Posts Tagged ‘crow trap

01
Apr
20

SNH issues new wildlife-killing licences in Scotland

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has issued its new General Licences today, which mostly focus on permitting the killing of some bird species under some circumstances, but there’s also a new General Licence (#14) with new rules on how stoats can be killed.

We blogged about the (then forthcoming) new General Licences for birds back in February (see here) when SNH published some information about the proposed changes.

Although this widespread killing is still mostly unmonitored, uncapped, too loosely regulated and the trap users generally unaccountable for their actions, some of the changes are to be welcomed, including 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) following legal challenges by Wild Justice south of the border.

We particularly welcome the new rule that individual bird trap operators must now register with SNH. Previously the General Licence conditions had stated that live-catch corvid traps (e.g. Larsen traps, Larsen mate traps and multi-catch crow cage traps) had to display an identification number of the trap owner, but this number did not identify an individual trap operator, only the owner, typically the landowner or sporting agent. So if an alleged breach/offence was detected, and the trap was located on a large grouse shooting estate where multiple gamekeepers were employed, it was virtually impossible for the Police to identify an individual suspect (and thus charge anyone) because the estate and gamekeepers simply closed ranks, offered a ‘no comment’ response and failed to identify the actual trap user. It’ll be interesting to see whether SNH knowing the identity of the trap operator will lead to successful prosecutions for mis-use.

[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]

However, even though there are some welcome changes in the new General Licences there are still many details in need of drastic improvement, not least the paucity of animal welfare considerations.

Late last year, Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform published a new report authored by coalition members OneKind and League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland) called Untold Suffering, which documented the scale and type of suffering endured by wildlife (and in some cases domestic pets) in various traps deployed on grouse moors.

Today, OneKind has written a blog about the animal welfare implications of the new General Licences for birds and is calling for a comprehensive welfare review (read the OneKind blog here).

Still on the subject of General Licences for birds, Wild Justice continues its legal challenge of the licences recently issued by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and has written two more blogs about the glaring errors that make those who sanctioned these licences look like fools (see here and here).

The newest General Licence in Scotland (#14) relates to the permitted killing of stoats for the conservation of wild birds or for prevention of serious damage to livestock. Natural England has also issued one and NRW is due to issue one today. This legislation has been in the pipeline for a few years as the UK has to now comply with the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards.

We don’t intend to go in to detail right now but the main point here is that stoat-killers are no longer permitted to use the Mark 4 Fenn (spring) trap for stoats, although apparently it is still a legal trap for rats and weasels as long as the conditions of the Springs Traps Approval Order are met. Instead, five new and apparently humane traps have been authorised by the new General Licence for killing stoats.

[The Mark 4 Fenn Trap is no longer permitted for catching stoats in the UK]

It’s not clear to us whether gamekeepers are still permitted to set the Mark 4 Fenn traps on the pretence of catching rats or weasels (but really still targeting stoats). If a stoat is captured will the trap operator be able to claim it as ‘accidental by-catch’? Or should the new legislation be interpreted in a way that gamekeepers should not set these traps in areas where the risk of catching stoats is high? And how would that risk be measured?

Time will tell, because inevitably there will be gamekeepers who will ignore the law and use these traps illegally, just as they’re still being used as illegal pole traps over one hundred years after pole-trapping was banned!

[A Mark 4 Fenn trap being used as an illegally-set pole trap, photo by RSPB]

 

16
Mar
20

General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate: some fascinating details

In November 2019, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire following ‘clear evidence from Police Scotland that wildlife crimes had been committed on this estate’ (see here, here, and here).

Those alleged offences included the ‘illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers’ that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 1 January 2014 (when SNH was first given powers to impose a General Licence restriction). SNH had also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests had also been disturbed’, although there was no further detail on this. The estate consistently denied responsibility.

[The shot short-eared owl that was found shoved under some heather on the Leadhills Estate grouse moor. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

In December 2019 Leadhills Estate appealed against SNH’s decision to impose the General Licence restriction (see here) but on 31 January 2020 SNH announced that it had rejected the estate’s appeal and the General Licence restriction still stood (see here).

We were really interested in the details of Leadhills Estate’s appeal so a freedom of information request was submitted to SNH to ask for the documents.

The information released by SNH in response is fascinating. Some material hasn’t been released due to what appear to be legitimate police concerns about the flow of intelligence about wildlife crime in the Leadhills area but what has been released provides a real insight to what goes on behind the scenes.

