Posts Tagged ‘poisoning

08
Nov
19

Raptor persecution in Northern Ireland: ten year review and new strategies to tackle these crimes

Press release from the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Northern Ireland (PAW NI):

Birds of prey to be safeguarded by new technology

Satellite tracking devices are to be fitted onto birds of prey and nesting site surveillance installed, in the latest fight against wildlife crime.

‘Hawk-Eyes’, an advanced technology project, is being launched by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Northern Ireland (PAW NI), alongside their ‘10 Years of Persecution’ Report.

The report reveals that from 2009-18, there were a total of 72 incidents of confirmed raptor persecution in Northern Ireland, resulting in the death or injury of 66 birds of prey and the destruction of two nesting sites.

Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Wildlife Officer Dr Jon Lees said buzzards and red kites are amongst the most common victims of persecution: “Sadly, a small proportion of our population still seem to think it’s ok to destroy these magnificent birds at the expense of the environment and the rest of the community.

“Raptors such as buzzards, red kites, peregrine falcons and Sparrowhawks, have been illegally targeted right across Northern Ireland to such an extent some areas are at risk of losing their natural top predators,” explained Dr Lees.

The methods these criminals use, such as poisoned bait, are often highly dangerous, putting livestock, pets and people at risk. These offenders care little for people’s safety. We rely heavily on the vigilance of the public to report these crimes and any evidence to the police or Crimestoppers,” Dr Lees added.

The “Hawk-Eyes” project, is funded and supported by the Department of Justice, – Assets Recovery Community Scheme (ARCS) and run through PAW NI, which brings together government Departments, PSNI and other enforcement agencies, environmental organisations, animal welfare groups and country sports associations with the common goal of combating wildlife crime through publicity, education and campaigning.

Some of the birds’ tracking information will be publicly available on the project website at http://wildlifecrimeni-hawkeyes.com, which will allow people to help protect these special birds by reporting such crimes.

PAW NI encourages people across Northern Ireland to be vigilant. If anyone sees or knows of any wildlife crime, report it to the PSNI by calling 101 or, in an emergency, 999. Crime can be reported anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

ENDS

The ten year review report (2009-2018) can be downloaded here: PAW NI Raptor Persecution Report 2009 – 2018

The use of technology (nest cameras and satellite tags) in the Hawk Eyes project is very interesting, especially as it’s being funded by the Department of Justice’s Assets Recovery Community Scheme, where proceeds of crimes are distributed to help community projects. It would be great to see this approach repeated in England, Scotland and Wales.

Of most interest to us is that these tags are being deployed primarily to aid the detection of wildlife crime. Typically, up until now the main reason for deploying satellite tags has been as part of an ecological research project – the subsequent detection of wildlife crime hotspots (through the discovery of poisoned/shot/trapped sat tagged birds or the suspicious disappearance of tagged birds) has been a by-product of that research and not its primary aim. This is a very clear change of approach from the PAW NI and its also very pleasing to see that the police are key partners in it. Good stuff.

Will the use of satellite tag technology help to identify the criminals as well as the hotspots? Quite possibly. It doesn’t work in England, Scotland or Wales where there are large game shooting estates and where evidence can be quickly destroyed with relative ease (no witnesses around and thousands of acres in which to hide corpses/tags) and where multiple gamekeepers can hide in the crowd (a prosecution isn’t possible unless an individual suspect is identified) but the situation in Northern Ireland is quite different.

Raptor killing in Northern Ireland isn’t such an ‘organised crime’ as it is in the rest of the UK because there are very few large game shooting estates. It seems to be more localised and opportunistic in Northern Ireland, so the perpetrators aren’t so clued up on how to avoid detection. The deterrent effect of simply knowing that these birds might be tagged may also be significant in Northern Ireland because the raptor killers there won’t have wealthy employers prepared to fork out thousands of pounds for legal defence as they do on the game shooting estates in England and Scotland. The risk of getting caught and being afraid of the consequences might just do the trick in Northern Ireland.

Well done and good luck to the PAW NI team – a lot of people will be watching this project with interest.

