Archive for May, 2013

30
May
13

Two important questions to ask about the buzzard licence applicant

buzzard 3It would appear there’s more to Buzzardgate #2 than first meets the eye.

Apart from the scandalous decision by Natural England (acting on behalf of DEFRA) to issue a licence to a gamekeeper to destroy the nests and eggs of a native species (buzzard) to protect a non-native species bred for sport shooting (pheasant) (see here for previous blog entry on this), further information has come to light.

At this stage we are unwilling to publish the information or reveal how the information can be found. We are seeking legal advice and will come back to the subject if we’re able once the legalities have been clarified.

In the meantime, we would like to ask two important questions, one of Natural England (who worked with this gamekeeper over a period of years and subsequently issued his licence), and one of the National Gamekeepers Organisation (who submitted the licence application on behalf of one of their members). We would encourage blog readers to also ask these questions as we believe they are of public interest:

1. To Janette Ward (janette.ward@naturalengland.org.uk), Director of Regulation at Natural England, who endorsed the issue of this licence:

Question: Did this gamekeeper have an un-spent work-related conviction at the time of his application?

2. To Lindsay Waddell (info@nationalgamekeepers.org.uk), Chairman of the National Gamekeepers Organisation:

Question: Bearing in mind the NGO’s published Disciplinary Procedure (see here), did this gamekeeper have an un-spent work-related conviction at the time of his application and has he ever been suspended or expelled as a member of the National Gamekeepers Organisation?

29
May
13

Hen harrier persecution highlighted at international art show

The plight of the UK’s hen harrier population is being brought to the attention of a whole new audience, thanks to the work of Turner Prize-winning artist, Jeremy Deller.

Deller is presenting his work in the British Pavillion for the 55th ‘Venice Biennale’, described as the art world’s most important international event.

His opening piece, entitled ‘A Good Day for Cyclists’, depicts a giant hen harrier clutching a blood-red Range Rover. Deller says his piece was inspired by the alleged illegal shooting of two hen harriers on the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in 2007 – an incident for which Prince Harry was subjected to police questioning but no charges were ever brought against anybody. 

The inclusion of the Range Rover seems to serve two purposes – watch this interview with Deller here to understand his motivations. There’s also an interesting piece in the Telegraph here.

deller3_2575036b

25
May
13

New petition: SNH, do not licence buzzard culling in Scotland

buzzard 3Following on from the frankly outrageous situation south of the border, where it has been revealed that the UK government’s conservation agency (Natural England) has secretly issued licences, without supporting scientific evidence, to destroy native buzzards’ nests & eggs to protect superabundant foreign gamebirds reared for sport-shooting (see here), a new petition has started in Scotland to let the Scottish government’s conservation agency (Scottish Natural Heritage) know that such a move won’t be tolerated in this country.

Gamekeepers and landowners in Scotland have been lobbying the Scottish government for these licences for at least ten years. For example here is a news report from 2003. We have blogged extensively about the continuous efforts of these organisations who are seemingly hell-bent on continuing the Victorian tradition of killing predators; so far their efforts have been thwarted but for how much longer?

In January this year we blogged about a new scientific paper that discussed how buzzards are only a minor source of pheasant mortality – road traffic, for example, is far more important (see here). We also highlighted in that blog how SGA Chairman Alex Hogg admitted losing 500 pheasant poults to hypothermia last year – perhaps an infestation of buzzards blocked out the sun and caused the low temperatures that killed those young birds.

In March this year we blogged about how Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse had recently told the SGA that licences to cull raptors would not be issued for the forseeable future due to the on-going incidents of criminal raptor persecution (see here). Since then, there have been a number of persecution incidents – some publicised by the police, some not. There’s one particularly relevant incident that happened before Easter, where, according to local sources, a buzzard was caught in what has been described as an illegal gin trap. It didn’t survive. Why haven’t Police Scotland publicised this incident? In whose interests is it to keep this crime a secret?

It’s a pretty sad state of affairs that this issue is still at the top of the agenda, in this, the so-called Year of Natural Scotland.

Please sign the petition here

You might also want to email Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse to let him know your views on the issue of buzzard licensing in Scotland and ask him whether he’s aware of the buzzard that was caught in an illegal trap in Scotland more than eight weeks ago:  ministerforenvironment@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

23
May
13

Natural England issues licence to destroy buzzard eggs & nests to protect pheasants

buzzard 3An article in The Guardian has revealed that the UK’s nature conservation agency, Natural England, has licensed the secret destruction of buzzard eggs and nests to protect a pheasant shoot.

This destruction, which took place in the last few weeks, was only revealed after a Freedom of Information request was made by the RSPB. According to the article, the National Gamekeepers Organisation was ‘closely involved in winning the licences and had threatened Natural England with judicial review if they were not granted’.

Given that the buzzard (and other raptors) are native species with supposed full legal protection, the RSPB is considering its legal options.

The location of the pheasant shoot has not (yet) been revealed, as Natural England stated the case was “emotive and sensitive” and cited “public safety”. Interestingly, this is the same argument the Scottish Government recently tried to use to hide the identities of seal-shooting salmon farms in Scotland. That decision was over-ruled last month by the Scottish Freedom of Information watchdog and the Scottish Government was forced to name the locations (see here).

