Scottish Government announces significant action in fight against raptor persecution

Today is an historic one in the fight against illegal raptor persecution in Scotland. This is the day that the Scottish Government has finally agreed to take bold, innovative action against a criminal sector of society that has got away with so much for so long.

This afternoon, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, has announced a package of measures to tackle wildlife crime, and specifically the illegal killing of protected birds of prey on some driven grouse moors.

This package has been triggered by the publication of the much anticipated review of golden eagle satellite tag data, which shows clear evidence of deliberate and sustained illegal raptor persecution over a number of years.

Here is a copy of the report: Analyses of the fates of satellite tracked golden eagles in Scotland

Here is a brief summary of the review’s findings:

We will be blogging about this review extensively in due course, but for now, have a look at these maps we’ve created. The first one shows the locations of the last known fixes of satellite-tagged golden eagles that have disappeared in suspicious circumstances across Scotland, and the second map zooms in on some significant clustering on several driven grouse shooting estates in and around the Cairngorms National Park (including the Monadhliaths, Angus Glens and North Perthshire).

NB: These maps are copyright of RPUK and may not be reproduced without written permission

In response to this latest evidence demonstrating the appalling scale of illegal raptor persecution, the Cabinet Secretary has announced the following measures designed to protect birds of prey, the wider Scottish environment and the reputation of those who abide by the law:

We will comment on each of these measures in due course when we’ve had time to consider the implications. As an immediate response, we very much welcome the majority of them, but we’re disappointed that the SSPCA will not be given increased investigatory powers. Nevertheless, we are delighted to see both long and short-term action, which is exactly what we asked for.

Roseanna Cunningham said:

This day has been a long time coming. Many, many people have been involved in this protracted battle for several decades and each and every one has played an important part. From the highly skilled raptor fieldworkers, to the RSPB and particularly its Investigations and behind-the-scenes advocacy teams, to the academics who have analysed and published the scientific data, to the campaigners who have brought this scandal to the attention of the wider public. It is the efforts of all of these people combined that has influenced public opinion and brought us to this watershed moment.

We would like to pay tribute to Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham. Be under no illusion about the strength and power of the dark forces that have influenced and manipulated this situation for so many decades. It takes considerable courage to go up against that and we applaud her all the more for it. Please, take the time to send her a message of thanks and let her know that you welcome and support her announcement. Emails to:


Scottish Government statement here

RSPB Scotland press statement here

Blog from RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, Ian Thomson here

Scottish Land & Estates press statement here (PS. they’re still in denial)

Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association statement here (still clinging on to the wind farm myth)

BBC News here

Cairngorms National Park Authority statement here

Herald here

Independent here

UPDATE 5 June 2017: Our analysis of the SGA’s response here

Gift of Grouse issues statement on game shoot licensing proposals

As you know, last week the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee voted to recommend that the Scottish Government undertakes further exploration for the introduction of a licensing system for driven grouse moors (see here).

The game-shooting industry responded with a joint statement that included a set of proposals for ‘reform’ – none of which included licensing and basically just called for the maintenance of the status quo (see here).

Wildlife conservationists responded to the Environment Committee’s decision with a joint statement that included the offering of an olive branch to “forward-thinking representatives” and “progressive elements” of the game-shooting industry (see here).

Now the Gift of Grouse has responded with this statement, written by Tim (Kim) Baynes (Director of SLE’s Scottish Moorland Group):


The shooting community was pleased to see the press release from RSPB, Scottish Raptor Study Groups and the Scottish Wildlife Trust calling for a progressive partnership. The press release marks a welcome change from some of the recent comment and allegations and backs up our community’s approach, embodied in the set of proposals put to the ECCLR Committee on 19th May and noted in the Committee’s decision on 23rd May to write to the Cabinet Secretary.

All six organisations have working relationships with RSPB, SRSG and SWT in certain areas and we are all conservationists – we just take different management approaches.  Many raptor study volunteers help estates and vice versa.  We work with RSPB on many projects,  for instance the South Scotland Golden Eagle Project, and we have a long standing relationship with SWT.  There is much more to unite than to divide, but we do need to resolve the issue of bird of prey persecution and put it into context.

The issue is not one of raptor “body counts” which all acknowledge is now at a historically low level.  It is about what might be happening unseen, with areas of relatively low populations of certain raptor species raising suspicion.  We are very keen to work with SNH, and any other organisation with constructive intentions, to find out more about these areas and have welcomed the Government’s satellite-tagging review to get clarity on all the conflicting facts and comment.

