Roseanna Cunningham claims government is committed to tackling wildlife crime

Labour MSP Elaine Murray asked the Scottish government on 25 March 2010 what action it is taking to tackle wildlife crime.

Scottish Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham

Roseanna Cunningham, Scottish Environment Minister, claimed the government was committed to tackling wildlife crime and used four examples to support her assertion:

1. Strengthening and re-structuring the Partnership for Wildlife Crime (PAW) to improve its effectiveness. [Presumably this ‘strengthening’  includes supporting the words of Sheriff Kevin Drummond, Paw Chair, who recently told a wildlife crime investigator to “Get a life” after he dared to suggest that sentencing for wildlife crime was too lenient].

2. Establishing a fund aimed at supporting innovations in combating wildlife crime. [This is good – is there a report available to show what innovations have been funded?].

3. Taking action to reduce the single farm payments made to five claimants in cases connected with poisoned birds. [Excellent. Is there a report available to show which five claimants have had their subsidies withdrawn? We are only aware of two –

  • James McDougal (Blythe Farm near Lauder, Scottish Borders) who had £7,919 withdrawn in January 2008 after his gamekeeper, George Aitken, was convicted of wildlife crimes – see blog entry 6 March 2010.
  • John Dodd (Glenogil Estate, Angus) who had £107,000 withdrawn in September 2008 after poisoned baits were found strewn across his estate. Dodd is apparently contesting this decision – see blog entry 3 March 2010.

So who are the other three claimants who have had their subsidies withdrawn? The two we know of happened in 2008, during the tenure of the previous Environment Minister, Michael Russell. How many withdrawals happened in 2009 when Roseanna Cunningham took office?]

4. The recent appointment of a special lawyer to act as Crown Council for Wildlife Crime. [Excellent – we look forward to seeing an increase of successful prosecutions in the very near future].

Full report:

Call to control poison in Ireland after more red kite deaths

Another poisoned red kite

Pressure to control the poison Alphachloralose, available over the counter in Ireland, is intensifying following the poisoning of two more red kites in County Wicklow. The young birds were part of an Irish reintroduction project and had only been released in July 2009.

Alphachloralose has been used to kill red kites, golden eagles and white-tailed eagles across Ireland in recent years. The Golden Eagle Trust, a local NGO attempting to re-introduce all three species back to ireland, have lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission over the State’s failure to protect the birds.

Full story:

Golden Eagle Trust website:

Gamekeeper sentenced for wildlife crimes on Redmyre Estate, Abernyte, Perthshire

Further to the blog entry of 3 March 2010……

Gamekeeper Graham Barclay Kerr (53) of Mary Findlay Drive, Dundee, who had earlier pleaded guilty to shooting a buzzard and being in possession of illegal and deadly poisons on the Redmyre Estate, Abernyte, Perthshire on 9 September 2009, has now been sentenced.

His punishment? A pathetic £400 fine for shooting the buzzard with a .243 rifle, and an even more pathetic ‘admonishment’ (which means a telling off) for being in possession of Carbofuran and Alphacloralose. Sentencing him at Perth Sheriff Court on 24 March 2010, Sheriff Robert McCreadie told Kerr, “You may not have appreciated how serious the courts take the illegal destruction of wildlife. I think you will be aware of that now”.

Really? A £400 fine for deliberately shooting a protected species is not what I would call a deterrent for other gamekeepers or their employers. And an admonishment for the possession of illegal and highly toxic poisons is nothing but lamentable. When oh when will the public see the full force of the law being handed down to convicted wildlife criminals? The Scottish judiciary has been given the powers to impose large fines or custodial sentences for convicted wildlife criminals, because that is the punishment that society deems fitting for these crimes. The Scottish government claims to be ‘stamping out’ wildlife crime. Perhaps the government and the judiciary need to get together and make sure they are reading from the same book, let alone the same page, because so far their actions speak louder than their words. This case speaks volumes.

Full story:

Inside case details from Tayside Police:

Red kite death being investigated by North Yorkshire police

Dead red kite

Police are investigating the death of a red kite found in North Yorkshire last week, amid concerns that it may have been poisoned. The kite was found by a farmer in a field and police have now organised for toxicology tests to be conducted.

