Archive for the '2012 persecution incidents' Category

06
Jun
17

Crown Office drops 5th case of alleged wildlife crime

Public prosecutors from Scotland’s Crown Office have dropped yet another case of alleged wildlife crime.

According to an article in the Sunday Post (see here), gamekeeper John Charles Goodenough, 32, had been charged after he was allegedly caught with illegal gin traps covered in animal blood, with dead fox cubs found nearby, in May 2016. It is reported Goodenough was employed at the time by Dalreoch Farming & Sporting Estates, owned by the well-connected Wellesley family. It was alleged that Goodenough was using the illegal traps on a neighbouring farm in Ayrshire.

The case was due to be heard at Ayr Sheriff Court on 27 March 2017 but two days prior to the hearing, the Crown Office dropped the case ‘after getting the dates wrong on its paperwork’.

This latest case brings the total of recently abandoned prosecutions for alleged wildlife crime to five. That’s five abandoned cases in the space of two months:

25 March 2017 – gamekeeper John Charles Goodenough (Dalreoch Estates), accused of the alleged use of illegal gin traps. Prosecution dropped due to paperwork blunder by Crown Office.

11 April 2017 – landowner Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate), accused of being allegedly vicariously liable for the actions of his gamekeeper who had earlier been convicted for killing a buzzard by stamping on it and dropping rocks on to it. Prosecution dropped due to ‘not being in the public interest’.

21 April 2017 – gamekeeper Stanley Gordon (Cabrach Estate), accused of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier. Prosecution dropped as video evidence deemed inadmissible.

25 April 2017 – gamekeeper Craig Graham (Brewlands Estate), accused of allegedly setting and re-setting an illegal pole trap. Prosecution dropped as video evidence deemed inadmissible.

21 May 2017 – an unnamed 66 year old gamekeeper (Edradynate Estate), suspected of alleged involvement with the poisoning of three buzzards. Crown Office refused to prosecute, despite a plea to do so by Police Scotland.

Given how difficult it is to get just one wildlife crime case anywhere near a court, to have five abandoned in the space of two months does not inspire confidence in the criminal justice system.

In fact such was the public concern about some of these cases being abandoned due to the supposed inadmissibility of video evidence, last month the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee wrote to the Crown Office to ask for an explanation (see here).

The Crown Office has now responded with this: COPFS letter to ECCLR_EvidenceAdmissibility_May2017

We are not legally qualified to comment in depth about how good or how poor the Crown Office’s response is. If any of our legally-minded readers (Adam?) would like to comment, please do so.

However, what we can say is that this response does not address the question of why the Crown Office made the decision about inadmissibility instead of allowing a court to decide, as has happened in previous cases (e.g. see here).

Nor does this response address the question of why the Crown Office did not believe the RSPB ‘s explanation for their use of video surveillance for monitoring a hen harrier breeding attempt at Cabrach Estate. The Crown Office maintains, without explanation, that the RSPB had installed the video ‘for the purpose of detecting crime’, whereas the RSPB maintains the camera was installed as part of a legitimate monitoring study, an explanation which had been accepted by both the Crown and the court in a similar situation in another case (here).

The RSPB’s case is not so strong in the Brewlands Estate case, where a camera was installed to monitor an illegal pole trap (a trap that the RSPB had since made safe by flicking on the safety catch), although the circumstances might have been different had the police been able to attend the scene as soon as they were notified of an illegally-set trap. Nevertheless, the fact that the Crown Office allowed a year’s worth of court hearings to pass by before deciding to abandon this case, and their unwillingness to communicate their specific concerns to the RSPB, is yet to be adequately addressed by the Crown Office.

The Crown Office’s response also does not explain (although to be fair, it wasn’t asked to) why dropping the prosecution against Andrew Duncan for alleged vicarious liability was deemed to be ‘not in the public interest’, and nor does it explain why a prosecution was not brought against the unnamed Edradynate Estate gamekeeper for the alleged poisoning of three buzzards, despite pleas from Police Scotland to do so.

The Crown Office’s letter to the Environment Committee ends with this:

COPFS remains committed to tackling wildlife crime, including raptor persecution. There is a strong presumption in favour of prosecution in cases reported to the Service where there is sufficient admissible evidence and prosecution is in the public interest‘.

You could have fooled us.

To be honest, as frustrating as it was to see these cases abandoned for what seem to us to be spurious reasons, the Crown Office’s unimpressive performance has probably helped move things along, because these dropped cases came at the time when the Scottish Government was already under severe public pressure to do something other than make vague promises to tackle wildlife crime. That’s not to say we are pleased with the outcome of these cases – far from it – but it’s quite likely that these failed prosecutions helped tip the balance and persuaded the Scottish Government that actually, the current system is failing and they need to find new ways of addressing the problem.

