Posts Tagged ‘Cairngorms National Park

02
Mar
17

Call to stop mountain hare culling in Cairngorms National Park

Animal charity OneKind is stepping up its campaign to stop the mass slaughter of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors.

You may remember OneKind organised a protest rally at Holyrood last November (see here), with the ingenious idea of replicating that now infamous photo of a truckload of dead mountain hares, with their own truckload of (soft cuddly toy) mountain hares.

They’ve got creative again and this time they’re asking people to sign a giant postcard, calling for an end to mountain hare culls in the National Park. The postcard will be delivered to the Cairngorms National Park Authority before the open season on killing mountain hares begins all over again in August.

For information about the campaign please see here

To sign the postcard please click here

onekind-postcard

22
Dec
16

Gamekeepers want sea eagles, kites, buzzards, sparrowhawks & ravens added to General Licences

Further to this morning’s blog about RSPB Scotland’s damning response to SNH’s General Licence consultation (see here), we said we’d write a separate blog about some of the other responses that SNH received.

SNH has now published all the responses, and they’re well worth a read: all-responses-to-snh-general-licence-consultation-2016

There are many organisations and individuals calling for ravens to be added to the General Licences (no surprise) and, yet again, there are a number of requests for buzzards and sparrowhawks to also be added, which would allow these species to be casually killed across Scotland without any monitoring or regulation, although some have suggested these raptors should be on ‘regional’ General Licences to limit the casual killing to a particular area. How thoughtful.

One of the reasons given for adding ravens and buzzards to the General Licences was this: “There are arguably too many of them around and they cloud the skies in our local area“.

Here’s a photograph of some ravens and buzzards clouding the skies:

Actually, this is a photograph (by Richard Barnes) of Dunlin flocking on the coast of North America but it could just as easily be a plague of swarming raptors over a Scottish grouse moor, if you happen to be a pathological raptor hater stuck with an 18th century attitude, that is.

Take a look at the consultation response from Garry MacLennan. Surely not the same Garry MacLennan, Head Gamekeeper at Invermark Estate? Aren’t raptors supposed to be ‘thriving’ there? Perhaps the headline should have read ‘Raptors are thriving on Scottish grouse moors and we want licences to kill them’.

Also have a look at the responses from Iain Hepburn (the same Iain Hepburn as the head gamekeeper at Dunmaglass Estate?), Duncan Mackenzie and Calum Kippen (the same Corrybrough Estate gamekeepers who attended the recent meeting between the Cairngorms National Park Authority & the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association?). Aren’t these the gamekeepers who want licences to monitor and ring raptors? Don’t they see a bit of a conflict of interest there if they also want licences to kill these raptors?

Best of all though, is the response from Bert Burnett (presumably of the SGA). Bert suggests that ravens should be added to the General Licences and argues that regional general licences “could be rolled out for various species that may start to cause problems like sea eagles and kites etc“. Ah yes, that very serious problem of sea eagles mistaking small children for prey.

Of course, these calls for licences to cull raptors are nothing new. Scottish (and English) gamekeepers and land owners have been asking for these for 20 years (see here, here, here, here, hereherehere). So far, SNH has resisted but given Natural England’s recent capitulation on buzzard-killing licences, how much longer before we see the same in Scotland?

12
Dec
16

Minutes of meeting between Cairngorms National Park Authority & Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association

ALMDLast month we blogged about a comment that had been made during an official meeting between the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) and the SGA. The comment came from a CNPA Board member (Eleanor Mackintosh) who was advising the gamekeepers to ‘cover up’ dead mountain hares so that photographs of the corpses couldn’t be published on social media (see here).

That meeting between the CNPA and the SGA was triggered by the SGA’s anger over a blog that had been written by Will Boyd Wallis (CNPA’s Head of Land Management & Conservation) in August, where Mr Boyd Wallis had raised legitimate concerns about some aspects of intensive grouse moor management (see here).

The SGA was furious about that CNPA blog, for a number of reasons (see below). The SGA asked for a meeting with the CNPA to discuss these concerns and the meeting was arranged, apparently after the ‘intervention‘ of Fergus Ewing MSP, who is Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy & Connectivity, but whose remit does not cover the National Parks (Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has responsibility for the National Parks).

