Posts Tagged ‘gamekeeper

18
May
21

Poisoned golden eagle: will a General Licence restriction now be imposed on Invercauld Estate?

Earlier this month it was reported that police had conducted a raid, under warrant, on several properties on the Invercauld Estate following the discovery in March of a deliberately poisoned golden eagle and some poisoned bait (see here).

I’ve since blogged about why I think the golden eagle killer will evade criminal prosecution (see here) and a little bit about NatureScot making noises about considering a potential General Licence restriction on this estate (see here). A General Licence restriction is nowhere near as serious as a criminal prosecution but it is, in the words of former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse who worked hard to get this apparent sanction introduced, a ‘reputational driver’ (see here).

It’s my view that a General Licence restriction is long overdue here, given the history of alleged wildlife crime offences, and a blog that was published yesterday has further strengthened that view, of which more in a minute.

This area around Ballater in the Cairngorms National Park has been at the centre of a number of alleged wildlife crime offences over many years.

[Estate boundaries based on data from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website]

There was the discovery of three poisoned buzzards on Invercauld Estate in 2005 (here), the discovery of an illegally shot peregrine at the Pass of Ballater in 2011, the reported coordinated hunt and subsequent shooting of an adult hen harrier at Glen Gairn on the border of Invercauld and Dinnet Estates in 2013, the illegally-set traps that were found near Geallaig Hill on Invercauld Estate in 2016, the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier Calluna ‘on a grouse moor a few miles north of Ballater’ on 12 August 2017, the opening day of the grouse shooting season (here) although it’s not clear whether this was on Invercauld Estate or neighbouring Dinnet Estate, the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘Blue T’ on Invercauld Estate in May 2018 (see here), the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier Stelmaria ‘last recorded on grouse moor a few miles north west of Ballater, Aberdeenshire on 3rd September 2018 (see here), the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier (Wildland 2) on Invercauld Estate on 24 September 2019 (here) and now the discovery of a deliberately poisoned golden eagle and poisonous baits on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in March 2021 (see here).

The suspicious disappearance of three satellite-tagged hen harriers and one white-tailed eagle in one small area managed for driven grouse shooting should raise lots of eyebrows given the unequivocal scientific pattern that has been identified for such occurrences (e.g. see here and here) and especially in an area where the alleged hunting and subsequent shooting of a hen harrier was witnessed and reported several years earlier.

However, according to NatureScot’s current Framework for how it makes decisions on whether to impose a General Licence restriction, the suspicious disappearance of a satellite-tagged raptor is not, in itself, considered sufficient evidence, even when there’s an emerging pattern in one particular area:

Unexplained ‘stopped no-malfunction’ satellite tags may be considered by NatureScot as supporting information in making a decision, particularly where multiple losses have occurred on the same land. However such instances will not be considered as evidence under the terms of this Framework unless recorded as a crime by Police Scotland‘.

The most significant, and indeed tangible, wildlife crime incident that could be linked to Invercauld Estate was the discovery of illegally-set traps on the estate in 2016, which led to the horrific suffering of a Common Gull whose legs were caught in two of the traps (see here).

[Photo of the Common Gull after being released from the traps. Photo by Graeme Rose]

Long-term blog readers may recall this incident and the farcical non-existent enforcement measures that ensued. The SSPCA attended in the first instance and had to euthanise the gull due to the extent of its injuries but because of their ridiculously restricted investigatory powers, they were not permitted to search the area for more traps – this had to be done by the police, who conducted a search several days later where it was discovered that other traps (i.e. evidence of potential crime) had been recently removed prior to the police search (here).

Then there was an odd statement of denial from Invercauld Estate, bizarrely issued by the GWCT on behalf of the estate (a strange activity for a so-called independent wildlife conservation charity, see here) and incidentally, this denial is not that dissimilar to the one we saw recently from the estate in relation to the deliberately poisoned golden eagle – see here.

I challenged the estate’s claim that Police Scotland had not found any evidence of illegal activity back in 2016 and Police Scotland issued a statement in response (see here).

I then submitted a series of FoIs that revealed what looked like some very odd goings on between the estate, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Government, which resulted in ‘secret action‘ apparently being taken against a gamekeeper but no prosecution followed, and nor did NatureScot impose a General Licence restriction for this incident (and NatureScot has refused to discuss its decision saying ‘it’s not in the public interest‘ to tell us).

