Archive for May, 2019


Raven found poisoned on Ruabon Moor, the ‘grouse capital’ of North Wales

RSPB press release (31/5/19)

(Links have been added by RPUK)


  • The dead bird was found on the same estate near Wrexham, where two satellite-tagged hen harriers recently vanished.
  • Police are now appealing for information from the public. 

A dead raven found on Ruabon Moor, near World’s End, North Wales, has been confirmed as deliberately poisoned – triggering a police investigation.

The bird was found dead on 28 August 2018 by a man who had been out photographing birds.

He said: “I was coming home from Wrexham when I noticed the bird on the ground, away from the road in a little clearing of grass. It was upside down, its eyes sunken, and its feet in the air. It didn’t look like it had been dead for long.”

Thinking it may have been shot, he contacted the RSPB’s Investigations Unit. Following liaison with the North Wales Police, Welsh Government arranged for toxicology tests on the bird. This revealed that the raven had been deliberately poisoned with the highly toxic insecticide bendiocarb which had been most likely been applied to a bait. Police enquiries in the area have failed to identify anyone responsible.

[The illegally poisoned raven, photo from @RSPBBirders]

Ravens are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Killing one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

Ruabon Moor holds a significant proportion of the Welsh black grouse population and is an area managed for red grouse shooting. In 2018, two rare hen harriers named Heulwen and Aalin went off the radar in this general area. The birds had been fitted with satellite-tracking devices as part of the EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project.

Jenny Shelton, RSPB Investigations, says: “It would seem that ravens and birds of prey are not welcome in this area, and naturally people will be asking why. There is a history throughout the UK of birds of prey and ravens being targeted on areas managed for intensive grouse shooting, due to the perceived threat these natural predators pose to the grouse. However, the law is plain: killing birds of prey and ravens is illegal.

On top of this, placing poison in a public area is hugely irresponsible. Many people will be bringing their families to places like this as the weather warms up. To think that a child or a family pet could have found this bird is outrageous. These crimes must stop before someone is seriously harmed.

Jenny continues: “Ravens are beginning to recover in the UK after decades of persecution, and Wales is a key stronghold for these impressive birds. Spring – the start of the bird breeding season – is sadly a key time for the illegal killing of birds of prey and ravens. If you notice a bird of prey dead on the ground in suspicious circumstances, call the police right away.”

North Wales Police are now appealing for information.

Rob Taylor, North Wales Police Rural Crime Team manager said “The deliberate killing of a bird by poisoning is a serious risk to humans and other animals such as certain birds of prey who frequent the area. We are continuing our investigation and we ask members of the public who have information to contact us or ring Crimestoppers anonymously.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, call North Wales Police on 101.

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

Or, to speak in confidence about bird of prey persecution taking place in your area, call the confidential Raptor Crime Hotline: 0300 999 0101. This number is for bird of prey-related matters only.


It’s not clear why it’s taken nine months for this news to emerge. Hopefully North Wales Police were more vocal in the local community at the time, warning the public about the presence of this deadly poison.

Let’s hope they’re also alerting locals and visitors alike that this part of North Wales is earning the reputation of being a wildlife crime hotspot, just like so many other grouse shooting areas across the UK.

The placement of warning signs at these locations is the very least we should be expecting from the authorities.


Political silence in response to wildlife crime in Cairngorms National Park

Nine days ago we learned that yet another satellite tagged hen harrier (‘Marci’) had vanished in suspicious circumstances on an unnamed grouse moor near Strathdon, an area of the Cairngorms National Park previously identified as a raptor persecution hotspot.

[Hen harrier Marci, photo by Shaila Rao]

Hen harrier persecution is a National Wildlife Crime Priority and the population in Scotland has suffered a 27% decline in the last 12 years. As such, we expected a strong response from the authorities.

