Archive for October, 2021

31
Oct
21

Three buzzards ‘killed illegally’ says South Yorkshire Police

South Yorkshire Police tweeted this yesterday:

The Off Road Bike Team located 2 gralloched Deer & 3 dead Buzzards on Doncaster patch today. Having spoken to landowners the deer have been poached, & buzzards killed illegally. The team will be extending our patrols into the night‘.

There aren’t any further details.

29
Oct
21

Wild Justice launches legal challenge against general licences in Northern Ireland

Wildlife conservation group Wild Justice has today launched a legal challenge against the Northern Ireland Executive’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) for issuing what Wild Justice believes to be scientifically and legally flawed general licences.

If you subscribe to Wild Justice’s newsletter, you’ll already be aware of this news (you can subscribe to the newsletter, for free, here). Here is an excerpt from this morning’s newsletter about this latest case:

Today we have launched a legal challenge against the general licences issued by the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. This follows legal action we have taken over the last two and a half years against such licences in England and Wales.  Those challenges have led to significant reforms and improvements (though there is more to do). 

A recap on general licences: all wild birds are protected by law, that is the sensible starting point. Only for specific purposes (eg public health, protecting livestock, nature conservation) can authorities issue licences for killing species. Such licences, general licences because they are not person-specific, are published each year in each of the four UK nations.  They specify which species can be killed for which purposes and what non-lethal means should be tried before lethal control is lawful.  The conditions of the licences are rarely enforced and Wild Justice regards these licences as casual licences that permit casual killing of otherwise protected species on an unlimited scale. We’ll soon be letting you know how you can respond to the consultation by Natural Resources Wales on their general licences – we believe they are moving, too slowly, in the right direction. 

DAERA’s general licences: DAERA’s general licences are, in our opinion, the worst in place anywhere in the UK. We have corresponded with DAERA since spring 2019, but most particularly several times and in detail this year, about the scientific and legal flaws in their licences. We were encouraged when DAERA issued a consultation on new general licences in July (see Wild Justice newsletter 68) but that consultation was mysteriously removed for reasons that have never been made clear. It looked to us as though DAERA was planning to make sensible changes to their licences and then abruptly changed their minds. We wonder whether they were put under pressure by vested interests. 

What we have done: we have given DAERA every warning that they would face a legal challenge if they persisted with flawed licences. This week we have sent them a pre-action protocol letter in advance of seeking permission for judicial review of the legality of the licences. DAERA has two weeks to respond and in the absence of a satisfactory response we will move swiftly to lodge papers with the courts.  We feel we have a strong case and this is an area of science and law in which we have been active for some time – we will pursue this case very robustly‘.

Wild Justice is a not-for-profit company and its three Directors (Chris Packham, Mark Avery, Ruth Tingay) work voluntarily to take legal cases and advocate for a better deal for wildlife. A crowdfunder has been launched to help support the costs of taking on this latest case. If you’d like to find out more about the challenge and help by making a donation, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

Thank you.

UPDATE 4th November 2021: Wild Justice secures funds for legal challenge of Northern Ireland’s General Licences (here)

27
Oct
21

“They all know what is going on, and they cover it up” – police inspector’s view on gamekeepers & raptor killing

Timed to publish on the same day as the RSPB’s Birdcrime report, documenting how 2020 was the ‘worst year on record’ for crimes against birds of prey in the UK (see here), National Geographic has just published a lengthy article, written by journalist Rene Ebersole who visited the UK earlier this year specifically to research the subject of raptor persecution on grouse moors.

Rene visited quite a few field sites and interviewed a lot of people for this piece, including Mark Thomas (RSPB Investigations), Mark Avery (Wild Justice), Caroline Middleton Gordon (Moorland Association), Matt Hagen (North Yorkshire Police and RPPDG), Mark Cunliffe-Lister (Swinton Estate & Moorland Association), Steve Downing (Northern England Raptor Forum), the witness who saw ‘gamekeepers’ shooting buzzards on the Bransdale Estate last year, and some others.

