Posts Tagged ‘scottish parliament


Some details on Scottish Government’s proposals for grouse moor licensing scheme

Further to yesterday’s monumental announcement that the Scottish Government intends to start work immediately to bring in a licensing scheme for driven grouse shooting in Scotland (see here), there is much more to say.

As you might expect, there’ll be many more blogs written on this topic. To start off though, here is a link to the televised footage of Minister Mairi Gougeon making the announcement in Holyrood yesterday, and this includes a series of pertinent questions, and the Minister’s answers, at the end. It’s well worth a watch, if only to see the Minister doing her best to suppress the obvious exasperation she, and the rest of us have, with a grouse shooting industry that has proven itself incapable of control.

Also, here is the Scottish Government’s formal written response to the Werritty Review, in as much detail as is available at present:


Scottish Government to respond to Werritty Review on Thursday 26th November

In a bit of a surprise move, the Scottish Government intends to issue a long-awaited formal statement on the Werritty Review of grouse moor management this Thursday (26 November 2020).

It will come in the form of a Ministerial statement during Portfolio Questions, probably around 3pm.

The timing of this is really very interesting. Could it be an indication of ‘good news’? The “decisive action” promised by Environment Cab Sec Roseanna Cunningham back in August (here) in response to the volume of letters she received from the public following the appalling news that an iconic white-tailed eagle had been found illegally poisoned with a banned toxin on a grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park?

If it was going to be ‘bad news’ (e.g. the Government has decided to do absolutely nothing of any significance in response to the Werritty Review except kick the can a bit further down an already very long road), I’d have expected them to put something out with little fanfare at 5pm on 23rd December when everyone’s focus will be elsewhere.

Or could this impending statement be timed to offset a potential rebellion from grassroots members at the SNP’s annual conference at the end of this month? There has been a lot of upset after a motion to ban driven grouse shooting, endorsed by 25 regional groups, was ‘watered down’ by the Government earlier this month (see here). A statement of strong intent to actually do something, now, would probably soothe some rising voices.

It’s also quite telling that a senior civil servant has been making direct contact with some of us, quite openly, to give us the heads up that this announcement will be made on Thursday. In the ten years I’ve been writing this blog I’ve never once been given ‘official’ notice of an impending Ministerial statement. It’s clear the Scottish Government wants us to be watching and I see that as a good indication of what might be coming. Otherwise, why bother telling us in advance?

To be clear, I don’t know what the Minister will say and nor does anybody else I’ve spoken to in recent days, or if they do, they’re not saying. Whichever way this goes, it’s going to be massive.

All eyes on the Scottish Parliament on Thursday. You can watch it live from the Chamber here and I’d guess that there’s a good chance an accompanying written statement will be posted on the Scottish Government website around 3pm.


Environment Minister acknowledges potential economic impact of wildlife crime linked to grouse shooting

It’s been another year of shocking wildlife crimes being uncovered on grouse moors in the UK, including the illegal poisoning of this iconic white-tailed eagle, found dead on a grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park in the spring (see here).

[The poisoned white-tailed eagle, photo by Police Scotland]

Last week, Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone lodged a Parliamentary question asking what assessment the Scottish Government has made of the impact on the rural economy of wildlife crime linked to grouse moor management (see here).

Her question, and a supplementary one, were ‘answered’ by Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon during Portfolio Question Time yesterday in the Scottish Parliament.

When I say ‘answered’, I use the term loosely. A more fitting word might be ‘sidestepped’.

Here’s how it went:

It’s good that Mairi Gougeon acknowledges the potential economic damage of wildlife crime linked to grouse moor management – it’d be insane to claim that the photograph of that poisoned eagle, laying dead on a grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park of all bloody places, would not have an economic impact and, as the Minister pointed out, on Scotland’s international reputation.

But the question Alison asked was ‘What assessment of that economic damage has the Scottish Government undertaken?’

None, it seems.

Still, as the Government’s response to the Werritty Review is imminent, we can all look forward to “decisive action” on wildlife crime linked to grouse moor management, as Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham assured us all in August after a huge outpouring of public anger about this poisoned sea eagle (see here).


SNP leadership faces grassroots rebellion at conference over watered down grouse shooting motion

The scandal that is driven grouse shooting continues to feature prominently in the Scottish media as pressure continues to mount on the Scottish Government to respond to the Werritty Review on grouse moor licensing, a report that was submitted to the Government almost a year to the day (18 November 2019).

