Archive for the '2015 persecution incidents' Category

18
Dec
19

Gamekeepers caught with banned poisons should receive mandatory jail sentence

Yesterday the Scottish Rural Affairs & Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon, gave evidence to the cross-party Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) committee which is currently considering Stage 1 of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill.

We’ll come back to the wider evidence session in another blog because there were some interesting and important discussions but one point raised deserves an immediate reaction:

Possession of banned poisons.

Here’s the mini transcript:

ECCLR Committee Member Rachael Hamilton MSP: I will go back to the categorisation of wildlife offences and the different tiers of the penalty system. We heard evidence that perhaps possession of illegal pesticides should be categorised as a tier 1 offence, because they are currently illegal anyway. Do you have any comments on that point and do you have any plans to have an amnesty on illegal pesticides prior to the bill being passed? People should not possess illegal pesticides anyway, so using them in connection with animal crimes should attract the highest and severest category of penalty.

Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon: That has been the feeling behind that issue. As you said, possession of such pesticides is already illegal and there are offences in place to deal with that individual issue separately. Using such pesticides as part of another offence would attract the higher penalty. As they are already illegal and there are offences attached to them, using them in relation to any other offences could well attract severe penalties.

In relation to your amnesty point, I would be happy to consider looking at the matter.

Scottish Government Wildlife Management Team leader Leia Fitzgerald: Just to clarify, there was a previous amnesty, which was quite successful and resulted in a lot of pesticides being handed in. We could speak to stakeholders about whether that is something that could be done again. We would hope that we got all of what we needed after the last amnesty, but we can look at the matter.

Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon: I will happily get back to the committee and let you know how we get on with that.

ENDS

Is the Scottish Government seriously considering yet another amnesty for banned poisons, which would be the third amnesty in the 15 years since it became an offence to even possess these deadly toxins, let alone use them? (The Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005).

The first amnesty took place in 2011 (see here), six years after the ban was first introduced. The second amnesty came four years later in 2015 (see here).

Since then poisoning crimes have certainly dropped in Scotland, probably thanks to the increase in satellite-tagged raptors, whose tags lead researchers to the poisoned corpses that would otherwise remain undetected, and also due to the introduction of vicarious liability legislation in 2012 which made it possible for landowners to be prosecuted for raptor persecution crimes committed by their gamekeeper employees. However, these poisoning crimes haven’t been totally eradicated and we’re still reading reports about illegally-poisoned birds (and some dogs) that have died after ingesting banned poisons in Scotland including some that were killed this year, and some even inside the Cairngorms National Park (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).

[An illegally-poisoned buzzard found on the boundary of a sporting estate in Perthshire. Contributed photo]

How many more chances is the Scottish Government planning on giving to these criminals? How many more get-out-of-jail-free cards will be dished out?

Why can’t the Scottish Government, 15 years on, implement a zero tolerance policy on this vile and primitive crime that not only risks the lives of wildlife and domestic animals but puts humans at risk as well? In the most recent criminal case, a Scottish gamekeeper was found with two cartons containing the banned poison Carbofuran. He was carrying one of these containers in his bum bag – presumably he wasn’t just taking the container out for company every day – and yet 180 schoolchildren were put at risk when they attended the grouse shooting estate on an officially-sanctioned school trip. Can you believe that? The gamekeeper was convicted for possession (along with a litany of other wildlife offences) and received a community payback order. No fine, no jail sentence, no deterrent whatsoever. Compare and contrast to how illegal poisoners are dealt with in Spain (see here, here and here).

The criminals who persist with such reckless activity in Scotland deserve a mandatory custodial sentence – there can be no more excuses, no more discussion and certainly no more amnesties.

Enough.

08
Nov
19

Raptor persecution in Northern Ireland: ten year review and new strategies to tackle these crimes

Press release from the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Northern Ireland (PAW NI):

Birds of prey to be safeguarded by new technology

Satellite tracking devices are to be fitted onto birds of prey and nesting site surveillance installed, in the latest fight against wildlife crime.

‘Hawk-Eyes’, an advanced technology project, is being launched by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Northern Ireland (PAW NI), alongside their ‘10 Years of Persecution’ Report.

The report reveals that from 2009-18, there were a total of 72 incidents of confirmed raptor persecution in Northern Ireland, resulting in the death or injury of 66 birds of prey and the destruction of two nesting sites.

Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Wildlife Officer Dr Jon Lees said buzzards and red kites are amongst the most common victims of persecution: “Sadly, a small proportion of our population still seem to think it’s ok to destroy these magnificent birds at the expense of the environment and the rest of the community.

