Cairngorms National Park Authority targets intensive gamebird management in draft Park Plan

The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) is targeting intensive gamebird management in its latest draft National Park Plan (2022-2027), much to the outrage of some of the CNPA Board members.

This focus isn’t just restricted to intensive driven grouse moor management either; this time the CNPA also has its eyes on the release of non-native gamebirds (pheasants and red-legged partridges) and what ecological impacts that might cause.

As far as I’m aware, this is the first time the CNPA has made any attempt to get this issue into the five-yearly National Park Plan. Questions about driven grouse shooting were inevitable after the Scottish Government’s decision to introduce a licencing scheme in an attempt to regulate the criminals still operating in plain sight (here) but the release of non-native gamebirds inside the National Park has, until now, largely been ignored.

Nick Kempe, author of the excellent ParkWatchScotland blog, has raised the issue a few times over the last few years (well worth a read, e.g. see here and here) and he’s pointed out that the CNPA has failed to even monitor how many birds are released inside the National Park, let alone how many are subsequently shot.

A quick look around on some of the shooting websites shows that these birds are not in short supply in the National Park. Ralia Estate, located on the western side of the Park, is apparently offering clients the opportunity to shoot between 200-500 red-legged partridge/pheasants per day during the season – that’s an obscene amount of killing. And not all their clients are even able to distinguish between a pheasant and a buzzard (here).

[Photo of a pheasant shoot on Ralia Estate in the Cairngorms National Park, via Guns on Pegs website]

In addition to pressure on the CNPA from Nick Kempe, the issue of the impact of gamebird releases on biodiversity has also been gaining traction in England, with DEFRA being forced to review the potential impacts of releasing these alien species on protected areas and to develop a licensing scheme for gamebird release after a legal challenge last year from conservation campaign group Wild Justice (see here).

Whatever has led the CNPA to start looking at this issue inside the Cairngorms National Park, it’s a long overdue but nevertheless very welcome move, although not all the CNPA Board members agree if their responses to the draft Plan are anything to go by.

These responses can be watched in a fascinating video of the CNPA Board meeting held earlier this month which has now been put online. The point of the meeting was for CNPA staff, led by CEO Grant Moir, to present the draft National Park Plan for 2022-2027 to the Board for their ‘approval’ to put it out for a three-month public consultation.

This process for the Park Plan has been in motion for quite some time, but if you listen to some of the Board members’ comments you’d think it had been foisted on them out of nowhere.

To summarise the process, the Park Plan has been put together after an initial public consultation asking people to help shape the plan’s objectives, now it’s gone to public consultation (23rd Sept – 17th Dec), then the CNPA staff and Board will consider all the consultation responses and put together a final Plan in the spring, to put to Scottish Ministers next June.

This video of the Board meeting is well worth your time. It’s just over an hour and a half long, so it will take some commitment on your part, but honestly, it’s one of the funniest things I’ve watched in ages.

(CLICK HERE to watch).

It starts off with someone calling a register and you feel like you’re watching a classroom parody, and actually this theme is quite appropriate later on in the video as some of the participants have to be schooled repeatedly, not just about the consultation process but also about how to behave during the Board meeting.

Then for the first 25 minutes there’s a clear explanation about the process and about the draft consultation document from three CNPA staff, before the floor is opened to the Board members to ask questions / make comments etc, and for CEO Grant Moir to respond.

I won’t spoil the surprise but look out for some familiar names making fools of themselves as they question why gamebird management is part of the draft Plan (Doug McAdam, serial raptor persecution denier and former CEO of grouse moor lobby group Scottish Land & Estates; Geva Blackett, former parliamentary officer for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association & married to the now retired Factor of Invercauld Estate) and especially watch out for Deirdre Falconer and John Kirk – the latter for his views on peatland restoration (and while he’s talking, watch CNPA staff member Gavin Miles’s eyes – they say it all!).

I’ve got to say, CEO Grant Moir and Xander McDade (CNPA Convenor) gave a masterclass on how to provide a calm, measured and well-evidenced response to what at times were contributions verging on hysteria. You’ll be pleased to know that there are also some eminently sensible Board members, and at least two of them restored some faith in the ability of the Board (Fiona McLean and Peter Argyle).

