Rural and Environment

Action on raptor persecution and wildlife crime

August 13, 2020 by 19 Comments | Category Wildlife

A picture of Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Roseanne CunninghamThe poisoning of a white tailed eagle in Aberdeenshire has prompted very many letters to Scottish Ministers, all disgusted and angered – as I am – by this case.

The volume of recent correspondence demonstrates how passionate the people of Scotland are about protecting our wildlife. Rather than Officials replying to this correspondence, I would like to publicly respond to this correspondence here and provide reassurances that the Scottish Government is taking decisive action.

Let me be clear from the outset that I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, any crime carried out against our wildlife.

The continued targeting of our birds of prey is an extremely serious issue and the very toxic nature of some of the substances used in commission of these crimes poses a danger to not only to wild and domestic animals, but human health too.

Wildlife crime will not be tolerated in Scotland and we are taking decisive action to end it.

In recent years we have:

  • introduced Vicarious Liability so that landowners are equally responsible for crimes against wild birds committed by their employees
  • set up a poisons disposal scheme to remove the harmful substances used to kill wild birds
  • introduced restrictions on licences for those operating on land where it is suspected that wildlife crime has taken place

Recently we have ramped up action including legislating for new, tougher penalties and are commissioning an extensive review into grouse moor practices.

The publication in 2017 of a report into the suspicious disappearances of satellite tagged golden eagles found over a third disappeared in suspicious circumstances on or around grouse moors. In response, the Scottish Government set up an independently-led group to look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls.

The final report of the group made a number of recommendations, including the introduction of a licensing scheme and was published on 19 December 2019.

We are giving careful consideration to the recommendations in the report and will publish our response this autumn. Our response will cover all the recommendations in the report including the key provision on the licensing of grouse moor businesses.

As both the First Minister and I have stated in Parliament, the Scottish Government is of the view that the option of a licensing scheme will need to be considered and – if required – implemented earlier than the five-year timeframe suggested by the review group.

We are monitoring activity very closely. Rest assured that any criminal acts carried out now will be taken into account if and when we come to consider licensing.

The action we take will build on the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 which was passed into law in July 2020 and makes a number of important changes to the law to strengthen protections for wildlife, including;

  • increasing the penalty for a range of wildlife offences to a maximum of 5 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine, including
    • killing and injuring wild birds,
    • destroying their shelters, nests and resting places,
    • possession of certain banned pesticides,
    • sale and possession of wild birds eggs, and
    • hunting wild mammals with dogs
  • extending the time allowed to investigate wildlife crimes
  • extending the offence of vicarious liability to apply to offences relating to the illegal use of traps and snares.
  • bringing forward a power to introduce fixed penalty notices for wildlife crimes

These changes mean that individuals convicted of deliberately harming or killing raptors or those found to be in possession of a banned pesticide, like the one used to poison the white tailed eagle in Aberdeenshire, could face up to five years imprisonment or an unlimited fine, or both.

I hope my response is helpful and provides assurance that we refuse to tolerate wildlife crime in Scotland and that addressing it is a priority for this government.

You can find out more about the Bill on the Scottish Parliament website.



  • Claire Bynner says:

    Could we have a citizens jury set up to hear the evidence and make recommendations to the Scottish government, with a commitment from the government in advance to act on the recommendations whatever the outcome.

  • Dirk Squirrel says:

    “Kate Treharne says:

    The climate emergency is accelerating and has just begun to kill people in the UK.”

    What on earth are you talking about? Where’s the proof of this?

  • Kate Treharne says:

    I’m afraid it’s far too late for licensing. The climate emergency is accelerating and has just begun to kill people in the UK. Ironically very close to the vacant and derelict grouse moors that could be helping to sequester huge amount of the carbon we are in debt to the world for. These mismanaged lands should be confiscated and rewilded as part of Scotlands commitment to the Paris Agreement. I cannot see how we can meet our targets otherwise. Enough. We need our wild back.

