Archive for the '2015 persecution incidents' Category

17
Feb
17

Police Scotland intend to withhold raptor persecution info for 3 years

police-scotland-logoA couple of weeks ago we blogged about Police Scotland withholding information about raptor persecution crimes from the RSPB’s 2015 Birdcrime report (here). Their approach was in sharp contrast to every other UK police force that had provided data for this report.

This wasn’t the first time we’d noticed a distinct lack of transparency from Police Scotland, and indeed we remarked that it was becoming something of a speciality of theirs, as they’d also withheld raptor persecution data from the ‘official’ PAW Scotland 2015 raptor persecution report (see here) and also from the Scottish Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report (see here, here and here).

One of our blog readers contacted Police Scotland to ask why information about raptor persecution crimes (a national UK police priority) was being withheld from the public.

Here’s Police Scotland’s response:

Primarily, the Police Scotland concern is about specialist knowledge becoming public knowledge in these cases. Police Scotland actually withholds the data from publication in relatively few cases and only after consideration against the agreed investigative strategy for a particular case. If Police Scotland is to make an appeal for information about a bird of prey killing and has chosen not to identify the substance as part of the strategy (or even identify that poisoning was the cause of death) this would be undermined by the identification of the chemical used in a public document. It would not take too much initiative to put the two together and that specialist knowledge tool is lost. A similar argument is equally as legitimate where other modus operandi (MO) are used in this form of raptor persecution.

On occasions, the decision is made not to make an investigation public at all for a variety of reasons (time of year, other ongoing investigations etc.). Publication of pesticide data or MO by HSE, RSPB or whoever else would ensure that Police Scotland loses control over this tool.

Differences in the legal system in Scotland is also another issue. The time bar for bringing wildlife crimes to court in Scotland is (in most cases) three years from the date of the offence. Police Scotland therefore expect to be able to legitimately withhold information relating to cases for that time period. This argument was supported by a specialist prosecutor from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s Wildlife & Environmental Crime Unit who also thought that this was particularly relevant in Scotland because we still have a requirement for corroboration.

Police Scotland cannot speak for the approach taken by forces in England and Wales but our commitment to wildlife crime ensures that we must ensure that we use every tool available and therefore on occasions this will include withholding information about a crime.

ENDS

Police Scotland’s justification for withholding information about raptor persecution crimes is technically legitimate. They have the right to withhold information when they think it is the most appropriate and/or effective approach to take.

However, just because we accept that this is a technically legitimate course of action for Police Scotland to take, it doesn’t mean that we agree with it. On the contrary, their approach raises some very serious concerns.

The first, and most important, concern is the issue of public safety. Public safety is the underlying objective of any police force, and Police Scotland even have it incorporated in to their logo. How on earth is withholding information about the use of a dangerous (potentially fatal) poison in a given area ‘keeping people safe’?

What happens if a member of the public visits that area with a child or a pet dog, ignorant to the fact that poisoned baits have been discovered there, and they stumble across the poisoned bait and, god forbid, the child (or adult) touches it, or the dog eats it, and dies as a result? These poisons have been banned for a reason – they are so highly toxic that even absorption through the skin (via touch) can be enough to cause death. Many pet dogs have succumbed in this way and it is only a matter of time before it happens to a human.

north-york-police-poisoning-poster-may-2015At the very least, the very, very least, Police Scotland should be screaming about the use of illegal poison, every single time they encounter it. It should be in the papers, on the radio, on the TV, all over social media, and warning posters should be prominently displayed in the local area (just as North Yorkshire Police are doing – see here). What Police Scotland absolutely should NOT be doing is hiding this information from the public for three years. What on earth are they thinking?

What’s more important to Police Scotland – protecting the public from a devastating consequence or clinging to a false hope that somebody might come forward with corroborating information that might lead to an arrest? It’s a bit of a no brainer, isn’t it?

And ‘clinging to a false hope’ is a deliberately chosen expression. How many times, in the last, say, 10 years, following a raptor poisoning crime, has anyone ever come forward with corroborating evidence that has enabled a prosecution? If you read RSPB Scotland’s recent written evidence to the ECCLR Committee (here), you’ll find this statement:

We note that a number of cases of confirmed raptor persecution have not been included in the Wildlife Crime Report. RSPB Scotland is concerned that increasingly, such data are being withheld from public scrutiny on the basis that cases remain under investigation and/or there is an anticipation that an individual will come forward, as a result of an appeal, with some specialist information that will identify a potential suspect. As far as we are aware, this has never happened, almost certainly due to the culture of silence outlined above‘.

Other concerns about the withholding of persecution crime data have been covered on this blog many times before. This lack of transparency not only undermines the public’s confidence in officially-cited (by Government) raptor persecution trends, but it also creates the false impression that raptor persecution is no longer an issue of concern. If the public isn’t reading about it, they’ll assume it’s not happening. Naturally, those with a vested interest in hiding the extent of raptor persecution crime will be all over this, using it in propaganda campaigns to indicate that the game shooting industry has finally cleaned up its act.

And of course, if raptor persecution crimes are not in the public domain, it makes it virtually impossible for people like us to track and assess the performance of Police Scotland and also that of the Crown Office in dealing with these offences. No public awareness = no public scrutiny.

How very convenient.

Police Scotland should be hung out to dry about this. Not only are they putting public safety at risk, but they are also demolishing public confidence in their ability to effectively tackle wildlife crime. We’ll be contacting several MSPs to follow up on this issue and we encourage you to contact your own MSP to make your concerns clear.

13
Feb
17

Poisons cache on East Arkengarthdale Estate: no prosecution, no subsidy penalty

In December 2016 we blogged (here) about the discovery of an illegal poisons cache, buried in a small forestry plantation on Hurst grouse moor, part of the East Arkengarthdale Estate in North Yorkshire.

east-arkengarthdale

The discovery had been made (and filmed) by the RSPB’s Investigations team in December 2014 and March 2015. RSPB Investigator Guy Shorrock wrote a blog about it (here).

We learned that an unnamed gamekeeper had been responsible for the poisons cache but the Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to prosecute due to ‘procedural concerns’. Nevertheless, North Yorkshire Police revoked this gamekeeper’s shotgun and firearms certificates. The gamekeeper appealed this decision (and was represented by the BASC Chairman, no less) and the court decided his certificates should be returned.

So we asked the Rural Payments Agency (as did many of you, thank you) whether the illegal poisons cache was a breach of the conditions under which the Estate had received almost £200,000 of agricultural subsidies (public money) and if so, whether any part of those subsidies would be withdrawn as a penalty, in the same way a penalty had been applied to the Stody Estate in Norfolk for poisoning offences that took place in 2013 (see here).

Here’s the Rural Payments Agency’s response:

You have asked the following questions about the discovery of a hidden pesticide cache on Hurst Moor, North Yorkshire in 2014:

1. Did the CAP subsidies received by the specified business in 2014 cover the land where the poisons cache was discovered?
2. If so, does having a poisons cache, administered by a gamekeeper, qualify as a cross-compliance breach?
3. If so, will the Rural Payments Agency be applying a subsidy penalty?

The RPA has determined that a subsidy penalty was not appropriate, for the reason set out below. It therefore did not need to establish the precise location of land where the poisons cache was discovered.

We considered this case under the cross compliance rules that applied in 2014 and we hope the following will explain why RPA does not have the scope to apply cross compliance penalties for breaches of this nature.

Within cross compliance, all breaches relating to storage of pesticides were provided for by a set of rules known as the sustainable use rules.  These were part of the wider set of rules covered by the plant protection product Statutory Management Requirement (SMR) which, in 2014 was SMR 9. Please refer to page 63 of the Guide to Cross Compliance in England 2014, for further information.

From 1 January 2014 a change to European legislation meant the sustainable use rules were removed from the scope of SMR 9 as far as cross compliance rules applicable to SPS payments were concerned. This meant there was no scope to apply cross compliance penalties to SPS payments for pesticide storage and unapproved product breaches that occurred from 1 January 2014 onwards.

The sustainable use rules continued to apply to rural development schemes covered by cross compliance rules, for example the full range of Environmental Stewardship schemes. This was the case until the end of 2014, after which further changes to European legislation fully removed the sustainable use rules from the scope of cross compliance.

In the rural development legislation that applied in 2014, the obligation to comply with the statutory management requirements did not apply to non-agricultural activities on a holding. In this case the evidence is that the breach was committed in connection with the non-agricultural activity of game shooting. In addition, the evidence is that the cache was not found on agricultural land, but within a small plantation of trees. Therefore it is not possible to apply cross compliance penalties to rural development payments for a breach of this nature.

END

So, no prosecution, no revocation of firearms, and no subsidy penalty.

arken

But what about a positive reaction from the grouse shooting industry itself? Surely, as members of the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) and the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), organisations like the Moorland Association and the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation would want to move swiftly to distance themselves from this Estate and this gamekeeper?

Well, we asked them about this (as did many of you, thank you) two months ago (here) and guess what? We haven’t heard a word of condemnation or any hint of expulsion. Just the standard wall of silence we’ve come to expect.

What we did find, though, was East Arkengarthdale grouse moor being listed as among ‘the best shoots in the UK 2015/2016‘, as recommended by ‘prominent figures and agents’ from the industry. It’s really worth having a look at this list – there are a few other ‘interesting’ names that many of you will recognise.

If ever you wanted evidence of a criminally-riddled industry protecting its own, or evidence of sham partnership working, you’ll be hard pressed to beat this case as an example.

05
Feb
17

Police Scotland continue to withhold raptor persecution data

Earlier today we blogged about the publication of the RSPB’s 2015 UK Birdcrime report (here).

Have a look at the report’s data appendices: rspb-birdcrime2015_appendices

You’ll notice a statement in relation to Appendix 3 (which is a table of confirmed and probable bird of prey and owl persecution during 2015). That statement says: ‘The details of some confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents cannot be shown, as requested by Police Scotland‘.

You’ll see the same statement in relation to Appendix 4 (which is a table of confirmed poison abuse incidents during 2015).

You’ll see the same statement in relation to the UK map of bird crime incidents 2015.

You’ll notice that no other police force in the UK has applied such restrictions to the publication of incident data, just Police Scotland.

Take a closer look at Appendix 4 (list of confirmed poison abuse incidents) and you’ll notice that not only has Police Scotland withheld the month, species, poison and county of four confirmed poisoning crimes, but they’ve also withheld the name of the poison used in every single Scottish poisoning crime (except one) in 2015. No other police force has done this. Every other police force listed in this table has provided the full details of each confirmed poisoning crime. But not Police Scotland. Why is that?

appendix-4

You might recall that in 2015 the Scottish Government organised a poisons disposal scheme that ran from Feb – May 2015 (see here). This resulted in the handing in of a massive amount of banned poisons (see here). However, it’s clear from the above table that despite this disposal scheme, some banned poisons are still being held and used illegally in Scotland. But without knowledge of the poison used, and in some cases where it was used, when it was used and which species was the victim, it is virtually impossible for us to cross-reference and track these cases.

This withholding of data by Police Scotland also renders the national statistics on raptor persecution utterly pointless. How can we have any faith in the national picture if we know that Police Scotland are refusing to release information, two years on from when the crimes were committed?

The withholding of raptor persecution data appears to be becoming a Police Scotland speciality – they’ve done it before with the ‘official’ PAW Scotland 2015 raptor persecution data (see here) and also with the Scottish Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report (see here, here and here).

Police Scotland’s refusal to publicise some of these crimes is deeply concerning, and especially when that suppression extends to details of crimes in ‘official’ Government reports that are supposed to demonstrate openness and transparency.

Ask yourselves, in whose interest is it to keep these crimes under wraps? You’d be hard pressed to argue that it is in the interests of the general public.

UPDATE 6 Feb 2017: It’s worth re-visiting RSPB Scotland’s written evidence to the ECCLR Committee (10 January 2017) about the withholding of raptor persecution data in the Scottish Government’s annual 2015 wildlife crime report. Here’s a quote:

We note that a number of cases of confirmed raptor persecution have not been included in the Wildlife Crime Report. RSPB Scotland is concerned that increasingly, such data are being withheld from public scrutiny on the basis that cases remain under investigation and/or there is an anticipation that an individual will come forward, as a result of an appeal, with some specialist information that will identify a potential suspect. As far as we are aware, this has never happened, almost certainly due to the culture of silence outlined above‘.

05
Feb
17

RSPB publishes 2015 UK Birdcrime report

On Friday (3 Feb 2017) the RSPB published its latest UK Birdcrime report (2015).

The format for the 2015 report has changed. Instead of publishing a downloadable PDF, the report has been published ‘online’ – see here.

This isn’t to everyone’s liking, including ours; we prefer to have a report that can be filed and read offline. Nevertheless, the new online version includes all the usual information that we’ve come to expect from the RSPB’s Investigations Team, including a downloadable PDF of the data appendices (very useful), and for the first time it includes a new ‘interactive’ map of persecution incidents. This is a fantastic development, and although at the moment it only includes data from 2015, it is hoped that data from previous and future years will be added in due course, which will make this a very valuable tool when looking at persecution hotspot areas.

Overall, the RSPB received 196 reports of shooting, trapping and destruction of birds of prey in 2015. 64 of these were confirmed crimes, including the shooting or attempted shooting of 46 raptors and 16 trapping crimes.

There were also 50 reports of poisoning and pesticide-related incidents. Of these, 32 were confirmed and included the illegal poisoning of 15 buzzards, four red kites and three peregrines.

A map documents some of the 2015 reported incidents, although some are not mapped because there wasn’t an associated grid reference and others were not mapped “as requested by Police Scotland“.

birdcrime-2015-map

This map illustrates the geographical extent of raptor persecution in the UK (even with some of the Scottish incidents being withheld) and according to the report the UK breakdown for 2015 was 61% of all confirmed persecution reports were in England, 29% in Scotland, 9% in Northern Ireland and 1% in Wales.

The regional breakdown is very familiar to those who take an interest in regional trends. It’s no surprise to see that the worst area for reported raptor persecution continues to be North Yorkshire (40 reports), closely followed by Highland (39 reports) and then Aberdeenshire (23 reports). All three areas are dominated by land managed for driven grouse shooting, including three National Parks (Yorkshire Dales NP, North York Moors NP and Cairngorms NP).

The report includes a pie chart to illustrate the occupation / interests of 176 individuals convicted of bird of prey persecution related offences between 1990-2016. Again, no surprises here:

occupations-convicted-1990-2015_from-rspb-birdcrime-2015

Given that 68% of all those convicted of raptor persecution offences over the last 26 years were gamekeepers, the response to the 2015 Birdcrime report by the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation is predictable in its denial and insincerity. We might have more trust in them if they didn’t harbour convicted criminals.

ngo-reponse

Many congratulations and thanks to the RSPB Investigations Team for continuing to compile these data and for making them available to the public.

We’ll be writing another, related blog, later today about Police Scotland’s continued withholding of data.

04
Jan
17

Environment Committee to take evidence on annual Scottish wildlife crime report

wildlife-crime-review-2015Next week (Tuesday 10 January 2017, 9.30am) the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee will hear evidence about the Government’s recent (2015) annual wildlife crime report.

In the past, this committee (the RACCE Committee as it was then called) has only taken evidence from Police Scotland, the Crown Office, and the Environment Minister. This year it is very encouraging to see that evidence will be heard from a wider range of stakeholders. That’s definitely progress and we applaud it.

The following are due to give evidence at next week’s hearing:

Session 1

Gary Aitken, Head of Wildlife & Environmental Crime Unit, COPFS

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Johnson & Detective Chief Superintendant Sean Scott, Police Scotland

Session 2

Eddie Palmer, Chair, Scottish Badgers

Andy Smith, Committee Member, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association

Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations, RSPB Scotland

Peter Charleston, Conservation Wildlife Crime Officer, Bat Conservation Trust

This evidence hearing should be fascinating. You’ll remember we blogged recently about the Government’s latest wildlife crime report (here) and we were highly critical of it because, according to RSPB Scotland, a number of raptor persecution crimes had been withheld from the report. We argued that as these were confirmed crimes, and they took place over two years ago, there was simply no justification for keeping them a secret and that by withholding these data, it undermined all confidence in the report’s trend analyses and made the whole process of annual reporting nothing more than a meaningless charade. Let’s hope questions are raised about this issue on Tuesday.

