Archive for the '2016 persecution incidents' Category

24
Mar
17

41 eagles, 10 years, 0 prosecutions

Regular blog readers will know that from time to time we publish a list of eagles that are known to have been illegally killed, or have ‘disappeared’ (i.e. their satellite tag suddenly stops functioning) in Scotland.

The last update was in August 2016 when the RSPB revealed that eight satellite-tagged golden eagles had ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors in the Monadhliaths between 2011 and 2016.

Last week we blogged about another ‘disappearing’ golden eagle, this time a young bird that had been tagged in Perthshire in 2014 and whose satellite signal suddenly stopped functioning two years later when the eagle was visiting an Angus Glens grouse moor. It’s time to add that eagle to our list.

As before, a number of eagles included in this list (17 of them, to be precise) may not be dead. However, they are included here because their satellite tags unexpectedly stopped functioning (i.e. they’d been transmitting perfectly well up until the eagles’ last known location, often a known persecution hotspot). Two further satellite-tagged eagles (‘Angus’ and ‘Tom’) are not included in this list as although their transmitters stopped functioning, there had been recognisable problems with their tags prior to the final transmissions and so the benefit of the doubt has been applied.

It’s also worth reiterating that the following eagles are only the ones we know about. How many un-tagged eagles are illegally killed each year?

MAY 2006: A dead adult golden eagle was found on the Dinnet & Kinord Estate, near Ballater, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation. No prosecution.

JUNE 2006: A dead golden eagle was found on Glen Feshie Estate in the Cairngorms. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary launched an investigation. No prosecution.

AUGUST 2007: A dead adult female golden eagle was found on an estate near Peebles in the Borders. She was half of the last known breeding pair of golden eagles in the region. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Lothian & Borders Police launched an investigation. No prosecution.

NOVEMBER 2007: Tayside Police received a detailed tip-off that a young male white-tailed eagle (known as ‘Bird N’) had allegedly been shot on a grouse moor estate in the Angus Glens. The timing and location included in the tip-off coincided with the timing and location of the last-known radio signal of this bird. The eagle has not been seen again. With no carcass, an investigation wasn’t possible.

MAY 2008: A one year old male white-tailed eagle hatched on Mull in 2007 and known as ‘White G’ was found dead on the Glenquoich Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed he had been poisoned by an unusual concoction of pesticides that included Carbofuran, Bendiocarb and Isofenphos. A police search in the area also revealed a poisoned buzzard, a baited mountain hare and 32 pieces of poisoned venison baits placed on top of fence posts on the neighbouring Glenogil Estate. Laboratory tests revealed the baited mountain hare and the 32 poisoned venison baits contained the same unusual concoction of highly toxic chemicals that had killed the white-tailed eagle, ‘White G’. No prosecution.

JUNE 2009: An adult golden eagle was found dead at Glen Orchy, Argyll, close to the West Highland Way. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Strathclyde Police launched a multi-agency investigation. Three years and 3 months later, estate employee Tom McKellar pled guilty to possession of Carbofuran stored in premises at Auch Estate, Bridge of Orchy and he was fined £1,200. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

JULY 2009: A two year old female golden eagle known as ‘Alma’ was found dead on the Millden Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Alma was a well-known eagle  – born on the Glen Feshie Estate in 2007, she was being satellite-tracked and her movements followed by the general public on the internet. Tayside Police launched an investigation. No prosecution.

AUGUST 2009: A young white-tailed eagle was found dead on Glenogil Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Tayside Police was criticized in the national press for not releasing a press statement about this incident until January 2010. No prosecution.

MAY 2010: #1 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

MAY 2010: #2 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

MAY 2010: #3 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

JUNE 2010: #1: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: #2: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: #3: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: #4: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: A golden eagle was found dead on Farr & Kyllachy Estate, Inverness-shire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary apparently did not search the property until July 2011. No prosecution.

JUNE 2010: A white-tailed eagle was found dead on Farr & Kyllachy Estate, Inverness-shire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary apparently did not search the property until July 2011. No prosecution.

