Shoot­ing season has in­glo­ri­ous start with claims of slaugh­ter of rare birds

CAM­PAIGN­ERS CLAIM SPORT­ING ES­TATES ARE IL­LE­GALLY POI­SON­ING AND SHOOT­ING EN­DAN­GERED, HEN HARRIERS, RED KITES AND GOLDEN EA­GLES

Sunday Herald - - ENVIRONMENT - BY ROB EDWARDS EN­VI­RON­MENT ED­I­TOR

MORE than 70 pro­tected birds of prey have been killed or gone miss­ing at grouse shoot­ing es­tates across Scot­land since 2004, ac­cord­ing to new satel­lite tag­ging ev­i­dence from con­ser­va­tion­ists.

As lairds and shoot­ers yes­ter­day cel­e­brated the started of the grouse-shoot­ing season known as “The Glo­ri­ous Twelfth”, cam­paign­ers blamed sport­ing es­tates for il­le­gally poi­son­ing, shoot­ing or per­se­cut­ing en­dan­gered red kites, hen harriers and golden ea­gles.

An anal­y­sis by the Royal So­ci­ety for the Pro­tec­tion of Birds (RSPB) in Scot­land con­cluded that rap­tors pro­tected un­der law had been killed or dis­ap­peared in sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances around the Cairn­gorms, in the An­gus Glens and in South La­nark­shire – and that the fig­ures were just the “tip of the ice­berg”.

Landown­ers, how­ever, in­sisted that bird of prey per­se­cu­tion in­ci­dents were at “an all-time low”. Pop­u­la­tions of ea­gles and red kites were on the rise, and birds of prey thrived on many grouse moors, they claimed.

The tra­di­tional start of grouse shoot­ing on Au­gust 12 has prompted an an­gry flurry of ac­cu­sa­tions and counter ac­cu­sa­tions. Feel­ings are run­ning higher than usual be­cause Scot­tish min­is­ters have re­cently agreed to con­sider grow­ing de­mands from cam­paign­ers to li­cence the sport.

This could re­sult in es­tates with a poor record on rap­tor per­se­cu­tion be­ing re­fused li­cences, and the move is be­ing strongly op­posed by landown­ing groups. Birds of prey can pre­date on grouse, re­duc­ing the num­ber avail­able to be shot for sport and profit.

Min­is­ters are set­ting up an in­de­pen­dent group to re­view how to make grouse shoot­ing sus­tain­able and legally com­plaint.

This fol­lows an ex­pert study sug­gest­ing that 41 out of 131 satel­lite-tagged golden ea­gles had been il­le­gally killed or gone miss­ing in sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances be­tween 2004 and 2016.

RSPB Scot­land has now added data sug­gestingeight tagged that hen 25 tagged harriers red have kites al­soand been il­le­gally killed or dis­ap­peared in sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances be­tween 2009 and 2016. It has pro­duced a map show­ing that the in­ci­dents clus­ter around shoot­ing es­tates.

The pat­tern of deaths and dis­ap­pear­ances is “far from ran­dom”, ac­cord­ing to RSPB Scot­land’s head of in­ves­ti­ga­tions, Ian Thom­son. “These clus­ters are al­most en­tirely co­in­ci­dent with land dom­i­nated by driven grouse shoot­ing man­age­ment,” he said.

As with ea­gles, kites and harriers are suf­fer­ing in the north­ern Mon­adhliath moun­tains and the An­gus Glens. “Harriers and kites have clearly be­ing tar­geted in other re­gions, no­tably but not ex­clu­sively up­per Strath­spey, Strath­nairn and the Lowther Hills of South La­nark­shire,” he said.

The tagged birds rep­re­sented only a “tiny frac­tion” of the known pop­u­la­tions, Thom­son pointed out. “How many non-tagged birds are be­ing killed, un­seen and never found? Our laws are fail­ing our birds of prey,” he told the Sun­day Her­ald. “While we warmly wel­come re­cent an­nounce­ments by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment to es­tab­lish pan­els to look at the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of the grouse shoot­ing in­dus­try and the po­ten­tial for reg­u­la­tion, we need ur­gent ac­tion to bear down on this on­go­ing crim­i­nal­ity.”

THOM­SON de­scribed one case in which the tag on a red kite stopped func­tion­ing, but then started again two weeks later 80 kilo­me­tres away. The bird had been killed by a blow to the back of the head and then seem­ingly “dumped” by a wind tur­bine to make it look like the tur­bine was to blame, he claimed. The League Against Cru- el Sports con­demned The Glo­ri­ous Twelfth.

“This is a day which cel­e­brates the mass slaugh­ter of game birds, not to men­tion the other species which are killed on an in­dus­trial scale,” said Scot­land di­rec­tor, Rob­bie Mars­land.

“Dress­ing this up as some­thing glo­ri­ous is a poor at­tempt to jus­tify a blood sport which is re­spon­si­ble for wide­spread dam­age in­clud­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion, wildlife per­se­cu­tion and risk of in­creased flood­ing.”

Scot­tish Land and Es­tates (SLE), which rep­re­sents landown­ers, ar­gued grouse shoot­ing brought much-needed in­come and em­ploy­ment to ru­ral ar­eas, and was good for wildlife.

An­i­mal cam­paign­ers made “un­founded as­ser­tions”, com­plained Tim Baynes, the di­rec­tor of SLE’s Scot­tish Moor­land Group.

“The re­al­ity, cor­rob­o­rated by of­fi­cial statis­tics, is that in­ci­dents of per­se­cu­tion of birds of prey are at an all­time low and that pop­u­la­tions of birds such as ea­gles and red kites are ris­ing. Many grouse moors host good pop­u­la­tions of breed­ing ea­gles, harriers, mer­lin, buz­zard and short-eared owls.”

Grouse moors were also ben­e­fi­cial for ground-nest­ing birds such as lap­wings, curlew and golden plovers, Baynes claimed. “Where per­se­cu­tion does take place, it should be dealt with se­verely and Scot­land has in place some of the most strin­gent leg­is­la­tion in the world.”

He called for “a less con­fronta­tional at­ti­tude” to shoot­ing es­tates. “Rather than al­ways crit­i­cis­ing and never ac­knowl­edg­ing the ben­e­fits of grouse moors, it would be more con­struc­tive for all moor­land stake­hold­ers to work more closely to­gether to de­velop ways of pro­tect­ing species and en­sur­ing their recovery.”

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment stressed it took its re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect wildlife se­ri­ously.

“We are set­ting up an in­de­pen­dent group to ex­am­ine how best to en­sure that grouse shoot­ing busi­nesses are sus­tain­able and com­pli­ant with the law,” said a spokes­woman.

“Li­cens­ing may be one way to achieve this. We will await the rec­om­men­da­tions of that group be­fore com­ment­ing on the de­tail of any spe­cific pro­pos­als.”

Our laws are fail­ing our birds of prey. We need ur­gent ac­tion to bear down on this on­go­ing crim­i­nal­ity

The be­gin­ning of the grouse shoot­ing season on Au­gust 12 has been met with con­tro­versy, with the RSPB claim­ing a num­ber of red kite and hen car­rier deaths be­tween 2009 and 2016 are ‘far from ran­dom’ Pho­to­graph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

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