Archive Page 2


DEFRA’s response to Ban Driven Grouse Shooting petition

Late last week DEFRA provided its response to Gavin Gamble’s e-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting, after the petition reached 10,000 signatures.

DEFRA’s response was entirely predictable and we have no intention of spending time on a detailed analysis of its complacency and denial; Mark Avery has already covered this well (see here, here, here).

Instead we wanted to pick up on just a couple of things that were mentioned, to set the groundwork for two forthcoming blogs.

First of all the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG). This cumbersomely-named group is basically the English/Welsh version of the PAW Scotland Raptor Group – just another charade of partnership-working, dominated by pro-gameshooting organisations such as the Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation, Countryside Alliance, BASC but also involves others such as the RSPB, Natural England, DEFRA . The DEFRA response to Gavin’s e-petition gives a nod to the RPPDG and claims the group is “working on developing tools to help tackle raptor persecution crimes“.

Part of the RPPDG’s remit is to provide publicity about raptor persecution ‘in order to build trust and transparency’. However, as far as we’re aware, at least in recent years, this group hasn’t provided ANY publicity for ANY raptor persecution crime.

Back in 2013 the group did publish a raptor poisoning map covering the period 2007-2011 (see here). Since then, this ‘delivery group’ has delivered bugger all. Although according to DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan, “the RPPDG have been publishing information on raptor poisoning since Feb 2013 and this is updated annually“. That was a lie – the group hasn’t published any information since that 2007-2011 poisoning map.

We’ll be returning to the subject of the RPPDG in another blog very soon, as we’ve got hold of some minutes from various RPPDG meetings that demonstrate how little it has achieved since 2013. We’ll be publishing those minutes for your entertainment.

The second thing we want to pick up on from DEFRA’s response to the e-petition is this paragraph:

The [Hen Harrier] Action Plan was developed with senior representatives from organisations including Natural England, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Parks England and formerly the RSPB. These organisations, led by Natural England, will monitor activities and report annually on progress to the Defra Uplands Stakeholder Forum and the UK Tasking and Co-ordinating group for Wildlife Crime‘.

Wouldn’t it be useful to see a copy of the latest annual report on the progress being made on the 2016 Hen Harrier Action Plan? Remember, Natural England recently told blog reader Mike Whitehouse that “work on the six actions set out in the Joint Hen harrier Action Plan is progressing as expected“. What does “progressing as expected” actually mean?

Well, fortunately, we’ve managed to get hold of a copy of the most recent progress report (summer 2017), as submitted to the DEFRA Uplands Stakeholder Group, and it demonstrates very little progress indeed. Perhaps that’s what Natural England “expected“.

We’ll be publishing that report shortly.


Police Scotland’s reluctance to discuss raptor crimes puts public safety at risk

Last week we blogged about an incident caught on a Forestry Commission Scotland camera in spring 2017 showing two masked individuals, one carrying a firearm, within 30m of a raptor nest site in a public forest (see here).

Forest Enterprise Scotland refused to tell us at which species’ nest and in which public forest this incident took place because “the disclosure of this information would adversely affect the protection of the environment to which the information relates“.

We were shocked to learn that, even though this incident was reported to the police, Police Scotland has remained silent. There have been no appeals for information to help identify the masked gunman and his accomplice, and so far, no warnings to the public about this serious threat to public safety.

This isn’t the first time Police Scotland has withheld information on suspected raptor persecution crimes that had the potential to adversely affect public safety. A similar incident was recorded in another FCS woodland (Glen Nochty, Strathdon) in 2014. In that case, a gang of masked, armed men was filmed on at least four occasions shooting at a goshawk nest in broad daylight in a public forest. It took Police Scotland nine months to release the footage and appeal for information (see here).

And it’s not just cases of masked, armed gunmen at raptor nest sites that Police Scotland is keeping under wraps. This is the only police force in the UK that is withholding the details of cases involving highly toxic poisons that have been used to target and /or kill birds of prey. Not only are the locations of these cases being kept hidden from the public, but the names of the poisons are also being kept secret – many of which are so dangerous that it is an offence to even possess these substances, let alone lay them out where the public might stumble across them (e.g. see here).

Police Scotland has previously argued that it withholds information “in only a very few cases” as part of its investigative strategy. The evidence suggests otherwise (see here) and see this table from the RSPB’s 2015 Birdcrime report:

Following last week’s blog about the masked gunman and his accomplice in a public forest in spring 2017, we tweeted the Scottish Government’s Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, and his colleague Annabelle Ewing (Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs)  and requested they ask questions about this case in the interests of public safety. Both of them ignored our requests and have not responded at all. Neither has Police Scotland.

That’s pretty shocking, isn’t it? Here we have Forestry Enterprise Scotland, Police Scotland, a Cabinet Secretary and a junior Minister all willing to put public safety at risk in the interests of protecting dangerous, raptor-killing criminals. What is this, the wild west?

