Ross-shire Massacre: “The worst 2 weeks of my life”, says red kite officer

Brian EtheridgeBrian Etheridge should have been celebrating this week; it’s the 19th anniversary of his work as the RSPB’s Red Kite Officer in the Black Isle area. Instead, he’s witnessed one of the worst mass poisoning incidents in recent times: 12 red kites and 4 buzzards found to date. The 12 red kite victims were birds that he’s known for years.

Brian said: “This has been the worst two weeks of my life. I have worked with all of the birds – each one was ringed and tagged by me. I was there at the very beginning when they were only a few weeks old and I was there at the end when I went to collect their bodies. It’s a huge mix of emotions; I’ve gone from being very, very angry to extremely sad. Some of these birds I’ve known very well and for a very long time.”

One of the dead birds was a 16-year-old female that Brian first tagged in 1998. She had been breeding in the Black Isle for 14 years and had raised between 25 to 30 young – one of which, an eight-year-old female, was also among the dead.

Brian said: “I’ve gone to her nest every year since she first bred back in 2000 and I’ve climbed up to her nest so she probably knew me quite well. She was like an old friend and a very familiar sight so I will miss her this year. She had mated with one male for 13 years and he was so faithful. He has been sitting on their nest, waiting for her to come back.

Something like this can just wipe out so many birds and so many years of work. This is by far the worst example I’ve ever witnessed. There has been a huge reaction from the public. The community has really taken these birds to its heart. This was the very first reintroduction programme in Scotland so most people are very proud of their red kites.”

Many of the poisoned birds will have been regular visitors at the nearby Tollie Red Kite Visitor Centre – an initiative between RSPB Scotland the Brahan Estate – where the general public can go and watch the daily feeding of the kites. Some of the volunteers from the project have also been talking about their reaction to this latest atrocity – see here.

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

37 Responses to “Ross-shire Massacre: “The worst 2 weeks of my life”, says red kite officer”

  1. April 2, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Well lets start taking this crime seriously -the police have the technology to find out who is responsible and its not too hard to work out where these birds were poisoned and back track from there .. Set up a trap using a tracking device on the birds and catch these bastards red handed – It should also be possible to trace the poison back to source unless of course its freely available like drugs seem to be. Then take those responsible and lock em away for along time- Im sorry for your losses my friend.

  2. 2 Dave Dick
    April 2, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    and I would add my condolences to Brian also..no one has worked harder for raptors in Scotland, this is just awful.

    While we are thinking along those lines, let’s remember the hundreds, if not thousands of raptors illegally killed in this country over the last half century. Many of them were long-lived birds known to raptor workers over many seasons. Many had been enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. The evil acts of persecution from poisoning to shooting and nest destruction are almost beyond belief, to any right-thinking person. Can anyone now say that this killer should not be sent to jail? What kind of sick, sad society puts up with this?…

  3. 3 nirofo
    April 2, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    I’ve been involved with birds of prey for nearly 50 years, I’ve seen many an atrocity committed to them at the hands of the shooting estates and their gamekeepers, but this ranks as the most horrendous one I’ve ever known! It must be particularly soul destroying for someone as dedicated as Brian to be witness to this massacre of such beautiful birds, especially as he has been involved with them on such a personal basis from the beginning.

    I have no doubt that the police already know who is responsible for this very serious wildlife crime and trust they will do their duty and bring these thoughtless criminals to justice by all means necessary. Unfortunately we can only hope that the Sheriff will see these crimes for the blatant disregard for the law they represent and will also do his duty and severely sentence these uncaring felons with the same vigour he would give to any other such serious crimes.

    It seems strange to me that we condemn people in so-called 3rd world countries such as Africa for killing lions, elephants, rhinos and vultures, we condemn EU countries such as Malta for allowing the massacre of migrating birds, and rightly so, but we do next to nothing to prevent the killing of our most precious legally protected birds of prey in the UK, WHY ???

  4. April 2, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    We are all shocked, angry and extremely saddened by this event and our thoughts go out to all those people who have worked so hard to introduce and conserve these birds over the years, especially Brian who had built up such a special bond with some of the birds that have now been found dead. Such dedication by somebody like Brian needs our applause and support, especially at a time like this.

