Sporting estates with persistent record of raptor poisoning could face loss of shooting rights

The Daily Telegraph reports that MSP Peter Peacock is preparing to submit a new ammendment to the WANE Bill that will allow the Scottish government to issue ‘yellow cards’ to sporting estates that persistently poison birds of prey.

The issue of estate licensing has featured widely in the drafting of the forthcoming WANE Bill, but has so far been met with resistance from Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham. The new ammendment differs in that it will not automatically apply to ALL estates – instead, it suggests that it will be applicable only to those estates that persistently engage in the criminal activity of raptor poisoning.

Mr Peacock said he is changing the wording of his proposal to ensure there is an earlier right of appeal and stressed that action could not be taken on the basis of a single incident.

“Where there’s a recurrent problem, this would give ministers powers to intervene,” the Highlands and Islands MSP said.

“If the estate owner says ‘we share your concerns and this is what we propose to do about it’, it may go no further.

“If not, then ministers can say there’s reasonable case for intervention here and ask the estate to formally respond with an action plan. If this is not sorted, then the ultimate sanction can be imposed.”

He confirmed this would be a “restriction order”, the suspension of shooting rights for however long its takes for the estate to show its record has improved.

Asked what would be required for this procedure to be initiated, Mr Peacock listed a range of supporting evidence such as the carcases of dead birds, the presence of illegal poisons and local raptor populations being significantly lower than projected.

A spokesman for the Scottish Estates Business Group said: “We are very concerned by the indiscriminate approach being taken.”

He seems to be missing the point. The new ammendment would not be indiscriminate (unlike the original ammendment where ALL sporting estates would be licensed) – instead, it would only target those estates that refuse to abide by the laws of the land. Sounds like a promising compromise to me.

Daily Telegraph article:

Head gamekeeper charged with wildlife crime & firearms offences at Holkham Estate, Norfolk

The head gamekeeper at Holkham Estate, Norfolk, has been charged with  a series of wildlife crime and firearms offences following a police investigation, according to The Fakenham Times.

41 year-old Nicholas Parker of Main Road, Holkham, has been charged with the following: killing a Schedule One wild bird, taking game out of season, possessing ammunition for a firearm without a certificate, possessing a shotgun or rifle for committing an either way wildlife offence, possessing a shotgun without a certificate, and contravening the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

He has apparently been suspended from his job since the allegations came to light last year. The report says he has been released on police bail and will appear before King’s Lynn magistrates on Wednesday 9 February 2011.

News story here:

Nicholas Parker joined the Holkham Estate staff in April 2008, after working for six years for the Van Cutsem shoot on Mossdale Estate in North Yorkshire. Here’s his self-introduction in the Holkham Estate newsletter (page 13): Holkham Estate newsletter 2008

It’s not the first time that Holkham Estate has been at the centre of a wildlife crime investigation. In March 2000, a Holkham Estate gamekeeper was fined £850 for the killing of three kestrels on the estate. He admitted to shooting two birds and poisoning a third with a Carbofuran – baited pheasant carcass because he blamed them for attacking young partridges. Following the keeper’s conviction, a 37 year-old land agent and a 62 year-old head keeper were both convicted of three charges of allowing the gamekeeper on the 25,000-acre estate to illegally store poison. Although they denied the charges, they were fined £1,200 and £750 respectively. They both appealed and their cases were heard at Norwich Crown Court on 9 October 2000. Judge Lawrence stated that, although the standard of supervision of the use of poisons on the estate “left something to be desired”, he had reached the conclusion that the gamekeeper was acting independently. Both appeals were upheld.

Twelve charges were also brought against Viscount Coke, heir to the family’s estate in north Norfolk, for allowing the gamekeeper to illegally use poison on the estate. However, Fakenham magistrates said the Viscount had no case to answer. It is claimed that Viscount Coke threatened to sue the police and the crown prosecution service after he was cleared of all involvement. News story here: and here:

It’s very interesting to note that the name of the convicted gamekeeper appears in the latest edition of the Holkham Estate newsletter (Winter 2010) – still employed there then, even with a criminal conviction? So much for estates wanting to rid the industry of those who persecute raptors!

