Archive for the '2021 persecution incidents' Category

18
Jan
22

The widespread mis-use of crow cage traps to trap & kill birds of prey

RSPB Investigations Officer Guy Shorrock published an insightful blog yesterday (‘Cage traps in the spotlight across the UK’) detailing the ongoing and widespread mis-use and abuse of crow cage traps, often used by criminal gamekeepers to trap and kill raptors, sometimes deliberately and sometimes through reckless negligence.

His blog provided details of an incident in Wales in April last year, and I don’t recall seeing any media coverage of this case. The following text is reproduced directly from Guy’s blog:

A case from April last year again highlights our concerns. A member of public found a crow cage trap on sheep grazing farmland in North Wales containing a buzzard, a red kite and multiple crows. The finder released all the birds and reported it to us.

As with all cage traps outside Scotland, without marking and registration it can far more difficult, often impossible, to identify the trap operator. A visit by my colleague Niall Owen confirmed the presence of a lamb carcass, which should have been properly disposed of and not used as bait, along with two carrion crows. A week later the trap held two crows and a buzzard plus the bodies of two further crows. To identify a trap operator, and to determine whether the licence conditions were being complied with, a covert camera was installed for a couple of days. At this point, there was no clear contravention of the licence conditions. The buzzard was in good health, so it was left in situ and provided with fresh water and food just in case visits were not made. One dead crow was seized and sent off for a post-mortem. Two days later the buzzard was still present, thankfully alive and well, so was released unharmed. We informed North Wales Police who identified the farmer operating the trap and ensured it was rendered incapable of trapping.

[Buzzard caught inside the cage trap, photo by Niall Owen, RSPB. This bird was released by the RSPB when it became clear the trap was not being operated lawfully]

The post-mortem on the carrion crow confirmed the bird had died of starvation, confirming further breaches of the licence conditions and animal welfare regulations. Had the original finder and ourselves not released the trapped birds, we fear they would have met the same fate. This case was about negligence rather than any deliberate targeting of birds of prey, and following the police investigation, the operator was given a Community Resolution Order. This had a requirement that they could not operate cage traps until a suitable course has been attended.

Guy’s blog is timely as we await the sentencing of a gamekeeper who has recently been convicted of killing two buzzards in a cage trap in Nottinghamshire (see here). The RSPB has what Guy describes as ‘graphic footage’ filmed on a covert camera showing exactly how the gamekeeper used the trap to catch and then kill two buzzards. I understand the RSPB will release this video evidence after sentencing next week.

I’d encourage you to read Guy’s blog in full (here) to understand the different approaches being deployed (or not) to address these offences in England, Scotland and Wales and how members of the public can help catch the killers.

06
Jan
22

Gamekeeper pleads guilty to killing buzzards in Nottinghamshire

Further to the blog post on 4th January 2022 (here), a gamekeeper has pleaded guilty to five offences committed in Nottinghamshire in January 2021, including the illegal killing of two buzzards, the unlawful use of a trap, the unlawful possession of two stock doves and a firearms offence.

[Nottinghamshire Police visited the crime scene to collect evidence with the RSPB Investigations Team in January last year. Photo via Nottinghamshire Police Rural Crime Team]

His guilty plea means he has avoided a trial (and thus saved the court time) for which he’ll no doubt be rewarded when it comes to sentencing.

Sentencing has been deferred until later this month. I expect the full horror of his crimes, and his identity, to be publicised at that time. It’ll be interesting to see whether he has any ‘professional’ affiliations to any of the shooting organisations that claim to operate a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on raptor persecution.

A Raptor Forensic Fund, established in 2020 by Wild Justice to help provide financial support to police investigations into alleged raptor persecution crime, has played a part in this conviction.

This is the 4th gamekeeper to be convicted of wildlife crimes/raptor persecution since November 2021. The three others were gamekeeper Shane Leech (33) in Suffolk (here), gamekeeper Peter Givens (53) in the Scottish Borders (here) and gamekeeper Hilton Prest (58) in Cheshire (here).

Kudos to Nottinghamshire Police Rural Crime Team, the RSPB Investigations Team and the CPS for their hard work in securing this result. Excellent partnership working in action!

04
Jan
22

Trial due to start for gamekeeper accused of killing buzzards

The trial of a gamekeeper accused of killing buzzards is due to begin this week almost a year to the day of the alleged offences.

