Environment Minister’s response to dead eagle found in Grampian

Un-fucking-believable. Yes, it’s a swear word but that’s the least of our concerns. Read what follows and you’ll be swearing in anger too…

The Environment Minister has responded to a letter sent to him by one of our readers (Dave Adam) concerning the appalling death of that golden eagle back in May (see here for details of that bird’s demise). This is the eagle whose satellite transmitter showed the bird went down on a grouse moor in Glen Esk, Angus for 15 hours (an area where another golden eagle had previously been found poisoned in 2009, oh, and a buzzard was also found poisoned there in 2008 although that wasn’t publicised at the time) and then this eagle miraculously moved to a layby in Aberdeen, in the middle of the night, where it was found dead several days later with two broken legs – injuries consistent with being caught in a leg-hold trap. Yes, THAT eagle. According to the Minister, this scenario may not have been the result of criminal activity.

Dave Adam has posted the Minister’s response letter in the comments section of the original post (thank you) but it’s far too important for it to remain there, hence the decision to publish it here.

Here it is in full:

Thank you for your letter of the 25 September 2012 to the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Mr Paul Wheelhouse. I have been asked to respond.

I agree that the media reports were a terrible story of the suffering of a young golden eagle. The reports may suggest that the circumstances of this incident were suggestive of an offence however there is no hard evidence and it remains possible that there is an alternative explanation. It is therefore inappropriate for me to comment.

The unlawful killing of any raptors has no place in today’s Scotland and we will continue to work hard to eradicate this criminal activity. We believe that the partnership approach with the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland, is bringing the reduction in bird of prey poisoning that can be seen in the statistics in recent years. However we are not complacent and if there is evidence of a switch to other methods of persecution we will take action to bear down on those methods.

The Scottish Government recognises that game shooting generates significant income and employment in our rural economy, often in areas where there are few alternative opportunities. However it is important that these businesses operate within the law, and the Scottish Government recognises that most such businesses do so. However where there appear to be conflicts for example between raptors and highly-intensive grouse moor management, we believe that an approach of seeking to improve the effectiveness of law enforcement while working with partner organisations to isolate those persisting with illegal practices is the best way forward.

Scottish police have a clear focus on tackling wildlife crime cases. Law enforcement’s role in tackling wildlife crime was reviewed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary Scotland in 2008, and there was a follow-up review in 2009. As a result there are officers with wildlife crime duties in every police force area and a consistent and professional approach from senior officers.

It is frustrating that it is difficult to detect, prosecute and convict those responsible for wildlife crimes. However while it easy to make suppositions about circumstances of an apparent offence as reported in the media, wildlife crime must be subject to the same standard of proof as any other crime. Police and prosecutors also apply the same stringent procedure for dealing with wildlife crime as for any other sort of crime.

You say that the golden eagle population is threatened by illegal persecution. The Golden Eagle Conservation Framework published by SNH in 2008 did identify persecution in eastern Scotland and food shortages in the west as threats to the birds’ conservation status. It is difficult to estimate the amount of illegal persecution, but we recognise that in the longer term the best measure of success in dealing with raptor persecution will be when vacant golden eagle territories, as identified in the Framework document, are re-occupied.

K. Hunter, Policy Officer, Scottish Government.

Like we said at the top, un-fucking-believable. Especially coming a day after we learn that another golden eagle was the target of criminal activity on a grouse moor, this time being found shot and critically injured and left to die.

What did we say yesterday about needing a strong response from government, and not the usual platitudes about ‘partnership working’?

The question is, what are we going to do about it? And by ‘we’, that means all of us. Angry? You’d better believe it.

If you want to tell him how angry you are, and why (because it obviously needs spelling out) here’s his email address again: ministerforenvironment@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

When you’ve done that, send a copy to Alex Salmond: FirstMinister@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

These politicians HAVE to understand that we’re not tolerating this any longer.

