Posts Tagged ‘short-eared owl

28
Jun
18

British Game Alliance: more greenwash from the shooting industry?

The UK gamebird-shooting industry is in crisis at the moment, with ever-increasing numbers of gamebirds being reared and released (estimated in the region of 50+ million pheasants & red-legged partridge each year) but supply is outstripping demand as game dealers struggle to sell the shot birds for human consumption. This has resulted in the widespread and illegal dumping of shot birds in the countryside (e.g. see here, here, here, here) which is causing serious damage to the reputation of the shooting industry.

Fearing enforced regulation, the shooting industry has come up with ‘the way forward’ and has established an organisation called the British Game Alliance, ‘the official marketing board for the UK game industry’, which, according to the Countryside Alliance, “aims to run a ‘British Game’ assurance scheme to ensure our game meets the highest standards“.

The British Game Alliance’s standards are quite high (see here for what is expected) and apparently compliance with these standards will be regulated and monitored by external auditors.

Sounds good, eh? In principle, yes, but our expectations were low in March 2018 when the Shooting Times revealed some of the individuals involved, including one name that made us laugh out loud given his links to estates with long histories of alleged (and sometimes proven) wildlife crime.

The British Game Alliance was launched with much fanfare and political support in May 2018 and we’ve been watching its website to find out which shoots (and sporting agents) have met the organisation’s ‘shoot standards’ to become listed as an ‘assured’ member. So far, the website hasn’t listed any of its assured members but promises that registered members will be ‘listed soon‘.

However, the British Game Alliance’s twitter feed (@BritishGame) has been more forthcoming. We were scrolling through this morning and were surprised to read this:

A police investigation took place at Wemmergill in 2015 after the discovery of two short-eared owls which had been shot and their corpses shoved inside a pothole (see here). There wasn’t a prosecution.

Another police investigation took place at Wemmergill in February this year following the sudden and explicable ‘disappearance’ of satellite-tagged hen harrier Marc (see here).

Even more surprising to read on the British Game Alliance’s twitter feed was this:

Edradynate Estate will be a familiar name to regular readers of this blog.

It is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction imposed by SNH following sufficient evidence (substantiated by Police Scotland) that raptor persecution has taken place but insufficient evidence to prosecute a named individual (see here).

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. The most recent dropped prosecution case came just last year, when the Crown Office refused to prosecute an Edradynate gamekeeper for alleged buzzard poisoning, despite Police Scotland urging otherwise (see here).

Despite at least 22 police investigations over several decades (according to Alan Stewart), nobody from Edradynate Estate has ever been successfully prosecuted for any of these alleged wildlife crimes.

And there lies the problem with the British Game Alliance’s shoot standards. If you look at shoot standard #19, ‘Where a shoot or its employees are successfully prosecuted for wildlife crimes, the shoot will be expelled from the BGA and their membership revoked‘.

Given the well-documented difficulties of securing a successful prosecution for wildlife crime, which is an issue even recognised by the Scottish Government, hence the recent introduction of General Licence restrictions, it’s quite clear that some undeserving estates will get the official seal of approval from the British Game Alliance, thus reducing any confidence the public may have had in this well-intentioned scheme.

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14
May
18

Case against grouse moor gamekeeper Timothy Cowin: part 3

Criminal proceedings continued on Friday (11 May 2018) against grouse moor gamekeeper Timothy Cowin, who is accused of a series of alleged wildlife crimes, including the shooting of two short-eared owls in April 2017 at Whernside, Cumbria in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It is further alleged he was in possession of items (a shotgun and an electronic calling device) capable of being used to kill wild birds.

Following a farcical hearing at Preston Magistrates Court in March 2018 (see here), the case was due to be heard last Friday but it was adjourned, again, at the request of the defence.

The next hearing is scheduled for July 2018.

For legal reasons, we won’t be accepting any comments on this post.

 

16
Mar
18

Case against grouse moor gamekeeper Timothy Cowin: part 2

Legal proceedings continued at Preston Magistrates Court yesterday in the case against gamekeeper Timothy David Cowin, 44, who is alleged to have shot two protected short-eared owls in April 2017 at Whernside, Cumbria in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It is further alleged he was in possession of items (a shotgun and an electronic calling device) capable of being used to kill wild birds (see here for first blog about this case).

At a case management hearing yesterday Mr Cowin was invited to enter a plea but was stopped by his defence lawyer, Michael Kenyon. There followed an extraordinarily fractious series of submissions by the defence and the CPS prosecutor, Ms Parker.

The defence argued that not all the paperwork had been received from the CPS, despite many requests, and that some of the paperwork that had been received was “defective in its wording” and some witness statements were incorrectly dated. The defence submitted that the case should be dismissed on these technicalities.

