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

75 thoughts on “Scottish Government announces significant action in fight against raptor persecution”

  1. The idea of special constables dedicated to Wildlife crime is an intruiging one, just so long as these don’t happen to be Gamekeepers as well.

    Curious re the legal advice re the SSPCA, they have powers under the Animal Welfare act, it’s difficult to see where the differences would lie. I wonder if it’s the same great legal mind that advised abandoning proceedings in those cases?

  2. I hope you don’t mind me adding this link but it surprised me that the BBC were reporting the facts for a change. What I found interesting was the comment from the SGA spokesman where he suggested that they get access to tracking telemetry for shared ” and targeted” solutions. Dream on. Or am I just being cynical.

    1. It’s interesting that the SGA try to pin some of the blame on wind turbines. Aren’t these operating to the benefit of the same landowners?

  3. Not getting too excited, but give yourself a massive pat on the back RPUK , well done the light is definitely twinkling from the end of a very long tunnel.

  4. Definitely to be welcomed as a step in the right direction, and RPUK et al are to be congratulated in driving this forward in recent years. I’m not at all surprised at the conclusion regarding SSPCA, and although very few others seem to share my thoughts on that one, the pressure may have driven another objective that could be more fruitful, i.e. increased resources for Police Scotland. But why only for Cairngorms National Park? It’s obviously a priority area due to the sheer level of persecution, but what about Leadhills and all the other areas where Hen Harriers, rather than Golden Eagles, continue to be ruthlessly persecuted in association with grouse moors? One measure which does anger me is “Examine how best to protect the valuable role of gamekeepers in rural Scotland.” Before even considering that, they should be required to produce evidence that gamekeepers do actually fulfill a valuable role at all. I would argue that they are a left over from Victorian times and the Edwardian hey-days, an utter anachronism in modern Britain. Their role is to maximise productivity of game birds for the pleasure of the rich (often the super-rich) to indulge in their cruel and deeply offensive killing for fun. They do this largely by persecuting predatory animals, including protected raptors, which are removed from the ecosysytem, thereby causing a severe natural imbalance. It’s time for real, radical change.

    1. Your version of the “suspicious” map seems to be different from the report’s “suspicious” map (figure 4.2). Is there a reason for this?

    2. The role of gamekeepers will be part of the proposed enquiry into the biodiversity and economic role of big shooting estates. The ‘keepers themselves are irrelevant and will either disappear or become a completely different profession, if you can use that term, if the management of the uplands is radically changed following such an enquiry. You could expect a much higher standard of recruitment for a start if the estate culture was removed.

    3. Well said again, Iain.

      I don’t feel encouraged by Ms Cunningham’s response. Trying to be all things to all people doesn’t work. This response has fragmented the issue – it needs a holistic solution – not a piecemeal one.

      1. You may well be right but we only have few good days, perhaps you could have waited 24 hours before dampening the mood.

        I think this announcement will send out a strong message to the shooting industry that they are on the wrong side of the debate, things are on the turn, their strategy is not working, more and more people are lining up against them and they are losing the argument – bit by bit.

        I really like this influential website – it deserves our thanks.

        1. Fair enough, Michael. I accept your point. And there isn’t much use being pessimistic without a solution.
          Ps I often thank RPUK and think of the unsung heroes changing the tide.

      2. Fragmented the issue ? How ? At least a couple of the proposals are as holistic as you might get. She is challenging the role of sporting estates in the uplands with two lines of enquiry which, if followed through would remove the credibility of everything that estates claim to stand for in economic and environmental terms and would certainly open discussion on alternatives which would serve raptors and a lot more besides. That is strategic ; the rest is technical and may not in itself resolve the abuse problem in the long run. Why not recognise progress and stop recycling ‘all things to all men’ comments about the SNP.

        1. “At least a couple of the proposals are as holistic as you might get.” Just a couple? Not that holistic, then. I think your criticism of my comment is unfair, almost as if you didn’t read it all. My main concern was the presumption of innocence on the part of gamekeepers, when the evidence is overwhelming that they do not fulfill a valuable role. It’s all fakery.

          1. I was replying to Cairnton whose sole argument is a knowing disbelief in everyone’s good intentions.

            However, what would you propose she does about gamekeepers – realistically ? Ban them maybe ? That should go down well with any Human Rights legislation that might survive Brexit. A 10 year battle through the courts would do loads for raptors. Whose evidence shows that they do not fill a valuable role ? Is that evidence enough for legislation that would rightly be considered oppressive ? Gamekeepers and their attitudes are just part of an estate system which she is challenging with proposed enquiries into the economic and environmental role of shooting estates and enquiries also into their management practices. The evidence that emerges will be far more effective in the long run in removing shooting estates and their gamekeepers than any amount of folk just shouting that they don’t like gamekeepers.

            1. I resent your comment BSA. How dare you say that I have a knowing disbelief in everyone’s good intentions? You have no bloody what I think.
              We already have a raft of evidence regarding the economic and environmental role of shooting estates – how much more evidence do we need?

              1. We don’t have independent, comprehensive economic studies of DGS including role of public subsidy, value of alternative work on natural flood alleviation and how DGS excludes other economic activities such as any form of forestry and proper ecotourism. For the amount of land they take up grouse moors provide very little in the way of decent employment, they drive far more of it away. One decent, fully comprehensive, independent and good quality study would be a torpedo at the estates, even more so than the report on satellite tagged eagles. I know I’m banging on about this, but can’t over stress how important it is. When I tried to get FoES to take action on the estates I encountered several FoES members who hated the sporting estates but wouldn’t support me because they were genuinely worried that families would lose their homes.

                1. The only problem with this line of argument is that the opposition could probably at least equally claim that nature conservation, as an alternative usage for grouse moors, would also exclude other economic activities such as forestry or intensive sheep farming. There is already a sector of the rewilding pressure group who want to replace all heather moorland with native woodland. That wouldn’t help harriers at all.

                  1. They already are making such comments about rewilding without backing it up, whilst only uttering the usual unchallenged platitudes about grouse shooting being vital for rural economies. There are definite jobs in rewilding and wilderness ‘experiences’, certainly a far, far higher number of people from home and abroad can participate in them than in blasting grouse from a butt. I don’t know anyone who wants to totally replace open spaces with trees even if that’s possible – I’ve certainly planted enough trees, but I’ve also cleared birch to stop a bog from drying out and tried to create wildlife meadows. I hate plantation forestry with a passion which is why most of my voluntary work is in reduce, reuse, recycle, but IF we do need pulp and timber then frankly I’d rather it came from a former grouse moor because if it doesn’t then somewhere else and its wildlife is suffering from it – subtropical Brazil, old growth forest in Sweden etc. At least we’d be producing more of our own needs and creating jobs and if people don’t want commercial forestry they might be a bit more conscientious about changing a way of life that requires it (see how hard it is now to buy recycled bog roll) if it’s not punted abroad like so much of the consequences of our consumption. There’s no problem with acquiring factual information and moving forwards, and the status quo isn’t doing harriers and an awful lot else any favours. With the utterly pointless DGS out of the way there is more room for a lot of different options, leaving more room for wildlife and the people who really love it.

                    1. Les, our peatlands are of special international importance and the existing grouse moors have tremendous potential for biodiversity if managed appropriately. The thought of “lots of different options” being applied is extremely worrying. As for forestry, for example, whether of the purely commercial or rewilding value, there is an abundance of wildlife-poor sheepwalk of little economic value in the country which could be used for these other options. Dwarf shrub heath and blanket bog in the form of heather moors is a relatively rare and valuable natural asset, which needs to be conserved as much as possible, and not just for Hen Harriers, which some of us might consider sufficient justification in itself. There are some worthwhile alternative options, particularly the regeneration of Caledonian forest within its former range – scattered Scots Pine trees with mainly Juniper understorey and a dense ground layer of heather and blaeberry. However it’s complicated, and requires sensitive planning and follow-up management.

  5. Great news …. but keep an eye on Graeme Dey who has skillfully repositioned himself prior to the report becoming public. However it was well forecast .. and most probably leaked .. before today thus allowing for the persecutors to plan their next strategy. I don’t believe for a minute that this is the end of it but it is a massive step forward. I am also very happy that mountain hares and muirburn are included, very happy. The grouse moors could host a much richer biodiversity in flora, fauna and avian terms if natural foliage was allowed to re-establish itself. Thanks to RPUK and all those who lent a hand to arrive where we are.

  6. Am I being paranoid

    But is there a connection as to why this non story has made the main BBC news page.

    Incidentally there was a pair of Peregines nesting on one of our factories In a Town near Liverpool. On top of one of the high towers was where they ate their prey, it was very varied the biggest surprise for me was two kestrel carcasses.

      1. My answer to them has been if they must release their pets into the wild, they can’t not expect them to get eaten. I wouldn’t expect my guinea pigs not to get eaten if I released them.

  7. Yes,good news and well done to RPUK and others. We all know we will have to keep up the pressure, but there are reasons to be hopeful. No doubt there will be attempts to frustrate real action, but the SNP also know that their reputation is now on the line too. But I will also congratulate them on this action directly.

  8. ‘Commission research into the costs and benefits of large shooting estates to Scotland’s economy and biodiversity’. Well that’s interesting especially as it was almost in the small print. I have drafted a petition for the Scottish parliament (currently being reviewed by the petitions team) that asks for pretty much the same thing – there’s little if any objective evidence that driven grouse shooting is doing more good than harm to rural economies so it’s a rather obvious and embarrassing omission for something that covers about 12.5% of the country. If the estates lose jobs blackmail then politicians and others who may feel awkward in publicly coming out against DGS could do a 180 degree change.

    Scottish ‘sporting’ estates in general and DGS in particular must be an incredible pain in the arse for Scottish politicians, something they’d just like to be able to wash their hands of, a ridiculous Victorian/Edwardian anachronisms no other country wants, but they get lumbered with ‘families will lose their homes’. Prove that DGS is keeping people as well as wildlife off the hills and it is well and truly shafted. This acknowledgement to what is the real economic worth if any of DGS could be the most significant element of today’s statement. Oh wouldn’t it be magic if just one Tory MSP broke ranks after seeing their strong historical links with the estates are now in 2017 actually shackles to a millstone? Nice to dream.

    Well done RPUK, you’ve been more than a bit player, sure you’ll get one hell of a buzz from this, and although statement re SSPCA is pisser may be her mind can be changed on that one. I was watching Springwatch tonight when Michaela mentioned the missing eagles, no punches pulled, and knew that we’d get the full story here. Thanks.

    1. Yes, that is the line that hit me in the face as well. It is one of the Grouse Estates main arguments and would be a huge blow to them if proved wrong. It may also lead to better land management and biodiversity in the long term, and perhaps could include a valuation of the potential economic benefits to local communities of wildlife watching tourism as well.

      1. Exactly – only a very tiny number of people will ever be able to participate in DGS and it’s not a spectator sport. EVERYONE else has a seriously compromised experience of rural Scotland due to it, the argument it improves the landscape and means more wildlife is utter crap. Muirburn reduces water quality and almost certainly has a negative effect on salmon and trout fishing, natural flood alleviation work – the FC and even a Cornish farmer hope to experiment with beaver reintroductions to reduce flooding – would be a much better recipient of public subsidy that would reduce serious damage to good quality farmland, homes and businesses – and of course there’s fully fledged eco tourism not the joke on Countryfile last year where they did a ‘safari’ on a grouse moor to see a lonely looking mountain hare, a meadow pipit and claimed they heard a ring ouzel.

  9. Yes good work by RPUK / RSPB and everybody else who is involved. lt is a step in the right direction but I am afraid that as as time goes on, and as we all know “the wheels of government turn very slowly.” It will get delayed and altered so that the finished bill/law will be nothing like what we all want. The SNP are a tad busy just now and i think Raptor Persecution may be far down the list of things to do. Hopefully I am proved wrong, we are getting there but at this pace some of us older guys may not see the end result. I think we need to be very alert to any time wasting by MSPs, Landowners and their lackeys.

  10. If you missed it, there was even a segment regarding this on Springwatch this evening. They used the filming of a Golden Eagle’s nest and subsequent tracking of the fledgling in last years series to link to the Golden Eagle satellite tracking report and then on to the Scottish Governments reaction to it. Diplomatically announced by Michaela Strachan rather than Chris Packham, they even included the information about the high percentage of losses near Driven Grouse moors!

  11. There’s an eagle in Howsbottom. The gun is on the kitchen table and the powder, shot and wads close by. I am away to the Kirk. ‘It was the last Golden Eagle I have heard of in the South of Scotland’ said the the land owner.

    A quote from a famous book which indicated that fingers should not be just pointed at the gamekeeper but at the owner of the land. For he is the one who wants lots of Red Grouse so he can brag to his neighbours! But also the way the ‘tax free’ money is given to the keepers for the days and season shooting.

    One shoot gave the head keeper £10,000 in cash, a 2 weeks holiday in the Maldives for him and his wife and a new car for gaining the number of Red Grouse that were asked for at the beginning of the breeding season. I wonder why so many birds of prey were killed when you see that as the incentive!!

  12. Really RPUK?…this is some sort of triumphal moment as we move into a glorious raptor killing free future?….All I see is some nice words about future discussion and more “reports” on the possibility of licensing estates..while actually giving kudos to the raptor killers by commissioning a study into how wonderful they are!?…But the refusal of more powers for SSPCA is the real kick in the teeth, there goes any real hope for a change – without any real prospect of taking action against the criminals you have absolutely no leverage and all the rest of this statement is so much hot air. Im surprised and depressed that so few of you are seeing this for what it is …a whitewash.

    1. You’ve misinterpreted our position, Dave. We do not believe that we are ‘moving into a glorious raptor killing free future’, at least not in the short term. What we’re so happy about is that finally, after years of promises to ‘act when we deem it necessary’, the Scottish Government has acknowledged that that moment has now arrived.

      To be clear, we remain unconvinced that licensing will solve this issue; on the contrary, without proper enforcement it will achieve next to nothing. BUT, and this is important, we also recognise that to reach a solution (e.g. a ban on DGS), the incremental step of licensing must be taken. We are playing the long game here.

      We are in absolutely no doubt that Roseanna Cunningham is on side. We’re also well aware of internal forces within the SNP (and external influences) that aim to derail any planned regulation at every opportunity. This time, with these proposed actions, the ability of those intent on derailing will be severely curtailed. We’ll discuss this in more detail in future blogs.

      We also agree that the decision not to give additional powers to the SSPCA is a kick in the teeth, and the alternative of using ‘special constables’ is a joke. Again, we will discuss in detail later. However, it’s also our opinion that this decision was not RC’s, but that it was one foisted upon her. The one upside of this decision is that greater scrutiny and pressure will be placed on Police Scotland to perform, and we probably agree with you about how that will pan out.

      This isn’t over by a long way, but yesterday’s decision was, in our opinion, an important recognition of measured scientific evidence combined with the force of public opinion. If (when) licensing proves unworkable, then we’ll be in a stronger position to push for a ban.

      1. “If (when) licensing proves unworkable, then we’ll be in a stronger position to push for a ban.” Surely that’s a bit over-optimistic? My gut feeling is that we’d be back to square one, and politicians will become tired of the whole debacle, a bit like those who are weary at the thought of a second independence referendum. I suspect the grouse shooting industry will cynically exploit the new situation and argue with their usual disingenuous flair that the licensing system is working perfectly, only a few bad eggs who must be rooted out, harriers and eagles are thriving on grouse moors, blah, blah, blah. This could conceivably add another decade or more to the fight, and a few of us will be long departed before any real progress is made in banning grouse shooting. Okay, I might be a glass half-empty type of person, but time will tell. I think building a mass movement against hunting is a difficult but more fruitful way forward, and if that involves non-violent direct action, so be it. We’re supposed to live in a democracy, so should use the right to protest, especially on the Inglorious 12th. The Hen Harrier days I suppose are a step in that direction, but perhaps we should make more effort to encourage participation by that sector of society which cares about the future for our wildlife. In Scotland it saddens me that so few members of SOC or Raptor Study Groups have taken part so far. If the RSPB would motivate even a fraction of their million members, that could make a significant contribution.

        1. Fully in agreement Iain…the rebuff to SSPCA is a defining moment for me, a last avenue closed. Time for some real upfront protest – it worked with banning foxhunting. This issue has to become such a hot political potato that politicians will be forced to make legal changes.

  13. I had really feared this report would be minimised or dismissed like so much else. It’s a joy and a relief to see explicit Government recognition of the research data, including on the wider environmental/land-management context, and a willingness to examine the claims about economic benefit rather than taking them at face value.

    Ok it’s a small step towards actual measures, but a hard one to take under the pressure and influence at play, and a significant one in terms of the message it sends about being prepared to take science and public concern seriously.

  14. Interesting to see that, despite the report clearly dismissing such claims, the usual apologists for DGS continue to trot out tired old excuses such as “tags fail”, “it’s wind farms”, etc; is this prima facie evidence of the dire consequences of consuming too much lead shot with their game?

  15. I can’t help thinking that all the euphoria might be a tad premature. The only concrete thing that has actually happened so far is that it has been decided not to give the SSPCA additional powers. It’s taken six years to arrive at that decision. Six years. In Scottish political terms that’s two whole generations.

    If that’s the time scale we can expect for the rest of the measures ( which amount, at this stage, to no more than ‘further consideration being given to/ research being conducted into etc etc’) then we are in for a long wait.

    1. Possibly, but there will be voters and others watching them, and it’s become high profile. One thing RPS might consider is linking to SNP’s recruitment page, they accept members living in England too.

      1. Any voters the SNP lose on this issue are likely to move to the Scottish Greens. That won’t worry the SNP strategists, given that on essential issues the Greens are something of a wholly owned subsidiary of the SNP.

      2. I don’t think the average voter will have the slightest clue about this issue. That’s our main problem; while RPUK, Mark Avery and a handful of others are doing a great job of gathering and presenting evidence, it’s only really available to a relatively small specialist audience. The elephant in the room is our inability as conservationists to get our message across to the wider public. The RSPB could do a hell of a lot more, but they seem reluctant to upset Her Majesty, by which I mean the Royal dynasty not Theresa May!

      3. I think you both missed my point, I’ll suggest that blog followers on here may not all be active in politics, but might consider joining the SNP to apply pressure if its needed. This includes English residents. I shan’t comment further.

        1. Don’t want to digress too much but that’s not how the SNP operate. They are not a bottom up party. Policy and strategy come from above and are dictated by whether they help or hinder the prospect of Scottish independence. At the moment I can see why they might take the view that alienating the shooting industry any further would hinder them in achieving their ultimate objective. The idea that the leadership would be swayed by pressure from party members is a bit naive, though not as naive as a previous suggestion I read on here that party members could deselect Fergus Ewing for his cosying up the the shooting industry. The rocks would melt with the sun before that would be allowed to happen.

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