Archive for June, 2021

30
Jun
21

23 more white-tailed eagles donated by Norway for release in Ireland

Phase two of the reintroduction of white-tailed eagles in the Irish Republic continued last week with the arrival of 23 young eaglets from Norway.

These young birds, collected under licence by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, arrived at Kerry Airport on a chartered flight on Friday and they’ll be looked after in specially-made flight pens until their release in to the wild in August.

After being driven to extinction in Ireland in the early 20th century, an ambitious reintroduction project began in 2007 as a collaborative effort between the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Ireland, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research in Norway, the Golden Eagle Trust in Ireland and a lot of volunteer farmers and supporters on the ground.

[Project Manager Dr Allan Mee with a young white-tailed eagle during phase one of the reintroduction]

100 young white-tailed eagles were released in the Killarney National Park during phase one between 2007 and 2011 and this has resulted in at least ten breeding pairs becoming established in Kerry, Galway, Clare, Tipperary and Cork producing at least 30 chicks between them.

However, a recent scientific review of the reintroduction project indicated the small population is still vulnerable to factors such as illegal poisoning and the breeding population was negatively impacted by Avian Influenza in 2018 and storm Hannah in 2019.

A decision was made to conduct supplementary releases over a period of three years to bolster the existing population. Ten eagles were reintroduced last year (see here), this latest batch of 23 new arrivals will be released this year and more are expected to be released next year.

It’s an interesting time for this species. With the on-going reintroduction project on the Isle of Wight attracting widespread support and interest, an apparent green-light to begin a reintroduction in Norfolk met with mixed support and antipathy, a lot of interest in a proposed reintroduction to Wales, on-going persecution issues in eastern Scotland and general hysteria generated by the National Farmers Union Scotland, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and parts of the media about the perceived damage supposedly being caused by sea eagles in parts of western Scotland (more on that topic soon), it’s not clear to me how the white-tailed eagle will fare over the coming years.

If it’s still not even safe for one to fly over the Cairngorms National Park without becoming victim to a poisoned bait (e.g. see here) then we have to recognise there is still much work to do.

30
Jun
21

Spanish farmer fined & jailed for poisoning vultures

Once again, a Spanish court has imposed a significant penalty on an individual found guilty of deliberately poisoning birds of prey, according to an article on the Vulture Conservation Foundation website.

The article (here) says that in spring 2019 three dead griffon vultures were found on a sheep farm in the province of Cáceres. An investigation led to the discovery of dead sheep that had been sprayed with poisonous insecticide which the judge decided had been deliberately placed to poison the vultures.

 [One of the poisoned griffon vultures. Photo by Jovan Andevski]

Reporting this week, the Vulture Conservation Foundation states that the court sentenced the sheep farmer to 18 months in prison and ordered him to pay a daily fine of €3 for 21 months (totalling approximately €1,900) and a further fine of €18,000 to be paid to the General Directorate of Rural Environment of the Junta de Extremadura to compensate for each poisoned vulture (€6,000 per vulture).

An almost €20,000 fine and an 18-month custodial sentence is a significant penalty for raptor poisoning, and far, far more significant than anything we’ve ever seen in the UK, although with increased penalties now available in Scotland for this type of offence there is at least some potential for a strong response from the Scottish courts, as we’ve seen time and time again from the Spanish courts (e.g. see herehereherehere, here and here) including massive fines, custodial sentences and extended hunting disqualifications.

Although the availability of strong penalties will be no deterrent if the chance of catching an offender is still marginal, which I’m afraid it is in the UK, and the raptor killers know this only too well. Spain has worked to overcome these difficulties by the use of specialist wildlife crime officers with the freedom to undertake unannounced spot checks on private land, with specialist search dogs, at any given time.

Can you imagine this happening on a grouse moor, with strong links to the royal family, inside the Cairngorms National Park? No, me neither, and this is what happens as a result.

29
Jun
21

Job vacancy – Wildlife crime campaigner/campaign manager

UK charity the Naturewatch Foundation is advertising for a wildlife crime campaigner / campaign manager, as follows:

Full-time or part-time permanent position.

