Dec 212015

Highland estates could be forced to apply for licences to shoot grouse in a further crackdown by Scottish ministers on the illegal persecution of birds of prey.

Aileen McLeod, the Scottish environment minister, said she had ordered a review into the stricter legal controls imposed on game estates in Europe as conservationists disclosed that at least 779 protected birds had been illegally killed over a 20-year period in Scotland.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said it believed this death toll, which includes the killing of 37 golden eagles and 104 red kites, was a fraction of the total number they suspect had been shot, poisoned or illegally trapped by gamekeepers and farmers since 1994.

A pair of seven and a half week old golden eagle chicks sit on their nest at a remote nest site near Loch Ness. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Scotland already has some of the strictest rules on wildlife persecution, including “vicarious liability”, new powers where the owner of an estate can be taken to court for the actions of their employees or evidence of systematic persecution on their land.

But RSPB Scotland said that was failing to fully curb illegal killing.

Its latest annual figures for 2014 showed there had been eight cases of illegal poisoning, including the deaths of 12 red kites and four buzzards in one cluster at Connon Bridge in the Black Isle – the largest number ever poisoned in a single proven incident in the UK.

Focus on Highland estates follows revelations that at least 779 protected birds have been illegally killed over a 20-year period in Scotland. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/the Guardian

Focus on Highland estates follows revelations that at least 779 protected birds have been illegally killed over a 20-year period in Scotland. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/the Guardian

In addition, there were 16 cases where traps, shooting, nest destruction and attempted persecution was proven, involving buzzards, peregrines, hen harriers and eagles in 2014.

Stuart Housden, the director of RSPB Scotland, said landowners efforts to stem persecution were mostly voluntary and were clearly failing. “People are ignoring the law and ignoring what’s going on in many places; we have bird populations with serious problems,” he said.

In Spain and Germany – two countries now being studied under the Scottish government review, shooting estates were licensed and could lose their licences if persecution came to light – a system no UK government has previously considered.

A red kite nest in Scotland: the species is among those targeted by gamekeepers and farmers illegally. Photograph: RSPB Scotland/Press Association

Ministers have not committed to a formal licensing system for Scotland, but have asked Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to investigate the options. McLeod confirmed on Thursday that SNH had just invited tenders for the review.

Paul Wheelhouse, her predecessor, told Holyrood last year: “The Scottish government is determined to stamp out this deeply unpleasant and pernicious criminal behaviour. If and when we judge it necessary, I am committed to taking further action. If that involves licensing certain types of businesses, we will do so.”

Ian Thompson, head of investigation for RSPB Scotland, said discovering poisoned or shot birds was a matter of luck; many perpetrators – who were trying to protect their grouse or pheasant shoots – covered up their crimes or birds never found.

There had been 171 cases of poison baits or non-target species such as domestic cats and dogs found poisoned. There had been 134 cases were illegal traps were set or other attempts at persecution detected.

That pointed to systematic, widespread persecution, said Thompson: “This isn’t the work of a few rogue individuals. It is widespread and concentrated where shooting management takes place.”

RSPB Scotland said red kite, hen harrier and golden eagle populations were at an unnaturally low level in game shooting regions, in the Highlands, Angus near Dundee, and southern Scotland as a direct result of the persistent persecution.

There had been a 23% fall in hen harrier numbers recorded to 2010; there were hundreds of pairs of red kites missing from the Black Isle area north-east of Inverness and perhaps several hundred pairs of golden eagles more than the 442 breeding pairs now living in Scotland.

There had been a 23% fall in hen harrier numbers recorded to 2010: RSPB Scotland said red kite, hen harrier and golden eagle populations are at an unnaturally low level in game shooting regions. Photograph: Alamy

A recent Scottish Gamekeeper Survey had found 53% of golden eagle territories on grouse moors were occupied; Ian Thompson, head of investigations for RSPB Scotland, said that 66% should be in active use. Even those which were occupied, were held by a solitary bird, not a breeding pair.