I could spend a long time analysing the contributions from these people but unfortunately I don’t have the time today. I will try and come back to it at some point though, because some of it, especially Cunliffe-Lister’s comments, deserve ripping to shreds. If you’re going to read the article, and I’d urge you to because it’s very, very good, I’d recommend you don’t have a hot drink anywhere nearby when you read Cunliffe-Lister’s predictable denials and diversions. For example:

Grouse shooting had some bad times when raptors were being controlled illegally historically, but now we’re all being responsible and working a way forward, so we can still keep somebody living in this house and working up here, rather than giving up“.

What a prat. It’s these constant denials from senior figures in the shooting industry, in the face of decades worth of overwhelming science and evidence, that provide the raptor killers with the confidence to continue their crimes on the shooting estates, safe in the knowledge they’re probably going to be protected.

North Yorkshire Police Inspector Matt Hagen deserves a medal simply for being prepared to stand up and say it how he sees it, at great risk to his personal and professional life knowing how the nasty brigade has turned on previous officers who’ve dared to form and express an opinion based on evidence and experience.

He talks about knowing the identity of the Nidderdale poisoner, of how the Bransdale gamekeepers all gave ‘no comment’ interviews when questioned about the five shot buzzards found buried on the estate, how ‘shocked and disgusted’ he is about the high level of raptor persecution in the UK, how it’s ‘more likely than not‘ that hen harrier River was shot on the Swinton Estate, despite the ridiculous and largely implausible explanations of estate owner Cunliffe-Lister, and how gamekeepers “all know what is going on, and they cover it up“.

He’s not wrong. This pie chart from the latest RSPB Birdcrime report shows that almost three-quarters of those convicted of raptor persecution crimes in the last 30 years worked in, or had connections to, the game-shooting industry.

The National Geographic article is free and open access. You can read it HERE

Well done, journalist Rene Ebersole and her photographer Anastasia Taylor-Lind – it’s a very good piece and it’s excellent that these disgraceful crimes are being featured by a highly respected organisation such as National Geographic, being exposed to a much wider international audience.

UPDATE: A PDF of the article can now be downloaded here:

27
Oct
21

2020 was ‘worst year on record’ for persecution of birds of prey in UK, says new RSPB report

Press release from RSPB (27th October 2021)

The RSPB’s Birdcrime 2020 report has revealed 137 known, confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution last year – the highest number recorded in 30 years.

Produced annually by the RSPB’s Investigations unit, Birdcrime is the UK’s only full data set on confirmed incidents of raptor persecution – namely the illegal shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey.

There were 137 confirmed incidents in 2020: the highest total since recording began in 1990. The overall rise in numbers can be attributed to the unprecedented number of incidents detected in England (99) during 2020, many of which occurred during Covid-19 lockdown.

The victims included 58 buzzards, 20 red kites, 16 peregrines, six sparrowhawks, three goshawks and other protected birds of prey including rare hen harriers and golden eagles. Based on population studies for significant species, it’s believed that the true number killed is far greater, with many crimes going undetected and unreported.

The crimes took place across a variety of land uses. However, a minimum of 85 (62%) of all confirmed incidents were in connection with land managed for or connected to gamebird shooting. Bird of prey persecution shows a clear link to pheasant, partridge and grouse shooting, with incidents being more widespread in lowland areas and more concentrated in upland areas. In addition to Birdcrime data, peer-reviewed scientific studies based on satellite tagging and bird of prey populations, crime data and court convictions, show that raptor persecution has the most negative conservation impact on driven grouse moors. A Government study in 2019, identified criminal persecution by humans as the main factor suppressing the UK population of hen harriers: a red-listed bird species which nests on heather moorland.

North Yorkshire is the worst place for birdcrime in the UK for the seventh year in a row. Twenty-six of the 137 confirmed incidents occurred in North Yorkshire. Of these two thirds were directly related to grouse shooting and a further four incidents to other types of shooting. Victims in the county included 16 buzzards, two peregrine falcons, two red kites and one goshawk.

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail. Yet in 2020, there were only two prosecutions for raptor persecution offences.

