Archive Page 2

18
Jul
21

Golden eagle festival (Scotland) – programme announced

Earlier this year it was announced that Moffat was to be named an ‘eagle town’ as part of a celebratory golden eagle festival planned to boost eco-tourism in south Scotland (see here).

Moffat had been chosen as it was close to the original release site for the South Scotland Golden Eagle Project, where young golden eagles were being translocated from sites further north and released in to south Scotland to boost the tiny population there that had previously been ravaged by illegal persecution (and there is still evidence that that persecution continues in some areas – e.g. see here).

The golden eagle festival is scheduled to take place between 19th – 26th September 2021, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and the programme for the event has just been announced – you’ll find details on the South Scotland Golden Eagle project website here.

The project partners have issued the following press release:

The full programme for the UK’s first ever Golden Eagle Festival has been revealed by a groundbreaking conservation charity initiative. The programme contains a number of fun and engaging events to help people understand how they can take an active role in increasing numbers of golden eagles in the south of Scotland.

One of these events will look at the development of Selcoth Forest, one of the area’s newest forests that has been designed to play a supportive role for a number of species and raptors including golden eagles. The event will explore how good woodland management can play a vital role in supporting conservation efforts.

The Moffat Eagle Festival, led by The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project and funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, will take place between 19 and 26 of September 2021 to support the charity’s conservation efforts and celebrate the vibrant town of Moffat becoming Scotland’s first Eagle Town.

With a keynote speech by one of the country’s leading wildlife film makers Gordon Buchanan, a family fun day, a Big Tree Climb and live music sessions, the festival will also showcase pioneering ways in which landowners and managers, residents and visitors can help golden eagles to flourish in southern skies once again.

Speaking about the Festival, and the significance of the talk by the team at Selcoth Forest, Colin Edwards, Environment Policy Adviser for Scottish Forestry said: “The Moffat Eagle Festival is a fantastic and important addition to the wildlife calendar. We’re particularly delighted to see that some of the Selcoth Forest team will be speaking at the event. They have been consulting closely with organisations like South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project and Scottish Raptor Study Group so that they can create a landscape in which woodlands  play a positive role to increase golden eagle foraging habitat, helping to establish and sustain a local population. Their work is an excellent example of how sustainable forest management can support conservation efforts, while also delivering social and economic goals for landowners and the wider local community.”

The privately owned Selcoth Burn Woodland Creation is designed to strengthen forest habitat networks, protect local views , improve biodiversity, protect water quality and provide a sustainable timber resource for the owners. Scottish Forestry has approved plans for the woodland creation, which are in line with The UK Forestry Standard and Scotland’s Forestry Strategy, and work is now underway. Consideration has been given to how the woodland can provide the ideal habitat for golden eagles to forage in. The development includes a permanent native birch woodland, alongside productive broadleaves, conifers and large areas of open ground, which will enable the site to have multiple benefits and create a good habitat for golden eagles. It its envisioned that as the scheme develops, prey species will become more abundant for eagles which will help to sustain a growing local population.

Cat Barlow, Project Manager for the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project added: “Last year, a pioneering sustainable forest development led to breeding success for a pair of golden eagles in a Highland estate, so we are absolutely thrilled to be consulting with the team at the Selcoth Forest on this development in the south of Scotland, and we’re excited to see how this can support our charity’s conservation work.

“Support from forestry and land managers, local communities, funders, volunteers, raptor specialists and other participants is absolutely vital in helping us to ensure golden eagles continue to grow in numbers and thrive in the area.

“We’re really looking forward to attending the Moffat Eagle Festival so that we can thank our supporters and help even more people understand how they could support our work.”

Gordon Buchanan will deliver the festival’s first virtual keynote speech about golden eagles and other Scottish wildlife on Friday 24 September. Speaking of his involvement, he said: “I’m delighted to be part of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project’s first ever Golden Eagle Festival and to support their important conservation work to ensure golden eagles once again flourish in southern skies.

“The thrill of seeing a golden eagle soaring over a Scottish hillside is an unbeatable experience. Each glimpse of this magical bird is special, but they should and could be more common in the south of Scotland.”

