Why are golden eagles still poisoned on Scottish grouse moors? The long road to Werritty and beyond

Today is the 26th November 2021. It’s been exactly one year since the then Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon announced the Scottish Government’s long-awaited response to the Werritty Review on grouse moor management and a decision to implement a licensing scheme for grouse shooting.

How we got to that position was the subject of a talk I presented at the REVIVE national conference a couple of weeks ago, hosted by Chris Packham at Perth Concert Hall.

[Chris Packham opening the REVIVE coalition for grouse moor reform conference. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

There had been an intention for a recording of the entire event to be made available but we learned subsequently that unfortunately the venue’s audio system had failed. REVIVE’s campaign manager, Max Wiszniewski has since published a conference overview (here) but I thought I’d take the opportunity to share the main points from my talk, to try and put Mairi Gougeon’s announcement in to some sort of context, and it seems fitting to do that today.

My opening slide was a screengrab of Minister Gougeon making that historic statement on 26th November 2020:

The key recommendation put forward in the Werritty report – is that a ‘licensing scheme be introduced for the shooting of grouse’. This is a recommendation that I accept.

However, while I the understand why the review group also recommended that such a scheme should be introduced if, after five years, ‘there is no marked improvement in the ecological sustainability of grouse moor management’, I believe that the Government needs to act sooner than this and begin developing a licensing scheme now”.

There’s no question that this was a significant statement and although some campaigners were disappointingly dismissive (including several commentators on this blog), I think that when you understand the history of exactly what it took to get there, over many, many years of hard campaigning at substantial personal cost to many, you’ll hopefully appreciate why so many of us celebrated it as a huge victory. It’s not the end point, not by any means, but it is hugely symbolic of the direction of travel.

My next slide is a photo that I use in pretty much every talk I give on raptor persecution in the UK:

This is a photograph of a young golden eagle, found illegally poisoned on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in 2006. It was photographed by former RSPB Investigator Dave Dick (now retired) who had been sent out to retrieve it for post mortem. He had picked up many other illegally killed birds of prey on grouse moors over the years, but this image epitomises everything in its pitiful, poignant, senselessness.

I asked the audience to hold this image in their head as the talk progressed to cover some of the key moments in this long campaign against criminal activity and for effective law enforcement against those criminals.

I started with the basics – the 1954 Protection of Birds Act which brought legal protection for all raptor species in the UK, with the exception of the sparrowhawk which finally received full protection in 1961. So for most UK birds of prey, they’ve supposedly been protected for 67 years! This isn’t a new law that society needs time to adjust to and for which we should forgive any lack of adherence. This legislation was enacted a lifetime ago and was probably in place before every current working gamekeeper was even born. Ignorance of the law is no defence and that statement applies here, in spades.

In 1998, 44 years after raptors were declared ‘protected species’ in law, the then Secretary of State, Donald Dewar described the level of raptor persecution in Scotland as “a national disgrace“. He promised that following devolution the following year, the Scottish Government would take “all possible steps to eradicate it”.

RSPB Scotland started publishing annual reports in 1994, meticulously documenting raptor persecution. Their 20th report, published in 2004, documented that 779 birds of prey had been confirmed illegally killed between 1994 and 2004. This figure was considered the tip of the iceberg as wildlife crime, including raptor persecution, is widely recognised as being under-recorded for a number of reasons.

During the late 1990s-mid-2000s, and actually continuing to this day, researchers published a suite of scientific papers documenting the impact of illegal raptor persecution. This wasn’t just the odd ‘rogue incident’ here and there; raptor persecution was so extensive and systematic it was having population-level impacts on a number of species, notably the golden eagle, hen harrier, peregrine and red kite. The peer-reviewed evidence was conclusive – much of the killing was linked to game-shooting, and particularly to driven grouse moor management.

