Archive for the '2017 persecution incidents' Category


Scottish gamekeeper pleads guilty to animal cruelty offence

A Scottish gamekeeper has been banned from keeping birds of prey for 10 years after keeping an eagle owl in a cramped pigsty.

The large owl was discovered by SSPCA investigators last summer.

This week gamekeeper Alan Wilson admitted failing to protect the bird from suffering when he appeared at Jedburgh Sheriff Court.

The court heard how the 59-year-old kept the owl in a filthy boarded-up pigsty at his home at Henlaw Cottages, near Longformacus.

Photos by SSPCA

Jedburgh Sheriff Court was told that investigators received a tip-off and found the owl in “utterly unacceptable living conditions” on June 5 2017.

Gamekeeper Wilson pleaded guilty to the offence under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2006.

Wilson was ordered to sign over custody of the owl to the Scottish SPCA and in addition to the 10 year disqualification, he was fined £400.

An undercover Scottish SPCA spokesman said: “This case involved an eagle owl who had its welfare compromised by being kept in utterly unacceptable living conditions.

The Scottish SPCA worked in partnership with Police Scotland to seize and rescue the bird as well as providing expertise.

Both wild and captive raptors can suffer if their welfare falls below that of adequate standards.

Eagle owls are large, strong predators and like all captive predators require specialist care and expertise.

The eagle owl is currently being cared for by the Scottish SPCA and is doing well.”

Excellent partnership-working between Police Scotland and the SSPCA. Well done to all involved.

We believe this case is connected to the multi-agency raid on a game shooting estate last June (see here). It is not known if any further charges are being brought in relation to that raid.

It’s not the first time a gamekeeper with an Eagle Owl has come to the attention of the authorities in this region. In April last year we blogged about an unidentified gamekeeper who had been photographed with a tethered Eagle Owl on a grouse moor in the nearby Lammermuirs (see here).


Marsh harrier nest attacked on Yorkshire grouse moor: an update

In August 2017 we blogged about how a marsh harrier nest on Denton Moor in Nidderdale, Yorkshire had been repeatedly attacked by armed men dressed as gamekeepers (see here).

The adult harriers had been shot at and the eggs had been removed from the nest during a series of visits in May 2017, all caught on camera by the RSPB.

North Yorkshire Police launched an investigation, including a public appeal for information, and the RSPB released its video footage in the hope that somebody might be able to identify any of the armed men.

Unsurprisingly, there was a deafening silence from the leading representatives of the grouse-shooting industry (Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, Countryside Alliance, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust), which can’t have helped the efforts being made by the police.

As is so often the case we didn’t hear any more about this investigation and we assumed that in the absence of any witnesses or new evidence, and the wall of silence from the shooting industry, the case had been quietly parked along with all the others that never make it to court. However, it seems we’d underestimated North Yorkshire Police’s new Rural Taskforce.

Earlier this week, the RSPB Investigations Team provided an update on this criminal investigation and it’s quite clear that North Yorkshire Police has deployed a certain level of creative determination in its efforts to bring these criminals to justice.

According to the RSPB blog, North Yorkshire Police had tried to use forensic voice analysis to compare the voices caught on the camera footage with the voices of several suspects who had been brought in for interview. Unfortunately, the sound captured on the video footage was of insufficient quality to allow a comparison. That’s a shame, but full marks to the police for trying.

Think how much easier it would be, not to mention the savings to the public purse, if those within the grouse shooting industry stepped forward to help the police identify these criminal gunmen dressed as gamekeepers on this Yorkshire grouse moor.


Last chance saloon for Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative

Following last week’s news that the RSPB has terminated its involvement with the failed Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative (here), one of the local raptor study groups has now issued a statement on where it stands.

The Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group, which has played a central role in raptor monitoring and providing breeding data for the Initiative, has decided to give the Initiative one last chance to succeed, despite strong reservations about the intent of the local grouse shooting industry, particularly the gamekeepers and the Moorland Association.

The full statement can be read on the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group’s website, here.

The Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative is in the last chance saloon. We learned last week that the Peak District National Park Authority will be “looking for an increase in birds in the breeding season before committing to working with the other organisations in the Initiative beyond 2018” (see here).

All eyes on the Dark Peak this spring.


Gamekeepers’ attempts to suppress Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative report

Earlier this week we blogged about how the Moorland Assocation had blocked the publication of an official press statement on the failed Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative (here) and then shortly afterwards how the RSPB had terminated its involvement with this project (here).

