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26
Jan
22

Lochan Estate penalised after discovery of illegally-killed hen harrier on grouse moor

Further to this morning’s blog about NatureScot imposing a three-year General Licence restriction on Lochan Estate, a grouse and pheasant-shooting estate in Strathbraan, Perthshire, after evidence of alleged raptor persecution was uncovered (see here), NatureScot has issued a press statement that provides more detail behind the restriction.

Thanks to the blog reader who pointed me to the press release (which isn’t mentioned on NatureScot’s General Licence restriction notices page). Here’s the statement in full:

26 January 2022

NatureScot has restricted the use of general licences on Lochan Estate in Perthshire.  The decision was made on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

Evidence included a satellite-tagged hen harrier, found dead on Lochan estate in an illegally set spring trap.

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out actions which would otherwise be illegal, including controlling common species of wild birds to protect crops or livestock.

Donald Fraser, NatureScot’s Head of Wildlife Management, said:

We are committed to using all the tools we have available to tackle wildlife crime. In this case, there is clear evidence that crime involving a wild bird occurred on this property. Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the general licences on this property for three years. They may still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

This measure will help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, although under tighter supervision. We believe this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime.

We work closely with Police Scotland and will continue to consider information they provide us on cases which may warrant restriction of general licences. The detection of wildlife crime can be difficult but new and emerging technologies, along with a commitment from a range of partners to take a collective approach to these issues, will help us stop this from occurring in the future.

Restrictions will prevent people from using the general licences on the land in question for three years. This period can increase if more evidence of offences comes to light.

See the full licence restrictions details on our website. 

ENDS

The satellite-tagged hen harrier found dead on Lochan Estate in an illegally-set spring trap is believed to be hen harrier Rannoch, according to a tweet by Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland. You can read about Rannoch’s grisly ending here.

[Hen harrier Rannoch’s corpse found on Lochan Estate showing her foot caught in the illegally-set spring trap. Photos by RSPB Scotland]

Rannoch’s satellite tag data showed she was likely caught in this trap on 10th November 2018. Her body was eventually discovered in May 2019 and was sent off for a post mortem at SRUC veterinary lab, which subsequently concluded:

The bird was trapped by the left leg in a spring trap at time of death. Death will have been due to a combination of shock and blood loss if it died quickly or to exposure and dehydration/starvation if it died slowly. Either way the bird will have experienced significant unnecessary suffering‘.

Does that mean it’s taken NatureScot over three years to impose a General Licence restriction on Lochan Estate? Or were there any further alleged crimes recorded there between November 2018 and now?

NatureScot’s press release doesn’t provide any further detail about any other discoveries, it just says, ‘Evidence included a satellite-tagged hen harrier, found dead on Lochan estate in an illegally set spring trap‘ (emphasis is mine).

I guess the FoI request I’ve submitted to NatureScot will dig out anything else.

I did have a wry smile when reading the penultimate sentence of NatureScot’s press statement:

Restrictions will prevent people from using the general licences on the land in question for three years. This period can increase if more evidence of offences comes to light‘.

It all sounds very serious and convincingly restrictive doesn’t it, but as I’ve already mentioned in this morning’s blog (here) Lochan Estate’s General Licence restriction can simply be over-ridden by the estate if they apply for an Individual licence which will allow their gamekeepers to continue killing wild birds such as crows, rooks, jays, jackdaws etc as if nothing has happened. What sort of sanction is that? A useless one. That’s not NatureScot’s fault – they have to work with the regulations they’re given, but come on, where are all the civil servants pushing for legislative change to close this gaping loophole?

And that bit about the GL restriction ‘can be extended if more evidence of offences comes to light’ – yeah, like the extension applied to Leadhills Estate that runs concurrently with the estate’s original restriction, meaning that in effect, Leadhills has only been penalised for a further 8 months, not the three years claimed by NatureScot (see here).

The system’s a joke and an overhaul is long overdue.

26
Jan
22

General Licence restriction imposed on Lochan Estate, a grouse-shooting estate in Strathbraan

Scotland’s statutory conservation agency, NatureScot, has today announced its decision to impose a three-year General Licence restriction on Lochan Estate, a grouse and pheasant-shooting estate in Strathbraan, Perthshire.