The kite was found in an area where numerous poisoning incidents have taken place.

More on this story:

National Gamekeepers’ Organisation Advice – What to do if you are raided by the police.

Whilst looking through the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation website  for information on another raptor persecution article, I came across an interesting few pages under the heading, ” What to do in the Event of a Police Search”.

 In this section you can find information on police warrants, what to do while a search is in progress, what to do when arrested and/or locked up, not to answer any questions until your solicitor is present etc. With the prominent position that this advice commands, the uninitiated could be forgiven for thinking that having your home and workplace searched or being arrested and locked up is part and parcel of the work of the gamekeeper. Well, is it? Perhaps I’m being a little naive!

It also occurred to me that if an organisation that represented another profession, for example medical doctors, solicitors, teachers or indeed scrap metal merchants, distributed information on what to do when arrested you may think that something was pretty rotten at the core of that profession.

Alex Hogg’s Change of Heart?

16th March 2010. The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA) chairman Alex Hogg, has condemned the “appalling statistics” regarding the poisoning of raptors on the official SGA website. The figures he refers to were collated by Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) and recently published by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) They report that a total of 27 birds of prey were found poisoned in Scotland in 2009, including 19 buzzards, four red kites one white tailed sea eagle and two golden eagles. Unfortunately the report does not “name and shame” estates, farms, individuals etc involved.

 In what would appear to be a complete change of heart, Alex Hogg has stated “There is no place for raptor persecution in modern land management”.  

Gamekeeper Alex Hogg

Does this mean that Alex has seen the light and will not be pursuing his application to kill 12 buzzards on the Portmore estate where he is employed as a gamekeeper?

The SGA website also reports that Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham has condemned the figures, saying the protection of Scotland’s wildlife has never before occupied such a prominent position politically or in terms of the law, adding “this continued persecution of our precious wildlife is simply incomprehensible.”

With Sheriff Drummond still chairing the PAW Scotland Legislation, Regulation and Guidance Sub-group after his reported admission of the low priority in which he regards raptor persecution and the pathetic, lenient sentences for these crimes it’s hard to think of a reason why these disgraceful figures should improve.

Full story:

National Gamekeepers Organisation makes public relations faux pas

Oh dear. Comments made by the spokesman of the National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO) this week reveal a spectacular mis-judgement of public opinion.

Writing on the official NGO blog, spokesman Alasdair Mitchell writes in support of Sheriff Drummond’s outrageous remarks at the recent police wildlife crime conference, and suggests that the illegal persecution of raptors is no big deal, nothing more than “dissing a buzzard”.

And this comes in the same month that the National Gamekeepers Organisation decided to join PAW! Why bother? PAW is ‘supposedly’ about a working partnership to deal with addressing the horrors of wildlife crime, not dismissing it as an irrelevancy. Could it be that the NGO joined PAW as a public relations stunt, in light of the increasing public anger about raptor persecution and other wildlife crime?

Alasdair Mitchell

He also seems unable to cope with the concept that a woman might have achieved academic success. If ever there was evidence that gamekeepers’ views are firmly entrenched in the Victorian era, this is it! Hey Mr Mitchell, guess what – women can also vote now, too! Welcome to the 21st century! I wonder if he has such a problem with people’s hereditary titles, like for example, Lord Barnard, who is hosting this year’s NGO Golden Grouse clay shoot? I think he must do, because otherwise that would make Mr Mitchell a hypocrite.

2009 Map of shame: why not name the estates?

Raptor persecution incidents Scotland 2005-2009

As reported on this blog yesterday, the latest figures of confirmed bird of prey poisoning events in Scotland were just released and guess what? Poisoning in 2009 was at an all time high, despite the succession of statements from the Scottish government over the last 40 years that they are “determined to stamp out” wildlife crime. By anybody’s standards, the government has failed miserably, along with the judiciary, who have never given a custodial sentence to a convicted poisoner, even though they have the sentencing powers to do so. It’s pathetic.

