Archive for the '2019 persecution incidents' Category

03
Dec
19

Poisoned red kite in Nidderdale: two local businesses put up a reward

Following the news last week that yet another red kite had been found poisoned in Nidderdale (see here), the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) has published a statement.

It’s well worth a read, here.

[A poisoned red kite]

A selected quote from the NERF statement:

‘The population of Pateley Bridge and surrounding area is less than 3,000 people. Whoever put the poisoned bait out in the open countryside and killed the Red Kite is most likely to live locally, shop locally, use the local pub and may have children or grand-children in the local school. In short if you live in the Pateley Bridge area the person indiscriminately putting poisoned baits out in your countryside, putting your life, the life of your pets and local wildlife at risk is your neighbour.

In addition to the physical threats posed by the use of dangerous poison there is also the reputational damage caused to this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and local businesses. This potential reputational damage was recognised by Pateley Bridge businessman Keith Tordoff in 2017 when he and a fellow businessman, jointly offered a reward for information following the unlawful killing of another Red Kite. On that occasion the bird was shot near Greenhow‘.

[Photo by Ruth Tingay]

A few days ago RPUK was contacted by a local businessman from Pateley Bridge who has once again put up a £1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspected poisoner(s). The businessman prefers to stay anonymous at this point for fear of retribution but he told us that another local businessman has also agreed to put up a £1,000 reward if the information received leads to a conviction. There may well be other members of the local community stepping forward. The businessmen have been in contact with the RSPB and North Yorkshire Police to facilitate the reward process.

Ongoing concern about the level of wildlife crime in Nidderdale has been raised by residents and visitors alike for a number of years, particularly on the extent of illegal raptor persecution and such is the strength of feeling that the Nidderdale AONB Partnership has now included a specific objective on raptor conservation in its AONB Management Plan. As part of this work, an evidence report was published in September 2019 which placed grouse moor management firmly in the frame.

Incidentally, those of you who read last week’s report on this latest poisoned red kite will know that there was an inexplicable eight-month delay between the discovery of the poisoned red kite and a police appeal for information. It was the latest in a number of cases (as yet unpublished) in North Yorkshire that have caused raised eyebrows, not least because of the previous exemplary efforts (e.g. here) of the North Yorkshire Police Rural Task Force, a team which includes some of the UK’s most dedicated and knowledgeable police officers tackling raptor persecution crimes through Operation Owl.

Last weekend at the annual Wildlife Crime Enforcers Conference we were able to have some full and frank discussions about recent events, including the delayed appeal for information about this poisoned red kite, with some senior members of North Yorkshire Police. The response was impressive, the explanations plausible (it would be inappropriate to provide detail here), the admission of mistakes made admirable, and the determination and commitment to target the offenders was unquestionable.

We look forward to being able to report some more success stories from the UK’s worst raptor persecution hotspot.

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)

28
Nov
19

Yet another red kite found illegally poisoned in Nidderdale AONB

Press release from RSPB (28 November 2019)

Red Kite poisoned in Nidderdale

North Yorkshire Police and the RSPB are appealing for information after a protected red kite was found poisoned in an area of North Yorkshire with the worst record for the illegal killing of birds of prey in England.

A member of the public found the bird dead under a tree in Blazefield, just outside Pateley Bridge, Nidderdale in March 2019. North Yorkshire Police submitted the bird to be tested for poison, and results show the bird tested positive for the insecticide bendiocarb. This is one of the top five most commonly abused substances involved in raptor poisoning cases. It is also extremely toxic to people and pets.

Killing a bird of prey is illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Anyone found responsible for this bird’s death faces an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in jail. The police are now appealing for information. 

[A dead red kite]

[Blazefield, sandwiched between some of the most notorious wildlife-killing grouse moors in the UK]

Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “Poison baits deliberately placed out in the open, where anyone could find them, puts people, pets and wildlife in danger. Based on government toxicology data, from 2009 to 2018 the RSPB recorded an astonishing 369 incidents of the illegal use of pesticides to kill or target birds of prey. Bendiocarb, a very toxic insecticide, is something we come across again and again being used for this purpose.”

According to data collated by the RSPB, the Nidderdale area – which is dominated by extensive driven grouse shooting – is the worst black spot for raptor persecution crimes in England, clocking up more incidents in the last seven years than anywhere else.

In September 2019, the Nidderdale AONB published their ‘bird of prey evidence report’ which highlighted the impact of illegal persecution upon the protected landscape’s birds of prey. The report stated that ‘The spread of red kites into the AONB is being restricted by illegal persecution’.

In August 2019, North Yorkshire Police appealed for information after a red kite was found shot and also poisoned in Wath, near Harrogate, within the Nidderdale AONB. This bird contained two pieces of shot, one of which was from an older injury which it had survived, indicating it had been shot on two occasions. But it was also found to contain a cocktail of highly toxic pesticides, and this was deemed the ultimate cause of death.

And in April 2019, a satellite-tagged hen harrier named River was found dead on Nidderdale’s Swinton Estate, following a search by North Yorkshire Police and RSPB Investigations. She too had been illegally shot.

