Posts Tagged ‘clam trap

07
Sep
20

Police investigate shot buzzard remains found on Wirral pheasant shooting estate

The discovery of the remains of a buzzard have led to a joint investigation into alleged raptor persecution and other wildlife offences on a game-shooting estate on the Wirral.

The decomposed corpse was discovered next to a hunting tower on the estate in July 2020, according to a social media posting by a group called ‘Cheshire Against Blood Sports’. The buzzard’s decapitated head and legs were found close by. An x-ray at the RSPCA’s Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre reportedly found the body was ‘peppered with shot’. It’s not known how old the corpse was but it’s clear from the photographs that decomposition was quite advanced.

[All photos from Cheshire Against Blood Sports]

Other allegations made by the group include ‘unchecked Larsen traps & decoy birds found dead in the trap’. The group has also posted photographs of what looks to be a clam trap with the decomposed remains of something in it, an uncovered Fenn trap (although the circumstances of its use are unclear) and a large stink pit containing the rotting corpses of wildlife.

The group reports that the joint Merseyside Police/RSPCA investigation concluded with a visit to the estate in late August where words of advice have apparently been given. There are not thought to be any impending prosecutions.

It’s believed the pheasant, partridge and duck shooting on the estate is leased to a third party.

[All photos from Cheshire Against Blood Sports]

This article was re-published on the Birdguides website on 13th September 2020.

14
Aug
20

New report suggests up to quarter of a million animals killed in traps & snares on Scottish grouse moors each year

Press release from League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland), 13th August 2020

Shocking new statistics show up to 260,000 animals killed each year on Scottish shooting estates to increase the number of grouse to be shot for ‘sport’

Charity publishes ‘Calculating Cruelty’, a field study of Scotland’s hidden shame

  • 57,000 killing devices deployed each day in Scotland representing the equivalent of over 10,000,000 active trapping and snaring days per year.
  • Up to a quarter of a million animals are killed each year in an attempt to totally eradicate foxes, stoats, weasels and crows to increase the number of grouse.
  • Nearly half of the animals killed are non target species such as hedgehogs, dippers and mistle thrush.

The League Against Cruel Sports Scotland has published the most comprehensive and robust field study of ground predator control on Scotland’s shooting estates. Over 15 months, an independent surveyor mapped the location and frequency of traps and snares set on seven shooting estates to calculate the true extent of animal killing as a result of predator control to sustain the driven grouse shooting industry.

Analysis of the survey data by a leading scientist concludes that up to a quarter of a million animals are killed every year to maintain high numbers of grouse for sport shooting, with nearly half of these non target species. The study also found that failure to comply with existing codes of practice is widespread on Scottish grouse moors, and that best practice guidelines produced by professional organisations that represent the shooting industry appear to serve little useful function.

Robbie Marsland, Director of the League Against Cruel Sports, Scotland said: “These figures have shocked and appalled us. This is the most comprehensive, quantitative study of predator control giving an illustration of the grim reality of Scotland’s grouse moors, where up to a quarter of a million animals are simply wiped out to ensure grouse numbers are kept artificially high.

Our report ‘Calculating Cruelty’ leaves us in absolutely no doubt that managing such large parts of Scottish moorland for an industry which makes a woefully low contribution to the economy is entirely misguided and outdated.

Between June 2018 and September 2019 a surveyor, with over 20 years experience of game management recorded the scale, distribution and use of legal grouse moor management equipment and practices. Using the Scottish right to responsible access, the estates were walked and all ground was viewed so that the items being specifically surveyed were likely to be found. All ground was covered at least once with all tracks and watercourses checked carefully. The estates surveyed were had various intensities of management practices, and included:

● Millden Estate, Angus

● Tillypronie Estate, Aberdeenshire

● Glenmazeran Estate, Inverness-shire

● Easter Clunes, Inverness-shire

● Kildrummy Estate, Aberdeenshire

● Invermark Estate, Angus

● Skibo Estate, Sutherland

The survey was carried out without the estates being notified so that the data were not biased by management practises changing as a result of the survey and no legally set trap or snare was interfered with in any way. This is the first time that such a widespread and detailed survey of estates has been undertaken.

The report published by the League, is part of a series of reports by the various partners of Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform, a campaign group bringing together social justice, environmental and animal welfare organisations. Since its inception in 2018 Revive has shone the spotlight on the circle of destruction surrounding driven grouse moors, campaigning for their radical reform.

