Is Scottish Government’s silence an indication of indifference to illegal raptor persecution?

In the last week there have been two big news stories about the illegal persecution of birds of prey in Scotland.

The first was the news that a satellite-tagged hen harrier called Rannoch was found dead on a grouse moor in the Strathbraan raven cull area of Perthshire, with an illegally-set spring trap attached to her leg (see here).

The second was the news of the suspicious disappearance (presumed dead) of satellite-tagged golden eagles Adam and Charlie, who vanished without explanation on the same morning from another grouse moor in the Strathbraan raven cull area (see here).

Both of these news items received massive media interest and coverage, particularly the two missing golden eagles. It was all over social media, mainstream newspapers and websites, radio shows and even a slot on ITN’s News at Ten.

The general public responded to these stories as any decent human being would – with disgust, horror and in some cases, shock that this sort of criminality, both suspected and confirmed, continues within our supposedly progressive society.

Young kids (and some adults) were sufficiently motivated to draw pictures of eagles, write poetry and even create clay models of dead eagles to send to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon:

We know that many others have been sufficiently angered by the news that they’ve been motivated to follow MSP Andy Wightman’s lead and write to the First Minister, urging her to take action (

How come then, with this outpouring of public anger, senior politicians in the Scottish Government, who all routinely use Twitter to engage about their work, have failed to say a single word about either case?

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has been silent.

The Environment Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, has been silent.

The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Mairi Gougeon, has been silent.

What’s going on there, then? Should we interpret their collective silence as indifference? That seems pretty unlikely, given that all three politicians have spoken out strongly, passionately and convincingly in the recent past about illegal raptor persecution and their determination to bring it to an end.

So why haven’t they this time? Even the official Twitter channel of the Scottish Government covering the environment and rural economy (@GreenerScotland) has been silent. There was one quote about the two missing eagles, widely used in the media from an unnamed Government spokesman, which simply said:

The disappearance of any bird of prey in suspicious circumstances is of concern and we would urge anyone with information to contact Police Scotland. ‘We are determined to protect birds of prey and have established an independent group to look at how we can ensure grouse moor management is sustainable and complies with the law“.

This was clearly a bog standard response to enquiries from journalists as we could find no formal statement on the Scottish Government’s website. We didn’t find any statement about the illegally-trapped dead hen harrier either.

It seems remarkable that a wide section of society, young and old, has expressed outrage on many different media platforms over the last week, and yet the three politicians who are key to making progress on this issue, have seemingly suppressed what we’d expect to be the normal human reaction to this news (i.e. expressions of anger, horror, determination for change etc) and instead appear to be toe-ing a party political line by saying absolutely nothing. At all.

The Government’s silence is deeply concerning.

Is it, we wonder, part of a strategy to manage expectations on the forthcoming Werritty Review? Will the Werritty Review fall short of expectations? Remember, Werritty was commissioned on the back of a Government-commissioned scientific review that showed satellite-tagged golden eagles were undoubtedly being killed on some Scottish grouse moors. We all expect Werritty’s review to address this issue head on and propose some tangible, meaningful actions to finally get these crimes under control. Are we going to be disappointed? (Expect an almighty firestorm if that is the case).

Why else might the Scottish Government remain silent, on such a high-profile and topical issue? This silence is the sort of response we’ve come to expect from Environment ministers in Westminster, who have shown nothing but wilful blindness to the extent of raptor persecution crimes in England for decades. This silence is not something we expect from the Scottish Government.

It’s worth remembering that the Scottish Parliament has just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Twenty years ago, when the Parliament was established, the then Secretary of State Donald Dewar described illegal raptor persecution in Scotland as “a national disgrace”. He also said:

Although we are all aware of individual incidents of wildlife crime in Scotland, such as theft of eggs and shooting and poisoning of birds of prey, it is less well known that illegal persecution of some species, rather than the lack of suitable habitat, is the reason why in some areas the birds are scarce or non-existent. The government, and no doubt the Scottish Parliament will take all possible steps to eliminate persecution. The government is committed to strengthening protection for wildlife, and in due course the Scottish Parliament will consider proposals from the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime for stronger enforcement measures”.

If you’d like to write to the current First Minister and remind her of the importance of ensuring protection for golden eagles and other birds of prey on the grouse moors of Scotland, please consider sending a polite email to:

Thank you

[Hen harrier ‘Rannoch’ found dead on a grouse moor with an illegal trap clamped to her leg. Photo RSPB Scotland]

33 thoughts on “Is Scottish Government’s silence an indication of indifference to illegal raptor persecution?”

