Archive for the 'News' Category

17
Jun
21

Natural England accidentally lets slip more alleged shenanigans with hen harriers at Swinton Estate

I can’t decide whether I think Natural England is incompetent or institutionally corrupt. Maybe it’s both? Have a read and see what you think.

Following on from the blog I wrote on Monday where it had become apparent that Natural England had altered the terms of its hen harrier diversionary feeding licence to permit the feeding of hen harriers during the incubation period instead of the nestling period, and that this was done at exactly the same time that North Yorkshire Police were investigating the Swinton Estate for alleged disturbance of hen harriers after an employee, accompanied by a Natural England employee, was observed apparently diversionary feeding hen harriers during the incubation period (here), there are now further developments.

According to a news article in today’s Ends Report, Natural England has claimed that it rewrote the guidelines “as a matter of course, not as a reaction to the news of the nest at Swinton Estate being fed earlier than usual”.

I’m going to reproduce the Ends Report news article here because it contains a fascinating statement from Natural England which leads on to more questions about what, exactly, has been going on at Swinton Estate over the last few years.

Here’s the article:

Natural England has denied it changed its guidance on the feeding of hen harriers after the police launched an investigation for the alleged disturbance of breeding hen harriers through diversionary feeding without a licence.

If licensed by Natural England, landowners are allowed to provide substitute food to hen harriers near their nesting sites to reduce predation of red grouse.

One of the conditions of such licences had been that diversionary feeding may only begin once the hen harrier’s eggs have hatched. 

But in April, two individuals were filmed at Swinton Estate grouse moor in North Yorkshire, apparently placing out food for the breeding adults as part of a diversionary feeding scheme. This was during the incubation stage, when the hen harrier’s eggs had not yet hatched.

Raptor conservationist Ruth Tingay lodged a Freedom of Information request with Natural England, which revealed that Swinton Estate did not have a diversionary feeding licence in 2021.

According to Natural England, this meant that technically there has not been a breach of the CL25 licence, “because a licence hadn’t been issued”. 

Therefore, the wildlife regulator said it was not in a position to take enforcement action and the case was instead passed to North Yorkshire Police for an investigation into alleged offences under the Wildlife & Countryside Act.

However, Natural England then changed its guidance in May to allow diversionary feeding during the incubation period.

Tingay said Natural England had been “sneaky” in “rewriting the rules at the same time as your star grouse shooting estate is under police investigation for alleged hen harrier disturbance because hen harriers were being fed during the incubation period”.

However, responding to these allegations, Natural England said the guidelines were changed “as a matter of course, not as a reaction to the news of the nest at Swinton Estate being fed earlier than usual”.

The regulator said that the guidelines were changed in relation to  the welfare of the birds, and that new evidence suggests that feeding once the birds had a full clutch of eggs “did not increase the risk of desertion”. 

According to Natural England, the research – funded by NatureScot – shows that even installing a camera 30cm from a nest with eggs or chicks did not result in any failures that could be attributed to the nest visits.

A Natural England spokesperson said that the nest at Swinton Estate that was fed early has now fledged five chicks, and that the estate has helped feed 28 chicks successfully in recent years.

Feeding earlier in the breeding process helps get the young birds off to a good start in their lives,” they added.

ENDS

First of all, I’d like to see ‘the research’ to which Natural England refers and how it has been applied to an assessment of disturbance from diversionary feeding. As far as I’m aware, installing a nest camera is a one-off event and once in place, depending on the type and model, shouldn’t need to be re-visited during the breeding season if the camera card has sufficient memory, but perhaps at the most, once or twice. Diversionary feeding, however, is a repeated, daily event that can occur every day for several months and is therefore much more of a disturbance risk than a one-off installation of a nest camera. The two activities are not comparable in any way, shape or form.

Secondly, I am especially interested in Natural England’s claim that ‘Swinton Estate has helped feed 28 [hen harrier] chicks successfully in recent years’.

Why is that of interest? Well, because the numbers just don’t add up.

In separate FoIs to Natural England I had previously asked them for copies of the diversionary feeding licence CL25 return from Swinton Estate from 2019 and 2020. These were the two freedom of information requests that Natural England considered ‘too complex’ to be able to respond to within the standard 20 working days and they added a further 20 working days to allow time for dealing with this ‘complexity’ (see here).

