19
Oct
21

With straight faces, shooting org BASC denies encouraging online abuse of Chris Packham, his step daughter & others

The following article was published in The Times last Saturday.

It sits behind a paywall so I’ve reproduced it below:

The BBC Springwatch presenter Chris Packham has described how his stepdaughter faced a torrent of online abuse after a game-shooting organisation drew attention to her social media account and the fact they are related.

Megan McCubbin, 25, faced weeks of “vile and hateful” messages after the British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC), pointed out her connection to Packham, 60.

Packham, who has frequently taken aim at the game-bird industry, alleges that the BASC tacitly extended an invitation to online trolls: “Here’s a young woman, a friend of Chris’s who has started working with him why don’t you have a go?”

A long-running campaign of death threats against the naturalist escalated sharply late last Friday when two men set a car on fire outside his home in the New Forest.

CCTV footage shows one man pulling on a balaclava before stepping out of a Land Rover. He sets light to what appears to be a fuse; moments later the car explodes.

“These people knew exactly what they were doing,” Packham said. “I would suggest that they had prior experience in blowing cars up.”

He added: “I think maybe because I was bullied at school, I don’t have a fear of physical violence. But if they do it to me and they get away with it, they’ll do it to other environmental campaigners. What’s next will it be an exploding car outside Greta [Thunberg’s] house?”

A spokesman for the BASC said that it did not condone online abuse. It had the right to point out to its members that McCubbin was a youth ambassador for the League Against Cruel Sports, which campaigns against shooting, he said.

“McCubbin is using the celebrity status provided by the BBC [where she is a co-presenter of Springwatch] to promote an anti-shooting agenda; we’re allowed to be critical of that,” he added. “Packham plays a very astute game. He is very good at causing the sort of publicity that attacks shooting.”

Packham has received death threats for years. In 2019, after he campaigned to end the indiscriminate shooting of jays, wood pigeons and other birds that many in the countryside consider wrongly, he says to be vermin, two dead crows were strung up outside his home.

On another occasion, an anonymous letter suggested that a traffic accident could be arranged to kill him. Fox and badger carcasses have been dumped on his drive.

Packham said it was possible that the arson attack, which is being investigated by police, was carried out by local vandals or internet trolls. However, he thinks that it was committed too efficiently for that. “I think this is probably fox-hunting related,” he said.

He has been calling for members of the National Trust to vote for a ban on trail hunting, where hounds follow a scent rather than a fox, on its land.

He suspects that the attack may have been timed to coincide with the verdict in the case of a leading huntsman who was prosecuted for allegedly providing advice on how to hunt foxes illegally, behind a smokescreen of trail hunting.

“Fox hunting was always going to come to an end,” Packham said. “But the nails are being driven in faster than they’d anticipated.” A backlash was inevitable, he added.

Speaking to The Times at the Natural History Museum in London this week, where he was presenting the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards, he was critical of how the online abuse he received had been policed. “It’s a little unfair that when black footballers receive unwanted and appalling hate crime the issue can be dealt with,” he said in a video he posted on Twitter.

“And that’s great, of course, and I would support that fully. But I am surprised that when environmentalists like myself receive similarly hateful torrents of relentless abuse nothing can be done about it.”

The arson attack on his home was part of a broader pattern, he said. “We’re living, post-pandemic, in a very angry time. A time of polarisation and division, the likes of which I’ve not seen before.”

In the past Packham has accused gamekeepers of “genocidal” practices and said that fox-hunting has a “psychopathic element”. He said that he preferred the word “extermination” to extinction” when discussing largescale biodiversity loss.

He once got into trouble for arguing that the giant panda was not worth the time, trouble and expense of saving from extinction, adding that he would happily eat the last one.

“I do weaponise vernacular to some extent,” he said. “I think that language is important, and it’s a very, very powerful tool. It has the power to incite and inflame people. No doubt about that but in a competitive world, we’ve got to get our stories out there.”

ENDS

BASC has responded to this article by stating:

It’s ludicrous to suggest that BASC would encourage online abuse, whether that’s Chris Packham, his step daughter or anyone else for that matter“.

The BASC website article referred to by Chris in The Times was published last year and can be read here. In my view it’s targeted and abusive and celebrates how Megan’s “woke guff was admirably tackled in the comments thread by those who understand there is a far more positive side to grouse shooting“.