The RSPB is calling on the governments of the UK to act now and implement a system of licensing for driven grouse shooting, to create greater accountability and ensure all estates operate to legal and high environmental standards. Failure to comply with licensing requirements should result in licence revocation for a defined period and therefore removal of the right to shoot as a meaningful deterrent to illegal behaviours.

The wildlife conservation charity is also urging for action to end other associated environmentally damaging land management practices, including a ban on burning on deep peat. The RSPB would also like to see a significant reduction in the numbers of non-native pheasants and red-legged partridges, currently millions, released into the countryside each year as there is growing evidence of environmental harm.

Mark Thomas, the RSPB’s Head of Investigations said “Although we have become used to the illegal killing of birds of prey, the figure for 2020 is truly shocking.

We are in a climate and nature emergency. All land must be managed legally and sustainably for people and for nature, and not accelerate the worrying loss of UK wildlife we are already experiencing.

The RSPB welcomes the announcement by the Scottish Government to licence driven grouse moors there, but this has to happen now in England as well. Licensing should be conditional on compliance with wildlife protection laws, and if breached, should result in removal of the right to shoot. Those shoot operators who behave legally and responsibly should have nothing to fear from this sanction”.

Chief Inspector Kevin Kelly, Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) said “Raptor Persecution is a National Wildlife Crime Priority. This report puts an emphasis on why it’s a priority and why it will remain a priority for years to come. I am disappointed in such a significant rise in incidents as the crime figures go a long way to undermine the hard work that’s done daily to tackle raptor persecution. I feel the Priority Delivery Group holds the key to success, this has gone through a period of change, bringing leadership, accountability and some fresh positive partners in. That said, the hard work lays ahead of us and we will be judged on our actions, not our words.”

ENDS

The RSPB 2020 Birdcrime report can be downloaded here:

The Birdcrime 2020 appendices (breakdown of data) can be downloaded here:

So you know when the game-shooting organisations say that raptor persecution is in decline, it was an historical issue but it’s no longer a thing, that the industry has a ‘zero tolerance policy’ towards raptor persecution and it’s now just the work of a rogue keeper or two?

They’re lying.

2020 was the worst year on record.

Just think about that.

UPDATE 16.00hrs: “They all know what is going on, and they cover it up” – police inspector’s view on gamekeepers and raptor killing (here)

25
Oct
21

Police boot off Countryside Alliance rep from all wildlife crime priority delivery groups after hunting webinar trial

STOP PRESS!

Phil Davies, a retired police Chief Inspector with Dyfed Powys Police who has been working for the last ten years as a Police Liaison Officer for the Countryside Alliance, has been booted off the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG).

In fact, he’s been removed from all of the wildlife crime priority delivery groups, according to Chief Inspector Kevin Kelly, Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU). He told me that Davies was removed on Thursday (21 October) after a brief conversation and that all those within the Priority Delivery Groups have been notified of the decision.

Davies’ removal is due to his participation in the now infamous hunting webinars, secretly recorded last year showing some of the UK’s leading hunting personnel discussing how to avoid prosecution for illegal fox hunting by creating ‘smoke screens’ and ‘elements of doubt’. The webinars were leaked to the public by the Hunt Saboteurs Association which led to a police investigation into the six webinar speakers, including Davies (see here). Only one speaker, Mark Hankinson, was prosecuted (and subsequently convicted earlier this month) but the judge’s damning commentary of Phil Davies’ contribution, and the investigating police officers’ reported frustration that Davies had avoided prosecution, had led to calls for him to be removed from the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (see here and here).

[Screengrab of some of the hunting webinar speakers, including Phil Davies who works as the Police Liaison Officer for the Countryside Alliance. Screengrab from material published by the Hunt Saboteurs Association]

The various Priority Delivery Groups have been established for the seven National Wildlife Crime Priorities (e.g. raptor persecution, badger persecution, bat persecution, CITES, freshwater pearl mussels, cyber-enabled wildlife crime and poaching) and the purpose of these delivery groups is ‘to progress the priority in relation to prevention, intelligence and enforcement’ (see here). That’s police-speak for getting on and finding ways of tackling wildlife crime and bringing the criminals to justice.

