Grouse shoot licensing: fear of ‘wider curbs’ or fear of getting caught?

The Financial Times published an interesting article a couple of days ago, with the header, ‘Scotland’s grouse shooting licence scheme fuels fears of wider curbs’ (see here).

You’ll note the sub-header includes the oft-repeated-but-not-yet-evidenced claim of ‘threats to the economy’, which seems to be the industry’s go-to response at the first hint of regulation (e.g. see discussion here).

And then there are the usual denials about the extent of illegal raptor persecution and its association with driven grouse shooting. This time the chief denier is Dee Ward, vice chair of the landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land and Estates (SLE), owner of Rottal Estate in Angus and Chairman of the Angus Glens Moorland Group. According to the article, Dee claims that ‘while a few estates might still be breaking the law, growing numbers of golden eagles and other raptors across Scotland showed the vast majority would these days never kill birds of prey’.

Now, whilst Dee is undoubtedly overseeing some great conservation work on his own estate and hosts some breeding raptors that struggle in some other areas of the Angus Glens, his suggestion that ‘a few estates might still be breaking the law‘ is a good example of why the Government’s patience has run out and a licensing scheme will be imposed.

There’s no ‘might be‘ about it. The evidence is irrefutable – some estates are most definitely still breaking the law, with impunity, and while golden eagle populations are increasing in some areas, they are still absent from core parts of their range which just happens to be managed for driven grouse shooting. The same for hen harriers, the same for peregrines, the same for red kites. Scientific reports have shown this for years and years and years and current police investigations reflect the ongoing criminality.

I would suggest that the ‘fear of wider curbs’ is actually a fear of getting caught and losing the right to shoot grouse. Those who manage their grouse shooting estates within the law, as Dee Ward does, have nothing whatsoever to fear from a licensing scheme. It’s those who continue to flout the law, in pursuit of large grouse bags at any cost, who will have the most to fear.

30 thoughts on “Grouse shoot licensing: fear of ‘wider curbs’ or fear of getting caught?”

  1. “Those who manage their grouse shooting estates within the law, as Dee Ward does, have nothing whatsoever to fear from a licensing scheme.” Therein lies the problem. Licensing will enshrine in law (basically saying it’s fine to kill wildlife for fun and here’e a license to do it) and perpetuate this disgusting, unethical, environmentally catastrophic practice.

  2. It will be interesting to see how this will be applied. Invisible strings between government and certain landowners may well see licenses being issued “en mass” across the country. It will just place the legal battle for providing irrefutable evidence (of persecution) in a smaller box. The burden to provide such proof will still fall on RSPB and the police wildlife officers. Remember Strathbraan and the SNH licence to control Ravens? In any case, this should not just be about raptor persecution alone, licensing needs to embrace climate change emissions targets, native woodland expansion, sustainable catchment management objectives and all the things that are unsustainable about grousemuir management.

    1. Well said. If we are going to do a decent job of reducing the terrible financial and human cost of flooding we are going to have start doing things differently in the uplands which obviously includes grouse moors and a very good place to begin that process is within a licensing system. The type of work involved would also reduce the fire risk associated with grouse moors so the emergency services have to spend less of their time and resources dealing with the consequences of idiots wanting to shoot birds for fun. I think this is where licensing is really going to have an impact and entirely legitimately will start driving DGS out of business – it’s incompatible with proper land management. This video happens to be the most powerful on any subject I’ve ever seen and I just wish everybody in the country could be made to sit down and watch it at the same time –

      1. An interesting video, Les, a simple yet convincing demonstration. One wonders how long the fence has been there to have that effect.

        1. Most powerful video I’ve ever seen, I paste it in sometimes when arguing with the SGA etc about the need for change in the uplands, between grouse moors and deer stalking they’re no lover of trees – imagine if every man, woman and child saw it – would be an absolute bloody game changer. The fact it comes from the Wild Trout Trust, a field sport organisation, also makes it harder for the opposition to ignore.

        1. Getting beavers back up into our largely tree free uplands should mean very substantial reductions in peak flow from them and subsequent flooding. Even if dam building material and supplementary feed had to be brought in for pioneer populations while newly planted trees are growing I think the terrible costs of flooding would make that viable. These trial projects are starting to move a bit higher up the hills, there’s one in Pickering too. If we had a truly decent natural flood prevention strategy for the uplands that on its own would surely doom grouse moors and DGS.

          1. I read somewhere the suggestion that people learned coppicing from beavers. So a fenced plot (to keep out rabbits, small deer and sheep, and later contain the beavers) planted with alder / willow/ hazel cuttings ought to be ready for beavers in four or five years.

  3. For a long time we have been told that the law-breaking is limited to a few bad-apples who the rest of the shooting community condemn without reservation – or words to that effect. In spite of this oft-claimed revulsion towards the criminal elements in grouse shooting, the estates, the keepers, the organisations who represent them and all of the others involved in the industry always circle the waggons and look to their own whenever push comes to shove. Although the perpetrators of many instances of raptor persecution must be known within the community no-one ever breaks ranks to report them and the omerta is maintained. If a ‘keeper caught red-handed clubbing a goshawk or similar gets off on a technicality there is never – as might be expected – anger that someone who has damaged the reputation of their ‘sport’ has escaped justice, nor any shunning of said keeper or his employers, just glee that the RSPB has failed to get its conviction. Now, when licensing is proposed one would expect that those states that abide by the law would welcome it – it surely cannot hurt them and would even benefit them by relieving some of the pressure for a ban. But no. Once again there is a closing of the ranks and the idea is rejected out of hand.

