OneKind supports increased powers for SSPCA, but SLE questions the ‘need’

OneKind logoThe Scottish animal welfare charity OneKind has published its formal response to the public consultation on whether the SSPCA should be given increased powers for investigating more types of wildlife crime.

It’s an intelligent and coherent response, in full support of the proposed changes. Interestingly, they’ve provided data (sourced from the Crown Office) which show a startling comparison of successful prosecutions and convictions in animal welfare cases investigated by the police and those investigated by the SSPCA. Unsurprisingly, the SSPCA’s performance is significantly stronger than that of the police; exactly what you’d expect from a specialist agency like the SSPCA.

There’s also acknowledgement of the SSPCA’s long-term experience in investigating crimes against animals (since at least 1912) and a strong rebuttal against the accusation that the SSPCA is ‘unaccountable’.

It’s well worth a read: here.

Meanwhile, the Scottish landowners’ representative body, Scottish Land & Estates, has published its concerns about the proposals (here). These concerns centre on seven questions, including whether there’s a ‘need’ for increased powers because “wildlife crime incident [sic] are now lower than when the idea was first put forward“.

Oh dear. Increasingly desperate scrabbling from SLE – not quite as hysterical as the SGA’s response but nevertheless an indication that the game-shooting lobby would not be happy having an additional 60+ highly trained, highly experienced wildlife crime investigators on the ground. Can’t think why.

Neither SLE or the SGA has published their formal response to the consultation but we look forward to reading them, and the responses of other game-shooting organisations such as the GWCT, when the Scottish Government publishes all the responses later this autumn.

The public consultation closes tomorrow (Monday 1st September). If you want to have your say and influence government policy on how wildlife crime is addressed in Scotland, leading to an inevitable increase in the number of wildlife criminals being brought to justice, please click here.

Law Society Scotland supports increased powers for SSPCA

Law Society Scotland logoThe Law Society of Scotland has published its formal response to the consultation on whether the SSPCA should be given increased powers to allow them to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crimes.

In broad terms, the Law Society says it would be ‘appropriate’ for SSPCA Inspectors to be given the proposed powers, given the absence of necessary Police resources to tackle this area of crime.

Jim Drysdale, a member of the Law Society’s Rural Affairs Committee said: “Wildlife crime, such as the poisoning of birds of prey, is a serious issue and causes substantial public concern, and it is imperative that such incidents are fully investigated and prosecuted when they occur. We believe police officers are best placed to deal with such crime, and increasing the presence of uniformed officers in remote areas where these crimes occur will assure the public that combating wildlife crime is being taken seriously.

“However, in the absence of increased police resources we support the proposal for SSPCA officers to be granted the proposed powers, which include the ability to search vehicles suspected of carrying illegal carcasses, protected live animals and birds, and illegal traps or poisons. SSPCA officers would require specialist training and should be accompanied by a witness when exercising their powers under the new legislation. We also believe there should be a review in two to five years’ time to ensure powers are being appropriately enforced”.

It’s a well-reasoned response. Yes, ideally we’d all be happy if Police Scotland could effectively investigate wildlife crime but the evidence demonstrates that they can’t, and so an alternative approach is required. Putting more uniformed police officers “in remote areas where these crimes occur” is wholly impractical – we’d need a uniformed police officer on every driven grouse moor and lowland pheasant/partridge shoot 24 hours a day.

The Law Society also recommends that SSPCA Inspectors should be required to pass an examination prior to exercising the new powers. That’s also a reasonable suggestion and given that SSPCA Inspectors are already exercising similar powers under the Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, they shouldn’t have any difficulty passing the test. Perhaps a requirement to pass an examination should also be applied to police officers who have been appointed as Wildlife Crime Liaison Officers and/or Wildlife Crime Officers. Police officers are required to enforce much wider legislation than SSPCA Inspectors and so it stands to reason that they may not have the required specialist knowledge to effectively tackle wildlife crime. Why not enhance their training and then measure their understanding by introducing a specific wildlife crime-related examination before they’re given such a specialist role?

