Fight continues to protect iconic mountain hares – article from The Scotsman

An article written by James Silvey, Senior Species & Habitats Officer at RSPB Scotland, published by The Scotsman newspaper on 22nd March 2022.

Fight continues to protect iconic mountain hares

March 1, 2022 marked the first anniversary for protected status of one of Scotland’s most iconic mammals, the mountain hare. This protection was long overdue and a direct result of the unregulated killing that had been undertaken as routine management across many upland areas of Scotland for over 30 years.

The story of why mountain hares became a protected species starts with grouse and the business of driven grouse shooting which relies on large numbers of these birds to be shot at the end of the summer. The main techniques to achieve these large numbers are disease management, predator control and regular burning of vegetation to promote fresh heather growth. Like grouse, mountain hares feed on heather and have similar predators so conditions on grouse moors also benefited this species and as such many of their stronghold sites were often associated with grouse moors. That was until a change of management in the 1990s.

Through the late 1990s and 2000s tens of thousands of mountain hares were routinely shot on grouse moors across the species stronghold sites. This was in the misguided attempt of reducing tick numbers which could transmit an often-fatal disease to grouse chicks known as louping ill.

The scale of killing was alarming and, in an effort to control the culls, Scottish Government introduced a closed season in 2011 and called for voluntary restraint in 2014. Neither effort worked and pictures of culls and dumped dead hares continued to appear in the media. Estimates at the time gave figures of 26,000 hares killed annually. However, the actual figure was likely much higher.

Despite the concern, evidence of what effect such heavy persecution was having on mountain hare populations was in short supply until 2018, when two independent scientific papers were published that came to similar conclusions; mountain hares had declined, with the analyses from one paper showing that these declines had been catastrophic in areas that were predominantly managed for grouse.

This new evidence, coupled with an admittance from Scottish Government that mountain hares were in “unfavourable conservation status” led to a change in the law in 2019 – spearheaded by Green MSP Alison Johnstone – and protection for the species in 2020.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t finish here. Whilst mountain hares now are a protected species, NatureScot are still able to issue licences to individuals to kill mountain hares for specific reasons, such as the protection of young trees. In the past with species like beavers, we have seen how these licences can be used to kill significant numbers of animals. From 1st March 2021 when mountain hare protection came into effect to 28th February 2022, 51 licences for lethal control were approved by NatureScot with an estimated 3000 hares licenced to be shot.

Compared to the estimated 26,000 killed annually before protection, this may seem to be a significant improvement. However, it is important to know where these hares were killed, over what area, for what purpose and crucially if lethal control really was the only option as opposed to non-lethal measures such as fencing.

Species like mountain hare are protected for a reason, and it is vitally important that any licences that are issued are done so only as a last resort and with the highest safeguards in place to prevent any population decline both nationally and locally.

Having fought so long for protection of this upland species RSPB Scotland will continue to monitor the management of mountain hares closely and call for the increased use of non-lethal measures where available. In addition to this, complete transparency is required when it comes to all species licensing so that data on numbers of licences approved, numbers of animals killed and for what purpose are freely available and where necessary challenged.

ENDS

19 thoughts on “Fight continues to protect iconic mountain hares – article from The Scotsman”

    1. Does that mean you don’t believe the figures quoted by the RSPB, where they say that 51 licenses were approved by NatureScot with an approx 3000 ‘cull allowance’?

  1. I could not agree with you nore Michelle why do they have to slaughter this iconic Mammal so a few rich people can have sport .

  2. Yesterday especially, muirburns were visible on the horizon a dozen miles away on the east side of the North pennines looked as bad as it can get.
    Killing grouse is most definitely Not A Sport.
    Also can anyone point me in the direction of where the research was done proving that burning produces more heatger overall.
    New shoots are produced on older heather every year. Just as mature oak trees produce new leaves in spring. It doesn’t seem clear that a square area of ground would have more vegetation by keeping it short. Also burning deprives this area of any vegetation for years. Mature heather gives cover to hide from danger. Guns fir instance.
    Where is the information on this. Anyone?

