Yesterday the remarkable Raptor Persecution UK (RPUK) blog announced – in typically muted style – that it had now had six million views. Six million. That, as RPUK summarised it, breaks down as “approx one million views per year”. It is currently attracting over 100,000 views per month. Which means that on average every single day more than 3000 visitors read what has now undoubtedly become THE most important and most influential website on the internet dedicated to tackling the illegal persecution of birds of prey.
And that is what those visitors to RPUK come to learn about. Crimes committed against birds of prey. Where they take place, which species are involved, and (using expert analysis and explanation), why birds of prey are so relentlessly targeted. Since RPUK took up the fight and began to methodically educate us all, we’ve all come to know that many crimes are concentrated where driven grouse shooting takes place, where gamekeepers work, where there is an intensive drive to maximise shooting or farming profit regardless of whether that means breaking the law or not. Not sure whether that’s true? Well, do what the rest of us do and go check RPUK…
Written largely by raptor expert Dr Ruth Tingay, information on persecution and illegality flows like a river off the moors, out of the mountains and woodlands, straight into RPUK. In a very real sense RPUK is the product of a much larger team, the sum of many parts. The blog acts like a clearing-house now. It’s how journalism worked before the tabloids sullied the word. Masses of detail is fed into RPUK and emerges perfectly organised, referenced, cross-checked and shaped for the page. It only works like this because field-workers, researchers, the police, fellow campaigners – everyone who interacts and works with Ruth, in fact, trusts her without question. In an environment where trust matters so much, where a loose word could mean the destruction of a nest or the loss of chicks, the targeting of a roosting site or the stubbing out of expanding populations, trust is everything. It has to be earned. It has to be maintained. No-one who knows her would ever question Ruth’s honesty, integrity, or unerring ability to keep a secret to herself. And how hard must that be sometimes when you know where the bodies are buried…?
When the day does come to release some of that confidential information, though, RPUK’s timing is always immaculate. Designed to have maximum impact, its pared-down prose is typically supported by photos or videos, and backed up by statements (usually from ‘people who were there’) and forensic analysis. And Ruth has a brilliantly developed sense of pacing a story. The telling of Fred the Golden Eagle’s circuitous route around Edinburgh is classic ‘sucker punch’ journalism: give out just enough information to lull the ‘opposition’ into thinking you don’t have the full story, allow them to crow and snigger, only to catch them flat-footed and foolish a few days later. A butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo doesn’t really cause a hurricane in New York, but I’d swear the flailing of the shooting industry could be felt all the way down here in Wiltshire after that second post.
This sort of relentlessly accurate observation has come at quite a cost to Ruth herself. She has been stalked online, sniped at, and verbally abused day after day after day. Many of these attacks come via the drunken ramblings of certain well-known ‘countryside supporters’, impotent individuals who lash out after the pubs close as they crouch sullenly over the keyboard, stabbing at the keys, fuelled by self-pity and an inability to stop the world as they know it being picked apart and replaced by twenty-first century values, ethics, and mores. They are pathetic, disrespectful, waving their fists through a thick swill of violence and alcohol-intensified anger. But while they think they are standing up for ‘sportsmen’ everywhere and weakening her resolve, the absolute opposite is true. Of course some blows have landed, but what they do – what they have ever done – is broaden support for Ruth as more and more of us stand alongside her. While they wake up to find themselves alone and increasingly isolated (even the shooting industry knows these idiots are self-sabotaging), Ruth is admired, respected, and loved. She will never have to stand alone.
(As an aside, if any of the above makes RPUK (and by extension Ruth) sound a little dry and overly-serious, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact Ruth has a wicked sense of humour. I will never forget a day out with Ruth and Dr Mark Avery, driving down to a number of sites to pose Henry the Hen Harrier outside a shooting estate (I took the photo in the linked RPUK blog post during a more relaxed moment). ‘Henry’, a six foot high cartoonish costume, had been Ruth’s brainchild, and was a brilliant ‘spokesperson’ for raptor persecution. Ruth and Mark were taking ‘Henry’ on tour, and invited me along. To be entirely honest I was a little awestruck to have found myself with these two powerhouses of UK conservation. While I sat quietly trying hard not to look like a twit, Mark and Ruth chattered and laughed and plotted mischievously for hours. It’s a memory that still makes me smile five years later.)
Six million views. That’s a lot of eyes! Most of us might be satisfied with that – with a massively popular blog, the knowledge that you’re listened to and respected by everyone from politicians and journalists to scientists and campaigners (and a seat at the table of every initiative and forum that matters), but of course somehow Ruth has found time to also be part of the equivalent of a ‘conservation supergroup’. teaming up with Mark and Chris Packham to form Wild Justice, “set up to fight for wildlife” in the courts.
I wrote a blog after WJ’s first birthday bash in London (which was just before lockdown) in which I said that in keeping with a Wild Justice event, there was “not an ego on display”. I thought that was important to point out because Ruth, Mark, and Chris have a huge amount to be proud of, but pride isn’t what has ever driven them. It’s a powerful sense of injustice, of taking a stand, of fighting for things that can’t fight for themselves. It’s why I said right at the beginning of this post that RPUK had “announced – in typically muted style – that it had now had six million views”. Views, hits, visits etc are not what motivates Ruth and RPUK. Yes, they matter because it means that the message is getting out, that more and more people are understanding how pernicious and how poisonous raptor persecution is. But sheer numbers are less important than the movement towards change and justice that they represent.
As Ruth, writing on behalf of everyone who contrubutes to RPUK put it in the same post:
We post this photograph every time we reach another million views because it’s what motivates us to keep going. This is a golden eagle that was found dead in the Cairngorms National Park in 2006 (photo by RSPB). It had been illegally poisoned. It epitomises everything in its pitiful, poignant, senselessness.
RPUK, 06 June 2020
‘Pitiful poignant, senselessness’. Six million views later we can all see that now. We know why that bird – and many more birds like this one – was killed now. We know how to fight back now. If RPUK were to never publish another post, it would have already achieved so much that its legacy could never be challenged. Six million views. Ruth Tingay – here’s to you, your courage, your unbreakable resolve, and the millions of views still to come.
- As a final thought, one of my favourite podcasts of the several hundred I’ve now recorded, was with Ruth back in 2017. Ruth had been reluctant initially – it was her work that she thought mattered, but I was sure that if people got to hear the ‘person’ behind the work they’d only want to support what she was doing all the more. Was I right? I still think so…
“…we didn’t put our names on the blog because we always felt it wasn’t about us, it was about the issues – we didn’t want people to be sidetracked, we wanted people to focus on the issues – to be fair, the people who needed to know, knew…”
Dr Ruth Tingay | Raptor Persecution