Reflections on raptor persecution by John S. Armitage

Over the past two-three months I’ve given an appreciable amount of thought to the above problem, discussed matters with different organizations and deliberated the options for improvement with like-minded colleagues. The problem is one which requires urgent correction……..irreversibly and with any resumption met by severe penalties.

But do we ever take time out to consider what is actually involved? Our reactions and criticisms so often appear to relate to the most recent incident, an apparent lack of action by given conservation bodies or to the questionable logic contained within a press release issued by a representative body with undoubted connections with the practitioners! Discussions between national bodies currently appear to be at a standstill with little hope of any immediate solution arising out of concord. The current situation in the UK vis-a-vis raptor persecution is a national disgrace and something which the current coalition Government appear to conveniently ignore despite declared “green commitments”.

Do we take time out to ask why it is happening and, in the process, possibly identify the means for its eradication? In many cases I think not and the continuing debate so very often revolves around the analysis of respective positions and incidents or to promote an individual issue with some tangential connection! Doubtless some people would claim this current article is unnecessary, old hat, and fails to add anything to the debate. But is that correct? Examine some of the distorted facts, prejudicial remarks, personalised crusades, unsubstantiated accusations and downright unintelligent remarks on some web sites and Blogs, coupled with an inability to even express such comments in basic English, and it suggests otherwise.

The foremost objective must be the eradication of persecution of our raptor species with parts of the accompanying policy being aimed at a consistent and extended effort with some species demanding a high priority of attention. All this must be a collective effort brought about by co-operation between all those involved with personal and “tribal” differences set aside. In my book anyone unwilling to accept the brief is simply ignored given the magnitude of the problem we are facing. The facts of the problem are plain and continually amending the game plan wastes time!

Firstly, let’s dispel the notion that persecution is isolated, carried out by a minority of gamekeepers and that , in some way, it reflects some primeval prejudice held by man against raptors. Such activities are geographically widespread in the UK, collectively condoned and carried out with ruthless and unrelenting determination by far too many within the “industry” associated with game management.. Yes, there are those within the industry who, thankfully, have a healthy respect for all wildlife and who are supported by their employers. They buck the trend and, what’s more, they should receive suitable recognition and support from conservationists and activists for adopting such a positive role. Do we do enough in that respect I wonder?

As far as the others are concerned, every conceivable avenue should be explored, and the results applied, to stop what is the pursuit of selfish ends. And, in passing, let’s put into perspective the whole business about the responsibilities of estate owners and their agents. No modern-day enterprise , if it expects to prosper, vests the overall management of its operation within the lowest level of its staffing structure. Key decisions are shouldered by those “at the top” , not as an optional element but as a permanent reality. Uppermost amongst this reasoning is that it is they who are usually responsible for the investment involved, a management aspect of which they are usually unwilling to delegate entirely. Negative PR, such as a court case, is clearly something which can affect such effective management and is to be avoided. It follows that the day-to-day strategies will all be examined to ensure they are watertight and activities occurring on the estates will, therefore, be generally agreed. Whilst legislation associated with vicarious liability embraces the above, the matter is sufficiently fundamental in my view such that no especial provision is necessary. If persecution events occur on an estate then all associated with its operation are culpable!

Neither let us delude ourselves that shooting activities are the product of a nice few days including social exchanges, fine dining and an opportunity to pot a few birds! Far from it! Many shooting enterprises are based on a commercial philosophy against which requisite charges are raised on the participants. I have no objections to this scenario as I am not anti-shooting. However, it does offend when one realises some areas within shoots qualify for government subsidies aimed at habitat management requirements , all of which run in parallel to the commercial aspects. Associated with such habitats can be some of our key raptor species which are an integral part of our natural heritage which the above subsidies are intentionally linked to. Additionally, such iconic species are protected by law (see below) and their disturbance or destruction can attract financial penalties if an incident is proven in court. Some species contained within Schedule 1 ( Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (amended) ) attract even greater penalties under the same provisions.

Given our raptors are protected by law and many, some would argue all, are iconic elements of our natural heritage then their retention is as significant as the policies we apply towards our cultural heritage. Try destroying artefacts in a museum and then , arrogantly, expect everyone to turn a blind eye to your excesses or to at least exert leniency. Is that not what these people involved in persecution expect or, even worse, that they somehow expect to be allowed to Play God and destroy every competitive natural component associated with their enterprise that they find unacceptable, be they raptors or mustelids!

The key element lurking below all this is that it is not an all abiding hatred of all such things that persuades them into such activities but the aspect of competition.. Eradicate all competitors, create a level playing field of your own making and expect, along the way, to be exonerated of all responsibility if such actions fly in the face of civilised behaviour. It’s like a local takeaway enterprise setting fire to the premises of all its nearby competitors in order to ensure success. Why should we see the demise of iconic elements of our natural heritage in order to lend support to a commercial enterprise bolstered up in some instances with money from the public purse? It stinks and it needs to end!

What do these people really think they’re at? Arrogance beyond belief and a deliberate setting aside of the requirements of the laws of the land. One could easily be led into believing such attitudes are being expressed by a certain strata of society, or their cohorts, who are of the belief that they are above the law in many respects and that, in any event, their chums will turn a blind eye. Undoubtedly such beliefs obtained in past times , but things have changed and are still changing.

