21
Sep
15

Environment Minister misses the point

annie-with-her-sat-tagIn August this year, over 300 blog readers emailed Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod in response to the news that Langholm hen harrier ‘Annie’ had been found shot dead on a Scottish grouse moor (see here). Well done to all of you who took the time to write.

The Minister issued a press statement within a few hours. The response time was impressive, the content wasn’t (see here).

Now a month later, the Minister has been responding to the individual emails that she received (well, one of her civil servants has been responding on her behalf). We’ve been sent a number of these responses and they’re all identical. Here’s what the response says:

Thank you for your letter of 11 August 2015 to the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Dr Aileen McLeod. I have been asked to respond on her behalf. Please accept my apologies for the delayed response.

Let me reassure you that the Scottish Government has been and remains committed to tackling wildlife crime. Since 2007 we have built a strong and broad-based Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime in Scotland (PAW Scotland) involving conservationists, land managers and law enforcement.

We also have a group dedicated to tackling raptor persecution – the PAW Scotland Raptor Group – which is made up of representatives from law enforcement and government agencies, RSPB, Scottish Raptor Study Groups, Scottish Land & Estates, Scottish Gamekeepers Association, British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

We have pursued a number of initiatives since 2007, including for example

  • the first restrictions on the use of General licences by those convicted of wildlife crimes
  • tightening up of law relating to trapping and snaring, including the introduction of training and registration requirements for operators
  • new provisions in the Wildlife and Countryside Act relating to the protection of the nests of birds such as white-tailed eagles and protection against harassment for birds such hen harrier
  • the introduction of vicarious liability provisions for offences related to wild birds

Some of these initiatives were ground-breaking in the UK and have now also been adopted by England and Wales.

There are also a number of pieces of current work which are underway, which I will take this opportunity to update you on.

Pesticides Disposal Scheme – this Scottish Government funded scheme ran from 23 February to 29 May 2015. The scheme has removed over 720kg of highly dangerous toxic chemicals from Scotland’s environment and ensured they cannot be used to poison wild birds. Details about what was removed from Scotland’s environment were published on 9 September. There remains no good reason for people to retain these substances.

Wildlife Crime Penalties Review – this review has taken a comprehensive look at whether the penalties available to the courts in wildlife crime cases are adequate and appropriate. The review has been submitted to Ministers and will be published shortly.

Further restriction of General Licences – this new procedure which has been recently introduced will see restrictions being imposed on the use of general licences over land where it is believed the wildlife crime has taken place. A number of cases have been under consideration and I expect further news to be made public imminently. SNH will publish details of imposed restrictions when it is appropriate to do so.

Law enforcement obviously has a key role to play. Since being established, Police Scotland has ensured that there is a wildlife crime liaison officer (WCLO) in each police division and has also already delivered and made significant commitment to ongoing training not only for existing WCOs, but also to other officers force wide. Police Scotland aim to bring a consistent and professional approach to wildlife crime investigations, including the use of modern forensic techniques.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has a dedicated Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit with four specialist Procurators Fiscal who have developed an extensive knowledge in this area, and have now secured the first prosecution in relation to vicarious liability. There has also been the first custodial sentence for a gamekeeper found guilty of killing wild birds.

The Scottish Government has previously stated that it would be prepared to consider the licensing of shooting businesses to further regulate this sector, however it is important that we are able to assess the impact of the measures that have been recently implemented, or are still to be fully implemented, before consideration is given to the introduction of any further regulatory measures. We do not consider it is appropriate to react to every instance of criminal activity with further changes to the law. Scotland already has some of the strongest laws to deal with wildlife crime. Appropriate action by the law enforcement agencies is the correct response to wildlife crime, as with any other criminal activity.

I hope that this response demonstrates the breadth of work that is ongoing in this area.

Yours faithfully,

Karen Hunter

Wildlife Crime Policy Officer

END

As you can see, it’s full of the usual guff about ‘commitment’ and ‘partnership-working’ yada yada. But there are a couple of things that particularly interested us –

First:

We have pursued a number of initiatives since 2007, including for example

  • the first restrictions on the use of General licences by those convicted of wildlife crimes
  • tightening up of law relating to trapping and snaring, including the introduction of training and registration requirements for operators
  • new provisions in the Wildlife and Countryside Act relating to the protection of the nests of birds such as white-tailed eagles and protection against harassment for birds such hen harrier
  • the introduction of vicarious liability provisions for offences related to wild birds

Some of these initiatives were ground-breaking in the UK and have now also been adopted by England and Wales“.

