27
Dec
15

Our year in review: January – June 2015

It’s been another busy year for RPS. Here’s part one of our annual review covering January-June 2015.

JANUARY

We started the year looking at the face of ‘modern landownership’ in Scotland, which is supposed to be centred on the four pillars of an SLE charter that says landowners should be ‘open, inclusive, enabling and responsible’. What we found instead was a landowner being rude, arrogant, stupid and intolerant – see here.

We learned that the first landowner convicted under vicarious liability legislation had received a ‘high five figure’ deduction from his Single Farm Payment (see here), although we didn’t yet know the actual sum.

mountain-hare-cull-angus-glens-large - CopyThere were Parliamentary questions about what the Scottish Government was doing to protect mountain hares and a new petition calling on the Government to give hares improved protected status (here). Well-known conservationist Roy Dennis called the mass culling of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors “disgraceful” (here).

We wrote a blog about the poor conservation status of hen harriers in Scotland (here) to counter the propaganda spewed out by the grouse-shooting industry that Scottish hen harriers are doing well. They’re really not.

Convicted Scottish gamekeeper George Mutch received the first ever custodial sentence for his raptor-killing crimes on the Kildrummy Estate in Aberdeenshire (see here). Our thoughts then turned to a potential vicarious liability prosecution and the difficulties the authorities might face when trying to identify the hierarchical managment structure above Mutch (see here).

SGA Chairman Alex Hogg told us (here) that gamekeepers were the “doctors and nurses of the countryside” (think Harold Shipman & Beverley Allitt) and an idiot from Trinity College, Dublin went on radio to talk about “horrible” raptors “becoming more aggressive” (see here). Meanwhile, Police in Northern Ireland conducted a series of raids on premises in raptor poisoning blackspots (here and here).

The Charity Commission completely rejected a complaint made by the Countryside Alliance that the RSPB’s 2013 Birdcrime Report had ‘mis-used data and made unfounded allegations’ (see here) and an article in the Daily Mail also tried (and failed) to discredit the RSPB’s work (here).

We were shocked to learn that the previously well-respected Hawk & Owl Trust had decided to promote a brood meddling scheme for hen harriers in England (see here) and we published a guest blog about the equally shameful political shenanigans affecting hen harriers in the Republic of Ireland (here).

Back in Scotland we discovered that the Scottish Government had ‘ignored’ 7,014 signatures on a petition calling for increased powers for the SSPCA by counting them all as a single vote (see here), and Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod headed to the Cairngorms National Park to talk about their on-going problem of raptor persecution (here).

We continued to press the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) for information about any subsidy removal for the Stody Estate in Norfolk, whose gamekeeper Allen Lambert had been convicted of the mass poisoning of raptors. The RPA responded by saying they ‘couldn’t provide any meaningful response’ (here).

A pro-shooting journalist wrote a column for the Scotsman in which he claimed that jailing raptor-killing gamekeepers ‘wasn’t the answer’ (see here) and we found out that Police Scotland’s ‘answer’ to solving the illegal poisoning of a red kite was just to keep very, very quiet about it (here).

FEBRUARY

Heather_dead_(Barry_ODonoghue_NPWS)February brought the news that a satellite-tracked hen harrier called ‘Heather’ had been found shot dead at a roost site in Co. Kerry, Ireland (see here). Chris Packham resigned from his Presidency of the Hawk & Owl Trust due to their promotion of a hen harrier brood meddling scheme (here) and Police Scotland refused to reveal the cause of death of a hen harrier found in Muirkirk eight months earlier (here).

We learned that the Conservative Party had an interesting bedfellow from the world of game-shooting (here) and a Tory candidate in North Yorkshire thought grouse shooting was ace (see here).

The criminal trial of a gamekeeper accused of the mis-use of a trap on the Bolton Hall Estate in North Yorkshire collapsed when the court held that the RSPB’s video evidence was inadmissible and that the only evidence they’d provided was photographic (here). Another gamekeeper, this time from Shropshire, faced trial after he denied baiting a Larsen trap with live quail (here).

The RSPB published a video showing four masked gunmen attacking a goshawk nest in the Cairngorms National Park (here) which amusingly coincided with a campaign by the Countryside Alliance calling for police to ‘unmask’ hunt sabs.

A game farm owner was convicted for permitting a pole trap to be used at his game-rearing facility in North Yorkshire (here), later quashed on appeal (see December review). We found out he had a string of previous wildlife crime convictions and a strong connection to the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (here).