25
Sep
19

Red kite illegally poisoned in North Yorkshire

Toxicology testing (by WIIS – Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme) has confirmed that a dead red kite that was found ‘recently’ near Thixendale, North Yorkshire was illegally poisoned with the banned pesticide Carbofuran, according to local raptor rehabilitator Jean Thorpe.

We haven’t been able to find any further information about this crime.

[The poisoned red kite. Photo from Jean Thorpe]

 

 

23
Sep
19

Pre-Werritty propaganda from grouse shooting industry

As we all continue to wait for the publication of Professor Werritty’s report on driven grouse shooting, the usual suspects have been busy putting together a damage limitation programme to save their sorry necks.

An ‘informal alliance’ has been created under the banner of RELM (Rural Environment Land Management) ‘to help co-ordinate and streamline responses and communications ahead of the publication of the final report‘ and its first offering is this briefing document for MSPs which was distributed by Scottish Land & Estates a couple of weeks ago:

Here’s the intro blurb:

Grouse moor management has been the subject of much attention during the summer period across a range of issues such as the environment and species conservation, satellite tagging and wildlife crime, mountain hares and the start of the season on August 12.

With the Scottish Government’s review into grouse moor management due to be published shortly, rural organisations wished to provide the following update to parliamentarians. We would be pleased to provide additional detail where required.

Ah, how thoughtful. Amusingly, several MSPs have sent us a copy of this briefing document with comments along the lines of ‘You might want to say a few things about this’.

We’re grateful to those MSPs because yes, we do want to say a few things about the document’s contents and we wouldn’t otherwise have had an opportunity had they not shared the briefing with us.

We’re not posting the full briefing document here, yet. Instead we intend to blog about different aspects of it in turn.

Today we’re looking at the page entitled ‘Wildlife Crime’ and its five paragraphs of propaganda:

Propaganda paragraph 1:

Yes, significant media attention does remain focused on wildlife crime, and particularly illegal raptor persecution because everyone else finds it abhorrent and can’t understand why it still goes on and why the grouse shooting industry continues to shield the criminals involved. It’d be interesting to know what, exactly, these five organisations have done to crack down on raptor persecution as part of their claimed ‘full commitment to improving prevention, detection and prosecution’.

Propaganda paragraph 2:

No surprises here. This is a blatant attempt, yet again, to discredit the RSPB’s annual Birdcrime Report which was published a couple of weeks ago and showed that confirmed raptor persecution crimes in Scotland in 2018 had doubled from those recorded in 2017. These cases included a peregrine poisoned in the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh; a buzzard found to have been shot twice, in South Lanarkshire; a buzzard caught in an illegal trap, in Inverness-shire; and a hen harrier caught in a spring trap in Perthshire. All of these incidents occurred on, or close to, land being managed intensively for driven grouse shooting.

With this level of relentless criminality, it’s no wonder the grouse shooting industry apologists want to infer that the RSPB’s data are ‘unofficial’. Fine. We’ll come back to this later this autumn when the Government publishes its annual wildlife crime report, which we know will include all of the confirmed incidents already reported by the RSPB.

Propaganda paragraph 3:

This is perhaps the most cynical of attempts to downplay the disgusting reality of the criminality still being committed on some driven grouse moors. And the first sentence of paragraph 3 is actually a lie. Not being pursued by Police Scotland? Er, ALL the cases of alleged raptor persecution that have been reported from grouse moors over the last few months are still considered to be live criminal investigations by the Police, according to the investigations officer we spoke to yesterday.

So, the satellite-tagged hen harrier that was found dead on a grouse moor in Strathbraan with an illegal spring trap clamped to its leg – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The two satellite-tagged golden eagles (Adam and Charlie) that ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on another grouse moor in Strathbraan, on the same morning as each other – they’re still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police (as are several other alleged offences uncovered during the police search).

