Posts Tagged ‘Environment Minister

27
Mar
17

‘Official’ 2016 raptor persecution maps are a misleading distraction

Today the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (Scottish PAW Raptor group) has published the so-called ‘official’ annual raptor persecution maps showing details of recorded raptor persecution crimes for 2016.

Once again, Police Scotland has withheld information about several incidents ‘for operational reasons’ and as such these are not included on the ‘official’ map. Some details have been included in the accompanying summary data tables but even information as basic as the species affected has not been published.

Here’s the ‘official’ map purportedly showing ‘ALL’ recorded bird of prey crimes in Scotland from 2013 to 2016:

However, just as last year, some incidents are not shown and so the title of this map is totally misleading. As we’ve said before, there is no point whatsoever publishing these maps if Police Scotland is going to keep some of these crimes a secret. Seriously, what is the point?

The PAW Raptor group is headlining today’s news as a “26% drop in recorded bird of prey offences during 2016“. No doubt this supposed ‘good news’ will be used by the game-shooting industry as evidence that things are improving. On a superficial level this looks like a reasonable conclusion, but as well as the withholding of known poisoning offences, other information has also been excluded.

For example, there is no mention at all about the four satellite-tagged golden eagles that are known to have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in 2016: three of them ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors in the Monadhliaths and one ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens.

There is also no mention of the three satellite-tagged hen harriers that are also known to have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in 2016: ‘Chance‘ disappeared on a South Lanarkshire grouse moor in May 2016; ‘Elwood‘ vanished on a Monadhliaths grouse moor in August 2016;  and ‘Brian‘ vanished on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in August 2016.

PAW Scotland will argue that these data have not been included because they do not represent confirmed persecution crimes. Technically, that’s fair comment, but given the frequency with which satellite-tagged raptors are ‘disappearing’ on Scottish grouse moors, they point to a much more sinister picture, as recognised by the Environment Cabinet Secretary when she ordered a review of raptor sat tag data last year. She also mentions that review in her comments about today’s supposed ‘good news’.

As far as we’re concerned, the PAW Scotland raptor persecution maps are a misleading distraction from what is actually going on in the Scottish uplands. All eyes should be on the forthcoming raptor satellite tag review for a more meaningful and revealing picture.

PAW Scotland press release here

PAW Scotland persecution maps and data here

05
Mar
17

Environment Secretary’s message to Scottish gamekeepers re: raptor persecution

roseanna-cunninghamLast 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.

28
Feb
17

“I have no truck with the argument that raptors damage driven grouse shooting” says Environment Cabinet Secretary

roseannacunninghamLast Saturday, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, delivered a speech to members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) at their annual conference in Perthshire.

She deserves a good deal of credit, not only for giving up her Saturday morning, but particularly for her willingness to come and speak to a room full of raptor workers, many of whom have repeatedly written heated and impassioned emails to the Scottish Government in recent years, criticising its failure to effectively tackle the illegal killing of raptors. It was a challenge too far for her predecessor, former Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod who declined an invitation to attend, and let’s be honest, can anyone imagine Roseanna’s Westminster counterpart, Dr Therese Coffey, turning up to a Northern England Raptor Forum conference?

Roseanna began her speech in the same way she began her last speech to this group back in 2009, by thanking SRSG members for their voluntary efforts. She described this as “dedicated, high quality fieldwork” that is “genuinely appreciated by the Scottish Government“. She recognised the importance of this work, saying the information generated for the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme was “essential and fundamental” to help the Government to assess the conservation status of raptor populations. That was good to hear, and is a big kick in the teeth to those organisations who seek to discredit and undermine the professionalism of the SRSG (e.g. see here), undoubtedly in an attempt to disguise the continued persecution of raptors in some areas of Scotland that is being clearly exposed by SRSG monitoring efforts.

She then spent a bit of time talking about the intrinsic value of raptors, their place as part of Scottish identity, and how they are becoming increasingly important for tourism and the revenue that can generate for local economies. She talked about some of the ‘good news’ stories such as successful reintroduction projects for white-tailed eagles and red kites (although she didn’t mention the continued persecution of red kites in northern Scotland that is still inhibiting population growth, 25 years on) and the welcome return of other species such as ospreys and buzzards. She also touched on the 15% increase in the national golden eagle population, which is a good news story, but she didn’t mention the other part of that story which is the continued absence of this species on many driven grouse moors in eastern and southern Scotland.

Then came the part we really wanted to hear – her thoughts on raptor persecution. Her opening statement received a loud, spontaneous round of applause from an appreciative audience. This is what she said:

The illegal killing of our raptors does remain a national disgrace. I run out of words to describe my contempt for the archaic attitudes still at play in some parts of Scotland. We all have to abide by the law, and we do so, most of us, all throughout our lives. All I’m asking is that everybody does the same. Sporting businesses are NO different, and the people who breach the law deserve all the opprobrium and punishment we can mete out. I have no truck with the argument that raptors damage driven grouse shooting interests. Such damage, frankly, is a business risk you have to live with and manage, but within the law. And that is what must be reiterated again, and again, and again.

She then went on to discuss vicarious liability, recognising that with only two successful prosecutions in five years this probably isn’t the ‘magic bullet’ that everyone hoped it would be when it was first introduced. And she said she thought there was a lesson in that. She feared there are no single ‘magic wands’, just a lot of work, to be done constantly, with a lot of people, over a period of time, and how it would involve some changes.

She commented on some of the changes already in place, such as the General Licence restriction (although she acknowledged this was currently being challenged via a judicial review), an acceptance of the recommendations for increased penalties for wildlife crime, and how the Government was working with Police Scotland to introduce new investigative support for these crimes.

She then repeated the importance of the recent review on game bird hunting regulations in other European countries and the forthcoming review on satellite-tagged raptors, which is due to report at the end of March and how she will “look carefully” at these reports to help inform the Government’s next moves.

All in all, this was a very positive speech. The Cabinet Secretary is not yet in a position to formally show her hand because, quite rightly, she needs to wait for the satellite tag review to be published to be able to consider its findings and put them in to context with all the other evidence at her disposal. However, she’s obviously keenly aware that raptor persecution “does remain” a national disgrace (that’s an important distinction – she’s talking about it as a current, ongoing issue, not an historical one as the game shooting industry would like everyone to believe) and she clearly acknowledges her “contempt” for this criminality.

The scene has been set. The question now is, will she be able to deliver change?

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.




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