We said at the time that it wasn’t just the Moorland Association that was disrupting this ‘partnership’, but that the local gamekeepers had also played their part. Here’s the evidence, sourced via an FoI to the Peak District National Park Authority:

On 8th November 2017, Rhodri Thomas (Peak District National Park Authority) sent around a copy of the draft Bird of Prey Initiative (BoPI) Report 2016-2017 to all members of the BoPI, asking for comments before the report was published. Here is that draft report: Draft BoPI 2016 2017 report

On 10th November 2017, Amanda Anderson (Director, Moorland Association) had a telephone conversation with Rhodri Thomas about the draft report. We don’t know the full details of that conversation but judging from Rhodri’s email to Amanda shortly afterwards, it’s clear that Amanda was questioning the accuracy of the report:

On 25th November 2017, Amanda wrote to Rhodri and sent him a copy of the draft BoPI report with comments from the local gamekeepers, compiled by ‘Richard’ (a gamekeeper). The main thrust is that the gamekeepers don’t accept the report as accurate, apparently do not understand the BoPI’s terms of reference six years on, and don’t want the 2016/2017 report to be published. Here is a copy of those comments:

Gamekeeper comments in response to draft 2016 2017 BoPI report

And here is Amanda’s email to Rhodri, basically supporting the gamekeepers’ comments:

On 26 November, Rhodri emailed Amanda with his intitial thoughts on the gamekeepers’ comments:

On 27 November 2017, Rhodri wrote a more detailed reponse to Amanda about the gamekeepers’ comments:

Rhodri also sent Amanda his annotated comments to the gamekeepers’ complaints, rejecting the vast majority as being either irrelevant or inaccurate. Here it is (and it’s worth a read): Rhodri response to gamekeeper comments on draft 2016 2017 BoPI report

On 29 November, Rhodri sent the final version of the 2016/2017 BoPI report to the whole group, but before he did, he also sent this explanatory email to Amanda and Robert Benson (Chair, Moorland Assoc) to clarify why he had rejected the majority of the gamekeepers’ comments:

Later the same day, the Moorland Association refused to sign the joint press statement announcing how the BoPI had once again failed to meet any of its targets, and so the 2016/2017 report was quietly posted on the Peak District National Park Authority website without any formal announcement. We blogged about that decision here.

The emails and documents we’ve posted here provide just a flavour of the efforts Rhodri and his team have made to keep the partnership on track and to maintain the focus on tackling rampant illegal raptor persecution within the Dark Peak. In our view the Moorland Association and the gamekeepers have been working to an entirely different agenda (and the BoPI results support this view) whilst enjoying the PR gains of being seen as partners working towards improved raptor protection in the National Park.

The Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative is the epitome of a sham partnership and we applaud the RSPB for calling it out, and getting out.


Moorland Association blocks official statement on raptor persecution in Peak District National Park

Regular blog readers will be familiar with the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative (BoPI). This so-called partnership was established in 2011 and was originally a five-year project which aimed to restore declining populations of some raptor species in the Dark Peak region of the Peak District National Park.

BoPI partners included the Moorland Association, The National Trust, Natural England, Peak District National Park Authority and the RSPB. Two local raptor study groups (the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group and the South Peak Raptor Study Group) were also involved.

The BoPI was deemed necessary following years of evidence of wide scale raptor persecution on grouse moors within the region (e.g. see RSPB summary reports here and here). However, the Moorland Association put its own ludicrous spin on the situation by publishing an article to announce the launch of the BoPI but using the misleading headline: ‘Birds of prey thriving on grouse moors’.

By 2015, the BoPI had failed to meet any of its targets (see here). However, in a press release the Peak District National Park Authority said the BoPI would continue and claimed there was “renewed commitment” from the project partners as well as “new rigour and energy” to restore the breeding success of raptors in the Dark Peak.

Strangely, the BoPI failed to publish an annual report in 2016.

In late November 2017, the BoPI published its 2017 annual report, which was bundled together with the 2016 report (see here). Once again, the BoPI had failed to meet any of its targets and for the first time since 1984, there were no successfully breeding peregrines in the Dark Peak. This was clearly a failing partnership.

The results came as no surprise to anybody, but what was surprising, and as we blogged at the time, was that there wasn’t an accompanying press statement from the Peak District National Park Authority or from the BoPI – the annual report was quietly uploaded to a page on the Peak Park Authority’s website that you had to work quite hard to find.

Well now, after an FoI request, we know why.

There was a clear intention by the Peak District National Park Authority to issue a press statement on behalf of the BoPI, but this was blocked by project ‘partner’ the Moorland Association.

