Archive Page 2


Proposed golden eagle reintroduction in Wales – the saga continues

Regular blog readers will be aware of an on-going controversy about plans to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales. There are two separate groups involved, with two very different approaches -see herehereherehereherehere, here and here for previous blogs.

[Young golden eagle, photo by Getty Images]

You may remember in September there was a parliamentary discussion in the Senedd (Welsh Parliament), later reported in the local press, where Siân Gwenllian, the Member of the Senedd for the Arfon constituency and Shadow Minister for Plaid Cymru, had raised concerns about the project with the Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths MS and urged her not to support reintroduction plans (see here).

There’s been an update on that. During a radio discussion broadcast on BBC Radio Cymru on 25th September 2020 between Dewi Llywd (host), Iolo Williams (conservationist & TV presenter), politician Siân Gwenllian and Rhys Owen (Head of Conversation & Agriculture, Snowdonia National Park) there was clarification from Ms Gwenllian that her opposition was aimed specifically at the reintroduction proposal from Paul O’Donoghue of Wilder Britain, and not for the research being undertaken by the opposing group, Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project.

The discussion was in Welsh and a blog reader has provided a transcript but I’m not going to publish it because the programme has since been removed from the BBC website, apparently for ‘technical’ reasons, but I suspect there may be legal issues afoot. Suffice to say, the Wilder Britain proposal wasn’t supported by any of the panel members, mostly because of the perceived lack of transparency, accountability and poor communication.

It’s not clear at what stage the Wilder Britain proposal has reached because statutory agency Natural Resources Wales hasn’t responded properly to a pretty simple Freedom of Information request that was submitted two months ago in mid-August! A formal complaint has been lodged.

Meanwhile, the other research group, Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project, affiliated with Cardiff University, is about to go under. Its funding runs out in November, thanks to Covid-related difficulties, and the group is making a last-ditch attempt to crowdfund support to see it through to April 2021 when Government funding is reopened.

Without funding, the group’s careful three-year project will come to a premature end, just at the time when its research is needed the most. If you can help with a small contribution, please visit the crowdfunder page HERE (it closes at the end of this week).


Intensive gamebird shooting in the UK: the writing’s on the wall (and in the papers)

Imagine you are a member of the gamebird shooting industry in the UK, you’d just heard about the RSPB’s plans calling for gamebird shooting reform, and then you’d read the following damning editorial, in The Times no less, you’d surely realise the writing’s on the wall:

And if you were a member of the gamebird shooting industry that had just read this opinion piece from a paper ostensibly seen as being on your side, how would you feel if you then read the reactions of the organisations who are supposed to represent your ‘sport’ but are effectively sticking fingers in ears, denying there’s any need for reform and are instead dancing in a circle singing ‘Tra la la, I can’t hear you‘, e.g. BASC (here), Moorland Association (here), Scottish Land & Estates (here)?

These knee-jerk reactions have been slammed in another editorial, this time in today’s edition of The Guardian (read it here).

The final two paragraphs are compelling:

There is no good reason for the oppositional stance that has become a reflex of many countryside organisations. It is the enormous dangers facing the natural world that should concern them, not a confected threat to their way of life. Self-regulation has failed to stop birds of prey including hen harriers from being poisoned by gamekeepers. Nor has it led to advances in land management, despite greatly increased public awareness of the risks of flooding, and the burning of peatlands (carried out in order that grouse can feed on new growth). Even the editor of Shooting Times was moved, in 2018, to decry the “greed that has crept into shooting”.

Ministers cannot continue to look away as landowners dismiss concerns rooted in public opinion and evidence. Conservation efforts must be recognised, and destruction punished. Impartial research into the shooting industry should be ordered. It is reprehensible, given the huge climate and biodiversity challenges facing us, that those who claim to have rural interests at heart appear determined to block progress‘.

