Posts Tagged ‘scottish parliament


Golden eagle Fred makes it to First Minister’s Questions in Scottish Parliament

Many thanks to Alison Johnstone MSP for raising the issue of Golden eagle Fred’s highly suspicious disappearance, at First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliamentary chamber this lunchtime.

Here’s what Alison said, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s response:

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): In 2017, a rare and beautiful young golden eagle was raised in the Scottish borders by the only pair of breeding adults there. He was satellite tagged, and last month he left home for the first time. Less than a week later, he disappeared in the Pentland hills near Currie. His tag stopped sending data for three days, then started again, this time in the North Sea off St Andrews. RSPB Scotland and Raptor Persecution UK regard the disappearance as highly suspicious, and I believe it is likely that the young eagle has been illegally killed.

Donald Dewar described the persecution of birds of prey as “a national disgrace”, but it is still going on. What is the Scottish Government doing in response to the reports? Will the First Minister finally commit to a licensing regime for game bird shooting?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon): First, I agree that the persecution of birds of prey is unacceptable, and I absolutely associate myself with the comments that Alison Johnstone has made in that regard. The Government treats this and sees it as an extremely serious issue.

As Alison Johnstone will be aware, a group was set up following a report on the issue that was commissioned and published last year, and it is looking at various aspects such as licensing and the impact of grouse shooting. I—and, I am sure, Roseanna Cunningham as the responsible minister—will be happy to meet Alison Johnstone to discuss that work in more detail. I am sure that all of us across the chamber are united in agreeing that this is unacceptable and requires to be tackled robustly.


The video of this exchange may be viewed on Scottish Parliament TV here (starts at 12.33.20).

It’s not the first time in recent months that illegal raptor persecution has been discussed at such a high level Parliamentary session. Last May, Richard Lochhead MSP raised the issue of video inadmissibility in the case of the shot hen harrier on Cabrach Estate and the Crown’s decision to drop criminal proceedings.


Golden eagle ‘Fred’ disappears 7 miles from Scottish Parliament

Last summer, in partnership with Chris Packham, we satellite tagged a shedload of golden eagles in Scotland (see here for project details).

We haven’t blogged much about these eagles since then because they’ve been hanging around in their parents’ territories and those locations need to remain secret.

However, in mid-January 2018, one of those young golden eagles finally decided to leave home and go exploring. He had hatched at a nest site in the Scottish Borders and his parents are the only breeding pair of golden eagles in the region. This nest site has been protected for decades by the landowner and he is fiercely proud of his eagles, so much so that he named this eagle chick Fred after his grandson. The landowner and his gamekeeper joined us last June as we fitted Fred with a state-of-the-art transmitter and we were all excited at the prospect of following Fred’s movements over the coming years, with the hope that he would thrive and help to increase this tiny, vulnerable breeding population in the Borders.

Golden eagle Fred, June 2017. Photo by Ruth Tingay

Fred headed to the Pentland Hills and spent a few days ‘woodland hopping’ around the northern edge, at one point just half a kilometre from the City Bypass.

His tag was working perfectly and was providing us with accurate and frequent GPS locations.

Maps copyright RPUK:

On 20th January, Fred roosted overnight in a shelter belt overlooking a grouse moor (Black Hill) near Balerno. This is a photograph of the roost site. Fred was in the trees at the top left-hand corner of this field.

Fred’s tag continued to record his position there until just before 10am on 21st January, when his tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped. The last signal came from the trees half-way along this shelter belt:

We didn’t receive any new GPS locations from Fred’s tag until three and a half days later when, on the evening of 24 January, Fred’s tag began transmitting again but the GPS location showed it was in the North Sea, some 10 miles offshore from St. Andrews. His tag continued to provide GPS data until 26 January, showing his final position at approximately 15 miles offshore. No further data have been received.

Dr Tingay of RPUK said: “It is beyond doubt that Fred’s disappearance is highly suspicious. Golden eagles don’t generally fly out for miles over large bodies of sea water but even if Fred had done so, apart from defying everything we’ve learned about Scottish golden eagle behaviour, we would have seen excellent tracking data plotting his route given the reliability of his tag.

