Posts Tagged ‘Invercauld Estate

29
Sep
21

Leadhills Estate – General Licence restriction extended after police report more evidence of wildlife crime

Regular blog readers will be well aware that the notorious Leadhills Estate, a grouse-shooting estate in South Lanarkshire that has been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations at least 70 times since the early 2000s, is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction based on ‘clear evidence’ of raptor persecution offences, including the illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 1 January 2014 (see here) and the discovery of banned poisons on the estate in May 2019 (see here).

That original General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate by NatureScot in November 2019 and is valid until November 2022.

[Chris Packham holds a dead hen harrier. This bird was caught by the leg in an illegally-set trap on the Leadhills Estate grouse moor in May 2019. The trap had been set next to the harrier’s nest and was hidden by moss. The harrier’s leg was almost severed. Unfortunately, extensive surgery could not save this bird. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

However, since that original restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate in November 2019, further alleged offences have been reported and are the subject of ongoing police investigations (see here) including the alleged shooting of a(nother) short-eared owl by a masked gunman on a quad bike as witnessed by a local resident and his eight year old son in July 2020 (see here) and the discovery of yet another batch of banned poisons, also in July 2020 (here). A satellite-tagged hen harrier (Silver) also vanished in suspicious circumstances on the estate in May 2020 (here), and although NatureScot don’t count missing satellite-tagged raptors as sufficient evidence for a General Licence restriction, the disappearance can be used as supportive evidence if further alleged offences are also being considered.

It’s been over a year since those further alleged offences were reported and we’ve all been waiting to see whether NatureScot would impose a further General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate. Instead, the licensing team appears to have been focusing on helping out the estate by issuing it with an out-of-season muirburn licence last year (see here) and considering another application from the estate this year (see here). It really beggars belief.

Anyway, NatureScot has finally got its act together and has indeed imposed a further General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate. Here is the statement on the NatureScot website:

29 September 2021

NatureScot has extended the restriction of the use of general licences on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire until 2023. The decision was made on the basis of additional evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out actions which would otherwise be illegal, including controlling common species of wild birds to protect crops or livestock.

A restriction of the use of general licences was implemented on Leadhills estate in November 2019, in response to police evidence of crimes against wild birds occurring on the land. This decision extends the period of the existing restriction.

Robbie Kernahan, NatureScot’s s Director of Sustainable Growth, said: “It is hugely disappointing to have to be considering further issues of wildlife crime against wild birds and we are committed to using the tools we have available to us in tackling this. In this case we have concluded that there is enough evidence to suspend the general licences on this property for a further three years. They may still apply for individual licences, but -if granted – these will be closely monitored.

We work closely with Police Scotland and will continue to consider information they provide us on cases which may warrant restriction of general licences. The detection of wildlife crime can be difficult but new and emerging technologies along with a commitment from a range of partners to take a collective approach to these issues will help us stop this from occurring in the future.”

ENDS

NatureScot’s Robbie Kernahan is quoted here as saying the General Licence restriction will apply “for a further three years“, which should take the restriction up to November 2025.

However, when you look at the actual restriction notice on NatureScot’s website, it says the restriction will extend to July 2023.

Eh? That’s not a three-year extension. That’s only an eight-month extension. I sincerely hope this is just a typo and the date should read November 2025.

It’s good to see NatureScot finally get on with this but I have to say that given there’s a need for an extension of the original General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate, due to further evidence from Police Scotland about ongoing alleged wildlife crime there, doesn’t that demonstrate just how ineffective the General Licence restriction is as a tool for tackling wildlife crime??

I’ve written many times about the futility of this scheme, and have even presented evidence about it to a Parliamentary committee, not least because even when a General Licence restriction has been imposed, estate employees can simply apply to NatureScot for an individual licence to continue doing exactly what they were doing under the (now restricted) General Licence (e.g. see here)!

And although former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, who was responsible for first introducing General Licence restrictions in 2014, considered that it would work as a ‘reputational driver’ (here), I’ve previously shown with several examples how this is simply not the case (e.g. see here) and that a General Licence restriction remains an ineffective sanction.

Nevertheless, it’s all we’ve got available at the moment and on that basis I would like to see NatureScot now get on with making decisions about restrictions on a number of other estates, such as Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park where a poisoned golden eagle was found dead next to a poisoned bait earlier this year (here).

