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Birdcrime: a stain on the UK

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Martin Harper's blog

I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

Birdcrime: a stain on the UK

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The UK Government is currently collating its report on how well it has done in meeting its obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect and restore wildlife. This will contribute to a global assessment of nature which will emerge in the run up to the crucial meeting in China in 2020.

We know from government’s own statistics as well as the charity-led State of Nature report that we have a massive challenge to do what the Prime Minister May wants and restore the nature we have lost/destroyed over the past 50 years.

Many of problems facing nature are systemic: we have grown our economy at the expense of the natural environment both here and through our footprint abroad. We need a fundamental rethink of to the way that our economy works, the way we farm, fish, build infrastructure and travel. It is why we need politicians with courage and creativity to develop funded plans commensurate with the scale of the challenge. It’s also why they should read Chris Packham’s draft manifesto for wildlife which is full of provocative ideas worthy of serious consideration.

Yet, there are some problems which infuriate because they just shouldn’t be happening in the UK in the 21st century, such as the illegal killing of wildlife – especially birds of prey.

That is why I would urge you to read RSPB’s Birdcrime report which is published today.

Our report states that in 2017 there were 68 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in the UK during 2017, and we know that the real number is likely to be much higher as many illegal killings go undetected or unreported.

The report emerges less than two weeks after the suspicious disappearance of three satellite tagged hen harriers in England and Wales.

Government itself knows that the main problems are associated with driven grouse shooting, which is why governments need to do far more to create a climate of accountability especially on shooting estates. Whilst there has been some steady progress in Scotland, elsewhere far more needs to be done.

This weekend, the Labour Party produced a new publication outlining its policies for the environment. While light on specific measures for nature conservation, it was pleasing to see a commitment to “end rotational heather burning and launch an independent review into the economic, environmental and wildlife impacts of driven grouse shooting”.  

The RSPB has been calling for a system of licensing for driven grouse shooting, to ensure land is managed legally and sustainably. We think this would also help tackle the wider problems of intensive management of ‘big bag’ driven grouse shooting, like the draining of and burning on fragile peat bogs which we agree needs to stop. A fair set of rules in the form of a licensing system could help ensure shoots are operating legally and sustainably and introduce the option of restricting or removing a licence in response to the most serious offences, for example where staff on an estate have been convicted of illegally killing birds of prey.

In 26 months’ time the nature conservation spotlight will fall on Beijing as world leaders are expected to provide a verdict on the 2020 challenge to save nature while setting new ambition for 2030.

We (and here I would include the 10,000 people that took part in Saturday’s Walk for Wildlife) want our Prime Minister to go to that meeting with a proud record at home and prepared to support others to help wildlife around the world. The continued illegal killing of some of the UK’s most charismatic species casts a stain upon our track-record of nature conservation and erodes our legitimacy as an international leader on nature conservation.

So, to all our current politicians, please read our Birdcrime report and then take action.

Hen harrier photos courtesy of my colleague, Jack Ashton-Booth

Comments
  • On his blog Chris Collett rightly says there's been a 24 % decline in HH in the last decade - but that conceals the almost unbelievable fact that HH is effectively extinct as a breeding bird in England. Despite the pressures on the environment we don't actually get many extinctions of UK birds these days - the last natural one of a once widespread breeding bird was probably Red Backed Shrike. When you stop and think about it, it really is in a different realm for a bird to be extinguished so effectively by a narrow, arrogant vested interest which is sticking two fingers up to not just every one of us but the law as well.

  • Martin, I have read your response again, and I clearly detect that you appear to have traded your efforts to have licencing of shooting ion Scotland against my efforts to increase sentences and allow RSPB investigations results to reach court. These are not mutually exclusive endeavours. Where is you ambition? All three are on the 200 action items in the peoples manifesto. I can assure you that those powerful forces acting against us will not be so selective. I can only hope that your decision to pick and choose has not already resulted or will result in my petition not being considered by the relevant committees.

  • Thanks Martin. I admit I was confused. My petition can stand on it's own, and I asked initially not to collect signatures, but there are issues with the presentation of the website. However, I do not see why the RSPB could not look at petitions to governments and sign them if they agree with them as the RSPB just as the Scottish Wildlife Trust have done with mine. I only have 2 issues in my petition, raising the maximum sentence for some wildlife crimes to 3 years to allow police to set covert cameras with authorisation, and some change to the WCA to allow more RSPB evidence coming to court. I don't see why you personally and the RSPB as an entity have not signed. I do not believe that my petition should be seen as in any way conflicting with your other actions.

  • Hi Alex,

    I have spoken to my colleagues in Scotland and they have reminded me that we have recently provided evidence to the independent panel established by the Scottish Government to review grouse moor management and the potential for regulation. While it would be inappropriate to discuss this until it can be fully considered by the review panel, you can rest assured that a number of the issues you raise in your petition were included in our response. We feel that, given this review is progressing, this is the most appropriate way of taking these concerns forward.

    Clearly we supported the earlier petition on gamebird licensing and I know staff have been encouraged to sign yours.

    Best wishes,

    Martin

  • The report is good and the data is getting better. However, you say on the link you gave:" The voices calling for change are getting louder. Will you add yours?"

    How do we add our voice? The RSPB needs to help or lead on this. I have a petition to the Scottish Parliament, ending this week, which seeks to improve the position in Scotland. I hope to appear at the relevant committees which may end up changing legislation. The Scottish Wildlife Trust has signed. I don't see the RSPB having signed or have much interest. Now, I've done something. The RSPB is acting, but could do so much more.