Robbie Marsland added: “The enormity of the figures produced by the data in this report is simply staggering. The League and our partners in Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform think it is unconscionable to kill any animal, let alone up to a quarter of a million, to ensure that hundreds of thousands of grouse can then be shot for ‘sport’.

Driven grouse shooting is surrounded by a circle of destruction which is Scotland’s hidden shame. This cruelty and willful disregard for the environment and our wildlife needs to stop once and for all starting with a complete ban on all snares and traps.

ENDS

The League has published two new reports, ‘Calculating Cruelty’ and ‘Hanged by the Feet until Dead’, both of which can be downloaded below:

Calculating Cruelty

Hanged by the Feet until Dead

A copy of both reports has been sent to every MSP in the Scottish Parliament.

There is also a short video highlighting the key findings of this study:

38 Degrees has launched a new petition, ‘Stop grouse shooting’s war on wildlife‘ which can be signed HERE

There has been the usual criticism of these two reports by the game shooting industry although so far this criticism appears to be focused on personal and defamatory abuse of one of the report’s lead author Professor Stephen Harris rather than any criticism of substance about the reports’ actual findings. This is what we’ve all come to expect – anybody who dares try to shine a light on the murky practices of this industry immediately becomes a target and attempts are made to smear, distort, misrepresent and undermine that person’s professional and personal integrity.

Read the reports for yourselves, look at the eye-watering number of traps recorded on some of these estates and judge for yourselves whether this level of intensive and largely unsupervised slaughter of wildlife, to facilitate a ‘sport’, is acceptable in modern Scotland.

You’ll notice Millden Estate in the Angus Glens was one of the seven estates surveyed, and also reported as the most intensively-managed of all seven. That won’t be a surprise to many readers as this area has been accurately described by Chris Townsend as ‘savaged, stripped and blasted land’ (see here for some shocking photos).

Millden has featured on RPUK many times and readers may recall the most recent Millden blog – last October there was a huge multi-agency raid for suspected animal fighting and during that raid a number of dead raptors were also discovered and as a result a gamekeeper was suspended (see here, here and here).

We understand that cases are progressing on the animal fighting allegations as a result of the SSPCA investigation but it is not known whether any of the wildlife crime allegations are progressing – these are apparently being investigated by Police Scotland.

11
Feb
20

New rules for bird traps in Scotland

Last week Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) published some information about its proposed changes to the General Licences, effective from 1 April 2020.

Some of those changes include the removal of some bird species from some licences, and the removal of General Licences from some protected areas (to be replaced by individual licences) but we don’t intend to comment on any of that just now as Wild Justice’s legal team is currently evaluating the lawfulness of the proposals.

However, the news that ravens would NOT be added to the General Licences is very welcome, although we are hearing rumours that the so-called Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders (basically a load of gamekeepers) and GWCT might be preparing another application for a specific licence to kill ravens in Strathbraan. Freedom of Information requests have been submitted and we’ll keep you posted.

A considerable war chest is still available from the legal challenge made against the Strathbraan raven cull in 2018 and these funds are ring-fenced which means another legal challenge can be launched with immediate effect if necessary.

Another welcome aspect of SNH’s 2020 General Licences is the decision to register individual operators of bird traps.

[A multi-catch crow cage trap, baited with a live decoy bird and used to capture hundreds of birds which are then killed, often by being beaten to death with a stick. Photo by OneKind]

Previously in Scotland, the General Licence conditions have stated that live-catch corvid traps (e.g. Larsen traps, Larsen mate traps and multi-catch crow cage traps) have to display an identification number of the trap owner, but this number does not identify an individual trap operator, only the owner, typically the landowner or sporting agent. So if an alleged breach/offence has been detected, and the trap is located on a large grouse shooting estate where multiple gamekeepers are employed, it has been virtually impossible for the Police to identify an individual suspect (and thus charge anyone) because the estate and gamekeepers simply close rank, offer a ‘no comment’ response and fail to identify the actual trap user.

In reality this situation is laughable because very often on large shooting estates gamekeepers are employed specifically to manage a delineated area of an estate, known as a ‘beat’. Their job title is even ‘beatkeeper’ (as illustrated in this January 2020 advert, below) so the idea that, when an alleged offence has been discovered, an individual trap operator at a particular location on an estate can’t be identified is what might be called taking the piss.

