New RSPB report details ongoing illegal slaughter of raptors on Scottish grouse moors

RSPB Scotland has published its latest report (The illegal killing of birds of prey in Scotland 2015-17 Report) which details amongst other things the ongoing illegal slaughter of birds of prey on Scottish grouse moors.

Press release from RSPB Scotland:

Grouse moor regulation vital to end illegal killing of Scotland’s raptors

A new RSPB Scotland report published today [Friday 14th December] has further reinforced the need for grouse moor regulation to be introduced in order to bring to an end to the widespread persecution of raptors in Scotland. The Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland 2015-17 details the clear associations between the decline or absence of these birds in parts of Scotland’s uplands, intensive grouse moor management and wildlife crime.

The report brings together evidence from police investigations, scientific research and eye-witness accounts and shows that the vast majority of these raptor persecution incidents are occurring in areas of Scotland’s uplands managed for intensive driven grouse shooting.

During the three-year period covered, there were 38 confirmed, detected incidents of illegal killing of protected birds of prey, including shooting, trapping, illegal poisoning and nest destruction. However, the evidence makes clear that the crimes being recorded are a fraction of what is actually taking place, despite claims by some in the grouse moor industry that raptor persecution is falling.

Such crimes are continuing to adversely impact the populations and ranges of several bird of prey species. A national survey of the UK’s hen harriers, undertaken in 2016, revealed that Scotland’s breeding population had fallen by nine percent since 2010, and that the number on grouse moors had plummeted by 57 percent. A further study, published in 2016, commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage, confirmed that the sustained level of illegal killing remains the major factor preventing the growth of northern Scotland’s red kite population.

Furthermore, in the case of 18 hen harriers fitted with satellite tags, and known to have died or whose transmitters failed between 2015-17, it is likely that eight were illegally killed on or close to grouse moors. Given that only a relatively small proportion of hen harriers are satellite tagged, the number of non-tagged birds being illegally killed will be far higher. This is also the case with other marked raptors, including golden eagles.

Yet, despite robust wildlife crime legislation, improved to a large extent since 1999 by the Scottish Parliament, there have been very few prosecutions. Only five individuals were convicted of offences related to raptor persecution in these three years. Most crimes take place in isolated rural areas, concealed from the public eye, and with perpetrators who have become increasingly adept in covering their tracks to prevent detection. However, the decisions by the Crown Office to drop four prosecutions linked to raptor persecution offences during this period raises the question of whether current wildlife protection legislation is fit for purpose, or if new laws are needed to allow more effective enforcement, and to act as a genuine deterrent.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “Scotland’s birds of prey are for many a source of national pride, but there are some who are persistently intent on doing them harm, in flagrant disregard of the law and the public interest. There is clear and repeated evidence that this criminal activity is largely taking place on Scotland’s grouse moors, but the grouse industry has not addressed this long-standing and endemic problem; instead we are seeing increasing signs of a culture where some grouse moor managers feel, and act, as if they are untouchable. We believe that the majority of the Scottish public have had enough; repeated warnings from Government have not been heeded, and the time must be right for tougher action”.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management said: “Intensive grouse moor management is having a disproportionate impact on our important upland ecosystems and specially protected birds and is blighting Scotland’s reputation as a place which respects vulnerable and protected wildlife. Self-regulation, voluntary codes of practice, and dialogue have all patently failed to address cultural and systematic criminality, as well as bad land management practices. We have reached a point where it is abundantly clear that driven grouse shooting must be made more publicly accountable and effectively regulated through a robust licensing system, conditional on legal and sustainable land management practices. Grouse moor owners who adhere to the law and best practice should have nothing to fear from this approach.”

An independent grouse moor review was set up by the Scottish Government in 2017, following the publication of a Scottish Natural Heritage Report, that concluded that many satellite tagged golden eagles were disappearing in “suspicious circumstances” in areas managed for intensive grouse shooting. The review is examining the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices and possible options for regulation and is due to report to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform in spring 2019.


