Werritty – a long wait for not very much

The Werritty report into grouse shooting was published yesterday after an unconscionable two year period. I accept that Prof Werritty was ill during this period but this report is not an impressive document and will not command much respect. It does give the Scottish government a free hand to do whatever it wants to do in terms of better regulation of grouse moor management but the report is largely irrelevant, because of its own internal failings.

I spent quite a lot of yesterday reading the report, and re-reading it, but it is difficult to regard it as a Christmas present. In an independent expert report it is the thought that counts, and this report is a bit threadbare in that regard. Prof Werritty should have been told that a report is not just for Christmas, it is for life and this one will be pushed to the back of the cupboard pretty quickly.

There are six main points I’d like to make initially:

1. The group agreed unanimously that licensing of grouse shooting should be brought in but because of divisions along entirely predictable lines the group would only sign up to this view if the recommendation for licensing were put off for five years and made conditional on lack of progress on the relevant issues that need to be addressed. The relevant part of the report is as follows;

The Group was evenly split on whether or not to license grouse shooting. When, as Chair, I sought to exercise a casting vote in favour of the immediate introduction of licensing, this was contested by two members of the Group. In order to have a unanimous recommendation on this key issue with the authority that implies, the Group proposes a five year probationary period for specified raptors on or near grouse shooting estates to recover to a ‘favourable’ conservation status. Should this target fail to be achieved, then licensing should immediately be introduced.


Prof Werritty is as much use to grouse moor reform as Jeremy Corbyn is to the Brexit debate.

The split in the group was entirely predictable, and was predicted. And this is the fault of the Scottish government. Having two practitioners from grouse shooting and a bunch of academics on a group is a recipe for indecision even on a subject as obvious as better regulation of an unsustainable land use which depends on wildlife crime fior its profitability. Those in the shooting camp want no changes, and the academic neutrals live in a world where everything needs to be proved before you can move an inch. That actually isn’t what an expert group should do – they should act as experts. This task was beyond this group.

But it allows politicians to do whatever they want – let’s hope that the Scottish government gets on with it, and quickly! Given that licensing is an extremely moderate proposition, and given that it almost certainly won’t work, let’s get on with giving it its chance as quickly as possible.

It will be crazy if the SNP government doesn’t move forward with purpose and speed.

2. Lack of use of references in the report.

The report goes on and on that it is important to base decisions on science and then fails to do so. There are so many statements in the report that are contentious but the Werritty group has failed to indicate which studies and pieces of evidence have persuaded it in any places. Yes, there are lots of references but they are simply a list hanging at the end of the document. There is nothing which says anything like this ‘A & B say this, C says this and D says this, and we believe that C is closest to the truth because theirs is the best designed study with the largest sample size’ or anything remotely similar.

You would have to read all of the references and then you would still be guessing which studies persuaded Werritty the most. This is very poor. The Scottish government cannot look closely at the evidence gathered and check the Werritty assessment and neither can the rest of us. An undergraduate project could have come up with a list of references in a lot less than two years.

3. Some issues are hardly addressed

I know that Scotland is different from England but I was surprised that so many issues which would have almost undoubtedly featured in such a report produced south of the border were so neglected. The tricky issue, for those of us who would happily see intensive grouse moor management disappear, of higher densities of breeding waders on grouse moors, hardly features, and not at all prominently. But then harm to blanket bogs from muirburn, carbon sequestration, water quality and flood risk hardly feature either. The Scottish government has agreed that there is a climate emergency but Werritty slides past the subject as though it were irrelevant. This is simply bizarre.

4. Economics entirely mishandled

When looking at the socio-economic contribution that grouse shooting makes to Scotland’s economy the Werritty group fails to examine the externalities of non-market costs and benefits represented by the issues such as wader densities, flood risk and carbon storage. These are all highly relevant to the issue, are usually ignored by those who are the greatest fans of grouse shooting, and are entirely germane to the remit of this report. A prominent academic economist is scathing about the ‘value’ of grouse shooting but this report misses the whole subject by miles.

