Skibo Gamekeeper Blames RSPB for “Stuff” Turning Up.

The Daily Record newspaper 21st June 2010, carries the report that Dean Barr, a gamekeeper at Skibo estate, is being investigated after the discovery of  3 dead golden eagles, a dead buzzard and a dead sparrowhawk on the estate.

The report claims that Barr, 43, a Northern Irishman was also investigated after a similar incident at his previous employers, the Raeshaw Estate near Edinburgh, where 9 birds of prey were found poisoned or shot. He denies any involvement in the alleged killing of the birds at Skibo. Speaking from his home on the estate he said,  “I would say it is our friends at the RSPB. There has been a few incidents before where stuff has turned up. They are doing it for publicity. The more publicity they get, the more money they get.”

Full story:

Roseanna Cunningham Quizzed over proposed licences to kill buzzards

Rhona Brankin MSP

Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham was asked some pretty incisive questions by Rhona Brankin MSP during parliamentary questions and answers on Wednesday 16th June 2010.

Questions were asked in relation to the mass rearing and release of pheasants and red legged partridges, the value of these birds, the value of Scotland’s biodiversity and natural heritage, the persecution of buzzards, applications for licences to kill buzzards, and the status of the goshawk and sparrowhawk in Scotland etc.

Full details of the parliamentary question and answer session can be found here:

Questions and answers regarding raptors and game birds are listed below. Apologies for the long post but it’s well worth a read.

Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive , further to the answer to question S3W-33201 by Richard Lochhead on 30 April 2010, what particular species of pheasant it considers to be naturally occurring in Scotland and what the taxonomic basis is for this view.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

The common pheasant (phasianus colchicus) has been breeding in the wild in Scotland for hundreds of years.

Rhona Brankin ( Midlothian ) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  whether it considers (a) biodiversity and (b) the natural heritage to have intrinsic value.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

The Scottish Government considers that there are two important ways in which the Scottish people derive benefit from biodiversity and the natural heritage. In the first place, significant value is derived from user benefits, ranging from ecosystem services such as water purification and nutrient recycling, to the pleasure provided by visiting natural areas and seeing plants and animals. In addition, although it less readily susceptible to quantification or analysis, we recognise that for a variety of moral or precautionary reasons, many people also place significant value on the simple existence of natural heritage and biodiversity.

Rhona Brankin ( Midlothian ) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  whether it considers that buzzards are subject to deliberate ill-treatment in areas where pheasants are released for shooting.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

Buzzards are widespread and frequently the victims of wildlife crime. It is likely that at least some of this wildlife crime will be associated with pheasant rearing.

Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive , should large numbers of licence applications to kill protected predatory birds meet guidance requirements for approval, what contingency plans exist to prevent a reduction in the population of the protected species being killed.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

We would not expect a large number of applications to be approved. No application would be approved that threatens the conservation status of the species concerned. The detail of any further guidelines is yet to be finalised.

Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive , should large numbers of licence applications to kill protected predatory birds meet guidance requirements for approval, what contingency plans exist to prevent a reduction in the capacity of the population to continue its expansion to previous natural levels.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

I refer the member to the answer to question S3W-34189 on 16 June 2010. All answers to written parliamentary questions are available on the Parliament’s website, the search facility for which can be found at

Rhona Brankin ( Midlothian ) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  what contingency plans exist should evidence of illegal killing arise in or near sites subject to applications for licences to kill predatory birds in order to protect game birds released to be shot.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

The detail of any further guidelines is yet to be finalised but it should be a condition of any licence that it could be withdrawn if there was evidence of illegal activity.

Rhona Brankin ( Midlothian ) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  what proportion of released pheasant poults survive to such an age that they are shot as part of a commercial operation.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

The Scottish Government does not hold this information.

Rhona Brankin ( Midlothian ) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  what estimates it is aware of regarding the total number of pheasant poults released each year.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

The Scottish Government does not hold this information. UK figures quoted by the GWCT state that 35 million pheasants are released each year (

Rhona Brankin ( Midlothian ) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  what the average value is of a pheasant poult at release age.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation estimate that the average price in 2010 for a pheasant poult, assuming that release age means the point at which the birds are put into a release pen at around 6-8 weeks of age, is
£3.25 – £3.75.

