Archive for March, 2014

31
Mar
14

Public consultation on increased powers for SSPCA investigators finally launched

sspca_badgeThe Scottish Government has finally launched its public consultation on increasing the powers of the SSPCA to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crimes.

We have campaigned long and hard for this and it’s taken the Government three years since they first committed to opening a consultation, so now it’s vitally important that as many people as possible actually respond to it. The Government wants to hear your views, whether in support or opposition, so this is your chance to influence policy and make a real difference in the fight against wildlife crime in Scotland.

The consultation document itself is extremely well-written, and we are delighted to see that the consultation period will be open for five months (closing 1st September 2014). We are also pleased to see that the consultation questions are straightforward:

1. Do you agree that the law in Scotland should be changed to give the SSPCA the powers as set out in section 4.1 [of the consultation document]?

2. Please set out your reasons for your answer to Q1.

3. If you would prefer to see changes to the SSPCA’s powers to investigate wildife crime other than those set out in section 4.1, please describe them.

So what’s it all about? The finer details can be read in the consultation document (see below) but in a nutshell….

Currently, the SSPCA has the power to investigate wildlife crimes that involve an animal in distress. So for example, if they are called out to an incident of a golden eagle that had been caught in an illegally-set spring trap and the eagle was still alive, the SSPCA has the power to collect evidence as part of a criminal investigation. This is because they have powers under the animal welfare legislation and this incident would certainly fall into a welfare category where the animal was ‘under the control of man’.

However, if they are called out to an incident where a golden eagle had eaten a poisoned bait and had died two minutes before the SSPCA arrived on scene, the SSPCA does not currently have the power to investigate because the welfare legislation doesn’t apply (the bird is already dead) and the dead bird is not ‘under the control of man’. In this scenario, all the SSPCA can do is to call the police and hope that the police attend the scene in a timely manner. How stupid is that?

Another example – if the SSPCA was called out to an incident of an illegally-snared badger, and that badger was already dead, and the SSPCA found 100 illegally-set snares at the same location, the SSPCA would not be able to investigate; they would have to rely upon the police to attend. If the badger was still alive (suffering), the SSPCA could investigate.

The proposal laid out in the consultation is to widen the investigatory powers of the SSPCA so that they’re not just limited to operating under welfare legislation; the increased powers, if granted, would also allow them to operate under certain parts of the Wildlife & Countryside Act in addition to the welfare legislation.

Importantly, the increased powers would  allow them to continue their investigations into animal welfare incidents where an animal is in distress, but also to investigate wildlife crimes where the animal is already dead, and even wildlife crimes that haven’t yet involved an animal – for example an illegally-set trap.

For us, the increased investigatory powers are a no-brainer. If you care about wildlife crime and you want to see improved detection rates, more prosecutions and a greater chance of conviction, then these increased investigatory powers are a logical step. Here’s why:

1. The SSPCA has a successful track record for investigating [a limited number of] wildlife crimes, both on their own and in partnership with the police.

2. Their inspectors and specialist investigations team have long experience in this field and are already fully trained.

3. SSPCA inspectors are fully focused on animal welfare and wildlife crime – they are not part-timers like many of the police WCOs and nor are they distracted by having to investigate other types of crime, as police WCOs can be.

4. The SSPCA is already a Specialist Reporting Agency, which means they can report alleged offences [within their limited remit] to the Procurator Fiscal and they know what evidence is required for a potential prosecution.

5. With increased investigatory powers, a total of 64 experienced SSPCA staff would be available to respond to a wider range of wildlife crimes.

6. These 64 experienced SSPCA staff would come at no cost whatsoever to the public purse. It would be a free resource to bolster an often under-resourced police force.

7. The specialist skills of the SSPCA are already recognised and utilised by the police in multi-agency searches. The sticking point, under current legislation, is that the police are not obliged to invite them to participate on such searches. Sometimes they do, sometimes, inexplicably, they don’t; it all depends on the personalities involved, which is not, in our opinion, the best way of investigating a wildlife crime.

8. The increase of powers to the SSPCA would not mean that the police are excluded from such investigations. The police would still retain their powers but crucially, they’d now have a further resource to call upon if they needed help. Alternatively, the SSPCA would have the powers to conduct their own investigation if the police couldn’t attend at short notice, for whatever reason. That would be true partnership working and, most importantly of all, increase the chances of a thorough investigation leading to a successful prosecution.

9. Last year we calculated the conviction rate for raptor persecution crime in Scotland as being a pathetic 7.3% (see here). Obviously, something is not working and by giving increased powers to the SSPCA we would expect to see this conviction rate rise considerably. Surely that’s in everyone’s interest (apart from the wildlife criminals, of course).