We have been disappointed at the muddled thinking behind the petition for a licensing system.  Initially it was for all types of game shooting, but soon became clear that it was really another attack on driven grouse moors.    The idea of licensing specific types of shoot management or parts of land holdings in multiple use has not been thought through either in terms of practicality, collateral impact, unintended consequences or even whether it would hit the target specifically identified by the Cabinet Secretary in her letter to the ECCLR Convenor of 7th March. The set of proposals put forward by our sector were to home in on the difficulty of evidence and enforcement which has been elusive. The solution to that is prevention, working with police, SNH and any other expert body such as RSPB and SRSG.  A storm of media coverage is trying to put pressure on Government to implement yet more regulation but that is the wrong solution. To be clear we wholeheartedly believe that a combined strategy of punishment and prevention is the most effective way forward. This would be in keeping with the view of Police Scotland in relation to all forms of crime.

If there is to be a genuine partnership, there does need to be an understanding that driven grouse shooting is an important land use in specific parts of Scotland, with benefits for many species such as waders (the subject of a major new national conservation project) black grouse and white hares – all protected species.  It is also important for rural investment, jobs and tourism which are of lesser concern to organisations with a focus on birds, but vitally important in the wider world.  Those public benefits only come with proactive management.  Walked up grouse shooting is not a solution; it may look nice superficially and is certainly an important part of our community, but it  cannot generate the income necessary to pay for long-term, sustainable moorland conservation; it is often a stage in the progression towards loss of birdlife, as can be seen only too clearly on the abandoned moors in south west Scotland or Wales.  We want the opportunity to explain these facts in a calm atmosphere so welcome the idea of a constructive partnership which could build for instance on the solid work of  Scotland’s Moorland Forum.  We also have the model of the SNH led raptor survey protocol signed in 2016 by RSPB and SRSG, which although adherence was not 100% is still a workable model, setting out what is expected of all parties, and the ability to learn lessons from it.

There needs to be a pause for reflection in the current social media frenzy. Raptor incidents are at a historically low level.  There have been difficult issues with historic cases not coming to court and a more recent problem with adherence to GL restriction order and there will be incidents which the law will deal with as appropriate, but the underlying situation has never been better and we cannot risk letting extremists force their agenda on upland management policy, which is so important for Scotland.

We look forward to arranging a scoping meeting to discuss how such a partnership can be structured.


Before we comment on this statement, it’s worth reminding ourselves about the Gift of Grouse. This is the grouse-shooting industry’s propaganda machine that made great claims in 2015 about the number of bird species that had been recorded ‘feeding and breeding’ on three driven grouse moors – Invermark & Glenogil (both in the Angus Glens) and Glenturret in Perthshire. We blogged about these claims (here) and we made repeated requests to see the actual data/reports (as did others – e.g. Andy Wightman here), but all to no avail. The Gift of Grouse refused to publish the reports and instead pointed everyone to a summary, written by The Gift of Grouse and not by the ecological consultants who had conducted the surveys. Indeed, on the back of these apparent survey results, the Gift of Grouse even held a prestigious Parliamentary reception at Holyrood, hosted by Graeme Dey MSP on 23 November 2015,  with wide media coverage, to “celebrate diversity through grouse moor management“. Here’s a photo of them at that parliamentary reception, including Alex Hogg (SGA), Graeme Dey MSP and a load of gamekeeepers including some from the Angus Glens and some from the Lammermuirs.

A year later, the ecological consultants published their report and surprise surprise, it turned out that the Gift of Grouse had, how shall we put this, ‘somewhat embellished’ the results (see here).

The Gift of Grouse has also made the unbelievable claim that raptors are ‘thriving’ on Scottish grouse moors (see here); a claim refuted by RSPB Scotland as “risible, make-believe tosh” (see here).

