‘Grouse shooting shames Scotland’

To coincide with the start of the Inglorious 12th (the opening of the grouse shooting season) last week, The Herald ran this piece written by Robbie Marsland, Director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland and a founding member of Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform.

It’s reproduced in full here:

No one knows how many wild red grouse will be shot during the Scottish shooting season starting on 12 August. Neither do we know how many of those birds will be left wounded and suffering as they wait to be put out of their misery. This is because grouse shooting is almost entirely unregulated.

There are estimates that the UK wide number of grouse killed each year is around 600,000. If that’s true, then it would seem likely that around half will be shot in Scotland.

But how do the grouse withstand an annual carnage of around 300,000 birds shot for entertainment? The answer is an innocuous word – “management”.

Grouse moor management means protecting the grouse from anything that threatens them to make sure there are enough to shoot for entertainment.

Birds of prey eat grouse and although they have full legal protection there is a mysterious absence of mating pairs on Scottish shooting estates.

Mountain hares are also seen as a threat as they are thought to spread disease or compete for food. For years and years on average 26,000 were killed each year to increase the number of grouse that could be killed for entertainment. The good news here is that the Government recently introduced a licensing scheme but we don’t yet know to what extent it will stop this killing.

Foxes, stoats and weasels also naturally predate on grouse. The League Against Cruel Sports’ recently published report, Calculating Cruelty, based on a survey of seven Scottish estates calculated that traps and snares are responsible for the deaths of around 200,000 animals each year, 40% of which weren’t even the target species. All to increase the number of grouse to be shot.

Crows and ravens also naturally take grouse in the wild. You need a license to shoot a raven but no one knows how many crows are captured and killed in cage traps or simply shot.

All this killing to kill goes on year in, year out.

Some people think grouse shooting brings in lots of money and jobs. But the truth is that this is just wrong. According to the industry’s own figures grouse shooting brings in £23 million a year. But when you consider that just one Tesco store can turn over around £44 million a year, it becomes clear what a drop in the ocean grouse shooting contributes to the economy.

However, the paltry contribution this so-called industry makes to the Scottish economy is nothing compared to the immorality of killing hundreds and thousands of animals to make sure it’s possible to kill hundreds of thousands more animals purely for entertainment.

This is why at the beginning of this grouse shooting season the League is calling on the Scottish Government to prevent animals being killed for the purpose of increasing the population of another animal so that more can be shot for entertainment. Killing to kill must stop.


Police to undertake social media checks for gun licence applicants after Plymouth mass shooting

The news that police forces in England and Wales will be checking the social media accounts of gun licence applicants is very welcome news, especially as abuse by gamekeepers and other gun holders against conservationists intensifies (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here).

According to an article in The Times this weekend, the Westminster Government will publish statutory guidance this autumn outlining how police forces handle firearm and shotgun licence applications. This is in the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Plymouth last week by a 22-year old, who despite having a history of posting violent and misogynistic abuse on social media, was still approved to have a weapon, which he went on to use with utterly tragic consequences.

In another article, Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens told the Telegraph this weekend that UK police forces should perform thorough online checks into people applying for firearms licences following the shooting on Thursday. He called for a more in-depth ‘trawl’ of internet posts to try to establish whether people trying to get police approval for a gun have a history of making hateful comments online.

The gunman was clearly a dangerous man – there is no doubt he was a threat. The videos he made should have been taken into account when he applied for a shotgun licence.

There needs to be trawling of online content for an in-depth assessment of who these people are and what they think. We need to ensure that guns do not fall into the hands of dangerous people“.

Referring to the highly misogynistic posts made by incels [involuntary celibates] on forums and chat rooms, he said: “I would suggest people posting these kinds of comments clearly pose a concerning threat“.

According to the Telegraph, Jonathan Hall QC, the Government’s independent reviewer on terrorism legislation, also supported calls for considering the social media profiles of those looking to get hold of a gun.

Obviously we don’t want to live in a society where what we do online is routinely looked at by the state, but I see the force of the point that social media may be a valuable source of information about risk in the context of firearm licensing“, he said.

Police Scotland are apparently ahead of the game. Three years ago a review by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) concluded that online activity is a key source of information when deciding whether someone is suitable to own a gun.

In response to the report, Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Mark Williams said: “Where concerns are raised, we may use social media as one of a number of sources of information during our checks. Looking to the future, we are considering expanding this approach as part of the national licensing process.”

Hopefully the new statutory guidance of checking social media accounts won’t be restricted to just incidences ‘where concerns are raised’ [about an applicant] but rather this becomes a standard, routine examination for all applicants. The cost of this increased scrutiny should be placed firmly at the door of the gun licence applicants, and not be heavily subsidised by the tax payer as current gun licensing is.

It’ll also be interesting to see how the police deal with abusive and aggressive gun owners who maintain a hidden identity on social media. There are quite a few of those claiming to be from the game-shooting world, some of whom hide their identities quite successfully, others not so well, and none of whom are called out by the mainstream game-shooting organisations (indeed, some of those organisations even share the abuser’s posts!).

