Posts Tagged ‘Environment Minister

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)

19
Dec
19

Scottish Government ‘actively considering’ additional enforcement action on wildlife crime

On Tuesday (17 December 2019) the Scottish Rural Affairs & Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon, gave evidence to the cross-party Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) committee which is currently considering Stage 1 of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill.

The transcript can be read here (wildlife crime discussed from page 20 onwards): ECCLR report_17December2019

The archived video can be watched here

We’ve already blogged about one aspect of that evidence, where rather than committing to a mandatory custodial sentence for possession of banned deadly poisons, just as there is for those caught in possession of illegal firearms, yet another poisons amnesty was being considered instead (see here).

The rest of the session covered a lot of ground with some well-informed questions posed by some members of the ECCLR committee, especially Mark Ruskell MSP and Claudia Beamish MSP. In addition to an increase in penalties for wildlife crimes, which is part of the core text of the proposed Bill, other topics discussed included the Werritty review (due before the end of the year), the Government’s annual wildlife crime report (apparently due to be published ‘by the end of the year’ and we expect it will show an increase in confirmed raptor persecution crimes), vicarious liability, increasing SSPCA powers to tackle wildlife crime, the ineffectiveness of General Licence restrictions because estates can simply apply for Individual licences instead, covert video surveillance, the failure of the Police Special Constables pilot scheme in the Cairngorms National Park and a question about why the General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate, imposed after Police Scotland provided ‘clear evidence of wildlife crime’, has been reinstated during the appeals process. Government officials committed to submitting a written response to Claudia Beamish’s question on this legally complicated issue.

The discussion on increasing powers for the SSPCA during Stage 2 of the Bill was quite telling. The Minister said the SSPCA had approached the Government in recent weeks to request additional powers to help tackle wildlife crime but she seemed to go to great lengths to argue that although she is committed to considering options she didn’t forsee anything happening in this particular Bill because the Government ‘needs the chance to fully discuss the issue’ and to ‘assess the ramifications of increasing those powers’.

Yeah, she’s right, so far the Government has only taken six years and five different Environment Ministers to fully discuss the issue and consider the ramifications – see here for a jaw-dropping timeline. And after all that it then concluded that accepting the offer of free resources from an expert and experienced reporting agency like the SSPCA wasn’t the right option for tackling serious organised crime and, inexplicably, chose instead to launch a £28k pilot scheme for five part-time voluntary Police Special Constables to potter around in the Cairngorms National Park and ‘meet stakeholders’; a scheme which, unsurprisingly, has been a complete flop. Even though Mairi Gougeon wasn’t in post as one of those five Environment Ministers during that six-year stalling exercise, her advisors should know all about those shenanigans. Honestly, the extent of the feet dragging is astonishing.

Mark Ruskell MSP again raised the issue of the ineffectiveness of General Licence restrictions and other sanctions, and asked the Minister if other sanctions were available? She responded by saying that she thought it was ‘important that other deterrents are available‘ and “We are actively considering the need for an additional level of enforcement, which would not require referral to the procurator fiscal or involvement of the Scottish courts but would still provide a penalty that would act as a deterrent. We will be happy to consider the evidence and consider whether measures are as effective as they can be“.

When Mark asked her whether she would be interested in discussing with the Westminster Government the withdrawal of a firearms certificate as a potential sanction, she responded,

Absolutely. I know that there were two recommendations around that in the Poustie review, so we will happily engage in discussions with the UK Government. I believe that the matter falls under the justice portfolio, so I would also be happy to raise it with justice colleagues and see how we can get some movement on the recommendations with the UK Government“.

Good, but if this was in the Poustie review on wildlife crime penalties published in 2015, why haven’t those discussions already taken place? That’s not Mairi Gougeon’s fault – she wasn’t in post then – but come on Scottish Government, five years on and discussions haven’t even started? This is like pulling teeth.

It’s not clear what other potential sanctions the Scottish Government is ‘actively considering’ to tackle wildlife crime but the long-awaited Werritty review should have some suggestions.

