20
Oct
14

Scottish Government publishes 2nd annual wildlife crime report (2013)

Wildlife Crime in Scotland 2013 annual reportThe Scottish Government has this morning published its second annual report on wildlife crime, relating to 2013.

Here is the press release:

Levels of wildlife crime in Scotland have remained static in the last 5 years according to a report published today.

The second annual wildlife crime report is the next step in developing the bigger picture of what offences are occurring in Scotland.

This report covers wildlife crimes ranging from badger baiting, raptor persecutions and damage to precious freshwater pearl mussels. Figures published earlier this year show raptor poisoning incidents have risen from three in 2012 to six in 2013.

The figures in the report show the largest volume of recorded wildlife crime in Scotland continues to be poaching related (fish, deer and coursing offences). These offences are both broad in nature and levels of cruelty and can often incorporate elements of organised crime including the use of illegal firearms or illegal gambling.

Police recorded crime figures for the 5 year period covered in this second wildlife crime annual report have risen slightly by 5.5 per cent, and this can be viewed against a similar increase of 6.5 per cent for guilty convictions over the same period.

Environment and Climate Change Minister and Chair of PAW Scotland Paul Wheelhouse said:

“As promised, this second report into wildlife crime in Scotland has been refined and made clearer for the reader.

“While poaching is the most commonly recorded offence, crimes against our beautiful birds of prey and pearl mussels remain the most serious in terms of damage to Scotland’s natural environment and our reputation. Though the numbers involved are relatively small, there is absolutely no room for complacency.

“Tackling wildlife crime is not just about law enforcement. We must continue to work with stakeholders to raise awareness and therefore ensure prevention, so that these crimes decrease and stop. We are not there yet, but this report will provoke discussion, inform policy and guide the actions of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland.

“As this is the second year of the report we don’t yet have a complete picture but by looking at the 5 year data sets collated in the report, we can begin to gain some insight. Key agencies and PAW Scotland stakeholders have assisted in the learning process and their support is greatly appreciated.

“Actions taken by the Scottish Government in 2013 and into 2014 have demonstrated the level of seriousness that this area of crime elicits. These are detailed in the report and are illustrative of the efforts going on, sometimes behind the scenes, to put a stop to the illegal killing of our cherished and exceptional Scottish wildlife.

“I remain unsympathetic to those who believe that crimes against wildlife are of little consequence and can somehow be justified. Offences can have massive ecological impacts whilst others involve great levels of cruelty and I will not accept this in a modern, vibrant Scotland.”

END

The opening statement is interesting and, we would argue, utterly misleading.

We’ve not had a chance to scrutinise the report in detail yet, but skimming through it we noticed the following…..

Look at the ‘summary data’ graph produced for ‘Recorded badger crimes, 2008-2013′:

Badger crime graph 2008 to 2013

According to this graph, only one badger crime was recorded by Police Scotland during 2012/2013. But then if you read on further in the report, you find the following:

Badger crime detail

So what this is saying is that more badger crimes were reported in 2013 (50, as opposed to 1!) but they aren’t included in this annual report because they might have occurred during a different time period (financial year), there might not have been sufficient evidence for the incident to be recorded as a crime, or the SSPCA might have dealt with it.

First off, why is it impossible for incidents that occurred during a financial year to be assimilated in to the annual report? Surely the month and year the incident was reported gets recorded?? How difficult is it to look down a spreadsheet and pick out the ones that were listed between Jan-Dec 2013?

Secondly, Operation Meles and Scottish Badgers clearly view the incidents as crimes. What criteria are they using to define a badger crime that Police Scotland aren’t using, and why?

And thirdly, why aren’t SSPCA data included in this Government report on wildlife crime incidents? Why rely just on Police Scotland data, when there is another statutory investigative authority collecting relevant data?

What’s the point of publishing a ‘summary data’ graph like the one above if you know fine well it’s NOWHERE NEAR representative of what’s actually going on?

