27
May
16

Scottish gamekeeper fined for leaving loaded gun ‘on hillside’

A Scottish gamekeeper has been fined for abandoning a loaded gun that was found by two hill walkers.

Shaun Wilson, 29, had left his weapon ‘on the hillside above the village of Kippen’ , Stirlingshire, on 6 August 2015. He was fined £675 under the Firearms Act (see BBC news article here).

That description, ‘on a hillside above the village of Kippen’ is interesting. The main ‘hills’ around there are the grouse moors of Burnfoot Estate. That name might ring a bell with some of you. Burnfoot Estate is currently subject to a three-year General Licence Restriction Order, applied by SNH due to “some issues associated with poisoning birds of prey, birds of prey being found poisoned in that location, and illegal use of traps” (see here).

Kippen map

The name Shaun Wilson might also ring a bell. There was a gamekeeper of that name who, two years ago (then aged 27) was investigated for posting a video of himself on Facebook slitting a deer’s throat and drinking its blood (see here). Obviously just another of those strange coincidences.

26
May
16

More procrastination on extending SSPCA powers

sspca logoLast month we blogged about a series of Parliamentary questions relating to wildlife crime that had been lodged by recently elected Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell (see here).

One of those questions was about giving extended powers to the SSPCA:

Question S5W-00030 (Lodged 12/5/2016)

To ask the Scottish Government when it will announce its decision regarding extending the powers of the Scottish SPCA to tackle wildlife crime.

Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has now responded with this:

A decision on whether to extend the investigatory powers of the Scottish SPCA will be announced in due course.

That’s it. No explanation for the protracted delay (it’s been over five years since the public consultation was first suggested, and twenty months since that public consultation closed) and no time estimate of when this decision might be announced. Just, “in due course“. Marvellous.

A couple of weeks ago we blogged about how Dumfries & Galloway Council had recently given extended powers to the SSPCA to allow them to tackle the illegal puppy farm trade (see here). We argued that if the SSPCA was entrusted with extended powers to tackle serious organised crime, there should be no good reason why they shouldn’t be given extended powers to tackle wildlife crime.

Something else the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment might want to consider is the result of an SSPCA investigation which ended in Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday (see here). As a result of a covert surveillance operation, Craig Aitken, 43, pleaded guilty to setting 47 illegal snares, without authorisation, on Seggarsdean Farm in Haddington, East Lothian in January 2015. He was also convicted of stealing some of the SSPCA’s covert cameras, which, unbeknownst to him, had GPS trackers attached which enabled the SSPCA to trace them to Aitken’s home (see here). The evidence against him was so strong that he didn’t contest the charges. Yesterday he was sentenced with a 180 hour Community Payback Order and a six-month Restriction of Liberty Order which requires him to remain at home between the hours of 9pm and 8am. As an aside, someone else with the name Craig Aitken, of the same age, in the same town of Haddington, was convicted in September 2015 for exactly the same offence (setting illegal snares on another farm, caught by an SSPCA covert surveillance operation!) and received a 200-hour Community Service Order (see here). What a coincidence, eh? Those penalties for wildlife crime are really working as a deterrent.

its-not-fair1The reason we’ve mentioned this recent wildlife crime conviction is because this case demonstrates a number of things about the ability and competence of the SSPCA to conduct wildlife crime investigations; things that those opposing extended powers for the SSPCA (Police Scotland, gamekeepers, estate owners etc) said the SSPCA couldn’t do.

One of the main objections they gave to the SSPCA receiving extended powers was the SSPCA’s supposed lack of impartiality. It was claimed that because the SSPCA campaigns for a ban on snares, the charity couldn’t possibly remain impartial when investigating wildlife crimes involving snaring offences. Oops! This recent conviction for snaring offences suggests otherwise.

Another objection was that SSPCA Inspectors don’t undergo “the same rigorous training, selection and vetting” as police officers so they shouldn’t be allowed to undertake criminal investigations. Oops! This recent wildlife crime conviction suggests otherwise.

Another objection was that there may be resistance from the public who view these powers as a traditional remit of the police. Oops! We don’t see the public objecting to this latest wildlife crime conviction on the grounds that the SSPCA investigated and Police Scotland didn’t.

Another objection was that the SSPCA is “unequipped” to deal with RIP(S)A regulations (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 which puts strict controls on when surveillance operations are permitted and how they are to be conducted. These regulations only apply to public bodies, e.g. police, customs). Oops! This recent wildlife crime conviction, based on the use of covert surveillance (albeit with the landowner’s permission) suggests otherwise.

Isn’t it about time the Scottish Government stops procrastinating over this issue and gives extended powers to the SSPCA to allow them to bring their expertise and proven skills to bear against those who continue to illegally kill birds of prey? This is supposed to be a National Wildlife Crime Priority. Let’s see Scot Gov treat it as such.