The full Moffat Eagle Festival programme includes events and activities delivered by a range of leading wildlife groups including RSPB Scotland, NatureScot, Scottish Forestry, Scottish Land & Estates, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, Wild Eskdale, and the Scottish Raptor Study Group. There will even be a workshop delivered by a leading wildlife photographer.

Caroline Clark, Director Scotland of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “The Golden Eagle Festival is yet another innovative way in which The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project is helping communities learn about this awe-inspiring bird of prey and the role it plays in Scotland’s biodiversity. Thanks to funding from players of the National Lottery, not only will the Festival bring new visitors to discover this beautiful part of Scotland, but it will help safeguard the golden eagle’s existence for future generations.”

Welcoming their town’s role in supporting the project and hosting the festival, Leys Geddes chair of Visit Moffat said: “Less than a mile from the motorway, we are ideally situated to become Scotland’s First Eagle Town, to host the first Eagle Festival, and to celebrate the golden eagle – one of Scotland’s most iconic species.

“The Moffat Hills are often described as mini-highlands, owing to our 300 square kilometres of hills, outstanding scenery and rich wildlife, so the perfect area for golden eagles to thrive. It would be wonderful to ensure they become a regular sighting for visitors to the area.”

South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project partners include NatureScot, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates, Scottish Forestry, and the Southern Uplands Partnership.  The project has been funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, project partners, Scottish Power Renewables, the Scottish Government and local LEADER Programmes. The initiative is a key project under the Scottish Government’s 2020 Challenge for Scottish Biodiversity (which has a route map to protect and restore Scotland’s biodiversity).

ENDS

18
Jul
21

Job vacancy: RSPB Investigations Officer, Northern Ireland

The RSPB is recruiting for a brand new position in Northern Ireland – an Investigations Officer to help tackle the ongoing crimes of raptor persecution across the country.

Previous reports (e.g. see here) have documented the scale and extent of raptor persecution in Northern Ireland, where peregrines, red kites and buzzards are the most frequent victims, often as a result of shooting, trapping or poisoning.

[This red kite was found dead on her nest in County Down in 2018 after being illegally poisoned (see here). Photo by RSPB]

The new post of Investigations Officer is initially a two-year contract, based in Northern Ireland, and the RSPB is looking to fill the vacancy ASAP.

For full details of the post and information about how to apply, please click here.

Closing date for applications is 9th August 2021.

16
Jul
21

New legal challenge from Wild Justice on burning of peatlands

Press release from Wild Justice and lawyers Leigh Day (16th July 2021)

Wild Justice issues legal challenge to new rules on burning of peatland

A legal challenge to new rules governing the burning of heather and grass on peatlands in England has been issued, claiming they are unlawful and unenforceable.  

Environmental group Wild Justice, represented by law firm Leigh Day, has applied for a judicial review of The Heather and Grass etc Burning (England) Regulations 2021, arguing that they are not only unenforceable, but create a façade of effectiveness, preventing urgent and far-reaching legislation addressing climate change and biodiversity loss from being introduced.  

Wild Justice, led by Chris Packham CBE, Dr Ruth Tingay and Dr Mark Avery, say the Regulations introduced in May this year need to be much stricter to ensure they can be enforced effectively. The Regulations were introduced after previous voluntary measures aimed at halting the burning of blanket bogs failed. The Government has a responsibility to protect blanket bog under the Conservation and Species Regulations 2017, which require the restoration of the habitat to “favourable conservation status”.  

The Burning Regulations 2021 are fatally flawed in two ways. They only prohibit the burning of heather, rough grass, bracken and gorse on peat deeper than 40cms – but there is no map to identify where such peat exists and therefore no means of properly enforcing the new rules. The new Regulations also only prevent the burning on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) that are also designated as Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas, which amounts to a ban on only 40 per cent of all blanket bog in England.  

The UK’s peat habitats are wetland landscapes where it is estimated there are over three billion tonnes of carbon stored. They have a unique biodiversity recognised as habitats of national and international significance. The UK’s upland blanket bogs are a globally rare habitat.  

However, vegetation on upland peat soils is set alight at regular intervals, to promote the growth of young heather shoots to feed Red Grouse for the shooting industry. The practice damages the habitat, reduces peat accumulation, and releases around 260,000 tonnes of CO2 every year. 

