Archive for the '2018 persecution incidents' Category

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

 

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.

07
Dec
19

Special Constables pilot scheme in Cairngorms National Park a waste of time & money

Two and a half years ago, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced a pilot scheme whereby Police Special Constables would be deployed in the Cairngorms National Park to tackle wildlife crime.

This initiative was one of a number of measures announced in May 2017 in response to the findings of the golden eagle satellite tag review which showed clear evidence of deliberate and sustained illegal raptor persecution, particularly on some driven grouse moors in and around the Cairngorms National Park (CNP).

This RPUK map shows the last known location of satellite-tagged golden eagles that were either found illegally killed or had disappeared in suspicious circumstances in and around the CNP (data from the golden eagle satellite tag review):

Golden eagles are not the only victims of wildlife crime in and around the CNP. This RPUK map below, based mostly on RSPB data, shows raptor persecution incidents between 2005-2016. Only one of these (just outside the CNP boundary on Kildrummy Estate) has resulted in a successful prosecution. With such clear evidence of wildlife crime it’s easy to see why the CNP was chosen as the first location for this pilot scheme.

This pilot scheme was the Government’s alternative to extending the powers of the SSPCA to allow it to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crime (including raptor persecution) – a decision made after six years of Governmental deliberation under five different Environment Ministers.

It also emerged in 2018 that this pilot scheme was an alternative to the Government’s 2016 manifesto pledge to establish a Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit as part of Police Scotland – a pledge on which it has now reneged (see here).

The idea was that the police special constable scheme could be rolled out across Scotland “if judged to be successful” in the CNP, but we weren’t told the criteria that would be used to judge this ‘success’.

The scheme was formally launched in March 2018 (see here) and nothing more was heard of it.

Just over a year later in April 2019 we asked the Cairngorms National Park Authority the following questions about the scheme:

Here’s the response:

So basically after a year of operation, one of the main project partners couldn’t tell us anything about the scheme.

Fast forward six months to November 2019 and Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell thought it was time more questions were asked. Here are his two Parliamentary questions and Roseanna Cunningham’s answers:

S5W-26349 Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Scottish Green Party): To ask the Scottish Government how much funding (a) it and (b) the Cairngorms National Park Authority allocated each year to the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project.

Roseanna Cunningham: The Scottish Government agreed to contribute £18,000 and the Cairngorms National Park Authority agreed to provide £10,000 for the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project.

S5W-26346 Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Scottish Green Party): To ask the Scottish Government what the outcome was of the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project; how many constables participated each month in this, and how many suspected crimes they reported, also broken down by how many led to subsequent (a) arrests, (b) charges, (c) prosecutions and (d) convictions.

Roseanna Cunningham: a)The Scottish Government is currently undertaking an evaluation of the Special Constable Pilot Project in conjunction with Police Scotland and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. We will announce a decision on the future direction of the project in due course.

b) There were five special constables in the project, employed on a part-time basis.

c) and d) From the information gathered in the review conducted by Police Scotland, there were no recorded crimes reported by the Special Constables during their patrols in the 12 month trial period. However, Special Constables were involved in meeting stakeholders and partners operating within the Cairngorms National Park to build relationships and understand the needs and demands of National Park users which will aid future intelligence gathering.

Gosh, it’s easy to see why the Scottish Government’s evaluation of the pilot scheme is taking so long, what with having to count ZERO reported wildlife crimes.

Meanwhile satellite tagged raptors continue to disappear in suspicious circumstances in the Cairngorms National Park (white-tailed eagle here; hen harrier here; hen harrier here and hen harrier here); birds are still being illegally poisoned in the Cairngorms National Park (here) and birds of prey are still being caught by illegally-set traps in the Cairngorms National Park (golden eagle here).

But it’s ok, nothing to worry about because £28K has just been spent on ‘building relationships and understanding the needs and demands of National Park users’.

FFS.

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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