Evidence to Westminster and Scottish Parliament on driven grouse shooting – comment.

Woodpigeon bait and poisoned buzzard, still warm, found on Glenogil Estate, a driven grouse moor in Angus, in 2011.

Woodpigeon bait and poisoned buzzard, still warm, found on Glenogil Estate, a driven grouse moor in Angus, in 2011.

It’s been an interesting few days reading and listening to responses to Mark Avery’s proposed ban on driven grouse shooting and the proposal by Scottish Raptor Study Groups (SRSG) to licence game shooting. Many of the responses in favour of either of these proposals are compelling, though I have not yet seen an argument against that convinces me Mark or SRSG are on the wrong track.

I think the most knowledgeable and convincing argument to ban driven grouse shooting comes from Guy Shorrock. Guy is a senior investigations officer with RSPB and his evidence is based on many years of experience in the field.

Guy writes: ‘The National Crime Agency (NCA) define organised crime as ‘serious crime planned, coordinated and conducted by people working together on a continuing basis. Their motivation is often, but not always, financial gain. Organised criminals working together for a particular criminal activity or activities are called an organised crime group’.  The current levels of raptor persecution on driven grouse moor estates should be classed as organised crime.’  Logan Steele, the spokesperson for SRSG said to the Scottish committee when giving his evidence, driven grouse shooting is a ‘business underpinned by criminality’.

Both are absolutely correct. The killing, not just of birds of prey but of protected mammals such as badgers and otters, is most certainly in many cases organised crime. This criminality increases the profits of the estates through the elimination of factors that would have a negative impact on grouse. The extent is difficult to prove but I have no doubts that if anyone involved in the management of a driven grouse moor is eventually charged the police would also be considering an investigation using proceeds of crime legislation.

Guy also says: ‘I am aware of one individual who has been involved in grouse moor management for many years.  Based on a huge amount of information, I believe this individual is one of the very top wildlife criminals in the UK, and managing gamekeepers who are responsible for the death of literally thousands of raptors and other protected wildlife during the last two decades or more.  However, the reality is that this individual has never even been in a police station for an interview let alone anywhere near a court. It seems this individual, and much of the industry they are part of, consider, and with good reason, that they are pretty much untouchable.’

I can go one better: I am aware of two such individuals, no doubt one of them being the same person to which Guy alludes. Over the years I have also described them as the top wildlife criminals in the UK. In their operations in Scotland and the north of England their methods, both immoral and illegal, have probably been the principal factor in causing these two petitions to appear before the Westminster and the Scottish parliaments. I have heard their methods praised by many landowners, gamekeepers and shooting organisations for the past decade, but at the same time I have listened to several of their former employees who have given me the full and disgusting story, chapter and verse but, apart from one, were too frightened to stand up in court and be counted. In more recent years the tide has started to turn as the negative publicity of the criminality and the public anger were recognised by the more sensible folks involved in the grouse industry.

Had more intelligence been passed to the police that would have been a good start. Had much more support been given to the gamekeepers who had been (or were being) encouraged or directed to carry out criminal acts, they could have provided evidence (as opposed to intelligence) in the form of witness statements or recovery of illegal items and a case could have been submitted for prosecution. This could have been achievable by concerted action by the various shooting and land-owning organisations that have pretty much buried their collective heads in the sand for years, with no acknowledgement and half-hearted condemnation of what is taking place. I am sure that the extent of the criminality, if proved, would have meant a considerable jail sentence.

It is still not too late for this to happen. It would make my day!

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