“There are criminals among us” – BASC chief condemns raptor killers

Christopher Graffius, acting chief executive of the British Association of Shooting & Conservation (BASC) has spoken out against the raptor killers within the shooting industry, according to an article in today’s edition of The Times.

For those who can’t read the small text, here’s a transcript:


By Jerome Starkey, Countryside Corrrespondent

For years shooting enthusiasts had refused to accept that some of the sport’s devotees were targeting endangered birds of prey.

Now the country’s biggest shooting group has broken ranks and admitted that its members have been killing harriers and falcons.

Christopher Graffius, acting chief executive of the British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC), said that killing the birds to protect pheasants and grouse was a “fool’s bargain” that his members had to stop or risk their sport being banned.

In a letter to his organisation’s 150,000 members he said that there were “criminals among us” who risked “wrecking shooting for the majority“.

All of us need to realise that the killing of raptors is doing us no favours. It risks terminal damage to the sport we love“, he said.

He made the comments after the RSPB’s annual Birdcrime report found that 81 raptors, including buzzards and kites, were killed last year. The charity blamed gamekeepers for trapping, poisoning and shooting the birds and called for driven grouse shoots to be licensed so that they operated “legally and sustainably”.

Mr Graffius said that expelling members who were convicted of raptor persecution was not enough. Shooting needed a cultural shift to make such people pariahs. “Peer pressure is a powerful force in shooting. We must make clear that wildlife crime has no place in our community“, he said.

Mr Graffius, 59, was appointed acting chief executive last year after his predecessor as head of BASC, Richard Ali, was suspended and then sacked over allegations of bullying.

Mr Graffius said that the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats had all raised concerns about raptor persecution at their party conferences this year. “This should matter to everyone who shoots, and particularly the keepers, shooting tenants and landowners who rely on their living from the sport. If the killing doesn’t stop, their jobs and the income they earn from shooting is at risk“, he added.

Hen harriers are among Britain’s most endangered birds after their population fell by 18 per cent in six years. There are fewer than 550 breeding pairs left, according to the RSPB, with only four pairs in England, down from 12 in 2010.

A spokesman for the National Gamekeepers Organisation, representing those in England and Wales, said that “very few stupid keepers and landowners” broke the law. “These dinosaurs sully the good name of modern shooting, putting at risk its long-term future“, he said. “The only effective solution lies in changing the collective mindset of those involved“.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said that it had expelled six members in five years over alleged wildlife crime but that the majority of its 5,300 members were law-abiding. “In Scotland, the greatest issue we wrestle with is the lack of access to legal measures to solve species conflicts. We feel this would have more impact than any other measure to prevent wildlife crime“, a spokesman said.

Patrick Galbraith, the editor of Shooting Times, said that some young gamekeepers felt pressured by their employers to kill raptors. “If the shooting community refuse to admit it, the future for our sport could be bleak“, he said.

Tim Bonner, head of the Countryside Alliance, which campaigns in favour of shooting, said that historically gamekeeping techniques had devastated hen harrier populations but that there was a “generational shift” taking place towards better conservation. “It’s our role to encourage that change of attitudes“, he said.

Jeff Knott, head of nature policy at the RSPB, said that it was “good to see BASC stand out from others in the shooting community. Decisive action is certainly harder to deliver than fine words, but this willingness to lead change is to be welcomed“, he said.


Blimey. Christopher Graffius deserves real credit here – this is the first time we can remember that one of the shooting industry’s big organisations has admitted culpability for illegal raptor persecution and condemned it with any sincerity. It’ll be interesting to see how his BASC members respond and for how long he’ll remain in post.  We welcome his comments, with some caution because they’re just words after all, but nevertheless we think that his intentions are good and this could be the beginning of a significant positional shift.

However, the responses from the gamekeeping organisations (National Gamekeepers Organisation and Scottish Gamekeepers Association) do not give cause for such optimism. It’s just more of the same old, same old – a collective denial that widespread raptor persecution continues and that when it does occur, it’s just the work of a handful of gamekeepers. Unfortunately for them, the overwhelming evidence does not support this claim.