I did wonder whether NatureScot had not imposed a General Licence restriction due to a technical issue – the fact that the SSPCA, not the police, attended the scene and found the evidence of the illegally-trapped gull. If you look again at NatureScot’s Framework for decision-making on restrictions, it says that evidence must be provided by the police. It doesn’t say anything about evidence from the SSPCA being acceptable. I hope I’m wrong on that because as a statutory reporting agency, the SSPCA’s evidence should be considered just as robust as any evidence put forward by Police Scotland – I’ll check with NatureScot about it.

However, yesterday a blog was published on the excellent ParksWatchScotland blog, written by Graeme Rose, one of the guys who had actually found the critically-injured gull on Invercauld Estate in 2016. It’s a harrowing tale, but it’s incredibly enlightening in that he pursued the enforcement authorities for several years after the incident and by doing so uncovered all sorts of shenanigans. He says he received a text in July 2020 from the former Convenor of the Cairngorms National Park Authority who told him that a gamekeeper had indeed ‘been let go’ after the gull incident in 2016, despite the estate’s protestations at the time that any offence had even taken place. I believe this is the information that was deliberately redacted by the CNPA and the Scottish Government when I’d asked them about it in those FoIs.

What a pitiful state of affairs.

Will we see anything different in response to the discovery of the deliberately poisoned golden eagle? Well, we’ve already seen that Invercauld Estate has ‘left’ the Eastern Cairngorms Moorland Partnership, although there was absolutely zero indication whether the estate was expelled or left of its own accord (see here) so it looks like the Cairngorms National Park Authority is staying true to form and not wanting to be explicit about any action that may or may not have been taken. Why is that, do you think? Could it be anything to do with who sits on the CNPA’s Board? There are some interesting characters with some interesting connections to the grouse-shooting world, and even to Invercauld Estate itself.

And what about NatureScot and its deliberations about whether there is sufficient justification for a General Licence restriction on Invercauld Estate? That’s going to be VERY interesting and is something I’ll definitely be tracking. Watch this space.

14
May
21

Grouse moor-owning Lord Benyon appointed new DEFRA Minister

DEFRA press release (13 May 2021)

DEFRA welcomes new Minister

Lord Benyon has today been appointed as a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defra. He will replace outgoing Defra minister Lord Gardiner, who will become Senior Deputy Speaker in the House of Lords.

The Environment Secretary today welcomed Lord Benyon, commenting on his passion and dedication to environmental causes.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said:

I am pleased to welcome Richard back to Defra. He brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and passion for the environment, developed during his previous experience as a Defra Minister and during his work as Chair of our review in to Highly Protected Marine Areas.

I look forward to working with him during this truly exciting time for Defra, with the Environment Bill returning to parliament, our agricultural reforms now starting to take root and the government leading the world on protecting nature and tackling climate change. Richard will be invaluable as we continue our ambitious work to ensure we leave our natural environment in a better state for future generations.

I would also like to extend my congratulations to Lord Gardiner on his election as Senior Deputy Speaker in the House of Lords and to thank him for his work as Minister in Defra.”

Defra Minister Lord Benyon said:

It’s both a privilege and a pleasure to be returning to Defra as a Minister in the House of Lords. I have fond memories from my time as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State.

From the flagship Environment Bill and tackling climate change to helping our farmers through the agricultural transition and supporting our fishing industry, Defra is at the heart of this Government’s work to build back greener. It’s an exciting time to be back at Defra.

I look forward to working with everyone as Defra tackles some of the greatest challenges of our time.”

Lord Benyon’s portfolio will be confirmed in due course.

ENDS

Grouse moor and pheasant-shoot – owner Richard Benyon is a former Trustee of GWCT and is no stranger to the pages of this blog. E.g. this from 2014:

In 2013, as Wildlife Minister under David Cameron, Richard Benyon refused to make possession of Carbofuran a criminal offence in England, despite other MPs calling for such a move, and despite it being an offence in Scotland, and despite it being well known that Carbofuran is the gamekeepers’ poison of choice for killing birds of prey.

In response, Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party) said:

The minister’s shocking refusal to outlaw the possession of a poison used only by rogue gamekeepers to illegally kill birds of prey would be inexplicable were it not for his own cosy links to the shooting lobby“.

