Archive Page 2

27
Nov
19

Hen harrier Ada ‘disappears’ on grouse moor in North Pennines AONB

Joint press release from Northumbria Police and RSPB (27 November 2019)

Hen Harrier Ada Disappears

Today, Northumbria Police and the RSPB have issued an appeal for information following the sudden disappearance of yet another satellite tagged hen harrier, a female bird known as Ada.

[Hen Harrier Ada being satellite tagged in the summer. Photo from RSPB]

Ada hatched on a nest on the Scottish borders this summer (2019). She was fitted with a lightweight satellite tag as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project, to learn more about the journeys made by these rare birds of prey and the survival challenges they face.

Ada was the first of the chicks tagged this summer to leave her nest and proved to be naturally adventurous. After fledging she flew north, spending some time on a disused golf course near Dunbar, then she headed south to the North Pennines. On the morning of 10 October 2019 she sent her last transmission from an area of grouse moor east of Allendale, Northumberland. Her tag showed no signs of malfunction and there were several satellites passing over, so it was expected to continue to provide data. RSPB staff were in the area at the time the tag would have transmitted, but neither the bird nor her tag could be found nor have been heard from since.

Her disappearance is being treated as suspicious and was reported to the police.

All birds of prey 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. Yet the evidence shows hen harriers continue to be killed, or disappear in suspicious circumstances, particularly on or near land managed for driven grouse shooting.

Scientific research published in March 2019 showed that 72% of the satellite tagged hen harriers in their study were killed or very likely to have been killed on British grouse moors, and that hen harriers were 10 times more likely to die or disappear over areas of grouse moor relative to other land uses.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, Senior Project Manager for the Hen Harrier LIFE project, said:

Over 30 chicks were tagged this summer and we’ve watched with interest as they’ve grown up and flown around the country. We’re absolutely gutted that Ada has disappeared in suspicious circumstances at just a few months’ old.

Emma Marsh, Director for RSPB England, said:

Hen harriers have become a rare breeding bird across the UK mainly due to illegal persecution by humans. In England, the last population survey recorded only four territorial pairs, despite scientific studies showing enough food and habitat to support over 320 pairs. Our own tagging work has shown that survival of young birds post-fledging is very low. This won’t change until something is done about illegal persecution. The Government’s own data has highlighted a loss of 72% of their tagged birds in suspicious circumstances, and we are calling on them to take vital measures to address this appalling situation.”

The RSPB is calling for the Government to introduce of a system of licensing for driven grouse moors, whereby this license to operate could be taken away should illegal activity be uncovered. We believe that this approach will act as a far greater deterrent than current legislation.

If you have any information relating to this incident, call Northumbria police on 101.

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form.

ENDS

It looks like Ada has vanished in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB):

The tag Ada was carrying is believed to be the same make and model as the other tags deployed by the RSPB on hen harriers (the tag with a known reliability rate of 94%). Technical failures are possible (of course) but are rare (6%), and according to this researchtag failures have always been preceded by irregular transmission periods and, most importantly, a drop in battery voltage (another parameter monitored by the transmitter). This makes it relatively straightforward to distinguish between a likely mortality event and a likely transmitter failure”.

The hen harrier tags deployed by the RSPB are completely different to the new and untested tags that were deployed by Natural England on some of this year’s brood meddled hen harriers; tags that are known to have a high failure rate.

26
Nov
19

SNH imposes General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate

Press release from SNH (26 Nov 2019)

General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has restricted the use of general licences on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire this week. The decision was made on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

[Chris Packham holding a dead hen harrier that had been caught in an illegally-set spring trap next to its nest on Leadhills Estate earlier this year. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out actions which would otherwise be illegal, including controlling common species of wild birds to protect crops or livestock.

Nick Halfhide, SNH’s Director of Sustainable Growth, said: “There is clear evidence that wildlife crimes have been committed on this property. Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the general licences on this property for three years. They may though still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

This measure will help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, albeit under tighter supervision. We consider that this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime.”

Restrictions will prevent people from using the general licences on the land in question for three years. This period can increase if more evidence of offences comes to light.

See the full licence restrictions details at https://www.nature.scot/general-licences-birds-restrictions

ENDS

As you might expect, we have a lot to say about this news, following on from last month’s blog about it (here).

We’ll be blogging in much more detail tomorrow but for now, our initial reaction to this news is, ‘Too little, too late’.

UPDATE 29 November 2019: General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate: welcome to the twilight zone (here)

UPDATE 2 December 2019: SNH explains decision to impose General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate (here)

26
Nov
19

Job vacancy: Assistant Investigations Officer, RSPB Scotland

Job Description:

The illegal killing of the birds of prey is a stain on the UK’s reputation. It affects almost all of our raptor species, and particularly impacts those of high conservation concern such as the hen harrier, peregrine and golden eagle.

This role is working within a dedicated and unique team combatting this issue alongside partners including the Police and statutory agencies.

You will be on the front line, following up reports of dead birds, monitoring the nests of some of our rarest breeding species or carrying out targeted fieldwork in areas with a history of criminal activity.

