Archive for March, 2018

31
Mar
18

Covert video footage secures gamekeeper’s conviction

There was an interesting article on the BBC news website a couple of days ago relating to the conviction of Nigel Smith, 60, Head Gamekeeper of the Buckminster Estate on the Leicestershire/Lincoln border (see here).

The BBC article is well worth a read for the level of detail it provides, as is this blog and video from the League Against Cruel Sports.

Smith’s conviction was for animal cruelty (relating to a fox, not a raptor) but what interested us about this case was that District Judge Peter Veits accepted covert video footage from the League as admissible evidence.

Note, the video evidence made it to court and the judge was given the opportunity to rule on its admissibility, in direct contrast to several cases in Scotland last year where prosecutors from the Crown Office refused to accept covert footage filmed by the RSPB and subsequently dropped the cases prior to the trial dates (see here, here).

Convicted gamekeeper Nigel Smith at Lincoln Magistrates Court [photo from BBC]

29
Mar
18

Brutal, military style mass killing of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors

Press release from OneKind / League Against Cruel Sports / Lush (29/3/18):

SHOCKING EXPOSE OF MASS KILLING OF SCOTLAND’S MOUNTAIN HARES

Extraordinary footage from an investigation carried out by OneKind, League Against Cruel Sports and Lush has revealed the brutal, military style mass killing of Scotland’s mountain hares on grouse moors. Campaigners supported by Chris Packham are calling on the Scottish Government to take immediate action and end the killing.

Mountain hare shooting is one of many country sports offered by Scottish game estates, and grouse moor managers also organise culls of the animals in an effort to protect red grouse for sport shooting. Mass killing of mountain hares is just one part of the intensification of grouse moor management in Scotland.

OneKind Director Harry Huyton said:

Our investigation has revealed that instead of restraining themselves, as the Scottish Government has asked them to do, some estates seem to be at war with mountain hares. We filmed large groups of armed men moving around the mountains in convoys, killing hares and filling their pick-ups with dead animals as they go. In one particularly harrowing scene a hare is maimed by a gun and then apparently killed by the gunman’s dog, demonstrating the serious suffering caused by themass killing of hares on grouse moors.

These extraordinary scenes of carnage have no place in the Scottish countryside. The voluntary approach has failed, and the Scottish Government must take urgent action if it is to prevent further killing before the open season starts once again in August. We have written an open letter calling for an end to the killing, and I urge everyone who values our wildlife alive rather than dead to sign it“.

Ruth Peacey, naturalist and filmmaker for Lush said: “We knew this was taking place and, although horrific to witness, it was important to gain video footage of these culls to provide evidence to those who doubted. It was the military approach to killing that shocked our team the most, and I hope that all the footage will be used to bring about changes to provide better protection for mountain hares and stop these large-scale culls“.

Chris Packham, conservationist, naturalist and TV presenter said: “It is clear that self-restraint is not preventing large-scale culls of mountain hares on grouse moors and, as such, the law should be changed before we lose another iconic species from our uplands“.

Director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, Robbie Marsland added: “The sickening irony of the mayhem we saw on those mountainsides is that it is done in the hope that it will increase the number of red grouse to be shot for entertainment.

Mass killing of mountain hares is just one part of the intensification of grouse moor management in Scotland. Any animal that appears to threaten the red grouse is targeted by traps and snares or shot. Threatened species like hen harriers are mysteriously absent from some grouse moors. Unplanned tracks and roads scar the hillsides, anti-worming chemicals are left unattended, lead shot pollutes the land and heather is burned off on a landscape scale – all to ensure that one species will thrive. And then that species is shot for entertainment.

No one seems to be quite sure, but it looks like getting on for up to 19% of Scotland is a grouse moor. In the context of a national debate about land reform we believe now is the time to ask if this is how we want our land to be used“.

Mountain hare killing is not monitored in Scotland, however an estimate from an SNH study suggests that 25,000 mountain hares were killed in 2006/7. This is understood to be between 5-14% of the total population. It is thought that approximately 40% of those killed are shot for sport shooting, and 50% as part of organised culls.

The charities are calling on the Scottish Government to impose an all-year round close season on hare shooting until a review by Professor Werrity on the issue concludes.

ENDS

Read and sign OneKind’s open letter calling for an end to the mass killing of mountain hares here

In response to this new footage, a Scottish Government spokesperson has said they are “seeking urgent meetings with relevant stakeholders, while considering all available options for additional protections“.

It’s not clear what the Government hopes to achieve by conducting “urgent meetings”. The grouse moor owners don’t see there’s a problem and as long as the mass culling of hares continues to be a legal pastime, they are obviously going to continue to tell everyone the best way to conserve mountain hares is to shoot them in the face.

However, the following conversation has just taken place in the Scottish Parliament:

Alison Johnstone MSP (Scottish Greens):

New footage of the sickening slaughter of mountain hares is reported by the BBC today. Has the fact that this evidence comes from well regarded animal welfare groups finally convinced the Scottish government that voluntary restraint is sadly lacking on too many shooting estates. When and with whom will the urgent meetings that the government now seeks take place and when will the Scottish government introduce new legal protection for this fabulous, iconic animal?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon:

I share Alison Johnstone’s concern and anger because its evident in her voice that some of the images that we’re seeing on our screens today there is real public concern and we share the public concern about this iconic species on the Scottish mountains.

