Birdcrime 2018 data reinforces need for driven grouse moor licensing

Jess Barrett

Thursday 29 August 2019

Illegal persecution of birds continues unabated

Scotland’s birds of prey continue to be at risk from illegal persecution according to the RSPB’s Birdcrime 2018 report, published today. The minimum of 12 confirmed, detected incidents illegal persecution that took place in Scotland during the year was more than double that recorded in 2017.

Cases uncovered during the year included a peregrine poisoned in the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh; a buzzard found to have been shot twice, in South Lanarkshire; a buzzard caught in an illegal trap, in Inverness-shire; and a hen harrier caught in a spring trap in Perthshire. All of these incidents occurred on, or close to, land being managed intensively for driven grouse shooting.

However, these incidents are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to crimes against raptors. For instance, cases where satellite-tagged birds of prey went missing in suspicious circumstances are not included in the report, because no bodies were recovered. However, they are a further indicator that recorded crimes represent a tiny fraction of what is happening to Scotland’s iconic raptors.

Birds being tracked that went missing in 2018 included tagged golden eagle “Fred” which disappeared close to a grouse moor in the Pentland Hills in January. Similarly, four young hen harriers tagged as part of the RSPB’s Hen harrier LIFE project, were also all last recorded on grouse moors. Athena disappeared near Grantown on Spey in Inverness-shire in August; Margot on the Aberdeenshire/Moray border also in August; Stelmaria, near Ballater in Aberdeenshire in early September; and Heather in Glenalmond in late September. As always, in such incidents, relevant tag data was provided to the police for independent scrutiny. 

The damage caused by management for driven grouse shooting is now widely recognised to extend beyond illegal bird of prey persecution. Muirburn on moorlands damages peat deposits and releases carbon dioxide into the air, contributing to climate change and exacerbating flood risks downstream.

In areas managed for driven grouse shooting Scotland’s mountain hare population has suffered greatly from unregulated culling, due to their perceived and unproven threat of disease transfer to grouse stocks. Long term data from the eastern Highlands, and published by the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology and the RSPB in a scientific journal last year shows there has been a 99 percent reduction in mountain hare numbers there since the 1950s. Their Scottish population status has recently been downgraded by Scottish Natural Heritage in its official reporting to the European Union on the status of key species, as “unfavourable inadequate”.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland said: “Birds of prey are an integral part of Scotland’s heritage, woven into our landscapes and our history. We have international obligations to protect these birds. There is widespread revulsion amongst the Scottish public that these birds continue to suffer greatly at the hands of wildlife criminals. Our published data from Birdcrime 2018 shows that this damage is both current and significant, and reinforces why robust regulation of driven grouse shooting is urgently needed”.

“The Scottish Government has led the way in the UK by commissioning an independent review into the impacts of driven grouse shooting. This is a seminal moment and a chance for Scottish Government to tackle raptor crime by bringing grouse moor management under regulation, and giving greater recognition to the public interest in the way such sporting estates are managed. Sanctions to remove licences to shoot should be available to act as a strong deterrent to those who currently break wildlife protection laws, and engage in other damaging land management practices.”     

The report can be read here: rspb.org.uk/birdcrime

Last Updated: Thursday 29 August 2019

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Country: Scotland Topic: Birds Topic: Buzzard Topic: Golden eagle Topic: Goshawk Topic: Hen harrier Topic: Peregrine Topic: Scotland Topic: Scotland Topic: Birds of prey