Archive for February, 2019


Disgusting display of savagery on Yorkshire grouse moor

The following photographs were taken by Curtis Thackray on Sunday 17 February 2019.

The location was Bingley Moor, a driven grouse moor adjacent to Ilkley Moor in West Yorkshire.

This disgusting display of savagery is common on many driven grouse moors. It is believed to be legal.

This is a stink pit, where gamekeepers toss their victims in a putrid pile, the stench of rotting flesh being used as a lure for other scavengers who’ll get caught in the nearby snares, brutally killed without a second thought and cast on the ever-increasing death heap.

Why? To protect the red grouse to ensure there are plenty available to shoot, for fun, later in the year.


Buzzard shot and poisoned in East Yorkshire: police renew appeal for info

Press release from Humberside Police (20 Feb 2019)

Poisoned buzzard East Yorkshire, renewed appeal for information

On the 2nd October 2018 Humberside Police appealed for information regarding the discovery of a dead Common Buzzard, which x-rays showed as having three shotgun pellets within its body [Ed: see RPUK blog here]. These were old injuries but the bird also had more recent injuries to its head, which at that time were suspected to have possibly come about by having been confined within a cage trap.

A detailed examination of the body and its food content has now revealed that the Buzzard had ingested food containing the highly toxic pesticide aldicarb. This substance has been banned for use and possession for over 10 years. It is one of several highly toxic pesticides which are abused by adding them to a bait like a dead rabbit to kill scavengers such as crows and foxes. Carrion eating birds such as Red Kites and Buzzards often become victims.

Several birds of prey including Red Kites and Buzzards have been recorded as being killed by the use of aldicarb in previous years at various locations within the East Riding of Yorkshire including near Market Weighton and Pocklington.

The bird involved in this incident during 2018 was discovered between Millington and Huggate in the East Riding of Yorkshire which is very popular with walkers. The exact circumstances of the bird’s death and how exactly it sustained all its injuries are unclear which is often the case with these offences. What is clear is that it had been shot previously and then ingested a banned toxic substance at a later date. Offences such as this are crimes under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which are punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both.

Wildlife and Rural Crime lead Chief Inspector Paul Butler said: ”Enquiries have so far failed to identify who is responsible for this particular crime but are ongoing. The continued use of these chemicals is highly irresponsible and there is no excuse for it whatsoever. Anyone undertaking any form of pest or predator control should ensure they operate within the law and best practice guidance. Those disregarding it for whatever reason should be aware that it is not acceptable and that my Wildlife Crime Team officers are actively seeking them out”.

Anyone with information about who is using these chemicals or involved in the persecution of birds of prey by any means are encouraged to come forward with this information which will be treated with the utmost confidentiality. Raptor persecution is a national wildlife crime priority which Humberside Police takes very seriously and works alongside other agencies to investigate offences.

If you think you have found a poisoned victim or bait do not touch them, cover them over if possible, warn others to keep away, note the exact location, take photos and report it to the police straight away.

Guy Shorrock, Senior Investigations Officer at the RSPB, stated: “There have been a number of incidents in the East Riding area involving the poisoning of buzzards by this highly toxic banned pesticide. We are grateful for police enquires into this latest case and would urge anyone with information to contact them. You can also contact the RSPB in strictest confidence on 0300 999 0101 if you have any information about birds of prey being illegally killed in your area”.

Anyone with information regarding this investigation should call Humberside Police on the non-emergency number 101 quoting investigation number 16/99978/18 which is being dealt with by WCO PC 1529 Day.


The RSPB has also written a blog about this case, here


Heap of poisoned ravens found on Welsh/English border

Press release from RSPB (19 February 2019)

Ravens found poisoned on farmland

West Mercia Police undertook an investigation after ten dead ravens, a dead crow and parts of a dead lamb were found close together on farmland near Vron Woods, Beguildy on the Wales/Shropshire border.