Article in The Guardian here.

If you want to let DEFRA Minister Richard Benyon know how you feel about this disgusting precedent, email him at: richard.benyon.mp@parliament.uk

The RSPB’s Conservation Director, Martin Harper, has posted all the FoI documents on his blog here.

UPDATE 13.00hrs: Natural England has released what it calls a ‘mythbuster’ about this controversial licence here. The header is ‘Full details of buzzard nest control licence’, only it isn’t the ‘full details’ – the majority of the data have been redacted, which means we can’t assess the scientific evidence used by NE to approve this licence. Where’s the transparency?

If you want to email Natural England and tell them what you think about their decision to licence buzzard control, contact them at: wildlife@naturalengland.org.uk

UPDATE 16.00hrs: An interesting update from the RSPB’s Martin Harper on DEFRA’s deceit here

UPDATE 18.30hrs: An excellent analysis of Natural England’s decision, written by blogger Alan Tilmouth here

UPDATE 22.00hrs: Further evidence, should you need it, that the UK’s government agency for nature conservation is sitting comfortably in the hands of the game-shooting industry – this is absolutely shocking – read it here.

22
May
13

Peregrine euthanised after being shot

A peregrine falcon has had to be euthanised after being found injured. The bird had been shot. The incident was reported to the police in Abergavenny in Monmouthshire, south Wales on Monday.

We don’t have any further details.

UPDATE: Gwent police are appealing for info. The bird was found in the Pandy, Abergavenny area. Call police on 101 with info, quoting ref 353 20/5/13.

22
May
13

News shocker – raptors not to blame for UK biodiversity loss

evil raptorThere’s a lot of media attention today on a newly published report about the state of the UK’s wildlife. Compiled by 25 wildlife organisations, the State of Nature report provides a broad and objective assessment on the status and population trends of UK species. According to the report, 60% of the species studied have declined in recent decades and more than 10% are at risk of being lost from the UK entirely.

It’s refreshing to read that, amongst other things, intensive grouse moor management and illegal persecution have been identifed as threats to the biodiversity of our uplands.

Strangely, raptors have not been blamed. Perhaps that’s because the report was authored by an authentic partnership of expert organisations, none of whom have a vested interest in killing birds of prey…

Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse has ‘pledged to take action’, apparently:

We’re committed to halting biodiversity loss by 2020 and are working with partners involved in this report, as well as the wider community, to do just that” (BBC news article here).

The State of Nature report is available to read here

21
May
13

Who’s fooling who?

spinocularsSpinoculars at the ready, folks….

According to a new website, ‘Cairngorms Nature is a new partnership where people and organisations come together, regardless of sector or background, with one thing in common – a desire to safeguard and enhance the outstanding nature in the Cairngorms National Park’ (see here). An admirable project with an ambitious five-year action plan (see here) to be overseen and delivered by a ‘strategy group’ (see here for members).

Look closely at the detail of this action plan and you’ll find some barely believable action points that include:

Page 60 – Action: Restore the full community of raptor species. Key Partners:

(a) SGA and SLE to trial innovative techniques to increase raptor populations;

(b) Police Service, SLE, SGA, BASC to raise awareness and understanding, provide advice and training on wildlife legislation;

(c) Police Service to monitor wildlife crime in the national park;

(d) CNPA, SNH, SLE, SGA, RSPB to support collaboration to reduce conflicts in species and wildlife management.

Page 62 – Key species for focused action: Golden eagle. Key Actions:

(a) RSPB, CNPA, HFW and SNH to continue and expand Raptor Track project to gather data, raise awareness and understanding, and provide advice and guidance for land managers;

(b) SLE, SGA and SNH to work with moorland managers to manage mountain hare populations for the benefit of golden eagles.

In other unbelievable news, the latest SNH magazine has been published (#17, see here) and includes two contributed articles: one written by an employee of Scottish Land and Estates (page 34) and one by an employee of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (page 54). Both articles, as well as a gushing editorial from SNH Chief Executive Ian Jardine (page 3) would have us believe that these two organisations are dedicated to protecting Scotland’s wildlife.

This magazine also includes an article about Scotland’s so-called Big Five, including the golden eagle (page 13). This is a carefully worded piece that totally ignores the species’ unfavourable conservation status and the reasons for that. The best line has to be: “There are reckoned to be around 440 pairs in Scotland, located mainly in the Highlands and Islands but with a presence in the Borders and Southern Uplands too“. I suppose “a presence” is one way of describing the golden eagle’s precarious status in southern Scotland, where they are barely hanging on by the tip of their talons thanks to the effect of illegal persecution (e.g. see here).

And finally, if you haven’t read enough guff,  the SGA’s Bert Burnett treats us to his thoughts on climate change (here) – a worthy contender for a scholarship at the Sarah Palin Institute of Scientific Understanding.

