Scottish Raptor Study Group publishes Moorland Mythbuster guide

Last month the Scottish Mail on Sunday published some right old tosh about how game shoot licensing would threaten the livelihood of gamekeepers and their families (see here).

In one of the articles, a comment piece by gamekeeper’s wife Carrieanne Conaghan (who, we’ve since been told, works as a sales rep in a publishing house in Grantown-on-Spey – if that’s true it was a bit disingenuous to claim that her family’s livelihood is reliant on game shooting), various unsubstantiated claims were made about the motivation of the estate licence petitioners (Logan Steele & the Scottish Raptor Study Group) as well as the usual denials about the unbridled criminality associated with the grouse shooting industry.

Logan Steele asked the Scottish Mail on Sunday if he could write a comment piece in reply. His request was denied (see here).

No problem. The Scottish Raptor Study Group has published its own response. Here, in their own words and without editorial censorship, are six moorland mythbusters, in response to the most commonly cited myths from the game shooting industry:

1. ‘Game bird licensing is unnecessary’
The failure of the intensive end of the game shooting industry to operate within the law over 60 years has led the Scottish Government to propose that game bird shooting licensing should be considered, along with other measures in an effort to eradicate the illegal, endemic and widespread killing of raptors. Licensing would set out clear standards required for this land use in the public interest, as applies also in other areas of natural resource management such as for water, wild fisheries and deer management in Scotland. No industry should rely on law-breaking to exist. Self-regulation has been given more than a chance to succeed and has not delivered and in the circumstances it is right that the Scottish Government should act in the public interest. . The concept is simple, if shooting estates abide by the law then no one has anything to fear, break the law and you stand to lose your licence to shoot. The only threat to livelihoods is from those individuals who are willing to take a chance and break the law. Any suggestion that a dead raptor or illegal trap could be ‘planted’ by a third party to make an estate lose a licence is simply scaremongering – there would have to be a clear evidential link to estate employees being responsible for any offences before a licence withdrawal could be considered.

2. ‘Incidents of illegal killing are declining’
The number of confirmed cases of persecution fluctuates markedly from year to year so comparing results between years is statistically invalid, particularly when the number of cases found will represent only a small but variable proportion of the actual number of crimes being carried out – the ‘tip of the iceberg’. A more robust means of identifying trends in persecution is to look at regional or national population studies of birds of prey, where a significant weight of peer-reviewed science reveals a more accurate picture. For example, recently published scientific reports on red kite, peregrine, hen harrier and golden eagle all provide clear evidence of populations constrained well below natural levels in areas where red grouse shooting is the predominant land use. The recently-published study on satellite-tagged golden eagles, commissioned by the Scottish Government, showed a similar pattern to recent raptor persecution cases, with a third of young tagged golden eagles disappearing on, or close to, land managed for intensive grouse shooting. Few of these birds were found, so they will not appear in any published statistics.

3. ‘Grouse moor management is good for a wide range of bird species’
In much of eastern and southern Scotland, heather moorland is intensively managed to maintain a patchwork of a variety of ages of heather to help create the ideal habitat for red grouse. However, most driven grouse moors are managed with the sole purpose of producing an unnaturally high abundance of grouse to be shot, and on many of them any species which is perceived to pose a threat to this is removed. Potential predators are killed, either legally (e.g. stoats, weasels, foxes, crows and magpies), or illegally, protected birds of prey. While legal predator control can
undoubtedly protect a variety of ground-nesting bird species, such as curlew and golden plover, the overall bird and mammal fauna present is often impoverished. However, with some estates now employing methods, such as the use of gas guns, to deter ground nesting birds of prey, it is likely that wader species will equally be deterred from nesting.

4. ‘Raptor populations are increasing’
In the last 30 years or so, several raptor species have enjoyed a recovery in their fortunes following decades of persecution. These include buzzards, now common in the lowlands, and ospreys that have seen significant investments in nest protection schemes. Other species have been aided by reintroduction programmes, such as red kite and white-tailed eagle. On driven grouse moor areas, however, hen harrier, peregrine and golden eagle remain well below optimum numbers, and in some areas are now regionally extinct, with persecution being the main cause. The Scottish hen harrier population declined by 22% between 2004 & 2010, and by a further 9% between 2010 & 2016.

5. ‘Conservationists want to bring an end to bird shooting’
So long as game bird shooting remains a legitimate activity i.e. it is conducted within the law and sustainable environmental management practices are employed, there is no conservation reason to stop it. What clearly needs to end is the illegal activity and environmental destruction apparently deemed necessary to maintain the intensive driven grouse shooting industry, and this is at the heart of the so-called ‘grouse/raptor’ controversy. Environmental damage includes the bulldozing of hill tracks; the burning of heather on active blanket bog and deep peat deposits which releases carbon into the atmosphere; the drainage of blanket bog habitats to promote heather growth which dries out peat and increases run-off after periods of heavy rain, risking flooding elsewhere in the river catchment area; and the unregulated slaughter of the mountain hare. An aspect rarely mentioned is the ‘accidental’ by-catch in traps of song birds and mammals such as wildcat and pine marten. Similarly, the widespread use of lead, long since banned in petrol, and paint, but still widely utilised in shotgun ammunition, creates environmental pollution and detrimental sub-lethal effects in scavenging birds and mammals.

