Scottish Government announces Grouse moor management review group

Back in May 2017, Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced an intention to set up an independently-led group to review grouse moor management practices, and to advise on the introduction of an estate shoot licensing scheme. This was mainly in response to the publication of the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, which found that almost one third of sat-tagged golden eagles had disappeared in highly suspicious circsumstances on intensively managed driven-grouse moors. But make no mistake, this was also in response to increased public pressure from the SRSG’s petition calling for game shoot licensing and also in response to increasing public anger about the continuing illegal persecution of birds of prey on driven grouse moors.

[Photo: Conservationist Roy Dennis with dead golden eagle ‘Alma’ – one of Roy’s first satellite-tagged eagles that was found illegally poisoned on an Angus Glens grouse moor]

Finally, almost six months after that first announcement, the Scottish Government has just released the news about who will serve on this review group.

Here’s the Scottish Government press statement:

New group to focus on sustainability of driven-grouse moors.

Membership of an independent group to ensure grouse moor management practices are sustainable and legally compliant has been confirmed.

The new group will be led by Professor Alan Werrity, who previously chaired a Scottish Natural Heritage review into sustainable moorland management. It includes scientists, moorland managers, regulatory experts and advisers from SNH, Scottish Wildlife Trust, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.

The group has been set up in response to SNH research that found almost a third of golden eagles being tracked by satellite died in suspicious circumstances and that the majority of cases were where land is intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

The group will look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls and advise on the option of licensing grouse shooting businesses.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said:

We have been clear that the continued killing of protected species of birds of prey damages the reputation of law-abiding gamekeepers, landowners and the country as a whole.

This new group will look at what we can do to balance our commitment to tackling wildlife crime with grouse moor management practices, so it continues to contribute to our rural economy, while being sustainable and compliant with the law.

The group membership reflects the complex nature and wide range of issues that need to be considered and I look forward to hearing their advice in due course.”

Professor Werrity said:

This is truly challenging work given the traditions underlying moorland management and the concerns coming to light over some mal-practices.

My earlier work chairing the SNH Moorland review also sought to reconcile nature conservation interests with promoting the rural economy. I will be taking an evidence-based approach, and for this we have the right mixture of experience, expertise and knowledge on the group to get to grips with the subject. I look forward to getting started on this review. ”


Read the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review

The confirmed membership of the group includes Professor Alan Werrity FRSE, Professor Ian Newton OBE, FRS, FRSE, Professor Alison Hester FSB, (Professor Colin Reid FRSA – see update below) and moorland managers Alexander Jameson BLE MRICS FAAV and Mark Oddy MRICS CEnV MIAagrM.

[Update 28 Nov 2017: Law professor joins grouse moor management review group, here ]

Dr Calum Macdonald (SEPA), Professor Des Thompson (SNH), Dr Adam Smith (GWCT Scotland) and Susan Davies (SWT) will be specialist advisers to the group.


Here is the response from RSPB Scotland to today’s announcement:

RSPB Scotland welcomes announcement of grouse moor enquiry

RSPB Scotland has welcomed today’s announcement by the Scottish Government on the grouse moor enquiry panel. Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management for RSPB Scotland said: “We very much welcome the announcement of this enquiry and of the independent panel. We look forward to giving evidence to the panel in due course.

The remit of the panel includes consideration as to how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law. There are significant public concerns about how grouse moors are currently being managed in Scotland, including clear evidence gathered over decades of the illegal killing of birds of prey.

In recent years these concerns have broadened to encompass wider grouse moor management practices, as commercialisation has taken place, with an emphasis on producing very large and unsustainable grouse numbers for sport shooting. These practices include muirburn on peatland habitats which are important as carbon stores for combating climate change, the culling of mountain hares and the medication of ‘wild’ red grouse, both designed to prevent grouse diseases and artificially boost grouse bags.

We support the introduction of an effective licensing system for driven grouse shooting, with sanctions including the removal of such licences where illegal practices are confirmed. A licensing system could be supported by a statutory Code of Practice setting out clear management standards to protect public interests and prevent bad management practices. These kind of licensing systems are common place in other European countries and equally support legitimate and well run shooting enterprises.”


[Photo: the typical landscape of an intensively-managed driven grouse moor in Scotland. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Here is the response from the Scottish Raptor Study Group to today’s announcement:

Scottish Raptor Study Group warmly welcomes today’s announcement by the Scottish Government on the grouse moor enquiry panel.

Patrick Stirling Aird, Secretary of the Scottish Raptor Study Group said, “We are delighted that the membership of the panel has been announced and look forward to providing evidence when called upon to do so“.

The public have increasing concerns around the way in which grouse moors are being operated with a substantial body of science proving beyond all doubt the widespread and illegal persecution of birds of prey on many such moors.

We support the introduction of licensing for driven grouse shooting with enforceable sanctions where illegal practices are confirmed. Such a licensing scheme could incorporate a statutory code of practice which helps to protect the public interest and to prevent bad management practices. This concept is widespread in Europe and elsewhere and works well with legitimate shooting interests.


Here are our first thoughts.

Hallelujah! The panel has finally been announced and presumably its work will now get underway, although notice there is no mention of timescales in the Scottish Government’s statement. That’s not too much of a concern right now – as Roseanna mentions, this work will be complex and it’s in everyone’s interests that it is done thoroughly, so we probably shouldn’t expect any output until at least 2019.

This panel has some serious intellectual heavy weights (Chair, Professor Werrity, and panel members Professors Newton and Hester). All three are at the top of their respective fields and have been for years; their academic achievements and scientific authority are undisputed. We are delighted to see these three involved, especially given Professor Werrity’s intention for having an “evidence-based approach” to the review. Excellent.

The other two panel members (Mr Jameson and Mr Oddy) are a bit of a surprise, to be honest. We didn’t expect to see anybody with such obvious vested interests be part of what had been described as an independently-led review group. Nevertheless, there is probably good reason for having them on board, not least to get buy-in to the review from the game-shooting sector. We know very little about Mr Jameson and only a little bit about Mr Oddy – he’s the chap who, when working for Buccleuch Estates on the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, suggested that lethal control of buzzards should be a considered option…..but his suggestion was based on no scientific evidence whatsoever, in fact it was the exact opposite of what the science was showing. Hmm.

All in all, just like RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Raptor Study Group, we very much welcome today’s announcement. It is the next step on the road to what many see as the inevitable introduction of an estate licensing scheme in Scotland. We look forward to giving evidence, if invited to do so.

UPDATE 28 November 2017: Law professor joins grouse moor management review group (here)

UPDATE 24 April 2018: Grouse Moor Management Review Group: 1st meeting report (here)

33 thoughts on “Scottish Government announces Grouse moor management review group”

    1. Hi Simon,

      GWCT is not on the panel, it’s Scottish Director is just acting as one of several special advisors. Although it’s fair to question it’s involvement even at this level, granted, but GWCT will not be in a position of authority in terms of this review, and that’s a very good thing.

  1. Am I being unfair or am I just getting a bit jaded to all these working “groups”. I can see the result of this being a walk out by those that are seen to be apologists for the wildlife criminals when the output is not to their liking as per the Lead Ammunition Group.

    1. It’s fun to speculate who’s behind these well informed people posting under pseudonyms

      More importantly, this is a big step forward.

      Well done RPUK, well done Mark Avery, well done BAWC, well done RSPB, but most of all well done to all the raptor study groups who are the people on the ground fighting to save our birds of prey.

  2. I was amazed and saddened to go to a farmers market recently, at the beginning of the grouse season, to find that you could buy a brace of grouse ( feathers on) for £3.00. I asked why so cheap. The answer was that they’re were two estates selling to this trader in competition price wise because they had so many birds to sell. I found myself asking questions about why so much persecution then. Better sell the birds at a better rate and let the wildlife have some too.

    1. The profit is not in the carcass … the profit is in the production of the carcass. The carcass itself is a mere byproduct.

    2. ISTR reading somewhere an older explanation –
      Up goes a fiver
      Bang goes sixpence
      Down comes ten bob.

      It must be the cost of a day’s shooting, or maybe a week’s ‘sporting’ holiday, that pays the bills.

  3. This is welcome news at present, but let us hope no Trojan Horses and flies in the ointment are present in this grand array. What we must appreciate, is that the regime that has dictated what can live and die on the natural landscape of Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, is part of the World War of the Sixth Great Extinction of plant and animal life. That grand extermination process is being conducted in every nook and cranny of the planet; in the marine and terrestrial worlds. It is being well documented with many television programmes, newspaper articles, appeals by campaign organisations such as Avaaz, protest marches to save the Elephants, Rhinos and Lions as symbols of the grand slaughter, etc. Here in the UK we have appeals to save sand dunes with unique wildlife and rare plants, as we are again witnessing with Trump and another USA investor, wanting more dunes for golf courses. The birds of prey issue is our Scottish equivalent of the megafauna and song birds, disappearing from the Earth’s jungles and other major habitats, and along with them, ancient tribal peoples in genocides or removals to slum existence. Our marine environment is being badly affected by trawling and plastic waste, with badly managed fish farms taking their toll of wildlife around them. Our Governments sacrificing precious areas of outstanding natural beauty and scientific natural interest, to the Trump-types, for a promise of creating a few demeaning and low paid jobs, and losing forever magnificent vistas and precious forms of life.

    What has not entered the warped brains of those implicated in this grand slaughter and environmental degradation, is that they are the agents making the Age of Mankind, the Anthropocene, the time when the intelligent Ape lost its role as Steward of the Earth. What can save the planet is the coming into dominance of those who appreciate the incontrovertible fact that animals are sentient beings, and that the restoration of the Earth to being a healthy place to exist on, can only come to be so, if those who disrespect the right to exist and evolve for all living beings, are removed from power permanently, and new generations come manage the planet in a benign manner. The meek shall inherit the Earth. Those who strive to save the Birds of Prey and the wee Mountain Hare, deserve great respect for their compassion and tenacity, in assisting the process of making Scotland a model state for restoring its long lost natural world. A hard road faces everyone so minded, as was seen last week, with the embarrassing Conservative Party denial of sentience for animals, and that coming after Teresa May’s wanting to restore fox hunting after the recent General Election. Also, the rampaging President Trump removing wildlife and environmental protection laws in the USA, endangering many species and human communities with pollution. Fortunately, humane outcry stopped Trump from weakening laws on ivory importation and the animal victims of trophy shooting for taxidermy.

    1. Relevant points brilliantly put as usual Greer Hart . This is the crux of the whole matter – the idea that we dictate what can live or die -the sixth great extinction of plant and animal life- the denial that animals are sentient beings – the arrogance that our intervention is needed to “balance” nature. It will a long struggle to change the mindset however , I have just been looking at the blog of someone who would no doubt class himself and his hanger on as knowledgeable conservationists and he is applauding gamekeepers for trapping and killing “vermin “as a necessity for having a balanced ecosystem . Unbelievable.

  4. Did I spot a new species for Scotland in Roseanna Cunningham’s release, i.e. ‘Gamekeeperus law abidingus’? I’ve never spotted one of those, nor in England. So can someone tell me where |I can find one so I can tick it off?

    1. Slightly amusing but the target shouldn’t really be gamekeepers. That species has been brainwashed into seeing some wildlife as good and some as bad, the latter to be exterminated at every opportunity, so that his/her job is safe. This is like blaming the SSE engineer for the price of electricity going up. The real target should be the estate owners, largely unknown individuals (and entities) living a life detached from most of the rest of us, raking in the money and presumably laughing down their sleeve at us.

      1. I thinks the targets should be both the gamekeepers and the estate owners. While I take your point, some gamekeepers show an enthusiasm for certain aspects of their work that goes beyond mere duty.
        At an HH day last summer, a well-known RPSB investigator told of gamekeepers who only tolerate their job because it gives them the opportunity to kill raptors, and in my experience the killing of wildlife is the highlight of an otherwise dull working day for many.

      2. You really don,t understand the mindset of gamekeepers they LOVE killing , they love guns, they love what they see as a macho life style, they love the implied status that driving about in land rovers lauding it over the countryside gives them,they love rubbing shoulders with the rich list ,and class themselves as almost their equals .They will do anything to please their master , just like a dog does. They would never be able to have this life style under any other circumstance so they will do ANYTHING to keep the status quo. the alternative is they would have to find a real job and somewhere to live.

  5. Lets not forget one other very impotant group who have been permitting the illegal killing of wildlife throughout UK. And despite knowing that these crimes are occurring on an industrial scale and having the powers to make change have done precious little.

    The group i am referring to is politicians.

    In all countries in the UK there is a significant numbers of polititians that are protecting landowners despite knowing the levels of criminal behaviour.

  6. So..another review…I would be far happier if such a group consisted of academics and business persons with absolutely no connection to the scottish countryside. What is needed is an entirely fresh look at the countryside to include landscape, land use and quality of life for all those who live and work there – and for those who visit…that of course would also involve nature conservation….

    A similar, outside, disinterested study of our justice system as regards its lack of success re wildlife crime would be a step in the right direction.

    If anyone thinks that this review will cause some major shift in either attitudes or numbers of raptors/improved habitats, has not been paying attention over the last few decades. Im all for academic, science based knowledge being used to solve our problems but at the end of the day its all about resources and their deployment. We have, for instance, the finances to resource the application of justice against the wildlife criminals operating on shooting estates but not the political will to direct them….

    1. Totally correct as usual Dave , this review will have something in it for both sides to cling on to and claim victory , and of course the killing and poisoning will go on ( it may even increase) . The politicians will look vindicated , they will been seen to be encouraging open debate . They will be greatly relieved not to have to make any decisions , will not have to change anything ,will not have to ruffle any feathers (ha ha). Basically they don’t care , if they did the powers are already there and they could effect huge change if they wanted to but they prefer to talk the thing to death, so they can continually kick the problem into the long grass they are a lazy shower who don’t want to make any decisions. They would of course reply to this by claiming the high ground – listening to both sides ,consensus, zero tolerance to wildlife crime , blah ,blah, blah . I could wallpaper the walls of my house with their replies, and every day the criminals are getting away with it , laughing up their sleeves and our wildlife is being poisoned ,trapped, burned ,shot and god knows what ,and they know it but don’t give a damn

  7. I realise my opinion will be seen by many as out on a limb regarding this announcement, but I honestly expect the outcome of this enquiry will be a significant disappointment to all who care about the future for Hen Harriers, other birds of prey and moorland wildlife in general. The signs are all there – deep presumptions being made that grouse shooting is economically important to Scotland, that it is an entirely acceptable activity per se, and all that needs to change is for the industry to get its house into order. Add to that a notable minority of panel members who have the guts to challenge the establishment, and we can expect a wordy liberal statement of intent which does little but maintain the status quo. Call me a pessimist, but I wouldn’t be surprised in ten, twenty years from now if we are still complaining about the very malpractices this enquiry is intended to eliminate. The same people or similar-minded successors will be in charge, and still bending the truth to pretend that ongoing problems are caused by the few bad eggs, etc, etc., or following the lines that some already do, regarding faulty transmitters, wind turbine strikes and so on. Liberal conservation representatives will continue to seek compromise which doesn’t face up to the reality or the fundamental ethics of recreational killing of wildlife, and more determined individuals like Chris Packham have to start the campaign to ban grouse shooting all over again. I strongly suspect that the likely fudge resulting from this enquiry will make that laudable objective far more difficult to achieve in future, operating as a significant obstacle to further debate. The grouse shooting industry will simply claim, probably falsely, that they have already bent over backwards to facilitate change. Pardon the cliche, but a leopard never changes its spots.

    1. I agree with you Iain. However, in ten, twenty years from now there will probably be no hen harriers left for them to shoot. I personally believe that it is clear by the way that Cunningham has dragged her feet over this, that she has been listening too much to the ‘Dark Side’, who, naturally, have more access to her than ourselves. I am not at all sure that the SNP will get my vote next time round.

      1. I’m of the view that the SNP have made a political calculation that any votes they lose over this issue are likely to go to the Greens, which given the Greens are likely to fall in behind the SNP on any important issue, is no great loss to the SNP.

        From a political perspective though there is still the hope that the SNP will be swayed to introduce a licensing regime, purely because it will differentiate Scotland from the rest of the UK, which is the underlying driving force for most of the SNP’s public policy moves.

    2. I’m inclined to agree Iain. Until the idea that killing wildlife for fun is necessary for the rural economy is successfully challenged I can’t see how significant progress can be made. The cruelty involved in grouse shooting, not just to the birds but to all the other wildlife that has to suffer to make the industry as profitable as possible needs to be recognised by government as not an acceptable way of making financial gain.

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