In February 2009, a dead raven was found on a Scottish grouse moor. Nothing surprising about that.
The dead raven was sent off to SASA for toxicology tests and their investigation concluded the bird had died from ingesting the banned poison, Carbofuran. Nothing surprising about that.
There wasn’t any subsequent publicity about this incident. Nothing surprising about that.
There wasn’t any subsequent prosecution. That’s kind of what we’ve come to expect so no surprises there, either.
However, this wasn’t just any old Scottish grouse moor. This was a grouse moor on Glenmazeran Estate in Inverness-shire. Glenmazeran Estate is, according to Andy Wightman’s brilliant website ‘Who Owns Scotland‘, owned by the Englefield Estate Trust Corporation Ltd, c/o Englefield Estate Office, Theale, Reading.
According to further information provided by the Who Owns Scotland website, “Englefield Estate Trust Corporation Ltd is a company registered in England No. 02065923. One of the beneficial owners is Richard Benyon, the Environment & Fisheries Minister in the UK Government (data accurate at August 2011)”.
At the time of this poisoned bird’s discovery, Mr Benyon MP was the Shadow Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, until the 2010 general election when he entered Government. He was subsequently appointed the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DEFRA, with special responsibility for biodiversity and the natural environment, amongst other things, until he was booted out in Cameron’s reshuffle in October 2013.
While Mr Benyon was in post at DEFRA, the government sanctioned the controversial buzzard ‘management’ trial and committed £375k of taxpayers money to help support it (see here), although they swiftly backtracked after a huge public outcry against the plan (see here). However, the following year Natural England, acting on behalf of DEFRA, decided to go ahead and issue a licence (to a gamekeeper with a past conviction for wildlife crime) to destroy buzzard eggs and nests to protect pheasants (see here).
Mr Benyon also decided there was no need to introduce vicarious liability to England because “there are very good laws in place to punish the illegal killing of any animal. If they are not being effectively enforced, they must be and we will take steps to make sure that happens. However, this is a good opportunity to applaud gamekeepers for the wonderful work they do in providing excellent biodiversity across our countryside” (see here and here).
These actions can be seen in a whole new light given what we now know was discovered on Glenmazeran Estate back in 2009.
Of course, the discovery of the poisoned raven on Glenmazeran doesn’t mean that Mr Benyon or anyone else connected with the estate was responsible. Some gamekeepers on some estates are known to place poisoned baits along the boundary of an estate, presumably to make any police investigation that much more difficult and to potentially deflect attention on to someone else. Glenmazeran is not known to us as an estate where frequent raptor persecution takes place, but it is situated in a notorious raptor persecution area and several other estates in the area are suspected to be regularly involved with criminal activity and some of them even have convictions for these offences.
What’s intriguing about the Glenmazeran incident is the complete silence about this case. Did the police (it would have been Northern Constabulary at the time) investigate? Did they search Glenmazeran or other nearby estates? Why didn’t they issue any media statements about this discovery? Would public knowledge of this incident have jeopardised Mr Benyon’s political career? It shouldn’t have, as he was never implicated in the crime, so why was it kept quiet?
What we do know is that the ‘landowner’ (whoever that was) was informed about the crime. This from the SASA report:
“Raven found dead in remote area. The analytical investigation established that carbofuran poisoning was responsible for the bird’s death. The police have informed the landowner of the incident but the source of the chemical has not been established“.