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We all need to highlight the common ground between the shooting community and the RSPB

The RSPB are currently in the process of conducting a review into gamebird shooting – with particular focus on driven grouse shooting. The review was announced in October 2019 and although the review hasn’t yet been released, yesterday the RSPB published an update from their Global Conservation Director, Martin Harper.

The update consisted of a blog, an infographic highlighting some interesting viewpoints of RSPB members, a summary of the reports on the consultation with stakeholders, and a summary of the report of the confidential interviews with members of the shooting community.

What was perhaps most interesting about the infographic was how much the views expressed by RSPB members align with those expressed by many shooting and conservation organisations. The infographic shows, for example, that the biggest single concern with regards gamebird shooting is the illegal persecution of birds of prey – something that all shooting organisations have consistently said is completely unacceptable. They are already making big strides in tackling the problem – as demonstrated by the number of hen harriers now found on grouse moors, which has been rapidly rising over the last five years.

The members support the RSPB promoting shooting operating within the law – again something that all shooting organisations constantly state. They were also keen that land should be managed to protect and enhance the natural environment, that shooting does not adversely affect the population of any native species targeted for shooting, and that management is underpinned by reporting and scientific analysis. These key messages are all supported – although some support, naturally, came with caveats – by the interviews with members of the shooting community.

When it comes to populations of native species, the ‘shooters’ agreed that this was fundamental to good shooting practice; the main concern was that the RSPB’s statement lacked definition. In fact, as they highlighted, many native species including the ones mentioned by the RSPB – the grey partridge and the black grouse – are rarely or never targeted by shooters, and would likely be extinct without the conservation work of the shooting communities.

Protecting and enhancing the natural environment is something that is already done in the vast majority of shooting estates; indeed the ‘shooters’ questioned stated that ‘everything to do with gamebird shooting should be carried out in accordance with best practice’. As with many of the RSPB’s key messages, the question was solely in the definition: what exactly is ‘best practice’?

Perhaps the biggest problem that isn’t being addressed is that of the ‘deteriorating relationship between RSPB and shooting community’, which is mentioned many times in the RSPB update. The vast majority of people within the shooting industry fully support animal and wildlife conservation, and want to shoot in a way that improves, rather than damages, the environment. Huge amounts of money are spent by shooters on grouse moors and other shooting estates every year, all in the name of conservation. Shooting is perhaps one of the best friends of much of our wildlife and birdlife – and indeed whole ecosystems. Working together with the RPSB, rather than against them, would seem both beneficial and logical. In many cases that does happen – ‘on the ground’.

The issue, then, seems to lie in the upper echelons of the RSPB. The ‘national messaging about gamebird shooting and associated land management’ was highlighted as an issue, as it ignored all of the many benefits that shooting can bring; and indeed that the consultation in itself was slanted in a negative manner against shooting. It’s hardly surprising that the shooting community feel the RSPB are working against, rather than with, them – particularly when they are, for example, busy promoting petitions against heather burning, when the benefits of heather burning on many bird species, and indeed on the moorland ecosystem as a whole, are clear.

Surely everyone would benefit from working together. The aims of the RSPB and the shooting industry are, for the most part, very similar. Martin Harper’s update today shows that the views of RSPB members are, again, very similar to those of the shooting community. Perhaps that’s no surprise when, after all, so many shooters are, or have been, members of the RSPB. The only issue is the aggressive and negative stance from the RSPB top bods and press officers; and indeed its political officers like Adam Barnett. If only the RSPB could bring themselves to publicly state the environmental and conservation benefits that well-managed shooting can bring, we might all be one big happy family: and everyone would benefit.


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