    Does anybody know, who may have visited the area of Inverness or Canon Bridge in the last two or so days, if the police have put up posters or handed out leaflets to shops and public places, alerting them of the incidents or the dangers of coming into contact with any poison that may still be out there as well as the reward for information? PAW-Scotland have done a similar thing when poaching has taken place (Erecting posters within a local area) so we should expect them to do the same for this incident as they should for any other similar incidents of wildlife crime, especially when it has been uncovered on such a scale like we are seeing in the Highlands just now. There is no doubt that the people or person responsible for these crimes live locally and so as much pressure must be put on the local community as possible to give him/her up to the police. They should remember that whoever carried out these attacks on the birds had no thought for their lives or the lives of the wider public when he/she or they laid out into the open what will probably turn out to be an extremely deadly form of poison, probably carbofuran (just a tiny amount will kill an adult human). These people are not only killers of protected birds, but they carry out their poisoning in full knowledge that their is a risk that humans may die. These are serious criminals and it is about time that the authorities take this issue more seriously!!

  5. 5 Chris Roberts
    April 2, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    My heartfelt condolences to Brian and his helpers/volunteers also. The bastard scum that did this must be sent to jail for a long time if caught. Meanwhile the government should start closing down these killing estates, let our countryside return to a much more natural state where wildlife can thrive, as against the monoculture that gamekeepers have turned it into.

    Any revenue lost will more than be made up by wildlife tourism.

  6. 6 John Miles
    April 2, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    300 birds of prey killed in one winter at xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxx. This only came out due to a game keeper giving the information to the press. Game keepers who want to keep their jobs don’t have a choice on the majority of Red Grouse moors.

    [Ed: John, you know we can’t publish this without seeing evidence]

    • 7 Chris Roberts
      April 2, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      Then they should find a more wholesome occupation!

    • 8 Dave Dick
      April 2, 2014 at 9:21 pm

      Never like seeing that line John – everyone has a choice…at present anyone who wants to be a grouse keeper and knows anything about it, is knowingly making a choice to kill birds of prey and protected animals – thats the reality. Grouse keepers dont wake up one day and suddenly find they are being asked to break the Law, it goes with the territory. How many of us on this forum would break a law which could get you jailtime just because their boss asked them?….and a reminder here, this appalling incident happened on low ground pheasant shoot country, not a grouse moor, which makes it even more horrific, we expect illegal killing on grouse moors.

      • 9 Dougie
        April 3, 2014 at 7:53 am

        Agree with that 100%. Deliberate (and enthusiastic in most cases, I think) compliance with unlawful activities that are related to game bird shooting. Unprincipled people who choose to be lawbreakers rather than law abiding. Fits the definition of common criminals

  7. 10 Ted Robson.
    April 2, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    I share your sentiments Brian, there are people that will never change from their debase ways.

  8. 11 Paul C
    April 2, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    Absolutely sickened to read this We do have so many depraved individuals out there who like Ted says are jut going to carry on with their evil ways

  9. 12 paul irving
    April 2, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    I can just about imagine quite how overwhelming Brian’s emotions are as a result of this appalling incident. I so hope that there is enough evidence to get the culprit(s) found guilty and that an appropriate sentence is handed down for a change. Perhaps such a headline grabbing crime may bring in a change for the better that is so long overdue in Scotland and northern England.

    Paul V Irving

  10. April 2, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    It will never end unless the criminals are put in prison.

  11. April 2, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    Feel terrible for Brian and all those working on raptor conservation in Scotland, tragic, just when you think things can’t get much worse. It would be nice to think that a massacre like this could be a game-changer but depends on the response being more than just temporary public outrage before we move on to the next big thing. What are the chances of getting a real prosecution here?

  12. 16 Circus maxima
    April 2, 2014 at 11:57 pm

    The statement from the estate owner on the BBC news is pathetic….as if he has been handed a card to read by his bosses.