It’s not just the broadsheets covering this subject. Have a look at this:

It’s an article that features in a publication called First News, a weekly UK tabloid aimed at 7-14 year olds and with an estimated circulation of 2.2 million. Thanks to the blog reader who sent us this (who also happens to be a teacher who says he’ll be highlighting the issue with his class).

The writing is definitely on the wall. It’s now just a question of when, not if.


‘Raptors in Britain are still affected by illegal persecution’ – leading ornithologist Professor Ian Newton

‘Raptors in Britain are still affected by illegal persecution’ is stating the bleedin’ obvious to many readers of this blog but it’s still an important statement to repeat, especially when it’s done by one of the world’s most distinguished ornithologists, Professor Ian Newton.

Ian has just written a review paper on the subject, which again won’t contain anything not already known to many blog readers (that’s why it’s called a review paper, after all) but it’s still worth a read because Ian’s writing style is second to none, in his ability to condense complex ecological principles in to a language that anybody of moderate intelligence can comprehend. (His 1979 book Population Ecology of Raptors is still THE best in its field).

His review article, Killing of raptors on grouse moors: evidence and effects has just been published in the British Ornithologists Union (BOU) journal Ibis and is open access, which means you don’t have to pay to read it.

You can download it here:

To accompany the review article in Ibis, Ian has also written a short blog on the BOU website that can be read here.

Ibis is an important platform for Ian’s article for a number of reasons – it’s one of the most well-respected ornithological journals in the world, which means its papers are viewed with high regard by an international audience, and this particular article is likely to reach a wider audience than might normally be interested in UK conservation simply because Ian wrote it!

At the end of his scientific review, Ian has included a discussion section where he outlines the various options for reducing the ongoing killing of birds of prey on driven grouse moors: vicarious liability, licensing and banning.

He’s a bit behind the curve on this, as he suggests, ‘Only dialogue, mutual understanding and compromise are likely to lessen this conflict‘. It sounds like a reasonable approach and is one adopted by many when they first learn about what’s going on, but has to be seen in the context of decades of failed talks, decades of failed partnerships, decades of denial, decades of continued illegal killing and decades of sticking up two fingers to law-abiding society.

Even the mild-mannered RSPB has almost reached the end of its tether, offering the game-shooting industry one final drink in the last chance saloon before calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting.

Some of us are already there – last orders were called some time ago and now it’s chucking out time.


Wild Justice’s Raptor Forensics Fund opens with £10K to support police investigations

The campaign group Wild Justice has announced the launch of its Raptor Forensics Fund, with an initial budget of £10K available to support police investigations in to raptor persecution crimes.

This fund was first proposed in April 2020 after discussions with a number of Police wildlife crime officers who were frustrated that funding cuts and delayed decision-making was impacting on their efforts to submit evidence for forensic testing in suspected cases of bird of prey persecution.

Several months on the fund has just launched this week with funding provided by Wild Justice, Northern England Raptor Forum, Tayside & Fife Raptor Study Group and a number of individuals.

The Raptor Forensics Fund will be administered solely by the PAW Forensics Working Group and guarantees funding support to police officers and other statutory agencies (e.g. SSPCA) to cover the cost of x-rays and post-mortems in the early stages of investigations and then potentially more funding to cover the full cost of further forensic analysis once a crime has been confirmed.

It is hoped this funding will increase the opportunities for police officers and other statutory investigators to get the raptor-killing criminals in to court.

Let’s see how long it takes before the first funding request appears. Not long, would be my bet.

For further information about the Raptor Forensics Fund please click here.

For further information about Wild Justice’s activities you can subscribe to the free newsletter here.


RSPB announces its ‘new’ policy on gamebird shooting

At this morning’s AGM, the RSPB announced the findings of its year-long policy review on gamebird shooting.

The full statement can be read here.

The main thrust of it is that the RSPB sees two separate approaches, one for driven grouse shooting in the uplands and one for lowland pheasant/partridge shoots, although there is a general principle for both, as follows:

First, we believe that new laws backed up by tougher enforcement will be needed to end the illegal killing of birds of prey, to end the use of lead ammunition and to end vegetation burning on peatlands.  These practices are entirely incompatible with the imperative to address the climate and ecological emergency and there are perfectly practical alternatives.  

