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.
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