We’ve trawled websites and Twitter feeds and this is what we’ve found:

Cairngorms National Park Authority – silence

Grant Moir, Chief Executive Cairngorms National Park Authority – silence

Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment – silence

Mairi Gougeon, Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment and Hen Harrier Species Champion – silence

Alexander Burnett MSP, in whose constituency Marci ‘disappeared’ – silence

PAW Scotland – silence

Scot Gov Greener, ‘the official Twitter channel of the Scottish Government covering the environment and rural economy’ – silence

And then seven days ago we learned that four geese had been found poisoned by a highly toxic banned pesticide on the western side of the Cairngorms National Park. Police have been searching an area on the Pitmain Estate near Kingussie after estate workers reportedly alerted them to the corpses.

Given the seriously high risk to humans, wildlife, domestic stock and pets, and the Scottish Government’s previous comments about having a zero tolerance policy for illegal poisoning, we expected a strong response from the authorities.

We’ve trawled websites and Twitter feeds and this is what we’ve found:

Cairngorms National Park Authority – silence

Grant Moir, Chief Executive Cairngorms National Park Authority – silence

Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment – silence

Mairi Gougeon, Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment – silence

Kate Forbes MSP, in whose constituency the poisoned birds were found – silence

PAW Scotland – silence

Scot Gov Greener, ‘the official Twitter channel of the Scottish Government covering the environment and rural economy’ – silence

So what’s the deal, here?

Don’t they care?

They do care but they’re too embarrassed to comment?

They’ve commented on so many other similar incidents that there’s nothing new to be said?

They know they’re impotent to stop it happening again and again and again?

Keep quiet and hope it all goes away?

Compare and contrast this silence with the recent response of the North Pennines AONB Partnership to the illegal shooting of two buzzards within the protected area – Strong public statement, posters put up on public noticeboards, fliers distributed to shops and pubs in the area and lots of coverage on social media.

The Scottish authorities couldn’t even manage a tweet between them!

And then compare and contrast this silence with the recent sentencing of wildlife poisoners in Spain – Two years and eight months in prison AND a five year & four month disqualification from the management of hunting reserves and the right to hunt AND a fine of 67,538.65 Euros AND to been told to ‘take measures to recover the damage caused’.

The last prosecution for an alleged wildlife poisoning case in Scotland (that we’re aware of) involved the poisoning of three buzzards on a game shooting estate in Perthshire. Despite pleas from Police Scotland, the Crown Office decided to drop the prosecution and didn’t provide an explanation for this decision.

Is anybody still wondering why wildlife crime is still so prevalent in Scotland?


Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s pity party in response to failed Strathbraan raven cull bid

At the beginning of May we blogged about how SNH had rejected a 2019 application for a raven cull licence in the Strathbraan area of Perthshire (see here).

This decision followed last year’s fiasco when SNH had issued a raven cull licence for Strathbraan, on what we considered to be false pretences, and which was eventually withdrawn after a legal challenge by the Scottish Raptor Study Group.

A subsequent analysis by SNH’s own Scientific Advisory Committee found the ‘study’ (designed by GWCT) to be ‘completely inadequate’, ‘seriously flawed’ and said ‘it will fail to provide any meaningful scientific evidence’.

[Photo by Dieter Schaeffer]

In response to SNH’s 2019 licensing decision, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has today decided it’s going to have a massive pity party. It’s written a seven-page invitation to anyone that might want to attend: SGAs open letter_Strathbraan raven cull_May2019

This open letter has apparently been sent to MSPs and also to a number of news desks.

Many thanks to journalist Ilona Amos for allowing us a right of reply in this article published in The Scotsman this afternoon.

Sorry to ruin your pity party with a few home truths, SGA. Actually, we’re not sorry at all. The gratuitous slaughter of wildlife that takes place every day on game bird shooting estates throughout the UK is obscene. That predator-hating gamekeepers should ever be given a licence to kill even more wildlife, on the pretext of it being ‘scientific research’, in an area identified as a wildlife crime hotspot, is beyond comprehension.