[An expanse of driven grouse moors inside the Cairngorms National Park. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

In 2000, the UK Raptor Working Group (established in 1995 and comprising a variety of statutory agencies, conservation NGOs and game-shooting bodies) published a report with a series of recommendations to address the recovery of bird of prey populations and their perceived impact on gamebirds, moorland management and pigeon racing.

In 2002, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) advised the Scottish Executive to accept most of the recommendations of the 2000 report and this led to many developments, with a particular focus on partnership working. Most of these so-called partnerships have since proven to be utterly ineffective (e.g. Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Raptor Group, Heads Up for Hen Harriers) mostly due to them being heavily weighted towards game-shooting interests who seem intent on preventing progress by means of constant denial and obfuscation.

In 2004, raptor satellite-tagging began as a novel method of studying the biology and ecology of several species, notably the golden eagle. The significance of this will become apparent later.

[Two young golden eagles fitted with satellite tags prior to fledging. Photo by Dan Kitwood]

In 2005 the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order was enacted, making it an offence for anyone to possess any of the eight highly toxic poisons used most frequently for killing birds of prey. This piece of legislation has proven useful in that it has allowed law enforcement agencies to prosecute for the lesser offence of ‘possession’ in cases where it has been virtually impossible to provide sufficient evidence to prosecute for actually poisoning a bird of prey.

In 2007 an adult golden eagle was found poisoned at her nest site in the Borders. She was part of the only breeding pair in the region. Nobody was prosecuted and the ensuing public outrage resulted in the then Environment Minister Mike Russell ordering a Thematic Review into the prevention, investigation and prosecution of wildlife crime, which led to a series of recommendations to improve enforcement activities.

[Police officer Mark Rafferty holding the poisoned corpse of the Borders golden eagle. Photo by Dave Dick]

In 2010, this blog was launched primarily to raise public awareness about the scale of illegal raptor persecution in Scotland. It was later widened to cover the whole of the UK. It’s had over 7.5 million views to date.

In 2011, the Scottish Government launched a poisons disposal scheme, offering a sort of ‘amnesty’ and the safe destruction of any banned poisons that might have been left over from when it was legal for people to have these toxins in their possession (i.e. pre-2005).

Also in 2011, Peter Peacock MSP put forward an amendment for the Wildlife & Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill to introduce additional powers for the Scottish SPCA to enable them to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crime, including raptor persecution. Then Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham rejected the amendment but committed to launch a public consultation on this subject.

Later in 2011 the Wildlife & Natural Environment (Scotland) Act was enacted and in 2012 this led to the Scottish Government having to publish its first annual wildlife crime report. The legislation also brought in vicarious liability, providing an opportunity for prosecutions against landowners and sporting agents whose employees had committed certain offences linked to raptor persecution. After almost ten years there have only been two successful prosecutions. That’s not because there haven’t been more opportunities for prosecution – there have been plenty – it’s because for the most part the Crown Office has refused to take the cases. When pushed for an explanation we’ve simply been told ‘it’s not in the public interest to proceed’. One case was not progressed because the landowner / hierarchy of supervision could not be established because the identity of the person was hidden in an offshore trust.

In 2013 the then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse ordered a review of the penalties available for wildlife crime and appointed Professor Poustie to lead the review.

Also in 2013, after RSPB video evidence was published showing a gamekeeper allegedly shooting a hen harrier on its nest on a grouse moor in Morayshire, which led to a prosecution that was later dropped because the Crown Office ruled the evidence ‘inadmissible’, huge public uproar led to Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse having discussions with the Lord Advocate about maximising opportunities for prosecution and the Lord Advocate subsequently instructed the Crown Office to utilise all investigative tools for enforcement against wildlife crime. This had zero impact – several other high profile cases involving RSPB video evidence have also since been dropped due to this apparent inadmissibility.

[A screen grab from an RSPB video showing the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on a grouse moor]

In 2014 Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse introduced General Licence restrictions for shooting estates where police evidence confirmed that raptor persecution had taken place but where there was insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution against a named individual. This was supposed to be a ‘reputational driver’ to deter crimes but has proven to be utterly ineffective with just a handful of restrictions applied over the last seven years and most ‘sanctioned’ estates simply given an individual licence to allow them to continue the activities which were supposed to have been restricted under the General Licence. It’s just bonkers.

