Archive Page 2


New RSPB Head of Investigations

Congratulations to Mark Thomas who will be taking on the role of RSPB Head of Investigations in January, following the departure of Bob Elliot earlier this year.

Mark is no stranger to this field. He joined the RSPB’s Investigations Team based at The Lodge HQ way back in 1999 and has spent the last 19 years on the front line, gaining invaluable first hand experience in every type of crime against birds, not least those against birds of prey.

This is an excellent decision by the RSPB – it ensures continuity at a time of great upheaval for RSPB staff and at a critical time for tackling illegal raptor persecution.

Mark said: “Things have changed a lot since I first began. At that time we were the only ones banging on about raptor persecution but these days the word has spread and we receive massive support for our work through the police and other agency partners, as well as from the general public. I’m looking forward to supporting everyone in my team [which includes a number of field investigators as well as intelligence officers and analysts] to help them continue our efforts to tackle bird crime across the country“.

Well done, Mark, this is a well-deserved promotion.


New forensic tool to identify human fingerprints on illegally-killed raptors

Press release from Abertay University (29/11/18):

Scientitists recover fingerprints from feather exposed to outdoor conditions

An Abertay University study has discovered that fingerprints can be recovered from bird feathers that have been left outside, exposing them to environmental conditions.

Previous research from PhD Student Helen McMorris had revealed that it was possible to obtain fingerprints from feathers under lab conditions.

For the first time, she has been able to prove it is possible to recover them from feathers that have been exposed to environmental conditions such as wind and rain.

[Helen McMorris obtains a fingerprint from buzzard feathers. Photo from Abertay University]

In the long term, it’s hoped the research will have a transformative impact on the number of wildlife crime convictions in the UK.

According to the latest RSPB Birdcrime report there were 68 confirmed incidents of raptor persecution last year, with only four prosecutions. From these, just one led to a successful conviction.

Investigations into such incidents can be extremely difficult as there’s no accurate measure of determining human involvement.

McMorris – also a Teaching Fellow at Abertay – said this makes it difficult to prosecute: “At this moment in time toxicology tests can prove that a raptor has been poisoned, and you can prove that a bird has been shot through x-rays and post mortem.

But there’s no way of telling if a human has had any contact with that bird if it’s found dead in a field or on a hillside. You have to assume there has been foul play of some description, but you can’t hone in on the actual person responsible.

This technique potentially gives investigators the chance to prove actual human involvement in raptor persecution, be it through an identifiable fingerprint or a touch mark from a human finger that identifies exact areas of contact on the bird-of-prey”.

Head of Science Dr Ben Jones said “As part of Abertay’s research in improving forensic investigation techniques, this study is an important step in moving from the laboratory closer to a real-life situation, as the technique moves from research to development for use in an investigative setting.”


For those interested in the science, this research has been published in Science and Justice, the journal of the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences. Publishing restrictions prevent us from posting the full paper here but here’s the abstract:

It’s probably a bit of an overstatement to claim that these results “will have a transformative impact on the number of wildlife crime convictions in the UK“. These days the majority of raptor killers are much more savvy about hiding their crimes and often remove and destroy all the evidence (cf all those ‘missing’ satellite tagged raptors that vanish in to thin air).

However, there are still some who are too stupid/lazy/arrogant to get this right, e.g. the shooting of a hen harrier on a grouse moor at Leadhills last year (here). This shooting by a masked gunman was witnessed by a member of the public, and the witness was later able to point the investigating authorities to the location which led to the discovery of the harrier’s body, partly-hidden in vegetation. In rare cases like this, the ability to test the corpse for fingerprints may well have helped to identify the perpetrator.

Similarly, in the recent case of gamekeeper Tim Cowin who shot, then stamped on, and then buried the bodies of two short-eared owls on a grouse moor in Cumbria (here), had the RSPB’s video evidence of Cowin committing his crimes been deemed inadmissible, testing the owls’ feathers for human fingerprints may well have led to Cowin having to face some awkward questions.

This new research isn’t a panacea but it is still another useful weapon in the armoury of those fighting the illegal killing of birds prey, a fight that Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations, RSPB Scotland) has described as ‘an arms race’ (here).


