Archive for August, 2018


Raven cull: application for judicial review withdrawn, for now

The Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) has this morning withdrawn its application for judicial review of the Strathbraan raven cull licence, but only on a temporary basis.

[Raven photo by Dieter Schaeffer]

In an email to its crowdfunder supporters, the SRSG has stated the following:

Dear supporter,

This morning we have instructed our legal team to withdraw our application for judicial review of the Strathbraan raven cull licence.

The reasons for this are as follows:

Our initial objectives for applying for judicial review were to (a) establish that the process and scientific justification for the SNH raven cull licence (i.e. ‘just to see what happens’) was flawed and should not be permitted to be used as the basis for this or for any future cull licences for ravens or other protected species; and (b) to have the 2018 raven cull licence stopped.

We have succeeded in achieving both objectives. 

At the end of July, SNH published a review conducted by its own Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) which utterly condemned the scientific justificiation and design of the ‘study’, calling it “completely inadequate”, “seriously flawed” and “will fail to provide any meaningful scientific evidence”.

As a result of this damning review, SNH also announced that the licence holder (Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders, SCCW) had agreed to ‘voluntarily suspend’ the raven cull from the end of July until the licence expires on 31 December 2018, having killed 39 of its licensed quota of 69 ravens. On a superficial level this appeared, initially, to be a satisfactory response, but we had concerns that the ‘voluntary suspension’ was not legally binding and so the SCCW could continue to kill ravens at any time for the remaining duration of the licence.

However, we are now satisfied that the SCCW has made an undertaking to voluntarily suspend the cull, which in effect means the licence will not be used again before it expires on 31 Dec 2018. According to our lawyers, the use of the word ‘undertaking’ has more legal significance than the word ‘agreed’, so if the SCCW does decide to continue killing ravens under the terms of the current (flawed) licence, even though it has undertaken not to, this would open an opportunity for us to launch a further legal challenge. It is important to note that it is the SCCW that has made this undertaking to voluntarily suspend the cull, and not SNH. Therefore any potential legal action on this point would be taken against the licence holder, not SNH.

[NB: On legal advice, the above paragraph has been edited at 14.13hrs to clarify, for the avoidance of doubt, the respective positions, as we understand, of SNH and SCCW]

As we have successfully achieved both our objectives, our application for judicial review becomes just an academic exercise with no tangible benefits, as the SAC has already declared the scientific justification as being “completely inadequate” and SNH will not be issuing any further licences without substantial review, and an undertaking has been made by SCCW not to kill any more ravens for the duration of the licence. If we were to proceed with our application for judicial review on this academic basis alone, there is a risk the judge would consider our case unfavourably and dismiss it, leaving us exposed to a demand for legal costs from SNH.

We feel we have a responsibility to use our crowdfunded donations wisely and pursuing an academic exercise just to prove a point would not be a prudent use of these funds, nor a good use of court time. On balance, we would have more to lose than gain. Instead, we intend to hold the remaining funds as a war chest so that if/when SNH decides to issue a further licence permitting the killing of ravens in Strathbraan, we will be in a strong position to react quickly and launch another legal challenge if it is deemed necessary. Our funds are currently being professionally audited and we have a significant amount remaining, which will be held by our lawyers in a ring-fenced account.

Our fight to get #Justice4Ravens is not over. SNH indicated that the 2018 raven cull licence was part of a proposed five-year ‘study’ at Strathbraan and although SNH has admitted it has to review and amend its “seriously flawed” study design, we are well aware that future licences are quite likely, if not in time for 2019 then probably for 2020. We consider the withdrawal of our application for judicial review as a temporary measure and will not hesitate to apply for a further judicial review if SNH’s incompetence continues.

We’d like to record our sincere thanks to our legal team, Sindi Mules (Balfour & Manson) and Aidan O’Neill QC (Matrix Chambers) for their hard work and commitment to our case. They have been fantastic to work with and we look forward to seeking their advice again as SNH’s future raven cull plans become clearer.

