This paper will examine how animal protection investigators, lobbyists and campaigners in Scotland consider the relationship between nature and ethics. Specifically, it will look at the complex ways in which activists deploy the categories ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ in order to interpret realms of animal suffering and judge the actions of human and non-human agents in those fields. The paper is also concerned with charting the ways in which animal protection activists develop strategies for persuading various audiences of the rightness of their position; these include not only charity supporters and prospective donors, but also politicians and civil servants involved in the legislative process in the Scottish Parliament. More broadly, the paper engages with debates in the emergent fields of the anthropology of ethics and human–animal relations. It is interested in the relationship between ethics and appearance and in the distribution of agency in claims or judgements of ethical or unethical behaviour.