Large-scale culling of mountain hares could put the conservation status at risk and that is clearly unacceptable.

I know that the pictures that she refers to will be distressing to many people.

These meetings will take place with all relevant stakeholders, landowner groups, gamekeepers and environmental organisations.

I want to be very clear today that the Government will be exploring all available options to prevent the mass culling of mountain hares and one of those options is of course legislation and a licencing scheme

What we are seeing is not acceptable and that is a very clear message that goes from the government today”.

ENDS

29
Mar
18

Former Police Chief’s toxic vendetta against RSPB undermines partnership to tackle wildlife crime

We’ve often blogged about the so-called Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) and how little faith we have in its effectiveness for tackling illegal raptor persecution.

One of our biggest criticisms has always been the involvement of some representative groups from the game-shooting industry, who show little sign of actual partnership-working but instead use their PAW membership as a useful PR exercise, masquerading as genuine conservation partners but constantly undermining the efforts of others by use of obstruction, obsfuscation and outright denial that there’s even a problem to be addressed.

It’s pretty shocking then, to find out that the game-shooting industry has not been alone in faking a commitment to genuine partnership-working.

It turns out that Detective Inspector Nevin Hunter, the then head of the police National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) (from Feb 2012 to July 2014), was running what appears to have been a nasty little campaign during his tenure, aimed directly at discrediting the work of the RSPB’s Investigations Team and marginalising their assistance with raptor persecution investigations. Incredibly, this disgraceful ‘partnership-working’ behaviour began immediately after the RSPB had helped secure emergency funding to keep the NWCU running for another year!

Talk about backstabbing!

This has all been revealed in an FoI disclosure that was published earlier this week. The disclosure reveals a long string of toxic email correspondence from Nevin Hunter to various NWCU staff, to police forces across the country, and to various staff members at Natural England and DEFRA, amongst others.

This dossier can be read here: NWCU correspondence on RSPB Investigations_2013_2014

It reads as an unprofessional, personal vendetta carried out by a senior police officer who appears to have been using scarce public money (that was supposed to be used to fight wildlife crime) to instead fund a grand tour of the UK, dripping poison in to the ears of junior-ranking police officers and encouraging them to bad mouth the RSPB. It’s not a great look, Nevin.

The FoI request is believed to have been submitted by someone with a previous criminal conviction for raptor persecution offences and who has since held a a very public, unhealthy and obsessional grudge against the RSPB’s Investigations Team, undoubtedly because their work was instrumental in securing his conviction.

The FoI request read as follows:

Please supply all the information held by the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit and the police in relation to problems with the RSPB (including notes, statements and emails to and from Nevin Hunter to the RSPB and the police, especially in regards to not using the RSPB on police raids and not allowing the RSPB to take over criminal cases as has occurred in the past.

I am particularly interested in relation to the directions given to various organisations and people like wildlife liaison officers not to use the RSPB given by Nevin Hunter between 20th February 2012 – 31 July 2014 and any subsequent directions (including notes, statements and emails to and from Nevin Hunter to the RSPB).

It’s an unusually specific FoI request, isn’t it? It’s almost as if someone tipped off the applicant that this information would be available.

Anyway, never one to miss an opportunity to slur the RSPB and deflect attention away from grouse moor mismanagement and the associated wildlife crimes, the grouse-shooting industry’s mouthpiece group You Forgot the Birds has jumped all over this and we’re expecting them to have received coverage in today’s media with the following press release:

FOI REVEALS POLICE AT WAR WITH RSPB OVER INVESTIGATIONS

An FOI response released this week has revealed an extraordinary power struggle between the police and the RSPB over who controls investigations into wildlife crime.

In it senior police officers and government officials accused the RSPB of failing to report crimes, committing trespass and abusing the police national computer.

The police expressed concern that they had been seen as “being in the pocket of the RSPB” (p7) with wildlife crime cases “often ‘led’ by” the RSPB (p43). The charity was doing its own “surveillance,” was “trespassing”, would “covertly seize evidence” and “then expect to be part of enforcement activity [including] warrants, searches, interviews and file preparation.” (p27)

Police Scotland wrote that the RSPB’s “time is coming up here as well – they just haven’t woken up to it yet! The RSPB will kick and scream.” (p19).

Police Scotland warned that the RSPB’s threat to “withhold raptor persecution incidents will only result in severe criticism and credibility issues; the RSPB becoming the biggest obstruction in raptor persecution investigation.” (p20)

Defra said that “when the conduct of an NGO begins to prejudice the integrity of investigations action needs to be taken…there are people within the RSPB …holding back important info for what appears to be no other reason than to get a media splash… And who loses out? Every time it’s the birds.” (p2)

A series of NWCU concerns included that the RSPB had “failed to report the poisoning of a marsh harrier until 6 months after the event and then only by press release… This frustrated the investigation” (p5)

A particular concern was the RSPB’s use of the police national computer. Here the RSPB used its relationship with the Norfolk Constabulary to conduct a PNC search regarding alleged crime in Cumbria. The FOI shows that the Norfolk police could not justify the RSPB’s use of the police database.

