Posts Tagged ‘hen harrier

16
May
17

More on the shot hen harrier near Leadhills

RSPB Scotland has issued a press statement following this morning’s news that a hen harrier was shot near Leadhills on 4 May 2017:

Following the issuing of a press statement by Police Scotland, RSPB Scotland has today added its voice to the appeal for information following the shooting of a protected hen harrier on a grouse moor near the village of Leadhills in South Lanarkshire. The incident happened at 5.15pm on 4th May, when the female bird was killed. An individual, armed with a shotgun and with his face covered, was observed at the scene, but left hurriedly, on a quad bike before the police were able to attend.

RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, Ian Thomson said: “This latest incident shows very clearly how protected birds of prey continue to be treated in some areas of our uplands, particularly where there is intensive grouse moor management. The hen harrier is an increasingly rare bird in southern and eastern Scotland, with illegal killing the main driver of this long term decline. This incident occurred only a few miles from where a satellite-tagged harrier, known as “Annie”, was found shot a couple of years ago, and is close to where another tagged bird, “Chance” disappeared mysteriously last spring. We ask that, if anyone has information about this latest incident at Leadhills, they contact Police Scotland on 101.”

Ian Thomson continued “The recent decision by the Crown Office to discontinue a court case where there was clear video evidence of the alleged shooting of another hen harrier, has clearly sent out a message to those that wish to kill our protected birds of prey, that they can continue to do so with impunity, knowing that even if their alleged crimes are caught on film, they are unlikely to be called to account. We need this last matter to be addressed by the public authorities as a matter of urgency. ”

END

So, it has now been confirmed that the hen harrier was shot ‘on a grouse moor near the village of Leadhills’ by an armed, masked man who escaped on a quad bike. According to Police Scotland, the shooting took place ‘near to the B7040 Elvanfoot to Leadhills road’. We thought we’d take a closer look:

According to information from Andy Wightman’s brilliant Who Owns Scotland website, the B7040 runs from Elvanfoot right across the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate (estate shown in block red):

Was this hen harrier shot on the Leadhills Estate?

Regular blog readers will be very familiar with the Leadhills Estate and neighbouring Buccleuch Estate (Leadhills Estate gamekeepers have previously undertaken ‘pest’ control on parts of Buccleuch Estate) in south Scotland. For new readers, here’s a map showing the location (Leadhills Estate in block red, dotted line denotes Buccleuch Estate boundary, info from Who Owns Scotland). Look how close this is to the Moffat hills, where the Scottish Government plans to translocate golden eagles next year.

Here’s a list of 48 reported raptor persecution crimes from this area over the last 14 years. Only two resulted in successful convictions (2004 – Leadhills Estate gamekeeper convicted of shooting a short-eared owl; 2009 – Leadhills Estate gamekeeper convicted of placing out a poisoned rabbit bait).

Here’s the list, all from Leadhills unless otherwise stated:

2003 April: hen harrier shot [prosecution failed – inadmissible evidence]

2003 April: hen harrier eggs destroyed [prosecution failed – inadmissible evidence]

2004 May: buzzard shot [no prosecution]

2004 May: short-eared owl shot [gamekeeper convicted]

2004 June: buzzard poisoned (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 June: 4 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 June: crow poisoned (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 February: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 April: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 February: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 March: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 April: dead buzzard (persecution method unknown) [no prosecution]

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 May: poisoned egg baits (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: poisoned raven (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: 6 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: poisoned egg bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 September: 5 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2007 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2007 April: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2007 May: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2008 October: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2008 October: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2008 November: 3 x poisoned ravens (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2009 March: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2009 March: poisoned raven (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2009 April: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [gamekeeper convicted]

2009 April: poisoned magpie (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2009 April: poisoned raven (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2010 October: short-eared owl shot [no prosecution]

2011 March: illegally-set clam trap [no prosecution]

2011 December: buzzard shot [no prosecution]

2012 October: golden eagle shot (just over boundary with Buccleuch Estate) [no prosecution]

2013 May: shot otter found on estate [no prosecution]

2013 June: significant cache of pre-prepared poisoned baits found on estate [no prosecution]

2013 August: red kite found shot and critically-injured in Leadhills village [no prosecution]

2014 February: poisoned peregrine (Carbofuran) [‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2015 April: hen harrier ‘Annie’ found shot [Leadhills/Buccluech] [no prosecution]

2016 May: hen harrier ‘Chance’ ‘disappeared’ [Leadhills/Buccleuch] [no prosecution]

Here’s a photo of one of the many intensively-managed driven grouse moors on Leadhills Estate (photo by RPUK)

We’ve previously blogged about the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate at length and in detail. We know it is a member of landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates (at least it was in 2015, see here) and Earl Hopetoun is still currently listed as the Chair of Scottish Land & Estate’s Moorland Group.

