A feeble, question-dodging response from the Environment Minister

Peregrine poisoned Leadhills Feb 2014In early April we blogged about the poisoned peregrine that had been found close to the boundary of Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire (see here). We encouraged blog readers to email the Environment Minister with a series of questions about this specific incident and the broader topic of long-term raptor persecution in this particular area. We know from our site stats that over 100 of you emailed the Minister (well done and thank you) and perhaps this volume of email traffic was the reason for his delayed response.

Anyway, last week his formal response was eventually mailed out and we’ve been sent a few copies by several readers. As usual, it’s a fairly generic response and here is a general overview of what he had to say (or to be more precise, what his civil servant had to say on his behalf) -:

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

The Minister has been appalled at the recent incidents of raptor persecution including the mass poisoning in Ross-shire which has claimed the lives of 16 red kites and 6 buzzards. Clearly there have been other incidents across Scotland involving peregrine falcons and most recently a juvenile sea eagle, the first born to the reintroduced east coast birds, has gone missing in an area where raptors have been lost before. The mass poisoning is a terrible loss for the Black Isle and has rightly been condemned by the local community as well as the wider public. The Minister was heartened however, by the contributions made by members of the public, as well as landowners and farmers, to the reward fund set up by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) for information which leads to a successful conviction.

These incidents threaten to undermine Scotland’s reputation as a country that cares for its wildlife and natural environment but reinforce the need for the new measures the Minister announced in July 2013.

In addition to these measures, the Scottish Government launched a Consultation to gather views on extending the investigative powers for inspectors in the Scottish SPCA in relation to certain wildlife offences. The Consultation will run from 31 March until 1 September 2014 and of course all views will be taken into account before a decision is made.

The possession of certain poisons is an offence in Scotland and in order to help rid our countryside of these dangerous chemicals, we shall be looking at building on existing mechanisms to remove them from Scotland’s environment.

You raised a number of specific points about the peregrine falcon poisoning incident in Lanarkshire and I will deal with each in turn below.

1. Why did Police Scotland tell a member of the public this was not a police matter? Will you launch an inquiry and publish the findings?

Police Scotland call handlers must consider the information they are given at the time of the call and not all reported incidents may be crimes. It would be inappropriate for the Minister to comment on Police operational matters.

2. Will you launch an inquiry into PC Everitt’s alleged response to this incident and publish the findings?

The Minister will not be making any statement based on speculative comments posted on social media sites about a serving Police officer. This would not be appropriate.

3. Will you launch an inquiry into why illegal raptor persecution continues to flourish in the Leadhills area, and publish the findings?

The area where the poisoned peregrine falcon was discovered was disclosed by Police Scotland as ‘the Abington area of South Lanarkshire’. The Minister will not be drawn into any speculation about a live police investigation which might prejudice the outcome of the investigation.

4. Will SNH use the new enabling clause in the General Licences to withdraw their use in the Leadhills area with immediate effect?

SNH will consider restricting the use of General Licences where they believe it is appropriate to do so, and on a case by case basis.

5. Over what period of time are you going to measure the success of the new measures introduced in July 2013?  It seems the threat of these new measures has not managed to stem the mass destruction of Scotland’s Natural Heritage.

The Minister has decided it would be inappropriate to impose exact time scales on the effect of the new measures as each measure is unique and will require its own consideration. However, it is hoped to report on the findings of the penalties review before the end of 2014.

Once SNH have had the opportunity to implement any General Licence restrictions the Minister will seek an update on how these have worked in practice. The final measure about Police Scotland use of technology can only be considered on a case by case basis and these are decisions made in the course of operational policing. It would be inappropriate for the Minister to seek to influence operational decisions of police colleagues in respect of an investigation.

Whilst current legislation and these new measures should be given due time to take effect, the Minister is on record confirming that he will take further action if it appears that current measures are insufficient. The Scottish Government takes this issue seriously and I hope that this response illustrates the extensive work that is taking place.

Yours sincerely,

Karen Hunter

Wildlife Crime Policy Officer”.

There’s nothing in his response that comes as a surprise. It’s full of the same old rhetoric that we get every time we ask for more robust action to be taken. To be fair to him, we can understand his view that the measures he brought in last July need time to take effect. The problem with that though, is that here we are, 10 months later, still waiting for many of those measures to actually be enacted and meanwhile the filthy criminals continue with their systematic persecution, knowing full well they’re still untouchable. His refusal to set a review date to assess whether his new measures have been effective is very disappointing. We’ll probably be here in the same place two years down the line, still waiting, and still counting the cost (in terms of raptor deaths) of this constant procrastination.

We were particularly disappointed with his answer to question 3. Perhaps he’s not familiar with the geography of South Lanarkshire, and especially the proximity of Abington village to the Leadhills Estate boundary. Here’s a map:

Leadhills Abington map

The big brown smudge in the middle (or, to borrow a phrase from George Monbiot’s latest excellent article, that “bare black misery“) is Leadhills grouse moor. The site where the peregrine was found poisoned with Carbofuran is closer to that grouse moor than it is to Abington village. That’s not to say that we’re accusing anyone from Leadhills Estate of being responsible for poisoning the peregrine, it’s just a clarification that the site falls within what we would describe as the ‘Leadhills area’ – an area with a 40+ year history of illegal killing, including plenty of Carbofuran abuse in recent decades. Perhaps Police Scotland chose to describe the site as being in the ‘Abington area’ to deflect attention from this being yet another persecution incident in what is one of  Scotland’s blackest areas for long-term raptor killing. It’ll make the crime stats look better is this one can’t be attributed to the Leadhills area.

We’ll look forward to hearing the results of their ‘live police investigation’….yeah, right.

7 thoughts on “A feeble, question-dodging response from the Environment Minister”

  1. A bit OT, but a fox was caught in an illegal leg snare near Parton in Dumfries and Galloway on the 8th of May and had to be put down. Today the police issued a warning to pet owners to take care. Yeah, nice response time chaps. Not much use in warning a week and half later, or calling for information. The police do not care about wildlife crime, if they did they’d treat it with the same “the sooner you put out the appeal, the easier it is to catch the suspect” approach as other crimes.
    Link – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-south-scotland-27487977

  2. Excellent article by George Monbiot – I agree with every word – the accompanying photo could have been taken in 1860!

    I am so pleased to live very near the ‘re-wilding’ that is taking place to one side of me in comparison to the bleak Monadhliath’s on the other. Well past the time for change with regard to land management and ownership in Scotland.

    With regard to the governments response I agree with you that it is feeble. But remember, one mustn’t upset the ‘killing’ estate owners.

  3. Judging by the amount of effort he hasn’t put into this you could be excused for thinking that he can’t wait for the next election time when he might be voted out of office, it can’t come too soon I say !!!

  4. I agree it’s an excellent article from George Monbiot, and I would seriously consider voting Yes if I thought it would make a blind bit of difference. But the Scottish government already has the power it needs to change this situation and it just isn’t happening. I have no confidence whatsoever that anything would be different in an independent Scotland.

    1. I have every confidence that nothing would change for the better. Probably also get more wind farms and more wind from those in Holyrood.

  5. The SNP and their pro wind energy agenda have no interest in preserving anything thats good about Scotlands Natural Heritage

  6. So he wont do anything as the body count goes up and he wont give a time lenght. doesn,t that mean he,s doing nothing!

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