We’d encourage blog readers in Scotland to write to local MSPs and request that questions are put to the Justice Secretary about this serious threat to public safety. Blog readers not resident in Scotland but who might visit on holiday and are concerned about the risk of meeting masked, armed gunmen in a public forest are encouraged to email Justice Secretary Michael Matheson directly: [mark it for the attention of Mr Matheson].


Scottish Government dragging its feet on grouse moor management review

Following last week’s blog about how an announcement was imminent on the formation and composition of the independently-led grouse moor management review group, another deadline has been and gone.

As you’ll recall, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced this review on 31 May 2017, following the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s petition calling for game-shoot licensing as well as the publication of the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, which demonstrated that almost a third of all satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland (41 of 131 eagles) had ‘disappeared’, many in suspicious circumstances on grouse moor estates with a track record of confirmed raptor persecution incidents.

In mid-September 2017 Roseanna told the Scottish Parliament,

Good progress is being made” and “I will announce further details shortly“.

In October 2017 the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee wrote to the Cab Sec asking for a progress report on the establishment of this group. Roseanna replied on 1 November 2017 and said,

I can inform you that I expect to announce the chair and members of the group within the next couple of weeks”.

It’s now 20th November and we’re still waiting for an announcement.

Where’s the sense of urgency? Nearly six months have passed. Just how difficult is it to put together a review group?

Come on, Scottish Government, stop dragging your feet and don’t undo the goodwill generated by the Cab Sec’s announcement back in May.


Hen harrier ‘missing’ on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park is ‘John’

Last month we blogged about yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier that had suspiciously ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here). We only knew about it because North Yorkshire Police mentioned it on Twitter and posted a few photographs from the search scene:

We made a general enquiry to Natural England and asked for further details (which hen harrier it was, where and when it was satellite-tagged, on which grouse moor it had ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park). Natural England refused to provide any detail, other than that ‘key stakeholders’ (i.e. the landowner!) had been notified. The landowner had probably been more than ‘notified’ – if Natural England was following the ridiculous ‘satellite tag protocol’, the landowner’s ‘permission’ would have been sought to conduct the police search! Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, back to the hen harrier. We weren’t happy that Natural England was withholding information on what was probably a publicly-funded satellite tag so we submitted a formal FoI to request this information. We managed to find out some details:

Why Natural England didn’t release this information when we first asked for it is anybody’s guess – just following its normal practice of putting obstacles in the way, hoping that we’d shuffle off and forget about it, probably.

Anyway, we now know that this missing hen harrier is ‘John’, who was tagged on 8 July 2016 in Northumberland. We blogged about John in February 2017 (see here) – he was the mystery hen harrier about which little was known. We still don’t know very much about him because Natural England has chosen to remain silent on his movements over the last 14 months [but see UPDATE below], although from the updated spreadsheet that Natural England published in September, we know that his tag was transmitting in September 2017 in Northumberland. See: hen-harrier-tracking-data-2002-onwards

We also know that Natural England realised John’s tag was no longer transmitting on 5 October 2017 and that North Yorkshire Police conducted a search for him ten days later (15 Oct 2017) on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. What we still don’t know is the name of this grouse moor and whether North Yorks Police found any evidence such as a tag or a corpse.

We’ll be submitting an FoI to North Yorkshire Police to ask about this – it’ll be very interesting to see the response. North Yorkshire Police appear to have upped their game recently in terms of investigating suspected raptor persecution crimes – a very welcome and much-needed change of pace in England’s leading raptor-killing county. Let’s see how open they’ll be about this latest investigation.

Meanwhile, it’s time to update the list of what hapened to the satellite-tagged hen harrier class of 2016, which includes harriers tagged by Natural England and the RSPB:

Hen harrier Elwood – ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths just a few weeks after fledging, presumed dead (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Brian – ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park just a few weeks after fledging, presumed dead (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Donald – missing in northern France, presumed dead (Autumn ’16).

Hen harrier Hermione – found dead on Mull, believed to have died from natural causes (Sep ’16).

Hen harrier Rowan – found dead in Yorkshire Dales National Park. He’d been shot (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Tarras – ‘disappeared’ in the Peak District National Park, presumed dead (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Beater – missing in Scottish Borders, presumed dead (Nov ’16).

Hen harrier Bonny – ‘disappeared’ in the North Pennines, presumed dead (Dec ’16)

Hen harrier Mick – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Dec ’16).

Hen harrier Carroll – found dead in Northumberland, PM revealed a parasitic disease & two shotgun pellets (Jan ’17).

Hen harrier John – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Oct ’17)

Eleven down, six to go (Aalin, DeeCee, Finn, Harriet, Wendy, Sorrel).

