Countryside organisations slam RSPB for ‘warped’ plan to oppose game-bird shooting for first time

Countryside organisations have hit out at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for considering opposing the shooting of birds.

The RSPB has never taken a position on game bird shooting and the terms of the charity’s royal charter would seem to prevent the organisation campaigning against shooting as a sport.

Nonetheless on Saturday at its AGM Kevin Cox, the Chair of Council announced that the RSPB would be reviewing its policy on game bird shooting and associated land management.

He acknowledged it was an ’emotive issue’, but said policy makers would be developing ‘a set of conservation tests for management practices associated with game bird shooting.’

Mr Cox added: ‘We will use these to guide the RSPB’s conservation policy, practice and communications, consistent with the ongoing climate and ecological emergency, respectful of our charitable objectives and maintaining the confidence and support of our members.

Not so glorious: The RSPB may oppose sport shooting. Pictured: Members of a shooting party shoot on the Rottal Moor on the opening day of the Grouse shooting season, Kirriemuir, Scotland, August 12, 2019

‘We intend to do this, informed by the views of members and other stakeholders many of whom we have engaged with on these issues for decades.’

Previously the RSPB has taken a stand on issues which affect wild birds on grouse moors, for instance the persecution of hen harriers, it has not taken a firm view on the shooting industry as a whole before. 

But the organisation, which has more than a million members, has increasingly taken a firmer view on shooting, and earlier this year urged the government to more closely licence driven grouse shooting.

The Royal Charter for the charity says: ‘The Society shall take no part in the question of the killing of game birds and legitimate sport of that character except when such practices have an impact on the Objects.’

So under the terms of its own charter the charity can comment on shooting if it affects the wild birds that the RSPB was set up to support, but not on shooting for sport in and of itself.

However, it is now using environmental concerns as a reason to review its policy.

The Telegraph reported that Mr Cox explained: ‘Environmental concerns include the ongoing and systematic illegal persecution of birds of prey such as hen harriers on some sporting estates; the ecological impact of high numbers of game birds released into the countryside increasing the density of generalist predators; the mass culling of mountain hares in some parts of our uplands; the use of lead ammunition; the impact of burning peatlands and medicating wild animals for sport shooting.

‘In response to the evidence about the scale of the environmental impact and growing public concern, including from our membership, the RSPB’s Council has agreed to review our policy on game bird shooting and associated land management.’

However Tim Bonner, chair of the Countryside Alliance, told the paper: ‘Disappointingly this seems to be the final step in the RSPB’s long journey to becoming an anti-shooting organisation. 

‘It displays the organisation’s bizarrely warped priorities in the face of so many other pressing concerns that face the countryside we know and love.

The RSPB's Chair of Council Kevin Cox announced the sharity would be reviewing its policy on game bird shooting

The RSPB’s Chair of Council Kevin Cox announced the sharity would be reviewing its policy on game bird shooting

‘The environmental, economic and social benefits of shooting have been repeatedly illustrated by research and reports. 

‘The Countryside Alliance will continue to robustly promote and defend properly conducted game shooting.’

Lobby group Wild Justice, set up by former RSPB chief and anti-shooting activist Mark Avery, alongside BBC nature presenter Chris Packham, which has launched successful legal challenges to curtail shooting, welcomed the move.

Mr Avery said: ‘This review is about repositioning the RSPB in an important public debate because it is realised that the RSPB has been lagging not leading.  

‘Perhaps it has taken a new Chair of Council and a new Chief Executive to grasp this nettle rather belatedly.

‘I understand that some membership pressure has helped to push this statement along. I’m pretty sure that the existence of Wild Justice, getting into some areas where the RSPB has been nervous to tread, has also been a factor.’