Archive for December, 2016

31
Dec
16

Our year in review: July – December 2016

Our Year in Review: January – June 2016 can be found here.

Here’s part two.

JULY

An horrifically injured buzzard was found on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire (here). Illegally set traps were found on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park, with a critically injured common gull found caught by its legs in two of them. We were able to establish that the grouse moor was part of the Invercauld Estate (see here and here). Invercauld Estate issued a bizarre statement, via GWCT, denying that any crime had taken place or if it had, it was probably the work of someone trying to discredit the grouse shooting industry (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association issued a statement saying they would launch their own investigation (here).

In the courts the vicarious liability prosecution against Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate) was adjourned, again (here), as was the case against Scottish gamekeeper Stanley Gordon, accused of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate in 2013 (here). Scottish gamekeeper Billy Dick’s appeal against his 2015 conviction for killing a buzzard was dismissed and his conviction upheld (here).

Hen harriers bred successfully on the Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms National Park for the first time in decades (here) and some MSPs were taken for a ride up the Angus Glens (here) where presumably they weren’t shown how to light exploding banger ropes (here).

Glanusk Estate issued two statements (here and here) trying to downplay the mass poisoning of raptors that had taken place there in 2012/2013, and after a series of FoIs we learned that there would be no subsidy withdrawal by Rural Payments Wales as a result of this crime, the most significant wildlife poisoning incident ever recorded in Wales and the 2nd biggest recorded in the UK for 40 years (here).

Working with Chris Packham, Mark Avery and a crack film crew, we began to publish a series of videos aimed at educating the general public about driven grouse shooting. In the first video, Chris had a message for retailer Marks and Spencer about the unsustainability and toxicity of red grouse (here). The grouse-shooting industry reacted to this video with furious outrage (here, here) and accused Chris of ‘celebrity bullying’ and then set about on (another) campaign to have him removed from the BBC.

In Scotland the Scottish Raptor Study Group launched a petition calling for the Government to introduce a licensing scheme for all gamebird hunting (see here) and in England, the Government’s conservation agency Natural England issued a licence to a gamekeeper allowing him to kill buzzards to protect pheasants (here).

The RSPB grew a pair and announced the very welcome news that they were withdrawing their support for DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Inaction Plan due to the ongoing incidents of raptor persecution (see here). The grouse shooting industry reacted with comical aplomb (here).

North Yorkshire Police did the decent thing and admitted they’d made a mistake by not charging the pole-trapping gamekeeper from Mossdale Estate (see here). They said they’d used the wrong guidelines but had now revised their procedures.

We blogged about the Bowland Brewery in Lancashire, who were supporting the RSPB’s Hen Harrier conservation efforts but as a result had become the victims of a vile and vicious online hate campaign by some within the grouse shooting industry (see here). This backfired spectacularly when the general public, in support of the brewery, bought up ‘hen harrier’ beer by the caseload.

AUGUST

A buzzard was shot dead in Richmondshire, North Yorkshire (here), a buzzard was poisoned in Ayrshire (here), and satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Elwood’ ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths just a few weeks after fledging (here).

The RSPB reported that 8 young satellite-tagged golden eagles had ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths in the last five years, including three this year (see here). We updated our ongoing eagle death blog to: 40 eagles, 10 years, 0 prosecutions. In response to the news of these latest eight ‘missing’ golden eagles, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham ordered a review of all golden eagle satellite tag data to ‘look for patterns of suspicious activity’ (see here). This review was later upgraded to include data from hen harriers and red kites (here) following the ‘disappearance’ of hen harrier Elwood.

The grouse shooting industry tried to explain away these ‘disappearances’ with a number of desperately implausible excuses. First it was non-existent windfarms (here), then it was claimed ‘bird activists’ were responsible as part of a smear campaign against driven grouse shooting (here, here). But best of all was the claim by the Scottish Countryside Alliance of ‘faulty tags’. The SCA published a statement that claimed scientific research had shown that ‘tag failure rates could be as high as 49%’. We managed to track down this scientific research and discovered it referred to satellite tags that had been fitted to Olive Ridley turtles off the coast of India, where a saltwater switch was a known problem (see here).

In the courts a December trial date was eventually set (here) in the vicarious liability prosecution of Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate). The case was continued against Scottish gamekeeper Stanley Gordon, accused of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate in 2013 (here).

We were able to reveal the location of a coordinated hunt and shooting of a hen harrier in 2013 – turns out to have taken place in Glen Gairn, on the border between Invercauld and Dinnet Estates in the Cairngorms National Park (here), not a million miles away from where the illegal traps had been discovered at Invercauld earlier this summer. And on that subject, Police Scotland issued a vague statement about what had been found at Invercauld (here).

