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!