Howard Jones added: “Nidderdale has become a death zone for birds of prey. Our message to the community is this: If you enjoy spending time in the countryside, please be vigilant. Report anything suspicious. If you have information about someone killing birds of prey, please speak out. This is happening on your doorstep, to your wildlife. Let’s make it known that this barbaric, relentless destruction of wildlife is not something North Yorkshire will tolerate.

“Finally, if you are being instructed to kill birds of prey, please do not break the law on someone else’s behalf. Call our confidential hotline on 0300 999 0101.”

ENDS

Eight months for this appeal for information to emerge? That’s pathetic. Let’s hope there was at least a local appeal for information – a spokesperson from North Yorkshire Police is quoted in this article in today’s Yorkshire Post saying “Despite extensive investigations……” so perhaps this included warnings to the local community that some criminal psychopath had been laying out deadly poisons in the area. Also interesting to note that the Yorkshire Post article says the banned poison Isophenphos was also detected in the kite’s carcass.

Regular readers of this blog will be only too aware of Nidderdale AONB’s reputation as a massive wildlife crime scene. We’ve blogged about it many, many times including the poisoning and shooting of red kiteshen harriersbuzzardsmarsh harriers on Nidderdale grouse moors (as reported by the AONB partnership in September 2019). We’ve also seen how the local community is turning against the criminals in their midst which is hardly surprising when according to the Chair of the Nidderdale AONB these crimes are “starting to have a damaging effect on tourism businesses”. 

[Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Here’s a map we produced a while ago showing the boundary of the Nidderdale AONB (yellow line), illegally killed red kites (red dots), missing satellite-tagged hen harriers (orange stars), shot hen harrier Bowland Betty (red star), shot hen harrier River (red triangle, which we now know should be closer to the red star on the Swinton Estate).

UPDATE 3 December 2019: Poisoned red kite in Nidderdale – two local businesses put up a reward (here)

27
Nov
19

Hen harrier Ada ‘disappears’ on grouse moor in North Pennines AONB

Joint press release from Northumbria Police and RSPB (27 November 2019)

Hen Harrier Ada Disappears

Today, Northumbria Police and the RSPB have issued an appeal for information following the sudden disappearance of yet another satellite tagged hen harrier, a female bird known as Ada.

[Hen Harrier Ada being satellite tagged in the summer. Photo from RSPB]

Ada hatched on a nest on the Scottish borders this summer (2019). She was fitted with a lightweight satellite tag as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project, to learn more about the journeys made by these rare birds of prey and the survival challenges they face.

Ada was the first of the chicks tagged this summer to leave her nest and proved to be naturally adventurous. After fledging she flew north, spending some time on a disused golf course near Dunbar, then she headed south to the North Pennines. On the morning of 10 October 2019 she sent her last transmission from an area of grouse moor east of Allendale, Northumberland. Her tag showed no signs of malfunction and there were several satellites passing over, so it was expected to continue to provide data. RSPB staff were in the area at the time the tag would have transmitted, but neither the bird nor her tag could be found nor have been heard from since.

Her disappearance is being treated as suspicious and was reported to the police.

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail. Yet the evidence shows hen harriers continue to be killed, or disappear in suspicious circumstances, particularly on or near land managed for driven grouse shooting.

Scientific research published in March 2019 showed that 72% of the satellite tagged hen harriers in their study were killed or very likely to have been killed on British grouse moors, and that hen harriers were 10 times more likely to die or disappear over areas of grouse moor relative to other land uses.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, Senior Project Manager for the Hen Harrier LIFE project, said:

Over 30 chicks were tagged this summer and we’ve watched with interest as they’ve grown up and flown around the country. We’re absolutely gutted that Ada has disappeared in suspicious circumstances at just a few months’ old.

Emma Marsh, Director for RSPB England, said:

Hen harriers have become a rare breeding bird across the UK mainly due to illegal persecution by humans. In England, the last population survey recorded only four territorial pairs, despite scientific studies showing enough food and habitat to support over 320 pairs. Our own tagging work has shown that survival of young birds post-fledging is very low. This won’t change until something is done about illegal persecution. The Government’s own data has highlighted a loss of 72% of their tagged birds in suspicious circumstances, and we are calling on them to take vital measures to address this appalling situation.”

The RSPB is calling for the Government to introduce of a system of licensing for driven grouse moors, whereby this license to operate could be taken away should illegal activity be uncovered. We believe that this approach will act as a far greater deterrent than current legislation.

If you have any information relating to this incident, call Northumbria police on 101.

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form.

ENDS

It looks like Ada has vanished in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB):

The tag Ada was carrying is believed to be the same make and model as the other tags deployed by the RSPB on hen harriers (the tag with a known reliability rate of 94%). Technical failures are possible (of course) but are rare (6%), and according to this researchtag failures have always been preceded by irregular transmission periods and, most importantly, a drop in battery voltage (another parameter monitored by the transmitter). This makes it relatively straightforward to distinguish between a likely mortality event and a likely transmitter failure”.

