This months guest article comes from Charlie Moores. Charlie is a founding member of a new organisation named Birders Against Wildlife Crime(BAWC). In his piece, he explains the reasons why he and like minded friends felt the need to create the group.
The answer to why ‘Birders Against Wildlife Crime’ and other good questions. Just last month thirteen birds of prey were found dead in a two square mile area of the Scottish Highlands. They’d been poisoned. The majority were Red Kites, presumably part of a re-introduction scheme championed by the Scottish government and bitterly opposed by some agricultural and shooting interests. Amongst birders the reaction to their discovery ranged from outrage and a determination to catch the criminal(s) involved to a weary cynicism that no-one would be caught, ranks would be closed, and nothing would change.
There have, is the perception, been too many incidents like these and too few prosecutions. One poisoning incident is of course one too many, but despite what many birders might think our birds are well-protected. On paper anyway. In fact most of our wildlife is protected by hundreds of laws that have been hard fought for and which cover everything from poaching freshwater mussels to knocking down House Martin nests over a homeowner’s front door.Having so many laws brings its own problems though. Very few of us know or understand them. They are complex, there are numerous exceptions, and they’re not the same in different parts of the UK. Few birders (few people anywhere) wouldn’t recognise that using poisons to kill protected birds is a crime, but not all laws that impact wildlife are so clear-cut. Is it legal to use a dog to hunt rabbits, for instance? How would you recognise when a cage trap is being used illegally? How about taking a photograph of a roosting bat – is that legal or illegal?
Most of us don’t want to just see wildlife, we want to stop other people breaking the laws that protect wildlife as well. Compared with the poisoning of a Red Kite, for example, a council worker cutting back a hedge in the nesting season might seem almost unimportant, but more birds must be lost to casual nest destruction every year than are lost to poisoning. If we understood the laws relating to nests and eggs would we not be in a better position to change Not only are many of us unsure about the law, we’re also not sure what to do if we witness a crime or find a crime scene. If we had found one of those poisoned Red Kites what should we have done? What information should we record? As importantly, who should we tell: the police, the RSPB, a local wildlife trust maybe? All of them perhaps.There will be readers of this article who’ll be saying to themselves, sure, but that information is available on numerous websites. That’s true. So why did we think we needed to set up Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) anyway? Because while the information is available, it’s often very hard to find. Most organisations that cover wildlife crime are concerned with numerous other issues too. The specific fact we want may not be buried, but it’s rarely standing in the open either! As proof of that the birders who set up BAWC have well over a hundred years of birding experience between them, but – like most birders we know – couldn’t have answered every question in the last few paragraphs either.
So what we’re doing (‘doing’, note, not ‘done’ – this is an ongoing project) is to put all the information we need, written in plain English, in one place. We want to help make tackling wildlife crime as natural as picking up a pair of binoculars, so everything we’re doing is guided by one prevailing thought: we’re birders, we’ll be using the website, how would we want the information laid out so that we can get our questions answered quickly and easily?
On top of that we want BAWC to be an effective campaigning group. We don’t have members, we’re totally independent, and we’re not bound by charters. We’re free to ask the questions that some other organisations can’t. Why do birders feel that no-one will be held to account when Red Kites are poisoned? Why is that many birders feel that even if they do report wildlife crime nothing will be done? And if someone is caught, why are punishments often so insignificant?
There are a lot of questions to ask. And we’re not saying we have all the answers. Between us we do though. The expertise and knowledge held by groups like the South West Peregrine Group is invaluable. We understand that no-one has the right to simply turn up and ask for that knowledge, so we’re working hard to build relationships, to work alongside other organisations. We know it’ll take time, but we can help and promote each other. We can all benefit from that. Much more importantly though, our wildlife will benefit. If every time birders went into the field – wherever they were – they were looking out for wildlife crime and feeding information to the right people imagine what we could achieve. We will never be able to stop wildlife crime (we’re dreamers at BAWC but we’re not deluded), but if criminals knew that birders were on the look out for them, knew what to do if they saw a crime, and had the information at their fingertips to get that crime reported to the right people every time…
We may not be able to stop every crime from taking place, but we can help tip the balance back in favour of our wildlife. We can make it so that criminals are looking over their shoulders all of the time, that wildlife crime becomes a higher priority than it is now, and that when a criminal is caught it matters to them. Why did we set up BAWC? The simple truth is that we’re birders and we’re sick of crimes against our wildlife. We think we can make a difference. And we are determined that we will.