21
Apr
17

Prosecution dropped against gamekeeper in alleged hen harrier shooting

Regular blog readers will know we’ve been tracking the prosecution of Scottish gamekeeper Stanley Gordon, who was alleged to have shot a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate in Morayshire in June 2013.

It took the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) almost three years to charge Mr Gordon, and they just beat the statutory time bar by a few weeks.

The first court hearing took place in May 2016 and there followed a total of nine court hearings in this case. Mr Gordon pleaded not guilty in September 2016 and so a trial date was set for 19 December 2016. This trial date was later dumped and another provisional trial date was set for 15 May 2017.

Today, there was supposed to be a final hearing (intermediate diet) to confirm the trial date. However, we have learned that the case was not called today because the COPFS have dropped all proceedings.

We do not yet know why the case has been abandoned.

There is no chance of anyone else being prosecuted in this case because the case is now time barred.

So in the space of ten days, yet again the COPFS have dropped a long-running prosecution for alleged raptor persecution; they recently dropped a vicarious liability prosecution because, they said, ‘it wasn’t in the public interest to continue‘ (see here).

And just as in the abandoned vicarious liability prosecution, this latest abandonment comes after a protracted period of court hearings, right up to almost the eve of the actual trial date.

Efforts will be made next week to try and find out why the COPFS dropped proceedings, but, as before, we don’t expect much detail to be revealed because public accountability appears to be limited.

It’s worth remembering at this point that hen harrier persecution is listed as a National Wildlife Crime Priority.

We will have more to say about this case in due course.

12
Aug
16

Ministerial reaction to ‘missing’ golden eagles

Following yesterday’s news that eight young satellite-tagged golden eagles have ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths in the last five years (see here), we were interested to read the response from Roseanna Cunningham MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment.

Here’s the statement that appeared on the Scottish Government’s website:

The Scottish Government has ordered a review of satellite tracking data, following reports from RSPB Scotland that a number of golden eagles have disappeared in the Monadhliath mountains.

Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, said: “The latest reports of satellite-tagged golden eagles disappearing on or near grouse moors are very disturbing and disappointing. That is why I have instructed officials to analyse the evidence from around 90 surviving and missing satellite-tagged eagles, to discover if there is a pattern of suspicious activity.

Grouse moor management does help species such as curlew and golden plover as well as generating much needed rural employment and income but this cannot be at any price. The public rightly expects all businesses in Scotland to obey the law. Let me be clear: grouse shooting is no exception.

As previously stated, the Scottish Government is prepared to introduce further regulation of shooting businesses if necessary. It will be unfortunate if the activities of a few bring further regulation on the whole sector, but that is the risk those why defy the law and defy public opinion are running“.

END

Yesterday we described her call for a review of satellite-tag data as ‘fatuous’ (see here). Not because such a review is unwelcome; it isn’t. But because the reason given for the review – ‘to discover if there is a pattern of suspicious activity’ – suggests that the pattern of activity is currently unknown. That’s as ridiculous as it gets. Of course the pattern of illegal persecution is already known, and has been for decades. Endless peer-reviewed scientific papers and government reports on golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines have unequivocally linked the illegal killing of these raptors with intensively-managed driven grouse moors. Why pretend that this is all news? Why pretend nobody knows what’s been going on?

Taking the example of the Monadhliaths, this area has been a known eagle persecution blackspot since the 1970s! Have a look at this article that was published in the Scotsman on 11 March 1993 (we blogged about it here):

the_mountains_where_eagles_die_map-compressed2

To be fair, in recent years a number of more enlightened landowners in this area have been working closely with conservationists, resulting in a small increase in golden eagle survival on a few local estates, but as clearly seen from yesterday’s news, there are still other estates in the Monadhliaths that have yet to drag their sorry backsides away from the (now illegal) ‘management’ practices of the 19th Century.

Nevertheless, we do welcome the news that the Cabinet Secretary is actually doing something this time, instead of just churning out the same tired old Government rhetoric of ‘We will not hesitate to take further action if necessary’. It is necessary and we do expect to see ‘further action’ without any more stalling or prevarication. If you hear hooves, Cabinet Secretary, look for horses, not zebras.

But it’s not just the reaction of the Environment Cabinet Secretary that interests us. It turns out that another Cabinet Secretary should be taking more of an interest than most. Fergus Ewing MSP is the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity. He also happens to be the Member of the Scottish Parliament representing the constituency of Inverness and Nairn.