DECEMBER 2010: A decomposing carcass of a white-tailed eagle was found and photographed on Logie (Lochindorb) Estate, Morayshire. It was reported to Northern Constabulary. By the time the police arrived to collect it, the carcass had disappeared. The police said they couldn’t investigate further without the body.

FEBRUARY 2011: The signal from a young satellite-tracked golden eagle ( ‘Lee’, hatched in 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from the North Angus Glens. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MARCH 2011: The body of a young golden eagle was discovered on North Glenbuchat Estate, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation and raided the property in May 2011. A poisoned buzzard, a poisoned bait and a shot short-eared owl were found. No prosecution.

APRIL 2011: The body of a white-tailed eagle was found at the base of cliffs on Skye. The person who discovered it (a professional medic) considered it to have been freshly shot with a rifle, decapitated with a sharp implement and thrown from the cliff top. He took photographs and alerted Northern Constabulary and RSPB. There was a delay of two weeks before the now probably decomposed carcass was collected. A post-mortem was inconclusive. This incident was not made public until one year later after a tip off to this blog. No prosecution.

SEPTEMBER 2011: The signal from a satellite-tracked young golden eagle (‘Strathy’, hatched in 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from an Aberdeenshire grouse moor. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

NOVEMBER 2011: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tracked golden eagle (#57124) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MARCH 2012: The body of a young golden eagle being tracked by satellite was discovered in Lochaber. Tests revealed it had been poisoned with the banned pesticides Aldicarb and Bendiocarb. Information about this incident was not made public until three months later. No prosecution.

MARCH 2012: The signal from a satellite-tracked young golden eagle (‘Angus 26′, hatched in 2011) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. This bird’s suspiciously damaged sat tag was found in the area. No prosecution.

MAY 2012: The signal from a young satellite-tracked golden eagle (#32857) unexpectedly stopped transmitting when the bird was north-east of the Cairngorms National Park. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MAY 2012: The dead body of a young satellite-tracked golden eagle (hatched in 2011) was discovered near a lay-by in Aboyne, Aberdeenshire. The data from its satellite tag & the injuries the bird had when found (2 broken legs) suggested it had been caught in an illegal trap on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens and then removed, under cover of darkness, to be dumped in another area where it was left to die, probably a slow and agonising death. Information on this incident was not released until almost five months later, by the RSPB. It appears the police failed to properly investigate this incident as we understand that no search warrants were issued and no vehicles were searched. No prosecution.

JULY 2012: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tracked golden eagle (‘Foinaven’) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

OCTOBER 2012: An adult golden eagle was found shot and critically injured on grouse moor at Buccleuch Estate, near Wanlockhead, South Lanarkshire. The bird was rescued by the SSPCA and underwent surgery but it eventually succumbed to its injuries in April 2013. No prosecution.

MAY 2013: The signal from a two-year-old satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Angus 33′, hatched in 2011) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after its last signal from North Glenbuchat Estate in Aberdeenshire. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

JUNE 2013: A dead golden eagle was found under power lines on an RSPB reserve on Oronsay. This bird had been shot although it is not known whether this was the cause of death or an historical injury.

JULY 2013: The signal from a young satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Cullen’, hatched 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after its last signal in Aberdeenshire. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

DECEMBER 2013: A two year old satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Fearnan’) was found dead on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed he had been poisoned with the banned pesticide Carbofuran. No prosecution.

MARCH 2014: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#129002) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

APRIL 2014: The signal from a young satellite tracked white-tailed eagle (the first fledged sea eagle chick in East Scotland in ~200 years) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after its last signal from the North Glenbuchat Estate in Aberdeenshire. Police raided the property a couple of weeks later. No prosecution.

