Posts Tagged ‘Environment Minister

13
Jan
17

Where’s that SNH review of European gamebird licensing systems?

Pressure is mounting for the publication of SNH’s review of the systems used to regulate gamebird hunting in other European countries.

This review was first commissioned over two and a half years ago by former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, during a parliamentary debate on wildlife crime / raptor persecution, way back in May 2014 (see here).

Nothing happened.

Seventeen months later in December 2015, Claudia Beamish MSP lodged a parliamentary question about the lack of progress:

Question S4W-28992 (date lodged: 16/12/15):

To ask the Scottish Government when it will carry out the review of gamebird licensing and legislation agreed by Paul Wheelhouse in May 2014; who has been appointed to conduct the review, and when it expects the report to be published.

Answered by Aileen McLeod MSP (the then Environment Minister) 11/1/2016:

Tender documents were issued by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) on 11 December 2015, inviting bids from contractors to carry out the review of gamebird licensing and legislation in other European countries. The deadline for quotes to be submitted to SNH is 20 January 2016. We expect work on the review to commence in early 2016 and for the report to be published in autumn 2016.

Nothing appeared in the public domain so in August 2016 Claudia Beamish MSP submitted another parliamentary question:

Question S5W-02043 (date lodged: 18/8/16):

To ask the Scottish Government, further to the answer to question S4W-28992 by Aileen McLeod on 11 January 2016, on what date the gamebird licensing and legislation report will be published.

Answered by Roseanna Cunningham MSP (current Cabinet Secretary on Environment) 25/8/16:

Further to the answer to question S4W-28992 by Aileen McLeod on 11 January 2016, the review of gamebird licensing and legislation is currently being finalised and will be published in Autumn 2016.

Still nothing, so in October Mark Ruskell MSP lodged a parliamentary question:

Question S5W-04342 (date lodged 31/10/16):

To ask the Scottish Government when the Scottish Natural Heritage review of gamebird licensing systems in other European countries will be published.

Answered by Roseanna Cunningham MSP (Cabinet Secretary on Environment) 8/11/16:

The Scottish Government commissioned Scottish Natural Heritage to carry out a review of gamebird hunting in selected other countries. This is currently being finalised for submission to Scottish Ministers and we anticipate that it will be published shortly.

It’s now January 2017 and still no sign of the report that was promised “in Autumn 2016”, so Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Green Party) has submitted another parliamentary question:

Question S5W-06033 (date lodged 10/1/2017):

To ask the Scottish Government, further to the answer to question S5W-04342 by Roseanna Cunningham on 8 November 2016, on what date the SNH review of gamebird licensing systems in other European countries will be published.

Expected answer date: 24/1/2017.

It is our understanding that the authors of this report submitted their findings to SNH eight months ago, in May 2016. According to the parliamentary answers above, the report was being ‘finalised’ in August and was still being ‘finalised’ in November!

There is great anticipation amongst conservationists to see this report published. The findings are expected to demonstrate just how poorly regulated gamebird hunting is in Scotland in comparison to the more progressive policies implemented in other European countries. If that is what the report’s findings show, this will add considerable pressure on the Scottish Government to introduce a licensing scheme.

Photo by RPUK

15
Dec
16

The gamekeeping myth of thriving raptors

courier2

There was a good letter published in The Courier a couple of days ago, in response to the Gift of Grouse propaganda that raptors are ‘thriving’ on grouse moors.

Sir, – A recent article by a game-keeping lobbyist painted a picture that all was well on our uplands and that birds of prey were thriving, especially on the Angus hills.

As a way of confirming this, keepers have been counting the number of flying raptors as a measure of this success.

Surely successful breeding birds of prey would be a better benchmark of their status?

I once had an osprey fly over my house but it does not nest in my garden.

Indeed, if it flies over some of the intensely keepered estates, especially on the eastern side of the Angus hills, they will have to keep flying.