Nevertheless, this apparent inability to identify a named suspect has happened time and time and time again, as regular blog readers will be only too aware. It’s why we (e.g. here) and especially the RSPB (e.g. here) have been campaigning for years to have this loophole closed.

The new registration requirements in the 2020 Scottish General Licences still don’t go far enough – there should at least be a requirement for trap operators to submit annual returns so that SNH, and others, can monitor the number of birds killed. But nevertheless, the requirement for individual trap users to be registered is a big step in the right direction. And this level of improved accountability, although still lacking, is way ahead of the General Licences in England and Wales as documented in this timely blog from the RSPB today.

For further information on the Scottish General Licences 2020 see these documents prepared by SNH:

General Licensing Changes Summary – February 2020

General Licensing Changes FAQs – February 2020

22
Dec
16

RSPB Scotland slams General Licence system as ‘cover for criminal destruction of raptors’

cage-trapEarlier this year, SNH opened a consultation on the use of General Licences (GLs), in anticipation of updating the terms of use for their suite of 2017 GLs.

This wasn’t anything new. SNH regularly reviews the GLs, but, as has happened so many times before, this year SNH has yet again ignored the on-going conservation concerns about the use of these GLs.

We’ve blogged about the terms of the GLs many times, particularly in relation to the mis-use of traps that are authorised under the terms of the GLs (e.g. see here, here, here, herehereherehere, here) and RSPB Scotland has been questioning the terms of GLs for over ten years (e.g. see here [pages 6-13] and here).

RSPB Scotland responded to this year’s GL consultation, repeating the same concerns as they had ten years ago. You can read their consultation response here: rspb_scotland_response_to-snh_2016_gl_consultation

(As an aside, SNH has now published all the responses to this year’s GL consultation but we’ll be blogging about that in another post).

A couple of weeks ago, SNH announced the changes it was making to the 2017 GLs and, surprise surprise, many of the concerns raised by RSPB Scotland and other conservation organisations have been totally ignored, again. You can read SNH’s announcement here: snh-ogl-consultation-response-letter-annexes-a-b-and-c

baited-clam1Amongst other things, SNH has decided to reinstate the use of meat bait inside clam traps (thus increasing the likelihood of catching birds of prey), and there is also a commitment to ‘explore new and responsive licensing solutions to prevent agricultural damage by ravens’. On-going concerns that have not been addressed include (but are not limited to) compliance (or not) with European environmental legislation; welfare concerns; poor trap design that allows indiscriminate species trapping; year-round use (as opposed to seasonal use); ineffective regulation of trap users; ineffective monitoring of trap use (i.e. number and species caught/killed); inability to identify an individual trap user; and the lovely get-out clause for any General Licence user with an unspent criminal conviction.

Justifiably, RSPB Scotland are pretty unimpressed, as well they should be, and they have issued a scathing press release about SNH’s failure to address long-term concerns, particularly in relation to the use of GLs as a cover for the illegal persecution of raptors. RSPB Scotland’s press release can be read here.

RSPB Scotland has also produced a video to highlight some of their concerns. Watch it here.

If you share RSPB Scotland’s concerns, and you agree that the current GL system is not fit for purpose, you can make your views known to SNH by emailing them at: licensing@snh.gov.uk

05
Nov
15

General licences suspended on four Scottish grouse moors in response to raptor persecution crimes

Yesterday, SNH published the following press release:

General licences restricted in wildlife crime hotspots

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has restricted the use of general licences on four properties in two wildlife crime hotspots – one in Stirlingshire and one in the Borders – this week. The decision was made on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

Nick Halfhide, SNH Director of Operations, said:

“There is clear evidence that wildlife crimes have been committed on these properties. Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the general licences on these four properties for three years. They may though still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

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

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

The new measure complements other recent actions to reduce wildlife crime, including vicarious liability for offences against wild birds, which was introduced in 2011.

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

END

As promised in earlier correspondence with SNH about potential General Licence restrictions (e.g. see here), SNH has published ‘details’ of the current restrictions on its website. Although when we say ‘details’ we use the term loosely. The names of the estates have not been published (but see below) and the specific reasons (crimes) that triggered the restriction orders are also absent.

