A dispute has arisen in Scotland, not for the first time, about declining raptor populations and what’s behind them.
Ian Thomson, head of the investigations being performed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland, noted that data from 77 tagged birds of prey suggests the illegal killing of birds of prey in the Scottish Highlands and Uplands. Estates in the area often have grouse moors, or hunting areas, where grouse are shot for sport in the summer during an event called the Glorious Twelfth. According to RSPBS data, 44 golden eagles, eight hen harriers, and 25 red kites all disappeared under suspicious circumstances over a 12-year period.
Landowners, however, note that regulations protecting birds of prey have actually increased, and the estates are diligent about keeping up with them.
“The reality, corroborated by official statistics, is that incidents of persecution of birds of prey are at an all-time low, and that populations of birds such as eagles and red kites are on the rise,” said Tim Bayes, Director of the Scottish Moorland Group.
Nevertheless, activist groups are finding the data concerning—and so is the local government. Roseanna Cunningham, Scotland’s Environmental Secretary, has announced she will set up an expert group to discuss the movement to license shooting estates, as well as other reforms.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Raptor Study Group, which is made up of 300 experts who monitor birds of prey in the area, has lodged an e-petition to ban grouse hunting entirely. As of this writing, the petition had 75,000 signatures. If it reaches 100,000 parliament will be required to debate the motion.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, noted that “there is a significant and increasing body of scientific evidence, including government-commissioned research, data from satellite-tagged birds, and documented incidents of wildlife crime, to show that the relentless killing of hen harries on land managed for driven grouse shooting is the main factor limiting the species’ population. To suggest otherwise is misleading.”
This was likely a statement made in response to estate owners’ claim that other factors, such as weather and environmental changes, are behind the decreased numbers of raptors in the area.