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The Crooks of Baldoon. That?s what the RSPB Scotland should be called, in the light of the charity?s disgraceful attempts to ban traditional wildfowling on property it doesn?t even own at the Crook of Baldoon, in Wigtown Bay, south-west Scotland.

For all the good work done by the RSPB, it is underhanded opportunism like this that tarnishes its image with local communities. Trampling on the public?s rights of recreation simply wouldn?t be tolerated in another context. Just imagine if a private landowner obtained a huge dollop of taxpayers? cash (the RSPB got £200,000 from Scottish Natural Heritage [SNH] to buy 370 acres of land at the Crook of Baldoon) and then pressurised local councillors to bring in a bylaw to ban the public from exercising their traditional right of recreation along a strip of adjacent land. There would be Hell on Earth. All sorts of access groups and local councillors would be calling for the landowner?s head on a stick. The furore would make the stoked-up fuss over the so-called sell-off of England?s state-owned commercial forests look like a tea party.

I have happy memories of toting a 10-bore along the very strip of foreshore at the epicentre of the current row. I used to drive to the area from university whenever I had the opportunity (and the petrol money). Coastal wildfowling attracted me, as an impoverished student, at a time when I simply couldn?t afford much else in the way of shooting. And this, apparently, is what a giant, rich, bullying charity is trying to close down ? a sport of the people, on Crown foreshore held in trust for the people.

Reading the report of the local authority committee that recommended cravenly caving in to the RSPB?s demands, you can see how the charity got its nefarious way. Years ago, with the support of local wildfowling clubs, it got the area designated a Local Nature Reserve (LNR), whose bylaws did not extend to the foreshore. Then, last year, it got the taxpayer, via SNH, to buy 370 acres of saltmarsh grazing land alongside the LNR. But it couldn?t get its claws into the strip of adjacent foreshore, because that is held by the Crown.

So, instead, the RSPB persuaded the local authority to recommend extending the LNR bylaws to the strip of foreshore, banning wildfowling. The sequence of operations was calculated and relentless, a masterly exercise in stripping away our public rights under the guise of bringing a general public benefit.
One of the arguments used to lobby the local authority was the purported financial impact of nature tourism.

For a long time, the RSPB has been trotting out spurious figures about how much nature tourism contributes to local economies. These statistics are grossly misleading for all sorts of reasons, not least because they are wielded as though nature tourism and responsible hunting sports are mutually exclusive.

Thus we see in the committee report an unquestioned statistic that visitors to another RSPB wildfowl reserve ?are responsible for £432,250 worth of additional expenditure?. What is left unsaid is that the reserve in question also accommodates a certain amount of wildfowling. Wildfowling and ?nature tourism? can co-exist. Indeed, the outrageous behaviour of the Crooks of Baldoon is a gross betrayal of the spirit in which most of the UK?s coastal wildfowl reserves were set up, with the help of wildfowlers, and the assurances that were given at the time.

On the RSPB?s website, it asks for donations to ?help us save the Crook of Baldoon?. Having bought the land (with no mention that it was with the help of the taxpayer), the RSPB website boasts: This is just the start of our journey. To transform this spectacular stretch of coastal wetland into an exciting new nature reserve for birds, wildlife and people, we have lots of work still to do. The marketing spiel ends by burbling: We?ll also be working closely with the local community to improve access to the site, and hope that by bringing more visitors to the area, our reserve will benefit the local economy. You couldn?t make it up, could you?

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