Also while Mr Benyon was in post at DEFRA, the government sanctioned the controversial buzzard ‘management’ trial and committed £375k of taxpayers money to help support it (see here), although they swiftly backtracked after a huge public outcry against the plan (see here). However, the following year Natural England, acting on behalf of DEFRA, decided to go ahead and issue a licence (to a gamekeeper with a past conviction for wildlife crime) to destroy buzzard eggs and nests to protect pheasants (see here).

Mr Benyon also decided there was no need to introduce vicarious liability to England because “there are very good laws in place to punish the illegal killing of any animal. If they are not being effectively enforced, they must be and we will take steps to make sure that happens. However, this is a good opportunity to applaud gamekeepers for the wonderful work they do in providing excellent biodiversity across our countryside” (see here and here).

In 2016 he spoke at the Westminster Hall debate on driven grouse shooting where, along with other grouse-shooting pals and supporters, he claimed that a ban on driven grouse shooting would be ‘a catastrophe for the biodiversity of the uplands‘.

It’s probably safe to assume that this latest appointment to DEFRA’s ministerial team will have significant influence on campaigning efforts to rid the English uplands of the wildlife crime and environmental damage continually associated with driven grouse shooting.

It doesn’t mean we’ll stop trying, though.

13
Apr
21

NatureScot Chair Mike Cantlay writes puff piece for Scottish Gamekeepers’ rag

How come, if Scottish gamekeepers feel so downtrodden, unheard, overlooked, side-lined etc (e.g. see here), the Chair of Naturescot is writing puff pieces for their quarterly rag?

In the Spring 2021 edition of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s newsletter, Mike Cantlay blows some serious amounts of smoke up the SGA’s backside. It’s a shame his organisation isn’t as enthusiastic about revoking General Licences on shooting estates where there is strong evidence that raptor persecution continues.

Mike Cantlay isn’t the SGA’s only friend at NatureScot.

The recently-updated list of Board Members includes one David Johnstone, former CEO of Scottish Land & Estates whose responses to raptor persecution incidents leave a lot to be desired (e.g. see here and here) as does his view on vicarious liability (see here) and grouse moor licensing (e.g. see here and here).

Ah, nothing like a modernising, forward-thinking progressive to join the NatureScot Board, eh? Which Scottish Government Ministers approved the current intake of Board Members and how many candidates with expertise in wildlife, science and nature conservation were overlooked in favour of landowning Lord Johnstone?

12
Apr
21

This ‘downtrodden gamekeeper’ act is fooling no-one

As campaigning for the forthcoming Scottish election gets in to full swing, I’ve been reading more and more about poor ‘downtrodden’ gamekeepers, how they’re not listened to, how hard done by they are, how they’ve been ‘vilified’ etc etc.

This article in last week’s Herald is a classic example, although pay close attention to who wrote it – Clare Taylor, Political Affairs Editor at The Scottish Farmer – her reference to farmers being “plagued” by the return of White-tailed eagles and commentary about “a growing obsession with rewilding” gives you a good idea about her environmental aspirations.

The truth is, rural affairs already have a very loud voice in the Scottish Parliament, in the shape of Fergus Ewing, Minister for Tourism and the Rural Economy who called himself “a friend in Government” to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association recently. Such a good friend in fact that he’s auctioning off a Holyrood tour (that should be free) to help the SGA’s fundraising activities (see here).

Clare Taylor’s tweet, promoting her biased article in the Herald, made me laugh:

After proclaiming that the Scottish Government ‘must stamp out the vilifying of individuals’, what does she think the accompanying photograph shows? Er, could it be a bunch of Scottish gamekeepers vilifying Chris Packham outside Perth Concert Hall, protesting about him having a job?

And are these the same gamekeepers who routinely vilify and abuse those of us campaigning against environmentally-damaging, unlawful and unsustainable grouse moor management (see here and here)?

And are these the same gamekeepers who continue to shoot, trap and poison birds of prey in the Scottish countryside?

Clare’s article includes a quote from the co-ordinator of Scotland’s Moorland Groups. That’ll be Tim (Kim) Baynes then, a Director of the landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates – hardly someone without connections to politicians and civil servants, is he? Yet another influential voice speaking to power on behalf of gamekeepers.

Although Scottish Land & Estates’ CEO, Sarah-Jane Laing, was on here last week in the comments section claiming that ‘The Regional Moorland Groups which exist across Scotland are not part of the SLE structure‘.

Really? Well why then does Tim Baynes’s job description, on the SLE website, say that he’s the co-ordinator of those seven moorland groups??

