From Mr Clive Sherwood.
Sir, Max Hastings (“Giving badgers the bullet is ‘a very bold course, minister’”, July 30) and Martin Harper of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (Letters, August 6) incorrectly state that SongBird Survival is campaigning to limit predation.
The charity is actually campaigning for high-quality science. This is to help evidence-based decision-making to reverse the decline in songbird numbers. We are currently following RSPB advice that predator removal experiments are the best, by funding the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s corvid study.
Mr Harper claims that our first study with the British Trust for Ornithology found “little evidence” of predation impact on songbirds. It did in fact find several significant negative relationships (for example, tree sparrow down 97 per cent) but was unable to detect an impact in many other cases. Mr Harper and the RSPB consistently fail to acknowledge the concurrent study we had commissioned from the University of Reading which highlighted the limitations of such correlative analyses and cast grave doubts on the quality and methodology of virtually all previous predation research.
The RSPB even ignores its own research. Its own study with the University of East Anglia into the impact of climate change on the woodlark embarrassingly found that woodlark productivity had halved due to increased levels of predation.
The 40-year decline in our farmland birds has spawned a billion-pound growth industry with an enduringly sustainable business model. Fear of the loss of our birds and sentimentality drive massive memberships, donations, legacies and taxpayer funding. A recovery in songbird numbers would threaten to puncture this bubble.
Meanwhile, predator numbers have more than doubled in this period, yet one of the potential solutions, predator management, is generally rendered taboo or legally restricted, with scientific evidence being ignored or suppressed. Admitting that it is practised “sometimes” on RSPB reserves just plays down the whole issue.
Diss, Norfolk, UK
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