Scottish Land & Estates and their indefensible distortion of the truth

So, following RSPB Scotland’s recent appeal for information relating to the suspicious disappearance of hen harrier Calluna on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park, we’ve blogged a bit about the response given by landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates (SLE).

First of all we had SLE’s Chairman Lord David Johnstone (Dumfriesshire Dave) quoted in various newspapers on Friday 1 Sept as follows:

“Estates in the area have welcomed a number of hen harriers to the area during August and only today one moor reported three harriers. Local land managers reject the inference that the loss of signal from this tag is connected to grouse moor management and are now offering every assistance in searching the area where the last transmission was recordedThey are dismayed that they were not informed earlier that the tag had stopped transmitting nearly three weeks ago, as this would have assisted the search”.

Then on Saturday 2 Sept we had SLE Board member and Chairman of SLE’s north-east branch, David Fyffe, quoted in a Press & Journal article claiming that RSPB Scotland had not followed the agreed protocol as defined by the Partnership for Action on Wildlife Crime (PAW Scotland) – a claim we exposed as being patently untrue. We argued that David Fyffe owed RSPB Scotland an apology.

Also on Saturday 2 September, the following letter appeared in The Times (Scotland edition) from Dumfriesshire Dave:


Sir, readers might well infer that the fate of Calluna, the missing satellite-tagged hen harrier, is linked to the management of grouse moors (report, Sept 1). Estates in the Deeside area are appalled at this idea. At this stage, no one knows what has happened to the bird. The problem with the “guilty until proven innocent” attitude taken by the RSPB is that it may be successful in smearing shooting estates but it fails to involve the very people who are best placed to help: land managers and gamekeepers.

The possibility of any species being killed deliberately or accidentally cannot be discounted, and we do not seek to deny that this happened on shooting estates previously. Equally, there have been various instances where sat-tags have stopped working and birds have reappeared later, as the RSPB itself has demonstrated at the Langholm project this year. The search would have been assisted greatly had land managers been informed around the time of Calluna’s disappearance.

David Johnstone, Chairman, Scottish Land & Estates

A response letter from RSPB Scotland has today been published in The Times:


Sir, David Johnstone of Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) is wrong to infer that our public appeal for information to find out the fate of a missing satellite tagged hen harrier “Calluna” is an attempt to smear the reputation of local shooting estates (Letter, Sept 2). The satellite tags used are extremely reliable, highlighted recently in a Scottish Government report on missing satellite tagged golden eagles. It is exceptionally rare for a tagged bird, whose tag was working perfectly normally, to simply disappear. When this happens it is rightly treated by the public authorities as highly suspicious, and PAWS (Partnership for Action on Wildlife Crime Scotland) protocols then dictate that local land managers should not be informed.

It is an indisputable fact that the vast majority of other missing satellite tagged raptors that have disappeared in suspicious circumstances have done so on land that is managed for driven grouse shooting. Despite overwhelming evidence to support this assertion, of which SLE is fully aware, they instead choose to ignore facts to suit its narrow agenda and “shoot the messenger”.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management, RSPB Scotland.

So far, so predictable. SLE using every opportunity to slag off the RSPB and by doing so, shift attention from the actual issue – that yet another sat-tagged raptor has disappeared on another grouse shooting estate.

But then this morning, the following statement appeared on SLE’s website, again attributed to Dumfriesshire Dave:

The statement looks basically to be the same one reported in the press last Friday, but there is an important additional sentence right at the end. Referring to the fact that local land managers were not informed at the time the tag had stopped working, Dumfriesshire Dave says:

All members of the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime, including ourselves, agree that this is the recommended way of dealing with such incidents“.

Sorry, Dave, but there’s no sugar-coating this – that is a blatant lie. And a demonstrably blatant lie at that. Given that RSPB Scotland is also a member of the PAW partnership, and they clearly disagree with your statement, your claim is an indefensible distortion of the truth.

As we’ve pointed out several times on this blog, the PAW protocol is clear and RSPB Scotland has followed it to the letter.

The behaviour of Scottish Land & Estates is inexcusable and they owe RSPB Scotland a full apology. They also owe the other members of PAW Scotland an apology for misrepresenting the PAW position.

If a full apology is not forthcoming, the PAW Scotland Secretariat should reconsider SLE’s continued membership of this so-called partnership with a view to an immediate suspension, followed by a hearing to consider whether there are sufficient grounds for SLE’s removal from the group.

18 thoughts on “Scottish Land & Estates and their indefensible distortion of the truth”

  1. As SLE don’t seem to accept the protocols established by the partnership,should they not now be removed from PAW.
    Are there other more enlightened partners representing estates with good working practices and environmental credentials that could take their place?

