Archive for August, 2017

31
Aug
17

Raven-killing licence, breeding hen harriers & return of a familiar name at Leadhills Estate

Regular readers of this blog will be very familiar with the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in South Lanarkshire. We’ve been blogging about it for years, not only as a well known hotspot for illegal raptor persecution but also because of the owners’ links to the establishment and to landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates.

Here’s a map showing the location of Leadhills Estate (dotted lines show the estate boundary of neighbouring Buccleuch Estate, which has in the past been partly ‘managed’ by Leadhills Estate gamekeepers. Estate boundaries from Andy Wightman’s excellent website Who Owns Scotland).

A few months ago we submitted an FoI to SNH on an unrelated issue, and after some prevarication, we’ve finally received a response. Part of that response was quite surprising, on two levels.

First, it turns out that SNH has been issuing licences to kill ravens on Leadhills Estate for the last three years. The evidence supplied to justify the licences seems pretty thin, at best. Have a look at the licence applications, which are remarkably similiar, submitted on behalf of Linlithgow Farms Ltd and the Leadhills Trust here: Leadhills Raven Licence

We don’t know much about the population status of ravens in this part of Scotland but if any blog readers have detailed knowledge, we’d be pleased to hear about it.

However, also of interest to us was the headed notepaper used in the licensing correspondence between the applicant and SNH. Well, well, well, look who’s back:

As many of you will know, this is one of Mark Osborne’s companies. Osborne has a long history with Leadhills Estate. Between 2003-2006 he was listed as a Director of Leadhills Sporting Ltd, a company who held the sporting rights at Leadhills. Osborne resigned in 2006, shortly after the police raided the estate for alleged wildlife crimes (no prosecutions followed).

The sporting rights were later put up for sale in 2008 and Osborne was cited as joint agent (with Savills Estate Agent) in the sale. The sporting rights were again offered for sale in 2013 on a ten-year lease although it’s not clear whether Osborne was involved and it’s not known whether anyone took on the lease. We suspect not, as according to our local sources there hasn’t been any grouse shooting at Leadhills for a number of years; a fact verified by the estate earlier this year in a press release issued by Media House following the reported shooting of a hen harrier on the estate.

The reported shooting of a hen harrier at Leadhills was a bit of a surprise to us. Since the driven grouse shooting stopped and the number of full-time gamekeepers was reduced from ten to two, hen harriers have been making a bit of a comeback here. In 2015 there were three successful nests and this year there are reports of nine nests, and certainly some of those (if not all) have been successful. This is very, very welcome news and we hope, if driven grouse shooting does begin again on these moors, that the hen harriers will continue to thrive.

So, in the absence of driven grouse shooting and the estate’s tolerance of breeding hen harriers, the reported shooting in May of a hen harrier, by an armed man on a quad bike, was very disappointing. This was then closely followed by the reported shooting of a short-eared owl on the estate, this time by an armed man driving a black 4×4 vehicle. Police investigations continue in both cases.

We’re keen to see whether SNH considers the reported shooting of a hen harrier and a short-eared owl sufficient grounds for restricting the use of the General Licence at Leadhills Estate. We’ll have to wait and see. It’s a process that JM Osborne & Co will be quite familiar with; this sporting agency is involved with the management of Raeshaw Estate which had it’s General Licence restricted in 2015 after police uncovered evidence of attempted raptor persecution, and the estate has recently had its subsequent ‘Individual Licence’ revoked and a police investigation is underway for more alleged wildlife crime offences.

Interesting times.

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30
Aug
17

Raptor persecution features on Countryfile Summer Diaries

It was good to see a feature on raptor persecution on Tuesday’s edition of Countryfile Summer Diaries.

Well done to experts Ian Thomson (RSPB Scotland) and David Anderson (Forest Enterprise Scotland) for telling it how it is.

Available to watch on BBCiPlayer for 29 days (starts at 15.33) – click HERE

And….cue calls from the nasty brigade for everyone involved to be sacked, for Chris Packham to be sacked (he must have been involved, right?), and for the satellite tagging of raptors to be banned (although woodcock studies can continue because their sat tags aren’t exposing the rampant criminality that persists within the game-shooting industry).

