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Martin Harper, the EU Life Fund, and the indiscriminate killing of pet cats

We recently pointed out that the RSPB managed scheme to eradicate stoats from Orkney was considered by many discerning Orcadians as slightly less than fragrant. This was because it had killed three times as many non-target species as the stoats it was meant to exterminate.

As these non-targets included domestic pets, rare water rails, hedgehogs, 111 starlings, and remarkably, in view of the RSPB's involvement, '12 unidentified birds', it appeared that the RSPB's famous Vice-president, Chris Packham, was being a bit hypocritical when he complained of a single incident involving a trap set by a gamekeeper.

Indeed, the RSPB itself,complaining about excessive control, when they were responsible for what looked very like indiscriminate slaughter, also seemed hypocritical to say the least.

We may have been influenced by some of views expressed by Orcadians who feel that their cats may be at risk, or who like starlings too much and think that killing 111 of them is a bit unkind.

[RSPB Trap in Orkney]

A typical quote gives a flavour of their views, “The RSPB are not well liked in the Northern Isles (Orkney and Shetland) and when they started killing pets I think that was the last straw.”

An interesting new insight has emerged. A kind reader has drawn our attention to a statement from Martin Harper, the RSPB's Director of Global Conservation, probably the most important person in the entire organisation, and deservedly proud of his global power.

Martin would hardly mislead. Last year he reported the RSPB's bag returns and, in the context of the mayhem that is taking place on Orkney, they make very interesting reading.

  1. Mink 100 (80)

  2. Stoat 121 (0)

  3. Foxes 509 (501)

  4. Fallow Deer 123 (38)

  5. Muntjac 49 (38)

  6. Roe 254 (333)

  7. Red Deer 588 (547)

  8. Sika 251 (146)

  9. Rats An unspecified number on 4 sites

The first column is the 2019 bag, the number in brackets the 2018 tally. As usual when it comes to mammals, they killed far more herbivores (1341) than carnivores (730), but what is most interesting is the stoat entry.

Having been unmentioned in previous bag returns, they have sprung from zero to an impressive 121. It seems likely that this is a direct result of their Orkney Stoat extermination project kicking off, backed by millions of pounds from the EU. It also seems likely that the complete absence of stoats from Martin's previous bag returns is an honest and unequivocal statement of fact.

Consequently, there appear to be no grounds for doubting that, despite their enormous wealth and the obvious urgent need to control stoats on their Orkney reserves, they had made a strategic decision to wait for a decade, watching the situation deteriorate, turning from a problem into a catastrophe. This ensured that they could use the dire state of affairs they had allowed to come to pass, to get the EU to give them a huge bag of cash. Some people might criticise them for this.

Many might think that if the situation had been dealt with earlier, using some of their massive multi-million annual surpluses, the stoats and the problem could by now be history and there would have been no need for millions of pounds of taxpayers money. But obviously we couldn't possibly comment.

Whatever the cause, there can be no question that RSPB are now killing stoats at a good rate. But that brings us to the anomaly. Remember there are two sets of bag returns, The RSPB led project and the RSPB's own, provided by Martin Harper.

Let us compare them. The project you will recall has killed, up to the reporting date, (it is now presumably more), 750 stoats, 2068 rats, 242 rabbits, 111 starlings, 48 mice, 18 hedgehogs, 12 birds (unidentified), 10 voles, 9 frogs and toads, 4 cats, 2 blackbirds and 2 water rails. Whilst Martin's bag returns make it clear that the only creatures killed are 121 stoats and possibly some rats.

We must assume Martin's figures are accurate, we would hesitate to suggest that they are not, after all, Martin is an honourable man. If a cat, or a water rail or even one of the 111 starlings had been killed in a trap on set by RSPB, he would have told us, wouldn't he?

According to Martin's data the RSPB killed 121 stoats without any collateral damage to anything other than a rat, while the rest of the people involved their eradication scheme, were entirely responsible for the mayhem that has so enraged the local community.

Thus we may have been unkind in suggesting that RSPB were incompetent trappers. On the basis of what Martin says, and Martin is an honourable man, who we would not suggest would get these things wrong, they were as good as an average gamekeeper. But where they have clearly fallen down is in training and managing their partners, who, according to Martin's clear and unequivocal figures, have been solely responsible for killing hundreds of other non-target species, some heavily protected or pets.

This is very worrying, Not only is all hell breaking loose on Orkney, the RSPB have just received another enormous sum of money from the EU, the total project costs are north of £4 million, of which the EU Life fund is providing the lion's share. This is to help curlew at five sites, including Geltsdale and the Insh Marshes which are already RSPB reserves.

As well as the usual stuff about habitat improvement, working groups and awareness raising, their project is very clear about killing things.

They will, “Implement a programme of lethal predator control interventions through annual monitoring of habitat condition, predator abundance and breeding success across each site using staff, contractors and volunteers”.

“Work with local land managers and communities to develop an “After-life Plan” for each site”

“It will be essential for us to engage farmers and other land managers right across each priority landscape. This is not expected to be a problem”.

So, unless we are missing something, it seems to be that the EU has been told that when the money runs out, the locals will take over the conservation of curlews, including presumably the lethal control. A bit like Orkney but without the money. That's Orkney where RSPB has established such a record in incompetent stoat trapper training, that the locals have really had enough.

If you take one of the sites in the project at Geltsdale as an example, the project statement says, “Geltsdale, which lies in the heart of the Pennines Region, which is by far the most important part of England for Curlew”.

You will, as the usual, alert readers that you are, have noticed that the people who have been missed of the list of who will take over when the cash runs out and RSPB exit stage left, are gamekeepers. This is indeed strange because not only is the Pennines Region strong in curlew, it is also strong in game keepers. Indeed many of you may think that it is the one that results in the other. The other thing that the region is famed for is grouse moors, and again we see cause and effect.

So the RSPB has apparently got £4,000,000 on the basis that working with grouse moor owners, grouse moor tenants and and gamekeepers, in the Northern Pennines, is for them, “Not expected to be a problem”.

It is fair to ask if they even believe this themselves. Was the person who filled in the form, typing one handed because they'd got their fingers crossed. The RSPB has been attacking these people, neck and crop, at every and any opportunity for years. Now, when you have treated them with contempt and sought to extinguish their community and their way of life, you can unblushingly tell the EU that getting them to do what you want is, “Not expected to be a problem”.

Is Martin Harper the only honourable person left at RSPB? At least we can rely on him to tell the truth. At least thanks to him we know that the mayhem caused by catching starlings, cats, and water rails was not the RSPB at all, but was entirely due to the incompetence of their partners. That is true, isn't Martin?

Let us hope that Martin reads this and does the only thing available to an honourable man, and tells the EU that he suspects that working with some of the people who own the Pennines and who maintain them as the best place for curlew in the country, might be a bit more problematic than first thought.

You will, won't you Martin?


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