On 12th January 2021 Nottinghamshire Police, working in partnership with the RSPB Investigations Team, attended a location in the Kneeton area following reports of concern (see here). A gamekeeper was later arrested and charged with the alleged killing of buzzards (here).

[Police attending the scene of a crow cage trap in January 2021. Photo via Nottingham Police]

The gamekeeper appeared in court in August and entered a plea of not guilty (see here) so a trial date was set for January 2022.

The trial is due to begin on Thurs 6th January 2022.

This is the 4th gamekeeper to be brought before the courts since November 2021 – the three others were all convicted of various offences including gamekeeper Shane Leech (33) in Suffolk (here), gamekeeper Peter Givens (53) in the Scottish Borders (here) and gamekeeper Hilton Prest (58) in Cheshire (here).

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.

02
Jan
22

60 hen harriers confirmed illegally killed or ‘missing’ since 2018, most of them on or close to UK grouse moors

For anyone who still wants to pretend that the grouse shooting industry isn’t responsible for the systematic extermination of hen harriers on grouse moors across the UK, here’s the latest catalogue of crime that suggests otherwise.

[This male hen harrier died in 2019 after his leg was almost severed in an illegally set trap that had been placed next to his nest on a Scottish grouse moor (see here). Photo by Ruth Tingay]

This is the blog I now publish after every reported killing or suspicious disappearance.

They disappear in the same way political dissidents in authoritarian dictatorships have disappeared” (Stephen Barlow, 22 January 2021).

Today the list has been updated to include the most recently reported victims, three young hen harriers whose satellite tags inexplicably stopped transmitting and whose corpses vanished in to thin air in July, August and September 2021 (see here).

The disgraceful national catalogue of illegally killed and ‘missing’ hen harriers will continue to grow – I know of at least one more on-going police investigation which has yet to be publicised.

I’ve been compiling this list only since 2018 because that is the year that the grouse shooting industry ‘leaders’ would have us believe that the criminal persecution of hen harriers had stopped and that these birds were being welcomed back on to the UK’s grouse moors (see here).

This assertion was made shortly before the publication of a devastating new scientific paper that demonstrated that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers were confirmed or considered likely to have been illegally killed, and this was ten times more likely to occur over areas of land managed for grouse shooting relative to other land uses (see here).

2018 was also the year that Natural England issued itself with a licence to begin a hen harrier brood meddling trial on grouse moors in northern England. For new blog readers, hen harrier brood meddling is a conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA as part of its ludicrous ‘Hen Harrier Action Plan‘ and carried out by Natural England (NE), in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England. For more background see here.

Brood meddling has been described as a sort of ‘gentleman’s agreement’ by commentator Stephen Welch:

I don’t get it, I thought the idea of that scheme was some kind of trade off – a gentleman’s agreement that the birds would be left in peace if they were moved from grouse moors at a certain density. It seems that one party is not keeping their side of the bargain“.

With at least 60 hen harriers gone since 2018, I think it’s fair to say that the grouse shooting industry is simply taking the piss. Meanwhile, Natural England pretends that ‘partnership working’ is the way to go.

‘Partnership working’ appears to include authorising the removal of hen harrier chicks from a grouse moor already under investigation by the police for suspected raptor persecution (here) and accepting a £10K bung from representatives of the grouse shooting industry that prevents Natural England from criticising them or the sham brood meddling trial (see here).

[Cartoon by Gill Lewis]

So here’s the latest gruesome list. Note that the majority of these birds (but not all) were fitted with satellite tags. How many more [untagged] harriers have been killed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 October 2018: Hen harrier Tom ‘disappeared’ in South Wales (here)

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

1 November 2018: Hen harrier Barney ‘disappeared’ on Bodmin Moor (here)

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

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

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

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

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

26 April 2019: Hen harrier Rain ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Nairnshire (here)

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

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

5 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 1 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park (here)

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

14 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183704) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

23 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #55149) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

24 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 2 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

24 September 2019: Hen harrier Bronwyn ‘disappeared’ near a grouse moor in North Wales (here)

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

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

18 October 2019: Member of the public reports the witnessed shooting of an untagged male hen harrier on White Syke Hill in North Yorkshire (here)

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

January 2020: Members of the public report the witnessed shooting of a male hen harrier on Threshfield Moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

23 March 2020: Hen harrier Rosie ‘disappeared’ at an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (here)

1 April 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183703) ‘disappeared’ in unnamed location, tag intermittent (here)

5 April 2020: Hen harrier Hoolie ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

8 April 2020: Hen harrier Marlin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

19 May 2020: Hen harrier Fingal ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Lowther Hills, Scotland (here)

21 May 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183701) ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Cumbria shortly after returning from wintering in France (here)

27 May 2020: Hen harrier Silver ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on Leadhills Estate, Scotland (here)

day/month unknown: Unnamed male hen harrier breeding on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria ‘disappeared’ while away hunting (here)

9 July 2020: Unnamed female hen harrier (#201118) ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed site in Northumberland (here).

