Posts Tagged ‘scottish parliament


ECCLR Committee’s latest thoughts on gamebird licensing petition

This morning the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee considered how to progress the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s petition calling for the introduction of a state-regulated licensing system for all gamebird hunting in Scotland.

You may recall the petition was submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee last summer. That Committee took evidence in October 2016 from the SRSG and RSPB Scotland (see here) and then evidence from the Scottish Moorland Group and BASC in December 2016 (see here) before deciding to pass the petition to the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee for further consideration.

This morning the ECCLR Committee spent 7 minutes discussing the petition and various ways forward. The video of this morning’s discussion can be viewed here (the relevant start time is 1:46.11) and the official transcript can be read here (starts at page 37): ecclr-transcript-31-jan-2017

One Committee member, Alexander Burnett MSP (Scottish Conservative & Unonist Party, Aberdeenshire West), declared his shooting interests before suggesting that the petition should be dismissed outright because, amongst other things, “those who shoot are already licensed by extremely rigorous shotgun and firearms regimes“. He clearly hasn’t been following the case of the East Arkengarthdale Estate gamekeeper who was able to keep his shotgun and firearms certificates, despite admitting his involvement with an illegal poisons cache (see here).

Fortunately, Mr Burnett’s suggestion found no support from other Committee members and a decision was made to:

(a) Write to the Environment Cabinet Secretary to ask when the gamebird licensing review will be published, and to suggest that it be made available pronto so the ECCLR Committee can continue deliberations without further delay. It was suggested that the Committee would like to be in a position to proceed by March. (Remember, the publication of this review is already overdue and this delay is now affecting other areas of Parliamentary process).

(b) Write to the Environment Cabinet Secretary and ask for her opinion on the effectiveness of other measures such as vicarious liability, general licences etc.

(c) After receipt of the gamebird licensing review, and following a short period of time to consider its findings, the ECCLR Committee will potentially invite the Petitioner (Logan Steele of the Scottish Raptor Study Group) and a range of stakeholders to give further evidence.

UPDATE 22 Feb 2017: letter-from-ecclr-convenor-to-cab-sec-re-petition-pe1615_7feb2017


ECCLR Committee to discuss gamebird licensing petition next week

Things are moving forward with the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s petition calling for the introduction of a state-regulated licensing system for all gamebird hunting.

You may recall the petition was submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee last summer. That Committee took evidence in October 2016 from the SRSG and RSPB Scotland (see here) and then evidence from the Scottish Moorland Group and BASC in December 2016 (see here) before deciding to pass the petition to the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee for further consideration.

The ECCLR Committee will discuss this petition at its next meeting (Tuesday 31 January 2017) and we’ll be able to watch proceedings live on Scottish Parliament TV (we’ll add a link nearer the time).

We have no idea how the ECCLR Committee will progress this issue – for example, they may decide to call for more evidence, they may decide a public consultation would be a good way forward, they may decide to knock the whole thing on the head. We’ll have to wait and see.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if, before Tuesday’s meeting, the members of the ECCLR Committee could read up on how gamebird hunting is regulated in other countries, to allow them to compare and contrast with the lack of regulation in Scotland? If only there was a Government-commissioned report about this very issue….Ah, there is, it just hasn’t been published yet.


ECCLR session 2: the SGA and their ‘alternative facts’

Two weeks ago the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee held an evidence session to scrutinise the Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report.

The evidence session was divided in to two parts – we’ve blogged about session 1 [evidence from Police Scotland and the Crown Office] here.

This blog is about session 2, where witnesses from RSPB Scotland, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA), Scottish Badgers and the Bat Conservation Trust were invited to speak.

The video of the session can be watched here and the full transcript can be read here.

This session was fascinating and we’d really encourage you to read the transcript – and even better, watch the video. There’s too much to blog about here so we’ll just focus on the SGA’s ‘evidence’, which turned out to be a series of ‘alternative facts’, which perhaps isn’t all that surprising although it is of concern when you realise Andy Smith, the SGA rep, was a former police officer for 30 years and so he should be well versed in dealing with actual facts, not made-up ones.

Here are some of the SGA’s alternative facts. This is not an exhaustive list, just the ones that amused us the most:

Alternative Fact #1

According to Andy Smith, the SGA doesn’t support the proposal that the SSPCA should be given increased powers to help investigate wildlife crime because he was told that the SSPCA’s Chief Superintendent traveled to London to listen to the Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting, which, according to Andy Smith, means the SSPCA has an anti-shooting agenda.

