Today saw the publication of the annual RSPB Birdcrime report, looking at statistics for 2015. Sadly, the picture remains much the same as in previous years.
As before, the biggest single source of birdcrime are gamekeepers, accounting for around 70% of the convicted criminals across 25 years working in that sector.
The problem here is it’s hard to catch people, hard to convict, and punishments are not that tough. A £3,000 fine to a grouse moor owner for liability of his or her employee sounds like a lot. But the profits of these sites increase year on year as their fees increase out of all proportion to inflation. When grouse moors come up for sale they change hands for millions.
In England, where the majority of the crime takes place, this ‘vicarious liability’ still doesn’t exist (which of course is unconnected to how many in government have a stake in this industry). So a gamekeeper, an employee, gets convicted. Gets a small fine (a few hundred pounds), community service, or rarely a short prison sentence. But the person profiting from the crime is left untouched. It can seem harsh, because landowners can legitimately invoke a defence that they didn’t know what their employee was doing. But in most other industries this defence doesn’t hold up, you are either criminal in that you sanctioned the crime, or criminally negligent in that you allowed it to go on within your business.
Licencing of all shooting estates would be a real step forward. Voluntary codes of conduct have not worked, so we should be demanding government gets tough. Licensed estates with far tougher laws, and better enforcement. The industry itself would be told to get their house in order, or face an outright ban on all such activity. Sadly, if anything, we have a government locked on the opposite course. Economic desperation will mean the environment taking a backseat.
All that said, the overall picture is better in 2015 than it was five years ago. There do seem to be fewer incidents.
Unfortunately my home region of Yorkshire and the North East remains the worst in the UK for bird crime. It’s no surprise that this area also has some of the highest numbers of shooting estates.