Archive for July, 2014


Gamekeeper convicted for pole-trapping offences

tawny owlMark Stevens, a self-employed gamekeeper who worked on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sydmonton Court Estate in Hampshire, has been convicted of setting two illegal traps and has been fined £700 with £650 court costs and a £50 victim surcharge.

Stevens, 42, admitted setting the two pole traps at a pheasant release pen in August last year but claimed he was targeting a grey squirrel that had been eating the pheasants’ food. The traps, which were not set on Lloyd Webber’s estate but on land at nearby Echinnswell, were discovered after a member of the public found a tawny owl hanging upside down with its leg caught in one of the traps. Its leg injuries were so severe it had to be euthanised by a vet.

According to Stevens’ solicitor, the setting of the traps was ‘accidental’.

Well done to the RSPB Investigations Team, Hampshire Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service for securing a conviction.

Pole-trapping has been illegal for over 100 years. Stevens is the latest of a number of gamekeepers recently convicted for this barbaric practice (e.g. see here and here). Unsurprisingly, all of them have claimed the traps were targeting squirrels and not birds of prey (as if that makes a difference).

RSPB Investigations video here (WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT)

RSPB Investigations blog here

News story in Daily Mail here

News story on BBC here



Poisoned bird found on former DEFRA Minister’s grouse moor: why no publicity?

BenyonIn February 2009, a dead raven was found on a Scottish grouse moor. Nothing surprising about that.

The dead raven was sent off to SASA for toxicology tests and their investigation concluded the bird had died from ingesting the banned poison, Carbofuran. Nothing surprising about that.

There wasn’t any subsequent publicity about this incident. Nothing surprising about that.

There wasn’t any subsequent prosecution. That’s kind of what we’ve come to expect so no surprises there, either.

However, this wasn’t just any old Scottish grouse moor. This was a grouse moor on Glenmazeran Estate in Inverness-shire. Glenmazeran Estate is, according to Andy Wightman’s brilliant website ‘Who Owns Scotland‘, owned by the Englefield Estate Trust Corporation Ltd, c/o Englefield Estate Office, Theale, Reading.

According to further information provided by the Who Owns Scotland website, “Englefield Estate Trust Corporation Ltd is a company registered in England No. 02065923. One of the beneficial owners is Richard Benyon, the Environment & Fisheries Minister in the UK Government (data accurate at August 2011)”.

At the time of this poisoned bird’s discovery, Mr Benyon MP was the Shadow Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, until the 2010 general election when he entered Government. He was subsequently appointed the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DEFRA, with special responsibility for biodiversity and the natural environment, amongst other things, until he was booted out in Cameron’s reshuffle in October 2013.

While Mr Benyon was in post at DEFRA, the government sanctioned the controversial buzzard ‘management’ trial and committed £375k of taxpayers money to help support it (see here), although they swiftly backtracked after a huge public outcry against the plan (see here). However, the following year Natural England, acting on behalf of DEFRA, decided to go ahead and issue a licence (to a gamekeeper with a past conviction for wildlife crime) to destroy buzzard eggs and nests to protect pheasants (see here).

Mr Benyon also decided there was no need to introduce vicarious liability to England because “there are very good laws in place to punish the illegal killing of any animal. If they are not being effectively enforced, they must be and we will take steps to make sure that happens. However, this is a good opportunity to applaud gamekeepers for the wonderful work they do in providing excellent biodiversity across our countryside” (see here and here).

Mr Benyon also refused to criminalise the possession of the poison Carbofuran in England (see here and here).

These actions can be seen in a whole new light given what we now know was discovered on Glenmazeran Estate back in 2009.

Of course, the discovery of the poisoned raven on Glenmazeran doesn’t mean that Mr Benyon or anyone else connected with the estate was responsible. Some gamekeepers on some estates are known to place poisoned baits along the boundary of an estate, presumably to make any police investigation that much more difficult and to potentially deflect attention on to someone else. Glenmazeran is not known to us as an estate where frequent raptor persecution takes place, but it is situated in a notorious raptor persecution area and several other estates in the area are suspected to be regularly involved with criminal activity and some of them even have convictions for these offences.

What’s intriguing about the Glenmazeran incident is the complete silence about this case. Did the police (it would have been Northern Constabulary at the time) investigate? Did they search Glenmazeran or other nearby estates? Why didn’t they issue any media statements about this discovery? Would public knowledge of this incident have jeopardised Mr Benyon’s political career? It shouldn’t have, as he was never implicated in the crime, so why was it kept quiet?

What we do know is that the ‘landowner’ (whoever that was) was informed about the crime. This from the SASA report:

Raven found dead in remote area. The analytical investigation established that carbofuran poisoning was responsible for the bird’s death. The police have informed the landowner of the incident but the source of the chemical has not been established“.

