Licensing: game shooting industry’s last ditch plea to maintain status quo

As many of you will know, tomorrow the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee will continue to consider the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s petition calling for the introduction of state-regulated licensing for game bird hunting.

The Committee has been advised by the clerk of three potential options it may choose to pursue (see here).

In response to the publication of those options, last Friday representatives from the game-shooting industry wrote a letter to all members of the Environment Committee asking them to consider a different option to those already tabled. Basically, their preferred option is to maintain the status quo. Here’s what they wrote:

Dear Member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee,

We have seen the papers published for the meeting on Tues 23rd with three possible Options for dealing with the Shoot Licensing Petition. While we believe that existing stringent legislation is being effective, we recognise the Committee’s concern about raptor crime and our sector is equally keen for it to be resolved. We understand public concern about evidence gathering and detection of wildlife crime incidents. That is why we believe the most effective strategy is a potent combination of punishment and prevention. Police Scotland make very clear that prevention is essential in tackling all forms of crime.

Therefore, the shooting sector would ask the committee to consider an option that would build on successful existing legislation and would improve on the non-regulatory measures that have resulted in substantial decline in wildlife crime incidents.

In effect, we are asking that the committee invites the Cabinet Secretary to discuss with stakeholders a range of non-legislative measures that could be agreed with the industry and introduced promptly to address specific areas of concern. These measures would not prevent any consideration of a licensing scheme or a trial scheme and could provide tangible evidence of their effectiveness before any decision is taken on licensing.

Measures the shooting sector supports include:

A more effective PAWS Partnership

The strengthening of regional PAWS groups would provide the more detailed local focus which is what will help prevent raptor crime at “shop floor” level, leaving a revised national PAWS body to cover its other functions. This local approach is working in the Highland region where there is good cooperation and regular meetings run by the police. We understand that the police favour prevention where possible as the most effective way to deal with this issue. Regional PAWS group effort could be focused in geographical such as intensive grouse moors where raptor crime remains a concern.

A new warning sanction for shoots under suspicion

A new partnership protocol could be developed under PAWS quickly where a ‘yellow card’ could be issued to estates where there is suspicion of bad practice but insufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation. Where an estate has been told it is being monitored it has in the past led to changes and improvement in practices and therefore prevention. For example, where RSPB are alerted to a problem which the police are not treating as a crime, a protocol can be developed among organisations which can then take action on the ground and effect change. For example, cases of non-functioning sat tags. In time this would build up a partnership, as has already been developed on national raptor surveys (protocol). There would be a central PAWS role to supervise adherence to the protocol(s).

Adoption by Scottish Government of the Poustie report

Adoption of revised “tariff” for wildlife crime sentences would also help prevent raptor crime by being a deterrent, and we urge that it should be implemented soon.

A “due diligence” package which shoots would be expected to adopt

“Due diligence” encouraged by the WANE Act is an effective preventative measure that many shoots already have in place and more could adopt. BASC are already working on a vicarious liability self-assessment tool for smaller shoots and the SGA have offered a shoot inspection service for some years to help compliance with all aspects of the law. A formal due diligence dossier – which would be agreed as a standard across the industry and signed up to by all organisations – is a reminder of all the regulation, it prevents misunderstandings between employer/owner and employee/agent, it provides for training and legal updating and clarifies employment terms and what parties expect of each other. The pack of documents could be checked by police or an independent assessor and would be available if problems occur.

The above measures would complement both Wildlife Estates Scotland accreditation, and the Code of Good Shooting Practice which has been adopted by the sector for many years and is being updated/relaunched this year. We would respectfully suggest that the very substantial efforts that have been made to tackle wildlife crime are bearing fruit and whichever course of action is chosen the outcome does not undermine the very considerable progress that has been made.

Yours sincerely,

Sarah Jane Laing, Director of Policy, Scottish Land & Estates

Colin Shedden, Director Scotland, British Association for Shooting and Conservation

Alex Hogg, Chairman, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association

Tim Baynes, Director, Scottish Moorland Group


What this letter amounts to is nothing more than to ask for the perpetuation of the industry’s voluntary self-regulation; a system that has already patently failed to adequately address raptor persecution.

You’ll notice that there are several references in the letter to the so-called “effectiveness” of current measures to tackle raptor persecution, and even a claim that “substantial efforts are bearing fruit”. Eh? Have these people been locked inside a darkened, sound-proofed cupboard for the last few months? The only ‘fruit’ we’ve seen has been the many examples of ‘rotten apples’ that demonstrate a putrid, rancid industry that can’t clean up its act, despite being given every opportunity to do so.

The game-shooting industry insists on using the ‘body count’ of dead raptors as a measure of wildlife crime, but this is obviously inappropriate given the difficulty of detecting these crimes in remote landscapes. Everybody else recognises that the appropriate measure is the presence of healthy, breeding raptor populations. For example, last month the Environment Committee heard evidence from the Government’s statutory nature conservation advisor, SNH. Robbie Kernahan told them:

Generally, in Scotland, we have quite a positive message about the recovery of raptor populations from those all-time lows. It is certainly a national picture. However, that is not to say that there are not issues. Certainly, some of the concerns about the intensification of moorland management prompted our scientific advisory committee to have a review two years ago. Without wanting to go through that chapter and verse, I can say that there is no doubt that the on-going issue of raptor persecution is inhibiting the recovery of populations in some parts of the country“. [For ‘some parts of the country’ read ‘land intensively managed for driven grouse shooting’].

Duncan Orr-Ewing of RSPB Scotland told the Committee “Over the last 20 years we have identified 779 confirmed incidents on 200 landholdings in Scotland. We think it [raptor persecution] is a widespread problem, although our main concern relates to areas of land that are managed for driven grouse shooting, where the illegal killing of birds of prey seems to be part of the business model for a number of places. We think that the situation is as bad as it has ever been“.

The Environment Cabinet Secretary has also recognised this is an on-going issue. In February 2017 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“.

We trust the members of the Environment Committee will see straight through the game-shooting industry’s latest desperate attempt to avoid regulation and will instead push onwards towards the introduction of a state-regulated licensing scheme. If the industry is as clean as it claims to be, there should be no fear of licensing.

We don’t need any more voluntary protocols, any more talking shops, any more denials, any more pretend partnerships, any more obfuscation. We need regulatory action and we need it now.

UPDATE 3PM: The Scottish Countryside Alliance has also written to the Environment Committee. The SCA urges the Committee to choose option one (‘Conclude that the current legislation and regulation in this area is working effectively. If cases of raptor persecution are found, these should be dealt with appropriately by Police Scotland and the Crown Office’). The SCA also says it wants to be part of an “ongoing, open and honest dialogue“. For those with short memories, here’s an example of the SCA’s idea of “open and honest dialogue”.

Here’s a copy of the SCA’s letter: ScottishCountrysideAlliance_LetterToECCLR_May2017

22 thoughts on “Licensing: game shooting industry’s last ditch plea to maintain status quo”

  1. They want to self-regulate but do not want to participate in discussions about the standards and practices that self-regulation would require? Nah. Screw them.

  2. This pleading letter from the shooting sector has only become necessary because they haven’t been able or are unwilling to get their house in order. They can’t win – they can never be in the majority – they may have been able to pay their legal representatives to stretch the law and the resources of the Crown Office – when it comes to influencing elected government they wont overturn increasing public opinion. They appear to be offering to come up with a system of control and recognised employee responsibility that every company and local authority have operated in some form of another for many years. This, they say, will go some way to avoiding misunderstandings between owner and agent or employee. This is surely an admission of the industry having hidden behind these “for profit” misunderstandings for as long as they could conceal shootings and poisonings carried out by “arms length” employees. How ironic is it that their “high cost” efforts to legally look after their “het ‘keepers” and subsequent abandonment of cases have raised the public profile to a level way beyond their control. The inclination to agree with the crypticmirror response (above) is strong – left or right hand thread optional !

  3. It’s actually quite good that they have submitted this horsecrap now as the committee should see how desperate they are. Clutching at straws.

    1. Don’t underestimate the Committee’s inclination to clutch at straws. Their Chairman’s views the other week were pretty much in line with the approach suggested by SLE and he did not sound like a man equipped to take the harder road.

  4. As always, a great factual article and a very appropriate image give the shooters farcical letter.

  5. I regularly work alongside or interact with police men and women. They are all unanimous in their belief that the best way to prevent crime is to put criminals in prison. It’s pretty simple really.

    1. Of course …………. In the words of Lance corporal Jones “They don’t like it up ’em”.

      Simply really – commit crime with impunity and the result is more crime.

    2. I wonder what proportion of the police even consider the raptor killers criminals. Ditto that for the whole legal system. I get the impression they see the laws against raptor crime as a nuisance they must endure.
      Ditto fox hunting etc.
      Of course there are some, who i suppose to be a minority, who are dedicated and must be as frustrated as us. Hail those few.

  6. “UPDATE 3PM: The Scottish Countryside Alliance has also written to the Environment Committee. The SCA urges the Committee to choose option one (‘Conclude that the current legislation and regulation in this area is working effectively.”

    I’ll bet they want that. It is total fiction. Just like drunk drivers wanted the same conclusion, that current practices were fine, just before the breathalyser was brought in, and when speeders said the same when speed limits and speed cameras were brought it. Sorry, they should have spent the last twenty years putting the industry’s house in order and sorting out best practices then, instead of flouting it and covering up for those flouting it at every opportunity, too late for them to offer now.

  7. This approach has been voiced before by a certain retired sheriff who had a very obvious conlifict of interest. “Codifying ” or publishing best practice guidelines will achieve absolutely nothing with the game shooting industry.

    What will work is :
    increased enforcement.
    Granting sspca appropriate powers
    Honest joint working between police and NGO,s
    Making the public aware the extent of the problem via media.
    COPFS prosecuting more cases
    Realistic penalties.

    There is nothing complicated or unusual about dealing with wildlife crime in this way , after all it works for all other crimes.

  8. “A more effective PAWS Partnership”

    I though the SGA were not going to attend PAWS meetings because they don’t trust the conservation organisations? If the SGA doesn’t trust those that want to end persecution, how can they increase the effectiveness of PAWS?

    “A new warning sanction for shoots under suspicion”

    I thought we had that already with the General Licence restrictions, but then the shooting industry didn’t want such a thing, and they ended up taking SNH to court over it. Why would it be any different next time round?

    “Adoption by Scottish Government of the Poustie report”

    Yes, an increase on the sentencing would be great, but it will probably happen anyway.

    Does anyone get the impression that they’re just trying to stall and buy time?

  9. The one thing that is absolutely not acceptable to all those genuinely interested in the well being of raptors is the current status quo. I would say one thing to SLE, and the hogwash clan that id SGA and as for the SCA words fail me, what would I say to them all —– you had your chances to genuinely engage in progress now why don’t you just —- off.

  10. “Police Scotland make very clear that prevention is essential in tackling all forms of crime.”Agreed-so catch the criminals and apply a sentence/penalty that is a deterrent-that is easy to resolve! We won’t prevent it until there is a big enough price for them to pay.

    And the SCA claim “If cases of raptor persecution are found, these should be dealt with appropriately by Police Scotland and the Crown Office’. I know this might sound fanciful, but that statement is almost as if they were confident that they could rely on this to protect them! And although I am not suggesting for one minute that any political pressure could be applied to undermine the importance of wildlife crime,recent events might just make people wonder!

  11. It’s just all smoke and mirrors and delaying tactics. A sham to distract and allow the Environment committee a way out of taking harshest option. I will be very surprised if anything good re Raptor persecution comes out of this. More talk, talk, talk . no action as normal.

  12. The letter, which will go down as another milestone in their saga of lies and deception, smacks of a melting pot put together by people with a job to do. Jobs that they’re worried about losing. Roseanna Cunningham’s statement, repeated in the RPUK response above, at least gives a glimmer of hope that the committee might not be fooled by this deliberate attempt at obfuscation. What anyone unfamiliar with the raptor persecution issue needs to realise, and that includes many politicians, and even a few conservationists who should know better, is that we are dealing here with a deeply ingrained culture. In my opinion, and I take comfort from the fact that it is shared by some highly respected people like Chris Packham, as well as supporters of RPUK, is that the only way out of this dilemma for society is to end the practice of grouse shooting. Ultimately I believe our goal should be to end the persecution of any wildlife in the name of ‘sport,’ but realistically I can’t imagine that happening in my lifetime.

    There are several layers of interested parties involved in grouse shooting. At the top we have cold, calculated businessmen, often hidden from the public eye, who realise that the global boom in land valuation of grouse moors could be scuppered, if the politicians in the UK were to bring an end to their enterprise. At the bottom we have the lackeys, gamekeepers who genuinely enjoy their work, but extend their enthusiasm and job protection activities into a world of what they comfortably accept as petty criminality. Some of them were drawn into the ‘profession’ due to their love of killing wildlife, a primitive urge driven by testosterone – are there any female ‘keepers?

    However the powerhouse of the ‘shoot to kill’ culture lies in between – the body of enthusiasts who are prepared to pay good money to fraternise with like-minded people of their own class. The upper middle class at play. During my life I’ve got to know quite a few of them (an uncle was one), and in one particular job (unrelated to grouse shooting) I had to deal with shooting parties on a regular basis. It’s only by getting a bit closer to them that you can really understand how their minds work. One aspect I can never forget is the comradely rapport among their own kind, but a contrasting arrogance towards their subservients. However one attitude that really annoyed me was that a general hatred of raptors and other predators was an overwhelming obsession. That message has been, and always will be so long as grouse shooting continues, one that is reinforced to the gamekeepers. I’m sure there must be some who disapprove, but I find that the hate is more or less universal, especially for Hen Harriers.

    Quite rightly a lot of our attention is currently focused on grouse shooting, moorland management and all the associated environmental and ethical issues, but it’s important to bear in mind that all is far from well in the lowland shoots, usually for pheasant or partridge. It might be extremely difficult to detect crime in a wild moorland, but neither is it straightforward in a shooting estate interspersed with dense woodlands. We know that the recorded impact on Hen Harriers is the tip of the iceberg, but lowland estates constitute a whole other iceberg. I dread to imagine how many Buzzards and Goshawks are killed by these people.

    1. Great post Iain. You can guarantee that if grouse shooting is licensed / controlled / banned there will be an immediate spike in raptor killings away from the shooting estates (I am surprised it han’t happened already) to deflect from the truth that they are the real source of the problem.

  13. From the 3pm update…

    “If cases of raptor persecution are found, these should be dealt with appropriately by Police Scotland and the Crown Office’).”

    … would that be in the manner we’ve seen lately?

    Ans how would contract keepers fit into all this?

  14. From the 3pm update…

    “If cases of raptor persecution are found, these should be dealt with appropriately by Police Scotland and the Crown Office’).”

    We know the methods are forever evolving, we know that hi tech equipment is being used, particularly at night.

    The studies show that raptor persecution is continuing at a very high rate , even if the body count is decreasing.

    We need a change, fine words are achieving nothing, we are well passed the last chance saloon where these type of offerings have been suggested before and yet nothing has ever materialised.

    One project that springs to mind is the working group in the Peak District, how much has that achieved to date or the breeding Raptors?

    Take heed Roseanna Cunningham, you are working against criminals who will lie and deceive, you can’t trust what they say, they have had more than ample opportunity to show that they are working to change and the best they can come up with is we will work harder to not leave any evidence.

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