Fergus Ewing MSP & his shooting industry pals disregard sanctions imposed on Moy Estate for wildlife crime

Look at the state of this.

A tweet by Fergus Ewing MSP, former Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, posted yesterday at the Scottish Gamekeeper Association’s stand at the Moy Game Fair. I wonder who he’s referring to when he says ‘We’? Is he speaking on behalf of the Scottish Government?

The Moy Game Fair is hosted by the Moy Estate. That’ll be the disgraced Moy Estate that had a three-year General Licence restriction imposed on it in June this year (see here) after Police Scotland provided evidence to demonstrate wildlife crime had taken place on the estate, notably the discovery of a poisoned red kite and incidents related to alleged trapping offences, although the estate has long been recognised as a raptor persecution hotspot (e.g. see here, scroll down to below the press release).

An estate gamekeeper has recently been charged with the alleged shooting of a sparrowhawk and is due in court in September.

Here is a map we created way back in 2016 to highlight the extent of raptor persecution crimes in Fergus Ewing’s constituency and this shows the concentration of incidents on and close to Moy Estate. There have been further incidents since this map was created, hence the General Licence restriction imposed this year:

Also ignoring the sanction for wildlife crime on Moy Estate is Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the lobby group for game-shooting estates across Scotland, as demonstrated by this tweet yesterday from SLE’s North of Scotland Regional Coordinator, Fiona Van Aardt:

So here’s a senior politician from the SNP Government, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and Scottish Land & Estates, all effectively sticking up two fingers to the Government’s policy of sanctioning estates for raptor persecution.

When the policy of imposing General Licence restrictions as a tool for tackling rampant bird of prey persecution was first introduced in 2014, the then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse described the restrictions as being a ‘reputational driver‘. In other words, a sanctioned estate would not enjoy the benefits of being part of the shooting industry because the industry, with its claimed ‘zero tolerance’ approach to raptor persecution, would not wish to be associated with wildlife crime and this (hoped for) ostracization would stimulate a clamp-down on raptor-killing estates.

So much for that idea. It appears that the shooting industry, along with its political supporters, couldn’t give a monkeys. There’s been previous evidence of this on other so-called sanctioned estates (e.g. see here for examples).

Technically speaking, Mr Ewing and his shooting industry pals could argue that Moy Estate is not currently serving a General Licence restriction. How come? Well, because under the rules, if an estate appeals the GL restriction decision, the restriction is temporarily lifted whilst NatureScot considers the estate’s appeal. This is completely bonkers, of course, because a sanctioned estate has already had a chance to appeal the decision, when NatureScot first issues the notification for a restriction. But they’re then given another opportunity to appeal once the restriction has been imposed, and during that appeal process (typically four weeks) NatureScot removes the restriction so the estate can carry on as if the restriction never existed. I’m pretty sure that that’s what’s going on at Moy because the GL restriction decision notice for Moy Estate has been removed from the section of NatureScot’s website where currently-restricted estates are listed (here).

Although if Mr Ewing, the SGA and SLE were to rely upon this technicality, I don’t think that many people would view it as the shooting industry working in the spirit of wishing to stamp out raptor persecution, do you?

Scottish Gamekeepers Association plan awards ceremony at disgraced Moy Estate

Remember all those recent headlines from the game shooting industry, declaring a ‘zero tolerance’ stance against raptor persecution?

Well quelle surprise, it seems their interpretation of ‘zero tolerance’ isn’t quite the same as everyone else’s.

Last month Moy Estate, a shooting estate in the Monadhliaths was given a three-year General Licence restriction, imposed by NatureScot on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds, specifically the discovery of a poisoned red kite in 2020 (here).

It was just the latest in a long line of raptor persecution incidents reported on or next to Moy Estate for over a decade, and another court case is due to be heard this autumn.

For an example of the history, here is a map we created way back in 2016 to highlight the extent of raptor persecution crimes in former Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing’s constituency (given his strong support of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association) and this shows the concentration of incidents on and close to Moy Estate:

The General Licence restriction is a bit like putting a school into ‘special measures’ – a status applied by regulators to indicate the school has fallen short of acceptable standards, although the main serious difference here of course is that a General Licence restriction is imposed on the basis of wildlife crimes being committed on the estate, rather than merely a shortfall in standards.

The main idea behind the introduction of General Licence restrictions back in 2014 was that they would act as a “reputational driver” for those sanctioned estates, according to the then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse (see here).

However, there has been no evidence that the game-shooting industry takes any notice whatsoever of such sanctions. For example, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust hosted a guided tour and BBQ on ‘the renowned Corsehope Shoot‘ in June 2017, at the same time that this estate was serving a three year General Licence restriction for wildlife crime; Edradynate Estate bragged about “a belter season“ at the same time it was serving a three-year General Licence restriction for wildlife crime; and this estate was also endorsed by the British Game Alliance, the game shooting industry’s own ‘assurance’ scheme, membership of which is supposed to indicate ‘rigorous and ethical standards’, whilst the estate was under a General Licence restriction for wildlife crime (see here).

