Archive for the '2020 persecution incidents' Category

06
Oct
21

Leadhills Estate’s reaction to extended General Licence restriction

Last week I blogged about how NatureScot has extended the General Licence restriction on the notorious Leadhills Estate after receiving more evidence of wildlife crime (see here). The extension was supposedly for a further three years for alleged offences that were uncovered in July 2020, but in effect is only for eight months because it is running concurrently with the original three year restriction imposed on the estate in November 2019 (see here).

A few days after news of the restriction extension emerged, an unnamed spokesperson for Leadhills Estate has told a journalist at The Herald that the estate is ‘actively considering’ an appeal against the extended restriction and claims not to have seen the evidence behind the restriction decision. The link to the article is here but I’ve cut and pasted it below for posterity:

A sporting estate whose ban from shooting or trapping wild birds has been extended for a further two years has said it is considering an appeal against the ruling

Scottish Government conservation body NatureScot has said that the restriction on “general licenses” at the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire will now last until 2023 after additional evidence was uncovered.

However, a spokesman for Leadhills has questioned the justification for the extra two-year prohibition, saying that it has not been shown the evidence behind the decision. 

The killing of wild birds has been prohibited on the estate since 2019 in response to police evidence of crimes against wild birds occurring on the land.

This included signs of the illegal killing of raptors, chiefly three hen harriers, one short-eared owl and two buzzards, and the illegal disturbance of a wild bird nest.

Leadhills Estate encompasses approximately 19,500 acres, mixed between farming and grouse moors. It is owned by two Trusts, the Leadhills Trust and Glengeith Trust.

The estate’s spokesman said: “The estate is extremely disappointed by this decision and is actively considering an appeal against it.

We have yet to see the evidence leading to this decision and have been requesting this information from the relevant authorities.

Without that evidence, we question the justification for such a decision, which is likely to have an impact on wildlife on the estate.”

General licences are granted to 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.

The spokesman added: “There has been no commercial driven grouse shooting on the estate for several years and the moorland is managed on a care and maintenance basis.

“The estate has a zero tolerance approach to wildlife crime and has robust compliance systems in place.

“Employees are fully aware of their responsibilities with regard to the conservation of wildlife and we are confident that wildlife crimes have not been committed by anyone employed on the estate.”

ENDS

It seems very strange to me that Leadhills Estate claims to be ‘actively considering’ an appeal at this stage. If you read the protocol and process used by NatureScot when making restriction decisions (and decisions to extend the original extension), you’ll see that there are multiple opportunities for an estate to make appeals and challenge the decision, well before now (see here).

Indeed, Leadhills Estate will be very familiar with this appeal process, having gone through it when the original three-year restriction was imposed in November 2019 (and it’s well worth reading the Estate’s appeal letter for it’s comedic value – see here).

It also sounds strange that Leadhills Estate claims not to have been provided with the evidence to justify the restriction extension. Again, have a look at the decision-making process used by NatureScot, particularly this paragraph about notification:

The Head of Wildlife Management will notify the owners and occupiers of the land in respect of which a restriction is recommended (“the Affected Parties”), in writing (“the Notification”). The notification will include a summary of the evidence on which the recommendation is based and will set out the reasons, the land to which the recommended restriction would apply and the duration of the recommended restriction (“the Decision Notice”). The possibility of a restriction being imposed will also be discussed with Police Scotland to ensure there is no risk to any potential prosecutions‘.

Given how risk averse NatureScot is, and its conservative approach when it comes to dealing with General Licence restrictions, I find it very hard to believe that NatureScot staff wouldn’t have followed the protocol and process to the letter.

It couldn’t be that Leadhills Estate is just grandstanding for the press, could it?

Time will tell. I’ve requested details of the correspondence between Leadhills Estate and NatureScot via a freedom of information request.

30
Sep
21

Extension of General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate confirmed as pitiful 8 months

Yesterday I blogged (here) about the extended General Licence restriction that has been imposed on Leadhills Estate after further evidence of wildlife crime had come to light since an original three-year restriction was imposed (to run 26 Nov 2019 – 26 Nov 2022).

[The grouse moors of Leadhills Estate. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

However, there was some confusion from the licencing agency, NatureScot, as to just how long this extension was applicable.

Robbie Kernahan, NatureScot’s s Director of Sustainable Growth was quoted in a NatureScot announcement saying ‘…there is enough evidence to suspend the general licences on this property for a further three years‘, which should have taken the restriction to November 2025 but when I looked at the actual detail of the extension on another part of the NatureScot website, the expiry date of the extension was given as 8th July 2023.

