REVIVE Coalition for grouse moor reform: interview with Scottish Environment Minister Mairi McAllan

Last month, Max Wizniewski, Campaigns Manager for REVIVE, the coalition for grouse moor reform, met with Scottish Environment Minister Mairi McAllan to discuss the Government’s plans for grouse moor licensing.

Max opened the interview by asking the Minister about the well-evidenced link between driven grouse shooting and raptor persecution, and how she thought the Government’s forthcoming licencing scheme might work to bring that to an end.

The Minister’s response:

I come at this with a view that the vast majority of people living and working in our uplands and enjoying them do so with great respect for the land and for the wildlife that calls that home. However, there are a minority who would continue to persecute raptors, which is illegal, and abhorrent, and that despite what have been concerted efforts by the Government over a number of years to find ways to clamp down on that, so be that increased penalties brought forward in our Animals Bill last term, poisons amnesties, vicarious liability, it persists. And therefore we’re in a situation where self-regulation isn’t going to work anymore.

So I want to bring in, in response to Werritty and as part of the legislation we’ll bring in this term, time-line wise, I want a robust licensing scheme which will, in the face of any evidence of raptor persecution, be able to be removed, including permanently“.

The Minister’s opening sentence is at complete odds with everything else she talked about during this interview, so I don’t give it much credence. It’s part of a narrative clearly designed to appease some elements of the landowning/grouse-shooting set, lip-service if you like, but Governments don’t spend time & money introducing new legislation based on the criminal behaviour of a minority, so I don’t really mind the lip-service as long as it doesn’t interfere with the progression of the new legislation.

The rest of her commentary was well-informed and reassuringly considered, I thought. The interview ranged from the timings for the introduction of the new licensing system, to muirburn, medicated grit, animal welfare, snaring, and giving increased powers to the Scottish SPCA to enable them to take on more investigations into raptor persecution.

This last topic has been the subject of long-term dithering by the Scottish Government for a period of over 11 years. For example, and for the benefit of new blog readers, here’s a timeline:

February 2011: Increased powers for the SSPCA was first suggested by former MSP Peter Peacock as an amendment during the Wildlife & Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill debates. The then Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham rejected it as an amendment but suggested a public consultation was in order.

September 2011: Seven months later Elaine Murray MSP (Scottish Labour) lodged a parliamentary motion that further powers for the SSPCA should be considered.

November 2011: Elaine Murray MSP (Scottish Labour) formalised the question in a P&Q session and the next Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson MSP, then promised that the consultation would happen ‘in the first half of 2012’.

September 2012: Nine months later and nothing had happened so I asked Paul Wheelhouse MSP, as the new Environment Minister, when the consultation would take place. The response, in October 2012, was:

The consultation has been delayed by resource pressures but will be brought forward in the near future”.

July 2013: Ten months later and still no sign so I asked the Environment Minister (still Paul Wheelhouse) again. In August 2013, this was the response:

We regret that resource pressures did further delay the public consultation on the extension of SSPCA powers. However, I can confirm that the consultation document will be published later this year”.

September 2013: At a meeting of the PAW Executive Group, Minister Wheelhouse said this:

The consultation on new powers for the SSPCA will be published in October 2013“.

January 2014: In response to one of this blog’s readers who wrote to the Minister (still Paul Wheelhouse) to ask why the consultation had not yet been published:

We very much regret that resource pressures have caused further delays to the consultation to gain views on the extension of SSPCA powers. It will be published in the near future“.

31 March 2014: Public consultation launched.

1 September 2014: Consultation closed.

26 October 2014: I published my analysis of the consultation responses here.

22 January 2015: Analysis of consultation responses published by Scottish Government. 233 responses (although 7,256 responses if online petition included – see here).

I was told a decision would come from the new Environment Minister, Dr Aileen McLeod MSP, “in due course”.

1 September 2015: One year after the consultation closed and still nothing.

25 February 2016: In response to a question posed by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment Committee, Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod said: “I have some further matters to clarify with the SSPCA, however I do hope to be able to report on the Scottish Government’s position on this issue shortly“.

