Posts Tagged ‘trap

18
Jan
22

The widespread mis-use of crow cage traps to trap & kill birds of prey

RSPB Investigations Officer Guy Shorrock published an insightful blog yesterday (‘Cage traps in the spotlight across the UK’) detailing the ongoing and widespread mis-use and abuse of crow cage traps, often used by criminal gamekeepers to trap and kill raptors, sometimes deliberately and sometimes through reckless negligence.

His blog provided details of an incident in Wales in April last year, and I don’t recall seeing any media coverage of this case. The following text is reproduced directly from Guy’s blog:

A case from April last year again highlights our concerns. A member of public found a crow cage trap on sheep grazing farmland in North Wales containing a buzzard, a red kite and multiple crows. The finder released all the birds and reported it to us.

As with all cage traps outside Scotland, without marking and registration it can far more difficult, often impossible, to identify the trap operator. A visit by my colleague Niall Owen confirmed the presence of a lamb carcass, which should have been properly disposed of and not used as bait, along with two carrion crows. A week later the trap held two crows and a buzzard plus the bodies of two further crows. To identify a trap operator, and to determine whether the licence conditions were being complied with, a covert camera was installed for a couple of days. At this point, there was no clear contravention of the licence conditions. The buzzard was in good health, so it was left in situ and provided with fresh water and food just in case visits were not made. One dead crow was seized and sent off for a post-mortem. Two days later the buzzard was still present, thankfully alive and well, so was released unharmed. We informed North Wales Police who identified the farmer operating the trap and ensured it was rendered incapable of trapping.

[Buzzard caught inside the cage trap, photo by Niall Owen, RSPB. This bird was released by the RSPB when it became clear the trap was not being operated lawfully]

The post-mortem on the carrion crow confirmed the bird had died of starvation, confirming further breaches of the licence conditions and animal welfare regulations. Had the original finder and ourselves not released the trapped birds, we fear they would have met the same fate. This case was about negligence rather than any deliberate targeting of birds of prey, and following the police investigation, the operator was given a Community Resolution Order. This had a requirement that they could not operate cage traps until a suitable course has been attended.

Guy’s blog is timely as we await the sentencing of a gamekeeper who has recently been convicted of killing two buzzards in a cage trap in Nottinghamshire (see here). The RSPB has what Guy describes as ‘graphic footage’ filmed on a covert camera showing exactly how the gamekeeper used the trap to catch and then kill two buzzards. I understand the RSPB will release this video evidence after sentencing next week.

I’d encourage you to read Guy’s blog in full (here) to understand the different approaches being deployed (or not) to address these offences in England, Scotland and Wales and how members of the public can help catch the killers.

17
Jan
22

Raptor persecution ignored in North York Moors National Park draft management plan

The North York Moors National Park Authority (NYMNPA) is currently consulting on its draft management plan, which aims to set out a series of priority actions to help the Park tackle issues which include ‘recovery from the COVID pandemic, escalating climate and nature emergencies, increasing mental and physical health problems among the general population, and the need to change the way we look after our landscapes‘.

You can download the draft plan here:

I had a quick read through this document at the weekend and was surprised to see how little substance it contained and how vague its stated 22 priority objectives were. For example, whilst there was general commentary around ‘active restoration’ of degraded blanket bog and peat habitats, the only reference I found that might possibly allude to the massive environmental problems caused by intensive driven grouse shooting, which dominates the landscape of this National Park, was this:

Objective 8 – Work with our moorland community to support the sustainable management of moorland to ensure it retains a natural remoteness which supports a greater variety of species and habitats.

I didn’t find one single reference to tackling wildlife crime, and especially raptor persecution, which has long been recognised as an ongoing characteristic of this National Park. For example, just in the last few years alone we’ve seen a shot buzzard (here), a poisoned buzzard (here), deliberate disturbance of a goshawk breeding attempt (here), a satellite-tagged hen harrier vanish in suspicious circumstances (here), another shot buzzard (here), and another shot buzzard (here), a goshawk trapped, reportedly killed and taken away in sack (here), another poisoned buzzard (here), an illegally-set trap (here), and five shot buzzards found stuffed under a rock (here).

Nor did I find any reference to targeting the mass release of non-native gamebirds (pheasants and red-legged partridge) or assessing the damage they cause inside the National Park. It seems the North York Moor National Park Authority could do with taking a look at the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s management plan, which has recently included this issue as one of its priorities (see here).

The North York Moors National Park draft management plan is important, because it aims to set out its vision for how the National Park will be in 20 years time.

