Pimp my gibbet

It’s been a while since I last bothered to knock myself out reading Songbird Survival’s latest justifications for why the game-shooting community (sorry, I mean “the general public”) should be allowed to kill (oops, there I go again. That should be “control”) birds of prey. The chance discovery last week that the BTO had accepted Songbird Survival’s pieces of silver (hey, topical Easter reference. Good old Sunday School…) brought it all home again, and I’ve been doing a little online research.

A good starting point is Songbird Survival’s assertion that gamekeepers should be seen as the custodians of biodiversity in the British countryside. Gamekeepers, lest we forget, exist solely for the purpose of managing shooting estates. Nothing wrong with that of course, and it’s a perfectly legal occupation. It’s just that small minority who spoil the whole keepering thing for the rest of them… The weird thing is, and this must surely be a coincidence, that when you start looking up press reports of raptors being shot or poisoned or trapped, and you come across the convictions for those crimes (and crimes they are), it seems the guilty parties are invariably gamekeepers. The ones that get caught and convicted are, of course, a small minority and the mass of reputable keepers deplore their actions. Sometimes it’s one keeper on an estate who gets caught… http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/4217109.stm

…and sometimes there’s evidence of a more organised policy at work amongst the team. http://blogs.rspb.org.uk/investigations/archive/2008/02/12/Covert-surveillance-pays-off-with-successful-prosecutions.aspx

The RSPB’s latest Birdcrime report (2006) makes for depressing reading. In 2006, there were 185 reported incidents of illegal shooting, trapping and nest destruction of birds of prey. (Of these, 29 were confirmed, and a further 40 were deemed “probable”). There were also 185 reported poisoning and pesticide-related offences, the highest ever recorded total. (95 confirmed, 34 probable). http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/birdcrime%2006_tcm9-169702.pdf

These high numbers may or may not represent an actual increase in persecution of birds of prey. There’s the possibility that the police are getting better at detecting and prosecuting wildlife crime; the public are discovering and reporting more suspicious incidents; and the various environmental agencies are becoming more efficient in monitoring misdemeanours. What’s certain though is that these figures do not represent the sum total of persecution of raptors in the UK in any given year. The UK countryside is a big place, and those parts of it that might have a vested interest, real or imagined, in “controlling” birds of prey tend not to attract as much public footfall as the parts that don’t. Try exercising your right to roam through a shooting estate, and see what I mean. You tend not to be made warmly welcome. Undoubtedly all sorts of unsavoury and illegal things go on in the countryside that are unseen, and unreported. We’ve already heard about traps, but there’s also:

nest destruction: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/derbyshire/4083487.stm

and poisoning: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/3597952.stm

Still, as we’ve seen, sometimes the small minority of bad apples in the gamekeeping community do get caught. In 2000, Martin Joyce, a keeper at Holkham estate in Norfolk, was convicted for shooting and poisoning Kestrels. Holkham is nowadays run by Viscount Coke, who at the time was swift to condemn his keeper for being so naughty, saying,

“We were appalled by Martin Joyce’s actions when we found out what he had done. It was illegal, against the law of the land, and against the estate’s own rules. They were certainly actions the estate did not condone. This incident has tarnished the very good reputation we have as a model of good conservation practices.

“But Mr Joyce will be keeping his job. He has been punished with a heavy fine and we don’t see it is necessary to punish him a second time. He hadn’t put a foot wrong for four years and he is totally humbled by this experience.” http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/peers-gamekeeper-fined-for-killing-three-kestrels-721792.html

This is exactly the sort of condemnation one would hope for from an employer whose keeper had been caught being one of that small minority of keepers-gone-bad. Bravo!

Viscount Coke, incidentally, is a principle trustee of Songbird Survival. http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/registeredcharities/showtrustees.asp?Chy=3977102&Reg=1085281&Type=Main+Charity&Name=SONGBIRD+SURVIVAL&SubID=

That is, the organisation that campaigns to allow for the killing of raptors:

SongBird Survival believes that there must be sensitive control of selective predator populations to aid the recovery of songbirds while habitat improvements are taking place.” http://www.songbird-survival.org.uk/the-way-forward/

And who better to help out than those “true custodians of bio-diversity(sic)”, gamekeepers? Don’t forget, Sparrowhawks need “particular attention” and “some careful culling”…

“Legislation currently leaves us in a straight jacket, and unless licenced control of some raptors is allowed, the position will get worse. There are only about 4,500 gamekeepers in the UK. Surely they should be re-badged as ‘wildlife wardens’. They are the true custodians of bio-diversity in the farmed environment. It is time that their role was appreciated far beyond their role as gamekeepers.” http://www.songbird-survival.org.uk/news/press-reports/18/

So which is it? Is a gamekeeper killing raptors appalling, illegal, and uncondoneable? Or is it a necessary step to aid the recovery of songbirds?

You choose…

2 Responses

  1. Your blog is excellent, it’s really informative, keep up the great work. I’ve added your blog to mine. 🙂

  2. Hi there,
    I often notice that the vast majority of those who sport SBS car stickers in their car windows tend to keep racing pigeons, and probably wouldn’t know a ‘songbird’ if it stared them in the face…

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