Holkham Hall

The now 45 year-old Viscount Coke appears to be quite a character. Educated at Eton, he was apparently a former page of honour to the Queen. He took over the estate when his father retired in 2007 and lives with his family in Holkham Hall on the estate. It has been reported that he is a principal trustee and spokesperson for the charity Songbird Survival – notorious for its views against raptors:

According to the current Holkham Estate website, nine gamekeepers are employed and “a predator control programme is exercised within the law”:

A former head keeper at Holkham is Simon Lester, now head keeper at the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project in Scotland. Simon & the Viscount’s father, the Earl of Leceister, express their views about raptors in a revealing article here: Holkham Estate partridges & raptors 2006

Silence over hen harrier carnage – now updated

One week on from the publication of the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework, leaked by investigative journalist Rob Edwards on 16 January 2011, here are the published responses from the shooting lobby and from those with a statutory duty to protect this species of high conservation concern:

Scottish Gamekeeper’s Association – silence

Scottish Rural Properties & Business Association (SRPBA) – silence

Scottish Estates Business Group (SEBG) – silence

Scotland’s Moorland Forum – silence

Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) – silence

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) – silence

Partnership Against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAWS) – silence

National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) – silence

Interesting. Perhaps they’re all hoping that if they keep quiet, everyone will forget about the damning evidence presented in the report? It is, after all, only the 5th scientific study published since 1997 to demonstrate the indisputable link between hen harrier persecution and heather moorland that’s managed for red grouse shooting. Here’s a quick summary for anyone who missed the latest scientific facts:

  • The potential national Hen Harrier population for Scotland is estimated to be within the range 1505 – 1790 pairs.
  • The most recent national survey of Hen Harriers in Scotland (2004) was estimated to include 633 pairs.
  • This means that 872 – 1,157 harrier pairs (1,744 – 2,314 individuals) are missing.
  • The areas from where these birds are missing are areas managed as grouse moors.
  • Illegal persecution of hen harriers is particularly prevalent in five areas, where the majority of breeding attempts fail. These five areas are: Central Highlands, Cairngorm Massif, Northeast Glens, Western Southern Uplands and Inner Solway, and Border Hills.
  • At a national scale, the hen harrier in Scotland is not in favourable conservation status, largely due to illegal persecution. Ditto the English hen harrier population.
The future of the hen harrier on Scottish grouse moors is stuffed

So, up to 2,314 hen harriers are missing in Scotland, and no-one has anything to say about it? Think about that number. It’s not 23, it’s not even 213 – it is two thousand, three hundred and fourteen birds. This is wholesale destruction on a massive scale! Are we to believe that “just a few rogues” are responsible?

How much more scientific evidence is required before we see the effective enforcement of our wildlife legislation? How can those people who own and manage the sporting estates still be getting away with this level of illegal activity? Why is the Environment Minister still set against the licensing of sporting estates, when it is blindingly obvious that they are unable to self-regulate?

In light of the contents of the leaked report, it is to be hoped that the Scottish Government’s Rural Affairs & Environment Committee will once again push for an amendment to the WANE Bill for estate licensing. Stage 2 of the Bill was completed on Wednesday 19 January and there was no mention of the Hen Harrier Framework during that meeting, probably because the RAE Committee hadn’t had time to read the report in full. Stage 3 begins in several weeks and by that time the Committee and the Environment Minister should be fully conversant with the extent of illegal raptor persecution on Scottish grouse moors.

UPDATE: 28 January 2011. SRPBA denies extent of persecution (yawn)

The SRPBA has written a letter of response to The Sunday Herald, dated 16 January 2011. I’m not sure if it was actually published by The Herald, but here it is as a PDF – SRPBA response to killing fields article 16 Jan 2011

UPDATE: 19 February 2011. See our blog entry on 19 Feb 2011 for an update on this story.

Hen Harrier Conservation Framework – leaked!

Follow this link to journalist Rob Edward’s website, where a leaked copy of the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework report is available to download –

Vicarious liability one step closer

Congratulations to the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs & Environment Committee for its continued support of the proposed introduction of vicarious liability to the WANE Bill. Their latest deliberations took place at Holyrood on Wednesday 12 January 2011 during Stage 2 of the Bill and all bar one of the committee members were very much in support of Roseanna Cunningham’s ammendment on this issue.

No surprise to learn that the only person who opposed it was John Scott MSP, who tried to suggest that the issue had been sprung on landowners out of the blue and that the neccesary consultation was inadequate. Roseanna Cunningham bit back with some welcome feistiness and told him his suggestions were nonsense – she had warned over a year ago that unless raptor persecution levels showed a significant drop, then vicarious liability was going to be “inevitable”. She had wanted to give the shooting industry an opportunity to get their house in order on a voluntary basis but after the appalling incidents at Skibo Estate, Moy Estate, and others throughout 2010, it was blatantly obvious that the industry was incapable of self-regulation and thus further legislation was neccessary. The rest of the RAE Committee agreed with her and John Scott MSP was out-voted 7 – 1 for the ammendment to continue to Stage 3.

John Scott also used the Stage 2 meeting to try and bring an ammendment that would allow more flexibility for the issue of licences to kill protected species (presumably starting with buzzards) under the European Birds Directive. That was also given short shrift by the Environment Minister who told him that the flexibility offered by the Directive was inapplicable to sport shooting.

There was no mention of the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework during the 3 hour meeting – presumably because most of the Committee have not yet been given the opportunity to read it. Hopefully it will be available to them before the concluding Stage 2 meeting at the end of January.