Going by their track record then, the Gift of Grouse’s latest statement should come as no surprise. Once again, Tim (Kim) tries to deny the prevalence of illegal raptor persecution, saying it’s ‘at a historically low level’ (it isn’t) and suggests it needs to be ‘put in to context’, which implies that the extent of raptor persecution has been exaggerated. He just doesn’t get it, does he? The context is there for all to see, and has been for several decades. How many scientific surveys, reports and reviews do we need? We’ve said this so many times but we’ll repeat it, again:

Systemic, illegal raptor persecution on intensively managed driven grouse moors is having population level impacts on several raptor species (e.g. golden eagle, peregrine, hen harrier, red kite). These aren’t the embellished results of some crappy, one-off, four-day ‘survey’ conducted in snow, rain and hail by a bunch of German students (which is the Gift of Grouse’s idea of sound evidence); they are the findings of multiple, long-term, rigorously conducted, peer-reviewed scientific studies published in high quality academic journals. To continue to deny this wealth of evidence is as bone-headed as President Trump’s denial of climate change data. Tim (Kim) does say that the industry has ‘welcomed’ the Government’s satellite-tagging review – it’ll be interesting to see whether the industry ‘welcomes’ the findings of that review, which is due to be published imminently, and is expected to demonstrate, once again, that satellite-tagged raptors ‘disappear’ with disproportionate regularity in certain areas where intensively managed driven grouse shooting is the predominant land use.

Tim (Kim) claims that ‘prevention and punishment’ is the way forward, not licensing. That might have been the way forward 63 years ago when raptors were given protected status but this approach has patently failed, which is why we’re in the position we are today. The game-shooting industry has been unsuccessful at reigning in the criminal element within its ranks – indeed, these criminals have often been shielded and defended by the industry. How many of these raptor-killing criminals have ever been reported to the Police by industry representatives? The industry has been gifted opportunity after opportunity after opportunity to clean up its act and yet still the illegal killing continues. Stamping their feet and shouting ‘it’s so unfair’ just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Tim (Kim) also suggests that the licensing petition ‘was really another attack on driven grouse moors’. Actually, it was nothing of the sort. As Tim (Kim) acknowledges, the petition called for the licensing of ALL types of game bird shooting; it was the politicians on the Environment Committee who honed in on driven grouse shooting (because that’s where the majority of illegal raptor persecution takes place), not the petitioners. And actually, Tim’s (Kim’s) derision about licensing only ‘specific types of shoot management’ could well backfire during the forthcoming inquiry. If it’s an impractical solution, as Tim (Kim) suggests, the political decision-makers could well turn the licensing proposal back on to ALL types of game bird shooting and not just driven grouse shooting, which we’d be very happy with.

And then finally, Tim (Kim) draws his thesis to a close with this:

There needs to be a pause for reflection in the current social media frenzy…….The underlying situation has never been better and we cannot risk letting extremists force their agenda on upland management policy, which is so important for Scotland“.

It’s not the first time he/his organisation has complained about too much media coverage of raptor persecution (e.g. see here) and he needs to understand that coverage is high because it reflects the huge level of public, and now political, concern about the persistence of these abhorrent crimes in 21st Century Scotland. If nobody cared, nobody would read it and thus nobody would bother writing it. More and more people are being made aware, they are incredulous that not only does this continue but that it has been allowed to continue without proper regulation, and as a result, media coverage is only going to increase – this is not going away, Tim (Kim).

Oh, and by the way, we’re not ‘extremists’ and it’s pretty distasteful to label us as such in the week when an actual extremist blew up himself and 22 others in Manchester. We, and everyone else, including those politicians on the Environment Committee who voted to progress the licensing petition, are law-abiding, rational human beings who expect to see the law upheld and criminals brought to justice. That’s as ‘extreme’ as we get.

Letter from Environment Committee Convener to Cabinet Secretary re: game shoot licensing

Last week the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee voted in the majority to write to the Environment Secretary recommending a Government-led exploration, with stakeholders, in to the implementation of a licensing regime for game bird shooting (here).

The Environment Committee’s Convener, Graeme Dey MSP, has wasted no time in getting on with it as the following day he wrote to Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham. Here is a copy of his letter:

We’ve taken it as a given that the Cabinet Secretary will agree to the Committee’s recommendation because it’ll reflect badly on the Government if she rejects it, and why would she reject it given the overwhelming evidence on which the Committee based its decision? However, nothing is certain until Roseanna responds in writing to the Committee, and the deadline for this has been set as Wednesday 21 June 2017.

For those who missed it, the video of the Environment Committee’s discussions about how to proceed with this licensing petition can be watched here (starts at 1:04:05) and the official transcript of proceedings can be read here (starts on page 21).

