More hysterical scaremongering over proposed grouse moor licensing

Earlier this week Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, wrote an opinion piece for The Scotsman in which he argued that the licensing of Scottish grouse moors is needed now, not in five years’ time (see here).

[Intensively managed grouse moors in the Cairngorms National Park, photo by Ruth Tingay]

In response, Tim (Kim) Baynes, Director of Scottish Land & Estates’ Moorland Group has written an hysterical scaremongering piece in which he suggests that grouse moor licensing will threaten the rural economy in terms of investment and jobs. Here’s his letter:

Letters page, The Scotsman, 25 July 2020

Licensing grouse shooting would backfire

Don’t risk the rural economy, says a reader

Duncan Orr-Ewing’s article (Friends of the Scotsman, 22 July) is correct in stating that grouse shooting provides employment in rural areas.

Despite this and many other public benefits, the RSPB tries to make the case that driven grouse shooting in Scotland should be subject to licensing.

This would make it the most heavily regulated land use in the UK and would discourage ongoing investment, potentially losing jobs associated directly and indirectly with the sector and threatening many rural communities.

It was only seven months ago that Professor Alan Werritty and his panel, commissioned by the Scottish Government, delivered a very carefully considered report into driven grouse shooting, which concluded that licensing of grouse shooting was not justified at this stage.

A second research report on the value of driven grouse shooting to Scotland is due to be published by SRUC this year. It makes no sense to disregard the evidence and impose a licensing system now. Licensing is also unnecessary given that recorded raptor persecution is at an all-time low, with an increasing number of golden eagles, hen harriers, buzzards and other raptors nesting and breeding successfully on grouse moors.

There is an abundance of wildlife thriving on moorlands due to the careful conservation work carried out year-round by skilled land managers. Much of this work is already subject to agreed codes of practice.

No other sporting or land use sector is subject to state licensing and in one move the Scottish Government would undermine all the progress made in recent years through effective collaboration between landowners, Scottish Natural Heritage and conservation charities. If we want a diversity of species and habitats we must allow moorland managers to look after our upland areas for the benefit of all.

Tim Baynes, Director, Scottish Land & Estates, Moorland Group, Eskmills Business Park, Musselburgh

It’s not the first time we’ve heard histrionics about a proposed grouse moor licensing scheme (e.g. see here here and here for more of the same unfounded rhetoric) and it’s not the first time that Tim (Kim) has falsely claimed that raptor persecution “is at an all time low” – in fact the latest wildlife crime report published by the Scottish Government shows that raptor persecution crimes have more than doubled (see here).

Nor is it the first time we’ve heard the claim that any sort of enforced regulation will ‘threaten’ or ‘damage’ the rural economy.

When the Land Reform Bill was being debated the Scottish Landowners Federation (which later re-branded to call itself the Scottish Rural Property & Business Association (SRPBA) and then re-branded again to its current name of Scottish Land & Estates) warned that the legislation would do irreversible damage to rural economies and they threatened to block the legislation at the European Court of Human Rights (see here).

Scottish Land & Estates also bleated about further land reform measures when the Scottish Government proposed removing the two-decades-old exemption from business rates enjoyed by shooting estates. SLE claimed that, “We believe that there would be a negative impact on rural jobs, tourism and land management” (see here).

And then there was more bleating when the Scottish Government brought in vicarious liability to tackle the continued illegal persecution of birds of prey. David Johnstone, the now former Chair of Scottish Land & Estates claimed this would introduce another layer of bureaucracy “When the Government should be doing what it can to help landowners and the rural economy” (see here).

The bottom line is, no other sporting or land use sector has been responsible for the appalling toll on wildlife, and especially on so-called protected birds of prey, and despite years of repeated warnings and hundreds of second chances (e.g. see here), the grouse shooting industry continues to deny responsibility and continues to do as it pleases.

Sure, there are some members of the industry who aren’t ‘at it’ and would have nothing to fear from a licensing scheme if their businesses are lawful and environmentally sustainable, as many claim to be. However, if the Scottish Government does decide to implement a licensing scheme, the grouse shooting industry should be thanking its lucky stars that that’s all it’s getting. The case for banning driven grouse shooting has been made clear and if/when licensing is proved to be ineffective, then the industry need only look to its own embedded criminals to understand who will be responsible for its ultimate demise.

