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RSPB chief executive challenges shooting industry to 'take responsibility for its impacts'

Last modified: 31 July 2015

Curlew sitting in grassy field

The RSPB works together with parts of the shooting industry to achieve positive progress on species such as the curlew

Image: David J Morris

The RSPB’s chief executive, Dr Mike Clarke, has today called on those within the shooting industry to take responsibility for both the positive and negative impacts their industry has on the wider public interest, including biodiversity and the natural environment.

In a speech made at an RSPB reception at the CLA Game Fair, Mike Clarke talked about how the RSPB works together with parts of the industry to achieve positive progress on species such as the curlew, but that there are some well-evidenced trends in certain shooting management practices that are ‘of real concern’ and he hopes to ‘see more recognition of – and responsibility for - these issues’. 

Dr Clarke said: 'There are two key trends in particular. First, is the continuing increase in gamebirds released into the environment, now well over 50 million birds a year. 

'It is ecologically naive (at best!) to think that you can introduce this amount of biomass – of a similar magnitude to the biomass of all the wild birds in the countryside – without any impact on native species populations and food webs. 

'Secondly, there is a marked increase in the intensity of management on some driven grouse moors in the uplands, especially in England.  As many of us know, our uplands are some of our most iconic landscapes, both for services they give people - such as water and as a carbon store - and for wildlife.' 

Damage caused by moorland burning

One of the intensive management practices carried out on some driven grouse moors is rotational burning of heather. Last week, a study led by the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science revealed the extent of moorland burning across Britain’s upland areas and the damage it can cause. 

Burning on moorlands, a mixture of bog and heath habitats, is widely used to increase the numbers of red grouse that are available for recreational shooting. 

Dr Clarke made his speech in front of a picture of a hen harrier, a species which is absent from vast swathes of our English upland habitat. The disappearance of five male hen harriers, in unusual circumstances, earlier this season, resulted in the failure of their nests and an investigation by several police authorities. 

This remains of great concern to all of those protecting this fragile population. A Government-commissioned report identified illegal persecution, particularly on land managed for intensive driven grouse shooting as the primary factor affecting the hen harrier population.

The reception, which the RSPB holds on its stand at the Game Fair annually as part of its work to reach out to the shooting community, was also host to guest speaker, Alan Charles, Police and Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire who will make a speech about his commitment to tackling wildlife crime in Derbyshire. 

'It’s essential that we have the public on-side, acting as the eyes in the back of our heads'

Alan has had a firm focus on wildlife and rural crime since he was elected. He explained: 'During my election campaign more people lobbied me on wildlife crime than any other subject. It says a lot when you consider that number two on that list was Child Abuse and I have sought to make tackling wildlife and rural crimes a key priority in Derbyshire. 

'However, I fully appreciate that faced with a diminishing budget and crimes such as Child Sexual Exploitation, Domestic Abuse, Serious and Organised Crime Groups, naturally every force has to prioritise demand on its limited resources. 

'That’s why it’s essential that we have the public on-side, acting as the eyes in the back of our heads and providing the information that enables the police to arrest those committing offences against wildlife. 

'Protecting rare and endangered species of birds and other wildlife is important for local economies which rely on tourism, and it’s important for our heritage.  I firmly believe that together, we can and will do more to stamp out the criminals who seek to profit out of nature.' 

Negative effect on biodiversity

Acknowledging current calls for a ban on driven grouse shooting, the RSPB’s chief exec rounded up his speech by confirming that the RSPB doesn't support these calls. 

But the longer it takes any industry to address its problems, the stronger those calls will become. 

'We will speak out and act on the impacts of that activity when they have a negative effect on biodiversity and the natural environment. And we believe that current behaviours require stronger regulations to ensure responsible practices.'

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