Game shoot licensing discussed on BBC’s Landward programme today

Today’s edition of the BBC’s Landward programme had a small feature on proposals for the introduction of game shoot licensing, including contributions from Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB Scotland) and Lord David Johnstone (Scottish Land & Estates).

It is available to watch on BBC iPlayer for the next 29 days (Episode 12, starts at 17 mins – here).

We’ve reproduced the full transcript:

Presenter, Euan Mcllwraith: “The majestic golden eagle, soaring above Scottish hills. It’s an iconic image of wild Scotland. But a Government report has found that almost a third of all golden eagles which have been tracked by satellite died in mysterious circumstances, and the majority of those cases were found on land which is managed for grouse shooting. And the demise of the golden eagles has kick-started a re-examination of the way that game shooting is managed.

Game shooting is a major contributor to the Scottish rural economy and supports jobs in rural areas. But the field sport relies on there being a large population of grouse to shoot. The report’s findings led Scottish Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham to propose an inquiry in to whether or not shooting estates should need a licence to operate.

But why would a licence protect eagles? Well at the moment, if a gamekeeper for example was caught killing a bird of prey, he might be prosecuted and in extreme cases be sent to jail, but the estate would still be allowed to carry on doing business. But the threat of a removal of a licence to operate could prove a more effective deterrent.

The proposal has delighted some groups and horrified others.

With me now are Duncan Orr-Ewing of RSPB Scotland and David Johnstone of Scottish Land & Estates.

Duncan, from your point of view, what’s the attraction of a licence, ‘cos there’s a lot of penalties at the moment, if a keeper gets convicted he goes to jail. Why a licence?”

Duncan Orr-Ewing: “Well, we very much welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s statement that she will look at options including a licensing system. The reason we support a licensing system is because we believe it will raise standards in the grouse moor sector in particular, which has a whole range of problems that have been highlighted in recent years and we think there is a need to reflect the public interest”.

Euan Mcllwraith: “David, from your point of view, you’re not in favour of licences. Why is that?”

David Johnstone: “There’s a number of reasons within that. There’s the SNH report that came out showing licensing going on around Europe, it clearly demonstrated that licensing, wildlife crime still exists in parts of Europe where licensing also takes place. But also we don’t think that it will actually be effective, we think that there are better ways of doing it that will lead to the higher standards that Duncan was talking about, creating good working relationships between ourselves and other stakeholders within, especially the Government”.

Euan Mcllwraith: “But is it not quite simple? If a nightclub has a licence, they break the rules, they go out of business. If a landowner on an estate was seen to be killing birds of prey, which does happen, you cease to have that right to run a business”.

David Johnstone: “This is a very, very different situation because within a nightclub, when a nightclub finishes business, the doors are shut and nobody else is allowed in to that nightclub at all, you control everything that’s going on. Within an estate on land in Scotland, under the 2003 Act, people have a right to roam anywhere, at any time, which we fully support, therefore you have people wandering across the land you’re managing, doing whatever they may wish to do and we have…”

Euan Mcllwraith: “Yeah, but people aren’t going to walk on to an estate and kill a bird, I mean it may happen, but the vast majority…”

David Johnstone: “I’m sorry but we have examples of people who have been interfering with legally set traps and everything else so it does happen, nefarious activity does go on, and that puts at risk people’s livelihood, their jobs, the economy, everything. You’ve got to prove you didn’t do something, as opposed to somebody proving that you did do something”.

Euan Mcllwraith: “Is that a real worry though? That an estate can go out of business, a vital part of the rural economy will cease to exist, on a very low level of proof?”

Duncan Orr-Ewing: “Look, we’re in this position because of a failure of self-regulation, despite repeated public warnings that the estate sector, particularly driven grouse moors, need to get their house in order. They have failed to deliver, that is why we’re at this point.

We believe a system of licensing can be developed, that has the right checks and balances in place, they do it in other countries, we imagine this won’t be done routinely….”

Euan Mcllwraith: “Duncan, David, I think this debate will rage for a long time to come. At the moment it’s in the hands of the Minister who will make a decision in the months and years to come”.


When do you think Scottish Land & Estates will realise that the game’s up? That everybody, even the Scottish Government, now accepts the huge weight of evidence showing that illegal raptor persecution is undertaken as a matter of routine on many driven grouse moors?