“Raptors such as buzzards, red kites, peregrine falcons and Sparrowhawks, have been illegally targeted right across Northern Ireland to such an extent some areas are at risk of losing their natural top predators,” explained Dr Lees.

The methods these criminals use, such as poisoned bait, are often highly dangerous, putting livestock, pets and people at risk. These offenders care little for people’s safety. We rely heavily on the vigilance of the public to report these crimes and any evidence to the police or Crimestoppers,” Dr Lees added.

The “Hawk-Eyes” project, is funded and supported by the Department of Justice, – Assets Recovery Community Scheme (ARCS) and run through PAW NI, which brings together government Departments, PSNI and other enforcement agencies, environmental organisations, animal welfare groups and country sports associations with the common goal of combating wildlife crime through publicity, education and campaigning.

Some of the birds’ tracking information will be publicly available on the project website at http://wildlifecrimeni-hawkeyes.com, which will allow people to help protect these special birds by reporting such crimes.

PAW NI encourages people across Northern Ireland to be vigilant. If anyone sees or knows of any wildlife crime, report it to the PSNI by calling 101 or, in an emergency, 999. Crime can be reported anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

ENDS

The ten year review report (2009-2018) can be downloaded here: PAW NI Raptor Persecution Report 2009 – 2018

The use of technology (nest cameras and satellite tags) in the Hawk Eyes project is very interesting, especially as it’s being funded by the Department of Justice’s Assets Recovery Community Scheme, where proceeds of crimes are distributed to help community projects. It would be great to see this approach repeated in England, Scotland and Wales.

Of most interest to us is that these tags are being deployed primarily to aid the detection of wildlife crime. Typically, up until now the main reason for deploying satellite tags has been as part of an ecological research project – the subsequent detection of wildlife crime hotspots (through the discovery of poisoned/shot/trapped sat tagged birds or the suspicious disappearance of tagged birds) has been a by-product of that research and not its primary aim. This is a very clear change of approach from the PAW NI and its also very pleasing to see that the police are key partners in it. Good stuff.

Will the use of satellite tag technology help to identify the criminals as well as the hotspots? Quite possibly. It doesn’t work in England, Scotland or Wales where there are large game shooting estates and where evidence can be quickly destroyed with relative ease (no witnesses around and thousands of acres in which to hide corpses/tags) and where multiple gamekeepers can hide in the crowd (a prosecution isn’t possible unless an individual suspect is identified) but the situation in Northern Ireland is quite different.

Raptor killing in Northern Ireland isn’t such an ‘organised crime’ as it is in the rest of the UK because there are very few large game shooting estates. It seems to be more localised and opportunistic in Northern Ireland, so the perpetrators aren’t so clued up on how to avoid detection. The deterrent effect of simply knowing that these birds might be tagged may also be significant in Northern Ireland because the raptor killers there won’t have wealthy employers prepared to fork out thousands of pounds for legal defence as they do on the game shooting estates in England and Scotland. The risk of getting caught and being afraid of the consequences might just do the trick in Northern Ireland.

Well done and good luck to the PAW NI team – a lot of people will be watching this project with interest.

19
Jun
19

Scottish Environment Minister visits hen harrier nest with Raptor Study Group fieldworkers

Mairi Gougeon is the Scottish Government’s Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, and she also happens to be the Species Champion for the Hen Harrier (Species Champions are roles devised to help politicians raise awareness of species conservation).

Mairi has been one of the more active Species Champions in the Scottish Parliament, enthusiastically offering her support for this species by way of a parliamentary debate, speaking at Hen Harrier Day, and going on field visits to see hen harriers in the wild.

Earlier this week she was out again with experts from the Scottish Raptor Study Group and the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms National Park, to watch (from a distance, obviously) a male hen harrier food passing to a female who had four chicks in the nest.

Photos from Kelvin Thomson (@thomsok) of Tayside Raptor Study Group.

That’s the smile of a Minister who’s enjoyed seeing hen harriers.

And although the Scottish Government needs to do much much more to combat the illegal killing of this species on grouse moors (remember Scotland has lost more than a quarter of its hen harrier population in just 12 years), Scotland is fortunate to have a Minister who is so engaged and supportive of the species.

Compare and contrast with Mairi’s Westminster counterpart, Dr Therese Coffey – she’s been in post since 2016 and hasn’t said or done anything of significance in support of hen harriers, even after recent Government-commissioned research showed that 72% of tagged hen harriers were presumed to have been killed illegally on grouse moors.

The Westminster Hen Harrier Species Champion is Angela Smith MP, who appears to have been about as productive as Dr Coffey.

Let’s hope the four chicks that Mairi Gougeon saw being carefully looked after on Mar Lodge Estate all survive and fledge. They’ll need plenty of luck though – four of the five hen harriers tagged here in the last few years have all vanished in suspicious circumstances on other grouse moors in the Cairngorms National Park, presumed to have been illegally killed (Calluna, Margot, Stelmaria and Marci).

And they’re not the only satellite tagged hen harriers to have come to harm inside this National Park. In August 2016 satellite-tagged hen harrier Brian ‘disappeared’ here (see here) and in August 2015 satellite-tagged hen harrier Lad was found dead, suspected shot, inside the Park (see here).

And it’s not just satellite-tagged hen harriers. At least 15 satellite-tagged golden eagles have also ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in recent years inside the Cairngorms National Park (see here). In 2014 the first white-tailed eagle chick to fledge in East Scotland in approx 200 years also ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances (see here) and last year year another white-tailed eagle also ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances inside the Park (see here).

The political silence on the recent losses of hen harriers Calluna, Margot, Stelmaria and Marci has been noted. We’ll be revisiting this topic soon.

04
Apr
19

Former Edradynate Estate head gamekeeper cleared of crop poisoning charges

David Campbell, the former head gamekeeper of Edradynate Estate in Perthshire, has been cleared of all charges relating to the poisoning of game crops on the estate in April 2017.

It had been alleged that David Campbell had maliciously damaged game crops by spraying them with an unknown substance which caused them to rot and perish. At the time of the alleged offences, Campbell was no longer an employee of the estate, having worked there since 1983 but after falling out with the landowner, millionaire city financier Michael Campbell (no relation), his employment was terminated in February 2017.

[Edradynate Estate, photo by Ruth Tingay]

Michael Campbell had told the court that he believed his former employee had caused the damage ‘in revenge’ and said he could identify David Campbell on CCTV by his distinctive “mutton chop” facial hair. Various witnesses had told the court that David Campbell had been “upset” at having to leave his long-term employment at Edradynate Estate.

Last week, David Campbell’s defence solicitor had argued that the case against his client should be dropped because there was a lack of evidence to show his client was the person caught on the covertly-filmed CCTV. Sheriff Gillian Wade had rejected the argument and said the court had been presented with sufficient evidence for the case to proceed.

However, at Tuesday’s court hearing Sheriff Wade cleared David Campbell after ruling the case against him had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

This latest failed prosecution is one of several linked to the Edradynate Estate, although the majority of the previous allegations have related to the alleged illegal poisoning of birds of prey, rather than alleged crop poisoning. Despite at least 22 police investigations over several decades (according to former Tayside wildlife crime officer Alan Stewart), nobody from Edradynate Estate has ever been successfully prosecuted for any of these alleged wildlife crimes.

[A poisoned buzzard at Edradynate in 2015, photo RPUK]

We’ve blogged about this estate a lot over the years (see links here), and most recently in relation to the alleged poisoning of two buzzards in 2015 and the Crown Office’s decision in 2017 not to prosecute one of the Edradynate gamekeepers (un-named), despite Police Scotland urging otherwise (see here).

Edradynate Estate is currently serving a three year General Licence restriction, imposed in Sept 2017 and which we believe relates to the alleged buzzard poisonings in March 2015.

Last year three dogs and two more buzzards were reported to have been “deliberately poisoned” in the area but nobody has been charged (see here) and we are not aware of any suggested link between these poisonings and any current employee of Edradynate Estate.

14
Dec
18

New RSPB report details ongoing illegal slaughter of raptors on Scottish grouse moors

RSPB Scotland has published its latest report (The illegal killing of birds of prey in Scotland 2015-17 Report) which details amongst other things the ongoing illegal slaughter of birds of prey on Scottish grouse moors.

Press release from RSPB Scotland:

Grouse moor regulation vital to end illegal killing of Scotland’s raptors

A new RSPB Scotland report published today [Friday 14th December] has further reinforced the need for grouse moor regulation to be introduced in order to bring to an end to the widespread persecution of raptors in Scotland. The Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland 2015-17 details the clear associations between the decline or absence of these birds in parts of Scotland’s uplands, intensive grouse moor management and wildlife crime.

The report brings together evidence from police investigations, scientific research and eye-witness accounts and shows that the vast majority of these raptor persecution incidents are occurring in areas of Scotland’s uplands managed for intensive driven grouse shooting.

During the three-year period covered, there were 38 confirmed, detected incidents of illegal killing of protected birds of prey, including shooting, trapping, illegal poisoning and nest destruction. However, the evidence makes clear that the crimes being recorded are a fraction of what is actually taking place, despite claims by some in the grouse moor industry that raptor persecution is falling.

Such crimes are continuing to adversely impact the populations and ranges of several bird of prey species. A national survey of the UK’s hen harriers, undertaken in 2016, revealed that Scotland’s breeding population had fallen by nine percent since 2010, and that the number on grouse moors had plummeted by 57 percent. A further study, published in 2016, commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage, confirmed that the sustained level of illegal killing remains the major factor preventing the growth of northern Scotland’s red kite population.

Furthermore, in the case of 18 hen harriers fitted with satellite tags, and known to have died or whose transmitters failed between 2015-17, it is likely that eight were illegally killed on or close to grouse moors. Given that only a relatively small proportion of hen harriers are satellite tagged, the number of non-tagged birds being illegally killed will be far higher. This is also the case with other marked raptors, including golden eagles.

Yet, despite robust wildlife crime legislation, improved to a large extent since 1999 by the Scottish Parliament, there have been very few prosecutions. Only five individuals were convicted of offences related to raptor persecution in these three years. Most crimes take place in isolated rural areas, concealed from the public eye, and with perpetrators who have become increasingly adept in covering their tracks to prevent detection. However, the decisions by the Crown Office to drop four prosecutions linked to raptor persecution offences during this period raises the question of whether current wildlife protection legislation is fit for purpose, or if new laws are needed to allow more effective enforcement, and to act as a genuine deterrent.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “Scotland’s birds of prey are for many a source of national pride, but there are some who are persistently intent on doing them harm, in flagrant disregard of the law and the public interest. There is clear and repeated evidence that this criminal activity is largely taking place on Scotland’s grouse moors, but the grouse industry has not addressed this long-standing and endemic problem; instead we are seeing increasing signs of a culture where some grouse moor managers feel, and act, as if they are untouchable. We believe that the majority of the Scottish public have had enough; repeated warnings from Government have not been heeded, and the time must be right for tougher action”.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management said: “Intensive grouse moor management is having a disproportionate impact on our important upland ecosystems and specially protected birds and is blighting Scotland’s reputation as a place which respects vulnerable and protected wildlife. Self-regulation, voluntary codes of practice, and dialogue have all patently failed to address cultural and systematic criminality, as well as bad land management practices. We have reached a point where it is abundantly clear that driven grouse shooting must be made more publicly accountable and effectively regulated through a robust licensing system, conditional on legal and sustainable land management practices. Grouse moor owners who adhere to the law and best practice should have nothing to fear from this approach.”

An independent grouse moor review was set up by the Scottish Government in 2017, following the publication of a Scottish Natural Heritage Report, that concluded that many satellite tagged golden eagles were disappearing in “suspicious circumstances” in areas managed for intensive grouse shooting. The review is examining the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices and possible options for regulation and is due to report to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform in spring 2019.

ENDS

This report contains some fascinating information, some of it previously unpublished, and we’ll be blogging about some of those things in the coming days.

For now though, well done and thanks to the RSPB Scotland team for putting together this report (and thanks also for producing it as a PDF instead of a webzine!). This is undoubtedly the most strongly-worded RSPB annual report we’ve ever seen, which is perhaps an indication of just how little patience is left amongst those expecting the Government to take action against this relentless criminality from many within the grouse shooting sector.

08
May
18

Three dogs & two buzzards die after being ‘deliberately poisoned’ in Perthshire

BBC News article (8 May 2018):

DOGS AND BUZZARDS DIE AFTER BEING DELIBERATELY POISONED

Police in Highland Perthshire are appealing for information after three working dogs and two buzzards were deliberately poisoned.

The incidents took place between October 2017 and April this year in and around the Edradynate and Pitnacree Estates area.

The poisons used to kill the dogs and birds are banned in the UK.

[Photo of a poisoned buzzard found in the area in 2015, by RPUK]

A Police Scotland spokesman said the animals’ owners were “understandably upset” at the loss of their dogs.

He said: “Once again, we also find ourselves investigating the illegal killing of raptors and this is extremely disappointing.

We have searched the areas and our investigations to date would suggest that there is not a wider threat to public safety.

However, all members of the public in the area are asked to remain vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour, especially during the hours of darkness.”

