Archive for April, 2013


Going to the Scottish Birdfair? Read this first

PrintThere’s an article today in the Sunday Herald about the RSPB’s controversial choice of venue for next month’s Scottish Birdfair. For the second year running, the RSPB has chosen to hold this event at Hopetoun House, the stately home of Lord Hopetoun whose family also owns the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in South Lanarkshire, a grouse moor that has been at the centre of raptor persecution allegations for years. Sunday Herald article here.

Regular blog readers will know we’ve commented on this issue at length: see here, here, here, here, here and especially here.

In today’s article, veteran Scottish Raptor Study Group member Ronnie Graham urges potential Birdfair attendees to “make an informed decision” about going.

The following information might help. This is a list of confirmed persecution incidents listed at Leadhills/Abington between 2003-2011. This information has been sourced from the RSPB’s own annual persecution reports, in addition to Scottish Government data. The list does not include other ‘unconfirmed’ or ‘probable’ incidents, such as the discovery of skeletal raptor bodies found buried in forestry or dead raptors found shoved inside rabbit holes. Data are only available up to 2011, so any incidents that might have occured in 2012 or the first quarter of 2013 are not included. There are 41 confirmed incidents on this list; of these, only a couple have been successfully prosecuted (see here for a good example of why prosecutions fail). The list is a good example of why conviction rates should not be used to indicate the extent of criminal activity.

2003 April: hen harrier shot

2003 April: hen harrier eggs destroyed

2004 May: buzzard shot

2004 May: short-eared owl shot

2004 June: buzzard poisoned (Carbofuran)

2004 June: 4 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran)

2004 June: crow poisoned (Carbofuran)

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 February: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 April: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 February: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 March: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran)

2006 April: dead buzzard (persecution method unknown)

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 May: poisoned egg baits (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2006 June: 6 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned egg bait (Carbofuran)

2006 September: 5 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran)

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2007 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2007 April: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran)

2007 May: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2008 October: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’]

2008 October: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’]

2008 November: 3 x poisoned ravens (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’]

2009 March: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2009 March: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned magpie (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2010 October: short-eared owl shot

2011 March: illegally-set clam trap

2011 December: buzzard shot


Norfolk man arrested over ‘haul of dead birds of prey’

norfolk constabularyThis is never-ending.

Press release from Norfolk Constabulary:

“A 64-year-old man was arrested on Thursday [4 April] on suspicion of a number of wildlife offences.

It follows a police investigation that was assisted by officers from Natural England and the RSPB.

The bodies of over a dozen birds of prey were recovered from the Holt area.

The man was also arrested on suspicion of breaching pesticide regulations. The man, who is also from the Holt area, has been bailed until 22 May while further enquiries are carried out”.

It’s not clear from this press release what species of dead raptors were discovered, or how they died. The alleged pesticide breach may or may not be connected. Nevertheless, well done to Norfolk Constabulary, Natural England and the RSPB Investigations Team. Good to see this information being released at this stage. Take note, Police Scotland!


Two dead buzzards found in suspicious circumstances in North Wales

North Wales 2 dead buzzardsPolice in North Wales are investigating the discovery of two dead buzzards found at a nature reserve at Oakenholt, on the Dee Estuary near Flint Marsh.

The birds were found by a member of the public on Friday (5th April) and police suspect foul play, saying “It is highly likely they have been shot or poisoned“. The birds have been taken for post mortems and toxicology tests.

Well done to Sgt Rob Taylor, Wildlife Crime Officer for North Wales Police, who is warning the public not to touch dead birds and to keep their dogs away from carcasses in case poison has been used. Great to see a press release appear so quickly after the discovery of the birds.

Full details available here


Shot golden eagle finally succumbs to its injuries

The golden eagle that was found shot and critically injured on a grouse moor last autumn has finally succumbed to its injuries. The bird apparently died last week, although as far as we can tell there’s been no publicity, which seems a bit surprising given the public interest in this incident. We understand the Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse was informed.

This eagle was discovered ‘barely alive’ last October, on a grouse moor belonging to Buccleuch Estate, close to the boundary with Leadhills Estate (see here). Its death now completes a grisly trilogy of golden eagle killings in Scotland in 2012: one poisoned, one trapped and one shot. And these are just the ones that were discovered.

It’s highly unlikely anyone will be prosecuted for killing these eagles if past incidents are anything to go by. We’ve been keeping a list of known dead or ‘missing’ eagles and any subsequent prosecutions. At last count it was 26 eagles, 6 years, 0 prosecutions (see here).

It’s now 27 eagles, 7 years, 0 prosecutions.

If you want to express your disgust to the Environment Minister and ask him when he’s going to make good on the promise he made last year to consider further measures to bring the raptor killers to justice, please email him at:

The shot golden eagle ungergoing surgery


Landowners ‘blamed unfairly’ for wildfires, say, er, landowners

_66703921_bgysjh3cyaaw84cScottish Land and Estates, the representative organisation of 2,500 landowners across Scotland, says landowners are being ‘blamed unfairly’ for the outbreak of wildfires that have occured across huge swathes of the Highlands this week.

