Posts Tagged ‘scottish parliament


Ex-Minister Fergus Ewing’s plans for pine martens explains a lot about Scottish Government’s approach to raptor protection

Fergus Ewing MSP was the Scottish Government’s Rural Cabinet Secretary from 2016-2021 until he was sacked by Nicola Sturgeon in May (see here).

He has long been viewed with suspicion by conservationists, and many would argue justifiably so (e.g. see here, here and check Google for plenty of other reports) although we did manage to get him to condemn ongoing raptor persecution on Scottish grouse moors after pointing out his long silence on this issue (here).

Many have believed that Fergus Ewing was partly responsible for the Scottish Government’s glacial approach to tackling raptor crime, with oft-heard rumours from within Holyrood circles that he and Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham were often at loggerheads over how the Government should respond. I don’t know if those rumours were true or not but I do know that the Government has dragged its feet on this issue for years and years and years (and is still doing so now).

Last week I read a comment piece from Fergus about pine martens, published in The Times, and it did nothing to change my view of what I’d call his dodgy conservation credentials. He can’t expect to be taken seriously when he proposes we should trust the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, GWCT, NFU Scotland and Scottish Land & Estates to carefully manage protected predators, when many of these organisations have either lobbied hard for licences to kill various raptor species perceived to threaten gamebirds and/or lambs, or have repeatedly denied that raptors continue to be killed by criminals within the industry, despite the evidence being clear for all to see.

Here’s what he wrote:

Ask any local farmer, keeper or land manager about the future of the capercaillie and they will talk about the impact of predators upon this bird, whose population in Scotland is under threat. From what I have learnt over two decades as the constituency MSP for much of the Caledonian pine forest, the capercaillie’s preferred habitat, it seems unlikely that the species can survive unless its predators are tackled.

Over the last two decades, millions of pounds of public money and lottery funding have been devoted to saving the caper. But, like other ground-nesting birds such as lapwing and plover, its eggs are breakfast, lunch and dinner for a large variety of predators. In this month’s edition of The Scottish Gamekeeper, there is a photograph of a pine marten holding an egg in its mouth.

Ten years ago the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust proposed a scheme not to control pine martens but to capture and transport them from Strathspey to places without such easy meals. This, sadly, was not approved. I have lodged in the Holyrood Parliament a motion that the Scottish Government and other funding sources must urgently discuss, with the bodies that understand land management best, how to avert the loss of the caper with sustained and effective predator management programmes. Other funding providers include NatureScot, the Cairngorm National Park and the lottery, who have a programme in Carrbridge seeking to preserve the caper.

Who knows what to do? Primarily those closest to the ground – keepers, farmers, crofters and land managers. If the public and funders are willing to trust those with the knowledge – the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, the National Farmers’ Union Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates, Scottish Crofting Federation and others – it may be possible to save this species.

If not, then in addition to more than £10 million already spent on the capercaillie without success, any further public money devoted to it will be wasted. Indeed, the eight-figure sum already spent will be seen as ‘the great caper-caper’ as it were, and expose any public bodies who are shown to have ignored practitioner advice to serious criticism and ridicule.


Recently I was shown this photograph of what might also be described as ‘the great caper-caper’ – the result of a capercaillie shoot on a Scottish sporting estate in 1980. It does make me wonder about the motivation of some organisations to ‘save’ the capercaillie. Save them for what? Another shooting party?

Anyway, I digress. Let’s get back to Fergus’s grand plan for ‘driving out the pine marten’.

He mentioned that he’d lodged a parliamentary motion on this issue but I couldn’t find it listed on the Scottish Parliamentary website.

Fergus will be delighted to learn though, that a new long term strategic recovery plan for pine martens in Britain has just been published by the Vincent Wildlife Trust, funded by NatureScot and Natural England, and it’s a very impressive piece of work.

You can download the report here:

Interestingly, I couldn’t find a single recommendation for ‘driving out the pine marten’ from the Caledonian Forest. Funny that.

What I did read was that the pine marten population is still slowly recovering in Scotland, largely thanks to full legal protection and improved habitat availability, but that the population is still vulnerable. As such, the report authors recommend protecting the integrity of existing populations to promote natural recolonisation and, where appropriate, limiting the removal of individual pine martens for potential translocation and reintroduction projects elsewhere in the UK.

