Archive for May, 2014



21
May
14

SNH launches ‘independent’ (ahem) study into trap use

cage-trapThe long-awaited study into the use of corvid traps in Scotland has finally begun.

This research was first proposed in late 2012, following SNH’s controversial decision to permit the use of clam-type traps on the 2013 General Licences (see here for associated blog posts). There was much opposition to this inclusion, based on concerns that these traps are likely to cause unacceptable risks to non-target species (including raptors). SNH ignored the majority of respondents to a public consultation, who had called for research to be conducted BEFORE the traps were authorised; SNH decided to go ahead and allow the use of these traps and do the research AFTERWARDS.

Following a series of Parliamentary Questions in December 2012 about this decision, Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “We will commission objective research on these traps“. SNH then announced they would conduct ‘rigorous and independent’ tests.

SNH has now commissioned two organisations to conduct that ‘objective, rigorous and independent’ research. Those two organisations are Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).

We have no problem with SASA – they have no vested interests in the removal of predators to enhance the number of gamebirds available for shooting and therefore can be seen as being thoroughly independent on this topic. But GWCT? This is the organisation that has consistently petitioned for buzzards and sparrowhawks to be included on the General Licences (thus allowing them to be culled in the interests of game-shooting) and many of their Trustees are directly involved with game-shooting. Not what we’d call ‘independent’.

According to the SNH press release about this new study, the research will cover all the different types of traps that are currently licensed for use in Scotland (e.g. clam-type traps, Larsen traps, crow cage traps). That’s good – concerns about these traps and their use have been unresolved for many years. These include (but are not limited to) compliance (or not) with European environmental legislation; welfare concerns; poor trap design that allows indiscriminate species trapping; year-round use (as opposed to seasonal use); ineffective regulation of crow trap users; ineffective monitoring of crow trap use (i.e. number and species caught/killed); inability to identify an individual trap user (traps are registered to estates, not to individual users); and a lovely get-out clause for any General Licence user with an unspent criminal conviction. Will this new research address all of those concerns? We’ll have to wait and see.

The press release states that the first phase of the research involves a survey of trap users from the following organisations: British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), Scottish Land and Estates (SLE), GWCT, and National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS). Hmm. Does anybody believe that these users are going to admit to having caught a non-target species? Or admit to ‘accidentally’ injuring or killing a trapped non-target species? Given that it is widely accepted (even by the Environment Minister) that these traps are often used for the illegal persecution of raptors, how reliable will these survey results be?

Curiously, there’s no mention of other interest-groups being involved (e.g. RSPB, SSPCA, SRSG, OneKind) – all of whom have previously expressed concerns about how these traps are used – but hopefully that’s just an oversight in the wording of the press release and not an accurate reflection of their actual participation in the study.

Later stages of the study will apparently include ‘field studies of how different traps are used in practice’. We hope the final report will also include information about every single incident of illegal trap-use recorded in Scotland over the last five years, including incidents that resulted in the conviction of a gamekeeper and those cases that remain unresolved.

Download the SNH press release: General Licences – Trapping Project – May 2014 press release

UPDATE 13.40hrs: A previous study looking at the use, abuse and misuse of crow cage traps in Scotland was undertaken by the Scottish Raptor Study Groups and RSPB Scotland in 1998. It was published in 1999 in the journal Scottish Birds (Vol. 20, pages 6-13). Download it here: Dick & Stronach 1999 Use, Abuse & Misuse of Crow Traps

20
May
14

A feeble, question-dodging response from the Environment Minister

Peregrine poisoned Leadhills Feb 2014In early April we blogged about the poisoned peregrine that had been found close to the boundary of Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire (see here). We encouraged blog readers to email the Environment Minister with a series of questions about this specific incident and the broader topic of long-term raptor persecution in this particular area. We know from our site stats that over 100 of you emailed the Minister (well done and thank you) and perhaps this volume of email traffic was the reason for his delayed response.

