17
Sep
14

Sat-tagged Montagu’s harrier ‘disappears’ in Norfolk

Montys Willam J S WhiteA three-year-old satellite-tagged Montagu’s harrier called ‘Mo’ has ‘disappeared’ in Norfolk.

The bird was one of three sat-tagged adults being monitored as part of an RSPB study on migration routes. The project featured on The One Show last night. The two other tagged harriers have already left the UK and are in Africa.

Mo was known to have left a roost site close to Great Bircham in Norfolk on 8th August. There have been no further signals and it is suspected she has been killed and her sat tag destroyed.

Tellingly, one of the Dutch researchers who had fitted the three tags said: “Since 2005 we have tagged 58 Montagu’s harriers [in mainland Europe], and a sudden loss of signal is exceedingly rare“.

Unfortunately, a sudden loss of signal from a sat-tagged raptor in the UK is anything but rare.

Norfolk Constabulary has launched an investigation and a £5,000 reward has been put up by the project sponsor, Mark Constantine (the man behind Lush, the cosmetic company that has helped promote the plight of another harrier species in the UK, the hen harrier).

News article here.

Norfolk Constabulary press release here

RSPB project on tracking Montagu’s harriers here.

Photo of a Montagu’s harrier by William J S White

13
Sep
14

3 of the 5 Peak District hen harrier chicks already dead

Older female hen harrier credit T Birch Derbyshire Wildlife TrustFollowing on from the news story nine days ago of a successful hen harrier breeding attempt in the Derbyshire Peak District (see here), it has been announced that three of the five chicks are already dead.

The following press statement has been released by The National Trust:

Newsflash 12 September 2014: We are very saddened by the deaths of three of the hen harrier chicks. All indications are that two of the birds were killed by a natural predator. The body of the third has been recovered and, along with the remains of the other two, has been sent for post-mortem (as is usual practice), but there is no evidence of suspicious activity at this stage. Two chicks are still doing well. This news reinforces the need to have a strong and healthy population of hen harriers in the Peak District and England: one nest is not enough as there will always be natural losses. We will continue to work with our partners to protect the remaining chicks and create an environment where hen harriers can thrive in the future.

Predation, if that’s what this is, is a natural phenomenon; most species are particularly vulnerable during their first year. Raptor populations in general are especially sensitive to high mortality as many bird of prey species take several years to reach breeding maturity and then only produce a few offspring in any given year. This is why the additional illegal killing of raptors can have such a devastating impact at the population level – once the population level has dropped it can take a long time for it to recover.

This year’s Peak District hen harrier chicks were also at a disadvantage having fledged relatively late in the breeding season. It’s a well established ecological concept that the offspring of early breeders generally have a much better survival rate than those of late breeders.

Having said that, there are many examples of fake ‘natural’ deaths, set up in an attempt to hide a crime. The most prominent one that springs to mind is the case of the Deeside eagle, believed to have been caught in an illegal trap on an Angus grouse moor and then taken by vehicle, overnight, to be dumped at a roadside location 15 km away from the moor to make it look like the bird had had an ‘accident’ (see here and here).

Given the notoriety of the Peak District as a hotspot for crimes against raptors, we hope that the post mortem results of the three dead birds will be published, along with their locations, to allay any suspicions that they were the victims of illegal persecution.

Photo of one of this year’s hen harrier chicks by Tim Birch (Derbyshire Wildlife Trust).

10
Sep
14

Police investigate shooting of young peregrine in Suffolk

shot perg suffolk aug 2014Suffolk police and the RSPB are appealing for information after the discovery of a young, injured peregrine near the village of Long Melford in Suffolk on 20th August. The bird had been shot.

The peregrine has survived and is currently being rehabilitated at a nearby falconry centre in the hope it can make a full recovery and be released back to the wild.

The RSPB is offering a £1,000 reward for information leading to a conviction.

Full news article here.

This is the 17th peregrine known to have been targeted in these isles this year. And these are only the ones that have reported – how many more have been killed?

In February, a poisoned peregrine was found dead in South Lanarkshire, Scotland (here). In March, a shot peregrine was found dead in Dorset, England (here). In April, a shot peregrine was found dead near Stirling, Scotland (here). In May, a shot peregrine was found critically injured in Devon, England (here). In June, the public foiled an attempted poisoning of six peregrines in Co. Dublin, Ireland (here). In June, a poisoned peregrine was found dead in North Wales (here). In July, four dead peregrines suspected to have been poisoned were found in Gwynedd, NW Wales (here). In August a shot peregrine was found critically injured in Co. Wexford, Ireland (here).

04
Sep
14

Details of 4th English hen harrier nest revealed

Older female hen harrier credit T Birch Derbyshire Wildlife TrustA press release has been issued to announce the discovery of a fourth active hen harrier nest in England this year.

The nest was discovered on National Trust land in Derbyshire’s Upper Derwent Valley in August and was found to contain five healthy chicks, which have now fledged.

Read the full press release on the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group’s website here.