You need to be robust, persistent, focused, able to work in pressured situations and have excellent bird identification skills.

You will frequently be required to work unsociable hours, in remote upland environments where excellent navigation skills, an awareness of lone working procedures and health & safety are essential.

Experience of upland conservation issues, raptor monitoring projects, including using satellite transmitters, and intelligence handling would be beneficial.

This is a rewarding job, in a small team that makes a big difference.

The successful applicant will need to be based in Scotland and prepared to travel throughout the Scottish uplands and occasionally further afield.

Hours: Full time

Contract: Permanent

Salary: £19,602 to £21,236 per annum – Applicants should expect under normal circumstances to receive an offer at the bottom of the advertised range

Closing date: 13 December 2019

Interview date: 7 January 2020

How to apply: Follow this link

 

21
Nov
19

First Minister ‘hopes to publish Werritty Review before the end of the year’

At today’s First Minister’s Question Time in the Scottish Parliament Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that the Government had received Professor Werritty’s grouse moor management review on Monday (18th Nov) and said “we hope to publish it before the end of the year, and also to set out our response to it and how we will take forward its recommendations“.

You can watch the video here (starts 23.59 min, ends 27.35 min).

The topic came up in response to a question posed by Alison Johnstone MSP who had already made the very valid point that ‘endless reviews and delays had become a hallmark of the Scottish Government’s attitude towards wildlife protection’ and she asked whether Nicola Sturgeon was “too timid to stand up to vested interests“.

Here’s the transcript:

The Scottish Parliament breaks for recess on 22 December 2019 to 6 January 2020 inclusive. It’s not clear from Ms Sturgeon’s comment whether the Government hopes to publish the report (and the Govt’s response) before the end of the Parliamentary term by 5pm on 21 December or whether some poor civil servant will be tasked with the job between Xmas and New Year but hopefully in five and a half weeks at the very most we’ll finally have an opportunity to read Professor Werritty’s long-awaited report.

20
Nov
19

Satellite tagging golden eagles in Scotland: fact vs fiction

In September 2019 the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) lodged a petition at the Scottish Parliament calling for the ‘independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptors’.

You can read the petition here: SGA petition PE01750 Independent monitoring raptor satellite tags

It’s the latest in a long line of efforts to undermine and discredit the use of satellite tags, simply because the unintended consequences of tagging raptors like golden eagles, hen harriers, white-tailed eagles and red kites has exposed the previously hidden extent of illegal raptor persecution on many grouse moors and has led the Scottish Government to scrutinise grouse moor management practices by commissioning a review.

[The satellite tag fitted to this golden eagle led researchers to a grouse moor in the Angus Glens where the bird was found to have been illegally poisoned. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Raptor persecution crimes attract huge media attention because it’s hard to believe that people are still poisoning golden eagles in Scotland in the 21st century. As a result of this ongoing publicity, the game-shooting industry has spent considerable time and effort trying to undermine the satellite-tagging of raptors, either by launching disgusting personal & abusive attacks targeted against named individuals involved in the projects, or by blaming disappearances on imaginary windfarms, faulty sat tags fitted to turtles in India & ‘bird activists‘ trying to smear gamekeepers, or by claiming that those involved have perverted the course of justice by fabricating evidence, or by claiming that raptor satellite-tagging should be banned because it’s ‘cruel’ and the tag data serve no purpose other than to try and entrap gamekeepers. There have also been two laughable attempts to discredit the authoritative golden eagle satellite tag review (here and here), thankfully dismissed by the Scottish Government. The industry knows how incriminating these sat tag data are and so is trying to do everything in its power to corrode public and political confidence in (a) the tag data and (b) the justification for fitting sat tags to raptors, hence this latest petition from the SGA.

[Young satellite-tagged golden eagles on a nest ledge in Scotland. Photo by Dan Kitwood]

The SGA’s petition is badly written, incoherent and completely misinformed. We actually dealt with a lot of the issues it raises in previous blogs (here, here and here) but as the SGA has chosen to ignore the evidence we welcome the opportunity to present the facts to the Scottish Parliament, should they decide to examine the petition further.

The petition was heard by the Petitions Committee on 10th October and it was agreed to pass it on to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee for consideration. You can read the transcript of the Petitions Committee’s deliberations here: Petitions_committee_10_Oct_SGA_sat_tags

If the ECCLR Committee does decide to progress the petition, we look forward to providing the evidence that dismantles the SGA’s fictional claims. As a bare minimum, evidence will be provided on the following:

Golden eagles in Scotland have been satellite-tagged as part of a long-term collaborative research effort involving multiple organisations (at least seven) who share data to further conservation aims. Some of this research has already been published, some is currently under-going peer-review and some of it is on-going. We’ve blogged about this research before (see here) and we’ll be blogging further about some of the specific projects in the near future. If you want to get an insight in to the science behind the golden eagle satellite tag review, this slide show by the report’s authors is well worth a look.

The scientists have created a formal research group (Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group, GESTG) as a forum for data exchange, tagging coordination and general cooperation. The GESTG has agreed a central nexus on tag data coordination (there are now, literally, millions of tag records and it’s important they are held centrally to facilitate their use in future analyses).

