Posts Tagged ‘poisoning

21
Aug
18

SNH wilfully blind to threat of persecution of golden eagles in south Scotland

The project to translocate golden eagles from the Scottish Highlands to south Scotland has finally got underway this year, with news out today that three eagles have been successfully released this year.

There’s an article about it on BBC Scotland (here) including some video footage.

Unbelievably, Professor Des Thompson, Principal Advisor for Biodiversity and Science at SNH, is quoted in both in the video and in the article as follows:

This is the icon of wild Scotland. We are on the threshold of giving something very exciting back to the south of Scotland. Scotland has just over 500 pairs, just two to four breeding pairs in the south of Scotland where they are really struggling.

Young golden eagles are heavily persecuted. A third of them have been killed either through shooting or poisoning.

Down here in the south of Scotland we’ve been able to reassure ourselves persecution is not an issue. It’s just a small fragmented population that needs this helping hand from us. We have been overwhelmed by the support we are getting from landowners and we are reassured these birds are going to be welcome“.

Did he actually just say that? “We’ve been able to reassure ourselves persecution is not an issue“. What, you mean in the same way that SNH reassured itself that the scientific justification for the Strahbraan raven cull was sound?

You couldn’t make this up. Has he switched jobs and is now representing Scottish Land & Estates? He might as well be as this is exactly the line they were trying to spin several years ago (see here).

The south of Scotland is well known for the illegal persecution of raptors, including golden eagles. Only this year a young satellite-tagged golden eagle (Fred) ‘disappeared’ in the Pentland Hills in highly suspicious circumstances (here) in an area where previously a merlin nest had been shot out and breeding ravens had also ‘disappeared’.

[Golden eagle Fred, by Ruth Tingay]

Then there’s Raeshaw Estate, currently operating under a General Licence restriction and an Individual Licence restriction, due to evidence of alleged ongoing raptor persecution (here); there’s a forthcoming prosecution of a gamekeeper in the Borders for a long list of alleged wildlife crime (here); there’s the land managed for driven grouse shooting in South Lanarkshire (close to the golden eagle translocation area) where over 50 confirmed reported incidents of dead raptors and poisoned baits have been recorded since 2003, including a shot golden eagle in 2012 (it didn’t survive, here), the reported shooting of a short-eared owl in 2017 (here), the reported shooting of a hen harrier in 2017 (here), and the reported shooting of a buzzard in 2018 (here); and then there’s been at least four raptor poisonings in south Scotland this year alone (here).

But don’t worry, folks, despite all evidence to the contrary, Professor Thompson is “reassured” that raptor persecution won’t be an issue for these young golden eagles.

Here’s a map from the 2008 Golden Eagle Conservation Framework showing the conservation status of golden eagles in Scotland (red = unfavourable conservation status), overlaid with ten years of raptor persecution data (all species, 2005-2015) gleaned from ‘official’ persecution maps. It doesn’t include data from the last three years. Does it look to you like raptor persecution isn’t an issue in southern Scotland?

We’ve blogged about the South Scotland Golden Eagle Project several times over the years (e.g. here, here, here) and we still have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand the south Scotland golden eagle population is in dire straits, and has been for some time, and urgently needs a boost. Translocating eagles from other parts of the Scottish range seems a decent strategy.

However, fundamental to translocation and reintroduction projects is the need to identify and resolve the underlying cause(s) of the species’ decline in that area. The authorities have not come anywhere near to resolving this issue, either in south Scotland or beyond. The chances remain high that these young eagles will be killed. Having said that, they’re just as likely to be illegally killed further north in Scotland so in that sense, moving them a few hundred km south probably won’t make much difference to their chance of being illegally killed.

At least these three young eagles have been satellite-tagged so their movements can be followed. The question is, if/when each eagle goes off the radar in suspicious circumstances, who will decide whether this news is suppressed or publicised?

We’ll be taking a close interest.

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02
Aug
18

Poisoning suspected after discovery of dead peregrine & tethered pigeon ‘bait’

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is investigating a suspected poisoning incident after raptor workers found the body of a dead young peregrine and the remains of what had probably been a live tethered pigeon close to the peregrine’s nest site. An adult peregrine is reported as ‘missing’ from the site.

