19/01/2015
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Pro-shooting groups’ allegations against RSPB thrown out by Charity Commission

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Avocet is the RSPB's symbol and a conservation success story, but shooters on Botham's estate routinely kill Amber-listed Woodcock. Photos (L to R): Woodcock by Jason Thompson (.commons.wikimedia.org); Avocet by David Tipling (rspb-images.com)
Avocet is the RSPB's symbol and a conservation success story, but shooters on Botham's estate routinely kill Amber-listed Woodcock. Photos (L to R): Woodcock by Jason Thompson (.commons.wikimedia.org); Avocet by David Tipling (rspb-images.com)
Complaints about the RSPB's charitable status by two pro-hunting organisations have been thrown out by the Charity Commission.

The RSPB was the subject of allegations by the Countryside Alliance, which wants a repeal of the Hunting Act, and You Forgot The Birds, a group specifically set up to undermine the conservation charity.

The concerted attacks by the organisations – also published in both the Mail on Sunday and Daily Telegraph newspapers – consisted of two formal complaints listing several alleged transgressions by the RSPB in its charitable work, all of which were roundly rejected by the Charity Commission.

The Countryside Alliance objected to several statements made by the RSPB in its Birdcrime Report 2013, including:

• That "a steady stream of grouse moor gamekeepers have been prosecuted for raptor persecution crimes" – this was viewed by the commission as a reasonable description of the 20 gamekeepers that had been prosecuted over a 13-year period.
• That the RSPB believed it is "the shooting industry as a whole, not individual gamekeepers, that is primarily responsible for raptor persecution in the UK" – the society was able to substantiate these claims.
• That Peregrine Falcons bred less successfully on shooting estates than elsewhere – the commission accepted that peer-reviewed research used by the RSPB was relevant.

You Forgot The Birds claimed the RSPB "siphon[s] off £5 million from charitable income each year to fill a black hole in [its] pension fund", that it was "a dictatorship" and that "it intimidates politicians and farmers with its one million membership. DEFRA is scared of the RSPB". But its scattergun approach held inherent contradictions, on the one hand accusing the RSPB of not controlling predators enough, and on the other saying it hid lethal control of Foxes and deer on its reserves. The group is yet to update its website with the conclusions of the commission's examination of the charity, and has also refused to remove selective misquotes from Birdwatch it used to attempt to justify its stance.

You Forgot The Birds is fronted by ex-England cricketer Ian Botham, who runs the Sawley Hall shooting estate in North Yorkshire, on which, according to Fieldsports magazine, hunters can expect a bag of up to 500 birds per day, for up to 120 days every year – a potential total of 60,000 gamebirds slaughtered for ‘sport’. On the day Fieldsports visited, they shot 463 birds, including a Woodcock, an Amber-listed species of conservation concern which is in rapid decline – the annual numbers of Woodcock shot in Britain have tripled since the Second World War and are "currently running at a historically high level", according to the British Trust for Ornithology. 

The RSPB has said that it welcomes the fact that the attacks have been systematically and completely rejected, and said that it "will continue to play a proper role in campaigning for nature in the wider countryside and speaking out against wildlife crime". In a letter, the commission advised the RSPB to amend its website to show that 90 per cent of its net income is used for conservation purposes, but stated that “no further grounds for regulatory concern”.
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