    • April 3, 2014 at 3:13 pm

      Surely Brahan Estate, where the Kites are fed is unlikely to be the place where the raptors were poisoned.
      Because of that i took Alex Matheson,from the Brahan Estate, comment’s below from the BBC webpage, at face value.
      “I would like to express in the strongest possible terms our total condemnation of any form of illegal poisoning.
      “Responsible land managers across the country are working hard to stamp this sort of thing out and show that wildlife crime is just not acceptable.”‘

      [Ed: Brahan Estate is NOT where these birds were found poisoned]

      • 18 Circus maxima
        April 3, 2014 at 7:56 pm

        Sorry for introducing a wee bit confusion. Having looked at the Brahan Estate website, it is obvious that they make a bit of money from kite spotters and are proud of the birds…with this as backround I was just a bit surprised by the tone of their comment….to me it looked like they had spoken to “SLF Country Estates” )whatever they are called this week) and been given the bland quote from the party handbook.
        The BBC are now saying “All of the carcasses were discovered in a two square mile area to the south east of Conon Bridge around Conon Brae, Balvail, Leanaig and Alcaig.”

  13. 21 nirofo
    April 3, 2014 at 2:13 am

    I don’t like the prospect of seeing anyone put out of work but I’m sure I could make an exception in the case of the gamekeepers, that’s one job I would like to see confined to the dustbin where it belongs. Unfortunately the only way this is ever likely to happen is if the shooting estates are shut down for good and confined to the history books where they should have been a long time ago.

    Dave Dicks right, the gamekeepers do not need pressure from their employers to break the law and kill legally protected Raptors, they knew what the job entailed when they took it on and they do it only too willingly as the mounting evidence shows. Sooner or later one of the police chiefs will have the guts to take on the establishment and make an example out of these criminals instead of doffing his cap to the estate owners and turning a blind eye.

  14. 22 Jimmy
    April 3, 2014 at 7:45 am

    Any word the poison used??

    • April 3, 2014 at 9:59 am

      According to a staff member from the National Wildlife Crime Unit:

      “At this stage of an investigation it [the name of the poison used] is no business of the public”.


      We’d argue that if someone is placing poisoned baits out in the countryside, and the poison on those baits was so devastatingly toxic that if someone even touched it it could kill them, then it’s very much the business of the public to know about it.

      • 24 Chris Roberts
        April 3, 2014 at 10:31 am

        Sounds like the authorities are, as usual, treating us, the public, as kids. Also with a comment like that, it sounds disturbingly like they are trying to protect the criminals.

      • 25 Dougie
        April 3, 2014 at 10:49 am

        What utter arrogance from the NWCU. Sounds like they are part of the problem.

      • 26 Dave Dick
        April 3, 2014 at 12:09 pm

        Did they actually use those words?!..Im astounded..thats not usual official speak?..I can however see why they would want to keep details quiet for a few days until searches and interviews are carried out. I agree with the commonly expressed view, that too many Forces either do very little to investigate or dont even tell the public about incidents reported to them – but this one will be getting the full treatment. Having been very much ionvolved in such investigations, I know how important it is to move fast before the criminal knows hes been discovered but I also agree [and having mentioned this many times on this forum] that the poisons commonly used [with the exception of alphachloralose] are a direct danger to humans and of course more wildlife victims at any time….Id give the investigators a chance here but keep up the public pressure too…

  15. 27 SK
    April 3, 2014 at 11:46 am

    From guardian:

    Police Scotland have refused to disclose the type of poison being used but experts with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds say it appears to be highly toxic and fast acting. Many birds died with meat still in their beaks and gullets, said Brian Etheridge, an RSPB red kite expert on the Black Isle, who has worked on the reintroduction project since 1998 and has tagged all the birds which have been killed.

  16. 28 John Miles
    April 3, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    We have Newton Rigg near us and both RSPB and staff teach young keepers the law but once they get a job all that goes out of the window. Why!! Head keepers making the law or the land owner/shooting syndicate. The bottom line is that they must have mass Red Grouse to cross the buts. You know you can mention xxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx.

  17. 29 Jimmy
    April 3, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    There’s rumours going about that it was xxxxxxx xxxxxxx.

    [Ed: Libellous]

  18. 30 Dougie
    April 3, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    “At this stage of an investigation it [the name of the poison used] is no business of the public”.

    Is there proof that statement was made and who said it. If it is true it certainly is grounds for a serious complaint.

    [Ed: Yes, its published on Alan Stuart’s blog].

