Head, sand, buried

Yesterday we blogged about the availability of the written evidence submitted to the UK parliament’s audit on wildlife crime (see here).

Today we’ve read all the written evidence and our expectations of who might have said what were fully met. Although there’s no substitute for reading things for yourself and drawing your own conclusions, there were a few things that stood out…

One common theme was the use of RSPB vs NWCU (National Wildlife Crime Unit) raptor persecution statistics, with groups such as the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation and the Moorland Association claiming that only the NWCU figures should be used to determine the ‘true scale’ of the problem. The Countryside Alliance goes one step further and says that it objects to what it calls ‘scene-of-the-crime involvement of third party campaigning organisations and charities such as the RSPB’ and calls for urgent guidance to clarify ‘that all crimes and suspected crimes should be reported to the police’. No great surprises there – it’s the usual knee-jerk reaction to the RSPB, but what is interesting is that they forgot to mention just how unrepresentative the NWCU figures actually are! Why are they unrepresentative? Well according to the written evidence of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPOS), not all police forces submit their wildlife crime data to the NWCU, and even if data have been submitted, it’s not always possible to identify which incidents were wildlife crimes as they are not allocated to a specific code! So yes, it is easy to see why these groups want to get rid of the RSPB stats and replace them with the NWCU figures!

Another point of interest was a statement from the Moorland Association on hen harriers. We thought the second paragraph contained particularly sinister undertones:

The scale of crime against the hen harrier and its impact on the hen harrier population has been overstated and is misleading. A lack of breeding success on grouse moors does not automatically mean that laws have been broken. There are many, many more birds in England than four successfully nesting pairs, which can be seen over grouse moor during migration and at winter roost sites.

Until a full set of special rules allowing the positive management of hen harriers breeding on grouse moors is forthcoming from the Environment Council’s Hen Harrier Dialogue, moorland owners are within their rights and the law to deter the birds from settling on their moors to breed.”

We assume that ‘positive management’ in this context refers to either killing or otherwise removing (translocating) any harriers that are considered ‘surplus’ to an agreed acceptable number (known as a ‘ceiling’). We understand that the Environment Council is seriously considering a ‘ceiling’ on hen harrier numbers for grouse moors; a controversial and long-running argument that we’ll write about another time. But what does the Moorland Association mean when it says ‘moorland owners are within their rights and the law to deter birds from settling on their moors to breed’?

The other comment we found particularly interesting was one made by the Countryside Alliance:

The recent publication of out of date research into the breeding success of peregrine falcons on grouse moors is a further example of counterproductive allegations against shooting which resulted in misleading coverage in the media. As a result of this, the National Wildlife Crime Unit circulated a clarification to all Police Wildlife Crime Officers in the UK, and to all Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime members, in which it was drawn to the attention of those studying the research paper that the data used was out of date, and that in using such information there was a clear danger that the research paper might be misunderstood as representing the current situation, which it did not.”

The publication being referred to is the recent paper by Amar et al (2011) which showed that the breeding productivity of peregrines nesting on grouse moors in Northern England was 50% lower than the productivity of peregrines breeding on non-grouse moors (see here for earlier blog on this). Now, why would the NWCU feel it necessary to send an email to wildlife crime police officers and other PAW partners about how to interpret this paper? Did they think that these people were so stupid that they couldn’t read and understand the paper for themselves? Why did the NWCU think that the data used in the paper (collected between 1980-2006 from 141 nesting ranges) were unrepresentative of the current situation? Has the NWCU collected and analysed more recent data to demonstrate that the current situation is different? How does sending this email fit in with the NWCU’s stated primary role of ‘assisting in the prevention and detection of wildlife crime’? What sort of message does this email give to those involved with the fight against raptor persecution? Here is a peer-reviewed scientific publication in a prestigious journal that points directly to the significant relationship between grouse moors and raptor persecution. Isn’t this exactly the sort of publication that the NWCU’s Charlie Everitt was referring to in his speech at the recent wildlife crime conference when he said: “We’ve also been looking to the use of science to try and benefit from what science can deliver to us”?

The thing is that the data used in the paper were part of a long-term data set that clearly showed a trend in poor productivity (i.e. not a snap shot but a long-term picture over 26 years), and this trend also mirrored that of other studies that have shown a clear relationship between low raptor survival and grouse moors (go and read some of the golden eagle papers that have been produced over the last ten years). The NWCU appear to have missed this point in their scrabble to appease the grouse-shooting lobby; so much for their intelligence-led approach to combating raptor persecution, eh?

All the written evidence submitted to the audit committee so far can be read here.

Covert camera at peregrine nest catches offenders within 48 hours

A proactive police and RSPB crackdown on wildlife crime in Devon & Cornwall, called Operation Wilderness, has had its first success after two men were filmed visiting an active peregrine nest site without the appropriate licences.