Chairman of the SGA, Alex Hogg, wrote to the CNPA requesting a meeting. We got a copy of his letter via an FoI request and here it is: sga-letter-requesting-mtg-with-cnpa-sept-2016

It’s an entertaining read. In it, Alex claims there’s no need for concern about the potential environmental harm of dumping tonnes of medicated grit on to the grouse moors because there’s no scientific evidence to show any damage. He also suggests that if the CNPA was concerned about potential environmental damage then the CNPA would be looking at the issue of dogs and livestock (which have also been wormed) defecating all over the Park. Hmm. If dogs and livestock had been wormed every day with a drug that was 10-20 x the strength permitted for use in the UK, and those piles of faeces were placed at every 100 metres across the grouse moor, for up to eight months of the year, as are piles of medicated grit put out for red grouse, then he might have had a valid point. Unfortunately for Alex, there is growing scientific evidence that the drug used in medicated grit (Flubendazole) is actually highly toxic to some aquatic organisms (e.g. see here) and, given the extent of its use on intensively managed grouse moors, this is exactly why Leeds University is offering a PhD scholarship to examine this issue in more detail (see here).

Anyway, on to the actual meeting itself. This took place on 29 September 2016 at Glenlochy in the National Park (an interesting choice of venue given the raptor persecution crimes that have been recorded in the area). In attendance were several representatives of the CNPA, several from the SGA, including Bert Burnett, some gamekeepers, and local SNP councillor Geva Blackett, who used to work as the SGA’s Parliamentary Officer many moons ago and who is married to Simon Blackett, the (now retired) Estate Factor at Invercauld Estate.

The minutes can be downloaded here: minutes-cnpa-sga-mtg-29-sept-2016

These minutes are well worth a read, not just because they expose the buffoonery of the SGA, but also because they provide an insight to the astonishing display of deference from the CNPA officials towards the SGA.

The meeting covered many topics and we won’t go in to all of them here because you can read them for yourselves and have a good giggle (whatever you do, don’t diss red grouse by calling them willow grouse!). The main thing we want to focus on is the discussion about gamekeepers getting licences to monitor and ring raptors and waders within the National Park.

Geva Blackett is pushing the CNPA to support this idea, and according to Bert Burnett, “no training is needed”. He really doesn’t have a clue, does he?!  The CNPA seems equally as ignorant, claiming that they’d like to support this initiative because they’d like to know about raptor numbers within the Park. Er, have they not heard of the award-winning Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme? A multi-partner scheme that holds all the raptor monitoring data collected across Scotland? Apparently not.

What’s even funnier about the SGA’s demands to get licences is that just this week, Bert Burnett and a couple of his cronies (including a convicted falcon thief) have launched a social media campaign designed to portray raptor fieldworkers in a negative light. They’ve trawled the internet and come up with some old photographs of raptor tagging activities (one photo is at least 13 years old!) and have made wholly unsubstantiated allegations about the behaviour of those featured in the photographs (unbeknownst to Bert, one of the photographs is actually from a project in North America, not from Scotland!). Apparently, these nest visits cause birds to desert. Hmm. And the evidence for that is where, exactly?

Bert has also claimed that raptor monitoring, ringing and tagging is “completely unregulated and those doing it are totally non accountable for their actions”. This exposes Bert’s lack of knowledge about the training and qualifications needed for this work, and also his ignorance about the high level of reporting required by the licensing authorities.

Strange, isn’t it, that if Bert thinks all this monitoring and ringing is ‘bad’, that at this meeting with the CNPA he is pushing for gamekeepers to be issued with licences to do the same work!

And if Bert/the SGA and co are so upset about satellite-tagging, why are they not kicking off about the GWCT’s woodcock satellite-tagging project?

And if Bert/the SGA and co are so upset about the ‘welfare’ of satellite-tagged golden eagles, why do we never see them kicking off about eagles that have been found poisoned, shot or trapped on driven grouse moors?

