illegal poisoning hampers red kite population growth in Scotland

On the face of it, Scotland’s red kite population appears to be doing well. Red kites used to be a common and widespread feature of our countryside, but became extinct in almost the entire United Kingdom in the early 1900s, after gamekeepers persecuted them to oblivion. A national reintroduction project began in 1989, bringing kites from mainland Europe and releasing them at strategic locations throughout the country.

Figures just released from the 2010 breeding season show that in Scotland, the numbers of breeding pairs are thought to be at their highest level since the project began in 1989. 166 breeding pairs were located, and 291 young fledged – an increase on 2009 figures.

However, recent scientific research has shown that the Scottish red kite population is not growing as rapidly as a similar reintroduced population in southern England, mainly due to the continued use of illegal posion being laid out in the Scottish countryside. As kites are a scavenging species, they are particularly susceptible to feeding from poisoned baits. At least 6 red kites were poisoned in Scotland in 2010 – and these were just the ones that were found. The illegal poisons Carbofuran and Aldicarb were responsible for their deaths. We also know about several more red kites that had been found dead in suspicious circumstances but that the police chose not to investigate. In addition to the illegal poisoned baits, 11 young kites died after eating prey that contained high concentrations of legal rodenticide. Although legal, there are still precautions needed when using rodenticides and efforts are being made to ensure that those people using this method of poison are fully aware of the user guidelines, especially about placement of the bait.

In addition to illegal and legal poisoning, in recent years Scottish red kites have also been killed illegally by being shot, and by being caught by the legs on a spring trap and being clubbed to death.

BBC News story:

Another sea eagle poisoned in the Irish Republic

Just when you thought that 2010 couldn’t get any worse for reports of poisoned eagles, we hear that yet another sea eagle has been killed in Kerry, Republic of Ireland.

This young female, only released into Ireland in the summer as part of the re-introduction scheme, is the 9th eagle since 2007  to be illegally killed in Ireland. This one was poisoned in a notorious sheep-farming area known locally as The Reeks, where another eagle had been previously shot.

The poisoning is despite strict legislation banning poisoned bait to control foxes, introduced in October after an outcry by conservation groups and representatives in Norway (who have donated the eagles for release) over the recent spate of poisonings in Ireland.

The police are investigating and are understood to be following a definite line of enquiry. Sounds familiar? Sounds like another soundbite to me – no doubt that this eagle’s killer will never be brought to justice, just like all the other eagle killers in Ireland and Scotland – nobody has ever been convicted of killing one of these magnificent creatures. Why is that? Perhaps John Scott MSP was right – perhaps they are all just imaginary crimes….

Full news story from the Irish Times:

MSP asks questions about delayed Hen Harrier Framework report

A switched-on MSP has recognised the importance of the Hen Harrier Framework report and its relevance to the current WANE Bill debates,  and has raised formal questions in the Scottish Parliament about its delayed publication.

On December 21st 2010, MSP Peter Peacock (Labour: Highlands & Islands) lodged the following two written questions:

To ask the Scottish Executive what the (a) timetable and (b) launch date is for the publication and promotion of the hen harrier conservation framework report by the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme partnership;

To ask the Scottish Executive whether the contents of the hen harrier conservation framework report have been made available to the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee and, if not, whether the report will be published before the Parliament has completed consideration of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill.

Parliamentary questions can be asked by any MSP to the Scottish Government/Executive. The questions provide a means for MSPs to obtain factual and statistical information from the Scottish Government. Written questions must be answered within 10 working days (20 working days during recess). Peter Peacock’s questions are due for answer on Thursday 27 January 2011.

Peter Peacock is no stranger to the WANE Bill, as he is a member of the Rural Affairs & Environment Committee (the committee tasked to consider the finer details of the proposed Bill). He has emerged as one of the leading MSPs trying to introduce measures to ensure that those responsible for illegal raptor persecution are brought to justice for their crimes. He obviously recognises that the information contained within the Hen Harrier Framework report could have a strong influence on the outcome of these proposed measures. The report is alleged to contain “damning evidence” about hen harrier persecution in Scotland and its link to grouse moors – evidence that might just persuade MSPs that the time for strong action against these criminal activities is long overdue.

