Posts Tagged ‘gamekeeper


‘Key moment’ as Scottish Government considers grouse moor licensing

It’s been three months since the Government-commissioned Werritty Review on grouse moor management was published (see here) and we’ve been waiting for the Scottish Government’s official response, which is due this spring.

We did hear from Nicola Sturgeon at First Ministers Questions in December that shortening the timescale for which grouse moor licensing may be introduced was ‘a serious consideration’ (here) which was very welcome news, although not to all.  Grouse moor trustee Magnus Linklater argued in a Times opinion piece that licensing threatened gamekeepers jobs (here), although he didn’t manage to explain how being law-abiding and not killing protected birds of prey would cost a gamekeeper his employment.

[An illegally-poisoned golden eagle in the Cairngorms National Park. Photo by Dave Dick]

As a follow up to the First Minister’s comments in December, Andy Wightman MSP (Scottish Greens) recently lodged this Parliamentary question:

S5W-27631: To ask the Scottish Government, further to the comments by the First Minister on 19 December 2019 (Official Report, c. 21), what its timescale is for reconsideration of the introduction of a licensing scheme for grouse shooting.

Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon has now responded:

We are giving very careful consideration to the recommendations in the report by the Grouse Moor Management Group (the ‘Werritty Review’).

We will set out our response to the report in due course, which will cover the recommendation on introducing licensing of grouse moor businesses.

Earlier this week Duncan Orr Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management wrote a very good blog (here) discussing the Werritty Review’s primary recommendation that grouse moor licensing be introduced but that the review had suggested a five-year delay. He goes on to explain what options are available to the Scottish Government as they consider the Werritty Review recommendations. Well worth a read.

Duncan describes this as a ‘key moment which could help safeguard some of Scotland’s most spectacular wildlife’ if the Scottish Government chooses to finally do what it’s been threatening for years and years and introduce a grouse moor licensing scheme.

He urges members of the public to contact their MSPs and ask them to encourage the Scottish Government to make grouse shooting both legal and more sustainable through a licencing system for grouse moors.

You can find contact details for your MSPs by entering your postcode on the “Find Your MSP” tool on the Scottish Parliament website here.

For those who don’t live in Scotland please contact Scottish Ministers at


New Chairman for Scottish Land & Estates

Scottish Land and Estates (SLE), the grouse moor owners’ lobby group (amongst other things) has announced its new Chairman will be sporting estate owner Mark Tennant.

Mark will begin his new role in April 2020 when the current Chair, Lord David Johnstone, steps down.

We don’t know much about Mark other than what SLE has written in its announcement (here) but let’s be honest, he’s not exactly got big shoes to fill. His predecessor, ‘Dumfriesshire Dave’ has spent the last five years pretending everything’s fine and suggesting there’s really no need to do anything about the illegal killing of raptors on grouse moors because it’s no longer an issue, it’s mostly just the RSPB trying to smear the good name of the industry and/or ‘activists’ trying to ‘set up’ law-abiding estates. (E.g. see here, here, here, here, here). Talk about dial ‘D’ for denial.

It’s hard to think of a single example where Dumfriesshire Dave has inspired any confidence in the industry’s willingness, let alone ability, to clean up its act, so Mark Tennant has a bit of an open goal to get off to a good start, should he choose to take it.

According to the SLE announcement, Mark will be working ‘to help fight climate change’. Excellent. Can we expect all SLE-member grouse moor owners to commit to stopping their routine heather burning regimes, including on deep peat, in the interests of addressing the climate emergency?

What we do know about Mark, from the SLE announcement, is that his ‘family business Innes Estate in Elgin has been a member of SLE for over 40 years‘. That’s really interesting. So SLE didn’t expel the estate when the then head gamekeeper was convicted in 2007 for poisons and firearms offences, then? NOTE: there is no suggestion that those historical offences were part of a wider pattern of continued wildlife crime on the estate – as far as we are aware there are no further reports of alleged offences at this estate – we’re just interested at SLE’s apparent lack of action in response to wildlife crime.

Speaking of which, here’s something Mark could sort out for us. We’re still waiting to hear from SLE whether the Longformacus Estate (the location of a catalogue of horrific and violent wildlife crimes for which a gamekeeper was recently convicted) was, and if so still is, a member of Scottish Land & Estates? We asked SLE this specific question in August, after the Crown Office chose not to pursue a prosecution for alleged vicarious liability and SLE had until then avoided commenting on the estate’s membership status. We had a quick response from the Membership Department who told us, ‘I have forwarded on your email to our Senior Management Team who will respond in due course‘. Needless to say, silence since then.

