Archive for December, 2017

31
Dec
17

More shot pheasants dumped in North York Moors National Park

A couple of days ago we blogged about an article in the Gazette & Herald that showed sackfuls of shot pheasants that had been dumped in woodland in the North York Moors National Park (see here).

Here are some of the photographs the newspaper didn’t publish, presumably as they’re too grim. Thanks to the blog reader who sent them to us.

Welcome to the National Park!

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30
Dec
17

Masked gunmen at goshawk nest in Moy Forest

The following article was published today in the Press & Journal:

For regular blog readers, this is a story we ran in November 2017 (here) when we’d found out through an FoI that a masked gunman and an associate had been caught on camera near a raptor nest at an undisclosed public forest in Scotland.

We were pretty shocked that Police Scotland had kept silent about this incident and, given public safety concerns, we encouraged blog readers to write to their local MSPs to ask questions about the (mis)handling of this case (here).

We also asked Justice Secretary Michael Matheson and the Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs, Annabelle Ewing, about this issue but neither bothered to respond.

Police Scotland did respond to some of our blog readers requests for information (see here) but refused to discuss the details or reveal the location. However, several local MSPs did commit to taking this up with the Police on behalf of their constituents.

At least one of those MSPs was as good as his word and we’ve recently received copies of correspondence between him and his constituents, which we’ll blog about early in the New Year.

For now, it is apparent that this political intervention has resulted in Police Scotland issuing an appeal for information (only 8 months too late) and revealing the location as Moy Forest, a site well known for being targeted by raptor killers.

Nobody will be surprised to learn that the land around Moy Forest is managed for intensive driven grouse shooting.

Well done to those blog readers who chased up this story, well done to those MSPs who followed up with the Police, and well done to Kieran Beattie at the P&J for taking it to press. But it’s pretty pathetic that we all had to go to such lengths to get Police Scotland to react. Not good enough.

There’s a lot more to talk about in relation to this incident and we’ll be returning to it in the New Year….

30
Dec
17

Teenage conservationists have pro-shooting MPs running scared

In November 2017, a small group of conservationists was invited to visit 10 Downing Street for a conversation about their environmental concerns with Sir John Randall, Theresa May’s recently appointed special advisor on the environment.

There’s nothing unusual about that. Conservationists routinely meet with advisors, MPs and Ministers to discuss such issues. But this was no ordinary group. It comprised a bunch of committed and environmentally aware teenagers, as follows:

Findlay Wilde, aged 15, schoolboy.

Jordan Havell, aged 16, schoolboy.

Josie Hewitt, aged 19, first year ecology student at University of East Anglia.

Georgia Locock, aged 18, first year ecology and economics student at University of York.

Incredibly, and hilariously, the discussion at this meeting, and subsequent correspondence between Sir John Randall and schoolboy Fin Wilde, has resulted in a number of pro-hunting/shooting MPs accusing Ministers of ‘plotting war on fieldsports’!

This was the headline for an article in yesterday’s edition of The Telegraph, heralded as an ‘exclusive’, no less:

The furore seems to have stemmed from somebody reading Fin Wilde’s most excellent blog (here) where he wrote about the meeting at Number 10 and shared some of his later non-confidential correspondence with Sir John.

If you actually read Fin’s blog, and the comments made by Sir John, you’ll see nothing there to suggest a ‘war’ on fieldsports, just a series of concerns held by most reasonable-thinking members of society and a desire for the game shooting industry to clean up its act.

Sir John shared many of Fin’s concerns, including the continued illegal killing of birds of prey on driven grouse moors, other environmentally damaging practices associated with intensively managed driven grouse moors, the need to increase sentences for wildlife crime, the removal of firearms certificates for those convicted of wildlife crime, the problems associated with the industrialisation of some pheasant shoots, the continued use of lead ammunition, educating children about climate change, the impact of Brexit on environmental legislation, and the continued single use of plastics.

You’d think that MPs would welcome such thoughtful contributions from a group of teenagers who care enough about the environment to stand up and exercise their democratic right to voice their concerns, wouldn’t you? These are engaged and motivated youngsters who are a credit to society.

But no! A number of (unnamed) MPs are apparently up in arms, feeling threatened and apparently feeling ‘privately appalled’ by it all!

What are they actually saying here? That they don’t think firearms certificates should be removed from convicted criminals? That the illegal killing of raptors on grouse moors doesn’t need to stop? That the use of lead ammunition doesn’t pose a serious health and environmental threat?

We were particularly taken aback that the Telegraph article noted that Georgia Locock ‘has marched in protest against grouse shooting‘. So what? Why mention it? Are they trying to portray Georgia as some sort of militant extremist whose views should be taken with a pinch of salt? They couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s a shame the Telegraph article didn’t mention the pro-shooting MPs who were recently photographed smiling at a parliamentary reception held for the Moorland Association with a number of gamekeepers in attendance, one of whom has a criminal conviction for, er, wildlife crime on a driven grouse moor.

