Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham gets tough on the sources of wildlife crime

Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, has come to the end of her tether with grouse moor managers in Scotland – that much is clear.  Good for her!

Answering questions in the Scottish parliament this afternoon she announced the publication of the review of ‘the disappeared’ satellite-tagged Golden Eagles (see here) but also a raft of measures which are mostly positive:

  • the SSPCA will not get extra powers – this is a disappointment
  • examine how best to protect the valuable role of gamekeepers in rural Scotland – well, I guess she had to say something like that
  • immediately review all available legal measures which could be used to target geographical areas of concern – about time too, good move!
  • increase resources for the detection and investigation of wildlife crime – about time too, good move!
  • work with Police Scotland to pilot the use of special constables in the Cairngorms National Park – this is somewhat laughable. Our National Parks are wildlife crime hotspots so we need extra constables to try to get wildlife protected in them. But, we’ll see how it works. Let them not all be retired gamekeepers please!
  • commission research into the costs and benefits of large shooting estates to Scotland’s economy and biodiversity – very good, provided it takes a broad view and includes flood risk, water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions etc
  • set up an independently-led group to look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls, and to recommend options for regulation including licensing and other measures which could be put in place without new primary legislation – very good but this overlaps quite a lot with that above (no matter).

Ms Cunningham said:

The findings of this research are deeply concerning and will give rise to legitimate concerns that high numbers of golden eagles, and other birds of prey, continue to be killed in Scotland each year. There is every reason to believe that similar levels of persecution affect untagged golden eagles, as well as those we are able to track via satellite tags. 

We have already targeted wildlife criminals, and those who sanction such crimes, by introducing measures such as vicarious liability and restrictions on the use of general licences. But Scottish Ministers have always said they would go further if required – and that is what I am doing today.

The continued killing of protected species of birds of prey damages the reputation of law-abiding gamekeepers, landowners and indeed the country as a whole. Those who carry out these crimes do so in defiance of the will of Parliament, the people, and their own peers. That must end.

This report identifies specific problem areas which will allow Police Scotland to adopt a targeted approach and I would also encourage members of the public to report any suspicious activity to the police.

The range of measures we will introduce over the longer-term will build on the progress that we have made to-date and tackle outdated practices and attitudes. By looking at ways of strengthening the legal protection for birds or prey we are sending out a strong message that Scotland’s wildlife is for everyone to enjoy – not for criminals to destroy for their own ends.‘.


Excellent news! Well done Ms Cunningham!  I’m sure your colleague Fergus Ewing has warmly congratulated you for this move.

More on this later. I wonder what the landowners and SGA have to say on this shock move.


Can you imagine Therese Coffey  taking such a step in England where things are just as bad (arguably worse)? No, nor me.


If you care about the environment, vote for anyone who can stop the election of a Tory MP on 8 June.

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16 Replies to “Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham gets tough on the sources of wildlife crime”

  1. What about using photographic and video evidence as admisssble?Tat would be a big step forward

    1. If a procedure like i suggest below is put in place, then any film of a crime taking place where the location and perpetrator are identifiable would or should lead ultimately to the removal of the licence to take grouse. Its possible, if the filming is not intended for use in court in a criminal case that there would be absolutely no need to worry how it was taken or gathered. Anyone anywhere could sit out and watch and wait.

  2. "licensing and other measures which could be put in place without new primary legislation"

    Well, how about creating a Close Season of 1 Jan to 31 Dec for grouse, or any other species for that matter, and issue licences to individuals or over certain areas of land to 'take' grouse between the dates of say 12 August and 10 December.

    Then founded on the same principles of General Licence withdrawal or revocation, remove the licence to take from recidivists.

  3. The proposed enquiry into the economic and biodiversity role of large sporting estates is very significant in that it places criminal management of grouse moors in its proper context of the land reform issues around sporting and other large estates.. The first time, to my knowledge, in any government statement and an indication of the underlying political attitudes which make the more immediate measures announced today possible in Scotland and most unlikely in England.
    The dustbin of history awaits them.

    1. I suspect the real death knell for DGS was the reference to the research on costs and benefits of large sporting estates, couple that with Mark's observation that it would need to take in water quality, flood risk etc then very unlikely to look as if it's good for jobs and rural economy, almost certainly the opposite. Without being able to use jobs blackmail political support for DGS would collapse, the arguments re conservation and heritage are bankrupt. This has been quite a good day!