The logic Andy Smith used to reach this conclusion is, well, illogical, because plenty of people attended the Westminster debate, including GWCT staff members, who most definitely are not anti-shooting. Anyway, as it turns out, the SSPCA’s Chief Superintendent did NOT travel to London to attend the debate, as he clearly explains in a recent letter to the ECCLR Committee that has been published on the Scottish Parliament’s website:  20170111_mike_flynn_to_convener_regarding_ecclr_meeting_10_january_2017

Alternative Fact #2

According to Andy Smith, “There are places in this country that should have birds of prey – raptors – but do not have them. That includes some RSPB reserves that have the perfect conditions. For example, I do not think that there are very many in Abernethy“.

Oops. There are at least eight species of breeding raptors at the RSPB’s Abernethy Reserve (perhaps more, we haven’t checked), including, er, the world famous ospreys at Loch Garten.

Alternative Fact #3

According to Andy Smith, “We should remember that the Cairngorms National Park has the highest density of eagles in the world“. [Interruption]. “Am I not right in thinking that?“.

Ian Thomson (RSPB Scotland): “No, you are not“.

Andy Smith: “It is certainly where the highest density of eagles is in the UK“.

Ian Thomson: “Harris has the highest density of golden eagles“.

Another commonly repeated myth from Andy Smith. It’s nothing new (e.g. see here, and it was also repeated in the SGA’s most recent edition of its in-house rag Scottish Gamekeeper), but it doesn’t matter how many times it’s repeated, it doesn’t make it factual. The Cairngorms National Park does NOT have the highest density of eagles in the world, nor in the UK. As Ian Thomson correctly pointed out, golden eagle density in the Western Isles (i.e. nowhere near a driven grouse moor) is among the highest recorded, although a few populations in North America have an equally high density.

The truth is that golden eagles in the Cairngorms National Park have one of the lowest rates of site occupancy in the whole of Scotland. Sure, there are breeding golden eagles in the CNP, but as was described in the authoritative Golden Eagle Conservation Framework, the vast majority of those sites are associated with open woodland (i.e. deer forest) where they are generally left alone; they are, with a handful of exceptions, absent from the extensive areas of open moorland managed for driven grouse shooting.

ge-vacant-territories-2003The data in the above table were derived from the 2003 national golden eagle survey. Since then, a 2015 national survey has been undertaken and we await publication of the detailed results, although the preliminary findings have shown that there have been improvements in occupancy in some regions, but not, unfortunately, in the Eastern Highlands, which includes large parts of the Cairngorms National Park and North East Glens, where intensively managed moorland for driven grouse shooting remains the dominant land practice and where illegal persecution continues to constrain the golden eagle population, as well as a number of other raptor populations including peregrine and hen harrier.

The SGA should watch out. With a performance like Andy Smith’s, the Trump administration may well try to headhunt him to join The White House press team.


Another question on withheld raptor persecution data

mark-ruskellWe’ve talked quite a bit on the issue of withheld raptor crime data from the Scottish Government’s 2015 annual Wildlife Crime report. We blogged about it when the report was published in November 2016 (here) and again earlier this month when Mark Ruskell MSP asked for an explanation from Police Scotland during the recent ECCLR Committee hearing on wildlife crime (see here).

This issue was raised again on Thursday during a general question session at Holyrood. The topic of ‘crime recording’ was being discussed and Mark Ruskell took the opportunity to ask a supplementary question:

“The cabinet secretary might be aware that “Wildlife Crime in Scotland—2015 Annual Report” came under scrutiny recently in the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee. It was revealed that a number of bird of prey persecution incidents from two years ago were withheld from the report despite details from other sources being in the public domain. Will the cabinet secretary undertake to investigate why that information was withheld, and will he say what Police Scotland can do to ensure that wildlife crime reporting is transparent, accurate and has the confidence of the public?”

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, responded as follows:

“Classification and the way issues are recorded in the statistics are developed by statisticians, and the approach must comply with the code of practice that is applied to recording of crime statistics. I have no doubt that if the Scottish crime recording board believes that there is a need for any alterations, it can consider that issue, as we move forward with any changes that could take place. However, I will ensure that Mark Ruskell receives a full and detailed response on the specific nature of wildlife crimes”.

The withholding of the raptor persecution data probably wasn’t due to a faulty classification system developed by statisticians. The missing data included incidents that were very clearly crimes – there’s no ambiguity about whether 4 shot buzzards, a trap containing a live pigeon decoy, and spring traps set in the open, were crimes. They obviously were crimes, even though the police-led investigation didn’t identify the person(s) responsible for those crimes.

We await Police Scotland’s explanation for why these crimes were withheld from the Government’s annual report.

Thanks to Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens, Mid Scotland & Fife) for his persistence on this issue.


