Posts Tagged ‘sparrowhawk


Gamekeepers want sea eagles, kites, buzzards, sparrowhawks & ravens added to General Licences

Further to this morning’s blog about RSPB Scotland’s damning response to SNH’s General Licence consultation (see here), we said we’d write a separate blog about some of the other responses that SNH received.

SNH has now published all the responses, and they’re well worth a read: all-responses-to-snh-general-licence-consultation-2016

There are many organisations and individuals calling for ravens to be added to the General Licences (no surprise) and, yet again, there are a number of requests for buzzards and sparrowhawks to also be added, which would allow these species to be casually killed across Scotland without any monitoring or regulation, although some have suggested these raptors should be on ‘regional’ General Licences to limit the casual killing to a particular area. How thoughtful.

One of the reasons given for adding ravens and buzzards to the General Licences was this: “There are arguably too many of them around and they cloud the skies in our local area“.

Here’s a photograph of some ravens and buzzards clouding the skies:

Actually, this is a photograph (by Richard Barnes) of Dunlin flocking on the coast of North America but it could just as easily be a plague of swarming raptors over a Scottish grouse moor, if you happen to be a pathological raptor hater stuck with an 18th century attitude, that is.

Take a look at the consultation response from Garry MacLennan. Surely not the same Garry MacLennan, Head Gamekeeper at Invermark Estate? Aren’t raptors supposed to be ‘thriving’ there? Perhaps the headline should have read ‘Raptors are thriving on Scottish grouse moors and we want licences to kill them’.

Also have a look at the responses from Iain Hepburn (the same Iain Hepburn as the head gamekeeper at Dunmaglass Estate?), Duncan Mackenzie and Calum Kippen (the same Corrybrough Estate gamekeepers who attended the recent meeting between the Cairngorms National Park Authority & the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association?). Aren’t these the gamekeepers who want licences to monitor and ring raptors? Don’t they see a bit of a conflict of interest there if they also want licences to kill these raptors?

Best of all though, is the response from Bert Burnett (presumably of the SGA). Bert suggests that ravens should be added to the General Licences and argues that regional general licences “could be rolled out for various species that may start to cause problems like sea eagles and kites etc“. Ah yes, that very serious problem of sea eagles mistaking small children for prey.

Of course, these calls for licences to cull raptors are nothing new. Scottish (and English) gamekeepers and land owners have been asking for these for 20 years (see here, here, here, here, hereherehere). So far, SNH has resisted but given Natural England’s recent capitulation on buzzard-killing licences, how much longer before we see the same in Scotland?


Pigeon racing men convicted of poisoning peregrines & sparrowhawks

Four men associated with a pigeon racing club in County Waterford, Ireland, have been convicted of illegally poisoning peregrines and sparrowhawks, and other associated wildlife crimes.

The convictions are the result of surveillance and investigation by conservation rangers from the Irish Republic’s National Parks & Wildlife Service at three quarries in March and April 2014: Cappagh Quarry, Keereen Quarry and Carroll’s Cross Quarry. Live pigeon baits, smeared with poison and tied to stones or stakes had been found on a number of occasions at the top of the quarry cliffs, designed to lure in raptors. Four poisoned peregrines and two poisoned sparrowhawks had also been found.

pigeon poison wales 2012

On March 9th 2016 at Dungarvan District Court, the following individuals were convicted:

Stephen O’Brien, of 58 Congress Villas, Dungarvan, was convicted of 20 offences, including the use of a live decoy on five separate dates. He was fined 1500 Euros for each of the five dates (7,500 Euros in total) and the other 15 charges were recorded as ‘proven’.

Kevin Crotty (Chairman of Dungarvan Premier Pigeon Club) of 16 Lismore Avenue, Dungarvan, was convicted of 10 offences on five separate dates. He was fined 600 Euros for two offences and the remaining eight charges were recorded as ‘proven’.

John Crotty, of 23 Congress Villas, Dungarvan, was convicted of four offences. He was fined 700 Euros for one offence and the remaining three charges were recorded as ‘proven’.

Christopher O’Brien, of 79 Congress Villas, Dungarvan, was convicted of obstructing an Authorised Person during a search of his premises and with the illegal possession of protected wild finches. He was convicted of 16 offences. He was fined 700 Euros for one offence and the remaining 15 charges were recorded as ‘proven’. He was also ordered to forfeit a stuffed peregrine that had been found at his house.