And Invercauld isn’t the only estate that should be sanctioned, is it, NatureScot?

UPDATE 30th September 2021: Extension of General Licence restriction at Leadhills Estate confirmed as pitiful 8 months (here).

UPDATE 6th October 2021: Leadhills Estate’s reaction to extended General Licence restriction (here).

07
Sep
21

Reports of wildlife crime doubled during lockdown, says Police Scotland Chief

Press release from Police Scotland:

Operation Wingspan, a year-long campaign to tackle wildlife crime, working with partners, including the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland, has seen considerable success and is now entering its final phase.

This involves officers working on the persecution of fresh water pearl mussels and tackling all aspects of poaching, including hare coursing. As with previous phases, it will involve a combination of enforcement action and education.

Overall, the campaign has involved officers engaging with a number of organisations, including the agricultural community, ranger services, land managers and game keepers with the aim of educating the wider public and encouraging them to report wildlife crime to the police.

Detective Sergeant Billy Telford, Police Scotland’s Wildlife Crime Co-ordinator, said: “We have many internationally renowned species that attract thousands of nature lovers and tourists every year to Scotland, but many crimes against wildlife are cruel and barbaric, often involving a painful death.

From hunting deer, hares or badgers with dogs, to using poisons or snares on protected birds, and protecting one of our lesser known species, the critically endangers freshwater pearl mussel, Operation Wingspan is raising awareness and hopefully encouraging people to come forward and report this kind of crime.”

[This young golden eagle was found ‘deliberately poisoned‘ with a banned toxin on an Invercauld Estate grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in March this year. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Operation Wingspan began in October 2020 and Phase One saw officers tackling the trade in endangered species and included visits to over 300 business premises, such as antique dealers, retro shops and pet shops across Scotland to advise owners and provide information about potential contraventions under The Control of Trade in Endangered Species (COTES) 2018 regulations. It resulted in the seizure and recovery of alligator heads from across the country.

Phase Two tackled badger persecution, working with the charity Scottish Badgers, to highlight that badgers and their setts are protected, that it is an offence to harm or interfere with them and that badger baiting is illegal. Where ongoing risks were identified, action was taken to protect the sett and the badgers.

Phase Three saw officers taking part in a construction conference to outline the responsibilities of developers, highlighting that it is an offence to destroy or damage roosts, as well as engaging with bat groups and visiting vulnerable roosts, ultimately leading to people being charged for undertaking development that threatened the welfare of bats.

In Phase Four concentrated on raptor persecution. Officers have carried out a number of activities, including patrols of vulnerable nesting sites, warrants executed in relation to wildlife crime and a social media campaign with an educational video that was produced in collaboration with the RSPB.

Detective Chief Superintendent Laura McLuckie said: “Reports of wildlife crime doubled during lockdown and Police Scotland is dedicated to working closely with a wide range of partner organisations to reduce the harm to species targeted by criminals and the communities who rely on them for employment and tourism across Scotland.

Tackling wildlife crime is not just about enforcement, it is also about working with partners and raising public awareness to prevent it happening. Indeed, the public has an important role in helping up to investigate reports of wildlife crime and I would urge anyone with concerns or who suspect a wildlife crime has been committed to contact us on 101, and if it is an emergency to call 999.”

More information can be found on our website: https://www.scotland.police.uk/wildlifecrime

ENDS

21
Aug
21

Golden eagles have been illegally killed on Scottish grouse moors for 40+ years but apparently we shouldn’t talk about it

In response to the news that Police Scotland are investigating the circumstances of five eagles found dead in the Western Isles earlier this month (see here), Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the grouse moor owners’ lobby group has issued what I’d call a staggeringly disingenuous statement, where the blame for ongoing raptor persecution appears to be being projected on to those of us who dare to call out the shooting industry for its ongoing war against birds of prey.

Here’s SLE’s statement in full, dated 20 August 2021:

Response to raptor fatalities should not depend on location or landuse

Reports of five eagles being found dead on the Western Isles are very serious. 

Police Scotland has said that officers are investigating and it is to be hoped that the facts of these potentially shocking incidents are established as quickly as possible.

The birds – four golden eagles and a white-tailed sea eagle – were found at separate locations on Lewis and Harris and it is said that, at this stage, they are not linked.