There you are, Fergus. A properly-researched, evidence-based, scientific research report written by actual experts on which to base future discussions about pine marten conservation – far more appropriate than the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s quarterly rag, even though it does have a photo of a pine marten with an egg in its mouth (Shocker! Predator caught eating something!).


Parliamentary question: when will Scottish Government consult on grouse moor licensing?

In November 2020, the Scottish Government announced it’s long-awaited, and some would argue long-overdue, decision to introduce a licensing scheme for driven grouse shooting, in response to the Werritty Review and in response to the grouse-shooting industry’s utter failure to self-regulate and stop the illegal persecution of birds of prey on driven grouse moors (see here).

Mairi Gougeon, who was the Environment Minister at that time, said in her statement:

If re-elected, this Government will bring forward the necessary legislation in the next Parliament to license grouse moor management and to strengthen the existing legislation on muirburn, including a range of appropriate penalties that could be applied in cases of non-compliance. Any new legislation will of course be preceded by full consultation in the normal way


I look forward to discussing these measures with members of this parliament and key stakeholders over the coming months“. 

Six months on from making that commitment, Mark Ruskell MSP (Environment spokesperson for Scottish Greens) is not wasting any time in getting down to business in this new Parliament and is already applying the pressure.

He lodged the following Parliamentary Question on 14th May 2021:

S6W-00039To ask the Scottish Government when it will consult on the licensing of grouse moors.

This question was answered on 26th May 2021 by Graeme Dey:

ANSWER: The Scottish Government remains committed to implementing the licensing of driven grouse shooting and is currently developing proposals for a full public and stakeholder consultation with the aim of bringing forward legislation during this parliamentary term.

The timing of the consultation will depend on the legislative programme for the Parliament, which will be set out in due course.

Hmm. The first thing that struck me about this response was who it was from. Graeme Dey is the Transport Minister – his portfolio does not cover grouse shooting as far as I can tell. How very odd that it wasn’t answered by either the Environment Minister (Mairi McAllan) or either of the two Cabinet Secretaries with responsibilities in this area (Mairi Gougeon and Michael Matheson).

The second thing that struck me was the Government’s continued use of language that aims to demonstrate action but actually delivers nothing more than a holding statement. Yes, it’s a standard tactic but it’s oh so bloody tedious. I guess it’s just all part of the pantomime.

Well done Mark Ruskell MSP. Please keep pushing on this – there’s absolutely no reason why the public and stakeholder consultation on grouse moor licensing can’t be started now. Sure, the drafting and processing of new legislation will have to fit into the Government’s programme but there’s an awful lot of work to do before we get to that stage and there’s no legitimate excuse to delay that.

What the Government can be sure about, is that we won’t let it get away with the shambolic lack of urgency it has demonstrated on the parallel subject of increased powers for the SSPCA – a topic it has dragged its feet on since 2011 under a succession of now eight (yes, eight!) Environment Ministers (see here).


Hysteria from Scottish gamekeepers as SNP and Greens formalise talks to cooperate

Earlier this week it was announced that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was in formal talks with the Scottish Greens over a ‘co-operation agreement’ designed to seal a pro-independence majority at Holyrood. Falling short of a formal coalition, the agreement could in future lead to Green MSPs becoming Ministers as part of the current Scottish Government (see Scottish Greens statement here, BBC news article here and an analysis from the Guardian’s Scotland Editor Sev Carrell here).

This proposed agreement is of huge interest to many environmentalists and although the specific policy areas of potential cooperation have not yet been agreed (see here), tackling the climate emergency (and by default, surely, the nature emergency) should be a prominent feature.

The news of these talks has triggered the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) to publish a typically over-the-top scaremongering response about perceived job losses, presumably as a ploy to keep its less well-informed members ready to join a protest at short notice: [Update 16.30hrs – see foot of blog!]

Job losses are of concern to everyone, of course, but as I’ve written previously, the SGA is once again accusing the Scottish Greens of doing something they haven’t done.

The Scottish Greens have made it an aspiration to abolish our members’ jobs‘, says the SGA.

Actually, the Greens have done no such thing. In fact in their election manifesto the Scottish Greens have committed to creating jobs in the countryside, promising ‘at least £895M over the next five years in restoring nature whilst investing in rural communities, creating over 6,000 green jobs’.

The Greens are also committed to ensuring that the licencing of grouse moors ‘is properly resourced and well enforced’ – how does that equate to rural job losses if grouse moor managers are abiding by the law?