The NWCU commented: “I’m pretty sure that they have ‘tricked’ Norfolk into getting this PNC data. If this is so then RSPB could well have breached the DPA.” (p35)  A later email said “I am quite frankly appalled that in the world of wildlife policing the Police are handing over computers/computer downloads, to a Charity, who then use a third party to look for evidence. I would be suing the Chief Constable.” (p37)

Commenting on the disclosures the campaign group You Forgot The Birds said that the RSPB was abusing the justice system. “This power hungry charity has been usurping the role of the police and prosecutors. The RSPB’s arrogance, massive income and lack of accountability is a dangerous cocktail which politicians should address,” said YFTB’s director, Ian Gregory.

ENDS

Many of the accusations made by Nevin and his colleagues, and cherry-picked by YFTB to cause maximum repuational damage to the RSPB, are baseless, misrepresentative and just plain bizarre.

Why on earth would the RSPB allegedly “threaten to withhold raptor persecution incidents” from the Police? The RSPB is not a reporting agency so couldn’t sidestep police involvement even if it wanted to, so what could possibly be its motivation for making this alleged statement?

Some of the accusations actually reveal an appalling lack of communication between the police. For example, the so-called ‘tricking’ of the police by the RSPB to access the Police National Computer. There was no ‘trickery’ involved – the RSPB had a signed-off protocol with Norfolk Constabulary of which Nevin was completely ignorant!

The RSPB has responded to the release of the FoI with the following statement:

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Conservation Director said:Our investigations team does fantastic work to help tackle wildlife crime. Their commitment and dedication is exceptional and I am proud of the work they do.

We have numerous concerns about these internal police conversations from four years ago and it is clear that the framing of the question used to obtain these emails is designed to drive a wedge between the RSPB and the Police’s Wildlife Crime Unit and our current strong relationship. Anyone looking at the question will see that it is attempting to take attention away from our important joint work in stopping the illegal killing of the UK’s birds.

Stopping wildlife crime is one of the foundations upon which the RSPB is built. I believe that all those genuinely motivated to end this in the UK benefit from the proven experience of our Investigations team and so I urge everyone to continue to work together to do what really matters – end the illegal killing of birds of prey.

The RSPB has a long track record in assisting the statutory agencies and the police, so we were deeply disappointed to find out that in 2013 and 2014 the then head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit was being so critical behind our backs, circulating false and misleading comments. These emails were sent at a time when we had been campaigning to secure the long term future of the NWCU.

I am pleased that we currently have a good working relationship both with police forces across the UK and the NWCU, and I have complete confidence the systems and processes which underpin our investigations“.

END

It’s clear that YFTB is trying to cause as much damage as possible to the RSPB’s reputation – that’s been the main objective ever since the grouse-shooting industry established this fake news outfit a couple of years ago.

However, in our opinion, it’s not the RSPB that comes out of this with the most damaged reputation, its the NWCU. At a time when Detective Inspector Nevin Hunter was officially bigging up partnership-working with the RSPB and other PAW organisations (e.g. see here, here), it looks like behind closed doors he was doing his best to destroy it.

The question remains, why? Why, if Nevin was charged with progressing the UK Raptor Persecution Wildlife Crime Priority, with no real track record in this specialised area, was he trying to actively exclude the one agency with a proven track record of working with police to tackle this area of crime?

The other big question is, what happens now? Thankfully Nevin has long gone, and good riddance to him. But how much damage has been caused to this partnership? The new head of the NWCU, Chief Inspector Louise Hubble, must be mortified. This isn’t her mess but she’s inherited it and now has to deal with it.

28
Mar
18

Case against Bleasdale Estate gamekeeper James Hartley: part 4

Legal proceedings continued today in the case against James Hartley, a gamekeeper from the Bleasdale Estate in Bowland who is accused of a number of offences in relation to the alleged killing of two peregrines in April 2016 (see first court report for details here). Mr Hartley has pleaded not guilty to the alleged offences.

A case management hearing earlier this month focused on legal argument relating to the admissibilty of evidence.

Today at Preston Magistrates Court, District Judge Goodwin delivered judgement on the admissibility of evidence specific to this case.

Due to reporting restrictions imposed at a previous hearing, until the case concludes we are unable to publish the specifics of the legal argument, or even comment on today’s admissibility ruling.

A further hearing has been scheduled for 10 April 2018.

PLEASE NOTE: given the legal sensitivity surrounding this case we won’t be accepting comments on this particular blog post. Thanks.

27
Mar
18

SGA reacts angrily to media coverage of Golden Eagle Fred

Last Friday we published an update on golden eagle Fred, who ‘disappeared’ from the Pentlands on the outskirts of Edinburgh in highly suspicious circumstances in January.

There have been some predictable responses from certain quarters who probably expect everyone to believe that this is what happened to Fred (many thanks to @gill_lewis for this brilliant cartoon):

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s response to the latest news on Fred was this:

Hmm, where to begin. Let’s start with some facts, a concept the SGA seems to struggle with.

First of all, on the accusation that our media coverage has been “shambolic” and that this case has made a “total mockery” of the investigative process for dealing with wildlife crime. Let’s just be clear. We haven’t published any details of this investigation without the express agreement of Police Scotland.