No grouse shooting takes place on the Western Isles and we wholeheartedly support the police’s appeal for information and anyone who can help should call Police Scotland on 101, or make a call anonymously to the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

It has been suggested that intraguild predation – where one species predates on another – may be one possible explanation in these cases but equally we accept there is the prospect that a terrible wildlife crime has been committed to protect livestock.

If that is the case, outright condemnation is the only rightful response.

That applies wherever raptor persecution takes place.

The response from some quarters thus far to the incidents on the Western Isles is in sharp contrast to what happens over alleged incidents that occur in areas where land is managed for grouse shooting. In these cases organisations and campaign groups are very quick off the mark to point fingers. If a wildlife crime takes place on land managed for shooting, livestock farming or any other land use (and such incidents are thankfully rare, becoming more so all the time) then it must be investigated and the culprits should face the full force of the law. It can be difficult to prosecute but Scotland now benefits from some of the most stringent laws against raptor persecution in Europe. A lot more could be achieved with less finger pointing and more constructive collaboration on the ground. Scotland is fortunate to have historically high numbers of golden eagles and we want to see even more of them.

ENDS

So SLE is unhappy that campaigners keep ‘pointing fingers’ at the grouse-shooting industry whenever an illegally shot / poisoned / trapped bird of prey is discovered dead or critically injured on, er, a driven grouse moor?!!!!!!!!!

Or when satellite-tagged hen harriers and golden eagles keep ‘disappearing’ in suspicious circumstances, on or close to driven grouse moors.

If these crimes were just a one-off, once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence then yes, perhaps SLE would have a point. However, the connection between the driven grouse shooting industry and the illegal persecution of birds of prey has been clear for decades, and backed up with endless scientific papers and Government-commissioned reviews (here are the latest for golden eagle and for hen harrier).

Here’s an example of how long this has been going on – a scientific paper published in 2002, using data from 1981-2000 – demonstrating an indisputable link between grouse moors and illegal poisoning:

1981 – that was 40 years ago!!

And yet here we are in 2021 and still illegally poisoned golden eagles are being found dead on grouse moors and still nobody has ever been successfully prosecuted in Scotland for killing a golden eagle. The most recently confirmed poisoned eagle was this one inside the Cairngorms National Park, right next door to the royal estate of Balmoral. In fact this eagle is believed to have fledged on Balmoral a few months before it flew to neighbouring Invercauld Estate (an SLE member, no less) where it consumed a hare that had been smothered in a banned pesticide and laid out as a poisoned bait. The person(s) responsible for laying this poisoned bait have not been identified.

[Poisoned golden eagle laying next to poisoned mountain hare bait, Invercauld Estate, Cairngorms National Park. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Such is the extent of illegal persecution on some driven grouse moors, it is having (and continues to have) a population-level effect on some species, including golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines.

And such is the extent and quality of this scientific evidence, the Scottish Government has committed to implementing a licensing scheme for grouse shooting in an attempt to try and rein in the criminal activity that underpins this so-called ‘sport’ because Ministers recognise the grouse-shooting industry is incapable of self-regulation.

I don’t know what SLE means when it says it wants ‘more constructive collaboration on the ground‘. Perhaps it means that gamekeepers will step forward and provide more than ‘no comment’ interviews when the police are investigating the latest crime on a grouse-shooting estate, instead of offering the usual wall of silence?

Perhaps it means the estate owners will refuse to employ the sporting agents and head gamekeepers whose methods are well known to include routine raptor persecution? (These individuals are well known – it’s no secret within the industry who they are).

Or perhaps it means that the shooting industry itself, including the game-shooting organisations, the shooting press etc will blacklist those estates known to still be killing birds of prey, instead of accepting funding donations from them and pretending that they don’t know what’s going on there?

That’d be useful, constructive collaboration, wouldn’t it?

Until all of that happens, SLE and the rest of the grouse shooting cabal can expect people like me and my colleagues in the conservation field to continue shining a bloody great big megawatt spotlight on this filthy industry.

01
Jul
21

Poisoned golden eagle: Cairngorms National Park Authority refuses to publish correspondence with Invercauld Estate

In March this year, a golden eagle was found dead, next to a poisoned hare bait, on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park.

Toxicology results showed the eagle had been illegally poisoned with a banned pesticide. Police Scotland conducted a multi-agency search, under warrant, of various properties on Invercauld Estate in May 2021 (here) and issued an appeal for information on what they described as a ‘deliberate’ poisoning (here).

