Scotland’s gamekeepers are apparently very very angry. So angry they’re going to revolt. Well, protest.
But protest about what? Apparently about having to work within the law.
It’s all so unfair.
This is all part of the response to last week’s news that the Scottish Government has finally reached the end of its tether with the criminality associated with driven grouse shooting and has decided to implement a licensing scheme, not just to tackle the ongoing lawlessness but also to reign in the associated environmental damage (see here).
It’s always good to hear different voices joining the campaign against driven grouse shooting.
And what a brilliant voice this is – Pat Kane, who found fame with this and now does this – has written an entertaining comment piece published in The National yesterday, after Thursday’s announcement that the Scottish Government has finally decided to introduce a licensing scheme.
I’VE taken shots at coconuts while visiting the shows with the weans. But I have never raised a powerful-enough gun to my shoulder, aimed at a moving, living target, and taken it out of the sky mid-flight.
Evolutionary science tells me one thing; my automatic inner reactions tell me another.
The first says that sapient humans have been hunter-gatherers much longer than they have been agricultural or urban. Thus, much of our perceptual and motor equipment was forged to suit the demands of the hunt (computer games that let you take the shooting position, and their massive popularity, easily support this).
The second just recoils at the sporting destruction of a living organism, particularly under the ridiculous and farcical conditions of a “driven” grouse shoot.
We’ve seen enough nature documentaries that show the necessary link between prey and predator in an ecosystem: the raptor bright-eyed with gobbets of bird or rabbit in their mouths. It’s a challenge to watch it all. But it is, at least, the web of life.
The grouse-shoot, however? A landscape burned, polluted and made into a monoculture, encouraging fast but low-flying grouse to nibble at forced green shoots, so that upper-class hunting parties (coddled by supine assistants) can spray lead at a flurry of easy targets?
It’s hardly the high-stakes survival drama of the Paleolithic. The Pathetic, more like.
So for my sensibility, the more licensing and regulation of grouse shooting – as promised by the Scottish Government earlier this week – the better.
The nub of Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon’s statement addresses “the ongoing and abhorrent issue of wildlife crime – and in particular, raptor persecution”. The trigger was the 2017 finding that “a third of satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland disappeared in suspicious circumstances, on or around grouse moors”.
The ironies abound. Natural predators do their thing when faced with an abundance of grouse prey. The unnatural creators of that abundance defend their property by attacking and destroying raptors — now rendered as poachers.
They also defend their grouse stocks against Scottish mountain hares – specifically the ticks in their fur, which transmit a disease that worsens the quality of grouse populations.
This has justified mass winter cullings of mountain hares (also, incidentally, creating another commercial shooting opportunity). Mountain hares are now a protected species — so the minister is tightening the screws on this practice too.
All of this, and more, is promised to make up the specifications for a license to shoot grouse (though many environmental campaigners are already alarmed at the heavy presence of the hunting lobby in the consultation groups).
It’s hoped that the threat of investigation, sanction and withdrawal of the license will compel best practice. But another reading could be that they hope to bureaucratise and regulate the behaviour out of existence. Slow strangulation by red tape.
Here is the careful incrementalism of Scottish devolved government, in all its glory. You wonder, is outrage at the historical establishment of these shooting grounds a century-and-a-half ago – clearance and dispossession of communities allowing for upper-class sporting pursuits – something that deeply pulses away in a Scottish nationalist administration?
One would bloody well hope so. I watched an excellent news feature from BBC Alba’s Eorpa a few days ago [RPUK added link here]. The opening scenes captured port-soaked and tweed-clad shooters in all their coddled savagery. Yet the rest of the item tried to show a judicious balance of voices.
I was particularly struck by the granite-jawed and Gaelic-speaking estate manager from Lewis. Angus MacLeod of Barvas Estate objected to the “driven” grouse moor model – where beating the carefully-prepared heather ensures that each shooting expedition bags 20 to 50 birds.
MacLeod’s model was “walk-up” grouse shooting. In the driven model, “they’re only looking at the birds they’re aiming for. Up here, you watch for everything – eagles, hen harriers, merlin and deer too … You have to walk six or seven miles here, for a good day, just to get five or six grouse.” His quiet conclusion: “But that’s enough.”
It’s precious to hear any genuine declaration of “enough” these days. My own instincts, and progressive background, lean more towards the contribution from the Scottish Greens’ rep in the Eorpa show, Alison Johnstone MSP.
