I was watching Springwatch (there, I?ve said it) and there was an item about Gilbert White?s garden and home at Selbourne, in Hampshire. White was, arguably, England?s first ecologist. His fame is largely based on his great book, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selbourne, published in 1789. Remarkably, it is still in print.
During the programme, the person who today looks after White?s former garden mentioned that this year he had observed the flower of the lesser celandine emerging within just two days of the date recorded by White more than 200 years ago.
Later in the same programme, Chris Packham warned that global warming is disrupting the normal behaviour of some bird species because their arrival and breeding cycles are no longer synchronised with various plants, which are emerging ever earlier. Presumably, somebody forgot to tell the lesser celandine.
A predictable response
The Beeb continued its demonising of gamekeepers, landowners and sporting estates with a recent hatchet programme on BBC Two Scotland. Towards the end of the hour-long stitch-up, a distinguished ecologist was allowed to moot the possibility of the various sides in the raptor debate sitting down together to come up with a pragmatic solution. It emerged that this solution might, in a few cases, involve the licensed culling of certain raptors. The reaction was predictable ? Duncan Orr-Ewing, from RSPB Scotland, was given uncontested airtime to dismiss licensed culling as ?holding society to ransom.? He maintained that society had decided that raptors are vulnerable and should be protected.
Let us leave aside the fact that, when legal protection was imposed 60 years ago, raptor numbers were genuinely low and so caused few real problems. Let us forget that buzzards are now more populous than at any time since records began. Let us even ignore the fact that the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act is supposed to allow buzzards to be culled under licence. No, let us forget all that typical BBC editorial bias and focus on the RSPB?s pronouncements.
The RSPB is a registered charity. As such, it benefits from lucrative tax breaks. But, in return, it has to stick within its ?charitable objects?, as registered with the Charity Commission. Those charitable objects are about conservation, not animal welfare, or animal rights, or sentimentality, or wider politics, or fund-raising or keeping members happy.
So, unless an activity has a detrimental impact on the conservation status of a bird species, the RSPB should not be using its charitable funds in opposing it. To my mind, this means that that RSPB is perfectly entitled to fight against wildlife crime ? and good luck to them. But the charity is not entitled to use its money and charitable status to campaign against legal activities that do not have an adverse impact on the conservation status of birds. This is why the RSPB cannot campaign against lawful shooting in general. It?s not because the charity is doing us a favour.
It is because doing so would probably infringe its charitable status. This brings us back to Duncan Orr-Ewing?s recent appearance on Scotland?s state propaganda broadcasting service. If the law allows the legal culling under licence of certain raptors, such as the buzzard, and if the conservation status of the buzzard would not be seriously undermined by such licensed culling, then surely the RSPB is in breach of its charitable status by campaigning against it?
Perhaps RSPB Scotland is not saying it would oppose the granting of a moderate number of buzzard licences. Or maybe it has good science showing that the legal culling of a few buzzards would send the national buzzard population into a tailspin. Who knows? But one thing we do know ? the BBC never asks the RSPB a difficult question.
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