If you look at the map of Fergus’s constituency, and then look at the map showing the last known locations of those eight satellite-tagged golden eagles, you’ll see that a good few of the points where the eagles were last recorded lie within Fergus’s constituency boundary.

Inverness Nairn constituency map

FergusEwing Constituency Monadhliaths

ge disappeared

Now, we know that Fergus’s job is to represent the interests of ALL his constituents (estimated at 66,619 voters, according to his website). We know he does a good job of representing the interests of a tiny fraction of those constituents who are involved with the game-shooting industry – here’s a picture of him attending the Moy Game Fair last weekend – and is that a Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association tie around his neck?

fergus ewing sga tie

But what about the interests of the tens of thousands of his other constituents? We’re pretty sure that most, if not all, will be appalled to discover what’s still going on in their area. What will Fergus be doing about that?

Will he be encouraging his constituents to sign this petition calling for the Scottish Government to introduce a licensing scheme for all gamebird hunting?

A good many of his constituents have already signed this other petition, calling for an outright ban on driven grouse shooting (which has just smashed through 90,000 signatures, on it’s way to 100,000 and a parliamentary debate in Westminster).

We’ll watch with interest to see what both these Cabinet Secretaries do next.

11
Aug
16

40 eagles, 10 years, 0 prosecutions

In April 2012, we wrote an article called ’21 eagles, 6 years, 0 prosecutions’ (see here).

In September 2012, we updated it and called it ’26 eagles, 6 years, 0 prosecutions’ (see here).

In July 2013 we updated it again. This time, ’27 eagles, 7 years, 0 prosecutions’ (see here).

In December 2013 we had to do another update: ‘31 eagles, 7 years, 0 prosecutions’ (see here).

In April 2014 we had to do another update: ’32 eagles, 8 years, 0 prosecutions’ (see here).

Fearnan Angus Glens Dec 2013 - Copy

After this morning’s news (here) that eight young satellite-tagged golden eagles have ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors in the Monadhliath Mountains over the last five years, we thought it was time for another update. This time it’s called: ’40 eagles, 10 years, 0 prosecutions’.

36 of these 40 eagles have either been found dead on, or have ‘disappeared’ on, Scottish grouse moors. (The other 4 have either died or have ‘disappeared’ in other habitat types).

Three of these 40 eagles have ‘disappeared’ in 2016. So much for the grouse-shooting industry claiming that they’ve cleaned up their act and that persecution is a thing of the past. The tactics of how to kill an eagle have clearly changed (see here) but the persecution continues.

As before, a number of eagles included in this list (16 of them, to be precise) may not be dead. However, they are included here because their satellite tags unexpectedly stopped functioning (i.e. they’d been transmitting perfectly well up until the eagles’ last known location, often a known persecution hotspot). Two further satellite-tagged eagles (‘Angus’ and ‘Tom’) are not included in this list as although their transmitters stopped functioning, there had been recognisable problems with their tags prior to the final transmissions and so the benefit of the doubt has been applied.

Many of these listed eagles from recent years have only been discovered because the eagles were being satellite-tracked. Much kudos to the dedicated teams of fieldworkers who have put in hours and hours of skilled hard work to allow this to happen. Obviously there are many other eagles out there that have not been sat-tagged and on the balance of probability will have been killed at the hands of the game-shooting industry. 40 eagles in the last 10 years is the bare minimum. The number of prosecutions (zero) is indisputable.

MAY 2006: A dead adult golden eagle was found on the Dinnet & Kinord Estate, near Ballater, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation. No prosecution.

JUNE 2006: A dead golden eagle was found on Glen Feshie Estate in the Cairngorms. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary launched an investigation. No prosecution.

AUGUST 2007: A dead adult female golden eagle was found on an estate near Peebles in the Borders. She was half of the last known breeding pair of golden eagles in the region. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Lothian & Borders Police launched an investigation. No prosecution.

NOVEMBER 2007: Tayside Police received a detailed tip-off that a young male white-tailed eagle (known as ‘Bird N’) had allegedly been shot on a grouse moor estate in the Angus Glens. The timing and location included in the tip-off coincided with the timing and location of the last-known radio signal of this bird. The eagle has not been seen again. With no carcass, an investigation isn’t possible.

MAY 2008: A one year old male white-tailed eagle hatched on Mull in 2007 and known as ‘White G’ was found dead on the Glenquoich Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed he had been poisoned by an unusual concoction of pesticides that included Carbofuran, Bendiocarb and Isofenphos. A police search in the area also revealed a poisoned buzzard, a baited mountain hare and 32 pieces of poisoned venison baits placed on top of fence posts on the neighbouring Glenogil Estate. Laboratory tests revealed the baited mountain hare and the 32 poisoned venison baits contained the same unusual concoction of highly toxic chemicals that had killed the white-tailed eagle, ‘White G’. No prosecution.