    1. I think it is the fact that rotational burning to create a mixed age structure of heather in adjacent stands that is important i.e. some fresh young growth, some maturing and some old aged. That way there is both cover for nests and plenty of new shoots for food. But the burning also stops trees naturally colonising the moors; and these would provide perches for Red grouse predators e.g corvids. What I don’t really understand is that moor burning generally creates an extensive monoculture of heather on fairly dry moor, even if it is mixed-age. And yet young grouse need invertebrates which, it seems to me, would be more abundant and more diverse – and therefore available for food over extended periods to feed the chicks- on wetter, more florally diverse moor. Also, over autumn and winter the adults eat plant seeds such as those of cotton grass, sedges, rushes and berries of bilberry and crowberry. So why the emphasis on heather alone, on dry ground?

      1. Hi Wendy, the questions you pose I can testify are a constant live debate among owners and keepers, and I think you would find the research by GWCT and the conjecture in the grouse shooting media (such as on a well known “grouse guru” agents own blog) interesting as to how obsessed they are with heather. It is no accident that the big players like to have access to shoot grouse on a varied “portfolio” (their term) of a few differing moors in any given season – i.e. some relatively drier, or wetter, or grassier, or with different altitude, varied aspect etc, etc so that whatever the unique breeding conditions each season throw up locally…hey presto, their clients can always go somewhere and still shoot shit loads of grouse. And the mafia dons still get a tidy bundle of cash.

        1. Ok. I thought the “varied portfolio” meant when the Red Grouse run out i.e. they have shot all available on any one shooting day, they then have another quarry to turn to. So round here in S. Yorks it would be RL Partridge or Mallard perhaps. Shooting butts have appeared on a small pool amongst a grouse moor here. For mallard I think. And I’ve seen the blue plastic feeders in nearby woodlands. I guess for partridge rather than pheasant. So that meant the shooters can experience different styles of shooting on one “exiting” day. When I walk up on the moors that are complete monoculture of heather, compared to varied ones with slopes, wooded cloughs, boggy areas, I know which looks better, more attractive I mean. If I was out for a costly day out in the countryside I’d like to see variety. So surely that must be part of the entertainment. I’m glad to say there seems to be more cutting heather this last winter than last. Still some burns though.

      2. “So why the emphasis on heather alone, on dry ground?”

        I think I can answer the last bit of the question: the dominant species of heather grown (Calluna and Erica) do not thrive on waterlogged ground, so the moors have to be first drained for the heather to simply survive. In addition, by drying out the moorland, the heather can then also be more easily burned, thus removing all its competition. And by burning in a patchwork fashion, this type of management can achieve the mixture of mature and young heathers required for the unnaturally high density of Red Grouse breeding.

        1. Hi Keith, my last thought on heather – I wonder if I am alone in my cynicism? What are the chances that one day some boffin develops some sort of a hybrid species or even a ‘GM super variant’ of ling / c. vulgaris – one that thrives in a wider spectrum of conditions? And would the industry have the political clout to get it approved for use and seed the moors with it? It is only a slighty far-fetched concept in my mind (thinking of disgrace that is medicated grit, etc).

        2. I thank you for your comments. But I’m a bit dull I think.
          Something doesn’t fit. Where are scientific measurements.
          It takes years for burnt heather to regrow. So no advantage to any bird here.
          Someone should do the maths again scientifically . Maybe someone has.
          We should find out.
          I thank you.

  3. I notice in Ruth’s report that it mentions that the RSPB will be closely monitoring the management of mountain hares.
    How will this be done?
    An issue I can foresee, is that whilst there has been a change in legislation to make mountain hares a protected species, this change in legislation may not necessarily change behaviour.
    There will still be those, who will go out on to the remote moors and hills, and continue to kill mountain hares – licence or no licence.
    In the eyes of some the change in legislation will not have dealt with their belief that mountain hares are responsible for spreading disease in game birds and need to be eradicated. These people are trapped in their beliefs, and will not agree with the science when it contradicts those beliefs.
    Raptor protection legislation has not stopped the illegal killing of raptors.
    Passing laws to protect mountain hares- will not stop the illegal persecution of mountain hares.
    What is missing from so much of the legislation to protect nature is effective policing.
    This isn’t something the police can simply carry out, as its impossible to effectively monitor what takes place out in remote areas, away from the gaze of the public, by a service which is often stretched beyond capacity.

