For the momentum against wildlife killing to build further we need more people to see what’s happening in our countryside. We need more people to become aware of the sheer scale of the killing out there, and not just the illegal killing but the full-scale slaughter that occurs under the care of the ‘guardians of our countryside’.
Over coffee the other day my wife and I fell into discussion with friends about legal killing. These friends – people who walk dogs, take their children cycling and even have RSPB membership, but without what I would describe as more than a passing interest in conservation matters – were staggered to hear of the legal slaughter of wildlife when I recounted the toll of creatures killed on one estate during one season a few years ago.
These figures are listed in Mark Avery’s book ‘Fighting for Birds’ , and were first published in Country Illustrated Magazine. The death list included 16,296 rabbits, 7653 rats, 1209 grey squirrels, 420 stoats, 249 magpies, 179 carrion crows, 188 weasels and 82 foxes – in one shooting estate in only one year! (2005). To hear, too, that thousands of mountain hares are killed each year legally by sporting estates in Scotland  was met with astonishment. They certainly believed that many of our loved wildlife species are ‘protected’.
This is legal extermination before we even get to the illegal activities occurring in our countryside. People, like these friends, are stunned to know that such a continual and massive death toll occurs day-in, day-out … much of it happening on ‘sporting estates’ in order simply for other birds to then be shot!
Let’s draw attention to the illegal and appalling wildlife crimes that go on every day, but let’s also raise general awareness of the extent of the legal killing – all the creatures that people are deprived of seeing as they go about their daily activities in the countryside. How often do we see a badger, hare, stoat or country fox? Our national natural heritage is being stolen from our lives unchallenged. Illegal slaughter – outrageous as it is – is just the tip of a very bloody iceberg.
Some excellent organisations – BAWC for one, are doing a great job of shining a light on illegal killing and need to be applauded and supported for doing so. But we also need a light directed at the whole iceberg. We need the public to see the full extent of what’s going on.
When people come across an injured animal they are concerned. They may go out of their way to help, take it to a rescue centre, the vets, etc. When a whale becomes stranded or wanders up the Thames it makes the news. People care.
So we don’t need to educate the public to care about animals – it’s clear they already do. The new season of ‘Autumnwatch’ will be popular, and people will happily identify with ‘Angus the stag’, ‘Billy the badger’ or ‘Hannah the hare’ and want to know, in the manner of a soap opera, what will happen next in the lives of these animals. And this is the crux – we have to tap into this personalisation of nature that people identify with so readily. We must help people become aware of the bigger picture. That in Hannah’s case, for example, huge numbers of her kin are legally killed every year to ensure more bountiful grouse shooting.
That the likes of Autumnwatch engages millions of people has to be a good thing but those of us interested in a richer natural world must find ways to get people to see beyond Hannah’s or Billy’s daily goings-on and to realise what we are doing to others of their kind. That’s the message that needs to get out there. Only then can they begin to care on a larger scale.
The declining presence of creatures, and ultimately their absence, is difficult to see without invoking scientific surveys. We all notice the first swallow of spring but not the last one of autumn. Sadly this works in favour of those intent on removing our wildlife. As numbers fall we get less used to wildlife encounters and this ‘shifting baseline’ becomes the norm.
Recently there seems to have been a coming together of like-minded conservationists – a growing partnership of people who are informed enough to want to challenge the way things are. How can we get those other millions out there to be equally informed and thus perhaps to swell our ranks immeasurably?
The ‘#WeSeeYou’ WildlifeCrimeAware campaign, formed by theWildOutside.com in partnership with BAWC and is an excellent example of what can be done to reach more people. We should, if we care, all be supporting this initiative by putting up posters in our local area. Whilst its aim is to send a message to the wildlife criminals it will also provoke questions about countryside use in the minds of the dog-walkers, runners, cyclists and so on who pass through our moorlands, fields and coastal areas. Let’s reach out to them and try and get them involved. They care. They really do. And they are the ones we must now engage.
