Archive for July, 2017

31
Jul
17

Ian Botham masterclass on how not to do a radio interview

You’ve got to listen to this. It’s the funniest nine minutes of car crash radio you’ll have heard for a long time.

It’s Ian Botham, being interviewed on BBC Five Live this morning, talking about how the public spirited game shooting industry is planning to donate thousands of lead-poisoned pheasants and partridges to the poor and needy.

First, here’s a bit of background (from yesterday’s Sunday Times) –

Whether you think donating thousands of lead-contaminated game birds to the poor is a great idea or whether you think it’s simply a PR opportunity to justify the killing of 50 million game birds a year for entertainment, this is fantastic radio.

Here’s the interview (starts at 2:39:12). Only available for 29 days.

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31
Jul
17

Mountain hares slaughtered on Scottish grouse moors: new report published

On the eve of the open season (1st August) for killing mountain hares in Scotland, animal welfare charity OneKind has published a new report outlining concerns about the scale of this slaughter taking place on Scottish grouse moors.

The report can be downloaded here: mountain hares persecution report Onekind 2017

The report provides a good summary of what is known about mountain hare persecution (who’s killing them, why they’re killing them and which methods they’re using), but perhaps more importantly, the report emphasises how little is known about the impact of this apparently legal slaughter on the conservation status of the mountain hare population. The report also provides new information about 25 companies that offer mountain hare killing as a ‘sporting’ activity on grouse moors, some of which seems to be endorsed by Scottish Government agencies including the tourism agency Visit Scotland and the statutory conservation agency, Scottish Natural Heritage.

The report details recent calls from a range of conservation organisations asking for a moratorium on the culling until the impact on the hare population can be properly assessed, and the Scottish Government’s weak response that has mostly focused on making a plea for ‘voluntary restraint’ – a plea that has been comprehensively ignored by the grouse-shooting industry. It’s hardly a surprise, given the industry’s reputation for long-term criminality; if they won’t obey the law it’s quite unlikely they’ll adhere to any call for voluntary restraint.

On the publication of the new report, OneKind Director Harry Huyton said:

Mountain hares are an iconic species in Scotland that should be protected. Our report shows that instead they are persecuted in enormous numbers for entertainment. This killing is unregulated, and there are no guarantees that it is not further driving the decline of these species or causing unacceptable suffering.

Today, the day before the open season begins, OneKind is calling on the Scottish Government to take urgent action and introduce a moratorium on large-scale hunts and culls before the season gets into full swing”.

On the apparent endorsement of large-scale recreational hare killing by Scottish Government agencies, Harry said:

I hope that Visit Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage share our surprise and displeasure with what we have revealed in our report. It’s simply not appropriate for Government agencies to actively promote the large-scale recreational killing of native wildlife, and I am writing to both agencies today to ask them to remove their endorsement of the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group and businesses that offer these services”.

The report makes a series of recommendations including the introduction of complete protection of mountain hares within Scotland’s national parks, prohibiting mountain hare killing except under licence all year round, and strengthening and bringing transparency to the licensing arrangements.

We know that mountain hare culling will be investigated as part of the Scottish Government’s forthcoming review on grouse moor management, but we don’t know when that review will begin.

Given the mountain hare’s protected status, the Government’s responsibility to maintain the population in favourable conservation status, the legitimate concerns about the population impact of large commercial hare shoots on grouse moors (e.g. see here), the grouse-shooting industry’s complete denial that there’s even a problem (sound familiar?), it doesn’t seem too much to ask for a temporary moratorium on all mountain hare killing until its effects are properly assessed. Does it?

UPDATE 13.30hrs:

From the OneKind website:

  • The Balavil Estate website has been taken down and the following comment was provided: “A website set up by the previous owners of the Balavil Estate does not present an accurate description of the estate as it is today. We are seeking to close this website which is not in our ownership. Since 2015, Balavil Estate has had a new owner who is investing in land and properties on the estate, particularly in relation to its farming activities. The estate has no plans for hare shooting.”
  • Viscount Sporting are no longer advertising mountain hare hunting. Their website now says that “hunting experiences will exclude Mountain Hare shooting as of the 2017 shooting season” and that they are “firmly in line with the current position of the Scottish Wildlife Trust”.
  • The Mirani Hunting entry on VisitScotland.org appears to have removed the image of a mountain hare hunt.
29
Jul
17

More evidence of mountain hares being used as bait on Peak District National Park grouse moors

A few days ago we wrote a blog about what appeared to be a bin full of dead mountain hares being used as bait in a stink pit bin on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (see here).

The blog stimulated a lot of comments about the identification of the species in the bin, whether or not the bin was being used as a stink pit, and whether the whole thing had been a set up by the Hunt Investigation Team.

A blog reader (independent of the Hunt Investigation Team) has sent in some more photographs that were taken on the same grouse moor, and on one other grouse moor also within the National Park, in years previous to the Hunt Investigation Team’s visit earlier this year.

