Archive for July, 2019

30
Jul
19

Scottish Government’s response to ongoing illegal raptor persecution

Thanks to everyone who emailed First Minister Nicola Sturgeon following the recent raptor persecution atrocities that have been reported from a number of Scottish grouse moors ( a dead spring-trapped hen harrier found on a grouse moor in Perthshire (here), the suspicious disappearance, within a few hours of each other, of two satellite tagged golden eagles on another grouse moor in Perthshire (here), and another spring-trapped hen harrier found critically injured and distressed on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (here)).

After weeks of complete silence from Scottish Ministers (here, here, here), which, to be frank, has been utterly staggering and certainly not indicative of a Government ready to act, an impersonal, automated response letter is now being sent out to those who appealed for the Government to finally do something meaningful.

Here it is:

It’s a pathetically tragic response. There’s nothing in here we haven’t heard before, and even though the letter emphasises the previous steps taken in tackling these crimes, presumably to demonstrate the Government’s ‘determination’ to act, what it actually does is just highlight the length of time the Government has been tip-toeing around (since 2007) without producing any significant results at all.

The letter also includes the tired old line that we have to wait for the Werritty Review. We’ve been waiting for over two years and for all that time the Government has used it as an excuse to do absolutely nothing in the face of ongoing criminal activity. The excuse is tired, we’re tired of hearing it, and we’re tired of the criminals being allowed to run amok and suffer zero consequences.

Interestingly, this most recent letter is very similar to another letter that was sent to one of our blog readers in early July in response to the news in May that satellite-tagged hen harrier Marci had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here) and that four geese had been found poisoned on another grouse-shooting estate in the Cairngorms National Park after someone had used the banned pesticide Carbofuan (here).

But there’s a significant difference between the two letters:

The evidence continues to point to the likelihood that these people are connected with grouse moor management“.

Gosh, who knew?

Both letters indicate that the Werritty Review is ‘due to report in the next few weeks’, even though both letters were written weeks apart.

According to Professor Werritty himself, the report will be submitted “during the summer“, which of course could mean anytime between now and when the clocks go back at the end of October.

How many more raptors do you think will have been illegally killed by the time the report is submitted? And how many more illegally killed even after the report has been submitted and the Government is ‘considering it carefully’?

Sorry if this blog sounds impatient. Actually, we’re not sorry at all. Our patience has been stretched to its limit and has now expired.

Why’s it so difficult to get the Government to act?

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29
Jul
19

Scottish Government ready to increase penalties for wildlife crime – this is significant!

The Scottish Government has recently launched a short public consultation, seeking views on a substantial increase of penalties for wildlife crime.

This has been a long time coming. Six years, in fact.

In 2013, the then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse commissioned a review on whether penalties for wildlife crime should be increased, as a direct response to ongoing illegal raptor persecution. Professor Mark Poustie submitted his report and a series of recommendations, including a penalty increase, in 2015. The then Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod broadly accepted those recommendations in 2016 and the Scottish Government committed to progressing them in its 2017/2018 Programme for Government.

Now it’s 2019 and we have yet another consultation, although to be fair this consultation is short (opened 19th July, closes 16th August) and judging by this illustration doing the rounds via Scot Gov social media accounts, this consultation appears to be a formality:

Wildlife crime can include barbaric acts of cruelty and can have significant consequences for the
conservation status of protected species. Penalties need to be dissuasive and of personal significance to act
as a deterrent. Time and time again we’ve seen pathetically lenient sentences for raptor persecution that have offered zero deterrent effect and have been of no personal significance to the criminal (e.g. when a shooting estate pays their guilty employee’s fine or when the offender’s employment isn’t terminated) so as far as we’re concerned, a substantial increase in the available penalties is long overdue and would be very welcome. It would also bring Scotland more up to date with countries like Spain, whose Government is not only saying it has zero tolerance for raptor persecution, it’s backing up that claim with massive penalties for those convicted (e.g. see here, here and here).

However, the most significant aspect of these current proposals, as far as we’re concerned, is the five-year custodial penalty. This is big, big news because effectively it would mean that Police Scotland would now have the authority to apply for permission, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 (RIPSA), to install covert cameras on private sporting estates for the purpose of detecting wildlife crime.

