Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Reflections on raptor persecution.

Over the past two-three months I've given an appreciable amount of thought to the above problem, discussed matters with different organizations and deliberated the options for improvement with like-minded colleagues. The problem is one which requires urgent correction........irreversibly and with any resumption met by severe penalties.

But do we ever take time out to consider what is actually involved?  Our reactions and criticisms so often appear to relate to the most recent incident, an apparent lack of action by given conservation bodies or to the questionable logic contained within a press release issued by a representative body with undoubted connections with the practitioners!  Discussions between national bodies currently appear to be at a standstill with little hope of any immediate solution arising out of concord. The current situation in the UK vis a vis   raptor persecution is a national disgrace and something which the current coalition Government appear to conveniently ignore despite declared "green commitments".

Do we take time out to ask why it is happening and, in the process,  possibly identify the means for its eradication?  In many cases I think not and the continuing debate so very often revolves around the analysis of respective positions and incidents or to promote an individual issue with some tangential connection! Doubtless some people would claim this current article is unnecessary, old hat, and fails to add anything to the debate. But is that correct?  Examine some of the distorted facts, prejudicial remarks, personalised crusades, unsubstantiated accusations and downright unintelligent remarks on some web sites and Blogs, coupled with an inability to even express  such comments in basic English, and it suggests otherwise.

The foremost objective must be the eradication of persecution of our raptor species with parts of the accompanying policy being aimed at a consistent and extended effort with some species demanding a high priority of attention. All this must be a collective effort brought about by co-operation between all those involved with personal and "tribal" differences set aside. In my book anyone unwilling to accept the brief is simply ignored given the magnitude of the problem we are facing. The facts of the problem are plain and continually amending the game plan wastes time!

Firstly, let's dispel the notion that persecution is isolated, carried out by a minority of gamekeepers and that , in some way, it reflects some primaeval prejudice held by man against raptors. Such activities are geographically widespread in the UK, collectively condoned and carried out with ruthless and unrelenting determination by far too many within the "industry" associated with game management.. Yes, there are those within the industry who, thankfully, have a healthy respect for all wildlife and who are supported by their employers. They buck the trend and, what's more, they should receive suitable recognition and support from conservationists and activists for adopting such a positive role. Do we do enough in that respect I wonder?

As far as the others are concerned, every conceivable avenue should be explored, and the results applied, to stop what is the pursuit of selfish ends.  And, in passing, let's put into perspective the whole business about the responsibilities of estate owners and their agents. No modern day enterprise , if it expects to prosper, vests the overall management of its operation within the lowest level of its staffing structure. Key decisions are shouldered by those "at the top" , not as an optional element but as a permanent reality. Uppermost amongst this reasoning is that it is they who are usually responsible for the investment involved, a management aspect of which they are usually unwilling to delegate entirely.  Negative PR, such as a court case, is clearly something which can affect such effective management and is to be avoided. It follows that the day to day strategies will all be examined to ensure they are watertight and activities occurring on the estates will, therefore, be generally agreed. Whilst legislation associated with vicarious liability embraces the above, the matter is sufficiently fundamental in my view such that no especial provision is necessary. If persecution events occur on an estate then all associated with its operation are culpable!

Neither let us delude ourselves that shooting activities are the product of a nice few days including social exchanges, fine dining and an opportunity to pot a few birds! Far from it! Many shooting enterprises are based on a commercial philosophy against which requisite charges are raised on the participants. I have no objections to this scenario as I am not anti-shooting. However, it does offend when one realises some areas within shoots qualify for government subsidies aimed at habitat management requirements , all of which run in parallel to the commercial aspects. Associated with such habitats can be some of our key raptor species which are an integral part of our natural heritage which the above subsidies are intentionally linked to. Additionally, such iconic species are protected by law (see below) and their disturbance or destruction can attract financial penalties if an incident is proven in court. Some species contained within Schedule 1 ( Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (amended) ) attract even greater penalties under the same provisions.

Given our raptors are protected by law and many, some would argue all, are iconic elements of our natural heritage then their retention is as significant as the policies we apply towards our cultural heritage. Try destroying artefacts in a museum and then , arrogantly, expect everyone to turn a blind eye to your excesses or to at least exert leniency. Is that not what these people involved in persecution expect or, even worse, that they somehow expect to be allowed to Play God and destroy every competitive natural component associated with their enterprise that they find unacceptable, be they raptors or mustelids!

The key element lurking below all this is that it is not an all abiding hatred of all such things that persuades them into such activities but the aspect of competition.. Eradicate all competitors, create a level playing field of your own making and expect, along the way, to be exonerated of all responsibility if such actions fly in the face of civilised behaviour. It's like a local takeaway enterprise setting fire to the premises of all its nearby competitors in order to ensure success. Why should we see the demise of iconic elements of our natural heritage in order to lend support to a commercial enterprise bolstered up in some instances with money from the public purse? It stinks and it needs to end!

What do these people really think they're at?  Arrogance beyond belief and a deliberate setting aside of the requirements of the laws of the land. One could easily be led into believing such attitudes are  being expressed by a certain strata of society, or their cohorts, who are of the belief that they are above the law in many respects and that, in any event, their chums will turn a blind eye. Undoubtedly such beliefs obtained in past times , but things have changed and are still changing.

The above sets out what I believe to be the component factors of the problem. Within these are legal, social, systemic and political aspects within which the solutions lie. Given the objectives for reform are clear it only remains to clearly identify the means by which change can be achieved and to construct a strategy aimed at an unrelenting challenge to the practices condemned.  The time has come to set aside the Queensbury rules of engagement,  which undoubtedly the national conservation organizations have abided by in the past , and to move forward by force of numbers, exposure of the facts, pressure on Government and direct exposure of those responsible. More to follow!


  1. Hi, I'm currently a full time mature student at Newcastle University and I'm researching ideas for my dissertation for next academic year. I have 18 years experience as a falconer and was looking at studying and writing something on our native goshawk population, in both Scotland and England and Wales.

    I'm looking for information on population numbers and also the persecution of the hawk and potential effects of shooting estates with a view to developing a project with maybe the RSPB and DEFRA which could involve the capture and release of goshawks from high risk areas to other suitable habitats. I'm studying countryside management and would like to start researching the project as early as possible.

    Thanks in advance

    Karl Stabler (,

  2. Hi Karl. I'll come back to you by E-mail,and at greater length than can be accommodated here.