Scottish Environment Minister visits grouse moor in Strathbraan where two golden eagles ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances

Back in September, Scottish Environment Minister Mairi McAllan was taken to visit a grouse moor in the notorious Strathbraan area of Perthshire.

Regular blog readers will know that Strathbraan is dominated by a number of estates with driven grouse moors and the area has been identified in a Government-commissioned report as being a hotspot for raptor persecution, particularly golden eagles, of which at least seven have ‘disappeared’ in recent years, including one whose tag was found a few years later, wrapped in lead sheeting (to block the signal) and dumped in the river (here).

[Utterly depressing intensively-managed grouse moor in Strathbraan. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

And then there was the suspicious disappearance of a white-tailed eagle (here), an illegally-trapped hen harrier called Rannoch (here), the suspicious disappearance of a hen harrier called Heather (here), the illegally shot peregrine (here), the long-eared owl held illegally in a trap (here), the ~100 corvids found dumped in a loch (here), the failed raven cull demanded by Strathbraan gamekeepers but thinly-disguised as something else (here), the subsequent illegal shooting of two ravens on two separate grouse moors in Strathbraan, the post mortem of one of them showing that not only had it been shot, it had most likely been stamped on repeatedly (here), and most recently the three-year General Licence restriction imposed on a Strathbraan grouse-shooting estate for wildlife crimes (here), a decision based on evidence provided by Police Scotland.

It’s quite the location, isn’t it? How odd then, that Scotland’s Moorland Forum would chose to take the Environment Minister for a visit. What was the purpose?

Judging by this tweet from Hugh Raven, it was to show the Minister ‘the skilled moorland management‘ at Auchnafree Estate, among ‘the beautiful Perthshire hills‘. Good grief.

I wonder if they talked about the ongoing raptor persecution in the Strathbraan area? And did they discuss the suspicious disappearance of the two satellite-tagged golden eagles, Adam & Charlie, who both vanished without trace on Auchnafree Estate on 18th April 2019?

When challenged about the visit on Twitter by the Scottish Raptor Study Group, Hugh claimed the estate had been “fully exonerated“:

Fully exonerated“? Really? By whom?

As I wrote at the time of Adam and Charlie’s suspicious disappearance, there was no evidence found during the subsequent police search to suggest that Auchnafree Estate employees were involved. Is that the same as being “fully exonerated“?

The ‘skilled moorland management’ at Auchnafree Estate was in focus again this morning on the BBC’s Farming Today radio programme. The head gamekeeper was recorded talking about the so-called benefits of grouse moor management on the estate; an opinion that went unchallenged by the BBC presenter accompanying him on the moor.

Funnily enough, I didn’t hear any discussion about illegal raptor persecution on the grouse moors of Strathbraan nor any mention of our two missing golden eagles on Auchnafree Estate.

Fortunately, Max Wiszniewski (Campaign Manager at REVIVE, the coalition for grouse moor reform) was invited on to the second part of the programme and spoke well about the economic, environmental and societal limitations and damage of grouse moor management. Well done, Max!

The programme is available to listen to for 29 days here (starts at 06:15 mins).

10 thoughts on “Scottish Environment Minister visits grouse moor in Strathbraan where two golden eagles ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances”

    1. Our culture conditions us in a manner that, when flattered by power, our ability to think critically can undergo a dramatic fall in objectivity. Let’s hope this is not the case this time around.

  1. It provides evidence that the Scottish Government collude with the perpetrators of the crimes committed against raptors. They are not genuine when they say they are trying to stop the wildlife decimation.

    1. Governments have an obligation to represent all sections of society whatever their personal views. It is difficult to see how the government could refuse an invitation from a body like the Moorland Forum given the proposal for a licensing system. It is also hard to see how they could dictate the venue even if the estate had been sanctioned in any way, which as far as I’m aware it has not. None of that adds up to collusion with criminals. It just means that if they do decide to bring in tough and effective licensing they are less likely to be accused of acting in a partial and oppressive way and so make progress easier. In any case I’d be surprised if the minister is personally any less disgusted by these people as anyone else outside their bunker.

  2. ‘Utterly depressing intensively-managed grouse moor in the Strathbraan’, too bloody right, it makes your heart sink even seeing it from the road, closer acquaintance doesn’t improve things. I think it will be safe to assume that moor forms part of the watershed for the river Tay and therefore makes a contribution towards Perth being the most flood susceptible city in Scotland. It won’t help keep more productive lowland farms flood free either. A bit of contour and riparian tree planting would slow the flow from the moor and reduce flood peaks downstream – every little, and not so little, helps. Once beavers can move in then you’re really talking. Some of the small scale beaver trials down south have been done to specifically alleviate localised flooding. There’s one scheme in Devon (this one to preserve culm grassland rather than cut flooding) where they found that the floodwater leaving the lowest dam was half that of the additional floodwater (above the average flow) entering the highest in the sequence of beaver dams. This was within just a very small enclosure, what would be achievable across an upper watershed.

    You could have targeted tree planting and in the not so distant future beavers back across a massive area of our knackered uplands, including grouse moors, without the slightest impact on genuinely economic activities, but potentially an enormous economic benefit when it comes to cutting anything from the ginormous costs caused by flooding in the lowlands where we can be talking about hundreds of millions of pounds in damage plus the associated human misery. The further twist is that the grouse moors are very heavily peddling the idea that unless they continue with business as usual with muirburn there’ll be a build up of fuel load leading to a massive conflagration. Maybe I’m an ignorant townie, but wouldn’t widened beaver dammed watercourses with damp riparian strips of woodland not be excellent firebreaks as well as alleviating both flooding and drought? A much better option than continuing to hammer land, life and water via muirburn. Beavers are in fact increasingly being seen as ‘firefighters’ in the USA. I hope Mairi McAllan gets the opportunity to ponder that.

    1. Excellent points, Les:-) And to think that just earlier today, Mary Berry was extolling the virtues of grouse moor landscapes, with the SGA in tow (BBC2: Mary Berry’s Country House Secrets visits Scone Palace, Perth)

      1. Thanks. Yes I’ve seen that program before, it’s a repeat, and it turned my stomach the first time. The conservation organisations should be a lot more forthright and proactive in telling the public why grouse moors are actually highly contrived and suppressed landscapes crap for the vast majority of wildlife from juniper to hen harriers. They’d only be doing their job if they did, providing the public with more balanced information with which to make up their minds whether or not grouse moors are a good thing in the face of the saccharin guff from people like Mary Berry.

  3. I understand that Scotland, unlike England, has in addition to ‘guilty’ and ‘not guilty’ a verdict of ‘not proven’. What could be more apposite in dealing with the disappearance of raptors ? But in England at least we have a charge of ‘joint enterprise’, generally applied by the police to gang violence – but also pretty perfectly descriptive of the collusion around raptor persecution in both countries.

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