Archive for September, 2018

28
Sep
18

Despite best efforts, shot red kite didn’t make it

In July an injured red kite was found by a member of the public in woodland near Corby, Northants – she’d been shot and had three shotgun pellets lodged in her body. We blogged about her here.

She was cared for by Simon Dudhill and team at The Raptor Foundation in Cambridgeshire. Simon said at the time:

I have taken charge of a red kite that has been shot, with three shotgun pellets, in the leg, shoulder and ear. The leg and shoulder pellets are not really an issue governing the birds potential release as they are below joints. The pellet in the ear is lodged in the bony part of the skull and is causing the bird problems with balance. The vet and I both agree the bird could not be released back with the pellet still inside. We have been treating for infection and pain relief and the bird is making steady improvements. It was unable to stand on admission, but is now mobile along the floor to some degree. The vet is looking to operate later this week“.

[Photo by The Raptor Foundation]

Unfortunately, she didn’t make it.

Simon said:

Sadly, despite two months of hard work by ourselves and our vets, we had to make the extremely disappointing decision to put her to sleep. None of her balance had returned, she was only able to get about 15 inches off the ground onto a log, and the rest of the time she was dragging her wings and body along the ground. We all felt it was not in the bird’s best interest to keep her in this poor condition, as any further improvement was not expected“.

27
Sep
18

More smoke & mirrors from Moorland Association on raptor persecution

Following the publication of the RSPB’s 2017 Birdcrime Report on Tuesday (here), the Moorland Association has issued not one, but two public statements in response. Blimey, Police Supt. Nick Lyall must have made quite an impact last week.

The first response, published on the same day as Birdcrime, was as follows:

It’s the usual flannel from Conjuror-in-Chief Amanda, carefully written to highlight the superficial positives and avoid any mention of the more damning statistics of ‘missing’ satellite-tagged hen harriers that are, without a shadow of doubt, being illegally killed on driven grouse moors across the UK.

You’ll note also the rather strange reference to the RSPB, implying that the RSPB doesn’t ‘work constructively’ with other partners.

This theme reappears in Amanda’s second statement, published the day after Birdcrime 2017 was released:

It’s not the RSPB refusing to work collaboratively – it’s the Moorland Association, and others from the game shooting industry, who still haven’t managed to promote the RSPB’s Raptor Crime Hotline which was launched in February! What’s the problem? There’s no cost to the Moorland Association – the hotline is run and managed by the RSPB whose Investigations staff provide around the clock coverage to answer calls about suspected raptor persecution incidents. If the Moorland Association et al are as determined to eradicate raptor persecution as they’d like us all to believe, publishing and promoting this hotline amongst their members would be a no brainer.

The spiked references to the RSPB aren’t what really caught our eye though. We are fascinated by the following line in Amanda’s second statement:

Grouse moors are embracing the most modern land mangement practices within the law to ensure healthy populations of birds of prey“.

Eh? And what “most modern land management practices within the law” are those, then? Does Amanda have any examples she could share that would help us to understand?

Here are some recent examples of ‘management practices’ that have been used on grouse moors, none of them modern, none of them within the law, and none of them designed to ensure healthy populations of birds of prey:

Gamekeeper filmed at an illegal poisons cache on East Arkengarthdale Estate, Yorkshire (here)

Gamekeeper filmed setting illegal pole traps on Mossdale Estate, Yorkshire (here)

Unidentified armed individual filmed setting an illegal spring trap at a peregrine nest site on Bleasdale Estate, Lancashire (here)

Unidentified armed men filmed shooting at a nesting marsh harrier and removing eggs from the nest on Denton Moor, Yorkshire (here)

Gamekeeper filmed setting illegal pole trap on Swinton Estate, Yorkshire (here)

Gamekeeper filmed shooting, then stamping on two short-eared owls then burying their corpses on Whernside Estate, Cumbria (here)

Gamekeeper cautioned for setting an illegal trap on Lilburn Estate, Northumberland (here)

And of course this list doesn’t include the never-ending tally of shot, poisoned and trapped raptors that are found with depressing regularity on grouse moors, nor the catalogue of satellite-tagged hen harriers that vanish in highly suspicious circumstances on grouse moors, the latest three reported just two weeks ago (here), news to which the Moorland Association et al couldn’t even be arsed to respond (here).

