Archive for August, 2021

26
Aug
21

Trial date set for Suffolk gamekeeper accused of poisoning buzzard

A couple of days ago I blogged about a gamekeeper who was due in court this week to face allegations that he was responsible for the alleged poisoning of a buzzard in Suffolk (see here).

This prosecution resulted from a multi-agency investigation and raid conducted at premises in January this year involving Suffolk Police, National Wildlife Crime Unit, Natural England and the RSPB’s Investigations team (see here).

[Police seized guns and pesticides during the multi-agency raid in January 2021. Photo via Suffolk Police]

News from the court today (via the RSPB) is that this gamekeeper has pleaded guilty to some charges but not guilty to others, so this case will now proceed to trial.

The gamekeeper pleaded guilty to six charges relating to firearms and pesticide storage.

He pleaded not guilty to two further charges relating to the illegal buzzard poisoning.

The trial is due to begin on 8th November 2021.

Please note, as this is a live case no further detail will be provided here until the case has concluded or there is official commentary from the court. Comments on this particular blog also won’t be accepted until the case concludes so as not to prejudice proceedings. Thanks for your understanding.

26
Aug
21

Eight more young golden eagles released in southern Scotland

Eight more young golden eagles have been released in southern Scotland as part of the project to bolster the tiny remnant breeding population there, which has been suppressed for decades, largely due to illegal persecution (e.g. see here for a recent example).

The eight eagles were collected as chicks from nests further north with expertise and assistance provided by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group. The eaglets were cared for in aviaries at a secret location near Moffat until they were fully developed, and were then fitted with satellite tags and given a final health check before being released in to the wild.

This brings the total number of golden eagles successfully released in southern Scotland to twelve, where they’ve joined a small number of other young golden eagles that have hatched in the wild there in the last few years and who remain in the area, all of them also being satellite-tracked to monitor their survival.

The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project is coordinating these releases and this lottery-funded project still has a number of years to run and more eagles are expected to be released in the future.

Up until now, the released birds and the wild birds have been observed interacting well (e.g. see here) and now the numbers are slowly increasing it’ll be interesting to see whether there are more flights over the border into northern England.

Two videos have been produced to illustrate the process of the eagle releases this year – the first video is about how the young eaglets are collected from their nests, and the second video explains what happens while the birds are being held in the aviaries up until the point of release. If you can ignore the tedious background muzac the content is very good:

24
Aug
21

Another gamekeeper in court for alleged poisoning of buzzard

Earlier this month I blogged about a gamekeeper in Nottinghamshire who is facing trial after he pleaded not guilty to the alleged killing of several buzzards (see here).

Now there’s another case to report. This time it’s a gamekeeper in Suffolk who is due in court on Thursday in relation to the alleged poisoning of a buzzard.

This latest prosecution relates to the joint raid undertaken by Suffolk Police, Natural England and the RSPB’s Investigations Team in January this year (see here).

[Police seized guns and pesticides during the multi-agency raid in January 2021. Photo via Suffolk Police]

Tomorrow’s court hearing will provide an opportunity for the defendant to enter a plea.

If he pleads not guilty, the case is expected to continue to go to trial at a later date.

If he pleads guilty, he may be sentenced tomorrow or the magistrate may ask for background reports before sentencing at a later date.

Please note, as this is a live case no further detail will be provided here until the case has concluded or there is official commentary from the court reporter. Comments on this particular blog also won’t be accepted until the case concludes so as not to prejudice proceedings. Thanks for your understanding.

UPDATE 26th August 2021: Trial date set for Suffolk gamekeeper accused of poisoning buzzard (here)

24
Aug
21

New study: raptor persecution in Wales 3 x more likely in areas managed for driven gamebird shooting

Press release from RSPB Wales (24th August 2021)

New research sheds light on crimes against birds of prey in Wales

The theft of eggs and chicks of birds of prey has almost ceased in Wales, but persecution rates are not declining – according to a new RSPB Cymru review, published today.

Crimes against raptors in Wales 1990-2019 – written by RSPB Cymru and published by the Welsh Ornithological Society – summarises the plight of raptors in Wales over the past three decades.