[A grouse moor set alight in northern England. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

On 24 June 2021, the Climate Change Committee’s latest progress reports were laid before Parliament. The Report criticised the Burning Regulations for only preventing rotational burning on protected peatlands, highlighting that a partial ban was less ambitious than it had recommended. The Report includes a priority recommendation that this be “addressed quickly as delayed action now puts future targets at risk given the time profile of carbon sequestration” and that the Government: “Introduce legislation to … [e]xtend the ban on rotational burning of peat from certain protected upland bog sites to all peatland before the start of the burn season in 2021.”   Wild Justice’s grounds for claim are:  

  • Unlawfulness arising from the Burning Regulations frustrating their own purpose: The Regulations do not include a map, without which they are unenforceable. The failure to publish or refer to a map is unlawful;
  • Demonstrable flaw in the reasoning or serious logical error in the reasoning leading to the making of the Burning Regulations: there is no rationale for limiting the location of areas affected by the Regulations;
  • Breaches of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017: failure to take appropriate steps to avoid deterioration of natural habitats and disturbance of species;
  • Failure to take into account a material consideration, namely the imperative for early and swift action under the Climate Change Act 2008 (“CCA”) and the Paris Agreement.

Wild Justice said: ‘There’s a climate crisis and a biodiversity crisis, and this type of burning adds to both.  Instead of acting decisively, DEFRA is fiddling while the uplands burn‘.

Leigh Day solicitor Carol Day said: “Our client strongly supports effective action by the Secretary of State to protect peatland, including through enforceable legislation regulating the burning of blanket bogs, given their crucial importance as a habitat and in sequestering carbon. But in falling so far short of what is needed, these Regulations create a façade of effectiveness preventing real progress from being made. Wild Justice hopes that bringing this challenge, along with the call from the Climate Change Committee for urgent action, will prompt the Government to plug the gaps in these Regulations.”  

ENDS

For more updates on this case and other Wild Justice activities, please sign up to the free newsletter here

09
Jul
21

Pathetic penalty for man who felled active goshawk nest on private estate

Gloucestershire Constabulary has issued a bizarre press release today about the felling of a tree that held an active goshawk nest and how the man who admitted to felling it with a chainsaw ‘had completed a successful restorative justice outcome’ by paying £100 to the RSPB.

Eh? Since when has ‘restorative justice’ been considered an appropriate sanction for felling an active raptor nest? This is supposed to be a national wildlife crime priority! Why wasn’t he charged? In my opinion restorative justice in this case is a massive let off for the offender and the estate – it’s informal, unenforceable and fails to recognise the seriousness of this offence.

[A young goshawk chick in the nest. Photo taken under licence by Ruth Tingay]

Here is the police press release – my commentary on it is below that:

Restorative justice used following tree felling incident which led to destruction of bird nest

A man who unknowingly destroyed a bird of prey nest after cutting down trees has completed a successful restorative justice outcome.

Officers from Gloucestershire Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team were called to an estate on the outskirts of Gloucester on Saturday 5 June where it was reported that a tree had been felled causing an active Goshawk Nest to be destroyed.

The man, who is an agricultural labourer, was identified after admitting that he had felled the tree without checking for any bird’s nests.

He attended for a voluntary interview and was ordered to pay a £100 donation to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

A condition was also put into place which allowed Glos Raptors Monitoring Group to access the site so that they can monitor the existing birds of prey, monitor active nests and put cameras up to protect bird of prey habitats.

PC Phil Mawdsley oversaw this saying: “Bird nesting season generally takes place from March to August, however can fall outside of this period and during this time you shouldn’t cut down trees or trim hedges without checking for the presence of birds and it is an offence under Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 to disturb birds or damage their nests and unfortunately this happened after an act of recklessness.

Advice around cutting hedges or trees at this time of year can be found here“.

A spokesperson for the RSPB said: “It appears that this was the only tree in the wood to be felled and then completely removed at a time when it contained an active goshawk nest. Goshawk nests are huge structures and the contents of the nest would be equally obvious.

Goshawks are rare breeding birds and have been subjected to regular persecution through the years, which sadly continues today. To intentionally damage or destroy the active nest of a goshawk, or any wild bird, is against the law. Raptor Persecution is a National Wildlife Crime priority, and the goshawk is a priority species.”

