Archive for the '2017 persecution incidents' Category

08
Sep
17

GWCT twisting the truth about hen harrier persecution, again

A few days ago we blogged about a series of letters published in The Times (Scotland) relating to the disappearance of a young satellite-tagged hen harrier Calluna, who recently vanished after visiting a Deeside grouse moor.

Scottish Land & Estates used the incident as an opportunity to falsely accuse the RSPB of not following agreed protocols, presumably in a pathetic attempt to detract attention from the ongoing criminality associated with the driven grouse shooting industry. We’ve come to expect no better from this organisation.

As a follow on from those letters, another industry figure, Andrew Gilruth from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), decided to join in and spew out some more fakery, this time in The Times (London edition). Here’s what he wrote, published 7 Sept 2017:

HEN HARRIER HABITAT

Sir,

The RSPB are right to say an organisation must not “ignore facts to suit its narrow agenda” (letter, Sep 5). The most productive location for hen harrier nests, 47 fledged young from 12 nests, was achieved by gamekeepers on Langholm Moor just three years ago. However, their improvement of the moorland habitat and protection of these ground nesting birds from foxes has now ended, because conservationists could not agree on how to also recover grouse numbers. Should hen harrier numbers drop to the two pairs there were before these gamekeepers arrived in 2008, the birds might ask who has the narrowest agenda.

Andrew Gilruth
Director of Communications
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

You’ll notice how Andrew’s distraction technique has cleverly moved the story away from the news of Calluna’s suspicious disappearance from a grouse moor and has instead tried to re-focus the story on to how great grouse moors are for hen harriers. Unfortunately for Andrew, choosing the Langholm Moor study as an example to support this theory was not the brightest idea.

Here’s why, succinctly explained in a letter published in The Times (London) today:

ABSENCE OF HARRIERS

Sir,

Andrew Gilruth’s letter (September 7) brings to mind Kipling’s poem ‘If’ for the manner in which it twists the truth to make a trap for fools.

The single and only reason Langholm Moor supported 12 harrier nests that fledged 47 young was that the gamekeepers working on this collaborative demonstration project were under strict instructions not to kill them and operate within the law. It is very telling that no other driven grouse moors in Scotland (or the rest of the UK) can equal this hen harrier population or productivity. What this statistic actually suggests, therefore, is the rampant scale of illegal killing of this majestic bird, given its landscape-wide absence and the lack of breeding success on all other driven grouse moors and which our members, (who are licenced by Scottish Natural Heritage), monitor across Scotland every year.

Logan Steele

Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG)

Logan hits the nail on the head. If driven grouse moors are so great for breeding hen harriers, why are we seeing an almost total absence of breeding hen harriers on these moors, year after year after year? Of course, the disgusting truth is already well known.

Andrew Gilruth’s letter has been widely shared on social media by the criminal apologists and has been followed up with other examples of supposedly typical driven grouse moors that have good hen harrier breeding figures this year. Unfortunately, these people are as scientifically illiterate as Andrew Gilruth and have used wholly inappropriate examples to illustrate their (fake) claims, e.g. Leadhills Estate, which had nine hen harrier nests this year, but this estate hasn’t seen any driven grouse shooting for a number of years (see here). There are other claims of “an estate in Perthshire” with 12-15 hen harrier nests this year – the estate hasn’t been named (natch) but they might be referring to Atholl Estate, which these days is a pretty good estate with a sympathetic management approach to breeding raptors, but only offers walked-up grouse shooting, not driven grouse shooting, so any successfull hen harrier nests there this year cannot be attributed to driven grouse moor management. Sorry, trolls, you must try harder.

Anyway, getting back to the actual news, that hen harrier Calluna is the latest in a long, long, long, long line of satellite-tagged raptors that ‘disappear’ after visiting certain driven grouse moors, it’s been a week since the RSPB appealed for information.

We’ve been looking at the social media accounts of various shooting industry organisations to see how much effort these ‘leaders’ have put in to encouraging their members to pass on information to the police. You can probably guess what we found (or didn’t find). That tells its own story about the sincerity and commitment of the industry to rid itself of its dirty criminals. Mark Avery has a pretty good explanation about the industry’s refusal to reform (see here) and Andrew Gilruth’s chronic propaganda patter gives Mark’s theory much credence.

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04
Sep
17

Political silence in response to missing hen harrier ‘Calluna’

Raptor persecution, and particularly the illegal killing of hen harriers, has been identified as a National Wildlife Crime Priority.

Interesting then, that following last Friday’s news that Police Scotland is investigating the disappearance of another missing hen harrier (‘Calluna‘), who vanished in suspicious circumstances on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in August, the political response has been total silence.

Roseanna Cunningham MSP, the Environment Cabinet Secretary, said nothing.