Anyway, last week his formal response was eventually mailed out and we’ve been sent a few copies by several readers. As usual, it’s a fairly generic response and here is a general overview of what he had to say (or to be more precise, what his civil servant had to say on his behalf) -:

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

The Minister has been appalled at the recent incidents of raptor persecution including the mass poisoning in Ross-shire which has claimed the lives of 16 red kites and 6 buzzards. Clearly there have been other incidents across Scotland involving peregrine falcons and most recently a juvenile sea eagle, the first born to the reintroduced east coast birds, has gone missing in an area where raptors have been lost before. The mass poisoning is a terrible loss for the Black Isle and has rightly been condemned by the local community as well as the wider public. The Minister was heartened however, by the contributions made by members of the public, as well as landowners and farmers, to the reward fund set up by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) for information which leads to a successful conviction.

These incidents threaten to undermine Scotland’s reputation as a country that cares for its wildlife and natural environment but reinforce the need for the new measures the Minister announced in July 2013.

In addition to these measures, the Scottish Government launched a Consultation to gather views on extending the investigative powers for inspectors in the Scottish SPCA in relation to certain wildlife offences. The Consultation will run from 31 March until 1 September 2014 and of course all views will be taken into account before a decision is made.

The possession of certain poisons is an offence in Scotland and in order to help rid our countryside of these dangerous chemicals, we shall be looking at building on existing mechanisms to remove them from Scotland’s environment.

You raised a number of specific points about the peregrine falcon poisoning incident in Lanarkshire and I will deal with each in turn below.

1. Why did Police Scotland tell a member of the public this was not a police matter? Will you launch an inquiry and publish the findings?

Police Scotland call handlers must consider the information they are given at the time of the call and not all reported incidents may be crimes. It would be inappropriate for the Minister to comment on Police operational matters.

2. Will you launch an inquiry into PC Everitt’s alleged response to this incident and publish the findings?

The Minister will not be making any statement based on speculative comments posted on social media sites about a serving Police officer. This would not be appropriate.

3. Will you launch an inquiry into why illegal raptor persecution continues to flourish in the Leadhills area, and publish the findings?

The area where the poisoned peregrine falcon was discovered was disclosed by Police Scotland as ‘the Abington area of South Lanarkshire’. The Minister will not be drawn into any speculation about a live police investigation which might prejudice the outcome of the investigation.

4. Will SNH use the new enabling clause in the General Licences to withdraw their use in the Leadhills area with immediate effect?

SNH will consider restricting the use of General Licences where they believe it is appropriate to do so, and on a case by case basis.

5. Over what period of time are you going to measure the success of the new measures introduced in July 2013?  It seems the threat of these new measures has not managed to stem the mass destruction of Scotland’s Natural Heritage.

The Minister has decided it would be inappropriate to impose exact time scales on the effect of the new measures as each measure is unique and will require its own consideration. However, it is hoped to report on the findings of the penalties review before the end of 2014.

Once SNH have had the opportunity to implement any General Licence restrictions the Minister will seek an update on how these have worked in practice. The final measure about Police Scotland use of technology can only be considered on a case by case basis and these are decisions made in the course of operational policing. It would be inappropriate for the Minister to seek to influence operational decisions of police colleagues in respect of an investigation.

Whilst current legislation and these new measures should be given due time to take effect, the Minister is on record confirming that he will take further action if it appears that current measures are insufficient. The Scottish Government takes this issue seriously and I hope that this response illustrates the extensive work that is taking place.

Yours sincerely,

Karen Hunter

Wildlife Crime Policy Officer”.

There’s nothing in his response that comes as a surprise. It’s full of the same old rhetoric that we get every time we ask for more robust action to be taken. To be fair to him, we can understand his view that the measures he brought in last July need time to take effect. The problem with that though, is that here we are, 10 months later, still waiting for many of those measures to actually be enacted and meanwhile the filthy criminals continue with their systematic persecution, knowing full well they’re still untouchable. His refusal to set a review date to assess whether his new measures have been effective is very disappointing. We’ll probably be here in the same place two years down the line, still waiting, and still counting the cost (in terms of raptor deaths) of this constant procrastination.