More information on restorative justice in the county can be found here.

ENDS

The press release states that the man claimed to be unaware that the tree held an active goshawk nest. I’m sorry but that is just not credible. This guy is a forester. Anyone who’s spent any time in a wood with an active goshawk nest in the breeding season cannot fail to notice it, and if you’re a forester that spends most days out amongst the trees, there should be absolutely no way you’d miss it. They are huge structures, the ground underneath is littered with white splash and prey remains, and the breeding adults are very, very, very vocal when they alarm call. This is not a cryptic species that cowers down and maintains silence by playing dead when under threat. I would argue that it would be virtually impossible to stand next to the nest tree, fell it with a chainsaw and remove the trunk and all the branches without noticing there was an active goshawk nest in it.

Here is a classic example of a goshawk nest [Photo taken under licence by Ruth Tingay]

I think it’s also interesting to compare Gloucestershire Constabulary’s approach to this crime with that of North Wales Police earlier this year when an active osprey nest was felled with a chainsaw on a nature reserve. The police in that case were, quite rightly, all over the press saying ‘Ospreys are a very rare, highly protected schedule 1 bird – the greatest protection in the UK. We’re pulling all the stops out to try and catch the person or persons responsible for this. Believe me they will receive the full force of the law if we do catch them‘ (see here).

Well, the goshawk is also a very rare, highly protected schedule 1 bird – the greatest protection in the UK. So why this inconsistent approach between police forces to dealing with an offender, especially when in the goshawk case the man who felled the tree has been identified? Is it because goshawks aren’t viewed as being as ‘popular’ as ospreys? Is it because the goshawk nest tree was felled on a private estate (I’m guessing an estate that shoots gamebirds and doesn’t want a pesky goshawk hanging out near the poult release pens)?

The RSPB’s quote in the police press release is quite damning. It is clear that the RSPB Investigations Team doesn’t accept the ridiculous explanation that the forester was ‘unaware’ of the goshawk nest in the tree and they also highlight that this tree was apparently the only one felled in the wood. It’s reminiscent of the felling of the white-tailed eagle nest on Invermark Estate in the Angus Glens a few years ago (here).

The only positive thing about this case is that Gloucestershire Raptor Monitoring Group now have access to the estate to monitor any other raptors that may be present. From the wording of the police press release, this access seems to be ‘a condition’ of the restorative justice process, although whether that’s enforceable if the estate decides to be uncooperative, who knows.

07
Jul
21

Red kite poisoned in North Wales – police appeal for information

North Wales Police Rural Crime Team has issued an appeal on Twitter for information after a toxicology report earlier this month confirmed that a red kite had tested positive for the poison Bendiocarb.

Unfortunately the details of this latest wildlife crime are vague. The kite was found ‘in the area’ of the Ceiriog Valley ‘earlier this year’ and the police believe the poisoning was ‘potentially deliberate’.

That’s it, I’m afraid. No specific location, no details of the circumstances and no date of discovery. [See update below]

There is a police reference number (21000458355) to quote if anyone has any information that could help the police investigation. Please call 101 if you can help.

UPDATE 8th July 2021: Thanks to PC Dewi Evans of the Rural Crime Team for pointing out the following posting on the Rural Crime Team’s Facebook page. For the benefit of those not on Facebook, here’s what it says:

The Rural Crime Team has launched an investigation into the poisoning of a red kite, found dead in the Ceiriog Valley. The bird of prey, protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, was found deceased on February 27th earlier this year and attended to by RSPB Investigations Team. Toxicology tests carried out by the Welsh Government have since revealed the bird tested positive for Bendiocarb – a highly toxic insecticide. Officers believe the incident was potentially a deliberate act and are asking anyone with information to get in touch. It comes following several similar incidents reported in the area over the past three years, with a number of ravens and crows also found to have been poisoned using another substance .PC Dewi Evans, North Wales Police Rural Crime Team manager said: “We suspect the red kite died as a result of the unlawful use of poison and as a result, we have launched an investigation into the incident. “The deliberate poisoning of a bird brings a serious risk to humans and other animals and is hugely irresponsible. “We are currently looking into a potential motive for this incident and ask members of the public who have information to get in touch.” Anybody with information is asked to contact officers at the North Wales Police Rural Crime Team via the website or by calling 101, quoting reference number 21000458355. Alternatively, call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

ENDS

06
Jul
21

Rare breeding success for sea eagles in Cairngorms National Park but outlook for chick is bleak

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has issued the following press release today (6th July 2021). My commentary on this news is below the press release:

Raptor breeding successes for East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership

The productivity of breeding raptors in the east of the Cairngorms National Park this season is encouraging and includes the hatching of a sea eagle chick on Balmoral, the first time that the species has successfully bred on the estate.