The latest annual figures for 2014 showed there had been eight cases of illegal poisoning, including the deaths of 12 red kites and four buzzards in a cluster at Conon Bridge in Ross-shire – the largest number ever poisoned in a single proven incident in the UK.

In addition, there were 16 cases where traps, shooting, nest destruction and attempted persecution was proven, involving buzzards, peregrines, hen harriers and eagles in 2014.

The Scottish Moorland Group, which represents shooting estate owners, challenged the RSPB’s position that there was no downward trend over the last 20 years, arguing that there had been a noticeable decline in incidents in recent years.

Landowners were themselves taking action, said Tim Baynes, director of the Scottish Moorland Group. “The most striking fact about bird of prey deaths in Scotland is that they declined over the last 20 years and have fallen dramatically over the last five years in particular,” he said.

This article was first published by The Guardian on 17 Dec 2015.

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Peter Harris

Should domestic Cats be extermianated ? They kill far more birds than the shooting sportsman.

Ror Ming

Iain Gibson Ian I have watched a hoody crow peck the eyes of a new born lamb. I think that qualifies as an attack

Claire Fletcher

High fences are usually erected as part of woodland management schemes to keep deer away from newly planted trees. They are certainly a nuisance to walkers, but necessary for forestry.

Claire Fletcher

George Murdo

Iain Gibson

What statistics?

Iain Gibson
David Gemmell The land you speak of in Ayrshire did well with its breeding harriers in 2014, although one female was shot dead near the nest and its chicks had to be rescued. This was despite a relatively high fox population. Numbers were down a bit in 2015 due to food shortage and suspected persecution, but no worse than in other harrier breeding areas of southern and central Scotland. I am aware of surveys of moorland birds as you mention, but none showing an 800% increase in any recent year, which would be truly remarkable indeed. Is there anywhere I… Read more »
Iain Gibson

Pete Box, Could you indicate to us some examples of the "half facts and spurious statistics" contained in the above report?

Iain Gibson

Betty, I'd be interested in the location of this moor as I might be able to investigate what has caused such a catastrophic downfall. It sounds very alarming, and someone needs to follow up your observations.

Elizabeth McCall

You don't need to live, breathe and sleep in the countryside in order to be a nice person who doesn't go round shooting birds

Elizabeth McCall

Finally, someone addresses the issue of the actual shooting of grouse. It is cruel. Surely that alone is good eneugh reason for it to be banned?

George Murdo

That's correct Bob, which is why we hahve large tracts of land without trees and much of the natural biodiversity which accompanies this type of terrain and climate.

George Murdo
The killing of raptors by gamekeepers has been going on fo literally hundreds of years. Making such practises illegal has made little difference to the numbers of raptors present on grouse moors as the killing has continued with no respect paid to the law. Why would one, in this instance, respect a criminal's point of view when the country has spoken? It would simply be better if those involved in such practises ceased and began to obey the law. Promises have been made and broken and no trust exits between the parties you mention. Unless numbers of raptors present on… Read more »
Iain Gibson
David A King For starters, your statement that "there are less Harriers on the RSPB land than anywhere else" makes no sense. What do you mean by "RSPB land"? All land owned or managed by RSPB? The vast majority of their land is unsuitable habitat for breeding harriers. Equally, what do you mean by "anywhere else"? If you're referring to the propaganda being promoted by "You Forgot The Songbirds" and others, that harriers fared worse at RSPB monitored sites than at other harrier breeding sites in England, the explanation is simple. The males, which provision food to the female and… Read more »
David A King

Iain Gibson Maybe you can explain why there are less Harriers on the RSPB land than anywhere else and why avian and mammal diversity is far greater on all keepered shoots than on the RSPB Estates.I have never sen figures like those quoted above and strongly question there veracity.

