Archive for May, 2017

23
May
17

Game-shooting industry issues joint statement on licensing proposals

Following this morning’s fantastic news that the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee has voted to recommend further exploration of a licensing system for driven grouse shooting, the game-shooting industry has issued a joint statement:

“We are disappointed that the committee voted narrowly in favour of a course of action which includes examining the possibility of a licensing scheme for game shooting in Scotland as a method of tackling wildlife crime, particularly at a time when the level of wildlife crime – according to government statistics – is at a historically low level.

“It is widely acknowledged across the political spectrum that only a tiny minority of people engage in wildlife crime and further regulation will impact on communities where game shooting is of vital social, economic and environmental importance. It was also demonstrated throughout the committee’s evidence sessions that licensing is not a definitive solution, with intolerable instances of crimes against birds of prey still existing in European countries with a licensing system in place.

“We are heartened by the fact that members of the committee today recognised the shooting community’s set of proposals which, if taken forward, could have a significant impact in helping to eradicate wildlife crime for good. That is the objective we all want to achieve and we believe that a potent combination of punishment and prevention is the most effective way forward. Significant progress has been made and this should be built upon.

“We have urged the government to adopt tougher penalties for those found guilty of wildlife crime, as outlined in the Poustie report. We would also like to see a formal due diligence package created for shoots accompanied by a new warning sanction for shoots under suspicion – a measure that would be developed under a strengthened PAWS partnership with more local focus.

“We look forward to discussing our set of proposals with the Cabinet Secretary at the earliest opportunity in the hope of devising a workable set of proposals that will hopefully deal with this issue once and for all.”

Scottish Land & Estates

Scottish Gamekeepers Association

BASC Scotland

The Scottish Association for Country Sports

The Scottish Countryside Alliance

The Scottish Moorland Group [Ed: which is actually part of Scottish Land & Estates]

ENDS

What’s fascinating about this response is that it has been prompted, not by the news of yet another poisoned, trapped or shot raptor being found on a game-shooting estate, nor the disappearance of yet another satellite tagged raptor on a game-shooting estate, nor the discovery of yet another poisoned bait on a game-shooting estate, nor the discovery of yet another illegally-set trap on a game-shooting estate, but in response to the now very real threat of a licensing system being introduced to regulate game-bird shooting.

Isn’t that interesting? That tells us an awful lot about the sincerity behind the industry’s set of proposed ideas for reform, which, as we said yesterday, merely seek to maintain the status quo. If the industry was actually serious about tackling raptor persecution, it would have done a hell of a lot more, a long time ago. It would have spoken out each and every time one of the above crimes was discovered, but instead, it has denied, obsfucated, shielded and defended its criminals and criticised the RSPB at every given opportunity. But now, faced with enforced regulation, the industry is trying to be seen to be as conciliatory as possible to reduce the severity of what’s coming its way.

But even with this latest statement, the industry can’t resist spinning the facts. Raptor persecution is not “at a historically low level” – far from it. It might appear to be that way because the criminals have become better at hiding the evidence, hence a decreasing ‘body count’, but the endless scientific reports, papers and surveys continue to point in one direction and one direction only – there are many within the industry who are still ‘at it’. There is zero prospect of the industry cleaning up its own act if it refuses to accept the extent of the criminality.

The statement also says that “further regulation will impact on communities where game shooting is of vital social, economic and environmental importance“.  If the industry introduces sustainable management practices and stops breaking the law, it shouldn’t have any negative impact on local communities and might even draw in more tourists, and thus their money, resulting in a positive impact for local businesses. It’s pretty simple really.

The statement also says, “We are heartened by the fact that members of the committee today recognised the shooting community’s set of proposals which, if taken forward, could have a significant impact in helping to eradicate wildlife crime for good”. An important word is missing from this statement. Only SOME committee members recognised the shooting community’s set of proposals (three Tories and an SNP MSP), not the whole committee as the industry’s statement suggests. In fact, Mark Ruskell went out of his way to dismiss the industry’s new set of proposals and at the end of the meeting, when Convener Graeme Dey asked whether the Committee wanted to include the proposals in his letter to the Cabinet Secretary, Mark Ruskell again made it very clear that the Committee should not “endorse” the proposals but should merely “note” them.