Wednesday’s meeting can be viewed on Holyrood TV:

Hen harriers and gamekeepers – ‘damning evidence’ soon to be published

Following the blog posts of December 18th and 24th 2010 about the delayed publication of the long-awaited Hen Harrier Conservation Framework report, one of our readers emailed the Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham. Thank you Mike Price for sending us the government’s response:

Thank you for your email of December 24th, to Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Minister for Environment and Climate Change, regarding the Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers. I have been asked to respond on behalf of the Scottish Government.

We are aware of the report and of the delays that it has experienced on its way to publication. Although my understanding is that SNH have arranged meetings with stakeholders to go through their scientific concerns, I appreciate that this is frustrating for those who have an interest in raptors in Scotland and are waiting for the report’s conclusions to be made public.

We have been assured by SNH that the report will be published before the Parliament has completed consideration of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill and will be made available to the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee. While I can’t comment on the content of a report that is yet to be published, I assure you that the Minister and her officials look forward to reading its conclusions with great interest.

Kind regards

Catherine Murdoch

Natural Resources Division

Rural and Environment Directorate

The Scottish Government

Phone: 0131-244 7140

Mail: 1-D North, Victoria Quay, Edinburgh EH6 6QQ

For information on wildlife crime and PAW Scotland, please visit

Meanwhile back in Gamekeeper World, the SGA has announced it is conducting a national wildlife survey on sporting estates, focusing on birds. SGA Chairman Alex Hogg says on his blog: “We know from extensive scientific studies that land which is managed by gamekeepers has some of the most prolific wildlife in the country“. Hmm, we also know from extensive scientific studies that land which is managed by gamekeepers is where raptors are persistently and illegally persecuted. The forthcoming Hen Harrier Framework report provides very clear evidence that the land where hen harriers are absent (despite it being apparently suitable breeding habitat) also just happens to be land that is managed as grouse moors. What an amazing coincidence! In fact, isn’t that also what the Golden Eagle Conservation Framework reported in 2008? Yes, I think it is. A cynic may conclude that the SGA’s national wildlife survey is simply their latest public relations offensive in an attempt to bury the devastating evidence of hen harrier persecution on Scottish sporting estates that will shortly be published for all to read. And yes, we have read the report – and it most certainly does contain damning evidence. We’ve considered posting it on this site but we will wait and hope that SNH keeps its promise and publishes the report sometime this month.

Alex goes on to encourage SGA members to participate in the forthcoming bird survey, and tells them that the survey form will only take “a short time” to fill in. Is that because most of the native birds have been illegally poisoned, or shot, or clubbed to death after being caught in a trap….?

Alex Hogg Blog here:

buzzard poisoners in Derbyshire get away with it

On 30 April 2010, an article was posted on this blog about an investigation by Derbyshire police into the apparent poisoning of six buzzards. Here’s a quick re-cap:

On 22 February 2010, two dead buzzards were found in Jebbs Lane, Idridgehay, nr Ashbourne in Derbyshire. The birds were believed to have been poisoned. On 7 April 2010, a further four buzzards were found dead nr Kirk Ireton, just a few miles away from the dead buzzards that had been found in February. These four buzzards were also believed to have been poisoned, and were found next to a dead pheasant, believed to have been used as a poisoned bait.

In a recent report, the following details have emerged on the outcome of this investigation:

Feb 22 2010: 2 dead buzzards found on the ground and chicken bait found in a tree. Analysis has confirmed a residue of Carbofuran in the gizzard of both birds, which is likely to be the cause of death. As the police have failed to identify a suspect, this case is now closed“.

April 7 2010, link to Feb 22 case: 4 buzzards found dead, 2 baits (pheasant & hare). Six buzzards have now been found on this estate. The estate is trying to make the shooting part of the estate viable and new gamekeepers have been employed. Analysis has confirmed a residue of Carbofuran in the crop content of the birds. The amounts are significant and are likely to be the cause of death. An advisory letter to dispose of Strychnine found has been sent and complied with. This case is now closed“.

So, six buzzards are confirmed to have been poisoned by Carbofuran (a banned pesticide) and two poisoned baits were found on the same sporting estate within a small period of time. The name of the estate has not been published (surprise!). Presumably, a search of the un-named estate failed to uncover any stocks of Carbofuran, but did uncover a stock of Strychnine. Strychnine is also a banned pesticide, outlawed in the UK since September 2006 by the EU’s Biocide Directive, which states that it can no longer be sold or stored in the UK. Instead of being prosecuted for this illegal stash, the criminals get sent an ‘advisory letter’. No action is taken against them for the six illegally poisoned buzzards.

And if you think this is an unacceptable outcome, the news we will release shortly (about another case) will blow your mind….