Archive for August, 2019

31
Aug
19

RSPB Scotland demolishes BASC in radio interview

If you’ve got a spare five minutes it would be well spent listening to this radio interview on yesterday’s Farming Today programme on BBC Radio 4. (Starts at 7 min 50 sec)

It pits Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations, RSPB Scotland) against Duncan Thomas (BASC) discussing the ongoing illegal persecution of birds of prey on driven grouse moors.

It’s a masterclass from Ian, who bats away Duncan’s witless nonsense with ease.

Meanwhile, Chris Packham’s petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting is currently on 87,000 signatures – it needs 100,000. If you can help, please sign here.

[Ian Thomson speaking at this year’s Hen Harrier Day in Derbyshire. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

30
Aug
19

No vicarious liability prosecution for Longformacus Estate

Ten days ago Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson was sentenced for a catalogue of wildlife crime offences, including possession of the banned poison Carbofuran and the shooting of protected raptors, badgers and an otter on the Longformacus Estate in the Scottish Borders (see here).

[Criminal gamekeeper Alan Wilson, photo by Daily Record]

Very early on in this case we were aware that two individuals had been charged in relation to the crimes uncovered at Longformacus Estate (see here) and it was rumoured that the second man was facing a charge of alleged vicarious liability for Wilson’s crimes, although we were unable to verify this.

As a quick re-cap, vicarious liability was a measure introduced by the Scottish Government on 1 January 2012 as a direct and specific response to ongoing illegal raptor persecution, whereby somebody (e.g. a landowner or a sporting agent) may be held responsible for the criminal actions of an employee – see here for a more detailed explanation.

Following Wilson’s conviction and then subsequent sentencing earlier this month, we were keen to find out whether the Crown Office was now pursuing a charge of alleged vicarious liability against any individual associated with the management of Longformacus Estate. Last week we wrote to the Crown Office for clarification and this is the response received yesterday:

So, here we are yet again.

No prosecution for anyone associated with the management of Longformacus Estate where gamekeeper Alan Wilson was able to commit crime after crime after crime after crime, apparently without his boss(es) noticing.

For a defence of a charge of alleged vicarious liability, the gamekeeper’s boss(es) would need to show that (a) s/he/they did not know the offence was being committed; AND (b) that s/he/they took all reasonable steps AND exercised all due diligence to prevent the offence(s) being committed. Without knowing the full facts and circumstances of this case it is impossible for us to judge whether the Crown Office’s decision not to pursue a charge was sensible, but it has to be said that given the extent and duration of Wilson’s criminal activities, it would have been very interesting indeed to have heard his bosses’ interpretation and explanation of ‘all due diligence’.

We’ll probably never know why the Crown Office chose not to proceed – it is under no obligation to offer any explanation to the public. However, this latest decision really shouldn’t come as any surprise to anybody – remember, this is the same Crown Office that dropped five prosecutions for alleged raptor persecution in quick succession in 2017 (see here), even including several cases where RSPB video footage had captured the crimes on camera! Those decisions not to proceed with prosecutions hailed the start of what has now become complete exasperation at the authorities’ failure to take on many cases linked to wildlife crime on game-shooting estates.

The Crown’s decision not to pursue criminal proceedings in relation to the crimes committed at Longformacus Estate also further entrenches the view that vicarious liability as a measure for tackling ongoing raptor persecution is a resounding failure. Introduced seven and a half years ago on 1 Jan 2012, only two successful prosecutions have been secured: one in Dec 2014 (here) and one in Dec 2015 (here). A third case in Oct 2015 was dropped because the authorities couldn’t identify the estate’s management structure (here) and a fourth case was abandoned in April 2017 because the Crown said ‘it wasn’t in the public interest to continue’ (here).