A spokesperson from the Scottish Greens is cited today in another article about the proposed cooperative agreement amid concerns from fish farmers and National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS):

A spokesman for Scottish Green MSPs responded that it was too early to say which issues would arise in talks with the SNP.

He said that environmental harm and fish welfare was a higher priority than phasing out caged fish farms altogether.

He explained that the party’s intention was to support industries in finding alternatives to harmful and polluting activities, and not to force sudden change‘.

Perhaps if the SGA had spent less time and money sponsoring adverts against the Scottish Greens (that went well – great use of members’ funds, not), less time complaining to the electoral commission (how did that go?) and more time reading and engaging with the Greens instead of excluding them from hustings, they’d have a better grasp of what was going on and be in a stronger position to contribute to discussions instead of constantly throwing their toys out of the pram and howling, ‘It’s so unfair’.

Actually, if they’d got any sense at all they’d realise that these talks are not their greatest immediate threat – it’s the continued illegal killing of birds of prey on land managed for gamebird shooting that’s pushing them further and further in to the corner and away from public support.

That poisoned golden eagle, found dead next to a poisoned bait on Invercauld Estate, sent shockwaves through the public, many of whom had no idea this sort of barbarity still goes on.

The SGA’s response? Well I can’t see any statement of condemnation on their website, can you?

[The poisoned golden eagle found lying on a grouse moor next to a poisoned bait on Invercauld Estate. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

UPDATE 16.30hrs:

Right on cue, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association has just published this:


New Environment Minister is Mairi McAllan

Following yesterday’s big news that Mairi Gougeon has been appointed the new Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs & Islands (here), to replace the Scottish Gamekeepers’ ‘friend in Government‘, Fergus Ewing, now there’s even more promising news.

Nicola Sturgeon has reshuffled her junior ministerial team as well and has appointed Mairi McAllan as the new Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform.

Ben Macpherson, who was the previous Environment Minister for just a few months has been moved across to social security and local government.

Mairi’s appointment came as some surprise but when you look a bit more closely it perhaps shouldn’t have been.

Mairi McAllan was a first-time SNP MSP candidate in Clydesdale before almost immediately landing the Ministerial role. The speed of that appointment makes more sense when you realise what Mairi did before she stood for election – she was a special advisor to Nicola Sturgeon on climate change, environment, land reform and renewable energy policy.

And she knows her stuff. Some of you might have heard her at Revive’s political hustings in April (see here – video still available to watch and I recommend you do). She’s another intelligent and articulate politician and she appears to be up to speed on raptor persecution – a quote from her opening speech at the Revive hustings on the Government’s response to the Werritty Review:

We will not wait five years to implement [Werritty’s recommendation to introduce a licensing scheme for grouse shooting] because quite frankly we can’t afford to wait five years, that could make it eight years and we think there is evidence now that self-regulation is not working“.

Mairi’s background as a solicitor will stand her in good stead for being a law-maker and her experience as a human rights activist with a legal organisation she co-founded, ‘aiming to use the law as a tool in the fight for social justice’ is a principle that will be recognised and supported by those who also support Wild Justice.

Dare I say it…there is an almost tangible sense of optimism in the air about this new Rural Affairs/Environment team, and, let’s be honest, although a lot of that is also about the unexpected but nevertheless very welcome departure from influence of Fergus Ewing, the calibre of the latest Cab Sec and Minister is pretty bloody encouraging.

I think this is only going in one direction now.


Fergus Ewing out, Mairi Gougeon in – Scottish Cabinet reshuffle revealed

Well this is very very very good news indeed.

Nicola Sturgeon has announced her reshuffled Cabinet team; former Rural Affairs Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing is no longer in the Cabinet at all and former junior Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon has been promoted to the position of Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands.

There is likely to be some cross-over with Mairi’s role and that of Michael Matheson who is the new Cab Sec for Net Zero, Energy & Transport, which will include working on the climate emergency (think muirburn).

I’m absolutely delighted and judging by the number of texts I’ve received this morning, I’m not alone.

I don’t intend to comment on the departure of Fergus ‘friend of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association‘ Ewing other than to say, goodbye.

