News archive

November 2014

Saturday, 15 November 2014

A silver lining to the cloud of attacks on the RSPB

A silver lining to the cloud of attacks on the RSPB

I am not sure that it was particularly wise for the Countryside Alliance to attempt to stir up negative PR against the RSPB regarding our latest issue of Birdcrime.

Why? Because... allows us to confirm the professional way in which our team works with the police and the public to detect and document incidents of illegal activity and

...if the complaint gets the oxygen of publicity then once again people will read or hear about illegal killing of birds of prey by those linked to the shooting community.

For the record, this is what we have been saying in response to the criticism...

It is disappointing that Countryside Alliance has chosen to dispute the figures presented within the Birdcrime report. Surely it would be smarter to welcome the report and then challenge the shooting community to root out those within it who commit criminal offences against protected birds of prey.

As stated in the Birdcrime report, the data provide an annual snapshot of reported crimes and convictions but cannot ever be a definitive record of the totality of illegal bird of prey killing. In the same way, the number of convictions for speeding does not represent the total number of people that speed while driving. What Birdcrime does prove is that the illegal killing of birds of prey is still a widespread practice and is continuing long after these birds received legal protection. We make it very clear in Birdcrime that, because of the small sample size and the fact that offences are often committed in some of the wildest areas of Britain, detection rates will always be low and are really the tip of a much larger iceberg.

A much more complete picture of the impact of these crimes is assessed through rigorous scientific studies, such as a 2012 paper on peregrine nesting success in northern England. This and other documents, such as the Government's own framework reports on hen harrier and golden eagle, underline the role that grouse moors play in reducing the numbers of birds of prey in some of our most iconic landscapes.

The statistics presented in Birdcrime represent reported or confirmed cases of persecution against birds of prey. The strongest motive for killing birds of prey come from those with interests in game management. Sometimes even we are staggered at the extent of the killing. In 2007 the RSPB was contacted by two gamekeepers about the activities of another keeper on a shooting estate in Shropshire. Following an investigation, a vermin book was recovered detailing the killing of over 100 buzzards within one six-month period: many more than the number of buzzards that were formally confirmed as illegally killed for the whole UK in 2007 in the Birdcrime report. The head keeper and assistant keeper were subsequently convicted for offences under the Wildlife & Countryside Act.

It is time the Countryside Alliance moved from denial to leadership. Law-abiding shooting estates and gamekeepers have nothing to fear from the RSPB, but we will not shy away from highlighting the bad practices associated with shooting when we have the evidence to do so.

As Martin Harper clearly states in his foreword to this year's Birdcrime report: "We look forward to uniting with the organisations which are opposed to illegal persecution, and bringing forward the changes needed to ensure legitimate businesses are free from association with this dark shadow that hangs over the shooting community. Together we can finally consign bird of prey persecution to the history books."