We were particularly disappointed with his answer to question 3. Perhaps he’s not familiar with the geography of South Lanarkshire, and especially the proximity of Abington village to the Leadhills Estate boundary. Here’s a map:

Leadhills Abington map

The big brown smudge in the middle (or, to borrow a phrase from George Monbiot’s latest excellent article, that “bare black misery“) is Leadhills grouse moor. The site where the peregrine was found poisoned with Carbofuran is closer to that grouse moor than it is to Abington village. That’s not to say that we’re accusing anyone from Leadhills Estate of being responsible for poisoning the peregrine, it’s just a clarification that the site falls within what we would describe as the ‘Leadhills area’ – an area with a 40+ year history of illegal killing, including plenty of Carbofuran abuse in recent decades. Perhaps Police Scotland chose to describe the site as being in the ‘Abington area’ to deflect attention from this being yet another persecution incident in what is one of  Scotland’s blackest areas for long-term raptor killing. It’ll make the crime stats look better is this one can’t be attributed to the Leadhills area.

We’ll look forward to hearing the results of their ‘live police investigation’….yeah, right.

18
May
14

Ross-shire Massacre: two months on

It’s been two months since the massacre of 22 birds of prey was first uncovered near Conon Bridge in Ross-shire.

We know that 12 of the victims were poisoned (nine red kites and three buzzards) but there has been a complete lack of information about the other seven red kites and three buzzards.

RK5

Although it is known that some sort of poison was involved,  there hasn’t been any information about the type(s) of poison used. The police and the Environment Minister have both said this information hasn’t been released for ‘operational reasons’. This lack of information has led to a great deal of speculation, even from inside the Parliamentary Chamber, where one MSP suggested the whole incident might have been ‘an awful accident’ – perhaps from, he suggested, unintentionally-contaminated meat at the Tollie Red Kite feeding station.

Whilst it is perhaps understandable that, in some circumstances and for a limited period, the specific type of poison is not revealed to the public, there is no reason whatsoever why the police can’t confirm whether the poison(s) used was a banned pesticide (as is common in most raptor poisoning incidents in Scotland), without having to actually name it specifically. By withholding this information, the police and the government are allowing this incident to be dismissed as a possible inadvertent/unintentional poisoning when actually it is anything but.

So, two months on and it’s all gone quiet. Six weeks ago the police were surprisingly willing to allow their official searches of various properties in the Conon Bridge area to be photographed and publicised in the media – we counted at least five different photographs depicting police officers or police vehicles at the scene of the crime – that level of media exposure of an investigation is relatively rare, but perhaps it was an attempt to demonstrate that the investigation was being taken seriously, in response to the huge outpouring of public anger and demands for action.

It’s probably obvious to most of us who follow these crimes that it is highly unlikely, two months on, that anyone will be prosecuted for this offence. Just like the majority of these crimes, the weeks will turn into months and then into years and we’ll hear nothing more about it. Just look at any of the high-profile incidents of the last few years – they all follow the same pattern – e.g. see here.

The Ross-shire Massacre was different in some respects, in that the corpses were discovered over a period of five weeks and each discovery led to a new press release, which led to a steady rise of public fury. That fury led to an unprecedented public demonstration in Inverness town centre, as well as an influx of public donations towards a reward fund for information leading to the successful prosecution of the poisoner(s).

That reward currently stands at £27,423. Of that total, £10,423 came from 217 members of the public. RSPB Scotland, who set up the donations website, told us that if the reward wasn’t claimed it would be put towards the work of their wildlife crime investigations team in Scotland. It seems to us that, two months on, the reward is unlikely to be claimed (because a prosecution is so unlikely) and so some of us that donated might want to ensure our money is put to good use now, instead of it languishing in an account for three years while the police claim they’re still working on a ‘live investigation’. Ten and a half grand is a lot of money and could be used to buy all sorts of equipment that might just lead to the prosecution of another raptor killer somewhere else in Scotland.

If this is your view (and it’s certainly ours) and you’d prefer your donation to be made immediately available to the RSPB’s Investigations Team, we’d recommend you contact the Director of RSPB Scotland, Stuart Housden, and tell him (don’t forget to mention how much you donated). His email address: stuart.housden@rspb.org.uk

Previous blogs on the Ross-shire Massacre here.