The men were caught on film just 48 hours after a covert camera had been installed at the site. Police were able to identify them from the camera images and the two men, aged 44 and 43, were found to be in possession of a camera containing images of the peregrine nest site. Both men have been released pending further enquiries.

Full details available on Devon Police Wildlife Crime Officer Josh Marshall’s blog here

Well done Josh and all involved – excellent work! For more information about why Operation Wilderness was launched, see earlier blog post here.

UK parliamentary audit on wildlife crime: evidence available for viewing

In February we blogged about the forthcoming UK parliamentary audit on wildlife crime (see here). Some of the (uncorrected) oral evidence that was presented to the audit committee (including that from RSPB, RSPCA and National Gamekeepers Organisation) is now available to view on the audit committee’s website, as well as a lot of written evidence from these and many other interested parties.

Although some of the oral evidence provides some cause for optimism (i.e. the RSPCA’s success rate for animal welfare prosecutions), other parts of the oral evidence are deeply depressing. Particularly the evidence concerning hen harrier persecution, which focused on the lack of prosecutions for hen harrier persecution since 2006, which was then used as an indication that persecution is not an issue for this species!!

There was a lot of discussion during the oral evidence about how difficult it is to detect the perpetrators of certain wildlife crimes, which is why it’s so bloody frustrating that when investigators do find evidence of hen harrier persecution (e.g. the harrier that was found caught in an illegally-set spring trap on Moy Estate in 2010), no charges were forthcoming.

Uncorrected oral evidence to the UK parliamentary environmental audit committee on wildlife crime available to view here

Written evidence from many individuals and organisations available to read here

The government’s 2011 report that identifies illegal persecution as one of the main problems for hen harriers here

Lochindorb Estate hare-snare trial begins

The trial began today against Lochindorb Estate gamekeepers, David Taylor (64) and Kevin Begg (45), who are alleged to have set illegal snares to trap mountain hares in April last year (see here for previous blog on this case).

Inverness Sheriff Court heard today from a police officer who got caught in one of the snares (see here for STV report).

This case is extremely interesting on a number of levels. One point of interest can’t be discussed until after the trial has concluded. The other main point will depend on whether the court rules that snaring mountain hares is lawful or unlawful; either way there will be wider implications for the methods available for predator ‘control’ in the uplands.

The four-day trial will resume later in July.

2012 wildlife crime conference: Ruaraidh Nicolson (ACPOS)

This is blog number three in our series looking at the presentations made at the recent 2012 police wildlife crime conference. This time we’ll hear from Assistant Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, Ruaraidh Nicolson, who is also the new lead on wildlife crime at ACPOS [Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland]. For more info on Ruaraidh, see here.

Ruaraidh Nicolson (ACPOS)

Minister, Chief Constable, ladies and gentleman, I’m delighted to welcome you to the 19th Scottish police wildlife crime conference. I suppose I should firstly mention, er, the fantastic setting here and we all come back here on a very, very regular basis and all police officers actually get trained here, its of particular relevance with its beautiful surroundings and ready access to so many diverse habitats which benefit our wildlife. What better place then for a conference such as this. An environment which, as of 2008, Scottish Natural Heritage commissioned report has shown has a value of over £17 billion to the Scottish economy, and which employs one in seven of all full-time workers in Scotland. My previous chief officer colleagues who have opened these conferences have done so from their position of representing ACPOS from the operational policing business area. However, recognition that wildlife crime impacts seriously on Scotland’s valuable natural heritage and that it is probably linkaged to serious organised crime groups has influenced to move to where it now rightly sits, and that’s within crime business area, and that’s actually where I come in to all this; I’m the secretary for crime business area and as the ACPOS lead now, volunteered as Nevin said, on wildlife crime, er, I am delighted to open this important conference today.

ACPOS crime business area is committed to impacting on crime affecting the environment and has incorporated criminal investigation and environmental crime in to one specific portfolio area, and of course this is underpinned by all six of our ACPOS guiding principles: leadership, partnerships, customer focus, excellence, learning, and diversity. These principles are what our business in tackling wildlife crime are built upon, and indeed each are equally relevant to achieving the successful outcomes which our country expects. The clear benefits to an intelligence-led approach to addressing criminality are well established. This involves linking the sourcing and development of intelligence to tried and tested policing and partnership methods, to impact on operational activity, to disrupting criminality and ultimately to changing behaviour, which will be the important part of the work that we’re doing.

The investigation and disruption of all aspects of wildlife crime fits very well within this successful model. However, to ensure further success in such activity we must continue to stimulate and maintain the submission of high quality information. Without information on the people responsible, criminal methods, locations of interest, and activities known to criminals involved in damaging our natural environment, they are on the front foot and we are not. That’s something that I’m not prepared to accept.

