Archive for the 'Persecution Incidents in Wales' Category

19
Feb
19

Heap of poisoned ravens found on Welsh/English border

Press release from RSPB (19 February 2019)

Ravens found poisoned on farmland

West Mercia Police undertook an investigation after ten dead ravens, a dead crow and parts of a dead lamb were found close together on farmland near Vron Woods, Beguildy on the Wales/Shropshire border.

The birds were reported to the RSPB and collected by Natural England in April 2018, who sent the birds to be tested. Government toxicology tests on five of the ravens, the crow and the lamb confirmed the presence of Diazinon. This is a veterinary product, used legally for sheep dip, but which is known to have been used illegally to poison wildlife. It is believed the lamb carcass was deliberately laced with Diazinon for this purpose.

[Poisoned raven, photo by Ed Blane, Natural England]

[Photo of the ten ravens and one crow bagged up for removal, by Ed Blane, Natural England]

Birds of prey and ravens are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail. Police interviewed a local person under caution but, due to lack of evidence, the case could go no further.

Ravens are a recovering species which breed mainly in Wales, Scotland, and Western and Northern England.

Jenny Shelton from RSPB Investigations said: “Shropshire has a history of Diazinon abuse for the purpose of illegally targeting birds of prey and other protected species. We are grateful to Natural England and the police for investigating this matter, which poses a serious threat to wildlife and people. Ravens are incredibly intelligent creatures, able solve problems and form memories similar to our own. These once-scarce birds are gradually starting to recover after persistent persecution at the hands of humans, so it’s disturbing to hear of incidents like this still taking place.

This area is also a stronghold for red kites – another bird making a comeback after disappearing entirely from England due to persecution. Poison baits pose a danger to these birds too.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, call West Mercia Police on 101.

The RSPB is urging people to be vigilant and report dead birds of prey or ravens this spring – a key time of year for illegal poisoning to take place. If you find a dead bird of prey or raven beside a carcass that could be a poison bait, contact the government hotline on 0800 321600. Alternatively contact the police on 101 or RSPB investigations on 01767 680551.

Note: These investigations take time, as do the toxicology tests, and we realise there has been some delay in publicising this. But we feel this is an important story to tell.

ENDS

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19
Feb
19

Conflicting approaches to reintroducing golden eagles to Wales

The prospect of potentially reintroducing golden and white-tailed eagles to Wales has been on the cards for many years.

The most serious effort to examine whether this might be feasible and appropriate is being undertaken by a team of researchers at Cardiff University under the auspices of the Eagle Reintroduction Wales (ERW) Project (view their website here).

The ERW team’s approach to considering an eagle reintroduction is exemplary. It has involved several years of carefully conducting a scoping exercise, to properly consider all the factors that need to be addressed before a reintroduction licence would be granted, e.g. biological and environmental considerations, social and political considerations, and comprehensive risk assessments and an exit strategy.

The project lead is a 2nd year PhD student, Sophie-Lee Williams, who spent her first year researching and mapping the core historical ranges of both species in Wales and is currently habitat mapping and assessing prey availability etc. She has a cracking powerpoint presentation available here from a talk she gave last summer at an environmental management conference. Not only has Sophie-Lee been coordinating the research, but she’s also been busily building a genuine partnership approach, working with Wildlife Trust Wales and the highly experienced raptor reintroduction expert, Roy Dennis. This is exactly how proposed reintroductions should be managed, especially when the species is an apex predator that is likely to be both welcomed and despised in equal measure by different members of the local community.

You might have seen news of the ERW’s work in the media yesterday (e.g. BBC news here and Wales Online here). It was all over the place, and we couldn’t understand what the hook was. There was nothing new to report, other than the research project was ongoing but still a long way from drawing any conclusions, so a news release seemed a bit premature.

But then late last night we received an embargoed press release, via a colleague, about another, different project that was planning on reintroducing golden eagles to Wales. Suddenly it was clear why the ERW team had wanted to talk publicly about their own research in this area, because here comes a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ whose involvement doesn’t appear to include working in partnership with the ERW team.

The new guy on the block is Dr Paul O’Donoghue, who is apparently working under the name of a newly registered Community Interest Community (CIC), ‘Wilder Britain‘ (and see website here) and whose press release made it to publication this morning (e.g. see here). Of course, Dr O’Donoghue isn’t really a ‘new guy’ at all – he’s been around for several years and many will know of him through his connection with Wildcat Haven and the Lynx UK Trust. We don’t intend to comment further on either of those two projects for reasons that should be obvious if you know some of the history (if you don’t know, google it).

We’re not aware of Dr O’Donoghue’s experience or expertise in ornithology or in the field of raptor research and conservation.

Dr O’Donoghue was featured on BBC Breakfast this morning (see here, at various points through the programme – only available until 09.15hrs Weds morning) and again on the BBC’s Countryfile Winter Diaries this morning (see here, starts at 02.17hrs, available for 29 days).

[Screengrab from Countryfile Winter Diaries]

Dr O’Donoghue talked about the need to consider the concerns of local landowners and farmers and the need to undertake research to inform a decision about the feasibility of a successful reintroduction but it was suggested in the programme (by the presenter) that the hope was to have golden eagles back in the wild in Wales by 2020, and in the Wilder Britain press release it was stated that a licence application to release eagles would be submitted this summer.

That sounds particularly premature, and unless Dr O’Donoghue has already completed a lot of the prior scoping research required for such an application, it may well lead to a resounding refusal on similar grounds to those cited by the UK Government when it recently decided to refuse an application for the reintroduction of Lynx to Kielder Forest (see here).

This looks set to become messy.

