Archive for June, 2017



22
Jun
17

Edradynate Estate gamekeeper in court for alleged crop poisoning

Well this is absolutely fascinating.

From the Courier & Advertiser (Perth & Perthshire edition), 22 June 2017:

Gamekeeper in court over estate crop poisoning allegation.

A senior gamekeeper has appeared at Perth Sheriff Court accused of poisoning crops on a Perthshire estate. David Campbell was working on the Edradynate Estate, near Aberfeldy, when he is said to have committed the offence.

A charge alleges he maliciously damaged the crops between April 14 and 16 this year by spraying them with an unknown substance, causing them to rot and perish. The 69 year old is also said to have stolen a thermal imaging spotting scope.

He made a brief appearance on petition before Sheriff William Wood at Perth Sheriff Court and made no plea or declaration. Campbell had his case continued. He was released on bail.

ENDS

You might be wondering why we’re blogging about this? The simple answer – we are very interested in the Edradynate Estate and have been for a long time as it has repeatedly been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations (particularly the alleged poisoning of birds of prey) although nobody has ever been convicted.

Most recently (May 2017) our interest has been in relation to the Crown Office’s refusal to prosecute an unnamed Edradynate gamekeeper for alleged offences relating to the poisoning of several buzzards, despite a plea from Police Scotland to proceed (see here). The Crown Office has not provided an explanation about why this decision was taken (video evidence was not involved), other than to say:

The Procurator Fiscal received a report concerning a 66-year-old man, in relation to alleged incidents between 18 March and 4 June 2015. Following full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, including the available admissible evidence, the Procurator Fiscal decided that there should be no proceedings taken at this time. The Crown reserves the right to proceed in the future should further evidence become available.”

As the alleged wildlife crime offences took place in 2015, the case will not become time barred until June 2018 so there may still be a prosecution, although we won’t be holding our breath given the Crown Office’s recent performances in this area (five cases of alleged wildlife crime dropped in the space of two months).

It’s ironic then, that an Edradynate Estate gamekeeper (although we understand this particular gamekeeper left Edradynate at the end of Jan 2017, despite what was reported in the Courier) has been charged with an alleged poisoning offence – not of a protected raptor species, but of a crop. That in itself is fascinating, but even more interesting is that this charge is deemed sufficiently serious for the Crown (prosecutors) to begin proceedings by petition (before deciding whether to prosecute on indictment or by summary complaint). Only serious cases are begun by petition.

We’ll be tracking this case with great interest.

Please note: if you decide to comment on this specific blog, please remember that this case and the alleged wildlife crime offences from 2015 are still ‘live’ and at this stage the offences are only alleged. Please think carefully about your choice of words. Thanks.

20
Jun
17

New osprey translocation project for Poole Harbour, Dorset

PRESS RELEASE:

A new and exciting Osprey translocation has been given the go ahead to take place in Poole Harbour this year as a first stage in establishing a south coast breeding population of this spectacular bird. The project is being led by local charity Birds of Poole Harbour, Scottish charity the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and local Poole based-business Wildlife Windows.

Ospreys, which feed exclusively on fish, historically bred across the whole of Britain and NW Europe; but populations drastically declined in the Middle Ages and became extinct in England by the mid 1800’s. The five year project looks to restore Ospreys to their former breeding grounds in the south of England where they used to have the local nickname “Mullet Hawk”. At the same time the project will provide an important stepping stone between breeding populations in Britain and northern France, with the aim of enhancing the long term survival of the Western European population as a whole. The project is part of a wider conservation recovery plan of Osprey in Western Europe and the Mediterranean region.

Map showing the breeding distribution of Osprey in Europe (BirdLife International 2015)

A Conservation Recovery Plan
Ospreys are annual visitors to Poole Harbour as they pass through on their northward and southward migrations between their breeding grounds in Scotland and central England and their over-wintering grounds in West Africa. Over the last 8 years, efforts within Poole Harbour have been made by the RSPB, National Trust, Natural England, The Forestry Commission and private landowners to try and attract Osprey to stay and breed by erecting artificial nesting platforms in the hope that the birds will adopt them as their own nests. Osprey are semi-colonial and often choose to nest in areas where other Osprey are nesting and in 2009, the RSPB went as far as placing decoy birds, supplied by Roy Dennis, on one of their nesting platforms on their Arne Reserve. Although there has been some interest by Osprey in these nesting platforms over that 8 year period, none have decided to stay and breed and it’s now thought a translocation project is the next logical step to try and encourage these incredible birds of prey to settle on the south coast of England.