Hen Harrier Day took place for the third year running with events across the UK (here) and the following week, Mark Avery’s e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting passed 100,000 signatures (here), the amount needed to trigger a parliamentary debate at Westminster.

The harassment and intimidation campaign against one of our bloggers continued when her mobile number was published by someone in the grouse shooting industry, resulting in threatening text messages being sent in the middle of the night (here).

The Scottish petition calling on the Government to introduce a licensing scheme for gamebird hunting came to a close and was submitted to the Public Petitions Committee (here), and Marks and Spencer announced that they had abandoned grouse sales again (here).

After a series of FoIs, more detail emerged about the individual licences that SNH had issued to Raeshaw Estate to allow the estate gamekeepers to continue their trapping/killing activities as though the General Licence restriction order didn’t even exist (see here), and Natural England revealed that their licensing policies relied on a flawed assumption that gamekeepers don’t illegally kill raptors (here).

We lost a good friend, Richard Evans (here).

SEPTEMBER

A young peregrine was shot in Devon (here), 3 poisoned buzzards were found in Ireland (here), a peregrine was found shot shot next to a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here) and a shot marsh harrier was found next to a pheasant pen on the Sledmere Estate in East Yorkshire (here).

Young satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Brian’ ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park (here). The Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham issued a bland holding statement in response, and the Cairngorms National Park Authority published a non-statement that wasn’t worth the paper it was written on (here).

We blogged about the long-term persecution of raptors in the Cairngorms National Park (here) and suggested ways of how to bring it to an end (here). The CNPA convener issued a statement of the bleedin’ obvious when he said ‘raptor persecution in the Cairngorms National Park was a PR disaster’ (here).

In the courts a December trial date was set for Scottish gamekeeper Stanley Gordon, accused of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate in 2013 (here) and a November hearing date was set for Raeshaw Estate’s ongoing judicial review of SNH’s decision to impose a General Licence restriction (here).

A raptor conference took place in Sheffield with Angela Smith MP saying that illegal raptor persecution has to stop (here) and Philip Merricks of the Hawk & Owl Trust saying…..well, we’re not sure what he said (here).

Sticking with Philip Merricks, we had asked whether the HoT would remove itself from the hen harrier brood meddling plan in light of the pole-trapping crimes uncovered on Mossdale Estate – it turned out that the Hawk & Owl Trust’s ‘immoveable provisos’ were actually moveable after all (here). Rod Leslie, a prominent member of the HoT sent an open letter to Philip Merricks advising him to get his act together if he wanted to save the Trust’s reputation (here).

The Heads up for Hen Harriers charade continued (here) and we learned that tackling raptor persecution featured in the Scottish Government’s 2016-2017 work plan (here).

Compelling evidence on the reliability of satellite tags (94%!) was provided by a researcher involved with the long-term sat tagging of Montagu’s harriers (here).

The BBC stuck two fingers up to the nasty brigade when they ruled that Chris Packham’s involvement in the ban driven grouse shooting campaign had not breached any BBC regulations (here).

It emerged that the Royal family was using soldiers to work as private beaters on a driven grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here) and after a series of FoIs, we discovered that Invercauld Estate had taken ‘action’ in relation to the illegally set traps that had been discovered on their grouse moor in the summer. However, the details of that ‘action’ were not made public – it was a closely guarded secret between Invercauld Estate, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Government (here).

We reached the two year anniversary of the Scottish Government’s consultation on increased powers for the SSPCA and still a decision hadn’t been made (here).

OCTOBER

Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Rowan’ was found dead in suspicious circumstances in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here), a buzzard was found with shotgun injuries near Thirsk, North Yorkshire (here), a peregrine was found shot dead in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here) and a baited pole trap was found set next to a pheasant pen in Devon (here).

Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Hermione’ was found on Mull but the death was not thought to be suspicious (here).

There was extensive fire damage at Moy Estate after the heather had been treated to a ‘hair cut’ (here, here) and an investigation by Friends of the Earth revealed that driven grouse shooting was costing the taxpayer millions of pounds (here).

RSPB Scotland denounced SNH’s General Licence restriction on Raeshaw Estate as ‘farcical’ (here) and we exposed the partnership-working sham of SNH’s Heads up for Hen Harriers scheme (here).

Mossdale Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park came under fire from local residents (here).

A new report showed that the illegal persecution of red kites in northern Scotland was at the same level as it was 25 years ago (here) but another report suggested a bright future for white-tailed eagles in western Scotland (here).

Members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group gave compelling evidence on raptor persecution to the Public Petitions Committee at Holyrood (here) and we wrote a review blog about mountain hare massacres on Scottish grouse moors as charity OneKind announced a public protest would take place at Holyrood in November against mountain hare culling (here).

