Archive for March, 2021

31
Mar
21

National Game Dealers Association going lead-free from July 2022

The National Game Dealers Association (NGDA) is the latest organisation from the UK game-shooting industry to realise, belatedly and after years of resisting, that if it is to survive then dropping products shot with toxic lead ammunition is the only way to go.

The NGDA has issued the following statement this morning:

At the National Game Dealers Association ( NGDA) annual general meeting members voted to commit to sourcing all feather and fur Game as well as venison and wild boar from lead-free supply chains from the 1st of July 2022.

This was agreed in order to future proof the sale of Game meat in their customer’s businesses, and to ensure continued consumer growth from those people seeking to enjoy our healthy delicious game products. This is a positive move for our industry to protect the environment and further assure our products in a highly competitive market place. The NGDA and its members will be working with the relevant industry groups to ensure, with this notice, our supply chains are able to make a transition.

If you have any concerns as a supplier to an NGDA member, please discuss your individual requirements with them or the NGDA.

Thank you

Stephen Crouch

Chairman National Game Dealers Association.

ENDS

This U-turn from the NGDA comes hot on the heels of an announcement from the Westminster Government last week that it was planning to phase out the use of poisonous lead ammunition (see here).

Amusingly, some commentators from the game shooting industry are trying to portray the NGDA’s U-turn as an example of how the industry can take sensible decisions all by itself instead of having to be dragged, kicking and screaming, in to the 21st Century by the rest of us.

Not very convincing when you consider that the NGDA Chair, Stephen Crouch, was one of those who resigned from the Lead Ammunition Group in May 2015 when the group’s official report to Government advocated a recommendation to ban the use of lead ammunition. Mr Crouch, along with the others who resigned (John Batley, Gun Trade Assoc; Mark Tufnell, Country Land & Business Assoc; Barney White-Spunner, Countryside Alliance) argued there was insufficient evidence to support such a move!!

The scientific evidence to support a ban on toxic lead ammunition, for the sake of human health, wildlife and the environment, has not changed at all since 2015. It’s just built and built and built.

It’s good to see the tipping point has finally been reached, after years and years of ongoing hard work by scientists such as Professor Debbie Pain and Professor Rhys Green (see here for their latest findings which showed that one year in to a so-called ‘voluntary transition’ away from lead shot by the UK game shooting industry, virtually no actual progress had been made). Although with the industry still dragging its feet and arguing that there aren’t enough supplies of non-toxic ammunition available yet and there won’t be for another four years, it’ll be fascinating to see whether the NGDA can source lead-free products from next year.

Nevertheless, it’ll be like watching falling dominos now. There is no chance of stopping what has been started. It’s just shameful that it has taken this long to get here.

31
Mar
21

Welsh Government to appoint national police wildlife crime coordinator

The Welsh Government has announced plans to appoint an all-Wales rural and wildlife crime coordinator.

Speaking about the proposal, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths said:

I take the issue of rural and wildlife crime very seriously and commend police forces in Wales for the great strides they have made to tackle this over the years.

Our police Rural Crime Teams are seen as a shining light in this area of policing throughout the UK, supported by Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales, the Police, Fire Service, Government Agency Intelligence Network and the Crown Prosecution Service. 

Working with our Welsh Police Forces we now have a unique opportunity to build upon the good work of our Rural Crime Teams to establish a dedicated all-Wales Rural and Wildlife Crime Coordinator. 

I believe this police role could make a step change to the coordination, effectiveness and multi-agency response to rural and wildlife crime work. The coordinator would also represent Wales strategically in regards to UK initiatives as well as various UK forums and priority delivery group meetings.

I have therefore agreed to provide funding for this 12 month pilot role and have written to the Chief Constables of the 4 Welsh police forces and the police Crime Commissioners seeking their cooperation and support to appoint an all-Wales Rural and Wildlife Crime Coordinator“.

[Photo by Dyfed Powys Police]

31
Mar
21

‘Burning Britain’s moorland an environmental disaster’

The Daily Mirror, of all places, published a large feature article yesterday about the damaging effects of grouse moor burning.

Written by Environment Editor Nada Farhoud, the article featured comments from the usual suspects but also some new voices, including a local resident of the North York Moors National Park, Richard Gray, who was quoted:

They say grouse shooting brings money into the local economy, it brings nothing other than smoke and destruction of our wildlife“.

