Strathtay gamekeeper charged with firearms & explosives offences

The trial of a Strathtay gamekeeper will take place in Perth in May 2012, where he will face charges of alleged firearms and explosives offences.

The charges, under both the Firearms Act and the Control of Explosives Regulations, relate to allegations of him keeping gunpowder in an unsafe manner in his home. He is accused of having a canister of the explosive without the proper certification, and of storing the gunpowder incorrectly (such that unauthorized persons could gain access to it). He is further charged with having 11 rounds of unsecured .243 ammunition. He has denied all the charges and a trial date was set during a hearing last Thursday (23 Feb 2012).


“There does not seem to have been a welfare offence”, says SLE about crow video

The representative body of Scottish landowners, ‘Scottish Land and Estates’ (SLE), has made a statement on its website about the crow-beating incident recorded on video earlier this month (see here, here and here for background info).

SLE writes: “…and despite the impression given by the OneKind film there does not seem to have been a welfare offence…” (link to SLE statement here).

Maybe the SLE people watched a different video to the rest of us, or maybe they think the method of killing was acceptable? Their view is certainly not shared by the 1,993 signatories to the OneKind open letter to the Scottish Environment Minister (see here), and judging by the comments made by the general public on the OneKind website, a lot of people are understandably angry about what they saw in that video (see here to view the comments).

SLE goes on to warn its members about the potential for criminal damage being done to legal traps, cages and snares, and is encouraging them to report any suspicious activity to the police.

Blog readers are encouraged not to take the law into their own hands, but instead, report any suspicious-looking devices or suspected animal welfare incidents to the police and to the SSPCA. (We recomend reporting to both the police and the SSPCA so that the SSPCA can follow-up if the police fail to investigate). There is an excellent guide to help identify a legal trap from an illegal trap on the OneKind website, and we encourage everyone to take a look. The guide can be found here.

Whether you share the SLE’s view or not, a legal decision about whether the gamekeeper’s actions amounted to a welfare offence, or not, will never be known, as the Procurator Fiscal deemed the video inadmissable evidence, and this decision was later supported by the Lord Advocate. Although a private commentator on this blog has suggested that it was not the Fiscal’s role to deem the evidence inadmissable; he thinks that only a Sheriff has the authority to rule on such an issue. If there are any legal experts reading this (and we know there are a few of you!!) we’d be happy to hear your opinion.

Meanwhile, we’ll sit and wait for the Scottish Environment Minister’s response to the questions raised about wildlife crime reporting in Scotland.

SGA says that raptor workers could be laundering eggs & chicks

The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association is clearly on the ropes as the mounting body of evidence showing criminal gamekeeper activity gains more and more public attention. One of the SGA’s regular spokesmen, the perenially entertaining Bert Burnett, has now suggested that raptor fieldworkers could be taking raptor eggs and chicks from nests, to launder them on the black market! It’s a bit like saying Greenpeace activists could be harpooning whales to sell to the Japanese, or that the RSPCA could be collecting stray dogs to sell the meat and skins to the Chinese. All possible, of course, but all as improbable as Bert becoming Head of MENSA.

In his latest message to the SGA membership, he also suggests that if licenced raptor workers don’t give prior notice to the gamekeeper of their intended visit, they are not following ‘good practice’. This is, of course, totally incorrect, as all licensed raptor fieldworkers in Scotland already know. The ‘good practice guide’ used by Scotland’s raptor workers (which incidentally is endorsed by SNH) does not say that raptor fieldworkers need to provide advance warning of their intention to visit any raptor site.  Indeed, under the Land Reform Act (Scotland) 2003, volunteer raptor surveyors have a statutory right of access, just as any other member of the public. The difference between a raptor fieldworker and any other member of the public is that the raptor worker will have a Schedule 1 Disturbance Licence, issued annually by SNH, permitting them to visit the nests of certain protected species. Possession of this licence indicates that the raptor fieldworker is suitably competent in minimising the disturbance effect of his/her visit on the raptor’s breeding attempt.

There’s a very good reason why many raptor fieldworkers don’t give prior notice of their intended visit, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out what that might be! Why do you think gamekeepers are demanding that they be given prior warning of a visit? Could it be so they can rush out and remove poisoned baits, dead birds, illegal traps? Bert suggests that the prior notice is to ‘minimise disturbance’ to the gamekeeper’s daily routine, such as ‘fox control’. What utter tosh! Other members of the public, such as hill walkers, cyclists, dog walkers etc, are not required to provide prior notice. Why should it be different for raptor fieldworkers? Could it be because raptor fieldworkers are more likely to be able to spot criminal activity, than say, a casual hill walker?

Bert goes on to urge his members to report anybody seen at a nest site to the police. This is actually a great piece of advice, because it will save the raptor fieldworker the trouble of making the call when he/she finds the poisoned bait, or dead raptor, or trampled chicks, or smashed eggs, or illegal trap during their site visit. The interesting part will be whether the police actually turn up to investigate!