We’d also like to thank you, our donors, whose generous support allowed us to launch this legal challenge. It’s a cliche but our success in this case would not have been possible without your trust and support (and of course, your donations!). Thank you all.

We will continue to keep you informed of any new developments.

Ruth Tingay & Logan Steele, on behalf of Scottish Raptor Study Group


To read all previous blogs on the raven cull licence, please see HERE (and scroll to foot of page)


Hunt saboteurs disrupt two Yorkshire grouse shoots

Yesterday, members of the Hunt Saboteurs disrupted two grouse shoots in Yorkshire, one on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and one inside the North York Moors National Park.

[Images from the Hunt Saboteurs facebook page]

Here is the write-up from the Hunt Saboteurs’ Facebook page:

North Cambs Hunt Sabs joined around 70 activists from around the country today to put a stop to grouse shooting in two moorland national parks.

First port of call was a large shoot spotted at Kexwith Moor, near Richmond. Sabs poured out of vehicles and crossed the heather covered moorland to the despair of the huge line of flag-waving beaters employed for today’s shoot.

When the sheer number of hunt sabs approaching over the hillside became apparent, the shoot rapidly packed up and retreated to the safety of the pub. Sab spotters keeping an eye on them confirmed that shooters didn’t attempt to go back out again that day.

Next on the list was a shoot spotted by another sab group at Bransdale Moor, north of Helmsley.

Sabs arrived in the area where a shoot was setting up nearby. Our long range lenses then confirmed reports that the shooting party had got wind of us, and were packing everyone away for the day.

As the paying customers had been safely sent away, the shoots beating team tried to impede our vehicle. We were locked behind gates, blocked by off road vehicles, had logs laid across paths to block our route, had gates nailed shut in our path and had two tractor trailers parked in front of byway gates.

With a little teamwork, a sturdy sab vehicle, a strong tow rope and (in the end) the North Yorks Police, we were safely on our way.

A long day out for North Cambs sabs, who were joined in our 4×4 today by friends from Beds & Bucks Hunt Sabs and Northants Hunt Saboteurs.


An article on yesterday’s events in the Yorkshire Dales has appeared online this morning on Richmondshire Today, and takes a different perspective on what is alleged to have happened:

Hunt saboteurs wearing balaclavas tried to disrupt a grouse shoot in the Dales on Saturday.

Approximately 60 to 70 saboteurs took part in the action in Swaledale.

Police were called after the protesters gathered in the centre of Reeth and followed the shooting party onto the moors.

Dalesport, which runs shoots, said the saboteurs tried to stone shoot vehicles and intimidate shoot staff.

A spokesman said: “It was a shocking encounter in this tranquil area of the national park.

“Half the sabs were dressed in black with balaclavas in an attempt to prevent their identity.

“The police arrived to disperse them but not before further threats were made to the shoot staff.”

The West Yorkshire Hunt Saboteurs, who joined activists from all over the country, said the sabotage was a great success.

A member of the group said: “Activists from the Hunt Saboteurs Association set out to disrupt the shoot and prevent animals from being killed and that’s exactly what we did.

“The shoot was forced to pack up and leave the moors early today and the lives of countless birds were saved.”

A villager from Reeth said: “It was quite scary as the protesters had balaclavas on and there were so many police cars and vans.

“It’s a shame as there was a family fun day for guide dogs on and that was spoilt.”

However, a spokesman for the fun day said the saboteurs had spent a lot of money with them and the event had been a big success.

A visitor from Richmond, who was walking her dogs in the area, said: “When the protesters and police arrived it was very unnerving especially for families as nobody knew what was going on at first.

“I didn’t see any trouble or raised voices but I can understand people feeling a bit worried because of the way they looked.”