26
May
16

Judicial review underway re: general licence restriction on Raeshaw Estate

Last month we blogged about a pending judicial review of SNH’s decision to apply a three-year General Licence restriction order on Raeshaw Estate in the Scottish Borders for alleged raptor persecution crimes (see here).

We noted that SNH had temporarily suspended the GL restriction order until the judicial review hearing on 20th May.

Last week, the judicial review began at the Court of Session:

Raeshaw Farms Ltd Judicial Review called 20 May 2016b - Copy

It was a starred motion (indicating that the motion was opposed and would require a a court appearance) that was only scheduled for 30 minutes. We’re not entirely sure about the judicial review process but we would guess, for an opposed motion, that a more substantive hearing will be required at a later date.

Meanwhile, SNH has updated its website with the following notice:

Raeshaw SNH temp restriction again 20 May 2016

Whereas the temporary GL restriction on Raeshaw Estate was previously applied until 20th May, SNH has now applied a temporary restriction ‘until further notice’, which means that the Raeshaw Estate is free to carry out trapping activities under the General Licence.

In other words, the three-year GL restriction order that was applied to Raeshaw in November 2015 as a penalty for alleged raptor persecution offences is no longer in place. It’ll be interesting to see, if Raeshaw ‘loses’ the judicial review, whether all these lost months of trapping restrictions will be added to the GL restriction to ensure the estate serves a full three-year penalty.

25
May
16

Scottish landowners still in denial about raptor persecution

Roseanna Cunningham MSPToday, new Cabinet Secretary for Land Reform & the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, will deliver a keynote address at the spring conference of Scottish land owners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates (SLE).

According to an amusing article in this morning’s Telegraph, clearly orchestrated by SLE to coincide with this conference, ‘Ministers have been warned they need to re-build trust with Scottish landowners’ who are miffed about the way the Land Reform agenda has been pushed through and are still whining about the reintroduction of sporting rates on their huge multi-million pound shooting estates (see here). The arrogance and sense of entitlement is there for all to see.

Obviously, we have no idea what Roseanna Cunningham will be saying at this conference but we hope that as well as land reform, the issue of raptor persecution will also feature. It’s been five years since she was having to deal with raptor persecution in her former role as Environment Minister and the issue hasn’t gone away. Although, according to SLE, it has.

We’ve been sent a copy of SLE’s Policy Update, an internal document written for SLE members, dated April 2016. Here are some excerpts:

Mountain hares

Although there is no issue over population reduction, it continues to be highly emotive and even a long distance photograph of a cull is enough for the Herald and social media. Meeting arranged with GWCT, SNH, and CNPA [Cairngorms National Park Authority] on 27 April to tighten up joint statement.

So yet again SLE claims ‘there is no issue over population reduction’, even though there isn’t a shred of supportive scientific data to back up this claim. And this is the group that SNH is relying upon to exercise voluntary restraint! In March 2016 we asked SLE to provide evidence that the current mountain hare slaughter was sustainable (see here). No reply.

Raptor persecution maps 2015

A small increase from 18 to 20 recorded incidents, many unrelated to land / sporting management. This issue is dying away statistically and in media interest, but pro-raptor groups in overdrive trying to make new publicity out of it.

So, raptor persecution is acknowledged as a National Wildlife Crime Priority, SLE serves on the PAW Raptor Group, and yet here they are, telling their members that it’s no big deal and it’s just us lot making a big fuss about nothing. They do have a long track record of denial, of course, because it’s in their interest to pretend that everything’s just fine and no further sanctions or legislation is required.

Rather than focus on one year of data (even though those data showed an increase in recorded incidents, not a decline!), SLE would do well to take note of the long-term data trends, all recently published by RSPB Scotland (see here):

A total of 779 birds of prey were confirmed to have been illegally killed during the period 1994-2014, either by poisoning, shooting or trapping. The known victims included 104 red kites, 37 golden eagles, 30 hen harriers, 16 goshawks, 10 white-tailed eagles and 458 buzzards.

In addition to these confirmed victims, a further 171 incidents were documented where poisoned baits and/or non-birds of prey victims were found, including 14 pet cats and 14 pet dogs, and then a further 134 incidents where no victim had been found but clear attempts to target raptors had been uncovered (e.g. illegally-set traps).

Drilling down in to the detail, there’s a useful analysis of land-use type of confirmed poisoning incidents between 2005-2014 (219 incidents). A shocking (or not) 81% of confirmed poisoning incidents during this nine-year period were on land used for game-shooting: 57% on grouse moors and 24% on land managed for lowland pheasant shoots. This tells us a great deal about who is responsible for the vast majority of illegal raptor poisoning. Despite their continued denials and protestations, and their increasingly-desperate attempts to minimise the scale of these crimes (“it’s just a few rogues”, “it’s just a small minority”, “this issue is dying away”), this graphic exposes the criminality at the heart of the game-shooting industry:

RSPB persecution review 1994 2014 land use

And of course, there has also been a recent scientific paper documenting the long-term decline of peregrines on grouse moors in NE Scotland (here), reflecting a problem that is widespread across the Scottish & English uplands (here) and another scientific paper documenting the catastrophic decline of hen harriers on grouse moors in NE Scotland (see here).