    At the moment how is the majority of wildlife crime reported?
    By the remote chance that a member of the public has seen something and reported it, or by the satellite tagging of very vulnerable species.
    Occasionally intelligence may lead to monitoring of a certain area by some organisations who set up camera traps or carry out surveillance.
    But this isn’t always enough to change the behaviour of those who carry out wildlife crimes.
    Even if we eventually get licensing of grouse moors in Scotland, this still won’t address the issue of how those estates, many of which are in remote areas and difficult to access on foot will be effectively monitored and policed.(remember there is no right to drive a motor vehicle on the majority of shooting tracks without the landowners permission. The police have a right to enter land, but I believe this is only applicable when they suspect an offence may have been committed, and not simply to patrol it and observe what is going on.)

    It is one thing to pass legislation to protect something, but it is quite another to actually enforce it.
    The Scottish parliament may have passed legislation to protect mountain hares, but what mechanisms were put in place to effectively stop those who will ignore that legislation from carrying out illegal activities?

    The challenges involved in policing and enforcing wildlife protection legislation are something I am not sure the current debate focusses sufficiently on. By it’s very nature, the remoteness of the wilderness, the lack of potential witnesses and the way criminals can conceal their activities suggests that radical and unconventional solutions are required.
    Governments can pass as much legislation as the public demand, but unless those who break the law are effectively brought to justice then society is not much better off than it was before.
    The absence of almost any prosecutions for raptor persecution speaks for itself.
    Will mountain hares suffer similar illegal persecution?
    What are other readers views on this issue?

    1. “Passing laws to protect mountain hares- will not stop the illegal persecution of mountain hares.
      What is missing from so much of the legislation to protect nature is effective policing.”

      Mountain Hares used to be culled en masse. That will be difficult to replicate illegally.

      “Even if we eventually get licensing of grouse moors in Scotland, this still won’t address the issue of how those estates, many of which are in remote areas and difficult to access on foot will be effectively monitored and policed.(remember there is no right to drive a motor vehicle on the majority of shooting tracks without the landowners permission. The police have a right to enter land, but I believe this is only applicable when they suspect an offence may have been committed, and not simply to patrol it and observe what is going on.)”

      If the licensing is based upon the ecological health of the estate, which is dependent entirely upon regular ecological audits of the estate (by whomsoever the Scottish Government decree) then there is no requirement for the Police nor anyone else not on official business to be able to enter those estates.

      It would be up to the auditing body to report on the state of raptors, say, on the estate (throughout the seasons): if the auditing body decide that raptor numbers are below some threshold, for some minimum length of time, then the license to shoot could be withheld until the auditing body find that raptor numbers have increased to the preset threshold.

      It is not particularly difficult to organise (at the license-holder’s expense) if the political will is there.

      It is also a way for the shooting industry to prove that shooting does not cause environmental damage. Quite what shoots would look like when it can be shown that no environmental damage whatsoever is being caused, remains to be seen.

      But will the Scottish Government agree to base shooting licenses on the results of regular ecological audits of shooting estates? Or will they continue to try to stick to licenses based upon a lack of criminal convictions for wildlife crime, when we all know that obtaining criminal convictions for wildlife crime is very, very, difficult?

      1. Keith,
        Thanks for your reply.

        The concept of ecological audits as part of a licensing scheme is interesting but also raises many other questions.
        Will audits stop criminal behaviour and raptor persecution?
        Or will criminal behaviour simply adjust so that illegal activity isn’t detected during any audit?

