New book lifts lid on raptor persecution in Scotland

Watch out for this new book in the new year – it’s written by one of our regular contributors and will no doubt become a ‘must-read’ for many who follow this blog. The book will be released on 31 January 2012 but is available for pre-order now (check out the online book sellers).


Whittles Publishing, £18.99. Paperback, 208 pages.

ISBN – 13: 978-1849950367

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION from the publisher

‘This is an important book. It is written by an expert who probably knows more about wildlife crime in the UK, and especially in Scotland, than anyone else. It is important because so little is known and understood about a widespread and deeply disturbing illegal practice…‘ Extract from Foreword by Sir John Lister-Kaye, OBE.

Through the professional life of Dave Dick, the RSPB’s Senior Scottish Investigation Officer between 1984 and 2006, the often murky world of wildlife crime is revealed. This is the first book that faces up to the realities of the often unsuccessful efforts by the justice system in its attempt to stop these crimes. Unflinching accounts of the shocking levels of killing and the cruel and callous nature of the killers are related. However black comedy and lighter moments prevent this being just another catalogue of man’s inhumanity to nature with personal accounts of the thrill and joy of watching some of our most beautiful birds and animals in their equally beautiful landscapes. The author examines the motives of both criminals and their pursuers in an attempt to show the truth of what has become a highly-charged and politicised topic. He reveals the truth of what is happening in some corners of our countryside, where the public may be discouraged to tread and hopes to inform a more reasoned debate on the topic. This timely and inevitably controversial book lifts the lid on the pressures faced by some of our most iconic wildlife species which are being shot, trapped and poisoned.

Alleged snaring offence on award-winning Lochindorb Estate

Two men have been charged with laying snares to trap mountain hares on the Purdey Award-winning Lochindorb Estate, according to the BBC (see here) and STV (see here) websites. David Taylor and Kevin Begg are alleged to have used 24 snares on April 19th but both deny setting the traps, according to the website reports, and their three day trial will begin on 28th March 2012 at Inverness Sheriff Court.

It is not illegal to kill mountain hares by shooting them, but it may be illegal to use an indiscriminate trap (e.g. a snare) to kill them unless the snare operator has a specific SNH licence to do so (see SNH wildlife law leaflet here, and SGA Snaring Practioners Guide 2010 here). The new Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011, once commenced, also introduces a new closed season for mountain hares (1 March – 31 July inclusive).

Lochindorb Estate was the joint winner of the 2008 Purdey Gold Award for game and conservation management (see here). The industry’s top honour was awarded for imaginative conservation to improve habitat for both reared and wild game birds (Purdey Awards website here).

Lochindorb was in the news earlier this year when it was reported that a dead white-tailed eagle had been discovered on the estate. By the time the police arrived to investigate, the dead eagle had ‘disappeared’. The police were unable to determine how the bird died as they did not have a body to examine (see here and here).

According to the STV report, Lochindorb was owned by Alasdair Laing (GWCT’s Scottish Committee Chairman) at the time of the alleged snaring offence but has since ‘sold the estate on’.

Tagged harrier from Langholm mysteriously ‘disappears’

Earlier this month, Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson MSP visited the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project in the Borders. The Langholm Project is an expensive, ten-year project aimed at demonstrating that hen harriers can co-exist with driven grouse shooting. The project is run as a partnership between SNH, Buccleuch Estates, RSPB, GWCT and Natural England. As part of the project, young hen harriers are being fitted with satellite tags to monitor their dispersal movements away from the moor.

The Environment Minister’s visit to Langholm was well publicised with an SNH press release (see here). In this press release, the Minister is quoted as saying: “…it was fascinating to learn that harriers that have been tagged at Langholm are being satellite tracked as far afield as France and Spain”.

Yes, that is fascinating, but of even greater interest is what has happened to the harriers that stayed behind in the UK?