24
Apr
18

Grouse Moor Management Review Group: 1st meeting report

In May last year Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced her intention to establish a Grouse Moor Management Review Group, in response to the damning findings of the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review which had revealed that almost one third of satellite-tagged golden eagles had disappeared in highly suspicious circumstances on or close to intensively managed driven-grouse moors (see here).

The membership of the Grouse Moor Management Review Group was announced in November 2017 (see here) and the panel was expected to report back its findings to the Cabinet Secretary in early 2019.

The Group held its inaugural meeting on 16 January 2018 at the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Chair (Prof Alan Werritty) outlined the background and context for the Group, and the following terms of reference were agreed:

The Group will examine how to ensure that grouse moor management continues to contribute to the rural economy while being environmentally sustainable and compliant with the law. The Group will recommend options for regulation including licensing and other measures which could be put in place without new primary legislation‘.

[Photo of intensively managed driven grouse moor, Cairngorms National Park, by Ruth Tingay]

Prof Werritty noted that the Cabinet Secretary had also commissioned a socio-economic study to be undertaken in parallel with the work of the Group, with interim findings to be made available later in the year.

According to Prof Werritty’s report of this first meeting, in addition to identifying a schedule for meetings, the Group agreed the following framework:

January to July 2018: gathering evidence and identifying key issues:

  • Meeting 2. Evidence 1 (Environmental law relevant to grouse moors, current licensing systems and Codes of Practice, wildlife crime)
  • Meeting 3. Evidence 2 (Predation/raptors and mountain hares)
  • Meeting 4. Evidence 3 (Muirburn and medicated grit, call for written evidence)

September to December 2018: written and oral evidence, visit to estate(s), socio-economics:

  • Meeting 5. Written evidence reviewed and oral evidence from key stakeholders
  • Meeting 6. Visit to grouse shooting estate(s)
  • Meeting 7. Review input from socio-economic study

January to March 2019: drafting report and recommendations:

  • Meeting 8. Review evidence and initial drafting of report and recommendations
  • Meeting 9. Finalise report and recommendations

At the first meeting in January 2018, the Group heard presentations from three of the Group’s special advisors, as follows:

  • Adam Smith (GWCT): Grouse moors and their management: an introduction
  • Ben Ross (SNH): Current regulatory system governing grouse moor management
  • Des Thompson (SNH): Raptor persecution and driven grouse moors

[Photo of satellite-tagged golden eagle Fearnan, found illegally poisoned on a driven grouse moor in the Angus Glens. Image by RSPB Scotland]

17
Apr
18

Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘disappears’ in grouse moor blackspot in Perthshire

Press release from RSPB Scotland (17/4/18):

RSPB SCOTLAND ASSISTS IN SEARCH FOR ‘MISSING’ EAGLE

Another satellite tagged eagle has disappeared in highly suspicious circumstances. RSPB Scotland has today (17th April 2018) been assisting Police Scotland in the search for the white tailed eagle in the Glen Quaich area of Perthshire.

Photo of White-tailed eagle ‘Blue X’, by RSPB Scotland

[RPUK map. Red stars indicate last known fixes of satellite-tagged golden eagles that have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances. Orange circle indicates area of interest. Data from the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, published last year]:

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland said: “This is the fourth satellite tagged eagle (three golden eagles and now one white-tailed eagle) to disappear in highly suspicious circumstances in this very area since 2014. This location around Glen Quaich is dominated by driven grouse moor estates, and has been highlighted previously as a ‘black hole’ for wildlife crime against raptors”.

[Google map of Glen Quaich, surrounded by driven grouse moors]

Duncan continues: “A report published by the Scottish Government last May, prompted by the regular disappearance of satellite-tagged eagles, provided unequivocal evidence that the sudden disappearance of these birds when reliable tags suddenly stop transmitting is highly suspicious.

This is the third of five white-tailed eagle chicks to have fledged from the first successful nest in East Scotland –  the product of a Scottish Government-sponsored reintroduction project – to have disappeared in such circumstances, suggesting it has also been illegally killed.