        If ecological audits are to be the way of monitoring what is taking place on a particular estate. Who will set the threshold of what is an acceptable ecological baseline? There could be so much disagreement, with those opposed to grouse shooting on one side, declaring that their ecological concept is right; and the shooting lobby on the other, declaring that their concept is correct and should be the one which sets a base line. I understand large areas of upland heather moorland are fairly unique to the UK, and as these are predominantly managed for grouse shooting, even attempting to compare wildlife with wildlife at geographical locations elsewhere could be problematic.
        Each side could simply commission reports to justify their position, and both sides could simply accuse the other of producing conclusion driven reports in order to justify a particular position.
        This is already evident in the way that the shooting industry promotes the number of ground nesting birds which it claims have flourished on managed grouse moors, compared to unmanaged moors. But what other species such as stoats, foxes, corvids have suffered a population decline, in order to ensure a high proportion of ground nesting birds successfully raise chicks? Agreement of what is a normal healthy balance of these predators would probably never be reached?
        Where would audits leave a bird such as the Hen Harrier? An estate could claim it is promoting conservation by participating in a brood management program, but still be responsible for persecution of the adult birds. Without effective policing this persecution would never be detected, and the estate could appear to be a model of conservation under the current rules. An audit could simply show that the estate participates in Hen Harrier conservation.
        Could a high population density of game birds such as Red Grouse be an indication of ecological success?- the shooting industry would probably claim it is? Others will claim this is unnatural.
        Whilst I am more likely to believe a report produced by a body such as the RSPB, this indicates my inherent bias, and those responsible for adjudicating between both sides may be left bewildered as to what to believe.

        Bearing in mind that raptor numbers are probably depressed across many grouse moors, there probably will be no agreement on what should be a normal number of raptors over any particular geographical area. A number which could fluctuate for perfectly natural reasons, even without persecution. One of the issue being that without evidence of illegal persecution, it will be all too easy for an estate to claim the present raptor numbers are the natural order of things.

        How will environmental damage be defined?
        There is still a debate about the merits of heather burning. When I contacted NE about this issue, they were of the opinion that heather burning is a vital tool for maintaining a thriving moorland ecology- something which many would disagree with.
        Whatever environmental rules are put in place, there will always be those who pay lip service to the rules, but then do something completely different, especially if there is no effective policing. And when an audit is carried out- evidence could be produced to give the auditors every reason to believe everything is being done to maintain a healthy environment- especially if an estate has applied for grants to pay for environmental land management projects which enhance game bird numbers!

        One of the problems is that environmental science/ecology doesn’t appear to be governed by defined laws in the same way, as say physics or mathematics. Or if there are laws, the current state of scientific knowledge still leaves these laws very difficult to understand, as there so many variables in any equation.
        Two very differing answers could both be right, and this could have consequences for the effectiveness of any licensing scheme. (One only has to consider the science behind climate change, and how long the debate about the causes of climate change has been going on to realise the problems which could beset using an ecological audit as a way of determining grouse moor licensing. Estates will simply challenge audits which could result in the removal of their licence, and we could end up with an ineffective system unable to adjudicate)

        This then suggests that it could be very difficult to base the removal of a grouse moor licence based on ecological audits- yes it could be done- but there could be a lot of disagreement about the findings of any audit.

        Another issue for audits is having a sufficient number of auditors to actually carry out the audit. Where will a sufficient number of trained auditors be found to inspect each and every estate on a regular basis, and ensure audits are carried out with fairness with wildlife numbers are reflective of what truly resides in a geographical location, and not something which has been heavily influenced by poor weather at the time of the audit or other natural factors?

        I suspect politicians will want something far more black and white on which to base a licensing scheme- the obvious answer, which as you suggest, being based on whether there is any evidence of suspected criminal activity. Whilst the judgement will be based on the civil law burden of proof- evidence will still be required, and this will require effective monitoring and policing.
        Which brings us back to my original question – how is wildlife legislation going to be effectively monitored and policed, and criminal behaviour identified? And this seems to be an issue which the politicians are not properly addressing, but is probably going to necessary, even with a licencing scheme.
        Mountain hares might be protected but I am not convinced that they still don’t face persecution!