Does David Johnstone honestly think that anybody is going to believe his inference that 41 satellite-tagged golden eagles ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on driven grouse moors as a result of ‘nefarious activity’ undertaken by random members of the public?

If he’s so sure of this (without any supporting evidence), then presumably SLE members won’t have any problem accepting the placement of monitoring cameras at raptor nest and roost sites on driven grouse moors? You’d think they’d welcome this measure, which would clear estate gamekeepers from the frame, right? It’s funny then that certain estates continue to refuse to participate in the placement of cameras by SNH’s Heads Up for Harriers project.

Lord Johnstone has used this tactic of blaming members of the public before, when objecting to the introduction of vicarious liability. In 2012 he was cited as saying there was a risk of estates being set up. Five years on, there hasn’t, as far as we are aware, been a single case of an estate being ‘set up’.

Johnstone talks about instances of interference with legally set traps as an example of ‘nefarious activity’. Yes, it does happen, although not as widely as the game-shooting industry claims (see here) and most, no, all of the examples that we’ve seen show vandalism of the trap (thus rendering it inoperable) as opposed to some random person placing illegally-set traps (e.g. pole traps, as pictured above (RSPB photo)) to infer guilt on the estate gamekeepers.

We should really be congratulating whoever is responsible for SLE’s media strategy (‘deny, deny, deny’) because the longer SLE and the grouse-shooting industry takes to accept responsibility, or continues to blame it on others, the more idiotic, the more complicit, and the more incapable of self-regulation, they look, and then the quicker a licensing regime will be imposed.

Former police wildlife crime officer Alan Stewart wrote a blog recently about the grouse shooting industry’s refusal to accept responsibility for raptor persecution and specifically about SLE’s Moorland Director Tim (Kim) Baynes’ accusations against so-called ‘extremists’ (that’ll be us) for ‘derailing progress’. It’s well worth a read – here.

27 thoughts on “Game shoot licensing discussed on BBC’s Landward programme today”

  1. I still worry about what will happen if licensing is introduced. Perhaps that’s because I want to see all grouse shooting terminated forthwith, with a view to civilising society as a whole by ending the so-called sport of killing birds and other wildlife for selfish gratification. I find grouse shooting ethically unacceptable, in the same way that many of us see raptor persecution as unacceptable. Sadly, many who share my feelings are afraid to speak out, to avoid ridicule or scorn from neo-liberal thinkers who seem to believe in a more tolerant attitude towards animal cruelty. There is even a handful of raptor enthusiasts who participate in organised shoots, despite the harm done to raptors by that particular subset of the community. Unfortunately it is difficult to go into the deeper reasons for being sceptical about a licensing system, because to be honest I don’t want to give the shooters any clues as to some rather obvious ways in which they could turn such a system to their advantage. We could be opening a whole new can of worms.

    1. I share your desire to see an end to all blood sports. I am also disgusted by the presence of shooters in the RSGs and on the staff of SNH and the RSPB. I laugh when they claim to be at the conscientious end of the shooting fraternity because I don’t believe there is a sliding scale of decency involved. To me, a killer is a killer is a killer, and they’re all soul-less and twisted as far as I’m concerned.

      1. ‘To me, a killer is a killer is a killer, and they’re all soul-less and twisted as far as I’m concerned.’


        The shooters I know who are RSG members are neither soul-less nor twisted.

        There again, I’m not a vegan, so maybe I’m as much of a killer as they are.

        1. I wouldn’t say they are soul-less and twisted, but unpopular as it might be to criticise, I do feel that by participating in the shooting of wildlife for pleasure they are being somewhat hypocritical. Even any association with an activity that encourages the persecution of raptors is highly questionable. I’m with Chris Packham on this issue.

        2. Sorry dave angel but there has to be something wrong with you if you enjoy killing wild creatures. We domesticated a whole slew of animals so that we didn’t have to hunt wildlife. Obviousy it wasn’t out of consideration for wildlife but for convenience and economy of effort but that was several thousand years ago. There is no justification for it today – except to fulfil a psychopathic need to kill for fun.

