Cabinet reshuffle: new Environment Minister in post

Wheelhouse RACCEWell this is disappointing.

We’ve been waiting on tenterhooks all day to find out who the new First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would bring in to her Cabinet. We saw that she’d kept on Richard Lochhead as Cabinet Secretary (Rural Affairs & Environment) and so we’d had high hopes that Paul Wheelhouse would be retained in his junior ministerial position as Environment Minister. It wasn’t to be.

It’s just been announced that Wheelhouse has been shuffled off to Community Safety and Legal Affairs and there’s a new Environment Minister in town: Aileen McLeod MSP.

This is a great shame. Yes, we’ve criticised Wheelhouse during his two-year tenure for not doing as much as we would like, and for not doing it quickly enough. However, of all the Environment Ministers we’ve had, he has done far more than any of them to push raptor persecution up the political agenda and he’s recently gained considerable momentum in this regard. Ironically, that’s perhaps why he’s been moved along. The raptor-killing criminals are being squeezed like never before, and they’re definitely feeling the pressure. We wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that certain organisations have been doing some background lobbying to get rid of him.

It’s to be hoped that Wheelhouse will continue his personal interest and commitment to this issue, in his capacity as an MSP. And who knows, perhaps his latest ministerial post will also link in – community safety (banned poisons being put out in the countryside at great risk to local communities).

Thanks for your efforts, Paul – it may not have seemed like it at times but your purpose and commitment has been appreciated.

So, who’s Aileen McLeod and how long will it take her to get up to speed? We don’t know much about her environmental interests/credentials- read her bio here – but we do know she’ll be advised by the same wildlife crime policy team at Holyrood, and they are a pretty well-informed bunch. No doubt we’ll find out soon enough just how committed she is. Hope she’s been warned about the heavy influx of emails she’s likely to receive from RPS blog readers!


North York Moors really good for waders but really bad for raptors

North York Moors NPTwo weeks ago the Yorkshire Post published an article about how well waders were doing on the North York Moors, according to the results of a survey conducted by the North York Moors National Park Authority (NYMNPA) and Natural England.

According to the North York Moors biodiversity action plan, the North York Moors National Park ‘contains the largest patch of continuous heather moorland in England and holds over 10% of the country’s resource. Most of the moors are privately owned and are managed for sheep grazing and grouse shooting’ [with the Hawk & Owl Trust’s Fylingdales Moor a notable and welcome exception].

The survey suggested that golden plover had reached an 18-year high on these moors, there had been no decline in breeding lapwing and populations of curlew were ‘holding steady, bucking a national declining trend’.

The article included a quote from David Renwick, the Director of Conservation at the NYMNPA:

Thanks must go to landowners and gamekeepers who have not only supported our survey work but are keen to create favourable habitats and conditions for these birds“.

That’s an interesting statement from the National Park’s Director of Conservation, who apparently “is an ecologist by training“. Presumably, his ecology training would have led him to question why these waders are doing so well on these moors. Could it be, perhaps, that all the waders’ natural predators have been eradicated from these moors? Is that what he means when he congratulates landowners and gamekeepers for creating ‘favourable habitats and conditions’?

North Yorkshire has the well-deserved status of being the worst place for reported raptor persecution incidents in the whole of the UK. We’ve blogged about it previously (here and here). It has held this status for six of the last seven years (being pipped to the post in 2011 when it came a close second to Lancashire). Here are the data, sourced from the RSPB’s excellent annual Birdcrime reports:

2013: 23 known incidents of raptor persecution. Status: #1 worst in UK

2012: 34 known incidents of raptor persecution. Status: #1 worst in UK

2011: 33 known incidents of raptor persecution. Status: #2 (Lanacashire #1 with 36 incidents)

2010: 54 known incidents of raptor persecution. Status: #1 worst in UK

2009: 27 known incidents of raptor persecution. Status: joint #1 worst in UK (with Cumbria)

2008: 24 known incidents of raptor persecution. Status: #1 worst in UK

2007: 78 known incidents of raptor persecution. Status: #1 worst in UK

We looked in the biodiversity action plan and on the NYMNPA website for any information about how they specifically planned to address these appalling statistics but couldn’t find very much. We did, though, find an invitation to an open day to ‘meet the countryside protectors’. Marvellous.


Raptor persecution condemned at SNP annual conference

Wheelhouse SNP14 (2)The Scottish National Party held its annual conference at the weekend. In response to the rising number of raptor poisoning and shooting incidents, we were delighted to see the issue of raptor persecution featuring prominently, once again, on the political agenda.

