The RSPB is having a little local difficulty in adapting to climate change. Political climate change, that is. Evidence of this discomfort was to be seen at the recent annual Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) seminar, held at Kew, in Surrey. The keynote speaker was Richard Benyon, the DEFRA minister whose remit covers wildlife crime. The RSPB had prepared a neat little ambush for him, but it didn?t work quite as it expected.
When the time came for questions, the RSPB?s Dave Hoccom made sure he was in pole position. The RSPB wanted to know if the minister had seen the latest shock-horror statistics, which indicated that gamekeepers were slaughtering biblical quantities of hen harriers, with the result that there were only three left in the UK, when the habitat was, in fact, capable of carrying 1.7trillion. What was the minister going to do about this terrible state of affairs?
It seems that the minister probably did have some knowledge of the dodgy dossier in question. Funded by taxpayer?s money, channelled through the RSPB?s representatives on earth (aka Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Council for Wales and Natural England), it was then neatly prepared, wrapped and spun on its merry way by the RSPB by means of a press release issued the day before the PAW seminar. The target ? one Richard Benyon MP. The RSPB press office loves it when a plan comes together.
One can imagine the planning meeting at their Sandy HQ: ?Let?s get our quango cronies and the raptor loons to stitch together a useful ?report? that can be used to influence a political debate in Scotland. We can recycle this for use in England, too. We?ll issue a press release we will say is based on it, and put the minister on the spot at the PAW event the very next day!
?Naturally, we?ll not shout about the inconvenient fact that hen harrier numbers actually increased in England during the reporting period. And let?s not mention that there were no instances of hen harrier persecution in England over the past three years. Instead, let?s use Scottish figures to headline a UK decline. We can also create a certain impression by talking about the proportion of convictions for raptor offences in general that we can blame on gamekeepers. If we stick to a simple percentage, such as 70 per cent, nobody will notice that the actual figures are tiny ? only a handful a year ? and that none actually involves hen harriers in England.?
A changing tide
Unfortunately, the big blue spin machine forgot that a few things have changed since their own stooges were in government. First, we now have at least one or two people on the front benches who actually know about the countryside. Second, the average ministerial intelligence quotient has probably risen above that of a cheese-puff for the first time in 13 years. Third, even the media is getting sick and tired of recycling RSPB propaganda about hen harriers. There are only so many times a dog will return to its own vomit, after all.
Anyway, my mole informs me that the minister gave a robust response to the RSPB. Apparently, he made it clear that, while persecution was to be deplored, the vast majority of gamekeepers did an immense amount of good work for practical conservation. By always focusing on the tiny minority of wrong ?uns, the RSPB risked alienating the decent majority. That was unfortunate, because both sides need to work together in order to make progress.
Now, ain?t that the truth? I wouldn?t mind betting that many Shooting Times readers are heartily sick of hearing about raptors. I know I am tired of writing about them. There are more important issues in the countryside than raptors. And it?s time the RSPB realised that.
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