Posts Tagged ‘scottish parliament


Game-shooting industry issues joint statement on licensing proposals

Following this morning’s fantastic news that the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee has voted to recommend further exploration of a licensing system for driven grouse shooting, the game-shooting industry has issued a joint statement:

“We are disappointed that the committee voted narrowly in favour of a course of action which includes examining the possibility of a licensing scheme for game shooting in Scotland as a method of tackling wildlife crime, particularly at a time when the level of wildlife crime – according to government statistics – is at a historically low level.

“It is widely acknowledged across the political spectrum that only a tiny minority of people engage in wildlife crime and further regulation will impact on communities where game shooting is of vital social, economic and environmental importance. It was also demonstrated throughout the committee’s evidence sessions that licensing is not a definitive solution, with intolerable instances of crimes against birds of prey still existing in European countries with a licensing system in place.

“We are heartened by the fact that members of the committee today recognised the shooting community’s set of proposals which, if taken forward, could have a significant impact in helping to eradicate wildlife crime for good. That is the objective we all want to achieve and we believe that a potent combination of punishment and prevention is the most effective way forward. Significant progress has been made and this should be built upon.

“We have urged the government to adopt tougher penalties for those found guilty of wildlife crime, as outlined in the Poustie report. We would also like to see a formal due diligence package created for shoots accompanied by a new warning sanction for shoots under suspicion – a measure that would be developed under a strengthened PAWS partnership with more local focus.

“We look forward to discussing our set of proposals with the Cabinet Secretary at the earliest opportunity in the hope of devising a workable set of proposals that will hopefully deal with this issue once and for all.”

Scottish Land & Estates

Scottish Gamekeepers Association

BASC Scotland

The Scottish Association for Country Sports

The Scottish Countryside Alliance

The Scottish Moorland Group [Ed: which is actually part of Scottish Land & Estates]


What’s fascinating about this response is that it has been prompted, not by the news of yet another poisoned, trapped or shot raptor being found on a game-shooting estate, nor the disappearance of yet another satellite tagged raptor on a game-shooting estate, nor the discovery of yet another poisoned bait on a game-shooting estate, nor the discovery of yet another illegally-set trap on a game-shooting estate, but in response to the now very real threat of a licensing system being introduced to regulate game-bird shooting.

Isn’t that interesting? That tells us an awful lot about the sincerity behind the industry’s set of proposed ideas for reform, which, as we said yesterday, merely seek to maintain the status quo. If the industry was actually serious about tackling raptor persecution, it would have done a hell of a lot more, a long time ago. It would have spoken out each and every time one of the above crimes was discovered, but instead, it has denied, obsfucated, shielded and defended its criminals and criticised the RSPB at every given opportunity. But now, faced with enforced regulation, the industry is trying to be seen to be as conciliatory as possible to reduce the severity of what’s coming its way.

But even with this latest statement, the industry can’t resist spinning the facts. Raptor persecution is not “at a historically low level” – far from it. It might appear to be that way because the criminals have become better at hiding the evidence, hence a decreasing ‘body count’, but the endless scientific reports, papers and surveys continue to point in one direction and one direction only – there are many within the industry who are still ‘at it’. There is zero prospect of the industry cleaning up its own act if it refuses to accept the extent of the criminality.

The statement also says that “further regulation will impact on communities where game shooting is of vital social, economic and environmental importance“.  If the industry introduces sustainable management practices and stops breaking the law, it shouldn’t have any negative impact on local communities and might even draw in more tourists, and thus their money, resulting in a positive impact for local businesses. It’s pretty simple really.

The statement also says, “We are heartened by the fact that members of the committee today recognised the shooting community’s set of proposals which, if taken forward, could have a significant impact in helping to eradicate wildlife crime for good”. An important word is missing from this statement. Only SOME committee members recognised the shooting community’s set of proposals (three Tories and an SNP MSP), not the whole committee as the industry’s statement suggests. In fact, Mark Ruskell went out of his way to dismiss the industry’s new set of proposals and at the end of the meeting, when Convener Graeme Dey asked whether the Committee wanted to include the proposals in his letter to the Cabinet Secretary, Mark Ruskell again made it very clear that the Committee should not “endorse” the proposals but should merely “note” them.