May 2016: Dr Aileen McLeod fails to get re-elected and loses her position as Environment Minister. Roseanna Cunningham is promoted to a newly-created position of Cabinet Secretary for the Environment.

12 May 2016: Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submits the following Parliamentary question:

Question S5W-00030 – To ask the Scottish Government when it will announce its decision regarding extending the powers of the Scottish SPCA to tackle wildlife crime.

26 May 2016: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham responds with this:

A decision on whether to extend the investigatory powers of the Scottish SPCA will be announced in due course.

1 September 2016: Two years after the consultation closed and still nothing.

9 January 2017: Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submits the following Parliamentary question:

Question S5W-05982 – To ask the Scottish Government by what date it will publish its response to the consultation on the extension of wildlife crime investigative powers for inspectors in the Scottish SPCA.

17 January 2017: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham responds:

A decision on whether to extend the investigatory powers of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will be announced in the first half of 2017.

31 May 2017: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham rejects an extension of powers for the SSPCA ‘based on legal advice’ and instead announces, as an alternative, a pilot scheme of Special Constables for the Cairngorms National Park (here). It later emerged in 2018 that this pilot scheme was also an alternative to the Government’s 2016 manifesto pledge to establish a Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit as part of Police Scotland – a pledge on which it had now reneged (see here).

November 2019: The pilot scheme of Special Constables in the Cairngorms National Park was an absolute failure as a grand total of zero wildlife crimes were recorded by the Special Constables but plenty were reported by others (see here).

June 2020: Mark Ruskell (Scottish Greens) proposed further powers for the SSPCA at Stage 2 of the Animals and Wildlife Bill. The latest Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon persuaded him to withdraw the proposed amendment on the basis that she’d consider establishing a taskforce to convene ‘this summer’ to consider increased powers (see here).

December 2020: Mark Ruskell (Scottish Greens) submits two Parliamentary questions asking about the status of the taskforce and who is serving on it (see here).

January 2021: New Environment Minister Ben Macpherson says the taskforce has not yet been appointed but that it is “expected to be established later this year“ (see here).

September 2021: In the 2021 to 2022 Programme for Government it was announced that the ‘independent taskforce [Ed: still to be appointed] will report before the end of 2022’ (see here).

Max asked the Minister if she could provide an update on the situation and she said this:

It’s imminent and I wish I could tell you today but we are just finalising the last few points for the membership but I’m hoping to be able to make an announcement about that in the next few weeks“.

Given that this interview was filmed on 3rd May 2022 and it’s now almost mid-June and still no announcement, this feels a lot like déjà vu so there seems little point in raising expectations. I hope an announcement is imminent and that Mairi McAllan’s name is not added to the long list of previous Environment Ministers and Cabinet Secretaries who have failed to deliver on their promises on this specific issue (I think she is the 8th successive Minister to be dealing with it!).

Well done to Max from REVIVE for a well-constructed interview and many thanks to Andrea Goddard who was responsible for organising this interview as one of the events for Hen Harrier Action’s Skydancer Day.

You can watch the 14.5 minute video here.

UPDATE 12th June 2022: Scottish Government’s grouse moor licensing scheme must also consider red-legged partridges and pheasants (here)

4 thoughts on “REVIVE Coalition for grouse moor reform: interview with Scottish Environment Minister Mairi McAllan”

  1. A sad tale of dithering and lack of commitment by the Scottish Government. Questions to my local msp gets the same treatment, promises, promises but nothing actually happens. Absolutely hopeless bunch of ministers, all under the guidance of ‘you know who’.
    I cannot really understand how all in Scotland cannot see through her and her government and how they fail us time and time again no matter the subject matter. I despair…

  2. I suspect the task force hasn’t been appointed because certain stakeholders think if they drag their feet long enough and hard enough this will all go away, or failing that create a toothless committee by refusing to work with anyone who actually has a interest in animal welfare. I think Mark Ruskell should put forward private members bill on the subject and force the issue.

    1. That first sentence has clear hallmarks of being furnished by a civil servant or possibly a committee of such. It’s verbose with so many clauses the meaning is hidden and with enough back doors and provisos that it has no weight of meaning or value at all. I’m reminded of the Balfour letter and history has shown how useless that was.

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