We must explore and develop new sources of intelligence. The role of the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime, in providing such intelligence, cannot be overstated. Every piece of information is crucial, no matter how small that might be. Our experience tells us that the development of intelligence is like building a jigsaw: start at the corners and work your way into the middle, but every piece is very, very important to the overall picture of what we’re doing.

We must progress the development of the national intelligence model and the Scottish intelligence database. We live and work in times of austerity and the public expects police and partners to operate efficiently. But they also rightly expect that we also operate effectively. By use of the national intelligence model and the Scottish intelligence database we are well placed to have the right people doing the right things at the right time in the right way. This is no more than good business sense and it is what the public expect, but it’s also importantly what our environment deserves.

We must encourage the increased use of tasking and coordinating to focus on intelligence-driven work, linking partners effectively results in the best use of resources, together with the right skills and the right powers. This is not just about police; it’s about every person in this room today and beyond, so you all have a part to play in what we’re actually trying to achieve here.

We must further develop memoranda of understanding with Partnership Against Wildlife Crime partners and with pertinent agencies to assist in the sharing of appropriate information and intelligence. We need to continue to formalise our information sharing, help share our assets and continue to build our relationships and trust. A critical aspect of this intelligence-led approach is that success is best achieved when close and effective partnerships are forged and developed across the spectrum of those individuals and bodies that have an interest in the crimes being perpetrated. The Partnership Against Wildlife Crime provides an excellent example of this being applied and I am confident that we have made significant steps to address wildlife and environmental crime, and I know that the benefits are there for all to see, and there was reporting on Radio Scotland this morning in terms of some of the work that’s already been done. However, and this is what today’s about, there is much, much, much more to be done.

Of course I can’t speak today without mentioning police reform. While this is undoubtedly the single biggest organisational challenge undertaken in the history of Scottish policing, it brings with it great opportunities to exploit the collective expertise, resources and passion that currently exists across eight territorial force areas. Real law enforcement impact towards wildlife crime will only be achieved if we fully harness the full extent of the problem. We need to demonstrate to those involved in damaging our wildlife and our environment that we know who they are, and that we will make use of the same policing assets that we are applying to other investigations, detection and disruption of all forms of criminality. The message to people involved in such crime is simple: Scotland relishes its wildlife and environment and damage to these will not be tolerated.

Modern criminal investigation thrives on the benefits that intelligence brings. 2011 saw re-focus of the Scottish wildlife crime tactical tasking and coordinating forum. Identification of those responsible for damaging our wildlife and environment is at the heart of this. But there’s a need to drive activity at most local policing levels to make sure that enforcement and prevention activities are locally relevant and impacting. But also in order that local police officers grow their own knowledge of those people within their communities who are intent on harming their environment. And of course vice versa. We want local criminals to grow their knowledge that local police officers have them in their sights.

If we can continue to grow our approach to addressing local issues relating to wildlife and environmental crime, this will help us develop much broader knowledge of those individuals that operate within the wider national and international arena. We will target criminals involved in wildlife and environmental crime from every angle possible, locally, nationally and internationally. But the truly effective approach for Scotland must start with locally relevant and effective police and partnership activity. There should be no gaps in commitment, whether this is from policing, partner agencies or the public, and I entrust you to broaden their complete contempt of wildlife and environmental crime within your community and to take personal responsibility to drive forward exposure of those committing such crime in order that enforcement organisations can most effectively disrupt those behaviours.

So my message for the forthcoming year is clear. Scottish policing will continue to actively pursue those involved in damaging our wildlife and the environment. We will work closer with partners to be more effective in painting the intelligence picture. We will develop and broaden awareness among our staff about crime that affects our wildlife and the environment. We will make sure that the policing mechanisms in place to target other forms of criminality are equally applied to those issues affecting our natural environment. And finally we will use our intelligence regarding other forms of criminality as a vehicle to help us disrupt and detect those harming our wildlife, environment, and we will use our intelligence regarding those involved in wildlife and environmental crime to disrupt and detect those involved in other forms of crime”.

[Well done Ruaraidh for managing to deliver an understandable presentation. Yes, it was still littered with bureaucratic jargon but at least it was put together coherently, and in amongst all that business-speak was a message of clear intent. Can that good intent be turned into tangible results? That remains to be seen but he should be given the chance to have a go; at least he wasn’t suggesting national police operations with gamekeepers!]

2012 wildlife crime conference: Nevin Hunter (NWCU)

This is the second blog in the series focusing on presentations made at the recent police wildlife crime conference in Scotland. This time we look at what the new head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, Nevin Hunter, had to say. (For background info on Nevin, see here).

