Archive for March, 2017


Scarecrow placed at peregrine breeding site on Northumberland grouse moor

An interesting case highlighted in the latest edition of the RSPB’s Legal Eagle newsletter:


Ross-shire Massacre: three years on

Today marks the three year anniversary of the mass poisoning of red kites and buzzards at Conon Bridge in the Scottish Highlands – a crime that became known as the Ross-shire Massacre.

A total of 22 dead raptors (16 red kites and 6 buzzards) were discovered in a small geographic area over a number of weeks, beginning on 18 March 2014. Toxicology tests confirmed that 16 of these raptors (12 red kites and 4 buzzards) had been poisoned with a banned substance. Police Scotland has so far refused to name the poison, ‘for operational reasons’.

Nobody has ever been charged in connection with this crime.

Under Scottish law, there is a three year time limit for bringing a prosecution for offences committed under the Wildlife & Countryside Act (in England the time limit is two years). The clock starts ticking from the date the offence was commissioned. Three years later, the case becomes ‘time barred’ and even if the culprit is identified after this date, a prosecution under the Wildlife & Countryside Act is not possible.

We’ve been waiting for this three-year anniversary to arrive because we’ve got quite a bit to say about this case, particularly the police investigation, but we’ve been unable to publish these comments while the case was still considered ‘live’. Once the three-year anniversary was reached, we expected to be able to write a blog about the string of police cock-ups without worrying about legal restrictions and compromising the investigation.

However, it has been suggested to us that the three-year time bar may not take effect until the third anniversary of the last dead bird’s discovery, rather than the third anniversary of the actual poisoning offence. This seems a bit of a stretch to us (we believe there was only one poisoning offence, on 18 March 2014, not a series of them) but, as we’re not lawyers, we need to tread carefully and err on the side of caution.

We’re not entirely certain of the date the last dead raptor was found at Conon Bridge, although we blogged about it on 26 April 2014. Because of this uncertainty, we will not be blogging about this case until early May, just to be absolutely sure that we’re not compromising any chance of someone being prosecuted for this crime (yes, highly unlikely, we know, but we have to play the game or face a charge of contempt).

More in May. In the meantime, for anyone who wants to read what we’ve previously written about this fiasco, click here and scroll through the pages.


Update on illegally-set traps on Glendye grouse moor

Two months ago we blogged about a series of illegally-set traps that had been photographed on the grouse moor of Glendye Estate in Aberdeenshire (see here).

We, and many of you (thank you) passed on the information to the local Police Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer, PC Doug Darling in the hope that an investigation might take place. We contacted him again a few days ago and asked if he was able to provide an update on this case.

He told us that an enquiry had been carried out in the area the day after the incident had been reported to the police, but no illegally-set traps had been found.

The person who had taken the photographs and published them on a blog was then contacted by the police, to learn as much as possible about the incident (how the traps were set, whether any baits had been seen etc).

The police then visited the Estate Factor and the gamekeeper, who were in possession of the traps as they had been informed of the incident by the original witness. PC Darling told us: “They took it upon themselves to remove the traps in case something were to become caught and denied knowing whose traps they were and how they came to be found on the estate set in an illegal manor [sic]”.

That’s interesting. What would you do if you were working in the land management sector and a member of the public told you they’d found illegally-set traps on your land? Wouldn’t you leave the evidence in place and immediately notify the police?

Anyway, PC Darling went on: “Given we have no physical evidence it would not be possible to report the incident to the Procurator Fiscal however Scottish Natural Heritage are aware of the incident and we will be discussing any other measures we could pursue given the circumstances“.

Presumably ‘any other measures’ would include SNH putting a General Licence restriction order on this Estate, because according to SNH guidelines, evidence which may be considered by SNH in any decision to impose a General Licence restriction includes:

Illegal placement, design or use of traps or methods that are not in compliance with the requirements of the General Licence‘.

We’ll see if that happens because of course much still depends on the findings of the judicial review, which examined the process SNH used to impose a General Licence restriction on Raeshaw Estate back in 2015. The court’s decision has not yet been announced, at least not in public.

This case highlights something we discussed yesterday when blogging about the pine marten that had been caught in a spring trap on another grouse shooting estate in Scotland (see here). If every trap had to carry a unique police-issued number identifying the registered trap-user, then this investigation might have ended with a better result. As happens over and over again, whoever set these traps has escaped being held to account for their criminal activities.

