On 19 February, the Chief Executive of Scottish Land and Estates (the body representing 1351 landowners owning 29% of Scotland) wrote the following in his weekly newsletter to SLE members.

Mr McAdam’s grievance stemmed from the fact that the Scottish Government had not consulted him over the contents of a letter written on 15 February to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee. It is not entirely clear why he should have been consulted. As far as I am aware the Scottish Trades Union Congress was not consulted either. Reading the letter, it appears to be well informed and draws on a range of evidence.

No matter.

On 18 February, Commonspace ran a story on the letter outlining how shooting estates were paying wages below the national minimum wage and citing a report that Dr Ruth Tingay and I had written last October in which we had first made this claim. This report, The Intensification of Grouse Moor Management in Scotland, was referenced once more in Mr McAdam’s newsletter as a “poorly researched report”.

The figures we used in the report were straightforward. In 2011/12, grouse shooting generated 2460 full time equivalent jobs (i.e. taking account of part time and seasonal employment) with a wage bill of £30.1 million. We made the simple observation that this equated to an average FTE wage of £11,401 which was below the national minimum wage in 2011/12.

This claim was attacked by Tim Baynes from the Gift of Grouse Campaign and Scottish Moorland Group (part of SLE) as well as cited by Mr McAdam as evidence of a “poorly researched report”.

In that context it is worth putting on the record that the figure was derived from a Scottish Moorland and Grouse Management Factsheet published in July 2013.

And who was the author and publisher of this factsheet?  None other than Scottish Land and Estates and Scottish Moorland Forum although I have yet to see Mr Baynes or McAdam describe their paper as “poorly researched”.

This episode highlighted the fact that the Gift of Grouse campaign is a well financed operation producing blogs, videos and reports in an attempt to persuade politicians and policy makers that driven grouse shooting is a benign undertaking. A good example was the contrasting way in which the campaign responded to two reports about birds.

The first report, “81 and Flying” was a report prepared by the Gift of Grouse Campaign/Scottish Moorland Group and launched in the Scottish Parliament at a reception hosted by Graeme Dey MSP on 23 November 2015.

When I asked Mr Baynes for a copy of the report, I was told that the report had been “posted” here. Unfortunately this page has since been deleted. But it contained merely a blog post with a summary of the findings of the report.

These findings have been questioned by experts (see latter part of this post on the excellent Raptor Persecution Scotland blog for example) but requests to publish the report by a number of interested parties have all been denied.


Fortunately, we know that the report was published. Copies can be seen in the photograph of the launch above. But unless the “report” is published it is impossible to know what to make of the claims made during a prestigious Scottish Parliamentary launch (accompanied by extensive press coverage). When will this report be published?

In contrast to this non-existent report making claims that are not open to scrutiny but yet were felt to warrant an expensive public relations event, another report a few weeks ago received a rather different treatment.

A scientific study of the breeding status of hen harriers in North East Scotland published in a peer reviewed journal was published in the February 2016 edition of British Birds. (1)

It documents the decline in the population of hen harriers in North East Scotland and attributes the main cause to illegal persecution and grouse moor management. A summary of the findings have been published on the RPS website here.

The Gift of Grouse campaign didn’t host a Parliamentary Reception or provide goodie bags or make a video about this scientific, peer-reviewed paper. Instead, it and Scottish Land and Estates published an angry denunciation of the “deeply flawed” report which, Mr Baynes asserted, showed a “lamentable lack of evidence.”

These claims were comprehensively demolished in a further blog by RPS here which includes a transcript of a twitter conversation with Mr McAdam in which he continues to challenge the idea that the peer-reviewed scientific article has any validity.

I had the good fortune to sit at dinner on Friday evening in the company of a number of the paper’s authors. As someone who knows very little about hen harriers or the scientific study of bird populations, I was deeply impressed to learn of their lifelong work in this field of study and the bemusement at the reaction their peer-reviewed paper had generated.

So, the next time you read a press release or a blog from the Gift of Grouse/Scottish Moorland Forum/Scottish Land and Estates that makes claims about other people’s research, probe a little deeper into the matter. And if they make claims about their own reports, you should pehaps check to see if it even exists in the first place.


(1) Rebecca, G., Cosnette, B., Craib, J., Duncan, A., Etheridge, B., Francis, I., Hardey, J., Pout, A., and Steele, L. (2016) The past, current and potential status of breeding Hen Harriers in North-east Scotland. British Birds 109: 77– 95


  1. “… requests to publish the report by a number of interested parties have all been denied.”

    “But unless the “report” is published it is impossible to know what to make of the claims made …”

    “… claims that are not open to scrutiny …”

    Would this be a good moment to repeat my suggestion that the list of the 432 owners who are claimed to own half of privately owned Scotland be published in order that it be open to scrutiny and that we be able to know what to make of it?

  2. Look, Andy, you have to remember that the one percent run their affairs by *their* rules and are not bothered by hoi polloi calls for logic or reason.

