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]


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, obfuscated, 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.

UPDATE 26 May 2017: Wildlife conservationists issue joint statement on licensing proposals (here)


36 Responses to “Game-shooting industry issues joint statement on licensing proposals”

  1. 1 Peter Shearer
    May 23, 2017 at 7:59 pm

    It was an interesting session and at least gives us all some hope for the future. We know we cannot relax as previous experience tells us to be wary and alert to further procrastination. There does seem to be a lot of concern and worry from the people who keep telling us that only a small number of “bad apples” are responsible for all the problems. Unless of course that is not entirely accurate!

  2. May 23, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    Hasn’t anyone infiltrated their ranks to determine their mentality? Masquerading as a member of the nasty brigade? Their secrets and covert practices could be revealed. The location of our shot, poisoned and trapped raptors…

    • May 23, 2017 at 9:47 pm

      Their mentality is simple – do as your employer tells you.
      There’s nothing secret about driven game keepering when relying on wild hatching as with grouse, it simply relies on reducing all those predators that might possibly share the surplus of young grouse each year & maximising the habitat available.
      The techniques of trapping, shooting, poisoning, disturbing breeding raptors etc are well known & as old as the industry i.e. centuries old.
      I have been very closely involved with the industry & with other similar unsustainable UK countryside industries for nearly 50 years & the reasons for their behaviours are always the same – money & recreation.
      Fox hunting is slightly unusual since it is very much about status for many of those at the top.
      However, many of those involved in fox hunting show the same ignorance of ecology as those involved in driven shooting.
      Believe you me, the lack of basic knowledge, even of identification of relatively common species is staggering among hunt supporters, keepers, dog handlers etc. even after they have spent a lifetime involved !
      The old trick of invoking the town against country argument is also lapped up by those in the industries who devote their spare time to them.
      There is a large element of recreation in keepering, beating, dog handling etc. & no one likes their passtimes attacked, particularly when participation gives them access to land that is otherwise denied to them.
      Operating covertly within these industries is fascinating & a highly effective method of hastening their decline but ultimately the keys are in the hands of the agricultural subsidy system,the politicians,judiciary etc.
      Land ownership & tenancy is also a major factor since ownership dictates sporting rights by & large.

      Keep up the pressure !

      • 5 Andy Holden
        May 23, 2017 at 10:50 pm

        A very well written summary of what driven grouse shooting is all about.

      • 6 keen birder
        May 23, 2017 at 10:55 pm

        Well said, I too am amazed at the low level of knowledge of Wildlife by many people who participate in country sports,

      • 9 Wayne Law
        May 24, 2017 at 5:15 pm

        Very well said mate.

        If the shooting fraternity are disappointed that the committee narrowly voted to look into a licencing system for driven grouse shooting, then why are they suddenly coming up with ‘rushed’ proposals for tougher punishment… bigger fines? (they mean zero to the mega rich landowners) and a warning system… these measures should be welcomed as ‘a start’ or ‘an addition’ and not a replacement.

        Or do they have something to hide. #SportMyArse #backfiringShotguns

        Baby steps and all that jazz….. it may take years to be voted for a trial or whatever, but perhaps Raptor groups and RSPB will get further access to the more remote ‘grouse shoot’ areas?

        I won’t count on it, or take anything for granted, but it is great news and if it happens in Scotland, then England would surely follow.

        I would welcome DGS Saboteurs myself. Even if that meant the sabs remaining on the public roads and open access land. That would piss them off somewhat. Any concrete evidence of killing a protected raptor, should make that estate fair game for Sabbing. (just my opinion) :)

        I expect grief for this comment but you know what… I stick by it.

        Time will tell.

      • May 30, 2017 at 10:35 pm

        Good points sennen – thank you.

  3. 11 Alan
    May 23, 2017 at 8:16 pm

    They are in retreat and know it. That’s a clear win. Also we can expect their co-conspiracy to start to fall apart as the pressures on their (slightly but importantly different) agendas starts to be felt in earnest.

