Howden Moor sporting tenant is a Purdey Award winner

Following the conviction this week of gamekeeper Glenn Brown on the National Trust’s Howden Moor in the Upper Derwent Valley, Derbyshire, the sporting tenant has been named on the Birdguides website as Geoff Eyre (scroll to the comments section under the article).

According to The Moorland Association website, Geoff Eyre won the 2005 Purdey Award for Game and Conservation, for his Howden Regeneration Project. (As an aside, scroll down the page to see another 2005 Purdey Award winner, head gamekeeper Jimmy Shuttlewood from the Snilesworth Estate North Yorkshire – who was later convicted in 2008 with two underkeepers for the use of cage traps to capture birds of prey – story here).

Geoff Eyre has had a lot written about his pioneering work to restore Howden Moor to its former glory as a viable grouse moor. Here in 2006 he spoke about the ‘beneficial’ work of his gamekeeper. Also in 2006, this article was written in The Telegraph about the return and then subsequent loss of a pair of hen harriers on Howden Moor. In 2007, he hosted a visit by a DEFRA Minister for Landscape and Rural Affairs, reported here in The Shooting Times, accompanied by gamekeeper Glenn Brown (see photo). The Minister was impressed with what he saw, calling the project an ‘inspiration’ and a good use of public money.

One can only assume that Geoff Eyre was completely unaware of the criminal activities of his gamekeeper. You can ask him about it, and whether Brown has been sacked, at National Trust activity days in September 2011 – details here.

Great mysteries of our time

Another article in the latest edition of Legal Eagle is the case of an un-named gamekeeper with an un-named employer in Tayside in eastern Scotland. It is reported that in April 2010, Mr Mystery Gamekeeper was charged with various offences alleged to have taken place in woodland near Kirriermuir, including: failing to inspect a snare, setting in position or otherwise using snares where an animal caught would be likely to become fully or partially suspended, failing to release or remove an animal from a snare and by omission caused a fox unneccesary suffering. The outcome of these charges? Mr Mystery Gamekeeper received a Fiscal’s warning. So why the coyness over the identity of Mr Mystery Gamekeeper and his mystery employer? Does he or his employer have a super-injunction from the High Court that prevents anyone mentioning their names? Given the on-going problem of wildlife crime in this region in particular, how can it be in the public’s interest to keep this information under wraps? It’s a mystery all round.

Talking of mysteries, here’s an excerpt from another article in this issue of Legal Eagle. It’s a quote attributed to Mr Tom Dysart, who leads the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) on wildlife crime:

Scotland’s prosecutors are committed to providing a powerful and effective deterrent to those who commit crimes against wildlife and the environment. We are determined to ensure that COPFS plays its part in ensuring that Scotland’s rich and diverse natural heritage is protected“.

So the mystery is, when will we see this ‘powerful and effective deterrent’ in action? More importantly, when will the criminals see it so these seemingly endless wildlife crimes become less prevalent?

Head gamekeeper jailed for cannabis factory on sporting estate but not charged for poisoned buzzard

In April 2010, we reported on the conviction of 26 year old gamekeeper Ben Walker, who was found guilty of 17 offences relating to the killing of protected species with poisonous baits on the Sufton Estate in Herefordshire in late 2009 (report here). During the police investigation into the alleged criminal activities on this sporting estate, it is reported that a poisoned buzzard was found in an outbuilding used by his boss, head gamekeeper Mark Rigby. As usual, it was not possible to ascertain who was responsible for the death of this bird – even though it might appear obvious. There are no reports of either keeper being charged for possession of the poisoned bird. However, a search of an adjacent outbuilding uncovered what has been described as ‘a large cannabis cultivation operation’. It seems it was not so difficult to establish the identity of the guilty party in this instance, because, according to the RSPB, at Worcester Crown Court on 24 November 2010 head gamekeeper Mark Rigby pleaded guilty to four counts of producing and possessing a Class B drug with intent to sell and he was imprisoned for two years.

The conviction of Rigby is reported in the latest issue of Legal Eagle, the RSPB’s investigations newsletter, here.

Fund-raising sky dive by OneKind investigator – please support him!

We have received the following message from a member of the  investigations team at the Scottish charity OneKind. You may recall OneKind was instrumental in catching criminal gamekeeper Lewis Whitham placing a poisoned bait on Leadhills Estate last year. ‘Steve’ is undertaking a charity sky dive at the end of August to raise funds for field equipment and also to raise awareness about the on-going illegal raptor persecution in this country. Please support him!

Hi, Thank you for this valuable site. Nothing compares to it on the web and is a reminder, if ever some of us need it, to the true and serious problem that we have in Scotland as to the persecution of birds of prey. My investigations and research over recent years has lead me to areas of Scotland where I have not only come across poisoned and shot raptors, but I have even witnessed a gamekeeper setting out carbofurin onto a rabbit in an area where raptors fly.

At every opportunity we must remind the general public that reports of incidents involving raptor persecution are only the tip of the iceburg. Crimes against birds of prey are almost always carried out in isolated areas where the public rarely walk and it is often only chance that these poisoned or shot birds are discovered. For every raptor I hear killed then I times that by ten for those that the perpetrator of these serious crimes takes away, burns, buries or are lost amongst the heather or within the woodlands.

At the end of August I am doing a fund raising skydive to raise funds for the investigations department at the Edinburgh animal charity OneKind and also to highlight the serious problems that we have in Scotland of raptor persecution. Please could I use this opportunity to give you the link to my skydive fund raising page. Anything that people could donate would go directly to obtain equipment to help me keep one step ahead of those that I investigate. Many thanks“.

