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Irish Raptor Study Group Annual Conference – bookings now open

The Irish Raptor Study Group is hosting its 2018 annual conference on Saturday 27th January 2018, at The Green Isle Conference & Leisure Hotel in Dublin.

The conference is open to all, tickets cost 25 Euros.

Booking details: IRSG_2018Conference_BookingForm


Birds of prey suffer massacre on moors

This made us laugh. The Dark Side will be seething about this damaging headline!

Here’s an article from today’s edition of The Times (of all places!) – their interpretation of DEFRA’s crap raptor persecution maps:

As usual, the article sits behind a paywall so here’s the extracted text:

The North York Moors is the most dangerous place for birds of prey, according to maps of England and Wales that have exposed at least six hotspots of wildlife crime.

Thérèse Coffey, the wildlife minister, promised a police response yesterday after the maps charted 262 incidents in which raptors, including buzzards, kites and owls, had been trapped, shot, poisoned or had their nests destroyed between 2011 and 2015.

North Yorkshire had the highest number of incidents at 39, overwhelmingly in and around the North York Moors National Park.

There were 17 incidents in Norfolk and 11 each in Cumbria and Derbyshire, followed by ten cases in Lincolnshire and eight each in Suffolk and Northumberland.

Conservationists blame gamekeepers for killing the birds of prey to protect pheasants and grouse which are shot for sport. Britain’s biggest shooting organisation has admitted that its members have been involved in killing birds of prey illegally.

Ms Coffey said: “These maps highlight hotspots across the country for crimes against these precious birds, enabling the police to crack down with increased enforcement in areas where it’s needed most.

Birds of prey are a vital part of our animal landscape, icons of our cultural heritage and key to boosting local economies by attracting visitors to England and Wales.”

The maps were produced by more than a dozen groups, including gamekeepers, landowners and the gun lobby as well as the Crown Prosecution Service and National Wildlife Crime Unit.

Christopher Graffius, of the British Association of Shooting and Conservation, said that the sport risked a ban unless it did more to root out the criminals involved in persecuting raptors.

This map should serve as a wake-up call for those who are doing a disservice to the entire shooting community by committing crimes against birds of prey,” he said.

The maps showed 146 incidents in which birds were shot and 66 where they were poisoned. In 108 cases the victims were buzzards, which prey on pheasants. Forty cases involved owls, 39 red kites and 34 peregrine falcons. One incident involved a hen harrier, one of Britain’s most endangered birds. The Department for the Environment said that raptor persecution was a “wildlife crime priority”.



DEFRA publishes inaccurate & out of date raptor persecution maps

In a desperate attempt to look like it’s doing something about tackling raptor persecution in England & Wales, DEFRA has published some raptor persecution maps covering the period 2011-2015, as developed by the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG).

It needn’t have bothered. Apart from being extremely difficult to navigate, the maps are inaccurate, out of date and will not help tackle wildlife crime one tiny bit, despite the ludicrous claims made in DEFRA’s official press release.

These latest maps have been uploaded to the Government’s ‘Magic Map’ system, probably so called because data ‘magically disappears’, or at least it does in the case of the raptor persecution data.

As an example, we looked at the ‘new’ map showing the incident data relating to the mass poisoning of buzzards, red kites and ravens at Glanusk Estate in Wales in 2012 & 2013, crimes we have blogged about in detail (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here).

According to DEFRA’s new map, ‘7 buzzards & 6 red kites were poisoned in 1 incident’. Eh? For a start these raptors were poisoned in multiple incidents in 2012 and 2013. This is NOT ‘one incident’, as portrayed in the new map, but are several crimes that were commissioned over many months. And where is the information on the poisoned raven and the nine poisoned baits that were also found? Why have these details been excluded from DEFRA’s new map?

