Archive for January, 2017

31
Jan
17

Buzzard shot in Devon

A member of the public found a weak and thin buzzard by the side of the road in Tedburn St Mary, near Exeter, Devon on 20 January 2017.

It was taken to the RSPCA’s West Hatch wildlife centre in Taunton where, due to the extent of its injuries, the bird was euthanised.

It appears the buzzard had been hit by a car and suffered extensive soft tissue damage and internal bleeding. However, during a post mortem the vet also discovered the bird had been shot in the foot with an air rifle, causing a swollen foot with restricted movement.

This is the fourth shot buzzard that the RSPCA’s West Hatch centre in Somerset has received this month, following the two shot buzzards from south Wales and the one shot in Somerset (see here).

31
Jan
17

ECCLR Committee’s latest thoughts on gamebird licensing petition

This morning the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee considered how to progress the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s petition calling for the introduction of a state-regulated licensing system for all gamebird hunting in Scotland.

You may recall the petition was submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee last summer. That Committee took evidence in October 2016 from the SRSG and RSPB Scotland (see here) and then evidence from the Scottish Moorland Group and BASC in December 2016 (see here) before deciding to pass the petition to the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee for further consideration.

This morning the ECCLR Committee spent 7 minutes discussing the petition and various ways forward. The video of this morning’s discussion can be viewed here (the relevant start time is 1:46.11) and the official transcript can be read here (starts at page 37): ecclr-transcript-31-jan-2017

One Committee member, Alexander Burnett MSP (Scottish Conservative & Unonist Party, Aberdeenshire West), declared his shooting interests before suggesting that the petition should be dismissed outright because, amongst other things, “those who shoot are already licensed by extremely rigorous shotgun and firearms regimes“. He clearly hasn’t been following the case of the East Arkengarthdale Estate gamekeeper who was able to keep his shotgun and firearms certificates, despite admitting his involvement with an illegal poisons cache (see here).

Fortunately, Mr Burnett’s suggestion found no support from other Committee members and a decision was made to:

(a) Write to the Environment Cabinet Secretary to ask when the gamebird licensing review will be published, and to suggest that it be made available pronto so the ECCLR Committee can continue deliberations without further delay. It was suggested that the Committee would like to be in a position to proceed by March. (Remember, the publication of this review is already overdue and this delay is now affecting other areas of Parliamentary process).

(b) Write to the Environment Cabinet Secretary and ask for her opinion on the effectiveness of other measures such as vicarious liability, general licences etc.

(c) After receipt of the gamebird licensing review, and following a short period of time to consider its findings, the ECCLR Committee will potentially invite the Petitioner (Logan Steele of the Scottish Raptor Study Group) and a range of stakeholders to give further evidence.

UPDATE 22 Feb 2017: letter-from-ecclr-convenor-to-cab-sec-re-petition-pe1615_7feb2017

UPDATE 6 April 2017: Cab Sec letter to ECCLR re gamebird licensing_7March2017

30
Jan
17

More nastiness from The Nasty Brigade

The term ‘nasty brigade’ was coined by Chris Packham in an opinion piece he wrote for BBC Wildlife Magazine in October 2015. He was referring to certain organisations within the shooting industry, which led to two of those organisations (Countryside Alliance & GWCT) making a formal complaint to the BBC – a complaint the BBC later rejected (see here).

Packham was spot on. The Nasty Brigade was, and continues to be, an entirely appropriate term. Evidence of this continuing nastiness has emerged in the last couple of weeks…

In November 2016, Dr Pat Thompson, senior upland policy officer at the RSPB, gave a presentation at the Northern England Raptor Forum’s annual conference. The title of his presentation was, ‘Driven grouse shooting: born in the 19th Century, fit for the 21st? – The impact of management practices and the need for change‘.

Pat is a highly-regarded researcher within scientific and conservation circles. He is widely-published on the topic of upland management and if you’re lucky enough to get to hear one of his talks, you’ll find it to be balanced, measured, and fully supported by evidence. His talk at the NERF conference was no exception and was based on one of his recent scientific publications on grouse moor management (you can read that paper here).

During Pat’s 45-minute talk, he took the audience through the environmental benefits and pitfalls of current grouse moor management, and he also talked for a couple of minutes about the politics of grouse moor management, using this slide to illustrate his words (apologies for the poor resolution – this photo was taken in a dimly lit room):

Now, it turns out that someone at this conference was videoing Pat’s talk and that video footage somehow found its way to the Nasty Brigade, who, in turn, a couple of weeks ago published a very short clip of Pat’s talk (just the part when he was discussing the political side of driven grouse shooting) in an attempt to embarrass both Pat and his employer, the RSPB.