  4. May 23, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    ‘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’

    The arrogance of it.
    Didn’t get the result they wanted so are now trying to derail the process.
    But they really do care about raptors, my arse.

  5. 13 Mike Haden
    May 23, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    Their claim of wildlife crime – according to government statistics being at a all time low. If we analyse this, then presumably the government statistics refer in part to convictions of the offence, however the recent non prosecutions, due to inadmissible evidence show that these figure are misleading.

    I think the suppression of the recent prosecutions and the subsequent public distribution of the footage has damaged their cause far more that two or three cases going to court would have. It has evidenced the fact that raptor persecution is happening but convictions are nigh-on impossible to get. Also it has cast the public opinion net further so more people are aware of what is happening.

    • 14 Willie S.
      May 24, 2017 at 10:10 am

      Yes, in Conservative parlance, it’s a double whammy, making out it never happened, not guilty m’lud – and it isn’t recorded on government statistics.
      The irony is that other wildlife crime is tackled head-on with the meting out of heavy sentences, seizing of equipment and sometimes even vehicles. These, of course, happen to be crimes where the landowner would claim to be the victim. This shouldn’t become political, because it just isn’t, but it’s beginning to look like that.

  6. May 23, 2017 at 9:05 pm

    It will be interesting to see how long the wider shooting community continue to include themselves in the increasingly shaky defense of DGS. Will there come a point when they realise that the playground bullies are spoiling it for everyone? I strongly believe that there are some shooting concerns that actually do create a wider environmental benefit. Personally I would take no pleasure in killing, but some local shoots have a sound grasp of their responsibilities, and I have little problem with that side of the business. The DGS brigade are largely in it for money and for climbing up the social ladder. Most of them would struggle to tell a Robin from a Wren but it doesn’t matter because they are spoon fed this perverted version of “country sports.” A division in the shooting ranks could eventually be the death knell for DGS.

    • 16 Brendan
      May 23, 2017 at 11:05 pm

      “It will be interesting to see how long the wider shooting community continue to include themselves in the increasingly shaky defense of DGS.”

      The vast majority of us don’t, I can’t abide their archaic practices of raptor persecution for increased yields. I, and many of my shooting friends would shed no tear to see those responsible brought to justice, and hopefully today is a step in the right direction. I’ve never shot driven game, nor do I ever wish to. I shoot to put food on the table.

      That said, generally it doesn’t prevent us from all being tarred by the same brush by the ill-informed, or those with additional agendas. I personally think that’s why there still remains a divide despite a mutual feeling (from the majority of those who shoot, especially among those not affiliated with game shooting (i.e . the majority of shooters in the UK) of outrage at the continual persecution or raptors. I think, given the scale of the abyss between camps, perpetuated equally by both, I don’t foresee any seismic change in that division anytime soon. Shame that. . . .

  7. May 23, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    Driven grouse shooting is unsustainable – end of story.
    The clock is ticking & they know it.
    The next part of the script is pointing out to the wider public what a diverse upland ecosystem really looks like i.e. nothing like a grouse moor !
    It has trees & scrub, large predators, small predators, robust landscape scale ecological processes at work, natural cycles & diverse economies.
    That ultimately is the key – stop funding unsustainable huge game harvests & start helping tourism & niche economies which benefit all local residents.

    Keep up the pressure !

  8. 18 ChrisA
    May 23, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    ” we believe that a potent combination of punishment and prevention is the most effective way forward”. I’d be more willing to believe them if they had a track record of removing estates and gamekeepers wholesale from their organisations every time a conviction was made. Sadly they usually find the excuses to keep them on the books.

    Here’s a suggestion for them. If you really stand by your own words then you’ll have no problem providing written self-regulation that has any estate automatically removed from all your organisations where civil burden of proof is found to exist relating to wildlife crime. Once removed the estate and keeper would be banned for a significant fixed period from your organisations, along with the publishing and public condemnation of the estate name, estate beneficiary/owners name and the gamekeepers name in all your respective publications.