Real progress” being made in the fight against illegal raptor persecution on grouse moors? Sorry, Amanda, your propaganda doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

26
Sep
18

RSPB’s 2017 Birdcrime report documents ongoing illegal raptor persecution

The RSPB published its 2017 Birdcrime Report yesterday. It didn’t contain any surprises – we all know that crimes against birds of prey continued in 2017, and that these were largely associated with game-shooting estates.

The online report can be read here

The very useful appendices (actual data) can be accessed here

The RSPB’s interactive map hub (showing the spatial pattern of raptor crime) can be accessed here

We were particularly interested in the Scotland data, which amounted to just five confirmed, detected raptor persecution crimes. Quite obviously, this is just the tip of a large iceberg and is an indication of just how good the raptor killers have become at hiding the evidence of their crimes rather than an accurate reflection of the extent of ongoing raptor persecution – a fact recently acknowledged by Police Scotland (see here).

We know from the recent national survey results for three iconic species (golden eagle, hen harrier, peregrine) that illegal persecution continues to suppress the populations of all three species in areas where the land is dominated for driven grouse shooting. We also know from the ongoing studies of satellite-tagged golden eagles, white-tailed eagles and hen harriers that these birds continue to ‘vanish’ in the same grouse moor areas. Unfortunately these cases don’t make it in to the official wildlife crime stats although both the police and the Scottish Government have acknowledged that they are indicative of criminality, hence the current Government-commissioned Werritty review in to grouse moor management.

Of the five confirmed cases of illegal raptor persecution in Scotland last year, two were linked to the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in South Lanarkshire – the witnessed shooting of a hen harrier in May 2017 (here) and then a few weeks later the witnessed shooting of a short-eared owl (here). The crumpled body of the shot short-eared owl was retrieved from a ditch the following day and the RSPB sent it off for post mortem, which confirmed it had been shot, causing multiple fractures to its wing, leg, foot, ribs and skull.

[The short-eared owl shot on Leadhills Estate, photo by RSPB]

The police investigated both cases but no prosecutions followed. Earlier this year, a dead buzzard was found at Leadhills and it too had been shot but yet again, nobody was prosecuted (here).

For those familiar with the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate this will come as no surprise – there have been over 50 reported cases of raptor persecution crimes on or close to this estate since 2003 and of those, only two have resulted in a conviction (gamekeeper convicted in 2004 for shooting a short-eared owl; gamekeeper convicted in 2009 for laying out a poisoned bait).

This appalling failure to enforce the law was addressed by the then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP, who instructed SNH to withdraw the use of the General Licence on estates where there was sufficient evidence to demonstrate raptor persecution crimes had occurred but insufficient evidence to progress a prosecution against a named individual. We’ve waited and waited and waited for SNH to impose a General Licence restriction on the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate for these recent shootings but so far, nothing. When we’ve asked SNH for an explanation, it has refused to comment, saying it’s not in the public interest for SNH to explain its decisions.

Meanwhile, Lord Hopetoun continues to serve as the Chair of the Scottish Moorland Group (a sub-group of Scottish Land & Estates) and whose Director, Tim (Kim) Baynes continues to serve on the PAW Scotland Raptor Group – you know the one – the pretend ‘partnership’, chaired by the Scottish Government, set up to tackle the illegal persecution of raptors on driven grouse moors.

21
Sep
18

Meet the new Chair of the PAW Raptor Group: Police Supt Nick Lyall

The Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG, also known as the PAW Raptor Group, England & Wales) has a new Chair – Police Supt Nick Lyall.

