Gamekeepers want sea eagles, kites, buzzards, sparrowhawks & ravens added to General Licences

Further to this morning’s blog about RSPB Scotland’s damning response to SNH’s General Licence consultation (see here), we said we’d write a separate blog about some of the other responses that SNH received.

SNH has now published all the responses, and they’re well worth a read: all-responses-to-snh-general-licence-consultation-2016

There are many organisations and individuals calling for ravens to be added to the General Licences (no surprise) and, yet again, there are a number of requests for buzzards and sparrowhawks to also be added, which would allow these species to be casually killed across Scotland without any monitoring or regulation, although some have suggested these raptors should be on ‘regional’ General Licences to limit the casual killing to a particular area. How thoughtful.

One of the reasons given for adding ravens and buzzards to the General Licences was this: “There are arguably too many of them around and they cloud the skies in our local area“.

Here’s a photograph of some ravens and buzzards clouding the skies:

Actually, this is a photograph (by Richard Barnes) of Dunlin flocking on the coast of North America but it could just as easily be a plague of swarming raptors over a Scottish grouse moor, if you happen to be a pathological raptor hater stuck with an 18th century attitude, that is.

Take a look at the consultation response from Garry MacLennan. Surely not the same Garry MacLennan, Head Gamekeeper at Invermark Estate? Aren’t raptors supposed to be ‘thriving’ there? Perhaps the headline should have read ‘Raptors are thriving on Scottish grouse moors and we want licences to kill them’.

Also have a look at the responses from Iain Hepburn (the same Iain Hepburn as the head gamekeeper at Dunmaglass Estate?), Duncan Mackenzie and Calum Kippen (the same Corrybrough Estate gamekeepers who attended the recent meeting between the Cairngorms National Park Authority & the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association?). Aren’t these the gamekeepers who want licences to monitor and ring raptors? Don’t they see a bit of a conflict of interest there if they also want licences to kill these raptors?

Best of all though, is the response from Bert Burnett (presumably of the SGA). Bert suggests that ravens should be added to the General Licences and argues that regional general licences “could be rolled out for various species that may start to cause problems like sea eagles and kites etc“. Ah yes, that very serious problem of sea eagles mistaking small children for prey.

Of course, these calls for licences to cull raptors are nothing new. Scottish (and English) gamekeepers and land owners have been asking for these for 20 years (see here, here, here, here, hereherehere). So far, SNH has resisted but given Natural England’s recent capitulation on buzzard-killing licences, how much longer before we see the same in Scotland?

who owns the shooting rights at Moy Estate?

Following the development of the sad and sorry story about alleged illegal raptor persecution on the Moy Estate, let’s look at who’s who. The Moy Estate is owned by Celia Mackintosh of Mackintosh, but it seems that the shooting rights are let to someone else.

Corrybrough Estate

Apparently, grouse shooting on Moy Estate is let to “The Moy Estate Sportings”, which forms part of the nearby estate, Corrybrough. Corrybrough Estate has recently been sold, and the estate agents obligingly left some detailed information about the sale on their website, which included the lease of “The Moy Estate Sportings”, which runs until 2028, and details of the shooting records from the two estates over the the last few years.

The new owner of Corrybrough Estate has not been named, but Victor Beamish, the man who signed the recent SRPBA letter on behalf of Moy Estate, condemning the illegal posioning of raptors, is understood to be associated with the company which now holds the sporting lease for Moy Estate. It has been reported elsewhere that he is the sporting tenant (here).

Interestingly, Corrybrough Estate was not a signatory of the recent letter to the government from over 200 landowners, condemning wildlife crime. 8 buzzards and 1 red kite were found dead on Corrybrough Estate in 1998 (see blog post on 7th March 2010 for details). There was at least one gamekeeper at Corrybrough at the time the sales document was drafted, who, according to the document, apparently had been there for “many years”, although it is not known whether he is still employed there. He has engaged in a series of public spats in the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald, where he proclaims the oft-repeated SGA stance that gamekeepers are unfairly blamed for raptor persecution incidents. No surprise there, given that he has acted as an official representative of the SGA on occasions, including the SGA’s critical condemnation of the Irish Golden Eagle Reintroduction Project. Here are his letters in the 2008 Strathspey & Badenoch Herald – starting with the letter from R. Drennan Watson, Convenor of the Cairngorms Campaign – read in order from the top down: UPDATE 2014: the following links no longer work. However, we happen to have some saved copies, which we’ve posted in full at the bottom of this blog entry.’What_actually_happened’.html

