Posts Tagged ‘scottish gamekeepers association

30
May
19

Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s pity party in response to failed Strathbraan raven cull bid

At the beginning of May we blogged about how SNH had rejected a 2019 application for a raven cull licence in the Strathbraan area of Perthshire (see here).

This decision followed last year’s fiasco when SNH had issued a raven cull licence for Strathbraan, on what we considered to be false pretences, and which was eventually withdrawn after a legal challenge by the Scottish Raptor Study Group.

A subsequent analysis by SNH’s own Scientific Advisory Committee found the ‘study’ (designed by GWCT) to be ‘completely inadequate’, ‘seriously flawed’ and said ‘it will fail to provide any meaningful scientific evidence’.

[Photo by Dieter Schaeffer]

In response to SNH’s 2019 licensing decision, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has today decided it’s going to have a massive pity party. It’s written a seven-page invitation to anyone that might want to attend: SGAs open letter_Strathbraan raven cull_May2019

This open letter has apparently been sent to MSPs and also to a number of news desks.

Many thanks to journalist Ilona Amos for allowing us a right of reply in this article published in The Scotsman this afternoon.

Sorry to ruin your pity party with a few home truths, SGA. Actually, we’re not sorry at all. The gratuitous slaughter of wildlife that takes place every day on game bird shooting estates throughout the UK is obscene. That predator-hating gamekeepers should ever be given a licence to kill even more wildlife, on the pretext of it being ‘scientific research’, in an area identified as a wildlife crime hotspot, is beyond comprehension.

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28
Jan
19

More on the SGA’s “completely false” claim that hen harrier Saorsa has been re-sighted

Last Friday we blogged about how the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) had published a statement claiming that a satellite-tagged hen harrier (‘Saorsa’) had been “re-sighted in Perthshire” after the RSPB reported it as having disappeared in suspicious circumstances from the Angus Glens last year.

RSPB Scotland issued a statement in response which said the SGA’s claim was “completely false” (here).

Despite being told “there isn’t a shred of evidence to support the claim that it [Saorsa] has reappeared“, the following day the SGA was still promoting its fake news on Twitter:

Other Twitter users offered equally conclusive evidence that Saorsa was alive and well, along with Shergar:

It’s also worth revisiting the SGA’s statement made when Saorsa was first reported missing last year, especially an extraordinary claim made by Bert Burnett of the SGA, who suggested that the RSPB had peverted the course of justice by finding Saorsa’s body and ‘secreting it away because it had died of natural causes’ (here).

On last Friday’s blog we said we’d return to the SGA’s latest press release about Saorsa to discuss some of the other inaccurate claims made about the satellite-tagging process. Many of the myths have been dealt with before, on this blog and elsewhere, and yet still the SGA churns out this guff, either too stupid to grasp the basics or deliberately trying to discredit the technology that’s revealing so much about the widespread extent of illegal raptor persecution.

So, here’s the SGA’s original press release (Friday 25 January 2019) and our commentary in italics:

GAMEKEEPERS SEEK ACCOUNTABILITY OVER SATELLITE TAGGED RAPTORS

Scotland’s gamekeepers are calling for accountability regarding satellite tags fitted to wildlife.

The call comes after The Scottish Gamekeepers Association learned that a tagged Hen Harrier, reported as disappearing ‘suspiciously’ in Angus last May, was re-sighted in Perthshire afterwards, according to investigators.

[RPUK: Nope, she hasn’t been “re-sighted” since she vanished in the notorious Angus Glens in Feb 2018].

Anti-grouse moor campaigners who owned the tag’s data publicly blamed the grouse industry, urging Scottish Government to license the sector.

[RPUK: Nope, the RSPB are not “anti-grouse moor campaigners”, they are simply calling for the regulation of grouse moor management. And nope, when Saorsa disappeared the RSPB did not “publicly blame the grouse industry” – the SGA has fabricated this claim – you can read the RSPB’s press statement about Saorsa’s disappearance in Feb 2018 here and you won’t find a single word of accusation against anyone or any industry].