You can also read BASC Director Duncan Thomas’s misogynistic online abuse (here) and the apology he was later forced to make (here).

You can make up your own mind whether or not you think it’s ‘ludicrous’ to suggest that BASC staff have published online abuse about named individuals and incited others to join in.

18
Oct
21

57 hen harriers confirmed illegally killed or ‘missing’ on or close to UK grouse moors since 2018

For anyone who still wants to pretend that the grouse shooting industry isn’t responsible for the systematic extermination of hen harriers on grouse moors across the UK, here’s the latest catalogue of crime that suggests otherwise.

[This male hen harrier died in 2019 after his leg was almost severed in an illegally set trap that had been placed next to his nest on a Scottish grouse moor (see here). Photo by Ruth Tingay]

This is the blog I now publish after every reported killing or suspicious disappearance.

They disappear in the same way political dissidents in authoritarian dictatorships have disappeared” (Stephen Barlow, 22 January 2021).

Today the list has been updated to include the most recently reported victim, a young hen harrier called Reiver who hatched on Langholm Moor earlier this year and whose tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting on 17th September 2021 in a grouse moor area of Northumberland (see here).

The disgraceful national catalogue of illegally killed and ‘missing’ hen harriers will continue to grow – I know of at least one more on-going police investigation which has yet to be publicised.

I’ve been compiling this list only since 2018 because that is the year that the grouse shooting industry ‘leaders’ would have us believe that the criminal persecution of hen harriers had stopped and that these birds were being welcomed back on to the UK’s grouse moors (see here).

This assertion was made shortly before the publication of a devastating new scientific paper that demonstrated that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers were confirmed or considered likely to have been illegally killed, and this was ten times more likely to occur over areas of land managed for grouse shooting relative to other land uses (see here).

2018 was also the year that Natural England issued itself with a licence to begin a hen harrier brood meddling trial on grouse moors in northern England. For new blog readers, hen harrier brood meddling is a conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA as part of its ludicrous ‘Hen Harrier Action Plan‘ and carried out by Natural England (NE), in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England. For more background see here.

Brood meddling has been described as a sort of ‘gentleman’s agreement’ by commentator Stephen Welch:

I don’t get it, I thought the idea of that scheme was some kind of trade off – a gentleman’s agreement that the birds would be left in peace if they were moved from grouse moors at a certain density. It seems that one party is not keeping their side of the bargain“.

With at least 57 hen harriers gone since 2018, I think it’s fair to say that the grouse shooting industry is simply taking the piss. Meanwhile, Natural England pretends that ‘partnership working’ is the way to go.

‘Partnership working’ appears to include authorising the removal of hen harrier chicks from a grouse moor already under investigation by the police for suspected raptor persecution (here) and accepting a £10K bung from representatives of the grouse shooting industry that prevents Natural England from criticising them (see here).

[Cartoon by Gill Lewis]

So here’s the latest gruesome list:

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa ‘disappeared’ in the Angus Glens in Scotland (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers Association later published wholly inaccurate information claiming the bird had been re-sighted. The RSPB dismissed this as “completely false” (here).

5 February 2018: Hen harrier Marc ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Durham (here)

9 February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn ‘disappeared’ near Moffat in Scotland (here)

18 April 2018: Hen harrier Lia ‘disappeared’ in Wales and her corpse was retrieved in a field in May 2018. Cause of death was unconfirmed but police treating death as suspicious (here)

8 August 2018: Hen harrier Hilma ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Northumberland (here).

16 August 2018: Hen harrier Athena ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

26 August 2018: Hen Harrier Octavia ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here)

29 August 2018: Hen harrier Margot ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

29 August 2018: Hen Harrier Heulwen ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

3 September 2018: Hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

24 September 2018: Hen harrier Heather ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

2 October 2018: Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

3 October 2018: Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Bowland, Lanacashire (here)

23 October 2018: Hen harrier Tom ‘disappeared’ in South Wales (here)

26 October 2018: Hen harrier Arthur ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here)

1 November 2018: Hen harrier Barney ‘disappeared’ on Bodmin Moor (here)

10 November 2018: Hen harrier Rannoch ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here). Her corpse was found nearby in May 2019 – she’d been killed in an illegally-set spring trap (here).

14 November 2018: Hen harrier River ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB (here). Her corpse was found nearby in April 2019 – she’d been illegally shot (here).

