Posts Tagged ‘Cairngorms National Park

26
Jun
20

Cairngorms National Park Authority statement on hen harrier persecution

Hen harrier persecution is a National Wildlife Crime Priority and the population in Scotland has suffered a 27% decline in the last 12 years. Losing over a quarter of the population in such a short period is a significant conservation concern and as such, we expect a strong response from the authorities whenever these crimes are exposed.

Earlier this month we learned that two satellite-tagged hen harriers (Wildland hen harrier 1 and Wildland hen harrier 2) had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on two grouse moors in September 2019, one within the Cairngorms National Park and one right on the Park boundary (see here). We don’t recall seeing any statement from the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

Yesterday we learned that two more satellite-tagged hen harriers, Hoolie and Marlin, had both ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances from grouse moors in the Cairngorms National Park in April 2020 (see here). We also learned that they both vanished on exactly the same grouse moors from where two other satellite-tagged hen harriers had also disappeared without trace (Hen harrier ‘Lad‘ in 2015 and Hen harrier Marci in 2019).

It’s bad enough that these birds continue to be persecuted even though they’ve had legal protection in the UK for 76 years, but when this keeps happening inside a so-called National Park and nobody is ever held to account, you have to wonder, in terms of species conservation, what’s the point of National Park status?

We asked Grant Moir, CEO of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, for a statement about these latest two suspicious disappearances and this is what he provided this afternoon:

It’s a strong statement in as much as the CNPA CEO recognises and fully accepts that these wildlife crimes continue in some areas of the National Park, which is in stark contrast to statements made by the grouse shooting industry reps today (more on this later) but it doesn’t offer a solution. It’s more of an exasperated shrug of the shoulders and a heavy reliance on the Scottish Government to respond well to the Werritty Review.

Is that it, then? Is the CNPA so impotent it can do nothing more than bemoan the persistent criminality within its boundary? This has been going on since 2002 (the Park wasn’t formally established until 2003 but we’ve included 2002 data as the area had been mapped by then). This list includes just the crimes we know about. How many more went unreported/undiscovered? How many more will we have to read about before the criminals are held to account?

ILLEGAL RAPTOR PERSECUTION INCIDENTS CAIRNGORMS NATIONAL PARK

2002

Feb: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Tomintoul (No prosecution)

Mar: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + 2 rabbit baits. Cromdale (No prosecution)

2003

Apr: 3 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + 2 grey partridge baits. Kingussie (No prosecution)

Jun: Attempted shooting of a hen harrier. Crannoch (Successful prosecution)

2004

May: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cuaich (No prosecution)

Nov: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

2005

Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Mar: 3 x poisoned buzzards, 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Crathie (No prosecution)

2006

Jan: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Dulnain Bridge (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned raven (Mevinphos). Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Morven [corbett] (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned raven + 1 x poisoned common gull (Aldicarb) + egg bait. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

May: egg bait (Aldicarb). Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenfeshie (No prosecution)

2007

Jan: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Glenshee (No prosecution)

Apr: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: Pole trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Tomintoul (No prosecution)

May: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit & hare baits. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jul: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Ballater (No prosecution)

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Newtonmore (No prosecution)

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

2008

Jan: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Mar: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

2009

May: 2 x poisoned ravens (Mevinphos). Delnabo (No prosecution)

Jun: rabbit bait (Mevinphos). nr Tomintoul (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Strathdon (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x illegal crow trap. Nr Tomintoul (No prosecution)

2010

Apr: Pole trap. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x pole-trapped goshawk. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Jun: Illegally set spring trap on tree stump. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Sep: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenlochy (No prosecution)

Oct: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Nr Boat of Garten (No prosecution)

2011

Jan: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Bridge of Brown (No prosecution)

Mar: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Apr: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran & Aldicarb). Nr Bridge of Brown (No prosecution)

May:  1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

May: 1 x shot short-eared owl, found stuffed under rock. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x shot peregrine. Pass of Ballater (No prosecution)

Aug: grouse bait (Aldicarb). Glenlochy (No prosecution)

Sep: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

Nov: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

2012

Apr: 1 x shot short-eared owl. Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Apr: Peregrine nest site burnt out. Glenshee (No prosecution)

May: Buzzard nest shot out. Nr Ballater (No prosecution)

2013

Jan: White-tailed eagle nest tree felled. Invermark (No prosecution)

May: 1 x shot hen harrier. Glen Gairn (No prosecution)

May: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat

2014

Apr: Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat

May: Armed masked men shoot out a goshawk nest. Glen Nochty (No prosecution)

2015

Sep: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Lad’ found dead, suspected shot. Newtonmore (No prosecution)

2016

May: 1 x shot goshawk. Strathdon (No prosecution)

Jun: Illegally set spring traps. Invercauld (No prosecution)

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Brian’ ‘disappears’. Kingussie

