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).

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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. 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).




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