The Hunt Saboteurs Association advised on its Facebook page that 70 saboteurs had ‘just packed up a grouse shoot on the Yorkshire Dales’ and shared photos and a post from the Nottingham Hunt Saboteurs.

On their post, Nottingham Hunt Saboteurs said: “Lots of very unhappy shooters and lots of grouse who live to see another day.”



The People’s Walk for Wildlife: London, 22 Sept 2018

Sick of reading about the ongoing slaughter of birds of prey and feeling helpless to stop it?

This is the event for you!

Come along to the People’s Walk for Wildlife, hosted by Chris Packham, and join thousands of others who care passionately about what’s happening to British wildlife, whether it be raptors, mountain hares, badgers, bees, trees, foxes, fish, birds, butterflies, wildcats, water voles, dragonflies….the lot.

Why? Well watch this:

The walk will take place in London (and there’s a reason for that, which will become clearer nearer the time) and everyone is welcome to this family-friendly event.


Saturday 22 September 2018

10am: Gather at the Reformers’ Tree in Hyde Park

12pm: Infotainment

1pm: Walk

2pm: Finish at Richmond Terrace, Westminster

For further information, including logo t-shirts, hoodies, bags and downloadable posters, please visit Chris Packham’s website HERE

If you’re on Twitter follow news of this event with #PeoplesWalkforWildlife

Don’t make excuses, make plans to be there, five weeks today!


Gamekeeper cautioned after merlin killed in illegally-set trap on grouse moor

This merlin was found dead in a trap on an un-named driven grouse moor in Northumberland in July this year. A fell runner discovered the bird and reported it to the RSPB.

The RSPB went to the site the next day and realised that this trap had been illegally-set as no attempts had been made to restrict access to the tunnel entrance, meaning non-target species (such as this merlin) could easily access the tunnel, with the inevitable result.

The incident was reported to Northumbria Police and a wildlife crime officer visited the site with an RSPB investigator.

An ‘experienced’ gamekeeper was formally interviewed and admitted setting the trap. Unbelievably, the police decided to issue him with a police caution instead of seeking a prosecution via the Crown Prosecution Service.

Haven’t we been here before? Ah yes, here and here.

Once again, another gamekeeper gets let off for committing a wildlife crime on a driven grouse moor. And before anyone says, ‘A caution isn’t a let off’, it absolutely is if this gamekeeper is permitted to keep his firearms and shotgun certificates, and his job, despite now having a criminal record.

Sure, he probably didn’t intend to trap and kill this merlin but that’s not the point. If he’s employed as a professional gamekeeper he has a responsibility to operate his traps within the terms of the law. With this trap, he chose not to do that, knowing full well that a non-target species could be killed, which it was. That’s an offence and he should have been charged and prosecuted.

Further details about this merlin case can be read on the RSPB Investigations Team blog here


What’s going on on this Peak District grouse moor?

A few months ago, one of our blog readers sent us this photograph of some grit that had been spread directly on the grouse moor at Broomhead Estate in the Peak District National Park:

The photograph was taken in March 2018, so given the time of year you might expect that this was medicated grit (as opposed to unmedicated grit), which is typically used in winter/spring during the closed grouse shooting season. Although given that it had been thrown directly on the ground next to water, this would be in breach of the GWCT’s ‘best practice’ guidelines on the use of medicated grit which suggest proximty to standing or running water should be avoided, so given this photograph you’d have to assume it was actually unmedicated grit. There’s no way of telling which type of grit it is just by looking at it.

So let’s assume the grit in that photograph taken in March was unmedicated grit.

But look what our blog reader found when he revisited the location in July 2018:

The pile of grit had ‘disappeared’ and in its place was a fresh pile of peat. How odd! If this was unmedicated grit, why would it have been removed in July? There’s no legal requirement to remove unmedicated grit at that time of year, but there is a legal requirement to remove medicated grit, 28 days before the start of the grouse shooting season, to ensure the veterinary drug (Flubendazole) does not enter the human food chain when the red grouse are shot in August. Hmm.