Members of the GESTG have developed strong, positive relationships with many landowners who are working cooperatively on the ground to facilitate tagging efforts and protection of golden eagles.

Members of the GESTG have participated in the training of police officers across the UK to help them understand and interpret satellite tag data (e.g. this workshop organised by SNH and the National Wildlife Crime Unit was particularly beneficial to both the researchers and the police. A similar workshop was also run in England and again included input from the GESTG).

Members of the GESTG have developed an excellent relationship with the police National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) leading to the routine sharing of satellite tag data and regular detailed discussions on interpretation. This has led to a much-improved understanding for both parties and has helped build trust and confidence in what we consider to be a genuine partnership. In addition, NWCU staff have been provided with daily access to the data from several tagged golden eagles to help them learn about golden eagle ecology and behaviour, both of which are important facets of interpreting eagle tag data.

Oh, and as for those claims that satellite tag data have been withheld from the police (why would anyone want to do that?!), here’s a clear statement in response from Police Supt Nick Lyall (Head of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group):

We’re not the only ones to consider the SGA’s petition wholly inaccurate and misinformed. Last month Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland) wrote a damning blog to challenge some of the SGA’s myths (see here).

The bottom line is, contrary to the SGA’s lies, there is already plenty of cooperative partnership working between eagle satellite taggers and landowners and the police. We collaborate and share our data in order to improve conservation benefits for this iconic species across Scotland. What we don’t do is share data with those who would use the information to disturb and/or kill eagles.

We expect to be blogging further on this subject as the petition reaches the ECCLR Committee.

18
Nov
19

Public talk: southern reintroduction hen harrier project

Somerset Wildlife Trust is hosting a public talk on Natural England’s proposed southern reintroduction of hen harriers.

This controversial plan is part of DEFRA’s ludicrous Hen Harrier InAction Plan and is due to begin in 2020 with birds donated from Spain being reintroduced to Wiltshire (more on these details in due course – we’re currently reviewing some FoI docs).

The talk is on Tues 11th February 2020 (7.30-9.30pm) at the Parish Rooms in Somerton, where Flemming Ulf-Hansen from Natural England will ‘explain what has been involved’.

£3 on the door for members, £4 for non-members, under 16s free.

We’ve blogged extensively about the southern reintroduction project for the last three years. Here are the links for those who’d like to do some background reading:

28 Nov 2016 – Hen Harrier reintroduction to southern England: an update (here)

3 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the feasibility/scoping report (here)

8 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the project group and their timeline (here)

9 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: who’s funding it? (here)

9 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: a bonkers proposal for Exmoor National Park (here)

12 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Wiltshire (here)

14 Feb 2017: Leaked email reveals Natural England’s views on Hen Harrier Action Plan (here)

23 Feb 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: donor countries (here)

19 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: new project manager appointed (here)

20 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Dartmoor as potential new release site (here)

20 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: revised costs (here)

21 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: project team vists France (here)

27 July 2017: RSPB statement on hen harrier reintroduction to southern England (here)

15 Aug 2017: Natural England Board making up justification for hen harrier southern reintroduction (here)

24 October 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Natural England delays release of information (here)

11 December 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: report of fieldtrip to France (potential donor country) (here)

12 December 2017: 2018 start date for reintroduction of hen harrier to southern England? (here)

14 January 2018: Stop illegal persecution then no need for reintroduction of hen harrier to southern England, says DEFRA Minister (here)

13 March 2018: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: has France said “Non”? (here)

28 Feb 2019: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Vulcan’ disappears nr proposed reintroduction site in southern England (here)

10 March 2019: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Natural England suggests persecution not an issue (here)

 

18
Nov
19

No application lodged to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales

In February this year, amidst a blaze of publicity and fanfare, it was claimed that plans to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales were well underway and that a licence application to Natural Resources Wales (NRW) would be lodged by July.

The claim was made by Dr Paul O’Donoghue of ‘Wilder Britain‘, also the individual behind last year’s failed application to reintroduce Lynx to Kielder (Lynx UK Trust) and the individual involved with recent legal action against Andy Wightman MSP for alleged defamation (Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC).

[Dr Paul O’Donoghue, photographed by Paul Paterson @tighnabruaich1 at a fractious community meeting earlier this year]

We blogged about O’Donoghue’s golden eagle plans in February and how they contrasted with the legitimate reintroduction plans of a different group, Eagle Reintroduction Wales (see here) and this story was later picked up by Private Eye (see here).

Nine months on and we were curious to read Dr O’Donoghue’s licence application to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales and even more curious to see how NRW had responded, so we submitted a Freedom of Information request for the details.

NRW has responded with this:

How interesting.

Meanwhile, Dr Rob Thomas (@RobThomas14) from the alternative Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project told us, “We are increasingly well supported by the Wildlife Trusts of South and West Wales but we feel we are several years away from any possible licence application, with the biological phases nearing completion but much still to do next in terms of engagement with farmers, shooters, tourism interests and other stakeholders“.




Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Blog Stats

  • 5,582,397 hits

Archives

Our recent blog visitors