According to the NYMNPA website, ‘the draft plan is the result of a series of conversations with stakeholders and partners over the last year. The proposals it contains are not set in stone. Neither we nor our partners possess a monopoly of wisdom. This document invites discussion, input and feedback so that the final plan can properly reflect as wide a range of views as possible. It is an opportunity for everyone to collaborate with us to create a shared plan that will shape the future of the North York Moors National Park‘.

The Park Authority wants your views, whether you live in the Park or you are a visitor. Particularly, it wants to know whether it has ‘missed something that is important to you’:

If you share my concerns about ongoing raptor persecution in this National Park, and the unregulated mass release of non-native species for shooting, I’d encourage you to contact the NYMNPA and ask them to prioritise tackling these issues in the management plan. Contact details are shown in the image above.

Please note, the consultation closes this Friday (21st January 2022).

Thank you.

13
Jan
22

Convicted gamekeeper to escape 3-year General Licence restriction for killing birds of prey?

On 30th November last year, gamekeeper Peter Givens from the Cathpair Estate in the Scottish Borders was convicted at Selkirk Sheriff Court of recklessly killing a barn owl and a goshawk in September 2020.

The two supposedly protected species had become caught inside a cage trap operated by Givens but they starved to death because Givens had failed to release them as he was required to do by law.

Givens was fined a pathetic £300 and a £20 victim surcharge (see here).

[Photograph of the unlawfully operated trap on Cathpair Estate. Photo by Stuart Spray]

Givens’ sentence was derisory, there’s no doubt about that, especially when you consider raptor persecution is supposedly a National Wildlife Crime Priority.

But the £300 fine from the court wasn’t Givens’ only sanction. On conviction, Givens was automatically banned from using the General Licences, including those which permit the killing of some birds (especially corvids) but also GL14, the licence that permits a person to use certain traps to kill stoats in Scotland for the conservation of wild birds or the prevention of serious damage to livestock.

This automatic ban on using the General Licences came in to force the day gamekeeper Givens was convicted, because General Licences ‘cannot be used by those convicted of a wildlife crime on or after 1 January 2017 unless, in respect of that offence, they are a rehabilitated person (for the purposes of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and that conviction is spent), or a court discharged them absolutely‘, according to the terms of the General Licences.

If Givens is the only gamekeeper on Cathpair Estate (and I have no information about that) then being prevented from killing crows and stoats would probably have a negative impact on the estate’s ability to host a gamebird shoot, unless the estate employs other gamekeepers to conduct those duties. Although, as ridiculously as ever, a convicted gamekeeper may still apply to use an Individual Licence to carry on operating traps and guns to kill corvids and stoats as if he’d never committed his crimes at all.

When gamekeeper Givens’ sentence was announced, I was interested in how this automatic ban on using the General Licences would apply, and I especially wondered whether it would extend for three years, as per the usual General Licence restriction imposed on estates where evidence of wildlife crime is apparent but insufficient to result in a prosecution.

However, when I looked up how long it would be before Givens’ conviction could be considered spent, I found it was only 12 months (according to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 as amended by the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act 2019). So this means Givens would not be allowed to use the General Licences to kill corvids and stoats for a period of only 12 months (unless he applied for an Individual Licence) but after those 12 months had expired (30th November 2022) he’d be able to return to killing wildlife under the conditions of the General Licences.

Eh? That seems a bit counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? On the one hand, regulator NatureScot can impose a three-year General Licence restriction on an estate where the police have evidence of criminal activity but insufficient evidence to pin it on any named individual. But when the authorities secure an actual conviction for wildlife crime on an estate, then the General Licence sanction only applies for one year, instead of three, if the criminal has been convicted and handed a ludicrously tiny fine that is likely to have been paid by his employer anyway!

That didn’t make sense to me so I contacted NatureScot and asked them about it. They agreed that it was counter-intuitive and that this scenario hadn’t really been considered before, probably due to the incredibly low prosecution/conviction rates for raptor persecution, especially in recent years. However, now that this ridiculous situation had been brought to their attention, NatureScot advised that they would be looking at tightening up the terms of the General Licences to better reflect the lack of trust that a conviction for a wildlife offence implies.

This will probably come too late to be applied to gamekeeper Givens, and to be fair to NatureScot they can only work with the existing terms and conditions that apply at any one time, but I was encouraged to hear that part of the planned review will also be to consider how Fiscal Fines and Fixed Penalty Notices for wildlife offences impact the ability of an individual to operate under General Licences.

