Posts Tagged ‘poisoning

07
Jul
21

Red kite poisoned in North Wales – police appeal for information

North Wales Police Rural Crime Team has issued an appeal on Twitter for information after a toxicology report earlier this month confirmed that a red kite had tested positive for the poison Bendiocarb.

Unfortunately the details of this latest wildlife crime are vague. The kite was found ‘in the area’ of the Ceiriog Valley ‘earlier this year’ and the police believe the poisoning was ‘potentially deliberate’.

That’s it, I’m afraid. No specific location, no details of the circumstances and no date of discovery. [See update below]

There is a police reference number (21000458355) to quote if anyone has any information that could help the police investigation. Please call 101 if you can help.

UPDATE 8th July 2021: Thanks to PC Dewi Evans of the Rural Crime Team for pointing out the following posting on the Rural Crime Team’s Facebook page. For the benefit of those not on Facebook, here’s what it says:

The Rural Crime Team has launched an investigation into the poisoning of a red kite, found dead in the Ceiriog Valley. The bird of prey, protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, was found deceased on February 27th earlier this year and attended to by RSPB Investigations Team. Toxicology tests carried out by the Welsh Government have since revealed the bird tested positive for Bendiocarb – a highly toxic insecticide. Officers believe the incident was potentially a deliberate act and are asking anyone with information to get in touch. It comes following several similar incidents reported in the area over the past three years, with a number of ravens and crows also found to have been poisoned using another substance .PC Dewi Evans, North Wales Police Rural Crime Team manager said: “We suspect the red kite died as a result of the unlawful use of poison and as a result, we have launched an investigation into the incident. “The deliberate poisoning of a bird brings a serious risk to humans and other animals and is hugely irresponsible. “We are currently looking into a potential motive for this incident and ask members of the public who have information to get in touch.” Anybody with information is asked to contact officers at the North Wales Police Rural Crime Team via the website or by calling 101, quoting reference number 21000458355. Alternatively, call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

ENDS

06
Jul
21

Rare breeding success for sea eagles in Cairngorms National Park but outlook for chick is bleak

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has issued the following press release today (6th July 2021). My commentary on this news is below the press release:

Raptor breeding successes for East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership

The productivity of breeding raptors in the east of the Cairngorms National Park this season is encouraging and includes the hatching of a sea eagle chick on Balmoral, the first time that the species has successfully bred on the estate.

The breeding pair of sea eagles – also known as white-tailed eagles – have been observed on Balmoral for the last few years. Both adult birds carry satellite tags and close collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has allowed the Balmoral Ranger Service to follow their weekly movements during the breeding season. A healthy male chick has now hatched and been ringed. Three golden eagle chicks have also recently been ringed as part of long-term monitoring on Balmoral.

Balmoral Estate is a member of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership (ECMP) which has seen breeding success for golden eagles, hen harriers, red kite, osprey, peregrine and merlin, as well as short-eared owls, in 2021, across the various land holdings.

[The young white-tailed eagle chick on the nest at Balmoral. Photo by North East Scotland Raptor Study Group, a member of the Scottish Raptor Study Group]

Richard Gledson, Estate Manager at Balmoral Estate said: “All at Balmoral Estate are delighted that sea eagles have nested successfully for the first time. A previous nesting attempt in 2017 on the same site sadly failed and we have had our fingers crossed since then. The birds have been with us for a couple of years, and we have been working closely with the North East Scotland Raptor Study Group who ringed the chick last week and with the RSPB who have been sending data from their satellite tags.”

Glenavon Estate – which is home to three pairs of golden eagles, including one of the highest nesting sites in Scotland – has had a golden eagle chick satellite tagged for the first time in recent years. Satellite tags are used by biological researchers on a variety of species including eagles and harriers, and provide valuable insight into their movement and survival. Golden eagle chicks have also been tagged on the Glenlivet Estate and Mar Lodge Estate.

