Last week, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham gave a speech at the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s annual conference, where she described, with feeling, her ‘contempt‘ for the continued illegal persecution of birds of prey (see here).
Her speech was warmly welcomed by those in the audience and many were hoping she would deliver the same message when she spoke at the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association AGM, six days later on 3 March.
It seems as though she did. According to this article in the Courier, her speech to the SGA was similarly-worded and hopefully it was delivered with the same strength of feeling she gave at the SRSG conference.
Here are some quotes from her SGA speech:
“Not only are you valuable eyes and ears in the Scottish countryside, but you are stakeholders in the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime, with a vital role to play.”
“We also need to continue to work together to change attitudes and every person in this room can help“.
“The successful reintroductions of red kite and white-tailed eagle, and the recent 15% increase – which is in real terms a recovery – in golden eagle numbers, from the results of the last national survey – is welcome progress“.
“For many people seeing these magnificent birds is a rare event. Many of you here today are in the fortunate position of seeing them regularly and I envy you that“.
“Unhappily however the illegal killing of raptors is still with us“.
“I have no patience at all with old fashioned attitudes towards these birds that linger on in this day and age. We all have to abide by the law, and must do so every day“.
“I have no truck with any excuse that raptors damage driven grouse shooting interests – such damage is a business risk that grouse moor owners have to live with, and manage for – and this has to be done within the law“.
“I note and welcome your chairman Alex Hogg’s reiteration of the pledge to ensure SGA members only consider legal routes to conflict resolution and he has made it clear that those committing wildlife crime will be removed from the SGA.”
Although it looks like she didn’t go as far as directly pointing the finger at the SGA, it is to be hoped that the sub-text was clear enough to have some people squirming in their seats.
As several commentators have mentioned on this blog, although the Environment Secretary’s words were welcome, we have heard them all before, not only from her but also from three previous Environment Ministers, and yet raptor persecution continues. For now though, we’re cautiously giving Roseanna Cunningham the benefit of the doubt.
Yes, her words to the SGA are a big improvement on the words her predecessor gave to the SGA (see here) and yes, she’s bought herself and the Scottish Government a bit more time with these two speeches, but society’s patience is not limitless. We expect to see further measures enacted, and soon. There will be a lot of attention placed on the Cabinet Secretary’s response to the recently-published game bird licensing review, the forthcoming review of satellite tagged raptors, and the decision on whether to give increased investigatory powers to the SSPCA.
There’ll also be a great deal of attention paid this year to whether SNH grants licences to gamekeepers allowing them to kill protected raptors and if so, on what grounds? Roseanna has been clear that any perceived damage by raptors to grouse moor management should be a ‘business risk’ that has to be ‘managed within the law’. The SGA will no doubt argue that applying for licences to kill raptors would be ‘managing the business risk within the law’ and technically, they’d be correct, in as much as the provision is there to apply for such licences but whether protecting artificially high numbers of game birds is justification for legally killing protected raptors, especially when illegal raptor persecution continues, is an argument that will dominate MSPs’ inboxes if licences are given this year.
Interesting times ahead.