On the Park Plan consultation itself, as mentioned above, it is now open until 17th December and anyone can contribute to it – whether you’re a Park resident or visitor – you can find the consultation online HERE.

I may come back to the Plan’s objectives in a later blog – I did notice that tackling raptor persecution, which has featured quite prominently in previous Plans, doesn’t seem to be included this time [NB: see update at foot of blog], probably because the CNPA has failed to get to grips with it, as evidenced by the latest poisoned eagle found earlier this year on a Cairngorms grouse moor (here) and the news last week that a Police Scotland dive team is searching a Cairngorms loch after the discovery of a dumped golden eagle satellite tag (here).

On gamebirds, the first step is to gather evidence on how many are released and how many are shot in the Park, before any assessment can be made on the impact of these alien species on biodiversity. It’ll be fascinating to see how the CNPA is going to define ‘sustainable pheasant and partridge shooting / releases’ inside a National Park. Surely that’d be zero releases of non-native species?

There’s also an objective to curtail muirburn, and there will be long arguments during the consultation period about what will constitute a legitimate reason to set fire to peatland vegetation during a climate emergency. Manipulating the habitat to support artificially-high numbers of red grouse for shooting is not a good enough reason, in my view.

UPDATE 08.20hrs: Tackling raptor persecution IS included in this latest draft Park Plan – see A14 in ‘Actions’ and A6 in ‘Policy’. Thanks to a blog reader for pointing this out.

33 thoughts on “Cairngorms National Park Authority targets intensive gamebird management in draft Park Plan”

  1. Unfortunately I won’t be able to watch the video until later today because of its length, but I desperately want to. A few years ago now RPUK posted the minutes from what must have been the same or a similar CNPA committee (Geva Blackett was involved) and they were utterly hilarious. At the time it reminded me of the ‘Stoneybridge’ sketches from the comedy show ‘Absolutely’, and when I managed to watch some videos of them it heightened the comedy even further because it was if life had imitated parody. It’s not often that RPUK, wonderful though it is, can be responsible for your sides aching from laughter, but this may well be one of them. To this day I can’t think of the management of the UK’s largest National Park without ‘STONEYBRIDGE!!!’ jumping into my mind.

  2. Heard a gamekeeper on the BBC Scotland Outdoors programme on Saturday morning, telling the audience, the solution to Capercaillie losses in the Cairngorm National Park, is in ‘Extermination of ‘predators’. He also said that dogs running off the lead were a major problem but didn’t suggest shooting them (or their owners)! (Neither do I, but would favour high financial penalties for dog owners who can’t recall/control their dogs instantly!). As usual, it’s the ‘Gamekeepers’ Solution’: shoot anything that they define as a ‘predator’. He was demanding an ‘open’ discussion, but as usual, appeared to have a closed mind!

    1. It’s actually the insistence by the ‘sporting’ estates and their minions that if in their magnanimity they do allow any forest regeneration to help capercaillie it will have to be achieved without significant deer culling therefore deer fencing has to be used. This is enormously problematic in that a) capercaillie can fly right into it and b) without any deer grazing the regeneration can be too dense to be of any use to capercaillie. You find that again and again this has been the case across Scotland – but of course it’s the RSPB’s fault. Interestingly the caper population at RSPB Abernethy has at least stabilised since they STOPPED shooting foxes, and at Strathspey what was Forestry Commission Scotland found that caper and black grouse increased with habitat management, but without predator control. In fact the return of predators like goshawk and pine marten was believed to help caper through intra guild competition and predation e.g foxes killing pine martens, goshawk eating crows. This news as you would expect was treated as heretical by the game keeping fraternity.

      I love bringing up the growing evidence pine martens help red squirrels by catching grey ones with keepers, it doesn’t go down well! There was also an article in the Scottish Ornithologists Club newsletter from about twenty years ago that was inspired and co-authored by a retired game keeper in which he highlighted the propensity caper have for sticking their heads into snares, they’re bloody terrible for it and this could be an important factor in their decline, but strangely keepers had been keeping quiet about. Apologies if you’ve heard all this before, but I like to bring it up every time it’s relevant because some may still be unaware and it’s good info to hit back with.

      1. In the Abernethy a year or two ago I saw the RSPB were trying Highland Cattle grazing in Pine woodland, possibly for this reason. That’s an interesting project and I hope to see the results published.