Unlike the game-shooting industry, we are very encouraged by today’s decision, notwithstanding our concerns about how a licensing system would be monitored and enforced. However, today’s decision is very much a long-term plan. What we want and what we expect to see from the Cabinet Secretary over the last few weeks of this Parliamentary session is also a short-term plan, to run parallel with the licensing proposal. We need to see something that will clamp down with immediate effect on the worst offenders within the industry. We all know who they are, as does the industry, as do the Police, as does the Government. These criminals cannot be allowed to continue their lawlessness while we await the findings of a licensing inquiry, which will take months, if not years.

23
May
17

Environment Committee brings licensing for driven grouse shooting one step closer

It’s not often we can report good news on this blog but today is one of those rare occasions.

This morning the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee considered various options for progressing the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s petition calling for the introduction of a licensing scheme for game bird hunting.

In short, the Committee has agreed to keep this petition open and will be writing to the Environment Cabinet Secretary to recommend that the Scottish Government further explores, with stakeholders, the implementation of a licensing regime for driven grouse shooting.

This is fantastic and very welcome news!

Grouse shooting butt, photo by RPUK

The video archive and official transcript of proceedings will be published here when they become available within the next couple of days but for now, here’s a brief summary of what happened.

As we blogged earlier, the Committee had three options on the table (see here). Briefly, these were (1) to close the petition and do nothing more; (2) recommend that the Scottish Government explores a licensing system and the feasibility of a trial scheme; and (3) do something else, which in this case was to consider maintaining the status quo as recommended by the game shooting industry.

The following MSPs delivered their thoughts on this petition prior to the vote:

Kate Forbes (SNP), Alexander Burnett (Conservative), Claudia Beamish (Labour), Mark Ruskell (Greens), Emma Harper (SNP), Angus MacDonald (SNP), Richard Lyle (SNP) and Graeme Dey (SNP).

Maurice Golden (Conservative) and Finlay Carson (Conservative) did not have anything to say. Dave Stewart (Labour) was not present.

Special mention to Claudia Beamish and Mark Ruskell, who both demonstrated a clear grasp of the scale of raptor persecution, the length of time it has been allowed to persist, the need for a civil burden of proof, and a very marked view that voluntary regulation by the game shooting industry has failed to deliver tangible change.

The votes went as follows:

Option 1 (close the petition & do nothing else)

This option was rejected 10 votes to zero.

Option 2 (recommend that Scot Gov further explores, with stakeholders, how a licensing scheme could work and the feasibility of a trial scheme)

For: Kate Forbes (SNP); Claudia Beamish (Labour); Mark Ruskell (Greens); Emma Harper (SNP), Angus MacDonald (SNP); Graeme Dey (SNP).

Against: Alexander Burnett (Conservative); Maurice Golden (Conservative); Finlay Carson (Conservative); Richard Lyle (SNP).

This option was passed with six votes for, and four against.

Option 3 (close the petition & recommend that Scot Gov considers the non-regulatory alternatives put forward by the game shooting industry)

For: Alexander Burnett (Conservative), Maurice Golden (Conservative), Finlay Carson (Conservative), Richard Lyle (SNP).

Against: Claudia Beamish (Labour); Mark Ruskell (Greens); Emma Harper (SNP); Angus MacDonald (SNP); Graeme Dey (SNP).

Abstention: Kate Forbes (SNP)

This option was rejected with four votes for, and five votes against, and one abstention.

So as you can see, the decision to approve Option 2 was certainly not unanimous and it was a pretty tight call, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that this petition is moving in the right direction.

Various members of the Committee wanted to speak before the vote and many of them wanted to put on record their appreciation of petitioner Logan Steele’s evidence-based approach and his calm delivery of that evidence. We would echo that appreciation. As we’ve blogged before, Logan and his fellow petitioner Andrea Hudspeth, have both been subjected to some vile abuse and harassment on social media as a result of presenting this petition to Holyrood and it is to their credit that they refused to be intimidated and remained composed throughout. They deserve recognition for this, and for all the long hours of preparatory work that went in to writing the petition, and we all owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

So what happens next? Committee Convener Graeme Dey will write to Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, outlining the comments made during today’s discussions and recommending Option 2 – that the Government needs to explore the issue of licensing, particularly with reference to land that is intensively managed for driven grouse shooting. The issues to consider will not be restricted to the illegal killing of raptors, but will also include other issues such mountain hare slaughter and the environmental impact of muirburn practices and the use of high dosage medicated grit.

