RSPB launches ‘Save Birds of Prey’ fundraising campaign for children

The RSPB has launched a new fundraising campaign called ‘Save Birds of Prey’. It’s aimed at children and is encouraging them to help raise money to buy kit for ‘bird of prey detectives’.

It’s not just about raising funds. It’s about educating children about British raptors and the on-going criminal persecution of these birds. It’s the latest in a long line of RSPB efforts to raise awareness about this issue, following on from their successful petition last year which was signed by over 200,000 people wanting to see an end to illegal raptor persecution (see here).

RSPB press release about the new Save Birds of Prey Campaign here

RSPB Save Birds of Prey campaign webpage here

Police apparently fail to attend suspected multiple buzzard poisoning

Late last week, three dead buzzards were found next to a suspected poisoned rabbit carcass in an area with a long track record of raptor poisoning incidents. The person who found the dead birds took some photographs before returning home to alert the police. The police allegedly informed him later that night that they couldn’t attend, and instead they asked him to collect the evidence(!). When he returned to the scene, unsurprisingly the three dead buzzards and the suspected rabbit bait had vanished. A dead magpie, perhaps missed by the suspected poisoners, was recovered from the scene and has been sent for toxicology testing.

Clear cut evidence, if it was needed, that the ‘official’ annual poisoning figures released each year are indeed just the tip of the iceberg. These three buzzards will not be included because they’re unavailable for analysis.

The location where they were discovered was in the Drumbanagher/Poyntzpass area of Northern Ireland, an area known for commercial game-shooting interests. The following birds have all been confirmed poisoned in this area in recent years:

2006 – 1 x buzzard confirmed poisoned.

2008 – 4 x buzzards confirmed poisoned (alphachloralose).

2009 – 2 x red kites confirmed poisoned (alphachloralose). One survived, the second bird died.

2011 – 1 x buzzard found under a hedge, too badly decomposed for analysis. 3 x buzzards suspected poisoning – carcasses removed before police investigate. Dead magpie sent for analysis.

Thank you to the contributor who sent us this information.

UPDATE: The magpie tested positive for Alphachloralose.

Peregrine poisoning incidents not made public until 15 months later

An article published in the Scotsman last week reports on two peregrine poisoning incidents that took place in April and May 2010, that have only just been made public.

The birds were found dead at a quarry in the West Lothian town of Kirknewton, and both had been poisoned by the banned pesticide Aldicarb. The head of one of the peregrines had been severed and removed – possibly as a trophy.

The two incidents only came to light after the publication last week of the government’s 2010 poisoning report. Lothian & Borders police have not identified any suspects. Perhaps if they’d publicised the incidents at the time they occurred they may have got some leads.

Full story in the Scotsman here

More raptor poisonings in Ireland

Two young buzzards and a sparrowhawk have been illegally poisoned in Ireland. The bait this time? Live pigeons, that were smeared with the banned pesticide Carbofuran, tethered to the ground with wire with their wings clipped.

These disgraceful events were discovered last month near Roscrea, close to the Offaly and Tipperary border. Two young volunteers from the BirdWatch Ireland Raptor Conservation Project were alerted to the scene by a local farmer. They tell the story here, illustrated with some pretty graphic photographs.

How many more of these disgusting incidents have to be reported before there is a crackdown? Whether it be Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales. IT HAS TO BE STOPPED!

Thank you to the contributor who sent us this link.

Are the raptor poisoners in Scotland changing their bait?

Are the raptor poisoners in Scotland changing their bait? Maybe they are, according to an article published in the Guardian on Wednesday:

Rat poisons are posing a significant threat to wild animals because they are being misused or even deliberately abused to target birds of prey, wildlife experts fear.

Figures published on Wednesday on wildlife poisoning in Scotland identify legally available rodenticides as the cause of death of 15 birds of prey, including nine red kites and three sparrowhawks, and six mammals, including two dogs and a cat.

