Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Better late than never, RSPB !

Last week I received my copy of the RSPB's  BIRDCRIME report which sets out offences against wildbird legislation in 2012 and offers thoughts for further improvements in the future.

As is always the case the report presents a wide range of activities which affect  birdlife , both at home and abroad, in a very professional way, all of which is enhanced by an impactive selection of illustrations. The contents are also a sad  litany of activities which, in my direct experience, have been occurring over the past thirty years and continue still to affect, in particular, our raptor populations .  However, we need to remind ourselves that certain things HAVE changed and , in no little way, as a consequence of  RSPB's actions over the years.  Previous to the Wildlife and Countryside Act,1981 (as amended ) the pressure on certain raptors ( Peregrine, Goshawk and Merlin ) was immense due to an illegal demand for birds or their eggs for incubation, which were then often retained in captivity or used in falconry. In some cases birds were obtained for foreign interests. Active petitioning for change ( remember that phrase, folks ) by RSPB and others, coupled with investigative actions by the Society, including the Dept of Environment, confronted these practices and improvements gradually occurred.

On another front, egg collecting in the 1980's was far more endemic than today, with an estimated 500 collectors being active. Such activities are much reduced nowadays, although with occasional high profile cases appearing there is clearly no room for complacency.  In many senses the RSPB Investigations Section, both for years before and throughout that period, was operating alone, but petitioning for change ( remember that phrase, folks )  eventually brought other agencies on board and into being. The track record and consistent application of effort by the Investigations Section has been exemplary throughout a long period and involving many different staff through the years.  That effort is still apparent to this day.

Whereas, in days past, the RSPB ploughed a lone furrow in many senses and was seen to be the only "operator" within this particular field, things have now changed.. Nowadays, with the inauguration of the Partnership for Wildlife Crime (PAW ), there are many agencies involved ( the Police, HMRC, UK Border Agency and many smaller distinct groups ) and the sphere of influence has extended significantly with a wide range of involvements. Some of these activities are still supported or advised upon by the RSPB's  investigations staff.  No little amount of credit must accrue to the RSPB for advocating and campaigning for such involvements.

Now I'm not going to review the report in the usual way. It contains a wealth of information and demands to be read thoroughly. It can be accessed on-line or copies can be obtained from RSPB's HQ.  and I would recommend it to everyone.

As previously there is a section assessing what beneficial changes have occurred to legislation, or where there has been no progress against suggested proposals.  Clearly great stock was placed by the RSPB on the outcome of the recent Law Commission review of wildlife legislation., much of which has proved to be misplaced in my view. The final provisions have not yet been released by the Commission and one hopes that continuing efforts will be made to gain some improvements to what has initially been proposed. The RSPB's position on various matters does appear to oscillate somewhat in terms of the effort it is prepared to exercise at different times to secure the adoption of proposals it appears to support.  The Vicarious Liability scenario is a case in point.  RSPB openly advocated its adoption in Scotland, an effort that was successful. And then , an E-petition, raised by an individual on the self same subject, was acknowledged positively,  but not supported via being promoted to the RSPB membership. Vicarious Liability was no doubt actively promoted  by the RSPB within the internal consultancy process accompanying the Law Commission review, but failed to get accepted in a robust form, about which the Society is clearly disappointed.  One wonders if the petition had attracted a high number of signatures whether the outcome might have been different?  An opportunity lost to demonstrate the feelings of people "out there" who carry a concern for birds, whom the Society claims to represent via its membership process.  But why the imprecise positioning and the confusion  it generates?

When I registered the E-petition relating to the licencing of grouse moors ( see here  Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers  )  the RSPB kindly and openly explained that it was intending to put its efforts into an attempt to gain the adoption of the Vicarious Liability offence within the Law Commission review. I accepted that, and still do, as a choice made by the Society, although I personally felt they were wasting their time, and being naive in the process, given the adamant refusal by DeFRA to even consider the subject.  Their best efforts failed despite, I imagine, well researched and presented argument.

Whilst I never had any illusions that the above petition would result automatically in the adoption of licencing regulations I sincerely believed in two things. It would keep the subject of raptor persecution alive and that the signature total could be used further in demonstrating the depth and extent of feeling on the subject.  That expression could then be used repeatedly in raising the matter with Government and others, reminding ourselves that we are in the run up to an election in 15 months and such matters can be raised to test the sympathies of prospective candidates.

So, folks, I was a little surprised to find within the above report the following entry about which I can't find any other recent public statement by the RSPB promoting its position.


In fact if you need the full version, here it is!

Now I have no objections to what is being said, just an ever increasing amount of confusion over how the RSPB conducts its affairs.  Increasingly the RSPB appears to be placing the responsibility for improvements to conservation legislation and policy on others, via its comments,  as opposed also to it carrying the standard itself in the front ranks! The old approach of campaigning ( and petitioning for change, remember!! ) appears to have been consigned to yesteryear, only to be replaced by advocation from within the advancing ranks and in a somewhat  muted fashion too.

I actually care when people think badly of the RSPB and I feel guilty at criticising them.  But cracks are beginning to appear!  People see it as being a standard bearer for bird conservation, as being a leader, but its communication and positioning appear to be all too apologetic, as if a major objective is to be respectable and popular.  It would appear it no longer has the ear of Government to the extent it once enjoyed. Hardly surprising given present circumstances in Westminster!

Clearly it doesn't like supporting the efforts of individuals in terms of addressing policy or legislation change. In other words, it needs to be their idea in the first place.  Clearly too, despite it having secured many goals in the past by outright petitioning, it has lost faith in the current system.   Ok, not its fault perhaps, but more a response to the disingenuous arrogance within Government, e.g the Badger Cull E-petition at 300,000 signatures secured.  But those figures live on and can be used and quoted time and again.

So  " yours confused " in terms of which game the RSPB does want to play and how!  I leave a few thoughts. Remember the seminars within which there was  a brain storming session and key words for consideration and action were written up on a board?  Here are a few that might apply,

Focus, leadership, respect, communication, enthusiasm, clarity, ACTION,  conviction, consistency,openness

Feel free to add others via your comments!

 As of 1400 hours today the E-petition relating to the licencing regulation of grouse moors and gamekeepers has reached 8294 signatures, a more than apt representation of peoples' concerns about raptor persecution and what needs to be done to combat it.   Use it as you will,  RSPB,  but consider, you could perhaps make it into a far more telling response that, collectively , we could all use in our efforts to improve current circumstances for our birds of prey.    Actions speak louder than words!

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