New SLE Chairman Mark Tennant continues anti-predator rhetoric

It’s all change at Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the landowners’ lobby group, with Dumfriesshire Dave (otherwise known as Lord David Johnstone) leaving and Mark Tennant replacing him as Chairman.

We’ve blogged a little about this change of leadership before (see here) as we were particularly interested in Mr Tennant’s association with Innes Estate in Morayshire where a gamekeeper was convicted for poison and firearms offences back in 2007 (and he was still listed as an estate employee three years later). We were curious to find out what Mr Tennant’s attitude would be now, 13 years later, to bird of prey protection and whether he’d be able to steer SLE away from the constant denials and distortions about ongoing raptor persecution that had characterised his predecessor’s term in office, and the one before that (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).

We didn’t have to wait too long.

Yesterday Mr Tennant had a letter published in the Scottish Farmer (here). It’s reproduced here as follows:

Dear Sir,

In the last few months, as the perpetual noise of traffic and of that long line of planes landing at nearby airports has dimmed, those of us living in the cities have heard, some for the first time, the wonderful noise of songbirds. It is a sound that country dwellers take for granted. But in the cities, it has lit up our spring.

Yet we would not be hearing these sounds were it not for the campaigning of organisations like SongBird Survival to ensure these lovely birds’ preservation. Colin Strang Steel, a trustee of SongBird Survival, has written specifically about lapwings on his own farm and the effect of predation on waders by crows, gulls and badgers, the latter species having proliferated from 50,000 in the UK in 1980 to over 500,000 today. If we do not keep predator numbers within sustainable levels, our songbirds will slowly die out.

Nature is the world’s greatest gift, but it also provides our wildlife’s food chain, at whose head sits the human race. In that role we have a duty to ensure that, at no level, predation becomes so excessive that it threatens the smaller species. That is not to condone in any way the persecution of protected birds. To do so is both unacceptable and a crime. After all, who, with any appreciation of beauty, whether gamekeeper or landowner, does not marvel at the sight of the great wings of a hen harrier or hawk or kite catching the thermals as it floats majestically over the moors?

‘Protected status’ was originally accorded to animals and birds which were considered at risk, yet many currently enjoying this status, are no longer at risk. As with other predators we must ensure that they do not proliferate in a way that threatens the lapwings, and curlew chicks on which they feed, as other species such as foxes and crows already do.

If we are to allow our song birds to continue to thrive, we have to do two things: first control the species which are growing at such a rate that they threaten the songbirds’ existence – restrictions on predator control to the extent that it becomes unviable, poses a serious threat to the very species that we all want to protect – and, secondly, continue to increase the amount of natural habitat, which can foster their growth. I hope that this could be one of the outcomes of a future farming support system which rewards biodiversity and the delivery of public goods.

Land managers and farmers are the key to bringing this about. Many are members of Scottish Land and Estates and I would urge them to do everything they can to support SongBird Survival and to ‘Save Our Songbirds’. I also hope the RSPB and other like-minded organisations will join us in this task.

Yours sincerely

Mark Tennant

Chairman, Scottish Land and Estates


For those who don’t know who Songbird Survival is (you lucky, lucky people), without whose campaigning there’d be no songbirds, apparently, take a look at the various entries on Mark Avery’s blog (listed here) for a flavour. It’s not difficult to see from where Mr Tennant has ‘learned’ his (mis)’understanding’ about predator/prey relationships.

Still, waxing lyrical about ‘the sight of the great wings of a hen harrier or hawk or kite catching the thermals as it floats majestically over the moors’ was utterly convincing, right?

Perhaps it’d be more convincing if SLE explained why Leadhills Estate is still a member of SLE and why Lord Hopetoun (Leadhills Estate) is still Chair of SLE’s Moorland Group. These are questions we’ve been asking for some time, e.g. here, and particularly since SNH imposed a three year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate in November 2019 following what it described as ‘clear evidence from Police Scotland that wildlife crimes had been committed on this estate’ (see herehere, and here).