“It’s a relic of a bygone era, a Victorian pastime. Are we really suggesting that if we looked at a blank canvas just now, surveying this land mass, we’d be saying, ‘oh do you know what, let’s just fill this area with red grouse, and sell packages for people to have a day’s fun shooting at them’?
“We certainly would not — we’d be thinking how could we productively use it for the best outcome for the people of Scotland.”
THERE are some mightily impressive campaigners out there, proposing exactly these kinds of outcomes. The coalition revive.scot (one input to which is Common Weal, whose board I’m on) lays out a powerful, multi-factorial case against grouse shooting.
So is this the best economic and environmental use of somewhere between 12%-18% of Scotland’s land mass? Manifestly not. Revive’s figures are thumping. They do a “hectares required per job” number. For grouse shooting, it’s 330. Biomass renewables is 143, onshore wind 100. Forestry is 42, horticulture 3.
Then they do a “value per hectare used”. Grouse shooting stands at £30 (at the best estimate). The value for the preceding sectors quoted is, in order: £2596, £934, £900, £12,412.
There’s another thumping stat. “Repopulation and housing”, modestly named, could create 141,000 construction jobs and 39,000 real estate jobs, at a value per hectare of £11,950 (Revive imagines a “New Villages” programme to match the “New Towns” movement of the 60s and 70s).
Please, examine their numbers – but they won’t be out by that much. If we somehow shimmy our way into indy, I would expect that the urgent need to maximise our internal assets will reverse the gunfire on this “Victorian pastime”.
In matters of land, animals and their meaning in Scotland, I usually turn to one of the most reliable tuning forks I know – the human ecologist Alastair McIntosh. He sent me a few paragraphs yesterday:
“We’ve got to ask not just what satisfaction hunting might give, but also what service it provides towards maintaining a biodiverse natural and human ecosystem.
“I am a great supporter of deer stalking. Stalkers, like ghillies, love the land and what they take as prey. They know the stag has yet to be born that carries a condom. We should support such culling by proudly eating venison. But to farm pheasants just for bankers to bag, or to ‘manage’ grouse moors for the competitive fervour of the driven shoot, that’s a different matter.
“I remember discussing the sadomasochistic aspect of killing for the sake of it over an alcoholic lunch with a convenor of the then Scottish Land Owners’ Federation. Astonishingly, he conceded: ‘Oh yes, they got buggered and beaten when they were at school and now they want to do it back’ – and with a shotgun.
“Well, that may be psychotherapy: the primal bang. It may be peer-bonding, a business perk – and even back in the gun room at the lodge, a courtship ritual for the rich. But it’s no way that the Scotland of today should treat our wildlife.”
A complex view. And speaking as a townie who will never take a gun into his arms, even if the rationale is as eco-spiritual as Alastair’s, I won’t tower over every aspect of this debate with a complacent certitude.
But really, can it be right? That we subject so much of Scotland’s natural potential to so few?
Following yesterday’s announcement by the Scottish Government that the grouse shooting industry, having failed spectacularly to get its house in order despite a million and one opportunities to do so, will now be subject to a licensing regime (see here), has gone in to meltdown hysteria.
I’ll come to individual organisational responses shortly but to start with here is a joint statement issued by British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Scottish Countryside Alliance (SCA), Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA), Scottish Association for Country Sports (SACS) and Scottish Land & Estates (SLE):
Rural organisations said today (26 November 2020) that the Scottish Government’s announcement that it is to develop a licensing scheme for grouse moors will be a seriously damaging blow to fragile rural communities.
Following publication of Scottish Government’s response to Werritty Review of grouse moor management, the following joint statement was issued by: British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Scottish Countryside Alliance, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, Scottish Association for Country Sports and Scottish Land & Estates.
“We are dismayed that the Scottish Government has not listened to the voice of some of our most fragile communities which are at the heart of a world class rural business sector. People involved in grouse shooting have already embraced a huge amount of legislation, regulation and guidance to make sure the highest standards are met. This includes estates embracing many of the recommendations contained within the Werritty report.
“Instead, the Scottish Government has paved the way for a very uncertain future for many rural people by announcing that it intends to introduce a licensing scheme for grouse moors which interferes with legitimate business activities and threatens to engulf the sector in a blizzard of red tape that is unprecedented and out of all proportion.
“Substantive work has already been done to improve Muirburn practices with more to come and we need to understand urgently what the Scottish Government envisages in terms of even further controls.
