2017 raptor persecution stats show criminals getting better at hiding evidence

The Scottish Government’s annual raptor persecution maps have just been released showing the number of reported crimes in 2017.

A five-year map showing the number of reported raptor persecution crimes between 2013-2017 has also been published:

An accompanying press release is as follows:

Recorded cases of bird of prey poisonings at record low

2017 saw only one recorded incident of illegal bird of prey poisoning in Scotland, according to new maps published by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland.
This is the lowest total in a single year since PAW Scotland began compiling data for 2004 onwards.
Despite the drop in recorded incidents, data from satellite tagged raptors continues to show birds disappearing in unexplained circumstances, with persecution strongly suspected in many cases.
There was a further 36% fall in all recorded bird of prey crimes during 2017. The new figures show 9 confirmed crimes compared to 14 the previous year.
Species illegally killed in 2017 incidents included buzzards, owls, and a hen harrier, while the golden eagle, osprey and merlin were victims of disturbance cases. In addition to the poisoning incident, there were two shootings, two illegal trappings and three cases of disturbance.
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said:
While I welcome this further reduction in recorded bird of prey crimes, including our lowest ever total for poisoning incidents, reports from early 2018 indicate that this remains a problem in some parts of Scotland.
It is extremely frustrating that some criminals continue to undermine the good work that has been done by conservationists and land managers in recent years, with much of that work being done through the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW Scotland).
We have recently provided additional resources to Police Scotland for the detection and investigation of wildlife crime, and set up a review group to look at grouse moor management, including the potential for licensing this type of business.
The maps are available on the Scottish Government website here
It’s interesting that the Government’s headline refers only to poisoning incidents, and of course this is the line that will be picked up by the press (e.g. BBC news here). A drop to only one reported poisoning incident in 2017 does look like progress has been made, but we are well aware that the criminals have switched tactics in recent years, favouring shooting over poisoned baits, presumably because a shot bird can be swiftly removed from the crime scene to avoid detection whereas a poisoned bait (and any poisoned victim) is more likely to be accidentally discovered by walkers before the poisoner has had the time to return and remove the evidence.
However, as pointed out by Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham in the press release, this reduction to only one reported poisoning incident in 2017 appears to just be a temporary hiatus; we know that in 2018 there have been at least five reported raptor poisoning crimes (of which we’re aware), including four red kites and buzzards that were poisoned in Dumfries & Galloway between Jan-May this year (see here) and a poisoned peregrine found in the Pentland Hills in May this year (see here). There may well be further cases that Police Scotland are keeping quiet about, as they did with the Pentland peregrine. It’ll be interesting to see whether the headline accompanying the 2018 persecution maps highlight an upturn in illegal raptor poisoning.
The Government maps no longer just focus on poisoning  – they now include other types of raptor persecution such as illegal trapping, shooting, disturbance, nest destruction etc. However, what they don’t include are the suspicious disappearances of satellite-tagged golden eagles, hen harriers and white-tailed eagles. Again, it’s good to see this point being highlighted in the Scottish Government’s press statement but it’s about time these incidents were also included in the official data.
The 2017 report on the fate of satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland was unequivocal, showing clear evidence of deliberate and sustained illegal raptor persecution over a number of years.
[Stars indicate last known location of satellite-tagged golden eagles that have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circustances, 2004-2016. Data from golden eagle satellite tag review]
Since the research was completed in January 2017, the findings of which the Scottish Government accepted as strong evidence of ongoing illegal persecution, at least eight more satellite-tagged raptors have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in Scotland (3 x golden eagles, 2 x white-tailed eagles, 3 x hen harriers), and seven of these vanished on land managed for driven grouse shooting. None of these incidents are included in the Government’s raptor persecution maps, even though the pattern of disappearance is damning.
There is further evidence of continued raptor persecution crimes, again not included in the Government’s maps. This evidence is provided by the national and regional surveys of several raptor species, which show another clear pattern of criminality with golden eagles, hen harriers and peregrines noticeably absent from many areas managed for driven grouse shooting and illegal persecution identifed yet again as the main factor limiting these populations.
Until all the available evidence is compiled together to show an overall picture of the continued criminal killing of birds of prey, these annual persecution maps should be considered as an under-representation of what is actually going on.
Hiding the evidence of raptor crime is definitely on the increase, and the next blog will provide a good example of how this is achieved….
UPDATE 3pm: Great to see The Scotsman journalist Jane Bradley recognising the limitations of the Govt’s ‘official’ raptor crime stats (here).

