Archive for the '2017 persecution incidents' Category

26
Jun
20

Cairngorms National Park Authority statement on hen harrier persecution

Hen harrier persecution is a National Wildlife Crime Priority and the population in Scotland has suffered a 27% decline in the last 12 years. Losing over a quarter of the population in such a short period is a significant conservation concern and as such, we expect a strong response from the authorities whenever these crimes are exposed.

Earlier this month we learned that two satellite-tagged hen harriers (Wildland hen harrier 1 and Wildland hen harrier 2) had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on two grouse moors in September 2019, one within the Cairngorms National Park and one right on the Park boundary (see here). We don’t recall seeing any statement from the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

Yesterday we learned that two more satellite-tagged hen harriers, Hoolie and Marlin, had both ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances from grouse moors in the Cairngorms National Park in April 2020 (see here). We also learned that they both vanished on exactly the same grouse moors from where two other satellite-tagged hen harriers had also disappeared without trace (Hen harrier ‘Lad‘ in 2015 and Hen harrier Marci in 2019).

It’s bad enough that these birds continue to be persecuted even though they’ve had legal protection in the UK for 76 years, but when this keeps happening inside a so-called National Park and nobody is ever held to account, you have to wonder, in terms of species conservation, what’s the point of National Park status?

We asked Grant Moir, CEO of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, for a statement about these latest two suspicious disappearances and this is what he provided this afternoon:

It’s a strong statement in as much as the CNPA CEO recognises and fully accepts that these wildlife crimes continue in some areas of the National Park, which is in stark contrast to statements made by the grouse shooting industry reps today (more on this later) but it doesn’t offer a solution. It’s more of an exasperated shrug of the shoulders and a heavy reliance on the Scottish Government to respond well to the Werritty Review.

Is that it, then? Is the CNPA so impotent it can do nothing more than bemoan the persistent criminality within its boundary? This has been going on since 2002 (the Park wasn’t formally established until 2003 but we’ve included 2002 data as the area had been mapped by then). This list includes just the crimes we know about. How many more went unreported/undiscovered? How many more will we have to read about before the criminals are held to account?

ILLEGAL RAPTOR PERSECUTION INCIDENTS CAIRNGORMS NATIONAL PARK

2002

Feb: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Tomintoul (No prosecution)

Mar: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + 2 rabbit baits. Cromdale (No prosecution)

2003

Apr: 3 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + 2 grey partridge baits. Kingussie (No prosecution)

Jun: Attempted shooting of a hen harrier. Crannoch (Successful prosecution)

2004

May: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cuaich (No prosecution)

Nov: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

2005

Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Mar: 3 x poisoned buzzards, 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Crathie (No prosecution)

2006

Jan: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Dulnain Bridge (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned raven (Mevinphos). Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Morven [corbett] (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned raven + 1 x poisoned common gull (Aldicarb) + egg bait. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

May: egg bait (Aldicarb). Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenfeshie (No prosecution)

2007

Jan: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Glenshee (No prosecution)

Apr: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: Pole trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Tomintoul (No prosecution)

May: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit & hare baits. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jul: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Ballater (No prosecution)

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Newtonmore (No prosecution)

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

2008

Jan: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Mar: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

2009

May: 2 x poisoned ravens (Mevinphos). Delnabo (No prosecution)

Jun: rabbit bait (Mevinphos). nr Tomintoul (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Strathdon (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x illegal crow trap. Nr Tomintoul (No prosecution)

2010

Apr: Pole trap. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x pole-trapped goshawk. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Jun: Illegally set spring trap on tree stump. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Sep: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenlochy (No prosecution)

Oct: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Nr Boat of Garten (No prosecution)

2011

Jan: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Bridge of Brown (No prosecution)

Mar: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Apr: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran & Aldicarb). Nr Bridge of Brown (No prosecution)

May:  1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

May: 1 x shot short-eared owl, found stuffed under rock. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x shot peregrine. Pass of Ballater (No prosecution)

Aug: grouse bait (Aldicarb). Glenlochy (No prosecution)

Sep: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

Nov: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

2012

Apr: 1 x shot short-eared owl. Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Apr: Peregrine nest site burnt out. Glenshee (No prosecution)

May: Buzzard nest shot out. Nr Ballater (No prosecution)

2013

Jan: White-tailed eagle nest tree felled. Invermark (No prosecution)

May: 1 x shot hen harrier. Glen Gairn (No prosecution)

May: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat

2014

Apr: Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat

May: Armed masked men shoot out a goshawk nest. Glen Nochty (No prosecution)

2015

Sep: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Lad’ found dead, suspected shot. Newtonmore (No prosecution)

2016

May: 1 x shot goshawk. Strathdon (No prosecution)

Jun: Illegally set spring traps. Invercauld (No prosecution)

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Brian’ ‘disappears’. Kingussie

2017

Mar: Satellite-tagged golden eagle #338 ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Calluna’ ‘disappears’. Ballater

2018

May: Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle Blue T ‘disappears’. Ballater

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Athena’ ‘disappears’. Nr Grantown on Spey

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Margot’ ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

Sept: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Stelmaria’ ‘disappears’. Ballater

2019

April: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Marci’ ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

April: Four geese poisoned and Carbofuran bait found on an estate nr Kingussie (no prosecution)

August: Golden eagle photographed with a spring trap dangling from its foot, nr Crathie, Deeside

September: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Wildland 1 ‘disappears’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal

September: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Wildland 2 ‘disappears’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld

2020

April: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Hoolie ‘disappears’ on grouse moor nr Newtonmore

April: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Marlin ‘disappears’ on grouse moor nr Strathdon

In addition to the above list, two recent scientific publications have documented the long-term decline of breeding peregrines on grouse moors in the eastern side of the National Park (see here) and the catastrophic decline of breeding hen harriers, also on grouse moors in the eastern side of the Park (see here).

 

11
May
20

North Yorkshire police warn public of potential poisonous baits at Pateley Bridge

North Yorkshire Police are warning the public of potential poisonous baits at Pateley Bridge in Nidderdale following the suspected poisoning of two dogs in April. [August 2020: See update at foot of blog]

The following message was emailed to members of the local community last week:

This suspected poisoning incident was referred to by the Police in a recent Yorkshire Post article about raptor persecution in the area:

Nidderdale residents will be used to receiving these warnings; there have been several in recent years (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here) as illegal poisonous baits have been used routinely to kill off red kites inside this AONB and the surrounding area (e.g. see here).

Dog walkers are urged to keep their pets under close control and report anything suspicious to the police. DO NOT HANDLE A SUSPECTED POISONOUS BAIT – some of the chemicals used as poison are so dangerously toxic they have been banned from use in the UK.

UPDATE 1 August 2020: Dog poisoning confirmed in Nidderdale raptor persecution hotspot (here)

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.

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)




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