Raptor Licensing – a way forward

Wildlife crime is a hot topic at the moment and it is being fuelled by the populist belief that everything written on social media by those with an agenda against shooting is gospel. This film that has been produced by Scotland’s regional moorland groups is a very well balanced view of a way forward in the uplands of Scotland.

The general misconception is that Grouse moors are devoid of wildlife and that everything with a hooked beak is killed, is far from the truth. Most, if not all moors that are managed for grouse shooting have higher populations of red listed birds than any other site managed for “conservation”. Gamekeepers have been involved in a lot of fantastic success stories throughout the 2019 breeding season, though certain charities would have you believe differently. So get yourselves out there and see for yourselves.

A peregrine chick being rung on a private shooting estate

With the publication of the 2019 bird crime report by the RSPB. This annual report is a summary of offences against birds of Prey that have been collated by its investigations team, a team whose claims are that birds of prey are being shot, trapped and poisoned on driven Grouse Moors couldn’t be further from the truth despite claims of wholesale persecution throughout lockdown. All of the upland areas have recorded good increases of not only some of our iconic red listed birds like Curlew but also nearly all species of birds of prey. Hen Harriers have had their best year for decades, peregrine numbers have increased to numbers not seen since the 60’s, merlins are stable if not increasing, the list of positives goes on, and on, and on.

So is Grouse Moor Licensing necessary? As the film explains probably not, the number of incidents is dropping nationally, though this is not as quick as some would like, but to be realistic, how long have the police been trying to stamp out corruption amongst the ranks? how many tradesmen like plumbers, joiners, electricians, roofers etc… rip off customers? Yet we do not tar all police officers or tradesmen with the same brush, like what is happening to Gamekeepers.

The RSPB’s figures from all of the UK show that there were 85 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution recorded in 2019, two less than in 2018 when there were 87 confirmed incidents.

In England, 48 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution were recorded. This is a significant decrease from 2018 when there were 67 confirmed incidents.

Poisonings incidents dropped from 28 in 2018 to 26 in 2019. On closer inspection almost 2/3 of the poisoning incidents in 2019 happened in counties with no grouse shooting interests, yet to muddy the water the finger is still pointed at grouse keepers and grouse shooting.

Illegal trapping incidents also dropped from 16 in 2018 to 9 in 2019 which again is a very welcome decrease.

All of the shooting organisations and the wider shooting community as a whole are 100% committed to stamping out raptor persecution. Numbers of reported incidents are dropping and we will be in a much stronger place as this continues into the future. To help this process along we need a straight forward and robust licensing system that gamekeepers and land managers can use to manage their ground for all species. With too many mouths feeding on the eggs, chicks and the adults of game birds as well as the declining numbers of red listed species, means that by having the ability to control corvids and gull numbers to reasonable levels, this will in turn take away the pressures on gamekeepers in producing game, and will also help the already precarious numbers of red listed birds. The knock on effect will be to slow if not stop raptor persecution by diminishing the need for individuals who may be under pressure to break the law by persecuting raptors.

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