Posts Tagged ‘poisoning

27
Mar
17

‘Official’ 2016 raptor persecution maps are a misleading distraction

Today the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (Scottish PAW Raptor group) has published the so-called ‘official’ annual raptor persecution maps showing details of recorded raptor persecution crimes for 2016.

Once again, Police Scotland has withheld information about several incidents ‘for operational reasons’ and as such these are not included on the ‘official’ map. Some details have been included in the accompanying summary data tables but even information as basic as the species affected has not been published.

Here’s the ‘official’ map purportedly showing ‘ALL’ recorded bird of prey crimes in Scotland from 2013 to 2016:

However, just as last year, some incidents are not shown and so the title of this map is totally misleading. As we’ve said before, there is no point whatsoever publishing these maps if Police Scotland is going to keep some of these crimes a secret. Seriously, what is the point?

The PAW Raptor group is headlining today’s news as a “26% drop in recorded bird of prey offences during 2016“. No doubt this supposed ‘good news’ will be used by the game-shooting industry as evidence that things are improving. On a superficial level this looks like a reasonable conclusion, but as well as the withholding of known poisoning offences, other information has also been excluded.

For example, there is no mention at all about the four satellite-tagged golden eagles that are known to have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in 2016: three of them ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors in the Monadhliaths and one ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens.

There is also no mention of the three satellite-tagged hen harriers that are also known to have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in 2016: ‘Chance‘ disappeared on a South Lanarkshire grouse moor in May 2016; ‘Elwood‘ vanished on a Monadhliaths grouse moor in August 2016;  and ‘Brian‘ vanished on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in August 2016.

PAW Scotland will argue that these data have not been included because they do not represent confirmed persecution crimes. Technically, that’s fair comment, but given the frequency with which satellite-tagged raptors are ‘disappearing’ on Scottish grouse moors, they point to a much more sinister picture, as recognised by the Environment Cabinet Secretary when she ordered a review of raptor sat tag data last year. She also mentions that review in her comments about today’s supposed ‘good news’.

As far as we’re concerned, the PAW Scotland raptor persecution maps are a misleading distraction from what is actually going on in the Scottish uplands. All eyes should be on the forthcoming raptor satellite tag review for a more meaningful and revealing picture.

PAW Scotland press release here

PAW Scotland persecution maps and data here

24
Mar
17

41 eagles, 10 years, 0 prosecutions

Regular blog readers will know that from time to time we publish a list of eagles that are known to have been illegally killed, or have ‘disappeared’ (i.e. their satellite tag suddenly stops functioning) in Scotland.

The last update was in August 2016 when the RSPB revealed that eight satellite-tagged golden eagles had ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors in the Monadhliaths between 2011 and 2016.

Last week we blogged about another ‘disappearing’ golden eagle, this time a young bird that had been tagged in Perthshire in 2014 and whose satellite signal suddenly stopped functioning two years later when the eagle was visiting an Angus Glens grouse moor. It’s time to add that eagle to our list.

As before, a number of eagles included in this list (17 of them, to be precise) may not be dead. However, they are included here because their satellite tags unexpectedly stopped functioning (i.e. they’d been transmitting perfectly well up until the eagles’ last known location, often a known persecution hotspot). Two further satellite-tagged eagles (‘Angus’ and ‘Tom’) are not included in this list as although their transmitters stopped functioning, there had been recognisable problems with their tags prior to the final transmissions and so the benefit of the doubt has been applied.

It’s also worth reiterating that the following eagles are only the ones we know about. How many un-tagged eagles are illegally killed each year?

MAY 2006: A dead adult golden eagle was found on the Dinnet & Kinord Estate, near Ballater, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation. No prosecution.

JUNE 2006: A dead golden eagle was found on Glen Feshie Estate in the Cairngorms. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary launched an investigation. No prosecution.