I contacted NatureScot’s licensing team this morning and asked them to clarify the apparent discrepancy. I am grateful to Licensing Manager Liz McLachlan for a prompt and clear explanation, as follows:

We have amended the statement on our web-pages as we accept there was some ambiguity in the original wording which you have picked up on. To clarify, the 3 year extension to the restriction is from the date of the most recent (additional) offence, as recorded by Police Scotland, which takes the restriction to July 2023.

For completeness the restriction is from 8 July 2020 to 8 July 2023‘.

I have looked at the amended statement from Robbie Kernahan which now reads:

In this case we have concluded that there is enough evidence to suspend the general licences on this property until 2023‘.

So effectively, this ‘three year extension’ isn’t actually a three-year extension at all. Technically it might be, but in effect it’s actually only an eight month extension because the estate is already serving the original General Licence restriction up until 26 November 2022, so imposing another restriction for the period 8 July 2020 to 26 November 2022, on top of the one already being served, is utterly pointless.

The 8-month extension from 27 November 2022 to 8 July 2023 is the only part of this ‘extended’ restriction that will have any real effect.

And apparently the estate has already served 14 months of the extension, given that it began in July 2020! Why has it taken 14 months for NatureScot to publicise this extended restriction? When was the estate notified of this further restriction? And has it made any difference whatsoever to the estate’s activities, given that the original restriction was already underway (since November 2019)?

And if this extension was in place since July 2020, then why the hell did NatureScot give Leadhills Estate special privileges last year when it granted an out-of-season muirburn licence in September 2020??

What sort of idiotic ‘sanction’ is this? An eight month General Licence restriction for the shooting of a short-eared owl, which is the alleged offence that this extension is based upon. Well that’s really going to put the fear of God up other would-be raptor killers, isn’t it?

It’s a pitiful response.

I don’t know if it’s a result of legal limitations (e.g. can this legal sanction be lawfully applied several years after the original offence?) or if it’s a result of professional incompetence by NatureScot.

I have submitted an FoI to NatureScot to ask for details of the decision-making process in this case and will blog when I receive a response.

[Short-eared owl by Amy Lewis]

29
Sep
21

Leadhills Estate – General Licence restriction extended after police report more evidence of wildlife crime

Regular blog readers will be well aware that the notorious Leadhills Estate, a grouse-shooting estate in South Lanarkshire that has been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations at least 70 times since the early 2000s, is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction based on ‘clear evidence’ of raptor persecution offences, including 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 (see here) and the discovery of banned poisons on the estate in May 2019 (see here).

That original General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate by NatureScot in November 2019 and is valid until November 2022.

[Chris Packham holds a dead hen harrier. This bird was caught by the leg in an illegally-set trap on the Leadhills Estate grouse moor in May 2019. The trap had been set next to the harrier’s nest and was hidden by moss. The harrier’s leg was almost severed. Unfortunately, extensive surgery could not save this bird. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

However, since that original restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate in November 2019, further alleged offences have been reported and are the subject of ongoing police investigations (see here) including the alleged shooting of a(nother) short-eared owl by a masked gunman on a quad bike as witnessed by a local resident and his eight year old son in July 2020 (see here) and the discovery of yet another batch of banned poisons, also in July 2020 (here). A satellite-tagged hen harrier (Silver) also vanished in suspicious circumstances on the estate in May 2020 (here), and although NatureScot don’t count missing satellite-tagged raptors as sufficient evidence for a General Licence restriction, the disappearance can be used as supportive evidence if further alleged offences are also being considered.

It’s been over a year since those further alleged offences were reported and we’ve all been waiting to see whether NatureScot would impose a further General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate. Instead, the licensing team appears to have been focusing on helping out the estate by issuing it with an out-of-season muirburn licence last year (see here) and considering another application from the estate this year (see here). It really beggars belief.

Anyway, NatureScot has finally got its act together and has indeed imposed a further General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate. Here is the statement on the NatureScot website:

29 September 2021

NatureScot has extended the restriction of the use of general licences on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire until 2023. The decision was made on the basis of additional evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

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.

A restriction of the use of general licences was implemented on Leadhills estate in November 2019, in response to police evidence of crimes against wild birds occurring on the land. This decision extends the period of the existing restriction.