Mairi Gougeon MSP, the Hen Harrier Species Champion, said nothing.

Alexander Burnett MSP, in whose constituency Calluna ‘disappeared’, said nothing.

The PAW Scotland website, hosted by the Scottish Government, said nothing.

Alexander Burnett MSP (Conservative), presumably no relation to Bert Burnett of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, has spoken before on the subject of illegal raptor persecution, as well he might, given the high number of reported raptor persecution incidents in his Aberdeenshire West constituency, particularly those recorded on grouse moors areas either within or close to the Cairngorms National Park:

Unfortunately, Alexander doesn’t agree that a licensing scheme for gamebird shooting is required. During the recent deliberations of the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee, he said the proposed licensing system was “inappropriate, disproportional and unworkable for the issue of wildlife crime that it seeks to address” and he voted for the licensing petition to be dropped in favour of keeping the status quo.

He also told one of his constituents earlier this summer, in response to a letter about the illegal persecution of hen harriers on grouse moors, that:

Game management on grouse moors can make an important contribution to biodiversity by providing cover for wildlife, and through the creation and care of habitats such as woodland, grouse moors, beetle banks and hedgerows‘.

Hmm, that statement sounds familiar. Where have we heard that before? Ah yes, it was part of a standard response trotted out to constituents by a succession of Westminster Conservative MPs last year in the run up to the Westminster ‘debate’ on driven grouse shooting. As pointed out by Mark Avery at the time:

Grouse shooting does not help create or protect woodland – in fact trees are not welcome on grouse moors. Grouse shooting does not create beetle banks – these are conservation measures in arable fields. Grouse shooting does not protect hedgerows – these are not a feature of grouse moors. Take out those errors and your letter says ‘grouse shooting provides grouse moors’.

Have another look at that raptor persecution map of the Aberdeenshire West constituency. If it is of concern to you, and you are one of Alexander Burnett’s constituents, please consider writing to him and ask him to explain the widespread criminality within his constituency, particularly in areas managed for grouse and pheasant shooting, and ask him how he intends to address your ongoing concerns.

Email: Alexander.Burnett.MSP@parliament.scot

02
Sep
17

On cue, Scottish landowners’ rep attacks RSPB re: missing hen harrier Calluna

In a move that is fast becoming as predictable as the disappearance of a satellite-tagged raptor on a driven grouse moor, a representative of landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) has launched an attack on the RSPB following yesterday’s news that hen harrier Calluna has ‘disappeared’ after visiting a Deeside grouse moor.

In an article published in today’s Press & Journal (here), David Fyffe, Board Director of SLE and Chairman of SLE’s north-east branch accuses the RSPB of “smearing shooting groups” and ‘not following the agreed protocol’ when the bird went missing.

In comments which echo those that SLE Chairman David Johnstone made in the press yesterday, Mr Fyffe argues that local landowners should have been alerted as soon as the tag stopped transmitting so that estate staff could ‘help with the search’.

Ah yes, it’s always a great idea to ask potential suspects to help search a potential crime scene to secure potential evidence. Genius.

Who remembers what happened the last time estate staff ‘assisted’ in a search for a missing satellite-tagged raptor? Here’s a reminder – the RSPB staff who were working with Police Scotland staff were falsely accused of being ‘Masked intruders‘, ‘Masked RSPB thugs‘ and ‘RSPB representatives conducting themselves like hunt saboteurs wearing intimidating hoods and masks’ (see here).

And as pointed out in a comment made by a blog reader yesterday, in the case of missing hen harrier Calluna, had the RSPB notified the estate on 12th August when the tag stopped transmitting, the grouse-shooting industry would have wailed vociferously that the timing was just a publicity stunt designed to coincide with the opening of the grouse-shooting season.

It’s all part of a very familiar pantomime.

The RSPB was accused earlier this year of ‘openly ignoring’ the agreed PAW protocol for missing satellite-tagged raptors by not immediately informing the local landowner. At the time we showed that this allegation was blatantly untrue. David Fyffe’s allegation is also a complete fabrication. Here’s a copy of the agreed PAW protocol:

In the case of missing hen harrier Calluna, the sudden cessation of her satellite tag signal was suspicious. Usually if a satellite tag is about to have a technical malfunction there will be prior warning signs in the associated engineering data, particularly a drop in battery voltage  – see here.  But Calluna’s tag was reported to be “working perfectly” prior to its abrupt stop.

In addition to this, Calluna’s tag stopped working in an area with a known history of illegal raptor persecution.

So, having established that the circumstances of Calluna’s disappearance were suspicious, what does the PAW protocol flow chart indicate should happen next? Does it say ‘immediately inform the landowner’? No, of course it doesn’t. It says ‘Contact local police’.

