In the last fortnight two representatives of the Moorland Association have made key statements to the media. One was a lie and the other was an admission of guilt on raptor crime. You decide from the evidence which is which. The Moorland Association (MA) is a member of the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW).
Amanda Anderson, Director of the MA was quoted in the Sunday Times as saying ‘If we let the Hen Harrier in, we will soon have nothing else’.
Robert Benson, Chairman of the MA on the BBC 6 O’clock news, at the end of an excellent piece on Hen Harrier persecution, had this to say ‘There have been one or two really stupid acts, carried out by people who should know better’. The 6 o’clock news story was triggered by the loss of another satellite tagged raptor, ‘Elwood’ a Hen Harrier on the Monadhliath hills on August 3rd.
Tim Baynes, spin doctor for the Moorland Group of the Scottish Land and Estates (another member of the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime Scotland – PAWS), commented in various media sources, on the loss of the 8 satellite tagged Golden Eagles which again just happened to be on the grouse moors of the Monadhliath hills but he seemed to show concern for only two things: The bad publicity coinciding with the Inglorious 12th, which was somehow orchestrated by the RSPB and the incorrect ‘procedure’ by the RSPB in not reporting the missing birds to the landowners but instead only contacting the police. Tim Baynes failed to point out that that is the correct procedure when a crime has been suspected and where the culprit may have been associated with the landowner. Pretty obvious really, the potential crime scene needed to be protected. The date the last Golden Eagle went missing was on 2nd July 2016. Somehow it was the RSPB’s fault that the Golden Eagle just happened to go missing over grouse moors so close to the Inglorious 12th.
But this new missing Hen Harrier went missing even closer to the 12th and the news was released after the 12th. Are the RSPB going to be commended for waiting until after the 12th to release the information. Are the RSPB to blame for another Red Dwarf type coincidence, has Tim Baynes considered using his organisation to actually stop the crimes? That might solve the problem. So in reality the Moorland Group and Scottish Land and Estates are not concerned with the actual crimes and who committed them but in trying to deny the crimes occurred and trying to defuse blame by smearing the RSPB.
Here are some clues as to which of those comments is a lie and which is an admission of guilt.
One is backed up by the Langholm experiment where Hen Harriers, by the kind agreement of the gamekeepers and their overlords, were not killed during the duration of the trial. I have made many posts on this subject (which can be found by using the in-blog search engine) and its conclusions are the foundation of Mark Avery’s book Inglorious.
The other is backed up by the Scottish crime statistics 1994 to 2014
and the latest raptor crime maps 1994-2014
And for England 2007-2011 (poisoning only). Notice the hot-spots on the grouse moors of the Pennines and North Yorkshire Moors.
There is an unusually frank BBC piece on Inside Out from 2013. ‘Martin Gillibrand, lawyer and Secretary for the Moorland Association had this to say when satellite-tagged ‘Bowland Betty’ was found shot on a grouse moor ‘there hasn’t been a single instance of prosecution of a gamekeeper for killing Hen Harriers. There is no evidence of it.’ Then have a look at the clip, for more priceless gems from Gillibrand and notice that although he says ‘there is no evidence’ of persecution the BBC clip actually shows a gamekeeper with a Hen Harrier tucked under his arm (you can see the tail sticking out) but Gillibrand is probably right when he the lawyer smugly declares that there have been no prosecutions.
Does it matter what these people say? It matters because most people don’t have the time or scepticism to question these statements and they get recirculated until they become a ‘truth’. Paul Wheelhouse was the Environmental Minister for Scotland in 2013 (we have had 2 more since then). He was possibly the best there has been and yet even he repeated the one or two estates meme on Good Morning Scotland. I found that quite staggering. I wrote to him and after numerous demands of an explanation by me and various evasions by his secretary she finally admitted ‘He was speaking conversationally in an unscripted radio interview. The Minister is well aware that, literally speaking, more than one or two estates are or have been involved. I apologise if this was not clear.’ I could have grilled her over the scientific evidence or lack of, behind his previous statement that ‘the overwhelming majority of landowners are absolutely on side and are doing their best to try and tackle problems of illegal persecution’ but it was too vague to expose as an outright lie.
It seems that now it is perfectly acceptable to lie to the BBC and admit crimes and no one bats an eyelid. Strange days have found us.