21 thoughts on “Environment Minister’s response to dead eagle found in Grampian”

  1. As I have said before here, that kind of response is totally predictable. The lobbying power of the shooting community and the perceived benefits to rural communities that game shooting brings ensures that any government will talk the talk but will NEVER walk the walk. So long as we remain a feudal society, doffing our caps to the laird and allowing these supposed guardians of our countryside to do what they damned please with OUR wildlife, nothing will change. Email the environment minister, urge him to walk the walk and don’t stop with him it is time to bombard Alex Salmond with letters and emails, daily if we have to, to show this government that Scotland will not take this level of crime any longer.

    For far too long now the population of this country has been separated from its wildlife, deferring ownership to the estate owners and landed gentry, including most of our judiciary. By God I am angry but I will not take it lying down.

    1. Dave Adam is lucky, I haven’t even had the courtesy of a reply to my letter as yet. Maybe the minister is going to reply personally, but I won’t hold my breath.

  2. This is the obvious response from a Minister of the Environment who can’t even be bothered to reply personally to what is a very serious environmental problem that should be given top priority. So he does what most ministers of his like do when they don’t consider the problem serious enough for them to bother their arse, he gets his lackie to reply about a subject of which he/she is clueless to say the least. To say this is typical goes without saying, unfortunately it’s exactly the response we have come to expect where wildlife persecution, especially of Raptors is involved, it gives the persecutors just what they want, total indiference from the top giving them free rein to carry on as usual.

  3. Good to see the environment minister has dealt with this issue rationally without bias and is aware on all the benefits that game shooting and sporting estates bring to the rural economy.

    1. Grouseman: Whether or not game shooting and sporting estates bring any benefits to the rural economy (which is debateable in itself) has sod all to do with the crime of murdering a golden eagle. You are a simple apologist for this appalling crime. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    2. I have my doubts as to just how much money this dispicable ‘sport’ does generate in the wider economy. However even if it does, it should not do so by what is now obvious, a dependency on wide spread criminal activity.

    3. Asked about his decision, Governor Pilate said: “We have to consider the economic benefits from the cross-making industry.”

    4. Most of which goes into the ar$e pocket of the Lord Muck types that run these places…..most gamekeepers/beaters appear to earn barley the minimum wage if that. If accomdation is offered its usually a damp hovel!!

  4. I sent an email to Paul Wheelhouse, Alex Salmond and my local MSP on 27 Sep, describing the attrocities committed on grouse moors across the land (and linking to a couple of pages on this site).

    My own MSP responded the following day and mentioned that he would look into it, which is fair enough. On 2 Oct, I received a reply from Ministerial Correspondence Unit on behalf of Alex Salmond, and this mentioned that a reply would be sent as soon as possible. I’ve yet to receive anything from Paul Wheelhouse. Says it all really. Considering the email was sent in the aftermath of yet another eagle death, I would have expected some urgency on the matter. How wrong I was.

    In response to the economic and employment benefits argument, I must again make comment that for this to be considered, then why is the government not pulling out all the stops to legalise the illegal drugs trade and capitalise on the vast economic and employment benefits this would bring, not just to the rural economy but to the nation as a whole. No, the economic and employment benefits spiel is utter nonsense and it is just an attempt to win votes with a class of people that would normally vote for the tory party.

    All my voting life I have voted for the SNP, I have campaigned for them in the past and have always been pro-independence and when they gained power I honestly thought things would change. Sadly, things have not changed as I would have expected – giving in to Donald Trump was one bad move and then I’ve had my own issues over the Hunterston Coal-fired Power Station. If there are no major changes in their attitudes to wildlife crime, raptor persecution and other environmental matters soon, then my voting days will be over.

    1. Almost a month since I sent my email, I received a reply from the same Karen Hunter, which is all very well, but when you consider that some of the reply has been a straightforward copy and paste and some has been rejigged, it really does make you wonder how seriously the government is taking this, and why it took almost a month for the reply.

      Anyway, we had the usual nonsense about tackling wildlife crime through partnership working, the “significant” that vicarious liability is having on deterring wildlife crime and the reduction of poisoning incidents. This last point is quite interesting as I did not mention anything about poisoning in my email.

      However, I did comment on the fact that shooting licences and financial incentives be withdrawn if there was any evidence of wrongdoing, but the reply to this was;

      “We believe that the correct course of action at this juncture is to make the best use of existing legislation, including the recent introduction of vicarious liability, but if it appears that this is not addressing the objective of reducing crimes against raptors, other options may be considered.”


