Posts Tagged ‘gamekeeper

03
Oct
17

Raptor persecution in the Peak District National Park: last night’s programme

The BBC’s Inside Out programme last night featured an excellent piece on driven grouse shooting and its association with illegal raptor persecution in the Peak District National Park.

If you missed it, it’s available to watch on BBC iPlayer here for the next 29 days.

There were some great quotes, that we’ll record here for posterity:

Tim Birch (Derbyshire Wildlife Trust): “People love this place. And it is a national disgrace that we do not have the kind of birds of prey that should belong back in this landscape“.

Mistress of the understatement, Blanaid Denman (RSPB Skydancer Project): “Six years ago in 2011 there were four successful [hen harrier] nests in England. This year there were three. So I think it’s safe to say things are not going very well“.

Mark Avery (talking about driven grouse shooting): “More and more people are becoming aware of the problems and agitated about what’s happening in our National Parks“.

Andy Beer (Midlands Director, National Trust) talking about the NT’s advertisement for a new tenant on the Hope Woodlands & Park Hall Estate following the imminent removal of their current tenant:We won’t settle for a partner who we can’t have 100% confidence in. We haven’t been prescriptive in our tender about whether it should be driven grouse shooting or not, but certainly very intensive forms of land use are difficult to square with our outcomes, including increasing numbers of birds of prey“.

The current shooting tenant at Hope Woodlands & Park Hall Estate (believed to be Mark Osborne) apparently declined to comment about the removal of the shooting lease.

Steve Bloomfield (Director of Operations, BASC), talking about raptor persecution: “We’ve seen people that have broken the law. There’s always a minority in any profession that brings it in to disrepute, and we want to get rid of them from our profession“. Fine words, but what action, exactly, has BASC ever taken to oust the criminals from the grouse shooting industry? Perhaps if BASC spent more time focusing on that instead of campaigning with the Countryside Alliance to get Chris Packham silenced (e.g. here, here, here), or if the BASC Chairman (in his capacity as a lawyer) hadn’t defended the right of a gamekeeper to keep his firearms certificates even though the keeper was known to have placed poisons in an underground stash on a grouse moor (here), Steve Bloomfield’s statement might be more credible.

Surprisingly, the Moorland Association, which represents grouse moor owners, did not make an appearance in this film, but apparently told the BBC it “fully supports efforts to encourage numbers of hen harriers“. Really? Is this the same Moorland Association whose Director said last year,

If we let the hen harrier in, we will soon have nothing else. That is why we need this brood management plan“.

One other interviewee worthy of mention here was a chap called Ian Gregory, listed as ‘grouse shooting spokesman’. We don’t know if this is the same Ian Gregory as the Ian Gregory from You Forgot the Birds but judging by the poor quality of his comments in last night’s film, it may well be.

Commenting on footage of a Moscar Estate gamekeeper trying to release a badger from a snare by shooting at the snare, Ian Gregory said:

In these pictures we’re seeing a badger being released from a trap which was intended for foxes. Foxes are a nightmare for ground-nesting birds and that’s the reason that gamekeepers try to reduce the number of foxes that we have“.

Apart from revealing his woeful ignorance of ecological food webs, Ian Gregory forgot to mention that snares must never be set on runs where there is evidence of regular recent use by non-target species such as badgers, as they may be caught or injured by the snare. And, according to BASC’s Code of Best Practice, ‘Knowledge of the tracks, trails and signs of both target and non-target species [i.e. badgers] is essential. If you are not competent in identifying the tracks, trails and signs of non-target species, you must not set snares‘.

As an aside, it’s worth reading former Police Wildlife Crime Officer Alan Stewart’s blog about the CPS’s decision not to prosecute the Moscar Estate gamekeepers, here.

Ian Gregory had more unsubstantiated tosh to impart to the viewer. Talking about hen harriers, he said:

There is a problem about their populations in the UK. Some of that may be down to illegal activity but it’s also down to the pressure of human beings wanting more places for recreation, more countryside for recreation, more for their homes, so it’s not just a question of persecution, this is a much more complicated issue“.