1. M. Avery ‘Fighting for birds‘ page 211. Pelagic Publishing 2012.
Accidental Activist said:
The persecution of our native wildlife, by game keepers or others in the employ of shooting estates be it legal or otherwise is totally unacceptable. These shooting estates are, despite claims to the contrary, black holes for any species which may conflict with the interests on the birds that are intensively reared so a select few can callously blast them from the sky in the name of sport. Most of these birds won’t even end up on the table as there is simple way too many to consume by the available market so they’ll end up in a stink pit somewhere or those left un-shot will simple starve to death or be killed by cars.
The sooner the public at large see these organisations for what they really are the better, however with this Government so deeply entrenched in the organisations that promote blood sport like the Countryside Alliance and driven by corporate demands there is little hope of change.
Our natural heritage is under serious threat. We’re on a path which, unless changed will lead to the mass extinction of some of our most iconic species. The hypocrisy of those who promote wildlife issues abroad is overwhelming. You cannot save rhino’s in one hand and carry a shotgun (and shoot wild animals for fun) in the other. Look closer to home before justifying your arguments.
Steve Mills said:
Thanks – it’s good to know that others feel the same way.
Until a few years ago, the land surrounding my house was a private nature reserve, owned by a famous wildlife artist. Sadly he sold out to the local shoot. Since then I have seen the forests stripped of everything but the pheasants, partridges and mallards, that are all intensively reared in sheds, before release in the autumn.
I have seen jays caught in traps, the owls are few and far between now and the raptors none existent. The smaller birds have been decimated too, for some reason that I can’t quite fathom but could be due to the antibiotic feed that I saw spread out for everything to eat, when the pheasants and partridges were dying of some flu like disease. I never hear vixens now, the badger sett has gone and there are far far fewer deer.
The perpetrators of this genecide are a law unto themselves. The local police appear to turn a blind eye to their drunken driving and I know two guns were left leaning on the bar of the local pub by their ‘forgetful’ owners. The justification for these ‘blind eyes’ is spouted as rural economy but I suspect that it is far more about back handers and social net working among our so called ‘betters’ (which now translates as those who have benefitted from the recessions, rather than suffered like everyone else). As far as local employment is concerned, game keepers are paid peanuts, as are the staff in the hotels who play host to the after shoot parties. None of them have any kind of security regarding their jobs or their homes and have to be seen to touch their caps and be subservient.
It seems that if you want to get along in business these days then you need to develop as loud a hee haw as you can, in order to impress your fellow murderers in the post pub bonding session. Then there are the Russian gangsters, they’re a pretty interesting addition.
I am an aging lady living alone with my two collies and am well aware that by making this post at all I am putting both myself and my dogs in danger. I know people who are involved with these shoots and know that they now consider themselves invincible. They certainly wouldn’t allow someone like me to get in the way of their ‘sport’.
Steve Mills said:
Thanks so much for your comment.
My primary reason for starting this blog was to help shed some light on issues that all too often are underrepresented. A secondary reason was to offer people an opportunity to share their own stories, which you done have so articulately.
One of the problems with the scale of ‘legal’ killing is that lines can become blurred – if you’re already killing this, that and the other what’s the problem with killing a few more, even if they are shaped like raptors.
I’m sure your experiences are far from unique and feel for you in the position you are in. Do you know others in your area who feel the same way in this situation, as there can be strength in numbers?
For anyone in a similar situation there are organisations out there, such as BAWC and the League Against Cruel Sports, who may be able to give you advice.
Thanks again for being brave enough to post.
Having read your blog ‘A very bloody iceberg’ I must say that I do not wholly disagree with everything you say and that wildlife crime does happen and is indeed unacceptable but to draw a comparison to legal killing in my opinion is not the way forward.