Photo of an un-ringed juvenile Osprey visiting an artificial nest platform in Poole Harbour last September. This was likely an individual heading south on its first migration, taking up residence on this platform for a couple of weeks.

Previous Restoration Success
Translocation has proved a highly successful means by which to restore ospreys to areas from which they have been lost. The much-admired population at Rutland Water in the East Midlands was established by a pioneering translocation project in the late 1990s and similar work has since taken place in two regions of Spain as well as in Italy, Portugal and Switzerland.

This pan-European experience means that the Poole Harbour project, which will involve licensed collection of five-six week-old chicks from healthy, sustainable populations in Scotland, has the best-possible chance of success. Once collected the chicks will be safely brought down to Poole Harbour and held in large holding pens at a confidential site for just two – three weeks to acclimatize to their new home and prepare for their first flights. Once released they will be provided with fresh fish on artificial nests, to replicate normal osprey behavior, and so are likely to remain around Poole Harbour for a further six weeks (the normal post-fledging period) before beginning their long migration to West Africa. During this six week period the birds will imprint on the area and adopt Poole as their new home.

Paul Morton from the Birds of Poole Harbour charity stated:
The main issue that limits the natural spread of Ospreys is their natural dispersal. When young Ospreys return to breed for the first time, males prefer to nest in the area where they themselves were raised, while females tend to settle close to where other Ospreys are nesting. These factors combined mean that the natural expansion of the species is very slow – often as little as 11 km per year. This project will help to significantly speed up this process and restore the Osprey to the south coast where we know that they were once a common sight. The experience of other projects in Europe indicates that we should start seeing translocated Ospreys returning to their adopted home of Poole Harbour two-three years after they are released“.

Every autumn Poole Harbour can host up to six Osprey at any one time, attracted by the abundance of salt water fish such as Mullet, with the last two weeks of August and first two weeks of September being the optimum time to see them as they fatten up before their long journey south to West Africa.

Osprey tourism is hugely popular with the top four Osprey visitor attractions in the UK raising around £4 million each year for local economies between the months of March and August.

Paul Morton said, “We hope that this is a project that the whole community will get behind. In other parts of
the country there is great excitement when the Ospreys return each spring, and in years to come it would be
marvelous if there is a similar feeling in Poole and along other parts of the south coast.”

Roy Dennis and Tim Mackrill, from the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, who have expertise in osprey translocation added, “This project is the next logical step in the conservation of Ospreys in the UK and Western Europe. The Rutland project completely changed the distribution of the species in the south of the UK, but they remain a very rare breeding bird in England despite the fact that extensive areas of suitable habitat exist. Establishing a population of Ospreys on the south coast, where estuaries provide extremely rich fishing grounds, will be another positive step forward and help to link existing populations in Rutland, Wales and France, as part of a pan-European recovery of the species.”

Jason Fathers of Wildlife Windows concluded, “It is a privilege to be involved in this significant project to restore Ospreys to their former breeding grounds in the south of the UK and even more rewarding to know that this step can help the European population as a whole. Much work has been done by local conservation organisations over the last eight years to persuade these wonderful birds to breed here once again and it is great to know we are one step closer to realizing this goal”.

END

Photo of Poole Harbour by Michael Harpur

19
Jun
17

More distorted facts from Scottish Moorland Group Director Tim Baynes

We’ve all learned by now how Tim (Kim) Baynes, Director of SLE’s Scottish Moorland Group, likes to spin the facts; we only wrote about it last week (see here).

Here’s another well-spun article. We missed it when it was published in the Scottish Sporting Gazette (Summer 2016) but someone has kindly sent through. It’s classic Tim (Kim), pretending that illegal persecution is no longer an issue and also pretending that most conservationists (apart from us so-called ‘extremists’) now support the idea of some form of raptor ‘control’.

“The last few decades have seen a grinding controversy over birds of prey, with incidents of illegal killing linked to sporting estates often in the headlines. The good news is that the underlying situation is now hugely improved, but that has galvanised social commentators to try even harder to keep the controversy alive. Social media is their tool of choice, but the facts can become seriously distorted. The problem now is that all the positive work by land managers risks being derailed by a small number of committed activists, particularly those who are anti-grouse shooting.

The facts are that a number of long-term changes have come to fruition in the last five years. Scotland has pioneered new approaches, particularly through the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAWS) – of which Scottish Land & Estates and the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association are committed members – with awareness training and tightening up of legal sanctions.

