Archive for August, 2016


Gamekeeper accusing ‘bird activists’ of killing raptors was on TV last night

Following yesterday’s blog about that Scottish gamekeeper who was interviewed on BBC Scotland radio, accusing “bird activists” of killing satellite-tagged golden eagles and hen harriers (see here), he was also on the telly last night.

The TV piece was a shortened version of the radio interview. Here’s the transcript they left out:

I now have very strong reason to believe that we’ve got some bird activists in the area. I now have strong suspicions it’s a bird activist. They’re so close to winning this case against the grouse moors. I don’t know if any of the gamekeeper lads over this side of the hill would like to be responsible for going down in history for getting the grouse shooting banned but I certainly would imagine there’d be a few activists who’d take a chance of doing something and I wouldn’t put it past them“.

The TV version focuses on him denying any gamekeeper involvement because there’s ‘no evidence’. Unfortunately, the presenter didn’t do a very good job as he failed to challenge Mr McBeath’s views. He could have discussed the 30+ years worth of overwhelming evidence that all points to the grouse shooting industry, but he didn’t. Or if he did it was edited out.

Ah well, the video is still very funny. Here’s the clip from BBC Reporting Scotland (evening news, 30 Aug 2016).



Caring gamekeepers warn public not to tamper with poisoned baits

poison2Gamekeepers in Scotland have asked the public not to hamper ‘legitimate moorland activities’ after a number of poisoned baits were disturbed next to a popular walking area.

The baits, which are approved by the Modern Poisoners’ Society to be deployed by trained gamekeepers to control predators such as golden eagles and red kites, were interfered with on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park.

The local chapter of the Modern Poisoners’ Society said that those using the moors for access should not handle baits, especially as tampering by non-trained individuals can lead to accidents.

Grampian coordinator Ben D. O’Carb said: “Interference with poisoned baits is illegal and we would appeal to anyone who sees them whilst out walking not to move or handle them, even if they are curious as to why they are there.

These baits are set by trained professionals for a legitimate purpose. Thankfully, the majority of walkers enjoy the moors and are mindful they are places of work as well as recreation. In this particular instance, the disturbed baits were left out in the open, where they were originally placed, and could have posed a danger in an area where there are lots of dog walkers.

We want people to be safe so we would ask members of the public to leave the poisoned baits alone. If they want to find out more about them, they should engage with the gamekeepers who will be able to tell them how and why they are used. The gamekeepers will be easy to spot – they’ll be inside the 4×4 vehicle that’s been following you across the moor for the last hour, just to ensure your safety, obvs.”

Ps. God bless little angels in heaven“.

Actually, none of the above happened. We just made it up. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental.

In other news, the Grampian Moorland Group is urging the public not to tamper with legally-set traps (see here). Those caring, thoughtful, considerate and public-spirited guardians of the countryside are worried that members of the public may be injured if traps are damaged.

Strangely, the article doesn’t mention the risks to the public (adults, children, pets) of touching or standing on an illegally-set spring trap that’s been staked out on open ground, or the potentially fatal consequences of touching an illegally poisoned bait.


“Bird activists” killing satellite-tagged raptors, says gamekeeper

It’s ok everybody, the mystery of the vanishing satellite-tagged raptors has finally been solved. It wasn’t the (non-existent) wind farms (see here). And it wasn’t the unreliable satellite tags with a dodgy salt water switch attached to Olive Ridley Turtles off the coast of India (see here).

No, the real reason, according to a Scottish gamekeeper, is that “bird activists” have been killing off the raptors as part of a smear campaign against those who manage grouse moors.

Phew. Glad that’s all been cleared up.

Have a listen to gamekeeper Donald McBeath, interviewed on Good Morning Scotland earlier today (here – starts at 02:51:37, available for 29 days).

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UPDATE 31 Aug 2016: The name of this gamekeeper is Donald McBeath, not Donald Macbeth.

UPDATE 31 Aug 2016: Mr McBeath was on the telly last night. Watch the video here

UPDATE 1 September 2016: PAW Scotland dismisses gamekeeper’s claims as ridiculous here


Review of Scottish raptor satellite-tag data widened to three species

A couple of weeks ago we blogged about the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment’s call for a review of golden eagle satellite tag data (see here). This was in response to the news that eight young satellite-tagged golden eagles had ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors in the Monadhliaths over a five year period, with three of them vanishing this year alone (see here). Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham called for the review “to discover if there is a pattern of suspicious activity“.