16 January 2019: Hen harrier Vulcan ‘disappeared’ in Wiltshire close to Natural England’s proposed reintroduction site (here)

7 February 2019: Hen harrier Skylar ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (here)

22 April 2019: Hen harrier Marci ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

26 April 2019: Hen harrier Rain ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Nairnshire (here)

11 May 2019: An untagged male hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set trap next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire. He didn’t survive (here)

7 June 2019: An untagged hen harrier was found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland. A post mortem stated the bird had died as a result of ‘penetrating trauma’ injuries and that this bird had previously been shot (here)

5 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 1 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park (here)

11 September 2019: Hen harrier Romario ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

14 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183704) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

23 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #55149) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

24 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 2 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

24 September 2019: Hen harrier Bronwyn ‘disappeared’ near a grouse moor in North Wales (here)

10 October 2019: Hen harrier Ada ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North Pennines AONB (here)

12 October 2019: Hen harrier Thistle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Sutherland (here)

18 October 2019: Member of the public reports the witnessed shooting of an untagged male hen harrier on White Syke Hill in North Yorkshire (here)

November 2019: Hen harrier Mary found illegally poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland (here)

January 2020: Members of the public report the witnessed shooting of a male hen harrier on Threshfield Moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

23 March 2020: Hen harrier Rosie ‘disappeared’ at an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (here)

1 April 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183703) ‘disappeared’ in unnamed location, tag intermittent (here)

5 April 2020: Hen harrier Hoolie ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

8 April 2020: Hen harrier Marlin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

19 May 2020: Hen harrier Fingal ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Lowther Hills, Scotland (here)

21 May 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183701) ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Cumbria shortly after returning from wintering in France (here)

27 May 2020: Hen harrier Silver ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on Leadhills Estate, Scotland (here)

day/month unknown: Unnamed male hen harrier breeding on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria ‘disappears’ while away hunting (here)

9 July 2020: Unnamed female hen harrier (#201118) ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed site in Northumberland (here).

25 July 2020: Hen harrier Harriet ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

14 August 2020: Hen harrier Solo ‘disappeared’ in confidential nest area in Lancashire (here)

7 September 2020: Hen harrier Dryad ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

16 September 2020: Hen harrier Fortune ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (here)

19 September 2020: Hen harrier Harold ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

20 September 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2020, #55152) ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in North Yorkshire (here)

24 February 2021: Hen harrier Tarras ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Northumberland (here)

12th April 2021: Hen harrier Yarrow ‘disappeared’ near Stockton, County Durham (here)

18 May 2021: Adult male hen harrier ‘disappears’ from its breeding attempt on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria whilst away hunting (here)

18 May 2021: Another adult male hen harrier ‘disappears’ from its breeding attempt on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria whilst away hunting (here)

17 September 2021: Hen harrier Reiver ‘disappears’ in a grouse moor dominated region of Northumberland (here)

To be continued……..

18
Oct
21

Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Reiver’ disappears in suspicious circumstances in grouse moor area of Northumberland

Press release from RSPB

Another hen harrier disappears in suspicious circumstances

Another satellite tagged hen harrier has suddenly and unexpectedly disappeared, strengthening the RSPB’s call for the urgent licensing of grouse moors.

Reiver, a young female, fledged from a nest on Langholm Moor in the south of Scotland this summer. She was fitted with a satellite tag while still in her nest, as part of an RSPB project to help understand the journeys made by these red-listed birds of prey and the survival challenges they face after fledging.

[Hen harrier ‘Reiver’ just prior to fledging. Photo by Andrew Walton]

Reiver’s tag was transmitting regularly and as expected, with no sign of malfunction, until it stopped suddenly on 17 September 2021. Her tag’s last fix came from Ninebanks, an area dominated by driven grouse moors in Northumberland, within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Reiver is the third Scottish satellite-tagged hen harrier to vanish in identical, sudden and suspicious circumstances in England in 2021. In February this year, Tarras disappeared having been last recorded on a grouse moor near Haltwhistle, just outside the North Pennines AONB boundary. Another bird, Yarrow, from the Scottish Borders disappeared in April while heading for the North York Moors. And in 2019, Ada’s last transmission came from an area of grouse moor east of Allendale, Northumberland.