2017

Mar: Satellite-tagged golden eagle #338 ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Calluna’ ‘disappears’. Ballater

2018

May: Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle Blue T ‘disappears’. Ballater

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Athena’ ‘disappears’. Nr Grantown on Spey

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Margot’ ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

Sept: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Stelmaria’ ‘disappears’. Ballater

2019

April: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Marci’ ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

April: Four geese poisoned and Carbofuran bait found on an estate nr Kingussie (no prosecution)

August: Golden eagle photographed with a spring trap dangling from its foot, nr Crathie, Deeside

September: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Wildland 1 ‘disappears’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal

September: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Wildland 2 ‘disappears’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld

2020

April: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Hoolie ‘disappears’ on grouse moor nr Newtonmore

April: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Marlin ‘disappears’ on grouse moor nr Strathdon

In addition to the above list, two recent scientific publications have documented the long-term decline of breeding peregrines on grouse moors in the eastern side of the National Park (see here) and the catastrophic decline of breeding hen harriers, also on grouse moors in the eastern side of the Park (see here).

 

25
Jun
20

Two more satellite-tagged hen harriers ‘disappear’ on grouse moors in Cairngorms National Park

Press release from RSPB Scotland (25 June 2020)

Two rare hen harriers disappear in suspicious circumstances

RSPB Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to move quickly to introduce the licensing of grouse shooting, following the disappearance of two more satellite-tagged hen harriers on moors in the Cairngorms National Park revealed on BBC Scotland’s Landward this evening. 

As detailed in the programme, Marlin, a young male, fledged from a nest at the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate in Aberdeenshire in 2018, while Hoolie, another male, came from a nest in Easter Ross in the same year.  

Before they left their nests, both birds were fitted with a satellite tags as part of the EU Hen Harrier LIFE project which have allowed experts to track their movements ever since. Marlin flew south after fledging and spent the last two winters in North Yorkshire. Hoolie crossed the sea to Ireland, returning there for the last two winters, where his movements have been closely followed by Irish ornithologists. 

In March 2020 Hoolie returned to Scotland, most likely with a view to finding a mate and raising chicks of his own. However, a month later his tag suddenly stopped transmitting. His last transmitted location was on 5 April and showed he was over an area of moorland intensively managed for grouse shooting near Newtonmore, in the Cairngorms National Park. He disappeared close to where another tagged hen harrier Lad was found dead, with injuries consistent with being shot, in 2015. 

[Hen harrier Hoolie, photo by RSPB Scotland]

Just three days later, on 8 April, Marlin’s tag also stopped suddenly. He too had returned to Scotland, and his last transmitted position was over a driven grouse moor near Strathdon, West Aberdeenshire, in the Cairngorms National Park. Last April, another Mar Lodge hen harrier, Marci, also disappeared suspiciously, less than a kilometre away, on the same grouse moor.  

[Hen harrier Marlin, photo by Shaila Rao]

When a tagged hen harrier dies of natural causes the tag continues to transmit its location allowing for the body to be recovered. Police Scotland carried out searches for the birds but neither the tags or the bodies were found, and neither tag has transmitted further data.  

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said:

 “Scotland had only just been put into lockdown in early April and yet protected birds of prey equipped with highly reliable technology have disappeared on land managed for driven grouse moors. The fact that these two birds have disappeared very close to where other similar incidents have occurred only heightens suspicions that these birds can be added to the very long list of protected birds of prey killed on grouse moors. 

The Scottish Government’s independent review of grouse moor management, published at the end of last year accepted the need for regulation of grouse shooting but proposed a five year probationary period to allow populations of hen harriers and other birds of prey on or near grouse shooting estates to recover to a ‘favourable’ conservation status. We believe that this approach is unworkable in practice and urge the introduction of a licensing scheme as soon as possible.” 

ENDS 

More on this news tomorrow.

07
Jun
20

Two more hen harriers ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors in & next to Cairngorms National Park

News has emerged that another two satellite-tagged hen harriers have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on two separate grouse moors, one in the Cairngorms National Park and one right next to it.

The source of this news is unusual, in that it isn’t in the form of a police appeal for information, it doesn’t come from the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project and nor does it involve hen harriers tagged by Natural England south of the border.

This time the news is from an organisation called Wildland (see website here). This is a collection of estates in the Cairngorms and Sutherland, bought by the Polvsen family and being managed with an impressive vision for conservation. Wildland is also a pivotal partner in the wider conservation project called Cairngorms Connect (see website here) which ambitiously aims to restore ecological processes, habitats and species across an enormous area of the National Park.

Wildland has been involved with satellite-tracking golden eagles for a while now, and last year it also fitted tags to hen harriers that had hatched on its estates. In a beautifully-produced blog that was published on Friday, the fates of three of those hen harriers have now been publicised.