    • 31 Tony Warburton MBE
      April 3, 2014 at 6:12 pm

      Brian, please accept the sympathies of all at the World Owl Trust. We cannot begin to feel the same anger and pain you are going through at this time, but as you can see from the above messages of support, these sentiments are shared by a great many others who admire your dedication and love of these majestic birds. We also share your frustration at the inept response from the police, sherrifs, magistrates and Government ministers to these seemingly burgeoning crimes and the ceaseless ongoing war between some of the more cretinous shootingt fraternity and conservationists. You will note the total silence from Paul Wheelhouse and the SGA (even including the usually loquacious Mr Hogg) , NGA, Moorland Association & Co. Oh yes, I forgot, probably some conservationist did the poisoning in order to incriminate the shooters! Until maximum sentences are implemented and owners of estates or shoots found guilty of such crimes are included in this punishment, I’m afraid we face the same sort of tide King Canute faced!

  19. 32 MCJ
    April 5, 2014 at 11:04 am

    If I put into print my true feelings about this act of obvious pure self interest on the part of whoever did this I’m afraid I shall be arrested. Wilderness should mean wilderness not ‘wilderness’ as ‘managed’ for a small elite. Return the land to that which lives on and from it and make it difficult to get there. In a wilderness the vermin are human we are just too nice to point that out.

  20. 33 John
    April 5, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    This is such a crime against not only the birds and the hard working people who have reared and monitored them, but the people who live in the area.
    I believe the answer is simple. A complete shooting ban on all the shooting estates in the local area for a minimum of 12 months. It will have a significant impact on many of the community who depend on the shoots for their living. Lets not cry for the so called innocent, in small communities like this they will probably know who the guilty parties are likely to be, and they must come forward with the information to ensure this never happens again.
    The next time it happens ban the complete county for the same period. Only by hitting the pockets of all that rely on the shooting will they be forced to clean up their act.
    The police will never get sufficient evidence to jail the fat cat owners, it will only be the gamekeepers that will go to jail, if we are very very lucky.
    The route cause is the overwhelming greed of their masters, who know they are untouchable and probably reading this blogg and laughing at us, whilst rubbing their grubby hands at the extra profits they will get from the protection of a small number of birds that were going to be shot this coming season.

  21. April 6, 2014 at 10:22 am

    Friends of Red Kites in the north east of England send sympathy to Brian Etheridge, who has worked tirelessly in the Black Isle, as we have here in the Derwent Valley.
    The public needs to appreciate the value of having the raptors in the countryside. During 2004 and 2009, our red kites brought in £2.1 million to the local economy. GoNorthEast painted nine of their buses with wonderful images of the kite and saw their profits rise dramatically; people love these buses as they ply up and down the valley.
    Recently one of Brian’s kites flew from the Black Isle and joined some of our kites on Muggleswick Moor. Sadly it was found dead – the corpse was too decomposed to be sent for forensic examination. 2014 is our tenth anniversary of the release of our kites and the fifth of the inauguration of Friends of Red Kites. We know and appreciate how Brian, with all the hard graft and care he has exercised over 19 years, must be feeling. Ignorance and the violation of these majestic raptors must be reigned in. We sincerely hope the perpetrators of this heinous crime will be brought to justice and given meaningful punishment.

  22. April 8, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    This is truly heartbreaking :(

  23. April 9, 2014 at 8:09 am

    Reblogged this on Sally G. Author. and commented:
    This is a subject very close to home at the moment. Its so sad. Heartbreaking in fact. The Land ‘owners’ and the stone hearted employees that do their bidding for the sake of shoot parties have a lot to be ashamed of. A lot more than millions of poor grouse and pheasants.

  24. 37 Bryan Hall
    April 13, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    After many, many years of hard work restoring the damage done to our wildlife by generations of ill informed people, the simply ‘don’t care’ morons and the greedy rich landowners who will go to any lengths to please their shooting clients. What’s changed ?
    It is time to treat these kind of practices as serious crime, with very stiff penalties.
    Year on year we hear of species decline. Damage to the environment by developers and government in the name of progress. It is very sad that many people think us humans can do just as they like to the creatures we share our tiny planet with.
    My science teacher, way back in the 1950s, warned, “that we had to preserve wildlife and wild places” He also
    hung a mirror on the wall with a notice below ….Look into this mirror to see the most dangerous creature in the world

    He was right…..We are still allowing the same kind of people to continue with the same old primitive behaviour.
    Did we not learn anything in the interim?

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