Some more thoughts on the shot hen harrier video

Three days on and our anger has not subsided. If anything, it’s grown. The more we’ve watched that video, and the more we’ve tried to comprehend the reasoning behind the Crown’s decision to drop all criminal proceedings, and the more we’ve contemplated the injustice and wider implications of the Crown’s decision to drop all criminal proceedings, and the longer the silence from a Government that repeatedly claims a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on raptor persecution, the more incensed we’ve become. And we’re not alone.

This 59-second video is actually a microcosm of a war that has been raging for over 60 years, ever since birds of prey were afforded full legal protection. It’s got everything, all the characteristics with which we’re now so familiar: the remote upland landscape, an area with a long history of raptor persecution, the supposedly protected hen harrier so vulnerable as she waits until the last second to abandon her eggs and flee her nest, the violent gunshots, the explosion of feathers as she’s hit, the poignant silent aftermath as her feathers float to the ground, the armed man apparently removing and hiding the evidence of the crime. Only this time the crime was witnessed, captured on film and now, finally, exposed for the world to see.

And then comes the ridiculous pantomime of legal protocol that forces fearful commentators to describe this as an ‘alleged’ crime, which implies it might not have happened. Our eyes work just fine and it is our opinion that it did happen. The only questionable part is who pulled the trigger (twice). The video footage is not conclusive on this point and the man who was charged had pleaded not guilty. It’s fair to comment that the charges against him were alleged (in other words it’s not known whether he was responsible or not) but let’s not pretend that this crime didn’t happen. Somebody shot that hen harrier in June 2013 and whoever it was has escaped justice as the case is now time-barred.

There are several aspects of this case that fan the flames of our exasperation. We’ve already discussed the role of the Crown Office and the questions raised by their decision to drop all proceedings. These matters are deeply concerning and need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Other issues concern the long history of confirmed raptor persecution on Cabrach Estate. Two gamekeepers have previously been convicted for such crimes: one for having a poisoned peregrine in the back of his vehicle (here) and one for shooting two buzzards (here). Other crimes were also detected including the discovery of 11 shot buzzards that had been stuffed inside rabbit holes, 24 poisoned baits, three illegal pole traps and an owl with smashed legs (here) but nobody was charged. We want to point out that the current team of gamekeepers is very recently employed and there isn’t, to our knowledge, any evidence of further crimes since the shooting of the hen harrier in 2013. But the appalling history provides a long-term perspective on what had been going on for a number of decades and that is hard to ignore.

Map showing the location of Cabrach Estate, bordering the Cairngorms National Park (estate boundary based on information from the Who Owns Scotland website).

The publication of this video by RSPB Scotland last Friday has provoked an outpouring of public outrage. Social media has been alight all weekend, and commentary has been provided by many, including a 15-year-old schoolboy (here), a leading figure in conservation (here), another well-known campaigner (here) and a retired police officer (here).

Statements from the game-shooting industry have been thin on the ground but where they have been made, the words chosen have very carefully avoided discussing the killing of a hen harrier.

The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association said they had no comment to make as they didn’t have a membership interest in this case. The video footage was totally ignored (see here).

Scottish Land & Estates also ignored the video content and instead opened with the vague statement, “Evidence of apparent ill-treatment of any protected species is, of course, deeply concerning“. There then followed the usual denials about the extent of raptor persecution, the same old spin about their involvement with the partnership working sham that is the Heads up for Hen Harriers project (which we have previously addressed, here) and then a bit more spin with this line: “In this instance, the estate in question was praised in an RSPB report last year as a potential model sporting estate given its commitment to species conservation, including Hen Harriers“. We were intrigued by this ‘RSPB report’ until we realised that it wasn’t an official RSPB report written by professional upland scientists based on a long-term & detailed assessment, but rather a report of a day trip to the estate, escorted by the new Head Keeper, of the local RSPB members’ group. Hmm, not quite as compelling an endorsement as SLE try to portray. Has Lord Johnstone been taking spin lessons from Beefy Botham on how to make a report sound more credible than it actually is?

So far, there has been no comment from the Scottish Government.

UPDATE 11 May 2017: Cabrach hen harrier shooting reaches First Minister’s Question Time (here)

53 thoughts on “Some more thoughts on the shot hen harrier video”

  1. One sentence stands out for me: “These matters are deeply concerning and need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.” I look forward to hearing suggestions as to how this might be done.