Meanwhile, if anyone is out and about for a walk on the Cathpair Estate in the next ten months it may well be worthwhile having a look to see whether any traps are being operated to kill corvids and stoats. If they are and you’re suspicious of their legality, take photographs and a grid reference/What3Words and report them to Police Scotland on 101. Please share your report with the RSPB’s Investigations team so they can follow up with the police.

[The Cathpair Estate boundary (in blue), from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website]

06
Jan
22

Gamekeeper pleads guilty to killing buzzards in Nottinghamshire

Further to the blog post on 4th January 2022 (here), a gamekeeper has pleaded guilty to five offences committed in Nottinghamshire in January 2021, including the illegal killing of two buzzards, the unlawful use of a trap, the unlawful possession of two stock doves and a firearms offence.

[Nottinghamshire Police visited the crime scene to collect evidence with the RSPB Investigations Team in January last year. Photo via Nottinghamshire Police Rural Crime Team]

His guilty plea means he has avoided a trial (and thus saved the court time) for which he’ll no doubt be rewarded when it comes to sentencing.

Sentencing has been deferred until later this month. I expect the full horror of his crimes, and his identity, to be publicised at that time. It’ll be interesting to see whether he has any ‘professional’ affiliations to any of the shooting organisations that claim to operate a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on raptor persecution.

A Raptor Forensic Fund, established in 2020 by Wild Justice to help provide financial support to police investigations into alleged raptor persecution crime, has played a part in this conviction.

This is the 4th gamekeeper to be convicted of wildlife crimes/raptor persecution since November 2021. The three others were gamekeeper Shane Leech (33) in Suffolk (here), gamekeeper Peter Givens (53) in the Scottish Borders (here) and gamekeeper Hilton Prest (58) in Cheshire (here).

Kudos to Nottinghamshire Police Rural Crime Team, the RSPB Investigations Team and the CPS for their hard work in securing this result. Excellent partnership working in action!

06
Jan
22

Leadhills Estate wants to keep details of its General Licence restriction appeal a secret

As many blog readers will know, the notorious Leadhills Estate, a grouse-shooting estate in South Lanarkshire that has been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations at least 70 times since the early 2000s, is currently serving two General Licence restrictions imposed by NatureScot after ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime was provided to the statutory regulator by Police Scotland (see here and here).

For new blog readers, a General Licence restriction is a light-touch sanction for estates in Scotland where there is sufficient evidence of wildlife crime taking place but insufficient evidence to prosecute a specific individual. It’s not really a sanction at all though, because an estate can simply apply to NatureScot for ‘individual’ licences instead of a General Licence which allows them to continue the activities they were supposedly restricted from doing, just with a tiny bit of scrutiny attached (e.g. 1,000 birds were legally killed on a shooting estate despite being under a General Licence restriction, see here).

Nevertheless, a General Licence restriction is useful for campaigners for highlighting to the law makers that wildlife crime persists and further regulation/enforcement is therefore required.

So, back to Leadhills Estate. The reason why this grouse moor estate is currently serving an unprecedented double General Licence restriction is because of police reports relating to the illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate in the last few years (see here), the discovery of banned poisons on the estate in May 2019 (see here), the alleged shooting of a(nother) short-eared owl by a masked gunman on a quad bike as witnessed by a local resident and his eight year old son in July 2020 (see here) and the discovery of yet another batch of banned poisons, also in July 2020 (here). A satellite-tagged hen harrier (Silver) also vanished in suspicious circumstances on the estate in May 2020 (here), and although NatureScot don’t consider missing satellite-tagged raptors as sufficient evidence for a General Licence restriction, the disappearance can be used as supportive evidence if further alleged offences are also being considered.

Incredibly, Leadhills Estate with its double General Licence restriction is STILL a member of the lobby group Scottish Land & Estates, which claims to have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to raptor persecution. Hmm.

[Grouse moor on the Leadhills Estate. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

As you may recall, Leadhills Estate’s second General Licence restriction was announced by NatureScot in late September 2021 (here) and the estate was reported to be considering an appeal (here).

Having seen the estate’s previous (failed) appeal against its first General Licence restriction in 2019 (here), I was keen to see the arguments it would make for an appeal against a second restriction.

On 30th September 2021 I submitted an FoI to NatureScot to request copies of Leadhills Estate’s appeal.

On 3 November 2021 NatureScot responded as follows:

We have withheld a letter from an agent acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, pending an appeal against NatureScot’s decision to restrict General Licence. This information is of a sensitive nature and disclosure into the public domain could prejudice the applicant’s right to a fair hearing’.

I didn’t see how public disclosure could possibly prejudice a hearing given that it’s all done in-house at NatureScot but fine, I could wait.