Currently, Police Scotland do not have the authority to seek permission to install covert cameras as part of an investigation simply because raptor persecution crimes do not merit a custodial sentence of three years or more. Authority will only be given if the activity is considered ‘proportionate’ and when the crime being detected is considered ‘serious’ (i.e. where the penalty would constitute a term of imprisonment for three years or more).

As we’ve seen in recent years, the RSPB has installed covert cameras at the remote nest sites of specially protected birds of prey and have recorded what is obviously a wildlife crime, but because the RSPB is a charity and not a statutory agency it is ineligible for RIPA/RIPSA authorisation so clever defence lawyers have been able to get cases thrown out of court on technicalities, and more recently some of these cases haven’t even reached court because the Crown prosecutors have decided the footage is inadmissible (e.g. see here and here).

As the legislation stands at the moment, it is not fit for purpose when it comes to detecting raptor persecution crimes in remote landscapes where the landowner may have a vested interest in the commission of that crime. If the Scottish Government amends the legislation to increase the maximum penalty to five years in prison, we would be very, very happy.

We’d encourage as many of you as possible to fill in the short consultation form and encourage the Scottish Government to press ahead with its proposals. Background info and the consultation itself can be found here. Don’t forget it closes on 16th August.

Just a word of warning to the Scottish Government, though. Even if stiffer penalties are applied to those who commit serious wildlife crime, and even if those penalties would be of personal significance to the criminal, their deterrent effect would still be minimal if the offenders still know that the chance of being caught in the act is so slim that this outweighs the risk of committing the offence in the first place. Hopefully the chances of being caught will be significantly increased if the police are able to use covert cameras, but those cameras will only capture certain crimes. There will be plenty of other crimes committed, away from nest sites and other fixed positions such as crow cage traps, and those offenders need to believe that police response times and follow ups will be timely and thorough.

25
Jul
19

Conservationists Packham & Avery risked ‘violence from shooters’ at Game Fair, according to shooting industry reps

Good grief, you couldn’t make this up.

A couple of weeks ago Mark Avery & Chris Packham were invited to participate in a question & answer session at this weekend’s Game Fair.

They’d been invited (and had accepted the invite) by Charlie Jacoby, someone who claims to be a journalist but who doesn’t seem to have any comprehension of the value of research, of fact-checking nor of libel laws. But that’s for another day. Jacoby’s shortcomings are not the subject of this blog.

Jacoby is hosting a series of talks, interviews and debates in the Game Fair Theatre and he wanted to drill Mark and Chris on the work of Wild Justice. It was all set to go, until Tuesday evening when Mark and Chris were told that the Game Fair officials had banned them from participating, after pressure from BASC, Countryside Alliance and GWCT – you can read about this on Mark’s blog (here).

It’s also worth checking out the statement issued by BASC, accusing Chris (and presumably Mark) of being ‘extremists’. It’s an odd accusation from an organisation that wrote a guest blog for Mark earlier this year (here)!

Many are seeing this as a massive own goal by the game shooting industry (because it is! What are they scared of?) and there’s plenty of lively debate about it on social media. But there’s also something else that might have contributed to the organisers’ decision.

Check out this email, screen grabbed from a dreadful video by Jacoby who was trying to explain to his viewers why the Game Fair organisers had scuppered his plans for a debate:

The email is from Jacoby, sent to Tim Bonner (CEO Countryside Alliance), James Gower (Managing Director of the Game Fair), Ian Bell (CEO BASC) and Teresa Dent (CEO GWCT and Natural England board member).

Ignore the uninformed (and wholly inaccurate) commentary about Panorama and town hall events – these are simply a figment of Jacoby’s paranoia and Mark will be blogging about this later today.

But check out that statement we’ve underlined in red:

“I agree we risk violence from shooters”.

Violence? From shooters? Surely not! Aren’t we repeatedly told that anyone with a firearms or shotgun certificate has to be an upstanding member of the community, to be of no threat to anyone’s safety, and certainly not to have a tendency for violence?

It’s an astonishing admission from the game shooting industry, that the mere sight of Mark and Chris at the Game Fair could trigger an explosion of violence from volatile members of this so-called law-abiding community.