AUGUST 2007: A dead adult female golden eagle was found on an estate near Peebles in the Borders. She was half of the last known breeding pair of golden eagles in the region. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Lothian & Borders Police launched an investigation. No prosecution.

NOVEMBER 2007: Tayside Police received a detailed tip-off that a young male white-tailed eagle (known as ‘Bird N’) had allegedly been shot on a grouse moor estate in the Angus Glens. The timing and location included in the tip-off coincided with the timing and location of the last-known radio signal of this bird. The eagle has not been seen again. With no carcass, an investigation wasn’t possible.

MAY 2008: A one year old male white-tailed eagle hatched on Mull in 2007 and known as ‘White G’ was found dead on the Glenquoich Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed he had been poisoned by an unusual concoction of pesticides that included Carbofuran, Bendiocarb and Isofenphos. A police search in the area also revealed a poisoned buzzard, a baited mountain hare and 32 pieces of poisoned venison baits placed on top of fence posts on the neighbouring Glenogil Estate. Laboratory tests revealed the baited mountain hare and the 32 poisoned venison baits contained the same unusual concoction of highly toxic chemicals that had killed the white-tailed eagle, ‘White G’. No prosecution.

JUNE 2009: An adult golden eagle was found dead at Glen Orchy, Argyll, close to the West Highland Way. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Strathclyde Police launched a multi-agency investigation. Three years and 3 months later, estate employee Tom McKellar pled guilty to possession of Carbofuran stored in premises at Auch Estate, Bridge of Orchy and he was fined £1,200. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

JULY 2009: A two year old female golden eagle known as ‘Alma’ was found dead on the Millden Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Alma was a well-known eagle  – born on the Glen Feshie Estate in 2007, she was being satellite-tracked and her movements followed by the general public on the internet. Tayside Police launched an investigation. No prosecution.

AUGUST 2009: A young white-tailed eagle was found dead on Glenogil Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Tayside Police was criticized in the national press for not releasing a press statement about this incident until January 2010. No prosecution.

MAY 2010: #1 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

MAY 2010: #2 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

MAY 2010: #3 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

JUNE 2010: #1: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: #2: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: #3: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: #4: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: A golden eagle was found dead on Farr & Kyllachy Estate, Inverness-shire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary apparently did not search the property until July 2011. No prosecution.

JUNE 2010: A white-tailed eagle was found dead on Farr & Kyllachy Estate, Inverness-shire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary apparently did not search the property until July 2011. No prosecution.

DECEMBER 2010: A decomposing carcass of a white-tailed eagle was found and photographed on Logie (Lochindorb) Estate, Morayshire. It was reported to Northern Constabulary. By the time the police arrived to collect it, the carcass had disappeared. The police said they couldn’t investigate further without the body.

FEBRUARY 2011: The signal from a young satellite-tracked golden eagle ( ‘Lee’, hatched in 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from the North Angus Glens. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MARCH 2011: The body of a young golden eagle was discovered on North Glenbuchat Estate, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation and raided the property in May 2011. A poisoned buzzard, a poisoned bait and a shot short-eared owl were found. No prosecution.

APRIL 2011: The body of a white-tailed eagle was found at the base of cliffs on Skye. The person who discovered it (a professional medic) considered it to have been freshly shot with a rifle, decapitated with a sharp implement and thrown from the cliff top. He took photographs and alerted Northern Constabulary and RSPB. There was a delay of two weeks before the now probably decomposed carcass was collected. A post-mortem was inconclusive. This incident was not made public until one year later after a tip off to this blog. No prosecution.

SEPTEMBER 2011: The signal from a satellite-tracked young golden eagle (‘Strathy’, hatched in 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from an Aberdeenshire grouse moor. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

NOVEMBER 2011: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tracked golden eagle (#57124) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MARCH 2012: The body of a young golden eagle being tracked by satellite was discovered in Lochaber. Tests revealed it had been poisoned with the banned pesticides Aldicarb and Bendiocarb. Information about this incident was not made public until three months later. No prosecution.