We’d highly recommend watching the video and/or reading the transcript, if only to see Alexander Burnett MSP (Conservative, Aberdeenshire West) claim, “Game bird licensing would apply to the whole of Scotland and would also cover pheasant, partridge and duck shoots, in relation to which there has been no suggestion of wildlife crime“. Er, doesn’t Alexander represent the very same constituency where gamekeeper George Mutch was convicted in a high profile trial (he subsequently became the first gamekeeper to be jailed for raptor persecution crimes) on the pheasant-shooting Kildrummy Estate?

Buzzard found shot dead in Yorkshire Dales National Park

North Yorkshire Police are appealing for information following the discovery of a dead buzzard.

It was found by a farmer in a field off Hawthorns Lane, Gordale, near Malham in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. An x-ray revealed a shotgun pellet lodged in the bird’s head.

Police appeal for information here

The Grough website is also carrying an article about this dead buzzard and has included details of other recently-killed raptors and associated wildlife crime within this National Park:

‘The bird’s death is the latest in a number of incidents of raptor persecution in the Yorkshire Dales. A buzzard that was found with gunshot wounds in the Cowgill area in Dentdale earlier this month and taken to a veterinary centre, where it was expected to make a full recovery.

A tagged hen harrier that went missing in upper Swaledale in December last year and a shot peregrine falcon was found near Grassington in October.

In July, North Yorkshire Police admitted it had been wrong not to pursue a prosecution through the courts of a junior gamekeeper who admitted setting illegal cruel traps on the Mossdale Estate near Hawes. He was given a police caution for the offence.

The incident prompted the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority chairman Peter Charlesworth to say: “At a time when the Yorkshire Dales is receiving such widespread recognition as a wonderful place to visit, it’s incredibly disappointing that the criminal persecution of birds of prey continues to damage the reputation of the area.

“We know that birds of prey are a big attraction to the millions of visitors that come here, so these acts are causing economic damage as well as appalling harm to wildlife.”’

Peregrine found shot in Ninfield, East Sussex

Press statement from Sussex Police, 25 May 2017:

A protected peregrine falcon has been found shot in Ninfield, East Sussex, sparking an investigation by police and the RSPB.

The bird – a female – was discovered alive but injured by woods at Lunsford Cross on 10 May, and staff from East Sussex Wildlife Rescue & Ambulance Service were called to recover the bird.

An X-ray revealed a recent fracture to its right wing consistent with a shot injury. While undergoing examination, a further three shot gun pellets were discovered: two in the bird’s stomach and one in its left wing. These were considered historic and the vet concluded that the bird had also been shot at an earlier date.

The peregrine has undergone surgery and is recovering at the rescue centre.

Daryl Holter, Wildlife and Heritage Officer for Sussex Police, has urged anyone with information about the incident to come forward.

He said: “Peregrine falcons are a protected species under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It is an offence to intentionally take, injure or kill a peregrine. To shoot it in this way was a vile and senseless act. Had the injured bird not been found it would almost certainly have faced a lingering death, possibly through starvation.”

Chris Riddington from East Sussex Wildlife Rescue said: “The bird is incredibly lucky to have been found and we are liaising with experts with regards to its care. It is still uncertain whether the fracture will heal, but our vets are happy with its progress. It’s hard to believe anyone would shoot a bird – but this is becoming far too common in today’s society. These birds are shot and left to suffer and we have to pick up the pieces.”

Jenny Shelton, RSPB investigations liaison officer, said: “It is appalling to hear that someone has shot a peregrine falcon – a bird which is already of conservation concern in the UK. Peregrines are magnificent, agile birds and will be breeding at this time of year, so taking out this young female may impact her chances of producing young this year.

This incident is part of an ongoing problem with raptor persecution in the UK. This is the fifth report of a peregrine with shotgun wounds we have received already this year, but as yet no-one has been brought to account. This, as most people would agree, is simply not acceptable.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, contact Sussex Police online, email or phone 101, quoting serial 420 of 19/05. Alternatively contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

If you find a wild bird which you suspect has been illegally killed or harmed, contact police or RSPB investigations on 01767 680551, or fill in the online form here

More suspected wildlife crimes on Raeshaw Estate: SNH revokes individual licence

As many of you will know, Raeshaw Estate in the Scottish Borders was one of the first in Scotland to be subjected to a General Licence Restriction Order, issued in 2015, based on clear police evidence that wildlife crimes had been committed although there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any individual (see here). The estate contested the legality of SNH’s decision and this was seen as a test case, which went to Judicial Review in 2016. In March this year, the Court of Session upheld SNH’s decision and the General Licence Restriction Order was considered lawful (here).

