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 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society and any hint of illegal activity can lead to the right to hold a certificate, and the ability to shoot, being withdrawn“.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.