The statement on NaturesScot’s website reads:

In line with NatureScot’s published General Licence restrictions: Framework for Implementing Restrictions we hereby give notice that a restriction has been applied to the land outlined in red overleaf. This restriction prohibits the use of General Licences 01, 02 and 03 on that land between the 25th January 2022 and 25th January 2025.

Please note that this restriction does not imply responsibility for the commission of crimes on any individuals‘.

NatureScot has not published any further detail about the type of offence(s) uncovered on Lochan Estate or the date(s) of discovery. [See update at foot of blog]

Whilst I commend NatureScot (and Police Scotland, on whose evidence the decision to restrict the use of the General Licences has been made) for imposing the restriction, it’s frustrating that once again, the detail has been suppressed from the public domain. It is surely in the public interest to know what criminal activity has been uncovered on this estate, even though the alleged offences can’t be pinned on any named individual.

I have submitted an FoI asking for these details and I’ll publish the response here in due course.

For those of you unfamiliar with the geography, Lochan Estate sits in the Strathbraan area, a region recognised in a Government-commissioned report as being a raptor persecution hotspot (here). Lochan Estate was also within the boundary of the heavily-criticised Strathbraan raven cull back in 2018:

[Map of the raven cull area in Strathbraan in 2018. Yellow line = cull boundary; white line = areas of driven grouse moor where the raven cull was permitted until it was successfully challenged by the Scottish Raptor Study Group]

This three-year General Licence restriction means that the estate cannot kill magpies, carrion crows, hooded crows, jackdaws, jays, woodpigeons, feral pigeons, Canada geese, Greylag geese, or rooks either by shooting, removing nests, pricking eggs, oiling eggs, targeted falconry, or by using traps to capture and then kill them.

Unless of course the estate has applied for, and been granted, an Individual licence, which permits them to do what they were doing before as if the alleged offences never took place. Great, isn’t it?

Way back in December 2019, Ian Thomson (RSPB Scotland) and I gave evidence to the Scottish Government’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) committee where we argued that General Licence restrictions were wholly ineffective as sanctions for wildlife crime, especially (but not limited to) this ridiculous escape clause of being able to apply for an individual licence (see here).

In response, then Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon said that the Government was ‘actively considering’ the need for further, additional sanctions (see here).

It’s all gone deathly quiet since then.

UPDATE 15.07hrs: Lochan Estate penalised after discovery of illegally-killed hen harrier on grouse moor (here)

25
Jan
22

Cambridge University paper does NOT suggest that setting fire to grouse moors is good for the environment!

The grouse-shooting industry has a well-evidenced reputation for misrepresentation, whether that be of crime statistics, science, technology, opinion or policy, in fact anything it can distort in a desperate attempt to portray itself more favourably, it will do.

So it should come as no surprise whatsoever to learn that its latest warped presentation of reality relates to the misinterpretation of a new scientific paper from esteemed academics at the University of Cambridge, a paper which the grouse-shooting industry is claiming, falsely, supports the idiotic notion that repeatedly setting fire to peatland vegetation (muirburn) as part of a grouse moor management plan, is somehow good for tackling the climate emergency.

[The horrific sight of muirburn on a UK grouse moor. Photo copyright RPUK]

The paper was recently published in the eminent scientific journal Nature Geoscience. Unfortunately it sits behind a paywall but you can access the authors’ copy here and the abstract is shown below:

This is a review paper, technically demanding for the non-scientific reader, but the general conclusion is that in some environments (note, peatland was not the focus) fire can be an important tool for increasing carbon storage in soils in some circumstances.

Here’s how spin master general Tim (Kim) Baynes, Director of Moorland at landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates, misinterpreted the findings of this paper in an article he wrote for The Herald on 13th January:

The usual suspects in the grouse-shooting industry took this dreadful piece of propaganda and splashed it across social media, claiming vindication against the ‘antis’. The funniest line came from The Shooting Times who hilariously used this quote from Strathbraan gamekeeper Ronnie Kippen to ratify the Cambridge University research:

This rather blows a hole in the conservation charities’ lies about controlled muirburn“.

Actually, Ronnie, it does no such thing, as pointed out in this blog by Nick Kempe of ParksWatchScotland and in this blog by Dr David Douglas, Principal Conservation Scientist at the RSPB who says:

The paper is a literature review to understand whether fire-driven loss of carbon from soils through combustion, erosion and leaching could be offset by the ability of fire to stabilize carbon and keep it within the soil. The paper concludes that using fire to promote the stability of soil organic matter may be an important means for increasing carbon storage. But the paper focuses largely on savannah, grassland and forest biomes of little relevance to UK moorlands which are subject to burning. Indeed, the paper states that the way in which fire affects the stability of carbon in soils differs across ecosystems – in other words, the results are not automatically generalisable across ecosystems.