          I am not a vegan and have slaughtered domestic animals for the food chain (not for over 40 years though) – not for fun but because it was part of my job and my job existed because the human animal needs meat in its diet (not as much as many think they do, not as little as many others think they do, either). I never enjoyed it. I often wonder how much bottle these shooters would have if they had to kill their prey up close and personal with a knife.

        3. I think ST said it about right – I’m not a vegan, and I have killed various animals for different reasons over the years. But I don’t do it for fun or recreation, and I think there is something a little bit lacking, maybe even twisted, in anyone who does.
          And that’s putting to one side the other unpleasant things the shooting fraternity gets up to – the snares, the traps, the poisons, the legal and illegal killing of a wide range of wildlife that are believed to get in the way of their fun.
          None of us is perfect, we’ve all done things we’re not proud of, but the way some shooters try to make a virtue out of killing animals for pleasure is simply beyond me. All I can guess is that if you’ve been brought up with something, or have done it for a long time, you can develop a moral blind spot towards it.

  2. Licensing will be a waste of time which the raptors don’t have. It’s already virtually impossible to implicate these swines even with strong evidence and they are getting better at covering their tracks.
    Grouse shooting needs to be consigned to the history books.

    1. A licencing system could be developed that was conditional on certain biodiversity factors taken into account. Estates might argue for two or three years that a particular biodiversity problem was due to factors beyond their control but not indefinitely.
      Any licence should incur a charge commensurate with policing and or managing the licence.
      The licence could also put a limit on the numbers of grouse to be shot. This would reduce the incentive to maximise numbers reducing the amount of predator controls required.

  3. The equation is simple – driven grouse shooting is unsustainable since it relies on the destruction of raptors to ensure such a large surplus of young grouse to shoot.
    As such it is doomed.
    The lie that driven grouse moor keepers do not routinely kill raptors [ as required by their employment ] is finally being understood by the wider public & it is unacceptable.
    This is a long battle, which must be won before the uplands can start to be diversified again.

    Whether the UK population view sustainable hunting as acceptable or not is a separate argument that simply confuses the issue of the unsustainability of driven grouse shooting.
    Yes, it is valid to fight against sustainable forms of hunting on moral grounds if that floats your boat.
    It is however irrelevant to the argument & gives ammunition to the criminals who portray it as a struggle between those who choose to harvest wild food & those who are against sustainable hunting of any sort.

    Whatever the future holds for the wider shooting,fishing etc community, battles must be fought one at a time & driven grouse shooting belongs to the past.

    Keep up the pressure !

    1. Good point and where would the moral argument stand on commercial fishing where fish are landed alive, by the ton, and allowed to die out of water. Surely more suffering than that inflicted by anglers.

  4. If SLE are worried about nefarious ‘extremists’ going about their moorland setting illegal traps and killing raptors then surely they should welcome the RSPB and their hidden cameras because this would help them to indentify and proscute these ner-do-wells.

  5. Having watched the TV clip , if body language is anything to go by then David Johnstone is out on a limb. Euan,s questioning was first class and put Johnstone on the back foot and his responses were limp to say the least. Mcillwraith was well versed and incisive and appeared to believe Duncan Orr- Ewing answers rather
    than the bullshit from the man from la la land. Yet another nail……

    1. Landward is a biased mouthpiece of the farming shooting industry,Vipond and Mcillwraith xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx. It shows how much the licencing issue has them rattled that this piece even appeared . Johnstone was struggling and had no point to make , of course Mcillwraith had to push him further , then he cuts Duncan off mid sentence. How often did they make the point by the way that grouse shooting was mainstay of the rural economy? and did you know that if game keeper are found out they face jail. Aye right.

      [Ed: personal abuse deleted]

  6. Its not what we want….. but its an inevitable step on the way to a ban…
    Effectively, licencing is a ban unless they comply with the conditions.
    our task is to ensure that task is to ensure that correct range of conditions are applied and that they can be enforced.
    The governments instinct will be to go for a light touch approach. Only covering a few factors and probably self regulating with minimal reporting.
    The licence conditions should cover land management/condition, compliance with the law and compliance with current food standards.
    A major weakness will be the likelihood that it will be linked to weakly worded and poorly defined, industry written, codes of practice… for example the muirburn code. The much maligned muirburn code is currently being re-written by the ……Moorland Association! I bet that it will be just as vague as the current code, the spirit of which is rarely followed but its virtually impossible to actually “break”.
    Muirburn should not be done without an approved and publicly accessible plan.
    We want to be sure that deliberate muirburn on blanket bog or up a burn sides means loss of a licence.
    We want to see a confirmed report of one person burning one or more fires on their own, leads to the loss of a licence.
    Failure to check a burn site for nests or other protected species…loss of licence.
    Burn a juniper bush or dwarf birch…loss of licence.