JUNE 2009: An adult golden eagle was found dead at Glen Orchy, Argyll, close to the West Highland Way. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Strathclyde Police launched a multi-agency investigation. Three years and 3 months later, estate employee Tom McKellar pled guilty to possession of Carbofuran stored in premises at Auch Estate, Bridge of Orchy and he was fined £1,200. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

JULY 2009: A two year old female golden eagle known as ‘Alma’ was found dead on the Millden Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Alma was a well-known eagle  – born on the Glen Feshie Estate in 2007, she was being satellite-tracked and her movements followed by the general public on the internet. Tayside Police launched an investigation. No prosecution.

AUGUST 2009: A young white-tailed eagle was found dead on Glenogil Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Tayside Police was criticized in the national press for not releasing a press statement about this incident until January 2010. No prosecution.

MAY 2010: #1 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

MAY 2010: #2 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

MAY 2010: #3 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

JUNE 2010: #1: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: #2: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: #3: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: #4: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: A golden eagle was found dead on Farr & Kyllachy Estate, Inverness-shire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary apparently did not search the property until July 2011. No prosecution.

JUNE 2010: A white-tailed eagle was found dead on Farr & Kyllachy Estate, Inverness-shire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary apparently did not search the property until July 2011. No prosecution.

DECEMBER 2010: A decomposing carcass of a white-tailed eagle was found and photographed on Logie (Lochindorb) Estate, Morayshire. It was reported to Northern Constabulary. By the time the police arrived to collect it, the carcass had disappeared. The police said they couldn’t investigate further without the body.

FEBRUARY 2011: The signal from a young satellite-tracked golden eagle ( ‘Lee’, hatched in 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from the North Angus Glens. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MARCH 2011: The body of a young golden eagle was discovered on North Glenbuchat Estate, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation and raided the property in May 2011. A poisoned buzzard, a poisoned bait and a shot short-eared owl were found. No prosecution.

APRIL 2011: The body of a white-tailed eagle was found at the base of cliffs on Skye. The person who discovered it (a professional medic) considered it to have been freshly shot with a rifle, decapitated with a sharp implement and thrown from the cliff top. He took photographs and alerted Northern Constabulary and RSPB. There was a delay of two weeks before the now probably decomposed carcass was collected. A post-mortem was inconclusive. This incident was not made public until one year later after a tip off to this blog. No prosecution.

SEPTEMBER 2011: The signal from a satellite-tracked young golden eagle (‘Strathy’, hatched in 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from an Aberdeenshire grouse moor. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

NOVEMBER 2011: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tracked golden eagle (#57124) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MARCH 2012: The body of a young golden eagle being tracked by satellite was discovered in Lochaber. Tests revealed it had been poisoned with the banned pesticides Aldicarb and Bendiocarb. Information about this incident was not made public until three months later. No prosecution.

MARCH 2012: The signal from a satellite-tracked young golden eagle (‘Angus 26′, hatched in 2011) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. This bird’s suspiciously damaged sat tag was found in the area. No prosecution.

MAY 2012: The signal from a young satellite-tracked golden eagle (#32857) unexpectedly stopped transmitting when the bird was north-east of the Cairngorms National Park. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MAY 2012: The dead body of a young satellite-tracked golden eagle (hatched in 2011) was discovered near a lay-by in Aboyne, Aberdeenshire. The data from its satellite tag & the injuries the bird had when found (2 broken legs) suggested it had been caught in an illegal trap on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens and then removed, under cover of darkness, to be dumped in another area where it was left to die, probably a slow and agonising death. Information on this incident was not released until almost five months later, by the RSPB. It appears the police failed to properly investigate this incident as we understand that no search warrants were issued and no vehicles were searched. No prosecution.

JULY 2012: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tracked golden eagle (‘Foinaven’) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

OCTOBER 2012: An adult golden eagle was found shot and critically injured on grouse moor at Buccleuch Estate, near Wanlockhead, South Lanarkshire. The bird was rescued by the SSPCA and underwent surgery but it eventually succumbed to its injuries in April 2013. No prosecution.

MAY 2013: The signal from a two-year-old satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Angus 33′, hatched in 2011) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after its last signal from North Glenbuchat Estate in Aberdeenshire. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

JUNE 2013: A dead golden eagle was found under power lines on an RSPB reserve on Oronsay. This bird had been shot although it is not known whether this was the cause of death or an historical injury.

