Archive for February, 2017

28
Feb
17

An ATV full of dead mountain hares on Farr Estate grouse moor

petewalkden_farr_28feb2017

This photograph was taken today on the grouse moor of Farr Estate in the Monadhliaths in the Scottish Highlands.

As today is the last day of the ‘open season’ for killing mountain hares, this slaughter is not criminal in the legal sense. But in an ethical sense?

So much for ‘voluntary restraint‘, eh?

Seems they didn’t take heed of the recommendation to hide the evidence.

Many thanks to photographer Pete Walkden for letting us publish this image.

UPDATE 1 March 2017: Many people on social media, new to this blog, have been asking why mountain hares are culled. Please read this earlier blog (and the associated links) for an explanation.

UPDATE 2 March 2017: Call to stop mountain hare culling in Cairngorms National Park. Please sign the postcard here.

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28
Feb
17

“I have no truck with the argument that raptors damage driven grouse shooting” says Environment Cabinet Secretary

roseannacunninghamLast Saturday, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, delivered a speech to members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) at their annual conference in Perthshire.

She deserves a good deal of credit, not only for giving up her Saturday morning, but particularly for her willingness to come and speak to a room full of raptor workers, many of whom have repeatedly written heated and impassioned emails to the Scottish Government in recent years, criticising its failure to effectively tackle the illegal killing of raptors. It was a challenge too far for her predecessor, former Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod who declined an invitation to attend, and let’s be honest, can anyone imagine Roseanna’s Westminster counterpart, Dr Therese Coffey, turning up to a Northern England Raptor Forum conference?

Roseanna began her speech in the same way she began her last speech to this group back in 2009, by thanking SRSG members for their voluntary efforts. She described this as “dedicated, high quality fieldwork” that is “genuinely appreciated by the Scottish Government“. She recognised the importance of this work, saying the information generated for the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme was “essential and fundamental” to help the Government to assess the conservation status of raptor populations. That was good to hear, and is a big kick in the teeth to those organisations who seek to discredit and undermine the professionalism of the SRSG (e.g. see here), undoubtedly in an attempt to disguise the continued persecution of raptors in some areas of Scotland that is being clearly exposed by SRSG monitoring efforts.

She then spent a bit of time talking about the intrinsic value of raptors, their place as part of Scottish identity, and how they are becoming increasingly important for tourism and the revenue that can generate for local economies. She talked about some of the ‘good news’ stories such as successful reintroduction projects for white-tailed eagles and red kites (although she didn’t mention the continued persecution of red kites in northern Scotland that is still inhibiting population growth, 25 years on) and the welcome return of other species such as ospreys and buzzards. She also touched on the 15% increase in the national golden eagle population, which is a good news story, but she didn’t mention the other part of that story which is the continued absence of this species on many driven grouse moors in eastern and southern Scotland.

Then came the part we really wanted to hear – her thoughts on raptor persecution. Her opening statement received a loud, spontaneous round of applause from an appreciative audience. This is what she said:

The illegal killing of our raptors does remain a national disgrace. I run out of words to describe my contempt for the archaic attitudes still at play in some parts of Scotland. We all have to abide by the law, and we do so, most of us, all throughout our lives. All I’m asking is that everybody does the same. Sporting businesses are NO different, and the people who breach the law deserve all the opprobrium and punishment we can mete out. I have no truck with the argument that raptors damage driven grouse shooting interests. Such damage, frankly, is a business risk you have to live with and manage, but within the law. And that is what must be reiterated again, and again, and again.

She then went on to discuss vicarious liability, recognising that with only two successful prosecutions in five years this probably isn’t the ‘magic bullet’ that everyone hoped it would be when it was first introduced. And she said she thought there was a lesson in that. She feared there are no single ‘magic wands’, just a lot of work, to be done constantly, with a lot of people, over a period of time, and how it would involve some changes.

She commented on some of the changes already in place, such as the General Licence restriction (although she acknowledged this was currently being challenged via a judicial review), an acceptance of the recommendations for increased penalties for wildlife crime, and how the Government was working with Police Scotland to introduce new investigative support for these crimes.

She then repeated the importance of the recent review on game bird hunting regulations in other European countries and the forthcoming review on satellite-tagged raptors, which is due to report at the end of March and how she will “look carefully” at these reports to help inform the Government’s next moves.