Earl Hopetoun has previously denied that Hopetoun Estate has any involvement with grouse moor management at the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate. In 2012 his spokesperson was quoted:

The Earl of Hopetoun’s position on wildlife crime is unequivocal. He has constantly condemned any such activity. More importantly, Hopetoun Estate has no role whatsoever in the management of Leadhills Estate. Leadhills Estate is run on a sporting lease completely separately and there is no connection between Hopetoun Estate and the sporting management of Leadhills”. 

We disputed this claim about Hopetoun Estates having ‘no role whatsoever in the management of Leadhills Estate’  – see here, here and especially here.

However, at this stage, we’ve gone past the arguments of who owns it, or who owns the sporting lease, or who is responsible for the day-to-day management. Despite Earl Hopetoun’s clear condemnation of raptor persecution, and despite the sporting lease stating clearly that wildlife protection legislation must be adhered to, raptor persecution has been persistent in this area, over a long period of years, and almost all of it has gone unpunished. It is clearly beyond the control of those responsible for managing this land which leaves no other option but for state-regulated control. It’s gone too far. It’s time for the Scottish Government to implement the action that has been promised for years.

Later today we’ll be publishing an open letter on this subject to Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham.

UPDATE 6PM: Open letter to the Cabinet Secretary here

16
May
17

Hen harrier shot near Leadhills

Police Scotland are appealing for witnesses after a hen harrier was reported shot near Leadhills, South Lanarkshire.

According to this article in the Carluke Gazette, Police received a report at 5.15pm on 4 May 2017 that a man had shot and killed a hen harrier near to the B7040 Elvanfoot to Leadhills road.

A number of witnesses have come forward, and significant enquiry is underway,” said Inspector Martin Speirs.

I urge anyone who witnessed the incident, or saw a male near the area on a quad bike at the time to come forward.  I also ask that anyone who has CCTV in the area review their cameras. Wanton killing of wildlife in these circumstances is unacceptable“.

We’ve blogged about Leadhills and the surrounding grouse moors many, many, many times. Too many, in fact.

UPDATE 11am: More on the shot hen harrier near Leadhills (here).

UPDATE 6pm: Open letter to the Cabinet Secretary here

Photo by RPUK

11
May
17

Cabrach hen harrier shooting reaches First Minister’s Question Time

Today at First Minister’s Question Time, Richard Lochhead MSP (Moray, SNP) asked the following question:

The First Minister may be aware that there is huge disappointment and some shock following the decision by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service after a prolonged police investigation—and I am told, nine separate court hearings—to drop the case relating to the alleged illegal killing of a hen harrier in the Cabrach in my constituency in 2013. The Crown Office appears to have taken the view that the video footage supplied by the RSPB Scotland was inadmissible, despite such evidence being accepted in the past. Notwithstanding the progress that has been made by ministers in recent years to tackle wildlife crime, will the First Minister acknowledge that that case represents a serious crime against a threatened species? Given that wildlife crime is very difficult to detect, because most often it takes place in remote areas, will she acknowledge that the law and the approach of the Crown Office must take into account such factors? I ask the First Minister whether she would be willing to investigate this case, with a view to ensuring that the justice system does not miss any opportunity to hold to account those who illegally kill our endangered species?

The First Minister responded:

I agree with Richard Lochhead. As he well understands, decisions about the prosecution of crime are, of course, decisions for the Crown Office and in that respect law officers act independently of ministers. However, it is important that we take wildlife crime very seriously indeed, particularly in cases where, as Richard Lochhead has highlighted, it threatens a threatened species. I will be happy to ask the relevant minister, Roseanna Cunningham, to meet with Richard Lochhead to look at what more we can do, particularly taking into account his point about those crimes often taking place in remote areas and, therefore, being more difficult to detect. It is important that we make sure that the policy framework, the law around this and the decisions that are taken by the Crown Office in respect of prosecutions—although, as I say, it is independent of ministers—do everything possible to crack down on those kinds of crime. I assure Richard Lochhead that we will continue to do everything that we can to make sure that that is the case.