We call on the Scottish Government to introduce a robust licencing system for driven grouse shooting with sanctions for removal of licences where criminal patterns of behaviour are established to the satisfaction of the authorities. Those that obey the law and conduct their operations within it have nothing to fear from such a regulatory framework.

ENDS

Eagle Blue X was the 5th chick to fledge from the well known Fife pair. Only one is still alive: one died after landing on power lines (and was recovered for post mortem) and two others disappeared under suspicious circumstances. This is a very high attrition rate for the most important generation in the reintroduction project.

In 2017, 21 volunteers gave up a total of 815 hours to watch the Fife nest and make sure the breeding attempt was successful. They stopped a photographer from continuing to disturb the incubating female and undoubtedly saved the eggs from chilling.

Blue X hatched in 2017 and she was ‘gone’ by March 2018.

Here she is in the nest as a chick (photo RSPB Scotland). All that effort, for nothing.

For how long do you think the Scottish Government will tolerate this blatant criminality that brings shame and embarrassment to the decent, law-abiding citizens of Scotland?

They’ll tolerate it for as long as we allow them to.

Please, consider writing to Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, who undoubtedly will be as appalled as we all are about this ongoing, out of control lawlessness, and ask her to act. Emails to: CabSecECCLR@gov.scot 

UPDATE 18 April 2018: Pointless search for missing sea eagle ‘Blue X’ (here)

UPDATE 19 April 2018: Deputy First Minister’s constituency a hotspot for ‘disappearing’ sat-tagged eagles (here)

UPDATE 20 April 2018: “It can’t go on – Mark Ruskell MSP speaks out against illegal raptor persecution (here)

06
Apr
18

Gamekeepers invite First Minister to visit estates where mass slaughter of mountain hares takes place

Scottish gamekeepers have invited First Minister Nicola Sturgeon & Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham to visit estates “to learn about mountain hare culls”.

The invitation comes after the First Minister’s angry response to recent video evidence showing the brutal, military-style killing of mountain hares undertaken by gamekeepers on several Scottish grouse moors and filmed by OneKind, Lush & the League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland) in February this year. Ms Sturgeon commented in Parliament that this mass killing was “not acceptable”.

Here’s the footage for those who missed it:

Presumably the invitation isn’t for the First Minister & the Cabinet Secretary to take part in a hare cull, or perhaps it is? Perhaps the gamekeepers envisage the pair kitted out in tweeds, riding on a quad bike across the moor, blasting hares in the face and legs with a shotgun, all in the name of ‘sport’ and ‘conservation’? Perhaps then they could go on to visit a stink pit to toss in the bloodied corpses on top of the pile of festering bodies already dumped there, with just enough time to set a few snares and batter to death a few cagefuls of trapped corvids before heading back to the big hoose for tea. How could they refuse such an invitation?

Here’s the press release from the gamekeepers:

GAMEKEEPERS INVITE FIRST MINISTER TO LEARN ABOUT MOUNTAIN HARE CULLS

Gamekeepers have invited the First Minister to visit their estates to find out about mountain hare management after she warned filmed culls were “not acceptable”.

Nicola Sturgeon said she was “angry” at footage filmed by animal rights charities which showed the animals being killed on shooting estates.

She warned large-scale mass culls could put the conservation status of the species at risk and said legislation to protect the hares is among options being considered by government.

Currently, landowners operate a voluntary restraint agreement regarding numbers culled.

Now, gamekeepers shown in the footage have written to the First Minister and Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham to invite them to their estates to learn more about the rationale behind the killings.

Head gamekeeper for the Clune and Corrybrough Estates in Inverness-shire, Duncan MacKenzie, said: “We’d really like to be able to show the First Minister around rather than discuss these issues in Edinburgh.

I think it would be beneficial for everyone to get an understanding of why the hares need to be managed, here.”

