Posts Tagged ‘spring trap

17
Aug
18

Gamekeeper cautioned after merlin killed in illegally-set trap on grouse moor

This merlin was found dead in a trap on an un-named driven grouse moor in Northumberland in July this year. A fell runner discovered the bird and reported it to the RSPB.

The RSPB went to the site the next day and realised that this trap had been illegally-set as no attempts had been made to restrict access to the tunnel entrance, meaning non-target species (such as this merlin) could easily access the tunnel, with the inevitable result.

The incident was reported to Northumbria Police and a wildlife crime officer visited the site with an RSPB investigator.

An ‘experienced’ gamekeeper was formally interviewed and admitted setting the trap. Unbelievably, the police decided to issue him with a police caution instead of seeking a prosecution via the Crown Prosecution Service.

Haven’t we been here before? Ah yes, here and here.

Once again, another gamekeeper gets let off for committing a wildlife crime on a driven grouse moor. And before anyone says, ‘A caution isn’t a let off’, it absolutely is if this gamekeeper is permitted to keep his firearms and shotgun certificates, and his job, despite now having a criminal record.

Sure, he probably didn’t intend to trap and kill this merlin but that’s not the point. If he’s employed as a professional gamekeeper he has a responsibility to operate his traps within the terms of the law. With this trap, he chose not to do that, knowing full well that a non-target species could be killed, which it was. That’s an offence and he should have been charged and prosecuted.

Further details about this merlin case can be read on the RSPB Investigations Team blog here

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10
Aug
18

Moorland Association’s response to peregrine persecution on Bleasdale grouse moor

The Moorland Association’s response to the RSPB video published on Wednesday is an interesting read.

For new blog readers, the Moorland Association is a lobby group representing the interests of grouse moor owners in England.

Here’s the video again, for those who might have missed it, showing an unidentified individual attending a peregrine nest site where an adult male peregrine had been caught in a spring trap on the nest ledge, and where it thrashed around for over ten hours in a desperate attempt to escape before finally being removed by the unidentified individual. We believe this nest site to have been located on a grouse moor on the Bleasdale Estate in Bowland in April 2016 and that the video footage published by the RSPB related to the prosecution of a Bleasdale Estate gamekeeper – a case that collapsed in April this year due to a series of legal technicalities.

Here’s the Moorland Association’s statement in response to the publication of this video nasty:

The opening line is astonishing: “The suffering of the Peregrine in the RSPB blog is barbaric and abhorrent“.

The peregrine didn’t suffer “in the RSPB blog”, it suffered at its nest site on a driven grouse moor.

A more sincere and accurate Moorland Association statement might have looked like this: “The suffering of the Peregrine in the illegally-set trap that was positioned at the Peregrine’s nest site on a grouse moor on the Bleasdale Estate, a Moorland Association member, is barbaric and abhorrent“.

The rest of the Moorland Association’s statement deflects attention away from the peregrine’s suffering as a result of this crime and instead focuses on trying to undermine the integrity and credibility of the RSPB, as we’ve come to expect.

Not only did the Moorland Association ignore the fact this peregrine suffered on a driven grouse moor (the words ‘grouse moor’ don’t appear anywhere in the MA’s statement!), but it also carefully sidestepped the fact that the grouse moor in question was, at least at the time this footage (and the peregrine) was captured, a Moorland Association member.

How do we know that? Well, as we blogged back in April 2018 when the court case collapsed (see here), in April 2016 when the alleged offences took place, the owner of the Bleasdale Estate was one Jeremy Duckworth, who also happened to be a Director and Regional Representative of the Moorland Association. Here’s a screengrab from the Moorland Association website in 2016:

Strangely, according to documents lodged at Companies House, Mr Duckworth resigned his Directorship of the Moorland Association in September 2016. There are many different reasons why people resign from Directorships but it’s interesting to note that the timing of Jeremy Duckworth’s resignation coincided with the early stages of the police investigation in to the alleged offences on his grouse moor – obviously nothing to do with damage limitation and purely and simply coincidental, of course:

We wonder whether the Bleasdale Estate is a still a member of the Moorland Association?

We wonder whether the Moorland Association is concerned that an unidentified camouflaged individual was able to repeatedly visit this peregrine nest site on the grouse moor of a Moorland Association member and inflict what looks like unimaginable cruelty to this peregrine?