Also in 2014, Paul Wheelhouse ordered a review of gamebird management systems in other European countries to see whether these different management approaches could help address ongoing raptor persecution in Scotland.

Also in 2014, the Scottish Government finally launched a public consultation on increased powers for the SSPCA, three years after first agreeing to set this up.

In 2014, Mark Avery and Chris Packham launched the concept of Hen Harrier Day to draw attention to the plight of the hen harrier, timed to coincide with the start of the grouse shooting season on 12th August. Hen Harrier Day has now become an annual event and volunteers Andrea Hudspeth and Andrea Goddard have organised these high profile events in Scotland.

In 2015, with raptor poisoning crimes still occurring, not content that the poisoners had already been given an opportunity to hand in their illegal stashes back in 2011, the Scottish Government launched its second poisons amnesty scheme, ten years after it became an offence to possess these dangerous toxins. How many chances do these gamekeepers get?

Also in 2015, SNH launched its ridiculous Heads up for Hen Harriers project – joining forces with shooting estates to fix nest cameras at hen harrier nests to determine the cause of breeding failures on grouse moors (yes, really!). It was doomed to failure because obviously the gamekeepers on estates where the cameras had been installed would not destroy the harriers/nests (at least not while the birds were within camera range) and the study’s ‘findings’ would then be skewed towards natural predator events and poor weather conditions which the grouse shooting industry would then point to as being the main cause of hen harrier breeding failure on grouse moors. It was nothing more than a greenwashing project.

Also in 2015, Scottish Environment LINK published a damning report demonstrating that wildlife crime enforcement measures were still weak, inconsistent & ineffective, seven years after the HM Inspector of Constabulary published its Thematic Review into the prevention, investigation and prosecution of wildlife crime and its subsequent recommendations to improve enforcement measures. Even today, apart from the RSPB’s meticulous records, it’s virtually impossible to get accurate raptor persecution statistics due to incoherent recording across agencies and Police Scotland’s strange decisions to sometimes withhold information, long after investigations have closed.

Also in 2015, Professor Poustie’s review of wildlife crime penalties was published, making a series of recommendations to substantially increase penalties for certain types of wildlife crime, including raptor persecution.

A year later in 2016, then Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod accepted the Poustie Review recommendations to substantially increase penalties for wildlife crime. These were not finally enacted until four years later in the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020, increasing the maximum penalty for the most serious animal welfare and wildlife crimes to five years imprisonment and unlimited fines. We have yet to see these utilised by the courts.

Also in 2016 the Scottish Government made a manifesto pledge to establish a Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit as part of Police Scotland. This has not happened and appears to have been quietly dropped.

Also in 2016, the Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) launched a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for the introduction of a state-regulated licensing system for gamebird shooting. These volunteers who later spoke so passionately and convincingly in front of a televised Parliamentary committee in 2017 were subjected to a barrage of offensive online abuse from a number of gamekeepers and their hangers-on and this hate campaign continues to this day.

[SRSG members Patrick Stirling-Aird, Andrea Hudspeth, Logan Steele and Duncan Orr-Ewing outside the Scottish Parliament building. Photo by SRSG]

2016 also saw what in my opinion was the most significant and important event in the road leading to the introduction of grouse moor licensing. The RSPB published a press release about the suspicious disappearance of eight satellite-tagged golden eagles on grouse moors in the Monadhliaths between 2011-2016. Public outrage about this news, combined with the fact that nobody had ever being successfully prosecuted for killing a golden eagle, led to then Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham calling for a review of golden eagle satellite tag data to establish whether there was a pattern to the disappearance of tagged eagles and whether there was a link with driven grouse shooting. Of course we all knew there was, but it was significant that the Cabinet Secretary had officially requested the analysis. Predictably, this Government-sponsored review coincided with a concerted smear campaign by the grouse shooting industry to undermine the functionality and reliability of satellite tags and the integrity of the highly qualified and licensed researchers who were fitting the tags to eagles. This continues to this day.