The video clip has since been taken down but the associated blogs written by Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance (see here) and Andrew Gilruth of the GWCT (see here) both remain in the public domain, although both have been slightly edited since their initial publication. [NB: Andrew Gilruth’s blog has now been substantially edited, so much so it’s barely recognisable from the original]. And then last week the Shooting Times joined in on the attack and published a re-hash of the CA and GWCT blogs, despite knowing that Pat was on sick leave and unable to respond (see here). Nasty tactics indeed.

But if you take the time to think about the statements that Pat made, you’ll find that, unsurprisingly, every single one of them is based on fact. Not the ‘alternative facts‘ so favoured by the Nasty Brigade, but actual, real, demonstrable facts. For example:

Personal attacks on opponents of driven grouse shooting: These are well documented – Chris Packham and Mark Avery have been subjected to a near-constant barrage of personal abuse on social media (and from establishment figures in the Westminster Parliament) for at least two years, as has one of the authors of this blog (see here) and the Bowland Brewery was even the victim of a targeted hate campaign just for supporting the RSPB’s Hen Harrier conservation project (see here).

Attempts to distort and discredit science on burning (GWCT, YFTB): Both the GWCT and You Forgot the Birds attempted to discredit an RSPB-led scientific paper on heather burning by quoting another paper that suggested the RSPB had ‘twisted’ the facts. The problem was, the other paper hadn’t yet been accepted for publication at the time GWCT and YFTB were quoting from it – it was still at the stage of being a ‘submitted manuscript’ and hadn’t even cleared the process of scientific peer-review. You might expect this sort of behaviour from YFTB but for the GWCT (a supposedly science-based charity) to engage in this abuse of scientific process was disgraceful. Mark Avery blogged about it at the time (here, here, here).

Abuse of good name of BTO: Ian Botham (of YFTB) made claims in a Daily Mail article published in August 2016 that the BTO had undertaken a bird survey on a Pennines grouse moor that showed it was “bird heaven”. The same fairy tale was picked up by Matt Ridley in The Spectator. Presumably, the use of the BTO’s scientific credentials were supposed to add gravitas and authenticity to these findings. Unfortunately for Botham and Ridley, the BTO had nothing to do with that survey and they quickly distanced themselves from the survey results (see here).

Lamentable debate in Westminster: An entirely appropriate description of proceedings. It wasn’t a debate because only one side turned up in any number, leading to a procession of vested-interest politicians standing up and telling lies.

Phoney claims – restoration, burning, birds of prey, waders etc: There are so many examples of phoney claims made by the Nasty Brigade that it’s hard to pick one. The ones that spring to mind most readily are the most recent ones made by the likes of the Gift of Grouse, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, Scottish Countryside Alliance etc about the status of raptors on driven grouse moors and the probable cause of ‘disappearing’ sat-tagged raptors (e.g. see here, here).

Organised attempt to keep raptor workers off some estates: This is happening on certain estates in North Yorkshire where gamekeepers have been licensed to monitor Schedule 1 raptors (yes, really) which will prevent genuine raptor workers from visiting those nest sites for monitoring purposes and thus lessen the chance of illegal activity being seen and/or reported.

So as you can see, Pat’s comments are all supportable with evidence. Naturally, the CA, GWCT and Shooting Times articles all try to suggest that Pat has been ‘caught out’ not toe-ing the RSPB party line but in our view, the Nasty Brigade has scored a bit of an own goal with this latest display of nastiness.

Far from embarrassing Pat and the RSPB, what this actually does is show that the RSPB can, and does, speak out. All too often the RSPB is accused of fence-sitting, especially on the issue of driven grouse shooting, and in a lot of cases that criticism has been well founded. So let’s celebrate Pat’s comments, applaud him for making them in a public setting, and thank the Nasty Brigade for bringing them to everyone’s attention.

30
Jan
17

Mass poisoning of raptors in Ross-shire to feature at film festival in New York

In March 2014, 22 red kites and buzzards were illegally poisoned in Ross-shire, in an incident that became known as the Ross-shire Massacre.

This shocking crime drew wide public attention and revulsion, leading to public protests in Inverness town centre.

Rossshire Massacre film

In 2015, film-maker Lisa Marley produced a short but beautifully evocative film about the crime and the subsequent police investigation.