We wonder whether the Moorland Association is concerned that an unidentified armed individual was able to visit this peregrine nest site and fire four shots as another adult peregrine flew from the nest?

We wonder whether the Moorland Association is concerned about the widespread, systematic persecution of peregrines on driven grouse moors in England, as evidenced by an increasing number of scientific papers (here, here, here)? Incidentally, this last paper, ‘Raptor Persecution in the Peak District National Park’ by Melling et al was published by British Birds in May 2018 but the full paper was only available to BB subscribers. British Birds has now kindly published this paper in full so everyone can read it – see here).

We wonder whether the Moorland Association still expects to be considered a genuine partner in the fight against the illegal persecution of raptors on driven grouse moors when it seems to take every opportunity to attack the RSPB’s Investigations Team instead of those responsible for enabling and carrying out these barbaric crimes?

[Photo of an illegally-killed peregrine found next to a driven grouse moor, photo by RSPB]

08
Aug
18

Peregrine persecution on a grouse moor: Bleasdale video footage finally released

In April this year, a high profile prosecution case for alleged raptor persecution collapsed after covertly-filmed video evidence was deemed inadmissible.

The prosecution was being brought against a gamekeeper from the Bleasdale Estate in Bowland, who had been charged with a string of wildlife offences including the alleged killing of two peregrines in April 2016.

We had followed this case since September 2017, attended each court hearing, and blogged in detail after the case collapsed on a series of technicalities earlier this year (e.g. see here, here, here, here).

The details, as described in court, of what had happened to those two peregrines, were horrific. It was alleged that the adult female peregrine had been shot whilst leaving her nest and the adult male had been caught by the leg in a spring trap that had been set on the nest ledge, where he struggled to escape, in vain, for over ten hours, before being shoved in a bag by an unidentified man and removed from the site.

We’ve been waiting for the RSPB to publish this video footage ever since the case collapsed and the accused walked free. We understand there have been some legal issues about publishing the video and although we don’t know the details, it’s probably a safe bet to guess that some influential people from the grouse shooting industry have probably been working hard to ensure this footage never sees the light of day.

Today the RSPB has released video footage of peregrine persecution in Bowland and although the Bleasdale Estate is carefully not mentioned, it’s quite obvious from the dates cited and the video images that what is being shown in this footage fits the description of what allegedly happened to those two Bleasdale peregrines as desribed to the court earlier this spring.

The RSPB has published a blog describing the circumstances of this footage (here).

Watch the video here but beware, it contains graphic content:

Ater you’ve watched it, think about why nobody has been successfully prosecuted for these crimes.

And then think about why nobody will ever be prosecuted for these crimes.

And then think about why these crimes continue to be committed on grouse moors in 21st Century Britain.

And then think about what you can do to help bring it to an end.

Change must come, but it will only come if people stand up and demand it.

See you at a Hen Harrier Day event this weekend.

UPDATE 10 August 2018: Moorland Association’s response to peregrine persecution on Bleasdale grouse moor (here)

03
Aug
18

Ring Ouzel is latest victim of ‘vermin’ trap on grouse moor

We’ve been blogging recently about wildlife that has been caught/killed in ‘vermin’ traps set by gamekeepers on grouse moors.

These traps are used to target legal quarry such as stoats and weasels but they often catch other species, as we’ve seen in recent weeks, such as red squirrels, song thrushes, mistle thrushes, red grouse, pied wagtails and kestrels (e.g. see here, here, here). These victims have been aptly described by Dr Rob Sheldon as “collateral damage”.

We have no idea how many innocent victims are killed in these traps, because there is no requirement on the trap user to report the number of animals killed. There must be thousands of them, every year, given the number of traps we know about (at least 2,000 of these traps are set on one grouse moor in the Angus Glens alone).

Here’s another victim. This time a Ring Ouzel, photographed dead in a trap on a grouse shooting estate in the Peak District National Park in May this year. If the GPS coordinates in photo #4 are correct, these photos appear to have been taken on the Moscar Estate.

These sorts of traps can be used lawfully as long as certain conditions are applied, e.g. they must be set inside a natural or artificial tunnel and efforts must have been made to restrict the entrance holes to minimise the chances of non-target species getting caught/killed. However, stupidly, the law does not specifiy the min/max dimensions of the entrance holes.

You can see in these photos that efforts to restrict the entrance holes has been made, but clearly not sufficiently to prevent this Ring Ouzel from gaining access and getting killed in the jaws of the trap.

[Photos by an RSPB fieldworker]

25
Jul
18

Kestrel is latest victim of ‘vermin’ trap on grouse moor

We’ve blogged a bit recently about wildlife that has been caught/killed in traps set by gamekeepers on grouse moors (e.g. see here, here).

These traps are used to kill so-called ‘vermin’ (e.g. stoats and weasels) but we’ve seen plenty of evidence of non-target species also being trapped and killed (e.g. red squirrel, song thrush, mistle thrush, pied wagtail, red grouse, rabbits, ring ouzel).

Here’s another victim – a kestrel this time.

Thanks to the blog reader who sent us the following post from the Walkhighlands forum:

This incident took place on a grouse moor in south Scotland. We contacted the SSPCA for information on the fate of this kestrel. An SSPCA undercover inspector said:

We can confirm that we responded to a call from a member of the public regarding a kestrel that had been reportedly removed from a trap.

Unfortunately due to the severity of the injuries and to prevent further suffering the kestrel had to be put to sleep“.

We understand an investigation is underway to determine whether the trap was set legally or illegally.

09
Apr
18

Case against Bleasdale Estate gamekeeper collapses as RSPB video evidence ruled inadmissible

We’ve been reporting on the case against Bleasdale Estate gamekeeper James Hartley since September 2017 (see here, here, here, here for previous posts).

Mr Hartley faced 9 charges as follows:

  1. Disturbing the nesting site of a Schedule 1 wild bird (13/04/2016)
  2. Killing a Schedule 1 wild bird (13/04/2016)
  3. Killing a Schedule 1 wild bird (14/04/2016)
  4. Setting trap / gin / snare etc. to cause injury to a wild bird (between 13-14/04/2016)
  5. Taking a Schedule 1 wild bird (14/04/2016)
  6. Possessing a live / dead Schedule 1 wild bird or its parts (14/04/2016)
  7. Possessing an article capable of being used to commit a summary offence under section 1 to 13 or 15 to 17 (13/04/2016)
  8. Possessing an article capable of being used to commit a summary offence under section 1 to 13 or 15 to 17 (between 12/04/2016 – 27/04/2016)
  9. Causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal – Animal Welfare Act 2006 (between 14/04/2016 – 15/04/2016)

The case collapsed last week after District Judge Goodwin ruled the RSPB video evidence inadmissible at a hearing at Preston Magistrates Court on 28 March 2018.

Reporting restrictions imposed early on in the case prevented us from blogging in detail until the case had concluded. We’re now able to report what happened.

This blog is the first in a series about this case. In this one, we set out the Crown’s case against Mr Hartley, and the defence’s skeleton argument against the admissibility of the video evidence.

Here are the details of the case as presented to the court by the Crown Prosecution Service (barrister: Mr Yip):

On the 11th April 2016 RSPB Investigations Officer [name redacted], in the presence of RSPB Investigations Officer [name redacted], installed a covert video camera pointed towards a peregrine falcon nest site within the boundary of Bleasdale Game Estate in the Forest of Bowland.

The red star denotes the location of the Bleasdale Estate:

The Bleasdale Estate is owned by Jeremy Duckworth. Mr Duckworth describes the upper moorland as managed for grouse shooting and he employs one gamekeeper for this area, that being the defendant James Hartley.

It is the Crown’s case that the covert camera captured footage which revealed incidents on the 13 and 14 April 2016 where the nest site and birds were interfered with.

The Crown say that a number of clips show that on 13th April 2016 at 19.53hrs an incubating peregrine leaves the nest scrape. This is immediately followed by what appears to be four shotgun discharges. A few minutes later at 19.57hrs a person wearing a camouflage suit and in possession of a hammer attends the nest site for a number of minutes before leaving.

The following morning, 14th April 2016 at 10.29hrs, a peregrine, believed to be the male parent, lands on the edge of the nest ledge and walks in to the nest scrape area. The bird becomes trapped all day in what the Crown say is a spring trap. At 20.25hrs the peregrine is still present. At 23.12hrs a person with a torch visits the site. It is the Crown’s case that the inference is this person had removed the peregrine and the trap as the bird was no longer present the following day.

On 21st April 2016 a number of officers from Lancashire Constabulary and the RSPB attended the nest site area and recovered four eggs and some feathers.

On 26th April 2016 a search warrant was executed and a search was conducted at the defendant’s home address and outbuildings. A green bag containing a number of items was seized from an outbuilding. Forensic DNA analysis from Dr Lucy Webster provides extremely strong support to the proposition that two of the items within this exhibit, an orange handled knife and a wooden handled hammer have been in contact with peregrine falcon.

Between 17.37hrs and 19.11hrs on 24th May 2016 the defendant was interviewed under caution when he declined to answer any questions put to him.

Between 13.16hrs and 13.50hrs on 2nd November 2016 the defendant was interviewed under caution for the second time when he declined to answer any questions put to him.

END

Here is the skeleton argument presented to the court by the defence (barrister: Mr Justin Rouse QC):

The defence seek to exclude the video footage obtained by [RSPB Investigator, name redacted] and the items recovered in the search on the 21 April 2016 under s78 Police & Criminal Evidence Act [PACE] 1984.

S78 PACE provides as follows:

‘…..In any proceedings the court may refuse to allow evidence on which the prosecution proposes to rely to be given if it appears to the court, that, having regard to all the circumstances, including the circumstances in which the evidence was obtained, the admission of the evidence would have such an adverse effect on the fairness of the proceedings that the court ought not to admit it’.

The defence submit that the RSPB have sought to circumvent the provisions of RIPA 2000 [Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000] together with s93 of the Police Act 1997; that they have breached Code B of PACE 1984; that RSPB Investigator [name redacted] was not a data handler for the purposes of the Data Protection Act 1998; that the RSPB chose not to voluntarily adopt the Surveillance Camera Code and/or that the police were bound by that code and that the RSPB were trespassing on the land unlawfully, having failed to seek the permission of the landowner.

END

The full details of the defence’s legal argument will be published in a second blog, along with the judge’s commentary on each of the components of the defence’s argument. For those of us interested in such details it was a fascinating and well-presented argument. And therein lies the crux of this case. In our opinion, the court’s ruling on the video evidence was inevitable, not necessarily because of the strength of the defence’s legal argument, but because of the weakness in the prosecution’s counter-argument against it.

For those of us who sat in the public gallery to observe the legal argument hearing on 14 March 2018, it became apparent, very quickly, that the outcome of this case (and thus, supposed ‘justice’) would be determined by the amount of money available to pay for legal representation.

The representative for the defence was the highly-regarded Mr Justin Rouse QC. We have no idea who paid for his time and expertise (e.g. the defendant? His family? His employer? A representative membership body, e.g. National Gamekeepers Org or BASC?) but whoever it was will no doubt consider it money well spent. It was very clear that Mr Rouse (or his junior) had probably spent a long time in preparation for this case: his presentation was meticulous and thoroughly organised, with every aspect labelled and referenced in a bundle of documents that he’d provided to the judge. On every single point he raised, he was able to tell the judge on which page she should be looking. He was calm, measured and in complete control. A bit of a masterclass.

In contrast, the representative for the prosecution was Mr Yip, who turned up completely unprepared. He arrived without his bundle of evidential documents, muttering something about having left them behind, so he was unable to look up the detail of points raised by the judge. At one point Mr Rouse passed over his own copy of the evidential documents to Mr Yip, to try and help him out. The judge asked Mr Yip several questions about the video evidence and asked to see it (she was particularly interested in the angle of the covert camera and how wide a view it was able to record – a crucial element in deciding whether this was ‘directional’ surveillance, as detailed in RIPA 2000). Astonishingly, Mr Yip told the court he hadn’t seen the video evidence and he didn’t have a copy with him. He was able to produce a couple of still photos from the video but when the judge asked him to point out the position of the nest in the photos, he was unable to do so.

It has been reported on social media that the RSPB “failed to support” this case by “declining” to attend court on 14 March 2018 to answer questions raised by the judge during the legal argument hearing. What utter nonsense. The statement is categorically untrue and is a false claim being made by a group with a long-held and well-documented grudge against the RSPB, presumably with the intention of portraying the RSPB in a bad light. What actually happened was Mr Yip declined to call the RSPB as a witness during that hearing, even after being prompted by the judge, and nor did he ask for an adjournment to allow for him to call an RSPB witness at a later hearing. His reason for this decision is not known (to us) and it proved to be catastrophic for the prosecution’s case.

We think it is fair comment to describe Mr Yip as being ill-prepared for the hearing. However, there may be many reasons for that, beyond his control. It isn’t unusual for the financially-squeezed and under-resourced CPS to drop cases on lawyers at the last minute so for all we know Mr Yip might not have ‘seen’ this case until the night before the hearing. If that is what had happened, it would partly explain the gulf in quality between Mr Rouse’s and Mr Yip’s presentations. That being said, if Mr Yip had not had adequate time to prepare, he could probably have called for an adjournment.

His poor performance did not go unnoticed by the judge and in her ruling delivered to the court on 28 March her criticism was evident. More on this subject in the second blog.

Putting aside for a moment the legal arguments and the standard of presentation, the bottom line is that yet another case of alleged raptor persecution, caught on covert camera, has failed on a technicality (or in this case, several technicalities).

Although the identity of the alleged perpetrator in the Bleasdale case has not been tried and tested in court, there’s no getting away from the fact that the CPS believed the video footage to show that two peregrines appear to have been illegally killed at a nest site on the Bleasdale Estate in 2016. The unidentified perpetrator of this alleged crime will not face justice. Given the catalogue of failed cases under similar circumstances (i.e. covert video footage ruled inadmissible on a technicality), the perpetrators of these crimes have been given yet more impetus to continue, as the chances of successful prosecution these days are almost nil.

No doubt the grouse-shooting industry will jump on this result as an excuse to vilify the RSPB and its approach to investigating raptor persecution crimes. But when the RSPB publishes the video footage of this latest incident, the public will be in a position to judge for itself whether or not the RSPB’s actions were discreditable. Whether the grouse shooting industry likes it or not, public opinion, not court convictions, will ultimately be the deciding factor in addressing the ongoing illegal killing of birds of prey.

UPDATE 13 April 2018: Why the video evidence was ruled inadmissible in the Bleasdale Estate case (here)

UPDATE 16 April 2018: Why other evidence was also ruled inadmissible in the Bleasdale Estate case (here)

UPDATE 16 April 2018: Grouse-shooting industry’s reaction to the failed Bleasdale Estate case (here)

02
Apr
18

Illegal trap use on GWCT Vice Chair’s shooting estate

Well, well, well.

Last September we blogged about SNH imposing a three-year General Licence restriction on a ‘mystery’ Scottish gamekeeper in response to evidence provided by Police Scotland of alleged raptor persecution crimes. At the time, SNH gave very little information about this case (see here).

After a bit of digging, we worked out that this restriction related to an alleged crime that had happened near Tarland in Aberdeenshire in 2014 where the RSPB had filmed a gamekeeper allegedly baiting an illegal trap close to a goshawk nest:

However, we were unable to establish the name of the estate on which this alleged offence took place and the name of the individual caught on camera setting the trap, as SNH refused several FoI requests and insisted on withholding the information. The name of the individual was withheld under the Data Protection Act – that was fair enough. But we argued that the name of the estate should have been publicised – SNH disagreed.

An article by Severin Carrell in today’s Guardian has finally solved the mystery.

It turns out the individual filmed setting the alleged illegal trap was none other than the Head Gamekeeper of Tillypronie Estate, a grouse and pheasant-shooting estate which at the time was owned by Philip Astor, who was and still is, er, Vice Chair of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).

[Estate boundary details from Andy Wightman’s brilliant Who Owns Scotland website]

Gosh, that’s all a bit embarrassing for the GWCT, isn’t it?

Is this why there wasn’t a prosecution and why great efforts were made to keep the details of this alleged crime hushed up?

We wonder if this relationship also had any bearing on SNH’s strange decision to impose a General Licence restriction on an individual, as opposed to the usual practice of imposing it on an estate? Astor sold the estate last year – here is the sales brochure: Tillypronie sales brochure Aug 2016 A three-year General Licence restriction hanging over the estate could have caused obvious difficulties for the sale.

Another unanswered question relates to the Head Gamekeeper’s employment status. The alleged crime took place in March 2014, but according to Sev Carrell’s article, the [unnamed] Head Gamekeeper was still employed at Tillypronie in 2016. That seems a bit odd, doesn’t it? Why would a law-abiding landowner continue to employ an individual who had been caught on camera setting an allegedly illegal trap close to a goshawk nest?

And what of Philip Astor’s position as Vice Chair at the GWCT? Business as usual, eh?




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