Mairi Gougeon is a brilliant choice for Cab Sec. She is an intelligent, dynamic and often thoughtful politician who has not been afraid to speak out against the persecution of the hen harrier in her role as a junior Minister and Hen Harrier Species Champion. She has taken an active role, even prior to her appointment as a junior Minister, asking questions about the Government’s commitment to tackling raptor persecution (here), attending and speaking at Hen Harrier Day events (e.g. here), taking the time to accompany raptor fieldworkers in to the field to understand more about this species’ ecology and its perilous conservation status (e.g. here and here), has initiated Parliamentary debates on hen harrier conservation (e.g. here) and has supported the Scottish Raptor Study Group at Holyrood gatherings (e.g. here).

[Mairi Gougeon beaming after a visit to watch hen harriers with members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group a couple of years ago in her role as Hen Harrier Species Champion]

I haven’t always agreed with her earlier thinking on how raptor persecution should be tackled (e.g. see here, and here) and I have criticised her for her silence in response to some brutal, sadistic crimes against birds of prey on Scottish grouse moors (here) but her delivery of the Government’s response to the Werritty Review back in November 2020 revealed an increased understanding of the issues and a sign of a genuine commitment to changing the status quo (here).

Last week, author Jim Crumley wrote an excellent piece about the need for a new Environment Secretary ‘who will act’ (here). I have high hopes that Mairi Gougeon will be that Cab Sec (albeit under a new title).

Congratulations, Mairi, there are many of us looking forward to supporting your efforts.

The new junior Ministerial team, working in support of the Cabinet Secretaries, is expected to be unveiled shortly.


“Another poisoned golden eagle? If the SNP are serious about protecting wildlife we need an Environment Secretary who will act” – Jim Crumley

Jim Crumley has written a brilliant opinion piece for the Courier (published 10th May 2021) in response to the discovery of the deliberately poisoned golden eagle found on Invercauld Estate in March.

The article is reproduced below:

THERE is a job of some urgency for the new Environment Secretary at Holyrood.

You may have read about the golden eagle found poisoned at Invercauld estate in the Cairngorms National Park.

The guiding principles for a national park should centre around the wellbeing of the landscape and its ecology. Nothing else. Otherwise, why bother to have a national park at all?

But what Scotland has instead is two national parks obsessed by tourism and the rural economy.

As it happens, I have just been reading a book called “A Life in Nature”, a collection of writings by Peter Scott, founder of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the Worldwide Fund for Nature. He wrote this:

“For conserving wildlife and wilderness there are three categories of reason: ethical, aesthetic, and economic, with the last one (at belly level) lagging far behind the other two.”

And this:

“Conservationists today are involved in a gigantic holding operation – a modern Noah’s Ark to save what is left of the wildlife and wild places, until the tide of new thinking begins to flow all over the world.”

Long wait for tide to turn

He wrote that 60 years ago.

But because I read it at the same time as Nicola Sturgeon’s astonishing election achievement was playing out, I began to think that there is an opportunity right here, right now.

If we are on a tide of new thinking, it has never been more important that the Scottish Government appoints an Environment Secretary with a radical agenda.

And please don’t let Fergus Ewing anywhere near it, because he is far too chummy with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association.

The golden eagle found poisoned at Invercauld this spring is the latest in a breathtaking catalogue of around 80 crimes against wildlife in the national park’s young life

The first thing I think the new Environment Secretary should do is to familiarise himself or herself with the track record of the Cairngorms National Park in conserving wildness and wildlife, and then to consider how the land within the park is managed.

The result of that familiarising process should be cause for a great deal of concern for the new Environment Secretary.

If it isn’t, the Scottish Government will have appointed the wrong person, because the golden eagle found poisoned at Invercauld this spring is but the latest in a breath-taking catalogue of around 80 crimes against wildlife in the national park’s young life (it was established in 2003).

Twelve golden and white-tailed eagles have been killed in that time along with 24 buzzards; and 10 hen harriers in the last five years alone.

A sea eagle nest tree was deliberately felled and nests of peregrine and goshawk were destroyed.

All that inside the national park, in the last 18 years, and all of these birds have the highest level of legal protection.

Victorian values

That alone should be enough to persuade the new Environment Secretary that the situation calls for new thinking.

The estates’ attitudes towards birds of prey are symptomatic of a far wider contempt for those species of nature which they judge to be inconvenient for what remains a depressingly Victorian attitude to land and wildlife.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority’s response to the eagle-killing was dismal. A statement on its website says: “The CPNA condemns this senseless and irresponsible behaviour and condemns it in the strongest possible terms. Raptor persecution has no place in 21st century Scotland and no place in this national park.”

