Archive for November, 2019


Public talk: southern reintroduction hen harrier project

Somerset Wildlife Trust is hosting a public talk on Natural England’s proposed southern reintroduction of hen harriers.

This controversial plan is part of DEFRA’s ludicrous Hen Harrier InAction Plan and is due to begin in 2020 with birds donated from Spain being reintroduced to Wiltshire (more on these details in due course – we’re currently reviewing some FoI docs).

The talk is on Tues 11th February 2020 (7.30-9.30pm) at the Parish Rooms in Somerton, where Flemming Ulf-Hansen from Natural England will ‘explain what has been involved’.

£3 on the door for members, £4 for non-members, under 16s free.

We’ve blogged extensively about the southern reintroduction project for the last three years. Here are the links for those who’d like to do some background reading:

28 Nov 2016 – Hen Harrier reintroduction to southern England: an update (here)

3 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the feasibility/scoping report (here)

8 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the project group and their timeline (here)

9 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: who’s funding it? (here)

9 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: a bonkers proposal for Exmoor National Park (here)

12 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Wiltshire (here)

14 Feb 2017: Leaked email reveals Natural England’s views on Hen Harrier Action Plan (here)

23 Feb 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: donor countries (here)

19 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: new project manager appointed (here)

20 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Dartmoor as potential new release site (here)

20 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: revised costs (here)

21 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: project team vists France (here)

27 July 2017: RSPB statement on hen harrier reintroduction to southern England (here)

15 Aug 2017: Natural England Board making up justification for hen harrier southern reintroduction (here)

24 October 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Natural England delays release of information (here)

11 December 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: report of fieldtrip to France (potential donor country) (here)

12 December 2017: 2018 start date for reintroduction of hen harrier to southern England? (here)

14 January 2018: Stop illegal persecution then no need for reintroduction of hen harrier to southern England, says DEFRA Minister (here)

13 March 2018: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: has France said “Non”? (here)

28 Feb 2019: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Vulcan’ disappears nr proposed reintroduction site in southern England (here)

10 March 2019: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Natural England suggests persecution not an issue (here)



No application lodged to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales

In February this year, amidst a blaze of publicity and fanfare, it was claimed that plans to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales were well underway and that a licence application to Natural Resources Wales (NRW) would be lodged by July.

The claim was made by Dr Paul O’Donoghue of ‘Wilder Britain‘, also the individual behind last year’s failed application to reintroduce Lynx to Kielder (Lynx UK Trust) and the individual involved with recent legal action against Andy Wightman MSP for alleged defamation (Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC).

[Dr Paul O’Donoghue, photographed by Paul Paterson @tighnabruaich1 at a fractious community meeting earlier this year]

We blogged about O’Donoghue’s golden eagle plans in February and how they contrasted with the legitimate reintroduction plans of a different group, Eagle Reintroduction Wales (see here) and this story was later picked up by Private Eye (see here).

Nine months on and we were curious to read Dr O’Donoghue’s licence application to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales and even more curious to see how NRW had responded, so we submitted a Freedom of Information request for the details.

NRW has responded with this:

How interesting.

Meanwhile, Dr Rob Thomas (@RobThomas14) from the alternative Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project told us, “We are increasingly well supported by the Wildlife Trusts of South and West Wales but we feel we are several years away from any possible licence application, with the biological phases nearing completion but much still to do next in terms of engagement with farmers, shooters, tourism interests and other stakeholders“.


Disturbing in every sense: a local’s shocking portrait of a pheasant shoot

Yesterday evening we were sent a link via Twitter to the following website: Seven Years On

The website name didn’t mean anything, nor did the byline, ‘Snared by a driven pheasant shoot: a story of dishonour and arbitrary power in the British countryside‘.

[Photographed through the cottage window, by @SevenYearsOn1]

It took a while to understand what it was all about but gradually, flicking through the various sub-headings, a story emerges that will resonate with many others – indeed it already is doing on Twitter.

The author of the website (@SevenYearsOn1) is calling for a statutory right to know the proximity of driven pheasant shoots in relation to domestic dwellings. When you read about what she’s had to put up with over the years, it’s hard to disagree.


Buzzard shot & wounded in Co Tyrone

From the Belfast Telegraph (14/11/19):


A bird of prey is recovering after being shot three times in Co Tyrone.

X-rays performed by Omagh practice Corry & O’Hare Vets revealed that the buzzard had received a fractured bone following the attack in Newtownstewart.

Three round pellets were also found lodged in various parts of the female bird’s body.

It is unclear whether or not the buzzard – a species afforded the highest level of wildlife protection – was shot deliberately.

As it is illegal to hunt protected birds, the incident has been reported to the PSNI.

The penalty for committing a wildlife crime in Northern Ireland – including shooting, poisoning, trapping and nest destruction of a bird of prey – is a fine of up to £5,000 and a six-month custodial sentence.

