Interesting bedfellows

From Country Life Magazine, October 22nd 2014, page 24:

A coveted place in the butts on four of Yorkshire’s finest grouse moors is up for auction. A team of eight guns will spend the day travelling between East and West Arkengarthdale, Grinton and Reeth in late October 2015 (subject to stocks), experiencing a drive on each. The day will go under the hammer at the GWCT’s biennial game dinner on Nov 6 at Swinton Park, Masham, North Yorkshire“.

Fascinating stuff.

Swinton Park is linked with the Swinton Estate. Swinton Estate was where the shot corpse of hen harrier Bowland Betty was discovered in 2012 (see here), although that was likely just an unfortunate coincidence as there was no evidence to link her death to anybody, let alone anyone associated with the estate. According to the Countryside Alliance, she wasn’t shot at all (see here).

A different incident confirmed criminal activity by a Swinton Estate employee. Earlier this year, gamekeeper Ryan Waite was convicted of illegally setting a spring (pole) trap on Swinton Estate (see here).

What an interesting choice of venue for the GWCT to select for their prestigious event, eh?


SSPCA Consultation responses now published

sspca logoThe Scottish Government has now published the respsonses to its consultation on whether the SSPCA should be given increased investigatory powers to allow them to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crimes than their current remit allows.

There were 233 responses, although not all of them have been published as some respondents exercised their right to have their response withheld.

There are a lot of responses from ‘individuals’, and although some have exercised their right to remain anonymous, others have allowed their names to be shown. Some of these are hilarious – including one respondent who has the same name as an SGA committee member, and another respondent who has the same name as a (now retired) wildlife crime police officer. Unsurprisingly, both slag off the SSPCA.

There are also responses from organisations with game-shooting interests (GWCT, SLE, SGA etc), as well as from Police Scotland and one now retired sheriff – unsurprisingly, they are un-supportive of the SSPCA being given more powers.

We’ll be analysing all the responses and will blog about this in due course.

In the meantime, pour yourself a cup of coffee and settle yourselves in for some entertaining reading  by checking out the responses for yourselves: HERE.


Case against gamekeeper George Mutch: part 12

scales of justiceWell, well well. Today was the first day in the much-anticipated trial of Scottish gamekeeper George Mutch.

Mutch, 48, of Kildrummy Estate, Aberdeenshire, has been accused of various wildlife crimes relating to the alleged capture and subsequent killing or injuring of two goshawks and a buzzard in 2012. He has denied the charges and we’ve seen this case drag on and on and on…..

The dragging on looks set to continue….

The trial was halted today after the Sheriff (Annella Cowan) decided to stand down. Why did she decide to stand down? According to the BBC (here) it was because the defence counsel argued that as Sheriff Cowan was a member of the RSPB, she shouldn’t hear the case because the RSPB had been involved in the criminal investigation in to Mutch’s alleged activities.

Yes, seriously!

We thought a Sheriff was supposed to be considered as being ‘above bias’? The defence counsel, Mr Moir, apparently said that he wasn’t suggesting that Sheriff Cowan would be biased – so why then did he say she shouldn’t hear the case?! What a joke.

What’s an even bigger joke is that another (now retired) Sheriff, one Kevin Drummond, was never considered to be ‘unsuitable’ to hear cases against gamekeepers accused of wildlife crime, even though his hobbies apparently included shooting, and prior to becoming a Sheriff he had worked as a defence QC for……er, gamekeepers! (see here).

Fascinating, eh? You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, back to Mutch’s trial. It’s no big problem that Sheriff Cowan has decided to stand down – the case will be decided on the merit of the evidence presented against Mutch – and THAT is where our interest lies. Whether it’s Sheriff Cowan or another Sheriff who hears the case is largely irrelevant; it’s just irritating that yet another delay has been introduced to this case. Still, we can wait.

We understand the trial will re-start in December.


New five-year hen harrier project launched

hen-harrier Gordon LangsburyA £1.8 million five-year project has been launched, aiming ‘to achieve a secure and sustainable future’ for hen harriers in northern England and parts of southern and eastern Scotland.

Funded by the EU LIFE scheme, this project will include elements of monitoring (at nests and key winter roosts as well as funding a national hen harrier survey in 2016), satellite tagging, habitat management, investigations work (two new RSPB Investigation Officer posts have been funded), community engagement, community consultation and stakeholder engagement.

The project will focus on seven so-called Special Protection Areas (SPAs) designated for breeding hen harriers, two in England and five in Scotland. These are:

Bowland Fells

North Pennine Moors

Glen Tanar

Forest of Clunie

Muirkirk and North Lowther Upland

Langholm-Newcastleton Hills

Glenn App and Galloway Moors

However, given the tiny breeding population in these areas, it’s quite likely that project work will extend in to other areas, too.

RSPB press release here

BBC news article here

It’s good to see that the project is being managed by Blanaid Denman, who led the RSPB’s (award-winning!) Skydancer Project in northern England and did an excellent job of raising awareness about this species’ plunge towards extinction in that region. It’s also good to see that satellite-tagging will play a prominent role – let’s hope the RSPB will allow us to follow the movements of the tagged harriers and that they’ll publicise the locations of where the birds’ transmitters suddenly cease (which of course is bound to happen), unlike Natural England who have failed miserably in this respect for the last 12 years. Given that the RSPB recently published the last known locations of Bowland harriers Sky and Hope, who ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Lancashire last month (see here), we’re optimistic that this information will again be forthcoming with the newly tagged birds.