Nevin Hunter, NWCU

“Ok, you know we’ve got UK priorities, erm, you’ve heard mention already of the national intelligence model and the way in which we try and work and deal with wildlife crime and I’m not going to focus on that too much, I’m going to focus on some other aspects. Erm, you know, everything we’re about now is about harm reduction really in terms of, of, wildlife crime, erm, you know, we’re looking at national crime threats and four distinct areas of work because many of you will be aware of this in terms of its enforcement but as I’ve gone around speaking to a number of people from, erm, a number of different partner organisations over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to stress something really and that, that actually a lot of the prevention, intelligence and enforcement has been having a fourth element to it that, and that’s all around reassurance because if we want to get people to engage with us and support us in the fight against wildlife crime we’ve got to think about that as a virtuous circle if we can, if we can, er, have effective prevention, we get good intelligence, we get effective enforcement, that is going to build reassurance amongst those people who are supporting us, erm, that will then lead in itself to more preventative actions, intelligence, enforcement and that’s what I talk about in terms of virtuous circle, so it’s really important that we continue to build upon that.

Erm, I put this slide up just for one reason alone. We are the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit and, er, it’s really important that everybody understands we’ve got the UK perspective, you know, we’ve shown over the last few years, erm, things like Operation RAMP that we really can deliver at an international level, erm, some of you know me well, in the last three and a half years I’ve spent seconded to, to Animal Health, erm, dealing with CITES endangered species issues, erm, and bird registration issues and have been, you know, I wrote the UK operation order for Operation RAMP that a number of you in the audience will have been involved with, er, albeit that I was working then with the civil service, erm, dealing with, with those types of issues. Erm, but we can do this work, what we’ve got to remember though, erm, you know, we’ve shown we can operate at an international level, er, we can provide operational support, erm, and I’ve got mutual administrative systems and regional mutual assistance treaty, right, we can, we can do that type of work, we’ve shown we can do that and we’ve really built on that and we’ll continue to do so but I look at it a lot of the work we do that at an international level is core business to us now and we know how to deal with that, we, you know, CITES is a priority we can deal with that sort of work but I’m very conscious coming in to this role with the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit it’s really important to me that we start delivering and really thinking about the priorities that we’ve got in the UK.

Erm, now you can’t, you can’t actually get a picture of a black hole but one of the issues that people regularly, sort of regularly flag to me up that, er, the last several weeks the feeling at times that, that the National Wildlife Crime Unit can be seen as a bit of a black hole in that lots of things come in to us but you guys and girls out there are dealing with things operationally on the ground what you see come out from us. Now that doesn’t mean that we’re not working hard, you know, I, I know how hard the people in the unit worked, I worked really closely with Brian and the team over the last few years, erm, they all work incredibly hard, erm, dealing with a number of priority areas but I’m very conscious that your perception of us out there may not be as good as it could be in terms of where we’re delivering at a UK level. We really do deliver at an international level, that’s quite clear. Erm, and I want to look at, focus about, erm, perhaps things that we ought to be looking at, now these are my perceptions and some of them are my views so please, erm, I hope I’m not going to insult anybody but I think you need to think about these things.

Erm, I think there needs to be a re-focus on the UK wildlife crime priorities, are all of these relevant, erm, are they things that we can deliver on? Erm, we need to perhaps consider and review how we deliver the processes, can we define these better for wildlife crime, erm, those of you who see it and most of you certainly from a policing point of view will get copied in to the strategic and tactical assessments that we make, they are, they’re very long documents and when I’ve gone around speaking to people the vast majority of people have said we don’t read all of them, we read the little bits that are of interest to us, but there’s a huge amount of time spent in the unit putting those documents together. Now, concerns are raised about how relevant they are in terms of how timely they are, er, because we’re trying to process a mass of information, get that into those types of documents, erm, and we are doing it, that, in the best way we can, is it the fact that we’ve got a large number of priorities, the fact we’re being asked to produce very large documents actually as effective are we being as effective as we can be with that?

Erm, I see that role for the head of the unit going ahead now is going to be to drive action by the priority delivery groups, er, and when I talk about that I’m talking about outcomes, erm, I went to a meeting recently with Mr Crompton and Brian Stuart, erm, and Mr Benyon the UK Minister and I know that ministers, you know, across the UK are looking at the whole issues, it’s about outcomes now, we’ve got to be outcome-driven so we’ve got to be looking at how we deliver, we’ve got wildlife crime priorities in the UK and I’ll be making sure we deliver those, er, and I see it as a role for me in the future with my team to help drive through those UK priorities.