    Seems a simple and easily implementable framework which surely they would all agree to readily given their determination to “eradicate” wildlife crime…. and pigs might just fly.

    • May 24, 2017 at 11:50 am

      ” we believe that a potent combination of punishment and prevention is the most effective way forward”
      What they forgot to add was ‘because we never come to trial’.
      It doesn’t matter how many nukes you’ve got if you will never use them.

  9. 20 Paul V Irving
    May 23, 2017 at 10:28 pm

    In many ways this statement blows their cover because if they were genuinely interested in the prevention and elimination of illegality and of course it really was a tiny minority they have absolutely nothing to fear from a licensing system because they are all already obeying the law. That they will fight tooth and nail to prevent one really rather says it all, loudly, they really are all at it.

  10. May 24, 2017 at 12:37 am

    We should start to talk about the conditions that will underpin the issue and retention of a licence. The SG wont want a heavy handed approach but it needs to have some clear red lines.
    Personally, I think the first basic requirement will be to produce a broad biodiversity survey to an agreed standard.
    Next a publicly available management plan. The objectives of the plan would have to be sustainable.

  11. May 24, 2017 at 1:04 am

    Great work, as usual. I hope this is the beginning of a better approach, with some actual accountability required by these grouse estates. Also, totally agree with your comment: ‘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.’ As has been written about previously by yourself and others such as George Monbiot, there are better community models that are much less destructive to the environment (no burning, increased COs emissions, flooding risks, raptor and other wildlife persecution, lead bullets polluting land and raptors, etc.) and it’s wild creatures, and probably much better for the people in these areas as well, both economically and in other ways. Your example from January is a great one: https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2017/01/11/galloway-red-kite-trail-worth-8-2-million-to-local-economy/ Anyway…I’m sure many will be following upcoming events closely. As noted, essential to not become complacent… Thanks for keeping us all so well-informed.

  12. 23 Iain Gibson
    May 24, 2017 at 1:14 am

    I hate to say this but have a self-destructive compulsion for honesty and frankness. Some (not all) of the comments here are over-optimistic, I suggest possibly verging on slight complacency. I find this worrying. There is a long hard fight still ahead of us before we make any real progress in what really matters – the eradication of raptor persecution. Someone made a point about getting to know the minds of the grouse shooting set. This is a point which I’ve tried to make on many occasions now, but am regularly disappointed with the apparent lack of agreement. Perhaps it’s my fault for not articulating my views effectively, but I still get the impression that some of us underestimate the wiliness, not to mention the sheer arrogant determination, of those we are up against.

    However this joint statement to the environment committee is not their finest hour, and possibly even the first real crack in their armour. As others have already highlighted, how can a licensing system pose any threat if the game shooting industry really does have its house in order? They’re the ones who employ “the few bad apples,” so they are responsible, like any other employer, of ensuring their employees behave professionally and operate within the law. If they really were concerned, some of the content in blogs and “letters to the editor” written by gamekeepers would merit instant dismissal. So why do we never hear of that happening? It rarely even occurs when an employee has been convicted of a serious wildlife crime, like shooting a specially protected raptor species. I’d be surprised if they had even been issued with a formal warning.

    Their tactic is clearly to lie their way out of this little minor difficulty. They would simply not get away with it, were the establishment not biased in their favour.

    • 24 dave angel
      May 24, 2017 at 8:01 am

      ‘ how can a licensing system pose any threat if the game shooting industry really does have its house in order?’


      If you make it a licence condition that the landowner is deemed to have granted consent to the RSPB and SSPCA to install and use covert surveillance cameras for the purpose of detecting wildlife crime then it might work as an effective deterrent against any rogue employee (aka ‘a bad apple’) who might be tempted to break the law notwithstanding the express instructions to the contrary from his employer.

    • 25 Mike Haden
      May 24, 2017 at 12:23 pm

      As this goes forward one point that needs to be made, if they are really trying to end raptor persecution, then why did the land owners involved in the recent video cases object to the positioning of covert cameras on their land.