Furthermore, Mar Lodge has hosted six hen harrier nests in 2021. One pair failed early in the season, but the other five nests all have chicks. Two hen harrier chicks have been satellite-tagged in collaboration with the RSPB. Evidence from satellite tags fitted to some of the harriers which are now breeding shows that the birds range widely, foraging across ground on neighbouring ECMP estates.

Last year, Mar Estate witnessed the first successful breeding attempt of sea eagles in Deeside for 200 years, but the relatively inexperienced pair failed this season at the hatching stage, with poor weather likely a contributing factor, however hopes are high for success with continued breeding efforts next season and beyond.

Dr Ewan Weston of the North East Scotland Raptor Study Group, who has carried out much of the satellite tagging on ECMP estates, commented: “This year’s raptor tagging on ECMP estates builds on a positive collaboration with the estates over recent years. Despite a very wet, snowy May, the general picture in the area is that raptors, particularly golden eagles, red kites and hen harriers have done well.”

The East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership is a landscape-scale collaboration between five sporting estates and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. The partnership seeks to deliver private interests alongside public benefits, including improving the conservation status of raptors, demonstrating best practice muirburn management, expanding areas of woodland and scrub and peatland restoration. Partners have been collaborating with a wide range of ecologists in the National Park.

Xander McDade, Convenor at the Cairngorms National Park Authority, said: “We are delighted to hear that productivity of raptors in the east of the National Park looks good for 2021. However, we know that we can still do more for the birds and are committed to finding ways of improving the conservation status of moorland raptors, along with other red and amber moorland bird species. This includes working closely with the five estates that make up the ECMP on a range of conservation measures.”

ENDS

First of all, the breeding success of this pair of white-tailed eagles on Balmoral Estate is obviously very good news and long, long over due.

Norway donated 85 sea eagles for a reintroduction project in eastern Scotland between 2007-2012, although over a quarter of those didn’t survive (the main known causes of death included illegal poisoning, illegally shot, accidentally electrocuted and being hit by trains). The East Coast reintroduction was the third phase of a national reintroduction project that started back in 1975 on the west coast of Scotland, after the species was extirpated from Britain thanks to persecution in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The first successful breeding attempt in east Scotland in 2013, the first for over a century, was an historic milestone in the project and was hoped to be the beginning of a new and vibrant population in the east, mirroring the successful population growth in the west.

So far though, progress has been incredibly slow and ongoing persecution has been at the centre of that (e.g. see here for the news that a sea eagle’s nest tree was deliberately felled on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens, also in 2013-nobody was prosecuted).

A number of young satellite-tagged sea eagles have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on or next to grouse moors since then, and only last year a young sea eagle was found dead, illegally poisoned, on another grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park (see here). Nobody was prosecuted for that crime.

[A police officer examines the corpse of the illegally poisoned sea eagle found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in 2020. Photo by Police Scotland].

So yes, it’s excellent news that Balmoral Estate has hosted a successful breeding attempt this year – well done to the team there – but it’s only half of the story. What happens when that young eagle fledges and disperses from Balmoral later this year?

Will it meet the same fate as this young golden eagle, which fledged from a nest site in the eastern Cairngorms last year and was found dead, ‘deliberately poisoned’ on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate earlier this year?

[An illegally poisoned golden eagle, laying next to a poisoned mountain hare bait, found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in 2021. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

I can see why the Cairngorms National Park Authority would want to issue this press release – not just to deservedly celebrate the successful breeding attempt on Balmoral Estate but probably more cynically, to try and undo some of the reputational damage that has been caused to the Park Authority and to its Eastern Cairngorms Moorland Partnership (ECMP) after the discovery of the poisoned golden eagle earlier this year on one of the ECMP’s partner estates (now no longer a partner) and the deserved criticism that the Park Authority has received for refusing to publish the correspondence it had had with the ECMP about the future of Invercauld Estate as a member of the ECMP following the discovery of the poisoned eagle (see here). This is the same tactic the Park Authority employed a few years ago when illegally-set traps were found on Invercauld Estate (here).