Let’s hope the Game Fair organisers have good indemnity insurance if their audience includes so many hysterical homicidal uncontrollable thugs- just imagine the bloodshed if they run out of Pimms in the VIP tent or if someone spots a salad on the burger van menu. It’ll be carnage!

UPDATE: Just when you thought their PR car crash couldn’t get any worse……have a look at this (here).

24
Jul
19

How has the game-shooting industry reacted to conviction of Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson?

We’ve been watching with interest how the game-shooting industry has reacted to the news that Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson has pleaded guilty to nine wildlife crimes on the Longformacus Estate in south Scotland.

We are especially interested to find out whether (a) Wilson is/was a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association when he committed his crimes against protected wildlife and if so, whether he’s been booted out, and (b) whether the Longformacus Estate is/was a member of Scottish Land & Estates when these wildlife crimes took place, and if so, whether the estate has since been booted out.

It turns out that both the SGA and SLE are being a bit coy about this information.

First up, here’s the full statement from the SGA in response to Wilson’s guilty plea for multiple criminal offences:

It’s not very impressive, even though it took the SGA 24 hours to come up with it!

No mention, then, of the exceptionally high number of wildlife crimes.

No mention, then, of the number of protected species that had been shot illegally, including birds of prey, badgers and an otter.

No mention, then, of the 23 illegally set snares.

No mention, then, of the two containers of a highly toxic and banned poison (Carbofuan) that had been found.

And no mention, then, that it was a Scottish gamekeeper who was responsible for this disgraceful litany of wildlife crimes.

Moving on, here’s what Scottish Land & Estates posted:

It’s a bit of an odd choice of photograph to illustrate the piece – that’s Lord David Johnstone, Chairman of SLE; it’s not criminal gamekeeper Alan Wilson. You might have thought SLE would choose an image of one of the protected species that had been illegally shot, or a poison skull & crossbones, or perhaps even an image of the location, a bit like this one:

[Photo by Richard Webb]

Ah, but hang on a minute, using a photo like this one to illustrate SLE’s statement wouldn’t have worked because look, what’s that behind the wood? Is it the tell-tale strip muirburn indicative of a grouse moor?

Ah, that’s a bit awkward seeing as SLE’s statement doesn’t mention grouse moor management, only low ground pheasant shooting – perhaps a deliberate omission? Surely not.

To be fair, the hill in the background is part of a neighbouring estate (Kettleshiel Farm), although if you look at a satellite image of the area it’s pretty clear that there’s also strip muirburn on Longformacus Estate, right up to the edge of Henlaw Wood where all those shot protected species were uncovered: [UPDATE 9pm: According to a comment from Professor Ian Poxton, all the land shown in the above and below photos, including the grouse moor hill, belonged to Longformacus Estate at least up to a couple of years ago – see comments section for more details]:

So it looks very much like there is a combination of both low ground pheasant shooting and grouse moor management on Longformacus Estate – how odd that SLE would appear to want to only mention the pheasant shooting and not the grouse moor management.

Actually, it’s not odd at all – they tried the same trick when golden eagle Fred ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances next to a grouse moor in the Pentland Hills just outside Edinburgh, playing down the prevalence of grouse moor management in the area.

Hmm, can’t begin to imagine why SLE might want grouse moor management out of the spotlight.

Anyway, back to SLE’s statement – at least it includes the fact that a gamekeeper has been convicted of wildlife crime – that’s a definite improvement on the SGA’s pathetic statement, but rather tellingly, SLE’s statement doesn’t mention whether Longformacus Estate is a member of SLE but does seem to want to demonstrate support for the estate. How interesting.

As we’ve said previously, as we understand it there is an ongoing police investigation in to whether gamekeeper Alan Wilson’s employer may face a potential charge of alleged vicarious liability, but we don’t know any more detail. We don’t even know if that would be the landowner or whether there’s a ‘middle-man’ involved such as a sporting agent.

We’ll have to wait and see, although it’s interesting to note that back in August 2018, Police Scotland issued a statement that said two men had been charged in relation to this case (see here).

23
Jul
19

Convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson & his litany of wildlife crimes

Further to the news yesterday that Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson, 60, had pleaded guilty to nine of the 12 charges of wildlife crime against him (see here), here is some further detail.