Robbie Kernahan, NatureScot’s s Director of Sustainable Growth, said: “It is hugely disappointing to have to be considering further issues of wildlife crime against wild birds and we are committed to using the tools we have available to us in tackling this. In this case we have concluded that there is enough evidence to suspend the general licences on this property for a further three years. They may still apply for individual licences, but -if granted – these will be closely monitored.

We work closely with Police Scotland and will continue to consider information they provide us on cases which may warrant restriction of general licences. The detection of wildlife crime can be difficult but new and emerging technologies along with a commitment from a range of partners to take a collective approach to these issues will help us stop this from occurring in the future.”

ENDS

NatureScot’s Robbie Kernahan is quoted here as saying the General Licence restriction will apply “for a further three years“, which should take the restriction up to November 2025.

However, when you look at the actual restriction notice on NatureScot’s website, it says the restriction will extend to July 2023.

Eh? That’s not a three-year extension. That’s only an eight-month extension. I sincerely hope this is just a typo and the date should read November 2025.

It’s good to see NatureScot finally get on with this but I have to say that given there’s a need for an extension of the original General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate, due to further evidence from Police Scotland about ongoing alleged wildlife crime there, doesn’t that demonstrate just how ineffective the General Licence restriction is as a tool for tackling wildlife crime??

I’ve written many times about the futility of this scheme, and have even presented evidence about it to a Parliamentary committee, not least because even when a General Licence restriction has been imposed, estate employees can simply apply to NatureScot for an individual licence to continue doing exactly what they were doing under the (now restricted) General Licence (e.g. see here)!

And although former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, who was responsible for first introducing General Licence restrictions in 2014, considered that it would work as a ‘reputational driver’ (here), I’ve previously shown with several examples how this is simply not the case (e.g. see here) and that a General Licence restriction remains an ineffective sanction.

Nevertheless, it’s all we’ve got available at the moment and on that basis I would like to see NatureScot now get on with making decisions about restrictions on a number of other estates, such as Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park where a poisoned golden eagle was found dead next to a poisoned bait earlier this year (here).

And Invercauld isn’t the only estate that should be sanctioned, is it, NatureScot?

UPDATE 30th September 2021: Extension of General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate confirmed as pitiful 8 months (here).

UPDATE 6th October 2021: Leadhills Estate’s reaction to extended General Licence restriction (here).

23
Sep
21

Derbyshire Police refuse to publicise report of two shot buzzards on pheasant estate

The blog I wrote a couple of days ago (here) about Police Scotland’s refusal to publicise the discovery of a shot peregrine found on a grouse moor in the notorious raptor persecution area of Strathbraan drew a lot of criticism of wildlife crime policing.

Some of that criticism was fair, in my opinion, but some of it wasn’t. The main point to be made, as has been discussed many times on this blog, is that not all police forces are the same. There are some brilliant, pro-active and creative police forces in the UK, spearheaded by diligent, hard-working officers who feel the same frustration as we all do when cases cannot proceed to court, and not for lack of trying. We’ve seen evidence of these officers’ work in recent months, including at least eight search warrants executed across the country in relation to suspected raptor persecution offences:

On 18th January 2021 there was a raid in Suffolk (here), on 15th March there was a raid in Lincolnshire (see here), on 18th March a raid in Dorset (here), on 26th March a raid in Devon (see here), on 21st April a raid in Teesdale (here), on 2nd August a raid in Shropshire (here), on 12th August a raid in Herefordshire (here) and on 14th September a raid in Norfolk (here).

Yesterday evening we saw another example (here), this time from Police Scotland, resulting in an individual being charged for an alleged offence that took place last week! Whatever the outcome of this case, Police Scotland’s response cannot be faulted and those officers involved should be commended.

It’s my view that slagging off the police in general, accusing them all of being inept, corrupt, members of the Masons etc, is a lazy and inaccurate response to wider failures within the criminal justice system. I get why people do it – the criminal justice system is hopelessly underfunded and some of the legislation is in dire need of updating to close some gaping loopholes – and the public rightly feels frustrated every time another raptor persecution crime goes unpunished, again and again and again, but that still doesn’t justify some of the criticism aimed at the police in general.

However, I think it’s also fair to criticise police forces and officers when it is obvious that investigative procedures are not up to standard. That was the point of the blog post about Police Scotland’s response to the shot peregrine in Strathbraan and it’s also the focus of today’s blog, which looks at Derbyshire Constabulary’s appalling response to a report of the shooting of two buzzards, witnessed by a member of the public on a pheasant-shooting estate in Derbyshire during last year’s first lockdown (April 2020).