If anything, this report just highlights the on-going issue of wildlife crime reporting and recording, revealing huge problems in our ability to understand the extent of wildlife crime. We clearly can’t use the data in these Government reports to analyse whether wildlife crime is decreasing, increasing, or remaining ‘static’, as the Government press release suggests.

We haven’t yet looked in detail at the raptor persecution data, but we did note the section on the PAW Scotland Raptor Group – a ‘partnership’ which began in 2009 and one we have slated in the past for being game-shooting-industry-heavy and basically doing naff all except providing a convenient publicity cover for certain organisations purporting to be against raptor persecution. Judging by the first paragraph in this latest report on the group’s activities, that criticism continues to be justified:

“The PAW Scotland Raptor Group continued to meet on a quarterly basis throughout 2013. The continuing evidence of raptor persecution kept the group busy dealing with a variety of issues which in turn prompted a fresh look at the overall direction. In light of this, the terms of reference were updated and refined. This process was a useful exercise to remind the group of its objectives and functions as a partnership, working with both stakeholders and law enforcement. It reinforced the aim of achieving the best outcomes in relation to raising awareness of and preventing raptor crime”.

As a side note on the PAW Raptor Group and what it actually does/achieves, we’ve noted with interest that this is the ONLY PAW Scotland subgroup that does not publish minutes or even sketchy notes from their frequent meetings. Why is that?

The one good thing that the PAW Raptor Group managed to do (and as we understand it, not all members of the ‘partnership’ were very happy about it) was to get the annual poisoning maps updated to include other types of raptor persecution crime such as shooting – that’s progress, although those maps still don’t include data on incidents where stashes of poison or poisoned baits have been discovered, or whether other (non-raptor) species have been found poisoned or where illegal traps have been found (see here).

Once again, the true picture about wildlife crime in Scotland is not being made available.

Download the report: Wildlife Crime in Scotland 2013 annual report

20
Oct
14

Ross-shire Massacre: seven months on

It’s been seven months since 22 birds of prey (16 red kites and six buzzards) were illegally killed in a mass poisoning incident near Conon Bridge, Ross-shire.

Here’s an imaginary update from the police:

Nothing

No arrests.

No charges.

No prosecution.

No justice.

Previous posts on the Ross-shire Massacre here.

19
Oct
14

Buzzard’s injuries suggest it was caught in illegal leg-hold trap

BZ Malton Oct2014A badly-injured buzzard that was found floundering in a field near Malton, North Yorkshire, has had to be euthanised.

A veterinary examination revealed the bird had a badly broken leg and its injuries suggest it had been caught in an illegal leg-hold trap. The injuries were judged to be at least one week old.

News article in Yorkshire Post here.

North Yorkshire has the dubious distinction of being the worst place in the UK for raptor persecution (see here and here). The landscape is dominated by driven grouse moors.

Over 18,500 people have signed a petition to ban driven grouse shooting – if you feel the same way you can sign it here.

17
Oct
14

“In the last 10 years we have stamped out poisoning”, says Alex Hogg

BBC radio ScotlandThe latest quote from Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association Chairman, Alex Hogg, is one of those classics that can be added to his other fantastical claims such as, “Professional gamekeepers do not poison raptors” (see here) and, “It is unfair to accuse gamekeepers of wildlife crime” (see here) and, when asked whether gamekeepers are involved with the poisoning, shooting and trapping of raptors: “No they aren’t. We would dispute that” (see here).

His latest claim, “In the last ten years we have stamped out poisoning” is extraordinary. Why make such a statement in the full knowledge that poisoning figures are freely available in the public domain for anyone to see? Perhaps he’s suffering from memory loss (too much lead in his bloodstream?) or perhaps he’s just deluded.