He said the footage filmed by OneKind, League Against Cruel Sports and Lush showed “working people being secretly filmed carrying out a legal management activity which is no different to other forms of species management and is well within the laws passed by Scottish Government“.

The ironic thing is that those who are seeking the end of grouse management would also be signalling the beginning of the end for the mountain hare in Scotland,” he added.

Populations are thriving on grouse moors but are struggling badly elsewhere due to predation and loss of their preferred heather habitat and we hope to have the opportunity to explain this in full to the First Minister.”

Mr MacKenzie said the estates are not hiding anything, adding: “We have good records of the amount of hares in comparison to the amount we have taken off the hill, covering a number of years, and there are still high numbers of hares on the ground.”

The animal rights charities behind the footage claim it shows the agreement for voluntary restraint over culls has “failed” and along with broadcaster Chris Packham are calling for a cull ban until a review on the issue concludes.

ENDS

And here’s a press release in response from RSPB Scotland:

RSPB SCOTLAND RESPONDS TO GAMEKEEPERS’ MOUNTAIN HARE INVITE TO FM

In response to an invitation to the First Minister by gamekeepers to find out about mountain hare culls RSPB Scotland’s James Reynolds said: “If the First Minister is minded to accept this invitation she will of course also wish to visit and observe land of a similar nature, but managed more sustainably. A good example is the Cairngorms Connect project, which is being supported by The Scottish Government’s own Cairngorms National Park Authority – where multiple stakeholders involving the state, charities and the private sector are co-operating in partnership to deliver habitat restoration at a landscape scale for the benefit of local communities, local economy and Scottish environment.

RSPB Scotland is delighted that the current Scottish Government grouse moor enquiry is addressing the issue of unsustainable mountain hare culls, and undertaking an economic comparison of intensive management versus alternative models; we are sure the First Minister will also wish to give her full support to this initiative by her Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham MSP.

The notion that the survival of mountain hares is entirely dependent on intensive grouse moor management is of course absolute nonsense.  Mountain hares existed quite happily in balance with their natural habitat since the last ice age before intensive grouse moor management began in the Victorian era. They will do so again if given the chance to flourish without needless mass culls.”

ENDS

22
Feb
18

Raptor persecution: Chris Packham’s extended interview with Roseanna Cunningham

Last week we published a video about the highly suspicious disappearance of Fred, one of our satellite-tagged golden eagles.

The video included a number of interviews that had to be edited due to time contraints in the original video. One of those interviews was Chris Packham talking with Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham about her reaction to the continued illegal killing of golden eagles and other raptors on or near to land managed for driven grouse shooting.

Here is the full interview.

24
Nov
17

Scottish Government announces Grouse moor management review group

Back in May 2017, Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced an intention to set up an independently-led group to review grouse moor management practices, and to advise on the introduction of an estate shoot licensing scheme. This was mainly in response to the publication of the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, which found that almost one third of sat-tagged golden eagles had disappeared in highly suspicious circsumstances on intensively managed driven-grouse moors. But make no mistake, this was also in response to increased public pressure from the SRSG’s petition calling for game shoot licensing and also in response to increasing public anger about the continuing illegal persecution of birds of prey on driven grouse moors.

[Photo: Conservationist Roy Dennis with dead golden eagle ‘Alma’ – one of Roy’s first satellite-tagged eagles that was found illegally poisoned on an Angus Glens grouse moor]

Finally, almost six months after that first announcement, the Scottish Government has just released the news about who will serve on this review group.

Here’s the Scottish Government press statement:

New group to focus on sustainability of driven-grouse moors.

Membership of an independent group to ensure grouse moor management practices are sustainable and legally compliant has been confirmed.

The new group will be led by Professor Alan Werrity, who previously chaired a Scottish Natural Heritage review into sustainable moorland management. It includes scientists, moorland managers, regulatory experts and advisers from SNH, Scottish Wildlife Trust, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.