Here is a map showing the location of Raeshaw Estate in south Scotland (estate boundary details sourced from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website).

In the meantime, SNH had granted an ‘individual licence’ to several gamekeepers at Raeshaw Estate, allowing them to continue to carry out various ‘management’ activities (killing corvids and other so-called ‘pest’ species) but under closer scrutiny than they would have been subjected to under the General Licence. We, and others, have been strongly critical of this (see here and here), and we were especially sceptical when we learned, via an FoI, that the extent of the ‘scrutiny’ had only extended to a single compliance check by SNH staff (see here). However, having read the full details of the Judicial Review, it became apparent to us that had an individual licence not been issued, the General Licence Restriction Order would probably have been judged to be unfair and SNH would have lost the case.

The first individual licence(s) issued to Raeshaw Estate staff expired on 31 December 2016. It is now apparent that the Estate has applied for a further individual licence earlier this year, which was granted. However, this morning, SNH has issued the following statement:


Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has revoked a licence to control wild birds at Raeshaw Estates as a result of on-going concerns about wildlife crime.

Police Scotland is now investigating the potential offences on the Scottish Borders estate.

SNH imposed a general licence restriction on Raeshaw Estates in 2015 on the basis of clear evidence provided by Police Scotland that wildlife crimes had been committed on the estate. The estate challenged the restriction through a judicial review, but the restriction was upheld in March this year.

During a compliance check this month, SNH staff found multiple instances of breaches of conditions of an individual licence that had been granted to cover essential management activities on the estate. These breaches may also constitute offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, so SNH has reported the details to Police Scotland.

General licences allow land owners or managers to carry out certain management actions with minimal bureaucracy, largely relying on trust that land managers will carry out activities legally. This includes controlling common species of wild birds to protect crops or livestock. However, those land managers in which SNH has lost confidence may have their General Licences removed, as was the case at Raeshaw. The estate is then allowed to apply for individual licences to control wild birds, which gives SNH more control and oversight of the activities being carried out.

Robbie Kernahan, SNH’s Head of National Operations, said:

After discovering several failures to comply with the terms, we have no other option than to revoke the licence. In cases like this, we have to take breaches of licences very seriously and will work with Police Scotland as they investigate this case.

We hope this also spreads the message that we will take action to stop wildlife crime whenever possible. We’re committed to working strongly in partnership with Police Scotland, and other members of the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAWS), to stamp out wildlife crime in Scotland.”


Photo of Raeshaw Estate (by RPUK)

Wow! First of all, credit where it’s due. SNH has surprised us, first by conducting another compliance check, secondly by responding very, very quickly to multiple breaches, and thirdly by making a public statement. That’s impressive – well done to SNH.

It’s hard to comprehend the level of stupidity of those working under an individual licence. If you know your working practices are already under the spotlight, why on earth would you then make multiple breaches of the conditions of that licence, some of which may also also constitute offences under the Wildlife & Countryside Act? It almost beggars belief, although, given the long history of wildlife crime uncovered in this area (see here), for which nobody has ever been prosecuted, it is perhaps a clear indication of just how little deterrent the current legislation offers and re-emphasises the urgent need for a change of policy.

Even though SNH has now revoked the estate’s individual licence(s), meaning that ‘pest’ control is further restricted, the estate still has the right to shoot grouse, pheasant and partridge when the shooting season opens later in the year, so in effect there’s very little sanction here. That is not good enough. Had a licensing scheme been in place for gamebird shooting, presumably the estate’s licence would now be revoked.

There’s a strong response to today’s news from RSPB Scotland:

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has today announced that it has revoked a licence to control wild birds at Raeshaw Estate as a result of on-going concerns about wildlife crime. In response, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, Ian Thomson, said: “Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise at all in relation to this particular estate. These latest multiple breaches found by SNH on the Raeshaw Estate can be added to a long list of confirmed poisoning, shooting and illegal trapping cases in this area dating back over more than a decade.

The fact that there is an ongoing criminal investigation here, despite the sanctions previously imposed by SNH, echoes a pattern of repeat offending that occurs in a significant number of areas of Scotland where intensive grouse moor management is the main land use.

