2008-01-14 08:55:37 UTC
birds a day for sport
Last updated at 11:36am on 11th January 2008
A bird charity has raised eyebrows by letting ducks and geese be shot
on a nature reserve.
The RSPB hands out shooting licences on its land at Langstone Harbour,
near Portsmouth, Hants, where wildfowlers can kill up to 10 birds a
day - for sport.
The shooting has been allowed for years, but was only revealed when a
pellet-riddled duck carcass was found by a walker.
The charity today defended its decision, saying shoots are very
carefully monitored and the alternative would be to have illegal
poachers causing havoc.
But wildlife lovers say it is against what the RSPB stands for -
Barry Hugill, from the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "I find it
exceedingly distasteful. It's a wildlife sanctuary.
"How on earth can it be a sanctuary if someone is going to come and
kill the birds that are resident there simply because they enjoy
"I think it's scandalous and I do hope the RSPB will reconsider their
Keen twitcher and conservationist Robert Hill, who discovered a dead
widgeon duck covered in pellet wounds, is horrified.
There are signs up in Langstone Harbour saying wildfowling takes
place, but he said it has never been publicly announced.
There is no mention of the shooting licences on the RSPB's website.
Mr Hill, 43, of Waterlooville, Hants, said: "I don't think it's
acceptable. It's a blood sport.
"I can't see any justification for it. It's a macho, egotistical, self
gratifying act and I think it's disgusting.
"No-one owns wildlife. These poor animals come in for sanctuary and
end up getting blown out of the air."
Local wildfowling group, the Langstone & District Wildfowlers &
Conservation Association, has had shooting rights on the land since
1979 and wildfowling has taken place in the harbour since the 1600s.
They are allowed to shoot between September and January on two of five
islands in Langstone Harbour, which can be accessed by walking across
the mudflats, and on saltmarshes at the northeast of Farlington
At the end of each month they have to report every bird shot to the
RSPB so bird levels can be monitored.
They must not shoot more than 10 birds each in one day, but in reality
the club's members say they have only killed a handful of birds
between them since September.
Chris Cockburn, RSPB warden for Langstone harbour, said: "If
wildfowling was banned the only way we could make it work would be by
"The reality is that would be very difficult whereas by licensing it
we are effectively controlling the amount of shooting that can occur.
"At the moment the controls in place are pretty stringent. The
alternative to the situation we have is grim.
"Poaching would be disastrous for the harbour. It would be disastrous
for the bird populations."
He said one of the rules is that wildfowlers must always have a dog
with them, which would usually collect up any dead birds.
He added: "The RSPB does not have any axe to grind against any sport
unless it affects the conservation issues and then we would be very
much against it."
Nick Horten, from the wildfowlers association, said the group carries
out huge amounts of conservation work in the area and is extremely
careful about the types of birds they shoot.
All members are vetted by the police and must train for a year before
they are allowed to shoot alone.
He said: "We have been a tenant of the RSPB which is the foremost bird
conservation group for 30 years and if they had the slightest concern
about the way we conduct ourselves they would have thrown us off years
Wildfowlers also defended their sport saying it is more humane to eat
a shot duck than a battery farmed chicken.
Nick Horten shoots with the Langstone club and like most wildfowlers
eats all the birds he shoots.
He said: "I prefer to go and shoot a duck that's led a completely wild
life and that has never been contained or mistreated like a battery
"It's the healthiest food you can get. It dies very quickly. I don't
have a problem with causing its demise.
"I'm not hypocritical like people who rant against wildfowlers but
then go to the supermarket and buy a battery chicken."
He said as with other wildfowling groups his does a lot of manual work
to preserve the harbour area and he said the club's wardens are
regularly out and about looking out for people shooting illegally.
When they spot poachers they report them to the police so they can be
prosecuted. Three were recently spotted on Farlington Marshes and
David Knowles, regional director of the British Association for
Shooting and Conservation, said wildfowling clubs all work very
closely with conservation bodies to preserve natural areas and often
wildfowlers are bird lovers as well.
He said: "Very few birds are actually shot. It's a very sustainable
"There are tens of thousands of widgeon around the south coast and
probably no more than 300 are shot each year."
Only certain species of bird are legally allowed to be shot in
Langstone Harbour by those with a licence. Others, such as Brent
Geese, are protected.