DEFRA Minister Lord Benyon’s wilful blindness on tackling raptor persecution on gamebird shooting estates

This really won’t come as any surprise to anyone who’s followed this blog for any length of time but god, it’s depressing.

Today in the House of Lords the following exchange took place between Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Sue Hayman, a life peer serving as Shadow Spokesperson for Environment Food & Rural Affairs) and the Rt Hon Lord Richard Benyon (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DEFRA and a pheasant shoot and grouse moor owner):

Sue Hayman was of course referring to the recent criminal conviction of gamekeeper John Orrey, who was filmed by the RSPB battering to death two buzzards that he’d caught inside a trap on a pheasant shoot in Nottinghamshire (see here). The United Nations report on UK wildlife crime to which she referred was quietly published by DEFRA just before Christmas without any fanfare whatsoever. You can read it here:

Benyon’s response to Sue Hayman’s question about how the Westminster Government intends to take forward the recommendations of this report, which includes the licensing of gamebird shoots, was risible but not unexpected – he’s got form.

Note in his response the use of the word ‘can’. “Unlimited fines and up to six-month custodial sentences can be awarded where people commit these hideous acts” [of raptor persecution]. Yes, they ‘can’, but when are they ever? When has there EVER been a custodial sentence?

That’s an easy one to answer. Once, in Scotland, in 2014, when a gamekeeper was filmed by the RSPB trapping and then battering to death a goshawk (see here).

Before that, nothing. After that, nothing.

Given his long term connection with the gamebird shooting industry, including a period as a Trustee of the GWCT, Benyon should be well aware that raptor killers are rarely brought before the courts and when they are, they’re given sentences that offer virtually no deterrent to anyone else who might be thinking of committing the same offence.

It’s not even as though his previous work portfolio hasn’t included this subject (see here).

He should also be well aware through his current work portfolio that raptor persecution crime is not diminishing, as evidenced by the RSPB’s most recent Birdcrime report which demonstrated that 2020 was the ‘worst year on record’ for crimes against birds of prey (here).

Today’s exchange wasn’t the only example of Benyon displaying wilful blindness, as discussed in my earlier blog today about the dumping of shot pheasants, a widespread practice Benyon claimed to know nothing about (here). More on that shortly.

Vested interests + wilful blindness + holding positions of power = 68 years of raptor persecution associated with gamebird shooting in the UK, and counting.

UPDATE 4th February 2022: Lord Newby to pursue DEFRA Minister Lord Benyon on pheasant dumping (here)

12 thoughts on “DEFRA Minister Lord Benyon’s wilful blindness on tackling raptor persecution on gamebird shooting estates”

  1. It’s a shame that when Mr Benyon and his ilk make claims about the supposedly massive contribution game shooting makes to conservation that more people don’t counter with A) To raise and sustain the vast number of reared birds requires massive amounts of feed that not only involves substantial intensive agriculture here, but also rainforest destruction in South America and even industrial fishing….all for birds which are far more likely to end up as fox fodder, roadkill, or in fly tipped bin bags than on someone’s plate. B) Many of the UK’s woodlands are being choked to death by non native, invasive species such as cherry laurel and snowberry that were originally planted out to provide cover for pheasants. If I were to release as much as one guppy into the Union Canal I could be prosecuted under the Wildlife and Countryside for releasing a non native species. However, it’s still perfectly legal for shoots to plant out species like cherry laurel to keep pheasants cosy when thousands of volunteers and millions of pounds are used to clear it and other invasives elsewhere. That’s not to forget of course that pheasant and red legged partridge are non native species themselves in the first place https://www.gov.uk/government/news/28220-penalty-for-release-of-non-native-species

  2. Personally I expect nothing less from this government or Conservatives generally. I am more concerned that these questions will still be raised and dodged when (I assume) Labour or a coalition are next in charge. I would like to think that the Shadow Minister has some hefty folders of draft legislation sitting on her shelf for when she is in power – one to sort out the wild west free-for-all of the shooting industry, and one to end fox hunting. In addition to tabling questions, I would like to see the Shadow Minister(s) regularly out on grouse moors with the RSPB Investigations people, etc – perhaps 20yds away from some visiting Conservative MP who is getting the VIP bullshit propaganda treatment from owners, agents and their keepers.

    1. Labour have continuously held the Office of First Minister/Secretary in Wales since its creation in 1999. Yet the same lamentable situation exists in Wales regarding wildlife crime, abuse of the environment and shooting estates.

      The question must be asked: why didn’t the Labour Party bring forward the required legislation when they have had the chance, either in Scotland, Wales or at Westminster?

      Maybe, also, why are some local Labour Authorities now bringing back Greyhound racing?

      Maybe – just maybe – it goes some way to explain the loss of support for Labour within its ‘natural electorate’ over the years?

      1. Hi Keith, pretty much agree with you there and I’m sceptical of what the next Labour westminster government would actually dare to do that would risk p-ing off the rich and powerful. A change to PR while perhaps imperfect itself, is long overdue for me, and the farce of the last few years might encourage others to start thinking the same…who knows!

  3. This is what is to be expected from someone with substantial financial interests in maintaining the existing approach to shooting game birds; primarily through sporting rental value and the associated hyper inflated land values. He will always present a heavily biased view on behalf of his land owning fraternity.

    1. I think Benyon needs to understand his brief. Natural England’s locus covers SSSIs and protected wildlife sites.Dumping dead birds ie waste would be on the list of damaging operations which could be carried out only with NE’s permission, unlikely to be granted I would have thought. If the fear is of resulting pollution then Environment Agency would be the body to deal.

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