Archive for January, 2013

31
Jan
13

New raptor crime reporting protocols – but for whose benefit?

Two new raptor crime reporting protocols have just been published on the PAW Scotland website. One covers the ‘collection of evidence for incidents of raptor crime’ and the other is ‘guidance for people who lose contact with satellite-tagged birds’.

Both protocols come from the Scottish Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (SRPPDG). This group was established in 2009 as a sub-group of PAW Scotland and these protocols are the first ‘deliveries’ from the group. Before discussing each protocol in turn, it’s worth bearing in mind which organisations make up the SRPPDG, because then you’ll understand why landowner appeasement and suppression of news reports seem to be prominent elements in the protocols.

The current make-up of the SRPPDG is as follows:

Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA), Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), Scottish Police, Scottish Government, Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA), RSPB, Scottish Raptor Study Groups (SRSGs).

Let’s start with the ‘Collection of evidence for incidents of raptor crime’ protocol. You can read it here. This protocol is not just about the ‘collection of evidence’ – importantly, it’s also about how to report a raptor crime.

Incredibly, this protocol suggests that all suspected incidents of raptor crime ‘MUST’ be reported to the police. Now that’s not actually true. If the raptor crime involves a situation where an animal’s welfare is at risk (e.g. a live raptor caught in an illegally-set trap), then the SSPCA have a statutory authority to investigate the incident and report it for consideration for prosecution to the Crown Office. They can do this without needing police assistance – they have a highly experienced Special Investigations Unit to coordinate it. Nowhere in this protocol is that option given as a recommended course of action.

Also missing from the reporting options is a recommendation to report a suspected raptor crime to the RSPB. Now, unlike the SSPCA, the RSPB does not have any statutory authority to investigate. If they are involved, they have to work with one of the statutory authorities. Nevertheless, to exclude them entirely from this protocol is a dangerous business. They, too, have a highly specialised Investigations Unit, whereas some Scottish police forces still don’t even have a full-time wildlife crime officer, even though this was a recommendation made by the Scottish Government about five years ago!

The dead golden eagleWe have seen time and time again instances of suspected raptor crimes that have been reported to the police but the follow-up investigation has left a lot to be desired. Here is just one example from 2010. Also in 2010, the then Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham admitted that police action on wildife crime investigation was “a challenge” (see here). Have things improved since then? Well, if you look at the recent incident of that golden eagle that was found dumped next to an Aberdeenshire lay-by, you could easily argue that things have not improved. The police did not issue a press statement about the illegal killing of that eagle, and nor did they even apply for a search warrant to search the land, buildings and vehicles where the bird was ‘downed’ for several hours before it was moved and dumped in the lay-by. The only reason the public found out about that incident was because the RSPB issued a press release 4.5 months after the incident (see here), perhaps in exasperation that the police hadn’t bothered.

We’re not suggesting that all Scottish police forces are useless at investigating wildlife crime. Some of them are very good, others not so good. Yes, we all recognise that prosecuting wildlife criminals is fraught with legal obstacles, but surely because of that it makes sense to involve as many specialist agencies as possible?

In whose interest is it, not to recommend reporting suspected raptor crime incidents to the SSPCA and RSPB? If we do as the protocol says and just report the incident to the police, who is going to follow up and ensure that the case is properly investigated? Who’s going to keep us, the general public, informed of raptor crime incidents? If the incident is reported solely to the police, who’s to know about an incident if the police decide to suppress it from the public arena? It doesn’t take much imagination to guess at who would benefit from such a protocol.

It is our strongly-held view that ALL incidents of suspected raptor crime should be reported to the RSPB Investigations Unit. If  the police need to be involved then the RSPB will contact them, or you can contact them yourself in addition to contacting the RSPB. If a live animal is involved, the first port of call should be the SSPCA. In our opinion it is vital that these agencies are not excluded from the reporting process – just think about the long list of raptor persecution incidents that the RSPB publishes each year in their annual report – nobody else publishes these because it isn’t in their interests to do so!

RSPB Scotland Investigations Unit: 0131 317 4100

SSPCA 24-hour animal welfare hot-line: 03000 999 999

The second recently-published protocol provides guidance for people who are actively involved in raptor satellite-tracking projects in Scotland. You can read the protocol here.