All in all, this was a very positive speech. The Cabinet Secretary is not yet in a position to formally show her hand because, quite rightly, she needs to wait for the satellite tag review to be published to be able to consider its findings and put them in to context with all the other evidence at her disposal. However, she’s obviously keenly aware that raptor persecution “does remain” a national disgrace (that’s an important distinction – she’s talking about it as a current, ongoing issue, not an historical one as the game shooting industry would like everyone to believe) and she clearly acknowledges her “contempt” for this criminality.

The scene has been set. The question now is, will she be able to deliver change?

27
Feb
17

Scottish Gamekeepers chairman attacks Raptor Study Group

hogg-shiteAlex Hogg, Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, has a long track record of talking out of his backside.

Previous missives directly attributable to the SGA’s esteemed leader have included lines such as, “Professional gamekeepers do not poison raptors” (here), “It is unfair to accuse gamekeepers of wildlife crime” (here), “In the last ten years we have stamped out poisoning” (here), “We kill animals because probably we’re the doctors and nurses of the countryside” (here) and, when asked whether gamekeepers are involved in the poisoning, shooting and trapping of raptors: “No they aren’t. We would dispute that” (here).

In the latest edition of the Shooting Times, he accuses the Scottish Raptor Study Group of ‘driving [gamekeepers’] wives, children and grandchildren from their homes‘. Here’s part of the article to provide the context to his claim:

One of the reasons the SGA was set up was to stop the police raiding our houses without proper evidence of wrongdoing. Wives and children were being subjected to dawn raids, houses were being pulled to pieces; in some cases children’s cough mixture was confiscated in case poison was being hidden in the bottle.

Hopefully these bad old days are gone. The SGA has worked extremely hard with our members to drive the poisoning incidents almost off the map. We have been very successful and last year it looks as if we had only two incidents of poisoning that involved a raptor. If the police had these results in any other form of crime it would be in all the news media for months.

Still, all we hear from the RSPB is that this can only be the tip of the iceberg. The Scottish Raptor Study Group, along with the RSPB, has launched a petition calling for the licensing of Scottish shooting estates. This group has been publicly funded since inception and has taken access on estates for years without even having to inform the keeper or landowner. In this regard it is unaccountable as it can log whatever it wishes, with little or no checks or balances on the process or the effects of its monitoring.

It seems strange that a group lacking in accountability is calling for shoots to be licensed. We will not stand by and allow double standards to drive wives, children and grandchildren from their homes. Everybody who works and lives in the countryside must now be wary that compliance with such organisations, sadly, is compliance with people who are attacking our jobs and way of life. It should never have got to this stage.

If the SGA had not been formed 20 years ago, what we live for would have been swallowed up by different government bodies. Some people hate the truth, but we will always tell it. It is that honesty which has gained us the respect that we have’.

ENDS

It seems that Alex hasn’t read the Scottish Moorland Group’s recently proposed ‘four point plan‘ for eradicating illegal raptor persecution, as presented to the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee last December. Point four was, “We would very much like to see greater cooperation between ourselves, the Raptor Study Groups and the RSPB“. Oops.

A few other points for Alex to consider:

  1. The police are not allowed to raid houses on a whim. They first have to apply for a search warrant from a Sheriff (via the Crown Office) and this will only be granted if there are reasonable grounds to assume that evidence of criminal activity may be uncovered during a search.
  2. It’s no surprise if children’s cough mixture has been confiscated during a raid. It has not been uncommon to find illegal poison stored in everyday household containers (particularly coffee jars!) and on at least one search a banned, highly toxic poison was found in a container on a shelf within a child’s reach.
  3. Raptor persecution has not stopped. Poisoning reports may have dropped, but other methods (particularly shooting and trapping) have not. Stop pretending otherwise.
  4. Members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group, just like every other member of the public, are entitled to access land without having to inform the keeper or landowner. Get over it.
  5. Members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group are individually licensed to visit the nests of Schedule 1 birds. They are accountable for their actions as they have to submit data returns to the Government’s licensing authority on an annual basis as a condition of the licence. If you want to discuss unaccountability, contrast this licensing regime with that of gamekeepers, who are not individually licensed and do not have to submit annual returns detailing any of their activities, which mostly involves killing wildlife.
  6. It’s not clear to us how launching a petition calling for a licensing scheme for gamebird shooting is going to ‘drive wives, children and grandchildren from their homes’. What will drive them from their homes is if gamekeepers get caught illegally killing raptors and lose their jobs (and tied house) as a result of a conviction.
  7. The SGA is supposedly a partner organisation in the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW), and notably, the PAW Raptor Group. Quite how publicly slagging off and warning SGA members to be wary of cooperating with another PAW partner (the Scottish Raptor Study Group) is evidence of good partnership working is beyond us. Perhaps the SGA will be asked to explain this at the next PAW Raptor Group meeting.

