We can expect significant changes in the way raptor persecution is tackled in England & Wales, if Police Supt Nick Lyall has his way.
Nick is the new Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), which is tasked with the ‘delivery’ of action against the raptor killers (in Scotland the ‘delivery’ group is the PAW Raptor Group).
The RPPDG was established in 2011, a so-called ‘partnership’ between the police, representatives from the game-shooting industry (e.g. National Gamekeepers Organisation, Moorland Association, BASC, Countryside Alliance etc), and representatives from the raptor conservation community (RSPB, Northern England Raptor Forum), along with some government agency reps from Natural England, DEFRA, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and the Welsh Government.
It would be fair to say we’ve been highly critical of the RPPDG over the years, and justifiably so. This is a partnership in name only, which has been useful for certain organisations and DEFRA Ministers to hide behind on the pretence of tackling illegal raptor persecution but the stark reality is that the RPPDG has contributed absolutely nothing of value towards the conservation of UK raptors in all the years it’s been operating.
It did manage to produce some raptor persecution maps last year but these were shockingly inadequate and two of the RPPDG members were quick to distance themselves from the results (NERF here; RSPB here).
The RPPDG has been secretive, unaccountable and has suffered from a chronic lack of leadership, as evidenced just two days ago when we blogged about how the group had deliberately produced apparently inaccurate and contested minutes relating to the Moorland Association’s interest in obtaining licences to kill Marsh harriers to stop these birds ‘disrupting’ shoot days where hundreds of thousands of red grouse are shot for entertainment.
The raptor conservation community has lost all faith in the ability of the RPPDG to deliver anything except platitudes and a heavy blanket of cover for the criminal raptor killers, but from what we heard today, we’re cautiously optimistic for change.
Not cautious about Nick and his drive, ambition and determination – these qualities have been clear to see since he took on this role in September – but understandably cautious because we’re all too familiar with the influence and power of the game-shooting industry and the lengths that industry will go to maintain the status quo.
Nick is keen to hit the ground running in advance of the first RPPDG meeting he’ll chair in January so today he hosted two workshops at DEFRA’s London offices to brainstorm ideas for his planned Tactical Delivery Plan, a horribly jargonistic name but an important document to frame the work of the RPPDG in the coming years.
[An unusually open door at DEFRA]
Sensibly, he split the workshops in to two groups – the conservationists and enforcers in the morning and the shooting industry reps in the afternoon. He did this to encourage open dialogue that wouldn’t get mired in the usual arguments. We attended the morning workshop along with a number of other organisations who haven’t previously had any formal dealings with the RPPDG and there was good representation from groups such as the North Pennines AONB, Birders Against Wildlife Crime, National Trust and a couple of Wildlife Trusts, as well as the usual representatives from NERF, RSPB, Yorkshire Dales National Park, North Yorkshire Police Rural Task Force, Welsh Government, DEFRA and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.
There was no shortage of ideas for Nick to consider for his Tactical Plan – some well rehearsed but plenty of innovation, too. He told us he would be considering these ideas, coupled with any he received from the afternoon workshop, and intended to start drafting the plan on the train home!
We don’t intend to comment on the details until his plan is published (and he said it would be available in the public domain) but the word ‘accountability’ was heard a lot in reference to ALL members of the RPPDG having to contribute towards the RPPDG’s aims of tackling illegal raptor persecution as a non-negotiable requirement of retaining their place at the table. It was acknowledged and accepted that the RPPDG could not continue as it has.
We’re prepared to give Nick Lyall a chance. We think he ‘gets it’, and he certainly doesn’t underestimate the difficulty of the challenge ahead, but he’s willing to give it his best shot. We also heard some pretty determined words today from Chief Inspector Lou Hubble, the new head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) who is working closely with Nick and is making her own mark in the world of wildlife crime, again in sharp contrast to some of her predecessors. There is definitely cause for (cautious) optimism but time will tell.
As we left the DEFRA offices we were met with a squadron of police vans and officers. Nothing to do with the arrival of the game-shooting industry reps though – it seems campaigners from the Extinction Rebellion (@ExtinctionR) had targeted the DEFRA building with some (easy-to-wash-off) graffitti as part of their build up to a day of civil disobedience on Saturday.