Archive for the '2018 persecution incidents' Category


Former Edradynate Estate head gamekeeper cleared of crop poisoning charges

David Campbell, the former head gamekeeper of Edradynate Estate in Perthshire, has been cleared of all charges relating to the poisoning of game crops on the estate in April 2017.

It had been alleged that David Campbell had maliciously damaged game crops by spraying them with an unknown substance which caused them to rot and perish. At the time of the alleged offences, Campbell was no longer an employee of the estate, having worked there since 1983 but after falling out with the landowner, millionaire city financier Michael Campbell (no relation), his employment was terminated in February 2017.

[Edradynate Estate, photo by Ruth Tingay]

Michael Campbell had told the court that he believed his former employee had caused the damage ‘in revenge’ and said he could identify David Campbell on CCTV by his distinctive “mutton chop” facial hair. Various witnesses had told the court that David Campbell had been “upset” at having to leave his long-term employment at Edradynate Estate.

Last week, David Campbell’s defence solicitor had argued that the case against his client should be dropped because there was a lack of evidence to show his client was the person caught on the covertly-filmed CCTV. Sheriff Gillian Wade had rejected the argument and said the court had been presented with sufficient evidence for the case to proceed.

However, at Tuesday’s court hearing Sheriff Wade cleared David Campbell after ruling the case against him had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

This latest failed prosecution is one of several linked to the Edradynate Estate, although the majority of the previous allegations have related to the alleged illegal poisoning of birds of prey, rather than alleged crop poisoning. Despite at least 22 police investigations over several decades (according to former Tayside wildlife crime officer Alan Stewart), nobody from Edradynate Estate has ever been successfully prosecuted for any of these alleged wildlife crimes.

[A poisoned buzzard at Edradynate in 2015, photo RPUK]

We’ve blogged about this estate a lot over the years (see links here), and most recently in relation to the alleged poisoning of two buzzards in 2015 and the Crown Office’s decision in 2017 not to prosecute one of the Edradynate gamekeepers (un-named), despite Police Scotland urging otherwise (see here).

Edradynate Estate is currently serving a three year General Licence restriction, imposed in Sept 2017 and which we believe relates to the alleged buzzard poisonings in March 2015.

Last year three dogs and two more buzzards were reported to have been “deliberately poisoned” in the area but nobody has been charged (see here) and we are not aware of any suggested link between these poisonings and any current employee of Edradynate Estate.


Don’t laugh, but gamekeepers claim to “care deeply” about protecting hen harriers!

It’s not quite April Fools’ Day but the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation thought it’d get in there early this year.

Just a week on from the publication of a scientific paper that demonstrated the catastrophic loss of satellite-tagged hen harriers was undeniably linked to land managed by gamekeepers for grouse shooting (see here), the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) published this on its website:

Amazing, eh?

Remind us again, NGO – where was the last known location of the latest hen harrier to ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances? Ah yes, in Wiltshire, close to the proposed hen harrier reintroduction site and in an area heavily managed for pheasant and partridge shooting. And what did the NGO say about this bird’s disappearance? Ah yes, that it was “a set up” by the RSPB.

And remind us again, NGO – what examples do you have of the NGO “living in harmony with buzzards“? Ah yes, you supported a gamekeeper (who had a prior poison-related conviction) to get licences to kill buzzards to ‘protect’ his pheasants.

And remind us again, NGO – what was your most recent action on the RPPDG, the group that’s supposed to tackle illegal raptor persecution? Ah yes, it was to resign.

And please could you tell us, NGO, what is “Circus cyaneusto“?! Is this an imaginary harrier species, to match the gamekeepers’ imaginary devotion to hen harriers that we’re supposed to believe?

Not so much April Fools, more like deluded fools.


Responses to hen harrier satellite tag paper: GWCT

The publication of the hen harrier satellite tag paper on Tuesday (here) that provided compelling evidence to highlight, yet again, the link between grouse moors and the illegal killing of hen harriers, has resulted in a flurry of responses from various individuals and organisations.

We’ve be looking at these responses in turn.

So far we’ve discussed the responses of Supt Nick Lyall (Chair, RPPDG) (here), BASC (here), Dr Therese Coffey (DEFRA Wildlife Minister) (here), Northern England Raptor Forum (here) and the Moorland Association (here).

This time we’re examining the response of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), a supposedly ‘independent’ charity that seems to attract a good deal of funding from, er, the grouse shooting industry.