Ah, so the demand for new housing on driven grouse moors is responsible for the catastophic decline of breeding hen harriers in England? And the scientific evidence for that claim is…..where, exactly? We had a look in the Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers which set out very clearly that illegal persecution was the biggest single factor affecting the hen harrier population’s chance of survival. Funnily enough, new housing estates being built on grouse moors didn’t feature.

All in all, this was an excellent film by the BBC’s Inside Out film and even more members of the public will now be aware of the disgraceful activities of the grouse shooting industry.

If you haven’t already done so, please consider signing this new e-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting. PLEASE SIGN HERE.

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28
Sep
17

Bleasdale Estate gamekeeper denies killing two peregrines in Bowland

A 34-year old gamekeeper, James Hartley, appeared at Preston Magistrates Court today to face a series of charges relating to the alleged killing of two peregrines on the Bleasdale Estate, Bowland, in April 2016.

The charges read out in court were as follows:

  1. Killing a Schedule 1 wild bird. On 13 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, intentionally killed a wild bird included in Schedule 1 to the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, namely a peregrine falcon, contrary to sections 1(1)(a), 1(4) and 21(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
  2. Disturb the nesting site of a Schedule 1 wild bird. On 13 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, intentionally or recklessly disturbed a wild bird included in Schedule 1 to the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, namely a peregrine falcon, while it was in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young, contrary to sections 1(5)(a) and 21(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
  3. Killing a Schedule 1 wild bird. On 13 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, intentionally killed a wild bird included in Schedule 1 to the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, namely a peregrine falcon, contrary to sections 1(1)(a), 1(4) and 21(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
  4. Set trap / gin / snare etc to cause injury to wild bird. On 13 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, set in position a trap which was of such a nature and so placed as to be calculated to cause bodily injury to any wild bird coming in to contact with it, contrary to sections 5(1)(a) and 21(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act.
  5. Take a Schedule 1 wild bird. On 13 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, intentionally took a wild bird included in Schedule 1 to the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, namely a peregrine falcon, contrary to sections 1(1)(a), 1(4) and 21(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
  6. Possess live / dead Schedule 1 wild bird or its parts. On 13 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, had in your possession or control a dead wild bird included in Schedule 1 to the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, namely a peregrine falcon, contrary to sections 1(2)(a), 1(4) and 21(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act.
  7. Possess an article capable of being used to commit a summary offence under section 1 to 13 or 15-17. On 13 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, for the purpose of committing an offence, namely killing a Schedule 1 wild bird, namely a peregrine falcon, under section 1(1)(a), 1(4) and 21(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, had in your possession a firearm which was capable of being used for committing the offence, contrary to section 18(2) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
  8. Possess an article capable of being used to commit a summary offence under section 1 to 13 or 15-17. On 12 April 2016 and 27 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, for the purpose of committing an offence, namely killing a Schedule 1 wild bird, namely a peregrine falcon, under section 1(1)(a), 1(4) and 21(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, had in your possession hammer, trap and knife which were capable of being used for committing the offence, contrary to section 18(2) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
  9. Cause unnecessary suffering to a protected animal – Animal Welfare Act 2006. On 12 April 2016 and 15 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, caused unnecessary suffering to a protected animal, namely a peregrine falcon, by an act, namely trapping and leaving for a number of hours, and you knew or ought reasonably to have known that the act would have that effect or be likely to do so.

Mr Hartley denied all charges.

The following commentary has been compiled from notes we took during the hearing:

The lawyer from the Crown Prosecution Service then summarised the prosecution case. She said the Crown’s case is that the defendant is responsible for the destruction of two birds at their nest site. She said the matter came to light when the RSPB sited a camera within the boundary of Bleasdale Estate to monitor nesting peregrines. The Crown alleges that camera footage captures an individual in a camouflage suit attending the nest site. The individual remained there for a number of minutes setting what is believed to be a trap. The female peregrine is seen to leave the nest and four shotgun discharges are heard and the female does not return. The male peregrine remained at the site all day, believed to be trapped in the device set earlier. Later in the evening a person is seen to attend the nest site and remove something.