UPDATE 27 July 2020: Scottish Raptor Study Group responds to hysteria over proposed grouse moor licensing (here)

42 thoughts on “More hysterical scaremongering over proposed grouse moor licensing”

  1. The Driven Grouse Moor Lobby sticks with it’s long term policy when under pressure i.e. LIES, LIES AND MORE LIES.

  2. I look forward to the results of the Langholm community buyout. With that, along with some real numbers instead of vacuous hand-waving, we should be able to see what economic benefits of former grouse moors can bring. Who knows, maybe driven grouse shooting might be the least productive use of the habitat. In which case I’ll look forward to Scottish Land & Estates encouraging members to sell their properties so the local communities can reap the rewards.

  3. Why does the grouse shooting business think it is exempt from a changing world? Look at the industries that have lost thousands of jobs over the years ie mining, textiles etc yet grouse shooting thinks it should be saved cause it could cost some jobs, local economies would fare a lot better if people could visit and see great wildlife in its natural habitat instead of the barren wasteland of uplands we have now.
    I for one will not visit North Yorkshire or the Cairngorms until things change there.

  4. Not only do SLE have form in this area but Baynes has form too going back as far as his days working for Countryside Areliars 15 years ago. He should have realised by now that he and his pals have been or are in the process of being rumbled, the arguments about raptor crime being diminished and all on the moors is rosy for a host of wildlife even raptors have always been a view through the rosiest of rosy spectacles to the point of being untrue ( lies). As discussed in comments elsewhere in this blog I’m not a fan of licensing without robust policing even if it only requires a civil level of proof of wrong doing . One only has to look at VL to know it will in all probability not make a huge difference if any at all, although I hope I’m wrong.
    As to a huge burden and damaging to the rural economy, DGS is a very small part of that economy in terms of both benefit through taxes or employment, so again Tim is true to form its all bullshit, perhaps we should refer to his and his friends arguments as manure heap fodder. When all or most moors have their full complement of Eagles ( both species), Harriers, Goshawks, Peregrines, Buzzards, Red Kites, Merlins and Shorties then and only then might we give his arguments any credence.

    1. Despite Baynes’s public bleatings about DGS licensing being the end of the world as we know it, DGS licensing is EXACTLY what he/they want: no DGS ban = no change for decades to come. Campaigning for DGS licensing is essentially campaigning to keep DGS. Madness.

  5. So ‘recorded raptor persecution is at an all-time low’. There shouldn’t be ANY raptor persecution, and what about un-recorded (undiscovered) raptor persecution?

  6. “As discussed in comments elsewhere in this blog I’m not a fan of licensing without robust policing even if it only requires a civil level of proof of wrong doing . One only has to look at VL to know it will in all probability not make a huge difference if any at all, although I hope I’m wrong.”

    It all depends upon the wording of such licenses, and whether the burden of proof is that the moorland is ‘healthy’ in all its ecological senses, or whether a crime has been committed by the licensee.

    If such licenses depend on proof of whether a licensee has committed a crime, then we all know that is nigh-on impossible, and a non-starter.

    However, if such licenses depend upon proof that the moorland is ‘healthy’ in all its ecological senses, then predator control, drainage, peat burning and track-forming would all have to be curtailed.

    It would be nice to think that the vast majority of Parliamentarians were more concerned with the environment than with economic interests, and would be straining at the leash to ban bloodsports, but experience tells me otherwise. I happen to think that licensing, with the right wording, will see the end of driven grouse shooting anyway… and maybe tourism to enjoy this new biodiverse habitat would be allowed to prosper, and show the economic argument was false all along.

    Will the SNP campaign on a manifesto of banning bloodsports?

    1. “I happen to think that licensing, with the right wording [pie in the sky], will see the end of driven grouse shooting anyway…” Er, Keith, sorry, but no it will not. Licensing DGS will, er, see licensing of DGS, nothing more. It is blindingly obvious that licensing will prolong DGS not hasten its demise. As I’ve asked you before: how’s enforcement of the existing (and far simpler) situation going? (I don’t expect the courtesy of an answer BTW…) I urge you – once again – to put your energies in going for a ban. It is the only sane solution.

    2. Extremely strict licensing with very low levels of proof of infringement, is to some extent the equivalent of a ban but there is not a chance the SNP are going to do that right now. They have become experts at procrastination. Plus it would be nigh on impossible to police. It makes much more sense to cut short the 40+ years of pissing around and just ban it now.