The enthusiasm with which the paper has been used by proponents of burning in the UK to justify its continued use on grouse moors is misguided because the review does not evaluate the framework in moorlands or peatlands more generally. In fact, the authors of the paper state that “in ecosystems with deep organic horizons, such as boreal forests and peatlands, the utility and feasibility of prescribed burning to manage SOM [soil organic matter] losses via greater stabilization is less clear“.

Despite these clear caveats, those who wish to burn vegetation in the UK uplands are using the findings of the paper, misleadingly, as evidence of the benefits of burning“.

For anyone who still thinks Tim (Kim) Baynes and/or Ronnie Kippen’s scientific analyses are convincing, it’s probably best to listen to two of the paper’s authors (Pellegrini & Malhotra) responding to a discussion on Twitter about the grouse-shooting industry’s misrepresentation of their work, as follows:

22
Jan
22

Answer from House of Lords about status of pheasants (livestock or wildlife?)

Last week I blogged about how Green peer Natalie Bennett had posed a question in the House of Lords, asking the UK Government ‘whether they regard captive-reared pheasants released into the environment as wildlife or livestock?‘ (see here).

This question stems from the Government’s ongoing contortions relating to the legal status of pheasants, a status that seemingly is able to morph from being ‘livestock’ to ‘wildlife’ and then back to ‘livestock’ at various points in the year, which provides the pheasant owner/keeper with multiple opportunities to kill native predators and avoid legal responsibility for public damage all at the same time. This flow chart from Wild Justice sums it up well:

Conservative life peer and DEFRA Minister Zac Goldsmith has now responded to Natalie Bennett’s question as follows:

A released captive-reared pheasant may be regarded as livestock if it remains significantly dependent on a keeper for their survival, for example for the provision of food, water or shelter‘.

Hmm. That’s not especially helpful when ‘significantly dependent’ hasn’t been defined, although we do know from DEFRA’s new General Licences this year that supplementary feeding of pheasants does not count in this context. Hmm, it’s all very odd.

Wild Justice has taken legal advice on this issue this week and you can expect to hear more from them in due course…. and you’ll hear it first if you subscribe to their free newsletter here.

22
Jan
22

Tarras Valley volunteers reclaiming the pheasant-rearing woods from Langholm Moor

In 2020 the community of Langholm in the Scottish Borders successfully raised £3.8 million to buy a knackered old grouse moor from the Duke of Buccleugh and transform it into a vast new nature reserve for the benefit of wildlife and the local community (see here).

Many blog readers supported and contributed to this fundraising challenge (thank you) and helped create what is now called the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve.

Kudos to the volunteers who have been busy in recent weeks clearing old fences, netting and feeding barrels from the woods which were formerly used for pheasant-rearing/shooting.

These photos of their efforts were posted on social media yesterday:

In November 2021 the community began fundraising once again, to ‘finish what we started’, and has launched stage two of the biggest community buyout scheme in south Scotland to buy the remainder of Langholm Moor which would effectively double the size of the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve.

If you’d like to make a contribution to help support this impressive lot, please visit their crowdfunder here.

Thank you.

21
Jan
22

More pheasants shot & dumped, this time in North Wales

Here we go again, one of the most disgusting consequences of releasing approx 60 million non-native pheasants and red-legged partridges into the countryside in their millions. They’re shot for a bit of a laugh and then some of them are simply dumped. Undoubtedly this is driven by an over-supply of birds and little demand by consumers for purchasing game bird meat, especially when it’s contaminated with toxic lead shot.

Unfortunately for the game shooting industry, desperate to portray itself as responsible and law-abiding with the utmost respect for its quarry, this is yet another ongoing, criminal and widespread problem associated with gamebird shooting and such a PR disaster is drawing even more attention to an industry already under intense pressure to clean up its act.

Previous examples include dumped gamebirds in Cheshire, Scottish borders (here), Norfolk (here), Perthshire (here), Berkshire (here), North York Moors National Park (here) and some more in North York Moors National Park (here) and even more in North Yorkshire (here), Co. Derry (here), West Yorkshire (here), and again in West Yorkshire (here), N Wales (here), mid-Wales (here), Leicestershire (here), Lincolnshire (here), Somerset (here), Derbyshire’s Peak District National Park (here), Suffolk (here), Leicestershire again (here) and Liverpool (here).

