Archive for October, 2019

22
Oct
19

Is SNH about to impose a General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate?

Last week RSPB Scotland published a blog called ‘Why vicarious liability is failing to have an impact in Scotland‘.

Written by Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species & Land Management, it’s the latest in a series, following on from the excellent blog challenging the Scottish Gamekeepers’ ignorance on satellite tags, written by Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland.

Duncan’s blog is well worth a read. It questions the Crown Office’s recent decision not to prosecute anyone for alleged vicarious liability following the conviction of Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson for a series of barbaric wildlife crimes on the Longformacus Estate in the Scottish Borders.

It also considers the potential benefits of having the threat of a vicarious liability prosecution, and how this may have driven down the use of illegal poisons as a method of killing raptors, but been replaced by shooting and trapping methods which are much harder to detect.

The really interesting part of the blog, as far as we’re concerned, is the section on the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire. Blog readers will recall this is where a male hen harrier was found with an almost severed leg caught in an illegally-set spring trap next to his nest earlier this summer. Despite the heroic efforts of a number of experts, he didn’t survive. The estate denied all knowledge and responsibility and nobody has been charged.

[The trapped hen harrier found on Leadhills Estate. Photo by Scottish Raptor Study Group]

Regular blog readers will know this poor hen harrier is not the only victim reported from the Leadhills Estate. The list is long and goes back more than a decade (e.g. scroll down this page). Duncan’s blog discusses some of the most recent incidents including the witnessed shooting of a hen harrier in May 2017; the witnessed shooting of a short-eared owl just a few weeks later and whose body was recovered; the discovery of a buzzard in 2018 that was found to have been shot twice; and the filmed buzzard that according to the RSPB was likely killed in a crow trap in January 2019.

Nobody has been charged for any of the above, but significantly, Duncan’s blog says this:

“We are advised that only now is an Open General Licence restriction, another sanction in the public authority wildlife crime “toolbox”, to be imposed here”.

SNH has had the power to impose General Licence restrictions since 1 January 2014. This was instigated by former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to continuing difficulties of securing criminal prosecutions and was an instruction to SNH to withdraw the use of the General Licence (available for legal predator control) on land where crimes against raptors are believed to have taken place but where there is insufficient evidence to instigate criminal proceedings. The decision to withdraw the licence is based on the civil standard of proof which relates to the balance of probability as opposed to the higher standard of proof required for a criminal conviction.

This measure is not without its limitations, particularly as estates can simply apply for an individual licence instead which allows them to continue predator control activities but under slightly closer scrutiny.

SNH has only imposed four such restrictions since 2014 – a pathetically small figure when we are aware of at least a dozen other cases where a restriction should have been applied. SNH has claimed it is ‘not in the public interest‘ to explain those failures.

We’ve looked on the SNH website to see whether Leadhills Estate has been listed as having a General Licence restriction imposed (SNH does publicise the details when it imposes the restriction) but so far Leadhills Estate is not named. Potentially the estate has been notified and is currently in the period where it may challenge SNH’s decision, as per the framework for a General Licence restriction.

Watch this space.

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21
Oct
19

More detail emerges about SSPCA/Police Scotland raid at Millden Estate

A couple of weeks ago the Scottish SPCA, assisted by Police Scotland, conducted a pre-dawn raid on properties in Angus and Aberdeenshire as part of an investigation in to suspected animal fighting (see here).

This story has attracted huge media attention and more details have been emerging as journalists begin to dig.

The first insight came when journalist David Leask from The Herald exclusively revealed that the property raided in Angus was the Millden Estate, a grouse shooting estate in the Angus Glens (see here). We learned that as a result of the raid, the estate had suspended an employee pending further investigation.

We’ve now learned that the suspended employee was apparently a gamekeeper, according to this article by Charlie Parker in The Times, published two days ago:

Some may already have made the assumption that the suspended employee was a gamekeeper but this wasn’t previously clear; Millden Estate employs multiple people in multiple roles and they’re not all gamekeepers (e.g. in the Millden Estate 2011 sales brochure 16 employees were listed).

We’ve also learned something else about this raid. It had previously been reported that the SSPCA had seized dogs during the raid at Millden but their condition was unreported. However, according to this article by Jim Millar in The Courier, an SSPCA spokesperson is quoted as follows:

We were made aware of animal fighting and secured a warrant to investigate further. This has been a successful raid and we are happy with the outcome. We have seized a number of dogs, which have injuries consistent with animal fighting and taken them into our care where they are getting all the love and attention they need“.

There is still no further detail about the dead buzzards that were reportedly recovered by the police/SSPCA, nor any indication of how they died.

We’ll await further information as and when the investigating authorities publish it. At this stage we are not aware of anyone being charged with any offences.

Sorry but as this is a live investigation we won’t be accepting any comments on this post.

For those of you interested in this case and in the wider issue of wild mammal persecution, you might be interested in this new blog: Wild Mammal Persecution UK. It’s written anonymously (although we know who the authors are and they’re credible) and is well worth a follow.

21
Oct
19

Missing hen harrier Rosie reported to be alive and well

Following last Thursday’s news that a fourth satellite tagged hen harrier had ‘disappeared’ this autumn  – one called Rosie who vanished in Northumberland on an unknown date (here), news emerged last night on Supt Nick Lyall’s twitter feed that apparently she is alive and well.

There is no further detail at the moment.

[Hen harrier Rosie, photograph from Natural England]

We’d be very interested to find out from Natural England when, exactly, they called this bird as ‘missing’ (the original appeal for information from Northumbria Police strangely excluded this detail) and for how long the tag was actually offline.

If it was a genuine technical tag malfunction then nobody should be the least bit surprised. Assuming Rosie’s tag is the same type of tag as used in previous years, it’s known to have a 94% reliability rate. We’re aware of only one other hen harrier tag that was listed as a ‘stop no malfunction’ (i.e. a suspicious disappearance) but the bird was identified alive and well several months later (‘Highlander‘, a HH tagged by the RSPB) so if Rosie’s tag has temporarily malfunctioned that’s well within the expected 6% failure rate.

And of course even if this was a genuine tag malfunction it doesn’t change the fact that three of the five brood meddled hen harriers are still missing in suspicious circumstances and that 72% of all hen harriers sat tagged by Natural England have either been illegally killed or have disappeared presumed illegally killed on grouse moors. We’re expecting to see a similar figure from RSPB -tagged harriers when their tag analyses have been completed.

20
Oct
19

Police called as grouse shooting supporters threaten disruption at Packham gig in Harrogate

A small gaggle of anti-Chris Packham pro-grouse shooting protesters turned up in Harrogate last night to demonstrate outside the theatre where Chris Packham was presenting a show to help raise awareness of wildlife in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

[Photo by Gary Lawson]

Much to the bemusement (and amusement) of theatre-goers, the protesters held banners aloft claiming ‘Packham’s lies are destroying moorland communities‘ and ‘Pack it in Packham you are destroying our jobs‘.

Er, no, that’ll be the unidentified criminals in Nidderdale, who not only are poisoning and shooting red kites, hen harriers, buzzards, marsh harriers on Nidderdale grouse moors (as reported by the AONB partnership just last month), but who have also managed to turn the local community against them, all by themselves. Unsurprising really, when according to the Chair of the Nidderdale AONB these crimes are “starting to have a damaging effect on tourism businesses”. 

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).

According to one of the organisers of Chris’s event at the theatre yesterday, she told us that her social media accounts promoting the event had been “inundated with a relentless list of abusive responses” from those within the game-shooting industry and how shocked she’d been at the “depth of hatred and nastiness” from the pro-shooting trolls. They’ve got a lot to learn about winning friends and influencing people!

It’s not known if any of those abusive trolls were present at the protest last night but she told us that when she went outside to speak to the protesters about their “aggressive chanting” and to ask them to be respectful of theatre-goers she was told that they intended to come inside and disrupt the event to make sure they were heard. The police were called to ensure the protesters didn’t turn violent.

It’s believed a few of them did have tickets to enter the theatre but no trouble was reported. Not even when Chris started talking about Nidderdale’s reputation as being one of the worst raptor-killing hotspots in the entire country; not a claim he’d made up at all but a factual statement that has been robustly evidenced, including by the AONB Partnership’s very own report.

So who were last night’s protesters?

Well, it turns out they’re quite an interesting bunch. According to this website it’s a newly formed group called ‘Campaign 4 Protection of Moorland Communities’. Here’s a copy of the group’s web report about last night’s protest:

Moorland communities protest in Harrogate against unjust attacks on their livelihoods

Demonstrators from the Yorkshire Moorland Communities braved the weather to take a message to BBC Presenter Chris Packham as he arrived at the Royal Hall in Harrogate to give a talk this evening (Saturday, 19th October).

That message could not have been clearer: livelihoods and whole communities are under threat by misleading statements and actions by the likes of Chris Packham.

[Photo from Campaign 4 Protection of Moorland Communities]

A famously outspoken critic of driven grouse shooting, the presenter, campaigner and author was met outside the theatre by over 100 fed-up members of the moorland communities, who depend on moorland activities for their livelihoods. They held placards reading “Chris Packham – ignoring science since 04.05.1961!” (Packham’s date of birth), and a large banner declared: “Moorlands are our lives, our livelihood and our community. We stand in unity to protect them.”

Chris Packham and his followers are wilfully misrepresenting facts and distorting clear scientific evidence” said Roy Burrow’s, estate manager at a nearby moorland. “These are large communities who live and work in these uplands, and rely on the moorland for their livelihoods. The simple fact is that stopping grouse shooting, or rewilding the moor, could destroy many local businesses, local livelihoods and the very social fabric that makes the moorlands such a wonderful place to live in and to visit.”