The ECMP can thank its lucky stars that one of its (now five) member estates is Mar Lodge, owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and with a glowing reputation for raptor conservation, especially for breeding hen harriers. Without Mar Lodge’s efforts, the ECMP’s raptor conservation efforts would be looking pretty feeble to date.

Although I noted the irony of the statement in the Park Authority’s press release that, ‘Evidence from satellite tags fitted to some of the harriers which are now breeding shows that the birds range widely, foraging across ground on neighbouring ECMP estates‘.

Er, yeah, but they forgot to mention how many of those hen harriers subsequently ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors in the ECMP and beyond (e.g. see here).

It doesn’t matter how far the Park Authority tries to spin the very welcome but too infrequent ‘good news’ stories like the breeding white-tailed eagles on Balmoral – the bottom line remains that large areas of the Cairngorms National Park are still raptor persecution hotspots and until that changes, the outlook for this young sea eagle is bleak.

01
Jul
21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s part of the response I received:

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

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

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

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

Dear Board Member

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

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

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

All the best

Grant

Grant Moir, Chief Executive, Cairngorms National Park Authority

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

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

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

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

30
May
21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it was.

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

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

Doesn’t that silence speak volumes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Tooley, by email.

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

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

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

28
May
21

Hysteria from Scottish gamekeepers as SNP and Greens formalise talks to cooperate

Earlier this week it was announced that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was in formal talks with the Scottish Greens over a ‘co-operation agreement’ designed to seal a pro-independence majority at Holyrood. Falling short of a formal coalition, the agreement could in future lead to Green MSPs becoming Ministers as part of the current Scottish Government (see Scottish Greens statement here, BBC news article here and an analysis from the Guardian’s Scotland Editor Sev Carrell here).

This proposed agreement is of huge interest to many environmentalists and although the specific policy areas of potential cooperation have not yet been agreed (see here), tackling the climate emergency (and by default, surely, the nature emergency) should be a prominent feature.

The news of these talks has triggered the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) to publish a typically over-the-top scaremongering response about perceived job losses, presumably as a ploy to keep its less well-informed members ready to join a protest at short notice: [Update 16.30hrs – see foot of blog!]

Job losses are of concern to everyone, of course, but as I’ve written previously, the SGA is once again accusing the Scottish Greens of doing something they haven’t done.

The Scottish Greens have made it an aspiration to abolish our members’ jobs‘, says the SGA.

Actually, the Greens have done no such thing. In fact in their election manifesto the Scottish Greens have committed to creating jobs in the countryside, promising ‘at least £895M over the next five years in restoring nature whilst investing in rural communities, creating over 6,000 green jobs’.

The Greens are also committed to ensuring that the licencing of grouse moors ‘is properly resourced and well enforced’ – how does that equate to rural job losses if grouse moor managers are abiding by the law?

A spokesperson from the Scottish Greens is cited today in another article about the proposed cooperative agreement amid concerns from fish farmers and National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS):

A spokesman for Scottish Green MSPs responded that it was too early to say which issues would arise in talks with the SNP.

He said that environmental harm and fish welfare was a higher priority than phasing out caged fish farms altogether.

He explained that the party’s intention was to support industries in finding alternatives to harmful and polluting activities, and not to force sudden change‘.

Perhaps if the SGA had spent less time and money sponsoring adverts against the Scottish Greens (that went well – great use of members’ funds, not), less time complaining to the electoral commission (how did that go?) and more time reading and engaging with the Greens instead of excluding them from hustings, they’d have a better grasp of what was going on and be in a stronger position to contribute to discussions instead of constantly throwing their toys out of the pram and howling, ‘It’s so unfair’.

Actually, if they’d got any sense at all they’d realise that these talks are not their greatest immediate threat – it’s the continued illegal killing of birds of prey on land managed for gamebird shooting that’s pushing them further and further in to the corner and away from public support.

That poisoned golden eagle, found dead next to a poisoned bait on Invercauld Estate, sent shockwaves through the public, many of whom had no idea this sort of barbarity still goes on.