For the full details of the Corrybrough Estate/Moy Estate shooting deal, click here: deanfarmdraftbrochure

Another Moy Estate gamekeeper has been in the news in recent years – facing a compensation claim after he shot two dogs on Moy Estate. One survived, the other didn’t. Story here:

UPDATE: Here is the full correspondence between the Corrybrough gamekeeper (Callum Kippen) and R. Drennan Watson:

Published:  20 August, 2008

Sir, – I am writing re the removal of young golden eagles from Scottish eyries to Ireland. The press release from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), as reported in the “Strathy” of August 13, displays the usual lack of grasp of the facts.

The SGA spokesman, Alex Hogg, is quoted as asserting that chicks are removed when fledged. This is nonsense. Fledged young eagles are highly active creatures and trying to catch one on a precipitous crag would be difficult and highly dangerous. They are removed when they begin to grow adult plumage and can both control their own body temperature and feed themselves.

He is also quoted as saying they are removed from eyries in areas least populated by eagles and this should stop. Again not so – they are taken from areas where there are good populations, using very strict Scottish Natural Heritage criteria embedded in the licence, to ensure chicks are only collected from specific areas where SNH believes that the golden eagle population is robust.

Raptors like eagles sometimes have more than one chick, but very frequently only one reaches adulthood, partly due to competition between chicks for food.

Removing and rearing the weaker chick therefore ensures its survival, increases the total number of eagles reaching maturity, and does not significantly reduce the numbers reaching adulthood hence, there was no reason for SNH to mention this as a factor depleting golden eagle populations in their report.

Mr Hogg also points out that almost half the birds released in Ireland are now unaccounted for. This is not surprising. The data comes from radio tracking. Radios fail after several years and, in difficult terrain, birds can be hard to track. Because they are unaccounted for does not mean they are dead.

SNH’s report examines extensive data over a considerable number of years and, combined with recent detailed reports from the RSPB, provides convincing evidence that the chief factor depleting golden eagle populations is illegal poisoning on sporting estates.

What does Alex Hogg advocate? That the eaglets in eyries in least populated areas in the Highlands should just be left to mature – and be poisoned in Scotland instead of Ireland? These protests by the SGA are simply a smokescreen to confuse the public where real culpability lies. – Yours etc,

R DRENNAN WATSON (Convener), Cairngorms Campaign, Brig o’ Lead, Forbes, Alford

Published:  27 August, 2008

Sir, – In last week’s “Strathy”, R. Drennan Watson claims to set out a few facts regarding the eagle population in Scotland, but once again he misses the point.

His opinions are an example of “one rule for gamekeepers and another for the conservation organisations.” In his correspondence, he states that eagles could not have been removed from nests at the point of fledging as claimed by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, because that is against the “criteria embedded in the licence”.

However, it would be interesting to know if he was present at the capture of the young eagles, as otherwise, how would he know what actually happened. Eyewitnesses have seen eaglets flying from the nests and being captured on the ground. It is also a fact that two of these exported birds have arrived in Ireland injured, one with a broken hip and one with a broken wing. Not really the picture that the conservationists or Mr Watson want the public to envisage.

The law very clearly states that it is illegal to kill eagles yet Mr Watson is willing to accept indeed even accuse gamekeepers of such acts that is despite no gamekeeper having been prosecuted for killing eagles in the last 20 or more years. Are we guilty until proven innocent?

He uses this logic in an attempt to “prove” that conservationists could not have hurt the chicks because it is not their policy, but fails to mention the conservationist who was arrested by the police for causing a hen eagle to desert her nest at the point of hatch, only to have the case thrown out by the Procurator Fiscal as not being in the public interest to prosecute.

Would this have happened if it had been a gamekeeper who was witnessed by the police disturbing the nest? It is disappointing that this man sets his stall by the RSPB and states “they have provided convincing evidence”; this is an organisation that by their own admission need wildlife crime in order to swell their coffers.

