RSPB begins policy review on gamebird shooting

Last October the RSPB announced at its AGM that it was to undertake a policy review of gamebird shooting (see here).

[Dead pheasants, photo by Getty]

This welcome review had been prompted by ongoing environmental concerns including ‘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’.

The review is now underway and the RSPB’s Global Conservation Director, Martin Harper, has laid out the planned process in a recent blog (here) as follows:

Review process

There are three stages to our review.

In this first phase we are seeking the views of members and those with an interest in gamebird shooting. This will help us develop nature conservation principles for gamebird shooting and associated land management to be approved by our Council this summer.

The second phase involves completing scientific reviews of the evidence of impacts from the two most intensive forms of shooting (driven grouse and gamebird releases) to help assess these shooting styles against the conservation principles.

The final phase involves reviewing the RSPB’s existing policy on driven grouse shooting and developing a new position on gamebird releases.

We plan to announce the results of this review of our policy at the AGM in October.


Martin’s blog goes on to explain how RSPB members can contribute to the review. Questionnaires have also recently been sent out to those of us known to have an interest in gamebird shooting, with an April deadline for responses. This all looks promising for the RSPB to keep to its anticipated timetable of announcing the policy review results in October this year.

As an aside, some of the shooting organisations will be looking at the RSPB’s membership consultation process with envy today – from what’s been posted on social media there is deep resentment from many shooters about the lack of consultation with members prior to yesterday’s announcement on the proposed phasing out of lead ammunition; BASC especially appears to be haemorrhaging members as a direct result of this poor communication. They’ve even stuck Duncan Thomas in front of a camera calling for calm (check out BASC’s Facebook page to get an idea of the carnage). This doesn’t bode well for the success of the planned voluntary ban on lead ammunition.

30 thoughts on “RSPB begins policy review on gamebird shooting”

  1. Well, this is all very jolly and it all makes work for the working man to (Flanders and Swann) but what does it really amount to? I like the three ‘phases’ but the forth is missing – Report is then totally ignored by the game shooting industry and everyone else. Net result – as you were folks. I just don’t see the point of it all – looks to me very much like Werrity mark two – and that seems to have sunk without trace.

  2. This is a very welcome development.

    By sheer coincidence, today, I have had to re-submit my complaint to the BBC’s Farming Today programme of 29th January 2020 which heavily promoted Sophie Bagley’s business of selling lead-shot game food without any mention, by the programme, of the Food Standards Agency’s warnings over lead poisoning from such foodstuffs.

    The BBC acknowledged my complaint (Case number CAS-5901797-V9F3W6), but has failed to otherwise respond nearly one month later.

    I do sometimes wonder how many of the BBC top brass go shooting?

  3. My own view for RSPB is quite simple they should be supporting a total ban on the release of alien gamebirds as living targets unless those releases can be directly shown to benefit the ecology of the release areas. They should be opposed to the maintenance of driven grouse shooting on ecological and environmental grounds coupled with the proven association of serious organised wildlife crime and DGS. Simple really but will they bite the ( lead free) bullet.

    1. Alien game birds funny as many experts think pheasants were introduced by the Romans so probably longer than most humans in Britain
      I take it you would want all the deer got rid of as I believe reds are the only true native deer
      Any thoughts on grey squirrels
      Parrots ( in Kent and spreading )
      Signal crayfish
      Oh and humans who have migrated here ?

  4. At the moment the RSPB is neutral, i.e. “supports” game shooting, regardless of what the membership think. This is an opportunity for the membership to tell the RSPB to stop taking a neutral stance, change their charter, and oppose the destructive elements of the game shooting industry, as well as opposing and investigating the illegal activities.

    As we have already seen (first post) there will be the cynics who say “so what”, but the fact is this is a major opportunity to change the RSPB’s approach to game shooting, acknowledge that that industry is beyond redemption, and that it needs a serious change in the attitudes and practises or a complete ban: all of which are options within their consultation survey. As the major serious campaigning birdlife charity in the UK not in hock to the shooting industry, changing their stance is important.

    Of course, if the outcome is some spineless fudge then I shall join the chorus of criticism.

    1. As one of the cynics, and I think you may also be leaning that way?, you state that it is an opportunity for the membership to tell the RSPB to stop taking a neutral stance. Well first the RSPB have got to inform ALL of their membership. That would mean a major piece in the next mag explaining all of the issues involved, not just contacting a selected few for their views. Yes, I know that all members can submit to this, but if they don’t go online, they won’t get to know.
      Can you imagine the impact if the RSPB told all 1.2 million members what is really going on in our countryside? Well they have never done so yet and I seriously doubt that they have the bottle to do so now.
      I do so hope I have to eat my words.

