Archive for May, 2019


‘Werritty Review presents huge opportunity for change’ says Scottish Raptor Study Group

Last week Logan Steele, the Scottish Raptor Study Group‘s Communications Secretary, wrote a guest blog for the RSPB on why a licensing scheme is urgently required for the grouse shooting industry (see here).

[Golden eagle ‘Fearnan’ found illegally poisoned on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens]

Logan argued that the shooting industry had failed to show leadership in tackling the illegal killing of birds of prey on game shooting estates, particularly on grouse moors, and he explained how that had led to the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s (SRSG) decision to launch a public petition in 2016 calling on the Scottish Government to introduce a game shoot licensing scheme, whereby an estate’s licence to shoot could be revoked if criminal activity was detected.

Logan and others from the SRSG appeared in front of several Parliamentary committees to present this case, with a backdrop of continued persecution incidents. When the RSPB announced that a total of eight satellite-tagged golden eagles had all ‘disappeared’ in highly suspicious circumstances within five years in the grouse moor-dominated Monadhliaths, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham ordered a full scientific analysis of golden eagle satellite tag data to see whether there was a link between golden eagle persecution and driven grouse shooting.

Of course there was, we’d known this for years, and the subsequent commissioned report was damning. Roseanna Cunningham responded by appointing Professor Alan Werritty to undertake a review of grouse moor management practices and to recommend options for regulation, which may include licensing.

The Werritty Review, including its recommendations, is due to be published in the next couple of months.

Logan has written a second guest blog (see here) on the RSPB’s website to lay out what the SRSG expects from this review. It’s well worth a read. Here’s the final paragraph:

In summary, the “Werrity Review” presents a huge opportunity for change. We do not think that the status quo, or more voluntary approaches, and piecemeal legislative changes are options. More radical change is urgently required, and we propose a grouse moor licensing system.  True respect by grouse moor landowners and their employees for wildlife protection laws, alongside greater clarity over the public expectations for sustainable land use practices set out in a statutory Code of Grouse Moor Management, could result in a positive change in relationships between grouse moor estates; local communities sometimes surrounded by this form of land management; and also with SRSG members engaged in legitimate monitoring work and contributing to national conservation efforts for populations of native raptor species.   



Hen harrier Marci ‘disappears’ on grouse moor in Cairngorms National Park

RSPB Scotland has issued the following press release this morning:


RSPB Scotland are appealing for information following the sudden disappearance of a young hen harrier in an area notorious for bird of prey persecution.

The female harrier, named Marci, was satellite tagged as a chick in 2018 as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project. She fledged from a nest on National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge estate, and the project had been tracking her movements until the tag stopped transmitting on 22nd April 2019.

[Hen harrier Marci, photo by Shaila Rao]

In August 2018, another young satellite tagged hen harrier named Margot vanished on a grouse moor just a few miles from Marci’s last recorded position.

Like Margot, Marci’s tag was functioning normally until it suddenly stopped transmitting. Marci had been exploring a wide area of north east Scotland with her last recorded position in an area managed intensively for driven grouse shooting near Strathdon, west Aberdeenshire, in the Cairngorms National Park. Marci had been in this area for the previous three weeks with no indication of any technical issues with the tag. Follow-up searches by Police Scotland and RSPB Scotland uncovered no trace of the bird or her tag.

This comes just weeks after Skylar, another hen harrier tagged by the project, disappeared on 7th February 2019. Her last recorded position showed she was close to a South Lanarkshire grouse moor.

The most recent UK hen harrier population survey revealed a worrying decline of 13 percent between 2010 and 2016 to an estimated 545 pairs. While Scotland is the UK stronghold for the population with 460 of these, numbers here were down by 9 percent since 2010, and 29 percent since 2004.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager said:

These sudden disappearances of our satellite tagged hen harriers are depressingly frequent; Marci didn’t even get to make it through her first year before vanishing. The satellite tags are highly reliable so a sudden stop in transmitting gives us immediate cause for concern. If Marci had died of natural causes the tag should have continued to transmit, allowing our team to find her.

