Last month we blogged about a comment that had been made during an official meeting between the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) and the SGA. The comment came from a CNPA Board member (Eleanor Mackintosh) who was advising the gamekeepers to ‘cover up’ dead mountain hares so that photographs of the corpses couldn’t be published on social media (see here).
That meeting between the CNPA and the SGA was triggered by the SGA’s anger over a blog that had been written by Will Boyd Wallis (CNPA’s Head of Land Management & Conservation) in August, where Mr Boyd Wallis had raised legitimate concerns about some aspects of intensive grouse moor management (see here).
The SGA was furious about that CNPA blog, for a number of reasons (see below). The SGA asked for a meeting with the CNPA to discuss these concerns and the meeting was arranged, apparently after the ‘intervention‘ of Fergus Ewing MSP, who is Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy & Connectivity, but whose remit does not cover the National Parks (Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has responsibility for the National Parks).
Chairman of the SGA, Alex Hogg, wrote to the CNPA requesting a meeting. We got a copy of his letter via an FoI request and here it is: sga-letter-requesting-mtg-with-cnpa-sept-2016
It’s an entertaining read. In it, Alex claims there’s no need for concern about the potential environmental harm of dumping tonnes of medicated grit on to the grouse moors because there’s no scientific evidence to show any damage. He also suggests that if the CNPA was concerned about potential environmental damage then the CNPA would be looking at the issue of dogs and livestock (which have also been wormed) defecating all over the Park. Hmm. If dogs and livestock had been wormed every day with a drug that was 10-20 x the strength permitted for use in the UK, and those piles of faeces were placed at every 100 metres across the grouse moor, for up to eight months of the year, as are piles of medicated grit put out for red grouse, then he might have had a valid point. Unfortunately for Alex, there is growing scientific evidence that the drug used in medicated grit (Flubendazole) is actually highly toxic to some aquatic organisms (e.g. see here) and, given the extent of its use on intensively managed grouse moors, this is exactly why Leeds University is offering a PhD scholarship to examine this issue in more detail (see here).
Anyway, on to the actual meeting itself. This took place on 29 September 2016 at Glenlochy in the National Park (an interesting choice of venue given the raptor persecution crimes that have been recorded in the area). In attendance were several representatives of the CNPA, several from the SGA, including Bert Burnett, some gamekeepers, and local SNP councillor Geva Blackett, who used to work as the SGA’s Parliamentary Officer many moons ago and who is married to Simon Blackett, the (now retired) Estate Factor at Invercauld Estate.
The minutes can be downloaded here: minutes-cnpa-sga-mtg-29-sept-2016
These minutes are well worth a read, not just because they expose the buffoonery of the SGA, but also because they provide an insight to the astonishing display of deference from the CNPA officials towards the SGA.
The meeting covered many topics and we won’t go in to all of them here because you can read them for yourselves and have a good giggle (whatever you do, don’t diss red grouse by calling them willow grouse!). The main thing we want to focus on is the discussion about gamekeepers getting licences to monitor and ring raptors and waders within the National Park.
Geva Blackett is pushing the CNPA to support this idea, and according to Bert Burnett, “no training is needed”. He really doesn’t have a clue, does he?! The CNPA seems equally as ignorant, claiming that they’d like to support this initiative because they’d like to know about raptor numbers within the Park. Er, have they not heard of the award-winning Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme? A multi-partner scheme that holds all the raptor monitoring data collected across Scotland? Apparently not.
What’s even funnier about the SGA’s demands to get licences is that just this week, Bert Burnett and a couple of his cronies (including a convicted falcon thief) have launched a social media campaign designed to portray raptor fieldworkers in a negative light. They’ve trawled the internet and come up with some old photographs of raptor tagging activities (one photo is at least 13 years old!) and have made wholly unsubstantiated allegations about the behaviour of those featured in the photographs (unbeknownst to Bert, one of the photographs is actually from a project in North America, not from Scotland!). Apparently, these nest visits cause birds to desert. Hmm. And the evidence for that is where, exactly?
Bert has also claimed that raptor monitoring, ringing and tagging is “completely unregulated and those doing it are totally non accountable for their actions”. This exposes Bert’s lack of knowledge about the training and qualifications needed for this work, and also his ignorance about the high level of reporting required by the licensing authorities.
Strange, isn’t it, that if Bert thinks all this monitoring and ringing is ‘bad’, that at this meeting with the CNPA he is pushing for gamekeepers to be issued with licences to do the same work!
And if Bert/the SGA and co are so upset about satellite-tagging, why are they not kicking off about the GWCT’s woodcock satellite-tagging project?
And if Bert/the SGA and co are so upset about the ‘welfare’ of satellite-tagged golden eagles, why do we never see them kicking off about eagles that have been found poisoned, shot or trapped on driven grouse moors?
What is obviously going on here is a desperate little smear campaign designed to coincide with the forthcoming review of raptor satellite tag data, as requested by Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham (see here). This review, due out in the spring, is expected to be damning. We already know that many satellite-tagged raptors ‘disappear’ on grouse moors, and we also know that many satellite-tagged raptors have turned up either poisoned, shot or trapped on grouse moors. This review will pull all of those data together and it is predicted to be a shocking read.
The SGA knows this, hence these latest tactics to try and discredit the raptor workers.
Now, what was it that Tim (Kim) Baynes of the Scottish Moorland Group told that parliamentary committee last week? Ah yes, it was this:
“We would very much like to see greater cooperation between ourselves, the Raptor Study Groups and the RSPB“.
It’s pretty clear the SGA has not received this message, or if it has, it’s chosen to ignore it.
But you carry on, Bert, because what you’re doing is political suicide. By asking your cronies to send (no doubt illiterate, baseless rants) to Roseanna Cunningham, complaining about Scottish Raptor Study Group members, she will see that the SGA is trying to undermine her review of the satellite tag data, and she’ll also recognise that the SGA’s claims of ‘partnership working’ with other members of the PAW Raptor Group are nothing more than lip service. PAW partners? Piss-poor partners, more like.
Photograph: dead golden eagle ‘Alma’, found poisoned on a grouse moor on Millden Estate in the Angus Glens. Her corpse was only found because she was wearing a satellite tag, fitted by Scottish Raptor Study Group member and internationally-recognised expert Roy Dennis. It’s no surprise then, that the SGA wants to put a stop to satellite-tagging.