  1. Very affecting to see how some young folk are engaged with this scandal. Very disappointing to see, for whatever reason, the SNP appearing to refuse to engage in the scandalous developments. Political tactics outweighing demonstrable concern for ACTION is what we see here. But then we occupy a space where, for extended periods after wildlife crime is committed, nothing is said by the responsible authorities until they’re ready to speak.

  2. Perhaps the Scottish Government are ‘keeping their powder dry’(pardon the pun) over this and looking to hopefully find answers and solutions from the report that is due.
    It appears to me that there is two entrenched positions here, the anti grouse shooting side who want driven grouse banned completely and then there’s a game industry who will not self regulate to find a happy medium on their moors.
    I’ve followed this story with interest and others, especially the Fred story but refrained from commenting until now as I have a couple of questions that hopefully raptor persecution can answer.
    Firstly, I come from a shooting background, albeit not gamekeeping and I’m keen on raptors too, especially sea eagles having visited Mull in 2006 and have been back almost every year since to see them. Absolutely stunning.
    Anyway, my question(s) relates to the tags and data.
    Having read snippets from this site and watched the video and read various news articles in the two recent missing eagles, I understand the eagles went missing/stopped transmitting at the end of April but the search didn’t take on the estate until sometime in May.
    Is this correct and if so, how come there’s such a delay? How long does it take the tracking data to become available to the rspb or whoever is monitoring it?
    Secondly, my other question is how often are gps readings taking and how often are they transmitted back?
    I noticed on the video that there’s a mass of red dots and straight lines but surely the birds have more gps coordinates than this are they don’t always flying in a straight line.
    I read during the Fred incident that the data is sent back every 6 hours. Is this correct and is it the same for all trackers?
    I think it would help if raptor persecution, Chris packham or rspb could give us an in-depth knowledge of how these trackers operate or would that information be too sensitive and give the game industry too much knowledge on how they operate?
    Hopefully you or somebody can help me. Thanks

          1. Me again. Maybe too detailed a question to ask but are you able to say what make/model of tags were on the two eagles which are missing? Are there more recent ones on the market which are being used and do they have a degree of certainty attached to them or is there not enough evidence?
            Very Interesting read.

      1. I am very hopeful that newer tags, which use GPS, are more accurate and transmit all the time will be available for Golden Eagles soon. The current tags do not use GPS, are only accurate to around 500m and have to go “off air” to recharge.

        [Ed: Hi Pete, I’m afraid this statement is completely inaccurate. Have a read of this report on golden eagle satellite-tagging in Scotland for accurate info on the tags we’re using]:

        Click to access analyses-of-the-fates-of-satellite-tracked-golden-eagles-in-scotland.pdf

        1. While I understand the necessity to protect live and very recent data is there any product available for other tagged birds from areas away from driven grouse moors and their mortality, particularly around wind farms of which there seems to be an insatiable appetite to ‘plant’ which must strike a number of birds (although some of these subsidies may be ending I believe I read a while back)?

          In my opinion to cherry pick and solely focus on grouse moors and sporting estates lacks transparency and actually weakens the case against these locations unless data from all other areas can be freely accessed within reason.

          1. Hi Who is watching the watchers

            The data from sat-tagged golden eagles (and other species) are collected for scientific purposes and that research will eventually be published in peer-review papers once sufficient data are collected (killing these birds hampers the research because not only do we all lose a magnificent individual, we also lose several year’s of potential data).

            Several papers have already been published and there is a lot of ongoing research. We blogged about this last year:


            The data are not ‘cherry picked’ at all – have a read of the Govt-commissioned review on sat-tagged golden eagles to see the full range of data and how those data were used to identify certain persecution hotspots:

            Click to access analyses-of-the-fates-of-satellite-tracked-golden-eagles-in-scotland.pdf

            That report was the most robust and comprehensive analysis of golden eagle sat tag data ever produced.