        1. Definitely - not what's there because of DGS, but what's not there, one hell of a lot due to the intensive and also extensive nature of grouse moor 'management'. No forestry what so ever - they hate trees, crows, foxes and raptors could make use of them and of course proper ecotourism and muirburn don't really mix! Imagine public subsidy going towards ecorestoration along watercourses - more trees, flood slowing large woody debris and in a surprising number of places beavers with their dams then a hell of a lot less water damage to better quality farmland, businesses, and homes downstream. If people could vote on where their taxes went what would win helping grouse shooters or wildlife and people at risk to flooding?

  4. I notice that this blog has already attracted a couple of dislikes, of course any legitimate shooting enterprise has absolutely nothing to fear from anything Roseanna Cunningham brings in. Then on the other hand that Gift of Grouse and most of the other shooting organisations are not that keen especially to licensing perhaps they care to tell us why without all the guff because self regulation has clearly totally failed. Why are they so opposed to something that if they are behaving within the law it will not really affect them? I also look forward to SNH issuing General licence restrictions on those estates where these eagles have disappeared is such dodgy circumstances. Oh that we had this option in England although we would need to find a spare backbone for EN before it was effectively used. Well done Roseanna keep up the good work.

  5. It is not a big step, but it is another inch ground out towards the goal of truly productive and wildlife friendly uplands. We just have to keep on grinding away, inch by inch, for as long as we can. There are a lot of powerful interests arrayed against us on this, so every inch is a triumph. The biggest hurdle is convincing more voters in the highlands that the Victorian Highlandism base that many businesses and people depend on for tourism can not only survive transition away from grouse moors and salmon rivers, but generate more cash as a working landscape full of wildlife. Ultimately their nostalgia might be the biggest vested interest of all. That is going to be a big ask.

    What shocked me about all this though was it got mentioned on Springwatch with raptor persecution on grouse moors specifically called out. Someone in the production team finally found some fortitude in their trouser pockets. Although the way they had Chris sit very uncomfortably in silence while Michaela read the piece out was.... uncomfortable to watch. I think I can understand why they did it that way, but still.

    1. Yes, well done Springwatch, not before time! I presume they felt confident to do it because the BBC had already broadcast the report and its conclusions. More information now needed in the public domain on the fate of hen harriers and other raptors absent from England's moors. EN should be leading the way!

      1. Whoops, EN should, of course, read NE. The government obviously required every reduction in the organisation's status to be accompanied by a change of name! What next, I wonder?

  6. Im sorry but this is just so much more useless bolloc* many, many raptor workers and wildlife lovers in Scotland we know that the only breakthrough here would have been allowing the SSPCA the major role in investigating wildlife crime. To refuse that after keeping us all hanging on for literally years is a slap in the face. Same old, same old..while we wait for the next round of reports of raptor killing and failed prosecutions, all we get are reports on the economy of grouse moors. Angry and disillusioned, yet again with our politicians.

    1. Yes refusal to give SSPCA more powers just didn't tally with the rest of the statement, seriously out of kilter with presumed intent to sort out the estates. Possibility it was just very poor judgement and perhaps a bit of lobbying can change that, I've emailed RC a thank you and have added that the SSPCA should have been given more powers. I'm still pleased with the statement, but the SSPCA bit is a dark cloud hanging over it - the estates would be in a hell of a lot of trouble if the SSPCA was let off the leash and they know it.

  7. There's an eagle in Howsbottom. The gun is on the kitchen table and the powder, shot and wads close by. I am away to the Kirk. 'It was the last Golden Eagle I have heard of in the South of Scotland' said the the land owner.

    A quote from a famous book which indicated that fingers should not be just pointed at the gamekeeper but at the owner of the land. For he is the one who wants lots of Red Grouse so he can brag to his neighbours! But also the way the 'tax free' money is given to the keepers for the days and season shooting.

    One shoot gave the head keeper £10,000 in cash, a 2 weeks holiday in the Maldives for him and his wife and a new car for gaining the number of Red Grouse that were asked for at the beginning of the breeding season. I wonder why so many birds of prey were killed when you see that as the incentive!!

  8. Where cases of suspicious deaths have been established then Vicarious Liability needs to be enforced not dropped.

    Inch by inch as Random22 says, ongoing exposure, social media is not as manageable as the manipulative mainstream media with its 'political' agenda?

    Well done Springwatch, signs of delivering items of public interest at last - keep providing updates, reality is needed. Updates on badger cull and fox hunting next perhaps?


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