Archive for December, 2014

30
Dec
14

Pointless call for ‘voluntary restraint’ on Scottish grouse moor mountain hare massacres

mountain hare cull Angus glensScottish Natural Heritage, in partnership with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and Scottish Land & Estates, has issued a press release (here) calling for ‘voluntary restraint’ on the large scale culling of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors. Some of you may have read about it a few days ago on Mark Avery’s blog here.

In the original press release (which was amended one day later), it was stated:

The bold step by SNH, SLE and GWCT should help ensure that future management is sustainable“.

What a steaming pile of tosh. This doesn’t come anywhere near being “a bold step”. A bold step would have been for SNH to exercise the precautionary principle and enforce an immediate and indefinite moratorium on the wide-scale, unregulated mass slaughter of mountain hares until the effect of such killing on the mountain hare population can be rigorously assessed.

The concept of calling for voluntary restraint from grouse moor managers is farcical. So many of them have refused even to adhere to 60-year-old conservation legislation (i.e. not to poison, trap or shoot protected raptors) so the chances of them volunteering restraint to not slaughter a partially-legitimate quarry species is pretty minimal.

Asking for voluntary restraint on hare-killing is also not a new approach. Last year SNH said: “We don’t support large, indiscriminate culls of mountain hares and advise moorland managers to talk to us if they are thinking of culling hares in large numbers” (see here).

And even way back in 2003, Scotland’s Moorland Forum published a document called Principles of Moorland Management. On page 27 it says the following:

We do not recommend the indiscriminate culling of hares; apart from the direct impact on the hare population, there may also be the indirect effect of a reduction of the food supply for larger raptors, including eagles. In certain circumstances, however, culling may be considered necessary……but further advice should be sought from SNH before embarking on a cull programme“.

So how many grouse moor estates, do you think, contacted SNH for advice before embarking on a cull programme?

According to allegations made by leading upland ecologist Dr Adam Watson and based on decades of scientific fieldwork, not many. In his 2013 book, Mammals in north-east Highlands, Watson writes:

I know of no grouse-moor estate within the range of the mountain hare that has not practiced or does not practice heavy killing of hares, with the exceptions of Edinglassie, Invermark, Glen Muick and Balmoral (but most of Balmoral is deer land rather than grouse moor). The only other heather-moorland areas that I know which are free from heavy killing are those owned by non-sporting agencies or by individuals primarily interested in wildlife conservation, such as the RSPB at Abernethy, SNH at Inshriach, the National Trust for Scotland at Mar Lodge, and Miss Walker of the Aberlour shortbread company, who owns Conval hills near Dufftown“.

He goes on to name various estates who, he alleges, “have been reducing the numbers of mountain hares greatly“, some dating back to the 1980s. His named estates include Altyre, Castle Grant, Lochindorb, Farr, Millden, Glenogil, Glen Dye, Dinnet, Invercauld, Tillypronie, Glen Buchat, Candacraig, Allargue, Delnadamph, Crown Estate, Fasque, Cabrach, Glenfiddich, Glenlochy, Gannochy, Fettercairn, Cawdor, Corrybrough, Moy, Glen Lyon.

Adam Watson Mammals in NE Highlands[Incidentally, this book is a goldmine of information about what goes on on the grouse moors of NE Scotland. Ignore the bizarre front cover and Watson’s somewhat erratic writing style – this book is crammed with details gleaned from decades of Watson’s scientific field work and is well worth its £9.99 price tag. There’s even an allegation that “In 2010, Millden Estate released red grouse from elsewhere, for shooting“. If that’s true it raises a number of issues, not least whether they had a licence to translocate red grouse].

Watson’s observations, and those of others, have led to a number of high-profile media reports about the mass slaughter of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors (e.g. see here, here and here) and even Parliamentary questions (see here and here). Tellingly, MSP Alison Johnstone (Lothian, Scottish Green Party) has recently followed up on the answers provided last year and on 10th December 2014 she lodged a further question (due to be answered on 7th Jan 2015) requesting an update on how SNH intend to assess whether mountain hares are in a favourable conservation status. We already know how this question will be answered – the Environment Minister will simply recite the content of the latest SNH press release.

