In its recently published statement of political aims, entitled Advocacy 2009 – Nature Needs a Voice, the bird charity sets out a series of subjects that it believes should be tackled by the next UK government

Included among measures the charity supports, on topics such as halting biodiversity loss and tackling climate change, the Advocacy 2009 report features a section dedicated to the RSPB?s wildlife crime campaigning.

In the text, the RSPB states:
?Ultimately, if the minority within the shooting community responsible for killing protected birds cannot or will not change their ways, tighter regulation of their industry is needed through licencing. Those shoots that condone illegal acts should be shut down.?

The RSPB, itself the recipient of substantial government subsidies for farming and land management interests, also advocates that the next government should strengthen the penalties available under agricultural cross-compliance legislation so that anyone contravening EU wildlife directives faces having their single farm payment withdrawn.

The Advocacy 2009 report is intended to appeal directly to politicians in the run-up to the next general election and beyond.

Its content differs from a similar report published last year in that the charity is now actively calling for the introduction of a licensing scheme, whereas before it limited itself to a call for better policing and co-operation of key wildlife management interests – including shoots.

A notable omission in the Advocacy 2009 report is any call for co-operation with shooting interests.

The RSPB?s emphasis in this latest report is heavily on punishment, licensing and full application of the law to protect birds.

David Hoccom, head of the species policy unit at the RSPB, said: ?As you will note from the document text, we want the respective country administrations to consider licensing game shoots as a means of achieving compliance with legislation protecting birds of prey and a consequent reduction in illegal killing of birds of prey on land managed for shooting.?

?Given the continued impact of illegal killing on populations of birds such as hen harriers and golden eagles, we see tighter regulation of shoots as an option that merits serious consideration. Of course, we do not expect government to rush to regulate without first reviewing alternative or complimentary means of achieving the outcomes above. Providing incentives to change, such as support for diversionary feeding of hen harriers on driven grouse moors, or allowing the shooting sector the opportunity to demonstrate that it can regulate itself may have a role to play. Both have been attempted, but the benefits to birds of prey are not apparent.?

Tom Blades, head of game keeping and game shooting at BASC, said: ?It must not be forgotten that changes in attitude towards the management of game have contributed hugely to the recovery of the majority of birds of prey species within the UK. BASC stands full-square against illegal activity of any kind, while being equally committed to finding agreed solutions. Licensing of shoots is unjustifiable and not required.?

The RSPB?s policy on field sports states the charity takes a neutral stance on the subject ?except where they adversely affect wildlife conservation?.

The call for a licensing scheme for all shoots, which would extend to those innocent of wildlife crimes, lends further weight to the belief many shooters have that the charity is tacitly anti-shooting.

In a recent interview in The Field, the RSPB?s Dr Mark Avery spoke on the subject of wildfowling: ?The situation is that we are not anti-wildfowling but we don?t want there to be wildfowling on our reserves. We don?t think it is compatible with the other things we do.?

?There are places where wildfowling still happens and we wish it didn?t. If the shooting rights come up for sale, which they do now and then, and we acquire them, shooting will stop on our land.?

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