Instead, SNH has published two maps showing the areas where the three-year restriction orders will be in place.

Restriction order #1 can be viewed here: GL restriction order 1_ Nov 2015-2018

The map denoting the area relating to Restriction order #1 is here:

Raeshaw Corshope GL restriction map 2015

Having consulted Andy Wightman’s brilliant website Who Owns Scotland to check estate boundaries, we now know that the delineated area shown in Restriction order #1 includes parts of Raeshaw Estate and the neighbouring Corsehope Estate.

This is fascinating. Raeshaw Estate is well known to us and continues to be of interest. It is a mixed upland estate combining driven grouse shooting as well as pheasant and partridge shooting. We have documentary evidence that Mark Osborne’s company is involved in the estate management (more on that in the near future). Raeshaw Estate has been raided by the police at least twice (2004 and 2009 – poisoned and shot raptors and poisoned baits – see here) although nobody has ever been prosecuted for these crimes. However, the General Licence Restriction can only be applied for crimes that have been uncovered since 1st January 2014; it cannot be applied retrospectively for offences that took place prior to 1st January 2014. This means that further raptor crimes have been uncovered here but there has not been any publicity about them. Why not? There was news of a shot buzzard found in the nearby area on 24th July 2015 (see here), but this bird was found AFTER SNH had notified the estate of the intention to restrict the General Licence (see here) so this incident cannot be the one that triggered the General Licence Restriction.

Corsehope Estate has not been on our radar, although we’re told by local sources that gamekeepers from Raeshaw Estate are involved with ‘vermin control’ here so now we’re very interested.

Restriction order #2 can be viewed here: GL retriction order 2_ Nov 2015-2018

The map denoting the area relating to Restriction order #2 is here:

Burnfoot Wester Cringate GL restriction map 2015

Again, consulting Andy Wightman’s excellent website Who Owns Scotland to check estate boundaries, we now know that the delineated area shown in Restriction order #2 includes parts of Burnfoot Estate and Wester Cringate Estate.

This is also interesting. We believe (although it must be stressed that this is educated speculation as SNH has not published the information) that this restriction order probably relates to a series of raptor persecution crimes including a poisoned red kite (July 2014), a poisoned peregrine (February 2015) and an illegally trapped red kite (May 2015) – see here.

So, what do these General Licence Restriction orders mean? Basically, it means that the following activities, usually permitted under General Licences 1, 2 and 3, are now not permitted in the areas shown on the two maps for three years, starting 13th November 2015 and ending 12th November 2018:

The killing or taking of the following species:

Great black-backed gull, carrion crow, hooded crow, jackdaw, jay, rook, ruddy duck, magpie, Canada goose, collared dove, feral pigeon, wood pigeon, lesser black-back gull, and herring gull.

The use of the following methods to kill/take these species are not permitted:

Pricking of eggs, oiling of eggs, destruction of eggs and nests, use of Larsen trap, use of Larsen Mate trap, use of Larsen Pod trap, use of multi-catch crow cage trap, shooting with any firearm, targeted falconry, and by hand.

That sounds great, doesn’t it? But it’s not quite as clear cut as that. As we’ve discussed before, and as is stated in the SNH press release at the top of this blog, although these activities can no longer be carried out in the two denoted areas under the cover of the three General Licences, individuals may still apply for an individual licence to permit these activities, although SNH claims that if granted, these will be “closely monitored”.

What does ‘closely monitored’ actually mean? Closely monitored by whom? Daily inspections by SNH? Police Scotland? That’s hardly going to happen, is it?

Let’s hope that members of the general public, exercising their right to visit these areas under open access legislation, pay close attention to what’s going on around them. If they see a Larsen trap in use, or a crow cage trap in use, or witness any of the above bird species being killed/taken by any of the methods mentioned above, they inform the Police straight away. Actually, let’s hope they forget the police and inform RSPB Scotland and/or the SSPCA instead – they’re more likely to get a quick response from them.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all pans out. On the one hand, we welcome these Restriction orders and applaud the Scottish Government (especially former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse for initiating them), SNH and Police Scotland for pursuing what we hope will be the first of many such Restriction orders. But on the other hand, will these restrictions be anything more than a minor inconvenience to the estates involved because they can simply apply for individual licences to continue their game-shooting activities? We’ll have to wait and see.