Our blog reader checked a few more gritting stations on this grouse moor at Broomhead Estate and took some other very interesting photos.

Here’s a photo taken in March 2018 showing a freshly-cut square of turf with fresh grit piled on top of it and some grit pieces in the exposed peaty water. Again, there’s no way of knowing, just by looking at it, whether this was medicated or unmedicated grit:

Here’s the same site revisted in July 2018. Look at that! The square of turf had been flipped back in to its hole and the grit was nowhere to be seen. If this was unmedicated grit, why would anyone bother removing it at this time of year…unless it was medicated grit?:

What do you think happened to all grit that had been photographed at this site in March 2018? Do you think the gamekeeper carefully picked up every last piece and removed it from the moor (which is what is supposed to happen if it was medicated grit)? Shall we have a look? Here’s what our blog reader photographed when revisiting this location in August 2018. Removing the turf from the hole, he found a load of grit that had been sandwiched between the peat and the turf. If this was medicated grit, this method of ‘disposal’ was against ‘best practice’ guidelines:

Here are some more photographs from other locations on this grouse moor at Broomhead Estate, appearing to show a similar practice:

Here’s a photograph taken in August 2018, with the cut turf back in place in the hole:

And here’s the same location, also photographed in August 2018, with the turf lifted to see what was underneath. Look at all that grit!:

And here’s yet another one, photographed in August – here’s the turf back in place:

But here’s what was photographed once the turf had been lifted. That’s a lot of residual grit!:

Here’s another location photographed in March 2018, with the grit thrown directly on the upturned turf:

Here’s the same location photographed in July 2018, with the turf back in place but with plenty of redisual grit left on the surface, freely available to any red grouse that happened to walk by:

We’ve got plenty more photographs showing exactly the same thing across this moor but you’ve probably got the picture by now.

So what the hell is going on here? Is this harmless unmedicated grit? If so, why bury it? Or is this actually medicated grit that has not been properly disposed of, just lazily left to seep in to the water and peat? If so, what damage might this be causing to the environment?

We looked up the Broomhead Estate in the Peak District National Park. Here’s its location:

And here are details of the agri-environmental payments this estate is receiving (over £1million to date under the Environmental Stewardship Scheme) and the protected status of parts of this estate (which includes an SPA, SSSI and a SAC):

We looked to see whether the grit locations lay inside any of these protected areas and it turns out that yes, they all lie within the SPA, SSSI and the SAC: [black dotted line is Broomhead Estate (as detailed in the the agri-environmental scheme), the green area is the combined SPA, SSSI and SAC, and the red stars are the locations where these grit piles were photographed]

So is anybody checking whether this is medicated or unmedicated grit? We doubt it. We know from previous correspondence with DEFRA’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) that it barely checks dead grouse for veterinary medicines residues and it certainly doesn’t check gritting locations to ensure compliance with the statutory withdrawal times, because it told us as much.

Is Natural England checking whether this is medicated or unmedicated grit? We know from recent research that the drug Flubendazole can cause contamination and damage to aquatic ecosystems – so is Natural England concerned about the potential ecotoxicity of medicated grit use on grouse moors in general, let alone those like Broomhead with protected status designations? We doubt it, given NE’s recent track record of turning a blind eye to everything that goes on up on the moors.

We could check for ourselves whether this is medicated or unmedicated grit, by collecting a few samples and having them tested. But if we did this, we’d be open to charges of ‘theft’ (of the grit from the moor) by the landowner if he/she felt so inclined.

What we’re left with then is yet another aspect of potentially damaging grouse moor management without any statutory monitoring whatsoever, and instead we’re supposed to rely on the industry’s own self-regulation to ensure environmental protection. And we all know how good this industry is at that.


RSPB launches its own UK raptor persecution map hub

The RSPB has today launched its own UK raptor persecution map hub – an interactive, user-friendly system that will allow everyone to examine the full extent of reported raptor persecution crimes throughout the UK.