Fascinating stuff.


Hello, Westminster!

WestminsterIt seems that somebody in Westminster is spending a lot of time reading this blog. An awful lot of time, actually.

Take a look at the stats from our ClustrMap – this is an app that keeps track of where our site visitors are coming from. It shows a breakdown of all the countries, and then within each country it shows which cities/areas our visitors have logged in from.

The UK visitor stats show 154,070 visits between 14th September 2013 to date. Of those, 48,609 visits have come from Westminster. That accounts for almost almost one third of all UK-based visits in the last ten months.

It’s in sharp contrast to the number of visits from Orkney (3)!

Hmm, can’t think why anyone in Westminster would be so interested, unless of course they have a vested interest in what happens on driven grouse moors in northern England and Scotland….


Ross-shire Massacre: the pig’s ear of an investigation continues

RK5Ten days ago we blogged about the progress (or apparent lack of) being made in the Ross-shire Massacre case, four months on from the discovery of 22 dead raptors in one of Scotland’s worst raptor poisoning incidents (see here).

A couple of days ago, somebody told us that the ‘official’ number of birds confirmed poisoned was now 16 (12 red kites + 4 buzzards), according to Police Scotland.

We found this news intriguing. Did it mean that the remaining six carcasses (4 red kites + 2 buzzards) had not been poisoned?

No. What it turned out to mean was that toxicology tests on those remaining birds are still “continuing”, according to a news report in The Press and Journal (see here).

Still continuing, four months after discovery? Is that because the poison is proving difficult to detect, or is it because the tests have not been given priority? If not, why not?

What a shambles. And that’s only the start of it…..

Previous posts on the Ross-shire Massacre here


Game over: M&S abandons grouse sales

m&s shop frontMarks and Spencer will not be selling red grouse this year after fears of a consumer boycott, according to an article in The Times. (We haven’t read it because we refuse to pay to get past Murdoch’s pay wall but you can read the first few lines here).

[Update: article in Telegraph here, also reporting this story]

This has undoubtedly come about because of the consumer pressure that began last year and has continued this year (from Mark Avery’s blog readers, our blog readers, Ethical Consumer magazine’s readers) and also some behind-the-scenes work from a couple of organisations including the RSPB.

Thanks to everyone who got involved and thanks especially to Marks and Spencer!

Previous blog posts on this issue here, here, here, here and here.


BBC agrees “too many quotes from McAdam”

McAdam 3Two days ago we blogged about some disproportionate BBC coverage given to serial raptor persecution denier, Doug McAdam, CEO of Scottish Land and Estates (see here).

The BBC article in question was about the publication of a new SNH-funded report detailing the recovery prospects for golden eagles in south Scotland (currently clinging on by their talons).

We felt that the article was biased as McAdam was given much more space than the other contributors, and we also objected to at least one of McAdam’s statements in which he tried to downplay the effect of illegal persecution by suggesting it was an historical issue and that the latest government figures show a ‘significant’ decline – which is, as McAdam well knows, patently untrue.

We encouraged blog readers to complain to the BBC and thanks to all of you that did (we reckon, from our site stats, that over 40 of you made the effort). The BBC has now responded:

Thank you for your contact. Your comments were passed to the Editor of News Online Scotland, who has asked that we forward his response as follows:

“Thank you for being in touch about the article called: Golden eagles ‘can return to south of Scotland’ –

Our Environment Correspondent, David Miller, highlighted that a Scottish Natural Heritage report indicated the south of Scotland could once again become a stronghold for golden eagles. He included the views of Prof Des Thompson of Scottish Natural Heritage; Paul Wheelhouse MSP, The Minister for Environment and Climate Change; Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations and Douglas McAdam, Chief Executive of Scottish Land and Estates.

During our routine and ongoing review of articles published, we felt that there were too many quotes from Mr McAdam. As a result, we decided to modify his contribution to the piece. Overall, I am happy that we have reported this story in a fair and balanced way.

Thank you, once again, for taking the time to contact us.”

Kind Regards

BBC Complaints.


So, some success at least, although the modifications that were made did not include the removal of the ‘significant decline’ quote.

Wonder if the PAW Scotland committee members will be having a quiet word with McAdam about the importance of not mis-representing PAW Scotland persecution data….


Ross-shire Massacre: 4 months on

It’s been four months since 22 birds of prey (sixteen red kites and six buzzards) were killed in one of the worst poisoning incidents uncovered in Scotland in recent years.

Here’s the latest information about how the police investigation is progressing:

nothing 2

Great, eh?

The Untouchables get away with it. Again.

Tune in next month for more of the same. Probably.

For previous posts on the Ross-shire Massacre click here.

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