The Scottish Government now publishes official data on police-recorded persecution cases which enables national assessment of the problem each year, and that has shown a marked decline in bird of prey incidents – particularly poisoning, which is down to single figures. The police believe that wildlife crime generally is now under control and, for example, there have been no police-recorded raptor incidents in the whole Cairngorms National Park for the last two years. Recently, there have been as many reported cases of gamekeepers taking wounded birds of prey to the vet as there have been keepers being prosecuted!

Alongside this, most bird of prey numbers have increased all over Scotland, as evidenced by the BTO Bird Atlas, and on many sporting estates they are in rude health. An example is the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project where there are now 68 pairs of breeding raptors. There was a national census of golden eagles in 2015 which is expected to show an increase, and 2016 sees the latest national survey of hen harriers.

Three surveys of managed grouse moor estates in 2015 showed the presence of 10 raptor species, including breeding eagles and harriers. However, there is ongoing concern that these two Schedule 1 species could be doing better in some areas and Scottish Land & Estates are working closely with PAWS partners in two national initiatives – Heads Up for Harriers and the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project.

With this background and the recent publication of the year-long scientific study ‘Understanding Predation’ by Scotland’s Moorland Forum, the real debate over birds of prey is now moving onto more positive territory, with focus on the ecological impacts, not just the incidents of persecution. It is now accepted that key prey species such as waders, black grouse, and grey partridges are in serious decline while some predators including buzzards and ravens have increased significantly. The project has fostered real cooperation among groups of stakeholders with traditionally opposing views, and it is hoped that the new Scottish Government will now back practical action to address this problem. It is now up to the extremists to give that cooperative approach their full support and not jeopardise progress”.

END

We could spend all day pointing out the spin in Tim’s (Kim’s) claims, such as there being no police-recorded raptor persecution incidents in the Cairngorms National Park for two years (not quite true – see here), or that there are more reported cases of gamekeepers taking wounded raptors to the vets than there are of gamekeepers being prosecuted, implying that gamekeepers are no longer committing alleged offences (not quite true – see here), or implying that eagles and harriers were successfully breeding on three surveyed grouse moor estates in 2015 (not quite true – see here), or that most bird of prey numbers have increased all over Scotland (not quite true – see here, here, and incidentally both these scientific papers were published before Tim (Kim) wrote this tripe), or implying that all stakeholders, with traditionally opposing views, are now supportive of backing what Tim (Kim) calls ‘positive action’ against raptors (what he means is licenced ‘control’) – again, this is not true. Name one conservation NGO that doesn’t have a vested interest in game shooting who supports this idea?

One year on from Tim’s (Kim’s) world of fantasy, and our so-called ‘extremist’ claims that illegal persecution is still rife on many driven grouse moors has been validated by the findings of the recently published golden eagle satellite tag review. It is now apparent even to the Scottish Government that illegal raptor persecution continues, albeit very well hidden (apart from if the targeted raptor victim happens to be wearing a satellite tag) and on the basis of this overwhelming evidence, we are finally set to see some action.

Thank goodness the policy makers haven’t listened to Tim’s (Kim’s) distorted point of view.

UPDATE 22 June 2017: Retired Police Wildlife Crime Officer Alan Stewart has blogged about this article here

18
Jun
17

Local volunteers patrolling peregrine nest sites in Forest of Dean

Following a spate of peregrine persecution incidents, the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust has teamed up with local residents in the Forest of Dean to launch a protection scheme, including the installation of video cameras at nest sites and regular patrols to report any suspicious behaviour.

Full story on the GloucestershireLive website here

Very well done, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and those local volunteers.

Peregrine photo by Megan Lorenz

This local action comes after the suspicious death of three adult peregrines near the Devil’s Pulpit in the Forest of Dean earlier this spring (see here).

And last month, the Gloucester Wildlife Trust provided the Police with a video showing a man who appeared to have entered private land within the Forest of Dean and was throwing items at a peregrine nest site (see here). Police would like to speak to this individual:

17
Jun
17

Another year, another gas gun deployed on a driven grouse moor

It’ll come as no surprise to anybody that gas guns are still being deployed on driven grouse moors, at a critical time in the hen harrier breeding season.

Here is one photographed this week in use on Glenogil Estate in the Angus Glens (photo from one of our blog readers):

We’ve been blogging about the use of gas guns for two years. For those who don’t know, propane gas guns are routinely used for bird scaring on agricultural fields – they are set up to produce a periodic booming noise to scare pigeons, geese etc away from crops. The audible bang can reach volumes in excess of 150 decibels. We suspect these are being used on driven grouse moors throughout the UK uplands to prevent hen harriers and other ground-nesting raptors from settling to breed.

