Posts Tagged ‘gamekeeper



17
Sep
19

Golden eagle with trap dangling from its leg: statement from Environment Cabinet Secretary

In August Police Scotland published a photograph of a young golden eagle that had been seen flying in the Cairngorms National Park with an illegally-set trap clamped to one of its legs.

This photograph, along with the Police’s appeal for information, went viral and was reported on news channels around the world (e.g. here), highlighting Scotland’s shameful record of illegal raptor persecution.

There’s been no further update on the fate of this eagle. Undoubtedly it’ll be dead and if it had been found by anyone associated with the criminal element of the game-shooting industry the corpse and trap will be long gone….nothing to see, deny, deny, deny, it was all a set up, fake news, it never happened, etc etc.

Meanwhile, those who aren’t fooled by the propaganda and know exactly what goes on on game shooting estates have been asking pertinent questions.

Step up Colin Beattie MSP (SNP: Midlothian North & Musselburgh) who lodged the following written question on 2 September 2019:

Question S5W-25069 – 

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of reports of a golden eagle found with an illegal trap on its legs, what action it is taking to protect wild birds as a matter of urgency ahead of the publication of the findings of the Grouse Moor Management Group (the Werritty report).

A brilliant question. Forget ‘waiting for Werritty‘ which has been the Scottish Government’s default response to every single raptor persecution crime since May 2017, Colin wants to know what action is being taken NOW.

The Government’s response came from Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham on 12 Sept, as follows:

The Scottish Government is strongly committed to safeguarding the welfare of all animals, including wild birds such as raptors.

The illegal persecution of our birds of prey is an extremely serious issue and, as we announced in our Programme for Government for 2019-2020, we will bring forward a Bill increasing the maximum penalties for certain wildlife offences, including those associated with illegal killing or injuring of wild birds. This will deliver a commitment to implement the recommendation to increase wildlife crime penalties in the review undertaken by Professor Poustie.

We also committed in the Programme for Government that we will respond to the independent review on grouse moor management. The review is examining how we can ensure that grouse moor management is sustainable and complies with the law and it would not be appropriate to make decisions in advance of its report. We will carefully consider the recommendations in the report and other relevant evidence when deciding our response.

The measures on wildlife crime penalties build upon a range of other work we have undertaken to tackle this issue, including: supporting the use of satellite tags to monitor birds of prey; introducing new offences for harassing birds of prey or damaging their nesting places; setting up a poisons disposal scheme to remove poisons used to kill wild birds; strengthening Police Scotland wildlife crime resources, including in the Cairngorms; and introducing vicarious liability so that landowners can be held responsible for crimes against wild birds committed by their employees.

Roseanna’s response carefully avoids answering Colin’s question directly. Colin asked what Scot Gov was doing ‘as a matter of urgency ahead of the publication of the Werritty report’. Roseanna’s response confirms, in effect, that Scot Gov is doing absolutely nothing at all in advance of the Werritty report.

Splendid.

And guess what? We’re still waiting for Werritty, despite being told by Scot Gov at the end of July that the report was due ‘in the next few weeks’. What an embarrassing fiasco it has become.

Whoever wrote Roseanna’s response was surely having a laugh, judging by the last paragraph. Yes, Scot Gov has introduced new offences for harassing birds of prey or damaging their nesting places but as far as we’re aware, there have been no prosecutions for these offences even though there have been a number of reports of raptor nests being deliberately burned out on grouse moors.

And yes, Scot Gov set up a poisons disposal scheme (two, in fact) to remove poisons used to kill wild birds and yet still we’re seeing raptors being illegally poisoned and still gamekeepers are being found guilty of possessing these illegal poisons.

And yes, Scot Gov did support a pilot scheme for a number of police special constables (essentially volunteers working in their own time) in the Cairngorms National Park but there has been no (public) assessment of the scheme’s impact and raptor persecution crimes were still reported in the National Park during the scheme’s duration.

