The investigation into the mass poisoning of 22 birds of prey near Conon Bridge, Ross-shire in March is apparently continuing, although the police have been reluctant to provide much information since the well-publicised raids they carried out at various properties almost a month ago. The only news to emerge has been the ever-increasing death toll, currently standing at 16 red kites and 6 buzzards.
They’ve said that 12 of the dead birds have been confirmed as poisoned, but that information was given weeks ago – they still haven’t confirmed whether the other 10 birds were poisoned.
And nor have they released information about the poison(s) used to kill these birds. The purpose of withholding this information is not known – the police will probably say it’s a tactical approach, but the poisoner will know what was used and the poison itself will have been hidden away weeks ago. Even if a stash is now found, the chances of linking it directly to the Conon Bridge poisonings are zero because of the level of evidence required to secure a conviction. For example, unless the poisoner was seen placing the poisoned baits, and the birds were seen eating those poisoned baits, a strong evidential link cannot be established. The only possible conviction would be for a ‘possession’ offence, unless the poisoner actually admits to placing the poisoned baits, and that is hardly likely.
What’s frustrating is that here, yet again, we have an incident where deadly toxic poison(s) has been set out in the countryside, putting at risk any animal and human that comes in to contact with it, and yet the police don’t think the general public should be told what the poison is.
This lack of public information has even been picked up by a global listserv used by the health community. The following appeared on the listserv the day after the BBC announced that the current death toll had reached 22 birds:
“The issue of this many birds of prey or carrion being found dead indeed smacks of a toxin. However, multiple articles all say the birds were poisoned and they are investigating. Their investigation has included DNA testing of meat to determine what type of meat was used. These investigators say they need to get insecticide tests performed, yet not a single article mentioned if that has been done or what the outcome was, or if the test was pending.
While this number of birds being found dead is of concern, and the number of avian deaths seems to be climbing, the lack of testing, and/or the lack of accurate reporting remains of equal or greater concern“.
Meanwhile, dog walkers in the area are now avoiding their usual routes for fear of being exposed to poison, according to an STV report (see here).
Also in this article is another interview with farmer Ewan MacDonald, whose farm properties were searched by police last month. Mr MacDonald continues to call for a ‘working group’ comprising police and local farmers “to find out what has caused this devastation“.
Ironically, at the end of the article is an interview with Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse on the launch of a revised guide to the use of forensics in tackling wildlife crime. This latest edition is a very welcome tool, especially if it helps investigators to preserve crucial forensic evidence from the crime scene. But the irony comes from the statement made by the reporter at the end of the video:
“The message they’re [wildlife groups] getting today is that Scotland is a world leader in using science to bring those responsible [for wildlife crime] to justice“.
Er, no, Scotland is most definitely not a world leader in bringing wildlife criminals to justice, as evidenced by an embarrassing 7.3 conviction rate for raptor crime (see here) and 32 dead or ‘missing’ eagles over an 8-year period with zero prosecutions (see here). Scotland could be a world leader, if policing and enforcement measures matched the skills and expertise of the forensic scientists, but we’re still a long way from being able to claim anything of the sort.
Previous blogs on the Ross-shire Massacre here
Download the new Wildlife Crime Forensics Guide: Wildlife Crime Forensic Guide v2 2014