Posts Tagged ‘scottish gamekeepers association

20
Nov
19

Satellite tagging golden eagles in Scotland: fact vs fiction

In September 2019 the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) lodged a petition at the Scottish Parliament calling for the ‘independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptors’.

You can read the petition here: SGA petition PE01750 Independent monitoring raptor satellite tags

It’s the latest in a long line of efforts to undermine and discredit the use of satellite tags, simply because the unintended consequences of tagging raptors like golden eagles, hen harriers, white-tailed eagles and red kites has exposed the previously hidden extent of illegal raptor persecution on many grouse moors and has led the Scottish Government to scrutinise grouse moor management practices by commissioning a review.

[The satellite tag fitted to this golden eagle led researchers to a grouse moor in the Angus Glens where the bird was found to have been illegally poisoned. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Raptor persecution crimes attract huge media attention because it’s hard to believe that people are still poisoning golden eagles in Scotland in the 21st century. As a result of this ongoing publicity, the game-shooting industry has spent considerable time and effort trying to undermine the satellite-tagging of raptors, either by launching disgusting personal & abusive attacks targeted against named individuals involved in the projects, or by blaming disappearances on imaginary windfarms, faulty sat tags fitted to turtles in India & ‘bird activists‘ trying to smear gamekeepers, or by claiming that those involved have perverted the course of justice by fabricating evidence, or by claiming that raptor satellite-tagging should be banned because it’s ‘cruel’ and the tag data serve no purpose other than to try and entrap gamekeepers. There have also been two laughable attempts to discredit the authoritative golden eagle satellite tag review (here and here), thankfully dismissed by the Scottish Government. The industry knows how incriminating these sat tag data are and so is trying to do everything in its power to corrode public and political confidence in (a) the tag data and (b) the justification for fitting sat tags to raptors, hence this latest petition from the SGA.

[Young satellite-tagged golden eagles on a nest ledge in Scotland. Photo by Dan Kitwood]

The SGA’s petition is badly written, incoherent and completely misinformed. We actually dealt with a lot of the issues it raises in previous blogs (here, here and here) but as the SGA has chosen to ignore the evidence we welcome the opportunity to present the facts to the Scottish Parliament, should they decide to examine the petition further.

The petition was heard by the Petitions Committee on 10th October and it was agreed to pass it on to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee for consideration. You can read the transcript of the Petitions Committee’s deliberations here: Petitions_committee_10_Oct_SGA_sat_tags

If the ECCLR Committee does decide to progress the petition, we look forward to providing the evidence that dismantles the SGA’s fictional claims. As a bare minimum, evidence will be provided on the following:

Golden eagles in Scotland have been satellite-tagged as part of a long-term collaborative research effort involving multiple organisations (at least seven) who share data to further conservation aims. Some of this research has already been published, some is currently under-going peer-review and some of it is on-going. We’ve blogged about this research before (see here) and we’ll be blogging further about some of the specific projects in the near future. If you want to get an insight in to the science behind the golden eagle satellite tag review, this slide show by the report’s authors is well worth a look.

The scientists have created a formal research group (Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group, GESTG) as a forum for data exchange, tagging coordination and general cooperation. The GESTG has agreed a central nexus on tag data coordination (there are now, literally, millions of tag records and it’s important they are held centrally to facilitate their use in future analyses).

Members of the GESTG have developed strong, positive relationships with many landowners who are working cooperatively on the ground to facilitate tagging efforts and protection of golden eagles.

Members of the GESTG have participated in the training of police officers across the UK to help them understand and interpret satellite tag data (e.g. this workshop organised by SNH and the National Wildlife Crime Unit was particularly beneficial to both the researchers and the police. A similar workshop was also run in England and again included input from the GESTG).

Members of the GESTG have developed an excellent relationship with the police National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) leading to the routine sharing of satellite tag data and regular detailed discussions on interpretation. This has led to a much-improved understanding for both parties and has helped build trust and confidence in what we consider to be a genuine partnership. In addition, NWCU staff have been provided with daily access to the data from several tagged golden eagles to help them learn about golden eagle ecology and behaviour, both of which are important facets of interpreting eagle tag data.

Oh, and as for those claims that satellite tag data have been withheld from the police (why would anyone want to do that?!), here’s a clear statement in response from Police Supt Nick Lyall (Head of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group):

We’re not the only ones to consider the SGA’s petition wholly inaccurate and misinformed. Last month Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland) wrote a damning blog to challenge some of the SGA’s myths (see here).

