Posts Tagged ‘scottish parliament


Werritty Review: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says early licensing is ‘a serious consideration’

Further to yesterday’s long-awaited publication of the Werritty Review on grouse moor management (here), Nicola Sturgeon received two related questions during First Minister’s Questions in the chamber yesterday afternoon (available to watch on ScotParlTV here and read full transcript here).

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green):

A month ago, the First Minister said to Alison Johnstone: “We will continue to take the right steps to protect wildlife, and will do that without fear or favour with regard to any vested interests or other interests.” [Official Report, 21 November 2019; c 21.]

We have waited more than two years for the Werritty review. Is the First Minister surprised that the representatives of the grouse shooting lobby she appointed to a review of grouse shooting have used their effective veto to sabotage what would otherwise be a clear recommendation to license grouse shooting?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon):

The Werritty review has been published and all members can look at its recommendations. The central recommendation on the timescale for moving to greater regulation was not unanimous—Andy Wightman is right to point to that. That is one of the reasons why the Government will take time to consider the recommendation. I want to be very clear that part of that consideration will be looking at whether we move to regulation on a much quicker timeframe. We will take the views of stakeholders before coming to a final view on that.

The option of a licensing scheme needs to be considered. If that is the view of stakeholders and we consider that necessary—as I said, that is a serious consideration—we will move to implement that earlier than the five-year timeframe that was suggested by the review group.

[Thanks to Mr Carbo for this illustration]

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab):

Further to Andy Wightman’s question on the long-awaited Werritty report, and recognising the complexity of the issue and the need for sustainable development for rural Scotland—let us all recall that a fifth of Scotland is driven grouse moors—Scottish Labour is very disappointed that the report recommends a five-year delay, in a climate emergency and a biodiversity emergency, before consideration is given to licensing. Does the First Minister agree that now is the time to consult on licensing; the possibility of the ban on burning deep peat, with appropriate exemptions as one of a range of options; the outlawing of particular types of snares and the mass mountain hare cull; and a range of other issues? Now is the time to do it—not in five years.

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon):

I answered that specific question in response to Andy Wightman, but I am happy to do so again. First, the Werritty review was independent of Government. It has made a set of recommendations, not all of which were unanimous, as has already been pointed out. We will give careful consideration to all the recommendations alongside other evidence before we issue a full response. As part of that, we will meet key stakeholders to discuss the review’s findings.

Secondly, on licensing, as I said very clearly to Andy Wightman, part of our consideration will be to move to a licensing scheme much earlier than the five-year timeframe that was suggested by the review group. We welcome the input of everyone who has an interest in the matter. We will issue our response to the Werritty recommendations as soon as we are able to do so.


The First Minister’s words are encouraging and welcome, just like those of her Cabinet Secretary yesterday (see here) but to be perfectly frank, the early implementation of a licensing scheme for grouse shooting should really be ‘a no-brainer’ rather than being ‘a serious consideration’. The Scottish Government has promised action for years and years and years (see here for a timeline) – NOW’s the time to deliver.


Scottish Government ‘actively considering’ additional enforcement action on wildlife crime

On Tuesday (17 December 2019) the Scottish Rural Affairs & Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon, gave evidence to the cross-party Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) committee which is currently considering Stage 1 of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill.

The transcript can be read here (wildlife crime discussed from page 20 onwards): ECCLR report_17December2019

The archived video can be watched here

We’ve already blogged about one aspect of that evidence, where rather than committing to a mandatory custodial sentence for possession of banned deadly poisons, just as there is for those caught in possession of illegal firearms, yet another poisons amnesty was being considered instead (see here).