What is obviously going on here is a desperate little smear campaign designed to coincide with the forthcoming review of raptor satellite tag data, as requested by Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham (see here). This review, due out in the spring, is expected to be damning. We already know that many satellite-tagged raptors ‘disappear’ on grouse moors, and we also know that many satellite-tagged raptors have turned up either poisoned, shot or trapped on grouse moors. This review will pull all of those data together and it is predicted to be a shocking read.

The SGA knows this, hence these latest tactics to try and discredit the raptor workers.

Now, what was it that Tim (Kim) Baynes of the Scottish Moorland Group told that parliamentary committee last week? Ah yes, it was this:

We would very much like to see greater cooperation between ourselves, the Raptor Study Groups and the RSPB“.

It’s pretty clear the SGA has not received this message, or if it has, it’s chosen to ignore it.

But you carry on, Bert, because what you’re doing is political suicide. By asking your cronies to send (no doubt illiterate, baseless rants) to Roseanna Cunningham, complaining about Scottish Raptor Study Group members, she will see that the SGA is trying to undermine her review of the satellite tag data, and she’ll also recognise that the SGA’s claims of ‘partnership working’ with other members of the PAW Raptor Group are nothing more than lip service. PAW partners? Piss-poor partners, more like.

Photograph: dead golden eagle ‘Alma’, found poisoned on a grouse moor on Millden Estate in the Angus Glens. Her corpse was only found because she was wearing a satellite tag, fitted by Scottish Raptor Study Group member and internationally-recognised expert Roy Dennis. It’s no surprise then, that the SGA wants to put a stop to satellite-tagging.

30
Nov
16

‘More evidence required’ before mountain hare culls are regulated, says Cabinet Secretary

More parliamentary questions about the mass slaughter of mountain hares have been asked recently, thanks to Alison Johnstone MSP (Scottish Green Party).

We were particularly interested in this one:

Question S5W-04501: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party. Date lodged: 4/11/2016.

To ask the Scottish Government what measures it is taking to ensure that estates adhere to voluntary restraint on large culls of mountain hare, as called for by the joint position taken by Scottish Natural Heritage, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and Scottish Land and Estates on large-scale culls of mountain hare to reduce louping ill, and what measures it is taking to monitor compliance with this policy.

Answered by Roseanna Cunningham (22/11/2016)

Scottish Natural Heritage is working with key stakeholders to improve transparency and understanding about the reasons why some moorland managers continue to wish to cull mountain hares and the numbers involved.

If evidence emerges that large-scale culls are continuing, the Scottish Government will consider the case for tightening regulation of this issue.

Dear god. ‘Working with stakeholders to improve transparency‘? Who’s she kidding, when the Convenor of the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s Planning Committee, Eleanor Mackintosh, is advising gamekeepers to hide the evidence of mountain hare culls, even though she denies it (see here) and the CNPA Convenor Peter Arygle denies it too (see here). How is hiding evidence improving transparency?!

We’ve been asking for transparency about the mass slaughter of mountain hares for some time. We asked some pretty simple questions back in March (see here) but so far, no response.

And why does the Scottish Government need more evidence anyway? Why isn’t the already-available evidence sufficient to show that large-scale culls are indeed continuing? And what type of evidence does the Scottish Government require before action is taken? Perhaps we should try the ‘I’ve seen it from my kitchen window‘ approach – seems to work in Westminster.

We’ve heard similar excuses about needing more evidence so many times before, usually in relation to an illegal raptor persecution case: e.g. ‘We won’t hesitate to take further action if deemed necessary’, but then when more evidence is produced, i.e. the corpse of yet another illegally-killed raptor, it’s never quite enough for the Government to deem that promised further action ‘necessary’. It’s just a never-ending cycle of ‘Next time we’ll do something’, until the next time comes and then the line is repeated, and then the next time and then the next time after that ad nauseam.