MARCH 2012: The signal from a satellite-tracked young golden eagle (‘Angus 26′, hatched in 2011) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. This bird’s suspiciously damaged sat tag was found in the area. No prosecution.

MAY 2012: The signal from a young satellite-tracked golden eagle (#32857) unexpectedly stopped transmitting when the bird was north-east of the Cairngorms National Park. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MAY 2012: The dead body of a young satellite-tracked golden eagle (hatched in 2011) was discovered near a lay-by in Aboyne, Aberdeenshire. The data from its satellite tag & the injuries the bird had when found (2 broken legs) suggested it had been caught in an illegal trap on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens and then removed, under cover of darkness, to be dumped in another area where it was left to die, probably a slow and agonising death. Information on this incident was not released until almost five months later, by the RSPB. It appears the police failed to properly investigate this incident as we understand that no search warrants were issued and no vehicles were searched. No prosecution.

JULY 2012: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tracked golden eagle (‘Foinaven’) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

OCTOBER 2012: An adult golden eagle was found shot and critically injured on grouse moor at Buccleuch Estate, near Wanlockhead, South Lanarkshire. The bird was rescued by the SSPCA and underwent surgery but it eventually succumbed to its injuries in April 2013. No prosecution.

MAY 2013: The signal from a two-year-old satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Angus 33′, hatched in 2011) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after its last signal from North Glenbuchat Estate in Aberdeenshire. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

JUNE 2013: A dead golden eagle was found under power lines on an RSPB reserve on Oronsay. This bird had been shot although it is not known whether this was the cause of death or an historical injury.

JULY 2013: The signal from a young satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Cullen’, hatched 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after its last signal in Aberdeenshire. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

DECEMBER 2013: A two year old satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Fearnan’) was found dead on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed he had been poisoned with the banned pesticide Carbofuran. No prosecution.

MARCH 2014: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#129002) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

APRIL 2014: The signal from a young satellite tracked white-tailed eagle (the first fledged sea eagle chick in East Scotland in ~200 years) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after its last signal from the North Glenbuchat Estate in Aberdeenshire. Police raided the property a couple of weeks later. No prosecution.

OCTOBER 2014: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#107133) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

OCTOBER 2014: The signal from a two-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#119886) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MARCH 2016: The signal from a satellite-tagged golden eagle (tagged in Perthshire 2014) unexpectedly stopped transmiting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MAY 2016: The signal from a less-than-one-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#00000583) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

JUNE 2016: The signal from a two-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#129010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

JULY 2016: The signal from a two-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#129015 ‘Brodie’) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

37 of the listed 41 eagles have either been found dead on, or have ‘disappeared’ on, Scottish grouse moors. (The other 4 have either died or have ‘disappeared’ in other habitat types).

Four of these 41 eagles ‘disappeared’ in 2016. So much for the grouse-shooting industry claiming that they’ve cleaned up their act and that persecution is a thing of the past. The tactics of how to kill an eagle have clearly changed (see here) but the persecution continues.

Last summer, in response to the news that eight tagged golden eagles had ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths over a five year period, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham ordered a review of satellite tag datato discover if there is a pattern of suspicious activity“.

We are expecting the review to be published some time in April and we expect it to show what decades of scientific research has already clearly demonstrated: that golden eagles (and several other raptor species) are routinely killed or suspiciously ‘disappear’ on land intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

We expect this review to be a seminal piece of research and if it shows what we anticipate it will show, the Scottish Government can expect to be put under enormous pressure to respond appropriately.

18
Mar
17

Ross-shire Massacre: three years on

Today marks the three year anniversary of the mass poisoning of red kites and buzzards at Conon Bridge in the Scottish Highlands – a crime that became known as the Ross-shire Massacre.

A total of 22 dead raptors (16 red kites and 6 buzzards) were discovered in a small geographic area over a number of weeks, beginning on 18 March 2014. Toxicology tests confirmed that 16 of these raptors (12 red kites and 4 buzzards) had been poisoned with a banned substance. Police Scotland has so far refused to name the poison, ‘for operational reasons’.