In part, this is a good news story. In fact, in part, it’s a very good news story. These are the first hen harriers to successfully breed in the Peak District in eight years, and ironically, the nest site wasn’t far from the location of the Hen Harrier Day gathering on 10th August; had it been better weather, we might have had the rare opportunity to see one of the adults flying overhead. That would have been quite something!

What makes it a very good news story though are the circumstances of the nest discovery. According to the press release, the nest was found and then reported by someone called Geoff Eyre. This name might ring a bell for some readers – Mr Eyre was the shooting tenant on the National Trust’s Howden Moor in 2011 and had employed gamekeeper Glenn Brown, who was subsequently convicted of operating an illegal cage trap on the moor. Mr Eyre, who was not implicated in the criminal activities of his gamekeeper, was nevertheless at the receiving end of some less-than-complimentary comments by the judge at Brown’s trial, including the following:

I found Mr Eyre on occasion to be evasive in his evidence. He seemed reluctant to give a direct answer to questions. He is a man who clearly distrusts RSPB officials and singled out Mark Thomas [RSPB Investigator] in particular. He cites the issue of the dead falcon in 2006 as the basis for that together with a vague assertion of misleading press releases. He told me that the results of the post mortem of the dead falcon in 2006 had never been released to him although he had paid for the investigation and then had to concede that he had not in fact done so“. [To read the full judgement notes from the trial click here].

Why is this relevant now? Well, Mr Eyre reported this year’s harrier nest to the recently-formed Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative – a partnership of organisations including the RSPB (as well as the National Trust, Moorland Association, Natural England and the Peak District National Park Authority) which was established in 2011 to try and address concerns about unnaturally small raptor populations in the region. That’s got to be seen as very welcome progress and an indication that trust can be rebuilt, at least in some circumstances.

So why would we consider this only partly a good news story? Well, that depends on your perspective. If you look at this successful breeding attempt at a local scale then of course, it’s excellent and very welcome news  and ALL the partners involved in the monitoring and protection of the nest deserve recognition for their efforts. But what about at a national scale? This successful breeding attempt brings the grand total of known breeding harriers in England this year to four pairs. Not three, as we had previously thought, but four.

Count them. One, two, three, four.

Four successful pairs in the entire English uplands which have been estimated to have the capacity for 330 pairs.

Those four pairs represent just over 1% of the estimated potential hen harrier breeding population.

That’s a lot of ‘missing’ hen harriers. 98-and-a-bit% of the English hen harrier breeding population is ‘missing’.

That’s not a figure we think to be worthy of celebration.

However, according to DEFRA’s response to Mark Avery’s petition to ban driven grouse shooting, “It is encouraging to learn that there are four hen harrier nests this year which have chicks, given that in 2013 there were no known hen harrier fledglings in England“.

Encouraging‘? How about embarrassing? How about shameful? How about an apology for failing this so-called protected species?

Some of this year’s fledglings have been fitted with satellite tags – will their journeys be made public, including those whose signals un-mysteriously stop transmitting when the birds visit a driven grouse moor? It’s been 12 years since Natural England started tracking hen harriers (partly paid for by us taxpayers) – we’re still waiting to see the full results.

 Photograph of one of the Peak District hen harrier chicks by T. Birch (Derbyshire Wildlife Trust).

02
Sep
14

Former NWCU head has ‘significant concerns’ over increased SSPCA powers

Nevin Hunter by A MidgleyThanks to the contributor who sent us the following article that was published in the Police Oracle yesterday:

A spate of raptor poisonings could motivate politicians to hand a charity powers that have traditionally been the sole preserve of police officers.

The Scottish government is consulting on radical plans to give the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) the ability to stray beyond its remit and probe reports of traps and dead wildlife rather than simply investigating the mistreatment of live animals.

The government says a shortage of officers in rural areas means Police Scotland is often unable to deal effectively with incidents in remote locations where there are few or no witnesses – like the mass poisoning of red kites, buzzards and other birds of prey in the Highlands.

Legislative changes would allow SSPCA investigators to enter land other than dwellings or locked premises, examine any object and seize potential evidence without a warrant and without reference to specific animal welfare law.

They would have the ability to search vehicles suspected of carrying illegal carcasses, protected live animals and birds and illegal traps or poisons.

Possible new powers could also include granting the charity’s inspectors the right to enter private homes with a warrant to seize potential evidence.

Police concerns

If you give a charity the same powers as police, they would have to have the same level of accountability and transparency.

The proposed changes are strongly backed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which cited a recent case in which no one was convicted after 16 red kites and six buzzards were illegally poisoned in Ross-shire.

The organisation’s head of investigations in Scotland has suggested that police teams are often too over-stretched to investigate this type of crime with thoroughness.

However, Nevin Hunter, the former head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, said he had “significant concerns” about the Scottish government’s proposals, adding: “If you give a charity the same powers as police, they would have to have the same level of accountability and transparency. That is the issue, because they are not as accountable.”