5. Protected areas

The Scottish government is responsible for meeting domestic and international legal obligations on the status of designated areas. This is hardly mentioned. The lack of professional nature conservationists on the group was a big mistake. What were the advisors doing?

6. Not much use to us down south

This report does not move things on – that remains the job of the Scottish government. While we don’t expect that much progress from our government in England the action on moorland burning is far ahead of what Werritty has considered.

This is an inexpert report which helps no-one. Happy Christmas.


14 Replies to “Werritty – a long wait for not very much”

  1. If Werrity had cast his vote in favour of immediate licensing the DGS members would most likely have sabotaged the whole process by resigning.

    By making it clear that he is in favour of immediate licensing, and that only the DGS members opposed it Werrity has given the Scottish government all the ammunition they need to introduce an immediate ban, if they have the resolve to do so.

    In other words he’s made the best of a bad hand. Just like Corbyn did with Brexit.

    1. de – yes, to some extent. But the report itself is a poor thing. If all we were interested in was the vote at the end we could probably have got the result far sooner. This is a very poor analysis of the evidence and therefore it is a slight impediment to progress and of vry little help to science-led policy making.

  2. That’s quite a demolition Mark – but I have to say (on first impressions) a well deserved one. Although, as others have noted, the headline recommendation of the report may, to some extent, have been pre-determined by the make-up of the Review Group, the text of the report – and after such a long wait – is hugely disappointing. As you say, not many people will be quoting Werritty as a source for a definitive view on anything in the near, let alone the distant, future. He seems genuinely taken aback by the controversy that is DGS’ environmental impact, over the conflict between people who like to see birds of prey and those who want to shoot and the heat the arguments generate. Some of this angst may have been inflicted by the odd terms of reference which required the Group to:

    ‘balance the Government’s commitment to tackling wildlife crime with grouse moor management practices, so that this form of management continues to contribute to our rural economy, while being sustainable and compliant with the law. ‘

    What if tackling wildlife crime and (intensive) grouse moor management are actually mutually exclusive?

    In terms of the scientific evidence there is much hand-wringing over the gaps:

    ‘As already noted, gaps in the scientific evidence and the contested nature of much that has been published – most notably the tension between the expert knowledge of scientists versus the local knowledge of gamekeepers and other land managers – further intensifies the debate. ‘

    so expert knowledge, in the form of scientific peer reviewed research, is balanced against the ‘local knowledge of gamekeepers’ (but not birders) in the manner of the execrable Moorland Forum’s execrable Understanding Predation Report.

    As you say the most disappointing thing about this report is that despite lamenting the ‘conflict’ and the ‘heat’ it doesn’t move any of the arguments any further forward.

    1. Yes I saw that too – conflict between science and people ‘on the ground’. This is an utterly pathetic line they’ve now been plying for years. Werrity should have been the one to point out that the real ‘on the ground’ should mean the field researchers who don’t have an agenda beyond objective fact gathering as opposed to gamekeepers who have not proved to be either the most competent or honest observers! This review just kept serving up slightly reheated tripe that we’ve been getting direct from the friends of the grouse moors for years now. Their clear attempt to define ‘science’ as something done by people in a lab with a laptop as opposed to those down to earth ‘sons of the soil’ out in the field itself plays on public ignorance about what science really is and shows how the distortions and outright lies from gamekeepers are an example of why it’s needed.

  3. The report says:-

    “the Group proposes a five year probationary period for specified raptors on or near grouse shooting estates to recover to a ‘favourable’ conservation status. Should this target fail to be achieved, then licensing should immediately be introduced.”

    Whether or not “favourable conservation status” progress is being made will be extremely obvious after one or two years and this is the very latest that the Scottish Government should implement licensing.

    It would also be good to know how effective licensing would operate and how it would be funded – I suspect the Werritty Report sheds little light on this matter.