The SGA’s response? Well I can’t see any statement of condemnation on their website, can you?

[The poisoned golden eagle found lying on a grouse moor next to a poisoned bait on Invercauld Estate. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

UPDATE 16.30hrs:

Right on cue, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association has just published this:

18
May
21

56 hen harriers confirmed illegally killed or ‘missing’ since 2018

For anyone who still wants to pretend that the grouse shooting industry isn’t responsible for the systematic extermination of hen harriers on grouse moors across the UK, here’s the latest catalogue of crime that suggests otherwise.

[This male hen harrier died in 2019 after his leg was almost severed in an illegally set trap that had been placed next to his nest on a Scottish grouse moor (see here). Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Just 19 days ago, this list totalled 53 hen harriers, all either confirmed to have been illegally killed or to have ‘disappeared’, most of them on or next to driven grouse moors.

They disappear in the same way political dissidents in authoritarian dictatorships have disappeared” (Stephen Barlow, 22 January 2021).

Today the list has been updated to include the most recently reported three victims: one male hen harrier that vanished from its breeding attempt on the RSPB’s Geltsdale Reserve in 2020 and two more from the same site that yesterday the police reported as ‘missing in suspicious circumstances’ (see here).

The RSPB’s Geltsdale Reserve is located in close proximity to a large area managed for driven grouse shooting and breeding males have disappeared from here prior to 2020 and 2021. In fact, raptor persecution incidents in this area, both on and off the reserve, have been reported by the RSPB since at least the mid 1990s and have included the confirmed shooting of a number of hen harriers (i.e. their corpses were found), witnessed reports of attempted hen harrier shootings, including a gamekeeper from a neighbouring estate filmed with a gun stalking a hen harrier on the reserve, at least one confirmed poisoning of a hen harrier and a wide array of other victims including buzzards, peregrines and ravens either shot or poisoned.

The disgraceful national catalogue of illegally killed and ‘missing’ hen harriers will continue to grow – I know of at least one more on-going police investigation which has yet to be publicised.

I’ve been compiling this list only since 2018 because that is the year that the grouse shooting industry ‘leaders’ would have us believe that the criminal persecution of hen harriers had stopped and that these birds were being welcomed back on to the UK’s grouse moors (see here).

This assertion was made shortly before the publication of a devastating new scientific paper that demonstrated that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers were confirmed or considered likely to have been illegally killed, and this was ten times more likely to occur over areas of land managed for grouse shooting relative to other land uses (see here).

2018 was also the year that Natural England issued itself with a licence to begin a hen harrier brood meddling trial on grouse moors in northern England. For new blog readers, hen harrier brood meddling is a conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA as part of its ludicrous ‘Hen Harrier Action Plan‘ and carried out by Natural England (NE), in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England. For more background see here.

Brood meddling has been described as a sort of ‘gentleman’s agreement’ by commentator Stephen Welch:

I don’t get it, I thought the idea of that scheme was some kind of trade off – a gentleman’s agreement that the birds would be left in peace if they were moved from grouse moors at a certain density. It seems that one party is not keeping their side of the bargain“.

With at least 56 hen harriers gone since 2018, I think it’s fair to say that the grouse shooting industry is simply taking the piss. Meanwhile, Natural England pretends that ‘partnership working’ is the way to go.

‘Partnership working’ appears to include authorising the removal of hen harrier chicks from a grouse moor already under investigation by the police for suspected raptor persecution (here) and accepting a £10K bung from representatives of the grouse shooting industry that prevents Natural England from criticising them (see here).

[Cartoon by Gill Lewis]

So here’s the latest gruesome list:

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa ‘disappeared’ in the Angus Glens in Scotland (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers Association later published wholly inaccurate information claiming the bird had been re-sighted. The RSPB dismissed this as “completely false” (here).