Here is the draft press statement produced by the Peak District National Park Authority on behalf of the BoPI with the intention of publishing it at the same time as the 2016/2017 report:

It was pretty measured and accurate, and all project partners had agreed to it, apart from the Moorland Association. Here’s the email from Amanda Anderson (Director, Moorland Association) to the Peak District National Park Authority rejecting the draft press statement, and written in the knowledge that if the project partners couldn’t agree on the draft statement by a set deadline, no press statement would be issued and the 2016/2017 report would be published on its own with no publicity:

And here is the response to Amanda from Rhodri Thomas of the Peak District National Park Authority, who clearly has a sense of humour (note his final sentence, in reference to the publicity about grouse moor owners wanting licences to kill Marsh harriers):

It’s quite clear why the Moorland Association would seek to block this press statement, given the dire results of the BoPI’s 2016/2017 report. Even a skilled PR manipulator like Amanda would struggle to conjure up any positive PR spin from such a catastrophic project failure.

What’s surprising is that the other BoPI partners would accept this situation and allow the 2016/2017 report to be published without any accompanying publicity. In their defence, it may be that the publishing deadline didn’t allow for any more discussion on the issue (the Peak Park Authority was obliged to publish the 2016/2017 report by a certain date because we’d asked for a copy via FoI and so the Park had to comply within the regulatory timeframe). Nevertheless, the press statement could still have been published, but with an additional disclaimer stating the Moorland Association did not agree with the report’s findings. That’s fairly standard practice in situations such as this.

But perhaps the other BoPI partners are not just sitting back and accepting the disruptive role of the Moorland Association in this partnership charade. Perhaps there are on-going discussions behind the scenes about how to address the problem. We’d like to think so, especially as we now also know, through this recent FoI, that it’s not just the Moorland Association that’s trying to prevent any negative publicity about on-going raptor persecution in the Peak District National Park. The local grouse moor gamekeepers are also complicit in this role, and we’ll be blogging more about that shortly.

We also now know that the Peak District National Park Authority, despite its best efforts to hold this partnership together, is struggling to see a future for the collaborative aspect of the BoPI. Good, it’s a bloody sham and the sooner the grouse shooting industry is prevented from masquerading as fully-supportive conservation partners, the better.

On a related topic, have a listen to this recent podcast interview with Amanda Anderson, which includes a discussion about the Moorland Association’s involvement in raptor conservation ‘partnerships’ (starts at 17.55).

UPDATE 14.30hrs: RSPB terminates involvement with failed Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative (here)

UPDATE 25 January 2018: Gamekeepers’ attempts to suppress Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative report (here)


5 red kites, 1 buzzard & 1 raven found dead in suspicious circumstances in Oxfordshire

Press article from today’s Oxford Mail:

A police investigation has been launched after five red kites, a raven and a buzzard were discovered dead in a village in Oxfordshire.

The birds were discovered by a family on Sunday, September 17, near the village of Pyrton, on the edge of the Chilterns, who reported them to the RSPB.

All the birds were recovered and x-rayed by a local vet. The x-rays revealed no signs of shot.

However, the birds have now been sent off for toxicology testing by Natural England as part of the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS), to see if the birds have been poisoned.

All birds of prey and ravens are protected by UK law, making it illegal to kill or harm them. Those found to have done so could face six months in jail or an unlimited fine.

Thames Valley Police, Natural England and RSPB are now working together on a joint investigation and are appealing to the public for information.

If you have any information relating to this incident, call Thames Valley Police on 101.

With their six-foot wingspan, red kites are Britain’s third-largest bird of prey and feed mainly on carrion.

If you find a wild bird which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB Investigations on 01767 680551, email or fill in the online form:


Four months after discovery and still no toxicology report?


Masked gunmen at goshawk nest in Moy Forest

The following article was published today in the Press & Journal:

For regular blog readers, this is a story we ran in November 2017 (here) when we’d found out through an FoI that a masked gunman and an associate had been caught on camera near a raptor nest at an undisclosed public forest in Scotland.

We were pretty shocked that Police Scotland had kept silent about this incident and, given public safety concerns, we encouraged blog readers to write to their local MSPs to ask questions about the (mis)handling of this case (here).

We also asked Justice Secretary Michael Matheson and the Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs, Annabelle Ewing, about this issue but neither bothered to respond.

Police Scotland did respond to some of our blog readers requests for information (see here) but refused to discuss the details or reveal the location. However, several local MSPs did commit to taking this up with the Police on behalf of their constituents.

At least one of those MSPs was as good as his word and we’ve recently received copies of correspondence between him and his constituents, which we’ll blog about early in the New Year.

For now, it is apparent that this political intervention has resulted in Police Scotland issuing an appeal for information (only 8 months too late) and revealing the location as Moy Forest, a site well known for being targeted by raptor killers.

Nobody will be surprised to learn that the land around Moy Forest is managed for intensive driven grouse shooting.

Well done to those blog readers who chased up this story, well done to those MSPs who followed up with the Police, and well done to Kieran Beattie at the P&J for taking it to press. But it’s pretty pathetic that we all had to go to such lengths to get Police Scotland to react. Not good enough.

There’s a lot more to talk about in relation to this incident and we’ll be returning to it in the New Year….

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