Environment Minister dismisses calls for more action against raptor killers

Fearnan Angus Glens Dec 2013Over recent weeks we’ve blogged about the increased calls on the Scottish Government to do more in the fight against raptor persecution.

First there were the hundreds of emails sent by the general public following the discovery of poisoned golden eagle Fearnan, found dead on an Angus grouse moor in December (see here). This was followed by a parliamentary motion condemning the illegal killing of birds of prey in Scotland (see here), closely followed with an amendment calling for sufficient resources to tackle raptor persecution and a review of game management legislation to assess whether further measures could be introduced (see here). Shortly afterwards came calls from the RSPB, the Scottish Raptor Study Group and the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club for estate licensing to be introduced (see here and here).

This was a prime opportunity for our Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, to take advantage of such overwhelming public backing and really put his money where his mouth is. Instead, we got this, his generic response sent out by his aide towards the end of January:

Dear Sir or Madam,

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

Mr Wheelhouse was appalled to hear that the young golden eagle Fearnan had been illegally poisoned in Angus. This was particularly disappointing coming as it did at the end of the Year of Natural Scotland, which had seen the golden eagle voted as Scotland’s favourite of the ‘Big Five’ species in an exercise conducted by Scottish Natural Heritage. While it is entirely understandable that there is a strong public interest in knowing more about the case, the Minister hopes you will understand that as there is a live and ongoing police investigation, it would be inappropriate for Scottish Ministers to comment further.

Clearly this has focused the attention of all who care about our wildlife on raptor persecution issues more generally. In recent years we have made some progress in reducing the number of raptor poisonings – down to three in 2012, but at the time of publication the Minister made it abundantly clear there would be no room for complacency, given the risk of a change to other forms of persecution. However, while the final numbers for 2013 have not yet been published, it does appear that there was an increase in confirmed poisonings. There were also a number of illegal shooting and trapping incidents involving raptors last year.

Mr Wheelhouse believes that these crimes have only served to reinforce the need for the new measures he announced in July 2013. These new measures were:

  • Scottish Natural Heritage to restrict the use of General Licences on holdings of land where there is reason to believe that wildlife crime has taken place. The 2014 General Licenses now contain an enabling paragraph making it clear to users that SNH can act where they believe it is appropriate to do so.
  • A review of the penalties associated with wildlife crime. The aim here is to ensure that the penalties for these offences are an adequate deterrent and that they properly reflect the damage that can be caused to ecosystems. The Minister will shortly announce further detail on the nature and scope of this review.
  • To encourage the use of the full range of investigative techniques at their disposal by Police Scotland, to identify and bring to justice the criminals responsible for wildlife crimes in Scotland, a measure fully and publicly supported by the Lord Advocate. A number of meetings have taken place involving the Lord Advocate in ensuring this is delivered.

Tackling raptor persecution remains a key priority for the Scottish Government and we will monitor the impact of these new measures. We believe there is a strong legal framework in place in Scotland. The key now to defeating wildlife crime is effective and robust enforcement action and we will work hard to ensure support and encouragement for those involved in law enforcement to put an end to this blight on Scotland’s reputation. Yours sincerely,

Karen Hunter

Wildlife Crime Policy Officer

Paul-Wheelhouse-MSP So here we have a situation where the Minister actually admits that the measures are not working (he acknowledges an increase in the reported poisoning figures from 2012-2013) but claims ‘we have made some progress’. Let’s just be clear – no, we haven’t made any progress. Raptor persecution continues on land used for game-shooting, just as it has for decades, and most of the criminals are still getting away with it without any fear of being prosecuted, with just a handful of exceptions. How that can be dressed up as ‘progress’ is unfathomable.

Wheelhouse still claims that the latest measures need to be given time to take effect (see here for his comments to the BBC two weeks ago). One of the measures he’s talking about is the introduction of vicarious liability. VL was introduced from 1st January 2012 – that’s more than two years ago – and still there hasn’t been a single prosecution. A more recent measure is one he suggested last July that has just come in to effect (as of Jan 1st) – the power given to SNH to restrict the use of general licenses on land where they suspect illegal persecution has taken place. Can anyone actually see landowner-loving SNH enforcing this restriction? Time will tell – and given that we’ve already had the first reported illegal poisoning incident this year (see here) it’ll be a good test. We’re not holding our breath.

For how much longer does Wheelhouse expect us to stand by and watch as our raptors are poisoned, trapped, shot and bludgeoned to death while he’s still dicking around saying ‘we need more time, more time’? Conveniently, he hasn’t actually stipulated a time frame.

We don’t need more time at all. NOW is the time to get hold of these filthy criminals and he’d find he has the support of thousands of people if only he had the guts to do what he knows is needed.

Ironically, he also told the BBC this: “Robust and effective law enforcement is the next step in the continued efforts made here in Scotland to tackle ongoing crime“.

He knows fine well that the most effective and robust law enforcement will come by increasing the investigatory powers of the SSPCA. We’ve been waiting for three years now for the promised public consultation on this important issue – here’s the timeline:

Feb 2011: The consultation was first suggested by former MSP Peter Peacock as an amendment during the WANE Bill debates. The then Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham rejected it as an amendment but suggested a consultation was in order.

Sept 2011: Seven months later MSP Elaine Murray lodged a parliamentary motion that further powers for the SSPCA should be considered.

Nov 2011: Elaine Murray MSP formalised the question in a P&Q session and the next Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson, then promised that the consultation would happen in the first half of 2012.

Sept 2012: 9 months later and nothing had happened so we asked Paul Wheelhouse, as the new Environment Minister, when the consultation would take place. The response, in October 2012, was:

 “The consultation has been delayed by resource pressures but will be brought forward in the near future”.

