Goshawk-800wThe illegal killing of birds of prey is about the most selfish crime it is possible to commit because even if there are short term benefits for the preservation of game (and those benefits are as likely to be perceived as real) they will always be outweighed by the long term damage to the shooting industry as a whole. That is why the Alliance has no hesitation in condemning an Aberdeenshire gamekeeper who was sentenced to four months in prison earlier this week for four offences including the killing of a goshawk. 

Raptors as a whole may be the biggest success story in British birds with numbers having increased hugely as a result of legal protection and reintroduction, but some species remain rare and killing them for the sake of providing more birds to shoot is never going to be anything but a political and PR disaster.

The RSPB collected the evidence which convicted that gamekeeper and was understandably pleased with the outcome of the case. Whilst its actions in relation to individual cases like this are entirely justified the Society must, however, consider whether its wider policy is actually helping to perpetuate, rather than reduce, illegal persecution.

This might sound a strange statement, but it is worth considering the RSPB’s own history and how other wildlife conflicts have been resolved. The RSPB was founded by a group of women appalled by the trade in exotic feathers for ladies’ hats. Its first campaign was not aimed at prosecuting the people killing birds, but at removing the causes of persecution, which in that case was the high value of feathers. By reducing demand for rare birds it removed the economic imperative for persecution.

One argument might be to simply ban shooting and with it one of the main reasons someone might have for killing a raptor. However, that policy would create far greater conflict and remove the many positive environmental, economic and social benefits of shooting which far outweigh the negatives of any associated raptor killing.

Another, we would argue far more logical, approach would be to consider the causes of any illegal raptor killing and how the drivers for that activity could be removed. In two areas in particular the RSPB seems unwilling to consider proposals which tackle the causes of persecution, as well as persecution itself.

Firstly by refusing to endorse proposals for hen harrier ‘brood management’ which would give assurances to upland keepers that colonies of hen harriers could not make their moors unviable and their jobs redundant. And secondly by opposing absolutely any management, even non-lethal, of the burgeoning buzzard population even if they are having a significant economic impact on game shooting.

We are not suggesting that these management practices must take place, but surely an agreement that they could be used where absolutely necessary to protect livelihoods would make it less likely that people would make the wrong decision about illegal killing?

This article appeared in our e-newsletter. You can sign up to receive the e-newsletter free every Thursday. Click here to sign up.