At today’s AGM, the Chair of RSPB Council, Kevin Cox, made this announcement.

There is growing concern about the environmental impact (including for carbon, water and biodiversity) of intensive forms of game bird shooting and associated land management practices.  This includes both driven grouse moor management (which involves shooting our native red grouse) and largescale release of non-native game birds, primarily pheasants and red-legged partridges, now in excess of 40 million birds annually.

Environmental concerns include the ongoing and systematic illegal persecution of birds of prey such as hen harriers on some sporting estates; the ecological impact of high numbers of game birds released into the countryside increasing the density of generalist predators; the mass culling of mountain hares in some parts of our uplands; the use of lead ammunition; the impact of burning peatlands and medicating wild animals for sport shooting.

In response to the evidence about the scale of the environmental impact and growing public concern, including from our membership, the RSPB’s Council has agreed to review our policy on game bird shooting and associated land management. 

This is an emotive and sometimes controversial subject but we want to use our scientific rigour to develop a set of conservation tests for management practices associated with game bird shooting.  We will use these to guide the RSPB’s conservation policy, practice and communications, consistent with the ongoing climate and ecological emergency, respectful of our charitable objectives and maintaining the confidence and support of our members.

We intend to do this, informed by the views of members and other stakeholders many of whom we have engaged with on these issues for decades. 

The exact process we shall follow to conduct this review will be communicated as soon as possible.  The intention is to complete this work as soon as is practically possible but in order to engage people in the right way and ensure we have the best available evidence it might take until the next AGM, though we hope that it will be completed sooner than that.

And to avoid doubt, we shall in this period, while the review is being conducted, continue to call for the introduction of licensing of driven grouse shooting.”

I shall say more on this subject in due course.  But if you do have any immediate reaction, please do get in touch as it would be great to hear your views.

  • It does not, however, restrict it in any way from engaging in activities to conserve wild birds and in this instance shooting is no different from agriculture or urban development. RSPB has an impeccable record in observing the conditions of the charter - a highly disciplined organisation, I am personally not aware of any representative of RSPB officially expressing views that breach the charter on this subject and as an ex member of RSPB Council I know the Trustees will be equally well aware of the conditions, and have no doubt discussed the boundaries at some length in this case.

  • To continue, after accidental sending, what RSPB i9s doing does not impinge on its Charter conditions although of course some will try and claim it does. The Charter restricts RSPB from engaging in activities concerning the morality of shooting - RSPB CANNOT advocate the cessation of shooting on the grounds that it believes morally that birds should not be shot.  

  • Martin, this is the right thing for the RSPB to do. That there will be intense criticism and attempts to smear and discredit RSPB is not something to be feared but welcomed as proof of the urgent need for the Society's action.

  • Thank you so much for this initiative!  We whole-heartedly support it.  Scientific evidence - yes, must be based on that as this will be hard to push through and wealthy landowners won't want to lose the kudos of organised shoots.  Will only large shoots be involved?

  • The RSPB has made changes to its RC many times, including at last year's AGM. Amendments to its governing documents are not hampered by their status as a Royal Charter or by being overseen by the Privy Council as neither the Monarch or Privy Council has a power to refuse the change, only to withdraw the charter. Amendments are no more difficult than for any other charity covered by Charity law and the Companies Act (in respect of invoking Special Resolutions) except that it takes longer as the PC is involved, as are Statutory Consultees such as Defra. The PC offers the following guidance on its website:

    “… The Privy Council Office is not aware of any Charter being revoked since the time of Charles II. Our understanding is that The Sovereign has no power to revoke a Charter at will, without the consent of the original grantees or their successors. In the absence of the consent of the grantee, it may be that the only way to revoke a Charter granted under the prerogative would be by primary legislation.”

    “Separately, legal proceedings by way of Scire Facias (a writ requiring a person to show why a judgment regarding a record or patent should be enforced or annulled) could be brought by a third party in the administrative court. This is the only means by which a court may determine forfeiture of a Royal Charter. A Claimant would need to show some degree of interest in the proceedings to bring a claim, but the extent of this would depend on the circumstances. Where it is claimed that a Chartered body has acted in breach of a term of the Charter, the court has discretion to determine whether the Charter should be forfeited or not. Historically, there have been very few scire facias cases – the last one being in 1853.”