Fewer than 600 pairs of hen harriers breed in the UK. In England there were just 24 successful nests in 2021, despite enough habitat and food to support over 300 pairs. In 2019, the government’s own study found illegal killing to be the main factor limiting the recovery of the UK hen harrier population.

Jenny Barlow, Estate Manager at Langholm said:There is always such anticipation and excitement for our hen harriers to return each year to the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve here in Langholm. A huge community and volunteer effort goes into monitoring and safeguarding our harrier chicks to make sure they get the best possible start on our reserve. It is extremely sad news for us all that one of our chicks Reiver, won’t be making her way back home to us again.”

Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said:It is almost certain that Reiver has been illegally killed. This is more than just a pattern, it is a known fact that hen harrier numbers are so low because of persistent persecution. Satellite tags are highly reliable and will continue to transmit even after the bird’s death. For a tag which has been functioning reliably to suddenly cut out like this strongly suggests foul play. This event is categorised as a ‘sudden stop no malfunction’ and is happening time and again on or near driven grouse moors.

Hen harriers disappearing on English grouse moors is having a devastating effect on both the English and Scottish hen harrier populations, and needs to be urgently addressed by UK governments. The need for licensing of grouse moors has been accepted in Scotland and this needs to be recognised in England too. This then must be implemented without delay in both countries.”

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

If you have any information relating to this incident, call Northumbria Police on 101 quoting incident reference NP-20210920-0837.

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, please call 101 and fill in this online form HERE.

If you have sensitive information about the illegal killing of birds of prey, call the RSPB’s confidential hotline on 0300 999 0101.

ENDS

How’s that so-called Hen Harrier Action Plan going, DEFRA & Natural England? Are you prepared to admit its a conservation sham, yet?

Still convinced that your ‘partners’ in the driven grouse shooting industry have stopped their filthy criminality?

Still prepared to pretend that hen harriers are welcomed with open arms on driven grouse moors? Welcomed with firearms, more like.

Still wondering why those of us in the conservation sector are so frustrated with your failure to stand up for hen harriers and all the other raptors that are still systematically killed on driven grouse moors while you get in to bed with the criminals and accept large financial bungs to keep your mouths shut?

[Cartoon by Gerard Hobley]

UPDATE 18th October 2021 13.00hrs: 57 hen harriers confirmed illegally killed or ‘missing’ on or close to UK grouse moors since 2018 (here).

18
Oct
21

Time to review Countryside Alliance’s position on raptor group after hunting webinar conviction?

Last year the Hunt Saboteurs Association published two secretly-recorded Zoom webinars showing some of the UK’s leading hunting personnel, including high-ranking former police officers, providing a training seminar to over 100 hunt masters across the UK about so-called ‘trail hunting’ (where hunts supposedly follow a laid scent to imitate a fox hunt, since actual fox hunting is now illegal).

Campaigners have long argued, with strong supportive evidence in many cases, that trail hunting is being used as a cover for the continuation of illegal fox hunting. Hunting organisations have denied this, of course, and have always claimed that any fox they’ve killed was caught ‘accidentally’ and not deliberately.

Campaigners claimed that the content of the two leaked webinars (see here) showed that there was now evidence to demonstrate a ‘nationwide conspiracy’ to commit perjury and flout the 2005 ban on hunting with hounds after some of the webinar trainers were caught discussing how to create a smokescreen, presumably to avoid prosecution for illegal fox hunting.

I was interested in these webinars because one of the contributors, former Police Inspector Phil Davies, serves on the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) as a representative of the Countryside Alliance (see here). The RPPDG is supposed to help prevent raptor persecution crimes in England & Wales, although to date it has achieved naff all other than to create an impression of tackling raptor persecution.

The hunting webinars were brought to the attention of the police and an investigation was launched. This led to the prosecution of Mark Hankinson from The Hunting Office, whose trial took place in September and who last week was convicted at Westminster Magistrates Court of encouraging or assisting others to commit an offence (to illegally fox hunt).

[Convicted hunstman Mark Hankinson leaving court, accompanied by Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance and protesters from the League Against Cruel Sports]

This prosecution and conviction is a huge blow to the reputation of the hunting community and the subsequent widespread publicity will have been damaging (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here), with large landowners now considering whether to ban trail hunting on their land.

For those interested in the legal arguments I’d thoroughly recommend reading the following documents: the closing submissions of the defence and prosecution, and the court’s judgement.