This pie chart was published yesterday in the RSPB’s Birdcrime 2016 report:

Have a close read of the SGA’s response – they say they’ve expelled six members in five years for ‘alleged wildlife crimes’, suggesting that these wildlife crimes might not actually have happened, even though those gamekeepers were expelled precisely because they had been convicted in a court of law. They had criminal convictions for actual raptor persecution crimes, not alleged crimes.

The SGA then argues that the only effective measure to prevent wildlife crime would be to give gamekeepers licences to kill raptors, bcause then killing raptors wouldn’t be a criminal offence any more. We’ve heard this many times before – the SGA has been lobbying for years to get licences that would enable them to kill species such as buzzards, sparrowhawks, and even red kites and white-tailed eagles (e.g. see here). So far they’ve been unsuccessful, although licences have been issued to a gamekeeper in England permitting him to kill buzzards ‘to protect pheasants’, even though the licence applicant, supported by the National Gamekeepers Organisation, had a prior conviction for having a stash of illegal poison.

Let’s hope that other industry chiefs follow Christopher Graffius’ example and start to apply pressure across the whole shooting community. He’s seen the writing on the wall and knows that the continued illegal killing of raptors will bring the game-shooting industry to its knees. Time’s running out……

UPDATE 11.45: Here’s a copy of the ‘letter’ from Christopher Graffius to BASC members to which The Times journalist refers. It’s actually an article from BASC’s Nov/Dec newsletter, Shooting & Conservation:

Christopher Graffius BASC Raptor Persecution threatens us all_Nov2017

18 Responses to ““There are criminals among us” – BASC chief condemns raptor killers”

  1. 1 John Keith
    November 2, 2017 at 11:56 am

    Sounds like a good chap – hope he thrives, but sadly I fear he is a minority voice.
    As someone with a long memory I seem to remember XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX being implicated in the death by lead poisoning of a (?) harrier a few years ago; the point there is that the abuse comes from the top.

    • November 2, 2017 at 2:23 pm

      Mr. Graffius is saying what a lot of others would like to say. Driven Grouse is probably quite divisive within shooting. It will be apparent to all that when public interest stories on wildlife crime begin to form public opinion, shooting generally will come under wider scrutiny.
      Mr Graffius with his statement, and very welcome it is, has laid it on the line to shooting itself.
      I would imagine he would have thought this out very carefully before making these comments.

      Some will have taken this badly, but will find it difficult to re-act, knowing they don’t want to be escalating the debate.

      This can only move the issue closer to the top of the agenda within shooting and may be BASC’s way of pressuring the moors to move towards licensing.

  2. 3 Homer Simpson
    November 2, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    They were talking slightly differently just 12 months ago https://twitter.com/BASCnews/status/792430912671735812

  3. 4 Secret Squirrel
    November 2, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    The SGA are so predictable “In Scotland, the greatest issue we wrestle with is the lack of access to legal measures to solve species conflicts. We feel this would have more impact than any other measure to prevent wildlife crime“, a spokesman said.”

    Of course by ‘species conflict’ they mean artificially inflating the population of one species

  4. 5 crypticmirror
    November 2, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    Things are shifting, slowly but still shifting. Someone has read the writing on the wall. Of course it is not just killing raptors, but killing foxes, corvids, badgers, pine marten, and even beaver and all of it has to stop. And so does the use of leadshot. And track building, and moor draining, and muirburn. One step at a time though, the pressure must be kept.

  5. 6 Steve macsweeney
    November 2, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Licencing is the only answer…..I can no longer be sucked in by eloquence. We are finally witnessing the beginning of the end of Trailhunting on NT land and as a consequence the rest of the UK.
    For the sake of all wildlife, for the sake of ecology I hope one day there will be no recreational animal and bird abuse on the moorlands. That’s me!

  6. 7 Greer Hart, senior
    November 2, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    What has to be appreciated in this matter of the illegal killing of Birds of Prey, is that such species are part of a whole assembly of wildlife and domestic animals facing abuse and death throughout the entire world. In the context of Scotland and the rest of the UK, there is a relatively small list of endangered species through illegal killing, particularly on shooting estates. However, the scale and unrelenting slaughter of Birds of Prey and Mountain Hares, are unacceptable in a modern collection of countries, the UK. This is especially so, with the very large and increasingly so, interest in all things “wildlife”, as seen with the excellent wildlife programmes on television and radio. There is also the large number of conservation and animal welfare groups, which are very vigilant along the whole spectrum of all things belonging to living creatures and plant/tree life. I am sure that there must be among those millions who support the protection of vulnerable life forms, are some who shoot game birds and see no conflict of interest in that. Even if that were not true, we who want a more active prosecution of those who poison, trap, snare or shoot our precious Eagles, Kites, Hawks etc., would have to concede that a policy that is not absolute, would possibly be a successful way forward in ending this battlefield in the British countryside.

