Archive for October, 2017

31
Oct
17

Video of THAT Chris Packham talk at Birdfair 2017

The three-day-long British Birdfair takes place annually at Rutland Water in August and attracts thousands of visitors from around the world. Every year, Chris Packham is given a prime time Saturday morning slot in the huge Events marquee, to talk about whatever he likes.

This year, Chris used his slot to highlight the ongoing work to tackle the illegal killing of birds in Malta, Cyprus and the UK – work he personally has been involved with for a number of years – and he generously invited a number of us (film maker Ruth Peacey from LUSH, Mark Sultana from BirdLife Malta, Andrea Rutigliano from the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), and Ruth Tingay from Raptor Persecution UK), to help explain the situation to his audience. Mark Avery made a cameo appearance at the end.

The marquee was rammed, with an estimated 1,000 people inside and a hoard of people outside who couldn’t get in but apparently sat with their ears pressed up against the canvas trying to hear. We’re told this was unprecedented at any previous Birdfair and is undoubtedly testament to Chris’s popularity but perhaps also reflects a growing public awareness and interest in illegal bird persecution.

The standing ovation at the end of this presentation was incredibly moving for those of us on the stage. It seemed to go on forever and will stay with us all for a very long time. On behalf of all the presenters, thank you, we appreciated it. Here’s what it looked like to us (photo by Mark Avery).

For those of you who couldn’t make it to Birdfair, or for those who did make it to Birdfair but couldn’t get in to the marquee, or for those who did get in and want to re-live it, the presentation was filmed and is now available to watch on YouTube (thanks to Anneka Svenska from Green World TV).

Incidentally, Ruth Peacey has a well-deserved nomination for Conservation Hero of the Year in this year’s Birders’ Choice Awards, hosted by Birdwatch magazine. Please vote for her here.

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30
Oct
17

SNH says ‘no General Licence restrictions currently under consideration’ but what about these 9 cases?

The ability for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to impose a General Licence (GL) 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‘.

Since 1 January 2014, SNH has only imposed four GL restrictions. The first two were imposed in November 2015 (one for Raeshaw & Corsehope Estates in the Borders and one for Burnfoot & Wester Cringate Estates in Stirlingshire). Then there was a temporary halt for almost two years as Raeshaw & Corsehope Estates 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 that decision was announced in March 2017, SNH has imposed two more GL restrictions: one for Edradynate Estate in Perthshire in September 2017 and one for an unnamed mystery gamekeeper in Aberdeenshire in September 2017.

Whilst we were pleased to see SNH impose these latest GL restrictions last month, we were also aware of a number of other raptor persecution incidents that have been recorded since 1 Jan 2014 that would potentially meet the criteria required for a GL restriction so we wanted to find out whether SNH was getting on with these.

Photo: an illegal pole trap filmed by RSPB Scotland on the Brewlands Estate in the Angus Glens, July 2015. These traps have been outlawed for over 100 years.

In early October we submitted an FoI to ask SNH how many cases were currently under consideration for a GL restriction. We are pretty shocked by the response received last week:

At the time of your request, no General Licence restrictions were under consideration“.

Really? Why the hell not? We know of at least nine cases that should be being considered, and these are just off the top of our heads – there will be others, as we know Police Scotland is still withholding information about a number of other raptor persecution incidents.

Here are the nine incidents we know about that have all occured since 1 January 2014 when SNH was given the power to impose a GL restriction:

Newlands Estate, Dumfriesshire. Gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick was convicted in 2015 for killing a buzzard on the estate in April 2014. He threw rocks at it and then stamped on it. The estate owner was prosecuted for alleged vicarious liability but then the Crown Office dropped the prosecution in April 2017, saying it wasn’t in the public interest to proceed (see here).

Brewlands Estate, Angus Glens. A gamekeeper was prosecuted for the alleged repeated setting of a pole trap on this estate between 9-17 July 2015. The Crown Office dropped the prosecution case in April 2017 because the video evidence was deemed inadmissible (see here). Another gamekeeper on this estate thought this result was hilarious.

Unnamed pheasant-shooting estate, Lanarkshire. In September 2015 a set pole trap was discovered on a bench directly outside a pheasant-rearing pen on an unnamed estate. Police Scotland apparently dropped the case, for unknown reasons.

Gamekeeper in Ayrshire. In May 2016 a named gamekeeper was charged after allegedly being caught using gin traps on a neighbouring farm of the estate on which he was employed. The Crown Office dropped the prosecution in March 2017 after reportedly ‘getting the dates wrong on its paperwork’ (see here).