Hmm. As far as we’re aware, only one of these “ground-breaking initiatives” has been adopted elsewhere, not “some of them”. The one that has been adopted is the restriction on the use of General Licences by those convicted of wildlife crimes. Although this can hardly be called a “ground-breaking initiative” when the person who is no longer permitted to use a General Licence on account of a relevant conviction can simply apply to the statutory agency (SNH or Natural England) for an individual licence to enable them to continue their trapping and killing activities as if they hadn’t been convicted at all!

The introduction of training and registration requirements for snare operators has not “also been adopted by England and Wales“. And how’s that going in Scotland, by the way? Ooops, looks like Police Scotland has cocked up big time by issuing duplicate tag numbers to 60 individuals, due to ‘an administrative error’ – see here. Brilliant.

The new provisions of the WCA relating to extra protection for white-tailed eagles and hen harriers  has not “also been adopted by England and Wales” because the enabling legislation is Scotland-specific (see here).

The introduction of vicarious liability provisions for offences related to wild birds has not “also been adopted by England and Wales“. Indeed, the Westminster Government has thus far refused to consider it as a serious option (see here and here).

Aileen McLeod MSP3The other statement in the Minister’s response that interests us greatly is this:

The Scottish Government has previously stated that it would be prepared to consider the licensing of shooting businesses to further regulate this sector, however it is important that we are able to assess the impact of the measures that have been recently implemented, or are still to be fully implemented, before consideration is given to the introduction of any further regulatory measures. We do not consider it is appropriate to react to every instance of criminal activity with further changes to the law“.

In our opinion, the last sentence indicates that the Minister has completely missed the point. Nobody is asking, or expecting, further changes to the law in response to every instance of criminal activity. That would be ludicrous. The point that we, and everyone else who sends her emails is making, is that every criminal raptor persecution incident is yet further evidence that the current measures are clearly not working!

Since the latest ‘new measures’ were first announced by former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in July 2013 (see here), many of which are still to be implemented over two years later, we have seen a continuous number of reported crimes (which undoubtedly will be the very tip of a very large iceberg). Here are some of them, all detailed on this blog, and we expect there to be many more that haven’t yet made it in to the public domain:

June 2013: Shot buzzard found close to a grouse moor in the Borders, later revealed to have also been poisoned.

July 2013:  Buzzard shot in the throat in North Ayrshire.

August 2013: Red kite found shot close to a grouse moor in Leadhills.

September 2013: Poisoned buzzard found in Stirlingshire.

October 2013: Langholm hen harrier ‘Blue’ disappears.

October 2013: Half-made raptor trap discovered on a sporting estate in Angus.

December 2013: Buzzard died of ‘unnatural causes’ close to a grouse moor ‘near Tomatin’ [we now know it had been shot].

December 2013: Golden eagle ‘Fearnan’ found poisoned on Angus grouse moor.

January 2014: Man reported for hen harrier death in Aberdeenshire.

January 2014: Dead bird (species unknown) & suspected poisoned bait found in South Lanarkshire.

February 2014: Poisoned peregrine found close to a grouse moor in Leadhills.

March 2014: 22 poisoned raptors (16 red kites + 6 buzzards) found on farmland in Ross-shire.

April 2014: Man arrested for alleged attempted raptor trapping in Aberdeenshire.

April 2014: ‘Illegally-killed’ peregrine found near Stirling [we now know it had been shot].

April 2014: East Scotland sea eagle chick ‘disappears’ on Aberdeenshire grouse moor.

April 2014: Gamekeeper charged with allegedly bludgeoning & stamping on buzzard on a sporting estate in Dumfriesshire.

April 2014: Poisoned buzzard found in Fife.

May 2014: Masked gunmen caught on camera shooting at active goshawk nest in Cairngorms National Park.

June 2014: Allegations emerge of ‘coordinated hunt & shooting’ of a hen harrier on a grouse moor in Aberdeenshire last year.

June 2014: Hen harrier died on a grouse moor near Muirkirk “as result of criminal act”. We later discover it had been shot.

June 2014: Red kite found on railway line, shot in the head.

July 2014: Red kite found poisoned on a grouse moor in Stirlingshire.

September 2014: Red kite found poisoned on a grouse moor in Morayshire.

November 2014: Buzzard fatally injured after being shot & stamped on in the Borders.

December 2014: Tawny owl shot dead in East Lothian.

February 2015: Peregrine found poisoned on a grouse moor in Stirlingshire.

March 2015: Kitten found poisoned (Carbofuran) close to a grouse moor in the Borders.