Salary: Circa £27k per annum pro rata – depending on experience 

Location: Flexible – office in Cheltenham but can be largely remote working

Closing date: Monday 19th July 2021

Job Description

An exciting opportunity has arisen at Naturewatch Foundation to lead and shape compelling campaigns utilising a full range of communication channels and campaigning techniques.  

Will suit a confident, motivated and ambitious individual with a proven track record for delivering effective campaigns, ideally within the animal welfare sphere.

You will have proven experience of using policy, research, lobbying, public campaigning and media to influence the public, government and industry. 

Essential:

  • Some experience in campaigning, lobbying and project managing
  • Good communication skills – able to comfortably liaise with a wide range of people from supporters, journalists, to government officials
  • Working knowledge of campaigning tools as you will work with the Communications Coordinator and Marketing and Website Coordinator to create engaging content
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills with experience in tailoring messages for different audiences
  • Experience in researching and writing evidence-based reports
  • Work with, and mentor, Campaigns Assistant to help shape your campaign projects
  • Ready to handle sensitive, sometimes distressing information regarding animal welfare
  • Ability to plan, prioritise, work under pressure and to deadlines
  • Willing and able to manage volunteers to help support you in your role from time to time
  • Hard working, motivated and with a can-do attitude
  • Happy to travel to office in central Cheltenham (frequency negotiable), plus willingness to attend meetings and presentations elsewhere as necessary
  • Sound knowledge of Microsoft Office applications
  • Commitment to the objectives of the charity

Desirable:

  • Knowledge of wildlife issues and enthusiasm for improving their lives
  • ​Fundraising experience

Apply:

Please send your CV, accompanied by a covering letter detailing relevant experience and skills, and stating why you want the position to: sarah@naturewatch.org

ENDS

29
Jun
21

Shot peregrine successfully rehabbed and released back to wild

In May this year an eight-year-old female peregrine was found injured in the grounds of Selby Abbey suffering from being shot with a shotgun (see here).

North Yorkshire Police appealed for information and the peregrine was treated by specialist vets at Battle Flatts before being taken in to the expert care of the remarkable Jean Thorpe at Ryedale Wildlife Rescue.

One month on, the peregrine has recovered and has been successfully released back in to the wild at the Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve:

Massive kudos and thanks to Jean and to the vets at Battle Flatts who are dealing with these victims time and time again. Some of the birds’ injuries are too severe for any hope of recovery but every now and then this dedicated team gets a win, like this one. All credit to them.

North Yorkshire Police are still investigating the circumstances of this latest crime (injured peregrine found 7th May 2021). If you have any information about this incident please call North Yorkshire Police on 101 quoting ref: 12210119786, or if you wish to remain anonymous please call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

28
Jun
21

Podcast: Interview with Police Scotland’s National Wildlife Crime Coordinator

Police Scotland has come a long way in recent years on how it tackles wildlife crime, and especially the seven national wildlife crime priorities, which of course includes raptor persecution.

The seven current national priorities are:

Badger persecution

Bat persecution

Raptor persecution

Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES)

Freshwater pearl mussels

Poaching (deer & fish) and hare coursing

Cyber-enabled wildlife crime

There are still some problems in some aspects of wildlife crime policing but there have been huge improvements in many areas since the publication of two damning Natural Justice reports in 2015 by Scottish Environment LINK (see here and here) and there are now some very determined and proactive officers in post.

One of those is Detective Sergeant William (Billy) Telford, Police Scotland’s National Wildlife Crime Coordinator. He was recently interviewed by Lisa Marley (who produced the award-winning documentary about the mass poisoning of 22 red kites & buzzards on the Black Isle in 2014) discussing Police Scotland’s Operation Wingspan, a year-long campaign to raise awareness about wildlife crime.

The hour-long podcast is hosted by Lisa as part of her series ‘Crimes Against Nature’ and you can listen to it here.

