It has been less than two weeks since the Chair of the RSPB’s Council, Kevin Cox, made his announcement about our desire to review our policy on game bird shooting and associated land management.

There has been a bit of media reaction for example in the Mail and the Telegraph. What’s more, after a BBC Farming Today interview, there was also a rather amusing personal attack on my voice by Jeremy Clarkson in the Sunday Times - a first for me and it made me wonder whether I should take elocution lessons.  

And, unsurprisingly there has been a lot of nonsense written in these pieces. 

Just read the opening line of the article in the Telegraph: “The RSPB is expected to voice its opposition to game bird shooting for the first time as it faces backlash from countryside organisations.”

This is a very misleading statement. 

First, we haven’t even started our review so it is mad to make any assumptions about its conclusions!  Second, we have actually had very polite and constructive correspondence with the majority of countryside organisations – which I assume the Telegraph means those that represent shooting or land management interests although we are also speaking to conservation organisation who equally care about the countryside.  We plan to continue this dialogue throughout the review.

And then has been some confusion about what we can or cannot say regarding our Royal Charter. 

Through this review, we have said we shall continue to be led by the evidence of environmental impacts while respecting our Royal Charter.  This says that “The Society shall take no part in the question of the killing of game birds and legitimate sport of that character except when such practices have an impact on the Objects”. 

Our Charitable Objects are:

1) To promote the conservation of biological diversity and the natural environment for the public benefit, in particular but not exclusively by:

a. conserving wild birds and other wildlife, and the environment on which they depend;

b. protecting, restoring and re-creating habitats. And, in furtherance of that primary objective, to raise public understanding and awareness of, and to provide information on, such matters.

2) To advance education of the public in conservation of the natural environment.”

This essentially means that we are neutral on shooting unless conservation issues arise. So, we can and do speak out when we identify problems such as the illegal killing of birds of prey or the burning of peatlands which thwarts their restoration while also contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.  It is why we concluded that the only way to improve the environmental quality of the uplands was to introduce a system of licensing for driven grouse shooting because self-regulation had failed.  If we believe that there is clear evidence of a negative environmental impact of the release of 57 million non-native game birds* (pheasants and red-legged partridges) we shall also speak out.  What we say and how we say it will, of course, be influenced by this review. 

I don’t think we are alone is expressing real concern about the growing intensity of game bird shooting management practices.  Many in the industry recognise that things aren’t right. The Editor of the Shooting Times recently wrote a piece in the Spectator bemoaning the fact that the commercialisation and intensification of pheasant shooting might lead to its eventual demise. The Times newspaper, a long time supporter of shooting interests, also reported on some of the unpalatable excesses associated with the biggest shoots.

I can’t pre-empt what the eventual outcomes are likely to be but I think we can agree that reform is needed and change is coming.  

There will be a chance for members to have their say in the New Year and I shall say more on that nearer the time. 

*I must apologise for using different figures for the number of game birds that are annually released to be shot.  The last word on this subject was I believe a paper by GWCT in 2016 which concluded that 57 million game birds were released and 10 million shot.  If you know of the most up to date figure, please do let me know.

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