The prosecution argued that some papers hadn’t been served because of the uncertainty of the address that had been provided (Mr Kenyon’s home address as opposed to a legal company’s business address) and that some communication from the defence had not been answered promptly due to the prosecutor being on annual leave. The issue of missing paperwork and incorrectly dated statements had been raised with the police and the CPS was awaiting a response.

District Judge Goodwin, looking quite exasperated by this farcical and ill-tempered display, suggested the lawyers improve their communications with each other. She directed the CPS to review the evidence by 29 March 2018. Once reviewed and revised as appropriate, the defence was directed to submit skeleton arguments and provide documents in support. The CPS was directed to serve a skeleton argument in response and provide documents in support, to be lodged with the court by 26 April 2018.

Mr Cowin was released on unconditional bail and was told he must attend the next court hearing, scheduled for 11 May 2018.

UPDATE: 14 May 2018: Case against grouse moor gamekeeper Timothy Cowin part 3 (here)

27
Feb
18

Gamekeeper accused of killing owls on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park

A grouse moor gamekeeper appeared at Lancaster Magistrates Court this morning to face a series of charges linked to alleged wildlife crime.

Timothy David Cowin, 44, is alleged to have shot two protected short-eared owls in April 2017 at Whernside, Cumbria in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It is further alleged he was in possession of items (a shotgun and an electronic calling device) capable of being used to kill wild birds.

Mr Cowin’s solicitor, Michael Kenyon, requested an adjournment and no plea was entered.

Mr Cowin will be invited to submit a plea at a case management hearing scheduled for 15th March 2018.

PLEASE NOTE: For legal reasons, we will not be accepting comments on this post at this stage. Thanks.

Photo of Lancaster Magistrates Court by Ruth Tingay

UPDATE 16 March 2018: Case against grouse moor gamekeeper Timothy Cowin part 2 (see here)

UPDATE 14 May 2018: Case against grouse moor gamekeeper Timothy Cowin part 3 (see here)

27
Jun
17

Short-eared owl shot on Leadhills Estate – police appeal for info

Police Scotland are appealing for information after the shooting of a short-eared owl was witnessed on the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate, South Lanarkshire.

According to this article in the Carluke Gazette, the shooting was witnessed about 11.45am on 31 May 2017 (ironically, the day Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced a package of new measures to clamp down on the illegal persecution of raptors on Scottish grouse moors).

Photo of a short-eared owl by Jamie MacArthur

The suspect/culprit is described by Police as “being small or medium build, driving a black 4×4 type vehicle with a dark canopy on it. The vehicle thereafter drove off to the B7040 Elvanfoot Road“.

Witnesses are sought, and those with information are urged to call Police Scotland 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Well done Police Scotland for getting this news out and not sitting on it for three years. More of this, please.

The location given is the same as described in an earlier Police appeal for information following the witnessed shooting of a hen harrier earlier in May 2017 (see earlier blogs here and here).

Here’s a map of the Leadhills Estate (Leadhills Estate in block red, dotted line denotes neighbouring Buccleuch Estate boundary, info from Who Owns Scotland).

And here is a map showing the B7040 Elvanfoot Road, which runs right across the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate:

We’ve blogged extensively about this estate (see here) and we’d particularly encourage new readers to have a look at the very long list of raptor persecution crimes recorded (49 incidents [now 50] recorded over the last 14 years see here). There have only ever been two convictions of estate gamekeepers.

We’ll be blogging more about this place shortly.

In the meantime, we need to see an immediate response from the Scottish Government. On 31 May 2017 the Cabinet Secretary told the world that the Government would “Immediately review all available legal measures which could be used to target geographical areas of concern“.

Has that been done? What are the legal measures available, and when will they be implemented?

31
May
16

Gas gun in use on grouse moor in Peak District National Park

As regular blog readers will know, we have an interest in the use of propane gas guns on grouse moors in the English and Scottish uplands.

For those who don’t know, propane gas guns are routinely used for scaring birds (e.g. pigeons, geese) from agricultural crops – they are set up to deliver an intermittent booming noise and the audible bangs can apparently reach volumes in excess of 150 decibels. According to the Purdue University website, 150 decibels is the equivalent noise produced by a jet taking off from 25 metres away and can result in eardrum rupture. That’s quite loud!

The grouse-shooting industry has claimed these are used for scaring ravens, but we argue they are more likely to be used (illegally) to disturb hen harrier breeding attempts. We are interested in the deployment of these bird scarers in relation to (a) their proximity to Schedule 1 (and in Scotland, Schedule 1A bird species) and thus any potential disturbance to these specially protected species and (b) their use in designated Special Protection Areas and thus any potential disturbance caused.

We, and others, have previously blogged about specific instances of gas gun use on grouse moors (e.g. see here and here) and we’ve been pressing the statutory nature conservation organisations (Natural England & Scottish Natural Heritage) to issue urgent guidelines on their use, so far without much success (see here, here, herehere and here).