He’s off to a good start – he’s set up a blog, in the spirit of openness, to discuss the workings of this group and to report on any progress it might make under his tenure. In the seven years this so-called partnership has been running, he’s the first to attempt to bring any semblance of transparency to proceedings and we applaud him for that.

Read Nick’s first blog here

Although Nick is new to the world of raptor persecution, he’s no fool. We’ve been talking with him over the last few weeks and he gets it. We’re not sure he gets just how difficult a role he’s taken on, but he clearly understands that the ‘partnership’ hasn’t been working and he’s determined to turn things around.

[Meeting with RSPB Investigations Team]

Quite how he’ll manage that remains to be seen. Here is a disparate group with wholly opposing objectives. A few want to increase enforcement measures to ensure the legislation works to protect birds of prey from illegal persecution, whilst the majority want to legalise persecution by getting licences to kill birds of prey just so more game birds are available to be shot for fun.

However, he’s got some good ideas. Central to that will be his proposed Action Delivery Plan – we don’t yet know the details of that but fully expect he’ll share it when its ready. It’s got to be an improvement on the current work plan, which seems to consist of the game-shooting reps doing everything they can to challenge and obfuscate the annual raptor crime figures to downplay the extent of the widespread criminality directly linked to driven grouse moors and some pheasant/partridge shoots.

He’s been meeting with some of the key players this week and we note with an eye roll his comments about today’s meeting with the Moorland Association and his reference to “rogue gamekeepers”. He still has much to learn.

[Meeting with Moorland Association]

But let’s give this guy a chance. His openness and willingness to listen is refreshing. Do we think the ‘partnership’ can be effective? No, to be frank, at least not in its current format. But let’s see what happens when the usual suspects try to block progress, as inevitably they will, and Nick has the opportunity to experience that first hand. From our conversations, it sounds like he won’t be tolerating any more disruption.

Incidentally, for regular blog readers – remember last year when we reported that Amanda Anderson (Moorland Association) had raised questions at an RPPDG meeting about grouse moor owners wanting licences to kill marsh harriers (see here, here and here), a claim Amanda denied? It’s taken us a while, and many FoI requests, but we’ll be blogging more about that conversation that ‘never happened’ (ahem) next week…..

21
Sep
18

Climber witnesses shooting of red kite in Peak District National Park

Press release from RSPB (20/9/18):

SHOT RED KITE ‘LIKE BALLOON BURSTING’

A red kite seen falling from the sky accompanied by the sound of gunshots is the latest in a series of concerning incidents involving birds of prey in the Peak District National Park.

Climber Adam Long heard gunshots and saw the bird fall from the sky on 7 June near Saddleworth Moor, within the Peak District National Park. The shooter, however, remained out of sight. The police were called and spoke to the landowner, on whose land the incident is alleged to have occurred, but no leads were forthcoming.

[Red kite photo by Gareth Scanlon]

Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “Though red kites have enjoyed a remarkable comeback in many parts of the country, they are not commonly seen in this area, on the outskirts of Greater Manchester and are struggling to expand into the Peak District National Park despite plenty of suitable breeding habitat. Like all birds of prey, red kites are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. If someone is found to have shot this bird they face an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in jail.

The public play such an important role in reporting incidents like this. If you think you’ve witnessed a crime against a bird of prey while our walking, climbing, cycling or walking your dog, let the police know on 101 or contact the RSPB on 01767 680551.”

Adam, the climber who witnessed the event, said: “I saw the kite slowly soaring up the valley, then again when we’d started our climb. I heard two shots, and the kite fell out of the sky – it was like a balloon bursting, crumpling so suddenly then falling. I was completely shocked by the brazenness of it. You hear about this sort of thing happening, and that the chances of seeing or recording something are so slim, so to see this in broad daylight when anyone could have witnessed it was incredible. This is a popular valley for climbing and walking, plus there’s a busy A-road close by. I was literally tied to the crag when it happened so I couldn’t move to get a better view, but I rang the police as soon as I was able.”