Of all these groups, the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) is the least effective. In fact it’s achieved absolutely nothing of any use towards the protection and conservation of birds of prey in the UK in its 11-year existence, and that’s because the group includes organisations from the game-shooting industry, some of whose members have been/are still under police investigation for alleged raptor persecution. There are clear conflicts of interest, but those organisations have sat comfortably, with the support of DEFRA, happily disrupting and frustrating the efforts of the other organisations trying their best to make a difference (e.g. RSPB, Northern England Raptor Forum).

So Davies’ removal from the RPPDG, and in fact from all the PDGs, is a significant move and Chief Inspector Kevin Kelly deserves much credit for taking the opportunity and seizing it. Good riddance to Davies and kudos to the NWCU.

It’s plainly obvious that Davies is completely unsuitable to serve on any of these groups if the public is to have any confidence in the groups’ integrity, but it’s not just about an individual like Davies. He was there representing the Countryside Alliance and all the associated toxicity that comes with that.

With Davies gone, will the Countryside Alliance now simply be invited to send another representative (probably coached in the background by Davies) to join the RPPDG and the other wildlife crime PDGs, or has the mask finally slipped too far now for the Countryside Alliance to be viewed as anything other than malignant?

Let’s see what happens.

24
Oct
21

Moorland Association Chair in poor attempt to undermine RSPB ahead of damning Birdcrime report

Last week the RSPB revealed that yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier, this one called ‘Reiver’, had disappeared in suspicious circumstances in September on a grouse moor in Northumberland (see here).

Reiver is the 57th hen harrier known to have been killed or disappeared in suspicious circumstances on or close to a grouse moor since 2018 (see here). And actually there are more than 57, it’s just that some of the cases have yet to be made public by the police. There hasn’t been a single prosecution for any of these.

The suspicious disappearance of Reiver has attracted significant media coverage, although I didn’t see any of the shooting organisations posting an appeal for information on their websites – which speaks volumes in itself.

Part of the media coverage included an item on BBC Radio Newcastle on Weds 20th October, where radio broadcaster Alfie Joey interviewed Howard Jones (RSPB Investigations Team) and Mark Cunliffe-Lister (Lord Masham of Swinton Estate, also current Chair of the Moorland Association and with a reputation for being a forgetful silly billy, here).

[Mark Cunliffe-Lister, Lord Masham, Chair of Moorland Association & forgetful silly billy. Photographer unknown]

The interview is only available for another 25 days so if you intend to listen do so sooner rather than later, although to be honest you’ll not be missing very much at all. It’s just a repeat of the usual strategy from the Moorland Association – deny everything and do as much as possible to divert attention from the ongoing killing of raptors on grouse moors, preferably by slagging off the RSPB and trying to undermine their status and authority on this issue.

In fact, the last time I heard the Moorland Association on BBC Radio Newcastle the then Moorland Assoc secretary claimed there was ‘no evidence’ of gamekeepers being involved in the persecution of hen harriers (yes, really – see here). Eight years on and not much has changed, with Lord Masham arguing with a straight face that there is still a need to ‘try and understand the cause of these crimes’ and claiming that ‘…clearly as an industry we’re all about welcoming hen harriers and working with them…’

You can listen to the latest radio interview here, starts at 1:39:07

Here are a few other choice quotes from Lord Masham:

The problem is, the RSPB will just do their own investigations, publish their own information online, with their own conclusions, which is not helping anybody

and

I would suggest that we work better with the police and the authorities, try and understand the cause of these crimes, then to take action with them, rather than trying to go out independently as the RSPB seem to do, do their own investigations, publish all their stuff online and seem to avoid the police and the authorities and the law“.

I like listening to radio interviews because it’s fun trying to spot the key words and phrases that the interviewee is trying to shoehorn in to the discussion, no matter what conversational contortions this requires. It tells you quite clearly what the interviewee thinks is the most important, take-home message to get across to listeners.

Some interviewees are seasoned professionals and have mastered this trick with ease. Others, not so much. The funniest example I’ve heard was Nick Halfhide, then Director of Sustainable Development at SNH, who had clearly been briefed to deflect attention from the raven-killing licence SNH had issued and instead talk about saving waders. It was hilariously bad – see here.

In a similar vein, Lord Masham’s obvious intention during this interview was to undermine the work of the RSPB’s investigations team. Unfortunately for him, his disingenuous claim that the RSPB ‘seem to avoid the police and the authorities and the law‘ is not only unfounded, but is easily dismantled with masses of available evidence.

Anyone who has been following this blog recently will have seen the string of multi-agency police-led raids this year, jointly investigating, with the RSPB, suspected raptor persecution crimes on land managed for gamebird shooting, up and down the country (e.g. see here). Indeed, RSPB Investigator Guy Shorrock has just written a blog (here) where he says that in his 30-year career with the RSPB’s investigations team:

I have to say the partnership working during the last 12 months or so to tackle raptor persecution has been some of the best I can ever remember. We have had fantastic responses from many police forces including Cheshire, Dorset, Devon, Durham, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, North Yorkshire, North Wales, Suffolk, West Mercia, Wiltshire, and Police Scotland.

Some of the work by police Wildlife Crime Officers in these cases has been outstanding, and the support from the NWCU, Natural England, Welsh Government, CPS and HSE has been genuinely heart-warming. RSPB have been supporting all these enquiries, and have indeed generated several of them, and most are now progressing to court. They include some very serious allegations of extensive persecution which will no doubt cause significant public alarm when the full details and graphic imagery come to light‘.

Does that sound like the RSPB is ‘avoiding working with the police, the authorities and the law’?

No, it doesn’t.

So just what is Lord Masham’s game?

Could it be that the RSPB’s annual Birdcrime report is due to be published any day now, and this latest report will cover the period of lockdown in 2020 when the RSPB has previously reported ‘a surge’ in raptor persecution crimes (e.g. here and here)?

Could it be that the Moorland Association, knowing full well that the damning content of this new report will expose the shooting industry’s so-called claim of ‘zero tolerance for raptor persecution’ as the pathetic, untruthful marketing ploy we all know it to be, is now desperately trying to portray the RSPB as an unreliable source to try and diminish the impact of the new Birdcrime report?

23
Oct
21

Game-shooting industry silent about short-eared owl found shot on North Pennines grouse moor

Earlier this week I blogged about the discovery of a short-eared owl that had been found shot on a grouse moor on the Wemmergill Estate in the North Pennines AONB (see here).

This is the same estate where two short-eared owls were found shot and stuffed into a hole in 2015 (here) and where a satellite-tagged hen harrier called Marc had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in 2018 (here).

[Short-eared owl. Photographer unknown]

Those of us interested in stamping out illegal raptor persecution have made sure that Durham Constabulary’s appeal for information about this latest victim has been distributed far and wide (e.g. see blog here by Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of the North Pennines AONB partnership, and blog here by the Northern England Raptor Forum).

Unfortunately, the leading game-shooting organisations, some of whose members have been and/or are currently under investigation for various raptor persecution crimes, have once again failed to publicise or condemn this crime. I’ve just looked at the websites of the National Gamekeepers Organisation, BASC, Countryside Alliance and the Moorland Association and not one of them has published the police appeal or issued their own appeal.

It’s worth remembering that these organisations also serve on the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), along with Government officials, police and NGOs. One of the roles of the RPPDG is apparently to raise awareness of ongoing raptor persecution crimes.

I’m not sure how staying silent meets this objective.

On the subject of the RPPDG, I’ve written to the Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit and asked whether the Countryside Alliance representative, former Police Inspector Phil Davies, will be removed from the RPPDG following his participation in a webinar where criminal information was disseminated about persecuting wildlife and avoiding prosecution (see here). I await a response with interest.

UPDATE 25th October 2021: Police boot off Countryside Alliance rep from all wildlife crime priority delivery groups after hunting webinar trial (here)

23
Oct
21

New release location being sought for white-tailed eagles in Norfolk

Following last week’s news that the Wild Ken Hill Estate in Norfolk has inexplicably backed out of hosting a project for the restoration of white-tailed eagles in East Anglia, which was due to start next year (see here), project leaders at The Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation have announced that the search is on for a new release location.