Download the Law Society’s formal consultation response here: Law Society Scotland SSPCA response

Petition for increased SSPCA powers handed in to Holyrood

Goddard petition Wheelhouse august 2014A petition calling for increased investigatory powers for the SSPCA was handed over to Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse last week, with over 6,000 signatures.

The petition was launched several months ago by Andrea Goddard, a volunteer at the Tollie Red Kite Feeding Station, following the illegal poisoning of 22 raptors (16 red kites and 6 buzzards) in March at nearby Conon Bridge – an incident we’ve termed the Ross-shire Massacre. Five months on, nobody has been charged for this appalling crime.

Great effort, Andrea. Story in the Press and Journal here.

The petition coincided with the long-awaited government-led public consultation on whether the SSPCA should be given additional powers to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crimes. The consultation closes next Monday (1st September) and the consultation responses will be published on the Scottish Government’s website by 11th October. Following the government’s decision-making, a full report (on the consultation) has been promised although a time-frame for this has not been provided.

We’d encourage as many of you as possible to contribute to this consultation. If the proposal is accepted, we believe it will bring significant improvement to the enforcement of wildlife crime legislation in Scotland, leading to many more offenders being brought before the courts – see here for our reasoning.

If you’d like to take part, please click here.

Case against Stody Estate gamekeeper Allen Lambert: part 5

scales of justiceA new trial date has been set in the case against (now former) Stody Estate gamekeeper, Allen Lambert.

At a previous court hearing in December 2013, Lambert, 64, pleaded guilty to storing Mevinphos and Aldicarb pesticides at the Stody Estate in north Norfolk on or about 4th April 2013, as well as storing them without reasonable precautions.

He also admitted a charge of failing to comply with a firearms certificate by poor storage of a .22 Mauser.

He denied further charges including intentionally killing 14 buzzards, a sparrowhawk and a tawny owl between April 1-4 2013, as well as a charge of keeping nine dead buzzards on 4th April 2013.

His trial was previously due to begin in May 2014 but it was adjourned. The new trial date is 1st October 2014.

Previous blogs about this case here, here, here and here.

Ross-shire Massacre: five months on

It’s been five months since the discovery of 22 dead raptors (16 red kites + 6 buzzards) near Conon Bridge in Ross-shire – an incident we have termed the Ross-shire Massacre.

Since then, we’ve learned that 16 of these birds (12 red kites + 4 buzzards) were killed after ingesting an “illegally-held poisonous substance“. That information had to be dragged from Police Scotland in June, following some pretty outrageous allegations from the game-shooting industry (and at least one MSP) that the birds had been ‘accidentally poisoned’ by eating contaminated meat at the Tollie Red Kite Feeding Station.

Other than that, Police Scotland has refused to provide any further information, other than to say last month that the investigation “was continuing“.

In June, a member of the public made an FoI request to SASA (the government lab responsible for undertaking the toxicology anlayses on these birds) to ask for the name of the poison(s) and the name of the species affected, amongst other things. He received a reply from SASA on 30th June and he was told that it wasn’t in the public interest to disclose such information. SASA claimed that the public interest test was “outweighed by the public interest in ensuring that the ongoing police investigation is not jeopardised and that incomplete data are not released“. The member of the public submitted a request for a review of this decision and on 24th July 2014 he received a response from Hugh Dignon, a senior civil servant. Mr Dignon upheld the decision made by SASA and added:

By withholding evidence that might, if prematurely released, prejudice a live investigation, we are maximising the likelihood that a conviction could be secured if a prosecution is taken forward“.

Come on, Hugh! There’s not a chance in hell of getting a prosecution, let alone securing a conviction, so many months after the crime took place. Who are you trying to kid? And since when has releasing the name of a banned poison ever jeopardised a live investigation? Er, that’ll be never. SASA has, for years, routinely published the name of the poisons that were used in crimes that are still subject to on-going investigations – why is this case so different? Why all the cloak and dagger? What’s to hide?