Yesterday, four bin bags stuffed full of dead pheasants were found dumped behind a hedge in Tremeirchion, in Denbighshire, North Wales. Judy Oliver Hewitt posted these photographs on social media:

This obscene behaviour will continue to receive attention on this blog for as long as the gamebird shooting industry demands licences to kill protected birds of prey for the purpose of ‘saving’ gamebirds.

19
Jan
22

Online abuse from Steve Grant, assistant editor of Countryman’s Weekly magazine

Yesterday I wrote a blog that drew attention to the UK Government’s Environment Food Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee’s inquiry into rural mental health and its call for evidence (here).

It didn’t seem to me to be controversial in any way, it was just simply highlighting the committee’s call for evidence and encouraging people to participate in what I described as a ‘timely inquiry’.

Apparently though, this makes me a ‘harridan’, wanting you ‘arguably unhinged’ blog supporters to ‘subvert’ a Government enquiry, according to a gentleman called Steve Grant who just happens to be the assistant editor of the Countryman’s Weekly magazine.

Here’s what he wrote on twitter yesterday:

The irony of this latest (in a long line) of online abuse from Mr Grant isn’t lost on me. Really I should thank him for providing even more evidence for the committee to ponder, which demonstrates that the problem of rural mental health is an issue that really does need to be addressed, and especially when that abuse, so clearly designed to damage the recipient’s mental well-being, is being propagated by the assistant editor of a national magazine.

You have to wonder what motivates a middle-aged man to spend his evenings abusing women online with 17th century insults? I could speculate, but I won’t.

Many thanks to Alister Clunas for calling him out.

For those of you who wish to submit evidence to the Environment Food Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee’s inquiry into rural mental health, please visit here and remember the deadline for doing this is this Friday (21st January 2022).

18
Jan
22

Rural mental health survey – this Govt committee needs to hear from you

The UK Government’s Environment Food Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee is hosting an inquiry into rural mental health (see here) and has issued a call for evidence (here).

This is a timely inquiry as there are many in the rural community who suffer huge mental stress and don’t necessarily receive the support they need (e.g. farmers having to deal with violent hare coursers).

I note that the game-shooting industry is urging its members to submit evidence, particularly that of gamekeepers who claim to be the subject of widespread abuse (see here), and you can predict where this will lead if the Government committee only hears from this sector and not from those of us at the receiving end of abuse from the game-shooting industry and others, such as the fox-hunting lot.

The inquiry has been open since November 2021 and it closes this Friday (21st January 2022) so time is short but I would encourage you to contribute if you’re able, so the committee receives views from a wide range of people.

The type of evidence you may wish to contribute would include incidents of harassment, violence, intimidation, direct and indirect threatening behaviour, vehicle damage, pet injury/death through poisoning, shooting, snaring etc, arson, online abuse, doxxing etc. You may also want to listen to this recent recording from journalist and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch, who spoke about the effect of pheasant shooting next to her property:

Here is the link if you’d like to contribute evidence to the committee and remember the deadline is this Friday – see here.

UPDATE 19th January 2022: Online abuse from Steve Grant, assistant editor of Countryman’s Weekly magazine (here)

18
Jan
22

The widespread mis-use of crow cage traps to trap & kill birds of prey

RSPB Investigations Officer Guy Shorrock published an insightful blog yesterday (‘Cage traps in the spotlight across the UK’) detailing the ongoing and widespread mis-use and abuse of crow cage traps, often used by criminal gamekeepers to trap and kill raptors, sometimes deliberately and sometimes through reckless negligence.

His blog provided details of an incident in Wales in April last year, and I don’t recall seeing any media coverage of this case. The following text is reproduced directly from Guy’s blog:

A case from April last year again highlights our concerns. A member of public found a crow cage trap on sheep grazing farmland in North Wales containing a buzzard, a red kite and multiple crows. The finder released all the birds and reported it to us.

