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The RSPB's shameful double standards

We have referred before to the descent of RSPB grandee, Duncan Or-Ewing, from the rarefied heights of the RSPB's offices in 'rural' Edinburgh, to the Game Fair in the humble fields of Warwickshire. The largest crowd of the day gathered in the Game Fair Theatre to listen to the great man put Ian Coghill, the author of Moorland Matters, in a place more suited to his station. I know you may think we have given Duncan enough column inches already but we really do need to revisit the time he spent amongst the hoi polloi.

His participation in the debate shone a fascinating light on how the RSPB sees itself. Duncan was apparently shocked that the author of Moorland Matters, a book which contains some, to him, disobliging references to his organisation's greed and incompetence, had not submitted the manuscript to the RSPB for vetting prior to publication. A small point but a revealing one. How self-important and self-absorbed must you be to think that it is scandalous that people don't send you their work to be marked and corrected?

This is as ironic as it is arrogant. We are sure readers will remember the RSPB’s wild statements about burning the peat, grouse moors being industrial landscapes; the crazy idea that there had been a 99% decline in mountain hares, and myriad other RSPB canards, all of which were consulted about with no one more independent than the RSPB's press office.

This last wild claim – that grouse moors had seen a vast decline of mountain hares due to mass culls – was indeed raised by Duncan at the Game Fair as he thrashed about for anything and everything with which to attack gamekeepers. Interestingly he was particularly outraged by his assertion that the allegedly guilty moors had not consulted their neighbours before exterminating their mountain hares.

Now it is difficult to argue with an assertion. Even one as crazy as the 99%. As the plan is to damn everybody, you never name the estate. These generalised assertions conveniently avoid any risk of the owners and keepers proving you are making it up, by simply showing people that, far from being extinct, the animals are in good heart. It simultaneously allows you to blacken everyone involved in moorland management. It’s a gamekeeper that's doing it, so it could be any gamekeeper; or all gamekeepers.

Of course, dear reader, you are used to that. It is after all off page one of the RSPB playbook. But the consultation idea that Duncan slipped in is unusual. Apparently Duncan, a high ranking RSPB grandee, is shocked that the owners of estates should or should not conduct culls without first consulting on whether their neighbours are content with their plans. In view of his status within the organisation we must suppose that his views reflect the policy of the RSPB. Indeed they almost certainly do, at least as far as the actions of other people are concerned. However if you look at what the RSPB do themselves, you may form a different view.

When they decided to institute what is effectively a kill on sight policy for deer at Abernethy, did they consult? When the open season for killing hinds, carefully considered to avoid the risk of unnecessary suffering resulting from leaving orphaned calves to starve, was found to be insufficient for extirpation of the deer, and they sought an out of season licence, did they consult? When they decided that they couldn't kill enough hinds and calves in the daylight and got night shooting licences, did they consult?

Bear in mind that these are not minor issues. The deer are an important part of the local economy. Red deer are about as iconic as a species can get. They are probably the only large wild mammal tourists are likely to see. You would think that if you were going to consult about killing anything it would be red deer.

This is especially the case in relation to out of season culling. NatureScot, the body that issues the licences, recently made it clear the risks were significant. They said, “Deer welfare is key and NatureScot takes into account the period of greatest welfare risk based on the dependency of young, which in Scotland is April 1st to August 31st. This period is based on research into birthing and weaning dates of all species Scotland wide. During this period strict controls are in place when female deer can only be culled under authorisation from NatureScot”.

So we can assume that such licences are exceptions to the rule and apparently only issued in exceptional circumstances. The killing of pregnant and nursing hinds and dependant young calves using these licences would seem to be an order of magnitude more serious when compared to an annual cull of mountain hares outwith their breeding season, something which has been part of the game harvest on many Scottish estates for generations. Yet is there any evidence that Duncan and the RSPB, who claim to be outraged by a lack of consultation regarding hares, consulted their neighbours about any of it?

What is perhaps more remarkable is that the desperate need to kill nursing hinds and their calves, which appears from the NatureScot statement to be both unusual and exceptional, has apparently been standard practice for the RSPB for year after year. Far from being exceptional, it has become business as usual to have the freedom to shoot female deer and their offspring at any time of the day or night and any day of the year. Did they consult about?

Not that any of that matters. We are fully aware that you can say anything you like about gamekeepers, as Duncan demonstrated. Other people are judged by a different standard. BrewDog, the notorious beer maker, have bought an estate and after sacking the gamekeepers, announced they would be rewilding, saving blanket bog (that's the blanket bog that has been there for thousands of years and has been in no danger, at least until BrewDog turned up) and planting trees to sequester carbon. Obviously deer and mountain hares eat trees and the plan appears to be, according to the company representative's statements, that the estate will be fenced and the pesky deer and hares removed. The plan is that before the fence closes, the deer and hares will be driven out. Only those that refuse to be driven out will unfortunately have to be shot, in the hares’ case under licence.

Anyone who has ever tried to drive hares or deer, which BrewDog clearly have not, will know what utter rubbish this is. The chances of getting any, let alone all, out of this vast pen – especially now they've got rid of the gamekeepers – is akin to winning the lottery. What will have to happen is that they will be shot. Either way a huge swathe of historical hare habitat will be wrecked and may never see a hare again. Shocking, you might say, and we would agree. But where are the RSPB? Have they been campaigning against this outrage? Have they been demanding widespread action and binding consultation before the hares and their habitat are destroyed for ever? What do you think?

Now hares are protected, they have largely lost their campaigning value. None of the organisations who were on the verge of hysterical burn out during the campaign to stop their proper population management and wise use, appear in the least bothered by what is going on. Vast swathes of hare habitat are being lost to forestry, or by rewilding heather moorland, turning it into unpalatable, combustible scrub, as hare friendly as a motorway car park. Nobody cares. No one speaks out, Everyone has moved on to the next funding opportunity. Shameful doesn't cover it.


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