Environment Minister faces more calls for grouse shoot licences

SRSGWell now this is interesting.

The Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) has called for the Scottish Government to introduce grouse-shooting licences. Many of us have been asking for this action for some time, but to hear it from the SRSG is quite something.

The SRSG, which has been monitoring raptor populations in Scotland since the 1980s, is typically quite a restrained yet highly respected organisation, preferring to work quietly behind the scenes rather than make bold policy statements. You know that things are pretty dire when the SRSG is calling for grouse shooting licencing.

So what’s forced their hand? Well, if you read their letter to the Environment Minister (see here, scroll down to 18th January), it seems that the illegal poisoning of golden eagle Fearnan was the catalyst, as it has been for so many of us. But there’s more to it than that…

Take a closer look at their letter. They refer to a claim made by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association last July that gamekeepers are good for golden eagle conservation. We blogged about that claim here, and you really should read it to understand the context of what the SRSG is saying.

The SGA published a map that attempted to portray the notion that golden eagles were doing ok on keepered grouse moors in the East and Central Highlands (notorious raptor black spots). What the SRSG has done is provide some much-needed context to that map.

According to the SGA, there are ‘at least 55 active golden eagle nests’ in these ‘keepered grouse areas’; the SRSG is saying that there are 52 ‘active nests’ in the area, and of those 52, only 8 are on driven grouse moors. Crucially, the SRSG also includes information about the vacant golden eagle territories in the area – information that the SGA conveniently ‘forgot’ to include. According to the SRSG, there are an additional 57 ‘non-active’ golden eagle nests in this area, and 31 of them (54%) happen to be on driven grouse moors.

Hmm. The picture doesn’t look quite so rosy now, does it?

What also impressed us about the SRSG’s letter is their well-thought-out approach to licensing. They haven’t taken the usual route of calling for a blanket ‘estate-licensing’ system. Instead, they’ve proposed a system whereby the licensing would cover individuals as well as land-holdings (estates), thus side-stepping the predictable ploys that would probably be used by the grouse-shooting industry to avoid being licensed.

The BBC has covered this news story today (see here), and it looks like the RSPB has also called on the government to consider further sanctions.

The pressure is mounting.

Naturally, the SGA and Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) have responded against the proposed licensing sanctions (read the BBC article). Predictably, SLE claim that raptor persecution is in ‘significant decline’ – they are, of course, referring to 2012 figures which did show a drop in reported poisoning figures – and conveniently ignored the 2013 figures which show a 100% increase in poisoning. To be fair, the 2013 ‘official’ figures have not yet been released, but they know fine well what they show and they seem determined to ignore them for as long as possible (i.e. until they’re actually published, which will take place at some point this year).

The SGA meanwhile, suggest that there is ‘perpetual over-regulation’ (of estates) – the truth is somewhat different – game-shooting is probably one of the least regulated industries and what regulation is in place is rarely enforced.

Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse has responded to the SRSG’s letter and while he hasn’t ruled out licensing, he still seems to be clinging on to previous measures and wanting to give them time to take effect.

We’ll be blogging next week about Mr Wheelhouse’s response to the SRSG’s letter and his response to all those emails he received over Xmas about the death of golden eagle Fearnan. It won’t make for comfortable reading.

30 thoughts on “Environment Minister faces more calls for grouse shoot licences”

  1. You neglected to mention part of the SGA response which made me choke, ‘hares will gradually disappear in tandem with the lack of management’ when many keepers on grouse moors are doing their best to exterminate them already! So much for biodiversity and being ‘custodians of wildlife’.

  2. How many eagles have been removed from Scotland as part of the Kerry Eagle Project over the past 7 years? Some reports suggest as many as 70-80. With the healthiest chicks from each nest being relocated from the Highlands is it surprising that there are now vacant eagle territories?

    1. Yeah, nice try at deflection Rural Rascal, but think you’ll find the ‘Kerry Eagle Project’ is all about white-tailed eagles that were donated by Norway.

      However, if you’re talking about the Donegal Eagle Project (i.e. golden eagles), then answer this: how many golden eagles were donated from the Western Isles to the Donegal project, and how many vacant territories are there in the Western Isles as a result of those donations?

      Think you’ll find your argument has just been scuppered.

      1. Yes they may have been relocated from nests on the western isles but who is to say they wouldn’t have dispersed east and stated occupying vacent territories. No one can say either that as soon as the speak east they would have been killed as there is no guarantee they would. It’s not simply persecution that has limited the spread of golden eagles. I question the logic behind the donegal eagle project that went on for years with the relocated birds being poisoned by farmers almost immediately but yet birds were still taken from nests in Scotland year on year. Also the fact that the chicks were taken out of nests with two in them perhaps nests in the western isles would be able to sustain two young if the regulations governing removing all fallen stock and burying shot deer offal hadn’t come into play.

          1. I don’t think my argument is scuppered apart from possibly picking the correct Irish region. Golden eagle chicks were possibly collected from the Western Isles as well as Sutherland, Inverness-shire and Perthshire.

