Archive for May, 2014

31
May
14

Want to see what an intensively driven grouse moor looks like?

Then look no further than Chris Townsend’s latest blog about the Eastern Highlands, complete with photographs, here.

As Chris says, “A savaged, stripped, blasted land“.

East Highlands Devastation Chris Townsend

Meanwhile, the Scottish Moorland Group (part of Scottish Land & Estates and chaired by Mr Leadhills himself, Andrew Hopetoun), has submitted a briefing note in preparation for a forthcoming meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee. This meeting will take place on Wednesday 4th June and will be discussing the newly-published report from the Land Reform Review Group (we blogged about it here), which places some focus on the future of Scotland’s massive sporting estates.

According to the Scottish Moorland Group’s briefing note, Scottish grouse moors provide the following:

  • Land-based businesses working with nature to contribute more to Scotland’s prosperity; and
  • Responsible stewardship of Scotland’s natural resources delivering more benefits to Scotland’s people.

Yes, that’s really what it says. In fact there are seven whole pages of this guff. You can read it for yourself (pages 23-30): RACCE_Meeting_Papers_04_06_2014

Funnily enough, there’s no mention of the rampant and illegal killing of raptors that has been taking place for decades on these moors, so much so that it is having a population-level impact on several species, especially the golden eagle and the hen harrier. You don’t get population-level effects from a few one-off poisoning incidents – it has to be killing on an industrial scale to have this sort of effect….

30
May
14

Head gamekeeper convicted of storing 5 banned poisons: gets conditional discharge

sledmereDerek Sanderson, a recently-retired head gamekeeper for a shooting syndicate on the Sledmere Estate in Yorkshire, was yesterday found guilty of storing five banned poisons in his house and in an unlocked outbuilding.

Those poisons were Carbofuran, Aldicarb, Mevinphos, Strychnine and Alphachloralose.

His sentence? A conditional discharge and a £15 victim surcharge!!!!!!!

The court apparently accepted that there was no causal link between the possession of these poisons and a dead buzzard found on Sledmere Estate in 2012 – confirmed as having been poisoned with Aldicarb.

Bob Elliot, Head of RSPB Investigations, has written an excellent blog about this, frankly, unbelievable case, here.

What sort of deterrent value is such a pathetic sentence?

28
May
14

New e-petition: ban driven grouse shooting in England

It’s been coming for some time, and now all patience has finally evaporated.

Mark Avery has launched a new e-petition today, calling for a complete ban on driven grouse shooting in England after it has led to the near-extinction of the Hen Harrier as a breeding species in the English uplands.

Hen harrier

We are 100% in support of this e-petition, especially as some of ‘our’ Hen Harriers are known to travel across the political boundary down into England, and vice-versa. It doesn’t matter where you live, be it Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland or the Irish Republic, this issue affects all of our Hen Harriers.

The petition is cleverly timed, too, with the petition’s closing date designed to coincide with the election of the next national government. That’s smart.

Here are Mark’s thoughts on why this e-petition has been created:

Dear friends

I have just launched an e-petition on the No 10 website calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting in England. At the moment it only has me signed up to it so it needs a bit of support. I’m not really very keen on banning things so it has taken a lot of thought to launch this petition. However, after 60 years of complete legal protection, the Hen Harrier is rarer than it was (in England at least) when it got that protection! And after at least a couple of decades of talking about solutions with the moorland community, in which I played a part for a while, the Hen Harrier is almost extinct in England. There are times when one can reach an understanding with ‘the other side’ but this doesn’t appear to be one of them. The systematic, illegal, wholesale removal of a protected bird from our countryside is a disgrace.

Of course, I would be rather surprised if this e-petition led to the banning of driven grouse shooting but I hope it will highlight the issues around this land use (which are far wider than a protected bird of prey) and make it easier for some sort of sensible solution to emerge. But if grouse shooting were banned, we really wouldn’t miss it at all. You are the first to hear of this e-petition – I will be giving it plenty of publicity over the next 12 months. Please don’t sign the e-petition if you don’t have some sympathy with it – that would be wrong. And I’m not going to know, whether any of you have signed it or not – unless, of course, the number of signatures remains at just the one.

If I can add another 9,999 signatures in the next 365 days then the government,  perhaps a different government, will have to respond. If I can add 99,999 signatures, then the issue may be debated in parliament (it would be interesting to hear what Nigel Farage would say!).

Dr Mark Avery

To sign this e-petition, please click HERE

Well done and thank you, Mark, for taking the initiative.

Photo of the nesting Hen Harrier by Mark Hamblin.

27
May
14

Ross-shire Massacre: RSPB considers alternative use of reward fund

Red kite by Claire MarshallA couple of weeks ago we blogged about the Ross-shire Massacre, two months on from the initial discovery of poisoned red kites and buzzards in the Conon Bridge area.

We suggested that it was now highly unlikely that anyone would be prosecuted for this disgraceful crime and we encouraged blog readers to contact RSPB Scotland Director Stuart Housden, to ask whether the reward fund, to which many of us contributed, could now be put to better use by their Investigations team rather than having it festering in some dusty account for years with virtually no prospect of ever being claimed (see here).