She went on to explain that the defendant is the gamekeeper for this particular ‘beat’ on the Bleasdale Estate and during a police search of his property a bag was seized containing a number of tools. A forensic analysis showed that a wooden-handled hammer and an orange-handled knife both contained peregrine DNA. The defendant gave a ‘no comment’ interview.

The defence lawyer, Tim Ryan, told the court that his client did not carry out the offences and is not the person shown in the video footage. He said part of his defence case would be to question the admissibility of video evidence under section 78 of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act.

The next hearing will take place on 11 January 2018 which is expected to deal with legal arguments about the admissibility of video evidence. Depending on the outcome of that hearing, a preliminary trial date was set to begin on 12 February 2018 and is expected to last for five days.

PLEASE NOTE: Comments are welcome but contributors are reminded that the offences are only alleged at this stage and it is up to the court to determine innocence or guilt. Please consider your words carefully as libellous commentary could interfere with the progression of this case! Thanks.

27
Sep
17

More on the mystery gamekeeper with the General Licence restriction

Further to this morning’s blog about the mystery gamekeeper from north east Scotland who was filmed allegedly setting an illegal trap near a goshawk nest and who has subsequently been slapped with a General Licence restriction order by SNH, but whose name and employment details have been withheld.

Who could he possibly be and where, exactly, did this take place? There are some clues….

Have another look again at the short video clip of this gamekeeper in action, released by RSPB Scotland:

The video is date stamped: 21 March 2014.

Now have a look at RSPB Scotland’s 2014 persecution report, and note the confirmed incident of raptor persecution recorded in March 2014 relating to the setting of spring traps (with pigeon bait) on a plucking post close to a goshawk nest:

The location is given as ‘nr Tarland, Aberdeenshire’.

Where’s Tarland? Here it is, just to the east of the Cairngorms National Park boundary:

If we accept that the gamekeeper caught on video was allegedly trying to target a goshawk with an illegal trap, the motive for doing so would most likely be to protect game birds from predation. This is illegal, of course – goshawks have been legally protected since 1954, but as we know only too well, this doesn’t stop some gamekeepers from trying to kill them.

So we thought we’d look at how many game shooting estates are located ‘nr Tarland’. It’s a pretty vague location but consulting Andy Wightman’s brilliant Who Owns Scotland website, it turns out there are three big game-shooting estates in the area that could, reasonably, be defined as being ‘nr Tarland’: the MacRobert Trust Estate, the Tillypronie, Deskrie and Towie Estate, and the Dinnet Estate. There is also an area of ‘dead ground’ whose ownership is not included on Andy’s website, although we do know that GWCT’s new demonstration farm, Auchnerran, sits in this ‘dead ground’.

This map is useful, but it doesn’t really help draw many conclusions. What we can say is that all three estate owners would be both horrified, and embarrassingly compromised, if it turns out that this gamekeeper was employed by, or associated with, any of the estates.

The MacRobert Trust Estate is, as the name suggests, administered by a well-respected charity and the estate website suggests ‘an exemplary approach to estate management‘. There is a pheasant shoot here, which was advertised as a three-year ‘prestigious sporting lease’ in 2010.

The Tillypronie Estate was owned, at the time of the video recording, by Philip Astor. The estate, described as ‘One of Scotland’s most famous sporting estates’, went on the market last year valued at a cool £10.5 million and is now believed to have been sold to a ‘mystery buyer’. Gosh, there’s a lot of mystery in this part of the world, isn’t there? There is pheasant and grouse shooting here. Phil is a Vice Chairman of the GWCT.

The Dinnet Estate has long been owned by the Humphrey family and there is a designated National Nature Reserve on the estate, managed by SNH. A Dinnet Estate gamekeeper was convicted in 2006 of trespassing on a neighbouring estate with a firearm back in 2002 but that was a long time ago. A Dinnet Estate grouse moor was mentioned on this blog last month as being a potential location of satellite-tagged hen harrier Calluna’s last tag transmission but there’s been no further news on that. Dinnet Estate is a direct neighbour of the GWCT’s demonstration farm, Auchnerran, and the Dinnet Estate grouse moor is summer-grazed by some of GWCT’s sheep.