An evidence session on the issue of driven grouse shooting took place at Westminster (here, here) in preparation for the debate at the end of the month, and we also reviewed the written evidence that had been published in advance on the Parliamentary website (here).

Chris Packham received an Outstanding Achievement Award (a ‘Green Oscar’) at the 2016 Wildscreen Festival (here) and we paid tribute to Mark Avery on the eve of the Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting (here).

NOVEMBER

Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Tarras’ ‘disappeared’ in the Peak District National Park (here), Cumbria Police issued a vague statement saying that satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Rowan’, whose body had been found in the Yorkshire Dales National Park last month, was ‘likely to have been shot’ (here). This is yet another cover up and we’ll be blogging about it in the New Year.

The shot marsh harrier that had been found next to a pheasant pen on the Sledmere Estate, East Yorkshire in September was successfully rehabbed and released back to the wild by Jean Thorpe (here).

In court the vicarious liability prosecution against Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate) continued to drag on, with the December trial date now dumped and the case was continued (see here, here). The case was also continued against Scottish gamekeeper Stanley Gordon, accused of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate in 2013 (here).

We blogged about the Westminster debate on grouse shooting which had descended in to a pantomime with more than its fair share of comedy villains (here) and contrasted the performance with a debate in Holyrood where a series of MSPs stood up to speak with sincerity about being Species Champions (here).

The results of the 2015 national golden eagle survey showed an increase in the overall population but it was revealed that the species is still ‘missing’ from many driven grouse moors in the Eastern Highlands (here).

The 2014 annual report on wildlife crime in Northern Ireland was published (here), as was an annual report on wildlife crime in Scotland, although raptor persecution data was deliberately withheld from the Scottish report, for unknown reasons (here).

Mull Eagle Watch won another award (here) and we were told that the Scottish Government’s commissioned review on gamebird hunting licensing systems in Europe would be published shortly (here).

More Parliamentary Questions on mountain hare culling were posed by another MSP from the Scottish Greens (Alison Johnstone), and the Cabinet Secretary responded by saying that ‘more evidence’ was required before mountain hare culls would be regulated (here).

Meanwhile, OneKind held a successful protest rally at Holyrood against mountain hare culling and we revealed that a Cairngorms National Park board member had told Scottish gamekeepers to literally ‘cover up’ dead mountain hares so that embarrassing photographs couldn’t find their way on to social media (here). This cover up was later denied, rather unconvincingly (here).

A series of FoIs revealed what DEFRA’s hen harrier brood meddling team had got planned (here, here, here, here) as well as a little bit about the proposed ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England (here). We’ve since got some more FoI responses on this that we’ll blog about in the New Year.

DECEMBER

Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Beater’ was ‘lost, presumed dead (here).

An RSPB Investigations blog revealed that in 2015 a gamekeeper had been filmed with a poisons cache on the East Arkengarthdale Estate, next to the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The CPS had decided not to prosecute but North Yorkshire Police revoked his firearms certificates. The gamekeeper appealed this decision and the judge reinstated this man’s firearms, even though it was accepted in court that he had indeed been involved with the illegal poisons cache (here). We asked some questions of the grouse shooting community about this case (here) – yet to receive a response. We also asked some questions about a potential subsidy penalty for this estate (see here) – we’ll be following up on this in the New Year.

arken

Also in the courts this month, yet another trial date was set for Andrew Duncan (vicarious liability prosecution) – the third time a trial date has been set for this case. It is now due to take place in April 2017 (see here). Stanley Gordon’s trial date was also dumped – the case has been continued until Feb 2017 (here). And yet another trial date was set in the case against Angus Glens gamekeeper Craig Graham – now scheduled to take place in May 2017 (here).

The buzzard that had been found in October with shotgun injuries near Thirsk, North Yorkshire, was successfully rehabbed and returned to the wild by Jean Thorpe (here).

We raised more questions about the Invercauld Estate illegal traps fiasco (here) – there appears to be something dodgy going on here and we intend to revisit this in the New Year.

RSPB Scotland denounced SNH’s general Licence system as a cover for the illegal destruction of birds of prey (here) and we learned that Scottish gamekeepers want to see white-tailed eagles, red kites, buzzards, sparrowhawks and ravens added to the list of species that can be killed under the remit of a General Licence (see here).

The Scottish Moorland Group and BASC ducked and dodged some awkward questions when they appeared in front of the Public Petitions Committee who are considering a petition to introduce licensing for gamebird hunting in Scotland (here).

We were told that giant buzzards are eating dogs in Tipperary (here) but even this unbelievable nonsense was eclipsed by the Gift of Grouse who claimed that ‘raptors are thriving on driven grouse moors (here). RSPB Scotland responded by dismissing it as ‘risible, make-believe tosh’ (here).

