Licensing of shooting estates – comment

Snare believed set by neighbouring gamekeepers without permission. Trees had also been cut down and used to guide foxes towards snares.

Roe deer suspected shot by neighbouring gamekeepers after vehicle seen shining spotlight on to neighbour’s land

At a meeting of the SNP’s National Council in Perth on Saturday 2 December there was a vote to support the establishment of a licensing system for driven grouse estates, in order to help to prevent wildlife crimes. This is good news, though of course the final decision is that of the environment secretary after seeing the findings of the newly-formed group looking at various issues around grouse moors, including licensing. Nevertheless this important vote must be taken into consideration.

There has been an unsurprising reaction from shooting interests to the effect that licensing is unnecessary, that the shooting industry can regulate its members, that jobs will be lost and that grouse shooting is vital to rural economy. The argument is well-covered in the article of 4 December on the Raptor Persecution UK blog.

I just don’t know why the shooting industry does not just accept the fact that licencing has become necessary and, at least in my view, inevitable. I was involved, 20 years ago now, in the very early days of an attempt to encourage self-regulation through awareness-raising and peer pressure. It made me unpopular with some conservationists but I thought it was worth a try. Self-regulation has been tried and better tried. It has not worked. I have written on this subject at length in my book due for publication any day now Killing by Proxy; wildlife crime in the UK today (Thirsty Book, Edinburgh) but in summary certain landowners, sporting agents and gamekeepers have been allowed to run riot in the commission of wildlife crime, especially that relating to raptors with not a thing done by shooting organisations to stop them. Unfortunately their peers have been condemned by this continued criminal conduct even though they have been abiding by the law (though not necessarily doing much to change the situation.)

In the blog mentioned above there is an excellent comment submitted by a person who, for obvious reasons, wants to remain anonymous and is simply writing under ‘SGA member’. He makes it clear in his comments that the shooting industry is responsible for much of the wildlife crime taking place, saying

‘Some of us with a view of what has been going on have been saying for years now that those involved in the illegal persecution need to stop it and divert their efforts into finding legal recourse if they have predation issues, but persecution is easy, it’s a lazy way to get bigger bags’.

He puts blame on

‘The big shots who see themselves as the “proper” gamekeepers, removing all predators legal and otherwise from the whole area surrounding the moor and their neighbour’s estate too if necessary. Untouchables, they get away with it every time, except all they have really done is drag us down with them’.

As many decent keepers are aware, some of these criminals don’t just stick to their own ground, and there have been countless examples of raptor nests being destroyed, fox dens or badger setts interfered with, fox snares being set or even deer being shot on land neighbouring known problem estates. Equally, as most folks know, wildlife crime on shooting estates seldom finishes up in a court since the evidence is so hard to obtain, bringing us back to the urgent need to license, where conditions can be imposed and as a sanction that can be withdrawn.

There are plenty more of the same opinions as ‘SGA member’ out there, indeed over the years I have spoken to many of them. Their representative organisations need to garner their support and begin to do their decent members justice.

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