Alex’s article also touched on some other issues, including how the SGA is this year going to push for the Scottish Government to issue licences to ‘control’ (kill) protected species such as badgers, buzzards and ravens. He mentions that Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham will be a guest speaker at the SGA’s annual conference in March and how staff members from SNH’s licensing team will also be in attendance to answer questions about this issue.

Interestingly, this subject was raised during Roseanna Cunningham’s address to the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s annual conference last Saturday. If she tells the SGA conference what she told the SRSG conference, there’ll be tears at bedtime for Alex and his wildlife-killing colleagues. (We’ll be blogging about the Cabinet Secretary’s speech to SRSG members in the next day or so, highlighting several points she made about raptor persecution and her full endorsement and gratitude for the “dedicated high quality fieldwork” of the SRSG).

Here is a copy of the Shooting Times article in full: alex-hogg-article_shooting-times_23feb2017

25
Feb
17

Review of gamebird hunting regulations finally published

gamebird-reviewThe long-awaited Scottish Government-commissioned review of game bird hunting regulations in other European countries has finally been published today.

First commissioned by former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse back in 2014, there has been growing impatience to see this report published, especially as the Scottish Parliament’s Environment (ECCLR) Committee is now considering the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s petition calling for the introduction of a licensing system for all game bird hunting in Scotland.

The report can be read here: a-review-of-game-bird-law-licensing-in-selected-european-countries

The report reviews game bird hunting regulations in 14 European countries and as expected, the lack of regulation in Scotland contrasts sharply with the licensing systems in place in these other countries. In Scotland (and the rest of the UK), game bird hunting is only partially and lightly regulated by (a) having an open and closed season, restricting the time of year when game birds may be shot, and (b) firearms legislation which places restrictions on who may have access to guns. That’s pretty much it. There is other legislation covering the use of traps, snares etc but this legislation is rarely enforced with vigour and when a General Licence has been removed for alleged raptor persecution, SNH has simply replaced it with an individual licence, making the supposed sanction wholly redundant.

The review reveals that in these 14 other countries, game bird hunting is regulated by legislation which includes individual licenses for hunters and the ability for regulators to revoke a licence if the legislation is contravened. In some countries the legislation includes strict harvest quotas and bag reporting and in many countries, would-be hunters have to pass a two-part practical and theoretical examination to qualify for a hunting licence.

Cabinet Secretary for the Environment Roseanna Cunningham said:

I welcome the publication of this report. It shows that there is more regulation of game bird hunting in many other countries than we have in Scotland. We will be looking very carefully at these different management approaches to see whether they offer the means to address issues such as raptor persecution.

Already we have committed to a number of new measures to tackle wildlife crime within Scotland including increases in criminal penalties, a prevention review and the creation of a dedicated investigative support unit within Police Scotland. These measures clearly demonstrate our resolve to tackle raptor persecution.

This new report and the forthcoming review of satellite tagging data will help determine our next steps“.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland said:

We welcome the publication of this SNH report which will contribute to current discussions in the Scottish Parliament about potential options for licensing of intensive gamebird management practices in Scotland, such as “driven” grouse shooting. We are clear that the failure by grouse moor owners over decades to self regulate and put a stop to the illegal killing of raptors and the carrying out of other unsustainable land management practices has led us to this point.

We support the licensing of “driven” grouse shooting, with clear sanctions to remove such licences on individual landholdings if there is evidence of illegal practice. As the SNH report suggests, such regulation is commonplace in other European countries and those landowners who operate legally and comply with the terms and conditions of the licence should have nothing to fear from such a system.”

An unidentified spokesman for the landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates said:

The research demonstrates that although a licensing system may be in operation, the nature of what that licensing regime entails varies significantly from country to country, and is frequently determined by historical traditions and government structures.

We have and continue to support tougher sentences for wildlife crime in Scotland, but what this research also makes clear is that wildlife crime remains a concern in many countries that have licensing regulation”.