The Gift of Grouse propaganda machine was further exposed when a report was finally published about the breeding status of birds on Invermark Estate – it turned out that that the claims made by the Gift of Grouse weren’t true after all (see here) – who’d have guessed?

We published (much to the SGA’s annoyance) the minutes of a meeting between the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, which provide an endless source of entertainment (here).

The Scottish Justice Committee is examining the performance of the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service and heard damning evidence from Scottish Environment LINK about questionable procedures (here).

Mark Avery won Birdwatch magazine’s Conservation Hero of the Year Award (here).

The Scottish Greens continued to ask excellent Parliamentary Questions when it was discovered that VisitScotland would be match funding a marketing campaign for Scottish country sports. Andy Wightman MSP asked whether public money would be given to landowners or managers where wildlife crime had been uncovered (here). We also raised the point that the partner agency in this scheme (Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group) was actively promoting a convicted wildlife criminal on its website and questioned why this group was afforded a Parliamentary reception (here).

It’s been an eventful year. Thanks for all your support!

30
Dec
16

Our year in review: January – June 2016

This year has been the busiest ever for this blog with over 870,000 views, up from 556,000 views in 2015.

Here are some of the year’s highlights from January – June, with part two coming shortly.

JANUARY

We started the year analysing some data. We looked at RSPB Scotland’s recently published 20 year review of crimes against raptors and discovered a load of crimes in the Scottish Borders that had previously gone unreported (see here). We also looked at data published by the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme and realised that there had been no breeding hen harriers recorded in the Angus Glens since 2006 (see here).

DEFRA published its Hen Harrier (In)Action Plan, which included its intention to begin brood meddling (see here). We weren’t too concerned about the onset of brood meddling because we believed (erroneously, as it turned out) that there would need to be a minimum of 70 breeding pairs before brood meddling would begin. How wrong we were. Disappointingly, Martin Harper of the RSPB said he welcomed the InAction Plan.

The Countryside Alliance kicked off another year of fantastical denial with an article in Countryfile magazine claiming that hen harriers were on the increase thanks to grouse moor management (see here). The fairy tales continued with more shameless spin-doctoring north of the border from the Gift of Grouse, who tried to portray raptor workers as the main stumbling block to tackling raptor persecution (see here).

Police Scotland came in for criticism over their responses to two suspected persecution incidents (see here) while a reward was doubled for information about a peregrine poisoning case in Shropshire (see here).

In the courts, proceedings continued in the vicarious liability prosecution against Andrew Duncan of the Newlands Estate in Dumfriesshire (see here) and in the case against a Glenogil Estate gamekeeper accused of alleged snaring offences in the Angus Glens (see here).

Mark Avery’s second e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting closed with just over 33,000 signatures (see here).

FEBRUARY

A new peer-reviewed scientific paper was published documenting the ‘catastrophic decline’ of hen harriers on the grouse moors of North East Scotland (see here). The paper was swiftly denounced by the Scottish Moorland Group as ‘deeply flawed’ with ‘a lamentable lack of evidence’, which was actually a very good description of the Scottish Moorland Group’s interpretation of the science (see here).

The General Licence restrictions on Raeshaw and Burnfoot Estates were reinstated in the latest on/off fiasco (see here) and it was confirmed that Raeshaw Estate was going for a Judicial Review of SNH’s decision to enact such restrictions (see here).

We blogged about the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment Committee hearing that had taken place in January. Scotland’s chief wildlife crime cop, Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham had once again used guesswork to assess the extent of wildlife crime in Scotland (see here) and members of Scottish Environment LINK later wrote to the RACCE committee to express ‘disquiet’ over other parts of Police Scotland’s evidence (see here). The Ross-shire Massacre was also discussed at the RACCE meeting with more questions asked about Police Scotland’s handling of the investigation (see here). The Committee also wrote to the Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod, urging her to get off the fence re: the decision to give increased investigatory powers to the SSPCA and pressed her for a decision on the recommendations of the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review (see here).

Derbyshire Constabulary launched an appeal for information five months after the discovery of a spring-trapped Osprey and a shot buzzard in the Peak District National Park (see here). The RSPCA launched an appeal for information after a pigeon was found in Lichfield with sharp hooks attached to its legs, believed to be used as a method of causing serious injury to any sparrowhawk or peregrine that might attack the pigeon (see here).

More photographs emerged of slaughtered mountain hares in the Angus Glens (see here). Head gamekeeper Simon Lester announced his resignation from the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (here) and Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod announced her acceptance of the recommendations made in the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review (see here).

The (Mis)understanding Predation report was published, leading to the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association inevitably suggesting a pilot study of removing buzzards ravens and badgers to ‘save curlews’ (see here).

MARCH

Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod said she hoped to announce the Government’s position on increased powers for the SSPCA “shortly” (see here).