  4. “Will audits stop criminal behaviour and raptor persecution?”

    Has any police force, anywhere in history, stopped all crime?

    There are none so blind as those who refuse to see…

    “Who will set the threshold of what is an acceptable ecological baseline?”

    Ecologists appointed by the authorising body (tbd by the Scottish Government). You do realise, don’t you, that statutory environmental bodies continually officially assess things such as habitat etc, and report upon such habitat and whether they think it is degraded or not, thereby making recommendations and demands upon land owners (who might be applying for grants, or licenses…)? How do you think these authorities come to their conclusions?

    “But what other species such as stoats, foxes, corvids have suffered a population decline, in order to ensure a high proportion of ground nesting birds successfully raise chicks?”

    Don’t you think that stoats, foxes and corvids are a part of an ecological balance, then? Do you think that when statutory environmental bodies assess habitat they are unable to form an expert opinion on the balance of predators and prey species?

    “Agreement of what is a normal healthy balance of these predators would probably never be reached?”

    Why do you think that statutory environmental bodies need to reach ‘agreement’ with vested interests?

    Does that apply, for example, when an industry pollutes a watercourse? Would any Environment Agency, for example, *have* to reach ‘agreement’ with the vested interest that a threshold for water pollution has been breached, before a legal injunction is issued?

    “Could a high population density of game birds such as Red Grouse be an indication of ecological success?- the shooting industry would probably claim it is? Others will claim this is unnatural.”

    And do you think that ecologists are unable to decide such matters?

    There are none so blind as those who refuse to see…

    “Whilst I am more likely to believe a report produced by a body such as the RSPB, this indicates my inherent bias, and those responsible for adjudicating between both sides may be left bewildered as to what to believe.”

    You appear to assume that no ecologists can exist with expertise and a mind of their own? Does it bewilder you how official environmental assessments can possibly ever be made, with all these competing interests?

    “Bearing in mind that raptor numbers are probably depressed across many grouse moors, there probably will be no agreement on what should be a normal number of raptors over any particular geographical area”

    Oh dear. You are completely hell bent on reaching ‘agreement’ aren’t you? Why is that? Why should it be impossible for an independent assessment to be made, and then imposed, by a statutory body?

    “And when an audit is carried out- evidence could be produced to give the auditors every reason to believe everything is being done to maintain a healthy environment…”

    You seem to think that anything called an environmental audit must exclude surveying. I don’t know why, unless you are desperate to undermine any statutory authority bringing in legislation to assess an activity for its environmental impact. I wonder, how do you think environmental impact assessments are made during planning procedures, for example?

    “One of the problems is that environmental science/ecology doesn’t appear to be governed by defined laws in the same way, as say physics or mathematics.”

    Really? Do you find it difficult to decide if a flood is a flood? Or if water is contaminated? Or if breeding species are missing or in low numbers?

    “This then suggests that it could be very difficult to base the removal of a grouse moor licence based on ecological audits- yes it could be done- but there could be a lot of disagreement about the findings of any audit.”

    Oh dear. And there isn’t any disagreement about whether the conditions of a General License has been breeched? Your argument appears to be that we should to do away with General License conditions in case “there could be a lot of disagreement”.

    “Another issue for audits is having a sufficient number of auditors to actually carry out the audit.”

    Yes, well, better to keep all those gamekeepers employed, then. I thought it was the shooting industry’s argument that only shooting can employ people in upland areas. Heaven forbid that people be employed to assess and help in the recovery of our upland areas… but then, you appear to be arguing that no one can ‘agree’ if our upland areas actually require any recovery, anyway.

    There are none so blind as those who refuse to see…

    “Mountain hares might be protected but I am not convinced that they still don’t face persecution!”

    So everything has to be absolutely guaranteed perfect before you will lend it your support?

    Scottish politicians may well exclude any environmental assessment whatsoever in their proposed licensing (as you appear to be arguing) but criminal behaviour does not include most of the management techniques used on grouse moors, and which are hugely damaging to the environment.