Nobody has ever been charged in connection with this crime.

Under Scottish law, there is a three year time limit for bringing a prosecution for offences committed under the Wildlife & Countryside Act (in England the time limit is two years). The clock starts ticking from the date the offence was commissioned. Three years later, the case becomes ‘time barred’ and even if the culprit is identified after this date, a prosecution under the Wildlife & Countryside Act is not possible.

We’ve been waiting for this three-year anniversary to arrive because we’ve got quite a bit to say about this case, particularly the police investigation, but we’ve been unable to publish these comments while the case was still considered ‘live’. Once the three-year anniversary was reached, we expected to be able to write a blog about the string of police cock-ups without worrying about legal restrictions and compromising the investigation.

However, it has been suggested to us that the three-year time bar may not take effect until the third anniversary of the last dead bird’s discovery, rather than the third anniversary of the actual poisoning offence. This seems a bit of a stretch to us (we believe there was only one poisoning offence, on 18 March 2014, not a series of them) but, as we’re not lawyers, we need to tread carefully and err on the side of caution.

We’re not entirely certain of the date the last dead raptor was found at Conon Bridge, although we blogged about it on 26 April 2014. Because of this uncertainty, we will not be blogging about this case until early May, just to be absolutely sure that we’re not compromising any chance of someone being prosecuted for this crime (yes, highly unlikely, we know, but we have to play the game or face a charge of contempt).

More in May. In the meantime, for anyone who wants to read what we’ve previously written about this fiasco, click here and scroll through the pages.

27
Feb
17

Scottish Gamekeepers chairman attacks Raptor Study Group

hogg-shiteAlex Hogg, Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, has a long track record of talking out of his backside.

Previous missives directly attributable to the SGA’s esteemed leader have included lines such as, “Professional gamekeepers do not poison raptors” (here), “It is unfair to accuse gamekeepers of wildlife crime” (here), “In the last ten years we have stamped out poisoning” (here), “We kill animals because probably we’re the doctors and nurses of the countryside” (here) and, when asked whether gamekeepers are involved in the poisoning, shooting and trapping of raptors: “No they aren’t. We would dispute that” (here).

In the latest edition of the Shooting Times, he accuses the Scottish Raptor Study Group of ‘driving [gamekeepers’] wives, children and grandchildren from their homes‘. Here’s part of the article to provide the context to his claim:

One of the reasons the SGA was set up was to stop the police raiding our houses without proper evidence of wrongdoing. Wives and children were being subjected to dawn raids, houses were being pulled to pieces; in some cases children’s cough mixture was confiscated in case poison was being hidden in the bottle.

Hopefully these bad old days are gone. The SGA has worked extremely hard with our members to drive the poisoning incidents almost off the map. We have been very successful and last year it looks as if we had only two incidents of poisoning that involved a raptor. If the police had these results in any other form of crime it would be in all the news media for months.

Still, all we hear from the RSPB is that this can only be the tip of the iceberg. The Scottish Raptor Study Group, along with the RSPB, has launched a petition calling for the licensing of Scottish shooting estates. This group has been publicly funded since inception and has taken access on estates for years without even having to inform the keeper or landowner. In this regard it is unaccountable as it can log whatever it wishes, with little or no checks or balances on the process or the effects of its monitoring.

It seems strange that a group lacking in accountability is calling for shoots to be licensed. We will not stand by and allow double standards to drive wives, children and grandchildren from their homes. Everybody who works and lives in the countryside must now be wary that compliance with such organisations, sadly, is compliance with people who are attacking our jobs and way of life. It should never have got to this stage.

If the SGA had not been formed 20 years ago, what we live for would have been swallowed up by different government bodies. Some people hate the truth, but we will always tell it. It is that honesty which has gained us the respect that we have’.