Buccleuch to sell Langholm Moor

Press release from Buccleuch Estate (30/5/19)


Buccleuch announced today it intends to sell a substantial landholding the Scottish Borders, including Langholm Moor.

Following a review of land on its estates, 25,000 acres – stretching from Auchenrivock in the south to Hartsgarth in the north – are being marketed from Buccleuch’s Borders Estate. Alongside the Moor, much of the area is currently part of Buccleuch’s farming operation. There are also a small number of farm tenancies, which will continue as they are under new ownerships and blocks of forestry.

In line with the Scottish Land Commission’s protocol on community engagement, Buccleuch will consult with the local communities about the proposed sale, inviting responses to a short questionnaire, which will be available online ( or in local community hubs.

Langholm Moor was the site of two major scientific projects relating to moorland management, the latter of which – the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project – was completed two years ago.

[Photos by Ruth Tingay]

Benny Higgins, executive chairman of Buccleuch, said: “The completion of the Langholm Moor project gave us an opportunity to look at what moor’s future should be within the wider Buccleuch portfolio of landholdings. That review led us to the conclusion that marketing the moor area for sale was our preferred option.

The decision is very much in line with our business’s stated aim of reducing the Buccleuch footprint while enabling us to invest in priority projects.”

Buccleuch has instructed Savills to handle the proposed sale.


That’s an interesting move. Could it be linked to the findings of the forthcoming final report from the Langholm 2 project, which ended prematurely three years ago?

Some in the game-shooting lobby argued the project wasn’t worth continuing because they weren’t being allowed to kill some raptors (buzzards, mostly) which were supposedly responsible for low grouse densities, preventing the reinstatement of driven grouse shooting at Langholm. However, conservation scientists argued that the grouse population had recovered sufficiently to meet the population density threshold required for viable grouse shooting, and that this had been achieved without the need to kill any raptors. And besides, the scientific evidence had shown that the buzzards (and hen harriers) at Langholm just weren’t that interested in eating red grouse.

It’ll be interesting to see the final report, due out this year we think, especially now that more scientific papers are emerging from the Project scientists’ desks, and to put those findings in to context when wondering why Buccleuch has decided to sell up now.


New business ‘Skydancer coffee’ set to support hen harrier conservation

A new business offering fresh speciality coffee is due to launch at the end of June on Uist, in the Western Isles.

Called ‘Skydancer’, it’s being set up by Michael and Sarah Faint and will offer an on-site service as well as deliveries.

[Photo from the West Highland Free Press]

In a recent interview for an article in the West Highland Free Press, Sarah said:

Why Skydancer? Hen harriers thrive in the Outer Hebrides, especially in the Uists. In the spring the males perform magnificent aerial displays that are called ‘skydancing’. In honour of the amazing spectacle, we have named the roastery after the Hen Harriers and in the future, we will pledge a percentage of profits to their conservation and to nominated local causes“.


It’s not yet clear whether the fresh Skydancer coffee will be available to customers beyond the Western Isles but let’s hope so.

We couldn’t find a website for the company yet (but when we do we’ll add it here) but they are on Facebook (here).

We wish them the best of luck and hope they make a stack of £££££ for hen harrier conservation.


Case against Scottish gamekeeper accused of 12 wildlife crimes proceeds to trial

The case against a south Scotland gamekeeper has continued this week with an intermediate diet (a type of court hearing) and he has pleaded not guilty to a number of alleged offences.

Alan Wilson, 60, is accused of shooting two goshawks, four buzzards, a peregrine falcon, three badgers and an otter at Henlaw Wood, Longformacus, between March 2016 and May 2017.

He also faces charges of using a snare likely to cause partial suspension of an animal or drowning, failing to produce snaring records within 21 days when requested to do so by police and no certificate for an air weapon.

We also believe he is accused of the alleged possession of the banned pesticide, Carbofuran.

Due to Mr Wilson’s not guilty plea, this case will now proceed to trial at Jedburgh Sheriff Court on 13 June 2019.