From The Times (by Robert Fairburn):

Gamekeeper killed protected birds, badger and otter

A gamekeeper shot dead badgers and buzzards and set dozens of illegal snares in Scottish woodland in what one wildlife expert described as the greatest cull of protected species he had ever seen.

Alan Wilson, 60, has pleaded guilty to priming 23 illegal snares in a small wood on the Berwickshire estate where he worked. A court was told that the League Against Cruel Sports had been tipped off by a member of the public out hiking that snares were being operated at Henlaw Wood on the Longformacus Estate.

[RPUK map of the location of Longformacus Estate]

In March 2016 a research officer found snares and a “stink pit” containing a pile of dead animals designed to attract other animals. A year later he returned and found the carcass of a badger and dead birds.

The site was visited by police officers and Scottish SPCA officers when the full catalogue of shot protected species emerged.

David Anderson, conservation manager for the Forestry Commission Scotland, attended Henlaw Wood, which is 550 metres in length, and wrote in his report: “In 40 years working in wildlife management I have never seen so many protected species dead in such a small area.”

Jedburgh sheriff court was told that Wilson was the sole gamekeeper for the Longformacus estate. He had worked as a gamekeeper in France for ten years before returning to Scotland and lived on the estate with his partner.

Wilson pleaded guilty to shooting and killing two goshawks at Henlaw Wood between March 2006 and May 2017, three buzzards, three badgers and an otter. He also pleaded guilty to charges of using illegal snares and possession of two bottles of carbofuran.

Wilson was fined £400 last year and banned from keeping birds of prey for ten years after admitting failing to protect an eagle owl in his care from suffering. He had pleaded guilty to keeping the pet bird in filthy conditions in a pigsty at his home in Longformacus [see here for RPUK blog on that case].

Wilson admitted nine offences and will be sentenced next month [19th August we believe] after background reports are prepared. Sheriff Peter Paterson told him: “These charges are serious and numerous and before I decide on an appropriate sentence I will need a report to see what sentencing options are open to me. Society, whatever you may think, takes a dim view on this.”

There has been growing debate about Scotland’s grouse moors. Chris Packham, the naturalist and broadcaster, has urged ministers to introduce a strict licensing system on moors, with powers to ban shooting estates where protected species are vanishing. A Scottish government review of grouse moor practices is expected to be published within weeks.

ENDS

It’ll be all eyes on Jedburgh Sheriff Court on 19th August when this criminal gamekeeper is sentenced. We believe the custody threshold has been easily met and given the range of offences against these protected species, in addition to being found in possession of the highly toxic (and thus banned) pesticide Carbofuran, only a custodial sentence will suffice.

There have been questions asked about Wilson’s employer and whether a charge of alleged vicarious liability is being pursued. We believe there is currently a live investigation on this and as such we won’t be blogging about it, or accepting comments specifically about it, until proceedings have concluded.

The conviction of gamekeeper Alan Wilson can now be discussed, however. We look forward to finding out whether he is/was a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and if so, how they explain his appetite for illegally killing protected raptors and mammals, why he was setting illegal snares and why he had two bottles of Carbofuran in his possession.

Presumably the SGA knew nothing of Wilson’s crimes, which begs the question, how can the SGA make so many claims about the number of supposedly law-abiding gamekeepers when they haven’t got a clue what those gamekeepers are up to, nor do they have sufficient influence to prevent them committing wildlife crimes?

Over to you, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg…..

Previous blogs about this case: herehere here  here herehere, here, here, here here.

UPDATE: 24 July 2019: How has the game-shooting industry reacted to conviction of Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson? (see here).

 

22
Jul
19

Scottish gamekeeper pleads guilty to nine charges of wildlife crime

BREAKING NEWS…..

We understand from a journalist that Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson, 60, has this morning pleaded guilty to 9 of the 12 wildlife crime charges against him. Not guilty pleas were accepted on the other three.

Sentencing has apparently been deferred until 19th August for background reports.

Wilson had been 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 faced charges of using a snare likely to cause partial suspension of 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 understand he faced a charge of alleged possession of the banned poison Carbofuran.

Up until this morning Mr Wilson had pleaded not guilty.