25 July 2020: Hen harrier Harriet ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

14 August 2020: Hen harrier Solo ‘disappeared’ in confidential nest area in Lancashire (here)

7 September 2020: Hen harrier Dryad ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

16 September 2020: Hen harrier Fortune ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (here)

19 September 2020: Hen harrier Harold ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

20 September 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2020, #55152) ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in North Yorkshire (here)

24 February 2021: Hen harrier Tarras ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Northumberland (here)

12th April 2021: Hen harrier Yarrow ‘disappeared’ near Stockton, County Durham (here)

18 May 2021: Adult male hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from its breeding attempt on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria whilst away hunting (here)

18 May 2021: Another adult male hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from its breeding attempt on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria whilst away hunting (here)

24 July 2021: Hen harrier Asta ‘disappeared’ at a ‘confidential site’ in the North Pennines (here)

14th August 2021: Hen harrier Josephine ‘disappeared’ at a ‘confidential site’ in Northumberland (here)

17 September 2021: Hen harrier Reiver ‘disappeared’ in a grouse moor dominated region of Northumberland (here)

24 September 2021: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2021, R2-F-1-21) ‘disappeared’ in Northumberland (here)

To be continued……..

01
Jan
22

Three more satellite-tagged hen harriers go missing in suspicious circumstances

Three more satellite-tagged hen harriers have gone missing in suspicious circumstances, according to the most recent data published by Natural England just before Xmas.

One went missing in July 2021, one in August and one in September. Neither the police or Natural England have issued any media press releases or made any public appeals for information about any of them. Instead, the grouse-shooting industry was given free-rein to publish propaganda all summer and autumn about ‘how hen harriers are thriving in the English uplands’, without any of the regulatory authorities challenging this rhetoric with any vigour.

[A young hen harrier. Photographer unknown]

Periodically Natural England publishes a table showing the fates of hen harriers it has satellite-tagged. These updates are infrequent and typically occur two to three times a year. In the latest (December) update, the following three hen harriers are listed as ‘missing, fate unknown’:

Hen Harrier Asta (female), tagged on 10th July 2020 at ‘Northumberland 3’ site. The date of last contact is given as 24th July 2021 in the North Pennines. The site location is given as ‘Site confidential’.

Hen Harrier Josephine (female), tagged on 30th June 2021 at ‘Northumberland 2’ site. The date of last contact is given as 14th August 2021 in Northumberland. The site location is given as ‘Site confidential – ongoing’.

Hen Harrier R2-F-1-21 (female), a brood meddled chick tagged on 20th July 2021 from site location ‘BM R2 Cumbria’. The date of last contact is given as 24th September 2021 in Northumberland. No specific site information is given and the comments section states ‘searches ongoing’.

These disappearances were mentioned in a Natural England blog which was published at the same time as the December data update. The blog is attributed to Dave Slater, Director for Wildlife Licensing and Enforcement Cases at NE, although I don’t think he wrote it – it’s quite a different style when compared with his previous missives. Anyway, these three missing hen harriers are mentioned in the blog, although they’re not exactly given headline prominence – this paragraph appears towards the end of the blog:

You’ll also note that the tags on three of this year’s seven brood meddled hen harrier chicks have stopped transmitting. One of these (Hen Harrier R2-F-1-21) is one of the three ‘missing fate unknown’ harriers I mentioned at the top of this blog. The other two brood meddled chicks have been found dead and their corpses retrieved and sent for post mortem. Those two are:

Brood meddled male Hen Harrier R2-M2-21, tagged on 20th July 2021 from nest site ‘BM R2 Cumbria’. The date of last contact is given in NE’s data table as 27th October 2021 and the location is given as ‘Cumbria, site confidential, hen harrier roost site’. The notes section says, ‘Recovered dead 28th October 2021, awaiting PM results’.