According to Luke Borwick, chairman of SLE, “Some of these fires have been as a result of careless activity by recreational access takers. However, a significant number of fires have clearly been the result of irresponsible actions of other land users burning and not following the Muirburn Code“.

Amazing. The SLE statement in full here.

Meanwhile, the RSPB is deeply concerned about the effect of the fires on moorland-nesting birds, and particularly on golden eagles.

James Reynolds of the RSPB said: “It is absolutely certain that we will have lost a number of golden eagle nests. How many we don’t know but for a population that small, even the loss of one nest is serious“. Full details on BBC news here.

Marvellous. Welcome to the Year of Natural Scotland.


Environment Minister answers PQs on poisoning & vicarious liability

Claire Baker MSPClaire Baker MSP has been asking some more pertinent parliamentary questions….

Question S4W-13709: Claire Baker, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 14/03/2013

To ask the Scottish Government how many (a) investigations, (b) arrests and (c) convictions there have been for the offence of vicarious liability under the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011.

Answered by Paul Wheelhouse (26/03/2013): Since the vicarious liability provisions in the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 came into force on 1 January 2012 there have been no arrests, prosecutions or convictions of people for vicarious liability for relevant offences. Vicarious liability is not in itself an offence, but rather a land owner or manager may be held to be vicariously liable for relevant offences as set out in Section 18, Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). The relevant offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 are those in:

Section 1(1), (5) or (5B)

Section 5(1) (a) or (b)

Section 15A (1)

These offences are in relation to the intentional or reckless killing, injuring of a wild bird or the damage to, or destruction of a nest or egg(s); the prohibition of certain methods of killing wild birds (e.g. by the use of traps or poisons); and the possession of certain prescribed pesticides.

Vicarious liability can be considered in relation to all relevant offences that are investigated or prosecuted. When any investigation for a relevant offence is ongoing, the possibility of an arrest or prosecution under the vicarious liability provisions will be considered.

Question S4W-13710: Claire Baker, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 14/03/2013

To ask the Scottish Government how many poisoned baits have been discovered and how many (a) birds and (b) other animals have been poisoned in this way since 2008, broken down by (i) year and (ii) species.

Answered by Paul Wheelhouse (27/03/2013): The available information on poisoned baits and the poisoning of birds and other animals is shown in the following table.

Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture, collate and publish data on animal poisonings information on a quarterly and annual basis on their website.

RPS_poisoned birds 2008-12

RPS_other poisoned animals 2008-12

RPS_poison incidents & baits 2008-2012

We’re still waiting for the Environment Minister to issue a statement on his intended course of action following the reports of two buzzards, shot and killed in two separate incidents before Easter…..



Highland landowners may face prosecution over hill burning

Wildfires Scottish Highlands daily recordLandowners in the Highlands have been warned they may face prosecution if they don’t stop controlled burning, after firefighters have been tackling almost 200 wildfires over the last week.

Legal muir burning, where fires are deliberately set to burn off long grass and heather to encourage new grazing for sheep and grouse, is currently taking place.  Muirburning is allowed under The Muirburn Code from October 1 to April 15 (or 30 with landowner’s permission), although in exceptional circumstances it may be extended. However, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said conditions were “clearly unsuitable” for burning and have issued a list of 17 criminal offences associated with this type of activity. These include leaving a fire unattended, being unable to control a fire or having not made provision for its proper control.

The latest edition (2011) of The Muirburn Code is available here.

If landowners are forced to stop their burning, they are quite likely to request an extension (see here) to the official muirburn season, which could have a devastating impact on ground-nesting birds.

More detail on the BBC website (here), Scotsman (here), STV news (here), Telegraph (here), Guardian (here)


New Scottish snaring laws may help catch the raptor killers

Yesterday (1 April 2013) saw the new Scottish snaring laws take effect, under The Snares (Identification Numbers and Tags) (Scotland) Order 2012.

plastic_snare_tags2 Perdix Wildlife SuppliesUnder this new legislation (see here for a copy), snare operators have to abide by the following rules:

  • They must have attended and passed an approved training course.
  • They must have been issued with a personal identification number by the police.
  • A tag (plastic or metal) with this personal identification number must be attached to every single snare they set, along with the letter ‘F’, ‘R’ or ‘BH’ to indicate the target species they intend to catch (Fox, Rabbit or Brown Hare). Interestingly, there is not a code for Mountain Hare – suggesting that it is still illegal to snare this species, despite the verdict in the recent Lochindorb hare-snare trial (see here). See image for an example of one of the new tags, created by Perdix Wildlife Supplies, showing the target species (BH) and the personal ID number.
  • They must keep a record of every snare set, including its location, date set, date disarmed, and every animal they have caught in that snare. These records must be maintained for two years and given over to a police officer if requested.