“We are not reassured that moor managers have ‘nothing to fear’. The Minister has herself described the potential withdrawal of a licence as a ‘serious sanction’ – there are real fears this could impact perfectly law-abiding shooting businesses.
“The Werritty Review group itself stated there is no scientific or evidential basis for introducing licensing and we are disappointed that this has been ignored. The real weakness is that this measure misses the target in relation to wildlife crime – which is already at its lowest level – and Scotland already has the most stringent laws to deal with raptor persecution in the UK. A one-size fits all licensing scheme will serve only to play into the hands of those who are dedicated to banning shooting altogether, regardless of the consequences for communities and the environment.
“Grouse shooting plays a vital role in rural Scotland, sustaining communities and delivering substantial economic and environmental benefits. It would be bad legislation if the unsubsidised private investment that underpins these benefits is put at risk by this unnecessary proposal. We also have serious concerns about how such a scheme would work in practice and will be seeking an urgent meeting with Ministers to discuss the details.
“Every element of the Scottish economy will need as much help as possible in the foreseeable future and the proposal to introduce licensing for grouse shooting will do nothing to help achieve this. We will be seeking an urgent meeting with Ministers to discuss how they see this being developed.”
[A dismal landscape of intensively-managed grouse moors in the Cairngorms National Park. Photo by Ruth Tingay]
This hysterical scaremongering about so-called threats to the rural economy from the introduction of a grouse moor licensing scheme is nothing new from this lot (e.g. see here, here, here and here for previous histrionics).
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 then 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).
Has the rural economy fallen flat on its arse as a result of these measures? Not according to the grouse shooting industry, which is still declaring itself indispensable to the Scottish economy (a claim strongly contested by others, e.g. see here).
As has been said before on this blog, the grouse shooting industry should be thanking its lucky stars that a licensing scheme is all it’s getting. The case for a ban on driven grouse shooting has been made many times over.
There are those of us who don’t believe for one second that a licensing scheme will be effectively enforced, although we’ll do our bloody level best to ensure it is enforced when breaches have been detected and are fully evidenced. And if/when the licensing scheme is shown to be failing, there’s only one place left to go.
It seems to me that the grouse shooting industry should be welcoming a licensing scheme, which should protect those who are complying with the law and remove those who are not. Gosh, a world where there are consequences for criminality. Imagine that! Is that really what this backlash is all about?
Further to yesterday’s monumental announcement that the Scottish Government intends to start work immediately to bring in a licensing scheme for driven grouse shooting in Scotland (see here), there is much more to say.
As you might expect, there’ll be many more blogs written on this topic. To start off though, here is a link to the televised footage of Minister Mairi Gougeon making the announcement in Holyrood yesterday, and this includes a series of pertinent questions, and the Minister’s answers, at the end. It’s well worth a watch, if only to see the Minister doing her best to suppress the obvious exasperation she, and the rest of us have, with a grouse shooting industry that has proven itself incapable of control.
Also, here is the Scottish Government’s formal written response to the Werritty Review, in as much detail as is available at present:
In response to the Werritty Review on grouse moor management, Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon has just made the following statement in Parliament:
In 2017 the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform commissioned an independent group to look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management.
The group had a clear remit: to examine the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls, and advise on the option of licensing grouse shooting businesses.
This group was part of a package of measures aimed at tackling the on-going and abhorrent issue of wildlife crime – and in particular, raptor persecution.
The Cabinet Secretary’s decision to form the review group was prompted by the report from NatureScot in May 2017, which found that around a third of satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland disappeared in suspicious circumstances, on or around grouse moors.
[Satellite-tagged golden eagle Fred, who disappeared in suspicious circumstances in 2018 from next to a grouse moor just a few miles from the Scottish Parliament. Photo by Ruth Tingay]
This government has stated repeatedly that we intend to bring an end to the illegal killing of raptors and to bring in whatever measures are necessary to achieve this. Addressing wildlife crime remains a key priority both for this Government, and for me personally.
The independent Grouse Moor Management report, also known as the Werritty report, was published in December last year and first of all I would like to put on record my thanks to Professor Werritty, the members of the review group and their advisors, for undertaking this work as well as the broad range of stakeholders who contributed their views and experience.
Grouse moor management is a complex and controversial issue. It attracts strong views and a great deal of public interest and I don’t for one minute underestimate the challenges faced by the review group.
