28
Aug
15

Two Red kites poisoned & shot in Highlands: get your act together, Police Scotland

RK Cawdor poisoned 2014RSPB Scotland has issued a press release about the discovery of two illegally killed red kites in the Highlands. One was found shot on a railway line and the other one was found poisoned on Cawdor Estate (see photo).

The press release is interesting (read it here) but what’s more interesting is what is revealed by reading in between the lines.

Both birds were discovered in 2014. The shot red kite was found near Beauly in June 2014 (probably this one we blogged about in October 2014) and the poisoned red kite was found in September 2014.

The RSPB statement says, “Both of these incidents took place in 2014 and are now being made public as the Police have concluded their enquiries”.

So it takes Police Scotland over a year to disclose an illegally shot red kite and almost a year to disclose an illegally poisoned red kite. They’ve now ‘concluded their enquiries’ without appealing for information from the public and without executing a search under warrant on Cawdor Estate. What exactly did their ‘enquiries’ entail? Sitting around a table, scratching their heads, before deciding to keep both crimes under wraps?

Of course, an investigation in to the circumstances of the shot red kite would be a hide in to nothing – the bird was most probably shot elsewhere and dumped on the railway line to make it look like it had collided with a train. That’s a very difficult crime to detect, although had the Police made an appeal for information at the time the bird was found, there was always a slim chance that someone might have seen something. But no, far easier just to keep quiet and not attract any more embarrassing media coverage so soon after the mass poisoning of 22 kites and buzzards at nearby Conon Bridge (which is still undetected….more on that soon).

However, the ‘investigation’ in to the circumstances of the poisoned red kite that was found on Cawdor Estate just beggars belief. Cawdor Estate is well known as it has been at the centre of alleged wildlife crimes for over two decades. Here are just some of the incidents recorded either on the estate or close to the estate (for which nobody has ever been prosecuted) –

1992: Dead buzzard, magpie and sheep (laced with Strychnine)

1993:  Dead buzzard (poisoned with Alphachloralose) found on Forestry Commission land 100 metres from the boundary of Cawdor Estate.

1994: Three dead buzzards (poisoned with Alphachloralose) and a poisoned rabbit bait

1996: Three poisoned baits found: a hare laced with Alphachloralose, a goat laced with Aldicarb and a widgeon laced with Strychnine.

1996: A hidden pit containing a suspected bird of prey poisoning kit uncovered by investigators three miles from the estate.

1999: A report sent to the Procurator Fiscal alleging that mountain hares were illegally persecuted in snares on the estate.

2000: A second report submitted to the Fiscal claiming mistreatment of hares on the estate.

2001: A dead golden eagle (poisoned with Carbofuran)

2004: A number of illegal gin traps found set around rabbit baits

2004: A dead buzzard (poisoned with Carbofuran)

2005: A dead red kite (poisoned with Carbofuran)

2007: A dead red kite (poisoned with Carbofuran)

2010: Two red kites found poisoned on neighbouring ground close to estate boundary

With a record like this, wouldn’t you expect Police Scotland, on discovery of the latest poisoned red kite, to request a search warrant and head straight for the estate? Wouldn’t that be a logical first step? Why didn’t that happen?

Did the Police actually talk to anybody on Cawdor Estate about this poisoned kite? If you read a quote attributed to Alex Hogg of the SGA (on the BBC news website here), you’d think not. Hogg says:

“This is the first we have heard of any such incidents….”.

Really? Cawdor Estate has very close links to the SGA. Cawdor’s former Head Gamekeeper and later Sporting Manager Roddy Forbes was the inaugural Chairman of the SGA. And further, the SGA’s 2010 Young Gamekeeper of the Year was an employee on Cawdor Estate. That’s indicative of pretty close ties between the estate and the SGA, and yet the SGA claim not to have heard about this crime?

As an aside, Hogg is further quoted: “….We do not know the possible causes [of the birds’ deaths] which makes it difficult to comment further”.

Eh? The causes of death have been established. One kite was shot, the other was poisoned. Why is it ‘difficult to comment further’? A little bit too embarrassing, Alex?

A Police Scotland spokesperson is also quoted in the BBC article:

“Investigating wildlife crime is challenging because of its nature, and the vast areas covered. Police Scotland works closely with partners including the RSPB to tackle wildlife crime, and brings to bear the full range of investigative techniques at its disposal. Our detection rate is increasing. Our aim is to reduce wildlife crime and earlier this year we launched a campaign raising awareness”.

Yes, of course investigating wildlife crime is challenging, nobody disputes that. But sitting on enquiries, hiding them from the public, and not undertaking searches on estates where poisoned birds are discovered is not ‘bringing to bear the full range of investigative techniques’ at their disposal. It’s anything but that.

And what’s this about ‘our detection rate is increasing’? Are there any data to support this claim or are we supposed to just accept the word of a police force under increasing pressure to get its act together?