So it comes as no surprise to see that the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) is not only intending to have a stand at the forthcoming Highland Field Sport Fair hosted by Moy Estate (now rebranded as the Moy Country Fair, presumably in an attempt to make it more palatable), but the SGA is also planning an awards ceremony at the event to announce the winner of the SGA Young Gamekeeper of the Year Award as well as presenting various Long Service Medals!

You couldn’t make this up!

The Moy game fair has previously attracted the likes of former Cabinet Minister Fergus Ewing who used his attendance to give a rallying speech to the game-shooting sector (here) and Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) also usually has a stand. I can’t remember if Moy Estate is a member of SLE, but it’ll be interesting to see if SLE puts in an appearance this year.

Raptor persecution “hasn’t been a problem for years”, claims Scottish Gamekeepers committee member

There was a jaw-droppingly half-baked article published in The Courier last week, featuring commentary from a Scottish gamekeeper.

Bob Connelly, who is reportedly a Committee member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), had been speaking at the Scottish Game Fair and the Couriers environment journalist Scott Milne took the comments at face value and wrote the following article, which has to be read to be believed.

People will not realise the importance of land management and the shooting industry until campaigners force the end of the sector.

That is the view of gamekeeper Bob Connelly, who works in an estate in north east Perthshire.

Bob was speaking at the Scottish Game Fair, which took place in Scone over the weekend.

The Scottish Government is preparing legislation that could see gamekeeper grouse shooting licenced.

This has come after a campaign by animal rights advocates [Ed: he’s referring to this blog!] releasing evidence which appears to show wildlife crimes such as raptor persecution and misuse of traps.

The theory goes that predators such as buzzards and hen harries are killed in order to protect grouse, which brings in a lot of money during shooting season.

ARE GAMEKEEPERS VICTIM OF A HATE CAMPAIGN?

Bob feels much of this evidence has been manufactured as part of a “malicious” campaign to turn public opinion against gamekeepers and the shooting industry.

He said: “They want to get rid of us.

“But people don’t understand what we do and why we do it.”

A case in point is the controversial practice of heather burning.

It has been criticised as unnecessary and potentially damaging to peatland, which can release large swathes of carbon.

But Bob has a different perspective.

“You have to accept that there are going to be fires in places like that if you let it overgrow.

“So if it’s inevitable, do you want to have a controlled fire or let a wild one get out of hand?

“That would be even more damaging.”

Bob also feels it’s important gamekeepers are allowed to control predator populations in order to protect smaller species.

He said: “What we do is we build it from the ground up. We make sure the right environment is in place for insects and other small species and then bigger ones can naturally thrive on top of that.

“There’s more and more red-listed birds. If you want to protect them, it’s important to control predators such as foxes and buzzards.

“There’s a lot of people who have been manipulated to feel a certain way on social media, but don’t fully understand what we do.

“They’ll will miss us when we’re gone.”

WILL LEGISLATION CHANGE THINGS?

Bob thinks the upcoming gamekeeper shooting legislation is not needed.

“There is already rules surrounding things like traps. I can’t see how it can be legislated anymore.

“Yes, there were problems in the past with raptor persecution and things like that.

“But if you discount one or two recent examples, it hasn’t been a problem for years.”

GAMEKEEPERS AND LAND MANAGERS ARE WORRIED

Tim Baynes is director of moorland with Scottish Land and Estates.

Also speaking at the Scottish Game Fair, he said many gamekeepers and land managers he knows are worried for their jobs.

“A lot of these people have a very specific skillset that has come down from generations.”

Tim wouldn’t go as far as Bob and say anti-shooting campaigners have adopted “malicious” practices, but he does feel they “have an agenda”.

“They want to remove shooting.

“But they are not involved in it or in managing land so they are coming at it from a different perspective.”

Tim hopes the shooting industry can work with politicians to have legislation that works for everyone.

However, he is concerned that last-minute changes might be brought in that would work against their favour.

“At the end of the day, we have to work with the government that has got the votes.

“There are people within the government who are pragmatic about the industry.

“But it can be difficult for them to publicly say so.”

ENDS

The level of idiocy in this article is quite staggering, even for an SGA committee member. I guess it’s what we’ve come to expect from the SGA though, who have been in denial about the extent of these crimes for at least the 12 years I’ve been writing this blog and probably for years prior to that, as their standard response to the most glaring of truths.

And it is that level of idiotic denial, combined with ongoing raptor persecution and the SGA’s inability to influence those within the shooting industry who continue to commit these disgusting wildlife crimes (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here), that has brought about the Government’s decision to introduce a grouse shooting licensing scheme.

That decision wasn’t based on so-called ” manufactured evidence“. It was based on the number of raptor corpses found dead and mutilated on game-shooting estates over many, many years, including poisoned eagles found on grouse shooting estates even inside our National Parks for God’s sake, combined with the massive weight of incontrovertible scientific evidence that all points to an outright refusal to abide by the law by many members of the game-shooting industry.