    Do everything that you are supposed to do, in the way you are supposed to do it…. and you can in enjoy the privilege of operating a shoot.

    What’s the problem, they say they do it anyway?

    1. Exactly! There can be no compromises – licence is automatically revoked for ANY bad practice – AND remains revoked throughout any appeal process. (I can dream anyway!).

  7. ‘Game shooting is a major contributor to the Scottish rural economy and supports jobs in rural areas.’
    Good to see the BBC propagating grouser propaganda as fact.

    1. Without that piece of unsubstantiated tripe the grouse moors are seriously up shite creek without a paddle. So far NOT ONE prominent proponent of driven grouse shooting has signed a petition for what is only the type of full and impartial economic study that should be standard for any industry with significant social, environmental and ecological impacts especially one that receives public subsidy. In fact I doubt from the comments that have been left on the petitions page that ANY grouse shooter has signed – I’ve made pretty strenuous efforts to make sure everybody from those at the Fieldsports Channel to Angus Glens Moorland Forum knows about it and underlining that if they are sincere in their belief DGS is vital for rural communities they should be delighted in having a chance to prove that officially. Deafening silence and no signatures and I won’t be shy in pointing that out if I get a hearing to speak to MSPs about the petition. When nothing says everything.

  8. The minute politicians are involved it will be the usual watered down botch up. If it comes about who will police it? These grouse moors are a relic from Queen Vitoria`s time, will Balmoral be subject to these new laws? We should petition the Queen to turn her Balmoral estate into a nature reserve, then the other grouse moor owners will be forced due to public opinion to follow suit. Some bloody hope!!!!

    1. Given her and her brood’s attitude to wildlife Brenda is not going to do that anytime soon: they were up blasting 2,000+ brace of grouse into oblivion last season. Nobody can tell me they all ended up on a dinner plate somewhere. They used the soldiery, paid for by our taxes, as beaters.

      [Ed: a point of clarification – the soldiers used as beaters by the Royal Family last season weren’t paid for by our taxes, according to a written response about this from the MOD – all 70 of them were on a ‘day off’, apparently]

      1. Grouse shooters in my study area used to exploit young men from the local approved school (borstal) on their ‘days off’! Apparently slavery and subservience are ‘character building.’

  9. License to operate and a licensing system aren’t one and the same thing. License to operate is genuinely about ‘big society’ and we’ve been there before – in 1988 commercial forestry came within a whisker of losing it license to operate, and the sudden stop to upland planting as a result of the removal of tax relief lost many, many jobs in just the same fragile rural economies as grouse shooting – its not that it can happen, it has happened and it has been a long haul back for forestry, based entirely on listening to people’s genuine concerns and acting on them – even when it was painful financially or in giving up fondly held beliefs. Not much sign of that with driven grouse shooting, and as has been pointed out the denials and red herrings push the outcome towards the extreme – a ban – rather than any compromise. Lord Johnstone did at least recognise that self regulation has failed before he threw in his red herring about public intereference – but thats not going to take SLE very far. Certainly in England the shooting lobby has squandered its golden hour – the time to put things right was – and is – always when your side is in power – it gives the top cover and cheer leading to do the right thing so when the wind changes you’ve dealt with at least some of the issues. Lead was always low hanging fruit for shooting – an easy concession – and look what happened over that. So its been denial and insults, and now far more suddenly than anyone could have predicted the wind has changed and there are still people wondering why repealing the fox hunting ban isn’t a Government priority !

    1. Let’s hope if a licensing system comes in , that one of the conditions is a ban on lead shot. See Mark Avery’s blog today about the possibility of leaded game being donated for school meals!

      1. The more ‘add on’ conditions suggested for a licensing system the less likely it is to happen.

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