Posts Tagged ‘buzzard

18
Jan
22

The widespread mis-use of crow cage traps to trap & kill birds of prey

RSPB Investigations Officer Guy Shorrock published an insightful blog yesterday (‘Cage traps in the spotlight across the UK’) detailing the ongoing and widespread mis-use and abuse of crow cage traps, often used by criminal gamekeepers to trap and kill raptors, sometimes deliberately and sometimes through reckless negligence.

His blog provided details of an incident in Wales in April last year, and I don’t recall seeing any media coverage of this case. The following text is reproduced directly from Guy’s blog:

A case from April last year again highlights our concerns. A member of public found a crow cage trap on sheep grazing farmland in North Wales containing a buzzard, a red kite and multiple crows. The finder released all the birds and reported it to us.

As with all cage traps outside Scotland, without marking and registration it can far more difficult, often impossible, to identify the trap operator. A visit by my colleague Niall Owen confirmed the presence of a lamb carcass, which should have been properly disposed of and not used as bait, along with two carrion crows. A week later the trap held two crows and a buzzard plus the bodies of two further crows. To identify a trap operator, and to determine whether the licence conditions were being complied with, a covert camera was installed for a couple of days. At this point, there was no clear contravention of the licence conditions. The buzzard was in good health, so it was left in situ and provided with fresh water and food just in case visits were not made. One dead crow was seized and sent off for a post-mortem. Two days later the buzzard was still present, thankfully alive and well, so was released unharmed. We informed North Wales Police who identified the farmer operating the trap and ensured it was rendered incapable of trapping.

[Buzzard caught inside the cage trap, photo by Niall Owen, RSPB. This bird was released by the RSPB when it became clear the trap was not being operated lawfully]

The post-mortem on the carrion crow confirmed the bird had died of starvation, confirming further breaches of the licence conditions and animal welfare regulations. Had the original finder and ourselves not released the trapped birds, we fear they would have met the same fate. This case was about negligence rather than any deliberate targeting of birds of prey, and following the police investigation, the operator was given a Community Resolution Order. This had a requirement that they could not operate cage traps until a suitable course has been attended.

Guy’s blog is timely as we await the sentencing of a gamekeeper who has recently been convicted of killing two buzzards in a cage trap in Nottinghamshire (see here). The RSPB has what Guy describes as ‘graphic footage’ filmed on a covert camera showing exactly how the gamekeeper used the trap to catch and then kill two buzzards. I understand the RSPB will release this video evidence after sentencing next week.

I’d encourage you to read Guy’s blog in full (here) to understand the different approaches being deployed (or not) to address these offences in England, Scotland and Wales and how members of the public can help catch the killers.

17
Jan
22

Raptor persecution ignored in North York Moors National Park draft management plan

The North York Moors National Park Authority (NYMNPA) is currently consulting on its draft management plan, which aims to set out a series of priority actions to help the Park tackle issues which include ‘recovery from the COVID pandemic, escalating climate and nature emergencies, increasing mental and physical health problems among the general population, and the need to change the way we look after our landscapes‘.

You can download the draft plan here:

I had a quick read through this document at the weekend and was surprised to see how little substance it contained and how vague its stated 22 priority objectives were. For example, whilst there was general commentary around ‘active restoration’ of degraded blanket bog and peat habitats, the only reference I found that might possibly allude to the massive environmental problems caused by intensive driven grouse shooting, which dominates the landscape of this National Park, was this:

Objective 8 – Work with our moorland community to support the sustainable management of moorland to ensure it retains a natural remoteness which supports a greater variety of species and habitats.

I didn’t find one single reference to tackling wildlife crime, and especially raptor persecution, which has long been recognised as an ongoing characteristic of this National Park. For example, just in the last few years alone we’ve seen a shot buzzard (here), a poisoned buzzard (here), deliberate disturbance of a goshawk breeding attempt (here), a satellite-tagged hen harrier vanish in suspicious circumstances (here), another shot buzzard (here), and another shot buzzard (here), a goshawk trapped, reportedly killed and taken away in sack (here), another poisoned buzzard (here), an illegally-set trap (here), and five shot buzzards found stuffed under a rock (here).

Nor did I find any reference to targeting the mass release of non-native gamebirds (pheasants and red-legged partridge) or assessing the damage they cause inside the National Park. It seems the North York Moor National Park Authority could do with taking a look at the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s management plan, which has recently included this issue as one of its priorities (see here).

The North York Moors National Park draft management plan is important, because it aims to set out its vision for how the National Park will be in 20 years time.

