We recognise that many private estates in Scotland do not engage in illegal activity against protected raptors and do participate in positive conservation programmes. This is welcome and is sound practice. We also welcome Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) statements condemning the illegal killing of birds of prey (Letters, 5 March).
However, Tim Baynes of SLE seeks to muddy the waters around the issue of those upland estates engaged in intensive grouse moor management for driven grouse shooting purposes; he mixes this particular land use up with other less contentious estate management practices where wildlife crime is largely absent.
Regarding Scottish driven grouse moors, there is a clear body of published scientific evidence showing that widespread and systematic human illegal persecution is affecting the populations of native raptor species, such as the hen harrier, golden eagle and red kite.
This matter is also evidenced by the absence of certain raptor species in previously traditional breeding areas and in otherwise suitable habitat. Illegally killed raptors, including golden eagles, have been found by our staff and the police in areas managed for driven grouse for many years.
We refer to our “Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland” report, published and updated annually for the past 19 years, which stands as a record.
In recent years, many of Scotland’s driven grouse moors have seen investment and more intensive management practices to boost grouse bag numbers, with a strong coincidence with the detected illegal killing of raptors; heavy culling of mountain hares and deer to reduce tick-borne grouse diseases; removal of native scrub to keep landscapes open for red grouse; as well as increased burning on peatland and other sensitive upland habitats.
The use of diversionary feeding of hen harriers to prevent grouse predation, which has been successfully trialled and shown to be very effective, has not been taken up by the grouse moor industry as a legal management tool.
Over many years, we have tried to have a dialogue with the driven grouse moor sector to try and tackle the illegal killing of birds of prey. We have also invested time and money in positive management solutions such as diversionary feeding of hen harriers.
Arguably, the situation with illegal persecution of raptors on Scotland’s driven grouse moor areas is now worse than it has been for several decades.
If the voluntary approach to resolving these problems fails, we should expect firm Scottish Government action in the public interest, including better regulation of this aspect of upland sporting management, as well as effective police enforcement when wildlife crimes are detected.
The Scottish Raptor Study Group does not dispute the assertion by Tim Baynes that golden eagles nesting on grouse moors can rear substantial (in golden eagle terms) numbers of young.
He misses two key points, one being that this happy state of affairs applies only in the case of the few pairs that nest successfully on intensively managed grouse moors. The other is that the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s analysis of survey results up to and including 2013 shows that, in the Highlands south-east of the Great Glen, only eight breeding golden eagle pairs occupy territories on these moors.
The remaining 31 golden eagle territories on such areas are either deserted or are occupied by sub-adult birds, in itself an indication that adults have been killed and are being replaced (perhaps on a yearly basis through repeated killing) by sub-adults incapable of breeding.
Scottish Raptor Study Group
Although I am far removed from grouse shooting interests I think that Tim Baynes’ letter brings much-needed balance to the debate stirred up by Duncan Orr-Ewing’s one-sided article (27 February). The whole rural economy is far too fragile for the important element of game shooting to be demonised by a few blinkered fanatics who would like to see it destroyed.
Man now controls the greater part of the rural environment and no matter how the Duncan Orr-Ewings and Carolyn Taylors (both letters, 5 March) wriggle, prevaricate and look at small parts of the problem in isolation, the overall picture is that there are more raptors now than the environment in its present form can sustain.
By and large, modern man’s attempts to manage the environment have worked reasonably well here in Scotland.
However, the time is on us for a level-headed approach to fine-tune it with regard to raptors, before the growing imbalance leads to the loss of the most vulnerable species, be they the smallest or the largest of our native birds.