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RSPB appearance at Game Fair leaves audience in despair after remorseless attack on gamekeepers

As ever the Ragley Game Fair was a very interesting and enjoyable event, a great showcase for game shooting and the conservation management that flows from it. But this year, it was enriched by the presence of an RSPB grandee in the form of Duncan Orr-Ewing, who descended from the mists swirling about the 'high moral ground' where the RSPB habitually dwell, to explain to Ian Coghill, the earth bound author of 'Moorland Matters', exactly where he had got things wrong, and how he could improve his attitude towards the conservation industry elite.

In the event it didn't turn out quite like that, but these days even the crème de la crème of the conservation industry can't always assume that the lower orders will know their place. Deference is, sadly, a thing of the past, and many, including, it appeared, Duncan, were shocked that Mr Coghill had the audacity to disagree with his statements.

Our regular readers may guess the sort of stuff to expect from Mr Coghill. How grouse moors are globally rare places, the last great refuge of rare ground nesting birds and precious eco-systems, how they store carbon, reduce flooding and produce clean water for millions, how gamekeepers are as honest as any other profession and are to be thanked for what they do, instead of being traduced and demonised by, amongst others, Duncan.

There is therefore no need to dwell on his opinions, which are any way available in his book. What is more interesting are the insights which Duncan gave on the attitude of RSPB on certain key matters, in particular the conservation of hen harriers.

First, he was very clear that the RSPB had played no part whatsoever in the lamentable sabotage of re-introduction of hen harriers into the south of England. Mr C suggested that this position was untenable because it depended on:

a) the French and Spanish Bird organisations not asking the RSPB for their view, (something that seems highly unlikely given how close they all are), and/or

b) RSPB not expressing their well known opposition to the project when asked (hardly likely when they had told almost everyone else).

Duncan's response was frankly, a revelation. He said that RSPB were not against the plan to reintroduce hen harriers into southern England at all. They were in fact neutral. Those who have watched the RSPB interact with hen harrier issues over many years, will be stunned by this extraordinary turn of events. Who would have guessed from their previous statements, that in fact the RSPB don't care one way or the other, about hen harriers being re-introduced to, for instance, Salisbury Plain or Dartmoor?

Obviously, statements like, 'We are completely opposed to the southern re-introduction of hen harriers', have been thoughtlessly misunderstood to mean that RSPB are completely opposed to the southern re-introduction of hen harriers. How stupid were we?

Any fool should have known that when RSPB said they were 'completely opposed to the southern re-introduction of hen harriers' they actually meant that they were entirely neutral about the southern re-introduction of hen harriers.

As ever with RSPB, there were of course, caveats. Duncan went on to say that hen harriers were now declining in both Spain and France, and so it would not be right to source chicks from either country. This was in itself extraordinary. To hear from the RSPB, at a time when the numbers of hen harriers breeding on grouse moors in England are increasing rapidly, that in France and Spain, in the total absence of grouse shooting, harrier numbers are dropping, was an unexpected admission, to say the least.

Happily the decline of harriers in the non-grouse shooting parts of Europe is not mission critical for the southern re-introduction project, as breeding stock can be generated within the UK. Logically, based on Duncan's clear statement, we can look forward to RSPB giving a fair wind to the project. We will see. It may be that for the RSPB 'neutral' has a different meaning from the one we ordinary mortals understand.

Brood management was also part of the discussion, with Coghill saying that RSPB must surely review its opposition to brood management as it had proved such an extraordinary success, and that the initial objections from RSPB, that it was illegal, and that they couldn't support it until there were over 34 pairs on English grouse moors, were no longer tenable. The Judicial Review and the RSPB's subsequent appeal had demonstrated beyond all peradventure that it was legal, and the 34 pair trigger had been not just been passed but left smoking in the dust.

But sadly Duncan would have none of it. Faced with the complete disappearance of the ground on which RSPB's initial opposition stood, he simply changed tack and accused gamekeepers of killing the brood managed chicks, a rather desperate assertion, and something that completely ignores the fact that some of the original cohort of brood managed birds were happily rearing their own chicks as he spoke.

We are left with RSPB being in an ever stranger position as regards hen harriers. As things get better and better, with numbers of nests and young fledged on grouse moors increasing yearly and passing milestones that RSPB themselves set, they simply deny anything has changed or improved. When brood management is clearly working they just shout louder that it isn't.

When the courts say that brood management is perfectly legal, they still mutter that it's not. When you can hardly find anyone involved in the southern re-introduction who doesn't think that RSPB wrecked it, they say that not only was it nothing to do with them, but that they are in fact neutral, and their previous well documented attacks on the scheme were misinterpreted.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, not reality, honesty, reasonableness or common humanity, must stand between them and their target of choice. Duncan was given ample opportunity to say something positive or even neutral about gamekeepers, instead he continued the remorseless party line. Attack, attack, attack.

The furthest he went was to remark that he was not against gamekeepers because he employed some. Try substituting any other cultural minority for the word gamekeeper and see how it sounds. The RSPB has a problem with institutional prejudice that is so profound that it doesn't even know that it exists.


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