UPDATE 20 November 2017: Thanks to the blog reader who pointed out that John had been recorded at Langholm in the summer of 2017, as mentioned in the hen harrier update on the Langholm Demonstration Project website on 28 June 2017 – here.

UPDATE 22 November 2017: Threshfield Moor named as missing hen harrier John’s last known location (here)


Police Scotland silent after armed masked men filmed at raptor nest in public forest

Forestry Commission Scotland staff routinely install cameras at the nests of several raptor species (e.g. goshawk, osprey, golden eagle, hen harrier, buzzard) to undertake dietary studies and to help identify individually-marked birds by their colour rings. If the cameras happen to film anything suspicious at these nests (e.g. unlicensed visits by armed criminals) the footage would be admissible in any subsequent prosecution because the cameras are placed with landowner permission and there are warning signs alerting visitors that cameras are in use in these public forests.

We submitted an FoI to Forest Enterprise Scotland to find out how many incidents of suspected disturbance had been filmed at raptor nests in Forestry Commission Scotland woodland this year.

According to the FoI response, one incident was captured this year involving “two masked people within 30m of a [raptor] nest site, one carrying a firearm”.

FES refused to name the forest and also withheld details about the raptor species involved, because “the disclosure of this information would adversely affect the protection of the environment to which the information relates“. The incident was reported to Police Scotland.

So, in spring this year, an armed, masked gunman and a masked accomplice were filmed in a public forest near a raptor nest site, and it’s now November and we’ve heard absolutely nothing about it from Police Scotland.

Suspected disturbance of a raptor nest site is one thing, but being armed and masked in a public forest takes this to a whole other level.

Have Police Scotland identified the masked, armed gunman and his masked accomplice? If not, why hasn’t there been a public appeal for information?

Why hasn’t the camera footage been released?

Doesn’t Police Scotland think that the general public should be warned that an armed, masked gunman and a masked accomplice have been filmed wandering around in a public forest? What about warning dog walkers, cyclists, runners, birdwatchers, families on recreational visits, that they are at risk of bumping in to someone wearing a balaclava and brandishing a firearm? Isn’t this a serious threat to public safety?

It just beggars belief.


Concerns about toxic lead ammunition “nonsense” according to Botham

A few weeks ago Ian Botham featured in an article published by The Times, in which it was reported Botham had accused the RSPB of being “dishonest” (see here).

The Times article was apparently based on an interview that Botham had done with the Shooting Gazette. Thanks to one of our blog readers, we now have a PDF copy of that Shooting Gazette interview:

Shooting Gazette Nov 17 Ian Botham Article

It’s well worth a read to find out Botham’s views on what changes he would make to the RSPB and how the You Forgot the Birds campaign will “never stop“.

But the question and answer we were most interested in was this:

Shooting Gazette question: Are there any issues about shooting in the UK that concern you?

Botham’s answer:One of the things that needs to be looked at is the nonsense about lead [ammunition]. It’s been blown totally out of proportion“.

Unfortunately, Botham doesn’t identify which part of the vast expanse of scientific evidence about the danger of toxic lead to humans, wildlife & the environment he thinks is “nonsense”.

Perhaps its the findings of this eminent group of international scientific professors and researchers?

Perhaps its the findings of this eminent group of international scientific researchers?

Perhaps its the findings of this eminent group of scientific researchers?

Perhaps its the findings of the international scientific experts who contributed to the Oxford Lead Symposium?

Perhaps its the findings of the Lead Ammunition Group?

Perhaps its the advice of the Food Standards Agency?

Perhaps its the guidelines of Fareshare?

Perhaps its the findings of the European Food Safety Authority?

Hmm. Should we believe the evidence of hundreds of scientific experts, including The Lord Krebs kt, MA, DPhil, FRS, FMedSci, Hon DSc, or should we believe the opinion of the King of Bollocks?

It’s a tricky one.


Scot Gov’s grouse moor management review: Chair announcement imminent

It looks like the Scottish Government is about to announce the Chair and members of the much-anticipated independent review group that will be tasked with considering the environmental impacts of grouse moor management techniques and to recommend options for regulation, including licensing.

Back in October 2017, the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee agreed to write to Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham to ask for an update on the establishment of this review group, which had first been announced on 31 May 2017. They asked her to respond by 10 November 2017.

Last Friday (10 Nov), the following letter was published on the Environment Committee’s website:

The Cabinet Secretary told the Committee, “I can inform you that I expect to announce the chair and members of the group within the next couple of weeks“. We groaned a little bit, thinking we’d have to wait until late November for this announcement, but then we noticed the date of Roseanna’s letter: 1 November 2017.

That means we can expect this announcement either today (13th) or tomorrow (14th), if she keeps to her word.

UPDATE: 20 November 2017: Scottish Government dragging its feet on grouse moor management review (here)

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