Environment Secretary’s message to Scottish gamekeepers re: raptor persecution

roseanna-cunninghamLast week, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham gave a speech at the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s annual conference, where she described, with feeling, her ‘contempt‘ for the continued illegal persecution of birds of prey (see here).

Her speech was warmly welcomed by those in the audience and many were hoping she would deliver the same message when she spoke at the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association AGM, six days later on 3 March.

It seems as though she did. According to this article in the Courier, her speech to the SGA was similarly-worded and hopefully it was delivered with the same strength of feeling she gave at the SRSG conference.

Here are some quotes from her SGA speech:

Not only are you valuable eyes and ears in the Scottish countryside, but you are stakeholders in the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime, with a vital role to play.”

We also need to continue to work together to change attitudes and every person in this room can help“.

The successful reintroductions of red kite and white-tailed eagle, and the recent 15% increase – which is in real terms a recovery – in golden eagle numbers, from the results of the last national survey – is welcome progress“.

For many people seeing these magnificent birds is a rare event. Many of you here today are in the fortunate position of seeing them regularly and I envy you that“.

Unhappily however the illegal killing of raptors is still with us“.

I have no patience at all with old fashioned attitudes towards these birds that linger on in this day and age. We all have to abide by the law, and must do so every day“.

I have no truck with any excuse that raptors damage driven grouse shooting interests – such damage is a business risk that grouse moor owners have to live with, and manage for – and this has to be done within the law“.

I note and welcome your chairman Alex Hogg’s reiteration of the pledge to ensure SGA members only consider legal routes to conflict resolution and he has made it clear that those committing wildlife crime will be removed from the SGA.

Although it looks like she didn’t go as far as directly pointing the finger at the SGA, it is to be hoped that the sub-text was clear enough to have some people squirming in their seats.

As several commentators have mentioned on this blog, although the Environment Secretary’s words were welcome, we have heard them all before, not only from her but also from three previous Environment Ministers, and yet raptor persecution continues. For now though, we’re cautiously giving Roseanna Cunningham the benefit of the doubt.

Yes, her words to the SGA are a big improvement on the words her predecessor gave to the SGA (see here) and yes, she’s bought herself and the Scottish Government a bit more time with these two speeches, but society’s patience is not limitless. We expect to see further measures enacted, and soon. There will be a lot of attention placed on the Cabinet Secretary’s response to the recently-published game bird licensing review, the forthcoming review of satellite tagged raptors, and the decision on whether to give increased investigatory powers to the SSPCA.

There’ll also be a great deal of attention paid this year to whether SNH grants licences to gamekeepers allowing them to kill protected raptors and if so, on what grounds? Roseanna has been clear that any perceived damage by raptors to grouse moor management should be a ‘business risk’ that has to be ‘managed within the law’. The SGA will no doubt argue that applying for licences to kill raptors would be ‘managing the business risk within the law’ and technically, they’d be correct, in as much as the provision is there to apply for such licences but whether protecting artificially high numbers of game birds is justification for legally killing protected raptors, especially when illegal raptor persecution continues, is an argument that will dominate MSPs’ inboxes if licences are given this year.

Interesting times ahead.


18 Responses to “Environment Secretary’s message to Scottish gamekeepers re: raptor persecution”

  1. 1 Steve macsweeney
    March 5, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    I cannot imagine any member of the SGA “squirming in it’s seat”
    I can imagine huge fingers thrusted skywards.
    Action not words is what’s needed. Licences, stiff custodial sentences, or both.
    We’ll see, but any optimism I may have had has been slowly trapped, snared, poisoned or shot out of the skies.

  2. 2 crypticmirror
    March 5, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    Harsh action, not fine words. Sorry, but sweeping statements of ideals, intents, and wild promises no longer cut it. 2016 was the year that showed us anyone can spew out a pretty sounding but utterly meaningless mission statement and then call it a day. 2017 has to be the year which shows that that action can be taken instead.

  3. 3 Danny Jenks
    March 5, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    There is absolutely no good reason for a cull of birds of prey, legal or illegal. They should just except them and learn how to live with them. Don’t want to go back to the days of Victorian or Edwardian gibbets either. I used to shoot, I am not totally against it as I have seen how management for game has a positive knock on effect on other bird and animal life. Gamekeepers and their masters need to tow the line legally or become history.
    I am a gardener and used to grow bedding plants. We had to put on a percentage to cover for vandalism- maybe we should have simply got a gun and shot the vandals.

  4. 4 Paul.Chandler
    March 5, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    Its easy to say perhaps she means it but her collegues do not agree they own or are friends with shooting estates.