The breeding pair of sea eagles – also known as white-tailed eagles – have been observed on Balmoral for the last few years. Both adult birds carry satellite tags and close collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has allowed the Balmoral Ranger Service to follow their weekly movements during the breeding season. A healthy male chick has now hatched and been ringed. Three golden eagle chicks have also recently been ringed as part of long-term monitoring on Balmoral.

Balmoral Estate is a member of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership (ECMP) which has seen breeding success for golden eagles, hen harriers, red kite, osprey, peregrine and merlin, as well as short-eared owls, in 2021, across the various land holdings.

[The young white-tailed eagle chick on the nest at Balmoral. Photo by North East Scotland Raptor Study Group, a member of the Scottish Raptor Study Group]

Richard Gledson, Estate Manager at Balmoral Estate said: “All at Balmoral Estate are delighted that sea eagles have nested successfully for the first time. A previous nesting attempt in 2017 on the same site sadly failed and we have had our fingers crossed since then. The birds have been with us for a couple of years, and we have been working closely with the North East Scotland Raptor Study Group who ringed the chick last week and with the RSPB who have been sending data from their satellite tags.”

Glenavon Estate – which is home to three pairs of golden eagles, including one of the highest nesting sites in Scotland – has had a golden eagle chick satellite tagged for the first time in recent years. Satellite tags are used by biological researchers on a variety of species including eagles and harriers, and provide valuable insight into their movement and survival. Golden eagle chicks have also been tagged on the Glenlivet Estate and Mar Lodge Estate.

Furthermore, Mar Lodge has hosted six hen harrier nests in 2021. One pair failed early in the season, but the other five nests all have chicks. Two hen harrier chicks have been satellite-tagged in collaboration with the RSPB. Evidence from satellite tags fitted to some of the harriers which are now breeding shows that the birds range widely, foraging across ground on neighbouring ECMP estates.

Last year, Mar Estate witnessed the first successful breeding attempt of sea eagles in Deeside for 200 years, but the relatively inexperienced pair failed this season at the hatching stage, with poor weather likely a contributing factor, however hopes are high for success with continued breeding efforts next season and beyond.

Dr Ewan Weston of the North East Scotland Raptor Study Group, who has carried out much of the satellite tagging on ECMP estates, commented: “This year’s raptor tagging on ECMP estates builds on a positive collaboration with the estates over recent years. Despite a very wet, snowy May, the general picture in the area is that raptors, particularly golden eagles, red kites and hen harriers have done well.”

The East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership is a landscape-scale collaboration between five sporting estates and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. The partnership seeks to deliver private interests alongside public benefits, including improving the conservation status of raptors, demonstrating best practice muirburn management, expanding areas of woodland and scrub and peatland restoration. Partners have been collaborating with a wide range of ecologists in the National Park.

Xander McDade, Convenor at the Cairngorms National Park Authority, said: “We are delighted to hear that productivity of raptors in the east of the National Park looks good for 2021. However, we know that we can still do more for the birds and are committed to finding ways of improving the conservation status of moorland raptors, along with other red and amber moorland bird species. This includes working closely with the five estates that make up the ECMP on a range of conservation measures.”

ENDS

First of all, the breeding success of this pair of white-tailed eagles on Balmoral Estate is obviously very good news and long, long over due.

Norway donated 85 sea eagles for a reintroduction project in eastern Scotland between 2007-2012, although over a quarter of those didn’t survive (the main known causes of death included illegal poisoning, illegally shot, accidentally electrocuted and being hit by trains). The East Coast reintroduction was the third phase of a national reintroduction project that started back in 1975 on the west coast of Scotland, after the species was extirpated from Britain thanks to persecution in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The first successful breeding attempt in east Scotland in 2013, the first for over a century, was an historic milestone in the project and was hoped to be the beginning of a new and vibrant population in the east, mirroring the successful population growth in the west.