In the blog I wrote last year about these webinars (here), I argued that it’d be interesting to see whether there were grounds for Phil Davies and/or the Countryside Alliance to be suspended from the RPPDG as the police investigation in to the webinar content got underway, in the same way that Forestry England, National Trust, United Utilities, Lake District National Park Authority and Natural Resources Wales had initiated a suspension of trail hunt licences. I also wondered whether Mr Davies’ position, and/or that of the Countryside Alliance, on the RPPDG would be reviewed after the findings of the police investigation were known.

Well, here we are a year and a bit later. Mr Davies was NOT prosecuted for his role in the webinar, only Mark Hankinson was charged and prosecuted. However, if you read the judgement document it seems quite clear to me that Deputy Chief Magistrate Tan Ikram had cause to question the intention behind the comments made by other webinar participants, including Mr Davies, and that the judge wasn’t overly impressed with Davies’ comments about ‘creating smokescreens’ and ‘creating elements of doubt’, in the judge’s view presumably made to help hunt masters avoid prosecutions for illegal fox hunting. Here is the relevant excerpt from the judgement:

As far as I’m aware, Phil Davies was not suspended from serving on the RPPDG while the trial went ahead. So what about now, with the judge’s damning remarks ringing in everyone’s ears?

17
Oct
21

REVIVE coalition for grouse moor reform: speakers announced for annual conference, 14 November 2021

REVIVE, the coalition for grouse moor reform is holding its 2021 national conference at Perth Concert Hall on Sunday 14th November.

REVIVE’s first conference was held at the Perth Theatre in 2019 and was a sell out event. Two years on, interest and support for the coalition’s aims continues to grow so this year’s conference has been moved to the larger concert hall venue. Perth Concert Hall has implemented a suite of measures to help everyone stay safe – see here.

This year’s conference will be hosted by Chris Packham and the names of those speaking/presenting have just been announced in the preliminary programme, as follows:

10.00: Doors open/registration

10.30: Welcome, by Chris Packham

11.00 – 12.30: SESSION ONE, More wildlife on our moors

Ruth Tingay, Raptor Persecution UK

Robbie Marsland, League Against Cruel Sports Scotland

Kirsty Jenkins, OneKind

Colin Smyth, MSP Scottish Labour, South of Scotland

12.30 – 13.30: lunch

13.30 – 13.40: Welcome back, by Chris Packham

13.40 – 14.00: Polling and public attitudes to grouse shooting, by Mark Diffley (Director, Diffley Partnership)

14.00 – 15.00: SESSION TWO, Energising our Environment

Dr Helen Armstrong, Broomhill Ecology & author of A Better Way

Nikki Gordon, John Muir Trust

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland

Mark Ruskell, MSP Scottish Greens, Mid-Scotland and Fife

15.00 – 15.20: short break

15.20 – 16.20: SESSION THREE, Land reform, people and power

Duncan McCann, economist and author of Our Land

Robin McAlpine, Common Weal

Lesley Riddoch, journalist, broadcaster and campaigner

16.20: Closing speeches (full line-up tbc)

Andy Wightman, author, campaigner & former MSP

As well as presentations and panel discussions, there’ll be a number of stalls and plenty of time in the breaks for chatting with the REVIVE directors and guest speakers, as well as opportunities for making new connections and for catching up with old friends.

Tickets for this conference are now on sale (£11.50, including £1.50 booking fee per ticket; £5 for unemployed/Under 16s) and can be bought online HERE

I look forward to seeing some of you there.

For those of you who want to find out more about the REVIVE coalition for grouse moor reform, please visit the website here

16
Oct
21

Wild Ken Hill Estate in Norfolk pulls out of sea eagle restoration project

Well this is all a bit odd.

The Wild Ken Hill Estate has pulled out of hosting a white-tailed eagle restoration project in west Norfolk.

Earlier this year, the progressive rewilding estate was hailed by conservationists as news emerged that the estate had joined forces with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to release up to 60 white-tailed eagles, donated by Poland, over a ten year period to help restore the species to its former range in East Anglia.

Public support was in place (91% of respondents to a consultation were in favour of bringing the eagles back), even the neighbouring Sandringham Estate was reported to be ‘supportive’ (here), Natural England had agreed to licence the project (here) and a crowdfunder had raised over £9,000 to help pay for logistics (here).