March 2015: Hen Harrier ‘Annie’ found shot dead on a South Lanarkshire grouse moor.

May 2015: Red kite fatally injured after caught in illegal spring trap on a grouse moor in Stirlingshire.

July 2015: Buzzard fatally injured after found shot close to a grouse moor in the Borders.

August 2015: Buzzard shot dead in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park.

August 2015: Red kite fatally injured close to a grouse moor ‘near Tomatin’ – cause of death “not due to natural causes”. [Was probably shot].

The Minister points to two recent notable successes – the vicarious liability conviction and the custodial sentence given to a raptor-killing gamekeeper. They were indeed huge results and were warmly welcomed at the time. However, they are still the exceptions to the rule and we have since seen a number of convictions this year that have resulted in the usual derisory sentences (e.g. Michael Johnston fined £400 for possession of banned poison Strychnine; Gamekeeper James O’Reilly given a 240 hours Community Payback Order for four offences including the use of a banned gin trap; Poultry farmer Michael Harrison fined £600 for shooting and stamping on a buzzard; Gamekeeper William Dick fined £2,000 for bludgeoning and stamping on a buzzard). We have only seen one vicarious liability conviction in three and half years since the new legislation was enacted.

We keep being told that ‘we need more time to assess the impact of the new measures’. Why do we? Isn’t it bleedin’ obvious that raptor persecution is continuing despite all the so-called partnership-working, new measures and deterrents? The Minister may well be irritated that her inbox gets bombarded after each raptor crime but she can expect more of the same each and every time we hear of yet another crime. And there will be more, mark our words.

She should also know that if and when she decides to make a stand with something forceful and tangible, she’ll be deluged with emails of appreciation and support.

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13 Responses to “Environment Minister misses the point”


  1. 1 Robert Moss
    September 21, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    “We do not consider it is appropriate to react to every instance of criminal activity with further changes to the law”. This was a weaselly waste of words. She could more truthfully have written “We do not usually consider it appropriate to react to criminal activity”.

  2. 2 Anand Prasad
    September 21, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Yes, that was a stand out comment
    ‘We do not consider it is appropriate to react to every instance of criminal activity with further changes to the law’
    So the zero tolerance is nothing but political bullshit.

  3. September 21, 2015 at 8:49 pm

    If we take this glib reassurance?rhetoric (AGAIN!) at face value… then once Aileen has reviewed the progress of the new initiatives she might make the effort to introduce licencing (which will do nothing to stop the trashing of our environment).

    So she obviously has a plan once she has collected the data….. how long is she monitoring and what is the threshold that will trigger the change?

  4. 5 Douglas Malpus
    September 21, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    My reply from Env. Min. was the same as the others. Why are politicians such a waste of space?

  5. September 21, 2015 at 11:22 pm

    I got exactly the same letter. Wildlife policy officer indeed….
    There’s no way Aileen is going to be sympathetic – look who she’s handing prizes to:
    http://news.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/2015/07/highland-newcomer-is-sga-young.html?m=1

  6. September 21, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    “I can’t emphasise enough how much the Scottish Government appreciates the knowledge and expertise of gamekeepers, deer stalkers and ghillies and how important it is for these valuable skills in wildlife and conservation management to be taught to trainees.” Aileen MacLeod.

    Can anyone tell me what this ‘knowledge and expertise’ is? I think she needs to read ‘Feral’ by George Monbiot – the Scottish Government is all about the economy and rewilding would bring in more cash than ghillies gamekeepers stalkers and other ‘experts in wildlife and countryside management’ do…

  7. September 21, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    Sorry to keep posting and excuse my ignorance, but has a census of hen harriers in Scotland been conducted recently as I could only see evidence for 2010. I used to go to the bothy at Corgarff but it is no longer open – towards its final years we noticed the estate was being more intensely managed for grouse and I reported 3 dead (looked shot) mountain hares to the wildlife police

    • September 22, 2015 at 6:35 am

      The Scottish Raptor Study Group undertakes annual HH surveys in a large proportion of known home ranges. The next NATIONAL survey (Scotland, England, Wales, NI, Isle of Man) will take place in 2016.

      Re: mountain hares. It’s not an offence to shoot them (during the open season) and there isn’t a limit on how many can be shot. SNH has called for ‘voluntary restraint’ on the numbers slaughtered (thousands) on intensively managed grouse moors but guess what, the killing continues.