The conversation covers the national wildlife crime priorities and specifically on raptor persecution it includes a discussion about the on-going challenges faced by the police in securing sufficient evidence for a prosecution, alternative enforcement measures when a prosecution isn’t possible (e.g. working with NatureScot to impose General Licence restrictions), and new enforcement opportunities made available with the new increased penalties for certain offences (e.g. covert surveillance on private estates now being an option as some raptor persecution offences are now considered ‘serious’, as reflected by the new sentencing tariffs, thus allowing police officers to seek permission for covert surveillance where previously it was ruled inadmissible).

This podcast is well worth a listen.

28
Jun
21

Peregrine nest raided in Peak District National Park

Press release from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (21 June 2021)

Peregrine nest raided in Upper Derwent Valley, Peak District

A nest with 3 young peregrines in it has been robbed in a remote part of the Peak District National Park on land owned by the Forestry Commission.

This is despite efforts by a number of organisations to step up their protection efforts at Peregrine nesting sites at risk across the Peak District this Spring.

Peregrines, along with their eggs and nests, are legally protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. It is a criminal offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or take a peregrine.

Derbyshire Rural Crime Team are investigating this crime and are appealing to anyone who has any information to contact them on 101 or to use Crimestoppers.

[Photo from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust]

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and partners are shocked that one of our most iconic birds are still being targeted in this way by wildlife criminals.

Peregrines are an iconic part of the Peak District’s natural heritage and the theft of young peregrines jeopardises the recovery of this much persecuted species.

Tim Birch at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust said: “It is very sad that a peregrine nest with 3 young peregrines have been robbed. We all lose when this happens. Thousands of people visit the Peak District National Park every year to walk in stunning scenery and have the opportunity to watch these magnificent birds in the wild. Robbing this nest deprives people from being able to have the chance to see such a wonderful bird. We need to see tougher sentences that reflect the seriousness of this crime and to act as a deterrent.”

Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations UK, said: “Scientific data and crime reports show that raptor persecution is endemic in the Peak District National Park, particularly impacting iconic species like peregrine and goshawk: this is despite both the species and landscape having the fullest legal protection in the UK. These crimes have been statistically linked to land managed for driven grouse shooting. Furthermore, the site in question has suffered repeat incidents of raptor persecution on many previous occasions and only recently an adult peregrine was found poisoned close by. More has to be done as it is clear the initiatives in place are failing.”

Shona Morton, Planning and Environment Manager for the Forestry Commission said: “Forestry England’s woods are home to a wealth of important birdlife, including many birds of prey. Our ecologists and operational teams work hard to create and restore wildlife habitats and ensure birds nesting on our land are safeguarded during forestry activities. We are very upset to learn that this Peregrine pair have been robbed of their young on our land. We work closely with local volunteer groups and conservationists to locate new nests each year and monitor breeding success- crimes like this undermine everything we’re trying to achieve together. Sadly the Peak District remains a hot spot for raptor persecution and we would encourage anyone who sees suspicious activity on the public forest estate to alert us and contact the police. We will be collaborating with the police and our partners to identify and prosecute those responsible. We will continue our work with partners and neighbouring landowners to ensure birds of prey like Peregrines, Goshawk and Hen Harriers can regain their rightful place in the Peak District’s skies.”

The loss of these young birds is a huge blow to the work that is currently being undertaken to try and protect peregrines and ensure that they are allowed to prosper in the Peak District. In 2020 an adult male peregrine was found dead very close to the site that was recently robbed. Tests later proved that the bird had been poisoned. In 2019 young peregrines also disappeared from this site. Other nests are still being monitored across the Peak District at the moment to assess how Peregrines have fared this breeding season but numbers of breeding pairs in line with other years are far lower than expected from information already gathered.

 ENDS

17
Jun
21

Natural England accidentally lets slip more alleged shenanigans with hen harriers at Swinton Estate

I can’t decide whether I think Natural England is incompetent or institutionally corrupt. Maybe it’s both? Have a read and see what you think.

