The organisation “Songbird Survival Trust”, which is understood to have emerged out of an alliance between landowners with gamebird shooting interests and pigeon fanciers, has been behind much of the anti-magpie and birds of prey propaganda in the last few years. Animal Aid has produced the following report into the shooting industry links of the Songbird Survival Trust and their partners in the proposed slaughter of magpies and crows, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. We are very grateful to Animal Aid for allowing Against Corvid Traps to reproduce the report here.

Songbird Survival Trust

Songbird Survival is registered charity and a limited company, and lists its Officers, some of whom have shooting interests, thus:

  • Viscount Coke
  • Hugh Van Cutsem
  • Nicholas John Francis Forde
  • David Griffith
  • Lord John Haddington
  • Fred Valentine Ingrams
  • Robert John Middleditch
  • John Richard Pugh
  • Lord Michael Richard Hope – 5th Baron Rankeillour
  • Clive Patrick Sherwood
  • Colin Strang Steel
  • Sarah Pamela Potter

Viscount Coke

  • Viscount Coke owns a shooting estate, Holkham in Norfolk.
  • In March 2000, a Holkham gamekeeper (Martin Joyce) was found guilty of killing three kestrels. He shot two kestrels and poisoned a third with Carbofuran. In his defence he claimed they were killing young partridges. Viscount Coke refused to sack him. (see Independent)
  • Following this conviction, Viscount Coke’s land agent and head gamekeeper were each convicted of three charges of allowing a gamekeeper to store poison on Coke’s 25,000-acre Holkham estate. On appeal (Oct 2009), the judge concluded that the standard of supervision of poisons on the estate ‘left something to be desired’ but concluded the gamekeeper had acted independently. Both appeals were upheld.
  • Viscount Coke was also prosecuted in 2000 on 12 charges relating to allowing his gamekeepers to use poison. In June of that year magistrates said he had no case to answer.
  • In January 2011, Holkham Estate Head Gamekeeper, Nicholas Parker, was charged by Norfolk Police with killing a Schedule One bird, taking game out of season, possessing a shotgun or rifle for committing a wildlife offence, possessing a shotgun without a certificate, and contravening the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Schedule One of the Wildlife and Countryside Act refers to ‘birds which are protected by special penalties.’ He is due to appear before Kings Lynn magistrates on 9 February 2011. He was previously employed as a gamekeeper by Hugh van Cutsem (see below).

Hugh van Cutsem

  • Farmer and pro-hunt campaigner
  • Quoted as saying: ‘I love shooting. It is part of the fabric of the countryside. You draw together a marvellous collection of people in a day’s shooting.’ (see Daily Telegraph)
  • Owns a hunting lodge and grouse moor on the North Yorkshire-Cumbria border
  • He also owns a shooting estate in Norfolk, where he shoots with the Royal family
  • Prince Charles is godfather to Hugh van Cutsem’s son, Edward. And Prince William is godfather to Edward’s daughter, Grace.
  • The Queen made a donation to Songbird Survival in 2008. She is a keen shooter.

Nick Forde

  • An ex banker with a ‘taste for venison [and] pheasant’.
  • Brother of Lady Leicester, whose husband (Viscount Coke – see above) owns Holkham Estate
  • Often the spokesman for Songbird Survival.
  • When challenged by Sunday Times journalist Rod Liddle, he was not able to identify any of the three most endangered songbirds, despite claiming to be passionate about them. He had no trouble, however, identifying a pheasant. (see Sunday Times – registration required)
  • He dismissed a study by Journal of Ornithology that concluded that grey squirrels had an insignificant effect upon wild bird population. (see Shooting UK)
  • He suggested ‘going to war’ on the grey squirrel. (see Daily Telegraph letters)

Lord John Haddington

  • Farmer and fieldsports enthusiast (see Blog)
  • He set up the Scottish-based Save our Songbirds in 2004. (see Kill Wildlife)
  • In 2003, he sold off some land to raise funds. The land had been a pheasant shoot. He also sold ‘one mile of salmon and sea trout fishing on the Tyne.’ (see Daily Telegraph)

Fred Ingrams

  • A designer and artist who has worked on the pro-hunt, pro-shoot The Field magazine. (see Ingrams Design)
  • He also designed the brochure for the Holkham Estate (see Viscount Coke, above) (see Ingrams Design)

Robert Middleditch

  • A Suffolk pig farmer – R&R Farms (Wrentham) Ltd in Beccles
  • In the Guardian it was claimed that, “His land is dry and sandy and poor; without the pigs these fields would not be worth farming.” (see The Guardian). But on their company website it is stated that “The cropping on the farms is winter wheat, malting barley, vining peas, oilseed rape, winter and spring beans, sugar beet, potatoes and forage maize.” (see Blackmoor Farm)
  • He claims “It would be a real tragedy for farming and for conservation if they [sea eagles] were released in East Anglia.” (see The Guardian)

John Pugh

  • A beef farmer and previously a National Trust warden
  • Says of natural predators like corvids and foxes: ‘it’s terrorism in the countryside’ (see The Free Library)
  • He is Chairman of the Welsh Farmers Fox Control Association and strangely, given his stated views on predators, claims that foxes are a problem because they ‘have no natural predator’. (see County Times)
  • His group not surprisingly supports hunting. (see Hunting Inquiry)

Colin Strang Steel

  • His brother, Michael, owns Philiphugh Estate where he offers pheasants and grouse shooting. (Hunting Inquiry)
  • He sells shooting estates for Knight Frank and Rutley

True motives: support of the shooting industry

There is much cynicism about the motives of Songbird Survival and of its trustees and founder, Viscount Coke. It is noted by those with genuine bird welfare interests such as the Bird Forum and Against Corvid Traps that Songbird Survival is closely connected to the game bird shooting industry.

Songbird Survival holds the view that predation by avian and mammalian predators is responsible for the decline in songbird populations. It holds no scientific evidence for this view. However, the avian and mammalian predators listed on its website are the same predators vilified by the game shooting industry. As seen above, many of its officers have links to the shooting industry.

Songbird Survival has commissioned a study from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) – see below for their pro-shooting links – to investigate the relationship between corvids and the decline of songbirds. This will involve culling corvids. The study is costed at £88,000 – £100,000 and charitable donations are sought.

It should be noted that game bird shooting interests regard as ‘vermin’ and pests any bird or animal that is perceived to interfere with their ‘sport’. That is why species such as the following are shot, poisoned, trapped and bludgeoned: corvids, raptors (illegally), stoats, weasels, foxes, squirrels, rats, rabbits.

For more information on the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT)