Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes: 

Any political campaign needs first motivation, then justification. The motivation of animal rights campaigns like those against hunting and shooting is a strange mixture of politics, ideology and moral judgment, which has little to do with the realities of animal welfare. That motivation has, however, always been strong and if there is even a hint of justification it will be ruthlessly exploited.

It may frustrate us that organisations like the RSPB, which published its annual ‘Birdcrime’ report on Wednesday, focus almost entirely on allegations against gamekeepers, but we should not be surprised. Nor should we expect the RSPB to highlight a falling trend in illegal raptor persecution, the massive and welcome rise in the populations of many raptor species to unprecedented levels, or that the recent Birdlife International report into the illegal killing of birds, to which the RSPB was a contributor, showed the UK to have some of the lowest levels of bird crime in Europe. The reality is that for those who are motivated to campaign against shooting any illegal raptor killing is a justification and those within the shooting community who carry out such activity are not only idiotic, but also provide exactly the ammunition our opponents need.

We are living through the death of an old rural culture, amongst farmers, gamekeepers and others, that saw killing birds of prey as normal. We must not allow a narrative to develop which suggests that this cultural shift has been driven by anything other than long term change in our own community.

Go back just a few decades and the buzzard was a rarity confined to Western counties, the red kite was virtually extinct and the hen harrier did not breed on mainland Britain. Now the buzzard and kite flourish in their 10s of thousands and hundreds of pairs of hen harriers breed on our shores. The vile practice of leaving poison baits for vermin which had a devastating impact on raptor populations has been all but eliminated. The ‘shoot anything with a hooked beak’ attitude of previous generations of gamekeepers has changed, not just marginally, but almost entirely.

Of course, there are still a few who think, through ignorance or arrogance, that killing protected species is acceptable, but change has happened, and continues to happen, because of leadership shown within our own world. For decades both privately and publicly the Alliance, and our colleagues in other shooting organisations have preached a message of zero tolerance to illegal killing, and will continue to do so. The trend will continue and we will succeed in making illegal killing history.

Do not, however, expect campaigns against shooting to go the same way, for as long as the motivation remains justification will be found. That is one of the reasons the Alliance exists, and that it will continue to robustly defend shooting from those who will always find a justification to attack it, however spurious.


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