It’s not the fault of this blog, nor the fault of the many other campaigners who have been fighting against this abuse of our raptors for decades. The blame lies entirely, and obviously, with the criminals.

Scottish Parliament sees sense & closes SGA’s petition seeking ‘independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptors’

Hallelujah! After almost three years of wasting valuable parliamentary time, the Scottish Parliament has finally closed the petition lodged by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) calling for the ‘independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptors’.

I’ve blogged about this petition several times before (here, here), as has Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland – well worth a read here.

The petition has been closed because the cross-party committee scrutinising it recognised that adequate and proportionate monitoring is already in place. Contrary to the SGA’s ignorant and misinformed propaganda, there is already plenty of cooperative partnership-working between satellite taggers, the tagging licensing authorities, landowners and the police. We collaborate and share our data in order to improve conservation benefits for these iconic species across Scotland. What we don’t do is share data with those who would use the information to disturb and/or kill eagles or other tagged raptors.

Had the SGA not walked off from the PAW Scotland Raptor Group in 2017 when the damning results of the Gov-commissioned Satellite Tag Review Report was published, they’d have known that this petition was an utterly pointless waste of everyone’s precious time.

The SGA lodged this petition in September 2019 and it was seen by many as just the latest in a long line of efforts to undermine and discredit the use of raptor satellite tags, simply because the tagging of raptors like golden eagles, hen harriers, white-tailed eagles and red kites has exposed the previously hidden extent of illegal raptor persecution on many grouse moors and has finally led the Scottish Government to committing to the introduction of a licensing scheme for grouse shooting in Scotland.

[The satellite tag fitted to this golden eagle led researchers to a grouse moor in the Angus Glens where the bird was found to have been illegally poisoned. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Raptor persecution crimes attract huge media attention because it’s hard to believe that people are still killing golden eagles and other raptors in Scotland in the 21st century.

As a result of this ongoing publicity, the game-shooting industry has spent considerable time and effort trying to undermine the satellite-tagging of raptors, either by launching disgusting personal & abusive attacks against named individuals involved in the tagging projects, or by blaming tagged raptor disappearances on imaginary windfarms, or by blaming tagged raptor disappearances on faulty sat tags fitted to turtles in India, or by blaming tagged raptor disappearances on bird activist‘ trying to ‘smear gamekeepers’, or by claiming that those involved with raptor tagging projects have perverted the course of justice by fabricating evidence, or by claiming that raptor satellite-tagging should be banned because it’s ‘cruel’ and the tag data serve no purpose other than to try and entrap gamekeepers.

There have also been two laughable attempts to discredit the authoritative golden eagle satellite tag review (here and here), thankfully dismissed by the Scottish Government. The industry knows how incriminating these satellite tag data are and so has been trying to do everything in its power to corrode public and political confidence in (a) the tag data and (b) the justification for fitting sat tags to raptors, hence this latest petition from the SGA. Unfortunately for the SGA, its petition wasn’t enough to derail the Government’s response to the Werritty Review in 2020, as many of us suspected was the intention.

[A young golden eagle fitted with a satellite tag in Scotland prior to fledging. Photo by Dan Kirkwood]

Those of us involved in raptor satellite tagging in Scotland submitted evidence to the various committees that have scrutinised this petition (e.g. Scotland’s Golden Eagle Satellite Tagging Group, who described the SGA’s petition as ‘fact-free nonsense’ (here); RSPB Scotland (here), and me (here), although strangely, in the three years the petition has been active, none of us have been asked about our evidence or invited to attend any of the hearings.

The latest committee to review this petition was the Net Zero, Energy & Transport Committee, who considered the petition at its meeting on Tuesday (28 June 2022).

The Committee had received a submission from NatureScot identifying that new data-sharing protocols [between taggers and NatureScot] are now in place that perhaps were not in place when the petition was originally submitted. [Ed: This is not the case at all; data-sharing has been open with NatureScot for years, just not formalised in writing because none of us deemed it necessary, so all NatureScot has done is confirm what was already happening!].

NatureScot also told the Committee it believes that the data provides important oversight and that tagging is being done ‘competently, professionally and in an open way’.

The Committee had also received correspondence from Police Scotland who said it was also happy with the protocols in place.

On this basis, the petition was closed. It was also noted that in future, stakeholders will be invited to attend the committee to provide expert input. That is welcomed.

I did note, though, that hilariously, the SGA had submitted a last-minute note to the Committee on the evening before the meeting, crying about how its attempt to get involved with the satellite tagging of a golden eagle last year had apparently been ‘blocked’. Funny, I didn’t think the SGA supported satellite tagging?!

Is there no end to their hypocrisy?

It’s a beautiful irony actually, as it illustrates perfectly just how regulated the field of satellite-tagging is in the UK, contra to the SGA’s absurd claims in this petition. All satellite-tagging project proposals have to provide rigorous scientific justification for fitting these tags, which is then scrutinised by a special panel of experts at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO, the licensing body). If the proposal doesn’t meet these rigorous standards, the licence will be refused.