A recent published study indicates that 72% of hen harriers are being illegally killed on Britain’s grouse moors, while another study found 31% of tagged golden eagles in Scotland were illegally killed. Something has to change in the way our countryside is looked after, to help protect our iconic birds of prey in Scotland.”

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said:

This is the latest in a string of similar incidents in western Aberdeenshire, and is further strong evidence of the systematic targeting of protected birds of prey on Scotland’s driven grouse moors. In just the last few years, the illegal killing of a buzzard, three goshawks and a hen harrier have been witnessed within a few miles of where Marci vanished. There have also been several confirmed poisonings; the filming of the illegal setting of traps; and the suspicious disappearances of several satellite-tagged eagles and other hen harriers. It is abundantly clear that current legislation is completely failing to protect our birds of prey, and robust regulation of the driven grouse shooting industry is both vital and long overdue.

If anyone can provide information about Marci or any illegal killing of birds of prey please contact Police Scotland on 101, or the RSPB’s confidential raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101.


The news that yet another satellite tagged hen harrier has disappeared on a grouse moor in suspicious circumstances is no surprise whatsoever. That another one has vanished inside the Cairngorms National Park is also wholly unsurprising.

Why are we not shocked by the news? Have a look at this, and you’ll understand:

[RPUK map showing raptor persecution incidents in and around the Cairngorms National Park since 2005. The red circle highlights the Strathdon area from where hen harrier Marci is reported to have vanished]

The following list, which we’ve compiled from various data sources but predominantly from the RSPB’s annual persecution reports, documents over 60 illegal raptor persecution incidents inside the Cairngorms National Park (CNP) since 2002. (The Park wasn’t formally established until 2003 but we’ve included 2002 data as the area had been mapped by then). This list includes just the crimes we know about. How many more went unreported/undiscovered?


Feb: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Tomintoul (No prosecution)

Mar: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + 2 rabbit baits. Cromdale (No prosecution)


Apr: 3 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + 2 grey partridge baits. Kingussie (No prosecution)

Jun: Attempted shooting of a hen harrier. Crannoch (Successful prosecution)


May: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cuaich (No prosecution)

Nov: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)


Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Mar: 3 x poisoned buzzards, 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Crathie (No prosecution)


Jan: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Dulnain Bridge (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned raven (Mevinphos). Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Morven [corbett] (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned raven + 1 x poisoned common gull (Aldicarb) + egg bait. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

May: egg bait (Aldicarb). Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenfeshie (No prosecution)


Jan: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Glenshee (No prosecution)

Apr: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: Pole trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Tomintoul (No prosecution)

May: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit & hare baits. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jul: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Ballater (No prosecution)

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Newtonmore (No prosecution)

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)


Jan: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Mar: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)


May: 2 x poisoned ravens (Mevinphos). Delnabo (No prosecution)

Jun: rabbit bait (Mevinphos). nr Tomintoul (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Strathdon (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x illegal crow trap. Nr Tomintoul (No prosecution)


Apr: Pole trap. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x pole-trapped goshawk. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Jun: Illegally set spring trap on tree stump. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Sep: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenlochy (No prosecution)

Oct: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Nr Boat of Garten (No prosecution)


Jan: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Bridge of Brown (No prosecution)

Mar: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Apr: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran & Aldicarb). Nr Bridge of Brown (No prosecution)

May:  1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

May: 1 x shot short-eared owl, found stuffed under rock. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x shot peregrine. Pass of Ballater (No prosecution)

Aug: grouse bait (Aldicarb). Glenlochy (No prosecution)

Sep: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

Nov: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon


Apr: 1 x shot short-eared owl. Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Apr: Peregrine nest site burnt out. Glenshee (No prosecution)

May: Buzzard nest shot out. Nr Ballater (No prosecution)