Come April and May, the uplands here are host to numerous scarecrows, explosive gas guns, bird-scaring bangers and inflating figures attached to sirens.

Why?

Well, if you were a ground-nesting bird of prey like a hen harrier, all this racket would put you off breeding on the Angus hills; and they haven’t for 10 years.

Ironically, with the cacophony of noise ringing out night and day, you will see precious little else as curlew and golden plover, like the raptors, are forced to move on.

Recent truly scientific papers show that golden eagles, hen harriers and other raptors in the north-east Highlands are largely absent from these managed estates.

Indeed, hen harriers have suffered a catastrophic decline.

So concerned is the Scottish Government that Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for the environment, climate change and land reform, has commissioned a review regarding this.

The RSPB has derided this latest press release attempt at fooling the public as propaganda and make-believe.

The gamekeeping fraternity’s scientific report flies in the face of peer-reviewed scientific reports from Scottish National Heritage, the RSPB and others.

Perhaps not surprisingly, their scientific report is not in the public domain and so their outlandish claims cannot be verified.

David Mitchell.
6 Henry Street,
Kirriemuir.

END

Well done, David. Great to see blog readers spreading the word.

As a quick update, a summary scientific report of the bird surveys done at Invermark Estate in the Angus Glens has now been published. As expected, the report reveals that the grouse-shooting industry’s claims about ‘thriving’ raptors were not supported by the evidence, and the Gift of Grouse campaign had misled everyone (see here).

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.

13
Nov
16

Review of European gamebird hunting regulatory systems due to be published shortly

accourt-regulatory-complianceThe Scottish Government’s long-awaited review of the systems used to regulate gamebird hunting in other European countries is due to be published ‘shortly’.

This review was first commissioned two and a half years ago by former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, during a parliamentary debate on wildlife crime / raptor persecution, way back in May 2014 (see here).

Nothing happened.

Seventeen months later in December 2015, Claudia Beamish MSP lodged a parliamentary question about the lack of progress:

Question S4W-28992 (date lodged: 16/12/15):

To ask the Scottish Government when it will carry out the review of gamebird licensing and legislation agreed by Paul Wheelhouse in May 2014; who has been appointed to conduct the review, and when it expects the report to be published.

Answered by Aileen McLeod MSP (the then Environment Minister) 11/1/2016:

Tender documents were issued by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) on 11 December 2015, inviting bids from contractors to carry out the review of gamebird licensing and legislation in other European countries. The deadline for quotes to be submitted to SNH is 20 January 2016. We expect work on the review to commence in early 2016 and for the report to be published in autumn 2016.

Nothing appeared in the public domain so in August 2016 Claudia Beamish MSP submitted another parliamentary question:

Question S5W-02043 (date lodged: 18/8/16):

To ask the Scottish Government, further to the answer to question S4W-28992 by Aileen McLeod on 11 January 2016, on what date the gamebird licensing and legislation report will be published.

Answered by Roseanna Cunningham MSP (current Cabinet Secretary on Environment) 25/8/16:

Further to the answer to question S4W-28992 by Aileen McLeod on 11 January 2016, the review of gamebird licensing and legislation is currently being finalised and will be published in Autumn 2016.

Still nothing, so in October Mark Ruskell MSP lodged a parliamentary question:

Question S5W-04342 (date lodged 31/10/16):

To ask the Scottish Government when the Scottish Natural Heritage review of gamebird licensing systems in other European countries will be published.

Answered by Roseanna Cunningham MSP (Cabinet Secretary on Environment) 8/11/16:

The Scottish Government commissioned Scottish Natural Heritage to carry out a review of gamebird hunting in selected other countries. This is currently being finalised for submission to Scottish Ministers and we anticipate that it will be published shortly.

It is our understanding that the authors of this report submitted their findings to SNH six months ago, in May 2016. According to the parliamentary answers above, the report was being ‘finalised’ in August and was still being ‘finalised’ in November! Let’s hope that whatever ‘finalisations’ are being done (whatever that means), they are done quickly.

There is great anticipation amongst conservationists to see this report published. The findings are expected to demonstrate just how poorly regulated gamebird hunting is in Scotland in comparison to the more progressive policies implemented in other European countries. If that is what the report’s findings show, this will add considerable pressure on the Scottish Government to introduce a licensing scheme. This report, combined with the review on satellite tagged raptor data (due to be completed in March 2017) should make for a very interesting Spring period.

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

27
Sep
16

Too embarrassing for words

Following this morning’s news that satellite-tagged hen harrier Brian has ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park just a few weeks after fledging (see here), we’ve been waiting to see what the Environment Secretary and the Cairngorms National Park Authority had to say about it, and more importantly, what they intended to do about it.

This won’t take long……they’ve said absolutely nothing at all.

All as silent as Brian’s satellite tag.

Nothing on the CNPA news website, nothing on their twitter feed, nothing on the PAW Scotland website, and nothing on the Environment Secretary’s twitter feed.

Sorry Brian, you’re just too embarrassing for words.

brian-july16_jennyweston

UPDATE 29 September 2016: Official response from Environment Secretary and CEO of Cairngorms National Park Authority (here)

08
Sep
16

Tackling raptor persecution features in Scot Gov’s work plan 2016-17

scotgov-logoThe Scottish Government has published its work plan for 2016-2017 (see here).

We are pleased to see that tackling wildlife crime, and specifically raptor persecution, is a feature (see page 56).

We must protect the environment from those who seek to damage it for personal gain. We will increase the penalties for wildlife crime and consider the creation of new sentencing guidelines in line with the recommendations from the Wildlife Crimes Penalties Review Group“.

Good. Penalties for wildlife crimes have generally been at the lower end of the scale and penalties issued for similar crimes have been inconsistently applied. We fully support the recommendations of the Wildlife Crimes Penalties Review Group, published in November last year (see here) and we look forward to the Scottish Government getting on with implementing them.

However, increasing the tariffs available to the judiciary will count for little if the problems of early-stage enforcement (e.g. Police under-resourcing, the slow pace of gathering evidence and poor follow-up investigations – see here) are also not addressed. Regardless of the punitive value of a sentence, the deterrent effect will be limited if an offender knows that the chances of being caught and receiving the punishment are minimal.

It seems that the Scottish Government has recognised this in the work plan:

Police Scotland will create a new Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit to support the existing network of wildlife crime officers in complex investigations“.

We tentatively welcome this news, although of course much will depend on the details of how this new unit will function. It’s all very well being able to say you’ve got a special wildlife crime unit, but if it’s as semi-dysfunctional as the current National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU – very effective at dealing with the international trade in endangered species but wholly ineffective at dealing with raptor persecution) then there’s little point to its existence.

It’s also a little bit worrying that there is no mention of increased investigatory powers for the SSPCA to help Police Scotland tackle wildlife crime. Is that a sign of the Government’s direction on this issue? Time will tell.

Also included in the work plan is this:

In order to safeguard vulnerable species from illegal persecution, we will carry out a review of prevention measures including the operation of the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime [PAW Scotland] and supporting Police Scotland in their work to target wildlife crime hotspots. We are prepared to introduce legislation where necessary“.

We very much welcome a review of how PAW Scotland operates. We have been highly critical of this so-called ‘partnership’, particularly the PAW Raptor sub-group, which is dominated by land management groups, some of whom are tainted (indirectly, by association) with raptor persecution. Some of these groups consistently misrepresent raptor crime data and refuse to accept that persecution is an on-going problem. As a result, the PAW Raptor group has achieved very little in terms of tangible results and we hope this review will recognise the group’s failings and act accordingly.

We would welcome the Government’s claim that it is ‘prepared to introduce legislation where necessary‘ but we’ve heard it so many times before that it’s now just seen as empty rhetoric. If they’d just get on with it we’d be 100% supportive.




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