Rhona Brankin ( Midlothian ) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  what average income shooting businesses receive per pheasant shot by their clients.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation estimate that shooting businesses that charge for pheasant shooting would expect anything from £25-£40 per bird, plus VAT if applicable, assuming that this would be driven pheasant shooting. A number of these businesses could also offer clients walked-up shooting and it could be that the average cost per pheasant for walked-up shooting would be around £15-£20.

The majority of pheasants shot in Scotland each year are shot on driven shoots.

Rhona Brankin ( Midlothian ) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  whether research evidence supports the claims that raptors cause damage to game birds.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

Yes, available research does confirm that raptors cause damage to game birds.

Rhona Brankin ( Midlothian ) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  what key tests are applied before an agricultural licence is granted to kill buzzards.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

No licence to kill buzzards for this purpose has been granted. However any application to carry out licensed control of avian predators to prevent serious damage to livestock would have to meet two tests as set out in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 ;

  • that the proposed licensed control will prevent serious damage;
  • that there is no satisfactory alternative to licensed control of the predator;

The Scottish Government would also not grant any licence that threatened the conservation status of the species concerned. Further detailed guidance has been discussed with stakeholders. This process has not been completed.

Rhona Brankin ( Midlothian ) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  whether it is considering changing the key tests applied to the granting of agricultural licences to kill buzzards.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

There is no change planned in relation to any of the tests used in considering applications to control predatory birds to prevent serious damage to livestock.

Rhona Brankin ( Midlothian ) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  what alternatives to killing buzzards it is considering in relation to changes to agricultural licences.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

Any guidance should contain a list outlining alternatives solutions that must be shown to be unsatisfactory before any licence can be considered. This would include: increasing cover in release pens, changes to pen construction or placement, disrupting predator flight lines, the use of deterrents and diversionary feeding. The detail of any further guidelines is yet to be finalised.

Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  whether it considers that stakeholders were given adequate time to respond to its drafts of guidance on how to apply for licences to kill protected birds for the protection of game birds released in order to be shot and how the relevant timescale complied with its guidance on the management of consultations.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

The guidance is being drafted in accordance with discussions at stakeholder meetings and supporting correspondence. Stakeholders have been given adequate time to contribute to this process. Discussions have been ongoing since October 2009.

Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  what changes were made, following consultation, to its drafts of guidance on how to apply for licences to kill protected birds for the protection of game birds released in order to be shot; how these changes related to consultees’ comments; what analysis it did in relation to the comments and changes, and how this approach complied with its guidance on the management of consultations.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

The guidance seeks to clarify how the Scottish Government will operate a particular aspect of existing legislation. A wide range of comments from stakeholders have been considered, but ultimately, the content of the guidance will be the responsibility of the Scottish Government.

Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  what the conservation status of the goshawk is in Scotland .


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

Overall the species status is unfavourable due to population growth and distribution of birds being limited despite suitable habitat being available.

Best current estimates date from 2007 and place the breeding population at a minimum of 130 pairs (Birds in Scotland ), and 136 territories (Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme Report).

Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  what the conservation status of the sparrowhawk is in Scotland .


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

The overall conservation status of the Sparrowhawk is favourable.

The sparrowhawk is one of the most widespread and common raptors in Scotland, although there has been some suggestion of a decline since the 1980s within conifer forest nesting pairs due to changes in age structure of the forest estate.

Rhona Brankin ( Midlothian ) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  what research evidence it has considered in relation to licensing landowners to kill buzzards.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

The research evidence taken into account includes:

Allen, D.S., Packer, J.J., Blanchard, C. and Feare, C.J., 2000. Raptors and the rearing of Pheasants: problems and management needs. ADAS Consulting Ltd. Unpublished report to the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.

Allen, D.S., 2001. Raptors and the rearing of Pheasants, Part II: A preliminary evaluation of techniques to reduce losses of young pheasants to raptors at release pens. ADAS Consulting Ltd. Unpublished report to the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.

British Association for Shooting & Conservation leaflet.  Birds of prey at pheasant release pens.

Clements, R., 2000. Range expansion of the Common Buzzard in Britain . British Birds, 93: 242-248.

Clements, R., 2002. The Common Buzzard in Britain : a new population estimate. British Birds, 95: 377-383.

Cramp, S., 1977. Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa . Volume II, OUP.

