Posts Tagged ‘crow trap

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)

06
Sep
19

What happened to this buzzard, caught in a trap on Leadhills Estate?

This buzzard was caught inside a crow cage trap on the Leadhills Estate in January 2019. It isn’t illegal to catch a buzzard in this sort of trap – it’s seen as accidental by-catch – but it is illegal for the trap operator not to release it immediately upon discovery and it’s also illegal to not check the trap at least once within every 24 hour period.

The trap, which was padlocked so was inaccessible to anyone without a key, was being filmed covertly by RSPB Scotland and their camera captured some interesting goings on in the night, with ‘somebody’ (unidentified, natch) rocking up on a quad bike, entering the padlocked trap, appearing to strike at something on the ground, removing something from the trap, and then driving off. As the cameras continued to roll, at dawn it became apparent that the buzzard was no longer in the trap.

Watch the video here:

According to a detailed blog (here) written by RSPB Scotland Head of Investigations Ian Thomson, there were at least two 24 hour periods where the trap was not checked by the trap operator, but despite a Police Scotland investigation, the trap operator could not be identified (presumably because the estate refused to divulge that information).

Nobody has been charged with anything relating to the operation of this trap.

Just as nobody has been charged for the witnessed shooting of a hen harrier on this estate in 2017 (here), or for the witnessed shooting of a short-eared owl on this estate in 2017 (here), or for the shooting of a buzzard found on this estate in 2018 (here), or for the savagely barbaric trapping of a hen harrier on this estate a couple of months ago (here). In fact, according to the RSPB, there have been a total of 72 confirmed raptor persecution incidents recorded on this estate since 2003 and only two of them have resulted in a successful prosecution.

Not only have there been no charges brought, but no civil sanctions either, such as a restriction on the use of the General Licence, which SNH has had the authority to impose since 1 January 2014 if there is sufficient evidence (from Police Scotland) that wildlife crimes have taken place but insufficient evidence to secure a criminal prosecution.

Great, isn’t it?

16
Sep
18

Police caution ’employee’ for illegally-set trap on Chargot Estate, Exmoor National Park

There was an interesting article published in the Somerset County Gazette at the end of August (here), announcing that the police had cautioned an ’employee’ of the Chargot Estate (in the Exmoor National Park) for animal welfare offences.

This case involved an illegally-set crow cage trap that had been covertly filmed by investigators from Animal Aid in May and June this year. During a period of 44.5hrs of continuous filming, the trap was visted four times by an unnamed individual. However, the trap was illegally-set because although it was baited with food, there was no provision for water, shelter or perches for the trapped birds, and it was also being operated unlawfully because the trapped pheasant (a non-target species) should have been immediately released when discovered – these are all breaches of the General Licence.

[Photo of the illegally-set trap, by Animal Aid]

The Animal Aid investigators gave the footage to the police who then cautioned an estate employee. According to Animal Aid’s version of events (here), this individual was a gamekeeper. But according to a quote in the Somerset County Gazette from the Chargot Estate Managing Director Gwyn Evans:

I do not condone what the employee has done; he has been disciplined. The employee in question is not a gamekeeper, he is a farm worker, and was acting in his own time without the knowledge of the estate.

Hmm. That’s hard to believe. But let’s assume for a minute that the person operating this trap during that period was an unauthorised farmworker. Are we honestly expected to believe that none of the estate’s gamekeepers (and according to this sales briefing from Oct 2017 the estate employs five of them full time) or any other estate employee didn’t notice this trap being used? It’s not exactly inconspicuous, is it? And even if the trap was the responsibility of one of those gamekeepers but it wasn’t supposed to be in use, that gamekeeper has also breached the conditions of the General Licence because when a trap isn’t in use it is supposed to be rendered incapable of holding or catching birds or other animals by either securing the door fully open or removing it all together.

Apart from the all too familiar question ‘Why did the police decide to caution, not prosecute?’ for blatant trap misuse, there are wider implications from this case.

The Chargot Estate, often referred to as ‘iconic’ and ‘prestigious’, is listed on the Guns on Pegs website (a ‘shoot-finding’ service) as being ‘proud to be a ‘BGA assured shoot’:

The BGA is the recently-established British Game Alliance, a desperate attempt by the game shooting industry to be seen to be self-regulating and demonstrating best practice. We’ve blogged about it recently as it hasn’t got off to the best start (see here and here).