However, no media statements were issued to correct the accusations, leaving local estate employees living with the burden of criminal suspicion.

[RPUK: No media statements were issued (by the RSPB) because, er, Saorsa is still missing from the Angus Glens. And again, to repeat ourselves, the RSPB did not make a single accusation against any industry, estate or estate employee when reporting Saorsa’s disappearance].

The SGA has also learned of a sea eagle currently flying around Grampian with a tag dangling from its body, potentially endangering its welfare.

[RPUK: Are we seriously expected to believe that the SGA is concerned over a sea eagle’s welfare?!! Isn’t this the group that has repeatedly lobbied for licences to enable the legal killing of this and other raptor species in Scotland? Ah yes, here. And isn’t this the group that’s lobbied the Scottish Government in abject hysteria about sea eagles potentially eating babies? Ah yes, here and here. And hasn’t this species been relentlessly persecuted on Scottish grouse moors, notably the victim of illegal poisoning (e.g. here), as well as having its nest tree illegally felled on an Angus grouse moor? Ah yes, here].

The female sea eagle, pegged with yellow wing markings and the letter ‘E’, has been spotted by concerned land managers.

In recent times, four golden eagles have also been independently photographed in the Angus glens with displaced tags; one clearly hanging from a bird’s neck.

Another eagle was observed in Perthshire last week with the bird’s feathers completely obscuring the tag; something manufacturers acknowledge will distort readings.

[RPUK: If a tag’s solar panel has been covered by a feather the tag won’t charge and the steady decline in battery voltage will be revealed in the tag’s engineering data. This means the tag operator can correctly identify battery drainage as the cause of the loss of data rather than the sudden and unexpected loss of data that is caused when someone kills the eagle and destroys the tag and hides the evidence of the crime].

Gamekeepers believe tags are now being deployed by campaigners as political weapons, aware there is no independent scrutiny.

[RPUK: Gamekeepers believe many things, such as white-tailed eagles being a threat to babies and toddlers, but it doesn’t mean there’s any truth in that belief. The SGA needs to read up on the strict regulations governing the deployment of satellite tags in the UK, which includes researchers quite rightly having to provide a proposal to the licensing authority that includes the detailed scientific justification for fitting a tag. Anybody seeking permission to fit tags as “a political weapon” will be laughed out of the door by the, er, independent scientific committee that scrutinises every single application].

Whilst the SGA is not advocating a ban, they believe Scottish Government must act to make fitting and monitoring of the devices accountable.

[RPUK: See above response]

An FOI to Scottish Natural Heritage by SGA revealed that the heritage body currently holds no information from satellite tags in Scotland, despite hundreds being operational.

Similarly, tag reliability cannot be independently verified as there is no duty for tag owners to disclose information regarding malfunction.

[RPUK: Incorrect. There is actually a duty for tag operators to report on tag status. In addition, concientious researchers are publishing data on tag malfunctions to enable tag manufacturers to constantly update and overcome any technical glitches in tag design. In addition, in the interest of transparency details of golden eagle tag malfunction were made publicly available in the Scottish Government-commissioned review in 2017. The number of tags known to have malfunctioned were insignifcant in relation to the number of tags that suddenly stopped and then vanished in suspicious circumstances, the vast majority of those occurring on driven grouse moors].

“At the moment, satellite tags are like the wild west,” said SGA Chairman Alex Hogg. “Anyone with funding can buy one, have it fitted to a protected bird, and retain its data. They can then release interpretations to the media, if the tag stops. We saw this with the choreographed ‘Fred the Eagle’ case near Edinburgh, which remains unexplained despite a concerted attempt to finger a grouse moor.