This report contains some fascinating information, some of it previously unpublished, and we’ll be blogging about some of those things in the coming days.

For now though, well done and thanks to the RSPB Scotland team for putting together this report (and thanks also for producing it as a PDF instead of a webzine!). This is undoubtedly the most strongly-worded RSPB annual report we’ve ever seen, which is perhaps an indication of just how little patience is left amongst those expecting the Government to take action against this relentless criminality from many within the grouse shooting sector.

9 thoughts on “New RSPB report details ongoing illegal slaughter of raptors on Scottish grouse moors”

  1. Given the grouse moor industry’s feeling of untouchabiity, the culture of raptor persecution will get even worse if current steps to regulate grouse shooting are unsuccessful.
    Be prepared for even worse times ahead if the criminals [ grouse moor owners and managers ] and their slaves [ keepers ] are not brought within the law.
    The problem is also present in other upland and some lowland pheasant and partridge shoots.
    It was always going to be a long battle, but things may be about to get worse.
    The culpability of the governments’ own conservation agencies in aiding the criminals will also get more ingrained.
    Personally, I suspect that only political change with a change of government will produce results, but I hope the current incumbents prove me wrong [ as never before ! ].

    Keep up the pressure !

    1. Political change is the only alternative, it won’t come from the Tories. Furthermore the BBC need to take a serious look at their complete and utter failure to cover this massive story. Come on you tossers, report the facts as they are and stop ignoring this issue, you owe it to the public who pay your wages.

  2. It may exist already, but it would be interesting to see a map of all the HH (and others like Golden Eagle) locations where tags have stopped transmitting, with the name of the site, ownership and sporting managers/agents involved.

  3. A good strong report from the RSPB. Something must be done and licensing seems to be one of the solutions. Thank you RSPB.

  4. Wow. Mark Avery’s blog today is right. Reading the introduction, which appears to be attributed to the new Director, Ann McCall, this is really upping the game.
    ‘decades of self-regulation, partnership initiatives, codes of good practice and promises from the grouse shooting sector have singularly failed to address the systemic criminality associated with parts of the industry. ‘
    I shall be sending this to my MSP Mike Russell (a former Env Minister).
    Can’t wait for the spinning of webs of deceit from Gilruth and co., it should be hilarious.