Given the GWCT’s indirect links and direct interests in the area ‘nr Tarland’, they must be concerned about the General Licence restriction being applied to a local, unnamed gamekeeper. If we ran an upland farm in the area, and were setting out to demonstrate good conservation benefits for both agriculture and wildlife, we too would be concerned. What if we employed him without knowing any of his history?

Shall we ask the GWCT for a comment? Perhaps, given their local contacts, they know something we don’t? Emails to: info@gwct.org.uk

May be all will become clear when we submit an FoI to SNH asking for further details about this particular General Licence restriction, although we’re not holding our breath!

Another avenue for information-seeking might be Police Scotland. We know from the RSPB’s press release that the police were investigating this alleged crime, so presumably the police know the name of the gamekeeper and where, exactly, this allegedly illegal trap had been filmed. Given that the case is now time-barred, meaning that the Crown Office couldn’t prosecute even if they wanted to (highly doubtful), there is no reason why Police Scotland can’t release relevant details as there’s no chance of it interfering with a live case. Let’s ask them. Emails to National Wildlife Crime Coordinator for Police Scotland, Andy Mavin: andrew.mavin@scotland.pnn.police.uk

27
Sep
17

SNH imposes General Licence restriction on ‘mystery’ gamekeeper

So, SNH has today announced it has imposed two General Licence restriction orders, based on evidence provided by Police Scotland of alleged raptor persecution crimes.

We know that one of those restriction orders has been placed on Edradynate Estate, Perthshire, because SNH has been quite upfront about it and has named the estate (see here).

But what about the other General Licence restriction? Well, according to the SNH press release, this has been imposed on “an individual” rather than on an estate.

This in itself is interesting. We know from the SNH framework for imposing these restrictions that this action can be taken against an individual, as well as on certain areas of land, but the framework document suggests that imposing it on land would be preferable to imposing it on an individual:

While the wording provides for the exclusion of individuals, it is the intention that where SNH has robust evidence that wild birds have been killed or taken or where there is intention to do so other than in accordance with a licence, SNH will exclude the area of land on which such evidence is found from General Licences 1, 2 and/or 3“.

Hmm. So who is this individual and why did SNH impose the restriction on him/her, rather than on an estate?

The SNH press release points the reader to the SNH webpage on General Licences for “full licence restriction details“. However, when you look at the SNH webpage, all you find is this:

Is SNH having a laugh? The “full licence restriction details” of this particular GL restriction order amounts to one sentence:

In addition [to the restriction imposed on Edradynate Estate] SNH has imposed a restriction prohibiting the use of General Licences by an individual for 3 years from 15th September 2017“.

That’s it? No name? No information on the area, let alone the name of the land where the evidence of raptor persecution took place? Not even the region?

What’s with the secrecy? Who is SNH shielding, and why?

This could be absolutely anyone! Is it Nicola Sturgeon? Is it Alex Salmond? Is it JK Rowling? Highly unlikely, it has to be said, but you get the point we’re trying to make.

And what happened to the transparency that was promised when former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse first announced this new measure to tackle ongoing raptor persecution? He said he expected details of General Licence restrictions to be published on the SNH website to act as “a reputational driver“. That’s not going to happen if SNH withholds the details, is it?

This is a very dangerous precedent to set. SNH has previously withheld details of estates that were being considered for a GL restriction but in that case, the justificiation for being all secret squirrel was reasonable: the GL restrictions hadn’t yet been imposed, but rather the estates had been notified of an intent to impose, and SNH argued that the estates needed time to respond/appeal (see here). That was fair enough.

But in this case, SNH has already imposed the GL restriction, and we’re struggling to understand the justification SNH might have for keeping the details secret.

What is it with statutory agencies and their reluctance to release information that’s clearly in the public interest?