In 2017 the review of gamebird management in other European countries was published, showing that gamebird shooting in the UK was the most unregulated and unaccountable system of all those reviewed. This didn’t result in any direct action from the Scottish Government other than an instruction for the Werritty panel to consider the report’s findings as part of its Grouse Moor Management Review.

Also in 2017 Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham responded to the public consultation on increased SSPCA powers (3 yrs after the consultation closed!) & rejected it ‘based on legal advice’ which was never explained. As an alternative, she announced a Police Special Constables pilot scheme in the Cairngorms National Park to help detect raptor persecution crimes and bring the offenders before the courts.

The most significant event in 2017 was the publication of the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review. This comprehensive and forensic review was devastating, showing that almost one third of satellite-tagged golden eagles (131 of them) had been illegally killed or had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances between 2004-2016, and there were irrefutable geographic clusters centred on some driven grouse moors:

On the basis of this report, Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham ordered yet another independent review, this time to assess the environmental impact of grouse moor management and to provide recommendations and options for regulation, including the potential for a licensing scheme. Professor Werritty was appointed to lead the review.

In 2018 REVIVE was launched – a consortium of environmental, social justice and animal welfare groups seeking grouse moor reform in Scotland. The well-attended launch took place in Edinburgh and Chris Packham was the keynote speaker. Inevitably this led to yet another smear campaign by certain elements of the grouse shooting industry which continues to this day.

[Photo by REVIVE]

In 2019 the Police Special Constables pilot scheme in the Cairngorms National Park came to an end in complete failure. They didn’t report a single wildlife crime during this two-year scheme but illegal raptor persecution continued, as evidenced by the RSPB’S annual reports.

In December 2019 the Werritty Report was finally published two and a half years after it was commissioned. It highlighted many of the problems associated with driven grouse moor management but crucially it recommended a further five-year wait before the introduction of a licensing scheme to allow the grouse shooting industry yet more opportunity to oust the criminals within rather than have regulation foisted on it by legislation. This recommendation was clearly a result of having a number of representatives from the grouse shooting industry serving on the so-called independent panel. Meanwhile, the raptor killing continued.

In 2020 MSP Mark Ruskell (Scottish Greens) proposed increased powers for the SSPCA as an amendment in the Animals & Wildlife Bill. The then Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon rejected the amendment but promised to establish a task force later in summer to consider increased powers. Deja vu, anyone?

In November 2020 the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act was enacted, increasing the maximum penalty for the most serious animal welfare and wildlife crimes to five years imprisonment and unlimited fines (after the recommendations of the Poustie review published in 2015). This raises the status of some offences to ‘serious’ and thus for the first time allows the Police to seek permission to utilise covert video surveillance in areas where raptor persecution is suspected. I know there is enthusiasm for this from a number of police officers and I look forward to seeing some results.

In December 2020, a year after receiving the Werrity Review, Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon announced the Scottish Government’s intention to introduce a licensing scheme for grouse moors without waiting for a further five years as the review had recommended.

[NB: I understand that Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland will publish a blog later today (26th November 2021) detailing what has happened in the year following this announcement. I will publish the blog here when it’s available]. Update – Ian’s blog available here

In January 2021 the new Environment Minister Ben MacPherson responded to a Parliamentary Question from Mark Ruskell MSP and admits that the promised taskforce to consider increased powers for the SSPCA had not yet formed but was ‘expected later this year’. This is ten years on from when increased powers for the SSPCA was first mooted in the Scottish Parliament.

In September 2021 the Scottish Government published its five-year Programme for Government and it included commitments to deliver the recommendations of the Werritty review, and to establish a taskforce to review increased powers for the SSPCA, to report by the end of 2022. Yet another Environment Minister (the 9th one?) is in post – Mairi McAllan.