If you have any concerns about the suitability of someone who you believe is a firearms / shotgun certificate holder, whether they’re from the game-shooting world or not, please don’t hesitate to report him/her to the relevant police station.

‘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.


Politicians urged to speak out for upland reform

During this year’s Hen Harrier Day broadcast, Wild Justice launched a new ‘e-action’ allowing members of the public to easily contact their local parliamentary representative and ask for reform in the uplands.

How does this e-action work?

Well, Wild Justice has written the text of a letter (see below), in this case asking for uplands that work for people, for climate and for wildlife. Members of the public can simply enter their postcode in to the search box and the software will identify the person’s elected member of parliament, whether that be in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

By clicking ‘continue’, you’ll get to read the letter and have the opportunity to click another button which will automatically send the letter to your local politician.

Wild Justice’s aim is for every single politician in all four parliaments to receive at least one letter on this subject. So far, over 14,000 letters have been sent and almost every single politician has received at least one from one of their constituents (see here).

Here is the text of the letter being sent:

I am writing to you to ask you to speak up for our uplands. 

In the face of a nature and climate emergency, we need uplands that work for people, for the climate and for wildlife.

Ahead of this autumn’s international meetings on climate and biodiversity, I would like to ask you to make a new commitment to the precious upland landscapes of Britain. 

As the person who speaks for me in parliament, can I ask you to stand up for uplands that work for:

People:  We need a better deal for residents, workers, landowners, visitors and taxpayers. Our hills should provide benefits for all. We need to see more sustainable economic activity, reduced flood risk and responsible land ownership. They should benefit our health and wellbeing, as beautiful places to relax and enjoy the scenery and wildlife.  

Climate: We need you to help uplands reach their potential as huge, natural carbon stores; they are key to helping us tackle climate change in a sustainable way. The return of natural woodlands and bogs in prime condition will deliver that vision and bring wildlife back. The uplands are our largest carbon bank – let’s invest in them.

Wildlife: We need to reverse decades of de-wilding and put the wildlife back into the uplands. We need to diversify landscapes, restore a mix of habitats and shift away from over-burning, over-draining and overgrazing.

At the heart of this, we must see an end to the persecution of our raptors. The brutal killing of Hen Harriers must stop. The killing of Golden Eagles, Peregrines, Buzzards and Goshawks must stop. Our uplands are not uplands without raptors thriving alongside a wealth of wildlife in a functioning ecosystem. 

The absence of Hen Harriers from so many of our upland landscapes, including many of our National Parks, symbolises how wrong the current situation is. Protected wildlife is being removed by criminals engaged in unsustainable land management. We cannot be proud of the uplands whilst wildlife crime is rife. 

I am asking you as my political representative to commit to this new vision for the uplands of Britain: for people, for the climate and for wildlife.


If you haven’t yet signed the e-action and you’d like to do so, please CLICK HERE to send a strong message backed by thousands of others who think the same. Thank you.

Multi-agency raid following suspected raptor persecution in Herefordshire

Herefordshire Police led a multi-agency raid on Thursday 12th August following a suspected raptor persecution incident in the south west of the county.

The police were joined by staff from Natural England, National Wildlife Crime Unit and RSPB Investigation’s team. Items were seized and enquiries are apparently continuing.

[Photos from RSPB]

This is at least the 7th multi-agency search in England this year, all in response to raptor persecution crimes. On 18th January 2021 there was a raid in Suffolk (here), on 15th March there was a raid in Lincolnshire (see here), on 18th March a raid in Dorset (here), on 26th March a raid in Devon (see here), on 21st April a raid in Teesdale (here), on 2nd August a raid in Shropshire (here) and now this raid in Herefordshire.

Well done to all the agencies involved in these follow-up investigations. It’s good to see genuine partnership-working in the fight to catch the raptor killers.

Trial date set for gamekeeper accused of killing buzzards

A gamekeeper appeared in court on 12th August 2021 accused of the alleged killing of a number of buzzards in Nottinghamshire in January 2021.

He was charged after a joint investigation by Nottinghamshire Police and the RSPB’s Investigations Team (see here).

The gamekeeper pleaded not guilty so this case will now progress to trial.

Trial dates have been set for 6th-7th January 2022.

Please note, as this is a live case no further detail will be provided here until the case has concluded or there is official commentary from the court reporter. Comments on this particular blog also won’t be accepted until the case concludes so as not to prejudice proceedings. Thanks for your understanding.

Gamekeeper on trial for alleged killing of buzzards

A gamekeeper is due in court tomorrow (12th August 2021) accused of the alleged killing of a number of buzzards.

This prosecution relates to the joint investigation undertaken by Nottinghamshire Police and the RSPB’s Investigations Team in January this year (see here). It’s a good example of what genuine partnership-working can achieve.

Tomorrow’s court hearing will provide an opportunity for the defendant to enter a plea.

If he pleads not guilty, the case is expected to continue to go to trial at a later date.

If he pleads guilty, he may be sentenced tomorrow or the magistrate may ask for background reports before sentencing at a later date.

Please note, as this is a live case no further detail will be provided here until the case has concluded or there is official commentary from the court reporter. Comments on this particular blog also won’t be accepted until the case concludes so as not to prejudice proceedings. Thanks for your understanding.

