Scottish Raptor Study Group

Monitoring and conserving Scotland's birds of prey


Review of European game bird hunting regulations now published
28 February 2017
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has published a report comparing the game bird hunting regulations in 14 European countries. It focuses specifically on the legal controls on game bird hunting, including licensing and permitting arrangements, as well as on the requirements for monitoring, protecting and managing game birds.

The report found that all 14 countries regulate game bird hunting through legislation, including licensing individual hunters, with the strictest requiring harvest quotas and bag reporting. All 14 countries are able to revoke hunting licences if the legislation is contravened and most also penalise serious breaches of hunting law. In many of the countries examined, hunters must pass a two-part practical and theoretical examination in order to qualify for a hunting licence.

Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, said:
I welcome the publication of this report. It shows that there is more regulation of gamebird hunting in many other countries than we have in Scotland. We will be looking very carefully at these different management approaches to see whether they offer the means to address issues such as raptor persecution.
Already we have committed to a number of new measures to tackle wildlife crime within Scotland including; increases in criminal penalties, a prevention review and the creation of a dedicated investigative support unit within Police Scotland. These measures clearly demonstrate our resolve to tackle raptor persecution. This new report and the forthcoming review of satellite tagging data will help determine our next steps

This report will also be used to inform the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee's consideration of the Scottish Raptor Study Group's petition calling for the introduction of licensing for all game bird hunting in Scotland.

Eric Meek: 1947-2017
20 February 2017
The SRSG is saddened to hear of the passing last week of long-term and popular SRSG member Eric Meek after a short illness. Eric was best known for his work on merlins and hen harriers on Orkney, where he worked as the RSPB's Area Officer from 1981 until his retirement in 2012. A potted history of his work can be read here and tributes to Eric can be read here and here. Our sincere condolences to his wife Aileen and his family, friends & colleagues.

Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham to address SRSG annual conference
10 February 2017
Our annual conference takes place later this month and we're delighted to welcome Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningahm, who will be making a presentation. Our conference is a private event for members only, with just a handful of invited non-member guests. An overview of the programme can be found here.

Alleged shooting of hen harrier on Moray grouse moor - new trial date set for gamekeeper
10 February 2017
A new trial date has now been set in this long-running case. Stanley Gordon is accused of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier in June 2013 when he worked as a gamekeeper on Cabrach Estate, Moray. He has denied the charge. The new trial date has been set for 21 March 2017. We look forward to this case reaching a conclusion.

RSPB 2015 Birdcrime Report published
5 February 2017
The RSPB has published its 2015 annual report on UK Birdcrime. The report documents 196 reports of the shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey across the UK. 64 of these reports were confirmed as crimes, including the illegal shooting of 46 raptors and 16 cases of illegal trapping. There were also 50 reports of illegal poisoning, 32 of which were confirmed, including 15 buzzards, 4 red kites and 3 peregrines. Some of the Scottish data were withheld from the report, at the request of Police Scotland. Nevertheless, the report clearly shows that raptor persecution continues apace in Scotland.

Environment Committee to take further evidence on SRSG's petition calling for introduction of state-regulated licensing for gamebird hunting
31 January 2017
Last summer the SRSG, with support from RSPB Scotland, lodged a petition calling for the introduction of state-regulated licensing for all gamebird hunting in Scotland. Over the autumn period, the Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee took evidence from various stakeholder groups and then passed the petition to another committee for further scrutiny. That committee is the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee and today it decided to seek further evidence from stakeholders. The committee has also written to the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment asking for the urgent publication of the Government-commissioned Review on Gamebird Licensing in other countries, which was due to be published last autumn. This review will help the committee to understand licensing systems in other countries and compare their success/failure with the current light touch regulation in Scotland.

Galloway Red Kite Trail worth millions to local economy
10 January 2017
A red kite trail in Dumfries and Galloway is worth millions of pounds to the local economy, a report has found. The Galloway Kite Trail was launched in 2003 in an area north of Castle Douglas. The latest study of its economic value concluded it had contributed more than £8.2m since it opened to the public. It has attracted more than 100,000 visitors and supported the equivalent of about 20 full-time jobs in the region. Further details here

Petitions Committee takes further evidence on gamebird licensing
8 December 2016
The Public Petitions Committee today heard further evidence on the SRSG's petition for state regulated licensing of all gamebird hunting in Scotland. Evidence was taken from BASC and the Scottish Moorland Group, both of whom suggested licensing is unneccessary. Full transcript here. Following this evidence session, the Petitions Committee agreed to pass on this petition to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee for further scrutiny and consideration.

