Last week the RSPB revealed that yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier, this one called ‘Reiver’, had disappeared in suspicious circumstances in September on a grouse moor in Northumberland (see here).
Reiver is the 57th hen harrier known to have been killed or disappeared in suspicious circumstances on or close to a grouse moor since 2018 (see here). And actually there are more than 57, it’s just that some of the cases have yet to be made public by the police. There hasn’t been a single prosecution for any of these.
The suspicious disappearance of Reiver has attracted significant media coverage, although I didn’t see any of the shooting organisations posting an appeal for information on their websites – which speaks volumes in itself.
Part of the media coverage included an item on BBC Radio Newcastle on Weds 20th October, where radio broadcaster Alfie Joey interviewed Howard Jones (RSPB Investigations Team) and Mark Cunliffe-Lister (Lord Masham of Swinton Estate, also current Chair of the Moorland Association and with a reputation for being a forgetful silly billy, here).
[Mark Cunliffe-Lister, Lord Masham, Chair of Moorland Association & forgetful silly billy. Photographer unknown]
The interview is only available for another 25 days so if you intend to listen do so sooner rather than later, although to be honest you’ll not be missing very much at all. It’s just a repeat of the usual strategy from the Moorland Association – deny everything and do as much as possible to divert attention from the ongoing killing of raptors on grouse moors, preferably by slagging off the RSPB and trying to undermine their status and authority on this issue.
In fact, the last time I heard the Moorland Association on BBC Radio Newcastle the then Moorland Assoc secretary claimed there was ‘no evidence’ of gamekeepers being involved in the persecution of hen harriers (yes, really – see here). Eight years on and not much has changed, with Lord Masham arguing with a straight face that there is still a need to ‘try and understand the cause of these crimes’ and claiming that ‘…clearly as an industry we’re all about welcoming hen harriers and working with them…’
You can listen to the latest radio interview here, starts at 1:39:07
Here are a few other choice quotes from Lord Masham:
“The problem is, the RSPB will just do their own investigations, publish their own information online, with their own conclusions, which is not helping anybody“
“I would suggest that we work better with the police and the authorities, try and understand the cause of these crimes, then to take action with them, rather than trying to go out independently as the RSPB seem to do, do their own investigations, publish all their stuff online and seem to avoid the police and the authorities and the law“.
I like listening to radio interviews because it’s fun trying to spot the key words and phrases that the interviewee is trying to shoehorn in to the discussion, no matter what conversational contortions this requires. It tells you quite clearly what the interviewee thinks is the most important, take-home message to get across to listeners.
Some interviewees are seasoned professionals and have mastered this trick with ease. Others, not so much. The funniest example I’ve heard was Nick Halfhide, then Director of Sustainable Development at SNH, who had clearly been briefed to deflect attention from the raven-killing licence SNH had issued and instead talk about saving waders. It was hilariously bad – see here.
In a similar vein, Lord Masham’s obvious intention during this interview was to undermine the work of the RSPB’s investigations team. Unfortunately for him, his disingenuous claim that the RSPB ‘seem to avoid the police and the authorities and the law‘ is not only unfounded, but is easily dismantled with masses of available evidence.
Anyone who has been following this blog recently will have seen the string of multi-agency police-led raids this year, jointly investigating, with the RSPB, suspected raptor persecution crimes on land managed for gamebird shooting, up and down the country (e.g. see here). Indeed, RSPB Investigator Guy Shorrock has just written a blog (here) where he says that in his 30-year career with the RSPB’s investigations team:
‘I have to say the partnership working during the last 12 months or so to tackle raptor persecution has been some of the best I can ever remember. We have had fantastic responses from many police forces including Cheshire, Dorset, Devon, Durham, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, North Yorkshire, North Wales, Suffolk, West Mercia, Wiltshire, and Police Scotland.
Some of the work by police Wildlife Crime Officers in these cases has been outstanding, and the support from the NWCU, Natural England, Welsh Government, CPS and HSE has been genuinely heart-warming. RSPB have been supporting all these enquiries, and have indeed generated several of them, and most are now progressing to court. They include some very serious allegations of extensive persecution which will no doubt cause significant public alarm when the full details and graphic imagery come to light‘.
Does that sound like the RSPB is ‘avoiding working with the police, the authorities and the law’?
No, it doesn’t.
So just what is Lord Masham’s game?
Could it be that the RSPB’s annual Birdcrime report is due to be published any day now, and this latest report will cover the period of lockdown in 2020 when the RSPB has previously reported ‘a surge’ in raptor persecution crimes (e.g. here and here)?
Could it be that the Moorland Association, knowing full well that the damning content of this new report will expose the shooting industry’s so-called claim of ‘zero tolerance for raptor persecution’ as the pathetic, untruthful marketing ploy we all know it to be, is now desperately trying to portray the RSPB as an unreliable source to try and diminish the impact of the new Birdcrime report?