Like everyone, I was surprised by Natural England’s decision to revoke the General Licence at such short notice after the legal proceedings by Wild Justice. The following media and online frenzy has thrown up so much misinformation and inaccuracies that it is hard for those not immersed in this stuff to really know what’s going on.
As you probably know, the RSPB uses the general licence. We are upfront and open about our use of lethal vertebrate control and we are the only organisation or estate (as far as I’m aware) that publishes annual figures (see here).
We are also very clear when and why we sometimes feel it necessary to carry out this work. Making the decision to employ legal, lethal methods of predator control is never easy. In fact, it’s a practice we go to great lengths to avoid until we can see no other viable conservation alternatives and when the need is sufficiently great.
So, what do I think about the current events?
I see this is a positive step in the right direction (albeit imperfectly executed). We have been calling for greater clarity and have had concerns about the robustness of the licencing process for some time. Indeed, there is an argument that the entire General Licensing system is incapable of compliance with international law.
But, setting that aside for the moment the RSPB has always been clear that licensing can work but that we need an open and transparent system in which everyone can have confidence, and one that is appropriately followed, monitored and enforced. What does that mean? Well, licences should only be issued when there is no other option, and when non-lethal alternatives have been exhausted. And that is how we have used them.
Natural England has now stated that if we need to carry out lethal control in the future, we will need to apply for individual licences. Given that we shall be seeking to meet conservation objectives and that our case will be underpinned by scientific evidence led science, I hope that we should be able to secure the necessary licenses.
One final point.
The debate over the perceived rights and wrongs of the situation has descended from anger and outrage into bullying, abuse and credible death threats. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the treatment of Chris Packham. The RSPB is proud to have Chris as one of its Vice Presidents. He’s a genuinely nice guy, trying to do what is best for nature. He’s incredibly knowledgeable and passionate and is one of the UK’s foremost spokespeople on wildlife. I’m sure that if there were more people like him, then our nature would be better off. We don’t always agree on every aspect of nature conservation (and clearly his honorary role with our charity does not prevent him speaking his mind), but I could never fault his commitment nor his motives.
That’s why I’m appalled at the abuse that Chris has received. I know that social media can be deeply simplistic and polarising allowing anonymous attacks to be seen as a new norm. But I find this deeply unsettling. It is completely unacceptable and has no place in a modern society. People may be rattled by what has happened but that does not excuse them from lashing out seeing Chris as a scapegoat because of his views.
Someone once told me that our body of law is a reflection of what society wants today. The legal challenge of the General Licence was not an attempt to change the law, rather ensure that it was upheld.
Yet, as society changes and as pressures on the natural world grow, we should expect the laws of the land to change. Society is clearly changing and it is why we need to be successful in campaigning to secure new legal targets to drive nature’s recovery and to tackle climate change.
The RSPB is lucky to have Chris Packham as our Vice President alongside us in this endeavour.
Thank you for publishing this, together with a reference to previous annual figures. I don't suppose that it will influence those who claim that you hide the fact that that you use lethal control, but I'm sure it will help those who are prepared to listen.
Events in politics over the past few years have polarised opinions about almost everything in this country and elsewhere. It is essential that the RSPB does what little it can to calm the mood down.
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