And yes, Scot Gov did introduce vicarious liability so that landowners could be held responsible for crimes against wild birds committed by their employees but so far this has only resulted in two successful convictions in 7.5 years and only last month yet another landowner avoided any charges of alleged vicarious liability and the Crown Office chose not to explain this decision to the public.

 

30
Aug
19

No vicarious liability prosecution for Longformacus Estate

Ten days ago Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson was sentenced for a catalogue of wildlife crime offences, including possession of the banned poison Carbofuran and the shooting of protected raptors, badgers and an otter on the Longformacus Estate in the Scottish Borders (see here).

[Criminal gamekeeper Alan Wilson, photo by Daily Record]

Very early on in this case we were aware that two individuals had been charged in relation to the crimes uncovered at Longformacus Estate (see here) and it was rumoured that the second man was facing a charge of alleged vicarious liability for Wilson’s crimes, although we were unable to verify this.

As a quick re-cap, vicarious liability was a measure introduced by the Scottish Government on 1 January 2012 as a direct and specific response to ongoing illegal raptor persecution, whereby somebody (e.g. a landowner or a sporting agent) may be held responsible for the criminal actions of an employee – see here for a more detailed explanation.

Following Wilson’s conviction and then subsequent sentencing earlier this month, we were keen to find out whether the Crown Office was now pursuing a charge of alleged vicarious liability against any individual associated with the management of Longformacus Estate. Last week we wrote to the Crown Office for clarification and this is the response received yesterday:

So, here we are yet again.

No prosecution for anyone associated with the management of Longformacus Estate where gamekeeper Alan Wilson was able to commit crime after crime after crime after crime, apparently without his boss(es) noticing.

For a defence of a charge of alleged vicarious liability, the gamekeeper’s boss(es) would need to show that (a) s/he/they did not know the offence was being committed; AND (b) that s/he/they took all reasonable steps AND exercised all due diligence to prevent the offence(s) being committed. Without knowing the full facts and circumstances of this case it is impossible for us to judge whether the Crown Office’s decision not to pursue a charge was sensible, but it has to be said that given the extent and duration of Wilson’s criminal activities, it would have been very interesting indeed to have heard his bosses’ interpretation and explanation of ‘all due diligence’.

We’ll probably never know why the Crown Office chose not to proceed – it is under no obligation to offer any explanation to the public. However, this latest decision really shouldn’t come as any surprise to anybody – remember, this is the same Crown Office that dropped five prosecutions for alleged raptor persecution in quick succession in 2017 (see here), even including several cases where RSPB video footage had captured the crimes on camera! Those decisions not to proceed with prosecutions hailed the start of what has now become complete exasperation at the authorities’ failure to take on many cases linked to wildlife crime on game-shooting estates.

The Crown’s decision not to pursue criminal proceedings in relation to the crimes committed at Longformacus Estate also further entrenches the view that vicarious liability as a measure for tackling ongoing raptor persecution is a resounding failure. Introduced seven and a half years ago on 1 Jan 2012, only two successful prosecutions have been secured: one in Dec 2014 (here) and one in Dec 2015 (here). A third case in Oct 2015 was dropped because the authorities couldn’t identify the estate’s management structure (here) and a fourth case was abandoned in April 2017 because the Crown said ‘it wasn’t in the public interest to continue’ (here).

Who thinks that two successful cases in 7.5 years is a measure of success? Perhaps if raptor persecution crimes weren’t still being committed then vicarious liability might have been viewed as a success in terms of its deterrent value but it’s quite clear, given the ongoing reports of persecution, that landowners and sporting agents are probably increasingly confident of evading prosecution and the Crown’s decision on the Longformacus Estate will only strengthen that view.

The question now is, for how many more years do we have to sit and watch the pathetic failure of vicarious liability as a measure to combat raptor persecution? The Scottish Government can no longer rely on this as an indication of its commitment to tackling these crimes. Sure, when introduced in 2012 it was done in good faith and with the best of intentions but it is quite clear for all to see that, for whatever reason, it isn’t working, and the Scottish Government needs to acknowledge this failure and find out why it’s failing and get it fixed.

