It is now over a week since the Westminster Hall parliamentary debate on the future of driven grouse shooting. I thought it would be appropriate to offer a further perspective on what the RSPB plans to do next to improve the environmental conditions of the uplands.

As many others have written, it was a deeply frustrating debate – especially to the 123,000 that called for a ban and of course those seeking reform. Our initial reaction tried to pick out some positives, but that was a real challenge. Clearly there is widespread opposition from within the driven grouse shooting community to any real reform. I think that the positioning by a majority of MPs was perhaps inevitable as it was the first proper outing of the issue in parliament. Imagine a parliamentary debate on climate change 20 years ago with lobbyists peddling their various views to MPs. 

Yet, my view is that if pressure for reform remains then the quality of the parliamentary debate will inevitably improve as people won't be able to brazenly ignore the facts like some did on Monday.

Geltsdale by Chris Gomersall (

When more crimes get into the public domain it will be harder for MPs to turn a blind eye. We therefore have no intention of changing our current approach of working with local groups to deliver vital monitoring and surveillance through our Life project, and work with the police to investigate crimes. The team do a fantastic job in extremely difficult circumstances.

That is why, this week, we are raising awareness of the fate of the hen harrier Rowan, found dead in Cumbria in October, and which appears to have been shot. The fate of this bird graphically illustrates that illegal killing of hen harriers is ongoing, contrary to the impression given by some MPs in the Westminster Hall debate.

I think change will come if we can find creative and novel ways of maintaining the political and public profile of our concerns about the environmental impact of driven grouse shooting. This is not a party political issue – I am convinced that all parties want the law enforced and many want to see improved standards of land management associated with grouse shooting. 

Clearly legislation is needed, as voluntary approaches have proved wholly inadequate, and Westminster is the legislature for England. That means a cross-party approach will be needed.

We will continue to keep up the pressure on these issues, and will also be talking with others to determine how best to secure reform. 

In summary, we remain appalled by the environmental condition of the uplands and the ongoing illegal killing of birds of prey. Our work in the uplands remains an important strategic priority for the RSPB – we are not going to go away. We believe that licensing is the way to deliver substantial change to the way our uplands are managed and we intend to keep the pressure on to achieve that. The irony is that commitment to reform and serious discussion about licensing is the shooting industry’s best insurance against growing calls for a ban.

In Scotland, I remain hopeful that tangible reform is possible (partly in response to a petition on gamebird licensing which we supported). If change does happens north of the border, it will make it that much harder for a Westminster Government to ignore the positive direction set out in Scotland.

Our commitment is unwavering. But this won’t be a quick fight and we will take the time now to carefully consider what comes next, talking to all those with a stake in this issue.

What do you think is the next key step for delivering reform of our uplands?

It would be great to hear your views.

  • Interesting comment, Rob. If I were trying to support the status quo I'd be most anxious to keep Government at the centre of the debate as it is sure to do nothing. I'd be worried about opponents to raptor persecution heading off in other directions - pressurising the National Trust and other public bodies, for example. It looks increasingly foolish for shooting interests to have flushed RSPB out of the Government system. And you are right, we should be looking for common ground, but wrong in the assumption that it is conservation that must give way. There's been a lot of accusations of 'extremism' thrown about, all aimed at conservationists. But the same applies, but more so, to shooting's present position and if you want proof look no further than the lead debate. John Swift, with whom I worked over many years, has always been a sensible and intelligent advocate for shooting, a man most people could work with. In the lead debate he saw an opportunity for shooting to demonstrate it's good faith without compromising on the core issue of the rights and wrongs of shooting animals for sport. To the great glee of the Countryside Alliance and its supporters he has been flushed out of their system in a way that sends a clear message of extremism to people like me. Despite being a close friend of Mark Avery it took me a little time to sign his petition - and similarly (amongst all the criticism of RSPB and Martin) it took RSPB a little time to realise their good faith was not being matched in any shape or form.  As we hit the middle of this breeding season and it became clear that no Hen Harriers had been allowed to nest a clear and unbridgeable chasm opened up - and it was shooting, not conservation that created it.  

  • Agree Martin wholeheartedly with your sentiments - "we need to find a way to reach out to more people who support our values and objectives including those within the shooting community. Only then can we expect to challenge entrenched positions."

    However, the "we" and "our" must refer to society represented by govt, not anyone else whether they may be a RSPB member who shoots or a non-RSPB member seeking to ban all shooting. Best not to fix values or objectives (Are you with or against us?) that may end up being part of a workable compromise that delivers for interests in wildlife and human livelihoods.

    There are 'entrenched positions' littering a field of idealist dreams on this matter and more nuanced social science is required to progress things rather than just purely seek to 'out' intransigent views.


  • Nightjar (whoever you are),

    The Defra Joint Hen Harrier Plan was launched in January this year exactly in order to allow folk “….to watch the occasional hen harrier cruising the forest/moorland edge, prospecting territory for breeding in the North Yorks Moors…” and elsewhere.  

    In my case, I want to see them cruising the likes of Goonhilly Downs, Bodmin Moor, Exmoor, Dartmoor and Salisbury Plain because that’s the area where I happen to live now, so am looking forward to the Southern England reintroduction pillar of the Plan commencing.  I have been fortunate enough to see HHs regularly cruising new non-native conifer plantations, arable farmland and moorland when I lived in Argyll, Germany, Aberdeenshire, and holidayed in Sutherland, respectively.

    It is exactly because the situation hasn’t improved in 40 or so years that the Defra Joint Hen Harrier Plan was painstakingly brokered then launched this year.  Such plans do not normally or instantly achieve results but need to be given the time and space to incrementally improve the situation in such intractable conflicts.  

    Read the Plan again with this latter in mind -

  • Keith, you can have 6 elements or 60 - it makes no odds if there aren't any Hen Harriers and you are certainly not stupid enough to claim that you haven't deliberately misunderstood me in saying it is 'early days' - it is the opposite, time has run out and not before it should have done -  it is now nearly 40 years since I used to watch the occasional Hen harrier cruising the forest/moorland edge, prospecting territory for breeding in the North Yorks Moors - and how many are breeding there ? and is 40 years too long ? I considered telling you who I am but then I thought, no, it'll be a lot easier for you to work it out for yourself than it will be to find out who shot Rowan.

  • Yes Nightjar (whoever you are) it is early days.  Two elements of the plan - out of 6, i.e. 33% -haven’t even commenced yet.  You have read the plan haven’t you?  Here it is again -

    Steve J (whoever you are), we’ve been over this before (in July) on this very blog.  You still seem to be labouring under the misconception that I am in some way speaking for a ‘game management community’ or that I demonise birds-of-prey.  As I have still never knowingly met with you in any way shape or form, I’m not sure why that should continue to be the case, so let me make it crystal clear for you - I am commenting here in my capacity as an individual RSPB member and volunteer in response to this blog posting by my Society’s Conservation Director who specifically asked us for our views “…on the next key step for delivering reform of our uplands”.

    I do not shoot and have never shot, nor managed or otherwise worked in game management.  I am a lifelong bird watcher, photographer, and wader, bird-of-prey, seabird, songbird, wetland bird and waterfowl enthusiast.  I spend as much time as I can in the uplands, both in UK and abroad, monitoring, watching and photographing the special birds that live there, and have done so since I was a youngster.

    Reference your other off-topic and fallacious obsession, here are some of the latest examples of bird-of-prey demonisation, see here - , here - , here - , here - , here - and here -