“While we will probably never know for sure, it seems likely that Fred was killed soon after 10am on 21 January, his tag was hidden to suppress the signal and then he and the tag were dumped in the North Sea. If this is indeed the case, it’s just the latest example of when those who have killed a protected bird of prey have tried to cover up evidence of their crime”.

Chris Packham said: “Once again, we have the suspicious disappearance of a satellite-tagged golden eagle in an area managed for driven grouse shooting. What’s truly shocking about this case is that it didn’t take place in a remote Highland glen miles from anywhere, but it happened within a stone’s throw of Edinburgh, right under the noses of the Scottish Government. What must the good people of Edinburgh think, to learn that golden eagles aren’t even safe on their doorstep? That they’ve been denied the opportunity to see this iconic, magnificent bird in their local hills? This doesn’t bode well for the planned reintroduction of golden eagles to south Scotland, due to begin later this year”.

Over the coming days we’ll be blogging about the implications of Fred’s disappearance for the proposed South Scotland Golden Eagle Reintroduction Project, which was already a controversial issue before Fred’s story even began.

When we launched this golden eagle satellite tagging project at the British Birdfair last year, we said that our project would be different from other satellite-tagging projects in that if any of our tagged eagles ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances, rather than sit on that information for months/years and then only give a vague description of the location where the bird had vanished, we would publish much more detailed information as soon as any police investigation was complete. We’ve fulfilled this promise and we’ve also made a video which includes an exclusive interview with Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham. You can watch it here:

We are immensely grateful to Roseanna Cunningham for granting us an audience despite her incredibly busy schedule. We are also grateful to Police Wildlife Crime Officer Andy Loughlin and the RSPB Scotland Investigations for their quick and diligent response to our concerns.

If anyone has any information about Fred’s disappearance, please contact Police Scotland on 101.


Daily Express here

Scotsman here

STV news here with a fascinating quote from Scottish Land & Estates:

We understand that the bird’s disappearance is not being investigated as a crime.

We need to learn the full facts prior to establishing any conclusions but it should be noted that the location where the eagle disappeared is not an area of intensive grouse shooting“. We’ll be blogging about this quote soon.

The Times here (behind a paywall)

Herald here

BBC news here

Guardian here

Courier here

Press & Journal here


News on Scot Gov’s grouse moor management review & mountain hare culling

In January we blogged about a number of Parliamentary questions lodged by Colin Smyth MSP relating to the Government’s grouse moor management review group and mountain hare culling.

Written responses are as follows:

S5W-14019: Colin Smyth (Scottish Labour, South Scotland) Date lodged: 23/1/2018

To ask the Scottish Government, further to its announcement on 24 November 2017, what progress has been made by the independent group for ensuring grouse moor management practices are sustainable and legally compliant; what the remit of the group is, and what timetable it is working to.

Roseanna Cunningham: The review group has now been established and it met for the first time on 16 January 2018.

The group’s remit is to examine how to ensure that grouse moor management continues to contribute to the rural economy while being environmentally sustainable and compliant with the law. The group will recommend options for regulation, which could include licensing, and other measures which could be put in place without new primary legislation.

The Scottish Government may also refer specific topics to the group that might be considered by it as part of its work.

The group will report to me in Spring 2019.

S5W-14020: Colin Smyth (Scottish Labour, South Scotland) Date lodged: 23/1/2018

To ask the Scottish Government, further to its announcement on 24 November 2017, what plans are in place to engage (a) stakeholders and (b) the public in the work of the independent group for ensuring grouse moor management practices are sustainable and legally compliant.

Roseanna Cunningham: During the review process, the group will engage with, and take advice from, external stakeholders as and when necessary.

A public consultation process may be required following the completion of the review, if any regulatory changes are proposed by the Scottish Government in light of recommendations made by the group.

S5W-14021: Colin Smyth (Scottish Labour, South Scotland) Date lodged: 23/1/2018

To ask the Scottish Government what efforts it has made to prevent large-scale culls of mountain hares this winter.