On the subject of what constitutes sufficient evidence, we’d recommend reading the latest article on the always thought-provoking ParksWatchScotland blog (see here). They’ve written an excellent piece called ‘What counts as evidence in our National Parks?’ in which they compare the frankly low grade ‘evidence’ recently used by the Scottish Government to introduce restrictive camping byelaws in the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, with the high grade evidence of large-scale mountain hare culling that is seemingly insufficient to trigger the introduction of byelaws to prevent these mass culls in the Cairngorms National Park. The disproportionality is striking, as are the probable reasons behind it.

24
Nov
16

Cairngorms National Park mountain hare cover up denied

Last week we blogged (here) about an extraordinary comment attributed to Eleanor Mackintosh, a Board member of the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA). During a discussion with the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association on 29 September 2016, Ms Mackintosh apparently suggested they use covers on the back of vehicles to hide the evidence of mountain hare culls rather than risk photographs being taken of piles of dead hares being transported on open-backed vehicles:

Naturally, most people would expect the CNPA to be clamping down on the mass slaughter of mountain hares on grouse moors within the National Park, not suggesting to gamekeepers that they instead just hide the evidence, so Ms Mackintosh’s comments didn’t go down too well. One of our blog readers, Andy Holden, wrote to Ms Mackintosh to express his disgust and she duly replied as follows:

Dear Mr Holden

Thank you for your recent email in relation to mountain hares in the Cairngorms National Park.

It is my opinion that what I said has been taken completely out of context I am very clear on, and whole heartedly support the CNPA current position on hare culls.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority is clear in its position on mountain hare culling. The CNPA does not support ‘hiding’ in any way the number of hares culled. On the contrary, our advice to land managers is to be more open about the number of hares culled. We recognise that culling hares is legal and that culls can be undertaken for a number of reasons. We do not support large scale culling and endorse the call for restraint made by SNH. We support the ongoing work to develop best practice in counting mountain hare numbers being developed by the James Hutton Institute and GWCT. In the meantime our advice to land managers is to set out clearly why culls are undertaken, share information on the numbers of hares culled and where possible to count hare numbers consistently while waiting for the recommendations on counting methodology from the current research.

The information you refer to is a note by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association of a meeting with CNPA to discuss a number of aspects of the recent National Park Partnership Plan consultation.

Regards

Eleanor Mackintosh

END

Interesting. So Ms Mackintosh doesn’t deny that she made the suggestion, but instead she claims her remarks were taken “completely out of context“. Really? By whom? Not by us – we posted the notes from the CNPA/SGA meeting exactly as they were presented in the FoI response (see photo above).

Perhaps she meant that the notes from the meeting (prepared by the SGA) hadn’t been written up accurately and had reported her comments ‘out of context’? That’s entirely possible, of course, but in this case it seems unlikely.

Why would we say that seems unlikely? Well, because the notes from the meeting, as prepared by the SGA, were emailed to the CNPA on 4 October 2016. The recipients of that email included Will Boyd Wallis (CNPA), Hamish Trench (CNPA), Mike Cottam (CNPA) and someone listed as ‘Eleanor’. Will, Hamish and Mike had all attended the meeting with the SGA, so we assume the person named as ‘Eleanor’ was Eleanor Mackintosh, who was also present at that meeting.

Later that same day, Hamish Trench (CNPA) sent an email back to the SGA (also copied to Will, Mike and ‘Eleanor’) acknowledging receipt of the notes but not accepting them as an accurate reflection of what was said during the meeting by him, Will and Mike. Hamish offered to amend the notes before they were circulated more widely.

On 6 October, Will Boyd Wallis (CNPA) sent an amended version of the notes back to the SGA, and copied in Hamish, Mike and ‘Eleanor’. In this amended version, Will had made several editorial changes to some of the comments, but did not amend the comments attributed to Eleanor. Presumably, as ‘Eleanor’ had been in receipt of all this correspondence, if she thought her comments had been placed ‘completely out of context’ here was the perfect opportunity for her to say so.

She didn’t.

You can read the correspondence between the SGA and CNPA here: cnpa-sga-mtg-29-sept-2016-amendment-of-notes

Now, maybe Ms Mackintosh was away, maybe her internet was down, maybe she didn’t see the notes until they were published on this blog.

