Ravens illegally shot on two Strathbraan grouse moors

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while but it kept slipping down the list. However, it’s timely to write it now because I’ll be focusing some attention on Strathbraan in some forthcoming blogs.

In November last year, RSPB Scotland published a blog about the Werritty Review of grouse moor management and how the Scottish Government had accepted the Review’s findings but hadn’t yet begun to implement any of the recommendations.

Within that blog, the RSPB highlighted the ongoing illegal persecution of birds of prey on Scottish grouse moors during 2021. Two incidents stood out to me, mainly because it was the first time these two crimes had been reported in the public domain. They concern the illegal shooting of two ravens on two different grouse moors in the Strathbraan area of Perthshire. Here is what the RSPB blog says about them:

Ravens continue to be illegally killed on grouse moors with a dead bird found in April, hidden under rocks below its nest high up a hill on a Perthshire estate that had no licence to control them. The post-mortem report indicated that it had been shot, and -previously recovered from its wounds.

The day it was killed, it was again shot, but again this was not immediately fatal. According to the SRUC vet’s report, it then suffered “severe, mostly blunt trauma characterised by broken beak, crushed cranium, fracture-dislocation of the neck, …fracture of the left wing at four sites, fracture of the left leg and massive internal haemorrhage.” As it flapped around on the ground, it appears that the person who shot this bird then stamped on it repeatedly.

Elsewhere, another raven was seen tumbling to the ground after being shot as it mobbed an eagle owl that had been tethered to a post on another moor in February’.

[Raven photo by Dieter Schaefer]

The post-mortem report on that first raven is chilling, and that crime deserves far more publicity than being tucked away half-way down an RSPB blog. As indeed does the shooting of the second raven, where once again the use of a tethered eagle owl deployed as a bait to lure in the victim has been central to the crime.

Regular blog readers will already know that Strathbraan is not only a raptor-killing hotspot, recognised as such in a Government-commissioned report on the illegal killing of golden eagles, but it is also well-known as the location of a five-year raven cull research licence, issued by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to gamekeepers in 2018 ‘just to see what happens‘ but then hastily withdrawn after the threat of a legal challenge by the Scottish Raptor Study Group and an admission by SNH (now NatureScot) that the research licence was was “completely inadequate“, “seriously flawed“, and “will fail to provide any meaningful scientific evidence“.

More on Strathbraan shenanigans shortly…

38 thoughts on “Ravens illegally shot on two Strathbraan grouse moors”

      1. Remind me, who is the main party of government in the Scottish Assembly? Oh, yes: it is the SNP.
        Perhaps they are being blamed because the SNP’s continuing delay in creating an effective licensing scheme for grouse moors, in which these places could have their business licence revoked for just such crimes, with the attendant loss of income for the tax avoiding owners, allows the criminals on those estates to continue committing crimes with impunity.

        1. Simon Tucker, It’s the Scottish Parliament, not the Scottish Assembly, but you probably knew that and if you didn’t it just tends to confirm that you are pontificating again about a country of which you know nothing, and about an issue of which you clearly have no practical experience. Focus on the record of the government which you clearly regard, by location or by prejudice, as your own and which is the sole source of the social and financial power which maintains sporting estates and their practices.

          1. The SNP have done virtually nothing to challenge landed power, nor the continued and extensive raptor persecution on and around driven grouse moors in Scotland, so save your bloviating for people who haven’t actually been following this issue from the start. Simon is correct; the SNP have been pathetic on this issue and dragged their heels at every opportunity, in spite of the mountain of evidence in front of them. It goes without question that the tories will do nothing about this, but you’re completely missing the point here, which is that the SNP actively campaign on tackling these type of issues whilst at the same time not even doing the bare minimum when in power. At this point, if you can’t see how beholden the SNP are to large shooting estates across Scotland, then I have a bridge to sell you.

            1. I’ll take your bridge off you – as an act of charity. That won’t help you with the real source of the problem though, however inactive the SNP have been with the land issue.

