Earlier today there was a debate in the Scottish Parliamentary Chamber about eradicating raptor persecution from Scotland. The debate stemmed from a motion lodged by Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse (see here for details of that motion and several suggested amendments).
We very much welcome the Environment Minister’s action of bringing this topic to the attention of Parliament, although given the recent foul catalogue of current crimes against raptors, and the enormous public response to these on-going crimes, he had to be seen to be doing something.
The debate lasted for an hour and twenty minutes, beginning with an opening address from the Minister during which he expressed his “anger, revulsion and utter frustration” that these crimes continue in 21st Century Scotland. He ran through a list of previous measures brought in since 2007, some of which are still to be fully implemented. He said he understood the calls from some quarters for further measures to be introduced now, but insisted that more time was needed to allow these measures to take effect. Here’s one quote that we’ll be reminding him of in due course when we see the next inevitable incident, and the next, and the next:
“If and when we judge it necessary, I am committed to taking further action. If that involves licensing certain types of businesses, then we will do so“.
He’s made this commitment before, on many occasions, and there are only so many times that he can make such a commitment before he will be forced to actually follow up his words with action.
During his opening speech he was questioned by Liam McArthur MSP about the alleged police response to the poisoned peregrine incident at Leadhills (see here for info on that incident). The Minister’s response:
“We do believe proper procedures were followed“.
Really? How interesting. We look forward to reading the full written response that is now due about this incident following the emails that were sent to him by RPS blog readers in early April. [Incidentally, we haven’t yet received a response – if anyone else has, we’d be interested in reading it]. We’ll also be paying close attention to his written answers to the parliamentary questions that were raised about this issue by Claire Baker MSP and Liam McArthur MSP.
One significant point he made was that proceedings have commenced in the first vicarious liability case at Stranraer Sheriff Court. We believe this case relates to the Glasserton & Physgill Estates buzzard poisoning case in June last year, where gamekeeper and SGA member Peter Bell was convicted of several poisoning offences (see here). The news that this vicarious liability prosecution is going ahead is excellent news and we await the outcome with great interest.
There were a number of other MSPs who spoke during this debate, with many of them being strongly supportive of the consultation to increase the SSPCA’s investigatory powers, and a number of them expressing concerns about the ability of Police Scotland to prioritise wildlife crime. Dennis Robertson MSP demonstrated a refreshingly sceptical view of the SGA and their claimed attempts to eradicate raptor persecution.
Talking of the SGA, their parliamentary cheerleader, Jamie McGrigor MSP, gave a rousing but wholly irrelevant speech about the SGA’s Year of the Wader project, and mentioned the SGA’s briefing document for today’s debate in which they apparently call for an investigation into the cause of wildlife crime, i.e. the old ‘too many’ raptors routine. Perhaps they mis-read the title of today’s debate as ‘Eradicating Raptors from Scotland’. At one point, Mr McGrigor announced:
“Wildlife crime is being perpetrated by a very few individuals, rather than any sector of the Scottish countryside“.
Oh dear. He clearly needs to go back and look at the statistics of where the majority of raptor persecution incidents take place [on land managed for game-shooting] and the occupation/interests of the majority of those convicted for these crimes [gamekeepers].
Mr McGrigor also gave a surprising commentary on the possible cause of the Ross-shire Massacre, in which he suggested that the “hand-fed” (?!!) red kites at Tollie Red Kite feeding station may have been fed contaminated food. He did admit this was based purely on rumour but we were surprised that such speculation on a live police investigation would be allowed during a parliamentary debate.
The Environment Minister ended the debate by saying that he was looking into a poisons amnesty. In our view, a total waste of time and effort – it’s been done before with little, if any, effect. Besides, some of these poisons (e.g. Carbofuran) have been banned since 2001 – that’s 13 years ago – how many more chances are these criminals going to be given to comply with the law? The one saving grace of an amnesty is the potential for anyone found to be in possession of poisons AFTER the amnesty has passed would then face a more severe penalty. That’d be good, if only we could believe that a severe penalty would be handed down. The Minister did mention that there is currently an academic review being undertaken to review the penalties for wildlife crimes and the authors of that review are expected to report in December this year.
Video footage of the debate is available here for about a month [starts at 1:29; ends at 2:49].
The official transcript of the debate can be read here: Minutes of debate: eradicating raptor persecution 6 May 2014