And what about those seven regional moorland groups? They’re an interesting bunch. Grouse moors in five of those seven regions have been in the last three years, or currently are, under police investigation for alleged raptor persecution crimes (grouse moors in the regions covered by the Angus Glens Moorland Group, Grampian Moorland Group, Tomatin Moorland Group, Tayside & Central Moorland Group and the Southern Uplands Moorland Group).

And there are more ongoing police investigations linked to grouse moor management and raptor persecution that are yet to be publicised. Believe me, the public will be appalled when the news comes out and it’ll be a bloody brave (or desperate) politician that puts their name down to support this continued criminality.

03
Apr
21

Emmerdale actor speaks out against grouse moor burning & raptor persecution

Hot on the heels of her last article on how burning Britain’s moorland is ‘an environmental disaster’ (here), the Daily Mirror’s Environment Editor, Nada Farhoud has a follow up article out today.

This time she interviews Emmerdale actor Nick Miles, who lives in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and has been a long-time supporter of conservation campaigns such as Hen Harrier Day.

Nick talks about his village ‘disappearing under a blanket of smoke’ when the gamekeepers have set the moors alight and how letters to his MP, Rishi Sunak, have fallen on deaf ears.

He also talks about how few red kites he sees in Upper Wharfdale (hardly surprising given its proximity to Nidderdale, where killing red kites on grouse moors is de rigueur) in comparison to Harewood, where Emmerdale is filmed and from where red kites were reintroduced and are doing well.

Read today’s article in the Mirror here (and watch out for the comedy input from Moorland Association Director Amanda Anderson).

Meanwhile in Scotland the fires also continue. I’ve been sent some horrific photographs that were taken in the Angus Glens two days ago – I’ll be publishing those later this weekend.

And here’s a photo sent in by another blog reader (thank you) taken yesterday in Manor Valley in the Borders:

It’s astonishing that not only is this burning still legal (although for how much longer remains to be seen) even though we’re in a climate and nature emergency, but that gamekeepers in Scotland can lawfully continue to set the moors alight until 15th April, and then with landowner’s permission can continue to light fires until 30th April.

Still, it’s a cracking wheeze for torching out hen harrier nests, peregrine breeding ledges and golden eagle eyries, which can then be explained away as ‘accidents’ (see here).

Pass the matches.

26
Mar
21

Natural England’s shady approach to IUCN guidelines on hen harrier reintroduction

Earlier this week I blogged about how Natural England had been planning, in secret, to start a captive breeding programme for hen harriers, with the intention of releasing the progeny in to southern England as a way of boosting the UK hen harrier population, which has been in decline for years thanks to the ongoing illegal killing of this species (see here).

The proposed reintroduction isn’t news – this has been on the cards since 2016 when DEFRA published its ludicrous Hen Harrier Action Plan (and when Natural England was caught out claiming spurious justifications for the reintroduction – see here) – but the captive breeding element is new, and is a direct result of potential donor countries in Europe refusing to donate harriers to a country that clearly can’t look after the ones its already got.

And although the captive breeding element is highly questionable from an ethical standpoint, it’s still not the main issue here. The main issue has always been, and remains to be, the concept of releasing hen harriers in one part of the country as a massive distraction from dealing with the scandalous level of persecution still inflicted on this species in other parts of the country (namely on driven grouse moors).

[An illegally killed hen harrier. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Reintroduction projects need to meet all sorts of criteria before they can go ahead and DEFRA advises project managers consult the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Guidelines for Reintroductions and other Conservation Translocations as part of their preparation.

These IUCN guidelines are built on decades of conservation knowledge and experience and provide a ‘route map’ for achieving a successful reintroduction. One of the fundamental principles of these guidelines is deciding when a translocation/reintroduction is an acceptable option. Key to this is:

There should generally be strong evidence that the threat(s) that caused any previous extinction have been correctly identified and removed or sufficiently reduced‘.

Now, in the case of the UK hen harrier population, which is in long-term decline according to the most recent national survey conducted in 2016 (see here), it is widely accepted that illegal persecution continues to be the main threat to survival, limiting the species’ distribution and abundance in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England.

So the threat has been ‘correctly identified’, as per the IUCN guidelines. It’s indisputable (unless you’re a spokesperson from the very industry that’s responsible for this organised criminality). There are more scientific papers identifying and confirming the threat as there are breeding pairs of hen harriers in England – including the most recent research, co-authored by Natural England staff, which demonstrated the ongoing, widespread illegal killing of hen harriers on British grouse moors (here).

