Archive for the 'Persecution Incidents in England' Category

15
Sep
18

Grouse shooting industry’s reaction to news of 3 x missing hen harriers

Following the RSPB’s announcement on Thursday that three of this year’s satellite-tagged hen harriers have already ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on three grouse moors (here), we predicted that the grouse shooting industry’s ‘leaders’ would respond with a wall of silence, just as they have previously (e.g. see here).

We weren’t wrong.

[One of the missing three: ‘Hilma’, photo by Steve Downing]

Two days on, after searching websites and twitter feeds, here’s how the ‘partners’ of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG, also known as the PAW Raptor Group) have responded:

Countryside Alliance – no public statement

BASC – no public statement

National Gamekeepers Organisation – no public statement

Moorland Association – no public statement

Country Land & Business Association – no public statement

Natural England – no public statement

DEFRA – no public statement

Northern England Raptor Forum – full public statement here

NERF’s statement is excellent, and as usual, it doesn’t pull any punches. It talks about the never-ending cycle of persecution on driven grouse moors and how the grouse shooting ‘partners’ of the RPPDG are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem.

Why is this charade of ‘partnership-working’ still allowed to continue? It’s been running for seven years and absolutely nothing has changed. Nothing. Not one thing.

And nor will it, when the grouse shooting industry’s so-called leaders refuse to even publicise the raptor persecution hotline to encourage their members to report suspected raptor crime!

The RPPDG has a new Chair – Police Supt. Nick Lyall of Bedfordshire Police. We’ve been impressed with his willingness to listen – he contacted us directly and asked to talk – that’s never happened before. It’s clear that he wants to make a difference and understands that the status quo is unacceptable, but we don’t yet know what changes he intends to bring.

Although, he tweeted this afternoon that he intends to bring more conservation groups to the RPPDG and cited the Hawk & Owl Trust as one of them!

That’ll be the Hawk & Owl Trust that’s in bed with the grouse shooting industry in pursuit of the ludicrous hen harrier brood meddling scheme (here) and which is now facing two legal challenges from conservationists in the High Court in December (here); that lost its former President, Chris Packham, over the decision to partner with the grouse shooting industry on brood meddling (here); is prepared to turn a blind eye to the criminal activities of the driven grouse shooting industry when it suits (see here); is unwilling to be transparent about the illegal shooting of one of its own satellite-tagged hen harrriers (see here); and has been accused by its own members of being apologists for raptor persecution on driven grouse moors (here).

We look forward to a lively discussion with Nick later in the week!

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13
Sep
18

3 more satellite-tagged hen harriers ‘disappear’ – all on grouse moors

You could set your clock by the regularity of these reports. In news that will shock absolutely no-one, the RSPB has announced the sudden and inexplicable ‘disappearance’ of three young satellite-tagged hen harriers.

All three had hatched this year, all three had vanished before the end of August, and in all three cases the tag’s last known fix came from a driven grouse moor.

Photo of Hen Harrier Octavia, by Steve Downing:

Read the RSPB blog here

The three ‘missing’ harriers are Hilma (1), Octavia (2) and Heulwen (3).

[RPUK map]

According to the RSPB blog, Hilma’s last known tag fix was on 8 August 2018 ‘near Wooler, Northumberland over land managed for driven grouse shooting’.

From the map on the RSPB blog, we believe this to be on the Lilburn Estate. We’ve blogged about the Lilburn Estate recently (see here).

Here’s a close up map of the habitat at Hilma’s last known location. The rectangular strips of burnt heather give the game away a bit, eh?

According to the RSPB blog, Octavia’s last known tag fix was on 26 August 2018 on ‘privately owned grouse moors near Sheffield’.

From the map on the RSPB blog, we believe this to be the Broomhead Estate in the Peak District National Park. We’ve blogged about the Broomhead Estate quite recently (here, here and here).

Here’s a close up map of the habitat at Octavia’s last known location. The rectangular strips of burnt heather give the game away a bit, eh?

