Nick Lyall ‘congratulatory video’

Dear Lou

As you know I took part in the video to celebrate Nick’s achievement during the first 12 months of his Chairmanship of the Police led Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime [PAW], Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG]. I was, and am, proud to have been asked to participate and I am grateful to Ruth for the opportunity to express NERF’s thanks to Nick.

Having been involved with this initiative from the outset and previous Defra / NE raptor based consultation groups over the last two decades I have no doubt that the RPPDG is the most challenging of the six UK Wildlife Crime Priority Groups to Chair. Of course Nick learned this very quickly when two of the game shooting interests on the Group, the National Gamekeepers Association and the Countryside Alliance, publicly questioned his integrity when he sought to bring balance to the RPPDG by welcoming additional national conservation based organisations to the Group. The shooting representatives failed, en masse, to attend a RPPDG meeting on the basis that they hadn’t been consulted about the increase in Group membership and the National Gamekeepers Organisation resigned in protest. It is self-evident that they saw the proposed changes as a dilution of their influence which had to be resisted.

This re-balancing of the Group was long overdue. Prior to Nick taking on the role as Chair the Groups had consisted of five shooting organisations [Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation, British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Countryside Alliance and Country Land Owners Association] and just two conservation organisations [RSPB, NERF then latterly a representative of the National Parks]. The remainder of the Group consists of Police and representatives from various Government Departments. With this imbalance of influence the shooting organisations were able to assert undue influence and little or nothing was achieved as a result. The RPPDG has two primary objectives, firstly to prevent raptor persecution and secondly to assist the Police to detect raptor persecution where ever it occurs and yet since the group was formed the shooting industry has, through their representatives, sought to undermine the Group and thwart every positive suggestion where they perceived it would have a negative impact on the industry.

The list of how they have collectively sought to exert their influence on the group is endless. Two examples to demonstrate this are: the attempt by the Countryside Alliance to block the RSPCA from joining the Group, a rather bizarre decision when we consider that the RSPCA has statutory powers to deal with wildlife crime.

Perhaps a more realistic assessment of why the decision was taken is because the RSPCA have the following policies, policies which are at odds with those of the Countryside Alliance:

  • 5.9.1 The RSPCA is opposed to any hunting of animals with dogs or other animals
  • 5.10.1 The RSPCA believes that ‘sport’ does not justify the causing of suffering to birds and other animals, and therefore the RSPCA is opposed to shooting for sport
  • 5.10.3 The RSPCA is opposed to the pinioning, brailing and beak trimming of, and the use of spectacles or blinkers on, game birds kept in rearing pens
  • 5.10.4 The RSPCA is opposed to the killing of predatory animals solely because they may be considered a threat to game birds
  • 9.1.1 The RSPCA is opposed, in principle, to the taking or killing of wild animals, or the infliction of any suffering upon them unless a persuasive case can be made
  • 9.2.1 The RSPCA is opposed to the manufacture, sale and use of all snares, traps using live decoys and any trap which causes suffering

The second example, which NERF believes is more sinister and has the potential to undermine our criminal justice system is the insistence by the shooting organisations that they should play a role in deciding what is or is not a raptor related crime despite the fact that there is legislation and there are Home Office Guidelines that set out explicitly what constitutes a ‘crime’ and how it should be dealt with. This cynical attempt to minimise the crime statistics, which predominately identifies members of the game shooting industry as the largest group of individuals committing raptor related crime, is clearly self-serving and has nothing to do with the aims of the RPPDG whatsoever.

Attempts to undermine the work of the RPPDG, including individual members of the Group, has been relentless and it is incumbent on right minded individuals and organisations to resist these vexatious attempts rigorously. It is difficult to see why anyone would object to the congratulatory tribute video to Nick unless it was part of a political agenda to damage your personal reputation, the reputation of the NWCU and of the RPPDG.

I recently took part in a well-being survey at the conclusion of the 2019 Hen Harrier breeding season. The final question asked how uplifting was working with Hen Harriers? My answer was simple – not at all. The initial euphoria of finding birds skydancing, breeding and fledging young is immediately crushed by the knowledge that the birds will be killed on land managed for driven grouse shooting. The work that you and your colleagues at the NWCU, and in Police Forces across the country, undertake daily, can be mentally draining sapping morale to a point that the general public will never fully appreciate. The counter-balance has to be moments of levity taking a lighted hearted, self-deprecating look at the positive side of the work. The video was just that. People from across the conservation sector came together in celebration of Nick’s first 12 months in post and poking fun at his propensity to wear his infamous ‘rapper jacket’. No-one took part in the video with malicious intent. It was just funny and it was appropriate. It is still funny and it is still appropriate. I note that there are only 5 comments about the video on the RPUK blog and that they are all positive.

Complaints about the fact that the video, shot by Ruth, subsequently appeared on the RPUK website is irrelevant, a distraction from both the purpose of the video and the function of the website. The two are not related and to suggest otherwise is, in my view, purely malicious and should be seen as such. There are articles, observations and demands of Government that the Police cannot publicly support. Similarly this applies to NERF, we do not support all that is published on the RPUK website. However,  the Police, NERF and society at large can, and should, support the demand for the ending of the illegal killing of birds of prey. There are no conflicts of interest, for the Police or NERF, in supporting demands for the compliance with the rule of law. This does not negatively impact upon the integrity of those of us who share those views, despite what individuals or organisations who have total disregard for wildlife or the rule of law would have us believe, or seek to undermine.

Whilst the video was produced to pay tribute to Nick’s efforts it has been somewhat over-looked by many people, including by yourself I might add, that the success of the newly revitalised RPPDG is also a testament to your tireless efforts to bring the various factions together in an effort to consign raptor persecution to the history books. I would like to place on record our heartfelt thanks to you for your persistence in the face of adversity and NERF looks forward to continuing with our productive relationship throughout 2020 and beyond.


Steve Downing

Chairman: Northern England Raptor Forum