Archive for the '2009 persecution incidents' Category


John Dodd sells Glenogil Estate

Sunday Times 7th April 2013 Glenogil saleJohn Dodd, the multi-millionaire owner of the controversial Glenogil Estate, has ‘quietly sold up’, according to an article in the Sunday Times.

The new owner is reported to be Baron Ferdinand von Baumbach, someone we know little about. Although we’re not sorry to see Dodd leave, it’s not so much who owns the estate that interests us, but rather whether (a) they intend to maintain it as a driven grouse moor and if so, (b) who will be advising on grouse moor ‘management’.

It’s been widely reported that Dodd took management advice from ‘grouse wizard’ Mark Osborne (e.g. see here) and indeed Glenogil is promoted on Osborne’s William Powell Sporting website as ‘one of the finest shooting estates in Scotland’ (see here), as well as on the William Powell Country website (here). It’s not just Osborne who rates this estate: last year The Field magazine included Glenogil in an article called ‘Britain’s 50 Great Shoots’ (see here) and in 2008 The Telegraph described it as a thriving grouse moor (see here).

However, for those of us with more of an interest in the area’s wildlife rather than with the artificially-high number of grouse that can be killed, you have to look elsewhere for information. A good place to start is the RSPB’s annual persecution reports. Below is a list of confirmed incidents recorded at Glenogil and ‘Nr Noranside’  from 2006-2010, sourced from these reports and also from Scottish Government data. Not one of these reported incidents has resulted in a criminal prosecution and Dodd has repeatedly and strenuously stated his staff are innocent. Dodd had his farming subsidy cut by £107,650 in 2008 when the Scottish Executive suspected that poisoned baits found on and near to the estate in 2006 were being used to target birds of prey (see here).

2006 March: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 April: poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose)

2006 April: poisoned tawny owl (Alphachloralose)

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned woodpigeon bait (Carbofuran)

2008 May: poisoned white-tailed eagle (Carbofuran, Isophenfos, Bendiocarb) [‘Nr Noranside’]

2008 May: poisoned buzzard (Bendiocarb) [‘Nr Noranside’]

2008 May: poisoned mountain hare bait (Carbofuran, Isophenfos, Bendiocarb) [‘Nr Noranside’]

2008 May: 32 x poisoned meat baits on fenceposts (Carbofuran, Isophenfos, Bendiocarb) [‘Nr Noranside’]

2008 Oct:  poisoned meat bait (Carbofuran) [‘Nr Noranside’]

2009 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2009 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2009 August: poisoned white-tailed eagle (Carbofuran)

2010 May: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran) [‘Nr Noranside’]

2010 September: poisoned buzzard (Chloralose)

2010 October: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2010 October: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran)

2010 October: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran)

John Dodd was the co-founder of Artemis Investment Management Ltd., a company that has sponsored the GWCT’s Scottish Game Fair (see here).

The Sunday Times article can be read in two parts:

Part 1 Glenogil sale Sunday Times 7 April 2013

Part 2 Glenogil sale Sunday Times 7 April 2013


Going to the Scottish Birdfair? Read this first

PrintThere’s an article today in the Sunday Herald about the RSPB’s controversial choice of venue for next month’s Scottish Birdfair. For the second year running, the RSPB has chosen to hold this event at Hopetoun House, the stately home of Lord Hopetoun whose family also owns the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in South Lanarkshire, a grouse moor that has been at the centre of raptor persecution allegations for years. Sunday Herald article here.

Regular blog readers will know we’ve commented on this issue at length: see here, here, here, here, here and especially here.

In today’s article, veteran Scottish Raptor Study Group member Ronnie Graham urges potential Birdfair attendees to “make an informed decision” about going.

The following information might help. This is a list of confirmed persecution incidents listed at Leadhills/Abington between 2003-2011. This information has been sourced from the RSPB’s own annual persecution reports, in addition to Scottish Government data. The list does not include other ‘unconfirmed’ or ‘probable’ incidents, such as the discovery of skeletal raptor bodies found buried in forestry or dead raptors found shoved inside rabbit holes. Data are only available up to 2011, so any incidents that might have occured in 2012 or the first quarter of 2013 are not included. There are 41 confirmed incidents on this list; of these, only a couple have been successfully prosecuted (see here for a good example of why prosecutions fail). The list is a good example of why conviction rates should not be used to indicate the extent of criminal activity.