According to the RSPB blog, Heulwen’s last known tag fix was on 29 August 2018 ‘in the vicinity of Ruabon Mountain’.

From the map on the RSPB blog, we believe this to be the Ruabon grouse moor. We’ve blogged about this grouse moor recently (see here, here).

Here’s a close up map of the habitat at Heulwen’s last known location:

And cue obfuscation, denial and deflections from the grouse shooting industry’s social media trolls, deathly silence from the grouse shooting industry’s representative bodies, and wilful blindness (and continued silence) from DEFRA, Michael Gove MP, Therese Coffey MP, Natural England and anyone else who thinks we’re stupid enough to believe that the HH Action Plan is helping hen harrier population recovery.

Cartoon by Gerard Hobley

 

31
Aug
18

Whernside Estate: more reaction to gamekeeper’s conviction for shooting owls

On Tuesday gamekeeper Tim Cowin was convicted for shooting, and then stamping on, two short-eared owls before then hiding the corpses on a grouse moor on the Whernside Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here).

[Gamekeeper Cowin being arrested on the Whernside Estate shortly after shooting and then stamping on two short-eared owls and hiding their corpses on the moor. Photo by Guy Shorrock, RSPB]

Cowin’s conviction was widely welcomed by the public, and there was also comprehensive revulsion at his criminal and sadistic behaviour after people were able to watch the extraordinary video footage captured on scene by the RSPB’s Investigations Team.

Several organisations involved in the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG – the PAW Raptor Group) have since published statements on their respective websites:

North Yorkshire Police Rural Task Force’s statement can be read here, and it mentions how this conviction ‘should serve as a warning’ to others committing wildlife crime in North Yorkshire.

North Yorkshire Police Crime Commissioner Julia Muligan, who had the foresight to establish the Rural Task Force in response to N Yorkshire’s reputation as a wildlife crime hotspot, has also issued a statement, here. Julia’s statement focuses on the value of the police working in partnership with the RSPB to catch the raptor killers.

The Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) has also published a long statement (here), also praising the efforts of the RSPB and North Yorkshire Police (and the CPS) and takes a justified side swipe at fellow RPPDG member, the Moorland Association, for its failure to do likewise.

And what about the other members of the RPPDG ‘partnership’? Three days on, what statements have been issued by the game-shooting industry’s RPPDG representatives about this successful conviction and the outstanding efforts of the RSPB, North Yorkshire Police and the CPS to expose yet another criminal gamekeeper? (Don’t forget, part of the RPPDG’s role is to provide publicity about illegal raptor persecution to ‘build trust and transparency’).

Moorland Association – we blogged about the Moorland Association’s statement on Wednesday (here) which was fully supportive of the Whernside Estate (allowing it to retain its membership of the MA) and didn’t mention the RSPB, Police or CPS at all.

National Gamekeepers Organisation – no statement

British Association for Shooting & Conservation – no statement

Country Land & Business Association – no statement

Countryside Alliance – no statement

Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust – no statement (GWCT isn’t a member of the RPPDG but we include them here because they have a prominent role in the game-shooting world).

This deafening silence comes as no surprise. We’ve seen it time and time again from these so-called ‘partners’ – we either get silence, or a demented attack on the RSPB.

For example, not one of them issued a statement after a gamekeeper was filmed with a poisons cache on the East ArkengarthDale Estate (here), nor after men dressed as gamekeepers were filmed shooting at nesting marsh harriers and then removing their eggs on Denton Moor (here).

We did get statements from the Moorland Association, BASC and the Countryside Alliance after the collapse of a prosecution against a gamekeeper who was alleged to have been filmed trapping a peregrine on its nest ledge on the Bleasdale Estate (here). BASC’s statement was pretty good (here) but the statements from the Moorland Association and Countryside Alliance were appalling.

We blogged about the Moorland Association’s statement on the Bleasdale case (here), which focused on trying to undermine the integrity and credibility of the RSPB.

