“I have no truck with the argument that raptors damage driven grouse shooting” says Environment Cabinet Secretary

roseannacunninghamLast Saturday, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, delivered a speech to members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) at their annual conference in Perthshire.

She deserves a good deal of credit, not only for giving up her Saturday morning, but particularly for her willingness to come and speak to a room full of raptor workers, many of whom have repeatedly written heated and impassioned emails to the Scottish Government in recent years, criticising its failure to effectively tackle the illegal killing of raptors. It was a challenge too far for her predecessor, former Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod who declined an invitation to attend, and let’s be honest, can anyone imagine Roseanna’s Westminster counterpart, Dr Therese Coffey, turning up to a Northern England Raptor Forum conference?

Roseanna began her speech in the same way she began her last speech to this group back in 2009, by thanking SRSG members for their voluntary efforts. She described this as “dedicated, high quality fieldwork” that is “genuinely appreciated by the Scottish Government“. She recognised the importance of this work, saying the information generated for the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme was “essential and fundamental” to help the Government to assess the conservation status of raptor populations. That was good to hear, and is a big kick in the teeth to those organisations who seek to discredit and undermine the professionalism of the SRSG (e.g. see here), undoubtedly in an attempt to disguise the continued persecution of raptors in some areas of Scotland that is being clearly exposed by SRSG monitoring efforts.

She then spent a bit of time talking about the intrinsic value of raptors, their place as part of Scottish identity, and how they are becoming increasingly important for tourism and the revenue that can generate for local economies. She talked about some of the ‘good news’ stories such as successful reintroduction projects for white-tailed eagles and red kites (although she didn’t mention the continued persecution of red kites in northern Scotland that is still inhibiting population growth, 25 years on) and the welcome return of other species such as ospreys and buzzards. She also touched on the 15% increase in the national golden eagle population, which is a good news story, but she didn’t mention the other part of that story which is the continued absence of this species on many driven grouse moors in eastern and southern Scotland.

Then came the part we really wanted to hear – her thoughts on raptor persecution. Her opening statement received a loud, spontaneous round of applause from an appreciative audience. This is what she said:

The illegal killing of our raptors does remain a national disgrace. I run out of words to describe my contempt for the archaic attitudes still at play in some parts of Scotland. We all have to abide by the law, and we do so, most of us, all throughout our lives. All I’m asking is that everybody does the same. Sporting businesses are NO different, and the people who breach the law deserve all the opprobrium and punishment we can mete out. I have no truck with the argument that raptors damage driven grouse shooting interests. Such damage, frankly, is a business risk you have to live with and manage, but within the law. And that is what must be reiterated again, and again, and again.

She then went on to discuss vicarious liability, recognising that with only two successful prosecutions in five years this probably isn’t the ‘magic bullet’ that everyone hoped it would be when it was first introduced. And she said she thought there was a lesson in that. She feared there are no single ‘magic wands’, just a lot of work, to be done constantly, with a lot of people, over a period of time, and how it would involve some changes.

She commented on some of the changes already in place, such as the General Licence restriction (although she acknowledged this was currently being challenged via a judicial review), an acceptance of the recommendations for increased penalties for wildlife crime, and how the Government was working with Police Scotland to introduce new investigative support for these crimes.

She then repeated the importance of the recent review on game bird hunting regulations in other European countries and the forthcoming review on satellite-tagged raptors, which is due to report at the end of March and how she will “look carefully” at these reports to help inform the Government’s next moves.

All in all, this was a very positive speech. The Cabinet Secretary is not yet in a position to formally show her hand because, quite rightly, she needs to wait for the satellite tag review to be published to be able to consider its findings and put them in to context with all the other evidence at her disposal. However, she’s obviously keenly aware that raptor persecution “does remain” a national disgrace (that’s an important distinction – she’s talking about it as a current, ongoing issue, not an historical one as the game shooting industry would like everyone to believe) and she clearly acknowledges her “contempt” for this criminality.

The scene has been set. The question now is, will she be able to deliver change?

24 thoughts on ““I have no truck with the argument that raptors damage driven grouse shooting” says Environment Cabinet Secretary”

  1. It’s another small step in the right direction and will, undoubtedly, be noted by the dark side both north and south of the border. Keep chipping away!

  2. And she explained the complex legal difficulties involved in granting additional powers to the SSPCA.

    How long has that been under consideration for now?

    By a party that was going to take a whole 18 months to set up a fully functioning independent state.

    1. Perhaps you would like to compare current governance north and south of the border and tell us which you think is the more ‘fully functioning’ in terms of raptor persecution and just about everything else.

      1. That’s a whole different discussion, and hardly what this site is for. And of course, simply ignores the point I made. I think it’s called deflection.