First up is an eight page rebuttal from Leadhills Estate’s lawyers about why it thinks SNH was “manifestly unfair” to impose the General Licence restriction.

Download it here: Leadhills Estate appeal against GL restriction decision

Next comes SNH’s six-page rejection of the estate’s appeal and the reasons for that rejection.

Download it here: SNH rejects Leadhills Estate appeal against GLrestriction

Prepare for some jaw-dropping correspondence from Leadhills Estate’s lawyers, including a discussion about how the raptor workers who found the hen harrier trapped by it’s leg in an illegally-set spring trap next to its nest last year ‘didn’t take steps to assist in the discovery of the suspect, which could have included placing a camera on the nest’.

Are they for real??!! Can you imagine the uproar, had those raptor workers placed a camera pointing at the nest and identified a suspect who was subsequently charged? We’ve all seen how that scenario plays out, with video evidence dismissed as ‘inadmissible’ and the game-shooting lobby leering about the court victory. That Leadhills Estate is now arguing that the failure of the raptor workers to install covert cameras is reason for the estate to avoid a penalty is simply astonishing, although the next time covert video evidence is challenged in a Scottish court it’ll be useful to be able to refer to this estate’s view that such action would be deemed reasonable. Apart from anything else though, those raptor workers were too busy trying to rescue that severely distressed hen harrier from an illegally-set trap:

[The illegally trapped hen harrier. Photo by Scottish Raptor Study Group]

Other gems to be found within this correspondence include the news that a container of an illegal pesticide (Carbosulfan) was found on Leadhills Estate in May 2019 and contributed to SNH’s decision to impose the General Licence restriction (this information has not previously been made public – why not?) and that during a police search of the estate (sometime in 2019 but the actual date has been redacted) the police seized some traps. The details of why those traps were seized has also been redacted but SNH write, ‘Although this in itself does not establish criminality it certainly adds weight to our “loss of confidence” [in the estate]’.

The Estate claims that the alleged impartiality of the witnesses should have some bearing on proceedings but SNH bats this away with ease, saying that the evidence on which the restriction decision was made was provided by Police Scotland and that the partiality of witnesses has not been identified as a significant factor of concern for the police, and thus not for SNH either.

It’s also amusing to see the estate claim ‘full cooperation’ by the estate with police enquiries. SNH points out that this so-called ‘full cooperation’ was actually largely limited to “no comment” interviews!

We don’t get to say this very often but hats off to SNH for treating the estate’s appeal with the disdain which, in our opinion, it thoroughly deserves.

Meanwhile, following SNH’s decision in January to uphold the General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate due to ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime, we’re still waiting for Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) to respond to our enquiries about whether Leadhills Estate is still a member and whether Lord Hopetoun of Leadhills Estate is still Chairman of SLE’s Scottish Moorland Group.

 

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

02
Dec
19

SNH explains decision to impose General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate

Further to last week’s news that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has finally imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire (see here and here), there is now an explanation, of sorts, from SNH on the decision to issue the restriction notice.

It wasn’t just one alleged incident of illegal raptor persecution that triggered this sanction, but a series of them.

Well done to journalist Charlie Parker at The Times (Scotland) for getting the information.

According to Charlie’s article, SNH’s decision was based on “clear evidence” of the ‘illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers’ that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 1 January 2014 (when SNH was given the power to impose a General Licence restriction on estates or individuals in Scotland). SNH has also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests have also been disturbed’, although there is no further detail on this.

An unnamed SNH spokesperson is quoted in the article as follows:

The police have investigated each of these cases and while it is very clear that offences have been committed, as is often the case with these types of crime it hasn’t been possible to gather the evidence to identify the person responsible.

There is also similar historic evidence of incidents on this property pre-dating the incidents, although SNH’s decision is based on incidents which occurred since January 1, 2014“.

Most of the incidents listed by SNH have been well publicised –

However, the alleged incident relating to a third hen harrier is less clear. SNH may be referring to the discovery in 2015 of a satellite-tagged hen harrier called Annie who had been shot, although her corpse was found on a neighbouring estate, not on Leadhills Estate. Or, perhaps there is another alleged incident relating to the shooting or trapping of a hen harrier on Leadhills Estate that has yet to be publicised? Time will tell.