ENDS

It seems that Alex hasn’t read the Scottish Moorland Group’s recently proposed ‘four point plan‘ for eradicating illegal raptor persecution, as presented to the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee last December. Point four was, “We would very much like to see greater cooperation between ourselves, the Raptor Study Groups and the RSPB“. Oops.

A few other points for Alex to consider:

  1. The police are not allowed to raid houses on a whim. They first have to apply for a search warrant from a Sheriff (via the Crown Office) and this will only be granted if there are reasonable grounds to assume that evidence of criminal activity may be uncovered during a search.
  2. It’s no surprise if children’s cough mixture has been confiscated during a raid. It has not been uncommon to find illegal poison stored in everyday household containers (particularly coffee jars!) and on at least one search a banned, highly toxic poison was found in a container on a shelf within a child’s reach.
  3. Raptor persecution has not stopped. Poisoning reports may have dropped, but other methods (particularly shooting and trapping) have not. Stop pretending otherwise.
  4. Members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group, just like every other member of the public, are entitled to access land without having to inform the keeper or landowner. Get over it.
  5. Members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group are individually licensed to visit the nests of Schedule 1 birds. They are accountable for their actions as they have to submit data returns to the Government’s licensing authority on an annual basis as a condition of the licence. If you want to discuss unaccountability, contrast this licensing regime with that of gamekeepers, who are not individually licensed and do not have to submit annual returns detailing any of their activities, which mostly involves killing wildlife.
  6. It’s not clear to us how launching a petition calling for a licensing scheme for gamebird shooting is going to ‘drive wives, children and grandchildren from their homes’. What will drive them from their homes is if gamekeepers get caught illegally killing raptors and lose their jobs (and tied house) as a result of a conviction.
  7. The SGA is supposedly a partner organisation in the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW), and notably, the PAW Raptor Group. Quite how publicly slagging off and warning SGA members to be wary of cooperating with another PAW partner (the Scottish Raptor Study Group) is evidence of good partnership working is beyond us. Perhaps the SGA will be asked to explain this at the next PAW Raptor Group meeting.

Alex’s article also touched on some other issues, including how the SGA is this year going to push for the Scottish Government to issue licences to ‘control’ (kill) protected species such as badgers, buzzards and ravens. He mentions that Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham will be a guest speaker at the SGA’s annual conference in March and how staff members from SNH’s licensing team will also be in attendance to answer questions about this issue.

Interestingly, this subject was raised during Roseanna Cunningham’s address to the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s annual conference last Saturday. If she tells the SGA conference what she told the SRSG conference, there’ll be tears at bedtime for Alex and his wildlife-killing colleagues. (We’ll be blogging about the Cabinet Secretary’s speech to SRSG members in the next day or so, highlighting several points she made about raptor persecution and her full endorsement and gratitude for the “dedicated high quality fieldwork” of the SRSG).

Here is a copy of the Shooting Times article in full: alex-hogg-article_shooting-times_23feb2017

24
Feb
17

Police Scotland under fire for withholding info on raptor poisonings

pjLast week we blogged about Police Scotland’s intention to withhold information about raptor persecution crimes for up to three years from the time the offence was committed, as part of their ‘investigative strategy’. We weren’t impressed (see here).

Unsurprisingly, we weren’t alone. The following article was published in the Press & Journal yesterday:

Fears people could come into contact with toxic substances used to kill raptors illegally.

Fears have been raised that youngsters and animals could be harmed by Police Scotland policies surrounding their investigation of bird of prey poisonings.

North-east MSP, Lewis Macdonald, has written to Chief Constable Philip Gormley, highlighting concerns that people enjoying a walk in Scotland’s hills could accidentally come into contact with toxic substances used to kill raptors illegally.

In his letter, Mr Macdonald highlighted that police forces in England make the public aware of the details of such cases.

He also argued some forces, south of the border, erect signs to let the public know poison is suspected to have been used in certain areas.