You can read the Committee’s decision to close the petition here:

You can read the SGA’s story of apparently being ‘blocked’ from fitting a satellite tag to a golden eagle last year:

And if you want a really good laugh, I’d encourage you to read the Golden Eagle Satellite Tagging Group’s expert evisceration of the SGA’s petition here.

Scottish Gamekeepers Association takes hypocrisy to the next level

There are hypocrites, and then there’s the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA).

Yesterday, the SGA threw a major tantrum over the police reporting of an investigation into a dead golden eagle, found in Strathbraan earlier this year. The SGA is claiming that the police report was ‘insensitive’ and ‘led to gamekeeper abuse’. In fact the SGA’s exact words were:

As a result [of the police appeal for information], this directed unwarranted public suspicion towards the estate and its staff“.

What utter tosh.

The reality is somewhat different. The police statement wasn’t ‘insensitive’ at all. It was factual and timely and didn’t infer responsibility for the death of the eagle on anybody, let alone on gamekeepers. It was simply an appeal for information/witnesses of a potential wildlife crime. It didn’t even name an estate so quite how the SGA can claim the police appeal directed unwarranted public suspicion towards the estate and its staff is anyone’s guess. It’s fantasy stuff.

Let’s look at the facts.

On 17th May 2022, the Tayside Police Division of Police Scotland made the following appeal for information on social media:

How is this appeal in any way ‘insensitive’? The Police, quite rightly, didn’t even claim the eagle had been killed illegally. They said it had been found dead and a post mortem would be carried out to establish the cause of death.

Police Scotland was perfectly entitled to consider the eagle’s death suspicious, given the ongoing illegal persecution of raptors, and particularly golden eagles, in this region. Strathbraan is an area where at least eight satellite-tagged eagles have ‘vanished’ in recent years, including one whose tag was found a few years later, wrapped in lead sheeting and dumped in the river (here). Strathbraan was identified as a raptor persecution hotspot by the 2017 Government-commissioned golden eagle satellite tag review. Strathbraan is circled in orange below:

In addition to ongoing golden eagle persecution in this region, there was also 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) and most recently the General Licence restriction imposed on a Strathbraan estate for wildlife crimes (here), a decision based on evidence provided by the police.

Police Scotland updated the public on this investigation yesterday, with this statement on social media:

Now, I’m not the world’s greatest fan of Tayside Police when it comes to investigating suspected wildlife crime, and especially raptor persecution – they don’t have a good track record and few of us trust them to do a decent job – but on this occasion I don’t think they’ve done anything wrong at all.

I think the SGA is just using this incident as another opportunity to play the victim card, to force the Scottish Government into setting up a ‘gamekeeping taskforce’ to ‘achieve Government policy changes’ for an industry that claims to have been ‘marginalised’ (perhaps if the industry stopped killing raptors the public might look upon them more favourably).

The taskforce is something that shooting organisations have been pushing for for over a year but the Scottish Government has so far resisted. It seems to me like this latest incident has been hijacked by the SGA to apply pressure on Government, perhaps as a way in to water-down the forthcoming legislation on grouse shooting, which let’s not forget is only coming in because some gamekeepers continue to kill raptors, despite years of being warned of the consequences. It’s too late for tears from the SGA; the industry could have and should have done much, much more to stamp it out. Now they all have to deal with the consequences.

But what astonishes me the most about the SGA’s latest contrived melt down is the hypocrisy of it all. Here is an organisation crying tears at bedtime about what it claims to be ‘abuse’ (although the extent of this is contested – here), and yet some SGA directors, members, and committee members have played a central role, for years, in the online harassment and abuse of raptor conservationists or indeed anyone or any business seen to be supporting raptor conservation and grouse moor reform (e.g. here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).

The SGA is also the organisation that, in a nasty and vindictive attack on Chris Packam, hired what they claimed to be a ‘handwriting expert’ to allege that Chris had faked his own death threat. This made national headlines, presumably after a tip off by the SGA to the press. The SGA’s ‘handwriting expert’ was recently exposed as a graphologist willing to present knowingly inaccurate evidence in court documents – here.

And now they’re crying about the ‘abuse’ they allege to have received after a straightforward police appeal for information about a dead eagle?

Laughably pathetic.

Scottish Gamekeepers’ ‘handwriting expert’ on Chris Packham’s death threat letter exposed in Panorama sting

This is hilarious. The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association has been caught with its pants around its ankles, again.

Cast your minds back to April 2019, when Chris Packham received a death threat letter (see here and here) following Wild Justice’s successful legal challenge against the General Licences.

Then fast-forward two years to March 2021 when the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA) made a bizarre attempt to discredit Chris’s integrity by employing the services of an unnamed ‘handwriting expert’ who apparently concluded that there was ‘very strong evidence‘ that Chris had faked the death threat letter and had written it himself.

The SGA said it had sent this ‘evidence’ to Hampshire Police and it also notified the Sunday Times (Scotland), presumably in the hope of turning public support against Chris, although it didn’t work out quite that way, when Hampshire Police dismissed the ‘evidence’ and the Sunday Times even employed the services of its own forensic document examiner who concluded that Chris was NOT the author of the death threat letter (see here and here).

