27
Dec
15

Our year in review: July-December 2015

JULY

shot perg june 2015 durham_peregrinefalconjohnolleyThe Police and RSPB appealed for information after a male peregrine was found shot on a nature reserve in Co Durham last month. His injuries were so severe he had to be euthanised (here). A female red kite named ‘Fawkes’ was found shot dead in Co Down – the loss of this bird was a huge blow to the precarious reintroduction project in Northern Ireland (here).

The Scottish Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod presented the award to the SGA’s Young Gamekeeper of the Year and made an embarrassing speech about how the SGA is implementing best practice conservation (here). There was further embarrassment when one of her civil servants claimed that a Community Payback Order was a more effective deterrent for wildlife criminals than a custodial sentence (here).

The trial of a Shropshire gamekeeper, accused of mis-use of a Larsen trap baited with live quail, collapsed when the court ruled the RSPB’s video evidence ‘disproportionate’ because they didn’t have the landowner’s permission to film there. The gamekeeper, Neil Wainwright, did plead guilty to three other offences and was convicted for failing to properly store ammunition and failing to securely store a dangerous chemical (Phostoxin). He was fined a total of £500 and was ordered to pay £85 costs and a £30 surcharge (see here).

New sentencing powers were given to magistrates courts in England and Wales for wildlife crime, effectively lifting the cap from £5,000 and allowing magistrates to impose unlimited fines for offences that took place after 12th March 2015 (see here).

A series of stunning photographs appeared in the Guardian, showing the incredible work of the Scottish Raptor Study Group as they fitted satellite tags to young golden eagles in the Highlands (here).

The issue of hen harrier persecution made it in to Private Eye (here) and also received wider publicity with the publication of Mark Avery’s book Inglorious, which we’d reviewed (here). DEFRA responded to an FoI from one of our readers and said that despite the ‘disappearance’ of five breeding male hen harriers this spring, they were still intent on pushing forward the (non)Joint Hen Harrier Action Plan, which includes brood meddling (here). For those of us sick of waiting for DEFRA to get to grips with tackling hen harrier persecution, Mark Avery launched his second e-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting (here).

We learned that Iceland supermarkets planned to start selling old, frozen red grouse and we asked their CEO, Malcolm Walker, how this fitted in with Iceland’s stated corporate responsibility policy, including their supposed commitment to providing ‘ethically sourced food’, given that shot red grouse may contain poisonous lead, may be diseased with cryptosporidiosis, and may have been sourced from a grouse moor where illegal raptor persecution is common practice (here). Iceland responded but failed to adequately answer our questions, so we asked some more (here).

SNH’s CEO, Susan Davies, responded to questions we’d asked about SNH’s involvement in the Natural Larder campaign and their claims that red grouse were ‘healthy, natural and sustainable’. Her response (here) was as unconvincing as the one from Iceland, which shouldn’t have been a surprise because it’s virtually impossible to counter the fact that shot red grouse from driven grouse moors is unhealthy, unnatural and unsustainable.

There was a rumour that Marks and Spencer might be thinking about selling red grouse in their shops (here).

The Rural Payments Agency responded to our latest FoI request about whether the Stody Estate in Norfolk had received a subsidy penalty for the mass poisoning of raptors on their estate. This time they told us (here) that they were trying to determine whether there was a relationship between the convicted gamekeeper, Allen Lambert, and the subsidy recipient, Stody Estate (er, Lambert’s employer).

Police in Northern Ireland appealed for information after two peregrines were found shot dead in Co Armargh in May (here) and there was an entertaining debate (here) on Farming Today about banning driven grouse shooting. Mark Avery was pitted against Andrew Gilruth from the GWCT. GWCT still hadn’t learned that they need a scientific representative if they want to sound semi-credible.