You’ll also remember that we blogged about Scottish Badger’s recent complaints to the Justice Committee about how crimes against badgers were being under-recorded (see here). Scottish Badgers reported 160 confirmed badger crimes over  a period of one year, whereas Police Scotland recorded only seven crimes in the same period, and none of those proceeded to prosecution. Let’s hope this issue is also raised on Tuesday.

The ECCLR hearing will be available to watch live on Holyrood tv and we’ll post a link to it on Tuesday morning.

26
Dec
16

Parliamentary Question: is public money being used to promote wildlife criminals in Scottish shooting sector?

scstg-logoLast week it was announced that the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group (SCSTG) has plans to boost the value of game shooting, stalking and fishing to the rural economy by £30 million, via its new ‘Game for Growth’ strategy.

The Game for Growth strategy document can be read here: sctsg-game-for-growth-strategy-document-dec-2016

It’s a pretty turgid read, full of tedious marketing soundbites, but basically it sets out how the industry plans to promote Scottish country sports over the next four years to reach a wider national and international market. This will be achieved mostly, it seems, by claiming the industry is sustainable with fabulous conservation benefits and ignoring the vast environmental damage and wildlife crime associated with some activities within this sector.

visit-scotland-1Interestingly, VisitScotland (the national tourism agency linked to the Scottish Government) has apparently committed to boosting the country sports tourism sector and has announced a matched ‘Growth Fund’ to help SCSTG develop its marketing strategy and increase its online presence.

We’re not the only ones to raise an eyebrow at this. Andy Wightman MSP has lodged the following Parliamentary Question about it:

Question S5W-05930: Andy Wightman (Lothian, Scottish Green Party). Date lodged: 22/12/2016

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide a breakdown of the recipients of financial contributions from VisitScotland to the strategy, Game for Growth Strategy – Country Sports Tourism in Scotland 2016; what information it has regarding how each recipient will use this; what action it has taken to ensure that no money was provided to the owners or managers of landholdings on which crimes against wildlife have been committed; whether it will publish the strategy on its website, and what aspects of this it is supporting or plans to support with public money.

Expected answer date: 19/01/2017

These are legitimate questions, and especially when you take a closer look at the SCSTG website, which has been developed to connect potential visitors with various country sports providers across Scotland. For example, if you want to pay money to shoot mountain hares in Scotland, you can use the website’s search facility and a number of sporting agents/estates who offer this ‘sport’ will be highlighted.

We used the search facility to look for various ‘sporting’ opportunities and were very surprised to find that sporting agency Dunmhor Sporting was being promoted:

Why the surprise? Well, Graham Christie of Dunmhor Sporting was convicted in December last year of being vicariously liable for the criminal actions of his gamekeeper, who had used an illegal gin trap to catch and injure a buzzard on the Cardross Estate.

Why is the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group promoting an agent who has a current conviction for wildlife crime? And why is VisitScotland providing match funding to an organisation that is promoting a convicted wildlife criminal?

20
Dec
16

Deja vu

Yesterday we published a map. It showed part of the East Arkengarthdale Estate in North Yorkshire where an illegal cache of poisons had been discovered in 2014. Here’s the map again:

shaw-farm-map

Did anyone else get a sense of deja vu when looking at that map? Have a look at that forest block at the top of the map. That’s Stang Forest and it’s got quite a distinctive shape.

Now have a look at this map, which we published a year ago in December 2015:

stang-forest-copy

Why did we publish this map last year? Well, it was to illustrate an area where a peregrine had been found shot dead on 23 August 2015 ‘on the south east edge of Stang Forest’.

An interesting area, eh?

Stang Forest shot perg - Copy




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