RSPB Scotland’s response to the two General Licence Restriction orders here

As yet no response from Scottish Land & Estates or the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association but we’ll post them here if/when they comment.

UPDATE 11.50hrs: The SGA has issued the following statement on their website:

On November 4th 2015, SNH announced general licence restrictions to two areas encompassing four properties.
The SGA has issued the following statement in response to questions.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “The SGA cannot condone wildlife crime and has a clear and consistent policy regarding this.
“As regards this case, it is our understanding that legal discussions are taking place regarding the areas affected and, therefore, it is not appropriate for us to comment further.”
END
UPDATE 13.20hrs: Statement from Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod:

“The announcement by SNH that the use of general licences has been restricted on specified areas of land in the Borders and in Stirlingshire is a result of work that the Scottish Government commissioned in July 2013 as part of a package of measures to combat wildlife crime.

We welcome the progress that has been made with this work. However we have not been involved in the decision-making and do not have any comment on the individual cases in question. The General Licence system is a light touch form of regulation. It is clearly sensible to apply closer scrutiny to areas where there is good evidence that wildlife crime has taken place, and we believe that this will prove a useful tool in the fight against bird of prey persecution.”

12
Mar
15

Leadhills Estate confirmed as member of Scottish Land & Estates

The Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in south Lanarkshire has featured regularly on this blog (see here).

Since 2003, 46 confirmed incidents of wildlife crime have been discovered either on or near to the estate, but only resulting in two successful convictions (2004 – gamekeeper convicted of shooting a short-eared owl; 2009 – gamekeeper convicted of laying out a poisoned rabbit bait). Here’s the list:

2003 April: hen harrier shot [prosecution failed – inadmissible evidence]

2003 April: hen harrier eggs destroyed [prosecution failed – inadmissible evidence]

2004 May: buzzard shot [no prosecution]

2004 May: short-eared owl shot [gamekeeper convicted]

2004 June: buzzard poisoned (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 June: 4 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 June: crow poisoned (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 February: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 April: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 February: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 March: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 April: dead buzzard (persecution method unknown) [no prosecution]

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 May: poisoned egg baits (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: poisoned raven (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: 6 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: poisoned egg bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 September: 5 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2007 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2007 April: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2007 May: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2008 October: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2008 October: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2008 November: 3 x poisoned ravens (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2009 March: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2009 March: poisoned raven (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2009 April: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [gamekeeper convicted]

2009 April: poisoned magpie (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2009 April: poisoned raven (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2010 October: short-eared owl shot [no prosecution]

2011 March: illegally-set clam trap [no prosecution]

2011 December: buzzard shot [no prosecution]

2012 October: golden eagle shot (just over boundary with Buccleuch Estate) [no prosecution]

2013 May: shot otter found on estate [no prosecution]

2013 June: significant cache of pre-prepared poisoned baits found on estate [no prosecution]

2013 August: red kite found shot and critically-injured in Leadhills village [no prosecution]

2014 February: poisoned peregrine (Carbofuran) [‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

For a long time, we’ve been trying to find out whether this estate is a member of the landowners’ organisation Scottish Land and Estates – an organisation that regularly claims to be fighting hard against raptor persecution. All our attempts to find out have been met with a wall of silence. We knew that Lord Hopetoun served on the SLE Board, so it was quite likely that his estate would be a member of SLE, but we weren’t able to find definitive evidence.

Well, we have now. Leadhills Estate has launched its own website (see here). It’s a spectacular example of how to conduct a public relations charm offensive – lots of info about how the estate is supporting the local community: providing a new home for the volunteer fire crew, lending a hand on Gala Day, engaging in a village clean-up for Christmas, and providing support for the Leadhills Miners Library. It brings a tear to the eye. There’s also plenty of encouragement for walkers to keep to the tracks so as not to disturb the wildlife – because Leadhills Estate really cares about wildlife.

Of most interest to us is a statement on the web site’s home page:

‘Leadhills Estate is a member of Scottish Land and Estates – an organisation which promotes the work of landowners and rural businesses undertake [sic] for the benefit of rural Scotland’.

Amazing. We’d love to hear how SLE justifies the membership of Leadhills Estate in their wildlife-crime-fighting organisation.

