THE call by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) for “independent” monitors to oversee satellite tags on birds of prey, and its implied criticism of current tag owners and users, has no basis in fact. They have failed to provide any evidence of any unscrupulous or unfair reporting of possible illegal persecution of birds of prey.

The SGA must be aware that the technology used in current satellite tags is far from perfect. The tags record their position using a single satellite and the Doppler effect. This means that position can only be accurately predicted with an accuracy of around 500m. In addition the tags can only transmit for a period of around 10 hours and then have to be recharged by a solar cell, which can take up to 48 hours before they come back on air. As a consequence it is impossible to determine precisely when and where a tagged bird died.

The evidence for the persecution of birds of prey comes from independent statistical analysis of how and where satellite tags, which are otherwise very reliable, stopped working and where the corpses or tags have not been recovered. The SGA have not offered any explanation how this could happen, if not from human intervention.

The evidence from current tags would not be sufficient to support a conviction in court (and was never designed to), but it is clear evidence of misdeeds. I am happy to report that the news for our iconic birds is improving. New tags have been developed which use much more accurate GPS data, can locate an animal down to around five metres and transmit continuously. As soon as a tag goes off air it can be investigated. These tags have been successfully used to track large mammals in Africa, elephants and lions, and smaller devices are in development. It is hoped that they will soon be small enough to put on Golden Eagles and maybe Hen Harriers and Red Kites.

In the meantime, the law which is meant to protect our wildlife has proved impossible to enforce. The time for reviews and enquiries is now over. Driven grouse shooting on our moors must be licensed and owners who cannot prevent bird of prey persecution on their estates must lose their rights to carry out these activities. Perhaps the SGA would be prepared to fund the development of smaller tags and pay for their deployment to help prove that their members are being unfairly victimised.

Pete Rowberry

THE report published yesterday from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Terminal Illness declares the benefits system’s definition of terminal illness, known as the “six-months rule”, as “outdated, arbitrary and not based on clinical reality” – a view which we at Marie Curie and MND Scotland heartily agree with.

In Scotland we are more than a year on from our successful campaign which saw the Scottish Government change the definition of terminal illness for devolved disability benefits in the Social Security (Scotland) Act. The new Scottish definition, which comes into effect in 2020, will see clinicians making the decision as to whether someone has a progressive disease that will lead to their death. This is a fairer and more dignified approach than forcing people to prove they have less than six months to live.

However, as it stands, Scotland will also face a two-tier system from 2020 if the DWP’s definition does not change as benefits reserved to Westminster, such as Universal Credit, will remain under the six-month rule. This is likely to be complex and confusing for many Scots, with people working with different requirements and definitions for different purposes. That isn’t compassionate and it doesn’t make sense. It’s shocking to think that people in Scotland may still miss out on some of the support they need at the end of their lives.

The inquiry’s findings are clear – the current system is not fit for purpose and the “six-month rule” does not make sense. This echoes the view of the Scottish Parliament, the medical profession and our supporters. There is a real opportunity now to do the right thing and ensure that terminally ill people have fair and dignified access to the support they need.

Richard Meade, Marie Curie Head of Policy and Public Affairs Scotland, and Craig Stockton, Chief Executive Officer MND Scotland