No, Magnus, the Werritty Review does not threaten gamekeepers’ jobs, wildlife crime does

On 20th December 2019, the day after the Werritty Review was published, The Times ran this comment piece from Magnus Linklater:

The long delay in issuing the Werritty report suggests not only that the management of grouse moors in Scotland has proved far more complex an issue than was realised, but also that the balance between sporting interests and conservation is hard to achieve.

Campaigners against the sport argued that the persecution of birds of prey, the culling of mountain hares and the burning of heather, to say nothing of shooting game birds, were unacceptable practices. Proponents said that it brought employment and tourist income to rural areas, as well as funding staff to manage Scotland’s upper moorland.

Professor Werritty concludes that there is no case for banning grouse shooting and that gamekeepers perform a useful service for conservation by controlling vermin and managing the land. But he also recommends regulating estates, issuing licences that will require extensive paperwork and extra cost.

Legislation already provides powers to crack down on the persecution of birds of prey.

As a trustee of an estate that once boasted large numbers of grouse, but is now virtually empty, I know gamekeepers are all too aware of the penalties for breaking the law. Introducing more rules is unlikely to improve the situation and will add to the cost of running these vast areas so beloved by hill-walkers.

Without the income to manage the hills, they would become overrun by predators, such as foxes and crows, which kill not only grouse but wading birds, such as curlew and lapwing.

It is one of the great ironies of the countryside that gamekeepers, so vilified by campaigners, are in fact guardians of the wildlife diversity that is so important to rural Scotland. They too are an endangered species and they too deserve protection.


The piece contains all the usual tired, and frankly, now embarrassing rhetoric that we’ve learned to expect from someone with a long-held vested interest in grouse shooting and we had been planning to take his claims apart, sentence by sentence, as we, and others, have done many times before (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here). Fortunately, someone else has done it for us and far more succinctly to boot.

This straight-to-the-point riposte was published in The Times three days after Linklater’s offering:

Guardians of the Land

Magnus Linklater (Dec 20) laments the fate of “endangered” gamekeepers due to proposed licensing for grouse shoots.  Their peril is as a result of their own actions in illegally wiping out birds of prey, inextricably linked to management of driven grouse shooting. Many behave themselves but it is the bad apples among them who blight their industry. This could not happen without the shooting estates condoning such criminal behaviour. Licensing is their reward. David Landsman, Aberdeen.

David Landsman is absolutely spot on (apart from his estimation of crime scale – it’s massive). It’s not the Werritty recommendation of estate licensing that threatens gamekeepers’ jobs – that’s just a ridiculous suggestion from Linklater designed to portray gamekeepers as innocent victims.

No, it’s the continued illegal killing of birds of prey by many of those gamekeepers (note, many but not all of them), and the subsequent denials and cover-ups by estate owners and their representative bodies that is bringing such pressure to bear on the industry.

They’ve had 65 years to understand that it’s a crime to shoot, trap and poison birds of prey and it’s about bloody time they were held to account.

27 Responses to “No, Magnus, the Werritty Review does not threaten gamekeepers’ jobs, wildlife crime does”

  1. 1 Nigel Raby
    January 2, 2020 at 3:06 pm

    Guardians of the Land! Now that is a joke, maybe they’ve been watching too much SciFi over the holidays.

  2. January 2, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    As soon as Linklater used the non-word “vermin” he lost his argument. People like him who glory in the ridiculously unsustainable “system” known as managed grouse shooting – a system which has produced predictable effects on their over-produced, artificially over-crowded populations – disease and huge swings in number….call any bird or animal which multiplies because of their own mismanagement, “vermin”. Its a bigots word and has no place in the modern world.

    • 3 Nonie Coulthard
      January 3, 2020 at 11:58 am

      YES!! I think we need to change the language – can Robert Macfarlane or someone help? Vermin is meaningless – as you say, Dave, just a loaded term to mean any predator (other than shooters) that gets in the way of maintaining artificially high grouse numbers for so-called ‘sport’. ‘Game’ and ‘gamebird’ should also go (along with so-called GW’C’T!) – they are either native wild species or non-native (invasive alien species in any other context – or domestic-reared livestock) released into the wild in unsustainable numbers, doing unknown ecological damage. Also the notion that hillwalkers want to see burned, bare, eroded hillsides with no trees and no native wildlife – just men on quad bikes with guns and crow traps or piles of dead hares in pickups …….. harrrumphh

  3. 4 AndyH
    January 2, 2020 at 4:27 pm

    Nature itself is the most important guardian of our land – it doesn’t require gamekeepers to help it along the way. And as for the same old “foxes and crows destroying wading birds”…get real Magnus me old mucker.

