Are raptor-killing licences on the cards for gamekeepers in Scotland?

Rumours are circulating that licences to kill raptors (in order to protect ‘livestock’, i.e. pheasants & partridge poults) are being considered in Scotland.

It must be stressed that these are only rumours, but based on the sources, we’re treating them seriously.

Separate to these rumours, and perhaps more than coincidentally, Alex Hogg’s editorial piece in the latest edition (Dec 2018) of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s quarterly rag for its members focuses strongly on raptor-killing licences – something he claims would lessen the likelihood of gamekeepers “making bad decisions when it comes to raptors” (he means committing wildlife crimes).

Here’s the article – see what you think:

The timing and content of his editorial may well just be coincidental; it’s not like he and his sorry-arsed organisation haven’t been lobbying to be allowed to kill raptors for years. For example, here he is in 2010 bemoaning the impact of buzzards on his pheasant shoot, although he goes further and makes the totally unsubstantiated claim that “biodiversity is seriously threatened in Scotland by buzzards” but then later contradicts this claim when he argues that licences would only be needed to kill “a few rogue buzzards“.

But it’s not just Alex’s editorial that has raised our antennae. In December, licensing authority SNH sent around the following email about the 2019 General Licences, saying that a consultation is planned this spring, in readiness for its 2020 General Licences:

Hmm. Another coincidence? Perhaps, or could this be a planned ‘sweetner’ for the gamekeepers in anticipation that the Werritty Review will recommend licensing for grouse shooting estates when it reports later this spring?

We wouldn’t put it past the Scottish Government to try something like this – it pulled a similar trick when the Werritty Review was first announced in May 2017 by revealing that it would not consider giving additional investigative powers to the SSPCA to help tackle illegal raptor persecution (see here).

If issuing gamekeepers with licences to kill raptors is planned, it’s going to be pretty hard for the Scottish Government to defend such an action in this context. The Werritty Review was set up to examine grouse moor management precisely because of the ongoing issue of illegal raptor persecution; evidence of which Professor Werritty himself concluded was “compelling and shocking“. If the Scottish Government decides to address these crimes by simply legalising the killing of raptors by gamekeepers, it will undoubtedly face a serious backlash from the public and potentially a number of legal challenges.

Watch this space.

UPDATE 10.30hrs: SNH emailed us today and requested we post the following statement –

This is not true – we are not changing our policy towards licensing raptor control. We consult on General Licences on a regular basis; this is not new“.

We’ll be revisiting this statement, and this issue, in the very near future.


36 Responses to “Are raptor-killing licences on the cards for gamekeepers in Scotland?”

  1. 1 Mike Haden
    January 9, 2019 at 1:21 pm

    the comment about food supply is strange, yes perhaps pheasants could feed the nation, but it would be far more resource effective if they were slaughtered to order rather than released to be randomly shot, that way every pheasant would make it into the food human chain.

    I don’t see anybody proposing the hunting of cows, sheep and chickens as part of sustainable agriculture.

  2. January 9, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    Is this guy on a stand up tour? Get him a spot at the Fringe?
    Is he is seriously saying that phesant can feed the world? What about the disgusting scene of dumped pheasant down Bristol way?
    Get a better argument mate. This one stinks.

  3. 4 Douglas Malpus
    January 9, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    The “scary men” comment is very descriptive of these “XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX”. When birds are kept in pens/cages then the raptors can’t get in so what’s the problem?

    Once released the bird’s life span is limited by toxic lead not raptors or any other predator. Upon release the gun fodder is too big for all raptors they are likely to co-habit with.

    Yet more proof of how backward this crowd is and how vindictive to raptors.

    It is time to rid society of this idiotic slaughter of birds, bred to be shot and too often wasted.

    The fairy story “feeding the country” is really in the fantasy realm. Unless, feeding the country on toxic lead laced meat is intended to reduce the population??