We know that there will probably be a lot of opposition to the proposal. For example, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association were not in support when the issue was first raised during the WANE bill consultations several years ago. We’re fairly sure that others from within the game-shooting industry will also oppose it – you’ll have to draw your own conclusions on their motivation for opposition. It’ll certainly be interesting to see the consultation responses of various organisations when they are published after the close of the consultation period.

At a time when there is an increasing public awareness of wildlife crime, and an ever-growing sense of frustration at the endless series of failed investigations (with a handful of exceptions), this consultation couldn’t have come at a better time.

Please, have a look at the consultation document and send in your views to the government using the official response form (see below). If you want to copy and paste any or all of our reasons listed above for increasing the SSPCA’s investigatory powers, please feel free.

The time is long-overdue for the pressure to be ramped up on the wildlife criminals (the Untouchables) running amok in our countryside, illegally poisoning, shooting, trapping and bludgeoning our wildlife and sticking up two fingers to the rest of us. Let them know we’ve had enough and let the government know that they have our full support to implement these changes.

Download the SSPCA Consultation document: SSPCA Consulation document

Download the Consultation and Response Form: SSPCA Consultation Questions and Response Form

29
Mar
14

Death toll rises again in Ross-shire massacre as £5k reward offered

red kites gigrin david bowmanThe death toll in what we are calling the Ross-shire Massacre has risen again today with the discovery of another poisoned raptor. Today’s dead red kite is the 10th to be discovered in the last fortnight in a small area in Conon Bridge, along with four buzzards, bringing the total found to date to fourteen.

RSPB Scotland is offering a £5,000 reward for any information that leads to a successful conviction. Their money is probably quite safe.

Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, Alex Hogg, has put out the following statement:

The discovery of so many birds in one area is unprecedented and alarming“.

He’s either deliberately lying to make out that the mass killing of raptors in one area has never happened before or he has a very short memory:

In 2004, a gamekeeper on the Barns Estate in the Scottish Borders was convicted of poisoning 20 raptors (18 buzzards, 1 goshawk and 1 tawny owl). 25 dead raptors had been discovered but five were too badly decomposed to establish their cause of death (see here).

In 2013, gamekeeper Colin Burne was convicted of killing seven buzzards at the Whinfell Plantation, Penrith, Cumbria. A total of 12 dead birds had been found but five were too badly decomposed to establish their cause of death (see here).

This year, there is an on-going court case against a gamekeeper from the Stody Estate, Norfolk, after the discovery of 16 dead raptors (14 buzzards, 1 sparrowhawk and 1 tawny owl). Allen Lambert has admitted to storing two banned pesticides but he has denied killing the raptors. His trial begins in May (see here).

So far from this current incident being ‘unprecedented’, there are examples dating from 10 years ago right up to the present day of multiple dead raptors being found in a single incident – a telling indictment of just how little progress has been made in addressing this disgusting crime.

There’s also a statement on the SGA facebook page that includes this:

Articles in the Telegraph and Herald this week indicated, through research, that there is little or no shooting interests in the area” [Conon Bridge, Ross-shire, where the latest atrocity is gradually being revealed].

That’s also inaccurate. There may not be a driven grouse moor in the immediate area but there certainly are shooting interests…

Photo of red kites at Gigrin Farm, Wales, by David Bowman.

Previous blogs on the Ross-shire Massacre here, here and here.

28
Mar
14

Ross-shire raptor death toll rises to 13….and counting

Red Kite Mali HallsIn what looks increasingly to be a mass poisoning incident, the number of dead raptors found in the Conon Bridge /Muir of Ord area has now reached 13, including at least 9 red kites, according to RSPB Scotland’s Director.

It’s not over by a long way…

Previous blogs here and here

UPDATE 1300hrs: Police Scotland has confirmed the first six of these birds to be tested (so far) have come back as positive for having been poisoned.

 

28
Mar
14

Raptor poisoning incidents doubled in 2013

UpGraphThe Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW Scotland) has published the latest ‘official’ maps showing the distribution of reported raptor persecution incidents in Scotland during 2013.

Remember 2013? That was the government’s much heralded Year of Natural Scotland.

How disgraceful then, to see that reported incidents of raptor poisoning in 2013 doubled from the previous year. The victims this time around included a golden eagle, a red kite and four buzzards. And these were just the ones that were discovered – how many went undiscovered?

Not only did the reported poisoning incidents double, but other methods of illegal persecution were also reported, including disturbance, nest destruction, shooting and trapping, and these incidents numbered nearly three times the number of reported poisoning incidents.