We’re under no illusion that a licensing regime will solve the problem – we maintain our long-held concerns about the issue of enforcement, particularly brought in to focus with the recent decisions of the Crown Office to drop four prosecutions despite the availability of very clear evidence. However, we also recognise that a licensing regime is a necessary step before a full ban on driven grouse shooting will be considered. If licensing works, then fine. If it doesn’t, a ban will be inevitable.

We don’t know what the timescale for these stakeholder discussions will be, and, going on past experience, this process may take a long time. Somebody commented on an earlier blog that the issue may be kicked in to the long grass and that is certainly a possibility, but we will be doing everything within our power to make sure that doesn’t happen.

And who knows, today’s decision may prove to be a watershed moment for dealing with raptor persecution in Scotland. The Cabinet Secretary has some important decisions to make before the summer recess (30 June 2017), including her decision on increased powers for the SSPCA and her response to the findings of the raptor satellite tag data review.

Public awareness of both the criminality and environmental damage associated with intensive driven grouse moor management has increased massively in recent years and public opinion has been vociferous. This weight of public opinion, combined with today’s decision, may just buckle the fence on which the SNP has been balancing for far too long.

UPDATE 7.30pm: Game-shooting industry issues joint statement on licensing proposals (here)

23
May
17

Environment Committee meeting this morning

The Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee will meet this morning to discuss the petition calling for the introduction of licensing for game bird shooting.

The meeting begins at 10.15am and can be watched live on Scottish Parliament TV here

A video archive and a full transcript will be posted later.

22
May
17

Licensing: game shooting industry’s last ditch plea to maintain status quo

As many of you will know, tomorrow the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee will continue to consider the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s petition calling for the introduction of state-regulated licensing for game bird hunting.

The Committee has been advised by the clerk of three potential options it may choose to pursue (see here).

In response to the publication of those options, last Friday representatives from the game-shooting industry wrote a letter to all members of the Environment Committee asking them to consider a different option to those already tabled. Basically, their preferred option is to maintain the status quo. Here’s what they wrote:

Dear Member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee,

We have seen the papers published for the meeting on Tues 23rd with three possible Options for dealing with the Shoot Licensing Petition. While we believe that existing stringent legislation is being effective, we recognise the Committee’s concern about raptor crime and our sector is equally keen for it to be resolved. We understand public concern about evidence gathering and detection of wildlife crime incidents. That is why we believe the most effective strategy is a potent combination of punishment and prevention. Police Scotland make very clear that prevention is essential in tackling all forms of crime.

Therefore, the shooting sector would ask the committee to consider an option that would build on successful existing legislation and would improve on the non-regulatory measures that have resulted in substantial decline in wildlife crime incidents.

In effect, we are asking that the committee invites the Cabinet Secretary to discuss with stakeholders a range of non-legislative measures that could be agreed with the industry and introduced promptly to address specific areas of concern. These measures would not prevent any consideration of a licensing scheme or a trial scheme and could provide tangible evidence of their effectiveness before any decision is taken on licensing.

Measures the shooting sector supports include:

A more effective PAWS Partnership

The strengthening of regional PAWS groups would provide the more detailed local focus which is what will help prevent raptor crime at “shop floor” level, leaving a revised national PAWS body to cover its other functions. This local approach is working in the Highland region where there is good cooperation and regular meetings run by the police. We understand that the police favour prevention where possible as the most effective way to deal with this issue. Regional PAWS group effort could be focused in geographical such as intensive grouse moors where raptor crime remains a concern.

