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 recorded. They 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:
MISSING HEN HARRIER
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.