But has the ‘correctly identified’ threat been ‘removed or sufficiently reduced’ for Natural England to proceed with its reintroduction plans? Well, that’s where it all gets a bit shady, in my opinion.

Natural England has been downplaying the persecution issue for a couple of years, particularly when its staff members have been trying to persuade potential donor countries that persecution really isn’t an issue in southern England (e.g. see here and here), although the RSPB has vigorously disputed this claim:

And of course there’s also been the suspicious disappearance of a satellite-tagged hen harrier called Vulcan (here) (which according to an employee of the National Gamekeepers Organisation was likely a ‘set up’ by the RSPB (here!), and then there’s the recent and on-going police investigation into alleged bird of prey persecution nearby (see here).

So it was interesting to see a copy of Natural England’s Hen Harrier Southern Reintroduction IUCN Assessment, dated January 2020, and released to me last week as part of a bundle of documents released under a Freedom of Information request, to understand just how Natural England is attempting to explain away the real and present threat of persecution.

Here is the document:

First of all, Natural England is pointing to two datasets of confirmed raptor persecution incidents to show that persecution is an issue in counties far away from the proposed release site in Wiltshire.

The first dataset cited (published by DEFRA on behalf of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, RPPDG) has been widely criticised as being inaccurate and out of date (see here) and is unsupported by two members of the RPPDG: the Northern England Raptor Forum (here) and by the RSPB (here).

The second dataset is much more reliable, as it’s compiled using rigorous scientific quantification by the RSPB, but even then, it only includes confirmed raptor persecution incidents, i.e. where there is a corpse and supportive evidence to identify the cause of death (e.g. x-ray, toxicology report). The database cited by Natural England does NOT include ‘probable’ or ‘possible’ raptor persecution incidents. So, for example, the vast majority of the 52 hen harriers known to have been killed or have disappeared in suspicious circumstances since 2018 (here) would NOT be included in this database of confirmed incidents because many of them, without a corpse or satellite tag, would have to be classified as being ‘probable’ persecution incidents. It’s ironic that these incidents would be excluded, given it was Natural England’s own commissioned research findings that identified missing satellite-tagged hen harriers as most likely to have been illegally killed on or near grouse moors (here).

So not only is Natural England being highly selective in the datasets it has chosen to support this claim that persecution isn’t an issue in southern England, the other main claim made in its IUCN assessment is that hen harriers released in the south of England won’t travel north to the deadly grouse moors of northern England, Wales and Scotland. Here is the claim:

This is an astonishing claim to make. Obviously, I was interested in the reference that Natural England cited to support such a claim: (NE 2019a). However, when I looked up the reference I found it refers to Natural England’s intermittently-updated summary table of the fates of tagged hen harriers (here).

This table doesn’t support Natural England’s claims at all! If anything, it shows that young hen harriers wander widely during dispersal, throughout the UK, so there is no supportive evidence whatsoever to suggest the incidence levels of hen harriers released in southern England roaming into northern upland areas (persecution hotspots) ‘will be low’. What complete nonsense this is!

The fact is, nobody knows what those released hen harriers will do, but if they follow the behaviour of other young dispersing hen harriers they will wander widely and will be at significant risk of being killed if they go anywhere near a driven grouse moor. I wouldn’t fancy their chances if they turned up at some commercial pheasant and partridge drives either, given the persecution suffered on some shooting estates by Montagu’s and Marsh harriers.

It’s no wonder Natural England has wanted to keep its plans under wraps – this is shady stuff indeed.

12
Mar
21

‘Zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution? They’re fooling no-one.

In January 2020, five pro-shooting organisations issued a statement that professed ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution. Coming 66 years after it became illegal to kill birds of prey in the UK, this was progress indeed.

I said at the time it was a sham (here). I haven’t seen anything since that has convinced me of their collective sincerity.

Take the most recent, high-profile raptor persecution crime reported earlier this week – a gamekeeper on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park filmed using a tethered live eagle owl decoy to draw in two buzzards which he shot on sight (see here). North Yorkshire Police Inspector Matt Hagen said of these offences:

We conducted a search warrant and interviewed an individual in relation to this incident. Ultimately, however, the identity of the suspect on the film could not be proved, and it was not possible to bring about a prosecution. However this does not mean the event didn’t happen. We know that a gamekeeper on a grouse moor has been shooting buzzards, using a live eagle owl decoy to bring those buzzards into a position where they could be shot”.