His claim was made during a BBC Radio Scotland interview, broadcast last week, about the potential for landowners and gamekeepers who are suspected of committing wildlife crime to have their General Licences removed. Also interviewed was Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, who confirmed our concerns (see here) that the removal of a General Licence doesn’t necessarily mean that estates will be prevented from carrying out their ‘vermin’ control activities – they can simply apply for an individual licence and carry on as normal.

Here is the transcript of the programme:

Presenter: Over the past few years, certainly far too often, we’ve reported on birds of prey which have been illegally killed. Now, there are laws in place for putting guilty offenders behind bars but so far this hasn’t happened. I’m not sure that’s true, I think one did. [RPS Ed: Nope, not a single raptor killer has received a custodial sentence].

As you may have heard on BBC Scotland news this week, there’s now a new tool available to those fighting this crime and the right for estates to control birds which predate on grouse and pheasants could be removed, potentially affecting their income stream. There are some who feel this measure could result in gamekeepers losing jobs. We take a look at the implications of the new legislation.

A tranquil rural scene, but, there’s anguish and anger in this area. Red kites were reintroduced here, starting 20 years ago. They’re popular with local people and visitors alike. But these illegal killings have wiped out 10% of the fragile population.

[Cut to Brian Etheridge, RSPB Scotland]: “I’m just gutted. This for me is just the worst two weeks I’ve had in this job. Going out and responding to calls from members of the public……”

Presenter: Brian Etheridge of the RSPB in Craig Anderson’s BBC Scotland report on the mass poisonings of red kites in the Black Isle. And it was cases like this that prompted the Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, to call for Scottish Natural Heritage to come up with a different way of tackling the crimes.

At the start of the whole process, I spoke to the man in charge of developing those new initiatives, Robbie Kernahan, Head of Wildlife Operations at SNH.

Robbie Kernahan: “Well, the Minister in July asked us to scope out the possibility of restricting General Licences on estates and properties where we feel that wildlife crime may be taking place, and we’ve spent a bit of time trying to better understand some of the practicalities associated with that, and it’s a difficult one because General Licences are there to allow people to undertake activities such as crow control, corvid control, to prevent damage to, conserve wild birds and also agricultural crops but at the same time they are a privilege, they’re not a right, and they are a form of very light-touch regulation. I think it’s reasonable for us to look at how best to restrict those licences where we have got concerns about the potential for raptor persecution taking place”.

Presenter: So what would be the impact on an estate if the licence was not re-issued?

Robbie Kernahan: “Well, I mean corvid control is a pretty fundamental requirement for most moorland management, certainly if you’re interested in grouse productivity, certainly if you’re interested in conserving wild birds too, the corvid control is an important part of that. So withdrawing an ability for an estate to actively manage crows could be quite detrimental”.

Presenter: The new process of potentially restricting a General Licence is now up and running. But will it work to stop the killings? Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse:

WheelhousePaul Wheelhouse: “Well we will only know in due course. I hope it has a deterrent effect because it will increase the hassle for land managers who are needing to control particular species, they will have to apply for individual licences, so I know there is some concern about jobs on the part of gamekeepers and other estate workers, but, they’ll still be able to control, assuming that they apply successfully for an individual licence. What we’re doing is taking away the privilege of a General Licence and I hope…..”

Presenter: Sorry, can I just nail this on the head? There are a lot of gamekeepers out there who are seriously concerned that if an estate loses its licence then their jobs are on the line. You’re saying the gamekeeper can apply for an individual licence?

Paul Wheelhouse: “Well we’re saying that to SNH the land manager can apply for a licence to control individual species they feel it’s necessary to protect livestock, you know, crows, corvids, other species they feel as necessary, we’re just not going to allow them the luxury of having a General Licence which is a privilege, not a right, and that they will have to go through a more onerous process to get permission, and it can’t guarantee that they will get permission, but clearly that’s a possibility, they can apply for an individual licence”.

Presenter: What about the other serious worry that because up until now, the lack of people in jail rams home how difficult it is to get a conviction in this sphere. By lessening the amount of proof that’s needed, are you not in danger of punishing an estate that might be innocent?