Last week The National ran an article on the 25 regional SNP branches who had submitted a motion for debate at the national conference calling for an end to driven grouse shooting in Scotland (see here).

The motion was proposed by councillor Julie Bell of Kirriemuir and Dean (Angus) and seconded by Ruth Maguire MSP. The resulting personal abuse hurled at them on social media from those with a vested interest in maintaining grouse shooting won’t have gone unnoticed by Julie, Ruth or their party colleagues and probably beyond.

Meanwhile, the motion appears to have been watered down considerably, despite being ‘the most backed resolution this year’, and as a result, Ruth Maguire MSP has lodged an amendment. The National ran an article on this yesterday, as follows:

THE SNP leadership faces a grassroots rebellion at this year’s conference over plans to end grouse shooting in Scotland.

The prospect of a vote on the subject has upset the Scottish Gamekeeper’s Association, who warn that the party risk alienating the countryside.

An initial motion to conference calling for an end to “unsustainable practices on grouse moors including the snaring, trapping and killing of hundreds of thousands of animals, muirburn and mass outdoor medication” was popular with members, being the most backed resolution put forward.

However, it was missing from the conference agenda. Instead there was another resolution which called for Scottish Government to continue its work “on regulating sporting estates in order to protect our biodiversity, native species and peatlands.”

MSP Ruth Maguire said this didn’t go far enough. Backed by her Holyrood colleague Christine Graham and a number of branches, she’s now submitted an amendment which urges the party to back the licensing of all shooting estates, and “move away from driven grouse shooting towards more sustainable and diverse land uses”.

Maguire said: “The original motion submitted to conference appears to be the most backed resolution this year showing the strength of support within the party for tackling Scotland’s grouse moors.

“For the huge swathes of Scotland they use up, driven grouse moors are one of the most destructive land uses in Scotland for our wildlife and environment, offering little economic benefit compared to other land uses.

“As recent polling shows almost three quarters of Scots are against grouse shooting and the SNP membership want the chance to put the party on the forefront of public opinion. This amendment, like the original motion, seeks to end the unsustainable practices of grouse shooting and in line with land reform, make our land work better for our people, our wildlife and the environment.”

Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg said: “The SNP, down the years, has enjoyed strong levels of support within working gamekeepers, their families and extended groups in rural constituencies.

“These are ordinary, hard-working individuals and families who vote for people and parties they feel will represent the interests of their communities.

“Recent policy decisions have left them alienated. Land working people, just now, are angry.

“They feel the Scottish Government is no longer listening or supporting them, despite the many benefits their work brings to the Scottish countryside and economy.”


Funny, the so-called ‘strong levels of support’ for the SNP that I’ve seen from the SGA’s members and supporters over the last few years has consisted almost entirely of vile personal misogynistic abuse.

Here’s a short example targeting Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham in March 2018 after she spoke to campaigners outside Holyrood about the mass slaughter of mountain hares on grouse moors (thanks to the blog reader who’s been compiling this material):

Roseanna hasn’t been the only target – First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has received ‘special attention’ as has Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon. And it’s not just female politicians in the SNP who have been at the receiving end of this disgraceful behaviour – politicians in the Scottish Greens and Labour have also been targeted, as have campaigners, bloggers, researchers, journalists, scientists, police officers, lawyers, raptor workers, tv presenters, bird ringers, satellite taggers, funders, charity workers, in fact anyone who dares even hint that driven grouse shooting is a Victorian throwback with huge environmental costs has been a victim of this abusive and targeted harassment.

There’ll be more on this subject shortly.


Nicola Sturgeon socially distancing from grouse shooting ‘exemption’

In recent years barely a week has gone by without grouse shooting being in the news for one reason or another.

More often than not it’ll be negative press, usually associated with the illegal killing or suspicious disappearance of yet another bird of prey. But the unfavourable coverage this industry has attracted this last week has been phenomenal, ever since it was announced that the Westminster and Scottish Governments were providing a special exemption for grouse shooting from the new ‘rule of six’ Covid restrictions.

The bad press was included in the mainstream media as well as on social media, and as Mark Avery pointed out,

It has captured the public imagination and it really hasn’t done the shooting industry any favours. It’s seen as another example of the Conservative government being completely out of touch with normal people, or worse, in the pockets of a small number of landed gentry (and nouveau riche non-gentry)‘.

