Archive for the '2017 persecution incidents' Category

15
Apr
19

Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson accused of 12 wildlife crimes

Further to previous blogs on the prosecution of Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson for alleged wildlife crimes in the Scottish Borders (see here, here here and here) further details have emerged about the charges he faces.

From the Peebleshire News (12/4/19) (and with thanks to the blog reader who sent us a copy):

WILDLIFE CHARGES

A gamekeeper has been accused of 12 wildlife offences at Jedburgh Sheriff Court. Alan Wilson, 60, is charged with shooting two goshawks, four buzzards, a peregrine falcon, three badgers and an otter at Henlaw Wood, Longformacus, between March 2016 and May 2017.

He also faces charges of using a snare likely to cause partial suspension of animal or drowning, failing to produce snaring records within 21 days when requested to do so by police and no certificate for an air weapon.

Wilson, of xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx pleaded not guilty to all 12 charges and a trial date was set for June 13 with an intermediate hearing on May 27.

ENDS

Please note: we will not be accepting comments on this news item until legal proceedings have concluded. Thanks.

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13
Apr
19

Illegal trap user escapes trial after prosecution shambles

Here’s another example of another raptor persecution case collapsing.

This was published in the latest edition of Legal Eagle (#87), the RSPB Investigation Team’s newsletter:

It’s so frustrating. Yes, the CPS is massively under-resourced and struggling to cope with far more serious crimes than this, so even more justification, then, for the need for a specialist wildlife crime unit to investigate and then prosecute alleged offenders.

Who’d pay for that? Licence the entire game shooting industry, which is the industry responsible for the vast majority of raptor persecution crimes, and it’d raise millions. Sorted.

04
Apr
19

Prosecution continues against Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson for alleged wildlife crimes

The case against Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson continued with a procedural hearing at Jedburgh Sheriff Court on Monday 1st April.

Mr Wilson faces multiple charges of alleged wildlife crimes following a police raid on a shooting estate at Longformacus in the Scottish Borders in June 2017 (see here here and here).

Mr Wilson has not yet entered a plea but will have a chance to do so at another intermediate hearing, and depending on his plea, a potential trial date has been set to begin on 13 June 2019.

Please note: we will not be accepting comments on this news item until legal proceedings have concluded. Thanks.

22
Mar
19

Grouse shooting lease on wildlife crime grouse moor will not be renewed

The owner of Denton Moor, a company called NG Bailey, has announced it will not renew the grouse shooting lease to its current tenant following a spate of wildlife crime.

Denton Moor in the Nidderdale AONB in Yorkshire was where the RSPB filmed footage of several armed men, dressed as gamekeepers, shooting at a nesting Marsh harrier and removing eggs from the nest in May 2017 (see here). Despite good efforts from North Yorkshire Police, the armed men have not been identified.

[RPUK map showing the location of Denton Moor]

Last month gamekeeper Austin Hawke was convicted of wildlife crime on the same moor after a badger was found dead in a snare in May 2018 (see here).

Campaigners have been targeting NG Bailey for some time and the recent conviction of one of the shooting tenant’s gamekeepers seems to have been the last straw for the landowner.

David Hurcomb, Chief Exec said:

NG Bailey is aware of the prosecution of Austin Hawke, the gamekeeper who is employed by and works for the tenants. To clarify, Austin Hawke is not employed by Denton Park Estate. As a business, we find this behavior totally unacceptable and do not condone this type of conduct – it is not reflective of the company’s values or ethical practices. We have advised the tenants that under no circumstances will the lease be renewed when it expires”.

Excellent news. Although whether that means it’ll be leased to someone other than the current tenant remains to be seen. We’re not sure when the current lease expires.

The efforts of a wide range of people have led to this result, allowing campaigners to join up the dots and apply pressure. Well done to them all, including the RSPB Investigations team, North Yorkshire police, local raptor workers, the Crown Prosecution Service and local campaigners.

Well done also to David Hurcomb and his colleagues at NG Bailey – this is a very welcome decision.

