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29
Mar
17

Court case continues for Angus Glens gamekeeper accused of alleged pole trapping offences

Criminal proceedings continued yesterday (28 March 2017) against Scottish gamekeeper Craig Graham.

Mr Graham, 51, is accused of allegedly setting and re-setting a pole trap, baited with a pheasant carcass, on the Brewlands Estate in the Angus Glens between 9-17 July 2015. He has denied the charges.

This case was first called on 31 March 2016, then on 22 April 2016, then on 12 May 2016 when Mr Graham pleaded not guilty. A provisional trial date was set for 9th September 2016.

This trial date was later dumped (at a hearing on 16 August 2016) and another provisional trial date was set for 5th December 2016. This was also later dumped and a third provisional date (at a hearing on 5 December 2016) was set for 15 May 2017.

At yesterday’s hearing, the case was adjourned, again, for a further intermediate diet scheduled for 25 April 2017. We don’t know whether the third provisional trial date of 15 May 2017 still stands – it depends what happens at the hearing on 25 April 2017.

Previous blogs on this case herehere and here

29
Mar
17

Raeshaw Estate loses judicial review on General Licence restriction

In November 2015, the Scottish Government’s statutory conservation agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, imposed a General Licence restriction order on a number of estates where it was believed raptor persecution had taken place but there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any individual (see here).

These restrictions were the first to be imposed since this new enforcement measure became available on 1 January 2014.

Two of the four grouse shooting estates were in Stirlingshire (Burnfoot Estate and neighbouring Wester Cringate Estate, where several poisoned raptors and an illegally-set trap had been found) and two were in the Scottish Borders (Raeshaw Estate and neighbouring Corsehope Farm, where illegally-set traps had been placed).

The General Licence restriction on all four estates was to run from 13 November 2015 to 12 November 2018, which meant that certain types of ‘pest’ control were prohibited unless the Estates applied for a specific individual licence that would be subject to tighter controls.

Raeshaw Estate (and neighbouring Corsehope Farm, where ‘pest’ control is undertaken by Raeshaw gamekeepers) made a legal challenge against SNH’s decision and in February 2016 they petitioned for a judicial review.

A judicial review challenges a decision made by a public body (in this case SNH) and examines whether the right procedures have been followed (i.e. with procedural fairness, within the legal powers of the public body, and with rationality).

The judicial review was heard in January 2017 and we have been awaiting the court’s judgement. It was published yesterday and can be read here: Raeshaw judicial review decision

We don’t intend to discuss the details of the court’s judgement – you can read those for yourselves (but do pay attention to the bit about the homemade trap, identical to the illegally-set homemade trap placed out on the hill, found in the possession of one of the gamekeepers – it’s quite interesting), but in summary, the court decided that SNH had acted fairly and with due regard to the stated rationale for imposing a General Licence restriction as laid out in SNH’s framework for implementing restrictions. As we understand it, there is a right to appeal to a higher court so we’ll have to wait and see whether Raeshaw Estate decides to take this option.

For now, this judgement is very, very good news. We, and others, have been highly critical of SNH’s handling of the General Licence restrictions, particularly when they subsequently issued individual licences to Raeshaw and Corsehope which effectively circumvented the supposed sanction of the General Licence restriction (see here, herehere, here). Yesterday’s court judgement does not alter our view on that and we will continue to challenge SNH about the so-called ‘tighter controls’ on these individual licences.

However, what yesterday’s court judgement does (or should) do, is open the floodgates for further General Licence restrictions to be imposed on other estates where there is evidence of raptor persecution. We know that SNH has a backlog of cases, dating back to 2014, and they’ve been sitting on those, justifiably, while the judicial review process has been underway. Now that the Court of Session has validated SNH’s procedures for imposing General Licence restrictions, we hope they will get on with handing out some more.

UPDATE 11.30am: SNH press statement here

28
Mar
17

Political maneuvering in build up to publication of raptor sat tag review

Over the weekend, there was some extraordinary media coverage centred on accusations that the RSPB is “openly ignoring” PAW Scotland protocols in relation to what should happen when a satellite tagged raptor ‘disappears’.