Roseanna Cunningham: The Scottish Government opposes large-scale culls of mountain hares. There is no current evidence to indicate that large scale culls are taking place but if evidence emerges that points to large-scale culls taking place that could cause significant population declines, locally or nationally, the Scottish Government will consider bringing forward further measures to protect mountain hares. This could include the use of Nature Conservation Orders or giving mountain hares further protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Recent analyses of available data by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) provides no evidence of a national decline in mountain hares. Data from the North East of Scotland suggests there may be local population declines but these are not reflected at a national scale.

On 26 January, SNH published a commissioned report onDeveloping a counting methodology for mountain hares (Lepus timidus) in Scotland’.

Adoption of the recommended counting methodology by land managers will help in developing a better understanding of mountain hare population cycles and trends.


On this last question, contrary to what the Scottish Government claims, there is evidence that large scale culls are still taking place (e.g. see this 2017 report from OneKind). Just last week more culling was reported from the Monadhliaths and Aberdeenshire:

For how much longer will the Scottish Government continue to turn a blind eye to this obscene bloodbath taking place on grouse moors across the country?



The Gift of Rogues

Last Thursday, at the invitation of Andy Wightman MSP (Scottish Greens), several conservationists attended the Scottish Parliament for a meeting to discuss illegal raptor persecution with Andy and some of his parliamentary colleagues. It was our privilege to be invited and we are grateful to Andy for the opportunity to contribute to what turned out to be a very productive session.

Prior to the start of our meeting, Andy invited some of us to attend a parliamentary reception for the Gift of Grouse (Gift of Rogues for you anagram fans) hosted by Kate Forbes MSP (SNP) and designed to celebrate red grouse as a ‘healthy and sustainable’ food. We’d actually blogged about this forthcoming event the day before where we’d argued that rather then being ‘healthy and sustainable’, red grouse shot on driven grouse moors were more likely to be toxic, diseased and unsustainably harvested (see here), so we were delighted to be able to attend as invited guests and listen to the speeches.

You can probably imagine the warm and welcoming reception we received from the pack of tweed-clad gamekeepers who’d come along to boost the numbers (the official press statement said the event was attended by “over 60 guests” – it wasn’t, there was about half that number, mostly from the grouse-shooting and game dealer industry and a handful of Conservative MSPs, and us) but all credit to Colin Sheddon (BASC) and Tim (Kim) Baynes (Scottish Land & Estates / Scottish Moorland Group / Gift of Grouse) who came over and introduced themselves. Kate Forbes also made a point of coming over and we had a brief chat about unsustainable driven grouse shooting and its association with the criminal killing of birds of prey.

So, the turn out was lacklustre and to be honest, so were the speeches. We heard from Andrew Hopetoun (of the infamous Leadhills Estate and Chairman of the Scottish Moorland Group) who muttered something about there being “environmental benefits” of driven grouse shooting but failed to elaborate on what those benefits are, and carefully avoided any mention of the long history of recorded raptor persecution at Leadhills, including the alleged shooting last year of a hen harrier and a short-eared owl. (Incidentally, we’re still waiting to see whether SNH imposes a General Licence restriction on this estate).

We heard from Jeremy Dixon of Ochil Foods in Perthshire (the company that supplies red grouse to Michelin-starred chef Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles – you’ll remember him, he’s the one who falsely claimed red grouse are ‘organic’). Jeremy claimed that his company had seen a “five-fold increase in the demand for red grouse last year” – but then he was hardly going to say that his business is struggling to sell an unpopular product.

Then we heard from Chef Brian Grigor (The Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh) who made the extraordinary claim that the red grouse that reaches your plate is ‘truly wild’ and has been ‘untouched by human hand’. Really, Brian? Is this the same ‘truly wild’ and ‘untouched by human hand’ bird that has been raised on a moor where all the native predators have been ruthlessly destroyed and the grouse itself has been netted in the middle of the night to have a powerful drug used in chemotherapy forced down its throat and a pesticide band attached to its leg that will transfer the pesticide directly to the grouse to kill off ticks (also used as a topical treatment in humans to treat scabies and pubic lice)?