We’ll be submitting an FoI to SNH to ask for further details, and, based on the response, we’ll consider appealing the decision to the Scottish information Commissioner.

In the meantime, have a look at today’s press statement from RSPB Scotland about these latest GL restrictions. This gives us more of a clue about the recipient of the restriction order. The statement includes the following quote from Head of Investigations, Ian Thomson:

The other restriction was imposed after RSPB investigations staff passed video footage to police of a gamekeeper allegedly setting illegal traps, baited with a dead woodpigeon, very close to a goshawk nest in NE Scotland.”

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. The recipient of the GL restriction is a gamekeeper, working in NE Scotland, who was filmed allegedly setting illegal traps close to a goshawk nest. And the RSPB has even provided a video clip of the alleged offence, with the individual’s face pixellated (presumably done on legal advice).

Well, quelle surprise! Another gamekeeper trying, allegedly, to persecute a goshawk in north east Scotland. This is becoming quite a habit in this part of the country. First we had gamekeeper George Mutch, caught on video trapping and battering to death a goshawk on the Kildrummy Estate in 2012, crimes for which he went to prison (see here), then we had a gang of masked armed men caught on video shooting at a goshawk nest on Forestry Commission land at Glen Nochty in 2014 (see here), and now this latest case.

But who is this latest gamekeeper and on whose land was he working when he allegedly set this trap?

More on this in the next blog…..

UPDATES:

More on the mystery gamekeeper with the general licence restriction (here).

25
Sep
17

Secret trial for Edradynate Estate gamekeeper

Back in June we blogged about the prosecution of former Edradynate Estate gamekeeper David Campbell for alleged offences including the malicious damage of crops (it is claimed he poisoned them by spraying with an unknown substance, causing them to rot and perish) and the alleged theft of a thermal imaging spotting scope (see here).

What fascinated us about this case was that the Crown Office deemed the charges sufficiently serious to begin proceedings ‘by petition’ – only serious cases are begun by petition and may be heard in the Sheriff Court or a higher court.

Contrast the Crown Office’s approach in this case with that of its approach in another case involving an unnamed Edradynate Estate gamekeeper, in relation to the alleged poisoning of several buzzards. Despite a plea from Police Scotland to proceed with a prosecution, the Crown Office decided to drop the case earlier this year with just a vague (and unsatisfactory) explanation (see here). We’re now waiting to see whether SNH will impose a General Licence restriction on the estate in relation to these and other alleged wildlife crimes.

But back to the alleged poisoning of crops and theft of estate equipment. We wanted to track this case so we called the Sheriff’s clerk to ask when the next hearing was due. The clerk was polite but firm; he couldn’t tell us because it was a secret. He didn’t actually use the word ‘secret’ but by telling us that he wasn’t allowed to provide any information, effectively he was saying it was a secret.

Eh? All we wanted to know was the date of the next hearing. We weren’t asking for any details about the case, the charges or whether the accused had entered a plea. Just the date of the next court hearing.

The clerk told us that all information relating to proceedings by petition were not for public release. We mentioned that this seemed a bit strange given that the details of the first court hearing back in June had been published in the local newspaper. He seemed a bit perplexed by this and went off to check with his manager. He came back and said he couldn’t tell us anything.

Excellent.

If there are any lawyers reading this blog who could explain why this case is shrouded in secrecy, given that it doesn’t appear to relate to a minor or to national security, we’d be very interested to hear those thoughts.

09
Sep
17

Raptor persecution highlighted as key concern in Yorkshire Dales National Park

Earlier this year the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority opened a public consultation to inform its next five-year Management Plan (2018-2023).

Residents and visitors were invited to submit comments on three open-ended questions:

  1. What do you love about the National Park?
  2. How do you think the National Park can be improved?
  3. What do you think are the three most important issues for the National Park Management Plan to tackle over the next five years?

