Archive for March, 2017

31
Mar
17

Peregrine found shot in Devon

News of yet another shot peregrine, this time in Devon.

The female bird was found on 6 March 2017 next to Milton Abbot primary school in Tavistock. She was taken to a vet where an x-ray revealed a piece of shot lodged in her right shoulder (x-ray & photo courtesy Westmoor Veterinary Hospital, Tavistock).

The peregrine is currently being cared for by a local falconer.

Further details of this incident, and several other shot peregrines that have been found this year, on the RSPB’s Investigations Team blog here

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31
Mar
17

Peregrine found shot in Hampshire

The RSPB’s investigations team is reporting the discovery of a shot peregrine in Hampshire.

The bird, which hatched on Salisbury Cathedral in 2014, was found in King Somborne, Hants, on 11 March 2017, unable to fly.

It was taken to the Hawk Conservancy Trust in Andover where an x-ray revealed it had a fractured wing with gunshot fragments lodged next to the fracture site.

The peregrine is currently undergoing rehabilitation at the Hawk Conservancy Trust.

For further details see the RSPB Investigations Team blog here, which also lists some of the other peregrines that have been found so far this year, either shot or found dead in suspicious circumstances.

Meanwhile, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has joined forces with the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group to proactively protect peregrine breeding sites throughout the region. Real partnership working – good for them. More information can be found on the NIRSG website here.

UPDATE 25 May 2017: Shot peregrine successfully rehabilitated and returned to the wild by Hawk Conservancy Trust (see here).

30
Mar
17

South Scotland Golden Eagle Project receives £1.3M lottery funding

The South Scotland Golden Eagle Project, which proposes to translocate eagles from the Highlands to boost the tiny eagle population in Dumfries & Galloway and the Borders, has been awarded over £1.3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (see here).

This means the project can now move forward by submitting a licence application to SNH and, if the licence is approved, the plan is to start collecting eaglets from Highland nests during the 2018 breeding season, with the intention of releasing between five and ten young eagles in southern Scotland each year until 2022.

We’ve blogged about this project before, back in 2015 when the planned translocation was first announced. We had mixed feelings about it then (see here) and we still do now.

On the one hand, the south Scotland golden eagle population is on its knees and has been for some time (see here). If nobody intervenes, the last few pairs remain extremely isolated and vulnerable and there’s every chance this sub-population will disappear. For this reason, intervention by way of releasing more birds seems like a good idea.

However, unless the cause of this sub-population’s decline has been identified and removed or sufficiently reduced, it is absolutely pointless bringing in new birds that are likely to suffer the same fate.

One of the biggest constraints on golden eagle population recovery in southern Scotland is persecution. Raptor persecution in southern Scotland has definitely not been removed, nor sufficiently reduced. It has been argued (by Scottish Land & Estates) that raptor persecution in southern Scotland ‘may have been an historical factor’ in the demise of the south Scotland eagle population, but apparently it isn’t an issue any more. Unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t support that claim. Here’s a map from the 2008 Golden Eagle Conservation Framework showing the conservation status of golden eagles in Scotland (red = unfavourable conservation status), overlaid with ten years of raptor persecution data (all species, 2005-2015) gleaned from ‘official’ persecution maps. Does it look to you like raptor persecution isn’t an issue in southern Scotland?

The 2014 SNH-commissioned report on the status of golden eagles in southern Scotland also identified several areas where persecution is an ongoing concern, including the Lowther Hills, the Lammermuirs and the Moorfoots (all driven grouse moor areas – what a surprise), and stated that persecution needed to be brought under control in those regions if golden eagles were to thrive in southern Scotland once again.

On the basis of this evidence, we would argue that translocating golden eagles to southern Scotland in the immediate future is not a wise decision. But, there is a counter argument. Young golden eagles travelling around the Highlands during their early years are just as likely to be illegally killed in the north as they are in south Scotland (e.g. see here). So, if the risk is just as great in the north, why not bring those eagles to the south, where, under the intense public attention that this project will generate, the young birds may actually have a better chance of survival because the would-be raptor killers will know they’re under close scrutiny (each eagle will be satellite-tagged). Although that’s assuming the young birds remain in southern Scotland during their formative years – we know that a young eagle that fledged from the Dumfries & Galloway nest in 2015 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths just after her first birthday in 2016 (see here).