2003 April: hen harrier shot

2003 April: hen harrier eggs destroyed

2004 May: buzzard shot

2004 May: short-eared owl shot

2004 June: buzzard poisoned (Carbofuran)

2004 June: 4 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran)

2004 June: crow poisoned (Carbofuran)

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 February: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 April: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 February: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 March: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran)

2006 April: dead buzzard (persecution method unknown)

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 May: poisoned egg baits (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2006 June: 6 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned egg bait (Carbofuran)

2006 September: 5 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran)

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2007 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2007 April: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran)

2007 May: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2008 October: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’]

2008 October: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’]

2008 November: 3 x poisoned ravens (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’]

2009 March: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2009 March: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned magpie (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2010 October: short-eared owl shot

2011 March: illegally-set clam trap

2011 December: buzzard shot


Prison officer Liddell pleads guilty to egg trading

Keith LiddellAt long last the case against Inverness prison officer Keith Liddell has finished. Today he pleaded guilty to the majority of the charges against him connected to the possession and trading of wild birds’ eggs. He is due to be sentenced on 9 April.

This case has dragged on and on and on, no doubt at considerable expense. For previous blog entries about Liddell’s case see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.

Article on today’s guilty pleas in Highland News here

RSPB press release on today’s guilty pleas here

Well done to all involved, especially wildlife fiscal Kate Fleming.


New motion lodged in Scottish Parliament: “Death of golden eagle”

A new motion was lodged in the Scottish Parliament on Monday 22nd October 2012 concerning the death of the Glen Esk golden eagle:

Motion S4M-04516: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party.

Death of Golden Eagle

That the Parliament condemns what it sees as the recent brutal killing of a golden eagle in Glen Esk, Angus; considers that the golden eagle is one of Scotland’s most iconic species and understands that 11 golden eagles have been illegally killed since 2007; notes also that 2013 will be the Year of Natural Scotland; urges the Police Service of Scotland to ensure that police officers have the training and resources required to tackle wildlife crime effectively; considers that golden eagles more than earn their keep by attracting tourism to rural Scotland, and asks the Scottish Government to assess what further measures it might take to protect what are considered these magnificent birds.

Here is a desciption of what a Scottish parliamentary motion is.

Here is the full text of this particular motion.

While very welcome (and probably a direct result of all the letters of complaint and media coverage) this motion raises some interesting questions:

It was proposed by 1 MSP (whose constituency includes Brechin) and was supported by 26 others. There are 129 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. Where’s the support of the other 122? Did your MSP support it? If not, why not?

Note the phrase, “….what it sees as the recent brutal killing of a golden eagle in Glen Esk, Angus” and then compare it with the official line given by Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP:

The reports may suggest that the circumstances of this incident were suggestive of an offence however there is no hard evidence and it remains possible that there is an alternative explanation“.

It seems Nigel Don MSP and the 26 MSPs who supported his motion do not share the Environment Minister’s view on what happened to that eagle. Apparently nor do the police (see here). We would encourage you to write again to Mr Wheelhouse and ask him to provide the evidence that leads him to suggest that this eagle’s death was not the result of criminal activity. Email: It’s important that this issue is clarified; any doubt that this eagle did not die as a direct result of criminal activity will be used by the Dark Side to support their continual denial about the extent of illegal raptor persecution.

Another interesting question concerns the number of known illegal deaths of golden eagles. The motion says 11 golden eagles have been illegally killed since 2007. Our figures suggest that ten have been discovered (see here):

Peebles (2007); Glen Orchy (2009); Alma (2009); Skibo 1 (2010); Skibo 2 (2010); Skibo 3 (2010); Farr (2010); Glenbuchat (2011); Lochaber (2012); Glen Esk (2012).

 So where’s the information about the 11th one? And why limit the figure to golden eagles? What about white-tailed eagles? If they’re included during this time frame, then the number of eagles known to have been illegally killed is at least 14:

GlenQuoich (2007); Glenogil (2009); Farr (2010); Skye (2011).

If the time frame was increased one year further, to 2006, then at least 16 eagles are known to have been illegally killed:

Dinnet & Kinord (2006); Glen Feshie (2006).

And then there’s all the known ‘missing’  eagles, which brings the total to at least 25:

WTE radio-tagged Bird ‘N’ disappeared in Angus Glens (2007); WTE carcass removed in suspicious circumstances from Lochindorb (2010); 4 x golden eagle leg rings found in gamekeeper’s possession on Moy Estate (2010); sat-tagged golden eagle ‘disappeared’ in Monadhliaths (2011); sat-tagged golden eagle ‘disappeared’ in eastern glens (2012); sat-tagged golden eagle ‘disappeared’ NE of Cairngorms (2012).

And then the most recent one, the shot golden eagle found on the border of Buccleuch Estate (2012) – that brings the total to 26.

And we haven’t included any other of the known persecuted raptor species in this list!

