Archive for January, 2016

29
Jan
16

More shameless spin-doctoring from the Gift of Grouse

Gift of GrouseTim (Kim) Baynes, Director of the grouse-shooting industry’s propaganda campaign, The Gift of Grouse, is shameless. He must be to have penned his latest bout of spin-doctoring, this time pointing the finger at raptor workers.

Before we begin, here’s a definition of a spin doctor:

A person whose job involves trying to control the way something is described to the public in order to influence what people think about it“.

Ladies and gentlemen, the spin doctor is IN.

The following article, authored by Tim (Kim) Baynes, appears in today’s Courier and is entitled: ‘Trust needs to develop quickly between raptor groups and land management‘.

Despite the grouse season ending more than a month ago, our moorland continues to fire passions on all sides.

Since Jim Crumley’s last column, The Courier letters’ pages have been alive with debate. Yet, much of the criticism levelled at estates does not reflect what I see on our moors.

The Gift of Grouse campaign demonstrates the benefits of moorland, including species conservation.

Since then, a number of reports have been publicised. One looked at species present on Invermark, the estate cited by Jim Crumley. It found that 81 different bird species were breeding or feeding there, including a range of ‘red-listed’ most at risk birds. Amongst those present were 10 species of raptor including peregrine, golden eagle and hen-harrier.

Similar is happening on many Scottish estates. Yet disappointingly, the politics of the past – pitting raptor enthusiast versus gamekeeper – are still being played. The RSPB’s report uses incidents from two decades ago to influence present-day policymaking.  But, official figures from the past five years demonstrate raptor incidents are now in the teens per annum, with only some linked to land management. There is always work to be done but the law is tough on anyone convicted of wildlife crime, and even higher sentences are likely soon.

At the heart of this is continuing mistrust between some raptor enthusiasts and land managers. There are also internal rivalries within the raptor groups on who monitors which area, and this leads to secrecy. This is a serious issue as land managers need to know which birds are on their land in order to better manage them, but the survey results are often not shared with them, even when funded by bodies such as Scottish Natural Heritage.

To break down mistrust, we must develop ways of maximising both raptors and prey species alongside grouse.  It should not be an either/or scenario. The persecution of raptors is becoming a thing of the past, but there is also a duty on raptor lobby to engage and share information. Trust is developing in some places but it needs to spread – and rapidly.

ENDS

Oh god, where to begin?

For context, perhaps we should begin by pointing out to those who don’t already know, Tim (Kim) Baynes is employed by the lairds’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates as Director of the Scottish Moorland Group. The Scottish Moorland Group is chaired by the one and only Lord Hopetoun – he of the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate – an estate with one of the worst records of illegal raptor persecution in the country.

Tim (Kim) is right in his assertion that there is distrust between some raptor workers and some landowners. Of course there is, and with bloody good reason!

Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) portrays itself as a wildlife-crime-fighting organisation and frequently points to its membership of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW Scotland) as evidence of this. SLE has consistently stated that it is working hard to eradicate wildlife crime, and particularly illegal raptor persecution. The thing is, many raptor workers simply don’t believe them. Why not? Well probably because SLE has not sought to expel several member estates that have been implicated, over many years, in raptor persecution crimes. It would be an easy thing for them to do, but they haven’t done it. Until they do, raptor workers (and the general public) are justified to view SLE and their land-owning members with deep suspicion.

Another good reason for distrusting SLE is their continued denial of the extent of illegal raptor persecution, and their denial that the grouse-shooting industry (some of whom are members of SLE) is in any way implicated with these crimes (e.g. see here and here for just two recent examples). Where clear evidence has been provided, (e.g. 81% of all reported poisoning incidents in Scotland between 2005-2014 were on land used for game-shooting – see here), SLE has simply dismissed the figures and slagged off the RSPB for providing them (here).

RSPB persecution review 1994 2014 land use

In his article for the Courier, Tim (Kim) tries to claim that grouse moors are ‘good’ for species conservation and refers to a recent ‘study’ of breeding birds on Invermark Estate to back up this claim. The problem is, the full details of that ‘study’ (and a couple of others) have not been made available for public scrutiny, despite several requests to see it, and therefore has naff all credibility, especially when the ‘study’ of breeding birds was conducted, er, outside of the breeding season (see here).