[A white-tailed eagle hunting over the north Norfolk coast. Photographer unknown]

A statement posted on the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation website reads:

We are very disappointed that Wild Ken Hill do not wish to proceed with the White-tailed Eagle reintroduction project that Natural England licenced earlier this year. The early results from the Isle of Wight project are extremely encouraging, and we continue to believe that East Anglia is highly suitable for the second stage of the restoration of the White-tailed Eagle in England, as detailed in the Ken Hill feasibility report.  As such, we are now seeking an alternative location, and are in consultation with Natural England about this. We hope to report more news in due course‘.

Given the number of pheasant and partridge shooting estates in Norfolk, including the royal Sandringham Estate with its reputation for hosting raptors (ahem), and the game-shooting industry’s repeated claims about how raptors are always welcome, there shouldn’t be any difficulty finding a new venue to support the planned release of young eagles.

Should there?!

22
Oct
21

Judicial review on beaver culling in Scotland – a good result

Beaver culling is off-topic for this blog but there are wider implications relevant to the culling of other protected species, including raptors.

Earlier this year, Scottish charity Trees for Life launched a judicial review against the Government’s beaver-killing policy, whereby it was argued that NatureScot was too quick to issue beaver-killing licences to landowners and should only have issued licences after all other non-lethal options had been considered.

[Photo by Scotland: The Big Picture]

It’s important to note that neither Trees for Life, nor indeed any of their significant financial supporters (e.g. Wild Justice) were arguing that beavers should never ever be culled under any circumstances. That was a myth generated by some hard-of-thinking members of the farming/shooting community. The actual main thrust of the argument was that culling should have been a last resort, not a first resort.

Blog readers helped raise the funds required by Trees for Life to take on the legal challenge (thank you) and the case was heard in June (here). Of great interest to me was that the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) and landowner lobby group Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) both joined forces with NatureScot to fight the legal challenge because, according to an NFUS letter to members in April,

……. if Trees for Life wins the judicial review, along with ‘uninformed pressure’ from conservationists, then there may be implications for the ‘control’ (killing) of other species including ‘sea eagles, badgers, geese and ravens’ (see here).

Yesterday the court published its judgement and the headline news is that Trees for Life won one out of five of its legal points, but the point that it did win on was significant, in that it was ruled NatureScot’s current beaver killing licences are unlawful and the agency must in future fully set out the reasons, in writing, it believes a licence to kill a beaver is warranted. This is important because unless NatureScot can demonstrate each time that all non-lethal options have been considered first, each licence is open to legal challenge. There can be no more ‘rubber stamping of death’ as has been the case so far.

This legal ruling has obvious implications for the licensed killing of all other protected species in Scotland, and most importantly as far as I’m concerned implications for the constant, behind-the-scenes agitating by the game shooting and farming industry to be given licences to kill birds of prey such as buzzards, sparrowhawks, red kites, hen harriers, even white-tailed eagles (e.g. see here, here, here).

This legal ruling from Lady Carmichael doesn’t put the issuing of licences to kill beyond reach, and that was never intended anyway, but it does emphasise the high level of consideration that NatureScot will have to demonstrate before it issues any further licences. This is a very long way from NatureScot’s recent attitude, e.g. “Let’s have more trials [culls], whether it’s about ravens or other things” just to see what happens, as stated by NatureScot’s Director of Sustainable Development in 2018 (see here).

A Trees for Life press release on yesterday’s ruling can be read here

NatureScot response here

Very many congratulations to the team from Trees for Life. Judicial reviews are not for the faint-hearted and they require a huge amount of hard work and effort. I think they’ve achieved a significant win here.

Some other news coverage with commentary from both sides can be found here:

BBC News

Scotsman

National

22
Oct
21

3 month suspended sentence for possession of two shot buzzards strung up on farmland

Press statement from National Parks & Wildlife Service (Ireland), 21 October 2021:

Three Month Suspended Jail Sentence for the Possession of two dead Buzzards

A County Laois man has been given a three month suspended prison sentence for the possession of two dead Buzzards, which were found strung up on his land.