Details of this offence emerged on the morning of Tuesday 9th March 2021.

There was silence from the major shooting organisations. And for most of them, at the time of writing this at six pm on Friday evening, that deafening silence has continued.

The three main ones that should have been at the forefront of vocal condemnations and a commitment to boot out the estate and the gamekeeper from any memberships they may hold within the industry, have said absolutely nothing on their respective websites:

The Moorland Association (the grouse moor owners’ lobby group in England) – silence

The National Gamekeepers Organisation – silence

British Association for Shooting and Conservation – silence

The Country Landowners Association (CLA) was also one of the original five signatories to ‘zero tolerance’ but they’ve said nothing either.

The only one of the five groups who in January 2020 professed a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for raptor persecution and said anything about this latest disgraceful display of criminality was the Countryside Alliance. They published this statement two days after the story hit the headlines:

Whether you believe the sincerity of this statement or not is another matter but at least the CA published something.

Of course, the three main groups that have remained silent are all members of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), whose objectives include prevention of, and awareness-raising of, illegal raptor persecution. Anyone seen them doing any of that? No. Once again it looks like they’re just using their membership of the RPPDG as a convenient cover to pretend they care. When are they going to be expelled?

Other members of the RPPDG, notably those who don’t have a vested interest in closing ranks and saying nothing, have issued statements on the crimes.

The Northern England Raptor Forum has published a characteristically damning statement (here) and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has done pretty well with this:

So, the illegal killing continues, the majority of the shooting industry organisations say nothing, and public anger grows.

Thanks, Moorland Assoc, National Gamekeepers and BASC – this is only heading in one direction and you’re all helping it reach the end game so much more quickly than we could get it there on our own. Cheers.

09
Mar
21

Gamekeeper filmed shooting 2 buzzards on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park

The RSPB Investigations Team has published a blog this morning, detailing their undercover work filming a gamekeeper on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, who used a tethered eagle owl to draw in two buzzards close enough for them to be shot.

The blog, authored by RSPB Investigations Officer Howard Jones, describes the circumstances of the crimes, which include the obvious ones of shooting two protected buzzards but also the use of a tethered decoy (in this case, the eagle owl). Howard and his colleague Jack were filming through a telescope from approx 5km away and witnessed a gamekeeper drive across the grouse moor with the eagle owl, tether the owl to a post close to a grouse butt while he lay in wait close by with his gun.

[Screen grabs from the RSPB’s video]

Unfortunately, once again, despite a police investigation this case will not result in a prosecution because the identity of the gamekeeper committing the crimes could not be verified. However, importantly, Inspector Matt Hagen of North Yorkshire Police is quoted as follows:

We conducted a search warrant and interviewed an individual in relation to this incident. Ultimately, however, the identity of the suspect on the film could not be proved, and it was not possible to bring about a prosecution. However this does not mean the event didn’t happen. We know that a gamekeeper on a grouse moor has been shooting buzzards, using a live eagle owl decoy to bring those buzzards into a position where they could be shot. We urge the public to report incidents like this to the police, and to come forward if they have information about this or any other incident involving the illegal killing of birds of prey“.

You can read the blog here

You can watch the RSPB’s video here:

The Yorkshire Dales National Park has been a known raptor persecution hotspot for many, many years, with wildlife crimes disproportionately taking place on the Park’s driven grouse moors. These crimes have been raised as a concern by both residents and visitors alike (see here).

The National Park Authority has its hands tied behind its back to some extent because these crimes are taking place on privately-owned grouse moors, but the Authority can’t be accused of ignoring the issue, e.g. see here for some of the work it’s been doing.

So how about the grouse shooting industry? What are they doing, exactly, to tackle these ongoing crimes?

The name of the estate in this latest case hasn’t been published, presumably to protect the identity of any other gamekeeper not directly involved, but the estate manager and owner will be well aware of this police investigation. Will they sack this gamekeeper?

What about the Moorland Association? As members of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), I’d expect the MA to be informed and for them to take action against the estate if it turns out to be one of their members.

Other RPPDG members include BASC and the National Gamekeepers Organisation – what action will they take if this gamekeeper is one of their members?

And the Yorkshire Dales Moorland Group, representing estates and gamekeepers in the region – what action will they take?