OCTOBER 2014: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#107133) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

OCTOBER 2014: The signal from a two-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#119886) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MARCH 2016: The signal from a satellite-tagged golden eagle (tagged in Perthshire 2014) unexpectedly stopped transmiting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MAY 2016: The signal from a less-than-one-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#00000583) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

JUNE 2016: The signal from a two-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#129010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

JULY 2016: The signal from a two-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#129015 ‘Brodie’) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

37 of the listed 41 eagles have either been found dead on, or have ‘disappeared’ on, Scottish grouse moors. (The other 4 have either died or have ‘disappeared’ in other habitat types).

Four of these 41 eagles ‘disappeared’ in 2016. So much for the grouse-shooting industry claiming that they’ve cleaned up their act and that persecution is a thing of the past. The tactics of how to kill an eagle have clearly changed (see here) but the persecution continues.

Last summer, in response to the news that eight tagged golden eagles had ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths over a five year period, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham ordered a review of satellite tag datato discover if there is a pattern of suspicious activity“.

We are expecting the review to be published some time in April and we expect it to show what decades of scientific research has already clearly demonstrated: that golden eagles (and several other raptor species) are routinely killed or suspiciously ‘disappear’ on land intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

We expect this review to be a seminal piece of research and if it shows what we anticipate it will show, the Scottish Government can expect to be put under enormous pressure to respond appropriately.

22
Mar
17

Hen Harrier Rowan’s injuries “entirely consistent with being shot”

In the latest edition of the RSPB’s Legal Eagle newsletter (here), there’s an article about how satellite tag technology is shining a bright light on illegal raptor persecution.

We were particularly interested to read the following paragraph:

In October 2016, Cumbria Constabulary announced that, following some excellent fieldwork by Natural England, one of the Natural England / Hawk & Owl Trust sponsored birds, Rowan, had been found dead on the edge of the county. 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‘.

Well, well, well. ‘Injuries entirely consistent with being shot‘ is a very different message from that put out by Natural England, Cumbria Constabulary and the Hawk & Owl Trust, who claimed Rowan was only ‘likely to have been shot’ (see here and here).

Indeed, when challenged about the lack of transparency, the Hawk & Owl Trust conjured up this statement:

The initial post mortem results were not wholly conclusive and further metallurgical tests were required” (see here).

Last month we asked the Hawk & Owl Trust three questions about their statement:

  1. Who said the initial post mortem results weren’t wholly conclusive?
  2. Who said further metallurgical tests were required?
  3. Have those further metallurgical tests been done? If so, where are the results? If they haven’t been done, four months on, then why not if they were supposedly “required”?

The Hawk & Owl Trust has not responded. Perhaps they’re too busy looking for a big enough shovel to dig themselves out of the crater.

That’s the thing about cover-ups. They are usually uncovered, especially badly botched ones.

20
Mar
17

RSPB offers £1,000 reward for info on two shot buzzards in North Yorkshire

A week ago we blogged about the discovery of two dead buzzards found in North Yorkshire (see here).

One had been found shot near East Lutton and the other one had been found shot near Helmsley in the North York Moors National Park.

The Northern Echo has now run with an article about these shootings (here) and the RSPB is offering a £1,000 reward for any information which leads to a successful conviction.

Conversely, the Yorkshire Post has published an article about the ‘value’ of gamekeepers in North Yorkshire (see here). One of the gamekeepers, Michael Wearmouth from the Rosedale and Westerdale Estate, is quoted: “Mr Packham and others who don’t understand shooting at all are trying to make everybody hate us“.

Nope, sorry Michael, it’s not Chris Packham et al at whom who you need to be pointing the finger, it’s the criminals from within your own industry who are causing public outrage by continuing to kill birds of prey, over 60 years since it became an offence. Just last year an horrifically injured buzzard was discovered on a Westerdale grouse moor and it wasn’t an isolated crime. North Yorkshire continues to hold the record for the highest number of reported raptor crimes in the UK.

15
Mar
17

A few sandwiches short of a picnic

As we mentioned yesterday, some individuals within the game shooting industry have recently been doing their level best to discredit the work of raptor fieldworkers, and particularly anything associated with tagging raptors, be it leg rings, wing tags or satellite tags. As usual, their level best falls way short of the mark.

