Archive for October, 2016

31
Oct
16

Today is a milestone, and there’s one man to thank

Today is a milestone. It’s the day that 123,077 members of the public forced members of Parliament to debate in Westminster the issue of driven grouse shooting.

That’s an incredible achievement, and although we’re not expecting to hear anything more than an establishment-led whitewash today, it’s just the beginning. Whatever the outcome this afternoon, we’re not going away. But more of that another time. Today is a day to celebrate how far we’ve come.

We wouldn’t have reached today’s milestone without the vision of one man – Mark Avery. Sure, today’s debate wouldn’t be happening if 100,000 people hadn’t signed a petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting, but those 100,000 people wouldn’t have signed if there wasn’t a petition to sign.

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Mark started this campaign two years ago with his first petition. When that didn’t reach the required number of signatories, he launched another one. That petition did better than the first one, but was still way off where it needed to be. It didn’t help that the main environmental NGOs refused to support it. Most people would have given up at that stage, skulking away with their tail between their legs. Not Mark. He launched a third petition. That takes some balls.

This time, the petition roared past the finish line and then some! That didn’t happen by luck or by chance. It happened because a lot of people put in a huge amount of effort to promote it, and not least Mark. He’s one of the most hard-working and productive people we’ve met. He’s driven. And he’s driven this campaign, with quite brilliant strategic acumen, inspiring many of us along the way. Throughout it all he’s been subjected to vile, vitriolic personal abuse from some within the grouse-shooting industry but not once has he resorted to retaliatory invective. He’s retained his composure, his manners, his sense of humour and his integrity. That’s quite something.

Hats off to you, Mark, and thank you for all you’ve done. Today you shouldn’t have to buy a single drink (this is a one off – don’t get any ideas!). We’ll see you in London.

For those who can’t get to London, today’s debate can be watched on Parliamentary TV here (kick off at 4.15pm).

Photo: RPUK

30
Oct
16

Mossdale Estate under fire from local residents

We’re often told how ‘beneficial’ driven grouse shooting is to rural communities and how supportive local residents are of their nearby grouse shooting estate. There was plenty of testimony to this ‘rural idyll’ in the written evidence submitted to the Westminster Petitions Committee’s inquiry on grouse shooting. That’s hardly a surprise when some local residents will be directly employed by the estate  – it’s in their interest be supportive. But when those without employment links, but who are still entangled in this feudal system, dare not speak out against a powerful landowner for fear of potential repercussions, their silence may also be used as evidence of ‘support’.

However, some local communities are far from happy with this fictional romanticism of their lives and are beginning to voice their dissent. As land reform gains traction in Scotland we’ve already seen proposals for community buy-outs of grouse shooting land at Leadhills (part of the Hopetoun (Leadhills) Estate, see here and here) and at nearby Wanlockhead (part of Buccleuch Estates, see here and here), where local residents are keen to escape the clutches of feudalism and instead improve economic development and enhance tourism and leisure opportunities in their area.

(Photo: Leadhills grouse moor looms large over the village)

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Residents of the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire have long campaigned against the annual heather burning taking place on Walshaw Estate, which they believe has contributed to the catastrophic flooding of towns such as Hebden Bridge (see here and here).

And now residents living in the Yorkshire Dales National Park/Cumbria are beginning to raise their voices too. Remember the wildlife crimes uncovered at the Mossdale Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park in May this year, when a gamekeeper was filmed setting three pole traps on the grouse moor? The publicity surrounding those crimes (and the subsequent police cock up that saw the offender receive a caution instead of being prosecuted) appears to have acted as a catalyst and triggered a string of other complaints from local residents to the police about the alleged conduct of the Mossdale Estate landowner and his gamekeepers. The same complaints were lodged with David Butterworth, CEO of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

An FoI request has revealed local residents made the following allegations:

  • Firearms discharged across garden with children in;
  • Unattended firearms left on quads;
  • Firearms being discharged next to (? Across) A684;
  • Confrontation with gamekeepers and intimidation of residents

The full set of allegations can be read in this part of the response we received to an FoI made to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority: mossdale-complaint-local-residents

You’ll notice in the above correspondence that the residents also complained about the response they received from Cumbria Police. Since then (June 2016), further information has revealed that the Police eventually met with Mossdale Estate owner Edward Van Cutsem and his head gamekeeper on 22 September 2016 and they concluded that no offences had occurred.

There’s a lot more to this particular story than we’re able to publish at the moment but hopefully we’ll be able to in due course. Suffice to say, local residents are still VERY unhappy about the way their complaints were handled. Local MP Tim Farron has been consulted and it’ll be interesting to see whether he attends tomorrow’s Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting and speaks up for his constituents’ concerns.

28
Oct
16

Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Rowan’ found dead in suspicious circumstances

rowanhhAnother of this year’s young satellite-tagged hen harriers has been found dead.

This time it’s Rowan, a bird that hatched at Langholm and was being satellite-tracked by the Hawk & Owl Trust.

Here’s a joint statement put out by the Hawk & Owl Trust and Natural England:

The body of a juvenile, male hen harrier – named Rowan – was recovered in Cumbria on 22nd October. He was satellite tagged at the Langholm project in the Scottish borders, as part of a joint venture between Natural England and the Hawk and Owl Trust. Following an autopsy, Natural England has passed details to the police for investigation.

We are unable to make further comments or enter into discussion at this time as this may be prejudicial to ongoing investigations.

END

This press statement is clearly suggestive that criminal activity was responsible for the death of this hen harrier.

We look forward to further details about the cause of death and appeals for information from the Police in the very near future.

We especially look forward to the Hawk & Owl Trust announcing its withdrawal from the DEFRA Hen Harrier Action Plan on the grounds that one of its ‘immoveable provisos‘ for taking part has been broken (again).

UPDATE 7 November 2016: Hen Harrier Rowan ‘likely to have been shot’ in Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here)

28
Oct
16

Buzzard with shotgun injuries found in Thirsk, North Yorkshire

A buzzard with shotgun injuries has been found in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, this week. It had a broken femur. The bird has undergone surgery and is currently in rehabilitation with the wonderful Jean Thorpe of Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation.

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A quote from Jean: “Amazing work once again by Mark Naguib of Battleflatts vets. The shot buzzard is stood square once again with shiny pins correcting the break. He looks so much better already. Long way to go yet but looking good so far“.

North Yorkshire Police have been informed.

North Yorkshire maintains its status as one of the worst places in the UK for the illegal killing of birds of prey. It’s a county where much of the landscape is dominated by grouse moors, particularly in the two National Parks: the North York Moors NP and the Yorkshire Dales NP, as well as a large number of pheasant and partridge shoots.

This year, other raptor persecution crimes uncovered in North Yorkshire have included several illegally spring-trapped buzzards, several shot buzzards, at least ten shot red kites, and a gamekeeper filmed setting three illegal pole traps on a grouse moor.

28
Oct
16

Grouse shooting costing tax payers millions of pounds

An investigation by Friends of the Earth has revealed that grouse shooting is costing tax payers millions of pounds every year.

In an article in today’s Guardian (here), FoE shows how just 30 grouse moors in England received £4 million pounds in public subsidies during 2014 alone. These estates include those owned by lords, dukes, earls, barons, bankers, businessmen and companies based in off-shore tax havens. Imagine what the total would be if all 149 English grouse moors had been assessed.

One of the 30 assessed is the Mossdale Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, whose gamekeeper escaped prosecution earlier this year after he was filmed setting illegal pole traps in the vicinity of a foraging hen harrier. The police later admitted they’d cocked up and that he should have faced prosecution. This estate received £54,000 in CAP payments in 2014, and a further £170,000 in 2015.

In an age of austerity, who’s happy that their taxes are being used to support criminal activities on grouse moors? Even if we weren’t in austerity, why the hell should we be paying anything to help the super-rich trash our uplands so they can amuse themselves by killing thousands of red grouse in the name of ‘sport’?

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Guy Shrubsole of FoE said:

These shocking new figures reveal the true, horrifying scale of grouse moors in England and the madness of the current farm payments system that subsidises them. Instead of handing out taxpayers’ money to billionaires and offshore firms to indulge in an elite sport, the government must reform farm payments so public money is spent on public goods – like tree-planting, restoring wildlife habitats, farming sustainably and preventing flooding downstream”.

For those of you with an interest in how FoE uncovered the scale of this scandal, have a read of this.

Photo: trashed upland grouse moor (RPUK)

27
Oct
16

“We are patient, reasonable people……..our patience has run out”

This morning, the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee heard evidence on the call for the licensing of all gamebird hunting in Scotland (grouse, pheasant and partridge shooting).