The group has been set up in response to SNH research that found almost a third of golden eagles being tracked by satellite died in suspicious circumstances and that the majority of cases were where land is intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

The group will look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls and advise on the option of licensing grouse shooting businesses.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said:

We have been clear that the continued killing of protected species of birds of prey damages the reputation of law-abiding gamekeepers, landowners and the country as a whole.

This new group will look at what we can do to balance our commitment to tackling wildlife crime with grouse moor management practices, so it continues to contribute to our rural economy, while being sustainable and compliant with the law.

The group membership reflects the complex nature and wide range of issues that need to be considered and I look forward to hearing their advice in due course.”

Professor Werrity said:

This is truly challenging work given the traditions underlying moorland management and the concerns coming to light over some mal-practices.

My earlier work chairing the SNH Moorland review also sought to reconcile nature conservation interests with promoting the rural economy. I will be taking an evidence-based approach, and for this we have the right mixture of experience, expertise and knowledge on the group to get to grips with the subject. I look forward to getting started on this review. ”

Background

Read the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review

The confirmed membership of the group includes Professor Alan Werrity FRSE, Professor Ian Newton OBE, FRS, FRSE, Professor Alison Hester FSB, (Professor Colin Reid FRSA – see update below) and moorland managers Alexander Jameson BLE MRICS FAAV and Mark Oddy MRICS CEnV MIAagrM.

[Update 28 Nov 2017: Law professor joins grouse moor management review group, here ]

Dr Calum Macdonald (SEPA), Professor Des Thompson (SNH), Dr Adam Smith (GWCT Scotland) and Susan Davies (SWT) will be specialist advisers to the group.

ENDS

Here is the response from RSPB Scotland to today’s announcement:

RSPB Scotland welcomes announcement of grouse moor enquiry

RSPB Scotland has welcomed today’s announcement by the Scottish Government on the grouse moor enquiry panel. Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management for RSPB Scotland said: “We very much welcome the announcement of this enquiry and of the independent panel. We look forward to giving evidence to the panel in due course.

The remit of the panel includes consideration as to how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law. There are significant public concerns about how grouse moors are currently being managed in Scotland, including clear evidence gathered over decades of the illegal killing of birds of prey.

In recent years these concerns have broadened to encompass wider grouse moor management practices, as commercialisation has taken place, with an emphasis on producing very large and unsustainable grouse numbers for sport shooting. These practices include muirburn on peatland habitats which are important as carbon stores for combating climate change, the culling of mountain hares and the medication of ‘wild’ red grouse, both designed to prevent grouse diseases and artificially boost grouse bags.

We support the introduction of an effective licensing system for driven grouse shooting, with sanctions including the removal of such licences where illegal practices are confirmed. A licensing system could be supported by a statutory Code of Practice setting out clear management standards to protect public interests and prevent bad management practices. These kind of licensing systems are common place in other European countries and equally support legitimate and well run shooting enterprises.”

ENDS

[Photo: the typical landscape of an intensively-managed driven grouse moor in Scotland. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Here is the response from the Scottish Raptor Study Group to today’s announcement:

Scottish Raptor Study Group warmly welcomes today’s announcement by the Scottish Government on the grouse moor enquiry panel.

Patrick Stirling Aird, Secretary of the Scottish Raptor Study Group said, “We are delighted that the membership of the panel has been announced and look forward to providing evidence when called upon to do so“.

The public have increasing concerns around the way in which grouse moors are being operated with a substantial body of science proving beyond all doubt the widespread and illegal persecution of birds of prey on many such moors.

We support the introduction of licensing for driven grouse shooting with enforceable sanctions where illegal practices are confirmed. Such a licensing scheme could incorporate a statutory code of practice which helps to protect the public interest and to prevent bad management practices. This concept is widespread in Europe and elsewhere and works well with legitimate shooting interests.

ENDS

Here are our first thoughts.

Hallelujah! The panel has finally been announced and presumably its work will now get underway, although notice there is no mention of timescales in the Scottish Government’s statement. That’s not too much of a concern right now – as Roseanna mentions, this work will be complex and it’s in everyone’s interests that it is done thoroughly, so we probably shouldn’t expect any output until at least 2019.