  4. 5 Marco McGinty
    January 9, 2019 at 1:50 pm

    I would be willing to bet that the shooting industry still hasn’t trialled smaller, roofed pens, in an attempt to combat the perceived predation.

    If pheasants are deemed as livestock during the captive phase of their lives, and the shooting industry repeatedly refuses to cater for them by providing smaller, roofed, and therefore safer, pens, then perhaps we have an animal welfare issue here?

    If we do find SNH granting licences to kill raptors, I hope it is fought all the way on the basis that the shooting industry is deliberately seeking conflict by not catering for its livestock in a satisfactory manner.

    Then again, we are dealing with SNH here, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some licences had already been rubber stamped.

  5. 6 David
    January 9, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    Yet more rubbish – they fail to mention hundreds of dead birds just dumped which could have gone into the food chain

    The problem I have with this is the term ‘livestock’ I have tried to get a definition of this term from Natural England without a response. If they are livestock then they should be slaughtered humanely like chickens turkeys ducks etc if we started shooting these there would be uproar. I asked when do they change their status from livestock to a wild animal that can be shot. They cannot have it both ways – if they wanted to kill buzzards for predating the livestock this is all well and good thus this livestock should not then be released into the countryside. If they are classed as a wild animals they are a non native exotic that shouldn’t be released into the countryside under Schedule 9 Wildlife and Countryside Act.

    Talk about a muddle and it is perpetuated by the likes of SNH and NE by sitting on the fence or being told by the Government what to do

    • 7 Secret Squirrel
      January 9, 2019 at 3:42 pm

      S.27 of the Act:
      livestock” includes any animal which is kept—
      (a) for the provision of food, wool, skins or fur;
      (b) for the purpose of its use in the carrying on of any agricultural activity; or
      (c) or the provision or improvement of shooting or fishing;

      The Act has a whole raft of other provisions which deal with pheasants, including S14 which allows their release from captivity. Presumably when released, they are no longer ‘kept’ so become w’ild’ (After all, how would you distinguish between a wild bred Pheasant and a released one?

      • 8 lizzybusy
        January 10, 2019 at 12:11 am

        Really interesting. Thanks.

        This is what the NGO’s Spring 2014 edition of Keeping the Balance says:

        “Whether or not an animal is a wild animal is a question of fact. In most cases it will be obvious. For example, wild birds that have never been owned or controlled are wild animals. …

        Defra suggests:“Where there is doubt, some of the considerations to take into account in deciding whether or not something is a wild animal are:

         has the animal ever been fed by man?
         has it ever been managed by man, or
        received veterinary attention from man?
         has man ever established artificial boundaries that it cannot ordinarily pass?

        Even if “Yes” is the answer to all or some of these questions, it is still possible that the animal is, or may have subsequently become a wild animal. This will be a question of fact in each case.”

        Unfortunately there is no reference for the Defra statement.

        • 9 Bill Gilmour
          January 10, 2019 at 12:22 am

          The reference is Scan down to, “What controls are there on the disposal of the carcasses of wild animals?”

        • 10 Douglas Malpus
          January 10, 2019 at 12:36 am

          When the animal is livestock, the farmer/landowner gains a farming subsidy. Profit ££££.

          When it is wild they can shoot it for more profit ££££.

          I am sure that when they can be re-caged after the shooting season they then regain the subsidy status, profit ££££.

          Just picture the gamekeeper enticing them into cages with trails of wheat etc. Shows their caring nature????

          All this could be fiction but I’m sure that I have read about it sometime ago.

          I have seen fields full of pheasant pens that are the same as chicken coops. Totally covered, even with sleeping box. They are fed and reared the same way as chickens. They are in no way wild at that stage.


  6. 11 Harry Bickerstaff
    January 9, 2019 at 2:17 pm

    Can’t help thinking that gamekeepers have destroyed their own credibility over the years and to such an extent, almost any ‘suggestion’ they make, is suspect. Effectively, they are now (apparently) about to ask for a licence to do what [Ed: ‘some of them’] have been doing all along. The chance to make themselves credible, has long gone and any suggestion they do make, would immediately be rejected as far as I’m concerned. Looks like a wee bit of, gamekeeper turned poacher!