Alleged pole trapping offences in Angus Glens: gamekeeper's trial delayed
7 December 2016
A trial that was due to take place on 5th December 2016 has been delayed. Gamekeeper Craig Graham is accused of setting and re-setting an illegal pole trap on the Brewlands Estate in July 2015. He has denied the charges. The trial date was dropped and another court hearing has now been scheduled for 15 March 2017. Further details here

Grouse shooting industry makes ludicrous claim that 'raptors are thriving on grouse moors' - RSPB Scotland responds
5 December 2016
RSPB Scotland has dismissed a press release issued today by the Gift of Grouse campaign that attempts to draw a veil over the continued persecution of birds of prey on areas of land managed intensively for driven grouse shooting. The reports on which these assertions are based are not in the public domain, and therefore have not been subject to the usual levels of public scrutiny.

However, recent peer-reviewed scientific reports published in the last 12 months link sharp declines in nesting peregrines and hen harriers in NE Scotland to illegal killing; a recently-published SNH report shows that there has been no decline in the levels of persecution of red kites in north Scotland over 25 years; and, results of the 2015 golden eagle survey show that levels of home range occupancy by golden eagles is significantly below the national average in the eastern highlands, where grouse moor management is a dominant land use. In this part of eastern Scotland, prey availability is high, and golden eagles should be more numerous and more productive than almost anywhere else in the country.

There are also ongoing concerns about the regular “disappearance” of satellite-tagged birds of prey in grouse moor areas, to the extent that a review of these incidents has been commissioned by the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham MSP.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “The content of today’s statement from the Gift of Grouse campaign is pure, unadulterated propaganda from an industry that, quite rightly, is under increasing public scrutiny by the Scottish Parliament. Their claims have no supporting evidence, their methodology is not explained, and to suggest that incidental observations of raptors which may merely have been flying over an estate indicate a population that is “thriving” is clearly ludicrous.

It is astonishing that the Angus Glens area is being held up as an example of good practice, given the long absence of successfully-breeding raptors over much of this region, as well as its appalling recent history of illegal killing of protected species. Walkers in the area this spring were greeted by a plethora of gas guns, inflatable decoys and strings of fireworks scattered across the hills, all designed to scare off, rather than welcome, birds of prey!

Alleged shooting of hen harrier on Moray grouse moor: gamekeeper's trial delayed
2 December 2016
A trial that was due to take place on 19th December 2016 has been delayed. Stanley Gordon is accused of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier in June 2013 when he worked as a gamekeeper on Cabrach Estate, Moray. He has denied the charge. The trial date was dropped today and a further hearing has now been scheduled for 10th February 2017. Further details here

Mull Eagle Watch scoops multiple nature tourism awards
26 November 2016
Mull Eagle Watch is a community-based partnership offering visitors the opportunity to enjoy guided trips to see white-tailed eagles without disturbing them. The project has been running since 2000 and the partners include RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland, Mull & Iona Community Trust, Police Scotland and SNH. The project has become a national wildlife attraction and draws in £5 million to the local economy every year. This year the project has deservedly won two awards: the Innovation in Tourism Award at the Highlands & Islands Tourism Awards and the Nature Tourism Award at the RSPB's Nature of Scotland Awards. Many congratulations to all at Mull Eagle Watch!

Scottish Government publishes 2015 Annual Wildlife Crime Report
25 November 2016
The Scottish Government has published its fourth annual report on wildlife crime, which provides data on each of the National Wildlife Crime Priority Areas (badger persecution, bat persecution, CITES issues, fresh water pearl mussels, poaching, and raptor persecution). Unfortunately, a number of confirmed raptor persecution crimes have not been included in the report. The reason for these omissions is not clear but the failure to present a full set of data prevents any meaningful year to year analysis and undermines confidence in the robustness of this report. Further commentary here and here.

