Posts Tagged ‘spring trap

09
Nov
17

Peak District National Park Authority responds to RSPB’s 2016 Birdcrime report

The Peak District National Park Authority has issued a statement in reponse to the publication of the RSPB’s 2016 Birdcrime report.

Sarah Fowler, chief executive of the Peak District National Park, said: “Killing birds of prey is illegal. I am appalled by the persecution of any protected species, no matter what the circumstances.

The RSPB’s latest Birdcrime report brings the plight of birds of prey to the fore. It shows what we are up against in trying to reverse the fortunes of birds of prey. I welcome the recent acknowledgement from shooting organisations that the killing of raptors to protect game birds is part of the problem. It is – and it is damaging to their interests. I welcome and wholeheartedly support their condemnation of such activity.

Being able to watch birds of prey in the Peak District National Park should be part of everyone’s experience.

We have been working with landowners, gamekeepers and partners since 2011 to remedy the situation locally but it is clear from the results that much more needs to be done.

This year peregrines have failed to breed in the Dark Peak for the first time since they recolonised in 1984 and persecution of these incredible birds has been a factor in this. This has to change.

It is incredibly difficult to catch someone in the act or to collect evidence and make a case for prosecution. I appeal to all users of the countryside to help us bring persecution to an end by reporting anything you feel is suspicious to the police. The best hope we have is for law-abiding people within the game bird industry calling out those who operate outside the law.

The Peak District Birds of Prey Initiative will shortly be publishing a report documenting the fortunes of key birds of prey alongside confirmed or suspected incidents of persecution in the moorland areas of the Peak District during 2016 and 2017. On the back of this report, I will look for a renewed commitment from moorland owners and managers in the Peak District to work with us to reverse the fortunes of birds of prey – and a strengthening of this commitment. We cannot achieve this on our own.”

Anyone with information to report about wildlife crime should contact Derbyshire Police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

ENDS

Photo of an osprey found in the Peak District National Park in September 2015. It had two broken legs and succumbed to these injuries soon after being found. The post-mortem stated its injuries were consistent with being caught in a spring trap (Photo by RSPB)

It’s good to see strong condemnation of continued illegal raptor persecution from the Peak District National Park Authority, although, coming a week after the publication of the Birdcrime report it does have a whiff of ‘Oh God, everyone else has commented, we’d better say something too’. Nevertheless, better late than never.

We also appreciate Sarah Fowler’s acknowledgement that the 7-year-long Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative has been a complete and utter failure. She didn’t actually say that – she said, “It is clear from the results that much more needs to be done“, and, with the imminent publication of the Initiative’s 2016 and 2017 annual reports, she said “I will look for a renewed commitment from moorland owners and managers in the Peak District to work with us to reverse the fortunes of birds of prey – and a strengthening of this commitment“.

Hang on. Wasn’t ‘renewed commitment’ from project partners promised in 2015 when the Initiative’s five-year targets had all failed to be met? Ah yes, so it was. And yet, despite that ‘renewed commitment’ we’ve seen continued evidence of illegal raptor persecution within the National Park and now we learn that “This year peregrines have failed to breed in the Dark Peak for the first time since they recolonised in 1984 and persecution of these incredible birds has been a factor in this“.

We don’t want ‘renewed commitment’ from so-called project partners. It’s meaningless bollocks that nobody believes anymore. We’re sick of hearing it and sick of statutory agencies using it to pretend that everything’s going to be ok.

The Peak District National Park Authority needs to start calling out these grouse moor owners, managers and agents, by name, instead of shielding them and their criminal activities within this charade of partnership-working.

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06
Nov
17

SNH refuses to disclose details of individual General Licence restriction

In September 2017 we learned that SNH had imposed a General Licence restriction on an individual for alleged criminal activity in relation to raptor persecution (see here).

This was a highly unusual restriction because it applied to an individual rather than to an estate.

At the time the restriction was announced, SNH provided virtually no information other than to say a General Licence restriction had been imposed and that it would apply for three years.