Brood meddled male Hen Harrier R2-M3-21, tagged on 20th July 2021 from nest site ‘BM R2 Cumbria’. The date of last contact is given as 27th October 2021 and the location is given as ‘County Durham’. The notes section says, ‘Recovered dead 28th October 2021, awaiting PM results’.

These two dead brood-meddled hen harriers are also mentioned in Natural England’s blog as follows:

It seems strange that the post-mortem results were not yet available by the time the Natural England blog was published on 15th December, given that both corpses were retrieved some seven weeks earlier.

I was also surprised to see the statement, ‘The finding circumstances did not suggest that the birds were illegally killed‘. Yeah, I think the same was said about Bowland Betty, the hen harrier found dead on a grouse moor at Swinton Estate, where the cause of death was only revealed after a pioneering forensic examination by scientists at the University College London Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science, which found a tiny fragment of lead at the site of a leg fracture, confirming that she had been shot (see this scientific peer reviewed paper published in the journal Veterinary Record in 2015: hopkins-et-al-2015_bowlandbetty_vetrecord and see here for a good laugh at the Countryside Alliance’s ‘expert’ opinion).

I might be wrong of course, but this latest statement from Natural England looks suspiciously like yet another damage-limitation exercise. I’ll be following up on those two mortem results.

In the meantime, it just leaves me to update the very long list of hen harriers that have been confirmed as illegally killed or suspected to have been killed since 2018, mostly on or close to driven grouse moors. A pattern of criminality that has been obvious to many of us for years – and has been demonstrated scientifically with Natural England’s own data – see here.

I’ll add the link here when I’ve written that blog.

UPDATE 2nd January 2022: 60 hen harriers confirmed illegally killed or ‘missing’ since 2018, most of them on or close to UK grouse moors (here)

29
Dec
21

Natural England refuses to comment on whether hen harrier had its wings ripped off in horrific persecution incident

On 17th December 2021, I blogged about how Natural England (NE) had been keeping a terrible, terrible secret about the gruesome fate of one of its satellite-tagged hen harriers earlier this year (see here), preferring instead to sit back and watch its so-called ‘partners’ in the grouse-shooting industry claim false credit for ‘protecting’ this species.

I guess that’s what happens when NE accepts a £10K bung from grouse-shooting industry reps on condition that NE doesn’t publicly criticise them (see here). So much for NE being an independent regulator, eh?

In that pre-Xmas blog I asked NE to make a statement about this particular crime and I suggested they may like to include a comment about whether they thought the hen harrier’s wings had been ripped off while she was still alive, based on the evidence in NE’s possession.

You’ll note I was careful not to reveal any information in that blog that could potentially affect a police investigation, i.e. tag number, bird’s name, location of incident, habitat type, etc.

Natural England didn’t respond directly on the blog but instead published a comment on Twitter on 20th December in response to Chris Packham’s request for information:

This is a complete cop-out by Natural England.

Yes, there is indeed an on-going police investigation but it’s going nowhere, just like the other 57 police investigations into the illegal killing of hen harriers in the last three years (see here).

This particular investigation began over 9 months ago. Nobody has been interviewed, let alone arrested or charged, and the likelihood of a prosecution is precisely zero. That’s not necessarily the result of police ineptitude; as regular blog readers will be all too painfully aware, these crimes are notoriously difficult to prosecute given the remoteness of the location and the lack of witnesses, although in this case the police do have some explaining to do – details on that will be forthcoming in due course.

Saying nothing by hiding behind the excuse of a live police investigation is simply a convenient cover for Natural England not to have to admit that its hen harrier brood meddling trial is a conservation sham because hen harriers are still being brutalised by the industry with which NE has jumped in to bed.

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why NE cannot make a statement about this latest horrific crime – it can easily be done without compromising the police investigation.

Instead, we got this from NE Chairman Tony Juniper on Xmas Eve:

I intend to write more about this latest persecution crime in the near future.

29
Dec
21

“These crimes are being covered up”: RSPB Scotland speaks out as bird crime soars

Bird crime soared across the UK in 2020, and RSPB believes Scotland’s native birds of prey will continue to be persecuted, according to two new articles published yesterday in The Courier and The Press & Journal:

Birds of prey such as hawks, eagles, kites, buzzards, harriers, falcons and owls are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

The RSPB’s annual report revealed that 2020 was the worst year on record for bird crime across the UK.

There were 137 known and confirmed incidents of birds of prey being killed, the highest number in 30 years.

This trend has continued in 2021, according to Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations.

He said: “Bird crime covers a whole manner of crimes against wild birds, but what is particularly of concern are those crimes that have an impact on the populations and ranges of a variety of species.”

According to Mr Thomson, bird crime, also known as raptor persecution, is particularly rife in the north-east, with the hen harrier population being a fraction of what it was 20 years ago.

He also explained that golden eagles are only occupying around a third of the breeding territories that they ought to; meanwhile, peregrines have largely disappeared from the uplands in the north-east.

Mr Thomson believes that these low population numbers are largely down to the persecution of birds of prey for the intense land management of grouse moors.

Birds of prey are at the top of the food chain and they hunt and eat grouse and pheasants.

In an attempt to maximise the number of game birds available for clients to shoot, grouse moor managers will eliminate any threats to their birds.

This can include burning patches of heather moorland and releasing clouds of smoke into the air, leaving medicated grit out in the open and hare baiting.

The National Golden Eagle Survey shows that across Scotland the population as a whole is doing well and that there are significant increases in the west where there are no grouse moors.

Mr Thomson said it is the east of Scotland where the populations are a fraction of what they should be.

Scientific reports show that the illegal persecution of golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines are largely happening in areas managed for game bird shooting.

Unfortunately, these findings are largely happening in the middle of nowhere,” Mr Thomson said, “out of sight, out of mind, where witnesses are very far and few between.

But, occasionally, an incident occurs that is detected.

In 2020, about a week into lockdown when the entire population of the country was told to stay indoors or to exercise within five miles of your house, we had a young white-tailed eagle poisoned on a grouse moor in Strathdon, in an area with an appalling history of crimes against birds of prey going back 10-plus years.”

Mr Thomson explained there have been cases of birds of satellite-tagged birds disappearing under “suspicious circumstances”.

In March a golden eagle was illegally poisoned on the Invercauld Estate, a grouse moor in the Cairngorms.

Last year a satellite transmitter that had been fitted on a golden eagle was found at the side of a river.

It was wrapped in lead sheeting and thrown into the river where it lay for four years until a walker found it on the bank.

Mr Thomson said: “This is the efforts that people are going to cover up these crimes, they don’t want to be caught.

The problem is, as I say, these crimes are seldom witnessed; to actually get any idea of the scale of it we’re really depending on doing population studies.

We’re never going to find all the victims because, needless to say, if someone shoots a golden eagle they’re not going to leave it around for the RSPB or the police or a hillwalker to find.

These crimes are being covered up.”

The RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations explained that there are other factors that have impacted the populations of birds of prey.

He said that all birds face challenges “just surviving”, through natural mortality, starvation, and loss of habitat due to the intensification of land management or agriculture.

Because of this, populations are much lower than what would be ideal, and so deliberate and illegal killing is adding extra strain to the populations.

As well as being important for biodiversity, birds of prey are an attraction for tourists visiting Scotland.

People interested in photography travel from all over the world to capture Scottish wildlife, bringing millions to the economy.

Mr Thomson highlighted that, on the Isle of Mull, around £5 million a year goes into the island from people going to see white-tailed eagles.

The Scottish Government plans to introduce licensing to grouse moors, which Mr Thomson described as a “game-changer”.

He believes the loss of a license to shoot will introduce a significant deterrent to the estates that do persecute birds of prey.

There are places you wouldn’t want to take your dog for a walk in case it gets caught in a trap or eats something poisonous,” he said. “It’s not just birds that are dying, it’s people’s pets.

Perish the thought that some day some small child will come into contact with chemicals like this, it could have absolutely devastating effects.

It’s not only illegal but it’s reckless and indiscriminate.”

ENDS

17
Dec
21

Hen harrier update – Natural England has been keeping a terrible, terrible secret

Natural England has been keeping a secret.

A terrible, terrible secret about one of its satellite-tagged hen harriers.

I’ve been waiting all year for Natural England to inform the public about what has happened.

I waited in the spring, but there was no news.

I looked at Natural England’s summer update on its satellite-tagged hen harriers, published in July, but Natural England said nothing was amiss with this bird.