You can read the blog here

Anyone who knows anything about hen harriers in the UK uplands will not be surprised to learn that two of the three young hen harriers have since ‘disappeared’ and the last known transmission locations of the tags were both on driven grouse moors – one at Dalnaspidal on the SW edge of the National Park (last signal on 5 September 2019) and the other one at Invercauld, Royal Deeside, on the east side of the park (last signal on 24 September 2019). Regular blog readers may be familiar with these areas.

The third hen harrier didn’t disappear in suspicious circumstances over a grouse moor – this one was found dead in a field in Aberdeenshire although the cause of death has not been published.

[An overview of the movements of the three satellite-tracked hen harriers and their last known locations]

Interestingly, the Wildland blog also provides information about the functionality of the three tags with details given about the tags’ battery status (all working perfectly well) – this is a key indication that the ‘sudden stop no malfunction’ scenario of the two tags/hen harriers that vanished is indeed suspicious and not simply a predicted engineering malfunction, which researchers can identify by a steady decline in battery charge (e.g. see here).

The Wildland blog doesn’t provide any information about a police investigation in to the suspicious disappearances of the two young hen harriers, and nor have we seen any publicity about these disappearances even though the birds vanished nine months ago in September 2019. That’s disappointing, especially as the RSPB was publishing information about a suspected shot hen harrier and two others that had vanished on Scottish grouse moors in autumn 2019 (see here).

Nevertheless, now the news is out we can add these two Wildland hen harriers to the ever-expanding list of hen harriers (at least 33 now) believed to have been illegally killed since 2018, the year when grouse shooting industry reps would have us believe that hen harriers were welcomed back on the grouse moors:

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa ‘disappeared’ in the Angus Glens in Scotland (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers Association later published wholly inaccurate information claiming the bird had been re-sighted. The RSPB dismissed this as “completely false” (here).

5 February 2018: Hen harrier Marc ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Durham (here)

9 February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn ‘disappeared’ near Moffat in Scotland (here)

18 April 2018: Hen harrier Lia ‘disappeared’ in Wales and her corpse was retrieved in a field in May 2018. Cause of death was unconfirmed but police treating death as suspicious (here)

8 August 2018: Hen harrier Hilma ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Northumberland (here).

16 August 2018: Hen harrier Athena ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

26 August 2018: Hen Harrier Octavia ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here)

29 August 2018: Hen harrier Margot ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

29 August 2018: Hen Harrier Heulwen ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

3 September 2018: Hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

24 September 2018: Hen harrier Heather ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

2 October 2018: Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

3 October 2018: Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Bowland, Lanacashire (here)

26 October 2018: Hen harrier Arthur ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here)

10 November 2018: Hen harrier Rannoch ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here). Her corpse was found nearby in May 2019 – she’d been killed in an illegally-set spring trap (here).

14 November 2018: Hen harrier River ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB (here). Her corpse was found nearby in April 2019 – she’d been illegally shot (here).

16 January 2019: Hen harrier Vulcan ‘disappeared’ in Wiltshire close to Natural England’s proposed reintroduction site (here)

7 February 2019: Hen harrier Skylar ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (here)

22 April 2019: Hen harrier Marci ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

11 May 2019: A male hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set trap next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire. He didn’t survive (here)

7 June 2019: A hen harrier was found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland. A post mortem stated the bird had died as a result of ‘penetrating trauma’ injuries and that this bird had previously been shot (here)

5 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 1 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park (this post)

11 September 2019: Hen harrier Romario ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

24 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 2 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld in the Cairngorms National Park (this post)

10 October 2019: Hen harrier Ada ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North Pennines AONB (here)

12 October 2019: Hen harrier Thistle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Sutherland (here)

18 October 2019: Member of the public reports the witnessed shooting of a male hen harrier on White Syke Hill in North Yorkshire (here)

November 2019: Hen harrier Mary found illegally poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland (here)

January 2020: Members of the public report the witnessed shooting of a male hen harrier on Threshfield Moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

There are two more satellite-tagged hen harriers (Tony & Rain) that are reported either confirmed or suspected to have been illegally killed in the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project Report but no further details are available.

And then there were last year’s brood meddled hen harrier chicks that have been reported ‘missing’ but as they’re carrying a new type of tag known to be unreliable it’s not known if they’ve been illegally killed or if they’re still ok. For the purposes of this mini-analysis we will discount these birds.

So that makes a total of at least 33 hen harriers that are known to have either ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances or have been witnessed being shot or have been found illegally killed in the last two years. And still we’re expected to believe that everything’s perfect, that the grouse shooting industry is not riddled with armed criminals and that hen harriers are doing just fine, thriving even, according to the shooting industry’s propaganda.

13
Mar
20

Angus Glens landowner loses appeal over unauthorised vehicle track

Last October an Angus Glens landowner was ordered to remove a controversial vehicle track that was visible for miles around in the Cairngorms National Park (see here).