Everything looked to be going ahead for the first eagles to be released in 2022 until a recent announcement on Wild Ken Hill Estate’s blog saying the project was ‘on hold’:

Eagle project on hold

We have reluctantly decided that we will not reintroduce White-tailed Eagles at Wild Ken Hill in 2022 as planned.

We continue to believe that the restoration of White-tailed Eagles to Eastern England is an important and inevitable conservation goal, and also that the original plans for a release beginning in 2022 could have been delivered very successfully in partnership with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation.

We have, however, taken the difficult decision to focus on other aspects of our nationally-significant nature and regenerative farming project. In particular, we feel it is worth putting our full weight behind the pioneering innovations we are making as part of our regenerative farming approach. The greater biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and improved profitability demonstrated at Wild Ken Hill with this approach over the last 3 years have the potential to have a huge impact across the UK if adopted by others; we feel it is therefore imperative to focus on these. In addition to regenerative farming, Wild Ken Hill supports beavers and is a release site for Natural England’s curlew headstarting project.

We are sure that the restoration of the White-tailed Eagle to England will continue successfully on the Isle of Wight, and we hope that dispersing juvenile eagles continue to visit Wild Ken Hill and the Norfolk Coast, attracted by the area’s suitable habitat.

We wanted to specifically and publicly offer our apologies to the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, who have been exceptional project partners to date and a pleasure to work with.

We also would like to thank and apologise to those that supported this project when participating in the consultation, particularly the 91% of the general public that offered their support and the many landmanagers and conservation organisations that did the same.

We will shortly be in touch with those that supported the Crowdfunding campaign to offer a full refund.

ENDS

That’s all a bit odd, isn’t it?

Mark Avery has suggested that some birding, landowning and shooting interests may have been ‘leaning on some members of the family’ (see here) and there is certainly some evidence of that here.

Was that enough to make Wild Ken Hill Estate buckle? It’s pretty disappointing, if it was, especially as real and potential concerns were carefully considered in the project’s comprehensive feasibility report, published in April 2021:

What has been said, and/or what threats have been made since then, to force Wild Ken Hill Estate to reconsider its involvement?

The most ridiculous thing in all of this is that the eagles are already making their way back to Norfolk, including visiting the Wild Ken Hill Estate, as they disperse from the release project on the Isle of Wight.

How long until the first poisoning incident, do you reckon?

15
Oct
21

‘Star lot’ in GWCT’s auction is a day’s shooting at an estate currently at centre of police investigation into shot red kite

It’s always interesting to look at the auction lots in the shooting world’s regular fundraising drives. I think it’s useful, and quite telling, to see who’s supporting who and it can often explain a great deal about why many shooting organisations refuse to call out the criminals when yet another raptor persecution crime is uncovered and instead simply pretend not to have noticed that anything’s happened (also known as wilful blindness).

In the era of a so-called ‘zero tolerance’ approach to raptor persecution, repeatedly declared by the large shooting organisations but yet to be effectively demonstrated in any meaningful way (because it’s all just a blatant publicity stunt in my opinion (e.g. see here)) it’s even funnier to scrutinise the auction booklets and see ‘who’s doing who’.

The latest auction from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) reveals an interesting donor, hailed as the auction’s ‘star lot’ on the GWCT website.

This ‘star lot’ comprises a 250-bird mixed pheasant and partridge day for eight guns at the ‘renowned’ Salperton Park in January 2022.

Does Salperton Park ring any bells to anyone? It does to me. This is where a red kite was found in March this year with multiple injuries caused by someone blasting the bird with a shotgun. The extent of the kite’s injuries, with serial fractures, is an indication that it was shot very close to where it was found, critically injured, on the estate (see here and here).

Gloucestershire Constabulary opened a criminal investigation focusing on Salperton Estate and local area, although PC Ash Weller was quoted in the local press:

We are exploring all avenues as this could have been someone travelling through the area rather than someone local to the area“.

Yeah, righto, PC Weller, it wasn’t as if the county was in a Tier 4 ‘stay at home’ lockdown period or anything, or that other alleged persecution incidents had been reported previously at this location, or indeed that raptor persecution has demonstrable links to the game shooting industry. Yeah, let’s focus on the least plausible explanation and go from there.