16
May
14

Liam McArthur’s parliamentary questions answered (raptor crime in Leadhills area)

Liam McArthur MSPLast month, Liam McArthur MSP posed a series of parliamentary questions following our report on the poisoned peregrine found in the Leadhills area of South Lanarkshire (see here).

His four questions have now been answered; two by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, and two by Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse:

Question S4W-20745: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/04/2014

To ask the Scottish Government what steps Police Scotland is taking to ensure that its staff are aware of their responsibilities regarding the protection of protected species.

Answered by Kenny MacAskill (15/05/2014):

The training of wildlife crime officers is a matter solely for the Chief Constable. It is not appropriate for Scottish Ministers to seek to intervene on operational policing matters.

I can advise however that since Police Scotland came into being on 1 April 2013, there have been significant changes to the structure and training for wildlife crime officers.

The strategic lead for wildlife crime which sits in the Specialist Crime Division is held by the Assistant Chief Constable. A Detective Chief Superintendent holds the portfolio lead and the post provides essential direction and governance around strategic issues relating to wildlife crime prevention and investigation.

A full time national Wildlife Crime Co-ordinator at Detective Sergeant level provides engagement with national issues relating to coordination, policy, performance and training, and supports the Detective Chief Superintendent.

In each of the 14 territorial divisions there are wildlife crime liaison officers who are supported by a Superintendent (or above). Wildlife crime officer posts can be either full or part-time and deal with crime prevention and investigation when required for operational policing issues.

It is important to highlight that the investigation of wildlife crime is not the exclusive preserve of dedicated staff, and a variety of investigative and intelligence resources and tactics are brought to bear on such matters, from local and national policing.

Our comment: This is basically a cut and paste response from the response he’s just given to Claire Baker MSP. We keep seeing this statement: “It is not appropriate for Scottish Ministers to seek to intervene on operational policing matters”, but hang on a minute, didn’t the Environment Minister ‘seek to intervene’ only ten months ago when he instructed the Lord Advocate to have a word with COPFS and Police Scotland ‘to ensure law enforcement utilises all investigative tools at their disposal in the fight against wildlife crime’? (see here). What’s that if it isn’t an intervention?

Question S4W-20746: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/04/2014

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will hold an inquiry into reports that Police Scotland told a member of the public that the poisoning of a peregrine falcon in the Leadhills area was not a police matter.

Answered by Kenny MacAskill (15/05/2014):

Police Scotland is committed to investigating wildlife crime and have confirmed that on this occasion well established protocols and processes were adhered to in order to allow the bird to be recovered successfully. As a result of this, and the subsequent analysis carried out by Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture identified that the bird had been poisoned, Police Scotland is now working in cooperation with both RSPB and National Wildlife Crime Unit to fully investigate this crime.

In any given case, police call handlers must consider the information they are given at the time of the call and not all reported incidents may be crimes. Police Scotland has also confirmed that no official complaint has been received from the reporter of the original incident.

Our comment: The police call handler told the member of the public (who was reporting this dead peregrine that had been found in suspicious circumstances in an area notorious for raptor crime) that it wasn’t a police matter. That is a fact. The police response was not in adherence with ‘well established protocols and processes’, as Mr MacAskill claims, unless those protocols and processes include ignoring a suspected wildlife crime. The only reason this poisoned peregrine was recovered successfully was because the member of the public bothered to call the RSPB, who then attended and collected the corpse. If the member of the public had not bothered to call the RSPB, this poisoned bird would not have been picked up nor recorded in the wildlife crime stats. That is also a fact. Police Scotland screwed up on this one, and rather than admit it and ensure they have procedures in place to stop it happening again, they are claiming success. That’s not very impressive. And they wonder why the public is losing (has already lost?) confidence in their ability to cope with wildlife crime?!

Question S4W-20747: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/04/2014

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to combat illegal raptor persecution in the Leadhills area.

