Archive for the 'News' Category


Police investigate illegal poisoning of a buzzard in Suffolk – guns & pesticides seized

News is emerging of a multi-agency investigation today following the discovery of an illegally poisoned buzzard near Lakenheath in Suffolk.

Suffolk Police, Natural England and the RSPB Investigations Team attended and a number of guns and pesticides were seized. This is excellent partnership working and what a response!

The investigation continues and hopefully charges will be forthcoming.

[Photo from Suffolk Police]


National Wildlife Crime Unit – new head appointed

Press release from National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), 18th January 2021

New lead for National Wildlife Crime Unit

Today marks the arrival of a new head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, Chief Inspector Kevin Kelly.

Chief Inspector Kelly joins the national unit from his home force North Yorkshire Police. Ch Insp Kelly, who currently chairs the UK Badger Persecution Priority Delivery Group, has been a prominent figure in the wildlife crime arena for a number of years, seeing him become a highly decorated enforcer.

[In 2019, North Yorkshire Police Inspector Kevin Kelly was presented with a Special Recognition accolade at the Daily Mirror Animal Hero Awards for his dedication to tackling wildlife crime]

The NWCU is an intelligence and investigative support function that oversees and helps police forces implement the UK wildlife crime strategy set by the NPCC. The NWCU oversees the running and support of the Priority Delivery Groups for wildlife crime and works closely with advisory bodies and government agencies to support enforcement.

Chief Inspector Kelly says “I’m delighted, but there’s no time for complacency as this is going to be a tough role. I have spent all my service working in the fight against wildlife crime and to take this national role is a privilege. Today is a good day for our animals who are harmed or exploited and a bad day for criminals. I intend to lead this unit from the front, being visible on the ground and supporting colleagues with enforcement across the UK. Many people who abuse and exploit animals will abuse and exploit people, and I want to continue to show that when we effectively enforce wildlife crime, this feeds into the wider policing picture, both in the UK and internationally.

I also have a strong belief in partnership working. Effective partnerships help provide good practice and accountability and I want to see this built up nationally”.  


This is a very welcome appointment. Kev has a great deal of experience of tackling illegal raptor persecution from his time spent on North Yorkshire Police’s rural taskforce. He’s renowned for his enthusiasm, energy and determination and is highly respected by those at the front end of the conservation community.

Best of luck to him.


Judgement in Wild Justice’s legal challenge of Welsh General Licences has significant implications

Statement from Wild Justice (18th January 2021):

Further success on General Licences – this time in Wales

Earlier this morning, His Honour Justice Jarman handed down his judgment on Wild Justice’s judicial review of Natural Resources Wales’s general licences. His judgment further limits the casual killing of birds under general licences and has implications for general licences in other parts of the UK. 

Wild Justice is delighted at the content of the judgment, and its implications, even though the judge did not go as far as saying that the current licences are unlawful.  

The judgment: The Wild Justice challenge of the Welsh general licences concerned the circumstances under which the licences can lawfully be used. And our main concerns were about the conservation licence (GL004) which authorises the killing of four corvid species (Carrion Crow, Magpie, Jackdaw and Jay) for the purpose of conserving wild birds.  

The judgment considered the following; For example, carrion crows, of which there are about 20,000 pairs in Wales, prey upon the eggs and chicks of ground nesting birds, such as curlews, of which there are less than 400 pairs left in Wales‘ and later stated ‘Thus, in the example given above NRW accepts that the relevant licence (004) should be used only to kill crows during the months between egg laying and when the chicks are well grown, namely April to July, and only in those areas where curlews nest, which do not extend to urban areas. It should not permit someone to kill a crow in the autumn or in an urban area on the basis that that bird might someday at some place take a curlew’s egg or chick‘.

In other words, you can only kill Carrion Crows under this licence where the Carrion Crows are a present danger to species of conservation concern – in those places at those times. Wild Justice believes that this is a highly significant and very welcome clarification.  