A new warning sanction for shoots under suspicion

A new partnership protocol could be developed under PAWS quickly where a ‘yellow card’ could be issued to estates where there is suspicion of bad practice but insufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation. Where an estate has been told it is being monitored it has in the past led to changes and improvement in practices and therefore prevention. For example, where RSPB are alerted to a problem which the police are not treating as a crime, a protocol can be developed among organisations which can then take action on the ground and effect change. For example, cases of non-functioning sat tags. In time this would build up a partnership, as has already been developed on national raptor surveys (protocol). There would be a central PAWS role to supervise adherence to the protocol(s).

Adoption by Scottish Government of the Poustie report

Adoption of revised “tariff” for wildlife crime sentences would also help prevent raptor crime by being a deterrent, and we urge that it should be implemented soon.

A “due diligence” package which shoots would be expected to adopt

“Due diligence” encouraged by the WANE Act is an effective preventative measure that many shoots already have in place and more could adopt. BASC are already working on a vicarious liability self-assessment tool for smaller shoots and the SGA have offered a shoot inspection service for some years to help compliance with all aspects of the law. A formal due diligence dossier – which would be agreed as a standard across the industry and signed up to by all organisations – is a reminder of all the regulation, it prevents misunderstandings between employer/owner and employee/agent, it provides for training and legal updating and clarifies employment terms and what parties expect of each other. The pack of documents could be checked by police or an independent assessor and would be available if problems occur.

The above measures would complement both Wildlife Estates Scotland accreditation, and the Code of Good Shooting Practice which has been adopted by the sector for many years and is being updated/relaunched this year. We would respectfully suggest that the very substantial efforts that have been made to tackle wildlife crime are bearing fruit and whichever course of action is chosen the outcome does not undermine the very considerable progress that has been made.

Yours sincerely,

Sarah Jane Laing, Director of Policy, Scottish Land & Estates

Colin Shedden, Director Scotland, British Association for Shooting and Conservation

Alex Hogg, Chairman, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association

Tim Baynes, Director, Scottish Moorland Group

ENDS

What this letter amounts to is nothing more than to ask for the perpetuation of the industry’s voluntary self-regulation; a system that has already patently failed to adequately address raptor persecution.

You’ll notice that there are several references in the letter to the so-called “effectiveness” of current measures to tackle raptor persecution, and even a claim that “substantial efforts are bearing fruit”. Eh? Have these people been locked inside a darkened, sound-proofed cupboard for the last few months? The only ‘fruit’ we’ve seen has been the many examples of ‘rotten apples’ that demonstrate a putrid, rancid industry that can’t clean up its act, despite being given every opportunity to do so.

The game-shooting industry insists on using the ‘body count’ of dead raptors as a measure of wildlife crime, but this is obviously inappropriate given the difficulty of detecting these crimes in remote landscapes. Everybody else recognises that the appropriate measure is the presence of healthy, breeding raptor populations. For example, last month the Environment Committee heard evidence from the Government’s statutory nature conservation advisor, SNH. Robbie Kernahan told them:

Generally, in Scotland, we have quite a positive message about the recovery of raptor populations from those all-time lows. It is certainly a national picture. However, that is not to say that there are not issues. Certainly, some of the concerns about the intensification of moorland management prompted our scientific advisory committee to have a review two years ago. Without wanting to go through that chapter and verse, I can say that there is no doubt that the on-going issue of raptor persecution is inhibiting the recovery of populations in some parts of the country“. [For ‘some parts of the country’ read ‘land intensively managed for driven grouse shooting’].

Duncan Orr-Ewing of RSPB Scotland told the Committee “Over the last 20 years we have identified 779 confirmed incidents on 200 landholdings in Scotland. We think it [raptor persecution] is a widespread problem, although our main concern relates to areas of land that are managed for driven grouse shooting, where the illegal killing of birds of prey seems to be part of the business model for a number of places. We think that the situation is as bad as it has ever been“.

The Environment Cabinet Secretary has also recognised this is an on-going issue. In February 2017 she said:

The illegal killing of our raptors does remain a national disgrace. I run out of words to describe my contempt for the archaic attitudes still at play in some parts of Scotland. We all have to abide by the law, and we do so, most of us, all throughout our lives. All I’m asking is that everybody does the same. Sporting businesses are NO different, and the people who breach the law deserve all the opprobrium and punishment we can mete out. I have no truck with the argument that raptors damage driven grouse shooting interests. Such damage, frankly, is a business risk you have to live with and manage, but within the law. And that is what must be reiterated again, and again, and again“.