26
Feb
19

Gamekeeper convicted of wildlife crime on Yorkshire grouse moor (where Marsh harrier nest attacked in 2017)

Today at Skipton Magistrates gamekeeper Austin Hawke was convicted of a wildlife crime that took place on a Yorkshire grouse moor in May 2018.

The offence related to a dead badger found caught in a snare close to a stink pit on Denton Moor on 28 May 2018. Hawke was found guilty of failing to check the snare contrary to section 11 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act.

[Photos of the dead snared badger and the stink pit, contributed by a blog reader who wishes to remain anonymous]

On conviction, Hawke was given a 12 month conditional discharge and ordered to pay a £20 victim surcharge and £625 costs.

A pathetically feeble penalty, again, but well done to North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force for pursuing this case and to the Crown Prosecution Service for securing the conviction.

What’s particularly interesting about this case is the location. This offence took place on Denton Moor and within one mile of the location of a Marsh harrier nest that was illegally attacked on several occasions in May 2017. The Marsh harrier nest was under video surveillance by the RSPB and the camera captured a number of armed gunmen, dressed as gamekeepers, who appeared to be shooting at the adult harriers and removing the eggs from the nest.

Despite a thorough investigation by North Yorkshire Police, nobody was ever charged for these alleged offences. As we’ve come to expect, the police received little help from the grouse shooting community when trying to identify the armed suspects.

Here is the map we created at the time, and below that is the RSPB’s video footage of the repeated attacks on the nest.

UPDATE 27 Feb 2019

North Yorkshire Police have issued the following press statement today:

A gamekeeper found guilty of committing a wildlife crime received a conditional discharge at Skipton Magistrates Court.

Austin Hawke, 51, of Ilkley, failed to check a snare following an incident at Denton on 29 May 2018 where a badger was found dead.

The offence is listed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Following a trial on Tuesday (26 February 2019), Hawke was found guilty and received the conditional discharge. He was also ordered to pay £645 costs and surcharge.

Sergeant Kev Kelly, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force, said: “This case was reported following a member of the public who was aware of our proactive work under Operation Owl.

From the evidence collected, it was apparent that the badger had suffered before it had eventually died after being caught in the snare. Therefore this case was fully investigated to ensure other animals didn’t undergo the same fate.

If the defendant had been using breakaway snares it is less likely that he would have killed the badger.

I am disappointed as we have been doing some really good partnership working with local Nidderdale keepers who want to show the public good practice and accountability.

Hawke’s conviction will no doubt have an impact on how his profession is viewed. I think he has done his wider colleagues a disservice.”

Geoff Edmond, RSPCA National Wildlife Coordinator, said: “The RSPCA continues to work closely with the North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force and this result highlights the strength of partnership working under Operation Owl.

“This badger will have suffered a horrific and prolonged death having been snared in this way.

“The RSPCA is against the use of snares because they are indiscriminate in what they catch and they cause tremendous suffering. But while they remain legal we hope we can work together with the Police and National Gamekeepers’ Organisation to raise awareness of the good practice guide so as to improve accountability.”

ENDS

14
Dec
18

New RSPB report details ongoing illegal slaughter of raptors on Scottish grouse moors

RSPB Scotland has published its latest report (The illegal killing of birds of prey in Scotland 2015-17 Report) which details amongst other things the ongoing illegal slaughter of birds of prey on Scottish grouse moors.

Press release from RSPB Scotland:

Grouse moor regulation vital to end illegal killing of Scotland’s raptors

A new RSPB Scotland report published today [Friday 14th December] has further reinforced the need for grouse moor regulation to be introduced in order to bring to an end to the widespread persecution of raptors in Scotland. The Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland 2015-17 details the clear associations between the decline or absence of these birds in parts of Scotland’s uplands, intensive grouse moor management and wildlife crime.

The report brings together evidence from police investigations, scientific research and eye-witness accounts and shows that the vast majority of these raptor persecution incidents are occurring in areas of Scotland’s uplands managed for intensive driven grouse shooting.

During the three-year period covered, there were 38 confirmed, detected incidents of illegal killing of protected birds of prey, including shooting, trapping, illegal poisoning and nest destruction. However, the evidence makes clear that the crimes being recorded are a fraction of what is actually taking place, despite claims by some in the grouse moor industry that raptor persecution is falling.