  8. September 21, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    Oh, and Karen Hunter, the Scottish Government’s wildlife crime policy officer doesn’t appear to have a background in ecology as one might expect, but a background in business administration and management…

  9. 11 Jack Snipe
    September 22, 2015 at 12:38 am

    I’ve got to say I’m slightly uneasy with some of the comments and replies to this article. I feel that we might not be dealing with fundamental issues, which to my mind present the only realistic chance of resolving the whole issue of raptor persecution. It does our cause no good to say that fining a gamekeeper £2,000 for killing a Buzzard is not sufficient punishment. The average petty criminal would regard that as quite a stiff penalty to pay for committing a crime against a bird, a lot more than the average fine for viciously assaulting a fellow human being. I share the strength of feeling against gamekeepers and others who kill birds of prey, but the reaction to individual offences needs to be proportionate to be taken seriously. Much as I’d like to see it happen, a custodial sentence seems inappropriate for a first offence. Bear in mind that Police Scotland has stated that they no longer have the resources to investigate house burglaries!

    Right now I’d say there is a realistic chance of running with the debate against grouse shooting, as it seems perfectly clear that the criminality associated with that activity is profoundly endemic and institutional. I agree with Mark Avery that it is now past its “sell by date”, and there appears to be a rising social consciousness of the moral, ethical and environmental case against grouse shooting. Social media have provided an outlet for informing the public about the shocking behaviour of wildlife killers, from badger baiting, to pheasant shooting and the obscene behaviour of big game trophy hunters. The time is now to rid our society of the scourge of grouse shooting on the uplands; in fact many are now admitting that driving the guns off the moors is the only real hope for the recovery of Hen Harriers and other persecuted wildlife.

    UK and Scottish Governments are on the side of the grouse shooters, and more than anything we need to muster public support to get MPs, MSPs and senior civil servants to understand the true nature of the problem. It’s not just a few rogue gamekeepers who are dodging the law enforcers; it’s a cultural way of thinking amongst an elite sector of a heavily divided society who believe that they are above the law when it comes to the old time traditional methods of “vermin control.” These people hate Hen Harriers with a vengeance, even more than they hate nature conservationists. As a dedicated naturalist who spends a lot of time on “private” land in the countryside, I’ve never known a time in my fifty years experience when I was so harassed by landowners’ agents and farmers. I even know some birdwatchers who hide their binoculars because of suspicion being aroused that they are some sort of “SNH type” looking to declare their land as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, or heaven forbid, a Special Protection Area. There has been a huge increase in these attitudes since the Countryside Alliance was formed and fox hunting banned. I should say that fortunately not all are like that, and I know some farmers in particular who are perfectly friendly.

    Raptor Persecution Scotland, and to be fair some other blogs, help to deliver the message quite effectively and for this I’m eternally grateful to the administrators, contributors and activists who support the cause. It’s vital to continue lobbying ministers and our parliamentary representatives as to the failures of Police Scotland to deal effectively with the unacceptable (i.e. greater than zero) level of wildlife crime being committed against vulnerable birds of prey in particular. However I believe that we need to engage with the public more strongly to highlight the injustices surrounding raptor persecution, and the unsustainable management of our moorlands to support the playgrounds of the rich and over-privileged. Whether it’s realistic to make wildlife killing illegal, surely we’ve got to make the effort at least to extend wildlife protection legislation to stop grouse shooting, which is unethical and wrong in so many ways. My main disappointment with the conservation side is the reluctance of the RSPB to get off the fence and take a firmer stand against wildlife cruelty. Hopefully this will change.

    • 12 cairnton
      September 22, 2015 at 5:33 pm

      Lots of wisdom here – as much as I despise gamekeeping etc I do see your point regarding sentencing. At least the hen harriers in Orkney are doing well, but what can we do for them in the mainland? Isnt it time for a rally in Edinburgh to highlight the failure of the government and the police?

  10. 13 Mike
    September 22, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    Well Karen Hunter is catching up with the backlog because my letter to Dr McLeod was as recent as 14th September and I got my response today – oh joy! It is identical to those received by others with the exceptions that mine did not require the need to apologise for the delay – well I guess if you’re replying to one you might as well do them all at the same time.

    However I’m in receipt of a further paragraph ;-

    “You are correct that there has been no decision yet been made on whether there should be
    new powers for Scottish SPCA inspectors to deal with wildlife crime. The consultation
    revealed a wide range of views on this complex issue and the issues involved are receiving
    active consideration by key partners in wildlife crime enforcement.”

    My aren’t I lucky? Well no actually, we’re still no wiser and no further forward!

    … and no the tautology in the first sentence is her error not mine, still it must be a bit soul destroying having to spend all day sending out near identical propaganda.


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