    • 5 Trevor Donaldson
      March 6, 2017 at 6:29 am

      Your assertion that Roseanna Cunningham’s colleagues own or are friends of Shooting Estate’s must be backed up with incontrovertible evidence or be retracted and a full apology given, immediately. It amounts to defamation. Provide the evidence, now.

  5. March 5, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    As the old adage says, “Fine words butter no parsnips,” words need to be backed by decisive action; wildlife crime needs to be investigated, prosecuted and punished properly; not the ‘slapped wrist’ approach that has all to often been seen.

  6. 10 Doug Malpus
    March 5, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    I know she is up against a Victorian attitudes together with a modern cut throat business models, where anything that “eats” into their profits, has to go.

    But to my limited knowledge she is the first minister to actually challenge the criminals in a strongly worded way.

    OK we could do more and get the criminals behind bars and impose vicarious liability more vigorously. Maybe if we get the police to uphold the law and investigate more thoroughly without turning a blind eye to crime.

    I also think it is time to stop the subsidies the rich persons play things of grouse moors and other game bird killing. I am completely against paying for their fun and very angry about it too.


  7. 11 Dave Dick
    March 5, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    Re the mentions in the last paragraph about the abomination of keepers being given licences to shoot raptors – happening in England re buzzards – a reminder that that was to protect a pheasant shoot not a grouse moor. Be careful no one slips that one through the back door while we are all watching grouse moors..and of course many grouse shooting estates also have pheasant shooting on lower ground, with the same keepers.

    There are still far too many decision makers/authority figures/politicians who are game shooters [including a recent one who kept his job after being prosecuted for a firearms offence involving a shotgun] – for us to be confident of a “level playing field” .

  8. 12 Iain Gibson
    March 5, 2017 at 10:22 pm

    Tinkering and liberal reform will not end raptor persecution, not to mention the pointless and cruel LEGAL persecution of crows, gulls, stoats, foxes, etc. The only way to change matters is to drive a cultural change in society, to adopt a less hysterical and more lenient approach to wildlife which is unfortunately labelled “vermin.” As far as I can see, the only way to achieve this is through bringing an end to grouse shooting and game shooting in general. Many of us, possibly a majority of UK society, regard such activities as immoral, and equated with cock fighting and bear baiting. It saddens me greatly to have learned that some prominent campaigners against raptor persecution, do in fact participate in wildlife shoots themselves. Apparently their consciences are clear, but some of us find this difficult to understand. I would hope that if the crunch came, they would be prepared to give up their killing sideline hobby, with sympathy towards not only the wildlife but also those people who object on moral or ethical grounds.

    Unfortunately the Scottish Government remains sympathetic towards grouse shooting, apparently because they are convinced it is of economic benefit to the Scottish economy. They also appear to be fooled by some of the more sophisticated propaganda disseminated by the industry. So long as this attitude remains the status quo, I have difficulty believing that any significant change will take place in the relatively near future. We think of the USA gun lobby as being powerful, but the UK version is not that far behind. The sale of guns alone is certainly possible to perceive as stimulating to the economy. It is “worth” millions. In my mind the introduction of a licensing system for game shooting in Scotland, or the UK, would positively reinforce the practice and make any future petition to ban grouse shooting irrelevant and doomed to fail. Although the game industry may oppose it vigorously to start with, once implemented they would undoubtedly use it to their PR advantage. In future I suspect the RSPB will look back and think “what have we done?”

  9. 13 Patrick Stirling-aird
    March 5, 2017 at 11:52 pm

    As Dave rightly indicates, the question of buzzards and pheasants is an elephant lurking in the room. It should be a matter of settled public policy that licensed control of currently legally protected native species in the supposed interests of non-native reared and released game birds should not take place. It is absurd that the latter are treated in legal terms as “livestock”, thus potentially opening the door to licensed killing of or other interference with native protected species. Game birds are released primarily for sport shooting purposes and only secondarily for consumtion of food by humans, hence the illogicality of classifying them as “livestock.” This illogicality and indeed unjustified legal classification points to the direction in which much political lobbying is needed.

    • 14 Les Wallace
      March 6, 2017 at 3:43 pm

      That’s a very valid point re definition of ‘livestock’. Ludicrously I’ve heard pet doves kept in a garden described as livestock by a keeper trying to justify the legal killing of any raptor that might prey on them. The same is happening with fishing now – there a lot of big fisheries down south where they buy in stock carp at several thousand pounds a time for specimens weighing thirty pounds or more. These are just caught and returned continually which I wouldn’t have a problem with except it seems more like fishing for glorified goldfish in a glorified goldfish pond – they are bloated, domesticated varieties of a non native fish that have largely not even grown in the waters they are caught in. An issue of taste except that now with growing otter numbers they are catching, killing and sometimes maiming these rather cumbersome carp. There is even less validity in calling these fish livestock, but that’s exactly the line some fisheries are taking – these fish are never, ever eaten. It seems they think because they have spent a fortune on catering for a hobby that should entitle them to remove wildlife and our natural heritage. We do need to nip this in the bud.

