The purpose of this bill is to modernise game law, abolish the designation ‘areas of special protection’, improve snaring practice, regulate invasive non-native species, change the licensing system for protected species, amend current arrangements for deer management and deer stalking, strengthen protection of badgers, change how muirburn can be practised, and make operational changes to the management of Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
The bill (as introduced) can be seen here.
The Rural Affairs and Environment Committee has been appointed the lead committee to scrutinise the bill and as such has called on various bodies to provide views on the general principles of the bill.
Written submissions can be read here.
Naturally the most important issue on this bill, from a raptor conservation aspect, will be any change to the licensing system for protected species which could theoretically pave the way for the licensed killing of raptors in Scotland.
In a change to the usual passage of such bills the 18th meeting was held in The Buccleuch Centre in Langholm on 7th September 2010 . A full transcript of the meeting can be viewed here.
(The most relevant discussion involving raptors commences at col 2991)
Alex Hogg (chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association) had much to say on the subject of the licensed killing of raptors and ravens. Mr Hogg pleaded his case saying –
I only have a problem with young rogue buzzards. If I could deal with those specific ones, the problem would stop, I am quite sure. A lot of money would be lost to the rural economy if every shoot in Scotland ended up losing poults. A pheasant poult is worth the same as a lamb—it is worth about £35 when it is shot, and that is a huge amount of income for the rural economy. All that we are asking for is something to deal with specific rogue birds. We do not feel that a huge number would be involved,
Mr Hogg forgot to mention that his last application to the Scottish Government was to kill 12 buzzards on his estate alone, is that a few rogues? And that multiplied by the number of shooting estates in Scotland! Mr Hogg also omitted to expand upon his valuation of his pheasant poults. On an average pheasant shoot the number of pheasants shot is (optimistically) around 50% of the number of poults released so Mr Hogg’s pheasant poult is actually worth £17.50 As he already stated that his employers shoot is a small family operation, i.e. non commercial, it could be argued that they are in fact worth considerably less.
Mr Hogg went on to comment about the “fantastic”number of raptors in Scotland. He obviously fails to mention the vast tracts of Scotland’s uplands where raptors could be expected to be found, but invariably aren’t, these areas being generally termed “grouse moors”
We have worked hard to reduce wildlife crime, and anybody who is caught poisoning any birds of prey will be thrown out of the SGA. Nevertheless, I point out that the numbers of birds of prey in Scotland are at a fantastic high. We have 440 pairs of golden eagles and more than 700 pairs of harriers, whereas there is nothing in England at all. Our raptor population has not stopped rising since the 1960s. The incidence of bird poisoning rose last year, but I am sure that, through peer pressure over the next couple of years, it will go down to nearly zero, although we will not get rid of poisoning. It is like rape and murder—it will always be there. We will try our hardest to drive it out of the country. However, we also need some means of managing the raptor population, the raven population or whatever population we are trying to balance with our work in the countryside.
Mr Hogg is often telling us that poisoned raptors are planted on shooting estates and gamekeepers are blameless scapegoats, therefore it’s hard to understand why he thinks that peer pressure will stop raptor poisoning. Is this an admission that gamekeepers are carrying out raptor persecution crimes?
Mr Hogg’s finale was his roadmap to stop wildlife crime in Scotland which can basically be summarised as “give me my licence to shoot buzzards and wildlife crime is a thing of the past” !
I feel that wildlife crime would stop in the next two or three years if we could address the question that Mike Russell asked, which was how many is too many. How many hen harriers does Langholm need? How many raptors, ravens, rabbits or whatever does an estate need? An estate needs to be managed and kept in balance with nature. It is dead easy to make a political decision about enforcement—to say, “We should jail people for 20 years”—but we should try to get people around a table to try to get them to come to a commonsense solution that everyone will benefit from. People who are involved in wildlife tourism, grouse shooting and the private estates all want the same thing, so we must be able to get around a table and thrash out the issues until we get an answer.
Is anyone fooled by Alex Hogg’s apparent willingness to negotiate? Certainly, the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee asked some very well-informed and revealing questions. Mr Hogg and the SGA appear to be desperately trying to drum up some support for the licensed killing of raptors. We can only hope that the committee recognises and appreciates the damage that this proposed legislation could cause Scotland’s reputation across the world as an environmentally responsible, modern and forward thinking country.