        1. Replicating what aurochs would have done no doubt, a keystone species that rarely gets mentioned, but whose absence must be affecting our ecosystems a hell of a lot. I wish the RSPB would crow about its innovative projects and successes more. A few years ago they did a very successful project for nightjar with the then Forestry Commission in Dumfriesshire. The nightjar is a ground nesting bird so I was interested to hear if any predator control had been involved. They got back to me and said no. If that project had failed, for whatever reason, you know who would have gleefully megaphoned that this was another case of the incompetent RSPB ignoring the necessity of predator control. It would have been savvy if the RSPB had announced no predator control was involved in their original statement, a relevant point and nothing less than the truth. How would the SGA have reacted to that?

    2. When the only tools in the toolbox are matches, snares, traps and guns, it is hardly a surprise that the tradesman advises the use of these tools only.

  3. I’m against the persecution of birds of prey and sign this petition to stop this useless and selfish slaughter

    1. Hi Aurelien,

      It’s not a petition as such. It’s a public consultation where the CNPA is asking for your views on various aspects of how the National Park should be managed. If you’d like the CNPA to know how important it is to you that raptor persecution is tackled with robust commitment, please do comment on the consultation – the CNPA is keen to hear your view.

  4. Ralia is offering ptarmigan as a game bird!?? Do they own the ralia café on the a9? If so, then definitely not stopping there for coffee as usual tomorrow.

    1. Great idea to boycott the cafe if they do own it. I’ll still use the toilets though but with a particular thought in mind….

  5. My view has been for some time that alien game birds for canned hunting should not be released in or adjacent to protected landscapes of any designation. Slowly wading through the video.

  6. The photo and extract from Guns on Pegs are quite sickening really – what are those guys so pleased about, what on earth is wrong with them ? The mentality of getting pleasure from needlessly killing beautiful creatures just escapes me entirely. And we know that they won’t even eat the poor pheasants in all likelihood. On another point surely it isn’t even legal to shoot ptarmigan or woodcock ??

    Thanks for drawing attention to the public consultation, great to be able to contribute one’s two-penneth….

  7. In areas inhabited by black grouse and capercaillie they are currently swarming with pheasants and red-legged partridges, no doubt competing for food with the woodland grouse and spreading them.These aliens were dominant in the Spring on farmland and moorland where waders are trying to breed but have to endure competition which they should not have to. The national park is all about releasing obscene numbers of alien species and killing indigenous species like golden and white-tailed eagles. The Parks a disgrace.

    1. Since you mention waders, a few years ago a rather celebrated wildlife artist gave an eyewitness account of seeing a pheasant swallowing a lapwing chick despite being mobbed by ten adult ones. It just needs one incident like that to be caught on camera and the apologists for that type of shooting will be left with incredibly red faces. There was also a former game keeper who liked posting the occasional wildlife video, which included one that involved a pheasant scrapping with a lapwing. This could have been an uncharacteristic bout of honesty or just a total failure in thinking things through. The fact the video was very quickly removed suggests the latter. What are the odds game keepers have witnessed pheasant harassing waders and even eating their chicks, but have somehow forgotten this when there’s been any public discussion re the appalling state of wader populations?

  8. Shooting anything in a national park is not essential.
    There will be a need to manage wildlife in the national parks.
    Shooting, if it is needed, to keep a balanced environment, should be under the strictest licensing laws that law will allow.
    Shooting in most estates throughout the country is probably for profit.
    This should be avoided in national parks, the Highlands and the country.

    1. They even have a variety of historic weapons that can be fired by the gun nuts when they are not killing animals for “fun”.
      Utterly revolting.

  9. The most successful raptor breeding areas are on managed grouse moors and ground used for game shooting. It provides the best habitat and a ready food source.
    While you may not agree with shooting, the fact and figures provide irrefutable evidence to support this.

    1. The most common areas for finding trapped, poisoned and shot raptors are managed grouse moors and ground used for game shooting.

      While you may not agree with the illegal killing of raptors, the facts and figures provide irrefutable evidence to support this.

    2. Ah…somebody who believes the keepers fairy story rather than scientific evidence.

      The raptors might want to, and even try to, breed on grouse farms……but they rarely manage to achieve their ambitions.