    If all raptor persecution was magically terminated, would you be happy for driven grouse shooting to continue as it has up until now? Is that it? Just raptor persecution ended …and nothing else?

    But if you want the other practices to also end, how can that happen under licensing without any environmental assessments whatsoever (since you are arguing that they are far too difficult to even think about)?

    If licensing is to restore our upland environment it has to include environmental assessments at its heart. Otherwise, it will be a sham, and fail.

    1. “There are none so blind as those who refuse to see..”

      Is there any necessity to resort to insults when someone raises questions about what your proposing regarding licensing and environmental audits?
      Are you incapable of responding to concepts different from your own without resorting to being rude?

      Being unable to see an issue from a different perspective is also effectively being blind.

      I don’t think at anytime I suggested that environmental assessments will not form part of any licensing scheme proposal? Or that environmental audits will not involve an on the ground survey- something I actually touched upon, when I mentioned that this would have been done fairly and take into account such factors as inclement weather which may impact the findings of any survey. Perhaps I failed to express myself clearly?

      The issue I raised is whether using environmental assessments as a basis upon which to adjudicate as to whether an estate could or couldn’t hold a shooting licence could be problematic. This is hardly suggesting that environmental assessments are too difficult to even think about, and hardly something which warranted the manner of your response.

      I think we all accept that environmental surveys and assessments are already a feature of the way countryside is managed.
      It is the results and interpretation of those assessments which could be an issue if they are to be the basis upon which an estate could loose its licence. Do you not agree that the law will most probably require a defined environmental standard against which to judge environmental audits, and to decide whether an estate has met the standard or not? It is this standard and its comparison against audits which could prove highly controversial.
      This is far more complex issue than your examples of measuring pollution in a river, or whether a river is in flood. – something which can be measured with relative ease. Even as someone who has never studied environmental science or ecology I can foresee that setting a meaningful ecological picture of a landscape which includes all flora and fauna, and which takes into account all natural events which may impact on species numbers, and then comparing that to a defined standard is a far more complex issue than measuring water pollution or river levels, and there may be disagreement amongst experts as to what a normal environmental standard should be or why certain species are under represented. It is very probable that different experts could have different views, and experts employed by statutory bodies could face opposition which could result in a legal challenge if other experts disagree with the statutory bodies position. If organisations like WildJustice can successfully challenge statutory bodies such as NE over things like the GL, then it is also reasonable to expect organisations representing the shooting industry to also bring legal challenges when they see something which they believe can be successfully challenged within the framework of any licensing proposals.

      What would be the defined environmental standard for an upland grouse moor to the east of the Cairngorms? Will this be a different standard to a lowland grouse moor in the border country?
      How are you going to factor in unseasonable weather or impacts of climate change, which could devastate a particular breeding season?
      Perhaps you could enlighten us with what you believe the environmental standard will be, exactly how it will be measured and how it will be compared to an environmental audit, something which is capable of taking into account natural events or climate change, and then adjudicated on, so that there is a fair and transparent mechanism upon which to revoke an estates shooting licence?

      Of course ecologists can have “expertise and a mind of their own”.
      It is also very normal for a different ecologists to also be an expert, but to also have a mind of their own and reach different conclusions.
      In a court of law it is very usual for both sides in a dispute to employ experts. These experts may well agree on some matters, but disagree on others.
      This will be one of the issues which understanding and adjudicating on environmental audits will face. Is under representation of certain species a result of poor management practices and illegal activity, or is it due to a unique set of natural events? Different experts may have different expert opinions. Who will decide which experts opinion is right?
      It would be usual to provide additional evidence to support one experts opinion if it is to be given greater weight in any discussion, and I would suggest some of this additional evidence will have to come from the monitoring and policing of an estate outside of any audit period, something I believe you are suggesting isn’t necessary?

      I don’t think my comments have any bearing on General licences, which already have existing protocols and a legal framework in place? My understanding is that GL’s are usually revoked when there is evidence that an estate has breached the terms or conditions of a GL. This is a totally different concept from what is being discussed, and your point is irrelevant.

      Perhaps you had failed to notice, but government bodies such as NE or NatureScot are already facing funding difficulties. So where is the funding going to come from to pay for all the auditors which your proposal will be require?
      Yes, there needs to be regeneration and employment in rural areas, but I don’t foresee politicians wanting to fund this with public money, when so many other government departments are facing public spending cuts, due to the debt Covid has left the country with, and the focus will be on maintaining spending on things such as health or education. We have to be realistic about what a government will fund, when there is so much current focus on the national debt.
      Do you really think the shooting industry will agree to pay for these external government auditors? Would any tax or levy imposed on the shooting industry raise sufficient revenue to pay for all the monitoring and survey work which would be required to audit all shooting estates on a regular basis? It is perhaps very naïve to think the shooting industry is simply going to roll and be taxed to the hilt to pay for something it is opposed to.

      No one is suggesting everything has to be perfect to be supported, but only a fool would fail to try and identify pitfalls and imperfections and then try to minimise them. Or are you suggesting that once audits are carried out, the audits by themselves will be sufficient, without any other measures or policing to encourage shooting estates to adhere to the rules? That appears to be your position when you state “then there is no requirement for the Police nor anyone else not on official business to be able to enter those estates”.
      History tells us that effective legislation has to be backed up by effective policing. It won’t stop all crime, it never will, but effective policing is also about deterring crime and bringing offenders to justice. Effective law requires effective policing- this is a concept I think we can all understand and agree on?
      Your comment also seem to fail to acknowledge that many grouse moors are on open access land, so the public have every right to enter those estates for walking, riding or cycling, and don’t have to be on official business to enter that land. Have I misinterpreted what you are trying to say? How will raptor crime ever be detected if people can only enter land on official business?

      I like many readers of Raptor Persecution, believe that driven grouse shooting is extremely damaging to the environment and to nature. If you have read or understood many of my other comments you would understand that I have serious concerns about the way driven grouse shooting has become commercialised and focussed on ever increasing bag sizes, increased number of shoot days, and that the only way that this can be achieved is at the expense of other native wildlife and fauna.
      However I am not so narrow minded, as to fail to understand that however much I would like to ban DGS in its current form, the shooting industry is very powerful and successful at lobbying politicians, and that the powerful vested interests with an interest in DGS will do everything within their power to ensure DGS remains a feature of the countryside. Change often comes from within, and to alienate enlightened landowners and estates who also see the damaging effects of DGS, could just make change more difficult to achieve. Trying to impose your views on others often results in entrenchment, especially when you try and impose those views with insults and misinterpretation of what the other person is saying.

      Do you really believe that organisations such as BASC, the Moorland Association and the GWCT can’t play a meaningful role in land management and conservation, and that the government won’t consult with these organisations and take their views into consideration when proposing any grouse moor licence conditions? These organisations are as passionate about their beliefs as other conservation groups are about theirs. This may mean reaching agreement and consent over licensing proposals, it is how democracy works, or are you proposing a totalitarian approach as to how statuary licensing conditions will be imposed on the shooting industry? To win hearts and minds involves listening, seeing, understanding, compromising and reaching agreement. Otherwise it fails.

      Rome was not built in a day, and it may be a far more achievable step to get organisations such as the BASC, Moorland Association etc to eventually acknowledge raptor persecution or the environmental degradation that intensive commercial game shooting causes and then to play a meaningful part in eradicating this, than trying to change the entire game shooting industry in one go.
      Hopefully one issue which both sides can agree on is that illegal raptor persecution is totally unacceptable. It is blatant criminal behaviour which much be stopped, and that there is no place for it within game shooting. This is at times is a painfully slow process, and may require a step by step process, but thanks to the work of people like Ruth and others, change is happening, and there appears to be those within the shooting industry who accept that the current status quo is no longer acceptable. This in itself is a great achievement. So yes I do want to to see the end of damaging land management practices which are currently legal, but I also have sufficient awareness of the issues involved to realise that this will take time to achieve, and will most likely be reached by focusing on one achievable goal at a time. How much reform can be included in a licensing scheme will no doubt be a very contested issue.

      Please don’t reply with further rudeness and insults, as I will be so blind I will refuse to see!!
      Perhaps take time to reflect that contributors to this blog might have different view to your own, but they have a right to express those ideas, and raise questions without being subject to response full of insults and abuse, and the correct way to respond is politely and courteously, however much you might disagree with them.

      (Sorry Ruth, this has gone completely off topic from mountain hares- but I thought it necessary to respond to Mr Dancy, as he appears to have misinterpreted much of my comments, made false assumptions about my beliefs, and I don’t tolerate insults and attempts at online bullying! I won’t be adding further to this topic )

      1. “Is there any necessity to resort to insults when someone raises questions about what your proposing regarding licensing and environmental audits?”

        All you are doing is putting up the arguments of the shooting industry against any kind of licensing system for grouse shooting estates based upon independent environmental assessments carried out for/by a statutory body. It will be all too costly, too difficult, too subject to argument… etc etc.

        And yet, such statutory bodies already regularly carry out such assessments for other habitats and for other reasons.

        And while I publish everything with my full name, you hide behind an initial.

        You asked what other readers’ views were, but when challenged, you claim, behind your ‘initial’ that you are being bullied.

        In your original post you did not mention environmental auditing once: you were obsessed with criminal policing.

        Criminal Policing has its place in fighting crime, but we have decades of experience to know that it is very difficult in under-populated rural areas to obtain convictions for wildlife crime (because there are too many vested interests). Whereas, nobody can hide the degradation of the entire environment.

        Too Costly?

        Grouse shooting a multi-million pound industry. The licensee should bear the costs of licensing. The power to legislate for that is entirely within the remit of the Scottish Government. It is really pathetic to plead that NatureScot could not possibly afford to carry out such environmental assessments. “We have to be realistic about what a government will fund, when there is so much current focus on the national debt” just about sums up the attitude that the licensee should NEVER be forced to pay for assessing the systematic degradation of the environment caused by their multi-million pound industry.

        “Do you really think the shooting industry will agree to pay for these external government auditors?” Oh dear. Then the electorate and the Scottish Government will just have to back down, then, and allow the shooting industry to decide our laws.

        You are very concerned about ‘what the shooting industry will allow’, aren’t you? Why is that?

        Too Difficult?

        “Who will decide which experts opinion is right?” Eventually, if challenged, a court of law. What is so wrong about that? Except, in the case where a Scottish Government has legislated for a licensing system based upon environmental assessments, it could be up to the industry to challenge the statutory authority in law. Or, if necessary, for conservationists to challenge the statutory authority.

        That’s the way things normally work.

        “To win hearts and minds involves listening, seeing, understanding, compromising and reaching agreement” Agreement with wildlife abusers? We do not have to ‘win the hearts and minds’ of the shooting industry: we simply have to persuade enough of the electorate that the environment has to be protected from the abuses of an industry, and for that electorate’s representatives to legislate to protect that environment from that industry.

        At the moment, those representatives (say they) believe that means a licensing system. My argument is those who say that such a licensing scheme must be based upon criminal convictions alone are denying experience: it has to be based upon regular environmental assessments because environmental degradation cannot be hidden.

        “Perhaps you could enlighten us with what you believe the environmental standard will be…” That would be the job of the statutory body, something it is used to doing in other habitats for other reasons. Normally it would require a substantial report…

        “I won’t be adding further to this topic” Sigh….

        1. “My argument is those who say that such a licensing scheme must be based upon criminal convictions alone are denying experience”

          As if the difficulty of obtaining convictions for wildlife crime is not sufficient reason to doubt that any licensing scheme based upon such criminal convictions alone would work, we only now have to look at the activity of some Police Forces to see that possible Police Corruption also renders such a licensing scheme as highly vulnerable.

  5. “Mountain hares might be protected but I am not convinced that they still don’t face persecution!”

    Absolutely right John L.! Give them an inch and they will take a bloody mile every time!

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