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At £11,000 per stoat do the Heritage Lottery Fund have any idea how the RSPB are using their grants?

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

Contrary to popular belief the RSPB does kill wild mammals and birds. Every year it publishes what it claims are its bag returns every year, which is more than the rest of the big players in the conservation industry have the courage to do.

Very often their returns raise as many questions as they answer and this year is no exception.

Here are their 2022 bag returns. The figures in brackets are for comparison with the preceding year:


Mink 104 (72)

Red Fox 490 (353)

Grey Squirrel 155 (48)

Brown Rat Not specified

Rabbit 957 (303)

Fallow Deer 53 (69)

Muntjac 119 (72)

Roe 357 (409)

Red Deer 697 (578)

Sika 177 (219)


Crows 348 (69)

Barnacle Geese 33 nests 167 eggs

Canada Geese 167 eggs plus 70 nests at another site, egg numbers unspecified.

Greylag Geese 485 eggs

Herring Gull 2 shot (0) 23 eggs (20)

LBB Gull 3 shot (2) 148 eggs (142)

As usual eating twigs on RSPB land is far more likely to get you killed than eating curlew. The returns show a total bag of 2515 herbivores against 945 predators, made up of foxes, gulls, mink and carrion and hooded crows.

But the alert amongst you will have spotted that there is a glaring omission. A species strangely absent from the RSPB's bag data. Where on earth is the stoat? How can they have no dead stoats to report?

The RSPB's Orkney stoat eradication project is, as we speak, going flat out to kill stoats, or at least it better be, as the RSPB extracted £6 millions from the EU LIFE fund on the basis that they would eradicate stoats from the Orkney Islands.

They made the application, and made it clear that they were a lead partner in the resulting Orkney Native Wildlife Partnership which has been killing stoats, and incidentally other species such as domestic cats and starlings, on a grand scale ever since. So where are the stoats? How can they not form part of the RSPB's bag returns?

This is a new twist in the Stoats Tale. Until 2018, despite lobbying for vast funds to kill stoats, and having extensive land holdings in the stoat zones on Orkney, their published records show that they had never killed a stoat. Then a breakthrough, they killed a stoat, just one but the expertise that had developed was clearly enough to convince the EU LIFE fund that RSPB were capable of killing stoats on a far grander scale and they got their £6 milllion and set up their partnership and began trapping.

By 2020 they proudly declared a bag of 121 stoats, all killed on just one of their reserves. How could this be? They had campaigned for vast sums of money to kill stoats all over Orkney, but they conveniently only mentioned the ones killed on their own land. In fact we know the RSPB's partnership killed a lot more, early on they said they had killed 750, over six times more than they killed on the RSPB reserve.

But there was a problem. The trappers brought into being by the RSPB were not that good at keeping things other than stoats out of the traps, and sadly killed over 2,500 mammals and birds that were not stoats. These included, bizarrely, 111 starlings, 18 hedgehogs, several pet cats and some Orkney Voles, the very species that the stoats were being killed to protect.

Interestingly none of the 15 other species killed as bycatch by the RSPB partnership appear in the RSPB bag returns alongside their 121 stoats. It seems unlikely, with widespread, incompetence induced carnage breaking out across Orkney, that the only place where stoats were caught with the perfect exclusion of non-target species was the RSPB owned land, but that is what it says.

Now we have gone a step further. The stoats have disappeared completely, along with any bycatch. The latest bag return is zero. What conclusions can we draw from this? First, that whilst RSPB may tell the truth, it may not tell the whole truth.

Clearly when it got £6,000,000 from the EU to kill stoats and set up a vast stoat killing regime, RSPB considered that it had no subsequent responsibility for what went on, unless it was on its own land. A cockroach would grasp that is morally and legally ludicrous, or are we to believe that the stoats on the RSPB's extensive holdings on Orkney are all dead, killed in two hits, totalling 122 dead stoats,leaving none to catch the next year?

It is hard to believe but as they say, 'You can fool some of the people', and speaking about fooling people, we come to the latest piece of this awful and costly jigsaw. Many people were shocked to learn in Ian Coghill's excellent book Moorland Matters how the RSPB had waited a decade, watching the situation deteriorate, until it was so bad that they could get £6,000,000 from the EU LIFE fund.

Many were equally shocked that something, a couple of gamekeepers could have dealt with when it started, was costing so much money. But we were all wrong. It was actually worse than that, far worse. Because we now learn that RSPB got another £4,296,000 from the Heretage Lottery Fund.

The total cost that we now know about is nearly £11 million. To kill some stoats so far perhaps around a thousand. That's £11,000 per stoat. What must the highly respected Professor Simon Thurley CBE, the new Chair of HLF, think of that when his own budget is under increased pressure?

Credit: Chris Ridley

Now think of this. Here is a direct quote from the bid to the HLF made by RSPB and repeated by Scotland's state regulator, then SNH, who are, as NatureScot, still a partner in the project.

“This project represents the largest eradication program for stoats in the world and the resources required are beyond the means of the partners” . (RSPB)

“This project represents the largest eradication project for stoats in the world and the resources required are beyond the means of any partners, individually or collectively”. (SNH)

These are stunning statements, made, as they are, by a state funded agency and one of the richest conservation organisations on the planet. Remember the money they ask for, and got, was not the total £11,000,000 but the £4,296,000 HLF money.

The bid was made in 2018 and so RSPB's 2019 published accounts will show how desperately short of money they were. So penniless that they could say that finding £4 million was 'beyond their resources', 'beyond their means', to quote their friends in SNH.

The accounts, their published accounts, show that in the year when they, and SNH, said that they couldn't afford to find the money, they had an income of over £142,000,000. Their expenditure was of course vast. They spent, for example, over £35 million on research and policy, but they still had a surplus of income over expenditure of over £12 million. Thus, SNH and RSPB both state, in RSPB's successful application to the HLF that £4.2 million is 'beyond the resources/means' of an organisation that, in the year that they made that statement, generated a surplus of £12 million.

To avoid any doubt of how far from reality these statements are, let us make clear that RSPB made similar surpluses in the years preceding. Far from saving birds on Orkney from 'voracious stoats' (from the RSPB HLF application), or any other bird for that matter, it seems it went to swell the RSPB financial reserves.

Faced with these numbers it is fair to ask if any reasonable person could honestly state that an expenditure of £4 million was 'beyond the resources/means' of any organisation earning £142 million and making a bankable profit of over £14 million. But RSPB claimed it was. Even worse SNH said it was beyond the partners 'individually or collectively', that, incredibly, includes them, a state funded regulatory body that gave the RSPB £64,000 to produce the application forms.

If you or I had put something similar on a form, we would be called liars and be shown the door. The RSPB got £4 million. A lie doesn't stop being a lie because more than one person or organisation repeats it. In plain English if you or I had a spare £14 million, would we have the resources to spend £4 million on something urgent and essential? Of course we would. If we said we hadn't, just to get £4 million from someone, would we be lying? Of course we would.


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