We published a shocking photograph taken in the Cairngorms National Park of a truck-load of slaughtered mountain hares (see here), which led to widespread public revulsion. Balmoral Estate was also accused of participating in mountain hare massacres (see here). After complaints from the public about mountain hare culls in the National Park, the Cairngorms National Park Authority published a non-statement in response (see here) and the Scottish Moorland Group also tried (and failed) to defend this barbaric behaviour (see here).

There was further embarrassment for the Cairngorms National Park Authority when hen harrier ‘Lad’ was found dead, suspected shot (see here). The CNPA issued a lame statement in response (see here).

In other hen harrier news, it was announced that the Lush Skydancer bath bomb campaign had raised over £100K for more satellite tagging (see here), and the RSPB confused everyone with what looked like a statement saying there would be a ‘news black out’ on the 2016 hen harrier breeding season (see here), but clarifed shortly afterwards that there wouldn’t be a news black out (see here).

The two year-anniversary of the Ross-shire Massacre passed with no progress in the Police investigation (see here) and the Scottish Government published the ‘official’ persecution figures from 2015, showing a slight increase in reported crimes but with details of several crimes ‘withheld’ for unknown reasons (see here).

In the courts the Crown Office dropped the prosecution against a gamekeeper from Glenogil Estate for alleged snaring offences (see here) and the vicarious liability prosecution against Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate) was continued, again (see here).

It was announced that the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project was winding down prematurely (see here), a new peer-reviewed scientific paper was published on the damning environmental impacts of driven grouse shooting (see here), and Mark Avery launched his third e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting (see here).

A new initiative to tackle illegal raptor persecution was launched in Northern Ireland (see here) and more horrific raptor persecution was uncovered in North Yorkshire (see here).

A review of some RSPB annual persecution reports revealed there had been a mass poisoning of raptors (red kites & buzzards) on an unnamed estate in Wales a couple of years ago and we suggested there had been a police cover up (see here) – an accusation that Powys Police denied (see here).

APRIL

The shot red kite reported in March was successfully rehabbed and released back to the wild in North Yorkshire by the remarkable Jean Thorpe (see here). However, raptor persecution crimes continued with a buzzard shot in East Yorkshire (here), a dead peregrine found in suspicious circumstances at a raptor persecution hotspot in Northern Ireland (here), a red kite shot dead in NE England (here), a red kite shot in Harrogate, North Yorkshire (here), a goshawk shot in the head in Gloucestershire (here), and two red kites shot in the Thames Valley (here).

There were calls in Scotland to have ravens added to the General Licence to allow the indiscriminate killing of this species, with some hilarious justification from Bert Burnett of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (here).

In the courts, four pigeon men were convicted of poisoning sparrowhawks and peregrines in a landmark case in Ireland (here), we learned that Scottish gamekeeper Billy Dick was appealing his 2015 conviction for killing a buzzard (here), Angus Glens gamekeeper Craig Graham was charged with alleged pole-trapping offences (here), and the vicarious liability prosecution against Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate) was continued, again (here). SNH suspended the General Licence restriction on Raeshaw Estate (again) while the Judicial Review got underway (here).

‘Respected’ journalist Magnus Linklater made up some rubbish about the Langholm Project (here) and the Scottish Moorland Group made up some rubbish about heather burning, claiming it was ‘the same as getting your hair cut’ (here). Ian Botham came back out of the woodwork to entertain us with another cock and bull diatribe against the RSPB (here).

Banning driven grouse shooting made it on to the political agenda in Scotland at a national hustings event in the run up to the May election (here) and an RSPB complaint about heather burning on an English grouse moor sparked the beginnings of European legal action (here).

We published a video, recorded by one of our blog readers in the Peak District National Park, showing an armed man on a grouse moor owned by the National Trust, sitting close to a decoy hen harrier (see here). The National Trust responded by launching a ‘full investigation’ (here), the Peak District National Park Authority responded by saying the content of the video was ‘alarming and suspicious’ (here) while the Moorland Association responded by denying there was anything to see in the video (here).

MAY

The buzzard that had been shot in East Yorkshire last month was successfully rehabbed and released back to the wild by Jean Thorpe (see here). A red kite was found shot and critically injured next to a grouse moor in North Yorkshire (here), two buzzards were found poisoned in two separate incidents in Northern Ireland (see here), a goshawk was found shot on an unnamed shooting estate in the Cairngorms National Park (here), a red kite was shot dead on its nest in West Yorkshire (here) and Police Scotland investigated the disappearance of two breeding peregrines from nest sites in Dumfries & Galloway (here).