Well done, and thank you, Richard Lochhead. More of this, please.

08
May
17

Some more thoughts on the shot hen harrier video

Three days on and our anger has not subsided. If anything, it’s grown. The more we’ve watched that video, and the more we’ve tried to comprehend the reasoning behind the Crown’s decision to drop all criminal proceedings, and the more we’ve contemplated the injustice and wider implications of the Crown’s decision to drop all criminal proceedings, and the longer the silence from a Government that repeatedly claims a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on raptor persecution, the more incensed we’ve become. And we’re not alone.

This 59-second video is actually a microcosm of a war that has been raging for over 60 years, ever since birds of prey were afforded full legal protection. It’s got everything, all the characteristics with which we’re now so familiar: the remote upland landscape, an area with a long history of raptor persecution, the supposedly protected hen harrier so vulnerable as she waits until the last second to abandon her eggs and flee her nest, the violent gunshots, the explosion of feathers as she’s hit, the poignant silent aftermath as her feathers float to the ground, the armed man apparently removing and hiding the evidence of the crime. Only this time the crime was witnessed, captured on film and now, finally, exposed for the world to see.

And then comes the ridiculous pantomime of legal protocol that forces fearful commentators to describe this as an ‘alleged’ crime, which implies it might not have happened. Our eyes work just fine and it is our opinion that it did happen. The only questionable part is who pulled the trigger (twice). The video footage is not conclusive on this point and the man who was charged had pleaded not guilty. It’s fair to comment that the charges against him were alleged (in other words it’s not known whether he was responsible or not) but let’s not pretend that this crime didn’t happen. Somebody shot that hen harrier in June 2013 and whoever it was has escaped justice as the case is now time-barred.

There are several aspects of this case that fan the flames of our exasperation. We’ve already discussed the role of the Crown Office and the questions raised by their decision to drop all proceedings. These matters are deeply concerning and need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Other issues concern the long history of confirmed raptor persecution on Cabrach Estate. Two gamekeepers have previously been convicted for such crimes: one for having a poisoned peregrine in the back of his vehicle (here) and one for shooting two buzzards (here). Other crimes were also detected including the discovery of 11 shot buzzards that had been stuffed inside rabbit holes, 24 poisoned baits, three illegal pole traps and an owl with smashed legs (here) but nobody was charged. We want to point out that the current team of gamekeepers is very recently employed and there isn’t, to our knowledge, any evidence of further crimes since the shooting of the hen harrier in 2013. But the appalling history provides a long-term perspective on what had been going on for a number of decades and that is hard to ignore.

Map showing the location of Cabrach Estate, bordering the Cairngorms National Park (estate boundary based on information from the Who Owns Scotland website).

The publication of this video by RSPB Scotland last Friday has provoked an outpouring of public outrage. Social media has been alight all weekend, and commentary has been provided by many, including a 15-year-old schoolboy (here), a leading figure in conservation (here), another well-known campaigner (here) and a retired police officer (here).

Statements from the game-shooting industry have been thin on the ground but where they have been made, the words chosen have very carefully avoided discussing the killing of a hen harrier.

The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association said they had no comment to make as they didn’t have a membership interest in this case. The video footage was totally ignored (see here).

Scottish Land & Estates also ignored the video content and instead opened with the vague statement, “Evidence of apparent ill-treatment of any protected species is, of course, deeply concerning“. There then followed the usual denials about the extent of raptor persecution, the same old spin about their involvement with the partnership working sham that is the Heads up for Hen Harriers project (which we have previously addressed, here) and then a bit more spin with this line: “In this instance, the estate in question was praised in an RSPB report last year as a potential model sporting estate given its commitment to species conservation, including Hen Harriers“. We were intrigued by this ‘RSPB report’ until we realised that it wasn’t an official RSPB report written by professional upland scientists based on a long-term & detailed assessment, but rather a report of a day trip to the estate, escorted by the new Head Keeper, of the local RSPB members’ group. Hmm, not quite as compelling an endorsement as SLE try to portray. Has Lord Johnstone been taking spin lessons from Beefy Botham on how to make a report sound more credible than it actually is?