Yesterday, the initial consultation results were published. Download the report:

 YDNPA_ManagementPlan_Report-of-consultation-8Sep2017

Grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park (photo by Ruth Tingay)

As you’d expect, a variety of concerns were raised relating to access, public transport, planning, farming, affordable housing and community services/sustainability. Two other concerns featured high on the agenda of residents and visitors alike – illegal raptor persecution and land management (with a particular focus on grouse moor management).

It’s no surprise. North Yorkshire (which includes the raptor persecution hotspots of the Yorkshire Dales National Park & the neighbouring Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) is consistently rated as one of the worst counties in the UK for reported raptor persecution crimes (e.g. see here).

Separate to this consultation, we were recently provided with an interesting bit of news from a local resident. Following the 2016 case of the Mossdale pole traps, where a gamekeeper employed on the Mossdale Estate in the National Park was filmed by the RSPB setting three illegal pole traps on a grouse moor (here) and who was erroneously let off with a police caution (here), the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority apparently received around 2,000 emails of complaint/concern. Not only that, but many local traders also contacted the Park Authority to express their concern about how the Park’s persistent reputation for illegal raptor persecution may damage their businesses.

It’s clear that people have had enough and are looking to the Park Authority to lead on this issue.

Is the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority up for the challenge? Well, we’ll see. The results of the public consultation will be used by the Park’s Management Plan Steering Committee to draft specific objectives for the new Management Plan, which should be published early next year.

14
Aug
17

Grouse shooting industry silent on marsh harrier persecution

Last Thursday (10th August 2017) North Yorkshire Police issued an appeal for information about several armed men, dressed as gamekeepers, who had been filmed trying to shoot a nesting Marsh harrier on a Yorkshire grouse moor in May. Some more armed men, still dressed as gamekeepers, were also filmed removing eggs from the Marsh harrier’s nest.

The Police appeal for information about the crimes, and an RSPB blog about the crimes, can be found here. The RSPB’s video footage of the crimes can be viewed here:

Four days on, we were interested to find out what the leading representatives of the grouse shooting industry have had to say about these crimes so we checked the following website news sections:

Moorland Association – nothing

National Gamekeepers Organisation – nothing

Countryside Alliance – nothing

British Association for Shooting & Conservation – nothing

Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust – nothing

No condemnation of these crimes. No appeals for information about these crimes from within their industry. Just a complete wall of silence. We even asked the Moorland Association whether this grouse moor was a member, and we asked the National Gamekeepers Organisation whether they had any members employed on this grouse moor. The responses? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

It’s the same deafening silence that followed the discovery of a poisons cache buried on another North Yorkshire grouse moor (see here).

Isn’t it great to see these ‘partners’ in the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW) speaking out and doing their utmost to fight against illegal raptor persecution? It’s yet more evidence that the whole ethos of ‘partnership working’ against raptor persecution is nothing more than a sham.

Actually, how does this collective silence meet with the requirements of being a PAW member?

Let’s look at the PAW mission statement first:

Working in partnership to reduce wildlife crime through prevention and awareness-raising, better regulation, and effective and targeted enforcement‘.

Now let’s look at the PAW objectives:

  • PAW will raise awareness of wildlife legislation and the impacts of wildlife crime
  • PAW will help and advise on wildlife crime and regulatory issues
  • PAW will ensure all wildlife crime is tackled effectively.
  • All PAW members of PAW UK should take action in support of these overarching objectives

How does refusing to comment about raptor persecution crimes meet with any of the PAW objectives?

Some of these PAW members (all of them except the GWCT) are also members of the England & Wales PAW subgroup, the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG). This is the group that DEFRA has identified as being integral to their highly controversial Hen Harrier Recovery Plan. Part of the RPPDG’s role is to provide publicity about raptor persecution, in order ‘to build trust and transparency’. Strange then, that we haven’t found any statement from the RPPDG about the persecution of Marsh harriers on this North Yorkshire grouse moor.

We were interested to read about a few hundred Hunt Saboteurs ‘sabbing’ (disrupting) a couple of grouse shoots this last weekend. As the shooting industry members of the PAW Partnership continue to deliver nothing at all, don’t be surprised to see more of this direct action approach in the months and years ahead.




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