Archive for September, 2019

29
Sep
19

Two of the five brood meddled hen harrier chicks have ‘disappeared’

Well, well, well.

As predicted by absolutely everybody with half a brain, some of this year’s brood meddled hen harrier chicks have ‘disappeared’ and it’s not even the end of September. Quelle surprise!

However, if you’d just seen the Moorland Association’s headline and first few paragraphs of their press release you’d never know that two of the five have disappeared in suspicious circumstances. This latest media output is perhaps the most disingenuous we’ve ever seen from the Moorland Association, and that’s saying something from an organisation notorious for distorting the facts!

In fact you have to get down as far as paragraph six before you’re told that two have disappeared, although the text doesn’t actually tell you that they’ve disappeared. Here’s the full press release, just for the record:

It’s quite the masterclass in distraction techniques, isn’t it?!

Mark Avery has already pulled apart some of this press release (see here) including comments about the maps not matching the text.

What we’re interested in is this:

  1. When did these two birds disappear? No dates are provided in the press release.
  2. In which county or counties did these two birds disappear? There is no geographic location provided in the press release. [See update at foot of blog]
  3. On what type of habitat did the last known fix come from for each tag? Was it a grouse moor in one or both cases?
  4. Were the last two locations on land owned/managed by Moorland Association members?
  5. What sort of tags were the two birds carrying and what were the details of each tag’s transmission cycle? (i.e. how many data transfer cycles have now passed without data being transmitted)?
  6. Who is monitoring the tag data?
  7. Have the police been informed? If so, who informed them? Was it the Moorland Association or was it somebody else?
  8. Are these two disappearances the subject of a live police investigation? [See update at foot of blog]
  9. Have the police been given access to the tag data?
  10. Have any police searches been carried out? If yes, were these searches undertaken without giving the landowner prior notification?
  11. Why hasn’t Natural England made a statement?
  12. What is Natural England’s policy for declaring the brood meddling trial a failure? i.e. How many satellite tagged brood meddled chicks have to ‘disappear’ before Natural England makes that declaration? One? Two? Three? Four? Five? This question was actually put to Natural England during a recent meeting between Wild Justice & Natural England’s interim CEO and one of its Directors. Natural England said they didn’t know but would find out. So far they haven’t come back with an answer.
  13. When will DEFRA acknowledge that the grouse shooting industry is completely out of control and unable to self-regulate?
  14. And when will DEFRA do something about it?

For those who might have missed it, here’s what the Government-commissioned science says about satellite-tagged hen harriers in northern England – 72% of those tagged so far [by Natural England] have been done in on grouse moors (see here). We await the results of the RSPB’s five-year tagging data with interest.

And for those who might have missed it, here’s the Moorland Association practically begging its members not to kill any hen harriers this year (see here).

UPDATE midnight:

Police Supt Nick Lyall has tweeted the following this evening:

UPDATE 1 October 2019: Moorland Association’s brood meddling press release amounts to abuse of process (here)

UPDATE 3 October 2019: When will Natural England pull the plug on hen harrier brood meddling? (here)

UPDATE 4 October 2019: Brood meddled hen harrier chick vanished from grouse moor on Bowes Estate, County Durham (here)

UPDATE 8 October 2019: 2nd brood meddled hen harrier chick vanished from grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

UPDATE 15 October 2019: 3rd brood meddled hen harrier ‘disappears’ in suspicious circumstances (here)

26
Sep
19

10,000 consultation responses for proposed bill to ban fox & mountain hare killing in Scotland

Press release from Scottish Greens (22 Sept 2019)

Fox and Hare Bill receives almost 10,000 consultation responses

Alison Johnstone MSP has welcomed the astonishing response to her Fox and Hare member’s bill consultation, which has received almost 10,000 responses from organisations and members of the public. This means the proposal is now the second most responded to member’s bill consultation of all time.

The consultation on the proposed bill, which will officially be known as the Protection and Conservation of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill, received 9850 electronic submissions with around 100 paper submissions.

The Scottish Government have previously stated they would act to end the mass slaughter of Scotland’s iconic wildlife, but given the absence of proposals in the programme for government, and recent revelations that a senior cabinet minister supports hunting (see here), it’s clear that Ms Johnstone’s bill is now the only game in town.