Legal experts have raised concerns too, saying the job of investigating wildlife crime should ideally be done by warranted police officers.

Jim Drysdale, a member of the Law Society of Scotland’s rural affairs committee, said: “Wildlife crime, such as the poisoning of birds of prey, is a serious issue and causes substantial public concern, and it is imperative that such incidents are fully investigated and prosecuted when they occur.

“We believe police officers are best placed to deal with such crime, and increasing the presence of uniformed police officers in remote areas where these crimes occur will assure the public that combating wildlife crime is being taken seriously.”

He said that in the absence of increased police resources he supported the proposals, provided SSPCA officers were accompanied by witnesses when exercising their powers.

He added: “We also believe there should be a review in two to five years’ time to ensure powers are being appropriately enforced.”

Conflicts of interest?

The Scottish government’s consultation document outlines advantages and disadvantages of the plans.

Potential benefits include a more robust response to wildlife crime at no extra cost to the public purse.

However, the document points out a potential conflict of interest between SSPCA’s use of broader powers and its political campaigning on issues like snaring, airguns and fireworks.

Under law the SSPCA has “specialist reporting” status, meaning it can make reports to Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, which then decides whether to prosecute.

This contrasts with the situation in England and Wales, where the SSPCA’s equivalent, the RSPCA, has brought private criminal prosecutions that have been criticised by some commentators as overly politicised.

Police Scotland insists it is committed to dealing with wildlife crime, adding: “We are actively engaged in the process around proposed extra powers for the SSPCA and as this is an ongoing consultation it would be inappropriate for us to comment more at this time.”

END

It’s not clear whether Nevin Hunter’s views are shared by the new head of the NWCU (Hunter retired in July and has been replaced by Martin Sims, due to start in Sept/Oct). Hopefully the new head will be a bit more forward-thinking and a bit more willing to find ways of improving wildlife crime enforcement in Scotland. There’s an obvious problem, and it’s been there for decades, as evidenced by the pathetic wildlife crime conviction rates and the Government’s launch of this consultation. All this guff about ‘conflict of interest’ and ‘unaccountablity’ is, frankly, clutching at straws. As we’ve commented previously, the SSPCA have been investigating some wildlife crimes for a long, long time, resulting in some significant convictions for badger-baiting, illegal snaring etc. Their “political campaigning” about a ban on the use of snares doesn’t seem to have affected their success, nor their investigative professionalism. Have you ever heard anyone question their status when they’ve helped bring those criminals to justice? No, nor have we, so why all of a sudden, when there’s a chance to go after the raptor killers, is it being raised now?

As for police accountability and levels of transparency, the final sentence of the article says it all.  Just remove the word ‘consultation’ and insert the word ‘investigation’ and you’ve got the standard response every single time the police and NWCU are asked to explain their actions/inactions. The SSPCA would be hard pressed to be any less transparent and any less accountable than the NWCU and Police Scotland.

01
Sep
14

Suspected poisoning of red kite & buzzard in Herefordshire

RK by Drew BuckleyA dead red kite and a dead buzzard have been found in Herefordshire in what looks suspiciously like a poisoning incident.

According to an article in the Western Daily Express (here), the carcasses were discovered on farmland at Pontrilas, south Herefordshire, close to a dead pheasant. The farmer took the corpses to a vet but the vet couldn’t find any obvious sign of injury or disease.

The RSPCA is appealing for information, but strangely, the article doesn’t say whether the corpses have been submitted for toxicology analyses. Given the position of the two dead raptors and their proximity to a dead pheasant (commonly used as bait), it seems quite plausible that this could have been an illegal poisoning incident.

Let’s hope the RSPCA contacts the RSPB Investigations team for advice.

Red kite photograph by Drew Buckley.

01
Sep
14

‘Controversial conservation’ debate in London tomorrow

World Land Trust events logoWe’re heading to London to listen to a debate on ‘Hunting and its impact on Conservation’ being held at the Royal Society tomorrow evening.

The debate has been organised by the World Land Trust as part of their ‘Controversial Conservation’ series and it’ll be chaired by Chris Packham.

World Land Trust Chief Executive John Burton said: “An open debate about the impact of sport hunting on wildlife and conservation is long overdue and it is time for arguments for and against hunting to be exposed to public scrutiny“.

As well as Chris Packham, panellists will include Bill Oddie and Mark Avery (both WLT Council members), Andrew Gilruth (Membership Director of GWCT), James Barrington (Countryside Alliance), John Burton (WLT) and Garry Marvin (Professor of Human-Animal Studies at Roehampton University).

We’re expecting a heated discussion about bird shooting in Malta and Cyprus as well as the impact of grouse moor management on UK raptor populations.

Last year’s debate was recorded and a podcast was made available for those who weren’t able to attend (see here). Hopefully a similar arrangement will be in place for this year’s event.

Tickets are still available – please click here.

Hope to see some of our blog readers there!




Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 739 other followers

Blog Stats

  • 984,411 hits

our recent blog visitors