Justice Jarman further wrote ‘Written evidence was filed on behalf of WJ by one of its directors, Dr Mark Avery, on behalf of NRW by one of its managers Dr Sarah Wood, and on behalf of BASC by Glyn Evans, one of its heads. Whilst there was some disagreement between Dr Avery and Dr Wood, there was little if any difference between them on how the licences given for the purposes stated in them should work in practice. Mr Wolfe [counsel for Wild Justice] made it clear that WJ welcomed such clarification but submits that these clarifications should have been expressly imported into the wording of the licences. He points to the fact that Mr Evans interprets the licences more widely than NRW, and submits that that is a cogent reason why the licences should specify the circumstances of their use in greater detail‘. 

In other words, the licensing authority (NRW) agrees with Wild Justice that the licence should only be used where there is a ‘present risk’, and the court agrees with us both, but BASC had a different view which was rejected by the court.  


For further commentary on this judgement and what Wild Justice suggests should happen now, please read this piece on Wild Justice’s blog.


Police investigate illegal killing of buzzards in Nottinghamshire

Press release from Nottingham Police (17 January 2021)

Investigation begins into killing of wild birds

A local man is assisting police with their enquiries in relation to the killing of wild birds.

Nottinghamshire Police officers have worked closely with the RSPB after they were called on 12 January following concern to wildlife in the Kneeton area.

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

Wildlife Crime Officers from Newark and West Bridgford officers were assisted by investigators from the RSPB.

Rushcliffe Inspector Craig Berry said: “Following excellent partnership work by the police and the RSPB we have interviewed a man under caution at the police station in connection with the death of buzzards.   

The incident was called into the RSPB following a report that the birds were killed  and officers are now making further enquiries.”  

Wildlife crimes are often under reported and can pose some practical difficulties in the investigation, however this example demonstrates the police will seek to gather evidence and prosecute offenders.

Officers have urged anyone with any information to contact police by calling 101, the RSPB or Crimestoppers and report similar matters.



New Scottish wildlife crime investigator appointed

Press release from National Wildlife Crime Unit & Nature Scot (formerly SNH), 15 January 2021

Tackling raptor persecution, poaching and hare coursing will be the top priorities for a new wildlife crime specialist covering all of Scotland, appointed late last year.

As the Investigative Support Officer for Scotland for the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), PC Gavin Ross will be a source of expertise in wildlife crime at both the local and national level. He will work with individual police wildlife liaison officers, NGOs, the Scottish Government, NatureScot, RSPB, the SSPCA and Scottish Land and Estates. The position is funded by NatureScot.

PC Ross was the local community police officer for Dunbar, and has 21 years of police service and an extensive background in wildlife crime issues, community policing, problem solving and educational work.

Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Ben Macpherson, said: “Wildlife crime is despicable and tackling it has been a long-standing priority for the Scottish Government. We work closely with a number of agencies to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice. The Animals and Wildlife Act, which recently became law, increases the maximum penalties for the most serious wildlife crimes and extends the time available to Police Scotland to investigate.

The work of the National Wildlife Crime Unit is hugely valued by communities across Scotland and we are committed to supporting it. I look forward to working with PC Ross in the future and congratulate him on his new role.

PC Ross said: “When I was in Edinburgh, very early in my service, I became involved in investigating wildlife crime because of my interest and experience in this area. I’ve been a part-time wildlife crime officer throughout my whole service and the new job is the pinnacle of my career. I worked very hard preparing for my interview and was very keen to secure the job, which is a dream post. I am looking forward to settling into the role and working with all the different partner agencies which are so important in the fight against wildlife crime.

In the six weeks I’ve been in post I’ve concentrated on meeting many of the partner agencies we work with in wildlife crime. Unfortunately most of the meetings have had to be done virtually but I feel they have all been really positive and I look forward to building on these initial foundations, especially when we can meet face to face.”

The Head of the NWCU, Ch Insp Hubble said, “I was extremely pleased when PC Ross was successfully appointed as our new Scottish ISO and I am sure he is going to be a valuable asset to policing wildlife crime.”