            I know, I was involved and there were numerous reports in the press to cover it. I also have photos of one of the collected chicks and the chick that remained on the eyrie.

            We have a good working relationship with the SRSG and others although we manage grouse moors and it is just a pity that scientific principles and recent events are once again forgotten for political lobbying purposes and cheap headlines. I don’t need to expand further.

                1. And which ‘scientific principles and recent events’ have been ‘forgotten for political lobbying purposes’?

          2. There are eagles spreading into territories further east every year just remember it can take years for pairs of young eagles to establish themselves as a proper pair and build a suitable nest and start breeding it doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

            1. Oh we know the young eagles are there alright – because their poisoned bodies keep turning up there!

              And why are they there? Because these are empty territories – no adults left to keep the youngsters away.

              And why are these territories empty of adult breeders? Well let’s see – it isn’t to do with the weather, lack of food, lack of suitable nesting habitat….so whatever could it be??

              1. You have me guessing there RPS, let me see, it couldn’t possibly be due to Raptor Persecution could it ??? But as I said, I’m only guessing!

            2. So why did eagles disappear from previously occupied territories in the east in the first place? Why aren’t golden eagle territories in the east providing recruits for the borders and northern England? Why is it that the only healthy populations to act as donor sites for a reintroduction are in the west?

              I am never quite sure whether people trotting out the usual excuses are smart enough to recognise their own propaganda for what it is, but like to muddy the waters, or genuinely believe them to be true and cannot spot the flaws in their arguments?

        1. The eaglets taken were only
          from nests with 2 chicks – only the younger chick was taken as Goldies rarely raise these smaller weaker chicks.

              1. So eagles always raise two chicks successfully? Or as Jimmy stated, they seldom raise the smaller weaker chick? An explanation please! In fact I feed eagles successfully but that may be lost on you.

                1. SRSG, SNH and FCS publications all make interesting comments on the suvival rates of the smaller chick. Who is telling they rush here?

                  1. Ok. If there are two chicks, sometimes the adults are able to raise both, sometimes just one, sometimes none will survive. It depends on a combination of things, but most importantly, food availability.

                    If, say, one chick has been removed (e.g. for translocation), and one chick remains, it’s logical that its chances of survival are greater, all other things being equal, if it doesn’t have to compete for food with a sibling.

                    So your statement, “Leaving the other chick to die” suggests that the chick WILL die (because, according to your logic, it’s the ‘weakest’ and therefore won’t survive), when in fact removing its sibling(s) will probably increase its survival chances considerably.

                    1. Ps. Still waiting for you to answer the following:

                      Which ‘scientific principles and recent events’ have been ‘forgotten for political lobbying purposes’?

                2. No eagles don’t always manage to raise 2 chicks and I never said they did, in fact only one chick surviving is the norm when food is scarce and sibling competition is high. Because one of the 2 chicks is always younger and smaller than it’s sibling it very often succumbs due to competition for food from it’s larger and stronger brother / sister, and in many cases ends up being pushed out of the nest. If either of them is removed it means there is no more competition and more food is available to the remaining chick increasing it’s chance of survival. So, while I don’t agree with a second chick being removed from some nests where reproduction has a low and irregular history, I see no problem where a site has a proven regular success rate provided it is not done too often, in fact several chicks have been relocated from eyries in the area where I work.

  3. Only a few pairs of golden eagles are re established in Ireland, but it is a start. Unlike the release of millions of alien pheasants & red-legged partridges by the shooting industry, the environmentalists in Ireland have had very few eagles to release. One of the conditions was that a young could only be taken from nests containing 2 young. In one instance a site on Skye that had donated one of its 2 young one year, was re-visited the following year but unfortunately for the Irish reintroduction there was only a single young, so it was left to fledge naturally, though not before it was ringed. It was also unfortunate for that young bird for having fledged it flew east where it was found illegally killed on a grouse moor by the criminal cronies of Grouseman & Rural Rascal. No one need wonder why there are so few occupied golden eagle sites in those areas. Though folk will wonder why Grouseman & Rural Rascal try to defend this barbaric criminality.I can only suppose they both must be sick.

    1. Excellent that the Scotsman has highlighted the need to licence these outdated practices. They obviously can’t keep their own house in order.

  4. Whilst I have signed John,s petition I dont believe that licensing is the way forward. it is another layer of beaurocracy, another chance for time wasting tatics and another way these criminals can carry on even longer. no other industry would get a second chance if they operated outside the law so blatently. leaving deadly poison out in the open. they should be closed down immeadiatly and the owners disqualified from running any business for five years minimum. the same as any other business

    1. I agree Merlin, that would be even better than licences. Our politicians and judiciary system though, would need to require much more backbone!

      1. Unfortunately many of our politicians and members of the judiciary system are themselves the owners and users of the shooting estates where the majority of these Raptor persecution crimes are taking place! So, rather than them having more backbone it would be necessary to break these persons down (figuratively speaking that is) and force them into line with the laws of this land once and for all. We’ve pussyfooted about with these people for far too long already, it’s time for the MSP’s to insist the police and the courts do their jobs properly and stop cowtowing to the owners of these shooting estates.

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