In October 2021 the ridiculous Heads Up for Hen Harriers ‘partnership’ project was closed, with SNH declaring it a ‘success’. It wasn’t, at all. I’ll be blogging about this separately in the next few days.

Meanwhile, in May 2021 a young golden eagle was found deliberately poisoned, lying dead next to a poisoned bait, on an Invercauld Estate grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park. Sixty-seven years after raptors gained legal protection and 23 years after Donald Dewar declared raptor persecution in Scotland ‘a national disgrace’, golden eagles and other raptors are still being illegally killed on some driven grouse moors.

[The poisoned golden eagle, next to the poisoned hare bait, on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park in May 2021. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

So despite all this campaigning and political movement, nothing has changed on the ground. Golden eagles (and other raptor species) are still being killed on grouse moors, even inside the Cairngorms National Park, and still not one person has been successfully prosecuted.

It’s shameful that we, ordinary members of the public, have to campaign just to have the law upheld, but its even more shameful that despite decades of compelling evidence, the Scottish Government has still not taken effective action against the criminals within the driven grouse shooting industry.

Even so, we should absolutely celebrate how far we have come, and it’s been hard work and at great personal cost to many, but don’t underestimate just how much more work there is to come.

29 thoughts on “Why are golden eagles still poisoned on Scottish grouse moors? The long road to Werritty and beyond”

  1. A brilliant summary of progress to where we are now. (ie almost exactly where we were 20+ years ago…….). Thanks. I’m sure many people will find it useful.

    I think it demonstrates the power that landowners have over the political process.

  2. “I think it demonstrates the power that landowners have over the political process.”

    I think that it demonstrates how those deceivers in Holyrood have facilitated landowners and associated interested parties in exercising power over the political process.

  3. And one particular landowner has, we have recently learned, even greater power over ANY proposed legislation. The owner of Balmoral (and other estates) has the power of veto over anything which, in any way, impinges on her interests.
    The joys of living in a ‘constitutional monarchy’ rather than a democracy!

  4. Thank you for that review Ruth. It has helped me to gain a clearer picture of this disgraceful activity. Thanks also to Chris and Mark for all the hard work.

      1. It doesn’t matter if there are £Billion fines for poisoning wildlife on grouse moors it won’t make a scrap of difference to curbing the criminals and their masters because there’s not the mechenism to achieve successful prosecutions..The SG lack the will to make significant changes, though they are excellent at kicking the can down the road.

        1. “The SG lack the will to make significant changes,” …………. other than raise Scottish income tax above the UK level.
          Insofar as what you say about prosecutions you are precisely on the money.
          It appears to be plainly incontestable that the SG’s desired result has been achieved by leaving the criminals effectively unmolested. It is a contemptible posture. I do not see any evidence to suggest that it is destined to change.

          1. The blog provides an essential long term perspective on a difficult and long running problem and while it highlights areas where government could have done more it also highlights how difficult it has been to bring together the detection, enforcement, legal and political issues which limit progress. I doubt however if anyone sensible with a genuine long term engagement in this issue discounts the cumulative effect of the legislative progress made so far or has any doubt ultimately about a successful conclusion, particularly with the kind of broad political front now represented by Revive. It’s pretty obvious too that the conclusion will owe nothing to waffling about ‘will’ or vacuous and repetitive accusations of Scottish Government ‘collusion’ with the landowners. And, by the way, Scottish income tax is only higher in the upper bands. It is lower in the lower bands, which is all exactly as it should be.

            1. ” It’s pretty obvious too that the conclusion will owe nothing to waffling about ‘will’ or vacuous and repetitive accusations of Scottish Government ‘collusion’ with the landowners.”

              I assume you are an SNP supporter, because it is PRECISELY the collusion between the SNP in Government and the grouse shooting industry which has confounded any real progress on the matter.