The Cairngorms National Park Authority issued a statement condemning the deliberate poisoning (here).

Invercauld Estate also issued a statement, supporting the police investigation and denying that the deliberately poisoned eagle was found on land managed for grouse shooting – even though, er, it seems that it was (see here and here).

[The deliberately poisoned golden eagle, next to the poisoned hare bait, on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate, March 2021. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

The following week, the Cairngorms National Park Authority published a further statement, this time on behalf of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership (ECMP), a consortium of six estates, including Invercauld, supposedly working in partnership with the Park Authority since 2015 to deliver ‘coordinated and sustainable moorland management’.

The statement from ECMP (read in full here) confirmed that Invercauld Estate ‘had left the group‘. There was no indication whether Invercauld had been expelled or had resigned of its own accord or what process, if any, had been undertaken to reach a decision.

So I submitted an FoI to the Cairngorms National Park Authority to try and find out.

Here’s part of the response I received:

This response came as no surprise to me because the Cairngorms National Park Authority has form for covering up the consequences of alleged criminal behaviour on Invercauld Estate – e.g. see here, here and here. The Park’s Board also has a number of members with a clear association with Invercauld Estate – whether this had any bearing on the Park’s decision about what to release and what not to release can only be open to speculation, obviously, because the information is being withheld. Again.

Still, as long it’s being withheld to allow Police Scotland to ‘complete their investigation’, which of course the CNPA will know (or at least can predict) to be going absolutely nowhere, just like the other ~80+ raptor persecution crimes uncovered in the Cairngorms National Park since 2003 that, with a single exception, haven’t resulted in a prosecution.

Part of the material that the CNPA did release suggests that Invercauld Estate resigned and wasn’t pushed (see below) although without seeing the full correspondence between the estate and the CNPA I’d be wary of drawing any conclusion because it just doesn’t add up, given Invercauld’s protestations when the news first broke that this eagle had been found poisoned on that estate.

This is a copy of an email sent from the CNPA’s Chief Executive, Grant Moir, to the Board. It’s a bit difficult to read with such a tiny font so it’s transcribed below:

Dear Board Member

The East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership will shortly be putting out the attached statement following a meeting of the partnership yesterday. At the meeting the partnership heard from Invercauld estate and Invercauld estate tendered their resignation from the partnership. After a good discussion the partners agreed to the resignation and have all agreed to the wording of the attached statement. It was also clear from the meeting that the remaining members are determined to make the partnership work.

NatureScot have also released a statement today which indicates they are looking at general licence restrictions for Invercauld Estate.

Throughout I have been keeping the Convenor of the Board up to speed on the issues and I will update the board further on Friday if there is any further information.

All the best

Grant

Grant Moir, Chief Executive, Cairngorms National Park Authority

So what of the Police’s ongoing investigation in to this deliberately poisoned golden eagle? No further news (but I trust they’ll be asking the CNPA for copies of the unpublished correspondence between Invercauld and the Park Authority because apparently it’s relevant to the police investigation).

Will NatureScot decide to impose a General Licence restriction on Invercauld Estate? No news.

What of the future of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership? A recent blog addressing this very issue from Nick Kempe writing for ParkswatchScotland is well worth a read (here).

And what of the Scottish Government’s promise to get to work on drafting the terms and conditions of a grouse shooting licensing scheme, whereby estates can lose their licence if raptor persecution crimes continue? No further news.

30
May
21

Game-shooting industry called out on raptor persecution by one of its own

It’s been almost four weeks since we learned that a deliberately poisoned golden eagle was found on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park (see here).

This abhorrent wildlife crime is just about as serious and high profile as it gets.

[The poisoned golden eagle and the poisoned bait. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

The golden eagle (along with the white-tailed eagle) has the highest level of protection of any bird species in Scotland (not just the bog standard protection given to all bird species, but the gold standard that includes protection of its nest site and protection from harassment all year round).

It’s an iconic species, loved by millions and on most wildlife lovers’ list of ‘must-sees’ when they visit Scotland.

The Cairngorms National Park is supposed to be the UK’s jewel in the crown and again is on the list of ‘must-sees’ for many visitors to Scotland.

It’s no wonder then, that when one of those wild golden eagles is found slumped and cold in the heather on a prestigious estate in the Cairngorms National Park, right next to a poisoned mountain hare bait deliberately placed to kill wildlife, the news is going to be both shocking and prominent.