We’ve previously asked the statutory conservation organisations about the legality of use. We assumed that the deployment of these gas guns would be subject to guidance and rigorous licensing controls by SNH and Natural England (as they are the licensing authorities for the Wildlife & Countryside Act (as amended)), particularly in relation to the hen harrier, which, as a Schedule 1A species (in Scotland only), is “protected from harassment [including disturbance] at any time”, not just when it’s trying to breed (see here). After a long delay, SNH replied with this and Natural England came up with these (useless) ‘guidelines’.

Hopefully the use of gas guns will be included in the forthcoming independent review of grouse moor management techniques.

Hen harriers haven’t bred successfully on the grouse moors of the Angus Glens since 2006. Can’t think why.

16
Jun
17

Scottish Government to review use of stink pits on game shooting estates

Yesterday the Scottish Parliament debated the use of stink pits (middens) on game-shooting estates, following a motion from Christine Grahame MSP.

Stink pits are piles of rotting animal carcasses (often including the corpses of wild and domestic animals) that are dumped in a heap and surrounded by snares. The putrefying stench from the corpses attracts predators to the pit who are then caught in the snares, killed and thrown on to the pit. This is all quite legal as long as the animals have been lawfully killed.

The official transcript of the debate can be read here: Stink pit debate_ScotParl_15June2017

Take note of the comments made by Peter Chapman MSP (Conservative, NE Scotland, a former vice president of NFUS and now serving as Shadow Cabinet Minister for the Rural Economy & Connectivity). According to Peter,

On baiting, a proper midden is located in an area where target species can be naturally channelled and, as such, I am told that descriptions of piles of carcases are frankly incorrect. Indeed, such piles are not necessary: it does not take a tonne of wheat to attract a rat—a small pile will do—and it would be the same for a midden“.

This was challenged by Christine Grahame who asked whether Peter had seen the online photographs of piles of carcasses. He had to admit that he had (so therefore his assertion that Christine’s claim was ‘frankly incorrect’ was, er, totally incorrect). Peter claimed that “despite spending my whole working life living and working in the countryside“, he had not ever seen a stink pit nor even heard of one before yesterday’s debate. Perhaps he needs to get out a bit more. Here’s one, photographed in his own constituency (on Glenogil Estate) – a pile of bloodied, rotting mountain hares dumped underneath a tree and surrounded by snares (Photo by one of our blog readers who wishes to remain anonymous):

Aside from Peter’s uninformed comments, other MSPs spoke of their revulsion of stink pits and expressed shock that there is currently no regulation or legislation covering stink pit use in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham spoke at the end of the debate and claimed that “stink pits are used as a way of maximising the effectiveness of snaring as a means of fox control. They are used to draw foxes into fewer, more easily checked sites; thus, they have the benefit of concentrating snaring effort and reducing the number of snares that are set in the wider countryside“. That’s an interesting claim. Is there any evidence to support it? Given that nobody knows how many stink pits are in use at any given time, or how many snares are set at any given time, it seems a bit of a jump to argue that stink pits reduce the number of snares used in the wider countryside, doesn’t it? You could equally argue that stink pits ADD to the number of snares being set on these estates. Without supporting data, both claims are as valid/invalid as each other.

Anyway, the good news is that Roseanna has confirmed that stink pit use will be under review by two separate groups. One is the Scottish Government’s Technical Assessment Group, who will review stink pits as part of their overall snaring review. The other is the yet-to-be established independent group that will review grouse moor management practices, as announced last month in response to continued illegal raptor persecution. We look forward to hearing more about that group, and its full remit, in the very near future.

15
Jun
17

Law professor comments on inadmissibility of video evidence in wildlife crime prosecutions

As regular blog readers will be aware, the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), the public prosecutors in Scotland, have, in the space of two months, either dropped or refused to prosecute five cases of alleged wildlife crime. These include:

25 March 2017 – gamekeeper John Charles Goodenough (Dalreoch Estates), accused of the alleged use of illegal gin traps. Prosecution dropped due to paperwork blunder by Crown Office.

11 April 2017 – landowner Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate), accused of being allegedly vicariously liable for the actions of his gamekeeper who had earlier been convicted for killing a buzzard by stamping on it and dropping rocks on to it. Prosecution dropped due to ‘not being in the public interest’.