It’s looking more and more likely that some sort of licensing scheme for game bird hunting will be introduced in Scotland at some point, and we welcome that direction of travel. If it does happen, it is unlikely to solve the issue of systemic raptor persecution unless more effective enforcement measures are also introduced, to ensure any legislation is adhered to. But nevertheless, a licensing scheme would take us closer to addressing the problems and is a necessary step on that path. If licensing works and the game shooting industry finally cleans up its act, then great. But if it doesn’t work, for whatever reason, the Government only has one place left to go.

This morning, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham will be welcomed to the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s annual conference and the topic of regulating game bird hunting will no doubt be discussed.

24
Feb
17

Police Scotland under fire for withholding info on raptor poisonings

pjLast week we blogged about Police Scotland’s intention to withhold information about raptor persecution crimes for up to three years from the time the offence was committed, as part of their ‘investigative strategy’. We weren’t impressed (see here).

Unsurprisingly, we weren’t alone. The following article was published in the Press & Journal yesterday:

Fears people could come into contact with toxic substances used to kill raptors illegally.

Fears have been raised that youngsters and animals could be harmed by Police Scotland policies surrounding their investigation of bird of prey poisonings.

North-east MSP, Lewis Macdonald, has written to Chief Constable Philip Gormley, highlighting concerns that people enjoying a walk in Scotland’s hills could accidentally come into contact with toxic substances used to kill raptors illegally.

In his letter, Mr Macdonald highlighted that police forces in England make the public aware of the details of such cases.

He also argued some forces, south of the border, erect signs to let the public know poison is suspected to have been used in certain areas.

However, officers in Scotland can choose not to take such measures, due to fears it could compromise investigations into the crimes.

Mr Macdonald said: “Families who enjoy our beautiful countryside in the north-east might be alarmed to learn that Police Scotland is not giving them the full picture about where poison has been used illegally to kill birds of prey.

The simple signs used by other forces in England might be enough to make the public aware of the potential danger without interfering with the investigation.

Of course, Police Scotland officers have a duty to do whatever they can to identify and catch those responsible for these crimes, and they may well believe that giving the public too much information about these incidents would hinder their investigation.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Sean Scott, wildlife crime lead, said: “Police Scotland balances public safety against any investigative strategy very carefully, and withholds information in only a very few cases.

It does so where the release of such information could potentially compromise an ongoing investigation.

Due to the differences between Scots law and other jurisdictions in the UK necessitating the need for corroboration, earlier release of information could compromise ongoing cases.

Police Scotland cannot speak for the approach taken by some forces in England and Wales, but our commitment to wildlife crime ensures we must ensure we use every tool available and, on occasion, this will include withholding information about a crime.”

ENDS

Well done, Lewis Macdonald MSP. We don’t know whether he reads this blog directly or whether one of his constituents sent him a link. No matter, he has responded in the best way possible and we thank him for that.

Just a quick word about DCS Scott’s comment on withholding information: “Police Scotland withholds information in only a very few cases“. Er, we beg to differ.

In the RSPB’s 2015 Birdcrime report, Police Scotland deliberately withheld the name of the poison used in every single poisoning crime except one. That’s nine cases with withheld information. That’s nine cases in one calendar year. That’s quite a lot of poisoning offences with withheld information, not “a very few cases” as DCS Scott claims. And in four of those cases, Police Scotland has even withheld information about the month the offence was committed, the affected species, and the county where the offence took place. Because apparently, telling the public which month a poisoning offence took place will totally compromise the police investigation.

appendix-4

By the way, we’re still waiting to read DCS Scott’s written explanation to the ECCLR Committee about why six confirmed raptor persecution crimes were excluded from the Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report (see here). Were these crimes also deliberately excluded or was this just incompetence rather than strategy? It’s getting hard to differentiate.

23
Feb
17

Buzzard shot dead in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire

nyorks-policeNorth Yorkshire Police have issued the following press release:

Buzzard shot in Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

North Yorkshire Police are investigating an incident in which a Buzzard was shot in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

A dead buzzard was found on 1 February 2017 in an area called High Skelding, near the village of Grantley It was in a small coniferous plantation close to where the Ripon Rowel footpath crosses the upper River Skell.

The police arranged for an x-ray at a local vet and this shows that the bird had been shot. It is thought to have been shot between 31st January and 1st February.

Buzzards, along with all wild birds, are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and it is a criminal offence to kill or injure any wild bird. The government has set persecution of birds of prey as one of their wildlife crime action priorities.

