Archive for May, 2016



25
May
16

Scottish landowners still in denial about raptor persecution

Roseanna Cunningham MSPToday, new Cabinet Secretary for Land Reform & the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, will deliver a keynote address at the spring conference of Scottish land owners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates (SLE).

According to an amusing article in this morning’s Telegraph, clearly orchestrated by SLE to coincide with this conference, ‘Ministers have been warned they need to re-build trust with Scottish landowners’ who are miffed about the way the Land Reform agenda has been pushed through and are still whining about the reintroduction of sporting rates on their huge multi-million pound shooting estates (see here). The arrogance and sense of entitlement is there for all to see.

Obviously, we have no idea what Roseanna Cunningham will be saying at this conference but we hope that as well as land reform, the issue of raptor persecution will also feature. It’s been five years since she was having to deal with raptor persecution in her former role as Environment Minister and the issue hasn’t gone away. Although, according to SLE, it has.

We’ve been sent a copy of SLE’s Policy Update, an internal document written for SLE members, dated April 2016. Here are some excerpts:

Mountain hares

Although there is no issue over population reduction, it continues to be highly emotive and even a long distance photograph of a cull is enough for the Herald and social media. Meeting arranged with GWCT, SNH, and CNPA [Cairngorms National Park Authority] on 27 April to tighten up joint statement.

So yet again SLE claims ‘there is no issue over population reduction’, even though there isn’t a shred of supportive scientific data to back up this claim. And this is the group that SNH is relying upon to exercise voluntary restraint! In March 2016 we asked SLE to provide evidence that the current mountain hare slaughter was sustainable (see here). No reply.

Raptor persecution maps 2015

A small increase from 18 to 20 recorded incidents, many unrelated to land / sporting management. This issue is dying away statistically and in media interest, but pro-raptor groups in overdrive trying to make new publicity out of it.

So, raptor persecution is acknowledged as a National Wildlife Crime Priority, SLE serves on the PAW Raptor Group, and yet here they are, telling their members that it’s no big deal and it’s just us lot making a big fuss about nothing. They do have a long track record of denial, of course, because it’s in their interest to pretend that everything’s just fine and no further sanctions or legislation is required.

Rather than focus on one year of data (even though those data showed an increase in recorded incidents, not a decline!), SLE would do well to take note of the long-term data trends, all recently published by RSPB Scotland (see here):

A total of 779 birds of prey were confirmed to have been illegally killed during the period 1994-2014, either by poisoning, shooting or trapping. The known victims included 104 red kites, 37 golden eagles, 30 hen harriers, 16 goshawks, 10 white-tailed eagles and 458 buzzards.

In addition to these confirmed victims, a further 171 incidents were documented where poisoned baits and/or non-birds of prey victims were found, including 14 pet cats and 14 pet dogs, and then a further 134 incidents where no victim had been found but clear attempts to target raptors had been uncovered (e.g. illegally-set traps).

Drilling down in to the detail, there’s a useful analysis of land-use type of confirmed poisoning incidents between 2005-2014 (219 incidents). A shocking (or not) 81% of confirmed poisoning incidents during this nine-year period were on land used for game-shooting: 57% on grouse moors and 24% on land managed for lowland pheasant shoots. This tells us a great deal about who is responsible for the vast majority of illegal raptor poisoning. Despite their continued denials and protestations, and their increasingly-desperate attempts to minimise the scale of these crimes (“it’s just a few rogues”, “it’s just a small minority”, “this issue is dying away”), this graphic exposes the criminality at the heart of the game-shooting industry:

RSPB persecution review 1994 2014 land use

And of course, there has also been a recent scientific paper documenting the long-term decline of peregrines on grouse moors in NE Scotland (here), reflecting a problem that is widespread across the Scottish & English uplands (here) and another scientific paper documenting the catastrophic decline of hen harriers on grouse moors in NE Scotland (see here).

A big fuss about nothing, eh? Let’s see if Roseanna Cunningham shares their view. It’s so obvious that with this level of denial, calling for the game shooting industry to self-regulate is utterly futile. If change is going to happen, it will have to be forced upon them.

Petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting can be signed HERE

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24
May
16

A bit of light relief

Hitler's grouse moorThanks to the blog reader who sent this.

Click on this link:

http://captiongenerator.com/91045/Hitlers-Grouse-Moor

And here’s the petition to which Mr Hitler is referring; please sign HERE

 

23
May
16

Red kite shot & critically injured next to grouse moor in North Yorkshire

North Yorkshire Police are appealing for information after the discovery of yet another illegally shot red kite that was found at the weekend.