Who thinks that two successful cases in 7.5 years is a measure of success? Perhaps if raptor persecution crimes weren’t still being committed then vicarious liability might have been viewed as a success in terms of its deterrent value but it’s quite clear, given the ongoing reports of persecution, that landowners and sporting agents are probably increasingly confident of evading prosecution and the Crown’s decision on the Longformacus Estate will only strengthen that view.

The question now is, for how many more years do we have to sit and watch the pathetic failure of vicarious liability as a measure to combat raptor persecution? The Scottish Government can no longer rely on this as an indication of its commitment to tackling these crimes. Sure, when introduced in 2012 it was done in good faith and with the best of intentions but it is quite clear for all to see that, for whatever reason, it isn’t working, and the Scottish Government needs to acknowledge this failure and find out why it’s failing and get it fixed.

It’s not just convicted gamekeeper Alan Wilson sticking up two fingers to our law-abiding society.

The topic of vicarious liability was raised at the recent SNP Conference Fringe meeting on grouse moor reform (here) as well as the Revive Coalition’s conference in Perth (here) and caused quite a stir amongst delegates and panellists at both events. It’s an issue we’re likely to follow up with several interested MSPs.

Meanwhile, Chris Packham’s petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting is doing exceptionally well, just two weeks after launching. It has now attracted over 81,000 signatures but is likely to fall if it doesn’t reach 100,000 signatures by Sept 9th, thanks to the current shenanigans at Westminster (if Parliament is suspended all unfinished business, including live petitions, will fall). If you haven’t yet signed, please do so HERE. Thank you.

 

29
Aug
19

RSPB’s 2018 Birdcrime report documents relentless raptor persecution on grouse moors

The RSPB has published its latest annual report Birdcrime, documenting known cases of illegal raptor persecution in the UK in 2018. [Follow this link to find the report and additional information]

As ever, it’s grim reading and also as ever, the figures represent an unknown percentage of the actual number of birds that have been illegally killed. We know there are many, many more as these figures don’t include all the satellite-tagged raptors that have been killed and their corpses and tags destroyed to remove any trace evidence.

On the back of the report, the RSPB is calling for three things, quoted as follows:

  • The licensing of driven grouse moors.
    The RSPB believes that the right to shoot should be dependent on legal, sustainable management. Grouse shooting licenses could then be removed if illegal activity is identified, which would act as a deterrent. Law-abiding estates should have nothing to fear from this.
  • A review of grouse shooting.
    An industry that relies on criminal, unsustainable and environmentally damaging practices should not be allowed to continue operating as it currently is. In Scotland, the government has launched a review of grouse moor management and the RSPB would like to see a similar review in the rest of the UK.
  • Transparency, not secrecy: the public have a right to know.
    It is a concern that, particularly in Scotland, some raptor persecution incidents are not made public for many months, or even years, despite the release of such information posing no threat to the integrity of an investigation. The public has a right to know if criminal activity is taking place on their doorstep, especially when, as with poisoning incidents, this poses a risk to public health.

To be perfectly honest, the call for the licensing of driven grouse moors is too little, too late. For many of us the tipping point has now been reached following the recent reports of some truly sadistic and brazen persecution crimes, for example this hen harrier that was caught in an illegally-set spring trap next to his nest on a grouse moor at Leadhills. His leg was almost severed and despite the best efforts of a world-class veterinary specialist, this poor bird didn’t make it.

A licensing system isn’t going to stop the disgusting filthy criminals responsible for this – it’ll be impossible to enforce, just as wildlife protection laws are notoriously difficult to enforce right now. An outright ban on driven grouse shooting will remove the incentive for these crimes, and that’s what we’re calling for. 80,000 people agree (they’ve signed since the petition was launched two weeks ago) but we need 100,000 signatures before Parliament is suspended, as looks likely to happen in a couple of weeks. Please help reach the target and sign the petition here.