And it was.

So how come the game-shooting industry has, on the whole, remained silent about this disgraceful crime? The only statement from a shooting organisation that I could find was from Scottish Land & Estates, the landowner’s lobby group. The statement was vague and short on detail (no mention that the golden eagle had been illegally poisoned and no mention that the eagle’s corpse and the poisoned bait had been discovered on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate, an SLE member, no less, and that this isn’t the first time the estate has been under investigation).

Still, at least SLE published something. As far as I can tell, almost four weeks on there is no statement of condemnation on the websites of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, BASC, GWCT, Countryside Alliance, or Scottish Association for Country Sports.

Doesn’t that silence speak volumes?

I’ve thought a lot about why these organisations, with their vociferous claims of having ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution, should remain silent on such a high profile crime when all eyes are upon them. I haven’t been able to come up with a reasonable explanation because there simply isn’t one. There’s no reasonable explanation, or excuse, for not condemning this crime. None at all.

But where there is ground to benefit is in plausible deniability. In that, if nobody acknowledges that this crime even happened, then the constant denials that there’s even an issue, let alone that it’s an out of control issue, can continue. Think about it. The denials can’t continue if the organisations have previously acknowledged and condemned a recent raptor persecution crime. So the strategy seems to be, shut up, say nothing and it’ll all blow over soon and then we can get back to pretending how much we love raptors whilst simultaneously campaigning for licences to kill them and turning a blind eye every time another one gets taken out on land managed for gamebird shooting.

I’m not the only one to notice the silence and the denial.

The following letter was published in this week’s Shooting Times:

The recent disturbing news of a police raid on Invercauld estate after the discovery of a poisoned golden eagle next to a bait should disgust and anger all in the shooting community. Sadly, for quite a few members of that community, these feelings of revulsion will not be felt.

If any readers can steel themselves to check out the Raptor Persecution UK blog they will find a sickening list [here] of illegally killed raptors from all around the Cairngorms.

If, as shooting’s representative organisations keep telling us, “it’s a few bad apples”, I would suggest that this area of Scotland could well contain the orchard.

Invercauld is one of the most prominent sporting estates in Scotland, with a reputation to uphold around the world, yet this is not the first time it has been investigated in recent years.

This begs the question, how many similar crimes go undiscovered? More pertinently, when they are discovered, how often is the burden of proof insufficient to bring a prosecution?

This fact is well known to the perpetrators, and should be borne in mind when the relative scarcity of successful prosecutions is used by the industry’s representatives to deny the scale of the problem.

Paul Tooley, by email.

I don’t know who Paul Tooley is, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn this Paul Tooley (above) is the same as this Paul Tooley or this Paul Tooley (scroll down to comments section).

Whoever he is, bloody well done for calling out these organisations.

Although as a campaigner I shouldn’t really mind the industry’s silence. In my view it’s indicative of complicity / covering up / shielding the guilty and that just means we’re another step closer to toppling this filthy ‘sport’.

18
May
21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a pitiful state of affairs.

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

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

13
May
21

“Another poisoned golden eagle? If the SNP are serious about protecting wildlife we need an Environment Secretary who will act” – Jim Crumley

Jim Crumley has written a brilliant opinion piece for the Courier (published 10th May 2021) in response to the discovery of the deliberately poisoned golden eagle found on Invercauld Estate in March.

The article is reproduced below:

THERE is a job of some urgency for the new Environment Secretary at Holyrood.

You may have read about the golden eagle found poisoned at Invercauld estate in the Cairngorms National Park.

The guiding principles for a national park should centre around the wellbeing of the landscape and its ecology. Nothing else. Otherwise, why bother to have a national park at all?

But what Scotland has instead is two national parks obsessed by tourism and the rural economy.

As it happens, I have just been reading a book called “A Life in Nature”, a collection of writings by Peter Scott, founder of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the Worldwide Fund for Nature. He wrote this:

“For conserving wildlife and wilderness there are three categories of reason: ethical, aesthetic, and economic, with the last one (at belly level) lagging far behind the other two.”

And this:

“Conservationists today are involved in a gigantic holding operation – a modern Noah’s Ark to save what is left of the wildlife and wild places, until the tide of new thinking begins to flow all over the world.”

