How dead birds of prey are being planted on grouse moors in an increasingly common activist trick
The determination of the RSPB, and their even less savoury fellow travellers, to exploit real or imagined raptor persecution for the maximum fund raising and political impact is regrettable, if understandable. It does however get the charity into strange places.
One of the major concerns with the proposal to licence grouse moors is that it is designed to create huge sanctions, far more draconian than would be delivered by a court, on a much lower burden of proof.
The people who own and manage these places would therefore make up an entirely new category of citizen, who would not be innocent until proven guilty, like everyone else, but guilty by accumulation of assertion.
In their wilder moments the proponents of this scheme want a system that does not even require an assertion that some crime has been committed. The licence might be removed, and along with it an entire community destroyed and disenfranchised, on a calculation by the RSPB that the estate had not got enough merlins, or short-eared owls or harriers, to meet the raptor quota that had been imposed on them.
This is in spite of the fact that RSPB itself cannot meet the same standard. They have many reserves that lack the raptors that could reasonably be expected to be present. How many hen harriers nests on the vast rewilded landscape of Abernethy? How many merlin nests on Lake Vyrnwy?
But the biggest worry is that estates will be 'fitted up' with fake evidence. None would vaguely meet the burden of proof needed to pass the evidential test for any crime, anywhere, but that would not matter.
A trap set in the open here, an improperly set snare there. A dead buzzard today, and a badger corpse tomorrow. Useless as evidence, but potentially lethal in a licencing system that can destroy your job and your way of life on the basis of an accumulation of suspect incidents.
This would work even if the trap and snare had been stolen in Yorkshire and reset in Perthshire, or if the buzzard had been picked up at a Galloway windfarm and the badger was Cumberland road kill and both had been relocated to the Lammermuirs. If history is anything to go by, it is entirely plausible that activists might fake these things, simply to get a moor to lose its licence.
As we write we have before us two copies of the RSPB magazine Birds, the old title of Natures Home, used when RSPB was interested in the conservation of wild birds, and before it morphed into a global all-purpose conservation brand. The first has a photograph of an illegally killed buzzard hanging from a fence.
In the other, if you search hard enough, you can find the following statement, “The August issue of Birds included a photograph of a dead buzzard hanging on a fence. We now know this photograph was staged and not a genuine illegal incident. While the location was not specified, someone could have recognised it. We have apologised to the landowner and the immediate neighbour”.
This is written in terms designed to minimise the pain and embarrassment that they felt having been caught out in promoting fake evidence of persecution where in fact none existed.
It reads as though they discovered the mistake themselves. A mistake anyone could make and kindly drew the attention of the estate owner and their neighbour to the tiny problemette, that their recognisable estate had been decorated with a dead buzzard to provide a photo opportunity to promote the idea that people who owned upland estates like theirs were killing raptors.
The reality may, of course, be different. It is entirely possible that the fiddle was spotted by the estate or their neighbour. That, far from it being the case that “someone could have recognised it”, someone had recognised it and took it very badly, threatened legal action and the RSPB were forced to make an apology.
So next time activists question why there is such animosity towards the idea of the RSPB's grouse moor licensing scheme it is important to remember why. Although we are not saying that every example of raptor persecution is faked, there are however examples after examples of fake incidents of raptor persecution occuring, and they mostly take place on or around grouse moors.
It also begs the questions that if the even the RSPB can be caught peddling fake evidence, what can we expect from their murkier allies? We may soon find out.