So far though, progress has been incredibly slow and ongoing persecution has been at the centre of that (e.g. see here for the news that a sea eagle’s nest tree was deliberately felled on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens, also in 2013-nobody was prosecuted).

A number of young satellite-tagged sea eagles have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on or next to grouse moors since then, and only last year a young sea eagle was found dead, illegally poisoned, on another grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park (see here). Nobody was prosecuted for that crime.

[A police officer examines the corpse of the illegally poisoned sea eagle found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in 2020. Photo by Police Scotland].

So yes, it’s excellent news that Balmoral Estate has hosted a successful breeding attempt this year – well done to the team there – but it’s only half of the story. What happens when that young eagle fledges and disperses from Balmoral later this year?

Will it meet the same fate as this young golden eagle, which fledged from a nest site in the eastern Cairngorms last year and was found dead, ‘deliberately poisoned’ on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate earlier this year?

[An illegally poisoned golden eagle, laying next to a poisoned mountain hare bait, found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in 2021. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

I can see why the Cairngorms National Park Authority would want to issue this press release – not just to deservedly celebrate the successful breeding attempt on Balmoral Estate but probably more cynically, to try and undo some of the reputational damage that has been caused to the Park Authority and to its Eastern Cairngorms Moorland Partnership (ECMP) after the discovery of the poisoned golden eagle earlier this year on one of the ECMP’s partner estates (now no longer a partner) and the deserved criticism that the Park Authority has received for refusing to publish the correspondence it had had with the ECMP about the future of Invercauld Estate as a member of the ECMP following the discovery of the poisoned eagle (see here). This is the same tactic the Park Authority employed a few years ago when illegally-set traps were found on Invercauld Estate (here).

The ECMP can thank its lucky stars that one of its (now five) member estates is Mar Lodge, owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and with a glowing reputation for raptor conservation, especially for breeding hen harriers. Without Mar Lodge’s efforts, the ECMP’s raptor conservation efforts would be looking pretty feeble to date.

Although I noted the irony of the statement in the Park Authority’s press release that, ‘Evidence from satellite tags fitted to some of the harriers which are now breeding shows that the birds range widely, foraging across ground on neighbouring ECMP estates‘.

Er, yeah, but they forgot to mention how many of those hen harriers subsequently ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors in the ECMP and beyond (e.g. see here).

It doesn’t matter how far the Park Authority tries to spin the very welcome but too infrequent ‘good news’ stories like the breeding white-tailed eagles on Balmoral – the bottom line remains that large areas of the Cairngorms National Park are still raptor persecution hotspots and until that changes, the outlook for this young sea eagle is bleak.

02
Jul
21

The very strange world of a shooting fantasist – an update from Wild Justice

On 28th May 2021 campaign group Wild Justice published a blog about what it considered to be alleged breaches of the English General Licences, based on an article that was published in the Shooting Times in February 2021, where a bloke claimed to have gone out with his gun apparently to see whether he could shoot/kill ten species in ten hours.

A few days after publication, Wild Justice took down its blog post, temporarily.

Today, the blog post has been re-posted, in its original format – see here.

Two further blog posts on this matter have also been published by Wild Justice today, providing the reader with some updates, and these should be read in conjunction with the first blog. These two additional blogs are titled:

The Shooting Times and the General Licences (here)

and

A letter to the Shooting Times (here)

Here is a picture of a freezer. If you’ve read Wild Justice’s three blog posts on this matter you’ll understand the context. If you’ve been around on this blog for long enough, and read some of the far-fetched allegations made over the years about me and my colleagues supposedly perverting the course of justice by planting evidence to frame law-abiding shooting estates, you’ll probably also appreciate and enjoy the supreme irony. I know I am!

01
Jul
21

BrewDog buys Scottish grouse moor for rewilding & ecotourism

Earlier this year the Aberdeenshire brewery and pub chain BrewDog bought the Kinrara Estate on Speyside for an estimated £7.5M and announced some pretty grand plans to take this former grouse moor and pheasant shoot and transform it as part of the ‘single biggest native woodland establishment and peatland restoration project ever carried out in the UK‘.