I hope that we can all agree that their report takes a comprehensive, evidence-led and balanced approach to the key issues surrounding the management of grouse moors in twenty-first century Scotland.
I have given full consideration to the recommendations and findings of the Grouse Moor Management Group alongside the evidence they gave to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform committee earlier this year.
I have reviewed the findings from the Phase 1 and Phase 2 Scottish Government commissioned research on the socio-economic and biodiversity impacts of grouse moor management.
I have also taken into account the recommendations of the Independent Deer Working Group and the Climate Change Committee report where they relate to relevant activities such as muirburn.
I have considered all of the evidence and views put forward by stakeholders including meetings with, for example, British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Revive coalition, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. I want to thank everyone who took the time to share their views with Ministers and with officials.
Presiding Officer, after taking into account all of this evidence I have reached the conclusion that there is a need for greater oversight of the practices associated with grouse moor management, including muirburn and the culling of mountain hares.
The key recommendation put forward in the Werritty report – is that a ‘licensing scheme be introduced for the shooting of grouse’. This is a recommendation that I accept.
However, while I the understand why the review group also recommended that such a scheme should be introduced if, after five years, ‘there is no marked improvement in the ecological sustainability of grouse moor management’, I believe that the Government needs to act sooner than this and begin developing a licensing scheme now.
As recently published in our phase 2 research, we recognise the contribution that grouse shooting makes to the rural economy.
And that the majority of those tasked with managing land already follow best practice guidance and care deeply about the countryside and land that they manage.
I cannot, though, ignore the fact that some of the practices associated with grouse moor management, such as muirburn and the use of medicated grit, have the potential to cause serious harm to the environment, if the correct procedures are not followed.
Neither can I ignore the fact that despite our many attempts to address this issue, every year birds of prey continue to be killed or disappear in suspicious circumstances on or around grouse moors.
Since 2007, the Scottish Government has undertaken a range of measures to tackle wildlife crime, including: the introduction of vicarious liability; a poisons disposal scheme and restrictions on licences for those operating on land where it is suspected that wildlife crime has taken place.
The fact that raptor persecution continues in spite of all these measures suggests that, while regulation from within the grouse shooting industry can be an important factor in driving behavioural change, self-regulation alone will not be enough to end the illegal killing of raptors, and further intervention is now required.
Now there are many forms that a licensing scheme could take.
I do not propose to go through them all here. We will consult on the detail of the scheme in due course.
The basic proposition however is that a licence will be required to operate a driven grouse moor business, and that if there is strong evidence of unlawful activity or serious breaches of codes of practice by that business, then their licence could be withdrawn.
I recognise this is a serious sanction and we would therefore take steps to ensure that no credence is given to any vexatious or malicious claims of malpractice.
In introducing licensing arrangements in this way, we are bringing our system closer into line with those that apply in other comparable countries, where greater regulation of shooting and hunting is the norm, in order to protect animal welfare and avoid damage to the environment and biodiversity.
When developing the licensing scheme, we will work closely with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, Scottish Land and Estates, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and others representing those involved in managing and taking part in grouse shooting.
I would now like to turn to some of the other recommendations in the report.
Muirburn is a complex issue and the research to-date suggests that it can have both beneficial and adverse effects.
If it is undertaken without due consideration of all the possible consequences it has the potential to have a serious negative impact on wildlife and the wider environment.
However, it can also bring positive benefits in some cases, for example by helping to reduce fuel loads and thereby reduce the risk of wildfires.
Therefore, while I do not believe that a full ban on muirburn, as some have called for, is either necessary or warranted I am clear that further regulation, particularly when it comes to muirburn on peatland, is required.
Presiding officer, in future Muirburn will only be permitted under licence from NatureScot, regardless of the time of year it is undertaken. And there will be a statutory ban on burning on peatland, except under licence for strictly limited purposes such as habitat restoration.
And reflecting that muirburn is undertaken throughout Scotland for a variety of purposes, these measures will apply to all muirburn; not just when it is undertaken in relation to grouse moor management.
We will also revisit the current definition of peatland and take expert advice on whether it should be revised and a stricter definition imposed.
While some of these measures go further than the recommendations made by the review group, I believe they are necessary to protect our environment and in particular our peatlands, which as I know everyone here understands, play a crucial role in our carbon storage and climate change mitigation strategies.
Lastly I wish today to address some of the recommendations on medicated grit and mountain hares.