The hen harrier tags deployed by the RSPB are completely different to the new and untested tags that were deployed by Natural England on some of this year’s brood meddled hen harriers; tags that are known to have a high failure rate.

26
Nov
19

SNH imposes General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate

Press release from SNH (26 Nov 2019)

General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has restricted the use of general licences on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire this week. The decision was made on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

[Chris Packham holding a dead hen harrier that had been caught in an illegally-set spring trap next to its nest on Leadhills Estate earlier this year. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out actions which would otherwise be illegal, including controlling common species of wild birds to protect crops or livestock.

Nick Halfhide, SNH’s Director of Sustainable Growth, said: “There is clear evidence that wildlife crimes have been committed on this property. Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the general licences on this property for three years. They may though still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

This measure will help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, albeit under tighter supervision. We consider that this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime.”

Restrictions will prevent people from using the general licences on the land in question for three years. This period can increase if more evidence of offences comes to light.

See the full licence restrictions details at https://www.nature.scot/general-licences-birds-restrictions

ENDS

As you might expect, we have a lot to say about this news, following on from last month’s blog about it (here).

We’ll be blogging in much more detail tomorrow but for now, our initial reaction to this news is, ‘Too little, too late’.

UPDATE 29 November 2019: General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate: welcome to the twilight zone (here)

UPDATE 2 December 2019: SNH explains decision to impose General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate (here)

18
Nov
19

Public talk: southern reintroduction hen harrier project

Somerset Wildlife Trust is hosting a public talk on Natural England’s proposed southern reintroduction of hen harriers.

This controversial plan is part of DEFRA’s ludicrous Hen Harrier InAction Plan and is due to begin in 2020 with birds donated from Spain being reintroduced to Wiltshire (more on these details in due course – we’re currently reviewing some FoI docs).

The talk is on Tues 11th February 2020 (7.30-9.30pm) at the Parish Rooms in Somerton, where Flemming Ulf-Hansen from Natural England will ‘explain what has been involved’.

£3 on the door for members, £4 for non-members, under 16s free.

We’ve blogged extensively about the southern reintroduction project for the last three years. Here are the links for those who’d like to do some background reading:

28 Nov 2016 – Hen Harrier reintroduction to southern England: an update (here)

3 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the feasibility/scoping report (here)

8 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the project group and their timeline (here)

9 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: who’s funding it? (here)

9 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: a bonkers proposal for Exmoor National Park (here)

12 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Wiltshire (here)

14 Feb 2017: Leaked email reveals Natural England’s views on Hen Harrier Action Plan (here)

23 Feb 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: donor countries (here)

19 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: new project manager appointed (here)

20 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Dartmoor as potential new release site (here)

20 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: revised costs (here)

21 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: project team vists France (here)

27 July 2017: RSPB statement on hen harrier reintroduction to southern England (here)

15 Aug 2017: Natural England Board making up justification for hen harrier southern reintroduction (here)

24 October 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Natural England delays release of information (here)

11 December 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: report of fieldtrip to France (potential donor country) (here)

12 December 2017: 2018 start date for reintroduction of hen harrier to southern England? (here)

14 January 2018: Stop illegal persecution then no need for reintroduction of hen harrier to southern England, says DEFRA Minister (here)

13 March 2018: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: has France said “Non”? (here)

28 Feb 2019: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Vulcan’ disappears nr proposed reintroduction site in southern England (here)

10 March 2019: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Natural England suggests persecution not an issue (here)

 

17
Nov
19

Buzzard shot & wounded in Co Tyrone

From the Belfast Telegraph (14/11/19):

BIRD OF PREY FOUND SHOT THREE TIMES ON MEND, SAY OMAGH VETS

A bird of prey is recovering after being shot three times in Co Tyrone.

X-rays performed by Omagh practice Corry & O’Hare Vets revealed that the buzzard had received a fractured bone following the attack in Newtownstewart.

Three round pellets were also found lodged in various parts of the female bird’s body.

It is unclear whether or not the buzzard – a species afforded the highest level of wildlife protection – was shot deliberately.

As it is illegal to hunt protected birds, the incident has been reported to the PSNI.

The penalty for committing a wildlife crime in Northern Ireland – including shooting, poisoning, trapping and nest destruction of a bird of prey – is a fine of up to £5,000 and a six-month custodial sentence.

Louise O’Hare from Corry & O’Hare Vets said the injured bird was brought to them last week after being found unable to fly by a member of the public.

ENDS

It’s good that this shooting has been reported in the media but the quality of reporting is pretty poor. If those ‘three round pellets’ found in the buzzard’s body were shotgun pellets it’s likely the bird was hit once and sprayed with shot, not ‘shot three times’. And does it matter whether the buzzard was targeted deliberately or not? If it wasn’t, then shooting it was reckless and is still an offence.

Last week the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Northern Ireland published a ten-year review of raptor persecution (2009-2018) which highlighted buzzards as the most frequently reported victims (followed by red kite then peregrine). Technology such as satellite tags and nest cameras are now being deployed in an attempt to crack down on the criminals. You can follow this project on the Hawk Eyes website (here) and read our commentary on it here.




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