“We are patient, reasonable people……..our patience has run out”

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.

img_20161027_115416The 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 herehere 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).

20 thoughts on ““We are patient, reasonable people……..our patience has run out””

  1. What an outstanding performance from all three giving evidence to the Petitions Committee. Knowledgeable, to the point, and professional. Huge thanks to you all. No wonder the committee took the issue seriously. Well done to the Chair and the committee members too.

    Raptor Persecution UK are also megastars, of course!

  2. They were brilliant!
    Many MSPs do not care about raptor numbers or their persecution but what they do care about is the rural economy. The fallacy that sporting estates are the mainstay of the rural economy is in ruins.
    Nature Based tourism worth 1.4 billion supporting 39,000 jobs. That is where the future lies.

  3. I also agree that all three gave exceptional evidence on the on-going persecution of our birds of prey. Also thank you to RPUK whom without, this contributor would not have known of the vast amount of criminality that goes on in our countryside. A wildlife police officer told me of this blog several years ago, so also thank you to him.

  4. Thanks RPUK for your insight into them referring the petition to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee. I was worried they were passing the buck.

  5. I was enormously impressed (and encouraged). As you have pointed out, there was a huge contrast in the reception given to the petitioners today and the toxic, querulous MPs in London. I really think we could see Scotland leading the way on this. If that were the case, it would put enormous pressure on the dinosaurs south of the border.

  6. Thank you RPS for the link, and your tireless work. I have just watched the meeting, and agree, what a difference. I have some cautious optimism that this might finally lead somewhere, ” criminality on 200 different land holdings, 10% of Scotland’s land”, “an unsustainable industry underpinned by criminality”. At last, people are beginning to get the picture !

    As some posters have surmised, if only 1% of our slaughtered raptors are being found ? Then the game bird industry is responsible for a crime of staggering proportions, and at a huge cost to Scotland’s green tourism.

    Well done to all involved.

  7. Very well done to all concerned, not just those who gave evidence but also to the Chair and members of the committee who apparently received it in a serious fashion. I live in England (well I am English after all!) and the Westminster government treats the devolved assemblies with disdain, but it seems that its those supposed ‘junior partners’ that will drag the Westminster monolith into the modern world, however unwilling it is to come.

  8. That was a very confident and professional presentation by all three witnesses. However like watching a TV quiz show, it was slightly frustrating in places where the arguments seemed somewhat incomplete. I don’t expect to win many friends by commenting honestly and openly, but certain aspects of the evidence were too neoliberal for my liking, and I’m really not sure if this was a bargaining ploy or uttered with absolute sincerity. Having said that, however, I wouldn’t imply any dishonesty or any other negative connotation in the evidence presented.

    Perhaps the reasoning was to avoid any hostility, a sensible enough approach, but I felt that the argument lacked some punch in places. Obvious passion and honesty were not in short supply. It also seemed apparent that the presentations were crafted in such a way as to toe the RSPB line forced upon them by their Royal charter not to criticise ‘field sports,’ to avoid upsetting Her Majesty and her blood-thirsty entourage. The obvious cruelty involved in game shooting, and the wider ecological damage caused, were avoided, which in a way is understandable because it might have fudged the main issue of raptor persecution. However the lack of any ethical dimension to the wider aspects of hunting and shooting, not even a passing reference, I found rather disappointing.

    A few of the facts presented seemed slightly dubious, but not important enough to list here. For example though, is it really “not illegal” to set fire to a Golden Eagle’s nest?

    However, well done to the representatives, who overwhelmingly did a good job of convincing (most) members of the committee that serious criminality is taking place widely, to the utter shame of the shooting industry. Some members actually seemed quite surprised, appearing to have learned something new, despite the law breaking being common knowledge in our circles. It is definitely a success that the petition has been referred to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee.

    Unfortunately I’m still not convinced that licencing is the answer, and share the view of one sceptic on the committee that it is likely to be any more effective in combating wildlife crime than the existing legislation. Nothing I heard in the evidence seemed to answer that specific point adequately. I would rather have seen a Scottish version of Mark Avery’s petition to ban driven grouse shooting which was complementary, and not a softer option which could, as stated by two of the witnesses, work out to the actual benefit of hunting in general. In fact I would go a step further and fight to ban ALL grouse shooting, as in my experience persecution still persists when driven grouse shooting is abandoned and walked-up shoots take over. The heather is still burned and raptors, especially Hen Harriers, continue to be hunted down by the (albeit) reduced number of gamekeepers.

    Having said all that, the quality of the evidence and its presentation by Duncan, Logan and Andrea was light years ahead of the written statements (or should that be singular?) by Scottish Land & Estates and the Scottish Countryside Alliance. Even their typos were copied and pasted! Their defence case was weak and unconvincing, just as it should be, with the usual disingenuous scattering of lies and false statements.

  9. At last, a reasoned debate where clear evidence of raptor crime was presented without the opposition blabbing on about how important shooting is to the local economy. Well done all involved. The anecdote about the 2 American eco-tourists seemed to go down well, I can add my own experience to theirs.

    I’ve been visiting Scotland at least annually for more than 30 years. Last year 4 of us spent a week in the Highlands photographing wildlife and the club I belong to took 12 members to Islay. The year before the trip was to Northumberland with accommodation in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Before that 12 of us rented a house on Mull.

    With the continued raptor persecution I decided to boycott Scotland this year, I’ve missed it immensely but won’t be going back until something is done. I’m sure those perpetrating the crimes will be glad of that, I’ve experienced hostility in rural areas, but the damage being done to Scotland’s reputation and tourism industry will hopefully make those in power sit up and listen. Our patience has run out indeed.

    1. Dave J..we all share your frustration but I feel that by boycotting Scotland as a wildlife tourism destination you are “shooting yourself in the foot”. Far better to boost the overall wildlife tourism figures and tell all locals that you meet that you come to Islay, Mull, Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland because the grouse moor areas are devoid of all predators due to criminal activity. I can well remember when Islay in particular was a persecution hotspot due to the activities of the keepers there – and on Mull you couldnt mention eagles without an angry response from sheep farmers – all changed now by good people like yourselves!

  10. Dave J, not disagreeing but I hope you’re remembering that harrier persecution in England is even more serious and persistent than it is in Scotland!

  11. Logan made a wonderful comment about how he’s been hearing about initiative after initiative over the years to stop illegal persecution, and he’d be a rich man if he got a quid for each one. But nothing changes. What about an infographic or timeline showing date of each of these initiatives against persecuion incidents and perhaps populations of BOPS, maybe broken down into areas within and outwith DGS. Would be a good piece of info to pass on to MSPs, press etc.

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