BrewDog’s purchase is apparently motivated by ‘becoming the world’s first carbon negative beer business‘ with a claim that, ‘as well as over £50m of investments in reducing our environmental impact, we are also removing twice as much carbon as we emit every year, forever‘.

You can read BrewDog founder and CEO James Watt’s announcement, made in March 2021 on LinkedIn, here. Judging by the accompanying photograph, it’s not hard to see why they’ve called this The Lost Forest project:

The Kinrara Estate was being sold via estate agents Galbraith and it was promoted as having ‘considerable afforestation and potentially valuable carbon capture opportunity‘ and ‘great conservation potential‘ (see here).

Here’s a map from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website showing the estimated estate boundary (in blue, from 2002 data), with the southern part of the estate lying within the Cairngorms National Park close to Aviemore [Park boundary is in yellow] and the northern part extending into the Monadhliath Mountains.

Last week, the grouse shooting industry finally caught up with BrewDog’s progressive plans and guess what, it didn’t like them.

Right on cue, the hysteria button was pressed and social media has been rife with calls for a BrewDog boycott, personal abuse of its founders and a scaremongering headline in The Times that looked like this:

Unsurprisingly, the headline didn’t reflect the fact that as well as a significant ecological restoration programme on this former shooting estate, BrewDog intends to create many, many more jobs at the Lost Forest by creating ‘a hotel built from sustainable cabins, a campsite, a distillery, hiking and biking trails as well as kayaking on our beautiful loch’.

According to CEO James Watt’s LinkedIn article, ‘We want the Lost Forest to enable people to reconnect with nature and by doing so become far more cognisant of the impact that we, as humans, are having on our planet‘.

Who knows, maybe the two gamekeepers reportedly made redundant since the land purchase at Kinrara will find alternative employment opportunities at the Lost Forest that don’t involve shooting animals as a recreational ‘sport’. The world is moving on and grouse shooting is heading for the history books; even some industry supporters recognise this, as demonstrated by this fascinating recent article on the ShootingUK website.

For those more interested in conservation than amateur dramatics, you’ll probably be interested in having a look at the details of BrewDog’s ecological proposals for Kinrara. BrewDog has hired Scottish Woodlands Ltd as its forestry management company and as well as ecological surveys, a public consultation on the plans is also currently underway.

The following document forms part of that public consultation and the details show an impressive approach to sensitive restoration plans:

01
Jul
21

Poisoned golden eagle: Cairngorms National Park Authority refuses to publish correspondence with Invercauld Estate

In March this year, a golden eagle was found dead, next to a poisoned hare bait, on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park.

Toxicology results showed the eagle had been illegally poisoned with a banned pesticide. Police Scotland conducted a multi-agency search, under warrant, of various properties on Invercauld Estate in May 2021 (here) and issued an appeal for information on what they described as a ‘deliberate’ poisoning (here).

The Cairngorms National Park Authority issued a statement condemning the deliberate poisoning (here).

Invercauld Estate also issued a statement, supporting the police investigation and denying that the deliberately poisoned eagle was found on land managed for grouse shooting – even though, er, it seems that it was (see here and here).

[The deliberately poisoned golden eagle, next to the poisoned hare bait, on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate, March 2021. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

The following week, the Cairngorms National Park Authority published a further statement, this time on behalf of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership (ECMP), a consortium of six estates, including Invercauld, supposedly working in partnership with the Park Authority since 2015 to deliver ‘coordinated and sustainable moorland management’.

The statement from ECMP (read in full here) confirmed that Invercauld Estate ‘had left the group‘. There was no indication whether Invercauld had been expelled or had resigned of its own accord or what process, if any, had been undertaken to reach a decision.

So I submitted an FoI to the Cairngorms National Park Authority to try and find out.

Here’s part of the response I received:

This response came as no surprise to me because the Cairngorms National Park Authority has form for covering up the consequences of alleged criminal behaviour on Invercauld Estate – e.g. see here, here and here. The Park’s Board also has a number of members with a clear association with Invercauld Estate – whether this had any bearing on the Park’s decision about what to release and what not to release can only be open to speculation, obviously, because the information is being withheld. Again.