In the courts a Scottish gamekeeper was fined for leaving a loaded gun out on a hillside (here), the Judicial Review of SNH’s decision to restrict the use of General Licences on Raeshaw Estate got underway (here), judgement was reserved in Scottish gamekeeper Billy Dick’s appeal against his 2015 conviction for killing a buzzard (here), a September trial date was set for Angus Glens gamekeeper Craig Graham accused of alleged pole-trapping offences (see here), a pigeon man in Cumbria was convicted of illegally storing Carbofuran (here), and Scottish gamekeeper Stanley Gordon was charged with the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate in 2013 (here).

Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod failed to secure re-election while land reform campaigner Andy Wightman joined the Scottish Parliament as an MSP for the Scottish Greens (here). The role of Environment Minister was given to Roseanna Cunningham MSP (again), although the position was now elevated to Cabinet Secretary status (see here).

There were parliamentary questions from Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) on mountain hare slaughter (here) and wildlife crime (here). The new Cabinet Secretary was also asked about increased powers for the SSPCA, especially as a local council had just approved increased SSPCA powers for dealing with the illegal puppy trade (here). But to everyone’s frustration the Cab Sec gave a fairly non-committal response saying a ‘decision will be announced in due course’, whenever that might be (here).

Gas guns were photographed on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here) and SNH gave some contradictory advice about the use of gas guns on grouse moors in Scotland (here).

The hysteria about about ravens grew in Scotland, aided by an astonishingly dodgy article published by the BBC (here), and talking of dodgy articles, Scottish Land & Estates were still in denial about raptor persecution (here).

We reported on the use of pesticide leg bands being attached to the legs of red grouse on the Cabrach Estate (here), a claim later denied (here).

A very funny video was published giving us all some much needed light relief (here).

JUNE

Police opened an investigation in to the suspicious death of a 10th red kite in North Yorkshire (here). Suspected persecution was reported from Moy Estate in the Monadhliaths (see here), a goshawk was suspected to have been shot in the Peak District National Park (here) and satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Chance’ ‘disappeared’ on a South Lanarkshire grouse moor (here).

An RSPB Investigations team filmed a man setting pole traps on a grouse moor on Mossdale Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here). It was later revealed the man was employed as a gamekeeper on the estate (see here). Instead of charging the gamekeeper for these offences, North Yorkshire Police decided let him off with a caution.  The Police tried to justify that decision but we challenged it after reviewing the guidelines that the Police are supposed to use (see here). A senior police officer agreed to investigate our complaint. Mossdale Estate ‘resigned’ from the Moorland Association (here), and it was clear from a leaked document that the Moorland Association was feeling the pressure of increased public scrutiny (here). We wondered whether the Hawk & Owl Trust would now pull out of the hen harrier brood meddling scheme seeing as one of their ‘immoveable provisos’ had now been breached (here).

In the courts, the vicarious liability prosecution against Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate) was adjourned, again, twice (here, here) as was the case against Scottish gamekeeper Stanley Gordon, accused of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate in 2013 (see here).

Natural England produced some pisspoor ‘guidance’ on the use of gas guns (here), while in the Angus Glens other disturbance techniques in use on grouse moors were revealed: inflatable scary man (here) and exploding banger ropes (here).

SNH reinstated the General Licence restriction on Raeshaw Estate (here, are you keeping up with this?) which was pretty pointless as they’d also issued individual licences that would allow the gamekeepers to carry on killing anyway (see here) and we learned that the Scottish Government had no plans to monitor mountain hare culling on grouse moors (here).

Martin Harper of the RSPB gave everyone a pathetically vague update on the status of this year’s breeding hen harriers in England, telling us there was ‘only a tiny handful’ (here).

After a few months of submitting FoIs to various agencies, we were able to reveal the location of the mass raptor poisoning in Wales as Glanusk Estate in the Brecon Beacons National Park (here).

The National Trust finally grew a pair and announced some very welcome news: they were pulling the lease on the grouse moor in the Peak District National Park where the armed man had been filmed sitting next to a hen harrier decoy (see here).

Part two of our year in review (July – December 2016) can be read here

27
Dec
16

Parliamentary reception for group promoting wildlife criminal

Yesterday we blogged about the launch of the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group’s new initiative, Game for Growth, aimed at promoting the value of country sports to the Scottish economy (see here).

We mentioned that Andy Wightman MSP had lodged a Parliamentary Question asking whether public funds (via VisitScotland as part of the Game for Growth initiative) had been given to the owners or managers of landholdings where wildlife crime had taken place.

We also mentioned our surprise that the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group’s website is promoting a sporting agent with a current conviction for raptor persecution.

What we didn’t mention was that the launch of the Game for Growth initiative took place at a prestigious parliamentary reception at Holyrood on 20 December 2016, with wide media coverage.

This parliamentary reception was hosted by Edward Mountain MSP (Conservative, Highlands & Islands) and included speeches from Malcolm Roughead, Chief Exec of VisitScotland, and Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy & Connectivity, Fergus Ewing MSP.