Some of it amounts to libel (so we won’t be discussing that here as legal action is being considered), some of it is quite disturbing (distributing images of children without parental consent and without any attempts to pixelate faces) and some of it is either a complete fabrication or a gross distortion of the truth. All of it is being done as a crude and cynical attempt to undermine the findings of the forthcoming raptor satellite tag review, which we anticipate will provide damning evidence of the extent of satellite tagged raptors that ‘disappear’ on Scottish grouse moors.

Here’s a good example of some of the propaganda being peddled by the game shooting industry. 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 the Angus Glens. 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 Angus Glens.

A week ago, Bert again posted the photograph of Duncan eating a sandwich and he wrote the following on his Facebook page:

Once again, Bert hasn’t checked his facts. This eagle territory has NOT been deserted since Duncan and his colleagues safely fitted the satellite tag to the young eagle in 2014. On the contrary, the breeding pair has remained on territory and produced chicks every year since. In fact last year’s chick, ‘Freya’, was seen by millions of viewers as she was filmed being satellite tagged for the BBC’s SpringWatch programme!

Now, we can take the mick out of Bert all day and as long as he continues to spout nonsense we’ll continue to call him out – it’s actually quite enjoyable and he’s helping our cause no end. But there’s a darker side to what’s going on, with the targeted harassment of certain named individuals, and we’ll be blogging about that shortly.

In the meantime, have a look at a blog written by Duncan today (see here) for a more serious view on raptor tagging procedures and also check out this statement from the BTO which details the stringent requirements that must be met before anyone gets a licence to ring and tag birds in the UK: Overview of BTO Ringing Scheme training and licensing procedure

08
Mar
17

Convicted shooting agent no longer listed on tourism website

Some of you may remember back in December 2016 and January 2017 we were blogging about an organisation called the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group (SCSTG).

The SCSTG had been awarded funding from Scotland’s national tourism agency, VisitScotland, to help develop an initiative called ‘Game for Growth’, aimed at boosting the value of shooting, stalking and fishing to the Scottish rural economy.

This raised eyebrows, and even a parliamentary question, when we pointed out that a convicted wildlife criminal’s business (Dunmhor Sporting) was being promoted on the SCSTG website and yet this Game for Growth initiative had been launched at a parliamentary reception at Holyrood (see here, here, here).

Photo from parliamentary reception, December 2016. L-R: Tim (Kim) Baynes from the Gift of Grouse, Malcolm Roughead from VisitScotland, Edward Mountain MSP (host), and Sarah Troughton from the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group.

We also noted that two sporting estates (Invercauld Estate & Glendye grouse moor) were being promoted on this website (here), despite the recent discovery of illegally-set traps on both landholdings, although nobody has been charged in relation to the Invercauld incident (here) and we understand the Glen Dye incident is still under police investigation. (Well done to the local police wildlife crime officer, by the way, who reacted quickly when he was alerted to the traps at Glen Dye and has been fast to respond to subsequent correspondence on this matter).

Some of our readers, and us, contacted Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism & External Affairs, and Malcolm Roughead, Chief Exec of VisitScotland, to ask whether they were aware that tax payers’ money (via VisitScotland) was being used to promote the business of a convicted wildlife criminal and whether they thought this was an appropriate use of public funds.

So far, the responses from both have been unsatisfactory (e.g. see here) and further correspondence via a number of local MSPs is currently being undertaken.

However, after a quick look at the SCSTG website this morning, it would appear that Dunmhor Sporting is no longer listed. Whether the Minister and/or VisitScotland has had this listing removed, or whether Dunmhor Sporting has removed itself, remains to be seen.

However, Invercauld Estate and Glen Dye are both still listed.

We’ll be returning to this when we find out whether SNH intends to invoke General Licence restrictions on either of these two estates, assuming GL restrictions are still possible after the findings of the recent judicial review are made public – any day now.