The hen harrier that was found caught by its leg in a spring trap that had been set illegally next to its nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The buzzard that was caught inside a legal cage trap on the same South Lanarkshire grouse moor but was then allegedly beaten to death by someone arriving on a quad bike after dark and using a key to open the padlocked door of the cage – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The young golden eagle that was photographed flying around in the Cairngorms National Park with an illegal trap clamped to its leg – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

And as for the claim that estates have issued ‘unprecedented and emphatic rebuttals’ – er, there’s nothing unprecedented about that! Estates have always denied any involvement in any of the wildlife crimes that have been uncovered on their land – it’s what they do!

Propaganda paragraph 4:

Ah yes, convicted gamekeeper Alan Wilson, dubbed by the press as ‘Scotland’s worst wildlife killer‘. Yet again, the link between Wilson’s filthy criminal activity uncovered at Henlaw Wood and driven grouse shooting is kept well hidden. Yes, the Longformacus Estate was managed for low ground pheasant shooting but it was also managed for driven grouse shooting – a fact that Scottish Land & Estates doesn’t like to mention!

And speaking of Scottish Land & Estates and it’s so-called ‘full commitment’ to tackling wildlife crime, it still hasn’t said whether the Longformacus Estate was a member at the time these crimes were committed and if so, whether that membership has now been terminated? We asked SLE this question on 22 August 2019. Still waiting for an answer….

Propaganda paragraph 5:

Of course they continue to call for tougher penalties – how can they not? But they know as well as we do that the severity of the penalty is utterly irrelevant if the perpetrators of these crimes can’t even be identified, let alone prosecuted.

And as long as evidence continues to be destroyed and employers continue to shield their criminal employees by instructing them to give ‘no comment’ interviews to the police, nothing will change.

Fortunately, there are more and more savvy MSPs in the Scottish Parliament who have seen through the greenwash and know exactly what’s going on. If you think your MSP isn’t one of those, it’d be worth dropping them an email with a link to this blog.

18
Sep
19

Damning report highlights illegal killing of birds of prey on Nidderdale AONB grouse moors

The Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is an absolute hell hole for many birds of prey.

[Photo: Ruth Tingay]

This is no secret. The illegal killing of raptors on the grouse moors of this AONB has been documented and reported on for years, by the RSPB and by this blog. The area is notorious amongst raptor conservationists for the number of hen harriers that ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances (that’s a euphemism for ‘they have been killed’) and the number of red kite corpses that have been found either shot or poisoned, or sometimes both.

It’s a gaping black hole on the breeding distribution maps of many raptor species and despite this being a so-called protected area, in the words of Mark Avery it’s actually a massive wildlife crime scene.

Here’s a map we produced a while ago showing the boundary of the Nidderdale AONB (yellow line), illegally killed red kites (red dots), missing satellite-tagged hen harriers (orange stars), shot hen harrier Bowland Betty (red star), shot hen harrier River (red triangle, which we now know should be closer to the red star on the Swinton Estate).

Nidderdale AONB lies directly east of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, another raptor persecution hell hole. Last year, the Park Authority responded to public concerns about the killing of raptors on grouse moors by producing an evidence report on the scale of the problem. As we wrote at the time, ‘This report, which is very well written and referenced, is a significant move. There’s no attempt to deny or hide or obfuscate the facts, as we’ve seen so often before. It is a clear description of what’s been happening in this National Park and places grouse moor management at the centre of it all. It’s well worth a read‘.

Fast forward a year and now the Nidderdale AONB has done exactly the same:

You can download the report here: BoP-in-NiddAONB-Evidence-Report-FINAL-Sept-2019

It’s another well-written, fully-referenced report and there’s no hint of denial or obfuscation. It is particularly pleasing to see the use of RSPB persecution data, not just the inaccurate, out of date, watered-down RPPDG data that some pro-shooting organisations rely upon to minimise the perceived scale of the problem. Once again, the report’s conclusion is that grouse moor management is in the frame.

Well done to the author(s) of this report and well done to the Nidderdale AONB for having the balls to publish it.

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.