Forester, R.W., Andrews, I.J., McInerny, C.J., Murray, R.D., McGowan, R.Y., Zonfrillo, B., Betts, M.W., Jardine, D.C. and Grundy, D.S. (Eds), 2007, vol II. The Birds of Scotland . The Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, Aberlady.

Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (formerly GCT), Review of 2003. Fate of released pheasants, page 74-75.

Harradine, J., Reynolds, N. and Laws, T., 1997. Raptors and gamebirds. A survey of game managers affected by raptors. Wrexham: British Association for Shooting and Conservation.

Kenward, R.E., 1999. Raptor predation problems and solutions. Journal of Raptor Research, 33(1): 73-75.

Kenward, R.E., Hall, D.G., Walls, S.S., Hodder, K.H., Pahkala, M., Freeman, S.N. and Simpson, V.R., 2000. The prevalence of non-breeders in raptor populations: evidence from rings, radio-tags and transect surveys. Oikos, 91(2): 271-279.

Kenward, R.E., Hall, D.G., Walls, S.S., and Hodder, K.H., 2001. Factors affecting predation by buzzards (Buteo buteo) on released pheasants (Phasianus colchicus). Journal of Applied Ecology, 38: 813-822.

Kenward, R.E., 2002. Management tools for reconciling bird hunting and biodiversity. European Concerted Action within the 5th Framework Program: Reconciling Gamebird Hunting and Biodiversity (REGHAB).

Lloyd, D.E.B., 1976. Avian predation of reared pheasants. Report to the British Field Sports Society, The Game Conservancy, The RSPB and the Wildfowlers Association of G.B. and Ireland .

JNCC, 2000. The report of the UK Raptor Working Group.

Manosa, S., 2002. The conflict between gamebird hunting and raptors in Europe . European Concerted Action within the 5th Framework Program: Reconciling Gamebird Hunting and Biodiversity (REGHAB).

Park, K.J., Calladine, J.R., Graham, K.E., Stephenson, C.M. and Wernham, C.V., 2005. The Impacts of Predatory Birds on Waders, Songbirds, Gamebirds and Fisheries Interests. A report to Scotland ’s Moorland Forum.

Redpath, S. and Thirgood, S., 1997. Birds of prey and red grouse. London : Stationery Office.

Reif, V., Jungell, S., Korpimaki, E., Tornberg, R. and Mykra, S., 2004. Numerical response of common buzzards and predation rate of main and alternative prey under fluctuating food conditions. Ann. Zool. Fennici, 41: 599-607.

Robertson, P.A., 1988. Survival of released pheasants, Phasianus colchicus, in Ireland . Journal of Zoology, 214: 683-695.

Thompson, D.B.A, Redpath, S.M., Fielding, A.H., Marquiss, M. and Galbraith , C.A. , 2003. Birds of prey in a changing environment. Edinburgh : The Stationery Office.

Walls, S.S. and Kenward, R.E., 1998. Movements of Common Buzzards, Buteo buteo, in early life. Ibis, 140: 561-568.

Rhona Brankin ( Midlothian ) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  whether it considers that any legislative changes that would allow landowners to kill buzzards would comply with EU tests and regulations.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

No legislative change is required to allow the control of predatory birds under licence.

Rhona Brankin ( Midlothian ) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  whether it will list ongoing research projects looking at alleged damage by raptors to other birds.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

The Langholm Demonstration Project is the main ongoing research project.

This topic has been looked at several times and was reviewed by Park et al in 2005 The Impacts of Predatory Birds on Waders, Songbirds, Gamebirds and Fisheries Interests (report to Moorland Forum) and 2008 Impacts of birds of prey on game birds in the UK: a review (Ibis 150 (Suppl. 1), 9–26).

Wider research that is available includes, spatial and temporal associations between recovering populations of common raven Corvus corax and British upland wader populations. Arjun Amar et al 2010 Journal of Applied Ecology is relevant, as is the BTO/Songbird Survival research – Population change of avian predators and grey squirrels in England : is there evidence for an impact on avian prey populations? Newson S et al. 2010 Journal of Applied Ecology.

Rhona Brankin ( Midlothian ) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive  what the cost to the taxpayer has been of undertaking research into alleged damage to other birds by raptors.


