Archive for June, 2016

30
Jun
16

Mass raptor poisoning in Wales: location revealed

In March 2016, we blogged (see here) about the mass poisoning of raptors in 2012/2013 at an unnamed location in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Powys, Wales.

Our suspicions had been aroused when looking at raptor poisoning data published in two RSPB reports (Birdcrime 2012; Birdcrime 2013). We were very interested in a cluster of incidents (24, to be precise) during this period, all listed as ‘Powys’ and all involving the poison Bendiocarb. Those 24 incidents included nine poisoned baits and 15 poisoning victims, as follows:

9 x poisoned pheasant baits

2 x poisoned ravens

5 x poisoned red kites

8 x poisoned buzzards

Poisoned RK Powys

An FoI was submitted to Dyfed-Powys Police to determine whether all these poisoning crimes had occurred at the same location (answer: yes) and whether any prosecution had been forthcoming (answer: no).

We were curious about why there had been no media coverage of this case, it being “the most significant wildlife poisoning incident in Wales and the second highest recovery of poisoned raptors in the UK in the last 40 years”, according to the RSPB (see here). We’d suggested that there had been a police ‘cover-up’, an accusation that Dyfed-Powys Police denied (see here). We still think there was some level of cover-up, not so much with the police investigation per se, but rather with the lack of any subsequent publicity about this case.

Naturally, we were interested in finding out the actual location of this mass raptor poisoning and we firmly believe it’s in the public interest that the location is named, but we didn’t have much to go on, other than it happened on a pheasant-shooting estate within the Brecon Beacons National Park. A number of blog readers from Powys did contact us privately and each named the same estate, but if we were to publish the estate name we needed much more conclusive evidence than that.

It’s taken us a while to get there, and we’re not going to reveal exactly how we got there because we know, from past experience, that as soon as we reveal information sources the authorities do their utmost to make access more difficult (e.g. by deliberately withholding data from official reports, see here) but after a series of FoIs and scrutiny of several indirect Government databases, we’re now in a position to name the location of the mass poisoning of raptors in 2012/2013 as the Glanusk Estate, Powys.

Glanusk logo

Glanusk Estate

Glanusk Estate is privately owned and run by Dame Elizabeth Shan Josephine Legge-Bourke, her son Harry Legge-Bourke and his wife Iona Legge-Bourke (see here).

Shan Legge-Bourke was appointed lady-in-waiting to Princess Anne in 1987, was High Sheriff of Powys in 1991, has been the Lord Lieutenant of Powys (the Queen’s personal representative) since 1998 and became Dame Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in the 2015 New Year Honours.

Shan Legge-Bourke’s daughter, Tiggy Legge-Bourke, was nanny to Princes William & Harry and worked as a personal assistant to Prince Charles between 1993-1999.

Shan Legge-Bourke’s son, Harry Legge-Bourke, is a partner in the management of Glanusk Estate and served on the Board of Natural Resources Wales (the Welsh statutory conservation agency) between 2012-2015 (the same time the mass poisoning of raptors was taking place on Glanusk Estate).

The Queen visited Glanusk Estate in 2012 as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations (see here).

Could these strong royal connections explain why Dyfed-Powys Police were so reluctant to publicise the criminal activities taking place on Glanusk Estate? Who knows? Interesting though, isn’t it?

Now, we’re not suggesting for one minute that the Legge-Bourke family was in any way involved with the mass poisoning of raptors on Glanusk Estate, although it’s more than likely that the family would have become aware of what was going on when the police raided the estate in 2013 armed with search warrants and arrested two people (see police statement here).

As far as we can tell, Glanusk Estate offers walked-up grouse shooting (only 3-4 brace at a time – see here) but, like many large, privately-owned estates, the more commercial pheasant shooting is not run by the estate but is managed by an independent company, in this case, Mark Coleman Sporting & Game.

Mark Coleman Sporting & Game

According to the Mark Coleman Sporting & Game website (here), which, incidentally, features the logos of GWCT, Countryside Alliance and the National Gamekeepers Organisation, Mark Coleman operates two pheasant shoots: one at Glanusk Estate and the other at Stoke Edith Estate in nearby Herefordshire.

Mark Coleman Sporting

Stoke Edith is a close neighbour of the Sufton Estate. Some of you may recognise that name. In 2010, an under-gamekeeper from the Sufton Estate was convicted of 17 wildlife crime offences, including the use of Bendiocarb to poison raptors (see here). In the same year, the Sufton Estate Head gamekeeper was convicted of running a cannabis factory on the estate and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment (see here).