Louise O’Hare from Corry & O’Hare Vets said the injured bird was brought to them last week after being found unable to fly by a member of the public.


It’s good that this shooting has been reported in the media but the quality of reporting is pretty poor. If those ‘three round pellets’ found in the buzzard’s body were shotgun pellets it’s likely the bird was hit once and sprayed with shot, not ‘shot three times’. And does it matter whether the buzzard was targeted deliberately or not? If it wasn’t, then shooting it was reckless and is still an offence.

Last week the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Northern Ireland published a ten-year review of raptor persecution (2009-2018) which highlighted buzzards as the most frequently reported victims (followed by red kite then peregrine). Technology such as satellite tags and nest cameras are now being deployed in an attempt to crack down on the criminals. You can follow this project on the Hawk Eyes website (here) and read our commentary on it here.


Werritty Review submitted to Scottish Government?

Rumour has it, Professor Alan Werritty has submitted his long-awaited review on grouse moor management to the Scottish Government, two and a half years after it was first announced by Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham following the devastating findings of the golden eagle satellite tag review, which showed the extent and scale of ongoing golden eagle persecution on some driven grouse moors.

To be fair, Professor Werritty wasn’t actually commissioned until two years ago in November 2017. Nevertheless, the report is still six months overdue, partly due to ill-health (fair enough) but partly due to….well, we don’t know.

There hasn’t been any official announcement about the submission of Professor Werritty’s Review, and thus no indication of when the Scottish Government might publish it, nor when it might respond to the report’s recommendations.


Video evidence loopholes to be closed with proposed new Scottish legislation on wildlife crime

Proposed new legislation in Scotland will have significant ramifications for those who continue to kill birds of prey.

The Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) (Scotland) Bill was introduced by Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham on 30th September 2019 (see here for associated docs) and will, amongst other things, increase the maximum available penalties for the most serious animal welfare and wildlife offences.

For example, under the Wildlife & Countryside Act, the current maximum penalty available for intentionally or recklessly killing, taking or injuring a wild bird is six months imprisonment and/or a £5,000 fine with the case being heard in the Sheriff Court.

Under the proposed new Bill, the case could still be heard in the Sheriff Court where the maximum penalty would be 12 months imprisonment and/or a £40,000 fine, but the case could also be heard on indictment in a higher court where the maximum sentence would be five years imprisonment an/or an unlimited fine.

This policy document from the Scottish Government is worth reading for a clear explanation of what else is proposed under the new legislation.

These proposed changes are significant and very welcome – especially in light of the monumentally inadequate sentencing of convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson recently (see here) although the new proposals still pale in to insignificance when compared with the zero tolerance penalties imposed in Spain (e.g. see herehere and here).

This Bill has been a long time coming – six years in fact – from 2013 when 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.

Importantly, the five-year custodial penalty is 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 can 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 has 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).

It’s ironic that a law (RIPA/RIPSA) intended to protect the innocent has actually been exploited to protect the guilty and has undermined justice time and time again.

The Bill is currently at Stage 1 and is open to Parliamentary scrutiny. On 29th October the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee took evidence from a number of Scottish Government policy officials and there was an interesting discussion about the implications of the Bill for police-led video evidence, and also questions about why the Bill didn’t include proposals to extend vicarious liability and increased powers for the Scottish SPCA. You can read the transcript here: ECCLR Animals and Wildlife Bill stage1_29Oct2019

In early December RPUK will be participating in a round-table discussion on this Bill at the Scottish Parliament.


Scottish Raptor Study Group holds three day exhibition at Scottish Parliament this week

The Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) is holding a three-day exhibition in the Scottish Parliament this week to showcase the group’s immense contribution to the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme as well as to highlight the ongoing issue of illegal raptor persecution on and around some driven grouse moors.

This is a follow-on event from the SRSG’s Parliamentary reception held in May (see here).

[All photos by SRSG]

Sponsored by Andy Wightman MSP (Golden Eagle Species Champion), the event provides an opportunity for SRSG members to engage with MSPs and discuss the ecological and economic importance of birds of prey as well as explaining the science behind satellite-tagging and the incredible behavioural insights resulting from this conservation research.

There has been a stream of cross-party visitors so far including Environment Minister and Hen Harrier Species Champion Mairi Gougeon, John Mason MSP (Kestrel Species Champion), Bill Kidd (Red Kite Species Champion), Graeme Dey MSP, Christine Graham MSP, Liam McArthur MSP, Andy Wightman MSP, Mark Ruskell MSP (White-tailed Eagle Species Champion), Alison Johnstone MSP, Bob Davis MSP (Peregrine Species Champion).

The exhibition concludes on Thursday afternoon so if you’re in Holyrood don’t miss the opportunity to come and speak to these experts.

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