[RPUK: Incorrect. See above response on the rigorous licensing regulations for tag deployment in the UK. As for golden eagle Fred, we reported that he disappeared in suspicious circumstances right next to a grouse moor, in an area where other raptor persecution crimes had been discovered, just like all the other sat-tagged golden eagles that have disappeared in almost identical circumstances. We did not, at any time, accuse the grouse moor owner or his employees of any involvement. The SGA didn’t like the reports, which incidentally were all published with police approval, because Chris Packham’s involvement in the reports created a media storm. Too bad, the SGA had better get used to that – watch this space].

“Although tag fitters are approved, we have seen basic ‘granny knots’ used to fit tags and we have just heard of two tagged Harriers in Perthshire being killed by foxes within three days, with only one tag and body recovered. A tagged adult Harrier lost on National Trust ground this year was never found, neither was its tag, and a predated youngster was only discovered by chance. These are stories the public never hear and it is a shame they have to come out behind a veil of secrecy.

[RPUK: Could Alex Hogg explain how the SGA has been close enough to a sat-tagged raptor to identify a supposed ‘granny knot’? (The skilled fieldworkers who fit sat tags have had a long laugh about the depth of ignorance revealed by that claim, by the way). And as for Hogg’s claim that the public ‘never hear’ of tagged raptors dying from natural causes (it’s hardly news, Alex), perhaps he should pay more attention to RSPB blogs – here’s one from just a few weeks ago which, again in the interest of transparency, details, er, the natural deaths of several tagged hen harriers, but again these natural losses are heavily outnumbered by those that have vanished in suspicious circumstances on driven grouse moors].

“Despite claims these devices are almost infallible, failure rates and unexplained loss are high and there have been numerous examples of lost birds turning up alive or birds re-appearing miles or days from last tag signals.

[RPUK: These tags have a high rate of proven reliability but of course there will be a few exceptions to the rule  – nobody has ever denied that. The point is, these ARE exceptions to the rule and no matter how hard the SGA tries to deny it, the suspicious clustering of ‘missing’ tagged raptors, as repeatedly shown in the 2017 golden eagle sat tag review, is overwhelming evidence of continued widespread illegal persecution. We expect a similar pattern when the English hen harrier satellite tag data analysis is finally published (any time now?) and when the Scottish hen harrier satellite tag data analysis is finally published (hopefully soon). It’s strange that the SGA isn’t clamouring for these studies to be published].

“If this information was held independently, all this could be scrutinised transparently by experts and the relevant authorities could act accordingly.”

[RPUK: Er, the golden eagle sat tag data WERE scrutinised transparently by independent experts, and the relevant authority (Scot Gov) DID act accordingly by instigating a comprehensive review of grouse moor management and asking for recommended options for regulation, including estate licensing! Has Alex been smoking something?]

Late last year the SGA commissioned a legal opinion of SNH’s report into the fates of satellite tagged golden eagles, a paper which sparked the present review of grouse shooting.

[RPUK: Ah yes, the legal opinion that everybody dismissed, including the Scottish Government, not least because it was written by a lawyer with no scientific expertise].

The opinion, authored by QC Ronald Clancy, made a strong case for independent scrutiny of tags as the report relied entirely on manufacturer data for its conclusions.

“The present tagging system gives rise to accusation but no prosecutions.

“If tags are to be used to identify crime then the information must be held independently so it may lead to court action.

“If independent data monitoring makes things more difficult for people committing wildlife crime, that surely is in everyone’s interest,” added SGA Chairman Alex Hogg.

ENDS

It’s quite clear that the game-shooting industry, and especially the SGA, has spent considerable time and effort in recent years trying to undermine the satellite-tagging of raptors, either by launching disgusting personal & abusive attacks against those involved in the projects, or by arguing 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, or by claiming the raptors have been killed by imaginary windfarms, or by claiming conservationists have killed the raptors to set up gamekeepers, or by misapplying scientific results from failed saltwater turtle tags in the Indian Ocean to golden eagles in Scotland in the hope that nobody would notice! The industry knows how incriminating these raptor sat tag data are and so is desperately 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.

Fortunately, Scottish Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham is no fool and neither is the public. Every time another satellite-tagged raptor disappears in suspicious circumstances, another nail gets hammered in to the coffin.

“They can hide the tags. They can hide the bodies. But they can’t hide the pattern“ (Dr Hugh Webster).

UPDATE 30 January 2019: A sketch from Mr Carbo

25
Jan
19

SGA’s claims about hen harrier Saorsa “completely false”, says RSPB

Further to our lunchtime blog (here) about the Scottish Gamekeepers Association fabricating a story about a supposed “re-sighting” of a satellite-tagged hen harrier (Saorsa) who disappeared in suspicious circumstances in the Angus Glens in February 2018, the RSPB has just issued the following press statement:

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said; “The SGA’s claims about the hen harrier “Saorsa” are completely false and are totally at odds with what the police have informed us today. This bird has been missing since February 2018, when it was reported to the police. There isn’t a shred of evidence to support the claim that it has reappeared, and its tag has not transmitted any data since the date of it vanishing in suspicious circumstances.

The SGA has refused to attend meetings of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime since the publication of the Scottish Government’s review of satellite tagging in May 2017, and has consistently refused to accept the findings of that review. Their repeated baseless attempts to discredit proven technology and question the reputations of respected scientists and Scottish Government reports are entirely due to the fact that the use of this technology is shining an increasingly bright light on the widespread criminality associated with intensive grouse moor management.”

ENDS

[Hen harrier Saorsa has not been since since she disappeared in suspicious circumstances in the Angus Glens in Feb 2018. Photo by Brian Etheridge]

UPDATE 28 January 2019: More on the SGA’s “completely false” claim that hen harrier Saorsa has been re-sighted (here)

25
Jan
19

SGA fabricates ‘news’ on missing sat-tagged hen harrier Saorsa

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has issued a press release today claiming that a satellite-tagged hen harrier (named Saorsa) that disappeared in suspicious circumstances in the Angus Glens last yearwas re-sighted in Perthshire“.

This is a complete fabrication. We’ve spoken to the RSPB (who tagged this harrier) and they’ve confirmed that Saorsa remains ‘missing in suspicious circumstances’ with no reports of either a “re-sighting” or further data from her tag since it stopped working, suddenly and inexplicably, in February 2018 in the notorious Angus Glens. We expect the RSPB will be issuing a press statement to this effect in due course.

[UPDATE 25 Jan 2019: SGA’s claims about hen harrier Saorosa “completely false”, says RPSB (here)]

Later today we’ll be posting the SGA’s press statement in full and taking it apart line by line. As you might expect, it contains many inaccuracies (which is a generous way of saying malicious falsehoods) about the process of satellite-tagging raptors in Scotland and is designed to undermine and discredit the vast amount of damaging evidence these tags provide about the ongoing criminal destruction of birds of prey on Scottish grouse moors.

For now, this blog is a placeholder for those members of the press who have asked us for a comment about Saorsa’s supposed resurrection.

More shortly…..

[Photo of Saorsa as a nestling, by Brian Etheridge]

UPDATE 28 January 2019: More on the SGA’s “completely false” claim that hen harrier Saorsa has been re-sighted (here)

09
Jan
19

Are raptor-killing licences on the cards for gamekeepers in Scotland?

Rumours are circulating that licences to kill raptors (in order to protect ‘livestock’, i.e. pheasants & partridge poults) are being considered in Scotland.

It must be stressed that these are only rumours, but based on the sources, we’re treating them seriously.

Separate to these rumours, and perhaps more than coincidentally, Alex Hogg’s editorial piece in the latest edition (Dec 2018) of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s quarterly rag for its members focuses strongly on raptor-killing licences – something he claims would lessen the likelihood of gamekeepers “making bad decisions when it comes to raptors” (he means committing wildlife crimes).