Amazingly, according to this article published in Fieldsports magazine: glanusk_fieldsport_article-1the Head gamekeeper now at Glanusk Estate, employed by Mark Coleman, is someone with the same name as that convicted Head gamekeeper from Sufton Estate. Imagine that! It surely can’t be the same person, because, as we’re so often told, criminal gamekeepers are not tolerated by the shooting industry, right?

But Mark Coleman employs another gamekeeper who also has a familiar name. According to this Fieldsports magazine article: stoke_edith_fieldsport_article-1a gamekeeper employed by Mark Coleman on the Stoke Edith Estate shares the same name as a gamekeeper convicted of killing raptors and badgers on a shooting estate in Herefordshire in 2008. Imagine that! It surely can’t be the same person, because, as we’re so often told, criminal gamekeepers are not tolerated by the shooting industry, right?

We are, of course, in no way suggesting that Mark Coleman or any of his employees had any involvement or knowledge of the mass poisoning of raptors at Glanusk Estate, although, just like the Legge-Bourke family, it’s probably fair to assume that Mr Coleman was made aware of these crimes when the police raided Glanusk Estate in 2013 and found the 15 poisoning victims very close to some pheasant pens.

We’d love to know whether the Glanusk Estate and/or Mark Coleman Sporting & Game and/or Dyfed-Powys Police made any effort to warn the 20k guests who visit the annual Green Man Festival at Glanusk Estate about the discovery of poisoned baits and birds found strewn around the grounds.

According to the statement issued by Dyfed-Powys Police (here), the Crown Prosecution Service decided against charging anybody for the mass poisoning of raptors at Glanusk Estate in 2012/2013 because there was insufficient evidence to identify an individual culprit. Whoever did it has got away with it, like so many of these raptor killers do.

But this wasn’t just any old raptor poisoning. This was a mass raptor poisoning, the most significant ever uncovered in Wales, and the second biggest discovery of poisoned raptors in the UK in the last 40 years. And it happened on a prominent estate, within the Brecon Beacons National Park, over the period of a year. How can someone get away with that? And how can the authorities get away with keeping quiet about it?

And what about a subsidy penalty for the estate? These poisoning crimes were obviously in breach of cross-compliance regulations, in the same way that the mass poisoning of raptors at Stody Estate (Norfolk) was also a breach, which resulted in a huge financial penalty for the estate, imposed by the Rural Payments Agency (see here).

We’ve done some digging about a potential subsidy withdrawal at Glanusk and we’ll be blogging about that shortly.

Photo of one of the poisoned red kites found on Glanusk Estate, by Guy Shorrock (RSPB)

UPDATE 2 July 2016: Statement from Glanusk Estate here

UPDATE 3 July 2016: Further statement from Glanusk Estate here

UPDATE 4 July 2016: No subsidy withdrawal for mass poisoning of raptors on Glanusk Estate here

30
Jun
16

NYorks Police decision to caution pole-trapping gamekeeper: where’s that review?

On 1st June 2016, we blogged about the Mossdale Estate gamekeeper who had been caught on film setting illegal pole traps on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here).

Later that day we also blogged about North Yorkshire Police’s decision to issue this criminal with a caution rather than refer him to the Crown Prosecution Service to begin a formal prosecution. We argued that, according to the official Police ‘cautions’ guidelines, the decision to caution in this case was apparently flawed. The offences, to which the gamekeeper had already admitted guilt, backed up by excellent video evidence obtained by the RSPB’s Investigations Team, were of such gravity and included all five aggravating factors (and no mitigating factors) as listed in the Police guidelines, that this was a clear case for proceeding to charges and a prosecution (see here).

The Police’s decision to issue a caution, and their justification for that decision, resulted in widespread public anger, particularly on social media.

To her credit, Amanda Oliver, North Yorkshire Police Acting Chief Constable (also the newly-appointed Police National Wildlife Crime lead) responded by tweeting the following:

AmandaOliverResponse

Around the same time, one of our readers sent an FoI to North Yorkshire Police about this case, asking for details about the procedures that were followed to reach the decision to caution this gamekeeper. The response doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. That blog reader has kindly given us permission to post the Police’s FoI response here: NYP_FOI_June2016_pole trap decision

So, it’s now 30th June 2016 and a month has passed since we were promised a police review of the decision to caution. Where is it? How long does it take to conduct a review of this nature? It can’t take very long, surely? The evidence against the gamekeeper was as good as it gets (unequivocal video footage and a subsequent admission of guilt from the gamekeeper) so the question to be addressed by the review is pretty simple:

Why did the police officer issue a simple caution when the official police guidelines state that a simple caution was inappropriate for these offences?

