Archive for December, 2018

30
Dec
18

Police Supt Nick Lyall to create ‘hostile environment’ for raptor killers in England & Wales

Hats off to Police Superintendent Nick Lyall, the current Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) in England and Wales.

This guy took up post in September and promised accountability, transparency, and most importantly, delivery of the group’s objectives, which centre on a partnership approach to tackling illegal raptor persecution. No easy task given that the RPPDG, which was formed in 2011, has so far delivered absolutely nothing of any use because its membership has been top heavy with those only interested in protecting the image of the grouse shooting industry and because the so-called ‘partnership’ has suffered from a chronic lack of leadership by its former Chairs.

Now, thanks to Nick’s leadership, things look set to change. We blogged last month about some of his preparatory work (here) and today he’s published a blog about some of his plans for 2019, which he’s calling ‘The Year of the Raptor’.

[Supt Nick Lyall visiting RPPDG partners in the Yorkshire Dales in November: L-R David Butterworth (CEO Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority), Nick Lyall, Ian Court (Wildlife Officer at YDNPA) and Sgt Stuart Grainger of North Yorkshire Police Rural Task Force]

This is Nick’s 4th blog since September – full marks to him in the transparency stakes; we’ve never seen this level of communication from previous Chairs and it is a very welcome change.

In his latest blog (here), Nick outlines some of his immediate plans for the RPPDG and the one which caught our eye was this:

The creation of an Enforcement Group that will focus on partnership working and the `Achilles Heel` approach to tackling head-on those people that are known or strongly suspected to be involved in persecution offences. Creation of a hostile environment for those committing persecution offences‘.

The specifics of this proposed Enforcement Group and its operational capabilities aren’t detailed as yet, which is understandable, but we hope that it will be restricted to law enforcement bodies only and will specifically exclude all those shooting industry organisations whose main aim seems to be to protect the raptor killers from any enforcement measure. Presumably the group will have access to highly sensitive police intelligence logs including the names of shooting estates and associated individuals who are suspected of committing wildlife crime and presumably the group will also have the authority to act on those intelligence logs and go after the suspects. Let’s face it, these estates (and many of the individuals) are already well known because raptor crime is reported there time and time and time again but enforcement action, with a few notable exceptions, has been appalling.

Directly linked to this lack of enforcement in some cases has been a lack of available resources as police budgets are slashed, and a lack of trained police officers and control room operators in some regions but by no means across the board. Nick discusses his plans to tackle both these issues, in addition to launching a national publicity campaign based on North Yorkshire Police’s exemplary Operation Owl campaign.

Of course, there’s also the obligatory ‘let’s talk with the shooting industry’ approach, which has proven utterly futile in the past with organisations actively opposing cooperation with police-led initiatives to tackle illegal raptor persecution (e.g. see here and here) but Nick will just have to learn the hard way. At least they won’t be able to accuse him of not trying.

All in all though, Nick’s proposals look thoughtful and well-considered and there’s every reason to be (cautiously) optimistic about the future role of the RPPDG.

29
Dec
18

Chris Packham appointed CBE for services to nature conservation

MASSIVE CONGRATULATIONS to Chris Packham who has been appointed CBE in the New Year’s Honours for services to nature conservation.

The irony of this recognition from ‘The Establishment’ won’t be lost on him, but neither will the opportunities it will provide for him to expand his outstanding campaigning efforts against illegal raptor persecution, fox hunting and badger killing. Perhaps he’ll wear his ‘Never mind the bollocks – where’s the hen harriers?’ t-shirt when he rocks up at the Palace for his investiture.

On hearing the news, Chris said:

In an age where illegal fox hunting, the continued persecution of birds of prey and the unscientific, uneconomic and inhumane killing of badgers continue, our wildlife needs a voice to shout above the noise. Maybe the silent have spoken, maybe a terrified fox, a wounded hen harrier or a trapped badger whispered and this is their thanks. I’ll take that, say ‘ta very much’ and stop shouting … and start screaming and I won’t stop until the killing does“.