So what now for Cawdor Estate, almost one year on from the discovery of this poisoned kite? Might it be too much to hope that SNH will issue a General Licence restriction order? Guess we’ll have to wait and see, although that might be a bit embarrassing for SNH given that they have chucked thousands of pounds (of our money!) at Cawdor Estate to help fund their ranger service.

20
Aug
15

Vicarious liability prosecution: Andrew Walter Bryce Duncan

scales-of-justiceA prosecution is underway against Andrew Walter Bryce Duncan, who is alleged to be vicariously liable for the criminal actions of gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick, who was recently convicted of killing a buzzard in April 2014 (see here).

Duncan, 71, of Kirkton, Dumfriesshire, is understood to manage the pheasant shoot on the Newlands Estate where Dick committed his crimes. Dick is due to be sentenced in September.

At a hearing in Dumfries Sheriff Court on Tuesday 18th August 2015, a trial date was set for Duncan (23rd November 2015) with an intermediate diet due to be heard on 20th October 2015.

Great to see the Crown Office pursuing this prosecution. We’ll follow proceedings with interest.

Vicarious liability in relation to the persecution of raptors in Scotland (where one person may potentially be legally responsible for the criminal actions of another person) came in to force on 1st January 2012. To date there has only been one conviction – landowner Ninian Robert Hathorn Johnston Stewart was convicted in December 2014 of being vicariously liable for the criminal actions of Glasserton & Physgill Estates gamekeeper Peter Bell (see here).

17
Aug
15

Buzzard shot & fatally injured in Borders

buzzard 3A buzzard that was found badly injured in the Borders in July had been hit by shotgun pellets in its head and wing. Its injuries were so severe the bird had to be euthanised.

The bird was found by a member of the public on 24th July by the side of the road between Heriot and Innerleithen. This is driven grouse moor country and the area has a long history of raptor persecution – if you’re unfamiliar with the region, check out google maps.

The SSPCA is appealing for information.

SSPCA press statement here

BBC News article here

Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod has made the following statement:

The illegal persecution of birds of prey is always unacceptable, but this case – with the pain and suffering caused to the buzzard – is particularly abhorrent. Anyone with information on this incident should contact the relevant authorities as soon as possible.

 “I am resolute in my determination to do all I can to put a stop to crimes such as this, with the Scottish Government working with law enforcement and others through the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland (PAWS). I expect all right-minded people involved in the countryside, including with shooting, to support our efforts.

 “The Scottish Government has already put in place new and strengthened measures to crack down on wildlife crime, including vicarious liability prosecutions and general licence restrictions, for example. But let me be absolutely clear – I will consider taking further action if necessary and the licencing of shooting businesses in Scotland remains an option.

How many more times are we going to hear this now seemingly empty threat about ‘taking further action if necessary’? What does ‘if necessary‘ actually mean if it doesn’t mean that this latest incident is worthy of further action? Each time we’re told about another raptor that has been illegally killed we ask the Government when further action will be taken. Each time, we’re fobbed off with this line: “I will consider taking further action if necessary“. In the last few days alone we’ve learned of a shot hen harrier and two shot buzzards. Are none of these crimes worthy of ‘taking further action’?

Don’t know about you but we’d be really interested to find out exactly how Dr McLeod defines ‘if necessary‘. Does she have a target number of raptor killings in mind that will trigger further action? If so, what is that figure? Let’s ask her. Emails to: ministerforenvironment@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

17
Aug
15

More wildlife crime police officers for Scotland

Police Scotland logoPolice Scotland has announced that more than 100 police officers will receive specialist training to tackle wildlife crime (see here).

The officers will attend a ‘new advanced training course’ next month which will result in the 100+ officers taking up Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer posts across all 14 Force divisions.

It’s not clear whether these positions will be full-time or part-time, but either way, it is a very welcome move.

In February, two reports published by Scottish Environment LINK highlighted the problem of wildlife crime enforcement in Scotland and one of the issues raised was a lack of trained police officers, resulting in as many as up to one third of reported wildlife crimes remaining un-investigated (see here and here).

Now, in addition to these extra trained police officers, what about an increase in investigatory powers for the SSPCA….still waiting for a decision almost one year after the public consultation ended.

15
Aug
15

Henry the Hen Harrier: video mash up

CLICK HERE FOR A VIDEO MASH UP OF HENRY’S TOUR: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSc2faNGdJo&feature=youtu.be

IMG_5598 (2)

14
Aug
15

High risk plan to boost golden eagle population in southern Scotland

Peebles August 2007There’s an article on the BBC News website today about a proposal to take golden eagle chicks from the Highlands and release them in southern Scotland in an attempt to boost the tiny, depleted population currently clinging on by its talons (BBC report here).

The timing of this news is suspicious, especially when you learn that the project hasn’t yet been formally approved and thus may or may not happen. The cynical amongst us might view it as yet another piece of spin aimed at portraying the grouse-shooting industry in a favourable light so close to the start of the Inglorious 12th, especially when you see who is involved with the project – more on that later.