To set the scene, this is a large, private estate in the lowlands, heavily wooded and with some lakes and open parkland. Approximately 20,000 pheasants are released for commercial shooting each year. Some of the estate is closed off to the public but other parts are criss-crossed by public footpaths and bridleways, making this a popular location for visitors.

On 1st April 2020, a visiting member of the public was watching two buzzards circling above a wood when he heard a shot and witnessed the buzzards falling. The incident was reported to Derbyshire Police as a suspected raptor persecution crime. The police quickly attended the scene but, I’m told, did not conduct a search of the wood but did speak to the gamekeeper and a number of other estate residents.

With no corpses found and no other witnesses, the next most obvious move would be for the police to issue an appeal for information. But Derbyshire Constabulary had other ideas.

The following is an email sent by a member of the police wildlife crime team to somebody who was asking whether an appeal for information might be forthcoming, given that raptor persecution is a national wildlife crime priority. The police response is astonishing:

This is such a jaw-dropping response I don’t really know where to begin!

The police officer seems to think that if the estate residents didn’t see anything then there was ‘zero chance‘ of further evidence coming to light. Er….what about other visitors? The country was in lock-down at the time but the estate is located in a village where local residents may well have been taking their daily allowance of exercise and who may have witnessed something of relevance.

The police officer also seems to think that issuing an appeal for information would mean accusing the gamekeeper of shooting the buzzards. That’s not the case at all! Just a statement of the facts was all that was needed – without accusing anybody. Police forces do this all the time. And surely, the gamekeeper and the estate owner would welcome an appeal for information if it was possible that someone without authority was wandering around the estate discharging a firearm?! Fear of upsetting the gamekeeper/estate owner ‘when we may need the cooperation of the estate for future things‘ is not a valid reason for not progressing this investigation.

I think the most worrying aspect of the police response is this:

I think we all know that it would inevitably lead to repeated discussions which we’d have to become part of if it was our publication about gamekeeping practices in general. We’ve found that, for our team’s purposes, propaganda is of no value to us and is something we try to avoid‘.

Again, an appeal for information would not need to include any mention of gamekeeping practices. It would just be a statement of facts – that a member of the public reported what he believed to be the shooting of two buzzards at this location, at xx:xx hours on 1st April 2020, if anyone has any information that might help please contact the police on Tel 101 and quote incident ref number xxxxxxx.

How does Derbyshire Constabulary expect to maintain the public’s confidence to report suspected wildlife crime when reports are likely to be viewed as ‘propaganda’ by the police?

This isn’t the first time that Derbyshire Constabulary has faced criticism for the way it deals with reported raptor persecution crimes.

In January 2020, the RSPB issued a press statement about an illegally poisoned buzzard, found next to a poisoned bait, in the Peak District National Park. This crime had been uncovered the year before, in April 2019, but Derbyshire Constabulary had chosen not to say anything about it, nor to warn the public about the danger of poisoned baits being laid out in the countryside, let alone in a National Park (see here).

In response to that press release and the subsequent criticism of the police, Derbyshire Constabulary issued a remarkable statement on Facebook claiming that the circumstances surrounding the discovery of the poisoned buzzard, lying next to the poisoned bait, were ‘inconclusive’ as to whether the buzzard had been deliberately poisoned (yes, really – see here).

More criticism followed, quite rightly in my opinion, and shortly afterwards Derbyshire Constabulary posted another statement on Facebook, where they discussed the size of the geographic area they had to cover, their high workload, the lack of resources available to them and the small size of the team. They did though, commit to doing better (see here).

Just six weeks later this reported shooting of two buzzards landed on their desks.

As I said at the top of this blog, I have no interest in a general slagging off of the police. And particularly of Derbyshire Constabulary – a few years ago an elderly member of my family, suffering from advanced dementia, was prone to wandering off in a confused and distressed state, often for hours on end. Time and again, officers from Derbyshire Constabulary went looking for him and brought him home safely. I will always be grateful for the care and diligence shown by those officers, who went above and beyond my family’s expectations. Their efforts were exemplary and hugely appreciated.

My point is, again, that bringing the perpetrators of wildlife crime to justice, and particularly those guilty of raptor persecution, is difficult enough without some police officers seemingly doing their best to obstruct investigations. Blogs like this one make for uncomfortable reading but it’s clear that there needs to be a root and branch overhaul of procedures, with examples of best practice being highlighted and encouraged, at a national level. This is a role the so-far useless Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) can play in England & Wales, and by the so-far useless PAW Raptor Group can play in Scotland, supported by the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

There are some seriously good officers dealing with wildlife crime but they need to be seen as the rule, not the exception.