Unlike the game-shooting industry, we are very encouraged by today’s decision, notwithstanding our concerns about how a licensing system would be monitored and enforced. However, today’s decision is very much a long-term plan. What we want and what we expect to see from the Cabinet Secretary over the last few weeks of this Parliamentary session is also a short-term plan, to run parallel with the licensing proposal. We need to see something that will clamp down with immediate effect on the worst offenders within the industry. We all know who they are, as does the industry, as do the Police, as does the Government. These criminals cannot be allowed to continue their lawlessness while we await the findings of a licensing inquiry, which will take months, if not years.


Environment Committee brings licensing for driven grouse shooting one step closer

It’s not often we can report good news on this blog but today is one of those rare occasions.

This morning the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee considered various options for progressing the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s petition calling for the introduction of a licensing scheme for game bird hunting.

In short, the Committee has agreed to keep this petition open and will be writing to the Environment Cabinet Secretary to recommend that the Scottish Government further explores, with stakeholders, the implementation of a licensing regime for driven grouse shooting.

This is fantastic and very welcome news!

Grouse shooting butt, photo by RPUK

The video archive and official transcript of proceedings will be published here when they become available within the next couple of days but for now, here’s a brief summary of what happened.

As we blogged earlier, the Committee had three options on the table (see here). Briefly, these were (1) to close the petition and do nothing more; (2) recommend that the Scottish Government explores a licensing system and the feasibility of a trial scheme; and (3) do something else, which in this case was to consider maintaining the status quo as recommended by the game shooting industry.

The following MSPs delivered their thoughts on this petition prior to the vote:

Kate Forbes (SNP), Alexander Burnett (Conservative), Claudia Beamish (Labour), Mark Ruskell (Greens), Emma Harper (SNP), Angus MacDonald (SNP), Richard Lyle (SNP) and Graeme Dey (SNP).

Maurice Golden (Conservative) and Finlay Carson (Conservative) did not have anything to say. Dave Stewart (Labour) was not present.

Special mention to Claudia Beamish and Mark Ruskell, who both demonstrated a clear grasp of the scale of raptor persecution, the length of time it has been allowed to persist, the need for a civil burden of proof, and a very marked view that voluntary regulation by the game shooting industry has failed to deliver tangible change.

The votes went as follows:

Option 1 (close the petition & do nothing else)

This option was rejected 10 votes to zero.

Option 2 (recommend that Scot Gov further explores, with stakeholders, how a licensing scheme could work and the feasibility of a trial scheme)

For: Kate Forbes (SNP); Claudia Beamish (Labour); Mark Ruskell (Greens); Emma Harper (SNP), Angus MacDonald (SNP); Graeme Dey (SNP).

Against: Alexander Burnett (Conservative); Maurice Golden (Conservative); Finlay Carson (Conservative); Richard Lyle (SNP).

This option was passed with six votes for, and four against.

Option 3 (close the petition & recommend that Scot Gov considers the non-regulatory alternatives put forward by the game shooting industry)

For: Alexander Burnett (Conservative), Maurice Golden (Conservative), Finlay Carson (Conservative), Richard Lyle (SNP).

Against: Claudia Beamish (Labour); Mark Ruskell (Greens); Emma Harper (SNP); Angus MacDonald (SNP); Graeme Dey (SNP).

Abstention: Kate Forbes (SNP)

This option was rejected with four votes for, and five votes against, and one abstention.

So as you can see, the decision to approve Option 2 was certainly not unanimous and it was a pretty tight call, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that this petition is moving in the right direction.