Chloe Randall

"Banning" is a heavy-handed instrument: more interactive management would be a better solution with conservationists and keepers working responsibly together and respecting each other's points of view.

George Murdo

Jenny McCallum I'm aware of how social networks function with systems … as a rule, primarily in their own interests. Did you watch ther video? I've lived in rurally in the NE for many years. I think we might have to agree to differ in our opinions. I hope you had a nice Xmas and will enjoy a Happy New Year.

Jenny McCallum

George Murdo I can assure you, I work in this area, farmers are very much aware of the rules and regulations and where liability would lie. Where there is a legal control method they would be mad to permit illegal poisoning surely. As an aside last time I looked there wasn't a grouse moor on the Black Isle so not sure it's relevant to the subject heading anyway.

George Murdo

Jenny McCallum That's not how it appears

Jenny McCallum

George Murdo I think you will find that farmers are very much aware of their own responsibility and the level of risk attached to an incident such as this.

George Murdo

Iain Gibson David Gemmel Thanks for the insights and predation estimates in regards to foxes and hen harriers Iain… and thank you, David, for your attempts tp protect the nest even though they were unsuccessful. I'm not sure where I stand exactly in regard to culling predatotrs of endangered species. In a perfect world i would take the same position as yourself Iain ….. BUT .. on the other hand, some intervention might be necessary until populations stabilise. Situations can be so serious that to rely on belief over practical measures could lead to extinction.

George Murdo
Ian Gordon I fully agree with what Iain Gibson had to say Ian, but would add that if you wish to see how an alternative system might function to the benefit of all while helping repopulate the Highlands then i suggest that you can do far worse than avail yourself a copy of Lesley Riddoch's "Blossom" where she looks into such issues. If you wish a wider perspective to aid the understanding as to how and why land ownership is the key to the rejuvination of Scotland where all of the population would benefit from all of the land then… Read more »
Jenny McCallum

Iain Gibson , my point remains why would a farmer risk a serious breach of Cross compliance to poison crows? There are legal methods of control. Also, there were no poisoned crows. It rings alarm bells to me that it was only raptors found placed on farm in my opinion. Due to the fact that they go somewhere to be fed, I would suggest. Other theories welcome if you have them.

Iain Gibson
George Murdo and David Gemmel, I believe in science and also in transparency of information. I have monitored and studied a population of Hen Harriers for 14 years, averaging 10-12 pairs. There is no doubt in my mind, based on the findings of my research, that foxes are the main NATURAL predators of harrier nests. In my study area it was the only known predator, apart from Man. However it is perfectly natural for a ground nesting bird to be vulnerable to mammalian predators, and just as we shouldn't be surprised at this happening, we shouldn't see any need to… Read more »
Iain Gibson
Ian Gordon You're very quick to accuse me of having a "wrapped" imagination, but your own imagination is warped because you don't know me from Adam. I've lived in the countryside most of my life, and during my ramblings around the moors and so on (and in the local pubs) have got to know quite a number of gamekeepers and others who participate in country sports. Over the years I've had friends who are poachers, gamekeepers and fox hunters to mention but a few. I've disagreed with them over their activities, and lost a few friends as a result, but… Read more »
Ian Gordon
George Murdo – I've actually been one of the poorly paid people, have worked and brought my family up on one of those estates. Let me spell it out to you, because your obviously so wrapped up in your hatred of anything which appears not to be 100% fair as you see it. The bottom line is – the highlands of Scotland is and has been enjoyed by a great many people. The culture and history of "sport" draws a massive number of people and money to our shores, not just the hedge fund manager you would like everyone to… Read more »
George Murdo

John Shields Pity about the European Directive advising people to only eat game shot with lead occasionally … on health grounds. (3 ounces a week I think it is)

George Murdo

Not nearly as much employment as a fully developed Scotland along the Nordic Social Model would bring Mark. AND, it would make Scotland available to a much larger section of the public, now excluded on economic grounds.