It’s not just convicted gamekeeper Alan Wilson sticking up two fingers to our law-abiding society.

The topic of vicarious liability was raised at the recent SNP Conference Fringe meeting on grouse moor reform (here) as well as the Revive Coalition’s conference in Perth (here) and caused quite a stir amongst delegates and panellists at both events. It’s an issue we’re likely to follow up with several interested MSPs.

Meanwhile, Chris Packham’s petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting is doing exceptionally well, just two weeks after launching. It has now attracted over 81,000 signatures but is likely to fall if it doesn’t reach 100,000 signatures by Sept 9th, thanks to the current shenanigans at Westminster (if Parliament is suspended all unfinished business, including live petitions, will fall). If you haven’t yet signed, please do so HERE. Thank you.

 

28
Aug
19

Eagle owl treated cruelly by gamekeeper Alan Wilson now safely re-homed

Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson, sentenced last week for a litany of vile wildlife crimes on the Longformacus Estate (see here), also had a previous conviction from 2018 when he pleaded guilty to an animal welfare offence.

That conviction related to the cruel mistreatment of an eagle owl, which had been kept in ‘utterly unacceptable living conditions‘ in a pigsty outside his cottage. The owl was confiscated by the SSPCA.

Last week the Daily Record reported that the confiscated owl had now been successfully re-homed by a guy called Keith in West Lothian.

[Eagle owl ‘Wooey’ with new owner Keith. Photo by Daily Record]

The Daily Record article appeared to include a few exaggerations, such as:

Wooey was used to lure raptors including buzzards and endangered hen harriers so that Wilson, 61, could blast them out of the sky with his shotgun on the Longformacus Estate in Berwickshire‘.

Really? I’m not sure there was any evidence of Wilson using the owl to lure hen harriers or any other raptors, although it’s obviously a strong possibility. But that’s not the same as saying it did happen.

The article also claimed that this image (attributed to the Daily Record) showed Wooey before he was rescued:

Actually, this image was taken on a different grouse moor in 2017 and was sent to us by a blog contributor (see here). It might have been Wooey, but it’s just as likely to be another eagle owl being tethered (illegally) by another gamekeeper. This is a well known (illegal) practice on some grouse moors.

Probable exaggerations aside, this is a good news story – well done to the SSPCA and to Keith (re-homer) and to the Daily Record for covering the story.

It’s also a reminder to anyone who sees a tethered owl out on a grouse moor to take photos if possible and report the sighting to both the police (Tel: 101) AND the RSPB’s Raptor Crime Hotline (Tel: 0300 999 0101).

If you’re sick to the back teeth of hearing about wildlife and animal welfare crimes taking place on grouse moors, please consider signing this petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting: PLEASE SIGN HERE

 

22
Aug
19

180 schoolchildren put at risk on visit to Longformacus Estate

Criminal gamekeeper Alan Wilson was recently convicted for crimes he committed on the Longformacus Estate in the Scottish Borders between March 2016 and June 2017. In amongst the long list of offences, Wilson pleaded guilty to the possession of banned poisons.

According to the Crown Office (here):

Officers also found a bottle of the banned pesticide Carbofuran and another bottle containing a mix of Carbofuran and Carbosulfan. Carbofuran is a highly toxic pesticide and a single grain the size of a poppy seed can kill a bird. A quarter of a teaspoonful can be fatal to humans‘.

We know from crime scene photographs that Wilson had one large bottle of poison in his workshop and a smaller bottle of poison that he carried inside a bum bag.

[The large bottle of banned poison found on the premises at Longformacus Estate. Note the protective clothing worn by the investigator. Photo by SSPCA]

[The smaller bottle of poison in the front pouch of Wilson’s bum bag. Photo by SSPCA]

It is reasonable to presume that Wilson dispensed the poison in to a smaller container for ease of distribution around the estate. Although he wasn’t charged with actually using the poison (just possession of it), it’s probably fair to say he probably wasn’t just taking the bottle of poison out for a walk every day.