Answered by Paul Wheelhouse (12/05/2014):

The Leadhills area has been identified as a poisoning ‘hotspot’ in the maps that are published annually by the Scottish Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime. There have also been incidents in the area involving illegal shooting of raptors.

Operational policing and the targeting of enforcement activity in any specific area is a matter solely for Police Scotland.

The Scottish Government works closely with the police, conservation groups and landowners through the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland. The PAW Scotland Raptor Group has established a short-life working group tasked with developing a clear message that raptor persecution must stop now. The message will have the explicit backing of all PAW partners and be aimed in particular at those areas where raptor persecution is most persistent.

See also my response to S4W-20748 on 12 May 2014 which sets out the additional steps being taken by the Scottish Government and partners to combat illegal raptor persecution.

Our comments: Oh brilliant, here comes the PAW Raptor Scotland Group to save the day, once they’ve decided how to ‘develop a clear message that raptor persecution must stop now’. Is Wheelhouse really so stupid? The PAW Scotland Raptor Group has been established since 2009 (formerly called the Scottish Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group). They’ve had five (yes, five) years to develop a clear message that raptor persecution must stop! Why the hell do they have to form a ‘working group’ to come up with a few lines?? It’s simple, isn’t it? STOP ILLEGALLY PERSECUTING RAPTORS NOW. There, that’ll do it. Although perhaps when you realise which organisations are represented on this group (see here) it’ll become apparent why they’ve achieved so little in so long. We’ve been particularly scathing of this group before (see here) and we’ve seen no reason to change that view.

Question S4W-20748: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/04/2014

To ask the Scottish Government whether there is sufficient evidence to assess the effectiveness of the new enforcement measures to tackle raptor persecution announced by the Minister for Environment and Climate Change on 1 July 2013.

Answered by Paul Wheelhouse (09/05/2014):

There is not yet sufficient evidence to assess the effectiveness of the new measures announced on 1 July 2013. A report on the review of penalties is due by the end of the year and the changes to the general licences will be fully implemented by Scottish Natural Heritage over the next few months. The use by the police of the full range of investigative techniques in raptor persecution cases is an operational matter, however it is unlikely that results would be seen less than 12 months after the announcement of new measures.

Our comment: It’s becoming more and more apparent that Wheelhouse won’t be pinned down to give a time scale for how long he’s prepared to wait to see whether these new measures have any effect. Is he thinking in terms of months or years? A lot will probably depend on the number of raptor crimes that are uncovered during the rest of this year, and particularly, the public’s response to those crimes. We must maintain this pressure on the government to act.

Well done again to MSPs Claire Baker and Liam McArthur for keeping these issues at the forefront of parliamentary business.

16
May
14

Claire Baker’s parliamentary questions answered

Claire Baker MSP 2Last month, Claire Baker MSP, Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs & the Environment, asked some pointed parliamentary questions about the on-going issue of raptor persecution in Scotland (see here), as did Liam McArthur MSP (see here).

Answers to Liam McArthur’s questions were due yesterday. So far, only two of the four have been answered. We’re waiting for responses to the last two before we blog about them.

Claire Baker’s three questions have been answered, two by Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse and one by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill. Unfortunately there’s nothing we haven’t already heard, over and over and over again:

Question S4W-20654: Claire Baker, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 08/04/2014.

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it plans to take in response to the illegal killing of birds of prey in addition to its consultation on the powers of the Scottish SPCA.

Answered by Paul Wheelhouse (08/05/2014):

The Scottish Government takes the view that the detection and prosecution of offenders is the best response to the illegal killing of birds of prey. To that end we will continue to work with Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to build and strengthen the enforcement effort in this area of the law. We will also work with other members of the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime to raise awareness of the serious consequences of wildlife crime and the damaging effects on Scotland’s reputation, environment and economy.

We aim to work with government and law enforcement partners to explore further options to detect and remove from the environment the dangerous poisons used to kill native wildlife. Officials are exploring options to build on an existing private sector chargeable pesticides disposal scheme (‘Project RCD’).

Additional measures to protect raptors were announced in July 2013:

Scottish Natural Heritage to restrict the use of general licences where they judge raptor persecution has taken place (there is now an enabling paragraph in the new General Licence for 2014).

A review of penalties for wildlife crime offences, which will report before the end of 2014.

A commitment from the Lord Advocate to encourage the full range of investigative techniques by the police against raptor crime.

The Scottish Government will continue to seek the full implementation and effectiveness of these measures.

Question S4W-20655: Claire Baker, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 08/04/2014.

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the Minister for Environment and Climate Change’s comment in his letter to the chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates dated 26 February 2014 [which we revealed in an FOI here] that “despite all our efforts, there remains an element of sporting managers and owners who continue to flout the law and defy public opinion”, whether it will conduct a review of the licensing and other arrangements for regulating game bird shooting in other countries, with a view to implementing stronger management and regulation.

Answered by Paul Wheelhouse (06/05/2014):

The Scottish Government announced a package of measures in July 2013. These were a review of the penalties for wildlife crime, a restriction on the use of general licences and encouragement for the police to use the full range of investigative techniques at their disposal to deal with wildlife crime. We also introduced the vicarious liability provisions in the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act in 2012. The Scottish Government remains of the view that the measures have the capacity to help prevent, deter and detect wildlife crime. However, the measures must be given time to be fully implemented and for them to have an effect.

Nevertheless, we have been clear that if it becomes apparent that further measures are required we will take whatever action we consider necessary, including examining whether stronger management and regulation of game bird shooting is appropriate.

Question S4W-20656: Claire Baker, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 08/04/2014.

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions the (a) Cabinet Secretary for Justice and (b) Minister for Environment and Climate Change has had with the Chief Constable regarding resources and training for wildlife crime officers.

Answered by Kenny MacAskill (07/05/2014):

There have been no discussions between the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the Chief Constable regarding resources and training for wildlife crime officers.

The resources deployed and the training of wildlife crime officers are matters solely for the Chief Constable. It is not appropriate for Scottish Ministers to seek to intervene on operational policing matters.

I can advise however that since Police Scotland came into being on 1 April 2013, there have been significant changes to the structure and training for wildlife crime officers.

The strategic lead for wildlife crime which sits in the Specialist Crime Division is held by the Assistant Chief Constable. A Detective Chief Superintendent holds the portfolio lead and the post provides essential direction and governance around strategic issues relating to Wildlife Crime prevention and investigation.

A full time national Wildlife Crime Coordinator at Detective Sergeant level provides engagement with national issues relating to coordination, policy, performance and training, and supports the Detective Chief Superintendent.

In each of the 14 territorial divisions there are wildlife crime liaison officers who are supported by a Superintendent (or above). Wildlife crime officer posts can be either full or part-time and deal with crime prevention and investigation when required for operational policing issues.

It is important to highlight that the investigation of wildlife crime is not the exclusive preserve of dedicated staff, and a variety of investigative and intelligence resources and tactics are brought to bear on such matters, from local and national policing.

13
May
14

Case against gamekeeper George Mutch: part 8

scales of justiceCriminal proceedings continued today with hearing #9 in the case against Scottish gamekeeper George Mutch, of Kildrummy Estate, Aberdeenshire.

We understand that Mutch is pleading not guilty to a suite of charges for offences alleged to have taken place in August 2012. The charges come under Section 5 (subsection 1B) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act (relating to the use of a trap for the purpose of taking or killing wild birds) and Section 1 (subsection 1A) of the W&CA (relating to the killing, injuring or taking of wild birds).

Today’s hearing was supposed to be the last intermediate diet before the trial, which had been due to start on 28th May 2014. However, at today’s hearing, a further intermediate diet was announced (24th September 2014!!!) with a new trial date set for 22nd October 2014. Marvellous.

If the trial does go ahead in October 2014 (and it may not, depending on the outcome of the Sept intermediate diet), it will have been over two years since the alleged offences took place.

Here’s a chronology of the hearing dates in this case:

11th September 2013 (case opened)

2nd October 2013 (hearing #2)

30th October 2013 (hearing #3)

27th November 2013 (hearing #4)

17th December 2013 (hearing #5)

17th March 2014 (hearing #6)

2nd April 2014 (hearing #7)

16th April 2014 (hearing #8)

13th May 2014 (hearing #9)

Previous blogs on this case here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

11
May
14

Disappointing radio debate on wildlife crime in Scotland

bbc radio scotlandThere was a radio debate yesterday about zero tolerance of wildlife crime in Scotland. The debate was hosted by the Good Morning Scotland programme and for those who missed it, here is the transcript:

Presenter: This week the Scottish Wildlife Trust called for zero tolerance when it comes to wildlife crime. It says that the current punishments aren’t enough to deter people. In recent months 22 raptors have been found dead, 12 of them have been confirmed as poisoned. So what would zero tolerance look like and do we need it? Joined now by Tim Baynes from the Scottish Moorland Group, part of the Scottish Land and Estates, and Mike Flynn, Chief Superintendent of the Scottish SPCA.

Mike Flynn, first of all, you approve of the idea of zero tolerance?

Mike Flynn: Well I don’t think anybody disapproves of it, I mean even if you’re talking about Scottish Land & Estates, they’ve roundly come out saying that all these kind of acts have got to stop and what we really need is some of the people that are linked with those involved to come forward so they can be dealt with.

Presenter: What would it look like though, Mike Flynn?

Mike Flynn: Well, what it’d look like is we’d have a lot more wildlife going about, you wouldn’t be getting organisations like the landowners and gamekeepers being instantly castigated every time some of these incidents happen and you can’t just point the finger at any organisation, this could be down to single individuals and they’ve got to be stopped.

Presenter: Well Tim Baynes from the Scottish Moorland Group, what’s wrong with enforcing the law?

Tim Baynes: Well absolutely nothing at all and I agree with what Mike says there. I think that zero tolerance is one of these quite easy phrases to use but in fact there is already zero tolerance for wildlife crime; zero tolerance within the law and the range of measures that are there to deal with it, zero tolerance within the organisations like ours and the Scottish Gamekeepers, who as Mike says are frequently castigated for this. So it is there, I mean the law governing wildlife crime is tough to start with in the sense that anyone committing a crime could have up to six years in jail, they could be fined for up to £5,000, sorry six months in jail, someone was jailed for poaching recently for 8 months, there is also a law called vicarious liability which deals with an employer or a manager of someone who is convicted, they can face the same penalties. Recently the Minister for the Environment has announced various other new measures, some of them aimed particularly at the land management sector.

Presenter: Well Mike Flynn, some people argue that actually what you should do is have a sort of absolute liability for landowners so that if a raptor or something is found on land the owner could be held responsible and perhaps even fined or sent to jail. Would you agree?

Mike Flynn: Well, Tim’s just said there is an offence now of vicarious liability but you can’t really point the finger at someone if they have absolutely no knowledge of what’s happening. If you’re looking at the crime that Tim just mentioned, poaching, people do not allow poaching on their land but it goes on quite often so you couldn’t blame the landowner for that kind of thing happening.

Presenter: Tim Baynes, it has been suggested, what’s wrong with the idea of, it would certainly focus minds wouldn’t it?

Tim Baynes: Well there is already absolute liability if someone is responsible for a crime on their land and they are absolutely liable. What the problem is that there are a whole lot of different circumstances and it seems to be very difficult for the police ever to find sufficient evidence to secure convictions, and you know, there’s a whole range of things that can go on on the ground that may not be quite so obvious to people looking from outside.

Presenter: What are you suggesting though, if an eagle or a buzzard or something is found on somebody’s moor that, you know, it’s been brought there by somebody else, it’s surely the responsibility of those whose ground it is?