We checked to see whether Chargot was actually listed as a BGA member, and yes, it is:

And here’s what the BGA says about its criteria for accepting shoots as a BGA member:

So according to the BGA, all its members have agreed to abide by the BGA’s Shoot Standards and ‘are leading the way with a forward-thinking approach and should be praised as early adopters of self-regulation‘.

Here’s what those BGA shoot standards say about the use of traps:

So according to the BGA’s own terms and conditions, the Chargot shoot has not adhered to the law on trapping. Does that mean Chargot’s membership of the BGA will now be revoked? Probably not, because if you look at #19 of the BGA’s shoot standards, it says shoots will be expelled and their membership revoked ‘where a shoot or its employees are successfully prosecuted for wildlife crimes‘.

In this case, not only could the estate argue that the individual who received the police caution was not a ‘shoot employee’ (because they claim he was a farmworker), but also the employee was not prosecuted – the police chose to issue a caution instead.

Loopholes, eh? If there’s one to be found, you can always rely upon the game-shooting industry to exploit it.

It remains to be seen whether the British Game Alliance will take any action against the Chargot shoot or whether it’ll just turn a blind eye and allow Chargot to continue to enjoy the benefits of being listed as a member.

Along with several other questionable BGA member shoots, Chargot is feted as ‘having demonstrated high standards through best practice in all areas from animal welfare to game handling’ even though it’s been at the centre of a police investigation for wildlife crime / animal welfare offences resulting in an employee receiving a police caution.

Is this a ‘credible assurance scheme‘, as the British Game Alliance claims? Clearly not.

27
Oct
17

Scottish gamekeepers complain about alleged escalation of trap vandalism

The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association is today complaining about an alleged escalation in the vandalism of animal traps on shooting estates.

This supposed increase has been attributed to ‘activists’ and the SGA wants the law tightened up so that the alleged perpertrators can be prosecuted.

There’s widespread media coverage about it today e.g. in The National (here), The Times (here) and on the SGA website (here).

Photo of an allegedly vandalised trap (from The National)

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard such claims. Back in 2013 it was discussed during a Rural Affairs Parliamentary Committee meeting, when then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse acknowledged that trap tampering might be taking place but that there was no hard evidence to show how widespread the problem might be so at that time it was considered all conjecture.

In 2015 the issue was raised again by a Fife landowner and an article in the local press suggested that “Police Scotland is reporting a rise in the number of traps being tampered with“.

We challenged that claim by looking at the results of a year-long trap tampering study carried out across Scotland by BASC between April 2014 and March 2015. The results showed that the issue was not widespread at all, but seemed to centre on a handful of local areas.

Whether the problem has increased since then is hard to tell without independently collected data. The problem might have increased. It’s not hard to understand the motivation that might lead to someone damaging a trap. It might be on animal welfare grounds (someone might see a non-target species dead in a trap). It might be because someone can’t tell whether a trap is legally or illegally-set – it’s not always easy to judge. It might be because someone objects to predator control just to maximise a landowner’s profits. Or the motivation might simply be because so many cases of illegally-set traps rarely result in a prosecution, even when a known gamekeeper has been filmed setting an illegal trap. That doesn’t make trap vandalism ‘right’, we’re just saying it’s easy to understand why it might be happening.

Photo of a young red grouse killed by a lawfully-set trap (photo by RPUK)

It’s equally plausible to suggest that some gamekeepers may be deliberately vandalising one or two of their own traps and then reporting it to the police as the work of ‘activists’ in an attempt to smear those whose campaign to put game-shooting under political scrutiny is gaining such traction.

Whatever might be happening, it’s ironic that the SGA doesn’t make this much noise when cases of illegally-set traps on game-shooting estates are reported in the media.

It’s very hard (virtually impossible) for us to sympathise with the SGA when it remains silent (or concocts outlandish alternative explanations) about the on-going abuse and use of illegal traps, by gamekeepers, to target birds of prey on game-shooting estates.

Speaking of which, we’re still waiting for the findings of the SGA’s inquiries in to who set the illegal traps that were discovered on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate last year.




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