Here’s a screen grab of SASA’s latest poisoning data, which relate to toxicology tests undertaken in the first quarter of 2014. The reference circled in red is the information about the Ross-shire Massacre. SASA has redacted all the detail about the type of poison(s) detected (column 4), whether the incident was ‘abuse/mis-use’ etc (column 6), and they’ve even removed the names of the species they’ve tested – preferring to write ‘various’ instead (column 8). Compare and contrast these redactions to the entry at the top of the image, which relates to a poisoned peregrine found in Strathclyde in February – that case is also an on-going police investigation (ahem) and yet we’re allowed to see the name of the poison (Carbofuran), the type of incident (abuse) and the species affected (peregrine). Astonishing, isn’t it?


For previous posts on the Ross-shire Massacre click here

Increased powers for SSPCA would be “disastrous”, says SGA

In March this year, the Scottish Government launched a public consultation on the possibility of giving the SSPCA increased powers to investigate more types of wildlife crime (see here).

This is an important proposal that, if accepted by the government, could have a particular impact on the number of criminals successfully prosecuted for illegally destroying our wildlife, especially those carrying out raptor persecution crimes.

The SSPCA already has statutory powers to investigate some wildlife crimes, but not all. Currently, they are restricted to investigating wildlife crime offences that involve an animal in distress. They have legal powers under the Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 to gather evidence and report their findings directly to the Crown Office without needing to involve the police. They are well trained, highly experienced and have a strong track record of helping to bring offenders to justice.

So why are these proposed additional powers needed? That’s simple – if the additional legal powers are implemented it would mean that the SSPCA could also investigate wildlife crimes where an animal has already been illegally killed, or instances where an animal has not yet been illegally killed but is likely to be.

For example, today, if a member of the public found a buzzard hanging in an illegal pole trap (see photo) and called the SSPCA to report it, the SSPCA could ONLY investigate that crime if the buzzard was still alive (suffering/in distress). If the buzzard had already died from its injuries, the SSPCA would not have the authority to investigate the crime and would have to call the police. How stupid is that? The investigation process and procedures would be identical whether the buzzard was alive or dead, but because the buzzard is dead, in law it can’t be categorised as ‘suffering’ because in legal terms a dead animal cannot suffer, and therefore the SSPCA does not have the regulatory powers to investigate. Similarly, if they found another illegal pole trap set nearby (that hadn’t actually caught anything yet), the SSPCA could not investigate that offence – they couldn’t even dismantle the trap – they would have to wait for the police to attend.

Now, if they were given the proposed additional legal powers (under the Wildlife & Countryside Act), the SSPCA would be authorised to investigate any one of the above scenarios.

It’s a no brainer, isn’t it? We all know too well that the police often struggle to investigate wildlife crime, either due to a lack of resources, unavailability of a specialist police wildlife crime officer, or just because senior officers don’t see wildlife crime as a priority. Sometimes the police respond very quickly but more often than not, they can’t attend at short notice which means that crucial evidence is either removed by the perpetrator or it deteriorates to such an extent that it’s no longer useful. Sometimes they don’t even bother to attend at all. The government itself has previously  acknowledged that wildlife crime enforcement by the police can be hit or miss. So why would anyone, with an interest in seeing improved wildlife crime enforcement, object to the addition of 63 fully-trained SSPCA inspectors (at no cost to the tax payer – the SSPCA is funded by SSPCA members – it doesn’t receive any government funding for its work), joining the ranks of those authorised to investigate these disgraceful crimes?

SGA logoWell, surprise surprise, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association objects. The following message was sent out to SGA members earlier this month (via email – interestingly this information has not been posted on the SGA website) –

Dear Member, help us to help you.

In March, Scottish Government issued a consultation on whether more investigative powers should be handed to SSPCA inspectors in suspected wildlife crime incidents.