But what interested us the most about Tim’s (Kim’s) article in the Courier was his (false) accusations (he’s good at those) about the raptor study groups. He said:

There are also internal rivalries within the raptor groups on who monitors which area, and this leads to secrecy. This is a serious issue as land managers need to know which birds are on their land in order to better manage them, but the survey results are often not shared with them, even when funded by bodies such as Scottish Natural Heritage”.

This is absolute rubbish. The Scottish Raptor Study Group comprises 12 regional branches. These branches organise raptor monitoring within clearly-defined geographic regions, to avoid over-lapping and thus avoid ‘double-counting’ as well as ‘double disturbance’ of sensitive species. All the raptor workers who monitor Schedule 1 species are licensed (by SNH) to do so. These Schedule 1 disturbance licences are issued for specific areas; so if you have a licence to monitor, say, golden eagles in one area, you can’t use the same licence to monitor them in another area unless your licence specifically includes another area. Again, this is to regulate the amount of disturbance to sensitive species. There is no “internal rivalry” – raptor workers simply get on with monitoring in their own patch.

Raptor workers DO share their data – they provide their results to the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme (SRMS) and have been doing so since 2002! Tim (Kim) is obviously annoyed that landowners aren’t given access to those data “in order to better manage” those species. We all know what he means by “better manage” and that is precisely why raptor workers would be reluctant to share location data about highly persecuted species with dodgy landowners. Duh!

Tim (Kim) tries to imply that raptor workers are funded by SNH and as such, the data they collect should be made publicly available. Again, he either misunderstands the system or he’s trying to spin it so that raptor workers look like the bad guys. The truth is, raptor workers are not ‘funded’ by SNH, or by anyone else. SNH does provide SOME funding to the SRSG, but this amounts to a small contribution towards raptor workers’ fuel costs. It certainly doesn’t cover the full fuel costs (the funding is actually well below the commercial mileage rate claimed by consultants) and it does not cover the thousands and thousands of hours of time that raptor workers put in to their monitoring efforts. As such, the data collected by raptor workers belong to the individual raptor worker; not to SNH, not to the SRSG, and not to anybody else. These raptor workers are volunteers – nobody pays for their time, experience and expertise. They can do what they like with their data. That they contribute those data to the SRMS is to their credit, and they do so because they know their data will be useful to conservation and scientific organisations who want to keep tabs on species’ populations. Tim (Kim) Bayne’s inference that raptor workers are the problem is disgraceful.

Trust him and the grouse-shooting industry? Not a bloody chance. Not until we see SLE expelling the estates where persistent raptor persecution continues. Not until we see SLE supporting the work of RSPB Scotland’s investigations team. Not until we see SLE acknowledging the extent of illegal raptor persecution. Not until we see healthy, sustainable breeding populations of raptors such as golden eagles, hen harriers, peregrines, over  a period of years, on driven grouse moors in central, eastern and southern Scotland.

By the way, Kim, you still haven’t provided an explanation for why hen harriers have been absent as a breeding species in the Angus Glens since 2006 (here). Try and spin-doctor your way out of that.

21
Jan
16

E-petition to ban driven grouse shooting is back online!

epetition 21Jan2016 - CopyMark Avery has asked us to let you know that his e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting is back online, we think until midnight tonight.

For some strange reason the petition was closed prematurely last night, a day earlier than it should have been. It has now been re-instated.

So far, 33,170 UK citizens have signed it. Please share amongst your friends, family & work colleagues for a final push today.  CLICK HERE TO SIGN.

 

21
Jan
16

Case against gamekeeper William Curr, Glenogil Estate: part 4

scales-of-justiceCriminal proceedings have continued against Glenogil Estate gamekeeper William Curr, who is accused of various snaring offences alleged to have taken place in the Angus Glens in August and September 2014.

An intermediate diet was called at Forfar Sheriff Court on 19th January 2016 and the provisional trial date of 9th February was dumped. There will now be a further intermediate diet on 12th April and a new provisional trial date has been set for 9th May 2016.

Previous blogs on this case here, here and here.

20
Jan
16

Reward doubled for info on peregrine poisoning at Clee Hill, Shropshire

Peregrine male poisoned at Cleehill 2015 Shorrock1 cropThe reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for poisoning a peregrine at Clee Hill, Shropshire has been doubled.