A big fuss about nothing, eh? Let’s see if Roseanna Cunningham shares their view. It’s so obvious that with this level of denial, calling for the game shooting industry to self-regulate is utterly futile. If change is going to happen, it will have to be forced upon them.

Petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting can be signed HERE

24
May
16

A bit of light relief

Hitler's grouse moorThanks to the blog reader who sent this.

Click on this link:

http://captiongenerator.com/91045/Hitlers-Grouse-Moor

And here’s the petition to which Mr Hitler is referring; please sign HERE

 

23
May
16

Red kite shot & critically injured next to grouse moor in North Yorkshire

North Yorkshire Police are appealing for information after the discovery of yet another illegally shot red kite that was found at the weekend.

Press release as follows:

Police are urging members of the public to support them in the fight against red kite persecution, after another bird was found shot last weekend.

On the morning of Sunday 22 May, a walker on Hall Lane, Blubberhouses, found an injured red kite, in distress and unable to fly. They contacted a wildlife charity, and the bird was taken to a specialist avian vet in Harrogate.

RK_Blubberhouses

Examination revealed the bird had been shot and had a shattered wing. Sadly, its injury was so severe, it had to be euthanised. The shooting may have taken place a few days before the bird was found.

In the last two months, five red kites in North Yorkshire have been shot or died in circumstances that suggest poisoning, as well as three further afield in the region.

Of those eight red kites, five have been shot. One, found near Malton, was rehabilitated and released back to the wild, but the other four were so badly injured they had to be euthanised by a vet. The three suspected poisoned birds are being examined by the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme.

PC Gareth Jones, Wildlife Crime Co-ordinator at North Yorkshire Police, said: “Red kites were persecuted into virtual extinction in the UK, but in recent years they have been re-introduced through breeding programmes at a number of locations nationally. In Yorkshire, they have spread from their release site at Harewood House, and are now breeding over a large area. Red kites are scavengers, and normally eat carrion, their favourite food being rats and rabbits.

“Red kites are magnificent birds than can be regularly seen soaring over our area, bringing pleasure to many people. They are a Schedule 1 bird and as such are afforded special protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. I am personally saddened by the scale of persecution of these birds – it has to stop, and I would ask for anyone who can help this investigation to get in touch.”

Anyone with information that could assist the investigation is asked to contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, select option 2 and ask for PC Gareth Jones, or email gareth.jones1237@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk. You can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

END

Well done North Yorks Police for getting this information out so quickly – kite found on Sunday, press release out the following day, including a photograph, and with additional context about other recent red kite deaths to put this crime in to perspective. That’s excellent work.

The injured kite was found at the edge of Nidderdale AONB, just to the east of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. This is driven grouse-shooting country – check out the tell-tale rectangular strips of burnt heather on the map – and it’s also a well-known black spot for the illegal poisoning of red kites. Oh, and satellite-tagged hen harriers also ‘mysteriously’ disappear here.

Over 38,000 people have now signed the petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting. Please add your name HERE

Blubberhouses map - Copy

21
May
16

Decision pending in Scottish gamekeeper’s conviction appeal

Last month we blogged about how a Scottish gamekeeper, William (Billy) Dick, was appealing against his conviction for killing a buzzard (see here).

A quick recap:

In August 2015, gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick, now 26, was found guilty of killing a buzzard on the Newlands Estate, Dumfriesshire, in April 2014. Two witnesses had observed him striking the buzzard with rocks and then repeatedly stamping on it (see here). In September 2015 he was sentenced: £1,500 fine for killing the buzzard and £500 for possession of the dead buzzard (see here).

Dick had maintained his innocence throughout the trial and had claimed he was elsewhere when the offence took place (see here).

His appeal was due to be heard in April but was then delayed. His appeal was heard at the High Court on 13th May 2016:

Billy Dick high court appeal May 2016 - Copy

The three presiding judges have reserved judgement. This means they’ll consider the appeal and produce a written judgement in due course.

How long before we can expect to hear their decision? We have no idea. Apparently there’s no time limit and much will depend on the quantity and complexity of the evidence heard, and how busy the three judges are! See here for an enlightening blog about waiting for a reserved judgement.

The decision will impact on the current prosecution against Newlands Estate landowner Andrew Duncan, charged with being vicariously liable for gamekeeper Dick’s crimes. The case against Andrew Duncan has encountered frequent delays while Dick’s appeal was underway. The next court hearing in the vicarious liability case is scheduled for 3rd June 2016 (see here). We can expect further delays if the judgement on Dick’s appeal has not been delivered by then.




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