Her film, Red Sky on the Black Isle, will feature at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival taking place in October 2017 in New York. Good stuff. The more international exposure that can be given to the illegal persecution of birds of prey throughout the UK, the better.

As we approach the third anniversary of the Ross-shire Massacre, when the case becomes time-barred (meaning that a prosecution is no longer possible), we will be blogging about some aspects of this case that, for legal reasons, we’ve been unable to publish before now. More in March….

26
Jan
17

Public funds to promote wildlife criminals: tourism minister ducks question

Earlier this month we revealed that public funds were being used to promote the business of a sporting agent who had been convicted of raptor persecution (through being vicariously liable for the crimes of his gamekeeper). We encouraged blog readers to ask Tourism Minister Fiona Hyslop whether this was an appropriate use of tax payers’ money (see here).

One of the Minister’s aides has responded today as follows:

The problem with this response is that it doesn’t answer the question that was asked. That question to the Minister was:

Were you aware that the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group [in receipt of public funding from VisitScotland] is promoting a convicted wildlife criminal, and if so, do you think this is an appropriate use of public funds?

And a few days after that question was posed to the Minister, we discovered that the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group is also promoting the businesses of Invercauld Estate and Glendye Grouse Moor, where illegally-set traps have recently been found (see here).

So, we’ll be writing again to the Tourism Minister and asking her to please answer the question:

Are you aware that the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group, in receipt of public funding from VisitScotland, is promoting the business of a convicted wildlife criminal and that of two estates where illegal activity has been uncovered, and if so, do you think this is an appropriate use of public funds?

We’re also aware that one of our blog readers has contacted his local MSP about this issue (thank you) and his MSP has now written to the Chief Exec of VisitScotland, Malcolm Roughead, to ask for an explanation.

This issue isn’t going away any time soon.

26
Jan
17

ECCLR Committee to discuss gamebird licensing petition next week

Things are moving forward with the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s petition calling for the introduction of a state-regulated licensing system for all gamebird hunting.

You may recall the petition was submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee last summer. That Committee took evidence in October 2016 from the SRSG and RSPB Scotland (see here) and then evidence from the Scottish Moorland Group and BASC in December 2016 (see here) before deciding to pass the petition to the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee for further consideration.

The ECCLR Committee will discuss this petition at its next meeting (Tuesday 31 January 2017) and we’ll be able to watch proceedings live on Scottish Parliament TV (we’ll add a link nearer the time).

We have no idea how the ECCLR Committee will progress this issue – for example, they may decide to call for more evidence, they may decide a public consultation would be a good way forward, they may decide to knock the whole thing on the head. We’ll have to wait and see.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if, before Tuesday’s meeting, the members of the ECCLR Committee could read up on how gamebird hunting is regulated in other countries, to allow them to compare and contrast with the lack of regulation in Scotland? If only there was a Government-commissioned report about this very issue….Ah, there is, it just hasn’t been published yet.

25
Jan
17

Vicarious liability prosecution: Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate), part 13

Criminal proceedings continued yesterday (24 January 2017) against landowner Andrew Walter Bryce Duncan, who is alleged to be vicariously liable for the crimes committed by gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick in April 2014.

Gamekeeper Dick was convicted in August 2015 of killing a buzzard on the Newlands Estate, Dumfriesshire by striking it with rocks and repeatedly stamping on it (see here). Mr Dick was sentenced in September 2015 and was given a £2000 fine (see here). Mr Dick attempted to appeal his conviction but this appeal was rejected on 15 July 2016 (see here).

Here’s a quick review of the proceedings against Andrew Duncan so far:

Hearing #1 (18th August 2015): Trial date set for 23rd Nov 2015, with an intermediate diet scheduled for 20th Oct 2015.

Hearing #2 (20th October 2015): Case adjourned. November trial date dumped. Notional diet hearing (where a trial date may be set) scheduled for 18th January 2016.

Hearing #3 (18th January 2016): Case adjourned. Another notional diet & debate scheduled for 11th March 2016.

Hearing #4 (11th March 2016): Case adjourned, pending the result of gamekeeper Billy Dick’s appeal. Another notional diet scheduled for 4th April 2016.

Hearing #5 (4th April 2016): Case adjourned, pending the result of gamekeeper Billy Dick’s appeal. Another notional diet scheduled for 3rd June 2016.

Hearing #6 (3rd June 2016): Case adjourned, pending the result of gamekeeper Billy Dick’s appeal. Another notional diet scheduled for 17th June 2016.