Tim Baynes: Well yes it is, well there are a number of things that have happened and if you look back at some of the recent incidents where, you know, the police, very extensive investigations have gone on and yet they’ve not been able to work out exactly what happened. I mean I think the one, the extraordinary one at Conon Bridge recently as an example, I mean there’s a very big police investigation there but they haven’t managed to work out what happened there…

Presenter: Well we should point out that’s on farmland rather than estates…”

Tim Baynes: Yes but I think the same sort of accusations have been levelled at the landowners there at which quite possibly this incident is nothing to do with certainly anything deliberate that’s been done by the people responsible for managing that land. There are a whole range of different things that can happen and we have to be extremely careful about trying to apportion blame, you know it’s very easy to do but the police have to be given time to conduct these investigations, work out what really happened and then deal with the causes.

Presenter: Mike Flynn, on some readings the conservation movement has actually been extraordinarily successful hasn’t it, in actually bringing back lots of birds of prey, there’s far more around now than it used to be 10 or 20 years ago?

Mike Flynn: Yeah and a lot of that’s down to public awareness, I mean there is far greater awareness now that wildlife crime is illegal; the problem that we’ve got is that there’s so little enforcement and you’ve got to remember, a lot of these wildlife crimes happen in very remote areas, where there’s nobody’s actually around and about to actually witness these things and you do have a kind of anomaly in the law where one part of the Wildlife & Countryside Act a person can be prosecuted on the evidence of one person, and that was kind of brought in because like osprey eggs being stolen, it might be just one hill walker that sees somebody going up the tree, so there is legislation there, what it is is that there’s a lack of enforcement.

Presenter: Mike Flynn from the Scottish SPCA and Tim Baynes from the Scottish Moorland Group, thank you to both.

This debate highlights the importance of having an interviewer who knows the right questions to ask. In our opinion, this one didn’t. Why didn’t he challenge Mike Flynn’s assertion that you can’t blame an organisation when all the official statistics demonstrate very clearly that the majority of these incidents are taking place on land managed for game-shooting? Why didn’t he challenge the poaching example – you can hardly place poaching (a so-called wildlife crime that isn’t actually a wildlife crime at all – it’s based on the principle of ‘theft’) alongside raptor persecution when one ‘crime’ (poaching) is ‘against’ the landowner’s interests and the other crime (raptor persecution) is very much in the landowner’s interest?

Why didn’t he challenge Tim Baynes’ assertion that there already is zero tolerance for wildlife crime in certain organisations when several estates well-known as raptor blackspots, and their employees, are members of those very organisations or provide funding to those organisations?

Why didn’t he challenge Tim Baynes’ assertion that the incident at Conon Bridge was ‘possibly nothing to do with anything deliberate done by the people responsible for managing that land’? He doesn’t know that – the police haven’t yet released information about their investigation.

Why didn’t he challenge Tim Baynes’ assertion that the law governing wildlife crime is tough – how many of those convicted of raptor persecution have ever received the maximum fine for their crimes or received any jail sentence? None of them!

Having said that, we know that there is currently a review underway to assess wildlife crime penalties (a review instigated by the Environment Minister last July). He said in parliament earlier this week that he expected the review group to report their findings by December this year. The group’s remit is this:

“To examine and report on how wildlife crime in Scotland is dealt with by the criminal courts, with particular reference to the range of penalties available and whether these are sufficient for the purposes of deterrence and whether they are commensurate with the damage to ecosystems that may be caused by wildlife crime”.

Interestingly, the identities of the group’s members were revealed this week:

The group’s Chair is Professor Mark Poustie, an esteemed legal academic from the University of Strathclyde.

Detective Chief Superintendent Robbie Allan from Police Scotland.

Hugh Dignon (senior civil servant) from the Scottish Government.

An un-named representative from the Crown Office.

Jeremy Greenwood, former Director of the British Trust for Ornithology.

Hugh Campbell-Adamson, owner of Stracathro Estates.

An interesting line-up. A well-qualified Chair and senior representatives from Police Scotland and the Scottish Government. We’ll reserve judgement on the COPFS rep until we find out who it is. The former Director of the BTO is presumably there to provide scientific expertise about the population-level impact of raptor persecution. But what on earth is the owner of a landed estate doing on this panel when the panel’s remit is to make recommendations for penalties for wildlife crimes, some of which will have been carried out by, er, estate owners?!!!!




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