On Friday the 15th of October, at Portlaoise District Court, Mr. Desmond Crawford, Roskelton, Mountrath, Co. Laois pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of two dead Buzzards contrary to Section 45 (2) & 45 (7) of the Wildlife Acts. The offence took place on the 19th of April 2020 at Clonadacasey, Mountrath, Co. Laois. The offence was investigated by the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Housing, Local Government, and Heritage. It was prosecuted under the Wildlife Acts by Rory Hanniffy BL, instructed by Sandra Mahon, State Solicitor for County Offaly.

In his evidence to the Court, District Conservation Officer Mr Kieran Buckley of the NPWS told Judge Catherine Staines that he, accompanied by two NPWS Conservation Rangers from neighbouring areas, travelled to Clonadacasey to investigate a complaint from a member of the public that two dead Buzzards were tied up to an electricity post and a fence stake in cultivated fields.

Upon arrival, the NPWS searched the area and found one dead Buzzard strung up by its outstretched wings to an electricity post and another dead Buzzard strung up by its legs to a fence stake. Following a line of inquiry, Mr Buckley established that Mr. Crawford was farming the land where he found the two dead Buzzards. Accompanied by NPWS Officers Robert Edge and Colm Malone, Mr. Buckley then interviewed Mr Crawford under caution about the incident.

At the District Court sitting, photographs of the two dead Buzzards and X-ray evidence were presented to Judge Catherine Staines. Mr Buckley told the Judge that the X-ray evidence left no doubt that both Buzzards had been shot, adding that the tight pattern of the lead shot showed clear evidence that both birds were shot at close range. He added that given the time of year, the dead Buzzards may have been a breeding pair. This, he said, would leave them vulnerable to being shot at their nest. Mr Buckley also told the Judge that Buzzards were the most frequent casualty of bird of prey persecutions and added that the NPWS is determined to tackle wildlife crimes of this nature, particularly when this species has recovered from the brink of extinction.

The defence solicitor, Josephine Fitzpatrick, told the Judge that Mr. Crawford denied he had shot the Buzzards, but he was very sorry for what he had done and apologised to the Court.

In her summation, Judge Staines expressed her abhorrence at the undignified manner in which two beautiful birds were displayed, saying it showed no respect whatsoever. It was, she said, “an example of a disgusting lack of respect in an outrageous act of wildlife crime”.  

Judge Staines then detailed to the court that she had to consider a prison sentence as an appropriate way to deal with this matter. She convicted Mr. Crawford of the possession of the two Dead Buzzards under Section 45 (2) and 45 (7) of the Wildlife Acts and imposed a three-month sentence of imprisonment, which she suspended on the Accused’s own bond for a period of one year.

The Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Malcolm Noonan TD said that recent judgements in the District Courts indicate clearly that wildlife crimes have serious consequences:

“I welcome the conviction in this awful case and would like to thank everyone involved in securing it. I particularly welcome the comments of Judge Staines, who acknowledged the outrageousness of the crime and the lack of respect shown to these beautiful birds. Recent judgements being handed down in the Courts to people convicted of deliberately destroying habitats or harming wildlife are sending out a clear signal that, as a society, we will no longer tolerate such actions. Wildlife crime is serious, and it has serious consequences. We need to protect nature,” he said.

Ciara O’Mahony, Regional Manager of the South East Region of the National Parks and Wildlife Service at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, welcomed the reporting of this matter by a concerned member of the public, and encouraged more who witness wildlife crimes such as this to come forward in confidence to the NPWS.

“We are increasingly receiving contact about wildlife crime and habitat destruction, from people who are concerned about biodiversity loss. We welcome such reports, and the nature conservation consciousness and awareness that they represent,” she said. 

Any member of the public wishing to report possible wildlife crime or illegal habitat destruction in Ireland can contact the NPWS through natureconservation@housing.gov.ie or direct to local NPWS staff. For more detail on wildlife legislation, see www.npws.ie

Information in relation to recording incidents involving birds of prey, including Buzzards, “Recording and Addressing Persecution and Threats to our Raptors. A Review of Incidents” can be found in: https://www.npws.ie/sites/default/files/publications/pdf/IWM126.pdf

ENDS




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