The landowner had argued the track was to support forestry works and thus he didn’t need permission for it but campaigners had argued that the track appeared to be being used to support gamebird management and fieldsports (e.g. see here) and thus was unauthorised.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority agreed with the campaigners and issued an enforcement notice requiring the landowner to remove the track.

The landowner appealed this decision in December 2019.

[The unauthorised hilltrack in Glen Clova. Photo by Scottish Ramblers]

A couple of days ago a Scottish Government reporter agreed with the Cairngorms National Park Authority and dismissed the landowner’s appeal. She ordered the land to be restored “so far as is reasonably practicable” within one year.

Scottish Environment LINK’s Hilltracks Group, long-time campaigners on this issue, have welcomed the decision with the following press release:

CAMPAIGNERS HAIL ‘LANDMARK’ DECISION OVER UNAUTHORISED TRACK IN GLEN CLOVA

A Scottish Government reporter has today dismissed a landowner’s appeal against an order forcing the removal of a controversial vehicle track in scenic Glen Clova, Cairngorms NP.

The decision ends a long-running battle over the 1.5km track, which is visible for miles around and features spoil mounds up to 10 metres wide.

The landowner had launched an appeal in December 2019 against Cairngorms National Park Authority’s enforcement notice ordering him to remove the vehicle track, as it appears to be used to support field sports.

But today Allison Coard, a reporter appointed by Scottish Ministers, has dismissed the appeal and ordered the land to be restored “so far as is reasonably practicable” within one year.

Scottish Environment LINK Hilltracks Group, which continues to campaign for stronger public oversight of upland vehicle tracks, commended the reporter and the national park authority for their decisive action.

Helen Todd, who is Ramblers Scotland’s policy manager and co-convener of the LINK Hilltracks group, said: “This is a landmark result, and sadly one of very few examples of an authority feeling able to commit enough time and money to retrospectively tackle unauthorised tracks.

This ugly track is scarring the landscape in this historic, protected glen – and we look forward to seeing the hillside restored within the coming year.

All Scottish landowners should take note of today’s decision, and the expensive restoration job that the landowner will now need to carry out.”

Beryl Leatherland, of Scottish Wild Land Group and co-convener of the LINK Hilltracks group said: “The case highlights the urgent need for the Scottish Government to introduce stronger controls over vehicle tracks in our hills – to boost local democracy, improve construction standards and protect precious environments from further damage.”

The Scottish Government has made hilltracks one of the top priorities in its forthcoming review of ‘Permitted Development Rights’, which governs which types of developments can bypass the full planning permission process.

Currently, landowners simply need to tell authorities before building tracks which are said to support ‘agriculture or forestry’ – and full planning permission is generally not required. Campaigners believe these tracks are often created to support shooting activities and therefore should be subject to a planning application.

Research published in 2018 by the Scottish Environment LINK Hilltracks group found that vehicle tracks continue to expand further into Scotland’s mountain landscapes, and that weak planning processes can lead to them being badly-sited and designed.  Some tracks have even been built over the top of narrow, low-impact trails and historical routes, with little chance for the public to comment in advance.

You can view the full appeal decision and history here.

ENDS

Well done to the campaigners at Scottish Environment LINK Hilltracks Group and also to Nick Kempe who writes the campaigning Parkswatchscotland blog – well worth subscribing to for detailed and interesting commentary. Also well done to the Cairngorms National Park Authority for issuing the enforcement notice in the first place.

Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform in Scotland also has unauthorised hilltracks in its sights and you can read more about this in Revive’s report here.

 

19
Dec
19

Scottish Government ‘actively considering’ additional enforcement action on wildlife crime

On Tuesday (17 December 2019) the Scottish Rural Affairs & Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon, gave evidence to the cross-party Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) committee which is currently considering Stage 1 of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill.

The transcript can be read here (wildlife crime discussed from page 20 onwards): ECCLR report_17December2019

The archived video can be watched here

We’ve already blogged about one aspect of that evidence, where rather than committing to a mandatory custodial sentence for possession of banned deadly poisons, just as there is for those caught in possession of illegal firearms, yet another poisons amnesty was being considered instead (see here).

The rest of the session covered a lot of ground with some well-informed questions posed by some members of the ECCLR committee, especially Mark Ruskell MSP and Claudia Beamish MSP. In addition to an increase in penalties for wildlife crimes, which is part of the core text of the proposed Bill, other topics discussed included the Werritty review (due before the end of the year), the Government’s annual wildlife crime report (apparently due to be published ‘by the end of the year’ and we expect it will show an increase in confirmed raptor persecution crimes), vicarious liability, increasing SSPCA powers to tackle wildlife crime, the ineffectiveness of General Licence restrictions because estates can simply apply for Individual licences instead, covert video surveillance, the failure of the Police Special Constables pilot scheme in the Cairngorms National Park and a question about why the General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate, imposed after Police Scotland provided ‘clear evidence of wildlife crime’, has been reinstated during the appeals process. Government officials committed to submitting a written response to Claudia Beamish’s question on this legally complicated issue.