This image (below) is particularly interesting – it’s the same stink pit bin, photographed in 2015, clearly showing a set snare on the lead in path, presumably set to catch any fox that might be attracted to the stench of rotting flesh in the bin:

On the same estate, a dead mountain hare with its belly slit open was photographed (1 March 2015) on a path where a snare had been set. The snare is quite difficult to see in this photo – it is to right of the path, adjacent to the fallen branch:

This photo (below) shows the same scene from the reverse angle, with the snare in the foreground:

This photo (below) shows another stink pit containing dead mountain hares (this time on a different grouse moor within the National Park) and the photographer says snares were seen surrounding the site but they were not set (photo taken Xmas Eve 2016).

It is clear from these photographs that mountain hares are being used as bait on these grouse moors to attract in predators that will be snared and killed. All of this is legal.

However, as we argued on the earlier blog, the mountain hare is listed as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species (UKBAP), identified as threatened and requiring conservation action. The Peak District National Park Authority has the mountain hare listed as a priority species within the Park and say it is “a locally important species for which we’re taking action” (see here).

How does allowing them to be killed on a grouse moor within the National Park, and then used as bait to catch and kill other wildlife, constitute conservation action?

Emails to Sarah Fowler, Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park Authority:  sarah.fowler@peakdistrict.gov.uk

27
Jul
17

RSPB statement on hen harrier reintroduction to southern England

Last week we wrote a series of blogs updating what we know about the proposed controversial ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England.

In one of those blogs (here) we included an email from Jeff Knott (RSPB) to Simon Lees (Hen Harrier Southern Reintroduction Project Manager, Natural England) that included the following muddled sentence:

While we [RSPB] have said we don’t actively support the reintroduction project, nor are we opposed to it and of course we would want to see it be a success“.

We, and many others, didn’t have a clue what that meant. The RSPB has now published a clarification statement, posted on an RSPB community blog by Tony Whitehead, RSPB Public Affairs Manager, SW England region:

A consortium led by Natural England is currently looking at the feasibility of re-introducing hen harrier to southern England. The species is red listed, and has declined markedly over the past few decades with it’s continuing rarity due to ongoing illegal persecution on and around intensively managed grouse moors in northern England.

The current NE feasibility project aims to assess the opportunity of re-establishing a viable population away from the moors, and thus improve the bird’s prospects. Areas being looked at include Dartmoor, Exmoor and Wessex.

The RSPB has serious reservations about this approach to hen harrier conservation in England, and therefore is NOT supporting the project.

Firstly, the RSPB only advocates reintroduction in situations where natural re-colonisation is not possible through other measures. At present, we believe that this could be achieved if persecution in the uplands was stopped.

Secondly, the RSPB is concerned that if hen harriers were to be re-introduced to southern England, birds that disperse from their natal areas would be threatened by ongoing illegal persecution in the uplands. Therefore, again, persecution would need to stop entirely before any re-introduction would be viable.

However, the re-introduction project is still at the feasibility stage, and we have yet to see detailed proposals. Although we have serious doubts, to be fair, if the project can address these concerns, which we believe it would need to do in order to comply with IUCN re-introduction guidelines, then the RSPB would wish it every success.

Currently we don’t see how it can do this.

ENDS

This statement provides us with a much better understanding of the RSPB’s position (it DOESN’T support the project) but it’s not as unequivocal as it could/should be. The RSPB is suggesting that it is only ‘fair’ to wait and see a detailed proposal. Why? What possible detail could alleviate the legitimate concerns about ongoing illegal persecution? Why pretend that the grouse-shooting industry and Natural England might pull something out of the bag to change all our minds?

There’s a time for diplomacy, sure, but on the subject of the illegal killing of hen harriers, that time has long since passed. Drop the final paragraph, stop pandering to the criminals and stand up with the rest of us.

26
Jul
17

Mark Osborne on hen harriers, Mark Avery and Chris Packham

Some of you will be very familiar with the name of sporting agent Mark Osborne. He is feted within the grouse-shooting industry for his ability to turn a ‘poorly performing’ grouse moor in to “something beyond the moor owner’s wildest dreams” (e.g. see here).

Some of you may be more familiar with the names of some of the grouse-shooting estates where Mr Osborne was a shooting tenant (e.g. Leadhills [Hopetoun] Estate in South Lanarkshire), or whose management has been under the control of one of Mr Osborne’s sporting agencies, JM Osborne & Co and William Powell Sporting Ltd, (e.g. Glenogil Estate in the Angus Glens, Raeshaw Estate in the Scottish Borders, Snilesworth Estate in the North York Moors National Park, Park Hall & Hope Woodland in the Peak District National Park [the one where the National Trust pulled the shooting tenant’s lease after an armed man was filmed next to a decoy hen harrier]).