Paul Wheelhouse: Well these are factors that obviously the police and SNH would take in to account, when police, through an information-sharing protocol, share information with SNH about a landholding that they suspect perhaps wildlife crime has been on, they will take these factors in to account and they will look at the weight of evidence  there is and whether the balance of probabilities that that wildlife crime has been committed , that’s how civil burden of proof works, on the balance of probabilities rather than the definitive, if you like, basis that beyond all reasonable doubt which is where the criminal law comes in to effect”.

Presenter: The change in the legislation has come about because it is just so difficult to get a successful prosecution in cases involving birds of prey. A source of frustration for the police, SSPCA and RSPB investigators. RSPB Scotland investigator Ian Thomson:

Ian Thomson: “I think it’s a positive step, it’s certainly something that we welcome because what this mechanism that has been announced by SNH does is it uses a civil burden of proof, which is a lower burden of proof that is needed to obtain a criminal conviction, so rather than beyond all reasonable doubt, this is on the balance of probabilities, and frankly, where you have areas of Scotland unfortunately repeatedly seen to be involved in the illegal killing of birds of prey, then this is hopefully going to be a useful tool. Obviously the proof of the pudding is in the eating and it may take us several years to know how effective this is being”.

Presenter: But it’s got the potential though to, for a miscarriage of justice for want of a better expression.

Ian Thomson: “I don’t think SNH are taking this at all lightly, but the fact of the matter is there are many areas in Scotland where we know birds of prey are being killed, we have a pretty good idea of who is doing it, and certainly a group of individuals who are doing it, and so I think if the evidence is presented by the police to SNH, then ultimately they will make a decision. There is an appeal process in this, and if that process finds that there isn’t sufficient evidence then the licence will be reinstated. It’s SNH’s decision at the end of the day, but something we very much welcome, it’s another tool to tackle this on-going problem”.

Presenter: I approached Scottish Land and Estates for their reaction to the new policy but failed to get a response. But the folk at the sharp end of this whole debate are the gamekeepers, many of which fear for their jobs if a General Licence is withdrawn. A licence which people like Alex Hogg of the Gamekeepers’ Association feel is an essential part of estate management, both for game and for wildlife.

hoggAlex Hogg: “It’s so important because it means it might take the right away to trap carrion crows in the spring of the year, which is vital to remove them for the sake of your ground-nesting birds. But, more so, you could have maybe six keepers working on an estate, as a team, the whole lot could lose their licence because they’re applying it [the General Licence restriction] to the ground, on suspicion, and then you’ve got no work for them. You know, they could end up out of their homes, and young families, stuff like that. Would it happen with plumbers and joiners, if a plumber misbehaved would they take all the licences away in the town for every other plumber? It’s absolutely ridiculous, really”.

Presenter: So if a licence was taken away, is it a sweeping statement to say they wouldn’t need keepers on an estate?

Alex Hogg: “Aye. I mean, you know, we can trap stoats, and weasels and rats, and the fox population we can keep on top of, but it disnae allow us to trap birds, and that’s a really important issue for us”.

Presenter: You’re saying you want to protect curlews and lapwings, but is the reality not that you want to protect grouse and pheasants, you know, because this is a money-maker for an estate? You guys, your employers, estate owners, aren’t running charities here.

Alex Hogg: “No, no, we’re running businesses and it should be recognised as such, but we can work round a lot of the issues to do with pheasant poults, and buzzards and things, which we’ve had to do, but let’s get right back to the things we cannot work round and that’s your waders. We feel we’ve been really done, badly done by. We’ve had raids on houses, dawn raids, you know, at 6 o’clock in the morning, 50 policemen, the wives have had their cupboards searched, the kids’ medicine bottles have been taken away, all to no avail. Now, in the past ten years, we have stamped out poisoning. We have come down so hard on it. We’ve had meetings up and down the countryside, we’ve absolutely finished it, and I think that if the police got murder, house-breaking down to the numbers we’ve got it down to, which is a minimal, below half a dozen this year apart from the Ross-shire incident, you know, we feel we’ve done our job. So the next part of the process should have been licensing, where you can apply for a licence to control a species that’s having a detrimental effect on another species”.