The discussion on increasing powers for the SSPCA during Stage 2 of the Bill was quite telling. The Minister said the SSPCA had approached the Government in recent weeks to request additional powers to help tackle wildlife crime but she seemed to go to great lengths to argue that although she is committed to considering options she didn’t forsee anything happening in this particular Bill because the Government ‘needs the chance to fully discuss the issue’ and to ‘assess the ramifications of increasing those powers’.

Yeah, she’s right, so far the Government has only taken six years and five different Environment Ministers to fully discuss the issue and consider the ramifications – see here for a jaw-dropping timeline. And after all that it then concluded that accepting the offer of free resources from an expert and experienced reporting agency like the SSPCA wasn’t the right option for tackling serious organised crime and, inexplicably, chose instead to launch a £28k pilot scheme for five part-time voluntary Police Special Constables to potter around in the Cairngorms National Park and ‘meet stakeholders’; a scheme which, unsurprisingly, has been a complete flop. Even though Mairi Gougeon wasn’t in post as one of those five Environment Ministers during that six-year stalling exercise, her advisors should know all about those shenanigans. Honestly, the extent of the feet dragging is astonishing.

Mark Ruskell MSP again raised the issue of the ineffectiveness of General Licence restrictions and other sanctions, and asked the Minister if other sanctions were available? She responded by saying that she thought it was ‘important that other deterrents are available‘ and “We are actively considering the need for an additional level of enforcement, which would not require referral to the procurator fiscal or involvement of the Scottish courts but would still provide a penalty that would act as a deterrent. We will be happy to consider the evidence and consider whether measures are as effective as they can be“.

When Mark asked her whether she would be interested in discussing with the Westminster Government the withdrawal of a firearms certificate as a potential sanction, she responded,

Absolutely. I know that there were two recommendations around that in the Poustie review, so we will happily engage in discussions with the UK Government. I believe that the matter falls under the justice portfolio, so I would also be happy to raise it with justice colleagues and see how we can get some movement on the recommendations with the UK Government“.

Good, but if this was in the Poustie review on wildlife crime penalties published in 2015, why haven’t those discussions already taken place? That’s not Mairi Gougeon’s fault – she wasn’t in post then – but come on Scottish Government, five years on and discussions haven’t even started? This is like pulling teeth.

It’s not clear what other potential sanctions the Scottish Government is ‘actively considering’ to tackle wildlife crime but the long-awaited Werritty review should have some suggestions.

07
Dec
19

Special Constables pilot scheme in Cairngorms National Park a waste of time & money

Two and a half years ago, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced a pilot scheme whereby Police Special Constables would be deployed in the Cairngorms National Park to tackle wildlife crime.

This initiative was one of a number of measures announced in May 2017 in response to the findings of the golden eagle satellite tag review which showed clear evidence of deliberate and sustained illegal raptor persecution, particularly on some driven grouse moors in and around the Cairngorms National Park (CNP).

This RPUK map shows the last known location of satellite-tagged golden eagles that were either found illegally killed or had disappeared in suspicious circumstances in and around the CNP (data from the golden eagle satellite tag review):

Golden eagles are not the only victims of wildlife crime in and around the CNP. This RPUK map below, based mostly on RSPB data, shows raptor persecution incidents between 2005-2016. Only one of these (just outside the CNP boundary on Kildrummy Estate) has resulted in a successful prosecution. With such clear evidence of wildlife crime it’s easy to see why the CNP was chosen as the first location for this pilot scheme.

This pilot scheme was the Government’s alternative to extending the powers of the SSPCA to allow it to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crime (including raptor persecution) – a decision made after six years of Governmental deliberation under five different Environment Ministers.

It also emerged in 2018 that this pilot scheme was an alternative to the Government’s 2016 manifesto pledge to establish a Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit as part of Police Scotland – a pledge on which it has now reneged (see here).

The idea was that the police special constable scheme could be rolled out across Scotland “if judged to be successful” in the CNP, but we weren’t told the criteria that would be used to judge this ‘success’.

The scheme was formally launched in March 2018 (see here) and nothing more was heard of it.

Just over a year later in April 2019 we asked the Cairngorms National Park Authority the following questions about the scheme:

Here’s the response:

So basically after a year of operation, one of the main project partners couldn’t tell us anything about the scheme.

Fast forward six months to November 2019 and Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell thought it was time more questions were asked. Here are his two Parliamentary questions and Roseanna Cunningham’s answers:

S5W-26349 Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Scottish Green Party): To ask the Scottish Government how much funding (a) it and (b) the Cairngorms National Park Authority allocated each year to the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project.

Roseanna Cunningham: The Scottish Government agreed to contribute £18,000 and the Cairngorms National Park Authority agreed to provide £10,000 for the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project.