    • 12 George M
      January 9, 2019 at 2:41 pm

      Many of the gamekeepers I knew were poachers. They tended to view helping oneself for either home consumption or commercial sales as a perk of the job. Have things changed?

  7. 13 Nigel Raby
    January 9, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    Why do they need licences. They [Ed: some of them] pretty much kill what they fancy with no repercussions as it is.

  8. 14 Dave Dick
    January 9, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    Just like driven grouse shooting, the UK method of large scale pheasant release from open cages in woodland was developed at a time when the killing of raptors was either legal and widespread, or illegal but unenforced and widespread….the one thing they are not trying is scaling down the numbers of birds released and only releasing from enclosed cages…better still just stop releases altogether and rely on walked up wild bred birds……thats what I would call a compromise.The SNP has a poor record on this kind of issue. You cant just pay lip service to environmental matters, you have to get your hands dirty.

  9. 15 Doug
    January 9, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    From RP’s opening article:-
    “We wouldn’t put it past the Scottish Government to try something like this – it pulled a similar trick when the Werritty Review was first announced in May 2017 by revealing that it would not consider giving additional investigative powers to the SSPCA to help tackle illegal raptor persecution (see here)”.

    Therein lies the very apt warning. Look out for what Scottish N Party do with this.

  10. 16 Les Wallace
    January 9, 2019 at 3:49 pm

    These people just can’t stand the thought that any predator isn’t on the verge of extinction anymore, that’s what the ‘curlew saving’ Strathbraan raven cull licence was really for. They wanted to blame the pine marten for the capercaillie struggling, because it was starting to make a comeback and I,’m still waiting to hear any keeper acknowledge the marten is helping the red squirrel return by eating grey ones. The illegal persecution of otters seems to be on the rise and social media references to them being a danger to other wildlife and needing to be ‘controlled’ are definitely increasing. The buzzard is the species really getting it in the neck, but any will be as soon as it’s not vanishingly rare. Marsh harrier next? So ludicrous that Hogg mentions balance when hardly any of our raptors are anywhere near what their natural population should be, but 40 million plus non native birds are dumped into the Countryside every year to be gun fodder, and one species the pheasant can be a pretty serious predator itself. I have no idea at all if it would be practical, but would crop\gizzard\stomach content analysis of dumped or roadkill pheasants be any use in determining their impact on native wildlife? If so could be part of a fight back by a coalition of bona fide conservation organisations. Conservation isn’t going to work properly without healthy ecosystems with a natural predator compliment, and Hogg and his pals are going to do their damnedest to make sure that doesn’t happen.

    • 17 Secret Squirrel
      January 10, 2019 at 11:30 pm

      It’s a rampant desire to ‘control’ completely the countryside. Look at what is happening to the (admittedly illegally released) beaver population in Tayside, and the Govt’s reluctance to protect them.

  11. 18 Bill Gilmour
    January 9, 2019 at 4:11 pm

    Yes, I know estate the SGA website says Mr Hogg works on. Portmore; very beautiful with a loch, good woods and low slung hills, under a higher backdrop of hills. It’s about 5 miles north of Peebles. Mr Hogg begins by describing his estate’s defences: scary men, scarecrows, painted wooden eagles, reflective CDs, “the lot”. There are also innumerable sorts of more or less broken buckets, bins and troughs for feeders, so that good parts of the estate have been reduced to junk yards.

  12. January 9, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    A gamekeeper may be entitled to have an opinion on his working life and conditions and of course have an opinion on the environment as he sees it – but he’s unqualified as an expert in the environment – he clearly carries a bias – he’s contributing, in a major way, to the breakdown of a natural ecosystem – and should be seen as that. In food production, game birds would be, in terms of land efficiency, labour costs, and financial return, at the very bottom of the scale – In terms of ecological gain – again at the very bottom. If it was any other way everyone would be doing it. If he wants to make the tourism case – it’s more likely to be having an adverse effect.