The male peregrine was found dead in a quarry on 15th June 2015 (see here). This is a notorious raptor persecution blackspot: two peregrines were poisoned there in 2010 and another one in 2011. All four peregrines (including the latest victim) were poisoned with Diazinon.

A generous donor has contributed to the original reward offered by the Shropshire Peregrine Group and the RSPB, and the reward currently stands at £2000.

If you have any information about this crime please call the police on 101 quoting reference #6495 of 15/6/2015.

Photograph of the poisoned peregrine by Guy Shorrock.

19
Jan
16

Vicarious liability prosecution: Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate) part 3

scales-of-justiceCriminal proceedings continued yesterday against Andrew Walter Bryce Duncan, who is alleged to be vicariously liable for the crimes committed by gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick in April 2014.

Gamekeeper Dick was convicted in August 2015 of killing a buzzard on the Newlands Estate, Dumfriesshire by striking it with rocks and repeatedly stamping on it (see here). Dick was sentenced in September 2015 and was given a £2000 fine (see here), although we understand he may be appealing his conviction.

Proceedings against Andrew Duncan, 71, who is believed to be responsible for the pheasant shoot on Newlands Estate, began in August 2015 and a provisional trial date was set for 23rd November 2015 (see here). However, at an intermediate diet hearing in October, the November trial date was dumped and a notional diet hearing was set for 18th January 2016 (see here).

A notional diet hearing is where an actual trial date may be set.

However, at yesterday’s hearing proceedings were adjourned again for another notional diet and a debate, to take place on 11th March 2016.

Vicarious liability in relation to the persecution of raptors in Scotland (where one person may potentially be legally responsible for the criminal actions of another person working under their supervision) came in to force four years ago, on 1st January 2012. To date there have been two successful convictions: one in December 2014 (see here) and one in December 2015 (see here).  One further case did not reach the prosecution stage due, we believe, to the difficulties associated with identifying the management structure on the estate where the crimes were committed (see here).

17
Jan
16

Appalling Police Scotland response to two suspected raptor crimes

BOPwildlifecrimeposter2015 - CopyRegular blog readers will know that we’ve frequently had cause to criticise Police Scotland’s response to suspected wildlife crimes that have been reported to them. Well, we’re about to do it again over their mishandling of two recently reported suspected wildlife crime incidents, one in Dumfries & Galloway and one in South Lanarkshire.

Before we get to the details of the latest fiascos, have a read of the following text that appeared in on page 32 of RSPB Scotland’s recently published 20-year review of raptor persecution:

After the initial finding or reporting of a potential wildlife crime incident, a rapid and properly-directed follow-up is essential to prevent any evidence being removed by the perpetrator, further wildlife falling victim to illegal poisons or traps, removal of victims by scavengers or decomposition of victims. Any of these factors can render obtaining forensic evidence or an accurate post-mortem impossible. In our experience, however, the speed and effectiveness of follow-up investigations and securing of evidence has been highly variable‘.

It is apparent, from the following two incidents, that Police Scotland is still failing to get the basics right.

Incident 1

A member of the public found a decomposing dead buzzard on a grouse moor in an area well-known for its history of raptor persecution. The corpse was found on Saturday 19th December 2015. It was reported to members of the local Raptor Study Group who went to the grid reference provided (just 150 yards from a main road) and confirmed it was indeed a dead buzzard. They reported it to Police Scotland on the morning of Monday 21st December and were told that an officer would attend to collect the corpse and send it for post mortem. Raptor workers went back to the site the next day (Tuesday 22nd) and the corpse was still there. They returned on Wednesday 23rd and the corpse was still there. They returned on Thursday 24th and the corpse was still there. They returned on Saturday 26th and the corpse was still there. They returned on Sunday 27th and the corpse was still there. They returned on Monday 28th December, one week after reporting it to the police, and the corpse had gone. Whether it had finally been collected by Police Scotland or whether it had been scavenged by an animal or removed by a gamekeeper, nobody knows.