We trust the members of the Environment Committee will see straight through the game-shooting industry’s latest desperate attempt to avoid regulation and will instead push onwards towards the introduction of a state-regulated licensing scheme. If the industry is as clean as it claims to be, there should be no fear of licensing.

We don’t need any more voluntary protocols, any more talking shops, any more denials, any more pretend partnerships, any more obfuscation. We need regulatory action and we need it now.

UPDATE 3PM: The Scottish Countryside Alliance has also written to the Environment Committee. The SCA urges the Committee to choose option one (‘Conclude that the current legislation and regulation in this area is working effectively. If cases of raptor persecution are found, these should be dealt with appropriately by Police Scotland and the Crown Office’). The SCA also says it wants to be part of an “ongoing, open and honest dialogue“. For those with short memories, here’s an example of the SCA’s idea of “open and honest dialogue”.

Here’s a copy of the SCA’s letter: ScottishCountrysideAlliance_LetterToECCLR_May2017

21
May
17

Alleged buzzard poisoning Edradynate Estate: Crown rejects police plea to prosecute

In recent weeks the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (the Scottish equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service) has abandoned three prosecutions for alleged raptor persecution: the shooting of a hen harrier on the Cabrach Estate (here), the setting of a pole trap on the Brewlands Estate (here) and the vicarious liability of a landowner whose gamekeeper was convicted of killing a buzzard on Newlands Estate (here).

The abandonment of all three cases, without a full explanation from the Crown Office, has caused widespread frustration, anger and concern.

Well guess what? Now there’s a fourth case.

In an article in this morning’s Sunday Herald, journalist Rob Edwards reveals that the Crown Office has refused a plea from Police Scotland to bring proceedings against a gamekeeper on Edradynate Estate in Perthshire in relation to the alleged poisoning of three buzzards (photo RPUK).

The details of this case are sparse. We do know that two poisoned buzzards were discovered close to the estate in March 2015 and that both tested positive for poison, according to the Government’s pesticide testing unit, SASA (although the name of the poison has been withheld). We also know that the police later conducted a raid on the estate although we don’t know what evidence was uncovered. Perhaps this was when the third buzzard was found? Presumably though, if Police Scotland has since pleaded with the Crown Office to pursue a prosecution, we can assume that the police believed there to be sufficient evidence to charge somebody. Surprise, surprise, the Crown Office has not provided an explanation for its decision not to proceed.

UPDATE 22 May 2017: Further details about this case have emerged from an article Rob Edwards has published this morning on The Ferret website –

The Procurator Fiscal received a report concerning a 66-year-old man, in relation to alleged incidents between 18 March and 4 June 2015,” said a Crown Office spokesman.

Following full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, including the available admissible evidence, the Procurator Fiscal decided that there should be no proceedings taken at this time. The Crown reserves the right to proceed in the future should further evidence become available.”

Edradynate Estate has been at the centre of investigations for alleged wildlife crime for a very, very long time. In 2002, the estate’s Head gamekeeper and underkeeper were arrested and charged with nine offences relating to the use of poisoned baits and also bird cruelty, including the use of spring traps. However, on 22 July 2004, two years after the original arrests and 13 court hearings later, the Crown Office dropped the case (sound familiar?). A COPFS spokeswoman later admitted that the time taken to prepare the case had been a major factor in the decision to scrap it (see here).

In July 2010, a poisoned red kite was discovered. An un-named gamekeeper from the estate (who said he was a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association) claimed the bird had been ‘planted’. It also emerged that in addition to the poisoned red kite, over the previous 15 years, 9 buzzards, 2 sparrowhawks, 2 crows, 1 gull, 1 tawny owl, 1 pole cat, and 1 domestic cat, had all been found poisoned in the area. Twelve poisoned baits (Carbofuran, Mevinphos and Alphachloralose) had also been discovered (see here). Nobody was prosecuted for any of this.