Here are some examples of that coverage, which has included elements of ridicule and anger:

Cartoon by Ralph Underhill (@CartoonRalph) in The Canary:

Cartoon by Peter Brookes in The Times:

This issue prompted parliamentary questions in both Westminster and Holyrood and the responses from the respective Government leaders was quite telling.

In Westminster, Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson whether grouse shooting was his ‘top priority’ (you can watch the video here). Boris Johnson avoided answering the question.

In Holyrood, Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon whether it was fair that ‘shooting parties are permitted to load up their shotguns and head to the hills’ when others are having to make personal sacrifices to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

The discussion went like this:

It’s interesting that Nicola Sturgeon focused more on semantics than anything else because in essence the exemption is still in place, whether it was considered ‘specific’ or not. But it’s also interesting that she didn’t offer any supportive comments about gamebird shooting either, but instead went on to talk about ongoing reviews about ‘which exemptions are or are not appropriate’.

Will there be a review of whether the grouse shooting exemption from Covid restrictions is appropriate? Don’t hold your breath….we’re still waiting, ten months on and counting, for the Scottish Government’s response to the Werritty Review, despite cross-party political pressure to get on with it (here) and the news that yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier has ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on yet another Scottish grouse moor (here) whilst the Scottish Government looks the other way.


Chris Packham in conversation with Alison Johnstone MSP

Yesterday evening Chris Packham was in conversation with Alison Johnstone MSP of the Scottish Greens, talking about the future of driven grouse shooting in Scotland.

This took place as part of the joint e-action campaign by Wild Justice, RSPB and Hen Harrier Action to encourage UK voters to contact their elected representatives principally about tackling the ongoing illegal killing of birds of prey on driven grouse moors. Yesterday the total soared past 100,000 emails.

[Alison Johnstone MSP, photo via Scottish Greens]

This conversation between Chris and Alison is well worth a listen.

Here are some highlights:

Chris Packham:A 100,000 emails, Alison, what has this meant to elected representatives who’ve come in, opened their computer inbox and sat down and seen them?

Alison Johnstone:It’s left elected representatives like myself in no doubt whatsoever as to the strength of public feeling.

We know that people want action, they’re absolutely sick to the back teeth of hearing that another bird of prey has been persecuted. This afternoon I went in to my Parliamentary inbox and I would say every couple of minutes I’m receiving one of these emails.

In Parliament during the week, one of my colleagues said, ‘Oh, could you..’ (I would say not a Green colleague of course), one of my colleagues laughingly said, ‘Oh, could you not do anything to stop those emails coming in?’ And I said, ‘You know, I’d really like to claim credit for that fabulous campaign but that’s down to the RSPB, Wild Justice and Hen Harrier Action’. But there is no doubt at all the message is getting across loud and clear, so great work!

Incidentally, Alison’s colleague Mark Ruskell MSP tweeted this morning that he’d received ‘well over 500 emails’ from his own constituents on this topic:

Alison Johnstone: ‘I think the Scottish Government is beginning to understand now that this is actually a vote winner for them.

If they listened to what really concerns people in Scotland, the fact that they’ve received so many emails in recent days about the persecution of birds of prey, when you think about all the other challenges we’re currently facing with Covid 19 pandemic, with the potential of a looming no-deal Brexit, but people still want them to protect the environment, I think that says a lot‘.

The conversation, which also included issues such as the Werritty Review and Alison’s recent success at securing protection for mountain hares (here) but the Scottish Government’s subsequent ‘dragging of feet’ to enact it (here) can be watched in full below (if you can’t access it go to Chris’s social media pages to find the recording):

The e-action currently stands at over 117,000. It closes on tomorrow (Monday 31st Aug) at midnight. As Alison and other politicians have said, every single email counts so please consider joining in if you haven’t already – CLICK HERE.

Thank you


Protection for mountain hares kicked well & truly back in to long grass

Protection for mountain hares, slaughtered in their thousands on Scottish grouse moors (an estimated 26,000 each year), looks to be a long way off.

This is despite scientific evidence revealing catastrophic declines, despite the species’ unfavourable conservation status and despite the Scottish Parliament voting in June for full protection under the proposed Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act.

The Scottish Government is first insisting on undertaking a consultation with stakeholders to work out the details of how a licensing scheme will work, and has ignored the pleas of conservationists to bring in interim protection for mountain hares now that the open season for killing them has begun again (see here, here, here, here).