Oh, and we’re also still waiting to hear from SLE about whether the Longformacus Estate was a member of SLE last year when gamekeeper Alan Wilson was convicted for a string of utterly depraved wildlife crimes (here) and if so, has SLE since expelled this estate from its membership?

These seem perfectly legitimate questions to ask of an organisation that has a seat on the PAW Scotland Raptor Group and has enjoyed much publicity of its declared ‘zero tolerance of raptor persecution’ (claimed as recently as four days ago (here) in response to the news that two more satellite-tagged hen harriers had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors in the Cairngorms National Park, here).

To be honest, the other PAW Scotland Raptor Group members should also be pushing hard for answers to these questions. Perhaps they already are? If so, they need to start publishing the responses or reporting the silence.

18 thoughts on “New SLE Chairman Mark Tennant continues anti-predator rhetoric”

  1. Oh dear not an understander of ecology then, then that is hardly a surprise, in fact its typical for the land owning classes and their pals in the hunting shooting and fishing brigade. All we needed was that sad old chestnut that the predators welcome the chase or control for all the cliché boxes to be ticked. Songbird Survival and the save our songbirds campaign is a group for the ecologically illiterate to justify their dislike and support the control of predators they so champion. Its the usual tripe we get from them to try and justify their ecological stupidity, wilful blindness of wildlife crime and “ownership” of “good” wildlife that needs protecting. Its all bollocks but it means there will be no change at SLE but if there was it would be an unexpected shock.

  2. I find it incredible that the new head of SLE is prepared to push Songbird Survival, surely pretty well discredited by anyone interested in the subject. Even the Times is now prepared to say ” Billionaire Anders Povlsen’s beloved hen harriers disappear on grouse moors.”
    I assume that this shows that their use of the Scottish Farmer shows the reducing number of places where their propaganda is acceptable.

  3. And here is me thinking it is the numbers of prey species that control the numbers of predators!

  4. As one of the authors of The Birds of South-east Scotland*, a publication based on science and not hearsay (with 32,000 hours of dedicated fieldwork, plus much more from ad hoc records) I am not aware of decline of any species of ‘song bird’ for which increased predation has been cited as a factor. Predation has indeed been cited in declines of a number of ground nesting species (Eider, Tufted Duck, Coot, Moorhen, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover and BHG), attriubuted variously to crows, foxes, mustelids, mink and otter, generally working in conjunction with human disturbance, but none of these are “song birds”, so there appears to be a degree of confusion in his article… *

  5. I think we should start culling Blue Tits….well just look at all the caterpillars they are eating, they’ll have wiped out all of the butterflies and moths soon.

  6. What, exactly have the charlatans at SS ever done for the conservation of any species? F**k all, is the blindingly obvious answer. No wonder our countryside is in such a sorry state with self-serving, parasitic imbeciles like Tennant in control of large parts of it.

  7. When i read spin doctors to hear what they are really saying above the ‘noise’ (i love that concept on Chris’s video) i only need to Crt + F for ‘but’.
    This time the truth of what they really think and what they want to dog-whistle comes before the ‘but’, usually it is the other way around. Then comes the lip service, this time ‘That is not to condone in any way the persecution of protected birds. To do so is both unacceptable and a crime.’
    So they are not believed by those they are dog-whistling to and they are not believed by raptor conservationists.
    The only people who believe them are the media and therefore the public so there you have their motive.

  8. The ignorance is painful, but so too is the arrogance that he can indulge his personal schoolboy fantasies of the ‘countryside’ and present these as a contribution to serious environmental issues. Like most of his kind he has obviously never felt any need to educate himself on the basics. He sees his nonsense as the natural order of things and expects it to be accepted without question. It is the poisonous British upper class ‘gentleman amateur’ tradition personified by Boris Johnson and you can only suppose that Mr Tennant blagued his way to his numerous high level posts and chairs in finance with the same vacuous self confidence.

  9. Is the man attempting to play clever politics in his article in the Scottish Farmer??

    Many farmers want badger numbers controlling because they suspect them of spreading bovine TB (though the science behind this claim is inconclusiveness, and now appears dubious).