In March 2011, two poisoned buzzards, two poisoned crows, and two Carbofuran-laced pheasant baits were discovered. A gamekeeper was taken for questioning but he was later released without charge (here).

In February 2012 an Edradynate Estate gamekeeper was charged with a number of alleged firearms and explosives offences (see here). However, in September 2012 the Crown deserted the case without providing an explanation (see here). Gosh, this is becoming quite a habit, isn’t it?

In March 2014, we revealed that Michael Campbell, the owner of Edradynate Estate, had made a generous donation to the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association. We also published some astonishing commentary about the Estate written by the (now former) Tayside Police Wildlife Crime Officer, Alan Stewart (see here). This really is worth a read – it’s quite an eye-opener.

In April 2015, we revealed that Michael Campbell had made another hefty donation to the SGA (see here). Surely the SGA was aware of the long history of allegations made against this estate? Perhaps they didn’t care. As there hadn’t been a single conviction they could conveniently ignore the allegations and continue to accept the donations and continue to sit around the table at PAW meetings claiming to be doing all they could to eradicate raptor persecution.

And so now there’s yet another allegation to add to this catalogue of alleged criminality on Edradynate Estate. Ironically, the most recent alleged buzzard poisonings were discovered just a few weeks after the launch of the Scottish Government’s poison disposal scheme designed to rid Scotland of the poisons that had already been banned over ten years earlier. Yet another example of political pandering to criminal gamekeepers.

According to Rob Edwards’ article, the suspect in the most recent case has since left the estate. Interestingly, early last year we came across this advert for a new Head gamekeeper: Edradynate head keeper advert Check out the bit where it says “Nothing less than 40% returns will be expected”. Clearly there is pressure on the new keeper to deliver lots of game birds for shooting.

Edradynate Estate was recently featured in the Fieldsports magazine, with a detailed description of what happens on a shoot day. The author was there before the new head gamekeeper was employed. At the end of the article is a list of ‘guns’ (other people who were shooting that day). The name Robert Douglas-Miller jumped out at us. Surely not the same Robbie Douglas-Miller (owner of the Hopes Estate in the Lammermuirs) who runs the Wildlife Estates Scotland project for Scottish Land & Estates? What was he doing there given the long history of alleged raptor crimes uncovered on this estate? No, it must be a different Robert Douglas-Miller because a representative of Scottish Land & Estates, another PAW partner, wouldn’t be shooting on an estate that has repeatedly been described as being ‘among the worst in Scotland for wildlife crime‘, right?

So, let’s wrap this up. The Crown Office has previously dropped two prosecutions against gamekeepers on Edradynate Estate, and now has refused to begin a third prosecution for reasons that have not been made public.

This is the fourth prosecution for alleged raptor persecution that the Crown Office has dropped in the last month. We can’t seriously be expected to believe there’s nothing here to be concerned about?

Let’s see what response the Crown Office provides to the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee, who today have written to the COPFS to find out what the hell is going on.

And let’s hope SNH is paying attention and will be considering this estate for a potential General Licence restriction order.

Photo of Edradynate Estate driveway by RPUK

21
May
17

Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association spits the dummy

According to an article in today’s Sunday Herald, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA) has thrown a hissy fit and is refusing to attend meetings of the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW) because the SGA ‘doesn’t trust’ wildlife campaigners.

Apparently the SGA hasn’t left PAW, but will not attend any more meetings until methods of partnership working have been reviewed.

An unidentified SGA spokesperson is quoted: “If the trust element is lacking, it makes it hard to sit around the table in a constructive way so hopefully these matters can be resolved“.

Ian Thomson of RSPB Scotland said the RSPB had tried for years to work collaboratively with the SGA to prevent raptor persecution, but “regrettably their approach has been to deny that these crimes are taking place, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary“.

