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Protected birds need protection

The Scottish Government’s licensing scheme is one step, but we must go further

By Christie Edward James

Image courtesy of Andy Muir via Flickr

The Scottish Government’s announcement late last year that they were planning to introduce licenses for grouse moors was excellent news. The self-policing of blood sports has spiraled out of control in the past few years, especially in 2020, which the RSPB noted as a record year for birds of prey deaths. The lockdowns allowed for the killing of red kites, golden eagles, buzzards, peregrines, sparrowhawks, hen harriers and goshawks on a nearly institutional scale. So, such an announcement in Scotland is very welcome.

Birds of prey are targeted by gamekeepers because it is believed that they damage the otherwise artificially inflated grouse population—they are, after all, birds of prey. They are a vital part of the Scottish ecosystem. While gamekeepers usually keep quiet on this immoral and illegal practice, they have been known to outrageously frame conservationists by suggesting that they ‘plant evidence’ of dead birds of prey on grouse moors and then photographing them, even suggesting on occasion that environmental activists have themselves killed these birds.

There have been previous attempts to thwart the shooting and poisoning of these beautiful, majestic birds, but none have prevented the blood sport community from continuing to kill—it is in their nature, it seems.

Soon, a license must be acquired to operate a driven grouse moor, and if there is evidence that it is being misused then said license will be revoked.

Again, this is most welcome news. It seems as if the Scottish Greens are influencing the SNP in their power sharing agreement! But, the devil lies in the detail.

Current rhetoric suggests that license revocation may only occur if birds of prey are killed. As abhorrent as this is, it is not strong enough. However, this is only part of the problem. Gathering evidence of dead birds of prey is extremely difficult, and often they are simply tagged as ‘missing’. Moreover, sometimes these birds do not die. Poisoning, trapping and injuring are major problems as well. If legislation does not cover these details, then gamekeepers may be able to continue operating their dishonest, antiquated, murderous blood sports.

If the Scottish government truly wants to protect protected birds, a ban on traps or snares is needed. Trapping of any kind should also become illegal.

The entire proposition should come with a discussion surrounding it on rewilding. A discussion which the SNP are happy to sidestep. But, part of the problem is the land management. Grouse moors take up an insane amount of land, all for very little gain. They are drained of any biodiversity—they are forcibly monocultural. Any introduction of animal protection laws must be part of a bigger plan of land reform and rewilding. Birds of prey’s habitats are decimated under current legislation (or lack thereof) and the ones that do make their ways onto grouse moors are killed, trapped or injured. Equally so, it must be part of a larger roadmap to outlaw killing of animals for sport as well. It should go without saying that shooting organisations and the like should have little to no part in crafting rural and wildlife legislation or in similar discussions.


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