ENDS

Hmm. Edradynate Estate has been at the centre of investigations for alleged wildlife crime for a very, very long time. It’s well worth reading an earlier summary we wrote (here) which includes some fascinating commentary about the estate by former RSPB Investigator Dave Dick, who claimed as far back as 2004 that the estate was “among the worst in Scotland for wildlife crime“, and commentary by former Police Wildlife Crime Officer Alan Stewart, who said in 2005, “Edraynate Estate has probably the worst record in Scotland for poisoning incidents, going back more than a decade“. The details involve a disturbingly high number of poisoned birds and poisoned baits that were found over the years, as well as a number of dropped prosecution cases (nobody has ever been convicted for any of the alleged offences). The summary also includes information about links between the estate and the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association.

[Edradynate Estate, photo by RPUK]

More recently, in March 2015 two dead buzzards were found near to the estate. Toxicology tests revealed they’d been poisoned with a banned substance (although the name wasn’t revealed). A police raid of the estate uncovered a third dead buzzard. A thorough police investigation followed but in May 2017 the Crown Office rejected a plea from Police Scotland to bring proceedings against an estate gamekeeper (see here). The Crown Office has so far not provided a clear explanation for this decision.

However, in September 2017 SNH imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Edradynate Estate, presumably in response to the alleged buzzard poisonings in 2015 (see here). Some felt sympathy for the new gamekeeper who would now be subjected to these restrictions even though he’d only just begun his employment following the ‘retirement’ of the previous Head gamekeeper in February 2017.

And talking of that previous Head gamekeeper, you may remember last year he was charged with a number of offences including the alleged malicious damage of crops on Edradynate in April 2017 (it is claimed he poisoned them by spraying with an unknown substance, causing them to rot and perish) and the alleged theft of a thermal imaging spotting scope (see here). This resulted in some court proceedings that were mysteriously shrouded in secrecy (here).

Presumably he has pleaded not guilty as we now know a trial will take place at Perth Sheriff Court on 11 June 2018 for alleged ‘malicious mischief’.

04
Jan
18

Compare & contrast: two cases of the illegal storage of poisons

Well this is fascinating.

In December 2017, a pest control company and one of its directors was sentenced for the illegal storage of poisons, following an HSE investigation in to the alleged secondary poisoning of a tawny owl (by rodenticide).

During the investigation, a number of poisons not authorised for use were found improperly stored at the premises. In addition, part used canisters of Phostoxin (a compound that reacts with moisture in the atmosphere or the soil to produce phosphine, a poisonous gas, used to control rabbits within their burrows) were found stored inside a filing cabinet within the workplace.

Rodent Service (East Anglia) Limited of Cooke Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2 (1) and 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company has been fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,000. The company was also ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £170.

Donald Eric Martin, Director of Rodent Service (East Anglia) Limited also pleaded guilty of an offence of neglect by virtue of S37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. He was sentenced to a six months in prison, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay costs of £1000 and a victim surcharge of £115.00.

Details of this case can be found on the HSE website here (thanks to one of our blog readers, Mick, for drawing this to our attention).

Now, compare the outcome of this case with that of the recent case involving the discovery of an illegal poisons cache found buried in a hole in woodland on Hurst Moor, a grouse moor on the East Arkengarth Estate in North Yorkshire.

In the East Arkengarth Estate case, the RSPB had discovered a number of poisons, including Cymag (another fumigant with similar properties to Phostoxin), Bendiocarb and Alphachloralose and had identified a gamekeeper who was filmed visiting the cache. However, the Crown Prosecution Service refused to prosecute due to ‘procedural concerns’ but North Yorkshire Police, quite reasonably, considered the gamekeeper unfit to be in charge of firearms and removed his firearms certificates.

The gamekeeper appealed this decision (with the help of the BASC Chairman as his defence lawyer!) and the court held that although it was accepted he had stored dangerous poisons at an unauthorised location, removing his firearms certificates was deemed ‘disproportionate’ and they were duly reinstated.

Although there are differences between these two cases, there is one very clear parallel. Both cases involved professional pesticide users who should have completed COSHH risk assessments and training and thus known there are very strict rules and regulations about the storage and use of these inherently dangerous chemicals.

In one case, not connected with the grouse shooting industry, the company (and its Director) was absolutely thrashed by the court for such serious offences.

In the other case, directly linked to the grouse shooting industry, there was no prosecution, the gamekeeper was considered fit to be entrusted with a firearm, and there was no subsidy withdrawal for the estate as the poisons cache was found in a small plantation, not on agricultural land (see here).

In other words, there were no penalties or consequences whatsoever for the East Arkengarthdale Estate and its employee.

Amazing, eh?




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