The gruesome discovery was made by members of the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group (NIRSG) in the Scraghey area of Castleberg, Co Tyrone, on 10 July 2018. Toxicology results are awaited.

[Photo of the dead young peregrine, by NIRSG]

[Photo of the rock, baler twine & remains of a pigeon leg found at the site, by NIRSG]

Smearing a live pigeon with poison and then tethering it close to a peregrine breeding site to act as a flapping ‘bait’ is a barbaric yet all too common crime. We only blogged about a similar case a few weeks ago (see here).

Jim Wells from the NIRSG said: “The vigilance of several members of the Raptor Study Group and the very quick response by the PSNI have revealed what is likely to be one of the most serious incidents of peregrine persecution in Northern Ireland for several years.

This is nasty, very cruel and callous. We don’t know what the suspected poison is, but if someone had come along and tried to help the pigeon it could have hurt them too.

This has happened on several occasions in areas of Co Tyrone. There are around 15 sites in Tyrone, it’s an important breeding ground. But in some areas there is still a culture of poisoning birds, which is very damaging to the overall population.

All of the peregrine sites in Co Tyrone are monitored on a regular basis every year. This research has revealed that illegal persecution remains a problem in some parts of the county“.

Dr Eimear Rooney of the NIRSG and a representative on the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime NI said there are between 80 and 90 breeding pairs of peregrines across the whole of Northern Ireland, of which around 55 pairs are successful in producing young. She said:

The population of peregrines in Northern Ireland is limited by available nest sites and thus has remained fairly stable for several yearsHowever, illegal killing could result in serious implication for the viability of the species here. Peregrine falcons are primary predators and removal of such predators from our ecosystems can have serious consequences on a wide range of species.

It’s deeply frustrating to think that someone went out of their way to target these birds in such a heinous manner“.

Anyone with information about this suspected crime is encouraged to contact the PSNI (Tel: 101) quoting incident number 1550.10/7/18.

30
Jun
18

Peregrine & two buzzards found poisoned: police appeal for info

Press release from South Wales Police (Bridgend & Vale of Glamorgan), 29th June 2018:

We are appealing for witnesses after three birds of prey were poisoned.

We are investigating the deaths of a peregrine falcon and two buzzards at Ruthin Quarry in the Vale of Glamorgan. The birds were found dead in the quarry on March 26.

[RPUK map]

A toxicology report confirmed that the birds were killed using a poisoned bait bird which was laced with a banned pesticide.

PC Mark Goulding, wildlife and environmental crime officer, said: “The killing of birds of prey is a serious wildlife offence. Raptor persecution is a National Wildlife Crime priority.

The poisoned birds ingested bait laced with the banned pesticide which was deliberately set out. I would urge anyone who may have witnessed this crime or who has information about this incident to come forward.

Anyone with information on illegal use of pesticides against wildlife can call us on 101 quoting 1800106122 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111“.

ENDS

The police press release didn’t include any photographs but from what has been described (“using a poisoned bait bird”) and given the location, it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that this crime involved a live pigeon smothered in poison and tethered to a rock so that its helpless flapping attracted predators. This is a well-known barbaric persecution method that has been used for years, especially in Wales and Ireland, by some involved in pigeon racing who want to take out peregrines on the pigeon racing routes (e.g. see here).

Photo of a poison-smeared tethered pigeon at a quarry in Wales in 2012 (photographer unknown)

28
Jun
18

British Game Alliance: more greenwash from the shooting industry?

The UK gamebird-shooting industry is in crisis at the moment, with ever-increasing numbers of gamebirds being reared and released (estimated in the region of 50+ million pheasants & red-legged partridge each year) but supply is outstripping demand as game dealers struggle to sell the shot birds for human consumption. This has resulted in the widespread and illegal dumping of shot birds in the countryside (e.g. see here, here, here, here) which is causing serious damage to the reputation of the shooting industry.

Fearing enforced regulation, the shooting industry has come up with ‘the way forward’ and has established an organisation called the British Game Alliance, ‘the official marketing board for the UK game industry’, which, according to the Countryside Alliance, “aims to run a ‘British Game’ assurance scheme to ensure our game meets the highest standards“.

The British Game Alliance’s standards are quite high (see here for what is expected) and apparently compliance with these standards will be regulated and monitored by external auditors.

