Cast your mind back to August 2020 for a minute. We were still waiting for the Scottish Government’s response to the Werritty Review (would they licence grouse shooting or not?) and bad news linking raptor persecution and grouse shooting was all over the press in the run up to the Inglorious 12th, the opening of the grouse-shooting season.
[Grouse-shooting butts in Strathbraan. Photo by Ruth Tingay]
For example, Chris Packham pressing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to take action after the discovery of a poisoned white-tailed eagle on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here), Hen Harrier Day going online and attracting an audience of around 150,000 (here), an e-action by the RSPB, Hen Harrier Action and Wild Justice mobilising over 120,000 people to put pressure on their politicians to take action on raptor persecution (here), police investigated more wildlife crime allegations at Leadhills Estate (here), the suspicious disappearance of yet another satellite-tagged golden eagle (‘Tom’) on a grouse moor in Strathbraan (here), Nicola Sturgeon having to discuss raptor persecution during First Minister’s Questions (here), Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham being forced to make a statement about the ongoing killing of raptors on grouse moors after thousands of letters pour in from the public (here), a parliamentary motion prompted by the suspicious disappearance of golden eagle Tom (here), a shocking new report by the League Against Cruel Sports suggesting that up to a quarter of a million animals may be killed (legally) on Scottish grouse moors every year to increase the number of red grouse available to be shot (here), a damning article in The Times reporting on the atrocities at Leadhills and the local community’s horror (here) etc etc.
You get the picture. The pressure was on, of that there’s no doubt.
So what do you think the grouse moor owners’ lobby group, Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) was making of all this? New information, released in an FoI this week, is pretty revealing.
Here is a copy of an email sent to Mike Cantlay, Chair of NatureScot, on 18th August 2020. It was sent either by Tim Baynes (Moorland Director, SLE) or Mark Tennant (Chair, SLE). I know this because of the way my FoI was worded and even though NatureScot has redacted the sender’s name, my money would be on Mark Tennant.
Aside from the breath-taking arrogance, this letter reveals the desperation and delusion of SLE’s position.
The opening line is the standard position of denial we’ve come to expect from SLE whenever raptor persecution is raised – I’ve blogged about it time and time and time again. There hasn’t been any ‘real progress’ on the prevention of raptor persecution and no matter how many times SLE claims there has, it doesn’t change the fact that there hasn’t! That is precisely why the grouse shooting industry is under so much scrutiny and pressure – because it has been unable to self regulate and boot out the criminals that seem to be allowed to operate in plain sight.
The idea of removing one dysfunctional group (PAW Scotland Raptor Group) and replacing it with another dysfunctional one (COPBAN) is hilarious. I did laugh, a lot, when I read about those plans. And by the way, SLE, nobody has asked Wild Justice whether it’d be interested in participating and I guess nobody has asked the groups already serving on the (dysfunctional) PAW Raptor Group how they’d feel about being side-lined. I’m pretty sure BASC, GWCT, Scottish Raptor Study Group etc would all have something to say!
The idea that estates would fund raptor satellite tagging (presumably excluding all legitimate scientific researchers??) and that gamekeepers would fit the tags demonstrates the high level of ignorance about how satellite tagging is regulated in the UK. There is currently only a handful of expert taggers in the UK, probably less than 20, who are sufficiently qualified, licensed and experienced to fit satellite-tags to birds of prey. Quite rightly, it takes years and years and years to reach the high standards required by the licensing authority. That SLE still hasn’t grasped this very simple concept is jaw-dropping.
And as for having a public website showing the live positions, day and night, of highly-threatened species like golden eagles and hen harriers – yeah, what could possibly go wrong?!
Here is NatureScot’s response to this outlandish proposal from SLE:
I’ll be blogging about some more communications between these two organisations in due course, also uncovered via FoI and related to grouse moor management, the Werritty Review and raptor satellite tracking.