The above sets out what I believe to be the component factors of the problem. Within these are legal, social, systemic and political aspects within which the solutions lie. Given the objectives for reform are clear it only remains to clearly identify the means by which change can be achieved and to construct a strategy aimed at an unrelenting challenge to the practices condemned. The time has come to set aside the Queensbury rules of engagement, which undoubtedly the national conservation organizations have abided by in the past , and to move forward by force of numbers, exposure of the facts, pressure on Government and direct exposure of those responsible. More to follow!

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7 comments to Reflections on raptor persecution by John S. Armitage

  • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

    Thanks John for a well thought out and logical argument which few people would even contemplate to disagree with. I really think you missed your true vocation in this life. I once told you that in my opinion if you ever found the time and the inclination to write a book it would be a best seller, you have a unique way with words and the English language, well done and keep up the good work.

    • Yes Terry, Johns is a well presented and logical argument with which most of us will agree, but I can’t help thinking we’ve heard and said it all before. Furthermore, the illegal activities of the game shooting fraternity have been exposed hundreds of times, yet the punishments still don’t fit the crimes.Money is what this is all about, and when millions of pounds comes up against conservation there is only one winner. Just last evening I was informed via the local news programme that the world famous Watership Down is going to be covered with urban sprawl.
      Finally there is one area where I must disagree with John. We should not acknowledge those whom allow birds of prey to thrive on their estates, any more than I expect recognition for not harming the blackbirds and robins that nest in my garden. Living within the laws of the land does not and should not bring praise and awards.

      Editor’s comment, you have made a very valid point in you last sentance. However if John is prepared to spend his own time and money in the hope of making some important changes to the plight of our persecuted raptors, good luck to him we say.

  • It might seem immodest, but thanks for the comments. I think it’s the unfairness in it all that fires me up and the thought of losing something like Hen Harrier from which I’ve drawn so much pleasure for over 50 years!!

  • keith mills

    thank you doug tricker, i was just going to say exactly the same thing, why should the minority of keepers who work within the law be praised? most of us live within it and are not? all so very elequent though johns piece was, we are not all blessed with the comand of the english language and general comprehension that he is, (myself included) this do’s not however mean that some of us arnt saying exactly the same thing. in fact he said nothing that myself and numerous others have been saying over and over again for years, but perhaps someone as elequent and well presented as himself may be listened to more than we mere illiterate masses. gamekeepers do far more damage,(i believe) than anyone in authority accepts, but sadly, as long as shooting remains a vital part of some rural comunities and is enjoyed by many as a legitimate passtime then there WILL BE persecution of raptors. solutions lie elswhere, not just in detection and procecution of perpetrators.

    9myself included)

  • Hi Keith. I’m genuinely worried that people have been aware of, and condemned, the slaughter that goes on associated with shoot management,but nothing seems to happen as a consequence. The key element is have they ever really done anything about it? I’m sure I’ve committed the sin as much as anybody else……the grumble down the pub, statements that “they” should do something about it, it ought to be outlawed etc etc. That might make us feel better but it doesn’t have any effect on the system, equally as much as the efforts of conservation organizations haven’t worked completely in bringing it to a stop. Some successes, yes, but not enough!

    There is a lot of anger and concern amongst birders,but it’s just harnessing it and taking collective action that will gain a result in the end. You can’t convince me that if the thousands of birders made their views known something wouldn’t then happen. How much actual action has ever been taken? Pretty minimal given the numbers of us all. We’ve got to do something. Think on this. In round figures if each MP received 10 letters on a given day, or in a particular week , that would be well in excess of 6000 items submitted into the Parliamentary process which would then be referred to the appropriate Minister. Such action gets noticed, if timed correctly, as it signifies a proportion of the electorate are unhappy Is it likely to happen, even if a lot of hard work is put into it? I suspect it will be a difficult task given the vicarious E=petition has only mustered 7000 plus signatures so far. We’ve got to fight for change and pursue what we feel is right, but it never seems to happen, the grumbling goes on, and the resource we all enjoy and love best is increasingly under threat. It’s wrong to accept that unlawful activities will always be there within a legitimate pursuit. If such is the case then there’s every reason to oppose it, as opposed to accept it as inevitable. We have the opportunity to alter things if we wish . A battle, I’m sure, but necessary. For some obscure reason I don’t really understand though the issue of “action” gets avoided. That’s what saddens me most!!! However, watch this space, as ideas are afoot to try and change things, but they will require support and more than appears to have been forthcoming in the past. It’ got to be worth a try……and please get in touch if you can help.

  • John Miles

    ‘There is a lot of anger and concern amongst birders’ but why have they not signed the petition!!!

  • Hi John. I honestly don’t know and it bothers me. Rangers supporters doubtless have a lot of anger at the moment, but I guess they will remain faithful, make their views known etc Birders appear not to be good at putting pen to paper, taking action etc , yet they’re obsessive about their hobby. It plays into the hands of the other side as it signals we’re not committed enough. Why?

    All it does as well is create the further problem of “mobilising” them and that seems to be a difficult task to work out. Ideas please, from anyone!!!!