The RSPB’s call for a review of grouse shooting is also too little, too late. What do we need another review for? We’ve got decades worth of scientific evidence and hundreds of raptor corpses to know just how damaging driven grouse moor management is, for wildlife, for the environment and for people. Calling for a Werritty-style review will just add further delay to actually dealing with the issue, as we’re currently seeing in Scotland. Just ban it and be done with it (sign the petition if you agree!).

Calling for transparency, not secrecy, over the publication of raptor crimes is something we do support and we’ve been calling for it for years, particularly in Scotland. It’s very noticeable that yet again, in the 2018 poisoning data, the only police force to withhold the name of the poison that’s been used to illegally kill raptors is Police Scotland. All the other forces involved with poisoning investigations have named the poison used.

Having said that, this year (2019) Police Scotland has been a bit more forthcoming about publicising illegal poisoning crimes (e.g. see here and here) although there is still a reluctance to name the poison. But to be fair, Police Scotland has been doing a better job than other public authorities about alerting the public to the dangers (e.g. see here).

Speaking of Scotland, the Birdcrime report shows that 12 confirmed cases were recorded, more than double that recorded in 2017 (take note, Scottish Land & Estates, before you start falsely claiming otherwise). These cases included a peregrine poisoned in the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh; a buzzard found to have been shot twice, in South Lanarkshire; a buzzard caught in an illegal trap, in Inverness-shire; and a hen harrier caught in a spring trap in Perthshire. All of these incidents occurred on, or close to, land being managed intensively for driven grouse shooting.

And guess what? Not a single one of them has led to a prosecution. Nor has SNH issued a single General Licence restriction order in response to these clear crimes. Even more evidence, as if it were needed, that the Scottish Government, just like the Westminster Government, has no control whatsoever over the rampant raptor-killing savages on many driven grouse moors.

Had enough? SIGN THE PETITION PLEASE.

 

28
Aug
19

Eagle owl treated cruelly by gamekeeper Alan Wilson now safely re-homed

Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson, sentenced last week for a litany of vile wildlife crimes on the Longformacus Estate (see here), also had a previous conviction from 2018 when he pleaded guilty to an animal welfare offence.

That conviction related to the cruel mistreatment of an eagle owl, which had been kept in ‘utterly unacceptable living conditions‘ in a pigsty outside his cottage. The owl was confiscated by the SSPCA.

Last week the Daily Record reported that the confiscated owl had now been successfully re-homed by a guy called Keith in West Lothian.

[Eagle owl ‘Wooey’ with new owner Keith. Photo by Daily Record]

The Daily Record article appeared to include a few exaggerations, such as:

Wooey was used to lure raptors including buzzards and endangered hen harriers so that Wilson, 61, could blast them out of the sky with his shotgun on the Longformacus Estate in Berwickshire‘.

Really? I’m not sure there was any evidence of Wilson using the owl to lure hen harriers or any other raptors, although it’s obviously a strong possibility. But that’s not the same as saying it did happen.

The article also claimed that this image (attributed to the Daily Record) showed Wooey before he was rescued:

Actually, this image was taken on a different grouse moor in 2017 and was sent to us by a blog contributor (see here). It might have been Wooey, but it’s just as likely to be another eagle owl being tethered (illegally) by another gamekeeper. This is a well known (illegal) practice on some grouse moors.

Probable exaggerations aside, this is a good news story – well done to the SSPCA and to Keith (re-homer) and to the Daily Record for covering the story.

It’s also a reminder to anyone who sees a tethered owl out on a grouse moor to take photos if possible and report the sighting to both the police (Tel: 101) AND the RSPB’s Raptor Crime Hotline (Tel: 0300 999 0101).

If you’re sick to the back teeth of hearing about wildlife and animal welfare crimes taking place on grouse moors, please consider signing this petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting: PLEASE SIGN HERE

 

28
Aug
19

Excellent blog on mountain hare’s new unfavourable conservation status

Further to the news on Monday (here) that the Mountain hare’s conservation status has been reclassified as being ‘unfavourable’ (largely due to this species being shot on grouse moors), the usual suspects from the grouse shooting industry have been busy tapping out their denials and fantasy counter claims.

