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.

  • The RSPB is quite right to have withdrawn from the failed Defra hen harrier plan. Unfortunately, since publication of the plan, the instances of illegal persecution of birds of prey have continued - the plan has patently failed to stem this illegality. If the game management community had any interest at all in seeing the plan succeed, the killings and persecution of birds of prey would have stopped. They would have shown good will by their actions.

    It really saddens me that organisations continue to demonise birds of prey. This can surely only fuel the illegal killing of protected birds of prey. Organisations such as SongBird Survival - set up by shooting interests - continue to claim that birds of prey are generally responsible for wildlife declines. Keith Cowieson, who comments below is, I believe, the director of SongBird Survival.    

  • No, Keith, not even a fudge - a complete fiasco. Grouse Shooting was on trial this summer - would the HH plan mean anything at all ? The answer is no, it has meant nothing, if anything the effectiveness of persecution has increased, leaving not one single successful pair on a single Grouse moor. And before you say its early days, it isn't, this has been going on forever and the HH plan was the last chance saloon and Grouse shooting has ensured it is dead as a Dodo - which hen harriers are rapidly following in England. It takes two to tango and for RSPB to even remotely consider going anywhere near something like the Hen harrier plan it up to Grouse shooting to allow some Hen Harriers to breed.

  • Robbo - I am hoping that Scotland will lead the way on licensing. I certainly don't favour a return to the joint action plan in the present circumstances. I agree about gathering evidence; facts are the key to making change happen. Maybe the political will for change is nearly there in Scotland. At Westminster, who knows when things might change.

  • Nightjar (whoever he is) completely misses the point.  

    The Defra Joint Hen Harrier Action Plan is designed to increase the numbers of hen harriers and lead to a self-sustaining, well-dispersed breeding population of HHs across a range of habitats.  This through improved intelligence gathering effort, enhanced law enforcement measures, a translocation of probably continental-sourced, lowland breeding stock of hen harriers to suitable breeding habitat (in order to establish a viable population in Southern England) and a trial ‘rear-and-release’ scheme to encourage conflict resolution between the conflicted parties in England’s uplands, see here - .  

    This is a classic example of the ‘comprehensive approach’, typical of multi-agency plans, designed to cover all angles of a complex issue, not a 'fudge' as Robbo thinks.

    It is currently the only game in town, and if our Charity wishes to exercise any influence in the issue, and remain relevant, then it needs to re-engage - simple as that.

  • Stack yard - licensing doesn't currently have a chance of becoming law. For a start, to get off the ground it would have to be a private member's bill as the Government won't give time or support to it. It won't get anywhere as private member's bills tend not to . All members, the public and RSPB can do is keep gathering evidence and continue to ignore Countryside Alliance and co. To return to the Joint Action Plan (fudge) until there are breeding hen harriers on grouse moors would be a mistake as I am sure RSPB are well aware.