Or, maybe, she did suggest that gamekeepers should hide dead mountain hares under covers and now she’s in the middle of a shit storm and she’s looking for a way out.

17
Nov
16

Cover up in the Cairngorms National Park!

Well done to Scottish animal charity OneKind for organising today’s protest rally at the Scottish Parliament, enabling campaigners to call on MSPs to put an end to the mass unregulated slaughter of tens of thousands of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors.

Ingeniously, OneKind replicated the now infamous image of that truckload of dead mountain hares (published here and here earlier this year) with their own truckload of (soft cuddly toy) mountain hares:

onekind-hare-rally-stuart-spray

(Photo from the rally by Stuart Spray).

Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham addressed the rally and said the Scottish Government opposes mass culls, that legislation to protect mountain hares has not been ruled out, but that the Government needs evidence before it can act.

That evidence might be harder to come by in future. A board member of the Cairngorms National Park Authority (Eleanor MacKintosh) recently suggested to members of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association that they literally cover up their mass hare-killing sprees by using covers on the back of vehicles to hide the evidence from prying camera lenses instead of having piles of dead hares on display in open-backed trucks!!!

This information (and other fascinating discussions) was revealed in an FoI asking for information about a meeting between the CNPA and the SGA that was held in September this year. We’ll be blogging a lot more about that in due course.

29
Sep
16

‘Missing’ hen harrier Brian: official responses from Environment Secretary & Cairngorms National Park Authority

Two days after the news that young satellite-tagged hen harrier Brian has gone ‘missing’ in the Cairngorms National Park (see here), we now have official responses from Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham and from the CEO of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Grant Moir.

brian-july16_jennyweston

Well done to journalist Christopher Foote (STV news) for publicising this incident (here) and for managing to get these official responses.

Let’s start with the response from the Environment Cabinet Secretary:

I take this issue very seriously and it shows the need to establish whether the disappearance of these birds is indicative of criminal activity. 

It is clearly suspicious, but we must ensure that a robust statistical analysis of all the data from over 200 tagged birds supports any conclusion. 

I will consider what action to take in the light of the full evidence, and I am not ruling out any options.”

Well, at least she didn’t trot out the usual Ministerial line that we’ve heard repeatedly from successive Environment Ministers over a period of several years (e.g. “I’m very disappointed” and “I will not hesitate to bring in further measures if they are deemed necessary“). And at least she has acknowledged this incident, which is better than remaining silent about it. But other than that, this is just yet another holding statement.

We’re partly sympathetic to her position. She has recently instructed a review of raptor satellite tag data (which we fully support) but that review is not expected to be finished until March 2017. That six month delay is not her fault, and nor is it the fault of the review’s authors. They need to conduct a thorough interrogation and analysis of the data and their methods will need to stand up to potential legal scrutiny depending on the Secretary’s subsequent decision to act. We’re well aware (as Roseanna will be) that the well-financed grouse shooting industry will take whatever legal action it can to prevent any Governmental challenge to its current practices, so this review does have to be robust and that will, inevitably, take time. On that basis, a holding statement at this stage is probably the best we could expect.

However, we’re also partly unsympathetic to Roseanna’s position. As we’ve said before, many, many, times, the evidence of criminal activity on grouse moors is already overwhelming and has been available for several decades. It has built and built and built. We don’t need to wait for yet another study to reach the same conclusion. It’s hugely frustrating that we have to put up with the constant stalling tactics from the Government before any action is taken. Again, Roseanna Cunningham isn’t entirely responsible for the stalling – every other Environment Minister has played their part in that, and some more than others – but eventually, a point is reached where the stalling and inaction is no longer tolerable.

Let’s now look at the statement from Grant Moir, CEO of the Cairngorms National Park Authority:

We are working with Police Scotland, SNH and Scottish Government to look at next steps around wildlife crime in the Cairngorms National Park.”

Really, Grant? 48 hours of thinking time and that’s the best you can offer? You needn’t have bothered. No, really, you needn’t have bothered.

Photograph of hen harrier Brian by Jenny Weston




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