Still, as long it’s being withheld to allow Police Scotland to ‘complete their investigation’, which of course the CNPA will know (or at least can predict) to be going absolutely nowhere, just like the other ~80+ raptor persecution crimes uncovered in the Cairngorms National Park since 2003 that, with a single exception, haven’t resulted in a prosecution.

Part of the material that the CNPA did release suggests that Invercauld Estate resigned and wasn’t pushed (see below) although without seeing the full correspondence between the estate and the CNPA I’d be wary of drawing any conclusion because it just doesn’t add up, given Invercauld’s protestations when the news first broke that this eagle had been found poisoned on that estate.

This is a copy of an email sent from the CNPA’s Chief Executive, Grant Moir, to the Board. It’s a bit difficult to read with such a tiny font so it’s transcribed below:

Dear Board Member

The East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership will shortly be putting out the attached statement following a meeting of the partnership yesterday. At the meeting the partnership heard from Invercauld estate and Invercauld estate tendered their resignation from the partnership. After a good discussion the partners agreed to the resignation and have all agreed to the wording of the attached statement. It was also clear from the meeting that the remaining members are determined to make the partnership work.

NatureScot have also released a statement today which indicates they are looking at general licence restrictions for Invercauld Estate.

Throughout I have been keeping the Convenor of the Board up to speed on the issues and I will update the board further on Friday if there is any further information.

All the best

Grant

Grant Moir, Chief Executive, Cairngorms National Park Authority

So what of the Police’s ongoing investigation in to this deliberately poisoned golden eagle? No further news (but I trust they’ll be asking the CNPA for copies of the unpublished correspondence between Invercauld and the Park Authority because apparently it’s relevant to the police investigation).

Will NatureScot decide to impose a General Licence restriction on Invercauld Estate? No news.

What of the future of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership? A recent blog addressing this very issue from Nick Kempe writing for ParkswatchScotland is well worth a read (here).

And what of the Scottish Government’s promise to get to work on drafting the terms and conditions of a grouse shooting licensing scheme, whereby estates can lose their licence if raptor persecution crimes continue? No further news.

30
Jun
21

23 more white-tailed eagles donated by Norway for release in Ireland

Phase two of the reintroduction of white-tailed eagles in the Irish Republic continued last week with the arrival of 23 young eaglets from Norway.

These young birds, collected under licence by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, arrived at Kerry Airport on a chartered flight on Friday and they’ll be looked after in specially-made flight pens until their release in to the wild in August.

After being driven to extinction in Ireland in the early 20th century, an ambitious reintroduction project began in 2007 as a collaborative effort between the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Ireland, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research in Norway, the Golden Eagle Trust in Ireland and a lot of volunteer farmers and supporters on the ground.

[Project Manager Dr Allan Mee with a young white-tailed eagle during phase one of the reintroduction]

100 young white-tailed eagles were released in the Killarney National Park during phase one between 2007 and 2011 and this has resulted in at least ten breeding pairs becoming established in Kerry, Galway, Clare, Tipperary and Cork producing at least 30 chicks between them.

However, a recent scientific review of the reintroduction project indicated the small population is still vulnerable to factors such as illegal poisoning and the breeding population was negatively impacted by Avian Influenza in 2018 and storm Hannah in 2019.

A decision was made to conduct supplementary releases over a period of three years to bolster the existing population. Ten eagles were reintroduced last year (see here), this latest batch of 23 new arrivals will be released this year and more are expected to be released next year.

It’s an interesting time for this species. With the on-going reintroduction project on the Isle of Wight attracting widespread support and interest, an apparent green-light to begin a reintroduction in Norfolk met with mixed support and antipathy, a lot of interest in a proposed reintroduction to Wales, on-going persecution issues in eastern Scotland and general hysteria generated by the National Farmers Union Scotland, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and parts of the media about the perceived damage supposedly being caused by sea eagles in parts of western Scotland (more on that topic soon), it’s not clear to me how the white-tailed eagle will fare over the coming years.

If it’s still not even safe for one to fly over the Cairngorms National Park without becoming victim to a poisoned bait (e.g. see here) then we have to recognise there is still much work to do.




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