It is with some shock then, that we’ve learned at least 180 schoolchildren were put at risk by being taken on an ‘educational’ visit to Longformacus Estate in June 2016, exactly the time when Wilson was busily committing his crimes on the estate.

Thanks to the blog reader who sent us the following report of the school visit, organised by landowner Mr Charles and the Royal Highland Education Trust (RHET):

Good grief, this should be a massive wake-up call for all those teachers thinking of taking schoolchildren on educational visits to game-shooting estates.

Not that the teachers or RHET staff could have known what they were walking in to when they turned up at Longformacus Estate – all RHET field visits are ‘fully risk assessed‘ and they probably wouldn’t have dreamt that a fatally toxic poison was being carried in the gamekeeper’s bum bag. Most decent-thinking people assume that illegal practices like poisoning wildlife is a thing of the past, not part of 21st century estate management!

Incidentally, we’ve asked the Crown Office to confirm whether they anticipate a charge of alleged vicarious liability in relation to the landowner and/or sporting agent at Longformacus Estate. We’re hearing all sorts of rumours but it would be best to get an answer direct from COPFS. So far we’ve been told by the COPFS media team that they can only answer questions from journalists so our request has been sent to the general enquiries team.

We’ve also asked Scottish Land & Estates whether Longformacus Estate is/was a member and if it was, has the estate now been expelled following Wilson’s convictions for wildlife crime? So far we’ve been told that this question has been passed to the Senior Management Team and that they’ll respond in due course.

21
Aug
19

South Yorkshire Police Chief urged to improve responses to wildlife crime

Stephen Watson, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police is coming under increasing pressure to improve responses to reports of wildlife crime in the region.

In July this year, Liz Ballard, Chief Executive of Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust held a meeting with Stephen Watson along with local MP Angela Smith (Hen Harrier Species Champion), Mark Thomas (RSPB Investigations) and Supt Nick Lyall (Chair, Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group) to discuss concerns about South Yorkshire Police’s apparent failure to follow up on a number of wildlife crime investigations, especially on grouse moors in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park, a national raptor persecution hotspot.

One such apparent failure involved the poisoning of a raven that had been found on a grouse moor in the Dark Peak. It was reported that Natural England refused to have the corpse tested for toxicology, so the RSPB paid for it to be done privately, and when the results were given to the police they did nothing for a year (see here).

Earlier this year there was also concern about the behaviour of a police officer reportedly working with gamekeepers from the Moscar Estate and who later had to apologise to a member of Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust for his actions (see here).

The July meeting with Chief Constable Stephen Watson was an opportunity for a frank exchange of views and this included letting him know that the perception is that South Yorkshire Police ‘are not interested or active in tackling wildlife crime as there is a conflict of interest between the officers leading on wildlife crime and their personal involvement in the shooting industry‘. CC Watson responded by saying it was ‘helpful for the police to have good community links with the shooting industry to be better able to tackle wildlife crime‘.

As a follow-up to the meeting, where a number of action points were identified, Liz Ballard and Mark Thomas have written an open letter to Stephen Watson as follows:

It’ll be interesting to see how Stephen Watson responds.

Kudos to Liz Ballard and her team at Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust for their determination to tackle wildlife crime in the region. Liz is one of several new faces to express an interest in joining the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) earlier this year and she told us recently that having now attended several meetings she is keen to have the Trust’s membership of that group formally ratified without any further delay.

As further evidence of the Trust’s commitment to this issue, Supt Nick Lyall has been invited to speak at the Trust’s AGM in September. This event is open to the public and further details/tickets can be found here.

UPDATE 9 September 2019: South Yorkshire Police commit to improved responses to wildlife crime (here)

20
Aug
19

Scottish Gamekeepers Association fails to influence the criminals within its membership

Gamekeeper Alan Wilson, 61, sentenced yesterday for his appalling crimes against protected raptors and mammals on the Longformacus Estate in the Borders (here) was a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA).