    It is hard to fathom this. For those shooting estates where crime is still a way of life, of course they will reject anything that may result in closer scrutiny – whilst publicly and hypocritically maintaining their combined condemnation of raptor persecution and denial that it is a significant problem. For those estates that genuinely comply with the law one can only suppose that it is a misplaced sense of loyalty to their community that leads them to reject it. That or perhaps they see licensing as the thin end of the wedge that will ultimately end driven grouse shooting. I shan’t mourn if driven grouse shooting is outlawed but surely the best hope of the industry to avoid this fate must be by making licensing work?

    1. Jonathan, it is less hard to fathom if you assume a certain level of cynicism amongst even the ‘good’ estates. Driven grouse shooting is different from most other ‘industries’ in at least one important respect. In most industries the good guys welcome regulation (if grudgingly) because it benefits them for the bad guys to be required to conform to minimum standards or else quit the sector. So regulation has the effect of reducing unfair competion, increasing the reputation of the sector and so on. But with driven grouse shooting, because raptors tend to roam widely, the ‘good’ guys benefit from the illegal activities of the ‘bad’ guys and so it is not in their interests that the latter should quit the business or become good guys too. Which is not to suggest that all the good guys are cynical in this way, just that it may be part of the reason for both the omerta and the extraordinary hysteria that the propect of licensing has prompted.

      1. I don’t disagree with you Alan. I don’t doubt for a moment that there is a huge amount of hypocrisy involved in all this – publicly condemning the illegality whilst benefitting from it and turning a blind eye.

        1. The question is, do we do anything different depending on the motives at play. Not easy to see, but if the good guys are to be real good guys they should behave differently – and that’s everyone on the estate.

          1. Short answer Alan is ‘no’. I suggest that since we are talking about people who get off on and/or make money from killing wildlife for fun, we dispense with the very notion that there are any ‘good guys’ in the world of DGS. The ‘bad apples’ argument has always been bollocks. As many commentators have pointed out DGS is predicated on systemic ‘organised crime’, law breaking and environmental/wildlife destruction. This is why even contemplating the licensing of DGS as a campaign aim was/is madness.

            [Ed: Stephen, this is the 15th comment you’ve written about your view on licensing. I think we get the picture, you’re not a fan. And that’s fine. But not everyone shares your view and those who have worked for, literally, years, to get this far do not deserve your scorn. Licensing isn’t the end of the road by any means, and some view it as a necessary step on the road to a total ban. The bottom line is this – a ban was not on the table with the Werritty Review. What WAS on the table were two choices for the Scottish Government – (1) do nothing for another five years (2) commit to introducing a licensing scheme with immediate effect. Choosing option 2 was not madness].

  4. I think that the Licence should be tied to the land, and only one Named Person at a time, and for the duration of the Licence, should be called the Licence Holder.
    This would ensure that additional Names on the Shoot’s Rolls, could not apply for another during the lifetime of the licence in case said license is revoked for Foul (sorry) play. I would suggest the Licence be granted for a term of five years.

    1. …and those Estates registered offshore for tax purposes should be refused a licence and told they will only get one when they are seen to be supporting the economy. They state they are supporting the communities – time to put their money where their mouth is! SGP please note!

      1. Licencing should be restricted to permanent residents of Scotland who are audited and taxed accordingly.
        Must always be a named person and not a company or any other devious method of dodging responsibility.

  5. Its nice to know someone like Dee is out there but the birds obviously dont differentiate between different Grouse moors so the sooner these idiots start to behave the better but I dont expect some of these criminals to change their habits anytime soon .

  6. I strongly recommend as well a write up of the long established Pontbren project in the heart of the Montgomeryshire uplands in

  7. What is the pkwasure these people get out of causing pain to animals? Do they get tthe same pleasure out of causing pain to humans?

    1. There are clear links and much has been written about it.

      In any case, when someone derives pleasure from killing or hurting a living creature it raises profound questions about that person’s humanity.

    2. Sorry but that’s disingenuous and doesn’t do the conservationist argument any good at all. The vast majority of shooters don’t get pleasure from inflicting pain on their quarry and to imply that they are all psychopathic is ridiculous and counter productive.

    1. Which led me to assume that actual income from grouse moors is less than the assessments for RV, and does this tell us anything about their contribution to the local economy.

      Bearing in mind of course, the small business scheme.

  8. sog wrote:-

    Buccleuch Estate has bills cut…

    In that article Andy Wightman is quoted as stating :-

    “Shooting estates have only been liable for these taxes since 2017 and the Scottish Fiscal Commission ­estimated a gross income of £15 ­million. But because of appeals such as this from Buccleuch and the fact that some of the wealthiest ­individuals on the planet are eligible for the small business bonus scheme the net income was estimated at £6 million but in reality for last year was a mere £2.8 million,” said Wightman.

    “It’s bad enough that blood sports continue to be an income stream for large landowners, but for them to try and minimise taxes on those ­businesses is depressing.”

    He added: “It’s ironic that the person now responsible for quibbling the fair share of business rates on behalf of Buccleuch, Benny Higgins, is the same man advising the First Minister on a fair and green recovery.”

    Aren’t the Holyrood mob doing well.

    Their endeavour to secure tax revenue ends in a loss of revenue and they expect us to trust them with a licensing system. …………… Not in a long shot !

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