Over to you, Mark. Was/is Longformacus Estate a member of Scottish Land & Estates?


No, Magnus, the Werritty Review does not threaten gamekeepers’ jobs, wildlife crime does

On 20th December 2019, the day after the Werritty Review was published, The Times ran this comment piece from Magnus Linklater:

The long delay in issuing the Werritty report suggests not only that the management of grouse moors in Scotland has proved far more complex an issue than was realised, but also that the balance between sporting interests and conservation is hard to achieve.

Campaigners against the sport argued that the persecution of birds of prey, the culling of mountain hares and the burning of heather, to say nothing of shooting game birds, were unacceptable practices. Proponents said that it brought employment and tourist income to rural areas, as well as funding staff to manage Scotland’s upper moorland.

Professor Werritty concludes that there is no case for banning grouse shooting and that gamekeepers perform a useful service for conservation by controlling vermin and managing the land. But he also recommends regulating estates, issuing licences that will require extensive paperwork and extra cost.

Legislation already provides powers to crack down on the persecution of birds of prey.

As a trustee of an estate that once boasted large numbers of grouse, but is now virtually empty, I know gamekeepers are all too aware of the penalties for breaking the law. Introducing more rules is unlikely to improve the situation and will add to the cost of running these vast areas so beloved by hill-walkers.

Without the income to manage the hills, they would become overrun by predators, such as foxes and crows, which kill not only grouse but wading birds, such as curlew and lapwing.

It is one of the great ironies of the countryside that gamekeepers, so vilified by campaigners, are in fact guardians of the wildlife diversity that is so important to rural Scotland. They too are an endangered species and they too deserve protection.


The piece contains all the usual tired, and frankly, now embarrassing rhetoric that we’ve learned to expect from someone with a long-held vested interest in grouse shooting and we had been planning to take his claims apart, sentence by sentence, as we, and others, have done many times before (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here). Fortunately, someone else has done it for us and far more succinctly to boot.

This straight-to-the-point riposte was published in The Times three days after Linklater’s offering:

Guardians of the Land

Magnus Linklater (Dec 20) laments the fate of “endangered” gamekeepers due to proposed licensing for grouse shoots.  Their peril is as a result of their own actions in illegally wiping out birds of prey, inextricably linked to management of driven grouse shooting. Many behave themselves but it is the bad apples among them who blight their industry. This could not happen without the shooting estates condoning such criminal behaviour. Licensing is their reward. David Landsman, Aberdeen.

David Landsman is absolutely spot on (apart from his estimation of crime scale – it’s massive). It’s not the Werritty recommendation of estate licensing that threatens gamekeepers’ jobs – that’s just a ridiculous suggestion from Linklater designed to portray gamekeepers as innocent victims.

No, it’s the continued illegal killing of birds of prey by many of those gamekeepers (note, many but not all of them), and the subsequent denials and cover-ups by estate owners and their representative bodies that is bringing such pressure to bear on the industry.

They’ve had 65 years to understand that it’s a crime to shoot, trap and poison birds of prey and it’s about bloody time they were held to account.


Gamekeepers caught with banned poisons should receive mandatory jail sentence

Yesterday 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.

We’ll come back to the wider evidence session in another blog because there were some interesting and important discussions but one point raised deserves an immediate reaction:

Possession of banned poisons.

Here’s the mini transcript:

ECCLR Committee Member Rachael Hamilton MSP: I will go back to the categorisation of wildlife offences and the different tiers of the penalty system. We heard evidence that perhaps possession of illegal pesticides should be categorised as a tier 1 offence, because they are currently illegal anyway. Do you have any comments on that point and do you have any plans to have an amnesty on illegal pesticides prior to the bill being passed? People should not possess illegal pesticides anyway, so using them in connection with animal crimes should attract the highest and severest category of penalty.

Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon: That has been the feeling behind that issue. As you said, possession of such pesticides is already illegal and there are offences in place to deal with that individual issue separately. Using such pesticides as part of another offence would attract the higher penalty. As they are already illegal and there are offences attached to them, using them in relation to any other offences could well attract severe penalties.

In relation to your amnesty point, I would be happy to consider looking at the matter.

Scottish Government Wildlife Management Team leader Leia Fitzgerald: Just to clarify, there was a previous amnesty, which was quite successful and resulted in a lot of pesticides being handed in. We could speak to stakeholders about whether that is something that could be done again. We would hope that we got all of what we needed after the last amnesty, but we can look at the matter.

Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon: I will happily get back to the committee and let you know how we get on with that.


Is the Scottish Government seriously considering yet another amnesty for banned poisons, which would be the third amnesty in the 15 years since it became an offence to even possess these deadly toxins, let alone use them? (The Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005).

