said in previous blogs, we only resort to lethal means when tests in our vertebrate policy are met:- That the seriousness of the problem has been established- That non-lethal methods have been assessed and found not to be practicable- That killing is an effective way of addressing the problem- That killing will not have an adverse impact on the conservation status of the target or other non-target species.Sadly, Larsen traps are an effective lethal means of controlling crows during the wader breeding season. The call bird is seen as an intruder by territorial crows who will then try to drive it away.
Shooting is another means of controlling crows. It doesn’t require the use of call birds but there are limitations to its use, for example as it takes place during the day on land that is often used by people. Therefore, whilst it can supplement Larsen trapping, it is unlikely to be an effective means of controlling crows on its own. We do, of course, ensure that the trapping of crows is carried out in accordance with the General Licenses and relevant animal welfare legislation. Our policy for use of Larsen traps exceeds these legal requirements, as all contractors must check traps twice a day to ensure that the call-bird has access to food and water and that suitable welfare provisions are made for any caught birds. Fresh water is provided by a dispenser attached to the trap so that it cannot be knocked over. Call-birds are changed regularly. All contractors complete a daily checklist each time the check is undertaken and this is submitted to the RSPB. The RSPB Investigations Team regularly undertake ‘independent’ spot checks to ensure our contractors are compliant.
Regarding the issue of having an exit strategy for predator control, I would refer you to the conclusions from the recent review that we published about the impact of predation on wild birds where we say that there is “a real need for research to understand how landscape-scale management could be used to provide longer-term sustainable solutions to reduce the number of generalist predators and their impact of species of conservation concern”. So, we intervene to provide a lifeline for threatened species while we continue to seek what is inevitably a longer term ambition to secure more fundamental change in the way land is managed.
You refer to “natural predation” By crows. What is natural? We feed crows on free range pig farms particularly over winter when some should starve and die. So the level of predation is not natural. We interfere indirecly.
I also think there needs to be a ban on driven grouse shooting. Any other scheme is unworkable in my opinion. How that is achieved when the majority of MPs would block it though, I don't know. However, that doesn't alter the fact that what I said in response to you is fact.
You’ve had two posts now, and not referenced anything to do with what RSPB is in existence for. Unless you do, no matter how well you argue against anything, you won’t achieve very much apart from getting people who already have your views agreeing with you.
Sorry Robbo, but at least I’ve argued my point, you’re response hasn’t argued anything, other than post what we already know about RSPB policy. As we progress further into the 21st century, the RSPB will continue to face stroger opposition. Let’s not forget that the RSPB are also unwilling to back a ban on driven-grouse shooting and are “delighted to support” pheasant shooting.
Too much ‘Royal’, not enough ‘Protection’. It seems the RSPB aren’t too dissimilar at all, from those that persecute our birds of prey.
I'm sorry Tom F, but that response to Martin Harper's blog is in itself very poor. Rather than pick it all apart, I'll stick to the obvious point about RSPB and why it was set up, what its Constitution states and therefore why what you've written, with respect, isn't relevant. The pdf is linked off this page
Very poor defence Martin, with lots of holes.
You make some sweeping statements which are misleading.
You, defend using a “bloodsport enthusiast” by saying he’s not a “bloodsport enthusiast”. Even though he is a member of the Barlow Hunt. The master of whom, has just been found illegally trapping badgers (a protected species). His use of predator control is also neither professional or humane. You also do not monitor how he performs this role.
Fighting predators is a war on nature. Animals are supposed to go extinct, for the world to adapt to changing environments and climates. They always have done and always will do. You might be aware of the phrase ‘Survival of the fittest”. A term used by the greatest naturalist who has ever lived. If you truly love nature, you would appreciate predation. I applaud the protection of ground-nesting birds from many things. But not from natural predation. Controlling predators as a means of conservation is a war on nature and straight out of the gamekeepers handbook. I was already dismayed that the RSPB cull foxes, to learn that they also employ bloodsport enthusiasts to do so, along with their failure to back a ban on driven-grouse shooting, only leads me to conclude that they are not nature’s voice at all.
You claim that foxes are common. Despite a 41% drop in their population since 1996, according to the latest British Trust of Ornithology ‘Breeding Bird Survey’. Foxes are persecuted by fox hunters and pest control. High numbers are also killed by cars, their main food source, the rabbit, has also declined by 60% according to the same BTO report. Now the self-proclaimed ‘Nature’s voice’ are also slaughtering them in high numbers. Protect species by all means, but not from natural predation and certainly not via the use of inhumane and callous Larsen traps, which are banned in their country of origin, Denmark.
Of course, you’d rather your actions were kept hidden via face-to-face meetings, rather than the public learning about what you do and for a pretty obvious reason. Of course, this is not transparent and the public and paying members have a right to know what you do.
Your defence of the Larsen trap is incredibly worrying and these will be banned in this country too in the not too distant future. I have cancelled my membership and have no intention of renewing whilst the bloodsport lobby have the charity wrapped around their little finger.
Hi there Martin,
There are often lots of occasions on which there are subjects I don’t agree with the RSPB. But on this occasion I do sadly have to agree that culling on very rare occasions has to happen, even if it is controversial and large numbers of people are upset. But on this occasion to protect the Curlew, I do agree that sadly the culling has to be done.