Jan: White-tailed eagle nest tree felled. Invermark (No prosecution)

May: 1 x shot hen harrier. Glen Gairn (No prosecution)

May: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat


Apr: Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat

May: Armed masked men shoot out a goshawk nest. Glen Nochty (No prosecution)


Sep: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Lad’ found dead, suspected shot. Newtonmore (No prosecution)


May: 1 x shot goshawk. Strathdon (No prosecution)

Jun: Illegally set spring traps. Invercauld (No prosecution)

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Brian’ ‘disappears’. Kingussie


Mar: Satellite-tagged golden eagle #338 ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Calluna’ ‘disappears’. Ballater


May: Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle Blue T ‘disappears’. Ballater

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Athena’ ‘disappears’. Nr Grantown on Spey

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Margot’ ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

Sept: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Stelmaria’ ‘disappears’. Ballater


April: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Marci’ ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

In addition to the above list, two recent scientific publications have documented the long-term decline of breeding peregrines on grouse moors in the eastern side of the National Park (see here) and the catastrophic decline of breeding hen harriers, also on grouse moors in the eastern side of the Park (see here).

Rampant criminality continues while we carry on waiting for the Scottish Government to act.

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


SNH announces consultation on General Licences

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has announced it is to launch a public consultation on the General Licences later this summer.

[The use of traps like this one are ‘regulated’ under the General Licences but that ‘regulation’ is rarely enforced]

Here’s the SNH press release:

SNH to launch General Licence Consultation

A 12-week consultation about General Licences will take place later this year, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) announced today.

A General Licence is a type of species licence that allows users to control wild birds or destroy their nests, for reasons such as preventing serious damage to crops, protecting public health, and guarding air safety when flocks of birds are liable to get in flight paths.

Robbie Kernahan, SNH’s Head of National Operations, said: “We want to ensure that General Licences in Scotland are clear, proportionate and fit-for-purpose. In light of the complicated situation in England with General Licences right now, we have decided to bring forward our consultation which had been scheduled for 2020.

Our General Licences cover relatively common situations – such as preventing agricultural damage and protecting public health and safety – when there’s unlikely to be any conservation impact on a species. They avoid the need for people to apply for individual licences for these specific situations. As with any licence, we need to ensure that General Licences strike the appropriate balance between species conservation and a range of other legitimate interests.

We would like to reassure those who are currently operating under General Licences in Scotland that these remain in place, allowing those who comply with the conditions to continue to use them.”

The consultation will ask stakeholders for their views about how General Licences work in practice, what they should cover, and how they are worded.


This proposed review and public consultation of the General Licences is no surprise given the recent situation with similar General Licences in England which Natural England has had to admit are unlawful, after a legal challenge by Wild Justice.

And whilst the proposed SNH review and consultation is to be welcomed, long-term blog readers will know we’ve been here many times before (e.g. see herehereherehere, here and here) and although SNH has responded to some criticisms in the past by making some minor amendments, most of the requests for reform have fallen on deaf ears.

General Licences are still considered to be a light-touch form of regulation for the killing of wild birds and there are MANY areas of improvement still needed, not only to address the principle that lethal control of birds should be a last resort, but also to close the loopholes being routinely exploited by raptor-killing criminals. If calls for reform are ignored again, without justification, SNH may well find itself facing another legal challenge.

We look forward to the launch of the consultation later in the year and we’ll be encouraging as many people as possible to submit a response.

UPDATE 5pm: RSPB Scotland has issued a strong statement welcoming the review in light of some of the current General Licences being “not fit for purpose”. Spot on.


Andy Wightman needs our help

Our long-time friend and colleague Andy Wightman is being sued for alleged defamation.

His pursuer is claiming astronomical damages of £750,000 (plus 8% annual interest). If Andy loses the case and these damages are awarded in full, he will have to declare bankruptcy and thus stand down as a Member of the Scottish Parliament.

