Red kite persecution in North Scotland at same level as 25 years ago, says new report

A new SNH-commissioned report, published today, shows that the high level of illegal red kite persecution in North Scotland has not changed in 25 years.

The latest report (see here) is a follow up study on a paper published in 2010 (see here) that showed illegal persecution was responsible for holding back the spread of re-introduced red kites in North Scotland. That study used data from 1989-2006. The latest study looked at more recent data (2007-2014) and shows that absolutely nothing has changed. Red kites in North Scotland are still being illegally killed at an astonishingly high rate.

A dead red kite

The Scotland red kite breeding population, currently at around 283 pairs, should be at around 1,500 pairs, if population growth is comparable with other re-introduced kite populations in other parts of the UK. The sickening reality is that the current North Scotland kite population is around 70 breeding pairs, in comparison to the reference population in the Chilterns (reintroduced at the same time as the N Scotland kites but not exposed to illegal persecution) which currently stands at over 1,000 breeding pairs. Illegal persecution has robbed Scotland of 1,430 breeding pairs of red kites.

What an absolute bloody disgrace.

Here is a quote from the new report:

It is clear that illegal killing is still the major factor limiting population growth of red kites in North Scotland. There is no evidence that the rate of illegal killing has changed between the time periods 1989-2006 (i.e. the years used in the original paper by Smart et al., 2010) and 2007-2014‘.

The Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, had this to say in an SNH press release about today’s report:

It is of course, good news that red kite numbers are increasing in Scotland. But it must be said that it is extremely disappointing that this success is being lessened by illegal persecution of these magnificent birds.

I want to be clear that wildlife crime is not acceptable in a modern Scotland and this is why we are doing all we can to end the illegal killing of birds of prey and working in partnership with stakeholders to achieve that. Scotland already has the strongest wildlife legislation in the UK and earlier this year, we accepted proposals to introduce tough new maximum penalties for those who commit crimes against wildlife.

The Scottish Government has ordered a review of satellite tracking data – we want to make sure we are getting the most information we can on when and how birds are disappearing.

Last year, we also funded the free pesticide disposal scheme which removed over 700kg of illegally held poisons in Scotland, to allow those still in possession of illegal substances to have them removed. I’m also seeing some really encouraging best practice from the farming community on the responsible use of rodenticide, which can be used by wildlife criminals to persecute raptors.”

We’ll be commenting in a later blog about the Cabinet Secretary’s comments, and putting them in to context with other, similar comments that have been trotted out by her predecessors over the years. Suffice to say, we’ve heard it all before and whilst those (Government) who could stop all of this find reasons not to do so, the killing continues.

Today’s report can be added to the mountain of scientific evidence about the extent and damage that illegal persecution is causing to our native, protected raptors at the hands of the game-shooting industry (e.g. see recent papers on catastrophic decline of hen harriers (here) and peregrines (here) due to illegal killing on the grouse moors of NE Scotland).

The hand-wringing and platitudes from the Government, and the denials and obfuscation from the game-shooting industry have all worn thin.

When does it STOP, Roseanna Cunningham?

UPDATE 2PM: The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association has issued a statement in response to this report. Basically, it reads ‘It’s nuffin to do wiv us, Guv’. Read it here.

22 thoughts on “Red kite persecution in North Scotland at same level as 25 years ago, says new report”

  1. I wonder if those planning the hen harrier south of England “reintroduction” will bother reading this report and think “hold on a minute…”.

    It should certainly be sent to the countries from where they will be sourcing the young harriers and asking whether they want their birds to end up being shot or trapped and then burnt or buried on a grouse moor in northern England.

    1. Seconded here. I have always considered that reintroducing kites to NE Scotland was foolish to say the least knowing the level of wildlife persecution that the lands around the Black Isle contain. Now there is some program being mooted , I believe, to move golden eagles to Southern Scotland. OMG. Soon we will be able to wring our hands over the lack of success of that project. All this cash and energy that is put into these reintroductions would be far better aimed at fighting and eliminating persecution. Perhaps these birds would then return and thrive of their own accord.

  2. When are they going to get it through their thick skulls, the estates are NOT ‘stakeholders, they are CRIMINALS.

  3. I struggle to correlate the potential 1400 breeding pairs claim, with the previous post on persecutions 2006 to 2016, which including the strange multi poisoning on the black isle, would add up to a total of approx. 40 deaths over the entire country, not just the North. Especially as there is less grouse moor in the North and almost all deaths just now are being put down to grouse moors.
    Not that any criminal deaths are acceptable, but blaming the lack of expansion simply due to persecution, doesn’t seem correct.
    There may well be other factors at play as per buzzard numbers.
    There is certainly a significant increase each year in kite numbers in glen esk/edzell region.

    [Ed: Alan, have you actually read the report? Try looking at the methods section]

    1. Yes i have.
      Its a fascinating read.
      Interestingly, if you look at page 17 graph of deaths.
      Other than the strange “Ross shire incident” which seems to be hidden under a huge carpet.
      Since 2011 when vicarious liability was introduced, there is a huge percentage decline in persecution deaths.
      The windfarm effect is also interesting.
      For me the best thing about kites are that they are a great indicator species on what is going on with other raptors.
      This report seems to be in line with what im seeing, in that persecution is reducing. (not fast enough maybe)
      And that wind turbines will become a significant factor in raptor persecutions.

      [Ed: if you’ve read it, and these are your conclusions, then you clearly haven’t understood it!]

  4. Truly shocking. They are estimating 513 pairs by 2044 a level that the Chiltern’s population reached by 2009. North Scotland is 35 years backward and that gap increases every year.
    Without a ban, i doubt that the Black Isle population will ever reach 500 pairs, unless they spread westwards. The model is assuming a linear level of killing which i doubt will happen. As the population increases so will the killing. I am sure the central Scotland and Aberdeen populations will also never get above the heather ceiling.
    The only good thing about all this is that along with increased data from White-tailed Eagle introductions on the east coast, driven grouse shooting is finished.

  5. It certainly is a bloody national disgrace. How come no criminal estates and their bloodthirsty gamekeepers have gone to prison over this? The northern red kites are a subject that is very close to my heart. The SNP administration should hold their heads in shame. How dare that these criminals should be allowed to rob the rest of the population of the chance and pleasure of seeing these magnificent birds. I also blame the RSPB for supporting the vile activity of driven grouse shooting.

  6. As a long time animal welfarist and hands-on conservationist, I wish to ask why those who thought of bringing back the Red Kite to Scotland, did not consider the fierce opposition likely to be encountered by the shooting estates? The same goes for Sea Eagles.

    I would have made absolutely certain that all those involved in game bird shooting and their allies, would have accepted such a predator back on the scene. To barge ahead, and at great cost and effort, possibly reveals big egos involved in this reintroduction. Purely and simply, from an animal welfare point of view, I would not have introduced any creature back into a Scotland different from when such species could enjoy a relatively peaceful life. The suffering that would be experienced by these birds, would have outweighed any intention of restoring them to our present day, heavily gamekeepered environment. The same applies to Beavers, Lynx and dafter still, Wolf introduction. In the USA, Wolves were obliterated in various States, but conservationist pressure allowed them back in. Now, they are being blasted from helicopters and poisoned, as ranchers do not want them, and hunters love shooting them. Those in conservation have to be practical, and realise that only a change of heart from the shooting lobby will permit Birds of Prey numbers to rise, and that is not going to happen. What is needed is the present form of what a shooting estate is has to change, or be replaced by some well thought out use that incorporates job creation with decent wages and based on alternative ways of using the land, that can be justified on sound economic grounds, such as a new type of tourism and envionmental restoration.

    We are still at a stage of being on a war footing, with conservationists banging their heads against a brick wall. he shooters are too well entrenched and much richer and influential than we are. It could be that patience over a long time will have to be accepted, as conservation of wildlife is inculcated, in a new way of thinking, into young people’s minds, and those of our politicians. Scotland suffers from an unequal development of what is progresive and what is regressive on many serious for attention fronts, and I am afraid this cause of ours, to save our Birds of Prey and other wildlife, does not a priority attention. Only a massed combined front can win this battle, but have we got the funds, the people with stamina, along with the Scottish public to triumph. We may have to concede defeat, and just let the dictatorship of criminals and those indifferent to animal suffering, rule the roost, and give us a monotonous environment with a few Birds of Prey, just to make it look good to the uneducated eye. Throughout the planet, wildlife is on an unprecedented decline, and only holding out at great cost to ranger life, and millions of pounds of those concerned. The battle cannot be won due to the wealth of those wanting to kill animals for sport, body parts, pets and investments. The scene could become like an Easter Island Planet, with no natural and diverse forests or habitats, with relic populations of wild animals in zoos of low genetic variability, and thus on the verge of extinction, and plantlife only existing in a frozen state in seed banks. A dystopian future beckons us if we do not control those forces leading us into it, and for world population to decline to ease the pressure on declining land suitable for farming. The problems facing Birds of Prey are only part of an enormous apocalyptic time to come, if we cannot find the right humane world leaders to bring us to a state of reality about the wrong ways we are using the planet. I defy anyone to say I am writing irrelevant nonsense.

    1. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting you are writing irrelevant nonsense, only that everything you say points to why killing of our wildlife for fun, by a small group of people, should, in view of the decline of various species which are proactively ‘removed’, be banned totally and utterly. Golf perhaps might fill that gap. No guff about loss of jobs please..Just a suggestion !

    2. This is the first time I have read a balanced view on raptor persecution on this site. Well done! I totally abhor the persecution of raptors or any wildlife but sometimes you have to think about the bigger picture not totally focused on one thing. Education of the young in my opinion is where we should be putting the majority of our efforts as quite obviously the way that raptor persecution Scotland and others are going about it is quite plainly not having any effect as seen in the continued if not heightened persecution of raptors over the past decade. As in Syria, Iraq etc sometimes bombing doesn’t work but only makes things worse when education and dialogue could achieve so much more.

      1. We have educated our young, just as our parents educated us, that is why we are standing up and demanding change and that the status quo is no longer an option. Trouble is the well entrenched aristocracy does not educate their young by sends them to cloistered private institutions which only teaches them to rule and to refuse to listen to the peasants and plebs. That is why we are in this situation, because an educated population is now butting heads with our self-appointed lords and masters.

  7. From the SGA press release:

    “If a tiny minority continue to take part in illegal practices, this is through no encouragement whatsoever from the SGA and all our members know they will be expelled from the organisation if convicted of wildlife crime.”

    1. It seems they don’t need any encouragement from SGA to kill Red Kites. It is the default position.
    2. If it is a “tiny minority” they must be pretty hard working.
    3. Ooooh they will be expelled from SGA that will really scare then. Ah but then only if they get convicted. Not much chance of that.

    SGA should stop pedalling this claptrap.

    Raptor persecution is organised, co-ordinated, widespread and endemic. It needs to stop. We need robust regulation of game shooting in Scotland.

    1. It might well be a tiny minority actively doing this (hah, fat chance, but lets humour them for a minute), but what are the rest of the keepering and farming community doing to stop them? If they are not tolerating these supposed few bad apples, what are they doing to weed them out? In response to the #NotAllGameKeepers argument, the answer has to be #YesAllGameKeepers; because the ones that aren’t are still covering for the ones who are. They are still just as guilty.

      Now nobody likes shopping their mates, but if they were their mates then they wouldn’t put the supposed innocent keepers in that position in the first place. Unless the supposed good apples are prepared to shop their mates then they have to admit those few rotten apples have just spread the rot to the whole barrel. If keepers want us to believe the few bad apples claim then they are having to go and get very visible at putting their house in order and clearing out the ones who do commit raptor crime, and the ones who leave fireworks and gas guns lying around during nesting times, the ones who set muirburn so often that it scorches the peat, the ones who hammer out permanent tracks, and the ones who set snares and traps that catch all indiscriminately. They aren’t just going to have to achieve minimum compliance, but go above and beyond in protecting wildlife and protecting the environment. That starts with reporting and helping prosecute their mates who do poison and shoot raptors, beavers, otters, wildcats, and other protected animals.

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