Posts Tagged ‘poisoning

18
Sep
19

Damning report highlights illegal killing of birds of prey on Nidderdale AONB grouse moors

The Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is an absolute hell hole for many birds of prey.

[Photo: Ruth Tingay]

This is no secret. The illegal killing of raptors on the grouse moors of this AONB has been documented and reported on for years, by the RSPB and by this blog. The area is notorious amongst raptor conservationists for the number of hen harriers that ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances (that’s a euphemism for ‘they have been killed’) and the number of red kite corpses that have been found either shot or poisoned, or sometimes both.

It’s a gaping black hole on the breeding distribution maps of many raptor species and despite this being a so-called protected area, in the words of Mark Avery it’s actually a massive wildlife crime scene.

Here’s a map we produced a while ago showing the boundary of the Nidderdale AONB (yellow line), illegally killed red kites (red dots), missing satellite-tagged hen harriers (orange stars), shot hen harrier Bowland Betty (red star), shot hen harrier River (red triangle, which we now know should be closer to the red star on the Swinton Estate).

Nidderdale AONB lies directly east of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, another raptor persecution hell hole. Last year, the Park Authority responded to public concerns about the killing of raptors on grouse moors by producing an evidence report on the scale of the problem. As we wrote at the time, ‘This report, which is very well written and referenced, is a significant move. There’s no attempt to deny or hide or obfuscate the facts, as we’ve seen so often before. It is a clear description of what’s been happening in this National Park and places grouse moor management at the centre of it all. It’s well worth a read‘.

Fast forward a year and now the Nidderdale AONB has done exactly the same:

You can download the report here: BoP-in-NiddAONB-Evidence-Report-FINAL-Sept-2019

It’s another well-written, fully-referenced report and there’s no hint of denial or obfuscation. It is particularly pleasing to see the use of RSPB persecution data, not just the inaccurate, out of date, watered-down RPPDG data that some pro-shooting organisations rely upon to minimise the perceived scale of the problem. Once again, the report’s conclusion is that grouse moor management is in the frame.

Well done to the author(s) of this report and well done to the Nidderdale AONB for having the balls to publish it.

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17
Sep
19

Golden eagle with trap dangling from its leg: statement from Environment Cabinet Secretary

In August Police Scotland published a photograph of a young golden eagle that had been seen flying in the Cairngorms National Park with an illegally-set trap clamped to one of its legs.

This photograph, along with the Police’s appeal for information, went viral and was reported on news channels around the world (e.g. here), highlighting Scotland’s shameful record of illegal raptor persecution.

There’s been no further update on the fate of this eagle. Undoubtedly it’ll be dead and if it had been found by anyone associated with the criminal element of the game-shooting industry the corpse and trap will be long gone….nothing to see, deny, deny, deny, it was all a set up, fake news, it never happened, etc etc.

Meanwhile, those who aren’t fooled by the propaganda and know exactly what goes on on game shooting estates have been asking pertinent questions.

Step up Colin Beattie MSP (SNP: Midlothian North & Musselburgh) who lodged the following written question on 2 September 2019:

Question S5W-25069 – 

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of reports of a golden eagle found with an illegal trap on its legs, what action it is taking to protect wild birds as a matter of urgency ahead of the publication of the findings of the Grouse Moor Management Group (the Werritty report).

A brilliant question. Forget ‘waiting for Werritty‘ which has been the Scottish Government’s default response to every single raptor persecution crime since May 2017, Colin wants to know what action is being taken NOW.

The Government’s response came from Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham on 12 Sept, as follows:

The Scottish Government is strongly committed to safeguarding the welfare of all animals, including wild birds such as raptors.

The illegal persecution of our birds of prey is an extremely serious issue and, as we announced in our Programme for Government for 2019-2020, we will bring forward a Bill increasing the maximum penalties for certain wildlife offences, including those associated with illegal killing or injuring of wild birds. This will deliver a commitment to implement the recommendation to increase wildlife crime penalties in the review undertaken by Professor Poustie.