21 April 2017 – gamekeeper Stanley Gordon (Cabrach Estate), accused of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier. Prosecution dropped as video evidence deemed inadmissible.

25 April 2017 – gamekeeper Craig Graham (Brewlands Estate), accused of allegedly setting and re-setting an illegal pole trap. Prosecution dropped as video evidence deemed inadmissible.

21 May 2017 – an unnamed 66 year old gamekeeper (Edradynate Estate), suspected of alleged involvement with the poisoning of three buzzards. Crown Office refused to prosecute, despite a plea to do so by Police Scotland.

Two of these cases (Cabrach Estate and Brewlands Estate) were dropped due to the COPFS deciding that the use of RSPB video evidence, on which the prosecutions relied, was inadmissible.

There has been widespread public condemnation and political concern about these decisions, especially in the case of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate in Morayshire. The Crown Office has attempted to explain the decisions but many questions remain unanswered for those of us who don’t have the legal expertise, or all the case details, to challenge the COPFS decisions.

We read with interest, then, a blog that was published yesterday written by Peter Duff, Professor of Criminal Justice at Aberdeen University. His blog, entitled ‘The law of evidence, video footage, and wildlife conservation: did COPFS make the correct decisions?‘ deals specifically with the Cabrach & Brewlands cases and can be read here.

We thoroughly recommend reading it. It’s important to read the perspective of an independent, expert academic who has no axe to grind on either side of the debate. It’s hard for those of us who are either tainted by years of frustration about criminal raptor killers getting away with it, or those with a vested interest in raptor killers avoiding prosecution, to take an unbiased view of the law and its application, so Professor Duff’s opinion is a valuable contribution to the debate. Not only that, it’s great to see this issue receiving wider coverage than the usual commentators.

That’s not to say we agree with his interpretation though! In short, Professor Duff concludes that the COPFS decisions were “perfectly reasonable”, and he explains his reasoning for this, but, crucially, some of what he writes does not take in to account previous case law on this issue, perhaps because he was unaware of such cases?

For example, Professor Duff states: ” In my view also, for what it is worth, I agree that the courts would not excuse such an irregularity in obtaining the video evidence and prosecutions would be fruitless“.

First of all, the Scottish courts HAVE excused the irregularity of obtaining video evidence without the landowner’s permission and far from those prosecutions being ‘fruitless’, they actually resulted in the conviction of the accused (e.g. see the Marshall trial here and the Mutch trial here).

During the Marshall trial, there were several hours of legal argument about the admissibility of the video evidence. The Sheriff accepted the video evidence, commenting that the RSPB presence on the gamekeeper’s estate [from where the video was filmed] was “neither illegal nor irregular, and the intent to obtain evidence did not make it so“.  This is no different to the recent Cabrach case.

During the Mutch trial, again involving several hours of legal argument about the admissibility of evidence, the Sheriff accepted that the RSPB had not placed the video camera with the purpose of gathering evidence for prosecution, but they had placed it as part of a legitimate survey in to the use of traps. This is no different to the recent Cabrach case.

There is also an on-going trial at the moment (concerning alleged fox hunting) that relies heavily on video evidence filmed on privately-owned land without the landowner’s permission. The court has accepted the video evidence as admissible (although we can’t comment too much on this as the trial is still live).

So on that basis, we profoundly disagree with Professor Duff’s opinion that covertly filmed video evidence would not be accepted by the Scottish courts. It already has been, on several occasions, resulting in convictions. The question remains then, why did the COPFS decide it was inadmissible? Somebody within the Crown Office (presumably an experienced lawyer from with the Wildlife & Environmental Crime Unit) decided, when this case was first marked, that the video evidence was admissible. It took nine court hearings over a period of a year before the COPFS decided that the video evidence was inadmissible. We still don’t know the basis for that decision. And the other related question to this is why didn’t the COPFS let the court make the decision? It’s this inconsistency of approach that has caused so much confusion, and as Professor Duff writes, ‘bewilderment’.

Professor Duff also writes: “The actions by the RSPB [of placing a covert camera] are a breach of the right to privacy of both the estate owners and their employees (whilst not quite analogous, imagine if your neighbour installed a secret camera to record everything that went on in your garden)“. Sorry, but it’s quite absurd to compare these two scenarios given the size difference between these two types of landholdings. Nobody could argue that placing a covert camera to film somebody’s back garden wouldn’t be a breach of privacy, as you’d reasonably expect to see the human occupants on a daily basis. But on a multi-thousand acre estate, far from any private dwelling? Come on, “not quite analogous” is one hell of an understatement. And not only that, in the Cabrach case, the camera was aimed at the nest of Schedule 1 hen harrier, which by law cannot be approached/disturbed without an appropriate licence from SNH so you wouldn’t expect to film anybody anywhere near the nest.