In December 2021 it was announced that Leadhills Estate had lost its appeal against the second General Licence restriction (here) so I wrote back to NatureScot on 3rd December as follows:

You told me in the letter dated 3 November 2021 that you were withholding a letter from an agent who was acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, and the reason you gave for withholding it was that releasing it may prejudice the applicant’s right to a fair appeal. As the appeal process has now concluded and therefore the applicant’s right to a fair hearing cannot be affected, please can you send me the agent’s letter that was previously withheld‘.

Yesterday (5th January 2022) NatureScot responded to my latest FoI request, as follows:

We have completed our information searches, and we have identified eight documents comprising 126 pages relevant to your request. We shared a redacted version of these documents with the solicitors acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, who have provided additional legal arguments as to why certain information should be withheld. We will need additional time to assess these arguments and, potentially, take further legal advice.

Regulation 7 of the EIRs allows public authorities to extend the time for compliance with requests for up to an additional 20 working days. This means we must respond to your information request by 3 February 2022 at the latest‘.

That’s interesting. Why might Leadhills Estate not want the details of its appeal to be made public? And what legal arguments might it use to block the transparency of the decision-making process of a statutory agency?

I guess we’ll find out on 3rd February.

04
Jan
22

Trial due to start for gamekeeper accused of killing buzzards

The trial of a gamekeeper accused of killing buzzards is due to begin this week almost a year to the day of the alleged offences.

On 12th January 2021 Nottinghamshire Police, working in partnership with the RSPB Investigations Team, attended a location in the Kneeton area following reports of concern (see here). A gamekeeper was later arrested and charged with the alleged killing of buzzards (here).

[Police attending the scene of a crow cage trap in January 2021. Photo via Nottingham Police]

The gamekeeper appeared in court in August and entered a plea of not guilty (see here) so a trial date was set for January 2022.

The trial is due to begin on Thurs 6th January 2022.

This is the 4th gamekeeper to be brought before the courts since November 2021 – the three others were all convicted of various offences including gamekeeper Shane Leech (33) in Suffolk (here), gamekeeper Peter Givens (53) in the Scottish Borders (here) and gamekeeper Hilton Prest (58) in Cheshire (here).

Please note, as this is a live case no further detail will be provided here until the case has concluded or there is official commentary from the court reporter. Comments on this particular blog also won’t be accepted until the case concludes so as not to prejudice proceedings. Thanks for your understanding.

02
Jan
22

60 hen harriers confirmed illegally killed or ‘missing’ since 2018, most of them on or close to UK grouse moors

For anyone who still wants to pretend that the grouse shooting industry isn’t responsible for the systematic extermination of hen harriers on grouse moors across the UK, here’s the latest catalogue of crime that suggests otherwise.

[This male hen harrier died in 2019 after his leg was almost severed in an illegally set trap that had been placed next to his nest on a Scottish grouse moor (see here). Photo by Ruth Tingay]

This is the blog I now publish after every reported killing or suspicious disappearance.

They disappear in the same way political dissidents in authoritarian dictatorships have disappeared” (Stephen Barlow, 22 January 2021).

Today the list has been updated to include the most recently reported victims, three young hen harriers whose satellite tags inexplicably stopped transmitting and whose corpses vanished in to thin air in July, August and September 2021 (see here).

The disgraceful national catalogue of illegally killed and ‘missing’ hen harriers will continue to grow – I know of at least one more on-going police investigation which has yet to be publicised.

I’ve been compiling this list only since 2018 because that is the year that the grouse shooting industry ‘leaders’ would have us believe that the criminal persecution of hen harriers had stopped and that these birds were being welcomed back on to the UK’s grouse moors (see here).

This assertion was made shortly before the publication of a devastating new scientific paper that demonstrated that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers were confirmed or considered likely to have been illegally killed, and this was ten times more likely to occur over areas of land managed for grouse shooting relative to other land uses (see here).

2018 was also the year that Natural England issued itself with a licence to begin a hen harrier brood meddling trial on grouse moors in northern England. For new blog readers, hen harrier brood meddling is a conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA as part of its ludicrous ‘Hen Harrier Action Plan‘ and carried out by Natural England (NE), in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England. For more background see here.

Brood meddling has been described as a sort of ‘gentleman’s agreement’ by commentator Stephen Welch:

I don’t get it, I thought the idea of that scheme was some kind of trade off – a gentleman’s agreement that the birds would be left in peace if they were moved from grouse moors at a certain density. It seems that one party is not keeping their side of the bargain“.