George Murdo

Chris Smith AD Hominem, Chris …. run out of facts to support your argument so you resort to abusing the messenger. You do yourself no favours.

David Gemmell

George it was the rspb Scotland that asked us to watch the hen harrier nest as the fox was taking the chicks we shot five foxes near the nest in two nights so foxes defiantly take the chicks

George Murdo
Iain Gibson Yes, red legs are of French origin and every mouthful of food which goes into their mouths is one less for our native species. I might also add that pheasants are vectors for Lymes Disease. By that I mean that once bitten by an infected tic the pheasant then becomes the carrier of the disease passing it on to every uninfected tic who latches on to it. As there are now around 40 million pheasants per year released in this country it is hardly surprising the incidence of Lymes Disease in humans is increasing rapidly in harmony with… Read more »
David Gemmell

George Murdo

George Murdo
Iain Gibson Studies done on Inveresk and Glenogil Estates done this year were completed by ecologists just out of University and who had no background knowledge of the area. Indeed, the ecologists employed on Glenogil Estate, which has a very bad record as far as raptor persecution goes, were fresh graduates from Germany. Great efforts had been made by both the named estates to clean up their act prior to the ecologists PLANNED arrival.As far as I know no successful hen harrier nests have been achieved at least since 2006, and probaly earlier. Both estates are intimately involved in the… Read more »
George Murdo

Ian Gordon Iain Gibson's right on this one. The only caveat i might insert is that one highly prized grouse moors the best shooting days goes to friends with no cost involved other than they are expected to reciprocate the owner with a days shooting on the moor they own …. and all subsidised by the public purse in the exact fashion that Iain states.

George Murdo
Jenny and Iain There is a documentary made by Li Marley from which I gleaned most of the information I imparted. Please take a few minutes to view it … This should answer your questions. If you read what I wrote, Iain, you will see that I at no time claimed I knew any farmer who had poisoned any birds. You took conclusions from it that were not justified. Though it seems more than likely the birds were poisoned by agricultural interests as you will understand after viewing the video. I say the same to you too Jenny. Watch the… Read more »
George Murdo

Jenny McCallum

Ted Teodoro

Don't you folks out there have anything constructive to do?

Chris Smith

Iain Gibson Merry Christmas (don't get too bitter)!

Iain Gibson
This coordinated tactic has not gone un-noticed. Hopefully it means the grouse shooters are worried that public opinion is turning against them. Don't fall for all that twaddle about "people who live and breathe the countryside" being the only ones who understand it. In my very considerable experience as a dedicated naturalist, much of their "understanding" is a catalogue of old wives' tales, lack of natural history knowledge, general igorance (in the politest sense of the word), arrogance, and an inability to listen to any science that contradicts their "traditional" concepts. Basically, the shooting fraternity is morally and ethically redundant.… Read more »
Iain Gibson

Very revealing Mr Smith, typical reaction from an old Tory who sees compassion as a form of conspiracy. I notice you say nothing in defence of your misrepresentation of the situation on the Muirshiel moors, which I have corrected with well researched FACTS. I thought I was quite reserved and fair in my criticism, and not making it personally offensive. And don't they teach spelling at Harvard University? Yours is appalling, but that's an aside of course; the main problem is your lack of scientific acumen.

Guy Hunter

So, looking at the current poll results – backfired much?
Give people some credit – we're capable of interpreting data ourselves and shoving your preconceived notions back down your collective throats.