The rest of the session covered a lot of ground with some well-informed questions posed by some members of the ECCLR committee, especially Mark Ruskell MSP and Claudia Beamish MSP. In addition to an increase in penalties for wildlife crimes, which is part of the core text of the proposed Bill, other topics discussed included the Werritty review (due before the end of the year), the Government’s annual wildlife crime report (apparently due to be published ‘by the end of the year’ and we expect it will show an increase in confirmed raptor persecution crimes), vicarious liability, increasing SSPCA powers to tackle wildlife crime, the ineffectiveness of General Licence restrictions because estates can simply apply for Individual licences instead, covert video surveillance, the failure of the Police Special Constables pilot scheme in the Cairngorms National Park and a question about why the General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate, imposed after Police Scotland provided ‘clear evidence of wildlife crime’, has been reinstated during the appeals process. Government officials committed to submitting a written response to Claudia Beamish’s question on this legally complicated issue.

The discussion on increasing powers for the SSPCA during Stage 2 of the Bill was quite telling. The Minister said the SSPCA had approached the Government in recent weeks to request additional powers to help tackle wildlife crime but she seemed to go to great lengths to argue that although she is committed to considering options she didn’t forsee anything happening in this particular Bill because the Government ‘needs the chance to fully discuss the issue’ and to ‘assess the ramifications of increasing those powers’.

Yeah, she’s right, so far the Government has only taken six years and five different Environment Ministers to fully discuss the issue and consider the ramifications – see here for a jaw-dropping timeline. And after all that it then concluded that accepting the offer of free resources from an expert and experienced reporting agency like the SSPCA wasn’t the right option for tackling serious organised crime and, inexplicably, chose instead to launch a £28k pilot scheme for five part-time voluntary Police Special Constables to potter around in the Cairngorms National Park and ‘meet stakeholders’; a scheme which, unsurprisingly, has been a complete flop. Even though Mairi Gougeon wasn’t in post as one of those five Environment Ministers during that six-year stalling exercise, her advisors should know all about those shenanigans. Honestly, the extent of the feet dragging is astonishing.

Mark Ruskell MSP again raised the issue of the ineffectiveness of General Licence restrictions and other sanctions, and asked the Minister if other sanctions were available? She responded by saying that she thought it was ‘important that other deterrents are available‘ and “We are actively considering the need for an additional level of enforcement, which would not require referral to the procurator fiscal or involvement of the Scottish courts but would still provide a penalty that would act as a deterrent. We will be happy to consider the evidence and consider whether measures are as effective as they can be“.

When Mark asked her whether she would be interested in discussing with the Westminster Government the withdrawal of a firearms certificate as a potential sanction, she responded,

Absolutely. I know that there were two recommendations around that in the Poustie review, so we will happily engage in discussions with the UK Government. I believe that the matter falls under the justice portfolio, so I would also be happy to raise it with justice colleagues and see how we can get some movement on the recommendations with the UK Government“.

Good, but if this was in the Poustie review on wildlife crime penalties published in 2015, why haven’t those discussions already taken place? That’s not Mairi Gougeon’s fault – she wasn’t in post then – but come on Scottish Government, five years on and discussions haven’t even started? This is like pulling teeth.

It’s not clear what other potential sanctions the Scottish Government is ‘actively considering’ to tackle wildlife crime but the long-awaited Werritty review should have some suggestions.


Gamekeepers caught with banned poisons should receive mandatory jail sentence

Yesterday the Scottish Rural Affairs & Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon, gave evidence to the cross-party Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) committee which is currently considering Stage 1 of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill.

We’ll come back to the wider evidence session in another blog because there were some interesting and important discussions but one point raised deserves an immediate reaction:

Possession of banned poisons.

Here’s the mini transcript:

ECCLR Committee Member Rachael Hamilton MSP: I will go back to the categorisation of wildlife offences and the different tiers of the penalty system. We heard evidence that perhaps possession of illegal pesticides should be categorised as a tier 1 offence, because they are currently illegal anyway. Do you have any comments on that point and do you have any plans to have an amnesty on illegal pesticides prior to the bill being passed? People should not possess illegal pesticides anyway, so using them in connection with animal crimes should attract the highest and severest category of penalty.

Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon: That has been the feeling behind that issue. As you said, possession of such pesticides is already illegal and there are offences in place to deal with that individual issue separately. Using such pesticides as part of another offence would attract the higher penalty. As they are already illegal and there are offences attached to them, using them in relation to any other offences could well attract severe penalties.

In relation to your amnesty point, I would be happy to consider looking at the matter.

Scottish Government Wildlife Management Team leader Leia Fitzgerald: Just to clarify, there was a previous amnesty, which was quite successful and resulted in a lot of pesticides being handed in. We could speak to stakeholders about whether that is something that could be done again. We would hope that we got all of what we needed after the last amnesty, but we can look at the matter.

Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon: I will happily get back to the committee and let you know how we get on with that.


Is the Scottish Government seriously considering yet another amnesty for banned poisons, which would be the third amnesty in the 15 years since it became an offence to even possess these deadly toxins, let alone use them? (The Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005).

The first amnesty took place in 2011 (see here), six years after the ban was first introduced. The second amnesty came four years later in 2015 (see here).

Since then poisoning crimes have certainly dropped in Scotland, probably thanks to the increase in satellite-tagged raptors, whose tags lead researchers to the poisoned corpses that would otherwise remain undetected, and also due to the introduction of vicarious liability legislation in 2012 which made it possible for landowners to be prosecuted for raptor persecution crimes committed by their gamekeeper employees. However, these poisoning crimes haven’t been totally eradicated and we’re still reading reports about illegally-poisoned birds (and some dogs) that have died after ingesting banned poisons in Scotland including some that were killed this year, and some even inside the Cairngorms National Park (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).

[An illegally-poisoned buzzard found on the boundary of a sporting estate in Perthshire. Contributed photo]

How many more chances is the Scottish Government planning on giving to these criminals? How many more get-out-of-jail-free cards will be dished out?

Why can’t the Scottish Government, 15 years on, implement a zero tolerance policy on this vile and primitive crime that not only risks the lives of wildlife and domestic animals but puts humans at risk as well? In the most recent criminal case, a Scottish gamekeeper was found with two cartons containing the banned poison Carbofuran. He was carrying one of these containers in his bum bag – presumably he wasn’t just taking the container out for company every day – and yet 180 schoolchildren were put at risk when they attended the grouse shooting estate on an officially-sanctioned school trip. Can you believe that? The gamekeeper was convicted for possession (along with a litany of other wildlife offences) and received a community payback order. No fine, no jail sentence, no deterrent whatsoever. Compare and contrast to how illegal poisoners are dealt with in Spain (see here, here and here).

The criminals who persist with such reckless activity in Scotland deserve a mandatory custodial sentence – there can be no more excuses, no more discussion and certainly no more amnesties.



Scottish Parliament evidence session on proposed wildlife crime penalties increase

Raptor Persecution UK was one of a number of organisations giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee last week on the proposed increase in penalties for wildlife crime.

The Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) (Scotland) Bill was introduced by Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham on 30th September 2019 (see here for associated docs) and will, amongst other things, increase the maximum available penalties for the most serious animal welfare and wildlife offences.

See here for an earlier blog on this subject.

The Bill is currently at Stage 1 and the ECCLR Committee has been taking evidence from a wide range of authorities and organisations. Last Tuesday saw representatives from the grouse shooting industry, conservation organisations, Police Scotland, SNH and the Crown Office sharing their opinions in an informal round-table discussion:

The transcript can be read here: ECCLR report_10Dec2019

The archived video can be watched here

We’ll come back to some of the detail of this discussion in further blogs, particularly about some of the claims made by BASC in relation to the supposed effectiveness of general licence restrictions, where the evidence simply doesn’t support some of the assertions made.

We’ll also be considering the claim from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association that “A five-year jail term will mean that more people will go to jail than has been previously the case“. Really? Why’s that, then? Are more gamekeepers at it than are currently being caught? Surely not. And how will an increased penalty mean more offenders are jailed? You’ve got to catch them first and then have sufficient evidence to get them in to court.