However, RSPB Scotland released a press statement in relation to this restriction order which included the following quote from RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, Ian Thomson:

The restriction was imposed after RSPB investigations staff passed video footage to police of a gamekeeper allegedly setting illegal traps, baited with a dead woodpigeon, very close to a goshawk nest in NE Scotland”.

Here’s a clip from that video evidence:

From this, we were able to deduce that this alleged wildlife crime took place in March 2014 ‘nr Tarland, Aberdeenshire’, although the specific location was not given.

This alleged offence was reported by Police Scotland to the Crown Office in April 2014 (see here). It is clear, now, that the Crown Office did not prosecute the gamekeeper, probably on the grounds that the video evidence was deemed ‘inadmissible’. That’s the sixth alleged wildlife crime case, that we know about, that the Crown Office has dropped in recent months.

So at this stage we know that an alleged wildlife crime had taken place, we know that a criminal prosecution is not going to happen (because the case is now time-barred), and we know that SNH has imposed an individual General Licence restriction on a gamekeeper as a supposed sanction. The identity of the alleged offender remains a secret, as does the name of the estate where the alleged offence was committed. This lack of transparency is, frankly, appalling, especially when former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse had stated when he first introduced General Licence restrictions in 2014 that he expected them to function as “a reputational driver”. Not much chance of that happening when the details of a case are kept secret.

In early October 2017 we submitted an FoI to SNH to try and find out more details about this case. We asked for:

  1. The name of the person who had been given a General Licence restriction (we didn’t expect to be told but thought we’d ask anyway – you never know)
  2. The occupation of that person (we already knew from the RSPB press statement that he was a gamekeeper but we wanted SNH to confirm this)
  3. The name of the county in which this individual resides (we already knew from the RSPB press statement that the alleged offence had taken place in Aberdeenshire but we wanted SNH to confirm this)
  4. The name of the estate from where the Police evidence of alleged raptor persecution had been collected
  5. An explanation about why an individual and not an estate was the recipient of the General Licence restriction
  6. An explanation about how SNH intends to monitor the activities of the individual for potential breaches of his General Licence restriction.

SNH has now responded and it’s astonishing:

It looks like SNH has been taking lessons from Natural England in the withholding of information that should be in the public domain. It’s understandable that SNH can’t disclose the alleged offender’s identity, but withholding details of his occupation and the county in which he resides because “this would allow them to be identified” is obviously nonsense, and we already know this information from the RSPB press release!

We would argue that it is in the public interest to know the name of the estate on which this alleged offence took place (and we do know from various local sources it was on a game-shooting estate and that this gamekeeper was employed by that estate). Why should that information be kept secret? Who is SNH shielding, and why?

And does anyone actually believe that Police Scotland, no matter how well-intentioned, has the resources to track this gamekeeper’s activities for the next three years to ensure he’s not breaching the terms of his General Licence restriction?!

Whilst this response doesn’t get us any further forward in knowing the specifics of this case, what it does demonstrate, quite clearly, is that the General Licence restriction, introduced as a way of publicly embarassing estates where there is evidence of wildlife crime but, due to perceieved evidential difficulties, the cases don’t ever reach the courts, is simply not working.

Tomorrow’s blog, on another General Licence restriction case, will emphasise this point again but on a whole bigger scale.

30
Oct
17

SNH says ‘no General Licence restrictions currently under consideration’ but what about these 9 cases?

The ability for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to impose a General Licence (GL) restriction order on land where there is evidence of raptor persecution taking place came in to force on 1 January 2014. This measure, based on a civil burden of proof, was introduced by then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to the continuing difficulties of meeting a criminal burden of proof to facilitate a criminal prosecution.

Whilst these GL restrictions are not without their limitations (because estates can simply apply for an individual licence instead –  see here, but also see here where SNH recently revoked an individual licence for alleged non compliance), Wheelhouse argued that as the restriction notices will be made public, they should act as a ‘reputational driver‘.

Since 1 January 2014, SNH has only imposed four GL restrictions. The first two were imposed in November 2015 (one for Raeshaw & Corsehope Estates in the Borders and one for Burnfoot & Wester Cringate Estates in Stirlingshire). Then there was a temporary halt for almost two years as Raeshaw & Corsehope Estates made a legal challenge which ended up with a judicial review in January 2017. The court’s decision was announced in March 2017 and SNH was found to have acted properly and lawfully. Since that decision was announced in March 2017, SNH has imposed two more GL restrictions: one for Edradynate Estate in Perthshire in September 2017 and one for an unnamed mystery gamekeeper in Aberdeenshire in September 2017.

Whilst we were pleased to see SNH impose these latest GL restrictions last month, we were also aware of a number of other raptor persecution incidents that have been recorded since 1 Jan 2014 that would potentially meet the criteria required for a GL restriction so we wanted to find out whether SNH was getting on with these.

Photo: an illegal pole trap filmed by RSPB Scotland on the Brewlands Estate in the Angus Glens, July 2015. These traps have been outlawed for over 100 years.

In early October we submitted an FoI to ask SNH how many cases were currently under consideration for a GL restriction. We are pretty shocked by the response received last week:

At the time of your request, no General Licence restrictions were under consideration“.

Really? Why the hell not? We know of at least nine cases that should be being considered, and these are just off the top of our heads – there will be others, as we know Police Scotland is still withholding information about a number of other raptor persecution incidents.

Here are the nine incidents we know about that have all occured since 1 January 2014 when SNH was given the power to impose a GL restriction:

Newlands Estate, Dumfriesshire. Gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick was convicted in 2015 for killing a buzzard on the estate in April 2014. He threw rocks at it and then stamped on it. The estate owner was prosecuted for alleged vicarious liability but then the Crown Office dropped the prosecution in April 2017, saying it wasn’t in the public interest to proceed (see here).

Brewlands Estate, Angus Glens. A gamekeeper was prosecuted for the alleged repeated setting of a pole trap on this estate between 9-17 July 2015. The Crown Office dropped the prosecution case in April 2017 because the video evidence was deemed inadmissible (see here). Another gamekeeper on this estate thought this result was hilarious.

Unnamed pheasant-shooting estate, Lanarkshire. In September 2015 a set pole trap was discovered on a bench directly outside a pheasant-rearing pen on an unnamed estate. Police Scotland apparently dropped the case, for unknown reasons.

Gamekeeper in Ayrshire. In May 2016 a named gamekeeper was charged after allegedly being caught using gin traps on a neighbouring farm of the estate on which he was employed. The Crown Office dropped the prosecution in March 2017 after reportedly ‘getting the dates wrong on its paperwork’ (see here).

Invercauld Estate, Aberdeenshire. In June 2016, walkers discovered a number of illegally-set spring traps staked out on a grouse moor. Two of the traps had caught a Common Gull by the legs. The bird had to be euthanised. There was no prosecution. ‘Some action’ was taken by the estate but whatever this action was it has remained a closely-guarded secret between the estate, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Government (see here).

Glendye Estate, Aberdeenshire. In January 2017 a number of illegally-set spring traps were discovered on a grouse moors on this estate. The Estate Factor and gamekeeper reportedly removed the traps and denied all knowledge of who had set them (see here). There was no prosecution.

Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire. On 4th May 2017, witnesses observed the shooting and killing of a hen harrier on this estate. Police Scotland appealed for information (see here & here). As far as we’re aware, there are no impending prosecutions.

Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire. On 31 May 2017, witnesses observed the shooting and killing of a short-eared owl on this estate. The corpse was retrieved and sent for a post-mortem. Police Scotland appealed for information. As far as we’re aware, there are no impending prosecutions.

Unnamed grouse shooting estate, Monadhliaths. On 7 June 2017, a member of the public found a buzzard caught in an illegally-set spring trap that had been staked out on an unnamed grouse moor in the Monadliaths. The buzzard was released. Police Scotland appealed for information. Inspector Mike Middlehurst of Police Scotland commented, “Unfortunately, there are some who continue to deliberately target birds of prey; there is nothing accidental in the setup of these traps“. As far as we’re aware, there are no impending prosecutions.

