In response to the news that Police Scotland are investigating the circumstances of five eagles found dead in the Western Isles earlier this month (see here), Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the grouse moor owners’ lobby group has issued what I’d call a staggeringly disingenuous statement, where the blame for ongoing raptor persecution appears to be being projected on to those of us who dare to call out the shooting industry for its ongoing war against birds of prey.
Here’s SLE’s statement in full, dated 20 August 2021:
Response to raptor fatalities should not depend on location or landuse
Reports of five eagles being found dead on the Western Isles are very serious.
Police Scotland has said that officers are investigating and it is to be hoped that the facts of these potentially shocking incidents are established as quickly as possible.
The birds – four golden eagles and a white-tailed sea eagle – were found at separate locations on Lewis and Harris and it is said that, at this stage, they are not linked.
No grouse shooting takes place on the Western Isles and we wholeheartedly support the police’s appeal for information and anyone who can help should call Police Scotland on 101, or make a call anonymously to the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
It has been suggested that intraguild predation – where one species predates on another – may be one possible explanation in these cases but equally we accept there is the prospect that a terrible wildlife crime has been committed to protect livestock.
If that is the case, outright condemnation is the only rightful response.
That applies wherever raptor persecution takes place.
The response from some quarters thus far to the incidents on the Western Isles is in sharp contrast to what happens over alleged incidents that occur in areas where land is managed for grouse shooting. In these cases organisations and campaign groups are very quick off the mark to point fingers. If a wildlife crime takes place on land managed for shooting, livestock farming or any other land use (and such incidents are thankfully rare, becoming more so all the time) then it must be investigated and the culprits should face the full force of the law. It can be difficult to prosecute but Scotland now benefits from some of the most stringent laws against raptor persecution in Europe. A lot more could be achieved with less finger pointing and more constructive collaboration on the ground. Scotland is fortunate to have historically high numbers of golden eagles and we want to see even more of them.
So SLE is unhappy that campaigners keep ‘pointing fingers’ at the grouse-shooting industry whenever an illegally shot / poisoned / trapped bird of prey is discovered dead or critically injured on, er, a driven grouse moor?!!!!!!!!!
Or when satellite-tagged hen harriers and golden eagles keep ‘disappearing’ in suspicious circumstances, on or close to driven grouse moors.
If these crimes were just a one-off, once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence then yes, perhaps SLE would have a point. However, the connection between the driven grouse shooting industry and the illegal persecution of birds of prey has been clear for decades, and backed up with endless scientific papers and Government-commissioned reviews (here are the latest for golden eagle and for hen harrier).
Here’s an example of how long this has been going on – a scientific paper published in 2002, using data from 1981-2000 – demonstrating an indisputable link between grouse moors and illegal poisoning:
1981 – that was 40 years ago!!
And yet here we are in 2021 and still illegally poisoned golden eagles are being found dead on grouse moors and still nobody has ever been successfully prosecuted in Scotland for killing a golden eagle. The most recently confirmed poisoned eagle was this one inside the Cairngorms National Park, right next door to the royal estate of Balmoral. In fact this eagle is believed to have fledged on Balmoral a few months before it flew to neighbouring Invercauld Estate (an SLE member, no less) where it consumed a hare that had been smothered in a banned pesticide and laid out as a poisoned bait. The person(s) responsible for laying this poisoned bait have not been identified.
[Poisoned golden eagle laying next to poisoned mountain hare bait, Invercauld Estate, Cairngorms National Park. Photo by RSPB Scotland]
Such is the extent of illegal persecution on some driven grouse moors, it is having (and continues to have) a population-level effect on some species, including golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines.
And such is the extent and quality of this scientific evidence, the Scottish Government has committed to implementing a licensing scheme for grouse shooting in an attempt to try and rein in the criminal activity that underpins this so-called ‘sport’ because Ministers recognise the grouse-shooting industry is incapable of self-regulation.
I don’t know what SLE means when it says it wants ‘more constructive collaboration on the ground‘. Perhaps it means that gamekeepers will step forward and provide more than ‘no comment’ interviews when the police are investigating the latest crime on a grouse-shooting estate, instead of offering the usual wall of silence?
Perhaps it means the estate owners will refuse to employ the sporting agents and head gamekeepers whose methods are well known to include routine raptor persecution? (These individuals are well known – it’s no secret within the industry who they are).
Or perhaps it means that the shooting industry itself, including the game-shooting organisations, the shooting press etc will blacklist those estates known to still be killing birds of prey, instead of accepting funding donations from them and pretending that they don’t know what’s going on there?
That’d be useful, constructive collaboration, wouldn’t it?
Until all of that happens, SLE and the rest of the grouse shooting cabal can expect people like me and my colleagues in the conservation field to continue shining a bloody great big megawatt spotlight on this filthy industry.