So, well done Nigel Don MSP for highlighting a significant and on-going problem – we look forward to seeing a response from the Scottish Government.


Glen Orchy: a hollow victory

Last Friday, Tom McKellar, an employee of Auch Estate, an Argyll sporting estate in Bridge of Orchy, was convicted of possessing the illegal poison Carbofuran and was fined £1,200 (see here). This conviction should be a cause for celebration, and in some respects it is, but there is also an overwhelming sense of disappointment and frustration. We had all thought this was a pretty clear-cut case, with lots of investigative resources thrown at it, a strong evidential trail and a known suspect. We were further encouraged by a statement given by the then Scottish Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, who said:

I am truly appalled that yet another golden eagle has been illegally killed in Scotland – the second this summer. Illegal poisoning is simply inexcusable and while the perpetrators are certainly beneath contempt they are in no way above the law“.

Given the nature of the alleged offences (wildlife & firearms), we were certain that a custodial sentence was inevitable. How stupid were we?

It all started to unravel in December 2010, 18 months after the poisoned eagle was found dead in Glen Orchy. We learned that Tom McKellar had been convicted of possessing two illegal handguns, but instead of receiving the mandatory five-year prison sentence, he was given just 300 hours community service and a commendation from the judge who reportedly told him: “There is no doubt you are an outstanding individual” (see here). There was little mention in the media about the poisoned golden eagle or the stash of illegal poison that had been found at McKellar’s house during the original police search. We were suspicious that the wildlife crimes were being ignored and that COPFS had decided to just take on the firearms offences because, in the eyes of the law, these are greater crimes than the poisoning offences and would normally result in a custodial sentence.

Based on these suspicions, we blogged about the case in January 2011, and suggested that no charges were being brought against anyone for poisoning that eagle. We also encouraged readers to contact the Scottish Government to complain. Many did, and all hell let loose. The Scottish Government responded by saying that the firearms offences were being dealt with separately, at a court with a higher authority than a Sheriff Court, and that the wildlife offences were still ‘being dealt with’. A well-known prosecutor threatened us, indirectly, with legal action. For what? Expressing an opinion? As it turns out, we were right all along, nobody has been prosecuted for poisoning that golden eagle, although we’ve had to wait for over three years to have this confirmed.

It then all went quiet for a while, at least publicly. It’s not known whether COPFS bowed to pressure to take forward the wildlife crime prosecution or whether they had actually been pursuing the charge all along, but that it took over three years for the case to conclude is probably quite telling.  Not that it really matters now anyway; what matters is the outcome.

So, a conviction was eventually secured, although this was just for ‘possession’ of a banned substance; in our opinion this is the least significant charge of any that could have been brought. McKellar admitted during interviews that he had laid out poisoned baits ‘in the past’, and yet he wasn’t charged for that. Were the words ‘in the past’ significant in the decision not to press charges for that offence? What does ‘in the past’ mean, anyway? Two years ago? Two weeks ago? Two days ago? Two hours ago? In addition to the poisoned golden eagle, a Carbofuran-poisoned fox was found and also a dead sheep laced with Carbofuran. Someone was clearly still putting out poisoned baits, but COPFS accepted McKellar’s claim that he wasn’t responsible. It’s unfortunate that these types of offences are only dealt with as summary cases in a Sheriff Court. It would have been interesting to hear what a jury might have thought had the charges been heard in a higher court. Again, we’ll never know and we have to accept that McKellar is guilty of nothing more than possessing the banned poison Carbofuran (oh, and possessing two illegal handguns).

It’s hard not to think that McKellar has come out of all this relatively lightly. It’s also hard to believe that his punishments will act as any sort of deterrent to other would-be criminals. He avoided a mandatory five-year prison term for the firearms offences, and he was fined just a fraction of the amount that he could have been fined for possessing the illegal poison Carbofuran. It appears that he has also kept his job. Auch Estate is currently up for sale (for a mere £8.4 million) and a look at the sales particulars (Auch Estate sales brochure 2012), dated August 2012, indicates that the new owner has to take on the current Estate employees under the TUPE regulations, including Farm Manager Tom McKellar. These sales particulars also show that almost £700,000 was paid in grants and subsidies during 2011; it would be interesting to know whether there will be any forfeiture of these payments following McKellar’s conviction, although based on previous experience, this information is exceptionally difficult to access, even though it’s public money! It would also be interesting to hear whether McKellar’s employer is being investigated, after McKellar reportedly claimed it was his employer who had provided him with the Carbofuran (see here). Wouldn’t it also be interesting to find out whether Auch Estate is a member of Scottish Land & Estates? And whether McKellar, as an employee of a sporting estate, is a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association? Needless to say, neither of these organisations has made any public statements about McKellar’s conviction last Friday.