S5W-26346 Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Scottish Green Party): To ask the Scottish Government what the outcome was of the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project; how many constables participated each month in this, and how many suspected crimes they reported, also broken down by how many led to subsequent (a) arrests, (b) charges, (c) prosecutions and (d) convictions.

Roseanna Cunningham: a)The Scottish Government is currently undertaking an evaluation of the Special Constable Pilot Project in conjunction with Police Scotland and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. We will announce a decision on the future direction of the project in due course.

b) There were five special constables in the project, employed on a part-time basis.

c) and d) From the information gathered in the review conducted by Police Scotland, there were no recorded crimes reported by the Special Constables during their patrols in the 12 month trial period. However, Special Constables were involved in meeting stakeholders and partners operating within the Cairngorms National Park to build relationships and understand the needs and demands of National Park users which will aid future intelligence gathering.

Gosh, it’s easy to see why the Scottish Government’s evaluation of the pilot scheme is taking so long, what with having to count ZERO reported wildlife crimes.

Meanwhile satellite tagged raptors continue to disappear in suspicious circumstances in the Cairngorms National Park (white-tailed eagle here; hen harrier here; hen harrier here and hen harrier here); birds are still being illegally poisoned in the Cairngorms National Park (here) and birds of prey are still being caught by illegally-set traps in the Cairngorms National Park (golden eagle here).

But it’s ok, nothing to worry about because £28K has just been spent on ‘building relationships and understanding the needs and demands of National Park users’.

FFS.

09
Oct
19

Angus Glens landowner ordered to remove unauthorised vehicle track

Press release from Scottish Ramblers, working on behalf of Scottish Environment LINK Hilltracks Group

7 October 2019

Landowner told to remove track scarring Cairngorms hill

A landowner in the Cairngorms National Park has been ordered to remove a controversial vehicle track that is visible from miles around in scenic Glen Clova, Angus.

Campaigners have welcomed Cairngorms National Park Authority’s enforcement notice against the ugly vehicle track, which appears to be used to support field sports.

The landowner – registered to Pitlivie Farm in Carnoustie – has been given until October 2020 to restore the upper part of the track, which is 1.5km long and has created spoil mounds up to 10 metres wide. They have also been told to seek retrospective permission by 23 December 2019 for changes to a separate section of track lower down the hillside.

[The unauthorised track in Glen Clova. Photo from Ramblers Scotland]

Such tracks made national headlines this year when the Scottish Parliament voted against Planning Bill amendments from Scottish Green Party MSP Andy Wightman which would have closed loopholes and introduced stricter controls over their construction.

Helen Todd is Ramblers Scotland’s policy manager and co-convener of the LINK Hilltracks group, which continues to campaign for stronger public oversight of upland vehicle tracks.

Ms Todd: “We commend the Cairngorms National Park Authority for taking decisive action against this ugly and unauthorised track, which is a scar upon the landscape in this historic, protected glen.

It is one of very few examples of an authority being able to spend the time and money required to retrospectively tackle inappropriate tracks, which for too long have been creeping further and further into wild landscapes.

I hope that other landowners across Scotland will take notice of the Glen Clova order, which will force the person who built this track to pay for an expensive restoration job.”

Beryl Leatherland, of Scottish Wild Land Group and co-convener of the LINK Hilltracks group said: “The case highlights the urgent need for the Scottish Government to introduce stronger controls over vehicle tracks in our hills – to boost local democracy, improve construction standards and protect precious environments from further damage.”

The Scottish Government last week announced that hill tracks will be one of the top priorities in its forthcoming review of ‘Permitted Development Rights’, which governs which types of developments can bypass the full planning permission process.

Currently, landowners simply need to tell authorities before building tracks which are said to support ‘agriculture or forestry’ – and full planning permission is generally not required. Campaigners believe these tracks are often created to support shooting activities.

Research published last year by the Scottish Environment LINK Hilltracks group found that vehicle tracks continue to expand further into Scotland’s mountain landscapes, and that weak planning processes can lead to them being badly-sited and designed.

Some tracks have even been built over the top of narrow, low-impact trails and historical routes, with little chance for the public to comment in advance.

ENDS

How refreshing to see a landowner held to account for causing environmental damage apparently in pursuit of fieldsports. Well done to Scottish Environment Link’s Hilltracks Group for its campaigning work and well done to the Cairngorms National Park Authority for issuing an enforcement notice. More of this, please!

Helen Todd and Beryl Leatherland gave a compelling presentation at the Revive conference in Perth in August (see video below). Unauthorised hilltracks are part of Revive’s campaign for grouse moor reform and you can read more about this in Revive’s report here.

17
Sep
19

Golden eagle with trap dangling from its leg: statement from Environment Cabinet Secretary

In August Police Scotland published a photograph of a young golden eagle that had been seen flying in the Cairngorms National Park with an illegally-set trap clamped to one of its legs.