The Countryside Alliance didn’t issue a statement on its website when the RSPB eventually published its Bleasdale video nasty, but what it did do was have an article published in the Shooting Times earlier in the year, when the Bleasdale prosecution case had collapsed. The article, attributed to Countryside Alliance CEO Tim Bonner, was basically a re-hash of an article the CA had published on its website the previous year, attacking the RSPB for its use of covert filming in Scotland (and incorrectly asserting that the RSPB and police should seek authorisation under the RIPA legislation for such filming, even though RIPA authorisation will not be approved as raptor persecution is not considered ‘serious crime’ by the Sentencing Council).

The title of Bonner’s re-hashed article published by the Shooting Times (June 2018) tells its own story of the game-shooting industry’s attitude to tackling illegal raptor persecution – smug, sniggering and sneering:

These aren’t ‘partners’, genuinely interested in stopping raptor crimes on land managed for game shooting. If they were, they’d all be falling over themselves to heap praise on the actions of the RSPB and North Yorkshire Police that resulted in Cowin’s conviction. None of them have.

They’d all have promoted the RSPB’s raptor crime hotline which allows people to report suspected raptor killers in confidence (here). None of them have.

They’d all be publicly blacklisting the estates and sporting agents known to be involved with the illegal killing of raptors. None of them have.

And they’d all be queuing up to ask the police and RSPB to install covert cameras to monitor the security of any Schedule 1 raptor species nesting on their land. None of them have, although they’re quite happy to install stealth cameras to film the visiting public.

[Photo by Ruth Tingay]

29
Aug
18

Whernside Estate retains membership of Moorland Association

Following on from yesterday’s news that gamekeeper Timothy Cowin had been convicted for shooting and then sadistically stamping to death two protected short-eared owls on a grouse moor on the Whernside Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here), public anger has been justifiably prominent.

Many have commented on Cowin’s pathetic sentence (a £1,210 fine) but there has also been considerable commentary on social media about why the landowner hasn’t also been prosecuted.

If these crimes had taken place in Scotland, there would have been an opportunity to prosecute the landowner and/or shooting agent for alleged vicarious liability, following the introduction of the WANE Act 2011. Although in Scotland a prosecution may not have followed automatically, especially if the landowner and/or agent was able to show due diligence, or if the landowner couldn’t be identified, or if the prosecutors deemed it wasn’t in the public interest to proceed. Since the legislation was enacted on 1 January 2012, six and a half years ago, there have only been two successful prosecutions for vicarious liability in relation to raptor persecution (here and here); two others have failed (here and here) and others simply haven’t been considered for reasons that haven’t been made clear to us (e.g. see here).

However, as Whernside Estate is in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, not in Scotland, there is no hope that a prosecution for alleged vicarious liability will follow in this case.

[RPUK Map showing location of Whernside Estate, which is located in the county of Cumbria but also lies within the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park]

So with no prospect of a further prosecution, the least that could be expected would be for the grouse moor owners’ lobby group, the Moorland Association, to expel the Whernside Estate from the ranks of its membership, right?

Well, no. The Moorland Association has done the exact opposite and has instead chosen to publish a statement in support of Whernside Estate and confirmed the estate’s continued membership in the Moorland Association:

Amanda Anderson’s justification for not expelling Whernside Estate rests with the Moorland Association’s “satisfaction” that the estate had taken “all appropriate measures” to ensure its staff acted within the law and this included written correspondence between the estate and gamekeeper Cowin. Without seeing this correspondence it’s impossible to know whether this evidence would have been sufficient to meet the standards of due diligence required as a defence against vicarious liability in Scotland. It’s our understanding that in Scotland, this correspondence may not be enough to demonstrate due diligence, and other measures may also be required such as the landowner and/or agent undertaking spot checks on their employees and having a written record of those checks.

It’s fairly apparent from the detail we do know about Cowin’s case that had adequate spot checks been undertaken, questions would have been raised about Cowin being in possession of a plastic peregrine decoy, and importantly, his possession of a calling device that had been loaded with the calls of several raptor species, presumably to be used to entice raptors, perhaps towards a plastic decoy, where they could then be shot at close range.