In addition to calling for ‘voluntary restraint’, the press release tells us that the three organisations will be ‘developing a reliable and cost-effective field method’ to form the basis of a long-term monitoring programme. Previous attempts at this have failed miserably, and some correspondence from earlier this year between Dr Watson [AW] and SNH about these ‘field methods’ is really quite illuminating: (thanks to the blog reader who sent us these)

AW letter to SNH 14 February 2014

SNH response to AW 7 March 2014

AWresponse to SNH 15 March 2014

In Dr Watson’s view (shared by many of us), these further ‘trials’ simply represent more procrastination from SNH but will be used by them (and probably by GWCT & SLE) to proclaim that “Everything’s ok, we’re sorting it”. That may fool some but the awful, bloody reality will probably not change.

A final point. We are fascinated to see that this ‘joint initiative’ is coming from not only SNH but also GWCT and SLE. The call for ‘voluntary restraint’ on the mass killing of mountain hares seems to be slightly at odds with activities carried out on Lochindorb Estate when it was owned by the GWCT’s former Scottish Committee Chairman, Alasdair Laing (e.g. see here). As for SLE, their view on the destruction of thousands of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors can be read here.

To read our previous blogs on mountain hares, click here [and scroll down through the posts]

To view some shocking, sickening photographs of the mass killing of mountain hares on a grouse moor go here.

29
Dec
14

Come on, Aileen

Aileen McLeod MSPWe didn’t know what to expect from the newly-appointed Environment Minister when she took on her role a little over a month ago. Dr Aileen McLeod’s political experience had been largely focused on European policy work, although she was clearly highly educated and we knew she’d be well advised by the wildlife crime policy officers in Holyrood. Nevertheless, it would inevitably take time for her to achieve the level of insight and knowledge of her predecessor, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, who had the benefit of two years in office and was beginning to achieve considerable momentum against the raptor killers, until he was pushed out to another department in the Cabinet reshuffle in November.

Obviously, the jury is still out on Dr McLeod’s effectiveness and we need to give her a bit of time to get her bearings, although we fully expect her to adopt the Government’s stated intolerance of wildlife crime and to do everything she can to ensure that the raptor killers are brought to justice.

Two recent statements show that she has a thoughtful and measured approach, although we have cause to question a few of her comments.

First off, she has responded to the concerns of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (RACCE) Committee, who wrote to her (see here) after taking evidence on wildlife crime from Police Scotland, COPFS and the former Environment Minister.

Here is her response: Environment Minister response to RACCE Committee Dec 2014

On the whole, her response is non-contentious and is pointing in the right direction, but she does say a couple of odd things. On the issue of the detection and prosecution of wildlife crime she says:

Reported crime numbers also reflect not only public awareness of wildlife crime, but also confidence that there will be an appropriate response from the authorities. Police Scotland has worked hard to ensure that consistent structures and resources are in place throughout Scotland and we expect this to produce improved results in wildlife crime reporting“.

We haven’t seen any evidence of this, in fact the complete opposite. We would agree that Police Scotland has been consistent, but not in a good way; consistently poor responses to reports of wildlife crime (with a handful of exceptions) seems to have been the norm for a very long time.

On the subject of the absence of species potentially indicating criminal activity (i.e. the absence of certain raptor species from vast swathes of driven grouse moors) she says:

We know that there may also be other non-criminal explanations for the absence of species. Nevertheless I agree that this would be useful work for the PAW Scotland Science sub-group to take forward“.

What other non-criminal explanations are there for the absence of certain raptor species from driven grouse moors? All the science (and there has been plenty of it, some dating back almost two decades) indicates a direct link to the illegal persecution of raptors on those moors. Sure, natural factors such as habitat, climate, prey availability, predation etc can and do affect the natural distribution of species, but we’re talking about species that have either ‘disappeared’ from their former natural ranges or their breeding attempts in parts of those ranges consistently fail. It’s no coincidence that these areas just happen to be managed as driven grouse moors.

On the subject of increasing the investigatory powers of the SSPCA she says:

I am also aware of the need to carefully balance a number of factors such as resources, accountability and proportionality in coming to a decision on whether to extend further powers to the SSPCA as regards wildlife crime“.

‘Proportionality’ is an interesting word. It suggests that the measure of extending the SSPCA’s powers should be fair, reasonable and appropriate. Who would argue that extending the SSPCA’s powers would be a dis-proportionate response to the rising level of wildlife crime in Scotland and Police Scotland’s inability to cope? Well we already know the answer to that – see here and here. The question is, will the Environment Minister consider it a disproportionate measure? We’ll find out soon enough, although if the last sentence of her letter to the RACCE Committee is anything to go by, she’ll do the right thing:

Tackling wildlife crime is a key priority for the Scottish Government and one that I am keen to take forward robustly in my new role“.

