RSPB chief executive challenges shooting industry to ‘take responsibility for its impacts’

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RSPB Media Release

The RSPB’s chief executive, Dr Mike Clarke, will today [Friday 31 July] call on those within the shooting industry to take responsibility for both the positive and negative impacts their industry has on the wider public interest, including biodiversity and the natural environment.

In a speech being made at an RSPB reception at the CLA Game Fair, Mike Clarke will talk about how the RSPB works together with parts of the industry to achieve positive progress on species such as curlew, but that there are some well evidenced trends in certain shooting management practices that are ‘of real concern’ and he hopes to ‘see more recognition of – and responsibility for – these issues’.

Dr Clarke will say:  “There are two key trends in particular. First, is the continuing increase in gamebirds released into the environment, now well over 50 million birds a year.  It is ecologically naive (at best!) to think that you can introduce this amount of biomass – of a similar magnitude to the biomass of all the wild birds in the countryside – without any impact on native species populations and food webs.

“Secondly, there is a marked increase in the intensity of management on some driven grouse moors in the uplands, especially in England.  As many of us know, our uplands are some of our most iconic landscapes, both for services they give people – such as water and as a carbon store – and for wildlife.”

One of the intensive management practices carried out on some driven grouse moors is rotational burning of heather. Last week, a study led by the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science revealed the extent of moorland burning across Britain’s upland areas and the damage it can cause [see note 1]. Burning on moorlands, a mixture of bog and heath habitats, is widely used to increase the numbers of red grouse that are available for recreational shooting.

Dr Clarke will make his speech in front of a picture of a Hen Harrier, a species which is absent from vast swathes of our English upland habitat. The disappearance of five male hen harriers in unusual circumstances earlier this season, which resulted in the failure of their nests and an investigation by several police authorities, remains of great concern to all of those protecting this fragile population.

A Government commissioned report [see note 2] identified illegal persecution, particularly on land managed for intensive driven grouse shooting, as the primary factor affecting the hen harrier population.

The reception, which the RSPB holds on its stand at the Game Fair annually as part of its work to reach out to the shooting community, will also be host to guest speaker, Alan Charles, Police & Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire, who will make a speech about his commitment to tackling wildlife crime in the county.

Alan has had a firm focus on wildlife and rural crime since he was elected.  He explained: “During my election campaign more people lobbied me on wildlife crime than any other subject.  It says a lot when you consider that number two on that list was child abuse and I have sought to make tackling wildlife and rural crimes a key priority in Derbyshire. However, I fully appreciate that faced with a diminishing budget and crimes such as Child Sexual Exploitation, Domestic Abuse, Serious and Organised Crime Groups, naturally every force has to prioritise demand on its limited resources. That’s why it’s essential that we have the public on-side, acting as the eyes in the back of our heads and providing the information that enables the police to arrest those committing offences against wildlife.

“Protecting rare and endangered species of birds and other wildlife is important for local economies which rely on tourism, and it’s important for our heritage.  I firmly believe that together, we can and will do more to stamp out the criminals who seek to profit out of nature.”

Acknowledging current calls for a ban on driven grouse shooting, the RSPB’s chief exec will round-up his speech by confirming that the RSPB doesn’t support these calls.

“But the longer it takes any industry to address its problems, the stronger those calls will become.

“We will speak out and act on the impacts of that activity when they have a negative effect on biodiversity and the natural environment.  And we believe that current behaviours require stronger regulations to ensure responsible practices.”

A full transcript of Mike Clarke’s speech will be available on the RSPB’s website on Friday afternoon at 4pm.

Editors’ notes:

1.       A new study led by the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science has revealed the extent of moorland burning across the UK’s upland areas.  Burning on moorland – a mixture of bog and heath habitats – is widely used to increase the numbers of red grouse that are available for recreational shooting.  Burning was detected in 55 per cent of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and 63 per cent of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) assessed in the study, and significantly more burning took place within them than on comparable moorlands outside.

2.       A Government commissioned report identified illegal persecution, particularly on land managed for intensive driven grouse shooting as the primary factor affecting the hen harrier population. A Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers in the United Kingdom was published in February 2011 by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee

3.       Over the next five years, the RSPB is satellite tagging as many hen harrier chicks as possible. Part of an EU LIFE+ funded project, this work will enable the organisation follow the birds wherever they go and monitor what happens to them.

4.       Natural England report “A Future for the Hen Harrier in England?”,

5.       The EU LIFE+ Project:  Conserving the hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) in northern England and southern and eastern Scotland (LIFE13 NAT/UK/000258) includes conservation within seven Special Protection Areas, listed under the Birds Directive: Glen Tanar; Bowland Fells; North Pennine Moors; Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands; Langholm – Newcastleton Hills; Glen App and Galloway Moors; and the Forest of Clunie. A key part of the project will be the satellite tagging of as many hen harrier chicks as possible. The information gained from these tags will be used for multiple benefits including:

·         Identifying and monitoring important winter roost sites

·         Identifying and monitoring potential breeding sites, including nest locations

·         Identifying causes of hen harrier mortality and highlighting instances of persecution

·         Facilitating better ecological understanding of hen harrier movements

·         Facilitating community engagement by enabling people to follow the movements of individual harriers on a dedicated project website

1 comment to RSPB chief executive challenges shooting industry to ‘take responsibility for its impacts’

  • John Miles

    He should have left his options open not bowed to the masses at the game fair. The masses are the killers not the few. Remember this is happening only a week before ‘Hen Harrier’ day so it weakens even this event.