8 Responses to “2017 raptor persecution stats show criminals getting better at hiding evidence”

  1. October 16, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    I was expecting the figures to show this remakable drop in 2017. My concern is about how we can find out how many tagged birds are vanishing in Scotland. A total is not sufficient, as the number of tagged birds in Scotland will vary. A total number of live tagged birds all over the UK would give a useful number to give a proportion and possibly verify the drop as a valid number.
    Anyway, I’m happy to see the much reduced figures. I’ve not yet compared them with the excellent RSPB raptor hub information.
    Let’s keep up the pressure. It might even be working.

  2. October 16, 2018 at 3:04 pm

    Some further things I note following a closer look.
    The government news release gives a total of 9 incidents in 2017 with 1 not yet disclosed. The PAWS release gives a total of 10 with 2 withheld for police operational reasons. Most likely a late late addition.
    In the Mondialiths the RSPB records 1 incident of nest destruction. The PAWS release says 1 disturbance, 1 trapping.
    The trapping and disturbance PAWS incidents south of Edinburgh may be the same as the nest destruction and other by the RSPB. The RSPB total is 5 incidents, the PAWS 10. It’s not surprising but notable that they are so different. I expect the true totals are in the hundreds, but have no evidence of that.
    The drop from the PAWS figures 2016 to 2017 is 14 to 10, the RSPB drop 10 to 5, both showing a fall, but is it really significant? I wish I knew. Lets just hope that the pressure from RPUK and the government is really having a significant effect. Well done to both in any event.