Ms Roseanna Cunningham MSP :

Public sector funding contributions to recent research into impact of raptors on other birds is as follows:

  • Racing Pigeons: Impact of Raptor Predation CSL report to SNH & SHU 2004 £122,000.
    ·       Sparrowhawks & Racing Pigeons – SG/SHU/SNH Research Trial 2009 c£25,000.
    ·       The Impacts of Predatory Birds on Waders, Songbirds, Gamebirds and Fisheries Interests. Moorland Forum Report  (2005) £24,000.

Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (2007-date) – £357,000 (including £52,500 from Natural England).

Natural England pulls the plug on sea eagle reintroduction

Natural England has withdrawn its financial support for the planned sea eagle reintroduction to the Suffolk coast.

There have been several protests over the reintroduction the best publicised of which is pig farmer Mr. Jimmy Butler’s billboard which reads “Say No To Sea Eagles Here.”

Natural England are firm in their denial that the farmers’ protests have not been the cause of this withdrawal and the decision is purely financial. 

 Natural England’s chief scientist, Tom Tew, said the decision was purely financial. “We’re not bowing to opposition,” he said. “We have listened to farmers and landowners and they have entirely legitimate concerns, but all of the research shows that their concerns are either unfounded, or could be overcome.”Today’s decision is about the current economic climate, and the need to focus ruthlessly on our existing commitments.”

 An RSPB spokesman voiced their disappointment at losing NE as a partner in this project but maintained that the project was postponed rather than cancelled and RSPB would explore other funding options.

 Without doubt the “No” campaigners will view this news as a great victory but will sleep sound in their beds knowing that their pigs, sheep, cows, children, giraffes etc are safe from this dangerous avian predator for at least a little while longer.

BBC Report Here.

new bill to tackle wildlife crime in Scotland

An announcement has just been made that a new bill to tackle the growing problem of wildlife crime is to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament:

It is not yet clear whether this will be an entirely new bill, or whether it will be included in the new Wildlife & Natural Environment Bill, which was presented to the Scottish Parliament earlier this week:

Either way, it is encouraging to hear that positive action is being considered. More news when it becomes available.

poisoned golden eagles

more sea eagles set for release in Ireland despite poison fears

Project Manager Dr Allan Mee with two poisoned sea eagles

The Norwegian authorities have cautiously agreed to provide Ireland with 20 more white-tailed sea eagles later this month, despite the on-going poisoning that threatens the viability of the project.

So far, 14 of the 55 sea eagles given by Norway to Ireland as part of the re-introduction project have been found dead, and at least 7 of these were confirmed to have been poisoned. Earlier this year, 3 sea eagles were found poisoned in County Kerry in the space of just four weeks. All had fallen victim to eating poisoned baits.

The Golden Eagle Trust (the organisation leading the re-introduction effort on white-tailed eagles, golden eagles and red kites) believe that the majority of sheep farmers in the region are supportive of the project, but that a small minority of landowners are still laying out poisoned baits that are having such a devastating effect.

Full story:

Golden Eagle Trust website:

who owns the shooting rights at Moy Estate?

Following the development of the sad and sorry story about alleged illegal raptor persecution on the Moy Estate, let’s look at who’s who. The Moy Estate is owned by Celia Mackintosh of Mackintosh, but it seems that the shooting rights are let to someone else.

Corrybrough Estate

Apparently, grouse shooting on Moy Estate is let to “The Moy Estate Sportings”, which forms part of the nearby estate, Corrybrough. Corrybrough Estate has recently been sold, and the estate agents obligingly left some detailed information about the sale on their website, which included the lease of “The Moy Estate Sportings”, which runs until 2028, and details of the shooting records from the two estates over the the last few years.

The new owner of Corrybrough Estate has not been named, but Victor Beamish, the man who signed the recent SRPBA letter on behalf of Moy Estate, condemning the illegal posioning of raptors, is understood to be associated with the company which now holds the sporting lease for Moy Estate. It has been reported elsewhere that he is the sporting tenant (here).

