The RSPB have just released their bag returns for 2022 and, as ever, it is what isn't included that is as interesting as what is.
Adding and comparing the RSPB data is always interesting and the traditional imbalance of vegans to predators is maintained. Their total bag of herbivores is even bigger than expected, rising to a whopping 2,957. This is well over 3:1 compared to predatory species, which amounted to a total of only 848.
Other highlights are the large number of wild goats bagged by RSPB, a year total of 51.
Happily, as the RSPB were shooting them, even this large number, all on one site, excited no interest or comment from the media or their celebrity Vice-President, Chris Packham. How different from what happens if someone else shoots a goat. No howls of outrage. No angry rants on the Times letters page. No questions to the Minister. Just 51 dead goats, of all genders and ages, to facilitate 'Woodland restoration'. We can only hope the trees are grateful.
Helping trees was also the reason given for killing 113 Muntjac, 138 Sika, 416 Fallow, 516 Roe and 937 Reds, many of which were reported to have suffered slow and painful deaths. That's a grand total of 2,171 large, some might say, iconic, mammals killed so that woodland can be restored.
It is interesting that RSPB is so very keen on killing mammals that sometimes eat twigs and some young trees, but is at the same time enthusiastically reintroducing beavers that eat nothing else.
But it is what is missing that raises the most intriguing questions. We know that RSPB is engaged in several huge and expensive eradication schemes. They are killing stoats on Orkney and ferrets and rats on Rathlin Island off the coast of Ulster. Yet none of these species get a mention. Where are they?
The project on Orkney, promoted and led by RSPB, has, they say, killed over 5,000 stoats and thousands more non-target mammals and birds, at a cost of £10-12 million, with another £8 million now being sought.
On Rathlin, RSPB are getting £4.5 million to eradicate ferrets and rats. If you add all that together, its approaching £25 million pounds. But apparently the ever open and honest RSPB do not report killing any stoats, ferrets or rats.
Are we to assume these huge, costly extermination projects have caught none of the target species in 2022? Obviously not. Even the RSPB, hardly a leader in the field of pest and predator control, could hardly be so bone achingly incompetent as to catch nothing for the expenditure of millions.
These projects must have killed stuff. Indeed, we know that on Orkney they have been laying low a wide range of wildlife beyond the targeted stoats, including creatures as diverse as domestic cats, hedgehogs, starlings and the rare Orkney Vole.
It might be that they don't include them because they are killed by RSPB alone or in partnership, but they are not on RSPB reserves. Even this is a bit of a stretch, because RSPB has substantial land holdings on Orkney, but if that is the 'get-out-of-jail-card' they want to play, it raises even more questions.
If RSPB kills some ferrets, but feels it doesn't need to own up in its bag returns because they are simply part of a project they are running on land they don't own, all bets are off.
What about the foxes killed on other people's land during the curlew project? What about the foxes and corvids they kill on land they manage for two of the worst polluting water companies in the land, United Utilities and Severn Trent? Are they counted or not?
Perhaps, they don't count the stoats and ferrets and rats, or anything else for that matter, killed by contractors who are employed by the partnerships they manage. Again, the question is how many more are there that are excluded by this slight of hand?
We are left in a strange position, but one that RSPB watchers will be used to. RSPB have made a statement which purports to be an exemplar of openness and honesty, but, as so often, it has left anyone, who possesses rudimentary critical faculties, feeling that they are up to their old tricks again.
We may be wrong. It may be that they have killed no ferrets on Rathlin. It may be that they have killed no stoats on Orkney. Only the RSPB knows the truth. Only RSPB can clarify the 'Mystery of the disappearing Mustelids'.