Posts Tagged ‘poisoning

20
Jan
20

Spain continues to impose strong penalties for raptor poisoning

Once again the Spanish authorities are leading the way with their zero tolerance approach to illegal raptor persecution by imposing another meaningful penalty on an individual who was found guilty of poisoning four vultures (one Cinereous and three griffon) with a banned pesticide in 2012.

[A poisoned griffon vulture, photo by Hristo Peshev]

According to this article (roughly translated from Spanish via Google but clear enough to understand the main points), the unnamed criminal was given a six month custodial sentence AND a fine of 36,000 Euros AND was disqualified from hunting for a period of two years.

It’s not clear why it took so long for the case to come to court but previous cases have shown the Spanish authorities go to great lengths to find supportive evidence in these poisoning cases (e.g. seeking court warrants to collect blood samples from 150 sheep to link to a poisoned bait! – see here) and the routine use of sniffer dogs to detect traces of poisoned baits or poisoned victims. These extended investigations are not currently possible in the UK because there is a time bar on when proceedings must begin after a wildlife crime has been committed (three years in Scotland, two years in England & Wales).

This isn’t the first time that the Spanish authorities have come down hard on raptor poisoners. We’ve blogged about three previous cases (here here and here) where custodial sentences, massive fines and an extended disqualification from hunting have all been part of the sentencing package. Spain is putting the UK to shame.

However, things may soon be changing in Scotland. With the proposed new penalties for wildlife crime (including a substantial increase for many raptor persecution offences) currently going through the Parliamentary process it hopefully won’t be long before the Scottish courts will have the ability, and desire, to impose lengthy custodial sentences and massive fines on those found guilty of killing raptors.

It would be helpful if, like in Spain, there was also the option to disqualify the criminal (and his/her employing estate, if appropriate) from ‘hunting’ for a period of time commensurate with the offence(s). Of course, for this to happen we need to see the Scottish Government finally commit to introducing a licensing scheme for game bird shooting, starting with driven grouse shooting where much of the criminality is embedded.

We await the Government’s response to the Werritty Review with great interest.

03
Jan
20

New Chairman for Scottish Land & Estates

Scottish Land and Estates (SLE), the grouse moor owners’ lobby group (amongst other things) has announced its new Chairman will be sporting estate owner Mark Tennant.

Mark will begin his new role in April 2020 when the current Chair, Lord David Johnstone, steps down.

We don’t know much about Mark other than what SLE has written in its announcement (here) but let’s be honest, he’s not exactly got big shoes to fill. His predecessor, ‘Dumfriesshire Dave’ has spent the last five years pretending everything’s fine and suggesting there’s really no need to do anything about the illegal killing of raptors on grouse moors because it’s no longer an issue, it’s mostly just the RSPB trying to smear the good name of the industry and/or ‘activists’ trying to ‘set up’ law-abiding estates. (E.g. see here, here, here, here, here). Talk about dial ‘D’ for denial.

It’s hard to think of a single example where Dumfriesshire Dave has inspired any confidence in the industry’s willingness, let alone ability, to clean up its act, so Mark Tennant has a bit of an open goal to get off to a good start, should he choose to take it.

According to the SLE announcement, Mark will be working ‘to help fight climate change’. Excellent. Can we expect all SLE-member grouse moor owners to commit to stopping their routine heather burning regimes, including on deep peat, in the interests of addressing the climate emergency?

What we do know about Mark, from the SLE announcement, is that his ‘family business Innes Estate in Elgin has been a member of SLE for over 40 years‘. That’s really interesting. So SLE didn’t expel the estate when the then head gamekeeper was convicted in 2007 for poisons and firearms offences, then? NOTE: there is no suggestion that those historical offences were part of a wider pattern of continued wildlife crime on the estate – as far as we are aware there are no further reports of alleged offences at this estate – we’re just interested at SLE’s apparent lack of action in response to wildlife crime.

Speaking of which, here’s something Mark could sort out for us. We’re still waiting to hear from SLE whether the Longformacus Estate (the location of a catalogue of horrific and violent wildlife crimes for which a gamekeeper was recently convicted) was, and if so still is, a member of Scottish Land & Estates? We asked SLE this specific question in August, after the Crown Office chose not to pursue a prosecution for alleged vicarious liability and SLE had until then avoided commenting on the estate’s membership status. We had a quick response from the Membership Department who told us, ‘I have forwarded on your email to our Senior Management Team who will respond in due course‘. Needless to say, silence since then.

Over to you, Mark. Was/is Longformacus Estate a member of Scottish Land & Estates?

22
Dec
19

‘Certificate of appreciation’ for Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF)

The Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) has received a certificate of appreciation from Police Supt Nick Lyall, Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group.

In an accompanying letter (read it on the NERF website here), Nick Lyall writes:

Having recently reviewed the 5 year NERF contribution to the RSPB Hen Harrier Life Project I was astounded to see that NERF members had completed nearly 15000 voluntary hours and over 150000 miles on the road to conduct their voluntary work in support of this important project.

The modest estimation would suggest that the value in kind of this contribution would be in excess of £400,000. This is a staggering commitment of both people personal time and money in order to monitor and protect endangered hen harrier.

I would therefore like you to accept this letter and the attached certificate of appreciation as a small thank you for the time effort and commitment for all of your members and volunteers“.

It’s richly deserved recognition for NERF but it only scratches the surface of its members efforts. These volunteers have been undertaking fieldwork on 23 species of raptors, owls and raven (honorary raptor) since 2006 and they’ve amassed a critically important dataset for use in conservation planning and policy.

The statutory agencies have a duty to monitor species’ population trends but they wouldn’t be able to do so without the contribution of voluntary raptor workers’ data. In Scotland, NERF’s counterpart the Scottish Raptor Study Group has estimated that its ~300 volunteers’ annual contribution is worth £1.8M (i.e. this is what it would cost SNH to replicate the SRSG’s monitoring efforts with paid ecologists).

It’s an extraordinary effort, and yet in return these fieldworkers are harassed and abused, both in the field and online. That’s why recognition such as this certificate of appreciation is so welcome.

But harassment is probably the least of their worries. If anyone is still unconvinced about how deserving NERF is of this certificate of appreciation, cast your eyes over this:

This is from page 3 of NERF’s latest Annual Review (2018). It’s the first block of text in the report and it’s a warning to NERF members that they risk serious illness (potentially fatal) should they stumble across the corpse of an illegally poisoned bird of prey as part of their monitoring efforts.

It tells you all you need to know about the ongoing persecution of birds of prey in the northern uplands as we head in to the second decade of the 21st Century.

Congratulations to NERF members – you all deserve medals. Without your efforts (and those of your colleagues in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic) our raptors wouldn’t have so much of a fighting chance.

18
Dec
19

Gamekeepers caught with banned poisons should receive mandatory jail sentence

Yesterday the Scottish Rural Affairs & Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon, gave evidence to the cross-party Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) committee which is currently considering Stage 1 of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill.

We’ll come back to the wider evidence session in another blog because there were some interesting and important discussions but one point raised deserves an immediate reaction:

Possession of banned poisons.

Here’s the mini transcript:

ECCLR Committee Member Rachael Hamilton MSP: I will go back to the categorisation of wildlife offences and the different tiers of the penalty system. We heard evidence that perhaps possession of illegal pesticides should be categorised as a tier 1 offence, because they are currently illegal anyway. Do you have any comments on that point and do you have any plans to have an amnesty on illegal pesticides prior to the bill being passed? People should not possess illegal pesticides anyway, so using them in connection with animal crimes should attract the highest and severest category of penalty.

Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon: That has been the feeling behind that issue. As you said, possession of such pesticides is already illegal and there are offences in place to deal with that individual issue separately. Using such pesticides as part of another offence would attract the higher penalty. As they are already illegal and there are offences attached to them, using them in relation to any other offences could well attract severe penalties.

In relation to your amnesty point, I would be happy to consider looking at the matter.

Scottish Government Wildlife Management Team leader Leia Fitzgerald: Just to clarify, there was a previous amnesty, which was quite successful and resulted in a lot of pesticides being handed in. We could speak to stakeholders about whether that is something that could be done again. We would hope that we got all of what we needed after the last amnesty, but we can look at the matter.

Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon: I will happily get back to the committee and let you know how we get on with that.

ENDS

Is the Scottish Government seriously considering yet another amnesty for banned poisons, which would be the third amnesty in the 15 years since it became an offence to even possess these deadly toxins, let alone use them? (The Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005).

The first amnesty took place in 2011 (see here), six years after the ban was first introduced. The second amnesty came four years later in 2015 (see here).

Since then poisoning crimes have certainly dropped in Scotland, probably thanks to the increase in satellite-tagged raptors, whose tags lead researchers to the poisoned corpses that would otherwise remain undetected, and also due to the introduction of vicarious liability legislation in 2012 which made it possible for landowners to be prosecuted for raptor persecution crimes committed by their gamekeeper employees. However, these poisoning crimes haven’t been totally eradicated and we’re still reading reports about illegally-poisoned birds (and some dogs) that have died after ingesting banned poisons in Scotland including some that were killed this year, and some even inside the Cairngorms National Park (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).

[An illegally-poisoned buzzard found on the boundary of a sporting estate in Perthshire. Contributed photo]

How many more chances is the Scottish Government planning on giving to these criminals? How many more get-out-of-jail-free cards will be dished out?

Why can’t the Scottish Government, 15 years on, implement a zero tolerance policy on this vile and primitive crime that not only risks the lives of wildlife and domestic animals but puts humans at risk as well? In the most recent criminal case, a Scottish gamekeeper was found with two cartons containing the banned poison Carbofuran. He was carrying one of these containers in his bum bag – presumably he wasn’t just taking the container out for company every day – and yet 180 schoolchildren were put at risk when they attended the grouse shooting estate on an officially-sanctioned school trip. Can you believe that? The gamekeeper was convicted for possession (along with a litany of other wildlife offences) and received a community payback order. No fine, no jail sentence, no deterrent whatsoever. Compare and contrast to how illegal poisoners are dealt with in Spain (see here, here and here).

The criminals who persist with such reckless activity in Scotland deserve a mandatory custodial sentence – there can be no more excuses, no more discussion and certainly no more amnesties.

Enough.

07
Dec
19

Special Constables pilot scheme in Cairngorms National Park a waste of time & money

Two and a half years ago, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced a pilot scheme whereby Police Special Constables would be deployed in the Cairngorms National Park to tackle wildlife crime.

This initiative was one of a number of measures announced in May 2017 in response to the findings of the golden eagle satellite tag review which showed clear evidence of deliberate and sustained illegal raptor persecution, particularly on some driven grouse moors in and around the Cairngorms National Park (CNP).

This RPUK map shows the last known location of satellite-tagged golden eagles that were either found illegally killed or had disappeared in suspicious circumstances in and around the CNP (data from the golden eagle satellite tag review):

Golden eagles are not the only victims of wildlife crime in and around the CNP. This RPUK map below, based mostly on RSPB data, shows raptor persecution incidents between 2005-2016. Only one of these (just outside the CNP boundary on Kildrummy Estate) has resulted in a successful prosecution. With such clear evidence of wildlife crime it’s easy to see why the CNP was chosen as the first location for this pilot scheme.

This pilot scheme was the Government’s alternative to extending the powers of the SSPCA to allow it to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crime (including raptor persecution) – a decision made after six years of Governmental deliberation under five different Environment Ministers.

It also emerged in 2018 that this pilot scheme was an alternative to the Government’s 2016 manifesto pledge to establish a Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit as part of Police Scotland – a pledge on which it has now reneged (see here).

The idea was that the police special constable scheme could be rolled out across Scotland “if judged to be successful” in the CNP, but we weren’t told the criteria that would be used to judge this ‘success’.

The scheme was formally launched in March 2018 (see here) and nothing more was heard of it.

Just over a year later in April 2019 we asked the Cairngorms National Park Authority the following questions about the scheme:

Here’s the response:

So basically after a year of operation, one of the main project partners couldn’t tell us anything about the scheme.

Fast forward six months to November 2019 and Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell thought it was time more questions were asked. Here are his two Parliamentary questions and Roseanna Cunningham’s answers:

S5W-26349 Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Scottish Green Party): To ask the Scottish Government how much funding (a) it and (b) the Cairngorms National Park Authority allocated each year to the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project.

Roseanna Cunningham: The Scottish Government agreed to contribute £18,000 and the Cairngorms National Park Authority agreed to provide £10,000 for the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project.

S5W-26346 Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Scottish Green Party): To ask the Scottish Government what the outcome was of the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project; how many constables participated each month in this, and how many suspected crimes they reported, also broken down by how many led to subsequent (a) arrests, (b) charges, (c) prosecutions and (d) convictions.