Others have commented that prey availability will pose a problem for an increasing eagle population in the south, but a recent report (here) has shown that ‘the region possesses a sufficient prey base to sustain a breeding population of golden eagles of 12-16 pairs’. Here is a photo of a young golden eagle at the one remaining productive breeding site in the Borders. Judging by the nest contents, prey availability doesn’t appear to be a problem.

Whatever the concerns may be, it looks like this project is going ahead (pending the licence application) and let’s be honest, at least the primary motivation for this scheme is NOT to appease the grouse-shooting lobby, unlike the ludicrous Hen Harrier brood meddling scheme in England, but to help improve the sustainability of this important sub-population. Our misgivings haven’t yet been allayed, but we still have fingers crossed for its success because inaction (i.e. waiting for illegal raptor persecution to stop) is no longer an option if this sub-pop is to survive.

29
Mar
17

Court case continues for Angus Glens gamekeeper accused of alleged pole trapping offences

Criminal proceedings continued yesterday (28 March 2017) against Scottish gamekeeper Craig Graham.

Mr Graham, 51, is accused of allegedly setting and re-setting a pole trap, baited with a pheasant carcass, on the Brewlands Estate in the Angus Glens between 9-17 July 2015. He has denied the charges.

This case was first called on 31 March 2016, then on 22 April 2016, then on 12 May 2016 when Mr Graham pleaded not guilty. A provisional trial date was set for 9th September 2016.

This trial date was later dumped (at a hearing on 16 August 2016) and another provisional trial date was set for 5th December 2016. This was also later dumped and a third provisional date (at a hearing on 5 December 2016) was set for 15 May 2017.

At yesterday’s hearing, the case was adjourned, again, for a further intermediate diet scheduled for 25 April 2017. We don’t know whether the third provisional trial date of 15 May 2017 still stands – it depends what happens at the hearing on 25 April 2017.

Previous blogs on this case herehere and here

UPDATE 25 April 2017: The Crown Office has discontinued this case – see here.

29
Mar
17

Raeshaw Estate loses judicial review on General Licence restriction

In November 2015, the Scottish Government’s statutory conservation agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, imposed a General Licence restriction order on a number of estates where it was believed raptor persecution had taken place but there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any individual (see here).

These restrictions were the first to be imposed since this new enforcement measure became available on 1 January 2014.

Two of the four estates were in Stirlingshire (the grouse shooting Burnfoot Estate and neighbouring Wester Cringate Estate, where several poisoned raptors and an illegally-set trap had been found) and two were in the Scottish Borders (the grouse shooting Raeshaw Estate and neighbouring Corsehope Farm, where illegally-set traps had been placed).

The General Licence restriction on all four estates was to run from 13 November 2015 to 12 November 2018, which meant that certain types of ‘pest’ control were prohibited unless the Estates applied for a specific individual licence that would be subject to tighter controls.

Raeshaw Estate (and neighbouring Corsehope Farm, where ‘pest’ control is undertaken by Raeshaw gamekeepers) made a legal challenge against SNH’s decision and in February 2016 they petitioned for a judicial review.

A judicial review challenges a decision made by a public body (in this case SNH) and examines whether the right procedures have been followed (i.e. with procedural fairness, within the legal powers of the public body, and with rationality).

The judicial review was heard in January 2017 and we have been awaiting the court’s judgement. It was published yesterday and can be read here: Raeshaw judicial review decision

We don’t intend to discuss the details of the court’s judgement – you can read those for yourselves (but do pay attention to the bit about the homemade trap, identical to the illegally-set homemade trap placed out on the hill, found in the possession of one of the gamekeepers – it’s quite interesting), but in summary, the court decided that SNH had acted fairly and with due regard to the stated rationale for imposing a General Licence restriction as laid out in SNH’s framework for implementing restrictions. As we understand it, there is a right to appeal to a higher court so we’ll have to wait and see whether Raeshaw Estate decides to take this option.

For now, this judgement is very, very good news. We, and others, have been highly critical of SNH’s handling of the General Licence restrictions, particularly when they subsequently issued individual licences to Raeshaw and Corsehope which effectively circumvented the supposed sanction of the General Licence restriction (see here, herehere, here). Yesterday’s court judgement does not alter our view on that and we will continue to challenge SNH about the so-called ‘tighter controls’ on these individual licences.

However, what yesterday’s court judgement does (or should) do, is open the floodgates for further General Licence restrictions to be imposed on other estates where there is evidence of raptor persecution. We know that SNH has a backlog of cases, dating back to 2014, and they’ve been sitting on those, justifiably, while the judicial review process has been underway. Now that the Court of Session has validated SNH’s procedures for imposing General Licence restrictions, we hope they will get on with handing out some more.

