07
Jan
20

Crimes against birds of prey in Scotland double, new Government report confirms

Two days before Christmas the Scottish Government published its annual wildlife crime report, the seventh since it became a statutory obligation under the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 for Ministers to lay a report on wildlife crime at the end of every calendar year.

The current report is entitled the ‘2018’ report, but it actually refers to wildlife crimes recorded from April 2017 to March 2018.

The report can be downloaded here: wildlife-crime-scotland-2018-annual-report

The headline news is that reported raptor persecution crimes have doubled since the previous year’s report. So much for the game shooting industry’s repeated false claims then that raptor persecution is declining.

And all the more shocking that this doubling in increase took place at exactly the same time that the Werritty Review was underway – you’d think that the criminals within the grouse shooting industry would have had the sense to ease off whilst under such close scrutiny, at least until the review was completed. But no, they’re either too stupid or, more likely, too arrogant to care, knowing full well the chance of being caught and prosecuted is virtually nil.

We’ll be looking at the game shooting industry’s response to this report in later blogs.

Ian Thomson of RSPB Scotland was quoted in the press as saying the increase in reported raptor persecution crimes is of “significant concern“. He also said,

This shows very clearly that the targeting of our raptors continues unabated, particularly on intensively managed grouse moors.

The repeated and ongoing suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged birds of prey, almost exclusively on or adjacent to areas managed for driven grouse shooting demonstrates very clearly that the Scottish Government needs to expedite the robust regulation of this industry“.

The report’s foreword has been written by Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham and it’s well worth a read as she acknowledges the crime stats are a likely underestimate of the true scale, particularly as wildlife crime on remote grouse moors is difficult to detect without witnesses. It’s an obvious point but one that does need to be repeated.

She also makes the important and significant point of discussing the ‘missing’ satellite tagged raptors (two golden eagles + six hen harriers) that vanished during this period. These missing birds are not included in the ‘official’ crime stats because without a body the police are unable to record the disappearance as a crime (which is why so many simply disappear without trace – the criminals know how to play this game) but she says of the sudden suspicious losses, “These circumstances strongly suggest that many of these incidents may be the result of illegal killing of these birds“.

The rest of the foreword makes no commitment to taking forward any specific action, which is hugely disappointing. Roseanna simply acknowledges that there’s still an ongoing issue and repeats the now familiar mantra that the Scottish Government is still committed to tackling it, but doesn’t map out how, apart from talking about increased penalties for wildlife crime, which we’ve already had to wait six years for and they’re still not here yet. Perhaps this vagueness is unsurprising given that we’re now waiting to hear the Government’s formal response to the Werritty Review and the specific actions it intends to take. Apparently we’ll learn details of that response ‘in due course‘, widely expected to be April.

The timing of the publication of this wildlife crime report was pretty poor – two days before Christmas isn’t ideal, although it did get some coverage in the Scotsman the following day on Christmas Eve. In response, Mark Ruskell MSP, the Scottish Green’s Environment spokesperson, suggested the Government was ‘trying to bury bad news’. It’s a fair point.

UPDATE 8 January 2020: Scottish Gamekeepers Association silent as Government report confirms increase in raptor crime (here)


33 Responses to “Crimes against birds of prey in Scotland double, new Government report confirms”


  1. January 7, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    Surely, the fact that these people are getting away with these crimes indicates corruption in high places. Might I suggest that a major focus should be made in investigating this aspect. This might even lead to reduction in other aspects of wildlife crime, such as those crimes perpetrated by the Fox-hunting community, and, whilst not technically a crime in itself, the dubious (false) justification for Badger culls. Who knows – maybe such investigations might even help save the planet if they uncovered corruption that protects eco-cidal industries?!

    • 2 Robin Bailey
      January 8, 2020 at 9:16 am

      I agree with the comment that perhaps corruption at some level is a possability that would result in these criminals getting away with their vile crimes. Perhaps more draconian action and legislation from the SNP is required?