[Chris Packham deep in thought on a Yorkshire grouse moor. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

The Nasty Brigade won’t be best pleased. They’ll be spitting the feathers, blood or fur of whatever poor creature they’ve blown to bits today, knowing full well that Chris’s new status will hinder their long-running crusade to have him sacked from the BBC, all because he dares to speak out, in his own time, about their atrocities.

Well done Chris, and thank you. It’s official – you’re bloody brilliant.

UPDATE 1pm: Video clip of Chris being interviewed on BBC Breakfast this morning:

23
Dec
18

Birdwatch Birders’ Choice Awards 2018: Conservation Hero of the Year

Many, many thanks to the Birdwatch team for nominating me for this accolade and to the Birdwatch readers who voted for me in the 2018 Birdwatch Birders’ Choice Awards. I did not expect this result!

It’s a huge honour to win, not least given the calibre of fellow nominees on the shortlist, but what I’m most pleased about is that the number of votes must be indicative of the increasing level of awareness about illegal raptor persecution in the UK.

It’s quite telling, I think, that all the previous winners of this award were also recognised in part for their campaigning efforts against raptor persecution (2014: Chris Packham; 2015: Chris Packham; 2016: Mark Avery; 2017: Ruth Peacey). That speaks volumes of the growing public support of our efforts to expose these crimes and hold those responsible to account.

I don’t work alone on this blog – there are many collaborators who contribute in various ways and this award is for all of us.

Thanks for your continued support.

RT

21
Dec
18

Friends in need: Onekind’s office burgled & equipment stolen

The Edinburgh office of charity OneKind was broken in to overnight on Weds/Thurs morning and a number of laptops and other equipment was stolen. A police investigation has opened.

OneKind Director Bob Elliot told us that their databases are all secure and uncompromised.

If you’re able to donate a small amount of money to help them to replace the stolen items that would be massively appreciated. Please click here if you can help.

20
Dec
18

Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative hanging by a thread

Earlier this week the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative published its Peak District Bird of Prey Report 2018 and issued the following press statement:

Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative highlights mixed fortunes for birds of prey in the National Park

The Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative has today published its annual report for 2018, showing improvement in the breeding success of several raptor species within the Peak District National Park compared to 2017, in parallel with an increase in the number of gamekeepers and estates engaging positively with the Initiative. The report also highlights a number of incidents which show, however, that significant problems remain. Overall numbers and breeding success were fairly typical of the 7-year period of the Initiative, and remain well below the targets based on populations in the late 1990s.

Following last year, when Peregrine Falcons failed to breed successfully in the Dark Peak for the first time since they recolonised in the early 1980s, this year has seen 9 occupied territories, of which 3 pairs successfully raised young. The Initiative’s aim is to have 17 breeding pairs, of which about 11-12 pairs would normally be expected to successfully raise young. Numbers of its smaller cousin the Merlin were roughly in line with recent averages and returned to several historic sites where they have not bred for some years.

[Graphs from the Peak District BoPI 2018 report]

Goshawks continue to be absent from many of their past haunts in the Dark Peak, though the overall breeding success was better this year, whilst Short-eared Owls had a good season although determining exact numbers remains difficult.

What would have been the most noteworthy event of the year – the successful fledging of 4 young Hen Harriers from a nest on moorland owned by the National Trust – was tarnished latterly by the knowledge that two satellite tagged young both subsequently disappeared in the autumn – one in the Peak District National Park and one in the North York Moors National Park – under circumstances which led to suspicions that they may have deliberately come to harm and the tags destroyed.

Two events of particular concern were the reported shooting of a Red Kite in the northern Peak District in June and the shooting of a Short-eared Owl on Wessenden Head Road in September.

[Photo of the shot short-eared owl via RSPB]

The Bird of Prey initiative has a shared ambition, set out in the National Park Management Plan published earlier this year, to restore populations of birds of prey to at least the levels present in the late 1990s, with the addition of Hen Harrier as a regularly successful breeding species. The improvements this year are a welcome step in this direction, but there needs to be a commitment to eradicate wildlife crime and build on that progress year on year across the National Park, and across our range of target species, if the Initiative is to continue.

The Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative is made up of the Peak District National Park Authority, Natural England, National Trust and the Moorland Association, with support from local raptor groups and land managers. It was set up in 2011 after its members recognised the need for collective action to tackle illegal persecution of birds of prey. The RSPB ended their involvement in the Initiative in January due to the lack of progress with bird of prey populations, and the lack of a full consensus by all Initiative members that ongoing illegal persecution is the main reason for the continued low numbers.

Anyone with information to report about wildlife crime should contact the Police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

ENDS

For those new to this blog, it’s perhaps worth reading about the history of this pseudo-partnership and it’s long term failure to meet any of its targets (e.g. here, here, here, here, here, here).

After last year’s fiasco and virtual collapse of the ‘partnership’ (see links above) we were told by the Peak District National Park Authority that as the Initiative had yet again failed to meet any of its targets (in 2017), and with evidence of more confirmed raptor persecution in the National Park, it would be reassessing its commitment to the Initiative after the 2018 breeding season. In other words, if there wasn’t drastic improvement, the Initiative would probably be dissolved.

So has there been drastic improvement during the 2018 breeding season? The project has failed to meet any of its targets for the seventh consecutive year, but while there are undoubtedly small areas of improvement, these are offset by the continued illegal killing, which isn’t subsiding and isn’t resulting in improved raptor populations.

Make no mistake, there are some fantastically dedicated conservationists (and at least one shooting tenant and his gamekeeper) who are trying to make things safe for birds of prey in the Peak District National Park but their efforts are being hindered by this Initiative, not helped. Surely it’s now time to boot out the persecution deniers and form a genuine partnership that isn’t constrained by grandstanding propagandists whose sole intent seems to be to shield the criminals, not just from view, but from justice.

Enough.

19
Dec
18

£50K ‘study’ reveals the bleedin’ obvious: grouse shooters & conservationists disagree on hen harrier brood meddling

Remember back in November 2016 when a series of FoI requests revealed that Natural England was prepared to waste £50K of tax payers money on a social science ‘study’ to assess attitudes towards the Hen Harrier Action Plan? See here for info.

The proposed ‘study’ was put forward by Prof Steve Redpath (Aberdeen Uni / Hawk & Owl Trust trustee / a so-called ‘independent academic’ (ha!) on the hen harrier brood meddling working group) and Dr Freya St John, an academic who at the time worked at Kent University but has since moved to Bangor University. Here is a copy of the proposal, which was also released as part of the FoI requests and here is the proposed budget:

One year later, in December 2017, we blogged about the research questionnaire that had been sent out to various organisations in the grouse shooting industry and conservation community (see here) as part of this £50k ‘study’.

Well the research results have just been published and guess what? Trust in Natural England is “limited” and individuals from the grouse shooting community disagree with individuals from the conservation community about hen harrier brood meddling. Gosh, who knew, eh?

The paper has just been published in a new journal called People and Nature, one of several journals of the British Ecological Society:

St John, F., Steadman, J., Austen, G. and Redpath, S.M. (2018). Value diversity and conservation conflict: Lessons from the management of red grouse and hen harriers in England. People and Nature (published online, 17 December 2018).

Here’s the abstract:

This is an open access paper (which means anyone can read it in full without having to subscribe to the journal) but unfortunately the link to the online paper isn’t working so we haven’t been able to read it, only the abstract. We’ve emailed the lead author to ask for a copy but received an out of office response – away until 21 January 2019.

[UPDATE 4pm: Thanks to one of our blog readers who has found a copy of the full paper online – here]

However, there was a press release about this new ‘study’, presumably to highlight the main findings in less formal language than the abstract, which reads as follows:

Hen harriers and red grouse: finding common ground in a persistent conflict

A conflict between those working to conserve numbers of hen harriers and those maintaining commercial shooting of red grouse in the English uplands has existed for decades with little sign of progress.

Drawing on work conducted in psychology, a new study published today in the journal People and Nature investigated the underlying values that hunters and conservationists hold that make it so hard to find shared solutions.