The National Parks & Wildlife Service believes raptor persecution is a significant problem in Co Waterford and said peregrines had been a particular target, resulting in reduced breeding success. They encourage farmers and members of the public to report suspicious incidents, in confidence, to: Tel (01) 888 3242 or email

The photo shows a live pigeon decoy, smeared in poison and tied to a rock in a similar poisoning case in Wales in 2012 (photographer unknown).


Hooks attached to pigeon’s legs designed to injure raptors

The RSPCA is appealing for information after the discovery of a pigeon that had sharp hooks attached to its legs. The bird was found stuck in someone’s garden in Poolfield Road, Lichfield on Tuesday.

There’s only one reason for attaching hooks like this to a pigeon, and that’s to cause serious damage to any raptor, like a sparrowhawk or a peregrine, that might try to prey on the pigeon.

Pigeon hook 1

pigeon hook 2

Presumably the RSPCA has paid a visit to the local pigeon racing lofts in the Lichfield area as part of their investigation.

Full article in the Lichfield Mercury here


Stody Estate subsidy penalty confirmed

Following on from our blog five days ago about the subsidy penalty imposed against the Stody Estate as a result of their gamekeeper’s criminal poisoning activities (see here), the Rural Payments Agency has now clarified the actual size of the penalty:

RPA Stody Estate subsidy penalty - Copy

There’s something odd about this. Converting the penalty from Euros to Sterling using a currency converter app, the subsidy penalty amounts to £184, 745.08 (although the app used by Mark Avery has calculated the conversion to be £192, 160.63). Whatevs! Whichever calculation is accurate, it’s still a huge penalty and that’s good. And it still represents the highest known subsidy penalty imposed in the UK for cross-compliance breaches related to raptor persecution offences.

However, both of these amounts are considerably less than the amount we had calculated in our earlier blog five days ago.

We had previously calculated the penalty to be £221,946.75, which was 75% of the SPS subsidy that Stody Estate had received in 2014. We got the information about the amount of subsidy the Stody Estate had received in 2014 by doing a search on CAP Payments.

When you compare our first calculation of what the penalty was (£221, 946.75), with the amount the Rural Payments Agency now say the penalty is (£184, 745.08 OR £192, 160.63), it becomes clear that around £37,000 worth of potential subsidy penalty has apparently gone missing.

So either the data on the CAP Payments website are inaccurate, or the Rural Payments Agency has miscalculated and imposed a smaller penalty than they should.

Not sure we have the appetite for going back to the RPA to ask for clarification – it’s too much like hard work for a Friday afternoon. We’re quite content just to know that the penalty has finally been imposed and that the Stody Estate has had to suffer serious financial consequences as a result of the criminal actions of their gamekeeper. Good stuff.


Stody Estate receives £221,000 subsidy penalty for mass raptor poisoning

stody buzzardsRegular blog readers will know that in October 2014, gamekeeper Allen Lambert was convicted of a series of wildlife crime offences on the Stody Estate, Norfolk, including the mass poisoning of birds of prey (10 buzzards and one sparrowhawk) which had been found dead on the estate in April 2013. He was also convicted of storing banned pesticides and other items capable of preparing poisoned baits (a ‘poisoner’s kit’) and a firearms offence (see here and here).

Lambert got off pretty lightly when he was sentenced in November 2014. Even though the judge acknowledged that Lambert’s crimes had passed the custody threshold, Lambert received a 10-week suspended sentence for poisoning 11 raptors (suspended for one year), a six-week suspended sentence for possession of firearms and dead buzzards (suspended for one year) and was ordered to pay £930 prosecution costs and an £80 victim surcharge. In our opinion (see here), this was absurdly lenient for one of England’s biggest known mass raptor poisoning incidents, and on top of that, Lambert wasn’t even sacked – it was reported that he’d been allowed to take early retirement from the Stody Estate.

Regular blog readers will also know that for the last year, we’ve turned our attention to the minted Stody Estate to try and find out whether the Rural Payments Agency had penalised the estate for breaches in cross-compliance and had removed any of their £MILLIONS of agricultural subsidies as punishment. To receive these tax-payer handouts, estates must comply with a number of measures (like don’t poison raptors) and if they don’t comply, then cross-compliance subsidies can be removed.

It’s taken a while to get any useful information about potential subsidy penalties at Stody Estate. Getting the RPA to reveal anything about this case has been like getting blood out of a stone, or the truth out of Allen Lambert. The RPA has wriggled and squirmed and done its best to avoid answering straightforward questions: see here for previous blogs about our correspondence with the RPA. However, we’re pretty much there now, although not quite there.