It is clear, once again, that despite all the claims to the contrary, the illegal persecution of birds of prey in Scotland is still taking place with impunity. This has been vividly illustrated by the unfolding news from Ross-shire this week that at least 11 raptors have been found dead, including at least 8 red kites, all strongly suspected to be the victims of illegal poisoning. We fully expect this figure to rise…

This year, for the first time, the maps are now not just restricted to showing reported poisoning incidents; also included are the other types of persecution. This approach has to be applauded, especially as there is a real concern that the raptor killers are changing tactics in an attempt to show that the game-shooting industry is cleaning up its act (i.e. if they can keep poisoning figures low, they can point to this as an indication that persecution is dropping because they know that poisoning is the only method that is regularly mapped and monitored). Not any more, so well done to the Environment Minister for ensuring the other methods are also now ‘officially’ mapped and monitored.

However, the new and improved maps are still not showing the full picture.

For example, the recorded incidents shown on the new maps are limited to those where a dead or dying raptor has also been discovered:

The maps DO NOT show incidents where other birds/animals have been found poisoned with banned substances that have been categorised by SASA as ‘abuse’. Why not?

The maps DO NOT show incidents where an illegally-set trap has been found without an injured or dead raptor in/on it. Why not?

The maps DO NOT show the locations where satellite-tracked raptors have ‘mysteriously disappeared’ without trace. Why not?

But most significantly of all, the maps DO NOT show incidents where poisoned baits have been discovered, and have been categorised by SASA as ‘abuse’, unless a poisoned raptor was also found at the scene. Why not?

In our view, this is the most serious of all the omissions. The Scottish Government explains this away by saying that if there isn’t a dead/dying raptor at the scene then the discovery of poisoned baits can’t be classified as ‘raptor persecution’. Eh? Everybody knows that these poisons are routinely used to target birds of prey. To deliberately leave them off these poisoning maps is astonishing. In whose interest is it to exclude these incidents?

A good example of this sort of incident came last year when a massive stash of pre-prepared poisoned baits was found inside two game bags in woodland next to a grouse moor on Leadhills estate. Leadhills has a long and sorry history of poisoned baits and poisoned raptors having been found there, dating back several decades. A Leadhills gamekeeper was convicted in 2010 for er, laying out a poisoned bait on the moor. There were 36 baits in total in the 2013 stash; chopped up into bite-size pieces and sprinkled with Carbofuran. What on earth does the Government think those baits were going to be used for if not for poisoning raptors?

We think this particular stash of pre-prepared poisoned baits is the largest ever discovered in Scotland. The Leadhills baits are not included in the latest maps. Why? Because no poisoned raptors were found at the scene. Probably because the police failed to conduct any level of search when they turned up, in marked vehicles, to collect the baits.

If we, the BBC and Project Raptor had not reported on that incident, nobody would be any the wiser to it today. The police failed to issue a press release and now we find that the incident has been excluded from the ‘official’ poisoning maps. There’s now no doubt at all that the incident will also be excluded from the Scottish Government’s ‘official’ raptor persecution report that they’ll publish later this year.

‘Discovery of a massive stash of poisoned baits on a sporting estate? Where? When? Nope, we can’t find it in the ‘official’ statistics, you must be mistaken, it can’t have happened’.

Compare this approach with that used by the government/police to report on drug seizures. They regularly report on the recovery of big stashes of heroin, whether the heroin has actually found its way onto the street or not. They don’t say, ‘Oh, we can’t include that in our official stats because we didn’t find a junkie laying next to the stash”, do they? No, it all gets recorded as part of their official drug crimes statistics. What’s so different about the discovery of big stashes of banned poisons that are known to be used to illegally target birds of prey?

So, all in all then, situation normal in Scotland. Reported poisoning incidents have doubled from the previous year, other methods of killing raptors are being utilised with disturbing regularity, the game-shooting industry is still trying to spin the story into something positive (Doug McAdam is quoted in the Scotsman article as saying: ‘Good progress has been made on reducing illegal poisoning incidents’!!), the Scottish Government is still trying to spin the story into something positive (by comparing the 2013 figures with  figures from 2009 [the highest reported poisoning figures in 20 years] rather than focusing on the doubling of reported incidents from 2012 to 2013) and the ‘official’ statistics are still not showing the full scale of the problem.

See you all same place, same time, next year, when, judging by the recent Ross-shire news, once again we’ll be reporting that raptor poisoning incidents have increased over the last year. The only surprise will be by how much.

To view the ‘official’ maps on the PAW Scotland website see here.

Article in the Scotsman ‘Birds of prey spared poison – to be stamped to death’ – see here.

Article on BBC website ‘Number of birds of prey poisoned in Scotland doubles’ – see here.

Article on STV news ‘Rise in number of birds of prey illegally poisoned ‘very worrying” – see here.

27
Mar
14

Ross-shire raptor death toll rises to 11….and counting

Red Kite Mali HallsThe incident we blogged about two days ago concerning the discovery of five dead red kites and two buzzards in Ross-shire, north Scotland (see here) has just got a lot worse.