29
Aug
17

Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing’s constituency a hotspot for ‘disappearing’ sat-tagged raptors

A few weeks ago we created a map for Mairi Gougeon MSP (Angus & Mearns, SNP) to show her the areas of her constituency where satellite-tagged raptors had either been found illegally killed or had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances. Unsurprisingly, the main hotspot area was centred on the grouse moors of the Angus Glens.

Mairi, as the Hen Harrier Species Champion, attended this year’s Hen Harrier Day at Loch Leven where she acknowledged the issues and spoke passionately about the need to address illegal raptor persecution. We welcomed her interest and enthusiasm and look forward to seeing her use her position to good effect.

We’ve now created another map, this time for MSP Fergus Ewing’s constituency of Inverness and Nairn. For new readers, Fergus also holds a senior position in the Scottish Government – he is Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity.

This latest map is based on data from the recent expert review of golden eagle satellite tag data and also from the RSPB’s recent map showing the locations of ‘disappeared’ or illegally killed satellite-tagged hen harriers and red kites. Here it is, showing the locations of 15 satellite-tagged raptors (8 x golden eagles, 6 x red kites, 1 x hen harrier) that were either illegally killed in Fergus’s constituency or ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in his constituency:

And just like the map we created for Mairi, the hotspot areas within Fergus Ewing’s constituency all just happen to be on land managed for driven grouse shooting. Imagine that!

Unlike Mairi Gougeon MSP, as far as we can tell, Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing has never publicly spoken out about the illegal persecution of raptors on grouse moors, either within his own constituency or beyond (if anyone has any evidence to the contrary we’ll be happy to post it here).

He did, sort of, hint at it in a statement he made about grouse shooting in 2015 when he was Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism:

I am very pleased to be able to extend support to all of those who make a success of fields sports in a professional and responsible fashion. Their efforts bring to Scotland a number of visitors who are very welcome and make a significant financial contribution to the sector”

but you’ll note that he very carefully avoided mentioning raptor persecution crimes or any of the other environmentally damaging effects of intensive grouse moor management.

And he can’t claim that he’s unaware of what’s going on – we’ve contacted him on social media many times about this issue, especially when persecution incidents have been detected in his constituency (most recently in July – see here). He has chosen to ignore us at every turn and has given his full public support to grouse moor management in well known raptor persecution hotspots including the Angus Glens and the Monadhliaths.

If you live in Fergus Ewing’s constituency of Inverness and Nairn, you might want to contact him to ask him what he’s doing about the illegal killing of raptors on grouse moors in this area. He has a responsibility to respond to the concerns of his constituents. Email: Fergus.ewing.msp@parliament.scot

If you don’t live in Inverness and Nairn but wish to raise concerns about the level of illegal raptor persecution on the grouse moors of this Cabinet Secretary’s constituency, please use this email address: Scottish.Ministers@gov.scot [and mark it for the attention of Fergus Ewing].

For far too long we’ve allowed certain politicians to get away with wilful blindness about this ongoing criminality. It’s up to all of us to hold these elected representatives to account.

24
Aug
17

A shedload of golden eagles satellite tagged in new RPUK/Chris Packham project

At last weekend’s British Birdfair at Rutland Water we joined with Chris Packham to launch a new joint project.

Privately funded by a pair of extraordinarily generous and supportive philanthropists, this project has been in development since the New Year. We are grateful not only to our funders, but also to a number of people without whose help the project would have been a non-starter.

This year our project has focused on fitting satellite tags to young golden eagles across Scotland. At this stage we’re not announcing how many eagles have been tagged, or where, exactly, they’ve been tagged (the location of nest sites must remain confidential for obvious reasons), but let’s just say we’ve tagged a shedload. Here’s a small subset:

The tags were fitted in June and July by highly experienced & appropriately licensed fieldworkers, with the support of several landowners, some of whom came along on tagging days. All the tagged eagles have fledged successfully and they are all hanging out in their natal territories, as expected.

Researchers have been satellite-tagging golden eagles in Scotland since 2004. This new technology has revolutionised our ability to better understand golden eagle ecology, and particularly the birds’ early years of life when they leave their parents’ territory and wander around the country before they attempt to settle in a territory of their own and join the breeding population at between 3 to 5 years of age. For an excellent first-hand and simple explanation of how the technology works in practice, have a read of this blog written last week by Stuey Benn of the RSPB.