Erm, in terms of operation ways, erm, way ahead, erm, I think we need to make sure that we make the priorities relevant to you. We’ve got to be looking at effective disruption of criminality, yeah? If we’re going to use the national intelligence model to its best effect we need to get it in there and disrupting criminality, yeah? It needs to be and there’s a role for me and my team in that. We need to make it relevant to you, erm, so I see now that there should be a role of operational support from the head of unit, erm, you know, when we get large complex investigations, erm, from a policing point of view we’re going to look at silver command type structure, bronze, silver, gold command as you’ll be aware of from a policing point of view, you know, we’ve got to be thinking then about what roles, erm, what roles somebody like a silver commander, a lot of silver commanders are going to be involved, erm, perhaps we’re looking at inspectors, chief inspectors, superintendents probably going to be involved with some of these complex cases with no understanding of wildlife crime. You may have gone and made a business case to them to get the job and to run it, erm, but is there a role for somebody like me to come and provide the tactical advisor bit for an operational silver commander to make sure they’re able to make the best decisions and I don’t think we’ve played that role in the past, erm, but with my sort of background now I bring that into the, into the equation to be able to support and when we may get complex operations, erm, and I think that that’s a way in which we can connect with you.

I think we need to be looking as well at, erm, if we look, if there’s a perception that we might be a bit of a black hole, yeah? You want to see stuff, and this is what people are telling me, you want to see stuff coming out of the unit, er, I know Colin and others within the unit have discussed over the last year or two about whether we could look at something like a weekly dissemination to yourselves. Erm, the national domestic extremism unit produces a weekly update of all extremism issues around the UK, erm, going out to all forces across the UK giving updates of the major issues. Perhaps we need to be looking at that, erm, if you’ve got ideas on that or things you’d like to see us bring in to that type of document please let us know. Now we may have to look at it in terms of integrity within the unit in terms of our staffing because we are challenged at the moment but we want to move towards something where not only are you putting information and intelligence into us, you know we welcome intelligence all the time, but we want to be putting stuff out to you because we need, we need that virtuous circle again, we need you to be linked in to what we’re doing and to see you actually getting stuff coming out of us.

Erm, I think we can look as well at, to consider platforms, erm, such as the police on-line knowledge area, now that’s hosted at the moment by the national police improvement agency, erm, and under something called POKA, that’s as I say the police on-line knowledge area, er, it’s effectively a secure messaging, er, system, message boarding system. Now I’ve been talking about this via email and discussion the last few weeks and that’s an opportunity perhaps if we could put, develop wildlife communities, er, coordinate that according to in terms of the police communities where we can then start to share, er, information, knowledge, understanding, er, will we get any of the sort of developments that the, er, sheriff was talking about earlier on, can we feed things into there, feed peoples experiences so that you’ve got an opportunity to look at things that may be going on across the, er, Scotland and the wider UK, er, where we can learn from because we need to take these opportunities.

Ok, just to finish off, enforcement challenges, erm, I think key for what we do in the future has got to be about support the majority of people to undertake lawful activities, that’s key about what we do. Erm, targeting the minority of those who undermine, er, and, and who operate at local, national and serious and organised levels, you know, we’ve got, we’ve got to look at that and, and I flagged that up and I’ll give you two examples of why I think it’s, ok, we’ve got to mean business and I’m flagging two issues here, poaching, ok? It’s really important that we harness the energy of people like gamekeepers, factors, landowners and others to tackle across Scotland, er, and the rest of the UK with a, with something like potentially a national operation. That’s one of the things that, er, in the last few weeks I’ve been speaking to, er, Scottish Land Estates and, er, National Gamekeepers down in, down in the south of the border now, you know, is there potential for things like operations, national operations and we need to harness those energies. Whilst we want people like gamekeepers on side, erm, and there’s also the potential that when looking at raptor persecution that we, you know, anybody who’s allowed to use, uses or allows to be used things like carbofuran and that sort, that’s a photograph on there from a poisoning incident, erm, erm, that I dealt with several years ago down in Devon, similar types of things, somebody’s been squirting carbofuran granular form on to a pheasant poult, putting it out to try and kill buzzards, erm, people have got to understand that there’s potential that if they’re, if they’re doing that then now, you know, there’s a likelihood they’ll go to jail, now the finger gets pointed all the time at gamekeepers so I’m saying on the one hand well let’s work with gamekeepers to potentially push forward things like anti-poaching initiatives, work with them at the same time saying we need help to deal with the persecution of raptors, erm, so we’ve got to, got to get people on our side, erm, and that I see as something that I’ve got a big part to play in trying to drive things forward and show that we’re tackling the UK priorities.”

[Jesus Christ. Somebody needs to get these NWCU people on to a public speaking training course. Although in all fairness to Nevin, it looks as though he wasn’t properly briefed about his audience. Even so, get rid of the jargon, get rid of the bureaucracy and simplify your message. E.g. “Hello everyone, I think NWCU has a good track record at an international level but I recognise that we’ve been a bit shit at a national level and I intend to address that issue. We need your help to accomplish that”. Who cares about which model is used, or whether the commander has a bronze, silver or gold certificate for cycling proficiency? WE DON’T CARE, NEVIN! What we care about is whether you and your team can get results and bring more of those who continue to persecute raptors and other wildlife, to justice. That’s it. A helpful hint: launching a national operation in partnership with gamekeepers is unlikely to improve your unit’s credibility with the raptor workers. Just saying…]

2012 wildlife crime conference: Charlie Everitt (NWCU)

The 2012 annual police wildlife crime conference took place a couple of weeks ago. Quite a few of this year’s presentations were relevant to raptor persecution so we’ll be commenting on these in due course. To start off the series we’ll focus on what Charlie Everitt had to say. Charlie is the Scottish Investigative Support Officer at the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU). See here for more details.

Charlie Everitt: Update on Raptor Persecution

Scottish Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, and that’s a mouthful, erm, has been concentrating more on poisonings just at the moment, and also on processes so that we can get things right in order to take things forward for core purposes. Consequently we’re just finishing off and hoping to sign off at the next meeting an evidence gathering protocol. Now this is guidance and best practice for organisations who are likely to come across raptor persecution victims, er, giving advice and guidance on who they should contact, how the, er, any carcasses should be recovered and where they should be handed in to, so it’s giving best practice in order to maximise our chances for convictions in court so we get the process right. So that should be signed off, er, at the next meeting.” [See here for a previous blog about an earlier draft of this protocol. We haven’t seen the final version yet but look forward to seeing it in the near future].

“And similarly we’re looking at, er, another protocol with regards to satellite tagged birds, and this is a case where we have birds that have been satellite tagged and maybe the tag, er, stops giving off a signal, erm, or the signal remains stationary, just a protocol as to what we should do, er, in order to take the next step in order to recover the satellite and to investigate what’s happened. So just to make sure that we are lawful in what we are doing. So that’s a protocol as well that should get signed off very soon.

And the third angle, and it’s taking up a fair bit of time, is looking at a very new approach to the whole raptor, erm, raptor persecution issue. Now I can’t really say a great deal more on this at the minute, it’s in its early stages of development just now but when it is it will be put through tests and if it is fit for purpose it will be rolled out and, erm, yes you’ll all be made well aware of it when it does emerge.

We’ve also been looking to the use of science to try and benefit from what science can deliver to us. Now the science of course can back up intelligence and information crucially and the science has been used to good effect when combined with information and intelligence in a presentation to Northern Constabulary last year about the red kites on the Black Isle and their failure to manage to expand from there. So I think that was a good example of just how the two can sit together.” [Eh?]

“The Raptor Study Group of course do a lot of good work with regards to monitoring, erm, raptors and are able to work out where black holes might appear where we should have raptors and where there might not be some. Now there might be good reason for these black holes appearing, [no shit, Sherlock!] er, but what it does do, as I say, when you mix the intelligence and information with the science we get the fuller picture of what might be happening on the land there.

And the final thing we’re looking at doing is to ensure that we can capture all the information from the Raptor Study Group because they’re the people who are out on the land and if they do have any snippets of information we want to make sure that we capture all that intelligence and information in the National Wildlife Crime Unit through the five X five X five system, so that’s, er, er, another area which I’m looking to address very soon.

Now we’ve had some prosecutions, er, either concluded, erm, or, er, occurring during 2011, er, just run through some for you just as an update. In May a shoot manager in Skibo was fined £3,300 for possessing 10.5 kilograms of carbofuran, er, that was the biggest haul we’ve ever recovered in Scotland. And also in May last year a keeper from Moy was fined £1,500 for the possession of a dead red kite. On in October a ‘keeper from Huntly was fined £250 for the illegal use of a cage trap and possession of an illegally trapped buzzard. In November two photographers from London and Norwich were fined £600 and £500 respectively for recklessly disturbing a pair of white-tailed sea eagles at a nest in Mull. In January of this year a former gamekeeper from Biggar was ordered to carry out 100 hours of community service for poisoning four buzzards with alphachloralose and this is a guy who had been convicted before back in 2008. And also in January of this year a, er, another keeper from Lamington was fined £635 for possession of carbofuran. Now for me I think that’s a really good return for one year’s worth of work, er, and there used to be years when we only got two or three convictions in a year, now we have a good number and, er, I think buried inside all of those results is excellent partnership working which I think we must recognise with all our partner agencies.”

[We believe it’s misleading to use these cases as an indicator of success. What Charlie failed to mention is that in some of these cases (Skibo, Moy and Lamington) the only successful charges related to ‘possession’. Nobody was actually charged for poisoning the raptors that were found at each of these sites (and in the Moy case, there were also other offences that related to the illegal use of spring traps, for which nobody was charged). It looks like the Crown Office has gone for the minimum charge possible (i.e. possession) just to secure a conviction. To put this in context, it would be like claiming a success if someone had gone on a killing rampage using a car but was only convicted for not having any road tax. One of the other cases mentioned (Biggar – i.e. David Whitefield from Cullter Allers Farm, who already had a previous conviction for wildlife crime) was given a pathetic 100 hours community service order for poisoning four buzzards! Not good enough and certainly not an indication of ‘a really good return for one year’s worth of work’].