You quote figures from a shooting estate and though the numbers given appear large they are a very small percentage of the UK population, Rabbits 16,296 equates to 0.0621% of UK population, Rats 0.7653% Foxes 0.3178%
Why do you feel that it is unacceptable for shooting estates to manage their land legally, but ok for conservation societies to carry out the same work on their sites? For example the RSPB cull deer, squirrels, rats, rabbits, foxes and certain birds in 2011-12, 292 crows were killed on reserves, eleven magpies were also killed under general licence on RSPB reserves for conservation purposes during the same period, 76 large gull nests were destroyed (mostly lesser-black-backed gull) and three adult lesser black-backed gulls were also shot on RSPB reserves.
Other figures show that 241 Foxes (on 37 reserves); 77 Mink (on 41 reserves); 241 Red deer (on 12 reserves); 270 Roe deer (on 11 reserves); 6 Muntjac (on 2 reserves); 98 Sika deer (on 2 reserves), rabbits mice and rats are also controlled but I have no numbers those are just figures from the RSPB, and there is still the Wildlife Trust, Woodland trust, Mammal Society etc.
Land and wildlife management is essential and animals will be killed during this process, would you buy bread from a bakery infested with rats? Or eat at a restaurant which has mice or cockroaches running around. Providing it is carried out as humanely as possible and is within the law then I can see no problem with it.
What needs to be happening is the education of the general public on how to use the countryside responsibly, stop Irresponsible dog owners allowing their poorly trained dogs to run loose around areas where ground nesting birds are nesting. Stop littering and fly tipping, stop the development of Greenfield sites and yes stop illegal wildlife crime.
Steve Mills said:
Hi Robert, thanks for your comment which I appreciate. I’ve considered this issue over the years and the point for me is that, rightly or wrongly, the RSPB kill wildlife to benefit other wildlife. Shooting estates kill wildlife to allow a few people a nice day out. That’s a big difference. And in doing so, deny others from enjoying wildlife encounters. As an example, just read the previous comment from JW.
The loss of British wildlife cannot be attributed to the work of game keepers in fact most well maintained shoots hold an abundance of wildlife. A recent survey showed that keepers maintain over million hectares of land yet numbers of predatory animals such as foxes and stoats are not in decline, rabbit numbers are not in decline, grey squirrels are not in decline, on the other hand species such as the hedgehog ,song birds, water vole and slow worm are all falling in number.
In JW’S reply, comments like “The smaller birds have been decimated too, for some reason that I can’t quite fathom but could be due to the antibiotic feed that I saw spread out for everything to eat” is mere conjecture song birds numbers are declining nationwide, and the amount of money a keeper earns has nothing to do with wildlife crime most don’t do it to become millionaires they do it because the love the job and in my opinion there can’t be a keeper out there who would wish to see the extinction of any species.
However I do not condone drink driving, and do not understand why they took guns into a pub.
It seems to me that a lot of what has been said is dig at class in the guise of concern for wildlife. If the rich wish to spend the day shooting pheasant then it’s their choice and until it can be proven beyond doubt that it is detrimental to the survival of native wildlife or the environment then it’s down to the conscience of the individual to decide if what they are doing is morally wrong or not.
Where do you draw the line? Do you stop people playing certain sports because moles, rabbits, squirrels and foxes are controlled on golf courses, cricket pitches, bowling greens or outlaw the keeping of domestic cats (Mammal Society, estimates that the UK’s cats catch up to 275 million prey items a year, of which 55 million are birds).Stop people driving cars (1 million mammals are killed or wounded by cars according to the RSPCA)
When we start targeting individual groups we lose focus on the real issues, in an ideal world all groups would work together to find the solutions but I can’t see that ever happening
Thanks for shining a light on this. I had no idea. As ordinary members of the public, I think we all have the right to know the scale of actions that impact the environment, whether legal or illegal. For example, I want to know how much food is thrown away by supermarkets each week – a legal activity – but one where scale is important. Knowing the scale of waste food and the reasons when it occurs on a large scale is important to me in the same way as I want to be informed of the scale of any killing of wildlife wherever it may be and reasons for it occurring on a large scale. Just because it may be legal doesn’t mean that it is acceptable when happening on a large scale.
Only when we, the public, are informed can we begin to make decisions about what kind of environment we want to have. I want mine to include wildlife.