Understanding golden eagle juvenile dispersal behaviour has important conservation implications because at present, Special Protection Areas designated specifically for golden eagles are based on the number of breeding pairs present in a particular area, and not on the number of juvenile eagles present. Research on 36 satellite-tagged golden eagles, undertaken by Ewan Weston for his PhD (published in 2014), identified nine distinct areas, known as Temporary Settlement Areas (TSAs) where these young birds tended to spend a lot of time during certain months of the year. Here’s a map we’ve created, based on data published in Ewan’s PhD, of these nine TSAs.

The identification of these areas would have been virtually impossible without the use of satellite tags. The data collected from our tagged eagles will contribute to this ongoing scientific research to help determine the importance of these, and perhaps other yet-to-be-discovered TSAs, which may lead in future to some areas being newly designated / protected for golden eagle conservation purposes.

Of course, along with the invaluable scientific data generated by these satellite tags, showing us how golden eagles utilise different landscapes, we are also learning a lot about how one type of land-use, intensively managed driven grouse moors, is impacting negatively on the golden eagle population. This has been known for some time, but the recently published Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review clarified in which particular grouse moor areas satellite-tagged eagles are being illegally killed or are ‘disappearing’ in suspicious circumstances.

When the Review was published in May this year, we created this map to show the significant clustering of satellite-tagged eagles that had either been confirmed as illegally killed or the tags had suddenly stopped working in suspicious circumstances and the tags and eagles had ‘disappeared’ off the face of the earth:

The clusters around the Cairngorms National Park, including the Monadhliaths to the NW and the Angus Glens to the SE, are all areas where the land is intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

Interestingly, when you overlay these data of killed or ‘missing’ satellite tagged eagles on to the map showing the Temporary Settlement Areas utilised by juvenile golden eagles, this is what you get:

[Yellow stars = satellite-tagged eagles confirmed as illegally killed; red stars = satellite tags that suddenly stopped functioning in suspicious circumstances and the tag & eagle nowhere to be found].

It’s quite clear then, that in some driven grouse moor areas, particularly in the Angus Glens, the Monadhliaths, and the NE and SW areas of the Cairngorms National Park where young golden eagles are spending a lot of time, illegal persecution is an ongoing threat.

Obviously we don’t yet know where our tagged eagles will disperse to, and whether they might head for some of these dangerous TSAs, but we’re about to find out.

We’ll be providing updates on our eagles’ movements over the coming months and if the tag data indicate that any of our birds have come to any harm, we’ll first be reporting it through the proper channels to the Police and then we’ll be publishing appropriate details on this blog.

Stay tuned!

22
Aug
17

Another red kite found shot dead in County Down

A three-month old red kite has been found shot dead in County Down, Northern Ireland.

The bird, hatched in May and tagged ‘Black 5W’, was found dead on a public road last Thursday (17 August 2017) outside Moneyslane, between Banbridge and Newcastle.

An initial x-ray revealed pieces of shot in the bird’s corpse and the body has now been sent for a full post-mortem.

Anyone with information on the incident can contact the Police Service of Northern Ireland on the non-emergency number 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, quoting reference number 837 of 17/8/17.

Further details on BBC News (here) and the Belfast Telegraph (here).

The tiny, reintroduced red kite population in Northern Ireland is under serious threat from on-going persecution. Another red kite was found shot in Co Down in 2015 (here) and in 2014, four kites were illegally killed in Co Down (one was shot, three were poisoned – see here).

In 2016, in response to a PAW report on raptor persecution in Northern Ireland, a new, multi-agency initiative called ‘Operation Raptor‘ was launched, aimed at targeting those who continue to kill protected birds of prey.

21
Aug
17

Police appeal in suspected peregrine poisoning incident

Press release from Devon & Cornwall Police, 18 August 2017:

POISONED PEREGRINE FALCON: WITNESS APPEAL

Officers are investigating an incident after being contacted by staff at Glendinning Quarry in Ashburton, on Tuesday 15 August, following reports of an injured Peregrine falcon.

The falcon had been located on the floor of the quarry which is home to a breeding pair of Peregrine falcons.

Devon and Cornwall Police Wildlife Crime Officer, PC Josh Marshall, sought that the juvenile Peregrine falcon was given the immediate care it required. However, the bird died the next day.