One of the key findings is that since the 1990s, egg and chick theft has almost ceased. Theft used to be a major problem in Wales, with eggs of raptors such as peregrines and red kites stolen by collectors. The chicks of goshawks and peregrines have also been targeted for the purposes of selling to falconers, including in the Middle East. But tougher penalties and a shift in public awareness and attitude has resulted in the detection of only a handful of cases in Wales over the past decade.

On the other side of the coin, the picture for raptor persecution (by shooting, trapping and poisoning) is less positive. While the number of confirmed incidents of raptor persecution fell in 2000 – 09 compared to the previous decade, there has been a marginal increase in the past decade. However, the real total could be much higher, as the number of confirmed persecution cases could only be the tip of the iceberg.

[This buzzard was found shot dead near Powys]

Most worryingly of all, the rate of poisoning cases has increased in the last 30 years, with 52 cases confirmed in the last decade. While laying poison baits in the open has been illegal since 1911, the review suggests that it remains a problem for wildlife in the Welsh countryside. Birds of prey, wild mammals and even household pets can fall victim to the abuse of pesticides.

Julian Hughes, RSPB Cymru Head of Species and lead author of the paper, said:

There has been good progress made over the past three decades to reduce the rate of crimes against our majestic birds of prey. The dramatic reduction in the theft of egg and chick shows that tougher action really does work. This has helped the welcome return of birds such as red kite that was once on the brink of extinction. However, the rise in persecution, and especially poisoning cases, is a big worry. There’s still work to be done to root out these deplorable acts of crime against wildlife.

The paper also shows that the probability of a persecution incident in 2010-19 was three times higher in areas where driven shooting of gamebirds is available for sale.

Julian Hughes continued:

The relationship between raptor persecution and driven shooting was stronger than we expected, and we think this deserves further investigation to understand.”

Anne Brenchley, Chair of the Welsh Ornithological Society, said:

Public awareness of raptor persecution has heightened in the last thirty years, often due to the concerted efforts of the RSPB. The Welsh Ornithological Society fully supports all attempts to reduce raptor persecution, particularly investigating the apparent link between persecution and gamebird management. We hope that the levels of detected illegal raptor persecution continues to decrease over the next thirty years.”

Rob Taylor, Welsh Government Wildlife and Rural Crime Coordinator, said:

Historically the human race has affected the population and even existence of many birds and habitats within Wales, for a variety of reasons. As a nation we have many iconic birds that proudly adorn our skies and we give credit to the work of the few who have gone that extra mile to maintain their essential conservation. The red kite and osprey are a prime example of a success story within Wales, although these can be still subject to unnecessary persecution even in 2021. We, the police and our key partner agencies, have a duty to prevent the further persecution of any bird within Wales and protect them and their habitats for future generations to come. My new role, sponsored by the Welsh Government, will ensure that we remain focused as a nation and the establishment of a Wales Bird Crime Enforcement Group will bring together the necessary expertise to achieve that. Our work today will maintain the natural beauty of our Welsh birds and visitors for generations to come.”

ENDS

The research paper has been published today in the journal of the Welsh Ornithological Society. Here’s the citation:

Hughes, J., Mason, H., Bruce, M. and Shorrock, G. (2021). Crimes against raptors in Wales 1990-2019. Birds in Wales 18 (1): 3-19.

The research paper can be downloaded here:

22
Aug
21

Grouse moor reform is ‘matter of urgency’ under new Scottish Government/Greens draft powershare agreement

The new draft powershare agreement between the SNP and the Scottish Greens announced on Friday has received a fair bit of media coverage, as you’d expect.

So far the general response from the conservation world has been cautiously optimistic (e.g. see RSPB response here) whilst the response from land and estate owners has been nervous and uneasy (e.g. see SLE response here) and the response from gamekeepers has been malicious, personally abusive and entirely expected (I won’t post that here).