On medicated grit, which is a veterinary preparation used to suppress parasite worms in grouse, the Werritty review recommended that SEPA should initiate a desk-based study to ascertain whether residues of the active chemical, Flubendazole, are present in water bodies.
The report also recommended that NatureScot should publish a Code of Practice on the use of medicated grit and that all land managers should adhere to the Code to prevent any risk of contamination or of the substance reaching the human food chain.
I can confirm today that the SEPA study has been concluded and the Scottish Government will now work with stakeholders to produce guidance on best management practices for the use of medicated grit.
We will also convene an expert group to study how best to monitor compliance with the code of practice going forward.
As everyone in this chamber will be aware, earlier this year the Scottish Parliament voted to support a stage 3 amendment of the Animal and Wildlife Penalties, Protections and Powers (Scotland) 2020 Act.
This amendment, which granted full protected species status to mountain hares meets, and in some respects goes further, than the recommendations made by the Werritty review.
The arrangements for licensing of mountain hare control, where this is necessary, are now being taken forward as part of the implementation work for the 2020 Act.
Turning to what happens next, the Scottish Government will shortly bring forward an SSI to enact the provisions in the Animal and Wildlife, Penalties, Protections and Powers (Scotland) Act 2020, which give greater protection to mountain hares.
We intend that the new arrangements will come into effect at the end of February 2021 and so the open season for killing mountain hares, which finishes on that date, will be the last such season.
If re-elected, this Government will bring forward the necessary legislation in the next Parliament to license grouse moor management and to strengthen the existing legislation on muirburn, including a range of appropriate penalties that could be applied in cases of non-compliance.
Any new legislation will of course be preceded by full consultation in the normal way.
The Werritty review made over 40 recommendations and I am conscious that I have not been able to cover then all today.
We will publish a full response to all the recommendations in the report later today, alongside SEPA’s desk-based study on Flubendazole residues.
Presiding officer, I know that the measures I have announced today will not be welcomed by everyone.
Some will be concerned at what they perceive to be interference in legitimate land management activities.
And there will no doubt be others who feel that the Scottish Government has not gone far enough.
But it is clear to me that we could not continue with the status quo.
We all benefit from our natural environment and we all have a responsibility to ensure that it is not only protected but enriched.
The changes that I have announced today strike what I believe to be the right balance.
They are not designed to bring an end to grouse shooting. Indeed those businesses which comply with the law should have no problems at all with licensing.
But, crucially, where there is clear evidence that this is not happening, where agreed standards are not being adhered to or there is evidence of illegal raptor persecution, there will be a range of effective and transparent mechanisms in place to allow us to address that behaviour.
I look forward to discussing these measures with members of this parliament and key stakeholders over the coming months.
This is hugely significant. That the Scottish Government has gone against the Werritty Review recommendation of waiting for a further five years before even considering a licensing scheme is indicative that finally, finally, finally the overwhelming evidence of ongoing illegal raptor persecution has been accepted by the Government.
There is much detail to scrutinise, not just of the forthcoming licensing proposals but also the process of how those proposals will be developed and by whom. That will all come later.
For now, a huge thank you to Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham and Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon for taking what I consider to be decisive action. I don’t underestimate the efforts they’ve had to make to get the new measures through.
Also, a huge thank you to everyone who has worked so hard over many many years to get this historic decision. It’s not over by a long way but there’s no question – today’s announcement is a significant milestone.
UPDATE 18.00hrs: The Scottish Government’s full response to the Werritty Review can be read here:
A couple of weeks ago the Hunt Saboteurs Association published two secretly-recorded webinars showing some of the UK’s leading hunting personnel, including high-ranking former police officers, discussing how to avoid prosecution for alleged fox hunting.
[Screengrab from one of the webinars, via The Hunt Saboteurs Association]
Anti-hunt campaigners have argued that the videos provide evidence of ‘mass criminality’ and there have also been allegations of individuals attempting to conspire to pervert the course of justice and committing perjury.
These videos can be watched here (scroll to the bottom of the page) and accompanying transcripts can be viewed on the same page.
The content of these videos has caused a furore and there has been wide press coverage, including a feature on ITV News yesterday (see here).
Interestingly, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are now reviewing the videos for evidence of criminality and ITV also reports that the police are ‘reviewing their relationship with hunts’.