    1. ‘”favourable conservation status” progress is being made will be extremely obvious after one or two years’
      I have heard others make this comment but i have doubts.
      If this means continuing crime incidents or missing tagged bird then fair enough but i took it to mean another report like the ones on Hen Harriers and Golden Eagles. Those reports took years of fieldwork and paperwork and unless that is start right now that is going to a long time comin’. If reports are commissioned after 5 years then that is another decade and then at least another couple of decades to prove licensing isn’t working. Howe many of us will still be alive by then? I won’t.
      Maybe the lack of any detail in this report is in our favour. True, politicians would probably have liked to get clear advice to hide behind before taking on what they obviously perceive as a contentious issue but on the other hand if Ministers really want to get stuck in it gives them room for scope. The next missing Hen harrier could be the trigger or even those of last year. Apart from the apparent dithering right now there seems to be an appetite for taking this issue on. If the greens outmanoeuvre them completely on this, which they are already showing signs of doing, they will look like real wimps.

      Glad Mark pointed out the lack of indexed references in the report. That was extremely annoying. It also allowed unverified statements to be passed off as facts. There should have been 2 reports, this one and one without the input of the vested interests. But it was great that Werritty gave us the heads up.

  4. There should be a charge for a licence which must cover the cost of admin and monitoring/enforcement much like the SEPA licensing scheme. A basic flat rate whatever the size of the ‘business’ and then a scale based on estate/business size.

    I’m guessing or suggestng rates in the £’s thousands rather than hundreds for the bigger businesses.

    There is no good reason why the public purse should pay to monitor this selfish bloodsport.

  5. The persecution of raptors on grouse moors goes on unabated and quite blatantly. The perpetrators consider themselves above the law.

    To have to wait 5 years for licensing is clearly a pathetic cop out and will allow more of our iconic species to be massacred from hares to eagles.

    The Scottish Government has a clear opportunity to demonstrate it’s distance from Westminster.

    The PM has just said no more dither and delay.
    Will the FM say the same?

  6. How do these people get away with such a poor, long winded, and very late report. If I produced something like this report at my work after two years I think I would be on the verge of the sack. I agree with all you say Mark.
    As you st Mark the report is so vague and indecisive that it really gives the Scottish Government a free hand to get on with putting right so many things that are are so clearly wrong and cruelly wrong with what is currently going on on grouse moors.

  7. Thanks Mark, very clear, and revealing the full extent of the failure. Amongst many failures, that on the economics is arguably the greatest, because it was pretty squarely in the remit. The Common Weal report for the Revive Coalition makes pretty clear that driven grouse is a suppressor of economic activity, an employment-destroyer rather than creator. The industry continues to assert the opposite and will no doubt continue to do so given Werrity’s failure over two years to build further on the evidence.

  8. Agree with Francis (tho’ I hadn’t read the ToR previously) – these were ‘stacked’ and many of the wrong questions – or contained implicit assumptions that should themselves have been challenged – ‘balance the Government’s commitment to tackling wildlife crime with grouse moor management practices, so that this form of management continues to contribute to our rural economy, while being sustainable and compliant with the law. ‘ …… that whole last phrase implies that it is a given/ the truth that current management already contributes to rural economies (it doesn’t except if you define rural as ‘already rich landowner/ estate’), is sustainable (it isn’t) and complies with the law (it frequently doesn’t). I thought the ‘rural economy’ question was one that Werrity was supposed to examine in factual detail. What a missed opportunity – we will still have to rely on NGOs and campaigns like ReviveCoalition – and Wild Justice et al – to keep exposing realities. And didn’t Langholm effectively prove that it is NOT possible to manage and harvest grouse on the industrial scale that is now common practice/ ‘expected’ – WITHOUT illegal+legal killing of anything else that might eat grouse or compete with them? Not ‘economical’, sustainable NOR legal.

  9. Why give a five year period of grace to an industry which has blatantly failed to put its own house in order over many decades? All the evidence for immediate action is there for all to see in the paper reviewing the fate of satellite tracked golden eagles. This report is weak and fails our natural heritage badly.

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