Roseanna Cunningham: a)The Scottish Government is currently undertaking an evaluation of the Special Constable Pilot Project in conjunction with Police Scotland and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. We will announce a decision on the future direction of the project in due course.

b) There were five special constables in the project, employed on a part-time basis.

c) and d) From the information gathered in the review conducted by Police Scotland, there were no recorded crimes reported by the Special Constables during their patrols in the 12 month trial period. However, Special Constables were involved in meeting stakeholders and partners operating within the Cairngorms National Park to build relationships and understand the needs and demands of National Park users which will aid future intelligence gathering.

Gosh, it’s easy to see why the Scottish Government’s evaluation of the pilot scheme is taking so long, what with having to count ZERO reported wildlife crimes.

Meanwhile satellite tagged raptors continue to disappear in suspicious circumstances in the Cairngorms National Park (white-tailed eagle here; hen harrier here; hen harrier here and hen harrier here); birds are still being illegally poisoned in the Cairngorms National Park (here) and birds of prey are still being caught by illegally-set traps in the Cairngorms National Park (golden eagle here).

But it’s ok, nothing to worry about because £28K has just been spent on ‘building relationships and understanding the needs and demands of National Park users’.

FFS.

03
Dec
19

Poisoned red kite in Nidderdale: two local businesses put up a reward

Following the news last week that yet another red kite had been found poisoned in Nidderdale (see here), the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) has published a statement.

It’s well worth a read, here.

[A poisoned red kite]

A selected quote from the NERF statement:

‘The population of Pateley Bridge and surrounding area is less than 3,000 people. Whoever put the poisoned bait out in the open countryside and killed the Red Kite is most likely to live locally, shop locally, use the local pub and may have children or grand-children in the local school. In short if you live in the Pateley Bridge area the person indiscriminately putting poisoned baits out in your countryside, putting your life, the life of your pets and local wildlife at risk is your neighbour.

In addition to the physical threats posed by the use of dangerous poison there is also the reputational damage caused to this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and local businesses. This potential reputational damage was recognised by Pateley Bridge businessman Keith Tordoff in 2017 when he and a fellow businessman, jointly offered a reward for information following the unlawful killing of another Red Kite. On that occasion the bird was shot near Greenhow‘.

[Photo by Ruth Tingay]

A few days ago RPUK was contacted by a local businessman from Pateley Bridge who has once again put up a £1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspected poisoner(s). The businessman prefers to stay anonymous at this point for fear of retribution but he told us that another local businessman has also agreed to put up a £1,000 reward if the information received leads to a conviction. There may well be other members of the local community stepping forward. The businessmen have been in contact with the RSPB and North Yorkshire Police to facilitate the reward process.

Ongoing concern about the level of wildlife crime in Nidderdale has been raised by residents and visitors alike for a number of years, particularly on the extent of illegal raptor persecution and such is the strength of feeling that the Nidderdale AONB Partnership has now included a specific objective on raptor conservation in its AONB Management Plan. As part of this work, an evidence report was published in September 2019 which placed grouse moor management firmly in the frame.

Incidentally, those of you who read last week’s report on this latest poisoned red kite will know that there was an inexplicable eight-month delay between the discovery of the poisoned red kite and a police appeal for information. It was the latest in a number of cases (as yet unpublished) in North Yorkshire that have caused raised eyebrows, not least because of the previous exemplary efforts (e.g. here) of the North Yorkshire Police Rural Task Force, a team which includes some of the UK’s most dedicated and knowledgeable police officers tackling raptor persecution crimes through Operation Owl.

Last weekend at the annual Wildlife Crime Enforcers Conference we were able to have some full and frank discussions about recent events, including the delayed appeal for information about this poisoned red kite, with some senior members of North Yorkshire Police. The response was impressive, the explanations plausible (it would be inappropriate to provide detail here), the admission of mistakes made admirable, and the determination and commitment to target the offenders was unquestionable.

We look forward to being able to report some more success stories from the UK’s worst raptor persecution hotspot.

02
Dec
19

Police warn public about potential buzzard poisoning in Tebworth

Bedfordshire Police issued the following statement yesterday:

This is good communication from the police. Although the alert doesn’t say when the buzzard was found it sounds as though it was a recent discovery and IF it does turn out to have been poisoned, the toxicology results may not be available for several weeks so this early police alert provides local dog walkers etc with due warning.

Good work, Bedfordshire Police.




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