Posts Tagged ‘gamekeeper


Seriously? Supt Nick Lyall’s integrity challenged by pro-game shooting groups!

This is quite spectacular.

Further to yesterday’s blog (here) where it was revealed the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation had formally resigned from the DEFRA group established to tackle illegal raptor persecution (the RPPDG – Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group), there’s a piece in today’s edition of The Times explaining the gamekeepers’ decision, and also explaining why some of the other game-shooting organisations had boycotted last Wednesday’s RPPDG meeting. It has to be read to be believed:

Let’s start with the resignation of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation first. It says it resigned from the RPPDG because it has “lost faith in the integrity” of the new Chair, Police Supt Nick Lyall.

Oh god, the irony.

And what had Nick Lyall done to earn such a slur?

Had he ignored the NGO? Nope.

Had he excluded them from RPPDG planning discussions? Nope.

Had he dismissed the NGO’s ideas without a second thought? Nope.

Had he slagged off the NGO in public? Nope.

It turns out Nick’s integrity was apparently compromised (according to the gamekeepers) when he invited representatives from the Wildlife Trusts, the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and Birders Against Wildlife Crime to join the RPPDG! Seriously, that’s it!

And what of the Moorland Association, BASC and the Countryside Alliance (and apparently the Country Land and Business Association)? Why did these pro-game shooting groups boycott last week’s RPPDG meeting? According to this article they complained that the RPPDG “favoured anti-shooting groups”. That’s bloody hilarious. The RPPDG has been top heavy with pro-game shooting representatives ever since the group started (hence no progress on tackling wildlife crime after all these years) but now that a few conservation organisations have been invited to the table to join the discussions, the shooting groups feel it’s all a bit unfair and unbalanced? You couldn’t make this up.

Oh, and they’re also a bit upset (“betrayed”?!) because our research revealed that the Moorland Association had been asking about licences to kill Marsh harriers at a previous RPPDG meeting, even though the majority of RPPDG attendees ‘couldn’t remember’ this discussion (see here).

The quotes at the end of the article are indicative of just how easily these organisations can churn out meaningless soundbites. BASC says it is “committed to constructive dialogue with all sides…..” and Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association says she was ‘committed to tackling the issue’.

Er, how does that work if you’ve boycotted a meeting where discussions took place on how to tackle illegal raptor persecution?

Nick Lyall’s quote reveals his integrity is fully intact. “I am a new chair, with new and fresh ideas that require the involvement of all members of the group, new and old, to pull together to deliver”.

We’re looking forward to finding out what happens at the next RPPDG meeting, scheduled for April. As we said yesterday, this will be a real test of Nick’s leadership skills. If those raptor-hating groups are still boycotting the RPPDG on such spurious grounds and are still intent on disrupting the progress of the RPPDG, they need to be booted off with immediate effect, no more messing about.

UPDATE 21 January 2019: Back-pedalling BASC? (here)

UPDATE 21 January 2019: National Gamekeepers’ Organisation resignation letter in full (here)


Gamekeepers resign from DEFRA group established to tackle illegal raptor persecution

The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) has formally resigned from the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) because it ‘doesn’t like the direction of travel’ of the group.

Regular blog readers will be familiar with the RPPDG but for the benefit of new readers, here’s a quick recap. The RPPDG was established in 2011, a so-called ‘partnership’ between the police, representatives from the game-shooting industry (e.g. National Gamekeepers Organisation, Moorland Association, BASC, Countryside Alliance etc), and representatives from the raptor conservation community (RSPB, Northern England Raptor Forum), along with some government agency reps from Natural England, DEFRA, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and the Welsh Government. It was tasked with the ‘delivery’ of action against the raptor killers in England & Wales (in Scotland the ‘delivery’ group is the PAW Raptor Group).