  13. 20 Jimmy
    January 9, 2019 at 5:10 pm

    Hogg and his type just want to get back to the dark days of Victorian slaughter – if the SNH indulge this warped agenda then basically it will be Sea-Eagles, Kites etc. next on the list

  14. 21 Jimmy
    January 9, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    I meant to add the following – can the general public contribute to this SNH “consultation”??

  15. 22 Paul V Irving
    January 9, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    Its simple really Hogg is talking the usual anti predator Hogwash we are used to and nobody should be taken in. If pens are open topped then they themselves are negligent in maintaining the welfare of their ” long tailed chickens” there should be on principle no licence granted to control native predators for this non-native trash cum gun fodder. There is a very simple way of stopping our opportunistic predators taking these easy lunches—- ban the release of these non-native habitat trashers. Think of the advantages, no more toxic lead fired willy nilly into the countryside, no more losses of native invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and ground nest contents to these non native omnivores, much reduced noise pollution in the countryside, much less wildlife crime.

  16. 23 Simon Tucker
    January 9, 2019 at 7:12 pm

    The dishonesty of the shooting industry is writ large in that execrable outpouring. No licences should be issued for killing birds of prey or mammalian predators when by rearing their stock in predator proof cages they can eliminate the problem. Of course, they might have to spend some money but that’s okay, the psychos that go killing are rich.

  17. 24 Paul V Irving
    January 9, 2019 at 7:32 pm

    I was talking to a retired senior police officer on January 1st and discussing this sort of problem. He described a situation where a keeper complained to his employer about how many pheasants he lost to birds of prey. The keeper said he lost at least 150, his boss said OK we release a couple of hundred more and the problem is solved.

    • 25 Doug
      January 9, 2019 at 8:31 pm

      Yes, and the cost is relatively minute. Poults sell at around £4 each which amounts to £600. When the cost of labour, feed, estate transport, maintenance etc. is factored in for a year/season then the cost of extra poults is very little.

  18. 26 Ernie Scales
    January 9, 2019 at 9:22 pm

    It’s unlikely that raptors take more pheasants than are killed by road traffic judging by the number of carcases strewn along road verges every year. Usually cocks who when challenging for hens completely lose what little, if any, road sense they had. But I guess the SGA will ignore that fact unless they suggest culling motorists.

  19. 27 Dylanben
    January 9, 2019 at 10:56 pm

    I will be corrected if I am wrong but I believe that the situation is quite simple. Buzzards and other birds of prey which are likely to take young pheasants are part of our indigenous biodiversity. Pheasants, on the contrary, are not indigenous. If they are served up in crate loads in unroofed pens, who can blame the naturally occurring predators if they take advantage of man’s obvious stupidity. The predators are not deliberately picking a fight with gamekeepers and their ilk. Rather they are behaving naturally in taking advantage of what is put before them. It is totally wrong to seek to punish the predator when it is man’s lack of joined-up thinking which is the root cause of the problem. Can’t they get this into their thick skulls [some of them]?

    • 28 Bill Gilmour
      January 9, 2019 at 11:20 pm

      I am not so sure that keepers are as daft as we think! Why? I think they know that most raptors will not enter an unroofed pen, because they are smart enough to know that they can’t dive in, take a bird and lift out. Most raptors know pens are traps. Keepers know but go onto make up stories.

      Think about it another way. out in the country, it is common to find plucked pidgin feathers. I do not recall ever seeing a pile if colourful pheasant feathers.