Brian had produced some grouse canapes for the reception and needless to say we weren’t tempted. We did consider collecting a few to have them tested for excessive quantities of toxic poisonous lead and a dose of the anti-parasitic wormer drug Flubendazole but that seemed a bit rude. We might instead just visit his restaurant later in the year and buy some grouse for testing.

We did check out the goodie bags but they weren’t up to much, either. Although we did find a pamphlet that repeats a false claim that 81 bird species thrive on grouse moors – a claim we debunked over a year ago.

We left the reception wondering what its objectives had been – a group of grouse-shooting industry insiders talking to some other grouse-shooting industry insiders and a few tame Conservative MSPs all seemed a bit pointless. But then we read this, and of course it all became clear: just another PR propaganda exercise designed to portray political support for the industry, although this time they probably hadn’t banked on Andy Wightman MSP having the final word:

There’s no assurance standards around grouse, we don’t know where the source of it is and we know there’s criminality mainly around the illegal culling of protected raptors.

Produce from a system that involves criminal activity should not get to the plates of high end restaurants.

I would also question whether grouse is healthy.”

Amusingly, our presence at this event prompted this outburst from Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association Director, Bert Burnett (thanks to the blog reader who sent us these images). A free Gift of Rogues goodie bag for anyone who can spot the irony!


Scottish parliamentary reception to celebrate toxic, diseased & unsustainably harvested red grouse

The Scottish grouse shooting industry’s propaganda arm, the Gift of Grouse, will be holding a Parliamentary reception at Holyrood tomorrow, hosted by Kate Forbes MSP (SNP, Skye, Lochaber & Badenoch), to celebrate red grouse as a ‘healthy & sustainable’ food:

Oh dear. ‘Healthy and sustainable’? Haven’t we been here before? Ah yes, so we have, back in 2015 when SNH joined forces with BASC to promote red grouse as ‘healthy, natural and sustainable’ as part of its Natural Larder campaign. Remember that? Here’s a quick recap for those that missed it (see here and here).

Nothing has changed since 2015. Red grouse, if sourced from intensively-managed driven grouse moors, are still potentially unhealthy, unnatural and unsustainable. They’re still potentially toxic, still potentially diseased, and still unsustainably harvested. They’re definitely NOT “organic”, as a Gift of Grouse Michelin-starred chef tried to claim last year (see here), and nor are they “100% organic” as the Angus Glens Moorland Group coordinator tried to claim last year (see here).

For any MSPs thinking of attending tomorrow’s celebration, here’s a quick summary of what those ‘healthy’ (potentially contaminated) grouse canapes might contain:

  • Excessive amounts of toxic poisonous lead (over 100 times the lead levels that would be legal for other meat – see here)
  • Unknown quantities of the veterinary drug Levamisole hydrochloride (also used in chemotherapy treatment for humans with colon cancer – see here)
  • Unknown quantities of the anti-parasitic worming drug Flubendazole – see here
  • Unknown quantities of the pesticide Permethrin (used topically to treat scabies and pubic lice; probably not that great to ingest – see here)
  • There’s also a high risk the grouse will be diseased with Cryptosporidiosis (see here).

Andy Wightman MSP (Scottish Greens) posted a tweet yesterday evening to provide some reading material for any MSPs thinking of attending this reception:

The report to which he’s referring is the 2015 publication, The Intensification of Grouse Moor Management in Scotland, published by the League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland). This report provides a succinct summary of all the relevant issues, including the long-running association between illegal raptor persecution and intensively-managed driven grouse moors, although it was dismissed by Doug McAdam, the then CEO of Scottish Land & Estates, as being “poorly researched”. You can read Andy’s response to that accusation here (and it’s well worth a read!).

It’s not the first time the Gift of Grouse has held a Parliamentary reception under what looks very much like false pretences (see here). Will it be the last?

Grouse canape, anybody?


