RSPB shoots down 'utterly ridiculous' claims it is waging class war against hunters

Hedge fund manager argued charity wasn’t concerned about hen harriers

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The Independent Online

The RSPB has dismissed accusations by a City tycoon that it is waging a “class war” against the shooting fraternity as the “utterly ridiculous” comments of a man who knows nothing about the charity.

It has invited Crispin Odey, an old Harrovian hedge fund manager and shooting enthusiast, to visit it to find out more about its work.

This week he accused the RSPB of being the kind of charity that is “run for the people who work for them and not necessarily for the birds”.

Days before the Glorious Twelfth marks the start of the red grouse shooting season, Mr Odey suggested that the RSPB did not really want the rapidly dwindling hen harrier population it champions to recover because it provides a valuable fundraising platform.

And he said attempts to pin the blame for its decline on wealthy grouse-moor owners amounted to the kind of class war one might more typically associate with left-wing Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn.

“It’s utterly ridiculous. Up until relatively recently we had a man on our board of trustees [Sir Anthony Milbank] who ran a grouse moor – and he served two terms,” said Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland.

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Stuart Housden of the RSPB

“If we were doing what he [Odey] suggests, why would Sir Anthony come on board as trustee? And would the organisation welcome the advice he could offer us? I just don’t think that holds any water,” he added.

Mr Housden said the comments made by Mr Odey, founding partner of Odey Asset Management with an estimated fortune of about £1.1bn, suggested he had very little understanding of the RSPB’s work. He said he would be pleased to meet him to explain more about it – as long as Mr Odey came with an open mind.

“The evidence is lacking to support what he’s saying and we don’t think he really understands what we do as an organisation or the considerable efforts we make to work with responsible landowners up and down the country,” he said.

“I wouldn’t wish to stoop to the sort of public criticisms that he’s making of us without giving him the opportunity to talk to us,” he added.

Mr Housden also dismissed Mr Odey’s suggestion that the RSPB was profiting from the dramatic demise of the hen harrier – which has led the charity to call for the licensing of grouse moors to prevent gamekeepers from killing the raptors which prey on their grouse populations.

“I’d be interested to know where he thinks it brings in the money. The RSPB pursues the evidence of the  science.

“It’s not here to try and make some sort of profit out of hen harriers,” he said.

“Indeed I would argue that the actions that the RSPB undertakes come at a cost to the charity. But that’s what we’re here for – to protect birds. We invest where the evidence suggests that our conservation activities are needed,” he said.

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A Grouse Keeper views a grouse moor, at Horseupcleugh estate in the Lammermuir Hills in the Borders (Getty)

The science around populations of hen harriers in this country – where they live, their numbers, what happens to them – is based on the evidence that the RSPB has gathered, Mr Housden said.

“There is no doubt that the position in the uplands, particularly in England, is disgraceful.

“We’ve hardly any harriers left and the cause is firmly being placed on the illegal activities of a minority of upland sporting game managers,” he added.

The scale of shooting and poisoning of hen harriers is not known.

But since 2000, 20 gamekeepers have been found guilty of “raptor prosecution” or poisoning offences on grouse moorland – while in 2013 the RSPB logged 238 reports of birds of prey being poisoned, shot or beaten to death.

Mr Odey declined to respond to Mr Housden’s comments or to say whether he planned to take him up on his offer of an educational visit.

He recently revealed he was a donor to You Forgot the Birds, a campaign group, fronted by Sir Ian Botham, a former England cricket captain, that is dedicated to attacking the RSPB.

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