Interestingly, Corrybrough Estate was not a signatory of the recent letter to the government from over 200 landowners, condemning wildlife crime. 8 buzzards and 1 red kite were found dead on Corrybrough Estate in 1998 (see blog post on 7th March 2010 for details). There was at least one gamekeeper at Corrybrough at the time the sales document was drafted, who, according to the document, apparently had been there for “many years”, although it is not known whether he is still employed there. He has engaged in a series of public spats in the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald, where he proclaims the oft-repeated SGA stance that gamekeepers are unfairly blamed for raptor persecution incidents. No surprise there, given that he has acted as an official representative of the SGA on occasions, including the SGA’s critical condemnation of the Irish Golden Eagle Reintroduction Project. Here are his letters in the 2008 Strathspey & Badenoch Herald – starting with the letter from R. Drennan Watson, Convenor of the Cairngorms Campaign – read in order from the top down: UPDATE 2014: the following links no longer work. However, we happen to have some saved copies, which we’ve posted in full at the bottom of this blog entry.’What_actually_happened’.html

For the full details of the Corrybrough Estate/Moy Estate shooting deal, click here: deanfarmdraftbrochure

Another Moy Estate gamekeeper has been in the news in recent years – facing a compensation claim after he shot two dogs on Moy Estate. One survived, the other didn’t. Story here:

UPDATE: Here is the full correspondence between the Corrybrough gamekeeper (Callum Kippen) and R. Drennan Watson:

Published:  20 August, 2008

Sir, – I am writing re the removal of young golden eagles from Scottish eyries to Ireland. The press release from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), as reported in the “Strathy” of August 13, displays the usual lack of grasp of the facts.

The SGA spokesman, Alex Hogg, is quoted as asserting that chicks are removed when fledged. This is nonsense. Fledged young eagles are highly active creatures and trying to catch one on a precipitous crag would be difficult and highly dangerous. They are removed when they begin to grow adult plumage and can both control their own body temperature and feed themselves.

He is also quoted as saying they are removed from eyries in areas least populated by eagles and this should stop. Again not so – they are taken from areas where there are good populations, using very strict Scottish Natural Heritage criteria embedded in the licence, to ensure chicks are only collected from specific areas where SNH believes that the golden eagle population is robust.

Raptors like eagles sometimes have more than one chick, but very frequently only one reaches adulthood, partly due to competition between chicks for food.

Removing and rearing the weaker chick therefore ensures its survival, increases the total number of eagles reaching maturity, and does not significantly reduce the numbers reaching adulthood hence, there was no reason for SNH to mention this as a factor depleting golden eagle populations in their report.

Mr Hogg also points out that almost half the birds released in Ireland are now unaccounted for. This is not surprising. The data comes from radio tracking. Radios fail after several years and, in difficult terrain, birds can be hard to track. Because they are unaccounted for does not mean they are dead.

SNH’s report examines extensive data over a considerable number of years and, combined with recent detailed reports from the RSPB, provides convincing evidence that the chief factor depleting golden eagle populations is illegal poisoning on sporting estates.

What does Alex Hogg advocate? That the eaglets in eyries in least populated areas in the Highlands should just be left to mature – and be poisoned in Scotland instead of Ireland? These protests by the SGA are simply a smokescreen to confuse the public where real culpability lies. – Yours etc,

R DRENNAN WATSON (Convener), Cairngorms Campaign, Brig o’ Lead, Forbes, Alford

Published:  27 August, 2008

Sir, – In last week’s “Strathy”, R. Drennan Watson claims to set out a few facts regarding the eagle population in Scotland, but once again he misses the point.

His opinions are an example of “one rule for gamekeepers and another for the conservation organisations.” In his correspondence, he states that eagles could not have been removed from nests at the point of fledging as claimed by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, because that is against the “criteria embedded in the licence”.

However, it would be interesting to know if he was present at the capture of the young eagles, as otherwise, how would he know what actually happened. Eyewitnesses have seen eaglets flying from the nests and being captured on the ground. It is also a fact that two of these exported birds have arrived in Ireland injured, one with a broken hip and one with a broken wing. Not really the picture that the conservationists or Mr Watson want the public to envisage.

The law very clearly states that it is illegal to kill eagles yet Mr Watson is willing to accept indeed even accuse gamekeepers of such acts that is despite no gamekeeper having been prosecuted for killing eagles in the last 20 or more years. Are we guilty until proven innocent?

He uses this logic in an attempt to “prove” that conservationists could not have hurt the chicks because it is not their policy, but fails to mention the conservationist who was arrested by the police for causing a hen eagle to desert her nest at the point of hatch, only to have the case thrown out by the Procurator Fiscal as not being in the public interest to prosecute.