JULY 2013: The signal from a young satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Cullen’, hatched 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after its last signal in Aberdeenshire. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

DECEMBER 2013: A two year old satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Fearnan’) was found dead on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed he had been poisoned with the banned pesticide Carbofuran. No prosecution.

MARCH 2014: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#129002) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

APRIL 2014: The signal from a young satellite tracked white-tailed eagle (the first fledged sea eagle chick in East Scotland in ~200 years) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after its last signal from the North Glenbuchat Estate in Aberdeenshire. Police raided the property a couple of weeks later. No prosecution.

OCTOBER 2014: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#107133) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

OCTOBER 2014: The signal from a two-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#119886) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MAY 2016: The signal from a less-than-one-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#00000583) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

JUNE 2016: The signal from a two-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#129010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

JULY 2016: The signal from a two-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#129015 ‘Brodie’) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

THE UNTOUCHABLES: 40; JUSTICE: 0

Cabinet Secretary for the Environment Roseanna Cunningham has responded to this morning’s news (read her statement here) by calling for an analysis of the satellite tag data from around 90 surviving and missing eagles “to discover if there is a pattern of suspicious activity“. It just beggars belief. We’ll shortly be blogging in more detail about her response and that of the Scottish Moorland Group, which is equally as fatuous.

In the meantime, please sign this petition (here) calling on the Scottish Government to introduce a licensing scheme for gamebird shooting.

And then please sign this petition (here) calling on the Westminster Government to ban driven grouse shooting.

ALMD

11
Aug
16

Young golden eagles ‘disappearing’ on grouse moors in Scottish Highlands

RSPB press release:

RSPB Scotland has issued an appeal for information following the disappearance of another young golden eagle, the eighth of this species to vanish in the same area in less than five years. The young female golden eagle, named Brodie, hatched two years ago and was fitted with a satellite transmitter shortly before she fledged from her nest. Brodie was being monitored by conservationists as part of a national study to improve our understanding of the movements and survival of young golden eagles. Her last recorded position placed her in the northern Monadhliath mountains, south east of Inverness on 2nd July this year.

Since November 2011, eight golden eagles, all less than three years old, fitted with satellite transmitters have disappeared in the same area. The birds were being monitored by RSPB Scotland, the Highland Foundation for Wildlife, Natural Research Ltd and Forestry Commission Scotland. Satellite transmitters are increasingly being used to study the movements of wild birds to gain an understanding of their behaviour and travels following fledging. They are fitted under special licence by a small number of highly accredited individuals, and golden eagle experts. Satellites continue to transmit if a transmitter becomes detached from a bird, or if a tagged bird dies naturally allowing recovery of the body.

ge disappeared

Despite comprehensive searches, under the authority of the Police, of the areas around the last recorded positions of all eight eagles none of the birds or transmitters have been recovered, and no further data has been received from the transmitters. The first eagle vanished after last being recorded in the hills above Strathdearn in November 2011; following this a second disappeared in July 2012, and a third in March 2014. In October 2014, transmissions from two further eagles stopped at another location across the valley, three weeks apart. Three eagles’ tags stopped transmitting at a scatter of locations in the hills above the River Findhorn, in May, June and the latest bird, Brodie, in early July this year [1].

Since satellite transmitters first began to be fitted to raptors in Scotland around ten years ago several tagged birds were subsequently found to have been illegally killed [2]. All had been poisoned except for one which had been caught and injured in an illegal trap prior to being deliberately moved to another location. More recently, tagged birds have tended to go off the radar [3]. In every case, data received from the transmitters prior to their disappearance indicated the tags were functioning correctly, before suddenly stopping.

The golden eagle that disappeared in May 2016, a young female, had fledged from a nest in Galloway in 2015, one of only two fledged young from the tiny population of this species in the south of Scotland that year. The golden eagles in this area do not tend to leave the south of Scotland and so it was very unusual that this young bird roamed north rather than exploiting the vacant territories close to where she fledged.

DumfriesGalloway GE chick

Dave Anderson from the Scottish Raptor Study Group, who tagged this eagle said: “I was privileged to satellite-tag this large female chick in July 2015 with a fellow member of the SRSG who monitors the site. This bird was the first successful fledging from any nest in this area since 2010. The data we were receiving from her was of great interest as we followed her journey northwards to Cairngorms National Park, with excellent location information.

We were looking forward to seeing if she would head south again later in the year, however the tag stopped transmitting abruptly on the 18th May 2016, shortly after her first birthday. This is a very sad end to arguably one of the most important golden eagle chicks fledged that year in Scotland. There are no words to describe how disappointed I am at this bird’s disappearance”.

RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, Ian Thomson, said “It is surely no coincidence that the overwhelming majority of satellite-tagged birds of prey that have disappeared in Scotland have been in areas intensively managed for gamebird shooting and in areas that have an appalling previous record of confirmed incidents of raptor persecution. These eight birds have all disappeared in an area where driven grouse moor management dominates the landscape, and where there have been many previous cases of illegal killing of protected raptors, including the poisoning of a golden eagle and a white-tailed eagle as recently as 2010 [4].

Given the reliability of the transmitters, the chance of so many birds disappearing over such a short timescale without some kind of human interference is so small as to be negligible. The pattern we see here is consistent with the birds having been killed and the transmitters destroyed.

“Once again, the commendable positive efforts of those landowners and estates who welcome golden eagles and host their nesting attempts, including elsewhere in the Monadhliaths, are being catastrophically undermined by those who have a complete disregard for the law, and who continue to threaten the conservation status of these magnificent birds. All of these eagles were young birds exploring Scotland before establishing their own territories and with their disappearance any potential future breeding by them to aid the population’s recovery is also lost.

“We ask that if anyone can provide information as to the fate of these eagles that they contact Police Scotland or RSPB Scotland’s investigations team.

Notes:

  1. The eight eagles that have disappeared since November 2011 in the Monadhliath mountains are:
Tag no./Bird name Date and place fitted with tag Date last recorded
57124 6th July 2010, at a nest in south Inverness-shire 22nd November 2011
“Foinaven” 29th June 2011, at a nest in north west Sutherland 17th July 2012
129002 1st July 2013 on Mull 5th March 2014
107133 30th June 2013, at a nest in north Perthshire 9th October 2014
119886 29th June 2012, at a nest in Deeside 31st October 2014
00000583 5th July 2015, at a nest in Galloway 18th May 2016
129010 1st July 2014, at a nest in south Inverness-shire 4th June 2016
129015 “Brodie” 26th June 2014, at a nest in east Inverness-shire 2nd July 2016
  1. Satellite-tagged golden eagles found to have been illegally killed:
  • 1 poisoned in Angus, 2009
  • 1 poisoned in Glenbuchat, Strathdon, in 2011
  • 1 poisoned in Lochaber in 2012
  • 1 illegally trapped in Angus in 2012
  • 1 poisoned in Angus in 2013
  1. Other raptors that have gone off radar include three satellite-tagged golden eagles and a white-tailed eagle which disappeared in September 2011, February 2012, May 2013 and April 2014 respectively, all in upper Donside. Other tagged golden eagles have disappeared in west Aberdeenshire (May 2012) and Angus (February 2011).
  1. A golden eagle and white-tailed eagle found dead in the Monadhliath mountains in 2010 were confirmed as having been illegally poisoned with carbofuran at the laboratory of Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) – SASA ref. No. 10123
  1. A Scottish Natural Heritage review of wildlife crime records and other threats found that the golden eagle population in the the Monadhliath mountains had unfavourable conservation status, with poisoning in particular being associated with grouse moors. (“A Conservation Framework for Golden Eagles”, SNH 2008) http://www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/commissioned_reports/193.pdf

END

We’ll be blogging more about this later today…

In the meantime, please sign this petition (here) calling on the Scottish Government to introduce a licensing scheme for gamebird shooting.

And then please sign this petition (here) calling on the Westminster Government to ban driven grouse shooting.

UPDATE: Interesting blog about the use of satellite tags and what they tell us about raptor persecution, written by Head of RSPB Scotland Investigations, Ian Thomson here

UPDATE: Full formal response from Cabinet Secretary for the Environment Roseanna Cunningham here

UPDATE: 40 eagles, 10 years, 0 prosecutions (blog) here

UPDATE: Ministerial reaction to ‘missing’ golden eagles (blog) here

MEDIA COVERAGE

BBC News here

The Guardian here

The National here

The Herald here

Press & Journal here

STV News here

BBC Radio Scotland interview with Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations RSPB) here (starts at 1:50:05) – available for 29 days.

BBC Radio Scotland interview with Tim (Kim) Baynes (Scottish Moorland Group) here (starts at 2:40:00) – available for 29 days.

04
Jul
16

No subsidy withdrawal for mass poisoning of raptors on Glanusk Estate

Further to the news about the mass poisoning of raptors uncovered on the Glanusk Estate in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales (see here), we wanted to find out whether the Estate had incurred a financial penalty for what appears to be a clear breach of cross compliance rules.

In order to qualify for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidy payments, claimants are required to keep their land in ‘Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition’ and comply with a set of Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs). This is known as cross compliance. [NB: the rules have now changed slightly but as this mass poisoning took place in 2012/2013, the old rules apply].

In our opinion, the illegal poisoning of raptors with Bendiocarb is a breach of SMR1 (relating to the protection of wild birds) and SMR9 (relating to restrictions on the use of plant protection products).

DSCN0334.JPG-550x0

In April, an FoI was submitted to Rural Payments Wales (RPW), the Government agency responsible for implementing CAP subsidy payments and for imposing penalties if cross compliance regulations have been breached. Here are the questions that were asked, along with the answers received from RPW:

Question 1. Which of these incidents were on land in receipt of subsidies under the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) during the years 2012 and 2013?

Answer: I can confirm that 10 of these incidents were on land in receipt of SPS in 2012 and 2013.

[RPUK comment: Although there were 24 incidents in total, it seems that RPW has excluded 14 of them, presumably because the illegally-poisoned birds and/or illegally-placed poisoned baits were on land that is not subject to SPS, for example, in woodland].

Question 2. What were the amounts of payments made under SPS in 2012 and 2013 and to how many beneficiaries?

Answer: A total of £98,802.01 was paid to 2 beneficiaries under SPS 2012. A total of £97,145.70 was paid to 2 beneficiaries under SPS 2013.

[RPUK comment: We’ve scrutinised the CAP payments website to find out who these beneficiaries were and we’ve worked out that they are two tenant farmers on the Glanusk Estate, presumably on whose landholdings the poisoned birds/baits were discovered].

Question 3. Can Rural Payments Wales confirm whether these offences would have breached SMR1 and SMR9 of the SPS?

Answer: These offences would be a breach of SMR1 and SMR9 if they were found to be attributable to a benficiary of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funds.

Question 4. What investigation or enforcement action has Rural Payments Wales undertaken in relation to these offences?

Answer: RPW considered the offences in question and concluded there was insufficient evidence to apply a cross compliance breach to a beneficiary.

[RPUK comment: We’re fascinated by this. The standard of proof for a cross compliance breach is lower than the standard of proof required for a criminal prosecution. A criminal conviction is NOT required for a cross compliance penalty to be imposed].

Question 5. What subsidy withdrawals have been made from anyone in receipt of money under the SPS in 2012 and 2013 as a result of these incidents?

Answer: No withdrawal of subsidy has been made from anyone under SPS 2012 and SPS 2013 as a result of these incidents.

END

A further FoI was submitted to RPW in May 2016, to try and understand why RPW thought there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to apply a penalty. Here are the questions that were asked, along with the answers received from RPW:

Question 6. Please can you tell me the date (day/month/year) that RPW first became aware of these poisoning incidents?

Answer: RPW first became aware of the poisoning incidents on 5 December 2013.

Question 7. Please could you provide information about the extent and type of enquiries RPW conducted when “considering the offences in question and concluding there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a cross compliance action”?

Answer: A formal police investigation was underway in this case and RPW undertook a review of the documentary evidence.

Question 8. Have the two claimaints been informed by RPW of the SMR1 and SMR9 breaches on their land?

Answer: No, RPW has not established any breaches to SMR1 and SMR9 on their land.

Question 9. Have the two claimants been interviewed by RPW about the incidents on their land?

Answer: No.

Question 10. Can copies of any correspondence between RPW and the claimants about these incidents be supplied (with personal details redacted)?

Answer: RPW has had no contact with the claimants over these incidents.

Question 11. What steps has RPW taken to prevent a reoccurence of these breaches?

Answer: RPW undertakes a programme of annual on site visits to farm businesses to ensure cross compliance requirements are respected.

END

To be honest, we’re completed baffled by RPW’s answers to questions 8-11. They’re either displaying overwhelming apathy, or they’re confused, or we’re confused. Confusion and apathy shouldn’t be unexpected – we saw a similar approach from the Rural Payments Agency (operating in England) when we challenged them about a subsidy withdrawal for the Stody Estate (Norfolk) after the discovery of mass raptor poisoning on their land. The confusion and apathy continued for a year, but, to their credit, the RPA did eventually get it right and imposed a large financial penalty on Stody Estate (see previous blogs here).

Are we going to have to go through the same process with Rural Payments Wales?

Was there a cross compliance breach or wasn’t there? If there was, why hasn’t a penalty been imposed? Why hasn’t RPW bothered to discuss these poisonings with the subsidy recipients? How can RPW claim, with straight faces, that their on site visits “ensure cross compliance requirements are respected”? If that’s the case, where was RPW in 2012 and 2013?