Hearing #7 (17th June 2016): Case adjourned, pending the result of gamekeeper Billy Dick’s appeal. Another notional diet scheduled for 15th July 2016.

Hearing #8 (15 July 2016): Case adjourned. Another notional diet scheduled for 2 August 2016.

Hearing #9 (2 August 2016): Proceedings moved to trial. Intermediate diet scheduled for 15 November 2016 and provisional trial date set for 7/8 December 2016.

Hearing #10 (15 November 2016): The case was adjourned for another intermediate diet scheduled for 22 November 2016. Trial date of 7/8 December 2016 is dumped.

Hearing #11 (22 November 2016): The case was adjourned for yet another intermediate diet, scheduled for 6 December 2016.

Hearing #12 (6 December 2016): The case was adjourned for yet another intermediate diet, scheduled for 24 January 2017. A provisional trial date (this will be the third time a trial date has been assigned) is scheduled for 24 April 2017.

Hearing #13 (24 January 2017): Guess what? The case was adjourned for another intermediate diet, scheduled for 11 April 2017. As far as we know, the provisional trial date of 24 April still stands although this could change depending on what happens at the intermediate diet on 11 April.

Vicarious liability in relation to the persecution of raptors in Scotland (where one person may potentially be legally responsible for the criminal actions of another person working under their supervision) came in to force five years ago on 1st January 2012. To date there have been two successful prosecutions/convictions: one in December 2014 (see here) and one in December 2015 (see here).  One further case did not reach the prosecution stage due, we believe, to the difficulties associated with identifying the management structure on the estate where the crimes were committed (see here).

UPDATE 11 April 2017: The Crown Office has dropped all proceedings (see here).

24
Jan
17

ECCLR session 2: the SGA and their ‘alternative facts’

Two weeks ago the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee held an evidence session to scrutinise the Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report.

The evidence session was divided in to two parts – we’ve blogged about session 1 [evidence from Police Scotland and the Crown Office] here.

This blog is about session 2, where witnesses from RSPB Scotland, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA), Scottish Badgers and the Bat Conservation Trust were invited to speak.

The video of the session can be watched here and the full transcript can be read here.

This session was fascinating and we’d really encourage you to read the transcript – and even better, watch the video. There’s too much to blog about here so we’ll just focus on the SGA’s ‘evidence’, which turned out to be a series of ‘alternative facts’, which perhaps isn’t all that surprising although it is of concern when you realise Andy Smith, the SGA rep, was a former police officer for 30 years and so he should be well versed in dealing with actual facts, not made-up ones.

Here are some of the SGA’s alternative facts. This is not an exhaustive list, just the ones that amused us the most:

Alternative Fact #1

According to Andy Smith, the SGA doesn’t support the proposal that the SSPCA should be given increased powers to help investigate wildlife crime because he was told that the SSPCA’s Chief Superintendent traveled to London to listen to the Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting, which, according to Andy Smith, means the SSPCA has an anti-shooting agenda.

The logic Andy Smith used to reach this conclusion is, well, illogical, because plenty of people attended the Westminster debate, including GWCT staff members, who most definitely are not anti-shooting. Anyway, as it turns out, the SSPCA’s Chief Superintendent did NOT travel to London to attend the debate, as he clearly explains in a recent letter to the ECCLR Committee that has been published on the Scottish Parliament’s website:  20170111_mike_flynn_to_convener_regarding_ecclr_meeting_10_january_2017

Alternative Fact #2

According to Andy Smith, “There are places in this country that should have birds of prey – raptors – but do not have them. That includes some RSPB reserves that have the perfect conditions. For example, I do not think that there are very many in Abernethy“.

Oops. There are at least eight species of breeding raptors at the RSPB’s Abernethy Reserve (perhaps more, we haven’t checked), including, er, the world famous ospreys at Loch Garten.

Alternative Fact #3

According to Andy Smith, “We should remember that the Cairngorms National Park has the highest density of eagles in the world“. [Interruption]. “Am I not right in thinking that?“.

Ian Thomson (RSPB Scotland): “No, you are not“.

Andy Smith: “It is certainly where the highest density of eagles is in the UK“.

Ian Thomson: “Harris has the highest density of golden eagles“.