The persecution of birds of prey in upland areas like the Peak District is a continuing issue with serious implications on raptor populations. Figures from the latest Birdcrime report showed that over 80 confirmed incidents of shooting, trapping, poisoning and destruction of birds of prey took place in 2016, but in the same year there were no convictions for crimes relating to raptor persecution.

In May this year a scientific paper in the journal British Birds identified significant associations between land managed for driven grouse shooting and the persecution of peregrines and goshawks in the northern Peak District. Populations of the birds were seen to have declined in the northern ‘Dark Peak’, but increased in the southern ‘White Peak’, which is virtually free from grouse shoots.

Chief Inspector Dave Henthorne of Greater Manchester Police (GMP), who is also the force’s lead for wildlife crime, said: “GMP officers spoke to a number of people regarding this incident. If there is evidence to link an individual with raptor persecution we will work with the RSPB to prosecute those responsible. In addition to prosecution, GMP would review any firearms license that the offenders possess.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, call Greater Manchester Police on 101.

If you find a wild bird which you suspect has been illegally killed or injured, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form.

ENDS

This shooting took place three and a half months ago. Why didn’t Greater Manchester Police issue an appeal for information at the time it happened?

20
Sep
18

Natural Resources Wales bans game shooting on public land

Pheasant and partridge shooting will no longer be allowed on publicly-owned land in Wales from 1 March 2019 following a vote this afternoon by the Board of the statutory conservation agency Natural Resources Wales.

[Pheasant photo by Holly Heyser]

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) currently leases four areas of woodland for shoots across mid-Wales, generating approximately £6,000 per year.

Prior to today’s decision, the Welsh Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn, wrote to NRW to affirm the government’s support for a ban on shooting on public land in Wales. In her letter, she stated:

‘‘Whilst shooting on private land is for the landowner to decide, we need to take account of wider considerations and public views in considering what happens on the Welsh Government estate. Given the wider policy issues and concerns, the Welsh Government does not support commercial pheasant shooting, or the breeding of gamebirds or the birds being held in holding pens on the estate prior to release on the Welsh Government Estate”.

NRW’s decision comes after a long campaign led by the animal welfare organisation Animal Aid.

Animal Aid’s repsonse to the decision can be read here.

BASC has a very different response which can be read here.

19
Sep
18

A Peoples Manifesto for Wildlife by Chris Packham et al

A Peoples Manifesto for Wildlife is published today.

Written by Chris Packham and a number of others, it seeks to offer 200 ideas to address some of the most critical concerns affecting the UK landscape and its wildlife.

This manifesto will be handed to Michael Gove MP at the Peoples Walk for Wildlife this Saturday, part of a free event that begins at 10am in London’s Hyde Park.

The manifesto is just the beginning and is the product of an incredible amount of work, all given freely by a variety of individuals. Its contents (and its authors) will feature at Saturday’s event, along with some surprise guests!

If you can’t make it to London there are plenty of other ways to get involved. Please see here for ideas.

A crowdfunder is still open to help support the costs of running Saturday’s event. These costs include things like a stage, PA system, generator, big screens, barriers, walk control, public liability insurance etc etc. Please, if you’re able to contribute, even just a few quid, this will help massively. Crowdfunder page HERE

There are two versions of the manifesto; one short illustrated version for easy-reading, and a longer, fully-referenced report for those interested in details. Both can be downloaded here:

A Peoples Manifesto for Wildlife

A Peoples Manifesto for Wildlife expanded

16
Sep
18

Police caution ’employee’ for illegally-set trap on Chargot Estate, Exmoor National Park

There was an interesting article published in the Somerset County Gazette at the end of August (here), announcing that the police had cautioned an ’employee’ of the Chargot Estate (in the Exmoor National Park) for animal welfare offences.

This case involved an illegally-set crow cage trap that had been covertly filmed by investigators from Animal Aid in May and June this year. During a period of 44.5hrs of continuous filming, the trap was visted four times by an unnamed individual. However, the trap was illegally-set because although it was baited with food, there was no provision for water, shelter or perches for the trapped birds, and it was also being operated unlawfully because the trapped pheasant (a non-target species) should have been immediately released when discovered – these are all breaches of the General Licence.