Edward Mountain MSP – the fiercest critic of those committing wildlife crime?

Edward Mountain MSP is a new member of the Scottish Parliament (Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party, Highlands & Islands).

Edward recently wrote a guest article for the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association’s quarterly rag, Scottish Gamekeeper (Issue 71, winter 2017, page 20). We’re going to reproduce part of that article:

I believe that challenging the ‘spectre’ [of land management reform] is vital, if the very countryside we all value and love is to be maintained. The way to do this is by standing tall and laying out a stall, for all to see the benefits positive management has to offer. The problem is that every time it looks like the right story is being delivered another case of wildlife crime comes to light. If there is any chance of moving forward we must stop these idiots, who believe illegally killing raptors is acceptable.

I therefore would urge all organisations that represent country folk to stand up and let people know all the good work that is being done for conservation. At the same time, they also need to vilify those that break the law.

Over the next 4.5 years I look forward to working with the SGA and I will do all I can to defend the values you and your members believe in. However, I must also say that I will be the fiercest critic of those that jeopardise these values by breaking the law‘.

Good strong words, but will he put them in to action?

His article for the SGA was probably written before he hosted a parliamentary reception at Holyrood for the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group in mid December 2016 (see here). The reception was to launch the ‘Game for Growth’ initiative that is using public funds to promote country sports providers in Scotland. Here’s a picture of him acting as host, with some of the others involved with this initiative (L-R Tim (Kim) Baynes from Gift of Grouse / Scottish Moorland Group / Scottish Land & Estates, Malcolm Roughead from VisitScotland, Edward Mountain MSP, and Sarah Troughton from the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group).

We now know that these public funds are being used to promote a sporting agent with a conviction for raptor persecution (see here) and two estates where illegally-set traps have been discovered (see here).

Now’s your chance, Edward – it’s been put on a plate for you. As you’re so publicly supportive of this Game for Growth scandal, are you going to stand up and be “the fiercest critic” of the associated wildlife crimes?

We’ll see.


ECCLR review of wildlife crime report: session 1

Last week the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee held an evidence session in which to review the Scottish Government’s 2015 Annual Wildlife Crime Report.

The archived video can be watched here

The official transcript can be read here: ecclr-transcript-wildlife-crime-10-jan-2017

The evidence session took place in two parts: the first session involved witnesses from Police Scotland and the Crown Office, and the second session heard evidence from RSPB Scotland, Scottish Badgers, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association and the Bat Conservation Trust.

This blog focuses on session 1 (we’ll blog about session 2 in another blog).


The witnesses in session 1 were Gary Aitken (Crown Office), ACC Steve Johnson and DCS Sean Scott (Police Scotland). DCS Scott has appeared in front of this committee in previous years (when it was the RACCE committee) but this was a first time appearance for ACC Johnson and Gary Aitken.

Session 1 lasted for about two hours and it’s fair to say these witnesses were given quite a grilling. The ECCLR Committee was extremely well informed and in some cases there was some pretty persistent (but respectful) questioning, notably by Mark Ruskell MSP and Claudia Beamish MSP.

We’ve already blogged about part of this session (see here) in relation to Police Scotland’s inability to answer Mark Ruskell’s question about why some confirmed raptor crimes had been withheld from the Government’s 2015 report. We await Police Scotland’s written explanation to the Committee in due course. A similar problem was raised in this session re: the huge discrepancy between the number of crimes against badgers recorded by Scottish Badgers ( n = 42) and those recorded by Police Scotland (n = 5). Again, Police Scotland has been asked to provide a written explanation to the Committee, which will be important because this appears to be a recurring issue. It was good to hear  though, that Police Scotland has recently set up some new reporting mechanisms with Scottish Badgers, as well as training days for officers. Hopefully this will improve communication and understanding between them.

There was good discussion about increased powers for the SSPCA (Police Scotland appears to have softened its stance on this a bit, although we’re all STILL waiting for the Environment Cabinet Secretary to announce the Government’s position on these increased powers), agreement that increased penalties for wildlife crime would be very welcome, and also agreement on the importance of being able to identify accountable individuals for potential vicarious liability prosecutions. All good.

On the whole, Police Scotland and the Crown Office were far more circumspect at this hearing than in previous appearances. We were very pleased to hear ACC Johnson acknowledge that the full extent of wildlife crime in Scotland is an ‘unknown’, in complete contrast to his predecessor’s (ACC Malcolm Graham) ludicrous claims that Police Scotland ‘wasn’t missing much of it’ (see here).