While we welcome SNH’s revocation of the individual licenses issued to this estate’s employees, it is clear that current legislation and the available penalties are no deterrent to the continued criminal targeting of protected wildlife. The time has come for a robust regulatory regime, including the licensing of gamebird shoots, where wildlife crimes with a proven link to estate management could lead to a loss of shooting rights.”


Today’s news comes at a critical time. We know that an announcement on how the Scottish Government intends to tackle the ongoing crisis of illegal raptor persecution is imminent. This latest example of how ineffective the current system is, in addition to all the other evidence of criminal activity that has been reported in recent months, and in addition to the series of prosecutions abandoned by the Crown Office, and in addition to the findings of the forthcoming raptor satellite tag data review, will surely tip the balance and result in tough measures being introduced. God help the Government if it doesn’t.

Conservationists issue joint statement on game shoot licensing proposals

Following the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee’s recent decision to recommend a Government-led inquiry in to the feasibility of a licensing system for game bird shooting (see here), a consortium of conservation organisations has now issued a response statement:


Wildlife conservation organisations are calling for a progressive partnership with the shooting community, to develop a licensing scheme for gamebird hunting in Scotland.

The Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG), the Scottish Wildlife Trust and RSPB Scotland want to see a regulatory system introduced that helps tackle wildlife crime while delivering a range of public benefits, and would like to see the shooting industry play a full role in this approach.

The call follows the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee’s consideration this week, of a petition calling for gamebird shooting in Scotland to be licensed – which was lodged by the SRSG.

The committee recognised that the illegal persecution of birds of prey remains a widespread concern and has voted to write to the Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, recommending that the Scottish Government commission an inquiry to explore how such a licensing system could work.

All three wildlife groups welcome the ECCLR Committee’s decision and its view that a fresh approach to address the issue of persecution and the associated unsustainable land management practices is required.

SRSG and RSPB Scotland had previously provided detailed evidence to the committee, reinforced by a “Review of Sustainable Moorland Management” conducted by the Scottish Natural Heritage Scientific Advisory Committee in October 2015, and hope the Cabinet Secretary will respond positively to the ECCLR Committee’s advice.

Logan Steele of the Scottish Raptor Study Group and lead petitioner said: “The ECCLR Committee has made a thorough assessment of the evidence put before it, and clearly concluded that raptor persecution has not been dealt with by the gamebird shooting industry. I warmly welcome the committee’s decision to write to the Cabinet Secretary, recommending that the Scottish Government gives consideration to implementing a licensing system for shooting businesses. The Scottish Raptor Study Group accepts that many within the shooting industry are law abiding and are as keen as we are to bear down on the criminal element within their ranks. A Government-sponsored inquiry, into how a licensing regime might work, presents an opportunity to work in partnership with forward-looking representatives from the industry, and other stakeholders, towards creating a sustainable upland environment where our birds of prey can thrive alongside legitimate shoot management.”

Jonny Hughes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “We fully support this call for a constructive and broad partnership to provide expertise to a much needed inquiry into licensing of gamebird hunting in Scotland. Now is the time for all interested parties to come together to address what is clearly still a significant problem in our countryside. Shooting organisations should not see this as a threat, but more as a real opportunity to put differences aside and ensure that the best long term interests of nature and enhanced rural employment are at the heart of such discussions.”

As he prepares to retire from his position as Director of RSPB Scotland, Stuart Housden said: “We commend the committee’s thorough scrutiny of the evidence put before it over the last few months, and welcome their vote to recommend an inquiry into a potential licensing regime for gamebird shooting in Scotland.

“Throughout my 23 years in this role, the illegal killing of our birds of prey has been a constant stain on the reputation of our country, with no evidence to support claims that these crimes are diminishing in large parts of our uplands in particular. The body of evidence – including many peer-reviewed scientific studies have demonstrated very clearly that our populations of golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines are still being significantly impacted by poisoning; the illegal use of traps; shooting; and destruction of nests, particularly in areas intensively managed for driven grouse shooting. This simply must stop if the grouse shooting community is to enjoy public confidence in the future.

“There has also been an increasing recognition that self-regulation by a significant part of the gamebird shooting industry has failed, and that new regulatory measures are required to ensure that our uplands are managed in line with the public interest. We consider that a bespoke licensing arrangement, including sanctions for removal of a licence where there is clear evidence that wildlife crimes are occurring, would provide a meaningful deterrent to illegal behaviour, as well as protecting the interests of those sporting managers who already operate to legal and sustainable standards. We commend those that do, and ask that this must now be the norm.