Ecological studies over the last 30 years have shown that hen harriers and other birds of prey are capable of reducing the number of grouse to such an extent that driven grouse shooting can become economically unviable. Consequently, hen harriers, although protected under UK legislation since 1952, are killed illegally on grouse moors.

Researchers from Bangor University and the University of Aberdeen surveyed a range of organisations that represent the interests of field sports (i.e. hunting, shooting, fishing) or nature conservation in England to assess their values and attitudes towards hen harriers, grouse shooting and potential management interventions.

Dr. Freya St John from Bangor University said: “We found that people who are involved in field sports and those engaged in bird conservation hold more or less opposing views about human relationships with nature, challenging our ability to find shared solutions.

Although there is general agreement about the evidence of the ecological relationships between hen harriers and grouse, there is much less agreement about the best approach to manage them.”

They found that those from shooting organisations, in contrast to people associated with conservation groups, held a view of human mastery of nature and prioritised human wellbeing over the rights of wildlife. This group expressed support for various management approaches, including brood management where eggs or young birds are removed from nests, reared in captivity and released back into the wild at fledging.

In contrast, individuals associated with conservation groups did not support brood management. However, like those associated with field sports, they did express support for continued monitoring of the hen harrier population, protection of their winter roosts, enhanced intelligence and enforcement, and diversionary feeding of harriers to reduce predation on grouse.

The results indicated that diversionary feeding was most favoured and received greatest consensus amongst the groups surveyed. To date, this is the only management technique that has been trialled and found to be effective at reducing the number of red grouse chicks eaten by hen harriers. Despite this, feeding has not been widely taken up on grouse moors.

Professor Steve Redpath of the University of Aberdeen, who will be presenting the study’s findings at the British Ecological Society’s annual conference, commented: “Our work highlights that this is a conflict between people with very different views about the management of the countryside and its wildlife.”

There is currently no formal dialogue process in place to support the management of this stakeholder conflict. Conservation organisations withdrew from previous discussions, partly because hen harriers continue to be killed illegally and have almost disappeared as a breeding species in England.

It seems unlikely that conservation organisations would be willing to return to the negotiating table unless the illegal killing of hen harriers stops“, Redpath added. “To minimise the impact of harriers on grouse, brood management was put forward, but as we see in this study, it is very controversial. Particularly whilst illegal killing of harriers persists, such a hands-on intervention is unpalatable to some.”

Steve Redpath will present the study’s findings on Wednesday 19 December 2018 at the British Ecological Society annual meeting, which will bring together 1,200 ecologists from more than 40 countries to discuss the latest research.

ENDS

What a monumental waste of our money. Natural England could have saved £50k by simply looking at the speed with which Mark Avery crowdfunded £25k to support his legal challenge against Natural England’s absurd brood meddling trial – over 900 people donated this amount within just 4.5 days! Or by looking at the ruthless efficiency with which grouse moor managers are killing young satellite-tagged hen harriers every single bloody year. The attitudes are clear enough. Instead of chucking £50k of our money at this nonsense ‘study’, Natural England could have /should have used these public funds more wisely and put them towards an effective enforcement policy to bring to justice those criminals who continue to illegally kill hen harriers.

Knowing that there’s a difference of opinion on hen harriers between the grouse shooting and conservationists is totally irrelevant to the conservation of the hen harrier; it’s illegal persecution on driven grouse moors that threatens this species’ conservation status, nothing else. We don’t need dialogue, conflict management, relationship building, shared solutions, brood meddling or anything else, just effective enforcement of the law. It’s pretty simple, or it would be if we had a government without vested interests that was prepared to do what the vast majority of its electorate expect it to do and operate a zero tolerance policy on organised crime.

[Cartoon by Gerard Hobley]

19
Dec
18

Buzzard found shot in Sywell Country Park, Northants

Northampton Police press release (17 December 2018):

Buzzard shot in Sywell Country Park

Police officers are appealing for information after a buzzard was shot in Sywell Country Park.

The incident happened between 7am on Wednesday, November 28, and 8pm on Thursday, November 29, when a buzzard was found injured in the park having been shot. Although it was taken to the vets it sadly died a short time later.