  2. 3 Lesleyjane Clifford
    January 7, 2020 at 3:37 pm

    xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

    [Ed: Comment deleted. If you have evidence of police corruption wrt raptor persecution then you need to report it. Please don’t post defamatory comments on this blog].

  3. 4 Keith Dancey
    January 7, 2020 at 5:03 pm

    The SNP must act!

  4. January 7, 2020 at 6:49 pm

    This is the Scottish Environmental Minister in Nov 2008 (yes 2008 not 2018).

    ‘Scottish environment minister Michael Russell has said he is “horrified” by the decline [of Hen Harriers]. SNH has defended itself by promising renewed action to crack down on wildlife crime and encourage better behaviour by landowners.
    Environment minister Michael Russell said: “I was horrified to hear about the apparent decline in hen harrier numbers at Muirkirk and would be interested to hear more details about potential reasons as to why this has happened.”
    https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:vUx8vxm2OeAJ:https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12766620.pathetic-response-to-disappearing-hen-harriers

    and Apr 2008
    Where Mike Russell says
    “Once again, I have been presented with information that presents a stark picture of crimes against Scotland’s unique natural heritage. We must be absolutely clear that the abuse of wildlife is a crime, and it is a crime that the Scottish public will no longer tolerate.”
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/apr/28/wildlife.conservation1

    and Dec 2008
    ‘Russell told Holyrood: “Wildlife crime is a crime like any other. It will be investigated like any other and those taking part will be punished as they would with any other crime. Cross compliance is one of the most significant tools in our armoury for dealing with wildlife crime.”‘
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/dec/12/poison-brids-of-prey-wildlife-scotland

    Can we get off this merry-go-round and just ban DGS!

  5. 8 Iain Gibson
    January 7, 2020 at 8:31 pm

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Regulating or even banning driven grouse shooting will make little difference to the persecution of harriers and other raptors. Whether walked-up or casual grouse shooting, the slaughter of both grouse and raptors will continue relatively unabated. Real progress would be to give full protection to grouse, the sort which already gives protected status to raptors. Regulation will only cause gamekeepers to be even more furtive about how they go about their business. The odd one might be caught and prosecuted, with punishment consisting of a paltry fine which will be met by their lords and masters. Call me cynical, but I know these people well. They won’t roll over and give up their criminality. It’s in their blood.

    • 9 Lizzybusy
      January 7, 2020 at 10:29 pm

      Spot on!

    • 10 Les Wallace
      January 7, 2020 at 10:31 pm

      Well said and spot on.

      • 11 Iain Gibson
        January 13, 2020 at 6:24 am

        Thanks Lizzybusy and Les, but I’m still having difficulty understanding why RPUK and. RSPB are focussing just on DRIVEN grouse-shooting, and apparently not considering the impacts that other forms of grouse-shooting could continue to cause problems for harriers and other predatory species (seemingly whether they affect grouse productivity or not !). As with other human beings, gamekeepers can be very clever in hiding their criminal activities, whilst others are, as we say in Scotland, “not the full shilling.” So some may be caught, others may not. Whatever, the persecution of harriers would continue.

    • 12 Keith Dancey
      January 8, 2020 at 12:04 pm

      Hello Iain,

      although I support a ban on shooting any birds for ‘sport’, I am not so sure that regulation (as envisaged by the RSPB) will not work, as you claim.

      In brief, a licensing scheme based upon independent assessment by ecologists as to the carrying capacity for ALL species (flora and fauna) of any upland moor, followed by independent surveys of that moor, decides annually whether a shooting license is permitted.

      Similarly, a licensing scheme based upon independent assessment of the carbon capture and water quality and retention of any upland moor, followed by independent surveys of that moor, also decides annually whether a shooting license is permitted.

      Without such a license, no shooting whatsoever would be permitted.

      The challenge to shooting estates, then, is this: can you PROVE (by independent assessments and surveys) that your ‘sport’ allows upland moors to fully support ALL wildlife and ecological services expected by independent experts of such places?

