Archive for July, 2011


SNH agrees to collaborate with GWCT – should we be concerned?

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the government’s statutory advisory body on nature conservation, has recently pledged its intent to work closely with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT – formerly known as The Game Conservancy). Here is their published joint statement of intent – unfortunately a rather turgidly written set of objectives – that includes reference to predators such as buzzards and ravens.

It’s an interesting alliance and one which will no doubt be a cause of concern for some.

The GWCT  defines itself as an “independent charity”. Some commentators suggest that the GWCT is not independent of the shooting industry; a claim based on the interests of its good directors and officers (see here).

The GWCT accepts sponsorship from Artemis Investment Management Ltd (see here). All perfectly lawful of course but open to scrutiny nevertheless.

The GWCT’s Scottish Committee Chairman was questioned over the mysterious disappearance of a dead white-tailed eagle, reported to have been discovered on his estate but then it apparently vanished in to thin air when the police arrived the following day (see here). He denied any involvement.

The GWCT is reported to be involved with controversial ‘research’ commissioned by Songbird Survival. This ‘research’ is aimed at killing corvids and it has been suggested that in future it could extend to killing raptors (see here).

The GWCT was at the forefront of criticism into the SNH-funded Hen Harrier Conservation Framework Report. Basically, the GWCT did not accept the peer-reviewed scientific findings that hen harriers are being systematically slaughtered on UK grouse moors. Instead they wanted to deflect attention on to golden eagle/hen harrier interactions (a bit difficult seeing as golden eagles are also absent breeders on most grouse moors) and on to predation of harriers by foxes (foxes are just as unwelcome on grouse moors as hen harriers so the impact must be minimal, and certainly not enough to cause two-thirds of the harrier population to ‘disappear’).

So, a joint partnership a cause for concern? You decide.

GWCT website here. SNH website here.


Poison hunt called off and incidents ‘missing’ from official SASA figures

In April, we reported on a series of suspected poisoning incidents at Fullerton Woods, Troon, Ayrshire. Poisoned rabbit baits were reported to have been found in February and March 2011 and were believed to be implicated in the deaths of a fox, two dogs and possibly two buzzards (story here).

In an article published in the Troon Times on 31 May 2011, wildlife police were reported to be “no longer hunting poachers after dead animal bodies were found in Troon Woods“. The on-line article does not provide any more information about this decision.

Interesting then that in the SASA animal poisoning report released earlier this week, the dead animals from Fullarton Woods were not included in the list of suspected poisoning incidents in Scotland between January and March 2011. Does this mean the dead animals were not submitted for poison analysis? Or does this mean that they were submitted somewhere other than SASA? Or has SASA deliberately excluded them from their interim report?

There’s another missing incident in the SASA report. Remember the allegedly poisoned buzzard discovered on Mountquhanie Estate, Fife, in January 2011? The news report at the time stated that the dead bird had been sent for post-mortem to establish the cause of death. Where is this bird in the SASA report? Was it sent to SASA for post-mortem, or somewhere else? If it was sent somewhere else then surely the SASA figures cannot be used by the government as the official reporting mechanism for poisoning incidents, because they are excluding a number of suspected incidents?


Latest SASA figures reveal widespread poisoning incidents in early 2011

The latest figures detailing illegal animal poisoning incidents in the first quarter of 2011 have just been released by Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) on behalf of the Scottish Government.

The figures cover the period January to March 2011, and show that criminal raptor poisoning incidents were detected in each of the three months. They include 3 buzzards, 1 golden eagle, 1 red kite and 2 peregrines.  Poisoning incidents were widespread, taking place across Scotland, including in the Borders, Strathclyde, Tayside, Grampian and the Highlands. The illegal poisons used included Carbofuran, Chloralose and Strychnine. So much for the game-shooting industry’s self-regulation. I guess 2011 will not be the year they ‘stamp out’ illegal raptor persecution.