With at least 60 hen harriers gone since 2018, I think it’s fair to say that the grouse shooting industry is simply taking the piss. Meanwhile, Natural England pretends that ‘partnership working’ is the way to go.

‘Partnership working’ appears to include authorising the removal of hen harrier chicks from a grouse moor already under investigation by the police for suspected raptor persecution (here) and accepting a £10K bung from representatives of the grouse shooting industry that prevents Natural England from criticising them or the sham brood meddling trial (see here).

[Cartoon by Gill Lewis]

So here’s the latest gruesome list. Note that the majority of these birds (but not all) were fitted with satellite tags. How many more [untagged] harriers have been killed?

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)

23 October 2018: Hen harrier Tom ‘disappeared’ in South Wales (here)

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

1 November 2018: Hen harrier Barney ‘disappeared’ on Bodmin Moor (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)

26 April 2019: Hen harrier Rain ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Nairnshire (here)

11 May 2019: An untagged 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: An untagged 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)

5 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 1 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park (here)

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

14 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183704) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

23 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #55149) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

24 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 2 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

24 September 2019: Hen harrier Bronwyn ‘disappeared’ near a grouse moor in North Wales (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 an untagged 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 (here)

23 March 2020: Hen harrier Rosie ‘disappeared’ at an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (here)

1 April 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183703) ‘disappeared’ in unnamed location, tag intermittent (here)

5 April 2020: Hen harrier Hoolie ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

8 April 2020: Hen harrier Marlin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

19 May 2020: Hen harrier Fingal ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Lowther Hills, Scotland (here)

21 May 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183701) ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Cumbria shortly after returning from wintering in France (here)

27 May 2020: Hen harrier Silver ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on Leadhills Estate, Scotland (here)

day/month unknown: Unnamed male hen harrier breeding on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria ‘disappeared’ while away hunting (here)

9 July 2020: Unnamed female hen harrier (#201118) ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed site in Northumberland (here).

25 July 2020: Hen harrier Harriet ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

14 August 2020: Hen harrier Solo ‘disappeared’ in confidential nest area in Lancashire (here)

7 September 2020: Hen harrier Dryad ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

16 September 2020: Hen harrier Fortune ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (here)

19 September 2020: Hen harrier Harold ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

20 September 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2020, #55152) ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in North Yorkshire (here)

24 February 2021: Hen harrier Tarras ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Northumberland (here)

12th April 2021: Hen harrier Yarrow ‘disappeared’ near Stockton, County Durham (here)

18 May 2021: Adult male hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from its breeding attempt on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria whilst away hunting (here)

18 May 2021: Another adult male hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from its breeding attempt on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria whilst away hunting (here)

24 July 2021: Hen harrier Asta ‘disappeared’ at a ‘confidential site’ in the North Pennines (here)

14th August 2021: Hen harrier Josephine ‘disappeared’ at a ‘confidential site’ in Northumberland (here)

17 September 2021: Hen harrier Reiver ‘disappeared’ in a grouse moor dominated region of Northumberland (here)

24 September 2021: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2021, R2-F-1-21) ‘disappeared’ in Northumberland (here)

To be continued……..

16
Dec
21

Another gamekeeper convicted as another bird of prey starves to death in illegally-operated trap

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the conviction of a 53-year-old gamekeeper in the Scottish Borders, Peter Givens, who was responsible for an illegally-operated trap in which a barn owl and a goshawk had starved to death (see here). I’ll be blogging more about that case shortly as some interesting things have come to light.

Fast forward two weeks and today another gamekeeper, 58-year-old Hilton Prest, has been convicted for an almost identical offence, this time causing a sparrowhawk to starve to death inside an illegally-operated trap in Bosley, Cheshire, in February this year.

[The dead sparrowhawk inside the crow cage trap. Photo by RSPB]

The RSPB has published a press release about this latest conviction, which I’ll reproduce below, and then I’ll add some commentary at the end.

RSPB press release, 16th December 2021:

Man fined after sparrowhawk starves to death in trap

An amateur gamekeeper has received an £800 fine after a sparrowhawk starved to death in a trap in Cheshire.

At Manchester Magistrates’ court today (16 December 2021), Hilton Prest pleaded guilty to unlawfully using a trap on or before 10/2/21 contrary to Sec 5(1)(b) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. He was fined £800 (plus £85 costs and £80 victim surcharge). A charge against a second man was discontinued. 