Illegal gin trap found set near Nairn, Highlands

Police Scotland has issued a statement about the discovery of an illegal gin trap found set near Nairn in the Highlands:


Police in Nairn have issued a warning about the use of illegal traps following the discovery of one set near the town.

The illegal gin trap, although rusty, was fully functioning and was discovered by a member of the public on the afternoon of Wednesday, November 28 near Howford Bridge a few miles south of the town.

Nothing had been caught in the trap and the device has since been recovered by officers.

[Photo of the gin trap from Police Scotland]

[RPUK maps showing location of Howford Bridge, south of Nairn]

Wildlife liaison officer Constable Jonathan Clarke said: “Gin traps have been illegal for many years and are entirely indiscriminate. This device could have caused serious injury to a wild animal, a pet or even a person if they been caught in it.

Setting a trap such as this is a criminal act, as is possessing something like with the intention of using it.

Setting one in an area close to the river which is popular with dog walkers is extremely reckless and it is fortunate that this was discovered before anything or anyone was injured.

No further traps have been found but I would urge the public to be vigilant when walking in the area.

If anyone does find a trap then please do not try to deal with it on your own but carefully note the location and report it to police immediately.

Enquiries into this trap are ongoing and I would urge anyone with information to contact police on 101, using reference NM3269/18, or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”


Well done Police Scotland for a very fast response to remove the trap and for an equally speedy public alert.

It’s shocking to see these traps still in use. Gin traps have been banned in England since 1958 and banned in Scotland since 1971, and yet still they’re being used to target wildlife.

It’s not clear which species was being targeted in this latest case but previously we’ve seen gamekeepers using them to trap buzzards (gamekeeper convicted in 2015 (here) and his boss convicted for vicarious liability (here) and earlier this year a red kite was trapped resulting in horrific injuries (here)).


Yet another red kite shot & killed in North Yorkshire’s Nidderdale AONB

North Yorkshire Police are appealing for information after the discovery of yet another shot & killed red kite in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The latest in a long line of victims, this red kite was found dead on 25th October 2018 near to Wath.

[X-ray of the shot red kite showing two shotgun pellets. Image from North Yorkshire Police]

[RPUK map showing location of Wath in the Nidderdale AONB]

[RPUK map showing Wath sandwiched between two areas of grouse moor]

Nidderdale AONB is a notorious red kite persecution hotspot with a long history of illegally shot and poisoned red kites (e.g. see here), so much so that last year the Chair of the Nidderdale AONB’s Joint Advisory Committee issued a public statement condemning these killings and warning that it was having a damaging effect on local tourism businesses (see here).

[RPUK map showing the locations of illegally shot or poisoned red kites in the Nidderdale AONB since 2007]

North Yorkshire Police have issued an appeal for information about the latest red kite shooting, and also an appeal for information about a shot buzzard that was found near Selby earlier this month (we blogged about this buzzard a couple of weeks ago, see here).

Appealing for information, Sergeant Kevin Kelly from North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce said “It’s with much frustration, that I again make another witness appeal regarding two rare birds of prey, that we are privileged to have in our skies, being mindlessly and illegally shot.

If you have any information that will assist the investigation, please come forward and contact police via 101 and pass the information to the Force Control Room. Please quote reference 12180210290 for the buzzard investigation and 12180199938 for the red kite investigation.

We have two extremely experienced wildlife crime officers leading these investigations and they will follow up on any tangible enquiries.  I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the members of public for taking the responsibility to report these matters.

The police press statement includes a quote from the Nidderdale Moorland Group: “We have been made aware of this incident and we are fully supporting the Police investigation. An estate owner and moorland group member found the bird and handed it into the police. The Nidderdale Moorland Group is dismayed by this incident and is committed to helping eradicate wildlife crime. We would ask anyone with information to contact the police“.

Of course, it’s not just red kites that are illegally killed in this grouse moor dominated area of North Yorkshire. Nidderdale AONB and the neighbouring eastern side of the Yorkshire Dales National Park also just happens to be an area where satellite-tagged hen harriers ‘disappear’ without trace in highly suspicious circumstances.

[RPUK map showing Nidderdale AONB and the eastern side of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Red dot = Wath. Small red stars = locations of illegally shot or posioned red kites since 2007. Orange stars = satellite-tagged hen harriers that have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in recent years (data from Natural England). Large red star = hen harrier Bowland Betty who was found shot dead on a grouse moor in 2012]

There has never been a successful prosecution for any of these crimes.

