Landowners should also end up in the dock

Tony Andrews of the Scottish Countryside Alliance, in his letter of August 30, accuses the letter writers of the previous week of mounting a witch-hunt over the poisoning of an eagle in Peeblesshire and asks why are landowners singled out?

Well, since they own the land on which the illegal act happened, where better, at least initially, to look for answers?

We simply suggested that if a gamekeeper is proved to have broken the law and is prosecuted, then so also should his employer. This is common practice in many areas.

For example, if someone grows cannabis on my premises without my knowledge, not only is the grower prosecuted, but the owner of the premises too. If I allow someone to drive my car which has a baldish tyre, not only is the driver fined, but so also am I. I don’t really see any essential difference.

Tony Andrews states that all his members are dedicated to the preservation of wildlife. No doubt many are so dedicated – the late Duke of Buccleuch was certainly one.

But some undoubtedly are less so because double standards operate (as in all walks of life) when an individual’s position or pocket is thought to be threatened. I can understand this, but I cannot condone it and I resent the fact that the wildlife laws were broken for personal gain.

Many people have stated their belief that the poisoning of the golden eagle in Peeblesshire is just the tip of the iceberg. And this is my experience, mainly through speaking to gamekeepers and to landowners.

Some years ago, I sat on a committee with a prominent Scottish landowner. In off-the-record discussion, he said that his keepers (obviously with his approval) regularly put down poisoned rabbits. When we asked about non-target species, he said that now and again they killed a shepherd’s dog, but he compensated the shepherd and that was that. I hope he was an exception.

More recently, I watched a pair of ravens take up a new abode in the Borders with every sign of intending to nest. Then, suddenly – almost overnight – they were gone and never returned. Would you interpret this as a possible, nay, likely case of poisoning?

I know of eagles in Perthshire shot every year. Short of lying out on the hill for a month to catch the culprit, evidence is impossible to come by.

But there are some bright spots.

First, the landowner on whose land the Peeblesshire eagle nested successfully for 10 years is to be congratulated. We can only hope that the male finds another female.

The introduction of the red kite to Galloway has been a success, although at first many were poisoned. But the RSPB talked to farmers and keepers and seems to have persuaded them that kites are scavengers, because poisoning is greatly reduced.

The spread of the buzzard from west to east has been spectacular. The spread in itself suggests a more lenient attitude to this predator. Buzzards are extremely versatile and eat anything, from earthworms to rabbits, and so can live almost anywhere.

That being so, any areas where buzzards are not might reasonably be suspect.