In the SGA’s original press statement on Fred (see here), we were accused of “walking away after presenting judgement to the media“. We didn’t “walk away” at all – we presented further evidence to the police and were asked not to publish it until the police’s special technical analysts had been given an opportunity to examine it. Although we were obviously eager to publish as soon as possible, we fully adhered to the police request as not to do so could have compromised their investigation. There is still information that has not yet been released.

In the meantime, SGA Director Bert Burnett was busily writing outrageous and borderline libellous commentary on social media. He wrote the following on 22 February 2018:

Which leads us on nicely to another statement in the SGA’s latest press statement:

The SGA has not joined in with theorising on blogs or private social media accounts“.

Really? So how does the SGA explain the following social media posts?

Posted 19th February 2018:

Posted 23rd February 2018:

That seems to be pretty conclusive evidence that the SGA, via its Director, has been quite busy “theorising” about this case, doesn’t it? And not only “theorising”, but also trying to whip up unfounded hysteria by accusing Chris Packham of ‘calling for the wives and children of gamekeepers to become homeless’ and Bert then, ironically, calling for people to lobby the BBC to sack Chris!

Ah, but he’s no longer a Director‘ will argue the SGA. That bit, at least, is true – according to documents lodged at Companies House, Bert resigned his Directorship of the SGA on 26th February 2018. However, his social media comments were published prior to the 26th, when he was still an SGA Director. Perhaps this explains Bert’s ‘resignation’? Whatever, who cares.

So after falsely accusing us of commenting inappropriately on a live investigation, the SGA then argues that “…all the evidence in this case should be presented in the open so the truth can be established…”. A good bit of muddled thinking there.

For us, the most revealing section of the SGA’s press statement is this:

The fact that SNH published a paper on satellite tagged eagles between 2004-2016 has nothing to do with any case happening years later, in 2018.

To suggest otherwise is to institutionalise prejudice against a community of people: Scotland’s gamekeepers. We will not tolerate this and are extremely disappointed and angry that this attitude appears to be at large within some sections of our parliament“.

Sorry, SGA, but the 2017 review on the fate of satellite-tagged golden eagles has EVERYTHING to do with this case. The circumstances of Fred’s disappearance mirror the suspicious circumstances of the other 42+ ‘missing’ golden eagles who have ‘disappeared’ on or near to a grouse moor and whose tags suddenly and inexplicably stopped working despite having a proven reliability rate of 98%. The report demonstrated that tagged golden eagles in Scotland were 25 TIMES more likely to ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances than anywhere else in the world where these tags have been deployed on eagles.

It’s no use the SGA now pulling out the victim card and falsely claiming “institutional prejudice”. The facts are clear and have been available for a long, long time to those willing to see.

What’s really interesting is that the SGA’s angry response came just hours after Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing’s damning condemnation of the criminals within the grouse-shooting sector who continue to kill birds of prey, including golden eagles. We suspect the SGA’s furious reaction about Fred is more to do with the embarrassing fact that Fergus, the SGA’s long-time cheerleader and main political ally, has spoken so openly and frankly about the ongoing persecution of raptors on grouse moors. The significance of Fergus Ewing’s statement should not be underestimated.

The walls are crumbling and the SGA knows it. It’s just a matter of time…..

26
Mar
18

Laughable ‘critique’ of golden eagle satellite tag review

As many of you will know, in August 2016 Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham ordered a review of golden eagle satellite tag data to see whether there was evidence of “a pattern of suspicious activity” regarding the regular disappearance of sat-tagged golden eagles in Scotland.

Scottish Natural Heritage commissioned the review, which was published in May 2017. The findings were unequivocal – YES, there was a pattern of suspicious activity and a strong association between ‘disappearing’ eagles and some areas of land managed as driven grouse moors.

[Red stars show position of sat-tagged golden eagles that have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances, 2004-2016. Note the clusters in areas of grouse moor management around the Cairngorms National Park. Data from the golden eagle sat tag review]

The review was significant in that it led to Roseanna Cunningham announcing a series of further measures to tackle illegal raptor persecution on driven grouse moors, not least the establishment of a review group to consider licensing options for grouse moor management.

Obviously, the significance of the review wasn’t lost on some within the grouse-shooting industry and for the last ten months there have been concerted efforts on social media to discredit (a) the report’s findings and (b) the report’s authors.

None of these efforts have amounted to anything – just wild accusations (many of them libellous) and uninformed commentary from those who don’t like the idea of the potential introduction of any sort of regulation or accountability of the grouse-shooting industry. Let’s call them Honorary Professors of Idiocy at the Angus Glens Institute for Critical Thinking.

Some quotes from these esteemed Honorary Professors of Idiocy include statements such as [The report would] “never stand up to scientific scrutiny and would clearly fail in any peer-reviewed process due to extremely poor science, multiple assumptions and total lack of robustness” (Mike Groves, expelled member of Tayside Raptor Study Group, scientific credentials unknown); The authors are “incompetent” and “not independent” (Bert Burnett, Director [resigned] of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, scientific credentials unknown); and the report authors are “bent” (Andy Richardson, social media troll, scientific credentials unknown).