They must also abide by previous legislation and use only free-running snares with a stop on them (not self-locking snares which are banned), check every snare at least once every 24 hours, and on each inspection they must remove any trapped animal, whether alive or dead. Snares cannot be set where an animal is likely to become suspended (e.g. next to a fence) or close to water where a snared animal is likely to drown.

The game-shooting lobby are nervous about the new regulations. Although many of the industry’s organisations have welcomed the new restrictions, there is obvious concern that not everyone will comply and this could well lead to an outright ban on snaring when the effect of the new legislation is reviewed by the Scottish Parliament in December 2016.

They are right to be concerned. We already know that as of February this year, out of a shooting industry estimate of 5000 snare operators, only 1,376 have attended one of the approved snaring training courses (see here). That means 3,624 people have not been trained – if they’re still setting snares they will be doing so illegally.

Modern Gamekeeping, the monthly gamekeepers’ rag, has warned readers to ‘Beware spies in the hills’. They claim anti-fieldsport campaigners will be out “looking for trouble”. It’s not just the anti-fieldsports crowd who’ll be looking – it’ll be everyone who cares about the way our wildlife is ‘managed’ on sporting estates, whether they be anti-fieldsports or not. In the same article, the SGA’s Bert Burnett warns about the SSPCA, who he says are “very proactive in trying to find problems”. Surely he meant very proactive in trying to bring to justice wildlife criminals who cause unnecessary suffering to animals?

Of course, the new legislation will only be effective if it’s properly enforced. If you’re out and about and you find a snare that doesn’t meet the new requirements, you need to report it immediately. You can try the police, although whether you’ll get an appropriate response depends on who answers the phone. Some wildlife crime officers are very clued-up and will be aware of the legislation – others will not. A quote from the Modern Gamekeeping article gives a clear example of this problem:

One keeper told Modern Gamekeeping he had rung his local police every few weeks since November [to apply for his personal identification number], only to speak to receptionists who didn’t know what a snare was. He said: “Some of the policemen I have spoken to have told me that snaring is banned altogether and others have told me it is an issue for the council to deal with. When I rang the council, the woman was utterly horrified at the idea. It really has been a total hash””.

This photo (below) shows a decomposing mountain hare found in a snare on a notorious Scottish grouse moor. It was reported to the police – no action was taken.


If you don’t want to rely upon the police to follow up on your report, please call the SSPCA (03000-999-999), especially if you find a live animal caught in a snare, whether it be a target species or not. Another excellent place to report your findings is OneKind’s Snarewatch website (here), which not only has a reporting facility but also is an excellent source of background information about snaring in Scotland. For snaring information in England, this website is very useful.

These new snaring regulations are of interest to us, not only for their intrinsic value but particularly because we believe they could be used to close an often-used legal loophole that has prevented the prosecution of many suspected raptor killers employed on large game-shooting estates.

The loophole we’re referring to concerns the inability of investigators to identify a potential individual suspect, especially on large estates, where gangs of gamekeepers all close ranks and deny having responsibility for an individual ‘beat’, where, for example, a poisoned raptor may have turned up. This scenario has happened time and time again and has prevented many a prosecution from taking place, because charges can only be brought if the individual responsible has been identified. Here’s how it often goes:

(i) A poisoned raptor is found on an estate, maybe close to a poisoned bait, maybe not.

(ii) The investigators turn up on the estate and conduct a search.

(iii) Traces of poison are found on game bags, on knives, in vehicles etc.

(iv) The investigators ask which gamekeeper is responsible for the specific area where the bird was found (i.e. who runs this ‘beat’?).

(v) All the gamekeepers on the estate claim they don’t have individual beats. They all cover the same ground, use the same game bags, knives, vehicles etc, and nobody knows anything about any poison.

(vi) The investigators have to leave empty handed and nobody is brought to justice for poisoning the bird.

So how can the new snaring regulations be of help? We think that the issue of a personal identification number is key. Unlike the number issued for crow cage traps, which is given to the ‘estate’ rather than to an individual, this snare number is issued to the actual individual person who operates the snare. The number has to be attached to each and every snare that that person sets. So, if a poisoned raptor (or any other evidence of criminality) turns up on a specific beat, investigators can search for snares that have been set in the vicinity to identify the individual gamekeeper who runs that beat.

Perhaps the estate owners are wise to this already, and perhaps they’ll ask their gamekeepers to mix up their snares so that a single individual cannot be identified as being responsible for a particular area. But by doing so they’ll decrease the efficiency of their workforce (and efficiency is what they’re all about) because those keepers, being responsible for their own snares, will have to be zig-zagging across great swathes of moorland in order to check their snares, rather than focusing on a more compact area where they know every nook and cranny and use that knowledge to their advantage when targeting animals they want to kill.

We will be watching with interest to see how things develop.

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