The Leadhills Estate website also includes a gallery showing images that visitors can expect to see when they visit this most welcoming of estates. Here’s another one for them – taken at one of many stink pits hidden away on Leadhills Estate (far from the tracks that visitors are encouraged to stick to). For those who don’t know, stink pits are used (legally) by gamekeepers in which to dump the rotting carcasses and entrails of dead wildlife. They set snares around the edge of the stink pit to catch (and then kill) any animals that may be attracted to the stench of death (typically foxes). This particular stink pit includes a few fox carcasses oh, and a cat. Nice, eh? Welcome to Leadhills Estate.

Leadhills dead cat stinkpit - Copy

 

 

16
Dec
14

New study suggests that killing crows is mostly pointless, most of the time

crows in trap Walter BaxterYesterday saw the publication of a new scientific research paper entitled: A review of the impacts of corvids on bird productivity and abundance. The paper is available for free download here.

If you want to skip over the technical details, the authors have helpfully issued a press release which provides a more general overview for the more casual reader. It reads as follows:

A MURDER OF CROWS?

They steal, raid nests, and keep the company of witches. But the unpopular crow may not be as big a menace as people think.

A new study has found that crows – along with their avian cousins the magpie and the raven – have surprisingly little impact on the abundance of other bird species.

Collectively known as corvids, these birds are in fact being menaced by mankind in the mistaken belief that removing them is good for conservation.

The new study was led by researchers at the University of Cape Town and published this week in the leading ornithological journal Ibis. It found that in the vast majority of cases (82 percent), corvids had no impact at all on their potential prey species.

“Many nature lovers have been distressed to witness a crow or magpie raiding the nests of their beloved garden songbirds, stealing their eggs or eating their defenceless chicks,” said study co-author Dr Arjun Amar from the Percy FitzPatrick Institute for Ornithology. “Although this predation is entirely natural, these observations can be upsetting to witness and often leave people wondering if these predators might be reducing bird numbers.”

“However, our global review suggests that we should be cautious before jumping to conclusions over the impacts these species may have. Just because a predator eats something occasionally does not always mean that they have an impact,” Dr Amar said.

The study, the first of its kind, reviewed all published evidence on whether predation by corvids actually reduces the overall breeding performance of birds or, more importantly from a conservation perspective, reduces their numbers. Data were collated from 42 studies of corvid predation conducted across the globe over the last sixty years.

Not only were corvids unlikely to have any impact on their potential prey species, if there was an impact it most often affected the breeding success of the prey species rather their subsequent numbers. Half of cases found that corvids reduced breeding success whereas less than 10% of cases found that they reduced prey numbers in the long term.

“These results have big implications for the likely benefits of corvid control,” Dr Amar said. “They suggest that killing corvids will be of most benefit to those interested in gamebird shooting rather than conservationists.” He added: “Bird hunters are usually most interested in increasing numbers of birds available to shoot immediately after the breeding season and this appears to be where corvids have most impact”. “Conservationists on the other hand, are usually interested in increasing a species population size and our results suggest that only in a very few cases did corvids have an influence on this aspect of their prey,” Dr Amar said.

The review analysed the impact of six corvid species on a variety of prey species including gamebirds, songbirds, waders, herons, cranes, sea birds, waterfowl and raptors. The 42 studies incorporated into the review included 326 cases of corvid – bird prey interaction Most of the data stemmed from field research in the UK, France and the United States. The impacts were determined partly by comparing bird counts before and after corvids were either removed or their numbers reduced.

The review also found large differences between the impacts of crows, historically considered the most ‘cunning’ corvid, and magpies which are sometimes killed by home owners hoping to protect songbirds in their gardens. Crow species were six times more likely to have an impact on bird prey species than Magpies.

Mistaken assumptions about corvid predation were possibly explained by the birds’ diurnal nature and the fact that they are conspicuous nest predators: “Their importance in prey population regulation is often assumed prior to any assessment of the evidence,” the study warned.

Chrissie Madden, the lead author on the paper, hoped that the review would challenge the perception that all corvids were bad, thereby preventing needless killing: “Our results suggest that this is a mistaken belief and that generally speaking people would be wasting their time killing corvids to increase bird numbers”.

“Overall therefore, our study points to the fact that we are often too quick to jump to the conclusion that crows and magpies may be the cause of bird population declines,” she said.