Long wait for tide to turn

He wrote that 60 years ago.

But because I read it at the same time as Nicola Sturgeon’s astonishing election achievement was playing out, I began to think that there is an opportunity right here, right now.

If we are on a tide of new thinking, it has never been more important that the Scottish Government appoints an Environment Secretary with a radical agenda.

And please don’t let Fergus Ewing anywhere near it, because he is far too chummy with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association.

The golden eagle found poisoned at Invercauld this spring is the latest in a breathtaking catalogue of around 80 crimes against wildlife in the national park’s young life

The first thing I think the new Environment Secretary should do is to familiarise himself or herself with the track record of the Cairngorms National Park in conserving wildness and wildlife, and then to consider how the land within the park is managed.

The result of that familiarising process should be cause for a great deal of concern for the new Environment Secretary.

If it isn’t, the Scottish Government will have appointed the wrong person, because the golden eagle found poisoned at Invercauld this spring is but the latest in a breath-taking catalogue of around 80 crimes against wildlife in the national park’s young life (it was established in 2003).

Twelve golden and white-tailed eagles have been killed in that time along with 24 buzzards; and 10 hen harriers in the last five years alone.

A sea eagle nest tree was deliberately felled and nests of peregrine and goshawk were destroyed.

All that inside the national park, in the last 18 years, and all of these birds have the highest level of legal protection.

Victorian values

That alone should be enough to persuade the new Environment Secretary that the situation calls for new thinking.

The estates’ attitudes towards birds of prey are symptomatic of a far wider contempt for those species of nature which they judge to be inconvenient for what remains a depressingly Victorian attitude to land and wildlife.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority’s response to the eagle-killing was dismal. A statement on its website says: “The CPNA condemns this senseless and irresponsible behaviour and condemns it in the strongest possible terms. Raptor persecution has no place in 21st century Scotland and no place in this national park.”

How can you revere a landscape when the principal management tools of its private owners are fire and guns and poisons, burning the land, killing the wildlife?

No, it doesn’t condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

If it had done, the park authority would be screaming down the phone to the Scottish Parliament that grouse moor and deer forest should have no place in 21st century Scotland or inside the national park.

They are completely incompatible with thoughtful conservation of a landscape that should be revered for its wildlife and wild landscape.

How can you revere a landscape when the principal management tools of its private owners are fire and guns and poisons, burning the land, killing the wildlife. And why aren’t national parks owned by the nation?

That might have amounted to something like the strongest possible terms.

The other problem with the park authority’s statement is that, alas, there IS a place for raptor persecution in 21st century Scotland, in many places, and one is the Cairngorms National Park.

Reality doesn’t match ambition

The first words you read on the home page of the Cairngorms National Park Authority website are these: “An outstanding national park, where people and nature thrive together.”

It is a very worthwhile ambition, but it is a long way from the reality on the ground.

The new Environment Secretary might also like to consider that one of the reasons for such a toll of wildlife is that as things stand, the estates know they will almost certainly get away with it, for there are hardly ever prosecutions.

If our newly-elected government wants to project the image of a forward-thinking independent Scotland on the European stage – and I sincerely hope it does given my lilac and yellow votes for the SNP – then the tide of new thinking should perhaps begin by blowing away that embarrassing Victorian stain from the face of the land.

ENDS

12
May
21

Poisoned golden eagle: statement from NatureScot

NatureScot, formerly known as Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has published a statement in response to the discovery of the deliberately poisoned golden eagle found on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park in March.

[Poisoned golden eagle laying next to a poisoned mountain hare bait on Invercauld Estate, March 2021. Photo RSPB]

Here’s what it says:

7 May 2021

NatureScot statement: Poisoned golden eagle found on Invercauld Estate

Robbie Kernahan, NatureScot’s Director of Sustainable Growth, said:

This incident is appalling and, without doubt, is an act of animal cruelty. We encourage anyone with information to report it to the police immediately.  The indiscriminate use of poisons – as this incident demonstrates – is lethal to our iconic Scottish wildlife, but it can also pose a serious health risk to people and domestic animals that come into contact with it. NatureScot will await a full report of the circumstances from Police Scotland and consider this case in line with our framework for restricting the use of General Licences.

We are committed to working with Police Scotland and other members of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW Scotland) to tackle continuing raptor persecution and other wildlife crime in Scotland“.