The current figure is 11 corpses, according to the BBC, and we suspect more may yet to be found.

We know that at least eight of these corpses are red kites.

This is the worst single persecution incident to have been discovered for several years. Poisoning is strongly suspected.

More on this soon.

Red kite photo by Mali Halls.

 

26
Mar
14

Correspondence between SLE and Scot Gov re: poisoned eagle Fearnan

McAdam 2A freedom of information request has revealed some interesting correspondence between Doug McAdam, the CEO of the landowners’ organisation Scottish Land and Estates, and Paul Wheelhouse, the Scottish Environment Minister, on the subject of ‘Fearnan‘, the poisoned golden eagle found dead on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens in December 2013.

McAdam wrote to the Minister in January, setting out SLE’s “total condemnation” of the poisoning incident. He went on to say that SLE members in the area where Fearnan’s corpse was found were “perhaps more keen than anyone” that the culprit was found and prosecuted. He assured the Minister that these landowners had conducted their own enquiries and were sure that none of their staff were involved. He said that gamekeepers were “helping the police in all aspects of the investigation” (presumably this doesn’t mean giving a “no comment” response to any questions they are asked, as recommended by official SGA policy!). McAdam also emphasised how the introduction of vicarious liability had had an impact on best practice sporting management and besides, that gamekeepers love golden eagles, so much so that plans were under way to initiate ‘a golden eagle monitoring or conservation project’ in the Angus Glens.

You can read his letter here: SLE letter to Wheelhouse re Fearnan Jan 2014

Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, to his credit, wasn’t convinced.

In what we would call a fairly robust response, Wheelhouse told McAdam that he was going to be frank with him. He pointed out that the illegal poisoning of Fearnan was just one of “a catalogue of incidents associated with the Angus Glens area“. He went on: “I understand in fact that there has been something like a dozen incidents in this area since 2008“. [We actually know of at least 26 incidents since 2008, (36 if you go back to 2004) and we also know that several others have never been publicised: see here].

Wheelhouse continued: “In the absence of any other credible explanation, I can only conclude that, despite all our efforts, there remains an element of sporting managers and owners who continue to flout the law and defy public opinion for their own selfish ends…”.

He also pointed out that any carcasses or baits that were discovered were probably representative of “only a fraction” of those put out by the criminals (in other words, he agrees with the long-held view that what is discovered is just the tip of a very large iceberg).

He warned McAdam that if persecution didn’t stop he would be put under increasing pressure to impose further measures and he suggested that the game-shooting industry would do well to stop issuing media statements of condemnation [about persecution] that give the impression of being defensive and resentful.

You can read his letter here: Wheelhouse response to SLE Fearnan letter Feb 2014

We were quite pleased with Wheelhouse’s response – a definite baring of the teeth – but as we’ve often said, it’s his actions that count, not just words. We’re waiting to see whether he can bite.

It’s interesting that he hasn’t yet made a public comment about the discovery of those five red kites and one buzzard that was all over the news yesterday, suspected to have been poisoned. We understand the death toll has since risen but more on that later. We’ll be watching with very close interest to see whether SNH will now enforce the new enabling clause to restrict the use of General Licences on the land where these corpses were found. A conviction is not required for them to exercise this new clause; SNH must just have ‘reason to believe that wild birds have been taken or killed by such persons and/or on such land other than in accordance with the general licence’ (see here).

25
Mar
14

DEFRA ignores 10,000+ voices calling for grouse moor licensing

Bowland Betty2

Bowland Betty, a young satellite-tracked hen harrier found shot dead on a North Yorks grouse moor in 2012

Thousands of you will have received a message in your inbox this morning from DEFRA. Thousands of you will not have been the tiniest bit surprised by the content of the message.

DEFRA’s message was one they were forced to send because the e-petition calling for the licensing of grouse moors and gamekeepers had reached the 10,000 signature trigger mark (see here). Thanks to e-petition rules, they were compelled to issue a response. They needn’t have bothered.

For those who haven’t read DEFRA’s response to the e-petition, you can find it here.

In a nutshell, DEFRA thinks that conservation policies for birds of prey are working well (er….Hen Harriers??!) and thus they have no intention of restricting sport shooting in England.

In other words, get lost you plebs and leave us and our chums to get on with our fun.

Their response really shouldn’t come as any surprise to anybody who has been following the Westminster government’s wildlife policies of late. Badgers, buzzards, bees, fracking….

Was it worth our time and effort to sign the petition? Yes, it absolutely was. Anything that raises public awareness of the raptor persecution issue is well worth the time taken to type your name in a box and click ‘send’. Awareness- raising over the next 14 months will be particularly important as England approaches the next General Election in 2015….

Well done again to John Armitage (who started the e-petition) and to the 10,000+ of you prepared to stand alongside him. Onward..




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