[Convicted criminal gamekeeper Alan Wilson photographed outside court yesterday, photo by Daily Record]

As an SGA member, Wilson cannot possibly claim that he wasn’t aware of the laws protecting birds of prey and mammals such as badgers and otters, nor that the deadly poison he had in his possession, Carbofuran, has been banned for approx 14 years, because although the SGA can be viewed as a bunch of raptor-hating Victorian throwbacks who lobby to have birds of prey added to the lists of ‘vermin’ that can be killed with impunity (e.g. see here), it has always made it clear that the illegal killing of these species is unacceptable. It wants to kill raptors, yes, to stop them interfering with game bird stocks, but acknowledges that so far, this is still unlawful unless the Scottish Government decides to issue licences to kill birds of prey.

Wilson carried what looks to be his SGA member’s log book in the same bag as he kept one of his bottles of Carbofuran.

Here’s his bag, with the bottle of Carbofuran in the front pouch [SSPCA photo]

Here’s the small bottle of Carbofuran (remember only a few granules are enough to kill a human) [SSPCA photo]

Here’s his SGA member’s log book, contained in the side pouch [photo SSPCA]

The irony of this is not lost on us.

The SGA issued a statement yesterday, after months of refusing to say anything, confirming that Wilson was indeed a member and his membership has now been terminated. Expelling criminals from within its ranks is a relatively recent endeavour by the SGA (in the last five or so years) and undoubtedly is a result of public and political pressure. The organisation has to at least make an effort to appear civilised and expelling criminal members is one way of doing this.

It begs the question, though, how many more criminals are hiding in plain sight within the SGA’s membership? It’s worth bearing in mind that, despite the industry’s claims, gamekeeping is not a profession in the sense that potential candidates don’t have to pass a formal qualification process to enter the ‘profession’ (although increasingly they do need to be certified in certain areas of their work) and absolutely anybody can become a member of the SGA unless, it seems, you have a recent conviction for wildlife crime. There’s no independent register of gamekeepers and nor is there a professional body to whom members of the public can complain about a gamekeeper’s behaviour or conduct, which when you think about it is pretty odd, given the job mostly involves killing things. Those responsible for caring for animals have to be highly qualified and are answerable to their professional bodies (e.g. vets) and yet those who kill animals for a living can do so without any professional oversight.

It’s pretty clear from the criminal activities of SGA member Alan Wilson that the SGA had absolutely no influence or control over his behaviour whatsoever. Did the SGA know about Wilson’s crimes? It seems unlikely, given the risk he posed to the SGA’s reputation.

So how many more Alan Wilsons are out there, fully-signed-up members of the SGA but with a huge appetite for killing protected wildlife with impunity?

How can the SGA possibly claim that gamekeepers are law-abiding members of society (e.g. see here) when the SGA hasn’t actually got a clue what its members are up to?

We won’t know, of course, until the next time. And there will be a next time, and another one, and another one, and another one….

Meanwhile, the SGA will be kept busy on a damage limitation exercise for the next few months trying to counter the media coverage of Wilson’s atrocities:

 

 

 

19
Aug
19

Monumentally inadequate sentence for convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson

In July this year, Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson, then 60, pleaded guilty to nine of 12 charges of wildlife crime at Henlaw Wood on Longformacus Estate in the Borders (see here).

[Convicted wildlife criminal Alan Wilson, a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. Photo by ITV Border]

Wilson’s crimes included the shooting and killing of two goshawks at Henlaw Wood between March 2016 and May 2017, three buzzards, three badgers and an otter. He also pleaded guilty to charges of setting 23 illegal snares and possession of two bottles of the highly toxic (and banned pesticide) Carbofuran (see here).

[SSPCA photos]

Following Wilson’s guilty plea, the Sheriff adjourned sentencing for a few weeks to allow reports to be submitted.