PC Darling deserves full credit here. Not only did he launch an investigation the day after being alerted to these traps, he then followed up with the witness and paid a visit to those responsible for managing the land, and he was also very quick and willing to explain what had happened when asked about this case. What a breath of fresh air. His actions will inspire confidence for anyone else thinking about reporting a suspected wildlife crime in this region, rather than the brick wall we’ve become accustomed to expect from Police Scotland. Let’s hope his senior officers take note and applaud his efforts as much as we do.


Pine marten caught in spring trap on Highland shooting estate

This pine marten was found with its leg caught in a spring trap on a Highland grouse shooting estate in the Monadhliaths last month. It was still alive when it was found. The trap was not anchored and the pine marten may have dragged itself (and the trap) some distance before it was discovered by hill walkers. The SSPCA was called out and the injured marten was taken to a vet to be euthanised.

The photographs appeared on Facebook yesterday, posted by one of the hill walkers, Andy Ross.

The circumstances leading to this incident are not known. This could have been an illegally-set spring trap, placed out in the open next to a bait to attract a passing raptor; this seems to be a recurring theme on some grouse moors. However, it’s also possible that the trap may have been legally set inside an artificial or natural tunnel and somehow the pine marten had managed to by-pass the entrance restrictor that is supposed to minimise the chance of a non-target species entering the tunnel. Mind you, if this had happened, it’s pretty hard to imagine that the pine marten would have been able to pull itself and the entire trap out through the restricted entrance hole.

Whatever the circumstances were, yet another protected species has suffered appalling injuries and lost its life, just so a few more grouse can be shot for fun later in the year, and nobody can be held accountable.

If the Scottish Government (and the Westminster Government for that matter) are going to continue to allow the use of spring traps, shouldn’t there be some sort of mandatory trap-user training and a requirement for each trap to be individually marked so the trap user can be identified, much like snare use is now regulated in Scotland?


Illegal pole trap set next to pheasant pen on Lanarkshire shooting estate

An article was published yesterday on The Ferret website about an illegal pole trap found next to a pheasant pen on an unnamed shooting estate in Lanarkshire.

Unfortunately the article now sits behind a paywall because we’ve viewed our allotted three free articles in one month, so we can’t add the actual link here. Some of you will be able to access the specific article by visiting The Ferret website and searching for it, or you can subscribe and get access to everything they publish.

Here’s an overview of the pole trap incident:

On 7 September 2015 at around 10.30am an investigator from the League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland) found an illegal pole trap that had been positioned next to a pheasant-rearing pen. The trap was set (i.e. the safety catch was off) and had been placed on top of a freshly-dead pheasant.

The investigator phoned the SSPCA who attended the scene at around 1.30pm and said the police should be called.

At 3.09pm, a man arrived at the pen carrying a bag of pheasant feed and was informed an illegal pole trap had been found next to the pen’s entrance door. Despite being warned not to tamper with potential police evidence, the man removed the trap from the pheasant bait and left it dangling from the post. He then entered the pen, fed the pheasants and then left the scene.

Two police officers turned up at 4pm and took the trap away in an evidence bag.

The police subsequently dropped the case.

The League Against Cruel Sports have published a video from the scene – watch it here.

The point being made in The Ferret article is that had the SSPCA been given increased investigatory powers, the SSPCA officer attending the scene would have been permitted to remove the illegal trap and collect it as evidence before the man came along and dismantled it, and the outcome of this case could have been very different.

As regular blog readers will know, we are still waiting for a long-overdue decision from the Scottish Government about whether the SSPCA will be given increased investigatory powers. Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said in January 2017 that a decision would be announced in the first half of 2017.


A few sandwiches short of a picnic

As we mentioned yesterday, some individuals within the game shooting industry have recently been doing their level best to discredit the work of raptor fieldworkers, and particularly anything associated with tagging raptors, be it leg rings, wing tags or satellite tags. As usual, their level best falls way short of the mark.

Some of it amounts to libel (so we won’t be discussing that here as legal action is being considered), some of it is quite disturbing (distributing images of children without parental consent and without any attempts to pixelate faces) and some of it is either a complete fabrication or a gross distortion of the truth. All of it is being done as a crude and cynical attempt to undermine the findings of the forthcoming raptor satellite tag review, which we anticipate will provide damning evidence of the extent of satellite tagged raptors that ‘disappear’ on Scottish grouse moors.

Here’s a good example of some of the propaganda being peddled by the game shooting industry. This photograph has been repeatedly posted on Facebook and other social media platforms as an example of ‘bad practice’ at a raptor tagging event. It shows a group of people at an eagle nest site in Perthshire in 2014. According to Bert Burnett of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, who has posted this image several times, these people, including Duncan Orr-Ewing of RSPB Scotland, are “having a picnic underneath an eagle nest” for several hours and thus by implication are causing unnecessary disturbance at the site and causing the adult birds to desert.