ENDS

It’s unusual to see a formal statement from the statutory conservation agency in response to an individual wildlife crime, but perhaps the audacity and brazenness of this latest atrocity, and the widespread public revulsion that this still goes on with impunity, let alone inside the Cairngorms National Park, has pushed NatureScot to publish a statement.

The concept of NatureScot condemning the poisoning is solid, of course. Why wouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t anyone in their right mind condemn it, vociferously? They should also be highlighting and condemning every single wildlife crime that gets uncovered in Scotland, not just the big high profile cases.

But I wonder, having read their statement, whether NatureScot thought they’d better say something early because the inevitable question is heading their way – the General Licence restriction.

They must know that I, as well as others, will be asking about that and they might also have guessed that I’d be arguing strongly that a General Licence restriction is in fact long overdue on Invercauld Estate, given some of the other alleged offences reported from there.

I’ll be writing a separate blog about that though, because there may well be a technical loophole that has allowed NatureScot to ignore previous grounds to revoke the General Licence on this particular estate – I’ll come back to it because it’s worth it’s own blog and I don’t have the time to write it today.

10
May
21

Why the Invercauld golden eagle killer will evade prosecution

Last week we learned that Police Scotland had conducted a raid, under warrant, of several properties on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park following the discovery of a deliberately-poisoned golden eagle and a number of poisoned baits (see here).

This was headline news on social and mainstream media. For some, judging by the responses I read, the news was shocking. Some people were clearly previously unaware that deliberately laying out poisoned baits to kill birds of prey was even a thing in 21st Century Britain, and that a golden eagle had been killed this way, inside the Cairngorms National Park, the supposed jewel of the UK’s protected areas, was incomprehensible to many.

For those of us all-too familiar with the issue of ongoing illegal raptor persecution on driven grouse moors, the news wasn’t shocking at all. Not one tiny bit. Not even the brazen, blatant criminality involved in this case. We’ve seen it over and over and over again.

And the worst thing about that inevitability is the knowledge that the eagle killer will not be brought to justice. Despite the police’s ability to narrow down the likely perpetrator to one of just a handful of individuals, and despite a shiny new law ramping up the sentence for those convicted, the certainty that justice will not prevail is just about as depressing as knowing that yet another eagle was killed before it even reached its first birthday.

The victim this time was a young male golden eagle who hatched on a nearby estate in 2020. We know this because just prior to fledging last June, researchers at the Scottish Raptor Study Group had ringed him and his sister with a leg band each containing a unique identification code.

[The male golden eagle (on the right) with his sister after being ringed on the nest in June 2020. Photo by SRSG]

His poisoned corpse was found by a member of the public on Friday 19th March 2021. Ironically, this is the day that Scottish gamekeepers were holding an online protest about progress and modernisation (see here).

However, the discovery of this eagle’s corpse wasn’t the first indication of someone committing wildlife crime on Invercauld Estate during the third period of lockdown. A few days earlier a member of the public had stumbled across another poisoned bait nearby and, not knowing what it was, posted a photograph on social media asking if anyone knew what it might be. It was a classic image of a bait totally covered in dead insects – an indication of the toxicity of the poison used.

Fortunately the photo was immediately identified as being worthy of a report to the RSPB, who notified the police, and the bait was collected and sent for analysis. A search of the immediate area didn’t reveal any victims of the poisoned bait.

Several days later the eagle’s corpse was discovered, laying face down on the grouse moor close to an obvious poisoned bait (mountain hare).

[Poisoned golden eagle with poisoned mountain hare bait. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Wildlife crime officers from Police Scotland responded immediately and the eagle’s corpse and the poisoned bait were sent for toxicology tests.

For some reason yet to be explained, Police Scotland did not immediately apply for a warrant to search properties at Invercauld Estate. Given the physical evidence from the scene, and the history of raptor persecution in this area, I would argue that the police had sufficient evidence to apply for a warrant without delay.

But they didn’t.

Instead, they waited for almost seven weeks before conducting a search under warrant, and they conducted this search when there was snow on the ground. It was an utterly pointless exercise because by then the news of this poisoned eagle was out, and had been out for weeks, certainly in game-keepering circles (as evidenced by posts on social media) and shooting industry circles (as evidenced by this post from Scottish Land & Estates, here). The perpetrator(s) had been given all the time in the world to ensure every scrap of evidence was removed before the search party arrived.