A new report, Natural Injustice, was published by Scottish Environment LINK which was described as ‘a damning indictment’ of wildlife crime enforcement in Scotland (here).

Police Scotland conducted a raid on a grouse moor in Stirlingshire following the discovery of a poisoned peregrine (here). The peregrine had been killed by Carbofuran, as had a red kite, found on the same estate last July.

The Scottish Government launched a three-month pesticide disposal scheme (here) aimed at allowing landowners and gamekeepers to hand in stocks of banned poisons without fear of punishment.

The RSPB offered a £1,000 reward for information about a buzzard that had been found with horrific leg injuries on the Sledmere Estate in Yorkshire (here).

MARCH

Blog growth 5 yrs - CopyWe celebrated our 5th birthday with over 1.25 million blog views (here). A shot peregrine was found dead outside the headquarters of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (here) and we revealed that gamekeepers are rattled by the new campaign group Birders Against Wildlife Crime (here).

We learned that Ninian Johnston Stewart, the first landowner convicted under vicarious liability legislation in Scotland, had almost £66,000 removed from his Single Farm Payment as a penalty for the buzzard poisoning crime on his estate (see here). This was a great result but we called for greater publicity of these civil sanctions to act as a deterrent to others (here).

A shot buzzard found in Essex had to be euthanised due to the extent of its injuries (here), a kitten died from Carbofuran poisoning in Midlothian (here) but a shot kestrel in North Yorkshire was successfully rehabilitated and released by the amazing Jean Thorpe (here).

After years of trying, we finally got evidence (here) that the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in South Lanarkshire is actually a member of Scottish Land & Estates, which is quite incredible given the long, long list of raptor persecution crimes that have been uncovered there and SLE’s position on the PAW Raptor Group and their repeated claims that raptor persecution won’t be tolerated.

The first anniversary of the Ross-shire Massacre came and went with no progress to report on the Police investigation (here). SLE’s Scottish Moorland Group published an article (here) about the ‘much-loved’ mountain hare and how culling was necessary, quoting the head gamekeeper from the infamous Glenogil Estate in the Angus Glens.

Michael Johnston was convicted of having the banned poison Strychnine in his vehicle (here) and the long-awaited trial of Scottish gamekeeper William Dick began at Dumfries Sheriff Court (here). Dick was accused of bludgeoning a buzzard with rocks and repeatedly stamping on it at the Newlands Estate in Dumfriesshire.

The Scottish Government published the latest annual poisoning maps which showed that the number of poisoned raptors found in Scotland in 2014 had quadrupled from the previous year (here).

A six-foot hen harrier called Henry was introduced to the world (here).

APRIL

Annie with her sat tagA satellite-tagged hen harrier called ‘Annie’ who’d hatched on the Langholm Estate in 2014, suddenly went missing in action in an area of South Lanarkshire (see here).

We finally found out that the hen harrier found dead in Muirkirk eleven months ago had been shot at the nest. Her cause of death had previously been withheld and was only revealed when we found it listed in a Government report (here).

Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod published an article in Holyrood magazine and stated that “the illegal poisoning of wildlife cannot, and will not, be tolerated in modern Scotland” (here).

Ten conservation organisations joined together calling on SNH to introduce an immediate three-year ban on the slaughter of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors (here).

We found out that the SGA had received funds from an interesting donor (here) and the legendary conservationist Dick Balharry called traditional sporting estates “outdated and ludicrous” (here).

The mis-use of cage crow traps featured in an episode of Landward (here), a white-tailed eagle was found poisoned on the nest in SW Ireland (here) and we learned that the judicial review of Natural England’s decision to refuse buzzard-killing licences to a Northumberland gamekeeper was due to take place in the High Court in June (see here).

Henry the hen harrier took off on his UK tour in search of a mate, visiting the Derwent Valley (here), Salisbury Plain (here), Stonehenge (here), Dersingham Bog (here), Coronation Street (here), Stody Estate (here), Holkham Hall (here) and the North York Moors National Park (here).

MAY

Bird scarer 1 - CopyA breeding female buzzard died of shotgun injuries in the North York Moors National Park (here) and three male hen harriers ‘disappeared’ from active nest sites in Bowland (here).

We found out that the GWCT had an interesting bedfellow (here) and an interim report from the Scottish Government’s pesticide disposal scheme revealed that masses of banned poisons had been stockpiled around the country over the years (see here).

Robin Page treated Daily Mail readers to another of his anti-raptor rants (here), which was subsequently torn to shreds in the Guardian (here). Scotland’s Moorland Forum began a frightening new ‘study’ aimed at giving the views of people like Robin Page equal weight against peer-reviewed scientific literature on predation (see here).

Some marsh harrier eggs were stolen from a nest in Norfolk (here) and police forces in England, Scotland and Wales began a poster campaign to raise awareness of raptor persecution (here).

The RSPB offered a £1,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of whoever shot a peregrine in Staffordshire (here) and a red kite found caught in an illegally-set trap on a Scottish grouse moor had to be euthanised due to the extent of its injuries (here).

Ian Botham and You Forgot the Birds (YFTB) came back on the scene, still intent on slagging off the RSPB, this time blaming them for the ‘disappearance’ of the three male hen harriers in Bowland and accusing them (RSPB) of failing to incubate dead embryos – Beefy’s understanding of biological principles was clearly as strong as his Twitter password (not nearly strong enough). Interestingly, the YFTB press release revealed that YFTB was ‘funded by the British grouse industry’ (see here).

Botham gave us a further display of his ignorance when he penned an article for the Mail on Sunday. Once again he attacked the RSPB, this time accusing them of ‘constantly slurring gamekeepers as criminals’. Unfortunately he forgot that over 100 gamekeepers had been convicted of raptor persecution crimes since the 1990s (see here).

Scottish gamekeeper James O’Reilly was convicted at Stirling Sheriff Court for using an illegal gin trap to injure a buzzard on the Cardross Estate. He received a community payback order (see here).

Following claims from the game-shooting industry that there was widespread tampering of legal traps in the Scottish countryside, our FoI investigations revealed that actually, it wasn’t widespread at all (see here).

Also this month we published photographs of gas gun bird scarers that were being deployed on the grouse moors of Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in South Lanarkshire, bang in the middle of the hen harrier breeding season (see here).

Henry’s tour continued with visits to Snilesworth Estate in North Yorks (here), Lartington in Teesdale (here), Yorkshire Game (here), the Hawk & Owl Trust HQ in Norfolk (here), Yorkshire Dales National Park (here), Swinton Estate in North Yorks (here), Grinton Estate in North Yorks (here) and Abbeystead Estate in Bowland (here).

JUNE

Aim Click Collect June 2015These were desperate days as we learned that a 5th male hen harrier had ‘disappeared’ from an active nest in England (here), although it did lead to increased coverage of the hen harrier’s plight in the national press (here).

We learned that reintroduced white-tailed eagles were bringing in millions of pounds to rural Scottish communities from tourism, including £5 million each year to the Isle of Mull and £2.4 million to the Isle of Skye (here).

A Norfolk businessman put up a £5,000 reward for any information about the poisoning, trapping and shooting of protected birds (here). The trial of a Shropshire gamekeeper got underway – he was accused of using a Larsen trap, illegally baited with live quail, to capture birds of prey (see here).

Meanwhile in Spain, a farmer who had been found guilty of laying out poisoned baits that had killed 11 red kites and other species was sentenced to two years in prison, a two-year disqualification from farming and animal husbandry, a four-year disqualification from hunting, a fine of 90,270 Euros and an additional fine of 28,500 Euros that was to be used specifically to monitor red kites in the local areas for the next three years (see here). That’s what you call a deterrent.

The judicial review into Natural England’s refusal to issue buzzard-killing licences got underway in the High Court (here) and the SNP launched its controversial Land Reform Bill (here).

SNH showed its true colours when it launched a ridiculous ‘Natural Larder’ campaign, supported by the Environment Minister, to promote shot red grouse as ‘healthy, natural and sustainable’. On the contrary, we argued that red grouse are unhealthy, unnatural and unsustainably managed and that the driven grouse shooting industry has shocking environmental credentials. We encouraged blog readers to challenge SNH about why, as the country’s statutory conservation agency, it was promoting such an industry (see here).

Henry arrived in Scotland and visited Scottish Land & Estates (here), Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (here), he met a revolutionist (here), and visited grouse moors in the Lammermuirs (here), Moy Estate (here), Leadhills Estate (here), Perthshire (here), Cairngorms National Park (here) including these badlands (here), the wonderful Coignafearn Estate (here) and the not-so-wonderful Farr Estate (here).

Part two of our annual review to follow shortly….

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