What’s actually happening here is a group of people, including four licensed experts and their invited guests, have climbed to an eagle nest site and while the climbers have gone to retrieve the eaglet from the nest so its satellite tag can be fitted in safety on the ground, Duncan is eating a sandwich. That’s it. It’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic, or is that just Bert?

Another photograph that Bert has circulated was also taken at this site on the same day. It shows Duncan quite rightly checking the fit of the young eagle’s sat tag harness before the bird is put back in its nest.

This photograph elicited all sorts of comments on social media, with suggestions that sat tagging golden eagles is harmful to the birds, that it’s detrimental to their survival and one person even claiming that “they [the raptor fieldworkers] are a far greater threat to birds than any shooting interests“.

He posted another photograph (which we won’t post here for legal reasons) that shows a woman and her son on the nest ledge after the eagle had been returned to its nest. Bert said this about it: “What happens to birds after tagging is very questionable. Allowing your families and friends to climb up intae the nest just for photo shoots is totally out of order and shows no concern for the birds future welfare“. On a later post he also claimed the woman had been “hoisted in to the nest“. What the photo actually shows is a Schedule 1 licence holder and her son who have just climbed to the nest to return the eagle after tagging. It’s probably hard for Bert to comprehend that a woman might actually be a Schedule 1 licence holder and that she’d be capable of climbing to the nest without being “hoisted in” (surely her breasts would get in the way?) but when your mindset is firmly stuck in the 18th century then it’s probably no surprise at all.

As for Bert’s comment, “What happens to birds after tagging is very questionable“, well, it’s not questionable in this case. This eagle was satellite tagged in Perthshire in 2014. The bird fledged successfully and its movements were tracked until 2016 when its tag signal suddenly stopped transmitting and the eagle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. We’d respectfully suggest that this eagle’s disappearance (probable death) was not caused by Duncan eating a sandwich at its natal site two years earlier nor by it being put back in to the nest by a woman, but was more than likely caused by illegal poisoning, illegal trapping or illegal shooting on or near a grouse moor in the Angus Glens.

A week ago, Bert again posted the photograph of Duncan eating a sandwich and he wrote the following on his Facebook page:

Once again, Bert hasn’t checked his facts. This eagle territory has NOT been deserted since Duncan and his colleagues safely fitted the satellite tag to the young eagle in 2014. On the contrary, the breeding pair has remained on territory and produced chicks every year since. In fact last year’s chick, ‘Freya’, was seen by millions of viewers as she was filmed being satellite tagged for the BBC’s SpringWatch programme!

Now, we can take the mick out of Bert all day and as long as he continues to spout nonsense we’ll continue to call him out – it’s actually quite enjoyable and he’s helping our cause no end. But there’s a darker side to what’s going on, with the targeted harassment of certain named individuals, and we’ll be blogging about that shortly.

In the meantime, have a look at a blog written by Duncan today (see here) for a more serious view on raptor tagging procedures and also check out this statement from the BTO which details the stringent requirements that must be met before anyone gets a licence to ring and tag birds in the UK: Overview of BTO Ringing Scheme training and licensing procedure


BAWC’s crowdfunding appeal for raptor satellite tagging project nears target

In January, campaign group Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) launched a crowdfunding appeal to help support a new raptor satellite tagging project in northern England.

The initial fundraising target was £10,000 and this was smashed within a week or so of launching. £10k was the minimum amount required for the project to be viable, but such was the support, BAWC increased the target to £19,000 to allow even more tags to be purchased.

At the time of writing, 699 incredible supporters have raised £18,124. Contributors have included high profile individuals like Chris Packham, Mark Avery, Nick Miles (Jimmy King from Emmerdale!) as well as some less well known people such as the children and teachers from St Mary’s RC Primary School in Northumberland who recently held a cake sale and donated the proceeds to this project.

The crowdfunding appeal closes in three days time so this is the final push to reach the £19,000 target. If you’d like to donate, please click here.

Thank you!

Incidentally, over the last few days various allegations have been made on social media about raptor tagging projects. This is, of course, coming from people within the game shooting industry who are keen to discredit raptor workers at every opportunity and they are also particularly keen to discredit the practice of raptor tagging in general, probably because they are worried about what the forthcoming raptor satellite tag review will show (and they are right to be worried – we expect the report to be damning).

Some of the allegations that have been made are clearly libellous and there has also been targeted harassment of some individual raptor workers, and their children, so we won’t be blogging about those as legal action is being considered. However, we will shortly be blogging in a wider context about some of the unsubstantiated claims being made about the effects of tagging on various raptor species.

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