According to the NYMNPA website, ‘the draft plan is the result of a series of conversations with stakeholders and partners over the last year. The proposals it contains are not set in stone. Neither we nor our partners possess a monopoly of wisdom. This document invites discussion, input and feedback so that the final plan can properly reflect as wide a range of views as possible. It is an opportunity for everyone to collaborate with us to create a shared plan that will shape the future of the North York Moors National Park‘.

The Park Authority wants your views, whether you live in the Park or you are a visitor. Particularly, it wants to know whether it has ‘missed something that is important to you’:

If you share my concerns about ongoing raptor persecution in this National Park, and the unregulated mass release of non-native species for shooting, I’d encourage you to contact the NYMNPA and ask them to prioritise tackling these issues in the management plan. Contact details are shown in the image above.

Please note, the consultation closes this Friday (21st January 2022).

Thank you.

06
Jan
22

Gamekeeper pleads guilty to killing buzzards in Nottinghamshire

Further to the blog post on 4th January 2022 (here), a gamekeeper has pleaded guilty to five offences committed in Nottinghamshire in January 2021, including the illegal killing of two buzzards, the unlawful use of a trap, the unlawful possession of two stock doves and a firearms offence.

[Nottinghamshire Police visited the crime scene to collect evidence with the RSPB Investigations Team in January last year. Photo via Nottinghamshire Police Rural Crime Team]

His guilty plea means he has avoided a trial (and thus saved the court time) for which he’ll no doubt be rewarded when it comes to sentencing.

Sentencing has been deferred until later this month. I expect the full horror of his crimes, and his identity, to be publicised at that time. It’ll be interesting to see whether he has any ‘professional’ affiliations to any of the shooting organisations that claim to operate a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on raptor persecution.

A Raptor Forensic Fund, established in 2020 by Wild Justice to help provide financial support to police investigations into alleged raptor persecution crime, has played a part in this conviction.

This is the 4th gamekeeper to be convicted of wildlife crimes/raptor persecution since November 2021. The three others were gamekeeper Shane Leech (33) in Suffolk (here), gamekeeper Peter Givens (53) in the Scottish Borders (here) and gamekeeper Hilton Prest (58) in Cheshire (here).

Kudos to Nottinghamshire Police Rural Crime Team, the RSPB Investigations Team and the CPS for their hard work in securing this result. Excellent partnership working in action!

06
Jan
22

Leadhills Estate wants to keep details of its General Licence restriction appeal a secret

As many blog readers will know, the notorious Leadhills Estate, a grouse-shooting estate in South Lanarkshire that has been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations at least 70 times since the early 2000s, is currently serving two General Licence restrictions imposed by NatureScot after ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime was provided to the statutory regulator by Police Scotland (see here and here).

For new blog readers, a General Licence restriction is a light-touch sanction for estates in Scotland where there is sufficient evidence of wildlife crime taking place but insufficient evidence to prosecute a specific individual. It’s not really a sanction at all though, because an estate can simply apply to NatureScot for ‘individual’ licences instead of a General Licence which allows them to continue the activities they were supposedly restricted from doing, just with a tiny bit of scrutiny attached (e.g. 1,000 birds were legally killed on a shooting estate despite being under a General Licence restriction, see here).

Nevertheless, a General Licence restriction is useful for campaigners for highlighting to the law makers that wildlife crime persists and further regulation/enforcement is therefore required.

So, back to Leadhills Estate. The reason why this grouse moor estate is currently serving an unprecedented double General Licence restriction is because of police reports relating to the illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate in the last few years (see here), the discovery of banned poisons on the estate in May 2019 (see here), the alleged shooting of a(nother) short-eared owl by a masked gunman on a quad bike as witnessed by a local resident and his eight year old son in July 2020 (see here) and the discovery of yet another batch of banned poisons, also in July 2020 (here). A satellite-tagged hen harrier (Silver) also vanished in suspicious circumstances on the estate in May 2020 (here), and although NatureScot don’t consider missing satellite-tagged raptors as sufficient evidence for a General Licence restriction, the disappearance can be used as supportive evidence if further alleged offences are also being considered.

Incredibly, Leadhills Estate with its double General Licence restriction is STILL a member of the lobby group Scottish Land & Estates, which claims to have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to raptor persecution. Hmm.

[Grouse moor on the Leadhills Estate. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

As you may recall, Leadhills Estate’s second General Licence restriction was announced by NatureScot in late September 2021 (here) and the estate was reported to be considering an appeal (here).

