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.

NOTES

(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

In January, I blogged about the opaque ownership of Kildrummy Estate in Aberdeenshire. A gamekeeper, George Mutch, had been convicted of wildlife crime. Under Section 24 of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011, an employer or agent of George Mutch can be charged with vicarious liability.

I asked a simple question – against whom would such a charge be brought? The estate is owned by Kildrummy (Jersey) Ltd. and, having outlined the complex ownership structure of Kildrummy (Jersey) Ltd. (see below and January blog for a full explanation), I speculated that the Crown Office might have a job on its hands to determine who (if anyone) could be prosecuted.

This week, thanks to the diligent and dogged investigative work undertaken by Raptor Persecution Scotland (RPS), we are now closer to answering that question. In  September 2015, the Crown Office told RPS that,

“Despite further investigations including investigations which focused on establishing vicarious liability, no-one else has been reported to COPFS in relation to the events which took place in Kildrummy Estate in 2012 and accordingly, no further prosecution, including any prosecution for a vicarious liability offence, has taken place

RPS followed this up by asking Police Scotland why they had been unable to report anyone to the Crown Office who might be considered to be vicariously liable for the crime carried out by George Mutch. Police Scotland’s response was published by RPS yesterday. The key part of Police Scotland’s reply is as follows

“Significant international investigations were undertaken……..it was established that due to insufficient evidence the additional charge of Vicarious Liability could not be libelled“.

This suggests that it was impossible, within the resources available to investigators, to identify with sufficient certainty who is actually behind Kildrummy (Jersey) Ltd. The Police may well know who could be libelled for the offence but had insufficient evidence to connect that person with Kildrummy (Jersey) Ltd. for the simple reason that is is virtually impossible to ascertain the answer to that question. If the Police, with the full range of investigatory powers available to them (including powers to force the Jersey authorities to divulge what information they hold), cannot find that answer, it is hard to see how anyone else might be able to.

Beyond the implications for wildlife crime legislation (and the Police note that “The experience of this case has, however, identified opportunities for refining future Vicarious Liability investigations….”), this raises questions about Scottish Government policy in relation to the offshore ownership provisions in the Land Reform Bill.

In a blog – Scottish Land and Secrecy Jurisdictions -from last month, I refuted the Scottish Government’s arguments as to why they could and would not implement the recommendation by the Land Reform Review Group and the proposal in their own consultation paper to restrict the registration of land by legal persons (companies etc) to those registered within the EU. The provisions currently set out in Sections 35 and 36 of the Bill merely allow authorised persons to ask the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland to, in turn, ask further questions about the true ownership of companies in secrecy jurisdictions. It is a meaningless provision since authorities in Jersey, British Virgin Islands and Grand Cayman are under no obligation to provide any answers. If even the Police cannot find such answers, what hope has the Keeper?

Included in the Scottish Government’s reasoning was a bullet point 3 that

There is no clear evidence base to establish that the fact that land is owned by a company or legal entity that is registered or incorporated outside the EU has caused detriment to an individual or community.”

The Kildrummy case is prima facie evidence of precisely the circumstances in which opaque ownership in a secrecy jurisdiction has caused detriment – specifically to the ability of the Police to gather the necessary evidence to pursue a prosecution under an important statute passed by the Scottish Parliament.

Had Kildrummy Estate been owned by a company registered in the EU, the Directors of that company would be easily identified and could have been charged with vicarious liability.

The Rural Affairs, Environment and Climate Change Committee is currently preparing its Stage One report into the Land Reform Bill due to be published in early December. It might like to reflect on the Kildrummy case