As a result of the ongoing police investigation, Forestry England has now announced it has suspended all ‘trail hunt’ licences on its ground, which includes 1,500 publicly-owned woods. Pressure is mounting on other landowners, particularly the National Trust, to do likewise.
[UPDATE14.00hrs: National Trust has announced on Twitter, ‘We’ve taken the decision to pause trail hunting on National Trust land and will not be issuing any licences for the remainder of the season’].
[FURTHER UPDATE 18.00hrs: United Utilities has now also suspended all trail hunting on its land until the police investigation has concluded – see here].
[ANOTHER UPDATE 27th Nov 2020: Lake District National Park Authority has now also suspended all trail hunting on its land until the police investigation has concluded – see here].
[AND ANOTHER UPDATE 28th Nov 2020: Natural Resources Wales have also removed permission for trail hunting – see here].
You might be wondering why this topic is being written about on this blog. Well, partially because it’s big news that campaigners have finally managed to force a police investigation in to a ‘country sport’ that has long been associated with criminality but has often escaped investigation and prosecution despite what often looks to be clear evidence of crime (sound familiar?).
But this story is also of interest because as I understand, at least one of those webinar participants also serves on the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) as a representative of the Countryside Alliance.
The RPPDG is, in my opinion, a partnership sham, designed to look as though efforts are being made to effectively tackle illegal raptor persecution in England and Wales. It’s been in existence since 2011 and so far has achieved absolutely sod all in terms of contributing towards the conservation of raptors in the UK and instead has frustrated the efforts of those organisations who are genuinely trying to stamp out persecution (e.g. see here).
It’ll be interesting to see whether there are grounds for this individual/the Countryside Alliance to be suspended from the RPPDG as the police investigation in to the webinar content gets underway, in the same way as Forestry England (and now the National Trust) has initiated a suspension of trail hunt licences, or whether this individual’s position, and/or that of the Countryside Alliance, on the RPPDG will be reviewed after the findings of the police investigation are known.
UPDATE 18th October 2021: Time to review Countryside Alliance’s position on raptor group after hunting webinar conviction? (here)
UPDATE 20th October 2021: Further evidence to support a review of Countryside Alliance’s position on raptor group (here)
UPDATE 25th October 2021: Police boot off Countryside Alliance rep from all wildlife crime priority delivery groups after hunting webinar trial (here)
At the end of October 2020, campaign group Wild Justice secured an historic environmental legal victory when DEFRA agreed to licence the annual release of some 60 million pheasants and red-legged partridges, to control ecological damage to wildlife sites (see here).
[Captive-reared poults waiting to be put inside a release pen in a Scottish forest. They’ll stay there for a few months before being let out, chased and shot, all in the name of sport. Photo by Ruth Tingay]
While we await the details of that proposed licensing scheme from DEFRA, politicians in the devolved countries are also paying close attention to what’s going on.
Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) has lodged a series of Parliamentary questions on this topic, as follows:
S5W-33328 Mark Ruskell:To ask the Scottish Government what steps it plans to take to address the negative effects of gamebird releases within (a) European protected sites and (b) a 500m buffer zone around European protected sites, and (a) when and (b) how it will amend section 14(2A) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended for Scotland.
S5W-33329 Mark Ruskell:To ask the Scottish Government whether it (a) is aware of and (b) had any role in the UK Government’s review into how gamebird releases on or near European protected sites are managed, the conclusion of which was announced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 30 October 2020.
S5W-33330 Mark Ruskell:To ask the Scottish Government what evidence it is aware of that the conclusions of the UK Government’s review into how gamebird releases on or near European protected sites are managed are consistent with the likely impacts on such sites in Scotland.
The expected answer date for these questions is 2nd December 2020.
Yet another raptor persecution case from North Yorkshire, and yet another crime committed as part of a reported ‘surge’ of similar crimes recorded during the first period of lockdown (e.g. see here and here).
This time it’s a red kite that was found dying in April 2020 at Scampston, near Malton, to the south of the North York Moors National Park.
[Photos via Jean Thorpe]
Her corpse was sent for toxicology at the Government’s Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) and the results have apparently just been released (presumably delayed due to Covid19).
She was poisoned by a mix of Brodifacoum and Bendiocarb ‘in quantities that would not be consistent with an accidental incident’, writes Jean Thorpe from Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.
Anybody with information about this crime please contact Police Wildlife Crime Officer Jez Walmsley at Malton Police Station (Tel: 101) and quote incident reference #12200055801.