Other question marks include a strange bit of (non)-reporting by SASA. The poisoned golden eagle found at Glen Orchy was listed in SASA’s 2009 annual report. However, the dead fox found nearby that was reported to have been poisoned by Carbofuran did not appear in the SASA report. Neither did the dead sheep also found nearby that was reportedly laced with Carbofuran and used as poisoned bait. Why weren’t these two animals included in SASA’s list of confirmed poison cases for 2009? Perhaps SASA didn’t do the toxicology tests. If they didn’t, then who did? If SASA did do the tests, but failed to include the animals in their report, what confidence does this give us when SASA release their annual poisoning statistics? Are other cases missing? We only knew about the fox and the sheep because the RSPB had listed them in their annual report.

A further question mark hangs over a related issue. The media has reported that the poisoned golden eagle found dead in Glen Orchy had been killed with the banned pesticide Carbofuran. However, if you look at the 2009 SASA report, the following chemicals are listed as being detected in this bird’s body: Carbofuran, Methiocarb, Sodium Cyanide and Strychnine. Now, we have it on good authority, although this has not been formally verified, that a second individual was searched during the police raid back in June 2009. This individual, XXXXX XXXXX is believed to be a gamekeeper in Perthshire but is not an employee of Auch Estate; he was just there on the day the police arrived to conduct their search. We understand that the police found Mr XXXXX to be in possession of a bottle of Strychnine and a container of decanted Cyanide. Now look again at the chemicals detected in the body of the dead golden eagle. As far as we are aware, no charges have been brought against Mr XXXXX, not even for possession. If this turns out to be an accurate report, then something has gone seriously wrong with this investigation. A lack of resources can’t be blamed on this one, given the array of organisations involved with the investigation, including multiple police forces with specialist wildlife crime officers as well as the National Wildlife Crime Unit. So what happened? Did Mr XXXXX slip through the net and if so, how? Do you think we’ll hear anything about this or do you think it’ll be quietly pushed under the carpet?

In summary then, yes, a conviction was secured (McKellar) and we should be pleased about that. McKellar’s illegal stash of Carbofuran and his illegal cache of handguns have been taken out of circulation and so we should also be pleased about that, too. But this is not what could be called a successful outcome; far from it. It’s deeply unsatisfactory and shares striking similarities with other recent, high-profile cases which also concluded unsatisfactorily, such as Moy Estate and Skibo Estate. In all three cases, and in countless other lower-profile cases, sporting estate employees have only been charged with the lesser offence of possession. Charges have not been brought against anyone for the illegally-killed raptors found in each location, nor for laying the illegal poisoned baits or for putting out the illegal traps. On a superficial level then, the convictions for possession look good and the authorities can claim they are successfully addressing the issue of wildlife crime. Scratch below the publicity gloss though and you find that very little progress has been made; charges, if they’re brought at all, are not reflecting the full extent of the crimes uncovered, and on conviction the sentences are not reflecting the seriousness of these crimes.


Glen Orchy case concludes: call this justice?

So, three years and three months later, the infamous Glen Orchy case has concluded. Tom McKellar, previously described as a gamekeeper but curiously now described as a farmer, has been fined £1,200 for possessing the banned pesticide, Carbofuran.

The Crown Office press release (here) doesn’t mention anything of the poisoned golden eagle that was found in Glen Orchy and prompted the search of McKellar’s house, which led to the discovery of the Carbofuran. Although it does mention how he was previously given a 300-hour community service order for the possession of illegal handguns (instead of the mandatory five-year prison sentence), also found during the search of his house.

Of course, McKellar wasn’t charged with laying poisoned baits (even though he reportedly admitted to doing so during an interview), and nor was he charged with poisoning that golden eagle, because even though he had this rare, banned poison in his house, and lived just down the road from where the dead eagle had been found, and he’d previously admitted to laying out poisoned baits, there apparently wasn’t enough evidence to link him to the poisoned eagle.

But this story doesn’t end there. There are other things that went on (or more to the point, didn’t go on) in this investigation and we’ll be discussing those in due course, including the failure to charge a second person….

Meanwhile, we’ll add this poisoned golden eagle to the growing list of illegally-killed eagles for which nobody has ever been (nor will be) prosecuted. Justice?

RSPB press statement here

Previous blogs on this case here, here, here, here, here,here here, here


Glen Orchy farce continues

The Glen Orchy case against Tom McKellar continued at Oban Sheriff Court last Friday (27 July) with yet more legal argument.

You won’t be surprised to learn that sentencing has once again been deferred. Next court date is in early September.

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