Sounds good, eh? In principle, yes, but our expectations were low in March 2018 when the Shooting Times revealed some of the individuals involved, including one name that made us laugh out loud given his links to estates with long histories of alleged (and sometimes proven) wildlife crime.

The British Game Alliance was launched with much fanfare and political support in May 2018 and we’ve been watching its website to find out which shoots (and sporting agents) have met the organisation’s ‘shoot standards’ to become listed as an ‘assured’ member. So far, the website hasn’t listed any of its assured members but promises that registered members will be ‘listed soon‘.

However, the British Game Alliance’s twitter feed (@BritishGame) has been more forthcoming. We were scrolling through this morning and were surprised to read this:

A police investigation took place at Wemmergill in 2015 after the discovery of two short-eared owls which had been shot and their corpses shoved inside a pothole (see here). There wasn’t a prosecution.

Another police investigation took place at Wemmergill in February this year following the sudden and explicable ‘disappearance’ of satellite-tagged hen harrier Marc (see here).

Even more surprising to read on the British Game Alliance’s twitter feed was this:

Edradynate Estate will be a familiar name to regular readers of this blog.

It is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction imposed by SNH following sufficient evidence (substantiated by Police Scotland) that raptor persecution has taken place but insufficient evidence to prosecute a named individual (see here).

Edradynate Estate has been at the centre of investigations for alleged wildlife crime for a very, very long time. It’s well worth reading an earlier summary we wrote (here) which includes some fascinating commentary about the estate by former RSPB Investigator Dave Dick, who claimed as far back as 2004 that the estate was “among the worst in Scotland for wildlife crime“, and commentary by former Police Wildlife Crime Officer Alan Stewart, who said in 2005, “Edraynate Estate has probably the worst record in Scotland for poisoning incidents, going back more than a decade“.

The details involve a disturbingly high number of poisoned birds and poisoned baits that were found over the years, as well as a number of dropped prosecution cases. The most recent dropped prosecution case came just last year, when the Crown Office refused to prosecute an Edradynate gamekeeper for alleged buzzard poisoning, despite Police Scotland urging otherwise (see here).

Despite at least 22 police investigations over several decades (according to Alan Stewart), nobody from Edradynate Estate has ever been successfully prosecuted for any of these alleged wildlife crimes.

And there lies the problem with the British Game Alliance’s shoot standards. If you look at shoot standard #19, ‘Where a shoot or its employees are successfully prosecuted for wildlife crimes, the shoot will be expelled from the BGA and their membership revoked‘.

Given the well-documented difficulties of securing a successful prosecution for wildlife crime, which is an issue even recognised by the Scottish Government, hence the recent introduction of General Licence restrictions, it’s quite clear that some undeserving estates will get the official seal of approval from the British Game Alliance, thus reducing any confidence the public may have had in this well-intentioned scheme.

20
Jun
18

Red kites found illegally poisoned at nest site

Press release from RSPB, 20 June 2018:

PAIR OF NESTING RED KITES FOUND POISONED IN COUNTY DOWN

RSPB (Northern Ireland) and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) are appealing for information after a pair of protected red kites died through illegal poisoning in County Down.

A male bird was found in distress close to a known nest site in the Katesbridge area on April 24. A member of the public alerted RSPB NI but the bird died shortly afterwards. When the RSPB NI red kite project officer attended the scene, she found the female parent bird immobile on the nest – she too was dead. A rescue mission was launched in an attempt to save three orphaned eggs found in the nest beneath the deceased mother.

[Photo by RSPB]

The bodies of the parent birds were collected and taken for toxicology testing by the PSNI. This has now revealed that both birds – known as Blue 21 and Red 63 because of their identifying tags – died from Carbofuran poisoning.

Red kites, along with all birds of prey, are protected in Northern Ireland under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, as amended by the Wildlife and Natural Environment (NI) Act 2011. Carbofuran is a highly toxic pesticide which has been banned across the EU since 2001 due to its high toxicity towards wildlife and humans.

Red kites mostly hunt within 2.5km of their nest site. The male bird brings food for the incubating female bird, so it is possible that the male bird found a poisoned bait – such as a rabbit – and likely brought this back to the nest to feed the female bird. The dead male’s first partner (Blue 13) also died by poisoning in 2014 in the same area.