However, officers in Scotland can choose not to take such measures, due to fears it could compromise investigations into the crimes.

Mr Macdonald said: “Families who enjoy our beautiful countryside in the north-east might be alarmed to learn that Police Scotland is not giving them the full picture about where poison has been used illegally to kill birds of prey.

The simple signs used by other forces in England might be enough to make the public aware of the potential danger without interfering with the investigation.

Of course, Police Scotland officers have a duty to do whatever they can to identify and catch those responsible for these crimes, and they may well believe that giving the public too much information about these incidents would hinder their investigation.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Sean Scott, wildlife crime lead, said: “Police Scotland balances public safety against any investigative strategy very carefully, and withholds information in only a very few cases.

It does so where the release of such information could potentially compromise an ongoing investigation.

Due to the differences between Scots law and other jurisdictions in the UK necessitating the need for corroboration, earlier release of information could compromise ongoing cases.

Police Scotland cannot speak for the approach taken by some forces in England and Wales, but our commitment to wildlife crime ensures we must ensure we use every tool available and, on occasion, this will include withholding information about a crime.”

ENDS

Well done, Lewis Macdonald MSP. We don’t know whether he reads this blog directly or whether one of his constituents sent him a link. No matter, he has responded in the best way possible and we thank him for that.

Just a quick word about DCS Scott’s comment on withholding information: “Police Scotland withholds information in only a very few cases“. Er, we beg to differ.

In the RSPB’s 2015 Birdcrime report, Police Scotland deliberately withheld the name of the poison used in every single poisoning crime except one. That’s nine cases with withheld information. That’s nine cases in one calendar year. That’s quite a lot of poisoning offences with withheld information, not “a very few cases” as DCS Scott claims. And in four of those cases, Police Scotland has even withheld information about the month the offence was committed, the affected species, and the county where the offence took place. Because apparently, telling the public which month a poisoning offence took place will totally compromise the police investigation.

appendix-4

By the way, we’re still waiting to read DCS Scott’s written explanation to the ECCLR Committee about why six confirmed raptor persecution crimes were excluded from the Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report (see here). Were these crimes also deliberately excluded or was this just incompetence rather than strategy? It’s getting hard to differentiate.

17
Feb
17

Police Scotland intend to withhold raptor persecution info for 3 years

police-scotland-logoA couple of weeks ago we blogged about Police Scotland withholding information about raptor persecution crimes from the RSPB’s 2015 Birdcrime report (here). Their approach was in sharp contrast to every other UK police force that had provided data for this report.

This wasn’t the first time we’d noticed a distinct lack of transparency from Police Scotland, and indeed we remarked that it was becoming something of a speciality of theirs, as they’d also withheld raptor persecution data from the ‘official’ PAW Scotland 2015 raptor persecution report (see here) and also from the Scottish Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report (see here, here and here).

One of our blog readers contacted Police Scotland to ask why information about raptor persecution crimes (a national UK police priority) was being withheld from the public.

Here’s Police Scotland’s response:

Primarily, the Police Scotland concern is about specialist knowledge becoming public knowledge in these cases. Police Scotland actually withholds the data from publication in relatively few cases and only after consideration against the agreed investigative strategy for a particular case. If Police Scotland is to make an appeal for information about a bird of prey killing and has chosen not to identify the substance as part of the strategy (or even identify that poisoning was the cause of death) this would be undermined by the identification of the chemical used in a public document. It would not take too much initiative to put the two together and that specialist knowledge tool is lost. A similar argument is equally as legitimate where other modus operandi (MO) are used in this form of raptor persecution.

On occasions, the decision is made not to make an investigation public at all for a variety of reasons (time of year, other ongoing investigations etc.). Publication of pesticide data or MO by HSE, RSPB or whoever else would ensure that Police Scotland loses control over this tool.

Differences in the legal system in Scotland is also another issue. The time bar for bringing wildlife crimes to court in Scotland is (in most cases) three years from the date of the offence. Police Scotland therefore expect to be able to legitimately withhold information relating to cases for that time period. This argument was supported by a specialist prosecutor from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s Wildlife & Environmental Crime Unit who also thought that this was particularly relevant in Scotland because we still have a requirement for corroboration.

Police Scotland cannot speak for the approach taken by forces in England and Wales but our commitment to wildlife crime ensures that we must ensure that we use every tool available and therefore on occasions this will include withholding information about a crime.

ENDS

Police Scotland’s justification for withholding information about raptor persecution crimes is technically legitimate. They have the right to withhold information when they think it is the most appropriate and/or effective approach to take.

However, just because we accept that this is a technically legitimate course of action for Police Scotland to take, it doesn’t mean that we agree with it. On the contrary, their approach raises some very serious concerns.

The first, and most important, concern is the issue of public safety. Public safety is the underlying objective of any police force, and Police Scotland even have it incorporated in to their logo. How on earth is withholding information about the use of a dangerous (potentially fatal) poison in a given area ‘keeping people safe’?

What happens if a member of the public visits that area with a child or a pet dog, ignorant to the fact that poisoned baits have been discovered there, and they stumble across the poisoned bait and, god forbid, the child (or adult) touches it, or the dog eats it, and dies as a result? These poisons have been banned for a reason – they are so highly toxic that even absorption through the skin (via touch) can be enough to cause death. Many pet dogs have succumbed in this way and it is only a matter of time before it happens to a human.

north-york-police-poisoning-poster-may-2015At the very least, the very, very least, Police Scotland should be screaming about the use of illegal poison, every single time they encounter it. It should be in the papers, on the radio, on the TV, all over social media, and warning posters should be prominently displayed in the local area (just as North Yorkshire Police are doing – see here). What Police Scotland absolutely should NOT be doing is hiding this information from the public for three years. What on earth are they thinking?

What’s more important to Police Scotland – protecting the public from a devastating consequence or clinging to a false hope that somebody might come forward with corroborating information that might lead to an arrest? It’s a bit of a no brainer, isn’t it?

And ‘clinging to a false hope’ is a deliberately chosen expression. How many times, in the last, say, 10 years, following a raptor poisoning crime, has anyone ever come forward with corroborating evidence that has enabled a prosecution? If you read RSPB Scotland’s recent written evidence to the ECCLR Committee (here), you’ll find this statement:

We note that a number of cases of confirmed raptor persecution have not been included in the Wildlife Crime Report. RSPB Scotland is concerned that increasingly, such data are being withheld from public scrutiny on the basis that cases remain under investigation and/or there is an anticipation that an individual will come forward, as a result of an appeal, with some specialist information that will identify a potential suspect. As far as we are aware, this has never happened, almost certainly due to the culture of silence outlined above‘.

Other concerns about the withholding of persecution crime data have been covered on this blog many times before. This lack of transparency not only undermines the public’s confidence in officially-cited (by Government) raptor persecution trends, but it also creates the false impression that raptor persecution is no longer an issue of concern. If the public isn’t reading about it, they’ll assume it’s not happening. Naturally, those with a vested interest in hiding the extent of raptor persecution crime will be all over this, using it in propaganda campaigns to indicate that the game shooting industry has finally cleaned up its act.

And of course, if raptor persecution crimes are not in the public domain, it makes it virtually impossible for people like us to track and assess the performance of Police Scotland and also that of the Crown Office in dealing with these offences. No public awareness = no public scrutiny.

How very convenient.

Police Scotland should be hung out to dry about this. Not only are they putting public safety at risk, but they are also demolishing public confidence in their ability to effectively tackle wildlife crime. We’ll be contacting several MSPs to follow up on this issue and we encourage you to contact your own MSP to make your concerns clear.

