Our Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
The RSPB does a huge amount of work which we can all support, and all of us with the interests of the countryside at heart should be able to support the Society unequivocally. Concerns have, however, increasingly been expressed about the RSPB’s attitude towards shooting and whether its public position of “neutrality” is matched by its private priorities and activity.
The fact that the RSPB’s last Director of Conservation left the organisation to spend most of his time on anti-shooting campaigns was an obvious pointer. Just as worryingly the current Director of Conservation cannot seem to grasp that standing shoulder to shoulder with an organisation like the League Against Cruel Sports (which even rejects the RSPB’s own wildlife management and vermin control) is likely to raise questions about his attitude to shooting.
Questions about the gap between the RSPB’s public statements and private attitude were heightened by a presentation delivered by its Senior Upland Policy Officer to the North of England Raptor Forum in November last year.
The tone and content of the presentation are fundamentally different to the normal public position taken by the RSPB. You will never usually hear the society writing off the thousands of miles of grips (drainage channels) blocked on grouse moors to restore blanket bog as “phoney”. Nor does the RSPB usually describe the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, with which it has worked extensively, as “nasty and insidious” and claim that it is “distorting and discrediting science”. RSPB staff have never previously openly challenged “phoney claims” about the success of waders on grouse moors, probably because the science is clear that waders breed far more successfully on grouse moors than they do on unmanaged moorland.
Then there was the debate in the House of Commons last year on banning grouse shooting. The RSPB’s Head of Nature Policy who attended the debate reported publicly that:
“Overall, it was an interesting debate with a variety of contributions from MPs, varied in subject, opinion and quality. There was lots of agreement that biodiversity conservation is a major imperative. That is clearly good news! “
Yet the RSPB’s Senior Upland Policy Officer describes the same event as “the lamentable debate in Westminster”, presumably because the vast majority of participants did not want to ban grouse shooting.
As for the “nasty personal attacks” on Chris Packham and Mark Avery, perhaps the RSPB would have done better advising its friends not to throw stones if they live in glass houses given the regularity with which both of them hand out abuse to individuals and large sections of the rural community.
The role the RSPB official who gave the presentation involves linking with the full range of upland stakeholders including farmers and gamekeepers. He, and the RSPB as a whole, cannot expect to have the support of the shooting community until their public policy is matched by actions and private words. Likewise organisations like the Alliance cannot effectively stand beside the RSPB on illegality, bad practice and the future of the countryside whilst many of our supporters believe, with good reason, that the Society is fundamentally opposed to their way of life.
Follow me on Twitter @CA_TimB
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