There are two more quotes in The Times article that are worth a mention. First, one from Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations, RSPB Scotland) who said Leadhills Estate had a “long and appalling history” of confirmed raptor persecution incidents and,

While this sanction is positive news, it is becoming increasingly clear that the threat of such a penalty is no deterrent to those whose sole motivation is the maximising of grouse numbers. Until sporting estates face the potential removal of the right to shoot, we do not believe there is a sufficient deterrent to those who continue to slaughter our birds of prey.

Meanwhile, an unnamed spokesperson for Leadhills Estate is quoted as follows:

The decision to restrict the general licence does make clear it is not inferring any criminal activity on the part of the estate. The estate condemns all forms of wildlife crime and all employees and agents of the estate are in no doubt as to their responsibilities“.

It’s our understanding that the General Licence restriction ‘does not infer any responsibility for the commission of crimes on any individuals‘ This is the exact wording from SNH’s restriction notice (see here). This statement is not the same as the one being claimed by Leadhills Estate, which argues that the restriction ‘is not inferring any criminal activity on the part of the estate’.

This sounds like real twilight zone material. SNH is holding the estate to account by imposing a sanction for alleged wildlife crimes because there is insufficient evidence to attribute the activity to an individual estate employee and the estate is saying that SNH’s decision to impose the sanction doesn’t infer any responsibility on the estate. Er….

All clear?

More to come on the Leadhills Estate case soon…

 

29
Nov
19

General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate: welcome to the Twilight Zone

Earlier this week it was announced that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) had finally imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire ‘on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds’ (see here).

Before we proceed any further you should be aware that you are now entering the twilight zone, suspended somewhere between reality and fantasy.

[Leadhills Estate, photo by Ruth Tingay]

We’re in that bonkers scenario where despite Police Scotland providing “clear evidence that wildlife crimes have been committed on this property” (according to Nick Halfhide of SNH), the imposition of the General Licence restriction “does not infer responsibility for the commission of crimes on any individuals“. This leaves us on wafer-thin legal ice, not able to state what to us is the bleedin’ obvious for fear of a defamation claim, even though the original intention of Scottish Ministers was to use a General Licence restriction as a “reputational driver“.

General Licence restrictions have been available to SNH (although rarely used) since 1 January 2014, introduced by then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to continuing difficulties securing criminal prosecutions for those people still killing birds of prey. Paul instructed SNH to withdraw the use of General Licences (available for legal predator control) on land where crimes against raptors are believed to have taken place but where there was insufficient evidence to instigate criminal proceedings. The decision to withdraw the licence is based on a civil standard of proof which relates to the balance of probability as opposed to the higher standard of proof required for a criminal conviction.

A General Licence restriction is not without its limitations, and has even been described as farcical, particularly as estates can simply apply for an individual licence instead which allows them to continue predator control activities but under slightly closer scrutiny.

The Leadhills Estate and the surrounding area has been at the centre of wildlife crime investigations for decades. According to RSPB Scotland there have been over 60 confirmed raptor persecution incidents uncovered here, but only two successful prosecutions: a gamekeeper convicted for shooting a short-eared owl in 2004 and a gamekeeper convicted for laying poisoned baits out on the moor in 2009.

There have been a number of reported wildlife crimes here in recent years but because SNH isn’t keen on transparency, we don’t know which ones triggered the decision to impose the General Licence restriction. Was it the alleged witnessed shooting of a hen harrier in May 2017; the alleged witnessed shooting of a short-eared owl just a few weeks later and whose body was recovered; the discovery of a buzzard in 2018 that was found to have been shot twice; the filmed buzzard that according to the RSPB was likely killed in a crow trap in January 2019, or was it the discovery of a male hen harrier in May 2019 whose leg was almost severed by an illegally-set trap next to its nest?

We do know, from SNH’s press statement, that SNH believes “there is clear evidence that wildlife crimes have been committed on this property……” which sounds like multiple incidents have informed SNH’s decision to impose the restriction:

And because this is the twilight zone we also need to draw to your attention the Estate’s outright denials of any involvement in any of these alleged crimes – we particularly liked this one, in response to the illegally-trapped hen harrier earlier this year. Bless those little gamekeepers, finding it “very difficult” to cope with repeated crimes carried out by ‘unknown third parties’.

It’s probably just kids in stolen vehicles, right? Riding around the estate in 4 x 4s or on quad bikes, firing shotguns at protected wildlife. Let’s face it, who else would have vehicular access, firearms and a motive for wanting to kill birds of prey? Nope, nobody that we can think of.