It would be fair to say we’ve been highly critical of the RPPDG over the years, and justifiably so. Until recently, this has been a partnership in name only, which has been useful for certain organisations and DEFRA Ministers to hide behind on the pretence of tackling illegal raptor persecution but the stark reality is that the RPPDG has contributed absolutely nothing of value towards the conservation of UK raptors in all the years it’s been operating, largely because the group’s membership has been dominated by representatives of the game-shooting industry (i.e. the industry most responsible for the continued illegal killing of birds of prey).

The RPPDG has been secretive, unaccountable and has suffered from a chronic lack of leadership, as evidenced recently when we blogged about how the group had deliberately produced apparently inaccurate and contested minutes relating to the Moorland Association’s interest in obtaining licences to kill Marsh harriers to stop these birds allegedly ‘disrupting’ shoot days on driven grouse moors.

In September 2018 Police Superintendent Nick Lyall took over the role of the RPPDG Chair and this led to cautious optimism amongst conservationists. Open, inclusive, hard-working, transparent and willing to be held to account, Nick Lyall brings everything to the RPPDG table that has previously been missing. Last month he blogged in more detail about his plans (here) and the first RPPDG meeting with Nick as Chair took place last Wednesday (16 Jan 2019).

This was an important agenda-setting meeting, as for the first time, at Nick’s invitation, it included representatives from the wider conservation community. However, interestingly, four long-standing RPPDG members didn’t turn up for that meeting – the Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, Countryside Alliance and BASC – as reported by Mark Avery (here), and there was much speculation on social media about why those four members chose to boycott the meeting.

Well now we know why at least one of them made that decision. The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation has since formally resigned from the RPPDG, and, interestingly, a copy of its resignation letter has been leaked to The Times and we believe this is due to be published tomorrow, quite possibly in an attempt to undermine Nick Lyall’s integrity and credibility.

It’s our understanding that the gamekeepers are ‘unhappy with the direction of travel’ of the RPPDG under Nick Lyall’s leadership. That would be an interesting position, given that all Nick Lyall has done is focus his efforts on getting the RPPDG in to a position where it can actually tackle illegal raptor persecution, which is, after all, er, the purpose of the RPPDG. If you’re representing an organisation that is purportedly dedicated to tackling the illegal killing of birds of prey, what’s to dislike about that?!

As for the other three groups who chose not to attend Wednesday’s meeting, we’re waiting to hear what they’ll do in the longer term. We understand they are ‘considering their positions’. Will they behave like the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and boycott future meetings but still maintain their membership of the PAW Raptor Group, picking and choosing their own terms of engagement? Hopefully Nick Lyall won’t permit that to happen. Group members should either be committed to participating in full or they should be booted off;  they must not be allowed to disrupt progress from a distance. Strong leadership will be required and it’ll be Nick Lyall’s first real test if that’s the scenario presented to him.

But surely the Moorland Association, with its recent statements about “working together constructively” and its support of “widespread collaboration” (see here) won’t walk away from an opportunity to tackle the rampant criminality within the grouse shooting industry, right?

UPDATE 21 January 2019: Seriously? Supt Nick Lyall’s integrity challenged by pro-game shooting groups! (here).

UPDATE 21 January 2019: Back-pedalling, BASC? (here).

UPDATE 21 January 2019: National Gamekeepers’ Organisation resignation letter in full (here)


Are raptor-killing licences on the cards for gamekeepers in Scotland?

Rumours are circulating that licences to kill raptors (in order to protect ‘livestock’, i.e. pheasants & partridge poults) are being considered in Scotland.

It must be stressed that these are only rumours, but based on the sources, we’re treating them seriously.

Separate to these rumours, and perhaps more than coincidentally, Alex Hogg’s editorial piece in the latest edition (Dec 2018) of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s quarterly rag for its members focuses strongly on raptor-killing licences – something he claims would lessen the likelihood of gamekeepers “making bad decisions when it comes to raptors” (he means committing wildlife crimes).

