Well now this is interesting.
The Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) has called for the Scottish Government to introduce grouse-shooting licences. Many of us have been asking for this action for some time, but to hear it from the SRSG is quite something.
The SRSG, which has been monitoring raptor populations in Scotland since the 1980s, is typically quite a restrained yet highly respected organisation, preferring to work quietly behind the scenes rather than make bold policy statements. You know that things are pretty dire when the SRSG is calling for grouse shooting licencing.
So what’s forced their hand? Well, if you read their letter to the Environment Minister (see here, scroll down to 18th January), it seems that the illegal poisoning of golden eagle Fearnan was the catalyst, as it has been for so many of us. But there’s more to it than that…
Take a closer look at their letter. They refer to a claim made by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association last July that gamekeepers are good for golden eagle conservation. We blogged about that claim here, and you really should read it to understand the context of what the SRSG is saying.
The SGA published a map that attempted to portray the notion that golden eagles were doing ok on keepered grouse moors in the East and Central Highlands (notorious raptor black spots). What the SRSG has done is provide some much-needed context to that map.
According to the SGA, there are ‘at least 55 active golden eagle nests’ in these ‘keepered grouse areas'; the SRSG is saying that there are 52 ‘active nests’ in the area, and of those 52, only 8 are on driven grouse moors. Crucially, the SRSG also includes information about the vacant golden eagle territories in the area – information that the SGA conveniently ‘forgot’ to include. According to the SRSG, there are an additional 57 ‘non-active’ golden eagle nests in this area, and 31 of them (54%) happen to be on driven grouse moors.
Hmm. The picture doesn’t look quite so rosy now, does it?
What also impressed us about the SRSG’s letter is their well-thought-out approach to licensing. They haven’t taken the usual route of calling for a blanket ‘estate-licensing’ system. Instead, they’ve proposed a system whereby the licensing would cover individuals as well as land-holdings (estates), thus side-stepping the predictable ploys that would probably be used by the grouse-shooting industry to avoid being licensed.
The BBC has covered this news story today (see here), and it looks like the RSPB has also called on the government to consider further sanctions.
The pressure is mounting.
Naturally, the SGA and Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) have responded against the proposed licensing sanctions (read the BBC article). Predictably, SLE claim that raptor persecution is in ‘significant decline’ – they are, of course, referring to 2012 figures which did show a drop in reported poisoning figures – and conveniently ignored the 2013 figures which show a 100% increase in poisoning. To be fair, the 2013 ‘official’ figures have not yet been released, but they know fine well what they show and they seem determined to ignore them for as long as possible (i.e. until they’re actually published, which will take place at some point this year).
The SGA meanwhile, suggest that there is ‘perpetual over-regulation’ (of estates) – the truth is somewhat different – game-shooting is probably one of the least regulated industries and what regulation is in place is rarely enforced.
Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse has responded to the SRSG’s letter and while he hasn’t ruled out licensing, he still seems to be clinging on to previous measures and wanting to give them time to take effect.
We’ll be blogging next week about Mr Wheelhouse’s response to the SRSG’s letter and his response to all those emails he received over Xmas about the death of golden eagle Fearnan. It won’t make for comfortable reading.