Let’s ask Acting Chief Constable Amanda Oliver when we might expect to see the results of the review. Emails to: amanda.oliver@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk 

27
Jun
16

Hen Harriers surviving on grouse moors? Not a Chance in hell

hen-harrier Gordon LangsburyThe RSPB’s Hen Harrier team has today announced the ‘disappearance’ of yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier.

This time it’s a two-year old female called ‘Chance’, whose last sat tag signal came from a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire at the end of May. The RSPB’s Investigations team conducted a search for the body/tag but nothing was found.

Incidentally, this is the same area, dominated by grouse moors, where another sat-tagged hen harrier (Annie) was found shot last year (see here).

As always, this ‘disappearance’ leads to two standpoints. Without conclusive evidence of a carcass or a dropped satellite tag, the grouse-shooting industry can, and will, suggest that the bird hasn’t been killed but rather it’s just a sat tag failure and that Chance is probably still alive, and that it was just pure coincidence that the last sat tag signal came from a grouse moor.

Now that explanation might be plausible if it was the first or second time it had occurred, but the thing is, it isn’t the first or second time this has happened to a sat-tagged hen harrier. We know from past experience that an awful lot of young, sat-tagged hen harriers mysteriously ‘disappear’ when those birds have been visiting grouse moors. In fact, the majority ‘disappear’. According to Natural England data, we know that of 47 young hen harriers that were fitted with sat tags between 2007-2014, a staggering 78.7% of them ‘disappeared’.

And only a couple of weeks ago we were told of another sat-tagged harrier that had ‘disappeared’ – that was a bird named Highlander whose signal vanished when she was visiting a grouse moor in Durham earlier this spring (see here).

We’ve also learned, in recent weeks, that some of the methods employed to ‘help’ hen harriers ‘disappear’ on grouse moors are still very much in use (see here and here), even though the grouse-shooting industry is supposed to be signed up to DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Inaction Plan.

It has been blatantly obvious for some time what has been going on, and with the familiar, predictable news of yet another ‘disappearing’ harrier on a grouse moor, the picture becomes ever clearer. The Untouchables are still getting away with it.

In the same RSPB blog (here), it has been announced that there is currently a hen harrier breeding attempt at Geltsdale, bringing the total number of known, active hen harrier nests in England this year to three. You might think that’s good news, and indeed the RSPB are painting it as such, but let’s be honest, three hen harrier nests in the whole of England, where there’s suitable habitat for an estimated 330 nests, is appalling by anyone’s standard. It’s a less than 1% success rate and we don’t yet know whether these three nests are even going to be successful.

You might think that the hen harriers have made a safe choice by attempting to breed at Geltsdale – it’s an RSPB Reserve and so the birds can expect a very warm welcome from the wardens and volunteers who look after this site. But remember, there was a breeding attempt at Geltsdale last year but it failed after the adult male ‘disappeared’ while he was off hunting, away from the safety of the Reserve. He was one of five adult males that ‘disppeared’ from active nests in England last year (see here). And over the years there has been a catalogue of raptor persecution incidents, both on Geltsdale and on the neighbouring grouse moor estates. These incidents, dating back over the last 20 years, include shot hen harriers, shot peregrines, poisoned ravens, poisoned buzzards, poisoned peregrines, poisoned baits, and a poisoned hen harrier.

And even if, against all odds, these three active nests in England ARE successful this year, what chance do the young fledged birds have once they leave these heavily protected sites? Not a chance in hell while driven grouse shooting is allowed to continue and while the authorities continue to turn a blind eye to the criminal activities of the grouse-shooting industry.

If you want to put an end to this carnage, please join 46,000 concerned members of the public and sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting: HERE

Photo of a hen harrier by Gordon Langsbury.

23
Jun
16

Moorland Association feeling the pressure

moorland association logoLast week the Moorland Association (MA) went in to full damage limitation mode and sent around an e-newsletter to its members about recent events (e.g. here and here) that, in its view, had damaged the MA’s reputation.

It’s amusing that the MA still thinks it has a reputation to damage. Newsflash for the MA: your reputation has been in tatters for some considerable time (e.g. see here).

Anyway, back to the newsletter. Mark Avery blogged about it (here) and it’s well worth reading his thoughts.

What Mark didn’t do was publish the actual newsletter, so we thought we’d do that here: Moorland Association Newsletter June 2016

It’s interesting to read just how worried the MA is about all the adverse publicity, especially that generated on social media. For all its public spin and denials and propaganda, behind closed doors the MA is certainly feeling the pressure like never before.

