The RSPB has sparked a row with countryside groups over grouse shooting by calling for moors to be licenced amid claims the charity is becoming increasingly politicised. The charity is writing to all major political parties urging them to introduce a robust licensing sysem “to prevent the wanton destruction of wild birds”. It claims birds of prey such as the Hen harrier are being illegally killed on driven grouse moors – 50 per cent of which are designated as Special Protection Areas for the rare birds they support.
However, the Countryside Alliance described the RSPB’s calls as “irresponsible”, arguing that grouse moor owners collectively spent more than £52 million each year on the upkeep and conservation of moorland.
Adrian Blackmore, shooting director for the CA, said: “Moor owners put in an enormous amount of their own money each year to manage and conserve those moors.
“If that money was to cease then the implications to conservation and rural economies would be enormous.”
The Moorland Association said the RSPB’s seemed intent on making a stir in public, rather than discussing the issue directly.
Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, said: “Rather than sitting down with us and actually discussing what successful Uplands management looks like, which I’ve suggested we should do, the RSPB tend to do their advocacy in this very public way using open letters, which does surprise me.
“Having a public debate in this way is interesting but it’s not going to get the results they actually want.”
Asked if the RSPB had become increasingly politicised, she replied: “Well, they’ve definitely become quite noisy”.
The RSPB claimed they had evidence of the “systematic persecution” of Hen harriers on grouse moors. This year, just three nests were found in Northern England, according to the charity.
It also said “intensive management” of the land, including strip burning to make way for the growth of heather, a key source of food for grouse, was removing the natural habitat of wild birds.
In an article written on the RSPB’s website, Martin Harper, conservation director, wrote that “reform is urgently needed”.
“Hen harries are, for some grouse moor owners, their least loved bird,” he said. “Given the near eradication of the species as a breeding bird in England and the intensity of the management of our uplands, we cannot accept the status quo.
“We need and expect the grouse shooting community to change: the industry must demonstrate they can operate in harmony with birds of prey and help to restore the environmental quality of our hills.
The charity wants a licensing system to be introduced after the general election in 2015 so that licences for grouse shooting could be withdrawn if there is evidence of illegal killing of wild birds.”
Mr Harper said he would be contacting all the major political parties to “urge them to introduce a robust licensing system to govern driven grouse moor management”.
A spokesman for the RSPB said: “As a charity the RSPB must remain strictly non-party political, but it has always played a robust role in seeking to change policies and practices harmful to nature, adopting the role of ‘constructive critic’ to encourage the best possible environmental policies.”
The row come after the RSPB, which is funded by donations, was accused of becoming too politicised.
There have been calls for the RSPB to be stripped of its prosecutor role following allegations, which it denies, that it has increased the number of cases brought to court in order to boost fundraising.
This article was written by Alice Philipson for The Telegraph.
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