ECCLR session 2: the SGA and their ‘alternative facts’

Two weeks ago the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee held an evidence session to scrutinise the Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report.

The evidence session was divided in to two parts – we’ve blogged about session 1 [evidence from Police Scotland and the Crown Office] here.

This blog is about session 2, where witnesses from RSPB Scotland, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA), Scottish Badgers and the Bat Conservation Trust were invited to speak.

The video of the session can be watched here and the full transcript can be read here.

This session was fascinating and we’d really encourage you to read the transcript – and even better, watch the video. There’s too much to blog about here so we’ll just focus on the SGA’s ‘evidence’, which turned out to be a series of ‘alternative facts’, which perhaps isn’t all that surprising although it is of concern when you realise Andy Smith, the SGA rep, was a former police officer for 30 years and so he should be well versed in dealing with actual facts, not made-up ones.

Here are some of the SGA’s alternative facts. This is not an exhaustive list, just the ones that amused us the most:

Alternative Fact #1

According to Andy Smith, the SGA doesn’t support the proposal that the SSPCA should be given increased powers to help investigate wildlife crime because he was told that the SSPCA’s Chief Superintendent traveled to London to listen to the Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting, which, according to Andy Smith, means the SSPCA has an anti-shooting agenda.

The logic Andy Smith used to reach this conclusion is, well, illogical, because plenty of people attended the Westminster debate, including GWCT staff members, who most definitely are not anti-shooting. Anyway, as it turns out, the SSPCA’s Chief Superintendent did NOT travel to London to attend the debate, as he clearly explains in a recent letter to the ECCLR Committee that has been published on the Scottish Parliament’s website:  20170111_mike_flynn_to_convener_regarding_ecclr_meeting_10_january_2017

Alternative Fact #2

According to Andy Smith, “There are places in this country that should have birds of prey – raptors – but do not have them. That includes some RSPB reserves that have the perfect conditions. For example, I do not think that there are very many in Abernethy“.

Oops. There are at least eight species of breeding raptors at the RSPB’s Abernethy Reserve (perhaps more, we haven’t checked), including, er, the world famous ospreys at Loch Garten.

Alternative Fact #3

According to Andy Smith, “We should remember that the Cairngorms National Park has the highest density of eagles in the world“. [Interruption]. “Am I not right in thinking that?“.

Ian Thomson (RSPB Scotland): “No, you are not“.

Andy Smith: “It is certainly where the highest density of eagles is in the UK“.

Ian Thomson: “Harris has the highest density of golden eagles“.

Another commonly repeated myth from Andy Smith. It’s nothing new (e.g. see here, and it was also repeated in the SGA’s most recent edition of its in-house rag Scottish Gamekeeper), but it doesn’t matter how many times it’s repeated, it doesn’t make it factual. The Cairngorms National Park does NOT have the highest density of eagles in the world, nor in the UK. As Ian Thomson correctly pointed out, golden eagle density in the Western Isles (i.e. nowhere near a driven grouse moor) is among the highest recorded, although a few populations in North America have an equally high density.

The truth is that golden eagles in the Cairngorms National Park have one of the lowest rates of site occupancy in the whole of Scotland. Sure, there are breeding golden eagles in the CNP, but as was described in the authoritative Golden Eagle Conservation Framework, the vast majority of those sites are associated with open woodland (i.e. deer forest) where they are generally left alone; they are, with a handful of exceptions, absent from the extensive areas of open moorland managed for driven grouse shooting.

ge-vacant-territories-2003The data in the above table were derived from the 2003 national golden eagle survey. Since then, a 2015 national survey has been undertaken and we await publication of the detailed results, although the preliminary findings have shown that there have been improvements in occupancy in some regions, but not, unfortunately, in the Eastern Highlands, which includes large parts of the Cairngorms National Park and North East Glens, where intensively managed moorland for driven grouse shooting remains the dominant land practice and where illegal persecution continues to constrain the golden eagle population, as well as a number of other raptor populations including peregrine and hen harrier.

The SGA should watch out. With a performance like Andy Smith’s, the Trump administration may well try to headhunt him to join The White House press team.


19 Responses to “ECCLR session 2: the SGA and their ‘alternative facts’”

  1. January 24, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    But then, of course, alternative ‘facts’ usually are, unless you’re either gullible or simply ‘want to believe’ them to suit your agenda.

  2. 2 Lyn Ebbs
    January 24, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    It reminds me of a saying from my days doing clinical trials: “the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘evidence'”.

  3. 3 Secret Squirrel
    January 24, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    Ian Thomson’s look says it all

  4. 4 Doug Malpus
    January 24, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    I am always amused by the uniform worn by the killing crowd. As for alternative lies the shooting/killing crowd, they ought to get a new job for example, pulp fiction writers. But I suppose fiction has to be plausible!! Unless it is based in mythology?

  5. 5 Marco McGinty
    January 24, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    So, it wold be fair to say, that Andy Smith, another spokesclown for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, is a liar?

  6. 7 Me
    January 24, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    Andy Smith I would not trust this man to look after my budgie.

  7. January 24, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    I wonder what the SGA was thinking about. “He’s an ex-policeman lets put him in to talk about the law…?” Probably. But he gets asked about basic facts beyond his ken …
    before he started to draw down his police pension, he was trained that when he’s on the stand NEVER stray in the role of an expert witness.

  8. 9 J .Coogan
    January 24, 2017 at 11:56 pm

    If that buffoon Smith is the best they can find ,then we really do have them on the run, talking about conflict of interest ( sspca) what about that other buffoon Graeme Dey as chair , he fronted that 81 and flying propaganda and launched it at Holyrood??. Well done Ian again

  9. 10 jbc
    January 25, 2017 at 9:20 am

    Don’t underestimate the power of lies, esp when they pander to what MPs MSPs want to hear. Pro shooting witnesses and later MPs lied shamelessly at the Westminster DGS debate and the lies won. it’s not funny, its profoundly dangerous, and not just for raptors. See the US for where this road leads to.

  10. 11 Merlin
    January 25, 2017 at 10:07 am

    Massive credit to Ian Thomson for a thoroughly professional demolition job of the SGA’s lies, Smith was completely out of his depth and was made to look foolish

  11. 13 Greengrass
    January 25, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    The SGA have been lying. The SGA have been found to be lying. The SGA have been found to be serial liars. Will the fact that its known the SGA have been repeatedly lying reduce raptor persecution? We’ve had encouraging words from the Scottish Government at length over the years and some tinkering by them, though nothing which as served as a deterrent. Unless the Scottish Government introduce some long overdue effective measures, lying will be proven to be a better policy to pursue than telling the truth.

  12. 14 Les Wallace
    January 25, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    Andy Smith initially sounded quite reasonable and I did have some expectations that compared to some he would give some ground – but no the minute we got near the heart of the matter the denial comes gushing out like a particularly bad case of diarrhoea. His ‘reason’ why the SSPCA shouldn’t have more investigatory powers was truly woeful, and trying to say Abernethy wasn’t very good for raptors was utterly laughable, well it would have been if it wasn’t in fact pretty contemptible implying the people who are busting a gut trying to protect wildlife are responsible for its loss not the real pricks who are poisoning, shooting and pole trapping it. The debate on the 10th also discussed badger baiting – how many times have keepers been convicted for involvement in it I wonder? I know an apprentice keeper from Broxburn was done for it (and in the same year another apprentice Scottish keeper was convicted for kicking a hedgehog to death) and hasn’t at least one English keeper been caught at it? Feel sorry for any good keepers, they must be embarrassed after A. Smith’s ‘performance’.

  13. January 25, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    I thought Andy Smith was great. He was so unprepared and badly briefed that he, as a representative of SGA, said they were pro vicarious liability and pro increased penalties for wildlife crime. Perhaps SGA just make it up as they go but isn’t this way off script?

  14. 16 Bill Brown
    January 25, 2017 at 10:06 pm

    A great example of what “a man of the countryside” really knows……..Nothing

    Made up rubbish and old wives tales.

    I hope he continues to be a spokesperson for the SGA.

    And we know exactly why he doesn’t want SSPCA to have increased powers……SGA claim they exclude persons convicted of wildlife offences which would result in a serious drop in their members!

  15. January 26, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    A couple of times Andy Smith suggested things were much worse 20 or 30 years ago. My recollection is that in the 1980s & 90s organisations like his were just as much in denial regarding the level of persecution as they are today. This rather begs the question of why, if we would have been wrong to believe them then, we should do so now.

  16. 18 Grace Reid
    January 26, 2017 at 7:23 pm

    No coincidence that he is a retired police officer! How much confidence would you have in him investigating a wildlife crime involving the shooting industry…….says it all

    Precisely the reason why SSPCA should be given the oppertunity to improve a very serious and depressing current problem.

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