There’s no doubt that the southern Scotland golden eagle population is in serious trouble, and has been for many years. We’ve blogged about this previously (here, here). On the face of it then, any attempt to increase the population to its former status should be welcome news. But…..

A basic tenet of any restocking / translocation / restoration / reinforcement / reintroduction (whatever they choose to call this project) is that there should be strong evidence that the threat(s) that caused any previous decline has been identified and removed or sufficiently reduced. This is a standard guideline issued by the IUCN and is part of the criteria used to assess whether such projects can proceed.

One of the biggest constraints on golden eagle population recovery in southern Scotland is persecution. Raptor persecution in southern Scotland has definitely not been removed, nor sufficiently reduced. In the last ten years alone there have been more than 150 confirmed persecution incidents (that figure doesn’t include the ‘probable’ or ‘possible’ cases, nor those that went undiscovered). Just three days ago we were given a sharp reminder of just how current this problem still is when it was announced that a young hen harrier had been found shot dead on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (see here). The 2014 SNH-commissioned report on the status of golden eagles in southern Scotland also identified several areas where persecution is an ongoing concern, including the Lowther Hills, the Lammermuirs and the Moorfoots (all driven grouse moor areas – what a surprise), and stated that persecution needed to be brought under control in those regions if golden eagles were to thrive in southern Scotland once again (see SNH report here).

Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod acknowledges the persecution issue and in an earlier version of the BBC article this morning she said she will “work hard” to ensure the project is a success. In the latest version of the article, this has been updated with her saying that the persecution of raptors would “not be tolerated under any circumstances“. We’re sure she has good intentions but to be frank, this is just more rhetoric. She (and her predecessors) has been unable to bring persecution under control in other parts of the golden eagle’s range (notably the driven grouse moor regions of central and eastern Scotland – see report here from 2011 and report here from 2014) so why should we think she’ll be able to bring it under control in southern Scotland without bringing in new sanctions?

Having said all that, other high risk projects of a similar nature have been very successful on the whole (think reintroduction of red kites and white-tailed eagles). It’s also abundantly clear that if we wait for the southern Scotland golden eagle population to rebound of its own accord (by natural recruitment of individuals from the more northerly populations) then we’re likely to see the demise of the southern Scotland golden eagle population within a few years. It’s a definite trade off situation.

The one big thing in the project’s favour is that, if it does go ahead, it is likely to be a high profile project. There will be plenty of public interest and, assuming the released birds will be satellite-tracked (and their movements made publicly available and not kept secret), the unlawful killing or ‘mysterious disappearance’ of any of those birds will cause public uproar. This will put a lot of pressure on landowners and their gamekeepers to behave themselves and leave those eagles alone. If they don’t, it may well be the final nail in the coffin for their industry. There have been two very high profile killings of golden eagles in southern Scotland in recent years: an adult female was poisoned in 2007 (see here) and an adult male was shot in 2012 (see here). Ironically, that shot golden eagle was found on Buccleuch Estate, one of the listed project supporters. This is also where hen harrier Annie’s corpse was found.

As well as Buccleuch Estates, another project supporter is Scottish Land and Estates. Their CEO Doug McAdam is quoted as follows in the BBC article:

Landowners value golden eagles, they are one of our most iconic birds and I think people will work hard with us to make this project a success. Often landowners are portrayed as the villain here and against golden eagles and nothing could be further from the truth“.

It’s actually very close to the truth. Yes, there are a handful of landowners who cherish having breeding golden eagles on their land (not least the landowner who provides a home for the one remaining pair in the Borders) but that handful is greatly outnumbered by the vast majority of driven grouse moor owners who employ a zero tolerance policy for golden eagles (and many other raptor species) on their ground. Why else does McAdam think there is a need for conservation intervention to rescue the southern Scotland golden eagle population? How else does McAdam explain the large number of vacant golden eagle territories on grouse moors in central and eastern Scotland? How else can McAdam explain the disproportionate number of satellite-tagged eagles that ‘vanish’ on driven grouse moors? How else does McAdam explain the disproportionate number of poisoned, shot and trapped golden eagles that are found on driven grouse moors?

Let’s hope this restoration project does go ahead and we see an increasingly viable golden eagle population in southern Scotland. We’ll be watching with interest and McAdam and his industry mates can rest assured that if any of those young eagles are illegally killed, we and others will go to town on exposing it to the public.

The image above is of the poisoned golden eagle found underneath her nest tree in the Borders in 2007. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for this.

The image below is of the shot golden eagle found on Buccleuch Estate in 2012. He didn’t survive. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for this.

 Wanlock Head GE Oct 2012

13
Aug
15

Buzzard found shot dead in Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park

BZPolice are appealing for information following the discovery of a shot dead buzzard in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

The corpse was discovered by a member of the public about half a kilometre east of Ward’s Cottage, Gartocharn at around 2.15pm on Wednesday 5th August. It was found with a bullet wound in its chest.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the police on 101.




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