According to the most recent diary entry on the project’s website (October 2011 – see here) written by the Langholm Project’s head gamekeeper, Simon Lester, one of this year’s young harriers has ‘disappeared’ –

There is good and bad news as far as our satellite-tagged hen harriers are concerned. The ever-intrepid McPedro is certainly heading to France, across the channel from Devon. The sad news is that the hen that hatched in the nest just behind our house — and that I fed for some 60 days — has disappeared in the Moorfoots, having survived well in a relatively small range. The last ‘fix’ (or GPS position transmitted by its satellite tag) was on a shooting estate that co-operated fully when Project staff and the police tried, unsuccessfully, to recover the missing bird. Unfortunately, this bird’s particular satellite tag does not have a ‘ground track’ facility, so it may well have ended up miles away from the last transmitted ‘fix’, as, contrary to popular belief, birds can travel a vast distance in between transmissions. This latest loss is very sad, not just for the Project and our hope that more hen harriers will return to breed here, but is not helpful in our quest to help resolve the on-going raptor/grouse-shooting debate, either“.

Now, this is a fairly one-sided commentary of what might have happened to this young harrier. What Lester failed to mention was that the sporting estate where the harrier’s last known GPS ‘fix’ came from was an estate in the Scottish Borders with a well-documented history of alleged raptor persecution. This particular estate has been the subject of two police raids in the last few years. Illegal pesticides, poisoned baits and poisoned and shot raptors have all reportedly been retrieved from this estate. Apparently, no prosecutions for alleged raptor persecution crime resulted from either raid.

Lester is quite right to point out that just because the last known GPS ‘fix’ of the harrier was on this estate, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the harrier died there. As he says, the harrier could have moved off the estate before the next satellite signal was due, and could have died elsewhere – although if that had happened, why wasn’t there another ‘fix’ from the new location? The transmitter doesn’t die when the bird dies. For all we know though, the bird may not even be dead. It’s possible that the satellite transmitter failed, by coincidence, when the bird was on this estate, and the harrier has since moved away and is alive and well in an unknown location. But there is another plausible explanation too, and one that Lester conveniently chose not to include in his report. That is, this harrier could have been killed illegally on this particular estate, and its body hidden/buried/burnt before the Langholm Project staff arrived to search for it. It’s worth pointing out here that the Langholm Project policy, when searching for missing birds, is to look at the bird’s last known GPS ‘fix’, identify the landowner, and ask for that landowner’s permission before the project staff go searching for the bird, thus giving advance warning of the search.

Why Lester chose not to include this alternative possible explanation in his report about the disappearance of the harrier is not clear. It would seem that the suspicion of foul play had been considered by the project team, given that a wildlife crime police officer accompanied the team to search for the missing bird on this estate. We will wait with interest for the Langholm Project’s formal 2011 annual report to see what information is provided about this particular disappearing harrier, and about all the other tagged harriers from 2010 and 2011. So far, very limited information has been made available about the fate of the six tagged harriers, with the exception of the famed ‘McPedro’, who wisely took off to Spain in his first summer, returned to the UK this spring, and then took off south again this autumn. Given the amount of public funding that is being ploughed into the Langholm Project, a bit more transparency about the fate of some of the other young harriers wouldn’t go amiss.

Langholm Moor Demonstration Project website here

Millden Estate no longer for sale

An article in today’s Telegraph reports that Millden Estate, where golden eagle ‘Alma’ was found poisoned in 2009, is no longer up for sale. The estate, owned by investment banker Richard Hanson, was reportedly put on the market earlier this year (see here and here). According to the Telegraph, Hanson has now changed his mind after more than 5,000 brace of grouse (10,000 birds) were shot there this season.

Police raided Millden Estate in 2009 after two-year old golden eagle ‘Alma’ was found poisoned on the moor. Nobody has ever been charged with killing her (see here).

According to the Telegraph, Millden Estate and the neighbouring properties ‘vehemently deny being involved in illegal persecution’. It’s interesting then, that a grouse moor that operates (we’re told) without illegally killing raptors, can produce a surplus of over 10,000 grouse to shoot. Surely that suggests that raptors are not having a ‘significant impact’ on gamebirds and therefore licences to kill raptors on grouse moors are not neccesary?

