Archive for the '2016 persecution incidents' Category

23
Nov
17

New report reveals widespread raptor persecution in Northern Ireland

The Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Northern Ireland (PAW NI) has today published its latest report on bird of prey persecution 2015-2016.

The report reveals that there were five confirmed illegal persecution incidents reported in 2015 and a further six in 2016, involving the killing of 12 protected birds of prey in Northern Ireland (6 x buzzards, 5 x peregrines, 1 x sparrowhawk). As with every other annual raptor persecution report these figures are probably just the tip of the iceberg.

The report’s lead author, Dr Eimear Rooney (Raptor Officer for the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group) commented: “This latest persecution report helps us all to understand the scale and distribution of the problem. It is particularly shocking to see new areas appear on the hot-spot maps, showing the issue of raptor persecution to be widespread. It is heart-breaking to think of the deaths of these protected birds but it is particularly shocking to see the continued usage of highly toxic Carbofuran. The PAW NI group will continue to take action to tackle raptor persecution and it is encouraging to see all the partners proactively working together on this report.”

Hotspot map of confirmed incidents of raptor persecution, and poisoned baits & wildlife, reported in Northern Ireland from January 2009-December 2016.

Download the PAW NI report here

Read the PAW NI press release here

On the subject of illegal raptor persecution in Northern Ireland, a 13-year old boy named Dara MacAnulty is doing a 45km sponsored trek in January 2018 to help raise funds for a new raptor satellite-tagging project in Northern Ireland.

Dara is a pretty special young man, passionate about the environment, especially raptors, and he has an exceptional talent for expressing his thoughts – have a read of his blog and you’ll be constantly questioning how a thirteen year old can possibly write so well!

Dara’s fundraising project is off to a good start but he needs more support. If you’ve got a few quid to spare, please consider supporting his efforts HERE. Thanks.

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16
Nov
17

Hen harrier ‘missing’ on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park is ‘John’

Last month we blogged about yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier that had suspiciously ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here). We only knew about it because North Yorkshire Police mentioned it on Twitter and posted a few photographs from the search scene:

We made a general enquiry to Natural England and asked for further details (which hen harrier it was, where and when it was satellite-tagged, on which grouse moor it had ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park). Natural England refused to provide any detail, other than that ‘key stakeholders’ (i.e. the landowner!) had been notified. The landowner had probably been more than ‘notified’ – if Natural England was following the ridiculous ‘satellite tag protocol’, the landowner’s ‘permission’ would have been sought to conduct the police search! Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, back to the hen harrier. We weren’t happy that Natural England was withholding information on what was probably a publicly-funded satellite tag so we submitted a formal FoI to request this information. We managed to find out some details:

Why Natural England didn’t release this information when we first asked for it is anybody’s guess – just following its normal practice of putting obstacles in the way, hoping that we’d shuffle off and forget about it, probably.

Anyway, we now know that this missing hen harrier is ‘John’, who was tagged on 8 July 2016 in Northumberland. We blogged about John in February 2017 (see here) – he was the mystery hen harrier about which little was known. We still don’t know very much about him because Natural England has chosen to remain silent on his movements over the last 14 months [but see UPDATE below], although from the updated spreadsheet that Natural England published in September, we know that his tag was transmitting in September 2017 in Northumberland. See: hen-harrier-tracking-data-2002-onwards

We also know that Natural England realised John’s tag was no longer transmitting on 5 October 2017 and that North Yorkshire Police conducted a search for him ten days later (15 Oct 2017) on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. What we still don’t know is the name of this grouse moor and whether North Yorks Police found any evidence such as a tag or a corpse.

We’ll be submitting an FoI to North Yorkshire Police to ask about this – it’ll be very interesting to see the response. North Yorkshire Police appear to have upped their game recently in terms of investigating suspected raptor persecution crimes – a very welcome and much-needed change of pace in England’s leading raptor-killing county. Let’s see how open they’ll be about this latest investigation.

Meanwhile, it’s time to update the list of what hapened to the satellite-tagged hen harrier class of 2016, which includes harriers tagged by Natural England and the RSPB:

Hen harrier Elwood – ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths just a few weeks after fledging, presumed dead (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Brian – ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park just a few weeks after fledging, presumed dead (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Donald – missing in northern France, presumed dead (Autumn ’16).

Hen harrier Hermione – found dead on Mull, believed to have died from natural causes (Sep ’16).

Hen harrier Rowan – found dead in Yorkshire Dales National Park. He’d been shot (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Tarras – ‘disappeared’ in the Peak District National Park, presumed dead (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Beater – missing in Scottish Borders, presumed dead (Nov ’16).

Hen harrier Bonny – ‘disappeared’ in the North Pennines, presumed dead (Dec ’16)

Hen harrier Mick – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Dec ’16).

Hen harrier Carroll – found dead in Northumberland, PM revealed a parasitic disease & two shotgun pellets (Jan ’17).

Hen harrier John – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Oct ’17)

Eleven down, six to go (Aalin, DeeCee, Finn, Harriet, Wendy, Sorrel).

UPDATE 20 November 2017: Thanks to the blog reader who pointed out that John had been recorded at Langholm in the summer of 2017, as mentioned in the hen harrier update on the Langholm Demonstration Project website on 28 June 2017 – here.

UPDATE 22 November 2017: Threshfield Moor named as missing hen harrier John’s last known location (here)

03
Nov
17

Interesting bedfellows: 4

Every now and then we blog about who’s (figuratively) getting in to bed with whom within the grouse-shooting industry. Previous installments in this revealing series have included this, this and this.

Today’s fascinating bedfellows are the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and Mark Osborne, joint owner of William Powell and grouse moor management ‘guru’, who, according to our research, has links to at least 70 grouse and pheasant shooting estates across the UK, including some very familiar names to this blog such as Leadhills, Glenogil, Raeshaw, Glenlochy, Snilesworth, Abbeystead.

Last year in one of it’s never-ending fundraising drives, the GWCT held a raffle, with a pair of shotguns, a day’s driven grouse shooting and 500 cartridges on offer, all worth an estimated £25,000 and all donated to the GWCT raffle by William Powell. That was extraordinarily generous.

Here’s the happy raffle winner collecting his prize from Andrew Gilruth (GWCT) & Mark Osborne (William Powell) earlier this year:

A few days ago a blog apeared on the GWCT website (here) describing the winner’s ‘fantastic day’ on a grouse moor in Derbyshire called Ashop Moor.

Here’s a map showing Ashop Moor, which is part of the Park Hall & Hope Woodlands Estate inside the Peak District National Park:

And here’s a photo of Ashop Moor (photo by RPUK):

It looks lovely, doesn’t it? Just the sort of landscape where you might expect to see a pair of breeding hen harriers. But there aren’t any breeding hen harriers there.

The name of the estate and the name of the moor may not be familiar with blog readers, but you’re more likely to know it for what was filmed there on 24th February 2016 at around 11am:

A few months after we published this video, the National Trust announced it had pulled the shooting lease on this estate four years prematurely and the shooting tenant, believed to be Mark Osborne, was given notice to leave by April 2018.

Very interesting bedfellows indeed.

01
Nov
17

Reactions to RSPB’s 2016 Birdcrime report: compare & contrast

Following this morning’s publication of the RSPB’s 2016 Birdcrime report (see here), it’s fantastic to see such widespread media attention on the continued illegal killing of birds of prey in the UK.

Guy Shorrock (RSPB Investigations) gave a cracking interview on BBC Breakfast (available to watch on iPlayer here, but only for the next 24hrs. Starts at 1:50:10).

Given North Yorkshire’s atrocious track record (again) for illegal raptor killing, we were particularly pleased to read a statement from the Chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA), which is featured prominently on the YDNPA website:

We should expect this level of condemnation from a National Park Authority as a given, but the fact we’re even blogging about it shows how rare an occurrence this is. But it’s very, very welcome, and probably a reflection of how public opinion is forcing the YDNPA to take note and act.

Kudos to Carl Lis – he clearly ‘gets it’ (see his reference to an increase in successful nests being the only indicator of real progress) and he didn’t have to say anything at all, let alone post it on the National Park website. Well done that man.

But not everybody’s happy about today’s high media coverage. In contrast to the statement from the YDNPA Chair, have a look at the Countryside Alliance’s twitter response to the publication of the Birdcrime 2016 report (interestingly, this hasn’t been published on the CA’s website):

It’s not the first time, and probably won’t be the last, that the Countryside Alliance has criticised the RSPB’s annual Birdcrime report. In 2014 they made a formal complaint to the Charity Commission. The Charity Commission rejected the complaint outright – well worth a read (see here).

Does anyone believe this organisation is intent on stamping out illegal raptor persecution? Perhaps if they put as much effort in to this as they do trying to silence the RSPB, or trying to get Chris Packham sacked just because he speaks out about wildlife crime, we might actually start to get somewhere.

30
Oct
17

SNH says ‘no General Licence restrictions currently under consideration’ but what about these 9 cases?

The ability for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to impose a General Licence (GL) restriction order on land where there is evidence of raptor persecution taking place came in to force on 1 January 2014. This measure, based on a civil burden of proof, was introduced by then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to the continuing difficulties of meeting a criminal burden of proof to facilitate a criminal prosecution.

Whilst these GL restrictions are not without their limitations (because estates can simply apply for an individual licence instead –  see here, but also see here where SNH recently revoked an individual licence for alleged non compliance), Wheelhouse argued that as the restriction notices will be made public, they should act as a ‘reputational driver‘.

Since 1 January 2014, SNH has only imposed four GL restrictions. The first two were imposed in November 2015 (one for Raeshaw & Corsehope Estates in the Borders and one for Burnfoot & Wester Cringate Estates in Stirlingshire). Then there was a temporary halt for almost two years as Raeshaw & Corsehope Estates made a legal challenge which ended up with a judicial review in January 2017. The court’s decision was announced in March 2017 and SNH was found to have acted properly and lawfully. Since that decision was announced in March 2017, SNH has imposed two more GL restrictions: one for Edradynate Estate in Perthshire in September 2017 and one for an unnamed mystery gamekeeper in Aberdeenshire in September 2017.

Whilst we were pleased to see SNH impose these latest GL restrictions last month, we were also aware of a number of other raptor persecution incidents that have been recorded since 1 Jan 2014 that would potentially meet the criteria required for a GL restriction so we wanted to find out whether SNH was getting on with these.

Photo: an illegal pole trap filmed by RSPB Scotland on the Brewlands Estate in the Angus Glens, July 2015. These traps have been outlawed for over 100 years.

In early October we submitted an FoI to ask SNH how many cases were currently under consideration for a GL restriction. We are pretty shocked by the response received last week:

At the time of your request, no General Licence restrictions were under consideration“.

Really? Why the hell not? We know of at least nine cases that should be being considered, and these are just off the top of our heads – there will be others, as we know Police Scotland is still withholding information about a number of other raptor persecution incidents.

Here are the nine incidents we know about that have all occured since 1 January 2014 when SNH was given the power to impose a GL restriction:

Newlands Estate, Dumfriesshire. Gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick was convicted in 2015 for killing a buzzard on the estate in April 2014. He threw rocks at it and then stamped on it. The estate owner was prosecuted for alleged vicarious liability but then the Crown Office dropped the prosecution in April 2017, saying it wasn’t in the public interest to proceed (see here).

Brewlands Estate, Angus Glens. A gamekeeper was prosecuted for the alleged repeated setting of a pole trap on this estate between 9-17 July 2015. The Crown Office dropped the prosecution case in April 2017 because the video evidence was deemed inadmissible (see here). Another gamekeeper on this estate thought this result was hilarious.

Unnamed pheasant-shooting estate, Lanarkshire. In September 2015 a set pole trap was discovered on a bench directly outside a pheasant-rearing pen on an unnamed estate. Police Scotland apparently dropped the case, for unknown reasons.

Gamekeeper in Ayrshire. In May 2016 a named gamekeeper was charged after allegedly being caught using gin traps on a neighbouring farm of the estate on which he was employed. The Crown Office dropped the prosecution in March 2017 after reportedly ‘getting the dates wrong on its paperwork’ (see here).

Invercauld Estate, Aberdeenshire. In June 2016, walkers discovered a number of illegally-set spring traps staked out on a grouse moor. Two of the traps had caught a Common Gull by the legs. The bird had to be euthanised. There was no prosecution. ‘Some action’ was taken by the estate but whatever this action was it has remained a closely-guarded secret between the estate, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Government (see here).

Glendye Estate, Aberdeenshire. In January 2017 a number of illegally-set spring traps were discovered on a grouse moors on this estate. The Estate Factor and gamekeeper reportedly removed the traps and denied all knowledge of who had set them (see here). There was no prosecution.

Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire. On 4th May 2017, witnesses observed the shooting and killing of a hen harrier on this estate. Police Scotland appealed for information (see here & here). As far as we’re aware, there are no impending prosecutions.

Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire. On 31 May 2017, witnesses observed the shooting and killing of a short-eared owl on this estate. The corpse was retrieved and sent for a post-mortem. Police Scotland appealed for information. As far as we’re aware, there are no impending prosecutions.

Unnamed grouse shooting estate, Monadhliaths. On 7 June 2017, a member of the public found a buzzard caught in an illegally-set spring trap that had been staked out on an unnamed grouse moor in the Monadliaths. The buzzard was released. Police Scotland appealed for information. Inspector Mike Middlehurst of Police Scotland commented, “Unfortunately, there are some who continue to deliberately target birds of prey; there is nothing accidental in the setup of these traps“. As far as we’re aware, there are no impending prosecutions.

So why haven’t any of these cases been considered for a GL restriction? Is it because SNH is still waiting for Police Scotland to provide ‘formal information packages’ on these cases? (Remember, SNH can only consider potential GL restrictions based on evidence provided to them by Police Scotland). We know that Police Scotland has been slow in delivering this info to SNH in the past (e.g. see here) – are they still dragging their feet?

Or, is it the case that Police Scotland has already provided information to SNH about each of these nine cases and SNH has, for whatever reason, decided not to impose a GL restriction?

Isn’t it in the public interest to know, and importantly to understand, what is happening with these cases? We think so. And that’s why we’ve submitted an FoI to find out.

27
Oct
17

Scottish gamekeepers complain about alleged escalation of trap vandalism

The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association is today complaining about an alleged escalation in the vandalism of animal traps on shooting estates.

This supposed increase has been attributed to ‘activists’ and the SGA wants the law tightened up so that the alleged perpertrators can be prosecuted.

There’s widespread media coverage about it today e.g. in The National (here), The Times (here) and on the SGA website (here).

Photo of an allegedly vandalised trap (from The National)

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard such claims. Back in 2013 it was discussed during a Rural Affairs Parliamentary Committee meeting, when then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse acknowledged that trap tampering might be taking place but that there was no hard evidence to show how widespread the problem might be so at that time it was considered all conjecture.

In 2015 the issue was raised again by a Fife landowner and an article in the local press suggested that “Police Scotland is reporting a rise in the number of traps being tampered with“.

We challenged that claim by looking at the results of a year-long trap tampering study carried out across Scotland by BASC between April 2014 and March 2015. The results showed that the issue was not widespread at all, but seemed to centre on a handful of local areas.

Whether the problem has increased since then is hard to tell without independently collected data. The problem might have increased. It’s not hard to understand the motivation that might lead to someone damaging a trap. It might be on animal welfare grounds (someone might see a non-target species dead in a trap). It might be because someone can’t tell whether a trap is legally or illegally-set – it’s not always easy to judge. It might be because someone objects to predator control just to maximise a landowner’s profits. Or the motivation might simply be because so many cases of illegally-set traps rarely result in a prosecution, even when a known gamekeeper has been filmed setting an illegal trap. That doesn’t make trap vandalism ‘right’, we’re just saying it’s easy to understand why it might be happening.

Photo of a young red grouse killed by a lawfully-set trap (photo by RPUK)

It’s equally plausible to suggest that some gamekeepers may be deliberately vandalising one or two of their own traps and then reporting it to the police as the work of ‘activists’ in an attempt to smear those whose campaign to put game-shooting under political scrutiny is gaining such traction.

Whatever might be happening, it’s ironic that the SGA doesn’t make this much noise when cases of illegally-set traps on game-shooting estates are reported in the media.

It’s very hard (virtually impossible) for us to sympathise with the SGA when it remains silent (or concocts outlandish alternative explanations) about the on-going abuse and use of illegal traps, by gamekeepers, to target birds of prey on game-shooting estates.

Speaking of which, we’re still waiting for the findings of the SGA’s inquiries in to who set the illegal traps that were discovered on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate last year.

02
Oct
17

Raptor persecution in Peak District National Park – BBC 1 this evening

Tonight’s BBC’s Inside Out programme will feature an investigation in to raptor persecution that’s taking place in the Peak District National Park.

This is a regional programme (BBC East Midlands) starting at 7.30pm but will be available on iPlayer shortly afterwards (see here).

To coincide with this programme, the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has today called the low number of raptors in the National Park “a national disgrace” and blamed activities relating to the driven grouse shooting industry (see BBC news article here).

The article also mentions the footage that we published in April 2016 appearing to show an armed man sitting close to a hen harrier decoy on a National Trust-leased grouse moor within the National Park. This resulted in the National Trust terminating the grouse shooting lease four years early and searching for a new tenant. The National Trust has come under increasing public pressure not to lease the moor for grouse shooting and the campaigners are expected to be included in tonight’s Inside Out programme.

Part of the Peak District National Park (mostly the grouse moors of the Dark Peak area) has been recognised as a raptor persecution hotspot for many years (e.g. see RSPB ‘Peak Malpractice‘ reports here and here). As a result of the ongoing concerns, in 2011 the National Park began hosting a Bird of Prey Initiative where ‘partners’ are supposed to have been ‘collaborating’ to increase bird of prey populations. It has failed miserably. In 2015 it was announced that none of the project targets had been met (here) but that the Iniative was going to continue with “renewed commitment” and “new rigour and energy“. Strangely, we haven’t heard any more results from this so-called partnership initiative since then, although Rhodri Thomas, an ecologist with the Peak District National Park Authority gave a very honest presentation at the Sheffield raptor conference in September 2016. His opening words were:

Has the Initiative worked? Well, we’ve not met the targets that we’d set for 2015, we’ve not met them by a fairly substantial amount in some cases, so I think the answer from that point of view is a fairly clear no“.

Meanwhile, cases of confirmed illegal raptor persecution have continued to emerge (e.g. a shot peregrine that was found critically injured next to a Peak District grouse moor in September 2016. It didn’t survive its injuries).

Don’t forget – BBC 1 (East Midlands) Inside Out tonight at 7.30pm.

Sticking with the Peak District National Park and alleged wildlife crime, did anyone see yesterday’s news that the Crown Prosecution Service has decided there will no charges relating to the alleged snaring of badgers that was filmed by the Hunt Investigation Team on the Moscar Estate earlier this year? Interesting.

Also of interest, to us, was the name of the spokesman for Moscar Estate who was cited in the article: Ian Gregory. Surely not the same Ian Gregory of You Forgot the Birds notoriety?




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