Unfortunately we’ll never get to hear about the details of the estate’s claimed supervision of Cowin because, as there’s no provision for a potential prosecution for alleged vicarious liability in relation to raptor persecution in England, the estate doesn’t have to present this information to the authorities for scrutiny. We only have the word of the Moorland Association, which, of course, has a long track record of denying the bleedin’ obvious.

But let’s take the word of the Moorland Association, and the Whernside Estate, at face value and assume that Cowin’s crimes were as abhorrent to them as they are to the rest of us. That leads to a very interesting question. Two questions, in fact.

Firstly, no matter what claims the Moorland Association makes in all these so-called ‘partnership’ meetings trying to combat illegal raptor persecution, the Moorland Association, and its members, have absolutely no control or influence over gamekeepers working on grouse moors. Cowin is a perfect example of this. If, as the MA and the Whernside Estate claims, Cowin had undergone training, refresher training, and had signed an employment contract undertaking to work within the law, he STILL went on to commit these crimes. So what, exactly, is the point of the Moorland Association attending these ‘partnership’ meetings if it can’t offer any guarantees that gamekeepers won’t kill raptors on grouse moors?

[Gamekeeper Cowin, leaving Whernside Moor after shooting and stamping on two short-eared owls and hiding their corpses. Photo by Guy Shorrock]

Secondly, if the Whernside Estate was “dismayed” at Cowin’s actions of shooting and then stamping on those two short-eared owls, and being in possession of a calling device with raptor calls loaded on to it, did the Whernside Estate pay for Cowin’s legal representation?

Cowin’s solicitor was Michael Kenyon. Mr Kenyon was unlikely to have been a random duty solicitor called in to the police station to represent Cowin when he was questioned and later charged. Mr Kenyon is a well known figure in the game shooting world and is considered a ‘leading expert’ in firearms law and wildlife crime and once served as the legal advisor to the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (see here) so it seems likely that he was chosen specifically to defend Cowin based on his expertise.

We had thought that perhaps Cowin’s legal representation costs had been covered by his presumed membership of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, especially given Mr Kenyon’s links, but according to a tweet from the NGO this morning, Cowin “was not and never has been a member of the NGO“. So it would seem unlikely the NGO paid.

Did Cowin himself pay for Mr Kenyon’s legal services? Perhaps, but this seems unlikely given what the court heard yesterday about Cowin’s financial means.

Was Cowin a member of another ‘professional’ group whose membership dues include the cost of legal representation if faced with a prosecution in relation to gamekeeping activities? We don’t know.

Did the Whernside Estate pay for Cowin’s legal representation? We don’t know that either, but we do know that somebody accompanied Cowin to several court appearances and although we cannot identify that person, it was suggested to us that it was Cowin’s boss. It may well have been, as he was certainly chatty with Mr Kenyon, heard discussing the number of grouse available to shoot on Mossdale Estate (remember them?), but equally as plausible is an explanation that it may have been a member of Cowin’s family attending court to support him.

Unfortunately we’ll never get to find out who paid for Cowin’s defence.

We were also interested in what the other ‘countryside’ organisations had to say about Cowin’s conviction. Would they all be condemning his actions and saluting the efforts of the RSPB et al in securing a successful outcome? Here’s what we found, at the time of writing this blog:

GWCT – silence

BASC – silence

NGO – silence, apart from responding to a tweet to confirm Cowin was never a member.

Countryside Alliance – silence on Cowin’s conviction but leading with the news that the prosecution of three hunting group members for alleged hunting and wildlife crime offences had been dropped, and focusing on the “wasted public resources” by “animal rights extremists” in bringing this case to trial. Interesting – we could argue the same point about the amount of wasted public resources spent in Cowin’s case as it was dragged around five different courts in NW England before his eventual guilty plea.

During our searches for commentary from the grouse shooting industry we did stumble across an article about grouse shooting on Whernside Estate that had been published in The Field magazine in 2012. Strangely, the article seems to have been removed from The Field’s website archives but fortunately we were able to find a cached version elsewhere. It makes for an interesting read, especially the bit about Headkeeper Tim Cowin working as a joiner!