So far, there has been no comment from the Scottish Government.

UPDATE 11 May 2017: Cabrach hen harrier shooting reaches First Minister’s Question Time (here)

05
May
17

Hen harrier shooting: fury at decision to drop prosecution

Two weeks ago, the public prosecutors in Scotland (Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service) decided to discontinue criminal proceedings against a (now former) gamekeeper who was alleged to have shot a hen harrier on a grouse moor at Cabrach Estate in June 2013 (see here).

No explanation was given for this decision.

Earlier this morning, RSPB Scotland released video footage of the incident and issued a press statement (here). Here is the video in case anyone missed it:

After watching this video, it’s hard to find words to express the disbelief, frustration and fury about that decision to discontinue the prosecution. Social media has erupted in outrage and the Crown Office is seen as a laughing stock. Most reasonable, law-abiding people who don’t have a vested interest in driven grouse shooting would be hard pressed to disagree.

The RSPB Scotland statement said that the Crown Office had indicated they could not use the video as evidence, but no further detail was provided. RSPB Scotland quite rightly pointed out that other cases that have relied upon video footage have been used successfully in Scottish courts (the most high profile one being the conviction of gamekeeper George Mutch in 2014), and the RSPB was bewildered by the inconsistency of the COPFS’ approach in this case.

However, this morning, in response to the release of the video, the Crown Office has finally decided to provide an explanation, as published in a BBC news article:

In accordance with the Crown’s ongoing duty to keep prosecutions under review and after carrying out a detailed review of all of the relevant material, Crown counsel considered that the inevitable conclusion was that RSPB investigators entered the land in question and embarked upon evidence gathering for the purpose of prosecution.

Discussions have taken place over a number of years between RSPB and COPFS about the admissibility of evidence obtained through the use of covert surveillance.

The Crown has consistently made it clear that strict legal tests must be met before evidence which has been obtained irregularly, such as the evidence in this case, is admissible. We will continue to have further dialogue with RSPB.

In the whole circumstances, Crown counsel concluded that the evidence would not be admissible in court.

In light of that conclusion it was entirely appropriate that proceedings were brought to an end.”

This statement begs several questions:

  • Essentially, this statement implies that RSPB Scotland was lying about the deployment of the video camera. RSPB Scotland had clearly explained that the camera was positioned as part of a routine research/monitoring study focusing on the breeding success of a threatened species. There’s a Scottish Government project (Heads up for Hen Harriers) that is deploying cameras at hen harrier nests for exactly this purpose for Christ’s sake! The Crown Office apparently disputes the RSPB’s explanation for camera deployment. Why? What evidence do they have that makes them think the RSPB is lying? [NB: see update at foot of blog]
  • If the COPFS believed this camera had been placed “for the purpose of prosecution“, why on earth did it take them three years from the date of the shooting to decide to charge the suspect, and why did it take a further year of court hearings (nine in total) before the decision was made to discontinue proceedings? Why did the COPFS even mark this case for proceedings if they didn’t believe the RSPB’s version of events? What changed in the four years the COPFS have been considering this case?
  • Why is the admissibility of video footage such a controversial issue in cases of alleged raptor persecution, and yet we see it being used in a current court case of alleged fox-hunting? We’ve spoken to one of the investigators who filmed the footage being used in the hunt case and he has confirmed he was filming covertly on private land without landowner permission as part of a wider research project on the behaviour of hunts, whether the hunts were involved in alleged criminal activity at the time or not. That’s no different to the circumstances of this hen harrier case.
  • If the circumstances of how this camera footage was obtained were so controversial, why didn’t the COPFS allow the evidence to be assessed by the court? In a very similar case to this current one, in 2006 a gamekeeper was convicted of stalking a hen harrier and his conviction was based on RSPB video evidence. During that trial, there were several hours of legal argument about the admissibility of the video evidence. The Sheriff accepted the video evidence, commenting that the RSPB presence on the gamekeeper’s estate [from where the video was filmed] was “neither illegal nor irregular, and the intent to obtain evidence did not make it so“.
  • We’ve discussed the issue of the admissibility of video evidence time and time and time again. In 2013, the then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse told us that this very issue had been raised with the Lord Advocate (see here). Why then, four years later, is there still such inconsistency and lack of clarity about video admissibility?
  • Why did it take the publication of this video footage, two weeks after the Crown’s decision to discontinue proceedings, for the COPFS to provide an explanation for their decision? Hen harrier persecution is one of the highest national wildlife crime priorities and there is huge and legitimate public concern about it. By remaining silent for two weeks, we would argue the COPFS has displayed an arrogance and contempt for that public concern. It’s not the first time the COPFS has been criticised for poor communications – the Scottish Environment LINK report on wildlife crime enforcement published two years ago was damning on this issue, and this year’s Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee report on the role and purpose of the COPFS reached a similar conclusion.