All in all then, Professor Duff’s interpretation of the law, whilst useful, still doesn’t explain, or justify, the decisions made by the Crown Office in these two cases.

And questions still remain about the decisions to drop the other three cases (gamekeeper John Charles Goodenough of Dalreoch Estates; landowner Andrew Duncan of Newlands Estate; an unnamed gamekeeper of Edradynate Estate), none of which were reliant upon video evidence.

14
Jun
17

MSPs to debate use of stink pits on game shooting estates

Tomorrow (Thursday 15 June 2017) Christine Grahame MSP (SNP) will lead a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the use of stink pits on game shooting estates.

Stink pits (also known as middens) are piles of dead, rotting carcasses, surrounded by snares, that are used by gamekeepers to lure in predators that can then be killed and added to the death pile.

The use of stink pits is currently legal in Scotland, under a special derogation for gamekeepers. Charity OneKind has been campaigning to ask the Scottish Government to consider banning the use of stink pits on ethical, animal welfare and public health grounds and they’ve published a gruesome blog on this issue (here). Here are some of the images from that blog:

Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire, November 2016: Note the snare around the muzzle of the young fox in the bowl

Marchmont Estate, Berwickshire, October 2015: a dozen pink footed geese dumped in a stink pit

Glen Turret Estate, Perthshire, June 2016: as well as this dead cat, the stink pit also contained deer, pheasant, crows, salmon and a fox

Glenogil Estate, Angus Glens, May 2011: a decomposing fox that had been thrown over a tree stump next to a line of snares. Another dead fox was found nearby with a snare still around its neck

In May 2017, Christine Grahame MSP lodged a parliamentary motion (S5M-05662) as follows:

That the Parliament notes the continued use of stink pits, which are also known as middens, as part of the predator control regime on shooting estates in in the Scottish Borders and elsewhere; understands that these are pits or piles of animal carcasses that are left to decompose so that the smell will attract foxes and other predators into snares placed around them; believe that the dead animals found in these pits recently have included foxes, deer, whole salmon, pink-footed geese, pheasants, rabbits, mountain hares and domestic cats; considers that killing and dumping animals, including protected species and domestic pets, to rot and act as bait to trap other animals, is inhumane and fundamentally disrespectful to the creatures; believes that current use goes beyond good practice in many instances; notes the view that it is necessary to assess the justification for permitting their use when the disposal of farm livestock is strictly controlled, when the extent to which their use is associated with the killing of protected species and domestic animals is taken account of and when the association between the pits and intensive predator control regimes as practised on driven grouse moors is examined, and notes the calls for Scottish Government to consider the merits of banning the use of stink pits in Scotland altogether, on ethical, animal welfare and public health grounds.

This motion received cross-party political support as follows. Is your MSP on this list? What, no Conservatives?

Colin Smyth (Labour), Gillian Martin (SNP), John Finnie (Greens), Ruth Maguire (SNP), Stuart McMillan (SNP), Rona Mackay (SNP), Alex Rowley (Labour), Joan McAlpine (SNP), Alison Johnstone (Greens), Emma Harper (SNP), Bill Kidd (SNP), Ash Denham (SNP), Iain Gray (Labour), Kenneth Gibson (SNP), Clare Haughey (SNP), Mark Ruskell (Greens), Johann Lamont (Labour), Pauline McNeill (Labour), Ivan McKee (SNP), Sandra White (SNP), Patrick Harvie (Greens), Elaine Smith (Labour), John Mason (SNP), Richard Lochhead (SNP), James Dornan (SNP), Fulton MacGregor (SNP), Claudia Beamish (Labour), Andy Wightman (Greens), David Torrance (SNP), Tom Arthur (SNP), Ben Macpherson (SNP), Jackie Baillie (Labour), Gail Ross (SNP), Clare Adamson (SNP).

Because MSPs from several political parties (with the exception of the Tories) have supported the motion, it will now be debated in Chamber tomorrow afternoon after First Minister’s Questions (FMQ starts at 12 noon). You can watch the debate live here and we’ll post the official transcript when it becomes available.