Under licence from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), the rescue operation ensured that the three eggs were fostered into two wild red kite nests, alongside other eggs, in the hope of saving them.

In one of the nests two transferred eggs failed as they were found intact (unhatched) during a follow-up inspection. In the other nest – which hosted one adoptive egg alongside two other eggs – one chick was found on the nest. As there were no egg shell remains it’s unknown if the sole chick on this nest was from the donor egg.

A nestcam was installed by RSPB NI to monitor this chick – which was named ‘Solo’ by RSPB NI red kite volunteers. This is the first time staff have been able to monitor behaviour and development as well as share the red kite’s early life with the public and schools participating in the RKites project, a funded red kite education and engagement project. A live stream on the nest is available to view at www.rspb.org.uk/niredkites

PSNI Wildlife Liaison Officer, Emma Meredith, said, “Incidents such as this give rise to concerns, as poisons are generally very dangerous. We would have serious concerns over any poison but particularly over Carbofuran. We are disappointed that we are still dealing with cases involving Carbofuran, an incredibly dangerous substance and one which can kill birds of prey but also a child, family pet or any adult coming into contact with it. We would remind the public that if they discover a bird of prey that they suspect has been poisoned or killed in any other suspicious circumstances to leave the bird/s and/or bait in situ and call the PSNI as soon as possible. If anyone has information about the use of Carbofuran and/or the death of these protected birds then we would be really keen to hear from them. The person responsible needs to be identified to ensure that no further risk is posed to other wildlife, domestic pets, or even humans.”

Claire Barnett, RSPB NI Conservation Team Leader, added: “We are shocked and saddened by what is the loss of a generation of red kites. With only around 20 breeding pairs in Northern Ireland, our red kite population is particularly vulnerable to persecution.

Carbofuran is an illegal and deadly poison and should not be used in our countryside. It is such an incredibly dangerous substance.

We would like to once again make it clear that red kites are mostly scavengers and feed on roadkill and other dead animals they find on their foraging flights. During the breeding season, adults will often hunt young crows, magpies, rats and rabbits. They are no threat to livestock or game.”

Red kites were persecuted to extinction across the island of Ireland 200 years ago. A decade ago this summer, in 2008, the RSPB – along with project partners the Golden Eagle Trust and Welsh Kite Trust – began a reintroduction project that has been successful in encouraging the birds to breed here.

Like all birds of prey in Northern Ireland, red kites are specially protected as a Schedule 1 species under The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 (as amended). As a Schedule 1 bird, red kites are protected by special penalty and their nests are also provided with protection all year under Schedule A1. Those found guilty of persecution could be given a custodial sentence and/or fines of up to £5,000 per offence.

Mark Thomas, Senior Investigations Officer at the RSPB, said: “Carbofuran has a history of being used to kill birds of prey. Like all birds of prey, red kites are protected by law.

There have been 10 confirmed red kite persecution incidents recorded in this area in the last decade. This is not acceptable. We urge anyone with information about this incident to contact the police immediately on 101.”

Claire Barnett added, “We would like to thank communities, landowners and schools across Northern Ireland – particularly in County Down and County Armagh – for their ongoing support for the red kites project. There is always an outpouring of outrage when red kite persecutions are reported. It is so disappointing that a minority of people continue to endanger red kites by using illegal poisons including Carbofuran. But the majority of people here are behind the RSPB in our work to give these remarkable birds of prey a home in Northern Ireland.”

Anyone with information can contact police on the non-emergency number 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 quoting reference number 802 of 24/4/18.

ENDS

08
May
18

Three dogs & two buzzards die after being ‘deliberately poisoned’ in Perthshire

BBC News article (8 May 2018):

DOGS AND BUZZARDS DIE AFTER BEING DELIBERATELY POISONED

Police in Highland Perthshire are appealing for information after three working dogs and two buzzards were deliberately poisoned.

The incidents took place between October 2017 and April this year in and around the Edradynate and Pitnacree Estates area.

The poisons used to kill the dogs and birds are banned in the UK.

[Photo of a poisoned buzzard found in the area in 2015, by RPUK]

A Police Scotland spokesman said the animals’ owners were “understandably upset” at the loss of their dogs.