The birds were reported to the RSPB and collected by Natural England in April 2018, who sent the birds to be tested. Government toxicology tests on five of the ravens, the crow and the lamb confirmed the presence of Diazinon. This is a veterinary product, used legally for sheep dip, but which is known to have been used illegally to poison wildlife. It is believed the lamb carcass was deliberately laced with Diazinon for this purpose.

[Poisoned raven, photo by Ed Blane, Natural England]

[Photo of the ten ravens and one crow bagged up for removal, by Ed Blane, Natural England]

Birds of prey and ravens are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail. Police interviewed a local person under caution but, due to lack of evidence, the case could go no further.

Ravens are a recovering species which breed mainly in Wales, Scotland, and Western and Northern England.

Jenny Shelton from RSPB Investigations said: “Shropshire has a history of Diazinon abuse for the purpose of illegally targeting birds of prey and other protected species. We are grateful to Natural England and the police for investigating this matter, which poses a serious threat to wildlife and people. Ravens are incredibly intelligent creatures, able solve problems and form memories similar to our own. These once-scarce birds are gradually starting to recover after persistent persecution at the hands of humans, so it’s disturbing to hear of incidents like this still taking place.

This area is also a stronghold for red kites – another bird making a comeback after disappearing entirely from England due to persecution. Poison baits pose a danger to these birds too.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, call West Mercia Police on 101.

The RSPB is urging people to be vigilant and report dead birds of prey or ravens this spring – a key time of year for illegal poisoning to take place. If you find a dead bird of prey or raven beside a carcass that could be a poison bait, contact the government hotline on 0800 321600. Alternatively contact the police on 101 or RSPB investigations on 01767 680551.

Note: These investigations take time, as do the toxicology tests, and we realise there has been some delay in publicising this. But we feel this is an important story to tell.



Conflicting approaches to reintroducing golden eagles to Wales

The prospect of potentially reintroducing golden and white-tailed eagles to Wales has been on the cards for many years.

The most serious effort to examine whether this might be feasible and appropriate is being undertaken by a team of researchers at Cardiff University under the auspices of the Eagle Reintroduction Wales (ERW) Project (view their website here).

The ERW team’s approach to considering an eagle reintroduction is exemplary. It has involved several years of carefully conducting a scoping exercise, to properly consider all the factors that need to be addressed before a reintroduction licence would be granted, e.g. biological and environmental considerations, social and political considerations, and comprehensive risk assessments and an exit strategy.

The project lead is a 2nd year PhD student, Sophie-Lee Williams, who spent her first year researching and mapping the core historical ranges of both species in Wales and is currently habitat mapping and assessing prey availability etc. She has a cracking powerpoint presentation available here from a talk she gave last summer at an environmental management conference. Not only has Sophie-Lee been coordinating the research, but she’s also been busily building a genuine partnership approach, working with Wildlife Trust Wales and the highly experienced raptor reintroduction expert, Roy Dennis. This is exactly how proposed reintroductions should be managed, especially when the species is an apex predator that is likely to be both welcomed and despised in equal measure by different members of the local community.

You might have seen news of the ERW’s work in the media yesterday (e.g. BBC news here and Wales Online here). It was all over the place, and we couldn’t understand what the hook was. There was nothing new to report, other than the research project was ongoing but still a long way from drawing any conclusions, so a news release seemed a bit premature.

But then late last night we received an embargoed press release, via a colleague, about another, different project that was planning on reintroducing golden eagles to Wales. Suddenly it was clear why the ERW team had wanted to talk publicly about their own research in this area, because here comes a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ whose involvement doesn’t appear to include working in partnership with the ERW team.

The new guy on the block is Dr Paul O’Donoghue, who is apparently working under the name of a newly registered Community Interest Community (CIC), ‘Wilder Britain‘ (and see website here) and whose press release made it to publication this morning (e.g. see here). Of course, Dr O’Donoghue isn’t really a ‘new guy’ at all – he’s been around for several years and many will know of him through his connection with Wildcat Haven and the Lynx UK Trust. We don’t intend to comment further on either of those two projects for reasons that should be obvious if you know some of the history (if you don’t know, google it).