“The 2011 poisoning figures as the Minister suggested was significantly down, er, er, which is great news and very, very welcome to us to hear. Erm, all I’ll say is let’s see if we can continue that downward trend for the next three to five years and actually, and then, erm, solidify into a trend so that we do have this downward movement in poisonings but very grateful for anything where we have a drop in poisonings and that is, erm, excellent news.”

[Charlie failed to distinguish between reported poisoning incidents and actual poisoning incidents. There’s quite a difference and this should put the 2011 poisoning figures into context. He also failed to acknowledge the other methods of illegal killing and their impact on the overall issue of raptor persecution in Scotland. See here for previous blog on this].

“The hotspot maps meantime continue to help the police to focus their attention and, erm, identify where the areas need to be for resources to be deployed.

Now a few years back Lothian & Borders police had a pesticides dog that was able to sniff out carbofuran but it was very quickly withdrawn after there were some health and safety concerns. Well I’ve been having this chat with some of the dog handlers across Lothian & Borders and, er, they have told me that that dog is now available again for any searches, er, which Scotland want to undertake with regards to carbofuran. So that’s I think a positive move they’ve managed to sort out any health and safety issues there and just to put a little bit of context into that, Spain now have 15 dogs that can sniff out carbofuran and other poisons. Carbofuran poisoning has dropped by 40% since the early 2000s so we can think about the impact of the dogs.”

[Again, Charlie has only given half the story here. Yes, in parts of southern Spain (but not all!) the number of reported poisoning incidents has dropped by 40% since sniffer dogs were employed from 2004 onwards. However, crucially, there has also been a concurrent effort to increase enforcement against the poisoners. This includes the use of fines that have a real deterrent (up to €200,000 [~£167,000!]) as well as prison sentences; the temporary closure of the hunting area where poison has been detected; the suspension of hunting rights where the hunting methods are considered to have an unsustainable effect on natural resources; the employment of specialised units (x 3, containing 18 dogs) to patrol areas for the detection of poison – these patrols include ‘emergency inspections’ after poison has been reported, as well as ‘routine inspections’ of hotspots where the use of poison is suspected; and the use of three toxicology labs for poison testing. This is particularly interesting as when poison has not been detected in the first lab, but the use of poison is still suspected based on forensic evidence found at the crime scene (e.g. presence of certain insects), then the carcass/bait is submitted to one of two other labs that use more powerful techniques. In 2010, poison was detected in 38% of these carcasses/baits even though it was undetected at the first lab.

So yes, Charlie, the use of one single sniffer dog in Scotland is a positive move, but without the wider enforcement measures as outlined above, we’d be exceptionally naïve to expect that what has been achieved in parts of southern Spain will be replicated here in Scotland].

“Vicarious liability is also, erm, very much in discussion at the moment and I think last year I described myself as being cautiously optimistic about it. Well this year I’m very optimistic about it, er, with all the work that has been going on, er, behind the scenes and, er, what I would say is that this is not something that is just going to be a case of well we can’t get the person who has put out the poison so let’s just go and charge the landowner, this is going to require a lot of work, er, by any police forces looking into it, er, and looking to, to, er, look at charges of vicarious liability. The industry have also looked into it and have indeed a number of organisations in order to understand what they need to do to fulfil their obligations and that is to be welcomed because it does give us a minimum standard across the, er, industries which is as I say very, very welcomed.

So I was interested in the Minister’s comment as well that, erm, I got the impression that he wasn’t really looking for many prosecutions from this, erm, he was hoping that this would sort of be a Sword of Damocles if anybody was to continue poisoning so, er, I think with some of the work that’s been going on in the Raptor Priority Delivery Group that I think that is a very realistic possibility that we will get things sorted before we ever have to resort to vicarious liability.

One final thing, well another thing I’d just like to, er, just bring to your attention is a egg collector who was, lived down in London, erm, and his house was searched, a number of eggs removed including some golden eagle and osprey, erm, eggs which had been taken from Scotland. The CPS did some work, er, with one of the partner organisations and sought an ASBO against him and although he’s currently in jail, when he re-emerges he will not be allowed to enter Scotland during the nesting season for the next ten years. Now that’s a very powerful piece of legislation and a powerful condition to put on him and it’s something which I’ve asked for them to see if we can get hold of the paperwork to look at the procedure to see if we can do some, mirror something like that up in Scotland because it’s not just for, erm, for egg collecting that this is relevant, I can see other angles of hare coursing, er, deer coursing and the like so, er, that is going to be an interesting development to see what how it transpires.