Thanks to those of you who did contact Stuart. It’s pleasing to see that he has taken note – the following statement has appeared on the RSPB’s reward fund website:

Update – 23rd May 2014:

We are extremely grateful for the huge public support and demonstration of outrage following the illegal killing of a large number of red kites and buzzards in Ross-shire just over two months ago. Your support via this Just Giving appeal has been incredible, and we have taken on all of your comments left on this page. The collective reward for information leading to a conviction over this atrocity has now grown to £27,000 (including pledges from Scottish Land and Estates and others) – demonstrating how strong the public feeling is for tackling wildlife crime in Scotland. In our appeal, we stated that if this money was not claimed as part of the Ross-shire reward fund, it would be channelled to RSPB Scotland Investigations team to help with their work supporting the police to tackle raptor crime in Scotland. Further to a number of enquiries from supporters over progress with this case, we will now be speaking to Police Scotland to seek their advice over use of your donations to this reward fund. If agreed by the police, we will use this money shortly to fund satellite tags for hen harriers and golden eagles, to be fitted by experienced and qualified RSPB Scotland staff, as well as other high technology equipment for RSPB Scotland Investigations. Thank you for all your support in helping combat crimes against birds of prey in Scotland, from all of us at RSPB.

That’s excellent news! The reward fund stands at £27,423 and of that, £10, 423 was donated by ordinary members of the public wanting to help. It’s this £10, 423 that could be released, if Police Scotland agree.

It’ll be interesting to see the police response to the RSPB’s question. If they agree (and we hope they do), they will be admitting that their investigation has failed, which will probably be quite embarrassing given the enormous public and political interest in this case. It would be the right thing to do though, and they’d deserve some credit for being honest about it. They won’t get any credit at all if they insist on claiming this is still an on-going investigation with a good chance of a prosecution, because we, and they, know it definitely isn’t that.

Previous blogs on the Ross-shire Massacre here.

Red kite photo by Claire Marshall

27
May
14

Tenuous threat of ‘killer drug’ Diclofenac to Scottish golden eagles

diclofenacThere’s a rather sensationalised article in today’s Scotsman claiming ‘Killer drug threat to Scotland’s golden eagles’ (see here).

The article suggests that Scottish golden eagles, and other raptors, could be under threat from the veterinary drug Diclofenac – the drug responsible for the catastrophic decline of several vulture species in parts of Asia. This drug has recently gone on sale in Europe, causing widespread concern for its probable effect on several European vulture species (e.g. see here).

The Scotsman’s scaremongering headline appears to be based on the results of a newly-published paper that reports on evidence of Diclofenac toxicity in steppe eagles in India. The link to golden eagles has been made because golden eagles and steppe eagles are in the same genus (Aquila).

However, if you actually read the paper, the evidence is based on only two dead steppe eagles. While of concern, it is still quite premature to transpose those results into a headline-grabbing article that suggests golden eagles in Scotland could be at threat. The study’s findings need to be expanded substantially and be based on a lot bigger sample size than just two individuals before the evidence becomes compelling.

Scottish raptors are unlikely to be at the same level of risk as species in Asia, given that livestock carcass dumps are not permitted here. However, some on social media are arguing that Diclofenac may be used (mis-used) as a substance with which to lace a poisoned bait.

Of course, Scottish golden eagles and other raptors could well be at risk, but then it could be argued that they are also at risk from a whole suite of potentially poisonous substances, some of them just ordinary household products, if those wishing to poison raptors choose to try out other chemicals. However, given the apparent availability of large stocks of the banned pesticide Carbofuran, and the known toxic effects of Carbofuran (i.e. fast acting and pretty much 100% effective), why would a poisoner risk using a chemical that ‘might’ work when he knows he’s got something that definitely will have the desired effect?

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about the availability of Diclofenac in Europe – of course we should – but those concerns currently focus on the drug’s known effect on Gyps vulture species and thus its significant threat to at least three vulture species in Europe. For that reason, it should be immediately removed from the market.

As for Scotland’s golden eagles, the main threat continues to be the illegal use of the banned poison, Carbofuran. Of 15 eagles (golden & sea eagles) known to have been poisoned since 2006, 13 of them were killed with Carbofuran (see here). This poison has also been used persistently to kill hundreds of other raptors in recent decades, including buzzards, red kites, peregrines etc etc and it is no surprise that it has been named ‘the gamekeepers’ poison of choice’.

25
May
14

Sea eagle killed at Scottish windfarm, but persecution remains greatest threat

Burnfoot windfarm 2The inevitable has finally happened; a Scottish windfarm has claimed its first reported eagle victim – a young sea eagle known as ‘Red T’.

Red T was released in 2011 as part of the East Scotland Sea Eagle Reintroduction Project – he was one of a cohort of young birds donated by Norway between 2007-2011 to form a nucleus breeding population for the species’ recovery in eastern Scotland.

His body was discovered in February this year at Burnfoot Hill windfarm in the Ochil hills (see photo). A post-mortem concluded that the likely cause of death was collision with a wind turbine (see here for a report by Rob Edwards and here for the RSPB’s East Scotland Sea Eagle project blog).

This tragic event wasn’t wholly unexpected. Windfarms and eagles don’t mix, especially when the turbines have been sited in a high-density eagle area (e.g. Smola island, in Norway – see here). To date, Scotland’s 150+ windfarms haven’t caused such a catastrophic impact as those in places such as Smola, although other victims have been recorded here, including hen harriers and red kites. Red T is the first known recorded eagle to have been killed by a turbine collision in Scotland, and he probably won’t be the last.

However, it’s important to keep Red T’s death in perspective. Windfarms have been around in Scotland for nearly twenty years and yet this is the first reported eagle death. In contrast, since 1989, at least 63 eagles (golden & white-tailed) have been reported as victims of illegal persecution according to RSPB data, and these are just the known victims – there are likely to have been many more. There is compelling scientific evidence that persecution is having a population-level impact on some species, especially golden eagles. This persecution is particularly associated with land managed as driven grouse moors in the central, eastern and southern uplands. These driven grouse moors tend to be situated on large privately-owned estates. The Land Reform Review Group this week published an interesting report which considers the future of these massive sporting estates – have a read of land reform campaigner Andy Wightman’s blog here for his perspective and the amusing responses of various land-use groups including SLE and the SGA.

21
May
14

White-tailed eagles hatch in Irish Republic again

WTE iRELAND 2013 Co Clare Allan MeeSome good news for a change….

For the second year running, white-tailed eagle chicks have hatched successfully at the Mountshannon nest in Co. Clare, as well as at a nest in west Cork in the Irish Republic.

The chick in the Mountshannon nest is the sibling of last year’s chick (see photo by Allan Mee), which was one of the first white-tailed eagles to fledge in Ireland in over 100 years, only to be shot and killed nine months later (see here).

These eagles have been reintroduced to Ireland following their extinction in the early 20th Century thanks to human persecution. Between 2007-2011, one hundred young eagles, donated by Norway, were released into Killarney National Park. The reintroduction project has been managed by the Golden Eagle Trust, who have published the following press statement about this year’s breeding success:

The first white-tailed eagle chicks of the year have been hatched in Co Clare and west Cork in recent weeks, it was announced today.

The rare birds were born in nests at Mountshannon, Co Clare and Glengarriff in west Cork, according to the Golden Eagle Trust which runs the reintroduction programme .

The chick born in Mountshannon is a sibling of a bird which was shot and killed three months ago. The deceased bird was one of two chicks born to the Mountshannon pair last year which became the first chicks to fly from a nest in Ireland in over a century. The crime is under investigation by the Garda.

The chick born in Glengarriff, the first of the year to hatch, unfortunately died at two weeks old. This was likely due to a combination of bad weather and inexperienced adults, Golden Eagle Trust project manager Dr Alan Mee said.

Nesting pairs at sites in Kerry and Galway have also laid eggs which have yet to hatch. At least half of the fourteen pairs of eagles across four counties have nested and laid eggs in recent weeks. Some pairs, including a nest in Killarney National Park, failed to breed.

These are the latest chicks in the reintroduction programme which began in 2007 with the release of 100 young Norwegian eagles in Killarney National Park .

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihandescribed it as “A very promising development after the shocking killing earlier this year. That was a dark day for this ambitious project to reintroduce these magnificent birds of prey into Ireland,” he said. “I hope these young eagles will have a long life in our skies,” he said.

The pair at Mountshannon gives the general public a chance to see some of the most spectacular birds at close quarters.

Dr Mee warned about risks of disturbance during the early stages of nesting which would be detrimental to success and could result in chicks being left unguarded. “We would caution people not to approach the nest area but instead avail of the unique opportunity to watch from nearby Mountshannon pier,” he said.

He continued: “The increase in the number of nesting pairs is encouraging and bodes well for the future of the species. White-tailed eagles can live for 25 to 30 years and generally mate for life. Ultimately the viability of the reintroduced programme depends on these chicks going on to breed themselves in Ireland. Each step brings us closer to that goal”.

The reintroduced birds came from Norway and the Norwegian Ambassador to Ireland, Roald Naess, also welcomed the news: “This is an excellent example of international cooperation on the practical level, aiming at preserving nature and biodiversity for the benefit of future generations”.

The white-tailed eagle reintroduction project is managed by the Golden Eagle Trust with the National Parks and Wildlife Service. One hundred white-tailed eagles were released in Killarney National, park between 2007 and 2011 and 29 have been recovered dead, mainly due to illegal poisoning.

The birds were historically a part of the Irish landscape before being made extinct in the early 20th century due to human persecution.

Well done to all involved in this historic conservation effort and best of luck to this year’s young pioneering birds. Let’s hope the sea eagle reintroduction project in East Scotland has equal success and that any chicks that manage to fledge here are able to survive for longer than last year’s bird, which un-mysteriously disappeared on a grouse moor in the North East Glens last month (see here).




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