At the time, it was quite puzzling that the SGA hadn’t published its ‘evidence’ from the ‘handwriting expert’ but given that the SGA often seems to rely upon anecdote and old wives’ tales as the basis for its mutterings and chuntering, nobody thought much more about it.

Now fast-forward to April this year, when an article appeared in the Sunday Times (Scotland) written by its deputy editor, Mark Macaskill, with the headline that Chris ‘faces a new claim of faking the death threat‘:

It was apparent from the Sunday Times article that the ‘evidence’ provided to the SGA by their ‘handwriting expert’ was to be used by three men being sued by Chris for alleged defamation.

As this ‘evidence’ is being relied upon by the three defendants in the libel case [to support their allegations that Chris is dishonest], Chris’s lawyers are entitled to see the ‘evidence’ of this ‘handwriting expert’ [and one other that the SGA claimed to have bought] so they asked for copies of the purported ‘experts’ reports as part of the disclosure process.

And this is where the SGA’s ‘evidence’ unravels.

The following is part of the response made to the court by Chris’s lawyers, explaining their reaction to the ‘handwriting experts’ reports after receiving them from the libel defendants’ solicitor. It’s all worth reading but pay particular attention to the paragraph I’ve highlighted in red, referring to the ‘evidence’ of the SGA’s ‘handwriting expert’ Ms Simone Tennant:

So there we have it. The SGA’s ‘handwriting expert’, Ms Simone Tennant, was previously caught out (in 2014) for apparently providing ‘flawed evidence’ in a sting operation by the BBC’s undercover Panorama programme, ‘Justice for Sale‘.

This exposé was reported at the time by BBC News (here) and by the Daily Mail (here).

Now I understand why the SGA didn’t publish its ‘evidence’ back in 2019.

And what a beautiful irony that it’s partly the SGA’s ‘evidence’, having been re-hashed in a national newspaper and online even though it was supposed to be the subject of live court proceedings, that has now led to Chris seeking further aggravated damages from the defendants in his libel claim.

The libel trial is due to take place later this year.

Gamekeepers in England try to ‘out dinosaur’ gamekeepers in Scotland over continued use of toxic lead ammunition

The ongoing use of toxic lead ammunition in the UK is no laughing matter. This stuff should have been banned years ago when Governments were first made aware of lead’s toxic effect on our environment, our wildlife, and our people.

But no, even though most of the previously significant sources of lead in the environment (e.g. lead-based paint and leaded petrol) were eliminated decades ago due to their known damaging effects, the use of toxic lead ammunition for gamebird shooting has been allowed to continue, largely thanks to selfish, idiotic shooting organisations campaigning for the right to use toxic lead and sod the consequences to the environment, wildlife and human health.

[US Fish & Wildlife Service researchers examining 58 dead Bald Eagles in 2012. 60% had detectable concentrations of lead. 38% had lethal lead concentrations. Photo by USFWS]

There are various restrictions/bans in Scotland, England and Wales introduced between 1999-2004 on the use of lead ammunition over wetlands, but research has demonstrated that that has largely been ignored by a significant number of shooters (e.g. see here).

It’s also worth mentioning for new blog readers that UK gamebird meat is still exempt from testing for poisonous lead whereas every other type of meat destined for the human food chain is not. It’s scandalous. (E.g. see here).

In 2020, after seeing the writing on the wall in parts of the US and Europe where more progressive, enlightened Governments have made huge strides to get rid of toxic lead ammo, nine of the UK’s shooting organisations, including the National Gamekeepers Organisation, suddenly made a massive U-turn and announced they were introducing a ‘five year voluntary transition away from toxic lead shot’. Many of us believed it was simply a propaganda ploy to fool the Government and the public that the shooting industry was finally taking responsibility for its filthy, damaging activities.

So far, two years into the so-called ‘transition’ they’ve made no progress whatsoever in moving away from the use of toxic lead shot (see here and here).

Notably, the dinosaurs at the Scottish Gamekeepers Association refused to sign up because they didn’t think there was sufficient evidence to support a move away from the use of toxic lead ammunition (yes, really).

Earlier this year, the main shooting organisations’ fear became reality when the Westminster Government, with support from the Scottish and Welsh Governments, finally agreed to consider a lead ammunition ban in ALL environments (not just wetlands) (see here).

As part of this process, last month a dossier was published by the UK Health & Safety Executive showing that the damaging effects of toxic lead ammo ‘are not adequately controlled‘ [more like, are not controlled at all!] and the authors set out a framework for a ban. The dossier/report is lengthy and detailed but the evidence is clear:

A six-month public consultation on the terms of the proposed ban is now underway, due to close on 6th November 2022 (see here). The consultation is based on the recommendations of the review and covers issues such as:

  • a ban on the sale of lead shot
  • a ban on the use of all types of lead ammunition for live quarry shooting including lead shot, shotgun slugs, lead bullets and airgun pellets
  • a ban on the use of lead shot for outdoor target shooting with possible exemptions for licensed athletes at licensed ranges with appropriate environmental protection measures
  • a ban on the use of lead bullets for outdoor target shooting with possible exemptions for shooting at licensed ranges with appropriate environmental protection measures
  • mandatory labelling of the packaging of lead ammunition regarding the hazards and risks of lead.