Second, we believe that all intensive gamebird shooting should be regulated to reduce the negative environmental impacts‘.

There’s nothing stunningly novel about this, nor controversial. It’s just common sense and it shouldn’t have taken a year-long review to reach such a conclusion.

Here’s what the new policy says about driven grouse shooting:

For “driven” grouse shooting, where beaters drive the birds towards the guns, we believe that the intensification of land management practices over the last two decades is unsustainable and damaging.  Between 2004 and 2016 there was a 62 per cent increase in the number of grouse shot.  We have concluded that reform leading to an improvement in the environmental condition of our uplands will most effectively be achieved through the introduction of licences for “driven” grouse shoots.  These would set minimum environmental standards which, if breached, would result in losing the right to shoot.  The RSPB has today set out the principles for how this system could operate. 

Our focus is not on “walked up” grouse shooting, but we will re-double our efforts to secure effective licensing for “driven” grouse shooting, and we will learn from the developments anticipated soon on this issue in Scotland.  We will provide an annual assessment of progress and review our position within five years.  Failure to deliver effective reform will result in the RSPB calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting

To be perfectly honest, this announcement is a bit underwhelming. Perhaps it needs some time to sink in. They haven’t explained why they’ve decided to wait for five years before calling for a ban, when all the evidence to support an immediate ban is overwhelming, and much of that evidence has been collected by RSPB’s own staff!

It’s not clear what measures will be used to assess what the RSPB describes as annual ‘progress’ or ‘effective reform’. These details need to be made available.

Here’s what the new policy says about pheasant and partridge shooting:

For the release of non-native pheasants and red-legged partridges, we propose a different approach.  From the data available, the number of birds released annually is estimated to have grown to at least 57 million.  Our evidence review shows that habitats created by land managed for these birds can provide benefits for wildlife.  Nevertheless, it also shows that there are substantial negative environmental consequences from the industrialised form of this shooting, including the direct and indirect impacts that released birds can have on other wildlife.  This situation is recognised by some in the shooting community.  A recent review of evidence published by Natural England and the shooting organisation, BASC, reached similar conclusions. 

We are keen to work with public bodies and the shooting sector to help address the issues with urgency.  Important first steps would be to ensure a reduction in the number of gamebirds being released and full compliance with existing reporting rules. Ultimately, we believe that further regulation will be necessary to drive up environmental standards. We will call for this within 18 months if significant progress is not secured‘.

Errm….well, waiting for 18 months is better than waiting for five years, but again, more detail is needed to understand what the RSPB judges to be ‘significant progress’.

Perhaps I’m being unfair. This morning’s announcement was simply an overview statement given during a ten minute slot during the AGM and knowing the RSPB there’s bound to be a stack of supporting evidence on which they’ve based their new policy and probably a much more in-depth description of the markers they’ll use to assess progress.

But yeah, still mostly underwhelmed at the moment.


Game-shooting industry getting twitchy at prospect of regulation

The UK game-shooting industry is ratcheting-up its attempts to appear reasonable and law-abiding as the prospect of enforced regulation looms large.

Tomorrow (Saturday) the RSPB announces the results of its year-long review of its policy on gamebird shooting. There has been very little hint of what its new policy might be, but many of us are hoping its a lot stronger than its former policy and if it is, that will result in even more pressure being placed on Governments to introduce statutory enforcement to regulate the currently out-of-control gamebird shooting industry.

In a rather pathetic attempt to head this off at the pass, today saw the shooting industry in England and Scotland put forward a plea to the respective Governments to support what it calls ‘a new blueprint for the future of shooting’ in the form of a document called ‘The Principles of Sustainable Gamebird Management’, drafted by the GWCT.

