Response from the Environment Minister re birds of prey persecution in Scotland

28 May 2014

Earlier in the year, the SOC wrote to the Scottish Environment Minister regarding bird of prey persecution in Scotland (see towards the bottom of the page). Immediately below is the typed response from the minister (to view a PDF scan of the letter, please click here). This is in line with similar comments he made in a recent parliamentary debate about wildlife crime:


Dear Chris

Thank you for your letter of 27 January 2014 regarding bird of prey persecution.

I agree with you that there appears to be a correlation between the illegal persecution of raptors and areas where game management is carried out. I agree also that the conservation status of some species of birds of prey could be put at risk by illegal persecution. In addition to the conservation aspects, these cruel crimes are dangerous for people and other animal species. They also tarnish Scotland’s reputation as a country that values and cares for its natural environment, and so put at risk many important industries that rely on that reputation – our nature-based tourism industry obviously, but also our food and drink industries.

There are then many reasons why we are determined to eradicate this type of criminality and why we have brought in a series of measures since 2007 to address the issue. As you will be aware these measures include the introduction of vicarious liability in 2012 and, most recently, the measures I announced last July, namely restrictions on the use of the general license, the review of penalties and the joint statement with the Lord Advocate encouraging police to use all investigative measures at their disposal.

I acknowledge that there has not as yet been a prosecution under the vicarious liability provisions. I am assured though that each case where it might be relevant is given careful consideration by the law enforcement authorities. Similarly the proposed restrictions on the use of the General Licenses is not yet in place. All of these measures, including any changes to penalties for wildlife crime, depend on effective enforcement of the law. However the new Police Scotland structure is only just in place and the approach to investigation described by the Lord Advocate has not yet had a real chance to make a difference. I believe that all the measures that have recently been put in place do have the potential to have a serious disincentive effect and I feel that it is important that we allow sufficient time to judge their impact before moving on to implement further measures.

For the reasons I set out above I am not inclined to move at present towards a licensing system for shooting businesses. I would also note that any such system would impose a burden on law-abiding business as well as those who are causing this problem. It would be complex in legal terms, politically controversial and would require significant research, preparation and Parliamentary time. However I remain determined to do whatever is necessary to deal with this issue, and if it appears to me that the present measures are insufficient I will have no option other than to consider further measures.

Kind Regards

Paul Wheelhouse


Following the poisoning of the Golden Eagle “Fearnan”, found dead in the Angus glens in December, the SOC has written to the Scottish Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, condemning this crime. Sadly the persecution of protected birds of prey still occurs with monotonous regularity, with an overwhelming weight of evidence linking these crimes with the intensive management of our uplands for driven grouse shooting. It is clear that despite considerable government commitment to tackling this problem, a number of sporting estates continue to have little regard for the law, or the impact of illegal killing on populations of species like the Golden Eagle or Hen Harrier. With this in mind, the SOC sent the following letter to the Minister:


Dear Mr Wheelhouse,

Re: Birds of prey persecution in Scotland

On behalf of the 3000 members of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, and following consultation with SOC Council, I wish to express to you in the strongest possible terms our disgust and sadness at the continued persecution of Scotland’s birds of prey, highlighted most recently by the recent poisoning of the golden eagle “Fearnan” in Angus.

While the SOC welcomes your condemnation of the killing of this bird, sadly, as you are undoubtedly aware, this is far from the first confirmed incident of persecution of eagles, both Golden and White-tailed, that has occurred in the Angus glens, along with numerous other cases involving the poisoning, shooting or trapping of other protected birds of prey. This included, at the beginning of 2013, the felling of the tree containing the first White-tailed Eagle nest in the east of Scotland for 200 years.

The vast majority of these incidents have occurred on or close to areas associated with intensive management of driven grouse moors. This problem is not, of course, restricted to Angus, with similar patterns of offending occurring in Aberdeenshire, Moray, Inverness-shire, South Lanarkshire and other areas where this type of management dominates the landscape.

There is clear scientific evidence, backed up by numerous confirmed incidents and successful prosecutions, indicating that the illegal killing of birds of prey is having a significant impact on the conservation status of some of our rarest and iconic bird of prey species, and that these crimes are inextricably linked with intensive driven grouse shooting management.

Despite welcome attempts by successive Scottish governments to strengthen the legislation and your personal commitment to tackling this issue, it is clear from the catalogue of appalling wildlife crimes against birds of prey recorded in Scotland in 2013, that there is still a significant part of the shooting industry that has a flagrant disregard for the law.

We strongly urge you to give serious consideration to the introduction of measures that will impose a degree of regulation of the game shooting industry in Scotland, with the possibility of revocation of sporting rights where there is a clear breach of the law.

Yours sincerely,

Chris McInerny

President, Scottish Ornithologists’ Club

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