I’ve since had replies from Natural England and here’s what they told me:

Swinton Estate was not registered for the use of a diversionary feeding licence in 2020 so there is no licence return. [Yep, that’s really complex, I can see why NE wanted 40 working days to tell me about it].

It’s a very interesting response because my sources allege that Swinton Estate WAS diversionary feeding a hen harrier nest in 2020 after the nest on a neighbouring estate was brood meddled. I have submitted a further FoI to Natural England on this – did Swinton Estate diversionary feed hen harriers in 2020 and if so, was Natural England aware of it and if so, what, if any, enforcement action was taken? If no enforcement action was taken, why not?

Swinton Estate did diversionary feed hen harriers in 2019 and did submit a licence return, and here is a redacted copy of it:

There are several things to note:

There is no registration number, but approval to use the CL25 licence was approved by [redacted]. Who was that, and why wasn’t the estate registered in the normal way?

At the nest where diversionary feeding took place, the licence return states, ‘unsuccessful during the incubation period’. Does this mean that Swinton Estate was diversionary feeding during the incubation period – which would have been a breach of the licence conditions in 2019? And if so, did anyone at Natural England pick up on this from the licence return and was there any enforcement action? If not, why not? I have submitted further FoIs to ask about this.

You’ll note then, that according to Natural England’s paperwork, Swinton Estate diversionary fed five hen harrier chicks in 2019, none in 2020, and five this year according to the quote in the Ends Report article. That’s ten hen harrier chicks in total.

I know from a further FoI request to Natural England that Swinton Estate has not registered to use a CL25 licence other than in 2019 and the licence it has belatedly received for 2021.

So how come Natural England told the Ends Report that ‘Swinton Estate has helped feed 28 [hen harrier] chicks successfully in recent years’???

Either somebody at Natural England can’t count, or this estate, owned by Lord Masham, Chair of the Moorland Association, has been diversionary feeding without a licence for a number of years. Has Natural England been turning a blind eye?

Let’s see what the current batch of FoI requests throw up.

17
Jun
21

Red kite shot in Wales, now rehabbed & released

Press release from RSPCA (14th April 2021)

Red kite released after shot bird was rescued and rehabilitated

An inspector who rescued an injured red kite who was found beside a road unable to fly has filmed the magical moment she released the majestic bird back into the wild after a month of rehabilitation.

Our inspector Suzi Smith had been called to rescue the bird after a concerned member of the public found the red kite unable to take off because of an injured wing.

Found at the side of the A470 in Builth Wells on March 16, the bird was safely captured by Suzi before being taken to Vale Wildlife Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre to be assessed. While there, vets x-rayed the bird and discovered that the kite had been shot.

Suzi, who has been rescuing animals for us for twenty years, said:

It was an honour to be able to release this beauty after weeks of treatment and rehab at Vale Wildlife Hospital.

The bird had been shot, and had a guarded prognosis but the team at Vale worked their magic and the red kite has thankfully been able to go back into the wild where they belong.

It’s very upsetting to think that this beautiful bird was deliberately targeted and shot and this is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Anyone with any information about how this bird came to be harmed is urged to call our inspector appeal line on 0300 123 8018.”

All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and it’s an offence to kill, injure or take wild birds except under licence. The maximum penalty, if found guilty, is six months in prison and or an unlimited fine.

ENDS

Thanks to the blog reader who alerted me to this press release from April 2021. I don’t recall seeing any appeal for information in March 2021 when this bird was picked up injured by the side of the road.

Great work by the team at Vale Wildlife Hospital.

16
Jun
21

Wild Justice challenges Natural England’s plans to release hen harriers in southern England

Regular blog readers will know that for the last five years, Natural England has been planning a so-called ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England as part of DEFRA’s ludicrous Hen Harrier Action Plan (see here for an earlier blog and some earlier key posts).

Ever since it was proposed, I and a number of others have been arguing that it is just another greenwashing conservation sham, aimed to divert attention from the real issue threatening the hen harrier population – the continued illegal killing on driven grouse moors.