PC Marshall said: “The initial inspection and condition of the bird strongly suggests that this bird had been poisoned. The bird has now been placed into the Wildlife Investigation scheme administered by Natural England where it will be forensically examined to establish the cause of death and a police investigation has now begun into the incident.

Members of the public are warned that poisons commonly used to commit a crime like this are incredibly toxic to humans and pets. Should any person locate any dead or injured birds they are strongly advised not to touch them or let pets come into contact with them.

Ingestion of these poisons can lead to death. It is incredibly concerning that individuals are using these types of chemicals within public areas that not only kill our wildlife but could also place members of the public, children and their animals into harm’s way.

The area of Ashburton and neighbouring Buckfastleigh is unfortunately a hot spot for poisoning of these birds of prey. Previous incidents at the site are as follows:

2011 – 1 poisoned Peregrine falcon at White Cleaves (Buckfastleigh) Quarry – substance used – Aldicarb and Carbofuran.

2005 – Poisoned bait (racing pigeon) Glendinnings Quarry– substance used Aldicarb. A live bird with clipped wings. Adults missing presumed dead, chicks rescued. Police fitted telemetry device to see if pigeon would relocate but this failed. In Legal Eagle 47, page 5.

2005 – 1 poisoned peregrine and 1 poisoned bait (pigeon) – substance used – Aldicarb, peregrine found on dead pigeon which had wings clipped.

2003 – Two men with a pigeon on a length of string appearing to try and lure peregrines from the top of White Cleaves (Buckfastleigh) Quarry. Police visited site but men had gone.

2000 – 1 poisoned Peregrine, substance used Aldicarb at Glendinnings quarry

2000 – 1 shot Sparrowhawk near Buckfastleigh (it lived).

1992 – 2 dead peregrines at White Cleaves (Buckfastleigh), with pigeon flesh in crop – tested positive for Malathion.

As can been seen from this data, the use of illegal banned poisons are evident and put the public at significant risk. In the 2005 incident, a number of children could have been harmed or potentially worse when the poisoned bait (a racing pigeon) was located wondering around near to a childminders address.

Significantly racing pigeons have been used as the bait for a number incidents both here and nationally and the answer to solving and preventing these poisonings could lie somewhere within a rogue minority of the racing pigeon community.

Peregrine falcons do not differentiate between prey items such as wild pigeons and racing pigeons, this obviously causes conflict with some prize racing pigeons being taken by these birds of prey.

Generally the method used will be to smear the bait with a vasaline type substance containing the poison onto either a live or dead bird. When the Peregrine plucks and eats the bait item the poison is then ingested and kills the bird. The bird dies then endures an excruciating few hours whilst waiting to die.

South West Peregrines, a volunteer group who monitor these birds and others within the South West, have described the incident as ‘abhorrent’.

We are urging members of the local community to come forward with any information they may have that can assist in bringing these offenders to justice”.

Information is handled in the strictest of confidence and can be passed directly to PC Marshall at Joshua.marshall2@devonandcornwall.pnn.police.uk or by email 101@dc.police.uk or calling 101 quoting log number 0223 180817.

Information can be passed anonymously to Crimestoppers via 0800 555111 or the charity’s website at www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Tony Whitehead speaking for RSPB in the South West said: “Peregrines are magnificent and much-loved birds, whose comeback over the past twenty years is a conservation success. However, once again, it appears the peregrines at this site have been deliberately targeted and, it is suspected, poisoned.

Should this prove to be the case, this is outrageous and the criminals must be brought to justice. We are also concerned that, should this again prove to be a poisoning, someone is wantonly placing toxic chemicals in the countryside which can be a danger to both humans and pets.

Someone in the local community must have information about who’s doing this and we urge people to come forward and contact the police. A £1,000 reward has been offered by the RSPB for information that directly leads to the prosecution of the offender.

ENDS

17
Aug
17

New RPUK/Chris Packham project launching at Birdfair this weekend

We’ll be launching a new project at the British Birdfair this weekend, in collaboration with Chris Packham and a number of others.

Come along to the Events Marquee at 11am on Saturday morning (19th August) to find out more!

For those who can’t attend the Birdfair, we’ll be blogging about the project next week.

Hope to see some of you there – please come and say hello!




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