We can take an educated guess why. Having read the minutes of the RPPDG meetings over recent years (which we will be publishing shortly), it is clear that discussions have centred on how to remove as much data as possible from these ‘official’ maps to make it look like raptor persecution is not as widespread and rampant as it actually is. We saw the same arguments from the Scottish PAW Raptor Group, who for years did not include data on poisoned baits on its ‘official’ raptor persecution maps because, it was argued by the game shooting industry, it couldn’t be shown that a poisoned bait was placed specifically to target a raptor! Thankfully, the Scottish authorities eventually saw sense and now do include data on poisoned baits.

It seems we’re not the only ones to criticise these latest ‘new’ DEFRA maps. You’ll note from the DEFRA press release that the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) is not listed as one of the many ‘partner’ groups of the RPPDG, even though NERF is a partner. We thought that was fascinating. Was this an oversight or was it an indication that NERF has distanced itself from the this shambolic & desperate attempt at greenwashing the Westminster Government’s record of failing to address raptor persecution crimes?

Well, it turns out NERF has indeed distanced itself. Have a look at this statement, just published on the NERF website. It pulls no punches and spells out exactly why these DEFRA maps are a complete waste of time. Well done, NERF!

Given our (and NERF’s) lack of confidence in these ‘new’ (not new) DEFRA maps, we’ll be contacting the RSPB to ask them how many incidents of raptor persecution they have recorded in their database for the same period (2011-2015). We think it’ll make for an interesting comparison.

We’ll come back to this when we get a response from the RSPB.

For those of you struggling to access the raptor persecution maps on the Government’s Magic Maps system (you won’t be alone – it really is a dreadful, non-user-friendly bit of tech), here’s a quick guide:

Go to the Magic Maps homepage here

Click on ‘Maps’ then ‘Interactive map’

You’ll see a Table of Contents on the left hand side of the screen

Tick the box next to ‘Habitats and Species’

Tick the box next to ‘Species’

Scroll down and tick the box next to ‘Birds’

Scroll down and tick the box next to ‘Raptor Persecution’

Zoom in to the map to your area of interest and you’ll see various symbols. Click on the ‘i’ button on the top toolbar, then move your cursor to the symbol of interest. Then click on the symbol of interest and the (limited) incident data should appear in a box.

Alternatively, for those who want to see a complete and more up to date (and more user-friendly) map of raptor persecution data in England & Wales, simply look at the RSPB’s annual Birdcrime reports, which they’ve been publishing for almost 30 years! Here’s their latest one.

UPDATE 2pm: Birds of prey suffer massacre on moors (here)


Heads Up for Harriers Project condemned as “greenwashing exercise” in Parliamentary debate

Yesterday evening saw a Members Debate in the Scottish Parliament as a result of MSP Mairi Gougeon’s recent motion in support of the Heads Up for Harriers Project and the Role of Species Champions.

The archive video of this debate can be watched here and the official report of the meeting can be read here:

Heads up for Harriers debate 13Dec2017

The debate centred on two topics: the role of the species champions and the Heads Up for Harriers Project (HuHP). For the purpose of this blog, we’ll just be focusing on the HuHP – that’s not to say the role of the species champion isn’t important – as we’ve blogged before, it’s an incredibly worthwhile initiative and one that we very much support. We are especially pleased that Mairi Gougeon used her position as the Hen Harrier Species Champion to secure this debate – all credit to her, well done.

A number of MSPs spoke specifically about the HuHP and all except one acknowledged that illegal persecution continues to be a threat to the hen harrier and to several other raptor species. The only one who didn’t acknowledge this fact was John Scott MSP (Conservative), who gave a bizarre speech about the lack of fox and “vermin” control on FCS land and suggested that this played a part in the decline of the hen harrier population. He obviously hasn’t been told that just across the Scottish border at Kielder, the ONLY successful breeding pairs (x 3) of hen harriers in England this year were on, er, FC land.

He went on to say, “Notwithstanding the alleged predation of hen harriers by land managers, I still believe that the safest place for hen harriers to raise chicks is on well-managed grouse moors“.  Dear God.