How can you revere a landscape when the principal management tools of its private owners are fire and guns and poisons, burning the land, killing the wildlife?

No, it doesn’t condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

If it had done, the park authority would be screaming down the phone to the Scottish Parliament that grouse moor and deer forest should have no place in 21st century Scotland or inside the national park.

They are completely incompatible with thoughtful conservation of a landscape that should be revered for its wildlife and wild landscape.

How can you revere a landscape when the principal management tools of its private owners are fire and guns and poisons, burning the land, killing the wildlife. And why aren’t national parks owned by the nation?

That might have amounted to something like the strongest possible terms.

The other problem with the park authority’s statement is that, alas, there IS a place for raptor persecution in 21st century Scotland, in many places, and one is the Cairngorms National Park.

Reality doesn’t match ambition

The first words you read on the home page of the Cairngorms National Park Authority website are these: “An outstanding national park, where people and nature thrive together.”

It is a very worthwhile ambition, but it is a long way from the reality on the ground.

The new Environment Secretary might also like to consider that one of the reasons for such a toll of wildlife is that as things stand, the estates know they will almost certainly get away with it, for there are hardly ever prosecutions.

If our newly-elected government wants to project the image of a forward-thinking independent Scotland on the European stage – and I sincerely hope it does given my lilac and yellow votes for the SNP – then the tide of new thinking should perhaps begin by blowing away that embarrassing Victorian stain from the face of the land.



Poisoned golden eagle: examining the statement from Invercauld Estate

Further to the news that a poisoned golden eagle was found dead on Invercauld Estate in March 2021 and the subsequent police raid that took place on the estate earlier this week (Tues 4th May – see here), I want to examine a statement that subsequently appeared in the press (e.g. here), attributed to Invercauld Estate Manager, Angus McNicol.

[The poisoned golden eagle, lying dead next to a poisoned mountain hare bait, on heather moorland on Invercauld Estate. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

The statement was interesting because it appeared in the late afternoon just a few hours after the raids had taken place and importantly, prior to ANY media output from the Police, even though the estate’s statement alluded to a ‘police appeal’. What police appeal? It could be argued that this was a damage limitation exercise by Invercauld Estate.

The statement went as follows:

Angus McNicol, estate manager at Invercauld, said: “We have been informed by the police that the bird that was found contained pesticide. We are very disturbed indeed to learn that a bird of prey has been found on Invercauld in these circumstances.

We wholeheartedly support the appeal about this bird and anyone with information should contact Police Scotland on 101 urgently. Naturally we are offering our cooperation to the police as they conduct their inquiries and hope they are able to identify anyone who is involved.

The area where the bird was found is on a let farm in an area which is managed for sheep farming and is on the edge of an area of native woodland regeneration. It is not managed for driven grouse shooting. Within the last two weeks, we have had to call the police to report an incident of damage to gamekeeping equipment and another of anti-social behaviour on a wetland habitat and this more recent report is a further serious concern for us.

Given the relative proximity of the location to houses and the A93 main road, we are hopeful that a member of the public may have seen something which might help the investigation.

Mr McNicol continued: “So much of what we do at Invercauld is about conservation so this news is particularly distressing. Staff and contractors are actively involved in activities that help conserve many species in the Estate’s valleys, woodlands, moorland and montane habitats. We pride ourselves in the biodiversity this creates and this news is therefore especially disheartening.

We are committed to our conservation work on the Estate and would like to see this incident investigated as thoroughly and quickly as possible.”

I want to look closely at Mr McNicol’s claim that the area where the poisoned golden eagle was found “Is not managed for driven grouse shooting“.

The precise location on Invercauld Estate where the poisoned eagle (and the poisoned bait that killed it) has not been revealed, but the RSPB photograph of the poisoned eagle clearly shows heather and Mr McNicol does give away some information about the proximity of houses and the A93 main road and an area of native woodland regeneration.

We also know, from the official police statement published the following day, that the area was ‘near to Crathie’. That narrows it down considerably.

Here are a couple of Google Earth maps showing Crathie and an area of Invercauld Estate to the NE of Crathie (north of the A93 main road) that I understand to be a woodland regeneration area, and then oh, look, right next to that is a vast area of muirburn strips. You know, the tell-tale burned scars of a moorland managed for, er, driven grouse shooting:

Or have I got that wrong? Is this not a vast area managed for driven grouse shooting at all, but just a large area of moorland that is routinely set alight to create so-called ‘wildfire breaks’? I’m sure I saw some lines of grouse butts when I zoomed in, too. Probably historical, kept for nostalgic purposes, eh?

