Grouse moor owners shamed!

The recent BBC TV documentary, “Fair Game? Scotland’s Sporting Estates”, cast a very penetrating light on the approaches willing to be employed by some private shooting estates in pursuance of their commercial activities.

Abandoned, it seemed, were any real “sporting” sentiments towards wildlife set against the paramount objectives of providing diversionary “recreation” for the wealthy and privileged, making money and killing lots of artificially raised Red Grouse in the process. Abandoned, it seemed, was any real interest in tolerating birds of prey as constituent members of our natural heritage, the very sight of which brings fulfilment to many non-shooting visitors to the Scottish countryside.

The single defence, barely disguised under the obvious platform of prejudice, was that such predators pose a threat to the resource they are rearing, Red Grouse, and that they should be afforded opportunity, via official licences, to kill such species as Hen Harrier, Buzzard and Goshawk etc.

Against all this was a very coherent condemnation of such activities by conservation organizations. Whilst no politicians appeared on the programme, doubtless due to the recent election process, the quite recent approval for new legislation by the previous Scottish Government of an offence described as “vicarious liability” aptly demonstrates the level of concern over the behaviour and attitudes of some owners of Scottish sporting estates. The offence basically makes the landowner liable for prosecution, should persecution offences be detected on their estate, in addition to action being taken against the actual perpetrator.

Doubtless there are some very responsible estates, but the erring proportion willing to continue practising raptor persecution brings the whole constituency into disrepute. Such persecution, now being detected at unprecedented levels, is also felt by professional opinion to be merely the tip of the iceberg in what, regrettably, would appear to be a widespread practice. Setting all the statistics, reportage on court cases etc aside ( see appropriate web sites such as RSPB, Raptor Persecution Scotland and Raptor Politics ) it’s worth taking a close look at some of the ancillary issues surrounding the subject.

We need to remind ourselves that Scottish sporting estates are run as commercial enterprises, not agencies looking after anything on behalf of the electorate, whatever role they feel appropriate to embrace. Day charges to clients for a shoot can range from £1500/2000 following, of course, being equipped with the necessary guns, a fine pair of which were displayed at the princely sum of £131.000!! So, not a cheap pursuit, but clearly carried out by, one imagines, a minority who are
successful in their private lives and, therefore, presumably reasoned, responsible and educated people. That this pursuit involves the slaughter of artificially raised birds and, therefore, the “enjoyment” derived from “tremendous days” alluded to by Mark Oddy, Buccleugh Estate,when, on one occasion 2500 birds were shot by 9 guns, I suspect would not be appreciated by many people. Additionally, the current demand for the control of iconic bird species, currently protected by legislation, to aid this process in pursuit of commercial gain, and in order to pursue such necessary potential carnage would further confuse , if not alienate, a discerning public. The whole scenario lacks logic but, if it were successful, conveniently promotes the commercial focus of the sporting estates.

I think we have to concede that participants are paying handsomely for their hobby, whatever vicarious pleasure they draw from that involvement. At the present time to acknowledge that some estates are eligible to receive subsidies to manage land in a particular way in the public interest and yet be calling for concessions to allow them to remove iconic species associated with such habitat is illogical in the extreme and must cease. Any estates against whom actions are taken through the legal process, proven or not , should lose their eligibility in this respect. They are commercial enterprises and no fiscal or legal concessions should be offered on an exceptional case basis. A person going out on the hill from a nearby town and shooting a protected raptor would have to face the full force of the law without being able to hide behind commercial interest!

It also seems that, by implication, Scottish sporting estates lay claim to their crucial contribution to the Scottish economy by providing employment, attracting tourists etc. Whilst they may own substantial parts of Scotland, they don’t have a monopoly over the landscape, which countless thousands of people enjoy simply by travelling around Scotland each year. Many of these are wildlife enthusiasts whose expectations are to see birds of prey within the context of their natural surroundings. Such visits occur throughout the year and a comparison of figures would soon show this aspect to far exceed the contributions claimed by the sporting fraternity.
The estates who are maintaining a healthy profile in the current economic climate are those who have been willing to diversify and offer a variety of experiences and opportunities for visitors as well as shooting facilities. The stagnant majority, who simply want to maintain “recreational retreats for the wealthy and privileged” are likely to contain those whose activities are contributing to an increasing pressure on our birds of prey.

Whilst gamekeepers so very often bear the brunt of public criticism for crimes against wildlife it is the estate owners who must be ultimately held responsible, which is what the new legislation is geared to achieve. Whilst various measures are being investigated, e.g. supplementary feeding of harriers, aimed at providing a solution to the predator/prey conflict, I doubt personally that, amongst the erring minority, sufficient motivation exists to embrace such change such that new approaches might be imbued with success. That web sites like “Killing Stuff” do, or have existed, pays testimony to the attitudes and temperament of certain people within the industry towards whom no concessions or encouragement should be offered.

Despite the strident overtures of the SRPBA representing the estates, and calling for the issue of licenses to cull raptors, the current persecution has to stop and every effort made to bring the perpetrators to book. Estates should not be allowed to consider themselves “exceptional” and they should have to demonstrate they can both contribute to and uphold the “common good” before any notice is taken of their demands.

In the summing up section of the programme there was some suggestion of two intransigent “camps of opinion” being present ( shooters and conservationists )and that fresh initiatives are required.

I DISAGREE VEHEMENTLY!

Conservationists are attempting to preserve the natural heritage, uphold the law and gain no pecuniary benefit from pursuing these objectives. By contrast, certain members of the shooting estates are clearly undermining the the natural heritage, breaking the law and all in the pursuance of selfish commercial gain.

Is not the conclusion and way forward clearly apparent, or am I missing something!

Our thanks to John S.Armitage for allowing Raptor Politics to publish this article.

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