Grouse moor regulation vital to end illegal killing of Scotland’s raptors

Jess Barrett

Friday 14 December 2018

Buzzard in a field of wheat, Bedfordshire

New report calls for action

A new RSPB Scotland report published today has further reinforced the need for grouse moor regulation to be introduced in order to bring to an end to the widespread persecution of raptors in Scotland. The Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland 2015-17 details the clear associations between the decline or absence of these birds in parts of Scotland’s uplands, intensive grouse moor management and wildlife crime.

The report brings together evidence from police investigations, scientific research and eye-witness accounts and shows that the vast majority of these raptor persecution incidents are occurring in areas of Scotland’s uplands managed for intensive driven grouse shooting.

During the three-year period covered, there were 38 confirmed, detected incidents of illegal killing of protected birds of prey, including shooting, trapping, illegal poisoning and nest destruction. However, the evidence makes clear that the crimes being recorded are a fraction of what is actually taking place, despite claims by some in the grouse moor industry that raptor persecution is falling.  

Such crimes are continuing to adversely impact the populations and ranges of several bird of prey species. A national survey of the UK’s hen harriers, undertaken in 2016, revealed that Scotland’s breeding population had fallen by nine percent since 2010, and that the number on grouse moors had plummeted by 57 percent. A further study, published in 2016, commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage, confirmed that the sustained level of illegal killing remains the major factor preventing the growth of northern Scotland’s red kite population.

Furthermore, in the case of 18 hen harriers fitted with satellite tags, and known to have died or whose transmitters failed between 2015-17, it is likely that eight were illegally killed on or close to grouse moors. Given that only a relatively small proportion of hen harriers are satellite tagged, the number of non-tagged birds being illegally killed will be far higher. This is also the case with other marked raptors, including golden eagles.

Yet, despite robust wildlife crime legislation, improved to a large extent since 1999 by the Scottish Parliament, there have been very few prosecutions. Only five individuals were convicted of offences related to raptor persecution in these three years. Most crimes take place in isolated rural areas, concealed from the public eye, and with perpetrators who have become increasingly adept in covering their tracks to prevent detection. However, the decisions by the Crown Office to drop four prosecutions linked to raptor persecution offences during this period raises the question of whether current wildlife protection legislation is fit for purpose, or if new laws are needed to allow more effective enforcement, and to act as a genuine deterrent.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “Scotland’s birds of prey are for many a source of national pride, but there are some who are persistently intent on doing them harm, in flagrant disregard of the law and the public interest. There is clear and repeated evidence that this criminal activity is largely taking place on Scotland’s grouse moors, but the grouse industry has not addressed this long-standing and endemic problem; instead we are seeing increasing signs of a culture where some grouse moor managers feel, and act, as if they are untouchable. We believe that the majority of the Scottish public have had enough; repeated warnings from Government have not been heeded, and the time must be right for tougher action”.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management said: “Intensive grouse moor management is having a disproportionate impact on our important upland ecosystems and specially protected birds and is blighting Scotland’s reputation as a place which respects vulnerable and protected wildlife. Self-regulation, voluntary codes of practice, and dialogue have all patently failed to address cultural and systematic criminality, as well as bad land management practices. We have reached a point where it is abundantly clear that driven grouse shooting must be made more publicly accountable and effectively regulated through a robust licensing system, conditional on legal and sustainable land management practices. Grouse moor owners who adhere to the law and best practice should have nothing to fear from this approach.”

An independent grouse moor review was set up by the Scottish Government in 2017, following the publication of a Scottish Natural Heritage Report, that concluded that many satellite tagged golden eagles were disappearing in “suspicious circumstances” in areas managed for intensive grouse shooting. The review is examining the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices and possible options for regulation and is due to report to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform in spring 2019.

The report can be downloaded here.

Last Updated: Friday 14 December 2018

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Country: Scotland Topic: Birds Topic: Scotland Topic: Scotland Topic: Birds of prey