Young red kite poisoned in Cumbria

Cumbria Police are investigating the posioning of a red kite – the third kite to be killed in the region since a re-introduction project began last August.

The first dead kite from the project was shot dead in Dentdale in September 2010. The second dead kite had been killed by a shotgun wound in the Grizedale area, found under its roost tree on April 20 2011. The latest reported dead kite was discovered in January 2011 near Esthwaite Water, Hawkshead. Toxicology results have now confirmed this bird had been poisoned.

News story here

“Professional gamekeepers do not poison raptors” says Alex Hogg

Episode 11 of the BBC 2 Scotland ‘Landward’ programme went out on Friday 27 May and included a segment on the new vicarious liability regulation in the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011. The programme is available here for a limited period.

The segment opened with Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species at RSPB Scotland, who told the interviewer, “Bird of prey poisoning is particularly associated with driven grouse moors in the upland of Scotland, in the central and eastern highlands, parts of Perthshire and also down in the southern uplands”.

The interviewer, Dougie Vipond, asked: “So who is doing this? Who is killing the birds?”

Orr-Ewing: “Well, it is estate employees, gamekeepers who are usually involved, but they are only employees, they are acting under the direct instructions so ultimately it is the landowners that are responsible for this”.

A short section followed with a brief interview with Liz Plath, listed as a rural law specialist and a partner at Thorntons Law LLP. Basically she explained in simple terms how vicarious liability brings the landowner or the employer into the frame in cases of raptor poisoning.

Next up was Alex Hogg, chairman of the SGA, whose opening line was: “Professional gamekeepers do not poison raptors”. Funny that, because if you bother to look back at the statistics on raptor poisoning for the ten-year period that Hogg has been in post, you’ll see that raptor poisoning incidents have been recorded on many estates, and yes, ‘professional’ gamekeepers have been convicted.

He then contradicted himself (and not for the first time) by saying: “It’s only a small minority that are still at it. A rogue few if you like”.  Lest we forget, here is the official government map showing confirmed raptor poisoning incidents between 2006-2010. Widespread, I’m sure you’ll agree, and the trend is pointing upwards.

He continued: “And we’ve tried our hardest over the past, I’ve now been in this job for ten years, to impress on everybody that it’s absolutely illegal to poison raptors”. Peer pressure from Hogg and co., while welcome, has been ineffective. It can’t help the situation when he and others from his industry continue to claim that raptors are having a significantly negative effect on game birds, songbirds, waders and lambs. Is there any scientific evidence for this? No, not a shred.

Next up came David Hendry, listed as the proprietor of Cardney Estate, near Dunkeld in Perthshire. Now this was an interesting interview. The piece opened with an introduction to Hendry, and video footage of a diving osprey on his estate. We were told that this estate ‘is home to many endangered birds of prey’. Unfortunately, Hendry was not asked how many and what species of raptors made their home there. The osprey was implied, but of course the osprey only eats fish, not exotic red-legged partridge (also known as French partridge) or pheasant, which are reared and released in large numbers for sport shooting on this estate, according to this shooting directory.

Vipond talked about the belief that the only way to stop poisoning is to introduce a licensing system which would allow landowners to control [kill] raptors. Hendry agreed, and suggested “it should become the gamekeeper’s job for instance to look after the rare raptors like harriers, your merlins, bring on your red kites, but they should also be allowed to reduce buzzards and sparrowhawks to numbers that are sustainable, because what we have today is not sustainable”.

Ok, so this is the first time we’ve officially heard that sparrowhawks are also the landowners’ intended target for licensed killing. Until now, the list has ‘just’ included buzzards and ravens. So what happens if they get the go ahead to kill these species? Will we see goshawks added to the next list? They’re just an over-sized sparrowhawk after all, so why not? And golden eagles? They’re just over-sized buzzards, so why not? Where will it stop?

It’s also very interesting that he thinks the current number of buzzards and sparrowhawks is ‘unsustainable’. According to this shooting website, Cardney Estate offers shooting days where between 200-400 exotic birds (partridge/pheasant) can be shot. That’s 200-400 birds per shooting day, depending on the time in the season. In September 2010, a record 677 birds were shot on one day according to one participant! Sounds to me like this sporting estate is doing very nicely thank you, without the need to kill off any indigenous protected raptors, whatever species they may be.

We then went back to Orr-Ewing, who was asked for his opinion about the need to ‘manage’ [kill] protected raptors. “These birds of prey are rightly protected because they’re vulnerable. We have a history of killing birds of prey in Scotland, many species are just recovering from that situation, there’s no other country in Europe that [legally] kills birds of prey”.