5 February 2018: Hen harrier Marc ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Durham (here)

9 February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn ‘disappeared’ near Moffat in Scotland (here)

18 April 2018: Hen harrier Lia ‘disappeared’ in Wales and her corpse was retrieved in a field in May 2018. Cause of death was unconfirmed but police treating death as suspicious (here)

8 August 2018: Hen harrier Hilma ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Northumberland (here).

16 August 2018: Hen harrier Athena ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

26 August 2018: Hen Harrier Octavia ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here)

29 August 2018: Hen harrier Margot ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

29 August 2018: Hen Harrier Heulwen ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

3 September 2018: Hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

24 September 2018: Hen harrier Heather ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

2 October 2018: Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

3 October 2018: Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Bowland, Lanacashire (here)

23 October 2018: Hen harrier Tom ‘disappeared’ in South Wales (here)

26 October 2018: Hen harrier Arthur ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here)

1 November 2018: Hen harrier Barney ‘disappeared’ on Bodmin Moor (here)

10 November 2018: Hen harrier Rannoch ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here). Her corpse was found nearby in May 2019 – she’d been killed in an illegally-set spring trap (here).

14 November 2018: Hen harrier River ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB (here). Her corpse was found nearby in April 2019 – she’d been illegally shot (here).

16 January 2019: Hen harrier Vulcan ‘disappeared’ in Wiltshire close to Natural England’s proposed reintroduction site (here)

7 February 2019: Hen harrier Skylar ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (here)

22 April 2019: Hen harrier Marci ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

26 April 2019: Hen harrier Rain ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Nairnshire (here)

11 May 2019: An untagged male hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set trap next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire. He didn’t survive (here)

7 June 2019: An untagged hen harrier was found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland. A post mortem stated the bird had died as a result of ‘penetrating trauma’ injuries and that this bird had previously been shot (here)

5 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 1 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park (here)

11 September 2019: Hen harrier Romario ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

14 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183704) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

23 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #55149) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

24 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 2 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

24 September 2019: Hen harrier Bronwyn ‘disappeared’ near a grouse moor in North Wales (here)

10 October 2019: Hen harrier Ada ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North Pennines AONB (here)

12 October 2019: Hen harrier Thistle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Sutherland (here)

18 October 2019: Member of the public reports the witnessed shooting of an untagged male hen harrier on White Syke Hill in North Yorkshire (here)

November 2019: Hen harrier Mary found illegally poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland (here)

January 2020: Members of the public report the witnessed shooting of a male hen harrier on Threshfield Moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

23 March 2020: Hen harrier Rosie ‘disappeared’ at an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (here)

1 April 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183703) ‘disappeared’ in unnamed location, tag intermittent (here)

5 April 2020: Hen harrier Hoolie ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

8 April 2020: Hen harrier Marlin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

19 May 2020: Hen harrier Fingal ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Lowther Hills, Scotland (here)

21 May 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183701) ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Cumbria shortly after returning from wintering in France (here)

27 May 2020: Hen harrier Silver ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on Leadhills Estate, Scotland (here)

day/month unknown: Unnamed male hen harrier breeding on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria ‘disappears’ while away hunting (here)

9 July 2020: Unnamed female hen harrier (#201118) ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed site in Northumberland (here).

25 July 2020: Hen harrier Harriet ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

14 August 2020: Hen harrier Solo ‘disappeared’ in confidential nest area in Lancashire (here)

7 September 2020: Hen harrier Dryad ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

16 September 2020: Hen harrier Fortune ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (here)

19 September 2020: Hen harrier Harold ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

20 September 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2020, #55152) ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in North Yorkshire (here)

24 February 2021: Hen harrier Tarras ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Northumberland (here)

12th April 2021: Hen harrier Yarrow ‘disappeared’ near Stockton, County Durham (here)

18 May 2021: Adult male hen harrier ‘disappears’ from its breeding attempt on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria whilst away hunting (here)

18 May 2021: Another adult male hen harrier ‘disappears’ from its breeding attempt on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria whilst away hunting (here)

To be continued……..