Shortly afterwards, the news broke that a young satellite-tagged hen harrier (‘Elwood’) had also ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths (see here). We wondered how Roseanna Cunningham would react to this news and hoped her response would be more substantial than the usual Ministerial expression of “disappointment“.

It seems she has taken note. Here is her response:

The news that a juvenile hen harrier has disappeared in the Monadhliaths, complete with its satellite tag, only weeks after it fledged, strengthens my determination to get to the truth about how, where and why raptors with functioning satellite tags seem to be regularly disappearing. I have asked for a review of all the evidence and I intend to ensure that data from hen harriers and red kites, as well as data from golden eagles will be considered as part of this. We are continuing to collect evidence in relation to raptors in Scotland, which will be a significant factor in deciding the next steps for tackling wildlife crime.”

So, the review has been widened from just looking at golden eagle satellite tag data to now including hen harrier and red kite satellite tag data. We are pleased about this (with certain caveats, see below), although we still maintain that the review is superfluous to understanding and acknowledging what’s happening to these species on driven grouse moors. The scientific evidence is already clear, and has been available to the decision makers for many, many years. Let’s not pretend we don’t know what’s going on. Looking for, and finding, ‘patterns of suspicious activity‘ has been done to death and the findings have been conclusive, over and over again.

Elwood 2 - Adam Fraser

The reason we welcome the widening of this review is because we can already predict the results for each of the three species, and we predict they will all point to the same problem: the majority of young, satellite-tagged golden eagles, hen harriers and red kites that ‘disappear’ do so on driven grouse moors. Seeing the evidence from one species (golden eagles) would be pretty powerful, but having virtually identical results from two further species should be devastatingly compelling.

The caveat to welcoming this widened review is that the Scottish Government MUST push on with this review without delay and then MUST respond to the findings in a timely manner. This Government (and notably its statutory conservation advisory agency, SNH) has a long track record of prevarication when it comes to publishing results and then acting on the evidence provided. Here are some examples:

The Golden Eagle Conservation Framework (an holistic approach to assessing raptor conservation, trying to find out what’s going on regionally and nationally and trying to look at what’s limiting numbers and influencing productivity). This impressive and substantial review was submitted in 2003. It wasn’t published until 2008. The report identified illegal persecution as a significant constraint on the population.

The Hen Harrier Conservation Framework. Another impressive and substantial review that was submitted in 2008. It wasn’t published until 2011. The report identified illegal persecution as a significant constraint on the population.

The Hen Harrier Conservation Framework Update. This update was required after land managers criticised the 2011 report because it excluded results from the 2010 National Hen Harrier Survey. The update report was submitted in 2013. It has still not been published (and is likely to be further criticised because it won’t include results from the 2016 National Hen Harrier Survey!). We know (because we’ve attended several presentations given by one of the authors) that this report identifies illegal persecution as a significant on-going constraint on the population.

The Peregrine Conservation Framework. This review began in 2003 (or thereabouts – we’re not certain of the exact start date). An interm progress report was published in 2007 but nothing further since then.

The consultation on increased investigatory powers for the SSPCA. This consultation was first suggested in 2011. The consultation was finally launched in March 2014. The consultation closed on 1 September 2014. In May 2016, Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said a decision “would be announced in due course“. This coming Thursday will mark two years since the consultation period ended.

Population modelling of red kites in northern Scotland. This review aimed to update the findings of a paper published in 2010 which showed illegal persecution was responsible for the slow population growth in this region. The review was submitted in 2015. It has yet to be published. We know (through informal discussions with colleagues) that this report identifies illegal persecution as a significant on-going constraint on this population.

Wildlife Crime Penalties Review. This review was commissioned in July 2013 and it finally reported in November 2015. In February 2016 the then Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod accepted the report’s recommendations. We have yet to hear how the Scottish Government intends to progress those recommendations.

Review of gamebird licensing and legislation in other countries. This report was commissioned in January 2016 and the final report was submitted in late spring 2016. The report has yet to be published. Claudia Beamish MSP has lodged a parliamentary question (dated 18 August 2016) to find out when the Government intends to publish.

Decision on the fate of the Tay beavers. In March 2012 the then Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson delayed a decision on the fate of the Tay beavers for three years, until the end of 2015. In May 2016, the current Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced a further delay ‘until later in 2016’. That decision is still pending.