  5. As I have said frequently: the SNP are Tories with Scottish accents. They are just as in hock to the land-owning classes as the Tories in Westminster, and just as likely to do something effective to bring about the end of raptor persecution.

    If they had the will they would ban all lethal traps and snares.

    They would set up a task force that has the powers to raid estates and the property of their employees on a regular basis, to check for illegal poisons and traps; they would expand the vicarious liability law to include both landowners and co-workers: with a power to confiscate firearms and revoke shotgun licences of anyone within a 5 mile radius of an illegally shot raptor and the power to shut down any shoot that has, on the balance of probabilities, facilitated the crimes against wildlife.

    This might sound draconian and fascistic – but that would be in keeping with our current political situation.

    1. Yes, you have said that frequently. And every time it has been as untrue as the last.
      Explain to us why the Labour Party is in a coalition in Aberdeen with… the Tories! Is that to keep out the ‘Tartan Tories’ you keep banging on about? Maybe it’s the ‘New Labour, New Tory Party’ you should be carping on about. What, precisely, did Labour do about raptor persecution when in power in Westminster or HolyRood? Absolutely nothing. Their fox-hunting legislation was designed to give the hunters so many loopholes. They should have banned it (but some prominent Cabinet members actually went out a-hunting!) There are your camouflaged Tories!

  6. I’ve been following this issue for over 20 years now and find Ruth’s account of the situation both accurate and honest, while being presented with great clarity. i also strongly agree with the preceding comments in regards to the obscene power large estate owners wield over the demoicratic process, and, more importantly, the ability they seem to possess to undermine objectivity by influencing who sits on them, thus ensuring dubious recommendations not in line with the urgency or seriousness of the situation. If the grouse lobby cannot win then they are almost guaranteed a fudge resulting in the Status Quo which, in all honesty, is seen as a win by them.
    i would think that in today’s world of direct action the time has come to consider that tactic, given the success the Fox Hunting Sabs are now experiencing south of the border. Some of the video’s they are producing have been heavily influential in the current wave of supposed “trail hunting” being banned from both public and private land.
    The time for treating criminal gangmasters with soft hands has ended as the conviction of Mark Hankinson has illustrated. If thelegal and political avenues have been exhausted then I feel more effort should be made to present evidence in the court of public opinion. Once the estate owners begin to realise that the political and social cost of maintaining Driven Grouse Moors on a criminal basis, while also legally killing thousands upon throusands of our native predators, becomes too high they will disappear like the snow off a wall on a spring morning.
    Well done Ruth and her colleagues. Thank you all.

  7. It is very sad that in all the years since legislation was introduced to protect birds of prey, criminal behaviour and illegal persecution still persists, with offenders very rarely facing justice.

    It is very apparent that the current legislation is inadequate in protecting birds of prey and bringing offenders to justice.

    Bearing in mind the public outrage when birds such as Golden Eagles are found illegally killed, and that some of the biggest and most well known wildlife organisations such as the RSPB have campaigned on this issue. The question then has to be asked -why?

    Would such failure of legislation to protect what it was supposed to protect, be accepted in other aspects of our lives?
    Would society tolerate a failure in legislation to protect children or the vulnerable, or which failed to make the roads safe to use?
    (as an example – misuse of mobile phones whilst driving has evolved, with increased penalties and proposals to include a wider definition of use – so that those who persists in this unlawful activity are deterred or caught. )

    So why, despite all the evidence, over such a long time span, has legislation to protect birds of prey not evolved? So that those responsible for the illegal persecution are brought to justice, and the birds, which are some of the rarest in the UK are afforded proper protection?

    A year after Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon announced the Scottish Government’s intention to introduce a licensing scheme for grouse moors, what progress has been made on this issue?
    Is the Scottish Government still in its “consultation phase” with those who represent the persecutors, so that any licensing scheme will simply be an ineffective measure, which ensures the status quo remains?

