Today’s evidence session on licensing of gamebird hunting: Scottish Moorland Group & BASC

This morning the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee took evidence from the Scottish Moorland Group and BASC on the petition to introduce gamebird hunting licencing (see here for background to this petition).

The two witnesses today were Dr Colin Shedden (BASC) and Tim (Kim) Baynes (Scottish Moorland Group, part of Scottish Land & Estates).


The evidence session can be watched on Holyrood TV here and the formal transcript can be read here.

The hearing went pretty much as anticipated, with the main gist being that the two witnesses didn’t think that gamebird hunting licensing was necessary. The ‘evidence’ they used to back up their claim was also predictable.

Dr Shedden asserted that all those who shoot game are already regulated via their shotgun certificates, and that “shotgun certificate holders are among the most law-abiding sector of society and any hint of illegal activity can lead to the right to hold a certificate, and the ability to shoot, being withdrawn“. If only that was true! If Police Scotland did revoke shotgun certificates based on “any hint of illegal activity“, there would be a lot of gamekeepers out of a job!

Tim (Kim) Baynes cherry-picked his way through his ‘supporting evidence’, citing the recent increase in the national golden eagle population (but omitting to mention the consistently low occupancy rate of breeding golden eagles on driven grouse moors in the eastern Highlands – see here) and citing the raptor persecution figures in the Government’s latest wildlife crime report (but omitting to mention that the raptor persecution figures in this report are incomplete as some have been deliberately withheld, rendering any trend analysis a pointless waste of time – see here).

He also claimed that raptor persecution on driven grouse moors was not endemic, as the petitioners had claimed, and he cited the evidence of Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham, who had stated at another parliamentary hearing that wildlife crime reporting levels were NOT the tip-of the iceberg and that Police Scotland was “catching a significant amount of it” [wildlife crime]. What Tim (Kim) forgot to mention was that the quality of ACC Graham’s evidence has been called in to question several times (see here, here and here). He also ‘forgot’ to mention the string of recent scientific publications showing that illegal persecution on driven grouse moors is so rife it is having population-level impacts on a number of species including hen harriers, red kites, peregrines and golden eagles.

He also mentioned several so-called ‘partnership-working initiatives’ in an attempt to paint a picture of productive cooperation – we’ve previously discussed these ‘initiatives’ in detail and not one of them stands up to scrutiny. E.g. Wildlife Estates Scotland (it’s a sham, see our critique here), Heads up for Hen Harriers (it’s a sham, see our critique here), the South Scotland Golden Eagle Project (it’s a sham, see our critique here) and the Eastern Cairngorms Moorland Partnership (it’s a sham, see our critique here).

Tim (Kim) then introduced his ‘four point plan’ which, he said, could “deal with this issue once and for all” (presumably the ‘issue’ he’s referring to is the issue of raptor persecution associated with gamebird hunting). Here’s his plan:

Point 1:We very much support the continued enforcement of wildlife crime” [legislation], ‘including the proposed increase in wildlife crime penalties‘.

We’d agree with him on Point 1, in principle, although we want to see increased efforts in wildlife crime enforcement because the current levels of enforcement are simply not good enough.

Point 2:We would ask for support and development of the Wildlife Estates initiative and the other collaborative schemes and projects going on“.

We don’t support Point 2 because it will not address the problem of raptor persecution on game-shooting estates, especially when some members of this scheme have wildlife crime convictions to their name. This ‘initiative’ is, in our opinion, nothing more than a window-dressing opportunity to disguise the on-going persecution of raptors.

Point 3:The Understanding Predation Project“……”looking at predation and how that can be managed“….”We think that is a very important way of everybody moving forward together“.

We don’t support Point 3, because the Understanding Predation Project is nothing more than an exercise in legitimising the killing of predators for the benefit of game shooting.

Point 4:We would very much like to see greater cooperation between ourselves, the Raptor Study Groups and the RSPB“.

Point 4 is hilarious – especially when you hear the story behind a group of dedicated raptor workers who have recently been ‘thrown off’ their 30-year study site because they dared to question some of the management practices they’d seen on that Scottish grouse moor (which also just happens to be an accredited member of the Wildlife Estates initiative!). Watch for a scientific publication due out in March 2017 that explains all!

Point 4 is also hilarious when you consider that the new ‘partnership-working’ protocols that Tim (Kim) had referred to later in this evidence session in relation to national bird surveys, actually comprised of landowners wanting to exert control on raptor fieldworkers by making sure they sought landowner permission before visiting survey sites. That type of control is never going to be welcomed by raptor fieldworkers who have huge and legitimate concerns about subsequent disturbance (i.e. persecution) at the nest sites of sensitive Schedule 1 species on some of these estates.

MSPs put a number of questions to the two witnesses, asking for clarification on a few points. Of particular note are the well-informed questions posed by the increasingly impressive Alison Johnstone MSP (Scottish Greens).