  4. January 2, 2020 at 4:38 pm

    “As a trustee of an estate that once boasted large numbers of grouse, but is now virtually empty,” – this makes it sound perfectly natural that upland areas have always had large amounts of grouse – not true! The large numbers of grouse are due to the activities of the gamekeepers maintaining an unnatural environment – effectively a grouse mono culture. The reasons grouse exist in such numbers are heather “farming” ( muirburn, drainage etc), supplementary feeding, predator and disease control. Gamekeepers (better description- grouse farmers) would not be employed if all this happened naturally!

  5. January 2, 2020 at 4:39 pm

    For me the best riposte from 2019 which i read BTL against this kind of ancient fake news was:
    ‘Is he on drugs?’

  6. 8 sog
    January 2, 2020 at 5:24 pm

    I read ‘these vast areas so beloved by hill-walkers.’ Personally I find grouse moors about as interesting as a field of wheat, and about as natural. I assume it’s an opinion he’s expressed, not something backed by any kind of research or survey.

    • 9 Iain Gibson
      January 2, 2020 at 7:45 pm

      That’s a bit harsh, sog! That attitude could well put lots of birdwatchers off the pleasure that can be obtained from upland moors, particularly heather moors whether or not occupied by plentiful grouse. Personally I find these beautiful wild landscapes are brimming with interesting wildlife, so much so that I have spent a total of at least 30 years of my life maintaining a record of the biodiversity on the “vast areas so beloved by hill-walkers”, including myself. For almost 20 years I have greatly appreciated seeking out Hen Harrier breeding sites and ringing their young (under licence of course). My findings from the use of CCTV at several nests revealed that by far the commonest prey items being fed to young were Meadow Pipits and Field Voles. Not a single grouse chick was picked up on the cameras, even in years of high productivity, so I find the tales by Linklater of large numbers of grouse chicks being taken by harriers frankly an invention or just sheer imagination. As for the boring grouse moors, if more birdwatchers devoted more time on these moors, they would not only see some special wildlife like harriers, they could provide some policing to keep gamekeepers in check, by reporting illegal incidents to the police right away.

      • 10 BanDGS
        January 2, 2020 at 9:34 pm

        I beg to differ. Like sog, I find these areas to be utterly depressing. Completely unnatural, devoid of much of the wildlife and flora that should be present, and maintained almost completely for a Victorian bloodsport. There’s more to wildlife than birds, Iain. When you really consider the industrialised persecution of native wildlife that occurs there, not even taking in to consideration the destruction from muirburn, coupled with the wildlife incinerated as a result, it’s very difficult to see these areas as anything other than obscene killing fields. You saw it in the article yourself – “vermin”.

      • 11 sog
        January 3, 2020 at 12:31 am

        No trees, just heather with stripes from the burning, East Cairngorms for instance. Compare that to the Glenmore & Glen Feshie areas.

        I respect the effort you’ve applied, the data you’ve collected.

        In that degraded landscape keepers will see walkers from a mile or two away. Walkers won’t see keepers doing anything reportable.

        • 12 Iain Gibson
          January 3, 2020 at 11:21 pm

          sog, I assure you I have plenty experience “spying” on gamekeepers, as well as sitting close to them in the local pubs in order to listen to their disgusting attitude towards raptors, foxes and other predators. However no comments about humans being the only immoral predators on Planet Earth! All other predators are amoral, and killing for the sole reason of food, not a perverted form of pleasure (as far as true biologists have determined). Only very rarely has a gamekeeper spotted me on the hill, secreting myself in the undergrowth and watching their activities through a telescope. Obviously most hill walkers are distracted chatting amongst their selves, and unlikely to take notice of a gamekeeper lurking in the heather. If they can see him, he can almost certainly spot them with their highly coloured jackets, and unlikely to shoot himself in the foot (metaphorically).

      • 13 Barney
        January 3, 2020 at 8:40 am

        I could not agree more Iain

        • 14 tony wildman
          January 3, 2020 at 9:04 pm

          Being regular walkers, we would prefer more biodiversity across barren grouse moors.Mix is best. ACW.