Various members of the Committee wanted to speak before the vote and many of them wanted to put on record their appreciation of petitioner Logan Steele’s evidence-based approach and his calm delivery of that evidence. We would echo that appreciation. As we’ve blogged before, Logan and his fellow petitioner Andrea Hudspeth, have both been subjected to some vile abuse and harassment on social media as a result of presenting this petition to Holyrood and it is to their credit that they refused to be intimidated and remained composed throughout. They deserve recognition for this, and for all the long hours of preparatory work that went in to writing the petition, and we all owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

So what happens next? Committee Convener Graeme Dey will write to Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, outlining the comments made during today’s discussions and recommending Option 2 – that the Government needs to explore the issue of licensing, particularly with reference to land that is intensively managed for driven grouse shooting. The issues to consider will not be restricted to the illegal killing of raptors, but will also include other issues such mountain hare slaughter and the environmental impact of muirburn practices and the use of high dosage medicated grit.

We’re under no illusion that a licensing regime will solve the problem – we maintain our long-held concerns about the issue of enforcement, particularly brought in to focus with the recent decisions of the Crown Office to drop four prosecutions despite the availability of very clear evidence. However, we also recognise that a licensing regime is a necessary step before a full ban on driven grouse shooting will be considered. If licensing works, then fine. If it doesn’t, a ban will be inevitable.

We don’t know what the timescale for these stakeholder discussions will be, and, going on past experience, this process may take a long time. Somebody commented on an earlier blog that the issue may be kicked in to the long grass and that is certainly a possibility, but we will be doing everything within our power to make sure that doesn’t happen.

And who knows, today’s decision may prove to be a watershed moment for dealing with raptor persecution in Scotland. The Cabinet Secretary has some important decisions to make before the summer recess (30 June 2017), including her decision on increased powers for the SSPCA and her response to the findings of the raptor satellite tag data review.

Public awareness of both the criminality and environmental damage associated with intensive driven grouse moor management has increased massively in recent years and public opinion has been vociferous. This weight of public opinion, combined with today’s decision, may just buckle the fence on which the SNP has been balancing for far too long.

UPDATE 7.30pm: Game-shooting industry issues joint statement on licensing proposals (here)


Environment Committee meeting this morning

The Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee will meet this morning to discuss the petition calling for the introduction of licensing for game bird shooting.

The meeting begins at 10.15am and can be watched live on Scottish Parliament TV here

A video archive and a full transcript will be posted later.


Environment Committee seeks clarity from prosecutors on use of video evidence

Following recent decisions by the Crown Office to abandon two prosecution cases for alleged raptor persecution because of so-called ‘inadmissible’ video evidence (see here and here), the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee has today written to the Crown Office to ask for clarity.

Here is the letter from the Environment Committee to the Crown Office:

We applaud the Environment Committee for trying to hold the Crown Office to account. They seem to be the only ones willing to do so – everyone else seems to just shrug their shoulders and say ‘we can’t comment on Crown Office decisions’. As an example, here is the response one of our blog readers received from the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee when they asked about the Crown’s decision to abandon the prosecution for the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate:

Thank you for your email. The convener has noted the contents and asked me to reply on her behalf.

The Justice Committee is a cross-party Parliamentary body comprising members of 5 political parties. It is a scrutiny body whose remit is to consider and report on matters falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

Re your reference to “your justice system”, the Justice Committee does not take any decisions on the criminal process and, in particular, has no power in relation to the prosecution of individual crimes. These decisions are taken under the authority of the Lord Advocate as chief prosecutor and his independence in this role is set out in statute. The Committee is not able to comment on the specific of this case.

However, the Committee may comment on broader policy matters and I am sure that Committee members would agree that wildlife crime is a serious matter that should be tackled with vigour. For information, the Committee recently completed a major report on the COPFS, which included a short section on its handling of wildlife crime and made a recommendation for the COPFS’s consideration (paragraph 167 onwards).

It is my understanding that under some circumstances affected individuals are entitled to request a review of a decision not to prosecute, although I am not clear how that operates in the case of wildlife crime rather than a crime against a person. You may wish to direct your complaint to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and, in so doing, clarify whether there is any scope to formally object to the decision taken in this instance.