    1. I still haven’t managed to read the full report myself Gordon, but it’s a absolute cracker! A very comprehensive and professional piece of work. There were snippets of information in it which I hadn’t came across anywhere else, but we’re extremely useful. E.g tag harnesses have built in weak spots so that if they ever get caught up they should break and release the bird. Of course if, and this shows the beauty of sat tags, that didn’t work the signal should show the bird was caught up and that harnesses weren’t working as intended. To my knowledge this has never happened. Likewise the stitching on sat tag harnesses is designed to biodegrade after five years when the sat tag will have stopped functioning so that the bird doesn’t have to carry a now useless sat tag, although it’s already managed with a working one for quite some time by then. There have been some rather convenient pictures from the Angus Glens purporting to show wild eagle(s) with exceedingly loose harnesses. Even if genuine (to make fake ones get a falconer with an eagle stick either a mock up or a harness from a dead eagle on – expect two have recently become avallable – then fly bird and take pics to your heart’s content), all they demonstrate is the bird about to shed the decaying harness as planned. I contacted someone in the RSPB to see if they could create a concise document on sat tags that was user friendly and would counter the incredible amount of guff and misinformation being spread about them. They told me that they didn’t want to pass on sensitive information, but even the info that’s freely availablle in this public report would be brilliant to know if more accessible. Being able to paste in such a document in reply to the lies and nonsense being thrown around about sat tags would be VERY satisfying. Incidentally SNH did another great report about the Irish golden eagle reintroduction (which used Scottish eagles) that’s also been the subject of misinformation (it rebukes the SGA for misreporting on page 49!), worth reading too.

    2. “It appears to me that there is two entrenched positions here, the anti grouse shooting side who want driven grouse banned completely and then there’s a game industry who will not self regulate to find a happy medium on their moors.”

      This is not reflective of the current situation at all. The most prominent organisation, the RSPB, are asking for licensing, not an outright ban. ‘Self regulation’ has resulted in decades on systemic criminality, so that certainly isn’t a happy medium.

  3. Brilliant art work and congratulations to their parents and teachers for teaching these children compassion.

  4. Mark Avery has also intimated that the Werrity review is going to be a damp squib, I’m prepared for this being the case just so I’m not crushingly disappointed if it is. I’m not feeling positive about it. I really hope I’m wrong there’s absolutely no chance that a valid (independent and comprehensive) economic assessment will give the thumbs up to driven grouse shooting – it’s the jobs blackmail bit from the grouse moors that politically keeps them afloat. Prove that DGS is bad news for hen harriers AND rural jobs then it’s well and truly f*****. Why bother even contemplating licencing for something that seriously suppresses virtually every other economic activity and is in itself really shite in creating employment? It needs to be got shot of ASAP. I believe this is where the review would have been most damming, and where it will be most disappointing. A wee while back Ben MacDonald the author of ‘Rebirding’ wrote a fantastic guest blog for Mark Avery about the true economic value of grouse shooting – there isn’t any. Even if the basic figures used in his calculations were a bit off they wouldn’t fundamentally affect that considering the amount of land grouse shooting takes up its contribution to GDP is incredibly pathetic. It will be interesting to read what the review says compared with Ben’s article.

    1. That was my thought. Too busy at the celebration of killing Scottish wildlife at the bloodsports fair.

      1. They were hardly busy celebrating or doing anything for that matter, walked past the SNH stand three times, on each occasion the staff were standing there all alone with no one to talk to.

        Strange really that at an event that has on its website “CELEBRATING CONSERVATION AND THE COUNTRYSIDE FOR OVER THREE DECADES” there was no one wanting to talk to SNH.

        Oddly enough the SGA and GWCT stands were full of people.

  5. The Scottish government is in an extremely difficult position here – quite apart from having a great deal else on its plate. On the one hand, I imagine many in high places itching to overhaul land ownership legislation and to emasculate the field sports lobby. And on the other, they have to be seen to be slotting in behind Westminster legislation, to remain respectable and never to question the economies of the highland estates, which it is alleged are a mainstay of the Highland economy.

    The dilemma will be broken as soon as it is established beyond doubt that current land management practices are in fact ecologically unsustainable, economically dependent on state subsidies, and can be replaced with something else. It may well be obvious to us that this is so, but the field sports lobby is content with the status quo, it is bereft of any ability to engage with reasoned argument or scrutinise scientific data with impartiality, and knows that it has the support of Westminster.

    I suspect that the best hope is for independence, after which we can enact laws that properly protect our natural heritage without interference. In the meantime, we can continue to push the Scottish government to introduce strict licensing of sporting estates – but I’m not holding my breath. More generally, we need also to keep the debate going, to publicise every raptor disappearance and to expose the arguments and reactions of shooters as moronic, self-serving drivel.

    We have to expose and deconstruct the lie that these people are responsible custodians of the land, for they’re nothing of the sort, just entitled toffs who get their jollies by killing things.

    1. ‘The Scottish government is in an extremely difficult position here – quite apart from having a great deal else on its plate………………..
      I suspect that the best hope is for independence, after which we can enact laws that properly protect our natural heritage without interference.’


      The idea that the Scottish Government can’t do anything now because it’s too busy with other things but will somehow find time to deal with the issue if Scotland leaves the UK is utterly ridiculous.