[A brilliantly apt cartoon by Gerard Hobley]

Getting detail about the proposed ‘reintroduction’ plans from Natural England has been like pulling teeth; they’ve dodged and ducked questions at every turn. However, in March this year the latest round of FoI requests revealed that Natural England was now planning on getting hold of some injured, un-releasable hen harriers from Europe and using them in a captive breeding programme to produce young birds for release on Salisbury Plain (see here). This is believed to be a direct result of potential donor countries refusing to give healthy hen harriers to the UK because the UK clearly can’t look after the hen harriers it’s already got (at least 56 hen harriers have been confirmed illegally killed or have vanished in suspicious circumstances in the last three years alone, most of them on or close to a driven grouse moor).

One of the main objections to Natural England’s reintroduction proposal continues to be the agency’s apparent denial that raptor persecution is a serious threat to any released birds. This denial is, in my opinion, a clear breach of the IUCN’s reintroduction and conservation translocation guidelines (see here), whereby the cause of the species’ extirpation and any ongoing threats need to be addressed before any birds are released.

Campaign group Wild Justice has also been looking at this issue and yesterday sent a letter to Natural England to challenge the poor quality of the scientific evidence that Natural England has provided in its reintroduction assessment document.

The letter from Wild Justice can be read on their blog (here) and I’d thoroughly recommend you take a look to understand just how rubbish Natural England’s scientific assessment is. So rubbish, in fact, that Natural England has cited papers and books that don’t even cover the [flawed] scientific arguments it’s making!

Wild Justice will be considering whether formal legal action is required against Natural England once NE has had an opportunity to respond to questions posed in Wild Justice’s letter.

14
Jun
21

Natural England quietly alters terms of diversionary feeding licence (& hopes we won’t notice)

Further to Friday’s news that the Swinton Estate is under police investigation for the alleged disturbance of breeding hen harriers through diversionary feeding without a licence (see here), there’s been a further development.

You might remember from an earlier blog (here), that one of the conditions of Natural England’s class licence (CL25) permitting the use of diversionary feeding for hen harriers is that diversionary feeding may only begin once the hen harrier’s eggs have hatched. Diversionary feeding is not permitted during the incubation period (which is when Swinton Estate is alleged to have been providing diversionary food).

Well guess what? Natural England has changed the rules and surprise, surprise, diversionary feeding is now permissible during the incubation period!

Imagine that!

And imagine re-writing the rules at the same time as your star grouse shooting estate (apparently accompanied by a Natural England employee) is under police investigation for alleged hen harrier disturbance because hen harriers were being fed during the incubation period!

And imagine re-writing the rules and not announcing the rule change!

Imagine hoping that nobody would notice!

Sneaky, Natural England, very, very sneaky.

What the CL25 licence said about when diversionary feeding was permissible, prior to 13th May 2021:

What the CL25 licence says about when diversionary feeding is permissible, from 13th May 2021:

Gosh, it’s almost as though Natural England is making up the rules as it goes along, isn’t it? I am just marvelling at the breath-taking duplicity of this Government agency.

Having said all that, unless there’s an unseen commencement clause in the newly-written licence conditions (and nothing would surprise me because Natural England just cannot be trusted on anything Hen Harrier related), this new condition shouldn’t be applied retrospectively so the police investigation shouldn’t be derailed.

It’s also useful to note that both the previous licence and the re-written licence state that the female hen harrier shouldn’t be disturbed at the nest during this period. It would appear, looking at the footage, that the Swinton Estate employee and the Natural England employee still have some explaining to do.

I’ll be writing more on diversionary feeding activities in previous years at Swinton in a separate blog…..

UPDATE 17th June 2021: This blog article led to a follow-up article in the Ends Report here

UPDATE 17th June 2021: Natural England accidentally lets slip more alleged shenanigans with hen harriers at Swinton Estate (here)

11
Jun
21

Police investigating Swinton Estate for alleged hen harrier disturbance

The Swinton Estate in North Yorkshire is once again the focus of a police investigation in to alleged wildlife crime.

This time the investigation hasn’t been triggered by the discovery of a shot hen harrier corpse or two on the Swinton grouse moors (see here and here), nor on the use of illegally-set traps (see here) and nor by reports of an armed man walking through a known hen harrier roost at dusk (see here).

No, this time it’s been triggered after a recent Freedom of Information request revealed the estate did not have a licence when one of its employees was filmed allegedly disturbing an active hen harrier nest earlier this spring.

[Photo by Ruth Tingay]

You might recall I first blogged about this incident in April 2021, after footage was sent to me of two individuals who had been observed visiting an active hen harrier nest on the estate, and just prior to that had been observed placing out food nearby for the breeding adults as part of a diversionary feeding scheme (see here). It was claimed that one individual was a Swinton Estate employee and the other one was a Natural England employee.