The SGA believes the granting of more powers to SSPCA would be disastrous and flies in the face of what would be deemed fair and just. Unlike Police, SSPCA are not publicly accountable, have previously sought convictions of gamekeepers with insufficient evidence and campaign to ban snares. They are also critical of rearing game birds for shooting and carry agendas regarding species protection.

Help us to tell Scottish Government loudly and clearly that this move is WRONG.

ALL responses must be made by September 1st, 2014. There is no room for apathy. Please submit your response by clicking this link

Responses can be emailed or sent hard copy. Details of where and how to send are in File attachments. The first File explains the consultation, the second is the one to complete. On question 3 of Respondent Information Form, please respond as an Individual – the SGA will make a separate submission as an organisation.

How we would want people to answer:

Question 1: NO

[Question 1 is: Do you agree that the law in Scotland should be changed to give the SSPCA the powers as set out in section 4.1?]

Question 2: (in your own words but key points are: 1/ how can a charity with a campaigning role against the use of snares be charged with impartially investigating cases involving snares? 2/ The police are accountable to public – charities are not.) Also, If you know of cases poorly handled by SSPCA, please include. 

[Question 2 is: Please set out your reasons for your answer to Q1]

Question 3: N/A.

[Question 3 is: If you would prefer to see changes to the SSPCA’s powers to investigate wildlife crime other than those set out in section 4.1, please describe them]


So let’s look at the SGA’s position in a bit more detail. They say that giving increased powers to the SSPCA to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crimes would be “disastrous“. Disastrous for whom? Disastrous for those carrying out these crimes? Yes, without a doubt! But why would the SGA object? They claim to have a strong interest in fighting wildlife crime, reminding us repeatedly that they are an active member of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime. So how would bringing in more trained, experienced personnel to investigate wildlife crime be “disastrous”? Surely they’d be pleased to see more criminal gamekeepers brought to justice? Wouldn’t they?

They also say that giving increased powers to the SSPCA to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crimes “flies in the face of what would be deemed fair and just“. Eh? Fair and just for whom? Is it fair and just that criminal gamekeepers keep getting away with their appalling offences? Is it fair and just to society that The Untouchables can continue to illegally destroy our natural heritage without being brought before the courts?

They also say that, “unlike Police, SSPCA are not publicly accountable“. In our experience, the Police are nowhere near ‘publicly accountable’ – repeatedly refusing to account for their inaction or blunders on numerous wildlife crime investigations, hiding behind the old mantra ‘it’s a live investigation so it would be inappropriate to comment’. Besides, the SSPCA presumably has to act within the code of conduct dictated by the Charities Commission or a similar Scottish authority and so they are, essentially, publicly accountable.

They also say the SSPCA “have previously sought convictions of gamekeepers with insufficient evidence and campaign to ban snares“. The first part of this statement reveals a fundamental failure to understand how prosecutions are undertaken in Scotland. As a statutory reporting agency, the SSPCA is authorised to submit a report of an alleged offence to the Crown Office, but it is the Fiscal’s decision alone to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to proceed with a prosecution. The SSPCA (and the police for that matter) do not have the authority to make that decision. So, if, as the SGA claims, previous prosecutions have been attempted with insufficient evidence to support the charge, that’s down to poor decision making by COPFS and nobody else.

The second part of the statement (about the SSPCA campaigning to ban snares) is accurate, but so what? Has this campaigning affected their ability to investigate wildlife crimes that involve snared badgers that have been found in distress? No, of course it hasn’t, so why should it affect their ability to investigate a wildlife crime where a badger has been found already dead in a snare? As discussed above, at the end of the day it’s the Fiscal’s job to decide whether the prosecution should proceed, and that decision will be based on (a) whether a prosecution would be in the public interest, and (b) whether the reporting agency (e.g. SSPCA) has provided sufficient evidence to support the charges. Whether or not the reporting agency also campaigns for a ban on snares is totally irrelevant to the due process of the criminal justice system.

