Posts Tagged ‘spring trap

27
May
20

Stoat killed in illegal trap on grouse moor in Teesdale

There’s an article in the Northern Echo today reporting the discovery of a dead stoat in an illegally-set Fenn trap on an unnamed Durham grouse moor.

A member of the public had found the stoat and reported it to the League Against Cruel Sports, who reported it to Durham Police.

[Dead stoat caught in illegal Fenn trap on unnamed Teesdale grouse moor, photo via Northern Echo]

An unnamed spokesperson for Durham Constabulary said:

We received reports of a suspected illegal Fenn trap in the Teesdale area and on investigation, found it was illegal and the trap subsequently removed by the landowner.

We would like to remind all those concerned that following new legislation that came into effect on April 1, 2020, the use of Fenn traps and all copycat designs have now been made illegal to trap stoats.

We would encourage landowners to comply and remove any traps that are illegal if they have not already done so.

If members of the public should see any traps which they think are illegal they can contact us by calling 101.”

We’ve blogged previously about the new rules for trapping stoats (see here).

We know that Fenn traps have also been found set in position on other grouse moors since the traps became illegal and we’re aware that at least some of these have been reported to various police forces.

It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes before someone is actually charged with an offence for continuing to use these now-illegal traps for killing stoats, rather than the landowner simply being ‘encouraged to comply’ with the law.

12
May
20

Parliamentary questions on proposed new offences for trap damage

At the beginning of May we blogged about the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s claims that it was currently ‘negotiating with Government’ for the creation of a new offence relating to trap damage (see here).

[A spring (Fenn) trap set on a log, designed to catch and kill any animal that stands on the trigger plate. Gamekeepers argue that traps like these, and others, are routinely damaged by members of the public. Photo from the Untold Suffering report published by the Revive Coalition last year. NB: It is no longer legal to use Fenn traps for killing stoats in the UK as they have been ruled inhumane – new trap designs have recently been approved (see here)]

This claim of apparent ‘negotiation’ with the Government is of particular interest, given the Scottish Government’s longstanding and ongoing failure to bring in legislation to licence grouse moor management, despite endless reviews and mountains of evidence, collected over many years, that demonstrate a clear and unequivocal link between grouse moor management and illegal raptor persecution.

It looks like we’re not the only ones with an interest in these claimed ‘negotiations’. Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell has lodged the following Parliamentary questions:

S5W-28828: To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association regarding creating offences and sanctions in relation to animal trap damage, broken down by (a) date and (b) location of discussion.

S5W-28829: To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to change the law in relation to the wilful damage of animal traps.

Answers to these questions are due by 19 May 2020.

UPDATE 16 May 2020: Scottish Government denies ‘negotiating’ with gamekeepers on new offences for trap damage (here)

08
May
20

North Yorkshire Police frustrated at ongoing raptor persecution

Following on from the news that yet another shot raptor has been found in Nidderdale AONB (see here), there’s a topical news feature in today’s Yorkshire Post about the ongoing illegal persecution of birds of prey in North Yorkshire.

The article starts off well and focuses on quotes from Inspector Matt Hagen, who leads the North Yorks Police Rural Task Force and also from Supt Nick Lyall, Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG – the so-called partnership approach to tackling raptor persecution).

Here’s an extract:

The shooting, poisoning and trapping of birds such as red kites and buzzards is a crime previously described by the RSPB as “a stain on our countryside” and has risen in recent years after they were introduced to Yorkshire in the late nineties.

It is thought the offences have been happening for a long time, although increased awareness from the national police campaign Operation Owl has led to a rise in reports from the public.

Nidderdale in particular has been highlighted as a hotspot for the crime, while shootings of birds of prey have also been reported around West Yorkshire.

Disturbingly, there have also been reports of pets being killed after eating poisoned meat left out in suspected attempts at targeting scavenging birds of prey.

Between November 2018 and March of this year, there were 15 crimes recorded in North Yorkshire alone of birds being shot, poisoned or trapped, or tagged birds reported missing. Of these, nine had been shot, including a barn owl found shot in Ryedale in December 2019.

[A shot buzzard found in North Yorkshire in 2018, photo via North Yorkshire Police]

Inspector Matt Hagen, who is Head of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said: “These crimes are very difficult to investigate because they happen in isolated places and there is often no one around to witness them.

“From what I have seen, some of the people that persecute birds of prey are of the opinion that they diminish the numbers of pheasants, grouse or partridges.

“Many gamekeepers are very pro-conservation, but it just takes one or two individuals in that industry to make a real impact. This is especially the case with hen harriers because they are so endangered. Many birds of prey that are persecuted we find that they were on a grouse moor, or at least near to one of those areas.

“I do know that with the hen harriers, there are not many left in this country, and if this carries on it may well be that they disappear.”

Poisoning is also an issue, where perpetrators leave out poisoned rabbit carcasses for carrion-eating birds such as red kites to find. This poses a risk to local wildlife, pets and even children, police have said.

Insp Hagen added: “We recently had two dogs poisoned in Pateley Bridge, one of whom sadly died. This is still being investigated, but it happened in an area known as a hotspot for these crimes.”

Operation Owl is a campaign originally spearheaded by North Yorkshire Police which has since been made into a national campaign urging the public to be eyes and ears for crimes committed against birds of prey, as most occur in remote areas.

Superintendent Nick Lyall of Bedfordshire Police currently leads the campaign, and has been meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service and senior Government ministers to urge for the crimes to be upgraded from summary-only offences – which can only be dealt with by magistrates and have more lenient sentences – to either-way offences, meaning they can be tried in a crown court.

Supt Lyall said: “We can do search warrants linked to wildlife crimes, but we can’t use our serious crime tactics of covert policing, such as surveillance, to catch these offenders. So for example, if we knew of a nest that was being targeted, we currently can’t put cameras in to see who was disturbing that nest.”

Supt Lyall added that only one or two people are convicted each year for crimes against these birds, with police relying mainly on witnesses as evidence.

“With the remote places these crimes are happening in, that makes it very difficult to prosecute,” he added.

The impact of these crimes is not just felt by the community, but on the environment as well.

A report published by the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in September revealed that red kites were failing to expand breeding territory from Wharfedale into neighbouring Nidderdale.

– END OF EXTRACT –

It was pretty accurate reporting up to this point but then it descended in to farce, first with this statement from the journalist:

‘Despite this there is hope, and most gamekeepers and landowners are now strongly committed to conserving all species, with 2019 being a record year for endangered hen harriers breeding’.

There’s a short, but crucially important, word missing from this statement, and that word is ‘say’. As in, ‘…..most gamekeepers and landowners say they’re now strongly committed to conserving all species……’

Of course they’re going to say they’re against raptor persecution – they’ve been saying that for 66 years, ever since the Protection of Birds Act 1954 was enacted. However, all the evidence, of humongous proportions, suggests otherwise!

The article then continues with contributions from Amanda Anderson (Moorland Association) and John Clarke (National Gamekeepers Organisation) both churning out the familiar patter about supposed ‘zero tolerance‘ of raptor persecution and Amanda particularly focusing on the so-called ‘enthusiastic’ support of moorland estates for hen harriers!

She ‘forgot’ to mention the two current police investigations in to the alleged witnessed shooting of hen harriers on two grouse moors and the game shooting industry’s subsequent silence (see here). She also ‘forgot’ to mention the 31 (at least) hen harriers believed to have been illegally killed since 2018, the year when grouse shooting industry reps would have us believe that hen harriers were welcomed back on the grouse moors. She also ‘forgot’ to mention the 2019 research paper that demonstrated that at least 72% of satellite-tracked hen harriers tagged by Natural England were believed to have been illegally killed on British grouse moors.

[This hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set spring trap (which almost severed his leg) on a grouse moor on Leadhills Estate last year. He didn’t survive. Read his grim story here. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Meanwhile, back in the real world unofficial reports from around the UK but particularly from areas managed for driven grouse shooting in the north of England indicate that raptor persecution crimes are still being committed, and that includes hen harriers being targeted yet again.

There’s a famous quote that springs to mind that some journalists would do well to consider:

If someone says it’s raining, and another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out the f***ing window and find out which is true“.

02
May
20

Scottish Gamekeepers Association ‘negotiating with Government’ for new offence of trap damage

News emerged this week, via the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s (SGA) e-newsletter for members that it is currently ‘negotiating with Government’ for the creation of a new offence relating to trap damage:

This is really quite interesting. The SGA, with others, has been arguing for several years that legally-set traps have been ‘tampered with’ or damaged by members of the public and these claims usually occur just after an illegally-set trap has been discovered and reported in the media. A recent example of this was the male hen harrier that was found in considerable distress with its leg almost severed in an illegally-set trap on Leadhills Estate (see here).

[Male hen harrier found with an almost severed leg, caught in an illegally-set spring trap next to its nest on Leadhills Estate (see here). Nobody has been prosecuted for this barbaric crime but the estate has had its use of the General Licence restricted by SNH as a direct result of this and other offences (see here)].

The implication of such claims has seemed clear – instead of accepting that some gamekeepers continue to break the law (e.g. by setting illegal traps), the shooting industry would rather deflect the blame on to so-called ‘animal rights extremists’ who are accused of ‘setting up estates’.

During a cross-party RACCE committee hearing in 2013, then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse said there was no evidence to support claims of widespread trap tampering/damage by ‘activists’ (see here) although it emerged that BASC was undertaking a survey to assess the extent of this alleged problem.

A couple of years later in 2015 that BASC survey revealed that trap tampering/damage did take place but according to industry evidence, it couldn’t be described as being a ‘widespread’ issue (see here).

In 2017 the SGA again complained of a so-called ‘escalation’ in trap damage and again attributed this to ‘activists’ but as we reported at the time (see here), yet again the evidence was lacking.

Let’s be clear here though. It is quite evident, just looking through social media, that some members of the public are indeed deliberately damaging traps to render them unusable, either because they have an ethical objection to the killing of native wildlife to increase gamebird stocks, or because they’ve become so frustrated with what they perceive to be a lack of enforcement action against the criminal gamekeepers, or because they believe the trap to be illegal. The legislation on trap use is complicated and many members of the public are simply unaware of what is legal and what is illegal. (For a basic introduction have a look at this from OneKind and this from Revive).

To be honest, we’d welcome some clarity on what constitutes ‘tampering’ or ‘damage’. At the moment it is not at all clear and trap tampering may not always constitute a criminal offence. For example, the SGA’s lawyer, David McKie, wrote in a 2013 edition of the SGA’s members’ rag:

As a matter of law, there is a significant difference between interference and vandalism.

Vandalism would involve the breaking of a crow cage trap by someone punching or kicking a hole in it, for example, or the deliberate smashing up of a Fenn trap. It would also include the cutting of snares.

Interference does not necessarily involve a criminal offence….That can involve the removal of traps from their set location, the release of decoy birds or the pulling of snares.

The police can probably not charge the individual with interference’.

In some cases there may be a legitimate defence to causing trap damage – e.g. if a trapped animal is seen to be injured inside a padlocked crow cage trap and needs urgent veterinary attention, but the location is remote and there’s no phone signal to call for help, it might be considered reasonable to cut the trap wire to extricate the wounded animal. Much will depend on the individual circumstances of each incident.

Another example might be the discovery of what is obviously an illegally-set trap. Is it an offence to disable it if there is absolutely no question that it’s been set unlawfully? As an example, here’s a pole trap that was photographed on an estate in the Angus Glens. It’s been an offence to set pole traps for over 100 years!

[An illegal pole trap, photograph by RSPB]

It’d be kind of ironic if a member of the public was prosecuted for disabling such a pole trap, when the person who allegedly set it (a gamekeeper was filmed by the RSPB attending the trap) had the prosecution against him dropped by the Crown Office because the video evidence was deemed inadmissible!

So, yes, regardless of the extent of trap tampering / damage, greater clarity is certainly required on what constitutes an offence. However, given how long we’ve been waiting for the Scottish Government to bring in new legislation to tackle the persistent illegal persecution of birds of prey on sporting estates, that’s happening at such a scale it’s known to be affecting entire populations of some of these species, the trap tampering offence that the SGA claims to be ‘negotiating’ should be way down the list of Government priorities.

UPDATE 12 May 2020: Parliamentary questions on proposed new offences for trap damage (here)

UPDATE 16 May 2020: Scottish Government denies ‘negotiating’ with gamekeepers on new offences for trap damage (here)

23
Apr
20

Trapping and killing stoats – the new rules

The trapping and killing of wildlife to increase the number of gamebirds available for shooting parties is a daily routine for many gamekeepers.

It is legal to kill some species (e.g. stoats, weasels, foxes, crows) as long as certain conditions are met and it is illegal to kill other species (e.g. most birds including raptors, some mammals) unless a specific licence has been issued for limited purposes.

Earlier this month new legislation was enacted concerning the legal killing of stoats (see earlier blog, here) and there are now General Licences which include new rules and regulations, particularly around the use of Fenn traps, although there is still a lot of uncertainty on some issues.

[A Fenn trap set on a log, photo from the Untold Suffering report published by the Revive Coalition last year]

For those of you interested in this subject there are two excellent blogs that are worth taking the time to read:

The first one is by the animal welfare charity OneKind and it explains some of the welfare issues associated with Fenn traps and why these traps are no longer permitted to be used to trap and kill stoats. Read the blog HERE

The second blog is by author and former police wildlife crime officer Alan Stewart and it explains and critiques the new legislation relating to the killing of stoats. Read the blog HERE

If you’re out walking on your permitted exercise route and you spot one of these traps it’s worth taking a photo, noting the location (use the app What3Words, it’s brilliantly accurate and easy to use) and reporting it. Given the police are pretty busy at the moment it’s probably worth reporting it to OneKind and the RSPB. Their expert staff can assess the photograph and either advise you that the trap looks lawful or they can report it to the police if it looks dodgy.

01
Apr
20

SNH issues new wildlife-killing licences in Scotland

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has issued its new General Licences today, which mostly focus on permitting the killing of some bird species under some circumstances, but there’s also a new General Licence (#14) with new rules on how stoats can be killed.

We blogged about the (then forthcoming) new General Licences for birds back in February (see here) when SNH published some information about the proposed changes.

Although this widespread killing is still mostly unmonitored, uncapped, too loosely regulated and the trap users generally unaccountable for their actions, some of the changes are to be welcomed, including the removal of some bird species from some licences and the removal of General Licences from some protected areas (to be replaced by individual licences) following legal challenges by Wild Justice south of the border.

We particularly welcome the new rule that individual bird trap operators must now register with SNH. Previously the General Licence conditions had stated that live-catch corvid traps (e.g. Larsen traps, Larsen mate traps and multi-catch crow cage traps) had to display an identification number of the trap owner, but this number did not identify an individual trap operator, only the owner, typically the landowner or sporting agent. So if an alleged breach/offence was detected, and the trap was located on a large grouse shooting estate where multiple gamekeepers were employed, it was virtually impossible for the Police to identify an individual suspect (and thus charge anyone) because the estate and gamekeepers simply closed ranks, offered a ‘no comment’ response and failed to identify the actual trap user. It’ll be interesting to see whether SNH knowing the identity of the trap operator will lead to successful prosecutions for mis-use.

[A multi-catch crow cage trap, baited with a live decoy bird and used to capture hundreds of birds which are then killed, often by being beaten to death with a stick. Photo by OneKind]

However, even though there are some welcome changes in the new General Licences there are still many details in need of drastic improvement, not least the paucity of animal welfare considerations.

Late last year, Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform published a new report authored by coalition members OneKind and League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland) called Untold Suffering, which documented the scale and type of suffering endured by wildlife (and in some cases domestic pets) in various traps deployed on grouse moors.

Today, OneKind has written a blog about the animal welfare implications of the new General Licences for birds and is calling for a comprehensive welfare review (read the OneKind blog here).

Still on the subject of General Licences for birds, Wild Justice continues its legal challenge of the licences recently issued by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and has written two more blogs about the glaring errors that make those who sanctioned these licences look like fools (see here and here).

The newest General Licence in Scotland (#14) relates to the permitted killing of stoats for the conservation of wild birds or for prevention of serious damage to livestock. Natural England has also issued one and NRW is due to issue one today. This legislation has been in the pipeline for a few years as the UK has to now comply with the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards.

We don’t intend to go in to detail right now but the main point here is that stoat-killers are no longer permitted to use the Mark 4 Fenn (spring) trap for stoats, although apparently it is still a legal trap for rats and weasels as long as the conditions of the Springs Traps Approval Order are met. Instead, five new and apparently humane traps have been authorised by the new General Licence for killing stoats.

[The Mark 4 Fenn Trap is no longer permitted for catching stoats in the UK]

It’s not clear to us whether gamekeepers are still permitted to set the Mark 4 Fenn traps on the pretence of catching rats or weasels (but really still targeting stoats). If a stoat is captured will the trap operator be able to claim it as ‘accidental by-catch’? Or should the new legislation be interpreted in a way that gamekeepers should not set these traps in areas where the risk of catching stoats is high? And how would that risk be measured?

Time will tell, because inevitably there will be gamekeepers who will ignore the law and use these traps illegally, just as they’re still being used as illegal pole traps over one hundred years after pole-trapping was banned!

[A Mark 4 Fenn trap being used as an illegally-set pole trap, photo by RSPB]

 

18
Mar
20

(Another) hen harrier shot on a grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park – police arrest suspect

Just five days ago we blogged about the shooting of a male hen harrier on a grouse moor in the Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, just across the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, that had been witnessed by a member of the public. Impressively, North Yorkshire Police arrested a suspect and he has been released pending further enquiries and forensic testing (see here).

[A male hen harrier, photo by Bill Schofield]

Here we go again.

ANOTHER hen harrier has been shot on ANOTHER grouse moor, this time inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park and again it was witnessed by members of the public and again, North Yorkshire Police have arrested a suspect.

Here’s the police press release, published today (17 March 2020):

Two members of the public witness Hen Harrier being shot near Grassington

North Yorkshire Police are investigating the shooting of another Hen Harrier.

Two members of the public witnessed an incident which they believed was the shooting of a male Hen Harrier.

The incident occurred on Threshfield Moor at approximately 10.45hrs on Monday 27th January 2020.

North Yorkshire Police have been conducting enquiries and a man has been arrested in connection with this investigation.

Anyone with further information about this incident or who may have seen anything in the area shortly before the bird was shot, please call North Yorkshire Police on Tel 101 quoting reference # 12200015792.

If you wish to remain anonymous you can pass information to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

This is the second incident of this type to take place in the last six months, with another hen harrier believed to have been shot in October 2019 near Keasden.

ENDS

Hang on a minute – Threshfield Moor? That rings a bell.

[RPUK map showing location of Threshfield Moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park]

[Photo of the Threshfield grouse moor by Chris Heaton]

Ah yes, Threshfield Moor was reportedly the last known location of another male hen harrier, called John, who ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in October 2017 – see here.

The people believed to be the owners of Threshfield Moor are interesting and they have interesting connections – see here. Obviously they’ll be devastated to learn about the alleged illegal shooting of a hen harrier on their grouse moor and we’re sure will be doing everything they can to assist the police investigation.

Well done North Yorkshire Police – two arrests for two hen harrier shootings in the space of a few months – that’s really impressive work and the officers involved deserve much credit. There’s clearly some evidence to support reasonable suspicion of involvement because otherwise these arrests wouldn’t have been possible but whether there’s sufficient evidence to proceed to prosecution(s) remains to be seen. Whatever the outcome(s), these latest police investigations in to the alleged shooting of hen harriers on grouse moors expose the shooting industry’s desperate propaganda campaign for what it is and Natural England/DEFRA’s wilful blindness to the bleeding obvious.

So, grouse shooting industry, how’s that professed ‘zero tolerance‘ of illegal raptor persecution going?

So, Natural England /DEFRA, how that’s seriously flawed Hen Harrier (In)Action Plan working out?

Here’s a clue -let’s add the shooting of this latest hen harrier to the ever-expanding list of hen harriers (at least 31 now) believed to have been illegally killed since 2018, the year when grouse shooting industry reps would have us believe that hen harriers were welcomed back on the grouse moors:

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa ‘disappeared’ in the Angus Glens in Scotland (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers Association later published wholly inaccurate information claiming the bird had been re-sighted. The RSPB dismissed this as “completely false” (here).

5 February 2018: Hen harrier Marc ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Durham (here)

9 February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn ‘disappeared’ near Moffat in Scotland (here)

18 April 2018: Hen harrier Lia ‘disappeared’ in Wales and her corpse was retrieved in a field in May 2018. Cause of death was unconfirmed but police treating death as suspicious (here)

8 August 2018: Hen harrier Hilma ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Northumberland (here).

16 August 2018: Hen harrier Athena ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

26 August 2018: Hen Harrier Octavia ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here)

29 August 2018: Hen harrier Margot ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

29 August 2018: Hen Harrier Heulwen ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

3 September 2018: Hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

24 September 2018: Hen harrier Heather ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

2 October 2018: Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

3 October 2018: Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Bowland, Lanacashire (here)

26 October 2018: Hen harrier Arthur ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here)

10 November 2018: Hen harrier Rannoch ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here). Her corpse was found nearby in May 2019 – she’d been killed in an illegally-set spring trap (here).

14 November 2018: Hen harrier River ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB (here). Her corpse was found nearby in April 2019 – she’d been illegally shot (here).

16 January 2019: Hen harrier Vulcan ‘disappeared’ in Wiltshire close to Natural England’s proposed reintroduction site (here)

7 February 2019: Hen harrier Skylar ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (here)

22 April 2019: Hen harrier Marci ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

11 May 2019: A male hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set trap next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire. He didn’t survive (here)

7 June 2019: A hen harrier was found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland. A post mortem stated the bird had died as a result of ‘penetrating trauma’ injuries and that this bird had previously been shot (here)

11 September 2019: Hen harrier Romario ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

10 October 2019: Hen harrier Ada ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North Pennines AONB (here)

12 October 2019: Hen harrier Thistle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Sutherland (here)

18 October 2019: Member of the public reports the witnessed shooting of a male hen harrier on White Syke Hill in North Yorkshire (here)

November 2019: Hen harrier Mary found illegally poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland (here)

January 2020: Members of the public report the witnessed shooting of a male hen harrier on Threshfield Moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (this post)

There are two more satellite-tagged hen harriers (Tony & Rain) that are reported either confirmed or suspected to have been illegally killed in the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project Report but no further details are available.

And then there were last year’s brood meddled hen harrier chicks that have been reported ‘missing’ but as they’re carrying a new type of tag known to be unreliable it’s not known if they’ve been illegally killed or if they’re still ok. For the purposes of this mini-analysis we will discount these birds.

So that makes a total of at least 31 hen harriers that are known to have either ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances or have been witnessed being shot or have been found illegally killed in the last two years. And still we’re expected to believe that everything’s perfect, that the grouse shooting industry is not riddled with armed criminals and that hen harriers are doing just fine, thriving even, according to the shooting industry’s propaganda.

Wilful blindness, writ large.

[This male hen harrier was found with his leg almost severed, trapped in an illegally-set spring trap on Leadhills Estate grouse moor in May 2019. He didn’t survive. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

 

16
Mar
20

General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate: some fascinating details

In November 2019, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire following ‘clear evidence from Police Scotland that wildlife crimes had been committed on this estate’ (see here, here, and here).

Those alleged offences included the ‘illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers’ that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 1 January 2014 (when SNH was first given powers to impose a General Licence restriction). SNH had also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests had also been disturbed’, although there was no further detail on this. The estate consistently denied responsibility.

[The shot short-eared owl that was found shoved under some heather on the Leadhills Estate grouse moor. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

In December 2019 Leadhills Estate appealed against SNH’s decision to impose the General Licence restriction (see here) but on 31 January 2020 SNH announced that it had rejected the estate’s appeal and the General Licence restriction still stood (see here).

We were really interested in the details of Leadhills Estate’s appeal so a freedom of information request was submitted to SNH to ask for the documents.

The information released by SNH in response is fascinating. Some material hasn’t been released due to what appear to be legitimate police concerns about the flow of intelligence about wildlife crime in the Leadhills area but what has been released provides a real insight to what goes on behind the scenes.

First up is an eight page rebuttal from Leadhills Estate’s lawyers about why it thinks SNH was “manifestly unfair” to impose the General Licence restriction.

Download it here: Leadhills Estate appeal against GL restriction decision

Next comes SNH’s six-page rejection of the estate’s appeal and the reasons for that rejection.

Download it here: SNH rejects Leadhills Estate appeal against GLrestriction

Prepare for some jaw-dropping correspondence from Leadhills Estate’s lawyers, including a discussion about how the raptor workers who found the hen harrier trapped by it’s leg in an illegally-set spring trap next to its nest last year ‘didn’t take steps to assist in the discovery of the suspect, which could have included placing a camera on the nest’.

Are they for real??!! Can you imagine the uproar, had those raptor workers placed a camera pointing at the nest and identified a suspect who was subsequently charged? We’ve all seen how that scenario plays out, with video evidence dismissed as ‘inadmissible’ and the game-shooting lobby leering about the court victory. That Leadhills Estate is now arguing that the failure of the raptor workers to install covert cameras is reason for the estate to avoid a penalty is simply astonishing, although the next time covert video evidence is challenged in a Scottish court it’ll be useful to be able to refer to this estate’s view that such action would be deemed reasonable. Apart from anything else though, those raptor workers were too busy trying to rescue that severely distressed hen harrier from an illegally-set trap:

[The illegally trapped hen harrier. Photo by Scottish Raptor Study Group]

Other gems to be found within this correspondence include the news that a container of an illegal pesticide (Carbosulfan) was found on Leadhills Estate in May 2019 and contributed to SNH’s decision to impose the General Licence restriction (this information has not previously been made public – why not?) and that during a police search of the estate (sometime in 2019 but the actual date has been redacted) the police seized some traps. The details of why those traps were seized has also been redacted but SNH write, ‘Although this in itself does not establish criminality it certainly adds weight to our “loss of confidence” [in the estate]’.

The Estate claims that the alleged impartiality of the witnesses should have some bearing on proceedings but SNH bats this away with ease, saying that the evidence on which the restriction decision was made was provided by Police Scotland and that the partiality of witnesses has not been identified as a significant factor of concern for the police, and thus not for SNH either.

It’s also amusing to see the estate claim ‘full cooperation’ by the estate with police enquiries. SNH points out that this so-called ‘full cooperation’ was actually largely limited to “no comment” interviews!

We don’t get to say this very often but hats off to SNH for treating the estate’s appeal with the disdain which, in our opinion, it thoroughly deserves.

Meanwhile, following SNH’s decision in January to uphold the General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate due to ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime, we’re still waiting for Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) to respond to our enquiries about whether Leadhills Estate is still a member and whether Lord Hopetoun of Leadhills Estate is still Chairman of SLE’s Scottish Moorland Group.

 

18
Feb
20

2018 worst year in more than a decade for illegal raptor persecution in England

Yesterday the RSPB published more data on its Raptor Persecution Map Hub, which now includes 12 years worth of searchable incidents. You can read about it here on the RSPB Investigations Team’s blog.

Coinciding with this release was a piece on the BBC’s Six O’Clock News followed up with a feature on BBC North West’s Inside Out programme.

The Inside Out programme is available to watch on iPlayer here for the next 29 days.

The feature runs for about ten minutes and includes interviews with the RSPB’s Investigations Team, North Yorkshire Police’s award-winning Wildlife Crime Officer Sgt Stu Grainger, and the Moorland Association’s top contortionist Amanda Anderson.

To be honest there’s nothing new here at all – it’s a well-rehearsed pantomime with claims made by the RSPB (based on evidential data) and counter-claims from the grouse shooting industry (pretending everything’s fine) but nevertheless, still well worth the airplay on national news that undoubtedly will have reached some people who’d previously been unaware of the level of criminality on many of the grouse moors of northern England.

The journalist, Gareth Barlow, did a reasonable job although just lacked the killer questions that would have exposed the Moorland Association’s nonsense with ease. For example, he picked up that 2018 was the worst year for recorded raptor persecution crimes in over a decade but he let Amanda Anderson get away with some snakeish slithering around the facts, as follows:

Gareth Barlow:A study from last year of data trackers showed that hen harriers are ten times more likely to die or disappear over land associated with grouse moors. How do you react to that data?”

Amanda Anderson:The study of tagged birds up to 2017 raises considerable issues. But actually since then 2018 saw 34 fledged hen harrier chicks in England and last year a record-breaking 47 chicks fledged, mostly from grouse moors“.

Let’s just analyse Amanda’s response. A casual and uninformed listener might think that, based on what she said, the grouse shooting industry has cleaned up its act since 2017, with ‘record-breaking’ [ahem] numbers of chicks fledging and everything’s fine now, nothing to see here, move along, gamekeepers love hen harriers too and the killing has stopped. But what happens to those ‘record-breaking’ number of fledged hen harriers once they leave the nest?

What Amanda ‘forgot’ to mention was the long list of satellite-tagged hen harriers that have either vanished in suspicious circumstances or been found illegally shot or trapped or poisoned, mostly on or close to land managed for game bird shooting, since 2018 (and since DEFRA’s so-called Hen Harrier Action Plan was enacted):

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa ‘disappeared’ in the Angus Glens in Scotland (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers Association later published false information claiming the bird had been re-sighted. The RSPB dismissed this as “completely false” (here).

5 February 2018: Hen harrier Marc ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Durham (here)

9 February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn ‘disappeared’ near Moffat in Scotland (here)

18 April 2018: Hen harrier Lia ‘disappeared’ in Wales and her corpse was retrieved in a field in May 2018. Cause of death was unconfirmed but police treating death as suspicious (here)

8 August 2018: Hen harrier Hilma ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Northumberland (here).

16 August 2018: Hen harrier Athena ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

26 August 2018: Hen Harrier Octavia ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here)

29 August 2018: Hen harrier Margot ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

29 August 2018: Hen Harrier Heulwen ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

3 September 2018: Hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

24 September 2018: Hen harrier Heather ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

2 October 2018: Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

3 October 2018: Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Bowland, Lanacashire (here)

26 October 2018: Hen harrier Arthur ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here)

10 November 2018: Hen harrier Rannoch ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here). Her corpse was found nearby in May 2019 – she’d been killed in an illegally-set spring trap (here).

14 November 2018: Hen harrier River ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB (here). Her corpse was found nearby in April 2019 – she’d been illegally shot (here).

16 January 2019: Hen harrier Vulcan ‘disappeared’ in Wiltshire close to Natural England’s proposed reintroduction site (here)

7 February 2019: Hen harrier Skylar ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (here)

22 April 2019: Hen harrier Marci ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

11 May 2019: A male hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set trap next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire. He didn’t survive (here)

7 June 2019: A hen harrier was found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland. A post mortem stated the bird had died as a result of ‘penetrating trauma’ injuries and that this bird had previously been shot (here)

11 September 2019: Hen harrier Romario ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

10 October 2019: Hen harrier Ada ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North Pennines AONB (here)

12 October 2019: Hen harrier Thistle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Sutherland (here)

November 2019: Hen harrier Mary found illegally poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland (here)

There are two more satellite-tagged hen harriers (Tony & Rain) that are reported either confirmed or suspected to have been illegally killed in the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project Report but no further details are available.

And then there were last year’s brood meddled hen harrier chicks that have been reported ‘missing’ but as they’re carrying a new type of tag known to be unreliable it’s not known if they’ve been bumped off or if they’re still ok. For the purposes of this mini-analysis we will discount these birds.

So that makes a total of at least 29 hen harriers that are known to have either ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances or have been found illegally killed in the last two years, during the period that Amanda Anderson was suggesting the killing had stopped.

That’s a lot of incidents for Amanda to ‘forget’ to mention, isn’t it?

And we’re supposed to trust the Moorland Association when it claims to have ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution!

03
Feb
20

Crowdfunding appeal: Justice for Hen Harriers (the appeal)

Mark Avery’s legal appeal against Natural England’s ludicrous hen harrier brood meddling scheme comes back to court in March (alongside the RSPB’s legal appeal).

Brood meddling is a pointless, costly exercise designed as a sop to the grouse shooting industry. Taking hen harrier eggs/chicks from a grouse moor, rearing them in captivity, then releasing them back in to the uplands will not stop those same hen harriers being illegally killed when they visit another grouse moor.

A bit like this one last year, caught by his leg in an illegally-set trap next to his nest, his leg almost severed. He didn’t survive, despite the best efforts of the Scottish Raptor Study Group and the Scottish SPCA.

[Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Mark has launched a crowdfunding appeal to help cover the costs of his legal appeal. Here’s what he says about it:

The target is £10,500. If you can help please visit the crowdfunder page HERE

Thanks!




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