We’re not aware of Dr O’Donoghue’s experience or expertise in ornithology or in the field of raptor research and conservation.

Dr O’Donoghue was featured on BBC Breakfast this morning (see here, at various points through the programme – only available until 09.15hrs Weds morning) and again on the BBC’s Countryfile Winter Diaries this morning (see here, starts at 02.17hrs, available for 29 days).

[Screengrab from Countryfile Winter Diaries]

Dr O’Donoghue talked about the need to consider the concerns of local landowners and farmers and the need to undertake research to inform a decision about the feasibility of a successful reintroduction but it was suggested in the programme (by the presenter) that the hope was to have golden eagles back in the wild in Wales by 2020, and in the Wilder Britain press release it was stated that a licence application to release eagles would be submitted this summer.

That sounds particularly premature, and unless Dr O’Donoghue has already completed a lot of the prior scoping research required for such an application, it may well lead to a resounding refusal on similar grounds to those cited by the UK Government when it recently decided to refuse an application for the reintroduction of Lynx to Kielder Forest (see here).

This looks set to become messy.

For the sake of the eagles and a viable long-term future in Wales, let’s hope the ERW team’s efforts have not been in vain.


Raptor satellite tracking workshop beneficial for genuine partnership working

A couple of weeks ago we attended a raptor satellite tracking workshop in Perthshire that was designed to bring together raptor tagging experts and law enforcement officers to help promote a better understanding of how satellite tags work and how the tag data can help the police in the investigation of crimes against birds of prey.

Organised by the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), approx 80 invited attendees turned up to share expertise and discuss new opportunities for working together. There were many police officers present, including some of senior rank as well as those on the ground, representatives from the Crown Office, NWCU, SNH, Cairngorms National Park, Raptor Study Group, RSPB Investigations, South Scotland Golden Eagle Project and a number of individual researchers and analysts. Many thanks to SNH for hosting us all at Battleby.

[Photo: Ruth Tingay]

The workshop programme was probably quite a challenge to put together because it had to cater for a wide range of experience and expertise; undoubtedly there were some in the room who didn’t know the first thing about raptors or satellite tags and others who didn’t know the first thing about police investigations, and some in the room who knew bits, or a lot, about all three topics. Given the diversity of knowledge, the organisers did a pretty good job putting together an interesting and useful agenda.

Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations, RSPB Scotland) opened proceedings with an introduction to raptors, going through some general identification pointers for the non-birders and explaining which species are most likely to become victims of illegal persecution and on which type of land-use, illustrated with a hotspot map showing where high levels of illegal persecution have been recorded in areas intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

Charlie Everitt (Scottish Investigative Support Officer, NWCU) went through the various legislation that provides protection to birds of prey in Scotland (on paper, at least), including the European Directives, Wildlife & Countryside Act and the WANE Act, as well as the availability of additional sanctions such as General Licence restrictions.

Des Thompson (SNH) provided a summary of the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, which was a bit bizarre given that one of the report’s authors was in the room. Still, Des gave a good overview of what he called “the best scientific report SNH has ever commissioned“, providing the non-expert attendees with the report’s most significant findings.

Dr Ewan Weston (Scottish Raptor Study Group) gave an excellent talk on the various types of satellite tags that are available to researchers, the main differences between the tag types, the pros and cons of using each type, how researchers choose which tag to use depending on the research questions they are trying to answer, transmission intervals, ethical justification and assessment, tag reliability issues and how a technical malfunction can easily be identified from the pattern of tag data.

