Posts Tagged ‘barn owl

13
Jan
22

Convicted gamekeeper to escape 3-year General Licence restriction for killing birds of prey?

On 30th November last year, gamekeeper Peter Givens from the Cathpair Estate in the Scottish Borders was convicted at Selkirk Sheriff Court of recklessly killing a barn owl and a goshawk in September 2020.

The two supposedly protected species had become caught inside a cage trap operated by Givens but they starved to death because Givens had failed to release them as he was required to do by law.

Givens was fined a pathetic £300 and a £20 victim surcharge (see here).

[Photograph of the unlawfully operated trap on Cathpair Estate. Photo by Stuart Spray]

Givens’ sentence was derisory, there’s no doubt about that, especially when you consider raptor persecution is supposedly a National Wildlife Crime Priority.

But the £300 fine from the court wasn’t Givens’ only sanction. On conviction, Givens was automatically banned from using the General Licences, including those which permit the killing of some birds (especially corvids) but also GL14, the licence that permits a person to use certain traps to kill stoats in Scotland for the conservation of wild birds or the prevention of serious damage to livestock.

This automatic ban on using the General Licences came in to force the day gamekeeper Givens was convicted, because General Licences ‘cannot be used by those convicted of a wildlife crime on or after 1 January 2017 unless, in respect of that offence, they are a rehabilitated person (for the purposes of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and that conviction is spent), or a court discharged them absolutely‘, according to the terms of the General Licences.

If Givens is the only gamekeeper on Cathpair Estate (and I have no information about that) then being prevented from killing crows and stoats would probably have a negative impact on the estate’s ability to host a gamebird shoot, unless the estate employs other gamekeepers to conduct those duties. Although, as ridiculously as ever, a convicted gamekeeper may still apply to use an Individual Licence to carry on operating traps and guns to kill corvids and stoats as if he’d never committed his crimes at all.

When gamekeeper Givens’ sentence was announced, I was interested in how this automatic ban on using the General Licences would apply, and I especially wondered whether it would extend for three years, as per the usual General Licence restriction imposed on estates where evidence of wildlife crime is apparent but insufficient to result in a prosecution.

However, when I looked up how long it would be before Givens’ conviction could be considered spent, I found it was only 12 months (according to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 as amended by the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act 2019). So this means Givens would not be allowed to use the General Licences to kill corvids and stoats for a period of only 12 months (unless he applied for an Individual Licence) but after those 12 months had expired (30th November 2022) he’d be able to return to killing wildlife under the conditions of the General Licences.

Eh? That seems a bit counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? On the one hand, regulator NatureScot can impose a three-year General Licence restriction on an estate where the police have evidence of criminal activity but insufficient evidence to pin it on any named individual. But when the authorities secure an actual conviction for wildlife crime on an estate, then the General Licence sanction only applies for one year, instead of three, if the criminal has been convicted and handed a ludicrously tiny fine that is likely to have been paid by his employer anyway!

That didn’t make sense to me so I contacted NatureScot and asked them about it. They agreed that it was counter-intuitive and that this scenario hadn’t really been considered before, probably due to the incredibly low prosecution/conviction rates for raptor persecution, especially in recent years. However, now that this ridiculous situation had been brought to their attention, NatureScot advised that they would be looking at tightening up the terms of the General Licences to better reflect the lack of trust that a conviction for a wildlife offence implies.

This will probably come too late to be applied to gamekeeper Givens, and to be fair to NatureScot they can only work with the existing terms and conditions that apply at any one time, but I was encouraged to hear that part of the planned review will also be to consider how Fiscal Fines and Fixed Penalty Notices for wildlife offences impact the ability of an individual to operate under General Licences.

Meanwhile, if anyone is out and about for a walk on the Cathpair Estate in the next ten months it may well be worthwhile having a look to see whether any traps are being operated to kill corvids and stoats. If they are and you’re suspicious of their legality, take photographs and a grid reference/What3Words and report them to Police Scotland on 101. Please share your report with the RSPB’s Investigations team so they can follow up with the police.