[Alison Johnstone MSP launched her fox and hare bill consultation in June. Photo by Gordon Terris]

Alison Johnstone MSP said:

I’m delighted that the consultation on my proposed bill has received such an astonishing response. I’m grateful for the support I’ve received from constituents, colleagues and stakeholders. Although the responses need to be individually analysed over the coming months, I am confident that the they will show overwhelming support for bring the indiscriminate killing of Scotland’s foxes and hares to an end.

Foxes and hares are iconic species that are widely celebrated in popular culture and valued by rural and urban Scots alike. They deserve our compassion and respect, yet they are routinely slaughtered across the country in huge numbers.

Fox hunting was meant to have been banned in Scotland in 2002, but little has changed. Hunts still go out, pursuing and killing foxes, and foxes are still being killed by hunting dogs. My proposal would remove the loopholes and result in a watertight ban, ending hunting for good. Politicians have repeatedly promised to end hunting, and the Parliament passed the Protection of Wild Mammals Act back in its very first session. For hunting to continue despite this leads to distrust in our institutions and those leading them. My proposals would represent a new contract between land managers and the wider public that could help restore good faith.

Mountain hares are routinely being killed in huge numbers on grouse moors in particular, with an average of 26,000 killed every year. This is a native species whose population has crashed in some parts of the Highlands, and there is simply no justification for the killing.”

ENDS

25
Sep
19

Red kite illegally poisoned in North Yorkshire

Toxicology testing (by WIIS – Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme) has confirmed that a dead red kite that was found ‘recently’ near Thixendale, North Yorkshire was illegally poisoned with the banned pesticide Carbofuran, according to local raptor rehabilitator Jean Thorpe.

We haven’t been able to find any further information about this crime.

[The poisoned red kite. Photo from Jean Thorpe]

 

 

24
Sep
19

Wales leads the way with impressive new General Licences

Earlier this year Wild Justice successfully challenged Natural England over the unlawfulness of three General Licences, which, Wild Justice had argued, authorised the casual killing of millions of birds without adequate monitoring or regulation.

Whilst we await the outcome of the subsequent Government consultation and review of new General Licences for England by DEFRA and Natural England, the Welsh statutory conservation agency, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has quietly and efficiently got on with its own review of the Welsh General Licences after seeking legal advice and realising that, just like the English General Licences, the Welsh ones were actually unlawful too.

A couple of weeks ago Wild Justice wrote a blog about the proposed new Welsh General Licences, including rumours about how good they might be and the game-shooting industry’s hysteria about the as yet unpublished new regulations.

Yesterday, NRW confirmed that it would be issuing three brand new General Licences on 7 October 2019 and explained some of the big changes that have been made, including changes to the species covered by the new General Licences where NRW felt the evidence to retain them on the General Licence approach was not strong enough, as follows:

  1. GL001 – Prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables or fruit or to prevent the spread of disease to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables or fruit. This will not now include rook, jay or collared dove. We have also revised the purpose of this General Licence so as to be for the spread of disease to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables or fruit.
  2. GL002 – Preserving public health and preventing the spread of disease. This will not now include carrion crow, magpie, jackdaw, rook, jay, collared dove or wood pigeon.
  3. GL004 – Conservation of wild birds. This will not now include rook, feral pigeon or Canada goose.

These changes are significant, particularly for the Rook which has now been removed from all three licences, and the Jay which has been removed from two licences.

[Rook by Vishnevskiy/Alamy]

It’s probably worth emphasising here (in advance of inaccurate headline hysteria by the Daily Mail, Telegraph, shooting press et al) that this doesn’t mean that Rooks and Jays can’t ever be killed; it just means that in those circumstances where land managers can demonstrate a need and can provide evidence that non-lethal control methods have failed, then NRW will consider issuing individual licences to kill these species under very specific and controlled circumstances. There’ll be no more casual killing as there was before.

For GL004 – Conservation of Wild Birds – the removal of the Rook was exactly what Wild Justice had argued for in England, because there is simply no scientific justification for it on the grounds of protecting wild birds (nor Jays, Jackdaws or Magpies).

NRW hasn’t yet published the new General Licences and probably won’t until they become active on 7th October so it’s a bit difficult to comment in detail at the moment, although NRW has provided a series of Q&As (here).

Naturally, NRW’s announcement about the revised General Licences has been met with a furious reaction by the National Gamekeepers Organisation (see here) and no doubt their mates at BASC, Countryside Alliance, GWCT etc will all be claiming the sky is falling in by this morning. There’ll be warnings of a plague of Rooks bringing pestilence across the nation and how their wings will block out the sun and their beaks will peck out the eyes of babies and toddlers.