The best response to the proposed powershare agreement I’ve read so far was from Friends of the Earth Scotland Director (and partner in the REVIVE coalition for grouse moor reform), Dr Richard Dixon, who was quoted in The Guardian on Friday and said that on balance, the proposed deal should lead to stronger climate action:

When two parties work together there has to be compromise … The question for the environment is whether this agreement pushes the SNP sufficiently further than they would already have gone for it to be worth the Greens having to make their own compromises. On the basis of this draft, the answer is likely yes with strong extra action on areas that make a difference to climate change and a review of oil and gas promised“.

The new draft agreement has been approved by the SNP’s ruling body but members of the Scottish Greens will not vote on it until next weekend.

The draft agreement is based on two key documents:

First there’s the draft ‘cooperation agreement’, which details how this powershare is envisioned to work, the expectations of both parties and the processes put in place to facilitate this new agreement.

Download the draft cooperation agreement here:

The second document is the draft ‘policy programme’ which details the key areas of policy on which the two parties have agreed to cooperate. The policy areas where the two parties have agreed to disagree can be found in Annex 1 of the draft ‘cooperation agreement’.

Download the draft policy agreement here:

If you turn to page 50 of this draft policy programme you’ll find this important statement on species protection:

This policy statement isn’t offering us anything new at all in terms of grouse moor reform and increased powers for the SSPCA, but what it does do is underline the commitment previously made by the SNP (although as ever, we’re still waiting for them to deliver on both issues, even though grouse moor reform & tackling wildlife crime are both described as being ‘a matter of urgency’ in this policy document).

However, as the overall cooperative agreement would place the Scottish Greens right at the heart of the decision-making process on these issues, which are both subjects on which the Greens have campaigned with tenacity and determination, then I think we could expect faster progress than we’d otherwise get with just the SNP in charge.

The very first part of this policy statement on species protection, ‘We will review the wider species licensing system with a view to ensuring that the law is being applied correctly and that lethal control is only licensed where the conditions required for such a licence are demonstrably being met‘ is also of significant interest and it’s worth reading Mark Avery’s take on it (here).

I understand that NatureScot is already engaged in behind-the-scenes discussions with various stakeholders on the subject of a licensing review, and not just those from the dark side either, but it’ll need to go to public consultation if any changes are to be made to improve what is currently a light touch and thus open-to-abuse licensing scheme.

On the whole I don’t think this powershare agreement is going to deliver anything dramatic or particularly game-changing within its five-year duration, but what it does do is provide an important opportunity for the Scottish Greens to apply pressure from within to try and stop the SNP’s can-kicking marathons on issues it has promised to deal with for years and years but still hasn’t.

That’s surely worth a go, right?

22
Aug
21

Dead kestrels & hedgehogs dumped in layby on Isle of Sheppey, Kent

Gruesome photographs have emerged this morning of dead wildlife found dumped in a pile in a layby near Harty on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent.

The person who found the corpses (@neish397) identified them as three kestrels and ten hedgehogs. He posted the photos on Twitter and asked for advice about what to do. He tried to report this incident as a suspected wildlife crime to Kent Police using the 101 reporting system but was apparently told by a call handler that he needed to report it online.

Fortunately, the RSPB Investigations team were also alerted and are currently dealing with this incident.

21
Aug
21

Golden eagles have been illegally killed on Scottish grouse moors for 40+ years but apparently we shouldn’t talk about it

In response to the news that Police Scotland are investigating the circumstances of five eagles found dead in the Western Isles earlier this month (see here), Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the grouse moor owners’ lobby group has issued what I’d call a staggeringly disingenuous statement, where the blame for ongoing raptor persecution appears to be being projected on to those of us who dare to call out the shooting industry for its ongoing war against birds of prey.

Here’s SLE’s statement in full, dated 20 August 2021:

Response to raptor fatalities should not depend on location or landuse

Reports of five eagles being found dead on the Western Isles are very serious. 

Police Scotland has said that officers are investigating and it is to be hoped that the facts of these potentially shocking incidents are established as quickly as possible.

The birds – four golden eagles and a white-tailed sea eagle – were found at separate locations on Lewis and Harris and it is said that, at this stage, they are not linked.