Such crimes are continuing to adversely impact the populations and ranges of several bird of prey species. A national survey of the UK’s hen harriers, undertaken in 2016, revealed that Scotland’s breeding population had fallen by nine percent since 2010, and that the number on grouse moors had plummeted by 57 percent. A further study, published in 2016, commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage, confirmed that the sustained level of illegal killing remains the major factor preventing the growth of northern Scotland’s red kite population.

Furthermore, in the case of 18 hen harriers fitted with satellite tags, and known to have died or whose transmitters failed between 2015-17, it is likely that eight were illegally killed on or close to grouse moors. Given that only a relatively small proportion of hen harriers are satellite tagged, the number of non-tagged birds being illegally killed will be far higher. This is also the case with other marked raptors, including golden eagles.

Yet, despite robust wildlife crime legislation, improved to a large extent since 1999 by the Scottish Parliament, there have been very few prosecutions. Only five individuals were convicted of offences related to raptor persecution in these three years. Most crimes take place in isolated rural areas, concealed from the public eye, and with perpetrators who have become increasingly adept in covering their tracks to prevent detection. However, the decisions by the Crown Office to drop four prosecutions linked to raptor persecution offences during this period raises the question of whether current wildlife protection legislation is fit for purpose, or if new laws are needed to allow more effective enforcement, and to act as a genuine deterrent.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “Scotland’s birds of prey are for many a source of national pride, but there are some who are persistently intent on doing them harm, in flagrant disregard of the law and the public interest. There is clear and repeated evidence that this criminal activity is largely taking place on Scotland’s grouse moors, but the grouse industry has not addressed this long-standing and endemic problem; instead we are seeing increasing signs of a culture where some grouse moor managers feel, and act, as if they are untouchable. We believe that the majority of the Scottish public have had enough; repeated warnings from Government have not been heeded, and the time must be right for tougher action”.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management said: “Intensive grouse moor management is having a disproportionate impact on our important upland ecosystems and specially protected birds and is blighting Scotland’s reputation as a place which respects vulnerable and protected wildlife. Self-regulation, voluntary codes of practice, and dialogue have all patently failed to address cultural and systematic criminality, as well as bad land management practices. We have reached a point where it is abundantly clear that driven grouse shooting must be made more publicly accountable and effectively regulated through a robust licensing system, conditional on legal and sustainable land management practices. Grouse moor owners who adhere to the law and best practice should have nothing to fear from this approach.”

An independent grouse moor review was set up by the Scottish Government in 2017, following the publication of a Scottish Natural Heritage Report, that concluded that many satellite tagged golden eagles were disappearing in “suspicious circumstances” in areas managed for intensive grouse shooting. The review is examining the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices and possible options for regulation and is due to report to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform in spring 2019.

ENDS

This report contains some fascinating information, some of it previously unpublished, and we’ll be blogging about some of those things in the coming days.

For now though, well done and thanks to the RSPB Scotland team for putting together this report (and thanks also for producing it as a PDF instead of a webzine!). This is undoubtedly the most strongly-worded RSPB annual report we’ve ever seen, which is perhaps an indication of just how little patience is left amongst those expecting the Government to take action against this relentless criminality from many within the grouse shooting sector.

12
Nov
18

Licences to kill marsh harriers on grouse moors – an update

In November last year we blogged about some second-hand information we’d received that the Moorland Association (the grouse moor owners’ lobby group in England) was interested in obtaining licences from Natural England for the lethal control of Marsh harriers (see here).

The issue was alleged to have been raised by Amanda Anderson (Director, Moorland Association) at a meeting of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG – the English/Welsh version of the PAW Raptor Group) on 9 November 2017.

The news was shocking. It was utterly ludicrous that grouse moor owners might consider this species such a significant threat to their over-stocked grouse populations that they would seek licences to kill it.

Marsh harriers are Amber listed on the UK Birds of Conservation Concern and are recovering from a virtual population wipeout – down to one known breeding pair in 1971 thanks to a combination of illegal persecution, habitat loss and DDT and currently with an estimated breeding population of 400-450 pairs.