Proposed transition periods for each of the restrictions vary, and range from 18 months to five years.

You’d think that shouldn’t cause the shooting organisations any concerns at all, especially as they’re already two and a half years in to their own five-year voluntary transition away from lead ammo, right?

But look at this full-page advert by the National Gamekeepers Organisation published in this week’s Shooting Times. It’s almost like they’re trying to ‘out dinosaur’ the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, and that takes some doing!

General Licence restriction imposed on Invercauld Estate in Cairngorms after poisoned golden eagle & baits found

In March last year a dead golden eagle was found face-down on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park. It had been ‘deliberately’ poisoned with a banned substance, according to Police Scotland, and two poisoned baits were found close-by (see here).

[The poisoned golden eagle, next to a poisoned hare bait. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

[Invercauld Estate inside the Cairngorms National Park. Boundary data from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website]

Today, 11 months after the grim discovery, the Scottish Government’s statutory nature conservation agency NatureScot has imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on part of Invercauld Estate. Here’s the press release:

General Licence restricted on Cairngorms Estate

NatureScot has restricted the use of general licences on part of the Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park.

The decision was made on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds. This evidence included a poisoned golden eagle found on the estate in March 2021, along with a rabbit and a hare carcass, both baited with poison. The restriction will apply to the Gairnshiel and Micras moor on the estate, where the evidence of poisoning was found.

Donald Fraser, NatureScot’s Head of Wildlife Management, said: ““These poisoning incidents are appalling and an act of animal cruelty. The indiscriminate use of poisons is not only lethal to our iconic Scottish wildlife, but can also pose a serious health risk to people and domestic animals that come into contact with it. 

We are committed to using all the tools we have available to tackle wildlife crime. In this case, there is clear evidence of criminal behaviour. Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the use of general licences on this property for three years. They may still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

This measure will help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, although under tighter supervision. We believe this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime.

We work closely with Police Scotland and will continue to consider information they provide on cases which may warrant restricting general licences. The detection of wildlife crime can be difficult, but this is the third time in recent months when we have restricted use of general licences on the basis of evidence of crime taking place. New and emerging technologies, along with a commitment from a range of partners to take a collective approach to these issues, will help us stop wildlife crime.”

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out control of common species of wild birds, such as crows and magpies, to protect crops or livestock, without the need to apply for an individual licence.

ENDS

Here is the map showing the restricted areas on Invercauld Estate. The restriction applies from 9th February 2022 to 9th February 2025.

This has been a long time coming for this estate. I wrote about it in May 2021 (here) and I’ll repeat it here.

Invercauld Estate and the surrounding area has been at the centre of many alleged wildlife crimes over the years, including the discovery of three poisoned buzzards on the estate in 2005 (here), the discovery of a poisoned red kite at the Spittal of Glenshee on Invercauld Estate in January 2007 according to former police wildlife crime officer Alan Stewart (in litt. 9 Feb 2022), the discovery of an illegally shot peregrine at the Pass of Ballater in 2011, the reported coordinated hunt and subsequent shooting of an adult hen harrier at Glen Gairn on the border of Invercauld and Dinnet Estates in 2013, the illegally-set traps that were found near Geallaig Hill on Invercauld Estate in 2016, the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier Calluna ‘on a grouse moor a few miles north of Ballater’ on 12 August 2017, the opening day of the grouse shooting season (here) although it’s not clear whether this was on Invercauld Estate or neighbouring Dinnet Estate, the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘Blue T’ on Invercauld Estate in May 2018 (see here), the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier Stelmaria ‘last recorded on grouse moor a few miles north west of Ballater, Aberdeenshire on 3rd September 2018 (see here), the discovery of a golden eagle flying around the area with a spring trap attached to its foot in August 2019 (here), the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier (Wildland 2) on Invercauld Estate on 24 September 2019 (here) and the discovery of a deliberately poisoned golden eagle and poisonous baits on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in March 2021 (see here).

I’m pleased to see this restriction finally imposed on Invercauld, although I’d much rather have seen a series of criminal prosecutions. The restriction will have very little material affect on the game-shooting activities on Invercauld because the estate can simply apply for an individual licence allowing it to continue its activities as if no ‘clear evidence of criminal behaviour’ has been uncovered (more on that ridiculous situation shortly) but it does mean the estate’s reputation is damaged and it also means this can be used to apply pressure on organisations such as Scottish Land & Estates and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, who both claim to have a zero tolerance of raptor persecution.

Will Invercauld Estate and its gamekeepers remain members of these two organisations?

