Archive for the '2016 persecution incidents' Category

09
Sep
17

Raptor persecution highlighted as key concern in Yorkshire Dales National Park

Earlier this year the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority opened a public consultation to inform its next five-year Management Plan (2018-2023).

Residents and visitors were invited to submit comments on three open-ended questions:

  1. What do you love about the National Park?
  2. How do you think the National Park can be improved?
  3. What do you think are the three most important issues for the National Park Management Plan to tackle over the next five years?

Yesterday, the initial consultation results were published. Download the report:

 YDNPA_ManagementPlan_Report-of-consultation-8Sep2017

Grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park (photo by Ruth Tingay)

As you’d expect, a variety of concerns were raised relating to access, public transport, planning, farming, affordable housing and community services/sustainability. Two other concerns featured high on the agenda of residents and visitors alike – illegal raptor persecution and land management (with a particular focus on grouse moor management).

It’s no surprise. North Yorkshire (which includes the raptor persecution hotspots of the Yorkshire Dales National Park & the neighbouring Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) is consistently rated as one of the worst counties in the UK for reported raptor persecution crimes (e.g. see here).

Separate to this consultation, we were recently provided with an interesting bit of news from a local resident. Following the 2016 case of the Mossdale pole traps, where a gamekeeper employed on the Mossdale Estate in the National Park was filmed by the RSPB setting three illegal pole traps on a grouse moor (here) and who was erroneously let off with a police caution (here), the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority apparently received around 2,000 emails of complaint/concern. Not only that, but many local traders also contacted the Park Authority to express their concern about how the Park’s persistent reputation for illegal raptor persecution may damage their businesses.

It’s clear that people have had enough and are looking to the Park Authority to lead on this issue.

Is the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority up for the challenge? Well, we’ll see. The results of the public consultation will be used by the Park’s Management Plan Steering Committee to draft specific objectives for the new Management Plan, which should be published early next year.

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06
Sep
17

Hawk & Owl Trust still refusing to admit Hen Harrier Rowan was shot

This is hilarious.

In the latest edition of the Hawk & Owl Trust’s members magazine (Peregrine, No 106, Spring/Summer 2017) there’s an article entitled ‘The Hen Harrier – A Controversial Bird‘.

There’s a bit about their 2016 satellite-tagged hen harrier, Rowan:

“Three months after being tagged, Rowan’s satellite data indicated that something was awry. Stephen Murphy, Natural England’s authorised investigator, headed out to ascertain what was wrong. Rowan was dead and in circumstances that justified an autopsy. The findings were passed on to the police. The Hawk & Owl Trust has refrained from any further comment for fear of prejudicing the ongoing investigation”.

What nonsense.

As you’ll recall, Rowan was satellite-tagged by the Hawk & Owl Trust / Natural England at Langholm in 2016. His corpse was discovered, in suspicious circumstances, in Cumbria /Yorkshire Dales National Park in October 2016, shortly before the Westminster debate on banning driven grouse shooting.

press release issued by Cumbria Police (after consultation with Natural England and possibly the Hawk & Owl Trust) stated he was ‘likely to have been shot‘. We questioned that phrasing and a series of FoIs revealed that Cumbria Police had changed their statement from ‘was shot‘ to ‘was likely to have been shot‘. Why did they introduce an element of doubt? Was this a political move?

We asked Cumbria Police and Natural England to publish the post mortem report and the x-ray of Rowan’s corpse – they refused, saying it ‘might affect the course of justice‘. This made us even more suspicious as police forces routinely publish x-rays of shot birds as part of their appeals for information. By not publishing Rowan’s x-ray, it was almost as though they had something to hide.

Then on 3 February 2017, the RSPB published an image of Rowan’s x-ray on their blog. The image was clear: Rowan had suffered gun shot injuries to the leg and metal shot fragments were visible at the fracture site.

Later that day, the Hawk & Owl Trust issued a statement saying ‘the initial post mortem results were not wholly conclusive and further metallurgical tests were required‘.

We asked the Hawk & Owl Trust, several times, who had decided the post mortem results were inconclusive, who had decided that further metallurgical tests were required, had those tests been done, and if so, what were the findings?

The Hawk & Owl Trust did not respond.

So we submitted an FoI to Natural England, who confirmed that further metallurgical tests were not being undertaken.

Meanwhile, in the March edition of the RSPB’s Legal Eagle newsletter, it was stated that ‘the Zoological Society of London post mortem examination, including a radiograph of its fractured left leg, showed the bird’s injuries were entirely consistent with it having been shot‘.

You got that, Hawk & Owl Trust? Rowan was shot and this has been well publicised. This information will in no way ‘prejudice the ongoing investigation‘ because the investigation into this shot raptor, just like pretty much every other investigation in to a shot raptor, is going nowhere, thanks to a wall of silence from the grouse-shooting industry and organisations like the Hawk & Owl Trust propping up that industry with unwarranted encouragement.

01
Sep
17

Satellite-tagged hen harrier disappears on grouse moor in Cairngorms National Park

Well that didn’t take long, did it? Just a few weeks after fledging, one of the 2017 cohort of satellite-tagged hen harriers has already ‘disappeared’, with its final signal emitted from a grouse moor on the 12th August, the opening day of the grouse-shooting season.

Hen harrier ‘Calluna‘ (photo RSPB Scotland)

RSPB Scotland press release:

SATELLITE-TAGGED HEN HARRIER DISAPPEARS ON DEESIDE GROUSE MOOR

RSPB Scotland has issued an appeal for information after a young hen harrier, fitted with a satellite tag as part of the charity’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project, disappeared on an Aberdeenshire grouse moor.

Calluna‘, a female harrier, was tagged this summer at a nest on the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge estate, near Braemar. Her transmitter’s data was being monitored by RSPB Scotland and showed that the bird fledged from the nest in July. She left the area in early August, with the data showing her gradually heading east over the Deeside moors. However, while the tag data showed it to be working perfectly, transmissions abruptly ended on 12th August, with no further data transmitted. Calluna’s last recorded position was on a grouse moor a few miles north of Ballater, in the Cairngorms National Park.

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest raptors and the 2016 national survey results released earlier this year showed that even in Scotland, the species’ stronghold, these birds are struggling. The number of breeding pairs in Scotland now stands at 460, a fall of 27 per cent since 2004, with illegal killing in areas managed for driven grouse shooting identified as one of the main drivers of this decline.

David Frew, Operations Manager for the National Trust for Scotland at Mar Lodge Estate, said: “It is deeply saddening to learn that Calluna appears to have been lost, so soon after fledging from Mar Lodge Estate. Hen harriers were persecuted on Deeside for a great many years, and we had hoped that the first successful breeding attempt on Mar Lodge Estate in 2016 would signal the start of a recovery for these magnificent birds in the area.

Only one month after fledging, and having travelled only a relatively short distance, it appears that we will no longer be able to follow the progress of our 2017 chick. We hope however that the data her tag has provided will help to inform a wider understanding of the lives and threats faced by hen harriers.”

Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland said: “This bird joins the lengthening list of satellite-tagged birds of prey that have disappeared, in highly suspicious circumstances, almost exclusively in areas in areas intensively managed for grouse shooting. We are pleased that the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment has commissioned an independent group to look at how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law. We look forward to a further announcement shortly on the membership of this group, and we are committed to assist the work of this enquiry in any way that we can.

The LIFE project team has fitted a significant number of tags to young hen harriers this year, with the very welcome help from landowners, including the National Trust for Scotland, who value these magnificent birds breeding on their property. The transmitters used in this project are incredibly reliable and the sudden halt in data being received from it, with no hint of a malfunction, is very concerning. We ask that if anyone has any information about the disappearance of this bird we urge them to contact Police Scotland as quickly as possible”.

ENDS

Here’s a map we’ve created showing the location of the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms National Park, where Calluna hatched, and the town of Ballater, close to where she disappeared.

The RSPB Scotland press release doesn’t name the estate from where Calluna’s last position was recorded, it just says it was “on a grouse moor a few miles north of Ballater, in the Cairngorms National Park“.

Hmm, let’s have a closer look at that. Here’s a map showing the grouse moor area a few miles north of Ballater. According to estate boundary details that we sourced from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website, Calluna’s last position could have been recorded on either an Invercauld Estate grouse moor or a Dinnet Estate grouse moor.

If you’re thinking that this part of the Cairngorms National Park looks familiar, you’d be right, we’ve blogged about it a few times before. There was the discovery of an illegally shot peregrine at the Pass of Ballater in 2011, the reported coordinated hunt and subsequent shooting of an adult hen harrier at Glen Gairn on the border of Invercauld and Dinnet Estates in 2013, and then there were the illegally-set traps that were found nr Geallaig Hill on Invercauld Estate in 2016. This area of Royal Deeside is quite the little raptor persecution hotspot, isn’t it?

The evidence just keeps mounting. Is anyone still wondering why the game-shooting industry is so keen to try and discredit the use of satellite tags on raptors?

We wonder what explanations, to avoid the bleedin’ obvious, they’ll come up with this time? Perhaps they’ll suggest Calluna was sucked in to a vortex created by Hurricane Harvey? Or maybe they’ll say she was hit by a North Korean test missile? They might tell us that Vladimir Putin must have hacked the satellite signals? All just as plausible as the usual tosh they trot out, such as how a fieldworker eating a sandwich at a tagging session causes eagles to die (here), or how non-existent wind farms are responsible for the disappearance of eight sat-tagged golden eagles (here), or how ‘activists’ have been killing sat-tagged raptors as part of a smear campaign against the grouse-shooting industry (here), or how a faulty saltwater switch on tags attached to Olive Ridley turtles on the Indian subcontinent means that all satellite tags are unreliable (here).

We’ll be updating this page throughout the day if and when statements are made by the following:

Response of Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham –

Response of Alexander Burnett MSP (Conservative, Aberdeen West) –

Response of Cairngorms National Park Authority – Grant Moir, Chief Exec of CNPA said: “A hen harrier has once again disappeared in the Cairngorms National Park, with a satellite tracker ceasing to transmit. The Park Authority is determined to stop these recurring disappearances. Earlier this week the CNPA met with Police Scotland to discuss how increased use of special constables can help to tackle wildlife crime in the Cairngorms National Park. We also continue to work on other solutions to these issues. The CNPA look forward to the establishment by Scottish Government of the independently-led group to look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management and will feed in to that review“.

Response of Scottish Land & Estates – David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land and Estates, said: “Estates in the area have welcomed a number of hen harriers to the area during August and only today one moor reported three harriers. Local land managers reject the inference that the loss of signal from this tag is connected to grouse moor management and are now offering every assistance in searching the area where the last transmission was recorded. They are dismayed that they were not informed earlier that the tag had stopped transmitting nearly three weeks ago, as this would have assisted the search“.

Response of Scottish Wildlife Trust – Susan Davies, director of conservation at the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) said: “It’s extremely disappointing to learn that yet another hen harrier has disappeared over a grouse moor. The most recent surveys show that hen harrier numbers are declining in most parts of Scotland and that illegal persecution is a factor in this decline. Anyone who has information on this bird’s disappearance should contact Police Scotland immediately. 

The Trust has repeatedly called on the Scottish Government to be tougher on wildlife crime and introduce a system of licensing for grouse moor management to encourage sustainable practices. We welcome the recent announcement that a working group will be formed to look at the environmental impact of grouse moors and options for better regulation, and we stand ready to assist this group in any way possible“.

Response of Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association – A spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “The SGA would urge anyone who saw the bird or knows anything about it to contact Police Scotland. This is the first we have heard of this. Obviously any news like this is very disappointing. The SGA condemns raptor persecution and if any of our members are convicted of a wildlife crime they are removed from our organisation. We have learned from those monitoring tags that birds can move some distance away from where they were last recorded so it is important that, if people know anything, they alert the Police immediately.”

Response of Scottish Moorland Group –

Response of Grampian Moorland Group –

Response of GWCT – Nothing, nada, zilch. But on Twitter they announced the availability of the new GWCT Xmas Cards. That’s nice.

Response of BASC –

Response of Countryside Alliance –

Response of Scottish Association for Country Sports – (from The Times) – Julia Stoddart, head of policy for the SACS, lamented the practice of killing hen harriers to protect grouse. “However, we would remind the RSPB that tag technology can fail for a number of reasons, and that raptors are susceptible to natural causes of death as well as to illegal persecution“, she said.

Other media coverage:

BBC news here

Scotsman here

Press & Journal here

UPDATE 2 September 2017: On cue, Scottish landowners’ rep throws false allegations at RSPB (see here).

UPDATE 4 September 2017: Political silence in response to missing hen harrier Calluna (see here).

UPDATE 5 September 2017: Scottish Land & Estates and their indefensible distortion of the truth (see here).

11
Aug
17

More illegal raptor persecution hotspots revealed in new map

Ian Thomson, Head of RSPB Investigations Scotland has written an interesting blog examining the ‘disappearance’ and/or illegal killing of satellite tagged red kites and hen harriers – see here.

It’s well worth a read. And take a close look at this map, illustrating the locations of suspicious disappearances as well as where the corpses have been found:

Here’s a direct quote from Ian:

It is clear from this map that, like golden eagles, the distribution of illegally killed or suspiciously disappeared satellite-tagged red kites and hen harriers is far from random, and shows clear clusters in some upland areas. As with the “hotspots” for eagles, these clusters are almost entirely coincident with land dominated by driven grouse shooting management, again including areas like the northern Monadhliaths and the Angus Glens. But, harriers and kites have clearly being targeted in other regions – notably, but not exclusively, upper Strathspey, Strathnairn and the Lowther Hills of S Lanarkshire‘.

Following the recent news that the RSPB, in partnership with LUSH, has satellite-tagged a record number of hen harriers this year, we can expect many more dots to appear on this map, most of them will be added before Xmas.

We’ll be undertaking some finer analyses of this map, probably next week, and we’ll be asking blog readers to get involved. More on that soon.

There’s one other point in Ian’s blog that is worth highlighting here, in response to the unsubstantiated yet repeated claims by some that raptors do better on driven grouse moors than they do on RSPB reserves:

More pairs of hen harriers bred successfully on one RSPB reserve on Islay in 2017, than on the grouse moors of Aberdeenshire, Kincardineshire, Angus and the Scottish Borders put together. In fact, RSPB nature reserves hold 10% of Scotland’s breeding population of hen harriers, with 46 pairs in 2016‘.

How many hen harriers do you think bred successfully on Scottish grouse moors in 2016 (where driven shooting took place – not on moors which are currently not being shot)?

Photo of hen harrier Annie, who was found shot on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire in 2015. (Image: RSPB Scotland).

09
Aug
17

Record number of hen harriers fitted with satellite tags

 

RSPB press release:

The RSPB has fitted a record number of hen harrier chicks with satellite tags in the UK this year, more than doubling the number from any other year.

More than 24 birds have been fitted with transmitters so far, the majority of them in Scotland, as part of the conservation organisation’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE Project. Harriers were also tagged in Wales and the Isle of Man.

By tracking the movements of these threatened birds of prey, the RSPB will be able to build up an even clearer picture of where hen harriers go and where they are most at risk, for example from illegal persecution.

This is the third consecutive year that hen harriers have been tagged as part of the project [6 tagged in 2015; 12 tagged in 2016]. The increase in the number of tags deployed in 2017 was made possible by cosmetic company LUSH, which raised funds through the sales of a specially created “Skydancer” bath bomb.

Conservationists hope the ‘Hen Harrier Class of 2017’ will fare better than last year’s cohort. Out of the 12 young harriers fitted with tags by the RSPB in 2016, only five are still alive. [See here for fates of RSPB and Natural England tagged 2016 hen harriers].

One of the birds, Carroll, was found dead having suffered from an infectious disease. Disturbingly, a post mortem later revealed lead pellets, indicating she had survived being shot at some earlier point in her life. Two of the other birds disappeared in suspicious circumstances when their tags suddenly stopped transmitting, while a further three were lost to unknown causes. All are presumed to have died, as it is very rare for tags to fail for technical reasons.

It is not only RSPB-tagged hen harriers that have met with untimely demises over the past 12 months. In May this year a police investigation was launched after a hen harrier was allegedly shot on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire, while in October Rowan, a bird tagged by Natural England, was discovered shot dead in Cumbria.

The RSPB sincerely hopes that Natural England will publish the publicly funded satellite tracking data which the statutory agency has collected over the past decade, as this will add significantly to the weight of evidence being gathered through the RSPB’s work. [We have an FoI back from NE about this and will blog shortly].

The need for this sort of data has never been greater. Hen harriers are in serious trouble across the UK. The results of the recently published National Hen Harrier Survey revealed that in the last 12 years, the number of breeding pairs has declined by more than a quarter (27%) in Scotland and by over a third (39%) in the UK as a whole.

While the final numbers are still being collated, anecdotal reports suggest the situation in Scotland does not appear to have improved this breeding season with hen harriers notably absent or in very low numbers in areas of suitable habitat, particularly in the south and east. In England, the final figures for 2017 show only three successful nests across habitat suitable for over 300.

The main reason hen harriers are continuing to decline is illegal killing and disturbance associated with the increasingly intensive management of driven grouse moors. The Scottish Government recently set up an independent enquiry into gamebird shoot licensing after an independent scientific review of golden eagle satellite tracking data revealed that approximately a third of them are being illegally killed.

Blánaid Denman, Project Manager for the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, said: By satellite tracking more hen harriers than ever before, we’ll gain a clearer picture of where these birds are spending their time and what exactly is happening to them. We’ve already discovered previously unknown nesting and winter roosting sites, as well as been able to pinpoint where natural deaths and illegal killings have occurred.

“It’s both infuriating and utterly heartbreaking to see these beautiful birds, year after year, disappear off the radar. Something needs to change. A system of grouse moor licensing would not only protect hen harriers but also tackle wider damaging grouse moor management practices, such as heather burning on deep peat and inappropriate drainage. For now though, I’ll be watching our newly fledged hen harriers, praying for their safety, and waiting to see what incredible journeys are about to unfold.”

Paul Morton from LUSH said: “We’re thrilled to hear that the money raised by our customers has allowed the RSPB to sat tag more hen harrier chicks than ever before. Monitoring as many youngsters as possible as they take their first flights across the length and breadth of the country is vital for their long-term protection. The message is loud and clear; a nation is watching and will have the welfare of each of these birds close to our hearts. The illegal persecution of hen harriers or any bird of prey will not be tolerated“.

From September, it will be possible to follow the travels of a selection of this year’s tagged hen harriers, together with last year’s surviving birds at: www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife.

ENDS

A fantastic partnership effort (real, actual partnership-working rather than the charade of pretence we’re so used to seeing from the PAW Raptor Group). Well done to all involved at RSPB and LUSH, and well done to everyone who purchased a Skydancer bathbomb because you helped this project happen.

25
Jul
17

National Trust to receive petition calling for cessation of grouse shooting

Today (Tuesday 25 July 2017) the National Trust will receive a petition calling for the cessation of grouse shooting on one of their moors in the Peak District National Park.

The petition was launched last year by a newly-formed group called Moorland Vision (see website here). It was triggered by a video we posted on this blog in April 2016 showing an armed man sitting close to a decoy hen harrier on a National Trust-owned moor within the National Park (see here). The National Trust had leased the moor to a tenant for grouse shooting and the moor was supposedly one of several within the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative – an ambitious partnership plan to restore raptor populations in the region, which unsurprisingly has so far failed to meet its targets.

That video, filmed by two birdwatchers who had the presence of mind to record their observations, led to a police investigation but unfortunately there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution. Many readers of this blog (and others) were infuriated by the content of that video and were frustrated by the lack of criminal proceedings. As a result, the National Trust was inundated with emails calling for the Trust to take action.

A few months later, in June 2016, the National Trust surprised us all by announcing it was to terminate the grouse shooting lease four years early (see here). The tenant was given 22 months notice and is due to leave in April 2018. We viewed this as a significant and welcome move by the National Trust, especially as the decision wasn’t based on the outcome of a criminal prosecution, but rather that the Trust had lost faith in the shooting tenant’s commitment to the National Trust’s upland vision, including the restoration of raptor populations. It was a fantastic example of how public opinion and pressure can effect change.

However, other campaigners didn’t think the National Trust had gone far enough. They wanted to see the removal of the shooting tenancy altogether, rather than the Trust’s idea that a new, more enlightened shooting tenant would be installed in 2018.  This is when the campaign group, Moorland Vision, was formed.

For the last year, members of Moorland Vision have run a local campaign to secure petition signatures calling on the National Trust to remove the grouse shooting tenancy from this moor. They’ve collected nearly 5,000 signatures and have the support of fifteen local organisations:

Derbyshire Ornithological Society, Dark Peak Fell Runners, Darley & Nutwood LNR Management Group, Pleasley Pit Nature Study Group, Sutton-in-Ashfield and District Rambling Club, Ogston Bird Club, Derbyshire Mammal Group, Carsington Bird Club, Wessington Green LNR Management Group, Bakewell Bird Study Group, Buxton Ramblers, Derbyshire Amphibian & Reptile Group, Derbyshire Bat Conservation Group, Stanfree Valley Preservation Group, Derby Natural History Society.

Nick Moyes, the founder of Moorland Vision said: “The National Trust is a major conservation organisation and normally does brilliant work in protecting and enhancing our environment. But with clear evidence that moorland management for grouse shooting leads to the killing of birds of prey and almost every other predator – and especially here on its doorstep – you would think the National Trust would have decided immediately that enough is enough. The fact that it did not immediately recognise the opportunity this provides us with to re-wild and restore these moorlands without the well-documented problems associated with grouse moor management is really disappointing. Hence our petition“.

Bob Berzins from the Dark Peak Fell Runners said: “I and my club members see so much harm done by mis-management on the Peak District moorlands. The worst excesses are definitely on privately-owned shooting estates, where intensive burning, track building, predator snaring and shooting is particularly rife. But this is a one off opportunity for the National Trust to say ‘no more’ to management purely for one hobby and to show its true conservation credentials by establishing a proper rewilding project over 8,000 hectares of iconic moorland which would be far better for biodiversity and would create more natural landscapes – just as the Trust is helping to do on the Eastern Moors where the Peak Park banned shooting many decades ago“.

Congratulations to Moorland Vision for all their hard work over the last year. This is a fantastic grass-roots effort and has done much to increase awareness in the local community and beyond. It’ll be interesting to see how the National Trust responds.

Photo of some of the local campaigners (by Moorland Vision)

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.




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