THE KILLING of Scotland’s rare birds of prey, particularly Hen Harriers and Golden Eagles, has long been associated with intensively managed grouse moors.
The huge pressure to maintain unnaturally high densities of red grouse for sport shooting has created a circle of destruction in which anything goes, as long as it increases the number of grouse.
This includes muirburn, mass outdoor medication and manipulation of the natural landscape. Anything which is deemed to threaten grouse numbers, animals like foxes, stoats, weasels and crows, are systematically destroyed. All this is currently legal.
However, birds of prey are legally protected in Scotland and just a few weeks after reports of a Hen Harrier called Skylar disappearing without a trace near a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire, we’ve just found out that another female called Marci has been lost on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park. In both cases neither the bodies or the satellite tags have been found and it follows a disturbingly familiar pattern.
'They can hide the bodies, they can hide the tags, but they can’t hide the pattern'
Dr Hugh Webster
The full extent of bird of prey (or raptor) persecution is hard to determine as wildlife crime in general is drastically under-recorded. Not all raptors will be tagged and the huge land coverage of Scotland’s grouse moors (12-18% of the entire landmass) makes discovering criminal activity very difficult. Successful prosecutions are even harder to obtain.
Scientists estimate that Hen Harrier numbers have been reduced by 9% since 2010 and 29% since 2004. According to the Scottish Government (May 2017), 31% of tracked Golden Eagles disappeared (presumed dead) under suspicious circumstances, prompting a review into grouse moor management which is due to be published this year. This review offers Scotland the best springboard for many years to tackle the illegal persecution of raptors and holding the grouse shooting industry to account.
Strict licencing of grouse moors, including the threat of licence withdrawal, for some means that a grouse moor would lose its licence if wildlife crime is committed. This is the bare minimum, common sense proposal that most reasonable people would agree upon.
However, the industry’s circle of destruction – which burns our land, damages the environment, mass medicates grouse, kills hundreds of thousands of competing animals with snares and traps that litter the countryside, that scares the landscape with unregulated roads and sprays tons of lead shot onto the moors, all so that grouse can be shot in higher numbers for sport – must be tackled in full.
To ignore that these issues need significant and necessary reform is to pretend that this industry is in any way sustainable, even if raptor persecution goes down a bit.
A comprehensive licensing scheme which deals with the root cause of raptor persecution and all the toxic by-products of the industry should be implemented. The Revive coalition believes that wildlife crime and persecution is a symptom of these land management practices. When Revive is successful in its call for significant reform of grouse moors then Scotland’s birds of prey won't be the only winners.
It will be for the benefit of our people, our wildlife and our environment.