This panel has some serious intellectual heavy weights (Chair, Professor Werrity, and panel members Professors Newton and Hester). All three are at the top of their respective fields and have been for years; their academic achievements and scientific authority are undisputed. We are delighted to see these three involved, especially given Professor Werrity’s intention for having an “evidence-based approach” to the review. Excellent.

The other two panel members (Mr Jameson and Mr Oddy) are a bit of a surprise, to be honest. We didn’t expect to see anybody with such obvious vested interests be part of what had been described as an independently-led review group. Nevertheless, there is probably good reason for having them on board, not least to get buy-in to the review from the game-shooting sector. We know very little about Mr Jameson and only a little bit about Mr Oddy – he’s the chap who, when working for Buccleuch Estates on the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, suggested that lethal control of buzzards should be a considered option…..but his suggestion was based on no scientific evidence whatsoever, in fact it was the exact opposite of what the science was showing. Hmm.

All in all, just like RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Raptor Study Group, we very much welcome today’s announcement. It is the next step on the road to what many see as the inevitable introduction of an estate licensing scheme in Scotland. We look forward to giving evidence, if invited to do so.

UPDATE 28 November 2017: Law professor joins grouse moor management review group (here)

UPDATE 24 April 2018: Grouse Moor Management Review Group: 1st meeting report (here)

20
Nov
17

Scottish Government dragging its feet on grouse moor management review

Following last week’s blog about how an announcement was imminent on the formation and composition of the independently-led grouse moor management review group, another deadline has been and gone.

As you’ll recall, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced this review on 31 May 2017, following the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s petition calling for game-shoot licensing as well as the publication of the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, which demonstrated that almost a third of all satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland (41 of 131 eagles) had ‘disappeared’, many in suspicious circumstances on grouse moor estates with a track record of confirmed raptor persecution incidents.

In mid-September 2017 Roseanna told the Scottish Parliament,

Good progress is being made” and “I will announce further details shortly“.

In October 2017 the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee wrote to the Cab Sec asking for a progress report on the establishment of this group. Roseanna replied on 1 November 2017 and said,

I can inform you that I expect to announce the chair and members of the group within the next couple of weeks”.

It’s now 20th November and we’re still waiting for an announcement.

Where’s the sense of urgency? Nearly six months have passed. Just how difficult is it to put together a review group?

Come on, Scottish Government, stop dragging your feet and don’t undo the goodwill generated by the Cab Sec’s announcement back in May.

07
Nov
17

Costs/benefits study of driven grouse shooting due to begin spring 2018

In September 2017 the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee considered petition # PE01633, submitted by Les Wallace, calling on the Scottish Government to sponsor a comprehensive and independent study into the full economic impacts of driven grouse shooting.

The Petitions Committee agreed that a full independent study was needed but was unsure whether this topic would be covered as part of the Scottish Government’s earlier commitment in May to undertake a review of grouse moor management practices.

There was also confusion as to whether the Scottish Government had actually commissioned this research yet, and the Committee agreed to contact the Scottish Government to ask for an update on progress and to ask for a timescale (e.g. start / finish date) of that proposed work.

The Scottish Government has now responded to the Petitions Committee with this:

It’s our understanding that this commissioned research on the economic and biodiversity costs/benefits of driven grouse shooting (and other types of upland land use) is separate to the other main piece of work announced by Roseanna Cunningham five months ago in May 2017 – that being ‘to set up an independently-led group to look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls, and to recommend options for regulation including licensing and other measures which could be put in place without new primary legislation‘.

We are expecting details of this independently-led environmental impact review group to be announced by Friday 10th November, as requested by the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee last month.

27
Sep
17

Evidence of wildlife crime results in General Licence restriction on Edradynate Estate

As many of you will know, SNH has the ability to impose a three-year General Licence restriction order on land, or on an individual, where there is sufficient evidence, substantiated by Police Scotland, that raptor persecution has taken place (see SNH framework here).