John Scott’s parliamentary colleague Donald Cameron (Conservative) (and the Species Champion for the Merlin) was far better informed, although he did say, “There has been much criticism of people in the grouse industry who actively persecute birds of prey. I think that we all acknowledge that grouse shooting is an important industry for the rural economy of our country. The vast majority of land managers, whether they are owners or employees, use sustainable environmental management practices to a high standard and operate within the law. It is important to note that many estates carry out measures to conserve and preserve raptor populations“.

We agree that some estates do “employ sustainable environmental management practices to a high standard and operate within the law“. We heaped praise on one of them quite recently (see here). But it’s quite clear from the scientific data on several raptor species (e.g. hen harrier, golden eagle, peregrine, red kite) that there are still a large number of estates that do NOT operate within the law, and those landholdings just happen to coincide with areas intensively managed as driven grouse moors.

We’re not talking about the odd nest failure here and there due to predation or poor weather – these are natural causes of failure that you’d expect from time to time, and everybody acknowledges this. What we’re talking about here is the persistent, long-term absence of these species in areas where they should be, and would be, thriving if they weren’t being routinely and systematically persecuted.

The speeches of two Parliamentary members were the most interesting to us – those given by Andy Wightman MSP (Scottish Greens) and Liam McArthur MSP (Lib Dem). You really do need to read them (and/or watch the video). Both of them pointed out that the HuHP does not address the fundamental issue of tackling illegal persecution because none of the participating estates that have had cameras deployed are known raptor persecution hotspots, nor are they operated as intensively managed driven grouse moors. Andy Wightman went further and said,

Indeed, I believe that the project is being used as a greenwashing exercise to hide the criminal activities that are undertaken by some in the driven grouse shooting industry and to promote the misleading impression that it is voluntarily cooperating to clean up its act“.


The claim that many of the estates with nest cameras on them are managed as driven grouse moors is an interesting one, and, we believe, is untrue.

According to the briefing paper from Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), provided to MSPs prior to the debate:

Up to two thirds of the estates where cameras were installed have been driven grouse moors, indicating a strong take-up where the issue of Hen Harrier decline is most relevant“.

See SLE’s briefing paper here: SLE briefing Heads Up for Harriers debate_13Dec2017

Why do we believe this statement to be untrue? Well, we could argue that any information from SLE on raptor conservation issues is quite likely to be misleading. We’ve seen many examples of outright propaganda from this organisation over the years (under it’s own name and also under the name of its subgroups, the Scottish Moorland Group and the Gift of Grouse), e.g. here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and as a result we don’t trust a word they say.

But in this case our suspicion is based on more than just a natural distrust of SLE; it’s based on some long-term and painstaking investigative research that we’ve been doing to identify the estates involved in this Heads Up for Harriers Project.

We are confident that we’ve identified the three estates that had cameras deployed in 2015, the three estates that had cameras deployed in 2016, and five of the six or seven estates (there seems to be uncertainty about the actual number) that had cameras deployed in 2017. We are also confident that NOT ONE of these areas where the actual cameras were deployed is a known raptor persecution hotspot and NOT ONE of them is managed for driven grouse shooting.

But before we can publish our findings, we need to verify our conclusions. So we submitted an FoI request to SNH and this is what we got back:

FoI request to SNH: In each year, how many estates had successful nests and of those, how many estates were managed for driven grouse shooting?

SNH response: 2015 – 2 estates with successful nests, 2 of which were driven grouse moor. 1 additional successful nest 100m off the estate boundary of a driven grouse moor.

2016 – 3 estates with successful nests, 2 of which were driven grouse moor.

2017 – 6 estates with successful nests, 3 of which were driven grouse moor.

FoI request to SNH: Please provide the name of each estate, in each year, that signed up to participate.