To offset the Honorary Professors’ obvious lack of scientific credibility, the Angus Glens Institute for Critical Thinking has recently invited a ‘proper scientist’ to critique the golden eagle satellite tag review.

Who is this proper scientist? A young man called Ben Adam (BSc, Physics), who apparently works as a Revenue Officer for HM Revenue & Customs. And in which learned academic journal was his ‘scientific critique’ published? Er, that’ll be on his Dad’s blog. And who’s his Dad? That’ll be David Adam, an artist from the Angus Glens, mates with Mike Groves (see above), and who spends a lot of time and effort slagging off members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group and slagging off the practice of satellite tracking raptors for scientific research.

Ben Adam’s (BSc, Physics) ‘critique’ has been hailed by those within the Angus Glens Institute for Critical Thinking as a comprehensive demolition of the golden eagle satellite tag review, and they’re hoping lots of politicians take note of it. We’re also hoping lots of politicians take note of it because it lays bare the laughable standard of defence against the damning findings of the golden eagle satellite tag review.

Before we analyse Ben Adam’s (BSc, Physics) ‘critique’, it’s probably worth pointing out the scientific credibility of the authors of the golden eagle satellite tag review, Dr Phil Whitfield and Dr Alan Fielding.

Between them, they have over 70 years worth of ecological experience, have published over 150 peer-reviewed scientific papers, written hundreds of commissioned reports, and authored five books, including one on statistical analysis (authored by Dr Fielding, a lecturer on statistics at Manchester Metropolitan University). For good reason, they are held in extremely high regard within the academic and conservation communities and have a particular expertise on the ecology and conservation of hen harriers and golden eagles, having co-authored the respective Government-commissioned Conservation Frameworks for these species. It’s quite obvious why SNH commissioned them to undertake the golden eagle satellite tag review; they were the best qualified scientists to do this research.

So, let’s have a look at Ben Adam’s (BSc, Physics) masterful ‘critique’, amounting to six paragraphs published on his Dad’s blog:

Gosh, where to start. How about with the most glaring error? Mr Adam (BSc, Physics) claims the statistical analyses are flawed because the sample size was too low. He seems to think that the ‘sample’ used in this study was the number of satellite-tagged eagles (n = 135) and argues that had the sample size been higher (“300-500“), a “much more useful analysis could be done“. Had he been paying attention and actually read and understood the report, he should have realised that the ‘sample’ in this study was NOT the number of satellite-tagged eagles, but rather the recorded locations of those satellite-tags (n = over half a million)! It’s not rocket science, or even physics. The statistical analyses were undertaken on the tag data, not on the eagles, and most scientists would conclude that a sample size of over half a million is, er, exceptionally good.

Even if the analysis was based on the number of tagged eagles (which it wasn’t), Mr Adam (BSc, Physics) seems to have missed the section detailing the analyses done on identical tag types deployed on golden eagles in the US, Sweden and Norway (n = 784) and on bald eagles in the US (n = 83). Guess what, Mr Adam (BSc, Physics)? Of a study of 869 tags (+131 Scottish tags = 1000 tags in total), the tags deployed on golden eagles in Scotland were 25 times more likely to suffer a Stopped-no malfunction fate than any of those other comparable studies. Imagine that!

Mr Adam (BSc, Physics) claims there are clear relationships between the Stopped-no malfunction category and the type of tag used and the operator who fitted the tag. He also claims the data sets “don’t tell us which operator used which type of tag“. Er, try looking at Table 2.2 which details the tag type and the operator. In fact, try reading the report again, which explains that “there were several people involved in the tagging of eagles in Scotland, and potentially suspicious (Stopped-no malfunction) fates were not apparently due to particular operators (or, by proxy, teams of taggers), or to particular tag types“.

Disappointingly, Mr Adam (BSc, Physics) didn’t offer up any explanation for the following part of the report:

Conservatively in these analyses, we did not include a ‘dropped suspicious’ tag fate as evidence of a killed bird, even though this record involved the discovery of an abandoned ‘dropped’ tag whose housing had been stabbed by a sharp implement and whose harness had been cut cleanly by a sharp instrument“.

It’s a shame Mr Adam (BSc, Physics) overlooked this statement as this particular tag was found in, er, the Angus Glens.

Mr Adam (BSc, Physics) argues that the review “made no indepth analysis of each tag type in detail“. Er, try reading section 6, ‘Tag Reliability’, for the detailed independent checks of tag engineering, including manufacturer ‘blind’ tests.

Mr Adam (BSc, Physics) claims the study is “incomplete and extremely limited in scope” and “does not show critical thinking or scientific method where it is truly required“. Er, this report is one of the most comprehensive, robust and forensic analyses ever undertaken on golden eagle satellite tag data. Multiple lines of evidence were used to conclude the spatial clustering was indeed suspicious. Indeed, on the spatial clustering alone, the report states: “Ten analyses were conducted, examining various alternative potential datasets to ensure that the results were robust“.

To conclude, Mr Adam’s (BSc, Physics) ‘critique’ is laughable and lamentable. It probably explains why SNH didn’t ask a Revenue Officer at HM Revenue & Customs with a BSc in Physics to peer review the report (yes, take note Honorary Professor of Idiocy Mike Groves, this report was indeed peer-reviewed as part of SNH’s quality assurance process).