To conclude then, the public consultation for providing increased investigative powers to the SSPCA is due to close on Monday 1st September. That’s a little under two weeks. We strongly support the proposal and have campaigned for three years to get the government to put it on the table. Last year, we calculated that the conviction rate for raptor crime in Scotland was a pathetic 7.3% (see here). Wouldn’t it be good, indeed shouldn’t we expect, that better enforcement measures are introduced to tackle the vast majority of the remaining 92.7% of confirmed raptor crimes? A simple way to address this issue would be to put more trained personnel on the ground, at no cost to the tax payer. You’d have to be pretty stupid, and/or have a vested interest in raptor persecution, not to support this proposal, wouldn’t you?

If you do support the proposal because you’re sick to the back teeth of The Untouchables getting away with the systematic destruction of protected raptors (and other species – including badgers), then here’s your chance to influence government policy:

1. You can participate in the public consultation by downloading the response form from the government’s website (see here), filling it in and emailing it back to them. You can also read the full consultation document through this link.

2. You can also sign this petition, launched earlier this year by a member of the public, calling on the Scottish government to increase the investigatory powers of the SSPCA. This petition is due to close imminently as it’ll be handed in to the Environment Minister this Thursday (21st Aug) so if you’re going to sign it you need to do it quickly.


More poisoned peregrines in North Wales

North Wales Police are appealing for information following the discovery of a poisoned peregrine in June.

The bird was found at a quarry in Penmaenmawr and toxicology tests revealed it had been poisoned with a rodenticide.

It’s possible then that this was the result of an accidental poisoning (as rodenticides can be used under certain controlled conditions), but the death is being treated as suspicious because two years ago a pigeon was found, at the same quarry, smothered in poison and tethered to a rock – obviously placed as a poisoned bait (see here).

Press release from North Wales Police on the latest peregrine poisoning here.

In July this year, four peregrines (3 chicks and 1 adult) were found dead on their nest ledge at a quarry site in the Nantlle Valley, Gwynedd. Police suspect they too had been poisoned (see here).

peregrines x 4 Nantlle valley July 2014

RSPB finally ditches Hopetoun House as Scottish Birdfair venue

Scottish Birdfair 2014 logoWe visited the British Birdfair this past weekend – an annual three-day birding extravaganza held at Rutland Water. We met quite a few people who’d travelled down from Scotland, either as exhibitors or visitors, and it didn’t take long for conversations to turn to the Scottish Birdfair.

Regular blog readers will know that for the past three years, RSPB Scotland has organised a smaller Birdfair, controversially located in the grounds of Hopetoun House, the stately home of Lord Hopetoun.

The controversy centred on our concerns about the link between Hopetoun and the Leadhills [Hopetoun] Estate in South Lanarkshire. We’ve blogged extensively about those concerns: see here, here, here, here, here, especially here,  and a bit more here, here and here.

In a nutshell, Lord Hopetoun claimed that ‘Hopetoun Estate has no role whatsoever in the management of Leadhills‘. We disputed that, based on our own research (see links above). RSPB Scotland chose to ignore the findings of our research, apparently because they had signed up to a three-year contract, and they continued to hold their event at Hopetoun House. This led to a number of people boycotting the event, notably wildlife artist and raptor research expert Keith Brockie, who stated on this blog that he’d cancelled his exhibitor’s stand at the Scottish Birdfair – well done Keith! We also understand that Mark Avery also turned down an invitation to speak at last year’s Scottish Birdfair, a decision we believe was at least partially based on the Hopetoun/Leadhills connection. If that’s accurate, then well done Mark! The Scottish Raptor Study Group was also reported to have boycotted the event due to its location – if that’s accurate, well done them!

Well the good news, based on various sources, is that RSPB Scotland has finally given Hopetoun House the elbow and the 2015 Scottish Birdfair will be held at a different venue. That really is good news.