These examples do not inspire great confidence in the Scottish Government’s willingness to act quickly on issues of wildlife conservation, and particularly those issues relating to the illegal persecution of raptors. These long delays only inspire frustration and increasing anger. Let’s hope that with this latest review of raptor satellite tag data, Roseanna Cunningham encourages a fast review process, doesn’t delay the publication of the findings, and acts quickly and robustly to implement measures against those who continue to flout the law.

Photograph shows young hen harrier ‘Elwood’ with his satellite tag, just a few weeks before he ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. Photo by Adam Fraser.


Death in a National Park

Many people think that a National Park provides a safe haven for wildlife. It’d be a reasonable expectation. The reality is somewhat different.

The following photographs were taken last week inside the Peak District National Park. To be more precise, they were taken on the northern side of the Bole Edge Plantation (Strines Wood), close to Bradfield grouse moor.

These Fenn (spring) traps appear to be legal, in as much as they have been set inside an artificial tunnel. However, the tunnel entrances do not appear to have been effectively restricted to minimise the risk to non-target species. The legal requirement for tunnel restriction is a bit of a grey area and apparently is at the discretion of the trap operator.

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Flawed Natural England policies assume gamekeepers don’t illegally kill raptors

We’ve been blogging for over a year about the use of propane gas guns on grouse moors and about our concerns that these booming bird scaring devices are being used to discourage raptors (and particularly hen harriers) from settling to breed (e.g. see here, here, here, here).

In June this year, Natural England finally produced what they called ‘guidance’ for those wishing to deploy gas guns and published a decision flow chart. It looked like this:

Gas gun guidance NE - Copy

A spokesperson for Natural England said he hoped the guidance was helpful (it wasn’t, see here) and welcomed further questions if clarification was needed.

One of our blog readers did want further clarification and he asked Natural England to explain how ‘ensuring that gas guns are located so that they do not disturb breeding Schedule 1 birds’ would work in practice?

Here’s Natural England’s response:

In response to your query the onus is on the land manager or their representative not to cause disturbance as that would be unlawful. The use of gas guns aims to dissuade species such as corvids from causing damage to ground nesting birds or livestock. On large expanses of open moorland they should be able to be deployed away from Schedule 1 species. Most managers should know where these species are present but it would be best practice for Natural England and other interested groups, for example raptor study group members, to pass on information over the location of Schedule 1 species to the land manager so they are in a more informed position and then able to ensure that gas guns are deployed appropriately“.

Ah, of course. Because telling the grouse moor manager/gamekeeper where you’ve seen hen harriers will undoubtedly lead to those birds being protected and left undisturbed, right? Have you got that, raptor study group workers?

And here’s another ingenious policy strategy from Natural England. In response to the news that Natural England had issued a licence to a gamekeeper allowing him to kill up to ten buzzards in order to ‘protect his pheasants’ (see here), another blog reader (@exPWCO) asked Natural England how they would check that just ten buzzards had been killed? Here’s Natural England’s response:


Ah, of course. Because asking a gamekeeper to fill in a form stating how many buzzards he’d killed under licence is bound to result in a truthful response, right?

Both of these policy statements just beggar belief. They are both based on the assumption that gamekeepers don’t illegally kill raptors, which, as we all know (and so should Natural England), is a flawed assumption.

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Northern England Raptor Forum: 2016 annual conference

nerf-logo3This year’s Northern England Raptor Forum conference will be held on Saturday 19 November at the Xcel Centre in Durham, co-hosted by the Durham Upland Bird Study Group and the Durham Bird Club.

The conference programme has just been announced (see here) and includes the following presentations:

Birds of the Durham uplands: current population trends & studies (John Strowger & David Raw)

Intensification of grouse moor management in Scotland: consequences for upland raptors (Ruth Tingay)

The breeding ecology of Little Owl in England: factors affecting breeding performance in two study areas (Emily Joachim)

Bod Tinwen, Hen harriers in Wales: are Hen harriers increasing in the Welsh uplands? (Stephen Bladwell)

The 2014 UK breeding Peregrine survey: the mixed fortunes of Peregrines with a focus on results in England (Mark Wilson)

Merlins in SE Scotland, 1984-2014: a 30 year study in the Lammermuir Hills ended abruptly in 2015 (Ian Poxton)

Driven grouse shooting, born in 19th Century, fit for the 21st? The impact of management practices and the need for change (Pat Thompson)

The downloadable booking form is available here or book online here

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