The bottom line is, contrary to the SGA’s lies, there is already plenty of cooperative partnership working between eagle satellite taggers and landowners and the police. We collaborate and share our data in order to improve conservation benefits for this iconic species across Scotland. What we don’t do is share data with those who would use the information to disturb and/or kill eagles.

We expect to be blogging further on this subject as the petition reaches the ECCLR Committee.

22
Oct
19

Is SNH about to impose a General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate?

Last week RSPB Scotland published a blog called ‘Why vicarious liability is failing to have an impact in Scotland‘.

Written by Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species & Land Management, it’s the latest in a series, following on from the excellent blog challenging the Scottish Gamekeepers’ ignorance on satellite tags, written by Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland.

Duncan’s blog is well worth a read. It questions the Crown Office’s recent decision not to prosecute anyone for alleged vicarious liability following the conviction of Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson for a series of barbaric wildlife crimes on the Longformacus Estate in the Scottish Borders.

It also considers the potential benefits of having the threat of a vicarious liability prosecution, and how this may have driven down the use of illegal poisons as a method of killing raptors, but been replaced by shooting and trapping methods which are much harder to detect.

The really interesting part of the blog, as far as we’re concerned, is the section on the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire. Blog readers will recall this is where a male hen harrier was found with an almost severed leg caught in an illegally-set spring trap next to his nest earlier this summer. Despite the heroic efforts of a number of experts, he didn’t survive. The estate denied all knowledge and responsibility and nobody has been charged.

[The trapped hen harrier found on Leadhills Estate. Photo by Scottish Raptor Study Group]

Regular blog readers will know this poor hen harrier is not the only victim reported from the Leadhills Estate. The list is long and goes back more than a decade (e.g. scroll down this page). Duncan’s blog discusses some of the most recent incidents including the witnessed shooting of a hen harrier in May 2017; the witnessed shooting of a short-eared owl just a few weeks later and whose body was recovered; the discovery of a buzzard in 2018 that was found to have been shot twice; and the filmed buzzard that according to the RSPB was likely killed in a crow trap in January 2019.

Nobody has been charged for any of the above, but significantly, Duncan’s blog says this:

“We are advised that only now is an Open General Licence restriction, another sanction in the public authority wildlife crime “toolbox”, to be imposed here”.

SNH has had the power to impose General Licence restrictions since 1 January 2014. This was instigated by former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to continuing difficulties of securing criminal prosecutions and was an instruction to SNH to withdraw the use of the General Licence (available for legal predator control) on land where crimes against raptors are believed to have taken place but where there is insufficient evidence to instigate criminal proceedings. The decision to withdraw the licence is based on the civil standard of proof which relates to the balance of probability as opposed to the higher standard of proof required for a criminal conviction.

This measure is not without its limitations, particularly as estates can simply apply for an individual licence instead which allows them to continue predator control activities but under slightly closer scrutiny.

SNH has only imposed four such restrictions since 2014 – a pathetically small figure when we are aware of at least a dozen other cases where a restriction should have been applied. SNH has claimed it is ‘not in the public interest‘ to explain those failures.

We’ve looked on the SNH website to see whether Leadhills Estate has been listed as having a General Licence restriction imposed (SNH does publicise the details when it imposes the restriction) but so far Leadhills Estate is not named. Potentially the estate has been notified and is currently in the period where it may challenge SNH’s decision, as per the framework for a General Licence restriction.

Watch this space.

UPDATE 26 November 2019: SNH imposes General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate (here)

10
Oct
19

RSPB challenges misinformation about satellite tags

This is an excellent blog written by Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland, countering the misinformation (that’s being kind) about satellite tags that is being touted by some in the game shooting industry.

We’ll be writing more on this shortly.

We’ve reproduced Ian’s blog here:

Challenging misinformation about satellite tags

RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations Ian Thomson outlines our thoughts on claims made accompanying the launch of a petition regarding satellite tags fitted to raptor species.

One of the greatest conservation tools to emerge in recent years has been satellite-tagging technology. Whether following the journeys of migrating cuckoos or shedding light on the dangers facing UK birds of prey, these tiny pieces of technology are becoming increasingly valuable in the conservationist’s mission to save nature.

As you read this, satellite tags are helping scientists monitor a handful of recently released captive-reared white-rumped vultures in Nepal after the species almost went extinct. It allowed the finding of a turtle dove nest in Suffolk this August, crucial for a species which has declined in the UK by 97% since 1970. Another tag’s data led us to the body of a hen harrier, Rannoch, lying in the heather, her leg caught in an illegal spring trap on a Perthshire grouse moor.

[Hen harrier Rannoch was fitted with a satellite tag at a nest in Perthshire in summer 2017]

A couple of weeks ago the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), lodged a petition “calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to introduce independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptor species, to assist the police and courts in potential wildlife crime cases and to provide data transparency.”

The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) briefing about the petition gives a rounded picture of the context.

However, the supporting information provided by the SGA to support their petition contains misleading information which appears to be part of an ongoing and concerted attempt to undermine the credibility of these scientifically-approved tags and the integrity of those monitoring them.

In recent years, various statements the SGA have made in the media (eg. as discussed here) are symptomatic of an organisation in complete denial about the extent of raptor persecution and it’s association with grouse moor management. Indeed, every story about a dead or disappeared satellite-tagged bird of prey on a grouse moor is met with denials, obfuscation or conspiracy theories.

[Rannoch was killed by an illegal trap on a grouse moor in November 2018. Had she not been tagged, this crime would have remained undiscovered]

The RSPB has been involved in the fitting of satellite transmitters, using experienced, trained and licenced taggers, to a wide variety of birds of prey and other species, both in the UK and abroad, for the last 15 years. As a key adviser and contributor to a number of high-profile conservation research projects involving the tagging of bird species across the world, we thought it important to share our experience to put the SGA’s claims into context.

In the UK, all tagging projects require approval from the independent British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)’s Special Methods Panel, who rigorously scrutinise all such proposals on behalf of the UK statutory conservation agencies, including SNH in Scotland, to check their scientific validity and that the welfare of the birds tagged is ensured. The BTO’s process also ensures all projects meet Home Office requirements.

All practitioners must demonstrate experience and capability to undertake this work and this is heavily scrutinised by the Special Methods Panel. Most of those involved with this technique are experienced bird ringers and handlers. An annual licence return is supplied to the BTO by all satellite practitioners for their records, and this is a condition of receiving further licences in the future.

The RSPB also has considerable experience in monitoring the data coming from our own transmitters and in working closely with other individuals and organisations involved in similar projects, notably with regard to development of tag technology, sharing good practice and the analysis of satellite tag data.

We lead on police training on the interpretation of tag data, recently attending key events in Perthshire and Yorkshire in 2019 to ensure that the police and officers from the National Wildlife Crime Unit are equipped to carry out independent scrutiny of tag data. We have also helped ensure that, where satellite-tagged birds of prey are suspected of being illegally killed, relevant tag data is provided to investigating officers as required.

We have assisted the police in numerous follow-up investigations where tagged birds have been illegally killed or have been suspected to have been victims of criminality – as with Rannoch, mentioned above.

In 2017, the government-commissioned review of the fates of satellite-tagged golden eagles concluded that almost a third of young tagged eagles “disappeared (presumably died) under suspicious circumstances” and that “areas managed as grouse moors were strongly associated with the disappearance of many of the tagged eagles”. This independently peer-reviewed study was underpinned by data from tags that researchers from RSPB and several other organisations and agencies had fitted to Scottish golden eagles, and is key evidence that scientifically highlights the ongoing problem of raptor persecution on Scotland’s grouse moors.

Satellite transmitters, all fitted as part of projects licensed by the BTO, have revolutionised the study of bird ecology. They have proved invaluable research tools in understanding the movements of birds, from Asian vultures to English turtle doves, Welsh hen harriers and Scottish golden eagles. They have allowed us to identify important migration staging areas, key nest and roost site locations, allowing us to further protect these birds. They have also allowed recovery of dead birds, enabling post-mortem examinations to take place and identify causes of death which would otherwise remain a mystery. Indeed, they are shining a very bright light on those areas of upland Scotland where raptor persecution continues unabated.

It is unfortunate that the SGA, which has consistently attempted to undermine the veracity of tag data, has also refused to take part in meetings of the partnership for action against wildlife crime (PAW Scotland) since the government’s satellite-tag review was published. Had it done so, perhaps many of the inaccurate statements contained in the briefing document, or in their recent members’ magazine, prepared to accompany the petition would not have appeared.  One can only question their motives.

ENDS

 

23
Sep
19

Pre-Werritty propaganda from grouse shooting industry

As we all continue to wait for the publication of Professor Werritty’s report on driven grouse shooting, the usual suspects have been busy putting together a damage limitation programme to save their sorry necks.

An ‘informal alliance’ has been created under the banner of RELM (Rural Environment Land Management) ‘to help co-ordinate and streamline responses and communications ahead of the publication of the final report‘ and its first offering is this briefing document for MSPs which was distributed by Scottish Land & Estates a couple of weeks ago:

Here’s the intro blurb:

Grouse moor management has been the subject of much attention during the summer period across a range of issues such as the environment and species conservation, satellite tagging and wildlife crime, mountain hares and the start of the season on August 12.

With the Scottish Government’s review into grouse moor management due to be published shortly, rural organisations wished to provide the following update to parliamentarians. We would be pleased to provide additional detail where required.

Ah, how thoughtful. Amusingly, several MSPs have sent us a copy of this briefing document with comments along the lines of ‘You might want to say a few things about this’.

We’re grateful to those MSPs because yes, we do want to say a few things about the document’s contents and we wouldn’t otherwise have had an opportunity had they not shared the briefing with us.

We’re not posting the full briefing document here, yet. Instead we intend to blog about different aspects of it in turn.

Today we’re looking at the page entitled ‘Wildlife Crime’ and its five paragraphs of propaganda:

Propaganda paragraph 1:

Yes, significant media attention does remain focused on wildlife crime, and particularly illegal raptor persecution because everyone else finds it abhorrent and can’t understand why it still goes on and why the grouse shooting industry continues to shield the criminals involved. It’d be interesting to know what, exactly, these five organisations have done to crack down on raptor persecution as part of their claimed ‘full commitment to improving prevention, detection and prosecution’.

Propaganda paragraph 2:

No surprises here. This is a blatant attempt, yet again, to discredit the RSPB’s annual Birdcrime Report which was published a couple of weeks ago and showed that confirmed raptor persecution crimes in Scotland in 2018 had doubled from those recorded in 2017. 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.

With this level of relentless criminality, it’s no wonder the grouse shooting industry apologists want to infer that the RSPB’s data are ‘unofficial’. Fine. We’ll come back to this later this autumn when the Government publishes its annual wildlife crime report, which we know will include all of the confirmed incidents already reported by the RSPB.

Propaganda paragraph 3:

This is perhaps the most cynical of attempts to downplay the disgusting reality of the criminality still being committed on some driven grouse moors. And the first sentence of paragraph 3 is actually a lie. Not being pursued by Police Scotland? Er, ALL the cases of alleged raptor persecution that have been reported from grouse moors over the last few months are still considered to be live criminal investigations by the Police, according to the investigations officer we spoke to yesterday.

So, the satellite-tagged hen harrier that was found dead on a grouse moor in Strathbraan with an illegal spring trap clamped to its leg – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The two satellite-tagged golden eagles (Adam and Charlie) that ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on another grouse moor in Strathbraan, on the same morning as each other – they’re still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police (as are several other alleged offences uncovered during the police search).

The hen harrier that was found caught by its leg in a spring trap that had been set illegally next to its nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The buzzard that was caught inside a legal cage trap on the same South Lanarkshire grouse moor but was then allegedly beaten to death by someone arriving on a quad bike after dark and using a key to open the padlocked door of the cage – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The young golden eagle that was photographed flying around in the Cairngorms National Park with an illegal trap clamped to its leg – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

And as for the claim that estates have issued ‘unprecedented and emphatic rebuttals’ – er, there’s nothing unprecedented about that! Estates have always denied any involvement in any of the wildlife crimes that have been uncovered on their land – it’s what they do!

Propaganda paragraph 4:

Ah yes, convicted gamekeeper Alan Wilson, dubbed by the press as ‘Scotland’s worst wildlife killer‘. Yet again, the link between Wilson’s filthy criminal activity uncovered at Henlaw Wood and driven grouse shooting is kept well hidden. Yes, the Longformacus Estate was managed for low ground pheasant shooting but it was also managed for driven grouse shooting – a fact that Scottish Land & Estates doesn’t like to mention!

And speaking of Scottish Land & Estates and it’s so-called ‘full commitment’ to tackling wildlife crime, it still hasn’t said whether the Longformacus Estate was a member at the time these crimes were committed and if so, whether that membership has now been terminated? We asked SLE this question on 22 August 2019. Still waiting for an answer….

Propaganda paragraph 5:

Of course they continue to call for tougher penalties – how can they not? But they know as well as we do that the severity of the penalty is utterly irrelevant if the perpetrators of these crimes can’t even be identified, let alone prosecuted.

And as long as evidence continues to be destroyed and employers continue to shield their criminal employees by instructing them to give ‘no comment’ interviews to the police, nothing will change.

Fortunately, there are more and more savvy MSPs in the Scottish Parliament who have seen through the greenwash and know exactly what’s going on. If you think your MSP isn’t one of those, it’d be worth dropping them an email with a link to this blog.