Incident 2

On 28th December 2015 a member of the public found a freshly-dead buzzard in a wood, with no obvious cause of death. Previously, snares placed over the entrance of a badger sett had been found in this wood. The nearest grouse moor is approx 1.5 miles away. Because of the history of the location, the member of the public was suspicious and took the buzzard home and called Police Scotland on 101. The member of the public was told by the Police Scotland call operator that the police were unable to help. “In fact at one point he suggested that I take it to a vet or call the ‘RS bird people’. He said that the police could only help if they actually caught the offenders at the scene in which case they would be prosecuted for poaching“. Undeterred, the member of the public found an email address for the local police wildlife crime officer but got an out-of-office reply saying nobody was available until 17th January 2016. Fortunately, a local raptor worker was able to collect the corpse and got in touch with RSPB Scotland who organised for the bird to be sent for post mortem.

The Police Scotland response to both of these incidents was appalling. Now, it may well turn out that in both cases the birds died of natural causes and no crimes had been committed. However, it’s equally plausible, especially given the incident locations, that these birds had been killed illegally. The point is, it’s Police Scotland’s job to investigate these incidents and determine whether a crime has been committed. Their action (and inaction) in these two cases could have severely compromised the outcome.

You may remember a similar incident, not a million miles from these two locations, that happened in 2014. In that case, a dead peregrine had been found by a member of the public but Police Scotland again failed to attend the scene, saying it wasn’t a police matter (see here). The peregrine was collected by RSPB Scotland and the post mortem revealed it had been poisoned with the banned pesticide Carbofuran. Police Scotland’s failure to attend that incident caused quite a stir, with the story being covered in a national newspaper (here) and it also led to questions being asked in Parliament about Police Scotland’s failed response (see here). Police Scotland denied they’d done anything wrong!

In March last year, following the publication of a damning report on the police’s response to various types of wildlife crime incidents over several years, Police Scotland launched an all-singing-all-dancing Wildlife Crime Awareness Campaign, endorsed by the Environment Minister (see here). This campaign (which we welcomed – see here) focused on the six national wildlife crime priorities, including raptor persecution, and included the production of all sorts of campaign material (posters etc) designed to encourage members of the public to report suspected wildlife crimes. That’s all good, but what’s the point if Police Scotland then can’t get their act together to provide a professional response when members of the public report suspicious incidents?

Is it really so hard?

If they’re under-resourced, fine, then they should say so and should be supporting the move to increase the investigatory powers of the SSPCA, not trying to block it. Talking of which, when will Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod make a decision on the SSPCA’s powers? It’s now been 16 months since the public consultation closed. Getting to grips with wildlife crime is supposed to be a ‘key priority’ for the Scottish Government. In February, it’ll be five years since the consultation was first proposed!

16
Jan
16

Countryside Alliance (aka Leery lunatics on acid) think hen harriers doing just fine

image001 - CopyHere’s some more comedy gold from the Countryside Alliance (Leery lunatics on acid, for you anagram fans). The following letter was published in a recent (January) edition of Countryfile mag:

Hen harrier ups and downs

The article about raptors in November’s issue repeated the often made, but incorrect, claim that the poor breeding numbers of hen harriers in England are caused by activities of shooting estates. In reality, the hen harrier had disappeared from mainland Britain by the end of the 19th century, due to loss of habitat and persecution. Birds started to increase after the Second World War until the 1990s when the species again went into decline. Numbers are creeping up again and there has been a 300% year-on-year increase in nesting attempts for 2015 – many of which took place on grouse moors. While there are conflicts between hen harriers and shooting interests, it is simplistic and unhelpful to attribute their decline solely to gamekeepers. Hen harrier numbers are equally poor in areas where shooting does not take place but which are suitable for their breedingCharlotte Cooper, Head of Media Relations, Countryside Alliance.

It’s not the first time the Countryside Alliance has been in full-blown denial about the extent of hen harrier persecution on driven grouse moors (e.g. see here), and undoubtedly it won’t be the last.

The real reality (not the CA’s version of it) looks like this, this, thisthis, this, this etc etc. The persistent denial of what everyone else knows to be true (including the Westminster & Scottish governments), is yet another reason why DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan is set to fail. There are many other reasons too, and some of them have been described here.

The e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting closes this Thursday. So far, over 30,000 UK citizens have signed it. It’s a much more effective Action Plan than anything DEFRA and it’s grouse-shooting-hen-harrier-killing-mates have come up with. Please sign HERE




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