The Gamekeepers are apparently considering a potential legal challenge against NRW’s decision-making (in the form of a Judicial Review) which is really quite funny when you consider the slurs chucked at Wild Justice by the game shooting industry for er, undertaking a legal challenge (for example ‘another extremist attack’ and engaging in ‘childish eco-politics’).

It’s not yet clear whether there will be grounds for a Judicial Review (although that’s a decision for a judge to make) but NRW’s statement about undertaking a formal review of all bird control licensing in 2020 may well just scupper the chance of an immediate Judicial Review application being accepted anyway – because why waste a court’s time when a review is already planned? (This is the same legal tactic that’s been used by Natural England and DEFRA to delay Wild Justice’s legal challenges against the General Licences and the release of millions of non-native gamebirds).

Well done to Natural Resources Wales for refusing to be bullied in to submission by those with vested interests in the status quo, and particularly well done for placing importance on scientific evidence and the law above old wives’ tales and rural myths.

We look forward to seeing the details of the new Welsh General Licences and particularly watching how Natural England/DEFRA reacts as well as SNH, also currently consulting and reviewing the Scottish General Licences and apparently ‘considering the merits’ of adding Ravens to at least one of the General Licences for unregulated slaughter. Rest assured, there will be another legal challenge if they try and pull that stunt.

 

23
Sep
19

5 October: Celebrate Hen Harriers at Chris Packham’s kite flying event, Box Hill

Chris Packham has organised another pop-up conservation event, this time with the focus on Hen Harriers.

Saturday 5th October from 1pm at Box Hill, Surrey:

23
Sep
19

Pre-Werritty propaganda from grouse shooting industry

As we all continue to wait for the publication of Professor Werritty’s report on driven grouse shooting, the usual suspects have been busy putting together a damage limitation programme to save their sorry necks.

An ‘informal alliance’ has been created under the banner of RELM (Rural Environment Land Management) ‘to help co-ordinate and streamline responses and communications ahead of the publication of the final report‘ and its first offering is this briefing document for MSPs which was distributed by Scottish Land & Estates a couple of weeks ago:

Here’s the intro blurb:

Grouse moor management has been the subject of much attention during the summer period across a range of issues such as the environment and species conservation, satellite tagging and wildlife crime, mountain hares and the start of the season on August 12.

With the Scottish Government’s review into grouse moor management due to be published shortly, rural organisations wished to provide the following update to parliamentarians. We would be pleased to provide additional detail where required.

Ah, how thoughtful. Amusingly, several MSPs have sent us a copy of this briefing document with comments along the lines of ‘You might want to say a few things about this’.

We’re grateful to those MSPs because yes, we do want to say a few things about the document’s contents and we wouldn’t otherwise have had an opportunity had they not shared the briefing with us.

We’re not posting the full briefing document here, yet. Instead we intend to blog about different aspects of it in turn.

Today we’re looking at the page entitled ‘Wildlife Crime’ and its five paragraphs of propaganda:

Propaganda paragraph 1:

Yes, significant media attention does remain focused on wildlife crime, and particularly illegal raptor persecution because everyone else finds it abhorrent and can’t understand why it still goes on and why the grouse shooting industry continues to shield the criminals involved. It’d be interesting to know what, exactly, these five organisations have done to crack down on raptor persecution as part of their claimed ‘full commitment to improving prevention, detection and prosecution’.

Propaganda paragraph 2:

No surprises here. This is a blatant attempt, yet again, to discredit the RSPB’s annual Birdcrime Report which was published a couple of weeks ago and showed that confirmed raptor persecution crimes in Scotland in 2018 had doubled from those recorded in 2017. 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.

With this level of relentless criminality, it’s no wonder the grouse shooting industry apologists want to infer that the RSPB’s data are ‘unofficial’. Fine. We’ll come back to this later this autumn when the Government publishes its annual wildlife crime report, which we know will include all of the confirmed incidents already reported by the RSPB.

Propaganda paragraph 3:

This is perhaps the most cynical of attempts to downplay the disgusting reality of the criminality still being committed on some driven grouse moors. And the first sentence of paragraph 3 is actually a lie. Not being pursued by Police Scotland? Er, ALL the cases of alleged raptor persecution that have been reported from grouse moors over the last few months are still considered to be live criminal investigations by the Police, according to the investigations officer we spoke to yesterday.