Needless to say, nobody has yet been charged or prosecuted and nor are they likely to be because the evidence required to link a named individual to this wildlife crime is virtually impossible to attain, even when the police are looking in the right direction.

Where does that leave us?

The sporting agency, Mark Osborne’s William Powell, can continue to advertise the estate as ‘one of the country’s most celebrated partridge shoots”, sporting clients can continue to fork out for shoot days on the estate, and the GWCT can trouser thousands of pounds worth of funds from their auction’s ‘star lot’.

Tremendous.

14
Oct
21

Attack on Chris Packham put into wider context

Further to the terrifying arson attack at Chris Packham’s home last week, believed by many to be an act of intimidation / domestic terrorism in response to Chris’s environmental and animal welfare campaign work (see here), two journalists have written articles that attempt to put the escalating violence into a wider context.

[CCTV image of the firebombed vehicle at Chris Packham’s home]

Writing for Byline Times yesterday, Andrew Taylor-Dawson argues thoughtfully that the attacks on Chris are part of a wider global assault on environmental activists. He says:

What is clear – from the forests of South America to the grouse moors of Britain – is that some of those with a vested interest to oppose the defence of wildlife and habitats are prepared to go to extreme lengths to intimidate, silence or even get rid of their opponents‘. 

You can read Andrew’s full article here.

Also published yesterday was an eloquent piece from George Monbiot in The Guardian, who wrote about the escalating violence shown by some within the bloodsports community against objectors, aided by poor police enforcement and major legal deficiencies. He writes about the loopholes in the Hunting Act which allow so-called trail hunters to ‘accidentally’ kill foxes, and says this about the difficulties of prosecuting gamekeepers for the illegal killing of birds of prey:

Other bloodsports also enjoy remarkable legal exemptions. An attempt to introduce a provision for vicarious liability in England, ensuring that estate owners could be prosecuted when their gamekeepers illegally kill birds of prey, was struck down by an environment minister who happened to own a grouse moor and a pheasant shoot. The amazing legal contortions needed to allow pheasant shooting to continue create the impression that there is one law for the rich and quite another for the poor‘.

You can read George’s full article here.

13
Oct
21

Network Rail commended for safe-guarding hen harriers in Scotland

A good news story!

This article has been reproduced from Scottish Construction Now (7th October 2021).

Nesting hen harriers have been protected by Network Rail during its successfully completed tree and vegetation management work between Rogart and Lairg.

Urgent works needed for the safe operation of the railway coincided with breeding season and were in a location that was both a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Protection Area (SPA).

This had the potential to disturb breeding harriers and Network Rail’s ecology team worked with the Highland Raptor Study Group to conduct surveys for hen harrier within the vicinity of the line.

Once breeding harriers had been identified, Network Rail put in place special working practices to minimise disruption for the birds.

Happily, three hen harrier chicks successfully fledged from nests adjacent to the work site which is a real success story for these protected birds.

Jonathan Callis, senior asset engineer for Network Rail, said:We take our responsibility to the lineside environment and Scotland’s wildlife extremely seriously.

However, to protect the safety of the railway and those who travel on it, we sometimes need to carry out work during bird nesting season, in protected areas or in this case, both. It is then we seek the help of our ecologists and specialists to develop safe ways of working and best practice to minimise disruption and protect any species or habitats adjacent to the line.

We are delighted the care, professionalism and collaboration demonstrated by everyone who contributed to this project has resulted in such a successful outcome for the birds.

Brian Etheridge, from the Highland Raptor Study Group, said:It was a pleasure to work with Network Rail this spring and summer carrying out ornithological surveys in the vicinity of the track between Rogart and Lairg.

The priority was to look for breeding hen harriers, a scarce and threatened bird of prey for which this area has been designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA).

Two nesting pairs were found, with one nest in close proximity of the track. Network Rail were quick to suspend all track-side scrub clearance in a bid to prevent any disturbance to the nesting pair.

This resulted in three young harriers fledging successfully and is much to the credit of Network Rail and the company and staff should be proud of their contribution to safe-guarding this iconic species.”

As part of the mitigation measures put in place for the hen harriers, a ‘high-risk works area’ was established, which incorporated areas adjacent to the railway line that offered suitable nesting and foraging habitat as well as areas where hen harrier activity was noted.

Strict guidelines meant that no work was allowed in the area around the nests until all breeding attempts were concluded.