In a bit of a surprise move, the Scottish Government intends to issue a long-awaited formal statement on the Werritty Review of grouse moor management this Thursday (26 November 2020).
It will come in the form of a Ministerial statement during Portfolio Questions, probably around 3pm.
The timing of this is really very interesting. Could it be an indication of ‘good news’? The “decisive action” promised by Environment Cab Sec Roseanna Cunningham back in August (here) in response to the volume of letters she received from the public following the appalling news that an iconic white-tailed eagle had been found illegally poisoned with a banned toxin on a grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park?
If it was going to be ‘bad news’ (e.g. the Government has decided to do absolutely nothing of any significance in response to the Werritty Review except kick the can a bit further down an already very long road), I’d have expected them to put something out with little fanfare at 5pm on 23rd December when everyone’s focus will be elsewhere.
Or could this impending statement be timed to offset a potential rebellion from grassroots members at the SNP’s annual conference at the end of this month? There has been a lot of upset after a motion to ban driven grouse shooting, endorsed by 25 regional groups, was ‘watered down’ by the Government earlier this month (see here). A statement of strong intent to actually do something, now, would probably soothe some rising voices.
It’s also quite telling that a senior civil servant has been making direct contact with some of us, quite openly, to give us the heads up that this announcement will be made on Thursday. In the ten years I’ve been writing this blog I’ve never once been given ‘official’ notice of an impending Ministerial statement. It’s clear the Scottish Government wants us to be watching and I see that as a good indication of what might be coming. Otherwise, why bother telling us in advance?
To be clear, I don’t know what the Minister will say and nor does anybody else I’ve spoken to in recent days, or if they do, they’re not saying. Whichever way this goes, it’s going to be massive.
All eyes on the Scottish Parliament on Thursday. You can watch it live from the Chamber here and I’d guess that there’s a good chance an accompanying written statement will be posted on the Scottish Government website around 3pm.
Last week the BBC Alba’s current affairs programme Eòrpa had a 14-minute feature on the debate around driven grouse shooting in Scotland.
The programme is available to watch on BBC iPlayer for the next 28 days (see here, starts at 00.53 mins to 14.45).
It was good to see yet more exposure of this environmental train wreck and this was a pretty good feature because it included a variety of talking heads and gave some of them enough time to hang themselves.
The line-up included Tim (Kim) Baynes (Director Scottish Moorland Group, Scottish Land & Estates, Gift of Grouse), Jenny McCallum (Spokesperson for Loch Ness Rural Communities, one of the regional gamekeeper moorland groups), Professor Allan Werritty (Chair, Grouse Moor Management Review Group), Alison Johnstone MSP (Scottish Greens), Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB Scotland), Angus MacLeod (Barvas & Garynahine Estate, Isle of Lewis), Malcolm Combe (University Strathclyde Law School) and Fabien Chaudre (French Agency for Biodiversity).
A highlight was Alison Johnstone’s sarcasm about the concept of driven grouse shooting (see at 5.19 mins) but even she couldn’t top the comedic contribution of Tim (Kim) Baynes, whose straight-faced denial of ongoing raptor persecution on grouse moors, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, was as entertaining as watching Donald Trump declare himself the election victor.
“A generation ago, or two generations ago, the control of birds of prey was fairly routine whether it was for game management, or sheep management, or livestock, but there’s been a huge change in that over the last generation and particularly over the last five to ten years where people have realised that this is not the way to go, they’ve learnt more about the relationships between birds of prey and other species. There will always be these tensions between management activities and birds of prey but I think that people have really realised now that this is, you can’t, you simply can’t go out and kill them and it really very rarely happens now“.
Of course, for those of us who take an interest in this subject, this bare-faced denial is what we’ve come to expect from Tim (Kim) and his ridiculous grouse lobby pals, e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here for a dazzling array of previous denials and spin.
Tim’s (Kim’s) performance on Eòrpa and all these previous years of denial provide a perfect illustration of how the grouse shooting industry has fundamentally failed to self-regulate. ‘Deny everything and carry on’, appears to have been the mantra.
It’s also a perfect illustration of why the Scottish Government, having given the industry chance after chance after chance after chance to clean up its act, is now under unprecedented public pressure to finally act.
And the funniest thing of all of it? All these denials from the Scottish Moorland Group, whose Chair, for years, has been Lord Hopetoun of Leadhills Estate.