Let’s help bring down the curtain on their absurd pantomime – please join 45,000+ people and sign the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting HERE

22
Jun
16

Goshawks still under threat in Peak District National Park

An interesting blog (here) has just been posted about the tentative success of goshawks this year in the Peak District National Park.

Written by Mark Thomas of the RSPB Investigations Team, the blog documents the appalling persecution of goshawks that has taken place within the boundary of this National Park over the years. It discusses how several active goshawk nests have been visited at night by masked, armed men (an identical tactic has been used to persecute goshawks within the Cairngorms National Park – e.g. see here) resulting in nest failures.

This year, four active goshawk nests have been discovered in the Upper Derwent Valley within the Peak District National Park and three of those are still active, now with recently-fledged young. Another goshawk nest within the NP is known to have failed with all the evidence pointing towards the adults being shot (see here).

Now, some might/undoubtedly will jump on these results (i.e. the three ‘successful’ nests) and use them to claim that raptor persecution is on the decline within the Park. They’d be fools to do so.

Just because these nests have successfully fledged young, it doesn’t mean that those young birds are now safe. Far from it. Cast your minds back to 2010 and another apparently ‘successful’ goshawk nest in the Peak District National Park. Here is what happened to them:

3 dead gos

The above is an excerpt from the Peak Nest Watch 2010 end of season report, which is a(nother) sorry catalogue of raptor persecution involving goshawks and other raptor species within this National Park. The full report can be downloaded here: peak_nestwatch_2010

The RSPB Investigations Team are no fools and their latest blog mentions that their cameras will remain in place at these 2016 nests and monitoring will continue for some considerable time, to find out whether these young birds will be left alone.

As they say, time will tell.

22
Jun
16

Hands off our Hen Harriers: Picnic at Grimwith Reservoir, Yorkshire Dales National Park

HandOffRed2
We’re told that the picnic/stroll/chat about the lack of Hen Harriers in England this year – ‘a tiny handful’ (RSPB) – will be held at Grimwith Reservoir car park at midday on Saturday (this Saturday! Saturday 25 June).
It will be nice to meet up with many friends and register our anger at the lack of Hen Harriers in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and elsewhere in the English uplands, and in many parts of the UK uplands.
Grimwith Reservoir car park is large and ideally placed for a stroll around the reservoir to take a look at the grouse butts set into the wall on the far side and the line of butts at the eastern end of the reservoir.  There is a clear view (if the weather is OK – surely it will be) across the characteristic chequerboard-pattern of burned heather patches.
Grimwith Reservoir is on the western side of OS Explorer map 298, Nidderdale, at 063641.
See you there perhaps?
20
Jun
16

Natural England issues impotent gas gun guidance

Last September we asked the statutory conservation agencies Scottish Natural Heritage and Natural England to issue urgent guidance about the use of propane gas guns in the uplands (here). We, and others, were concerned that these devices were being used to prevent hen harriers from nesting on grouse moors.

Bird scarer 1 - Copy

Both organisations committed to investigating this issue (see here and here) and Natural England promised it would publish this guidance before the start of the 2016 breeding season. It failed to do so.

Meanwhile, further evidence of the (mis)-use of gas guns on grouse moors emerged, this time within a National Park (e.g. see here and here).

SNH then managed to issue some contradictory advice (see here) which left us none the wiser.

Now Natural England has finally responded with this:

Thank you for your email, and my apologies for the delay in replying. I am conscious of the concerns that have been expressed around the use of gas guns on some moorlands in England and we have been keen to clarify the legal position around their use.

In doing this, we have found that their use is much wider than solely in the uplands. As a result, we have worked with Scottish Natural Heritage to develop some guidance, setting out the circumstances when permissions may be required for the deployment of gas guns. This is attached for your information.

We are also in discussion with the grouse shooting industry, to develop some best practice principles for the use of gas guns. The aim is to provide simple advice on their deployment, and help to avoid disturbance to birds nesting on protected sites.

I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further queries, please contact John Barrett at john.barrett@naturalengland.org.uk, and he will be happy to provide further information.

Yours sincerely

Alan Law

END

Are you ready to see the ‘guidance’ that has taken Natural England and SNH nine months to produce? Hold on to your seats, here it is:

Gas gun guidance NE - Copy

In a nutshell, the ‘guidance’ is: make sure your gas gun doesn’t disturb breeding Schedule 1 birds. Oh, and if your grouse moor is part of a SSSI designation, you’ll need to ask permission first.

Yep, that’s it.




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