          2. Perhaps readers should remind themselves that it was November 2020 when the Scottish Government announced a proposed grouse moor licensing scheme. This was based on the Werrity report which was published in 2019.
            So in nearly 3 years of knowing about the criminal activities which are taking place across many grouse moors, and the destruction of some of our rarest and most vulnerable birds, the Scottish government are still in a position where they have yet to legislate and put an effective remedy in place.
            During this period the relentless criminal persecution continues, and wildlife suffers.
            It is noted that the SNP have been in government throughout this period.
            If I am correct, in September this year, the SNP announced in it’s program for government 2021-2022, that it will deliver on the recommendations of the Grouse Moor Management Review Group, including licensing as “a matter of urgency”. It should be noted no date or timescale was mentioned to define “a matter of urgency”.
            It is now very clear that the UK will enter a pronged period of recession, during which economic matters will no doubt take up much parliamentary time, both in Holyrood and Westminster. In addition to this Ms Sturgeon has announced she still intends to pursue Scottish independence and a 2nd referendum.
            Perhaps if more focus was spent on resolving domestic matters, rather than pursuing this ideology of independence, legislation to tackle some of the issues effecting grouse moors would have been enacted much sooner, and the moors where these appalling crimes are being committed would have fallen silent of the guns?

            1. Bring it on !

              With any luck it’ll free us from pompous pith helmets lecturing us about their priorities. You might want to consider the source of this recession and of all the other chaos inflicted on us the last ten years and which has, necessarily , preoccupied the adults who govern Scotland. Your politics of course are not an ‘ideology’ like that bad old ‘Scottish Nationalism. Good ol’ Blighty is just the natural order of things, not to be discussed far less criticised, the biggest ideology of them all.

    1. Please explain why you think the SNP are to blame for the ILLEGAL (note the word) killing of these two ravens, Brian Bull, rather than… say, Anas Sarwar or Douglas Ross or Rishi Sunak? Sometimes the political prejudices of folk who post here are bizarre, but the ‘moderator’ seems to let it pass.

      1. Greg,

        I’m not sure why you felt the need to put the word ‘moderator’ in inverted commas but for the avoidance of doubt, comments on this blog are moderated to ensure that defamatory or unreasonably offensive comments aren’t published. It’s not my role to moderate people’s opinions.

        1. Unlikely, given the layout of the standard keyboard. And even though some in the formerly named ‘SNH’ behaved questionably at the time of the licensing to wipe out more ravens than possibly could exist around Strath Braan, they weren’t responsible for the illegal killing in the instances you point out here (for which, thanks); so isn’t Mr Bull’s comment defamatory by suggesting anyone is responsible other than the group who kill everything that gets in their way of producing grouse for big-pocketed eedjits to blast with shotguns?

          1. Greg,

            No, his comment isn’t defamatory because he’s referring to a public authority, not a named individual or business. See new legislation covering this: Defamation & Malicious Publication (Scotland) Act 2021.

            1. I didn’t mean defamatory in strictly legal terms.
              You cannot surely accept that the killing of the two ravens was in any way the fault of the SNP (or SNH). So Mr Bull’s comment is just… erm… bull.

              [Ed: Greg, you suggested the comment was defamatory. I’ve explained why it isn’t. You’re now trying to suggest that because I’ve published Mr Bull’s comment, I must therefore support his opinion. That’s not how this works! People are free to express their opinions here (as long as they’re not defamatory or unduly offensive) and I’m fine with that, and indeed welcome it, but it doesn’t mean that I support every opinion that’s published! This conversation is now veering way off topic so it’s now closed]

          2. Your logic doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny, because it’s the equivalent of not being critical of the tories for deregulation resulting in corporate greed and environmental destruction.

            “Why are not just blaming the individual companies, rather than the conservatives? After all, they didn’t personally pay their workers poverty wages!”

