Archive for the '2017 persecution incidents' Category

08
Jan
20

Scottish Gamekeepers Association silent as Government report confirms increase in raptor crime

Yesterday we blogged about how the Scottish Government’s latest annual wildlife crime report (2018) had shown that raptor persecution crimes have more than doubled since the previous year’s report (see here).

And despite the Government’s decision to publish this report when everyone had already packed up and gone home for Xmas, it still drew a headline in The Scotsman on Xmas Eve:

This reported increase in raptor persecution offences won’t have come as a surprise to blog readers – the relentless crime wave had already been reported by the RSPB’s annual Birdcrime report, back in August – see here.

The media coverage of the Birdcrime report was good, both in England and Scotland, and, unsurprisingly given the occupation of the majority of convicted offenders, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) was asked by the Independent to provide a quote about the crime increase. It included this little gem:

So, the SGA refused to comment on the increase in raptor crime because the RSPB’s figures were somehow ‘unofficial’ – despite the RSPB being the only organisation in the country to compile these figures and rigorously categorise them using a three-tier classification system which is scientifically legitimate and provides a clear indication of interpretation limitations.

Not that the SGA would be concerned about scientific legitimacy – remember this is the organisation that lobbied the Government about the so-called threat posed by sea eagles to babies and small toddlers. No, the SGA just didn’t want to acknowledge that raptor crime had doubled in the last year and if there was an opportunity to have an unveiled dig at the RSPB at the same time then all the better.

So here we are, several months later and the Scottish Government’s own report – the ‘official’ statistics – show that reported raptor persecution crimes did indeed more than double in a year.

And the SGA’s response to this news?

Silence.

Just what you’d expect from an organisation purported to be a fully signed up member of the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime, eh?

07
Jan
20

Crimes against birds of prey in Scotland double, new Government report confirms

Two days before Christmas the Scottish Government published its annual wildlife crime report, the seventh since it became a statutory obligation under the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 for Ministers to lay a report on wildlife crime at the end of every calendar year.

The current report is entitled the ‘2018’ report, but it actually refers to wildlife crimes recorded from April 2017 to March 2018.

The report can be downloaded here: wildlife-crime-scotland-2018-annual-report

The headline news is that reported raptor persecution crimes have doubled since the previous year’s report. So much for the game shooting industry’s repeated false claims then that raptor persecution is declining.

And all the more shocking that this doubling in increase took place at exactly the same time that the Werritty Review was underway – you’d think that the criminals within the grouse shooting industry would have had the sense to ease off whilst under such close scrutiny, at least until the review was completed. But no, they’re either too stupid or, more likely, too arrogant to care, knowing full well the chance of being caught and prosecuted is virtually nil.

We’ll be looking at the game shooting industry’s response to this report in later blogs.

Ian Thomson of RSPB Scotland was quoted in the press as saying the increase in reported raptor persecution crimes is of “significant concern“. He also said,

This shows very clearly that the targeting of our raptors continues unabated, particularly on intensively managed grouse moors.

The repeated and ongoing suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged birds of prey, almost exclusively on or adjacent to areas managed for driven grouse shooting demonstrates very clearly that the Scottish Government needs to expedite the robust regulation of this industry“.

The report’s foreword has been written by Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham and it’s well worth a read as she acknowledges the crime stats are a likely underestimate of the true scale, particularly as wildlife crime on remote grouse moors is difficult to detect without witnesses. It’s an obvious point but one that does need to be repeated.

She also makes the important and significant point of discussing the ‘missing’ satellite tagged raptors (two golden eagles + six hen harriers) that vanished during this period. These missing birds are not included in the ‘official’ crime stats because without a body the police are unable to record the disappearance as a crime (which is why so many simply disappear without trace – the criminals know how to play this game) but she says of the sudden suspicious losses, “These circumstances strongly suggest that many of these incidents may be the result of illegal killing of these birds“.

The rest of the foreword makes no commitment to taking forward any specific action, which is hugely disappointing. Roseanna simply acknowledges that there’s still an ongoing issue and repeats the now familiar mantra that the Scottish Government is still committed to tackling it, but doesn’t map out how, apart from talking about increased penalties for wildlife crime, which we’ve already had to wait six years for and they’re still not here yet. Perhaps this vagueness is unsurprising given that we’re now waiting to hear the Government’s formal response to the Werritty Review and the specific actions it intends to take. Apparently we’ll learn details of that response ‘in due course‘, widely expected to be April.

The timing of the publication of this wildlife crime report was pretty poor – two days before Christmas isn’t ideal, although it did get some coverage in the Scotsman the following day on Christmas Eve. In response, Mark Ruskell MSP, the Scottish Green’s Environment spokesperson, suggested the Government was ‘trying to bury bad news’. It’s a fair point.