Henry had a busy month visiting Bransdale Estate in North Yorkshire (here), the scene of a wildlife crime in Donside (here), Kildrummy Estate in Aberdeenshire (here), Perthshire (here), Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire (here), Walshaw Moor Estate (here), Balmoral (here), Tillypronie Estate in Aberdeenshire (here), Langholm Moor (here), Marks and Spencer (here), Scottish Raptor Study Group (here), Millden Estate in the Angus Glens (here), DEFRA offices in London (here), Countryside Alliance HQ in London (here) and a little village in Oxforshire called Milcombe (here).

AUGUST

Michael Harrison, a 70 year old poultry farmer in the Scottish Borders, was convicted for shooting a buzzard (he claimed he thought it was a crow). He was fined £600 (here).

Scottish gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick, 25, was convicted for killing a buzzard on the Newlands Estate in Dumfriesshire. Two witnesses had observed him striking the buzzard with rocks and then repeatedly stamping on the bird (see here). Sentencing due in September.

A gamekeeper from Glenogil Estate in the Angus Glens was charged with a series of alleged wildlife crimes (see here).

Some (more) lies about the RSPB were published in the Telegraph (which it later had to retract and apologise for), seemingly lifted straight from a YFTB press release (here), accusing the RSPB of failing to protect hen harrier nests in England. Natural England published a statement in response, proclaiming this year to have been the most successful for breeding hen harriers in five years. We wrote an article calling for some perspective on their view: six successful hen harrier nests in the whole of England was nothing to celebrate (here).

Marks and Spencer announced that they wouldn’t be selling red grouse in their shops this year (here).

The second annual Hen Harrier Day came and went, with events held in England and Scotland. One of the Scottish gatherings was held at Glen Turret reservoir in Perthshire. The neighbouring Glen Turret Estate used the event as an opportunity to spin some cynical propaganda, claiming that the protesters could have disturbed the young hen harriers they claimed to have on their estate (here). We were given reliable information that the known hen harrier nesting attempt on this estate had actually failed about a month previously but even if there had been harriers on the estate, the small group of folk chatting quietly by the reservoir were miles away and in no danger of disturbing anything, unlike the crowd of gamekeepers and beaters due to descend on the estate in a few days time to create as much noise as possible to drive red grouse towards the waiting guns in the shooting butts.

The SGA also seized the opportunity to spew out some (more) cynical propaganda and they published a ‘fact sheet’ that implied hen harriers didn’t need conservation action. Naturally, they missed out a few crucial facts (see here). As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, SGA committee member Bert Burnett was caught out when he posted some vitriol on Facebook about wanting to set fire to the Hen Harrier Day protesters (see here). Remember, this is the organisation the Scottish Environment Minister rated so highly.

Annie Langholm harrier shot April 2015We learned that satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Annie’, missing since March, had been found shot dead on a grouse moor in southern Scotland (here). Over 300 blog readers wrote to the Environment Minister to demand action against the raptor killers. She published an interim statement (here) which was predictably lame.

A buzzard was found shot dead in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park (here) and a buzzard was found shot and severely injured close to a grouse moor in the Borders. It had to be euthanised (see here).

There was a controversial proposal to take golden eagle chicks from the Highlands and release them in southern Scotland to boost the almost-non-existent population in the Borders (see here) – a proposal we cautiously supported on the proviso that each eagle was satellite-tagged.

Police Scotland announced that more than 100 officers would receive ‘specialist training’ to tackle wildlife crime (here) and it was announced that a vicarious liability prosecution was underway against Andrew Duncan, who was alleged to be vicariously liable for the criminal actions of gamekeeper Billy Dick on the Newlands Estate in Dumfriesshire (here).

RSPB Scotland revealed that two red kites had been illegally killed in the Highlands; one had been shot and dumped on a railway line and the other had been discovered poisoned on Cawdor Estate. Both were killed in 2014 and Police Scotland had apparently ‘concluded their enquiries’ without mentioning either case in the press (see here).

SEPTEMBER

The Scottish Government’s public consultation on whether the SSPCA should be awarded increased powers to investigate more wildlife crimes closed one year ago. Still waiting for the Environment Minister to make a decision (see here).

Gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick, who was convicted last month of killing a buzzard on the Newlands Estate in Dumfriesshire, was sentenced – he received a £2,000 fine (see here). We were able to reveal (here) that the Newlands Estate is a member of Scottish Land & Estates and is also an accredited member of SLE’s Wildlife Estates Scotland initiative (membership requires adherence to best practice standards of animal welfare and, er, not to break the law).

The SGA tried (again) and failed (again) to smear the reputation of the RSPB by claiming the RSPB timed the press release about shot hen harrier ‘Annie’ to coincide with the start of the grouse shooting season (here). SGA Chairman Alex Hogg further demonstrated he had the intellectual capacity of a cabbage when he discussed the reasons he thought golden eagles weren’t doing very well in southern Scotland (here).

We asked both SNH and Natural England to provide urgent guidance on the use of gas gun bird scarers on grouse moors during the breeding season as it had become apparent they were being widely used (here). Both SNH (here) and NE (here) said they would review the issue.

The Environment Minister responded to the hundreds of emails she’d received following the death of hen harrier ‘Annie’ but her response completely missed the point we were trying to make (see here).

The Ross-shire Massacre reached its 18-month anniversary but there was still no progress on Police Scotland’s ‘investigation’ (see here).

We photographed some boxes of old, frozen red grouse being sold in Iceland supermarkets under the banner ‘Food you can Trust’ but sadly Iceland CEO Malcolm Walker hadn’t been able to get back to us to answer our questions about ethical food sourcing or on the levels of poisonous toxic lead contained in his products (here). Not food that we would trust at all.

NEVER-MIND-T-SHIRT-DESIGNThe Countryside Alliance and their new CEO Tim Bonner, (he with a nasty, gloating presence on Twitter), called for the BBC to sack Chris Packham for speaking out against hen harrier persecution and on animal welfare issues. A public petition in support of Chris quickly reached 80,000 signatures (see here). In Packham’s own style, ‘Never mind the bollocks, Bonner, where’s the hen harriers’?

Criminal proceedings continued against a Glenogil Estate gamekeeper accused of carrying out wildlife crimes (here) and we noticed that time was running out for a potential vicarious liability prosecution at Kildrummy Estate. The case would become time-barred in a few days so we asked the Crown Office whether they intended to prosecute anyone from Kildrummy (here).

We were told that a red kite had been found injured ‘near Tomatin’ (driven grouse moor country) but it later died and that ‘its injuries did not appear to have been as a result of natural causes’. In other words, it was illegally killed but Police Scotland didn’t want to tell anyone how it had been killed (see here).

Meanwhile the voluntary group Friends of Red Kites (FoRK) in north east England issued a press release about three poisoned red kites: one found next to a grouse moor in Co Durham (poisoned with banned Carbofuran) and two found near Gateshead (poisoned with banned Aldicarb). We speculated about why FoRK had issued the press release and not the Police or Natural England (see here).

Our FoI request to SNH revealed that they had finally issued notices of intent to restrict the use of General Licences on two (currently unnamed) estates due to evidence provided by Police Scotland that raptor persecution crimes had been committed there (see here).

The grouse shooting industry re-launched its comical propaganda campaign called The Gift of Grouse, aimed at promoting the ‘benefits’ of driven grouse shooting. Unbelievably they used driven grouse moors in the Angus Glens as examples of good practice (see here)!

OCTOBER

The Scottish Government published its annual wildlife crime report for 2014 with misleading conclusions (here) and the case against the Glenogil gamekeeper continued in court (here).

Interim results were published from the 2014 National Peregrine Survey which showed that breeding peregrine numbers had decreased in many upland areas and remained stable or increased in lowland and coastal areas (here). This pattern was highlighted in a new scientific paper that showed a continuing decline of breeding peregrines on driven grouse moors in NE Scotland, particularly in the eastern part of the Cairngorms National Park (see here).

The League Against Cruel Sports published a new report reviewing the intensification and mis-management of grouse moors in Scotland (here) and the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life+ Project introduced us to two young satellite-tagged hen harriers, ‘Holly’ and ‘Chance’ whose movement maps could be followed online by members of the public (here).