This measure, based on a civil burden of proof, was introduced by then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in 2013 in response to the continuing difficulties of meeting a criminal burden of proof to facilitate a criminal prosecution. The measure became available for incidents that occured on or after 1 January 2014.

Photo of a poisoned buzzard (RPUK)

Since then, only two restriction orders have been imposed, both in November 2014: one for the Raeshaw/Corsehope Estates in the Scottish Borders, and one for the Burnfoot/Wester Cringate Estates in Stirlingshire (see here for details, and an explanation of what a General Licence restriction actually means).

As you’ll also probably be aware, Raeshaw Estate and Corsehope Estate made a legal challenge to SNH’s decision and this resulted in a judicial review. The judicial review dragged on for some time but eventually concluded in March this year, and the court found that SNH had acted fairly and that the General Licence restriction at Raeshaw Estate and Corsehope Estate should remain in place (see here).

While this legal challenge was underway, SNH, quite reasonably, did not impose any further General Licence restrictions, even though there were plenty of candidate estates to consider. Once the legal argument had been settled, we expected SNH to open the floodgates and impose many more restriction orders for offences that had taken place since January 2014. We asked SNH about this in June 2017 and we were told that two notifications were underway, relating to offences in Perthshire and Aberdeenshire, although no further details were given at that time, presumably as SNH was giving the affected parties time to respond/appeal. Fair enough.

Today, SNH has announced that two General Licence restriction orders have been imposed in two separate cases.

The first of those cases relates to Edradynate Estate in Perthshire: SNH_GL Restriction Notice_Edradynate Estate_15Sept2017

Here is the decision notice:

And here is the estate boundary map to which the General Licence restriction applies for the next three years:

For the next three years, Edradynate Estate will no longer be able to enjoy the privilege of using General Licences 1, 2 or 3, but the estate will be entitled to apply for the use of an Individual Licence that will allow them to kill certain bird species but under closer scrutiny than if the estate was using a General Licence. We’ll be monitoring the use of any Individual Licences that SNH approves for this estate, and, if there is any breach of the licence conditions, we fully expect SNH to revoke the Individual Licence just as they did for Raeshaw Estate earlier this year.

SNH has not provided any information about the Police Scotland evidence used as the basis for this General Licence restriction order on Edradynate Estate. However, it’s probably a fair assumption that it relates to the alleged poisoning of several buzzards in 2015. This is one of the five prosecution cases that the Crown Office dropped earlier this year, without explanation. The case did not involve video evidence, as some of the others did, and the case was dropped by the Crown despite a plea from Police Scotland to proceed (see here).

We’ve been blogging about Edradynate Estate for a very long time. It’s well worth reading an earlier summary we wrote (here) which includes some fascinating commentary about the estate by former RSPB Investigator Dave Dick, who claimed as far back as 2004 that the estate was “among the worst in Scotland for wildlife crime“, and commentary by former Police Wildlife Crime Officer Alan Stewart, who said in 2005, “Edraynate Estate has probably the worst record in Scotland for poisoning incidents, going back more than a decade“. The details involve a disturbingly high number of poisoned birds and poisoned baits that were found over the years, as well as a number of dropped prosecution cases (nobody has ever been convicted for any of the alleged offences). The summary also includes information about links between the estate and the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association.

Now, whether you think a General Licence restriction order is a sufficient sanction against this estate is open to debate. However, while we wait for the Scottish Government to get on with estate licensing, a General Licence restriction order is all that is currently available, so well done to SNH for imposing the General Licence restriction order on this particular estate and for being semi-transparent about the details.

Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about the second General Licence restriction order that SNH has just imposed. We’ll be blogging about that one in the next blog…..it’s an absolute shocker.

Edradynate Estate (photo by RPUK)

UPDATES:

RSPB press statement here

SNH imposes General Licence restriction on ‘mystery’ gamekeeper (here)

More on the mystery gamekeeper with the General Licence restriction (here)




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