Scottish Parliament concludes debate on raptor persecution

RSPB worker Brian Etheridge with a Scottish Red Kite chick from the reintroduction scheme in 2009. Photo: www.rspb-images.com.
RSPB worker Brian Etheridge with a Scottish Red Kite chick from the reintroduction scheme in 2009. Photo: www.rspb-images.com.
A Scottish Government debate on the illegal killing of native raptors has approved a review of legislation, despite the warring factions of landowner-supporting MSPs and those more conservation-minded. 

The debate in the Scottish Parliament on Wildlife Crime: Eradicating raptor persecution from Scotland was fraught, with Alex Ferguson, a Tory MSP representing landowners, accusing wildlife groups of whipping up hostility towards estate owners and gamekeepers, and Clare Baker from Labour saying that the persecution was very much the fault of estate management teams who refused to break from tradition and their own prejudices.

Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse said that should toxicology reports from the Ross-shire birds prove positive the "shameful landmark" of 100 illegally killed Red Kites since 1989 will have been passed. Measures agreed during the debate included a review of game bird and hunting licensing and legislation from other countries, with a possible tightening of current penalties which are generally viewed as too lenient. The RSPB has previously called for landowners responsible for raptor poisonings to be jailed.

The four-week old male Red Kite chick tagged D9, seen here with its siblings on 19 Jun 2013, was found dead on 24 March 2014, and was probably poisoned, pending investigation. Photo: www.rspb-images.com.

Following the debate, an RSPB Scotland spokesperson said: “We welcome today’s debate and support the commitment of the Scottish government to tackle the illegal killing of our native bird of prey species.

"The introduction of vicarious liability; the current consultation on increasing the investigatory powers of the Scottish SPCA; the review of penalties available to the courts; and the publication of an annual Wildlife Crime Report are all positive measures. We also acknowledge the cross-political party support on this matter, including the Scottish Government’s acceptance of the Scottish Labour amendment 'to conduct a study of licensing and game bird legislation in other countries with a view to working with other parties to review wildlife crime legislation in Scotland'.  

“We have arrived in this situation following the recent shocking crimes involving the illegal poisoning of 22 Red Kites and Common Buzzards in Ross-shire; the illegal poisoning and trapping of Golden Eagles; and most recently, allegations of wildlife crime surrounding the disappearance of the first Scottish White-tailed Eagle chick to be fledged on the east coast of the country for about 200 years.

"These types of crime have been repeatedly occurring in Scotland over a long period of time, and those involved have had many warnings from successive governments that this must stop. It is widely recognised that these incidents harm the populations of some of our most vulnerable bird species and damage Scotland’s international reputation, as a country which looks after its wildlife.”