Who were the peer-reviewers? Actual real life professors, as listed in the report:

Professor Ian Newton FRS, FRSE, Professor Miguel Ferrer, Professor Robert Furness, Professor Des Thompson FRSE.

Enough said.

[Dr Ruth Tingay, MSc (Env Management), PhD (Conservation Ecology)]

26
Mar
18

Illegal activity uncovered at goshawk nest in North York Moors National Park

RSPB press release (26/3/18)

ILLEGAL ACTIVITY UNCOVERED AT GOSHAWK NEST IN NORTH YORK MOORS

North Yorkshire Police and the RSPB are appealing for information after several instances of illegal disturbance were recorded at a goshawk nest in North Yorkshire.

In spring 2017, a covert camera was trained on a nest with poor breeding success near Helmsley to better understand what was causing the nest to fail. In April 2017, the footage showed two men visiting the nest and one of the men then repeatedly hitting the nest tree with a large stick. This appeared to be a clear attempt to flush the incubating bird off the nest.

Then, on two occasions the following month, a man is seen and the sound of gunshots is heard, along with the repeated alarm calls of the parent birds on one of the occasions. The nesting attempt subsequently failed and the four cold eggs were later recovered from the nest after a visit by the police. Analysis showed one of the eggs had a fully formed chick inside.

Goshawks are secretive, forest-dwelling hunters, around the size of a buzzard. There are very few nesting pairs in North Yorkshire, despite plenty of available habitat. Goshawks are legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and listed on Schedule 1 of the Act. It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb the birds at the nest site during the breeding season unless operating under the authority of a government licence.

Investigations are ongoing and police are appealing for information.

Watch video footage from the RSPB’s covert camera:

Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “We are very concerned that this was an attempt to shoot the goshawks or disturb the adults to make them desert the nest site. Goshawks are magnificent birds and should be widespread throughout North Yorkshire. The idea that people are deliberately trying to destroy nests and prevent them from raising chicks is beyond belief.

Birds of prey in the North York Moors National Park are at a huge risk of persecution, and this county consistently proves the worst in the country for the illegal killing of birds of prey. This latest evidence shows the pressures they continue face. We are grateful for the enquiries being made by North Yorkshire Police in relation to the events recorded. We hope that further information emerges to help identify these individuals.”

Acting Inspector Kevin Kelly, of North Yorkshire Police, added: “The ongoing problem of raptor persecution in our county prompted a public awareness campaign in February between ourselves, the RSPB, RSPCA, North York Moors National Park and Yorkshire Dales National Park. The initiative – know as Operation Owl – was designed to educate local people and send a clear message that raptor crime will not be tolerated.

If you have any information that may help our enquiries regarding these incidents, please speak out. Ahead of the spring breeding season, look out for individuals acting suspiciously and please report any concerns immediately.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, call North Yorkshire Police on 101. Or to speak with somebody in complete confidence, call the RSPB’s Raptor Crime Hotline 0300 999101.

If you find a wild bird which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551, email crime@rspb.org.uk or fill in the online form.

ENDS

RSPB Investigations Officer Howard Jones has also written a blog here

23
Mar
18

New information reveals more about Golden Eagle Fred’s suspicious disappearance

RPUK/Chris Packham press release:

NEW INFORMATION REVEALS MORE ABOUT GOLDEN EAGLE FRED’S SUSPICIOUS DISAPPEARANCE

On 21st January, a GPS satellite tag fitted to a young golden eagle called Fred suddenly and inexplicably stopped sending data close to a grouse moor in the Pentland Hills on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Up until that point the tag had been working perfectly and was providing accurate and frequent location information about Fred’s travels.

Photo of Fred by Ruth Tingay:

Strangely, three and half days later, the tag began to transmit again for a short period, but astonishingly, it was in the North Sea, 15 miles offshore from St Andrews. No further GPS data have been received.

Map showing Fred’s movements in the Pentland Hills and the last known position of his tag in the North Sea:

The researchers who had been tracking Fred’s movements (Dr Ruth Tingay of Raptor Persecution UK and broadcaster and campaigner Chris Packham) alerted experts at RSPB Scotland who immediately notified Police Scotland who began an investigation into Fred’s suspicious disappearance.

The analysis of new technical data, provided by the tag manufacturer, has now shed some light on the approximate location of Fred’s tag during those three and a half days of lost GPS transmissions.

Although the tag’s GPS transmissions were suppressed, the tag’s technical data, which includes time & date, shows that the tag was still functioning and was periodically communicating briefly with a series of mobile phone masts closest to the tag’s then location. These data, that gave locational information for the phone masts, suggest that in the days after Fred’s disappearance his tag moved eastwards away from the Pentlands, along a route similar to that of the Edinburgh City Bypass and subsequently the A1 towards Haddington, before it travelled to the North Berwick area on the East Lothian coast. From there, it is likely that the tag went into the sea as the data then show that the tag began to connect with phone masts along the Fife coast, across the Firth of Forth. Later, the tag was then able, briefly, to resume giving locational GPS transmissions, but by then it was well offshore.

