The CLA's Game Fair takes place this weekend. As ever, the RSPB will be there, inspiring others to do more for wildlife and no doubt being challenged about our stance on one of two things as well.

I'll be there on Friday and am speaking in a debate on whether the rural economy can survive without shooting and fishing. I'll let you know how I get on.

The theme of our stand this year is how some shoot managers in the lowlands are managing shoots sustainably to help wildlife – and we’re delighted that some of them will be joining us on our stand to spread the word.

Male hen harrier. Photo by Andy Hay (www.rspb-images.com)

As with any sector – housebuilders, minerals companies, farmers, foresters and, yes, those in the shooting community – I am keen that we work with the progressives, those land managers working within the natural capacity of the environment to demonstrate what can be done to reconcile the needs of both humans and wildlife.

Given the parlous state of nature in the UK – 60% of species for which we have trend data have declined in my lifetime - we need the progressives in each sector to set high environmental standards which others can follow.

Inevitably, the question arises, what happens when others do not meet the standards and environmental damage occurs?

This is something that we face in the uplands with driven grouse shooting – the most intensive form of shooting. Here, our calls for voluntary reform to tackle illegal persecution and habitat damage have not worked. Just 10% of the 160,000 hectares of peatland SSSIs in the English uplands are in favourable condition and some species like hen harrier, peregrine and goshawk remain in jeopardy.

That is why, in June we called on each of the major political parties to introduce a licensing system for driven grouse shooting after the election (see here). We have made a similar call in Scotland. This would complement our desire for the introduction of an offence of vicarious liability for landowners whose employees are guilty of illegal killing of birds of prey - a measure that was introduced north of the border in 2012.

Intensification of management is a problem in large parts of the uplands where the desire for increasing the shootable surplus of red grouse has led to the use medicated grit, more frequent burning on deep peat soils, intensive control of foxes, crows, stoats and weasels and, yes by some, illegal killing of birds of prey.

It is ridiculous that in 21st century England, we have to maintain 24 hour surveillance of two of the three hen harrier nests in England. Just three nests is a big step forward as in 2013 no nests were successful – and we are rolling out our plans for the future including more satellite tags.  We, as always, rely on support which is why we’ve launched an appeal to help us do more to protect hen harriers.

In addition to our call for a licensing system for driven grouse shooting, we are supporting Hen Harrier Day to put a spotlight on illegal killing. This event, organised by birdwatchers and naturalists will be a show of solidarity by all those that want to see an end to illegal persecution of this icon of the hills.

I started by stressing the need for constructive engagement and this is at the heart of our Skydancer project where we are working with local communities including gamekeepers to celebrate and help conserve hen harrier population in England. We’re so proud that Skydancer has been nominated for a National Lottery Award and there’s still a chance to vote for Skydancer.

Game Fair is a chance to talk, to celebrate good working relationships and hopefully is the trigger for a constructive debate that can help us craft more sustainable shooting models. I look forward to my day in the sun in Oxfordshire.

  • Good luck a the Game Fair, Martin. I wish I could say you will be "preaching to the converted" but hopefully you will make a good many converts to the sustainable management of grouse moors and to the much better protection of "the skydancer".

    I have voted for sky dancer on the National Lootery web site and made a donation to the cause. The RSPB letter that came with the Appeal just illustrates on how many fronts, or different ways, the RSPB is tackling this important issue.

    Finally, I notice that Liz Truss, the new Secretary of State for the Environment had a record in the Dept of Education from whence she comes, for encouraging the teaching of much more maths and science. With the RSPB's very strong capabilities in these areas this hopefully is a good omen.