  20. 29 Leslie Fox
    January 10, 2019 at 1:20 am

    ive never seen a farm let is sheep and cattle out to run around the country side ,to be shot

  21. 30 workshy333
    January 10, 2019 at 10:01 am

    If, as a business model, you breed lots of little, baby, foreign, invasive species, then let them all go into the countryside, then surely they are fair game for any native predators to take advantage of. Our precious predators, that belong here in this country, not these birds, (pheasants) that seem in many fantastic, supposed wild places like areas of Exmoor, to have outnumbered all other species, and are the only birds seen…or heard. We should be increasing the numbers of relevant predators if just to even the numbers. You release 1000 birds, 500 get shot, the rest breed and numbers increase to the levels we see. (Numbers made up!)
    If you put sausage rolls and vol au vents(?) on a table in the high street, with a big sign saying free food, dont shoot me for turning up for the easy meal.
    Licenses for shooting our endangered species to protect a few of these overpopulated species that are there for people to kill for their amusement instead. Whatever next.

  22. 31 Richard Would
    January 10, 2019 at 10:57 am

    So they’re considering making a criminal offence legal, to prevent gamekeepers committing a criminal offence? Outstanding. Perhaps they’ll also make burgary legal, to prevent burglars committing a criminal offence. You couldn’t make this up…

    • 32 Doug
      January 10, 2019 at 3:43 pm

      That is how things are nowadays. Possession of cannabis – not a problem “mate” (the police seem to call all sorts of lowlife by that term) don’t do that again, now off you go.
      Not quite made burglary legal, but 9 out of 10 burglaries are not investigated.

  23. 33 Sue
    January 10, 2019 at 4:20 pm

    I was on an organic farm yesterday and last year their laying hens were heavily predated by aerial predators, Red Kites and Buzzards. They are working out what to do. Its a large farm where hens are regularly moved on pasture.

    • 34 Douglas Malpus
      January 10, 2019 at 5:44 pm

      Red kites eat mainly dead animals that they are able to find (carrion), being too weak-footed to kill any prey much bigger than a small rabbit. They will also feed on chicks, small mammals and invertebrates such as beetles and earthworms.

      Buzzards are much the same but a little stronger in the foot.

      Both birds are unable to fly off with a chicken carcass. Most commercial laying chickens weigh in at about 1.5kg heavier than both the above.

      Perhaps what is witnessed on the farm is the raptors taking advantage of a newly dead chicken. Live chickens a feisty animals.


  24. 36 Iain Gibson
    January 11, 2019 at 3:18 am

    Gamekeepers and shooting organisations are utterly hypocritical, but could not possibly circumvent legalistic difficulties without having friends in high places. Apart from clandestine support within the judiciary and upper classes of society, their friends nowadays appear to include the licencing team and presumably senior officers within SNH. Ten or more years ago this would have been considered fantasy, but it seems now to become clearer every week as more and more facts are revealed by RPUK and other campaigners. Apart from lobbying success by game shooting bodies, we now have to contend with growing clandestine relationships between pro-hunting groups and certain influential officers within the government’s “advisory body for nature conservation” [sic]. Several years ago the thought of killing Buzzards would have been beyond the pale, except by the staunchly defiant criminal element among gamekeepers and a few rogue farmers. Mass killing of wildlife is becoming increasingly pernicious in our society, and it seems very likely that illegal killing of protected species will grow profusely alongside the growth in legitimate licenses for ‘culling’ birds of prey and other predators. This could have a catastrophic effect on British wildlife. The growth in the killing business, directed at Grey Squirrels, Rabbits, introduced Beavers, deer of all species, Cormorants, Goosanders and totally harmless species like Ravens, Carrion Crows and Magpies, is bound to extend to a wider range of wild species as society continues to pay heed to the ignorant demands of the hunting and shooting fraternity, supported by… Scottish Natural Heritage and other so-called national conservation bodies! The current situation is already considerably beyond reproach. We do indeed have a fight on our hands, in fact a veritable war against organised killing groups which, for a while, seemed to be coming under civilised control. It is now growing out of control, a depressing state of affairs for those of us who love nature and the countryside, but becoming increasingly angry at the growth of ruthless killing of our innocent wildlife.

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