This Bill is very welcome as it stands, but perhaps more importantly it also has the potential to include some pretty useful amendments as it progresses through Parliament. Of particular interest to us is that increased powers for the SSPCA is back on the table. Given the complete failure of the Scottish Government’s alternative course of action (Police Special Constables in the Cairngorms National Park – a scheme that failed to report a single wildlife crime), it seems the timing is just right.

Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon will be giving evidence to the ECCLR Committee tomorrow and will no doubt face questions about some of the proposals already heard.


First Minister ‘hopes to publish Werritty Review before the end of the year’

At today’s First Minister’s Question Time in the Scottish Parliament Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that the Government had received Professor Werritty’s grouse moor management review on Monday (18th Nov) and said “we hope to publish it before the end of the year, and also to set out our response to it and how we will take forward its recommendations“.

You can watch the video here (starts 23.59 min, ends 27.35 min).

The topic came up in response to a question posed by Alison Johnstone MSP who had already made the very valid point that ‘endless reviews and delays had become a hallmark of the Scottish Government’s attitude towards wildlife protection’ and she asked whether Nicola Sturgeon was “too timid to stand up to vested interests“.

Here’s the transcript:

The Scottish Parliament breaks for recess on 22 December 2019 to 6 January 2020 inclusive. It’s not clear from Ms Sturgeon’s comment whether the Government hopes to publish the report (and the Govt’s response) before the end of the Parliamentary term by 5pm on 21 December or whether some poor civil servant will be tasked with the job between Xmas and New Year but hopefully in five and a half weeks at the very most we’ll finally have an opportunity to read Professor Werritty’s long-awaited report.


Satellite tagging golden eagles in Scotland: fact vs fiction

In September 2019 the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) lodged a petition at the Scottish Parliament calling for the ‘independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptors’.

You can read the petition here: SGA petition PE01750 Independent monitoring raptor satellite tags

It’s the latest in a long line of efforts to undermine and discredit the use of satellite tags, simply because the unintended consequences of tagging raptors like golden eagles, hen harriers, white-tailed eagles and red kites has exposed the previously hidden extent of illegal raptor persecution on many grouse moors and has led the Scottish Government to scrutinise grouse moor management practices by commissioning a review.

[The satellite tag fitted to this golden eagle led researchers to a grouse moor in the Angus Glens where the bird was found to have been illegally poisoned. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Raptor persecution crimes attract huge media attention because it’s hard to believe that people are still poisoning golden eagles in Scotland in the 21st century. As a result of this ongoing publicity, the game-shooting industry has spent considerable time and effort trying to undermine the satellite-tagging of raptors, either by launching disgusting personal & abusive attacks targeted against named individuals involved in the projects, or by blaming disappearances on imaginary windfarms, faulty sat tags fitted to turtles in India & ‘bird activists‘ trying to smear gamekeepers, or by claiming that those involved have perverted the course of justice by fabricating evidence, or by claiming that raptor satellite-tagging should be banned because it’s ‘cruel’ and the tag data serve no purpose other than to try and entrap gamekeepers. There have also been two laughable attempts to discredit the authoritative golden eagle satellite tag review (here and here), thankfully dismissed by the Scottish Government. The industry knows how incriminating these sat tag data are and so is trying to do everything in its power to corrode public and political confidence in (a) the tag data and (b) the justification for fitting sat tags to raptors, hence this latest petition from the SGA.

[Young satellite-tagged golden eagles on a nest ledge in Scotland. Photo by Dan Kitwood]

The SGA’s petition is badly written, incoherent and completely misinformed. We actually dealt with a lot of the issues it raises in previous blogs (here, here and here) but as the SGA has chosen to ignore the evidence we welcome the opportunity to present the facts to the Scottish Parliament, should they decide to examine the petition further.