Andy Turner, NatureScot Wildlife Crime Officer added: “Eliminating wildlife crime is huge priority for us, which is why we’ve provided funding for this post since 2014. Wildlife crime doesn’t just cause irreparable damage to Scotland’s nature: it also affects tourism, which in turn impacts on the economy. We are committed to working with NWCU, Police Scotland and other members of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW Scotland) to tackle this challenging issue.

We worked closely with Gavin’s predecessor Charlie Everitt to prevent wildlife crime and raise awareness.  I look forward to continuing to this important work with Gavin and the NWCU in the future.”

NWCU’s main role is to assist in the prevention and detection of wildlife crime by obtaining and distributing information from a wide range of organisations and by helping police forces investigate wildlife crimes. NWCU also produce analysis which highlights local or national threats.

The appointment of PC Ross comes after the retirement of PC Charlie Everitt, who had spent the last 11 years developing the role of Scottish ISO within the National Wildlife Crime Unit. Charlie furthered countless operations, provided expert advice to police wildlife liaison officers and acted as the key central point of contact between the police and a vast range of partner agencies. Charlie was well known throughout the Scottish wildlife crime arena and his professional knowledge, enthusiasm, and willingness to assist were beyond question. PC Ross recognised he had “big shoes to fill.”



Scottish Government fails to appoint taskforce to consider increased powers for SSPCA

Ten years ago the Scottish Government was asked to consider extending the powers of the Scottish SPCA, to allow them to investigate a much wider remit of wildlife crime than at present, including raptor persecution.

Since then this issue has been kicked in to the long grass more times than is credible by a long line of seven (yes, seven!) Environment Ministers. For new blog readers please see the extraordinary timeline of events at the end of this blog.

[Buzzard caught inside a crow cage trap. It’s not illegal to trap buzzards in these traps but it becomes illegal if the trap isn’t checked by the operator at least once every 24hrs and the buzzard released immediately upon discovery. Under current legislation, if the buzzard is injured but still alive then the SSPCA can investigate. If the buzzard is dead (as a result of being caught and held illegally) the SSPCA do not currently have the power to investigate and would have to call the police. It’s simply bonkers. Photo by RSPB]

In June 2020, Environment Minister #6, Mairi Gougeon, committed to establishing a new ‘independent’ taskforce to consider, again, increased powers for the SSPCA (see here). This was in response to Mark Ruskell MSP withdrawing an amendment for increased SSPCA powers from the Animals & Wildlife Bill.

Mairi Gougeon stated that she expected the taskforce to convene in the summer (of 2020) and to ‘be in a position to conclude their review and submit a report of their recommendations before the end of the current Parliamentary session‘, as long as Covid and Brexit didn’t impact on this plan. [The dissolution of Parliament is scheduled for the 5th May 2021].

Since that announcement in June, nothing else has been heard on this issue.

Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submitted two Parliamentary questions in December 2020 to find out the status of this taskforce, if it even exists. Newly appointed Environment Minister Ben Macpherson has now responded – and it looks like he’s going to fit right in to his new role:

I wonder how Mark Ruskell MSP feels about this continued procrastination. He only withdrew his proposed amendment to the Animals & Wildlife Bill on the basis of Mairi Gougeon’s commitment to appoint an independent taskforce in the summer of 2020.

The Covid pandemic and Brexit drama can legitimately be held responsible for a lot of delayed Parliamentary and Government business, of course, and nobody would dispute that. But seriously, in this situation, it looks simply to be being used as an excuse.

All the Scottish Government has to do is to appoint a taskforce Chair and committee. That’s it. Scottish Ministers don’t have to undertake the work of the taskforce, just simply proffer instruction and let the taskforce get on with it. It doesn’t take seven months to do that, unless you’re the Scottish Government that has consistently procrastinated on this particular issue, for ten years and now under seven Environment Ministers.

Here’s the timeline for those new to this blog:

February 2011: Increased powers for the SSPCA was first suggested by former MSP Peter Peacock as an amendment during the Wildlife & Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill debates. The then Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham rejected it as an amendment but suggested a public consultation was in order.

September 2011: Seven months later Elaine Murray MSP (Scottish Labour) lodged a parliamentary motion that further powers for the SSPCA should be considered.

November 2011: Elaine Murray MSP (Scottish Labour) formalised the question in a P&Q session and the next Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson MSP, then promised that the consultation would happen ‘in the first half of 2012’.

September 2012: Nine months later and nothing had happened so we asked Paul Wheelhouse MSP, as the new Environment Minister, when the consultation would take place. The response, in October 2012, was:

The consultation has been delayed by resource pressures but will be brought forward in the near future”.

July 2013: Ten months later and still no sign so we asked the Environment Minister (still Paul Wheelhouse) again. In August 2013, this was the response:

We regret that resource pressures did further delay the public consultation on the extension of SSPCA powers. However, I can confirm that the consultation document will be published later this year”.

September 2013: At a meeting of the PAW Executive Group, Minister Wheelhouse said this:

The consultation on new powers for the SSPCA will be published in October 2013“.

January 2014: In response to one of our blog readers who wrote to the Minister (still Paul Wheelhouse) to ask why the consultation had not yet been published:

We very much regret that resource pressures have caused further delays to the consultation to gain views on the extension of SSPCA powers. It will be published in the near future“.

31 March 2014: Public consultation launched.

1 September 2014: Consultation closed.

26 October 2014: We published our analysis of the consultation responses here.

22 January 2015: Analysis of consultation responses published by Scottish Government. 233 responses (although 7,256 responses if online petition included – see here).

We were told a decision would come from the new Environment Minister, Dr Aileen McLeod MSP, “in due course”.

1 September 2015: One year after the consultation closed and still nothing.

25 February 2016: In response to a question posed by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment Committee, Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod said: “I have some further matters to clarify with the SSPCA, however I do hope to be able to report on the Scottish Government’s position on this issue shortly“.

May 2016: Dr Aileen McLeod fails to get re-elected and loses her position as Environment Minister. Roseanna Cunningham is promoted to a newly-created position of Cabinet Secretary for the Environment.

12 May 2016: Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submits the following Parliamentary question:

Question S5W-00030 – To ask the Scottish Government when it will announce its decision regarding extending the powers of the Scottish SPCA to tackle wildlife crime.

26 May 2016: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham responds with this:

A decision on whether to extend the investigatory powers of the Scottish SPCA will be announced in due course.

1 September 2016: Two years after the consultation closed and still nothing.

9 January 2017: Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submits the following Parliamentary question:

Question S5W-05982 – To ask the Scottish Government by what date it will publish its response to the consultation on the extension of wildlife crime investigative powers for inspectors in the Scottish SPCA.

17 January 2017: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham responds:

A decision on whether to extend the investigatory powers of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will be announced in the first half of 2017.

31 May 2017: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham rejects an extension of powers for the SSPCA ‘based on legal advice’ and instead announces, as an alternative, a pilot scheme of Special Constables for the Cairngorms National Park (here). It later emerged in 2018 that this pilot scheme was also an alternative to the Government’s 2016 manifesto pledge to establish a Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit as part of Police Scotland – a pledge on which it had now reneged (see here).

November 2019: The pilot scheme of Special Constables in the Cairngorms National Park was an absolute failure as a grand total of zero wildlife crimes were recorded by the Special Constables but plenty were reported by others (see here).

June 2020: Mark Ruskell (Scottish Greens) proposed further powers for the SSPCA at Stage 2 of the Animals and Wildlife Bill. The latest Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon persuaded him to withdraw the proposed amendment on the basis that she’d consider establishing a taskforce to convene ‘this summer’ to consider increased powers (see here).

December 2020: Mark Ruskell (Scottish Greens) submits two Parliamentary questions asking about the status of the taskforce and who is serving on it (see here).

January 2021: New Environment Minister Ben Macpherson says the taskforce has not yet been appointed but that it is “expected to be established later this year“.