You may also with to consider contacting your constituency or regional MSPs to register your disappointment. As already stated, the Lord Advocate is independent in the prosecution of the the crime but there might possibly be other avenues for your MSP(s) to explore if they decide to take up your case.

Yours sincerely,

Peter McGrath, Clerk to the Justice Committee, The Scottish Parliament.

 To be fair to the Justice Committee, we understand that they can’t comment on individual cases. However, they say themselves that they can comment on wider policy issues, so you might think they’d have been interested in addressing the broader issues of video admissibility. But apparently not.
Thankfully, the Environment Committee thinks otherwise and we very much welcome their letter to the Crown Office. It’ll be interesting to see how forthcoming the Crown Office’s response is.
Meanwhile, news has emerged this morning that the Crown Office has dropped yet another prosecution case for alleged raptor persecution – this is the fourth abandoned case in the space of a month. We’ll be blogging about this one shortly….

Game shoot licensing petition: Environment Committee to decide next steps

The Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee will meet next Tuesday to discuss how they wish to proceed with the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s petition calling for state-regulated licensing of game bird shooting.

As you’ll recall, the Committee took evidence from a range of stakeholders last month (see here for our commentary) so now they have to decide what should happen next. The ECCLR Committee clerks have outlined three possible options. Here’s option 1:

Given what’s happened since the Committee discussed this petition last month, i.e. Crown Office inexplicably abandoning three long-running prosecutions – alleged vicarious liability at Newlands Estate; alleged hen harrier shooting at Cabrach Estate; alleged pole-trapping offences at Brewlands Estate, and the witnessed shooting of a hen harrier at Leadhills Estate, the Committee will be hard pressed to justify taking option 1, because it is very clear that the current legislation and regulation is NOT working effectively.

Here are options 2 and 3:

As before, the session will be available to watch live on Scottish Parliament TV (we’ll add a link on Tuesday morning) and the video archive and official transcript will be posted here shortly afterwards.


Cabrach hen harrier shooting reaches First Minister’s Question Time

Today at First Minister’s Question Time, Richard Lochhead MSP (Moray, SNP) asked the following question:

The First Minister may be aware that there is huge disappointment and some shock following the decision by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service after a prolonged police investigation—and I am told, nine separate court hearings—to drop the case relating to the alleged illegal killing of a hen harrier in the Cabrach in my constituency in 2013. The Crown Office appears to have taken the view that the video footage supplied by the RSPB Scotland was inadmissible, despite such evidence being accepted in the past. Notwithstanding the progress that has been made by ministers in recent years to tackle wildlife crime, will the First Minister acknowledge that that case represents a serious crime against a threatened species? Given that wildlife crime is very difficult to detect, because most often it takes place in remote areas, will she acknowledge that the law and the approach of the Crown Office must take into account such factors? I ask the First Minister whether she would be willing to investigate this case, with a view to ensuring that the justice system does not miss any opportunity to hold to account those who illegally kill our endangered species?

The First Minister responded:

I agree with Richard Lochhead. As he well understands, decisions about the prosecution of crime are, of course, decisions for the Crown Office and in that respect law officers act independently of ministers. However, it is important that we take wildlife crime very seriously indeed, particularly in cases where, as Richard Lochhead has highlighted, it threatens a threatened species. I will be happy to ask the relevant minister, Roseanna Cunningham, to meet with Richard Lochhead to look at what more we can do, particularly taking into account his point about those crimes often taking place in remote areas and, therefore, being more difficult to detect. It is important that we make sure that the policy framework, the law around this and the decisions that are taken by the Crown Office in respect of prosecutions—although, as I say, it is independent of ministers—do everything possible to crack down on those kinds of crime. I assure Richard Lochhead that we will continue to do everything that we can to make sure that that is the case.

Well done, and thank you, Richard Lochhead. More of this, please.


