By Tim Baynes, Director of the Scottish Moorland Group
The shooting community was pleased to see the press release from RSPB, Scottish Raptor Study Groups and the Scottish Wildlife Trust calling for a progressive partnership. The press release marks a welcome change from some of the recent comment and allegations and backs up our community’s approach, embodied in the set of proposals put to the ECCLR Committee on 19th May and noted in the Committee’s decision on 23rd May to write to the Cabinet Secretary.
All six organisations have working relationships with RSPB, SRSG and SWT in certain areas and we are all conservationists – we just take different management approaches. Many raptor study volunteers help estates and vice versa. We work with RSPB on many projects, for instance the South Scotland Golden Eagle Project, and we have a long standing relationship with SWT. There is much more to unite than to divide, but we do need to resolve the issue of bird of prey persecution and put it into context.
The issue is not one of raptor “body counts” which all acknowledge is now at a historically low level. It is about what might be happening unseen, with areas of relatively low populations of certain raptor species raising suspicion. We are very keen to work with SNH, and any other organisation with constructive intentions, to find out more about these areas and have welcomed the Government’s satellite-tagging review to get clarity on all the conflicting facts and comment.
We have been disappointed at the muddled thinking behind the petition for a licensing system. Initially it was for all types of game shooting, but soon became clear that it was really another attack on driven grouse moors. The idea of licensing specific types of shoot management or parts of land holdings in multiple use has not been thought through either in terms of practicality, collateral impact, unintended consequences or even whether it would hit the target specifically identified by the Cabinet Secretary in her letter to the ECCLR Convenor of 7th March. The set of proposals put forward by our sector were to home in on the difficulty of evidence and enforcement which has been elusive. The solution to that is prevention, working with police, SNH and any other expert body such as RSPB and SRSG. A storm of media coverage is trying to put pressure on Government to implement yet more regulation but that is the wrong solution. To be clear we wholeheartedly believe that a combined strategy of punishment and prevention is the most effective way forward. This would be in keeping with the view of Police Scotland in relation to all forms of crime.
If there is to be a genuine partnership, there does need to be an understanding that driven grouse shooting is an important land use in specific parts of Scotland, with benefits for many species such as waders (the subject of a major new national conservation project) black grouse and white hares – all protected species. It is also important for rural investment, jobs and tourism which are of lesser concern to organisations with a focus on birds, but vitally important in the wider world. Those public benefits only come with proactive management. Walked up grouse shooting is not a solution; it may look nice superficially and is certainly an important part of our community, but it cannot generate the income necessary to pay for long-term, sustainable moorland conservation; it is often a stage in the progression towards loss of birdlife, as can be seen only too clearly on the abandoned moors in south west Scotland or Wales. We want the opportunity to explain these facts in a calm atmosphere so welcome the idea of a constructive partnership which could build for instance on the solid work of Scotland’s Moorland Forum. We also have the model of the SNH led raptor survey protocol signed in 2016 by RSPB and SRSG, which although adherence was not 100% is still a workable model, setting out what is expected of all parties, and the ability to learn lessons from it.
There needs to be a pause for reflection in the current social media frenzy. Raptor incidents are at a historically low level. There have been difficult issues with historic cases not coming to court and a more recent problem with adherence to GL restriction order and there will be incidents which the law will deal with as appropriate, but the underlying situation has never been better and we cannot risk letting extremists force their agenda on upland management policy, which is so important for Scotland.
We look forward to arranging a scoping meeting to discuss how such a partnership can be structured.