New poll shows majority of Scots want stronger animal welfare laws

More for Scotland’s Animals (MFSA) is a new campaigning coalition formed by ten of the UK’s top animal welfare organisations.

Today, MFSA issued a press release showing the results of a recent YouGov poll which indicates that the majority of Scots want stronger animal welfare laws. One of the coalition members is OneKind and you can read the press release on the OneKind website here.

The poll mostly covered animal welfare issues relating to the pet trade, companion animals and farming, but interestingly The Herald’s coverage was illustrated by a photo of a red grouse:

This image choice may have been influenced by another poll result, which was that 76% of Scots want to see a ban on the use of snares, which are used routinely and indiscriminately on many grouse moors (e.g. see ‘Hanged by the Feet until Dead‘, a recent report published by the League Against Cruel Sports, here).

It may also have been influenced by the Scottish Government’s response to the MFSA poll. A Govt spokesman said:

The Scottish Government takes animal welfare and wildlife crime very seriously and is committed to ensuring the highest standards in Scotland.

That is why we have taken a range of actions over this Parliament, from banning wild animals in travelling circuses through to the recent Animals and Wildlife Act, which increases the maximum penalties for the most serious animal welfare and wildlife crimes, and offers more protection to animals, including service animals and mountain hares.

We are introducing a new modern licensing regime for dog breeders and pet sellers (including ‘Lucy’s Law’) to prevent the third party sale of puppies and kittens as pets, as well as licensing of animal rescue centres and rehoming activities, and cat and rabbit breeding.

We have also established the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission to provide independent expert advice on animal welfare matters and we are currently consulting on possible improvements to animal transport legislation.

In addition, as part of our response to the Werritty report, we confirmed we will bring forward plans to license grouse moors in a bid to tackle raptor persecution. We will continue to work with our partners and Scotland’s animal welfare organisations to ensure animals have the best possible protection.”


Forthcoming Westminster debate on grouse shooting postponed again

The forthcoming Westminster Hall debate on banning driven grouse shooting, triggered by Wild Justice’s successful 2019 petition and scheduled to take place at 6pm on 25 January 2021 has been postponed again, due to Covid, according to the Wild Justice blog.

This is completely understandable, of course. There doesn’t appear to be a system set up for MPs to participate online, and travelling to London to attend in person couldn’t possibly be described as ‘essential travel’.

For further updates on this and other Wild Justice news, please subscribe to their free newsletter here


3 kestrels shot dead in West Yorkshire since New Year

Three kestrels have been shot dead in West Yorkshire during the first week of January 2021, according to an article in the Yorkshire Post.

Is this the start of another lockdown surge in raptor persecution? Come on, who doesn’t want to start their New Year by illegally blasting a kestrel to bits?

[Kestrel photo by Annette Cutts]

The article reports that two kestrels were shot in the Huddersfield area and one in Leeds. Unfortunately there isn’t any further information such as date, specific location or type of weapon etc, although a tweet from the Leeds Wildlife & Rural Crime Team reports the shooting of a kestrel on 2nd January 2021 ‘in the Hebden Bridge area’.

In autumn last year West Yorkshire Police also recorded the fatal shooting of another kestrel, in the Pudsey area of Leeds (see here).


Suspicious disappearance of hen harrier Harold features in Yorkshire Post

Many thanks to blog reader Grace Newton, who also happens to be a journalist writing for the Yorkshire Post, who has followed up by writing an article on Tuesday’s blog about hen harrier Harold, who disappeared in suspicious circumstances on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales in September 2020.

The article includes some commentary from Natural England, who said that the grouse moor from where Harold vanished ‘was searched by police several times and nothing was found‘ and that ‘the investigation remains ongoing‘.

The article also suggests that the lame ‘appeal’ (here) put out by Natural England on twitter refers to Harold.

Where is the Natural England appeal about the brood meddled hen harrier #55152 that also vanished in North Yorkshire in September 2020, and hen harrier Fortune who vanished at an undisclosed location in Northumberland, also in September 2020?

The full article in the Yorkshire Post is available here

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