Would this have happened if it had been a gamekeeper who was witnessed by the police disturbing the nest? It is disappointing that this man sets his stall by the RSPB and states “they have provided convincing evidence”; this is an organisation that by their own admission need wildlife crime in order to swell their coffers.

Mr Watson also states “because they are unaccounted for does not mean they are dead,” as a defence for missing eagles in Ireland, yet in Scotland eagles that are unaccounted for are presumed poisoned by gamekeepers.

It also beggars belief that he and his ilk will not join the SGA, and call for a halt to this extravagant waste of Scotland’s iconic eagles. Conservation groups are always very quick to blame Scottish gamekeepers for the down-turn in eagle numbers but are happy to support the transfer of these valuable birds to a country with the lowest number of different raptor species in Europe.

It is blatantly evident to anyone who is willing to look, that Ireland is unable to support its own natural levels of raptors and therefore the introduction of a further raptor species is bound to fail.

Finally, he accuses Alex Hogg of creating a smoke screen to deflect attention from gamekeeper’s misdemeanours, I suggest the opposite is true and the conservation organisations are finally being seen in their true light, and their only defence is to rehash the same old rhetoric which is at least 20 years out-of-date. Facing the truth that gamekeepers are no longer responsible for widespread persecution is not in the conservationists’ best interest.

Unfortunately, Mr Watson shows the same lack of insight and prejudiced views which have been created by the conservation organisations in an attempt to undermine the good work of the SGA.

Their views are not based on substance or a genuine desire to improve wildlife management but merely to down cry the SGA. This view is what contributes to double standards that are so common these days and the SGA is working hard to overcome.

The tide is turning in the world of conservation and the Scottish Government is showing more and more interest in the opinions of the SGA as a more legitimate and realistic organisation.

It is about time that the other conservation organisations worked with the SGA instead of bringing up the same out-dated and biased views to disagree with them just because it is the S.G.A. – Yours etc,

CALUM KIPPEN, Dalkillin, Soilsean, Tomatin.

Published:  10 September, 2008

Sir, – Callum Kippen (Strathy, August 27) complains that keepers on grouse moors are being unjustly accused of illegally persecuting golden eagles and the work of the Scottish Gamekeeper’s Association as being undermined in my letter in the previous issue. Really?

He asserts the views stated are “not based on substance” and on information that is 20 years out of date. The conclusions in recent reports by the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) not only draw on many years of accumulated data on eagle and other populations, but on at least seven studies in the last 10 years, six of them in the last four years.

The SNH report which concludes: “The highest priority for management and political initiatives is tackling persecution” is particularly thorough and broad in its review, drawing on nearly 240 cited publications.

What does the very substantial evidence show? Firstly, eagle populations and breeding are poor in grouse moor areas where there are suitable eagle ranges but, curiously, not in areas dominated by land uses like crofting and forestry.

Secondly, poisoned eagles have been found in these grouse moor areas.

Thirdly, this pattern also applies to peregrine falcons and hen harriers, which can predate grouse.

Fourthly, over 2006-2007 alone, six keepers were prosecuted for possessing and/or using the poisons used to kill these species. What does Calum Kippen think they were doing with these very dangerous poisons?

Two more keepers were prosecuted for illegally persecuting protected species by other means but, with the exception of one lone crofter, nobody else was prosecuted for these crimes.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck – you can bet it’s a duck! These crimes take place in remote areas where it is far easier for the perpetrators to conceal evidence than for it to be found.

Most incidents of illegal poisoning are found by hillwalkers by chance. It is hardly surprising there are not (yet) prosecutions. Pursuing these issues does not “swell the coffers” of environmental groups as asserted – rather, it drains their limited resources of time and staff, and they would rather be doing other things.

It is understandable that Calum Kippen, as a headkeeper and a board member of SGA, finds this issue difficult.

Not all keepers illegally persecute protected species, but until the SGA comes out of its state of denial and accepts there is a problem, it will make no progress with other organisations or government on this issue, and its untenable stance will just damage its members’ interests. – Yours etc,

R DRENNAN WATSON, Convener, Cairngorms Campaign, PO Box 10037, Alford.