Packham makes no secret of his dislike for grouse shooting, frequently posting about it on social media. He even spoke at last month’s Green Party conference about his campaign to ban driven grouse shooting. However, many argue that the BBC should not allow him to use his platform to promote his personal agenda when there is extensive scientific evidence available to show the environmental and conservational benefits brought from well managed moorlands.

The protestors sang chants including: “From bus drivers to gamekeepers, together we thrive, we need to protect, moorland community lives”.

A spokesperson for The Campaign for the Protection of Moorland Communities, said: “The moorland management system which grouse shooting sustains creates a unique landscape that encourages rare and endangered wildlife, as well as being the foundation of the moorland area’s rural economy. This is reinforced by clear scientific evidence, which is too often wilfully ignored by our opponents. The facts are very clear: without grouse shooting these areas would lose millions of pounds in investment each year causing lives and livelihoods would be destroyed, alongside one of Britain’s most unique habitats. It is disgraceful that a rich celebrity from Hampshire thinks it is okay to dictate to the hard-working people of Yorkshire how we should live our lives. Moorland and other rural communities seem to be the only cultural minority Chris Packham and others think it is okay to abuse. Enough is enough.”

ENDS

It’s ironic that the group accuses Chris of abusing a cultural minority. According to our own research, one of the main instigators behind this new group appears to be someone called Simon Grace, ‘a shooting enthusiast’ from Yorkshire (the old guy with the white hair behind the banner, above, and the guy holding the megaphone, far right (appropriately) in the photo of the protesters at the top of this blog), whose activities have previously been promoted by articles in Shooting Times and on the Fieldsports TV website.

Simon Grace’s twitter feed makes for a fascinating read and perhaps explains why he’s managed to attract only four followers since June 2016.

He’s not a racist, homophobic xenophobe abusing cultural minorities. No siree Bob. Not at all.

What is it about game shooting and hunt supporters that attracts the right wing mob? There’s probably a PhD topic there for someone.

18
Oct
19

Decision on next Hen Harrier brood meddling licence to ‘take into account the results to date’

Yesterday, before the news that a fourth satellite-tagged hen harrier had vanished in suspicious circumstances this autumn (see here), DEFRA published the following blog:

We’re still waiting to learn from Natural England what, exactly, is the exit strategy for the hen harrier brood meddling trial and specifically, what are the criteria for making that decision?

Well what a relief to learn that the decision on whether to renew the hen harrier brood meddling licence ‘will take into account the results to date‘.

Those ‘results’ will be the suspicious disappearance of three of this year’s five brood meddled hen harriers (we understand the two surviving brood meddled birds have flown off to France) plus the suspicious disappearance of at least one other satellite-tagged hen harrier (Rosie) in recent weeks and there’s absolutely no doubt there’ll be more before this year is out.

The decision whether to renew or not should be easy and it should already have been made. Nobody in their right mind can think that brood meddling has (a) been successful and (b) is in any way helping hen harrier conservation.

But then look at that last paragraph in the DEFRA blog, above. It claims that the ‘ultimate aim’ of the DEFRA Hen Harrier (In)Action Plan, of which brood meddling is a part, is to ‘reduce hen harrier predation of grouse chicks on driven grouse moors……’

Eh?

Why is a Government department (DEFRA) and the statutory conservation agency (Natural England) focusing on protecting excessive numbers of red grouse (that are going to be shot for fun) at the expense of a protected red-listed bird of prey in population free-fall due to illegal killing on aforementioned grouse moors?

17
Oct
19

Another satellite-tagged hen harrier goes missing – Northumbria Police appeal for info

A fourth young hen harrier has vanished in suspicious circumstances this year.

The first three disappeared in September from moors in County Durham (here) and the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here and here).

The latest one to go, ‘Rosie’ is not believed to be part of Natural England’s outrageous brood meddling trial, but is believed to have hatched at a protected nest site in Northumberland earlier this summer and tagged by Natural England staff.

[Photo from Northumbria Police]

Here is the appeal for information issued by Northumbria Police this afternoon:

Unfortunately it does not say when this hen harrier disappeared nor does it give any more specific location than ‘near Whittingham’. (Come on Northumbria Police, this is basic information).

Whittingham is a village and parish just outside the Northumberland National Park, as outlined on these two Google maps:

UPDATE 20 October 2019: 

Sup Nick Lyall has tweeted this evening to say Rosie is alive and well. No further information has been provided.

UPDATE 21 October 2019: Missing hen harrier Rosie reported to be alive and well (here)

17
Oct
19

Millden Estate named in joint SSPCA/Police raid as part of investigation in to suspected animal cruelty

Further to Monday’s blog about a joint Scottish SPCA/Police Scotland raid on various properties as part of an investigation in to suspected animal fighting (here), it has emerged that one of the addresses was the Millden Estate in the Angus Glens.

An exclusive article by journalist David Leask is on the front page of this morning’s Herald and reads as follows:

This looks to be a significant investigation, led by the Scottish SPCA and supported by Police Scotland, with input from other partner agencies including the RSPB.

Further updates will be posted as they become available.

Please note, as this is a live investigation we will not be accepting any comments on this blog.




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