6. ‘Jobs are at threat’
There is no reason why legally undertaken jobs should be threatened by licensing grouse moors and if shooting estates really believe that livelihoods are at risk because of adherence to the law then the question arises: ‘is the business sustainable’ either legally, financially or morally? In a speech to the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s conference in February 2017 the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform made the point that predation of grouse is a business risk that must be accepted and managed within the law. The strongest foundation for a secure and thriving rural economy in the future is a broad-based approach to land use, which optimises all of its natural assets, including birds of prey. The illegal killing of birds of prey and other unsustainable management practices prevents other rural development opportunities from being explored and realised, including wildlife based tourism, and selfishly denies local communities and visitors alike the right to enjoy seeing birds of prey in the Scottish countryside. Licensing grouse moors is an important step towards eradicating illegal persecution of birds of prey and creating a more balanced and healthy natural environment, with all the recreational and economic opportunities for Scotland that could arise from this.



4 Responses to “Scottish Raptor Study Group publishes Moorland Mythbuster guide”

  1. 1 Stephen Brown
    August 11, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    I quickly penned this email to the Mail on Sunday:

    The Scottish Mail on Sunday recently featured an article ostensibly written by a game keepers wife predicting the end of the world as we know it if the Scottish Govt had its way and brings in new licensing regime on driven grouse moors. Apparently the author of this heart wrenching tale may actually work in a local tourist office so her claim that her family livelihood depends on grouse shooting may well be a lie. As a matter of balance I would also like to read an article from the other side of the debate but I understand that you have refused to publish this. I therefore have two questions: did you check any of the facts of this story before publishing and secondly do you believe that censorship is in the best interests of a free press?
    I look forward to your reply.

  2. August 11, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    Yet again SRSG put the case clearly, logically and succinctly. Brilliant – and thanks for putting it up here. I will be sending a copy to my MSP (who is “onside” anyway)

  3. 3 Merlin
    August 11, 2017 at 8:16 pm

    thank god for the power of social media, fake news publishers are on the back foot

  4. 4 Greer Hart, senior
    August 12, 2017 at 2:24 am

    Since I began subscribing to Raptor Persecution, I have been greatly impressed by the efforts it has made to bring a clear and fair case against those operating shooting estates and their gamekeepers. It has produced an Archive that anyone can access to research much of what has been happening to Birds of Prey, which have been illegally persecuted. It has also given a forum for the many angry and saddened people, who are sick of learning that the Scottish countryside has become a place of slaughter for many creatures, that get in the way of maximising Grouse presence on the killing fields of our moorland. The influence the game shooting has over our politicians, due to its claims for rural employment and contribution to the national economy, can be challenged, in that our tourist industry is literally crying out for more infrastructure investment, and was recently see with the pleas coming from the Isle of Skye. There is also the £1.5 billion contributed by people coming to Scotland and from within the country, to find recreation just simply going on walking tours to observe wildlife, historical buildings and whatever other interests Scotland can provide. I was once involved in running international environmental youth exchanges with every country in Eastern Europe, when under the old regimes, and their students came here to enjoy many features they had seen in magazines, films etc., and certainly not to enjoy blood sports, which they thought were anathema. I currently have a party of French students in my building and they just love being in Glasgow, and wandering around areas with old buildings, visiting museums and going the odd day trip to Edinburgh or wherever. They have contributed quite a bit to the local economy with their high spending.

    Scotland now has a good selection of conservation and animal welfare groups, and they have brought much influence with visits to our schools to show children what they are doing for the natural world. Plantlife, Butterfly Conservation and Buglife are all making good progress in persuading enlightened landowners to conserve certain parts of their holdings for endangered plants and insects. The sheer numbers of those who are members of some conservation group is colossal, with the RSPB, Scottish Wildlife Trust, John Muir Trust, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, WWF, Woodland Trust, along with animal welfare campaigning groups – Scotland for Animals, Animal Concern, SSPCA, Onekind. Then there are the thousands, who are not members of any of these groups, but who are donors and volunteers, whose small contributions add up to hundreds of thousands of pounds. I have met many such people whilst on stalls throughout the Central Belt, and they have had one thing in common, and that was a detestation and condemnation of those involved in blood sports, cruelty to animals and vandal activity masking as developments in the countryside. If we could marshal that energy, and get rid of those in public office, who are supportive of the hegemony that dominates our landscape, then we could assert a more humane and profitable way of managing our natural heritage. For too long we have had these silly people who delight in the Glorious Twelfth, as a major event in our country, occupying a joyful prominence in the media. It is time it was universally known for the cruelty involved and the gross killing of innocent creatures classed as vermin. An example of one of the prats creating a false image of all this anachronistic activity, is Fergus Ewing, who has assured the game bird shooting mob, that the Scottish Government loves them for their grand management of the Scottish countryside and contributor to the national economy.

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