So why haven’t any of these cases been considered for a GL restriction? Is it because SNH is still waiting for Police Scotland to provide ‘formal information packages’ on these cases? (Remember, SNH can only consider potential GL restrictions based on evidence provided to them by Police Scotland). We know that Police Scotland has been slow in delivering this info to SNH in the past (e.g. see here) – are they still dragging their feet?

Or, is it the case that Police Scotland has already provided information to SNH about each of these nine cases and SNH has, for whatever reason, decided not to impose a GL restriction?

Isn’t it in the public interest to know, and importantly to understand, what is happening with these cases? We think so. And that’s why we’ve submitted an FoI to find out.

27
Oct
17

Scottish gamekeepers complain about alleged escalation of trap vandalism

The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association is today complaining about an alleged escalation in the vandalism of animal traps on shooting estates.

This supposed increase has been attributed to ‘activists’ and the SGA wants the law tightened up so that the alleged perpertrators can be prosecuted.

There’s widespread media coverage about it today e.g. in The National (here), The Times (here) and on the SGA website (here).

Photo of an allegedly vandalised trap (from The National)

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard such claims. Back in 2013 it was discussed during a Rural Affairs Parliamentary Committee meeting, when then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse acknowledged that trap tampering might be taking place but that there was no hard evidence to show how widespread the problem might be so at that time it was considered all conjecture.

In 2015 the issue was raised again by a Fife landowner and an article in the local press suggested that “Police Scotland is reporting a rise in the number of traps being tampered with“.

We challenged that claim by looking at the results of a year-long trap tampering study carried out across Scotland by BASC between April 2014 and March 2015. The results showed that the issue was not widespread at all, but seemed to centre on a handful of local areas.

Whether the problem has increased since then is hard to tell without independently collected data. The problem might have increased. It’s not hard to understand the motivation that might lead to someone damaging a trap. It might be on animal welfare grounds (someone might see a non-target species dead in a trap). It might be because someone can’t tell whether a trap is legally or illegally-set – it’s not always easy to judge. It might be because someone objects to predator control just to maximise a landowner’s profits. Or the motivation might simply be because so many cases of illegally-set traps rarely result in a prosecution, even when a known gamekeeper has been filmed setting an illegal trap. That doesn’t make trap vandalism ‘right’, we’re just saying it’s easy to understand why it might be happening.

Photo of a young red grouse killed by a lawfully-set trap (photo by RPUK)

It’s equally plausible to suggest that some gamekeepers may be deliberately vandalising one or two of their own traps and then reporting it to the police as the work of ‘activists’ in an attempt to smear those whose campaign to put game-shooting under political scrutiny is gaining such traction.

Whatever might be happening, it’s ironic that the SGA doesn’t make this much noise when cases of illegally-set traps on game-shooting estates are reported in the media.

It’s very hard (virtually impossible) for us to sympathise with the SGA when it remains silent (or concocts outlandish alternative explanations) about the on-going abuse and use of illegal traps, by gamekeepers, to target birds of prey on game-shooting estates.

Speaking of which, we’re still waiting for the findings of the SGA’s inquiries in to who set the illegal traps that were discovered on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate last year.

28
Sep
17

Bleasdale Estate gamekeeper denies killing two peregrines in Bowland

A 34-year old gamekeeper, James Hartley, appeared at Preston Magistrates Court today to face a series of charges relating to the alleged killing of two peregrines on the Bleasdale Estate, Bowland, in April 2016.