UPDATE 15th August 2021: Trial date set for gamekeeper accused of killing buzzards (here)

It’s Hen Harrier Day! Live broadcast starts at 10am

It’s Hen Harrier Day, the 8th year this event has been part of the UK’s conservation scene.

Covid restrictions have meant that once again the event has had to move online, but the upside is that this provides more opportunity to reach a wider audience.

This year Wild Justice has put together the programme and Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin will be hosting the live broadcast from 10am to 11.30am (click here to watch). They’ll be joined by a wide variety of guests and contributors discussing the problems with current upland management and how these issues could be addressed.

There’ll be plenty of opportunities for you to get involved, whether that’s bidding for some fantastic original artwork (including a piece by Jim Moir [Vic Reeves] no less!), buying a t-shirt, or signing the Call for Action to your local parliamentary representative. All proceeds will go to Wild Justice and its conservation campaign work, including work to protect the hen harrier.

Stand by for an eventful show!


[Female hen harrier, photographed by Laurie Campbell]

Job vacancy: scientist to assess ecological impact of releasing ~60 million non-native gamebirds in UK every year

The RSPB is recruiting a conservation scientist for a fixed-term (one year) position to assess the ecological impacts of releasing millions of non-native gamebirds in the UK countryside every year.

The exact number of gamebirds that are released in the UK for shooting every year is not known because, incredibly and unlike virtually every other European country, the game bird shooting industry in the UK has been astonishingly under-regulated. Nobody even knows how many game bird shoots there are because the people involved have not had to register anywhere, nor report on the number of birds released / shot each year, in order to get a licence (because there is no licence!). It’s been a great old wheeze for decades.

Although some new, limited, regulation has now been introduced, thanks to a legal challenge by Wild Justice, it will still be incredibly difficult to find out how many non-native birds are being let loose each year, (currently estimated at around 61.2 million per annum). The ecological impacts of releasing so many alien species in to the countryside has to be substantial.

[This photograph of non-native pheasants released for shooting was posted on social media by a gamekeeper in Scotland]

The RSPB has been reviewing and developing its policy on gamebird shooting (e.g. here) and the findings of the newly-recruited scientist will feed in to that on-going policy review.

It’s interesting to note that one of the four main areas of focus for this post is ‘a spatial analysis to investigate to what extent raptor persecution incidents are associated with gamebird releasing’. I’ll look forward to seeing those results.

Here is an overview of what the job entails:

Recreational shooting of gamebirds in the UK is underpinned by a suite of management practices, including the annual large-scale release of non-native pheasants and red-legged partridges. With an estimated 57 million birds released into the UK countryside annually, there is much interest in identifying potential positive and negative ecological impacts of released gamebirds and of associated management on wildlife and habitats.  This 1 year fixed-term role will work on identified knowledge gaps, producing outputs to inform and support RSPB policy and research development regarding ecological impacts of non-native gamebird release.

This desk-based role will include work on four main areas, with the post holder:

Organising, undertaking and analysing a survey of land managers to characterise potential and perceived impacts of gamebirds on protected sites and species.

Leading a spatial analysis to investigate to what extent raptor persecution incidents are associated with gamebird releasing.

Reviewing and critiquing current gamebird releasing sustainability guidance and synthesising the associated evidence.

Contributing to the production of peer-reviewed publications in relation to ecological effects of gamebird release.

Essential skills, knowledge and experience:

  • The ideal candidate for this role will have a proven scientific background (e.g. a PhD in a relevant subject or equivalent experience designing and conducting one or more research projects to a robust scientific standard).
  • A track record of scientific writing and peer-reviewed publication.
  • Experience of designing and implementing ethically-sound, ideally web-based, questionnaire surveys.
  • Experience of collecting, collating, manipulating and analysing large and complex data sets, including knowledge of how to apply complex analytical procedures such as the quantitative analysis of qualitative data arising from questionnaire surveys, and analysis of spatially-reference data.
  • Familiar with Microsoft Office applications and proficient in the use of R or similar statistical software for complex statistical analysis, and ability to learn new techniques and programmes.
  • Experience of summarising and communicating complex scientific information both to colleagues/peers and external audiences.
  • Self-motivated and able to work efficiently to plan and organise their work within a defined work plan to meet deadlines.

Salary: £27,574.00 – £30,590.00 Per Annum

Benefits: Pension, annual leave

Duration: 12 months

Location: Flexible

Closing date: 30th August 2021

For more information and to apply for this position, please click here.

Police attend suspected peregrine shooting near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

Yesterday, Thames Valley Police (Aylesbury Vale) posted this on Facebook:

I haven’t been able to find any follow-up information, e.g. whether the peregrine was x-rayed to confirm/rule out shooting and there isn’t an incident number or an appeal for information on the Thames Valley Police website.

Meanwhile, the local press are reporting this as a confirmed shooting. Eg. see this headline from the Bucks Free Press:

Wouldn’t it be good if there was a national standard on how to report suspected raptor persecution crimes, that every police force could follow? And a central location where these verified reports could be found?