Here’s the article – see what you think:

The timing and content of his editorial may well just be coincidental; it’s not like he and his sorry-arsed organisation haven’t been lobbying to be allowed to kill raptors for years. For example, here he is in 2010 bemoaning the impact of buzzards on his pheasant shoot, although he goes further and makes the totally unsubstantiated claim that “biodiversity is seriously threatened in Scotland by buzzards” but then later contradicts this claim when he argues that licences would only be needed to kill “a few rogue buzzards“.

But it’s not just Alex’s editorial that has raised our antennae. In December, licensing authority SNH sent around the following email about the 2019 General Licences, saying that a consultation is planned this spring, in readiness for its 2020 General Licences:

Hmm. Another coincidence? Perhaps, or could this be a planned ‘sweetner’ for the gamekeepers in anticipation that the Werritty Review will recommend licensing for grouse shooting estates when it reports later this spring?

We wouldn’t put it past the Scottish Government to try something like this – it pulled a similar trick when the Werritty Review was first announced in May 2017 by revealing that it would not consider giving additional investigative powers to the SSPCA to help tackle illegal raptor persecution (see here).

If issuing gamekeepers with licences to kill raptors is planned, it’s going to be pretty hard for the Scottish Government to defend such an action in this context. The Werritty Review was set up to examine grouse moor management precisely because of the ongoing issue of illegal raptor persecution; evidence of which Professor Werritty himself concluded was “compelling and shocking“. If the Scottish Government decides to address these crimes by simply legalising the killing of raptors by gamekeepers, it will undoubtedly face a serious backlash from the public and potentially a number of legal challenges.

Watch this space.

UPDATE 10.30hrs: SNH emailed us today and requested we post the following statement –

This is not true – we are not changing our policy towards licensing raptor control. We consult on General Licences on a regular basis; this is not new“.

We’ll be revisiting this statement, and this issue, in the very near future.

08
May
18

Three dogs & two buzzards die after being ‘deliberately poisoned’ in Perthshire

BBC News article (8 May 2018):

DOGS AND BUZZARDS DIE AFTER BEING DELIBERATELY POISONED

Police in Highland Perthshire are appealing for information after three working dogs and two buzzards were deliberately poisoned.

The incidents took place between October 2017 and April this year in and around the Edradynate and Pitnacree Estates area.

The poisons used to kill the dogs and birds are banned in the UK.

[Photo of a poisoned buzzard found in the area in 2015, by RPUK]

A Police Scotland spokesman said the animals’ owners were “understandably upset” at the loss of their dogs.

He said: “Once again, we also find ourselves investigating the illegal killing of raptors and this is extremely disappointing.

We have searched the areas and our investigations to date would suggest that there is not a wider threat to public safety.

However, all members of the public in the area are asked to remain vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour, especially during the hours of darkness.”

ENDS

Hmm. Edradynate Estate has been at the centre of investigations for alleged wildlife crime for a very, 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.

[Edradynate Estate, photo by RPUK]

More recently, in March 2015 two dead buzzards were found near to the estate. Toxicology tests revealed they’d been poisoned with a banned substance (although the name wasn’t revealed). A police raid of the estate uncovered a third dead buzzard. A thorough police investigation followed but in May 2017 the Crown Office rejected a plea from Police Scotland to bring proceedings against an estate gamekeeper (see here). The Crown Office has so far not provided a clear explanation for this decision.

However, in September 2017 SNH imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Edradynate Estate, presumably in response to the alleged buzzard poisonings in 2015 (see here). Some felt sympathy for the new gamekeeper who would now be subjected to these restrictions even though he’d only just begun his employment following the ‘retirement’ of the previous Head gamekeeper in February 2017.

