How can the shooting community protect wildlife?
Almost 3 years after the foundation of Wild Justice was founded the UK’s bird population is approaching dangerous territory. 11 species have been added to the red list while only 6 have gone down to amber. With more than a quarter of the UK’s bird population at risk, things need to change. Since the last review in 2015, farming, fieldsports and rural life has been on the back foot. Change in government policy, emotional blackmail from “charitable organisations” have pointed the finger at the countryside. However, all this blame seems to have made things worse rather than better. Here we look at how the shooting community can help support the success of these birds and ecology.
Since 2015 we’ve seen bans on neonicotinoids, the exit from the EU and their grants, dwindling wildlife management courses and razor thin profit margins for farmers. Each year working in Agriculture becomes harder and harder, with more paperwork and more red tape. Remarkably farmers have kept going during this mounting pressure because it’s not all about the money. Farming is rarely new to its occupants and forms part of a generational lineage. These generational farmers know their land better than anyone and care about its future. They may diversify and consider alternatives to livestock or arable. In the middle of all these projects is the desire to keep the land in its best condition.
However, this is becoming increasingly hard to do. Companies are offering big money to exchange fields for solar farms amongst similar endeavours. This isn’t an ideal exchange but when you consider the financial tight rope farmers walk along it offers them financial stability not found elsewhere. If you consider Clarkson managed to make 140 odd pounds from 1000 acres of Oxfordshire farm you can see the problem. So what can you do when Solar farms don’t promote wildlife yet normal practices don’t allow for investment into the land.
Whats the problem
Traditional farming is being penned in at a rapid rate. As consumers abandon the notion of seasonal veg farmers put up polytunnels. They’re then slated for putting up the admittedly ugly tunnels to satiate consumer demands. Livestock farmers are being left in the dark with things like general licences becoming increasingly prohibitive. The licences have now become so mirky that people are dissuaded from doing anything at all. The Jay which is famous for eating the nestling of small birds and mammals is now protected. While you can take a Jay to protect red list birds, you’d have to know they were establishing themselves before you shot one. This backwards way of thinking doesn’t only apply to Jays and directly impacts rare bird species.
If we are going to wait for Jays, Corvids and other predating birds to attack birds nests we will never create habitats they will want to move into. Anyone who’s ever had a bird feeder will know what happens. You’ll get fleeting moments of smaller species but inevitably a well stocked bird feeder will become a locker room scene for Pigeons, Crows and squirrels. Try as you might with deterrents you’ll struggle to keep these species away and the same is true in the countryside.
The Wild Injustice
The premise of Wild Justice is perfectly fine and should have promoted scientific data to support bio diversity in the UK. In reality, the opposite has been the case and Wild Justice has proven to be another anti shooting group. Almost immediately they instigated the attack on the general licences used by farmers to protect their land and livestock. They’ve looked to move the permissible boundaries for pheasant rearing and to waste time in UK courts. Each case has crumbled quicker than the last while public support has stagnated. Packham has been caught out numerous times in the last few years with issues including, defrauding the public, dubious acquisition of tigers and misinformation.
The old phrase when you point you have 3 fingers pointing back at you comes to mind. Considering the money they’ve managed to raise they could have done so much good. Rather than vilifying gamekeepers and landowners, they could have aided their efforts. We’ve discussed at great length how far ahead of private land is of public groups when it comes to helping rare birds. The impact of these armchair experts is felt most by those trying to help the most. It’s easy to point the finger but landowners are clearly doing the most. Impeeding these efforts under the guise of getting a better deal doesn’t help anyone. Instead, consider the cause and effect of limiting the ability of landowners to protect endangered birds.
What needs to change
The misinformation being passed around on blogs and social media is incredible. The image painted is a painfully lazy trope of a marauding countryman chasing a much plighted (Insert pest species) for personal benefit. You’ll find a strenuous link to a murky claim and then a call to action like a petition or newsletter sign up. What you rarely see is a look into red list and amber list species and their struggles. We rarely hear of the success of these birds on private land unless it’s in annual data reports from DEFRA. Equally, there’s very little honesty about how newly implemented legislation has improved anything. In part, this is due to its rarity but equally because the most vocal are very rarely in the midst of it.
We need to see the facts being displayed in a meaningful and proper way with bodies like full fact pushing back against bogus claims. Equally, bodies like the RSPB must be honest about their success and their failures. We’ve commented on their serious funding in the past yet the coffers seem to be spent on more marketing. With over 100 million in the bank, working with private landowners would be an incredibly exciting prospect. Hiding from the harsh reality that proper land management requires pest control isn’t helping. It’s a cut of your nose to spite your face scenario and inevitably will result in no face at all.
What the shooting community can do
We have to put our best foot forward. It’s often hard to promote one species in favour of another but its the harsh reality. We need to use the general licence within the guidance and highlight its shortcomings. Equally, the information people are looking for needs to be made available. Instagram accounts like The Country Mans Diary and Gamekeeper Max offer great perspectives into what managing rural landscapes looks like. Between these two there isn’t much they don’t cover when it comes to land management. They also do it with great foresight and both show their successes and failures. They’re both doing their best to show the shooting community in the best light.
Most importantly we have to keep shooting and doing so within the scope and boundaries of the law. As we’ve seen with the success of private landowners and their endeavours, good management with shooting in mind breeds success. The proof is in the pudding, in time we will see the success of rare breeds in these areas vs the areas where shooting is abandoned. If we continue to manage land well then the void between successful areas and unsuccessful ones will become starker. We’re already seeing the gap growing larger year on year and we hope that continues. This will only reinforce how important proper land management is to the success of biodiversity.
“Fake news” and the internet will always come hand in hand. Finding an echo chamber to support a meaning or cause has never been easier. This has become increasingly true as people have begun to look at the shooting community. For Wild Justice, they’ve relied on the naivety of a misinformed public to support their cause. Endless petitions and legal challenges have resulted in increased red tape for those on the front line. For wildlife, the efforts of these groups has done little to improve their chances. As we move forward, those posting shooting content online should do so with the future of the shooting community in mind. This should be the case before during and after the season.