Map showing the phone masts (red dots) with which Fred’s tag was communicating between 21-25 January 2018. The green dot shows the final known GPS position of the tag on 25th Jan. (Map: RPUK)

Dr Tingay said:That someone might have been travelling around the Edinburgh City Bypass with a dead golden eagle in the boot of a vehicle is sickening.

These new tags we’re using to track golden eagles like Fred offer a highly sophisticated technical opportunity, not just to learn about the eagles’ movements when they’re alive but also, it seems, an insight in to the lengths someone will go to try and remove evidence to cover their crime”.

Chris Packham said:We don’t know whether this tag was still attached to Fred as it travelled across East Lothian and in to the North Sea but we do know that the tag’s movements are a clear indication of foul play.

Whether it was an amateurish attempt to mask the illegal killing of Fred in the Pentlands by dumping the tag, and possibly Fred, in the North Sea to make it look like he had drowned, we’ll never know. We do know that, once again, we’ve lost a young golden eagle in the vicinity of a grouse moor and nobody will be held to account.

The Scottish Government needs to do more, immediately, to protect Scotland’s birds of prey. It’s crystal clear that raptors continue to be killed and the criminals responsible think they are untouchable”.

Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland said:This new information makes the probability of Fred’s death being a wildlife crime even more likely.

The continued denials of any suspicion around the case, and attempts at coming up with elaborate alternative versions of events, have been identical to those in virtually every other case where a satellite-tagged raptor has disappeared.

It is a great shame that some representatives of the gamebird shooting industry, who profess to be “true conservationists” and “guardians of the countryside”, are the same individuals who seek more to shoot the messenger than to face up to and marginalise the criminals who exist in plain sight in their community.

Lothian MSP Andy Wightman said:The evidence uncovered from Fred’s satellite tag is sufficient to convince me that he died in suspicious circumstances. Further details may never be known but it is beyond contempt that protected species such as Golden Eagles continue to be persecuted across Scotland.

I urge all those who use the Pentlands Regional Park on a regular basis to remain vigilant and am extremely grateful to Dr Ruth Tingay and Police Scotland for their diligence and perseverance in a very difficult case.

Last year a Scottish Government-commissioned report showed that 41 of 131 satellite-tagged golden eagles had disappeared (presumed dead) in suspicious circumstances in Scotland, predominantly on or near to some driven grouse moors. In response to that report’s findings, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, ordered a review of grouse moor management practices with a view to introducing a licensing scheme for game-shooting estates.

Anyone with information about Fred’s disappearance is urged to contact Police Scotland on 101, or the RSPB’s confidential raptor crime hotline 0300 999 0101.

ENDS

We’ve produced a video about the location of Fred’s tag between 21-25 January:

The new information we’ve been able to retrieve from the tag (as discussed by Chris Packham in the video) deserves a little bit more explanation.

It’s important to understand that the new data do NOT provide detailed GPS locations of the tag – i.e. the new information only tells us which nearby phone mast the tag was communicating with, it does NOT tell us the exact position of the tag when it was ‘talking’ to the phone masts, as the tag’s GPS function was disabled (more on this below).

Nevertheless, the position of the phone masts and the times/dates the tag was communicating with them does show a very clear direction of travel from the Pentlands and out in to the North Sea. For investigative reasons, we are not yet revealing the times/dates those phone masts were ‘pinged’.

The disabling of the tag’s GPS function is interesting. It is surprisingly easy to suppress the tag’s GPS signal. For obvious reasons, we have no intention of providing a description of how to do that, but needless to say you don’t need a Faraday cage or indeed any specialist equipment to block the signal of this particular tag type.

That begs the question, was Fred’s tag deliberately disabled to hide the GPS data transmissions? Let’s assume for a minute that it was. Whoever did that, was smart enough to know how to suppress the GPS signal but not smart enough to know that the tag would still be trying to communicate with the nearest phone mast. Schoolboy error.

An alternative explanation is that the tag was not deliberately disabled at all. Whoever took that tag (and perhaps Fred’s corpse) from the Pentlands might just have been banking on the idea that the tag only sends data at set periods of time inbetween battery-charging periods (as with the Hen Harrier satellite tags), and so they may have thought they could get it to the coast and in to the sea without anybody who was monitoring the tag’s data knowing that something was wrong. They may have decided to dump the tag (and possibly Fred) in to the sea to make it look as though he flew out there of his own accord and simply drowned. Again, schoolboy error. We are not using the same type of tag as those used on Hen Harriers.

We know from reading various, frankly laughable, theories posted on social media over the last few weeks that the majority of commentators have no clue/understanding of (a) the type of tag we are using, (b) the tag’s capabilities, and (c) the high frequency rate that the tag was transmitting data, throughout every day and night.

We’ve released this new information about the route Fred’s tag took from the Pentland Hills to the North Sea in the hope that someone will come forward to help progress the police investigation into Fred’s highly suspicious disappearance. If you know anything, please contact Police Scotland on 101 or the RSPB’s confidential raptor crime hotline 0300 999 0101.

We’d like to put on record our immense gratitude to the two Police Wildlife Crime Officers who have been leading this case. They have gone way above and beyond what we expected them to do (and again, we are not detailing the specifics of their investigation) and they have impressed us with their diligence and professionalism. Many thanks to them for their efforts to date.