 July 2013: 10 months later and still no sign so we asked the Environment Minister again. In August 2013, this was the response:

 “We regret that resource pressures did further delay the public consultation on the extension of SSPCA powers. However, I can confirm that the consultation document will be published later this year”.

Sept 2013: At a meeting of the PAW Executive Group, Wheelhouse said this:

The consultation on new powers for the SSPCA will be published in October 2013“.

Jan 2014: In response to one of our blog readers who wrote to the Minister to ask why the consultation had not yet been published:

We very much regret that resource pressures have caused further delays to the consultation to gain views on the extension of SSPCA powers. It will be published in the near future“.

Does anyone still believe that tackling raptor persecution is a Scottish Government ‘key priority’?

12 thoughts on “Environment Minister dismisses calls for more action against raptor killers”

  1. Did we really expect anything different from him, after all he’s a typical SNP Minister, lots of talk and very little action. But I suppose having said that, it makes no difference whatever which political doctrine they represent, they’re all tarred with the same brush, platitudes, platitudes and swarmy platitudes. Did I mention no action and platitudes !!!

  2. “Robust and effective law enforcement is the next step ….” So the minister is saying that up till now, police action has not been robust and effective? How hard would we have to look to find this statement being used 5 years ago…..10 years ago?? Come on. Its an admission that that they have not been effective at all. So what new resource is he proposing to make available to ensure that the police can do their job?

  3. And of course, the sad truth is that many of the landowners tacitly condoning the poisoning of raptors will be the same ones trying to close down wild salmon netting stations and eliminate salmon farms, and telling the gullible media that Scottish wild salmon will soon be ‘as rare as pandas’. If that were the case, why did they allow the killing of more than 22,000 Scottish wild salmon by anglers in 2012?
    Don’t know why we expected anything with more backbone from the Minister.

  4. Well it’s a sad, sad saga which only boxes the minister and Government into a tighter corner. As pointed out above – it’s an increasingly ineffective corner, a farce and something we can have no faith in at all. The trouble is that raptors need support now, not somewhere down the line. Things are showing no signs of improvement, is this the time for some more radical actions?

  5. This is just normal for Ministers of whatever party. It’s all talk and no action, they talk the talk mainly so that the people or some of the people think they are doing something about whatever problem they are facing. All they are interested in is there own job and there parties position of power, they don’t really care about anything else except keeping themselves in a very well paid job, where they don’t have to actually work hard or dare I say it break sweat. Most of them are overweight slobs and a hard days graft would kill them. As for Mr Wheelhouse, well so far he has not proved himself capable of doing anything positive about Raptor killing. This latest piece of crap is just useless talk, does he not notice that people from all walks of life in Scotland are demanding he sorts out these Shooting estates and gets the killing stopped, or is he waiting on an election to do something that will make him and his party look good, meanwhile Raptors continue to die. Just remember Mr Wheelhouse when that election comes along you and your party could be voted out by people fed up listening to more useless talk and no action.

  6. Wheelhouse’s lack of action is indefensible. You could understand a Government of landowning Tory toffs dragging their feet & continuing with the status quo, but this is a completely a Scottish issue for which the Scottish Government is wholly accountable. Doe’s it have no pride in its natural heritage? I now know 2 political parties I won’t be supporting.

  7. Personally I didn,t expect anything more, the farce about threatening to with hold general licenses is about as much use as introducing the naughty step. as soon as he mentioned it BASC announced they would fight it. so much for a committed effort from all interested parties to reduce wildlife crime. they called his bluff and he fell for it, time to keep his head down and hope it blows away before the next elections

  8. What a slap in the face. I couldn’t believe it when I read the response from Government. These criminals are blatantly flouting the law without the remotest fear of prosecution. Scotland’s precious and irreplaceable wild areas have no future when this is the type of ‘protection’ they are afforded. Disgusted.

  9. More time??!! Surely the only way for these measures to take effect is to actually enforce them?? This is a typically weak response and contradicts many of the promises made in regard to tackling the issue – I don’t see any indication to suggest that things will improve any time soon, and I don’t think there is the will to pay the issue of wildlife crime any more than lip service.

  10. I guess he’s suffering from the same thing all the politicians suffer from, pressure from above! It’s only in situations such as this where it becomes obvious that the shooting estate owners hold absolute power over the laws of this country and can even dictate to senior MSP’s what to say and do. If this is not the case then why has the Scottish Environment Minister done nothing to make sure that the so-called legally protected wildlife has full protection against the criminal Raptor persecutors.

    Why has he not demanded that the police get on with the job of enforcing the wildlife laws of this land instead of turning a blind eye and reducing it to a shambles. Why has he reneged on his promise to encourage the use of the full range of investigative techniques at the disposal of Police Scotland, to identify and bring to justice the criminals responsible for wildlife crimes in Scotland, a measure fully and publicly supported by the Lord Advocate.

    Why has he not ensured that the penalties associated with wildlife crime offences are an adequate deterrent and that they properly reflect the damage that can be caused to ecosystems, why are the laws we have already not being enforced.

    If he believes that the key to defeating wildlife crime is effective and robust enforcement action and that they need to work hard to ensure support and encouragement for those involved in law enforcement to put an end to this blight on Scotland’s reputation, why is he not putting his money where his mouth is and enforcing it ?

    If the minister really does care for the welfare of our protected wildlife and really does intend to do something about this blatant criminal Raptor persecution on the majority of the shooting estates, then he’d better hurry up before there’s nothing left to protect. That’s if he really does care of course!

    Maybe the minister would like to reply to this himself personally (not via one of his lackeys), but I doubt if he will.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: