I have an idea about a legal way of scaring raptors away from vulnerable gamebirds. It is based on the fact that a gamekeeper I know uses radios in his release pens to deter buzzards. He told me that the deterrent effect soon wears off, but in the period during which it still works, talk-based programmes are best. BBC Radio Four?s Today programme scares the hell out of raptors, apparently.

Anyway, my brilliant idea takes up this theme and develops it further. Instead of radios, why not MP3 or CD players? The ideal thing would be to play a ecording of somebody at the RSPB endlessly reciting the text from its latest Birdcrime report. That should do the trick (mind you, it might be rather too effective ? is it an offence to bore a raptor to death?)

It?s not that I want to be flippant about a serious subject. And, to be fair to the RSPB, its recent media releases about raptor persecution have been much better at distinguishing between the law-abiding majority of gamekeepers and the small minority who step out of line. That is very welcome. But the tortuous lengths the charity goes to in order to wring media coverage out of the same old story, year after year, are remarkable. Why, even the BBC is beginning to ask a few sensible questions when it receives the annual propaganda handout.

Unhelpful statistics

This year, the RSPB?s ?dodgy dossier? showed an 18 per cent decline in overall raptor persecution incidents in the last reporting period ? not exactly helpful to the fund-raising efforts, eh? However, this unhelpful fact was not exactly highlighted, being casually dismissed with the line: the number of confirmed incidents was slightly below the average. Yeah, right.

I mentioned this to a senior RSPB official (whom I won?t name, because I didn?t warn him he might be quoted). He retorted that a decline in reported raptor persecution incidents didn?t necessarily mean a decline in raptor persecution. Have you got that? Pressed further, he explained that raptor crime was diffi cult to detect, and that the recorded figures were such a small proportion of the underlying reality that you couldn?t put much reliance on movements from one year to the next.

I?ll say. But consider this: if there had been an 18 per cent year-onyear rise in the number of raptor persecution incidents, do you think the RSPB would have exercised the same caution? Of course not. It would have screamed blue murder and milked it for every last drop of publicity.

A sense of faint desperation is evident in other parts of the RSPB?s handout. For example, we learn that North Yorkshire tops the national league of raptor poisoning, with a shameful 54 recorded incidents ? ooh-er! Except, only a minority of those 54 incidents involved poison. Plus, only 10 of them were actually confi rmed anyway, and, in any case, the total figure was higher three years ago. In fact, overall poisoning incidents ? at a total of 128 nationally ? were considerably below their 2006 peak of 192.

But, back to North Yorkshire, where it seems you cannot walk your dog without being hit on the head by all the raptors that are falling out of the sky. Indeed, there are hardly any left, according to some lobbyists. Somehow, raptors observe a strict no-fly zone when they reach the county boundary. You can scan the sky for days without seeing a single bird with a hooked beak, apparently.

Mind you, illegal poisoning is no joke. Regular readers will know my strong opposition to this nefarious practice. And it seems that walking a dog in North Yorkshire really is a dangerous business. I say this because the detailed breakdown of the RSPB?s fi gures lists the case of a dog that was poisoned in the Yorkshire Dales after feeding on poisoned bait. That?s terrible, of course, but should it really have been listed as a ?confirmed? raptor persecution incident when no raptor was actually killed?

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