      “Firstly, not all rural businesses are in receipt of these payments. Where there is a mechanism for recovering all or some payment in cases involving wildlife crime, the circumstances are examined in each case. Rural businesses can submit a formal appeal if their payments are reduced, it is therefore important that there is robust evidence of wrongdoing.”

      So, in other words, they are not going to withdraw shooting licences and because the businesses can appeal, it is unlikely that the recovery of subsidy payments will be approached.

      I think another letter-writing spell is in the offing.

  5. Wheelhouse’s declaration of interests shows a family membership of the RSPB. I would argue that his inability to take a principled stand against persecution is incompatible with this membership. It’d be expecting the RSPB to take action, but surely the best message to this guy would be a very public rebuke from Europe’s largest conservation charity?

  6. Clearly a response that was put out by a civil servant trying to shut things down. There are lots of assertions in the reply designed to look factual…..they should be challenged iy should not be shut down.

    “The reports may suggest that the circumstances of this incident were suggestive of an offence however there is no hard evidence and it remains possible that there is an alternative explanation.” Has the minister lost faith in his own vet/pathologists?” Can the minister outline what alternative scenarios that were considered?

    “The unlawful killing of any raptors has no place in today’s Scotland and we will continue to work hard to eradicate this criminal activity. We believe that the partnership approach with the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland, is bringing the reduction in bird of prey poisoning that can be seen in the statistics in recent years. However we are not complacent and if there is evidence of a switch to other methods of persecution we will take action to bear down on those methods.” So they have seen a reduction in poisoning and we are collecting evidence of other methods…
    While they want to use this as an indicator of successful partnership working(????!) this does nothing about the unooccupied ranges on grouse moors. The test of the success of this partnership approach is not a reduction in detected crime…the test is the expansion of the population into all the vacant ranges (the inhibition of which is the result of undetected crime). Is this re-occupation happening…if not 5 years of PAWs has achieved little.

    “in the longer term the best measure of success in dealing with raptor persecution will be when vacant golden eagle territories, as identified in the Framework document, are re-occupied.”
    This statement clearly acknowledges the location of the problem, it implies that “steps are being taken” and there is a target which will mark the success of the action being taken. What is missing is a timescale- so ask how long they intend to follow their current course of action and what steps they are taking to monitor progress.

    “However it is important that these businesses operate within the law, and the Scottish Government recognises that most such businesses do so.” How are they working this factoid out? Is it hollow rhetoric or did they count the number of grouse moors and compare this against the vacant range data? Its a challengeable statemet so they should be asked to justify it fully.

    Has the EU given a view on the lack of success in reaching favourable conservation status?

    Keep asking questions…challenge every bit of spin.

  7. The Golden Eagle Conservation Framework report states that most vacant eagle territories are actually caused by persecution (which in my opinion includes poisoning, shooting, trapping, egg addling / oiling, deliberate disturbance by keepers or burning out / removal of nest habitat) especially on intensively managed grouse moor.

    The grouse moor rich North East Glens NHZ has one of the highest breeding success rates per pair in Scotland because of available prey yet has the fewest numbers of breeding adults and the highest vacated territory rate due to persecution of an unknown extent or natural mortality of sub-adult eagles, only 10% are expected to survive to adult status to fill these vacant territories. I know of one pair in the North East Glens NHZ that unusually reared 3 chicks successfully this year – let’s hope that at least 0.3 of them survive.

    So ‘in the longer term’ there will be no ‘measure of success’ for Scotland’s eagle population (where in only 3 out of 14 Natural Heritage Zones is there a satisfactory level of eagle conservation and that was several years ago) until persecution is completely eliminated and grouse economics do not hold charm over the police or government.

  8. Welcome to the world of Partnership working, gentlemen…the idiocy that continues the “if only everyone would behave in a sensible manner” when you are dealing with criminals, shines through here.PAWC, which this minister is relying so heavily upon, was basically set up to placate the landowning/shooting lobby who were thoroughly alarmed at the successes of RSPB and Police in fighting estate based crime in the early 1990’s. A real working partneership which got results – replaced by an all inclusive bourach which contained elements which clearly disagreed with raptor protection. Now that is in with the woodwork…youll never get a government spokesman crticising the other sections of the Partnership..whether Police/SGA/Crown Office or whoever……and thats how you flatten criticism. Simples.