The thing is, it’s not a ‘new blueprint’ at all. It’s the same old set of unenforced and unregulated ‘principles’ that the industry has failed to implement year after year. Had these principles been adhered to and self-regulated, the industry wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in now.

In Scotland a coalition of game shooting organisations operating under the banner of RELM (Rural Environment and Land Management) is using these principles as yet another way of trying to persuade the Scottish Government not to introduce a licensing scheme in response to the Werritty Review.

Here’s a desperate press release from Scottish Land & Estates, on behalf of fellow RELM members BASC, Scottish Gamekeepers Association, Countryside Alliance and SACS, explaining why new legislation apparently isn’t required:

As usual, many of the claims made in this statement are brazenly misleading. The Heads up for Hen Harriers project is a greenwashing sham that is definitely not delivering the tangible conservation results it was supposed to (see here), the Muirburn Code is repeatedly ignored, even during a global pandemic (e.g. see here), golden eagles are still being persecuted in areas of high-intensity grouse moor management (see here), as are hen harriers, resulting in significant population decline (see here), peregrines have been systematically removed from many former territories on grouse moors (see here) and merlin populations are suffering due to the intensification of grouse moor management in some areas (see here).

Tomorrow we’ll learn what the RSPB intends to do and sometime soon we might learn what the Scottish Government intends to do….and then the public can decide what it intends to do.

Change is in the air.


Lou Hubble to leave National Wildlife Crime Unit

Chief Inspector Louise Hubble is leaving her role as Chair of the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) in November.

In a letter to colleagues last month, Lou wrote, ‘I am writing to notify you that my  two year secondment to the NWCU, which was extended by twelve months last year, concludes in November 2020.  Following discussions with Hampshire’s Chief Officer Group it has been decided that I will return to Hampshire in November 2020.  I do not know at this time which role I will be going in to but after 21 years as a Wildlife Crime Officer I hope to still be involved in the world of wildlife at some level.  I will certainly continue to enjoy my passion for wildlife in my spare time regardless of my policing role‘.

[Lou filming with Chris Packham in the raptor persecution hotspot of Strathbraan, Perthshire. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

It’s not clear whether she jumped or was pushed, but I reckon most of us will have our own view on that. If you work in wildlife crime enforcement in the UK and you’re seen to be doing a decent job, you can expect to be targeted by those who would rather you kept your mouth shut and who have the influence and connections to try and make sure you do.

Lou experienced this first hand (see here and here).

Lou’s departure is really disappointing news, not just for her personally – she is as passionate and focused about her role as anyone you’re likely to meet – but for those of us with long memories about some of the former heads of the NWCU, Lou’s departure signals not just a huge loss for wildlife crime enforcement, but also a weariness that her replacement, whoever that may be, will be starting from scratch, all over again.

There’s still a big question mark over the usefulness and effectiveness of the NWCU as a whole – undoubtedly the unit excels in some areas but is less effective in others and there are still some ‘personalities’ in there that make partnership-working a challenge, to say the least. But Lou wasn’t one of those. She was/is highly respected by those of us in the conservation community for her hard work and high standards.

If you’re reading this, Lou, thanks for your efforts.


Police Supt Nick Lyall found guilty at misconduct tribunal

The name of Police Supt Nick Lyall should be familiar to readers of this blog. Nick, whose day job was Head of Operations at Bedfordshire Police, was also the latest incumbent tasked with chairing the poisoned chalice of the RPPDG (Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group) in England and Wales.

The RPPDG had been nothing more than a pantomime of so-called partnership, having achieved precisely nothing towards tackling illegal raptor persecution despite years and years of meetings (since 2009!), mainly because the group membership was dominated by representatives of the game-shooting industry who took every opportunity to frustrate any attempt to change the status quo. This wasn’t helped by a succession of weak Chairs who either didn’t have the interest or drive to bring about change. This ‘Priority Delivery Group’ was neither a priority nor a delivery group – it was simply a sham group the game-shooting industry, and Government, could point to to pretend they were addressing raptor crime.