15
May
13

Environment Minister’s response to continuing raptor persecution

Paul-Wheelhouse-MSP On October 10th 2012, one month into his job, Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse made the following statement in response to the huge public uproar about the death of the Deeside eagle (see here) –

The unlawful killing of any raptors has no place in today’s Scotland and we will continue to work hard to eradicate this criminal activity. We believe that the partnership approach with the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland, is bringing the reduction in bird of prey poisoning that can be seen in the statistics in recent years. However we are not complacent and if there is evidence of a switch to other methods of persecution we will take action to bear down on those methods“.

He made a further statement on 28th November 2012 following the discovery on an Aberdeenshire estate of a hen harrier that had been shot dead (see here) –

We will not tolerate the illegal persecution of protected species such as the hen harrier and, as I have said recently in relation to another shooting [presumably the shot golden eagle found critically injured on an estate in south west Scotland – see here] I am prepared to look at further measures to strengthen and assist enforcement if we continue to see this flouting of the law in respect of protected species“.

Since then a number of further persecution incidents have taken place, some of which have made it into the public domain, whereas others are still being treated as closely-guarded secrets by Police Scotland (why is that, several months after the crimes were discovered?). The ones that have been publicised include:

1. A dead buzzard at Glasserton Estate, Whithorn that was discovered in December 2012 but not reported in the media until 6 March (see here). The press release was vague but we assume this buzzard had been poisoned judging by the location of known poisoning incidents that were included in the PAW Scotland 2012 poisoning maps.

2. A dead buzzard that had been found by the side of a road in Stirlingshire in early February 2013 – later tests showed it had been shot (see here).

3. A dead buzzard that had been found near St Mary’s Loch in the Borders in early March – it had been shot (see here). Following this incident, we tweeted Paul Wheelhouse and asked him if he was ready to take the action he’d promised (see here). He replied: “I will say more when I have a full briefing but my first reaction is instinctive – I’m both disgusted and very much angered“. Seven weeks later we’re still waiting for his statement.

In early April it was reported that the shot golden eagle that had been found on a grouse moor in south west Scotland had finally succumbed to its injuries (see here). This news prompted us to encourage readers to write to Paul Wheelhouse, again, and ask him whether he was now ready to take the action he’d promised. We know that over 100 of you sent emails to him. In early May he responded. The following email is an example of one of the generic responses that were sent out by his aide:

Thank you for your letter to the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Mr Paul Wheelhouse. I have been asked to respond.

The Minister was saddened to hear that the golden eagle in the care of the SSPCA had to be put to sleep on veterinary advice, due to underlying health conditions as it had been hoped initially that the eagle would make a full recovery. This case involves an ongoing Police and SSPCA investigation, so further comment on that incident is inappropriate.

The Minister welcomed a reduction in confirmed poisoning figures for raptors in March 2013, however he did recognise that other forms of persecution do exist and he has already committed to looking at the development of further measures to end raptor persecution if other methods of persecution prove to be on the increase. Vicarious Liability provisions which came into force in 2012 are still to be tested in court and it is critical to assess the impact of the legislation by this means.

The difficulties in prosecuting wildlife crimes are well documented. Recognising the specialist nature of the investigations required, and legislation covering such criminality, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service created specialist wildlife and environmental fiscals in 2011. Police reform has also implemented changes with regard to the structure and coordination of wildlife crime officers with a net increase in officers with relevant responsibilities. These changes combined will continue to shape improvements in wildlife crime detection, investigations and prosecutions.

Tackling wildlife crime is a priority for the Minister and he stands by previous comments that he is not prepared to allow these crimes to continue unabated, and without consequence. Partnership working via the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland, which is chaired by the Minister, is key to progress and this path will also continue to be used to deliver a reduction in wildlife crime.

Yours faithfully,

Karen Hunter

Wildlife Crime Policy Officer

It seems to us that Paul Wheelhouse is good on rhetoric but not so good on action. Very disappointing but not at all surprising. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds when he hears about the other examples of ‘continued flouting of the law’, that have happened right under his nose. He might want to have a chat with Police Scotland and ask them what they’re keeping from public view, and why……

15
May
13

More delay in case against 3 Morvich Estate gamekeepers

00143855The second intermediate diet took place on Monday 13th May in the case against three gamekeepers from Morvich Estate in Sutherland who face charges relating to a number of alleged wildlife crime offences.

There was a further adjournment at Dornoch Sheriff Court at the request of the defence to allow more time for further preparation. The next intermediate diet will take place on 25th June.

For background on the case see here and here.

14
May
13

Rutland ospreys to be sat-tagged as a persecution deterrent

_67572148_ospreytrackerThree adult ospreys at Rutland Water are to be fitted with GPS tags in an effort to act as a deterrent to would-be persecutors. Three male ospreys disappeared from the area between 2010-2011 and the project team suspects they may have been shot.

It’s a sad reflection of our attitude to raptors when the primary reason for fitting sat tags is as a persecution deterrent, not research. Not that a sat tag will deter those with an interest in killing these birds, but at least the project team will know where the birds have gone down.

BBC news article here

For those interested in the fantastic osprey reintroduction project at Rutland, project officer Tim Mackrill has recently written a book about it (see here).




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