    Also going on in the background are no doubt other proposals which no doubt will have some impact on the effectiveness of raptor persecution legislation, -such as that by the Tories in their manifesto of 2019 to criminalise intentional trespass in the countryside. This would make peaceful protest, or attempts to gather evidence on unlawful activity by landowners extremely difficult.
    What other manipulations and changes to rules, are the vested interests in the countryside whispering into politicians ears to ensure their interests are not interfered with by a public who are showing a deeper and wider interest in wildlife and environmental matters?

    The longer the delay in bringing in robust measures to protect birds of prey, the more time the persecutors have in bringing about changes in other areas of legislation to make such protection ineffective.

    I remain very skeptical that driven grouse shooting will ever be banned. Those who profit from it will cite both environmental and economic benefits which politicians are too ready to accept.
    The illegal persecution will continue, because those who do manage their moors lawfully benefit from the illegal persecution taking place elsewhere.

    I strongly suspect the real driver for change, won’t come about in trying to ban driven grouse shooting, or licence it, but when economic policies mirror environmental policies designed to tackle climate change, and when monetary incentives for land owners make owning a moor covered in heather, less attractive than uplands covered in trees and mixed vegetation, which would be unsuitable for DGS, but more beneficial in mitigating the effects of climate change.

    But in the meantime, it is vital that raptor persecution is exposed, publicised and kept in the publics minds- so that pressure is kept on the politicians…and why not take “direct action” against those involved in criminal behaviour, even if that’s simply supporting or funding those who work hard to gather evidence of the crimes taking place.

  8. I am generally a cynical, sceptical and suspicous miserable git but I have to say I am very upbeat about the way things are going. Is this thing going to be sorted out within the next twenty years? – no. Are there going to be dozens more grim pictures of dead Eagles to look at in the next few years, and thousands more bog-standard birds like Buzzards quietly being killed without any reports every year? – yes, of course. But people forget the size and power of the opposition. Such a system took hundreds of years to consolidate itself within the corridors of power. Look at the way things were 150,100, 50 and – yes – 20 yrs ago. This has been the best period by far – remarkable when you consider that the conservationist campaigners pitched themselves headlong into battle against a booming DGS industry awash with City money and bolstered by the “miracle” of medicated grit – as big and ugly and powerful a cabal to try and challenge since Edwardian times. The trenches maybe haven’t shifted radically yet but one side has got a lot stronger and the other a lot weaker (although it is still not exactly weak) – and their challenge is to just cling on to what they have. They will never recapture their lost ground. Things are clearly going the right way, let’s all just keep pushing in all the ways we can and are doing.

    *had it not been for medicated grit I doubt if many Estates, especially in Scotland, would have stuck with DGS as their main economic driver beyond the early 90’s.

    1. “The trenches maybe haven’t shifted radically yet but one side has got a lot stronger and the other a lot weaker (although it is still not exactly weak) – and their challenge is to just cling on to what they have.”

      The side that opposes the endless criminality have got a lot stronger, but not strong enough to force the SG into a sea change. It is the SG that will require to orchestrate driving the criminals out. Unfortunately, no one else is in a position to make that happen and the SG do not appear to be inclined to fight the criminals and their masters (that has previously been alluded to and could be a subject on it’s own).

      The SG are stuck in their “talk a good game” mode, but have, unsurprisingly, not achieved much. That predicament will remain until such time as pressure can be brought on the political party concerned. Therein lies a problem that is common to all political parties. They only respond to pressure when failure to do so causes substantial damage in terms of lost votes. That poses a difficulty for the pro wildlife side in that it will be hard to convince a large part of the electorate for support when most of them have little or no interest in wildlife crime.

  9. That was a HARD read!\

    Unbelievable dedication in putting such a blog together – well done Ruth.