I was reading the excellent report by Ruth Tingay for Scottish Environment LINK, Natural Injustice: A Review of the Enforcement of Wildlife Protection Legislation in Scotland. In it she cited a reference to further support the evidence that the raptor crimes in the map above are only the tip of the iceberg. That reference is a paper in SOC Scottish Birds ‘Raptor Persecution on a Large Perthshire Estate: A Historical Study’ by R.L. McMillan which is now available to read in full here but in 2011 when it was first published it was summarised and discussed, better than I am able, by Raptor Persecution UK here. The article is an absolutely staggering document of the raptor killing by gamekeepers on Atholl Estate in Perthshire in their ‘game and vermin’ lists but don’t be mislead by the title, crimes which were committed after the Protection of Birds Act of 1954 were still logged right up until as recently as 1988 and that includes owls as well as ‘hawks’ (after that date the forms were changed to exclude raptors). On one beat in 1954/1955 on enactment of the Protection of Birds Act a change in gamekeeper resulted in 14 hawks being killed in one season. That same gamekeeper killed the same number in 1959/1960 and 1960/61 and 8-9 in the intervening years. That is just on one beat! Another beat had a gamekeeper whose killing started in 1975 and built up to a peak of 27 hawks killed in 1983/84!
These figures can be compared with the official RSPB crime reports. Table (3) is the number of illegally killed hawks on just one beat. I have to shout that, just one beat on one grouse moor in Scotland. On that beat the average birds killed per year was 16.1 hawks and 9.3 owls. The average number of known crimes for the whole of Scotland for those same years was 12.9 and 0.75 respectively. That average is not skewed by one particularly bad year or rogue gamekeeper at Atholl. The figures show that in all years except 81/82 and 86/97 the hawk crime figures were higher on that one beat than the whole of Scotland and in those 2 years the difference wasn’t that great (6 in 81/82 and 1 in 86/87). The owl figures were much higher in every year as were the combined hawk and owl figures. None of these Atholl crimes were in the RSPB statistics. Including owls the overall average figures were 25.4 crimes on this one beat on Atholl compared to 13.65 for the rest of the whole of Scotland.
That paper also cites RSPB raptor incidents between 1989 and 1999. However since at least 2011 Atholl Estate has been managed very differently and supports Golden Eagles, Peregrines and Hen Harriers and is heavily committed to wildlife tourism.
There is absolutely no reason to think that Atholl Esate was any different from any other grouse estate in Scotland. It was only luck and presumably the enlightened views of the present landowners that brought these records to light.
Of course there will be some other enlightened landowners but Langholm proved that none of these will be on a driven grouse moor and they are more likely to be the few good apples in a rotten barrel than the converse. Langholm proved that no driven grouse moor could exist without high levels of persecution either on or on surrounding estates because of the high numbers of Red Grouse expected for a driven grouse moor. Walked up grouse shooting which expects much lower numbers of Red Grouse is entirely different and could co-exist with raptors.
None of this is new it is just incredible to see it in an official log. Numerous papers reach the same conclusion by studying population and breeding dynamics.
This paper found that in Scotland 55-74 females Hen Harriers are killed each year which is 11-15% of the UK population of breeding females and that figure does not even include males or immatures.
Knowing all this, which they surely do, why do the grouse shooting lobby deny these facts?
There was an amusing article in The Mirror which imagined what we as a society would do if Hen Harriers were spaniel puppies. I could use the same thought experiment with the press releases by the shooting lobby.
If this wasn’t a crime associated with grouse shooting but any other organised crime how would the public react? If they heard the same excuses from organisations which on one hand swear blind they are care strongly about the crimes yet every time a crime is committed or highly suspicious circumstances occur the barricades come up and the excuses fly, ‘there is no proof’,’ ‘these crimes are on the decline,’ ‘crimes have stopped’. Here are some superb recent examples from the Scottish Countryside Alliance another member of PAWS.
Why would any organisations deny all this if they really cared about cleaning up the industry?
I would expect that organisations which really opposed raptor crime would come out with very different press releases.
Imagine a neighbourhood watch scheme to which all the houses were signed up and promised their support. Outside one of the houses were used needles and nitrous oxide cannisters, a continous stream of people were seen going in and staggering out and occasionally overdosed junkies were rescued from the house by the ambulance services. When approached by neighbours that house’s response was ‘we totally condemn any drug use but it is only one or two stupid acts’ and yet the situation continued for 62 years and still when asked the response was the same. Could such an organisation be trusted to be upholding the law?
Remember that the Moorland Association and Scottish Land and Estates are members of PAW Partnership Against Wildlife Crime. Do the statements of the Chairman and the Director of the Moorland Association and the Moorland group of Scottish Land and Estates inspire trust that they are partners in PAW for any other reason than to sabotage the stopping of raptor crime?
If an organisation really cared as they say I wouldn’t expect them to deny outright or play down the crimes or to attack the detective work of one of their partners. I would expect them to come out with very clear statements without caveats and to act on them. It would take a whole other post on how weakly the Moorland Association reacts when one of their members is caught in the act and the gamekeeper associations even more so and that is not even getting into the defence of some of the Moorland Association estates for their keepers when caught in the act and even after conviction.
Members of PAW who may have a conflict of interest include:
British Association for Shooting and Conservation
Scottish Gamekeepers Association
Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust
Scottish Land and Estates
Scottish Countryside Alliance
British Association for Shooting and Conservation
National Gamekeepers Organisation