Shooting Times speaks out over raptor persecution

As a keen observer of the campaign to stamp out the illegal persecution of birds of prey in Britain, I have always taken the view that change must come from within. That the shift necessary to end such criminal activity must come from the individuals, organisations, media outlets and societies affiliated with hunting themselves – those who stand to lose the most should the illicit actions of their associates continue unchecked and unpunished. Until now, such change has appeared far-off, even fanciful, and I have found myself repeatedly branded harmfully optimistic for my beliefs. Perhaps rightfully so, perhaps not. Although now, after what seems like an eternity of campaigning on behalf of conservationists, the message finally appears to be sinking in: to mend their reputation, shooters must isolate those within their ranks who routinely break the law.

Following a positive shift in position from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation [BASC], it now appears that the Shooting Times has likewise had enough. Taking to Twitter to voice their concerns in a move which, by large, has been praised by conservationists and welcomed even by those at the helm of various anti-shooting campaigns.

Now, I am not so naive as to believe that the above tweets and articles have arisen of their own accord; rather as a result of the mounting pressure facing the shooting industry due to its apparent failure to manage its members. Still, they are most welcome and show, without doubt, that the industry is now at least worried about the impact of rogue individuals upon the wider community. And so they should be: by large, shooting is a perfectly legitimate pass time, and many (if not most) sportsmen abide by the law in full. Undeserving of being tarred and feathered alongside their fellows but, perhaps, culpable due to their silence and failure to isolate, purge and act.

I commend the stance taking by the Shooting Times and, like others, hope to see it replicated elsewhere: in the gun makers, optics companies, tweed producers, local businesses, vehicle sales companies and land agents that underpin the industry. As well as in additional publications and organisations linked to shooting. When this happens – when raptor persecution is stamped out and condemned from within – we may then see the shift in attitudes so many shooters long for.

Will this be enough to deflect animosity away from shooting? In some cases, perhaps, in other cases, definitely not – some people have always detested shooting and likely always will. My hope, however, is that once the shooting industry changes and puts an end to illegalities (demonstrating action, as opposed to mere words), we [environmentalists and sportsmen] can clear the air and discuss amicably, absent prejudice, ways to combat myriad other pressing environmental issues. Raptors aside, there are many ways shooting, in its current form, should and must change but, on the reverse, many areas where those involved do and may still actively contribute to nature conservation. Should the industry clean up its act with regards to birds of prey, and thus help end division, all parties can at least begin to move forward.

Will a change in position be enough to end raptor persecution in Britain, mend fractured relationships and transform public opinion? No, not quite, but it is a step in a positive direction and, like many, I will be watching to see if words intended to sooth are transformed into hard action.

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