The question now is, where is the new venue? Apparently nothing has yet been finalised although the name of one particular site kept cropping up during last weekend’s discussions. Hmmm. We’ll have to wait for the official announcement though…..

Buzzard shooting condemned as abhorrent

buzzard photographer unknown 2Police are investigating following the discovery of a buzzard that had been shot dead in July.

The bird was found in a wooded area near Dundrum Road, Newcastle, Co Down on 9th July, according to an article in the local Mourne Observer (thanks to the contributor who sent us a copy).

An RSPB spokesperson said: “Any incident of wildlife crime is to be condemned but the shooting of a majestic bird of prey is completely abhorrent”.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to contact Newcastle police station on the non-emergency number 101.

Buzzard photograph: unknown photographer.

By the way, in case you’re thinking that due to a paucity of recently reported information, raptor persecution in Scotland has suddenly stopped, think again. We’re just waiting to see how long it takes Police Scotland to make these crimes public…..

“Gamekeepers are one of nature’s best friends”, claims Matt Ridley

Matt Ridley The Times 11 Aug 2014The following article was published in The Times on the eve of the Inglorious Twelfth:

Gamekeepers are one of nature’s best friends

By Matt Ridley

Tomorrow sees the start of the red grouse shooting season, a sport under attack as never before, with a petition to ban it, and campaigns to get supermarkets to stop selling grouse meat.

As someone who lives in the rural north and knows the issue at first hand, I am in no doubt that the opponents of grouse shooting have it backwards. On both economic and ecological grounds, the shooting of grouse is the best conservation practice for the heathery hills of Britain. If it were to cease, most conservationists agree that not only would curlews, lapwings and golden plover become much scarcer, even locally extinct, but much heather moorland would be lost to forest, bracken, overgrazing or wind farms.

Be in no doubt: management for grouse is conservation. The owners spend money to maintain the heather moors that constitute an ecosystem found almost nowhere other than Britain. They prevent overgrazing, re-establish heather, remove plantations of non-native sitka spruce, eradicate bracken, manage drainage, periodically burn long heather, kill foxes and crows, refuse to build subsidised wind farms, and thus maintain the great open spaces of the Pennines and parts of Scotland where people are free to walk. In the past decade alone, moorland owners have regenerated 57,000 acres of heather.

More than £50 million is spent on conservation by grouse moor owners every year. That’s roughly twice as much as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds devotes to its entire conservation efforts. There is no way the taxpayer would or should stump up that kind of cash to look after heather moors. But somebody has to: there is no such thing as a natural ecosystem in this country and conservation requires human intervention.

Grouse moor owners recoup some of their costs by leasing shooting to wealthy clients, who often fly in from abroad, fill the local hotels and create crucial local employment. In the economy of many Pennine dales, grouse shooting is irreplaceable, adding more than £15 million a year nationally and supporting 1,500 full-time jobs. It redistributes money from hedge-fund managers in the south and overseas to some of the poorest parts of rural Britain. Much as you might wish them to, rich folk won’t spend lots of money in the Pennines to watch rare birds; but they will to shoot grouse.

Astoundingly, golden plover, curlews and lapwings, the three most iconic wading birds of the uplands, live at five times the density and have more than three times the breeding success on moors with gamekeepers compared with moors without gamekeepers. That this is because of gamekeeping was confirmed in a series of experiments by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust near Otterburn in which matching areas of moor were either keepered or not, then swapped around after four years.

These birds would be at risk of dying out if it were not for gamekeepers, as would black grouse, ring ouzels and merlins. Nesting on or near the ground, such birds are vulnerable to foxes and crows that take their young. With unnaturally high numbers of foxes and crows in Britain – because of human roadkill and garbage – the only way the birds can thrive is if somebody controls the numbers of crows and foxes. The RSPB knows this and kills both species on some of its reserves.