The general public, is, quite rightly, furious about how this case has been handled. It seems to us that the Crown Office is more concerned about how the evidence was obtained than the actual alleged crime of killing a protected, national priority species. Of course, the COPFS has to assess the evidential circumstances on a case by case basis, and we don’t question that at all. What we do question is, in this case, on what basis the COPFS decided to disbelieve the RSPB’s explanation for deploying the camera, and why it took so long, at such huge cost to the public purse, to decide to discontinue proceedings.

And let’s not forget that this case is one of three that the Crown Office has recently discontinued, all in the space of two weeks (see here).

For a comical interlude, have a read of the statement issued by the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association in response to the video footage. They say, “The SGA has no membership interest in this case. It is not our place to comment, therefore, on individuals involved in the alleged incident or to provide a critique of COPFS“. This is the organisation that is supposedly signed up to the Partnership for action Against Wildlife Crime and who serves on the PAW Raptor Group.

Do we have any confidence in the Scottish criminal justice system to address the on-going persecution of birds of prey? On current evidence, the answer is a resounding NO.

What to do about it? We would urge you to contact your MSP (find out who yours is here) and ask him/her to contact the Scottish Government’s Justice Minister, Michael Matheson to complain on your behalf about the handling of this case. The more MSPs that see this video footage, and hear about the public’s serious concerns, the better.

If you don’t live in Scotland but still want to voice your concerns, please email the Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, Margaret Mitchell MSP (Scottish Conservatives). Email: margaret.mitchell.msp@parliament.scot

Don’t be fobbed off with platitudes or claims of “We can’t comment on individual cases”. Public scrutiny is fundamental to democracy and the public has every right to be asking questions about this ongoing, disgraceful shambles.

UPDATE 14.30hrs: RSPB Scotland has issued a statement in response to the claims of the Crown Office that the camera had been “deployed for prosecution purposes”. Here’s what it says:

In response to the Crown Office’s statement of 5th May as to why the video evidence would not be admissible in court Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations, RSPB Scotland said: “We do not agree with the opinion from the Crown Office that we were attempting to gather evidence for a prosecution. We installed a camera to monitor a protected breeding bird’s nest site, core business for a conservation organisation. We did not share the information about the nest site with anyone, as would be the case with any rare and vulnerable breeding bird species. 

“The fact that an individual came and allegedly shot the female harrier, and that this was captured on film, was an incidental consequence of the camera’s deployment, in the same way that it could easily have captured footage of the nest being naturally predated or failing due to bad weather. It is very disappointing that the opportunity for the court to consider the issue of the admissibility or otherwise of this evidence, as has happened in previous cases, has been removed. Until today, we have received no rationale for the decision to drop the case despite the fact that a number of our staff have provided significant time and expertise in supporting the authorities with the prosecution case.” 

ENDS

UPDATE 8 May 2017: Some more thoughts on the shot hen harrier video (here)

UPDATE 11 May 2017: Cabrach hen harrier shooting reaches First Minister’s Question Time (here)

05
May
17

Hen harrier shooting on Cabrach Estate: RSPB releases video footage

Two weeks ago we blogged about the Crown Office dropping all proceedings against a gamekeeper who was alleged to have shot a hen harrier on the Cabrach Estate in June 2013. At the time, the Crown Office did not offer any explanation for their decision to discontinue the case (see here).

Today, RSPB Scotland has published video footage of what happened at that hen harrier nest in June 2013:

RSPB Scotland has also released a press statement:

ALLEGED ILLEGAL KILLING OF A HEN HARRIER

Court proceedings against a former gamekeeper, accused of shooting a protected hen harrier, have been dropped by the Crown Office, who have indicated that after considering all of the relevant material they could not use RSPB Scotland video evidence to support the prosecution in court.