Nick brought a change of pace and enthusiasm to the role and he was widely supported by the conservation community for his efforts and most importantly, for his willingness to be open and transparent with both sides (e.g. see here).

Nick achieved a massive amount in just over 12 months, much of it behind the scenes including some highly significant meetings with, let’s call them, ‘well known sporting agents’. There is no doubt whatsoever that the game shooting industry as a whole was feeling the heat, partly thanks to Nick’s efforts, and this was recognised last year when he received the WWF Wildlife Crime Operation of the Year Award for his vision of turning Operation Owl from a regional to a national awareness-raising campaign.

Earlier this year Nick was suspended by Bedfordshire Police pending an investigation in to claims he had lied about an alleged affair with a police colleague. At a tribunal last week he was found guilty of misconduct and another hearing is now scheduled to determine his future with the police.

This is a major blow for those of us interested in tackling the ongoing slaughter of birds of prey on the UK’s game-shooting estates, although judging by the disgraceful social media gloating being done by certain BASC staff members, not everyone shares our disappointment.

It’s highly unlikely Nick will have any further involvement in the RPPDG so another Chair will have to be appointed and the whole cycle starts again.

Watch this space.

And Nick, if you’re reading this, thank you for your hard work and commitment to tackling these appalling crimes.


Man charged for wildlife offences relating to illegal trapping of a bird of prey

A 38-year-old man has been ‘cautioned and charged’ for wildlife offences in relation to the illegal trapping of a bird of prey on 26th August 2020 in Aberdeenshire, according to Police Scotland.

PC Davis is quoted as saying:

Police responded to a report of a trapped bird of prey which was recovered safe and well and released unharmed.

Police Scotland take wildlife crime seriously and appreciate the assistance we get from our communities.

If you have information or concerns you can contact us on 101“.

The species ID of the trapped raptor has not been published, nor have any further details of the location, type of trap etc.

As this individual has been charged, comments on this case will not be published on this blog until criminal proceedings have finished. Thanks for your understanding.

[Tweet from Aberdeenshire North Police earlier this afternoon]


What happened next with licence application for out-of-season muirburn on Leadhills Estate

Further to yesterday’s blog where it was revealed that earlier this summer, Mark Osborne, the agent/manager at Leadhills Estate had applied to SNH for an out-of-season muirburn licence to allow him to set fire to parts of the grouse moor after being sprayed with toxic glyphosate (see here), here’s what happened next.

[Setting fire to the grouse moors at Leadhills in previous years. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

SNH’s licensing department sent Osborne’s 2020 licence application to other members of staff for their comments. It’s interesting to note that Leadhills Estate applied for a similar licence in 2019 but this was refused, for reasons not yet known. Those documents have been requested from SNH via a Freedom of Information request but haven’t yet arrived.

It’s not known how many members of staff were invited to comment on Osborne’s 2020 licence application, or from which departments, because SNH has chosen to hide some internal correspondence on this issue (for example, there is no indication in the material released under a Freedom of Information request that Leadhills Estate’s status of being subject to a General Licence restriction for ongoing wildlife crime was even considered at this stage) but the following response was given by SNH’s Uplands and Peatlands Officer, who, alarmingly, doesn’t seem to think there’s any issue in principle with spraying the grouse moor with glyphosate and then setting fire to it, but does argue that this could be undertaken during the muirburn season (starts 1st Oct) and doesn’t require a special out-of-season licence:

Subsequently, SNH decided to refuse this latest licence application and notified Osborne on 14 August 2020 as follows:

On 18th August 2020 Osborne appealed the decision, stating that the glyphosate spraying had already been undertaken:

On 21st August 2020 SNH wrote back to Osborne to say they were treating his appeal as a formal complaint. Osborne wrote back the same day and said he wasn’t making a formal complaint, he was appealing SNH’s decision to refuse the out-of-season muirburn licence:

More to come on this saga…..

UPDATE 19th October 2020: SNH considers appeal from Leadhills Estate to undertake out-of-season muirburn (see here)

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