      1. I’m keeping optimistic at the moment, but at the same time am prepared to be disappointed. I’ve certainly noticed with the RSPB that when I make a general enquiry they are usually excellent getting back to me, but when it involves a sticky issue involving the rural mafia it’s usually ignored. A case in point is when I asked them to consider setting a precedent to break the ludicrous ban in translocating beavers to new territories in Scotland by formally requesting permission from Scotgov to move them to their Insh Marshes reserve – they’d be a benefit there actually helping curlew. Absolutely no response so I set up a petition to push them, then they said they’d get back to me, then absolutely nothing. They should be at the forefront of things like this, but aren’t. I get the feeling when certain people are in power there’s always the threat a change in legislation will pull the rug from under charities like the RSPB and that’s what’s holding them back. They definitely have a policy of NOT highlighting raptor persecution on their stalls unless they’re something like a vegan festival. I think that’s a massive mistake. I’m enormously fond of and grateful to the RSPB in some respects, but in others incredibly frustrated with them. Fingers crossed!

    2. What a shame you know so very little about what you say
      Did the rspb shoot nearly a thousand corvids and hundreds of foxs and then stop anyone else do it
      I wonder how our song birds and small mammals do without the food and protection they get from game keepers
      Oh one last thing thank you to the keepers and estate workers that put the fire out on the moors in Yorkshire that the rspb had No equipment to tackel and it’s nice to see that raptors are at their highest level of numbers in 100 years 😁 no thanks to the rspb and it’s stupidly idiotic members !

  5. I have spoken to an RSPB representative on two occasions in the past 24 months to be told the organisation supports a licensed approach to grouse shooting. On both occasions I expressed the view that they were wrong.and that a total ban was necessary; as their was ample evidence that licences were inadequate to tackle the wholesale slaughter that was being undertaken by the gamekeepers and staff. This view fell on deaf ears, the arrogance was palpable. To hear the news that they are considering changing their view is music to my ears. I only hope the leaders of the organisation have the courage to do what is right – support a full ban.

  6. Definitely a considerably better situation than the RSPB not having a consultation on gamebirds shooting so I am prepared to be cautiously optimistic about this. Can I please ask any RSPB member that’s yet to take part that they raise two issues that are critically important/relevant but are hardly mentioned. The first is the fundamental point that artificially rearing birds to be shot requires the production of feed to rear them and this is often extended to supplementary feeding once released. Given the numbers of birds used this would suggest a substantial amount of agriculture to produce birds that will mostly not be consumed by humans. This represents a massive food waste issue by any definition and contradicts the argument shooting saves natural habitat from agricultural development when it actually drives up demand for its produce. I believe the RSPB should have a moratorium on referring to any shoot as having overall conservation benefit until this is factored in to their reviews of them and the general issue needs to be raised publicly.

    The second point is that while it is becomingly increasingly clear that many of our woodlands and to a lesser extent other habitats are being affected by the spread of non native invasive plants such as rhododendron, cherry laurel and snowberry that were originally planted out as game cover this practice is in fact still continuing despite legislation making it illegal to release non native organisms into the countryside. Either an exemption has been granted when it shouldn’t have, or the relevant law is poorly enforced/understood. In any case it is ludicrous and obscene that at a time when millions of pounds are being spent and thousands of volunteers are being used to remove invasive plants which suppress native flora and fauna shoots are still planting more for game cover! When I have challenged their representative bodies about this none have responded. The conservation orgs need to be doing this. Here’s evidence –

      1. Yes that’s the point they should be illegal. On what basis can they be granted an exemption/dispensation when they were known invasive species and are only being planted out in supposed aid of a pastime? SNH informed me they would contact Ashbridge and advise them not to market these products – but it’s not illegal, or perhaps it is, but confusion with exemptions for game cover crops (a different thing confusingly) is letting them get off with it. However, the shooting bodies are at best not doing anything about this ludicrous situation or at worst are trying to keep it going. Snowberry is becoming a very bad invasive, and I’d say cherry laurel already is. I’ve probably spent 150 to 200 hours voluntarily clearing Cherry laurel from a local wood that was choked with it. That they claim to be custodians and conservationists and they’re planting this stuff is a disgrace. This issue needs flagging up pronto.

        1. “Yes that’s the point they should be illegal”

          In which case you need to contact Plantlife. See what they say.

          As far as I know no ‘exemptions’ are being made: those shrubs are not on either list of banned plants, for whatever reason…

          1. I have contacted Plantlfe, as soon as I was first aware of this, and as this affects more than just plants The Conservation Volunteers, The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and the Woodland Trust plus many others I’ve probably forgotten about. Been there, done it, got the T shirt Keith. A few weeks ago I went to see if I could start a UKgov petition to raise awareness by trying to get the practice of non native plants being used as game cover banned. Unfortunately the system wasn’t back up and running after the election. Those plants are probably not on the banned list because they are used for game cover – thus they are exempted from it. Similar to why lead shot was banned for hoi polloi coarse anglers decades ago, but was still allowed in shooting and the ban on shooting with it over water was widely ignored. While conservation organisations are applying for grants and deploying volunteers to remove ecologically disastrous invasive plants estates are putting in the exact same species! Yet another anomaly in the legal system that just happens to be beneficial to the other side. For anybody that’s slogged their guts out, without pay, to clear the damned stuff this is infuriating.

            1. “Been there, done it, got the T shirt Keith”

              In which case, it is incombent upon you to report what they all said: I am interested in knowing the reasons.