A resolution to tackle raptor persecution was put forward by Jennifer Dunn, seconded by the Environment Minister and strongly supported by Dennis Robertson MSP (who also called for the Government to increase the SSPCA’s investigatory powers).

Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse had a message for the raptor killers:

Listen to the will of the Scottish people and understand that we will not tolerate these crimes any longer. The sand is running out of the hour glass and they [the raptor-killing criminals] really do have to start listening to the messages we’re giving them very strongly. Enough is enough. Obey the law, respect the will of the Scottish people and protect our wildlife“.

He also said: “We must recognise that not all estates are engaged in this activity, there are, unfortunately, several rotten apples in the barrel who are spoiling this for everyone. I hope people do listen to the messages today, we really don’t want to have to go down the route of licensing game-shooting but we have indicated, in Parliament and elsewhere, that if we are forced to do so, that is the direction we will travel. I hope offenders heed the warning, stop spoiling what is a strong industry in the rural economy for Scotland, and make no mistake, as I say, we will not hesitate to act if they do not listen to what we are saying“.

The resolution was passed unanimously.

Now we just need to keep holding the Minister’s feet to the fire to ensure that these threats amount to more than just rhetoric.


Environment Minister gives evidence on wildlife crime to RACCE Committee

Wheelhouse RACCEA couple of weeks ago, Police Scotland and COPFS gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (RACCE) Committee about wildlife crime (see here).

Last week it was the turn of Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse. The archived video can be watched here and the full transcript can be read here.

So what did we learn? Quite a lot.

1. The Minister is “confident” that surveillance cameras can be used in wildlife crime investigations and the Lord Advocate has made it clear that the option is available to Police Scotland. (Interestingly, Police Scotland were not quite so keen when they were asked about it two weeks ago).

2. The Minister will shortly be announcing a forthcoming pesticide disposal scheme (he made it clear it was not an amnesty) – no further details available.

3. The committee reviewing wildlife crime penalties (led by Prof Poustie) will report back early in the New Year, and not in December as originally planned.

4. The Minister recognises the “wall of silence” that so often prevents the reporting of wildlife crime. Good.

5. Two weeks ago, Police Scotland claimed that the number of reported wildlife crimes was more than just the tip of the iceberg. The Minister disagrees with that and cited the large areas of suitable and yet unoccupied raptor habitat as evidence of widespread unreported wildlife crime. However, he suggested that more research was necessary to understand why raptors may be missing from those areas. Eh? What about the twenty years of high quality research that has shown time and time again the link between driven grouse moor management and raptor persecution?

6. The Minister recognises that the (police) response to every wildlife crime incident isn’t perfect. However, he believes that everyone in the law enforcement community takes wildlife crime seriously. He said that with a straight face.

7. On the new General Licence restrictions, the Minister explained that he was taking a ‘targeted approach’ to try and avoid penalising those who are not involved in wildlife crime. He accepts that the restriction measure could easily be by-passed by someone simply applying for an individual licence, although he maintains that SNH may not issue one – each case will be judged on its merit. He has more faith in SNH than we do but time will tell.

He also said that he expects GL restriction cases to be listed publicly on SNH’s website “on a live basis” because he wants the restriction to be used as a ‘reputational driver’. Good.

He made an interesting statement about who is probably responsible for poisoning birds:

In most cases in which we find a dead poisoned bird on a landholding, we can be reasonably confident that the poisoning took place on that landholding and that the bird died on the landholding as a result of that poisoning“.

That’s very encouraging to hear.

8. On the idiotic Police Scotland press release about the Ross-shire Massacre, the Minister said “unfortunately” he didn’t have any input into the wording of the statement and he urged the Committee not to read too much into the statement, but instead to focus on the fact that 16 of the 22 dead birds are confirmed to have been poisoned and that a criminal investigation was continuing. You can read between the lines – he didn’t think much of the police statement.

9. On the SSPCA consultation, the Minister said he hadn’t yet made up his mind about whether to increase their investigatory powers and he was waiting for an analysis of the consultation responses before he decided. He expected to receive the analysis “early next year at the latest“.

10. When asked whether he was considering further measures to tackle wildlife crime, the Minister said he didn’t have a definitive timescale but wanted to give the current measures time to take effect. However, he did say that he had already commissioned a review of game-shoot licensing in other countries, in preparation for consideration of further measures. He wants to know what options are available to him should he decide to take a harder line. The review will be undertaken by Prof Poustie as soon as the wildlife crime penalties review has been completed in the New Year. Excellent.

11. The Minister said he would try to incorporate further data in the next wildlife crime annual report, including reports of illegal traps (but with no apparent victim) and poisoned baits (with no apparent victim). Good.