UPDATE 11.30am: SNH press statement here

UPDATE 30 March 2017: Judgement on Corsehope Farm: Corsehope judicial review decision

28
Mar
17

Political maneuvering in build up to publication of raptor sat tag review

Over the weekend, there was some extraordinary media coverage centred on accusations that the RSPB is “openly ignoring” PAW Scotland protocols in relation to what should happen when a satellite tagged raptor ‘disappears’.

It all stemmed from a leaked letter about wildlife crime, written by the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee, addressed to Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham. That letter has now been published and you can read it here: ECCLR letter on Wildlife Crime to Environment Secretary_26March2017

This letter was leaked to the press last week, prior to being published on the Scottish Government’s website. That in itself is extraordinary – who leaked it, and why?

The press ran with this story and several pieces sought to portray RSPB Scotland in a poor light (e.g. BBC news article here). What was even more extraordinary was that this subject was also included in the BBC’s Sunday Politics show, with interviews from Graeme Dey MSP (convener of the Environment Committee) and Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations, RSPB Scotland). The programme is available on iPlayer for the next few weeks here.

Why was this extraordinary? Well, what with the imminent triggering of Article 50 for Brexit, and the SNP’s push for a second independence referendum, you might think that a political current affairs programme had slightly more pressing issues to discuss.

Ah, but wait a minute, the much anticipated review of raptor satellite tag data is due to be published in the very near future, and is expected to expose some pretty uncomfortable truths for our friends in the grouse shooting industry, which could (should!), finally, lead to some enforcement action by the Scottish Government.

May be the timing of these accusations against RSPB Scotland is purely coincidental, but may be it isn’t. We wouldn’t be so foolish as to underestimate the power and influence of the landowning grouse shooting brigade.

To cut to the chase, we thought it’d be interesting to ask blog readers whether they agreed that RSPB Scotland had “openly ignored” the PAW Scotland satellite tagged raptor protocol.

Here’s the scenario for you to consider:

A satellite-tagged golden eagle, whose tag had been functioning perfectly well, suddenly and inexplicably ‘disappears’ off the radar in an area where there is previous history of confirmed raptor persecution.

Follow the PAW Scotland protocol flow chart and decide whether the RSPB has breached the protocol by immediately contacting Police Scotland, but NOT the landowner, about the ‘missing’ eagle.

28
Mar
17

MSP criticizes Scottish Government for procrastination on SSPCA powers

Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell has hit out at the Scottish Government for procrastinating over the decision to give the SSPCA increased investigatory powers, which would allow them to tackle a wider suite of wildlife crime.

Yesterday, he issued the following press release:

Mark Ruskell MSP, Environment spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, has hit out at the Scottish Government for failing to extend the powers of animal charity the SSPCA so they can tackle wildlife crime.

It comes as Holyrood’s Environment Committee, of which Mr Ruskell is a member, warns of “alarming distrust” between groups that tackle wildlife crimes. The Committee has written to the Environment Secretary, urging greater cooperation and improved reporting.

Mark Ruskell, Environment spokesperson for the Scottish Greens and MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said:

Killing of wildlife such as rare birds of prey is an utter disgrace and it’s clear that the Police are leaving gaps in their investigatory and reporting work, which is increasing frustration amongst wildlife charities. It’s time for the SSPCA’s well established investigatory role to be extended to wildlife crime to bolster Police efforts.

The SSPCA have a respected statutory role in relation to animal welfare cases already. I see no reason why this shouldn’t be extended to wildlife crime. We were promised a decision by the Scottish Government six years ago on the SSPCA’s powers but it has yet to materialise.”

ENDS

It’s not the first time Mark and his colleague Andy Wightman MSP have applied pressure on this issue – they have tabled a number of parliamentary questions (e.g. see here) and more recently, a parliamentary motion (see here). Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has agreed to announce a decision by the end of June 2017.

The press release also mentions the recent letter from the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee to the Environment Secretary, urging greater partnership working amongst the PAW Scotland Raptor Group. This letter was leaked to the press late last week resulting in a bit of media coverage (e.g. BBC article here). We’re not yet ready to discuss the details of this letter (because it hasn’t yet been published in full) but rest assured we will be returning to this topic in due course because all is not quite as it seems.




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