For someone of such integrity, who has campaigned for so long against the abuse of power, this would be the epitome of injustice. We cannot stand by and watch this happen.

Andy is crowdfunding to raise the £120,000 required to cover his judicial costs.

Please help him. Visit his crowdfunder page HERE


Can you identify this man? Derbyshire Police would like a word about an abandoned peregrine nest site

Derbyshire Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team would like to hear from anyone who recognises this individual, photographed near a peregrine breeding site in the Peak District this week (Tuesday 14 May 2019). The peregrines abandoned their breeding attempt the following day.

From the Derbyshire Rural Crime Team’s Facebook page today:

We have been monitoring a number of Peregrine Falcon nest sites in Derbyshire Peak District over the past few months. Numerous nests have failed in recent years, some in suspicious circumstances other as a result of nature taking its course. This year having access to a drone with an impressive zoom camera, that allowed us to view the birds without disturbing them, we were able to confirm that one particular pair had 2 eggs, as can be seen in the below picture. The female was seen to act as she should and had been incubating the eggs for the last month or so. Unfortunately on the morning of the 15th of May the female was off the nest and acting oddly, by the afternoon she had left the nest site completely, she did not return. We returned with our drone yesterday afternoon and confirmed the eggs were no longer there as can be seen in the second picture. There are numerous theories and possibilities as to what happened to the eggs, at this moment in time we simply don’t know if human interference played a role.

We would like to speak to the male pictured [above] as he may be able to help us with our enquiries and would urge him or anyone who may know who he is to come forward. If anyone recognises the male please get in touch via this page, 101 or by e-mailing Thanks“.


UPDATE 16 June 2020: Peregrine eggs taken from three nest sites in Peak District (here)

UPDATE 17 November 2020: Derbyshire man due in court in February for alleged theft of Peregrine eggs in Peak District (here)


Raven found shot & decapitated in Cheshire

RSPB press release (16 May 2019)

Raven found shot in Cheshire

A protected raven has been found illegally shot near Delamere Forest, Cheshire, triggering a police investigation.

The bird was found in a field by a man walking his dog along the edge of the forest. The bird had no head but had no other injuries. He contacted the RSPB’s Investigations unit for advice, and they arranged for the bird to be collected and x-rayed.

The x-ray revealed as many as nine pieces of shot in the raven’s body. The cause of the bird’s missing head however is not known.

[Photos via RSPB]

Ravens and birds of prey 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.

Cheshire Police carried out detailed enquiries, including conducting a search of the area and speaking to local farmers. However, no leads were uncovered. The public are now being called on to step forward with any information which may help identify the culprit.

Jenny Shelton, from the RSPB’s Investigations Unit, says: “The countryside is somewhere we should all be able to enjoy, and our incredible birds and wildlife are part of what makes places like Delamere Forest so special.

Raven populations are starting to recover in the UK following centuries of persecution and superstition. These magnificent birds are protected by UK law, yet this is the latest in a growing number of ravens which have been illegally killed in recent months.

The persecution of ravens and birds of prey is a serious issue, and much more common than many of us might think. It’s incredibly difficult to uncover the culprits in cases like these, and you wonder how many other birds have been illegally shot which we don’t hear about. We would like to thank Avian Veterinary Services and Cheshire Police for their help and hard work.”

PC Gerard Gigg of Cheshire Police said: “Can members of the community, when they witness any crime involving wildlife or indeed any other suspicious activity, report it immediately by calling 101, or 999 if the crime is ongoing.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, which occurred around 23 March 2019, call 101, ask for Cheshire Police and quote reference number: 19100137950.

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 here.



Peregrine found injured at a West Midlands quarry had been shot

The West Midlands Ringing Group is reporting a shot male peregrine found injured at a quarry:

From Twitter today:

@RingersWmYesterday we had a call from a quarry to say that there was an injured peregrine on site. We arrived on site and along with @RSPCA_official we assessed the situation and were able to catch the young male within a few minutes. The bird is now at hospital having its wing assessed.

[Photos from West Midlands Ringing Group]

From @RingersWmPeregrine update. Unfortunately the young male we helped rescue yesterday has been found to have been shot and has two pellets stuck in its wing, which has healed over but is infected. Awaiting a decision from the vet tomorrow on the likely outcome. Sad times. Will keep u updated.



Chris Packham collects his CBE for services to nature conservation

Huge congratulations to Chris Packham, who yesterday collected his CBE for services to nature conservation.

[Chris with his partner, Charlotte Corney]

In the afternoon there was a reception at London Zoo where family and friends gathered to celebrate. But on a day that should have been all about Chris and his achievements, he made it a day about everyone else instead, telling stories about past adventures and name-checking all those who have helped him along the way.

There are lots of photos online from the ceremony at Buckingham Palace and Chris holding his medal for the cameras, but that’s the public Chris Packham – his TV persona, his natural defence strategy, protecting himself from the ills of this world.

Here’s the private Chris Packham – modestly, and uncomfortably, accepting the applause of his friends and family, cradling a box of private letters written from us to him, to counter the mountain of hate mail and abuse.

A national treasure? No doubt about it.

Congratulations, Chris, the reluctant superstar of nature conservation, and thank you for everything you do.


Another massive penalty for raptor poisoning in Spain

Once again, the Spanish authorities have shown their utter contempt for those who illegally poison birds of prey.

They have just handed out the country’s highest ever penalty in relation to the illegal poisoning of 138 raptors and 4 crows in 2012. The victims included red kites, black kites, marsh harriers, Egyptian vultures and Griffon vultures.

Two hunting ground ‘presidents’ and a guard have been sentenced to 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’.

According to this roughly translated report from SEO Birdlife, the authorities used ‘wiretaps’ to obtain some of the ‘incriminating evidence’, which is presumably why it took so long to secure the convictions.

[One of the poisoned kites, from SEO Birdlife]

This isn’t the first time that the Spanish authorities have come down hard on raptor poisoners. We’ve blogged about two previous cases (here and here) where custodial sentences, massive fines and an extended disqualification from hunting have all been part of the sentencing package.

As we’ve written before, Spain is one of several European countries way ahead of the game when it comes to tackling raptor persecution. Amongst other measures, they have a dedicated dog unit that utilises specialist sniffer dogs trained to detect poison and poisoned baits. These dogs are so good they can even detect the location where a poisoned bait has been laid previously but has since been removed. These dog units are not just deployed to a site of a suspected incident; they are routinely deployed to undertake spot checks wherever they want and whatever time they want. There’s none of this ‘you need landowner permission’, or ‘you need a warrant’ or ‘that video camera placed out in the middle of a remote grouse moor infringes the owner’s privacy rights’.

Now THIS is what ‘we’re taking raptor persecution seriously’ really means.

Please take note, Westminster & Scottish Environment Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers. Your constant fiddling around at the edges, undertaking review after review after review (Scotland), or just flat out denials that it’s a problem (England) just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Perhaps we should crowdfund to send Ministers Gove, Coffey, Cunningham and Gougeon on a fact-finding trip to spend time with their Spanish counterparts and see how it can be done.


Peregrine found suspected shot at Elton Reservoir in Bury

The RSPCA is appealing for information after the discovery of a dead peregrine at Elton Reservoir in Bury, Greater Manchester.

The bird was found by a member of the public on 7 May 2019, already quite extensively scavenged. Local media coverage claims that an x-ray demonstrates the bird was shot with an air rifle (e.g. here). To be honest, the x-ray isn’t very clear – it’s been taken from a side view rather than with the wings splayed, and this has distorted the radiograph. There may be shotgun pellets in the right wing but a further x-ray and/or post mortem would prove conclusive.

If anyone has any information about this incident please contact the RSPCA appeals line on 0300 123 8018.

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