We were also very pleased to hear ACC Johnson’s acknowledgement that the scientific / academic evidence [of the effect of persecution on the distribution and abundance of raptor populations] was a “strong part” of the evidence of wildlife crime.  However, none of this scientific evidence had appeared in the Government’s 2015 annual report and Mark Ruskell MSP asked what progress had been made in assessing this evidence; something ACC Graham had committed to doing last year. The responses from ACC Johnson and DCS Scott were utterly astounding. They both said they’d be happy to look at the scientific evidence ‘if it was brought to their attention’.

What? Are they for real? Are they seriously suggesting they’re unaware of the massive body of scientific evidence? They’re having a laugh, aren’t they?

How many peer-reviewed scientific reports and papers have been published on this issue in the last 20 years? Bloody loads of them! Here’s a list of some of them and hereherehere are some more that have been published in the last year alone and here, here are some preliminary scientific results, all widely reported in the media, that are due to be written up as scientific papers in the immediate future.

Sorry, ACC Johnson and DCS Scott, your claimed ignorance of the scientific evidence just doesn’t wash. Especially DCS Scott, who chairs the PAW Raptor Group, where some of these scientific results have been frequently discussed.

So why claim ignorance? Was it to cover up Police Scotland’s inaction on this issue? If so, that’s not nearly good enough. For two years in a row now Police Scotland has committed to assessing the scientific evidence and incorporating it in to its ‘intelligence-led’ investigations. We, and no doubt the ECCLR Committee, will expect to see progress on this when the Government’s 2016 annual report is published later this year.


Withheld raptor crime data: some info for DCS Scott of Police Scotland

This morning the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee heard evidence on the Scottish Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report.

The archived video can be viewed here.

The official transcript can be read here: ecclr-transcript-wildlife-crime-10-jan-2017

The session was dynamite and there are many things to discuss – we’ll be blogging a lot more about this in the coming days but we wanted to start with the issue of withheld raptor crime data.

As some of you may remember, we criticised the Government’s annual wildlife crime report when it was published in November, precisely because we knew that several confirmed raptor crimes had not been included in the data presented to the Government by Police Scotland (see here). At the time, we didn’t elaborate on which specific crimes had been withheld from the report but we argued that the withholding of data completely undermined the public’s confidence in the report’s findings.

We were delighted to see this issue raised at this morning’s evidence session by Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens), and with devastating aplomb.

In the video link above, the discussion starts at 1:06:31.

Mark asked the Police Scotland representatives (ACC Steve Johnson and DCS Sean Scott) why some raptor crimes that had been recorded by RSPB Scotland had been excluded from the Government’s report. DCS Scott looked blank, and then mumbled something about perhaps the crimes weren’t actually crimes at all so they wouldn’t have been recorded. Mark pressed on and gave DCS Scott specific details about the crimes in question and even showed him a photograph of one of the illegally set traps involved, to check that it was indeed an illegally-set trap and thus a confirmed crime. DCS Scott maintained he didn’t know about these specific crimes, even when Mark gave him more detailed information about the location. This went on for some time and it was excellent to see Mark’s persistence and his unwillingness to be fobbed off. Eventually, DCS Scott committed to finding out about these specific crimes and gave assurance that he would later write to the ECCLR Committee to explain why these data had been withheld from the Government’s report.

To help DCS Scott, here’s some background about these specific crimes:

If you look at Table 19 in the Scottish Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report, there is a list of raptor persecution crimes and the data are attributed to Police Scotland. Listed under Lothian & Borders, Police Scotland recorded the following incidents between April 2014-March 2015:

Peregrine shooting (Sept 2014)

Attempted trapping (species not identified) (Sept 2014)

Buzzard shooting (October 2014)

Tawny owl shooting (Dec 2014)

Now, compare the Police Scotland data with the data published in Table 4 in the RSPB’s annual report – ‘The Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland, 1994-2014, A Review‘. In that report, listed under Scottish Borders, the RSPB has recorded the following additional confirmed crimes for the same time period, that were excluded from the Police Scotland data in the Government’s annual report:

Crow trap baited with 2 live pigeons, surrounded by 4 set spring traps, nr Heriot (May 2014) – there is even a photograph of this illegally-set trap on page 16)


4 x shot buzzards, nr Heriot (May 2014).



It was later revealed during the second part of the ECCLR Committee evidence session this morning, in evidence given by Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations, RSPB Scotland) that the above offences were uncovered during a Police Scotland-led multi-agency raid on this estate ‘nr Heriot’, so it is somewhat surprising that DCS Scott claimed to have no knowledge about them.

In due course we look forward to reading DCS Scott’s written explanation about why these data were withheld from the Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report.

In the meantime, kudos and thanks to Mark Ruskell MSP, who was one of several MSPs who performed exceptionally well at this morning’s evidence session. More on that in later blogs…..

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