Press release as follows:

Police are urging members of the public to support them in the fight against red kite persecution, after another bird was found shot last weekend.

On the morning of Sunday 22 May, a walker on Hall Lane, Blubberhouses, found an injured red kite, in distress and unable to fly. They contacted a wildlife charity, and the bird was taken to a specialist avian vet in Harrogate.

RK_Blubberhouses

Examination revealed the bird had been shot and had a shattered wing. Sadly, its injury was so severe, it had to be euthanised. The shooting may have taken place a few days before the bird was found.

In the last two months, five red kites in North Yorkshire have been shot or died in circumstances that suggest poisoning, as well as three further afield in the region.

Of those eight red kites, five have been shot. One, found near Malton, was rehabilitated and released back to the wild, but the other four were so badly injured they had to be euthanised by a vet. The three suspected poisoned birds are being examined by the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme.

PC Gareth Jones, Wildlife Crime Co-ordinator at North Yorkshire Police, said: “Red kites were persecuted into virtual extinction in the UK, but in recent years they have been re-introduced through breeding programmes at a number of locations nationally. In Yorkshire, they have spread from their release site at Harewood House, and are now breeding over a large area. Red kites are scavengers, and normally eat carrion, their favourite food being rats and rabbits.

“Red kites are magnificent birds than can be regularly seen soaring over our area, bringing pleasure to many people. They are a Schedule 1 bird and as such are afforded special protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. I am personally saddened by the scale of persecution of these birds – it has to stop, and I would ask for anyone who can help this investigation to get in touch.”

Anyone with information that could assist the investigation is asked to contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, select option 2 and ask for PC Gareth Jones, or email gareth.jones1237@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk. You can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

END

Well done North Yorks Police for getting this information out so quickly – kite found on Sunday, press release out the following day, including a photograph, and with additional context about other recent red kite deaths to put this crime in to perspective. That’s excellent work.

The injured kite was found at the edge of Nidderdale AONB, just to the east of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. This is driven grouse-shooting country – check out the tell-tale rectangular strips of burnt heather on the map – and it’s also a well-known black spot for the illegal poisoning of red kites. Oh, and satellite-tagged hen harriers also ‘mysteriously’ disappear here.

Over 38,000 people have now signed the petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting. Please add your name HERE

Blubberhouses map - Copy

21
May
16

Decision pending in Scottish gamekeeper’s conviction appeal

Last month we blogged about how a Scottish gamekeeper, William (Billy) Dick, was appealing against his conviction for killing a buzzard (see here).

A quick recap:

In August 2015, gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick, now 26, was found guilty of killing a buzzard on the Newlands Estate, Dumfriesshire, in April 2014. Two witnesses had observed him striking the buzzard with rocks and then repeatedly stamping on it (see here). In September 2015 he was sentenced: £1,500 fine for killing the buzzard and £500 for possession of the dead buzzard (see here).

Dick had maintained his innocence throughout the trial and had claimed he was elsewhere when the offence took place (see here).

His appeal was due to be heard in April but was then delayed. His appeal was heard at the High Court on 13th May 2016:

Billy Dick high court appeal May 2016 - Copy

The three presiding judges have reserved judgement. This means they’ll consider the appeal and produce a written judgement in due course.

How long before we can expect to hear their decision? We have no idea. Apparently there’s no time limit and much will depend on the quantity and complexity of the evidence heard, and how busy the three judges are! See here for an enlightening blog about waiting for a reserved judgement.

The decision will impact on the current prosecution against Newlands Estate landowner Andrew Duncan, charged with being vicariously liable for gamekeeper Dick’s crimes. The case against Andrew Duncan has encountered frequent delays while Dick’s appeal was underway. The next court hearing in the vicarious liability case is scheduled for 3rd June 2016 (see here). We can expect further delays if the judgement on Dick’s appeal has not been delivered by then.

20
May
16

Scottish gamekeeper charged in connection with shooting of hen harrier

scales-of-justiceCourt proceedings began at Elgin Sheriff Court yesterday against gamekeeper Stanley Gordon who has been charged in connection with the shooting of a hen harrier in June 2013.

Stanley Gordon, 60, of Cabrach, Moray, did not enter a plea and the case was continued until 16th June 2016.

19
May
16

Local council gives increased powers to SSPCA – now what about the Scottish Government?

sspca logoA few days ago a Panorama programme was aired on BBC Scotland about the illegal puppy trade (see here). It showed some pretty horrendous footage that had been secretly filmed at a puppy farm in Northern Ireland and one in the Irish Republic, as well as some undercover surveillance of puppies being brought over on the ferry and sold on to unscrupulous dealers in Scotland. It was harrowing stuff.