We are also grateful to the tag manufacturer and particularly the senior engineers for providing the additional technical data from Fred’s tag and helping us and the police with the analysis.

22
Mar
18

Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing condemns the criminals killing raptors on Scottish grouse moors

Last week we criticised Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing for his apparent failure to speak out on illegal raptor persecution, especially following the news that yet another satellite-tagged golden eagle had ‘disappeared’ from a grouse moor within his constituency; a constituency that has been a hotbed of illegal raptor killing for many, many years.

For those of you not on Twitter, this afternoon Mr Ewing responded by publishing a series of tweets, condemning the continued illegal killing of raptors on Scottish grouse moors. We very much welcome his statement:

21
Mar
18

Satellite-tagged hen harrier Aalin ‘disappears’ near Ruabon grouse moor, North Wales

They can hide the tags. They can hide the bodies. But they can’t hide the pattern” (Dr Hugh Webster)

RSPB press release (21/3/18):

RARE HEN HARRIER GOES MISSING IN WALES

North Wales Police and the RSPB are appealing for information following the disappearance of a satellite-tagged hen harrier near Wrexham.

The harrier, named Aalin, was tagged as part of the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE+ project in July 2016 from a nest on the Isle of Man, in collaboration with Manx Birdlife. Aalin left the Isle of Man in 2016 and spent her first winter in Shropshire, before heading to Wales in the spring of 2017, where she remained ever since.

Hen harrier Aalin (photo by James Leonard)

Aalin’s tag had been transmitting regularly, until it suddenly stopped on the morning of 9 February 2018. Data from Aalin’s tag indicated she spent the last few months in the same area of moorland around Ruabon Mountain near Wrexham, from where the tag unexpectedly sent its last signal at 10.34am. A search was conducted by RSPB Investigations staff, but no tag or body was found and she has not been seen or heard of since.

RSPB map:

Dr. Cathleen Thomas, RSPB Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, said: “It’s incredibly disappointing to lose yet another hen harrier in these circumstances, especially as this bird is so scarce in the UK. It’s also the first suspicious loss of a bird in Wales for our project, after the elation of tagging our first chicks there in 2017. We were hopeful that heading towards the breeding season Aalin would have nested in Wales and successfully reared chicks this summer, so her loss also affects future generations of this rare and beautiful bird in the area. We believe the loss of Aalin and other recently tagged hen harriers in the UK is having a devastating impact on their conservation status.”

Rob Taylor, Rural Crime Team Manager, North Wales Police, said: “We have been notified by the RSPB of this incident and we are investigating the disappearance, but at this time we have little to go on. We are appealing to the public for any assistance they can give and we hope that foul play hasn’t played a part in the loss of this rare bird.”

Neil Morris, Managing Director of Manx Birdlife, said: “This is heart-breaking news. As well as the sudden unexplained loss of yet another magnificent bird of prey, we still know so little about the behaviour of Manx-born hen harriers. Clearly there is an impulse for young birds to wander soon after fledging. But we don’t really know why or whether any of those that leave the Isle of Man as juveniles make the return journey as mature adults to breed back in their native hills.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, please call North Wales Police on 101 quoting the reference WO28466. Alternatively, you can call the RSPB Raptor Crime Hotline confidentially on 0300 999 0101. All calls are anonymous.

If you find a wild bird that you suspect was illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/our-positions-and-campaigns/positions/wildbirdslaw/reportform.aspx

ENDS 

Dr Cathleen Thomas, RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life Project Manager has also written a blog – here.

We’ve produced a habitat map covering the area of Aalin’s last known satellite-tag fix. The tell-tale heather strips show this as, surprise surprise, a grouse moor:

Aalin was one of the 2016 cohort of young satellite-tagged hen harriers. Here’s what happened to the others:

Hen harrier Elwood – ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths just a few weeks after fledging, presumed dead (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Brian – ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park just a few weeks after fledging, presumed dead (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Donald – missing in northern France, presumed dead (Autumn ’16).

Hen harrier Hermione – found dead on Mull, believed to have died from natural causes (Sep ’16).

Hen harrier Rowan – found dead in Yorkshire Dales National Park. He’d been shot (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Tarras – ‘disappeared’ in the Peak District National Park, presumed dead (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Beater – ‘disappeared’ in the Scottish Borders, presumed dead (Nov ’16).

Hen harrier Bonny – ‘disappeared’ in the North Pennines, presumed dead (Dec ’16)

Hen harrier Mick – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Dec ’16).

Hen harrier Carroll – found dead in Northumberland, PM revealed a parasitic disease & two shotgun pellets (Jan ’17).

Hen harrier John – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Oct ’17)

Hen harrier Aalin – ‘disappeared’ in Wales, presumed dead (Feb ’18)

Twelve down, five to go (DeeCee, Finn, Harriet, Wendy, Sorrel).

More evidence then, that DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan, launched on 16 January 2016 months before these hen harriers even hatched, is a categorical failure. Will DEFRA or any of the other supporters of this pathetic pantomime (Natural England, Moorland Association, GWCT, Hawk & Owl Trust, International Centre for Birds of Prey etc) re-assess and pull the plug? Of course not.

It looks like Mr Carbo needs to update his sketch:

 




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