Ian Thomson’s second talk was an absolute masterclass in how to interpret satellite tag data. He talked about how the data are downloaded from the tag to the researcher, the type of information collected by the tag, what the tag data can and can’t tell us, and what to look for in the data when the tag has suddenly stopped and the raptor has ‘disappeared’. He showed various examples of what the data look like when they are downloaded from the tag and then went through three case studies, showing the actual tag data from three crime cases and how the researchers knew that something was wrong, just by looking at the pattern within the data. You could literally see the expressions of enlightenment on the faces of those unfamiliar with sat tag data interpretation – they now understood how researchers can distinguish a tag that suddenly stops working in suspicious circumstances from a tag that has a genuine technical malfunction. This was probably the most important presentation of the day, to help the police understand the level of detailed data scrutiny that tag operators undertake before raising the alarm about the sudden ‘disappearance’ of a tagged bird.

Brian Etheridge (Scottish Raptor Study Group), one of the most experienced satellite taggers in the country, gave a brilliant talk on the practical aspects of fitting satellite tags to raptors. This was also a real opener for those in the audience who hadn’t previously seen a satellite tag in the hand and there were a number available on the day for attendees to examine.

[Photo: Ruth Tingay]

Brian’s talk covered a lot of ground including how the sat tag fitters have to be licensed, the strict regulation and scrutiny involved for every single tagging proposal and subsequent project in the UK, welfare considerations and restrictions, the new tags on the market and how they differ from the old style, how sat tag technology has improved year after year, how researchers decide which chick to tag, and then a demonstration of how the tags are fitted to the bird, making a point to say that ‘granny knots‘ are not used, which raised some smiles in the audience. Brian’s talk resulted in an exciting proposal from a specialist police officer in the audience – for obvious reasons we’re not going to discuss the detail here but what was proposed has the potential to have a significant impact on raptor crime investigations. Good stuff.

Here’s a drawing of a satellite-tagged elk in 1970, used by Brian to illustrate how far sat tag technology has come! [Illustration from the book Wired Wilderness: Technologies of tracking & the making of modern wildlife]

Charlie Everitt’s second talk was interesting – he described the process of a police investigation centred around a ‘missing’ sat tagged raptor and how the tag data can be used to raise sufficient ‘reasonable suspicion’ for police to search for further evidence at the site of the bird’s last known location. He talked about the limitations of current crime recording (i.e. how a ‘missing’ tagged bird can’t be classified as a crime, no matter how suspicious the circumstances, without further evidence. Those killing sat tagged raptors know this very well, which is why these days they destroy the tag and the corpse to avoid prosecution), how the police cannot share with anyone else the sat tag data they’ve been given, as the data are held as ‘a production’ (evidence) and thus subject to strict procedural controls, and the importance of receiving the tag data quickly once the researcher suspects a crime has been committed. Charlie used the case study of golden eagle Fred as an example of how the police could use the tag data to discount any number of ludicrous claims being made by those who sought to deflect attention from the ongoing issue of golden eagle persecution.

After the presentations there was an open discussion between the audience and the speaker panel, with some very interesting questions raised. One of those was why the police/SNH haven’t used the geographic location maps that show clusters of missing sat tagged raptors as supportive evidence to impose a General Licence restriction on certain grouse shooting estates? Good question! We were told that this was an issue currently being assessed (probably because now the police and SNH have a much better understanding of just how rigorous the sat tag data are).

We were also told, by Des Thompson, that “four of the main clusters identified by the Golden Eagle Sat Tag Review were going to be the focus of the Scotland PAW Raptor Group going forward“. We don’t know which four of the six clusters have been targeted for attention, nor what that ‘focus‘ actually means in real terms, but we’ll certainly be asking for progress reports in due course.

[RPUK map showing the main six geographic clusters of ‘missing’ sat tagged golden eagles as identifed by the Golden Eagle Sat Tag Review]

We also learned that SNH, Cairngorms National Park Authority and the BTO were trialling a number of new tags this summer to see whether the precise time and location of a suspiciously missing tag/bird could be identified more quickly from the tag data. If the tags perform well during testing, they expect to roll them out in due course. We look forward to seeing the results.

All in all this was an excellent workshop that provided a real opportunity for genuine partnership working, some of which has already proved fruitful even in the short period since the workshop took place. More of this, please!


Fieldsports Channel blatantly misrepresents Chris Packham’s remarks on Wild Justice

It didn’t take them long.

