Desperate & delusional: Scottish Land & Estates’ grand plan for tackling raptor persecution

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.

9 thoughts on “Desperate & delusional: Scottish Land & Estates’ grand plan for tackling raptor persecution”

  1. The letter from SLE betrays the writer’s stunning ecological ignorance (or do they just hope that the recipient is daft enough to swallow such crap?)
    In addition to the outdated concept of “the food chain”, the letter claims that “songbirds” are somehow at the bottom. Is the writer unaware of the animals that are consumed by “songbirds”, and of their food in turn. Is he/she also unaware that nature is not, and never has been in “balance”, but a continual state of flux? And, that intensively “managed” shooting estates are about as far from any (real or perceived) “balance” as possible?
    Of course, we all know that their idea of “balance” really refers to a state that simply suits their own twisted definition, and their own selfish, greedy interests.

    No wonder their representatives are so reluctant to answer simple questions.

    1. Butterflies, moths and other insects are in decline in this country, perhaps we need to cull song birds to protect them.
      Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ‘em, little fleas have lesser fleas so on to infinite ‘em

      1. Indeed, Mike.

        I once had the idea of opening a butterfly farm, so I could charge “sportsmen” a couple of grand a throw to come and swat them for their own amusement. Sadly, it proved impossible to maintain the grossly unnatural densities required for “economic viability”, due to the presence of Spotted Flycatchers. Could I get a licence to “control” them, or take their eggs and hatch them elsewhere?…

        Could I buggery!

  2. No. 7. Tagging of birds using those such as used by Wildland Ltd. Are those tags notoriously useless then?

  3. Para 1 – Away and join “Wildlife Estates” then. It supposedly does all this anyway and already has the approval of the SG and NatureScot.

    But this time try and make a real difference.

    Except that you won’t or can’t, because some of your member’s business model depends on damaging and clearly illegal activities.

  4. The SLE membership wont even participate in the existing PAWS schemes. They may represent their members, but their members dont work with them. A strange state of affairs.

  5. No the tag tracking is on the ‘ net not quite in real time. Presumably so that their potentially criminal minions can know which birds will be discovered if they die an unnatural death.

  6. I think if I were NatureScot I would be looking for a polite way of saying F==k o++ to SLE or perhaps just saying that might get the message through their less than bright skulls.

  7. There were so many weasel words in the first email, such as sustainable populations of endangered species, as opposed to the unsustainable numbers of grouse. Most landowners view one Hen Harrier as being an unsustainable population and should be reduced.
    I am not sure exactly what the SGA, SLE etc hope to gain by more openness is the tagging of raptor, either a nivana moment proving the that tags become unreliable once they enter a grouse moor, or that the criminals will be able to see exactly were the raptors are on their grouse moors so that they can be easily targeted.
    Hopefully once this election is over we might see some progress on grouse moor licencing, though the devil will be in the detail. We can but hope that the conditions will be significantly stringent and legally coherent to deter at least some of the criminals who continue to target raptors.

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