At least one case, where six red kite chicks were killed by extremely high levels of rat poison, has been identified as “suspicious” by the Scottish government’s testing laboratory. Several chicks were seen bleeding from their beaks before death.

The laboratory, Science and advice for Scottish agriculture (SASA), also said that it had detected rodenticide traces in 38% of the 214 dead animal livers it tested last year, with 32 buzzards, 17 red kites and 10 sparrowhawks testing positive. Kites and buzzards are scavengers, so will prey on dead or poisoned rats, but SASA believes its data suggests that rodenticides are now extremely widespread in the foodchain.

One of the chemicals found repeatedly by SASA is only licensed for indoor use [Brodifacoum]. Mike Taylor, head of pesticides and wildlife at SASA, said: “We’ve certainly got evidence of widespread exposure and it’s of concern, but it’s very difficult to enforce because it’s very difficult to collect dead or dying rats [to study].”

Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association is reported as saying he had never been aware of rodenticides being  used to deliberately target birds of prey.

To read the full article in the Guardian, including quotes from the National Farmers Union Scotland and the RSPB, click here.

To download the advisory leaflet, ‘Rat Poison and the Threat to Wildlife’, click here.

Northern Ireland introduces prison sentences for raptor killers

Sentencing options for criminals convicted of wildlife crime offences in Northern Ireland, including the illegal killing of birds of prey, have been brought into line with the rest of the UK. For the first time, anyone convicted of a wildlife crime offence in Northern Ireland can face a maximum six month prison term. Fines have also been doubled up to a maximum £5,000.

There is a caveat, of course. Environment Minister Alex Attwood said: “For the first time custodial sentences will be an option for the most serious and persistent offenders“. He doesn’t quantify what a ‘serious’ offender is, nor what constitutes a ‘persistent’ offender.

Whilst the new penalties are a welcome sign from a society no longer willing to accept illegal raptor persecution, it’s hoped that those responsible for interpreting and enforcing the law in Northern Ireland have a better success rate than their colleagues in England and Scotland. Even though a custodial sentence has been an option for some time in these countries, so far nobody has received one for a raptor persecution crime, despite some truly appalling incidents of illegal raptor killing.

Full story available on the BBC website here

Scotland’s shame: 2010 poisoning figures published

Today the Scottish government has published its latest report on animal poisoning in Scotland. The figures relate to recorded incidents in 2010 and demonstrate a sharp rise in the number of wildlife poisonings, including the widespread illegal poisoning of raptors. The report shows that 69% of all ‘abuse’ cases involved the poisoning of birds of prey, covering a wide area including Borders, Dumfries & Galloway, Highland, Lothian, Strathclyde and Tayside. The illegal pesticide Carbofuran was detected in half of these incidents. The raptors that tested positive for poisons included 40 buzzards, 4 golden eagles, 1 sea eagle, 1 kestrel, 5 barn owls, 2 tawny owls, 2 peregrines, 21 red kites and 11 sparrowhawks.

Unsurprisingly, some are trying to play down the appalling statistics. The Scottish Land and Estates Chairman, Luke Borwick, is reported to have said that the organisation is working hard to reduce such incidents “…and there is evidence these joint efforts are beginning to pay off“. He was referring to what he called a “significant decrease” (in illegal raptor poisonings) in the first half of 2011. The Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson also made the same comment. Unfortunately, we are not able to make the assessment for ourselves because the published government figures for 2011 only cover the period January to March 2011. However, the figures for this three-month period tell a very different story to the one that Luke and Stewart are pushing: they include 3 buzzards, 1 golden eagle, 1 red kite and 2 peregrines all illegally poisoned in the first three months of 2011 (see here for earlier report). Hmmm.

There are other reactions from various bodies, including the RSPB, the Police and the Scottish Environment Minister – these can be read on the BBC website here and the Scottish government website here.

To read the depressing SASA government report with all the gory details, click here.