UPDATE 31 August 2018: Whernside Estate: more reaction to gamekeeper’s conviction for shooting owls (here)

28
Aug
18

Gamekeeper convicted for killing two short-eared owls on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park

A gamekeeper was convicted at Lancaster Magistrates Court this morning for the killing of two short-eared owls on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Timothy David Cowin, 44, pleaded guilty to shooting the owls on the Whernside Estate in Cumbria (inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park boundary) and to being in possession of a calling device that held the calls of several raptor species.

[Gamekeeper Cowin trying to leave the moor after shooting two short-eared owls. Photo by Guy Shorrock, RSPB]

His sentence? A pathetic £1,210, broken down as £400 for killing each short-eared owl, £200 for possessing the calling device, £170 costs and a £40 victim surcharge. The court heard that Cowin was suspended by the Whernside Estate pending the prosecution but then he later resigned and now apparently works as a joiner in Sedburgh.

Cowin committed these offences in April 2017 and was witnessed doing so by three members of the RSPB’s Investigations Team who just happened to be on the moor. The crimes were videoed (from a distance), and Cowin was observed shooting the owls, then stamping on them, and then disposing of the bodies – one hidden inside a stone wall and one stamped in to the peat. The quick-thinking RSPB team called the police, carried on filming, and one of them made his presence known to Cowin as Cowin tried to leave the moor, resulting in a chase across the hills before the police arrived to arrest him and retrieve the corpses.

For full details, have a read of this RSPB blog here.

And then watch this remarkable RSPB video:

We’ve blogged about this case previously (here), as it’s been dragged around five courts in north west England over a six-month period. At several stages it looked as though it was going to be abandoned on a legal technicality (paperwork issues this time, instead of contesting the admissibility of video evidence), as we’ve seen so often with other cases in recent years, and it is testament to the dedication of all those involved in the prosecution (RSPB, North Yorkshire Police Rural Taskforce, and the Crown Prosecution Service, who all put in extra hours) that it stayed on track and resulted in a conviction.

Of course it wouldn’t have got to court in the first place if it hadn’t been for the RSPB’s Investigations Team being on that grouse moor to install a covert camera for what had looked to them like previous suspicious activity. But just being there wouldn’t have been enough. The team was also skilled enough to recognise what Cowin was up to, quick-witted enough to film him, sharp enough to call the Police as the crime was in progress, and fit enough to chase Cowin across the moor when he was trying to escape. Added to their outstanding efforts was the swift response from North Yorkshire Police to get up to the grouse moor in time to arrest him. And then the dedicated, committed efforts of both the RSPB and the police to return early the next day to search for the second owl corpse before Cowin had an opportunity to get back on the moor and remove the evidence. In court, CPS prosecutor Rachel Parker was forensic in rebutting the attempts by the defence solicitor to have the case thrown out.

The actions of all involved in this successful prosecution were exemplary. Will the grouse shooting industry praise their efforts and encourage them to continue routing out the criminal gamekeepers known to be routinely committing these offences?

Unlikely.

We’ll no doubt hear the disingenuous bleating of the Moorland Association, GWCT, National Gamekeepers Organisation, Countryside Alliance etc, all condemning wildlife crime before swiftly returning to their usual criticism of the RSPB and its efforts to fight the continuing illegal persecution of raptors on driven grouse moors.

There are plenty more ‘Cowins’ out there, and despite the efforts of the grouse shooting industry to deny the extent of these crimes and pay for expensive lawyers to defend the criminals responsible, the public is becoming increasingly aware of how big a problem this is, through the efforts of the RSPB and its genuine conservation partners.

Today’s verdict doesn’t help those two short-eared owls; it’s too late for them, but Cowin’s conviction is yet another nail in the coffin of the driven grouse shooting industry. Kudos to all involved.