For some reason the article also included a random photograph of what was alleged to be a poisoned rabbit bait, and another photograph of a dead peregrine ‘believed to have been discovered in North Yorkshire’. The association between grouse moor management and raptor persecution wasn’t really made clear and I would imagine that many Mirror readers would have wondered what any of that had to do with setting fire to the moorlands.

There is a link, of course, and that link is grouse moor management, but it was maybe too subtle in this article.

That’s not to take anything away from the article itself – it’s fantastic to see a mainstream tabloid focusing on this issue.

You can read the article here

30
Mar
21

Operation Easter: 24 years of stopping egg thieves & egg collectors

Press release from the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU)

Wild birds are nesting and the national campaign to protect them across the UK is underway.

Egg thieves will go to any lengths to raid the nests of rare wild birds but Operation EASTER is determined to stop them in their tracks.

Operation EASTER was developed in Scotland 24 years ago.  The operation is now facilitated by the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) in conjunction with UK police forces and partner agencies.  The operation targets egg thieves by sharing intelligence across the UK to support enforcement action.

[Peregrine eggs area particular target. Nestcam photo by Nick Mooney]

In recent years the operation has also been expanded to cover some emerging trends of criminal behaviour – the illegal taking of raptor eggs or chicks to launder into falconry; the online trade in eggs and the disturbance of nests for photography.

The taking of wild bird eggs is a serious crime yet it remains the pastime of some determined individuals.  Whole clutches of eggs can be taken from some of the UK’s rarest birds with potentially devastating impacts. The eggs are stored in secret collections. 

Chief Inspector Kevin Kelly (Head of the NWCU) says: “Operation Easter is a yearly event that is engrained within wildlife crime Policing. This year we have given the operation some much needed emphasis, focusing our efforts onto assisting Police Wildlife Crime Officers on the front line.

The NWCU collates and disseminates the information that identifies the hotspot areas where the crimes are likely to be committed and we work with Police officers and partners to ensure these areas of interest are given the attention they deserve, to protect the future of our wild birds. We have a number of skilled and dedicated Police Wildlife Crime Officers across the UK who have adopted this operation and will work with us to reduce criminality, and for this, I thank them greatly“.

If you have any information on egg thieves, or those who disturb rare nesting birds without a license, you should contact your local police by dialing 101 – ask to speak to a wildlife crime officer if possible. Nesting will be in full swing by April so please contact the police if you see anyone acting suspiciously around nesting birds.

Information can also be passed in confidence to Crimestoppers via 0800 555 111.

ENDS

29
Mar
21

African bird breeding in abundance on Scottish grouse moor, apparently

Whenever the grouse moor owners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) says anything about grouse moors, it’s best to take it with a skipful of salt.

Their reputation for talking nonsense (I’m being kind) is legendary (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here etc).

I really don’t know how they got this so badly wrong but it made me laugh, especially when the grouse shooting industry spends so much of its time claiming to be experts on waders:

[From SLE’s quarterly rag, Spring 2021]

The GWCT employee who did the survey may well have recorded ‘an abundance of lapwings’ on Ballogie Estate in Aberdeenshire but I’m pretty certain she didn’t record any spur-winged lapwing/plovers as illustrated in this article.

It’s a distinctive bird, difficult to misidentify or confuse with any other species, and it breeds in Africa and parts of the Middle East/southern Med. I’m not sure it’s ever been sighted in Scotland, let alone bred ‘in abundance’ on a Scottish grouse moor…

SLE’s ornithological expertise is about as convincing as BASC’s (here and here), You Forgot the Birds (here), National Farmers Union Scotland (here) and the Angus Glens Moorland Group (here).

27
Mar
21

Another multi-agency raid following illegal poisoning of a buzzard

News of another multi-agency raid yesterday, involving Devon & Cornwall Police, Natural England, National Wildlife Crime Unit and RSPB Investigations, as a follow on from the discovery of a poisoned buzzard in 2020.

Brilliant partnership working again, after news of a similar raid in Lincolnshire a couple of weeks ago following the illegal poisoning of a red kite (here).

[Photo by RSPB Investigations]

26
Mar
21

Natural England’s shady approach to IUCN guidelines on hen harrier reintroduction

Earlier this week I blogged about how Natural England had been planning, in secret, to start a captive breeding programme for hen harriers, with the intention of releasing the progeny in to southern England as a way of boosting the UK hen harrier population, which has been in decline for years thanks to the ongoing illegal killing of this species (see here).

The proposed reintroduction isn’t news – this has been on the cards since 2016 when DEFRA published its ludicrous Hen Harrier Action Plan (and when Natural England was caught out claiming spurious justifications for the reintroduction – see here) – but the captive breeding element is new, and is a direct result of potential donor countries in Europe refusing to donate harriers to a country that clearly can’t look after the ones its already got.

And although the captive breeding element is highly questionable from an ethical standpoint, it’s still not the main issue here. The main issue has always been, and remains to be, the concept of releasing hen harriers in one part of the country as a massive distraction from dealing with the scandalous level of persecution still inflicted on this species in other parts of the country (namely on driven grouse moors).

[An illegally killed hen harrier. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Reintroduction projects need to meet all sorts of criteria before they can go ahead and DEFRA advises project managers consult the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Guidelines for Reintroductions and other Conservation Translocations as part of their preparation.

These IUCN guidelines are built on decades of conservation knowledge and experience and provide a ‘route map’ for achieving a successful reintroduction. One of the fundamental principles of these guidelines is deciding when a translocation/reintroduction is an acceptable option. Key to this is:

There should generally be strong evidence that the threat(s) that caused any previous extinction have been correctly identified and removed or sufficiently reduced‘.

Now, in the case of the UK hen harrier population, which is in long-term decline according to the most recent national survey conducted in 2016 (see here), it is widely accepted that illegal persecution continues to be the main threat to survival, limiting the species’ distribution and abundance in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England.

So the threat has been ‘correctly identified’, as per the IUCN guidelines. It’s indisputable (unless you’re a spokesperson from the very industry that’s responsible for this organised criminality). There are more scientific papers identifying and confirming the threat as there are breeding pairs of hen harriers in England – including the most recent research, co-authored by Natural England staff, which demonstrated the ongoing, widespread illegal killing of hen harriers on British grouse moors (here).

But has the ‘correctly identified’ threat been ‘removed or sufficiently reduced’ for Natural England to proceed with its reintroduction plans? Well, that’s where it all gets a bit shady, in my opinion.

Natural England has been downplaying the persecution issue for a couple of years, particularly when its staff members have been trying to persuade potential donor countries that persecution really isn’t an issue in southern England (e.g. see here and here), although the RSPB has vigorously disputed this claim:

And of course there’s also been the suspicious disappearance of a satellite-tagged hen harrier called Vulcan (here) (which according to an employee of the National Gamekeepers Organisation was likely a ‘set up’ by the RSPB (here!), and then there’s the recent and on-going police investigation into alleged bird of prey persecution nearby (see here).

So it was interesting to see a copy of Natural England’s Hen Harrier Southern Reintroduction IUCN Assessment, dated January 2020, and released to me last week as part of a bundle of documents released under a Freedom of Information request, to understand just how Natural England is attempting to explain away the real and present threat of persecution.

Here is the document:

First of all, Natural England is pointing to two datasets of confirmed raptor persecution incidents to show that persecution is an issue in counties far away from the proposed release site in Wiltshire.

The first dataset cited (published by DEFRA on behalf of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, RPPDG) has been widely criticised as being inaccurate and out of date (see here) and is unsupported by two members of the RPPDG: the Northern England Raptor Forum (here) and by the RSPB (here).

The second dataset is much more reliable, as it’s compiled using rigorous scientific quantification by the RSPB, but even then, it only includes confirmed raptor persecution incidents, i.e. where there is a corpse and supportive evidence to identify the cause of death (e.g. x-ray, toxicology report). The database cited by Natural England does NOT include ‘probable’ or ‘possible’ raptor persecution incidents. So, for example, the vast majority of the 52 hen harriers known to have been killed or have disappeared in suspicious circumstances since 2018 (here) would NOT be included in this database of confirmed incidents because many of them, without a corpse or satellite tag, would have to be classified as being ‘probable’ persecution incidents. It’s ironic that these incidents would be excluded, given it was Natural England’s own commissioned research findings that identified missing satellite-tagged hen harriers as most likely to have been illegally killed on or near grouse moors (here).

So not only is Natural England being highly selective in the datasets it has chosen to support this claim that persecution isn’t an issue in southern England, the other main claim made in its IUCN assessment is that hen harriers released in the south of England won’t travel north to the deadly grouse moors of northern England, Wales and Scotland. Here is the claim:

This is an astonishing claim to make. Obviously, I was interested in the reference that Natural England cited to support such a claim: (NE 2019a). However, when I looked up the reference I found it refers to Natural England’s intermittently-updated summary table of the fates of tagged hen harriers (here).

This table doesn’t support Natural England’s claims at all! If anything, it shows that young hen harriers wander widely during dispersal, throughout the UK, so there is no supportive evidence whatsoever to suggest the incidence levels of hen harriers released in southern England roaming into northern upland areas (persecution hotspots) ‘will be low’. What complete nonsense this is!

The fact is, nobody knows what those released hen harriers will do, but if they follow the behaviour of other young dispersing hen harriers they will wander widely and will be at significant risk of being killed if they go anywhere near a driven grouse moor. I wouldn’t fancy their chances if they turned up at some commercial pheasant and partridge drives either, given the persecution suffered on some shooting estates by Montagu’s and Marsh harriers.

It’s no wonder Natural England has wanted to keep its plans under wraps – this is shady stuff indeed.

26
Mar
21

Langholm Moor community buyout officially completed

Press release from the Langholm Initiative (26th March 2021)

South of Scotland’s biggest community buyout completes

The South of Scotland’s largest community buyout has been legally completed following one of the most ambitious community fundraising campaigns ever seen and paving the way for the creation of a vast new nature reserve in Dumfries and Galloway.

The landmark agreement of £3.8 million for 5,200 acres of land and six residential properties was reached between The Langholm Initiative charity and Buccleuch last October, after the community of Langholm’s six-month fundraising drive reached its target in the final two days.

With the transfer of ownership finalised, the community now owns the land for the first time in its history. Work is to begin immediately on creating the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve to help tackle climate breakdown, restore nature, and support community regeneration.

[Langholm Moor. Photo by David Lintern]

Margaret Pool, Chair of The Langholm Initiative, said: “Together we’ve achieved something which once seemed impossible, and today we can celebrate as a new era begins for this special land with which our community has such a deep and long-standing connection.

Our sincere, heartfelt thanks go to so many people for making this historic moment for Langholm happen – including the generous donors and tireless volunteers, and to Buccleuch for being so supportive and positive in their approach.” 

Benny Higgins, Executive Chairman of Buccleuch, said: “To have concluded the sale to the community is a fantastic achievement, and a great example of what can be achieved when communities and businesses like Buccleuch engage openly with one another and work to a common goal. This was achieved by goodwill and working together, following voluntarily all the relevant guidance and protocols.

We look forward to seeing the plans for the area coming to life over the coming months, and wish The Langholm Initiative all the very best with this.

Buccleuch has been reducing the footprint of its landholdings in the last decade and, having sold approximately 30,000 acres of land in this period to farmers and community organisations, we will continue to reinvest revenue from land sales into a variety of business projects across the farming, forestry, renewable energy, and leisure and hospitality sectors.

The Langholm Initiative has set up Tarras Valley Nature Reserve for the day-to-day running of the ambitious new venture, and is currently recruiting two new members of staff who will oversee the landscape-scale nature-restoration project.

Globally important peatlands and ancient woods will be restored, native woodlands established, and a haven ensured for wildlife including rare hen harriers, the UK’s most persecuted bird of prey. Plans for community regeneration include new nature-based tourism opportunities.

Discussions are continuing between The Langholm Initiative and Buccleuch over another 5,300 acres of land the community wishes to buy, and which could double the size of the new nature reserve.

After the launch of the community’s fundraising drive last May, The Langholm Initiative had until 31 October to raise the funds for the deal, to avoid the withdrawal of a £1m offer from the Scottish Land Fund. At times the project appeared to be seriously at risk.

Other major funders supporting the project are South of Scotland Enterprise, John Muir Trust, The Carman Family Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation and The Bently Foundation. 

The charity’s public crowdfunder, supported by nearly 4,000 people from around the world, reached its £200,000 target after a surge of over £50,000 in donations during its final week, including £24,000 on one day alone.

In the final 48 hours, with the community still some £150,000 short of the total funds needed, The Woodland Trust agreed to contribute £200,000 – taking The Langholm Initiative over the line.

Leading charities that have supported the buyout include Borders Forest Trust, Rewilding Britain, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, and Trees for Life.

The Langholm Initiative now aims to show how community ownership can be a catalyst for regeneration with the environment at its heart, and hopes its success will inspire other communities in Scotland and across the UK. 

The Langholm Initiative, formed in 1994 as one of south Scotland’s first development trusts, facilitates projects making a lasting difference to the local area and people. See langholminitiative.org.uk.

ENDS

25
Mar
21

Another kestrel shot dead in West Yorkshire

West Yorkshire Police have published a statement on Twitter this afternoon about a kestrel that was shot dead ‘at some point last week’.

The Leeds Wildlife & Rural Crime team say the bird was shot at the junction of Leeds Road and Park Lane, Allerton Bywater. There isn’t any further information about the type of weapon used (e.g. shotgun, airgun).

Anyone with information is asked to contact the police on Tel 101 and quote crime reference #13210148679.

[A hovering kestrel, photographer unknown]

This kestrel is at least the fourth to be shot in West Yorkshire this year alone – in January 2021 it was reported that three kestrels had been shot dead in the first two weeks of the New Year (see here).

Last October another kestrel was found shot dead in West Yorkshire (see here).

23
Mar
21

Natural England ignores ongoing raptor persecution & now plans to captive breed hen harriers for release!

Do you remember DEFRA’s ludicrous Hen Harrier Action Plan, published in 2016 and responsible for hen harrier brood meddling – the conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA and carried out by Natural England, in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England? (For more background see here).

Well the conservation sham has just been extended, this time to the proposed ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England, also part of the ridiculous Hen Harrier Action Plan.

[A brilliantly apt cartoon by Gerard Hobley]

The so-called southern reintroduction has been on the cards since 2016 when the ‘Action Plan’ was first published, to be used as a massive distraction from the ongoing illegal killing of hen harriers on British grouse moors. But Natural England has had terrible trouble trying to persuade conservationists in Spain and France to donate hen harriers, especially given the UK’s appalling raptor persecution record – even though Natural England staff have been caught out trying to play this down on a number of occasions (e.g. see here).

Hmm. What to do? What to do? Ah, how about, we ask some other countries for some donor stock (countries that we haven’t tried yet, like Finland, Sweden, Norway) so we can release their birds in to southern England (and we won’t mention the suspicious disappearance of a hen harrier in the proposed release area), and how about we also take some chicks from nests in England and keep them in captivity forever and use their chicks to release in to the wild, and call it a ‘conservation breeding programme’ (cos we did it with peregrines last year, remember?), and then why don’t we also take some un-releasable hen harriers from rehab centres in France and Spain and use them as breeding stock as well so we’ll have more young hen harriers to chuck out in to the countryside whilst we all sit with our fingers and toes crossed that they don’t venture anywhere near a grouse moor? (And we’ll keep quiet about the ongoing raptor persecution crimes being uncovered near the proposed release site, including this one).

Yeah! And we can pay our old mate Jemima Parry Jones and the International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP) at Newent, Glos to do all this ‘conservation breeding’ – they’re not gonna turn down a big pay out, just as they’re getting paid for doing the hen harrier brood meddling. Yeah! £350K should do it….it’s tax payers money but there’s no need to tell anyone about it, we’ll just keep it quiet in case those pesky conservationists find out, see through our propaganda and try to take a legal challenge against us.

Think this is all a bit far-fetched? Well have a look at the following documents, released last week as part of a larger bundle under Freedom of Information requests that Natural England has sat on since January. It’s worth paying particular attention to Natural England’s options appraisal (the 2nd document), undertaken last year during lockdown. Abandoning the whole ridiculous idea of releasing hen harriers in to a country where they are systematically and illegally killed by a large part of the driven grouse shooting industry (52 hen harriers known to have gone since 2018) was apparently not an option due to the ‘reputational risk’ to DEFRA and Natural England if they pulled out.

That should be the least of their worries. Make no mistake, if there is an opportunity for a legal challenge against this insane plan, it will be taken.

More soon.

Here are some of the documents to look at:

UPDATE 25th March 2021: This news article led to a story being published in the environmental journal the Ends Report (here).

UPDATE 26th March 2021: Natural England’s shady approach to IUCN guidelines on hen harrier reintroduction (here)




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