[Male Marsh harrier by Markus Varesvuo]

Marsh harriers are locally common in some areas such as East Anglia but still extremely rare or absent in many others. They most commonly breed in lowland wetland habitat, particularly reedbeds but increasingly on farmland too. This female was found shot next to a lowland partridge release pen in East Yorkshire in 2016. Very rarely do they breed on upland grouse moors although when they do, they are illegally targeted by men dressed as gamekeepers.

When we blogged about the news that the Moorland Association was interested in licences for this species, Amanda Anderson denied the allegation with a two word tweet: “Complete nonsense“, but ignored all requests to clarify the MA’s position.

Amanda wasn’t the only one wanting to keep a lid on this. Philip Merricks (Hawk & Owl Trust) weighed in, even though he wasn’t at the meeting, and Chief Inspector Martin Sims, then head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit and who was at the meeting told us, “There was never any discussion about Marsh harriers” (see comments on this blog – scroll down towards the end).

It’s taken us a year, but we’ve finally got some pretty damning evidence that suggests this conversation did take place at the RPPDG meeting last November.

It’s taken us so long because DEFRA has given us the run around on a series of FoIs we submitted between Nov 2017 and July 2018. We asked for the minutes of the 9 Nov 2017 RPPDG meeting, and, suspecting that those minutes may be santised given the public furore over the alleged Marsh harrier licensing, we also asked for copies of all correspondence between RPPDG members relating to those minutes before they were finally approved.

DEFRA repeatedly failed to comply with the FoI regulations over a period of eight months and didn’t provide us with the information so eventually we resorted to threatening to report them to the Information Commissioner. Shortly afterwards, in August 2018, DEFRA finally released some (but not all!) the info we’d requested.

As expected, the minutes of the Nov meeting were heavily redacted: RPPDG-minutes_9-Nov-17_final_redacted

We looked for any discussion about licences for killing Marsh harriers but only found this:

There was an inference about licensing but nothing unequivocal, and the redactions meant we couldn’t be sure the subject had been raised by Amanda or another MA rep, nor with whom she/another rep was having the conservation.

The latter question was answered when we realised that whoever had done the redactions on those minutes hadn’t done a very good job and if the redacted version was pasted in to another programme the original, unredacted version appeared: Unredacted RPPDG minutes_9_Nov2017_final

The unredacted version was useful as it confirmed that Amanda was the only representative of the Moorland Association at that meeting and it also revealed that the above conversation had taken place between Amanda and ‘GS’ , who was identified in the minutes as Ginny Swaile from Natural England:

But still no mention of the word ‘licence’ or ‘lethal control’, just an inference.

So then we turned our attention to the correspondence between RPPDG members as they discussed the approval of the minutes. DEFRA released SOME of this correspondence (we know it wasn’t all of it) but did any of the members mention the inclusion/exclusion of a discussion on Marsh harrier licensing in the draft version of the minutes?

From what we can see, most of them didn’t mention Marsh harriers, although some of this email correspondence was redacted in parts and also the marked-up copy of the draft minutes was not made available to us, so it’s hard to be sure that most of them chose to ignore the subject, although that’s what it looks like, apart from Natural England and the Moorland Association who clearly commented on the issue but the redactions hide the details:

BASC comments (British Association for Shooting & Conservation)

CLA comments (Country Land & Business Association)

MA comments (Moorland Association)

NE comments1 (Natural England)

NE comments2 (Natural England)

NGO comments1 (National Gamekeepers Organisation)

NGO comments2 (National Gamekeepers Organisation)

Police comments (National Wildlife Crime Unit)

Welsh Gov comments (Welsh Government)

Yorkshire Dales NPA comments (Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority)

But there were two other RPPDG members whose correspondence we were particularly interested to see – the RSPB and the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF).

First up, the RSPB’s correspondence. Interestingly, and perhaps tellingly, DEFRA did not release the RSPB’s initial comments made to the RPPDG when the minutes were being discussed in early December 2017. Instead, they released two pieces of correspondence, one dated 18 January 2018 and the other dated 12 February 2018. Why do you think the early December correspondence was missing? Perhaps DEFRA ‘forgot’ to include it.