UPDATE 29 August 2018: Whernside Estate retains membership of Moorland Association (here)

UPDATE 31 August 2018: Whernside Estate: more reaction to gamekeeper’s conviction for shooting owls (here)

[PC Carr retrieving the pitiful corpse of the second short-eared owl that had been shot then stamped in to the ground. Photo by Guy Shorrock]

17
Aug
18

Gamekeeper cautioned after merlin killed in illegally-set trap on grouse moor

This merlin was found dead in a trap on an un-named driven grouse moor in Northumberland in July this year. A fell runner discovered the bird and reported it to the RSPB.

The RSPB went to the site the next day and realised that this trap had been illegally-set as no attempts had been made to restrict access to the tunnel entrance, meaning non-target species (such as this merlin) could easily access the tunnel, with the inevitable result.

The incident was reported to Northumbria Police and a wildlife crime officer visited the site with an RSPB investigator.

An ‘experienced’ gamekeeper was formally interviewed and admitted setting the trap. Unbelievably, the police decided to issue him with a police caution instead of seeking a prosecution via the Crown Prosecution Service.

Haven’t we been here before? Ah yes, here and here.

Once again, another gamekeeper gets let off for committing a wildlife crime on a driven grouse moor. And before anyone says, ‘A caution isn’t a let off’, it absolutely is if this gamekeeper is permitted to keep his firearms and shotgun certificates, and his job, despite now having a criminal record.

Sure, he probably didn’t intend to trap and kill this merlin but that’s not the point. If he’s employed as a professional gamekeeper he has a responsibility to operate his traps within the terms of the law. With this trap, he chose not to do that, knowing full well that a non-target species could be killed, which it was. That’s an offence and he should have been charged and prosecuted.

Further details about this merlin case can be read on the RSPB Investigations Team blog here

15
Aug
18

Farmer guilty of recklessly disturbing Lake District ospreys

A farmer has been convicted of recklessly disturbing a pair of breeding ospreys at Bassenthwaite, in the Lake District, in June last year.

Paul Barnes, 58, of Brook Cottage, Keswick, was today found guilty after a three-day trial at Workington Magistrates. The court heard how he had taken a group of children in his tractor and trailer close to the site, without a Schedule 1 disturbance licence, causing the birds to leave their nest.

He was fined £300 with £2,000 costs.

[Photo of the Bassenthwaite osprey pair with their offspring in 2017, photo by The Lake District Osprey Project]

The Lake District Osprey Project, a partnership between the Forestry Commission, the RSPB and the Lake District National Park Authority, aims to ensure the continued success of breeding ospreys at Bassenthwaite. Since the birds returned in 2001, ospreys have raised over 30 chicks and delighted over a million visitors there.

Like all wild birds, ospreys are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and it is a criminal offence to harm or disturb them during the nesting period. Anyone found to have done so faces an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in jail.

There are 21 breeding pairs in England, and are worth £2million per year to the Cumbrian economy.

Annabel Rushton from the Lake District Osprey Project said: “A huge effort has been made to bring the osprey back to Cumbria and here at The Lake District Osprey Project. Local staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to ensure the birds can nest in safety, while enabling visitors to be inspired by these wonderful birds from the designated public viewpoints at Dodd Wood and Whinlatter. Barnes acted recklessly by running his own tours which did not follow the correct protocol and resulted in the disturbance of the Bassenthwaite pair of ospreys, which could have been detrimental to their breeding success.

We would like to thank Cumbria Police for their support and diligent work in this case.”

PC Sarah Rolland of Cumbria Police said: “Laws are in place to protect all species of birds and, without these laws and their enforcement, these birds will be put at great risk. The osprey is a rare bird in the UK and therefore has a high level of legal protection under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. A disturbance like this during the nesting period could be detrimental to their breeding success and their very existence within the UK.

In this instance, there was a clear offence of disturbing a Schedule 1 bird, whilst having young in the nest during the nesting period. This was fully investigated resulting in a charge following a CPS charging decision.

We hope that today’s result will serve to highlight the importance of adhering to these laws and serve as a warning to others that there will be consequences if the laws are ignored or willfully broken in relation to wildlife crime.”

Lake District Osprey Project website here




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