The National Gamekeepers? Organisation and the Countryside Alliance reacted angrily to the RSPB?s publication last week of its latest Birdcrime 2009 report. The NGO described the charity?s relentless focus on raptor persecution as a ?phoney war?. The RSPB claims that 2009 was the second worst year in the past decade for raptor persecution.

Accompanied by a press release provocatively and sensationally headlined ?20 years of shame as war continues against birds or prey?, the latest figures in the RSPB?s Birdcrime 2009 report lead the charity to state that: ?The conflict with land managed for the shooting of game birds remains the main problem for birds of prey, particularly the upland grouse-shooting estates in northern England and Scotland?.

In its report, the RSPB called for the introduction of a ?vicarious liability offence? to make managers and employers responsible for the actions of their gamekeepers. The charity also called for modernisation of the regulations governing gameshooting, stating: ?This could include removing the rights to shoot of an individual convicted of bird of prey persecution or other environmental crimes, or removing the right for shooting to take place over an estate if an employee is convicted, for a fixed period. These options would provide a significant deterrent without imposing a burden on the law-abiding majority.? The RSPB also called for an improvement in the recording and reporting of wildlife crime and called on Government to make the killing of birds of prey a recorded crime.

A spokesman for the NGO told Shooting Times: ?There can be little excuse for breaking the law, but it is important to debunk the myth that there is a war being waged on birds of prey by rural stakeholders such as gamekeepers. The facts show this is simply not so, and the public should be sceptical about the motives of those who hype the issue when a host of other, less photogenic birds are in serious decline.? He added: ?The most authoritative source of statistics on wildlife crime is the police National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU). This records much lower figures than the RSPB. Within the context of wildlife crime in general, the incidence of bird of prey persecution is tiny. By contrast, poaching is by far the most frequent form of wildlife crime, according to the NWCU. While the NGO is committed to eliminating wildlife crime ? including the persecution of birds of prey ? in an age of austerity, resources must surely be matched to the most prevalent forms of wildlife crime.?

The Countryside Alliance?s moorland policy officer Adrian Blackmore highlighted the fact that the RSPB?s annual report now focuses solely on raptors. He told Shooting Times: ?It had been hoped that the RSPB?s Birdcrime report for 2009 would be based on firm facts, and not the supposition and misleading propaganda of previous years. If so, then it would be a worthwhile and meaningful document, enabling vital resources to be targeted where they are most needed to prevent acts of illegal persecution. Sadly, this has once again proved not to be the case, especially given the RSPB?s inexplicable decision in 2009 to cease recording certain categories of incidents, such as the shooting and destruction of non bird of prey species. This is despite the fact that there were 682 such incidents reported in 2008; an increase of 480 per cent over the previous five years. As a result, the RSPB has acknowledged that the figures supplied in this year?s report fail to give a total figure for bird crime in the UK; a failure that results in a report the title of which is not only now a complete misnomer, but one that also lacks any reasonable balance.?