  10. March 6, 2017 at 1:08 am

    Banning any form of shooting with the the prevailing politics ……with the greatest respect….. was that a pig flying by ?
    That might be possible in the distant future but is not worth wasting time on now.
    The achievable aim of tighter regulation is surely worth pursuing ?
    A comparison with regulated shoot compliance in other countries would be usefull here.

    Of course this must go hand in hand with real policing, sentencing, crippling financial penalties & loss of public funding,
    Siezing of assets, public flogging & offender castration….. sorry got carried away !
    Public funding will also hopefully become a thing of the past anyway.
    Requirements to achieve agreed levels of breeding raptors would be an interesting addition to compliance also !
    As I noted previously, Spanish law is starting to remove hunting & grazing licences from convicted raptor killers & the areas in which they operate.
    The development of micro – tags that are less visible would be a great step forward & would put pins in some interesting maps .
    I have great faith in near – future technological improvements.
    Raptor populations are also resilient & recover remarkably quickly as we have seen in many UK environments where there is a source population and a reduction in human – related damage to these populations, coupled with conservation effort.
    Having personally witnessed the reintroduction & thriving of Goshawk in the UK I know that effort pays off.
    This is even possible by natural range expansion with Hen harrier if the rot can be stopped or at least slowed before too long.
    And I don’t mean by silly brood – meddling plans.
    My local cliffs had only a lone male Peregrine when I started surveying them in the 1970’s & there are now dozens of pairs with huge output along with a rapidly expanding Gos population nearby.
    A brief look at the UK map of improved breeding raptor distribution over recent decades shows what is possible.
    I fully accept that as long as driven game shooting & especially driven grouse shooting exists, it is going to be a struggle, but the changes I have witnessed here & elsewhere in the world of raptors over 40 years makes me very optimistic.
    As the economics of shooting & the upland economy change, the current zone of criminality will shrink I am sure.
    This will allow some modest recovery but it won’t be overnight.
    Although it won’t happen in my lifetime I believe that driven game shooting will die eventually & until then we all have to do what we can to fight the criminals.

    Tagging of all keepers & a requirement for them to film all their activities with body – cam’s would be great too !
    They won’t need guns or traps since shoots will only take a shootable surplus from a sustainable quarry list & video drones will patrol the sky.

    The land will be regularly patrolled by poison – trained sniffer dogs.
    Hang on……,that’s happening in Spain too !

    Keep up the pressure !

    • 16 AlanTwo
      March 7, 2017 at 11:03 am

      IG and SB – very interesting comments from both (as usual).
      My take is that all the while that blood sports are generally socially acceptable, among the public, politicians, the NT, RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and so on, we are unlikely to see meaningful change on the ground even if we get licensing, promises of stronger enforcement or more tagging of raptors.
      For me, the only hope is to expose the damaging and unpleasant things that are associated with most forms of shooting (intensive pheasant shooting as well as driven grouse) and engage the public to the point where politicians, landowners and the police are held to account properly.
      Only when all forms of recreational killing are widely viewed as distasteful or worse will specific, detailed actions to protect wildlife really make a difference. I think steps targeting certain aspects of shooting will continue to fail until the mood of the wider public shifts. And I don’t think that is impossible – most people (especially young people) unless they have farming or shooting connections, are revolted by the callous treatment of animals.

  11. 17 Brain Bull
    March 6, 2017 at 10:00 am

    Welcome the words but words won’t stop what is an industry problem on a national scale.

    Every New Year police launch a drink driving campaign and follow it up with a period of enforcment.During and at completion, figures detailing the numbers of persons caught and any increase or decrease compared to previous years. This type of campaign has shown to work.

    Now how many people would choose to drink drive if there was little or no chance of being caught.

    How many people choose to kill raptors or other protected wildlife knowing there is virtually no chance of being caught.

    Roseanna,s words are simply not enough against;
    High powered rifles
    High powered rifles
    Thermal imaging
    Telescopic sights
    Quad bikes
    And add to this very isolated locations against a backdrop of industry acceptance,employer pressure and an accepted culture of killing all predators.

    Surely the opportunity of adding 60+ addition persons covering the whole of Scotland must be taken.

    If Rosanna seriously wants to reduce wildlife crime she will provide SSPCA with additional powers.

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