20
Sep
21

Peregrine found shot dead on grouse moor in Strathbraan – Police Scotland refuse to publicise

A peregrine falcon was found shot dead on a grouse-shooting estate in the Strathbraan area of Perthshire in November 2020.

The discovery was made during a police-led multi-agency raid following reports of suspected wildlife crime taking place on the estate. I blogged about that raid in February this year (see here).

This is an estate that has previously been under investigation for alleged wildlife crime offences.

My understanding is that the Scottish SPCA are progressing a case for alleged snaring offences but that Police Scotland were dealing with the shot peregrine (because it was already dead and so was beyond the (current) remit of the SSPCA)

Strathbraan is an area that has received much attention on this blog. Dominated by grouse-shooting estates, it has a very well-earned reputation as a wildlife crime hotspot, and is particularly notorious for the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged eagles (one of whose tags turned up in a river, its harness cut and the tag wrapped in lead sheeting to prevent transmission – see here). It is also the area where SNH issued a (flawed) licence in 2018 permitting the mass killing of ravens on the basis of ‘seeing what happened’ – but which was later withdrawn after a legal challenge by the Scottish Raptor Study Group.

[Evidence of intensive grouse moor management in Strathbraan. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Given the reputation of Strathbraan as a wildlife crime hotspot, and given that raptor persecution is a national wildlife crime priority, and given that Police Scotland has spent much of the last year with a dedicated campaign to try and raise public awareness of wildlife crime and encourage people to recognise and report suspected incidents, it’s difficult to understand why the police have deliberately withheld this crime from the public.

And it has been deliberately withheld. This wasn’t an oversight, or an admin error. It was a conscious decision not to say anything about it. How do I know that? Well, because I’ve been talking to Police Scotland about this crime since January 2021 and have asked, repeatedly, when they were planning on putting out the news / making an appeal for information because I believed it to be in the public interest to do so.

At first I was told that no press release was planned “until I have done a little bit more enquiry in to the circumstances“.

Fair enough.

Three months later I asked again but got no response. I tried again at four months and then finally five months later I was told, “There was no need for us to put out anything in the press from our perspective“, and “As you say from the evidence we have, we will never know where and when it was shot“.

Good grief.

Where’s the x-ray of the shot bird? An examination of its injuries (e.g. broken wings) would provide a pretty good indication of whether it was shot close to where it had been found dead, or whether it might have had the capacity to fly several miles before succumbing to its injuries. In which case, an appeal for information would have been a logical next-step, surely?

And if the police decide to say nothing, as they have in this case, where is the public record of this offence? It’s been almost a year since it was found.

How many more raptor persecution crimes are Police Scotland keeping quiet about? Quite a few, as it happens. More to come….

UPDATE 21st September 2021: Long-eared owl illegally held in trap on same Strathbraan grouse moor where shot peregrine was found (here)

10
Sep
21

No prosecution for 5 shot buzzards found hidden on Bransdale Estate, North York Moors National Park

In April 2020, during the first lockdown, North Yorkshire Police conducted a search of Bransdale Estate in the North York Moors National Park where they discovered five dead buzzards that had been shoved in a hole under a large rock, presumably to conceal them.

X-rays confirmed that at least four of those buzzards had been shot. A later post-mortem suggested the 5th buzzard had also been shot.

Eight individuals were interviewed under caution.

North Yorkshire Police issued a press statement in May 2020, including an appeal for information (see here).

The following day, Channel 4 News featured the crime in a six minute film (here) which included shocking footage from the police officer’s body camera of when the dead buzzards were being pulled from the hole.

In early June 2020 I blogged about the game-shooting industry’s response to these abhorrent crimes – see here. Remember, this is the industry that has professed to supposedly having a ‘zero tolerance’ policy when it comes to raptor persecution. I’m not quite sure how a wall of silence from the main shooting organisations reflects this policy.

One group did comment (the North York Moors Moorland Association), some of whose members may well have been among those interviewed under caution by the police in the course of this investigation, but I’m not sure that the group’s decision to slag off the police was all that bright or did them any favours (see here).

Fast forward one year and four months to August 2021, and Inspector Matt Hagen of North Yorkshire Police revealed during an online interview about the difficulty of investigating raptor persecution incidents, that this particular criminal investigation is not going any further:

There was one estate on the North York Moors National Park, there were five dead buzzards that were found. Four of them had definitely been shot and from the post mortem it suggested that the 5th one had been shot as well.