      If you can, you will be allowed to continue. If you cannot, you will have to stop, by law.

      I believe that is the position of the RSPB. The key is the use of independent experts to assess and survey upland moors annually.

      • 13 BanDGS
        January 8, 2020 at 4:26 pm

        “In brief, a licensing scheme based upon independent assessment by ecologists as to the carrying capacity for ALL species (flora and fauna) of any upland moor, followed by independent surveys of that moor, decides annually whether a shooting license is permitted.”

        Who would fund all of this and how often would inspections take place? It’s quite telling that the RSPB haven’t proposed a single substantive process map for regulation, because they know deep down that it would be unworkable.

        • 14 Keith Dancey
          January 9, 2020 at 2:05 pm

          “Who would fund all of this and how often would inspections take place?” I introduce you to the new word: annually. You will find it used throughout my explanation. Like all licensing schemes, it would be funded by the commercial operator to whom it applies.

          ” It’s quite telling that the RSPB haven’t proposed a single substantive process map for regulation” You don’t know that. You don’t even know what a ‘process map for regulation’ is.

          ‘because they know deep down that it would be unworkable” Do they? Do you? Why?

      • January 9, 2020 at 10:48 am

        Werritty talked on the tv about light-touch licensing. There is no way in hell that is going to work so it would take a decade or more to prove it isn’t working then they might make it piece by piece heavier and heavier. The whole process will not happen in my lifetime. Raptors will continue being killed and the grouse lobby continue laughing and cost of all this hilarity lands on the tax payer.
        Licensing with very strict rules, very low threshold for infringement and extremely heavy fines might work but how could it be enforced?
        Banning with no loop holes is the solution. Cut off the income source and it dies.

        • 16 Keith Dancey
          January 12, 2020 at 4:20 pm

          “Licensing with very strict rules, very low threshold for infringement and extremely heavy fines might work but how could it be enforced?”

          There is no need for fines, and enforcement is easy. The commercial shoot would loose its licence to operate. It could not advertise its services. It could not audit or file its accounts. It could not obtain insurance. It could not operate a bank account. Its activities would become illegal and participants would also be breaking the law…

          • 17 Iain Gibson
            January 13, 2020 at 6:04 am

            Keith, I’m sorry, but it still seems to me that you suggest the effect of regulations will take us to a land of milk and honey. I don’t believe that the punishment for breaching the regulations will have the impact you suggest. Estate managers or owners have the financial capacity to appoint the very best lawyers to prepare an overwhelming defence, appealing to the courts that they did not instruct their ‘keepers to carry out illegal persecution of harriers, etc. In fact, any ‘keepers involved with the finger pointed at them may well be sacked for misconduct, in an attempt to evade or minimise the legal consequences. I know it’s far more complicated than that, but in my opinion the Werritty report is too “balanced,” considering it claims to “fairly” represent both an innocent and lawful sector of society who are attempting to prevent wildlife crime, and a group who seems to think it’s their god-given right to ignore the law. It could become a very expensive exercise for both sides, which would unfairly imbalance the cost for the conservation side. Appeals for public donations might help, and I have my cheque book ready, but if the grouse shooting millionaires do their bit the public donations might be overwhelmed by them and their grouse-shooting supporters. It’s a case of moral high ground versus “loads a money.”

            • 18 Keith Dancey
              January 16, 2020 at 2:29 pm

              “I don’t believe that the punishment for breaching the regulations will have the impact you suggest.”

              In which case, name ANY business in the UK which is illegally trading without a license.

              “Estate managers or owners have the financial capacity to appoint the very best lawyers to prepare an overwhelming defence, appealing to the courts that they did not instruct their ‘keepers to carry out illegal persecution of harriers, etc.”

              Now you are wilfully misrepresenting what licensing means. It does NOT have anything to do with ‘instructing keepers to carry out illegal’ activities, or PROVING that such activities have taken place in a court case. In fact, it does not normally involve criminal courts at all.