For the sake of the eagles and a viable long-term future in Wales, let’s hope the ERW team’s efforts have not been in vain.

30
Dec
18

Police Supt Nick Lyall to create ‘hostile environment’ for raptor killers in England & Wales

Hats off to Police Superintendent Nick Lyall, the current Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) in England and Wales.

This guy took up post in September and promised accountability, transparency, and most importantly, delivery of the group’s objectives, which centre on a partnership approach to tackling illegal raptor persecution. No easy task given that the RPPDG, which was formed in 2011, has so far delivered absolutely nothing of any use because its membership has been top heavy with those only interested in protecting the image of the grouse shooting industry and because the so-called ‘partnership’ has suffered from a chronic lack of leadership by its former Chairs.

Now, thanks to Nick’s leadership, things look set to change. We blogged last month about some of his preparatory work (here) and today he’s published a blog about some of his plans for 2019, which he’s calling ‘The Year of the Raptor’.

[Supt Nick Lyall visiting RPPDG partners in the Yorkshire Dales in November: L-R David Butterworth (CEO Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority), Nick Lyall, Ian Court (Wildlife Officer at YDNPA) and Sgt Stuart Grainger of North Yorkshire Police Rural Task Force]

This is Nick’s 4th blog since September – full marks to him in the transparency stakes; we’ve never seen this level of communication from previous Chairs and it is a very welcome change.

In his latest blog (here), Nick outlines some of his immediate plans for the RPPDG and the one which caught our eye was this:

The creation of an Enforcement Group that will focus on partnership working and the `Achilles Heel` approach to tackling head-on those people that are known or strongly suspected to be involved in persecution offences. Creation of a hostile environment for those committing persecution offences‘.

The specifics of this proposed Enforcement Group and its operational capabilities aren’t detailed as yet, which is understandable, but we hope that it will be restricted to law enforcement bodies only and will specifically exclude all those shooting industry organisations whose main aim seems to be to protect the raptor killers from any enforcement measure. Presumably the group will have access to highly sensitive police intelligence logs including the names of shooting estates and associated individuals who are suspected of committing wildlife crime and presumably the group will also have the authority to act on those intelligence logs and go after the suspects. Let’s face it, these estates (and many of the individuals) are already well known because raptor crime is reported there time and time and time again but enforcement action, with a few notable exceptions, has been appalling.

Directly linked to this lack of enforcement in some cases has been a lack of available resources as police budgets are slashed, and a lack of trained police officers and control room operators in some regions but by no means across the board. Nick discusses his plans to tackle both these issues, in addition to launching a national publicity campaign based on North Yorkshire Police’s exemplary Operation Owl campaign.

Of course, there’s also the obligatory ‘let’s talk with the shooting industry’ approach, which has proven utterly futile in the past with organisations actively opposing cooperation with police-led initiatives to tackle illegal raptor persecution (e.g. see here and here) but Nick will just have to learn the hard way. At least they won’t be able to accuse him of not trying.

All in all though, Nick’s proposals look thoughtful and well-considered and there’s every reason to be (cautiously) optimistic about the future role of the RPPDG.

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!

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

 

07
Sep
18

North Wales Police investigating “possible disappearance” of another satellite-tagged hen harrier

The North Wales Police Rural Crime Team has posted the following statement on Twitter this morning:

There isn’t much detail to go on but presumably this harrier’s tag has suddenly and inexplicably stopped in highly suspicious circumstances, just like the 79% of other tags fitted to hen harriers between 2007-2017 (and remember this is 79% of tags fitted by Natural England – it does not include any tags fitted by the RSPB – we’re expecting that analysis sometime next year).

What’s interesting though, is the location from where this hen harrier’s satellite tag last tranmsitted: the “Llandegla area”. This is very close to the location where another satellite-tagged hen harrier (Aalin) ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in February this year near the Ruabon grouse moor (see earlier blog on Aalin’s disappearance here).

Hopefully more details about this latest hen harrier’s “possible disappearance” will be published soon.

UPDATE 13 September 2018: 3 more satellite-tagged hen harriers disappear – all on grouse moors (here)

24
Jul
18

Satellite-tagged hen harrier Lia found dead in suspicious circumstances

The RSPB has reported the suspicious death of yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier.

‘Lia’ was tagged at a nest in north Wales in 2017 and after fledging she spent a bit of time in the Brecon Beacons National Park before a brief sojourn to Somerset, and then had returned to settle in mid-Wales.

[Photo of Lia by Guy Anderson]

In May this year the engineering data from her tag indicated she was dead and the RSPB located her decomposed corpse in a sheep field near the village of Tylwch, south of Llanidloes, an area with an apparent history of illegal raptor persecution.

[Location map from RSPB]:

Lia’s corpse was sent to the Zoological Society of London for a post mortem. Unfortunately a cause of death couldn’t be established but the vets did detect a fractured tail feather.

[Photo of fractured tail feather, via RSPB]:

ZSL’s post mortem report stated that fractures of this type “have previously been found in a hen harrier proven to have been shot with ammunition (Hopkins et al 2015). No other signs of shooting were detected in this bird“.

The Hopkins et al (2015) paper related to a pioneering forensic examination of Bowland Betty (a hen harrier found shot on a Swinton Estate grouse moor in Yorkshire’s Nidderdale AONB in 2012) that detected a tiny fragment of lead which confirmed she had been shot, confounding the protests of the Countryside Alliance.

Although Lia’s cause of death was inconclusive, Dyfed Powys Police have been treating it as suspicious and are investigating.

For further details of Lia’s demise, please read the RSPB’s latest Skydancer blog here




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