There were questions to be answered about why the estate was apparently providing diversionary food so early on in the breeding cycle (incubation stage) when the licence permitting diversionary feeding is very clear that this is only permissible once the chicks have hatched (see info here).

So I submitted a series of Freedom of Information requests to Natural England, which were met with NE’s standard unhelpfulness and obfuscation, e.g. telling me, after 20 working days had passed, that they needed an additional 20 working days to provide a copy of one licence return because apparently asking for this was unduly ‘complex’ (see here)!! I’ll come back to that particular aspect of this story in a separate blog because I now have a copy of the licence return and it’s quite interesting in itself.

At the same time as lodging the FoI requests, I also asked Natural England whether they were taking any enforcement action against the estate for allegedly breaching the terms of the diversionary feeding licence (known as a CL25 licence) – see here and here for previous correspondence.

To be fair, the Enforcement section of Natural England has been much more helpful and open than the FoI department. It’s been quite refreshing. Anyway, to cut a long story short, after chasing them for a while I received an email from the Enforcement team the other evening and to my surprise, this is what it said:

So, to clarify, Swinton Estate did not have a diversionary feeding licence in 2021 when one of its employees was observed allegedly providing diversionary food for hen harriers on the estate.

This means that technically there has not been a breach of the CL25 licence, because a licence hadn’t been issued. Therefore, Natural England are not in a position to take enforcement action and the case has instead been passed to North Yorkshire Police for investigation in to alleged offences under the Wildlife & Countryside Act.

I have spoken briefly with a spokesperson at North Yorkshire Police who has confirmed an investigation has opened.

This is going to be really very interesting on all sorts of levels and for all sorts of reasons.

Not least because Swinton Estate is owned by Lord Masham, Mark Cunliffe Lister, who also happens to be the latest Chairman of the Moorland Association, the grouse moor owners’ lobby group in England.

But perhaps of most interest, I’m told that Natural England’s insane hen harrier brood meddling scheme has been undertaken on Swinton Estate in previous years and is apparently set/approved to have chicks removed again this year. How does that work, then, if the estate is under police investigation for alleged wildlife crime?

Ah, that’s right, it makes no difference whatsoever to Natural England’s sham conservation project – as we’ve seen previously on another estate, a police investigation in to alleged wildlife crime doesn’t stop NE from issuing a brood meddling licence and partnering with said estate (e.g. see here).

I’m pretty sure that Mark Avery, and perhaps even the RSPB, may have something to say about these latest revelations in relation to their respective legal challenges against hen harrier brood meddling. I’m pretty sure that the evidence uncovered so far suggests that NE’s so-called ‘rigorous scientific trial’ is not so rigorous after all – and that surely invalidates the so-called ‘research’? Let’s see.

More on this case, and on Swinton’s diversionary feeding licences from previous years, shortly….

UPDATE 14th June 2021: Natural England quietly alters terms of diversionary feeding licence (and hopes we won’t notice) (here)

03
Jun
21

Wild Justice launches two new legal challenges: gamebird releases (again) & the burning regulations

Campaign group Wild Justice (Mark Avery, Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay) has begun the process of launching two new legal challenges in England.

Pre-action protocol letters have been sent to DEFRA laying out the legal arguments for both cases. DEFRA has to respond within a short timescale and depending on the content of those responses, Wild Justice will consider whether to proceed with the cases and seek permission from the High Court to take judicial reviews.

Case 1: Gamebird releases

This case is a natural follow-on from Wild Justice’s successful legal challenge last year on the legality of large-scale gamebird releases on or near sites of high conservation importance (see here and here).

In that case, DEFRA was forced to agree to conduct a review of the harmful ecological impacts of released gamebirds on and near protected sites and to establish a licensing scheme to regulate such releases.

DEFRA has recently (May 2021) issued a new general licence (GL43) in an attempt to meet its obligations but Wild Justice submits that the licence is unlawful in that DEFRA is ‘permitting and licensing the release of gamebirds within European sites and within 500m of European sites, without having properly ruled out the risk of harm of the release of gamebirds in the numbers, densities, and locations permitted under GL43, and has failed to take the necessary steps to prevent the deterioration of European sites.

[Some of the 61.2 million non-native gamebirds released in to the British countryside every year, for shooting]

Case 2: Burning regulations

This new case builds on the e-action that was supported by 123,000+ people after it was launched on Hen Harrier Day 2020 (see here) where Wild Justice asked, among other things, for regulation of burning of vegetation on peatlands. 

DEFRA has recently brought in measures which limit, to some extent, burning of upland vegetation but the measures cover, at best, only 40% of the resource (see here for details of the faults). 

The DEFRA proposals have been roundly criticised by non-governmental organisations, by a parliamentary committee and in a special debate in the House of Lords (see here). 

Wild Justice submits that the new Burning Regulations are unlawful on a number of counts:

  • Ground 1: Unlawfulness arising from the Burning Regulations frustrating their own purpose
  • Ground 2: Demonstrable flaw in the reasoning or serious logical error in the reasoning leading to the making of the Burning Regulations
  • Ground 3: Breaches of the Habitats Regulations 2017
  • Ground 4: Failure to take into account Material Considerations, in particular the requirements to act swiftly to limit the emission of greenhouse gases.

Wild Justice has asked DEFRA to make urgent amendments to the Burning Regs. 

[Photo: muirburn on a North Yorkshire grouse moor. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

If you’d like to be amongst the first to know about what Wild Justice is up to, including progress on these two cases and a number of others in the pipeline, you might want to consider joining 40,000+ others by subscribing to the free Wild Justice newsletter (here), delivered directly to your email inbox.

Many thanks to the readers of the RPUK blog who have shown such enthusiastic support for Wild Justice’s work. There’s more on the way….

03
Jun
21

Legal challenge against Scottish beaver cull gets underway today

Press release from Trees for Life

Legal challenge to Scottish Government’s beaver killing policy to be heard at Court of Session

A legal challenge by Trees for Life to the Scottish Government’s beaver killing policy will be heard by the Court of Session in Edinburgh on Thursday 3 June and Friday 4 June.

Trees for Life says the Government’s nature agency NatureScot is breaking the law by failing to make the killing of the protected species a last resort when management is required. 

The rewilding charity says NatureScot must consider moving beavers to areas of Scotland where they would be welcome and can help boost biodiversity, rather than issuing licences for them to be killed when they cause local damage to farming interests. 

[Photo by Scotland: The Big Picture]

The case aims to ensure a safer future for beavers, which can help tackle the nature and climate crises because their dams create nature-rich and flood-reducing wetlands. Trees for Life also says any management changes must be practical and effective in protecting farmers’ interests.

A ruling in our favour could transform the fortunes of Scotland’s wild beavers. But whatever the legal outcome, this case is spotlighting glaring inconsistencies in the Government’s approach to protecting this still-fragile native species – and why a more nature-friendly, climate-friendly and farmer-friendly approach is needed,” said Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s Chief Executive.

The Government declared beavers to be legally protected in 2019. But NatureScot has since issued dozens of killing licences when beavers are said to be damaging farmland – even though laws on protected species require management to have the least possible impact on their conservation status.

Given the legal protection afforded to beavers and the logic of taking a precautionary approach to their management, Trees for Life is making a strong case that all viable non-lethal alternatives to killing should be explored so that killing of beavers is genuinely a last resort.

Trees for Life agrees with NatureScot that beaver impacts sometimes need to be managed, but believes NatureScot is legally obliged to consider trapping and relocating beavers as an alternative to lethal control of beavers when it issues licenses – something NatureScot contends. 

The court’s view of these arguments will be one of the key points of the judicial review. It is expected that it may be the end of the summer before the court’s verdict is announced.

Lawyer Adam Eagle, Chief Executive Officer of legal specialist rewilding charity The Lifescape Project, which is spearheading the litigation with Trees for Life, said: “We’ve studied hundreds of pages of material obtained from NatureScot through Freedom of Information requests, and we’ve compiled strong arguments that current beaver licensing practices breach the Scottish Habitats Regulations on several fronts.”

A judicial review ruling that lethal control should only be a genuine last resort could allow conservationists and others to identify, with proper community engagement, suitable sites across Scotland to which beavers can be moved and be welcome – boosting biodiversity, creating wildlife tourism opportunities, and preventing potential damage to farmland elsewhere.