If you have any information about this crime please contact North Yorkshire Police on 101. After being connected to North Yorkshire Police select option 1 and quote reference number 12170018791 when passing on information. Alternatively contact the investigating officer PC820 Hickson by email: bill.hickson@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk

ENDS

A good, detailed press release and appeal to the public that has only taken three weeks, not three years, to come out (take note Police Scotland).

North Yorkshire is consistently rated the worst county in the UK for the number of reported crimes against raptors, and a lot of it takes place in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the neighbouring Yorkshire Dales National Park. We were only talking about this region two weeks ago in relation to the poisoning of red kites.

23
Feb
17

Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: donor countries

We’ve blogged quite a bit about the ridiculous proposed ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England, one of the six action points in DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan. Here’s a quick recap:

28 Nov 2016 – Hen Harrier reintroduction to southern England: an update (here)

3 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the feasibility/scoping report (here)

8 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the project group and their timeline (here)

9 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: who’s funding it? (here)

9 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: a bonkers proposal for Exmoor National Park (here)

12 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Wiltshire (here)

14 Feb 2017: Leaked email reveals Natural England’s views on Hen Harrier Action Plan (here)

This blog is about which countries might donate hen harrier chicks / eggs for this doomed reintroduction, assuming it goes ahead in 2020 as planned.

hhchicks-andrew-sandemanWe know, through a series of FoIs, that the reintroduction project team has been discussing potential donor countries for quite some time. Notes from their second meeting in May 2016 say:

Initial conversations have indicated that Spain may not be as likely source as had initially been thought. SR [Steve Redpath] is still waiting for replies from enquiries sent to both Spanish and French colleagues. JK [Jeff Knott] will follow up with BirdLife International partners and RC [Rob Cooke] will make initial enquiries with SNH“.

Notes from their third meeting in July 2016 say:

We acknowledged that we need to move this subject forward. We need to discuss with SR [Steve Redpath] when he’s back from Iceland but also AJ [Adrian Jowitt] to pick up with [redacted]. We also agreed to make some preliminary investigations about who or how one might approach sourcing birds from Russia“.

Notes from their fourth meeting in October 2016 say:

Contact has been made with Harrier workers in France and Spain but as yet detailed conversations have not happened – this is ongoing. We acknowledged the need to discuss whether we are looking to source chicks or eggs, although accepted that to a degree the source of the birds may influence this choice. PM [Philip Merricks] fed back that Russian counterparts had suggested that sourcing birds there was relatively straight forward provided that proper channels were followed. We agreed to pursue sources closer to home for now“.

We were particularly interested in the idea of sourcing birds from Scotland, a population in long-term decline, so we asked SNH whether there had been any correspondence on this, as suggested from the May 2016 meeting notes. SNH replied on 6 Feb 2017 with this:

We can advise there has been no approach from Natural England or others involved with this project, but that if SNH received such a request we would assess it by our own normal licensing processes and the Scottish Translocation Code, as it would relate to a reintroduction project seeking Scottish involvement / donor stock“.

SNH did, however, provide a copy of some 2011 meeting notes from the Environment Council’s six year-long failed Hen Harrier Dialogue, where there had been a discussion about sourcing hen harriers from Scotland. It makes for an interesting read: environment-council-hh-dialogue_reintroduction_june2011

So, sourcing donor birds from Scotland doesn’t appear to be on the cards. We also know that the reintroduction project team has approached the Netherlands (answer: no), Spain (answer: no) and Poland (no). Here are copies of the correspondence:

re_-hen-harriers-1_redacted_netherlands

re_-sourcing-harrier-chicks-or-eggs_redacted_spain

re_-hen-harriers-2_redacted_poland

We know that sourcing birds from Russia may be a possibility (see project team meeting notes from Oct 2016) but the most likely source, as of November 2016, appears to be France. Here is an email from Adrian Jowitt (Natural England) to the reintroduction project team, dated 3 November 2016: fw_-france-as-possible-donor-population-_redacted

We don’t have any further information on this at the moment. We submitted a further FoI in January 2017 asking Natural England for copies of correspondence relating to this project since our last request in November 2016. They replied on 19 January with this:

There has been no correspondence between 29 November 2016 and 19 January 2017“.

This apparent radio silence seems quite remarkable, given the project team is planning to submit a funding bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund in March 2017. Hmm.

More FoIs have been submitted and we’ll report in due course.

Photo of hen harrier nestlings by Andrew Sandeman




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