We always enjoy hearing raptor-loving Mark Osborne’s thoughts, especially about hen harriers. Here’s an excerpt from his July newsletter:

The big news in the Grouse world was the Parliamentary debate before Christmas following from Dr Mark Avery’s petition. This has woken many of us up and we now realise that we have got to get our act together if we are to see off the likes of Avery and Chris Packham who seem hell bent on curtailing or indeed banning driven Grouse shooting. I have absolutely no doubt that if they were at all successful in this, they would then turn their attentions to pheasant and partridge shooting. Guns who think otherwise are deluding themselves. We must all get behind this fight even if only a few of us are lucky enough to shoot Grouse. This leads onto the subject on Hen Harriers and it is good news indeed to see major efforts made in the Uplands to increase the number of breeding Hen Harriers on driven Grouse Moors. The Moorland Association who are leading this (alongside Natural England) are to be congratulated on this initiative and I am sure that over the next few years, there will be an increase in numbers, but I doubt that this will do much to satisfy the likes and Avery and Packham whose vitriolic hatred of Grouse Moors and Grouse shooting would seem to have much more to do with class, envy and little the real concern for the Hen Harriers themselves‘.

How perceptive is he, eh? How stupid of us to think that the award-winning careers of Mark Avery & Chris Packham, spanning approx 40 years, have been all about ‘class envy’ and absolutely nothing to do with wildlife conservation.

That argument is about as convincing as the grouse-shooting industry’s commitment to seeing more hen harriers breeding successfully on driven grouse moors. In the two seasons since the launch of DEFRA’s Hen Harrier InAction Plan, how many hen harriers have fledged from driven grouse moors in England? (Clue: we won’t be congratulating the grouse shooting industry any time soon).

Mark Osborne can toast the Moorland Association and the other Action Plan stakeholders as much as he likes; for most of us, the reality looks a lot different (thanks to Gerard Hobley for the image):

26
Jul
17

SNH notifies two more estates of intention to restrict General Licence

The ability for SNH to impose a General Licence restriction order on land where there is evidence of raptor persecution taking place came in to force on 1 January 2014. This measure, based on a civil burden of proof, was introduced by then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to the continuing difficulties of meeting a criminal burden of proof to facilitate a criminal prosecution.

Whilst these GL restrictions are not without their limitations (because estates can simply apply for an individual licence instead –  see here, but also see here where SNH recently revoked an individual licence for alleged non compliance), Wheelhouse argued that as the restriction notices will be made public, they should act as a ‘reputational driver‘ and to us, that’s still where their value lies.

Since 1 January 2014, SNH has imposed two GL restrictions: one for Raeshaw & Corsehope Estates, and one for Burnfoot & Wester Cringate estates in Stirlingshire. These restrictions began in November 2015 but as regular blog readers will know, Raeshaw & Corsehope made a legal challenge which ended up with a judicial review in January 2017. The court’s decision was announced in March 2017 and SNH was found to have acted properly and lawfully.

Since the findings of the judicial review were made public in March 2017, we’ve been waiting to see whether SNH would notify any further estates of an intention to restrict the use of the General Licence. We’re aware of many raptor persecution incidents that have been recorded since January 2014 that potentially would meet the criteria required for a restriction order.

Recently we submitted an FoI to SNH to ask about progress. Here is the response:

As we don’t yet know which estates have been notified, we’ll reserve comment until the final notification decisions have been made, but let’s just say we’re particularly interested in the Aberdeenshire case.

As per the SNH guidelines on restrictions (here), estates have 14 days in which to respond to a notice of intent from SNH. An estate has the right to challenge the decision, which then goes back to SNH for further consideration. If SNH decides to continue with the restriction order, the estate then has another opportunity to appeal, which will be considered by a more senior SNH staff member. The final decision on the appeal should be made within a four week period of SNH receiving notice of an estate’s appeal.

So it’s quite a convoluted process, and we don’t know when, exactly, SNH first notified the two estates of the intention to restrict the General Licence, so we don’t know how far along proceedings have moved. Hopefully we won’t have too long to wait and, as before, if the restriction notices are upheld, we expect SNH will publish the decisions on the SNH website.

26
Jul
17

Mountain hares killed and dumped in a bin on grouse moor in Peak District National Park

Earlier this month a group called the Hunt Investigation Team (HIT) released disturbing footage they’d filmed during the spring on a grouse-shooting estate in the Peak District National Park (see here). The footage included masked armed men, purportedly gamekeepers, snaring badgers and mountain hares. Derbyshire Constabulary is currently investigating the group’s claims.

HIT have since been releasing other photographs and video footage (see the HIT website here), including the following two photographs appearing to show a bin full of dead mountain hares (and at least one pheasant), presumably killed and now being used as a ‘stink pit’ (midden), where the odour of rotting corpses draws in predators which are subsequently snared, killed and added to the pile.

If you’re a UK tax payer, you are subsidising this gruesome activity (see here).

The mountain hare is listed as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species (UKBAP), identified as threatened and requiring conservation action. The Peak District National Park Authority has the mountain hare listed as a priority species within the Park and say it is “a locally important species for which we’re taking action” (see here).

How does allowing them to be killed on a grouse moor within the National Park, and then dumped in a bin to be used as bait to catch and kill other wildlife, constitute conservation action?

Emails to Sarah Fowler, Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park Authority: sarah.fowler@peakdistrict.gov.uk




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