Other statements in her response letter were very encouraging, and we particularly welcome her intention to consider including the locations of illegally placed poison baits and traps on the annual PAW raptor persecution maps. That’s something that we (and others) have been asking for for a long time (e.g. see here).

We were also pleased to see a (diplomatic) dig about Police Scotland’s ridiculous press statement on the cause of the Ross-shire Massacre (here is some background on their idiotic statement, in case you missed it). Dr McLeod says:

Police Scotland’s press release on 24 October was designed to bring about a reduction in speculation that was widespread across social media on this high profile case. I am confident that lessons will have been learned on the need to be very careful with wording of such communications“.

She went a bit further in a recent statement published in the Scottish Farmer (here), where she announced NFU Scotland as a new member of PAW. In that statement she reiterated that the Ross-shire Massacre was the result of criminal activity. In other words, it wasn’t the result of an accidental poisoning.

 So, all in all a good start from her, with just a couple of questionable statements. Come on, Aileen, let’s see what you can deliver in 2015…

28
Dec
14

Barn owl shot dead

shot barn owl leicester paul riddleA barn owl has been shot dead in Leicester over the Xmas period.

It was found in an out building with bloodied chest feathers. A veterinary x-ray revealed three shot gun pellets embedded in its torso.

Full details on Paul Riddle’s blog here.

Thanks to @emilyjoachim for the info.

24
Dec
14

Tawny owl shot dead in East Lothian

Tawny by Nigel BlakePolice are appealing for witnesses after the discovery of a dead tawny owl in East Lothian last week.

The corpse was found on the B6355 south of the village of Gifford and the owl is believed to have been shot on Thursday 18th December.

Anyone with information please call Police Scotland on 101.

Tawny owl photo by Nigel Blake

23
Dec
14

First conviction in landmark vicarious liability case

scales-of-justiceThe first ever prosecution under the new vicarious liability legislation concluded today with a conviction at Stranraer Sheriff Court.

Landowner Ninian Robert Hathorn Johnston Stewart pleaded guilty to being vicariously liable for the criminal actions of Glasserton & Physgill Estates’ gamekeeper Peter Bell, who was convicted in 2013 of laying poisoned bait (Carbofuran) which killed a buzzard, and for possession of three banned pesticides (Carbofuran, Strychnine and Alphachloralose). Bell was fined a total of £4,450 (see here). On conviction, Bell was expelled from the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association and the Glasserton & Physgill Estates were expelled from the landowners’ representative organisation, Scottish Land & Estates.

So, what was the penalty in this landmark vicarious liability conviction? A pathetic £675! We don’t know the full details of Johnston Stewart’s plea, or if there was any mitigation, but nevertheless, a £675 fine is extremely disappointing, especially when you consider that the maximum penalty for this offence is £5,000 and /or a six month prison sentence.

Will a derisory fine of £675 act as a suitable deterrent to others? No, of course not; that’s pocket change to a wealthy landowner. It’s yet another example of why there needs to be a complete overhaul of the penalties for wildlife crime and we look forward to reading Professor Poustie’s review on this issue, which is due to be submitted to the Scottish Government early next year.

What might act as a deterrent is the reputational impact of the conviction, but only if the conviction is widely publicised. We haven’t seen anything in the press, yet. Hopefully some of the journalists who follow this blog will get something out there….

So, although this is a disappointing penalty, the fact that there has been a conviction and thus a demonstration that the legislation works, is to be welcomed. Well done to the Fiscal and all those involved with bringing this case to court.

We now have information on the second vicarious liability prosecution currently going through the system and we’ll be blogging about that one in the new year.

UPDATE 19.15hrs. The following press release has been issued by the Crown Office:

copfs logoFIRST WILDLIFE VICARIOUS LIABILITY CONVICTION IN SCOTLAND

Landowner Ninian Stewart sentenced today after pleading guilty to being vicariously liable for Peter Finley Bells’ crime of poisoning and killing of a wild bird.

Ninian Robert Hathorn Johnston Stewart was convicted at Stranraer Sheriff Court on 23 December 2014 and fined a total of £675 today for four offences under Section 15A(1) and Section 18A(1) and (2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Section 18A(2) makes the accused guilty of the original offence and liable to be punished accordingly.

This is the first prosecution and conviction in Scotland under section 18A of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This section came into force on 1 January 2012.

Section 18A(2) created a new vicarious liability offence meaning that a person (B), who has shooting rights on or over land, or who manages or controls the exercise of such rights, can be found guilty of a relevant offence(s) committed by a person (A) while acting as the employee or agent of B.

This provision is designed to encourage landowners and employers with varying levels of responsibility in connection with shooting to be diligent and proactive in countering wildlife crime.

Stewart, the landowner of Glasserton & Physgill Estates, was convicted of being vicariously liable for the criminal actions of Glasserton gamekeeper Peter Bell on land owned by Stewart and on which he held the shooting rights.

Bell was a full time Gamekeeper in the employ of Ninian Stewart when he committed the poisoning offence on 23 December 2012 at Glasserton Home Farm. He had laced the carcass of a pheasant baited with Carbofuran and set the bait in a field. A birdwatcher passing the farm saw something flapping in the field and on closer inspection found that it was a common buzzard, lying on the ground, in the last throws of life. Subsequent forensic work showed that the buzzard had died as a result of ingesting the poisoned bait.

Under section 18A(3) it is a defence for B to show that B did not know that the offence(s) was being committed by A, and that B took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to prevent the offence being committed.

In this case, while there was no indication that Mr Stewart instructed the commission of the offences or that he even knew about them being committed, there no evidence that Mr Stewart took any steps to exercise due diligence in respect of shooting on his Estate.

Sara Shaw, Procurator Fiscal, Wildlife and Environment said:

“There is a proactive responsibility placed on those who employ game keepers to run shooting estates, to ensure that is done within the parameters of the law.

“These offences were committed almost a year after the vicarious liability offence (under section 18A of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) was introduced. Mr Stewart had adequate notice and time in which to take advice and put appropriate measures in place.

“Mr Stewart failed in his responsibilities and as a result stands convicted of the killing of a wild bird.

“The law specifically protects wild birds. Those who seek to poison wild birds, or continue to possess stocks of illegal poison, and those who employ or engage the services of such persons and tolerate the commission of these offences, or who do so without taking all reasonable steps and exercising all due diligence to prevent them being committed, can fully expect to be brought to account before the courts.”

ENDS

Notes to Editor

  1. Ninian Robert Hathorn Johnston Stewart (DOB 18/02/1948) of Newton Stewart pleaded guilty on 23 December 2014 at Stranraer Sheriff Court to four offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as below.

(001) on 23rd December 2012 on or in relation to land at Glasserton Home Farm, Whithorn, Newton Stewart, Peter Finley Bell, a person then acting as your employee or agent, did commit a relevant offence as defined by Section 18A(6)(a) of the aftermentioned Act, namely an offence under Section 1(1)(a) of the aftermentioned Act, in that he did intentionally or recklessly kill a wild bird, namely a common buzzard in that he set the carcass of a pheasant baited with poison, namely carbofuran after which said buzzard did ingest said Carbofuran and did poison said buzzard whereby you NINIAN ROBERT HATHORN JOHNSTON STEWART, being a person who has and who manages or controls the exercise of a legal right to kill or take a wild bird on or over that land, are guilty of an offence;

CONTRARY to Section 1(1)(a) and Section 18A(1) and (2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended

And it is hereby certified in terms of section 20 of the aforementioned Act that evidence sufficient in the opinion of the prosecutor to warrant proceedings came to his knowledge on 17th July 2013

Charge 1: £150 (reduced from £200)

(002) between 23rd December 2012 and 5th March 2013 both dates inclusive on or in relation to land at Physgill Cottage, Glasserton Home Farm, Whithorn, Newton Stewart, Peter Finley Bell, a person then acting as your employee or agent, did commit a relevant offence as defined by Section 18A(6)(a) of the aftermentioned Act, namely an offence under Section 15A(1) of the aftermentioned Act, in that he did have in his possession a pesticide, namely Carbofuran containing a prescribed ingredient within the terms of the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005/66, Article 2 and the Schedule, namely Carbofuran whereby you NINIAN ROBERT HATHORN JOHNSTON STEWART, being a person who has and who manages or controls the exercise of a legal right to kill or take a wild bird on or over that land, are guilty of an offence; CONTRARY to Section 15A(1) and Section 18A(1) and (2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended

And it is hereby certified in terms of section 20 of the aforementioned Act that evidence sufficient in the opinion of the prosecutor to warrant proceedings came to his knowledge on 17th July 2013

Charge 2: £225 (reduced from £300)

(003) on 05 March 2013 on or in relation to land at Physgill Cottage, Glasserton Home Farm, Whithorn, Newton Stewart, Peter Finley Bell, a person then acting as your employee or agent, did commit a relevant offence as defined by Section 18A(6)(a) of the aftermentioned Act, namely an offence under Section 15A(1) of the aftermentioned Act, in that he did have in his possession a pesticide, namely Strychnine containing a prescribed ingredient within the terms of the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005/66, Article 2 and the Schedule, namely Strychnine whereby you NINIAN ROBERT HATHORN JOHNSTON STEWART, being

a person who has and who manages or controls the exercise of a legal right to kill or take a wild bird on or over that land, are guilty of an offence;

CONTRARY to Section 15A(1) and Section 18A(1) and (2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended

And it is hereby certified in terms of section 20 of the aforementioned Act that evidence sufficient in the opinion of the prosecutor to warrant proceedings came to his knowledge on 17th July 2013

Charge 3: £75 (reduced from £100)

(004) on 05 March 2013 on or in relation to land at Physgill Cottage, Glasserton Home Farm, Whithorn, Newton Stewart, Peter Finley Bell, a person then acting as your employee or agent, did commit a relevant offence as defined by Section 18A(6)(a) of the aftermentioned Act, namely an offence under Section 15A(1) of the aftermentioned Act, in that he did have in his possession a pesticide, namely alphachloralose containing a prescribed ingredient within the terms of the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005/66, Article 2 and the Schedule, namely alphachloralose whereby you NINIAN ROBERT HATHORN JOHNSTON STEWART, being a person who has and who manages or controls the exercise of a legal right to kill or take a wild bird on or over that land, are guilty of an offence;

CONTRARY to Section 15A(1) and Section 18A(1) and (2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended

And it is hereby certified in terms of section 20 of the aforementioned Act that evidence sufficient in the opinion of the prosecutor to warrant proceedings came to his knowledge on 17th July 2013

Charge 4: £225 (reduced from £300)

  1. Peter Finley Bell (DOB 11/02/1951) from Whithorn, Newton Stewart was fined £4,450 on 18 June 2013 after pleading guilty to four charges contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981: one contravention of section 1(1)(a) (killing a wild bird) and three contraventions of section 15A (possession of an illegal pesticide). He was fined £2,450 for killing the buzzard (reduced from £3,500 to reflect his plea of guilty); £1,400 for possession of Carbuforan (reduced from £2,000) and £300 on each charge for possession of Strychnine and Alphachloralose (reduced from £500 on each charge).

END

MEDIA COVERAGE

BBC news here

Galloway Gazette names Sheriff Kenneth Robb here

Scottish Land & Estates: an extraordinary statement here. Glasserton & Physgill Estates were expelled from SLE in 2013, following the conviction of gamekeeper Bell (see here). Reading SLE’s defensive response to the conviction of landowner Johnston Stewart, you have to wonder…..

Journal of the Law Society of Scotland here

Scottish Daily Mail here

UPDATE 6th January 2015: Landowner hit with a five-figure subsidy penalty (here)

22
Dec
14

Buzzard dies from gunshot injuries

A buzzard has died after sustaining gunshot injuries in Norfolk last week.

The injured bird was taken to the Toll Barn Veterinary Centre in Norwich last week by Phoenix Bird of Prey Rescue, where an x-ray revealed three shot gun pellets embedded in its body. The vets attempted to operate but the buzzard didn’t survive.

Another victim added to Norfolk’s growing raptor persecution crime tally.

Photos by Phoenix Bird of Prey Rescue & Toll Barn Veterinary Centre

Buzzard shot Norfolk dec 2014

buzzard shot norfolk dec 2014 toll barn veterinary centre x ray

22
Dec
14

RSPB responds to sea eagle diet nonsense

eagle-snatches-sheepLast week we blogged about the ridiculous article written by Auslan Cramb that was published in the Telegraph, claiming that sea eagles eat more lamb than fish (see here).

Now Richard Evans, Senior Conservation Policy Officer for RSPB Scotland, has written a brilliantly scathing response to the article. You can read it here.




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