  5. I have taken time to review the document.
    I find myself in total agreement with the content and somewhat with the conclusions.
    There are many revelations in the report of which I as a member of the public was not aware. I hope that the RSPB revelations will not cause any difficulty for the RSPB working in partnership with the police. In my opinion, it should not.
    There are, however, those within the Criminal Justice system who have been known to harbour ill feelings towards the RSPB. I cannot say for sure if this is represented in my review below.
    In relation to the matters in the document, I would make the following comments. I would probably have preferred to make these direct to the RSPB, but the post which has the report attached does not allow comments.
    These comments relate to P15 of the report, about the Brewlands Estate and similar cases.
    I made a final review of the correspondence between the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Office (COPFS) and the convener of the Environment Climate Change and Land Reform Committee (ECCLRC) in May 2017 at
    From this I have concluded 2 things.
    First that “The purpose of investigating and detecting crime is not one of those purposes. It follows that someone who is on land for such a purpose is not there pursuant to the rights granted under the Act.” means that COPFS accept that someone with job as an investigator in the RSPB cannot give evidence in a case unless he has permission from the owner to be on the land or is invited to be on the land by the police. Of course, my review does not agree that this is in accord with present legislation, but the wording in the correspondence is so clumsy that I agree a better case could conceivably have been made, although not enough to convince me.
    Second that “Crown Counsel concluded that the placing of covert cameras was, in those cases, for the purpose of detecting crime and, as that activity was not authorised,the subsequent video evidence was obtained irregularly.” was taken as an instruction by COPFS members dealing with the cases. The description of Crown Counsel is as follows: ‘Together, the Lord Advocate, Solicitor General and the Advocate Deputes are known as Crown Counsel.’ I assume that they are part of COPFS. As this is the case, a decision by Crown Counsel would not or could not be questioned closely by those prosecuting the cases. This might also explain why the correspondence did not include a reference to the guidance in the application of RIP(S)A which says: “3.30. Covert surveillance that is likely to reveal private information about a person but is carried out by way of an immediate response to events would not require a directed surveillance authorisation. RIP(S)A is not intended to prevent public authorities from fulfilling their legislative functions. To this end section 1(2)(c) of RIP(S)A provides that surveillance is not directed surveillance when it is carried out by way of an immediate response to events or circumstances the nature of which is such that it is not reasonably practicable for an authorisation to be sought for the carrying out of the surveillance.” If they had, the absurdity of the position taken by Crown Counsel in the case of Craig Graham and other similar cases would have been evident to anyone reading the correspondence. The actions taken by those who discovered the illegal trap and the police who recovered the camera footage with them could hardly be a closer fit for the circumstances.
    I find it difficult to see how any other conclusion could be reached.
    I have no difficulty in agreeing with the RSPB version in the report. The revelation of the Lord Advocate’s letter to the RSPB, although not revealed previously to my knowledge, does not sway my opinion in any way.
    My best interpretation relies on the saying that they “didn’t expect a Spanish Inquisition!”
    Crown Counsel could never have expected that the decision would be as closely questioned as it was by The ECCLRC convener. Well done that man.
    Interestingly, my interpretation does mean that, although the specialist wildlife crime prosecutor may have felt obliged to support the Crown Counsel direction, it does allow that the COPFS personnel did not agree with it, as was implied at the ECCLRC meeting in January 2018 by COPFS personnel. There is no indication of how strongly they presented their case.
    My conclusion, I believe to be similar to that of the RSPB, suggests that the scales of Justice in Scotland have been heavily imbalanced in favour of criminals in some cases of wildlife crime, this imbalance is unsupported by the existing legislation, and is a stain on the Scottish Justice system. The Scottish Justice system should have a means to cleanse this stain, without input from elsewhere. So far, it does not seem to have reacted.

  6. During my time with RSPB Investigations – 1984 to 2007 – I became aware of a strong shift away from a presumption of partnership working between the Crown Office and RSPB. This was caused by elements friendly to the shooting lobby driving a wedge between why would that be??…The issue of admissability of evidence obtained by access to land, with or without film/video involvement has long been a fraught one with court decisions varying wildly…but what is very obvious is that the Crown Office does not seem to have been wanting to improve the situation with regards to providing best evidence for courts, in what has increasingly been in the public interest – wildlife crime is now in the forefront of the publics knowledge and concern. Are the Crown Office happy with the law as it stands?..Why??

    1. Dave, as you know, the 2 cases referred to above followed on from the only recent successful conviction and imprisonment involving a gamekeeper whom I understand was protecting pheasants from Goshawks and the like. Clearly it is a possibility that this is a change for the worse yet again, and the successful conviction will not have gone down well in some quarters. I believe it is likely, as I described above, that Crown Counsel has possibly decided to put a stop to convictions initiated by RSPB investigators once and for all. It was fortunate that the close scrutiny by the ECCLRC revealed as much as it did. I assume that the revelations by the RSPB, which I would suspect are unusual, are a result of their unhappiness at the actions of the Lord Advocate and Crown Counsel who must as a minimum be uncomfortable at what has come into the public domain. I will also try to make them as uncomfortable as possible, if I’m permitted, now that the RSPB has acted in such a forthright manner. When we factor in the Tillypronie case, or should I say non case, as we have no idea how this was suppressed (squashed?) for over 3 years, before I assume that the police were permitted to inform SNH about a case where there was no prospect of a conviction. If the same reasoning was used in that case it could explain the delay until a decision was made to bring the proceedings to an end in the known cases.
      Exciting times, and much to ponder as to how best to put my case. I’ll try my best not to become squashed in the same manner as the Tillypronie case, but it will take careful wording and committee members ready to understand the issues.

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