His first three points are accurate, but his last statement is not. In 2008 the provincial government of Lower Austria issued a decree allowing hunters to shoot 1,000 buzzards and 250 goshawks over the following five years. It previously allowed the killing of Montagu’s harriers until the EC stepped in to halt it. The decree allowing the legal persecution of buzzards and goshawks resulted in an international public outcry – the same can be expected if the licensed killing of raptors for the benefit of the game bird-shooting industry is permitted in Scotland.

And of course, it’s not just poison that is used to illegally kill raptors. Unfortunately our government does not produce annual statistics on the other incidences of raptor persecution that take place every single year. Thankfully, the RSPB does. Their annual reports (one covering bird persecution in the UK as a whole, and the other covering incidents in Scotland) are a welcome insight into the extent of the problem. Their 2010 annual reports are due for publication in the very near future. Their efforts to compile and publish these reports are worthy of the public’s gratitude because without them, we would only have Alex Hogg and co’s word about the extent of illegal raptor killing on Scotland’s sporting estates.

More on the Moy case

According to an article published in The Scotsman (view here), a post mortem carried out on the dead red kite discovered in the vehicle used by gamekeeper James Rolfe on Moy Estate last June, revealed it had broken legs and had died as a result of a blow to the head. Rolfe was convicted for being in possession of the dead kite. Why weren’t charges brought against anyone for the unlawful killing of this bird?

In the same article, it is reported that over a five-week period, the remains of a further two dead red kites, six illegal baited spring traps, a trapped hen harrier, and a poison bait laced with a banned agricultural pesticide (poison) were also recovered from the estate. No arrests or charges have been made in connection with these incidents.

Why not?

In an article in Birdwatch Magazine, further gruesome details are revealed about the discovery of a severed red kite leg and wing tags belonging to a red kite that was being followed by satellite tracking, all hidden in holes covered by moss. The article also reports that four golden eagle leg rings were discovered in Rolfe’s possession. No arrests or charges have been made in connection with these incidents.

Why not?

You may wish to ask the following people:

Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service:

Northern Constabulary Force Wildlife Crime Co-ordinator, Chief Inspector Matthew Reiss:

Environment Minister for Scotland, Stewart Stevenson MSP:

Moy Estate results

Today at Inverness Sheriff Court, gamekeeper James Roderick Rolfe, 20, was convicted of being in possession of a dead red kite which was found in his vehicle during a police raid on the Moy Estate in June last year. Rolfe said he had found the kite caught in a trap set for stoats. It had not been poisoned. Rolfe was fined £1,500 for possession of the dead bird.

The images here show the dead kite in the back of his vehicle. No explanation has been given to account for the obvious injury this bird suffered to its head area. According to the Inverness Courier, Rolfe claimed the bird was already dead when he found it.

Another gamekeeper working on Moy Estate was accused of being in possession of 56 gull eggs. The court accepted his plea of not guilty.

Northern Constabulary press statement

Inverness Courier news report

Skibo Estate results

Dean Barr, a gamekeeper (and reported elsewhere as being the sporting manager) on the Skibo Castle Estate, has been convicted of having enough illegal poison “to wipe out the entire Scottish golden eagle and red kite populations several times over”. Barr, 44, of East Lodge, Clashmore, Dornoch, admitted possessing 10kg of the banned pesticide Carbofuran. He admitted carrying the poison from his previous job as head gamekeeper on the Raeshaw Estate to Skibo Castle Estate in 2008, because he had ‘not known how to safely dispose of it’.

The Carbofuran haul was discovered in a locked store on the Skibo Castle Estate, for which Barr had the keys. According to the Northern Times and Northern Constabulary, the poison was discovered within premises operated and solely accessed by Barr on Skibo Estate land.

Today he was fined £3,300 “to mark the court’s disapproval”. This was apparently reduced from a £5,000 fine for his early plea.

Despite this conviction, the Crown accepted he had ‘no part’ in the deaths of two poisoned golden eagles and a sparrowhawk (killed with Carbofuran) found on the estate in May 2010 (along with a dead buzzard and a third poisoned golden eagle killed by Aldicarb).

Barr’s defence lawyer said Barr was well regarded personally and professionally by his current and previous employers. “If it was thought that he was involved in the use of this material, they would not be so supportive”.

This is not the last we will write on this case.

The Scotsman news story

BBC news story

STV news story

New Environment Minister in town

Stewart Stevenson MSP is the newly appointed Environment Minister, replacing Roseanna Cunningham MSP. The newly re-elected MSP for Banffshire & Buchan Coast made the following comment about his new role:

“I am delighted to be part of the Rural Affairs team in the new Scottish Government. As an early priority we shall be working closely with UK Ministers in particular to ensure that Scottish interests are properly represented in the European Union. Where we have the powers, we shall seek to work with rural, marine and environmental stakeholders to ensure that we understand and respond to their needs and concerns. For me personally, this is a superb opportunity to work in Government on a range of issues in which I have personal interest. I look forward to working with First Minister Alex Salmond and Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead and the rest of our strong team.”

Stewart is no stranger to the raptor persecution issue. In 2003, he was part of a panel listening to a petition put forward by the SGA for licences to kill raptors (yes, here we go again). We have covered this discussion in the past, but we’re re-posting the minutes here because they’re so entertaining they’re worth a second read. Especially the parts where Bert Burnett and Alex Hogg of the SGA have their ‘evidence’ of the ‘raptor problem’ shredded in seconds. Stewart Stevenson MSP is active throughout the discussion, both with the SGA and later with representatives from SNH.

In due course, we look forward to hearing Stewart’s views on how this Scottish government intends to deal with the on-going criminal persecution of Scotland’s raptors, given that the measures introduced by previous governments are clearly no deterrent.

Stewart Stevenson MSP webpage

Another poisoned buzzard discovered nr Grantown-on-Spey

When will this end? Yet another poisoned buzzard has been discovered in Scotland, and has tested positive for the banned pesticides Carbofuran and Aldicarb, according to government scientists at SASA.

Northern Constabulary have put out a carefully-worded press statement, saying the poisoned bird was retreived ‘from hill ground near Bridge of Brown”, which is on the A939 road between Grantown on Spey and Tomintoul, inside the Cairngorms National Park. They do not say when the buzzard was discovered, nor who owns the land where it was discovered. The culture of secrecy surrounding criminal raptor persecution continues.

You will not be surprised to learn that there is a prominent sporting estate that covers ‘hill ground near the Bridge of Brown’, although of course, their proximity to the incident does not imply they are responsible for this incident – no, no, no, its obviously an unhappy geographical coincidence. Northern Constabulary are investigating so no doubt the real criminals will soon be uncovered and brought to justice.

Thank goodness our government took such a tough line against the raptor persecutors during the last parliamentary session, eh? Otherwise we’d be seeing more of these incidents on a regular basis….

Northern Constabulary press statement:

BBC news:

Reward offered for info on missing osprey

Members of the public have put up a £1,000 reward for information about a missing osprey, feared shot. The bird, known as Osprey 08, has been missing since 11 May 2011 in an area where two other ospreys have gone ‘missing’ since April 2010. Conservationists at the Rutland Water Osprey Project have been feeding fish to 08’s partner as she incubates eggs. She is reported to have now abandoned her nest, and the Project Team are hoping to save her eggs by moving them to another active nest.

If anyone has any information about the missing osprey, please call Leicester Police on: 0116 222 2222 or call the Osprey Project Team on: 01572 737378.

Osprey Project Team’s blog:

BBC news story about the reward:

Vicarious liability for raptor poisoning featured on forthcoming tv programme

The issue of vicarious liability for raptor poisoning incidents will feature in a forthcoming episode of ‘Landward’. It includes an interview with SGA chairman Alex Hogg, who will probably discuss his on-going (but so far thwarted) campaign to legalise raptor killing.

The 30 minute programme airs on Friday 27 May 2011 at 7 pm on BBC 2 Scotland. Also available on Channel 990 for Sky viewers, and BBC iPlayer shortly after transmission.

Landowner Liability: In Scotland, poisoning raptors is a criminal offence punishable with a fine and a jail sentence, yet the slaughter continues. Arguments over birds of prey have raged for decades, but are now coming to a head with the inclusion of vicarious liability for landowners in the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill, recently introduced by the Scottish Parliament. This means that landowners will be held legally responsible for birds poisoned on their land. Dougie Vipond investigates how this new clause will affect land management in Scotland“.

Roseanna Cunningham MSP stands firm on licences to kill raptors

Following on from the recent publicity about Scottish landowners demanding licences to kill protected birds of prey (see here and here),  last week Elaine Murray MSP (Labour: Dumfriesshire) kicked off the new parliamentary session with the following question:

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it remains its position that ‘the balance of public interest [is] not at present in favour of issuing licences for the control of birds of prey to protect non-native reared game birds’ as stated by the Minister for Environment at the meeting of the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee on 3 November 2010 (Official Report c. 3330“. (Written question SW4-00007)

Roseanna Cunningham MSP gave a succint, one word answer: “Yes“.

Meanwhile, Alex Hogg (Chairman of the SGA) continues with the ridiculous argument that buzzards are “decimating all our wildlife“. He was talking to a BBC Scotland film crew at the time, for a forthcoming edition of Landward. I’m sure we’ll all look forward to watching that and listening to the scientific evidence that Alex puts forward to back up his claim: