New report reveals hundreds of raptors illegally killed on game-shooting estates in Scotland

RSPB persecution review 1994 2014Yesterday the RSPB published its latest figures on illegal raptor persecution in Scotland.

Rather than their usual annual review, this time they’ve produced a 20-year review covering the period 1994-2014. This is a really useful exercise as it puts the scale of (known) persecution in to perspective. It’s a sobering read.

A total of 779 birds of prey were confirmed to have been illegally killed during this period, either by poisoning, shooting or trapping. The known victims included 104 red kites, 37 golden eagles, 30 hen harriers, 16 goshawks, 10 white-tailed eagles and 458 buzzards.

In addition to these confirmed victims, a further 171 incidents are documented where poisoned baits and/or non-birds of prey victims were found, including 14 pet cats and 14 pet dogs, and then a further 134 incidents where no victim had been found but clear attempts to target raptors had been uncovered (e.g. illegally-set traps).

The report includes a map showing the landholdings of all known persecution incidents during this period. As ever, it’s pretty revealing, with a handful on the west coast but the vast majority in the uplands of central, eastern and southern Scotland – areas dominated by driven grouse shooting.

RSPB persecution review 1994 2014 map

Drilling down in to the detail, there’s a useful analysis of land-use type of confirmed poisoning incidents between 2005-2014 (219 incidents). A shocking (or not) 81% of confirmed poisoning incidents during this nine-year period were on land used for game-shooting: 57% on grouse moors and 24% on land managed for lowland pheasant shoots. This tells us a great deal about who is responsible for the vast majority of illegal raptor poisoning. Despite their continued denials and protestations, and their increasingly-desperate attempts to minimise the scale of these crimes (“it’s just a few rogues”, “it’s just a small minority”), this graphic exposes the criminality at the heart of the game-shooting industry:

RSPB persecution review 1994 2014 land use

Further damning evidence, which isn’t needed by most of us but for the benefit of those who are still in denial of the bleedin’ obvious, is this graph showing the occupations of those convicted of raptor persecution between 1994-2014. Surprise, surprise, 86% of them were gamekeepers:

RSPB persecution review 1994 2014 occupation

RSPB Scotland is to be commended for publishing this exceptionally detailed and meticulously-researched report. There are a number of things in it that are of particular interest to us and we’ll come back to those in due course. For now though, particular recognition should go to the Investigations team – they may be small in number but their contribution to exposing the disgraceful continuation of illegal raptor persecution in Scotland is enormous. They, and their colleagues south of the border, are worthy of high acclaim. If anybody reading this is in a position to recognise excellence in the field of raptor conservation, e.g. a nomination for an award, this team should be at the top of your list.

So, how has the Environment Minister, Dr Aileen McLeod, responded to such an embarrassing report? She said: “There is no doubt that the figures in this report make for uncomfortable reading, but we have made progress in recent years with the new vicarious liability provisions, the publication of the report from the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group, new measures implementing restrictions on the use of General Licences and earlier this year the Scottish Government funded pesticide disposal scheme that removed over 700kg of illegally held poisons in Scotland“.

We have made progress…” Hmm. Let’s have a look:

Vicarious liability – introduced almost 4 years ago and only two successful convictions to date. A slow (but good) start, but we need to see many more convictions.

Wildlife Crime Penalties Review – Commissioned over two years ago, published last month. An excellent report calling for tougher sanctions but we’re waiting to hear whether the Environment Minister will act on the recommendations. Can only be defined as ‘progress’ if she agrees to act.

General Licence restrictions – available to be used against landholdings where raptor crimes committed/suspected from 1st January 2014. So far, only two restrictions have been implemented and those only lasted for six days each before they were suspended as legal arguments continue. A slow start, and the legal challenges were to be expected, but can’t be defined as ‘progress’ unless the restrictions are fully implemented. There should also be a lot more of them.

Pesticide disposal scheme –  implemented this year and resulted in the removal of some illegally-held poisons. That is progress, although it is tinged with frustration that the game-shooting industry was given yet another chance to avoid justice as this scheme (the second of its kind) comes 14 years after the pesticides were originally banned. It’s also interesting to note in the RSPB’s report (page 18) that evidence suggests a number of individuals have retained their illegal stocks. This is supported by more poisoning incidents that have taken place this year, after the disposal scheme ended.

So some progress has been made (and almost entirely due to the efforts of Dr McLeod’s predecessor, Paul Wheelhouse) but it is glacially slow and, so far, has not stemmed the occurrence of illegal persecution, as the damning figures in this report show all too clearly. Much, much more can and needs to be done before we’ll be convinced that Dr McLeod is having any sort of impact. She has, though, announced that tenders have just been invited for a review of game licensing practices in other countries (to inform a possible decision of introducing licensing to game-shooting estates in Scotland), and that’s a good thing, but again, the research needs to be done and then a decision made, which probably won’t happen for a number of years if past performance is anything to go by. She’d find herself with a lot more support if she got on with announcing increased investigatory powers for the SSPCA – the public consultation closed 1 year and 3 months ago – and still we await her decision as the criminals continue their rampage. It’s not impressive at all.

And what of the response of the game-shooting industry itself? Some didn’t bother to publish a statement (Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association), which ironically tells us quite a lot, although they are quoted in an article by STV (see media coverage below) where they revert to type and simply deny the evidence and slag off the RSPB instead. And remember, the SGA is a fully-paid up member of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (cough).

Scottish Land and Estates (SLE), another PAW partner, did manage to issue a statement, via their Scottish Moorland Group (see media coverage below). Again, it’s the usual lamentable denial, characterised beautifully by this statement from Director Tim (Kim) Baynes:

Bird of prey deaths……have fallen dramatically over the last five years in particular“.

Er, here are some persecution figures that Kim might want to re-punch in to his calculator:

2012 – 18 confirmed deaths

2013 – 28 confirmed deaths

2014 – 37 confirmed deaths

There’s also this statement:

Our condemnation of wildlife crime is unquivocal...” All very touching but how is that “condemnation” manifested in the real world? It’s been brought to our attention that the current head gamekeeper on a Scottish grouse shooting estate has a (spent) conviction for shooting dead a raptor when he worked on another Scottish grouse moor. How does a criminal with a conviction like that (spent or not) remain employed in the game-shooting industry, let alone get a senior position on another Scottish grouse moor? Was he one of the posse of moorland gamekeepers recently invited to Holyrood to mingle with, and be applauded by, a number of MSPs, as part of the Gift of Grouse propaganda campaign? Surely not…

Download the RSPB report here

Media coverage

RSPB press release here

Statement from Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod here

Scottish Moorland Group statement here

BBC news here

STV article here

BBC Radio Scotland (Newsdrive) interview with Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations RSPB Scotland here (starts at 21.50, available for 29 days)

Guardian article here (a mis-leading headline but nevertheless good to see coverage in this paper)

23 thoughts on “New report reveals hundreds of raptors illegally killed on game-shooting estates in Scotland”

  1. Excellent report and well worthy of the effort to produce it at this time. A nice xmas present for the shooting industry.
    Listened to Tim Baynes yesterday on the radio, pathetic to say the least.

    I look forward to the Scottish Government being more pro-active in 2016 with regards to raptor persecution and also to give us an announcement sooner rather than later on whether the SSPCA are to get more investigative powers.

    Thanks too to yourself for keeping us all up to date with what is actually happening in the countryside.

  2. Well now we know why SGA put out their release on Wednesday – they knew this was coming and were getting their view out first rather than be saying ‘But But’

  3. Wonderful stuff, RSPB Scotland and a penetrating commentary by RPS. I fully agree that those responsible for gathering evidence and information in relation to the persecution of raptors should receive an award, considering the massive difficulties they encounter in this field.
    The graphs above remove any doubt as who is, and always has been, responsible for this war on our birds of prey. Given the evidence above Dr. Aileen McLeod should have no hesitation in awarding investigatory powers to the SSPCA, who are experts in this field. She might also consider distancing herself from the propaganda campaign that is “Nature’s Larder” given the recent publication of the lack of monitoring of medicated grit and the continuing presence of fragments of lead in birds which have been shot. This without mentioning the fact that 86 per cent of crimes linked to raptor persecution over the period from 1994 to 2014 have been committed by those who oversee the production process in regard to “Nature’s Larder.”
    The map above detailing the location and frequency of raptor persecution incidents confirms the truth of the saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words” especially in this case. It leaves no doubt as to the motivation or the identity of the persecutors.

  4. following the BBC Scotland website article concerning increased Eagle numbers on Scottish grouse moors, here is their reply to my complaint yesterday. Nothing if not quick and I’m guessing it’s as close to an apology as you might expect

    Thank you for your email about the BBC News Online article: More eagles nesting on grouse estates, say gamekeepers –

    We have received a wide range of feedback on this matter so the response below strives to address the majority of those concerns raised but may not address all of the specific points you have mentioned. Please be assured your comments have been registered and sent to senior editorial staff at BBC Scotland who have asked that we forward their response as follows:

    “We have reported extensively on the issues surrounding birds of prey over many years. We appreciate the strength of feeling generated by the subject, and we need to reflect the views of both sides in this debate. As a result, we felt it was appropriate to cover the claims being made by the SGA.

    The final version of the story includes RSPB Scotland challenging the figures put forward by the gamekeepers. This is not unusual, as our online stories often evolve during the day as reaction and other information emerge.