More details to follow……

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

UPDATE 23 July 2019: Convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson and his litany of wildlife crimes (here)

UPDATE 24 July 2019: How has the game-shooting industry reacted to conviction of Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson? (here).

21
Jul
19

Stench of hypocrisy from critics of Wild Justice’s latest legal challenge

Last Thursday non-profit organisation Wild Justice announced its latest legal challenge, this time against DEFRA for failing to assess the ecological impact of releasing millions of non-native game birds such as Pheasants and Red-legged Partridge in to the countryside every year.

The response from members of the game-shooting industry has been predictably abusive but also, in many cases, a furious backlash reaction to what they think Wild Justice is doing, rather than what Wild Justice is actually doing. For the avoidance of doubt, Wild Justice is asking DEFRA to carry out a review of the ecological impact of releasing millions of non-native game birds in to the countryside every year. Wild Justice is not taking DEFRA to court to ban pheasant and red-legged partridge shooting!

Anyway, back to those responses from the game shooting industry. Mark Avery has effortlessly sliced and diced the main responses (see here) and this is well worth a read. But there’s something else worth noting about the industry’s responses that can be expanded upon from Mark’s entertaining critique, and that’s the rancid stench of hypocrisy emanating from the critics’ mouths.

You’ll note that BASC has labelled Wild Justice’s latest legal challenge as ‘another extremist attack’ [on shooting] and the Shooting Times called it an ‘attack’ and ‘childish eco-politics’:

It’s worth remembering that Wild Justice is simply exercising a right to utilise an open, democratic process to challenge the lawfulness of a decision made by a public body. Not exactly the work of ‘extremists’ and not exactly an ‘attack on shooting’.

It’s also worth remembering that the game bird shooting industry has also exercised its right to utilise this open, democratic process to challenge the lawfulness of a decision made by a public body. And not just once!

For example, in 2014 gamekeeper Ricky McMorn requested a judicial review of Natural England’s decision to refuse him a licence to kill buzzards to protect his pheasants (see here). Mr McMorn’s case, financially supported by the National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO), was successful. However, if you read the Shooting Times articles about his case (here and here), you won’t find Mr McMorn being accused of launching an attack, or of being an extremist, or of engaging in childish eco-politics. Funny, that.

Indeed, deputy editor of the Shooting Times, Joe Dimbleby wrote:

This landmark ruling should set a precedent for a more sensible approach to licencing. No doubt there will be outcry from the normal quarters, but the case has revealed the law of the land not being followed because of special interest pressure‘.

And then in 2016 Raeshaw Estate in the Scottish Borders took a judicial review against SNH’s 2015 decision to withdraw the use of the General Licence on Raeshaw Estate based on evidence that raptor persecution crimes had taken place there (see here). The estate lost its case in 2017. We couldn’t find any online news reports from the game shooting industry about this case and no mention of Raeshaw Estate (or its sporting manager, Mark Osborne) being accused of launching an attack, or of being an extremist, or of engaging in childish eco-politics. Funny, that.

We did find a job advert for a beat keeper at Raeshaw in the Nov 2017 edition of Shooting Times – we’re pretty sure that advert wouldn’t have appeared if the Shooting Times had a dim view of the estate or of Mr Osborne.

And then more recently (December 2018) three organisations from the game shooting industry applied for a judicial review of the Welsh Government’s statutory agency Natural Resources Wale’s decision to ban pheasant shooting on public land. Here’s a copy of the press release from BASC’s own website:

Incidentally, their application for a judicial review was refused because they’d applied too late.

We read a news report of this case in the 20 March 2019 edition of Shooting Times and there was no mention of the three organisations being accused of launching an attack, of being extremists, or of engaging in childish eco-politics. Funny, that.

Amusingly, BASC even records its participation in this failed legal action as a ‘Key Achievement in 2018’ (here).

It’s worth remembering these three legal challenges, and the outright hypocrisy of the game shooting industry the next time you see them accusing Wild Justice of being extremists for, er, also taking on legal challenges.

An even better way of showing your support for Wild Justice is to contribute to its crowdfunder to raise £44,500 to take this latest legal challenge all the way through the courts. So far over £24,000 has been donated. If you’d like to support this case, please click here.

Thank you.




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