Come on, Aileen

Aileen McLeod MSPWe didn’t know what to expect from the newly-appointed Environment Minister when she took on her role a little over a month ago. Dr Aileen McLeod’s political experience had been largely focused on European policy work, although she was clearly highly educated and we knew she’d be well advised by the wildlife crime policy officers in Holyrood. Nevertheless, it would inevitably take time for her to achieve the level of insight and knowledge of her predecessor, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, who had the benefit of two years in office and was beginning to achieve considerable momentum against the raptor killers, until he was pushed out to another department in the Cabinet reshuffle in November.

Obviously, the jury is still out on Dr McLeod’s effectiveness and we need to give her a bit of time to get her bearings, although we fully expect her to adopt the Government’s stated intolerance of wildlife crime and to do everything she can to ensure that the raptor killers are brought to justice.

Two recent statements show that she has a thoughtful and measured approach, although we have cause to question a few of her comments.

First off, she has responded to the concerns of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (RACCE) Committee, who wrote to her (see here) after taking evidence on wildlife crime from Police Scotland, COPFS and the former Environment Minister.

Here is her response: Environment Minister response to RACCE Committee Dec 2014

On the whole, her response is non-contentious and is pointing in the right direction, but she does say a couple of odd things. On the issue of the detection and prosecution of wildlife crime she says:

Reported crime numbers also reflect not only public awareness of wildlife crime, but also confidence that there will be an appropriate response from the authorities. Police Scotland has worked hard to ensure that consistent structures and resources are in place throughout Scotland and we expect this to produce improved results in wildlife crime reporting“.

We haven’t seen any evidence of this, in fact the complete opposite. We would agree that Police Scotland has been consistent, but not in a good way; consistently poor responses to reports of wildlife crime (with a handful of exceptions) seems to have been the norm for a very long time.

On the subject of the absence of species potentially indicating criminal activity (i.e. the absence of certain raptor species from vast swathes of driven grouse moors) she says:

We know that there may also be other non-criminal explanations for the absence of species. Nevertheless I agree that this would be useful work for the PAW Scotland Science sub-group to take forward“.

What other non-criminal explanations are there for the absence of certain raptor species from driven grouse moors? All the science (and there has been plenty of it, some dating back almost two decades) indicates a direct link to the illegal persecution of raptors on those moors. Sure, natural factors such as habitat, climate, prey availability, predation etc can and do affect the natural distribution of species, but we’re talking about species that have either ‘disappeared’ from their former natural ranges or their breeding attempts in parts of those ranges consistently fail. It’s no coincidence that these areas just happen to be managed as driven grouse moors.

On the subject of increasing the investigatory powers of the SSPCA she says:

I am also aware of the need to carefully balance a number of factors such as resources, accountability and proportionality in coming to a decision on whether to extend further powers to the SSPCA as regards wildlife crime“.

‘Proportionality’ is an interesting word. It suggests that the measure of extending the SSPCA’s powers should be fair, reasonable and appropriate. Who would argue that extending the SSPCA’s powers would be a dis-proportionate response to the rising level of wildlife crime in Scotland and Police Scotland’s inability to cope? Well we already know the answer to that – see here and here. The question is, will the Environment Minister consider it a disproportionate measure? We’ll find out soon enough, although if the last sentence of her letter to the RACCE Committee is anything to go by, she’ll do the right thing:

Tackling wildlife crime is a key priority for the Scottish Government and one that I am keen to take forward robustly in my new role“.

Other statements in her response letter were very encouraging, and we particularly welcome her intention to consider including the locations of illegally placed poison baits and traps on the annual PAW raptor persecution maps. That’s something that we (and others) have been asking for for a long time (e.g. see here).

We were also pleased to see a (diplomatic) dig about Police Scotland’s ridiculous press statement on the cause of the Ross-shire Massacre (here is some background on their idiotic statement, in case you missed it). Dr McLeod says:

Police Scotland’s press release on 24 October was designed to bring about a reduction in speculation that was widespread across social media on this high profile case. I am confident that lessons will have been learned on the need to be very careful with wording of such communications“.

She went a bit further in a recent statement published in the Scottish Farmer (here), where she announced NFU Scotland as a new member of PAW. In that statement she reiterated that the Ross-shire Massacre was the result of criminal activity. In other words, it wasn’t the result of an accidental poisoning.