No further General Licence restrictions in pipeline because Police Scotland sitting on evidence

The ability for SNH to impose a General Licence restriction order on land where there is evidence of raptor persecution taking place came in to force on 1 January 2014. This measure, based on a civil burden of proof, was introduced by then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to the continuing difficulties of meeting a criminal burden of proof to facilitate a criminal prosecution.

Whilst these GL restrictions are not without their limitations (because estates can simply apply for an individual licence instead –  see here, and we’ll soon be blogging again about the individual licences issued for Raeshaw & Corsehope estates in the Borders), Wheelhouse argued that as the restriction notices will be made public, they should act as a ‘reputational driver‘ and to us, that’s still where their value lies.

Since 1 January 2014, SNH has imposed two GL restrictions: one for Raeshaw & Corsehope estates, and one for Burnfoot & Wester Cringate estates in Stirlingshire. These restrictions began in November 2015 but as regular blog readers will know, Raeshaw & Corsehope made a legal challenge which ended up with a judicial review in January 2017. The court’s decision was announced in March 2017 and SNH was found to have acted properly and lawfully.

Since imposing those two GL restrictions in November 2015, SNH has not issued any others, presumably as they needed to await the outcome of the legal challenge, which is fair enough. However, now SNH has been given the green light to proceed with these restriction orders, we are expecting a flurry of further restriction announcements. We are aware of at least half a dozen other confirmed raptor persecution incidents that have taken place since 1 January 2014 that are not progressing for a criminal prosecution (and there’ll be more, it’s just that Police Scotland are currently hiding these from public view) and these should be eligible for SNH to consider for a potential GL restriction.

So, soon after the judicial review judgement had been announced, we submitted an FoI to SNH to ask about progress. We received their response last week and it’s staggering. In a nutshell, there aren’t any further General Licence restrictions in the pipeline because Police Scotland hasn’t bothered to pass on the evidence needed by SNH:

This, frankly, is an appalling neglect of duty by Police Scotland. We know that GL restrictions can ONLY be considered by SNH on receipt of evidence from Police Scotland. The Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee was told by Police Scotland in November 2014 that Police Scotland would meet monthly with SNH, starting that month, to discuss any potential cases (although in the Scottish Government’s 2015 Annual Wildlife Crime Report it was stated that ‘SNH meet with Police Scotland and the National Wildlife Crime Unit every 3 months to review new information on bird crimes in Scotland and to identify any possible cases for future restrictions’).

So if they’ve been meeting regularly (whether that be monthly or quarterly) since November 2014, why the hell hasn’t Police Scotland provided any ‘formal information packages’ to SNH other than those used for the two GL restrictions that were imposed in November 2015?

SNH’s hands are tied until they receive such packages (so this is definitely not a criticism of SNH) and meanwhile, all those estates where evidence of raptor persecution has been uncovered since 1 January 2014 are allowed to continue without sanction. And that’s all thanks to Police Scotland’s apathy.

Police Scotland might argue that they’ve been waiting for the judgement of the judicial review before spending any time collating formal information packages because the judicial review might have gone the other way and prevented SNH from imposing any more. That would be sort of understandable, although a bit surprising for a police force that claims to take wildlife crime, and particularly raptor persecution, ‘very seriously’. However, SNH’s response to us suggests that these joint discussion meetings have been on-going, even during the lengthy judicial review process, but they can’t do anything because Police Scotland haven’t followed through with the evidence. But even if these meetings had been temporarily suspended, the judicial review judgement was announced at the end of March 2017 – that’s six weeks ago – so why has Police Scotland still not provided any evidence for SNH to consider? How long can it take to put together an information package, especially when in some cases you’ve had about 2-3 years to think about it?

It’s utterly pathetic.

We’ll be bringing this to the attention of members of the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee (responsible for scrutiny of wildlife crime policy and enforcement) and also to the attention of Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham as she continues to deliberate (a) increased investigatory powers for the SSPCA and (b) her response to the findings of the raptor satellite tag data review (submitted 6 weeks ago but still to be formally published).

Meanwhile, supposedly protected raptor species will continue to suffer the consequences.

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