More from the Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment (RACCE) committee hearing last month, when a question about the extent of raptor persecution crimes in Scotland was posed to Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham of Police Scotland.
Here’s the transcript:
Graeme Dey MSP (Angus South) (SNP): I want to get a feel for where we are at with raptor persecution. There is a view in some quarters that the extent of raptor persecution is way beyond that which is suggested by the recorded figures. Given their experience in this area, I would like to hear from ACC Graham and DCS Scott whether that is a fair view. What is your feeling about the issue in a general sense and not just in relation to the recorded figures? Is raptor persecution increasing or decreasing?
Assistant Chief Constable Graham: Again, we touched on this last year. The scientific or expert evidence about the absence of certain species appears to be mixed. I am not an expert in that and I am happy to listen to experts when they offer a view. If the absence of a species that we would expect to see in a certain area strongly indicates that a crime is happening, I am very interested to look at that. We have been doing that in those areas and through the raptor group. It may well be that there is more work to be done in that respect.
Set against that is the relatively low level of reporting, in the context of all crime. I do not wish to dismiss the importance of every crime that is identified or every dead bird that is found but, given the level of focus, which includes the dedicated focus of interested groups with a specific role in bird conservation or preservation or specific raptor groups, the low level of information that comes to us as intelligence or reports only leaves me thinking that, with all that effort, we are not missing the vast majority of what is going on here.
At a previous meeting, we had a discussion about the perception that reporting levels were the tip of the iceberg. My view on that has not changed. More work needs to be done and there is, undoubtedly, a level of underreporting and therefore underrecording, but we are catching a significant amount of it. We are doing everything that we can to increase public awareness and to work with those who potentially would have a motivation to commit such crimes to dissuade them from doing so and to make it an unattractive option for them. It is increasingly likely that, if raptor crime is going on, we will hear about it. That leads me to think, in relation to your final point, that the problem is not increasing; rather, it is more likely to be the case that we are hearing about a greater proportion of cases and probably less crime is happening.
Graeme Dey MSP: It was useful to get that on the record. Thank you.
Can you believe that? We can, because he said something very similar when asked about the extent of raptor persecution back in 2014 (see here). At that time his opinion was based on a ‘feeling’. This time we’re not sure what it’s based on – maybe the content of a Xmas cracker?
ACC Graham recognises that under-reporting, and thus under-recording, takes place, so how can he possibly know that “we are catching a significant amount” of the crimes that take place? Sorry, but that’s just fabricated nonsense! Read any academic paper on problems with assessing the extent of wildlife crimes and they all say that under-reporting and under-recording is a significant barrier to tackling wildlife crime. What makes raptor persecution crimes in Scotland so different? Does ACC Graham have some sort of magical power that allows him to see every inch of every driven grouse moor at every minute of every day and every night throughout the year?
He says “the scientific or expert evidence about the absence of certain species appears to be mixed”. Mixed? Really? Which papers has he been reading? Clearly not the ever-growing pile of scientific papers that all point to criminal raptor persecution on driven grouse moors as the cause of widespread population decline for golden eagles, hen harriers, peregrines and red kites. What on earth is he talking about?
Scottish Environment LINK was just as gobsmacked as us at this piece of ACC Graham’s evidence to the RACCE committee. They address the issue in a letter they wrote to the committee shortly after the hearing:
“…..Firstly, we are concerned with ACC Graham’s response to a question asked by Graham Dey MSP about levels of raptor persecution. ACC Graham commented that “this isn’t an increasing problem, in fact it’s more likely to be the case that we’re hearing about a greater proportion and there’s probably less happening.” We consider this assertion to be anecdotal at best. We feel that it is important that the RACCE committee gets a wider picture of wildlife crime.
The Scottish Government has not yet published statistics for wildlife crimes occurring since 1st April 2014; indeed government reports only cover the period 1st January 2012 to 31st March 2014. We suggest that with only just over two years of data published by government, an unknown and varying percentage of incidents actually discovered from one year to the next, and a completely ad hoc search effort made by very few suitably trained individuals over a tiny proportion of Scotland’s countryside, such a statement by ACC Graham is, in our opinion, purely speculative. Raptor persecution is a crime that invariably occurs without witnesses, where offences occur in the remotest parts of our country, and where victims are found largely by luck. It is impossible to say what the number of actual incidents is, or what proportion of these were found and documented.
There is, however, a considerable weight of peer-reviewed scientific evidence, including research commissioned by SNH, coupled with population surveys, that clearly shows that raptor persecution continues to have a marked impact on peregrine, hen harrier, red kite and golden eagle populations in Scotland……..” Eddie Palmer, Scottish Environment LINK.
The full letter can be downloaded from the Scottish Parliament website here
Let’s hope that the next RACCE committee, which will be formed after the election in May, will invite LINK and some of its members along to a future hearing to provide a more accurate picture of the extent of wildlife crime in Scotland instead of having to rely upon this unsubstantiated tosh from a police force desperately trying to appear to be on top of things.