12. Two weeks ago, COPFS claimed that vicarious liability was already proving to be an effective deterrent against raptor crime (based on what the landowners had been saying). The Minister disagreed, citing on-going wildlife crime as a clear indication that not everyone is deterred by the threat of vicarious liability. He thinks that may change if/when there is a successful VL conviction. Good.

All in all, we think the Minister did pretty well. He may be a bit too light-handed and cautious for many of us, but it’s clear that he has taken a personal interest in addressing wildlife crime, he’s incredibly well-informed, he’s not fooled by the cries of denial from the wildlife killers, and his measures are heading in the right direction, albeit slowly. He thinks the GL restrictions will be the most important step in the process but we disagree. His defining moment will come when he makes the decision on whether to increase the SSPCA’s powers. That decision, and that decision alone, will tell us all we need to know about how seriously committed this Government is to tackling wildlife crime.


Details, details

The following letter appeared in the Press & Journal today:

Wind turbines affecting wildlife – Sir – I congratulate Lyndsey Ward for her excellent letter on windfarms and wildlife. There is absolutely no doubt that the raptors found dead or seriously injured at wind turbines are only the tip of the iceberg. For political reasons, the true figures will never be released. While I fully support Lyndsey’s call for an independent study into the decline of all vulnerable species in areas where there are windfarm developments, I would suggest the study should go further to include the impact protected predators have on species that are in serious decline. The RSPB and Scottish Government would do well to remember and pay heed to the wise words of King George VI: “the wildlife of today is not ours to dispose of as we please. We have it in trust. We must account for it to those who come after”. Peter Fraser, Catanellan, Crathie.

Fascinating, isn’t it, how a discussion about the potential impact of wind farms on raptors is suddenly turned into a dig at the RSPB and an unrelated discussion on ‘the impact protected predators have on species that are in serious decline’?

Perhaps not so surprising when you realise that the author, Peter Fraser, just happens to share the same name and address as the Vice Chair of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association. The same Peter Fraser who recently retired after 43 years as a gamekeeper and stalker on Invercauld Estate and whose views on who is responsible for illegal raptor persecution are not supported by actual evidence.

In light of Peter Fraser’s background, it’s interesting to re-read the letter and see how highly it scores on the brilliantly-devised Lagopus’s Delusion Index.

SGA Our team



Ross-shire Massacre: MSP calls for review of police investigation

As the Ross-shire Massacre fiasco rolls into its eighth month, one MSP is making a stand.

Dave Thompson MSP (SNP: Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) has called on Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to undertake a review in to the police handling of this investigation. Well done, that man!

The police investigation into one of the most high profile mass raptor poisoning crimes in decades has blundered along for far too long and is fully deserving of public scrutiny, as is the accompanying police media strategy. Rather than providing clear and timely information, their strategy has been to release a series of untimely, misleading and willfully ambiguous statements that have done anything but inform. Indeed, these statements have simply led to more and more outlandish speculation and a growing sense of frustration and anger. Given how keen Police Scotland are on “public accountability” (e.g. see here), they’ll no doubt welcome a review of their handling of this case.

Dave Thompson MSP is a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (RACCE) Committee, who recently heard evidence from two senior Police Scotland representatives about the Ross-shire Massacre (see here). It seems he was as unimpressed with their answers as we were.

He said: “It would be useful if a full review of the investigation process was carried out. It would go a long way to allaying any fears the general public may have but also, in the interests of transparency, such a review would take away any lingering confusion about how these great birds of prey met their demise.

This is why I have written to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to request that a review of the investigation process takes place and why I will be making sure the Lord Advocate is copied into any correspondence on the matter“.

Dave Thompson MSP formally opening the Tollie Red Kite feeding station in 2012, assisted by Alex Matheson (Brahan Estate) and George Campbell (RSPB Regional Director). [RSPB Scotland photo]

Dave Thompson MSP



They forgot the birds

The following images were photographed on a Scottish estate yesterday by one of our blog readers. They said:

We found a huge dump of badly decomposing pheasants and partridge plus many recently killed birds. The hillside is thick with them and the smell is really bad. There must be several hundred dumped birds“.

 Interestingly, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph in November 2005 headed ‘Game birds for eating not dumping’, Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance said this:

Every bird shot in Britain goes into the food chain, whether into participants’ freezers, or through game dealers into an increasing number of supermarkets, butchers, pubs and restaurants“.

Another embarrassing lie from the ‘custodians of the countryside’ exposed.

Cue influx of buzzards, kites and other predators coming to feast on these rotting carcasses and then subsequent complaints by the game-shooting industry that predators are at “plague proportions”.

Dumped game birds 3


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