Banning driven grouse shooting – a case example (or two?)

By Kositoes (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Kositoes (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Today our e-petition passed 4600 signatures – thank you!

On Friday the RSPB in Scotland issued this to the media:

RSPB Scotland is calling for more sporting estates to take action to protect the country’s hen harriers during the breeding season.

The conservation charity says grouse moor managers and gamekeepers must do more to prevent illegal persecution, following a 20% decline in the population between 2004 and 2010.

Effective and legal techniques, such as diversionary feeding, have been proven to reduce the predation of red grouse by hen harriers and should be more widely embraced, the charity says.

Examples of illegal persecution involving the bird of prey include a shocking incident last year, unreported until now, in which a male hen harrier was apparently shot in the eastern Cairngorms, within the boundary of the Cairngorms National Park.

Two outraged members of the public contacted Police Scotland on May 30 last year after witnessing what they described as a coordinated “hunt” on the moor, ending in the shooting of the protected bird of prey. They explained watching for almost three hours as two individuals, armed with shotguns, criss-crossed the moor, with at least one other individual directing them by radio from his vehicle to the location of where the bird was seen perched.

An investigation by Police Scotland was launched but failed to turn up sufficient further evidence to charge anyone in connection with the incident, which has never formerly been made public.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said: “All the evidence indicates that this appears to have been an appalling, organised killing of one of our rarest birds of prey, which shows a complete disregard of the laws protecting our wildlife. Had it not been for the presence of these two witnesses, no-one would have known about this incident.

“The hen harrier population in Scotland is in trouble, with a 20% decline from 2004-2010. The intolerance shown towards this species on grouse moors, with this latest case being yet another example, gives a clear indication of one of the main causes of this decline.”

Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.
Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.

On Friday, the Scottish Gamekeepers Organisation said:

‘Our understanding from the case in the Cairngorms is that there is no evidence to support the RSPB’s interpretation of events and the RSPB is aware of this.

In terms of accusing grouse moors alone for the decline of Hen Harrier, the RSPB, as a bird charity, could spend donor money more wisely by assessing the bigger picture of Harrier decline and the criminal drop in the smaller, less iconic prey birds, rather than spending it on demonising gamekeepers; the vast majority of whom work within the law every day, under very trying circumstances, to produce a balance of species as well as a surplus of grouse to shoot.’

I’ve heard many similar reports in my time and I don’t find it difficult to believe this one. Were these two individuals armed with shotguns,  directed by radio by another, just a bunch of happy hikers who decided to try to kill some protected wildlife on the spur of the moment? Maybe some schoolteachers? Lawyers? Nurses?

You can make a difference by making your voice heard – please sign my e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting in England.

And now, on Saturday afternoon, I read of this case where a female hen harrier was found dead in Ayrshire and her two chicks are now being cared for by the SSPCA.

Det Insp Graham Duncan, of Kilmarnock CID said: ‘Whilst at this time we cannot divulge how the bird was killed, we do believe it was the result of a criminal act and we need to establish why this has happened.‘.

Please sign my e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting in England.

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9 Replies to “Banning driven grouse shooting – a case example (or two?)”

  1. Re the 'hunting' of a hen harrier, do the gamekeepers really expect us to believe that there would be someone walking around on their land with guns and they resident gamie wouldn't know about it?

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  2. "Criminal drop in the smaller less iconic prey birds"?! Did they really say that with a straight face? Can they tell us which prey species in particular have dropped to a zero breeding pairs count in England lately?

    I was more than delighted to sign your petition and tout it around just about everyone I know.......

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  3. "Our understanding from the case in the Cairngorms is that there is no evidence to support the RSPB’s interpretation of events and the RSPB is aware of this."

    What an extraordinary statement from the Scottish Gamekeepers Organisation. Unless they are suggesting that the two witnesses fabricated the whole story there is clearly evidence to support RSPB's interpretation of events. There may have been insufficient evidence to enable a specific person to be charged but that is quite a different thing.

    It is disappointing that the Police were unable to charge someone for such a blatant crime but i do wonder why vicarious liability was not invoked since it must have been reasonably straightforward to identify on whose land the offence took place. Perhaps someone with a detailed knowledge of the Scottish law could comment on this. Does the charging of someone with vicarious liability require that a primary offender is also charged?

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  4. Jonathan,

    Vicarious Liability (VL), as much as I'd like to see it in place in England (and Wales), is, as written in the Scottish legislation, and as I understand it, toothless. All a landowner needs to do is put up a letter or send a written communication to their employees stating that under no circumstances should any illegal practices such as culling hen harrier be undertaken. Of course, this can be supplemented with a nod and a wink...but the landowner is covered. I doubt therefore that there could be any successful prosecution under VL.

    Richard

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  5. All,

    On the wider subject, though I have signed Mark's e-petition, I do wonder if those representing grouse-moor interests are too powerful to worry about any potential implications. I think it would need a significant contribution by major institutions (e.g. BBC Panorama) and undercover investigations to expose (or not) the goings on behind the scenes before any meaningful (and desired) result would occur.

    As a 'local' example, in my experience, the Yorkshire Dales NP is almost devoid of raptors - in the last ten years, I think I can recall seeing one buzzard and never a red kite, despite them being widespread just a matter of miles south of the NP including urban Leeds.

    I also wonder about the economic argument that is put forward. Reports such as this one (http://www.gwct.org.uk/media/350583/An-Economic-Study-of-Grouse-Moors.pdf) claim that the industry contributes £23M to the Scottish GDP. This represents approximately 0.02% of Scotland's GDP (2010 figures). Such a tiny and miniscule contribution is therefore, by the industry's own data, a negligible and utterly irrelevant contribution to Scotland's economy. Of course, these figures don't take in to account the costs incurred elsewhere in investigating wildlife crime proven to be associated with such estates and those that are highly likely to be. It doesn't take in to account the cost of flooding that can be attributed to poor management of uplands as a result of grouse moors draining land. If you actually undertook a full analysis of the cost-benefits of grouse moors, you'd probably discover that Scotland would be financially better off without them. So purely on economic grounds, there sis a strong argument and reason to get rid of them. But this won't happen.

    Richard

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    1. Richard - thank you. And I agree with you.

      I suspect that those involved in grouse shooting are worried that the tide is flowing against them as Simon Barnes wrote in The times yesterday.

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  6. I do so hope the tide is turning Mark, that harrier persecution continues (see the new story on Raptor Persecution Scotland) shows that at least a proportion of the grouse industry is either immune to or too stupid to change. In answer to Richard there are plenty of raptors in the Yorkshire Dales NP just not in the grouse moor areas and we should be clear to point fingers in the right direction here the National Park Authority is as powerless as the rest of us, despite being one of the good guys in this.

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    1. Paul,

      I was not pointing the finger at the NP Authority at all. And there may be 'plenty' of raptors in the Dales but having spent much of last summer working in the Dales and not seeing much other than a few kestrel, I dispute the use of the word 'plenty'. Head south from Grassington and as you cross the Wharfe, red kite abound, admittedly in part because Harewood is not too far away, but nevertheless, the Wharfe is not a barrier for red kite moving north. Something else is preventing the residents of Grassington, Skipton etc from seeing red kite - must be the air currents.

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  7. Richard, I could tell you exactly where the Kite problem is but Mark would have to redact it but suffice to say that 5 years ago kites were up the wharfe as far as Appletreewick and as you now say no further than Otley, all I can say is blame the men who wear tweed on August 12th.

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