‘Persistent intimidation’ – raptor conservationists face ongoing harassment from gamekeepers

Award-winning investigative journalism website The Ferret published an article last week with an account of how raptor conservationists are facing ongoing harassment from gamekeepers and supporters of the grouse-shooting industry.

Thanks to journalist Stuart Spray for the invitation to contribute to this piece.

It’s reproduced here in full:

Conservationists working to protect rare birds of prey claim they are being abused online and intimidated in the field by gamekeepers and supporters of the grouse shooting industry.

Logan Steele, communications secretary for the Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG), made up of conservationists working to protect rare birds of prey, told The Ferret that he is regularly contacted by workers who say they have been targeted in the line of their work.

Steele says members report incidents such as being surrounded by armed gamekeepers – often in 4x4s or on quad bikes – being followed for hours on end whilst out monitoring, being abused verbally, having tyres let down, having police called on them and even being spat at whilst drinking in the local pub.

He claims the intimidation is widespread, but most raptor workers are not prepared to go on record for fear of reprisals.

The SRSG, set up in 1980, has more than 350 voluntary members monitoring the vast majority of the 6,000 plus raptor territories checked annually as part of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme.

The scheme supplies data to organisations like the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), RSPB and NatureScot – the Scottish Government’s wildlife watchdog – to help understand population dynamics and inform conservation priorities. Members of SRSG also gather information on raptor persecution.

Gamekeepers have also previously claimed to be subjected to abuse. In a survey last November by the BASC, Countryside Alliance, Game Farmers Association and National Gamekeepers Association 64 per cent of Scottish gamekeepers said they had experienced threatening behaviour or abuse from members of the public at least once every year.

The study, which surveyed 152 gamekeepers, also found the majority (79 per cent) felt ‘less optimistic’ due to ‘targeted anti-shooting campaigns and the negative portrayal of shooting in the public domain’.

But Steele said conservationists were suffering. He added: “Our members on some driven grouse moors continue to be subjected to persistent levels of intimidation and abuse from gamekeepers. It is patently clear that raptor workers and indeed the wider public are not always welcome on some driven grouse moors“.

Steele has himself been trolled online several times. “On one occasion an ex-gamekeeper boasted online that he had fitted a tracking device to my car and knew I was at home“, he said. Concerned that he was being followed he got the car checked over but no tracking devices were found.

An image Steele posted of himself online with a hen harrier chick in 2006 was allegedly downloaded and regularly reposted on two ex-gamekeeper’s social media pages along with claims accusing him of professional malpractice without evidence.

Consultant ecologist, Andrea Hudspeth – who along with Steele received an RSPB award in 2017 for raptor campaign work – claimed she also felt threatened on shooting estates.

She added: “I have been monitoring raptors on a grouse shooting estate for a number of years now and have always been made to feel unwelcome, so much so that I don’t feel safe going there on my own.

She claimed the experience could be intimidating. Of one estate she said: “Having phoned the day before to let the estate know I was coming, I was told where I could and couldn’t go as they were shooting foxes that day. He [the head gamekeeper] told me that if I strayed into the wrong area, it wouldn’t be his fault if I got shot. At the time, that sounded like a veiled threat“.

Dr Ruth Tingay, an award-winning conservationist and director of Wild Justice, a not-for-profit organisation set up with broadcaster Chris Packham and environmental campaigner Mark Avery to ‘fight for wildlife in the courts and in the media’, told The Ferret she was subjected to online abuse on an almost daily basis.

Tingay, who runs the Raptor Persecution UK blog, claimed she received comments online that were routinely misogynistic and homophobic and involved personal slurs on her appearance and character.

My personal telephone number has been published online and folk have been incited to make abusive phone calls. I have also received abusive text messages,”, added Tingay.

My home address has been published and shared on social media. Photographs of my home have been published and shared on social media. I have been followed and photographed on grouse moors and these have been published on social media with accompanying defamatory comments.

I have been accused of fabricating evidence, of perverting the course of justice, of inflicting cruelty to wildlife, of killing eagles, of planting evidence, and conversely, and bizarrely, of withholding evidence from the police, of lying to the police, of lying to ministers, of lying to supporters, of lying in general“.

Tingay says the targeted harassment has been going on for the last six years and shows no signs of stopping. Earlier this week she was described by one shooter as “absolute poison” and another shooter opened a discussion titled: ‘Is Tingay a witch?’

These individual comments are, of course, pathetic and laughable and are easy to shrug off, so obvious is the desperation behind them”, she said. “But it’s the accumulation of the comments, that’s when the problem starts.

It’s relentless, and I think that’s very, very dangerous. That constant tide of abuse would take its toll on even the most resilient person. I’ve put measures in place to deal with it and I’m fortunate to be working with a world-class mental health coach. That’s not what I expected to need when I decided to work in the field of raptor conservation“.

However, Steele also insisted that most conservationists and grouse shooters, landowners, stalkers, ghillies and gamekeepers had a “very good working relationship”. He claimed those behind the abuse were trying to create a “false, them-and-us situation”.

The issue really resides with a small number of driven grouse shooting businesses”, he added. “In recent years we have seen some estates beginning to moderate their attitudes to raptor persecution which is very encouraging“.