Bert also talks about how raptor workers are licenced (the SNH-issued Disturbance Licence mentioned above) and how the system is ‘based on trust’ with ‘no built in accountability’. That’s also incorrect (where does he get his ‘facts’?). However, the interesting part in his article is where he calls for equality in terms of accountability for raptor fieldworkers and gamekeepers. We couldn’t agree more, Bert! The sooner that a licensing system for individual gamekeepers is introduced, the better!

Bert’s article on the SGA website here

Egg-thief Gonshaw gets unprecedented ASBO banning him from Scotland

Following earlier posts about four-times jailed egg thief Matthew Gonshaw (see here and here), his ASBO hearing was finally heard at Stratford Magistrates’ Court, London, on Friday (24 February).

In perhaps one of the most creative choices of punishment, in addition to his earlier six-month prison sentence, Gonshaw was given an ASBO (anti-social behaviour order) that bans him from coming to Scotland during the bird nesting season (1 Feb – 31 Aug) for the next ten years. Ten years is the maximum ASBO term, and if he breaks the conditions, he could receive a £20,000 fine and a five-year jail term. Gonshaw is further prevented from visiting all RSPB and Wildlife Trust land for the next ten years – presumably this means in England and Wales.

Strangely though, Ian Thomson of RSPB Scotland is quoted in The Herald as saying, “Gonshaw is, in fact, due to appear at Inverness Sheriff Court on March 8 facing charges relating to the theft of wild birds’ eggs in Scotland only last year“. It’s not clear how he can appear at Inverness in March if he’s now banned from travelling to Scotland until 1 Sept at the earliest. Ah well, not our problem.

Well done to everyone involved and especially the smart person who thought about trying for an ASBO and the magistrate who agreed to its use.

Article in The Herald here

Scottish gamekeepers want licensed ‘control’ of one of Scotland’s rarest mammals

Here we go again – the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association is calling on the Scottish Government to issue licences to ‘control’ one of Scotland’s rarest mammals – the pine marten. Why? Because they claim the pine marten (along with other predators such as raptors, foxes and badgers) are having a major impact on the declining population of capercaillie.

According to the BBC, RSPB Scotland says the SGA’s position is “riddled with basic inaccuracies and sheer prejudice“. Nothing new there then.

BBC News article here

Information on the pine marten from The Mammal Society here


Pigeon post

There’s a cracking post on Mark Avery’s blog today, written by guest blogger Gary Burgess, a pigeon fancier from Lancashire.

You’d struggle to find a finer example of ignorance about rudimentary ecological principles, unless you look at Gary’s website, where this staggering ignorance is expanded. It’s so bad it’s actually funny (after reading the home page, make sure you click on some of the sub-headers, like ‘The Raptors Have Risen’, to experience the full effect). And he wonders why nobody takes him seriously!

Gary’s post on Mark Avery’s blog here

Gary’s website Save Our Racing Pigeons here [UPDATE: 22 March 2012, this website appears to have been taken down].

Scottish willdife management: have your say

Here’s your chance to have your say on how Scotland’s wildlife is managed. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has commissioned an on-line survey to find out what people think.

SNH says the questionnaire is primarily aimed at individuals and organisations with a direct interest or involvement in wildlife management activities, such as gamekeepers, stalkers, farmers and recreational shooters. An SNH spokesman is reported to have told the BBC: “It is important that we provide a service that best meets the needs of our customers“. We would argue that SNH  ‘customers’ include every member of the public whose taxes go towards SNH running costs and who have an interest in how Scotland’s wildlife is managed. If SNH restricts the survey to the game-shooting lobby then the results will be all-too predictable – “There are too many raptors and we want licences to kill them”.

So, if you want to tell SNH how badly you think they’re performing in their statutory duty to protect some of Scotland’s iconic raptors on Scottish grouse moors (see recent publications on the conservation status of golden eagles and hen harriers, for example), but to congratulate them on their support of other species such as the white-tailed eagle reintroduction, then this is your chance. You might also want to comment about the annual slaughter (sorry, ‘management’) of an estimated 25,000 mountain hares on Scottish shooting estates for no good conservation reason (see here for background info), or the continued wholesale slaughter of so-called ‘vermin’ (basically any predator) on shooting estates, all in the name of gamebird shooting.

The questionnaire will be available from 5-19 March 2012 and we will provide a link to it when the survey goes live.

BBC News story here

Egg-collector Matthew Gonshaw’s ASBO hearing delayed

Four-times jailed egg thief Matthew Gonshaw was due to find out last Friday (17 February) whether he was to be the subject of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) following his latest conviction for egg-collecting (see here for background). If granted, the ASBO could see him facing a £20,000 fine and five years in prison for further offences.

The case was adjourned and is now due to be heard this Friday (24 February).

Re: a big, big day in court today

A high-profile case of significant interest was due to be heard today, but unfortunately the accused’s solicitor was apparently unavailable to attend.  A date has now been fixed for a ‘notional diet’ – often used for the discussion of a legal point. This is due to take place next month.

At this stage we are not naming the accused, or the charges he faces, or details of the alleged incident. These will be reported in due course, pending the outcome of the next hearing. These self-imposed restrictions are tighter than perhaps is neccessary, but you’ll understand the need for this caution if/when the case details emerge.