  • Nick Jacques says:

    Who has the most to loose if a bird is found posioned, the Landowner, the Keeper and his family.
    Animal rights activists will willingly commit crime’s for their own justification, you just have to read the posts on Facebook and their actions in the past, releasing Mink into the wild that kill anything they can.
    You have received so many emails because one organisation sent out an email, I guess most read the same, apart from mine.

  • Robert Mcleod says:

    Licence driven Grouse moors, you can give the owners a red card system as in football. One or two yellow cards for Raptors that go missing on their land, unless they can prove it is not their fault, fractions that caused the death. These can be time limited. A red card issued when process has been exhausted. There are elements of the population who do not respect wildlife or the environment. To curb these only the law will have any effect

  • Gordon Benton says:

    Great stuff, but as your correspondents have said, fixing the blame for wild life killing is extremely difficult. And, I’m sorry, but I just cannot see the point in licensing these estates, or the activities thereon.
    The solution goes back to the concept that no one in Scotland should OWN land, just have the ‘Rights to Use’ … at a cost and with taxes subject to the law of the land. When will our Government get round to enacting this? And then it can ban blood sports (anything wrong with that?) and these gamekeeper guys can retrain and use their skills I preserving wildlife and the environment. At present they are just doing a job, albeit under instructions from these ‘hunter’ types.

  • Peter says:

    Thank you for this update. I am appalled that the moment the lockdown was called there was an apparently coordinated cull of raptors across Scotland knowing the public would not be out and about to witness what was going on. The cynicism of this & the expectation that they could get away with this needs to be met with the strongest possible response from both police & government or else we will be taken for fools.

    I’m also a Kwi and the idea of killing native species is just anathema to how I was brought up and how NZ operates. That it happens in my native land is a matter of great shame for me.

  • Andrew Millson says:

    Dont use the local police to investigate it.

  • Harald Jackson says:

    A lot of people really have very little idea what they are talking about and I include the Scottish Government and the RSPB in this statement.
    Lets suppose I am a gamemanager and I shoot a bird of prey or any protected bird…
    Does it make any sense to leave it beside a path to be found by anyone walking over the ground?
    With the penalties in force it would be an act of unbelievable idiocy!
    ….That bird would never see the light of day again….
    Regarding tracking….why does the RSPB not have a public online monitoring system? Easily done with the internet and satellite tracking. If everyone knew where the Tracker fitted birds were at any moment in time, nobody would dare to harm them…it would be like signing your own prison sentence.
    Trackers fail due to batteries running out, territorial disputes etc.
    Poison does not make a tracker fail.
    The great secrecy about tracker fitted birds is totally counterproductive. It should be public knowledge.
    This SNP government gave people “Responsible access” to the countryside. In the Highlands at the moment we are sinking under a sea of human faeces and litter. There is no such thing as responsible access without legislation to enforce the “Responsible” part.

  • Clive Swinsco says:

    Grouse shooting is a bloodsport ;
    no more, no less … however , it is a bloodsport dependent upon tory subsidies & organised wildlife crime.
    It is underpinned by burning (often exacerbating flooding) , environmental damage, mountain hare massacres, poisons, traps, snares & stinkpits.
    Grousers & their killer keepers treat our environment, laws & wildlife with abject contempt & callous cruelty.
    Time for discussion &/or compromise came & went years ago.
    Now is the time for decisive Action , with effective, enforceable legislation to BAN grouse shoots – no ifs, no butts!!

  • Mr James McLanaghan says:

    All very good BUT she totally misses the point regarding people carrying out these poisonings in a deliberate attempt to sabotage the management of grouse moors. More effort needs to go into identifying and tracing the poisons used rather than just blaming gamekeepers. Is also misses the point about “reserves” managed by RSPB which clearly shows that they a) do not know what they are talking about, and, b) have no idea how to properly manage these areas. It really is time Ministers started to seek the truth and forget about collecting votes!!