Our latest FoI received a response this week. We had asked the RPA (again) whether they’d now enforced a cross-compliance penalty on Stody Estate. They answered: “Yes“.

We asked what the penalty was for, exactly. They answered: “The penalty that has been applied was for a breach of farmer requirement A1, of the pre-2015 Statutory Management Requirement 1 (wild birds). The requirement reads: ‘You must not intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird‘”.

We asked how much was the penalty applied to Stody Estate for this breach. They answered: “The financial amount has yet to be confirmed, however the penalty is 75% of the Single Payment Scheme payments made to the Estate in 2014“.

So, we now know a penalty has been imposed, but, unconvincingly, the RPA still claims it isn’t able to tell us how much that penalty is. Either they’re incompetent or unwilling to embarrass the Estate. Or maybe both.

Anyway, we’ve done a bit of digging. We’ve discovered that the Stody Estate received £295,929.01 from the Single Payment Scheme in 2014:

Stody SPS 2014 - Copy

75% of £295,929.01 is £221,946.75.

That’s a massive subsidy penalty! As far as we’re aware, this is the biggest ever civil penalty imposed for cross-compliance breaches in relation to raptor persecution crimes. Previously, the largest was £107,000 imposed on Glenogil Estate in 2008 following the discovery of 32 poisoned baits suspected of being used to target birds of prey (see here). Earlier this year, we blogged about the £66,000 subsidy penalty imposed on vicarious liability landowner Ninian Johnston Stewart, whose gamekeeper had been convicted of poisoning a buzzard (see here).

There may well have been other cases where a penalty greater than £221,946.75 has been imposed for cross-compliance breaches related to raptor persecution, but we’ve been unable to find any information. We’ve blogged previously (here) about why increased publicity is needed when these penalties are applied – the realistic threat of having thousands of pounds worth of subsidies removed from your business has got to be a far greater deterrent than the pathetically weak sanctions handed down in the criminal courts.

For this reason, over the next few months we intend to re-visit some other recent cases where a successful conviction has been secured for raptor persecution crimes and start asking some questions about whether those estates involved have also received a subsidy penalty (e.g. Kildrummy Estate, Cardross Estate for a start, and there are others).

There has previously been some discussion in the comments section of this blog about whether the new system for the Single Payment Scheme (replaced this year by the Basic Payment Scheme) would still allow for subsidy penalties for cross-compliance breaches relating to raptor persecution. Some readers thought the new system wouldn’t allow for penalties and other readers thought it would. It’s our understanding that the cross compliance rules for BPS in England still contain a Statutory Management Requirement (SMR) for Wild Birds (SMR2) stating that you must protect all wild birds, their eggs and their nests, so technically any recipient of BPS could still be fined for non-compliance with SMR2 if they were liable, vicariously or otherwise, for raptor persecution on their land.

However, the new system seems to be slightly different in Scotland where SMR2 states that you must protect all wild birds, their eggs and nests if you have land classified as a Special Protection Area. That could mean that a Scottish recipient of BPS could only be fined for breaching SMR2 if the breach took place in an SPA. If that interpretation is correct, it would exclude rather a lot of land. We’ll be seeking clarification from the Scottish Government about whether raptor persecution on non-SPA land would be considered a breach of the new SMR2.

A final word – thank you to all the blog readers who have exerted pressure on the RPA over the last year regarding the Stody Estate case; we know that a number of you have been involved. Had it not been for this sustained effort, the Stody Estate may well have escaped a penalty altogether, or perhaps been given a much smaller penalty. Well done!

Photo of some of the poisoned buzzards found at Stody Estate is by Guy Shorrock (RSPB Investigations)


Licences to kill buzzards: judicial review decision expected tomorrow

High Court London 2The long-running legal battle about Natural England’s refusal to issue a gamekeeper with licences to kill buzzards and sparrowhawks to ‘protect’ his pheasants is due to reach a climax tomorrow.

Northumberland gamekeeper, Ricky McMorn, backed by financial support from the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, brought a judicial review to challenge Natural England’s decision. The judicial review took place in the High Court (London) over three days in June 2015 and the decision was deferred. We understand the decision is due to be announced tomorrow.

A quick re-cap:

In 2013, Natural England secretly provided Mr McMorn with a licence to destroy buzzard eggs and nests in order ‘to protect a pheasant shoot’ in Northumberland.

Later in 2013, McMorn submitted four more licence applications to Natural England, this time to shoot 16 buzzards and 3 sparrowhawks. Natural England rejected the application.

In 2014, McMorn submitted another licence application, this time to shoot ten buzzards “to prevent serious damage” to pheasant poults. Natural England rejected the application.

We’ve blogged extensively about this issue (see here for a summary).

It’s worth noting that the judicial review concerns whether Natural England acted fairly when rejecting McMorn’s licence applications. McMorn has argued that Natural England has unlawfully acted inconsistently in the way it has dealt with the licensing of buzzards as compared with other species of bird and that Natural England has been unlawfully influenced by public opinion. He has also argued that it was unreasonable for Natural England Directors repeatedly to reverse the recommendations of Natural England’s specialist scientific advisers that a licence should be granted.

The review is NOT about whether DEFRA/Natural England should entertain a licence application from a gamekeeper with a previous conviction for possession of banned poisons (apparently that’s not a problem, according to DEFRA/Natural England), nor whether the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation should expel a member with a conviction for possession of a banned poison (apparently not, according to the NGO), and nor whether there’s any scientific evidence to demonstrate that buzzards (and sparrowhawks) have a substantially detrimental effect on game bird shoots (there isn’t any evidence).

Tomorrow’s long-awaited decision will no doubt be interesting, whichever way it goes.


Stody Estate subsidy penalties: another update

IMG_4752 (2) - CopyA year ago, gamekeeper Allen Lambert was convicted of a series of wildlife crime offences on the Stody Estate in Norfolk, including the mass poisoning of birds of prey (10 buzzards and one sparrowhawk) which had been found dead on the estate in April 2013 (see here and here).

We found out that the Stody Estate had received millions of pounds worth of agricultural subsidies (i.e. money given to them from our taxes to help them farm on the condition they look after the wildlife and wildlife habitats under their management) and we wanted to find out whether the Estate would now face a financial penalty in the form of a reduction in their subsidies for what was a very serious breach of the cross-compliance regulations.

One year later and we’re still trying to find out.

In October 2014, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) told us they “would consider action against Stody Estate“, although one of our blog readers was told, “there is no investigation ongoing” (see here).

In December 2014, one of our blog readers contacted the RPA again to ask for an update. The RPA responded in January 2015 by saying “We are unable to provide you with any meaningful response as we do not hold any information that answers your questions” (see here).

In July 2015, we again wrote to the RPA to ask whether they had imposed a penalty on Stody Estate. We were told that as the convicted gamekeeper wasn’t the actual subsidy recipient, the RPA was trying to determine whether there was “a link” between the convicted gamekeeper and the subsidy recipient (i.e. his employer) and if so, whether the recipient (Stody Estate) could be considered liable for the actions of the gamekeeper (see here). Amazing.

As the one-year anniversary of the gamekeeper’s conviction approached, in September 2015 we wrote to the RPA again to see whether they’d now worked out “a link” between the convicted employee and his employer. Last week they responded with this:

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has notified the Stody Estate in Norfolk that a cross compliance breach occurred, as [sic] result of the actions of their gamekeeper. This is because the estate is vicariously liable for the actions of their employees. Under European cross compliance rules, the RPA is obliged to follow-up reports of cross compliance breaches brought to its attention. The rates of applicable reductions are explained in the scheme rules“.

So, the inefficient RPA has taken a year to decide that there was a cross compliance breach, but we still don’t know whether a financial penalty has been imposed, and if it has, what its value is.

According to the RPA’s ‘scheme rules’, cross compliance breaches can be categorised  as either ‘negligible’ or ‘intentional’, and the severity of the penalty is dependent on this.

For negligible non-compliance (falls below the standard of care expected of a competent claimant) subsidy payment is normally reduced by 3% but could range from 1-5% depending on the extent, severity, re-occurrence and permanence of the non-compliance.

For intentional non-compliance, payments will normally be reduced by 20%, but may be reduced to 15% or increased to 100% depending on the extent, severity, re-occurrence and permanence of the non-compliance.

What do you think? Is laying out banned poisons that kill 11 raptors a negligible or intentional non-compliance?

Given that we don’t know how the RPA will determine if the breaches were negligible or intentional, and given that we don’t know how much of our money was awarded to the Stody Estate in 2013 (the year the breaches occurred), although judging by the amounts they received between 2004-2012 it was probably a considerable sum (see here), it’s difficult for us to establish even a rough guesstimate of what the penalty might be, and that’s assuming that the RPA has decided a penalty is warranted.

So, we’ve written, again, to the RPA to ask whether a penalty has been imposed (and if not, why not) and if it has been imposed, how much is it?

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