UPDATE 7th April 2022: Invercauld Estate in Cairngorms National Park loses appeal against General Licence restriction imposed for wildlife crime (here)

‘Stop killing raptors and we can talk’, Packham tells gamekeepers

Yesterday the Sunday Times (Scotland) ran an opportunistic piece, presumably at the behest of a load of gamekeepers.

Written by Deputy Editor Mark Macaskill, it was claimed that a ‘moorland consortium’ had invited Chris Packham to visit a grouse moor to watch them set it alight, in response to Chris’s derision of muirburn whilst COP26 was taking place just down the road.

It transpires that the ‘moorland consortium’ in question is the one representing Scotland’s regional moorland groups, some of whose members are either currently, or recently have been, under police investigation for alleged raptor persecution crimes (e.g. members of the Angus Glens Moorland Group, Tomatin Moorland Group, Strathdearn & Speyside Moorland Group, Grampian Moorland Group, Tayside & Central Moorland Group), but this doesn’t appear to be a barrier to getting the deputy editor of the Times to publish favourable articles. Friends in high places, no doubt.

Anyway, a quote from the moorland groups’ co-ordinator, Lianne MacLennan, included this line:

There is an opportunity to foster a better understanding and take the heat out of a polarised debate“.

I spoke to Chris about this and at the time of writing, Chris hadn’t received the invitation but he was still pushed for a quote by Macaskill. That quote was then minimised in the print edition of the article (apparently due to lack of space) and not fully presented even in the digital edition, where space is not an issue.

It’s strange that when journalists ask for a quote they don’t use it in full. This happens a lot.

Here is Chris’s quote, in full:

Thank you for the invitation. Whilst I have a genuine desire to reach a point when real conservationists and some of the responsible factions of the game shooting industry can again sit around a table and make progress, I fear we are not yet at that point.

So I would gladly visit an estate to witness the burning . . . as long as I was also shown the whereabouts of all the graves of illegally killed raptors were buried. Until the wholesale slaughter of our precious birds of prey ends, I’m out. Its an intractable blockage to progress  – stop the killing and we can start talking. And also, science, proper science, isn’t about whether Mars Bars get singed or not. Just saying . . .

[Chris with the corpse of a male hen harrier that had been caught in a barbaric trap that had been set illegally next to the harrier’s nest on a driven grouse moor. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Here is a copy of the digital edition of the article:

Packham urged to take heat out of moorland burns

Mark Macaskill, Sunday November 21 2021

Chris Packham has declined an invitation to witness the controlled burning of Scottish moorlands after his comments during the Cop26 climate talks that Scotland was “sticking two fingers up” to a world in ecological crisis.

The naturalist and host of BBC Winterwatch, who was the victim of an arson attack at his home in Hampshire last month, used social media to highlight muirburn, which he believes contributes to carbon emissions and should be banned. He was accused of claiming, falsely, that peat, a natural carbon store, was being burnt on grouse moors.

In an effort to “take the heat” out of the debate, a moorland consortium asked Packham to be their guest on a Scottish estate to see muirburn in action.

Packham said that he was willing to engage with the shooting industry but pointed to the illegal persecution of birds of prey as a stumbling block.

“Whilst I have a genuine desire to reach a point when real conservationists and some of the responsible factions of the game shooting industry can again sit around a table and make progress , I fear we are not yet at that point . So I would gladly visit an estate to witness the burning . . . as long as I was also shown the whereabouts of all the graves of illegally killed raptors. Until the wholesale slaughter of our precious birds of prey ends , I’m out . Its an intractable blockage to progress – stop the killing and we can start talking.”

Bodies such as the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) insist that muirburn removes surface vegetation while leaving underlying layers of moss and peat intact. The practice is approved under licence from NatureScot, the government agency.

Environmentalists argue that burning on peatlands releases carbon into the atmosphere, undermining efforts to reduce emissions to help control climate change.

During the muirburn season from October to April it is estimated that the equivalent of 87,000 football pitches is burned.

Lianne MacLennan, co-ordinator of Scotland’s regional moorland groups, said that muirburn was conducted carefully and pointed to a Scottish government report last year which suggested that many bird species fared better where muirburn had taken place, although further research was required.

“Muirburn plays a vital role in preventing the type of climate-busting wildfires that lost a million tonnes of carbon in Moray and the Flow Country in 2019 and can help retain carbon in peatlands,” she said. “ We have written to Chris Packham in the hope he will come out and see what actually happens when trained, professional gamekeepers carry out the activity.”

A letter sent to Packham on Friday stated: “There is an opportunity to foster a better understanding and take the heat out of a polarised debate.”

ENDS

‘Persistent intimidation’ – raptor conservationists face ongoing harassment from gamekeepers

Award-winning investigative journalism website The Ferret published an article last week with an account of how raptor conservationists are facing ongoing harassment from gamekeepers and supporters of the grouse-shooting industry.

Thanks to journalist Stuart Spray for the invitation to contribute to this piece.

It’s reproduced here in full:

Conservationists working to protect rare birds of prey claim they are being abused online and intimidated in the field by gamekeepers and supporters of the grouse shooting industry.