We’ve analysed mobile phones and all this takes such a long time and costs a lot of money and ultimately at the end of it all we are not going to be able to progress this case because we have to be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt, to a court, who is responsible, and on this case we’re not able to do that, unfortunately“.

It’s been suggested to me from several locals that a number of gamekeepers have since ‘moved on’ from this estate (to work on game-shooting estates in other parts of the UK) and also that the shooting rights have changed hands since these crimes were uncovered. If true, all coincidental, I’m sure.

I don’t know whether the estate is still lauded as an accredited member of the British Game Alliance, the industry’s so-called official marketing board, which now appears to have changed its name to British Game Assurance. Ironic really because the BGA doesn’t seem to do transparency (e.g. here and here).

So there we have it. Yet another disgraceful raptor persecution crime uncovered on a UK driven grouse shooting estate, inside a National Park no less, where armed culprits have got away with committing wildlife crimes without suffering any consequence whatsoever. And in this case, not through lack of effort by North Yorkshire Police.

[X-ray of one of the five shot buzzards found concealed in a hole on the grouse shooting estate]

07
Sep
21

Reports of wildlife crime doubled during lockdown, says Police Scotland Chief

Press release from Police Scotland:

Operation Wingspan, a year-long campaign to tackle wildlife crime, working with partners, including the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland, has seen considerable success and is now entering its final phase.

This involves officers working on the persecution of fresh water pearl mussels and tackling all aspects of poaching, including hare coursing. As with previous phases, it will involve a combination of enforcement action and education.

Overall, the campaign has involved officers engaging with a number of organisations, including the agricultural community, ranger services, land managers and game keepers with the aim of educating the wider public and encouraging them to report wildlife crime to the police.

Detective Sergeant Billy Telford, Police Scotland’s Wildlife Crime Co-ordinator, said: “We have many internationally renowned species that attract thousands of nature lovers and tourists every year to Scotland, but many crimes against wildlife are cruel and barbaric, often involving a painful death.

From hunting deer, hares or badgers with dogs, to using poisons or snares on protected birds, and protecting one of our lesser known species, the critically endangers freshwater pearl mussel, Operation Wingspan is raising awareness and hopefully encouraging people to come forward and report this kind of crime.”

[This young golden eagle was found ‘deliberately poisoned‘ with a banned toxin on an Invercauld Estate grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in March this year. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Operation Wingspan began in October 2020 and Phase One saw officers tackling the trade in endangered species and included visits to over 300 business premises, such as antique dealers, retro shops and pet shops across Scotland to advise owners and provide information about potential contraventions under The Control of Trade in Endangered Species (COTES) 2018 regulations. It resulted in the seizure and recovery of alligator heads from across the country.

Phase Two tackled badger persecution, working with the charity Scottish Badgers, to highlight that badgers and their setts are protected, that it is an offence to harm or interfere with them and that badger baiting is illegal. Where ongoing risks were identified, action was taken to protect the sett and the badgers.

Phase Three saw officers taking part in a construction conference to outline the responsibilities of developers, highlighting that it is an offence to destroy or damage roosts, as well as engaging with bat groups and visiting vulnerable roosts, ultimately leading to people being charged for undertaking development that threatened the welfare of bats.

In Phase Four concentrated on raptor persecution. Officers have carried out a number of activities, including patrols of vulnerable nesting sites, warrants executed in relation to wildlife crime and a social media campaign with an educational video that was produced in collaboration with the RSPB.

Detective Chief Superintendent Laura McLuckie said: “Reports of wildlife crime doubled during lockdown and Police Scotland is dedicated to working closely with a wide range of partner organisations to reduce the harm to species targeted by criminals and the communities who rely on them for employment and tourism across Scotland.

Tackling wildlife crime is not just about enforcement, it is also about working with partners and raising public awareness to prevent it happening. Indeed, the public has an important role in helping up to investigate reports of wildlife crime and I would urge anyone with concerns or who suspect a wildlife crime has been committed to contact us on 101, and if it is an emergency to call 999.”

More information can be found on our website: https://www.scotland.police.uk/wildlifecrime

ENDS

26
Aug
21

Trial date set for Suffolk gamekeeper accused of poisoning buzzard

A couple of days ago I blogged about a gamekeeper who was due in court this week to face allegations that he was responsible for the alleged poisoning of a buzzard in Suffolk (see here).