I watched in August as the grouse-shooting industry paraded its hen harrier propaganda throughout the media, claiming that hen harriers were being worshipped by gamekeepers or something equally as implausible. Natural England said nothing to challenge that view, despite knowing the grisly fate of one of its tagged hen harriers.

I read an article in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago where gamekeepers were being ‘lauded’ as the hen harrier’s ‘friend’ by a straight-faced Natural England employee (Stephen Murphy), who also claimed that hen harrier Bowland Betty, who had been found dead with shotgun injuries on a grouse moor, had been shot away from the grouse moor, not on it – a statement for which he has absolutely no evidence whatsoever!

Now its December and two days ago Natural England published another update about its satellite-tagged hen harriers. Several more have apparently vanished this year, which is no surprise given we know that at least 57 have been killed/vanished in the last three years, but I’ll come back to an analysis of these latest victims in the New Year.

Right now I’m more interested in whether Natural England would say anything about the fate of this particular bird.

It hasn’t.

Sorry, but I am not prepared to sit and watch this pantomime any longer.

The authorities need to come clean and admit what has happened here. Cover-ups don’t instil confidence and besides the public has a right to know what is happening to these hen harriers, and especially to those that are fitted with public-funded tags.

Over to you, Natural England, and you might want to include a statement about whether you believe this harrier’s wings were pulled off, perhaps when she was still alive, based on the evidence you have.

UPDATE 29th December 2021: Natural England refuses to comment on whether hen harrier had its wings ripped off in horrific persecution incident (here).

17
Dec
21

Multi-agency raid following suspected raptor persecution in Humberside

Humberside Police led a multi-agency raid on 10th December 2021, executing a warrant in relation to suspected raptor persecution crimes after a number of dead buzzards were found with unusually high levels of rat poison.

The police were joined by staff from Natural England, National Wildlife Crime Unit and RSPB Investigation’s team.

The investigation is ongoing.

Photos from Humberside Police Rural Crime Team:

This is one of many multi-agency searches in the UK this year, all in response to raptor persecution crimes. 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), on 14th September a raid in Norfolk (here), and a raid in Wales in October (here).

That’s a lot of raids in a relatively short space of time, in comparison to recent years. It’s testament to the agencies involved that they are being so proactive and working well together in a genuine multi-agency partnership, which is brilliant to see. It’s also testament to the fact that raptor persecution continues in many locations across the UK, despite what the game-shooting organisations would have us believe.

Whether these investigations result in prosecutions is another matter entirely (although we’ve already seen two successful convictions in recent weeks – here and here), but personally I’m delighted that at least this early part of the criminal justice process appears to have been re-energised after a long period of stagnation. Well done to all those involved.

16
Dec
21

Another gamekeeper convicted as another bird of prey starves to death in illegally-operated trap

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the conviction of a 53-year-old gamekeeper in the Scottish Borders, Peter Givens, who was responsible for an illegally-operated trap in which a barn owl and a goshawk had starved to death (see here). I’ll be blogging more about that case shortly as some interesting things have come to light.

Fast forward two weeks and today another gamekeeper, 58-year-old Hilton Prest, has been convicted for an almost identical offence, this time causing a sparrowhawk to starve to death inside an illegally-operated trap in Bosley, Cheshire, in February this year.

[The dead sparrowhawk inside the crow cage trap. Photo by RSPB]

The RSPB has published a press release about this latest conviction, which I’ll reproduce below, and then I’ll add some commentary at the end.

RSPB press release, 16th December 2021:

Man fined after sparrowhawk starves to death in trap

An amateur gamekeeper has received an £800 fine after a sparrowhawk starved to death in a trap in Cheshire.

At Manchester Magistrates’ court today (16 December 2021), Hilton Prest pleaded guilty to unlawfully using a trap on or before 10/2/21 contrary to Sec 5(1)(b) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. He was fined £800 (plus £85 costs and £80 victim surcharge). A charge against a second man was discontinued. 

On 10 February 2021, a member of the public found a sparrowhawk alive in a cage trap on land managed for gamebird shooting near Bosley. Cage traps are large mesh traps designed so a bird can get in but not out. They can be used legally, under license, to control crows, and must be checked every 25 hours. Any non-target birds caught accidentally must be released unharmed during daily inspections. When not in use the doors on such traps must be removed or secured open so birds cannot be caught.