Since the incident occurred at Cabrach, Morayshire in June 2013, the case has been subject to a prolonged police investigation and nine separate court hearings, at a considerable cost to the public purse. Only now has the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) abandoned the prosecution just a few weeks prior to the scheduled trial.

The evidence was obtained as a result of RSPB Scotland staff monitoring the active nest of a breeding pair of hen harriers on the Cabrach Estate, in Morayshire, which contained 4 eggs. On 20th May 2013, a camera was deployed in a moorland area away from human habitation to film the nest to record the outcome of the nesting attempt – a routine part of RSPB Scotland’s work to observe the success of breeding attempts for this protected and threatened species. Over the next three weeks the footage recorded at the nest showed normal hen harrier breeding behaviour.

However, the film revealed that on 10th June 2013, the female hen harrier was flushed from the nest, and immediately afterwards two gun shots were heard. The bird was apparently hit as a shower of feathers can be seen. A few seconds later, a man, carrying a shotgun entered the picture and moved in the direction of where the hen harrier had flown. He then returned into the picture holding the carcass of the dead hen harrier, and was seen to pick up a number of feathers that had been dislodged from the bird.

On reviewing the footage, RSPB Scotland Investigations staff immediately reported the incident to Police Scotland, as we believed the footage showed clear evidence of a wildlife crime having been committed. This case was then reported for trial by the Crown Office following the identification by the police of a suspect.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland said:

In our opinion, the video footage clearly shows an individual involved in the illegal killing and then disposal of a hen harrier, one of Scotland’s most threatened bird species. Whilst we know that hen harriers are often illegally targeted by gamekeepers seeking to protect red grouse stocks, such crimes usually take place in remote areas, and it is therefore very difficult to obtain evidence to bring the perpetrators to justice. This incident would never have been uncovered had the nest not been monitored by our camera”.

He continued: “RSPB video evidence has been used in the successful prosecution of previous wildlife crime cases in Scotland, including two very similar incidents of hen harrier persecution, and more recently our film footage assisted in the conviction of an Aberdeenshire gamekeeper for a number of raptor persecution offences. Digital imagery has also been used to assist successful prosecutions on a number of occasions in England. We are appalled and extremely frustrated that the court has not been given the opportunity to give a judgement based on this clear footage, and we are perplexed by the inconsistency in approach to these cases that seems to be taken by the Crown Office (COPFS). The hen harrier is an agreed Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAWS) priority and yet despite this, and the quality of the evidence our staff gathered, we were notified, by email on a Friday afternoon, of the decision to take it no further. In our view, justice has not been seen to be done in this case, and the public interest seems to have been very badly served by COPFS. We have written to the Lord Advocate and will be seeking urgent meetings with the Crown Office to consider the implications. There is little point in passing laws to protect our most threatened species if the public authorities ignore the strong public concern about the scale of wildlife crime in Scotland.”

ENDS

We will be commenting on this press release, the video, and the wider consequences of the COPFS’ decision to (a) exclude the video as evidence, and (b) discontinue criminal proceedings, later this morning. We’ll also be advising what you can do in response. More later…….

UPDATE 13.30hrs: Hen harrier shooting: Fury at decision to drop prosecution (see here).

UPDATE 8 May 2017: Some more thoughts on the shot hen harrier video (here)

UPDATE 11 May 2017: Cabrach hen harrier shooting reaches First Minister’s Question Time (here)

27
Apr
17

Raptor groups slam DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Plan

The Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) has published a damning criticism of DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan in what it describes as a Year 1 Assessment.

The Plan, as you know, was wheeled out by DEFRA in January 2016 and has been widely criticised by conservation organisations, not least for including the controversial element of brood meddling, i.e. removing hen harriers from driven grouse moors during the breeding season so there are more red grouse available to be shot by wealthy gunmen, and then releasing the harriers back on to the moors in the autumn to coincide with, er, the grouse shooting season. Genius.

NERF’s criticism of the Plan doesn’t include any surprises apart from the news that NERF was refused a seat at the table when the Plan was being formulated. NERF contends that the Plan in its current format is unworkable and that the estimated £1.39 million pounds being thrown at it from the public purse should be diverted to help monitoring and enforcement. They’ve got a point.

It’s good to see NERF utilise their undisputed expertise and experience and make clear their position on what is one of the most controversial issues in UK conservation. More of that, please!

The NERF statement can be read here




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