GWCT posted a statement on its website in response to the devastating findings of the hen harrier satellite tag paper. Here it is:

You’ll notice that this GWCT response carefully avoids mentioning the headline figures from the paper – hen harriers are ten times more likely to be killed on grouse moors than any other habitat, and at least 72% of the hen harriers tagged by Natural England between 2006 – 2017 have either been confirmed to have been illegally killed on grouse moors or are highly likely to have been killed on grouse moors, with the researchers saying they can find no alternative, plausible, explanation.

We’re then told by GWCT that the illegal killing of hen harriers on grouse moors is “a diminishing problem” based on last year’s breeding results. Let’s just remind ourselves of those 2018 breeding results – only nine successful nests in England (where there is suitable habitat to support over 300 nests) and not one of those nine nests was situated on a privately-owned grouse moor (see here).

And what happened to the hen harrier chicks that did manage to fledge in 2018? A lot of them ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on, er, grouse moors:

The final paragraph of GWCT’s statement implies that habitat condition, weather, food supply and disturbance may explain the pattern of hen harriers deaths and disappearances on grouse moors. You’ll note that criminal gamekeepers armed with shotguns and illegal traps are not mentioned.

There was a time, long ago, when the GWCT was a respected, credible, science-based organisation. What happened?


Responses to hen harrier satellite tag paper: Moorland Association

The publication of the hen harrier satellite tag paper on Tuesday (here) that provided compelling evidence to highlight, yet again, the link between grouse moors and the illegal killing of hen harriers, has resulted in a flurry of responses from various individuals and organisations.

We’ll be looking at these responses in turn.

So far we’ve discussed the responses of Supt Nick Lyall (Chair, RPPDG) (here), BASC (here), Dr Therese Coffey (DEFRA Wildlife Minister) (here) and the Northern England Raptor Forum (here).

This time we’re examining the response of the Moorland Association, the lobby group for grouse moor owners in northern England.

The Moorland Association couldn’t be arsed to publish a statement on its website, nor to tweet about this important scientific publication nor to mention it on its Facebook page. Blimey, anyone would think that grouse moor owners aren’t at all bothered that hen harriers are ten times more likely to be killed on a grouse moor than anywhere else, or that 72% of satellite tagged hen harriers had either been confirmed or suspected of being illegally killed on grouse moors.

And let’s not forget, the Moorland Association is supposedly a willing ‘partner’ on the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), where it’s supposed to be using every opportunity to raise awareness about the illegal killing of birds of prey and stopping these crimes from being committed. Really impressive partnership work, eh?

We did find a quote from the Moorland Association’s Director, Amanda Anderson, in this brilliantly headlined article in The Independent (“Massive wildlife crime scene” is a Mark Avery quote from a couple of years ago).

Here’s Amanda quoted in The Independent article:

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, which represents grouse moor owners and managers in England and Wales, said the study data, gathered between 2006 and 2017, was before a management scheme put in place as part of Defra’s hen harrier recovery plan.

She said keepers had engaged with tactics such as reporting and monitoring nests and roost sites, as well as reducing conflicts between the birds via feeding strategies.

Ms Anderson said that 2018, the first year of the brood management scheme, was “the most successful hen harrier breeding season in England for over a decade”, continuing: “We know from evidence gathered on the ground there are many areas on grouse moors where hen harriers – with or without satellite tags – are currently thriving.”

But she added: “We want to see more hen harriers on grouse moors. Persecution should not occur and must cease in order to give hen harriers the best chance of survival. Seventy per cent of hen harriers perish in their first year from natural causes. However, when a satellite tag fails unexpectedly, persecution may be a factor.


Wow. What’s that saying? More front than Blackpool?

It’s all ok, folks, no need to worry about the extraordinarily high percentage of ‘missing’ (presumed killed) hen harriers on grouse moors, because all that took place before DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan was put in place. Er, except that in the year after the paper’s data were gathered and the so-called Action Plan was in place (2018), at least 11 satellite-tagged hen harriers all ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances, most of them either on or near a grouse moor, between the months of August and November. How do you explain that, Amanda?

[RPUK map showing the last known locations of 11 satellite-tagged hen harriers that ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances between August – November 2018]

Also according to Amanda, ‘keepers had engaged with tactics such as reporting and monitoring nests and roost sites’. Ah, would that ‘monitoring’ of nest sites include the tactic of repeatedly driving up towards a nesting attempt on a quad bike, disturbing the birds so much that the nesting attempt was abandoned? There are certainly reports of that happening on one particular grouse moor (which was reported to the police).