Published:  24 September, 2008

Sir, – Mr Drennan Watson (‘Strathy’, September 10), has again shown his ignorance of the facts surrounding the golden eagle population in Scotland and the eagle export to Ireland.

He claims that the eagle population on grouse moors is low, yet the east of Scotland, including the Cairngorms, which has a high density of grouse moors, has contributed 46 per cent of the eagle chicks exported over the Irish Sea. How many chicks has the RSPB’s Abernethy reserve in the same area contributed?

I do agree that eagles have been found poisoned, but conservationists have also been responsible for the death of protected birds while “monitoring” them. I wonder if Scottish Natural Heritage has studied the trauma caused to eagles while dying at the hands of a gamekeeper compared to conservationists. I doubt there is much difference, so why do gamekeepers get so much more condemnation?

The real reason, I suspect, that the Scottish eagle population is not higher is due to the reduction in their food supply.

There has been a 60 per cent reduction in sheep numbers in upland areas; 30,000 red deer culled in the Cairngorms; and all dead sheep grallochs are removed from the hillside. This has massively reduced the food supply to the golden eagle.

Mr Watson claims that because keepers work in remote areas, it is very difficult to catch them breaking the law, and therefore they must be guilty. I should point out that these same remote working conditions also make it very difficult for the keeper to secure his workplace from outside interference.

Mr Watson and his ilk constantly use the terms “prosecuted” and “convicted” as if they can be interchanged. The majority of the keepers that he quotes as being prosecuted for possession of illegal poisons were not found guilty at trial. Does he wish to do away with court trials for gamekeepers and just send us all to jail regardless of the facts?

Finally, I would like to state categorically that I am not a board member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, and if this very basic fact has been misrepresented by Mr Watson, then how many of his other so-called facts are also plain wrong? – Yours etc,

CALUM KIPPEN, Dalillin, Scilscan, Tomatin.

Published:  01 October, 2008

Sir, – Callum Kippen’s latest letter to the ‘Strathy’ (September 23) contains the usual rather silly points.

He queries why a major percentage of the eagles exported to Ireland came from grouse moor areas.

Golden eagles fare best where there is a good food supply, and therefore they breed well in the drier east of Scotland, with its preferred prey including red grouse and mountain hares – at least when they are not poisoned.

He demands to know how many eagles have come from the RSPB’s Abernethy Reserve. RSPB Abernethy is a Special Protection Area and Special Area of Conservation. The SNH licence for export of golden eagles to Ireland prohibits the taking of birds from protected areas, based on EU law.

Similarly, red kites have not been taken from protected areas in Germany and Sweden for Scottish reintroduction projects. He asserts that conservationists have caused the death of golden eagles while monitoring them. This is a very serious allegation, without a shred of supporting evidence, because it is not true. If Mr Kippen has any evidence to this effect, then this is a police matter and he should report it to the authorities.

He attributes golden eagle decline to a drop in sheep numbers. It has little to do with sheep numbers. That drop has taken place across the Highlands and Islands, but severe impacts on golden eagle numbers arise in grouse moor areas, not sheep areas.

He asserts that the majority of keepers figuring in my statistics were prosecuted but found not guilty at trial. All the keepers figuring in my statistics were found guilty.

These people were found to be in possession of the dangerous, banned, poisons used to poison birds of prey. What does Mr Kippen think they were doing with them? Feeding their chickens? Who does he think is poisoning these protected species if it is not keepers? He implies it is some mysterious group who nobody has ever heard of, seen, or prosecuted interfering with the work of gamekeepers. The idea is just silly.

It is clear that no matter how many keepers are convicted or careful studies conclude who is to blame, Mr Kippen will continue to be in denial. I will therefore not reply to future letters from him on this topic. The public can come to its own inevitable conclusion.

Meanwhile, the reintroduction of golden eagles to Ireland is meeting with some success. – Yours etc,

R DRENNAN WATSON (Convener), Cairngorms Campaign, PO Box 10037, Alford AB33 8WZ

Two men accused of wildlife crimes after yesterday’s Moy Estate raid

Following the police raid at Moy Estate, Inverness-shire yesterday, two men have been reported to the Procurator Fiscal in connection with alleged offences under the Wildlife & Countryside Act and alleged firearms offences.

