Posts Tagged ‘poisoning

27
Sep
17

Evidence of wildlife crime results in General Licence restriction on Edradynate Estate

As many of you will know, SNH has the ability to impose a three-year General Licence restriction order on land, or on an individual, where there is sufficient evidence, substantiated by Police Scotland, that raptor persecution has taken place (see SNH framework here).

This measure, based on a civil burden of proof, was introduced by then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in 2013 in response to the continuing difficulties of meeting a criminal burden of proof to facilitate a criminal prosecution. The measure became available for incidents that occured on or after 1 January 2014.

Photo of a poisoned buzzard (RPUK)

Since then, only two restriction orders have been imposed, both in November 2014: one for the Raeshaw/Corsehope Estates in the Scottish Borders, and one for the Burnfoot/Wester Cringate Estates in Stirlingshire (see here for details, and an explanation of what a General Licence restriction actually means).

As you’ll also probably be aware, Raeshaw Estate and Corsehope Estate made a legal challenge to SNH’s decision and this resulted in a judicial review. The judicial review dragged on for some time but eventually concluded in March this year, and the court found that SNH had acted fairly and that the General Licence restriction at Raeshaw Estate and Corsehope Estate should remain in place (see here).

While this legal challenge was underway, SNH, quite reasonably, did not impose any further General Licence restrictions, even though there were plenty of candidate estates to consider. Once the legal argument had been settled, we expected SNH to open the floodgates and impose many more restriction orders for offences that had taken place since January 2014. We asked SNH about this in June 2017 and we were told that two notifications were underway, relating to offences in Perthshire and Aberdeenshire, although no further details were given at that time, presumably as SNH was giving the affected parties time to respond/appeal. Fair enough.

Today, SNH has announced that two General Licence restriction orders have been imposed in two separate cases.

The first of those cases relates to Edradynate Estate in Perthshire: SNH_GL Restriction Notice_Edradynate Estate_15Sept2017

Here is the decision notice:

And here is the estate boundary map to which the General Licence restriction applies for the next three years:

For the next three years, Edradynate Estate will no longer be able to enjoy the privilege of using General Licences 1, 2 or 3, but the estate will be entitled to apply for the use of an Individual Licence that will allow them to kill certain bird species but under closer scrutiny than if the estate was using a General Licence. We’ll be monitoring the use of any Individual Licences that SNH approves for this estate, and, if there is any breach of the licence conditions, we fully expect SNH to revoke the Individual Licence just as they did for Raeshaw Estate earlier this year.

SNH has not provided any information about the Police Scotland evidence used as the basis for this General Licence restriction order on Edradynate Estate. However, it’s probably a fair assumption that it relates to the alleged poisoning of several buzzards in 2015. This is one of the five prosecution cases that the Crown Office dropped earlier this year, without explanation. The case did not involve video evidence, as some of the others did, and the case was dropped by the Crown despite a plea from Police Scotland to proceed (see here).

We’ve been blogging about Edradynate Estate for a 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.

Now, whether you think a General Licence restriction order is a sufficient sanction against this estate is open to debate. However, while we wait for the Scottish Government to get on with estate licensing, a General Licence restriction order is all that is currently available, so well done to SNH for imposing the General Licence restriction order on this particular estate and for being semi-transparent about the details.

Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about the second General Licence restriction order that SNH has just imposed. We’ll be blogging about that one in the next blog…..it’s an absolute shocker.

Edradynate Estate (photo by RPUK)

UPDATES:

RSPB press statement here

SNH imposes General Licence restriction on ‘mystery’ gamekeeper (here)

More on the mystery gamekeeper with the General Licence restriction (here)

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21
Aug
17

Police appeal in suspected peregrine poisoning incident

Press release from Devon & Cornwall Police, 18 August 2017:

POISONED PEREGRINE FALCON: WITNESS APPEAL

Officers are investigating an incident after being contacted by staff at Glendinning Quarry in Ashburton, on Tuesday 15 August, following reports of an injured Peregrine falcon.

The falcon had been located on the floor of the quarry which is home to a breeding pair of Peregrine falcons.

Devon and Cornwall Police Wildlife Crime Officer, PC Josh Marshall, sought that the juvenile Peregrine falcon was given the immediate care it required. However, the bird died the next day.

PC Marshall said: “The initial inspection and condition of the bird strongly suggests that this bird had been poisoned. The bird has now been placed into the Wildlife Investigation scheme administered by Natural England where it will be forensically examined to establish the cause of death and a police investigation has now begun into the incident.

Members of the public are warned that poisons commonly used to commit a crime like this are incredibly toxic to humans and pets. Should any person locate any dead or injured birds they are strongly advised not to touch them or let pets come into contact with them.

Ingestion of these poisons can lead to death. It is incredibly concerning that individuals are using these types of chemicals within public areas that not only kill our wildlife but could also place members of the public, children and their animals into harm’s way.

The area of Ashburton and neighbouring Buckfastleigh is unfortunately a hot spot for poisoning of these birds of prey. Previous incidents at the site are as follows:

2011 – 1 poisoned Peregrine falcon at White Cleaves (Buckfastleigh) Quarry – substance used – Aldicarb and Carbofuran.

2005 – Poisoned bait (racing pigeon) Glendinnings Quarry– substance used Aldicarb. A live bird with clipped wings. Adults missing presumed dead, chicks rescued. Police fitted telemetry device to see if pigeon would relocate but this failed. In Legal Eagle 47, page 5.

2005 – 1 poisoned peregrine and 1 poisoned bait (pigeon) – substance used – Aldicarb, peregrine found on dead pigeon which had wings clipped.

2003 – Two men with a pigeon on a length of string appearing to try and lure peregrines from the top of White Cleaves (Buckfastleigh) Quarry. Police visited site but men had gone.

2000 – 1 poisoned Peregrine, substance used Aldicarb at Glendinnings quarry

2000 – 1 shot Sparrowhawk near Buckfastleigh (it lived).

1992 – 2 dead peregrines at White Cleaves (Buckfastleigh), with pigeon flesh in crop – tested positive for Malathion.

As can been seen from this data, the use of illegal banned poisons are evident and put the public at significant risk. In the 2005 incident, a number of children could have been harmed or potentially worse when the poisoned bait (a racing pigeon) was located wondering around near to a childminders address.

Significantly racing pigeons have been used as the bait for a number incidents both here and nationally and the answer to solving and preventing these poisonings could lie somewhere within a rogue minority of the racing pigeon community.

Peregrine falcons do not differentiate between prey items such as wild pigeons and racing pigeons, this obviously causes conflict with some prize racing pigeons being taken by these birds of prey.

Generally the method used will be to smear the bait with a vasaline type substance containing the poison onto either a live or dead bird. When the Peregrine plucks and eats the bait item the poison is then ingested and kills the bird. The bird dies then endures an excruciating few hours whilst waiting to die.

South West Peregrines, a volunteer group who monitor these birds and others within the South West, have described the incident as ‘abhorrent’.

We are urging members of the local community to come forward with any information they may have that can assist in bringing these offenders to justice”.

Information is handled in the strictest of confidence and can be passed directly to PC Marshall at Joshua.marshall2@devonandcornwall.pnn.police.uk or by email 101@dc.police.uk or calling 101 quoting log number 0223 180817.

Information can be passed anonymously to Crimestoppers via 0800 555111 or the charity’s website at www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Tony Whitehead speaking for RSPB in the South West said: “Peregrines are magnificent and much-loved birds, whose comeback over the past twenty years is a conservation success. However, once again, it appears the peregrines at this site have been deliberately targeted and, it is suspected, poisoned.

Should this prove to be the case, this is outrageous and the criminals must be brought to justice. We are also concerned that, should this again prove to be a poisoning, someone is wantonly placing toxic chemicals in the countryside which can be a danger to both humans and pets.

Someone in the local community must have information about who’s doing this and we urge people to come forward and contact the police. A £1,000 reward has been offered by the RSPB for information that directly leads to the prosecution of the offender.

ENDS

25
Jul
17

Scottish Raptor Study Group letter in response to estate licensing scaremongering claims

Earlier this month we blogged about two articles that were published in the Scottish Mail on Sunday about so-called ‘draconian’ proposals to introduce a licensing scheme for game shooting estates (see here).

One piece was just a review of various organisations’ positions and the other one was a fairly lengthy comment piece written by Carrieanne Conaghan, a gamekeeper’s wife and coordinator of the Speyside Moorland Group. Carrieanne claimed that the introduction of estate licensing would ‘penalise‘ law-abiding estates, although she didn’t explain how she thought this would work.

Logan Steele, the estate licensing petitioner (on behalf of the Scottish Raptor Study Group) contacted the Mail on Sunday and asked for the opportunity to provide a comment piece in response, especially as Carrieanne had made a number of unsubstantiated (and inaccurate) claims about his motivation for launching the petition. The Mail on Sunday refused (surprise!) but did say he could write a 150-word letter, an option Logan described in a comment on this blog as “a pretty second rate alternative“.

Nevertheless, Logan did submit a letter and it appeared at the weekend. He says it’s been “butchered” (the published version is only 89 words) and they couldn’t even spell his name correctly. Even so, he makes his points well:

A quick bit of background research has led us to believe that Carrieanne’s husband is employed as a gamekeeper at Glenlochy, near Grantown-on-Spey in the Cairngorms National Park. This estate is no stranger to police investigations into alleged raptor persecution (e.g. see here) although nobody has ever been prosecuted. This history, perhaps well before her husband’s employment, might help explain Carrieanne’s concerns about the introduction of an estate licensing scheme.

22
Jun
17

Edradynate Estate gamekeeper in court for alleged crop poisoning

Well this is absolutely fascinating.

From the Courier & Advertiser (Perth & Perthshire edition), 22 June 2017:

Gamekeeper in court over estate crop poisoning allegation.

A senior gamekeeper has appeared at Perth Sheriff Court accused of poisoning crops on a Perthshire estate. David Campbell was working on the Edradynate Estate, near Aberfeldy, when he is said to have committed the offence.

A charge alleges he maliciously damaged the crops between April 14 and 16 this year by spraying them with an unknown substance, causing them to rot and perish. The 69 year old is also said to have stolen a thermal imaging spotting scope.

He made a brief appearance on petition before Sheriff William Wood at Perth Sheriff Court and made no plea or declaration. Campbell had his case continued. He was released on bail.

ENDS

You might be wondering why we’re blogging about this? The simple answer – we are very interested in the Edradynate Estate and have been for a long time as it has repeatedly been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations (particularly the alleged poisoning of birds of prey) although nobody has ever been convicted.

Most recently (May 2017) our interest has been in relation to the Crown Office’s refusal to prosecute an unnamed Edradynate gamekeeper for alleged offences relating to the poisoning of several buzzards, despite a plea from Police Scotland to proceed (see here). The Crown Office has not provided an explanation about why this decision was taken (video evidence was not involved), other than to say:

The Procurator Fiscal received a report concerning a 66-year-old man, in relation to alleged incidents between 18 March and 4 June 2015. Following full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, including the available admissible evidence, the Procurator Fiscal decided that there should be no proceedings taken at this time. The Crown reserves the right to proceed in the future should further evidence become available.”

As the alleged wildlife crime offences took place in 2015, the case will not become time barred until June 2018 so there may still be a prosecution, although we won’t be holding our breath given the Crown Office’s recent performances in this area (five cases of alleged wildlife crime dropped in the space of two months).

It’s ironic then, that an Edradynate Estate gamekeeper (although we understand this particular gamekeeper left Edradynate at the end of Jan 2017, despite what was reported in the Courier) has been charged with an alleged poisoning offence – not of a protected raptor species, but of a crop. That in itself is fascinating, but even more interesting is that this charge is deemed sufficiently serious for the Crown (prosecutors) to begin proceedings by petition (before deciding whether to prosecute on indictment or by summary complaint). Only serious cases are begun by petition.

We’ll be tracking this case with great interest.

Please note: if you decide to comment on this specific blog, please remember that this case and the alleged wildlife crime offences from 2015 are still ‘live’ and at this stage the offences are only alleged. Please think carefully about your choice of words. Thanks.

15
Jun
17

Law professor comments on inadmissibility of video evidence in wildlife crime prosecutions

As regular blog readers will be aware, the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), the public prosecutors in Scotland, have, in the space of two months, either dropped or refused to prosecute five cases of alleged wildlife crime. These include:

25 March 2017 – gamekeeper John Charles Goodenough (Dalreoch Estates), accused of the alleged use of illegal gin traps. Prosecution dropped due to paperwork blunder by Crown Office.

11 April 2017 – landowner Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate), accused of being allegedly vicariously liable for the actions of his gamekeeper who had earlier been convicted for killing a buzzard by stamping on it and dropping rocks on to it. Prosecution dropped due to ‘not being in the public interest’.

21 April 2017 – gamekeeper Stanley Gordon (Cabrach Estate), accused of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier. Prosecution dropped as video evidence deemed inadmissible.

25 April 2017 – gamekeeper Craig Graham (Brewlands Estate), accused of allegedly setting and re-setting an illegal pole trap. Prosecution dropped as video evidence deemed inadmissible.

21 May 2017 – an unnamed 66 year old gamekeeper (Edradynate Estate), suspected of alleged involvement with the poisoning of three buzzards. Crown Office refused to prosecute, despite a plea to do so by Police Scotland.

Two of these cases (Cabrach Estate and Brewlands Estate) were dropped due to the COPFS deciding that the use of RSPB video evidence, on which the prosecutions relied, was inadmissible.

There has been widespread public condemnation and political concern about these decisions, especially in the case of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate in Morayshire. The Crown Office has attempted to explain the decisions but many questions remain unanswered for those of us who don’t have the legal expertise, or all the case details, to challenge the COPFS decisions.

We read with interest, then, a blog that was published yesterday written by Peter Duff, Professor of Criminal Justice at Aberdeen University. His blog, entitled ‘The law of evidence, video footage, and wildlife conservation: did COPFS make the correct decisions?‘ deals specifically with the Cabrach & Brewlands cases and can be read here.

We thoroughly recommend reading it. It’s important to read the perspective of an independent, expert academic who has no axe to grind on either side of the debate. It’s hard for those of us who are either tainted by years of frustration about criminal raptor killers getting away with it, or those with a vested interest in raptor killers avoiding prosecution, to take an unbiased view of the law and its application, so Professor Duff’s opinion is a valuable contribution to the debate. Not only that, it’s great to see this issue receiving wider coverage than the usual commentators.

That’s not to say we agree with his interpretation though! In short, Professor Duff concludes that the COPFS decisions were “perfectly reasonable”, and he explains his reasoning for this, but, crucially, some of what he writes does not take in to account previous case law on this issue, perhaps because he was unaware of such cases?

For example, Professor Duff states: ” In my view also, for what it is worth, I agree that the courts would not excuse such an irregularity in obtaining the video evidence and prosecutions would be fruitless“.

First of all, the Scottish courts HAVE excused the irregularity of obtaining video evidence without the landowner’s permission and far from those prosecutions being ‘fruitless’, they actually resulted in the conviction of the accused (e.g. see the Marshall trial here and the Mutch trial here).

During the Marshall trial, there were several hours of legal argument about the admissibility of the video evidence. The Sheriff accepted the video evidence, commenting that the RSPB presence on the gamekeeper’s estate [from where the video was filmed] was “neither illegal nor irregular, and the intent to obtain evidence did not make it so“.  This is no different to the recent Cabrach case.

During the Mutch trial, again involving several hours of legal argument about the admissibility of evidence, the Sheriff accepted that the RSPB had not placed the video camera with the purpose of gathering evidence for prosecution, but they had placed it as part of a legitimate survey in to the use of traps. This is no different to the recent Cabrach case.

There is also an on-going trial at the moment (concerning alleged fox hunting) that relies heavily on video evidence filmed on privately-owned land without the landowner’s permission. The court has accepted the video evidence as admissible (although we can’t comment too much on this as the trial is still live).

So on that basis, we profoundly disagree with Professor Duff’s opinion that covertly filmed video evidence would not be accepted by the Scottish courts. It already has been, on several occasions, resulting in convictions. The question remains then, why did the COPFS decide it was inadmissible? Somebody within the Crown Office (presumably an experienced lawyer from with the Wildlife & Environmental Crime Unit) decided, when this case was first marked, that the video evidence was admissible. It took nine court hearings over a period of a year before the COPFS decided that the video evidence was inadmissible. We still don’t know the basis for that decision. And the other related question to this is why didn’t the COPFS let the court make the decision? It’s this inconsistency of approach that has caused so much confusion, and as Professor Duff writes, ‘bewilderment’.

Professor Duff also writes: “The actions by the RSPB [of placing a covert camera] are a breach of the right to privacy of both the estate owners and their employees (whilst not quite analogous, imagine if your neighbour installed a secret camera to record everything that went on in your garden)“. Sorry, but it’s quite absurd to compare these two scenarios given the size difference between these two types of landholdings. Nobody could argue that placing a covert camera to film somebody’s back garden wouldn’t be a breach of privacy, as you’d reasonably expect to see the human occupants on a daily basis. But on a multi-thousand acre estate, far from any private dwelling? Come on, “not quite analogous” is one hell of an understatement. And not only that, in the Cabrach case, the camera was aimed at the nest of Schedule 1 hen harrier, which by law cannot be approached/disturbed without an appropriate licence from SNH so you wouldn’t expect to film anybody anywhere near the nest.

All in all then, Professor Duff’s interpretation of the law, whilst useful, still doesn’t explain, or justify, the decisions made by the Crown Office in these two cases.

And questions still remain about the decisions to drop the other three cases (gamekeeper John Charles Goodenough of Dalreoch Estates; landowner Andrew Duncan of Newlands Estate; an unnamed gamekeeper of Edradynate Estate), none of which were reliant upon video evidence.

07
Jun
17

3 orphaned peregrine chicks now fostered; one to become a Springwatch star

Over the weekend we blogged about the suspected poisoning of two adult peregrines at a quarry nest site in Clee Hill, Shropshire, leaving three vulnerable chicks in need of rescue (see here).

Thanks to the efforts of a team of experts from various organisations, the three rescued chicks have now been fostered into two wild nests. The two larger females have been placed on a nest ledge in the Midlands, and the smaller male has been fostered in to the nest on Salisbury Cathedral. The RSPB has an updated blog about the latest developments here.

Photo of the three rescued peregrine chicks (RSPB)

As many of you will know, this year’s breeding attempt by the resident Salisbury Cathedral peregrines has featured on the BBC’s Springwatch and tonight’s programme will show what happened when the young chick was introduced to his new foster family (BBC 2, 8pm).

Well done to all involved with the successful rescue of these peregrine chicks and thanks to BBC Springwatch for covering the story and bringing it, and thus illegal raptor persecution, to the attention of its 4 million viewers.

Clee Hill in Shropshire is a notorious site for the illegal poisoning of peregrines (e.g. see here). One local observer (@davebarnesphoto) has suggested that 11 peregrines have been killed at this nest in eight years. He also notes the area is a ‘pigeon racing hotspot’. Whoever killed the breeding pair this year will hopefully feel more than a little nervous as eight million eyes turn to scrutinise recent events at this site.

06
Jun
17

Crown Office drops 5th case of alleged wildlife crime

Public prosecutors from Scotland’s Crown Office have dropped yet another case of alleged wildlife crime.

According to an article in the Sunday Post (see here), gamekeeper John Charles Goodenough, 32, had been charged after he was allegedly caught with illegal gin traps covered in animal blood, with dead fox cubs found nearby, in May 2016. It is reported Goodenough was employed at the time by Dalreoch Farming & Sporting Estates, owned by the well-connected Wellesley family. It was alleged that Goodenough was using the illegal traps on a neighbouring farm in Ayrshire.

The case was due to be heard at Ayr Sheriff Court on 27 March 2017 but two days prior to the hearing, the Crown Office dropped the case ‘after getting the dates wrong on its paperwork’.

This latest case brings the total of recently abandoned prosecutions for alleged wildlife crime to five. That’s five abandoned cases in the space of two months:

25 March 2017 – gamekeeper John Charles Goodenough (Dalreoch Estates), accused of the alleged use of illegal gin traps. Prosecution dropped due to paperwork blunder by Crown Office.

11 April 2017 – landowner Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate), accused of being allegedly vicariously liable for the actions of his gamekeeper who had earlier been convicted for killing a buzzard by stamping on it and dropping rocks on to it. Prosecution dropped due to ‘not being in the public interest’.

21 April 2017 – gamekeeper Stanley Gordon (Cabrach Estate), accused of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier. Prosecution dropped as video evidence deemed inadmissible.

25 April 2017 – gamekeeper Craig Graham (Brewlands Estate), accused of allegedly setting and re-setting an illegal pole trap. Prosecution dropped as video evidence deemed inadmissible.

21 May 2017 – an unnamed 66 year old gamekeeper (Edradynate Estate), suspected of alleged involvement with the poisoning of three buzzards. Crown Office refused to prosecute, despite a plea to do so by Police Scotland.

Given how difficult it is to get just one wildlife crime case anywhere near a court, to have five abandoned in the space of two months does not inspire confidence in the criminal justice system.

In fact such was the public concern about some of these cases being abandoned due to the supposed inadmissibility of video evidence, last month the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee wrote to the Crown Office to ask for an explanation (see here).

The Crown Office has now responded with this: COPFS letter to ECCLR_EvidenceAdmissibility_May2017

We are not legally qualified to comment in depth about how good or how poor the Crown Office’s response is. If any of our legally-minded readers (Adam?) would like to comment, please do so.

However, what we can say is that this response does not address the question of why the Crown Office made the decision about inadmissibility instead of allowing a court to decide, as has happened in previous cases (e.g. see here).

Nor does this response address the question of why the Crown Office did not believe the RSPB ‘s explanation for their use of video surveillance for monitoring a hen harrier breeding attempt at Cabrach Estate. The Crown Office maintains, without explanation, that the RSPB had installed the video ‘for the purpose of detecting crime’, whereas the RSPB maintains the camera was installed as part of a legitimate monitoring study, an explanation which had been accepted by both the Crown and the court in a similar situation in another case (here).

The RSPB’s case is not so strong in the Brewlands Estate case, where a camera was installed to monitor an illegal pole trap (a trap that the RSPB had since made safe by flicking on the safety catch), although the circumstances might have been different had the police been able to attend the scene as soon as they were notified of an illegally-set trap. Nevertheless, the fact that the Crown Office allowed a year’s worth of court hearings to pass by before deciding to abandon this case, and their unwillingness to communicate their specific concerns to the RSPB, is yet to be adequately addressed by the Crown Office.

The Crown Office’s response also does not explain (although to be fair, it wasn’t asked to) why dropping the prosecution against Andrew Duncan for alleged vicarious liability was deemed to be ‘not in the public interest’, and nor does it explain why a prosecution was not brought against the unnamed Edradynate Estate gamekeeper for the alleged poisoning of three buzzards, despite pleas from Police Scotland to do so.

The Crown Office’s letter to the Environment Committee ends with this:

COPFS remains committed to tackling wildlife crime, including raptor persecution. There is a strong presumption in favour of prosecution in cases reported to the Service where there is sufficient admissible evidence and prosecution is in the public interest‘.

You could have fooled us.

To be honest, as frustrating as it was to see these cases abandoned for what seem to us to be spurious reasons, the Crown Office’s unimpressive performance has probably helped move things along, because these dropped cases came at the time when the Scottish Government was already under severe public pressure to do something other than make vague promises to tackle wildlife crime. That’s not to say we are pleased with the outcome of these cases – far from it – but it’s quite likely that these failed prosecutions helped tip the balance and persuaded the Scottish Government that actually, the current system is failing and they need to find new ways of addressing the problem.




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