              “Those plants are probably not on the banned list because they are used for game cover – thus they are exempted from it”

              They are not ‘exempted’ because there is no such class. They are quite simply NOT banned, neither in UK legislation nor in EU legislation (see my earlier posting).

              There must be a reason for that because a long list of other shrubs – all equally suitable for game cover – ARE banned.

              1. They didn’t say anything Keith, only the Woodland Trust got back to me, is that sinking in? If species of non native invasive plant that should be on a list are not on it due to political pressure from certain vested efforts (who formally requested special dispensation for them) then that to me meets the definition of exemption, they have been exempted. Get it? Frankly not bothered what your definition of it is, as they say in Dundee ‘that doesn’t cook the mince’.

  7. Have to say I am one of those who treats the RSPB with complete cynicism. It’s strapline ‘Love nature’ is nothing short of hypocrisy[ there are better words for it]. It loves birds, but not all. You would not want to be a corvid, gull,, pheasant, grouse or partridge under it’s protection for sure. Or a fox come to that. The RSPB kills or supports the killing of much of our wildlife, wholeheartedly.
    Love nature?
    The Really Selective Protection of Birds

    1. That’s right about crows and foxes, rspb have employed some people to control foxes by shooting, they have Larsen traps out in certain areas at nesting time, to try and protect some bird species . The people that do the shooting have to keep it quiet .

  8. Don’t forget the role of pheasant releases around the country and their role as one of the top vectors of Lyme’s Disease. The higher the number of pheasant releases over time the wider the spread of Lymes over a 30 year period.
    “The UK’s most common tick-borne disease could be eradicated if pheasants were not reared in artificially high numbers for shooting, zoologists at Oxford University have said. Pheasants, sheep, squirrels and other small rodents carry ticks, but pheasants carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.12 Oct 1999”
    Kurtenback et al (also signed off by Dr. Andrew Hoodless , now Head of Wetlands Research at the GWCT)

    1. Lyme Disease messed me about severely, took away ten years of earning potential, reduced my pension, cost me to get treated privately, and leaves me weakened. I do wish people would get the name right.

      Further to your point, the recent rapid spread of Tick-Bourne Encephalitis is curious. I wonder if anyone has seen an explanation. Personally I wonder if the import of pheasant chicks might have been involved.

    2. Pheasants also implicated in spreading trichomonosis to Turtle Doves (thereby helping local extirpations) with possible involvement in spreading avian flu…

  9. Interesting times! First we have the Guardian reporting on the MA being up in arms (no doubt with Purdeys at the ready) with Defra, not being happy at the way in which they have gone about preparing for legislation to stop the burning of peat bogs. Now we apparently have BASC members resigning in droves because they’ve been volunteered to give up their toxic lead ammunition without having been asked for their opinions about the effects which eating lead and breathing in the fumes from it being fired might have affected their judgement. Coincidental with all of this we have the RSPB launching it’s promised policy review into numerous negative issues associated with gamebird shooting. Perfect timing. Whether or not you are cynical about what the outcome of the review will be, here’s a chance to let your views be known in a process for which we’ve been waiting for long enough.

    1. Well said. The more people that contribute, and the stronger their views the greater the likelihood the RSPB might go up a gear or two which they desperately need to.

  10. This will have about as much weight as the Werrity review. The RSPB have been nothing short of spineless when it comes to really tackling the uniquely perverse shooting industry in the UK (no other country even comes close to such game release numbers). Martin Harper even wrote a complimentary blog at one point, which was seized upon by shooting lobbies. No matter how ‘neutral’ he was trying to be, it was extremely ill conceived. The idea of ‘one for the pot’, when nearly 60 million birds are released every year, most of which aren’t shot, is just yet another lie that emanates from the shooting industry and its really time the RSPB grew some teeth and stopped being intimidated by landed interests.

    1. Cynical old duffers 9 – Hopers for the best 2.
      I should quickly point out my admiration for the RSPB investigators is unbounded. But not for the rest of their business – for a business it certainly is. Keeping the pot boiling guys and lets have another consultation document, report, assessment, committee, impact statement, policy review, blog, for ever and ever , Amen.

    2. The RSPB are clearly compromised on this issue because their Patron is a life-long shooter (not dissimilar to the position of Phil the Greek being President Emeritus of the World Wide Fund for Nature)

      Again, Peter Scott was also a shooter… but changed his position quite dramatically.

      I have been urging them to drop the Royal Patronage for nearly 20 years, and become the PSPB.

      However, I do know quite a few dedicated conservationists are seriously concerned that land owners of a significant part of our country will turn their anger on all avifauna in revenge, and wreck the habitat they control.

      The announcement by this Government, subsequent and dependent upon our leaving the EU, of changing farm subsidies to ‘public goods’, is turning a historic tide. Along with public opinion – which is very strongly anti-blood sports – and the overwhelming scientific evidence, my guess is that THE TIME HAS COME for the RSPB to throw its considerable weight against The Establishment of shooting interests.

      We shall see.

      (We still need to deal with the National Trust, by the way….)

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