Countryside Alliance Head of Shooting Liam Stokes writes:
Last night (8th January), BBC presenter Chris Packham fallaciously told his many thousands of social media followers that the UK’s declining population of lapwings is being shot, and as such people should sign his anti-shooting petition. At the time of writing the post and its attendant link to his petition have been shared 263 times on Twitter and 724 times on Facebook. And it is flatly untrue.
Lapwings are not a legal quarry species in the UK, no one is shooting them. Having been bombarded with corrections from the shooting community, Packham has Tweeted an apology and a clarification, but the original Tweet is still there, still being shared by his supporters who don’t realise they have been duped. The Facebook post is still there too, with no clarification or retraction to qualify its disinformation. This is a classic example of modern animal rights campaigning- false accusations accompanied by a link to a petition, shared on social media by a celebrity.
These petitions have the potential to engage (some might say “waste”) parliamentary time, so there is an important point here. There is a lot of concern about “fake news” and “post-truth politics”, where personality and delivery matters more than facts and evidence, and we have already written about what happens when this trend meets the current frenzy for online petitions. There are significant questions to be asked about what happens to the signatures gathered from the thousand times Packham’s misinformation has been shared thus far. Will they be removed, given they were gathered under false pretences?
There are further questions to be asked concerning this campaign in particular. Chris Packham is campaigning for certain UK waders to be no longer considered legal quarry, yet thus far he has campaigned using pictures of American woodcock (not a UK wader) and now allegations about lapwings (not legal quarry). Packham’s social media following is built on the platform granted him by the BBC, a platform he is using to campaign against elements of practical countryside management. The role in which the BBC have cast Packham, from which he derives his credibility with the public, is that of “wildlife expert”. People see him appearing on endless BBC nature documentaries and assume he must, therefore, know what he is talking about. Yet he has shown himself to be ignorant of some basic tenants of the practice he is campaigning against. Surely it is incumbent upon someone vigorously campaigning against something to take the time to understand it first? Read our response to the BBC Trust Chris Packham decision.
Of course, this all assumes that the social media output appearing under Packham’s name is indeed his own. In his correction of the lapwing tweet, Packham incongruously wrote that the tweet “was posted on this account”, which would seem to suggest that someone else wrote it. Packham has long been lending his BBC platform to other people’s campaigns, but is he now allowing other people to campaign directly under his name?
In reality this is all just noise, indicative of the very real problems being caused by the heady mix of celebrities, social media, petitions and animal rights causes, but actually distracting from the real issue. The shooting community is at the forefront of funding research and habitat conservation. In the recent moorland management debate many parliamentarians noted the contribution of shoot management to wader conservation, with lapwing conservation highlighted 20 times. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust have amply laid out why a moratorium on shooting is such an unhelpful intervention. So why launch this campaign? Unfortunately, like those before it, and I’m sure more to come, it is animated by a dislike of shooting more than by a regard for conservation science. It is emotion burnished by celebrity endorsement.
The Countryside Alliance will continue working in the UK Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament to counteract these campaigns, ensuring that evidence continues to speak louder than clicks on a petition.