No grouse shooting takes place on the Western Isles and we wholeheartedly support the police’s appeal for information and anyone who can help should call Police Scotland on 101, or make a call anonymously to the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

It has been suggested that intraguild predation – where one species predates on another – may be one possible explanation in these cases but equally we accept there is the prospect that a terrible wildlife crime has been committed to protect livestock.

If that is the case, outright condemnation is the only rightful response.

That applies wherever raptor persecution takes place.

The response from some quarters thus far to the incidents on the Western Isles is in sharp contrast to what happens over alleged incidents that occur in areas where land is managed for grouse shooting. In these cases organisations and campaign groups are very quick off the mark to point fingers. If a wildlife crime takes place on land managed for shooting, livestock farming or any other land use (and such incidents are thankfully rare, becoming more so all the time) then it must be investigated and the culprits should face the full force of the law. It can be difficult to prosecute but Scotland now benefits from some of the most stringent laws against raptor persecution in Europe. A lot more could be achieved with less finger pointing and more constructive collaboration on the ground. Scotland is fortunate to have historically high numbers of golden eagles and we want to see even more of them.

ENDS

So SLE is unhappy that campaigners keep ‘pointing fingers’ at the grouse-shooting industry whenever an illegally shot / poisoned / trapped bird of prey is discovered dead or critically injured on, er, a driven grouse moor?!!!!!!!!!

Or when satellite-tagged hen harriers and golden eagles keep ‘disappearing’ in suspicious circumstances, on or close to driven grouse moors.

If these crimes were just a one-off, once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence then yes, perhaps SLE would have a point. However, the connection between the driven grouse shooting industry and the illegal persecution of birds of prey has been clear for decades, and backed up with endless scientific papers and Government-commissioned reviews (here are the latest for golden eagle and for hen harrier).

Here’s an example of how long this has been going on – a scientific paper published in 2002, using data from 1981-2000 – demonstrating an indisputable link between grouse moors and illegal poisoning:

1981 – that was 40 years ago!!

And yet here we are in 2021 and still illegally poisoned golden eagles are being found dead on grouse moors and still nobody has ever been successfully prosecuted in Scotland for killing a golden eagle. The most recently confirmed poisoned eagle was this one inside the Cairngorms National Park, right next door to the royal estate of Balmoral. In fact this eagle is believed to have fledged on Balmoral a few months before it flew to neighbouring Invercauld Estate (an SLE member, no less) where it consumed a hare that had been smothered in a banned pesticide and laid out as a poisoned bait. The person(s) responsible for laying this poisoned bait have not been identified.

[Poisoned golden eagle laying next to poisoned mountain hare bait, Invercauld Estate, Cairngorms National Park. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Such is the extent of illegal persecution on some driven grouse moors, it is having (and continues to have) a population-level effect on some species, including golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines.

And such is the extent and quality of this scientific evidence, the Scottish Government has committed to implementing a licensing scheme for grouse shooting in an attempt to try and rein in the criminal activity that underpins this so-called ‘sport’ because Ministers recognise the grouse-shooting industry is incapable of self-regulation.

I don’t know what SLE means when it says it wants ‘more constructive collaboration on the ground‘. Perhaps it means that gamekeepers will step forward and provide more than ‘no comment’ interviews when the police are investigating the latest crime on a grouse-shooting estate, instead of offering the usual wall of silence?

Perhaps it means the estate owners will refuse to employ the sporting agents and head gamekeepers whose methods are well known to include routine raptor persecution? (These individuals are well known – it’s no secret within the industry who they are).

Or perhaps it means that the shooting industry itself, including the game-shooting organisations, the shooting press etc will blacklist those estates known to still be killing birds of prey, instead of accepting funding donations from them and pretending that they don’t know what’s going on there?

That’d be useful, constructive collaboration, wouldn’t it?

Until all of that happens, SLE and the rest of the grouse shooting cabal can expect people like me and my colleagues in the conservation field to continue shining a bloody great big megawatt spotlight on this filthy industry.

20
Aug
21

Five eagles found dead in Western Isles – Police Scotland open investigation

Police Scotland have opened an investigation on the Western Isles after the discovery of five dead eagles within the space of a week.