  2. The people behind the shooting are the ones who make the law, it is an impossible task to stand against them as they are intrinsic to the fabric of this country,

  3. Personally I am going to cite this in court if I ever get a speeding fine in Scotland and they can put me in prison, I am not going to pay it.

    1. A mass wander across the moor on the opening day of the grouse season would be more effective. They only understand money and more importantly, the loss of it. Start messing up their shooting for maximum impact.

      1. I agree entirely. We need a mass trespass on the 12th August (and on as many other days as possible). Effectively, we need hunt saboteurs for grouse moors.

  4. All right minded citizens of Scotland will be appalled and ashamed at the footage of this barbaric criminal act. I call on all the Political leaders in Scotland to condemn the killing and to put pressure for this case to be reviewd and re opened.

  5. I am proud to say that if I witnessed such an act I would xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx. I would happily go to prison to demonstrate all animal lovers disgust at this continuing disgrace

    1. With you there Graeme. It’s probably as well I wasn’t there. I can’t get the footage out of my mind. How are thee people even the same species as us?

  6. still outraged, still incredulous that Scottish law is so piss poor when it comes to video evidence. The wildlife criminals are laughing up their sleeves at authority and giving it a two fingered salute. This cannot be allowed to continue, the law needs sorting on video evidence. If this had been the murder of a raptor worker not a raptor would the culprit have walked free? No! well the same should apply to ALL cases.

  7. “So far, there has been no comment from the Scottish Government.” Looks like the Scottish government is morphing into ‘Tartan Tories’

  8. Even if the person shown in the clip didn’t shoot the bird, they appear to have picked it up and therefore know exactly who shot it. They are therefore guilty of aiding and abetting a criminal act. As for the entrapment excuse it means that anyone with a CCTV system has wasted their money.

  9. Could the RSPB write to all SLE members, indeed all shooting estates, and ask for consent to install covert surveillance cameras at all harrier nesting sites on their land?

    If they agree, without unduly onerous conditions, then job done.

    If they refuse, or only agree subject to unacceptable conditions, then inform all MSPs accordingly, just to let them know the challenges faced in trying to stop raptor persecution.

    And help inform their judgement in considering legislation requiring the licensing of shooting estates.

    1. Spokespersons from the grouse lobby have made in damned clear in the past they object to video cameras but i agree it would be great for the RSPB to make this offer and expose their hypocrisy to the full light of day.
      Even better the law should be changed to make it compulsory to allow video footage on nests of any raptor species particularly on driven grouse moors.

    2. Interesting idea. It helps whatever the response. However I fear the criminals have already moved on, shooting males away from the nest.

  10. I cannot comprehend how this video cannot be accepted as evidence, yet there have been numerous cases where investigative journalists have filmed people agreeing to take bribes, where they haven’t been told before-hand that filming was going to take place, and that film has been accepted. Where’s the difference?

  11. In response to my tweets to the SNP their supporters rounded on me to suggest that it is not the responsibility of the politicians but of those who enforce the law! They also suggested that I should contact the appropriate people to resolve the issue,ie what we have all been doing for decades! The point is that we are trying to raise the profile of these issues and to bring it to a wider public. I am off to have another go now!

      1. That’s funny, according to the entire Brit. media everything the SNP do is wrong. How have you managed to miss that ? Don’t you even watch the BBC ?
        Driven Grouse and its attendant abuses are a British phenomenon, produced by a British landowning class and culture to which Scottish landowners sold their souls. The end of theBritish Union is probably the prerequisite for re-examing many Scottish land use issues, with sporting estates at the top of the list. Any change will not be effected by bans or by law enforcement, but by land reform and the squeezing of the political and fiscal privileges which currently encourage these people to act as if they are above the law. There is not the least prospect of progress in a British context.

        1. BSA, I agree with what you say to some extent, but it doesn’t explain why the SNP Government is so supportive of the ludicrous “Gift of Grouse” propaganda exercise. Just as this video is difficult to erase from one’s memory, the photograph of various notorious faces from the grouse industry attending a function with a Government Minister really “sticks in my craw”! What a rogues’ gallery that is. However we can’t deny that their PR appears to be quite effective, sadly. Wasn’t it strange that certain key partners in “Heads up for Harriers” didn’t appear to be on their invitation list? Answers on a postcard.

          1. No government anywhere will treat an established industry as a pariah, ignore its invitations, or carry out hostile existential investigations of its economic benefits as has been suggested above in relation to the latest petition. The faces from the grouse industry you refer to may be notorious to us but to the public they are not; they are the legitimate representatives of an industry against which there is a mountain of circumstantial evidence but nothing, unfortunately, which could realistically justify or sustain gratuitously hostile action by a government elected to represent everyone. Governments regulate industries, they do not, as a rule, ostracise them or ban them, which is just as well, since the legal, political and indeed moral, implications would be very considerable. Legal constraints have not worked and, as the Environment Minister suggested recently, regulation may be equally difficult due to the difficulty of demonstrating guilt, notwithstanding a lesser burden of proof. In the long run you will have to remove the fiscal and social incentives for owning sporting estates, cut the links to City money which is driving this, and find alternative economic and social objectives for the uplands. That’s not going to happen in England/Britain but there is a fighting chance in Scotland.

            1. Doesn’t have to be a ‘hostile existential investigations’ re supposed economic benefits of DGS just a comprehensive and objective one as we are supposed to have with any significant industry – surely those waving the flag for the grouse moors in and outside parliament would love to know exactly how much they are contributing to the national and rural economies and how much of that goes to those who most need it? Then they’ll be able to show Johnny Foreigner is in the wrong by not having DGS and those of us who like to underline that they don’t drive grouse for shooting in Russia, Norway, Russia, Finland, New Hampshire or Canada will have to shut our cakeholes won’t we?

              The argument (blackmail?) that DGS is vital for rural jobs and communities is a bloody great brick wall just sitting there waiting for anyone campaigning against it to run into face first sooner or later. It’s almost certainly rubbish and far more likely it’s depriving us of a much healthier and diverse rural economy as well as environment – how many rural Norwegians would swap places with rural Scots I wonder? How many politicians will remain chummy with the estates if it becomes public knowledge DGS ‘management’ is a barrier to eco restoration work that would reduce flood damage to homes, businesses and better quality farmland downstream of grouse moors? There’s a growing pile of ammunition that can be fired at the estates – the EMBER report, published results from every new project on natural flood alleviation that corroborate the previous ones – muirburn is not good for the things that are good at reducing floods. Time to add genuine economic assessment to that.

              Legitimate criticism of the estates coming from different directions simultaneously would very quickly make people realise that the platitudes coming from the DGS lobby are just PR pap, the ‘Gift of Grouse’ a sick joke. We need to start going for more of their weak points, there are a good few to choose from. For more than forty years now I’ve had to read and see for myself how much my country and its wildlife have been hammered for ‘sport’ shooting. The persecution and arrogance haven’t declined they are now being sold to the public through the back door by front organisations telling us we need predator control for conservation purposes and unbelievably trying to get raptor killing legalised. Don’t fancy another forty years plus of this shite, let’s work together to deliver a few killing blows of our own.

        2. BSA I agree. in part, with you in that that driven grouse is a Britsh phenomenon, I think what it really is is an English arstoricacy phenomenon. My comment was that it appears that as soon as anyone challenges the SNP they get anti-English rhetoric thrown back. My hope for a Scottish Parliament is that under the SNP it would offer a real change to they way England is run. I know that England has a far worse record on raptor persecution but that is a very low bar to get over.

  12. It is common practice amongst the shooting fraternity to “look after” the powers that be… especially the police many of whom are into firearms are freely invited and “good relations” cultivated. It seems this extends into departments tasked with decisions about legal process.
    A case with ample evidence I was involved with was conveniently cuffed by the local constabulary here.

    Very frustrating.

  13. I suppose this does destroy the ‘Packham’s lies’ argument oft regurgitated by the various organisations that support a certain type of land management.

  14. Mairi Evans, MSP for North Angus and the Mearns, recently took on the role of “Hen Harrier Champion” in a blaze of publicity as reported in the media. Why not give her an opportunity to show her worth by asking her what both she and the SNP intend to do about this matter. I have.

  15. The worst part is this is the just the tip of the iceberg. God knows what atrocities our wildlife is suffering at the hands of these fuckers.

  16. The choice is;

    Sporting industry vs environmental community

    SNP have clearly chosen the sporting industry.

    Let’s see if SSPCA are given additional powers to assist in reducing wildlife crime.

    Vote Green.

    1. The Scottish Green Party are just puppets of the SNP.

      As for getting any individual SNP politician to say anything, about anything, well good luck. They’ll wait to see what the party line is and then stick to it like glue. They’re not allow to criticise party policy or elected party members.

  17. So I emailed Maurice Golden MSP (, Deputy Convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee:

    “Dear Mr Golden

    With regards to the recently failed prosecution of a hen harrier shooter on the Cabrach Estate, we’ve now all seen the video. Whilst I accept that it’s not for parliament to decide whether a piece of evidence is admissible in court or not and I don’t think passing a blanket law that OKs covert video surveillance on private land would be a good idea, pragmatism should have swayed this particular case.

    However, what to do? As you will know, on the immediate table for the government at the moment is:

    1. the need to grant RSPCA officers the same powers over wildlife crime that they already have over crimes against domestic animals and pets.

    2. introduce a system of game shooting licenses.

    I am aware that Scottish Land and Estates is lobbying parliament hard against these proposed changes. I’d like to take the opportunity to remind you that if the Estates are abiding by current laws, then these two proposed changes will have zero effect on them. So logically, for them to oppose the changes is an admission of guilt.

    As Deputy Convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, could you please do your best to make sure these proposed changes become law as quickly as possible.

    Thank you
    Michael Gill
    (address supplied)”

    I just got an answer now:

    “Many thanks for your email. The Committee may consider this in due course. Regards, Maurice”

    What does that mean, “may” consider. I thought it was the committee’s duty to consider?

    1. Sorry to be pedantic, but the opposition is likely to criticise the most minor detail which they can point to as an error. It was not a “failed prosecution”, it was a failure to proceed with the case. And RSPCA should of course be SSPCA. On the other hand the Deputy Convener’s reply seems odd in the use of the word “may”. Hasn’t the Committee already considered the matters raised, quite recently?

    2. Thanks, Michael.

      Another blog reader emailed Emma Harper MSP who also serves on the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform Committee. Here’s the response from Emma:

      “Thank you for your email. This is a very serious matter. I have already had conversations regarding this case as a member of the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform Committee, it is part of our portfolio to be involved with raptor crime and currently we are reviewing raptor crime as part of our work programme.

      I will keep you aware of the follow up that we undertake”

    1. Well done Michael it’s people like you that will make a difference

      If SNP do not give SSPCA appropriate powers it will be a PR disaster and show them up for failing to tackle wildlife crime.

      1. The SNP will NEVER give SSPCA more power , so you are pissing into the wind with that one ,I totally agree with some of the earlier comments -direct mass action that creates a a media buzz is the only way to bring this obscenity into the public domain.These bastards took the gloves off about two or three years ago and have been taking out roosts and using night vision equipment ,they got well and truly pissed off and decided to show these” townies” how bad things could get if you rattled their cage, this is well known in the countryside. The only thing these thick bastards understand is confrontation and its about time they got some.

        1. I can’t disagree with your sentiments J Coogan, and can perceive that you have some insight to the mindset of gamekeepers. You appear to have seen through the PR – the guided public walks (I saw a press release once that a ‘keeper had shown a group a Meadow Pipit!), the wining and dining of Government Ministers, “condemning” the “few bad eggs” in the business, conning BBC into featuring couthy characters on Landward and Countryfile, being ‘hale fella well met with ornithologists and RSPB etc., etc. For a while they were even joining the RSPB and displaying RSPB car stickers on their land rovers and pick-ups. Some people are taken in by all the puff, but by no means all of us, and certainly not those dedicated individuals who run RPUK. One minor point I would disagree with is that although the use of night vision equipment may be a relatively recent development, certain gamekeepers have been taking out harriers at communal roosts for many years, at least forty years to my knowledge, and I would presume longer than that.

  18. They ( in my area of Scotland at least ) never bothered to take out roosts ,or use latest technology, they didn’t have to, they just went out and did the dirty whenever they wanted, they were untouchable and they knew it .My point is that now they are carrying out a concerted covert policy of persecution.

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