[Photo of the illegally-set trap, by Animal Aid]

The Animal Aid investigators gave the footage to the police who then cautioned an estate employee. According to Animal Aid’s version of events (here), this individual was a gamekeeper. But according to a quote in the Somerset County Gazette from the Chargot Estate Managing Director Gwyn Evans:

I do not condone what the employee has done; he has been disciplined. The employee in question is not a gamekeeper, he is a farm worker, and was acting in his own time without the knowledge of the estate.

Hmm. That’s hard to believe. But let’s assume for a minute that the person operating this trap during that period was an unauthorised farmworker. Are we honestly expected to believe that none of the estate’s gamekeepers (and according to this sales briefing from Oct 2017 the estate employs five of them full time) or any other estate employee didn’t notice this trap being used? It’s not exactly inconspicuous, is it? And even if the trap was the responsibility of one of those gamekeepers but it wasn’t supposed to be in use, that gamekeeper has also breached the conditions of the General Licence because when a trap isn’t in use it is supposed to be rendered incapable of holding or catching birds or other animals by either securing the door fully open or removing it all together.

Apart from the all too familiar question ‘Why did the police decide to caution, not prosecute?’ for blatant trap misuse, there are wider implications from this case.

The Chargot Estate, often referred to as ‘iconic’ and ‘prestigious’, is listed on the Guns on Pegs website (a ‘shoot-finding’ service) as being ‘proud to be a ‘BGA assured shoot’:

The BGA is the recently-established British Game Alliance, a desperate attempt by the game shooting industry to be seen to be self-regulating and demonstrating best practice. We’ve blogged about it recently as it hasn’t got off to the best start (see here and here).

We checked to see whether Chargot was actually listed as a BGA member, and yes, it is:

And here’s what the BGA says about its criteria for accepting shoots as a BGA member:

So according to the BGA, all its members have agreed to abide by the BGA’s Shoot Standards and ‘are leading the way with a forward-thinking approach and should be praised as early adopters of self-regulation‘.

Here’s what those BGA shoot standards say about the use of traps:

So according to the BGA’s own terms and conditions, the Chargot shoot has not adhered to the law on trapping. Does that mean Chargot’s membership of the BGA will now be revoked? Probably not, because if you look at #19 of the BGA’s shoot standards, it says shoots will be expelled and their membership revoked ‘where a shoot or its employees are successfully prosecuted for wildlife crimes‘.

In this case, not only could the estate argue that the individual who received the police caution was not a ‘shoot employee’ (because they claim he was a farmworker), but also the employee was not prosecuted – the police chose to issue a caution instead.

Loopholes, eh? If there’s one to be found, you can always rely upon the game-shooting industry to exploit it.

It remains to be seen whether the British Game Alliance will take any action against the Chargot shoot or whether it’ll just turn a blind eye and allow Chargot to continue to enjoy the benefits of being listed as a member.

Along with several other questionable BGA member shoots, Chargot is feted as ‘having demonstrated high standards through best practice in all areas from animal welfare to game handling’ even though it’s been at the centre of a police investigation for wildlife crime / animal welfare offences resulting in an employee receiving a police caution.

Is this a ‘credible assurance scheme‘, as the British Game Alliance claims? Clearly not.

15
Sep
18

Grouse shooting industry’s reaction to news of 3 x missing hen harriers

Following the RSPB’s announcement on Thursday that three of this year’s satellite-tagged hen harriers have already ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on three grouse moors (here), we predicted that the grouse shooting industry’s ‘leaders’ would respond with a wall of silence, just as they have previously (e.g. see here).

We weren’t wrong.