      1. “Extremely strict licensing with very low levels of proof of infringement”

        That isn’t what is proposed. The burden of proof lay with the licensee.

        “Plus it would be nigh on impossible to police”

        Why? Can’t you tell if a moor is healthy or not?

        1. There is no way in hell SNH will withdraw a licence from a grouse moor because it is unhealthy. They would bend over backwards to help the estate. That is what they do.The bureaucracy and time involved would make it another can kicked down the road for decades. Going by the form we have seen so far the licence might be withdrawn for the a very short time. Even the RSPB when they have spoken about it have mentioned very short time periods for the withdrawal. I have never heard anyone speak about very strict punishments (e.g. 10 year or permanent licence removal) and very low thresholds. The solutions proposed are all moving deck chairs.
          What if a grouse moor was healthy how would you stop the crime on it. You think SNH would withdraw a licence because there were no Hen Harriers breeding?
          The legal battles would make it impossible to enforce. I believe it would be impossible to fight on pure economic grounds.
          The SNP, who are the only party i have ever voted for in my life, have never made one bold move, in all their years in power. They aren’t going to start any time soon. It will be a very weak form of licensing when it eventually comes out and i will not live to see raptor persecution stopped in Scotland because of it.
          The whole edifice of driven grouse shooting needs to be torn down. It is irreparable.
          The simple solution is in plain site. It isn’t complicated.

        2. Keith Dancey
          ““Extremely strict licensing with very low levels of proof of infringement”
          That isn’t what is proposed. The burden of proof lay with the licensee.”

          That is my whole point.
          Can you refer me to what is proposed by the scot gov.

          1. “Can you refer me to what is proposed by the scot gov”

            As far as I know, the Scottish Government have no such proposal, but – obviously – those who have suggested licensing as a potential way forward have written about it (Ed Hutchings).

            There is hardly any aspect of life in the UK which is not subject to one form of licensing or another.

            The way to get such a license to work within a crime-riddled industry is to place the burden of proof (that Driven Grouse Shooting causes no environmental harm) upon the licensee.

            Think of it as like an MOT for Grouse Shooting Moors: without an independent ecologist (garage) certifying that a shooting estate has all the bio-diversity and bio-abundance expected of such an environment, including water services (emissions, mechanical safety etc) then no license can be issued, and without such a license no insurance could be obtained by the shooting estate to carry on its business.

            You do not have to prove crime. Any crime. The estate’s land is simply subject to the independent assessment of an ecologist. If that ecologist thinks that raptor numbers are below the range expected, then the estate fails its MOT. If that ecologist thinks that water quality is poor, the estate fails its MOT. If that ecologist thinks that predator numbers are below the range expected, the estate fails its MOT.

            And, just like every motorist, the estate pays for the annual assessment.

            Crooked garages loose their license to carry on their business, and the same would apply to crooked accredited assessment ecologists. After all, there are plenty of expert eyes on the moors who would be only too ready to point out fake reports. If challenged, the ecologist would have to produce evidence of the raptors, breeding or otherwise, in the area. The range and age of the flora would also form part of the moorland MOT…

            Could Driven Grouse Shooting co-exist with that level of legal scrutiny?

            Parliamentarians tend to prefer licensing… The Shooting industry would want any such license conditions to be severely watered down, so its success would depend entirely upon its wording, which is where I came in.

            1. How many years do you think it will take, in your scenario, to stop the killing?

              According to Mark Avery in Inglorious driven grouse moors need to kill the same number of Red Grouse that Hen Harriers take. This is the evidence from Langholm. The two cannot co-exists. We have known about this 2002. They will not stop because they cannot exist without killing raptors. Licensing a criminal enterprise is madness.
              These people did not get rich by being nice. Trying to reason or negotiate with the same kind of people who won’t even wear a mask in a shop, is playing into their hands. They win.

              1. “How many years do you think it will take, in your scenario, to stop the killing?”

                It would have to stop immediately, otherwise no license and no business. In the same way that the MOT stopped dodgy motors going onto the roads.

                “The two cannot co-exists” I agree, but the argument put forward by the shooting industry to politicians is that they are “good for the environment’. Some Parliamentarians may prefer to believe that. However, a license dependent upon an ecologist’s report would call their bluff, would it not?

                Why would a politician not agree to such a measure: an independent assessment of whether shooting actually is ‘good’ for the environment?