Telegraph article here

Things to do list #2

In the November 2011 edition of Birdwatch magazine, Mark Avery calls for our views about hen harriers and grouse moors. He says that if we send our views to the Birdwatch editor, they’ll be summarised and sent to a range of organisations including the Moorland Association, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the RSPB and the Scottish Raptor Study Groups.

Is there any value in doing this? Do you think the anti-harrier brigade will pay any attention to our views? Why would they? It’s been illegal to kill harriers since 1954 – this hasn’t stopped anyone doing it, and has pushed harriers to the very brink of extinction as a breeding bird in England, and severely depleted their numbers in parts of Scotland, so why would the harrier killers stop now?

The alternative is to do nothing, giving the grouse-shooting fraternity the chance to use our silence as an indication that we simply don’t care. We can’t let that happen, can we?

In Avery’s Birdwatch article, he writes a small piece about the harrier problem, but given the limited page space he can’t explain the problem in detail. He then offers three possible options on how to deal with the harrier/grouse issue, and asks readers to comment on them, or alternatively, suggest other options. Avery’s three options are paraphrased here:

A: Just forget it. Conservationists are fighting a losing battle and should turn their attention to more important issues.

B: Keep up the fight and keep publicising illegal persecution because if we lose the harrier, other species will surely follow. Keep talking to the ‘good guys’ in shooting who also want to see an end to harrier persecution.

C: Forget about trying to work with grouse shooters – they’ve had their chance to put their house in order and have failed miserably. Instead, lobby for an outright ban on grouse shooting.

If you want to comment on the issue, email your views to: You’ll need to write before the end of November.

If you want some detailed background reading on the issue, we recommend reading Avery’s earlier articles about the harrier-grouse problem that he’s written on his personal blog (see here), and some of our earlier blog posts on harriers (see here, here, here, here, here, and here).

To subscribe to Birdwatch magazine online, click here.

Consultation due on extending SSPCA powers for wildlife crime investigations

The Scottish Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson MSP, has confirmed that the Scottish government will consult on extending the powers of the SSPCA in relation to the investigation of wildlife crime. The consultation is planned to begin in the first half of 2012, a year after it was first agreed to.

This recent announcement came after MSP Elaine Murray once again raised the question about when the consultation would actually take place (see here for her earlier motion on this issue and for some background reading on why many feel these extended powers for the SSPCA are urgently needed). Thank you, Elaine Murray MSP.

Here is the transcript of the relevant parliamentary question and answer from Thursday 17th November 2011:

Elaine Murray (Dumfriesshire) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Executive what consideration it is giving to extending the powers of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in relation to the investigation of wildlife crime and whether it will consult on the introduction of relevant legislation. (S4W-03975)

Stewart Stevenson: As the then Minister for Environment and Climate Change made clear at Stage 3 of the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill on 2 March 2011, we intend to consult on extending the powers of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in relation to the investigation of wildlife crime. We plan to launch this consultation in the first half of 2012.

It’s oh so quiet

Is it just us, or is anyone else curious about the deafening silence of landowner and gamekeeper organisations following last week’s report about the discovery of poisoned bait on Glenlochy Estate (see here)?

For two organisations (Scottish Land and Estates and Scottish Gamekeepers Association) who have been making (welcome) press statements about their condemnation of criminal raptor persecution, and their desire to ‘stamp it out’ of their industry, it seems a bit of a missed opportunity. We wonder whether Glenlochy Estate is a member of the SLE? We wonder whether any Glenlochy Estate gamekeepers are members of the SGA? We don’t know, because neither group publishes their membership lists for public scrutiny. And to be fair, neither group is obliged to publish that information, but you’d think that in light of the recent discovery, which isn’t the first for this particular area (see here), these groups would want to grab every opportunity available to publicly distance themselves from what appears to be another incident of alleged wildlife crime on a Scottish sporting estate. Wouldn’t you?

