give credit where it’s due: gamekeeper saves kite on craigiehowe mains shooting estate, ross-shire

An all-too rare example of a good gamekeeper came to light in August 2009, when a red kite was rescued by keeper Bob Colyer on the Craigiehowe Mains shooting estate on the Black Isle, Ross-shire.

The recently-fledged young bird, called ‘H’, had crashed into the side of a pheasant-rearing pen and had become entangled in the netting when Bob found him. After carefully removing him, ‘H’ was given a night’s recuperation with the local SSPCA before being released the next day, with no obvious signs of injury.

Bob said: “The kite was looking very sorry for itself when I found it and didn’t seem grateful to be rescued. However, I’m delighted to have been able to help and even more pleased to hear that it has been able to take to the air once more”.

Well done Bob!

Full story:

two peregrines poisoned on nature reserve, Aberdeenshire

dead peregrine

Two recently-fledged peregrines were found poisoned on the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Longhaven Reserve, Aberdeenshire, in July 2004. They were found by two climbers and tests proved they had been poisoned by eating from a pesticide-laced bait.

Police wildlife crime officer, George Sangster, said peregrines had been the victims of illegal persecution for many years, and he and his colleagues had seen “a worrying trend in the last few years in the north east of Scotland, with an increase in the persecution of peregrines”. Full story:

Six years later, not much has changed. According to a 2009 RSPB report, recent estimates suggest that 27% of nests in southeast Scotland, 24% of nests in northeast Scotland and over 10% of examined sites in Cumbria were subject to interference or killing. More info:

Environment Minister appreciates the efforts of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association

Scottish Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, really showed those pesky gamekeepers that she means business when it comes to stamping out wildlife crime. In her speech at the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s (SGA) annual general meeting on 5 March 2010, hard-hitting Roseanna gave them what for. Well actually, she didn’t.

Here is an excerpt from her speech:

Unfortunately, the illegal killing of birds of prey in Scotland remains at an unacceptably high level, as shown by the recent high profile cases such as the poisoning of the golden eagle, Alma, which was being radio-tracked by SNH. Raptor persecution is one of the UK Wildlife Crime Priorities and we are committed to tackling this.

In Scotland even one incident of deliberate, illegal poisoning would be one too many. It is shameful that some of our most iconic species continue to face illegal persecution.

We all know that the illegal killing of birds of prey is having a serious impact on the populations of iconic species such as golden eagles and hen harriers. Birds of prey are our national assets, with huge public, cultural and tourism appeal. 

However, I realise that those responsible for these illegal activities are in the minority.

I am most grateful for the efforts of the SGA who are trying to conserve birds of prey and the support that the SGA gives to the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAWS), in helping to defeat this type of crime.

The partnership approach taken in tackling this issue is apparent in the mix of people you see here today. We all have the same goal of defeating wildlife crime. Working together to share knowledge, resources and skills to deal with these issues is the only way to tackle this problem”.

Roseanna, love, it might be time to change your political advisors because they are clearly not giving you the full picture. What ‘efforts’, exactly, has the SGA made to try and conserve birds of prey? Perhaps you are referring to their long-running campaign (since 2000) to get licences to cull raptors? SGA chairman Alex Hogg even goes as far as saying if they had licences to kill raptors legally then the wildlife crime would stop ‘overnight’. Is that an admission that if licences to kill raptors are not forthcoming then gamekeepers will continue the criminal activity of killing protected species? Wonderful! What a great effort they are making to conserve birds of prey!

Mark Osborne – another amazing coincidence

(John) Mark Osborne must be the victim of an amazing series of coincidences, according to shooting journalist James Marchington: What else could explain his connection to a number of shooting estates where wildlife crimes have allegedly been committed? Here’s the latest coincidence –

In 1991, Osborne apparently set up the West Wycombe Shooting Ground on the Dashwood Estate near High Wycombe, Bucks, along with Sir Edward John Francis Dashwood. The estate incorporated the Bradenham Hill Shooting Syndicate.

On 15 July 1998,  a 29 year old gamekeeper (Gamekeeper A) for the Bradenham Hill Shooting Syndicate, appeared before High Wycombe magistrates accused of an appalling litany of alleged wildlife crimes between 1996-1997. A journal found at his house documented the alleged massacre of 127 badgers, several cats and dogs, 3 owls, 2 sparrowhawks and a buzzard on the Dashwood Estate. An underkeeper on the estate told the court that Gamekeeper A had admitted killing badgers and feeding live fox cubs to his dogs. Gamekeeper A was cleared of the wildlife crime offences because of ‘insufficient evidence’ and was fined £150 with £50 costs, for keeping ammunition unsecured.