“We expect the Cabinet Secretary to respond positively to ECCLR Committee advice. But in particular, we also invite progressive elements of the gamebird shooting industry to fully endorse and play a full part in this approach, to help heal the unnecessary divisions between conservation and gamebird shooting, and to recognise the many opportunities that sustainable management of our uplands will bring for wildlife, important landscapes and rural employment.”


Well, that’s quite an olive branch from the conservationists. The question is, will the game shooting industry accept it? Given that the industry as a whole is still in complete denial about the scale of raptor persecution, and has argued that licensing would be an unnecessary and unwelcome ‘threat’, it’s hard to see from where the “forward looking representatives” and “progressive elements” of the industry will emerge.

There’s certainly been no sign of them so far, with the main organisations wanting to maintain the status quo (see here) and another one wanting to bring in ‘licensed raptor management methods’ (see here), whatever that is, although we can take an educated guess, and another one refusing to even attend PAW raptor crime meetings because they ‘don’t trust’ the conservationists (see here).

But emerge they must if they want their industry to survive in any sort of format. The Environment Committee was clear that doing nothing and carrying on as before is no longer an option. Time’s up, gents.

GWCT wants ‘raptor management’ as part of game shoot licensing proposals

In the run up to the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee meeting last Tuesday to discuss options for progressing the petition to introduce a game shoot licensing scheme, several organisations from the game shooting industry submitted some last minute ‘evidence’ for consideration. Calling it ‘evidence’ is a bit of a stretch but anyway, we blogged about it (here) and commented that the industry was just calling for the maintenance of the status quo.

It turns out that other last minute ‘evidence’ was also submitted, this time by GWCT, although it seems the GWCT’s submission was too late to be considered during the meeting.

Here is a copy of that submission: GWCT letter to ECCLR Committee May 2017

It’s full of spin, of course, but it also introduces the idea that ‘licensed management methods‘ (of raptors) should be considered as part of any proposed licensing scheme.

The letter starts off by suggesting “The distribution of wildlife, is affected by many factors. In this case, raptors’ food supply (which changes seasonally and annually), habitat quality, weather in both the immediate area and landscape are all known to affect hen harrier , golden eagle and other species.  Ascribing a single cause to a perceived absence of occupancy is likely challenging“.

In relation to how these variables affect hen harrier and golden eagle, GWCT cites two references to support its claims: the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework and the Golden Eagle Conservation Framework. As the GWCT knows very well, both of these substantial and scientifically rigorous reports indicate that illegal persecution is the main single cause of the absence of occupancy in areas of intensively managed driven grouse moors in Scotland (note, it’s not a ‘perceived’ absence, it is an evidence-based, factual absence).

Here are some quotes from these two highly regarded reports:

Hen Harrier Framework:Two main constraints were identified: persecution, and in one Scottish region [North Caithness & Orkney, where there’s no driven grouse shooting], prey shortages“.

Golden Eagle Framework:Current evidence indicates that illegal persecution and low food availability in parts of western Scotland [where there’s no driven grouse shooting] are the two main constraints on the Scottish golden eagle population“.

So the GWCT’s claim that “ascribing a single cause to a perceived absence of occupancy is likely challenging” is utter tosh in relation to the hen harrier and golden eagle (and some other species such as red kite in the north, peregrine in the north east, and merlin in the south east) and the GWCT knows it. Why does the GWCT, and its other mates within the industry, continue to deny this evidence?

The letter then goes on to say that “the regulation of game shooting and its management in Scotland is extensive” and cites regulations such as the restriction on when species may be shot (i.e. open/close seasons), which species may be shot, when and where species may be disturbed, how habitats may be managed, how predatory species can be controlled, veterinary medicines regulation and site specific regulation such as Special Protection Areas.

What the letter fails to acknowledge is the the vast majority of these regulations are repeatedly broken (apart from the bit about open/close seasons), the use of veterinary medicines is barely regulated and if you think this equates to ‘monitoring’ then your brain has died, and many SPAs designated for various raptors are in unfavourable condition. If this ‘extensive’ regulation was working, we wouldn’t now be in the position of calling for state-regulated licensing! Duh!