[The Cathpair Estate boundary (in blue), from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website]

15
Dec
21

Police appeal following theft of adult barn owl & five chicks in South Tyneside

Northumbria Police posted the following appeal for information on their Facebook page on 9th December 2021:

#APPEAL:

We want to identify these two men after a protected wild barn owl and its nestlings were stolen by thieves. An investigation has been ongoing since the early hours of October 27 after it was reported two men had been seen trespassing at farm off Follingsby Lane, West Boldon. It was reported that the offenders stole an adult barn owl and five chicks from their habitat before making off. We have been carrying out a range of enquiries into the theft, which has caused significant upset. All those targeted are wild birds who are protected by law. Now, as part of our investigation, we have released the images of two men who we would like to identify. They were seen in the area at the time of the offence and could have valuable information that could assist with the investigation.

The men, or anyone who recognises them, can contact us via the ‘Tell Us Something’ page of our website or by calling 101 quoting log NP-20211027-0182.

Alternatively, you can email 3070@northumbria.police.uk.

ENDS

30
Nov
21

Gamekeeper convicted as birds of prey die in trap

A gamekeeper in the Scottish Borders has been convicted today after two supposedly protected birds of prey (a barn owl and a goshawk) died inside a trap which he neglected to check.

There’s an article about this case in the Border Telegraph this evening, which I’ll copy below, and then I’ll add some further commentary below that.

Here’s the Border Telegraph piece:

Borders gamekeeper ‘recklessly’ killed two protected birds

A GAMEKEEPER who recklessly killed two protected birds on a Borders estate by leaving open the door of a multi crow cage trap [Ed: see commentary at foot of this blog] has been fined £300 at Selkirk Sheriff Court.

An owl and a goshawk perished from exposure and a lack of food and water at Cathpair Farm near Stow on September 13 last year.

Fifty-three-year-old Peter Givens, of Keepers Cottage, Cathpair, pleaded guilty to recklessly taking and killing the wild birds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

[A barn owl. Photo by Anan Kaewkhammul]

His lawyer explained that Givens had used the crow trap for the lambing season earlier in the year but thought had had [sic] secured it properly when no longer required.

Wildlife and environmental crime depute fiscal Joe Stewart said: “An ecologist carrying out a survey on the estate came across a crow cage trap near some woodland.

“He noticed a barn owl lying deceased in the trap which was in an advanced state of decomposition and had obviously been there for a long time.

“The door was closed and the trap was in use.

“The local wildlife police attended carrying out a search and he found another bird in the trap which was a goshawk.”

An identification tag on the trap was traced to Givens.

Mr Stewart said the trap should have been removed.

Givens’ lawyer said his client had been a gamekeeper for more than 30 years and had no previous convictions.

He said around the start of the COVID pandemic in March 2020 the trap was put in place and checked on a regular basis in case other birds were trapped.

He explained that there had been a lot of crows at the start of the lambing season but this had tailed off by May.

The lawyer continued: “He thought the trap had been deactivated. There was no intention to keep the trap operating.

“What happened on September 13 came as a shock to him and a source of embarrassment and sadness for the damage he has caused.

“He has accepted he failed to deactivate the trap properly.

“He accepts his conduct was reckless but it was not intentional and he is very remorseful.”

Sheriff Peter Paterson said: “This was an oversight rather than an intentional act.

“It was not a deliberate act to trap predators with the unintended consequences.”

Sheriff Paterson added: “I take into account your spotless record and while this was reckless, it was not intentional.”

He reduced the fine from £375 to £300 to reflect the guilty plea with a £20 victim surcharge added.

ENDS

Ok, so first a technical correction on the court reporter’s write up in the Border Telegraph. The article states the gamekeeper had killed the two birds of prey ‘by leaving open the door of a multi crow cage trap’. This can’t be accurate. Had he left the door open, the barn owl and the goshawk would have been able to escape! What is more likely to have happened is the gamekeeper kept the cage door shut, which is an offence if the trap is no longer in use because, as we’ve seen, birds can enter the trap through a roof opening (either a ‘ladder’ or funnel design) but then they cannot escape back up.