Here is a copy of SNH’s restriction notice for Leadhills Estate, for the record:

We’ve got a lot more to say about this particular General Licence restriction but we’ll have to come back to it, hopefully within a few days. There are all sorts of interesting aspects to explore……

UPDATE 2 December 2019: SNH explains decision to impose General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate (here)

26
Nov
19

SNH imposes General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate

Press release from SNH (26 Nov 2019)

General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has restricted the use of general licences on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire this week. The decision was made on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

[Chris Packham holding a dead hen harrier that had been caught in an illegally-set spring trap next to its nest on Leadhills Estate earlier this year. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

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.

Nick Halfhide, SNH’s Director of Sustainable Growth, said: “There is clear evidence that wildlife crimes have been committed on this property. Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the general licences on this property for three years. They may though still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

This measure will 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.”

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

See the full licence restrictions details at https://www.nature.scot/general-licences-birds-restrictions

ENDS

As you might expect, we have a lot to say about this news, following on from last month’s blog about it (here).

We’ll be blogging in much more detail tomorrow but for now, our initial reaction to this news is, ‘Too little, too late’.

UPDATE 29 November 2019: General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate: welcome to the twilight zone (here)

UPDATE 2 December 2019: SNH explains decision to impose General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate (here)

UPDATE 12 December 2019: SNH reinstates General Licence use on Leadhills Estate during appeals process (here)

UPDATE 9 January 2020: Decision due on General Licence restriction for Leadhills Estate (here)

22
Oct
19

Is SNH about to impose a General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate?

Last week RSPB Scotland published a blog called ‘Why vicarious liability is failing to have an impact in Scotland‘.

Written by Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species & Land Management, it’s the latest in a series, following on from the excellent blog challenging the Scottish Gamekeepers’ ignorance on satellite tags, written by Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland.

Duncan’s blog is well worth a read. It questions the Crown Office’s recent decision not to prosecute anyone for alleged vicarious liability following the conviction of Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson for a series of barbaric wildlife crimes on the Longformacus Estate in the Scottish Borders.

It also considers the potential benefits of having the threat of a vicarious liability prosecution, and how this may have driven down the use of illegal poisons as a method of killing raptors, but been replaced by shooting and trapping methods which are much harder to detect.

The really interesting part of the blog, as far as we’re concerned, is the section on the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire. Blog readers will recall this is where a male hen harrier was found with an almost severed leg caught in an illegally-set spring trap next to his nest earlier this summer. Despite the heroic efforts of a number of experts, he didn’t survive. The estate denied all knowledge and responsibility and nobody has been charged.

[The trapped hen harrier found on Leadhills Estate. Photo by Scottish Raptor Study Group]

Regular blog readers will know this poor hen harrier is not the only victim reported from the Leadhills Estate. The list is long and goes back more than a decade (e.g. scroll down this page). Duncan’s blog discusses some of the most recent incidents including the witnessed shooting of a hen harrier in May 2017; the witnessed shooting of a short-eared owl just a few weeks later and whose body was recovered; the discovery of a buzzard in 2018 that was found to have been shot twice; and the filmed buzzard that according to the RSPB was likely killed in a crow trap in January 2019.

Nobody has been charged for any of the above, but significantly, Duncan’s blog says this:

“We are advised that only now is an Open General Licence restriction, another sanction in the public authority wildlife crime “toolbox”, to be imposed here”.

SNH has had the power to impose General Licence restrictions since 1 January 2014. This was instigated by former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to continuing difficulties of securing criminal prosecutions and was an instruction to SNH to withdraw the use of the General Licence (available for legal predator control) on land where crimes against raptors are believed to have taken place but where there is insufficient evidence to instigate criminal proceedings. The decision to withdraw the licence is based on the civil standard of proof which relates to the balance of probability as opposed to the higher standard of proof required for a criminal conviction.

This measure is not without its limitations, particularly as estates can simply apply for an individual licence instead which allows them to continue predator control activities but under slightly closer scrutiny.

SNH has only imposed four such restrictions since 2014 – a pathetically small figure when we are aware of at least a dozen other cases where a restriction should have been applied. SNH has claimed it is ‘not in the public interest‘ to explain those failures.

We’ve looked on the SNH website to see whether Leadhills Estate has been listed as having a General Licence restriction imposed (SNH does publicise the details when it imposes the restriction) but so far Leadhills Estate is not named. Potentially the estate has been notified and is currently in the period where it may challenge SNH’s decision, as per the framework for a General Licence restriction.

Watch this space.

UPDATE 26 November 2019: SNH imposes General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate (here)




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