Well done OneKind, well done Christine Grahame MSP, and well done all those MSPs who supported this motion. The more political scrutiny of obscene gamekeeping practices, the better.

13
Jun
17

Technology challenge launched to solve problem of finding hidden or destroyed satellite tags

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has joined forces with Scottish Natural Heritage to co-sponsor a new CivTech challenge aimed at finding a creative and innovative technology-based solution to the problem of finding ‘disappearing’ satellite tagged raptors.

As you’ll be aware, satellite-tagged raptors are ‘disappearing’ in Scotland and England with increasing frequency. There was a time, in the early years of satellite tagging raptors, that illegally-killed birds would be found as their tags were still emitting signals allowing researchers to pinpoint the location of the corpse and thus evidence of the crime (e.g. poisoned golden eagle Alma whose corpse was found on Millden Estate in the Angus Glens in 2009). However, the raptor-killing criminals got wise to this and in recent years have been making more effort to destroy and hide the tag at the same time as killing the bird.

This lack of hard evidence causes problems for the wildlife crime enforcement agencies because it becomes very hard to prove that the bird has actually been killed. In a small number of cases, the satellite tag could just have malfunctioned, and we have seen evidence of this (e.g. hen harrier Highlander here), although the expected frequency of this happening is very low (the recent golden eagle satellite tag review identified tag reliability, based on studies of the same tags deployed in the US and Europe, as around 98%). Nevertheless, even with the high number of ‘disappearing’ tagged raptors in Scotland but little hard evidence of criminality, researchers have still been able to identify unusual concentrations / spatial clusters of where these birds have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances.

For example, here is a map showing the significant spatial clustering of ‘disappeared’ tagged golden eagles that just happen to be concentrated in several areas of driven grouse moors in and around the Cairngorms National Park, as identified in the golden eagle satellite tag review:

This identification of ‘suspicious’ persecution hotspots is excellent, and has contributed significantly to the Scottish Government finally accepting that this is an on-going problem that needs addressing, but it doesn’t provide enough information to instigate criminal proceedings against those involved. More hard evidence is required for that.

CivTech is a Scottish Government-led initiative, first piloted in 2016, which challenges creative technologists to come up with a solution to public sector problems. Some of the first challenges included improving flood forecasting and ensuring it is better used, and improving air quality in urban areas.

The joint Cairngorms National Park Authority / Scottish Natural Heritage challenge invites technologists to look at the problem of ‘disappearing’ satellite-tagged raptors and to devise a solution to find those tags, or at least provide ‘indestructible’, real-time information about the tag’s last location before it was tampered with. This probably won’t overcome the long-term problem of identifying an actual individual criminal, especially on an estate that employs multiple gamekeepers, but it might just be enough to create a deterrent. At the very least, it should provide enough information for the Scottish Government to impose civil sanctions on that estate – sanctions that are currently being discussed after Roseanna Cunningham’s announcement last month.

Opening up this challenge to the CivTech community is a very clever idea as it will reach an audience that probably knows nothing of this issue, and who may well come up with a solution that is beyond the expertise of the typical conservationist. Who knows what the technology geeks will come up with? The two instigators of the challenge (Grant Moir from CNPA and Keith Duncan from SNH) are open-minded as to what the solution might look like, e.g. a software-based solution that can be applied remotely to tags that are already deployed, or a new hardware solution that involves fitting a new gadget on to new raptors. Any new solution may be trialled in the Cairngorms National Park, a massive raptor persecution hotspot, and if successful, could be rolled out across the UK.

The closing date for applications has already passed (1 June 2017) and a ‘pitch day’ has been set for 26 July 2017.

Well done Grant and Keith. We look forward to hearing more about this later in the year.

12
Jun
17

Heads Up for Harriers: Tim Baynes claims illegal persecution an “historical controversy”

Another week and another duplicitous article from Tim (Kim) Baynes, Director of SLE’s Scottish Moorland Group. This guy seems to live in a perpetual state of denial when it comes to the illegal persecution of raptors on driven grouse moors.

This time he’s penned an article for the latest edition of Shooting Times about the ridiculous Heads Up for Hen Harriers project (more on this below).

The front cover of the Shooting Times has a headline banner: “The hen harrier: how much do we really know?”, which laughably infers that the cause of long-term hen harrier decline in the UK is still a bit of a mystery that needs solving, and then inside there’s a two-page spread from Tim (Kim) who suggests that ‘weather’ and fox predation are the big culprits, as recorded by Heads Up for Hen Harrier cameras. Astonishingly, he also claims that the illegal persecution of hen harriers on grouse moors is an “historical controversy”.