Instead, to the utter astonishment of the conservation community, as the hare-killing season opened on 1st August Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham asked the grouse shooting community to conduct voluntary restraint (see here) – an utterly futile and indeed facile request to an industry that has, for decades, proven itself incapable of self restraint.

[Shot mountain hares strung up in a chilling larder, screen-grabbed from a controversial feature on Countryfile (2018) showing mountain hares being shot on a Scottish grouse moor]

Meanwhile, a number of politicians have been putting pressure on the Scottish Government to pull its finger out and bring in measures to prevent the inevitable hare-killing sprees on grouse moors across the country, but Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon is trotting out the usual vague and non-committal responses we’ve come to expect from this Government.

For example, here are some pertinent Parliamentary questions from Alison Johnstone MSP (Scottish Greens) and Christine Grahame (SNP) and the Environment Minister’s responses:

Question S5W-30665: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party. Date lodged 13/7/20:

To ask the Scottish Government when it plans to commence section 10F of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act.

Answered by Mairi Gougeon (30/7/20):

The Scottish Government will set out its timetable for commencing all sections of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020, including Section 10F, in due course.

Question S5W-30899: Christine Grahame, Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, Scottish National Party. Date lodged: 23/7/20:

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of mountain hare culling restarting on 1 August 2020, when the licensing scheme in compliance with the Animal and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 will be enforceable. 

Answered by Mairi Gougeon (10/8/20):

I refer the member to the answer to question S5W-30665 on 30 July 2020. All answers to written parliamentary questions are available on the Parliament’s website, the search facility for which can be found at xxxxxxxx.

Question S5W-30664: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party. Date lodged 13/7/20:

To ask the Scottish Government what measures it will put in place to prevent further mass culling of mountain hares when the mountain hare closed season ends on 1 August 2020.

Answered by Mairi Gougeon (10/8/20):

The Scottish Government has always been clear that any large-scale culling that threatens the conservation status of mountain hares is not acceptable. However, as I stated during the stage 3 debate in Parliament there are a number of issues that must be fully considered ahead of the introduction of a licensing regime. I am now giving careful thought as to how that regime will work and when the protection will come into force and I will be discussing that in detail with stakeholders over the coming months. We will be following the situation carefully for any indication of attempts to carry out excessive culls and will take steps to address this if necessary.

God this is tedious. ‘Over the coming months’ and ‘in due course’ and ‘we will take steps to address this if necessary’. These are holding statements designed to hide the fact that the issue is being kicked in to the long grass.

Do these phrases sound familiar? They should – these are the exact same lethargic, ambiguous phrases that have come to characterise the Scottish Government’s inaction over the ongoing and illegal killing of birds of prey on driven grouse moors.

So far this season there are no confirmed reports of mountain hares being culled on Scottish grouse moors (there were a couple of unconfirmed reports in early August but these proved to be unsubstantiated – see here). However, with the grouse-shooting season now open this isn’t the time when most hares are slaughtered. That bloodbath usually takes place in January and February, once the grouse-shooting season has ended, as depicted in this shocking video.

Can we expect to see more of the same this season?


Disappearance of golden eagle Tom prompts Parliamentary motion

Earlier this week we blogged about the suspicious disappearance of Tom, a golden eagle we’d been satellite-tracking since last year with Chris Packham and who vanished in to thin air, along with his fully-functioning satellite tag, with his last known location being on a driven grouse moor in Strathbraan, a well-known raptor persecution hotspot (see here).

[Golden eagle Tom at approx 8 weeks old having his satellite tag fitted in 2019 under expert licence. Photo Raptor Persecution UK]

We produced a video about Tom’s suspicious disappearance and this, along with the RPUK blog on his disappearance, received good media coverage both online and in the printed media throughout the week, even though a journalist at The Times simply cut and pasted the text from the RPUK blog, regurgitated it in an article and attributed this to ‘a spokesman from RPUK‘. Ha!

Here’s the video for those who may have missed it:

And now Tom’s disappearance has prompted a Parliamentary motion, lodged by Labour MSP Alex Rowley as follows:

It’s not just Tom’s disappearance that has led to this. As you can see, Alex also mentions the suspicious disappearance of seven other satellite-tagged golden eagles in the same area, the disappearance of another satellite-tagged hen harrier on another Scottish driven grouse moor (here), the illegal poisoning of a satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle found dead on another Scottish grouse moor (here), and the 43 hen harriers that have either gone missing or have been killed in the UK in the last two years (here).