He said: “Once again, we also find ourselves investigating the illegal killing of raptors and this is extremely disappointing.

We have searched the areas and our investigations to date would suggest that there is not a wider threat to public safety.

However, all members of the public in the area are asked to remain vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour, especially during the hours of darkness.”

ENDS

Hmm. Edradynate Estate has been at the centre of investigations for alleged wildlife crime for a very, very long time. It’s well worth reading an earlier summary we wrote (here) which includes some fascinating commentary about the estate by former RSPB Investigator Dave Dick, who claimed as far back as 2004 that the estate was “among the worst in Scotland for wildlife crime“, and commentary by former Police Wildlife Crime Officer Alan Stewart, who said in 2005, “Edraynate Estate has probably the worst record in Scotland for poisoning incidents, going back more than a decade“. The details involve a disturbingly high number of poisoned birds and poisoned baits that were found over the years, as well as a number of dropped prosecution cases (nobody has ever been convicted for any of the alleged offences). The summary also includes information about links between the estate and the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association.

[Edradynate Estate, photo by RPUK]

More recently, in March 2015 two dead buzzards were found near to the estate. Toxicology tests revealed they’d been poisoned with a banned substance (although the name wasn’t revealed). A police raid of the estate uncovered a third dead buzzard. A thorough police investigation followed but in May 2017 the Crown Office rejected a plea from Police Scotland to bring proceedings against an estate gamekeeper (see here). The Crown Office has so far not provided a clear explanation for this decision.

However, in September 2017 SNH imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Edradynate Estate, presumably in response to the alleged buzzard poisonings in 2015 (see here). Some felt sympathy for the new gamekeeper who would now be subjected to these restrictions even though he’d only just begun his employment following the ‘retirement’ of the previous Head gamekeeper in February 2017.

And talking of that previous Head gamekeeper, you may remember last year he was charged with a number of offences including the alleged malicious damage of crops on Edradynate in April 2017 (it is claimed he poisoned them by spraying with an unknown substance, causing them to rot and perish) and the alleged theft of a thermal imaging spotting scope (see here). This resulted in some court proceedings that were mysteriously shrouded in secrecy (here).

Presumably he has pleaded not guilty as we now know a trial will take place at Perth Sheriff Court on 11 June 2018 for alleged ‘malicious mischief’.

02
May
18

4th raptor poisoning in south Scotland this year

From BBC News (2 May 2018):

RED KITE POISONINGS IN SOUTH WEST SCOTLAND INVESTIGATED

A police investigation has started following the discovery of three dead red kites in Dumfries and Galloway.

Tests have confirmed that two of the birds were illegally poisoned with examinations ongoing on the third.

It takes the number of birds killed by illegal pesticides in the region since the start of the year to four.

Police said the use of poisoned bait was “illegal and totally unacceptable” and could have “devastating consequences” for wildlife.

[Photo by David Bowman]

The incidents in the region since the start of the year are:

  • a red kite discovered poisoned in Kirkpatrick Durham in January
  • a buzzard found dead in Mossdale in March
  • a second red kite killed at a separate location in Kirkpatrick Durham in April
  • another red kite poisoned in April at Old Bridge of Urr
  • a further red kite death with the cause yet to be established at Gelston in April

Specialist Wildlife Crime Officer PC Alan Steel said police were working closely with SAC Consulting and Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) to investigate the cases.

What we have established is that illegal pesticides have been used to kill four of the birds,” he said.

The pesticides identified have been banned in the UK for many years, but despite this there would still appear to be those who leave out poisoned bait, whether that is to target crows, foxes, raptors or other wildlife.

The use of such poisoned bait is illegal and totally unacceptable and those responsible should understand that their unlawful activities not only serve to have devastating consequences on their intended targets but also on various other forms of wildlife.”

He said they were “absolutely determined” to put a stop to the killings and find the people responsible.

They are working with a number of landowners and farmers and liaising with RSPB Scotland as part of the investigation.

We have also carried out a number of land searches in the vicinity of where the birds have been located with a view of trying to locate poisoned bait at these locations,” he added.

It is anticipated that further land searches will take place in the near future.”

A red kite trail in the region is reckoned to be worth millions of pounds to the local economy.

A study last year said the Galloway Kite Trail had generated more than £8.2m since it was launched in 2003.

ENDS




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