This one’s amazing. The protocol is, if the signal from your satellite-tagged bird has either ceased or is transmitting from the same area for more than 24 hours, you are to contact the National Wildlife Crime Unit (presumably for ‘intelligence’ on the given area). If you think the circumstances are not suspicious you should contact the landowner and then go looking for the bird. The problem with this is two-fold.

Firstly, what is defined as ‘suspicious’? Surely, any ‘downed’ bird on a piece of land that is used for game shooting must be considered suspicious until proven otherwise? In which case, the landowner should not be informed until a covert search for the downed bird has taken place.

Secondly, just how good is the NWCU’s ‘intelligence’? In a recent NWCU report (NWCU Strategic Assessment, Feb 2011) the following statement appears in the section about peregrine persecution:

Almost half of these reports originated from the RSPB but were not reported by the police force the offence occured in“.

Christ, if that’s not reason enough to persuade you to report raptor crimes to the RSPB then nothing is!

We don’t know how good the NWCU’s intelligence is. Based on the killing of that golden eagle mentioned above, and the subsequent ‘investigation’, you could argue that their intelligence is rubbish. The history of the area, in terms of dead raptors being found in suspicious circumstances, should have been an instant trigger to set off a request for a search warrant. We still have not been given a satisfactory explanation as to why a search warrant was not requested.

The protocol goes on to explain how any media publicity will be handled after the police investigation. Basically, the police ‘may choose’ to issue a press statement. That means they probably won’t say anything at all or if they do, they undoubtedly won’t mention any estate names. The NWCU will advise the satellite-trackers, and also several nominated groups from the SRPPDG (Scottish Government, BASC and Scottish Land & Estates!!!!!!!). The protocol ends with this:

There should be no further public comment on the finding“.

What? So it all gets quietly brushed under the carpet, none of us are any the wiser and the game-shooting lobby can continue to claim that they’ve all cleaned up their acts and with no evidence to the contrary they should now be allowed licences to legally cull raptors?

Ah, partnership working at its finest.

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30
Jan
13

Countryside Alliance nicked our text!

Well, well, well. Take a look at the Countryside Alliance’s website (see photos below) – they’ve only gone and nicked our text on the Lochindorb trial verdict, without acknowledging us as the authors!! They’ve even got ‘Copyright © Countryside Alliance’ at the foot of the page!

Seems like a breach of copyright to us, not dissimilar to the claims made by BASC last year when a video produced by the League Against Cruel Sports had to be removed as they’d included BASC footage, without permission for use (see here). The shooting press called that an ’embarrassing blunder’.

Here’s a message to the Countryside Alliance – either acknowledge where you lifted the text from, or remove it from your site. We’re flattered that you should think our blog is worthy of replication but we do not want anyone to think that we write for a shit outfit like yours.

UPDATE (17.00hrs). ‘Embarrassing blunder’ all sorted – our text now mashed up with their own.

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29
Jan
13

Implications of the Lochindorb hare snare verdict

mountain hare by Steve GardnerThe almost four-year long Lochindorb Estate hare snare trial concluded today at Inverness Sheriff Court. The accused, former head gamekeeper and long-time SGA committee member David Taylor was found not guilty of illegally using snares to catch mountain hares on the Lochindorb Estate in 2009.

This has been a lengthy and complex case, seen by many as an important ‘test’ case. For previous blog entries see here, here, here, here, here and here.

The ‘not guilty’ verdict, however, only applies to the particular circumstances of this specific case. On this occasion, at that specific location and at that specific time, the evidence was deemed insufficient to merit a conviction. Sheriff Abercrombie accepted that Taylor was operating within the law and in good faith. This verdict though, does not mean that a future case with a different set of specific circumstances, could not result in a conviction. The verdict does NOT mean that it is legal to snare mountain hares in general terms; only within the terms of this particular case.

One of the key issues was whether a snare could be described as a ‘trap’. The prosecution said yes, the defence argued no. Sheriff Abercrombie deemed that a snare could be described as a trap. This is important for future potential cases.