All wild birds are protected by law and in shooting this bird a criminal offence has been committed. Anyone with information should contact Northamptonshire Police on 101. Alternatively, you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Incident Number: 349 of 30/11/2018
ENDS
According to a local source, this buzzard was found next to a wood used for driven pheasant shooting.
[Sywell Country Park by Baz Richardson]
15
Dec
18

An idiot’s guide to hen harrier brood meddling, FAO Countryside Alliance & GWCT

Earlier this week we blogged about the Countryside Alliance and GWCT’s responses to the legal challenge against Natural England’s decision to licence hen harrier brood meddling (see here).

Both organisations struggled to understand why there should be resistance to this ludicrous plan, calling opposition from conservationists “extraordinary” and “odd“.

This idiot’s guide might help (thanks, Mr Carbo):

14
Dec
18

New RSPB report details ongoing illegal slaughter of raptors on Scottish grouse moors

RSPB Scotland has published its latest report (The illegal killing of birds of prey in Scotland 2015-17 Report) which details amongst other things the ongoing illegal slaughter of birds of prey on Scottish grouse moors.

Press release from RSPB Scotland:

Grouse moor regulation vital to end illegal killing of Scotland’s raptors

A new RSPB Scotland report published today [Friday 14th December] has further reinforced the need for grouse moor regulation to be introduced in order to bring to an end to the widespread persecution of raptors in Scotland. The Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland 2015-17 details the clear associations between the decline or absence of these birds in parts of Scotland’s uplands, intensive grouse moor management and wildlife crime.

The report brings together evidence from police investigations, scientific research and eye-witness accounts and shows that the vast majority of these raptor persecution incidents are occurring in areas of Scotland’s uplands managed for intensive driven grouse shooting.

During the three-year period covered, there were 38 confirmed, detected incidents of illegal killing of protected birds of prey, including shooting, trapping, illegal poisoning and nest destruction. However, the evidence makes clear that the crimes being recorded are a fraction of what is actually taking place, despite claims by some in the grouse moor industry that raptor persecution is falling.

Such crimes are continuing to adversely impact the populations and ranges of several bird of prey species. A national survey of the UK’s hen harriers, undertaken in 2016, revealed that Scotland’s breeding population had fallen by nine percent since 2010, and that the number on grouse moors had plummeted by 57 percent. A further study, published in 2016, commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage, confirmed that the sustained level of illegal killing remains the major factor preventing the growth of northern Scotland’s red kite population.

Furthermore, in the case of 18 hen harriers fitted with satellite tags, and known to have died or whose transmitters failed between 2015-17, it is likely that eight were illegally killed on or close to grouse moors. Given that only a relatively small proportion of hen harriers are satellite tagged, the number of non-tagged birds being illegally killed will be far higher. This is also the case with other marked raptors, including golden eagles.

Yet, despite robust wildlife crime legislation, improved to a large extent since 1999 by the Scottish Parliament, there have been very few prosecutions. Only five individuals were convicted of offences related to raptor persecution in these three years. Most crimes take place in isolated rural areas, concealed from the public eye, and with perpetrators who have become increasingly adept in covering their tracks to prevent detection. However, the decisions by the Crown Office to drop four prosecutions linked to raptor persecution offences during this period raises the question of whether current wildlife protection legislation is fit for purpose, or if new laws are needed to allow more effective enforcement, and to act as a genuine deterrent.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “Scotland’s birds of prey are for many a source of national pride, but there are some who are persistently intent on doing them harm, in flagrant disregard of the law and the public interest. There is clear and repeated evidence that this criminal activity is largely taking place on Scotland’s grouse moors, but the grouse industry has not addressed this long-standing and endemic problem; instead we are seeing increasing signs of a culture where some grouse moor managers feel, and act, as if they are untouchable. We believe that the majority of the Scottish public have had enough; repeated warnings from Government have not been heeded, and the time must be right for tougher action”.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management said: “Intensive grouse moor management is having a disproportionate impact on our important upland ecosystems and specially protected birds and is blighting Scotland’s reputation as a place which respects vulnerable and protected wildlife. Self-regulation, voluntary codes of practice, and dialogue have all patently failed to address cultural and systematic criminality, as well as bad land management practices. We have reached a point where it is abundantly clear that driven grouse shooting must be made more publicly accountable and effectively regulated through a robust licensing system, conditional on legal and sustainable land management practices. Grouse moor owners who adhere to the law and best practice should have nothing to fear from this approach.”