    Remove PAWCS, remove NWCU…and train individual police officers at college on how to deal with wildlife crimes [theyres still plenty of us out here would help a truly neutral legality based system]…and then, let them get on with it without political interference, either local or national…oh yes and encourage Crown Office/PFs to accept evidence from all quarters, with of course all the usual safeguards. We used to do it, without all these extra layers of protection for the criminals.

  9. I am posting this comment as it may never get a response or see the light of day again…thanks to Raptor Watch we can have our say…if a reply is forthcoming I will send it on… Bill

    Minister of the Environment,

    Dear Sir,

    Scotland’s wildlife is getting wiped out daily by so called sporting estates and you are responsible for this activity.

    After reading your response highlighted on Raptor watch to letters sent to your department I am just staggered by your attitude…are you in the right job?
    (Please read Dave Dicks comments and book on the subject. Tell it as it is Dave)

    Leading the way are we?

    Alex Salmond has a lot to answer for as well as yourself for allowing Scotland to become a turbine strewn ugly, unattractive desert ultimately only fit for grouse shooters and pheasant bashers…what sort of environment can we expect under the oh so concerned current SNP leadership? “Bonny Scotland”…I don’t think so!

    Back to the dark ages… but this time, profit is all that really matters and land owners can rest in peace knowing they are free from any legal actions against them. What happened to the Law in Scotland…money talks as we all know, but this is taking the old pals game far too far. Land owners have to be made responsible for the well being of our environment…why else are they paid vast public grants to look after it?

    Remove all grants from any estate found to have a persecuted protected species dead on their land.
    Hit them in the pocket is the only deterrent they will understand. No excuses and save fruitless court appearances at huge public expense only for them to find time for technical reasons to white wash the whole evil business of killing wildlife under the moss.

    Can I urge you to actually read the numerous comments on Raptor Watch remembering this news is spreading rapidly and ultimately hopefully it will have a big political reflection on your lack of concern and action to protect Scotland’s wildlife.

    Tourism will for many be all they will have left here in Scotland and for the majority of country folk, compared to well healed estate owners who will always be able to scrape by on thousands of pounds a day for grouse and pheasant bashing. Why don’t you realise the Scottish countryside today could all be sensibly managed lawfully and to the benefit everyone living here. The Isle of Mull is an example of how things could and should be…wake up SNP leaders and act responsibly.

    Scotland will soon be a no, no for wildlifeand other holidays with the lack of interest and responsibility shown by yourselves surrounding all this killing for profit going on unchecked. What was it last year on Mull? £5 million spread over the whole community, not just the poor unfortunate landowner left with the head ache of dealing with raptors on his so called sporting estate…this is 2012 is’nt it…wake up and do something positive against all this wildlife crime.

    (By the way I am not an educated 16 year old possibly not all that keen to vote,
    I am a 72 year that definitely won’t be voting for a bunch folk with this callous attitude)

    Bill Jackson

  10. I’ve not had a reply either….

    Dear Minister
    As a resident of the Scottish Borders I’m particularly saddened to hear this news.

    In 2007 a colleague found a poisoned eagle near Peebles (the female of the last breeding pair in the Borders) and I thought that the public outcry would be a real turning pointing in raptor persecution.

    Unfortunately little has changed.

    We now have no eagles breeding in the Borders – and with this latest incident, we may also lose them from Dumfries and Galloway.

    This is Scotland’s iconic bird. It’s like killing tigers in India, or blue whales in the Pacific. Just unbelievable that this is going on in the 21st Century, era of ‘environmental enlightenment’.

    I am asking you to take much stronger steps to prosecute those responsible. In the past six years, 26 eagles have been found killed (and probably many more undiscovered), yet there has not been a single prosecution.
    Documented here:

    Why no prosecutions?

    I’m so sad that children in the Borders may never see Scotland’s iconic bird abover their hills.

    It is in your power to change this. Please make a difference.

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