17
Feb
17

Police Scotland intend to withhold raptor persecution info for 3 years

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

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

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

Here’s Police Scotland’s response:

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

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

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

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

ENDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How very convenient.

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

14
Feb
17

Leaked email reveals Natural England’s views on Hen Harrier Action Plan

The following internal email was written by Rob Cooke (Natural England Director) on 6 February 2017:

Hen Harriers

Hen harriers (HHs) are having a rough time in England. Although juvenile birds have a high natural mortality there is plenty to suggest that illegal persecution is ongoing, either through shooting or disturbance. The level of persecution is such that it is undoubtedly having an impact on the conservation status of the species in England.  Amongst a diet usually dominated by meadow pipits and voles can be red grouse, which is where the problem arises.  As a semi-colonial nester HHs can predate high numbers of grouse which can bring them into conflict with grouse shooting.

In early 2016 Defra published the Joint Action Plan to increase the English hen harrier population. The two new elements proposed a southern reintroduction and trialling a brood management scheme; Natural England chairs sub-groups on both.  Brood management is the most controversial element. Notwithstanding that, establishing a separate southern population has attracted criticism, even from some of those who purport to want to see more HHs, presumably as they fear that it will divert attention from persecution in the uplands. The notion that anyone wanting to see more HHs can argue against a reintroduction is I’m afraid beyond me (and as I type this I can see a red kite gliding by overhead).

Put simply brood management (BM) is removing eggs/chicks from vulnerable nests, rearing them in captivity and releasing them back into the uplands.  Of course if there was no persecution threat the nests wouldn’t be vulnerable (to human persecution at any rate) and therein lies the rub.  Those opposed to BM say it effectively condones persecution, and actually more effort should be put into stopping that.  I agree with that, but in practice despite the collective efforts of us, the police, RSPB and others it has not proved possible to stop persecution.  Radio tagged birds disappear, and even when recovered proving who fired the shot is very difficult in large remote upland areas.  There is an argument being made that driven grouse shooting should be banned (rejected recently by parliament), and the RSPB’s approach is that there should be greater regulation of shooting.  Effective regulation requires effective enforcement, and in Scotland where there is a stronger regulatory framework (incl vicarious liability and SNH’s power to remove General Licences) they still have a significant ongoing HH and raptor persecution issues.

The rationale behind BM is that if upland managers have a way of managing the density HHs (so that any impact on grouse is sustainable) then there will not be a ‘need’ to persecute the birds.  Whether this is the case or not time will tell (it is a trial after all), but we need to give it a go, since there is no Plan B on the table. Undertaking BM does not mean that anyone will put any less effort into enforcement, and there will continue to be tagging and rigorous protection of nest sites, where Stephen Murphy and his network of dedicated volunteers do wonders.  Since all the birds will be returned to the uplands there should be no impact on the population (and possibly even, more chicks will survive to adulthood than would otherwise have been the case as nests do suffer natural predation). It goes without saying that the trial will be subject to full veterinary, statutory assessment and licensing processes. BM would not require the removal of all birds from grouse moors, but would kick in when a published density threshold was reached.

rowan-x-rayRecent events have resulted in a large number of FoI requests and fair bit of resultant commentary on raptor blogs.  Much of this is commentators adding up 2 and 2 and coming to 5.  In particular the huge amount of space devoted to whether NE ‘watered down’ a media release concerning Rowan’s post-mortem to say ‘likely to have been shot’, as opposed to ‘shot’.  The simple truth is that the post-mortem did not say definitively that the bird was shot so nor did we (or the RSPB either – ‘injuries consistent with being shot’).  That prosaic point aside what is really disappointing is that this focus detracts from the spotlight which needs to be shone on the continuing plight of HHs and work underway to change that.  The lurid accusation that NE is in some way colluding with those responsible for hen harrier persecution is simply absurd.