  3. Some of you may be interested in this report on “canned hunting” in Britain ; http://www.league.org.uk/shooting

  4. Neil King

    Would this be a good time to repeat the suggestion to ask David ?.

    “. She ( Nicola Sturgeon ) argued only 432 owners hold half the private land in Scotland, a figure Mr Johnstone ( David Johnstone , Chairman of Scottish Land and Estates ) conceded was “largely” accurate ” .

    S L and E must have the same facts ?.
    Or are there less than 432 owners ?.

    The Telegraph
    Simon Johnston
    Scottish Political Editor .
    24 June 2015 .

  5. GD, the accuracy isn’t the point. The point is it’s not open to public scrutiny because the author refuses to publish. This is exactly the charge Andy is laying against Gift of Grouse.

  6. I find Mr King’s constant appeal for me to publish my data a bit tiresome. The charge that I am not doing so is not “exactly the same charge Andy is laying against the Gift of Grouse”. They are refusing to publish a report. I am being asked to publish my own private data collected at significant cost and effort over many years.

    I don’t expect GoG to publish their data and I don’t expect the authors of the British Birds paper to do so either. Data is not routinely published. In any event, anyone who wants to get hold of this data can do so in exactly the way I did – by research in the Registers of Scotland and National Records of Scotland.

    • Andy, I’m not asking you to publish your private data collection.

      I’m suggesting you publish your report just as you suggest GoG ought to. Of course, in the case of 432:50, the “report” is not a traditional piece of prose but rather, I imagine, more of a list the first couple lines of which must look like something like this:-

      Owner – Property – Acreage
      1. Buccleuch Estates Ltd – Queensberry, Bowhill [et al] Estates – X,000
      2. Anders Povlsen – Glenfeshie [et al] Estates – Y,000

      The list would end after a further 430 owners had been identified and with the total of the third column adding up to the figure that is half of the privately owned land. There would also need to be a few sentences about how the total area of privately owned is defined and counted, does it include NGOs etc.? But to be clear, I’m not suggesting it’s incumbent on you to publish (or even reference) all the documents, plans, deeds and registers etc. you’ve consulted which allow you to conclude each estate belongs to such and such a person and is of such and such an extent.

      But if you consider that even publishing such a list amounts to publishing your “data”, then might you at least consider publishing a statement of your methodologies behind what you have counted as being one out of the 432? For example, in the list of the top 100 in 2010 in TPHNL, page 115, number 7, Blackmount, Dalness and Etive, the owner is given as “Philip Fleming, Robert Fleming and Trustees”. Do they count as one or three or some other number? Does a husband and wife or two siblings count as one or two? In short what is the methodology in the case of properties vested in more than one person? And what is a legal person counted as? Etc.

  7. Neil ,

    Move on . You are getting boring !.

    She ( Nicola Sturgeon ) argued only 432 owners hold half the private land in Scotland, a figure Mr Johnstone ( David Johnstone , Chairman of Scottish Land and Estates ) conceded was “largely” accurate .
    The Telegraph
    Simon Johnston
    Scottish Political Editor .
    24 June 2015 .

    This very accurate quote is from the Head Honcho of Large Country Estates in Scotland .

    • It might surprise you, GD, to know that I too think it’s “largely accurate” (according to one of a range of possibilities of what it’s a list of 432 of). But as I’ve already said, the accuracy isn’t the point here …

  8. Neil the information on the 432 owners/landholdings has been in the public domain since 1997. You can find the data on a county by county basis in Andy’s book: Who Owns Scotland. It is available in bookshops, internet-shopping or on loan from your local library.

    However the details of some of the owners and landholdings will have changed but I’m sure you will be able to make the necessary adjustments to take this into account.

    • Indeed, Graham, I have this book myself. But opening it at page 111 for Perthshire, for example, first on the list is Atholl Estates with the proprietor listed as “Bruar Trust, Sarah Troughton & The Blair Trust”. How many of the 432 is that? One, three or some other number (for example reflecting the number of beneficiaries and/or trustees of the two trusts mentioned there)? Of course, part of the issue is that information about beneficiaries etc. is not in the public domain. That’s changing with the current bill but we ought to know the assumptions Andy used in relation to these unknowns to arrive at his very precise figure of 432.

  9. Neil

    Ask your friend , Dave .

    She ( Nicola Sturgeon ) argued only 432 owners hold half the private land in Scotland, a figure Mr Johnstone ( David Johnstone , Chairman of Scottish Land and Estates ) conceded was “largely” accurate .
    The Telegraph
    Simon Johnston
    Scottish Political Editor .
    24 June 2015 .

    S l and E , with their own in depth research , would not be economic with the truth , would they ?.

    Now move on .

    • GD you’ve mentioned that quote a number of times now and its significance wasn’t lost on me the first time. It’s not the answer to the point I’m making, though. Do you want me to spell out what that point is?

  10. slurrystirrer

    I have just clicked the link you provide above, there is a 4minute video there which is shocking. We need to get more people to see this and campaign our MSPs and MPs to ban the shooting of driven birds.
    Graeme Dey especially, should be asked to watch!