You can draw your own conclusions about the accuracy of Mr McNicol’s claim that ‘the area is not managed for driven grouse shooting‘.

I also just want to comment about something I’ve read on social media about the timing of the publicity surrounding this crime, and how ‘convenient’ it is that it coincides with the Scottish Parliamentary elections. The clear accusation has been made that ‘anti-grouse moor campaigners’ have somehow conspired to get this in the news this week.

This is absolute nonsense, of course. It was the statement from Invercauld Estate that triggered news coverage of this crime – at that time (Tuesday afternoon, the day of the police raids), nobody had said anything about it. Not campaigners, not the police, just Invercauld Estate. Had the estate kept quiet, I would bet that this news wouldn’t have seen the light of day until at least next week, well after the elections. Indeed, I’m told by my media contacts that Police Scotland was forced to issue an official statement the day after Invercauld Estate’s statement, simply because of the media interest generated by Invercauld’s statement. The police received so many enquiries their hand was forced early and they had to issue a statement.

I’ll be writing about Police Scotland’s response to the crime in a forthcoming blog. I’ll also be returning to the claimed conservation credentials of Invercauld Estate.

UPDATE 6th May 2021: Poisoned golden eagle: confirmation it was found dead on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate (here)


Desperate & delusional: Scottish Land & Estates’ grand plan for tackling raptor persecution

Cast your mind back to August 2020 for a minute. We were still waiting for the Scottish Government’s response to the Werritty Review (would they licence grouse shooting or not?) and bad news linking raptor persecution and grouse shooting was all over the press in the run up to the Inglorious 12th, the opening of the grouse-shooting season.

[Grouse-shooting butts in Strathbraan. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

For example, Chris Packham pressing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to take action after the discovery of a poisoned white-tailed eagle on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here), Hen Harrier Day going online and attracting an audience of around 150,000 (here), an e-action by the RSPB, Hen Harrier Action and Wild Justice mobilising over 120,000 people to put pressure on their politicians to take action on raptor persecution (here), police investigated more wildlife crime allegations at Leadhills Estate (here), the suspicious disappearance of yet another satellite-tagged golden eagle (‘Tom’) on a grouse moor in Strathbraan (here), Nicola Sturgeon having to discuss raptor persecution during First Minister’s Questions (here), Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham being forced to make a statement about the ongoing killing of raptors on grouse moors after thousands of letters pour in from the public (here), a parliamentary motion prompted by the suspicious disappearance of golden eagle Tom (here), a shocking new report by the League Against Cruel Sports suggesting that up to a quarter of a million animals may be killed (legally) on Scottish grouse moors every year to increase the number of red grouse available to be shot (here), a damning article in The Times reporting on the atrocities at Leadhills and the local community’s horror (here) etc etc.

You get the picture. The pressure was on, of that there’s no doubt.

So what do you think the grouse moor owners’ lobby group, Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) was making of all this? New information, released in an FoI this week, is pretty revealing.

Here is a copy of an email sent to Mike Cantlay, Chair of NatureScot, on 18th August 2020. It was sent either by Tim Baynes (Moorland Director, SLE) or Mark Tennant (Chair, SLE). I know this because of the way my FoI was worded and even though NatureScot has redacted the sender’s name, my money would be on Mark Tennant.

Aside from the breath-taking arrogance, this letter reveals the desperation and delusion of SLE’s position.

The opening line is the standard position of denial we’ve come to expect from SLE whenever raptor persecution is raised – I’ve blogged about it time and time and time again. There hasn’t been any ‘real progress’ on the prevention of raptor persecution and no matter how many times SLE claims there has, it doesn’t change the fact that there hasn’t! That is precisely why the grouse shooting industry is under so much scrutiny and pressure – because it has been unable to self regulate and boot out the criminals that seem to be allowed to operate in plain sight.

The idea of removing one dysfunctional group (PAW Scotland Raptor Group) and replacing it with another dysfunctional one (COPBAN) is hilarious. I did laugh, a lot, when I read about those plans. And by the way, SLE, nobody has asked Wild Justice whether it’d be interested in participating and I guess nobody has asked the groups already serving on the (dysfunctional) PAW Raptor Group how they’d feel about being side-lined. I’m pretty sure BASC, GWCT, Scottish Raptor Study Group etc would all have something to say!