Parliamentary questions on Scottish Government’s grouse moor management review

Following the announcement on 24 November 2017 that the Scottish Government’s Grouse Moor Management Review Group had been formed (see here), a couple of Parliamentary questions have recently been lodged about how this group will function:

S5W-14019: Colin Smyth (Scottish Labour, South Scotland) Date lodged: 23/1/2018

To ask the Scottish Government, further to its announcement on 24 November 2017, what progress has been made by the independent group for ensuring grouse moor management practices are sustainable and legally compliant; what the remit of the group is, and what timetable it is working to.

Expected answer date: 6/2/2018

S5W-14020: Colin Smyth (Scottish Labour, South Scotland) Date lodged: 23/1/2018

To ask the Scottish Government, further to its announcement on 24 November 2017, what plans are in place to engage (a) stakeholders and (b) the public in the work of the independent group for ensuring grouse moor management practices are sustainable and legally compliant.

Expected answer date: 6/2/2018

Colin Smyth has also lodged another Parliamentary question, related to those above, which is pertinent to this week’s media attention on mountain hare culls on driven grouse moors:

S5W-14021: Colin Smyth (Scottish Labour, South Scotland) Date lodged: 23/1/2018

To ask the Scottish Government what efforts it has made to prevent large-scale culls of mountain hares this winter.

Expected answer date: 6/2/2018

For those who missed it, mountain hare culling featured on Countryfile on Sunday evening (28th Jan), where they filmed a cull on a grouse moor in Strathdon, Aberdeenshire. The programme is available on BBC iPlayer here for 27 days. The name of the estate wasn’t given but there were gamekeepers from Edinglassie Estate and Candacraig Estate. Whoever advised the Grampian Moorland Group that it would be a good idea (presumably to get the public onside) to showcase gamekeepers shooting mountain hares in the face made a big PR blunder. There was a huge backlash on social media and also in the national press (e.g. Daily Mail article here).

The programme also peddled the usual propaganda from the grouse shooting industry, claiming that all the shot hares would be sold for meat, which one of the gamekeepers claimed ‘showed the respect gamekeepers have for hares both in life and death’.

That’s not quite true though, is it? Here’s a pile of shot mountain hares, left to putrefy in a rotting heap on an Angus Glens grouse moor:

Harry Huyton (Director, OneKind) also featured in the programme to give an opposing view on mountain hare culling. He did a good job, and he’s also written an interesting blog about it (here).

The Countryfile episode was designed to coincide with the publication of a new SNH study which examined different methods of counting mountain hares. One of the fundamental arguments against the mass slaughter of mountain hares on grouse moors (apart from the questionable ethics) has been the issue of nobody knowing the status of the mountain hare population and thus the unknown impact these culls are having on the species’ conservation status (although we understand a forthcoming scientific paper, not yet published, will demolish the grouse shooting industry’s claims that the culls have no negative impact). The results of the new SNH study on mountain hare counting methods  can be read here.

UPDATE 13 February 2018: News on Scot Gov’s grouse moor management review & mountain hare culling (here)


Environment Committee to scrutinise annual wildlife crime report – watch it live

The Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee will take evidence on the Government’s 2016 annual wildlife crime report this morning.

This can be watched live at 10.30am on Scottish Parliament TV here [click on Committee Room 1]. We’ll post a link to the archive video and the official transcript when it becomes available.

The Committee will hear evidence from Police Scotland and the Crown Office. Last year, for the first time, representatives from the RSPB, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, Scottish Badgers and the Bat Conservation Trust were also invited to present evidence, but apparently not this year.

Here are the background papers relating to today’s evidence session: ECCLR agenda papers 16 January 2018

The Environment Committee has a good track record of asking pertinent questions about the annual wildlife crime report and has not been afraid to challenge witnesses with some determination (e.g. see here and here).

Since last year’s evidence session a number of issues have emerged, not least the Crown Office’s controversial decisions to drop a number of long-running prosecution cases, mostly without explanation. The Environment Committee wrote to the Crown Office to seek explanation but many questions remain unanswered. Hopefully the Committee will pursue this matter today.


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