Measures were also put in place to reduce noise disturbance including the use of battery-operated chainsaws and time limited working in any single area to keep noise to a minimum.

Immediately before works commenced on site, a further survey was undertaken to check any nesting hen harriers and confirm that the works were safe to proceed.

A camera was also installed to monitor the nesting locations throughout the work and to check that there were no signs of disturbance.

The location of the work, between Rogart and Lairg, runs through the Strath Carnaig and Strath Fleet SSSI and SPA. Both are designated areas for supporting a population of breeding hen harrier which is of European importance.

ENDS

13
Oct
21

Calls to investigate possible illegal burning on Yorkshire grouse moor

Press release from RSPB (13th October 2021)

Outrage as peatlands burn ahead of UK hosting crucial climate talks

  • The RSPB calls on Defra and Natural England to urgently investigate possible illegal peatland burning on a grouse shooting estate in West Yorkshire.
  • The charity has also received other reports of burning over the weekend
  • The active burning of peatland is a major embarrassment in the run up to the UK hosting CoP26.

The RSPB has today called for Defra and Natural England to urgently investigate possible illegal peatland burning on open moorland on Walshaw Moor, a grouse shooting estate, near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. The RSPB is also receiving reports of burning from other places from Yorkshire to the Peak District.

[Walshaw Moor, photo by Sarah Hanson]

Recent changes to the law mean that burning without a licence on peatland greater than 40cm in protected areas is illegal. On Walshaw Moor the RSPB has long maintained concerns about how the estate is managed given its location within a legally protected nature site (A Special Protection Area under the UK Habitats Regulations). The charity raised this with the European Commission in 2012 and is still awaiting resolution.

Dr Pat Thompson, Senior Policy Officer from RSPB said, “It’s outrageous that in the run up to the UK hosting CoP26 in Glasgow we are watching our peatlands burn. These are the UK’s equivalent of the rainforests in terms of both their nature and their storage of carbon.

“Each burn on peatland destroys crucial vegetation and exposes the surface of the peat itself. This leads to erosion both as the carbon in the peat is released into the atmosphere or is carried off into our rivers causing pollution. This process also reduces the ability of the peatland to slow the flow of water, which further compounds the problem. It also leads to problems of flooding in local communities further downstream, which we have seen in recent years. We are passing a tipping point in these places, and this practice needs to stop.

”The Westminster Government understands this, as Defra stated last year, ‘burning makes it more difficult or impossible to restore these habitats to their natural state”.  This is why it introduced the new laws this year. And for this reason, we are calling on Defra and Natural England to act urgently.”

Peatlands are burned in the North of England to encourage vigorous growth of heather which grouse can feed on. The RSPB is calling for driven grouse shooting to be licenced in order to better control what it sees as a form of intensive and damaging land management.

Dr Thompson added; “The grouse shooting industry in many places is essentially unsustainable and needs to change. In November, the UK will host CoP26 and we really don’t want the embarrassment of our peatlands on fire while delegates around the world discuss ways in which we can reduce our impact on climate and nature.”

While welcoming the added protection, the RSPB wants this urgently extended to protect other peatlands on shallower soils from burning.

On Thursday this week [14 October] the RSPB is launching a major new campaign to raise awareness of peatland issues in the UK in the run up to CoP26.

Dr Olly Watts, Senior Climate Change Policy Officer at RSPB said, “Our peat is precious, we need to keep it wet and keep it in the ground. Globally it is under threat. Burning here in the UK is one problem, but there are many others, not least because peat is still dug for the horticultural industry. For this reason, we will be asking people to pledge to give up using peat and write to their local elected representative to ask Governments to urgently ban the sales of peat products. We can all do our bit”.

The RSPB has also recently launched a special “app” for people to report burning on peatlands. Visit here to find out more: https://upland-burning-rspb.hub.arcgis.com/

ENDS

Reports of further burning on grouse moors across northern England, mostly in National Parks, were reported in the press yesterday via Unearthed, the investigative journalism arm of Greenpeace (see here).

Meanwhile, Wild Justice is taking a legal challenge against DEFRA’s approach on limiting burning of peatlands because the campaign group doesn’t believe DEFRA has gone anything like as far as it must. An application seeking permission for judicial review of this policy has been submitted to the court and a response is due any day.

To be kept informed of Wild Justice’s campaign, please sign up for the free newsletter HERE




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