A sad morons’ coalition

blah_blah_blahSome stuff:

1. The Moorland Association (representative body of grouse moor owners in England & Wales) has commissioned some ‘research’ which, they claim, shows that ‘merlin thrive on grouse moors’ (see here). The quality of this ‘research’ was ably shredded by a commentator called ‘Rich’ on Mark Avery’s blog a few weeks ago (see here). Now another blogger, Steve Mills, has written an excellent piece about the so-called ‘protection’ of raptor species on driven grouse moors. Read it here.

For anagram fans: Moorland Association / A sad morons coalition.

2. There’s an article just published in the Holyrood magazine about the illegal poisoning of raptors in Scotland, including an interview with RSPB Scotland’s Duncan Orr-Ewing, who suggests that raptor persecution levels on Scottish grouse moors are at similar levels to those of the Victorian era. Read it here.

There have been various responses to the article on Twitter from the great and the good:

From Doug McAdam, CEO of Scottish Land & Estates (the landowners’ representative body):

Raptor crime unacceptable but article and assertions not supported by evidence“.

From Daye Tucker, Director at Scottish Land & Estates:

Without wishing to defend indefensible, that claim [that persecution is at Victorian levels] is so beyond exaggeration“.

From Adam Smith, Director GWCT (Scotland):

All condemn recent appalling non-moor raptor killing but most opinions in story not evidence led“.

These are all interesting responses/denials, especially in relation to item 3:

3. The PAW Scotland Raptor Group has today issued what it describes as a ‘united’ statement of condemnation over the recent mass poisoning of red kites and buzzards in Ross-shire. Also included in this statement is the following:

The Group recognised that more needs to be done to strengthen the message that all forms of raptor persecution are completely unacceptable. The Group will ensure that this message is heard throughout Scotland and is strongly and publicly supported by all bodies representing land use, field sports and conservation.  The Group agreed to set up a short life working group to make recommendations as to how to deliver a strong message that commands wide support and is focused on preventing raptor persecution. The aim is to encourage all those with any information about such illegal practices to report this to the police“. Read the full statement here.

Both Scottish Land & Estates and the GWCT are members of the PAW Raptor Group. Can’t wait to see how they’re going to reconcile their denials about the extent of raptor persecution and turn it in to “a strong message that commands wide support and is focused on preventing raptor persecution”.

It’ll also be fascinating to see how the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (also a PAW Raptor Group member) “encourages all those with any information about such illegal practices to report this to the police” when their own policy advice to their members is to say nothing to the police except to give their name, address and date of birth, if asked.

Interesting to note that the PAW Scotland Raptor Group failed to provide any condemnation about the poisoned peregrine found recently in the Leadhills area. Can’t think why.


Case against gamekeeper George Mutch: part 7

scales of justiceCriminal proceedings continued today with another hearing in the case against gamekeeper George Mutch of Kildrummy Estate, Aberdeenshire.

We understand Mutch is pleading not guilty to a suite of charges for offences alleged to have taken place in August 2012. The charges come under Section 5 subsection 1B of the Wildlife & Countryside Act (relating to the use of a trap for the purpose of taking or killing wild birds) and Section 1 subsection 1A of the Wildlife & Countryside Act (relating to the killing, injuring or taking of wild birds).

This was the 8th hearing in this case. Previous hearings:

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).

We understand a trial date has been set for late May, although there is yet another hearing (#9)  scheduled for 13th May.

Previous blogs on this case here, here, here, here, here and here.


New research suggests Langholm buzzards not that fussed about eating red grouse

Richard Francksen BOUEarlier this month, the British Ornithologists’ Union held its annual conference at the University of Leicester. The theme of this year’s conference was the Ecology and Conservation of Birds in Upland and Alpine Habitats.

Conferences like these allow research scientists to present their latest findings to their peer group. This particular conference was of great interest to us, given the high levels of illegal raptor persecution associated with upland moors that are managed intensively for grouse shooting.

There were several presentations worthy of note (and you can read the abstracts in the PDF below) but we wanted to highlight one that many of you will probably be interested in. The presenter, Richard Francksen, a PhD student at Newcastle University, won an award for this research: Best poster presentation by an early career researcher.

Research Title: Common buzzard Buteo buteo diet in relation to changes in vole abundance.

Researchers: Richard Francksen, Mark Whittingham and David Baines.

Here’s the abstract:

Predators whose most important prey are field voles Microtus agrestis are often assumed to increase their predation on other prey groups when vole abundances decline. However, this assumption may not be valid for all prey groups and habitats available to predators. In Britain, voles are an important prey item for common buzzards Buteo buteo, and often form a principal component of the diet throughout much of their geographic range. Langholm Moor in south-west Scotland is an area of upland moorland managed for red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus, in which vole indices typically cycle over a three to four year period. We studied vole abundance and buzzard diet at Langholm Moor between 2011 and 2013, which encompassed a complete vole cycle. Breeding buzzards on Langholm Moor have previously been shown to eat red grouse in small numbers alongside their preferred vole prey. Buzzard diet was monitored at 13-16 nests each year using motion triggered cameras, analysis of prey remains and pellet content. An Index of Relative Importance was used to assess the importance of various prey groups to buzzard diet and it was found that the proportion of voles in buzzard diet decreased in line with vole indices. We hypothesised that when vole availability diminished, buzzards would switch to increased predation of red grouse and their chicks, However, grouse were less frequent in buzzard diet when vole indices were low. Instead, buzzards switched to eating more lagomorphs, moles, shrews and corvids; prey groups typically associated with moorland fringe and farmland habitats. This may suggest that when provisioning their chicks, buzzards take red grouse only incidentally while hunting for voles within moorland habitats. When assessing diet and investigating predator impact on prey species, knowledge of all resources and habitats that are available to predators is important.