This prosecution resulted from a multi-agency investigation and raid conducted at premises in January this year involving Suffolk Police, National Wildlife Crime Unit, Natural England and the RSPB’s Investigations team (see here).

[Police seized guns and pesticides during the multi-agency raid in January 2021. Photo via Suffolk Police]

News from the court today (via the RSPB) is that this gamekeeper has pleaded guilty to some charges but not guilty to others, so this case will now proceed to trial.

The gamekeeper pleaded guilty to six charges relating to firearms and pesticide storage.

He pleaded not guilty to two further charges relating to the illegal buzzard poisoning.

The trial is due to begin on 8th November 2021.

Please note, as this is a live case no further detail will be provided here until the case has concluded or there is official commentary from the court. Comments on this particular blog also won’t be accepted until the case concludes so as not to prejudice proceedings. Thanks for your understanding.

24
Aug
21

Another gamekeeper in court for alleged poisoning of buzzard

Earlier this month I blogged about a gamekeeper in Nottinghamshire who is facing trial after he pleaded not guilty to the alleged killing of several buzzards (see here).

Now there’s another case to report. This time it’s a gamekeeper in Suffolk who is due in court on Thursday in relation to the alleged poisoning of a buzzard.

This latest prosecution relates to the joint raid undertaken by Suffolk Police, Natural England and the RSPB’s Investigations Team in January this year (see here).

[Police seized guns and pesticides during the multi-agency raid in January 2021. Photo via Suffolk Police]

Tomorrow’s court hearing will provide an opportunity for the defendant to enter a plea.

If he pleads not guilty, the case is expected to continue to go to trial at a later date.

If he pleads guilty, he may be sentenced tomorrow or the magistrate may ask for background reports before sentencing at a later date.

Please note, as this is a live case no further detail will be provided here until the case has concluded or there is official commentary from the court reporter. Comments on this particular blog also won’t be accepted until the case concludes so as not to prejudice proceedings. Thanks for your understanding.

UPDATE 26th August 2021: Trial date set for Suffolk gamekeeper accused of poisoning buzzard (here)

06
Jul
21

Rare breeding success for sea eagles in Cairngorms National Park but outlook for chick is bleak

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has issued the following press release today (6th July 2021). My commentary on this news is below the press release:

Raptor breeding successes for East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership

The productivity of breeding raptors in the east of the Cairngorms National Park this season is encouraging and includes the hatching of a sea eagle chick on Balmoral, the first time that the species has successfully bred on the estate.

The breeding pair of sea eagles – also known as white-tailed eagles – have been observed on Balmoral for the last few years. Both adult birds carry satellite tags and close collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has allowed the Balmoral Ranger Service to follow their weekly movements during the breeding season. A healthy male chick has now hatched and been ringed. Three golden eagle chicks have also recently been ringed as part of long-term monitoring on Balmoral.

Balmoral Estate is a member of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership (ECMP) which has seen breeding success for golden eagles, hen harriers, red kite, osprey, peregrine and merlin, as well as short-eared owls, in 2021, across the various land holdings.

[The young white-tailed eagle chick on the nest at Balmoral. Photo by North East Scotland Raptor Study Group, a member of the Scottish Raptor Study Group]

Richard Gledson, Estate Manager at Balmoral Estate said: “All at Balmoral Estate are delighted that sea eagles have nested successfully for the first time. A previous nesting attempt in 2017 on the same site sadly failed and we have had our fingers crossed since then. The birds have been with us for a couple of years, and we have been working closely with the North East Scotland Raptor Study Group who ringed the chick last week and with the RSPB who have been sending data from their satellite tags.”

Glenavon Estate – which is home to three pairs of golden eagles, including one of the highest nesting sites in Scotland – has had a golden eagle chick satellite tagged for the first time in recent years. Satellite tags are used by biological researchers on a variety of species including eagles and harriers, and provide valuable insight into their movement and survival. Golden eagle chicks have also been tagged on the Glenlivet Estate and Mar Lodge Estate.

Furthermore, Mar Lodge has hosted six hen harrier nests in 2021. One pair failed early in the season, but the other five nests all have chicks. Two hen harrier chicks have been satellite-tagged in collaboration with the RSPB. Evidence from satellite tags fitted to some of the harriers which are now breeding shows that the birds range widely, foraging across ground on neighbouring ECMP estates.

Last year, Mar Estate witnessed the first successful breeding attempt of sea eagles in Deeside for 200 years, but the relatively inexperienced pair failed this season at the hatching stage, with poor weather likely a contributing factor, however hopes are high for success with continued breeding efforts next season and beyond.