    The shooting lobby/industry, whatever it is termed, has to face that its dominance in the countryside for centuaries, and its powerful supporters in politics, civil service and law and order institutions, has to be reappraised; it cannot be immune to change, after all, our shipyard, engineering, coal mining and other industries that gave us a world pre-eminent world position, have all downsized or closed down as has coal mining. That transformation did not go quietly, but movement into other economic activities has taken place. Public opinion, based on a more decisive humane attitude, has come into very vocal and active existence, reflecting the concern over the SIXTH GREAT EXTINCTION caused by mankind, and the human accentuated climate change that will wreak havoc on all Life on this planet that cannot evolve fast enough to successfully adapt. An USA trophy shooter has become spotlighted due to his online boasts that he has shot a Snow Leopard, and wants to bring its carcass into the USA. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) advertises on TV for people to adopt a Snow Leopard, but WWF once advocated trophy shooting as a means of conserving wildlife, with the fees paid going back into conservation measures. Would WWF Scotland advocate the trophy shooting of our Birds of Prey and Mountain Hares, and the fees charged going back to conserve endangered species here? The daft former King of Spain was exposed in the Daily Mail for having shot three large animals in Africa, one being an Elephant, and he was WWF representative in Spain; he resigned that role shortly afterwards. We are in the situation now of there being no ambivalence allowed, as the whole natural environment of the world is under threat from banks and other investors, providing the funds for the destruction of rainforests and other crucial habitats for every form of life, including indigenous communities facing genocide or ethnocide. There are rainforest protection groups aplenty desperately raising funds to save biodiversity hotspots, and Great Ape charities trying to save Gorillas and Orangs. Scotland has its equivalent of those exotic endeavours, in the form of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, Trees for Life and the John Muir Trust, along with various minor groups, all working hard to restore native woodlands as a basis to bringing back bird, insect, mammal along with plant life. The WRITING IS ON THE BLOODY WALL! How much longer do we have to tolerate the unflinching change of heart among people who want to perpetrate a destructive and grossly overkill “sport”? If our politicians want to make us the most progressive tax country; the most socially conscious regarding poverty eradication; the most inclusive society; the most intolerant of racism and any other point to make us a model for other nations to emulate, IT MUST RECOGNISE THE ROTTING CORPSE OF A MISUSE OF THE LANDSCAPE OF SCOTLAND. A whole new programme for the better use of our countryside is not beyond the wit and energy of our universities; experts in conservation and animal welfare; our unemployed; our modern and humane thinking, and impatient others waiting for the Rip Van Winkles to waken up, and initiate the changes necessary. Of course, some shooting estates would be allowed to exist that can conform, and be able to create a better quality of employment. Scotland’s tourist industry would become more meaningful with tourists even volunteering to bring Scotland’s environment back to the way it should be. Revitalisation will never occur, as long as we have the present stranglehold on land use, and the tacit support some of our politicians have for activities that are anachronisms, erroneously believing we need shooting estates to maintain the rural economy, when a better and reformed such industry, could become acceptable and not have the reputation it has at present, as another sordid version of a blood sport, killing to excess.

  7. 8 michael gill
    November 2, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    “In Scotland, the greatest issue we wrestle with is the lack of access to legal measures to solve species conflicts. We feel this would have more impact than any other measure to prevent wildlife crime“

    That’s an astonishingly straightforward admission of guilt. “the greatest issue we deal with that it’s illegal to kill raptors”. Keep digging mate, “Nothing could have more impact in the reduction of the illegal killing of raptors than to make it legal.”

  8. 9 John F. Robins
    November 2, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    Well done Christopher Graffius of BASC. Let’s hope the great majority of BASC members support him and refuse to pay to shoot over land where raptors are persecuted. If legal action can’t stop the harrier haters perhaps being shunned by those who pay their wages will.