Following on from the blog I wrote on Monday where it had become apparent that Natural England had altered the terms of its hen harrier diversionary feeding licence to permit the feeding of hen harriers during the incubation period instead of the nestling period, and that this was done at exactly the same time that North Yorkshire Police were investigating the Swinton Estate for alleged disturbance of hen harriers after an employee, accompanied by a Natural England employee, was observed apparently diversionary feeding hen harriers during the incubation period (here), there are now further developments.

According to a news article in today’s Ends Report, Natural England has claimed that it rewrote the guidelines “as a matter of course, not as a reaction to the news of the nest at Swinton Estate being fed earlier than usual”.

I’m going to reproduce the Ends Report news article here because it contains a fascinating statement from Natural England which leads on to more questions about what, exactly, has been going on at Swinton Estate over the last few years.

Here’s the article:

Natural England has denied it changed its guidance on the feeding of hen harriers after the police launched an investigation for the alleged disturbance of breeding hen harriers through diversionary feeding without a licence.

If licensed by Natural England, landowners are allowed to provide substitute food to hen harriers near their nesting sites to reduce predation of red grouse.

One of the conditions of such licences had been that diversionary feeding may only begin once the hen harrier’s eggs have hatched. 

But in April, two individuals were filmed at Swinton Estate grouse moor in North Yorkshire, apparently placing out food for the breeding adults as part of a diversionary feeding scheme. This was during the incubation stage, when the hen harrier’s eggs had not yet hatched.

Raptor conservationist Ruth Tingay lodged a Freedom of Information request with Natural England, which revealed that Swinton Estate did not have a diversionary feeding licence in 2021.

According to Natural England, this meant that technically there has not been a breach of the CL25 licence, “because a licence hadn’t been issued”. 

Therefore, the wildlife regulator said it was not in a position to take enforcement action and the case was instead passed to North Yorkshire Police for an investigation into alleged offences under the Wildlife & Countryside Act.

However, Natural England then changed its guidance in May to allow diversionary feeding during the incubation period.

Tingay said Natural England had been “sneaky” in “rewriting the rules at the same time as your star grouse shooting estate is under police investigation for alleged hen harrier disturbance because hen harriers were being fed during the incubation period”.

However, responding to these allegations, Natural England said the guidelines were changed “as a matter of course, not as a reaction to the news of the nest at Swinton Estate being fed earlier than usual”.

The regulator said that the guidelines were changed in relation to  the welfare of the birds, and that new evidence suggests that feeding once the birds had a full clutch of eggs “did not increase the risk of desertion”. 

According to Natural England, the research – funded by NatureScot – shows that even installing a camera 30cm from a nest with eggs or chicks did not result in any failures that could be attributed to the nest visits.

A Natural England spokesperson said that the nest at Swinton Estate that was fed early has now fledged five chicks, and that the estate has helped feed 28 chicks successfully in recent years.

Feeding earlier in the breeding process helps get the young birds off to a good start in their lives,” they added.

ENDS

First of all, I’d like to see ‘the research’ to which Natural England refers and how it has been applied to an assessment of disturbance from diversionary feeding. As far as I’m aware, installing a nest camera is a one-off event and once in place, depending on the type and model, shouldn’t need to be re-visited during the breeding season if the camera card has sufficient memory, but perhaps at the most, once or twice. Diversionary feeding, however, is a repeated, daily event that can occur every day for several months and is therefore much more of a disturbance risk than a one-off installation of a nest camera. The two activities are not comparable in any way, shape or form.

Secondly, I am especially interested in Natural England’s claim that ‘Swinton Estate has helped feed 28 [hen harrier] chicks successfully in recent years’.

Why is that of interest? Well, because the numbers just don’t add up.

In separate FoIs to Natural England I had previously asked them for copies of the diversionary feeding licence CL25 return from Swinton Estate from 2019 and 2020. These were the two freedom of information requests that Natural England considered ‘too complex’ to be able to respond to within the standard 20 working days and they added a further 20 working days to allow time for dealing with this ‘complexity’ (see here).

