This morning, the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee heard evidence on the call for the licensing of all gamebird hunting in Scotland (grouse, pheasant and partridge shooting).
The petition (here), submitted by the Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) and supported by RSPB Scotland, raised 7,600 signatures over a six-week period this summer.
A petition briefing (written by research specialists in the Scottish Parliament Information Centre, known as a SPICe briefing) provides a short summary and can be read here.
This morning’s hearing was the first opportunity for the petitioner to explain why regulation is necessary. In addition, the Committee had received written evidence from various organisations, which we discuss below.
The witnesses at today’s hearing were Logan Steele (the petitioner, on behalf of the SRSG), Andrea Hudspeth (Tayside RSG) and Duncan Orr-Ewing (Head of Species & Land Management, RSPB Scotland).
After watching the unedifying hostility that Mark Avery had recently been subjected to when he appeared in front of the Westminster Petitions Committee to present his case for a ban on driven grouse shooting, these three witnesses may well have been nervous. They needn’t have worried. The Chair of this Committee (Johann Lamont MSP) behaved as you’d expect a Chair to behave – welcoming, interested and fair – there was no unnecessary rudeness or ungraciousness towards the petitioner as the Westminster Chair (Helen Jones MP) had unprofessionally displayed towards Mark last week.
The performance of today’s three witnesses was outstanding. Their evidence was authoritative, passionate, eloquent and compelling. Here’s the official transcript (starts at p14): game-licensing-petition-hearing_transcript-from-27-oct-2016-petitions-committee
We’d also encourage you to watch the video of today’s hearing here (starts at 40:08 mins).
Their delivery was so commanding that the Petitions Committee was clearly moved by the end of it. There was some discussion about whether to refer the petition to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee (the desired outcome as far as we were concerned), but the Petitions Committee didn’t want to refer it unless there was some commitment from the ECCLR Committee to take it on. If the Petitions Committee had referred it to the ECCLR, and then the ECCLR, for whatever reason, had rejected it, the petition would be considered dead and buried. The Petitions Committee clearly felt the issue was too important to risk losing it. Instead, they deferred their decision to send the petition to the ECCLR until they’ve managed to find out whether the ECCLR will take it. If the ECCLR won’t take it, then the Petitions Committee will continue with it. This is clear testimony to the convincing evidence provided by today’s witnesses. Very, very well done to all three. (Photograph L-R: Patrick Stirling-Aird, Andrea Hudspeth, Logan Steele (SRSG), Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB Scotland)).
Now on to the written evidence. So far there have been three submissions. One from RSPB Scotland (here) one from Scottish Land & Estates (here) and one from the Scottish Countryside Alliance (here). The latter two appear to have used the same crib sheet and it’s these two we’ll focus on here.
It is ironic that on the day a report is published that the rate of illegal persecution against red kites in North Scotland is just as bad now as it was in 1989 (see here), these two organisations are still maintaining that illegal raptor persecution is in “marked decline”. This claim from them is nothing new – they’ve been denying the extent of raptor persecution for years (e.g. see here, here and here) and yet, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary (e.g. see here, here and here), they continue to peddle this myth.
They justify their claim by pointing to either the number of criminal convictions or the number of reported incidents. As everybody knows, these two measures do not reflect the reality on the ground, but rather they reflect the increasing effectiveness with which the raptor killers hide their crimes, e.g. using military-grade night vision and thermal imaging equipment to take out raptors and remove the evidence under the cover of darkness.
Contrast their claim with the evidence in the SPICe briefing (here). Everybody knows what’s going on, everybody has seen the devastating evidence of the impact this criminality is having on raptor populations, everybody accepts that illegal persecution is still a big, big issue. Everybody that is except these organisations from the game-shooting lobby. What sort of message is their continuing denial sending to their members?
Scottish Land & Estates points to various ‘initiatives’ with which they’re ‘involved’, to try and portray themselves as committed raptor conservationists. It’s pure window dressing.
For example, ‘Heads up for Hen Harriers’ – it’s utter tosh, a partnership-working sham (read this).
For example, ‘South of Scotland Golden Eagle project’ – it hasn’t even got off the ground yet and even if it does, what fate awaits those young translocated eagles? We can make an educated guess.
For example, ‘Wildlife Estates Scotland’ – more tosh. Two of these ‘WES-accredited’ estates have recently been at the centre of wildlife crime investigations (Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park & Newlands Estate in Dumfriesshire). Why haven’t they been expelled from the WES scheme?
And let’s not forget the input of the Scottish Countryside Alliance – they tried to (disingenuously) use satellite tag failures on marine turtles in India as an explanation for ‘disappearing’ golden eagles in the Scottish highlands.
Why are these organisations still allowed to sit at the table as ‘partners’ in tackling raptor persecution crimes? We’d get a lot further, a lot faster, if the authorities treated these organisations with the disdain they deserve and booted them off these pantomime partnerships.
Still, the pressure is on like never before and the game-shooting industry is squirming under the intensity of that great big spotlight shining on their activities. Today’s evidence hearing takes us one step closer to where we want to go….
UPDATE 28 Oct 2016: BASC has issued a press statement about today’s evidence session, accusing the petitioners of making “inflammatory and far-fetched claims” (see here).
Scottish Land & Estates has issued a press statement about today’s evidence session, claiming “partnership is making a real difference to raptor conservation” (see here).
UPDATE 10 Nov 2016: Scottish Petitions Committee to hear more evidence on the licensing of gamebird hunting (see here).