Archive for the '2017 persecution incidents' Category

16
Mar
20

General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate: some fascinating details

In November 2019, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire following ‘clear evidence from Police Scotland that wildlife crimes had been committed on this estate’ (see here, here, and here).

Those alleged offences included the ‘illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers’ that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 1 January 2014 (when SNH was first given powers to impose a General Licence restriction). SNH had also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests had also been disturbed’, although there was no further detail on this. The estate consistently denied responsibility.

[The shot short-eared owl that was found shoved under some heather on the Leadhills Estate grouse moor. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

In December 2019 Leadhills Estate appealed against SNH’s decision to impose the General Licence restriction (see here) but on 31 January 2020 SNH announced that it had rejected the estate’s appeal and the General Licence restriction still stood (see here).

We were really interested in the details of Leadhills Estate’s appeal so a freedom of information request was submitted to SNH to ask for the documents.

The information released by SNH in response is fascinating. Some material hasn’t been released due to what appear to be legitimate police concerns about the flow of intelligence about wildlife crime in the Leadhills area but what has been released provides a real insight to what goes on behind the scenes.

First up is an eight page rebuttal from Leadhills Estate’s lawyers about why it thinks SNH was “manifestly unfair” to impose the General Licence restriction.

Download it here: Leadhills Estate appeal against GL restriction decision

Next comes SNH’s six-page rejection of the estate’s appeal and the reasons for that rejection.

Download it here: SNH rejects Leadhills Estate appeal against GLrestriction

Prepare for some jaw-dropping correspondence from Leadhills Estate’s lawyers, including a discussion about how the raptor workers who found the hen harrier trapped by it’s leg in an illegally-set spring trap next to its nest last year ‘didn’t take steps to assist in the discovery of the suspect, which could have included placing a camera on the nest’.

Are they for real??!! Can you imagine the uproar, had those raptor workers placed a camera pointing at the nest and identified a suspect who was subsequently charged? We’ve all seen how that scenario plays out, with video evidence dismissed as ‘inadmissible’ and the game-shooting lobby leering about the court victory. That Leadhills Estate is now arguing that the failure of the raptor workers to install covert cameras is reason for the estate to avoid a penalty is simply astonishing, although the next time covert video evidence is challenged in a Scottish court it’ll be useful to be able to refer to this estate’s view that such action would be deemed reasonable. Apart from anything else though, those raptor workers were too busy trying to rescue that severely distressed hen harrier from an illegally-set trap:

[The illegally trapped hen harrier. Photo by Scottish Raptor Study Group]

Other gems to be found within this correspondence include the news that a container of an illegal pesticide (Carbosulfan) was found on Leadhills Estate in May 2019 and contributed to SNH’s decision to impose the General Licence restriction (this information has not previously been made public – why not?) and that during a police search of the estate (sometime in 2019 but the actual date has been redacted) the police seized some traps. The details of why those traps were seized has also been redacted but SNH write, ‘Although this in itself does not establish criminality it certainly adds weight to our “loss of confidence” [in the estate]’.

The Estate claims that the alleged impartiality of the witnesses should have some bearing on proceedings but SNH bats this away with ease, saying that the evidence on which the restriction decision was made was provided by Police Scotland and that the partiality of witnesses has not been identified as a significant factor of concern for the police, and thus not for SNH either.

It’s also amusing to see the estate claim ‘full cooperation’ by the estate with police enquiries. SNH points out that this so-called ‘full cooperation’ was actually largely limited to “no comment” interviews!

We don’t get to say this very often but hats off to SNH for treating the estate’s appeal with the disdain which, in our opinion, it thoroughly deserves.

Meanwhile, following SNH’s decision in January to uphold the General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate due to ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime, we’re still waiting for Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) to respond to our enquiries about whether Leadhills Estate is still a member and whether Lord Hopetoun of Leadhills Estate is still Chairman of SLE’s Scottish Moorland Group.

 

31
Jan
20

Leadhills Estate loses appeal against General Licence restriction

Well this is very welcome news.

The Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in South Lanarkshire has lost its appeal to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) against a General Licence restriction which had been imposed on the estate after ‘clear evidence of wildlife crime’ was found on the grouse moor.

A quick re-cap:

In late November 2019 Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire, after receiving what it described as “clear evidence” of wildlife crimes from Police Scotland (see herehere and here).

Those alleged offences included the ‘illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers’ that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 1 January 2014 (when SNH was first given powers to impose a General Licence restriction). SNH had also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests had also been disturbed’, although there was no further detail on this. The estate has consistently denied responsibility.

[This male hen harrier was found with its leg almost severed, caught in an illegally-set trap next to its nest on Leadhills Estate in 2019. Despite valiant efforts by a top wildlife surgeon, the bird didn’t survive. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

On 10 December 2019 SNH lifted the General Licence restriction due to an on-going appeal by Leadhills Estate against the decision (see here), which meant the estate’s gamekeepers could go back to killing as many so-called ‘pest’ bird species as they liked, under General Licences 1,2 & 3, without any monitoring or reporting requirements whatsoever.

Today, SNH has completed the appeals process and has upheld its original decision to impose the General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate. SNH issued the following statement:

This General Licence restriction will now remain in place on Leadhills Estate until 26 November 2022, unless the estate tries to challenge SNH’s process via Judicial Review. It means that the estate can continue to kill so-called pest species but it can only do so if SNH grants individual licences to the gamekeepers which will prescribe terms and conditions of use and include a requirement to report on the number and species killed. The estate will also be subject to unnanounced visits by SNH staff to check compliance.

This is a feeble sanction for ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime. Although from our point of view it is better than nothing as we can now access any individual licences and the subsequent returns via FoI and gain a better insight in to the extent of [lawful] wildlife killing on this estate.

Of course, had an estate licensing scheme been in place, as recommended by the Werritty Review, Leadhills Estate may well now have been facing a period where it was not permitted to shoot red grouse for a number of years.

Also of great interest to us, now that Leadhills Estate has lost its appeal, is the ongoing relationship between Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate and Scottish Land & Estates, the moorland owners lobby group in Scotland. We’ve discussed this before (here) – Leadhills is a member of SLE and Lord Hopetoun is Chair of SLE’s Scottish Moorland Group, which is involved in the Gift of Grouse propaganda campaign etc.

We’d like to hear from SLE about whether Leadhills Estate will now be ejected as a member and if not, why not? We’d also like to hear whether Lord Hopetoun will continue as Chair of the Scottish Moorland Group.

Watch this space.

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.




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