SGA call for buzzard, badger and raven culls (again)

The following article was published in the 10 August 2011 edition of Country Life:

The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA) is renewing calls for licences to control buzzards. In a survey of some 950 gamekeepers across Britain, 76% said buzzards had a detrimental effect on game birds and 63% said they had a negative effect on wildlife. Sparrowhawks and goshawks were considered a similar nuisance, but marsh harriers, merlins, barn owls and ospreys were viewed more benignly, and the majority of keepers said kestrels and red kites had little or no adverse effect. More than 70% said badgers are a serious problem and the figure for pine martens was even higher on those estates that have them. Charles Nodder, political advisor of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, commented: “The idea that keepered land is a raptor desert is nonsense. But keepers understand the countryside and there is a clear indication that certain species are prevalent and having a deleterious effect on wildlife”.

The SGA came close to getting buzzard-control licensing in 2009, but incidents of raptor poisoning – including that of a golden eagle – weakened the case. SGA chairman Alex Hogg says: “We’ve lost the plot when it comes to the control of buzzards, badgers and ravens. Their populations need to be properly assessed each year and, if necessary, action should be taken to redress the balance. There’s no doubt buzzards have changed their predatory habits in the past 30 years. ‘Rogue’ buzzards have learned to predate chicks – and not just game birds: I saw one take three lapwing chicks. We don’t want to shoot every buzzard in Britain, we just want to control the rogue ones, but birds of prey are ‘sexy’ birds and nobody wants to take the first step to control them”.

The encouraging aspect of the survey was the spread and volume of wildlife; 83% of shoots reported the presence of lapwings, 75% had skylarks and 79% cuckoos. The geographic area covered – 1.3 million hectares (3.2 million acres) – is significant, too: five times that of the area of designated nature reserves, more than 13 times that of the RSPB reserves and nearly 60% of national parks.

The ‘survey’ referred to in the article was the ‘survey’ we discussed here on 21 July 2011. Since then, the report has been made public. You can read it, along with an interesting and entertaining discussion about its credibility, here.

Two specialist prosecutors appointed for wildlife crime

In February 2011, it was announced that a team of three full-time specialists would be appointed to tackle wildlife crime in Scotland (see here for announcement).

Six months later, the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC has announced that two specialists have been appointed. Kate Fleming and Shona McJannett will investigate and prosecute crimes committed against the environment. Their remit includes cases of animal cruelty.

Mulholland said: “COPFS [Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service] is committed to tackling crimes against Scotland’s precious wildlife and environment. Our new specialist prosecutors will continue to develop the skills and knowledge built up by COPFS to deal with these cases.

They will also further enhance the working relationships we have built up with investigating agencies, including the police and wildlife organisations. We know that serious and organised crime groups are becoming involved in environmental crime. Our specialist prosecutors will work closely with COPFS civil recovery and criminal confiscation specialists to ensure that any proceeds of crime will be recovered“.

There was no mention of a third specialist being appointed, nor any indication given of the two new specialists’ prior experience (success) of investigating and prosecuting wildlife crime. Nevertheless, here’s hoping we start to see some more effective prosecutions for raptor persecution crimes in the near future.

Thank you to the contributor who sent us the link to the article in the Scotsman (here).

Dead red kite is suspected poisoning victim

Toxicology tests are underway on a dead red kite found on farmland in the village of Glaston, Rutland. It is suspected to have been poisoned. Two other poisoned kites were found dead in the area three years ago. In August 2008 a red kite was discovered to have been poisoned by the banned pesticide Carbofuran in a rabbit bait at Glaston. In September 2008, another kite was poisoned with Carbofuran at Seaton, Rutland (see here for details of these two incidents). The lab results from the latest dead kite have not yet been released.

Leicestershire police wildlife crime officer, Neil Hughes, is asking for locals to contact him to report any other poisoning incidents in the same area, such as cats and dogs. Contact Neil: 0116 222 2222.

Story in the Rutland Times here