Following the successful launch yesterday of the new, non-profit organisation, Wild Justice, the gameshooting industry’s lies, spin and blatant fake news has begun.

Check out this ‘article’ on the Fieldsports Channel (here). It opens like this:

It goes on to accuse Wild Justice Director Chris Packham of saying something that he blatantly did not say during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme (13 Feb 2019):

We have listened to this interview several times, just to be sure, and nowhere during it does Chris say ‘he counts everyone in the fieldsports community as a wildlife criminal’. He says nothing of the sort. Not even a hint of it.

Incredibly, the Fieldsports Channel even provides a recording of the interview, which, when you listen to it, proves without doubt that the Fieldsports Channel’s claim is not just a blatant misreprentation of Chris’s comments, but is an outright lie, designed, perhaps, to whip up more animosity from this sector towards Chris.

In case this recording ‘disappears’, here is a transcript of the full interview:

R4 interviewer Anna Hill: The wildlife campaigner and TV presenter Chris Packham has launched a new non-profit company dedicated to bringing prosecutions against public bodies which break wildlife laws. It’s called Wild Justice and will be funded by public donations and crowdfunding. It’ll consider cases in England and Scotland. I asked Chris Packham what sort of cases he thinks it’ll take up.

Chris Packham: Wild Justice has been motivated by the fact that we think that wildlife crime isn’t adequately recognised as crime in the UK. If we rob a bank, if we rob a post office, if we break the speed limit, there’s no ambiguity about the fact that that’s a crime and it’s seen by society as a criminal offence. We will take action against anyone who is ignoring or conducting wildlife crime, and we want to raise the profile of that. There are many instances where we know that foxes are being hunted illegally, there’s no ambiguity about that, we know that there’s hare coursing taking place, and we just want to make sure that these are properly seen as crimes and the law is implemented properly in line with the rest of the law of the land.

Anna Hill: What about things like the badger culling for instance, which is within the law, or persecution of raptors for instance which is sometimes done by individuals rather than public bodies?

Chris Packham: The culling of bafgers is not illegal, that’s not on our agenda. We are interested in crime here and making sure that the crime is punished. And when it comes to the illegal persecution of raptors it doesn’t matter whether it’s groups or individuals, this is a criminal act and unfortunately its very difficult to get these cases in to court and when we do get them in to court, it’s very infrequent that the sentencing is appropriate. If I go in to an art gallery and I slash a John Constable painting, I’ve committed a criminal act and I would be pilloried for that around the world; I’d damaged a national treasure, in fact a global treasure. If a gamekeeper shoots a golden eagle on a grouse moor in Scotland, from my perspective that’s damaging our natural heritage, that’s as much a crime as me slashing a painting, it’s robbing us of our ability to enjoy an aspect of our environment and in the case of the eagle, one which is playing a critical ecological role.

Anna Hill: Litigation is notoriously expensive. What if you get caught up in a long-term legal wrangle and the money runs out?

Chris Packham: Well I’m confident that we will be properly funded for this. There’s an enormous number of people out there who are fed up with wildlife crime not being properly punished and I think that we see this in social media. We’ve seen a couple of crowdfunding initiatives recently run when we’ve had judicial reviews against a raven cull in Scotland and brood meddling with hen harriers in England, and they’ve raised the money very rapidly because people have grave concerns about these sorts of things. I’m confident that we will find an adequate source of money to pursue our objectives and equally that we will raise the profile of these crimes.

Anna Hill: Are you hoping to change legislation, because your literature mentions, and I’ll quote it, “If you’re breaking the law, if the law is weak, if the law is flawed, we are coming for you”. So do you want to change legislation?

Chris Packham: Indeed we do. We’re going to question the legislation that’s in place, see if it’s adequate, see if it’s useable, and if it isn’t adequate and useable and we’re not able to implement it easily enough to prosecute crimes, we’re talking about criminal acts here, then we will ask for changes in that legislation.

Anna Hill: It’s very interesting, earlier this week we ran a piece about hare coursing and the police were saying they couldn’t use the law that exists at the moment to stop hare coursing, they were using other laws in fact. Farmers would thank you, I think, because many of them have been threatened by people who carry out hare coursing illegally. If you could crack that, that would be quite an achievement, wouldn’t it?

Chris Packham: Yes, I’ve been following a number of campaigns that have been run in Lincolnshire looking at hare coursing and the police have shown a very clear association with people who conduct hare coursing with other rural crime, there is a clear link there, so if we can catch peple for hare coursing and we know that’s going to improve life for people in those rural communities, then why not change the law to make that easier to implement? And that’s just the sort of thing that we’re going to be looking at.


Chris Packham is used to being wilfully misquoted and misrepresented in the pro-shooting press  – we’ve been blogging about this recently after fake news articles were published by the Telegraph (here) and Shooting Times (here) – all part of a wider and long-running nasty smear campaign to get him sacked from the BBC because he’s vocal about the criminals within the shooting lobby and people listen to him because he has the very thing the shooting lobby lacks – integrity.

We can’t speak for Chris but would guess that were he to be aware of this appalling piece of ‘journalism’ on the Fieldsports Channel he’d probably laugh it off, especially if he reads further down the article and finds them trying to portray members of Scottish Environment LINK as ‘animal rights activists’ and a senior staff member of Ramblers Scotland an ‘anti’ just because she posted some photos of traps on a Scottish grouse moor (see photo below) and questioned such land management techniques (which, incidentally, led to the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association going in to meltdown, beautifully skewered here)

Overwhelmingly, Wild Justice has been received with huge positivity (thank you!) and we’ve already made some really important connections with unexpected supporters and potential collaborators. More on that in the future.

In the meantime, we’ve now instructed our lawyers to press ‘go’ on our first legal challenge and we hope to have some news about that in approx three weeks.

For anyone who missed it, Chris was talking about Wild Justice on Good Morning Britain today which can be watched here for the next seven days (starts at 0:49.09).



Wild Justice launches today

Wild Justice, a not-for-profit company set up by TV presenter, photographer and wildlife campaigner Chris Packham CBE, author, blogger and campaigner Dr Mark Avery and blogger, researcher and wildlife campaigner Dr Ruth Tingay is launched today (Wednesday 13 February).

Wild Justice exists to take legal cases on behalf of wildlife against public bodies where they are failing to protect species and/or habitats.

Wild Justice is working with legal teams in England and Scotland. Legal action will be funded by public donations and crowdfunding appeals.

Chris Packham said: “Wild. Justice. Because the wild needs justice more than ever before. The pressures wrought upon our wildlife have reached a crisis point and this is an essential response. The message is clear . . . if you are breaking the law, if the law is weak, if the law is flawed – we are coming for you. Peacefully, democratically and legally. Our simple premise is to work with the laws we’ve got to seek real justice for our wildlife, to reform, refine or renew those laws we have to ensure that justice can be properly realised. Our wildlife has been abused, has been suffering, exploited or destroyed by criminals for too long. Well, no longer. Wild Justice will at last be the voice of those victims and it will be heard . . . and justice will be served“.

Mark Avery said: “Wild Justice will take on public bodies to get a better deal for wildlife. It’s a shame that we have to do this but we have little confidence that statutory bodies are fulfilling their functions properly. We aim to hold their feet to the fire in court. I’m reminded of what the great American environmental campaigner, Ansel Adams said ‘It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment“.

Ruth Tingay said: “I know many people who despair about what’s happening to our wildlife but who also feel powerless to help, typically because access to justice can be prohibitively expensive and a daunting arena. Wild Justice provides an opportunity for ordinary citizens to fight back on behalf of wildlife, collectively helping us to challenge poor decisions or flawed policies that threaten to harm our wildlife. With so many potential cases, the difficulty for us will be to decide which ones to take on first“.

For further info please visit the Wild Justice website here

Follow Wild Justice on twitter (@WildJustice_org)


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