Other presentations of note include:

Weston et al. Prospecting forays inform young golden eagles prior to emigrating from their natal home range. [Page 10, abstracts book).

Amar & Redpath. Hen harriers in the UK: a tale of contrasting fortunes. [Page 11].

Carroll et al. Impacts of drainage and climate change on keystone insects and upland breeding birds. [Page 21].

Baines et al. Grouse moor management: effects on other upland birds in the UK. [Page 25].

Thompson et al. Does intensive grouse moor management benefit the UK uplands? [Page 26].

Roos et al. Predation and upland birds. [Page 28].

Redpath and Young. The role of ecology in addressing conflicts over upland birds. [Page 33].

Downloadable book of abstracts: BOU Uplands Conference 2014 – abstracts

Photos from the conference here


That poisoned peregrine at Leadhills

Leadhills peregrine Sunday Express April 2014Last week we blogged about a poisoned peregrine that had been found in the Leadhills area of South Lanarkshire and the alleged response of Police Scotland and the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) to the incident (see here).

There have now been some official responses.

The NWCU has stated: “Formal operational procedures have been followed throughout and whilst the investigation is on-going further comment is inappropriate. The investigation is being conducted with utmost care, and third-party reports in the media of improper conduct are wholly uninformed” (see here for full statement).

NWCU has chosen to use the ‘it’s an on-going investigation so we can’t comment’ card. Quite how explaining their response to an initial telephone call would impact on an investigation is unclear, but there you have it. Transparency and accountability don’t seem to be high on the agenda.

Police Scotland are quoted in an article that was published in the Sunday Express yesterday: “There was no suggestion from the person reporting the dead bird that it had been poisoned or appeared in any way suspicious, and we responded accordingly“. The article can be read here: Leadhills peregrine Sunday Express April 2014

The member of the public who reported the dead peregrine to the police has told us they are furious with this response and they have put in a complaint to Police Scotland. They argue that Police Scotland are well aware of the long history of raptor persecution in the area: 45 reported incidents since 2003, and of those, 34 incidents involved the poison Carbofuran – the same poison that killed this peregrine. Of course the discovery of this poisoned peregrine was suspicious – how could it not be?

The member of the public also told us about the ‘on-going investigation’. The police contacted this person to advise of their theory about who might have poisoned the bird (we can’t publish that theory but it’s quite astonishing). The member of the public asked the police officer whether they needed a statement about the discovery of the dead bird: they said ‘no’.

That’s that then. The Untouchables: 45. Justice: 0.



Ross-shire Massacre: today’s public protest

What a great turn out in Inverness this afternoon for the public protest demonstration against illegal raptor persecution!

The protest was triggered following the recent mass poisoning of at least 19 raptors (14 red kites and 5 buzzards) in the Conon Bridge area of Ross-shire, all found during the last three weeks.

Well done to RSPB Scotland for organising the demo and allowing ordinary members of the public an opportunity to tell the Scottish Government that they’ve had enough and to demand they now take action. A big well done also to everyone who was able to attend. Special mention goes to the two people from Friends of Red Kites in Gateshead who made the long journey north to participate.

For those of you who weren’t able to be there, you can still show your support by contributing to the reward fund, which is currently at a whopping £26,800. Click HERE if you’d like to donate.


Press coverage of today’s event:

BBC News here

Courier here

Herald here

Other media coverage:

Chris Townsend Outdoors website here

WalkHighlands website here

Mark Avery’s blog here

Blog by Stuart Benn, RSPB Scotland Conservation Manager here

Previous blog posts on the Ross-shire Massacre here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.


Man arrested for attempted raptor trapping on Deeside

copfsAn un-named man has been arrested and reported to the Procurator Fiscal following an investigation into the alleged attempted trapping of birds of prey on Deeside.

The Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) now has six months in which to decide whether there’s sufficient evidence to prosecute.

This is another interesting case from Aberdeenshire – one of three from the region on the go at the moment – and we’ll be taking a special interest in this one, as no doubt will one of our blog followers who has what we’ll call a special interest in driven game-shooting on Deeside.


Ross-shire Massacre: death toll rises to 19 – public protest this Saturday

The number of dead raptors found in the Conon Bridge area of Ross-shire has risen to 19. These include 14 red kites and five buzzards.

Toxicology tests so far have determined that 12 of them (9 kites and 3 buzzards) had been poisoned. Tests have not yet been completed on all the corpses.

In response to one of the worst mass poisoning incidents in recent times, RSPB Scotland is organising a public protest in Inverness town centre this Saturday. The key aim of this protest is to let the Scottish Government know that we all want action to prevent this criminal persecution of our raptors from happening again.

Protest Date: Saturday 12th April at 2pm.

Meet at the top end of the pedestrianised High Street, Inverness (near Marks & Spencer & Santander).

All welcome (including children) and protesters are encouraged to make their own banners.

If you can’t attend the protest, please consider showing your support by donating to the reward fund HERE.

Previous blog posts on the Ross-shire Massacre here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Here are some pitiful images of some of the victims (via @RossKites)






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