              I have fully explained how licensing could (and should) work.

              Who do you think regulates banks, insurance companies, GPs, sales of alcohol, pharmacies etc in the UK?

      • 19 Iain Gibson
        January 9, 2020 at 11:08 am

        Hi Keith

        Excuse me if I’m mistaken, but I feel you might be unsure as too how much that process would cost, and who would pay for it. If the grouse moor owners were responsible, it could wipe out their profits. If that meant the death of grouse shooting that could be ideal, but it would depend on how the owner managed the site thereafter. If they decided to go for sheep, some “improvements” to form or expand grass pastures, and to pack on as many sheep as possible, would be prone to rendering the biodiversity impoverished.

        How will all flora and fauna be surveyed to declare ideal numbers or diversity be measured, without a large team of highly experienced field Ecologists carrying out full surveys of vast grouse moors, multiplied across all the grouse moors of the country? Someone has to pay for this, presumably not tax payers, and as I said before, the cost alone could make grouse shooting redundant and the owners left to do as they please unless their moors could be designated SSSIs or SPAs. Even if that were the case, my own experience is that regulations might be rather loosely interpreted in practical terms.

        Methodologies for baseline surveys would have to be updated and far more thorough to achieve the proposed objectives, adding yet more cost. In my time when I was directly involved in the business, over ten years ago, the cost of hiring one individual consultant was in the region of £300 per day, and I assume costs have risen since then. Multiply that by ten for the average grouse moor, at least another ten for consultant days, annually for the lifetime of the grouse moor, add in inflation, and surely the cost would be prohibitive for most moor owners?

        For example, how many Meadow Pipits breed on the average grouse moor. Just a few years ago my study area was contracted to, according to SNH, a reliable company.with a team of Ecological Surveyors. Having developed myself a more reliable method of estimating the total population based on surveys of ten random sample plots measuring 500m by 300m AT THE RIGHT TIME DURING THE BREEDING SEASON, i.e. when parents were feeding young in the nests, came up with an estimate of circa 2,000 breeding pairs, each potentially rearing 3-4 times that number of young. This is an important food supply for harriers feeding their own young, and actually appears to distract them from preying upon grouse chicks, countering the claims made by the shooting community. Even more importantly, a company contracted to do long transects surveys came up with a figure of less than a third of what my team had determined (sorry, I don’t have the comparative data to hand at present). Surveying all species of bird alone would be an enormous expensive fee for the grouse owners. I feel they might appeal against such financial costs, and with their expensive lawyers might even be successful.

        The only way to effectively control grouse shooting is to make the Red Grouse a fully protected species, and end the barbarity once and for all. It has no place in a civilised society.

        • 20 Keith Dancey
          January 12, 2020 at 5:02 pm

          “Excuse me if I’m mistaken, but I feel you might be unsure as too how much that process would cost, and who would pay for it. If the grouse moor owners were responsible, it could wipe out their profits.”

          As is the case with licensing generally, the commercial operator covers the cost.

          Grouse shooting is (currently) highly profitable.

          The wildlife ‘carrying capacity’ of any moor need be fully assessed once. Thereafter, annual surveys would determine trends in populations, and independent ecologists would determine whether they met expectations or not. Adjustments to the carrying capacity could be made, if recommended by independent ecologists, as matters evolve.

          (Quite a lot of this stuff is already known, otherwise we would not be so upset about the negative effects of grouse shooting.)

          That is the price we, as a society, require shooting estates to pay in order for them to continue their business.

          “The only way to effectively control grouse shooting is to make the Red Grouse a fully protected species, and end the barbarity once and for all. It has no place in a civilised society.”

          I, also, would rather see ALL shooting of our avifauna for ‘sport’ banned, but it was claimed that regulation would not work, and I say it could, especially if implemented as (I believe) the RSPB and Ed Hutchings envisage (See https://markavery.info/2017/12/18/guest-blog-licensing-ed-hutchings/ )

  6. 21 Dougie
    January 7, 2020 at 9:47 pm

    The report result is not surprising and, as Roseanna Cunningham remarks, the actual extent of the crime is probably worse. I am sure that we can all conclude that it is bound to be a great deal worse. The Sc. Gov. lack the spine to admit it.