Here’s the article – see what you think:

The timing and content of his editorial may well just be coincidental; it’s not like he and his sorry-arsed organisation haven’t been lobbying to be allowed to kill raptors for years. For example, here he is in 2010 bemoaning the impact of buzzards on his pheasant shoot, although he goes further and makes the totally unsubstantiated claim that “biodiversity is seriously threatened in Scotland by buzzards” but then later contradicts this claim when he argues that licences would only be needed to kill “a few rogue buzzards“.

But it’s not just Alex’s editorial that has raised our antennae. In December, licensing authority SNH sent around the following email about the 2019 General Licences, saying that a consultation is planned this spring, in readiness for its 2020 General Licences:

Hmm. Another coincidence? Perhaps, or could this be a planned ‘sweetner’ for the gamekeepers in anticipation that the Werritty Review will recommend licensing for grouse shooting estates when it reports later this spring?

We wouldn’t put it past the Scottish Government to try something like this – it pulled a similar trick when the Werritty Review was first announced in May 2017 by revealing that it would not consider giving additional investigative powers to the SSPCA to help tackle illegal raptor persecution (see here).

If issuing gamekeepers with licences to kill raptors is planned, it’s going to be pretty hard for the Scottish Government to defend such an action in this context. The Werritty Review was set up to examine grouse moor management precisely because of the ongoing issue of illegal raptor persecution; evidence of which Professor Werritty himself concluded was “compelling and shocking“. If the Scottish Government decides to address these crimes by simply legalising the killing of raptors by gamekeepers, it will undoubtedly face a serious backlash from the public and potentially a number of legal challenges.

Watch this space.

UPDATE 10.30hrs: SNH emailed us today and requested we post the following statement –

This is not true – we are not changing our policy towards licensing raptor control. We consult on General Licences on a regular basis; this is not new“.

We’ll be revisiting this statement, and this issue, in the very near future.


Trial begins for (now ex) Head Gamekeeper of Edradynate Estate

The long-awaited trial of Edradynate Estate’s now former Head Gamekeeper began today at Perth Sheriff Court.

David Campbell, 69, denies that between 14 and 16 April 2017 at Edradynate Estate he maliciously damaged game crops by spraying them with an unknown substance which caused them to rot and perish.

At the time of the alleged offences, Campbell was no longer an employee of the estate, having worked there since 1983 but after falling out with the landowner, millionaire city financier Michael Campbell (no relation), his employment was terminated in February 2017. Michael Campbell told the court today that he believed his former employee had caused the damage ‘in revenge’.

There’s an interesting write-up of today’s proceedings here, revealing an exceptionally close working relationship between David and Michael Campbell over the years.

[RPUK map showing location of Edradynate Estate in Highland Perthshire]

[RPUK photo of the entrance to the estate]

It might seem odd that we’re reporting on this case, and although we can’t explain that decision while this trial is on-going, all will become clear in due course.

We understand the current trial against David Campbell is due to continue on 22 January 2019.

PLEASE NOTE: We’re not accepting comments on this case until the trial concludes. Thanks.


Has this convicted gamekeeper had his shotgun/firearms certs revoked yet?

You’ll remember Timothy Cowin. He’s the gamekeeper who was convicted this summer for the illegal killing of two short-eared owls on the Whernside Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here).

Cowin’s criminal activities were captured on camera by the RSPB Investigations Team, whose extraordinary footage also included a chase across the moor, his dramatic arrest, and then the meticulous police search to find the corpses of the owls (they’d been shot and stamped on before one was hidden in a drystone wall and the other stamped in to the peat).

One of our blog readers sent us this screengrab from Facebook earlier this week, showing Cowin’s Bonfire Night effigies, including one that appears to represent an RSPB Investigator and another one revealing some racist xenophobic tendencies judging by the text on the guy’s t-shirt. Note the comment made by Mr Cowin to the right of the photo:

We’re wondering whether Cumbria Constabulary has revoked Mr Cowin’s shotgun and firearms certificates yet? And if not, why not? Somebody already convicted of a sadistic violent crime against two defenceless owls, showing no sign of remorse, is hardly someone of ‘sound mind and temperate habits’.