18
May
21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a pitiful state of affairs.

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

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

14
May
21

Grouse moor-owning Lord Benyon appointed new DEFRA Minister

DEFRA press release (13 May 2021)

DEFRA welcomes new Minister

Lord Benyon has today been appointed as a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defra. He will replace outgoing Defra minister Lord Gardiner, who will become Senior Deputy Speaker in the House of Lords.

The Environment Secretary today welcomed Lord Benyon, commenting on his passion and dedication to environmental causes.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said:

I am pleased to welcome Richard back to Defra. He brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and passion for the environment, developed during his previous experience as a Defra Minister and during his work as Chair of our review in to Highly Protected Marine Areas.

I look forward to working with him during this truly exciting time for Defra, with the Environment Bill returning to parliament, our agricultural reforms now starting to take root and the government leading the world on protecting nature and tackling climate change. Richard will be invaluable as we continue our ambitious work to ensure we leave our natural environment in a better state for future generations.

I would also like to extend my congratulations to Lord Gardiner on his election as Senior Deputy Speaker in the House of Lords and to thank him for his work as Minister in Defra.”

Defra Minister Lord Benyon said:

It’s both a privilege and a pleasure to be returning to Defra as a Minister in the House of Lords. I have fond memories from my time as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State.

From the flagship Environment Bill and tackling climate change to helping our farmers through the agricultural transition and supporting our fishing industry, Defra is at the heart of this Government’s work to build back greener. It’s an exciting time to be back at Defra.

I look forward to working with everyone as Defra tackles some of the greatest challenges of our time.”

Lord Benyon’s portfolio will be confirmed in due course.

ENDS

Grouse moor and pheasant-shoot – owner Richard Benyon is a former Trustee of GWCT and is no stranger to the pages of this blog. E.g. this from 2014:

In 2013, as Wildlife Minister under David Cameron, Richard Benyon refused to make possession of Carbofuran a criminal offence in England, despite other MPs calling for such a move, and despite it being an offence in Scotland, and despite it being well known that Carbofuran is the gamekeepers’ poison of choice for killing birds of prey.

In response, Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party) said:

The minister’s shocking refusal to outlaw the possession of a poison used only by rogue gamekeepers to illegally kill birds of prey would be inexplicable were it not for his own cosy links to the shooting lobby“.

Also while Mr Benyon was in post at DEFRA, the government sanctioned the controversial buzzard ‘management’ trial and committed £375k of taxpayers money to help support it (see here), although they swiftly backtracked after a huge public outcry against the plan (see here). However, the following year Natural England, acting on behalf of DEFRA, decided to go ahead and issue a licence (to a gamekeeper with a past conviction for wildlife crime) to destroy buzzard eggs and nests to protect pheasants (see here).

Mr Benyon also decided there was no need to introduce vicarious liability to England because “there are very good laws in place to punish the illegal killing of any animal. If they are not being effectively enforced, they must be and we will take steps to make sure that happens. However, this is a good opportunity to applaud gamekeepers for the wonderful work they do in providing excellent biodiversity across our countryside” (see here and here).

In 2016 he spoke at the Westminster Hall debate on driven grouse shooting where, along with other grouse-shooting pals and supporters, he claimed that a ban on driven grouse shooting would be ‘a catastrophe for the biodiversity of the uplands‘.

It’s probably safe to assume that this latest appointment to DEFRA’s ministerial team will have significant influence on campaigning efforts to rid the English uplands of the wildlife crime and environmental damage continually associated with driven grouse shooting.

It doesn’t mean we’ll stop trying, though.

13
May
21

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

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

The article is reproduced below:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this:

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

Long wait for tide to turn

He wrote that 60 years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victorian values

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reality doesn’t match ambition

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

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

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

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

ENDS

12
May
21

Poisoned golden eagle: statement from NatureScot

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

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

Here’s what it says:

7 May 2021

NatureScot statement: Poisoned golden eagle found on Invercauld Estate

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

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

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

ENDS

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

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

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

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

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




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