On 10 February 2021, a member of the public found a sparrowhawk alive in a cage trap on land managed for gamebird shooting near Bosley. Cage traps are large mesh traps designed so a bird can get in but not out. They can be used legally, under license, to control crows, and must be checked every 25 hours. Any non-target birds caught accidentally must be released unharmed during daily inspections. When not in use the doors on such traps must be removed or secured open so birds cannot be caught.

There was snow on the ground and no shelter or water for the bird. The door to the trap was closed, so the member of the public opened it slightly, hoping the sparrowhawk would escape. Concerned for the bird’s welfare, they later provided the trap’s location to the RSPB.

[The juvenile sparrowhawk caught inside the trap during freezing weather in Feb 2021. Photo by RSPB]

RSPB Investigators attended the following day, 17 February, however they found the sparrowhawk (later confirmed as the same bird) dead inside the trap. There were also the remains of a blackbird, which had presumably attracted the sparrowhawk inside, and some grain, which had presumably attracted the blackbird. Despite the door being ajar, it appeared the sparrowhawk had been unable to escape and starved to death.

Cheshire Police were notified and the body of the bird sent for post-mortem examination. A veterinary pathologist confirmed the bird had died of starvation and would have experienced considerable unnecessary suffering inside the trap. (The veterinary work was funded by money from Wild Justice’s Raptor Forensic Fund, provided to support such cases, and administered by the PAW Forensic Working Group.) Two men were later interviewed by the police and reported for offences in relation to the unlawful use of the trap. 

District Judge Mr Jack McGarver said that he accepted that the act was careless rather than reckless or intentional, but that the degree of carelessness was high, and that it was well below the standard that was expected.

He added: “The sparrowhawk is a beautiful native creature which is entitled to be protected.”

Tom Grose, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “An unattended set trap in sub-zero temperatures was a death sentence for both birds.

If a trap is no longer in operation, it must be disabled in such a way that no bird can become caught. The operator has a duty of care to ensure that this happens, and that no birds can become caught inside. This duty of care was not met.

This is yet another example of why Natural England must improve the general license conditions for disabling these traps, in line with conditions in Scotland. We are aware of a number of other birds, including buzzards and a goshawk, that have starved to death inside cage traps which appear not to have been properly disabled. In this case, a simple padlock securing the door wide open would have saved the life of this blackbird and this sparrowhawk. This needs to be addressed to ensure no more birds perish in this sad and wasteful way.”

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, or a trap with a bird of prey caught inside, phone the police on 101, email RSPB Investigations at crime@rspb.org.uk or fill in the online form: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/our-positions-and-campaigns/positions/wildbirdslaw/reportform.aspx

ENDS

First of all, well done to the RSPB’s investigations team, working with Cheshire Police, to bring this case to court and secure a conviction.

The penalty given to gamekeeper Prest (£800 fine plus £85 costs and £80 victim surcharge) is higher than that given to gamekeeper Givens (£300 fine plus £20 victim surcharge) even though two Schedule 1 species had died as a result of Givens’ offence so once again sentencing consistency is lacking.

What’s really interesting though is the difference in the trapping rules between Scotland and England. In the Scottish case, it could be shown quite easily that Givens was operating an unlawful trap because (a) in Scotland the General Licence requires that the trap user be identified by a code attached to each trap (this is not a requirement in England because statutory agency Natural England hasn’t bothered to introduce it), and (b) in Scotland, when the trap is not in use the trap operator MUST do the following, as a condition of the General Licence:

Any trap not in use must be immobilised and rendered incapable of use. For multi-catch cage traps, the access doors must be removed from the site or securely padlocked open so that no bird can be confined‘.

This is a clear instruction – you either padlock the door open or you remove it completely if the trap is not in use. It’s unambiguous.

However, the equivalent General Licence condition in England is nowhere near as clear cut and can lead to all sorts of ‘accidents’ and excuses.

In England, the General Licence condition says this:

When you are not using a trap, it must not be capable of holding or catching animals.

You must secure trap doors in a fully open position, or remove the doors completely from the site‘.

Then there’s an add-on bit of ‘advice’ underneath, that says:

Padlocks are the most secure way to secure trap doors open, but cable ties or wire may also be suitable‘.

Crucially, this ‘advice’ is not legally binding, so a trap operator in England could legally use a rock or a piece of baler twine to ‘secure trap doors in a fully open position’ but both these techniques, and others, are not bomb proof and a door could ‘accidentally’ close, preventing a trapped bird from a means of escape. Padlocking the door or removing the door completely provides a trapped bird with a route to escape.

Quite why Natural England hasn’t incorporated this very simple but effective condition into its General Licence is a matter of bemusement for many of us. It’s really not that difficult, is it?