The idea that estates would fund raptor satellite tagging (presumably excluding all legitimate scientific researchers??) and that gamekeepers would fit the tags demonstrates the high level of ignorance about how satellite tagging is regulated in the UK. There is currently only a handful of expert taggers in the UK, probably less than 20, who are sufficiently qualified, licensed and experienced to fit satellite-tags to birds of prey. Quite rightly, it takes years and years and years to reach the high standards required by the licensing authority. That SLE still hasn’t grasped this very simple concept is jaw-dropping.

And as for having a public website showing the live positions, day and night, of highly-threatened species like golden eagles and hen harriers – yeah, what could possibly go wrong?!

Here is NatureScot’s response to this outlandish proposal from SLE:

I’ll be blogging about some more communications between these two organisations in due course, also uncovered via FoI and related to grouse moor management, the Werritty Review and raptor satellite tracking.


Revive hustings – which political parties are supporting grouse moor reform in Scotland?

There was a fascinating political hustings last night where candidates from the five main parties were quizzed for an hour and a half about their views on various aspects of grouse moor management and reform.

Imagine that happening in England? No, me neither. But the fact that this took place in Scotland, with political candidates from all the main parties prepared to spend a few hours of their time discussing this one issue, is testament to the growing public concern about the role of grouse moor management in the climate and nature emergencies and thus its subsequent position on the political agenda.

The hustings was hosted by REVIVE, the coalition for grouse moor reform, whose members are OneKind, League Against Cruel Sports, Friends of the Earth, Common Weal and Raptor Persecution UK.

Max Wiszniewski compered the event with additional support from Louise Robertson and the candidates were as follows:

Mairi McAllan, SNP (former lawyer & special advisor to First Minister on Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform)

Laura Moodie, Scottish Greens

Ian Davidson, Scottish Labour (who also featured at the Scottish Gamekeepers Association hustings last month – see here)

Alan Reid, Scottish Liberal Democrats 

Edward Mountain, Scottish Conservatives (who also featured at the SGA’s husting last month and describes himself as a ‘proud member’ of the SGA – see here)

As expected, there was a variety of views and approaches, some credible, some not, and some of these views were quite different from the views put forward by different candidates of the same parties at the Scottish Gamekeepers’ hustings last month (see here).

On the subject of raptor persecution, all candidates were clear on having a zero tolerance policy…..and yet still it goes on.

The event was recorded and is available to watch below:


Grouse shooting featured at political hustings on animal welfare in Scotland

Last Thursday (15th April 2021), Scottish animal welfare charity OneKind hosted a political hustings to allow the public to quiz candidates from the five main political parties on their animal welfare policies ahead of the election on 6th May.

The hustings was organised by More for Scotland’s Animals (MFSA), a coalition of 11 leading animal welfare organisations (see here).

The MSP candidates were:

  • Maurice Golden (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party)
  • Alison Johnstone (Scottish Green Party)
  • Ben Macpherson (SNP)
  • Molly Nolan (Scottish Liberal Democrats)
  • Colin Smyth (Scottish Labour)

I watched this hustings event and it was incredibly popular, with over 60 questions put forward for the candidates on a range of issues such as snaring, grouse shooting, fox hunting and greyhound racing but there simply wasn’t enough time for all the questions to be asked and answered.

I understand that OneKind is currently seeking permissions for a recording of the event to be posted online but in the meantime, journalist Mark Smith wrote an opinion piece for The Herald yesterday, focusing largely on the issue of grouse shooting. Mark’s opinions are his, of course, but where he reports on who said what, I think it’s an accurate account.

It is reproduced below:

IF you haven’t yet decided who to vote for, perhaps I can be of some assistance. Late last week, I put the same single question to five different politicians, one from each of the five main parties, and maybe their answers can tell us a little bit about the problems of modern Scottish politics. You can see familiar patterns at play in what they say – some new, some extremely old – and for voters trying to make up their minds, it’s very frustrating indeed.

What happened was that the charity OneKind asked the politicians along to an online hustings event to discuss the main issues around animal welfare and I took the opportunity to ask them about an issue I’ve written about many times: grouse shooting. My question was: do the candidates think there is a place for driven grouse shooting in Scotland or should it be banned? I was curious to see how far the parties would be willing to go.