You can read the full article here: Shooting Times 7 June 2017_HaveYouSeenAHenHarrier_TimBaynes

Perhaps he missed the Government-commissioned 2011 Hen Harrier Conservation Framework, which set out very clearly what the main issue is: Illegal persecution is the biggest single factor affecting hen harriers and it is having a dramatic impact on the population, not only in northern England but also in Scotland:

  • The potential national hen harrier population in Scotland is estimated (conservatively) to be within the range 1467-1790 pairs.
  • The current national hen harrier population in Scotland as recorded during the 2010 national survey is 505 pairs, more than a 20% decline from the numbers recorded during the 2004 national survey.
  • In Scotland, the hen harrier has a favourable conservation status in only five of 20 regions.
  • Two main constraints were identified: illegal persecution, and in one region, prey shortages.
  • The species is particularly unsuccessful in the Central Highlands, Cairngorm Massif, Northeast Glens, Western Southern Uplands and the Border Hills. There is strong evidence in these grouse moor regions that illegal persecution is causing the failure of a majority of breeding attempts.

Tim (Kim) also appears to have missed the video published by RSPB Scotland last month showing exactly what happens when a camera is installed at a hen harrier nest without the grouse moor owner and gamekeeper’s knowledge:

He must also have missed last month’s news that Police Scotland are investigating the illegal shooting of yet another hen harrier on a grouse moor near Leadhills (see here), which incidentally is alleged to have happened on the estate owned by the Hopetoun family – that’ll be the family of Lord Hopetoun, Chair of the Scottish Moorland Group, of which Tim (Kim) is, er, Director.

The only ‘historical’ aspect of hen harrier persecution is that it’s been going on for over a hundred years. Pretending that it’s now stopped, in the face of such overwhelming evidence to the contrary, is the response of an idiot.

We’ve blogged about the Heads Up for Hen Harriers project many times (e.g. see here, here, here). The idea is that estates give permission for cameras to be installed at active hen harrier nests ‘to help build a picture of why these birds aren’t doing as well as they should be’. The major flaw in this ‘study’ design is that gamekeepers will know on which nests the cameras are pointing, so obviously they’re not going to shoot the adults or stamp on the eggs/nestlings at those sites. Instead, the cameras will record natural failures (e.g. poor weather, predation) and then the grouse shooting industry can use this information to claim that illegal persecution isn’t an issue, but poor weather and predation is. This is exactly what Tim (Kim) Baynes has done in this latest article.

Now, some might argue that having grouse moor owners’ agreement to install cameras at hen harrier nests on their estates is a good thing – at least those nests will be left alone and the birds might be able to produce some young. There is that, of course. But leaving the birds alone long enough to produce fledglings isn’t enough. What happens to those young fledglings once they leave the safety of a monitored nest? You only have to look at what happened to young hen harrier Elwood to answer that question. He survived for approximately two weeks after dispersing from his monitored nest site before un-mysteriously vanishing on a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths – funnily enough in an area where many satellite tagged golden eagles have also un-mysteriously vanished.

Tim (Kim) talks about the number of estates that have agreed to participate this year (at least 15) and makes much of the fact that some of these are grouse moor estates. The same thing happened last year, although what was covered up last year was the fact that only three nests were successful and none of those was on a driven grouse moor. This wasn’t a surprise given that most of the driven grouse moor estates that agreed to ‘participate’ were located in the Angus Glens – an area that hasn’t seen a successful hen harrier breeding attempt since 2006.

What would be more interesting to know is not how many estates have agreed to ‘participate’, which is a largely meaningless figure unless they actually have an active nest, but how many estates have refused to participate? Again, this information is not made public, presumably because it’ll spoil the image of this so-called ‘widespread cooperation’ from grouse moor estates.

We’ve got another question for Tim (Kim). In this article he says:

A better idea of current numbers will emerge when the results of the 2016 UK harrier population survey are published, but the overall picture is expected to be broadly the same in Scotland“.

Really? On what basis is he making this claim? The results of the National HH Survey have not yet been released (held back, we believe, due to the General Election, but due out shortly), so what makes Tim (Kim) think that “the overall picture is expected to be broadly the same in Scotland”? Is this based on factual information or is Tim (Kim) just making up some nonsense to suit his agenda?

It’s not like he/Scottish Moorland Group/Gift of Grouse hasn’t done this before (e.g. see here, here, here).




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