Currently the Scottish Government is blocking such relocations, even though NatureScot has identified over 100,000 hectares of suitable habitat. This is limiting the options for Tayside farmers whose land or crops are damaged by beavers, often putting them in the position of having to shoot the much-loved animals.

Trees for Life’s public crowdfunder to cover the legal costs of the judicial review raised over £60,000.

A judicial review – a court review of official decision-makers’ decisions and actions to ensure they are lawful – can only proceed when there is a recognised legal ground and if the applicant has the legal right, known as ‘standing’, to bring a challenge.

Trees for Life is dedicated to rewilding the Scottish Highlands. See treesforlife.org.uk.

ENDS

This subject is off-topic for this blog but is of interest on a number of fronts, not least the tactic of a conservation organisation taking the Government to court to challenge alleged unlawful wildlife policy, but also because blog readers contributed to the crowdfunder to support this legal challenge (here).

Perhaps most significantly though, because in this case Scottish farmers and landowners have joined forces with statutory agency NatureScot to defend this judicial review because they believe the outcome could have impacts on the lawfulness of killing sea eagles, ravens and other protected species (see here).

Good luck in court today and tomorrow to the legal team from Trees for Life.

02
Jun
21

Trial begins for Millden Estate gamekeeper accused of animal cruelty offences

The trial is due to begin today of a Scottish gamekeeper from Millden Estate in the Angus Glens, who is accused of a number of animal welfare offences related to animal fighting.

Police Scotland and the Scottish SPCA raided a property on Millden Estate and another property in Aberdeenshire in October 2019 after intelligence suggested animal fighting was taking place. A number of dogs were seized (see here).

Alleged offences relating to the Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 resulted in charges being brought against a gamekeeper in December 2020 (see here).

The charges relate to:

Section 19 concerning offences related to unnecessary suffering.

Section 23 concerning offences related to animal fights.

Section 24 concerning offences related to ensuring the welfare of animals.

This is an interesting case for a number of reasons and there’ll be much to say but for now, comments on this blog post will not be accepted until criminal proceedings have concluded.

01
Jun
21

Parliamentary question: when will Scottish Government consult on grouse moor licensing?

In November 2020, the Scottish Government announced it’s long-awaited, and some would argue long-overdue, decision to introduce a licensing scheme for driven grouse shooting, in response to the Werritty Review and in response to the grouse-shooting industry’s utter failure to self-regulate and stop the illegal persecution of birds of prey on driven grouse moors (see here).

Mairi Gougeon, who was the Environment Minister at that time, said in her statement:

If re-elected, this Government will bring forward the necessary legislation in the next Parliament to license grouse moor management and to strengthen the existing legislation on muirburn, including a range of appropriate penalties that could be applied in cases of non-compliance. Any new legislation will of course be preceded by full consultation in the normal way

and

I look forward to discussing these measures with members of this parliament and key stakeholders over the coming months“. 

Six months on from making that commitment, Mark Ruskell MSP (Environment spokesperson for Scottish Greens) is not wasting any time in getting down to business in this new Parliament and is already applying the pressure.

He lodged the following Parliamentary Question on 14th May 2021:

S6W-00039To ask the Scottish Government when it will consult on the licensing of grouse moors.

This question was answered on 26th May 2021 by Graeme Dey:

ANSWER: The Scottish Government remains committed to implementing the licensing of driven grouse shooting and is currently developing proposals for a full public and stakeholder consultation with the aim of bringing forward legislation during this parliamentary term.

The timing of the consultation will depend on the legislative programme for the Parliament, which will be set out in due course.

Hmm. The first thing that struck me about this response was who it was from. Graeme Dey is the Transport Minister – his portfolio does not cover grouse shooting as far as I can tell. How very odd that it wasn’t answered by either the Environment Minister (Mairi McAllan) or either of the two Cabinet Secretaries with responsibilities in this area (Mairi Gougeon and Michael Matheson).

The second thing that struck me was the Government’s continued use of language that aims to demonstrate action but actually delivers nothing more than a holding statement. Yes, it’s a standard tactic but it’s oh so bloody tedious. I guess it’s just all part of the pantomime.

Well done Mark Ruskell MSP. Please keep pushing on this – there’s absolutely no reason why the public and stakeholder consultation on grouse moor licensing can’t be started now. Sure, the drafting and processing of new legislation will have to fit into the Government’s programme but there’s an awful lot of work to do before we get to that stage and there’s no legitimate excuse to delay that.