Another commonly repeated myth from Andy Smith. It’s nothing new (e.g. see here, and it was also repeated in the SGA’s most recent edition of its in-house rag Scottish Gamekeeper), but it doesn’t matter how many times it’s repeated, it doesn’t make it factual. The Cairngorms National Park does NOT have the highest density of eagles in the world, nor in the UK. As Ian Thomson correctly pointed out, golden eagle density in the Western Isles (i.e. nowhere near a driven grouse moor) is among the highest recorded, although a few populations in North America have an equally high density.

The truth is that golden eagles in the Cairngorms National Park have one of the lowest rates of site occupancy in the whole of Scotland. Sure, there are breeding golden eagles in the CNP, but as was described in the authoritative Golden Eagle Conservation Framework, the vast majority of those sites are associated with open woodland (i.e. deer forest) where they are generally left alone; they are, with a handful of exceptions, absent from the extensive areas of open moorland managed for driven grouse shooting.

ge-vacant-territories-2003The data in the above table were derived from the 2003 national golden eagle survey. Since then, a 2015 national survey has been undertaken and we await publication of the detailed results, although the preliminary findings have shown that there have been improvements in occupancy in some regions, but not, unfortunately, in the Eastern Highlands, which includes large parts of the Cairngorms National Park and North East Glens, where intensively managed moorland for driven grouse shooting remains the dominant land practice and where illegal persecution continues to constrain the golden eagle population, as well as a number of other raptor populations including peregrine and hen harrier.

The SGA should watch out. With a performance like Andy Smith’s, the Trump administration may well try to headhunt him to join The White House press team.

23
Jan
17

Decision on increased powers for SSPCA to be announced by June 2017

We’ve been blogging about the proposed increase of investigatory powers for the SSPCA for six years (since Feb 2011). During this time, five, yes, five Environment ministers have been and gone (Roseanna Cunningham, Stewart Stevenson, Paul Wheelhouse, Aileen McLeod, Roseanna Cunningham [again, but this time as Cabinet Secretary]).

Here’s how the Scottish Government has handled this so far:

February 2011: Increased powers for the SSPCA was first suggested by former MSP Peter Peacock as an amendment during the WANE Bill debates. The then Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham rejected it as an amendment but suggested a public consultation was in order.

September 2011: Seven months later Elaine Murray MSP (Scottish Labour) lodged a parliamentary motion that further powers for the SSPCA should be considered.

November 2011: Elaine Murray MSP (Scottish Labour) formalised the question in a P&Q session and the next Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson MSP, then promised that the consultation would happen ‘in the first half of 2012’.

September 2012: Nine months later and nothing had happened so we asked Paul Wheelhouse MSP, as the new Environment Minister, when the consultation would take place. The response, in October 2012, was:

The consultation has been delayed by resource pressures but will be brought forward in the near future”.

July 2013: Ten months later and still no sign so we asked the Environment Minister (still Paul Wheelhouse) again. In August 2013, this was the response:

We regret that resource pressures did further delay the public consultation on the extension of SSPCA powers. However, I can confirm that the consultation document will be published later this year”.

September 2013: At a meeting of the PAW Executive Group, Minister Wheelhouse said this:

The consultation on new powers for the SSPCA will be published in October 2013“.

January 2014: In response to one of our blog readers who wrote to the Minister (still Paul Wheelhouse) to ask why the consultation had not yet been published:

We very much regret that resource pressures have caused further delays to the consultation to gain views on the extension of SSPCA powers. It will be published in the near future“.

31 March 2014: Public consultation launched.

1 September 2014: Consultation closed.

26 October 2014: We published our analysis of the consultation responses here.

22 January 2015: Analysis of consultation responses published by Scottish Government. 233 responses (although 7,256 responses if online petition included – see here).

We were told a decision would come from the new Environment Minister, Dr Aileen McLeod MSP, “in due course”.

1 September 2015: One year after the consultation closed and still nothing.

25 February 2016: In response to a question posed by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment Committee, Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod said: “I have some further matters to clarify with the SSPCA, however I do hope to be able to report on the Scottish Government’s position on this issue shortly“.

May 2016: Dr Aileen McLeod fails to get re-elected and loses her position as Environment Minister. Roseanna Cunningham is promoted to a newly-created position of Cabinet Secretary for the Environment.

12 May 2016: Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submits the following Parliamentary question:

Question S5W-00030 – To ask the Scottish Government when it will announce its decision regarding extending the powers of the Scottish SPCA to tackle wildlife crime.

26 May 2016: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham responds with this:

A decision on whether to extend the investigatory powers of the Scottish SPCA will be announced in due course.

