I had a call from Mark Macaskill, a reporter for the Sunday Times, on Friday evening. He was preparing an article on buzzards taking red squirrels. He quoted an incident, of which I was aware, of a Perthshire landowner, David Hendry at Cardney Estate, having applied unsuccessfully to Scottish Natural Heritage for a licence to ‘take out’, ‘kill,’ cull’ – all terms with the same outcome – a particular buzzard he had seen taking a red squirrel and trying to take others in the same area of the estate. Having experienced a buzzard trying to take a red squirrel in my garden I was sympathetic and was confident that had David had his licence application granted the only buzzard being shot would be the individual causing concern.
When the article appeared in print my alleged quote was as follows: “Hendry’s concerns have been backed by Alan Stewart, formerly Scotland’s leading wildlife crime police officer. Stewart, who witnessed a buzzard killing red squirrels on Cardney, said it merited a controlled cull of the bird of prey. If I had been responsible for issuing licences, I would have issued one to David because I know him and trust him. I understand his frustration but decades of persecution of birds of prey by a small number of estates had made the Scottish Government nervous”.
I wish journalists would get it right and not make up fantasy to fit a story. I did not witness a buzzard killing red squirrels on Cardney. When I carried out a year-long wildlife survey on the estate in 2011/12 there were plenty of red squirrels and plenty of buzzards. It is likely that red squirrel featured on at least one buzzard’s menu but I did not see it for myself. For the avoidance of anyone jumping to the conclusion that I support a general cull of any bird of prey, that is not the case. However with regard to this particular incident, since the red squirrel is a native and still relatively uncommon species, I would have agreed with it since I knew the landowner concerned would not have abused any licensing privilege agreed.
The last sentence of the quote is also taken out of context. In fact there have been decades of persecution of birds of prey by a large number of estates. The question was asked of me by Mark if bird of prey persecution now regularly centred on particular estates, with which I agreed and drew the journalist’s attention to the annual reports from Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) which quite clearly shows bird of prey poisoning incidents in the same areas time and time again. The same is shown on the annual poisoning maps published by PAW Scotland, though I forgot to mention this.
I have dealt with Mark Macaskill over the years without a problem but this morning I was annoyed and disappointed when I read his article. A reporter, in essence, should be the same as a police officer noting a statement from a witness. It must be noted accurately and not altered or have extras or omissions simply to better suit the purposes of the note-taker.
Lastly, for those who have read my previous blogs, many relate to my wildlife survey on Cardney. It is a small estate with an absolute wealth of wildlife. During the year I noted 89 species of birds and have seen several since that would bring the total to nearer 95. Birds of prey successfully breeding on the estate have been buzzard, red kite, tawny owl and sparrowhawk. Others visiting the estate have been golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, goshawk, merlin, peregrine and hen harrier.