Previous blogs about this case: see herehere here  here here and here.

Please note: we will not be accepting comments on this news item until legal proceedings have concluded. Thanks.


Birds killed after ingesting banned poison nr Kingussie in Cairngorms National Park

Police Scotland has issued the following statement (dated 24 May 2019):

We can confirm that enquiries are ongoing following the deaths of four geese, which were reported to the Police by concerned estate workers who had found the birds on their land near Kingussie in late April 2019.

Subsequent post-mortem examination of the birds found that they died as a result of ingesting a banned pesticide.

Searches by Police Scotland officers have been carried out in the area around Loch Gynack near Kingussie.

Officers are advising any members of the public or dog walkers who use the area recreationally to be aware and to consider their safety – or that of their pet – if walking in the area.

Inspector Vince Tough, Highlands and Islands Wildlife Crime Coordinator, said:

We do not wish a member of the public, a dog or any other animal to become unwell where it can be avoided’. Our enquiries are ongoing to establish the full circumstances of this incident. In the meantime I would urge anyone who walks their dogs in the area to be aware as a precaution.

Anybody who has information is asked to contact Police Scotland immediately on 101, using reference NM1041/19, or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”


According to Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website, which provides details of estate boundaries, Loch Gynack, the location of the police search area, is on the Pitmain Estate close to Kingussie, although that does not mean that’s where the geese ingested the banned poison. Depending on which poison was used and how much was ingested, the geese may have died within minutes of ingestion or may have been able to fly a short distance. There are a number of sporting and non-sporting estates whose boundaries converge around Kingussie, some with dodgy reputations, some with impeccable credentials, so it would be unwise to assume anything without further information from the police, although we do know that of 219 poisoning offences recorded in Scotland between 2005-2014, a staggering 81% were on land used for game-shooting (57% on grouse moors, 24% on lowland pheasant shoots).

The police have not named the banned poison but it will be one of the eight listed on The Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005. These eight substances are considered to be so lethally toxic it’s an offence just to be in possession of any of them, let alone use any of them to bait and kill wildlife:

Aluminium phosphide
Sodium cyanide

So once again we have a wildlife crime reported inside the Cairngorms National Park.

It was only three days ago that we were blogging about this so-called “Jewel in the Scottish and UK landscape” (ahem) following the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier Marci on a grouse moor in the raptor persecution hotspot that is the eastern side of the Cairngorms National Park.

In that blog we’d included a long list of reported crimes against raptors since the Park’s inauguration in 2003. You can see that illegal poisoning was prevalent during the 2000s but then the criminals switched tactics and shooting and trapping became much more prominent. The last known use of illegal poison in the Park, at least that we’re aware of, was reported in 2011.

It’ll be interesting to see whether the Cairngorms National Park Authority bothers to issue a statement about this latest poisoning crime. As far as we can tell, they didn’t bother publishing anything on their website about missing hen harrier Marci.

They’d do well to take a leaf out of the North Pennines AONB’s book. Prepare some leaflets, stick them up on public noticeboards, deliver fliers to pubs and shops, write a damning statement of condemnation for the Park’s website, etc etc.

It’s 2019 for god’s sake. Why are we still seeing banned poisons used inside a National Park to kill wildlife, and potentially any resident or visitor or their pet unfortunate enough to stumble across it? And why is the Park Authority so impotent to act against it?

For that matter, why is the Scottish Government still so impotent to act against it?

This latest crime happened in the constituency of Kate Forbes MSP (SNP: Skye, Lochaber & Badenoch). If you’re one of Kate’s constituents, please contact her and ask her what she intends to do about it. (Remember, she probably didn’t lay the bait and this is probably the first she’ll have heard about the crime – please be polite but be clear that doing nothing is not an option).

If you’re not a constituent of Kate’s, you can contact her on Twitter (@KateForbesMSP) and ask the same question (again, politely, please).

UPDATE 31 May 2019: Political silence in response to wildlife crime in Cairngorms National Park (here)

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