24
Mar
17

41 eagles, 10 years, 0 prosecutions

Regular blog readers will know that from time to time we publish a list of eagles that are known to have been illegally killed, or have ‘disappeared’ (i.e. their satellite tag suddenly stops functioning) in Scotland.

The last update was in August 2016 when the RSPB revealed that eight satellite-tagged golden eagles had ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors in the Monadhliaths between 2011 and 2016.

Last week we blogged about another ‘disappearing’ golden eagle, this time a young bird that had been tagged in Perthshire in 2014 and whose satellite signal suddenly stopped functioning two years later when the eagle was visiting an Angus Glens grouse moor. It’s time to add that eagle to our list.

As before, a number of eagles included in this list (17 of them, to be precise) may not be dead. However, they are included here because their satellite tags unexpectedly stopped functioning (i.e. they’d been transmitting perfectly well up until the eagles’ last known location, often a known persecution hotspot). Two further satellite-tagged eagles (‘Angus’ and ‘Tom’) are not included in this list as although their transmitters stopped functioning, there had been recognisable problems with their tags prior to the final transmissions and so the benefit of the doubt has been applied.

It’s also worth reiterating that the following eagles are only the ones we know about. How many un-tagged eagles are illegally killed each year?

MAY 2006: A dead adult golden eagle was found on the Dinnet & Kinord Estate, near Ballater, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation. No prosecution.

JUNE 2006: A dead golden eagle was found on Glen Feshie Estate in the Cairngorms. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary launched an investigation. No prosecution.

AUGUST 2007: A dead adult female golden eagle was found on an estate near Peebles in the Borders. She was half of the last known breeding pair of golden eagles in the region. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Lothian & Borders Police launched an investigation. No prosecution.

NOVEMBER 2007: Tayside Police received a detailed tip-off that a young male white-tailed eagle (known as ‘Bird N’) had allegedly been shot on a grouse moor estate in the Angus Glens. The timing and location included in the tip-off coincided with the timing and location of the last-known radio signal of this bird. The eagle has not been seen again. With no carcass, an investigation wasn’t possible.

MAY 2008: A one year old male white-tailed eagle hatched on Mull in 2007 and known as ‘White G’ was found dead on the Glenquoich Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed he had been poisoned by an unusual concoction of pesticides that included Carbofuran, Bendiocarb and Isofenphos. A police search in the area also revealed a poisoned buzzard, a baited mountain hare and 32 pieces of poisoned venison baits placed on top of fence posts on the neighbouring Glenogil Estate. Laboratory tests revealed the baited mountain hare and the 32 poisoned venison baits contained the same unusual concoction of highly toxic chemicals that had killed the white-tailed eagle, ‘White G’. No prosecution.

JUNE 2009: An adult golden eagle was found dead at Glen Orchy, Argyll, close to the West Highland Way. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Strathclyde Police launched a multi-agency investigation. Three years and 3 months later, estate employee Tom McKellar pled guilty to possession of Carbofuran stored in premises at Auch Estate, Bridge of Orchy and he was fined £1,200. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

JULY 2009: A two year old female golden eagle known as ‘Alma’ was found dead on the Millden Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Alma was a well-known eagle  – born on the Glen Feshie Estate in 2007, she was being satellite-tracked and her movements followed by the general public on the internet. Tayside Police launched an investigation. No prosecution.

AUGUST 2009: A young white-tailed eagle was found dead on Glenogil Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Tayside Police was criticized in the national press for not releasing a press statement about this incident until January 2010. No prosecution.

MAY 2010: #1 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

MAY 2010: #2 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

MAY 2010: #3 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

JUNE 2010: #1: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: #2: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: #3: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: #4: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: A golden eagle was found dead on Farr & Kyllachy Estate, Inverness-shire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary apparently did not search the property until July 2011. No prosecution.

JUNE 2010: A white-tailed eagle was found dead on Farr & Kyllachy Estate, Inverness-shire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary apparently did not search the property until July 2011. No prosecution.

DECEMBER 2010: A decomposing carcass of a white-tailed eagle was found and photographed on Logie (Lochindorb) Estate, Morayshire. It was reported to Northern Constabulary. By the time the police arrived to collect it, the carcass had disappeared. The police said they couldn’t investigate further without the body.

FEBRUARY 2011: The signal from a young satellite-tracked golden eagle ( ‘Lee’, hatched in 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from the North Angus Glens. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MARCH 2011: The body of a young golden eagle was discovered on North Glenbuchat Estate, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation and raided the property in May 2011. A poisoned buzzard, a poisoned bait and a shot short-eared owl were found. No prosecution.

