Archive for the '2018 persecution incidents' Category

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.

 

18
Feb
20

2018 worst year in more than a decade for illegal raptor persecution in England

Yesterday the RSPB published more data on its Raptor Persecution Map Hub, which now includes 12 years worth of searchable incidents. You can read about it here on the RSPB Investigations Team’s blog.

Coinciding with this release was a piece on the BBC’s Six O’Clock News followed up with a feature on BBC North West’s Inside Out programme.

The Inside Out programme is available to watch on iPlayer here for the next 29 days.

The feature runs for about ten minutes and includes interviews with the RSPB’s Investigations Team, North Yorkshire Police’s award-winning Wildlife Crime Officer Sgt Stu Grainger, and the Moorland Association’s top contortionist Amanda Anderson.

To be honest there’s nothing new here at all – it’s a well-rehearsed pantomime with claims made by the RSPB (based on evidential data) and counter-claims from the grouse shooting industry (pretending everything’s fine) but nevertheless, still well worth the airplay on national news that undoubtedly will have reached some people who’d previously been unaware of the level of criminality on many of the grouse moors of northern England.

The journalist, Gareth Barlow, did a reasonable job although just lacked the killer questions that would have exposed the Moorland Association’s nonsense with ease. For example, he picked up that 2018 was the worst year for recorded raptor persecution crimes in over a decade but he let Amanda Anderson get away with some snakeish slithering around the facts, as follows:

Gareth Barlow:A study from last year of data trackers showed that hen harriers are ten times more likely to die or disappear over land associated with grouse moors. How do you react to that data?”

Amanda Anderson:The study of tagged birds up to 2017 raises considerable issues. But actually since then 2018 saw 34 fledged hen harrier chicks in England and last year a record-breaking 47 chicks fledged, mostly from grouse moors“.

Let’s just analyse Amanda’s response. A casual and uninformed listener might think that, based on what she said, the grouse shooting industry has cleaned up its act since 2017, with ‘record-breaking’ [ahem] numbers of chicks fledging and everything’s fine now, nothing to see here, move along, gamekeepers love hen harriers too and the killing has stopped. But what happens to those ‘record-breaking’ number of fledged hen harriers once they leave the nest?

What Amanda ‘forgot’ to mention was the long list of satellite-tagged hen harriers that have either vanished in suspicious circumstances or been found illegally shot or trapped or poisoned, mostly on or close to land managed for game bird shooting, since 2018 (and since DEFRA’s so-called Hen Harrier Action Plan was enacted):

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa ‘disappeared’ in the Angus Glens in Scotland (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers Association later published false information claiming the bird had been re-sighted. The RSPB dismissed this as “completely false” (here).

5 February 2018: Hen harrier Marc ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Durham (here)

9 February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn ‘disappeared’ near Moffat in Scotland (here)

18 April 2018: Hen harrier Lia ‘disappeared’ in Wales and her corpse was retrieved in a field in May 2018. Cause of death was unconfirmed but police treating death as suspicious (here)

8 August 2018: Hen harrier Hilma ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Northumberland (here).

16 August 2018: Hen harrier Athena ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

26 August 2018: Hen Harrier Octavia ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here)

29 August 2018: Hen harrier Margot ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

29 August 2018: Hen Harrier Heulwen ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

3 September 2018: Hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

24 September 2018: Hen harrier Heather ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

2 October 2018: Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

3 October 2018: Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Bowland, Lanacashire (here)

26 October 2018: Hen harrier Arthur ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here)

10 November 2018: Hen harrier Rannoch ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here). Her corpse was found nearby in May 2019 – she’d been killed in an illegally-set spring trap (here).

14 November 2018: Hen harrier River ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB (here). Her corpse was found nearby in April 2019 – she’d been illegally shot (here).

