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Why won't Protect the Wild ever be neutral on bird shooting?

If we don’t speak out against the shooting industry, then no matter how much we might try to convince ourselves otherwise:

  • we are supporting the killing of millions and millions of birds for ‘fun’,
  • supporting the trapping and snaring of countless foxes and other wild mammals,
  • supporting raptor persecution (the illegal persecution of birds of prey),
  •  and supporting the conversion of huge areas of land into factory farms to produce birds for the gun.
 
 
shot buzzard matthew stroud norfolk
 

The shooting industry has grown at a stupendous rate, especially when it comes to the number of non-native Common Pheasants released to be shot every year. Estimates vary because of incomplete data, but what data there is suggests that more than 40 million pheasants are now pushed in to the countryside every year, and a recent study showed that just before the shooting ‘season’ starts in autumn the biomass (or total weight) of all those pheasants is greater than the biomass of all other wild bird species in the UK combined!

These releases have been described as an ‘ecological assault’.  Even Defra (the government department responsible for the environment) appeared to recognise this  in 2021 when they added pheasants to Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, a list of species which cannot be released except under licence because they may cause ecological, environmental, or socio-economic harm.

It would be bad enough if the industry was just sending those birds out to their deaths, but of course estates routinely trap and kill millions of foxes, mustelids, and corvids as well. Birds of prey are illegally killed to ‘protect’ stock. More and more woodlands are being bought out by shooting and purged of badgers which shoots think will take pheasant eggs. On top of ecological harm, the noise and disruption caused by shoots can have a profound effect on the people unfortunate enough to have one set up near them.

It’s not just in the lowlands of course. The industry is also responsible for killing more than 300,000 Red Grouse a year, torching the uplands, polluting water downstream, and almost eradicating the Hen Harrier from the moorlands of England.

 

Shooting sees ‘neutrality’ as tacit support, but it is abhorrent and does not sit well with more and more of the public.

All of which makes it difficult to understand why so many nature organisations and charities are ‘neutral’ on shooting. The RSPB, for example, the nation’s largest bird charity which says in its mission statement that “we protect habitats, save species, and help to end the nature and climate emergency” has ‘neutrality’ enshrined in its Constitution via its antiquated Royal Charter of November 1904.

The sticking point for many organisations (including the RSPB) appears to be that despite all the damage it does, all the illegality connected with it, and all the cruelty it inflicts on so many species, shooting is considered a ‘legitimate field sport’. According to whom, we might legitimately ask? According to a legal system that was originally set up to protect wealth and property and which has been supported by the aristocracy, wealthy landowners in the Houses of Parliament, and a shooting-friendly mainstream media who have all worked to protect shooting’s ‘legitimacy’ ever since.

 

Charities might feel they are caught in a somewhat difficult position. Campaign against shooting or hunting and the so-called Countryside Alliance (a lobby group for hunting and shooting) can tactically ping complaints in to the Charity Commission to tie up staff and resources. Some landowners will threaten to restrict access for survey work. Bombastic shooting celebrities like Ian Botham will lay into you mouthing meaningless platitudes about ‘wokeness’ in supportive newspapers. Some shooting supporters are notoriously aggressive on social media.

None of that should matter though. Being scared of taking on shooting’s ‘establishment’ should not be a consideration.

Public attitudes are changing fast and the ‘neutrals’ need to keep up . All of us now have a better understanding of animal sentience, biodiversity loss, climate change, and so much more. We have come a long way since 1904. We know that shooting causes enormous problems. Whilst depending on the law to ‘legitimise’ itself, it widely ignores law that protects wildlife. In fact, in 2020 the RSPB itself published a Birdcrime report with the headline ‘The law has failed our birds of prey‘ and tagged it with the byline, ‘self-regulation from within the grouse shooting community has failed’.

 

Protect the Wild will never be ‘neutral’ on shooting. We want it gone. We have outlined how we intend to build a movement to shut it down, and just as with our work on foxhunting we will not compromise our position.