    2. Gotta work within the existing laws, which are still tightly entwined with those in Westminster, in altering Scotland’s legal powers. When writing them for a new state it would be with a much freer hand. For a start, with the latter, a lot of the ground work has already been done and the stuff that hasn’t is mostly based around data transfer from HMRC and DVLA institutions.

      1. Scots law, and in particularly Scots criminal law, is, and always has been, independent. So whatever the reason for the delay it’s nothing to do with England, the English, Westminster or the Union.

        I suspect the real reason is political. The SNP are losing support to the Tories in some of their heartland areas and they’ll be wary about doing anything which might exacerbate that trend.

        1. In theory, yes, it is independent. But only in theory. In practice our laws have to fit in with a lot of other legislation from south of the border, and if there is a conflict then what happens is that English law tends to take precedence.

    3. Despite the merits in the other replies Dave’s comparisons are absolutely spot on.
      Definitely a positive message from RC. Well done but how soon will we see the DGS brigade selectively quote “I have no truck with the argument that raptors damage driven grouse shooting interests.”

  3. Encouraging words – so much more positive than her predecessor, who was too pro the SGA and the shooting estates. If she now grants the extra powers to the SSPCA, we will know that she means business.

  4. Well it is an encouraging speech and as you point out, unlikely to be repeated down south. I am sure she knows that we now need to judge her and the SNP on the actions that they take. But it is at least promising, if a little slow in arriving.

  5. Fine words, and I want to believe, but if the last year has taught us anything it is that anyone can utter fine words. That is what 2016 was, the year of grand statements and precious few of them true. So, I’ll wait until the fine words are backed with harsh action until celebrating or giving out atta boys.

  6. All encouragement to the Scottish cause. Firstly because I don’t really recognise the border anyway in terms of wildlife. But mainly because it is potentially our strongest card in later attempts at persuasion in England. I know it’s only one step, but good on her, because that speech is miles away fro the attitudes in Westminster.

  7. Yes, very good..but we have heard it all before…and from Roseanna in previous years. Her whole Party need to get onside with this – there is one inglorious exception who is well in with the SGA and the rest of the shooting industry. Until we have the SSPCA given a free hand to investigate within Scots Law on anyone’s land without exception then this remains hot air…and we should not bother comparing ourselves with the DEFRA/shooting industry run shambles of a justice system that exists at present south of the Border.

  8. How refreshing to read of a politician speaking seemingly without equivocation; this has to be a headline item on the nine o’clock news! Would that the spineless Environment Secretary in Westminster had half as much backbone. It sounds as though SRSG and others have the opportunity to work with this lady and achieve some real progress, Hopefully the shooting brigade won’t have the opportunity to go behind her back and have her neutralised from above.

  9. It will be interesting to see what she says next friday when she is a guest and principal speaker at the Scottish Gamekeepers Associations AGM, Scottish Natural Heritage will also be present at the request of the SGA and will deliver a talk on species licensing remit? Strong words we’ve had before, false promises many times, we were told the whole of the SNP were behind Paul Wheelhouse and his efforts to end Raptor persecution. NO progress has been made, you wonder why we got Brexit and Trump, it’s because Politicians in general are no longer trustworthy and are failing us miserably, lets see what she says next week!

    1. I’m with Merlin, we’ve all heard promising words before, but I’ll reserve judgement until she’s spoken to the SGA. If she repeats these sentiments then I may have a dram otherwise a SNAFU shrug.

      1. The sentence was copied verbatim from the SGA website, to me being a cynic it reads as though the SNH have been summoned to explain themselves on the general licensing restrictions,
        Interestingly Remit definitions,
        Verb /
        1.cancel or refrain from exacting or inflicting (a debt or punishment).
        2. send (money) in payment or as a gift.

        Hmmm, can’t help thinking of the words “organised crime” for some reason

  10. Closed season for mountain hare

    1st MARCH to 31st JULY

    If you suspect a mountain hare to be killed between these dates.Phone police and ask for an incident number and request a call back with an update.

    Police will make public in three years!

  11. Some fine words from the Cabinet Secretary, and I think most delegates at the raptor conference came away with the impression her words were sincere. The acid test will come when we hear what she has to say to the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association AGM. There’s little point in forecasting, but I suspect she will come down heavy on raptor crime, which will initiate a response from the SGA positing the usual “few bad eggs” defence, that it is only a small minority who wilfully commit crime, and that they are capable of self-policing. And of course she will be bombarded with exaggerated statistics of the income generated for the Scottish economy by “the Gift of Grouse”, and its value to the country folk who depend on the generosity of the less than minimum wage paying landed gentry. The truth is that we have vast tracts of Scotland dedicated to the sick pleasure of grouse shooting demanded by the rich and global super-rich, and to hell with the environmental and ecological damage resulting. The land should belong to all of us, and the rich wildlife community it should be capable of sustaining for all to enjoy.

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