So, the satellite-tagged hen harrier that was found dead on a grouse moor in Strathbraan with an illegal spring trap clamped to its leg – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The two satellite-tagged golden eagles (Adam and Charlie) that ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on another grouse moor in Strathbraan, on the same morning as each other – they’re still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police (as are several other alleged offences uncovered during the police search).

The hen harrier that was found caught by its leg in a spring trap that had been set illegally next to its nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The buzzard that was caught inside a legal cage trap on the same South Lanarkshire grouse moor but was then allegedly beaten to death by someone arriving on a quad bike after dark and using a key to open the padlocked door of the cage – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The young golden eagle that was photographed flying around in the Cairngorms National Park with an illegal trap clamped to its leg – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

And as for the claim that estates have issued ‘unprecedented and emphatic rebuttals’ – er, there’s nothing unprecedented about that! Estates have always denied any involvement in any of the wildlife crimes that have been uncovered on their land – it’s what they do!

Propaganda paragraph 4:

Ah yes, convicted gamekeeper Alan Wilson, dubbed by the press as ‘Scotland’s worst wildlife killer‘. Yet again, the link between Wilson’s filthy criminal activity uncovered at Henlaw Wood and driven grouse shooting is kept well hidden. Yes, the Longformacus Estate was managed for low ground pheasant shooting but it was also managed for driven grouse shooting – a fact that Scottish Land & Estates doesn’t like to mention!

And speaking of Scottish Land & Estates and it’s so-called ‘full commitment’ to tackling wildlife crime, it still hasn’t said whether the Longformacus Estate was a member at the time these crimes were committed and if so, whether that membership has now been terminated? We asked SLE this question on 22 August 2019. Still waiting for an answer….

Propaganda paragraph 5:

Of course they continue to call for tougher penalties – how can they not? But they know as well as we do that the severity of the penalty is utterly irrelevant if the perpetrators of these crimes can’t even be identified, let alone prosecuted.

And as long as evidence continues to be destroyed and employers continue to shield their criminal employees by instructing them to give ‘no comment’ interviews to the police, nothing will change.

Fortunately, there are more and more savvy MSPs in the Scottish Parliament who have seen through the greenwash and know exactly what’s going on. If you think your MSP isn’t one of those, it’d be worth dropping them an email with a link to this blog.

18
Sep
19

Damning report highlights illegal killing of birds of prey on Nidderdale AONB grouse moors

The Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is an absolute hell hole for many birds of prey.

[Photo: Ruth Tingay]

This is no secret. The illegal killing of raptors on the grouse moors of this AONB has been documented and reported on for years, by the RSPB and by this blog. The area is notorious amongst raptor conservationists for the number of hen harriers that ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances (that’s a euphemism for ‘they have been killed’) and the number of red kite corpses that have been found either shot or poisoned, or sometimes both.

It’s a gaping black hole on the breeding distribution maps of many raptor species and despite this being a so-called protected area, in the words of Mark Avery it’s actually a massive wildlife crime scene.

Here’s a map we produced a while ago showing the boundary of the Nidderdale AONB (yellow line), illegally killed red kites (red dots), missing satellite-tagged hen harriers (orange stars), shot hen harrier Bowland Betty (red star), shot hen harrier River (red triangle, which we now know should be closer to the red star on the Swinton Estate).

Nidderdale AONB lies directly east of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, another raptor persecution hell hole. Last year, the Park Authority responded to public concerns about the killing of raptors on grouse moors by producing an evidence report on the scale of the problem. As we wrote at the time, ‘This report, which is very well written and referenced, is a significant move. There’s no attempt to deny or hide or obfuscate the facts, as we’ve seen so often before. It is a clear description of what’s been happening in this National Park and places grouse moor management at the centre of it all. It’s well worth a read‘.

Fast forward a year and now the Nidderdale AONB has done exactly the same:

You can download the report here: BoP-in-NiddAONB-Evidence-Report-FINAL-Sept-2019

It’s another well-written, fully-referenced report and there’s no hint of denial or obfuscation. It is particularly pleasing to see the use of RSPB persecution data, not just the inaccurate, out of date, watered-down RPPDG data that some pro-shooting organisations rely upon to minimise the perceived scale of the problem. Once again, the report’s conclusion is that grouse moor management is in the frame.

Well done to the author(s) of this report and well done to the Nidderdale AONB for having the balls to publish it.




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