          • 15 Iain Gibson
            January 4, 2020 at 12:08 am

            Tony, I think that if you visited some of the west/north of Scotland grouse moors you might notice a difference. I’m not familiar with heavily managed grouse moors in drier regions of the UK, but in my patch (Clyde Area including South Lanarkshire), the wetter parts of the moor especially support a varied and interesting biodiversity in the form of some unique plants as well as birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, not to forget important forms of invertebrates including some unique moths and butterflies. Of course they could be far more interesting if not managed intensively for a few grouse shooters, and perhaps if more ornithologists and naturalists would show an interest, with sufficient lobbying we might, just might, turn the killing moors into National or Regional Parks, focussing on everyone being able to enjoy the (albeit) semi-natural habitat and its flourishing biodiversity. I suggest this would attract more visitors contributing to the local economy than the grouse shooters would have us believe, not that I find that a necessary requirement. One other concern I have is that during the ‘Rewilding’ frenzy, we need to be careful NOT to plant trees on otherwise special ecosystems. I see that happening frequently on peat areas, herb-rich grasslands and other special ecosystems in my own area and elsewhere. Modern pesticides applied to grassland pastures are wiping out a host of soil invertebrate species, including many that are important for birds like Rooks, Starlings, winter thrushes and some waders such as Lapwing and Golden Plovers. I’m surprised how little we hear from conservationists about this unnecessary removal of invertebrates that not only used to support large numbers of feeding birds, but can also be essential for maintaining rich soils on pasture land. I blame the pesticide companies and their lust for profits.

  7. January 2, 2020 at 5:28 pm

    Good grief….is Victoria still on the throne?
    He is so far behind the shooting sides leaders he will be getting vilified from all sides. As far as I have picked up, there is a push within the killers clubs to accept licencing quickly. If they embrace it quickly they think they will be able to set the terms(ie limit the scope and effective).

  8. 17 Valerie Foster
    January 2, 2020 at 5:47 pm

    “Guardians of land” gamekeepers?
    Oh Lord how can anyone carry on reading after that statement

  9. 18 Patrick Stirling-Aird
    January 2, 2020 at 6:02 pm

    For another comment on the perpetrators of the problem (the intensive red grouse management one) see the final paragraph of the Glentanar Estate blog of 17th October 2017. It comes up also on my computer screen as “Managing grouse at Glen Tanar.”

    [Ed: Thanks, Patrick. Here’s the link to the Glen Tanar blog: https://www.glentanar.co.uk/blog/managing-grouse-at-glen-tanar ]

    • January 2, 2020 at 9:41 pm

      The Glen Tanar link is worth a read – if only other estates showed the same foresight. It seems that their approach is the logical template where adherence to the law is prioritised – with or without licensing.

      • 20 Les Wallace
        January 2, 2020 at 10:55 pm

        Worth mentioning again I think since Glen Tanar has been brought up. A few years ago both Mark Avery and RPUK both wrote glowingly of Glen Tanar Estate in terms of its enlightened attitude to conservation and raptors, and the fact it was diversifying economically into wildlife photography courses, catering for weddings etc so its dependence on grouse shooting was declining. And what did its ‘own’ side do to celebrate the positive recognition this estate received? One of the Moorland forums produced an ‘essay’ decrying Glen Tanar as an economic model for other estates, it was a pathetic attempt to discredit an estate that was breaking the traditional mould and the only thing I can remember from it was it said that ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ which ironically was a criticism of an estate that was diversifying NOT those which were going down the path of increasingly intensive ‘management’ for DGS! The Angus Glens Moorland Group then reposted the essay and then the SGA did so….yes the SGA tried to run down an estate that is doing good work, clearly because most others aren’t. Just when you think they can’t get any more pathetic, spiteful and idiotic they surprise/disgust you.

  10. January 2, 2020 at 6:13 pm

    Greed, power, money and corruption at the top level. A lust for killing and lack of intelligence at the bottom level.
    A sort of “mafia of the countryside”

    • 22 Valerie Foster
      January 2, 2020 at 7:57 pm

      Spot on

      • 23 Iain Gibson
        January 4, 2020 at 12:34 am

        According to Linklater, “gamekeepers… are in fact guardians of the wildlife biodiversity that is so important to rural [sic] Scotland.” What tosh! Just how do they do that? Most gamekeepers I’ve spoken to over the years know very little about basic ecology. They live in their own world, believing traditional ideas about raptors and other predators which leads them to trap or kill at every opportunity, most of them throughout their whole working lives. Pull the other one, Magnus!

    • 25 dougie
      January 3, 2020 at 10:38 am

      Yes, that sounds like the situation. The grouse moors are akin to a gangland and those that do the illegal killing etc. are the foot soldiers for the gangs.

  11. 26 Logan Steele
    January 2, 2020 at 10:14 pm

    Magnus states ‘that Professor Werritty concluded that there is no case for banning grouse shooting’ well he would wouldn’t he as it was never part of his remit in the first place.

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