Logan Steele, communications secretary for the Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG), made up of conservationists working to protect rare birds of prey, told The Ferret that he is regularly contacted by workers who say they have been targeted in the line of their work.

Steele says members report incidents such as being surrounded by armed gamekeepers – often in 4x4s or on quad bikes – being followed for hours on end whilst out monitoring, being abused verbally, having tyres let down, having police called on them and even being spat at whilst drinking in the local pub.

He claims the intimidation is widespread, but most raptor workers are not prepared to go on record for fear of reprisals.

The SRSG, set up in 1980, has more than 350 voluntary members monitoring the vast majority of the 6,000 plus raptor territories checked annually as part of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme.

The scheme supplies data to organisations like the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), RSPB and NatureScot – the Scottish Government’s wildlife watchdog – to help understand population dynamics and inform conservation priorities. Members of SRSG also gather information on raptor persecution.

Gamekeepers have also previously claimed to be subjected to abuse. In a survey last November by the BASC, Countryside Alliance, Game Farmers Association and National Gamekeepers Association 64 per cent of Scottish gamekeepers said they had experienced threatening behaviour or abuse from members of the public at least once every year.

The study, which surveyed 152 gamekeepers, also found the majority (79 per cent) felt ‘less optimistic’ due to ‘targeted anti-shooting campaigns and the negative portrayal of shooting in the public domain’.

But Steele said conservationists were suffering. He added: “Our members on some driven grouse moors continue to be subjected to persistent levels of intimidation and abuse from gamekeepers. It is patently clear that raptor workers and indeed the wider public are not always welcome on some driven grouse moors“.

Steele has himself been trolled online several times. “On one occasion an ex-gamekeeper boasted online that he had fitted a tracking device to my car and knew I was at home“, he said. Concerned that he was being followed he got the car checked over but no tracking devices were found.

An image Steele posted of himself online with a hen harrier chick in 2006 was allegedly downloaded and regularly reposted on two ex-gamekeeper’s social media pages along with claims accusing him of professional malpractice without evidence.

Consultant ecologist, Andrea Hudspeth – who along with Steele received an RSPB award in 2017 for raptor campaign work – claimed she also felt threatened on shooting estates.

She added: “I have been monitoring raptors on a grouse shooting estate for a number of years now and have always been made to feel unwelcome, so much so that I don’t feel safe going there on my own.

She claimed the experience could be intimidating. Of one estate she said: “Having phoned the day before to let the estate know I was coming, I was told where I could and couldn’t go as they were shooting foxes that day. He [the head gamekeeper] told me that if I strayed into the wrong area, it wouldn’t be his fault if I got shot. At the time, that sounded like a veiled threat“.

Dr Ruth Tingay, an award-winning conservationist and director of Wild Justice, a not-for-profit organisation set up with broadcaster Chris Packham and environmental campaigner Mark Avery to ‘fight for wildlife in the courts and in the media’, told The Ferret she was subjected to online abuse on an almost daily basis.

Tingay, who runs the Raptor Persecution UK blog, claimed she received comments online that were routinely misogynistic and homophobic and involved personal slurs on her appearance and character.

My personal telephone number has been published online and folk have been incited to make abusive phone calls. I have also received abusive text messages,”, added Tingay.

My home address has been published and shared on social media. Photographs of my home have been published and shared on social media. I have been followed and photographed on grouse moors and these have been published on social media with accompanying defamatory comments.

I have been accused of fabricating evidence, of perverting the course of justice, of inflicting cruelty to wildlife, of killing eagles, of planting evidence, and conversely, and bizarrely, of withholding evidence from the police, of lying to the police, of lying to ministers, of lying to supporters, of lying in general“.

Tingay says the targeted harassment has been going on for the last six years and shows no signs of stopping. Earlier this week she was described by one shooter as “absolute poison” and another shooter opened a discussion titled: ‘Is Tingay a witch?’

These individual comments are, of course, pathetic and laughable and are easy to shrug off, so obvious is the desperation behind them”, she said. “But it’s the accumulation of the comments, that’s when the problem starts.

It’s relentless, and I think that’s very, very dangerous. That constant tide of abuse would take its toll on even the most resilient person. I’ve put measures in place to deal with it and I’m fortunate to be working with a world-class mental health coach. That’s not what I expected to need when I decided to work in the field of raptor conservation“.

However, Steele also insisted that most conservationists and grouse shooters, landowners, stalkers, ghillies and gamekeepers had a “very good working relationship”. He claimed those behind the abuse were trying to create a “false, them-and-us situation”.

The issue really resides with a small number of driven grouse shooting businesses”, he added. “In recent years we have seen some estates beginning to moderate their attitudes to raptor persecution which is very encouraging“.

The Ferret contacted the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, the landowners’ representative group Scottish Land & Estates and the Countryside Alliance. None of the organisations replied to requests for comment.

However, Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg has previously said gamekeepers are currently being “undervalued” and called for action to be taken on the abuse they have faced.

ENDS

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