The defence had also argued that the snares in question (the w-shaped snare) were selective; i.e. that they only caught the target species. Several gamekeepers spoke as defence witnesses and stated that in all their (combined) years of snaring, they’d never caught a non-target species using this snare-type. Whether you believe that or not is up to you – the fact of the matter was that the prosecution could not provide evidence to show that the w-shaped snare was indiscriminate. This should hopefully be a moot point in future cases as the use of the w-shaped snare to trap mountain hares has since become prohibited. Under the Snares Scotland Order (2010), it is no longer legal to use a snare in a way that an animal could become partially or wholly suspended.

The other important issue highlighted by this case was the lack of current scientific understanding of mountain hare population ecology in Scotland. We hope SNH will get their act together and implement an appropriate research and monitoring strategy for what many believe is a keystone species; i.e. one that plays an important role in the survival of other species such as the golden eagle and probably the pine marten.

BBC news article here

SGA statement here

Defence agent’s statement here

29
Jan
13

Lochindorb hare snare verdict

Former Lochindorb Estate head gamekeeper and SGA Committee Member, David Taylor, has been found not guilty of setting illegal snares to catch mountain hares.

More to follow…

28
Jan
13

Gamekeeper charged with six offences

North Yorkshire police logoaA gamekeeper from Pickering, North Yorkshire, has been charged with six offences for the illegal use of cage traps to capture a buzzard.

This is the gamekeeper whose arrest was reported last October (see here). He has still not been named, and nor has the estate/shoot where the alleged offences took place. It is not yet known whether he is a member of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.

He has been charged with six offences under the Wildlife & Countryside Act and the Animal Welfare Act. He has been bailed to attend Scarborough Magistrates court next month. Article in the Ryedale Gazette & Herald here.

In other court news, the long-awaited verdict in the Lochindorb Estate hare snare trial is due tomorrow…..

24
Jan
13

Purdey Awards to tighten their vetting procedures

purdey_logoThis is topical, given how we were just blogging about the need for strong leadership and zero tolerance…

In December we blogged about the results of the 2012 Purdey Awards (see here). These awards are held in high esteem by the game-shooting industry, recognising ‘those who achieve most in game conservation’ (Purdey Awards website here). We questioned whether one of the 2012 award winners was a suitable recipient, as we believed he may have been connected to a gamekeeper who was recently convicted for wildlife offences relating to raptor persecution. [As it turns out our suspicions were correct, but the gamekeeper was apparently sacked once his offences had come to light].

In response to that blog entry, one of our contributors contacted the Purdey Awards to ask them about the eligibility rules for Purdey Award nominees.

Yesterday, that contributor sent us the letter that he had received in reply from Richard Purdey: Purdey Reply

It is well worth a read. It’s impressive on a number of fronts. First, that he bothered to engage at all. Second, that he instigated an internal investigation into the alleged connection between the award winner and the criminal gamekeeper. Third, that he has now decided to strengthen the vetting procedures for potential Purdey Award winners, which will come into force with immediate effect. And fourth, that he kept our contributor fully updated with a comprehensive response to the questions that had been raised.

Well done Richard Purdey. He sounds like a man of integrity and sincerity. Time will tell when the 2013 winners are announced but we hope he is a man of his word. We also hope that others within the industry follow his lead and start to demonstrate that they, too, are willing to discern between the good and the bad. It will take a lot to restore the confidence of conservationists but this is a damn good start.

Also well done to the contributor who took the time to contact the Purdey Awards. An excellent example of how one person CAN make a difference, and in this case, have a significant influence. Nice one.

24
Jan
13

Eagle persecution featured on the One Show

One-Show-smallYesterday evening, the BBC’s One Show ran a feature on golden eagle satellite-tracking in Scotland, featuring two legendary raptor fieldworkers from the RSPB, Stuart Benn and Brian Etheridge.

Thanks to these two, the message about illegal raptor persecution was heard by a mainstream tv audience (an estimated 5 million viewers) both during the film (when they were sat-tagging an eaglet) and then again when Stuart was interviewed in the studio.

Two top blokes doing a top, top job. Well done!

For anyone who missed it, catch it on BBC iPlayer here (20.37 min – 28.41 min) for a limited period.

Here is a link to Stuart’s blog about the filming day last summer.




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