Where’s the evidence of the so-called ‘zero tolerance’ to raptor persecution, so loudly paraded in January 2020?

There is no evidence of there being zero tolerance because it’s a total sham. Some gamekeepers continue to break the law, in broad daylight, because they know the chances of getting caught are minimal and even when they are caught the industry in which they work will close ranks, call ‘foul’ on the RSPB and carry on as normal.

I haven’t seen any evidence, since the industry’s purported ‘zero tolerance’ announcement, that serious efforts are being made to oust the criminals within. Which is why these crimes continue, week after week after week.

Well done to the RSPB and North Yorkshire Police for their work on this case.

UPDATE 12th March 2021: ‘Zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution? They’re fooling no-one (here)

01
Mar
21

Swinton Estate owner (& Chair of Moorland Association) challenged by BBC about raptor persecution on his estate

This is worth a watch.

A BBC documentary series called Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby featured the Swinton Estate in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire a couple of weeks ago.

The owner of the estate, Mark Cunliffe-Lister (also known as Lord Masham) also happens to be the Chair of the Moorland Association, the lobby group for grouse moor owners in England.

As part of the programme, presenter Giles Coren visited Swinton’s grouse moors with Cunliffe-Lister and Coren asked him straight out about confirmed raptor persecution crimes on Swinton. The change in Cunliffe-Lister’s body language was quite noticeable – he went from confident, open, welcoming hotel owner to cagey, uncomfortable grouse moor owner.

Giles Coren:Have there been instances around here of raptors being killed?

Mark Cunliffe-Lister:Yes, there have been, there was one that was found on Swinton itself, it was found to have some lead in it so, er, clearly had been shot at some stage. There’s nothing that we’re culpable of but clearly there are still instances of it taking place“.

Just the one, Mark? What a forgetful silly billy (and not for the first time).

Kudos to Giles Coren and to whoever was the BBC executive producer of this edition. Good stuff.

The programme is available to watch on BBC iPlayer for a year (the grouse moor stuff starts at 39 mins 15 sec) HERE

28
Feb
21

Gamekeepers angry as 8-year-old schoolchildren effectively engage in democratic process

I was told recently that public engagement with the Scottish Government on the issue of ongoing raptor persecution has never been bigger. For example, Ministerial aides say that now, whenever there’s a new case of an illegally-killed bird of prey, they can expect to receive about 4,000 letters/emails of protest/complaint and requests for the Government to get a grip of this issue.

There are lots of reasons why this level of public response has grown so high, but not least because of social media and the ability for campaigners to disseminate information quickly and widely and encourage new supporters to get involved.

Amongst those new supporters include the inspirational pupils of Sunnyside Primary School in Glasgow. I’ve written about these schoolkids a few times, e.g. see here for a previous blog on their response to the suspicious disappearance of golden eagle Fred in 2018 and last month I wrote about how they’d congratulated the Scottish Government on its decision to issue a grouse moor licensing scheme (see here).

[Pupils from Sunnyside Primary School and their letters to Scottish Ministers congratulating them for the introduction of a grouse moor management licensing scheme]

That last blog elicited some remarkably aggressive online responses from some within the grouse shooting industry who accused Sunnyside teachers of ‘indoctrinating‘ their ‘vulnerable and easily led pupils‘, of this being ‘a disgusting failure by the school‘, of it being an example of ‘desperate virtue signalling‘, of the school ‘overstepping the mark massively‘, of it being ‘a disgusting brainwashing project‘, that teachers should be ‘struck off for misinformation‘ and that ‘this will not be allowed to go unchallenged‘.

Yep, way to go, grouse shooting industry, how to win hearts and minds.

Why do you think they feel so threatened by a bunch of bright 8-year-olds engaging with the democratic process?

Meanwhile, back in the real world the Scottish Government’s Environment Cabinet Secretary asked her aide to write to Sunnyside Primary pupils to thank them for their efforts. Here’s the letter:

If I was a member of the grouse shooting industry I’d be very concerned about the image it was presenting to the outside world.

I’ve blogged very recently about the vile harassment campaigns by gamekeepers directed against those of us who dare to ask for the law to be upheld and the environment protected (see here and here). If 8-year-old schoolchildren and their teachers are the next targets I can see that public tolerance of the grouse shooting industry will fall even lower.

Mind you, a skilled advocate told me recently, ‘Never interrupt your enemy when they’re making a mistake’. In which case, crack on, gamekeepers.




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