The RSPB press release of today’s date states that ‘court proceedings against a former gamekeeper, accused of shooting a protected hen harrier, have been dropped by the Crown Office, who have indicated that after considering all of the relevant material they could not use RSPB Scotland video evidence to support the prosecution in court’.
This incident relates to the shooting of a nesting hen harrier on Cabrach Estate, Morayshire in June 2013. RSPB released the surveillance footage of the shooting. The female harrier was seen rising from the heather at the nest site and clearly being shot. A few seconds later a man carrying a shotgun came in to view, walked towards where the harrier fell and is seen coming back into the frame again carrying what looks very like a dead hen harrier.
It is incredibly frustrating that this case has been discontinued. A statement released by Crown Office following the RSPB press release gives the reason for dropping the case as the footage being obtained by RSPB entering the land, presumably without the consent of the landowner, for the purpose of gathering evidence for prosecution.
It stands to reason that the landowner would not be contacted by RSPB for permission otherwise the chances are that no crime would have been carried out or -maybe more likely – the perpetrator would have taken steps to ensure that he was either not filmed or was not identified. It is exceptionally frustrating for the public that a crime has clearly been filmed taking place, presumably the person involved had been identified, yet there is no prosecution. It is also very odd that it has taken since 2013 to make the decision to abandon the case.
I know better than most the rules under which COPFS must work but that does not make the clear commission of a crime by a presumably identified person any less frustrating. It is even more frustrating when a gamekeeper covertly filmed shooting a hen harrier in Morayshire in almost identical circumstances in 2001 was convicted and fined £2000.
If anything positive can be taken out of this infuriating incident it demonstrates even more strongly the need for effective sanctions against wildlife crime on grouse moors. It is to be hoped that Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, will consider this as yet another extreme difficulty in convicting wildlife criminals, especially on driven grouse moors. I am so fed up with repeated wildlife crimes related to shooting estates that I’d much rather driven grouse shooting was banned altogether, though if this incident and the absence of a satisfactory outcome helps licence driven grouse shooting then we may consider there has been some sort of a result.