1 September 2016: Two years after the consultation closed and still nothing.

9 January 2017: Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submits the following Parliamentary question:

Question S5W-05982 – To ask the Scottish Government by what date it will publish its response to the consultation on the extension of wildlife crime investigative powers for inspectors in the Scottish SPCA.

17 January 2017: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham responds:

A decision on whether to extend the investigatory powers of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will be announced in the first half of 2017.

Given the Government’s appalling track record on dealing with this issue, the Cabinet Secretary will forgive us for thinking this is just yet another holding statement designed to deter further questions, although we’d be delighted if she proved us wrong.

The blame for this fiasco can’t all be placed at her feet – her predecessors have played a blinder at kicking this issue in to the long grass, ably assisted by landowners, gamekeepers and Police Scotland, all of whom are against increased SSPCA powers. So now the Cab Sec has the job of wading through the overgrowth to fetch the ball and bring it back in to play. No more extra time, this decision needs to be made and whatever that decision is, we’ll understand a great deal about how serious this Government is about tackling illegal raptor persecution.

Well done and thanks (again) to Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) for holding the Government to account.

22
Jan
17

Crowdfunding appeal for new raptor satellite tag project

The campaign group Birders Against Wildlife Crime has launched a crowdfunding appeal to help support a new project to fit satellite tags to raptors in northern England, set to begin later this year.

Satellite tagging has revolutionised efforts to detect raptor persecution crimes, and has also helped draw public attention to the illegal killing of raptors. The power of satellite-tagging was really first realised in 2009 when a young satellite-tagged golden eagle, ‘Alma’, was found dead on a grouse moor on the Millden Estate in the Angus Glens. She’d been poisoned. It’s highly unlikely her corpse would have been detected had she not been fitted with a satellite tag, which allowed investigators to pinpoint her body as she lay face down in a vast expanse of heather moorland. The resulting publicity about her death was phenomenal, and even though nobody was ever prosecuted, this crime turned the spotlight on to an industry that had escaped scrutiny for so long.

alma

Since Alma, there have been many other illegally-killed raptors, including golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, hen harriers, Montagu’s harriers and red kites whose satellite tags have given the game away. These days, the raptor killers are wise to the game and now it’s far more common for a sat-tagged bird to simply ‘disappear’, with all the evidence (carcass, sat tag) simply destroyed to avoid detection, although occasionally there won’t be a ‘clean kill’ and the wounded bird is able to move some distance before succumbing to its injuries and investigators are able to collect the corpse, conduct a post mortem and record it as a confirmed persecution crime.

Some within the grouse-shooting industry have recently been trying to discredit the use of raptor satellite tags, and it’s not hard to see why. They’ve slurred the professional reputations of highly experienced and licensed raptor researchers and have used some photographs of a young golden eagle with what appears to have a ‘slipped’ tag harness as evidence that the tagging experts don’t know what they’re doing. Now, of course, it’s possible for a sat tag harness to slip, and it does happen on occasion, but it’s a rare occurrence. What the accusers don’t mention is the circumstantial evidence that suggests tagged raptors are being caught inside crow cage traps, providing an opportunity for the trap operator to cut one of the harness straps before releasing the bird, with its tag now dangling and looking like it has been badly fitted. There is also evidence of at least one tagged hen harrier being trapped, its harness removed and transferred to a free-ranging corvid, presumably with the intention of disguising the fact the hen harrier was illegally killed.

Strangely, the grouse shooting industry has not tried to vilify the satellite tagging of non-raptor species, such as woodcock (GWCT project) or cuckoos (BTO project); it’s only the tagging of raptors they seem to object to. Can’t think why.

Here’s a photo (taken by Stephen Murphy) of Bowland Betty, a sat-tagged hen harrier found dead on a grouse moor on the Swinton Estate in Yorkshire in 2012. A post mortem revealed she had been shot.

bowland-betty-1

The new raptor satellite-tagging project in northern England is being undertaken by highly experienced and licensed experts in an independent research consortium (all voluntary – no salaries are being paid). The beauty of this independence is that sat tag data will be put in to the public domain very, very quickly. No more waiting for weeks/months/years to find out what happened, which will allow timely and targeted publicity every time one of these raptors ‘disappears’ or is found shot/trapped/poisoned. Greater public awareness of raptor persecution is key to bringing it to an end.

The crowdfunding target is to reach £10,000 by mid-March. It’s ambitious but it’s do-able. If you’d like to make a donation, however small or large, please visit BAWC’s crowdfunding page HERE

Thank you




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