For how much longer do you think DEFRA ministers Michael Gove MP and Dr Therese Coffey MP will continue to be wilfully blind to this so-bloody-obvious serious organised crime?

For how much longer do you think genuine conservation organisations will sit on ‘partnership’ groups with representatives of the grouse shooting industry and pretend that everyone’s working together to eradicate these crimes, when there are zero consequences for the criminals?

[A dead red kite, photo by Marc Ruddock]


Proposed reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to Isle of Wight: have your say

Earlier this month the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and the Forestry Commission announced a proposal to reintroduce white-tailed eagles to the Isle of Wight (see here).

[Photo by Marcin Nawrocki]

The National Farmers Union has been having its say about the proposal (see here).

Now’s your chance to have your say.

A very short online questionnaire is open for your comments (but note it will close tonight, presumably at midnight). The questionnaire results, along with a scientific and conservation rationale, will form part of a feasibility report to Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage as part of the licensing application.

Take part in the questionnaire HERE

Frequently asked questions about the proposal can be read here


Serial egg thief Daniel Lingham receives custodial sentence

Daniel Lingham, 65, was sentenced today at Norwich Magistrates Court after earlier pleading guilty to five charges relating to the unlawful possession of over 5,000 eggs including 75 listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act (species given the highest level of protection) including Marsh harrier.

[Daniel Lingham, photo by Norfolk Police]

Lingham was jailed for a total of 18 weeks, reduced from 26 weeks because of his guilty pleas, and had to fofeit all his equipment. He was also given a 10-year criminal behaviour order (which replace ASBOs) banning him from all Norfolk nature reserves for ten years. If he breaks this ban he could be jailed for five years.

Ah, if only he’d done his Marsh harrier egg-stealing on a grouse moor – he’d probably have been made very welcome and nobody would have reported him. But had one of those pesky RSPB Investigators caught him red-handed on one of their covert cameras, stealing the harrier eggs from the moorland nest, he could have relied upon the deafening silence of the grouse moor manager not to identify him.

This is the second time Lingham has been jailed for egg-collecting offences. In 2005 he was sentenced to ten weeks in custody following the discovery of 4,000 eggs at his home in Newton St Faith.

Well done to the RSPB Investigations Team, Norfolk Police and the Crown Prosecution Service for securing this latest conviction.

It remains to be seen whether this time Lingham’s sentence is serious enough to act as a deterrent.

Details of his guilty plea (here) and his sentence (here).

[RSPB Investigations Officer Mark Thomas with some of Lingham’s collection. Photo by RSPB]


Pheasants shot & dumped near Duns, Scottish Borders

Here we go again.

Just last week we saw the British Association of Shooting & Conservation (BASC) claim that “the values and standards of the UK shooting community…is driven by strong ethics and respect for quarry“.

The evidence continues to suggest otherwise.

These pictures, sent to us by a blog reader, show approx 30 shot pheasants that had been dumped over a bridge (the Mouth Bridge) on the outskirts of Duns in the Scottish Borders. The photographs were taken yesterday afternoon (Monday 26 Nov 2018).

Even though this is against the Code of Good Shooting Practice (“shoot managers must ensure they have appropriate arrangements in place for the sale or consumption of the anticipated bag in advance of all shoot days“) and at a cost to us taxpayers to have the council clean up, this dumping of gamebirds is becoming quite common, even in some of our National Parks e.g. see previous blogs herehereherehereherehere, here).

It’s worth bearing in mind that an estimated 50 million non-native gamebirds (pheasants & red-legged partridge) are released in to our countryside EVERY YEAR, to provide live targets for people with guns. This is barely regulated – they can release as many of these alien species as they like and kill as many of them as they like, as long as they’re killed within the shooting season.

Think of all the native wildlife that has been killed by the gamekeeper in order to protect the ‘livestock’ (pheasants), to ensure there are as many available to be shot as possible when the shooting season opens. And for what? Just so the guns can have a bit of fun and the dead pheasants can be dumped?

Does this look like standards of ‘strong ethics and respect for quarry’ to you? How many raptors have been illegally killed to facilitate this pointless, pitiful carnage?

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