National survey reveals mixed fortunes for Scotland's golden eagle population
10 November 2016
The results of the 2015 national golden eagle survey have been released, revealing mixed fortunes in different regions. The survey, undertaken by licensed SRSG members and RSPB fieldworkers, was a follow up to the previous national survey that was completed in 2003. Overall, there has been a 15% increase in the golden eagle population, rising from 442 pairs in 2003 to 508 pairs in 2015. This is excellent news, as the golden eagle can now be considered to be in 'favourable' conservation status. However, this overall increase masks some shocking regional figures which are of great concern. Golden eagles continue to flourish in the west, and there has been a welcome marked increase in parts of central Scotland, but golden eagles continue to be absent from large parts of the Eastern Highlands where less than one third of home ranges were occupied. Many of the vacant territories are on land managed for driven grouse shooting, where illegal persecution is prominent. Further information about the 2015 survey results can be found here and here.

Petitions Committee hears evidence from SRSG on gamebird shoot licensing
27 October 2016
Earlier this year the SRSG submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for the introduction of state licensing for all gamebird hunting. Today, three members of the SRSG (Logan Steele, Andrea Hudspeth and Duncan Orr-Ewing) gave evidence to the Petitions Committee and explained why regulation is needed. The official transcript can be read here. The Petitions Committee deferred a decision on whether to pass the petition to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee. It is expected the Petitions Committee will take evidence from those opposed to licensing before any further decision is made.

Illegal killing slows red kite population growth in north Scotland
27 October 2016
Slow growth of one of Scotland’s four populations of reintroduced red kites is down to illegal killing, according to a new report.The study, carried out by RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science for Scottish Natural Heritage, shows the number of birds colonising the north of Scotland is much lower than at comparable release sites elsewhere. Further info here. Read the report here.

Sanction to stop killing of birds of prey 'undermined' say conservationists
23 October 2016
Government moves to penalise grouse-shooting estates suspected of persecuting birds of prey have been “completely undermined” by a gaping loophole, say conservationists. In a bid to combat the illegal poisoning and killing of birds of prey, the Scottish Government in 2013 asked its wildlife agency, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), to consider how it could restrict the general licences it issued to estates. These allow gamekeepers to control crows and other birds that take grouse eggs and chicks. In November 2015 SNH withdrew general licences from four properties where it said there was evidence that birds of prey had been persecuted. But this triggered a legal challenge by estates, which denied any wrongdoing. Now however, gamekeepers have been allowed to carry on the killing of crows, rooks and gulls, making the removal of the general licence a pointless exercise and "farcical", according to the RSPB. The move has been defended as “robust regulation” by SNH. Full story here.

Stop killing mountain hares: protest rally at Holyrood
15 October 2016
Scottish charity OneKind is organising a peaceful demonstration against the mass killing of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors. The rally will take place at Holyrood on Thursday 17 November 2016 between 12 - 2pm. There will be a number of speakers and MSPs have been invited. To find out more please see here.

Satellite-tagged hen harrier 'Hermione' dies of natural causes
14 October 2016
One of this year's young hen harriers has died. Hermione was one of four young to fledge from a nest on an estate owned and managed by the charity, Highland Renewal, on the Hebridean Isle of Mull in 2016. She was satellite-tagged by the Hen Harrier LIFE Project on 29th July 2016, and her name was chosen as the winner of an online poll run by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), who sponsored the tag. After fledging a few days later, Hermione spent all her time close to her nest area on Mull, with her tag sending out clear and consistent signals. On 28th September, however, it became clear from the data received that she had stopped moving. RSPB Scotland Investigations staff attended within a few days and quickly located her body and the transmitter, only a few kilometres from her nest – it was clear that she had died naturally, and her remains had been partially eaten. Sad though this is, many young harriers do not survive their first winter, with starvation or predation a regular cause of death. Further details on the RSPB's Skydancer blog here.

Scottish White-tailed eagle population set to soar
13 October 2016
Numbers of white-tailed eagles could rise from 106 pairs of birds to 221 pairs in less than 10 years, a new study claims. Research commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) predicted the growth to the year 2025 and beyond. By 2040, the researchers suggested there could potentially be between 889 and 1,005 pairs. Full story here

White-tailed eagles flourishing on the National Forest Estate
2 October 2016
An interesting article about the excellent conservation work done by Forestry Commission Scotland, along with partners and volunteers, which is helping the re-establishment of white-tailed eagles in east Scotland (see here).


2016: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September,
2015: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September,October, Nov, December,
2014: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September,October, Nov, December,
2013: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, Nov, December,
2012: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September,October, Nov, December.