      If as they claim they want to get rid of the ‘few bad apples’ then in these cases, you have thought the land owners would have be more than happy to allow these covert videos be be used and joined in with the outrage of the dropped cases. After all it is these people that are giving them a bad name.

  13. May 24, 2017 at 7:22 am

    There should be no more fear from licensing for those operation within the law than they should have for the General Licence withdrawal sanction. Create a 12 month close season for grouse, grant a licence to shoot from whenever to whenever and then when one of your keepers is filmed participating in the shooting of a hen harrier or setting pole trap lose your licence to shoot grouse – simples. Now if shooting without a licence is a criminal offence the guys in the butts are in the frame if they continue.

  14. 27 fergus
    May 24, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    A fascinating series of diatribes against shooting,
    Many show an ignorance of habitat regeneration…………have you been to some negelected areas of upland in Wales where the heather is waist high and lifeless.
    I have just returned from a total of 8 days on the high tops in the North West highlands……….only saw one ptarmigan and 2 dippers……………not a raptor.
    Don’t say they have been killed,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,no one is going to walk for 6 hours into the mountains…………bet all the eagles were on the coastline dining on easily caught klambs…………….come on RSPB, use your cameras to show this, like a photograph in last week’s papers#
    Or is this all ” FAKE NEWS” ?

    • 28 wornington
      May 24, 2017 at 3:56 pm

      Hi Fergus,
      Interesting post. If you don’t mind me asking, are you a gamekeeper?

    • May 24, 2017 at 4:21 pm

      ‘I have just returned from a total of 8 days on the high tops in the North West highlands……….only saw one ptarmigan and 2 dippers……………not a raptor.’

      Natural upland habitat is naturally failrly sparse. It isn’t the amazon rain forest nor a grouse shooting monoculture. When trees are allowed the diversity will increase.
      I don’t believe you didn’t hear a Skylark or a Meadow Pipit in 8 days unless you are deaf. I also suspect you have very poor observational and identification skills.

      • 31 dave angel
        May 24, 2017 at 6:22 pm

        Eight days, one ptarmigan and two dippers?

        That sounds like an awful lot of dippers.

        But seriously, you should get in touch with the BTO, they’re crying out for people like you to do breeding bird surveys.

    • 32 Simon Tucker
      May 24, 2017 at 6:31 pm

      I think your use of the word “diatribe” rather nails your colours to the mast.

      Some of us might, out of frustration at the continuous criminality on shooting estates (it is not just driven grouse moors – I live in the south and we have peregrines, goshawks, sparrowhawks, buzzards and kites killed to “protect” pheasants and red-legged partridge) use somewhat exasperated language at times. What you cannot deny is that none of those organisations signatory to that proposal play a significant role in bringing a “rogue” gamekeeper or landowner to justice. If you know differently, I would be delighted to read about the cases where the SGA have helped the police prosecute a criminal gamekeeper, the BASC has helped convict a shooter who has criminally shot a hen harrier or buzzard or Scottish Land & Estates has set bio-diversity targets for their members, with special focus on improving the predator – prey structure to normalise bird of prey populations to the carrying capacity of the environment or helped prosecute a “rogue” landowner.

      I would believe them if they were the people leading the fight to improve things for birds of prey but their continual bleating of unfair practices by the conservation bodies, their continual attacks on the conservation bodies, the SGA flouncing out of PAWS, just emphasises that they are the problem not the solution.

    • 33 Wayne Law
      May 25, 2017 at 4:41 pm

      Fergus …. Do you seriously expect anyone to believe that post?
      Laughable effort. I’ll bet you know of no raptor persecution too eh?

  15. 34 Simon Tucker
    May 24, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    One very simple question: have any of the organisations signatory to that nonsense ever provided evidence to help convict a “rogue gamekeeper”?

    • 35 Mike Haden
      May 24, 2017 at 9:58 pm

      No but they have legally enabled the suppression of evidence to help one or two rouge gamekeepers get off Scot free

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