Natural England leads much of this work and criticism is par for the course; constructive criticism is good and keeps us on our toes, but it is disappointing that much destructive criticism comes from the ‘wildlife sector’; rather darkly I wonder whether those who are responsible for persecution are sitting back smugly watching this internecine bickering.  The bottom line is that there are a number of people working extremely hard to improve the status of HHs in England.  We are all working to our strengths and membership organisations need to be able to take their members with them, to persuade them and win their support; hard line approaches can lead to alienation.  I believe in the sincerity of those involved in the plan, even if we might have differing motivations, but no one is blind to the challenges; persecution still happens and it needs to stop. If this plan does not deliver then we will need to look at other approaches.

But ‘How’ is the question? Simple enforcement is not enough so we need to adopt other approaches as well. After all, our experience over the last 15 years or so is that even reducing persecution is much easier said than done. There has been progress of sorts to date; the issue is very much in the public eye, we have the Moorland Association and other representative bodies openly condemning raptor persecution, we have tackling wildlife crime as a Govt priority and we have a Govt published plan. The proof of course will be in the eating; it won’t be easy but we do need to give it a try.

We need to be robust in our objective of restoring HHs to favourable conservation status in England, and not be distracted by those who, from whatever perspective, would derail us.

ENDS

There’s so much that could be discussed /debated /argued about the content of this email that we’d be here all day, so for brevity we just wanted to focus on two aspects.

First, the statement: “I believe in the sincerity of those involved in the plan“.

pole trapOn what basis does he believe in this supposed sincerity? The plan was launched over a year ago in January 2016, with the ‘partners’ supposedly all signed up. Since then we’ve seen an armed man sitting next to a decoy hen harrier on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park; a gamekeeper caught on film setting three illegal pole traps on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park; an endless number of raptor shootings, trappings and poisonings across England, many on or next to a grouse moor; an increase in the number of reported gas guns and banger ropes being deployed on grouse moors to deter breeding hen harriers; only three hen harrier nests in England (where there could be 330) and not one of them was on a grouse moor; and eight satellite tagged hen harrier fledglings from the 2016 season have already either ‘disappeared’ in the uplands or have been confirmed shot.

We haven’t seen any evidence whatsoever that the grouse shooting industry is sincere about stopping raptor persecution.

Secondly, we wanted to highlight Rob’s penultimate paragraph, because it really beggars belief. According to Rob, ‘there has been progress of sorts to date’ and he defines this ‘progress’ as follows:

  1. The issue is very much in the public eye. Well yes, it is, but that is no thanks to Natural England or their friends in the grouse shooting industry. Public awareness of hen harrier persecution has been increased thanks to (a) the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life Project and (b) a hell of a lot of effort by grassroots campaigners, notably Mark Avery with his book Inglorious and his three petitions to ban driven grouse shooting, Chris Packham, LUSH, hundreds of people getting involved in BAWC’s Hen Harrier Day events across the UK for the last three years, and thousands of ordinary people using social media to great effect, day in, day out.
  2. We have the Moorland Association and other representative bodies openly condemning raptor persecution. What we actually have is the Moorland Association and other representative bodies consistently denying that raptor persecution is a big problem; consistent attacks on the RSPB, particularly from the You Forgot the Birds propaganda machine, which is funded by the grouse shooting industry; consistent personal attacks on high profile campaigners; consistent attempts to discredit RSPB persecution data, and a consistent refusal to condemn confirmed raptor persecution crimes unless pushed hard by campaigners, and even then a response is rarely forthcoming (see yesterday’s blog about the poisons cache on East Arkengarthdale Estate as a classic example).
  3. We have tackling wildlife crime as a Govt priority. Do we? Is there any evidence of this?
  4. We have a Govt published plan. We do indeed, and it has been repeatedly and deservedly criticised by conservationists. As Mark Avery often says, it is not an action plan for hen harriers, it is an action plan for grouse moor owners.

Sorry Rob, but if you think the grouse shooting industry is going to stop killing hen harriers (or any other raptors) any time soon, based on the ‘evidence’ you’ve provided, then you’re delusional.

 




Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Blog Stats

  • 2,794,289 hits

Archives

Our recent blog visitors