An independent grouse moor review was set up by the Scottish Government in 2017, following the publication of a Scottish Natural Heritage Report, that concluded that many satellite tagged golden eagles were disappearing in “suspicious circumstances” in areas managed for intensive grouse shooting. The review is examining the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices and possible options for regulation and is due to report to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform in spring 2019.

ENDS

This report contains some fascinating information, some of it previously unpublished, and we’ll be blogging about some of those things in the coming days.

For now though, well done and thanks to the RSPB Scotland team for putting together this report (and thanks also for producing it as a PDF instead of a webzine!). This is undoubtedly the most strongly-worded RSPB annual report we’ve ever seen, which is perhaps an indication of just how little patience is left amongst those expecting the Government to take action against this relentless criminality from many within the grouse shooting sector.

13
Dec
18

Countryside Alliance & GWCT comment on hen harrier brood meddling legal challenge

There was a reporter from The Times in court for day two of the hen harrier brood meddling legal challenge and he wrote a piece which appeared the next day:

It’s a very short but accurate account of what was going on in Court 18 of the Royal Courts of Justice.

However, this article has prompted two response letters, one from the Countryside Alliance and one from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) as follows:

It’s hard to tell whether these two are being deliberately disingenuous or simply don’t understand what’s going on. Perhaps it’s both.

Adrian Blackmore (Countryside Alliance) claims the article in The Times “misrepresented the [brood meddling] proposals“. Did it? Not from where we were sitting in court. According to Natural England’s own technical assessment of the licence application the main aims of the brood meddling trial are to (a) investigate the effect of brood management on the perceptions and behaviour of the [criminals within] the moorland community, and (b) to test the practicalities of brood management to investigate whether it can rear hen harriers in captivity and then release them to become successful breeding adults in the English uplands. That’s what The Times reported, so which bit, exactly, does Adrian Blackmore think was “misrepresented“?

Both Adrian Blackmore and Andrew Gilruth point to the RSPB’s use of brood management as a conservation technique for other species, but importantly, both fail to mention that in the case of hen harriers, the threat to their survival and the cause of their decline (illegal persecution by gamekeepers on grouse moors, which, incidentally, was fully accepted as fact by all sides in the court), would still be present.

Everybody knows that hen harriers aren’t just being killed prior to or during the grouse chick-rearing period, but they’re also being killed in the months following. Just look at the results from the satellite-tracked hen harriers from August to October (beyond the grouse chick-rearing period) this year – ten birds have all ‘disappeared’ in highly suspicious circumstances, all either on or next to a grouse moor:

[RPUK map showing the last known locations of ten satellite-tracked hen harriers, Aug – Oct 2018]

If these ten birds had all been brood meddled (i.e. removed from the grouse moor as eggs/chicks, raised in captivity and then released back to the uplands in July/August), would that have prevented them from being illegally killed on grouse moors between August and October? No, of course not.

Despite the grouse shooting industry’s rather pathetic attempts to portray themselves as the saviours of hen harriers (ahem) and the RSPB as ‘hypocritical’ (i.e. fake) conservationists, it’s worth noting that this judicial review isn’t about the merits of brood meddling per se, but is focused solely on whether Natural England’s decision to issue the brood meddling licence was lawful or unlawful. Although it’s worth mentioning a comment made by Ms Justice Lang when she learned about the widespread illegal persecution of this species on grouse moors and the authorities’ complete failure to enforce the law, which went along the lines of, “Well if this is a national wildlife crime priority god help the species which are not prioritised”!

Judging by their standard of correspondence, perhaps Messrs Blackmore and Gilruth should stick to their areas of expertise (i.e. the land of make believe) and just write letters to Santa instead.

UPDATE 15 Dec 2018: An idiot’s guide to hen harrier brood meddling FAO Countryside Alliance & GWCT (here)




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