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 (rspb.images.com)
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.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654