The first amnesty took place in 2011 (see here), six years after the ban was first introduced. The second amnesty came four years later in 2015 (see here).

Since then poisoning crimes have certainly dropped in Scotland, probably thanks to the increase in satellite-tagged raptors, whose tags lead researchers to the poisoned corpses that would otherwise remain undetected, and also due to the introduction of vicarious liability legislation in 2012 which made it possible for landowners to be prosecuted for raptor persecution crimes committed by their gamekeeper employees. However, these poisoning crimes haven’t been totally eradicated and we’re still reading reports about illegally-poisoned birds (and some dogs) that have died after ingesting banned poisons in Scotland including some that were killed this year, and some even inside the Cairngorms National Park (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).

[An illegally-poisoned buzzard found on the boundary of a sporting estate in Perthshire. Contributed photo]

How many more chances is the Scottish Government planning on giving to these criminals? How many more get-out-of-jail-free cards will be dished out?

Why can’t the Scottish Government, 15 years on, implement a zero tolerance policy on this vile and primitive crime that not only risks the lives of wildlife and domestic animals but puts humans at risk as well? In the most recent criminal case, a Scottish gamekeeper was found with two cartons containing the banned poison Carbofuran. He was carrying one of these containers in his bum bag – presumably he wasn’t just taking the container out for company every day – and yet 180 schoolchildren were put at risk when they attended the grouse shooting estate on an officially-sanctioned school trip. Can you believe that? The gamekeeper was convicted for possession (along with a litany of other wildlife offences) and received a community payback order. No fine, no jail sentence, no deterrent whatsoever. Compare and contrast to how illegal poisoners are dealt with in Spain (see here, here and here).

The criminals who persist with such reckless activity in Scotland deserve a mandatory custodial sentence – there can be no more excuses, no more discussion and certainly no more amnesties.



Re-discovery of hen harrier Rosie not quite as it’s being portrayed

You’ll recall that satellite-tagged hen harrier Rosie was reported as being the fourth young hen harrier to disappear this autumn, in a vague statement issued by Northumbria Police on 17th October 2019 (see here).

Rosie was not one of the brood meddled hen harriers but was a 2019 bird satellite tagged by Natural England in Northumberland. We were not told the date of her tag’s last transmission nor the location of the tag’s last known position other than ‘near Whittingham’.

Three days later on the evening of 20th October 2019, Supt Nick Lyall tweeted to say “Rosie is alive and well“. It was not reported whether Rosie’s tag had come back online or whether she’d been observed and identified in the field by other means, e.g. the unique code on her leg ring.

On 23rd October 2019 Northumbria Police posted the following statement on social media:

You’d be forgiven for reading this statement, particularly the part we’ve highlighted in red, and thinking that Rosie’s tag had failed and she was only re-discovered thanks to the extraordinary efforts of local landowners and gamekeepers.

Indeed, Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association has been quick to exploit this view on her social media accounts:

Isn’t it all fantastic? We don’t need ‘unreliable’ technology to protect this species – we can simply rely on lovely landowners and gamekeepers, working in partnership with the police, and the hen harrier will be kept safe.

The thing is, this version of events is complete bollocks.

When Nick Lyall tweeted that Rosie was ‘alive and well’, we contacted him to ask for more detail. He told us that Rosie’s tag had come back online and that’s how she’d been relocated, and this was ground-truthed by an experienced Natural England fieldworker who confirmed the sighting. (Thanks for being upfront, Nick).

So why the hell is Northumbria Police stating that “Rosie has been located thanks to local information and partnership working” and inferring that she was found thanks to the efforts of local landowners and gamekeepers, when actually she was found because her tag came back online?

Was this police press statement issued with the blessing of Natural England?

And if it wasn’t, why hasn’t Natural England since clarified the details of Rosie’s re-discovery?

What sort of shambles is this? How are we supposed to have any confidence in what we’re being told?

This blurring of the facts isn’t the only issue of concern. We’d like Natural England to be much more upfront about the type of tag Rosie is carrying….and you’ll understand our concern about that when we blog about the tags that were fitted to the brood meddled hen harriers……


Is SNH about to impose a General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate?

Last week RSPB Scotland published a blog called ‘Why vicarious liability is failing to have an impact in Scotland‘.

Written by Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species & Land Management, it’s the latest in a series, following on from the excellent blog challenging the Scottish Gamekeepers’ ignorance on satellite tags, written by Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland.

Duncan’s blog is well worth a read. It questions the Crown Office’s recent decision not to prosecute anyone for alleged vicarious liability following the conviction of Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson for a series of barbaric wildlife crimes on the Longformacus Estate in the Scottish Borders.