So what’s this got to do with raptor persecution? Actually, quite a lot. In a subsequent BBC article (here), it emerged that ferry company Stena Line was taking action to crack down on this illegal trade and was working in partnership with the SSPCA in a multi-agency approach, code-named Operation Delphin.

Nothing unusual about that, but what’s really interesting is that to help facilitate this crack-down, Dumfries & Galloway Council has, this year, conferred additional investigatory powers to the SSPCA which authorises the SSPCA to stop and search suspects’ vehicles and also allows them to seize anything believed to be evidence, including puppies, documentation and mobile phones. These additional powers have been authorised by D&G Council under The Trade in Animals and Related Products (Scotland) Regulations 2012.

All credit to D&G Council for creatively using the full extent of their legislative powers to tackle this disgraceful industry.

What interests us most about this is that the illegal puppy trade is a multi-million pound industry, managed by some pretty hardened criminals, some of whom are involved in serious organised crime. D&G Council had no problem giving additional investigatory powers to the SSPCA to enable them to work, in partnership with other agencies including the police, HMRC and local councils, to address these crimes.

Now, compare the Council’s approach with that of Police Scotland and the organisations involved with game bird shooting in Scotland who all objected, vociferously, to the idea that the SSPCA could be given additional powers to help investigate wildlife crime. Among other things, they claimed that the SSPCA was ‘unaccountable’, that it didn’t have the training and competence to cope with additional powers, that additional powers would amount to ‘quasi-policing’, that ‘only the police should investigate crime’, and that additional powers would ‘destabilise trust’ between PAW partners (see here for more details of these ridiculous objections).

What’s even more fascinating is that the SSPCA isn’t even asking for stop and search powers to help tackle wildlife crime – it’s simply asking for powers that would enable officers to investigate wildlife crimes that don’t involve a live animal in distress. So for example, the additional powers would allow the SSPCA to investigate wildlife crime where the victim is already dead, or where a victim may not be present, e.g. an illegally-set pole trap (see here for further details). Under the current legislation the SSPCA is not permitted to investigate these incidents and must call the police, who may or may not attend depending on who’s available and how busy they might be with other police duties.

So the question is, how come D&G Council has faith in the SSPCA’s investigative abilities to deal with serious organised crime, so much so that additional powers have been granted, but Police Scotland and the game-shooting industry claims the SSPCA is so incapable and untrustworthy that moderate additional powers to tackle wildlife crime (including the illegal persecution of raptors on game-shooting estates) should not be conferred?

Quite revealing isn’t it? Could it be that the game-shooting industry is objecting to additional powers because if the SSPCA is granted those powers, then obviously the chances of the criminals being caught will increase? As for Police Scotland, it’s still quite baffling why they would object. It’s not as though the SSPCA would be taking over the investigation of all wildlife crime – they’d still be working in partnership with the police and the police could still investigate if they had officers available to attend. Could it be that Police Scotland is still objecting because if increased powers were conferred, the SSPCA’s success rate might prove rather embarrassing for Police Scotland?

Hopefully this long, drawn-out fiasco will soon be over, one way or another, now the new Cabinet Secretary for the Environment is in place (here) and increased pressure is being applied by Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell (see here).

18
May
16

No junior ministerial role for Environment

Roseanna Cunningham MSPFollowing today’s earlier post about Roseanna Cunningham MSP being appointed the new Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (here), it appears that the former junior position of Minister for Environment has either been chucked, or has been merged with Roseanna’s new role.

Nicola Sturgeon has announced the appointment of other junior Ministers (see here) and there is no mention of a specific Environment Minister. Although obviously, Roseanna Cunningham, as a Cabinet Secretary, is also technically a Minister.

This news can be viewed in two ways. It could be argued that the loss of a junior Environment Minister position could be detrimental (depending on the effectiveness of that junior Minister, of course!) because it means there’s only one person responsible for the Environment portfolio instead of two. However, it could also be argued that the junior Minister (again, depending on who it was) could quite easily cause the Cabinet Secretary to take their eye off the ball of a particular issue if they thought the junior Minister had things in hand, and that junior Minister could then quite easily ‘dilute’ any progress that otherwise might have been made.

The very good news is, as we suggested earlier, Roseanna Cunningham is experienced, strong and decisive. And although her portfolio has been separated and former responsibilities such as agriculture, fisheries, crofting, and food & drink have now been given to another Cabinet Secretary (Fergus Ewing MSP), her remit is still pretty wide but has added emphasis on the Environment. We have every confidence she’ll rise to the challenge and do a better job on her own than the ineffective team of Aileen McLeod and Richard Lochhead.

We look forward to seeing what she can achieve.




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