And talking of that previous Head gamekeeper, you may remember last year he was charged with a number of offences including the alleged malicious damage of crops on Edradynate in April 2017 (it is claimed he poisoned them by spraying with an unknown substance, causing them to rot and perish) and the alleged theft of a thermal imaging spotting scope (see here). This resulted in some court proceedings that were mysteriously shrouded in secrecy (here).

Presumably he has pleaded not guilty as we now know a trial will take place at Perth Sheriff Court on 11 June 2018 for alleged ‘malicious mischief’.

01
May
18

Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders: who’s involved?

Following on from yesterday’s blog, where we learned, according to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, that the raven cull licence “is not about grouse and it’s never been about grouse“, but that approx 75% of the cull area just happens to be managed for driven grouse shooting (see here), we said we had a bit more information about the mysterious raven cull licence applicants, the Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders (SCCW).

We know very little about the membership of the SCCW, other than what we’d gleaned from the licence application:

‘[The SCCW]….represents some of the local land management (farmers, gamekeepers) and private interests in the area who value wading birds for their biodiversity, social and economic value to the area and to Scotland more widely. The application is supported by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and technical advice and support, notably data gathering and interpretation, is being provided by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT)’. 

We do know that the GWCT is heavily involved. We also believe the involvement of the SGA is probably more extensive than suggested in the above paragraph. For example, we know that the SGA and GWCT propose to have meetings with SNH “to review the operation of the licence“, according to the information provided in the licence application. And if the SGA wasn’t heavily involved, why would they put up a representative (Kenneth Stephen, PR & Communications Officer) to be interviewed about the licence by the BBC’s Radio Scotland Out of Doors programme?

So who else is involved? Kenneth did his best to avoid giving a detailed answer when Euan McIlwraith asked him directly about the membership of the SCCW, and instead focused on sheep farmers rather than grouse moor owners and gamekeepers. However, shortly after he’d recorded his interview on Friday 27th April 2018, Kenneth wrote the following email, which reveals a bit more about who might be involved and how much trouble everyone is going to to not mention grouse:

The recipient of this email (Caitlin) is the coordinator of the Tayside & Central Scotland Moorland Group. This group is one of several regional moorland groups that appeared on the scene a couple of years ago, as part of the Gift of Grouse propaganda campaign, supported (and potentially funded) by the Scottish Moorland Group, which is part of Scottish Land & Estates. These regional moorland groups were designed to use social media to counter the adverse news stories about illegal raptor persecution and other environmentally-damaging practices associated with intensive grouse moor management, and many of them are administered by the local gamekeepers’ wives.

So, are members of the Tayside & Central Moorland Group also members of the Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders? Indeed, some of them are, according to this Facebook post:

What was particularly interesting about Kenneth’s email to Caitlin was who he had cc’d in to his correspondence: Tim (Kim) Baynes, Director of the Scottish Moorland Group, and Gary McQueen, who we believe to be a senior consultant at Media House, a well-known public relations outfit whose clients include Scottish Land & Estates.

Does this indicate that the Scottish Moorland Group (and therefore Scottish Land & Estates & the Gift of Grouse) is also involved with this so-called ‘community collaboration’? It’d be interesting to find out.

Unfortunately, SNH is still not answering the very reasonable questions that have been asked about this raven cull licence, 11 days after the news first broke. And it’s not just us who have concerns about this lack of transparency – have a read of this excellent blog, written by independent PhD student Isla Hodgson, who specialises in conservation conflict. Her structured and thoughtful criticism of SNH’s approach to this raven cull licence is very powerful.

Maybe we’ll get some answers on the next episode of BBC Radio Scotland’s Out of Doors. Presenter Euan McIlwraith told listeners last Saturday that he had an interview lined up with SNH to discuss the raven cull licence, to be broadcast this coming weekend. We suspect there’ll be a large audience.

UPDATE 7 May 2018: “Let’s have more trials [culls] whether it’s about ravens or other things” says SNH (here)




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