As a result, grouse moors in spring are alive with the calls of birds, whereas the moors that are not managed for grouse are ornithological deserts. In Wales, for example, lots of conservation bodies try to manage the hills for birds, but curlew and golden plover are very scarce, black grouse non-existent – in sharp contrast to the grouse-rich Pennines. One grouse moor owner I spoke to last week said he was happy to challenge the RSPB to an ornithological audit by a neutral body of its upland reserves versus his grouse moor.

The RSPB argues that the hen harrier, a hawk that preys on grouse and breeds on moors, is under threat of extinction, because gamekeepers persecute it. Yesterday saw a damp day of protest on its behalf. In fact the British hen harrier population is stable at about 630 pairs and is much higher than it was 100 years ago when these birds were confined mainly to islands like the Orkneys.

Most of them are in Scotland. The only three successful pairs in England this year were on or next to managed grouse moors. They are not breeding on the RSPB’s English reserves because they are too vulnerable to fox predation, so they need gamekeepers as much as curlews do. On a Pennine grouse moor there is ample food – grouse and other birds. On a Welsh bird reserve there’s just the odd meadow pipit to eat. Because hen harriers breed in colonies, as a 1990s experiment at Langholm in Scotland found, they can quickly build up (to 20 pairs in that case) and destroy the economy and jobs on the grouse moor. The harriers themselves would then collapse in numbers for lack of food. By the end of the experiment, hen harriers at Langholm were back to two pairs.

You can see why gamekeepers dislike the idea of being done out of a job by a bird that cannot thrive without their protection; little wonder that some must occasionally be tempted to deter or even kill harriers. A sensible compromise is on the table, and moor owners are ready to sign up to it: they would allow low densities of harriers on grouse moors, removing the excess chicks to repopulate Wales or Cornwall and providing “diversionary feeding”. Everybody gains. All that’s needed is the RSPB’s agreement, but it is being obdurate and demanding unworkable preconditions.

The red grouse, the bird at the heart of all this, is an amazing creature. It’s wholly dependent on grazing heather, it cannot survive in captivity, it lures people to invest heavily in conservation in the north, which supports the economy and benefits other wildlife, and it’s found nowhere else in the world – unlike the hen harrier, which is common across two continents. The grouse population can be heavily cropped, just like sheep, to provide fine, free-range meat.

The campaign against grouse shooting makes no ecological or economic sense. Surely it is not a cynical attempt to raid urban wallets with an emotive anti-rich campaign like the RSPCA’s campaign against foxhunting. Surely not.


For a man of Mr Ridley’s scientific credentials, this opinion piece is shocking. It seems he’s just as good at doing his background research as he was at chairing the Northern Rock bank. The article is so full of holes it resembles a hen harrier gunned down on a driven grouse moor. It would take too long to pick through it all, so here are some highlights, in addition to those identified yesterday by Mark Avery.

Let’s start with his header: “Gamekeepers are one of nature’s best friends“. Does that include the following 26 gamekeepers, all convicted in the last 3.5 years of wildlife crime?

Feb 2011: Gamekeeper Connor Patterson convicted of causing animal fights between dogs, foxes and badgers.

May 2011: Gamekeeper Ivan Mark Crane convicted of using an illegal trap.

May 2011: Gamekeeper Ivan Peter Crane convicted of using an illegal trap.

May 2011: Gamekeeper Dean Barr convicted of being in possession of a banned poison.

May 2011: Gamekeeper James Rolfe convicted of being in possession of a dead red kite.

June 2011: Gamekeeper Glenn Brown convicted of using an illegal trap.

October 2011: Gamekeeper Craig Barrie convicted of illegal possession & control of a wild bird

Dec 2011: Gamekeeper Christopher John Carter convicted of causing a fight between two dogs and a fox.

Dec 2011: Gamekeeper Luke James Byrne convicted of causing three animal fights and possession of three dead wild birds (heron, cormorant, buzzard).

