I’ve started this blog to record discussions and debates I have with people over various issues, mainly those concerning the Scottish (and occasionally English) countryside. I have an interesting viewpoint to stand from – whilst I enjoy fieldsports and activities such as deer stalking, I am also a long-term volunteer with RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust – inevitably I end up in a very grey zone and often times just plain confused!
What started this discussion was this statement made by a chap on Twitter – “Shooters calling themselves conservationists is just like Fred West calling himself a landscape gardener.” @YoloBirder. This was then shared and re-tweeted by a good number of individuals (showing he isn’t the only one to be thinking like that).
Now, I can appreciate that it is a generalisation. However, I must admit on a personal note it did sting somewhat – being into shooting and at the same time dedicating, literally, thousands of hours a conservation charity and hundreds to another. Now, I took to a popular social networking site to air my views, and was greeted by two statements, one from an artist and the other a conservation scientist.
Viewpoint 1: “Where are all the shooters to prove this wrong? If they are such good conservationists in this country where are all the Hen Harriers in England? All the hunters I admire are Canadian or American and are actively involved in conservation, only Brit I can think of is Ray Mears and I doubt he would defend driven grouse shooting or the kind of shooting that goes on in Malta (and I don’t see any shooting organisations in the UK condemning that). If the shooters in this country want to be considered conservationists I suggest they get on with proving it.
Comments like the one above should only incite them to do so more, if that is actually what they are. Therein is the problem, there are people who do want to harm and kill for fun, legal hunting can provide a handy cover for these unhealthy urges (otherwise illegal will do if they think they can avoid being caught). These people should never be confused with genuine hunters, they are psychopaths. Hunters should never tolerate them among their own, but generally they will defend them, making them at best misguided and at worst culpable.“
Viewpoint 2: “I do agree that we (in conservation) should be showing more support to those in the shooting community who are pro-conservation. It can’t be an easy stance to take in that kind of environment (I’ve known pro-conservation shooters to be mocked, ostracised, even threatened). Backup from somewhere would surely be appreciated. I too have been angered by seeing people in conservation indiscriminately bashing ‘all gamekeepers’ and so on, it’s often unhelpful when we should be trying to build bridges.
However (you knew there was going to be a ‘but’ in here somewhere right?) I also feel that it might not hurt this minority in the shooting community to grow some stones about it. We’re dealing with a situation of endemic criminality (the situation with hen harriers for instance is pretty sickening). If people are getting angry and speaking out about this then that should be encouraged, not attacked just in case we hurt someone’s feelings. Trying to artificially bolster the populations of a few species (mostly red grouse and pheasant – the latter a non-native, snake-killing pain in the arse) at the cost of all other species isn’t conservation and those that try to paint it as such should be treated with the contempt they deserve. We’ve left the fox in charge of the hen coop for on this one for far too long, and now the shooting lobby is upset that we don’t trust them? Even after all these years of widespread, relentless violation of the law they still demand that they be allowed to self-police? Really? Do they think we’re idiots? Or do they just regard us with such utter contempt that they don’t care what we little people think of them?
Please don’t take this as me having a go at yourself (I have several friends who shoot and practice conservation so, as they say, if the shoe fits wear it). However I find the wide-spread, often illegal and unpunished, persecution of our wildlife, and the resultant vandalism of our countryside to benefit a small minority of the population deeply offensive. Every time I see that another bird of prey has been found poisoned, another harrier nest has been stamped on, another person who reported these crimes has been threatened with violence, I am sickened and enraged – and I take it personally. These are crimes against all of us and the best the shooting lobby can come up with by way of response is “Oh its only a small minority that do these crimes” (if that’s true they must be a criminal mastermind because we certainly seem to be missing a hell of a lot of harriers). I’m over the moon that, at last, there seems to be a momentum against this shit and that the public voice of conservation has gone from mithering in the background to shouting in anger.
Rather than throwing up their hands and saying “I’m so offended, it’s terribly unfair, why are you always picking on us, boo-hoo” maybe the shooting lobby should take a look at itself and start treating those who illegally persecute wildlife like the criminals they are. Too much time and money is spent defending those who break the law and thumb their noses at the majority of the people in this country, and all the while charitable organisations are expected to pick up the pieces and repair the damage whilst these bastards carry on unrepentant. Is it so much to ask that these ‘shooting good guys’ make some effort to demonstrate their conservation credentials? Or should we not just in case we hurt their feelings?
It’s been proposed that estates which fail to maintain the quality of any SSSIs on their land should lose their licences to shoot (specifically in the case of driven-grouse shooting) until such time as those SSSIs are restored to – at least – the state they were in when they were designated. Furthermore the licences should be issued in the Spanish style, to the estate itself rather than the owner, to avoid any shenanigans where control is passed from one family member to another every time punishment for their misdeeds starts to loom. Frankly I think this is a great idea. Not only would it hopefully bring the rampant vandalism of parts of our uplands under some kind of control but also it would give all these members of the shooting lobby who claim to be keen conservationists a chance to get out there and demonstrate their supposed skills. In the meantime the suggestion that the shooting lobby acts as a force for good on wildlife matters remains a joke, and not even a very funny one.”
Now, firstly, I’m bloody impressed if you’ve reached this stage! Personally, I do think it is time that the shooting industry did start to make those who commit wildlife crimes seriously uncomfortable, rather than defending them. But regardless of that, I think it’s time to open the floor to comments and thoughts from anyone else now….