Dr Ewan Weston of the North East Scotland Raptor Study Group, who has carried out much of the satellite tagging on ECMP estates, commented: “This year’s raptor tagging on ECMP estates builds on a positive collaboration with the estates over recent years. Despite a very wet, snowy May, the general picture in the area is that raptors, particularly golden eagles, red kites and hen harriers have done well.”

The East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership is a landscape-scale collaboration between five sporting estates and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. The partnership seeks to deliver private interests alongside public benefits, including improving the conservation status of raptors, demonstrating best practice muirburn management, expanding areas of woodland and scrub and peatland restoration. Partners have been collaborating with a wide range of ecologists in the National Park.

Xander McDade, Convenor at the Cairngorms National Park Authority, said: “We are delighted to hear that productivity of raptors in the east of the National Park looks good for 2021. However, we know that we can still do more for the birds and are committed to finding ways of improving the conservation status of moorland raptors, along with other red and amber moorland bird species. This includes working closely with the five estates that make up the ECMP on a range of conservation measures.”

ENDS

First of all, the breeding success of this pair of white-tailed eagles on Balmoral Estate is obviously very good news and long, long over due.

Norway donated 85 sea eagles for a reintroduction project in eastern Scotland between 2007-2012, although over a quarter of those didn’t survive (the main known causes of death included illegal poisoning, illegally shot, accidentally electrocuted and being hit by trains). The East Coast reintroduction was the third phase of a national reintroduction project that started back in 1975 on the west coast of Scotland, after the species was extirpated from Britain thanks to persecution in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The first successful breeding attempt in east Scotland in 2013, the first for over a century, was an historic milestone in the project and was hoped to be the beginning of a new and vibrant population in the east, mirroring the successful population growth in the west.

So far though, progress has been incredibly slow and ongoing persecution has been at the centre of that (e.g. see here for the news that a sea eagle’s nest tree was deliberately felled on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens, also in 2013-nobody was prosecuted).

A number of young satellite-tagged sea eagles have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on or next to grouse moors since then, and only last year a young sea eagle was found dead, illegally poisoned, on another grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park (see here). Nobody was prosecuted for that crime.

[A police officer examines the corpse of the illegally poisoned sea eagle found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in 2020. Photo by Police Scotland].

So yes, it’s excellent news that Balmoral Estate has hosted a successful breeding attempt this year – well done to the team there – but it’s only half of the story. What happens when that young eagle fledges and disperses from Balmoral later this year?

Will it meet the same fate as this young golden eagle, which fledged from a nest site in the eastern Cairngorms last year and was found dead, ‘deliberately poisoned’ on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate earlier this year?

[An illegally poisoned golden eagle, laying next to a poisoned mountain hare bait, found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in 2021. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

I can see why the Cairngorms National Park Authority would want to issue this press release – not just to deservedly celebrate the successful breeding attempt on Balmoral Estate but probably more cynically, to try and undo some of the reputational damage that has been caused to the Park Authority and to its Eastern Cairngorms Moorland Partnership (ECMP) after the discovery of the poisoned golden eagle earlier this year on one of the ECMP’s partner estates (now no longer a partner) and the deserved criticism that the Park Authority has received for refusing to publish the correspondence it had had with the ECMP about the future of Invercauld Estate as a member of the ECMP following the discovery of the poisoned eagle (see here). This is the same tactic the Park Authority employed a few years ago when illegally-set traps were found on Invercauld Estate (here).

The ECMP can thank its lucky stars that one of its (now five) member estates is Mar Lodge, owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and with a glowing reputation for raptor conservation, especially for breeding hen harriers. Without Mar Lodge’s efforts, the ECMP’s raptor conservation efforts would be looking pretty feeble to date.

Although I noted the irony of the statement in the Park Authority’s press release that, ‘Evidence from satellite tags fitted to some of the harriers which are now breeding shows that the birds range widely, foraging across ground on neighbouring ECMP estates‘.

Er, yeah, but they forgot to mention how many of those hen harriers subsequently ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors in the ECMP and beyond (e.g. see here).

It doesn’t matter how far the Park Authority tries to spin the very welcome but too infrequent ‘good news’ stories like the breeding white-tailed eagles on Balmoral – the bottom line remains that large areas of the Cairngorms National Park are still raptor persecution hotspots and until that changes, the outlook for this young sea eagle is bleak.




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