Much of the “evidence” of illegal killing of raptors is dodgy at best and based on froth and rhetoric at worst — yet these crimes shame us all
Iam sick of hearing about illegal raptor persecution (News, 1 November). The issue has tarnished the reputation of the shooting community for too long. We must have zero tolerance of such crimes. And our stance must be made clear to the public, not least for the twin purposes of leaving the perpetrators no place to hide within our ranks and depriving the antis of potent ammunition.
The recent pronouncement by BASC, and the supporting comments from the Countryside Alliance, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) and others — including the Editor — are timely. These public declarations won’t sway all doubters, of course. But they draw a line in the sand for everybody to see. We must distance ourselves from the wrong-doers. BASC has shown real leadership on this.
Yes, I know the antis milk the whole issue for their own ends. I also realise that some of the facts and figures they produce are dodgy. I know there have been instances where allegations have been based on stunts or mistakes. I have reported on some of these at length.
Yet, beneath all the froth and rhetoric, there is a hard core of unwelcome truth; the illegal killing of birds of prey does happen, and it happens too often. It shames us all.
There is no excuse. The NGO fought an expensive legal battle to ensure that, where common raptors such as buzzards cause a real problem, individual birds can be dealt with under the law — just as cormorants are, under licence, to protect fisheries. This safety valve is most applicable to lowland game-rearing circumstances.
Campaigners focus on driven grouse shooting, not least because they see it as the soft underbelly of shooting. I mean, when did you last shoot a driven grouse? The closest most of us get to it is beating or loading or picking-up. It is a minority sport within a minority sport. And unfortunately, rightly or wrongly, it reeks of privilege. This is grist to the antis’ mill.
I know there are some modest driven grouse syndicates, in addition to all the walked-up outfits. But at the top end, the absentee grouse moor owners, agents and shooters who expect bags of several hundred brace a day are in a different league. Satisfying their demands is tough. Headkeepers on big grouse moors must feel like football club managers — always being judged by their last game. And some of the financial incentives being employed seem to owe more to City practices than to long-term landscape management.
The irony is that if driven game shooting is restricted, the people at the top of the driven shooting world can simply move on to high-volume dove shooting in Argentina, or whatever. The rest of us cannot.
It would be a thousand pities if the selfish actions of the tiny minority ended up having unwelcome consequences for the vast majority of shooters. History shows that once shooting is restricted in any form, the noose is never loosened. It acts like a self-locking snare of old, tightening with every struggle. The shooting community has made its position on illegal persecution clear. Now the RSPB should reciprocate by getting back on board the Hen Harrier Action Plan. This aims to produce more hen harriers, but with less conflict with the driven grouse shooting that funds moorland management and benefits many species.
Surely, any pure conservation charity should support these aims.
“Keepers on grouse moors must feel like football managers — always judged by their last game”