Please sponsor ‘Steve’ here and read about the equipment he hopes your sponsorship money will buy.

Mull’s sea eagles bring in £5 million per year to local economy

We often hear from the grouse-shooting crowd about the economic value of their ‘sport’, and they use this argument a lot to justify their demands to be allowed to kill protected raptors. What they don’t seem to understand is (a) the general public’s fondness for our magnificent birds of prey and (b) what a financial trick they’re missing by not buying in to this public interest and providing raptor-viewing facilities and associated activities.

A new report has just revealed how the economic benefits delivered by the Isle of Mull’s white-tailed eagle project has tripled in just five years. These eagles bring in at least £5 million to the local economy every year, up from £1.4 million in 2005, according to an independent study by the Progressive Partnership. In addition, tourism generated by the birds supports the equivalent of 110 full-time jobs. The calculations were based on a survey of more than 1,200 people who visited the island in 2010. Almost a quarter of them said the eagles were an important factor in them choosing Mull as a destination.

The Scottish government has estimated that wildlife tourism is now worth £276 million per year to the country’s economy, supporting 2,763 jobs in the sector.

Interesting. Do you think these wildlife tourists would be happier to visit Scottish estates where raptors have been found poisoned, or Scottish estates known to be proactively involved with raptor conservation?

BBC news story here

More on convicted Derbyshire gamekeeper Glenn Brown’s case

It was good to see so much media coverage following the conviction of criminal gamekeeper Glenn Brown on Monday. It made local, regional, national and international news, probably because he committed his crimes on National Trust property – which isn’t somewhere you’d normally expect to hear about wildlife crime taking place. Let’s hope that the National Trust are reviewing the lease of their land to the ‘un-named third party’ as we speak.

Despite the broad media coverage, very few articles mentioned the dead sparrowhawk that was found close to one of the traps that criminal gamekeeper Glenn Brown was operating.  Also found close by was the body of a white pigeon. Mark Thomas, one of the RSPB investigators involved with catching Brown at it, has written an excellent little piece about the investigation here, alluding to what might have happened to the dead sparrowhawk and dead pigeon.

Thomas also writes that since 2006, goshawk and peregrine productivity in the Derwent Valley has collapsed. By coincidence, gamekeeper Brown is reported to have been employed as a gamekeeper since 2006. Amazing.

Thomas and his colleagues from the RSPB Investigations team deserve a great deal of credit, especially for the innovative techniques they used to catch Brown. So too does Derbyshire Constabulary and the CPS. The resulting punishment for Brown, convicted of seven offences – 100 hours community service – delivered by District Judge Caroline Goulborn (famed for the recent cat-in-the-bin-case) is pathetic, especially when you consider the sentencing options available, which include fines up to £5,000 and a six month prison term for each offence. Had Brown not been ordered to pay £10,000 costs, some might have concluded that he had got off very lightly. Depending on who pays for these costs, and whether he keeps his job as a gamekeeper, some may be certain he got off lightly.

Derbyshire gamekeeper guilty of using illegal trap

The long-running trial that began over two months ago against Derbyshire gamekeeper Glenn Brown concluded today, and he was found guilty of using an illegal trap to try and catch birds of prey on the National Trust’s Howden Moor in the Peak District. The court heard that he was interested in protecting the grouse where he worked. The trial began on 11 April 2011 at Chesterfield Magistrates Court.

Brown was caught after RSPB investigators installed covert cameras overlooking a trap and filmed him over a period of time visiting the trap. He was unlawfully using a pigeon as a lure bird – this is illegal and is an indication that birds of prey were the target species he was trying to catch. He operated traps on land in the Upper Derwent Valley owned by the National Trust but leased by another party between 14 April and 25 May 2010.

Brown was found guilty of seven offences under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and the Animal Welfare Act 2010.

He was given 100 hours community service and ordered to pay £10,000 costs.

BBC news story here including video

More on this story later. Congratulations to the RSPB investigators for catching another criminal gamekeeper at it, and to Derbyshire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service for seeing the case through to trial. In the BBC news video, it is reported that Brown is the 100th gamekeeper to be convicted of crimes against birds of prey. So, Alex Hogg, Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeeper’s Association, still think it’s “unfair to accuse gamekeepers of wildlife crime“?

Suspected poisoning of buzzard found dead in Wester Ross

According to the Ross-shire Journal 20 May 2011, Northern Constabulary are investigating the possible poisoning of a buzzard found dead in May. Discovered by a dog-walker near Dundonnell, Wester Ross on 14 May 2011, the carcass was covered in dead insects. Dead insects on a carcass are often an indication of the presence of a poisonous substance. The buzzard has been sent for toxic analysis.

Thanks to the contributor who sent this in.

Poisoned golden eagle at Glen Orchy – two years on…

Two years ago today, this dead golden eagle was discovered by hill walkers in Glen Orchy, Argyll. Government tests later showed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. This poisoning incident made the national press (e.g. here).

Several days later, a multi-agency search was conducted in and around Glen Orchy. The police-led operation included the Oban Community Policing Team, specialist wildlife crime officers from three police forces (Strathclyde, Lothian & Borders and Central), experts from the National Wildlife Crime Unit, pesticide experts from the Scottish Government and representatives from the RSPB and Scottish SPCA. The police said afterwards that they were following a positive line of inquiry.

Meanwhile, during the police search two handguns were found in gamekeeper Tom McKellar’s loft. Eighteen months later in December 2010, McKellar was convicted at the High Court in Glasgow for having prohibited weapons. However, he avoided the usual mandatory five year custodial sentence and instead received 300 hours community service. Story here

So what happened to that ‘positive line of inquiry’ in the eagle poisoning investigation? Good question.