    However, we would accept that on this story we should have waited to include the views of both sides before publishing the original article.”

    Thank you, once again, for taking the time to contact us.

    Details of the BBC complaints process are available online at

    Kind Regards

    BBC Complaints

  5. Yes fully support the statement that the RSPB’s investigation team deserve full recognition for the work they do. I spoke to one of them at the Scottish Birdfair two years ago, very impressed indeed, but also very conscious how utterly tired they were. The personal cost of what they go through, first hand experience of the cruelty and dealing with the obnoxious individuals behind it must be bloody awful, really destroy any faith in humanity.

    Re the comments by the SLE on the report are as pathetic as usual. Implied that the RSPB was deliberately failing to acknowledge the ‘raft of reports’ showing how wildlife was doing so well on grouse moors including the 81 bird species thriving on them. Were they actually ‘thriving’ or just in ones or twos? And how many of them actually lived on the moors as opposed to the corners of the estates that might be policy woodland , wetlands etc. Really, really need the conservation orgs to get together and contest this rubbish showing why driven grouse moors are missing so much wildlife that should be there.

    The estates are obviously on a big PR offensive which is incredibly frustrating as it would take very
    title effort at all for the conservation organisations show what utter tosh it is (since when are tawny owls moorland birds?), but just isn’t happening. A guest blog on Mark Avery’s Standing up for Nature on the 11th of December ‘An Ex Gamekeeper writes..’ Indicated that the horrendous persecution the wild cat used to receive from the estates is still going on. Would that surprise any of us?

  6. Yes, great work by the RSPB Investigations team.

    I would also like to comment on the pie-chart graphics, as they really are telling. Going by the data revealed in these charts, 95% of confirmed poison incidents were on land managed by the “guardians of the countryside”, and the total of those convicted for raptor persecution incidents amounted to 92%. Those are quite substantial totals for people that are supposed to be looking after the land and its wildlife in a responsible manner.

    But anyway, I have a question for those involved with the SGA, SLE, or any of the pro-shooting commenters that visit this site. It has been stated that “81 different species of birds were thriving on shooting estates”, so is there any chance that we can get a full list of these species?

    I have an idea where this nonsensical information came from, but I don’t have a full list, so I sincerely hope that the shooters can provide the evidence to back up their claims.

  7. The Scottish Moorland Group states that “Our condemnation of wildlife crime is unequivocal and we support the Scottish Government’s Environment Minister in the tough stance she has taken against those who indulge in this activity. There is a concerted effort by a number of organisations including Police Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates and the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association to eradicate the problem all together. The last five years has seen significant progress through Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland and we are therefore perplexed and disappointed that RSPB has chosen to look backwards and not forwards with their report, particularly in view of the overall positive trend. We would suggest that RSPB would achieve more by working more closely with people on the ground who are responsible for moorland management on a daily basis.”

    So glad to hear that the Police, SLE and SGA are the main organisations working together to eradicate wildlife crime, and that it is their desire to work more closely with conservation organisations. Well, I’ve got a suggestion as to how they could extend this caring approach, and a way of proving their innocence at the same time. Let’s do it on a voluntary basis to start off with, but non-cooperation (surely unlikely?) would suggest the need for a compulsory scheme. My suggestion is that each grouse shooting estate employs their local Raptor Study Group to closely monitor the breeding performance of raptors on their estates. Independent scientific evidence could be collected to demonstrate clearly that no persecution or any form of interference with protected species was taking place. That would easily resolve the question of guilt or innocence, and as the shooting organisations vehemently deny any guilt regarding raptor persecution, their argument would be won. Simple! Assuming they have nothing to hide of course. So come on SMG, who’s up for it?

    1. Or alternatively work towards the ultimate goal of doing away with shooting birds for fun. No game estates, no game keepers, no persecution (of all wildlife).

      Think of all that lovely rewilding and the money from ecotourism.

      1. And how much attention does Scottish Land and Estates, that body dedicated to rural economy and jobs, environment and wildlife give to Eco tourism? Virtually zilch you are far more likely to see a feature on buzzards being ‘out of control’ because one attacked an osprey chick than anything about sea eagles making a very substantial economic contribution to Mull’s tourism industry. Of course Eco tourism conflicts with grouse moors and what bad stalking estates are doing to the hills so the economic opportunities it provides for rural communities are sidelined by the huntin, fishin, shootin set. Some people are doing their absolute best to keep this country in the 19th century.

  8. I see the Minister reported that the amnesty turned up nearly a ton of illegally-held poisons. Which seems to me to indicated it’s a business that needs much closer regulation, for reasons of streams, reservoirs and water supplies, if not for contempt of the law.

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