Soon after his conviction, Scottish Land & Estates issued a statement of condemnation and claimed the Longformacus Estate was being managed for low ground pheasant shooting but in its desperation to avoid any bad publicity of grouse moor management, completely failed to mention that part of the estate was also managed as a grouse moor. Here’s a photograph of Henlaw Wood (now felled) and its proximity to the grouse moor:

[Original photo by Richard Webb; additional text by RPUK]

Alan Wilson, now 61, was sentenced at Jedburgh Sheriff Court this afternoon. Astonishingly (or not!), despite his litany of violent crimes against protected raptors and mammals which easily passed the threshold for a custodial sentence, Wilson has dodged jail, has dodged a fine, and instead has been issued with a 10-month curfew and an instruction to carry out 225 hours of unpaid work as part of a Community Payback Scheme. His firearms and other equipment was confiscated (it’s not clear for how long).

This monumentally inadequate sentence is in no way a reflection of the severity or extent of Wilson’s crimes, nor does it offer a suitable deterrent for other would-be offenders. According to this article in the Guardian by Sev Carrell, Sheriff Peter Paterson acknowledged that Wilson’s offending warranted a custodial sentence but said that as the Wildlife & Countryside Act only allowed sentences of up to six months, and Scottish Ministers had recently introduced a presumption against jailing offenders for less than 12 months, he felt he had no choice but to impose a different sentence.

This doesn’t make sense to us. Sure, the W&CA does, currently, impose a limit of six months but that’s six months per offence, so in Wilson’s case, where he had pleaded guilty to multiple offences, this would have amounted to much more than one six-month sentence and so in our opinion, he should have received a custodial sentence. We don’t know if this sentence will be appealed by the Crown Office – it must first be satisfied that the sentence was unduly lenient (e.g. see here). We’ll have to wait and see.

What is absolutely crystal clear is that the Scottish Government needs to get on and implement the penalty increases for wildlife crimes that it agreed to do way back in 2016.

This is Wilson’s second conviction in relation to offences at Longformacus Estate: in February 2018 he was sentenced to a £400 fine and disqualified from keeping birds of prey for ten years after he was convicted of animal welfare offences in relation to an Eagle Owl he had kept in appalling conditions (see here).

We don’t know whether Wilson’s employer (which may be a landowner or a sporting agent) will face a charge of alleged vicarious liability. We know that two individuals were originally charged with alleged offences at Longformacus Estate (e.g. see here) but we don’t yet have any more details. We will be following up on this and will report here if there is news. [Please note: if you are commenting on this aspect of the crimes at Longformacus Estate, remember there is a potential defence to any allegation of vicarious liability – Wilson’s employer is not automatically guilty just because he was Wilson’s employer].

Interestingly, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association has, after months of refusing to comment, now finally admitted that Wilson was indeed an SGA member when he committed these wildlife crimes. Here is the SGA statement posted today:

We’ll be discussing Wilson’s SGA membership in a later post.

It is not clear to us whether the Longformacus Estate is a member of Scottish Land & Estates. So far SLE hasn’t issued a statement about today’s sentencing. Instead, it’s website is leading with an article with the unfortunate headline, ‘Making it Happen’.

More on this soon.

It only remains to acknowledge the huge efforts of all those involved in detecting, investigating and prosecuting this case. This successful conviction was the result of genuine partnership working between the League Against Cruel Sports, Scottish SPCA, RSPB Scotland, Police Scotland and the Crown Office, along with experts from the Scottish Raptor Study Group, SASA, and veterinary pathologists from Scottish Agricultural College. Well done and thanks to all those involved in exposing this filthy criminal activity on yet another grouse moor.

Wildlife crime is endemic on many grouse moors. We see it over and over again and we also see the offenders escape justice time and time again. If you’d like to help bring it to an end, please consider signing this new petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting – PLEASE SIGN HERE

UPDATE 30 August 2019: No vicarious liability prosecution for Longformacus Estate (here).




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