APRIL 2011: The body of a white-tailed eagle was found at the base of cliffs on Skye. The person who discovered it (a professional medic) considered it to have been freshly shot with a rifle, decapitated with a sharp implement and thrown from the cliff top. He took photographs and alerted Northern Constabulary and RSPB. There was a delay of two weeks before the now probably decomposed carcass was collected. A post-mortem was inconclusive. This incident was not made public until one year later after a tip off to this blog. No prosecution.

SEPTEMBER 2011: The signal from a satellite-tracked young golden eagle (‘Strathy’, hatched in 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from an Aberdeenshire grouse moor. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

NOVEMBER 2011: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tracked golden eagle (#57124) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MARCH 2012: The body of a young golden eagle being tracked by satellite was discovered in Lochaber. Tests revealed it had been poisoned with the banned pesticides Aldicarb and Bendiocarb. Information about this incident was not made public until three months later. No prosecution.

MARCH 2012: The signal from a satellite-tracked young golden eagle (‘Angus 26′, hatched in 2011) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. This bird’s suspiciously damaged sat tag was found in the area. No prosecution.

MAY 2012: The signal from a young satellite-tracked golden eagle (#32857) unexpectedly stopped transmitting when the bird was north-east of the Cairngorms National Park. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MAY 2012: The dead body of a young satellite-tracked golden eagle (hatched in 2011) was discovered near a lay-by in Aboyne, Aberdeenshire. The data from its satellite tag & the injuries the bird had when found (2 broken legs) suggested it had been caught in an illegal trap on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens and then removed, under cover of darkness, to be dumped in another area where it was left to die, probably a slow and agonising death. Information on this incident was not released until almost five months later, by the RSPB. It appears the police failed to properly investigate this incident as we understand that no search warrants were issued and no vehicles were searched. No prosecution.

JULY 2012: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tracked golden eagle (‘Foinaven’) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

OCTOBER 2012: An adult golden eagle was found shot and critically injured on grouse moor at Buccleuch Estate, near Wanlockhead, South Lanarkshire. The bird was rescued by the SSPCA and underwent surgery but it eventually succumbed to its injuries in April 2013. No prosecution.

MAY 2013: The signal from a two-year-old satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Angus 33′, hatched in 2011) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after its last signal from North Glenbuchat Estate in Aberdeenshire. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

JUNE 2013: A dead golden eagle was found under power lines on an RSPB reserve on Oronsay. This bird had been shot although it is not known whether this was the cause of death or an historical injury.

JULY 2013: The signal from a young satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Cullen’, hatched 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after its last signal in Aberdeenshire. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

DECEMBER 2013: A two year old satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Fearnan’) was found dead on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed he had been poisoned with the banned pesticide Carbofuran. No prosecution.

MARCH 2014: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#129002) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

APRIL 2014: The signal from a young satellite tracked white-tailed eagle (the first fledged sea eagle chick in East Scotland in ~200 years) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after its last signal from the North Glenbuchat Estate in Aberdeenshire. Police raided the property a couple of weeks later. No prosecution.

OCTOBER 2014: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#107133) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

OCTOBER 2014: The signal from a two-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#119886) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MARCH 2016: The signal from a satellite-tagged golden eagle (tagged in Perthshire 2014) unexpectedly stopped transmiting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MAY 2016: The signal from a less-than-one-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#00000583) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

JUNE 2016: The signal from a two-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#129010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

JULY 2016: The signal from a two-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#129015 ‘Brodie’) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

37 of the listed 41 eagles have either been found dead on, or have ‘disappeared’ on, Scottish grouse moors. (The other 4 have either died or have ‘disappeared’ in other habitat types).

Four of these 41 eagles ‘disappeared’ in 2016. So much for the grouse-shooting industry claiming that they’ve cleaned up their act and that persecution is a thing of the past. The tactics of how to kill an eagle have clearly changed (see here) but the persecution continues.

Last summer, in response to the news that eight tagged golden eagles had ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths over a five year period, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham ordered a review of satellite tag datato discover if there is a pattern of suspicious activity“.

We are expecting the review to be published some time in April and we expect it to show what decades of scientific research has already clearly demonstrated: that golden eagles (and several other raptor species) are routinely killed or suspiciously ‘disappear’ on land intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

We expect this review to be a seminal piece of research and if it shows what we anticipate it will show, the Scottish Government can expect to be put under enormous pressure to respond appropriately.

22
Mar
17

Hen Harrier Rowan’s injuries “entirely consistent with being shot”

In the latest edition of the RSPB’s Legal Eagle newsletter (here), there’s an article about how satellite tag technology is shining a bright light on illegal raptor persecution.

We were particularly interested to read the following paragraph:

In October 2016, Cumbria Constabulary announced that, following some excellent fieldwork by Natural England, one of the Natural England / Hawk & Owl Trust sponsored birds, Rowan, had been found dead on the edge of the county. The Zoological Society of London post mortem examination, including a radiograph of its fractured left leg, showed the bird’s injuries were entirely consistent with it having been shot‘.

Well, well, well. ‘Injuries entirely consistent with being shot‘ is a very different message from that put out by Natural England, Cumbria Constabulary and the Hawk & Owl Trust, who claimed Rowan was only ‘likely to have been shot’ (see here and here).

Indeed, when challenged about the lack of transparency, the Hawk & Owl Trust conjured up this statement:

The initial post mortem results were not wholly conclusive and further metallurgical tests were required” (see here).

Last month we asked the Hawk & Owl Trust three questions about their statement:

  1. Who said the initial post mortem results weren’t wholly conclusive?
  2. Who said further metallurgical tests were required?
  3. Have those further metallurgical tests been done? If so, where are the results? If they haven’t been done, four months on, then why not if they were supposedly “required”?

The Hawk & Owl Trust has not responded. Perhaps they’re too busy looking for a big enough shovel to dig themselves out of the crater.

That’s the thing about cover-ups. They are usually uncovered, especially badly botched ones.

22
Mar
17

Case against gamekeeper Stanley Gordon re: shot hen harrier, part 10

Criminal proceedings continued at Elgin Sheriff Court yesterday against Scottish gamekeeper Stanley Gordon.

Mr Gordon, 60, of Cabrach, Moray, is facing a charge in connection with the alleged shooting of a hen harrier in June 2013. He has denied the charge.

Here is the timeline of court proceedings so far:

Hearing #1 (19 May 2016): Case continued without plea until 16 June 2016.

Hearing #2 (16 June 2016): Case continued without plea until 14 July 2016.

Hearing #3 (14 July 2016): Case continued without plea until 11 August 2016.

Hearing #4 (11 August 2016): Case continued without plea until 1 September 2016.

Hearing #5 (1 September 2016): Mr Gordon enters a not guilty plea. A provisional trial date is set for 19 December 2016, with an intermediate diet set for 18 November 2016.

Hearing #6 (18 November 2016): Case adjourned for another intermediate diet on 2 December 2016.

Hearing #7 (2 December 2016). Provisional trial date of 19 December is dumped. Case adjourned for another intermediate diet on 10 February 2017.

Hearing #8 (10 February 2017). Case adjourned for another intermediate diet on 21 March 2017. New provisional trial date set for 15 May 2017.

Hearing #9 (21 March 2017). Case adjourned due to joint motion from both prosecution and defence to review recent disclosure. Another intermediate diet set for 21 April 2017. The provisional trial date of 15 May 2017 will be dependent on what happens at the hearing on 21 April.

20
Mar
17

RSPB offers £1,000 reward for info on two shot buzzards in North Yorkshire

A week ago we blogged about the discovery of two dead buzzards found in North Yorkshire (see here).

One had been found shot near East Lutton and the other one had been found shot near Helmsley in the North York Moors National Park.

The Northern Echo has now run with an article about these shootings (here) and the RSPB is offering a £1,000 reward for any information which leads to a successful conviction.

Conversely, the Yorkshire Post has published an article about the ‘value’ of gamekeepers in North Yorkshire (see here). One of the gamekeepers, Michael Wearmouth from the Rosedale and Westerdale Estate, is quoted: “Mr Packham and others who don’t understand shooting at all are trying to make everybody hate us“.

Nope, sorry Michael, it’s not Chris Packham et al at whom who you need to be pointing the finger, it’s the criminals from within your own industry who are causing public outrage by continuing to kill birds of prey, over 60 years since it became an offence. Just last year an horrifically injured buzzard was discovered on a Westerdale grouse moor and it wasn’t an isolated crime. North Yorkshire continues to hold the record for the highest number of reported raptor crimes in the UK.

20
Mar
17

Scarecrow placed at peregrine breeding site on Northumberland grouse moor

An interesting case highlighted in the latest edition of the RSPB’s Legal Eagle newsletter:

18
Mar
17

Ross-shire Massacre: three years on

Today marks the three year anniversary of the mass poisoning of red kites and buzzards at Conon Bridge in the Scottish Highlands – a crime that became known as the Ross-shire Massacre.

A total of 22 dead raptors (16 red kites and 6 buzzards) were discovered in a small geographic area over a number of weeks, beginning on 18 March 2014. Toxicology tests confirmed that 16 of these raptors (12 red kites and 4 buzzards) had been poisoned with a banned substance. Police Scotland has so far refused to name the poison, ‘for operational reasons’.

Nobody has ever been charged in connection with this crime.

Under Scottish law, there is a three year time limit for bringing a prosecution for offences committed under the Wildlife & Countryside Act (in England the time limit is two years). The clock starts ticking from the date the offence was commissioned. Three years later, the case becomes ‘time barred’ and even if the culprit is identified after this date, a prosecution under the Wildlife & Countryside Act is not possible.

We’ve been waiting for this three-year anniversary to arrive because we’ve got quite a bit to say about this case, particularly the police investigation, but we’ve been unable to publish these comments while the case was still considered ‘live’. Once the three-year anniversary was reached, we expected to be able to write a blog about the string of police cock-ups without worrying about legal restrictions and compromising the investigation.

However, it has been suggested to us that the three-year time bar may not take effect until the third anniversary of the last dead bird’s discovery, rather than the third anniversary of the actual poisoning offence. This seems a bit of a stretch to us (we believe there was only one poisoning offence, on 18 March 2014, not a series of them) but, as we’re not lawyers, we need to tread carefully and err on the side of caution.

We’re not entirely certain of the date the last dead raptor was found at Conon Bridge, although we blogged about it on 26 April 2014. Because of this uncertainty, we will not be blogging about this case until early May, just to be absolutely sure that we’re not compromising any chance of someone being prosecuted for this crime (yes, highly unlikely, we know, but we have to play the game or face a charge of contempt).

More in May. In the meantime, for anyone who wants to read what we’ve previously written about this fiasco, click here and scroll through the pages.

17
Mar
17

Update on illegally-set traps on Glendye grouse moor

Two months ago we blogged about a series of illegally-set traps that had been photographed on the grouse moor of Glendye Estate in Aberdeenshire (see here).

We, and many of you (thank you) passed on the information to the local Police Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer, PC Doug Darling in the hope that an investigation might take place. We contacted him again a few days ago and asked if he was able to provide an update on this case.

He told us that an enquiry had been carried out in the area the day after the incident had been reported to the police, but no illegally-set traps had been found.

The person who had taken the photographs and published them on a blog was then contacted by the police, to learn as much as possible about the incident (how the traps were set, whether any baits had been seen etc).

The police then visited the Estate Factor and the gamekeeper, who were in possession of the traps as they had been informed of the incident by the original witness. PC Darling told us: “They took it upon themselves to remove the traps in case something were to become caught and denied knowing whose traps they were and how they came to be found on the estate set in an illegal manor [sic]”.

That’s interesting. What would you do if you were working in the land management sector and a member of the public told you they’d found illegally-set traps on your land? Wouldn’t you leave the evidence in place and immediately notify the police?

Anyway, PC Darling went on: “Given we have no physical evidence it would not be possible to report the incident to the Procurator Fiscal however Scottish Natural Heritage are aware of the incident and we will be discussing any other measures we could pursue given the circumstances“.

Presumably ‘any other measures’ would include SNH putting a General Licence restriction order on this Estate, because according to SNH guidelines, evidence which may be considered by SNH in any decision to impose a General Licence restriction includes:

Illegal placement, design or use of traps or methods that are not in compliance with the requirements of the General Licence‘.

We’ll see if that happens because of course much still depends on the findings of the judicial review, which examined the process SNH used to impose a General Licence restriction on Raeshaw Estate back in 2015. The court’s decision has not yet been announced, at least not in public.

This case highlights something we discussed yesterday when blogging about the pine marten that had been caught in a spring trap on another grouse shooting estate in Scotland (see here). If every trap had to carry a unique police-issued number identifying the registered trap-user, then this investigation might have ended with a better result. As happens over and over again, whoever set these traps has escaped being held to account for their criminal activities.

PC Darling deserves full credit here. Not only did he launch an investigation the day after being alerted to these traps, he then followed up with the witness and paid a visit to those responsible for managing the land, and he was also very quick and willing to explain what had happened when asked about this case. What a breath of fresh air. His actions will inspire confidence for anyone else thinking about reporting a suspected wildlife crime in this region, rather than the brick wall we’ve become accustomed to expect from Police Scotland. Let’s hope his senior officers take note and applaud his efforts as much as we do.




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