Mr Watson also states “because they are unaccounted for does not mean they are dead,” as a defence for missing eagles in Ireland, yet in Scotland eagles that are unaccounted for are presumed poisoned by gamekeepers.

It also beggars belief that he and his ilk will not join the SGA, and call for a halt to this extravagant waste of Scotland’s iconic eagles. Conservation groups are always very quick to blame Scottish gamekeepers for the down-turn in eagle numbers but are happy to support the transfer of these valuable birds to a country with the lowest number of different raptor species in Europe.

It is blatantly evident to anyone who is willing to look, that Ireland is unable to support its own natural levels of raptors and therefore the introduction of a further raptor species is bound to fail.

Finally, he accuses Alex Hogg of creating a smoke screen to deflect attention from gamekeeper’s misdemeanours, I suggest the opposite is true and the conservation organisations are finally being seen in their true light, and their only defence is to rehash the same old rhetoric which is at least 20 years out-of-date. Facing the truth that gamekeepers are no longer responsible for widespread persecution is not in the conservationists’ best interest.

Unfortunately, Mr Watson shows the same lack of insight and prejudiced views which have been created by the conservation organisations in an attempt to undermine the good work of the SGA.

Their views are not based on substance or a genuine desire to improve wildlife management but merely to down cry the SGA. This view is what contributes to double standards that are so common these days and the SGA is working hard to overcome.

The tide is turning in the world of conservation and the Scottish Government is showing more and more interest in the opinions of the SGA as a more legitimate and realistic organisation.

It is about time that the other conservation organisations worked with the SGA instead of bringing up the same out-dated and biased views to disagree with them just because it is the S.G.A. – Yours etc,

CALUM KIPPEN, Dalkillin, Soilsean, Tomatin.

Published:  10 September, 2008

Sir, – Callum Kippen (Strathy, August 27) complains that keepers on grouse moors are being unjustly accused of illegally persecuting golden eagles and the work of the Scottish Gamekeeper’s Association as being undermined in my letter in the previous issue. Really?

He asserts the views stated are “not based on substance” and on information that is 20 years out of date. The conclusions in recent reports by the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) not only draw on many years of accumulated data on eagle and other populations, but on at least seven studies in the last 10 years, six of them in the last four years.

The SNH report which concludes: “The highest priority for management and political initiatives is tackling persecution” is particularly thorough and broad in its review, drawing on nearly 240 cited publications.

What does the very substantial evidence show? Firstly, eagle populations and breeding are poor in grouse moor areas where there are suitable eagle ranges but, curiously, not in areas dominated by land uses like crofting and forestry.

Secondly, poisoned eagles have been found in these grouse moor areas.

Thirdly, this pattern also applies to peregrine falcons and hen harriers, which can predate grouse.

Fourthly, over 2006-2007 alone, six keepers were prosecuted for possessing and/or using the poisons used to kill these species. What does Calum Kippen think they were doing with these very dangerous poisons?

Two more keepers were prosecuted for illegally persecuting protected species by other means but, with the exception of one lone crofter, nobody else was prosecuted for these crimes.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck – you can bet it’s a duck! These crimes take place in remote areas where it is far easier for the perpetrators to conceal evidence than for it to be found.

Most incidents of illegal poisoning are found by hillwalkers by chance. It is hardly surprising there are not (yet) prosecutions. Pursuing these issues does not “swell the coffers” of environmental groups as asserted – rather, it drains their limited resources of time and staff, and they would rather be doing other things.

It is understandable that Calum Kippen, as a headkeeper and a board member of SGA, finds this issue difficult.

Not all keepers illegally persecute protected species, but until the SGA comes out of its state of denial and accepts there is a problem, it will make no progress with other organisations or government on this issue, and its untenable stance will just damage its members’ interests. – Yours etc,

R DRENNAN WATSON, Convener, Cairngorms Campaign, PO Box 10037, Alford.

Published:  24 September, 2008

Sir, – Mr Drennan Watson (‘Strathy’, September 10), has again shown his ignorance of the facts surrounding the golden eagle population in Scotland and the eagle export to Ireland.

He claims that the eagle population on grouse moors is low, yet the east of Scotland, including the Cairngorms, which has a high density of grouse moors, has contributed 46 per cent of the eagle chicks exported over the Irish Sea. How many chicks has the RSPB’s Abernethy reserve in the same area contributed?