It all stemmed from a leaked letter about wildlife crime, written by the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee, addressed to Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham. That letter has now been published and you can read it here: ECCLR letter on Wildlife Crime to Environment Secretary_26March2017

This letter was leaked to the press last week, prior to being published on the Scottish Government’s website. That in itself is extraordinary – who leaked it, and why?

The press ran with this story and several pieces sought to portray RSPB Scotland in a poor light (e.g. BBC news article here). What was even more extraordinary was that this subject was also included in the BBC’s Sunday Politics show, with interviews from Graeme Dey MSP (convener of the Environment Committee) and Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations, RSPB Scotland). The programme is available on iPlayer for the next few weeks here.

Why was this extraordinary? Well, what with the imminent triggering of Article 50 for Brexit, and the SNP’s push for a second independence referendum, you might think that a political current affairs programme had slightly more pressing issues to discuss.

Ah, but wait a minute, the much anticipated review of raptor satellite tag data is due to be published in the very near future, and is expected to expose some pretty uncomfortable truths for our friends in the grouse shooting industry, which could (should!), finally, lead to some enforcement action by the Scottish Government.

May be the timing of these accusations against RSPB Scotland is purely coincidental, but may be it isn’t. We wouldn’t be so foolish as to underestimate the power and influence of the landowning grouse shooting brigade.

To cut to the chase, we thought it’d be interesting to ask blog readers whether they agreed that RSPB Scotland had “openly ignored” the PAW Scotland satellite tagged raptor protocol.

Here’s the scenario for you to consider:

A satellite-tagged golden eagle, whose tag had been functioning perfectly well, suddenly and inexplicably ‘disappears’ off the radar in an area where there is previous history of confirmed raptor persecution.

Follow the PAW Scotland protocol flow chart and decide whether the RSPB has breached the protocol by immediately contacting Police Scotland about the ‘missing’ eagle but NOT the landowner.

28
Mar
17

MSP criticizes Scottish Government for procrastination on SSPCA powers

Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell has hit out at the Scottish Government for procrastinating over the decision to give the SSPCA increased investigatory powers, which would allow them to tackle a wider suite of wildlife crime.

Yesterday, he issued the following press release:

Mark Ruskell MSP, Environment spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, has hit out at the Scottish Government for failing to extend the powers of animal charity the SSPCA so they can tackle wildlife crime.

It comes as Holyrood’s Environment Committee, of which Mr Ruskell is a member, warns of “alarming distrust” between groups that tackle wildlife crimes. The Committee has written to the Environment Secretary, urging greater cooperation and improved reporting.

Mark Ruskell, Environment spokesperson for the Scottish Greens and MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said:

Killing of wildlife such as rare birds of prey is an utter disgrace and it’s clear that the Police are leaving gaps in their investigatory and reporting work, which is increasing frustration amongst wildlife charities. It’s time for the SSPCA’s well established investigatory role to be extended to wildlife crime to bolster Police efforts.

The SSPCA have a respected statutory role in relation to animal welfare cases already. I see no reason why this shouldn’t be extended to wildlife crime. We were promised a decision by the Scottish Government six years ago on the SSPCA’s powers but it has yet to materialise.”

ENDS

It’s not the first time Mark and his colleague Andy Wightman MSP have applied pressure on this issue – they have tabled a number of parliamentary questions (e.g. see here) and more recently, a parliamentary motion (see here). Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has agreed to announce a decision by the end of June 2017.

The press release also mentions the recent letter from the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee to the Environment Secretary, urging greater partnership working amongst the PAW Scotland Raptor Group. This letter was leaked to the press late last week resulting in a bit of media coverage (e.g. BBC article here). We’re not yet ready to discuss the details of this letter (because it hasn’t yet been published in full) but rest assured we will be returning to this topic in due course because all is not quite as it seems.