For those who prefer an evidence-based approach, this blog (Mountain hare status downgraded to unfavourable in the UK – what does this mean?) written by Dr Hugh Webster is spot on and is highly recommended.

Meanwhile, the latest petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting is heading for its target of 100,000 signatures. Please sign here.

26
Aug
19

Conservation status of mountain hare now ‘unfavourable’ due to shooting on grouse moors

RSPB press release (26 Aug 2019)

RSPB Scotland calls for immediate halt to mountain hare culls on back of shocking new report

Government agency statement on status of protected species and habitats shows alarming decline in species’ population

New data published by the EU revealing the condition of Scottish protected species and habitats has revealed the country’s mountain hare populations have experienced a major decline.

As a result the status of the mountain hare has been downgraded to unfavourable, meaning that special conservation action needs to be undertaken to arrest further declines and aid their recovery.

The main cause of this reclassification has been identified as hunting and game management. Lesser pressures include the impacts of agriculture and habitat loss.

[A pile of dead mountain hares, shot on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens & left to rot. Photo: contributed]

The Article 17 Report requires the Scottish Government to give information on the status of European protected habitats and species. Scottish Natural Heritage, the government’s own natural heritage advisors, have taken the action on the back of new evidence revealing catastrophic mountain hare declines particularly in areas managed for intensive driven grouse shooting activity.

RSPB Scotland have lobbied for many years to improve the protection for mountain hares in Scotland – calling for a moratorium in 2015 on the unregulated culling. Since then shocking new evidence has shown the species – a true emblem of Scotland’s wild places – has declined by over 90% in some sites managed for driven grouse shooting in spite of claims from the shooting industry that numbers remain healthy.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, said: “We have been extremely concerned about the state of our mountain hare populations for many years.

In the last 12 months new, robust evidence has shown that populations have declined precipitously, chiefly in areas managed for driven grouse shooting.  This reclassification to unfavourable status demands urgent action.

Duncan continued: “The recognition from Scottish Government’s own advisors that the mountain hare population is now unfavourable means that increased protection of this iconic species is needed. Self-regulation and claimed ‘voluntary restraint’ from culling by the industry has been nothing short of a pitiful failure.

We urge the Scottish Government to take action where the industry has not and to urgently increase the protection of mountain hares in Scotland until their status is secured.

ENDS

Meanwhile, the latest petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting is heading for its target of 100,000 signatures. Please sign here.

22
Aug
19

Eagle persecution to be highlighted at Edinburgh International Book Festival

The illegal killing of eagles on Scottish grouse moors will reach a new audience on Friday when its highlighted in an hour-long session at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Multi-award-winning children’s author Gill Lewis will be featuring her latest book, Eagle Warrior, which was inspired by the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged golden eagle Fred in January 2018.

You can learn more about Gill in this fascinating recent podcast with Charlie Moores here

Gill will be joined on stage by raptor conservationist and RPUK blogger Ruth Tingay, who’ll place Fred’s suspicious disappearance in to context with all the other eagles that have either been found shot, trapped or poisoned on grouse moors in Scotland, or have ‘vanished’ on those moors without a trace, despite wearing the most advanced satellite trackers available.

Ruth and Gill be on stage in the Baillie Gifford Corner Theatre at 15.45hrs.

This event will also provide an excellent opportunity to hand out some more postcards, featuring a golden eagle photographed by Chris Packham, encouraging festival-goers to sign the petition to ban driven grouse shooting, currently at 73,470 signatures (100,000 needed).

Incidentally, if anyone would like one of these postcards to show to friends, family, work colleagues etc to encourage them to sign the petition, (just use the camera on your smartphone to scan the QR code & the link to the petition will appear), Wild Justice can send you one. Please follow the instructions here.




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