The SGA’s idea of partnership-working to decrease the number of raptor persecution crimes seems to have consisted of slagging off other PAW partners and making wild, unsubstantiated claims about who might be responsible for raptor crimes. In 2012 they suggested that Raptor Study Group members could be laundering eggs and chicks on the lucrative black market (see here). In 2015, SGA committee member Bert Burnett talked about setting fire to a group of peaceful campaigners at a Hen Harrier Day event (see here). Earlier this year, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg accused Raptor Study Group members of “driving [gamekeepers’] wives, children and grandchildren from their homes” (see here) and Bert Burnett accused Raptor Study Group members of causing raptors to desert their nests (see here). Just a couple of weeks ago (2 May 2017), Bert Burnett was on Facebook calling for landowners and gamekeepers to report licensed Raptor Study Group fieldworkers to the police if they hadn’t asked permission to access raptor nests (NB: there is no legal requirement for fieldworkers to ask for landowner’s ‘permission’ to visit open access land):

We would argue that the reason for the SGA’s refusal to attend PAW meetings is probably more to do with the impending publication of the raptor satellite tag review. The findings of this review are expected to be damning, showing that the vast majority of satellite-tagged raptors have either ‘disappeared’ or have been killed on land managed for driven grouse shooting. We suggest that the SGA has run away from its PAW responsibilities because the conversation at the subsequent PAW meeting that will discuss this review would throw up some very awkward questions. Very awkward indeed.

Good riddance to the SGA, as far as we’re concerned. Their only solution to solving human – wildlife conflict seems to be ‘kill it’. We’ve long argued that this particular partnership is nothing more than a sham, used by certain organisations to proclaim to the outside world that progress is being made when actually all that is happening is obfuscation and denial. Perhaps now with the SGA gone the remaining active participants of PAW can get on with making some real headway at these meetings.

21
May
17

Environment Committee seeks clarity from prosecutors on use of video evidence

Following recent decisions by the Crown Office to abandon two prosecution cases for alleged raptor persecution because of so-called ‘inadmissible’ video evidence (see here and here), the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee has today written to the Crown Office to ask for clarity.

Here is the letter from the Environment Committee to the Crown Office:

We applaud the Environment Committee for trying to hold the Crown Office to account. They seem to be the only ones willing to do so – everyone else seems to just shrug their shoulders and say ‘we can’t comment on Crown Office decisions’. As an example, here is the response one of our blog readers received from the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee when they asked about the Crown’s decision to abandon the prosecution for the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate:

Thank you for your email. The convener has noted the contents and asked me to reply on her behalf.

The Justice Committee is a cross-party Parliamentary body comprising members of 5 political parties. It is a scrutiny body whose remit is to consider and report on matters falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

Re your reference to “your justice system”, the Justice Committee does not take any decisions on the criminal process and, in particular, has no power in relation to the prosecution of individual crimes. These decisions are taken under the authority of the Lord Advocate as chief prosecutor and his independence in this role is set out in statute. The Committee is not able to comment on the specific of this case.

However, the Committee may comment on broader policy matters and I am sure that Committee members would agree that wildlife crime is a serious matter that should be tackled with vigour. For information, the Committee recently completed a major report on the COPFS, which included a short section on its handling of wildlife crime and made a recommendation for the COPFS’s consideration (paragraph 167 onwards).

http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/104512.aspx

It is my understanding that under some circumstances affected individuals are entitled to request a review of a decision not to prosecute, although I am not clear how that operates in the case of wildlife crime rather than a crime against a person. You may wish to direct your complaint to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and, in so doing, clarify whether there is any scope to formally object to the decision taken in this instance.

You may also with to consider contacting your constituency or regional MSPs to register your disappointment. As already stated, the Lord Advocate is independent in the prosecution of the the crime but there might possibly be other avenues for your MSP(s) to explore if they decide to take up your case.

Yours sincerely,

Peter McGrath, Clerk to the Justice Committee, The Scottish Parliament.

 To be fair to the Justice Committee, we understand that they can’t comment on individual cases. However, they say themselves that they can comment on wider policy issues, so you might think they’d have been interested in addressing the broader issues of video admissibility. But apparently not.
Thankfully, the Environment Committee thinks otherwise and we very much welcome their letter to the Crown Office. It’ll be interesting to see how forthcoming the Crown Office’s response is.
Meanwhile, news has emerged this morning that the Crown Office has dropped yet another prosecution case for alleged raptor persecution – this is the fourth abandoned case in the space of a month. We’ll be blogging about this one shortly….
 



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