The petition (here), submitted by the Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) and supported by RSPB Scotland, raised 7,600 signatures over a six-week period this summer.

A petition briefing (written by research specialists in the Scottish Parliament Information Centre, known as a SPICe briefing) provides a short summary and can be read here.

This morning’s hearing was the first opportunity for the petitioner to explain why regulation is necessary. In addition, the Committee had received written evidence from various organisations, which we discuss below.

img_20161027_115416The witnesses at today’s hearing were Logan Steele (the petitioner, on behalf of the SRSG), Andrea Hudspeth (Tayside RSG) and Duncan Orr-Ewing (Head of Species & Land Management, RSPB Scotland).

After watching the unedifying hostility that Mark Avery had recently been subjected to when he appeared in front of the Westminster Petitions Committee to present his case for a ban on driven grouse shooting, these three witnesses may well have been nervous. They needn’t have worried. The Chair of this Committee (Johann Lamont MSP) behaved as you’d expect a Chair to behave – welcoming, interested and fair – there was no unnecessary rudeness or ungraciousness towards the petitioner as the Westminster Chair (Helen Jones MP) had unprofessionally displayed towards Mark last week.

The performance of today’s three witnesses was outstanding. Their evidence was authoritative, passionate, eloquent and compelling. Here’s the official transcript (starts at p14): game-licensing-petition-hearing_transcript-from-27-oct-2016-petitions-committee

We’d also encourage you to watch the video of today’s hearing here (starts at 40:08 mins).

Their delivery was so commanding that the Petitions Committee was clearly moved by the end of it. There was some discussion about whether to refer the petition to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee (the desired outcome as far as we were concerned), but the Petitions Committee didn’t want to refer it unless there was some commitment from the ECCLR Committee to take it on. If the Petitions Committee had referred it to the ECCLR, and then the ECCLR, for whatever reason, had rejected it, the petition would be considered dead and buried. The Petitions Committee clearly felt the issue was too important to risk losing it. Instead, they deferred their decision to send the petition to the ECCLR until they’ve managed to find out whether the ECCLR will take it. If the ECCLR won’t take it, then the Petitions Committee will continue with it. This is clear testimony to the convincing evidence provided by today’s witnesses. Very, very well done to all three. (Photograph L-R: Patrick Stirling-Aird, Andrea Hudspeth, Logan Steele (SRSG), Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB Scotland)).

Now on to the written evidence. So far there have been three submissions. One from RSPB Scotland (here) one from Scottish Land & Estates (here) and one from the Scottish Countryside Alliance (here). The latter two appear to have used the same crib sheet and it’s these two we’ll focus on here.

It is ironic that on the day a report is published that the rate of illegal persecution against red kites in North Scotland is just as bad now as it was in 1989 (see here), these two organisations are still maintaining that illegal raptor persecution is in “marked decline”. This claim from them is nothing new – they’ve been denying the extent of raptor persecution for years (e.g. see herehere and here) and yet, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary (e.g. see here, here and here), they continue to peddle this myth.

They justify their claim by pointing to either the number of criminal convictions or the number of reported incidents. As everybody knows, these two measures do not reflect the reality on the ground, but rather they reflect the increasing effectiveness with which the raptor killers hide their crimes, e.g. using military-grade night vision and thermal imaging equipment to take out raptors and remove the evidence under the cover of darkness.

Contrast their claim with the evidence in the SPICe briefing (here). Everybody knows what’s going on, everybody has seen the devastating evidence of the impact this criminality is having on raptor populations, everybody accepts that illegal persecution is still a big, big issue. Everybody that is except these organisations from the game-shooting lobby. What sort of message is their continuing denial sending to their members?

Scottish Land & Estates points to various ‘initiatives’ with which they’re ‘involved’, to try and portray themselves as committed raptor conservationists. It’s pure window dressing.

For example, ‘Heads up for Hen Harriers’ – it’s utter tosh, a partnership-working sham (read this).

For example, ‘South of Scotland Golden Eagle project’ – it hasn’t even got off the ground yet and even if it does, what fate awaits those young translocated eagles? We can make an educated guess.

For example, ‘Wildlife Estates Scotland’ – more tosh. Two of these ‘WES-accredited’ estates have recently been at the centre of wildlife crime investigations (Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park & Newlands Estate in Dumfriesshire). Why haven’t they been expelled from the WES scheme?

And let’s not forget the input of the Scottish Countryside Alliance – they tried to (disingenuously) use satellite tag failures on marine turtles in India as an explanation for ‘disappearing’ golden eagles in the Scottish highlands.

Why are these organisations still allowed to sit at the table as ‘partners’ in tackling raptor persecution crimes? We’d get a lot further, a lot faster, if the authorities treated these organisations with the disdain they deserve and booted them off these pantomime partnerships.

Still, the pressure is on like never before and the game-shooting industry is squirming under the intensity of that great big spotlight shining on their activities. Today’s evidence hearing takes us one step closer to where we want to go….

UPDATE 28 Oct 2016: BASC has issued a press statement about today’s evidence session, accusing the petitioners of making “inflammatory and far-fetched claims” (see here).

Scottish Land & Estates has issued a press statement about today’s evidence session, claiming “partnership is making a real difference to raptor conservation” (see here).

UPDATE 10 Nov 2016: Scottish Petitions Committee to hear more evidence on the licensing of gamebird hunting (see here).

27
Oct
16

Red kite persecution in North Scotland at same level as 25 years ago, says new report

A new SNH-commissioned report, published today, shows that the high level of illegal red kite persecution in North Scotland has not changed in 25 years.

The latest report (see here) is a follow up study on a paper published in 2010 (see here) that showed illegal persecution was responsible for holding back the spread of re-introduced red kites in North Scotland. That study used data from 1989-2006. The latest study looked at more recent data (2007-2014) and shows that absolutely nothing has changed. Red kites in North Scotland are still being illegally killed at an astonishingly high rate.

A dead red kite

The Scotland red kite breeding population, currently at around 283 pairs, should be at around 1,500 pairs, if population growth is comparable with other re-introduced kite populations in other parts of the UK. The sickening reality is that the current North Scotland kite population is around 70 breeding pairs, in comparison to the reference population in the Chilterns (reintroduced at the same time as the N Scotland kites but not exposed to illegal persecution) which currently stands at over 1,000 breeding pairs. Illegal persecution has robbed Scotland of 1,430 breeding pairs of red kites.

What an absolute bloody disgrace.

Here is a quote from the new report:

It is clear that illegal killing is still the major factor limiting population growth of red kites in North Scotland. There is no evidence that the rate of illegal killing has changed between the time periods 1989-2006 (i.e. the years used in the original paper by Smart et al., 2010) and 2007-2014‘.

The Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, had this to say in an SNH press release about today’s report:

It is of course, good news that red kite numbers are increasing in Scotland. But it must be said that it is extremely disappointing that this success is being lessened by illegal persecution of these magnificent birds.

I want to be clear that wildlife crime is not acceptable in a modern Scotland and this is why we are doing all we can to end the illegal killing of birds of prey and working in partnership with stakeholders to achieve that. Scotland already has the strongest wildlife legislation in the UK and earlier this year, we accepted proposals to introduce tough new maximum penalties for those who commit crimes against wildlife.

The Scottish Government has ordered a review of satellite tracking data – we want to make sure we are getting the most information we can on when and how birds are disappearing.

Last year, we also funded the free pesticide disposal scheme which removed over 700kg of illegally held poisons in Scotland, to allow those still in possession of illegal substances to have them removed. I’m also seeing some really encouraging best practice from the farming community on the responsible use of rodenticide, which can be used by wildlife criminals to persecute raptors.”

We’ll be commenting in a later blog about the Cabinet Secretary’s comments, and putting them in to context with other, similar comments that have been trotted out by her predecessors over the years. Suffice to say, we’ve heard it all before and whilst those (Government) who could stop all of this find reasons not to do so, the killing continues.

Today’s report can be added to the mountain of scientific evidence about the extent and damage that illegal persecution is causing to our native, protected raptors at the hands of the game-shooting industry (e.g. see recent papers on catastrophic decline of hen harriers (here) and peregrines (here) due to illegal killing on the grouse moors of NE Scotland).

The hand-wringing and platitudes from the Government, and the denials and obfuscation from the game-shooting industry have all worn thin.

When does it STOP, Roseanna Cunningham?

UPDATE 2PM: The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association has issued a statement in response to this report. Basically, it reads ‘It’s nuffin to do wiv us, Guv’. Read it here.




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