Well done Fin, Jordan, Josie & Georgia – keep going, you’re doing a terrific job.

UPDATE 4 January 2018: In response, Fin Wilde has written a brilliant open letter to the Telegraph’s Chief Political Correspondent, Christopher Hope. Read it here.

29
Dec
17

Significant spread of disease on intensively-managed driven grouse moors

Two new peer-reviewed papers from the GWCT confirm the significant spread of a disease in red grouse on intensively managed driven grouse moors, transmitted through the unregulated use of communal medicated grit trays.

The disease, respiratory cryptosporidiosis (also known as ‘Bulgy Eye’) has been, until recently, almost entirely associated with captive poultry flocks that have been kept at high density, usually for breeding purposes. It was first detected in wild red grouse in 2010 and since then has spread rapidly and has affected high density red grouse on half of the 150 grouse moors in northern England and has also been recorded in Scotland, although the extent of its spread in Scotland appears to be a well-kept secret. Perhaps we’ll learn more through the Scottish Government’s review of grouse moor management practices, particularly as one of the review group’s special advisors is Adam Smith from the GWCT.

We’ve known about the spread of this disease for a couple of years, and learned a great deal from a GWCT-led grouse moor seminar in 2015 where the preliminary research findings were presented (see here). The latest publications confirm the findings, although it’s worth bearing in mind the disease may well have spread further since these studies were conducted (2013-2015).

The first of the new papers was published in November 2017 and confirms that communal medicated grit trays distributed across grouse moors act as a reservoir for disease transmission via the faecal droppings of grouse visiting the trays:

Baines, D., Giles, M. & Richardson, M. (2017). Microscopic and Molecular Tracing of Cryptosporidium Oocysts: Identifying a Possible Reservoir of Infection in Red Grouse. Pathogens 6: 57.

This paper is open access which means we’re allowed to share it in full:

Crypto_Identifying infection reservoirs_red grouse_Baines et al2017

A typical grit tray contaminated with grouse faecal droppings on a Scottish grouse moor, photo by Ruth Tingay

The second paper has recently been accepted by the British Ornithologists Union journal Ibis and details the impact of Bulgy Eye on red grouse populations and highlights the economic loss this may cause to the driven grouse shooting industry:

Baines, D., Allison, H., Duff, J.P., Fuller, H., Newborn, D. and Richardson, M. (2017). Lethal and sub-lethal impacts of respiratory cryptosporidiosis on Red Grouse, a wild gamebird of economic importance. Ibis: accepted online 26 December 2017.

Unfortunately this paper is not open access so we’re only permitted to share the abstract (although we have read the full paper):

The significant spread of this disease is entirely of the grouse-shooting industry’s own making. If they weren’t so keen on cramming as many red grouse as possible on to their driven grouse moors (sometimes up to x 100 the natural density) and then using medicated grit to prevent the natural strongyle worm-induced grouse population crashes every few years (which they have successfully achieved), then Bulgy Eye should never have been a problem.

The question now is, what, if anything, are they going to do about it?

Presumably they’ll do something, if not in the interests of animal welfare or conservation, then certainly in the interest of stifling the economic losses caused by the widespread prevalence of this disease.

In the concluding remarks of the second paper, Baines et al say: “…. a general reduction in grouse densities, brought about through either de-intensified management, increased shooting rates or both may need to be carefully considered“.

May need to be considered? Good grief, you’ve got a disease epidemic on your hands, all of your own making, and you say these proposals may need to be considered?

We’d say the industry needs to do something pretty damn quickly, and the immediate removal of communal medicated grit trays should be right up there as the first obvious step.

28
Dec
17

Hundreds of shot pheasants dumped in sacks in North York Moors National Park

An article in yesterday’s Gazette & Herald reports how hundreds of shot pheasants have been dumped in sacks near Helmsley, in the North York Moors National Park.

The article (here) says a local rambler first found four sacks of dead gamebirds in Hawnby Road on 26 November 2017. The rambler returned to the site last week and reportedly found several hundred more dead pheasants piled up in heaps.

According to a quote attributed to Liam Stokes of the Countryside Alliance, “It is worth pointing out that these birds all appear to have been breasted – the breast meat has been removed. Of course the rest of the carcass should have been disposed of appropriately, but it does appear that the meat from these birds has in fact entered the food chain“.

Amazing how Liam can see that “all these birds appear to have been breasted”. Can he see inside the sacks? Has he examined every one of these hundreds of dumped birds? Or is he in fact just trying to exert some serious damage limitation because he knows how politically damaging these images are for the game shooting industry?

It’s not the first time shot gamebirds have been dumped as waste in the countryside – as we’ve seen before hereherehere. Indeed, it’s a growing problem for the game shooting industry, as we blogged about just last month (see here).

It’s bad enough that an estimated 50 million non-native pheasants and red-legged partridge are released, unregulated, in to the countryside every year (yes, that’s 50 million EVERY YEAR) for so-called sport shooting, including inside our national parks, but then to just dump them as a waste product is a PR disaster for an industry under increasing scrutiny for its environmentally damaging activities.