 So, all in all a good start from her, with just a couple of questionable statements. Come on, Aileen, let’s see what you can deliver in 2015…

9 thoughts on “Come on, Aileen”

  1. Seems like she is settling in for the long fight, that isn’t so bad. I admit that I quite like the idea of a report on non-criminal explanations for lack of biodiversity. There are not that many. I mean we all know that it is criminal activity from keepers and farmers, but it would be nice to have an actual committee report based on firm science as well. It is the favoured excuse by the shooting lobby that the reason for lack of biodiversity is manifold and isn’t keepers doing illegal things, so to have something to smack that little whack-a-mole down for good would be handy. It would save us all having to fight the same argument from scratch each and every time it comes up. It is a nice piece of resource denial, and if I had to pick one single thing in that reply for the shooting lobby to be most afraid of, it is that. We might even get the moors opened back up, fences torn down and shooting roads done away with too. Since that is liable to be the other significant factor.

    It has the potential to not only bust the shooting lobby’s main argument and defence, but also give real land reform.

    1. Yes..thats well said…however, good luck to those trying to study this with the criminal killing “elephant in the room”…no one is going to get a free hand in studying raptor declines on shooting estates…for very obvious reasons….No, what we are likely to get is yet another very expensive [to the taxpayer!!] piece of reseaerch which even in the unlikely event of clear cut results, will be roundly ignored by the shooting lobby..who made up their minds in the 19th century and are sticking by it……Talking of wasting taxpayers [and others] money on behalf of the poor shooting estates..I see the third Langholm Study report is imminent….anyone know how much that debacle has cost us all so far?

    2. I find the excuse that declines of Hen Harriers is due to other causes is just more stupidity from the shooting lobby. The same people will argue for the licence to move Hen Harrier chicks to other localities. If Hen Harriers are NOT being persecuted as they claim and the losses are all from natural causes then why would they need to move nests? This contradiction is (as most if not all of their press releases) either extremely stupid or they think that everyone else is stupid enough to believe their duplicity.
      The contradiction is also an admission that they are killing Hen Harriers. The solution of complementary feeding of Hen Harriers is also an admission of guilt from the same lobby but with a big difference. Taking up artificial feeding of Hen Harriers is making a hugely positive statement ‘OK Hen Harriers have been illegally persecuted for taking grouse but this has to stop and by feeding Hen Harriers we are supporting both species together’. The removal of nests from moors is saying the opposite ‘OK we have been killing Hen Harriers because we don’t want them on our moors and we still don’t want them so solution is to move them non-lethally’. The second is an admission of guilt with no remorse. Despicable! I’m very glad the RSPB is not supporting it.

      In response to the RP post itself I agree with their interpretation of the statement ‘non-criminal explanations for the absence of species’ although it is ambiguous. It seems in the context of the overall flavour of the report and response to refer to grouse moors but because of the use of mandarin speak, it is correct. Peregrines are disappearing from north-west Scotland and as far as i am aware, no one is blaming this on persecution. I hate the diplomatic way everything has to be between the lines but it is obvious that as RP writes it is all about grouse moors. It is the elephant in the room. Occasionally Whitehouse would step out behind the veil of diplomacy and call a spade a spade. Hopefully she can also show she is more tough. I don’t hold out much hope though.
      I did a search for the word ‘grouse’ in the report and response. It doesn’t occur. Neither does the word ‘moor’!

      1. P.S.
        Anyone can tell i haven’t thought too much about the actual method of the proposal to move Hen Harriers from grouse moors. I’ve been so outraged at the idea of relocating a protected species with the specific aim of reducing its range rather than expanding it (as with other re-introduction schemes) that i haven’t thought about the method.
        The RSPB have stated that they are opposed to the idea at least until Hen Harriers are successful on grouse moors so the RSPB is not totally opposed. Presumably the RSPB’s would, if their conditions were met, support a similar method to the re-introduction of Red Kites. There is a big difference between reintroducing an extinct species to a largish island country and moving them off prime habitat within that same island. I may be wrong but i would also have thought that Red Kites are much less mobile than Hen Harriers and that Hen Harriers are more specialist hunters whilst Red Kites are mostly scavengers. Due to these differences i have some doubts that the same method would even work. BWP states that it is not even known how old the Hen Harrier juveniles are before independence. Would they be able to learn to hunt without parents?
        With the Red Kite scheme juveniles ‘were taken from wild nests at an age of 4-5 weeks, kept in large pens, from which they were released at around 8 weeks old, having been fed on a diet of carrion-similar to what their parents would have provided for them in the wild.’ (from
        In 2009 The Guardian reported on the Natural England proposal of reintroducing Hen Harriers to England
        and the article mentions that the birds might come from France and Scotland. That would mean tax payers money being used to move Hen Harriers from a dwindling population in Scotland so they can be shot in England. Yes obviously that is insane enough for the grouse-shooting lobby.

  2. It is too soon to judge her.

    “Reported crime numbers also reflect not only public awareness of wildlife crime, but also confidence that there will be an appropriate response from the authorities. Police Scotland has worked hard to ensure that consistent structures and resources are in place throughout Scotland and we expect this to produce improved results in wildlife crime reporting“.

    That statement is tosh of the first order. Probably written by one of the fossils or mandarins in the embroidery department.
    Hopefully Aileen, after being exposed to the evidence of the magnitude of the criminality that exists, will view the current situation as one requiring a very firm hand.

  3. Without being patronising, I am glad that RPS exists, and those who manage it deserve great credit for giving a voice to the many who are saddened and angered by the continued killing of our Birds of Prey. Also, credit to those who make an effort to comment sensibly and constructively on what should be done to lessen, and even hopefully, halt the killing. The cynicism exposed is healthy, and shows those in power and owners of non-law abiding shooting estates, that the opposition is vigorously not letting up on its pressure to rid Scotland of this disgraceful contempt for the majority progressive, and humane element of the Scottish population. That majority is made up of all those who support the work of the SSPCA, the RSPB, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, John Muir Trust and many thousands more of the public that send in their donations and give their spare time as volunteers, to support the savng of wildlife and animal welfare in general.

    Can we not look forward in 2015 to at last having a common policy for managing Scottish wildlife and habitats, and for a national campaign to bring the whole public aboard, to clarify for them, the importance of this effort, and to focus the attention of our politicians to the fact that Scotland must, as a humane and ethical nation, show the world that our wildlife is not being rendered extinct, as it is being so elsewhere in the world. We can no longer have such large areas of our landscape being kept bereft of predatory bird species, just to suit a large part of a rural industry, that still thinks it can use methods more suited to Victorian times. While this is going on, we have to consult with the farmers to find what level of compensation is required for genuine cases of livestock loss.

    The whole of Scotland requires a complete examination to work out what effort and resources it would take to restore certain areas that were once vibrant with wildlife and native woodlands. Our schools would have time and resources awarded to produce new generations of young people fully informed as to our heritage in all its grand aspects, and thereby rid the nation of the nonsense inculcated for far too long, about what we owe to shooting estates and gamekeepers, as guardians of our countryside. Our young would become personally involved in the creation of a new natural Scotland, and jobs created in restoration works and new rural industries. This may sound pie in the sky, but the resources are already there, but at present, being mis-allocated to the wrong causes and people.

    Where can we find a sponsor to launch this national drive for the control of our own landscape, and to ensure that the politicians listen to our common sense approach to eliminating a national disgrace? The Birds of Prey are our emblem to fight for what once was ours. At present we are in a little talking shop box; we need liberated to get out there and involve the whole nation, and indeed, the whole of Britain. This revolution has to occur world wide, as the scientific press is now abuzz over another Great Extinction taking place before our eyes, with the Elephant and Rhino along with the Great Apes disappearing at a great rate due to poaching and plantation palm oil, as main killers. If we are to save BIODIVERSITY, in the face of rising human population, a world policy will will have to hammered out whereby inviolate zones are set up to secure genetically diverse populations of as many species as possible. For the oceans, the same safeguards. So far, we are not doing well enough with Climate Change and the amount of violence in many countries. I think someone out there in the political world, has to bring all these concerns together into a common cause for mankind, or else we will lose the progress we have achieved, and sink back into a Dark Age. Scotland has its part to play.

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