The Scottish Government’s report into the management of grouse moors is now eight months overdue, and its constant delays are fostering disastrous opportunism.
The independent review, commissioned by the Scottish government in 2017 and chaired by Prof. Alan Werritty, was first promised for the spring of 2019. Come spring, Professor Werritty announced that he had been taken ill and that the report would be delayed until June. In June, Werritty’s Grouse Moor Management Group announced that the report would be further delayed until July. It is now almost Christmas.
The latest update on Werrity’s review is that it was presented to the Scottish Government on 20th November. However, the delays in submission and publication have already left a void filled only by partisan noise. Werrity’s assessment promises an independent look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management, including practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls. Instead, yesterday, we were treated to the Revive coalition’s paper, ambitiously titled ‘A Better Way’.
Revive, a coalition of conservation groups with the stated aim of reforming grouse moor management, have scrambled unsuccessfully to fill the gaps left by Werrity’s review. Their paper, led by researcher Dr. Helen Armstrong, delivered insightful conclusions such as the impact of medicated grit on biodiversity being ‘unknown’ and the use of gas guns to scare off predators having an ‘as yet unmeasured’ impact on wildlife. Such omissions did not prevent the paper from unequivocally recommending a programme of reforestation across Scotland’s moors, replacing the £32million grouse shooting contributes to the rural economy with - among other forms of employment - ‘woodland crafts’ and ‘woodland activities to treat mental health issues’.
Then the RSPB piled in. Following the death of a hen harrier on the Dumfriesshire/South Lanarkshire border in June, the charity have only recently publicised an appeal for information on the incident, as well as on the “sudden disappearance” of two young satellite tagged harriers.
Sarah Jane Laing, Chief Executive of Scottish Land and Estates, described the action as a “blatant attempt to put pressure on Government” months after the incident.
"What is happening - and is deeply regrettable - is that information is being manipulated to inflict as much damage on grouse shooting as possible rather than being timed to gather the greatest level of information about what has happened”, Laing told The Telegraph.
As Werrity looms, pro-reform groups are clearly desperate to take control of the rhetoric and influence government readings of the report. The RSPB’s appeal for information is not only transparently opportunistic, but also encourages the drawing of potentially false conclusions. A spokesperson for The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association has commented that: “Young Hen Harriers are scientifically proven to have very high natural mortality and more and more high profile cases of satellite tag failures are coming to light all the time.” The RSPB’s conflation of the missing tags with the dead harrier obscures such alternative possibilities.
Evidently, the sooner the independent review is published and debated on its own merits, the better. The vacuum left by its absence only encourages conjecture and political posturing - none of which is good for our moors and their communities.