Her questions included asking Tim (Kim) to explain the reason behind the low occupancy rate of breeding golden eagles on driven grouse moors in the eastern Highlands in contrast with the very high occupancy rate in western Scotland. His answer was evasive, to say the least, although he did confirm that this low occupancy rate had been the same for decades, despite productivity there (when it happens) being the highest in Scotland….thus (probably unintentionally) confirming that illegal persecution has been going on there, for, er, decades! He also said, “It’s a really complicated picture“. Is it? Seems pretty straightforward to us. We’ll come back to this in a later blog as we’ve got some interesting maps to share.

Alison also asked Tim (Kim) whether the recent report demonstrating the persistence of red kite persecution in the north of Scotland flew in the face of his assertion that raptor persecution was in decline? His response was to avoid answering the specific question and instead he waffled on about condemning wildlife crime.

The Petitions Committee then discussed what to do with the petition now that evidence from both ‘sides’ had been heard, and it was agreed that it would now be passed on to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee for further consideration. We don’t know the timescale for that but it is more than likely to feature in the New Year when the ECCLR Committee scrutinises the Government’s most recent report on wildlife crime.

Watch this space.

16 thoughts on “Today’s evidence session on licensing of gamebird hunting: Scottish Moorland Group & BASC”

  1. Body language from the pictures above says it all!! What a miserable pair.

    They don’t seem to have said much useful or positive. But I’ll study the Holyrood TV carefully.


  2. Without further regulatory legislation there’s a raft of simple measures that the estates could always have relied on to prove their [self – proclaimed] innocence ;

    Consistent independent monitoring [ night & day ! ] & involvement of local ornithologists / unfettered access for raptor study groups/ ringing projects/ nest cam provision etc. etc.
    Even a selection of monitored shooting estates would have been enlightening !
    After all this is commonplace on other holdings & virtually 100 % coverage on much of e.g. Forestry Commission land.
    Since driven grouse shoots are effectively in the dock this would get them off the hook ……..assuming of course that they are not really responsible for the crimes that they are suspected of [ in addition to the considerable number that have been proved ].

    Since voluntary input is the backbone of raptor study in the UK there would be a wealth of talent at their disposal.
    Innocent parties will usually leave no stone unturned in proving their innocence………

    Any rational person would wonder why they have not jumped at these opportunities over the decades………

    Naturally they will realise these missed opportunities & will immediately rush to implement them if they escape further regulation……….

    Oh ! was that a pig flying by ?!

    Keep up the pressure !

  3. I listened to the debate, but was no more impressed than you were.
    I believe that Tim Baynes said as he stumbled through his evidence ” We condone any form of wildlife crime.”
    This clearly was more true than any of the other statements that they made, and I have little doubt that they both were well aware of that.
    The shooting industry is a supreme example of what living in a “post truth” world really means.

  4. Would be interested to learn about how hunting is regulated/undertaken in other countries. Are the perennial problems and issues we have here uniquely British, (hunting’s association with class, tradition etc)? And if so, how can we change them?!

  5. I suppose the most polite way of saying it, would be that both of the speakers were entirely disingenuous. If they don’t answer a question, then they cannot be accused of lying, I remain unconvinced, as I expect Alison Johnstone MSP, will have been !

    Putting ‘shooting’ and ‘conservation’ in the same sentence, is an obvious nonsense, increased wader populations is a collateral bonus, they don’t ‘do’ anything, if it cost them money to achieve that, they would stop.

    I do think there should be a Parliamentary investigation into the actual monetary ‘benefit’ to rural communities ? A term that is always trotted out, but suspect that the landowning cartel that exists, is actually holding Scotland back in the 18th century. We desperately need land reform, and a form of Land Value Tax NOW.

    Raptor persecution has not slowed, it is just more hidden. Satellite tagged raptors do not just disappear, they will have ‘been disappeared’ by their killers. I hope that the next committee will see through all this obfuscation, and introduce licencing.

    You could see that they were afraid that licencing would affect the landowners ( their paymasters ), rather than individual shooters, a neat misdirection?

    1. AF there just might be a new petition sometime after New Year to get the Scottish parliament to embark on a proper, comprehensive and objective analysis of the real economic ‘value’ of grouse moors. How much subsidy, how many social and environmental costs AND what other economic alternatives that don’t impact so much on the environment and are better for rural economies are being displaced by driven grouse shooting? No other country is racing to set up driven grouse moors of their own, how do they manage in Norway?

      1. Thanks Les, I’ll watch out for that with interest.

        I know that estates in the eastern CNP are receiving £ millions in ‘Rural Development Grants’, and this is when their farms and buildings get repaired, why is the public paying for this ? Very, very few crumbs fall off the lairds table, I think few would miss pheasant or grouse shooting, apart from the keepers, and the absentee landowners !

        Lets not forget that most grouse moors have glens running through them, which is where farming and what little residential housing occurs. It is in these glens that forestry, and farming occurs, and it is where most estates run pheasant shooting, and I believe that raptor persecution owes as much to pheasant shooting, as it does to grouse shooting. Keepers have free reign across tenanted farmland, and pheasant shooting also uses the tenanted farmland.

        We must not neglect other forms of shooting, and concentrate too much on grouse shooting, when it comes to criminal raptor persecution ! Remember the Black Isle massacre.

        We desperately need a program of council house building across rural Scotland, in order to repopulate, this will provide jobs, save money long term, the more residents, the less the estates can get away with.

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