Focus on cats rather than game shooting to cut down animal deaths, RSPB urged

Domestic cats - vvvita
Domestic cats - vvvita

The RSPB should stop targeting game shoots and focus on cats, the head of Countryside Alliance has said.

Domestic cats kill up to 270 million wild animals a year in the UK, with those in countryside areas responsible for the majority, according to researchers from the University of Reading and Royal Holloway.

Tim Bonner, the chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said the number of wild birds and mammals being hunted is tiny in comparison.

He has now criticised the RSPB for focussing its efforts on clamping down on game shooting rather than protecting the welfare of birds killed by domestic cats.

Game shoots - Charlotte Graham
Game shoots - Charlotte Graham

"There is a stark contrast between the RSPB’s interest in shooting and its concern about cats," said Mr Bonner.

"A couple of years ago it dedicated almost its entire AGM to the announcement of a review of its policy on game shooting. Subsequently it carried out an extensive literature review, a consultation with stakeholders and produced a new, if predictable, policy calling for government intervention into many areas of game shooting.

"Whether this was justified is not really the point. The challenge for the RSPB is to explain why management for shooting, which it accepts 'can have considerable wildlife benefits, for example by providing habitat that can benefit species other than gamebirds' is worthy of such scrutiny, whilst the killing of hundreds of millions of wild animals by cats is not."

The RSPB has said that despite large numbers of birds killed by domestic cats, there is "no clear scientific evidence that such mortality is causing bird populations to decline" and millions of birds die naturally every year through starvation, disease and other forms of predation.

Mr Bonner argued that the charity should be commissioning research to get to the bottom of the issue.

'Far too worried about upsetting its cat owning membership'

"It could use its AGM to announce a study and consult with its members and other stakeholders on their attitudes towards cat ownership and the impact of cats on the environment and biodiversity. It could review its policy and call for government intervention to reduce cat numbers and minimise their impact on wildlife," he said.

"Of course it will do none of these things, because it is far too worried about upsetting its cat owning membership. That approach may protect the RSPB’s income, but it does not protect its reputation. An organisation that will pander to a few activists and attack shooting, but refuse even to contemplate the impact of our feline killing fields is wide open to the charge of hypocrisy."

A spokesperson for the RSPB said: "The latest scientific evidence from the Mammal Society shows that cats may kill as many as 27 million birds every year in the UK. However, there is also evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly garden birds.

"It is likely that most of the birds killed by cats would have died anyway from other causes before the next breeding season, so cats are unlikely to have a major impact on populations."