BBC news story:

Police raid at Moy Estate, Inverness after raptors found dead

Police raid at Moy Estate

Police have conducted a raid on the Moy Estate, near Inverness, following the recent discovery of poisoned bait and dead raptors. The RSPB has been undertaking surveillance for several weeks at the estate after a dead grouse was found to have been used as a poisoned bait. This culminated in today’s police raid, where evidence (believed to include dead birds) has been removed for further investigation and toxicology tests. No arrests have been made as yet.

Moy Estate owner Celia Mackintosh

The 25,000 acre Moy Estate is a well-known grouse-shooting estate, and, rather embarrassingly, was one of the signatories of the recent letter to the government from numerous sporting estates who claimed to condemn raptor poisoning. Two people from Moy Estate signed the letter – Victor Beamish is the 19th signatory, and Estate owner Celia Mackintosh is the 143rd signatory. Click here to view that letter:  SRPBA LETTER MAY 2010

Yet another instance demonstrating the worthlessness of that letter. Well done Moy Estate, you have earned a place in our Named Estates directory. I can’t wait to hear what the SRPBA, SEBG and SGA have to say about this. I expect that Moy Estate will be expelled from all three groups, and that all three groups will also boycott the forthcoming Moy Field Sports Fair, being held on Moy Estate on 6th & 7th August 2010. You don’t think so? No, me neither, but if these three organisations wish to be taken seriously, they will stick to their previous promises and demonstrate their ‘condemnation’ of the illegal raptor persecution activities apparently uncovered at Moy Estate.

Full news story about the police raid:

And here:

UPDATE: A quote from SRPBA Chief Executive Douglas McAdam about this incident, “We do not yet know the full facts of this case. We are appalled none the less at what appears to be yet further illegal persecution against Scotland’s wildlife, but we do need to await the outcome of the legal process to determine where guilt lies“.–

Douglas, I don’t think you need to be Inspector Clouseau to work this one out!

red kite blasted with shotgun finally released

In December 2009, a walker found an injured red kite in Braco, Perthshire. X-rays revealed it had been blasted with a shotgun, five times,  from close range. The kite’s injuries were horrific and it was feared the bird would not survive (see the post on this blog from 3 March 2010). No arrests were made.

The kite ready for release

Six months later, after extensive treatment and care provided by the SSPCA, the rehabilitated kite was released back to the wild yesterday. Congratulations to all involved with this bird’s recovery.

News story:

landowners’ condemnation of raptor persecution revisited

Last week, I reported that 23 of the shooting estates that had signed the letter to condemn raptor poisoning had had wildlife crime incidents recorded on their properties, and in some cases, employees had criminal convictions associated with wildlife crime. I decided to give them all the benefit of the doubt, as they may all have since changed ownership and/or staff since those incidents and subsequently changed their attitude towards raptor killing.  After some heavy duty googling, it appears that 6 of the 22 have changed ownership, 11 have not, and inconclusive material was found for 6.

Estates that do not appear to have changed ownership and/or staff since incidents of wildlife crime have been recorded on their land, yet are asking us to believe they now ‘condemn’ raptor poisoning are as follows:

Careston Castle, Dochfour Estate, Invercauld Estate, Haystoun Estate, Dougarie Estate, Haddo Estate, Dunecht Estate, Roxburghe Estate, Seafield & Strathsprey Estates, Innes Estate.

Estates that do appear to have changed ownership and/or staff since incidents of wildlife crime were recorded on their land are as follows:

Coignafearn Estate, Dunachton Estate, Glenfeshie Estate, Lothian Estate, Islay Estate, Wemyss & March Estates.

Inconclusive evidence of a change of ownership and/or staff since incidents of wildlife crime were recorded on their land include the following:

Rosehaugh Estate, Dinnet & Kinord Estate, Balmanno Estate, Straloch Farm, Aberarder Estate.

Dr Sigrid Rausing

One estate that deserves special mention is Coignafearn Estate in the Monadhliaths. Previously known by raptor workers as a notorious eagle black-spot in the 1980s when it was owned by an age-ing Belgian, Baron Douharty, Coignafearn was bought by Dr Sigrid Rausing in 1998. The daughter of Tetra Pak billionaire Hans Rausing, she has since made tremendous efforts to run this estate positively for raptors, including building artifical nest sites to try and encourage breeding golden eagles back to her land.

If only all landowners were as enlightened as Dr Rausing.