Two days after the news that young satellite-tagged hen harrier Brian has gone ‘missing’ in the Cairngorms National Park (see here), we now have official responses from Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham and from the CEO of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Grant Moir.
Well done to journalist Christopher Foote (STV news) for publicising this incident (here) and for managing to get these official responses.
Let’s start with the response from the Environment Cabinet Secretary:
“I take this issue very seriously and it shows the need to establish whether the disappearance of these birds is indicative of criminal activity.
It is clearly suspicious, but we must ensure that a robust statistical analysis of all the data from over 200 tagged birds supports any conclusion.
I will consider what action to take in the light of the full evidence, and I am not ruling out any options.”
Well, at least she didn’t trot out the usual Ministerial line that we’ve heard repeatedly from successive Environment Ministers over a period of several years (e.g. “I’m very disappointed” and “I will not hesitate to bring in further measures if they are deemed necessary“). And at least she has acknowledged this incident, which is better than remaining silent about it. But other than that, this is just yet another holding statement.
We’re partly sympathetic to her position. She has recently instructed a review of raptor satellite tag data (which we fully support) but that review is not expected to be finished until March 2017. That six month delay is not her fault, and nor is it the fault of the review’s authors. They need to conduct a thorough interrogation and analysis of the data and their methods will need to stand up to potential legal scrutiny depending on the Secretary’s subsequent decision to act. We’re well aware (as Roseanna will be) that the well-financed grouse shooting industry will take whatever legal action it can to prevent any Governmental challenge to its current practices, so this review does have to be robust and that will, inevitably, take time. On that basis, a holding statement at this stage is probably the best we could expect.
However, we’re also partly unsympathetic to Roseanna’s position. As we’ve said before, many, many, times, the evidence of criminal activity on grouse moors is already overwhelming and has been available for several decades. It has built and built and built. We don’t need to wait for yet another study to reach the same conclusion. It’s hugely frustrating that we have to put up with the constant stalling tactics from the Government before any action is taken. Again, Roseanna Cunningham isn’t entirely responsible for the stalling – every other Environment Minister has played their part in that, and some more than others – but eventually, a point is reached where the stalling and inaction is no longer tolerable.
Let’s now look at the statement from Grant Moir, CEO of the Cairngorms National Park Authority:
“We are working with Police Scotland, SNH and Scottish Government to look at next steps around wildlife crime in the Cairngorms National Park.”
Really, Grant? 48 hours of thinking time and that’s the best you can offer? You needn’t have bothered. No, really, you needn’t have bothered.
Photograph of hen harrier Brian by Jenny Weston