            At best, this is political ignorance. The SNP deserve every bit of criticism they get over this matter. They’ve been abject on the issue of raptor persecution and tackling the sorry state of the Scottish uplands

  1. Finding out who is making these incredible decisions relating to Strathbaan and it’s raven population would be a start in investigating exactly who else was is involved. It is certainly not simply one person and groups like these tend not be under the horizon and members of it easily identified. Then we would have a focus as to who might be placing undue pressure on those charged with making these bizarre decision highlighted in your post.
    if it is impossible to keep those suspected of committing the crimes under investigation maybe some time should be spent finding out more about those who would be seen to benefit from them. That’s where the problem originates and it is only by bringing light to their identities and their networks that will see them end.

  2. Realistically, let’s not kid ourselves that we’re ever going to be rid of this minority of weirdos who apparently think nothing of indulging in their various cruel practices against our wildlife (and sometimes involving their own dogs). We could however, with the co-operation of the judicial system, make things a whole lot more difficult for them when they are caught.

  3. Constantly shocked about the lengths of depravity towards wildlife on estates up and down the country. I don’t know the answers to stopping this type of horrible behaviour but constantly highlighting events such as these and pressure on those bodies who claim to uphold compassion and seek to prosecute(often shamefully light sentences) must continue.

  4. The RSPB need to make its members and the public far more aware of these crimes against our raptors and wildlife. The more people that actually realise what goes on out there the better. Everybody I know and all the people I meet everyday during my work in the Lincolnshire countryside are totally unaware of the persecution that takes place around them, they just think Buzzards and Kites are naturally rare creatures!!
    Some come on RSPB get shouting about it and get your members more aware of these disgusting crimes!!

    1. Why do some people feel the need to turn wildlife crime into an attack, thinly veiled or otherwise, on the RSPB? They are not the law, they are not the politicians, they are a nature charity who spend considerable sums of their membership monies and donations on investigating crimes against wildlife.

      Their funds are not unlimited and they have multiple calls on their funding. It is astonishing that they manage to do as much as they do.

      1. Or on the SNP, Simon Tucker?
        At least the SNP ARE slowly doing something – but they probably have to go through all these tedious steps to avoid being trachled with court actions by the wealthy and well-connected owners of the shooting estates and their Messrs Sue, Grabbit & Runne as we saw when the SNP tried to do something about alcohol abuse by introducing ‘minimum price per unit of alcohol’ (courtesy of the Whisky Association).
        Maybe those who moan about the SNP over raptor persecution and land ownership etc etc should moan about the lack of ANY action in ENGLAND by Labour or LibDems or Tory parties. It’s not enough to just shrug shoulders about London governments’ complete lack of action on these matters while turning ire on the one government that IS doing something.
        Oh, and independence is a ‘domestic matter’ for many of us in Scotland.

    2. In response, – the RSPB regularly report on raptor persecution in their magazine to members, and I would be hopeful the majority of RSPB members are aware of these shocking crimes.
      However it is probably true that the average person is more aware of the plight of elephants, rhinos and tigers than they are of Hen Harriers, and Golden Eagles.
      So, much more needs to done to raise public awareness of the raptor crimes which are occurring in the UK, and I would suggest organisations like the National Parks Authorities, National Trust and Local councils need to involve themselves much more in educating the public who visit the countryside. This could form part of promoting a greater awareness of the countryside code, as sadly so many visitors to the countryside seem to be completely unaware of the fragility of the natural landscape, or the negative impact they can have by irresponsible behaviour. I would hope if people had a better understanding of just how precious our countryside and wild places are, and the role they need to play in conserving it, we might see greater pressure to bring the wildlife criminals to justice.

  5. I think it has already been said by others, in previous posts, but we can look at the illegal killing of Ravens in a number of different ways.

    Firstly, how many Ravens are illegally killed because the perpetrator has confused the bird with a crow or other species of the covid family which can be legally killed under the terms of the General Licence?