13
Feb
17

Poisons cache on East Arkengarthdale Estate: no prosecution, no subsidy penalty

In December 2016 we blogged (here) about the discovery of an illegal poisons cache, buried in a small forestry plantation on Hurst grouse moor, part of the East Arkengarthdale Estate in North Yorkshire.

east-arkengarthdale

The discovery had been made (and filmed) by the RSPB’s Investigations team in December 2014 and March 2015. RSPB Investigator Guy Shorrock wrote a blog about it (here).

We learned that an unnamed gamekeeper had been responsible for the poisons cache but the Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to prosecute due to ‘procedural concerns’. Nevertheless, North Yorkshire Police revoked this gamekeeper’s shotgun and firearms certificates. The gamekeeper appealed this decision (and was represented by the BASC Chairman, no less) and the court decided his certificates should be returned.

So we asked the Rural Payments Agency (as did many of you, thank you) whether the illegal poisons cache was a breach of the conditions under which the Estate had received almost £200,000 of agricultural subsidies (public money) and if so, whether any part of those subsidies would be withdrawn as a penalty, in the same way a penalty had been applied to the Stody Estate in Norfolk for poisoning offences that took place in 2013 (see here).

Here’s the Rural Payments Agency’s response:

You have asked the following questions about the discovery of a hidden pesticide cache on Hurst Moor, North Yorkshire in 2014:

1. Did the CAP subsidies received by the specified business in 2014 cover the land where the poisons cache was discovered?
2. If so, does having a poisons cache, administered by a gamekeeper, qualify as a cross-compliance breach?
3. If so, will the Rural Payments Agency be applying a subsidy penalty?

The RPA has determined that a subsidy penalty was not appropriate, for the reason set out below. It therefore did not need to establish the precise location of land where the poisons cache was discovered.

We considered this case under the cross compliance rules that applied in 2014 and we hope the following will explain why RPA does not have the scope to apply cross compliance penalties for breaches of this nature.

Within cross compliance, all breaches relating to storage of pesticides were provided for by a set of rules known as the sustainable use rules.  These were part of the wider set of rules covered by the plant protection product Statutory Management Requirement (SMR) which, in 2014 was SMR 9. Please refer to page 63 of the Guide to Cross Compliance in England 2014, for further information.

From 1 January 2014 a change to European legislation meant the sustainable use rules were removed from the scope of SMR 9 as far as cross compliance rules applicable to SPS payments were concerned. This meant there was no scope to apply cross compliance penalties to SPS payments for pesticide storage and unapproved product breaches that occurred from 1 January 2014 onwards.

The sustainable use rules continued to apply to rural development schemes covered by cross compliance rules, for example the full range of Environmental Stewardship schemes. This was the case until the end of 2014, after which further changes to European legislation fully removed the sustainable use rules from the scope of cross compliance.

In the rural development legislation that applied in 2014, the obligation to comply with the statutory management requirements did not apply to non-agricultural activities on a holding. In this case the evidence is that the breach was committed in connection with the non-agricultural activity of game shooting. In addition, the evidence is that the cache was not found on agricultural land, but within a small plantation of trees. Therefore it is not possible to apply cross compliance penalties to rural development payments for a breach of this nature.

END

So, no prosecution, no revocation of firearms, and no subsidy penalty.

arken

But what about a positive reaction from the grouse shooting industry itself? Surely, as members of the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) and the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), organisations like the Moorland Association and the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation would want to move swiftly to distance themselves from this Estate and this gamekeeper?

Well, we asked them about this (as did many of you, thank you) two months ago (here) and guess what? We haven’t heard a word of condemnation or any hint of expulsion. Just the standard wall of silence we’ve come to expect.

What we did find, though, was East Arkengarthdale grouse moor being listed as among ‘the best shoots in the UK 2015/2016‘, as recommended by ‘prominent figures and agents’ from the industry. It’s really worth having a look at this list – there are a few other ‘interesting’ names that many of you will recognise.

If ever you wanted evidence of a criminally-riddled industry protecting its own, or evidence of sham partnership working, you’ll be hard pressed to beat this case as an example.




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