16 January 2019: Hen harrier Vulcan ‘disappeared’ in Wiltshire close to Natural England’s proposed reintroduction site (here)

7 February 2019: Hen harrier Skylar ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (here)

22 April 2019: Hen harrier Marci ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

11 May 2019: A male hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set trap next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire. He didn’t survive (here)

7 June 2019: A hen harrier was found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland. A post mortem stated the bird had died as a result of ‘penetrating trauma’ injuries and that this bird had previously been shot (here)

11 September 2019: Hen harrier Romario ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

10 October 2019: Hen harrier Ada ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North Pennines AONB (here)

12 October 2019: Hen harrier Thistle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Sutherland (here)

November 2019: Hen harrier Mary found illegally poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland (here)

There are two more satellite-tagged hen harriers (Tony & Rain) that are reported either confirmed or suspected to have been illegally killed in the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project Report but no further details are available.

And then there were last year’s brood meddled hen harrier chicks that have been reported ‘missing’ but as they’re carrying a new type of tag known to be unreliable it’s not known if they’ve been bumped off or if they’re still ok. For the purposes of this mini-analysis we will discount these birds.

So that makes a total of at least 29 hen harriers that are known to have either ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances or have been found illegally killed in the last two years, during the period that Amanda Anderson was suggesting the killing had stopped.

That’s a lot of incidents for Amanda to ‘forget’ to mention, isn’t it?

And we’re supposed to trust the Moorland Association when it claims to have ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution!

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)

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!

19
Dec
19

Werritty Review: encouraging response from Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham

Further to the publication of the Werritty Review on grouse moor management this morning (here), Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has made an encouraging statement in a Scot Gov press release, as follows:

GROUSE MOOR MANAGEMENT: LICENSING OPTION UNDER CONSIDERATION

A review into grouse moor management has recommended the introduction of a shooting licensing scheme if breeding populations of raptors show no marked improvement.

The review, which was chaired by Professor Alan Werritty, Professor Emeritus of Physical Geography at University of Dundee, was asked to examine how we can ensure that grouse moor management continues to contribute to the rural economy while being environmentally sustainable.

As well as the recommendation that a licensing scheme is introduced for the shooting of grouse if there is no marked improvement in the ecological sustainability of grouse moor management, the report also makes a number of other recommendations relating to common grouse moor practices, such as the use of medicated grit and muirburn.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said:

I would like to thank Professor Werritty and the other members of the Grouse Moor Management Group for undertaking this important review and for their extensive work over the last two years.

As well as the issue of raptor persecution, the review was asked to look at grouse moor management practices including muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls and also to examine regulatory options including possible licensing of grouse shooting businesses.

It is important that we give careful consideration to the recommendations, alongside other evidence, before issuing a response. An important part of this will involve meeting key stakeholders to discuss the findings of the review, and we will publish a full response to the report in due course. At this early stage, however. I believe the option of a licensing scheme will need to be considered and – if required – implemented earlier than the five-year timeframe suggested by the review group.”

[Photo insert by RPUK – in 2018 after the suspicious disappearance of golden eagle Fred in the Pentland Hills Roseanna Cunningham told Chris Packham in an interview that grouse shoot licensing had been talked about by the Scottish Government since 2009. It’s ten years on – time for action now, not in another five years. Photo by Ruth Peacey].

Professor Werritty said:

When I accepted the invitation from the Scottish Government to lead an expert review on grouse shooting, I had not fully appreciated the complexity of the issues involved, the passion with which contrasting views were held, or the length of time the review would require.

Our remit invited us to make recommendations to reduce the illegal killing of raptors but at the same time to give due regard to the socio-economic contribution that grouse shooting makes to Scotland’s rural economy. Both topics have proved complex and problematic.

In order to have a unanimous recommendation on this key issue with the authority that implies, the Group proposes a five year probationary period for specified raptors on or near grouse shooting estates to recover to a favourable conservation status. Should this target fail to be achieved, licensing should be introduced immediately. We all agree that it is the only way forward in that situation“.

Background

The Grouse Moor Management Group was established in November 2017. It was commissioned by the Scottish Government in response to a report from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) which showed that around one third of tagged golden eagles had disappeared on or around driven grouse moors.

The group’s report can be found on the Scottish Government website.

ENDS

 




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