What the Government can be sure about, is that we won’t let it get away with the shambolic lack of urgency it has demonstrated on the parallel subject of increased powers for the SSPCA – a topic it has dragged its feet on since 2011 under a succession of now eight (yes, eight!) Environment Ministers (see here).

31
May
21

‘Grouse moors are being protected at the expense of Scotland’s other wildlife’ – opinion piece

An opinion piece was published in today’s Press & Journal, written by Max Wiszniewski, Campaign Manager for REVIVE, the coalition for grouse moor reform in Scotland.

The article is reproduced here:

An in-depth study of seven shooting estates has shown that over 100,000 foxes, stoats, weasels, crows and so-called non-target species like hedgehogs and dippers are killed on Scotland’s grouse moors every year.

This is one of the most disturbing parts of the circle of destruction that surrounds the controversial grouse shooting industry, which also requires muirburn (the practice of burning off old growth on a heather moor) on a large scale and the mass chemical medication of grouse to sustain itself.

Thousands of snares and traps legally litter Scotland’s countryside with an aim to kill those animals that threaten grouse numbers – so that a few more of them can be shot by a few people for sport.

While some land managers may have legitimate reasons for controlling the number of certain species, with conservationists being among them, maintaining unnaturally high grouse numbers for sport killing should not be one of those legitimate reasons.

The above activities are immensely underregulated, but Scotland’s birds of prey are protected and cannot be killed legally. This is a relief to many, as these iconic birds may otherwise be subject to cruelty on a far larger scale. However, in the depths of our countryside it still goes on – largely because self-regulation by the shooting industry has not worked.

Birds of prey like golden eagles and hen harriers still go missing or are found dead on or near grouse moors – with the satellite tagged ones representing the tip of the iceberg. This has now been recognised by the Scottish Government and a broad coalition in the Scottish Parliament, who wish to hold grouse shooting to account.

Following the Werritty Report by the Grouse Moor Management Group in 2019, despite heavy resistance from the shooting industry, shooting estates will require a licence to operate.

Frankly, it is surprising that they have operated under so little regulation for so long but the terms of this licence should address the industry’s war on our wildlife. More regulation is needed for a bold and consistent approach to wildlife management, not less.

In 2017, an international panel of 20 experts in wildlife management, conservation and welfare created the first international guidelines for ethical decision making in wildlife control. They agreed to “an interdependent and step-wise set of seven principles for managing human-wildlife conflict” – the types of conflict alluded to by our counterparts in BASC Scotland.

The seven principles for wildlife culling discussed by the report can be summarised by the following:

  • Modifying human practices when possible
  • Justification for control required
  • Have clear and achievable outcome-based objectives
  • Cause the least harm to animals
  • Social acceptability
  • Systemic planning
  • Base control on the specifics of the situation rather than labels (like “pest species”)

It is useful to look at our current shooting, snaring and trapping practices within this framework, as it highlights their many flaws and inadequacies. Grouse moors certainly do not meet the standards of these international consensus principles.

The need to kill so much wildlife indiscriminately in order for more wildlife to be killed on sporting estates is unnecessary, unjustified and is not supported by the people of Scotland.

A national poll by the Diffley Partnership showed that around seven in 10 Scots were against the killing of wildlife for the purpose of grouse shooting. It’s up to the industry to prove that this unregulated mass slaughter is not needed to sustain “high bag numbers”. If driven grouse shooting is to continue, it should not be allowed to depend on it.

Wildlife tourism – shooting wildlife with cameras instead of guns – is already worth around five times more to Scotland’s economy compared to grouse shooting and is a bourgeoning industry that requires room to expand. Along with a mosaic of better alternatives, rural Scotland could instead be transformed with thousands more jobs than are currently permitted to exist within the status quo.

It’s time to move forward not backwards in our attitude and treatment of wildlife. It’s time for more regulation, not less, and the seven principles of ethical wildlife control can help us do that.

By ending the war on wildlife in grouse moors we can help unlock our land’s potential, and it will be to the benefit of our people, our wildlife and the environment.

ENDS

REVIVE is a coalition of like-minded organisations working for grouse moor reform in Scotland. The coalition partners are: OneKind, League Against Cruel Sports, Common Weal, Friends of the Earth, Raptor Persecution UK.

If you’re interested in supporting REVIVE’s work, find out how you can get involved here.




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