The charges read out in court were as follows:

  1. Killing a Schedule 1 wild bird. On 13 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, intentionally killed a wild bird included in Schedule 1 to the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, namely a peregrine falcon, contrary to sections 1(1)(a), 1(4) and 21(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
  2. Disturb the nesting site of a Schedule 1 wild bird. On 13 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, intentionally or recklessly disturbed a wild bird included in Schedule 1 to the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, namely a peregrine falcon, while it was in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young, contrary to sections 1(5)(a) and 21(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
  3. Killing a Schedule 1 wild bird. On 13 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, intentionally killed a wild bird included in Schedule 1 to the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, namely a peregrine falcon, contrary to sections 1(1)(a), 1(4) and 21(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
  4. Set trap / gin / snare etc to cause injury to wild bird. On 13 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, set in position a trap which was of such a nature and so placed as to be calculated to cause bodily injury to any wild bird coming in to contact with it, contrary to sections 5(1)(a) and 21(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act.
  5. Take a Schedule 1 wild bird. On 13 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, intentionally took a wild bird included in Schedule 1 to the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, namely a peregrine falcon, contrary to sections 1(1)(a), 1(4) and 21(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
  6. Possess live / dead Schedule 1 wild bird or its parts. On 13 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, had in your possession or control a dead wild bird included in Schedule 1 to the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, namely a peregrine falcon, contrary to sections 1(2)(a), 1(4) and 21(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act.
  7. Possess an article capable of being used to commit a summary offence under section 1 to 13 or 15-17. On 13 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, for the purpose of committing an offence, namely killing a Schedule 1 wild bird, namely a peregrine falcon, under section 1(1)(a), 1(4) and 21(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, had in your possession a firearm which was capable of being used for committing the offence, contrary to section 18(2) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
  8. Possess an article capable of being used to commit a summary offence under section 1 to 13 or 15-17. On 12 April 2016 and 27 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, for the purpose of committing an offence, namely killing a Schedule 1 wild bird, namely a peregrine falcon, under section 1(1)(a), 1(4) and 21(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, had in your possession hammer, trap and knife which were capable of being used for committing the offence, contrary to section 18(2) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
  9. Cause unnecessary suffering to a protected animal – Animal Welfare Act 2006. On 12 April 2016 and 15 April 2016 at Bleasdale in the county of Lancashire, caused unnecessary suffering to a protected animal, namely a peregrine falcon, by an act, namely trapping and leaving for a number of hours, and you knew or ought reasonably to have known that the act would have that effect or be likely to do so.

Mr Hartley denied all charges.

The following commentary has been compiled from notes we took during the hearing:

The lawyer from the Crown Prosecution Service then summarised the prosecution case. She said the Crown’s case is that the defendant is responsible for the destruction of two birds at their nest site. She said the matter came to light when the RSPB sited a camera within the boundary of Bleasdale Estate to monitor nesting peregrines. The Crown alleges that camera footage captures an individual in a camouflage suit attending the nest site. The individual remained there for a number of minutes setting what is believed to be a trap. The female peregrine is seen to leave the nest and four shotgun discharges are heard and the female does not return. The male peregrine remained at the site all day, believed to be trapped in the device set earlier. Later in the evening a person is seen to attend the nest site and remove something.

She went on to explain that the defendant is the gamekeeper for this particular ‘beat’ on the Bleasdale Estate and during a police search of his property a bag was seized containing a number of tools. A forensic analysis showed that a wooden-handled hammer and an orange-handled knife both contained peregrine DNA. The defendant gave a ‘no comment’ interview.

The defence lawyer, Tim Ryan, told the court that his client did not carry out the offences and is not the person shown in the video footage. He said part of his defence case would be to question the admissibility of video evidence under section 78 of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act.

The next hearing will take place on 11 January 2018 which is expected to deal with legal arguments about the admissibility of video evidence. Depending on the outcome of that hearing, a preliminary trial date was set to begin on 12 February 2018 and is expected to last for five days.

PLEASE NOTE: Comments are welcome but contributors are reminded that the offences are only alleged at this stage and it is up to the court to determine innocence or guilt. Please consider your words carefully as libellous commentary could interfere with the progression of this case! Thanks.

27
Sep
17

More on the mystery gamekeeper with the General Licence restriction

Further to this morning’s blog about the mystery gamekeeper from north east Scotland who was filmed allegedly setting an illegal trap near a goshawk nest and who has subsequently been slapped with a General Licence restriction order by SNH, but whose name and employment details have been withheld.

Who could he possibly be and where, exactly, did this take place? There are some clues….