Invercauld Estate, Aberdeenshire. In June 2016, walkers discovered a number of illegally-set spring traps staked out on a grouse moor. Two of the traps had caught a Common Gull by the legs. The bird had to be euthanised. There was no prosecution. ‘Some action’ was taken by the estate but whatever this action was it has remained a closely-guarded secret between the estate, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Government (see here).

Glendye Estate, Aberdeenshire. In January 2017 a number of illegally-set spring traps were discovered on a grouse moors on this estate. The Estate Factor and gamekeeper reportedly removed the traps and denied all knowledge of who had set them (see here). There was no prosecution.

Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire. On 4th May 2017, witnesses observed the shooting and killing of a hen harrier on this estate. Police Scotland appealed for information (see here & here). As far as we’re aware, there are no impending prosecutions.

Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire. On 31 May 2017, witnesses observed the shooting and killing of a short-eared owl on this estate. The corpse was retrieved and sent for a post-mortem. Police Scotland appealed for information. As far as we’re aware, there are no impending prosecutions.

Unnamed grouse shooting estate, Monadhliaths. On 7 June 2017, a member of the public found a buzzard caught in an illegally-set spring trap that had been staked out on an unnamed grouse moor in the Monadliaths. The buzzard was released. Police Scotland appealed for information. Inspector Mike Middlehurst of Police Scotland commented, “Unfortunately, there are some who continue to deliberately target birds of prey; there is nothing accidental in the setup of these traps“. As far as we’re aware, there are no impending prosecutions.

So why haven’t any of these cases been considered for a GL restriction? Is it because SNH is still waiting for Police Scotland to provide ‘formal information packages’ on these cases? (Remember, SNH can only consider potential GL restrictions based on evidence provided to them by Police Scotland). We know that Police Scotland has been slow in delivering this info to SNH in the past (e.g. see here) – are they still dragging their feet?

Or, is it the case that Police Scotland has already provided information to SNH about each of these nine cases and SNH has, for whatever reason, decided not to impose a GL restriction?

Isn’t it in the public interest to know, and importantly to understand, what is happening with these cases? We think so. And that’s why we’ve submitted an FoI to find out.

29
Oct
17

Botham crowned King of Bollocks

Congratulations to the newly-crowned King of Bollocks, Ian Botham.

Here’s his acceptance speech.

Here’s why he’s talking bollocks.

Here’s the King of Bollocks celebrating his coronation with You Forgot the Birds Board Directors George & Zippy

28
Oct
17

“I couldn’t let those words go to waste” – Finn Wilde

I couldn’t let those words go to waste“, writes 15 year old Findlay Wilde.

If you want to know what he’s talking about, and how you can get involved, have a read of Finn’s blog HERE

27
Oct
17

Scottish gamekeepers complain about alleged escalation of trap vandalism

The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association is today complaining about an alleged escalation in the vandalism of animal traps on shooting estates.

This supposed increase has been attributed to ‘activists’ and the SGA wants the law tightened up so that the alleged perpertrators can be prosecuted.

There’s widespread media coverage about it today e.g. in The National (here), The Times (here) and on the SGA website (here).

Photo of an allegedly vandalised trap (from The National)

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard such claims. Back in 2013 it was discussed during a Rural Affairs Parliamentary Committee meeting, when then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse acknowledged that trap tampering might be taking place but that there was no hard evidence to show how widespread the problem might be so at that time it was considered all conjecture.

In 2015 the issue was raised again by a Fife landowner and an article in the local press suggested that “Police Scotland is reporting a rise in the number of traps being tampered with“.

We challenged that claim by looking at the results of a year-long trap tampering study carried out across Scotland by BASC between April 2014 and March 2015. The results showed that the issue was not widespread at all, but seemed to centre on a handful of local areas.

Whether the problem has increased since then is hard to tell without independently collected data. The problem might have increased. It’s not hard to understand the motivation that might lead to someone damaging a trap. It might be on animal welfare grounds (someone might see a non-target species dead in a trap). It might be because someone can’t tell whether a trap is legally or illegally-set – it’s not always easy to judge. It might be because someone objects to predator control just to maximise a landowner’s profits. Or the motivation might simply be because so many cases of illegally-set traps rarely result in a prosecution, even when a known gamekeeper has been filmed setting an illegal trap. That doesn’t make trap vandalism ‘right’, we’re just saying it’s easy to understand why it might be happening.