  2. ‘ readers might well infer that the fate of Calluna, the missing satellite-tagged hen harrier, is linked to the management of grouse moors (report, Sept 1). Estates in the Deeside area are appalled at this idea.’


    Reaction from estates in the Deeside area, what it might have looked like.

  3. There’s clearly a flaw in the Sattelite tags used on birds of prey. They seem to stop working the instant they hit the airspace of driven grouse moors. Given that it can’t possibly be the owners and their staff killing these birds, the very thought of it is “appalling”, the only possible solution is that the grouse themselves have radicalised and are killing these raptors, disabling the tags and burying the evidence the little tinkers.

  4. Surprise the focus is being shifted onto “who didn’t follow protocol”.

    Whilst the main issue is forgotten: investigation into the suspected killing of a protected and rare bird.

    Wonder if the police are even involved.
    Has there been any attempt to trace witnesses.
    Has there been a search to recover the bird,tag or any other evidence.

    Yet another example of why PAW, police, protocols are ineffective and not relevant.

    Firmly playing into the hands of those that seek to profit from driven grouse and pheasant shooting.

    1. Surprise the focus is being shifted onto “who didn’t follow protocol”.


      But it allows an opportunity to highlight the mendacious,sanctimonious, hypocrisy of SLE and the DGS industry.

      And to keep the issue in the spotlight.

      1. Dave

        I take your point however the wider less well informed public won’t care about a protocol not being followed and the main focus is lost.

        National newspapers are very reluctant to use wildlife killing storiental unless it’s elephants rhinos etc.

        The wider public need to more informed and engaded .This will result in positive change.

        1. The wider public won’t take any notice, but MSPs and the Scottish Government will. The whole issue of raptor persecution, and a licensing system for shooting estates, is now very much on the political agenda at Holyrood, and that’s where the focus should be for the moment. A move to have SLE kicked out of PAW will not go unnoticed.

  5. Thanks for a very concise update on this topic. Duncan Orr Ewing’s letter in response is good. The conclusion that there should be a reaction and censure from PAW is entirely right and that apologies should be forthcoming, can we lobby PAW to that effect?

  6. The implication that Scottish Land & Estates is making is that it is impossible that a Hen Harrier can be killed on a driven grouse moor. In the past yes but not now or in the future.
    It is absurd but they are showing their true colours.

  7. “All members of the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime, including ourselves, agree that this is the recommended way of dealing with such incidents“

    I think they are twisting things and mean that all PAW agreed to the protocol. It is a refusal to understand that there was a suspicious circumstance hence a massive distortion of fact. They think mud will stick but actually the only mud is on their face.
    Strange that they daren’t slander the police for also following the correct protocol.

  8. They should be kicked out of paw as quickly as possible and while your at it kick driven grouse shooting off the moors, they have had their chance and have no intention of changing, it’s just a never ending circle

  9. Good news all round – they are damned by their own utterances .
    Fascinating when one links this & other disappearances to the amazingly quick recolonisation of moorlands in the Leadhills area by Hen harriers as soon as driven grouse shooting ceases.

    A very simple equation which only the fools in the driven grouse shooting industry would try to spin to their own advantage.

    They are getting rattled now that their criminality is more widely recognised.

    Keep up the pressure !

  10. The Grouse Lobby seems to be falling over themselves to lure the RSPB into collaborating with them. This should be no surprise given the outcomes in 1998 during the Hen Harrier Survey in the Ladder Hills just a few miles NE of where Calluna disappeared. Your article on 2nd February 2016 states,

    “The second point of interest from this paper is the revelation that RSPB fieldworkers who were participating in the 1998 National Hen Harrier Survey were required to inform Estates about their survey visits and any subsequent survey results pertaining to their land, and in some cases were accompanied to those sites by the Estates’ gamekeepers. Is it just coincidence that many of the hen harrier nests that were recorded in NE Scotland during that survey year ‘mysteriously’ failed, and the number of sites found the following year dropped significantly from previous years? We don’t think so”

    Same old, same old

  11. I have worked on these moors for a couple of years and know the Keepers there well – their knowledge of and genuine interest in birdlife in particular has been a pleasure to engage with. For them to commit a criminal act would render them unemplolyable, with consequent issues of homelessness and loss of income. It would be helpful if single-issue groups such as this one took a less hysterical and biased view. Simply paying a visit to an estate and speaking to people who live and work there would be a step in the right direction.

    ‘Grouse Beater’

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