We were particularly interested in the BBC’s report about this new project (see link above). That article includes the following statement:

The birds continue to face threats. In June 2014 two orphaned hen harrier chicks were hand-reared by wildlife experts after the female bird was illegally shot in East Ayrshire‘.

Why is that statement interesting? Well, because at the time of this harrier’s death, Police Scotland refused to reveal the cause of death (see here). They said:

Whilst at this time we cannot divulge how the bird was killed, we do believe it was the result of a criminal act and we need to establish why this has happened“.

Wonder how their ‘investigation’ is going, and whether they’ve yet worked out why this harrier was found shot on a grouse moor? Idiots.

Talking of investigations in to illegally-killed hen harriers, wonder how this one is coming along – a hen harrier found shot dead on an Aberdeenshire grouse moor a year ago.

Or how about this one? The alleged ‘coordinated hunting’ of a male hen harrier on another Aberdeenshire grouse moor, nearly 18 months ago.

Or how about this one? The allegation that ‘someone’ killed a hen harrier ‘somewhere’ in Aberdeenshire in June 2013. This case was passed to the Crown Office ten months ago….no news since.

The press release about this new EU-funded project is pretty much focused on ‘let’s get everyone working together to help our hen harriers’. Whilst that’s a noble aim (and we sincerely wish Blanaid and her team the best of luck with that), it’s probably not going to happen. The killing will continue, the killers will deny all knowledge and they’ll more than likely get away with it. Where this project may have a greater impact is the bringing forward of more evidence of the killing; not that more evidence is needed – we all know it’s happening and where it’s happening. But more evidence from more satellite tags and more evidence from more investigators on the ground. That evidence can only add to the current evidence base, and to the growing anger, and will help us to apply more pressure on the politicians who have the ultimate responsibility for protecting these birds.

Hen harrier photo by Gordon Langsbury


Case against Scottish gamekeeper William Dick: part 3

scales of justiceCriminal proceedings continued yesterday in the case against Scottish gamekeeper William Dick.

Mr Dick, 24, is accused of shooting a buzzard, bludgeoning it with a rock, stamping on it, wrapping it in a coat and taking it away. The alleged offences are reported to have taken place in Sunnybrae, Dumfries in April 2014. Mr Dick has denied the allegations.

Yesterday a notional diet was heard at Dumfries Sheriff Court. The case was continued for another notional diet, scheduled for 4th November 2014.

Previous blogs on this case here and here.


Case against gamekeeper George Mutch: part 11

scales of justiceThe day has finally come. Today is the opening day of the trial of Scottish gamekeeper George Mutch, of Kildrummy Estate, Aberdeenshire.

Mutch is accused of a variety of offences relating to the illegal trapping, and then killing and/or taking away of birds of prey, alleged to have taken place over two years ago in August 2012. Mutch has denied the charges, hence the trial.

There have been 12 previous court hearings in this case, including yet another intermediate diet yesterday. It’s good to finally have the trial underway.

Watching with great interest…..


CEH scientist claims gamekeepers “protect” hen harriers & mountain hares

BBC radio 4 logoThere was a fascinating discussion on the BBC’s Shared Planet programme this morning. It was all about conflict resolution, with a particular focus on the hen harrier ‘problem’.

We were told that to achieve conflict resolution, trust was needed on all sides. That’s a complete non-starter then, when those with a vested interest in killing harriers (and other protected raptor species such as golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, red kites, buzzards, goshawks, peregrines etc) consistently deny the extent of illegal killing and claim not to know who’s doing it. It’s quite hard to trust a liar.

Interviewees included Dr Juliette Young (CEH Edinburgh), who spoke about how the media often portrays ‘actors’ (stakeholders) in a negative light. She said:

Gamekeepers do sometimes feel like they’re the bad guys in all this when actually, it’s often thanks to their management of moorlands that we do have these absolutely fantastic species on moorlands, like hen harriers, like mountain hares; these species that are iconic, and that their [gamekeepers] management helps to protect“.

Wow, did she actually just say that? Perhaps she should read this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this as taster articles on how well gamekeepers are “protecting” hen harriers, and  this, this and this as taster articles on how well gamekeepers are “protecting” mountain hares.

Also interviewed was Simon Lester, Head Gamekeeper at Langholm. When asked how he would like to see the hen harrier ‘problem’ resolved, he said:

The real key to solving this problem is to endorse the quota brood management system. I wouldn’t like to see a countryside devoid of raptors but I think there has to be a level of when is enough enough?

So, with only four pairs of nesting hen harriers in England this year (when there should be 300+), and a 20% decline in the Scottish hen harrier population, with an almost complete absence of breeding harriers on Scottish grouse moors, Mr Lester thinks that ‘removing’ hen harriers (from grouse moors) is the solution. How about gamekeepers stop illegally killing them? Why not use diversionary feeding, which has proven successful at Langholm? Why is that not the solution?

Lester also went on to trot out his old blind prejudice about buzzards. He said, when asked about how to get a conflict resolution:

The first big thing is to put in mechanisms where you can use different management tools to get there. So diversionary feeding would be one, quota system for harriers, but possibly with buzzards a lethal option“.

Interesting that his Victorian attitude towards buzzards hasn’t changed over the years, despite the results of a recent three-year study, at Langholm, that suggested buzzards aren’t really that fussed about taking grouse (see here).

You can listen to the programme here.

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