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