Anybody who operates a multi-cage crow trap under the General Licences in Scotland MUST render the trap ‘incapable of use’ if the trap is not being used, and this means either removing the door entirely or padlocking it open. Leaving the door closed when the trap is not in use is an offence.

I was interested to read the gamekeeper’s lawyer’s defence: “…..the gamekeeper thought he had secured it properly when no longer required“. I’m not sure how someone can believe they’ve secured a cage trap ‘properly’ if they haven’t obeyed the General Licence terms and conditions and either (a) removed the door or (b) padlocked it open. There’s no possibility of ‘accidentally’ doing half a job here – you either remove the door or you don’t, or you padlock the door open, or you don’t.

I was also interested to see that the guilty gamekeeper was 53 years old and had been a gamekeeper for ‘more than 30 years’. These were details given by his lawyer in his defence. I’d argue that those details should have gone against the gamekeeper – he’s been in the wildlife-killing business for long enough to know the risks and certainly to know the law. Indeed, I understand Peter Givens was the former Head Gamekeeper on nearby Raeshaw Estate. This is an estate that has been at the centre of multiple wildlife crime investigations for many, many years and was the subject of the very first General Licence restriction in 2015, based on clear police evidence that wildlife crimes had been committed there, although there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any individual (see here).

Even after the General Licence restriction was imposed on Raeshaw Estate, even more alleged wildlife crimes were uncovered which resulted in the estate’s Individual licences being revoked by SNH in 2017 (here).

There is no evidence nor indeed suggestion that Peter Givens was involved in any of those alleged offences but the point of highlighting this background is that he would certainly have been aware of the police investigations and thus the importance of adhering to the law, which he failed to do in this latest case (which incidentally did not take place on Raeshaw Estate – Givens has since moved to a smaller shoot].

The lawyer also made a point of telling the Sheriff that Givens had no previous convictions, and his ‘spotless record’ was taken in to account by Sheriff Paterson when Givens was sentenced.

And the punishment for ‘recklessly’ killing two Schedule 1 birds of prey? A £300 fine and a £20 victim surcharge.

You can decide for yourselves whether this will be sufficient deterrent for other gamekeepers to ensure they adhere to the terms and conditions of the General Licences to prevent protected species being trapped in a literal death trap and starving to death.

23
Jul
18

Buzzard shot dead in Dorset

RSPB press release (23 July 2018):

DEAD BIRDS OF PREY FOUND IN DORSET

A shot buzzard and dead barn owl spark concerns of a local persecution problem

Dorset Police and the RSPB are appealing for information after a dead buzzard and a dead barn owl were found near Melplash, Dorset in May 2018.

[Photo of the shot buzzard via RSPB]

The buzzard was taken to a nearby vets, where an X-ray revealed the presence of a piece of shot in the bird’s skull, which is believed to be the cause of death. A barn owl was also found dead in suspicious circumstances under its nest box, though the body was too decomposed to determine cause of death. Sadly there are also previous reports of another dead barn owl and a number of dead buzzards in this area, though the bodies were not recovered for testing.

Local enquiries by Dorset Police have not uncovered any leads so far, and they are appealing to the public for information.

Birds of prey and owls are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which makes it an offence to intentionally harm them. Anyone found to have shot or killed these birds faces an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in jail.

Tony Whitehead from RSPB South West Regional Office said: “The deliberate persecution of birds of prey is not only brutal but illegal. Raptors are an essential part of a healthy ecosystem, not to mention a glorious sight to see. We are grateful to the member of the public who took the trouble to report these incidents and we urge anyone with information to come forward.”

The illegal persecution of birds of prey is a widespread and unrelenting problem which continues to affect the conservation status of some raptor species in the UK. As a result, the RSPB has set up a confidential ‘Raptor Crime Hotline’ to give whistleblowers a chance to speak out in confidence and help end this culture of criminality.

