Dear First Minister and Cabinet Secretary
I am writing to you about the poisoned White-tailed Eagle that was found on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park. I’m sure you’re getting lots of emails on this subject and I know you will read very few of them. No matter, somebody will read this and be keeping count of the numbers for you.
Let me introduce myself – I’m a scientist by training who has worked in nature conservation for over 30 years. I live, and vote, in England but I have strong links with Scotland. My first paid job in nature conservation was as the summer warden of the National Nature Reserve at St Cyrus in the summer of 1976. My first experience of research was as a field assistant on the Red Deer Project on Rhum in 1977 and 1978. My PhD is from the University of Aberdeen. I started my career with the RSPB, for whom I worked for 25 years (13 of them as the UK Conservation Director) working in the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland. I met my wife in Scotland, and my son, who has a PhD from Edinburgh University, got married just off the Royal Mile two weeks ago and we enjoyed a socially-distanced wedding breakfast of champagne and take-away pizza on the grass near the Scottish Parliament building while some Peregrine Falcons from Arthur’s Seat flew overhead. I am engaged with Scotland, its people and wildlife.
Let me go back to my opening sentence:
- poisoned – poison has been illegal in the countryside for many many years and yet a report of another poisoned bird of prey is hardly news, the scale of law-breaking is so huge
- White-tailed Eagle – a wonderful bird and a fully protected species. It’s a species reintroduced into Scotland painstakingly over decades and I played a very small part in that myself but hundreds of people have spent huge chunks of time restoring this magnificant bird to Scotland’s skies. The photographs of it lying dead in the heather are so sad, but also so maddening.
- grouse moor – a Victorian anachronism of a highly intensive management regime which is the way it is solely so that a few can shoot Red Grouse for fun or profit. As I think you know, intensive grouse moors are the source of many of the crimes against Scotland’s eagles, hawks, kites and falcons but also mammals such as Pine Marten, Wild Cat and others.
- Cairngorms National Park – how sad is it that many UK National Parks, in Wales, England and Scotland are not places where wildlife thrives but are wildlife crime hotspots which besmirch the title of National Park?
I know that the SNP’s policy is to license driven grouse shooting, and I know that you are considering the slightly feeble Werritty report (why is it taking soooooo long?) but surely you must act soon? I would like to see a complete ban of driven grouse shooting across the UK and have been associated with two UK-wide Westminster petitions which have easily passed the 100,000 signatures needed for debate. In both cases Scottish signatures were slightly overrepresented compared with population and of course those signatures from Scotland far outnumber the support for any petition for licensing. So please consider an outright ban of driven grouse shooting, but if not, then please get on with the putting licensing in place even though it is the feeble compromise option.
I admire you both as politicians and if you were ever on the ballot here in my constituency of Corby I would happily vote for either of you. Admittedly we have a pretty poor crop of politicians down here in England! But you are increasingly looking weak and unprincipled on the issue of protecting Scotland’s wildlife from criminals.
I watched Braveheart on TV recently and despite its historical inaccuracies I was reminded that it is a very entertaining film. One of the most memorable scenes is when the Scots turn their backs on the English and lift up their kilts to present their bare backsides to the English King and army. Did that ever happen? Well, its like is happening nowadays. Every poisoned eagle, shot harrier or trapped hawk is the grouse moor industry showing you their backsides to show that they have no fear of you, or respect for you. They are taking the mickey mightily out of you. And every gamekeeper you meet who greets you with a smile, just wonder how often his backside is on a Landrover seat taking poisons up into the hills. And the besuited landowner from the New Town of Edinburgh who greets you with a smile, just think how he counts his grouse moor income with his backside smoothly placed far from the hills in a comfortable office. When they smile at you they are really laughing, and in their breaking of the law they are showing everyone their backsides. How long are you going to let this go on?
Please act now.
Dr Mark Avery
If you are maddened or saddened by the level of wildlife crime in Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park then please write to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (firstname.lastname@example.org) and copy in Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham (CabSecECCLR@gov.scot).