Have another look again at the short video clip of this gamekeeper in action, released by RSPB Scotland:

The video is date stamped: 21 March 2014.

Now have a look at RSPB Scotland’s 2014 persecution report, and note the confirmed incident of raptor persecution recorded in March 2014 relating to the setting of spring traps (with pigeon bait) on a plucking post close to a goshawk nest:

The location is given as ‘nr Tarland, Aberdeenshire’.

Where’s Tarland? Here it is, just to the east of the Cairngorms National Park boundary:

If we accept that the gamekeeper caught on video was allegedly trying to target a goshawk with an illegal trap, the motive for doing so would most likely be to protect game birds from predation. This is illegal, of course – goshawks have been legally protected since 1954, but as we know only too well, this doesn’t stop some gamekeepers from trying to kill them.

So we thought we’d look at how many game shooting estates are located ‘nr Tarland’. It’s a pretty vague location but consulting Andy Wightman’s brilliant Who Owns Scotland website, it turns out there are three big game-shooting estates in the area that could, reasonably, be defined as being ‘nr Tarland’: the MacRobert Trust Estate, the Tillypronie, Deskrie and Towie Estate, and the Dinnet Estate. There is also an area of ‘dead ground’ whose ownership is not included on Andy’s website, although we do know that GWCT’s new demonstration farm, Auchnerran, sits in this ‘dead ground’.

This map is useful, but it doesn’t really help draw many conclusions. What we can say is that all three estate owners would be both horrified, and embarrassingly compromised, if it turns out that this gamekeeper was employed by, or associated with, any of the estates.

The MacRobert Trust Estate is, as the name suggests, administered by a well-respected charity and the estate website suggests ‘an exemplary approach to estate management‘. There is a pheasant shoot here, which was advertised as a three-year ‘prestigious sporting lease’ in 2010.

The Tillypronie Estate was owned, at the time of the video recording, by Philip Astor. The estate, described as ‘One of Scotland’s most famous sporting estates’, went on the market last year valued at a cool £10.5 million and is now believed to have been sold to a ‘mystery buyer’. Gosh, there’s a lot of mystery in this part of the world, isn’t there? There is pheasant and grouse shooting here. Phil is a Vice Chairman of the GWCT.

The Dinnet Estate has long been owned by the Humphrey family and there is a designated National Nature Reserve on the estate, managed by SNH. A Dinnet Estate gamekeeper was convicted in 2006 of trespassing on a neighbouring estate with a firearm back in 2002 but that was a long time ago. A Dinnet Estate grouse moor was mentioned on this blog last month as being a potential location of satellite-tagged hen harrier Calluna’s last tag transmission but there’s been no further news on that. Dinnet Estate is a direct neighbour of the GWCT’s demonstration farm, Auchnerran, and the Dinnet Estate grouse moor is summer-grazed by some of GWCT’s sheep.

Given the GWCT’s indirect links and direct interests in the area ‘nr Tarland’, they must be concerned about the General Licence restriction being applied to a local, unnamed gamekeeper. If we ran an upland farm in the area, and were setting out to demonstrate good conservation benefits for both agriculture and wildlife, we too would be concerned. What if we employed him without knowing any of his history?

Shall we ask the GWCT for a comment? Perhaps, given their local contacts, they know something we don’t? Emails to: info@gwct.org.uk

May be all will become clear when we submit an FoI to SNH asking for further details about this particular General Licence restriction, although we’re not holding our breath!

Another avenue for information-seeking might be Police Scotland. We know from the RSPB’s press release that the police were investigating this alleged crime, so presumably the police know the name of the gamekeeper and where, exactly, this allegedly illegal trap had been filmed. Given that the case is now time-barred, meaning that the Crown Office couldn’t prosecute even if they wanted to (highly doubtful), there is no reason why Police Scotland can’t release relevant details as there’s no chance of it interfering with a live case. Let’s ask them. Emails to National Wildlife Crime Coordinator for Police Scotland, Andy Mavin: andrew.mavin@scotland.pnn.police.uk

27
Sep
17

SNH imposes General Licence restriction on ‘mystery’ gamekeeper

So, SNH has today announced it has imposed two General Licence restriction orders, based on evidence provided by Police Scotland of alleged raptor persecution crimes.