      As with so many things the SNP talk a good game but actually deliver very little.

      1. Agree, this is entirely within the remit of our devolved Scottish Government, any suggestion that Holyrood can’t act because of Westminster is entirely false.

        I don’t believe the SNP will take any substantive action, when the Werrity Report is published they will ‘say’ all the right things, potentially make minor legislative changes so they can claim to their supporters to have acted against the SNP faithful’s bogeymen of ‘big bad estate owners’, but these will be no doubt easily circumvented by the DG shooting industry.

        The SNP record tackling the historic excesses of some elements of Scottish land-ownership is weak, apart from a few cause-celebre community buy-outs. Hill-tracks the first time around they kicked in to the long grass, the second/third time around they voted with the Tories (x2) to block Andy Wightmans amendments. They removed tax exemption for sporting estates, but didn’t follow through in actually impacting the estates with significant tax burden’s. On hydro- and wind-developments they have failed to insist on planning conditions viz remediation post construction be implemented, helping to make them more profitable. For large developments on environmentally protected sites they have supported the developer, the most obvious example being Meanie. With the National Parks they have let the boards become dominated by Business/landownership interests. No serious attempt has been made to use the SNH/Deer commission to bring the excessive deer population down, even though all the required legislation has been in place for decades.

        The economy/politics of Independence takes precedence they are scared to do anything that could potentially affect (or be perceived to affect) any part of the Scottish economy adversely ahead of the next Independence vote, irrespective of how the money is being made, or do anything that might cause their voter support to fall. Do not forget that vested landed interests have had well over a decade to lobby and integrate themselves in both the SNP and the SG. If you were in the SLE / NFU etc you would have done exactly the same for the benefit of your members. There are ‘Landed sporting’ SNP MSP’s and councilors, internally trying to prevent change. Andy Wightman said it very clearly ‘they have access to the very highest levels of Government’.

        In my view a mix of the politics of Independance, perceived economic risk, false concern of potential rural backlash, and lobbying coupled with wider indifference will result in more or less the status-quo after the fanfare and sound-bites of the report, and possible minor legislative changes fades. Raptor persecution isn’t a wider vote winner/loser……………..rightly or wrongly, its a side-show.

        1. A comprehensive and realistic assessment unfortunately, but there are some angry folk on here who seem not to have noticed that the UK is collapsing about their ears. You are not likely to get radical change from any party in these circumstances. The Scottish Government has led a stable and civilised consensus in Scotland against the poisonous direction being taken elsewhere and it’s unlikely they will endanger that by rocking the boat with any major reforms. In the current circumstances they are dead right. In any case grouse moors are only likely be dealt with effectively as part of wider land and tax reform and you are not likely to see that this side of independence.

          1. “Don’t rock the boat”, that was the message 2 years or more prior to the 2014 Referemdem, after which all will be resolved! The SG have been stringing us along for 7 years plus. They ain’t going to make any land reform changes & they certainly ain’t going to deal with raptor persecution. The best you can expect from them is more special constables!!! They are now so embarrassed about the scandalous systematic level of criminality on the intensively managed grouse moors that they are feirt to comment. What ever they do they are not going to upset the lairds. They could have made significant positive policy changes to rural Scotland by now, but we still don’t differ from Westminster archaic rule. How can Nicola claim to have any moral compass.

      2. Thank you for the response. I do not really believe that SG is unable to act here because it is prevented by Westminster, rather that it is in a complex position and had to prioritise.

        I agree with quite a lot of what the AberdeenshireWanderer writes below about why the SG has prevaricated. The quotation from A Wightman is most relevant.

  6. To answer your question … Yes. I never used to buy into the Tartan Tory thing , but how wrong I was.I used to support and doorstep for the SNP because I believed they were a radical, progressive party that were going to break the mould , again i was wrong. They are petrified to rock ANY boat ,Christ even in this shit fest we are in they wont even make any meaning noises re. Independence .If you are still naive enough to think this bunch will DO anything meaningful just look at how often they voted with the Tories in the last year. And that doesn’t convince you remind yourself how influential that bam pot Ewing is in the decision making of the party.

  7. I am elated to have read all the comments on this site, as they reveal how strong the opposition has become to the persecution of our Birds of Prey, and the enlightened contempt so many have for our Government’s lack of challenge to the centuries old persecution of raptors and other creatures classed as “vermin”. As one who has been active in conservation of species and animal welfare for many years, I welcome such erudition on this dreadful subject of certain shooting estates and their actions, and the hallowed position they hold with regard to being the saviours of the British countryside, aided by their valiant gamekeepers.

    Due to our society having so many problems to address, and in many cases being dealt with ineffectively, wildlife and animal welfare issues have been put to the back of the queue. None of our political parties, except for the Greens and a scatter of concerned individuals from other parties, has shone bright on this important humane issue of respecting other life forms to exist without fear of extermination. At last, public opinion has come down firmly against blood sports in general, wild animals in circuses, live transport of farm animals to suffer long journeys to end in a foreign abattoir for a cruel end, dog used in racing and baiting, fox hunting and mass shooting Mountain Hares, and the poor quality management of fish farms with their pollution of the marine environment and the killing of seals and any other creature that may intrude to qualify for the soubriquet of “vermin”. On such a broad front, any campaign to finally make Scotland stand out as a model for humane management of its countryside and in animal welfare, must be conducted. Divide and conquer must not be, but unite and win, so that a schools policy of informing young people about compassion, and how to go through life without using animals for blood sports, and to ignore the old twaddle about hunting being a traditional country sport, that deserves to come back as fox hunting, as Jeremy Hunt wants Parliament to consider. The defence of any activity regarding the abuse of animals, as all right, if it safeguards rural traditions and maintains a few lousy low paid jobs, is now threadbare, as the Faroe Islanders, Iceland, Norway and Japan would have us believe that whaling was essential to maintain their traditional ways of life. Go to the Far East, and you will find the most gory of traditions being so upheld, like skinning dogs and cooking them alive; their rich and influential demanding Elephant ivory and Rhino horn as traditional for craft work and “medical” use respectively. One could go through every country in the world, and find such mock justification for continuing some of the most depraved customs. Scottish politicians, civil service and others with their heads in the sand, on this topic of ending the stranglehold on our marine and terrestrial landscapes, must acknowledge there is a more informed and ethical population disgusted with the lack of progress in dealing with criminals who flaunt their contempt by killing more and more birds and animals, to please the “invisible” ones who must be obeyed. One has only to examine the Lists of Interests of our Scottish politicians to see that very few associate themselves with any of our wonderful conservation and animal welfare groups. That is not say they are not humane and decent people, it could be an injunction from their respective parties for them to show a deep concern for human causes, to attract respect from the electorate. That may have been the case in the past, but now with climate change and plenty of TV programmes and adverts on conserving wildlife and planting trees, along with conserving the oceans, there is now an army of very troubled people massing at the doors of the world’s governments – EXTINCTION OF SPECIES DESTRUCTION OF WORLD RAIN AND TEMPERATE FORESTS GENOCIDE OF TRIBAL PEOPLES POLLUTED AND OVERFISHED OCEANS RISING TEMPERATURES WITH CONCOMITANT DROUGHTS, FLOODS AND GREAT MOVEMENTS OF DISPLACED PEOPLES WHOSE FARM LANDS ARE UNDER WATER.

    Our experiences here in Scotland, on a collection of issues relating to the management of marine and terrestrial landscapes, are a microcosm of the whole world scene. Everywhere, human activities are taking the infrastructures apart that makes Life possible, and official governmental policies are made worse in their effects on the planet, by a huge network of criminal activities, which in its turn, has corrupted key politicians, police, judiciary and , to turn a blind eye, so making situations much worse. To save Life on Earth, this has to change radically, with the main powers preventing lesser states from destroying the infrastructures that maintain the biological systems that are essential for a healthy environment. United action may have to be adopted, to stop countries like Brazil, whose present regime and president, have given the go-ahead for an increasing amount of the Amazon Rainforest to be cleared for more cattle ranching, add this to soya and palm oil, and we have the culprits that will the balance. Scottish Government has made a great show of addressing climate change, but has ducked the changes needed to remove the vile oppression that has destroyed so much of the natural environment, with the persecution of our Birds of Prey, as a symbol of that idleness. My impression of Scottish politics is that it is stale, flat and impossible to budge on this issue, and requires to listen to the right people.

  8. As is normal, they don’t want to upset these money pockets, who profess to support the SNP purely so the illegal carry ons are swept under the heather.

  9. I emailed Nicola Sturgeon regarding the killing of the eagles several days ago. Still no response. Not bothered about an iconic Scottish bird.

  10. The economy argument always tickles me, there was no concern over the rural economies of South Wales, West
    and South Yorkshire and South Lancashire, when the coal mines closed (for valid environmental reasons, I may add).

    Why should these vast tracks of land be any different? Why are public subsidies accepted (and demanded) for this type of employment but, not for heavy industry?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: