Archive for the '2016 persecution incidents' Category

18
May
21

Poisoned golden eagle: will a General Licence restriction now be imposed on Invercauld Estate?

Earlier this month it was reported that police had conducted a raid, under warrant, on several properties on the Invercauld Estate following the discovery in March of a deliberately poisoned golden eagle and some poisoned bait (see here).

I’ve since blogged about why I think the golden eagle killer will evade criminal prosecution (see here) and a little bit about NatureScot making noises about considering a potential General Licence restriction on this estate (see here). A General Licence restriction is nowhere near as serious as a criminal prosecution but it is, in the words of former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse who worked hard to get this apparent sanction introduced, a ‘reputational driver’ (see here).

It’s my view that a General Licence restriction is long overdue here, given the history of alleged wildlife crime offences, and a blog that was published yesterday has further strengthened that view, of which more in a minute.

This area around Ballater in the Cairngorms National Park has been at the centre of a number of alleged wildlife crime offences over many years.

[Estate boundaries based on data from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website]

There was the discovery of three poisoned buzzards on Invercauld Estate in 2005 (here), 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, the illegally-set traps that were found near Geallaig Hill on Invercauld Estate in 2016, the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier Calluna ‘on a grouse moor a few miles north of Ballater’ on 12 August 2017, the opening day of the grouse shooting season (here) although it’s not clear whether this was on Invercauld Estate or neighbouring Dinnet Estate, the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘Blue T’ on Invercauld Estate in May 2018 (see here), the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier Stelmaria ‘last recorded on grouse moor a few miles north west of Ballater, Aberdeenshire on 3rd September 2018 (see here), the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier (Wildland 2) on Invercauld Estate on 24 September 2019 (here) and now the discovery of a deliberately poisoned golden eagle and poisonous baits on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in March 2021 (see here).

The suspicious disappearance of three satellite-tagged hen harriers and one white-tailed eagle in one small area managed for driven grouse shooting should raise lots of eyebrows given the unequivocal scientific pattern that has been identified for such occurrences (e.g. see here and here) and especially in an area where the alleged hunting and subsequent shooting of a hen harrier was witnessed and reported several years earlier.

However, according to NatureScot’s current Framework for how it makes decisions on whether to impose a General Licence restriction, the suspicious disappearance of a satellite-tagged raptor is not, in itself, considered sufficient evidence, even when there’s an emerging pattern in one particular area:

Unexplained ‘stopped no-malfunction’ satellite tags may be considered by NatureScot as supporting information in making a decision, particularly where multiple losses have occurred on the same land. However such instances will not be considered as evidence under the terms of this Framework unless recorded as a crime by Police Scotland‘.

The most significant, and indeed tangible, wildlife crime incident that could be linked to Invercauld Estate was the discovery of illegally-set traps on the estate in 2016, which led to the horrific suffering of a Common Gull whose legs were caught in two of the traps (see here).

[Photo of the Common Gull after being released from the traps. Photo by Graeme Rose]

Long-term blog readers may recall this incident and the farcical non-existent enforcement measures that ensued. The SSPCA attended in the first instance and had to euthanise the gull due to the extent of its injuries but because of their ridiculously restricted investigatory powers, they were not permitted to search the area for more traps – this had to be done by the police, who conducted a search several days later where it was discovered that other traps (i.e. evidence of potential crime) had been recently removed prior to the police search (here).

Then there was an odd statement of denial from Invercauld Estate, bizarrely issued by the GWCT on behalf of the estate (a strange activity for a so-called independent wildlife conservation charity, see here) and incidentally, this denial is not that dissimilar to the one we saw recently from the estate in relation to the deliberately poisoned golden eagle – see here.

I challenged the estate’s claim that Police Scotland had not found any evidence of illegal activity back in 2016 and Police Scotland issued a statement in response (see here).

I then submitted a series of FoIs that revealed what looked like some very odd goings on between the estate, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Government, which resulted in ‘secret action‘ apparently being taken against a gamekeeper but no prosecution followed, and nor did NatureScot impose a General Licence restriction for this incident (and NatureScot has refused to discuss its decision saying ‘it’s not in the public interest‘ to tell us).

I did wonder whether NatureScot had not imposed a General Licence restriction due to a technical issue – the fact that the SSPCA, not the police, attended the scene and found the evidence of the illegally-trapped gull. If you look again at NatureScot’s Framework for decision-making on restrictions, it says that evidence must be provided by the police. It doesn’t say anything about evidence from the SSPCA being acceptable. I hope I’m wrong on that because as a statutory reporting agency, the SSPCA’s evidence should be considered just as robust as any evidence put forward by Police Scotland – I’ll check with NatureScot about it.

However, yesterday a blog was published on the excellent ParksWatchScotland blog, written by Graeme Rose, one of the guys who had actually found the critically-injured gull on Invercauld Estate in 2016. It’s a harrowing tale, but it’s incredibly enlightening in that he pursued the enforcement authorities for several years after the incident and by doing so uncovered all sorts of shenanigans. He says he received a text in July 2020 from the former Convenor of the Cairngorms National Park Authority who told him that a gamekeeper had indeed ‘been let go’ after the gull incident in 2016, despite the estate’s protestations at the time that any offence had even taken place. I believe this is the information that was deliberately redacted by the CNPA and the Scottish Government when I’d asked them about it in those FoIs.

What a pitiful state of affairs.

Will we see anything different in response to the discovery of the deliberately poisoned golden eagle? Well, we’ve already seen that Invercauld Estate has ‘left’ the Eastern Cairngorms Moorland Partnership, although there was absolutely zero indication whether the estate was expelled or left of its own accord (see here) so it looks like the Cairngorms National Park Authority is staying true to form and not wanting to be explicit about any action that may or may not have been taken. Why is that, do you think? Could it be anything to do with who sits on the CNPA’s Board? There are some interesting characters with some interesting connections to the grouse-shooting world, and even to Invercauld Estate itself.

And what about NatureScot and its deliberations about whether there is sufficient justification for a General Licence restriction on Invercauld Estate? That’s going to be VERY interesting and is something I’ll definitely be tracking. Watch this space.

04
Feb
21

Gamekeepers responsible for more illegal raptor killing than any other profession

Somebody sent me a screen grab the other day of a statement posted on social media by the Southern Uplands Moorland Group (SUMG), which is one of a number of regional groups representing grouse moor estates around the country and designed to persuade the public that birds of prey are warmly welcomed and that gamekeepers love having birds of prey on their ground.

The statement published by the SUMG is fairly typical of the misrepresentation of facts that we’ve all come to expect from certain quarters of the grouse shooting industry. It reads as follows and I’ve underlined the sentence of interest:

Now, I can’t recall EVER saying on this blog that a dead raptor is automatically linked to the [game]keepering profession and there are numerous examples of illegal raptor killing offences that I’ve reported on here over the years where gamekeepers have quite clearly not been responsible (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here etc).

As a co-director of Wild Justice I’m also pretty certain that WJ has NEVER made such a claim. If there is such evidence, the SUMG are challenged to provide it.

I can’t speak for the RSPB but I can’t imagine they would EVER make such a ridiculous claim either.

Speaking for myself, I don’t even believe, as some do, that ALL gamekeepers are raptor killers. A lot of them are, of that there’s no doubt whatsoever, and some other gamekeepers will benefit from that killing even if they’re not doing the actual killing themselves, but I also know of some decent, law-abiding gamekeepers who are as thrilled at seeing a raptor as I am. I’ve met them and have worked with them, so I know they exist.

However, there’s no getting away from the undeniable evidence that shows overall, gamekeepers in the UK are responsible for more illegal raptor killing than any other profession. If you want to see the evidence, have a look at this pie chart published by the RSPB last year in their annual Birdcrime report:

Interestingly, one of the individuals included in the convicted gamekeepers section of this pie chart was a certain Alan Wilson, a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association who was convicted in 2019 of a catalogue of horrendous wildlife crimes he committed on the Longformacus Estate, a grouse/pheasant shooting moor in, er, the Southern Uplands (see here).

It strikes me that the Southern Uplands Moorland Group would do well to concentrate on ousting the criminals within the gamekeeping industry rather than smearing those of us who report on such crimes and who, quite legitimately, campaign for the Government to clamp down on the criminals involved.

30
Sep
20

The eagle’s satellite tag found in the river: poetic injustice

Further to last Friday’s shocking news that a missing golden eagle’s satellite tag had been found in a river in Strathbraan, with aerial and harness cut and the tag wrapped in lead sheeting, presumably in an attempt to block the tag’s signal and conceal any evidence of criminal behaviour (see here), there’s an interesting background story to this particular eagle.

Cast your minds back three and half years to this blog (here) written in March 2017.

Here are the, ahem, ‘highlights’:

This photograph has been repeatedly posted on Facebook and other social media platforms as an example of ‘bad practice’ at a raptor tagging event. It shows a group of people at an eagle nest site in Perthshire in 2014. According to Bert Burnett of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, who has posted this image several times, these people, including Duncan Orr-Ewing of RSPB Scotland, are “having a picnic underneath an eagle nest” for several hours and thus by implication are causing unnecessary disturbance at the site and causing the adult birds to desert.

What’s actually happening here is a group of people, including four licensed experts and their invited guests, have climbed to an eagle nest site and while the climbers have gone to retrieve the eaglet from the nest so its satellite tag can be fitted in safety on the ground, Duncan is eating a sandwich. That’s it. It’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic, or is that just Bert?

Another photograph that Bert has circulated was also taken at this site on the same day. It shows Duncan quite rightly checking the fit of the young eagle’s sat tag harness before the bird is put back in its nest.

This photograph elicited all sorts of comments on social media, with suggestions that sat tagging golden eagles is harmful to the birds, that it’s detrimental to their survival and one person even claiming that “they [the raptor fieldworkers] are a far greater threat to birds than any shooting interests“.

He posted another photograph (which we won’t post here for legal reasons) that shows a woman and her son on the nest ledge after the eagle had been returned to its nest. Bert said this about it: “What happens to birds after tagging is very questionable. Allowing your families and friends to climb up intae the nest just for photo shoots is totally out of order and shows no concern for the birds future welfare“. On a later post he also claimed the woman had been “hoisted in to the nest“. What the photo actually shows is a Schedule 1 licence holder and her son who have just climbed to the nest to return the eagle after tagging. It’s probably hard for Bert to comprehend that a woman might actually be a Schedule 1 licence holder and that she’d be capable of climbing to the nest without being “hoisted in” (surely her breasts would get in the way?) but when your mindset is firmly stuck in the 18th century then it’s probably no surprise at all.

As for Bert’s comment, “What happens to birds after tagging is very questionable“, well, it’s not questionable in this case. This eagle was satellite tagged in Perthshire in 2014. The bird fledged successfully and its movements were tracked until 2016 when its tag signal suddenly stopped transmitting and the eagle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Perthshire. We’d respectfully suggest that this eagle’s disappearance (probable death) was not caused by Duncan eating a sandwich at its natal site two years earlier nor by it being put back in to the nest by a woman, but was more than likely caused by illegal poisoning, illegal trapping or illegal shooting on or near a grouse moor in the Highlands.

ENDS

Little did we or Bert Burnett, then a Director of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, imagine that this eagle would hit the headlines three and a half years later when its tag was found cut and wrapped in lead sheeting having been dumped in the river in one of Scotland’s most notorious raptor-killing hotspots – the grouse moors of Strathbraan, where eight satellite-tagged eagles have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in recent years.

This background information clearly exposes the desperate lies and false accusations used by some in the grouse shooting industry to deflect attention from the bleedin’ obvious and instead used to undermine the integrity and professionalism of those conservationists working hard to protect this species in the face of relentless persecution.

These fabrications were made in the build up to the publication of the Government-commissioned Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, which was published in May 2017. It’s findings were damning.

Unbelievably, the lies from the grouse shooting industry continue. Over the last few days there have been a number of so-called ‘explanations’ from within the grouse shooting industry for what might have happened to this eagle and how it’s satellite tag ended up in the river wrapped in lead sheeting. They seek to have the public believe that this is ‘a set up’ – that conservationists (and some of them named, libellously, as perverting the course of justice) found the dead eagle several years ago after it died of natural causes and they apparently decided to ‘plant’ the tag in the river to make it look suspicious.

Fortunately, the public, the police and Government Ministers are not fooled.

All eyes on the Scottish Government’s imminent response to the Werritty review on grouse moor licensing.

25
Sep
20

Missing eagle’s satellite tag found cut & wrapped in lead, dumped in river at Strathbraan

Well, well, well.

Press release from RSPB Scotland (25th September 2020)

Shocking discovery reveals lengths raptor killers will go to to conceal crimes

Recovered satellite tag provides answers to what happens when birds of prey ‘disappear’ on Scotland’s grouse moors

A satellite tag removed from a ‘disappeared’ golden eagle has been recovered from a Highland river.

The discovery sheds new light on the activities that criminals will go to in a bid to cover up the illegal killing of protected birds of prey.

[The eagle satellite tag #129014, wrapped in lead casing, found at the side of the River Braan. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

In 2016 the bird’s tag stopped transmitting suddenly on a grouse moor in Perthshire and despite searches by Police and RSPB Scotland, it was never traced.

Now the tag has been found – wrapped in heavy lead sheeting and disposed of at a popular beauty spot just a few miles from the last known location of the bird.

The recovered tag is further evidence in just how far criminals who routinely kill birds of prey are going to in a bid to cover their tracks and to present driven grouse shooting as a clean industry.

The object was spotted by a walker and his son on the banks of the River Braan near Dunkeld in Perthshire on 21st May.

On closer examination, they found the tag wrapped in a piece of lead sheeting. The tag bore a label bearing contact details and a serial number, subsequently allowing the police and RSPB to jointly attend recover and identify the object.

Police Scotland have since held the tag for several months to conduct forensic analysis, which is ongoing.

After fledging from its nest, this young eagle had remained on its parents’ territory until November 2014. Over the following 18 months, it explored Scotland’s uplands before it moved into Strathbraan. Within a few days of arriving here, on 1st May 2016 his tag, that had been functioning exactly as would have expected, suddenly and inexplicably stopped. It was suspected that the bird had been killed, and the tag destroyed.

[The young golden eagle fitted with the satellite tag #129014 in 2014. Photo Scottish Raptor Study Group]

As with all such cases, this suspicious disappearance was reported to the police. A search of the land around the bird’s last known location on a remote hill took place and the disappearance was discussed with local land managers. No evidence of what had happened to the bird was uncovered.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “As is the case in virtually every raptor persecution investigation, nobody seemed to know anything and, as is the case with every suspicious satellite tagged raptor disappearance on a grouse moor, spurious alternative theories as to what may have happened to the bird and tag were suggested. However, now we know the truth.

This young eagle was killed illegally. The tag was clearly removed from the bird, its antenna was cut off, and the tag was then wrapped in a piece of lead sheeting, presumably because the perpetrator thought this would stop it transmitting. The package was then cast into the river, never to be seen again. Or so they thought.

This discovery gives unequivocal proof not only of what is happening to these birds, but also the lengths to which the criminals involved in the killing of our raptors will go to dispose of evidence and evade justice. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the vast majority of other birds of prey and their tags that have disappeared on Scotland’s grouse moors have suffered similar fates.”

Satellite-tags are used by biological researchers throughout the world to track the movements of animals and birds, from vultures to elephants, and have a proven high reliability. In the UK, their use on birds is strictly regulated by the British Trust for Ornithology and the Government’s statutory nature conservation agencies, with individual projects and taggers requiring demonstrable training and experience and only then under specific licences.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, a member of the Central Scotland Raptor Study Group and RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management, said: “The number of satellite tags fitted to raptors, functioning exactly as expected, only to have stopped suddenly on a grouse moor, is an issue of increasing public concern, as evidenced by the Scottish Government commissioning of a review of the fates of satellite-tagged golden eagles, published three years ago.”

It has long been suspected that tags are routinely destroyed by wildlife criminals in a deliberate attempt to conceal evidence. There is no other reasonable explanation as to why this tag has ended up in the river where it was found, wrapped in metal, and with the harness and antenna cut. For me this incident is doubly distressing as it is a bird that I tagged with a colleague in 2014, and it originates from a nest site in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park where there has been a long history of local community protection from egg collectors.

More disappearances of tagged birds this year, as well as shooting and poisoning cases, destroy any pretence that the grouse shooting industry is able to self-regulate, even during a national pandemic. It is abundantly clear that the only way to stop this culturally ingrained and organised criminality against Scotland’s protected raptors is through robust, and immediate, regulation. We call upon the Scottish Government to prioritise this as their response to the Werritty Review.

ENDS

RSPB Scotland has also produced a video:

This tag is not one of the ones that RPUK and Chris Packham have fitted as part of our golden eagle tagging project, but the area where this eagle ‘disappeared’ and where the tag was subsequently found in the river is an area where three of our satellite tagged golden eagles have ‘disappeared’ (Adam, Charlie and Tom), probably suffering the same fate as this one. It’s actually an area where at least eight satellite-tagged eagles have ‘vanished’ in recent years, and was identified as a raptor persecution hotspot by the 2017 golden eagle satellite tag review. Strathbraan is circled in orange below:

We’ll be saying a lot more about this later today.

The Scottish Government has been dragging its feet on raptor persecution for years and years and years. We are expecting a response to the Werritty Review (on grouse moor reform) ‘this autumn’ and in light of this evidence, the latest in a long long line of evidence, we expect a meaningful response. If you’d like the First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon) and her Environment Cabinet Secretary (Roseanna Cunningham) to know how much you expect from them, please send POLITE but strongly-worded emails to:

firstminister@gov.scot

and

CabSecECCLR@gov.scot

UPDATE 25th September 2020 10.30hrs: RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations Ian Thomson has written a blog about this incident and he puts the discovery of this tag in to a wider context – read here.

UPDATE 30th September 2020: The eagle’s satellite tag found in the river: poetic injustice (here)

03
Aug
20

Buzzard & kestrel confirmed illegally poisoned in Derbyshire

In March 2020, just after the start of lockdown, Derbyshire Constabulary reported the suspected poisoning of a kestrel and a buzzard, both found dead next to the remains of a pigeon at Ault Hucknall near Chesterfield (see here).

[Photo via Derbyshire Constabulary]

Samples were sent for toxicology analysis and last week the police received the findings. Both birds had been illegally poisoned with the banned pesticide Aldicarb.

This news was published on the Rural Crime Team’s Facebook page (see below). We haven’t been able to find any further news reports, for e.g. on the Derbyshire Constabulary website or in the local press.

These latest illegal poisonings are not the first in this area. A total of six buzzards were also illegally poisoned in neighbouring Glapwell between 2015-2016 (2 x buzzards, March 2015; 1 x buzzard & pheasant bait, February 2016; 3 x buzzards & pheasant bait, March 2016). Alphachloralose was the poison used in those cases.

[Some of the poisoned buzzards and a pheasant bait found at Glapwell in 2016, photos via RSPB]

There is a record of those poisonings in the RSPB’s 2016 BirdCrime report (here) and a short video, here:

It is quite clear that somebody in this area has access to banned poisons and is not afraid to set out poisonous baits that could kill anyone unfortunate to come in to contact with them, let alone wildlife and domestic animals and pets.

Let’s hope we see a continued publicity drive from Derbyshire Constabulary – these crimes warrant maximum awareness and exposure.

26
Jun
20

Cairngorms National Park Authority statement on hen harrier persecution

Hen harrier persecution is a National Wildlife Crime Priority and the population in Scotland has suffered a 27% decline in the last 12 years. Losing over a quarter of the population in such a short period is a significant conservation concern and as such, we expect a strong response from the authorities whenever these crimes are exposed.

Earlier this month we learned that two satellite-tagged hen harriers (Wildland hen harrier 1 and Wildland hen harrier 2) had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on two grouse moors in September 2019, one within the Cairngorms National Park and one right on the Park boundary (see here). We don’t recall seeing any statement from the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

Yesterday we learned that two more satellite-tagged hen harriers, Hoolie and Marlin, had both ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances from grouse moors in the Cairngorms National Park in April 2020 (see here). We also learned that they both vanished on exactly the same grouse moors from where two other satellite-tagged hen harriers had also disappeared without trace (Hen harrier ‘Lad‘ in 2015 and Hen harrier Marci in 2019).

It’s bad enough that these birds continue to be persecuted even though they’ve had legal protection in the UK for 76 years, but when this keeps happening inside a so-called National Park and nobody is ever held to account, you have to wonder, in terms of species conservation, what’s the point of National Park status?

We asked Grant Moir, CEO of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, for a statement about these latest two suspicious disappearances and this is what he provided this afternoon:

It’s a strong statement in as much as the CNPA CEO recognises and fully accepts that these wildlife crimes continue in some areas of the National Park, which is in stark contrast to statements made by the grouse shooting industry reps today (more on this later) but it doesn’t offer a solution. It’s more of an exasperated shrug of the shoulders and a heavy reliance on the Scottish Government to respond well to the Werritty Review.

Is that it, then? Is the CNPA so impotent it can do nothing more than bemoan the persistent criminality within its boundary? This has been going on since 2002 (the Park wasn’t formally established until 2003 but we’ve included 2002 data as the area had been mapped by then). This list includes just the crimes we know about. How many more went unreported/undiscovered? How many more will we have to read about before the criminals are held to account?

ILLEGAL RAPTOR PERSECUTION INCIDENTS CAIRNGORMS NATIONAL PARK

2002

Feb: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Tomintoul (No prosecution)

Mar: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + 2 rabbit baits. Cromdale (No prosecution)

2003

Apr: 3 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + 2 grey partridge baits. Kingussie (No prosecution)

Jun: Attempted shooting of a hen harrier. Crannoch (Successful prosecution)

2004

May: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cuaich (No prosecution)

Nov: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

2005

Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Mar: 3 x poisoned buzzards, 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Crathie (No prosecution)

2006

Jan: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Dulnain Bridge (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned raven (Mevinphos). Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Morven [corbett] (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned raven + 1 x poisoned common gull (Aldicarb) + egg bait. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

May: egg bait (Aldicarb). Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenfeshie (No prosecution)

2007

Jan: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Glenshee (No prosecution)

Apr: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: Pole trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Tomintoul (No prosecution)

May: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit & hare baits. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jul: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Ballater (No prosecution)

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Newtonmore (No prosecution)

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

2008

Jan: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Mar: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

2009

May: 2 x poisoned ravens (Mevinphos). Delnabo (No prosecution)

Jun: rabbit bait (Mevinphos). nr Tomintoul (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Strathdon (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x illegal crow trap. Nr Tomintoul (No prosecution)

2010

Apr: Pole trap. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x pole-trapped goshawk. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Jun: Illegally set spring trap on tree stump. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Sep: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenlochy (No prosecution)

Oct: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Nr Boat of Garten (No prosecution)

2011

Jan: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Bridge of Brown (No prosecution)

Mar: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Apr: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran & Aldicarb). Nr Bridge of Brown (No prosecution)

May:  1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

May: 1 x shot short-eared owl, found stuffed under rock. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x shot peregrine. Pass of Ballater (No prosecution)

Aug: grouse bait (Aldicarb). Glenlochy (No prosecution)

Sep: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

Nov: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

2012

Apr: 1 x shot short-eared owl. Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Apr: Peregrine nest site burnt out. Glenshee (No prosecution)

May: Buzzard nest shot out. Nr Ballater (No prosecution)

2013

Jan: White-tailed eagle nest tree felled. Invermark (No prosecution)

May: 1 x shot hen harrier. Glen Gairn (No prosecution)

May: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat

2014

Apr: Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat

May: Armed masked men shoot out a goshawk nest. Glen Nochty (No prosecution)

2015

Sep: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Lad’ found dead, suspected shot. Newtonmore (No prosecution)

2016

May: 1 x shot goshawk. Strathdon (No prosecution)

Jun: Illegally set spring traps. Invercauld (No prosecution)

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Brian’ ‘disappears’. Kingussie

2017

Mar: Satellite-tagged golden eagle #338 ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Calluna’ ‘disappears’. Ballater

2018

May: Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle Blue T ‘disappears’. Ballater

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Athena’ ‘disappears’. Nr Grantown on Spey

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Margot’ ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

Sept: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Stelmaria’ ‘disappears’. Ballater

2019

April: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Marci’ ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

April: Four geese poisoned and Carbofuran bait found on an estate nr Kingussie (no prosecution)

August: Golden eagle photographed with a spring trap dangling from its foot, nr Crathie, Deeside

September: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Wildland 1 ‘disappears’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal

September: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Wildland 2 ‘disappears’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld

2020

April: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Hoolie ‘disappears’ on grouse moor nr Newtonmore

April: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Marlin ‘disappears’ on grouse moor nr Strathdon

In addition to the above list, two recent scientific publications have documented the long-term decline of breeding peregrines on grouse moors in the eastern side of the National Park (see here) and the catastrophic decline of breeding hen harriers, also on grouse moors in the eastern side of the Park (see here).

 

03
Jan
20

New Chairman for Scottish Land & Estates

Scottish Land and Estates (SLE), the grouse moor owners’ lobby group (amongst other things) has announced its new Chairman will be sporting estate owner Mark Tennant.

Mark will begin his new role in April 2020 when the current Chair, Lord David Johnstone, steps down.

We don’t know much about Mark other than what SLE has written in its announcement (here) but let’s be honest, he’s not exactly got big shoes to fill. His predecessor, ‘Dumfriesshire Dave’ has spent the last five years pretending everything’s fine and suggesting there’s really no need to do anything about the illegal killing of raptors on grouse moors because it’s no longer an issue, it’s mostly just the RSPB trying to smear the good name of the industry and/or ‘activists’ trying to ‘set up’ law-abiding estates. (E.g. see here, here, here, here, here). Talk about dial ‘D’ for denial.

It’s hard to think of a single example where Dumfriesshire Dave has inspired any confidence in the industry’s willingness, let alone ability, to clean up its act, so Mark Tennant has a bit of an open goal to get off to a good start, should he choose to take it.

According to the SLE announcement, Mark will be working ‘to help fight climate change’. Excellent. Can we expect all SLE-member grouse moor owners to commit to stopping their routine heather burning regimes, including on deep peat, in the interests of addressing the climate emergency?

What we do know about Mark, from the SLE announcement, is that his ‘family business Innes Estate in Elgin has been a member of SLE for over 40 years‘. That’s really interesting. So SLE didn’t expel the estate when the then head gamekeeper was convicted in 2007 for poisons and firearms offences, then? NOTE: there is no suggestion that those historical offences were part of a wider pattern of continued wildlife crime on the estate – as far as we are aware there are no further reports of alleged offences at this estate – we’re just interested at SLE’s apparent lack of action in response to wildlife crime.

Speaking of which, here’s something Mark could sort out for us. We’re still waiting to hear from SLE whether the Longformacus Estate (the location of a catalogue of horrific and violent wildlife crimes for which a gamekeeper was recently convicted) was, and if so still is, a member of Scottish Land & Estates? We asked SLE this specific question in August, after the Crown Office chose not to pursue a prosecution for alleged vicarious liability and SLE had until then avoided commenting on the estate’s membership status. We had a quick response from the Membership Department who told us, ‘I have forwarded on your email to our Senior Management Team who will respond in due course‘. Needless to say, silence since then.

Over to you, Mark. Was/is Longformacus Estate a member of Scottish Land & Estates?

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.

30
Aug
19

No vicarious liability prosecution for Longformacus Estate

Ten days ago Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson was sentenced for a catalogue of wildlife crime offences, including possession of the banned poison Carbofuran and the shooting of protected raptors, badgers and an otter on the Longformacus Estate in the Scottish Borders (see here).

[Criminal gamekeeper Alan Wilson, photo by Daily Record]

Very early on in this case we were aware that two individuals had been charged in relation to the crimes uncovered at Longformacus Estate (see here) and it was rumoured that the second man was facing a charge of alleged vicarious liability for Wilson’s crimes, although we were unable to verify this.