    In the article has Mr Tennant, cleverly introduced badgers as a “bogeyman” species?
    And is he thus playing to many farmers prejudice regarding this creature, along with all the other “out of control predator” species he cites?

    By doing this, is he hoping to curry support from the farming community for SLE policies?

    Is this an attempt to try and get Scottish farmers to rally behind the banner that the “status quo” must be maintained in the countryside, despite all the science which now shows how ignorant the thinking behind that status quo really is?

    Perhaps, many landowners and farmers fear the change that is probably coming- that public farming subsidies will only be paid when there is evidence of “public good”. …and killing wildlife will probably not be deemed as “public good”?

    Only Mr Tennant knew what was in Mr Tennant’s mind when he wrote this article, but it appears to read as an article “by the ignorant for the ignorant” !

    Or am I being too harsh and just misinterpreting a noble call to save our song birds, by humans playing god and deciding what animals live and what animals die, in our often poor attempts to meddle in complex eco-systems, that we often don’t really fully understand?

    Hopefully the younger generation of educated Scottish farmers will have a far greater grasp on the science of farming and environmental matters, and will know what steps need to be taken to farm efficiently, yet enhance our natural environment, without guidance from Mr Tennant!

  10. Fabulous response by Raptor Persecution Scotland to Mr Tennant’s article.

    I’m in Australia and we are having so many issues with farmers killing enormous numbers of Birds of Prey, one farmer poisoned 300 to 400 Wedge Tail Eagles and was not prosecuted. If you include land clearing and the housing boom (urban sprawl well into rural areas) and destroying habitat with logging of native forests, plus pesticide use, we are loosing our large birds quite rapidly. It’s most frustrating when the government is not interested in doing anything to protect Native species and will still issue permits to farmers to shoot eagles etc…and land owners will come up with any excuse to do what they want.

  11. Strewth. Exactly what will it take to put this profound ecological ignorance to bed? No raptors and corvids are not responsible for the songbird decline, and “Songbird Survival” is little more than a propaganda set up derived from the Countryside Alliance. It’s ecology 101 that the prime thing limiting a species population is ecological carrying capacity and not predation i.e. songbirds have declined because their habitat has been destroyed and there has been a collapse in insect numbers necessary to feed their young. The thing is these people are not interested in evidence. It’s no use pointing them to studies that undermine their claims because they will just refuse to read them or acknowledge them. Therefore you have to conclude that this is contrived wilful blindness of the dishonest type, and not genuine ignorance.

    1. There is also the arrogance that man is the apex predator and there ore must control the environment. (They miss out the ‘for his economic advantage’ from that last bit)

  12. The genuine conservation organisations really should get together and collectively challenge this shite – we need to get our predator guild as much as possible back to what it was before humanity slaughtered it. I noticed that the role of pine marten in helping red squirrels by eating grey ones doesn’t get mentioned by the new SLE bloke, and no flag waving for the corvid chomping goshawk. Isn’t that so very strange? Otters suppress mink numbers too, lynx eat far more foxes than capercaillie. None of this ever gets brought up by this lot. I can’t recall SLE ever highlighting the success of raptor tourism and the boost to local economies on Mull and Loch Garten among others. But they did show footage of a buzzard attacking an osprey chick and used this as ‘evidence’ that the former was now an increasing threat to endangered species and needed controlling – although even in this instance the osprey chick was unscathed.

    Perhaps time the more sensible members in SLE set up a group to counter this idiocy or even considered setting up a separate organisation for more ecologically and economically progressive landowners. SLE hardly represents Anders Hoch Povlsen or the Rausing sisters or I would imagine the new owners of Kildrummy. Unfortunately the SS approach of trying to legitimise the killing of protected wildlife by claiming it’s needed for conservation is happening on a broader front and is reaching deeper into the public sphere. I’ve become alarmed at the number of times I see comments appearing on social media that otters now need to be controlled to save everything from eels to coots, not a good sign. I’ve posted this before, but it’s relevant and insightful into how vocal and ludicrously contrived propaganda can be and unfortunately how gullible the public and politicians sometimes are –

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