Wild Justice response to RSPB consultation on gamebird shooting

The RSPB has asked for views on 7 draft principles around the issue of gamebird shooting. It is expected that the RSPB will adjust its position fairly substantially after taking such a long time to review its position and policies. Wild Justice was consulted by the RSPB and this is what we submitted.



Draft Principle 1: Shooting must not adversely affect the population of any native species targeted for shooting

Yes, Wild Justice agrees with Draft Principle 1. And we take ‘shooting’ to mean the actual deaths, the injuries and the impacts of all other management practices (positive and negative) on those species.

And an unavoidable consequence of that is that there must be sufficient monitoring of quarry populations and of shooting pressure to make any necessary adjustments to current practice. In many countries this involves licensing of shooting and reporting of bags by recreational shooters. The UK does not have such a system in place. While such proper monitoring and regulation is absent the RSPB faces a choice over whether to support shooting because it could be done well or to oppose it because it is not done well. Which will it do?

The term ‘adversely affect’ requires clear definition and an acknowledgement of scale, i.e. local, regional, national and international population status. In addition to the issue of a species’ distribution and abundance, it should also include aspects such as disease caused by intensive management techniques, e.g. cryptosporidiosis spread by use of medicated grit stations.

Mandatory pre-shooting season population data should be collected at a local level and submitted to an overseeing statutory agency to compile and assess at scale. It should be the statutory agency’s duty to impose appropriate temporary and spatial restrictions if required.

Mandatory bag size data to be collected and submitted for analysis/monitoring purposes as above.

Disease/health monitoring to be undertaken on a suitable sample size (i.e. cf with current poor monitoring effort by Veterinary Medicines Directorate on approx. 10 Red Grouse samples per annum).

Voluntary self-regulation by the shooting industry is unreliable and untrustworthy.

Costs for independent monitoring and assessment to be covered by shoot licensing costs.

The question asked refers to native quarry species. The elephant in this particular room is that most birds shot for recreation are not native to the UK. The numbers of Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges shot annually in the UK number in the low tens of millions of birds whereas the number of Grey Partridges, Snipe, Woodcock, Red Grouse and wildfowl shot annually number in the low millions. Shooting in the UK has moved considerably from a harvesting of native species to the shooting of captive-bred live targets. In addition, probably low hundreds of thousands of birds (and mammals) are killed each year by the shooting industry allegedly to protect gamebirds.

Shooting of Snipe, Woodcock and Golden Plover might well be having an impact on the status of these species in the UK and wider (since many of the birds shot will be migrants visiting the UK in winter).

Although native quarry species may be affected by overshooting they may also be expected to benefit from the fact that shooting interests will seek to protect their populations. There is little evidence in the UK for this being effective when one looks at the historical trends in population of Grey Partridge (the logo of a pro-shooting organisation), Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Capercaillie, Snipe, Woodcock.

In the UK shooting interests have not been effective at protecting native resident species from wider land use changes and the shooting industry now depends for its existence mainly on winter visitors from abroad and non-native species captive bred for release just before the shooting season.

For the avoidance of doubt, Wild Justice believes that driven grouse shooting should be banned.

Draft Principle 2: Effective measures should be in place to ensure that shooting operates within the law and those not complying with the law must lose their permission to shoot.

Yes, Wild Justice agrees with Draft Principle 2.

Generally speaking the laws in the UK are not bad but their enforcement is hopelessly inadequate. The RSPB needs to consider whether its position should be ‘We’ll try to improve enforcement’ given decades of failure to make any noticeable difference, or whether it should adopt a position of ‘Since effective self regulation is absent, and so is effective enforcement, we cannot support the continued existence of shooting in its current form. Neither industry nor government is serious about the law being upheld’.  

The well-known and persistent persecution of birds of prey on grouse moors is a classic example. What is the point of investigating crimes when everyone knows that they occur but government and the industry involved are both wilfully blind to the situation and sit on their hands doing nothing, only occasionally getting their hands out to wring them in false horror as another raptor goes missing or is found dead.

There needs to be a substantial increase in penalties for wildlife crime associated with game shoots to ensure those penalties meet the criteria for a ‘serious’ offence that attracts a custodial sentence of five years. This would provide the police with the authority to apply for permission, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA and RIPSA in Scotland), to install covert cameras on private sporting estates for the purpose of detecting wildlife crime. This is currently being considered in Scotland as part of The Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) (Scotland) Bill.

The UK authorities should use Spain as an example of deterrent policing and enforcement. E.g. routine and unannounced inspections including the use of specially-trained dogs to detect the use of banned substances, on conviction the suspension of shooting rights, substantial fines and custodial sentencing.

Additional penalties for crimes with an impact on conservation and in a protected area (i.e. National Park, AONB, SPA, SAC etc).

In addition to the suspension of an individual’s shooting rights, shooting should also be suspended on the landholding where the offence was commissioned.

Remove all public subsidies for landholdings where there is evidence that employees/tenants have committed wildlife crimes, based on a civil burden of proof.

Automatically remove firearms and shotgun certificates for 10 years following any individual’s conviction for any wildlife crime, regardless of the sentencing tariff.

A new law for England and Wales to make it an offence to possess specified banned poisons commonly used for wildlife crime, as in Scotland.

Introduce the offence of vicarious liability for all landowners in England and Wales, to make them responsible for wildlife crimes on their land as is the case in Scotland.

Create a national, multi-agency response unit to investigate all offences that fall under the National Wildlife Crime Priorities. To be funded by shoot licensing costs.

All wildlife crimes to be made recordable offences using official Home Office codes to enable effective monitoring.

The English and Welsh governments to publish an annual wildlife crime report, as they do already in Scotland.

Draft Principle 3: Management must not adversely affect the population of any native species in order to increase the shootable surplus of gamebirds and it should be underpinned by transparent reporting of the number of animals killed.

Yes, Wild Justice agrees with Draft Principle 3 although the definition of ‘adversely affected’ requires clarity.

And we know that management does adversely affect the populations of some native species, notably Hen Harrier, Golden Eagle, Peregrine and Red Kite – so what stance should the RSPB take?

And in addition to the above named avian species, this draft principle should also apply to other bird species as well as Red Fox, Pine Marten, Hedgehog and a range of other mammals given the RSPB’s wider conservation remit.

There is a serious ethical question to be addressed here – regardless of whether a population is adversely affected, should native wildlife be killed simply to increase the availability of another species to be killed by recreational shooters?

Also, the killing of native species is primarily allegedly to protect non-native gamebirds i.e. Pheasant and Red-legged Partridges. Wildfowling and shooting of some waders requires no predator culls because the quarry populations breed outside the UK.

Draft Principle 4: Species in favourable conservation status, killed for the purposes of maintaining or enhancing the activity of gamebird shooting, should be managed in accordance with best practice guidance.

Yes Wild Justice agrees with Draft Principle 4, but that assumes that the best practice guidance is good enough and that compliance is good.

There are questions around what is considered to be ‘best practice’, who defines it and most importantly, what happens when best practice isn’t reached? It doesn’t have statutory authority (e.g. see current Code of Good Shooting Practice’) so no enforcement options available if best practice isn’t met. It’s a waste of time in this particular context because the shooting industry has proven itself incapable of self-regulation.

We take this to be a question about predator control which we know is a difficult issue for the RSPB because the RSPB carries out some limited, lethal predator control on its own nature reserves (and for which it is criticised by some (and always has been)).  However, the RSPB position on this subject, though not universally popular, is entirely consistent with the position that lethal predator control is a last resort, only to be taken when non-lethal means have failed, and only where there is good evidence for a conservation benefit and where welfare aspects are carefully considered.

The RSPB position is one that is so much better than that adopted by the shooting industry as a whole where predator control is seen as a first resort and where standards of humaneness are low – and of course where the main aim is for protecting gamebirds that are to be killed by recreational shooters.

The RSPB is not an animal welfare charity but then neither is it a social welfare charity (and yet it has expertise and sensitivity to issues such as social inclusion) and nor is it an economic charity (and yet it deals routinely these days with economic issues with considerable expertise). The RSPB needs to develop a much clearer public position on animal welfare issues rather than putting them in a box labelled ’Too hard, too contentious, not our job’. 

The RSPB needs to seek guidance from those more expert in these matters but not to avoid them. The scale of killing native wildlife which underlies commercial shooting is far too high for a conservation organisation to ignore.

Draft Principle 5: Land used for gamebird hunting should be managed in a manner that protects and enhances the natural habitats and ecosystem services it supports.

Yes, Wild Justice agrees with Draft Principle 5 but not just the natural habitats, the man-made habitats too e.g. farmland.

The RSPB does not have a clear position on rewilding. What is a natural habitat? 

The RSPB has for too long sought to maintain the practice of driven grouse shooting on man-made unnatural habitats when the evidence has long been clear that this activity prevents a natural ecosystem establishing (in National Parks, AONBs, SPAs and SACs for heaven’s sake!). If the RSPB were signed up to this Principle itself then it would oppose the very existence of driven grouse shooting and not seek to introduce licensing as a means of better regulating an almost completely unsustainable activity. On this particular issue, based on this particular Principle, the RSPB does not have a principled policy. 

Draft Principle 6: Some practices associated with shooting need to be assessed for their environmental impacts and, if necessary, to be better regulated or stopped.

Yes, Wild Justice agrees with Draft Principle 6 but surely the word ‘some’ is unnecessarily restrictive.

Luckily for the RSPB, Wild Justice is seeking a judicial review of the unregulated release of tens of millions of non-native gamebirds into the countryside as a first step towards fixing this issue.

In the case of driven grouse shooting the need for assessment is long gone. The combination of impacts on natural habitats, ecosystem services, protected wildlife and welfare of native species adds up to a very strong case for opposing the current situation. Attempting to tinker with one or more aspects of a totally flawed land use is not what is expected of a leading wildlife conservation organisation.

Draft Principle 7: Mechanisms should be developed and implemented to ensure that gamebird hunting, across all parts of the UK, is carried out in accordance with these principles. 

Yes, Wild Justice agrees with Draft principle 7 and where mechanisms do not exist then the RSPB should oppose the status quo.

This isn’t a debate that is starting with this RSPB consultation; there is a lot of background and history with which the RSPB has not adequately engaged.