The RSPB’s latest stance on Game Shooting

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On the 10th of October, the RSPB had its AGM and wrote up its stance on Game shooting. Tabloids have waded in with their opinion on the matter all in support of the RSPB’s stance. It’s strange as what’s being asked off isn’t inline with their own actions. From the success of RSPB moors it also isn’t the best way to achieve natural harmony.

From the minutes taken, the statement is incredibly vague but the follow up blog from Martin Harper seems to outline more of the RSPB’s objectives. The main objections come in the form of intensified land management and Heather burning. This is disappointing as even in this statement the RSPB acknowledges the benefits of Land Management stating.

“Land well managed for shooting can have considerable wildlife benefits, for example by providing habitat that can benefit species other than gamebirds”

Setters working on a Grouse moor

Land Management

Like what we’ve written previously the objective of Gamekeepers is to bring balance back into UK ecology. At this point without human lead intervention, we won’t have many of these rare birds left in the UK. Pest species in particular are the biggest risk to future rare bird populations. Foxes, stoats and corvids in particular have the potential to decimate nesting birds.

If the objection is towards poor practice on moorland then we’d be in agreement. However, when you’re seeing endangered birds roosting on private moors its hard to make blanket statements. Just looking at Hen Harrier chicks in the UK, every single chick has come from a private moor. There’s something to be learned here for the RSPB where you have grouse and rare birds on the same piece of land.

Without management, we’re unlikely to see improved numbers of endangered birds. Red grouse are indigenous to the UK and without maintaining their habitats we will lose them entirely. Subsequently, failure to protect them from predators could expedite this process at an exponential rate.

RSPB Hen Harrier

Heather burning

The conversation around Heather Burning is a little more complicated. The UK is home to 75% of the worlds Heather moors and as such it needs to be protected. Natural England and Defra are already managing and enforcing the burnings that are carried out. A review from the GWCT show that less than 50% of Estates use heather burning for the benefit of grouse.

While the release of CO2 is detracting it serves of the lesser of two evils. The burnings require preparation before hand, this includes fire breaks and cool burns. The fire breaks stop the fires becoming out of hand and cool burns designed to leave less impact on the land.

The RSPB themselves use Heather Burning on the land they manage so its odd that they’ve come to this conclusion. Without Heather Burning there is a distopian future ahead of us. The heather will quickly be replaced by ferns, bushes and trees and we will loose the Heather landscape.

Just like pruning a tree, heather burning is designed to trim back the older heather and leave space for new young heather to grow. The old heather is also at a higher risk of catching alight in an uncontrolled manner. We’ve already seen the fire this year started by visitors using disposable BBQ’s on the dry moorland. Between April and October is when Heather burning isn’t permitted and when the moors become most vulnerable.

Heather Burning on a Grouse Moor RSPB

Whats next?

The RSPB’s next stage is to see more enforcement on Lead shot, Illegal killing of protected birds, heather burning and intensive gamebird shooting. They’ve stated that should their demands not be meat within 5 years they will push for a ban on driven grouse shooting.

The proposed reduction in the the number of Gamebirds released needs a very careful and meassured approach. The return on released gamebirds hovers around the 30% mark. If the number released goes down then the managed land will become more heavily managed. For shoots to get better returns

It’s tough to understand the motives behind the RSPB’s stance here. The data available to us shows that moorland in the UK is in a better state managed than unmanaged. The nesting of protected birds has also been far more successful on grouse moors than RSPB managed moors. Knowing this its clear to conclude that the RSPB’s approach is effective under any metric. While its evident that they want to move away from Driven shooting, for the benefit of wildlife Gamekeeping methods must remain.

Labrador retrieving a grouse RSPB

Conclusion

Like we’ve mentioned before, groups like the RSPB and the shooting community want similar things. We’d both like to see more wild and rare birds in the UK but the process is where differences arise. Whether these differences are insurmountable we will wait and see but they shouldn’t be. The RSPB are practising pest control on their moors just like privately owned ones. Between the years 2012 and 2017 the RSPB killed over 8000 animals on their land. This is an issue as long as its ecologys best interest.

If the RSPB wan’t to reduce the number of released birds then this intensity of pest control will be essential. If they want to ban heather burning then they must be prepared for the wildfires. It’s a shame as in recent years private moors have been so successful in supporting rare birds. There should be universal support for this as it’s not out of luck but well managed habitats.

RSPB

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