There was snow on the ground and no shelter or water for the bird. The door to the trap was closed, so the member of the public opened it slightly, hoping the sparrowhawk would escape. Concerned for the bird’s welfare, they later provided the trap’s location to the RSPB.

[The juvenile sparrowhawk caught inside the trap during freezing weather in Feb 2021. Photo by RSPB]

RSPB Investigators attended the following day, 17 February, however they found the sparrowhawk (later confirmed as the same bird) dead inside the trap. There were also the remains of a blackbird, which had presumably attracted the sparrowhawk inside, and some grain, which had presumably attracted the blackbird. Despite the door being ajar, it appeared the sparrowhawk had been unable to escape and starved to death.

Cheshire Police were notified and the body of the bird sent for post-mortem examination. A veterinary pathologist confirmed the bird had died of starvation and would have experienced considerable unnecessary suffering inside the trap. (The veterinary work was funded by money from Wild Justice’s Raptor Forensic Fund, provided to support such cases, and administered by the PAW Forensic Working Group.) Two men were later interviewed by the police and reported for offences in relation to the unlawful use of the trap. 

District Judge Mr Jack McGarver said that he accepted that the act was careless rather than reckless or intentional, but that the degree of carelessness was high, and that it was well below the standard that was expected.

He added: “The sparrowhawk is a beautiful native creature which is entitled to be protected.”

Tom Grose, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “An unattended set trap in sub-zero temperatures was a death sentence for both birds.

If a trap is no longer in operation, it must be disabled in such a way that no bird can become caught. The operator has a duty of care to ensure that this happens, and that no birds can become caught inside. This duty of care was not met.

This is yet another example of why Natural England must improve the general license conditions for disabling these traps, in line with conditions in Scotland. We are aware of a number of other birds, including buzzards and a goshawk, that have starved to death inside cage traps which appear not to have been properly disabled. In this case, a simple padlock securing the door wide open would have saved the life of this blackbird and this sparrowhawk. This needs to be addressed to ensure no more birds perish in this sad and wasteful way.”

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, or a trap with a bird of prey caught inside, phone the police on 101, email RSPB Investigations at crime@rspb.org.uk or fill in the online form: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/our-positions-and-campaigns/positions/wildbirdslaw/reportform.aspx

ENDS

First of all, well done to the RSPB’s investigations team, working with Cheshire Police, to bring this case to court and secure a conviction.

The penalty given to gamekeeper Prest (£800 fine plus £85 costs and £80 victim surcharge) is higher than that given to gamekeeper Givens (£300 fine plus £20 victim surcharge) even though two Schedule 1 species had died as a result of Givens’ offence so once again sentencing consistency is lacking.

What’s really interesting though is the difference in the trapping rules between Scotland and England. In the Scottish case, it could be shown quite easily that Givens was operating an unlawful trap because (a) in Scotland the General Licence requires that the trap user be identified by a code attached to each trap (this is not a requirement in England because statutory agency Natural England hasn’t bothered to introduce it), and (b) in Scotland, when the trap is not in use the trap operator MUST do the following, as a condition of the General Licence:

Any trap not in use must be immobilised and rendered incapable of use. For multi-catch cage traps, the access doors must be removed from the site or securely padlocked open so that no bird can be confined‘.

This is a clear instruction – you either padlock the door open or you remove it completely if the trap is not in use. It’s unambiguous.

However, the equivalent General Licence condition in England is nowhere near as clear cut and can lead to all sorts of ‘accidents’ and excuses.

In England, the General Licence condition says this:

When you are not using a trap, it must not be capable of holding or catching animals.

You must secure trap doors in a fully open position, or remove the doors completely from the site‘.

Then there’s an add-on bit of ‘advice’ underneath, that says:

Padlocks are the most secure way to secure trap doors open, but cable ties or wire may also be suitable‘.

Crucially, this ‘advice’ is not legally binding, so a trap operator in England could legally use a rock or a piece of baler twine to ‘secure trap doors in a fully open position’ but both these techniques, and others, are not bomb proof and a door could ‘accidentally’ close, preventing a trapped bird from a means of escape. Padlocking the door or removing the door completely provides a trapped bird with a route to escape.

Quite why Natural England hasn’t incorporated this very simple but effective condition into its General Licence is a matter of bemusement for many of us. It’s really not that difficult, is it?

And if game-shooting organisations were as interested in protecting birds of prey as they claim to be, they’d be pushing for this very simple measure, too.




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