Having seen the estate’s previous (failed) appeal against its first General Licence restriction in 2019 (here), I was keen to see the arguments it would make for an appeal against a second restriction.

On 30th September 2021 I submitted an FoI to NatureScot to request copies of Leadhills Estate’s appeal.

On 3 November 2021 NatureScot responded as follows:

We have withheld a letter from an agent acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, pending an appeal against NatureScot’s decision to restrict General Licence. This information is of a sensitive nature and disclosure into the public domain could prejudice the applicant’s right to a fair hearing’.

I didn’t see how public disclosure could possibly prejudice a hearing given that it’s all done in-house at NatureScot but fine, I could wait.

In December 2021 it was announced that Leadhills Estate had lost its appeal against the second General Licence restriction (here) so I wrote back to NatureScot on 3rd December as follows:

You told me in the letter dated 3 November 2021 that you were withholding a letter from an agent who was acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, and the reason you gave for withholding it was that releasing it may prejudice the applicant’s right to a fair appeal. As the appeal process has now concluded and therefore the applicant’s right to a fair hearing cannot be affected, please can you send me the agent’s letter that was previously withheld‘.

Yesterday (5th January 2022) NatureScot responded to my latest FoI request, as follows:

We have completed our information searches, and we have identified eight documents comprising 126 pages relevant to your request. We shared a redacted version of these documents with the solicitors acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, who have provided additional legal arguments as to why certain information should be withheld. We will need additional time to assess these arguments and, potentially, take further legal advice.

Regulation 7 of the EIRs allows public authorities to extend the time for compliance with requests for up to an additional 20 working days. This means we must respond to your information request by 3 February 2022 at the latest‘.

That’s interesting. Why might Leadhills Estate not want the details of its appeal to be made public? And what legal arguments might it use to block the transparency of the decision-making process of a statutory agency?

I guess we’ll find out on 3rd February.

04
Jan
22

Trial due to start for gamekeeper accused of killing buzzards

The trial of a gamekeeper accused of killing buzzards is due to begin this week almost a year to the day of the alleged offences.

On 12th January 2021 Nottinghamshire Police, working in partnership with the RSPB Investigations Team, attended a location in the Kneeton area following reports of concern (see here). A gamekeeper was later arrested and charged with the alleged killing of buzzards (here).

[Police attending the scene of a crow cage trap in January 2021. Photo via Nottingham Police]

The gamekeeper appeared in court in August and entered a plea of not guilty (see here) so a trial date was set for January 2022.

The trial is due to begin on Thurs 6th January 2022.

This is the 4th gamekeeper to be brought before the courts since November 2021 – the three others were all convicted of various offences including gamekeeper Shane Leech (33) in Suffolk (here), gamekeeper Peter Givens (53) in the Scottish Borders (here) and gamekeeper Hilton Prest (58) in Cheshire (here).

Please note, as this is a live case no further detail will be provided here until the case has concluded or there is official commentary from the court reporter. Comments on this particular blog also won’t be accepted until the case concludes so as not to prejudice proceedings. Thanks for your understanding.

17
Dec
21

Multi-agency raid following suspected raptor persecution in Humberside

Humberside Police led a multi-agency raid on 10th December 2021, executing a warrant in relation to suspected raptor persecution crimes after a number of dead buzzards were found with unusually high levels of rat poison.

The police were joined by staff from Natural England, National Wildlife Crime Unit and RSPB Investigation’s team.

The investigation is ongoing.

Photos from Humberside Police Rural Crime Team:

This is one of many multi-agency searches in the UK this year, all in response to raptor persecution crimes. On 18th January 2021 there was a raid in Suffolk (here), on 15th March there was a raid in Lincolnshire (see here), on 18th March a raid in Dorset (here), on 26th March a raid in Devon (see here), on 21st April a raid in Teesdale (here), on 2nd August a raid in Shropshire (here), on 12th August a raid in Herefordshire (here), on 14th September a raid in Norfolk (here), and a raid in Wales in October (here).

That’s a lot of raids in a relatively short space of time, in comparison to recent years. It’s testament to the agencies involved that they are being so proactive and working well together in a genuine multi-agency partnership, which is brilliant to see. It’s also testament to the fact that raptor persecution continues in many locations across the UK, despite what the game-shooting organisations would have us believe.

Whether these investigations result in prosecutions is another matter entirely (although we’ve already seen two successful convictions in recent weeks – here and here), but personally I’m delighted that at least this early part of the criminal justice process appears to have been re-energised after a long period of stagnation. Well done to all those involved.