We know that one of those restriction orders has been placed on Edradynate Estate, Perthshire, because SNH has been quite upfront about it and has named the estate (see here).

But what about the other General Licence restriction? Well, according to the SNH press release, this has been imposed on “an individual” rather than on an estate.

This in itself is interesting. We know from the SNH framework for imposing these restrictions that this action can be taken against an individual, as well as on certain areas of land, but the framework document suggests that imposing it on land would be preferable to imposing it on an individual:

While the wording provides for the exclusion of individuals, it is the intention that where SNH has robust evidence that wild birds have been killed or taken or where there is intention to do so other than in accordance with a licence, SNH will exclude the area of land on which such evidence is found from General Licences 1, 2 and/or 3“.

Hmm. So who is this individual and why did SNH impose the restriction on him/her, rather than on an estate?

The SNH press release points the reader to the SNH webpage on General Licences for “full licence restriction details“. However, when you look at the SNH webpage, all you find is this:

Is SNH having a laugh? The “full licence restriction details” of this particular GL restriction order amounts to one sentence:

In addition [to the restriction imposed on Edradynate Estate] SNH has imposed a restriction prohibiting the use of General Licences by an individual for 3 years from 15th September 2017“.

That’s it? No name? No information on the area, let alone the name of the land where the evidence of raptor persecution took place? Not even the region?

What’s with the secrecy? Who is SNH shielding, and why?

This could be absolutely anyone! Is it Nicola Sturgeon? Is it Alex Salmond? Is it JK Rowling? Highly unlikely, it has to be said, but you get the point we’re trying to make.

And what happened to the transparency that was promised when former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse first announced this new measure to tackle ongoing raptor persecution? He said he expected details of General Licence restrictions to be published on the SNH website to act as “a reputational driver“. That’s not going to happen if SNH withholds the details, is it?

This is a very dangerous precedent to set. SNH has previously withheld details of estates that were being considered for a GL restriction but in that case, the justificiation for being all secret squirrel was reasonable: the GL restrictions hadn’t yet been imposed, but rather the estates had been notified of an intent to impose, and SNH argued that the estates needed time to respond/appeal (see here). That was fair enough.

But in this case, SNH has already imposed the GL restriction, and we’re struggling to understand the justification SNH might have for keeping the details secret.

What is it with statutory agencies and their reluctance to release information that’s clearly in the public interest?

We’ll be submitting an FoI to SNH to ask for further details, and, based on the response, we’ll consider appealing the decision to the Scottish information Commissioner.

In the meantime, have a look at today’s press statement from RSPB Scotland about these latest GL restrictions. This gives us more of a clue about the recipient of the restriction order. The statement includes the following quote from Head of Investigations, Ian Thomson:

The other restriction was imposed after RSPB investigations staff passed video footage to police of a gamekeeper allegedly setting illegal traps, baited with a dead woodpigeon, very close to a goshawk nest in NE Scotland.”

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. The recipient of the GL restriction is a gamekeeper, working in NE Scotland, who was filmed allegedly setting illegal traps close to a goshawk nest. And the RSPB has even provided a video clip of the alleged offence, with the individual’s face pixellated (presumably done on legal advice).

Well, quelle surprise! Another gamekeeper trying, allegedly, to persecute a goshawk in north east Scotland. This is becoming quite a habit in this part of the country. First we had gamekeeper George Mutch, caught on video trapping and battering to death a goshawk on the Kildrummy Estate in 2012, crimes for which he went to prison (see here), then we had a gang of masked armed men caught on video shooting at a goshawk nest on Forestry Commission land at Glen Nochty in 2014 (see here), and now this latest case.

But who is this latest gamekeeper and on whose land was he working when he allegedly set this trap?

More on this in the next blog…..

UPDATES:

More on the mystery gamekeeper with the general licence restriction (here).




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