Meanwhile, grouse moor managers are still using these gas guns. The following photographs were taken on Sunday 22 May 2016 in the Peak District National Park:

Gas gun 1 Broomhead - Copy

Gas gun 2 Broomhead - Copy

Gas gun 3 Broomhead - Copy

Gas gun 4 Broomhead - Copy

This gas gun is on the Barnside Moor, which is part of the Broomhead Estate, owned by Ben Rimington Wilson, a spokesman (see here) for the grouse-shooting industry’s lobby group the Moorland Association. The grouse moors of the Broomhead Estate are part of a regional Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Protection Area (SPA), designated as a site of importance for short-eared owl, merlin, and golden plover.

Now, what’s interesting about the placement of this particular gas gun is that it lies a few metres outside of the SPA boundary, although the gas gun is pointing towards the SPA:

SPA OS - Copy

SPA close up - google map - Copy

What’s interesting is whether this gas gun was deliberately placed outside of the SPA boundary, to avoid having to ask Natural England for deployment consent? Although we would argue that even though the gas gun isn’t placed directly within the SPA, it is placed directly adjacent to it and the noise from that gas gun will definitely resonate across the SPA boundary line, potentially disturbing ground-nesting species such as short-eared owl, merlin and golden plover, for which the site was designated. (Hen harrier is not on the site’s designation list, presumably because when the site was designated, there weren’t any hen harriers nesting there, even though this is prime hen harrier habitat!).

But even though the gun isn’t directly placed within the SPA, it does sit (just) within the SSSI boundary:

SSSI close up - google map - Copy

This leads us to believe that the deployment of this gas gun will require consent from Natural England as it falls under the list of ‘operations likely to damage the special interest of the site’, namely, ‘change in game management and hunting practice’.

Has Natural England given consent for the deployment of this gas gun at this site? If so, how has it justified that deployment? If Natural England hasn’t given consent, is the deployment of this gas gun contrary to section 28 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act?

We don’t know the answers to these questions because we’re still waiting for Natural England to publish its policy on gas gun use, even though this guidance document was promised before the start of the 2016 breeding season!

Natural England needs to pull its finger out, pronto, and publish clear guidelines for use. If you’d like to email Alan Law, Natural England’s Chief Strategy & Reform Officer (he’s the guy who last September told us the guidelines would be available by early 2016) and ask him where that guidance document is, here’s his email address: alan.law@naturalengland.org.uk

You may also remember that a couple of weeks ago, SNH gave their opinion of what we should do if we found a gas gun being deployed on a grouse moor (see here). It was a very confused statement, but part of their advice was that intentional or reckless disturbance of a Schedule 1 species (such as hen harrier or merlin) is an offence and any suspected incidents of this through gas gun use should be reported to the police.

In our view, this would be a big waste of time – we can’t see the police having any interest in investigating gas gun use, and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t know where to start. But, just as a test case, why don’t we report this gas gun to South Yorkshire Police as a suspected wildlife crime (potential reckless or intentional disturbance of a Schedule 1 species) and let’s see what they do with it.

Here is the information you need:

Gas gun grid reference: SK233978, Barnside Moor, Peak District National Park

Date observed in use: 22 May 2016

Please report this to Chief Superintendent David Hartley, South Yorkshire Police’s lead on wildlife crime: david.hartley@southyorks.pnn.police.uk

We’d be very interested in any responses you receive!

And if you’re in email-sending mode, you might also want to sent one to Sarah Fowler, Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park Authority and ask her whether there is a policy for the deployment of bird scaring devices on sensitive moorlands within the National Park. Email: sarah.fowler@peakdistrict.gov.uk

20
Oct
15

Two short-eared owls shot dead nr grouse moor in County Durham

Durham Police are appealing for information following the discovery of two dead short-eared owls in Co Durham.

The birds, found on 2nd March, had been shoved inside a pothole near to Selset Reservoir near Middleton-in-Teesdale. Their corpses were sent for post mortem which revealed they had been shot.

News article in the Chronicle here

You have to wonder why it’s taken the police seven months to appeal for information. It’s possible that there was a delay in receiving the post mortem results, but even so, the discovery of two owls inside a pothole surely raises suspicions of criminal behaviour? It’s ironic that the police appeal is eventually made during National Wildlife Crime Aware Week, where police forces across the country are advising the public how to spot signs of wildlife crime and encouraging them to report it. What’s the bloody point if the police then sit on the information for seven months?

Interesting to look at the land-use close to Selset Reservoir…..check out this Google map and note all those weird rectangular shapes (burnt strips of heather) – this is driven grouse moor country.

Ban driven grouse shooting: sign the petition here.

Photos of the two dead short-eared owls by RSPB.

Selset reservoir shot SEOs

SEO_shot_CoDurham_Mar2015a

SEO_shot_CoDurham_Mar2015b




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