We also committed in the Programme for Government that we will respond to the independent review on grouse moor management. The review is examining how we can ensure that grouse moor management is sustainable and complies with the law and it would not be appropriate to make decisions in advance of its report. We will carefully consider the recommendations in the report and other relevant evidence when deciding our response.

The measures on wildlife crime penalties build upon a range of other work we have undertaken to tackle this issue, including: supporting the use of satellite tags to monitor birds of prey; introducing new offences for harassing birds of prey or damaging their nesting places; setting up a poisons disposal scheme to remove poisons used to kill wild birds; strengthening Police Scotland wildlife crime resources, including in the Cairngorms; and introducing vicarious liability so that landowners can be held responsible for crimes against wild birds committed by their employees.

Roseanna’s response carefully avoids answering Colin’s question directly. Colin asked what Scot Gov was doing ‘as a matter of urgency ahead of the publication of the Werritty report’. Roseanna’s response confirms, in effect, that Scot Gov is doing absolutely nothing at all in advance of the Werritty report.

Splendid.

And guess what? We’re still waiting for Werritty, despite being told by Scot Gov at the end of July that the report was due ‘in the next few weeks’. What an embarrassing fiasco it has become.

Whoever wrote Roseanna’s response was surely having a laugh, judging by the last paragraph. Yes, Scot Gov has introduced new offences for harassing birds of prey or damaging their nesting places but as far as we’re aware, there have been no prosecutions for these offences even though there have been a number of reports of raptor nests being deliberately burned out on grouse moors.

And yes, Scot Gov set up a poisons disposal scheme (two, in fact) to remove poisons used to kill wild birds and yet still we’re seeing raptors being illegally poisoned and still gamekeepers are being found guilty of possessing these illegal poisons.

And yes, Scot Gov did support a pilot scheme for a number of police special constables (essentially volunteers working in their own time) in the Cairngorms National Park but there has been no (public) assessment of the scheme’s impact and raptor persecution crimes were still reported in the National Park during the scheme’s duration.

And yes, Scot Gov did introduce vicarious liability so that landowners could be held responsible for crimes against wild birds committed by their employees but so far this has only resulted in two successful convictions in 7.5 years and only last month yet another landowner avoided any charges of alleged vicarious liability and the Crown Office chose not to explain this decision to the public.

 

29
Aug
19

RSPB’s 2018 Birdcrime report documents relentless raptor persecution on grouse moors

The RSPB has published its latest annual report Birdcrime, documenting known cases of illegal raptor persecution in the UK in 2018. [Follow this link to find the report and additional information]

As ever, it’s grim reading and also as ever, the figures represent an unknown percentage of the actual number of birds that have been illegally killed. We know there are many, many more as these figures don’t include all the satellite-tagged raptors that have been killed and their corpses and tags destroyed to remove any trace evidence.

On the back of the report, the RSPB is calling for three things, quoted as follows:

  • The licensing of driven grouse moors.
    The RSPB believes that the right to shoot should be dependent on legal, sustainable management. Grouse shooting licenses could then be removed if illegal activity is identified, which would act as a deterrent. Law-abiding estates should have nothing to fear from this.
  • A review of grouse shooting.
    An industry that relies on criminal, unsustainable and environmentally damaging practices should not be allowed to continue operating as it currently is. In Scotland, the government has launched a review of grouse moor management and the RSPB would like to see a similar review in the rest of the UK.
  • Transparency, not secrecy: the public have a right to know.
    It is a concern that, particularly in Scotland, some raptor persecution incidents are not made public for many months, or even years, despite the release of such information posing no threat to the integrity of an investigation. The public has a right to know if criminal activity is taking place on their doorstep, especially when, as with poisoning incidents, this poses a risk to public health.

To be perfectly honest, the call for the licensing of driven grouse moors is too little, too late. For many of us the tipping point has now been reached following the recent reports of some truly sadistic and brazen persecution crimes, for example this hen harrier that was caught in an illegally-set spring trap next to his nest on a grouse moor at Leadhills. His leg was almost severed and despite the best efforts of a world-class veterinary specialist, this poor bird didn’t make it.

A licensing system isn’t going to stop the disgusting filthy criminals responsible for this – it’ll be impossible to enforce, just as wildlife protection laws are notoriously difficult to enforce right now. An outright ban on driven grouse shooting will remove the incentive for these crimes, and that’s what we’re calling for. 80,000 people agree (they’ve signed since the petition was launched two weeks ago) but we need 100,000 signatures before Parliament is suspended, as looks likely to happen in a couple of weeks. Please help reach the target and sign the petition here.

The RSPB’s call for a review of grouse shooting is also too little, too late. What do we need another review for? We’ve got decades worth of scientific evidence and hundreds of raptor corpses to know just how damaging driven grouse moor management is, for wildlife, for the environment and for people. Calling for a Werritty-style review will just add further delay to actually dealing with the issue, as we’re currently seeing in Scotland. Just ban it and be done with it (sign the petition if you agree!).

Calling for transparency, not secrecy, over the publication of raptor crimes is something we do support and we’ve been calling for it for years, particularly in Scotland. It’s very noticeable that yet again, in the 2018 poisoning data, the only police force to withhold the name of the poison that’s been used to illegally kill raptors is Police Scotland. All the other forces involved with poisoning investigations have named the poison used.

Having said that, this year (2019) Police Scotland has been a bit more forthcoming about publicising illegal poisoning crimes (e.g. see here and here) although there is still a reluctance to name the poison. But to be fair, Police Scotland has been doing a better job than other public authorities about alerting the public to the dangers (e.g. see here).

Speaking of Scotland, the Birdcrime report shows that 12 confirmed cases were recorded, more than double that recorded in 2017 (take note, Scottish Land & Estates, before you start falsely claiming otherwise). These cases included a peregrine poisoned in the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh; a buzzard found to have been shot twice, in South Lanarkshire; a buzzard caught in an illegal trap, in Inverness-shire; and a hen harrier caught in a spring trap in Perthshire. All of these incidents occurred on, or close to, land being managed intensively for driven grouse shooting.

And guess what? Not a single one of them has led to a prosecution. Nor has SNH issued a single General Licence restriction order in response to these clear crimes. Even more evidence, as if it were needed, that the Scottish Government, just like the Westminster Government, has no control whatsoever over the rampant raptor-killing savages on many driven grouse moors.

Had enough? SIGN THE PETITION PLEASE.

 

22
Aug
19

180 schoolchildren put at risk on visit to Longformacus Estate

Criminal gamekeeper Alan Wilson was recently convicted for crimes he committed on the Longformacus Estate in the Scottish Borders between March 2016 and June 2017. In amongst the long list of offences, Wilson pleaded guilty to the possession of banned poisons.

According to the Crown Office (here):

Officers also found a bottle of the banned pesticide Carbofuran and another bottle containing a mix of Carbofuran and Carbosulfan. Carbofuran is a highly toxic pesticide and a single grain the size of a poppy seed can kill a bird. A quarter of a teaspoonful can be fatal to humans‘.

We know from crime scene photographs that Wilson had one large bottle of poison in his workshop and a smaller bottle of poison that he carried inside a bum bag.

[The large bottle of banned poison found on the premises at Longformacus Estate. Note the protective clothing worn by the investigator. Photo by SSPCA]

[The smaller bottle of poison in the front pouch of Wilson’s bum bag. Photo by SSPCA]

It is reasonable to presume that Wilson dispensed the poison in to a smaller container for ease of distribution around the estate. Although he wasn’t charged with actually using the poison (just possession of it), it’s probably fair to say he probably wasn’t just taking the bottle of poison out for a walk every day.

It is with some shock then, that we’ve learned at least 180 schoolchildren were put at risk by being taken on an ‘educational’ visit to Longformacus Estate in June 2016, exactly the time when Wilson was busily committing his crimes on the estate.

Thanks to the blog reader who sent us the following report of the school visit, organised by landowner Mr Charles and the Royal Highland Education Trust (RHET):

Good grief, this should be a massive wake-up call for all those teachers thinking of taking schoolchildren on educational visits to game-shooting estates.

Not that the teachers or RHET staff could have known what they were walking in to when they turned up at Longformacus Estate – all RHET field visits are ‘fully risk assessed‘ and they probably wouldn’t have dreamt that a fatally toxic poison was being carried in the gamekeeper’s bum bag. Most decent-thinking people assume that illegal practices like poisoning wildlife is a thing of the past, not part of 21st century estate management!

Incidentally, we’ve asked the Crown Office to confirm whether they anticipate a charge of alleged vicarious liability in relation to the landowner and/or sporting agent at Longformacus Estate. We’re hearing all sorts of rumours but it would be best to get an answer direct from COPFS. So far we’ve been told by the COPFS media team that they can only answer questions from journalists so our request has been sent to the general enquiries team.

We’ve also asked Scottish Land & Estates whether Longformacus Estate is/was a member and if it was, has the estate now been expelled following Wilson’s convictions for wildlife crime? So far we’ve been told that this question has been passed to the Senior Management Team and that they’ll respond in due course.

21
Aug
19

South Yorkshire Police Chief urged to improve responses to wildlife crime

Stephen Watson, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police is coming under increasing pressure to improve responses to reports of wildlife crime in the region.

In July this year, Liz Ballard, Chief Executive of Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust held a meeting with Stephen Watson along with local MP Angela Smith (Hen Harrier Species Champion), Mark Thomas (RSPB Investigations) and Supt Nick Lyall (Chair, Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group) to discuss concerns about South Yorkshire Police’s apparent failure to follow up on a number of wildlife crime investigations, especially on grouse moors in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park, a national raptor persecution hotspot.

One such apparent failure involved the poisoning of a raven that had been found on a grouse moor in the Dark Peak. It was reported that Natural England refused to have the corpse tested for toxicology, so the RSPB paid for it to be done privately, and when the results were given to the police they did nothing for a year (see here).

Earlier this year there was also concern about the behaviour of a police officer reportedly working with gamekeepers from the Moscar Estate and who later had to apologise to a member of Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust for his actions (see here).

The July meeting with Chief Constable Stephen Watson was an opportunity for a frank exchange of views and this included letting him know that the perception is that South Yorkshire Police ‘are not interested or active in tackling wildlife crime as there is a conflict of interest between the officers leading on wildlife crime and their personal involvement in the shooting industry‘. CC Watson responded by saying it was ‘helpful for the police to have good community links with the shooting industry to be better able to tackle wildlife crime‘.

As a follow-up to the meeting, where a number of action points were identified, Liz Ballard and Mark Thomas have written an open letter to Stephen Watson as follows:

It’ll be interesting to see how Stephen Watson responds.

Kudos to Liz Ballard and her team at Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust for their determination to tackle wildlife crime in the region. Liz is one of several new faces to express an interest in joining the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) earlier this year and she told us recently that having now attended several meetings she is keen to have the Trust’s membership of that group formally ratified without any further delay.

As further evidence of the Trust’s commitment to this issue, Supt Nick Lyall has been invited to speak at the Trust’s AGM in September. This event is open to the public and further details/tickets can be found here.

UPDATE 9 September 2019: South Yorkshire Police commit to improved responses to wildlife crime (here)

20
Aug
19

Scottish Gamekeepers Association fails to influence the criminals within its membership

Gamekeeper Alan Wilson, 61, sentenced yesterday for his appalling crimes against protected raptors and mammals on the Longformacus Estate in the Borders (here) was a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA).

[Convicted criminal gamekeeper Alan Wilson photographed outside court yesterday, photo by Daily Record]

As an SGA member, Wilson cannot possibly claim that he wasn’t aware of the laws protecting birds of prey and mammals such as badgers and otters, nor that the deadly poison he had in his possession, Carbofuran, has been banned for approx 14 years, because although the SGA can be viewed as a bunch of raptor-hating Victorian throwbacks who lobby to have birds of prey added to the lists of ‘vermin’ that can be killed with impunity (e.g. see here), it has always made it clear that the illegal killing of these species is unacceptable. It wants to kill raptors, yes, to stop them interfering with game bird stocks, but acknowledges that so far, this is still unlawful unless the Scottish Government decides to issue licences to kill birds of prey.

Wilson carried what looks to be his SGA member’s log book in the same bag as he kept one of his bottles of Carbofuran.

Here’s his bag, with the bottle of Carbofuran in the front pouch [SSPCA photo]

Here’s the small bottle of Carbofuran (remember only a few granules are enough to kill a human) [SSPCA photo]

Here’s his SGA member’s log book, contained in the side pouch [photo SSPCA]

The irony of this is not lost on us.

The SGA issued a statement yesterday, after months of refusing to say anything, confirming that Wilson was indeed a member and his membership has now been terminated. Expelling criminals from within its ranks is a relatively recent endeavour by the SGA (in the last five or so years) and undoubtedly is a result of public and political pressure. The organisation has to at least make an effort to appear civilised and expelling criminal members is one way of doing this.

It begs the question, though, how many more criminals are hiding in plain sight within the SGA’s membership? It’s worth bearing in mind that, despite the industry’s claims, gamekeeping is not a profession in the sense that potential candidates don’t have to pass a formal qualification process to enter the ‘profession’ (although increasingly they do need to be certified in certain areas of their work) and absolutely anybody can become a member of the SGA unless, it seems, you have a recent conviction for wildlife crime. There’s no independent register of gamekeepers and nor is there a professional body to whom members of the public can complain about a gamekeeper’s behaviour or conduct, which when you think about it is pretty odd, given the job mostly involves killing things. Those responsible for caring for animals have to be highly qualified and are answerable to their professional bodies (e.g. vets) and yet those who kill animals for a living can do so without any professional oversight.

It’s pretty clear from the criminal activities of SGA member Alan Wilson that the SGA had absolutely no influence or control over his behaviour whatsoever. Did the SGA know about Wilson’s crimes? It seems unlikely, given the risk he posed to the SGA’s reputation.

So how many more Alan Wilsons are out there, fully-signed-up members of the SGA but with a huge appetite for killing protected wildlife with impunity?

How can the SGA possibly claim that gamekeepers are law-abiding members of society (e.g. see here) when the SGA hasn’t actually got a clue what its members are up to?

We won’t know, of course, until the next time. And there will be a next time, and another one, and another one, and another one….

Meanwhile, the SGA will be kept busy on a damage limitation exercise for the next few months trying to counter the media coverage of Wilson’s atrocities:

 

 

 

19
Aug
19

Monumentally inadequate sentence for convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson

In July this year, Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson, then 60, pleaded guilty to nine of 12 charges of wildlife crime at Henlaw Wood on Longformacus Estate in the Borders (see here).

[Convicted wildlife criminal Alan Wilson, a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. Photo by ITV Border]

Wilson’s crimes included the shooting and killing of two goshawks at Henlaw Wood between March 2016 and May 2017, three buzzards, three badgers and an otter. He also pleaded guilty to charges of setting 23 illegal snares and possession of two bottles of the highly toxic (and banned pesticide) Carbofuran (see here).

[SSPCA photos]

Following Wilson’s guilty plea, the Sheriff adjourned sentencing for a few weeks to allow reports to be submitted.