And if game-shooting organisations were as interested in protecting birds of prey as they claim to be, they’d be pushing for this very simple measure, too.

15
Dec
21

Leadhills Estate loses appeal over extension to General Licence restriction

Regular blog readers will be well aware that the notorious Leadhills Estate, a grouse-shooting estate in South Lanarkshire that has been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations at least 70 times since the early 2000s, is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction based on what NatureScot described as ‘clear evidence’ of raptor persecution offences, including 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 (see here) and the discovery of banned poisons on the estate in May 2019 (see here).

That original General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate by NatureScot in November 2019 and is valid until November 2022.

A General Licence restriction can be imposed by NatureScot when there is sufficient evidence of wildlife crime on an estate but insufficient evidence for the police to charge a named individual. Leadhills Estate has denied all knowledge of any wildlife crime on its land.

[Chris Packham holds a dead hen harrier. This bird was caught by the leg in an illegally-set trap on the Leadhills Estate grouse moor in May 2019. The trap had been set next to the harrier’s nest and was hidden by moss. The harrier’s leg was almost severed. Unfortunately, extensive surgery could not save this bird. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Since that original General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate in November 2019, further alleged offences have been reported and are the subject of ongoing police investigations (see here) including the alleged shooting of a(nother) short-eared owl by a masked gunman on a quad bike as witnessed by a local resident and his eight year old son in July 2020 (see here) and the discovery of yet another batch of banned poisons, also in July 2020 (here). A satellite-tagged hen harrier (Silver) also vanished in suspicious circumstances on the estate in May 2020 (here), and although NatureScot don’t consider missing satellite-tagged raptors as sufficient evidence for a General Licence restriction, the disappearance can be used as supportive evidence if further alleged offences are also being considered.

In light of these latest allegations, in late September 2021 NatureScot announced that a further three-year General Licence restriction (an extension to the first one) was being imposed on Leadhills Estate (here), although it turned out that it wasn’t a three-year extension, as NatureScot had claimed, but was rather an eight-month extension because this latest restriction was running concurrently with the first restriction (see here).

In early October 2021 Leadhills Estate was reported to be considering appealing against the extended restriction (here) and shortly afterwards NatureScot removed the official notification of the extension from its website, a sure sign that an appeal was underway.

Roll on two months and the official notification has been re-posted on NatureScot’s website (here), which I take to mean that Leadhills Estate has lost its appeal and the General Licence restriction has been re-instated until it expires on 8th July 2023. This means that the estate cannot undertake certain activities (e.g. the operation of crow cage traps to kill hundreds of corvids) unless estate gamekeepers apply to NatureScot for an individual licence and NatureScot approves the application(s).

I’ll be monitoring this and will be keen to see whether individual licences are granted to gamekeepers on an estate that has had, in effect, a double General Licence restriction imposed after evidence of multiple wildlife crimes has been provided to NatureScot by Police Scotland.

Earlier this autumn I submitted an FoI to NatureScot to find out on what basis Leadhills Estate was appealing the General Licence restriction. The last time the estate appealed (against the original General Licence restriction), the grounds for appeal were laughable (see here) and were not accepted by NatureScot.

This time, NatureScot refused to release the details of the estate’s appeal because at the time the appeal was considered to be ‘live’ and it was thought that publication might affect the estate’s right to a fair hearing. I don’t know how it would have affected the estate’s appeal, given the appeal is heard in-house at NatureScot and cannot be influenced by outside commentary, but that was NatureScot’s decision.

That’s fine. Now the appeal has been dismissed and the restriction is in place, I have submitted another FoI to NatureScot and I expect the estate’s grounds for appeal to be released in to the public domain.

A response is due from NatureScot by the end of this month. I’ll keep you posted.

30
Nov
21

Gamekeeper convicted as birds of prey die in trap

A gamekeeper in the Scottish Borders has been convicted today after two supposedly protected birds of prey (a barn owl and a goshawk) died inside a trap which he neglected to check.

There’s an article about this case in the Border Telegraph this evening, which I’ll copy below, and then I’ll add some further commentary below that.

Here’s the Border Telegraph piece:

Borders gamekeeper ‘recklessly’ killed two protected birds

A GAMEKEEPER who recklessly killed two protected birds on a Borders estate by leaving open the door of a multi crow cage trap [Ed: see commentary at foot of this blog] has been fined £300 at Selkirk Sheriff Court.

An owl and a goshawk perished from exposure and a lack of food and water at Cathpair Farm near Stow on September 13 last year.

Fifty-three-year-old Peter Givens, of Keepers Cottage, Cathpair, pleaded guilty to recklessly taking and killing the wild birds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

[A barn owl. Photo by Anan Kaewkhammul]

His lawyer explained that Givens had used the crow trap for the lambing season earlier in the year but thought had had [sic] secured it properly when no longer required.

Wildlife and environmental crime depute fiscal Joe Stewart said: “An ecologist carrying out a survey on the estate came across a crow cage trap near some woodland.

“He noticed a barn owl lying deceased in the trap which was in an advanced state of decomposition and had obviously been there for a long time.

“The door was closed and the trap was in use.

“The local wildlife police attended carrying out a search and he found another bird in the trap which was a goshawk.”

An identification tag on the trap was traced to Givens.

Mr Stewart said the trap should have been removed.

Givens’ lawyer said his client had been a gamekeeper for more than 30 years and had no previous convictions.

He said around the start of the COVID pandemic in March 2020 the trap was put in place and checked on a regular basis in case other birds were trapped.

He explained that there had been a lot of crows at the start of the lambing season but this had tailed off by May.

The lawyer continued: “He thought the trap had been deactivated. There was no intention to keep the trap operating.

“What happened on September 13 came as a shock to him and a source of embarrassment and sadness for the damage he has caused.

“He has accepted he failed to deactivate the trap properly.

“He accepts his conduct was reckless but it was not intentional and he is very remorseful.”

Sheriff Peter Paterson said: “This was an oversight rather than an intentional act.

“It was not a deliberate act to trap predators with the unintended consequences.”

Sheriff Paterson added: “I take into account your spotless record and while this was reckless, it was not intentional.”

He reduced the fine from £375 to £300 to reflect the guilty plea with a £20 victim surcharge added.

ENDS

Ok, so first a technical correction on the court reporter’s write up in the Border Telegraph. The article states the gamekeeper had killed the two birds of prey ‘by leaving open the door of a multi crow cage trap’. This can’t be accurate. Had he left the door open, the barn owl and the goshawk would have been able to escape! What is more likely to have happened is the gamekeeper kept the cage door shut, which is an offence if the trap is no longer in use because, as we’ve seen, birds can enter the trap through a roof opening (either a ‘ladder’ or funnel design) but then they cannot escape back up.

Anybody who operates a multi-cage crow trap under the General Licences in Scotland MUST render the trap ‘incapable of use’ if the trap is not being used, and this means either removing the door entirely or padlocking it open. Leaving the door closed when the trap is not in use is an offence.

I was interested to read the gamekeeper’s lawyer’s defence: “…..the gamekeeper thought he had secured it properly when no longer required“. I’m not sure how someone can believe they’ve secured a cage trap ‘properly’ if they haven’t obeyed the General Licence terms and conditions and either (a) removed the door or (b) padlocked it open. There’s no possibility of ‘accidentally’ doing half a job here – you either remove the door or you don’t, or you padlock the door open, or you don’t.

I was also interested to see that the guilty gamekeeper was 53 years old and had been a gamekeeper for ‘more than 30 years’. These were details given by his lawyer in his defence. I’d argue that those details should have gone against the gamekeeper – he’s been in the wildlife-killing business for long enough to know the risks and certainly to know the law. Indeed, I understand Peter Givens was the former Head Gamekeeper on nearby Raeshaw Estate. This is an estate that has been at the centre of multiple wildlife crime investigations for many, many years and was the subject of the very first General Licence restriction in 2015, based on clear police evidence that wildlife crimes had been committed there, although there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any individual (see here).

Even after the General Licence restriction was imposed on Raeshaw Estate, even more alleged wildlife crimes were uncovered which resulted in the estate’s Individual licences being revoked by SNH in 2017 (here).

There is no evidence nor indeed suggestion that Peter Givens was involved in any of those alleged offences but the point of highlighting this background is that he would certainly have been aware of the police investigations and thus the importance of adhering to the law, which he failed to do in this latest case (which incidentally did not take place on Raeshaw Estate – Givens has since moved to a smaller shoot].

The lawyer also made a point of telling the Sheriff that Givens had no previous convictions, and his ‘spotless record’ was taken in to account by Sheriff Paterson when Givens was sentenced.

And the punishment for ‘recklessly’ killing two Schedule 1 birds of prey? A £300 fine and a £20 victim surcharge.

You can decide for yourselves whether this will be sufficient deterrent for other gamekeepers to ensure they adhere to the terms and conditions of the General Licences to prevent protected species being trapped in a literal death trap and starving to death.




Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Blog Stats

  • 7,925,663 hits

Archives

Our recent blog visitors


%d bloggers like this: