The Gift of Rogues

Last Thursday, at the invitation of Andy Wightman MSP (Scottish Greens), several conservationists attended the Scottish Parliament for a meeting to discuss illegal raptor persecution with Andy and some of his parliamentary colleagues. It was our privilege to be invited and we are grateful to Andy for the opportunity to contribute to what turned out to be a very productive session.

Prior to the start of our meeting, Andy invited some of us to attend a parliamentary reception for the Gift of Grouse (Gift of Rogues for you anagram fans) hosted by Kate Forbes MSP (SNP) and designed to celebrate red grouse as a ‘healthy and sustainable’ food. We’d actually blogged about this forthcoming event the day before where we’d argued that rather then being ‘healthy and sustainable’, red grouse shot on driven grouse moors were more likely to be toxic, diseased and unsustainably harvested (see here), so we were delighted to be able to attend as invited guests and listen to the speeches.

You can probably imagine the warm and welcoming reception we received from the pack of tweed-clad gamekeepers who’d come along to boost the numbers (the official press statement said the event was attended by “over 60 guests” – it wasn’t, there was about half that number, mostly from the grouse-shooting and game dealer industry and a handful of Conservative MSPs, and us) but all credit to Colin Sheddon (BASC) and Tim (Kim) Baynes (Scottish Land & Estates / Scottish Moorland Group / Gift of Grouse) who came over and introduced themselves. Kate Forbes also made a point of coming over and we had a brief chat about unsustainable driven grouse shooting and its association with the criminal killing of birds of prey.

So, the turn out was lacklustre and to be honest, so were the speeches. We heard from Andrew Hopetoun (of the infamous Leadhills Estate and Chairman of the Scottish Moorland Group) who muttered something about there being “environmental benefits” of driven grouse shooting but failed to elaborate on what those benefits are, and carefully avoided any mention of the long history of recorded raptor persecution at Leadhills, including the alleged shooting last year of a hen harrier and a short-eared owl. (Incidentally, we’re still waiting to see whether SNH imposes a General Licence restriction on this estate).

We heard from Jeremy Dixon of Ochil Foods in Perthshire (the company that supplies red grouse to Michelin-starred chef Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles – you’ll remember him, he’s the one who falsely claimed red grouse are ‘organic’). Jeremy claimed that his company had seen a “five-fold increase in the demand for red grouse last year” – but then he was hardly going to say that his business is struggling to sell an unpopular product.

Then we heard from Chef Brian Grigor (The Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh) who made the extraordinary claim that the red grouse that reaches your plate is ‘truly wild’ and has been ‘untouched by human hand’. Really, Brian? Is this the same ‘truly wild’ and ‘untouched by human hand’ bird that has been raised on a moor where all the native predators have been ruthlessly destroyed and the grouse itself has been netted in the middle of the night to have a powerful drug used in chemotherapy forced down its throat and a pesticide band attached to its leg that will transfer the pesticide directly to the grouse to kill off ticks (also used as a topical treatment in humans to treat scabies and pubic lice)?

Brian had produced some grouse canapes for the reception and needless to say we weren’t tempted. We did consider collecting a few to have them tested for excessive quantities of toxic poisonous lead and a dose of the anti-parasitic wormer drug Flubendazole but that seemed a bit rude. We might instead just visit his restaurant later in the year and buy some grouse for testing.

We did check out the goodie bags but they weren’t up to much, either. Although we did find a pamphlet that repeats a false claim that 81 bird species thrive on grouse moors – a claim we debunked over a year ago.

We left the reception wondering what its objectives had been – a group of grouse-shooting industry insiders talking to some other grouse-shooting industry insiders and a few tame Conservative MSPs all seemed a bit pointless. But then we read this, and of course it all became clear: just another PR propaganda exercise designed to portray political support for the industry, although this time they probably hadn’t banked on Andy Wightman MSP having the final word:

There’s no assurance standards around grouse, we don’t know where the source of it is and we know there’s criminality mainly around the illegal culling of protected raptors.

Produce from a system that involves criminal activity should not get to the plates of high end restaurants.

I would also question whether grouse is healthy.”

Amusingly, our presence at this event prompted this outburst from Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association Director, Bert Burnett (thanks to the blog reader who sent us these images). A free Gift of Rogues goodie bag for anyone who can spot the irony!

26 thoughts on “The Gift of Rogues”

  1. What a laugh these people would be, if their actions weren’t so steeped in wildlife crime and environmental damage. I wouldn’t normally indulge in snobbery, but at least we have little to fear from the level of intellect displayed in most of their comments. Why the resentment at the presence of RSPB and RPUK? Are they upset that their clandestine get together to attempt to persuade a few Conservative MPs to support grouse shooting, (obviously already a fait accompli), was invaded by the enemy? It’s not as if you indulged in heckling or any other form of disruption. Thank heavens for Andy Wightman inviting along informed and expert observers. I would however recommend caution regarding the ‘friendly’ approach by some supporters of shooting. They are usually the clever diplomatic careerists who are the most dangerous in successfully winning over gullible politicians. I’m sure we all know that.

  2. What a wonderful insight into the depth of thought and eloquence of speech portrayed by the retired? committee member of the Scottish Gamekeepers and his cohorts. Even lingustic giants like Bert and Co. could find nothing to praise in regasrds to the Gift of Grouse fiasco so they simply turned their fire on to the moral characters of those who oppose them. This simply exposed them as as anachronisms of an age long gone who might feel more at home in Brigadoon, if they do not already reside there. A wonderful expose. Thank you.

      1. That’s even worse RPUK. How can the powers that be expect the RSPB to engage in any form of cooperation with an organisation which has a director a man who publicly whips up such hatred against them?

      2. I think you have to be careful about drawing firm conclusions – both CH and Charity Commission can be slow at changing Directors/Trustees details even when they have been informed about them by the board. I speak from experience.
        Doesn’t mean that you’re wrong though, or that he isn’t serving in some “ex officio” role.
        Anyway, well done as always RPUK. Keep getting those pictures out of the tweed clad apologists, I suspect given how that garb is probably perceived by ordinary folk that a picture really is worth a thousand words.

  3. Well done Andy and RPUK, nice to see Burnett’s learned a new word – bile , handy for describing his own outpourings .

  4. I’m not at all surprised that political support was so lack lustre, since the first GoG there’s been a hell of a lot of toxic water under the bridge, including the SNH report on the sat tagged eagles that ‘disappeared’ over grouse moors and the petition to stop mountain hares being slaughtered. An awful lot of stuff to deal with for a silly hobby that is and can only ever be ‘enjoyed’ by a tiny minority, if I was an MSP I’d be utterly pissed off with it by now and it seems they kept away in droves – perhaps they saw Countryfile last week.

  5. Brilliant work guys, infiltrating behind the enemy lines, very brave! the walls are crumbling down in Scotland, hopefully it will return to being a mecca for Raptor enthusiasts instead of being a passing point on the way to Mull just wish we could do the same south of the border

  6. Same old shite ( or should that be ‘bile’) from Bert! Makes you laugh really! With his o’s (sic) and his wi’s (sic). So pretentious! Still, with their backs being increasingly pushed back up against the wall they are going to resort to ever-increasing unpleasantness, it’s all they have going for them because they are totally unable to fight their corner in any other way. As an analogy I think back to the miners strike. Unfortunately, the UK found it could live without miners and, I believe, it will soon find that it can certainly live without DGS – or perhaps even ‘shooting for sport’ completely. I had an awful lot of sympathy for the miners. I have sympathy for the honest wildfowler who shoots for the pot alone. I believe the ball is really in the latter court, they need to sort out their own house before it is sorted for them, to their own detriment. Public opinion is beginning to shift. Sorry Bert, you will soon become a dinosaur! Better enjoy it while you can!

  7. “They are a part of society that continually feeds off the public’s charity.”

    That’s from Bert about everybody who despises the richly subsidised tiny minority for whom he is a lickspittle lacky.

  8. Supreme Irony with Burnett and Richardson talking about Bile when their expostulations are always so laden with a very toxic mix of it. Yet all you do is turn up at “a bit of a do” for the DGS lobby that turns out to be a bit of a damp squib and be polite. They of course cannot even get their facts right about you consuming or not in this case their grouse canapes, laughable really.

  9. As a matter of interest, apart from Andy Wightman and Kate Forbes, which SNP’s did turn up for the grouse canapés?

    1. We saw John Scott MSP (Conservative) – he’s the one who recently said “Notwithstanding the alleged predation of hen harriers by land managers, I still believe that the safest place for hen harriers to raise chicks is on well-managed grouse moors” See:

      We saw Murdo Fraser MSP (Conservative).

      We saw Ed Mountain MSP (Conservative) – who has yet to show any evidence of being the self-styled “fiercest critic” of criminal gamekeeping activity. See:

      Rachael Hamilton (Conservative) was reported to be there but we didn’t see her.

      There may have been others we just didn’t see.

      1. Fraser would be there for the free grub , he is xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx, and over 16 years a serial failure .
        Eight times since 1997 he has tried and failed to be elected to – well anything really and each time has been roundly rejected . Got a regional List walk in after a previous member fell ill. Allegedly has xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx and has NEVER been elected. What a political system we have.

  10. A bit of a side-note in the context of this issue, but as a pollination biologist I’m intrigued to see, on the GoG propaganda leaflet, that they are arguing that they ‘protect Scotland’s honeybees’ on heather moorland. There is a growing feeling amongst pollination biologists that “honeybee conservation” is a contradiction in terms, as honeybees are essentially a managed agricultural animal and offer direct competition for resources to native, wild pollinators. In other words, in areas where honeybees are not actively increasing crop yields, there is absolutely no justification for helping them!

    For those who have access, this article in last week’s Science magazine gives a more detailed summary of the issue (proving that it is a very current concern!):

    1. Would I be right in saying that the dominance of heather means that when it’s not in flower even pollinators that can feed on it would be struggling – bee hives aren’t left on moors permanently are they, just as is the case with agricultural crops? Obviously species which do better on other flower types than they do on heather would be pretty stuffed. I’m an interested layman so am prepared to be contradicted, but I just can’t see these near mono cultures being much good for biodiversity. I believe that muirburn also drastically reduces the number and range of flowering plants, so over a substantial proportion of northern Britain pollinators are seriously compromised. We need more people like yourself from more specialist areas chipping in with the truth – how can bats do well on grouse moors without any roost sites, how is aquatic life impacted by muirburn etc? How many of the 60% of species identified as declining in the State of Nature report could have a bit of a recovery if the vast area ‘managed’ for grouse shooting became a proper, more natural habitat mosaic? Identified raptor persecution is the tip of the iceberg re the actual amount going on, and the loss of raptors is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the full wildlife loss thanks to grouse shooting. Thanks for the link!

      1. Les – I think you’re right. You’ll be pleased to hear that I’m currently fleshing my comment out into a full blog, and have made much the same point. With luck that will be online and publicised in the near future.

        I totally agree that it would be great to hear more detail from more specialist areas – precisely why I have been waiting for the right moment to chime in with my tuppence worth as a pollination biologist!

        1. I’m really pleased about this CJM!!! If what we had was real, natural(ish) moor it might not be so bad with a mosaic of scrub, lone trees, clumps of trees, even areas of bracken – but of course we don’t it’s only for heather for grouse, red grouse in fact and everything else is disposable. I once stressed to a grouse shooting fan that even if bats were happy to feed over a grouse moor where in god’s name were they expected to roost? She came back to tell me she lived on the edge of a grouse moor and had 400 bats in her chimney – you really couldn’t make this up. The Angus Glens Moorland Group once posted a picture of a flock of waxwings eating berries in a very lonely rowan tree on one of their moors to show how great they are for wildlife – the irony that the rowan was there not because of but in spite of it being for grouse shooting was lost on them. How many of the migrant birds such as redwing, fieldfare, waxwing and maybe brambling are struggling to find something to eat when they make landfall on grouse moors? Are some of these species only rare breeders here because of the lack of proper habitat? Then of course there’s the convenient blind eye turned on what muir burn might be doing to aquatic life and game fishing by the very people paid to look after them. The MA and others keep making incessant and ludicrous claims about the conservation value of their moors and unfortunately a fair few people have picked this up and repeat them rather self righteously. The quicker this was properly challenged the better – hope you’re the first of many.

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