Not for the first time, two of the five recorded incidents were apparently unpublicised in the media: 1 x buzzard poisoned with Carbofuran in the Borders in January 2011, and 1 x red kite poisoned with Chloralose in the Highland region in February 2011.

SASA poisoning figures for period Jan – Mar 2011 available here


Chairman of The National Trust described as ‘raptor hater’ by former RSPB Director

Dr Mark Avery, the former Conservation Director of the RSPB, writes an insightful blog. He’s recently started a series called The Raptor Haters, which he describes as: “….an occasional series of articles on people who slag off birds of prey“.

The most recent installment in this series is all about Sir Simon Jenkins, who, since November 2008 has been the Chair of the National Trust.

Have a read of Mark’s short blog piece, read what Sir Simon Jenkins had to say about raptors in his Guardian article in May 2008, and then read what some better informed commentators had to say. I wonder what Sir Jenkins would write about the criminal activities of  gamekeeper Glenn Brown on the National Trust’s Howden Moor?

PS. For those interested in reading other entries in Mark’s ‘The Raptor Haters’ series, see here for his piece on Richard Ingrams. Thanks Mark, we look forward to more…


A recent history of golden eagle persecution in Scotland

Two years ago in July 2009, Alma, a two-year golden eagle who had been satellite-tracked across Scotland from her birth place on the Glenfeshie Estate, was found dead. She was discovered lying face-down in the heather on Millden Estate, Angus and later tests showed she had been poisoned by the banned pesticide Carbofuran.

The police conducted a search of Millden Estate and the local community responded with anger to Alma’s death. They wrote letters of concern to the local estates, the Environment Minister and the Chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage. On the second anniversary of her death, has anybody been brought to justice for killing her? Not that we know of.

Alma’s death is not a stand alone case, as we are all too aware. Prior to her killing in 2009, 17 golden eagles were confirmed victims of shooting, trapping or nest destruction in Scotland, between 1989 and 2009, according to this RSPB report. In addition, in the same report a further 24 golden eagles were confirmed victims of illegal poisoning in Scotland during the same period, including Alma.

The killing didn’t end with Alma. Since her death in 2009, a further 5 golden eagles have been confirmed killed – four of them last year (3 of them at Skibo Estate and one on an un-named grouse moor near Inverness ) and at least one known death so far this year, on North Glenbuchat Estate. That makes a total of 46. And these are only the ones we know about. There are other suspicious incidents, such as the four golden eagle leg rings reported to have been found in 2010 in the possession of convicted gamekeeper James Rolfe of the Moy Estate. As this report points out, these rings were originally fitted to golden eagle chicks prior to their fledging from nests in Sutherland, Grampian, Mull and Skye. These rings must have been removed from the dead eagles but how they came to be in Rolfe’s possession is unclear.

Add these four to the grand total and you get a minimum of 50 golden eagles illegally persecuted in Scotland since 1989. Nobody has ever been convicted for any of these reported crimes.


Man arrested & bailed for kite deaths in Cumbria – guns & poisons seized

A man has been arrested and bailed over the illegal killing of red kites in Cumbria. At least three kites are known to have been illegally killed since the reintroduction project began in August 2010. Two were shot (see reports here and here) and one was poisoned (see here).

The arrest followed a police raid on a farm (currently un-named) in the Ulverston area on Tuesday, during which a number of firearms and illegally held poisons were seized.

A Cumbria Police spokesman said the man was arrested on suspicion of intentionally killing a protected wild bird and on suspicion of poisoning and firearms offences. According to the Westmorland Gazette, the man has been released without charge and bailed until July 21st.

More on this news story here, here and here


‘Wildlife Estates Scotland’ Initiative – pilot launched

The new ‘Wildlife Estates Scotland’ pilot initiative has been launched. According to the publicity blurb, “The Wildlife Estates Scotland (WES) Initiative aims to introduce an objective and transparent system that demonstrates how wildlife management undertaken by Scottish landowners, in line with the principles of biodiversity conservation, can deliver multiple benefits for society and rural communities“.