Emails to: RPWOnline@wales.gsi.gov.uk

There’s something decidedly rotten about this whole affair. The most significant wildlife poisoning incident ever uncovered in Wales, and the second largest in the UK in 40 years, on a prominent estate with strong royal connections, inside a National Park. Abject secrecy about these crimes from Dyfed Powys Police (until we started asking questions 3 years later), no criminal prosecution, and no subsidy penalty.

02
Jul
16

Statement from Glanusk Estate about mass poisoning of raptors

Following yesterday’s blog (here) about the mass illegal poisoning of birds of prey on the Glanusk Estate within the Brecon Beacons National Park, the Estate has issued a statement, probably as a measure to placate the organisers of the Green Man Festival (held annually in the Estate grounds) as we know those festival organisers have asked Glanusk about what’s going on. Here’s the Glanusk statement:

Glanusk statement2

In addition to this formal statement, Debbie Murray from the Glanusk Estate wrote the following in an email to one of our blog readers:

I can assure you that we take any matter of animal welfare seriously and we have extensive health & safety measures in place for all of the activities, land and property that we engage with/own.

The alleged poisoning has been said to have been located on land outside of the Glanusk Park where our events take place and there is no risk at all to animals or humans. We enlist an external consultant to provide risk assessments and health & safety advice and again to reiterate, any risk to any of our visitors is received and treated with the utmost severity“.

END

So, let’s just take a closer look at these statements.

For a start, the police investigation began in 2013, not in 2012 (read the RSPB Investigations team’s blog (here) about how things unfolded at Glanusk Estate, starting with the discovery of poisoned baits in October 2012 and leading to the discovery of 15 poisoned victims and more poisoned bait in October 2013).

Is the Glanusk Estate saying 2012 by mistake, or are they trying to suggest that the poisonings took place in 2012 because that sounds better than the more recent 2013?

Glanusk Estate mentions the “alleged poisonings“, presumably to imply that they might not have happened. Hang on a minute, investigators found nine poisoned baits, two poisoned ravens, five poisoned red kites, and eight poisoned buzzards. All of them were subjected to toxicology tests in a government laboratory and all of them tested positive for the poison Bendiocarb. There is no ‘alleged’ about it – these poisonings took place and the 9 baits and 15 victims were definitely found on Glanusk Estate.

Here’s a photo of a poisoned buzzard, one of the 15 poisoning victims found on the Glanusk Estate (photo by RSPB Investigations).

DSCN0334.JPG-550x0

Glanusk Estate says: “the poisonings were located on land outside of Glanusk Park where our events take place”. Hmm. How does the Estate know where the poisonings took place? The majority of those victims (seven buzzards and three red kites) were found stuffed inside feed sacks stacked up next to a pheasant pen. There’s no way anyone (except the poisoner(s)) can know precisely where on the Glanusk Estate those birds were actually poisoned. And even if the poisoned baits had been found in an area of the Estate away from the central ‘Glanusk Park’ area (where their events take place), there’s every chance that a bird might eat some of the bait but then manage to fly some distance before succumbing to the poison. Indeed, isn’t this the very excuse we’re given by the shooting community whenever a poisoned raptor has been found? ‘Ah well, even though the poisoned bird was found on our land, that doesn’t mean it was poisoned on our land, it could have flown a few miles from somewhere else and it just died here’.

Glanusk Estate says: “there is no risk at all to all animals or humans“. Sorry, but there is absolutely no way the Estate can give this sort of assurance. These poisonings took place over the period of at least one year, and nobody from the Glanusk Estate noticed them. The pile of ten raptor corpses stuffed inside feed bags and stacked next to the pheasant pen, the nine poisoned baits and the other five corpses of poisoned birds left on the open ground – all apparently missed by the gamekeepers that worked in that area every day (hard to believe, we know). The poisoner is still at large, because nobody has been charged for these crimes, so for all the Estate knows, poisons may still be being put out on that land and the Estate owners and workers have failed to notice, again. How on earth can Glanusk Estate declare “there is no risk at all to all animals and humans“? It’s just absurd.

Glanusk Estate says: “We enlist an external consultant to provide risk assessments and health & safety advice“. We’re sure they do – as a commercial outfit they are legally obliged to do this. So how come the organisers of the Green Man Festival were apparently unaware of the mass poisoning of wildlife on this estate prior to our blog going out yesterday? Surely, information about the presence of toxic poisons, such a serious hazard to festival-goers, would have been provided in the Festival’s risk assessment, no? Or is it the case that Glanusk Estate has suppressed this information for the last three years, with the assistance of Dyfed Powys Police and the Welsh Government, hoping that nobody would find out?

For the safety of those thousands of visitors to Glanusk Estate, let’s hope the festival organisers ask some probing questions.

UPDATE 3 July 2016: Further statement from Glanusk Estate here




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