END

SNH logo 2The paper itself is an interesting bit of science, but of more interest (to us at least) is the potential application of the research results. Basically, this review paper has shown that in the vast majority of cases, corvids (including crows and ravens) have little effect on their prey populations, and thus this raises an important question about the validity (and legality) of Government-issued General Licences which allow the mass killing of corvids, supposedly for the purposes of ‘conserving wild birds’.

General Licences have long been an issue of concern to conservationists, and we have blogged about this a lot (e.g. see here & scroll down through the posts and links). General Licences are routinely used by gamekeepers and land managers for the largely unregulated practice of killing so-called ‘pest’ species, especially corvids, in Larsen traps, clam traps and crow cage traps, or by shooting them. However, General Licences are not permitted to be used to kill ‘pest’ species for the purposes of protecting surplus stocks of gamebirds, even though that is exactly what gamekeepers have been doing, although they don’t admit to that – they simply claim they are ‘controlling vermin’ to protect wild birds such as waders.

How will SNH deal with the results of this latest study, given the overwhelming evidence that corvid predation isn’t having a significant impact on wild bird species in the majority of cases?

Don’t expect a quick response from SNH. We are still waiting for them to deal with other concerns that have been raised about the use of General Licences, some of which were raised in a publication dating back 15 years:

dick-stronach-1999-use-abuse-misuse-of-crow-traps

Interestingly, SNH has recently announced that their suite of 2015 General Licences will shortly (this week) be published on their website, WITHOUT conducting a public consultation and WITHOUT any substantive changes to their 2014 licences. Robbie Kernahan (SNH licensing dept) said:

From our previous consultations and discussions on the GL suite, I think we have a good understanding of the key issues and your outstanding concerns relating to General Licences“.

So that’s ok then. SNH understands the key issues and concerns but has decided not to address them. Brilliant.

Although, they are apparently addressing one aspect of trap use and have been conducting a questionnaire survey of trap-users (see here). As we blogged at the time, asking trap-users for a truthful account of their activities is, frankly, ridiculous. We all saw quite graphically last week, with the conviction of gamekeeper George Mutch, how some of these trap-users are operating.

We’ll be re-visiting this topic in the New Year.

Photo of trapped corvids by Walter Baxter

21
May
14

SNH launches ‘independent’ (ahem) study into trap use

cage-trapThe long-awaited study into the use of corvid traps in Scotland has finally begun.

This research was first proposed in late 2012, following SNH’s controversial decision to permit the use of clam-type traps on the 2013 General Licences (see here for associated blog posts). There was much opposition to this inclusion, based on concerns that these traps are likely to cause unacceptable risks to non-target species (including raptors). SNH ignored the majority of respondents to a public consultation, who had called for research to be conducted BEFORE the traps were authorised; SNH decided to go ahead and allow the use of these traps and do the research AFTERWARDS.

Following a series of Parliamentary Questions in December 2012 about this decision, Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “We will commission objective research on these traps“. SNH then announced they would conduct ‘rigorous and independent’ tests.

SNH has now commissioned two organisations to conduct that ‘objective, rigorous and independent’ research. Those two organisations are Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).

We have no problem with SASA – they have no vested interests in the removal of predators to enhance the number of gamebirds available for shooting and therefore can be seen as being thoroughly independent on this topic. But GWCT? This is the organisation that has consistently petitioned for buzzards and sparrowhawks to be included on the General Licences (thus allowing them to be culled in the interests of game-shooting) and many of their Trustees are directly involved with game-shooting. Not what we’d call ‘independent’.

According to the SNH press release about this new study, the research will cover all the different types of traps that are currently licensed for use in Scotland (e.g. clam-type traps, Larsen traps, crow cage traps). That’s good – concerns about these traps and their use have been unresolved for many years. These include (but are not limited to) compliance (or not) with European environmental legislation; welfare concerns; poor trap design that allows indiscriminate species trapping; year-round use (as opposed to seasonal use); ineffective regulation of crow trap users; ineffective monitoring of crow trap use (i.e. number and species caught/killed); inability to identify an individual trap user (traps are registered to estates, not to individual users); and a lovely get-out clause for any General Licence user with an unspent criminal conviction. Will this new research address all of those concerns? We’ll have to wait and see.

The press release states that the first phase of the research involves a survey of trap users from the following organisations: British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), Scottish Land and Estates (SLE), GWCT, and National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS). Hmm. Does anybody believe that these users are going to admit to having caught a non-target species? Or admit to ‘accidentally’ injuring or killing a trapped non-target species? Given that it is widely accepted (even by the Environment Minister) that these traps are often used for the illegal persecution of raptors, how reliable will these survey results be?

Curiously, there’s no mention of other interest-groups being involved (e.g. RSPB, SSPCA, SRSG, OneKind) – all of whom have previously expressed concerns about how these traps are used – but hopefully that’s just an oversight in the wording of the press release and not an accurate reflection of their actual participation in the study.

Later stages of the study will apparently include ‘field studies of how different traps are used in practice’. We hope the final report will also include information about every single incident of illegal trap-use recorded in Scotland over the last five years, including incidents that resulted in the conviction of a gamekeeper and those cases that remain unresolved.

Download the SNH press release: General Licences – Trapping Project – May 2014 press release

UPDATE 13.40hrs: A previous study looking at the use, abuse and misuse of crow cage traps in Scotland was undertaken by the Scottish Raptor Study Groups and RSPB Scotland in 1998. It was published in 1999 in the journal Scottish Birds (Vol. 20, pages 6-13). Download it here: Dick & Stronach 1999 Use, Abuse & Misuse of Crow Traps

10
Jan
14

Latest measure to tackle raptor persecution now in place

Paul-Wheelhouse-MSP Last July, following a series of raptor persecution incidents, Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse announced his intention to introduce ‘further measures’ to tackle the ongoing problem (see here).

One of those measures has recently come in to force (as of 1st Jan 2014).

That measure is an enabling paragraph in some of the 2014 General Licences that says this:

SNH reserves the right to exclude the use of this General Licence by certain persons and/or on certain areas of land where we have reason to believe that wild birds have been taken or killed by such persons and/or on such land other than in accordance with this General Licence.

First of all, we applaud Paul Wheelhouse’s intentions, at least, and his determination to make sure this measure has been enacted. Good for him. However, as we blogged at the time, we really don’t see how this latest measure can be enforced (see here for our reasons).

For once, it seems that many of the game-shooting organisations are in agreement with us. Before SNH issued the 2014 General Licences, they had their usual consultation period and asked for comments about this new enabling paragraph, amongst other things (see here). They have just published those consultation responses and all the respondents from within the game-shooting lobby raised many of the same concerns as us.

So, even though this new measure is now in place, it is highly unlikely that it will ever be effectively deployed….a bit like the legislation relating to vicarious liability. We might be wrong, of course, but only time will tell.

In general terms, the 2014 General Licences are not much better than the 2013 General Licences in that many of the previous concerns raised (going back several years!) have still not been addressed. We’ve blogged about this a lot (e.g. see here, here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, here) and don’t intend to go over all the points again….not just yet, anyway. We understand that SNH is intending to organise further research in 2014 to address many of the concerns, although they said that when they issued the 2013 General Licences and yet here we are, another year gone by and we’re still waiting for that research.

While we wait, it’s worth you having a look at the responses to the 2014 General Licence consultation – especially the response from the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, who once again are asking for ‘quota systems’ for buzzards, ravens, pine martens and badgers.

Download the PDF here: Consultation responses to General Licences 2014

Naturally, we’ll be watching with interest to see whether SNH has cause to withdraw the use of the General Licences, on the basis that they have ‘reason to believe’ that wild birds have been illegally taken or killed. The enabling paragraph probably cannot be used retrospectively so we’ll just have to wait until we see the next incident of criminal activity, which probably won’t be too far off, and then we’ll see what happens.

 

13
Sep
13

supersize me

Check this out. It’s a giant supersized clam trap (also known as a Larsen Mate trap, a snapper trap and a butterfly trap) that was on sale at this summer’s Galloway Country Fair.

These traps are supposedly for catching crows.

Do you think the trap size has been increased from the standard size to allow the trapped victim more space to be comfortable before it’s bludgeoned to death by the trap operator? Or do you think the size has been increased to allow the capture of larger species…?

We’ve blogged a lot about these controversial traps over the last 12 months (see here and scroll down through the posts) and we’re likely to be blogging about them again before the end of the year as we await SNH’s proposed ‘Code of Conduct’ on trap use, likely to be published in November/December when the 2014 General Licences are announced…

supersized clam trap




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