Soon after his conviction, Scottish Land & Estates issued a statement of condemnation and claimed the Longformacus Estate was being managed for low ground pheasant shooting but in its desperation to avoid any bad publicity of grouse moor management, completely failed to mention that part of the estate was also managed as a grouse moor. Here’s a photograph of Henlaw Wood (now felled) and its proximity to the grouse moor:

[Original photo by Richard Webb; additional text by RPUK]

Alan Wilson, now 61, was sentenced at Jedburgh Sheriff Court this afternoon. Astonishingly (or not!), despite his litany of violent crimes against protected raptors and mammals which easily passed the threshold for a custodial sentence, Wilson has dodged jail, has dodged a fine, and instead has been issued with a 10-month curfew and an instruction to carry out 225 hours of unpaid work as part of a Community Payback Scheme. His firearms and other equipment was confiscated (it’s not clear for how long).

This monumentally inadequate sentence is in no way a reflection of the severity or extent of Wilson’s crimes, nor does it offer a suitable deterrent for other would-be offenders. According to this article in the Guardian by Sev Carrell, Sheriff Peter Paterson acknowledged that Wilson’s offending warranted a custodial sentence but said that as the Wildlife & Countryside Act only allowed sentences of up to six months, and Scottish Ministers had recently introduced a presumption against jailing offenders for less than 12 months, he felt he had no choice but to impose a different sentence.

This doesn’t make sense to us. Sure, the W&CA does, currently, impose a limit of six months but that’s six months per offence, so in Wilson’s case, where he had pleaded guilty to multiple offences, this would have amounted to much more than one six-month sentence and so in our opinion, he should have received a custodial sentence. We don’t know if this sentence will be appealed by the Crown Office – it must first be satisfied that the sentence was unduly lenient (e.g. see here). We’ll have to wait and see.

What is absolutely crystal clear is that the Scottish Government needs to get on and implement the penalty increases for wildlife crimes that it agreed to do way back in 2016.

This is Wilson’s second conviction in relation to offences at Longformacus Estate: in February 2018 he was sentenced to a £400 fine and disqualified from keeping birds of prey for ten years after he was convicted of animal welfare offences in relation to an Eagle Owl he had kept in appalling conditions (see here).

We don’t know whether Wilson’s employer (which may be a landowner or a sporting agent) will face a charge of alleged vicarious liability. We know that two individuals were originally charged with alleged offences at Longformacus Estate (e.g. see here) but we don’t yet have any more details. We will be following up on this and will report here if there is news. [Please note: if you are commenting on this aspect of the crimes at Longformacus Estate, remember there is a potential defence to any allegation of vicarious liability – Wilson’s employer is not automatically guilty just because he was Wilson’s employer].

Interestingly, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association has, after months of refusing to comment, now finally admitted that Wilson was indeed an SGA member when he committed these wildlife crimes. Here is the SGA statement posted today:

We’ll be discussing Wilson’s SGA membership in a later post.

It is not clear to us whether the Longformacus Estate is a member of Scottish Land & Estates. So far SLE hasn’t issued a statement about today’s sentencing. Instead, it’s website is leading with an article with the unfortunate headline, ‘Making it Happen’.

More on this soon.

It only remains to acknowledge the huge efforts of all those involved in detecting, investigating and prosecuting this case. This successful conviction was the result of genuine partnership working between the League Against Cruel Sports, Scottish SPCA, RSPB Scotland, Police Scotland and the Crown Office, along with experts from the Scottish Raptor Study Group, SASA, and veterinary pathologists from Scottish Agricultural College. Well done and thanks to all those involved in exposing this filthy criminal activity on yet another grouse moor.

Wildlife crime is endemic on many grouse moors. We see it over and over again and we also see the offenders escape justice time and time again. If you’d like to help bring it to an end, please consider signing this new petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting – PLEASE SIGN HERE

UPDATE 30 August 2019: No vicarious liability prosecution for Longformacus Estate (here).




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