An authoritative new report for Government advisers shows thousands of rare and beautiful hen harriers are being illegally persecuted across huge swathes of the country. But publication of the report has been blocked by the landowning lobby. Another expert study, due to be unveiled in the next few weeks, suggests as many as 50 golden eagles are being illegally poisoned, shot or trapped every year in Scotland. This is far higher than previously suspected.
"It is the grouse industry that is responsible. They simply won’t tolerate birds of prey on grouse moors.” said Mark Rafferty, a former police officer who now investigates wildlife crime for the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The birds of prey are being killed to protect lucrative grouse moors on estates owned by some of the country’s richest men and women. The owners of sporting estates are keen to control the numbers of birds of prey, because they eat or scare grouse. This leaves fewer to be shot by paying visitors, many of whom come from abroad. But environmentalists argue the birds can happily coexist with thriving grouse moors, if the land is well managed.
Labour MSP Peter Peacock says landowners are deliberately delaying "A Conservation Framework For Hen Harriers In The UK," by scientists for Government wildlife advisers Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), and was to have been published on December 17. But this was halted at the eleventh hour after the landowning lobby formally complained, claiming they were not properly consulted. to stop it from influencing the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill.
“It is further damning evidence of what appears to be a group of serial offenders in the shooting fraternity, persisting in destroying iconic species,”
Andy Wightman, Scottish land expert, writes "Historically, Scotland’s landed gentry have secured their private interests because they effectively made the law. Even following the reform acts of the 19th century, they ruled in the House of Lords. Locally, they had control of county administration – police, roads, justice – as the Commissioners of Supply up until 1890, and their role was not abolished until 1930...Scotland’s landowners remained adept at spiking unhelpful legislation and promoting causes advantageous to their vested interests...Old habits die hard though, and some may have reverted to nobbling civil servants behind closed doors and trying to suppress inconvenient truths about sensitive topics such as wildlife crime...But this is not just about the power of elites, it is about land laws that vest so much power in the hands of an elite so few in number most of their names can fit on a few pages of a letter. With vast tracts given over to private hunting reserves, it is time to bring an end to the charade that our wildlife is best managed by this distorted form of landholding... "