He’s done his homework.

For a Parliamentary Motion to be considered for debate, at least 30 MSPs from at least two different political parties need to support it. So far, Alex’s motion has attracted the support of 17 MSPs, representing Labour, SNP, Greens, Liberal Democrats and one independent.

If your MSP’s name isn’t on the list as a supporter, please email them and prompt them to sign up. If they refuse, ask them why. Put them on the spot and most importantly of all, let them know that this issue matters to you.

If you don’t know who your MSP is you can find out here

If you want to do more, and if you’re sick to the back teeth of illegal raptor persecution on driven grouse moors, please consider participating in this quick and easy e-action to send a letter to your local Parliamentary representative (MSP/MP/MS) urging action. Launched last Saturday by Wild Justice, RSPB and Hen Harrier Action, over 41,000 people have signed up so far.

This means that over 41,000 pre-written letters complaining about illegal raptor persecution and the environmental damage caused by intensive grouse moor management, are winging their way to politicians of all parties across the UK. If you want your local politician to receive one, Please join in HERE

Thank you


Cross-party political pressure on Scottish Government to respond to Werritty review on grouse moor licensing

There was an interesting opinion piece in The Herald on 12th August, written by Mark Smith who was scathing both about grouse shooters (‘that rare and rather sad creature’) and the Scottish Government’s ‘lack of urgency’ in its failure to respond to the Werritty Review. It’s well worth a read (here).

Meanwhile, further to First Minister’s Questions on 12th August when Alison Johnstone MSP (Scottish Greens) put Nicola Sturgeon on the spot about the ongoing illegal persecution of birds of prey on grouse moors (see here), and the subsequent feeble response from Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham (here), yesterday saw more cross-party pressure piled on to the Scottish Government over this issue.

John Mason (SNP), Alison Johnstone (Greens) and Alex Rowley (Labour) all pushed Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon and made it clear that patience has run out:

Transcript from the Scottish Parliament’s Official Report, 13th August 2020.

There’s absolutely no doubt the pressure is mounting to unprecedented levels.

One of these MSPs has taken the matter a step further. More on that in the next blog….

Meanwhile, if you want to add to that mounting pressure, and if you’re sick to the back teeth of illegal raptor persecution on driven grouse moors, please consider participating in this quick and easy e-action to send a letter to your local Parliamentary representative (MSP/MP/MS) urging action. Launched last Saturday by Wild Justice, RSPB and Hen Harrier Action, over 41,000 people have signed up so far.

This means that over 41,000 pre-written letters complaining about illegal raptor persecution and the environmental damage caused by intensive grouse moor management, are winging their way to politicians of all parties across the country. If you want your local politician to receive one, Please join in HERE

Thank you


Unconfirmed reports of mountain hare culls on several Scottish grouse moors

The season for killing mountain hares in Scotland opened on Saturday (1st August) despite a recent Parliamentary vote to provide more protection for this species.

In this particular case, greater protection (i.e. those who want to kill mountain hares will need to apply for a licence) will not be available until the Scottish Government has undertaken a consultation to consider the terms and conditions of any such licencing scheme.

Meanwhile, while everyone waits for the Scottish Government to conduct that consultation, the shooting season has opened and the Government has ignored campaigners’ pleas to offer interim protection to those mountain hares.

Instead, the Environment Cabinet Secretary has, with a straight face, called on the grouse-shooting industry to practice ‘voluntary restraint’ (see here).

So it came as no surprise to see a number of (as yet unconfirmed) reports on Twitter yesterday that mountain hare culling had begun, apparently on a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths and a grouse moor in the Angus Glens.

Under the current legislation, these estates are entitled to kill as many mountain hares as they like, without needing permission or a licence, and there is no obligation for them to record or report the number of hares killed.

Nor is there any obligation to report what they do with those shot hares. Some will end up on sale for human consumption (complete with embedded toxic poisonous lead shot, yum yum), others will simply be discarded, and some will be used to bait traps and stink pits to lure other wildlife to a gruesome death.

[Shot mountain hares strung up in a chilling larder, screen-grabbed from a controversial feature on Countryfile (2018) showing mountain hares being shot on a Scottish grouse moor]

UPDATE August 2020: Neither of these unconfirmed reports have been substantiated and there is no evidence that mountain hares were being culled in the Monadhliaths or the Angus Glens at the beginning of August 2020.

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