On 21 April 2005, Gamekeeper A was back in court, this time as head keeper on the Dashwood Estate. He and his co-accused, Gamekeeper B, both of West Wycombe, were charged with clubbing a buzzard to death on the Dashwood Estate on 23 February 2004. The buzzard had been caught inside a crow trap, and Gamekeeper B was videoed by RSPB undercover investigators as he clubbed the buzzard to death with a piece of wood while Gamekeeper A looked on. Both men were found guilty and fined £2,000 each, with an additional £500 costs.

Eton-educated Sir Dashwood (45), chairman of the Countryside Alliance’s Campaign for Shooting, appears to have further links with Osborne. According to Companies House records, both became Directors of West Wycombe Corporate Entertainment Ltd in 1991. They were also both allegedly involved with the lease of the notorious Leadhills Estate (owned by Hopetoun Estate) in South Lanarkshire in 2003. However, in 2008, the shooting rights were put up for sale after a series of police raids in relation to alleged raptor persecution incidents. The Estate’s owner, the Marquess of Linlithgow, had apparently leased the estate to Dashwood & Osborne in 2003 on the condition that they complied with the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. Dashwood claimed the sale of the shooting rights was ‘entirely unconnected’ with the police raids.

Gamekeepers unfairly blamed for raptor persecution? Let’s look at the facts…

We regularly hear the bleatings of Alexander Simpson Hogg, 51, (known to many of us as simple Alex Hogg), chair of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, that gamekeepers, those “professional wildlife managers”, are blamed unfairly for raptor persecution events. Really, Alex? Let’s look at the facts, shall we?

Here is a pie chart compiled from RSPB data on raptor persecution incidents in the UK (reproduced from the RSPB publication Birdcrime 2008). From 1996 to 2008, 75% of people convicted of offences relating to bird of prey persecution have been linked with game interests; all 64 of these were gamekeepers, nearly all full-time.

In an article published in the Scotsman newspaper on 26 March 2004, Alex Hogg stated: “We [the SGA] have made it absolutely clear to our members that anyone found guilty of perpetrating these acts of serious wildlife crime will be expelled from our organisation immediately”.

And in an article published in the Independent on 7 October 2007, it was reported that the SGA had released the following statement: “If any of our members are convicted of a wildlife crime offence appropriate measures will be taken. Sanctions include the withdrawal of membership. In particular, conviction for poisoning offences will be treated with the utmost severity”.

So, Alex, here’s your opportunity to demonstrate that the SGA doesn’t merely pay lip service to the task of addressing wildlife crime- can you produce a list of members who have been expelled from the SGA for being convicted of a serious wildlife crime?

As a member of the government-led Partnership for Wildlife Crime (PAW), this should be the least you have to do to demonstrate your organisation’s sincerity.

Community action after golden eagle ‘Alma’ found poisoned on Millden Estate, Perthshire

Local residents are outraged at the poisoning of golden eagle ‘Alma’, who was found dead on the Millden Estate in Glen Esk in July 2009.

Members of Inveresk Community Council are now writing to the three Estates in Glenesk (Millden Estate, Gannochy Estate and Invermark Estate), as well as the Scottish Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham and the Chair of Scottish Natural Heritage, Andrew Thin, to express their concern about the alleged use of lethal illegal poisonous baits in the area.

Brechin Community Council vice-convenor, David Adam, who was at the meeting and raised the issue, said: “I think we are all quite shocked about this. I think it is fairly conclusive that the bird was poisoned and that the bird was poisoned in Glen Esk. These birds are an extremely important part of our heritage”.

Inveresk Community Council chairperson, Charlie Simpson, commented: “To poison such creatures goes totally against the nature of Scotland”.

At the time of the discovery of the dead eagle, police conducted searches, under warrant, of gamekeepers’ cottages and vehicles on the Millden Estate. No arrests have been made. Tayside Police claim this is an on-going investigation, which probably means this crime will remain unsolved and the criminal(s) unpunished, like so many other reported poisoning incidents in this region and elsewhere in Scotland.

This is Alma as a chick, at her nest on the Glenfeshie Estate in 2007, being tagged by Roy Dennis
Two years later, Alma is dead after visiting grouse moors in Glen Esk

The Mark Osborne Coincidences Continue…

Even casual readers of this blog will be aware of the frequency with which the name “Mark Osborne” occurs. His connection to locations with both actual and alleged raptor persecution incidents, which must of course be coincidental, is not confined to Scotland.

February 2008. Three gamekeepers working on the Snilesworth Estate, near Northallerton in North Yorkshire, have pleaded guilty to a range of charges relating to the use of cage traps containing live pigeons to take birds of prey.

In May 2007, following allegations of traps being set to catch birds of prey, the North Yorkshire Police, supported by the RSPB and RSPCA, visited the Snilesworth Estate. The estate is reportedly part of a network of shooting estates managed by Mr (John) Mark Osborne (56) of Banbury, Oxford, according to the RSPB link, below, and this link here.

James Benjamin Shuttlewood, the headkeeper of the Snilesworth Estate with 20 years experience, pleaded guilty to five offences, relating to the setting of illegal traps by his subordinates. He was fined £250 for each offence.

Charles Lambert Woof pleaded guilty to one offence of mis-using a cage trap. He was fined £100.

Eighteen-year old David George Cook pleaded guilty to two offences of setting cage traps. Cook, who was 17 at the time the offences were commited, was given a conditional discharge for 12 months.
Additionally, the three convicted keepers have each been asked to pay £43 costs.

Full story here:

RSPB story here:

RSPB Investigator’s blog about this case here

2006 article in the New York Times about Snilesworth Estate, with James Chapel listed as ‘manager of a Snilesworth Moor estate’ (here). James Chapel is Director of William Powell Sporting (see here), a company owned by Mr Osborne.

Ian West, Head of RSPB Investigations added: ‘As a major manager of shooting estates Mr Osborne has a real opportunity to show leadership and signal an end to the Victorian tradition of intolerance towards birds of prey.’
The illegal killing of birds of prey is a major factor limiting the range and populations of many species across the UK.

“Eagles have no place on my grouse moor”, allegedly said former Laird of Fordie Estate, Perthshire

Lord Anthony Tryon has an alleged dislike of golden eagles

It is often said that gamekeepers only persecute raptors because they are acting upon the orders of their employer, and fear losing their job and often a tied cottage if they refuse. Here is an example of an estate manager who refused.

Ian Thomas (42) had worked on the Fordie Estate near Comrie, Perthshire for 15 years, when the estate was bought by former banker Lord Anthony Tryon (former husband of Lady ‘Kanga’ Tryon). During an inspection of his newly-acquired grouse moor, Lord Tryon allegedly became irritated at finding piles of grouse feathers indicating kills by birds of prey. According to Ian Thomas, Lord Tryon allegedly said, “Eagles have no place on my grouse moor” and “I have bought an estate and I will do what I like”.

Thomas claims that he was instructed by Lord Tryon to shoot a golden eagle and use illegal poisons to rid the estate of other raptors. Thomas refused and reported him to the authorities, saying he felt “morally obliged” to blow the whistle. Thomas claimed he was constructively dismissed after being branded a trouble-maker by Tryon and took his claim to an employment tribunal.

To avoid giving evidence in court, Tryon made an undisclosed settlement to his former estate manager in 2004.

Full story:

The Fordie Estate was bought from Lord Tryon in 2009 and is now owned by designer luggage tycoon, Luis Vuitton. The Fordie Estate is one of eight estates in Perthshire who have joined the Countrywatch Partnership, working to protect three key raptor species in the area (golden eagle, hen harrier and peregrine).

Thomas has gone on to establish his own forestry consultancy business. Here is a man with whom it’s worth doing business.


Film footage of Gamekeepers on Leadhills Estate ruled inadmissable

Female Hen harrier at nest

On 30 April 2003, an undercover RSPB investigation team were filming at a hen harrier nest on the Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire (also known as Hopetoun Estate and Abington Farms Ltd). This estate has a shocking record of alleged persecution against hen harriers and peregrines.

According to an article published by a former RSPB investigator (see link below), a gamekeeper was filmed walking up the valley towards the hen harrier nest, and ‘finding’ the nest by throwing a training bag for his labrador dog. The keeper was also allegedly filmed picking up the dog by its throat and kicking it to the ground. He was later charged with a cruelty offence after SSPCA officers and a vet had viewed the evidence.

Later the same night, the RSPB team reportedly filmed a group of men approaching the hen harrier nest in the dark using torches.  They are reported to have shot the incubating female and removed the eggs from her nest. One of the RSPB team followed the men back to the road and took their vehicle registration number. The vehicle was allegedly found to be used by the estate’s head gamekeeper. A shotgun cartridge found next to the nest was allegedly matched to the gun belonging to the head gamekeeper’s son. The son was later charged in relation to killing the harrier and destroying the nest.

After prolonged legal activity, the charges against both keepers were all dropped. It is thought this was in connection to the use of undercover footage by the RSPB. (See our post about a similar incident at Haystoun Estate in 2003).


Gamekeeper guilty of offences on Stanhope estate, Peebleshire

Stanhope Estate

Following an anonymous complaint about alleged posioning offences on the Stanhope Estate, Peebleshire, police obtained a search warrant for a gamekeeper’s house. During the search they found Cymag gas, .275 ammunition and his shotguns were not secured inside a gun cabinet.

Following an appearance at Peebles Sheriff Court, the 31 year old keeper (name removed under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974) had his shotgun and firearms licence revoked. However, the court did not fine him or make him pay any costs, he was just admonished (given advice!) by the Sheriff.