The WES idea first came to light late last year. Coincidentally, at the same time as MSP Peter Peacock was advocating the introduction of a new estate licensing scheme to combat the persistent persecution of raptors on some Scottish sporting estates. Naturally, landowners objected furiously to any sort of compulsory estate licensing, and instead they argued that the new WES scheme would allow them to demonstrate how effective they could be at voluntary self regulation (Yeah, I know!!). The then Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham decided to give them one last chance and she rejected Peacock’s proposal in favour of the proposed WES.

Several months later, the pilot WES scheme has been launched, supported by the new Environment Minister MSP Stewart Stevenson. In a press release we are told that “over 200 farms and estates have signed up to the WES initiative“. However, the full membership list detailing the names of the ‘over 200 farms and estates’ has not yet been made available for public scrutiny. I’m sure though, that in their new era of “transparency”, this oversight will be rectified in the near future and we can then draw our own conclusions about the integrity of this initiative.

The good news is that RSPB Scotland are involved – their Abernethy site is one of the first six to be named as a WES pilot scheme member (a very safe bet that no wildlife crime takes place here!), and they are also apparently a member of the WES Steering Committee. Hopefully with their influence, the 200+ WES members will embrace ALL of Scotland’s biodiversity, including raptors and other predators. Time will tell.

Find out more about the WES on their website here and some more here


More on the harriers of Glen Tanar Estate

Following yesterday’s story of the sad loss of the young hen harrier ‘Tanar’, satellite-tracked from her natal site on the Glen Tanar Estate last year, it looks like more young harrier chicks have been recently tagged from this progressive estate.

Wildlife photographer Mark Hamblin has written on his blog about his recent adventures photographing hen harriers at Glen Tanar. As well as taking some spectacular photographs, he also reports that Roy Dennis was back in June to tag some more chicks. Working under a special photography licence, Hamblin has been allowed access to this year’s hen harrier nest, thanks to Glen Tanar Estate owner Michael Bruce. Hamblin reports that this particular hen harrier pair is the only known breeding pair in north-east Scotland. That’s a pretty startling statement when you consider the amount of potentially suitable hen harrier habitat in this part of the world.  What about the land managed by Glen Tanar Estate’s near-neighbours on Deeside? Invercauld Estate, Balmoral Estate, Glenmuick Estate, Dinnet & Kinord Estate? All these estates operate high-profile grouse moors, providing excellent habitat for hen harriers and other upland raptors. Is Hamblin’s assessment correct, that there aren’t any known breeding hen harriers on this vast expanse of land? I guess we’ll find out when all the records have been submitted at the end of the year.

We have reported before about the laudable raptor conservation efforts of Michael Bruce and his staff at Glen Tanar Estate (see here). It is becoming apparent that he deserves even more credit, as he’s seemingly working in isolation in an area where raptors are rarely tolerated. Well done Sir, you are putting your peers to shame.

For more information about Glen Tanar Estate, visit their website here


Satellite-tagged harrier lost, presumed killed in Aberdeenshire

A young hen harrier that had been satellite-tracked since 2010 has gone missing near Glen Dye in Aberdeenshire. Roy Dennis, the man behind the satellite-tagging project, concludes that she has been killed. He has made a report to the Grampian Wildlife Crime Officer.

The harrier, named ‘Tanar’ after her birthplace on the Glen Tanar Estate in June 2010, was one of two harriers tagged from the same nest. Her brother, ‘Glen’ is also dead according to Roy. The loss of both youngsters in their first year will come as no surprise to those who read the 2011 government report on hen harrier persecution in Scotland. The report (see here and here) confirmed what many raptor fieldworkers have known for years – that hen harrier persecution is rife, particularly on land managed for grouse shooting, and in Scotland over 2,000 harriers are ‘missing’ from apparently suitable habitat.

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