Last week in the House of Lords, Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Sue Hayman), a life peer serving as Shadow Spokesperson for Environment Food & Rural Affairs asked the Rt Hon Lord Richard Benyon (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DEFRA and a pheasant shoot and grouse moor owner) how the Government intended to take forward the recommendations of a new United Nations report on UK wildlife crime, including raptor persecution (p81-88). One of the many recommendations was the licensing of gamebird shoots.
Benyon’s predictable response might as well have said, ‘Nothing to see here, there’s no problem, move along now‘ (see here).
It’s a recurring theme from DEFRA Ministers.
In recent days, Kerry McCarthy MP asked George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs a similar question in the House of Commons:
Rebecca Pow, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State replied on behalf of George Eustice:
Regular blog readers won’t be surprised to learn that Pow’s response is just a re-hash of the response she gave five months ago when asked a similar question by Fleur Anderson MP (see here).
In the spirit of re-hashing responses, here’s mine from five months ago:
It’s quite obvious that this answer has been designed to pull the wool over the eyes of your average member of the public, assuring the uninformed and the gullible that the Government has this under control and there’s no reason for anyone to be concerned because the Government is ‘committed’ to effective enforcement and the criminals are sent to jail. That would all be fine if there WAS effective enforcement, and that offenders DID get sent to jail for these heinous crimes, but it’s an utter fallacy.
Yes, it’s accurate to say there are strong penalties available for raptor persecution crimes, including imprisonment, but as Minister Pow will know, there’s a huge gulf between there being a provision for this in the legislation and it being applied in real life. For example, when was the last time that a criminal gamekeeper was sent to jail for killing a bird of prey? That’s an easy one to answer – never, in England & Wales. It has never happened. The only time a gamekeeper has received a custodial sentence for killing a bird of prey in the UK was in 2014 when a gamekeeper was filmed clubbing to death a goshawk on the Kildrummy Estate in Scotland two years earlier (see here). It was headline news at the time precisely BECAUSE it was the first ever custodial sentence, and it was the last, too.
It’s also complete deception to claim that the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) is delivering increased prevention or increased enforcement in the hotspot persecution areas. There isn’t ANY evidence to support such claims. The RPPDG is, in my opinion, a partnership sham, designed to look as though efforts are being made to effectively tackle illegal raptor persecution in England and Wales. It’s been in existence since 2011 and the ‘delivery’ results speak for themselves – so far it has achieved absolutely sod all in terms of contributing towards the conservation of raptors in the UK and instead has frustrated the efforts of those organisations who are genuinely trying to stamp out persecution (e.g. see here).
Nothing has changed. Raptors continue to be poisoned, trapped and shot on driven grouse moors and the Westminster Environment Minister’s wilful blindness is responsible for enabling that to continue.