You can access and explore the map hub here

Read the RSPB blog about this project here

Prior to this map being made available, all we had to work with were the non-interactive maps published annually in the RSPB Birdcrime reports, the annually produced and non-interactive maps produced by PAW Scotland, and in England & Wales, the useless, inaccurate and out of date interactive map launched by DEFRA on behalf of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) last year.

The DEFRA interactive map was heavily criticised on its launch (by us: see here; by the Northern England Raptor Forum: see here; and by the RSPB: see here), not only for being extremely difficult to navigate but also because the data included in that map were heavily disputed. The RPPDG, a sham-partnership including the likes of the Moorland Association, Countryside Alliance and the National Gamekeepers Organisation, went to great lengths to remove as much incident data as possible to make it look like raptor persecution is not as widespread and rampant as it actually is.

By publishing its own UK raptor persecution map hub, the RSPB is able to sidestep all the attempts at obfuscation and denial and provide the public with a much more reliable source of information.

There is still room for improvement with the RSPB’s new map hub, for example by adding ‘probable’ and ‘possible’ raptor crimes to the data set instead of just including ‘confirmed’ incidents as at present, but we’re confident the RSPB will be adding further layers to the map over time.

This is a fantastic new resource and the RSPB is to be commended for making it freely available. As more and more data are added, this map hub will make a significant contribution to helping educate the public and importantly, the politicians, about the widespread and continued illegal persecution of raptors across the UK.


Farmer guilty of recklessly disturbing Lake District ospreys

A farmer has been convicted of recklessly disturbing a pair of breeding ospreys at Bassenthwaite, in the Lake District, in June last year.

Paul Barnes, 58, of Brook Cottage, Keswick, was today found guilty after a three-day trial at Workington Magistrates. The court heard how he had taken a group of children in his tractor and trailer close to the site, without a Schedule 1 disturbance licence, causing the birds to leave their nest.

He was fined £300 with £2,000 costs.

[Photo of the Bassenthwaite osprey pair with their offspring in 2017, photo by The Lake District Osprey Project]

The Lake District Osprey Project, a partnership between the Forestry Commission, the RSPB and the Lake District National Park Authority, aims to ensure the continued success of breeding ospreys at Bassenthwaite. Since the birds returned in 2001, ospreys have raised over 30 chicks and delighted over a million visitors there.

Like all wild birds, ospreys are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and it is a criminal offence to harm or disturb them during the nesting period. Anyone found to have done so faces an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in jail.

There are 21 breeding pairs in England, and are worth £2million per year to the Cumbrian economy.

Annabel Rushton from the Lake District Osprey Project said: “A huge effort has been made to bring the osprey back to Cumbria and here at The Lake District Osprey Project. Local staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to ensure the birds can nest in safety, while enabling visitors to be inspired by these wonderful birds from the designated public viewpoints at Dodd Wood and Whinlatter. Barnes acted recklessly by running his own tours which did not follow the correct protocol and resulted in the disturbance of the Bassenthwaite pair of ospreys, which could have been detrimental to their breeding success.

We would like to thank Cumbria Police for their support and diligent work in this case.”

PC Sarah Rolland of Cumbria Police said: “Laws are in place to protect all species of birds and, without these laws and their enforcement, these birds will be put at great risk. The osprey is a rare bird in the UK and therefore has a high level of legal protection under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. A disturbance like this during the nesting period could be detrimental to their breeding success and their very existence within the UK.

In this instance, there was a clear offence of disturbing a Schedule 1 bird, whilst having young in the nest during the nesting period. This was fully investigated resulting in a charge following a CPS charging decision.

We hope that today’s result will serve to highlight the importance of adhering to these laws and serve as a warning to others that there will be consequences if the laws are ignored or willfully broken in relation to wildlife crime.”

Lake District Osprey Project website here

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