Mark Fowler

what about the employment shooting brings. not just keepers but housekeepers ,hoteliers and suppliers, without shooting the economy would suffer

Ian Gordon
Iain Gibson, Your view is one of a total minority of people who don't "actually" know jack shit. What you describe as Salve labour, is a figment of your wrapped, angry imagination. Those guys do those jobs because they embrace and love the "culture", a culture you have no idea about and understand less about this than I do about Bullfighting, breeding dogs for eating, or the Muslim religion, I know nothing about those so keep my views to myself, and whilst I can say I like this, I respect those who do. I'd suggest you talk to the guy… Read more »
David Gemmell
Ian I have seen for my own eyes what happens to grouse moors when they are no gamekeepers I come from Ayrshire where there you's to be loads of grouse the moors don't have keepers so they the decline of all the moorland birds is disastrous I was doing vermin control on six hundred acres only killing foxes and crows for coal mining company 1st year I had 800 percent increase in moorland birds so if that doesn't tell you anything I don't no what will also was looking after the hen harrier nest they produced and reared two chicks… Read more »
Iain Gibson
Jeremy Dixon Your ideas about the poor struggling grouse moor owners is so out of date. I've already summarised how they make millions through grants, legitimate tax concessions and money laundering through offshore tax havens. I suggest if you want more detail you carry out your own investigations. Have you any idea what grouse moors are worth in capital terms these days? Why is trading in Scottish uplands flourishing on the international money markets? At a local and national level, do you know how much it costs for a day's shooting on a big grouse moor? I think you'd be… Read more »
Chris Smith

Ian Gibson is a man on a mission: an old fashioned class warrior whos time is up (unlike driven gbrouse shooting). He's about as relevent as his comunist hero Jeremy Corbin.

Jeremy Dixon
Iain Gibson Can you explain in detail how a grouse moor makes millions? My understanding is that they are in fact a drain on finances. Ran Morgan from Knight Frank, is recently quoted in the FT as saying that a Grouse Moor that has 3-5 driven days per year could cost the owner over £1m per year to run. Ran makes his wage by fees from selling estates so I can't imagine he is going to exaggerate the yearly costs to potential buyers. If all that money was going to gamekeepers I am fairly sure there would be a few… Read more »
Iain Gibson
Another point concerning Chris Smith's statement, that birds of prey move on when there are no grouse to feed upon, is simpy not the case. CCTV monitoring at five Muirshiel Hen Harrier nests between 2003 and 2007 recorded a total of 1,283 prey items delivered to the chicks by the parents, and NOT ONE OF THEM WAS A GROUSE OF ANY SPECIES. Grouse populations were relatively healthy during that period. In 17-18 years of intensive observations of Hen Harriers in the SPA, I only once recorded a harrier (an adult female) killing a Red Grouse. So grouse is not an… Read more »
Iain Gibson
Another point relating to Chris Smith's comments – Buzzards did not increase thanks to being supplied with "partridges". The increase in most of the country (Scotland anyway) was driven by a national vole plague which persisted in many areas for almost twenty years. It is believed also by some that reduced persecution played a part, but I would contend there is little evidence of that. It should also be noted that the "partridges" he refers to were overwhelmingly non-native Red-legged Partridges which are released annually in their hundreds of thousands, often on grouse moors to cater for the lack of… Read more »
Jenny McCallum
George Murdo If a proper investigation was carried out then surely other poisoned creatures would be evidence. If the corvids were the target where were the dead ones? A farmer is not going to pick up poisoned crows and leave the raptors lying around. Am afraid there are far too many inconsistencies. Furthermore, why would a farmer/landowner use poison to reduce crow predation when there are appropriate legal methods available? That makes no sense at all and poisoning crows is certainly not the norm. If this was a genuine case of poisoned bait then there would be other dead scavengers… Read more »
Eric Easton
Totally naive – grouse moors are wet deserts as Frank Fraser Darling correctly described them. The soil is very Nitrogen poor and the continued burning year after year puts more and more of the available nitrogen into the water courses or up in the air. with time, the soil gets less and less fertile and productivity declines and predators are blamed. It's poor unsustainable management for a single species. Cessation of grouse moor burning with some deer management would allow the soil to recover, woodland to develop and with time give a much richer 3 dimensional habitat with much greater… Read more »

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