27
Mar
17

Dead peregrine in Cumbria: x-ray reveals historical lead shot fragments

Cumbria Constabulary have launched an investigation after the discovery of a dead peregrine, according to the Westmorland Gazette.

The bird was found by walkers on a public footpath in Bove Wood, Newbiggin but the article doesn’t say when the corpse was found.

The peregrine was submitted for a post mortem and although the cause of death couldn’t be established, an x-ray revealed the bird was carrying three fragments of lead shot, thought to be historical.

PC Sarah Rolland said: “It is quite apparent that the peregrine recovered from Newbiggin had been shot at some stage in its life. However, the post mortem indicates the fragments of shot may be historic and were not the direct cause of its death. It is therefore difficult to establish when or where the bird was shot“.

As an aside, it’s interesting that Cumbria police accept that the x-ray clearly shows the peregrine had been shot, and yet an equally clear x-ray of hen harrier Rowan’s leg, containing metal shot fragments, wasn’t deemed to be clear and only resulted in the Cumbria police statement, ‘Rowan was likely to have been shot‘. Fascinating.

27
Mar
17

Another red kite shot dead in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire

North Yorkshire Police are appealing for information after the discovery of a yet another shot red kite.

The latest victim was found near Greenhow, in Nidderdale, on the afternoon of Saturday 11 March 2017.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Police Wildlife Crime Officer David MacKay: david.mackay@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk and quote reference number 12170047155.

Last year North Yorkshire Police investigated the deaths of 10 red kites that had been shot or poisoned in the county. The Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the neighbouring Yorkshire Dales National Park are notorious black spots for raptor persecution, particularly for red kites and hen harriers. This region is dominated by land managed for driven grouse shooting.

Photo of red kite by Claire Marshall

27
Mar
17

‘Official’ 2016 raptor persecution maps are a misleading distraction

Today the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (Scottish PAW Raptor group) has published the so-called ‘official’ annual raptor persecution maps showing details of recorded raptor persecution crimes for 2016.

Once again, Police Scotland has withheld information about several incidents ‘for operational reasons’ and as such these are not included on the ‘official’ map. Some details have been included in the accompanying summary data tables but even information as basic as the species affected has not been published.

Here’s the ‘official’ map purportedly showing ‘ALL’ recorded bird of prey crimes in Scotland from 2013 to 2016:

However, just as last year, some incidents are not shown and so the title of this map is totally misleading. As we’ve said before, there is no point whatsoever publishing these maps if Police Scotland is going to keep some of these crimes a secret. Seriously, what is the point?

The PAW Raptor group is headlining today’s news as a “26% drop in recorded bird of prey offences during 2016“. No doubt this supposed ‘good news’ will be used by the game-shooting industry as evidence that things are improving. On a superficial level this looks like a reasonable conclusion, but as well as the withholding of known poisoning offences, other information has also been excluded.

For example, there is no mention at all about the four satellite-tagged golden eagles that are known to have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in 2016: three of them ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors in the Monadhliaths and one ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens.

There is also no mention of the three satellite-tagged hen harriers that are also known to have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in 2016: ‘Chance‘ disappeared on a South Lanarkshire grouse moor in May 2016; ‘Elwood‘ vanished on a Monadhliaths grouse moor in August 2016;  and ‘Brian‘ vanished on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in August 2016.

PAW Scotland will argue that these data have not been included because they do not represent confirmed persecution crimes. Technically, that’s fair comment, but given the frequency with which satellite-tagged raptors are ‘disappearing’ on Scottish grouse moors, they point to a much more sinister picture, as recognised by the Environment Cabinet Secretary when she ordered a review of raptor sat tag data last year. She also mentions that review in her comments about today’s supposed ‘good news’.

As far as we’re concerned, the PAW Scotland raptor persecution maps are a misleading distraction from what is actually going on in the Scottish uplands. All eyes should be on the forthcoming raptor satellite tag review for a more meaningful and revealing picture.

PAW Scotland press release here

PAW Scotland persecution maps and data here




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