    The timing of the release of the report does create a suspicion that there was an attempt to dampen the impact. However, it is helpful that it has been released so soon after the Werritty report.

    I do not believe that the criminals (and those who employ them) are stupid. I view them as arrogant people who have acquired an expectation that they have a right to do as they see fit.
    They are utterly incensed that anyone is prepared to challenge their position. It is the failure of the government to tramp hard on these criminals that has led wildlife crime to be out of control.
    The situation is in danger of becoming irretrievable unless those in power can summon the courage (a commodity that, so far, appears to be absent) to put in place the means to effectively prosecute and punish the culprits.

    It would also be desirable to see a culture change that would bring about wildlife criminals being viewed as pariahs. They have no justifiable place in society.

    • 22 Iain Gibson
      January 8, 2020 at 7:23 pm

      Will the Scottish Government apply “regulations” to any other groups containing, at their core, a defiant group of well-known criminals?

  7. 23 Frances
    January 8, 2020 at 10:09 am

    [Ed: comment deleted as defamatory]

  8. 24 Merlin
    January 8, 2020 at 10:28 am

    Cut the agricultural payments, the average payment to the grouse moor owners is over 250k, they get paid by the acre for producing very little, we have dairy and meat farmers going bust because of the way this scheme support’s the wealthy land owners. These payments are the reason they employ 6 or 7 keepers, stop the payments as was happening a few years ago to any grouse farm suspected of illegal activities and see how many they employ then, it’s public money subsidising organised crime

    • 25 Frances
      January 13, 2020 at 10:01 am

      To whoever moderates this site. Comments are not defamatory if they are true. It is defamatory if it is untrue and damages the good reputation of someone. One of my comments was removed as you stated it was defamatory, it was 100% true. I question the integrity of the motives for removing such posts.

      • January 13, 2020 at 10:07 am

        Hi Frances,

        Your comment, if I remember correctly, made accusations of police corruption but provided no supporting evidence. I can’t check this because your comment was deleted.

        The motive for removing comments that, in my opinion are defamatory, has everything to do with integrity which is why the comments are removed!

  9. 27 Jill Willmott.
    January 8, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    I think it is time for a dedicated Wildlife Police Force, funded by Government, not charities. The charities can only get so far before their funding fails under the onslaught.

  10. 30 dave angel
    January 8, 2020 at 3:13 pm

    ‘you’d think that the criminals within the grouse shooting industry would have had the sense to ease off whilst under such close scrutiny, at least until the review was completed. But no, they’re either too stupid or, more likely, too arrogant to care’

    ###

    Or perhaps they want to get raptor numbers down so that any licensing regime starts from as low a baseline as possible.

  11. 31 Iain Gibson
    January 8, 2020 at 8:11 pm

    Maybe it’s time we moved on as a supposedly caring society, and give up cruel sports against our wildlife. ALL grouse shooting involves fostering a wild bird population in a natural or semi-natural habitat, for a privileged minority of society to enjoy an annual massacre of this species. How can this ever be recognised as respectable or responsible behaviour? The Royal Family could set an example to the rest of society by giving up one of their favourite blood sports, i.e. slaughtering red grouse. Or is the firearms industry so greedy and powerful that they will resist at great expense any Government proposal to exclude the sale or use of shotguns? The only answer is to further the legal protection of all native or naturalised wildlife by banning the morally hideous ‘sport’ of game bird shooting, ultimately leading to protection of all wildlife and their required ecosystems. Why not? Most of the alleged ‘crimes’ that harriers and foxes are said to inflict, are almost wholly in the minds of a certain subset of the human race. The fact that we (RSPB et al) are too wary to face up to the mindless killing of any wild animal, just for fun, is disappointing to say the least.


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