It also considers the potential benefits of having the threat of a vicarious liability prosecution, and how this may have driven down the use of illegal poisons as a method of killing raptors, but been replaced by shooting and trapping methods which are much harder to detect.

The really interesting part of the blog, as far as we’re concerned, is the section on the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire. Blog readers will recall this is where a male hen harrier was found with an almost severed leg caught in an illegally-set spring trap next to his nest earlier this summer. Despite the heroic efforts of a number of experts, he didn’t survive. The estate denied all knowledge and responsibility and nobody has been charged.

[The trapped hen harrier found on Leadhills Estate. Photo by Scottish Raptor Study Group]

Regular blog readers will know this poor hen harrier is not the only victim reported from the Leadhills Estate. The list is long and goes back more than a decade (e.g. scroll down this page). Duncan’s blog discusses some of the most recent incidents including the witnessed shooting of a hen harrier in May 2017; the witnessed shooting of a short-eared owl just a few weeks later and whose body was recovered; the discovery of a buzzard in 2018 that was found to have been shot twice; and the filmed buzzard that according to the RSPB was likely killed in a crow trap in January 2019.

Nobody has been charged for any of the above, but significantly, Duncan’s blog says this:

“We are advised that only now is an Open General Licence restriction, another sanction in the public authority wildlife crime “toolbox”, to be imposed here”.

SNH has had the power to impose General Licence restrictions since 1 January 2014. This was instigated by former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to continuing difficulties of securing criminal prosecutions and was an instruction to SNH to withdraw the use of the General Licence (available for legal predator control) on land where crimes against raptors are believed to have taken place but where there is insufficient evidence to instigate criminal proceedings. The decision to withdraw the licence is based on the civil standard of proof which relates to the balance of probability as opposed to the higher standard of proof required for a criminal conviction.

This measure is not without its limitations, particularly as estates can simply apply for an individual licence instead which allows them to continue predator control activities but under slightly closer scrutiny.

SNH has only imposed four such restrictions since 2014 – a pathetically small figure when we are aware of at least a dozen other cases where a restriction should have been applied. SNH has claimed it is ‘not in the public interest‘ to explain those failures.

We’ve looked on the SNH website to see whether Leadhills Estate has been listed as having a General Licence restriction imposed (SNH does publicise the details when it imposes the restriction) but so far Leadhills Estate is not named. Potentially the estate has been notified and is currently in the period where it may challenge SNH’s decision, as per the framework for a General Licence restriction.

Watch this space.

UPDATE 26 November 2019: SNH imposes General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate (here)


More detail emerges about SSPCA/Police Scotland raid at Millden Estate

A couple of weeks ago the Scottish SPCA, assisted by Police Scotland, conducted a pre-dawn raid on properties in Angus and Aberdeenshire as part of an investigation in to suspected animal fighting (see here).

This story has attracted huge media attention and more details have been emerging as journalists begin to dig.

The first insight came when journalist David Leask from The Herald exclusively revealed that the property raided in Angus was the Millden Estate, a grouse shooting estate in the Angus Glens (see here). We learned that as a result of the raid, the estate had suspended an employee pending further investigation.

We’ve now learned that the suspended employee was apparently a gamekeeper, according to this article by Charlie Parker in The Times, published two days ago:

Some may already have made the assumption that the suspended employee was a gamekeeper but this wasn’t previously clear; Millden Estate employs multiple people in multiple roles and they’re not all gamekeepers (e.g. in the Millden Estate 2011 sales brochure 16 employees were listed).

We’ve also learned something else about this raid. It had previously been reported that the SSPCA had seized dogs during the raid at Millden but their condition was unreported. However, according to this article by Jim Millar in The Courier, an SSPCA spokesperson is quoted as follows:

We were made aware of animal fighting and secured a warrant to investigate further. This has been a successful raid and we are happy with the outcome. We have seized a number of dogs, which have injuries consistent with animal fighting and taken them into our care where they are getting all the love and attention they need“.

There is still no further detail about the dead buzzards that were reportedly recovered by the police/SSPCA, nor any indication of how they died.

We’ll await further information as and when the investigating authorities publish it. At this stage we are not aware of anyone being charged with any offences.

Sorry but as this is a live investigation we won’t be accepting any comments on this post.

For those of you interested in this case and in the wider issue of wild mammal persecution, you might be interested in this new blog: Wild Mammal Persecution UK. It’s written anonymously (although we know who the authors are and they’re credible) and is well worth a follow.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Blog Stats

  • 5,790,929 hits


Our recent blog visitors