Jan 2012: Gamekeeper David Whitefield convicted of poisoning 4 buzzards.

Jan 2012: Gamekeeper Cyril McLachlan convicted of possessing a banned poison.

April 2012: Gamekeeper Robert Christie convicted of illegal use of a trap.

June 2012: Gamekeeper Jonathan Smith Graham convicted of illegal use of a trap.

Sept 2012: Gamekeeper Tom McKellar convicted of possessing a banned poison.

Nov 2012: Gamekeeper Bill Scobie convicted of possessing and using a banned poison.

Jan 2013: Gamekeeper Robert Hebblewhite convicted of poisoning buzzards.

Feb 2013: Gamekeeper Shaun Allanson convicted of illegal use of a trap.

Feb 2013: Gamekeeper (un-named) cautioned for illegal use of a trap.

May 2013: Gamekeeper Brian Petrie convicted for trapping offences.

June 2013: Gamekeeper Peter Bell convicted for poisoning a buzzard.

July 2013: Gamekeeper Colin Burne convicted for trapping then battering to death 2 buzzards.

Sept 2013: Gamekeeper Andrew Knights convicted for storing banned poisons.

Dec 2013: Gamekeeper Wayne Priday convicted for setting an illegal trap.

Feb 2014 Gamekeeper Ryan Waite convicted for setting an illegal trap.

May 2014 Gamekeeper Derek Sanderson convicted for storing five banned poisons.

July 2014 Gamekeeper Mark Stevens convicted for setting illegal traps.

And how about his statement that “grouse moor owners refuse to build subsidised wind farms” – does that include the following wind farms which are all either operational, under construction or proposed, all situated on grouse moors?

Calliacher Wind Farm, Perthshire

Crossburns Wind Farm, Perthshire

Fallago Rig Wind Farm, Borders

Moy Wind Farm, Inverness-shire

Dunmaglass Wind Farm, Inverness-shire

Farr Wind Farm (+ Kyllachy/Farr Extension), Inverness-shire

Farr is especially interesting as since the wind farm became operational, the estate appears to have greatly increased the intensity of its grouse moor management (gritting stations, moorland grips, predator destruction) – perhaps with the help of the lucrative funds generated by those turbines?

But finally, perhaps the statement that most reveals his failure to keep up to date is this: “In fact the British hen harrier population is stable at about 630 pairs and is much higher than it was 100 years ago when these birds were confined mainly to islands like the Orkneys“.

Hmm. Why is he using a 100-year-old benchmark to measure the population’s current status? If we all used 1914 as a reference point then we’d probably understand why 21st Century gamekeepers often claim that raptor populations have enjoyed exponential growth. Since 1914, of course they have, because by 1914, thanks to the efforts of gamekeepers conducting what was then legal persecution, most raptor species had either been completely (white-tailed eagle, osprey, red kite, goshawk) or almost completely (peregrine, golden eagle, hen harrier, buzzard) eradicated from these isles!

How about we use a more recent (and therefore relevant) reference point, let’s say 2004, to assess whether the British hen harrier population is “stable“. According to research published by Hayhow et al (2013), a national survey in 2010 revealed that the UK hen harrier population had suffered a significant decline of 18% since the previous national survey, which was conducted in 2004 (see here). 

We’re missing an estimated potential population of 1600 pairs of hen harriers in Scotland and England combined, according to the government’s Hen Harrier Conservation Framework. That’s over 3,000 individual birds. I suppose you could argue that because the harrier population is being constantly suppressed at an artificially low level (by illegal persecution), that amounts to some sort of ‘stability’, although not the sort of stability that has any meaningful conservation value and certainly not an indication of lawful grouse moor management!

If, like us and 14,000 others, you’ve had enough of the frankly piss-poor ‘explanations’ from apologists in the grouse-shooting industry of why there are so few hen harriers on driven grouse moors, here’s your chance to do something about it. Sign the petition to ban driven grouse shooting!