|Image - Laurie Campbell|
“Is it time for new laws in England and Wales to hold landowners responsible for raptor persecution by their employees?”
Beware of campaigning charities pushing for more laws. They take years to formulate and they can become addictive. A charity can grow rich as the fundraising team make the most of all those press releases, launches and meeting with officials. The policy team love it: they will be centre stage at the important meetings. The PR team love it: new legislation is easy to understand, easy to explain, unlike some conservation issues. Campaigning charities don’t even have to pay for it – they expect the taxpayer to do that. The best bit is at the end: they don’t carry the blame if it’s ineffective – the politicians do.
We don’t need more laws – we need more common sense
For years, reported incidents of wildlife crime have been falling twice as fast as the national crime rate. So this is either a fast diminishing problem and so we don’t need more laws; or these criminals are getting better at hiding their crime. Since laws can’t fight hidden crime, making new ones is not going to make a great deal of difference. Just look at Scotland - in 2011, after years of campaigning, they passed new laws. The police have not made a single prosecution. It has not solved the situation.
What we need is more common sense. Clearly we need to tackle the cause of crime, as well as the crime itself. Take a close look at the motive for the illegal killing of a hen harrier by a gamekeeper on a grouse moor. A joint study by the RSPB and the GWCT demonstrated that hen harrier numbers can quickly increase in a small area, eat too many grouse, and put the gamekeeper out of a job. Sadly, once the gamekeepers are made redundant, there is not enough food, so the hen harrier population crashes back down. A lose-lose situation.
Laws can’t solve everything
The RSPB are jointly funding a ‘best practice’ driven grouse moor at Langholm. The idea is to show gamekeepers how you can have hen harriers alongside grouse. No illegal killing. After 7 years of determined effort, it has achieved two important objectives but has failed to achieve the one key objective that would reduce the motive for illegal killing. The motive remains in place and new laws will not change that. Despite the RSPB’s investment at Langholm clearly showing that such laws can’t resolve the conflict they still continue to campaign for new laws.
We don’t need more laws – we need more wildlife crime officers
We all know this. There is no surprise that law enforcement is an essential part of the proposed Defra recovery plan for hen harriers in England. There are five other parts to this plan – none require new laws. Perhaps it is time for campaigning charities to spend less time telling everyone else what to do and reflect on what they need to do? Right now, the RSPB are also campaigning to stop Defra implementing its hen harrier recovery plan. They only want the ‘workable’ parts to be implemented – or put another way ‘the bits the RSPB likes’. Sadly the bits the RSPB like are just more of the same. Surely it’s time to stop objecting and start embracing conservation techniques that increase bird of prey numbers around the world – the ones that remove the motive for crime?
Our birds of prey need new thinking and new leadership - not new laws.
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