The latest ‘map of shame’ is a pointless piece of work in its current format. What does it tell us? It tells us that raptor poisoning is widespread in Scotland. We already knew that. What it doesn’t tell us is which Estates were responsible. A carefully-worded explanation for this lack of detail goes like this:

Exact locations of incidents are not shown, in recognition of the fact that birds may travel some distance after ingesting poison. The map therefore randomises precise locations of incidents to produce a variation of around 1km. This avoids any inference being drawn from the exact point of discovery of the bird, but still allows an overview of the worst affected areas“.

Now, I’m no expert geographer, but I’m fairly certain that most Estates in Scotland are bigger than a kilometre. So if a poisoned raptor has been found on an estate where the boundary fence is greater than 1km away, we can be fairly certain that the bird has been poisoned on the estate where it was found, can’t we? And where did this arbitrary distance of 1km originate from anyway? Surely, a forensic expert would be able to calculate the distance a poisoned bird could travel based on the type, amount and toxicity of the poison used? Just look at some of the images on this blog – many dead raptors are found in very close proximity to the actual poisoned bait, sometimes even slumped over it, leaving no doubt whatsoever how and where the bird was killed. Why are these locations not published?

Leaving the dead raptors aside for one moment, why is there not a map showing the location of poisoned baits that have been found? There can be none of this hiding behind concern over an ‘incorrect inference’ for these cases – a posioned bait can’t “travel some distance” from where it was laid, so why are we not seeing the names of the Estates where these baits have been found (with the exception of Glenogil Estate in Tayside, which we all know about)? According to the latest figures released yesterday, 63 poison baits were discovered between 2005 and 2009. And these only relate to incidents involving birds of prey. A quick scan of SASA poisoning reports shows that there are plenty more poisoned baits out there in the countryside that do not get mentioned in the lastest government report. Isn’t it in the public’s interest to know where these baits have been found? I certainly wouldn’t want my children or my pets to be walking in these areas. It only takes one granule of the commonly-used (but illegal) pesticide Carbofuran to kill a human. Why should my children and pets be put at risk, just because the government is too weak and timid to stand up to the (highly rich and influential) members of the SRPBA (Scottish Rural Property & Business Association), who are allegedly behind the secrecy of poisoning locations in Scotland. Not good enough.

If you share this view and wish to express your disgust and concern, you can email the Scottish Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, to let her know your thoughts:

shooting times magazine names the countryside’s “most wanted pests”

Game shooting’s top magazine, The Shooting Times, has published an article on the countryside’s “most wanted pests”, which speaks volumes on the true attitude of the game shooting industry to our protected wildlife.

The Times, 6th February 2006 reports,  The golden eagle, red kite, osprey, heron, peregrine falcon and buzzard stand accused with the hedgehog, otter, badger and the domestic cat of being “voracious predators” that affect the game shooting and fishing industries.

The 114-year-old title describes the animals on its list as “pricey pests” that devour pheasant, partridge, grouse, salmon, trout, hare, pigeon, woodcock, snipe, duck, goose and deer or snatch wild birds’ eggs. The losses hit the profits of estate owners and shooting and fishing syndicates.

Jim Knight, the Rural Affairs Minister, joined animal welfare groups and the Countryside Alliance in criticising the magazine for vilifying wildlife. He was shocked by the article’s emotive language. “The list includes a number of precious species that are protected by law. Readers of this article may agree that some species can be a nuisance — but this does not excuse their destruction.”

Camilla Clark

Camilla Clark, editor of Shooting Times, said: “The purpose was to assess the economic impact of predators and pests on game birds in the UK. Shooting Times would never advocate the illegal killing of a protected species.”

Camilla, sweetheart, have a look through our blog and you will quickly realise that the No.1 most wanted pest in the British countryside is the rogue gamekeeper. A species that would benefit from a serious programme of eradication.

Rise in bird of prey poisonings in Scotland – 2009 figures just released

Depressing but wholly anticipated news today, as the raptor poisoning incidents from 2009 are released. Based on data from the government’s Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture section (SASA), the figures show an increase on 2008 incidents.

The usual ‘map of shame’ has been trotted out, not telling us anything new at all and once again, the names of the estates involved have all been removed.

News story:

Scottish government press release:

We’ll be writing an opinion piece about this miserable news in due course, and will provide readers with information about ways you can express your disgust and concern about these relentless crimes to the people who are in a position to do something about it.