    • October 17, 2018 at 11:40 am

      One of the main reasons i am sure these statistics are hiding the true figures of wildlife crime is the nature of the foul hobby itself. The numbers of grouse needed for the shoots which they advertise and go to great lengths to support are dependent on crime not only on their land but throughout Scotland and the uplands of England. This was clearly demonstrated in Mark Avery’s Inglorious. I will believe that crime is declining when i see the estates change their basic mindset and show it when advertising and publicising their shoots. When driven grouse shoots either becomes less intense (if that is possible) or convert to walked up shooting.
      The second reason is the one pointed out by RPUK, that populations are not recovering in areas of driven grouse shooting. Of course this year’s figures would not show up until a few years but the apparent drop in poisonings has been happening for a few years and yet no change has been reflected in the populations. The claim that the crime statistics are evidence of a real change in the grousers is a claim made by Andrew Gilruth. That alone should be a red flag. To believe his spin would take extreme religious faith.
      If there was a real change in the mentality of the grousers they would really never let us forget it. The change in mentality would be obvious, if anything they are getting worse. They are the greatest spin doctors (for such a minor hobby) and would use every opportunity to wave their flag but they don’t. Their press releases are always defensive and always include dog-whistles to the criminals and their mafia bosses. The one exception to that was the very strong statement from the head of BASC this year. If we saw statements like that from all the other organizations with no not-so-hidden caveats then maybe things would be starting to change.The other indication that nothing is changing is the lack of press statements when something so undeniable is made public. Again RPUK wrote about this recently.Then, when these organizations should be at their most vocal, they are totally silent. That silence is screaming the truth. Nothing has changed except their strategy has become more covert and more cunning more PR savvy.
      If the mentality was changing the grouse moors would allow video surveillance on their land, they would welcome it and they would not defend the criminals with expensive lawyers.
      The main reason there is not a real drop in crime but only of the criminals methods is the satellite tags. RPUK has blogged about this in detail. We can actual see in virtual reality what is going on.
      If raptor crime was diminishing we wouldn’t need reintroductions of anything. Raptors would boom everywhere there was suitable habitat, eagles a bit more slowly but look at the how quickly the White-tailed Eagle has spread in the west. Even Golden Eagles would boom. We can see from Langholm what actually happens when persecution stops. Medium sized raptors’s populations explode. This just isn’t happening. Red Kites have barely increased at all since their reintroduction on the Black Isle and populations are being restricted where ever there are driven grouse moors. If ever proof was needed of the illegality of driven grouse moors it is as simple as comparing the Chilterns with the Black Isle. I did some figures on this about 3 years ago but since then the Chiltern source population will have doubled yet again whilst the Black Isle will be virtually unchanged. When the Black Isle population starts doubling every 3 years (as it does in the Chilterns) we will know something is changing. Only then. Even the Red Kite population in Scotland as whole is doubling every 4-5 years and that is including the stagnation in the Black Isle so why is the Black isle a black hole for Red Kites, well that is rhetorical, we all know the answer.
      The fact that many highly respected commenters on this blog have talked about the increase of high-tech night time shooting and camouflage equipment and the shooting out of roost sites is not something that can be ignored as scaremongering or rumour. These people must have reasons for making these claims. [real-time pause as a sea-eagle soars overhead]. RPUK believes this to be the case and RPUK does not make stuff up. In the last two or three years we are hearing reports of raptors being actually shot out of the sky on grouse moors in full public view. Perhaps someone can set me right but apart from the case at Sandringham i think this used to be almost unknown. Now it seems to be becoming a regular news item. I admit to being out on a limb of speculation here but when poison was the preferred weapon of the criminals they wouldn’t need to shoot raptors so much and to such an extent that the public are seeing it as they drive past grouse moors. The other factor is the cost. Poisoning is much less labour intensive and therefore more expensive. They are having to report to the more expensive alternative of shooting and stalking at night because poison is so easily detected. Shooting in broad daylight within site of the public is a sign of desperation hanging on to the old ways and not a sign of a change in mentality.

      I could go on for hours but have given a few reasons off the top of my head and know i will kick myself later for missing something obvious. The crime figures as RPUK says just show the criminals are getting more organized. More mafia-like every year. The military should be called in, it would be good training.

      • October 17, 2018 at 11:53 am

        please read
        ‘They are having to resort to the more expensive alternative of shooting and stalking at night because poison is so easily detected. Shooting in broad daylight within sight of the public…’

  3. 5 Paul V Irving
    October 16, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    With the blood sport fraternity switching from poison and traps to shooting it is impossible for the relatively uninformed to decide or not whether there has been a reduction in persecution. Couple this with the fact that we all know very few “persecution events” are ever discovered and any decline could be pure chance and not statistically significant ( much as the shooting lobby will claim otherwise) only time will tell. However the continuing regular loss of sat-tagged birds and the fact that populations of raptors on or adjacent to shot land are as yet not improving would suggest quite strongly that the apparent decline is due to a major switch to less detectable shooting and there is no REAL decline at all.

  4. 6 Gerard
    October 16, 2018 at 9:20 pm

    Hiding the evidence? Apparently if you shoot a bird and then stamp on it repeatedly, it will simply disappear into the peat, especially if the peat is a bit damp. If detection figures are low anyway a bit of random fluctuation can only be expected, weak signals tend to be noisy.

    • October 17, 2018 at 11:48 am

      That would be good study for a PhD.
      Modelling the crime figures, the satellite tags, the extinction of raptor populations on grouse moors compared to populations in countries with similar climate and no driven grouse moors. It must be possible to combine all this data. But it would be a waste, we already know what is happening.

  5. October 18, 2018 at 10:16 am

    Talking Up Scotland is an excellent blog but got it wrong this time.
    Please take a look and add a comment.

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