SNH response: We have considered this part of your request very carefully, and we are unable to provide the estate names. Estates enter into the Heads Up For Harriers project voluntarily. The estate name information in this case was provided voluntarily, there are no other circumstances that entitle SNH to disclose it, and the estates have not consented to disclosure. Making the information publicly available would be likely to prejudice the interests of the estates, for example via negative publicity in the event of harriers not nesting on the estate or in the event of nest/s failing on the estate. We are therefore withholding the estate name details under EIRs Regulation 10(5)(f) (Interests of the individual providing the information).

The Heads Up for Harriers project members’ position is that estate wishes must be respected. Further, members agree the most important aspect of the project is to encourage cooperation and a positive working relationship ‘on the ground’ between estates, Project Officers and other project members to promote survival of hen harriers and enable monitoring if and when hen harriers return to breed. We have therefore concluded that, in this case, the public interest is best served by not releasing the estate names.

Interesting, isn’t it? As Andy Wightman pointed out in his speech, this is a publicy funded project and yet the names of the participating estates are being kept secret. Why is that, do you think?

Given the serious nature of our concern that inaccurate and misleading information is being spewed out, not only by SLE but significantly by SNH, to portray this project as a genuine attempt by the driven grouse shooting industry to support hen harriers, we’ll be challenging SNH about its refusal to release information that would either support or refute our suspicions that the Heads Up for Harriers Project is just a greenwashing exercise.

Watch this space.


Heads Up for Hen Harriers Project: Parliamentary debate today at 5pm

Today in the Scottish Parliament there’ll be a Members’ Debate on the controversial Heads Up for Hen Harriers Project.

The debate has been secured by Mairi Gougeon MSP, the Species Champion for the hen harrier, following her recent motion congratulating the Project on its “intense” and “considerable efforts” to protect the hen harrier:

Heads Up for Harriers Project and the Role of Species Champions

That the Parliament commends the Heads Up for Harriers Project on what it sees as its intense efforts to protect the hen harrier from extinction; underlines what it considers the importance of the role of species champion, with currently over 90 Members signed up to be champions, in promoting and protecting many of the wildlife found across the country; believes that, with specific regard to the hen harrier, there is need for action to protect the species in light of 2016 national hen harrier survey, which suggested that there had been a 9% decline in the number of sightings in Scotland from the previous study in 2010, falling from 505 pairs to 460; understands that this national population decline is further highlighted in Angus North and Mearns and across North East Scotland, where the 2016 study found that the number of hen harrier pairs had plummeted from a peak of 28 in 1998 to just one in 2014; commends the considerable efforts of the Heads Up for Harriers Project in trying to reverse the declining population, with 2017 figures showing that 37 young birds successfully fledging from nests in seven of the 21 estates that have signed up to the project, and recognises both the specific challenges facing all species currently represented by a Member species champion and the pivotal role that it believes the champions play in promoting and preserving Scotland’s wildlife.

We congratulate Mairi on securing this Members’ Debate and thus keeping the issue in the political spotlight. Whilst we disagree with Mairi’s views about the purpose and value of this Project (we consider it nothing more than a greenwashing exercise), getting Parliamentary time to debate the subject will enable alternative opinions to be heard.

The debate will begin shortly after 5pm in the Debating Chamber and can be watched live on Scottish Parliament TV (here).

We’ll post an archive video and the official minutes as soon as they become available.

UPDATE 14th December 2017: Heads Up for Harriers Project condemned as “greenwashing exercise” in Parliamentary debate (here)


£500 fine for man who mistakenly shot buzzard on Ralia Estate pheasant shoot

From an article in today’s P&J:

A protected bird of prey died when an oil executive shot a buzzard he thought to be a pheasant when it flew out of woods on a Highland estate, a court heard yesterday.

Keith Riddoch, of Craigden in Aberdeen, was on a shoot on the Ralia Estate near Newtonmore last November when he made the fatal mistake.

[Ralia Estate in the Cairngorms National Park. Estate boundary details from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website. Map by RPUK]

Even after he fired the first shot of the day, the 65-year-old self-employed consultant was convinced he had bagged a hen pheasant.