    But for me, after taking in all the last few years’ reports on raptor persecution, I believe that most, in not all gamekeepers, don’t give a stuff about the law when it comes to killing protected species; they are a total law unto themselves; it is “their patch”, and woe betide anyone who dares to interfere with their way of life.
    That’s the reality of the situation, and any amount of government talk about stopping the killing is just not going to prevent the men (are there any women game keepers?) on the ground from doing their dirty deeds, because that is what they are employed to do.
    I know what some of the gamekeepers are like, and I wouldn’t want to cross them, at least not face to face, because they are hardened to the game of killing; they do not want to understand a different approach.
    The killing will not stop until the gamekeepers are employed in a different direction; I think the many years of words of this blog shout that out very loud.
    We can carry on talking all we like about how things should be, but I think we all know that until driven grouse shooting is banned, then there’s not going to be any let up in the killing of our natural heritage.

    1. I agree that Ruth should be commended for an excellent precis of the continuing appalling situation and much of where it came from…and re your question “are there any women gamekeepers?”..I only remember one, on Islay and who I helped get convicted of wildlife poisoning around 1990.

    1. Vicarious liability? Increased penalties? The change which allows camera footage now to be admissible?
      The fact that the courts and The Crown Prosecution Service seem reluctant to use those powers is not the fault of the SNP.
      Yes, I want the SNP in government to do more; but while your Queen has a veto on any legislation which impinges on her activities then therein lies a huge, undemocratic problem.
      There is much more to be done in Scotland-but look at how much further behind things are with real action on raptor persecution in England, where there’s sod all chance of progress – by any party. Moan on about the ones absolutely nothing. Especially if you’re moaning from a completely Anglo-centric armchair.

      1. Surprised you didn’t bring up the Cairngorm Special Constables too. All ineffective. And unlike you I’ll be voting for a party that doesn’t support the monarchy.

        1. Yes, a weird ‘constitutional arrangement’ – which has been much debated (during the Alex Salmond saga); s/he is ‘appointed’ (it seems, from what I can find out) by the Scottish Office (currently controlled by the Tory Westminster government) and agreed by the Scottish Government. So you can have a Tory sitting in an SNP Cabinet (as I think we have had)!
          You must also remember that all the civil servants (at Holyrood and the two new buildings in Edinburgh and Glasgow recently set up by the Johnson government) are ultimately controlled by the Cabinet Office – currently the Tories. This applies to the Crown Prosecution and Fiscals service. I guess the ‘Crown’ bit says it all.

          1. The Crown Prosecution Service does not operate in Scotland.

            There is no “Crown Prosecution and Fiscals service”.

            There is no “Scottish Office” and the Lord Advocate is not appointed by it.

            The Lord Advocate is appointed by Her Majesty on the recommendation of the First Minister and with the agreement of the Scottish Parliament. (see section 48(1) of the Scotland Act 1998)


    “why are golden eagles still poisoned on scottish grouse moors? the long road to werritty and beyond”


    “It’s shameful that we, ordinary members of the public, have to campaign just to have the law upheld, but its even more shameful that despite decades of compelling evidence, the Scottish Government has still not taken effective action against the criminals within the driven grouse shooting industry.”

    The Scottish Government continue to demonstrate that they are seriously flawed. Who would trust such people ?

  11. “huge public uproar led to Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse instructing the Crown Office to utilise all investigative tools for enforcement against wildlife crime”

    I can’t recall what Mr Wheelhouse said at the time, but I’m not certain that this is correct. Section 48(5) of the Scotland Act 1998 states:

    “Any decision of the Lord Advocate in his capacity as head of the systems of criminal prosecution and investigation of deaths in Scotland shall continue to be taken by him independently of any other person.”

    I would suggest that it is outwith the power of the Environment Minister to “instruct” the Crown Office.

    1. Hi Adam,

      You’re right. Environment Minister Wheelhouse spoke with the Lord Advocate about maximising opportunities for prosecutions and it was the Lord Advocate who then instructed the Crown Office, not Paul Wheelhouse as I had stated. I’ve amended the blog, thanks.

      Here are the details of Wheelhouse’s speech in July 2013:


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