The letter then goes on to discuss the current legislation, and this is where the proposed ‘licensed management methods‘ (of raptors) is introduced:

GWCT admits that illegal raptor killing goes on and claims that this is because “the drivers of the conflict remain unaddressed“. The letter continues, “Attempting to address this conflict in the absence of licensed management methods has been shown to result in loss of conservation status of birds of prey, loss of increasingly rare moorland wading birds, loss of local economic activity and degradation of protected habitat. Current legislation is enabling a DEFRA hen harrier management plan and brood management scheme that does address the conflict and such adaptive approaches should be given a chance to work in Scotland“.

Now, the GWCT hasn’t specified what it means, exactly, by ‘licensed management methods‘, and it may mean something as harmless as diversionary feeding, in which case, fill your boots. However, knowing this industry only too well, and the fact that the GWCT has already suggested brood meddling as a potential option, we suspect that the phrase ‘licensed management methods‘ has far more serious and sinister undertones. Don’t forget that there are already people within the industry calling for the inclusion of red kites and white-tailed eagles on general licences.

No doubt the GWCT’s plans for ‘licensed management methods‘ will be assessed during the Scottish Government’s inquiry in to game shoot licensing (assuming the Cabinet Secretary agrees to the Environment Committee’s recommendations) so hopefully we’ll find out whether the GWCT is proposing diversionary feeding, brood meddling, trapping and relocating, or killing, or something else.

We’ll be paying close attention to what the GWCT has to say at any inquiry, especially as its Director of Research is on record as saying GWCT wants to keep a lot of its management methods “under the radar” for fear of scrutiny and how the authorities might respond if they found out what was actually going on.

Shot peregrine successfully rehabilitated & returned to wild

In March we blogged about the discovery of a shot peregrine that had been found in Hampshire (see here). This was a bird that had hatched from a nest ledge on Salisbury Cathedral in 2014.

Following the shooting in March, the peregrine, ‘Peter’, was taken to the Hawk Conservancy Trust near Andover where he began a period of expert veterinary care and rehabilitation for a fractured wing caused by gunshot.

A few days ago, Peter was successfully released and returned to the wild. Fantastic work by all involved! The full story can be read on the Hawk Conservancy Trust website here.

The photo of Peter being released is by James Fisher.

UPDATE 22 July 2018: Salisbury peregrine ‘Peter’ – shot last year, Dad this year (see here)

Richard Lochhead MSP to meet Environment Secretary today to discuss wildlife crime

Richard Lochhead MSP, who represents the SNP in Morayshire, continues to impress.

Last night, he posted the following on his Facebook page:

Richard Lochhead MSP will meet with Roseanna Cunningham tomorrow to discuss the need for more to be done to catch those who commit wildlife crime.

Mr Lochhead’s meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Climate Change follows his exchange with Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions, where he highlighted the disappointment at the Crown Office’s decision to drop the case relating to the alleged illegal killing of a hen harrier in the Cabrach in 2013.

Moray’s MSP has been contacted by many constituents who were shocked that the Crown Office had taken the view that video footage supplied by RSPB Scotland was inadmissible despite such evidence being accepted in the past.

Whilst Mr Lochhead welcomes the progress that has been made by the Scottish Government in recent years in tackling wildlife crime, he will convey to the Cabinet Secretary that the Crown Office must take into account how difficult it can be to detect wildlife crime given that it most often takes place in remote areas and that they must ensure the justice system doesn’t miss opportunities to hold to account those who illegally kill endangered species.

Former Environment Secretary and Moray MSP Richard Lochhead said:

The justice system needs to reflect the fact that wildlife crime often occurs in very remote areas and therefore every scintilla of evidence must be captured and used in the courts given how difficult it is to gather in the first place.

The alleged perpetrator caught on film who appears to have shot and killed a protected hen harrier in my constituency probably can’t believe his luck that he’s getting away with it. When the public view with their own eyes video footage showing an alleged crime being committed they expect it to count in the courts.

It’s clear we need a further package of measures to build on the good work already underway to tackle wildlife crime in Scotland. Nothing should be ruled out at this stage including the enhanced use of cameras by the authorities at nesting sites and improved enforcement and deterrents“.


Richard has been tweeting about this (@RichardLochhead) as has his Moray Parliamentary Office (@MorayParlOffice). If you’re on Twitter, or Facebook, please drop him a line to thank him for his interest and his efforts.