Scottish Raptor Study Group calls for red grouse management to be licensed

18 January 2014

The Scottish Raptor Study Group has sent the following letter to Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse:

May we send best wishes to you and to your colleagues for 2014. In one respect the year has not started off well, given the continuing concern over the report towards the end of last year of the most recent (the most recently detected, that is) golden eagle poisoning incident. The untimely demise of “Fearnan” is of course the last publicly known episode in the long and depressing saga of Scottish golden eagle mortality caused by criminal action.

The Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) wishes to put forward suggestions for the future of red grouse management, primarily in the context of such management as it affects raptor populations, but would like to mention first some details of a recent case study we’ve undertaken. This takes the form of a critique of a press release by the SGA six months ago and related map, citing at least 55 “active golden eagle nests” in the “keepered grouse areas of East and Central Scotland.” We emphasise here that the SRSG is not mounting a deliberate attack on the SGA (indeed the SGA article stated validly that red grouse management can help to provide a worthwhile food supply for golden eagles) but merely seek to put forward the full picture in relation to that press release.

The SRSG has carried out a detailed analysis of golden eagle territory occupation and non-occupation in the Highlands south-east of the Great Glen, effectively by far the larger part of the area described by the SGA in its press release and shown on the related map. By no means however can all of that area count validly as “keepered grouse” ground. While our analysis discloses 52, not 55, “active golden eagle nests” per the SGA definition of these, it also shows that there are 57 “non-active” golden eagle territories (to which the SGA did not refer) in the area concerned – but taking into account also peripheral tracts of land managed for red grouse shooting although with known vacant golden eagle territories on them. Furthermore breeding Scottish golden eagles should be more widespread than they are at present, in lowland farmland as they are in Sweden for example.

Turning to land use aspects, our analysis discloses the following: of the 52 “active golden eagle nests”, 8 (16%) are on (high intensity) driven grouse moors, 23 (44%) are on land managed to some extent for (lower intensity) i.e. broadly walked-up grouse shooting although within some of these 23 golden eagle territories the red grouse interest is very marginal now and 21 (40%) are on what one can call “non-grouse” areas; but of the 57 “non-active” golden eagle territories, 31 (54%) are on driven grouse moors, 14 (25%) are on land managed (with the above caveats) for walked-up grouse shooting and 12 (21%) are on non-grouse areas. We suggest that the above percentages, in relation to the three different land uses in question, are very telling. A similar message was brought out in the 2008 Golden Eagle Conservation Framework report published by SNH.

Taking the obvious difficulties that golden eagles encounter in trying to survive (let alone breed) on extensive parts of the land that is intensively managed for red grouse shooting along with the known adverse effects of this type of management on Scotland’s populations of hen harriers, goshawks and peregrines, we urge the Scottish Government to take more effective measures to put a stop to the present ongoing criminal persecution of these (and any other) raptors on much of such land. There is a need also for such measures in some other parts of the Highlands and in southern Scotland. Increasingly the evidence is stacking up that, despite allegations to the contrary, it is not just a few who in the red grouse industry are involved in raptor crime but that the problem is rife throughout much of this industry. Looking to wider issues and as is now being recognised belatedly, there are clear biodiversity disadvantages in the intensification, sometimes extreme intensification, of red grouse management practices that is taking place increasingly in much of this bird’s Scottish range.

We contend that the maverick side of the red grouse industry has failed over many years to put its house in order, that it still has no intention of doing so and that it is in contempt of the species protection laws that are justifiably in place. We feel that, this part of the private sector having failed conspicuously in these respects, the public sector must be more closely involved now in rectifying matters. Our view is that the Scottish Government should institute as quickly as possible a system of licensing of red grouse management (applying both to persons including corporations and to landholdings) backed up with stringent sanctions and should adopt other countries’ practices aimed at curbing wildlife crime in general and raptor persecution in particular, where these would seem to be useful in the Scottish context.

We suggest also the following three features of such a licensing system:

(1) that it should operate in a proactive and not a reactive way, in other words that a grouse shooting enterprise should be required to prove that it is fit to operate as such rather than others having to prove that it is not fit to do so;

(2) that it should regulate all red grouse shooting management and not just the driven shooting component since what could be a quite intensive grouse shooting enterprise (with all that that could involve in the way of raptor persecution) might be able to sidestep in some way the driven shooting requirements and continue to operate in defiance of the law; and

(3) that it should apply also to the management of other game bird species (especially red-legged partridges) that are used as “red grouse extras” or as “red grouse substitutes.”

We hope that the Scottish Government, with the support of its statutory agencies, will implement these suggested measures. To do so would not amount to “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut”, as some might contend.

Scottish Raptor Study Group
January 2014