Unsurprisingly, there have been no calls of concern over the delayed publication of the Hen Harrier Framework report from groups with an interest in game shooting. Is it because they already know the extent of the “damning evidence“, and know that the release of this evidence will weaken their stance as they try to oppose measures such as vicarious liability or estate licensing? Below is a link to a news report from The Independent dating back to 2003, where Scottish Gamekeeper’s Association Chairman Alex Hogg seeks licences for gamekeepers to kill hen harriers. But not all hen harriers, of course, only those that are considered to be “problem” birds. The difficulty here is that many gamekeepers consider ALL hen harriers to be “problem” birds (because they eat red grouse and pheasants) – and they’ll kill them whether they have a licence to do so or not – as the contents of the Hen Harrier Framework report will show. Interesting also to note that in 2003 the Scottish Government introduced “tough new legislation to arrest and imprison anybody who poisons, traps or shoots birds of prey“. Nearly eight years later, how effective has that “tough new legislation” been? I’d say totally ineffective, given the pitiful sentences handed out by Sheriffs to people convicted of such crimes.

Convicted gamekeeper back in court this week – updated

Following on from the blog post on December 1st, the convicted gamekeeper who faces more charges (this time for alleged poisoning offences) will be back in court this week, after bad weather caused his earlier December trial to be postponed.

Full details will be posted here once the criminal proceedings have ended.

UPDATE: 23 December 2010. This case has been postponed for the second time this month. Details of the next trial date will appear here in due course.

Alleged dirty tricks campaign delays publication of hen harrier persecution evidence

The Scottish Raptor Study Group claims that a dirty tricks campaign is behind the delayed publication of a new hen harrier report. The report, called “A Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers in the UK”, contains “some highly damning evidence” that illegal persecution on grouse moors is one of the main reasons behind the species’ imperiled conservation status.

The Scottish Raptor Study Group accuses game-shooting lobbyists of employing delaying tactics so that the report is not published during the critical stages of the WANE Bill. If it is published, it would provide yet further evidence (if further evidence is needed) that illegal persecution is preventing the recovery of yet another protected raptor species. This evidence could persuade MSPs to support tough new measures that have been proposed to combat wildlife crime in Scotland, such as the licensing of shooting estates. Unsurprisingly, the game-shooting lobbyists are dead set against this proposal, and other similar measures, such as the introduction of vicarious liability. By suppressing the hen harrier report, they can continue to claim that everything in the shooting industry is above board and legal.

The report was supposed to have been published by SNH almost a year ago, in January 2010. Where is the public accountability? More importantly, where is the report? Perhaps the authors should email a copy to Julian Assange – he seems to be very good at publishing information that governments and others would rather be kept hidden.

Full details of the story at the SRSG website:

Alex Hogg blames conservationists for depleting golden eagle population

Alex Hogg, Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA), has today spouted yet another ill-informed attack on the Irish Golden Eagle Project claiming that it makes “absolutely no sense” for Scotland to continue providing golden eagle chicks to augment the growing Irish golden eagle population.

He fails to comprehend that eagle chicks are only collected in Scotland from nests with twins (where more often than not, only one chick will naturally survive), and that chicks are only collected in areas of Scotland where scientists believe the species has a favourable conservation status (this means that chicks are collected from very few areas).

Yes, persecution in Ireland is a problem, as we have seen in recent months, but it is nowhere near the problem levels here in Scotland. I think that Alex makes such ridiculous claims against the Irish Project because he’s either very stupid, or because he’s trying to deflect attention away from the Scottish poisoning events. Or both. I wish he would make such a fuss about the eagle poisoning incidents in Scotland – six confirmed poisoned this year alone, and a further four from this year currently under investigation. Have we heard an outcry from Alex and his SGA chums about these, plus all the other confirmed raptor poisonings in Scotland this year and in previous years? What we have heard from him is his continual bleatings about how gamekeepers need to be given licences to kill protected raptors.

Perhaps he should read this report into the Irish Golden Eagle Project – it provides all the information he’ll need so that his next commentary on golden eagle conservation can be based on facts, not fiction. Irish Golden Eagle Project Review 2009

two more buzzards poisoned in Scotland

Two dead buzzards found next to a poisoned rabbit bait were poisoned by carbofuran. The buzzards and the bait were discovered in a farm field near Boat of Garten on October 15 this year, by staff from the Strathspey Estate. They called the police and the birds were sent off for toxicology tests. A spokesman from Strathspey Estate said they were shocked by the poisoning. He added, “Considering the efforts made to enhance the wildlife conservation and biodiversity on the estate, it is inconceivable that any of our staff had any part whatsoever in the laying of poisoned bait“.

Northern Constabulary and Strathspey Estate are “working closely” to find those responsible. I’m not sure how delaying the news of these deaths for 7 weeks will have helped the investigation but still, at least Northern Constabulary appear to be involved this time. Shame we can’t report the same for the two poisoned eagles found dead on Northern Constabulary’s patch back in June. Six months have now elapsed and still no news…

BBC news for the buzzard poisoning:

Strathspey Estate is owned by the Earl of Seafield, who also owns the Seafield Estate. A buzzard was found poisoned by chloralose on Seafield Estate back in 1991, but no further public records of alleged raptor persecution have appeared since then. Strathspey Estate is actively involved in projects on capercaillie and Scottish wildcat, and is also helping with the satellite-tracking of two golden eagles born on the Estate in summer 2010. The Earl of Seafield signed the SRBPA/SEBG letter to Roseanna Cunningham in May 2010, on behalf of the Seafield & Strathspey Estates, condemning the illegal poisoning of raptors in Scotland. Sandy Lewis, the Chief Executive of Seafield Estate was previously the Chair of the SEBG (Scottish Estates Business Groups), and is, according to the SEBG website, currently their regional rep for North and West Scotland. He was involved in a fascinating legal case earlier this year, involving a grouse-shooting lease in Strathspey. The case also involved land agents Mark Osborne and Nick Baikie, familiar names to readers of this blog. Here are two links to that story:


Scottish golden eagle poisoned in Ireland

A young golden eagle, just a few months old, has been poisoned and killed by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran in Ireland. The young bird was born in the Outer Hebrides earlier this summer, and was donated to the Irish golden eagle reintroduction project, where it was released in August 2010. It was found dead on 1st November 2010, aged 5 months old. Tests revealed it was killed by Carbofuran. Police are investigating.

This brings the total known eagle deaths resulting from illegal poisoning in the British Isles this year to TEN (4 golden eagles & 1 sea eagle in Scotland, and 3 sea eagles & 2 golden eagle in Ireland). Take note, John Scott MSP – is this what you call imaginary?


Full news story here:

Raptor persecution “a part real – part imaginary crime”, says MSP

The stage 1 debate on the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill took place in Holyrood yesterday. The televised debate is available here:

The video lasts for 2.04 hours, and the WANE bill debate begins at 30 mins and runs to the end of the video.

Perhaps the most astonishing comment was that made by John Scott MSP (who begins his short speech at 57 mins into the video), who said that the Scottish conservatives do not accept that raptor persecution is widespread, they don’t believe a case has been made for the introduction of vicarious liability, and that raptor persecution was “a part real – part imaginary crime”.

Mr Scott is a member of the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee – the group charged with leading on the WANE bill – and so presumably he has sat through hours and hours of evidence about the extent of wildlife crime in Scotland, and in particular raptor persecution. Was he asleep? Or is his mind padlocked? His eyes blinkered? His ears stuffed with lambswool? Here is his MSP profile:

Thankfully, other members of the Committee re-butted his claim during their own statements, and it seems that there is a general concensus that the on-going issue of illegal & widespread raptor persecution in Scotland should be, and will be addressed within the WANE bill, which has now moved into Stage 2 for more detailed discussions.

Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham announced that the Government’s response to the Committee’s Stage 1 Report will be published next week.

Convicted gamekeeper back in court to answer poisoning charges

A gamekeeper will appear in front of a Sheriff tomorrow, to face charges of illegal raptor persecution incidents that are alleged to have taken place on the shooting estate where he works. Dead buzzards and posioned baits – you get the picture by now.

Nothing especially unusual in that statement, except perhaps the rare occurrence of a wildlife crime prosecution actually reaching court. Although this will be the second case in as many weeks in Scotland – someone is doing their job really well.

However, there is a twist to this one. The accused in tomorrow’s case will be very familiar with the inside of the Sheriff’s court, seeing as he was convicted there not so long ago, for a wildlife crime incident that took place in the same area where the current dead birds and poisoned baits were discovered. 

If he is found guilty tomorrow, it will be very interesting indeed to see what penalty the Sheriff deems appropriate this time, as we’ll be able to safely conclude that the pathetic fine he received as punishment for his previous offence had no deterrent value whatsoever. He may, of course, have been falsely accused and will walk from the court an exonerated man, leaving us all to ponder the mystery of who laid the poisoned baits that killed the buzzards on this estate.

Details that could identify this man have been deliberately excluded from this post in the interests of him receiving a fair trial. Full details will be published once the criminal proceedings have finished.