Now, it could be that Police Scotland was waiting for the toxicology results to be confirmed prior to applying for a warrant. A positive result would certainly increase the justification for a warrant to be issued, although looking at the crime scene photograph it should have been pretty bloody obvious what had happened and thus sufficiently evidenced to secure a warrant.

Whatever. Hopefully the police’s decision-making process in this case will be reviewed and lessons will be learned because a seven week delay is simply not good enough.

However, we shouldn’t fall in to the trap of believing that had a search been conducted immediately after the discovery of the poisoned eagle, that the perpetrator(s) would have been discovered, charged and prosecuted. It just doesn’t work like that.

Where these crimes are uncovered on massive, privately-owned estates where multiple people are employed, it is virtually impossible for the police to identify the perpetrator with sufficient evidence to charge them. In all the years that golden eagles have been illegally killed in Scotland, there has never once been a successful prosecution. Not one.

Even though large driven grouse shooting estates generally operate with a clear hierarchical structure, where a named person is hired as a ‘beatkeeper’ for a particular part of the estate, and he/she is answerable to the head keeper, when it comes to police interviews we know that ALL the keepers from across the whole estate will either (a) deny that one person has responsibility for a given area or (b) will give ‘no comment’ interviews. This leaves the police with nowhere to go with their investigation.

It’s not the police’s fault – although they suffer the brunt of the public’s frustration when these crimes go unpunished time and time again – it is the fault of ‘the system’, and that is the fault of the politicians for failing to effectively address it. And to some degree, it is our fault for not doing enough to pressurise the politicians to act.

Last November the Scottish Government took its biggest step yet and announced it was to introduce a licensing scheme for grouse shooting, partly to address ongoing environmental concerns about certain aspects of grouse moor management (particularly muirburn and the use of medicated grit) but also to address the issue of the ongoing killing of birds of prey. The discovery of this poisoned golden eagle goes some way to justify the Government’s decision to ignore Werritty’s recommendation to wait for yet another five years before doing anything.

The preparatory work for this licensing scheme should now begin in earnest as the SNP was re-elected last week. It remains to be seen exactly how a licensing scheme will be used to sanction estates where raptor persecution continues – if it’s anything like the Government’s previous attempts to address it (e.g. vicarious liability and General Licence restrictions) then we can expect more of the same atrocities and injustices which will lead campaigners to push for an outright ban on driven grouse shooting as the inevitable next step.

Many of us believe the time for a ban is now, particularly because enforcement of a licensing scheme will be so very difficult unless the Government introduces radical new measures such as unannounced spot checks with specialist detection dogs and the widespread use of covert surveillance equipment by an elite team of specialist investigators, paid for by hefty licence registration fees. It is up to us to push for stringent enforcement powers, increased investigatory powers for the SSPCA and a commitment from Government that if raptor persecution crimes are still evident under the new licensing regime that it will be scrapped and a ban on driven grouse shooting will be introduced with immediate effect. I look forward to seeing who is appointed as the new Environment Cabinet Secretary.

The question is, how any more golden eagles (or white-tailed eagles, buzzards, red kites, hen harriers, goshawks, peregrines, short-eared owls, tawny owls, kestrels, merlins, ospreys, marsh harriers, sparrowhawks etc) will suffer excruciating and savage deaths before the Government finally accepts that enough is enough?

For additional reading, I recommend this latest post from Nick Kempe on the ParkswatchScotland blog (Eagle persecution, land management and the Cairngorms National Park, here).

06
May
21

Poisoned golden eagle: confirmation it was found dead on a grouse moor at Invercauld Estate

Earlier today I blogged about how Invercauld Estate Manager Angus McNicol had been quoted in the press saying that the area where the poisoned golden eagle had been found on Invercauld Estate near Crathie was “not managed for driven grouse shooting” (see here).

Shurely shome mishtake?

I’d commented that this seemed an odd claim to make given the amount of strip muirburn (a classic indication of grouse moor management) in the area:

This evening, a comment has been posted on this blog from someone directly involved in the investigation, Ian Thomson from RSPB Scotland:

For anyone struggling to read the small print, it says:

For the avoidance of doubt, the eagle was found poisoned next to a mountain hare bait, in an area of strip muirburn within 200m of a line of grouse butts and a landrover track‘.

That’s that, then.

Thanks, Ian.




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