Their answers were interesting, and in some cases passionate, but they also revealed something of the dilemmas that Scottish voters face, not only if they care about animal welfare but also if they care about the constitution. What if you’re a Scot who wants reform on animal welfare and other important issues – drugs, criminal justice, schools – but you’re also worried that voting for the SNP and the Greens (who have some good policies on these issues) could break up the UK? And what on earth are you to do if you’re concerned about independence but also not inclined to support the Conservatives? It’s not easy.

Alison Johnstone, the Green MSP, is a good example. She is a superb campaigner on animal welfare – informed, passionate, and committed – and her answers on driven grouse shooting were impressive. Her party, she said, want a complete ban on the practice, not only because there’s no justification for animals being killed for pleasure, but also because driven grouse shooting is an unproductive and inefficient way to use land. “We also see stink pits, snares and poor practice on every level,” she said. “I cannot wait to ban it.”

I have to say: I agree with every word Ms Johnstone says, having spoken to lots of people on every side of the argument over the years – gamekeepers, campaigners, police, lawyers, etc – and in any normal situation, she’d have my vote. The problem is that, for many people, the Greens’ policies – and there’s a lot to like in their manifesto – are tainted by the party’s stance on the constitution, meaning I could vote for animal welfare and end up with independence. Are there any unionists in the Scottish Greens, I wonder? And if so, how do they feel? If you’re out there, email me.

The other problem, obviously, is that the Greens are in bed with the SNP – all tucked up, nice ’n’ cosy – and this makes me doubt that anything significant will be done on animal welfare. The SNP representative at the hustings was the MSP Ben Macpherson who seems like a nice enough guy, but he’s saddled with defending what his party hasn’t done. In many ways, the SNP behave like a party in opposition, but Mr Macpherson also has to deal with the age-old problem of ruling parties during elections. They need to promise things are going to change (but not promise too hard in case they actually have to do it) but they also need to explain why they haven’t changed things already.

In the case of Mr Macpherson, this led to a lot of wibbly-wobbly government speak. On fox hunting, for example, the SNP “remain committed to closing the loopholes”. On cruelty to greyhounds, “we need to look at it very seriously”. On snares, “we accept the need for greater regulation”. And, sadly, there was the same lack of urgency on driven grouse shooting; Mr Macpherson said his party “remain committed” to bringing in a licensing system.

In any normal world, the SNP would be punished for all of this, for its lack of progress on important issues people care about – but Scottish politics is not a normal world. Alison Johnstone belongs to a party that has genuinely radical and transformative polices and Ben Macpherson belongs to a party that’s pretty much shagged-out on policy after 14 years in power, and yet neither party will be judged on any of that. They are the parties of Scottish independence and it means their promises on policy, and their delivery on those promises, doesn’t matter very much. How on earth did we get here?

The primacy of independence has also meant the banishment of the Lib-Dems and Labour to the outer reaches of Scottish politics, which is a pity. The Lib-Dems were represented at the hustings by Molly Nolan, the party’s candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, and she had some sensible stuff to say about how animal welfare can be improved, such as giving wildlife police officers the resources they need. She also pointed out that any licensing system for driven grouse shooting needs to be robust; there’s no point in introducing licences and then carrying on as normal.

But by far the most impressive performer was Labour’s Colin Smyth whose concern for animal welfare clearly comes from a genuine place. The legislation on fox hunting, he said, was “unfinished business” and, as for driven grouse shooting, he said the current situation was unsustainable and a licensing system was not good enough. I don’t know much about Mr Smyth – and it’s obviously easier to promise things when you’re a long way off from having to deliver them – but listening to his old-school campaigning politics, passionately delivered, was refreshing and pretty inspiring I have to say.

I wish I could say the same for the Tories. Their representative, the MSP Maurice Golden, said he wanted new legislation on pets, but he also said snares were “necessary land-management tools”. He said the laws on fox hunting don’t need changing. And as for my question about driven grouse moors, Mr Golden said the industry improves bio-diversity and is a “fulcrum for jobs”. His answers were deeply disappointing.

But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by any of this: Tories defending vested interests and governments defending a lack of action. What makes it different, though, is that many Scottish voters will be guided by other factors. Some people who care about animal welfare will vote Tory and some people who think the nationalists have done poorly in government will vote SNP. That’s where we are now. It’s disappointing. It’s distorting. And it’s exhausting. One day, maybe, politics in Scotland will go back to normal.


UPDATE 24th April 2021: Political hustings on animal welfare in Scotland now available to view (here)

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