Last month a letter written by Logan Steele was published in the Scotsman, urging the government to introduce a licensing system for grouse shooting estates (see here).
This came on the back of the news that the Scottish Raptor Study Group and RSPB Scotland had written to the Environment Minister to call for estate licensing (see here) following the discovery of poisoned golden eagle ‘Fearnan’, found dead on an Angus grouse moor in December 2013 – the latest in a very long line of victims.
This month, the Scotsman published a response letter, penned by Tim Baynes, the Director of Scottish Land & Estates Moorland Group (a group chaired by Lord Hopetoun [Leadhills Estate] and comprising moorland owners and representatives of GWCT and the SGA – see here).
It’s perhaps then of little surprise to read the content of Mr Baynes’ letter – read it here. Basically, Mr Baynes is suggesting that Logan Steele’s assertions of a strong link between grouse moor management and the illegal persecution of raptors is ‘probably based on ill-informed rumours’.
Those ‘ill-informed rumours’ no doubt include the following peer-reviewed scientific publications, some dating back over ten years (so the results have been available for a long time), which have all shown a direct link between driven grouse moor management and raptor persecution (and this list is by no means exhaustive – it’s just the ones we have to hand):
Etheridge et al (1997). The effects of illegal killing and destruction of nests by humans on the population dynamics of the hen harrier in Scotland. Journal Applied Ecology 34: 1081-1105.
Stott (1998). Hen harrier breeding success on English grouse moors. British Birds 91: 107-108.
Green & Etheridge (1999). Breeding success of the hen harrier in relation to the distribution of grouse moors & the red fox. Journal Applied Ecology 36: 472-483.
Whitfield et al (2003). The association of grouse moors in Scotland with the illegal use of poisons to control predators. Biological Conservation 114: 157-163.
Hardey et al (2003). Variation in breeding success of inland peregrine falcon in three regions of Scotland 1991-2000. In Thompson et al [Eds] Birds of Prey in a Changing Environment. SNH.
Whitfield et al (2004). The effects of persecution on age of breeding and territory occupation in golden eagles in Scotland. Biological Conservation 118: 249-259.
Whitfield et al (2004). Modelling the effects of persecution on the population dynamics of golden eagles in Scotland. Biological Conservation 118: 319-333.
Whitfield et al (2007). Factors constraining the distribution of golden eagles in Scotland. Bird Study 54: 199-211.
Whitfield et al (2008). A Conservation Framework for Golden Eagles: Implications for their Conservation & Management in Scotland. SNH.
Summers et al (2010). Changes in hen harrier numbers in relation to grouse moor management. In Thompson et al [Eds] Birds of Prey in a Changing Environment. SNH.
Redpath et al (2010). People and nature in conflict: can we reconcile hen harrier conservation and game management? In Baxter & Galbraith [Eds] Species Management: Challenges and Solutions for the 21st Century. SNH.
Smart et al (2010). Illegal killing slows population recovery of a reintroduced raptor of high conservation concern – the red kite. Biological Conservation 143: 1278-1286.
McMillan (2011). Raptor persecution on a large Perthshire estate: a historical study. Scottish Birds 31: 195-205.
Amar et al (2012). Linking nest histories, remotely sensed land use data and wildlife crime records to explore the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations. Biological Conservation 145: 86-94.
Watson (2013). Golden eagle colonisation of grouse moors in north-east Scotland during the Second World War. Scottish Birds 33: 31-33.
Those ‘ill-informed rumours’ must also include all the reported incidents of illegally-killed or illegally-injured birds of prey that have been discovered on grouse moors over the last few decades (see here for a list of reported persecution incidents in the Angus Glens and here for a list of reported persecution incidents in South Lanarkshire). These lists relate to reported incidents from grouse moors at Glenogil, Invermark, Millden, Airlie and Leadhills but don’t include other grouse moors in other parts of the country where illegally-killed raptors have been discovered, such as Farr & Kyllachy, Moy, Skibo, Cawdor, Corrybrough, Glenbuchat, Cabrach, Raeshaw, Invercauld, Glenlochy, Dinnet & Kinord, Glenfeshie, Dunecht, Strathspey and Glenturret, for example. And again, this list is by no means exhaustive.
Mr Baynes is being disingenuous at best to point to the fact that two months on from the illegal death of Fearnan there is no evidence to link the crime to anyone on a grouse moor. While his assertion is technically correct, it is not an indication that anyone on a grouse moor was NOT responsible. Viewing one incident in isolation is also misleading – and the results of this police ‘investigation’ are more reflective of ineffective policing than anything else – there are many many examples of this ineptitude and include police actions such as delayed appeals for information (often up to 4-6 months after the discovery of a crime against raptors), issuing cryptic police statements about the type of crime and its location, arriving at scenes of crime in highly visible marked police vehicles instead of a covert entry, and failing to undertake timely follow-up searches of associated land, vehicles and buildings to search for evidence. This police ineptitude, followed by plea bargaining and failures to accept evidence by the Fiscals, means that few of the incidents listed above have resulted in a prosecution (although there are some notable exceptions including convictions of gamekeepers at Skibo, Moy, Dinnet & Kinord, Invercauld and Leadhills).
Added to this mix is the legal advice given to gamekeepers should they find themselves at the centre of a police investigation. This legal advice undoubtedly thwarts any attempt by the police to investigate an alleged raptor persecution crime. This from the SGA to their members:
“Accordingly, it is the advice normally given by solicitors to clients that they need make no reply to any allegation and that they should not in fact give any further information than their name, address and date of birth in answer to any police questions“.
This advice is technically correct but is it what the public would expect from an organisation that is purportedly committed to partnership working to stamp out illegal raptor persecution?
We would suggest that Mr Baynes takes some time to read the above peer-reviewed scientific publications that demonstrate a clear and unequivocal link between driven grouse moor management and the illegal persecution of raptors, as well as taking the time to read up on the many reported incidents of raptor persecution on grouse moors, before he writes any more embarrassingly ignorant statements of denial in the national press.