David Fyffe owes the RSPB an apology. Getting one will be as unlikely as hen harrier Calluna being found safe and well (it could happen but nobody’s holding their breath).

UPDATE: 5 September 2017: Scottish Land & Estates and their indefensible distortion of the truth (see here).

31
Aug
17

Raven-killing licence, breeding hen harriers & return of a familiar name at Leadhills Estate

Regular readers of this blog will be very familiar with the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in South Lanarkshire. We’ve been blogging about it for years, not only as a well known hotspot for illegal raptor persecution but also because of the owners’ links to the establishment and to landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates.

Here’s a map showing the location of Leadhills Estate (dotted lines show the estate boundary of neighbouring Buccleuch Estate, which has in the past been partly ‘managed’ by Leadhills Estate gamekeepers. Estate boundaries from Andy Wightman’s excellent website Who Owns Scotland).

A few months ago we submitted an FoI to SNH on an unrelated issue, and after some prevarication, we’ve finally received a response. Part of that response was quite surprising, on two levels.

First, it turns out that SNH has been issuing licences to kill ravens on Leadhills Estate for the last three years. The evidence supplied to justify the licences seems pretty thin, at best. Have a look at the licence applications, which are remarkably similiar, submitted on behalf of Linlithgow Farms Ltd and the Leadhills Trust here: Leadhills Raven Licence

We don’t know much about the population status of ravens in this part of Scotland but if any blog readers have detailed knowledge, we’d be pleased to hear about it.

However, also of interest to us was the headed notepaper used in the licensing correspondence between the applicant and SNH. Well, well, well, look who’s back:

As many of you will know, this is one of Mark Osborne’s companies. Osborne has a long history with Leadhills Estate. Between 2003-2006 he was listed as a Director of Leadhills Sporting Ltd, a company who held the sporting rights at Leadhills. Osborne resigned in 2006, shortly after the police raided the estate for alleged wildlife crimes (no prosecutions followed).

The sporting rights were later put up for sale in 2008 and Osborne was cited as joint agent (with Savills Estate Agent) in the sale. The sporting rights were again offered for sale in 2013 on a ten-year lease although it’s not clear whether Osborne was involved and it’s not known whether anyone took on the lease. We suspect not, as according to our local sources there hasn’t been any grouse shooting at Leadhills for a number of years; a fact verified by the estate earlier this year in a press release issued by Media House following the reported shooting of a hen harrier on the estate.

The reported shooting of a hen harrier at Leadhills was a bit of a surprise to us. Since the driven grouse shooting stopped and the number of full-time gamekeepers was reduced from ten to two, hen harriers have been making a bit of a comeback here. In 2015 there were three successful nests and this year there are reports of nine nests, and certainly some of those (if not all) have been successful. This is very, very welcome news and we hope, if driven grouse shooting does begin again on these moors, that the hen harriers will continue to thrive.

So, in the absence of driven grouse shooting and the estate’s tolerance of breeding hen harriers, the reported shooting in May of a hen harrier, by an armed man on a quad bike, was very disappointing. This was then closely followed by the reported shooting of a short-eared owl on the estate, this time by an armed man driving a black 4×4 vehicle. Police investigations continue in both cases.

We’re keen to see whether SNH considers the reported shooting of a hen harrier and a short-eared owl sufficient grounds for restricting the use of the General Licence at Leadhills Estate. We’ll have to wait and see. It’s a process that JM Osborne & Co will be quite familiar with; this sporting agency is involved with the management of Raeshaw Estate which had it’s General Licence restricted in 2015 after police uncovered evidence of attempted raptor persecution, and the estate has recently had its subsequent ‘Individual Licence’ revoked and a police investigation is underway for more alleged wildlife crime offences.

Interesting times.

22
Aug
17

Another red kite found shot dead in County Down

A three-month old red kite has been found shot dead in County Down, Northern Ireland.

The bird, hatched in May and tagged ‘Black 5W’, was found dead on a public road last Thursday (17 August 2017) outside Moneyslane, between Banbridge and Newcastle.

An initial x-ray revealed pieces of shot in the bird’s corpse and the body has now been sent for a full post-mortem.

Anyone with information on the incident can contact the Police Service of Northern Ireland on the non-emergency number 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, quoting reference number 837 of 17/8/17.

Further details on BBC News (here) and the Belfast Telegraph (here).

The tiny, reintroduced red kite population in Northern Ireland is under serious threat from on-going persecution. Another red kite was found shot in Co Down in 2015 (here) and in 2014, four kites were illegally killed in Co Down (one was shot, three were poisoned – see here).

In 2016, in response to a PAW report on raptor persecution in Northern Ireland, a new, multi-agency initiative called ‘Operation Raptor‘ was launched, aimed at targeting those who continue to kill protected birds of prey.

21
Aug
17

Police appeal in suspected peregrine poisoning incident

Press release from Devon & Cornwall Police, 18 August 2017:

POISONED PEREGRINE FALCON: WITNESS APPEAL

Officers are investigating an incident after being contacted by staff at Glendinning Quarry in Ashburton, on Tuesday 15 August, following reports of an injured Peregrine falcon.

The falcon had been located on the floor of the quarry which is home to a breeding pair of Peregrine falcons.

Devon and Cornwall Police Wildlife Crime Officer, PC Josh Marshall, sought that the juvenile Peregrine falcon was given the immediate care it required. However, the bird died the next day.

PC Marshall said: “The initial inspection and condition of the bird strongly suggests that this bird had been poisoned. The bird has now been placed into the Wildlife Investigation scheme administered by Natural England where it will be forensically examined to establish the cause of death and a police investigation has now begun into the incident.

Members of the public are warned that poisons commonly used to commit a crime like this are incredibly toxic to humans and pets. Should any person locate any dead or injured birds they are strongly advised not to touch them or let pets come into contact with them.

Ingestion of these poisons can lead to death. It is incredibly concerning that individuals are using these types of chemicals within public areas that not only kill our wildlife but could also place members of the public, children and their animals into harm’s way.

The area of Ashburton and neighbouring Buckfastleigh is unfortunately a hot spot for poisoning of these birds of prey. Previous incidents at the site are as follows:

2011 – 1 poisoned Peregrine falcon at White Cleaves (Buckfastleigh) Quarry – substance used – Aldicarb and Carbofuran.

2005 – Poisoned bait (racing pigeon) Glendinnings Quarry– substance used Aldicarb. A live bird with clipped wings. Adults missing presumed dead, chicks rescued. Police fitted telemetry device to see if pigeon would relocate but this failed. In Legal Eagle 47, page 5.

2005 – 1 poisoned peregrine and 1 poisoned bait (pigeon) – substance used – Aldicarb, peregrine found on dead pigeon which had wings clipped.

2003 – Two men with a pigeon on a length of string appearing to try and lure peregrines from the top of White Cleaves (Buckfastleigh) Quarry. Police visited site but men had gone.

2000 – 1 poisoned Peregrine, substance used Aldicarb at Glendinnings quarry

2000 – 1 shot Sparrowhawk near Buckfastleigh (it lived).

1992 – 2 dead peregrines at White Cleaves (Buckfastleigh), with pigeon flesh in crop – tested positive for Malathion.

As can been seen from this data, the use of illegal banned poisons are evident and put the public at significant risk. In the 2005 incident, a number of children could have been harmed or potentially worse when the poisoned bait (a racing pigeon) was located wondering around near to a childminders address.

Significantly racing pigeons have been used as the bait for a number incidents both here and nationally and the answer to solving and preventing these poisonings could lie somewhere within a rogue minority of the racing pigeon community.

Peregrine falcons do not differentiate between prey items such as wild pigeons and racing pigeons, this obviously causes conflict with some prize racing pigeons being taken by these birds of prey.

Generally the method used will be to smear the bait with a vasaline type substance containing the poison onto either a live or dead bird. When the Peregrine plucks and eats the bait item the poison is then ingested and kills the bird. The bird dies then endures an excruciating few hours whilst waiting to die.

South West Peregrines, a volunteer group who monitor these birds and others within the South West, have described the incident as ‘abhorrent’.

We are urging members of the local community to come forward with any information they may have that can assist in bringing these offenders to justice”.

Information is handled in the strictest of confidence and can be passed directly to PC Marshall at Joshua.marshall2@devonandcornwall.pnn.police.uk or by email 101@dc.police.uk or calling 101 quoting log number 0223 180817.

Information can be passed anonymously to Crimestoppers via 0800 555111 or the charity’s website at www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Tony Whitehead speaking for RSPB in the South West said: “Peregrines are magnificent and much-loved birds, whose comeback over the past twenty years is a conservation success. However, once again, it appears the peregrines at this site have been deliberately targeted and, it is suspected, poisoned.

Should this prove to be the case, this is outrageous and the criminals must be brought to justice. We are also concerned that, should this again prove to be a poisoning, someone is wantonly placing toxic chemicals in the countryside which can be a danger to both humans and pets.

Someone in the local community must have information about who’s doing this and we urge people to come forward and contact the police. A £1,000 reward has been offered by the RSPB for information that directly leads to the prosecution of the offender.

ENDS

17
Aug
17

Harry didn’t kill Sally

The Sun’s take on the news that satellite-tagged Montagu’s harrier, Sally, has ‘disappeared’ in Norfolk:




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