[One of the missing three: ‘Hilma’, photo by Steve Downing]

Two days on, after searching websites and twitter feeds, here’s how the ‘partners’ of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG, also known as the PAW Raptor Group) have responded:

Countryside Alliance – no public statement

BASC – no public statement

National Gamekeepers Organisation – no public statement

Moorland Association – no public statement

Country Land & Business Association – no public statement

Natural England – no public statement

DEFRA – no public statement

Northern England Raptor Forum – full public statement here

NERF’s statement is excellent, and as usual, it doesn’t pull any punches. It talks about the never-ending cycle of persecution on driven grouse moors and how the grouse shooting ‘partners’ of the RPPDG are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem.

Why is this charade of ‘partnership-working’ still allowed to continue? It’s been running for seven years and absolutely nothing has changed. Nothing. Not one thing.

And nor will it, when the grouse shooting industry’s so-called leaders refuse to even publicise the raptor persecution hotline to encourage their members to report suspected raptor crime!

The RPPDG has a new Chair – Police Supt. Nick Lyall of Bedfordshire Police. We’ve been impressed with his willingness to listen – he contacted us directly and asked to talk – that’s never happened before. It’s clear that he wants to make a difference and understands that the status quo is unacceptable, but we don’t yet know what changes he intends to bring.

Although, he tweeted this afternoon that he intends to bring more conservation groups to the RPPDG and cited the Hawk & Owl Trust as one of them!

That’ll be the Hawk & Owl Trust that’s in bed with the grouse shooting industry in pursuit of the ludicrous hen harrier brood meddling scheme (here) and which is now facing two legal challenges from conservationists in the High Court in December (here); that lost its former President, Chris Packham, over the decision to partner with the grouse shooting industry on brood meddling (here); is prepared to turn a blind eye to the criminal activities of the driven grouse shooting industry when it suits (see here); is unwilling to be transparent about the illegal shooting of one of its own satellite-tagged hen harrriers (see here); and has been accused by its own members of being apologists for raptor persecution on driven grouse moors (here).

We look forward to a lively discussion with Nick later in the week!

13
Sep
18

3 more satellite-tagged hen harriers ‘disappear’ – all on grouse moors

You could set your clock by the regularity of these reports. In news that will shock absolutely no-one, the RSPB has announced the sudden and inexplicable ‘disappearance’ of three young satellite-tagged hen harriers.

All three had hatched this year, all three had vanished before the end of August, and in all three cases the tag’s last known fix came from a driven grouse moor.

Photo of Hen Harrier Octavia, by Steve Downing:

Read the RSPB blog here

The three ‘missing’ harriers are Hilma (1), Octavia (2) and Heulwen (3).

[RPUK map]

According to the RSPB blog, Hilma’s last known tag fix was on 8 August 2018 ‘near Wooler, Northumberland over land managed for driven grouse shooting’.

From the map on the RSPB blog, we believe this to be on the Lilburn Estate. We’ve blogged about the Lilburn Estate recently (see here).

Here’s a close up map of the habitat at Hilma’s last known location. The rectangular strips of burnt heather give the game away a bit, eh?

According to the RSPB blog, Octavia’s last known tag fix was on 26 August 2018 on ‘privately owned grouse moors near Sheffield’.

From the map on the RSPB blog, we believe this to be the Broomhead Estate in the Peak District National Park. We’ve blogged about the Broomhead Estate quite recently (here, here and here).

Here’s a close up map of the habitat at Octavia’s last known location. The rectangular strips of burnt heather give the game away a bit, eh?

According to the RSPB blog, Heulwen’s last known tag fix was on 29 August 2018 ‘in the vicinity of Ruabon Mountain’.

From the map on the RSPB blog, we believe this to be the Ruabon grouse moor. We’ve blogged about this grouse moor recently (see here, here).

Here’s a close up map of the habitat at Heulwen’s last known location:

And cue obfuscation, denial and deflections from the grouse shooting industry’s social media trolls, deathly silence from the grouse shooting industry’s representative bodies, and wilful blindness (and continued silence) from DEFRA, Michael Gove MP, Therese Coffey MP, Natural England and anyone else who thinks we’re stupid enough to believe that the HH Action Plan is helping hen harrier population recovery.

Cartoon by Gerard Hobley

 




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