I’ve since had replies from Natural England and here’s what they told me:

Swinton Estate was not registered for the use of a diversionary feeding licence in 2020 so there is no licence return. [Yep, that’s really complex, I can see why NE wanted 40 working days to tell me about it].

It’s a very interesting response because my sources allege that Swinton Estate WAS diversionary feeding a hen harrier nest in 2020 after the nest on a neighbouring estate was brood meddled. I have submitted a further FoI to Natural England on this – did Swinton Estate diversionary feed hen harriers in 2020 and if so, was Natural England aware of it and if so, what, if any, enforcement action was taken? If no enforcement action was taken, why not?

Swinton Estate did diversionary feed hen harriers in 2019 and did submit a licence return, and here is a redacted copy of it:

There are several things to note:

There is no registration number, but approval to use the CL25 licence was approved by [redacted]. Who was that, and why wasn’t the estate registered in the normal way?

At the nest where diversionary feeding took place, the licence return states, ‘unsuccessful during the incubation period’. Does this mean that Swinton Estate was diversionary feeding during the incubation period – which would have been a breach of the licence conditions in 2019? And if so, did anyone at Natural England pick up on this from the licence return and was there any enforcement action? If not, why not? I have submitted further FoIs to ask about this.

You’ll note then, that according to Natural England’s paperwork, Swinton Estate diversionary fed five hen harrier chicks in 2019, none in 2020, and five this year according to the quote in the Ends Report article. That’s ten hen harrier chicks in total.

I know from a further FoI request to Natural England that Swinton Estate has not registered to use a CL25 licence other than in 2019 and the licence it has belatedly received for 2021.

So how come Natural England told the Ends Report that ‘Swinton Estate has helped feed 28 [hen harrier] chicks successfully in recent years’???

Either somebody at Natural England can’t count, or this estate, owned by Lord Masham, Chair of the Moorland Association, has been diversionary feeding without a licence for a number of years. Has Natural England been turning a blind eye?

Let’s see what the current batch of FoI requests throw up.

17
Jun
21

Red kite shot in Wales, now rehabbed & released

Press release from RSPCA (14th April 2021)

Red kite released after shot bird was rescued and rehabilitated

An inspector who rescued an injured red kite who was found beside a road unable to fly has filmed the magical moment she released the majestic bird back into the wild after a month of rehabilitation.

Our inspector Suzi Smith had been called to rescue the bird after a concerned member of the public found the red kite unable to take off because of an injured wing.

Found at the side of the A470 in Builth Wells on March 16, the bird was safely captured by Suzi before being taken to Vale Wildlife Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre to be assessed. While there, vets x-rayed the bird and discovered that the kite had been shot.

Suzi, who has been rescuing animals for us for twenty years, said:

It was an honour to be able to release this beauty after weeks of treatment and rehab at Vale Wildlife Hospital.

The bird had been shot, and had a guarded prognosis but the team at Vale worked their magic and the red kite has thankfully been able to go back into the wild where they belong.

It’s very upsetting to think that this beautiful bird was deliberately targeted and shot and this is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Anyone with any information about how this bird came to be harmed is urged to call our inspector appeal line on 0300 123 8018.”

All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and it’s an offence to kill, injure or take wild birds except under licence. The maximum penalty, if found guilty, is six months in prison and or an unlimited fine.

ENDS

Thanks to the blog reader who alerted me to this press release from April 2021. I don’t recall seeing any appeal for information in March 2021 when this bird was picked up injured by the side of the road.

Great work by the team at Vale Wildlife Hospital.

UPDATE 7th July 2021: Appeal after red kite wounded by shotgun pellets (here)

16
Jun
21

Wild Justice challenges Natural England’s plans to release hen harriers in southern England

Regular blog readers will know that for the last five years, Natural England has been planning a so-called ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England as part of DEFRA’s ludicrous Hen Harrier Action Plan (see here for an earlier blog and some earlier key posts).

Ever since it was proposed, I and a number of others have been arguing that it is just another greenwashing conservation sham, aimed to divert attention from the real issue threatening the hen harrier population – the continued illegal killing on driven grouse moors.