06
Dec
21

Trial delayed again for Angus Glens gamekeeper charged with animal fighting & cruelty offences

Further to the the blog post on Friday (here), where a gamekeeper from Millden Estate in the Angus Glens was due in court to face charges of alleged animal fighting and animal suffering, the case has been continued yet again, apparently at the behest of the gamekeeper’s QC.

This case has been dragging on for over two years and is related to the execution of a search warrant at premises on Millden Estate in October 2019, when Police Scotland and the Scottish SPCA seized dogs as well as a number of dead birds of prey.

The new trial date has been set as 11th April 2022.

Unfortunately as this is a live case I am unable to publish further details and can’t accept comments until proceedings have concluded. Thanks for your patience.

Previous blogs on this case can be read here, here, here, here, here, here.

03
Dec
21

Angus Glens gamekeeper in court today on animal fighting charges

A gamekeeper from the Angus Glens is due back in court today to face charges relating to alleged animal fighting and animal suffering.

These charges stem from a joint Scottish SPCA / Police Scotland search warrant which was executed on Millden Estate in October 2019 where a number of dogs were seized.

[A headline in The Times back in October 2019]

This case has dragged on and on and on (see here, here, here, here, here).

Hopefully today there’ll be some progress.

As this is a live case I won’t be accepting comments here until proceedings have concluded. Thanks for your patience.

UPDATE 6th December 2021: Trial delayed again for Angus Glens gamekeeper charged with animal fighting & cruelty offences (here)

09
Nov
21

Gamekeeper convicted for pesticide and firearms offences but buzzard-poisoning charge is dropped

Last week I blogged about how a Suffolk gamekeeper was due at Ipswich Magistrates Court to face a charge of poisoning a buzzard, having already pleaded guilty to several pesticide storage and firearms offences (see here).

This case stemmed from a multi-agency raid last January (here) after the discovery of an illegally poisoned buzzard in September 2020 which had been found close to pheasant-rearing pens near Lakenheath.

[The illegally-poisoned buzzard found close to the pheasant-rearing pens. Photos by RSPB]

The case was heard yesterday and it appears that the buzzard-poisoning charge was dropped, probably due to insufficient evidence, because despite the gamekeeper having this particular poison (Bendiocarb) in his possession, the prosecution would need to demonstrate that he was the person who laid the poisoned bait that subsequently killed this buzzard. The fact that the poisoned buzzard was found in close proximity to his workplace, and that he had the same poison in his possession, is simply not enough.

We can all draw our own conclusions of course, based on the balance of probability, but in English law the balance of probability is insufficient to convict for this particular offence. That’s not the fault of the police, the RSPB, the Crown Prosecution Service or the magistrate.

In this case, the gamekeeper, Shane Leech, 33, of Maids Cross Hill, Lakenheath, Suffolk, was convicted of six charges relating to pesticide and firearms offences and was given a Community Order of 80 hours unpaid work, ordered to pay £105 costs and a £95 Victim Surcharge.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the punishment fits the crime(s) and whether it offers any semblance of a deterrent to anyone who might be considering committing similar offences.

The RSPB has published two blogs about this case. The first one provides an overview of the case and offers praise to the work of Suffolk Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (see here).

The second blog is a more detailed discussion about the difficulties of bringing a successful prosecution for the illegal poisoning of birds of prey (see here). It also includes this shocking image of a pile of dead pheasants apparently being prepared for human consumption in the same room where the poison was being stored illegally!

03
Nov
21

New trial date for Millden Estate gamekeeper accused of animal fighting offences

A new trial date has been set for a gamekeeper from the Angus Glens who is accused of multiple offences relating to alleged animal fighting and animal suffering.

Property on the Millden Estate was searched under warrant in October 2019 in a joint SSPCA and Police Scotland investigation (see here), as well as a simultaneous search at another property in Aberdeenshire (more on that fascinating case once the Millden case has finished).

A number of dogs were seized during the raid and a Millden Estate spokesperson later stated the gamekeeper had been suspended pending further investigation (see here and here).

The gamekeeper was charged with animal cruelty offences and was due in court in December last year but the case was continued to May 2021 with a trial date set for June 2021 (see here).

[Headline from The Times in October 2019]

The trial date in June 2021 came and went (see here) and was further delayed. The new trial date is 3rd December 2021.

A number of dead buzzards were also reportedly found during the raid at Millden and I am currently waiting for Police Scotland to provide an update on that investigation. (The SSPCA is dealing with the alleged animal fighting offences, Police Scotland is dealing with the dead raptors).

As there are still live court proceedings, blog comments are restricted until the case has concluded. Thanks.




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