 

29
Aug
19

RSPB’s 2018 Birdcrime report documents relentless raptor persecution on grouse moors

The RSPB has published its latest annual report Birdcrime, documenting known cases of illegal raptor persecution in the UK in 2018. [Follow this link to find the report and additional information]

As ever, it’s grim reading and also as ever, the figures represent an unknown percentage of the actual number of birds that have been illegally killed. We know there are many, many more as these figures don’t include all the satellite-tagged raptors that have been killed and their corpses and tags destroyed to remove any trace evidence.

On the back of the report, the RSPB is calling for three things, quoted as follows:

  • The licensing of driven grouse moors.
    The RSPB believes that the right to shoot should be dependent on legal, sustainable management. Grouse shooting licenses could then be removed if illegal activity is identified, which would act as a deterrent. Law-abiding estates should have nothing to fear from this.
  • A review of grouse shooting.
    An industry that relies on criminal, unsustainable and environmentally damaging practices should not be allowed to continue operating as it currently is. In Scotland, the government has launched a review of grouse moor management and the RSPB would like to see a similar review in the rest of the UK.
  • Transparency, not secrecy: the public have a right to know.
    It is a concern that, particularly in Scotland, some raptor persecution incidents are not made public for many months, or even years, despite the release of such information posing no threat to the integrity of an investigation. The public has a right to know if criminal activity is taking place on their doorstep, especially when, as with poisoning incidents, this poses a risk to public health.

To be perfectly honest, the call for the licensing of driven grouse moors is too little, too late. For many of us the tipping point has now been reached following the recent reports of some truly sadistic and brazen persecution crimes, for example this hen harrier that was caught in an illegally-set spring trap next to his nest on a grouse moor at Leadhills. His leg was almost severed and despite the best efforts of a world-class veterinary specialist, this poor bird didn’t make it.

A licensing system isn’t going to stop the disgusting filthy criminals responsible for this – it’ll be impossible to enforce, just as wildlife protection laws are notoriously difficult to enforce right now. An outright ban on driven grouse shooting will remove the incentive for these crimes, and that’s what we’re calling for. 80,000 people agree (they’ve signed since the petition was launched two weeks ago) but we need 100,000 signatures before Parliament is suspended, as looks likely to happen in a couple of weeks. Please help reach the target and sign the petition here.

The RSPB’s call for a review of grouse shooting is also too little, too late. What do we need another review for? We’ve got decades worth of scientific evidence and hundreds of raptor corpses to know just how damaging driven grouse moor management is, for wildlife, for the environment and for people. Calling for a Werritty-style review will just add further delay to actually dealing with the issue, as we’re currently seeing in Scotland. Just ban it and be done with it (sign the petition if you agree!).

Calling for transparency, not secrecy, over the publication of raptor crimes is something we do support and we’ve been calling for it for years, particularly in Scotland. It’s very noticeable that yet again, in the 2018 poisoning data, the only police force to withhold the name of the poison that’s been used to illegally kill raptors is Police Scotland. All the other forces involved with poisoning investigations have named the poison used.

Having said that, this year (2019) Police Scotland has been a bit more forthcoming about publicising illegal poisoning crimes (e.g. see here and here) although there is still a reluctance to name the poison. But to be fair, Police Scotland has been doing a better job than other public authorities about alerting the public to the dangers (e.g. see here).

Speaking of Scotland, the Birdcrime report shows that 12 confirmed cases were recorded, more than double that recorded in 2017 (take note, Scottish Land & Estates, before you start falsely claiming otherwise). These cases included a peregrine poisoned in the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh; a buzzard found to have been shot twice, in South Lanarkshire; a buzzard caught in an illegal trap, in Inverness-shire; and a hen harrier caught in a spring trap in Perthshire. All of these incidents occurred on, or close to, land being managed intensively for driven grouse shooting.

And guess what? Not a single one of them has led to a prosecution. Nor has SNH issued a single General Licence restriction order in response to these clear crimes. Even more evidence, as if it were needed, that the Scottish Government, just like the Westminster Government, has no control whatsoever over the rampant raptor-killing savages on many driven grouse moors.

Had enough? SIGN THE PETITION PLEASE.

 

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.




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