As a quick re-cap, vicarious liability was a measure introduced by the Scottish Government on 1 January 2012 as a direct and specific response to ongoing illegal raptor persecution, whereby somebody (e.g. a landowner or a sporting agent) may be held responsible for the criminal actions of an employee – see here for a more detailed explanation.

Following Wilson’s conviction and then subsequent sentencing earlier this month, we were keen to find out whether the Crown Office was now pursuing a charge of alleged vicarious liability against any individual associated with the management of Longformacus Estate. Last week we wrote to the Crown Office for clarification and this is the response received yesterday:

So, here we are yet again.

No prosecution for anyone associated with the management of Longformacus Estate where gamekeeper Alan Wilson was able to commit crime after crime after crime after crime, apparently without his boss(es) noticing.

For a defence of a charge of alleged vicarious liability, the gamekeeper’s boss(es) would need to show that (a) s/he/they did not know the offence was being committed; AND (b) that s/he/they took all reasonable steps AND exercised all due diligence to prevent the offence(s) being committed. Without knowing the full facts and circumstances of this case it is impossible for us to judge whether the Crown Office’s decision not to pursue a charge was sensible, but it has to be said that given the extent and duration of Wilson’s criminal activities, it would have been very interesting indeed to have heard his bosses’ interpretation and explanation of ‘all due diligence’.

We’ll probably never know why the Crown Office chose not to proceed – it is under no obligation to offer any explanation to the public. However, this latest decision really shouldn’t come as any surprise to anybody – remember, this is the same Crown Office that dropped five prosecutions for alleged raptor persecution in quick succession in 2017 (see here), even including several cases where RSPB video footage had captured the crimes on camera! Those decisions not to proceed with prosecutions hailed the start of what has now become complete exasperation at the authorities’ failure to take on many cases linked to wildlife crime on game-shooting estates.

The Crown’s decision not to pursue criminal proceedings in relation to the crimes committed at Longformacus Estate also further entrenches the view that vicarious liability as a measure for tackling ongoing raptor persecution is a resounding failure. Introduced seven and a half years ago on 1 Jan 2012, only two successful prosecutions have been secured: one in Dec 2014 (here) and one in Dec 2015 (here). A third case in Oct 2015 was dropped because the authorities couldn’t identify the estate’s management structure (here) and a fourth case was abandoned in April 2017 because the Crown said ‘it wasn’t in the public interest to continue’ (here).

Who thinks that two successful cases in 7.5 years is a measure of success? Perhaps if raptor persecution crimes weren’t still being committed then vicarious liability might have been viewed as a success in terms of its deterrent value but it’s quite clear, given the ongoing reports of persecution, that landowners and sporting agents are probably increasingly confident of evading prosecution and the Crown’s decision on the Longformacus Estate will only strengthen that view.

The question now is, for how many more years do we have to sit and watch the pathetic failure of vicarious liability as a measure to combat raptor persecution? The Scottish Government can no longer rely on this as an indication of its commitment to tackling these crimes. Sure, when introduced in 2012 it was done in good faith and with the best of intentions but it is quite clear for all to see that, for whatever reason, it isn’t working, and the Scottish Government needs to acknowledge this failure and find out why it’s failing and get it fixed.

It’s not just convicted gamekeeper Alan Wilson sticking up two fingers to our law-abiding society.

The topic of vicarious liability was raised at the recent SNP Conference Fringe meeting on grouse moor reform (here) as well as the Revive Coalition’s conference in Perth (here) and caused quite a stir amongst delegates and panellists at both events. It’s an issue we’re likely to follow up with several interested MSPs.

Meanwhile, Chris Packham’s petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting is doing exceptionally well, just two weeks after launching. It has now attracted over 81,000 signatures but is likely to fall if it doesn’t reach 100,000 signatures by Sept 9th, thanks to the current shenanigans at Westminster (if Parliament is suspended all unfinished business, including live petitions, will fall). If you haven’t yet signed, please do so HERE. Thank you.

 




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