And would that ‘monitoring’ of roost sites include the tactic of turning up with a gun and a couple of dogs at dusk, to walk around a roost site where three hen harriers had just gone to ground (see here)?

And where is this “evidence gathered on the ground” that shows “there are many areas on grouse moors where hen harriers – with or without satellite tags – are currently thriving”? Have those sites been reported to raptor fieldworkers from NERF, or the RSPB, or Natural England (all partners in the RPPDG), or is this yet another imaginary scene that Amanda’s viewed through her magical kitchen window?

Unfortunately for the Moorland Association, Amanda’s latest episode of propagandist nonsense is looking a lot like a rapidly disintegrating sand castle crumbling in the face of an overwhelming rising tide of evidence.


Poisoned raven found on Peak District grouse moor: Natural England & Police fail to investigate

A year ago in March 2018, a dead raven was found on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park.

The member of the public who found it, Bob Berzins, was savvy enough to call the RSPB Investigations Team, who collected the corpse.

[Dead raven, photo by Bob Berzins]

Given the location, and the area’s long history of the illegal persecution of birds of prey (e.g. see here), the RSPB asked Natural England to run toxicology tests on the corpse, as is routine when animals have been found dead in suspicious circumstances or risky locations. According to the RSPB, Natural England refused to test the bird.

Instead, the RSPB paid to have the corpse privately tested, first in a post-mortem at the SRUC lab in Scotland and then for toxicology tests at the Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) labs, who have an excellent track record for conducting these forensic examinations.

SASA confirmed that this raven had been poisoned by Aldicarb, a toxin so dangerous that in Scotland if you’re caught even being in possession of it, let alone using it, you’ve committed an offence.

The RSPB reported these lab results to South Yorkshire Police and, according to the RSPB, nothing else has happened since, not even a police search of the grouse moor to look for further poisoned baits or victims.

You can read the details of this pathetic response to a criminal act on the RSPB’s blog here.

The RSPB Investigations Team has also produced a video about this case, here:

What the hell is going on? Why did Natural England refuse to test this raven for banned pesticides when it had been found in an area notorious as a raptor persecution hotspot?

And why did South Yorkshire police fail to investigate further? They should have been all over this, not least with a publicity campaign alerting members of the public, who visit this National Park in their millions, to the dangers of touching any dead animal or suspected poisoned bait. A year has passed and South Yorkshire police appear to have done absolutely nothing.


Well done Bob Berzins and well done to the RSPB, not just for paying to have this bird privately tested but also for submitting a formal complaint to South Yorkshire police and for alerting the public to the very serious threat of toxic poisonous baits being laid out on the ground inside this so-called National Park.


Why did this gunman (+ 2 dogs) visit this hen harrier roost site on this Yorkshire grouse moor?

If you’re new to this blog and you’ve ever wondered what happens to satellite tagged hen harriers that suddenly ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances on driven grouse moors in Yorkshire (and elsewhere!), the latest video from the RSPB’s investigations team might just provide a clue. Just a little teeny tiny one.

The video was filmed by two members of the RSPB Investigations team shortly after they’d watched three young hen harriers settle down at the roost site for the night. Just as dusk fell, an armed man turned up with a labrador and a terrier and walked through the roost. He spent a few minutes crouching down amongst the vegetation whilst his dogs ‘worked’ the area. Fortunately none of the harriers flushed and the gunman later left in a vehicle.

The RSPB has published a blog describing the evening’s events (see here) and the blog includes the video footage, which is obviously of low quality given the fading light but clear enough to see what’s going on.

Here is a still from the video and we’ve added a red circle to highlight the gunman:

Who might this have been and what do you think he was doing there? How many implausible explanations will be churned out from the grouse shooting industry?

Didn’t sat tagged hen harrier ‘River‘, ‘disappear’ in this area in November 2018, the day before this video was recorded?

Look how many sat-tagged hen harriers have ‘disappeared’ in the Nidderdale AONB in Yorkshire in recent years, along with illegally killed red kites:

[RPUK map: Nidderdale AONB = yellow boundary. Illegally killed red kites = red circles; sat-tagged hen harriers that have vanished in suspicious circumstances = orange stars & red triangle; illegally shot hen harrier Bowland Betty = red star]

There hasn’t been a single prosecution for any of these incidents.

Do you think the [unnamed] estate has offered its full cooperation to North Yorkshire Police’s enquiries?

Do you think the Moorland Association will publicise this video?

Is anybody still unclear about what happens to hen harriers on driven grouse moors?


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.”


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