    The solution to this must surely lie in a revision of the process for shotgun and general licence applications, where the applicant must demonstrate through a formal test, knowledge of bird and animal types, and those which are protected, and those which are not. I can already feel the opposition to this suggestion coming from the shooting fraternity- but by being granted a shotgun or firearms licence, the applicant is being allowed to posses something which by definition is defined as a lethal barrelled weapon- something which is capable of killing humans, and something which does end up on occasions in the wrong hands- owning and possessing a firearms should be a privilege and not a right- so requiring an applicant to actually be able to identify any wildlife before it is shot is not unreasonable.
    (As an aside – society won’t let a person behind the wheel of a motor vehicle until that person has passed a driving test- this includes being able to identify and understand all the various road signs- so knowledge of the legislation which protects wildlife, and being able to identify wildlife should surely be a prerequisite of owning a firearm- society could allow a lower form of licence for those who only target shoot- and such a licence would not cover possession away from the shooting range ). The same can also be said for GL applicants. Can they actually identify the birds, which they intend to kill under the terms of a GL? It can be quite easy to mistake a Raven from a Crow, even though the former is a much larger bird.

    Secondly, Ravens no doubt suffer from the same criminal persecution which blights birds of prey, perhaps even more so, as those involved in this persecution, probably think that their crimes are less likely to be reported. I think it is fair to say most of the public probably aren’t aware that it is illegal to kill a Raven, whereas there has been much more publicity around the illegal persecution of raptors. Perhaps organisations such as the RSPB and Wildlfe Trusts could help educate the public in this matter?

    As part of the government response to the shocking decline in nature across the UK in the last 50 years, surely there has to be a tightening of the legislation which protects wildlife, and restricts any destruction of nature to where is is absolutely essential to protect other more vulnerable species. (I would argue that protecting non- native game birds such as pheasants and red legged partridge is not essential, and the practices associated with commercial pheasant and partridge shoots contribute to the decline of native UK species). It is all well and good changing rural payments for farmers to the new ELMs scheme, but this has to be matched with better wildlife crime prevention and detection, so that those causing so much destruction of nature are prosecuted and properly punished.

    Whilst such measures wouldn’t stop all illegal persecution of Ravens, it might go some way to better protecting these magnificent birds.

  6. I’m looking forward to the day that satellite tags become cheap enough to use on studies of both ravens and SEO’s in north of england and scotland. I will predict that in the case of ravens people will be stunned about how quickly fledgling travellers go missing in autumn & winter when they start hanging out in the DGS heartlands and in the case of SEO’s will show how our UK population would quickly go extinct if it was not topped up by ‘foreign’ birds. Surely these tags can be bought in bulk – likely made in China or Korea – as they seem to be able to mass produce any tech (phones / smartwatches / solar powered tech) very cheaply. Just why are our typical ‘RSPB’ satellite tags so prohibitively expensive? I have never been satisfied as to the reasons for this when I have done a bit of googling-research.

    1. Hi spaghnum morose,

      There are very good reasons, relating to welfare, ethics and science, as to why cheap satellite tags should be avoided at all costs. Satellite-tagging in the UK is strictly regulated, and quite rightly so, with every single licence application rigorously assessed by a panel of experts, which includes consideration of the type of proposed tag, amongst many other parameters. There is a wide range of tag manufacturers with an equally wide range of capability and reliability. The tags most commonly deployed on raptors in the UK are necessarily expensive because the bottom line is, you get what you pay for. It would be counter-productive in terms of animal welfare, ethics and scientific justification for the research project to fit substandard tags just because they’re the cheapest.

      Incidentally, the BTO has been fitting sat tags to short-eared owls since 2017, with some astonishing results. See: https://www.bto.org/our-science/topics/tracking/tracking-studies/short-eared-owl-tracking

      1. Thanks for the explanation. It’s sound reasoning but still frustrating though (no doubt doubly so for yourself & people in the field) as I would like to see approved tags delivered by the wagon load & fitted onto every nestling of every raptor & raven that can be located in & around (not just, but especially) Yorkshire Dales, NYM, N Pennines, Cheviots, Lammermuirs. What a story that would tell!
        On the SEO front it sounds like they also need help to locate nests, so I guess thats something i.e. reporting regular sightings to BTO in early spring, that any Mr or Mrs Average like myself can help with while wandering about the overly abundant estate roads.

        1. Ps to the above – if ever there was a lot of spare tags sitting in the cupboard doing nothing (!) Some tagging of young at heronries that are within a small few miles of the ‘best’ grouse moors would be interesting. Juvenile herons are shot on moors in summer while prospecting on small moorland streams, as their potential to disrupt a grouse drive (grouse mistake low flying herons for raptors and are scared into either staying still or flying erratically the wrong way) on the estates ‘big days’ is an outside risk that many estates that have invested tens or hundreds of thousands into preparing for just refuse to take.

          1. That’s an interesting subject, spaghnum morose, although as previously stated, any proposed tagging project has to first be submitted to the expert licensing authority for rigorous assessment to ensure it meets the demands of animal welfare, ethics and scientific justification. Tags from one research project can’t be fitted to a different species on a different project without going through this process!

  7. I noticed that a comment to a recent blog expressed concern that the RSPB doesn’t inform its membership enough about raptor persecution on shooting estates and similar comments for this current blog. My personal view is that the society does seem to keep its amazing hard work rather low key in the members’ magazine. Traditionally a small box entitled “Recent Court Cases” is all we get, I was therefore delighted to find a four page spread entitled “Looking for Justice” in the Autumn/Winter issue of the magazine. Quite a lot of straight talking for a change, keep it up RSPB!

  8. Yes it appears that the general public are more aware of the illegal killing of elephants, rhinos and tigers than they are of British wildlife. In Africa they have rangers to protect the wildlife, so maybe in the absence of any effective legal deterrent it’s time for guerrilla tactics.

    1. Or better than guerilla tactics, a simple mass movement of Swarovski spotting scopes and cameras away from crowding around one or two migrating Green Shanked Twitch-Farts on the Reserves and out onto the moors instead. The estates have after all furnished us with excellent (sometimes illegal) roads which all of us can use on foot on CRoW land (except on one of their ‘land manager closure days’ – 28 days a year they are allowed to keep people off, I think). The more people that do this more often the less uncomfortable / intimidating it will become for all, and the more times that people catch sight of an Amur Leopard (okay, a Hen Harrier or SEO) then the more passionately they will object to the sheer monumental “wrongness” of the this whole situation.

  9. Does the RSPB have the same powers as the RSPCA /SSPCA?
    RSPCA regularly bring folk to court over animal cruelty, why does this not happen with RSPB?

    1. I understand that the RSPB have no direct enforcement powers. However The RSPB investigations team are often at the forefront of gathering evidence of wild bird crime, and work closely with the Police, CPS (England and Wales) and Prosecutor Fiscal (Scotland) to help build a case and bring suspected offenders to court.
      The latest issue of Birdcrime, an annual RSPB publication reporting on wildbird crime has just been published, and I have no doubt Ruth will soon be putting something about this on this website.
      If you want to know more about the role of the RSPB in fighting bird crime then there is plenty to read on their internet site, with the option to support their vital work through becoming a Bird of Prey Defender.
      As others have commented regularly on this blog, this fight to stop the criminal persecution of birds of prey, (and other species) is basically a fight against offenders who behave in a manner similar to other serious organised crime groups.
      It is a national wildlife crime priority yet lacks any real credible support from politicians, who seem to bury their heads in the sand, rather than enact meaningful legislation which would help eradicate the abominable crimes which are occurring.
      It also doesn’t help that the various game shooting organisations, despite their claims of zero tolerance to raptor persecution, also appear to be in denial of the real scale of the problem, and how criminal activity appears embedded within game bird shooting.

  10. The whole of society is to blame for all of these things by tolerating these monsters who it seems cannot enjoy the countryside without killing defenceless creatures until the whole of the UK wake up and refuse to put up with these sickos who enjoy killing wildlife it will continue.The whole government is guilty not just the SNP.

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