      Why do they have such a remarkably low success rate when their prey is high and their potential predators are low?

      Its because they are trapped, shot, disturbed or crushed by people working in the interest of the grouse farm.

    3. Hi Simon, your claim about raptors on grouse moors is merely the dismissive stock reply you will hear shooting folk (& loyal helpers & beaters, etc) repeating to themselves to wave away the problem. I know this because I was guilty of it myself for a long time. No doubt you will be sceptical of the accepted research, so I will suggest something else to you and others. Take an interest in raptors in general and in one or two areas of “big name – big reputation” grouse moors in particular. Let this become what “birders” call your “patch”. Visit the same places regularly at change of light and wander about considerately and very quietly with binoculars. Try and identify which are simply incoming young birds (eg Buzzards, fledged elsewhere simply having a good soar about over lots of miles) and try and identify mature resident birds with regular haunts, perches and roosts – even likely nesting locations . Other than maybe Merlins and Kestrels on some moors, you may be suprised at just how few there are – except those closely monitored by RSPB, Natural England & volunteer groups. Just try it for a few months – and also note the scrutiny you will get from the keepers, and their ways of finding out who you are.

  10. You will find probably to your absloute horror you cretins, that when the Cairngorms were made an National Park that they had to consult with Estate owners and landowners about their activities (sporting and agriculture), it takes consent from the landowners and Estate owners (who the Queen is) if they can they make it an National Park, now you upstarts want to change that, what if the landowners and Estates say enough is enough, we are withdrawing from the agreement, do you want that on your heads, cause it will be, but you lot can’t see the woods for the trees 👍

    1. Have you forgotten, the Kinder scout trespass in the 1950’s which led to the creation of the first national park in the Peak District?
      Society has moved on from the 1950’s and I would suggest there is even less toleration now of a notion of a class based society, with all unfairness of social and economic divisions associated with this.
      I would argue that urban society is now probably much more intolerant of a landed gentry, and their country pursuits, which are no longer seen as in keeping with the ethical values of the wider society, many of whom see shooting and hunting as pastimes which need to be consigned to the history books.
      Hence, many of the organisations which represent hunting and shooting, try and portray their activities as
      benefitting conservation, or a way of producing natural food, rather than simply a very unsporting pastime for the rich and landowning class.
      The public are increasingly aware of how badly so much of our countryside has been managed, and how nature depleted the UK really is. (State of Nature report 2019)
      How do you think, this public would respond if landowners decided to withdraw from the agreements which created our national parks, and which are still conceived as places where nature should flourish, even though it is becoming increasingly evident that this is not always the case. (see the blogs on the illegal persecution of Golden Eagles or Hen Harriers)
      How do you think parliament would react to try and manage the public outrage if landowners decided to withdraw from the agreements which maintain our national parks, and what a population could see as the loss of these public places?
      We don’t live in a feudal society, and as strong as “vested interests” are in the countryside are, it is doubtful even they would be stupid enough to act in a way which could create widescale public anger towards their activities.
      At a time when conservation is very much the “talk of day”, and governments try and find solution to the climate emergency, there mere thought of landowners withdrawing from the agreements which created the national parks would most probably result in the media whipping up such a storm of public resentment, to the extent that there would most probably be a demand to change to legislation in how the national parks operate.
      I suspect most sensible landowners are very aware of this, and realise it is better to make concessions on such things as the release of non native birds into the national parks, where the evidence suggests such things aren’t good for native wildlife and conservation, and instead play for a stalemate over the management of such things as grouse moors, deer stalking etc, so that these activities can still take place with limited government interference.
      Whilst I suspect there are some cretins who haven’t the wit to see the bigger picture, I am pretty certain that many land and estate owners are far too intelligent to fall into the trap of unnecessarily exposing what happens in the countryside to the population at large.

  11. So good to see these young people at the center of the future of the CNPA. Well balanced views on all of the topics up for debate and how they dealt with all of the comments of people who are so out of touch with what is required nowadays to ensure the health of such areas.

  12. I found the bogburst/peat comparison with the Aberfan disaster extremely distatseful (like in “That’s not really a scientifc evaluation, and people will take offence at the comparison”). I’m thinking others in that meeting had similar thoughts, as there was a period of silence following it.

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