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RSPB criticised for twisting scientific evidence

The Royal Society is due to publish a report that suggests the RSPB has misrepresented scientific findings to attack grouse shooting

Burning moorland

The charity has said that heather burning on grouse moors is a “damaging practice”, basing its statements on a research paper written by an RSPB scientist and requesting government involvement last year.

However independent scientists have studied the evidence and say that the RSPB press statements show “only passing resemblance to the key findings of the paper”.

The Royal Society’s paper due to be published in May warns the RSPB:”It would be preferable if ecological knowledge were allowed to determine attitudes rather than vice versa.”

It goes on to say: “Conservationists often seem unable to make objective interpretations of individual ecological management practices, such as prescribed burning.”

In detail, the paper states that moorland burning assists with plant regeneration and protects variations in the landscape.


It also points out that the RSPB is contradicting itself on this matter: “Furthermore, RSPB research has shown the value of prescribed fire as a tool to promote woodland expansion at forest-moorland edges and to manage Capercaillie.

“By campaigning so strongly on the presumed negative effects of burning on peatland ecosystems the RSPB thus risk undermining the ability of their own managers to use fire as an ecological tool.”

Sir Ian Botham, who leads You Forgot The Birds, a group critical of the RSPB said: “The Royal Society paper is a symptom of how serious the problems at the RSPB have become. This charity’s hatred of grouse shooting has become an obsession.

“There are deep governance problems at the RSPB. Last year we had a High Court judge criticising the RSPB for bullying Natural England officials. Now we have a Royal Society paper telling it not to distort science. The Charity Commission should tell the RSPB trustees to start serving the public interest not eco-left agendas.”

Martin Harper, conservation director of the RSPB, countered: “In certain circumstances burning can be a legitimate management tool but scientific evidence from the RSPB and a range of other sources shows that it must be used appropriately.

“Inappropriate burning on blanket peatland and protected areas can have a marked impact on the environment and in some circumstances can be incompatible with the conservation legislation designed to protect and restore these special places.

“Our science is respected, peer-reviewed, widely accepted by statutory bodies and we fully stand by it.”