Claire Dinsdale of Dorset Police’s Rural Crime Team said: “Raptor persecution is one of the UK Wildlife Crime Priorities which includes poisoning, shooting, trapping, habitat destruction and nest destruction or disturbance. There is a clear responsibility with legitimate firearm users to accurately identify the species before any shot is taken. It is totally unacceptable to act outside the law and shoot these protected birds. I would urge anyone with any information to speak to us or the RSPB in confidence.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, please call Dorset Police online in confidence at www.dorset.police.uk/do-it-online and quote reference 55180073229. Or contact the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

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

ENDS

06
Feb
18

Barn owl with horrific injuries found in North Yorkshire

A barn owl with horrific injuries has been found near Marishes in the Ryedale district of North Yorkshire.

According to expert raptor rehabilitator Jean Thorpe, the barn owl was found close to death. It had suffered two broken legs and its injuries were consistent with having been caught in a spring trap. Jean believes the owl had been released from the trap and then left to die a lingering death, unable to hunt with badly infected wounds.

The owl was taken to Jean’s wildlife centre but died shortly after arrival.

This area is a notorious raptor persecution blackspot. Spring traps are only legal if they are set within either a natural or artifical tunnel to prevent non-target species getting caught in the trap’s jaws.

Anybody with any information about this horrific case please contact Wildlife Police Officer Jez Walmsley at Malton Police Station (Tel: 101).

Photos by Jean Thorpe. Map by RPUK.

28
Dec
14

Barn owl shot dead

shot barn owl leicester paul riddleA barn owl has been shot dead in Leicester over the Xmas period.

It was found in an out building with bloodied chest feathers. A veterinary x-ray revealed three shot gun pellets embedded in its torso.

Full details on Paul Riddle’s blog here.

Thanks to @emilyjoachim for the info.

17
Dec
14

Barn owl shot, red kite poisoned

Cheshire Consabulary logoCheshire Constabulary are appealing for information after a series of wildlife crimes, including the shooting of a barn owl, swan and heron, and the suspected poisoning of a red kite.

The crimes took place at Risley Moss Nature Reserve in Warrington, Cheshire, “in recent weeks”.

No further details available.

Article in the Warrington Guardian here.

13
Dec
13

North Yorks still worst place for raptor persecution in 2012

Bowland Betty2The RSPB has published its 2012 Birdcrime report documenting bird persecution throughout the UK.

North Yorkshire has once again come top of the league for the number of reported crimes against birds of prey (34), with Aberdeenshire a close second with 31 reported incidents. Both counties, of course, include large areas of land used for driven grouse shooting.

The 2012 report includes statistics that are all too familiar: confirmed shootings of short-eared owls, sparrowhawks, buzzards, barn owls, tawny owls, hen harriers, golden eagles, marsh harriers, and peregrines; confirmed nest destruction of peregrines, goshawks and barn owls; confirmed illegal spring-trapping of buzzards, golden eagle and peregrine; other types of illegal trapping (including crow cage traps) of sparrowhawks, tawny owls, buzzards and goshawks; and the confirmed illegal poisoning of ravens, red kites, buzzards, golden eagles, marsh harriers, peregrines, cats and dogs.

Remember, these are just the confirmed incidents. Plenty more ‘probable’ and ‘unconfirmed’ cases, and of course there are all the incidents that went undiscovered/unreported.

Does that sound to you like the game-shooting industry is cleaning up its act?

Well done to the RSPB for their meticulous work and especially for their willingness to share these data with the general public.

RSPB press release here

Download the RSPB’s 2012 Birdcrime report here

The photograph shows the shot hen harrier Bowland Betty, found on a North Yorkshire grouse moor in 2012. Nobody has been brought to justice for her death.

01
Nov
13

Persecution case dropped as alleged raptor killer dies

Barn Owl Miles HerbertLast month we blogged about Robert Simpson, a 66-year-old from Cleghorn in South Lanarkshire who was facing three charges of alleged wildlife crime, including the illegal trapping and killing of a barn owl. His case was continued without plea for four weeks as he was considered too unwell to attend court (see here).

His case was due to re-start at Lanark Sheriff Court yesterday (31st Oct). However, a local reporter has informed us the Fiscal did not call the case yesterday as Mr Simpson has died.

Barn owl photo by Miles Herbert.

12
Oct
13

Alleged raptor killer too ill for court

Thanks to the reader who sent us a copy of this article from the Lanark Gazette.

Barn Owl press cutting




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