            2. Pie in the sky/cloud cuckoo land/utter nonsense/land of milk and honey Keith. How’s the existing enforcement situation going that gives you such faith in that license claptrap that you’re so fond of?

              1. “With your plan Keith, who would get punished for the White-tailed Eagle poisoning”

                If the White-tailed Eagle population was considered repressed by the activities of a shooting estate – according to surveys carried out by independent ecologists – then its license to shoot would be withdrawn until that population recovered its numbers.

                1. Utter tosh Keith. How’s the current enforcement regime working out? Not to ken to answer that simple question are you?

                  1. “How’s the current enforcement regime working out?”

                    You don’t specify enforcement of what, by which legislation, and by whom.

                    1. A poor attempt at diversion Keith and a rather smart arse response to boot if I may say so – it is not a good look for you.

                      You are well aware that the point I’m making is that the laws/regs that we have in place that pertain to DGS are far simpler that the licensing gibberish which you are so fond of spouting. You are also well aware that enforcement of the status quo is woeful to non-existent. You will therefore also be well aware (unless you have evidence to the contrary?) that some complex and costly DGS licensing regime hasn’t a fart in Hell’s chance of being rigorously enforced.

                    2. “You are well aware that the point I’m making is that the laws/regs that we have in place that pertain to DGS are far simpler that the licensing gibberish which you are so fond of spouting.”

                      Once again you fail to specify which ‘enforcement regime’ is failing, because it certainly is not a licensing scheme based upon what the land could hold.

                      The criminal law is far too difficult to enforce, but licensing based on what the land could hold is extremely easy.

                      In fact, you agree that the criminal law is too difficult to enforce: “You are also well aware that enforcement of the status quo is woeful to non-existent”

                      “some complex and costly DGS licensing regime”

                      Why do you think any ecological assessment of the carrying capacity of a land holding is ‘complex’? Comprehensive reports already exist. And as I stated, the costs would be born by the business, as happens in all licensing situations. Are you feeling ‘sorry’ for the Estates having to pay for that out of their shooting profits?

                      I happen to think that licensing based on what the land could hold is more likely to become law than a complete ban. The danger is a licensing scheme based upon successful criminal prosecutions, because they almost never happen. But we’ll see…

                  1. I wrote “If the White-tailed Eagle population was considered repressed by the activities of a shooting estate – according to surveys carried out by independent ecologists – then its license to shoot would be withdrawn until that population recovered its numbers.”

                    You claim that (the end of their business until populations recover) is “sod all”. But that is not true, is it? The end of the business is the end of the business.

                    Who do you think is going to get punished for the poisoning, then? It is a crime notoriously difficult to prosecute, whilst surveying any estate for its raptor populations is very easy. Either they have their predicted raptor population, or they cannot operate their business.

                    1. Sorry Keith but this is cloud cuckoo land stuff. Who the hell is going to enforce your wishlist, for that is all it is? The people who do DGS are as devious as they get, they fight dirty, they can afford the best lawyers and are past masters at obfuscation. Coupled with a Tory Government in England and crap enforcement in Scotland doe you think any of that will work? No, go for a ban as that will work. You know, I almost feel sorry for you in that you cannot see that what you are proposing is so unrealistic and that it would prolong DGS for ever and a day i.e. do the exact opposite of what you want.

                    2. ‘Who do you think is going to get punished for the poisoning, then?’
                      No one that is the whole point. Under licensing it would be exactly the same because no estate can be held to account. No one can prove which estate was responsible. This was a wandering juvenile.
                      You can be sure as hell that after licensing the killers will take full advantage of this and adjust their crimes accordingly. Slower acting poisons would seem like an obvious tactic.
                      ‘Either they have their predicted raptor population, or they cannot operate their business.’
                      Dream on if you think that is going to happen.

                    3. Marsh Harrier was killed near Blubberhouse, N. Yorkshire recently.
                      NE: Dear estate, you don’t have a Marsh Harrier breeding on your estate so we are going to withdraw your licence.
                      Estate: sod off!

                    4. “Under licensing it would be exactly the same because no estate can be held to account. No one can prove which estate was responsible”

                      Which is why the criminal law is impossible to enforce, but the licensing of shooting – based upon the ecological assessment of whether an estate meets its expected levels of biodiversity and bio-abundance – is easy to enforce.