This photograph, along with the Police’s appeal for information, went viral and was reported on news channels around the world (e.g. here), highlighting Scotland’s shameful record of illegal raptor persecution.

There’s been no further update on the fate of this eagle. Undoubtedly it’ll be dead and if it had been found by anyone associated with the criminal element of the game-shooting industry the corpse and trap will be long gone….nothing to see, deny, deny, deny, it was all a set up, fake news, it never happened, etc etc.

Meanwhile, those who aren’t fooled by the propaganda and know exactly what goes on on game shooting estates have been asking pertinent questions.

Step up Colin Beattie MSP (SNP: Midlothian North & Musselburgh) who lodged the following written question on 2 September 2019:

Question S5W-25069 – 

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of reports of a golden eagle found with an illegal trap on its legs, what action it is taking to protect wild birds as a matter of urgency ahead of the publication of the findings of the Grouse Moor Management Group (the Werritty report).

A brilliant question. Forget ‘waiting for Werritty‘ which has been the Scottish Government’s default response to every single raptor persecution crime since May 2017, Colin wants to know what action is being taken NOW.

The Government’s response came from Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham on 12 Sept, as follows:

The Scottish Government is strongly committed to safeguarding the welfare of all animals, including wild birds such as raptors.

The illegal persecution of our birds of prey is an extremely serious issue and, as we announced in our Programme for Government for 2019-2020, we will bring forward a Bill increasing the maximum penalties for certain wildlife offences, including those associated with illegal killing or injuring of wild birds. This will deliver a commitment to implement the recommendation to increase wildlife crime penalties in the review undertaken by Professor Poustie.

We also committed in the Programme for Government that we will respond to the independent review on grouse moor management. The review is examining how we can ensure that grouse moor management is sustainable and complies with the law and it would not be appropriate to make decisions in advance of its report. We will carefully consider the recommendations in the report and other relevant evidence when deciding our response.

The measures on wildlife crime penalties build upon a range of other work we have undertaken to tackle this issue, including: supporting the use of satellite tags to monitor birds of prey; introducing new offences for harassing birds of prey or damaging their nesting places; setting up a poisons disposal scheme to remove poisons used to kill wild birds; strengthening Police Scotland wildlife crime resources, including in the Cairngorms; and introducing vicarious liability so that landowners can be held responsible for crimes against wild birds committed by their employees.

Roseanna’s response carefully avoids answering Colin’s question directly. Colin asked what Scot Gov was doing ‘as a matter of urgency ahead of the publication of the Werritty report’. Roseanna’s response confirms, in effect, that Scot Gov is doing absolutely nothing at all in advance of the Werritty report.

Splendid.

And guess what? We’re still waiting for Werritty, despite being told by Scot Gov at the end of July that the report was due ‘in the next few weeks’. What an embarrassing fiasco it has become.

Whoever wrote Roseanna’s response was surely having a laugh, judging by the last paragraph. Yes, Scot Gov has introduced new offences for harassing birds of prey or damaging their nesting places but as far as we’re aware, there have been no prosecutions for these offences even though there have been a number of reports of raptor nests being deliberately burned out on grouse moors.

And yes, Scot Gov set up a poisons disposal scheme (two, in fact) to remove poisons used to kill wild birds and yet still we’re seeing raptors being illegally poisoned and still gamekeepers are being found guilty of possessing these illegal poisons.

And yes, Scot Gov did support a pilot scheme for a number of police special constables (essentially volunteers working in their own time) in the Cairngorms National Park but there has been no (public) assessment of the scheme’s impact and raptor persecution crimes were still reported in the National Park during the scheme’s duration.

And yes, Scot Gov did introduce vicarious liability so that landowners could be held responsible for crimes against wild birds committed by their employees but so far this has only resulted in two successful convictions in 7.5 years and only last month yet another landowner avoided any charges of alleged vicarious liability and the Crown Office chose not to explain this decision to the public.

 

23
Nov
18

From which grouse shooting estate did Hen Harrier Stelmaria ‘disappear’?

Earlier this month RSPB Scotland announced that four of this year’s satellite-tagged hen harriers had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on Scottish grouse moors (see here).

We then highlighted how two of those four missing hen harriers (Margot & Stelmaria) had ‘disappeared’ inside the Cairngorms National Park (see here).

[RPUK map showing approximate last known locations of hen harriers Margot & Stelmaria]

Yesterday we looked at the last known location of hen harrier Margot, which was on a grouse shooting estate that’s either a member of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership, or on a grouse shooting estate owned by the Royal family, or on a grouse shooting estate that’s an accredited member of the Wildlife Estates Scotland initiative (see here).

Today we’re going to take a closer look at the last known location of hen harrier Stelmaria.

As with Margot, the initial problem is that her last known location as reported by the RSPB is a bit vague – no grid reference and no named estate. The only details revealed in the RSPB press statement were:

Stelmaria was last recorded on grouse moor a few miles north west of Ballater, Aberdeenshire on 3rd September“.

