Posts Tagged ‘scottish parliament


Does your MSP support the raven cull licence?

Three weeks ago Alison Johnstone MSP lodged a Parliamentary motion raising political concerns about the Strathbraan raven cull licence and called for its immediate withdrawal. She also called for SNH to withdraw the use of the Open General Licence in this area in response to the catalogue of confirmed and suspected wildlife crimes recorded in recent years.

Nine days after the motion was lodged, only five MSPs had signed in support:

Patrick Harvie (Greens), Christine Grahame (SNP), John Finnie (Greens), Andy Wightman (Greens) and Ross Greer (Greens).

[Raven photo by Dieter Schaeffer]

To progress to a Parliamentary debate, where the subject can be exposed to political scrutiny, the motion requires support from at least 30 MSPs from more than two political parties by 11 June 2018.

We believe that if this licence (and the process used to approve it) remains unchallenged, it is likely to be replicated in other areas dominated by driven grouse moors, and we’re likely to see similar applications for other species, especially buzzards, to be killed ‘just to see what happens’. If you think this is unlikely, read the comments made by SNH’s Nick Halfhide earlier this month, including the words: “Let’s have more trials [culls] whether it’s about ravens or other things so we can really test to see what we can learn from this kind of approach“.

This kind of approach” means SNH basing future conservation decisions on rural myth and old wives’ tales instead of peer-reviewed scientific evidence.

[Cartoon by Mr Carbo]

Due to these concerns, a couple of weeks ago we encouraged blog readers to contact local MSPs and ask them to sign in support of this motion. We know many of you have done this (thank you) judging by the correspondence we’ve received.

We know that Conservative MSPs appear to be sending out a generic response to these requests from their local contituents, and we can guess that this response has been written for them by one of the ‘countryside organisations’ given that its full of old wives tales that aren’t even relevant to this licence (e.g. ‘Ravens often target and kill new born lambs by the barbaric removal of their eyes and tongues‘) and unsupported claims such as ‘SNH take a robust evidence-based approach when issuing licences‘.

Unsurprisingly, Alison’s motion has not been supported by any Conservative MSP.

So who has supported it?

As of 5pm this evening, the following MSPs have signed in support:

Patrick Harvie (Greens), Christine Grahame (SNP), John Finnie (Greens), Andy Wightman (Greens), Ross Greer (Greens), Mark Ruskell (Greens), Claudia Beamish (Labour), Iain Gray (Labour), Liam McArthur (Liberal Democrats), Daniel Johnson (Labour), Colin Smyth (Labour) and Mairi Gougeon (SNP).

That’s a total of 12 MSPs from four political parties. The cross-party support is excellent but the numbers are nowhere near enough. Eighteen more signatures are needed to secure a debate.

Is your MSP on this list? Have you asked them to support this motion? If you have, and they haven’t yet responded, please chase them up. If you haven’t asked them, please consider doing so. MSPs are more likely to engage if they’ve received a bucketful of correspondence on a particular issue from their local constituents.

If you’re not sure who your MSP is please click here to find out. And remember you’ll have more than one MSP – your constituency MSP and your regional list MSPs.

Thank you


Stink pits – the disgusting reality of 21st century grouse moor management

Over the weekend, charities OneKind and the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland released the following video footage, filmed on a Scottish grouse moor earlier this year.

It shows a ‘stink pit’ (also known as a ‘midden’) which is a pile of rotting animal carcasses (including the corpses of native wildlife and sometimes domestic pets) that are dumped in a heap and surrounded by snares. The putrefying stench from the corpses attracts predators to the pit who are then caught in the snares, killed and thrown on to the pile of death.


This is the grisly reality of how the so-called ‘Custodians of the Countryside’ deal with native wildlife, including inside the boundaries of our National Parks. Snared, trapped, shot, killed and then dumped, like a pile of rubbish.

You have to wonder how this is still legal in the 21st Century, especially given the strict regulations imposed on farmers who generally cannot bury dead livestock unless at certain remote, designated locations. Gamekeepers? They can do what they like, even hanging the corpses of dead foxes over tree branches so their stench can be carried further afield.

We’ve blogged about stink pits before, as have others, e.g. see this blog written last year by OneKind and this article published by The Ferret (but beware, both contain more disturbing photographs).

In May 2017, Christine Grahame MSP (SNP) lodged a Parliamentary motion on the continued use of stink pits on game-shooting estates (see here). Her motion received cross-party support and resulted in a Parliamentary debate, in which Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said the use of stink pits would be reviewed as part of the grouse moor management review, which is currently underway.


Alison Johnstone MSP lodges parliamentary motion on raven cull licence

Further to yesterday’s blog about a series of Parliamentary questions lodged by Claudia Beamish MSP (Labour, South Scotland) on the raven cull licence (here), another MSP has also raised political concerns.

Alison Johnstone MSP (Scottish Greens, Lothian) lodged the following Parliamentary motion on 30 April 2018:

Motion S5M-11986

That the Parliament expresses concern that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has granted a licence to the Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders, which authorises the killing of 300 ravens; notes that this will take place in an area of Perthshire where eagles, which have been satellite-tagged have, it understands, previously disappeared and where the illegal persecution of raptors is believed to be well-documented; understands that this is as part of an experiment, which reportedly has no control measure in place, to assess the impact of such a cull on the wader population; regrets what it sees as the lack of consultation with expert organisations, including the Scottish Raptor Study Group and the RSPB; understands that these groups maintain that there “is no justification for this extreme course of action”; believes that there is a lack of robust scientific evidence to support this action; understands with regret that it is only now, following a notable and concerted public outcry, that SNH is calling on its Scientific Advisory Council to scrutinise the cull, and calls for the withdrawal of the research licence and the removal of the open general licence in this area as a matter of urgency.

Well done, Alison, and thank you for doing what every politician should be doing – holding power to account on behalf of the public.

Meanwhile, the public petition calling for a halt to this raven cull licence has now reached over 147,000 signatures. If you haven’t yet signed it, please consider adding your name HERE

[Raven photo by Dieter Schaeffer]


Why shooting estates should fear eagle disappearances

An interesting and insightful Leader Comment in today’s Scotsman: (whoever wrote this, well done!) –

As the RSPB Scotland points out, the disappearance of a fourth satellite-tracked eagle in a part of Perthshire that’s home to several shooting estates over four years is “highly suspicious”.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association complains its members are the “first to be accused when any bird of prey goes missing”, but the illegal killing of raptors undoubtedly happens, as a 2016 report on red kites by Scottish Natural Heritage found, and few others have a motivation. Each case is a further challenge to the rule of law that will eventually force parliament to react.

And that could lead to the licensing of shooting estates – with the threat of licences being revoked over killings of birds of prey – or a strict liability offence so that a landowner would be found responsible for the unnatural death of any raptor on their land.

Both are measures that estates would – and should – fear.

The sooner the shooting community realises that the death of a sea eagle represents a greater threat to their business than a live bird, the better the chances will be of protecting these magnificent creatures.


Andy Wightman MSP becomes Golden Eagle Species Champion

Some brilliant news, for a change!

Press release from Scottish Greens (19/4/18):


Scottish Green MSP Andy Wightman is the new Scottish Environment Link species champion for the Golden Eagle.

The Golden Eagle is Scotland’s most iconic bird of prey but, despite decades of legal protection in Scotland, continues to be the victim of illegal persecution.

In a recent review commissioned by the Scottish Government and published by Scottish Natural Heritage, it was found that almost a third of young satellite-tagged golden eagles had disappeared in “suspicious circumstances” in the Highlands over a 12 year period. These incidents largely occurred in areas dominated by intensive driven grouse-shooting management.

Moreover, in the last few months, there have been further suspicious disappearances of “Fred” in the Pentland Hills and of another young male eagle in the wildlife crime blackspot of the northern Monadhliath mountains in Inverness-shire.

Reports published by both Scottish Natural Heritage and RSPB Scotland have repeatedly shown that while incidents of illegal poisoning have declined in recent years, other forms of persecution continue to have a proven and significant impact on not just golden eagles, but also species such as hen harrier and red kite. While wildlife criminals may go to considerable efforts to hide the evidence of their crimes, the absence of these species from significant areas of our uplands, particularly in eastern and southern Scotland, gives a clear indication that levels of illegal killing of our birds of prey have not declined.

On the back of the Scottish Government review’s findings, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham set up a review of grouse moor management practices, a clear indication of the increasing concern that this issue is impacting on Scotland’s reputation.

Andy Wightman MSP commented:

I am delighted to be the species champion for Golden Eagle. It is clear that much work still needs to be done to ensure that this iconic species continues to thrive across Scotland and that the species returns to parts of the country that it has for too long been absent.

I look forward to meeting those involved in conservation and monitoring of Golden Eagle populations over the coming years and to work with them to tackle the ongoing challenges facing this magnificent bird.”

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland said:

It is great to have Andy on board as a passionate species champion for this special bird, which is arguably Scotland’s national bird. The golden eagle is an indicator species for the health of our uplands, however sadly it still faces many conservation challenges, most significantly the continuing threat of illegal persecution in moorland areas managed for driven grouse-shooting.

This appointment comes at a time when the important South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, designed to reinforce the population of golden eagles in this area, and to bring wide ranging rural development opportunities to local communities is also about to begin. I am sure that partners in this project will look forward to involving Andy as part of his role in due course”.


This is fantastic news. Species Champions are members of the Scottish Parliament who have agreed to lend their political support to the protection of Scottish wildlife.

Andy is already species champion for the Mountain Everlasting wildflower and we’re delighted that he has agreed to lend his considerable influence to help highlight the on-going illegal persecution of golden eagles on some driven grouse moors and champion the conservation of this magnificent species.

We’ve known and admired Andy for several years and he’s been a long-time and vocal supporter of this blog. His skills as a fearless advocate will be much welcomed by those of us working to protect golden eagles.

He joins several other MSPs who work as species champions for raptors in Scotland:

Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) – White-tailed eagle

Mairi Gougeoun MSP (SNP) – Hen harrier

John Mason MSP (SNP) – Kestrel

Donald Cameron MSP (Conservative) – Merlin

Bill Kidd MSP (SNP) – Red kite

Iain Gray MSP (Labour) – Short-eared owl


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

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


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.


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: 

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)


Grouse moor management “treats nature with contempt”

Last week saw the widespread media broadcast of a film produced by Lush, OneKind and The League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland) depicting the brutal, military-style mass killing of mountain hares on a number of Scottish grouse moors, filmed in February this year. For those who missed it, here it is again:

Inevitably, public outrage ensued and resulted in First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stating in the Scottish Parliament that these culls are “not acceptable” (see here).

The fall-out continued yesterday with an article by Jim Crumley in The Courier, who wrote about how grouse moor management “treats nature with contempt“.

It’s a brilliant piece, taking apart word by word what he calls an “ill-advised response” to the film from the Scottish Moorland Group’s Director, Tim (Kim) Baynes.

It’s well worth a read, from a journalist who frequently hits the nail on the head when describing the grouse-shooting industry – he’s previously referred to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association as “the UKip of the natural world” (here) and has described sporting estates as “a rural perversion” (here).

In case the article disappears, we’ve produced it below. It’s also worth reading one of the Reader’s Letters, by David Mitchell, (here).


By Jim Crumley (published in The Courier, 3 April 2018)

The reputation of Scotland’s landowners took another hefty blow in the solar plexus in the seven days since I made the case for legislation to protect the red fox from the worst excesses of what passes for land management, after a protest outside the Scottish Parliament about abuse of foxhunting legislation.

This time, it was film of a “cull” of mountain hares so militaristic in its strategy and so devastating in the scale of its slaughter that it would not have looked out of place in a newsreel clip from Syria.

The First Minister, who was suitably horrified like the rest of us – most of the rest of us, of which more anon – said the Scottish Government would explore “all available options to prevent mass culls of mountain hares and one of those options is legislation and a licensing scheme”.

Good. Please do it very, very quickly.

Because as the delay in implementing legal protection for the Tayside beavers demonstrates on a regular basis, the legal vacuum is being filled by men with guns and traps to kill as many as possible in the shortest possible time, and heavy machinery to wreck their dams and lodges.

Just when you thought things could hardly get any worse for the landowning fraternity, widespread screening of the film on television news and online was followed by an ill-advised response to the film by the director of the Scottish Moorland Group.

And just in case you thought the Scottish Moorland Group was a balanced, multi-interest coalition including community associations and nature conservation professionals, membership comprises the chairmen of seven regional groups of moorland owners and managers, and representatives from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. This is a hardcore self-interest group.

So what its director said was this:

This footage has been filmed by animal rights activists who actively campaign against this type of land management and have no interest in managing the balance of species and habitat on Scotland’s heather moor.

Mountain hare management is not only legal but necessary…”

Let’s go through that bit by bit. Firstly, it really doesn’t matter if the footage has been filmed by animal rights activists, the SWI or the Tufty Club.

The fact is that it exists and it is a film of slaughter that demonstrably treats nature with contempt.

Secondly, when it comes to criticising the activists’ level of interest in managing the balance of species and habitat on Scotland’s heather moors, the director is taking the art of pots calling kettles black to previously unplumbed depths.

There is nothing – nothing at all – in the entire repertoire of the landscapes of Scotland that is more hideously imbalanced in its relationship between species and habitat than a grouse moor.

Grouse moors are denuded of natural vegetation other than heather, which is routinely burned and manipulated so that – in theory at least – the moors produce the required harvest of grouse.

[An east Highlands grouse moor, photo by Chris Townsend]

And let’s not be deluded by the industry into thinking that the grouse is treated as anything other than a crop, a crop to be harvested at great expense by rich people with guns. And instead of spraying the crop, the grouse is fed medicated grit.

That is what Scottish moorland management amounts to. Anything that gets in the way of that ambition – anything at all from hares and foxes to eagles and harriers – is the enemy, and is treated as such.

The hare’s problem is not that it savages grouse or eats their eggs (it’s a vegetarian), but rather that it carries a tick, and some people think that increases the presence of the tick in grouse.

There is no evidence to suggest an abundance of hares is bad for grouse numbers, but there is such enthusiasm on estates for shooting hares by the truckload that they do it anyway.

The American wildlife writer and artist David M. Carroll, wrote in his book, Swampwalker’s Journal:

“The term ‘wildlife management’, often used in environmental polemics of the day in reference to human manipulations, is an oxymoron. We should have learned long ago to simply leave the proper space, to respectfully withdraw, and let wildlife manage wildlife.”

In Scotland, the Victorians ushered in new perversions and depravities in the matter of “wildlife management”, but evidence of the chill hand they brought to bear on nature still pervades the air in the 21st Century, still poisons the land with its prejudices, and still calls it wildlife management.

And to return to the SMG director’s response to the hare cull – no, mountain hare management may be legal for the moment, but it is most certainly not necessary.

For thousands of years before the Victorians lost the plot, there were widespread and healthy populations of both mountain hares and red grouse. There just weren’t any grouse moors.


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