UPDATE 8 January 2020: Scottish Gamekeepers Association silent as Government report confirms increase in raptor crime (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?

31
Dec
19

Top ten most read RPUK blogs in 2019

Thanks for all your continued interest and support in 2019….it’s been another very busy year.

Here are the top ten most read RPUK blogs over the last 12 months:

  1. Young golden eagle flying around Cairngorms National Park with an illegal trap clamped to its leg (here)
  2. Two more golden eagles go ‘missing’, on the same morning, on the same Scottish grouse moor (here)
  3. Chris Packham targeted (here)
  4. Hen harrier suffers savage brutality of an illegally-set trap on a Scottish grouse moor (here)
  5. Convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson and his litany of wildlife crimes (here)
  6. More detail emerges about SSPCA/Police Scotland raid at Millden Estate (here)
  7. Disgusting display of savagery on Yorkshire grouse moor (here)
  8. Monumentally inadequate sentence for convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson (here)
  9. Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Natural England suggests persecution not an issue (here)
  10. At least 72% satellite tagged hen harriers presumed illegally killed on grouse moors (here)

The blog will reach its ten year milestone in March 2020.

Happy New Year!

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.

29
Nov
19

General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate: welcome to the Twilight Zone

Earlier this week it was announced that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) had finally imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire ‘on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds’ (see here).

Before we proceed any further you should be aware that you are now entering the twilight zone, suspended somewhere between reality and fantasy.

[Leadhills Estate, photo by Ruth Tingay]

We’re in that bonkers scenario where despite Police Scotland providing “clear evidence that wildlife crimes have been committed on this property” (according to Nick Halfhide of SNH), the imposition of the General Licence restriction “does not infer responsibility for the commission of crimes on any individuals“. This leaves us on wafer-thin legal ice, not able to state what to us is the bleedin’ obvious for fear of a defamation claim, even though the original intention of Scottish Ministers was to use a General Licence restriction as a “reputational driver“.

General Licence restrictions have been available to SNH (although rarely used) since 1 January 2014, introduced by then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to continuing difficulties securing criminal prosecutions for those people still killing birds of prey. Paul instructed SNH to withdraw the use of General Licences (available for legal predator control) on land where crimes against raptors are believed to have taken place but where there was insufficient evidence to instigate criminal proceedings. The decision to withdraw the licence is based on a civil standard of proof which relates to the balance of probability as opposed to the higher standard of proof required for a criminal conviction.

A General Licence restriction is not without its limitations, and has even been described as farcical, particularly as estates can simply apply for an individual licence instead which allows them to continue predator control activities but under slightly closer scrutiny.

The Leadhills Estate and the surrounding area has been at the centre of wildlife crime investigations for decades. According to RSPB Scotland there have been over 60 confirmed raptor persecution incidents uncovered here, but only two successful prosecutions: a gamekeeper convicted for shooting a short-eared owl in 2004 and a gamekeeper convicted for laying poisoned baits out on the moor in 2009.

There have been a number of reported wildlife crimes here in recent years but because SNH isn’t keen on transparency, we don’t know which ones triggered the decision to impose the General Licence restriction. Was it the alleged witnessed shooting of a hen harrier in May 2017; the alleged witnessed shooting of a short-eared owl just a few weeks later and whose body was recovered; the discovery of a buzzard in 2018 that was found to have been shot twice; the filmed buzzard that according to the RSPB was likely killed in a crow trap in January 2019, or was it the discovery of a male hen harrier in May 2019 whose leg was almost severed by an illegally-set trap next to its nest?

We do know, from SNH’s press statement, that SNH believes “there is clear evidence that wildlife crimes have been committed on this property……” which sounds like multiple incidents have informed SNH’s decision to impose the restriction:

And because this is the twilight zone we also need to draw to your attention the Estate’s outright denials of any involvement in any of these alleged crimes – we particularly liked this one, in response to the illegally-trapped hen harrier earlier this year. Bless those little gamekeepers, finding it “very difficult” to cope with repeated crimes carried out by ‘unknown third parties’.

It’s probably just kids in stolen vehicles, right? Riding around the estate in 4 x 4s or on quad bikes, firing shotguns at protected wildlife. Let’s face it, who else would have vehicular access, firearms and a motive for wanting to kill birds of prey? Nope, nobody that we can think of.

Here is a copy of SNH’s restriction notice for Leadhills Estate, for the record:

We’ve got a lot more to say about this particular General Licence restriction but we’ll have to come back to it, hopefully within a few days. There are all sorts of interesting aspects to explore……

UPDATE 2 December 2019: SNH explains decision to impose General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate (here)

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.




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