    However Mr. Graffius is going to have a hard job of it when people at the top of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association can spout such utter nonsense as, “In Scotland, the greatest issue we wrestle with is the lack of access to legal measures to solve species conflicts. We feel this would have more impact than any other measure to prevent wildlife crime.” With morons who can come out with that sort of crap in charge of the SGA what chance is there of those morons on the ground with guns, traps and chemicals understanding what Christopher Graffius is telling them?

    I’m off to write to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice as I have a great idea on how to drastically reduce the murder rate in Scotland ….

  9. 10 George M
    November 2, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    I find it difficult to envisage Graffius managing a Corbynite transformation in the body politic of the shooting community and it’s enforcers … but time will tell.

  10. 11 Tony Warburton MBE
    November 2, 2017 at 6:14 pm

    At last. The crimes have finally arrived in a major newspaper and also been covered on TV news. So now the ‘general public’ knows what and who we – and especially RPUK – have been fighting for so long. Many readers of this blog seem worried that Christopher Graffius might be booted out by BASC. However, I would suggest that if that happens that too will hit the headlines (no worries that RPUK would soon be on that case!) and the shooters cum ‘pleasure killers’ will have shot themselves in the foot instead of the raptors – because it will then be obvious to everybody that the majority of shooters refuse to accept the inevitable end of their so- called ‘sport’ brought about by their short-sighted refusal to obey the Laws of the Land. They will have done the
    work for us – and “yes” I know, some of them are daft enough to do it as Mr Graffius obviously knows!

    As always Mr Greer Hart senior speaks a bitter truth – our planet at large is in serious trouble. As Hon. President of the World Owl Trust working in such countries as Nepal and the Philippines as well as the UK , I am all too well aware that wildlife cannot survive without its habitats – and it’s not just a case of saving Hen Harriers, Peregrines and Golden Eagles. If we ever lose all our insects we have all had it! Just ask yourselves when was the last time you had to scrape all the squashed insects off your windscreens? No insects = no pollination = no plants = no food. And never forget that the Passenger Pigeon flocks once took days to pass over our heads! And now they have gone for ever. And never forget either, the terrifying words of the unlamented ex Chancellor of the Exchequer, the monstrous George Osborne, who stated “Conservation and the Environment are standing in the way of Progress and Development”. Too true – and long may they continue to do so, otherwise we are all doomed! Yes we must fight our own corners, and the killing of raptors (and for the WOT the killing of Short-eared Owls and Eagle Owls on the same moors as the Hen Harriers) are just part of a much bigger picture. Is anyone now in doubt that the planet is fighting back by demonstrating that it has the power to bring our species to its knees via hurricanes, wildfires, floods, tsunami’s and droughts and over-population? Not too mention loonies in power both in the West and East of the World. If you are still in doubt, just ask the question “How many ancient woodlands and SSSSI’s are going to disappear in the course of the HS2 development. I see Christopher Garaffius’s words as a first hint of light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel. So we must keep the faith. END OF RANT!

  11. 12 Anon
    November 2, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    Hopefully (and very probably) this is something coming from the new BASC Chief Exec:

    Otherwise Christopher Graffius would have done this sooner.

    Hopefully (and possibly) he’s told the various shooting organisations that they need to get their act together on the issue of wildlife crime as defending the indefensible is not a credible policy position!

  12. 13 Carl Chapman
    November 2, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    May I ask if you have thanked Mr Graffius? I think if you published his contact details it might be a good idea for us all to do so.

  13. 14 Anthony B
    November 3, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    The focus here is not so much to protect raptors from persecution, but is to protect shooting interests from what they must see as the threat of either highly restrictive licensing policies or a total ban of certain shooting activities.

    Regardless of why these few individuals are now speaking out against such illegal activity is to some degree speculation, but it’s a much better response than the inevitable denial we have become so used to. It may take time but hopfully, more representatives of the shooting insustry will see the light and realise, that for their activity to survive, they must do more to solve the problem than threaten those who disagree with them or issue empty statments.

  14. 15 Andrew Blake
    November 3, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    Fox hunting buried it’s head in the sand thinking a ban would never come. Shooting has perhaps, belatedly, learned from that.

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