The petition was heard by the Petitions Committee on 10th October and it was agreed to pass it on to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee for consideration. You can read the transcript of the Petitions Committee’s deliberations here: Petitions_committee_10_Oct_SGA_sat_tags

If the ECCLR Committee does decide to progress the petition, we look forward to providing the evidence that dismantles the SGA’s fictional claims. As a bare minimum, evidence will be provided on the following:

Golden eagles in Scotland have been satellite-tagged as part of a long-term collaborative research effort involving multiple organisations (at least seven) who share data to further conservation aims. Some of this research has already been published, some is currently under-going peer-review and some of it is on-going. We’ve blogged about this research before (see here) and we’ll be blogging further about some of the specific projects in the near future. If you want to get an insight in to the science behind the golden eagle satellite tag review, this slide show by the report’s authors is well worth a look.

The scientists have created a formal research group (Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group, GESTG) as a forum for data exchange, tagging coordination and general cooperation. The GESTG has agreed a central nexus on tag data coordination (there are now, literally, millions of tag records and it’s important they are held centrally to facilitate their use in future analyses).

Members of the GESTG have developed strong, positive relationships with many landowners who are working cooperatively on the ground to facilitate tagging efforts and protection of golden eagles.

Members of the GESTG have participated in the training of police officers across the UK to help them understand and interpret satellite tag data (e.g. this workshop organised by SNH and the National Wildlife Crime Unit was particularly beneficial to both the researchers and the police. A similar workshop was also run in England and again included input from the GESTG).

Members of the GESTG have developed an excellent relationship with the police National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) leading to the routine sharing of satellite tag data and regular detailed discussions on interpretation. This has led to a much-improved understanding for both parties and has helped build trust and confidence in what we consider to be a genuine partnership. In addition, NWCU staff have been provided with daily access to the data from several tagged golden eagles to help them learn about golden eagle ecology and behaviour, both of which are important facets of interpreting eagle tag data.

Oh, and as for those claims that satellite tag data have been withheld from the police (why would anyone want to do that?!), here’s a clear statement in response from Police Supt Nick Lyall (Head of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group):

We’re not the only ones to consider the SGA’s petition wholly inaccurate and misinformed. Last month Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland) wrote a damning blog to challenge some of the SGA’s myths (see here).

The bottom line is, contrary to the SGA’s lies, there is already plenty of cooperative partnership working between eagle satellite taggers and landowners and the police. We collaborate and share our data in order to improve conservation benefits for this iconic species across Scotland. What we don’t do is share data with those who would use the information to disturb and/or kill eagles.

We expect to be blogging further on this subject as the petition reaches the ECCLR Committee.


Scottish Raptor Study Group holds three day exhibition at Scottish Parliament this week

The Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) is holding a three-day exhibition in the Scottish Parliament this week to showcase the group’s immense contribution to the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme as well as to highlight the ongoing issue of illegal raptor persecution on and around some driven grouse moors.

This is a follow-on event from the SRSG’s Parliamentary reception held in May (see here).

[All photos by SRSG]

Sponsored by Andy Wightman MSP (Golden Eagle Species Champion), the event provides an opportunity for SRSG members to engage with MSPs and discuss the ecological and economic importance of birds of prey as well as explaining the science behind satellite-tagging and the incredible behavioural insights resulting from this conservation research.

There has been a stream of cross-party visitors so far including Environment Minister and Hen Harrier Species Champion Mairi Gougeon, John Mason MSP (Kestrel Species Champion), Bill Kidd (Red Kite Species Champion), Graeme Dey MSP, Christine Graham MSP, Liam McArthur MSP, Andy Wightman MSP, Mark Ruskell MSP (White-tailed Eagle Species Champion), Alison Johnstone MSP, Bob Davis MSP (Peregrine Species Champion).

The exhibition concludes on Thursday afternoon so if you’re in Holyrood don’t miss the opportunity to come and speak to these experts.

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