Here’s a map showing the location of Mar Lodge Estate (from where Stelmaria, and Margot, hatched earlier this summer) and the location of Ballater:

As you can see from this next map, there are a lot of grouse moors positioned “a few miles north west of Ballater“:

So once again we referred to Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website to work out which estates are situated “a few miles north west of Ballater” and we found two – Invercauld Estate and Dinnet Estate:

This map may look familiar to some of you. That’s because we used it last year when we were looking at the last known location of another satellite-tagged hen harrier, Calluna, who had also ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances. Calluna vanished “on a grouse moor a few miles north of Ballater” on 12 August 2017, the opening day of the grouse shooting season.

In fact these grouse moors around Ballater are becoming very familiar indeed. We’ve blogged about a number of alleged and confirmed incidents as follows:

There was the discovery of an illegally shot peregrine at the Pass of Ballater in 2011, the reported coordinated hunt and subsequent shooting of an adult hen harrier at Glen Gairn on the border of Invercauld and Dinnet Estates in 2013, and then there were the illegally-set traps that were found nr Geallaig Hill on Invercauld Estate in 2016, which resulted in ‘secret action‘ being taken against a gamekeeper but no prosecution followed, and nor has SNH imposed a General Licence restriction for this incident (and SNH has refused to discuss its decision saying ‘it’s not in the public interest‘ to tell us).

Last year, as mentioned above, satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Calluna’ disappeared in suspicious circumstances on a grouse moor in this area (here), although it’s not clear whether this was on Invercauld Estate or neighbouring Dinnet Estate and then earlier this year a satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘Blue T’ also ‘disappeared’ without trace on the Invercauld Estate (see here).

And now hen harrier Stelmaria has also vanished.

There’s a pretty clear pattern emerging in this area, but it seems to be one that Scottish Natural Heritage, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Government are all refusing to see.

21
Nov
18

Two of the four missing satellite-tagged hen harriers ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors in Cairngorms National Park

Earlier this month RSPB Scotland announced that four of this year’s satellite-tagged hen harriers had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on Scottish grouse moors (see here).

[RPUK map showing approximate last known locations of four satellite-tagged hen harriers]

We said at the time that we’d be coming back to this subject as we were interested in the locations from where the birds had vanished.

Two of those hen harriers (Margot and Stelmaria) both hatched on the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms National Park earlier this summer, and both of them subsequently vanished, also inside the Cairngorms National Park.

[RPUK map showing approximate last known locations of hen harriers Margot & Stelmaria]

We’ll be coming back to have a closer look at these locations tomorrow.

It should be shocking that two hen harriers, a high priority red-listed species, have vanished in suspicious circumstances inside the world-renowned Cairngorms National Park (CNP). But it isn’t. Because this isn’t the first time.

In August 2016 satellite-tagged hen harrier Brian ‘disappeared’ inside the CNP (see here).

In August 2017 satellite-tagged hen harrier Calluna ‘disappeared’ inside the CNP (see here).

In August 2015 satellite-tagged hen harrier Lad didn’t ‘disappear’ but he was found dead, suspected shot, inside the CNP (see here).

But it’s not just satellite-tagged hen harriers. At least 15 satellite-tagged golden eagles have also ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in recent years inside the CNP (see here). In 2014 the first white-tailed eagle chick to fledge in East Scotland in approx 200 years also ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances inside the CNP (see here) and earlier this year another white-tailed eagle also ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances inside the CNP (see here).

We’ve searched the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s website for a comment/statement about the latest two hen harrier disappearances but we didn’t find anything.

We’ve also searched the Scottish Government’s website for a comment/statement about the latest two hen harrier disappearances inside the CNP but we didn’t find anything there either.

Probably because it’s all a bit embarrassing.

In 2017, following the damning findings of the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, the Scottish Government announced it was to establish a 12-month pilot scheme, funding five police special constables to work in the CNP to focus on deterring and detecting wildlife crime. This scheme was launched in March this year (see here).

This pilot scheme was the Government’s alternative to extending the powers of the SSPCA to allow it to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crime (including raptor persecution) – a decision made after six years of Governmental deliberation under five different Environment Ministers.

It also emerged earlier this year that this pilot scheme was also an alternative to the Government’s 2016 manifesto pledge to establish a Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit as part of Police Scotland – a pledge on which it has now reneged (see here). The idea is that the police special constable scheme could be rolled out across Scotland “if judged to be successful” in the CNP.

We’re not sure what the criteria will be for judging ‘success’ but we can be quite sure that the continued suspicious ‘disappearance’ of satellite-tagged raptors within the CNP cannot possibly be indicative of success.

UPDATE 22 Nov 2018: Did hen harrier Margot ‘disappear’ on a Royal grouse moor? (Here)

UPDATE 23 Nov 2018: From which grouse shooting estate did hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappear’? (here)




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