‘Raptor haters’ no. 3: raptors “have become a plague”

Dr Mark Avery, former Conservation Director at the RSPB, has named Sir Max Hastings (former editor of The Daily Telegraph and former President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England) as number three on his list of ‘raptor haters’, following an opinion piece that Sir Max wrote yesterday for The Financial Times.

Writing on his highly entertaining and informative blog (take a look here), Mark takes apart Sir Max’s article with skill and humour. It’s so well written that there’s not much I would want to add to it. To read Sir Max’s article in The Financial Times you need to register (click the link on Mark’s blog page) – registration takes just a few seconds and you can opt for the free registration that will give you access to the article. It’s well worth a read.

Sir Max is no stranger to the Scottish grouse moor, and some may say he has a vested interest in ‘hating’ raptors (see here, here, here and here). He is currently the Vice President of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (see here).

Sir Max Hastings is third in this occasional series, following Richard Ingrams and Sir Simon Jenkins (see here for links).

‘Report’ now published about the ‘threat’ of reintroductions to biodiversity

Following the blog post from 19 July 2011 (here), the much-anticipated ‘report’ by the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management (VAWM) has now been published on its website. This is the ‘report’ (note, not a peer-reviewed scientific paper) that is supposed to show us how reintroductions are “a threat to biodiversity”. The ‘report’ is exactly what one might  expect from a group who used to be called ‘Vets for Hunting’ and who claim that red kites are ‘threatening songbird species’.

In an article published in The Westmorland Gazette (here) to coincide with the ‘report’s’ release, Dr Lewis Thomas, secretary of the VAWM says of red kites: “They are large predators so they have a large appetite” (and thus presumably they threaten to wipe out every living creature in their territory). Amazing. A fascinating piece of logic, unfortunately not based on any known ecological principle. Tellingly, the ‘report’ doesn’t provide a single piece of scientific evidence to substantiate the claims about the impact of red kites on biodiversity. In fact it doesn’t even mention red kites!

If you can’t be bothered to read the ‘report’ on the VAWM website (see here), just read the comments posted underneath the article by Gazette readers (here) – and breathe a sigh of relief that morons have not yet taken over the world.

National UK poisoning statistics show steady rise

The UK’s national statistics documenting animals poisoned by pesticides have been released by the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme. The scheme covers Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The spreadsheet provides poisoning data from 2008 up to the end of the first quarter of 2011 (Jan – March). The figures clearly show an increase in the number of deliberate poisoning incidents recorded (classed as ‘abuse’ in the spreadsheet) nationwide:

2008 – total confirmed abuse incidents = 66.

2009 – total confirmed abuse incidents = 71.

2010 – total confirmed abuse incidents = 80.

Whether this increase is due to a rise in illegal poisoning activities or a better detection rate is unclear. What is clear is that illegal poisoning continues across our landscapes. The figures for the first quarter of 2011 show 17 confirmed abuse incidents.

It’s notable that many of the individually-confirmed abuse incidents have not appeared in the press. It’s also worth reading how many cases are now considered ‘closed’ because the source of the poison hasn’t been established. It would have been interesting to have seen the different locations involved (eg how many were discovered on land managed for game-rearing and shooting?) but once again this level of detail has not been provided.

Spreadsheet available here

Update on last week’s police raid

Further to the blog post on 19 July 2011, the name of the Highland sporting estate that was raided last week has been reported as Farr and Kyllachy Estate, near Inverness. The police raid was in connection with alleged wildlife crime incidents that include a poisoned sea eagle and a poisoned golden eagle, believed to have been discovered in June 2010, and four dead red kites.

Allegations of wildlife crime in this area date back several decades, including the previously reported discovery of poison bait, hen harrier nest destruction, poisoned eagles, poisoned red kites and attempted trapping of goshawks and peregrines. All of these allegations can be found by anybody interested in doing an internet search, although no allegation has ever been proven in the Scottish courts.

No charges have been reported in relation to last week’s police raid. On this basis, blog commentators are reminded that anyone connected with Farr and Kyllachy Estate must be presumed innocent.

According to a 2005 report in The Times, Farr Estate is expected to receive profit of up to £11 million from revenue generated by recently erected wind turbines (see here).

Last year, The Press & Journal ran an article (here) about tick management on the estate, including an interview with the Laird, Philip Mackenzie. The article claimed that tick control had led to a 20-fold increase in the number of brace shot (red grouse) in the previous six years. It also stated the Estate was expecting 2010 to produce the best grouse bags since 1938, leading to 15 days of let driven grouse shooting, at a tidy charge of £10,000 + per day.

Last year Farr Estate donated driven and walked-up grouse shooting days to the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (GWCT) 2010 Grand Scottish Draw (see here).

Inverness man accused of buying & selling raptor eggs

According to the BBC, a 51-year-old man accused of buying and selling hundreds of eggs of rare birds is to face trial.

Keith Liddell is alleged to have bought or offered for sale 202 eggs, including those of Egyptian vultures and tawny owls from August 2004 to June 2009. He has also been accused of having 136 wild birds’ eggs at his Inverness property on 24 June 2009. He denies the charges.

At Inverness Sheriff Court, Sheriff Ian Abercrombie set four days for the trial in December. There will be a preliminary hearing to be called on 8 November.

Mr Liddell has been accused of purchasing, offering to purchase, keep for sale or transport for sale, all for commercial gain, eggs from a number of endangered species. He also faces a further charge of being in possession of wild birds’ eggs at his home.

How unusual to see so much detail of alleged wildlife crimes in Scotland being provided in the public domain.

BBC news story here

Masters of spin

A news article (here) has appeared on the SGA website this morning claiming that “Gamekeepers are the unsung heroes of conservation“. Let’s look at the ‘evidence’ produced to back up this claim.

It apparently comes in the form of a new report by “independent” charity GWCT, detailing the results of a UK-wide gamekeeper survey. Earlier this year, gamekeepers were asked to write down what species were found on their shoots. It’s not clear what scientific field surveys, if any, were conducted, because the GWCT report has not yet been published. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that scientifically-rigorous transects were repeated across the shooting lands to support these ‘scientific’ findings.

According to the SGA website, “over 80% of respondents reported having kestrels, buzzards, sparrowhawks, barn and tawny owls on their patch.” The article doesn’t say if these were dead or alive. It also doesn’t say how many reported having golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, hen harriers, goshawks, red kites, short-eared owls or peregrines on their patch, which would have been far more interesting. We’ll have to wait for the publication of the report.

The article continues – “The area of land managed by gamekeepers who took part in the survey (1,337,454 ha) is five times the total area of all Britain’s National Nature Reserves (255,789 ha) and 13 times the total area of all RSPB reserves (101,581 ha).” SGA chairman, Alex Hogg interprets this as: “It’s clear that there’s more wildlife on the land managed by keepers in Britain than on all the nature reserves and special protection areas put together.” Erm, I don’t think that’s clear at all, Alex. What these figures show, if they are accurate, is that gamekeepers ‘manage’ five times the total area of NNRs and RSPB Reserves (which is a worrying statistic in itself). What the figures do not show is a comparison of wildlife density between these managed areas. Unless of course gamekeepers have been conducting their scientifically-rigorous transects across NNRs and RSPB Reserves as well. Again, we’ll have to wait for the publication of the report.

The article goes on to disclose the ‘informal’ working relationship between gamekeepers and the law enforcement agencies and generally tells us all what great guys (“heroes“) the UK’s gamekeepers are. Most sensible people will look at the annual raptor persecution statistics and the annual convictions of gamekeepers for wildlife crime offences, and make up their minds about how ‘heroic’ some of these keepers are. It’s a shame, because undoubtedly there are a handful of truly ‘good guys’ in the industry, but as we keep seeing, there are an awful lot who repeatedly bring the industry into disrepute by their criminal activities.

An article about the forthcoming report appeared in The Telegraph (here). Written by Environment Correspondent Louise Gray, it’s littered with inaccuracies including, “A number of gamekeepers have even been imprisoned for illegally poisoning rare birds of prey“. Er, no they haven’t.

A note of interest – the “independent” charity GWCT who organised this survey (see here for a recent post on this so-called ‘independence’) has listed William Powell amongst its list of “dedicated supporters and corporate partners” (sponsors?) at this year’s CLA Game Fair (see here). Would this be the same William Powell (Gunmakers) that was sold to Mark Osborne in January 2008?

Police raid sporting estate in Scottish Highlands

Police have today raided a sporting estate near Inverness to investigate allegations of wildlife crime.  Although we know the name of this estate, we are acting upon advice not to release it at this time.

Twenty five police officers were joined on the raid by representatives of the RSPB, SSPCA and the Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate.

Northern Constabulary press release here

BBC news story here

More news on this in due course.

Reintroductions “a threat to biodiversity”

An astonishing display of ignorance was on show in The Telegraph this week. The group calling themselves the Veterinary Association of Wildlife Management (VAWM) has claimed that the reintroduction of native species, formerly wiped out by persecution (e.g. sea eagle and red kite) are “potential man-made threats to biodiversity“. Really?  Methinks someone at the VAWM needs to read up on the Convention of Biological Diversity.

The VAWM, formerly known as Vets for Hunting (hmm, another group with a PR-induced name change – sound familiar?), also claim that the UK’s population of red kites was ‘threatening songbird species’. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Perhaps VAWM spokesman Dr Lewis Thomas (a retired veterinary pathologist) should swap his rusty old scalpel for a shiny pair of binoculars. Ignorance is no excuse. Telegraph article here.

Interestingly, according to their facebook page, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association agrees with the VAWM’s sentiments on reintroductions. And this from a group whose members routinely rear and release millions of non-native gamebirds into our countryside every year, without any accountability for the environmental damage this may cause. Amazing.

Meanwhile, back in the real world of conservation, RSPB Scotland has secured major funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to extend their fantastic sea eagle reintroduction project for another year (see here).

Update on the outcome of the Holkham gamekeeper trial

Further to Saturday’s blog post, more information has come to light in the form of a press release from Knights Solicitors, who instructed the defence.

It’s well worth a read, particularly the last paragraph. Please also note that the statement says Nicholas Parker resigned his position as head gamekeeper at Holkham Estate shortly after the allegations were made.

Knights Solicitors press release here

Also an article (here) with Nick Parker being interviewed by The Shooting Times after the trial.

Former Holkham Estate head gamekeeper gets conditional discharge

The case against former Holkham Estate Head Gamekeeper Nicholas Parker was finally heard yesterday at Norwich Magistrate’s Court. He was given a conditional discharge.

Several charges against him had been dropped; one of them reportedly because much of the prosecution’s evidence related to allegations from 2008 and the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 required evidence to be within two years.

The District Judge, Philip Browning, gave the conditional discharge after hearing how much Parker had already ‘suffered’, after his firearms certificate had been confiscated and because the case had been given significant public attention. Clever defence barrister. A barrister of the same name is listed as also being a Council Member of the British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and an expert in firearms law here.

Court report here

Background to this story here, here, here and here

An explanation of what a conditional discharge is here

JULY 18 2011 UPDATE here

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