The Ferret contacted the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, the landowners’ representative group Scottish Land & Estates and the Countryside Alliance. None of the organisations replied to requests for comment.

However, Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg has previously said gamekeepers are currently being “undervalued” and called for action to be taken on the abuse they have faced.

ENDS

15 thoughts on “‘Persistent intimidation’ – raptor conservationists face ongoing harassment from gamekeepers”

  1. It is a sorry state of affairs when people are being abused like this and the lack of action taken by our police forces.

    If this was racial abuse it would be investigated etc

    Online abuse is the worse or threatening you when they are in numbers – cowards really

    Nobody seems to want to do anything about this and SGA/BASC are bleating about their members being abused

    Stop murdering birds of prey, clean up your act and you will find the abuse drops exponentially

  2. The violence surrounding a licensed shotgun holder in Plymouth is leading to calls for the Police to review social media postings by holders of shotgun licenses. This should be supported. I’d suggest starting by lobbying Members of all four Parliaments in the UK. They may be shocked at what is happening in the UK in the 21st Century…

    1. I think for a start, the taxpayer should stop subsidising shotgun and firearms licenses. It is £79 to apply for a shotgun license, £49 for renewal, which goes nowhere near to the cost in police time to sufficiently process the application.

      And a full interview with an psychological assessment shoul be part of the process. It should be a privilege to own a firearm, not a right.

      1. Shotgun Certificate £79 for 5 years.

        Rod Licence (Eng & Wales) £30 – £82 for 1 year.

        Something out of kilter there !

        Furthermore, in cases where people are being intimidated does that not count as threatening behaviour ? Where intimidation occurs where the offender is in possession of a weapon that should be an aggravated offence.

  3. It must be extremely stressful and frightening for the conservationists who regularly receive this abuse, these threats and damage to property. It is also unacceptable that the police are not making it a priority to protect innocent people. It’s the bullies who seem to get the protection of the law. WMPUK (Wild Mammal Persecution UK) is currently producing regular reports about alleged abuse. Bob Berzins is regularly subjected to abuse and has had his car damaged allegedly by gamekeepers and he also reports in these issues.

    I really think that if the police were taking this seriously they would set up some form of a protection project. Escort by PCSOs, training for police officers, identifying those officers who allegedly support the abusive gamekeepers; a bit of creativity could give greater protection to the innocent.

    It may only be a few gamekeepers (who knows?) but that is immaterial when you are frightened. Land owners should be held to account for what happens on their land. If they are unaware they will root out the bullies. If they encourage their gamekeepers to intimidate others they should be prosecuted.

  4. I don’t see any comment showing concern from the shooting side. Perhaps they will contribute later. Or are they determined to sink or swim together?

  5. The vast majority of these guys are only dangerous in a crowd relying on forces other than their own singular presence to successfully harrass. They specially pick gamekeepers for Driven Grouse Moors as many gamekeepers do not see harrassing non violent individuals as a particularly nice part of the job … leaving the usual half grown suspects to glory in the bullying.

  6. It must be an appalling feeling to try to work under these conditions. Imagine if someone in an office was treated like this!! I recently got a small camera (Apeman) which has very good quality video to wear when I go out walking( not in places as mentioned in the article though!!). Maybe one of these would help record incidents and provide a small amount of protection?

    1. Spot on!!! For many years many people, including yours truly, had been suckered into thinking that although fox hunting and its followers were despicable Hunt Sabs were little better – masked thugs who would even resort to hurting hunt horses and hounds. Then the technology to film became considerably better and cheaper. All of a sudden the real story instead of the bile which the Daily Mail, Daily Express and Telegraph had been spewing became available. It was the Hunt Sabs and monitors that were subjected to abuse and violence (terrier men really are scumbags, and they’re hardly members of the upper classes so the ‘this is just class warfare’ argument is even weaker than you’d think). One of the worst examples I ever saw was a sixty year old granny monitoring a hunt being literally pushed around by ‘men’ twice her size and half her age. There’s literally acres of film in a similar vein, virtually nothing showing hunt sabs acting like that to hunt members – and a lot of that clearly staged, fake.

      Even Charlie Jacoby on the pathetic Fieldsports Channel has had to now revert to claiming it’s the hunt sabs that are strategically annoying hunt folk to provoke these violent responses – it’s not really their fault they’re attacking hunt sabs, the sabs are making them do it!!! Pretty desperate and pathetic. It’s the keepers that are now really pushing the line that they’re the victims of abuse, none of their members are the guilty parties of course. Drawing attention to who’s really saying what on social media and managing to catch interactions with estate staff on film could similarly give the real perspective on this too. I know both Logan and Andrea mentioned in this post and you couldn’t meet nicer people and certainly dedicated conservationists, it infuriates that they’re ever the target of abuse and attempted intimidation.

      1. Many thanks Les for your accurate account of the violence meted out to Sabs and Monitors. Finally with the help of social media the truth is circulating about the vile practice of ripping foxes apart.

        Let’s hope (although I appreciate it is far more difficult) that the violent and unlawful gamekeepers will also be caught on film and soon.

  7. There is plenty of legislation already. Under the Public Order Act. You just need evidence that the offender commited Harrisment, alarm or distress.

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