Scottish gamekeepers’ petition calling for independent monitoring of raptor satellite tags is ‘fact-free nonsense’

One of the petitions under consideration tomorrow by the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee is PE01750 – Independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptors – submitted by Alex Hogg on behalf of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA).

I’ve written about this petition before (here), back in late 2019 when it was first lodged, as did Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland (here). It’s useful background reading for those with more than a passing interest.

As a brief summary, satellite-tagged raptors have caused the grouse-shooting industry all sorts of pain in recent years, because scientists have been able to use the analysis of extensive tag data to expose the scale of previously-hidden raptor persecution on or close to some driven grouse moors, even when the raptor-killing criminals thought they’d done a good clean-up job by destroying and removing the raptor corpse and the tag. Although sometimes the clean-up job wasn’t done so well, as evidenced last year by the discovery of a golden eagle’s satellite tag, its harness cut, wrapped in lead sheeting (to block the signal) and dumped in a river (see here and here).

[Young satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland. Photo by Dan Kitwood]

Two significant scientific reviews based on tag analysis have identified illegal persecution hotspots for golden eagles (here) and hen harriers (here) in the UK. And indeed, the whole Werritty Review in to whether grouse moors should be licensed was triggered in 2017 by research that demonstrated almost one third of tagged golden eagles had ‘vanished’ in suspicious geographic clusters that were also areas being managed for driven grouse shooting and at a rate 25 times higher than anywhere else in the world.

Raptor persecution crimes in the UK continue to attract huge media attention because it’s hard to believe that people are still poisoning eagles in Scotland in the 21st century. As a result of this ongoing publicity, the game-shooting industry has spent considerable time and effort trying to undermine the satellite-tagging of raptors, either by launching disgusting personal & abusive attacks and by making outrageous defamatory claims targeted against named individuals involved in the projects, or by blaming disappearances on imaginary windfarms, faulty sat tags fitted to turtles in India & ‘bird activists‘ trying to smear gamekeepers, or by claiming that those involved have perverted the course of justice by fabricating evidence, or by claiming that raptor satellite-tagging should be banned because it’s ‘cruel’ and the tag data serve no purpose other than to try and entrap gamekeepers. There have also been two laughable attempts to discredit the authoritative golden eagle satellite tag review (here and here), thankfully dismissed by the Scottish Government. The grouse shooting industry knows how incriminating these sat tag data are and so is trying to do everything in its power to corrode public and political confidence in (a) the tag data and (b) the justification for fitting sat tags to raptors, hence this latest petition from the SGA.

What hasn’t previously been made public, but can be now as the papers have been published on the ECCLR Committee’s website, is a formal response to the SGA’s petition by the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group (GESTG), a research group established in Scotland by scientists as a forum for data exchange, tagging coordination and general cooperation.

The GESTG’s response takes apart the SGA’s petition pretty much line by line and eviscerates it. You almost feel sorry for the SGA, who up until last Thursday wouldn’t have known that this response even existed. It is a masterclass, and you have to admire the restraint behind the summary dismissal of the petition as ‘fact-free nonsense’.

There’s some other paperwork of interest, too. A letter to the ECCLR Committee from Ian Thomson (Feb 2020) and a letter from me (Feb 2021), pointing out to the Committee that despite the SGA’s misinformed rants and smears, raptor satellite-taggers in Scotland were told recently by NatureScot (formerly SNH) that neither NatureScot nor Police Scotland had any substantive concerns about the way we operate and communicate with the licensing and police authorities.

You can download the documents here:

The ECCLR Committee’s virtual meeting starts tomorrow at 9am. The meeting papers can be viewed here and the meeting can be watched live here.

Transcripts from the meeting will be posted here when available and I’ll be blogging about the Committee’s decision on this petition and a number of others of interest.

UPDATE 1st July 2022: Scottish Parliament sees sense and closes SGA’s petition seeking ‘Independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptors’ (here).

12 thoughts on “Scottish gamekeepers’ petition calling for independent monitoring of raptor satellite tags is ‘fact-free nonsense’”

    1. “Fact free nonsense it maybe but we’re dealing with an indifferent ethic free Scottish Govt”

      Yes Stephen, therein lies the deep tap roots of the problem. Failure to weed it all out and back the unwanted growth will inevitably come.
      The SG could have used existing powers/created new ones (if need be) to bring an end to all the criminality and abuse. The bottom line is that they have opted not to do so.

  1. Perhaps the SGA should fund the purchase of satellite tags on the basis that they are made party to the tracking system for “their” tags? Otherwise I would suggest that it is absolutely none of their business.

    1. Taking this unlikely scenario one step further, it would be intriguing to see how the SGA birds’ survival rate compared with that of the other tagged birds out there.

  2. Very pleased to be on the same side as RSPB, GESTG,and Ruth Tingey. This fight is only going one way, beak and claw…….

  3. Dear gamekeepers……if you dont know what “eviscerate” means…think gralloch.

    Your argument is dumped on the hillside- feeding ravens and the crows.

    What a pathetic waste of everyones time. The good thing is that politicians dont like people wasting their time….and they wont forget.

    Next week BASC should be doing a video blog on the deffinition of the word “Counter-productive”.

  4. Please correct me if I am wrong.
    But the way I am understanding this is that the SGA has petitioned the SG regarding satellite tagging process in what appears to an attempt to try and divert attention away from the fact that satellite tagged data indicates potential crime hotspots over or near grouse moors?

    So I have to question why the SGA has chosen to try and discredit the current satellite tagging process, rather than launch an investigation into the activities of its members working near to those areas where the satellite data has indicated potential criminal activity? (Perhaps, they have done this?)

    What is the motivation behind the SGA to petition the SG in this way?

    If Police Scotland, who are charged with investigating the potential crimes revealed by satellite tagging data, accept the current arrangements, then why don’t the SGA?

    Surely if the SGA are committed to eradicating raptor persecution, they would accept the current satellite tagging arrangements, the data it provides, and then work in an open and transparent manner to remove any individuals within their organisation which they suspected of being involved in raptor crime?

    Could this be a major part of the cause of the “damaging mistrust” they claim exists between stakeholders?

    Perhaps the SGA would do better to reflect on their own activities to eradicate raptor persecution, rather than try and influence what other are doing!

  5. So the SGA want the data to be handled by PolScot directly. Do they expect PolScot or NatureScot to finance the tags themselves, with the additional staff time given to monitoring? Could the SGA be offering to finance the tags and monitoring?

    Perhaps the SGA would set up a trial operation as a demonstration, sufficiently large enough to be significant, to compare with the current process and show the improvements they expect?

    1. “Perhaps the SGA would set up a trial operation as a demonstration”

      The only trials that are required are those of wildlife criminals in the dock.

      Any sort of demonstration, or proposed demonstration, will simply hand the SG an opportunity to embark upon another time wasting misadventure with the aim of achieving their target (which is already perfectly clear to the majority of us) i.e, preserve the status quo.

      Criminality and land abuse are the unambiguous problems to be faced.
      Holyrood continues to avoid grasping the nettle.

  6. I find it incredible that this petition, of all the petitions has not been closed.
    I cannot see how this can even be justified. The petition states that no crime has ever been proved via satellite tag data but I do not believe that the purpose is to help prosecutions. Quite the reverse.

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