But all but one of his fellow “guns” on the same shoot knew that the bird was a raptor. Riddoch was informed of his error at the end of the shoot, Inverness Sheriff Court was told.

[Photo from P&J]

They said it was the first time in their experience that a raptor had been shot by mistake.

The buzzard was so badly injured by the shotgun blast, it had to be destroyed.

Riddoch yesterday denied injuring the bird by recklessly shooting it on November 26 last year at a corporate shoot.

However after hearing evidence from the people accompanying him, including gamekeeper Alistair Lyon, Sheriff Margaret Neilson convicted the businessman of a contravention of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. She fined him £500.

Riddoch refused to comment after the trial, but told the court: “I made a genuine mistake. I didn’t misassess the situation.”

Defence solicitor David McKie accepted his client had made a mistake, but added: “It was negligent or perhaps careless, but not reckless.”

It was accepted by both prosecution and defence that a buzzard was of a similar size and colour as a brown female pheasant.

Mr Lyon was in charge of the outing where beaters scared the birds out of woods into the line of fire.

The 52-year-old gamekeeper told the court: “It was the first shot of the day and I glanced round. I saw the bird falling. It was a brief glimpse. But it didn’t look right. Buzzards fly differently to pheasants. But if it just came out of the trees it would look similar.”

Defence solicitor David McKie said the guilty verdict may have wider consequences for his client, saying he frequently travelled to the USA and the conviction could present problems for entry to the country.

He could also lose his shotgun licence.


Could lose his shotgun licence? Good grief! If he can’t differentiate between a pheasant and a buzzard he shouldn’t be let anywhere near a bloody shotgun!

This is an interesting case. We’re pleased to see a prosecution and even more pleased to see a conviction, which are all too rare, but we’re left wondering how this crime came to the attention of the Police. Did somebody from the shoot alert the Police? Good on them if they did.


South Scotland golden eagle project gets final go-ahead

The South Scotland Golden Eagle Project, which proposes to translocate eaglets from the Highlands to southern Scotland in an effort to boost the tiny remnant population in the Borders & Dumfries & Galloway, has finally been given the funds and licence to begin.

Earlier this year the project was awarded £1.3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (see here) and has now received match funding of £158,024 from local LEADER programmes. SNH has also now granted the licence required to move the eagles, fit them with satellite tags and release them in the Moffat Hills.

[Photo of a young satellite-tagged golden eagle, by Ruth Tingay]

This additional funding has triggered the recruitment of four new project staff – an eagle officer, two community engagement officers, and one stakeholder engagement officer. Details of these positions and how to apply can be found on the Project website here (scroll to the bottom of the homepage). Closing date is 12 January 2018.

As an aside, can we just congratulate the Project team on their website – full of information & official reports, keeping the public informed about the proposed Project. Take note, Natural England!

A press release (unfortunately with far too many naff metaphors) from the Project has been picked up by various media outlets (e.g. BBC News here, Scotsman here) although the Guardian has taken a different angle and focuses on the threat these birds might face if they fly south of the border in to northern England (here).

We’ve blogged about this Project before (see here, here) and have mixed feelings. Unsurprisingly our biggest concern is the on-going threat of illegal persecution, both north and south of the border. To date, nobody has EVER been successfully prosecuted for the illegal killing of golden eagles, despite plenty of opportunities (e.g. see here and here).

Dr Cat Barlow, the South Scotland Golden Eagle Project Manager, has been questioned about the threat of illegal persecution at several conferences where she has delivered an otherwise strong presentation about the Project. On each occasion she has acknowledged the threat and has recognised that not all estates in southern Scotland are supportive of this translocation. She recently told a conference in Edinburgh that she “will be talking to the estates not yet on board“.

It’s going to take more than a chat to stop these deranged raptor killers in their tracks.

[Photo of an adult golden eagle found shot & critically injured on a grouse moor in south Scotland in 2012. He didn’t make it]

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