A beautifully-produced short film was released about the Ross-shire Massacre (here) and local MSP Dave Thompson asked again for a review of Police Scotland’s ‘investigation’ of this crime (here).

Another powerful deterrent sentence was handed down to a raptor poisoner in Spain. After laying out poisoned baits that killed six Spanish Imperial Eagles and a fox, the criminal received an 18 month prison sentence, a three year disqualification from hunting, and a massive fine of 259,762.62 Euros to be paid to the regional government as the estimated value of those six eagles (here).

In England, South Yorkshire Police and the National Wildlife Crime Unit appealed for information about the theft of a peregrine chick from a nest. The crime had taken place five months ago in May (here). Police in Co Durham appealed for information about two shot short-eared owls that had been stuffed inside a pot hole close to a grouse moor. That crime had taken place seven months ago in March (here).

A legal academic from Cambridge University raised some interesting questions about whether the vicarious liability legislation in Scotland was in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights (here). The Crown Office confirmed that they were not pursuing a vicarious liability prosecution against anyone from Kildrummy Estate in Aberdeenshire because Police Scotland hadn’t reported anyone to them. We asked Police Scotland why not (see here). The vicarious liability prosecution against Andrew Duncan of Newlands Estate, Dumfriesshire continued in court but was further delayed as it was rumoured his gamekeeper, Billy Dick, was appealing his conviction for killing a buzzard (here).

The raptor conservation community bid a sad goodbye to long-term fieldworker and friend Mick Caroll (here).

A year on from the conviction of Stody Estate gamekeeper Allen Lambert for the mass poisoning of raptors, the Rural Payments Agency told us that they’d now notified Stody Estate that a cross compliance breach had occurred (here). It took them a year to work this out?! However, they still hadn’t told us whether a financial penalty had been applied and if so, how much? We sent another FoI to the RPA.

Medicated grit tray by Richard Webb LammermuirsAfter a series of FoIs over the summer months, we published an article on the red grouse/medicated grit scandal (here). It was jaw-dropping. We discovered that grouse moor managers had been using super-strength medicated grit, of at least ten times the licensed strength, to treat red grouse for parasitic worms. The use of the grit had been unregulated and un-monitored and the environmental effects of using such a high-persistence pharmaceutical drug in sensitive ecosystems was unknown. Red grouse that had been shot and had entered the human food chain had not been checked, ever, for residues of these drugs because the regulatory authority (DEFRA’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate) claimed they didn’t know where to find dead birds to test.

NOVEMBER

The National Audubon Society in North America featured a prominent article in its magazine on hen harrier persecution in the UK (see here). A young satellite-tagged hen harrier called ‘Holly’, one of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life+ Project’s birds, ‘died’ (see here).

A peregrine was found shot dead in Halifax, West Yorkshire (here) and West Mercia Police appealed for information about a poisoned peregrine in Shropshire that had been found five months ago in June (here).

George Allen, a 61 year-old Scottish gamekeeper, was convicted of snaring offences on Dunecht Estate in Aberdeenshire which had resulted in the horrific death of a badger. He was fined £600 (here).

SNH announced it had implemented General Licence restrictions on four (unnamed) estates in Scotland where evidence of raptor persecution crimes had been provided by Police Scotland. Thanks to Andy Wightman’s brilliant website Who Owns Scotland we were able to name the four estates as Raeshaw and Corsehope (Scottish Borders) and Burnfoot and Wester Cringate in Stirlingshire (see here). SNH later revealed some of the reasons why the restrictions had been put in place (here) but the estates disputed the evidence and said they would appeal the decision (here). Six days later SNH suspended the restrictions as the estates had lodged a legal appeal (here).

The findings of the judicial review against Natural England’s refusal to issue buzzard-killing licences was finally published – the High Court ruled that Natural England had acted unlawfully (see here). Expect to see an increase in buzzard-killing licence applications next year, including in Scotland, as even though the ruling was against Natural England, the same European and domestic licensing laws apply in Scotland.

Police Scotland explained (sort of) why nobody had been reported for a vicarious liability prosecution at Kildrummy Estate. As Andy Wightman had suggested, it was likely due to the difficulties of identification associated with land registered in an off-shore tax haven (see here).

We finally got confirmation from the Rural Payments Agency that Stody Estate had received a cross-compliance subsidy penalty after their gamekeeper had been convicted of the mass poisoning of raptors (here), and although there was still some confusion over the exact amount, it was a massive penalty (see here).

An important new report highlighted the extent of raptor persecution in Northern Ireland (here) and we learned that the five year bird of prey ‘initiative’ between landowners and conservationists in the Peak District National Park had failed to deliver any of its objectives (here).

In Scotland the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review report was finally published and included some impressive recommendations for tougher sentencing (see here), which now need the Environment Minister’s approval to move forward.

Police Scotland appealed for information after the discovery of a poisoned red kite in the Highlands (see here) and a rare red-footed falcon was found shot dead in Cambridgeshire (see here); Rare Bird Alert launched a crowdfunding appeal to increase the reward on offer from the RSPB for information leading to the criminal who’d killed it (see here).

Proceedings from the Oxford University Lead Symposium were published (here), highlighting, again, the risks of lead ammunition to human and environmental health. The RSPB published their annual Birdcrime report (2014) (here) – a shameful catalogue of raptor persecution crimes throughout the UK.

DECEMBER

Sporting agent Graham Christie (Dunmhor Sporting) became the second person convicted under vicarious liability legislation for raptor crime in Scotland. Christie was guilty of not adequately supervising the activities of his gamekeeper James O’Reilly who had used an illegal gin trap to kill a buzzard on the Cardross Estate in Stirlingshire. Christie was fined £3,200 (see here).

Yorkshire game farmer Michael Wood had his earlier conviction quashed for permitting the use of a pole trap at his pheasant-rearing facility (here). Wood’s two employees had earlier received police cautions for setting five (yes, five!) pole traps at the farm, so in effect, nobody has been punished for these crimes.

Police in Co Durham appealed for information after the discovery of a shot, dead peregrine at the edge of a grouse moor four months ago in August (see here).

ChemoIt was revealed that red grouse were being force-fed a chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of colon cancer, to combat parasitic worms in the birds (see here). Astonishingly, this drug has been administered during the grouse shooting season, increasing the chances of these drugged birds getting in to the human food chain without any official testing by government regulators. ‘Free chemotherapy when you eat red grouse!’ will be the next SNH slogan in their Natural Larder campaign. It was also revealed that the GWCT’s ‘best practice guidelines’ for medicating red grouse, in use since 2004, were actually illegal (here). Shocker!

Garry Dickson, a lecturer on the gamekeeping courses at Borders College, was caught out spouting anti-raptor rhetoric against goshawks on his Facebook page (here). If you ever wondered why goshawks are the victims of continued persecution by gamekeepers, look no further.

The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association brought us some festive cheer with their mince (pork) pie lies about how well golden eagles are doing on grouse moors in Scotland, all unquestionably regurgitated by the BBC (see here). After complaints from us, the BBC article was edited to include a damning response from RSPB Scotland.

And finally, RSPB Scotland published an excellent 20-year review of raptor persecution crimes (here), which included an incredible tally of known victims: 779 raptors confirmed as illegally killed either by poisoning, shooting or trapping, including 458 buzzards, 104 red kites, 37 golden eagles, 30 hen harriers, 16 goshawks, and ten white-tailed eagles. How many victims do you think went undiscovered? 81% of known poisoning incidents took place on land managed for game shooting: 57% on grouse moors and 24% on lowland pheasant shoots. That says it all.

Thanks to everyone who has followed, supported and contributed to our blog in 2015 – it is greatly appreciated.

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2 Responses to “Our year in review: July-December 2015”


  1. 1 Jane McArthur
    January 5, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    Absolutely stunning work from you all at R.P.S—this annual summary of your blog and it’s contents is brilliant and shocking. Thank you for your hard work in highlighting wildlife crime and giving nature a voice.


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