Have a read of this article written by Charles Nodder of the National Gamekeepers Organisation who revealed in July that even though many shoots are struggling to get their shot birds in to the food chain, they are still releasing (and shooting) more and more and more every year.

Responsible? No.

Sustainable? No.

In dire need of regulation? Yes.

UPDATE 31 December 2017: More shot pheasants dumped in North York Moors National Park (here)

28
Dec
17

Kestrel found with shotgun injuries in Malton, North Yorkshire

Yet another illegally persecuted raptor in North Yorkshire, the raptor-killing capital of the UK.

This kestrel was picked up on Christmas Day with shotgun injuries to its wing.

The bird was found close to Amotherby crossroads on Amotherby Lane, Malton, North Yorkshire. An x-ray by Mark Naguib of Battle Flatts Veterinary Clinic revealed the extent of its injuries and the bird is now in the care of the wonderful Jean Thorpe of Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation. (Please, consider making a donation HERE to help Jean’s outstanding voluntary work).

If you were in the area and heard a shot on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, please contact police wildlife crime officer PC Jez Walmsley at Malton Police Station on 101.

 

27
Dec
17

‘Closer cooperation to protect hen harriers’ – what does that mean, exactly?

Further to a recent article published in The National where Hen Harrier Species Champion Mairi Gougeon MSP calls for ‘closer cooperation’ between conservationists and the game shooting industry ‘to protect hen harriers’ (see here), this deserves more comment.

We’ve given this some thought over the Xmas break and frankly, it’s a bloody affront to imply that conservationists are somehow partly responsible for the continuing decline of the hen harrier population.

Here’s what the driven grouse shooting industry does for hen harriers:

Illegally shoots them; illegally traps and bludgeons them to death; illegally poisons them; illegally burns out nest sites; illegally stamps on eggs & chicks; illegally uses dogs to kill chicks & then blames it on fox predation; sets illegal spring traps; sets illegal pole traps; waits at known roost sites & uses thermal imaging to detect & then shoot roosting birds; deploys gas guns at the onset of the breeding season to disturb; ignites banger ropes at the onset of the breeding season to disturb; deploys inflatable scarecrows with sirens at the onset of the breeding season to disturb; consistently denies the extent of illegal persecution; accuses conservationists of exaggerating the persecution data; blames disappearances on imaginary windfarms, faulty sat tags & disturbance by fieldworkers; uses fake partnerships to portray an image of conservation action; pays a PR company to put false and malicious propaganda in right-wing newspapers; claims not to know who the criminals are; gives ‘no comment’ interviews & creates a wall of silence in police investigations; accuses conservationists of planting evidence.

Here’s what conservationists do for hen harriers:

Nest monitoring; roost monitoring; nest protection schemes; ringing; satellite-tagging; surveying; data collection; data analysis; report writing; scientific paper writing; public engagement e.g. RSPB Skydancer, Hen Harrier Day; report suspected wildlife crimes; campaign for stronger law enforcement; campaign for industry regulation; raise public awareness of illegal persecution.

Conservationists are NOT the problem here. Conservationists are not the ones systematically and illegally killing this species whenever it turns up or attempts to breed on intensively managed driven grouse moors and nor are conservationists the ones engaged in a perpetual cover-up of what is essentially serious organised crime.

What did Mairi Gougeon mean then, by calling for ‘closer cooperation’? The only part of her quote that gave any indication of what she meant was this:

“At the same time we cannot tar all estates with the same brush. We must acknowledge the positive steps some estates and gamekeepers are taking to promote the species“.

That’s easily resolved. We don’t tar all estates with the same brush and we do acknowledge the positive steps some estates and gamekeepers are taking to encourage and safeguard nesting hen harriers, but as far as we’re aware, not one of those estates is actively managed for intensive driven grouse shooting. You show us one that is and we’ll sing its praises from the rooftops. So far, we only have the word of the driven grouse shooting industry that these estates exist, but we don’t and won’t believe them until we’re shown the evidence.

So what other avenues does that leave open for ‘closer cooperation’? None. Are we going to stop campaigning? No. Are we going to stop pushing Govt for some sort of state-regulatory control of driven grouse moors? No. Are we going to stop highlighting hen harrier persecution crimes? No. Are we going to stop satellite tagging? No. Are we going to stop pushing for better law enforcement? No. Are we going to stop asking for public accountability when prosecutors drop clear-cut criminal proceedings without explanation? No. Are we going to stop calling out the grouse shooting industry’s ludicrous propagandist claims? No. Are we going to stop reporting suspected wildlife crimes to the police? No. Are we going to stop lobbying MPs and MSPs to take more action on raptor persecution? No. Are we going to stop talking about illegal hen harrier persecution? No. Are we going to stand by and watch the hen harrier population plunge further in to decline? No.

Are we going to ‘cooperate’ with hen harrier-killing criminals?

Not a chance.




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