If you read the Home Office guidelines on how the police should assess the suitability of a person to be entrusted with a firearm, it seems pretty clear: Guide-on-Firearms-Licensing-Law-2012-13-Suitability

It’s even clearer when you look at this infographic produced by Firearms UK, an organisation dedicated to promoting and protecting firearms ownership:

We haven’t heard whether Cumbria Constabulary has made a decision on Mr Cowin’s suitability to own shotgun and firearms certificates but we’ll certainly be asking them about it….


RSPB’s 2017 Birdcrime report documents ongoing illegal raptor persecution

The RSPB published its 2017 Birdcrime Report yesterday. It didn’t contain any surprises – we all know that crimes against birds of prey continued in 2017, and that these were largely associated with game-shooting estates.

The online report can be read here

The very useful appendices (actual data) can be accessed here

The RSPB’s interactive map hub (showing the spatial pattern of raptor crime) can be accessed here

We were particularly interested in the Scotland data, which amounted to just five confirmed, detected raptor persecution crimes. Quite obviously, this is just the tip of a large iceberg and is an indication of just how good the raptor killers have become at hiding the evidence of their crimes rather than an accurate reflection of the extent of ongoing raptor persecution – a fact recently acknowledged by Police Scotland (see here).

We know from the recent national survey results for three iconic species (golden eagle, hen harrier, peregrine) that illegal persecution continues to suppress the populations of all three species in areas where the land is dominated for driven grouse shooting. We also know from the ongoing studies of satellite-tagged golden eagles, white-tailed eagles and hen harriers that these birds continue to ‘vanish’ in the same grouse moor areas. Unfortunately these cases don’t make it in to the official wildlife crime stats although both the police and the Scottish Government have acknowledged that they are indicative of criminality, hence the current Government-commissioned Werritty review in to grouse moor management.

Of the five confirmed cases of illegal raptor persecution in Scotland last year, two were linked to the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in South Lanarkshire – the witnessed shooting of a hen harrier in May 2017 (here) and then a few weeks later the witnessed shooting of a short-eared owl (here). The crumpled body of the shot short-eared owl was retrieved from a ditch the following day and the RSPB sent it off for post mortem, which confirmed it had been shot, causing multiple fractures to its wing, leg, foot, ribs and skull.

[The short-eared owl shot on Leadhills Estate, photo by RSPB]

The police investigated both cases but no prosecutions followed. Earlier this year, a dead buzzard was found at Leadhills and it too had been shot but yet again, nobody was prosecuted (here).

For those familiar with the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate this will come as no surprise – there have been over 50 reported cases of raptor persecution crimes on or close to this estate since 2003 and of those, only two have resulted in a conviction (gamekeeper convicted in 2004 for shooting a short-eared owl; gamekeeper convicted in 2009 for laying out a poisoned bait).

This appalling failure to enforce the law was addressed by the then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP, who instructed SNH to withdraw the use of the General Licence on estates where there was sufficient evidence to demonstrate raptor persecution crimes had occurred but insufficient evidence to progress a prosecution against a named individual. We’ve waited and waited and waited for SNH to impose a General Licence restriction on the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate for these recent shootings but so far, nothing. When we’ve asked SNH for an explanation, it has refused to comment, saying it’s not in the public interest for SNH to explain its decisions.

Meanwhile, Lord Hopetoun continues to serve as the Chair of the Scottish Moorland Group (a sub-group of Scottish Land & Estates) and whose Director, Tim (Kim) Baynes continues to serve on the PAW Scotland Raptor Group – you know the one – the pretend ‘partnership’, chaired by the Scottish Government, set up to tackle the illegal persecution of raptors on driven grouse moors.


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.

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