RSPB comments1 (dated 18 January 2018: Bob Elliot (then Head of RSPB Investigations) just asking DEFRA and RPPDG Chair Police Supt Chris Hankinson what was the status of the minutes)

RSPB comments2 (dated 12 February 2018: a heavily readacted email from Bob Elliot to the group saying he didn’t feel the minutes were an accurate reflection of the meeting but his reasons for this were all redacted):

Then we looked at the correspondence from NERF. Again, DEFRA had released two pieces of correspondence, one dated 7 December 2017 where Steve Downing (NERF Chairman) tells the RPPDG he is out of the country but will respond in detail the following week, and the other dated 17 April 2018 where Steve writes to Supt Hankinson telling him he objects to the sanitised final version of the minutes and that he intends to raise this issue at the next RPPDG meeting. Interestingly, and again perhaps tellingly, DEFRA did not release Steve’s email from December where he laid out his comments on the draft minutes. Hmmm.

NERF comments1 (dated 7 December 2017)

NERF comments2 (dated 17 April 2018, see copy below):

It was pretty clear to us by then that both the RSPB and NERF had objected to the way the minutes had been edited but we were still none the wiser about the specific details.

Having had a belly full of DEFRA’s ineptitude with our long-running FoI requests we decided to approach the RSPB and NERF directly to see if they would be prepared to share their unredacted RPPDG correspondence so we could see exactly what was going on.

Being gentlemen of principle, both Bob and Steve agreed but on the condition that they would only share with us their comments, and would redact the comments of any other RPPDG member. Fine by us, because the redacted names can be pieced together from the unredacted version of the minutes for those who want to look.

Here’s what they sent us:

The unredacted version of Bob’s RSPB email to the RPPDG dated 12 February 2018 (we have added the red box for clarity):

The unredacted ‘missing’ email from Steve to the RPPDG, dated 12 December 2017, outlining his recollections of the meeting on 9 Nov based on notes he’d taken during that meeting (we have added the red text box to highlight the bit about licences for the lethal control of Marsh harriers on grouse moors):

So there you have it. Two members of the RPPDG recall a discussion between the Moorland Association and Natural England about the potential for obtaining licences to kill Marsh harriers on grouse moors. None of the other RPPDG members seem to recall it, not even Amanda. Imagine that.

Here’s a reminder of Amanda’s response to our original blog in November last year:

For the record, we’ve checked with Natural England to see whether anyone has submitted an application for a licence to kill Marsh harriers but according to NE (if you believe them), nobody has. Yet.

This sordid episode of what looks like a massive cover-up /suppression exercise is no more than we would expect from the RPPDG. We’ve criticised this so-called ‘partnership’ for several years because, like many other ‘partnerships’, it has contributed absolutely nothing of any value towards the conservation of birds of prey since it was established in 2011. If Supt Chris Hankinson was still in charge of it we’d be calling for his resignation right about now.

Kudos to Bob Elliot (now Director of OneKind) and Steve Downing (NERF Chair) whose integrity speaks volumes. Bob must be delighted not to have to endure this cabal anymore.

However, as some of you may be aware, there’s a new Chair in town and he’s looking to shake things up at the RPPDG. Police Supt Nick Lyall took on the role in September 2018 and already we’ve seen more action from him in the last seven weeks than we have from Chairs over the previous seven years.

He’s bringing transparency to the group (we’ve already had a conversation about the need to provide un-redacted minutes from RPPDG meetings without having to chase them via FoI requests), he’s writing a blog to keep people informed of RRPDG activities, he’s active on Twitter (@SuptNickLyall), he’s inviting more conservation-focused groups to join the RPPDG to counter the current game shooting industry imbalance, and later this week we’ll be attending his national raptor persecution workshop where he intends to gather ideas to put together an action plan for the RPPDG, with measurable targets, instead of letting it fester from year to year with no direction and no accountability. If any blog readers have any ideas please leave a comment – we know Nick will be reading this post (to his credit, we gave him warning that this blog was coming and he didn’t try to dissuade us from writing it).




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