Photo of a young red grouse killed by a lawfully-set trap (photo by RPUK)

It’s equally plausible to suggest that some gamekeepers may be deliberately vandalising one or two of their own traps and then reporting it to the police as the work of ‘activists’ in an attempt to smear those whose campaign to put game-shooting under political scrutiny is gaining such traction.

Whatever might be happening, it’s ironic that the SGA doesn’t make this much noise when cases of illegally-set traps on game-shooting estates are reported in the media.

It’s very hard (virtually impossible) for us to sympathise with the SGA when it remains silent (or concocts outlandish alternative explanations) about the on-going abuse and use of illegal traps, by gamekeepers, to target birds of prey on game-shooting estates.

Speaking of which, we’re still waiting for the findings of the SGA’s inquiries in to who set the illegal traps that were discovered on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate last year.

26
Oct
17

Hen harrier brood meddling: Natural England delays release of information

Two days ago we blogged about how Natural England has delayed the release of information about the proposed reintroduction of hen harriers to southern England (see here).

Today, we’re blogging about how Natural England has delayed the release of information about the proposed hen harrier brood meddling scheme.

Anyone seeing a pattern emerging here?

So, hen harrier brood meddling. As with the proposed southern reintroduction, brood meddling is one of six ‘action’ points of DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Inaction Plan, launched in January 2016.

As with everything-hen-harrier, Natural England has been reluctant to provide any information about the brood meddling scheme unless it’s been forced to do so under a series of FoI requests. Here’s what we’ve managed to drag out of them so far:

14 November 2016: Hen harrier brood management working group: what they’ve got planned (here)

15 November 2016: More brood meddling revelations (here)

16 November 2016: Brood meddling: the role of the International Centre for Birds of Prey (here)

22 November 2016: Brood meddling: the proposed social science study (here)

That information was released almost a year ago. Since then, despite repeated requests for information, Natural England has gone all secret squirrel and refused to tell us anything more about this highly controversial project.

In February 2017 we submitted another FoI asking for an update on brood meddling. NE responded in March 2017 telling us that the  information was being withheld “as it would prejudice the process of determining the licence application and potentially the quality of that licence”. They also told us, “The discussions are confidential up until the point the licence application has been determined. Once this has happened then details of the licence are available to the public”. 

We knew, from reading the minutes of an NE Board Meeting, that the brood meddling licence application (from Natural England to, er, Natural England!) had been submitted by March 2017. We didn’t understand how releasing more updates about the brood meddling scheme would “prejudice” the internal licensing process but nevertheless we gave NE the benefit of the doubt and didn’t submit another FoI for a few months.

At the end of May 2017 we submitted another FoI asking for an update on the brood meddling scheme. NE refused to provide any information because the brood meddling licence application was still being considered. NE said:

“‘The application you refer to is still being determined. I’m afraid that we do not have an estimate of when it will be”.

In early July 2017 we submitted another FoI asking for an update on the brood meddling scheme. NE refused to provide any information because the brood meddling licence application was still being considered. NE said:

I can confirm that the licence application is still being determined and we do not have an estimate of when it will be“.

In early October 2017 we submitted another FoI asking for an update on the brood meddling scheme. NE has just responded with this:

Ah, right. Natural England is now saying it needs extra time to prepare its response “because of the complexity/voluminous nature of the request“. Are they taking the piss?! It’s only “voluminous” because NE has refused to release any information for almost a year!!

Mind you, NE’s interpretation of “voluminous” is probably very different to ours. Remember, this is the organisation that told us it couldn’t release information about the number of successful hen harrier breeding attempts in England in 2017 (n = 3) because apparently it needed a super computer to “quality assure and analyse” the data!

It’s fine. We’ve waited all year so what’s another month between friends? We can wait until the end of November and who knows, by then NE might have also responded to our requested Internal Review of its refusal to release hen harrier satellite tag data, and it might also have managed to tell us something (anything) about the latest ‘missing’ sat-tagged hen harrier that recently vanished on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

25
Oct
17

Police appeal for info after sparrowhawk found shot dead in East Yorkshire

Humberside Police are appealing for information after the discovery of a dead sparrowhawk ‘with injuries consistent with being shot with a shotgun’.

It is suspected to have been killed on or around 16th October 2017 near to the quarry and Boyes Lane in Keyingham, East Yorkshire.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Humberside Police on 101, quoting ref # 175 17/10/17.




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