Two golden eagles and a white-tailed eagle were found dead on the Isle of Harris on 7th August, and another two golden eagles were found dead on the Isle of Lewis on 14th August 2021.

This article about the discoveries appeared yesterday in The Herald:

Police say they are investigating after five eagles were found dead in the Outer Hebrides in a space of a week. 

Two golden eagles had been found dead two miles south of Bragar on the Isle of Lewis on August 14. 

While two golden eagles and white tailed sea eagle were found dead near Bowglass on the Isle of Harris, a week before on August 7. 

The birds found on August 7 were significantly decomposed but forensic work is being undertaken to try to establish how they died.

Although the eagles were found dead in similar circumstances, the incidents are not being treated as linked.

Inspector Jane MacKenzie said: “Around 1.25pm on Saturday 14 August 2021, officers received a report that two golden eagles had been found dead two miles south of Bragar on the Isle of Lewis. Enquiries are ongoing to establish the full circumstances.

Enquiries are also ongoing after two golden eagles and white tailed sea eagle were found dead near Bowglass on the Isle of Harris on Saturday, 7 August, 2021. They were significantly decomposed but forensic work is being undertaken to try to establish how they died.

Eagles are protected birds of prey and Police Scotland will always investigate reports of these birds being found dead. It can be highly complex, requiring detailed scientific work, but we will always strive to bring anyone responsible for this type of wildlife crime to justice.

Anyone with information about these birds, or any wildlife crime, can contact Police Scotland on 101, or make a call anonymously to the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”

ENDS

That police quote is fairly circumspect, which is perhaps understandable given the investigation is still in the early stages and this isn’t an official police press release. However, local information provided to me suggests the investigation into the first incident is much further ahead than has been indicated here. Based on that information, I’m very surprised to see the journalist claim the incidents are not being treated as linked (presumably that information came from the police?). Hmm, I wonder…..

Although if a crime is confirmed, don’t expect the investigation to result in a prosecution. Despite Inspector MacKenzie’s fine words, which undoubtedly were given with genuine sincerity, I’m not aware of anybody being convicted for killing an eagle in Scotland.

Ever.

If you have information about these five dead eagles, please contact Police Scotland on 101.

18
Aug
21

Shot goshawk in notorious persecution black spot: police investigation reaches dead end

In July this year, a shot goshawk was found in one the country’s most notorious raptor persecution black spots in the northern Monadhliaths in the Highlands (see here).

A member of the public discovered the dead bird in woodland managed by Forestry Land Scotland (FLS), which is close to land managed for grouse and pheasant shooting. The corpse was retrieved by the Police, FLS and the RSPB and sent for post mortem where it was confirmed it had been shot.

It is by no means unusual that masked gunmen will visit public woodland to attack goshawk nests (e.g. see herehere and here) especially as this highly efficient predator is a perceived threat to gamebird stocks and as such is despised by many in the game-shooting industry.

[Goshawk photo by Martha de Jong-Lantink]

Police Scotland issued a timely appeal for information (here) and opened a criminal investigation.

Unfortunately, as with so many raptor persecution crimes, that investigation has now reached a dead end. A police spokesperson has advised that ‘all lines of enquiry have been completed, including CCTV, door to door enquiries, local enquiries, vet analysis of the remains, x-ray of remains, background checks, social media and traditional media press release‘.

There haven’t been any arrests and there won’t be any prosecutions unless new information comes to light.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the crime didn’t take place (some in the game-shooting industry would have you believe that no prosecution = no crime), it just means that yet again, someone with access to a gun in this area has been able to commit a crime and will face zero consequences, just like the last time, and the time before that, and the time before that, and…..etc etc.

17
Aug
21

‘How licensing grouse estates can end a national disgrace’

Max Wiszniewski, the campaign manager for Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform, had this article published in The National last week, timed to coincide with the opening day of the grouse-shooting season.

TODAY marks the opening of the controversial grouse shooting season. But is it still the “glorious twelfth”?

Polling has previously shown that seven in 10 Scots are against the so-called sport. The common association between grouse moors and the illegal persecution of Scotland’s protected birds of prey has been ruining the industry’s reputation for decades. As far back as 1998, Donald Dewar called it a “national disgrace” and it remains so today, more than 20 years later.