  • Stephen Green says:

    Thank you , this is a very good start at tackling what appears to be an ever increasing problem situation
    I like countless others hope and pray that “ times up “ for those people involved in such illegal crimes , also for those involved in protecting/sheltering the guilty parties

  • Greg Latham says:

    But you are accusing a section of the community off these thing without an evidence that would stand up in court. There is no evidence that some of the birds that are allegedly disappeared fitted with trackers every existed. The data from this is kept secret by people with an agenda against field sports.

    I do think this Goverment need to inspect this so called persecution before taking knee jerk action while being played so called conservationists

  • Jude Maxwell says:

    I have written to my MP Alyn Smith voicing my concerns about the death of the sea Eagle. Unfortunately, Alyn has not even acknowledged my correspondence. I will try again today. Really disappointed at the lack of response.

  • Robert Quirk says:

    You can not blame gamekeeper for all these birds of pray being killed how come most of these birds are found next to a walk way I don’t think so how can most of these birds be found on an 15000 acre estate next to a path sitting on top of heather no chance these birds are shot by outher people and put there you would never in a million years find a dead bird on a big estate in less you put it there bird after bird are found next to a path or someone was walking and just happened to walk into a dead bird whitch was shot dead no chance So if a keeper shoots a bird of pray dead he just leaves it there for someone to pick it up no chance these birds are shot and put there

  • Ernie Scales says:

    Same old, same old. If the Scottish government was serious about wildlife crime it would put processes/legislation in play to allow covert monitoring of areas of high criminology and where vicarious liability applies ensure the relevant estate has NO access to any licence. Stop faffing about and take urgent action. Beul a labhras ach gniomh a dhearbhas.

    And I demand and expect an individual reply to my correspondence not this generic waffle.

  • Doug Gilbert says:

    Roseanna – all very well but we’ve been hearing this same broken record from governments for years and nothing seems to change the hard core of criminals intent on killing our wildlife on and around grouse moors. You say you are taking decisive action, but I don’t see anything decisive here. It’s 3 years since the 2017 report. Time to licence grouse moor management and join the dots where criminal activity is regular.

  • Diane says:

    At long last we hear something,for which I am grateful,however, I don’t feel enough will be done,why ? 1stly the person/persons illegaly killing our gorgeous Birds of Prey etc must 1st be found, in many cases no one person is accused with the crime,as too often it would appear that those in the Grouse industry stick together and deny everything, catching those responsible being made nigh on impossible,so,how will charges be made? 2ndly, the majority of the people of Scotland want to see an end brought to these so called “sports” to bring Scotland into the modern age,and instead see grouse shooting areas used for wildlife tours/photography tours,these kinds of activities could bring in far more revenue for Scotland,and possibly increase jobs in that area too, a win win surely? The Werritty review was a bias review from the word go, members of the review team are in favour of blood sports,Scotland is NOT in favour of blood sports,as I am sure you are seeing with the high numbers of letters,emails,social media posts etc etc the people of Scotland MUST be listened to, Scotland can lead the way in the protection of ALL wildlife by banning grouse shooting now. Licensing will not make enough of a difference in my opinion,as a Scot, I want to see change,I also do NOT want my taxes subsidising a sport I am utterly against,nor subsidising the licensing of weapons,which I am also utterly against, I want to see my taxes go towards improving the environment, fighting climate change, protecting peatlands, our seas, our wildlife etc. The Scottish Government has it within it’s power to enforce change now,in doing so it would curry favour with a LARGE number of voters and tourists.A MASSIVE rethink is needed, and it is needed now.Please,I urge you, end the blood baths,end the sight of tweed clad blood thirsty “sports” people running around our gorgeous countryside. It IS time for change !

  • David Burgess says:

    Perhaps you would kindly reply to my emails regarding you asking people to spy on the country community going about their lawful business and Fred the Eagle. There are also new emails regarding the recent LOSS of this White Tailed Eagle.

Leave a comment

By submitting a comment, you understand it may be published on this public website. Please read our privacy policy to see how the Scottish Government handles your information.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *