Shot buzzard has to be euthanised

BZ shot west tilbury essex March 4th 2015 - CopyFrom the South Essex Wildlife Hospital, 4th March 2015:

We had to euthanise a beautiful buzzard today, found in West Tilbury it had been shot at least 3 times, twice through the wing, it still has an air gun pellet lodged in its chest. We have of course notified this crime to the police“.

Thanks to Neil Phillips (@UK_Wildlife) for the notification.




Convicted vicarious liability landowner loses nearly £66,000 in subsidies

cash pile 2In January we blogged about the subsidy penalty given to Ninian Johnston Stewart, the first landowner to be convicted under vicarious liability legislation in Scotland after his gamekeeper laid out poisoned bait that killed a buzzard in 2012. At the time of Johnston Stewart’s conviction we knew that he’d lost some of his agricultural subsidy but we didn’t know how much. The only information in the public domain was the following quote from his defence agent, David McKie, who was discussing Johnston Stewart’s (derisory) fine of £675:

He [Johnston Stewart] had already been penalised substantially via a high five-figure deduction to his Single Farm Payment“.

The size of his subsidy penalty has now been revealed in the latest edition of the RSPB’s Investigations newsletter, Legal Eagle:

In 2012, Johnston Stewart’s business received nearly £120,000 in Single Farm Payments. Under ‘cross-compliance’ there is a requirement to comply with a number of conditions in order to receive payments. The poisoned bait and buzzard were found on land used for agriculture by the business and consequently he lost nearly £66,000 of the 2012 payment“.

That’s a good result, although you have to question why his entire 2012 subsidy (nearly £120,000) wasn’t withdrawn.

In other subsidy penalty news, regular blog readers will be aware that we’ve been trying to find out (unsuccessfully so far) whether the Stody Estate (Norfolk) has also received a subsidy penalty, following the conviction of gamekeeper Allen Lambert for poisoning 11 raptors (10 buzzards and a sparrowhawk) in 2012 and a series of other related crimes (see here, here, here, herehere and here). According to our reckoning, Stody Estate has potentially breached two Statutory Management Requirements: SMR1 (intentional killing of wild birds) and SMR9 (use of pesticides).

Thanks to the determination of one of our blog readers, here’s the latest response from the Rural Payments Agency:

12 February 2015



Re: Freedom of Information – Information Request

Thank you for your request for information dated 15 January 2015 which has been dealt with under Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FoIA).

To answer your questions:

1. Has the illegal poisoning of birds of prey carried out by an employee of the Stody Estate been reported to the RPA as a possible breach of Cross Compliance SMR1?

We can confirm that members of the public approached RPA following the media reporting of the prosecution, with several suggesting that SMR1 had been breached.

2. If the answer to the above question is yes, how many individuals have reported the potential breach to the RPA?

RPA can confirm that we have received e-mails from 20 individuals mentioning a possible breach in RPA regulations by the Stody Estate.

3. Is the RPA currently investigating a reported breach in cross-compliance at the Stody Estate relating to SMR1?

We previously answered a similar question in our response to you, reference XXXXX, and advised we do not hold any information that answers this question. RPA is obliged by European legislation to follow up these reports. We can assure you that RPA will take action, including cross compliance reductions to CAP subsidy payments, if this is found to be appropriate.

If you are not happy with the way we have handled your request, you can ask for an internal review. These requests should be submitted within two months of the date of receipt of the response to your original letter and should be addressed to: Access to Information, Rural Payments Agency, North Gate House, 21-23 Valpy Street, Reading, RG1 1AF.

Yours sincerely

Rural Payments Agency

You’d think that it would be a lot easier for members of the public to find out how their taxes have been spent, or more importantly, whether they’ve been withdrawn from those involved with criminality, wouldn’t you?


Gamekeepers rattled by Birders Against Wildlife Crime

bawc logo - CopyThis month’s edition of Modern Gamekeeping (“Britain’s only independent industry publication“) reveals that the gamekeeping industry is definitely rattled by the campaign group Birders Against Wildlife Crime.

There’s a regular article at the back written by someone calling himself ‘Predator’. This month, ‘Predator’ writes about “a motley group of soap-dodging, benefits-scrounging parasites” (the badger cull protesters), the “disingenuous” RSPB (referring to the RSPB’s claim that video evidence in the George Mutch case was a by-product of a scientific study), and an attack on Birders Against Wildlife Crime:

It’s said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and boy – do we need to be vigilant nowadays. It’s only going to get worse. A bunch of antis calling themselves Birders Against Wildlife Crime are holding a conference in Buxton, Derbys, in March [see here]. They’ll be calling on all birdwatchers, hikers and dog-walkers to turn amateur crimespotters, poking about looking for trouble where none exists, and reporting the slightest suspicion to the police. 

It has the potential to cause all sorts of bother for the police, farmers, landowners and keepers, who could quickly become bogged down by well-intentioned reports about anything and everything. But then, perhaps that’s the idea. This may be a good time to invite your local wildlife crime officer round and establish a good working relationship before it all gets out of hand“.

It’s an interesting view. You’d think that the law-abiding gamekeeping industry, with nothing to hide, would welcome well-informed members of the public keeping an eye out for wildlife crime, wouldn’t you? It’ll be far easier for the police to catch those balaclava-clad, gun-toting District Nurses if everyone’s on the look out for them.

Well done, BAWC – you’ve got the criminals looking over their shoulders.

We’ll be blogging again about Modern Gamekeeping very soon….they’ve got an article in this edition written by someone with eight wildlife crime convictions to his name…


Shot peregrine found dead at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust HQ

peregrine belper jan 2015A dead peregrine has been found outside the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s HQ – an x-ray revealed it had been shot.

A £1,000 reward has been put up by the RSPB for information that leads to a conviction.

Tim Birch, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s Head of Advocacy and Conservation said: “We have all been shocked at the Trust by the shooting of the male peregrine at our headquarters in Belper. To have a wildlife crime happening right on our doorstep is both alarming and upsetting. Many people from Belper, and indeed from around the whole region, have been thrilled to watch peregrines around the mill where we work. We feel very privileged to have these birds living alongside us. We strongly condemn the shooting of this bird“.

Press statement from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust here

Article in Derby Telegraph here.

This is the second known peregrine to have been illegally killed this year. Just ten days ago we blogged about the discovery of a poisoned peregrine found dead in January on a Scottish sporting estate (here).

According to the RSPB, there have been at least 54 confirmed illegally persecuted peregrines in the UK in the past six years. We eagerly await the results of last year’s National Peregrine Survey to see how persecution is affecting this species at the population level.


Our 5th birthday

Today is our 5th birthday.

Sometimes it feels like we only started yesterday; sometimes it feels like we’ve been been here for a very long time.

When we started out, we had a clear objective: to raise awareness of the illegal poisoning, shooting and trapping of our raptors in our countryside. We were well aware of the issue – it had been going on for decades – but we were also equally aware that the wider general public were less well informed because the information wasn’t held in one easily-accessible central location – you had to know where to go and look to find the details.

That awareness-raising objective has been successful: our blog hits counter has continued to rise and we’ve currently had over one and a quarter million blog views:

Blog growth 5 yrs - Copy

Our blog subscribers represent a wide cross-section of society. They include conservationists, lawyers, journalists, politicians, academics, campaigners, gamekeepers, land owners, sporting agents, civil servants, fieldworkers, police officers, wildlife rehabbers, ecologists, students, hedge fund managers, tv producers, tv presenters, newspaper and magazine editors, and most importantly, ‘ordinary’ members of the public.

Quite a lot has changed in those five years, much of it for the good. Raptor persecution has never been so prominent on the political agenda, largely thanks to an increase in public pressure. We’re on to our fourth Environment Minister since we started, and although the current Minister (Dr Aileen McLeod MSP) has yet to make her mark, her predecessor, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, engaged with this topic with sincerity and purpose. And although we were frequently frustrated that he didn’t go far enough or fast enough, he did move things along considerably.

The Government now produces an annual report on wildlife crime and although it’s had some teething issues, the intent is clear. We’ve seen the first successful conviction for vicarious liability and we’re aware that other cases are in the pipeline. We’ve seen the first custodial sentence handed out to a raptor killer after a hard-fought courtroom battle by the Crown to have the RSPB’s video evidence accepted. We’ve seen the introduction of General Licence restrictions for those thought to be involved in raptor persecution, and although these restrictions have yet to be implemented it’s highly likely that we’ll see some positive results this year. The penalties for wildlife crime offences are currently under review and we expect to see changes there. The consultation on whether to increase the SSPCA’s investigatory powers closed six months ago so we’re expecting to hear the Minister’s decision fairly soon.

Some things, though, haven’t changed in those five years. Raptor persecution continues and it’s still relatively rare to see a successful prosecution. The game-shooting industry continues to deny the extent of raptor persecution in general, and each time a new case is brought to the public’s attention we’re given every possible reason for the bird’s death apart from the obvious one. More and more people are seeing through these lies but there’s still much to be done.

Last year was significant in this war – and we make no bones about using that term – it is a war. (Extra)ordinary people gathered in Inverness town centre to demonstrate against the poisoning of 22 red kites and buzzards in an incident now known as the Ross-shire Massacre. Hen Harrier Day was launched and hundreds of (extra)ordinary members of the public gathered in appalling weather conditions at various locations across the country to stand together and say ‘Enough!’ Hen Harrier Day will continue this year – bigger and better – because more people are aware of what’s going on and care enough to want to do something about it. That’s amazing.

Thanks to everyone who has followed and supported our blog – we appreciate it.

Here are the top ten most viewed posts from the last year:

1. George Mutch sentenced to four months in prison.

2. They forgot the birds.

3. Scottish gamekeeper George Mutch guilty on all 4 counts.

4. Chris Packham resigns from Hawk & Owl Trust.

5. GWCT takes aim at Scottish pine martens.

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

7. Hawk & Owl Trust getting it badly wrong.

8. East Scotland sea eagle chick ‘disappears’ on grouse moor.

9. First Irish-bred sea eagle shot and killed.

10. Bastards.


£1K reward for info on buzzard found with horrific leg injuries

Sledmere buzzard1 Jan 2015A reward of £1,000 has been offered to anyone with information about a buzzard which was found with horrific leg injuries.

The bird was found, alive, on 21st January 2015 on the Sledmere Estate in Yorkshire. One of its feet was missing, causing Humberside Police and the RSPB to suspect it was a victim of illegal trapping.

The leg damage was so severe the buzzard had to be euthanised.

Bob Elliot, RSPB’s Head of Investigations said: “Setting spring traps in the open is a criminal practice, which harms birds of prey in the most horrible way. These devices are the raptor equivalent of a land mine – deadly and indiscriminate. I would urge anyone with information about this incident to contact the police immediately“.

This bird was initially taken to Jean Thorpe’s Ryedale Rescue facility – we recently blogged about Jean’s work (here) and mentioned that she was fundraising to help support her efforts in this raptor persecution blackspot – you can still donate HERE.

RSPB press release here

ITV news article here

Sledmere buzzard2 Jan 2015


Scottish Government launches poisons disposal scheme

PoisonThe Scottish Government has today launched it’s promised ‘pesticides disposal scheme’ – a free service allowing those who are still in possession of these banned substances an opportunity to get rid of them without fear of consequence.

This scheme was initiated by former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse whilst he was still in office.

We have mixed views about the scheme.

On the one hand, it’s a proactive approach to rid Scotland of highly toxic substances that are still being used, illegally, with devastating effect on some of our raptor species, notably golden eagles, red kites, peregrines and buzzards. Only yesterday we blogged about the latest victim  -a poisoned peregrine found on a grouse moor (see here).

On the other hand, many of these poisons have been banned for years, and even being in possession of them has been an offence since 2005 (Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005), so why, ten years later, are the criminals who are still in possession of these poisons being given yet another opportunity to escape justice?

The bigger concern of these two views undoubtedly has to be that these poisons need to be removed, and that concern outweighs the lesser concern that the criminals won’t be punished, so from that perspective we welcome the new scheme.

However, what we want (expect) to see as a result of the scheme is that anybody caught with these poisons after the scheme has ended MUST be given a more serious sentence for their crime. We fully expect that even after this scheme has ended, there will still be substantial amounts of these poisons being held illegally. Why? Because the criminals who hold and use these poisons have been doing so for a long, long time, despite the legislation and despite previous amnesties, because they know there’s a good chance that they’ll get away with it. And for those who do get caught, the penalty is usually so ineffectual that the risk was worth taking anyway. Those people, when caught, must feel the full force of the law and not some pathetic fine or community service order – nothing less than a mandatory custodial sentence will do.

It’s not clear for how long the free disposal scheme will run, other than a quote from the current Environment Minister, Dr Aileen McLeod, that the scheme will be “short-lived”.

Those wishing to dispose of their banned poisons via this scheme can do so without fear of prosecution, and without their personal details being given to the authorities. The Government will be collecting data about the uptake of the scheme, but these data will be limited to the type and number of poisons handed in, the cost of the scheme, and only the first three letters of the postcode from where the poisons have been collected.

As this is a free and confidential service, there is absolutely NO EXCUSE WHATSOEVER for anyone to still be in possession of these poisons by the time the scheme ends. Mind you, it’s been that way for the past decade and yet….

Scottish Government press release here

Details about how to use the free disposal service here

Frequently Asked Questions about the scheme here

A list of the poisons that will be accepted by the scheme and a description of what they look like and some common generic names here

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