Presenter: But there are many people who’d say one poisoned bird is one too many. You’re saying you’ve sorted it, I would say you haven’t sorted it.

Alex Hogg: “One bird is too many but you’ve got to get it down to a minimum and we feel we’ve done that”.

END

16
Oct
14

Update on first vicarious liability prosecution

wane1Regular blog readers will know that we’ve been interested in the first prosecution of a landowner under the vicarious liability legislation for some time now….in fact ever since the legislation was enacted as part of the WANE Act on 1st January 2012 (see here for background info on what vicarious liability is and to what wildlife crime offences it can be applied).

We believe the first prosecution relates to the employers of gamekeeper and (now ex) SGA member Peter Bell, who was convicted in June 2013 of various poisoning offences that took place in December 2012 on the Glasserton & Physgill Estates. Those offences included laying a poisoned bait that subsequently killed a buzzard, and the possession of three banned poisons (Carbofuran, Strychnine and Alphachloralose) found in his tool shed and in his home (see here).

We’ve been asking whether there would be a vicarious liability prosecution against Bell’s employers for over a year, but each time we asked, various obstructions were put in our way (see here and here). However, in May this year, Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse announced during a parliamentary debate on raptor persecution that vicarious liability proceedings had commenced (see here).

Since May, we’ve heard nothing at all, which we find surprising given the high level of public interest in how this new (well, nearly 3-year-old now)  and significant legislation will work.

We’ve been doing quite a lot of research since then and have finally discovered that this case is indeed in progress, and the next court hearing will take place next week. It won’t be an evidence-led hearing – it’s a special hearing that is designed to hear legal arguments. What happens next will depend on what the Sheriff decides at the end of the hearing. We’ll keep you posted.

We’ve also heard that there is a second vicarious liability case underway…..more on that in due course.

16
Oct
14

Case against gamekeeper George Mutch: part 10

scales of justiceCriminal proceedings continued yesterday with hearing #11 in the case against Scottish gamekeeper George Mutch of Kildrummy Estate, Aberdeenshire.

Mutch is pleading not guilty to a suite of charges relating to offences that are alleged to have taken place more than two years ago in August 2012. We believe these relate to the illegal use of a trap for the purpose of taking or killing wild birds (goshawk and buzzard) and to the killing, injuring or taking of wild birds (goshawk and buzzard).

Yesterday’s hearing was another intermediate diet and guess what? Yet another intermediate diet has been set for 21st October 2014.

Here’s the chronology of events so far:

August 2012: alleged offences took place

11th September 2013: case opened

2nd October 2013: hearing #2

30th October 2013: hearing #3

27th November 2013: hearing #4

17th December 2013: hearing #5

17th March 2014: hearing #6

2nd April 2014: hearing #7

16th April 2014: hearing #8

13th May 2014: hearing #9

24th September 2014: hearing #10

15th October 2014: hearing #11

21st October 2014: hearing #12 due

15
Oct
14

Case against Scottish gamekeeper William Dick: part 2

scales of justiceCriminal proceedings in the case against Scottish gamekeeper William Dick continued yesterday at Dumfries Sheriff Court.

It has been reported that Mr Dick, 24, is accused of shooting a buzzard, bludgeoning it with a rock, stamping on it, wrapping it in a coat and removing it. The alleged offences are reported to have taken place in Sunnybrae, Dumfries, in April 2014. Mr Dick denied the allegations at an earlier hearing (see here).

Yesterday the case was continued for a notional diet on 21st October 2014. A notional diet is basically a hearing for legal arguments. What happens next is subject to what the Sheriff decides at the notional diet; a trial may or may not follow at a later date.




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