                      “Dear estate, you don’t have a Marsh Harrier breeding on your estate so we are going to withdraw your licence.
                      Estate: sod off!”

                      But insurance and accounting depend upon the business operating legally, and without a license the business is not legal. No public business can operate without insurance or accounting, so the business is screwed unless it ensures its lands hold all the bio-diversity and bio-abundance expected of it by an independent ecologist.

                      I’m afraid your protests hold no water.

                    5. What about that Marsh Harrier? What about this White-tailed Eagle?
                      What about a wondering Gyr Falcon, wandering Bearded Vulture, wandering Snowy Owl, wandering Rough-legged Buzzard? Colonising White-tailed Eagles will be fair game. Colonising Red Kites, fair game. Colonising Goshawks, fair. Who will know they are even being killed since they weren’t there before in some kind of dreamland account of a healthy moor.
                      A ban stops the reason why these birds are being killed, it removes the profit. Simple. The killing would stop within a year.
                      You think monitoring the health of an entire ecosystem would be easy. There aren’t the resources to do it. It would take decades to show it didn’t work and i will be dead.
                      It won’t work because as Mark Avery wrote in Inglorious, Langholm proved that Hen Harriers and driven grouse moors cannot co-exist. Hen Harriers ‘if allowed in’ take the ‘surplus’ grouse which is needed for driven grouse shooting. They depend on the illegal killing of Hen Harriers. They will never stop. And this is only Hen Harriers! You want to licence this? It is impossible. The idea that someone official is going to come along and say, this moor should have 12 pairs of Hen Harriers and you only have 1 so we are taking your licence away, is cloud cuckoo land. They can’t even withdraw grants from moors where criminals have been found guilty. It has only happened on a couple of estates. RPUK has written about this umpteen times.
                      You are proposing things as if they are hard facts. So far there is no indication from anyone that there is going to be a very strict licensing. Where have you heard there is?

                      Where does my argument not hold water. Where do Mark and Ruth’s arguments for a ban not hold water?

                      I would like to see all other shooting licensed because most other places are less remote and so it is easier to see what is actually happening and as forewarning. ‘Get your house in order or you too will be banned’.

                      I’m signing off as i don’t feel you have addressed any of my main points.

  7. I wonder who SRUC are.

    I further wonder how the income from grouse shooting is spread through the community. Perhaps SLE have figures for this latter question? It’s always reassuring to see numbers supporting a viewpoint.

    [Ed: SRUC = Scotland’s Rural College]

  8. I would recommend that Tim Baynesofbirdsofprey have a read of the Spectator article of May 2019 on the destruction of land, failure of conservation and minuscule contribution to jobs and the rural economy of the driven grouse industry.

    Given the political allegiance of the Spectator I am surprised he hasn’t already read it and understood that the game is up!

  9. All shooting should be licenced and monitored. This is firearms they are using often on land open to all, I have little experience of grouse shoots but
    have experience of duck shoots over a bridle path next to the river Severn.
    This was on the day the Flying Scotsman was coming through.
    They seemed to think
    blowing a whistle was enough to warn people.
    One day something horrids going to happen

  10. Aside from all the environmental, conversational and ethical considerations; as grouse shooting involves the use of firearms, which are by defined in law by the Firearms Act as “a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged”.
    Then with all the risks associated with such weapons, then it is absurd that that the use of firearms on land, land which is frequently open to public access, and over which rights of way pass is not regulated and subject to proper control and scrutiny.
    As regulations would most probably have very limited impact on those shooting estates which are operating legally, safely and environmentally sustainably; could then the letter by Tim Baynes, in fact be more revealing of the true nature of the grouse shooting industry than Mr Baynes intended?
    Could it be that the irrational fear and opposition to regulations, stem from the knowledge which those involved in grouse shooting know to be fact?
    Facts that they don’t really want exposed?
    These facts being that grouse shooting is riddled with mismanagement of the environment, riddled with criminals illegally persecuting wildlife and is an industry trying to conceal its dubious activities under a false pretence of conservation?
    Surely, an industry with nothing to hide would welcome regulations as a clear manifestation of its openness to scrutiny, and its desire to create a “level playing field”; so that those estates which do operate lawfully aren’t in a position of disadvantage to those estates which operate illegally simply to maximise grouse numbers, the number of shoot days and ultimately the revenue generated?
    Thank you Mr Baynes- your letter reveals what many of us suspect about the true nature of the grouse shooting industry.

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