I do agree that eagles have been found poisoned, but conservationists have also been responsible for the death of protected birds while “monitoring” them. I wonder if Scottish Natural Heritage has studied the trauma caused to eagles while dying at the hands of a gamekeeper compared to conservationists. I doubt there is much difference, so why do gamekeepers get so much more condemnation?

The real reason, I suspect, that the Scottish eagle population is not higher is due to the reduction in their food supply.

There has been a 60 per cent reduction in sheep numbers in upland areas; 30,000 red deer culled in the Cairngorms; and all dead sheep grallochs are removed from the hillside. This has massively reduced the food supply to the golden eagle.

Mr Watson claims that because keepers work in remote areas, it is very difficult to catch them breaking the law, and therefore they must be guilty. I should point out that these same remote working conditions also make it very difficult for the keeper to secure his workplace from outside interference.

Mr Watson and his ilk constantly use the terms “prosecuted” and “convicted” as if they can be interchanged. The majority of the keepers that he quotes as being prosecuted for possession of illegal poisons were not found guilty at trial. Does he wish to do away with court trials for gamekeepers and just send us all to jail regardless of the facts?

Finally, I would like to state categorically that I am not a board member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, and if this very basic fact has been misrepresented by Mr Watson, then how many of his other so-called facts are also plain wrong? – Yours etc,

CALUM KIPPEN, Dalillin, Scilscan, Tomatin.

Published:  01 October, 2008

Sir, – Callum Kippen’s latest letter to the ‘Strathy’ (September 23) contains the usual rather silly points.

He queries why a major percentage of the eagles exported to Ireland came from grouse moor areas.

Golden eagles fare best where there is a good food supply, and therefore they breed well in the drier east of Scotland, with its preferred prey including red grouse and mountain hares – at least when they are not poisoned.

He demands to know how many eagles have come from the RSPB’s Abernethy Reserve. RSPB Abernethy is a Special Protection Area and Special Area of Conservation. The SNH licence for export of golden eagles to Ireland prohibits the taking of birds from protected areas, based on EU law.

Similarly, red kites have not been taken from protected areas in Germany and Sweden for Scottish reintroduction projects. He asserts that conservationists have caused the death of golden eagles while monitoring them. This is a very serious allegation, without a shred of supporting evidence, because it is not true. If Mr Kippen has any evidence to this effect, then this is a police matter and he should report it to the authorities.

He attributes golden eagle decline to a drop in sheep numbers. It has little to do with sheep numbers. That drop has taken place across the Highlands and Islands, but severe impacts on golden eagle numbers arise in grouse moor areas, not sheep areas.

He asserts that the majority of keepers figuring in my statistics were prosecuted but found not guilty at trial. All the keepers figuring in my statistics were found guilty.

These people were found to be in possession of the dangerous, banned, poisons used to poison birds of prey. What does Mr Kippen think they were doing with them? Feeding their chickens? Who does he think is poisoning these protected species if it is not keepers? He implies it is some mysterious group who nobody has ever heard of, seen, or prosecuted interfering with the work of gamekeepers. The idea is just silly.

It is clear that no matter how many keepers are convicted or careful studies conclude who is to blame, Mr Kippen will continue to be in denial. I will therefore not reply to future letters from him on this topic. The public can come to its own inevitable conclusion.

Meanwhile, the reintroduction of golden eagles to Ireland is meeting with some success. – Yours etc,

R DRENNAN WATSON (Convener), Cairngorms Campaign, PO Box 10037, Alford AB33 8WZ

8 buzzards & 1 red kite dead on Corrybrough Estate, Tomatin

8 buzzards and 1 red kite were found dead on the Corrybrough Estate, Tomatin, near Inverness in March 1998. One buzzard was found in a spring trap with its legs chewed up. Many of the dead birds were found on a rubbish dump and later tests showed they had been poisoned with Carbofuran.

Corrybrough Estate, Tomatin, Inverness

At the time of the discovery, Corrybrough Estate was owned by former English magistrate, John Tinsley. It’s not the first time Tinsley has been in trouble with the police:

The Corrybrough Estate was sold in 2009. Let’s hope the new owner is a law-abiding one.