As with all cage traps outside Scotland, without marking and registration it can far more difficult, often impossible, to identify the trap operator. A visit by my colleague Niall Owen confirmed the presence of a lamb carcass, which should have been properly disposed of and not used as bait, along with two carrion crows. A week later the trap held two crows and a buzzard plus the bodies of two further crows. To identify a trap operator, and to determine whether the licence conditions were being complied with, a covert camera was installed for a couple of days. At this point, there was no clear contravention of the licence conditions. The buzzard was in good health, so it was left in situ and provided with fresh water and food just in case visits were not made. One dead crow was seized and sent off for a post-mortem. Two days later the buzzard was still present, thankfully alive and well, so was released unharmed. We informed North Wales Police who identified the farmer operating the trap and ensured it was rendered incapable of trapping.

[Buzzard caught inside the cage trap, photo by Niall Owen, RSPB. This bird was released by the RSPB when it became clear the trap was not being operated lawfully]

The post-mortem on the carrion crow confirmed the bird had died of starvation, confirming further breaches of the licence conditions and animal welfare regulations. Had the original finder and ourselves not released the trapped birds, we fear they would have met the same fate. This case was about negligence rather than any deliberate targeting of birds of prey, and following the police investigation, the operator was given a Community Resolution Order. This had a requirement that they could not operate cage traps until a suitable course has been attended.

Guy’s blog is timely as we await the sentencing of a gamekeeper who has recently been convicted of killing two buzzards in a cage trap in Nottinghamshire (see here). The RSPB has what Guy describes as ‘graphic footage’ filmed on a covert camera showing exactly how the gamekeeper used the trap to catch and then kill two buzzards. I understand the RSPB will release this video evidence after sentencing next week.

I’d encourage you to read Guy’s blog in full (here) to understand the different approaches being deployed (or not) to address these offences in England, Scotland and Wales and how members of the public can help catch the killers.

17
Jan
22

Raptor persecution ignored in North York Moors National Park draft management plan

The North York Moors National Park Authority (NYMNPA) is currently consulting on its draft management plan, which aims to set out a series of priority actions to help the Park tackle issues which include ‘recovery from the COVID pandemic, escalating climate and nature emergencies, increasing mental and physical health problems among the general population, and the need to change the way we look after our landscapes‘.

You can download the draft plan here:

I had a quick read through this document at the weekend and was surprised to see how little substance it contained and how vague its stated 22 priority objectives were. For example, whilst there was general commentary around ‘active restoration’ of degraded blanket bog and peat habitats, the only reference I found that might possibly allude to the massive environmental problems caused by intensive driven grouse shooting, which dominates the landscape of this National Park, was this:

Objective 8 – Work with our moorland community to support the sustainable management of moorland to ensure it retains a natural remoteness which supports a greater variety of species and habitats.

I didn’t find one single reference to tackling wildlife crime, and especially raptor persecution, which has long been recognised as an ongoing characteristic of this National Park. For example, just in the last few years alone we’ve seen a shot buzzard (here), a poisoned buzzard (here), deliberate disturbance of a goshawk breeding attempt (here), a satellite-tagged hen harrier vanish in suspicious circumstances (here), another shot buzzard (here), and another shot buzzard (here), a goshawk trapped, reportedly killed and taken away in sack (here), another poisoned buzzard (here), an illegally-set trap (here), and five shot buzzards found stuffed under a rock (here).

Nor did I find any reference to targeting the mass release of non-native gamebirds (pheasants and red-legged partridge) or assessing the damage they cause inside the National Park. It seems the North York Moor National Park Authority could do with taking a look at the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s management plan, which has recently included this issue as one of its priorities (see here).

The North York Moors National Park draft management plan is important, because it aims to set out its vision for how the National Park will be in 20 years time.

According to the NYMNPA website, ‘the draft plan is the result of a series of conversations with stakeholders and partners over the last year. The proposals it contains are not set in stone. Neither we nor our partners possess a monopoly of wisdom. This document invites discussion, input and feedback so that the final plan can properly reflect as wide a range of views as possible. It is an opportunity for everyone to collaborate with us to create a shared plan that will shape the future of the North York Moors National Park‘.

The Park Authority wants your views, whether you live in the Park or you are a visitor. Particularly, it wants to know whether it has ‘missed something that is important to you’:

If you share my concerns about ongoing raptor persecution in this National Park, and the unregulated mass release of non-native species for shooting, I’d encourage you to contact the NYMNPA and ask them to prioritise tackling these issues in the management plan. Contact details are shown in the image above.

Please note, the consultation closes this Friday (21st January 2022).

Thank you.




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