30
Aug
19

No vicarious liability prosecution for Longformacus Estate

Ten days ago Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson was sentenced for a catalogue of wildlife crime offences, including possession of the banned poison Carbofuran and the shooting of protected raptors, badgers and an otter on the Longformacus Estate in the Scottish Borders (see here).

[Criminal gamekeeper Alan Wilson, photo by Daily Record]

Very early on in this case we were aware that two individuals had been charged in relation to the crimes uncovered at Longformacus Estate (see here) and it was rumoured that the second man was facing a charge of alleged vicarious liability for Wilson’s crimes, although we were unable to verify this.

As a quick re-cap, vicarious liability was a measure introduced by the Scottish Government on 1 January 2012 as a direct and specific response to ongoing illegal raptor persecution, whereby somebody (e.g. a landowner or a sporting agent) may be held responsible for the criminal actions of an employee – see here for a more detailed explanation.

Following Wilson’s conviction and then subsequent sentencing earlier this month, we were keen to find out whether the Crown Office was now pursuing a charge of alleged vicarious liability against any individual associated with the management of Longformacus Estate. Last week we wrote to the Crown Office for clarification and this is the response received yesterday:

So, here we are yet again.

No prosecution for anyone associated with the management of Longformacus Estate where gamekeeper Alan Wilson was able to commit crime after crime after crime after crime, apparently without his boss(es) noticing.

For a defence of a charge of alleged vicarious liability, the gamekeeper’s boss(es) would need to show that (a) s/he/they did not know the offence was being committed; AND (b) that s/he/they took all reasonable steps AND exercised all due diligence to prevent the offence(s) being committed. Without knowing the full facts and circumstances of this case it is impossible for us to judge whether the Crown Office’s decision not to pursue a charge was sensible, but it has to be said that given the extent and duration of Wilson’s criminal activities, it would have been very interesting indeed to have heard his bosses’ interpretation and explanation of ‘all due diligence’.

We’ll probably never know why the Crown Office chose not to proceed – it is under no obligation to offer any explanation to the public. However, this latest decision really shouldn’t come as any surprise to anybody – remember, this is the same Crown Office that dropped five prosecutions for alleged raptor persecution in quick succession in 2017 (see here), even including several cases where RSPB video footage had captured the crimes on camera! Those decisions not to proceed with prosecutions hailed the start of what has now become complete exasperation at the authorities’ failure to take on many cases linked to wildlife crime on game-shooting estates.

The Crown’s decision not to pursue criminal proceedings in relation to the crimes committed at Longformacus Estate also further entrenches the view that vicarious liability as a measure for tackling ongoing raptor persecution is a resounding failure. Introduced seven and a half years ago on 1 Jan 2012, only two successful prosecutions have been secured: one in Dec 2014 (here) and one in Dec 2015 (here). A third case in Oct 2015 was dropped because the authorities couldn’t identify the estate’s management structure (here) and a fourth case was abandoned in April 2017 because the Crown said ‘it wasn’t in the public interest to continue’ (here).

Who thinks that two successful cases in 7.5 years is a measure of success? Perhaps if raptor persecution crimes weren’t still being committed then vicarious liability might have been viewed as a success in terms of its deterrent value but it’s quite clear, given the ongoing reports of persecution, that landowners and sporting agents are probably increasingly confident of evading prosecution and the Crown’s decision on the Longformacus Estate will only strengthen that view.

The question now is, for how many more years do we have to sit and watch the pathetic failure of vicarious liability as a measure to combat raptor persecution? The Scottish Government can no longer rely on this as an indication of its commitment to tackling these crimes. Sure, when introduced in 2012 it was done in good faith and with the best of intentions but it is quite clear for all to see that, for whatever reason, it isn’t working, and the Scottish Government needs to acknowledge this failure and find out why it’s failing and get it fixed.

It’s not just convicted gamekeeper Alan Wilson sticking up two fingers to our law-abiding society.

The topic of vicarious liability was raised at the recent SNP Conference Fringe meeting on grouse moor reform (here) as well as the Revive Coalition’s conference in Perth (here) and caused quite a stir amongst delegates and panellists at both events. It’s an issue we’re likely to follow up with several interested MSPs.

Meanwhile, Chris Packham’s petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting is doing exceptionally well, just two weeks after launching. It has now attracted over 81,000 signatures but is likely to fall if it doesn’t reach 100,000 signatures by Sept 9th, thanks to the current shenanigans at Westminster (if Parliament is suspended all unfinished business, including live petitions, will fall). If you haven’t yet signed, please do so HERE. Thank you.

 

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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