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The RSPB president says that shooters are ‘subhuman’, a senior RSPB official tells lies about raptor persecution to a live audience, and the RSPB ‘bird crime’ report is a catalogue of hate speech aimed at gamekeepers. Deborah Hadfield talks to Andrew Gilruth of the Regional Moorland Group, Ian Danby of BASC and Gary McCartney of the Countryside Alliance to find out what’s going on with this radical move by the RSPB (the RSPB refused to comment).

Fact or fiction? That’s the question that many shooters are now asking about the way the RSPB represents the UK countryside. Talking to Charlie Jacoby at the 2022 Game Fair, Duncan Orr-Ewing of the RSPB was outspoken about the brood management scheme for hen harriers. 

Duncan Orr-Ewing says: “Evidence… largely ignored by GWCT, and  it’s published peer-reviewed information, is that quite a lot of these brood-managed hen harriers that are being fed and then released near grouse moors are actually ending up being shot.”

Charlie challenged him and asked for evidence. Orr-Ewing referred to a paper by Murgatroyd et al. He claimed it showed the fate of English hen harriers, including satellite tagged birds.  Andrew Gilruth of the Regional Moorland Groups points out that it does not. 


Former GWCT chairman Ian Coghill (left) and Duncan Orr-Ewing of the RSPB at the Game Fair

He says: “It feels a bit disingenuous. Then to try to suggest that Hen Harriers are simply being bred and released in order to be shot. Then he references a scientific paper which actually was produced before the Brood Management Scheme [came into existence].” 

Andrew says perhaps the RSPB  hopes no-one would read the paper to check the facts.

Andrew Gilruth of the Regional Moorland Group
Andrew Gilruth says the hen harrier brood management scheme in England is a success despite the RSPB's claims

Andrew says: ”The RSPB will tell you that the failure of hen harriers to breed at its Geltsdale reserve in Cumbria [a former grousemoor]  is because when they breed, as soon as they fly over the boundary, the gamekeepers will kill them.“

Andrew adds that, when you point out that that’s a strong accusation and they should tell the police, “they go utterly silent, as if no one’s ever pointed this out.

“It’s very easy to make general sweeping comments about illegal activity.“

Andrew also points to the success of the hen harriers in England in recent  years, thanks to gamekeepers.

Ian Danby, head of biodiversity for BASC

Ian Danby, head of biodiversity for BASC, says the RSPB is becoming more a campaigning and political body, less interested in birds.

He says: ”They will disengage themselves from people who shoot. And we shooters have access to two-thirds of the rural landscape and relationships with landowners.”

He warns that landowners, with and without shooting interests, will start seeing the RSPB moving away from somebody they think they could trust and work with.

He says: “I rather fear they’re going effectively to cut off the noses to spite their faces by continuing to go down this particular line.”

the Countryside Alliance criticises the RSPB's annual bird crime report

It’s not just lies. It’s hate speech.

The RSPB released a report on bird crime in November 2022, which tries to show that gamekeepers are systematically killing birds of prey.

It claims one incident of raptor persecution in Northern Ireland which, it says, is ‘the tip of the iceberg’.

Gary McCartney, Countryside Alliance Northern Ireland

Gary McCartney of the Countryside Alliance Northern Ireland says it is outrageous for the RSPB to use the national report of 108 incidents as a cover story to paint a bleak picture.

He says: “There’s a success story here that we’ve got it driven down to 1 incident. Any bird of bird of prey persecution should be condemned. This success is through the work of the stakeholders and not the RSPB. So, I’m quite miffed by their comments.”

Andrew Gilruth says if you stand back and look what the RSPB are doing they are using a combination of elements to increasingly to instil and inspire hostility from the public towards those in their involved in game management.

He points to the hen harrier brood management scheme, the bird of prey crime report and muirburn as examples of issues the RSPB are utilising for political purposes.

He says: “What they’re doing is they’re asking people to report suspected incidents,  they’re reporting on suspected incidents, and saying that these incidents are ‘confirmed’. They are suggesting that police have confirmed them when actually they haven’t. It is just the RSPB that have confirmed them themselves and nobody actually sees any of this data.”

Why is the RSPB trying to monster gamekeepers? One answer could be money.

The RSPB is doing well for National Lottery and taxpayers’ cash in Northern Ireland. It won £4.5 million for a contract to remove rats from Rathlin Island off the coast of Antrim. Gamekeepers are the group’s main commercial competition.

Gary McCartney says the island is about 3000 acres which means the contract costs about £1,500 per acre.

He is flabbergasted at the high price. He says: “The question has to be asked is, is this a good use of money? Would a private contractor charge as much? And again, if they worked with organisations such as Countryside Alliance and the other company supports organisations, would our members be willing to assist?”

Gary is confident that local people would volunteer to help free of charge.

He says: “The fact that there’s £4.5 million from taxpayers’ money at this time just really shocks us and really begs the question: Is this the best way to spend taxpayers’ money at this time?”

Rathlin Island, off the coast of Antrim, Northern Island

Some of the RSPB’s attakcs on gamekeepers are subtle and could be interpreted several ways. During the Game Fair interview, Duncan Orr-Ewing voices his support for gamekeepers. However, a tweet by the RSPB’s new president, shortly before he took office, is clear.

Dr Amir Khan tweeted that “shooting birds just for pleasure doesn’t make you more of a man, woman or person, but it does make you less of a human being.”

Andrew says: “I think like everybody else; I think we’re thinking, here we go again. You’ve got a president, you’ve got a vice president, busy saying things which openly attack the field sports community and the RSPB is making no attempt to distance itself from their comments and you have to assume that they support them.”

Ian Danby says: “It’s really disappointing to see people make ill-judged comments and as somebody who shoots, I don’t like reading that. And it does make you wonder what goes into the top level of the RSPB. You have some sympathy with people who then wonder why they come out with some of the policy positions they do when they don’t really respect the evidence properly.”

We approached the RSPB for an interview or a comment on these issues. They did not respond.

For the whole of the Game Fair Theatre discussion between Charlie, Ian Coghill and Duncan Orr-Ewing, follow the link here:


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