For this reason the Scottish Government has committed to introduce licences on grouse shooting estates, despite protestations from industry lobbyists. The fact that a licence has never been required to manage shooting estates will be shocking to some, but the Government recognises that the failure of self-regulation has left the industry with no-one to blame but themselves.

Put simply, a licence would mean that if the law is broken or if the terms of a grouse moor licence is not adhered to then an estate could lose that licence.

The REVIVE coalition believes there is a circle of destruction that surrounds grouse shooting which goes well beyond potential illegality and the more people that know about it, the more they will question why it is allowed to continue.

More than 100,000 foxes, stoats, weasels, crows and non-target species like hedgehogs are (legally) snared, trapped and killed in Scotland each year on grouse moors. Grouse, a wild animal, are medicated en masse by tens of thousands of toxic chemical grit stations to keep their numbers unnaturally high.

Meanwhile, in the year we host COP26, much of Scotland’s uplands are still subjected to heather burning which threatens the environment, our vital peatlands, restricts biodiversity and reinforces barren monocultures. Scotland’s peat contains much more carbon than all the UK’s forests put together and yet the burning continues. Tons of lead shot is sprayed across the uplands while bulldozed hill tracks scar the landscape and remain unregulated.

All of this and more takes place to make sure that a few more grouse can be shot by a few people for sport over huge swathes of Scotland. The terms of the grouse moor licence will be key and must address these wider issues.

Grouse are an iconic Scottish bird yet shooting them out of the sky as part of driven grouse shooting – the most unsustainable kind of shooting that depends the most on “high bag numbers” – is a blood sport that goes back to Victorian times. But the economic benefits to the public for maintaining this frivolous pursuit is not as high as many might think.

Grouse moor management in Scotland takes place over an area around half the size of Wales – and brings in about £23 million to Scotland’s economy – 0.02% of the economy. To put this another way, if Scotland’s economy was the height of Ben Nevis grouse shooting’s contribution would be the height of a bottle of Irn Bru.

Wildlife tourism, a burgeoning industry that sometimes involves shooting animals with cameras instead of guns, already brings in about five times more to our economy. Forestry and its associated industries also bring in many times more to the economy. The point is that while there is no silver bullet, a mosaic of more environmentally friendly alternatives to grouse shooting are available now benefit our people and our wildlife as well.

The Scottish Government should have nothing to be afraid of despite a powerful grouse shooting lobby. Within the Scottish National Party REVIVE, The Coalition for Grouse Moor Reform’s aims are immensely popular. A member’s resolution to end the circle of destruction of grouse shooting was the most backed motion submitted for the last SNP conference. It was signed by more than 25 party branches and MSPs. The Scottish Greens and Scottish Labour are also keen to meet this ambition so the only thing in the way of the Government seems to be political will.

REVIVE represents the middle ground in this debate. We are not calling for a full ban on all grouse shooting but for an end to all the unsustainable activities that take place to make sure there are more grouse to shoot for sport. Driven grouse shooting likely depends on these unsustainable practices but it’s up to the industry to prove that it does not.

If driven or any other type of grouse shooting depends on muirburn, mass chemical medication, unregulated bulldozed hill tracks and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of animals to sustain it, then perhaps it doesn’t deserve to exist. Licensing should be used to end the circle of destruction and to help make huge swathes of Scotland sustainable again.

In a time of climate and biodiversity crisis we must urgently move towards better land uses via a just transition. If we don’t act on this then how can we expect to transition away from far bigger industries like oil?

If we do act, then unsustainable grouse moor estates will no longer represent the peak of what’s possible in the rural areas they occupy. By unlocking our land’s potential, in tandem with greater land reform, we can open the door to thousands more jobs across rural Scotland than are currently allowed to exist.

If Scotland is to become a modern 21st century nation, moving away from unnecessary and harmful archaic practices like driven grouse shooting is essential. When we show the political will to do it, this will be to the benefit of all our people, our wildlife and crucially, the environment.

ENDS




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