Scottish landowners take another side swipe at sea eagles

Sea eagles have been back in the news recently, with concerns raised about whether the newly-reintroduced eagles are able to ‘cope’ with their environment. The Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) organisation has used the media opportunity to take another side swipe at the reintroduction project.

A couple of weeks ago, the SSPCA reported that nine sea eagles had been rescued in the last year, and five of those were exhausted and weak after heavy rain (see here). The National Farmer’s Union (Scotland) were quick to criticise the East Scotland sea eagle reintroduction project, saying that the east coast reintroduction is an RSPB-led ‘forced expansion’ that is ‘backfiring’. They go on to say: “The birds are clearly struggling to cope with the combination of bad weather and the environment” (see here). An interesting perspective, given that the environmental conditions in Norway (where the young eagles were born) are comparable with the environmental conditions in Scotland where they are released (see here) and that the west Scotland sea eagle reintroduction project (in an area that endures a higher rainfall than east Scotland) has proved a resounding success with over 50 known breeding eagle pairs taking up residence. Yes, of course the issue of nine rescued sea eagles is of concern, especially in such a small population that is still recovering from the effects of persecution, but, is it any different to ‘natural’ levels of young sea eagle mortality?

Meanwhile, Scottish Land and Estates has published a press release about it all, initially focusing on the welfare issue but quickly moving on to the “impact that these released predators are having on game birds” [they don’t provide any supporting evidence for this ‘impact’], “and the potential risk there is to the poultry industry within this area“. They go on to say that Doug McAdam (CEO) tried to join the Sea Eagle Project Team but his request was turned down. He said: “An opportunity to bring some transparency and to give a voice for local business concerns was missed“.

We’re really pleased that Mr McAdam has raised the issue of transparency – this word will feature in our next post…

Scottish Land and Estates press release here

RSPB blog about East Scotland Sea Eagle Project here

three more dead red kites in Ireland suspected to have been poisoned

The Irish Times is reporting that three more dead red kites have been discovered near Lusk, North County Dublin. They are suspected to have been poisoned, although post-mortem results are not yet available.

The article does not say when these dead kites were discovered.

Read the article in the Irish Times here

Things to do list #1

Recognising that the criminal persecution of raptors in Scotland shows little sign of ending, the Scottish Parliament voted in March this year to introduce the offence of vicarious liability as part of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 (see here and here). Basically, this will allow prosecutors to take action against the landowner and/or sporting tenant, and not just an individual gamekeeper, when persecution incidents are detected. Whether this will be effective or not remains to be seen; if the landowner/sporting tenant can demonstrate that he/she knew nothing about the persecution and can show that steps were taken to try and prevent it from happening on their estate, then they will have a viable defence. Once the WANE Act is commenced in full, it won’t be long before the effectiveness of vicarious liability will be tested. At least we’ve got something to work with and by voting to accept this new legislation, the Scottish Parliament has acknowledged that the problem still exists.

Unfortunately, the same opportunity is not available in England. Earlier this year, we reported on the Defra Minister’s response to a request for the introduction of vicarious liability in England. You can read MP Richard Benyon’s response here, where he suggests that vicarious liability is not required and that he applauded gamekeepers for their wonderful work!

Well, now there just may be an opportunity to bypass Richard Benyon’s incredible lack of foresight and have the issue debated in the House of Commons. A new e-petition website has been provided by HM government, whereby ordinary members of the British public can start an e-petition on a topic of their choice (within the bounds of decency!). If after 12 months their e-petition has attracted at least 100,000 signatures, then the issue becomes eligible as a topic for debate in the House of Commons.

Yesterday, a new e-petition was established to introduce the offence of vicarious liability for raptor persecution in England. If you are a UK citizen, you can help support this effort by signing the petition online. Your personal details are not publicised and the whole process takes less than a minute. If you care about the ongoing illegal persecution of raptors in England, here’s your chance to add your voice and it won’t cost you a penny. Please also share this post with your friends, family and colleagues.

Please sign the e-petition here