[A brilliantly apt cartoon by Gerard Hobley]

Getting detail about the proposed ‘reintroduction’ plans from Natural England has been like pulling teeth; they’ve dodged and ducked questions at every turn. However, in March this year the latest round of FoI requests revealed that Natural England was now planning on getting hold of some injured, un-releasable hen harriers from Europe and using them in a captive breeding programme to produce young birds for release on Salisbury Plain (see here). This is believed to be a direct result of potential donor countries refusing to give healthy hen harriers to the UK because the UK clearly can’t look after the hen harriers it’s already got (at least 56 hen harriers have been confirmed illegally killed or have vanished in suspicious circumstances in the last three years alone, most of them on or close to a driven grouse moor).

One of the main objections to Natural England’s reintroduction proposal continues to be the agency’s apparent denial that raptor persecution is a serious threat to any released birds. This denial is, in my opinion, a clear breach of the IUCN’s reintroduction and conservation translocation guidelines (see here), whereby the cause of the species’ extirpation and any ongoing threats need to be addressed before any birds are released.

Campaign group Wild Justice has also been looking at this issue and yesterday sent a letter to Natural England to challenge the poor quality of the scientific evidence that Natural England has provided in its reintroduction assessment document.

The letter from Wild Justice can be read on their blog (here) and I’d thoroughly recommend you take a look to understand just how rubbish Natural England’s scientific assessment is. So rubbish, in fact, that Natural England has cited papers and books that don’t even cover the [flawed] scientific arguments it’s making!

Wild Justice will be considering whether formal legal action is required against Natural England once NE has had an opportunity to respond to questions posed in Wild Justice’s letter.

14
Jun
21

Natural England quietly alters terms of diversionary feeding licence (& hopes we won’t notice)

Further to Friday’s news that the Swinton Estate is under police investigation for the alleged disturbance of breeding hen harriers through diversionary feeding without a licence (see here), there’s been a further development.

You might remember from an earlier blog (here), that one of the conditions of Natural England’s class licence (CL25) permitting the use of diversionary feeding for hen harriers is that diversionary feeding may only begin once the hen harrier’s eggs have hatched. Diversionary feeding is not permitted during the incubation period (which is when Swinton Estate is alleged to have been providing diversionary food).

Well guess what? Natural England has changed the rules and surprise, surprise, diversionary feeding is now permissible during the incubation period!

Imagine that!

And imagine re-writing the rules at the same time as your star grouse shooting estate (apparently accompanied by a Natural England employee) is under police investigation for alleged hen harrier disturbance because hen harriers were being fed during the incubation period!

And imagine re-writing the rules and not announcing the rule change!

Imagine hoping that nobody would notice!

Sneaky, Natural England, very, very sneaky.

What the CL25 licence said about when diversionary feeding was permissible, prior to 13th May 2021:

What the CL25 licence says about when diversionary feeding is permissible, from 13th May 2021:

Gosh, it’s almost as though Natural England is making up the rules as it goes along, isn’t it? I am just marvelling at the breath-taking duplicity of this Government agency.

Having said all that, unless there’s an unseen commencement clause in the newly-written licence conditions (and nothing would surprise me because Natural England just cannot be trusted on anything Hen Harrier related), this new condition shouldn’t be applied retrospectively so the police investigation shouldn’t be derailed.

It’s also useful to note that both the previous licence and the re-written licence state that the female hen harrier shouldn’t be disturbed at the nest during this period. It would appear, looking at the footage, that the Swinton Estate employee and the Natural England employee still have some explaining to do.

I’ll be writing more on diversionary feeding activities in previous years at Swinton in a separate blog…..

UPDATE 17th June 2021: This blog article led to a follow-up article in the Ends Report here

UPDATE 17th June 2021: Natural England accidentally lets slip more alleged shenanigans with hen harriers at Swinton Estate (here)




Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Blog Stats

  • 7,624,156 hits

Archives

Our recent blog visitors