Here is a photo of some of the attendees: (L-R: Tim (Kim) Baynes from the Gift of Grouse, Malcolm Roughead from VisitScotland, Edward Mountain MSP (host), and Sarah Troughton from the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group).

The revelation that the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group is actively promoting a convicted wildlife criminal will probably be a surprise to Edward Mountain MSP, and undoubtedly a source of deep embarrassment; he surely wouldn’t have hosted them had he known. It’s reasonable to assume he didn’t know because his expertise appears to be in fishing rather than gamebird hunting. Sustainable sport fishing does bring in millions to the rural economy and it isn’t underpinned by wildlife crime, so it’s easy to see why he would lend support to the Game for Growth initiative.

Unfortunately for Edward, as well as the sport fishing industry, the Gift of Grouse is also prominently involved with the Game for Growth initiative (check out that banner in the photo) and this isn’t the first parliamentary reception they’ve been involved with that has led to awkward questions being asked.

We await the Scottish Government’s response to Andy Wightman’s Parliamentary Questions about public funding for wildlife criminals with great interest.

26
Dec
16

Parliamentary Question: is public money being used to promote wildlife criminals in Scottish shooting sector?

scstg-logoLast week it was announced that the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group (SCSTG) has plans to boost the value of game shooting, stalking and fishing to the rural economy by £30 million, via its new ‘Game for Growth’ strategy.

The Game for Growth strategy document can be read here: sctsg-game-for-growth-strategy-document-dec-2016

It’s a pretty turgid read, full of tedious marketing soundbites, but basically it sets out how the industry plans to promote Scottish country sports over the next four years to reach a wider national and international market. This will be achieved mostly, it seems, by claiming the industry is sustainable with fabulous conservation benefits and ignoring the vast environmental damage and wildlife crime associated with some activities within this sector.

visit-scotland-1Interestingly, VisitScotland (the national tourism agency linked to the Scottish Government) has apparently committed to boosting the country sports tourism sector and has announced a matched ‘Growth Fund’ to help SCSTG develop its marketing strategy and increase its online presence.

We’re not the only ones to raise an eyebrow at this. Andy Wightman MSP has lodged the following Parliamentary Question about it:

Question S5W-05930: Andy Wightman (Lothian, Scottish Green Party). Date lodged: 22/12/2016

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide a breakdown of the recipients of financial contributions from VisitScotland to the strategy, Game for Growth Strategy – Country Sports Tourism in Scotland 2016; what information it has regarding how each recipient will use this; what action it has taken to ensure that no money was provided to the owners or managers of landholdings on which crimes against wildlife have been committed; whether it will publish the strategy on its website, and what aspects of this it is supporting or plans to support with public money.

Expected answer date: 19/01/2017

These are legitimate questions, and especially when you take a closer look at the SCSTG website, which has been developed to connect potential visitors with various country sports providers across Scotland. For example, if you want to pay money to shoot mountain hares in Scotland, you can use the website’s search facility and a number of sporting agents/estates who offer this ‘sport’ will be highlighted.

We used the search facility to look for various ‘sporting’ opportunities and were very surprised to find that sporting agency Dunmhor Sporting was being promoted:

Why the surprise? Well, Graham Christie of Dunmhor Sporting was convicted in December last year of being vicariously liable for the criminal actions of his gamekeeper, who had used an illegal gin trap to catch and injure a buzzard on the Cardross Estate.

Why is the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group promoting an agent who has a current conviction for wildlife crime? And why is VisitScotland providing match funding to an organisation that is promoting a convicted wildlife criminal?

24
Dec
16

Mark Avery wins Conservation Hero of the Year Award

He’s too modest to make this announcement himself so we’ll do it for him: Mark Avery has been voted by Birdwatch magazine readers as their 2016 Conservation Hero of the Year.

He will balk at the title and many of us will revel in making mild piss-taking references to Bonnie Tyler, which he’ll accept with his usual good humour, but actually, ‘a streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds’ is not a bad definition of this year’s Conservation Hero.

You need strength, courage and determination to take on the mighty Establishment and Mark has displayed these qualities time and time again as he propelled his Ban Driven Grouse Shooting campaign towards Westminster. We’ve written of these qualities before but it’s worth repeating for those who might have missed it:

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.

This is such a well-deserved accolade for someone quite extraordinary – the conservation community is lucky to have him – congratulations, Mark!

Other winners in this year’s Birders’ Choice Awards include You Forgot the Birds, who won the 2016 Guano Award, and the Ban Driven Grouse Shooting campaign which won the 2016 Campaign of the Year Award.

22
Dec
16

Gamekeepers want sea eagles, kites, buzzards, sparrowhawks & ravens added to General Licences

Further to this morning’s blog about RSPB Scotland’s damning response to SNH’s General Licence consultation (see here), we said we’d write a separate blog about some of the other responses that SNH received.

SNH has now published all the responses, and they’re well worth a read: all-responses-to-snh-general-licence-consultation-2016

There are many organisations and individuals calling for ravens to be added to the General Licences (no surprise) and, yet again, there are a number of requests for buzzards and sparrowhawks to also be added, which would allow these species to be casually killed across Scotland without any monitoring or regulation, although some have suggested these raptors should be on ‘regional’ General Licences to limit the casual killing to a particular area. How thoughtful.

One of the reasons given for adding ravens and buzzards to the General Licences was this: “There are arguably too many of them around and they cloud the skies in our local area“.

Here’s a photograph of some ravens and buzzards clouding the skies:

Actually, this is a photograph (by Richard Barnes) of Dunlin flocking on the coast of North America but it could just as easily be a plague of swarming raptors over a Scottish grouse moor, if you happen to be a pathological raptor hater stuck with an 18th century attitude, that is.

Take a look at the consultation response from Garry MacLennan. Surely not the same Garry MacLennan, Head Gamekeeper at Invermark Estate? Aren’t raptors supposed to be ‘thriving’ there? Perhaps the headline should have read ‘Raptors are thriving on Scottish grouse moors and we want licences to kill them’.

Also have a look at the responses from Iain Hepburn (the same Iain Hepburn as the head gamekeeper at Dunmaglass Estate?), Duncan Mackenzie and Calum Kippen (the same Corrybrough Estate gamekeepers who attended the recent meeting between the Cairngorms National Park Authority & the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association?). Aren’t these the gamekeepers who want licences to monitor and ring raptors? Don’t they see a bit of a conflict of interest there if they also want licences to kill these raptors?

Best of all though, is the response from Bert Burnett (presumably of the SGA). Bert suggests that ravens should be added to the General Licences and argues that regional general licences “could be rolled out for various species that may start to cause problems like sea eagles and kites etc“. Ah yes, that very serious problem of sea eagles mistaking small children for prey.

Of course, these calls for licences to cull raptors are nothing new. Scottish (and English) gamekeepers and land owners have been asking for these for 20 years (see here, here, here, here, hereherehere). So far, SNH has resisted but given Natural England’s recent capitulation on buzzard-killing licences, how much longer before we see the same in Scotland?

22
Dec
16

RSPB Scotland slams General Licence system as ‘cover for criminal destruction of raptors’

cage-trapEarlier this year, SNH opened a consultation on the use of General Licences (GLs), in anticipation of updating the terms of use for their suite of 2017 GLs.

This wasn’t anything new. SNH regularly reviews the GLs, but, as has happened so many times before, this year SNH has yet again ignored the on-going conservation concerns about the use of these GLs.

We’ve blogged about the terms of the GLs many times, particularly in relation to the mis-use of traps that are authorised under the terms of the GLs (e.g. see here, here, here, herehereherehere, here) and RSPB Scotland has been questioning the terms of GLs for over ten years (e.g. see here [pages 6-13] and here).

RSPB Scotland responded to this year’s GL consultation, repeating the same concerns as they had ten years ago. You can read their consultation response here: rspb_scotland_response_to-snh_2016_gl_consultation

(As an aside, SNH has now published all the responses to this year’s GL consultation but we’ll be blogging about that in another post).

A couple of weeks ago, SNH announced the changes it was making to the 2017 GLs and, surprise surprise, many of the concerns raised by RSPB Scotland and other conservation organisations have been totally ignored, again. You can read SNH’s announcement here: snh-ogl-consultation-response-letter-annexes-a-b-and-c

baited-clam1Amongst other things, SNH has decided to reinstate the use of meat bait inside clam traps (thus increasing the likelihood of catching birds of prey), and there is also a commitment to ‘explore new and responsive licensing solutions to prevent agricultural damage by ravens’. On-going concerns that have not been addressed include (but are not limited to) compliance (or not) with European environmental legislation; welfare concerns; poor trap design that allows indiscriminate species trapping; year-round use (as opposed to seasonal use); ineffective regulation of trap users; ineffective monitoring of trap use (i.e. number and species caught/killed); inability to identify an individual trap user; and the lovely get-out clause for any General Licence user with an unspent criminal conviction.

Justifiably, RSPB Scotland are pretty unimpressed, as well they should be, and they have issued a scathing press release about SNH’s failure to address long-term concerns, particularly in relation to the use of GLs as a cover for the illegal persecution of raptors. RSPB Scotland’s press release can be read here.

RSPB Scotland has also produced a video to highlight some of their concerns. Watch it here.

If you share RSPB Scotland’s concerns, and you agree that the current GL system is not fit for purpose, you can make your views known to SNH by emailing them at: licensing@snh.gov.uk




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