Finally on the raptor persecution side, these are the guys who make up the Scottish Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group. Now there have been articles that are out in the public domain where we actually have organisations, people from organisations that are representative of the group, trying to drive wedges in against other organisations which, er, are in that group as well, which is often very disruptive and really doesn’t help us with the trying to take the full raptor persecution debate forward. What I would say to you is that if you do have an issue which you would like to discuss in, er, er, in an appropriate forum, rather than having a, er, er, a rant shall I say for a better word in, er, other media, here is a foum which you could bring this to through your representative in order to get a good full informed debate amongst all the organisations that need to be consulted in it. So that’s what I’d urge you to do if you do have any issues and you want to bring forward then please do not hesitate to contact them through your, through your representative.” [We think this rebuke was aimed at the Scottish Gamekeepers Association who recently published an article that suggested raptor workers could be laundering eggs and chicks on the black market – see here for previous blog on that].

Big, big day in court (part 3)

Last month we blogged about a high profile case of significant public interest that was due to be heard in February but was postponed.

The case came back to the court yesterday for a notional diet (legal jargon for the discussion of a legal point) and has now been continued to the next hearing in April.

At this stage we are not naming the accused, or the charge(s) he faces, or details of the alleged incident(s). These will all be reported in due course. You’ll understand the need for tight lips when the case details finally emerge.

The outcome of this particular case will be informative on oh so many levels. We are watching with interest….

Unravelling the ‘relationship’ between Hopetoun and Leadhills Estates

Last week we blogged about the recent article in The Scotsman and on the Deadline News website, relating to criticism of the RSPB for deciding to hold their inaugural Scottish Birdfair at Hopetoun House (see here).

To begin with, readers should be clear that the location of the Scottish Bird Fair is Hopetoun House, in West Lothian, near Edinburgh. Hopetoun House is the historical family seat of the Hopetoun family (see here) and is home to the current Earl of Hopetoun (Andrew, who is also a Director of Scottish Land & Estates – see here). According to his SLE profile, Andrew is Chairman of Hopetoun Estates and Deputy Chairman of the Hopetoun House Preservation Trust, and, “These two organisations manage Hopetoun House and its related estates, mostly at Hopetoun near Edinburgh and around Leadhills in the Scottish Borders” [South Lanarkshire].

We are not aware of any alleged raptor persecution incidents taking place at Hopetoun House or its surrounding [West Lothian] landholdings and indeed, raptors such as buzzards and tawny owls are reportedly resident in the grounds of Hopetoun House and on the surrounding estate.

However, we believe that the criticism of the RSPB’s decision to hold their bird fair at Hopetoun House was not in relation to Hopetoun House per se, but rather it was probably in relation to the Hopetoun Estate’s alleged connection with Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire.

Leadhills Estate, as many readers will be aware, has been at the centre of dozens of allegations of raptor persecution (e.g. see here), and several gamekeepers there have been found guilty of wildlife crime offences (e.g. see here and here). Leadhills Estate is situated on land that is owned (but apparently not managed) by Hopetoun Estates and, if you believe the RSPB and the Earl of Hopetoun, that is the full extent of the relationship, as Leadhills Estate is reportedly let on a long sporting lease.

After the original article (criticising the RSPB) was published in The Scotsman, various statements were made by, and on behalf of, both the RSPB and the Earl of Hopetoun, to clarify the relationship between Hopetoun Estates and Leadhills Estate (see here and here). In essence, both were keen to highlight that Hopetoun Estates has nothing whatsoever to do with the management of Leadhills Estate and therefore there should not be an ‘issue’ about the RSPB holding its bird fair on land managed by Hopetoun Estates. The most significant comment, made by an un-named spokesperson for the Earl of Hopetoun, was:

More importantly, Hopetoun Estate has no role whatsoever in the management of Leadhills Estate. Leadhills Estate is run on a sporting lease completely separately and there is no connection between Hopetoun Estate and the sporting management of Leadhills Estate”.

This is a very interesting statement, mainly because it seeks to put distance between Hopetoun Estates and Leadhills Estate. However, if “Hopetoun Estate has no role whatsoever in the management of Leadhills Estate“, then how do Hopetoun Estates explain that they were one of the formal objectors to South Lanarkshire Council’s proposed ‘Core Paths Plan’ in January 2011, in which they objected to a proposed footpath network across a working grouse moor on Leadhills Estate? Here is a PDF of their objection statement: Hopetoun Estates objection statement

Looking at some of the comments made in the Hopetoun Estates’ objection statement, it would appear that this stated separation (between Hopetoun Estates and Leadhills Estate) may not be quite as clear cut as Hopetoun Estate and the RSPB would like us to believe. Of particular relevance are the comments made in section Q8, reproduced here:

Our [Hopetoun Estates] particular concerns include potential detriment to our farming and sporting interests due to dogs and the disruption they cause to birds, wildlife and sheep (especially at lambing and hatching). We are concerned about the implications of Health & Safety as landowner due to the actions we and/or our tenants carry out over the Estate including the use of vehicles and firearms. Walkers, cyclists and horse-riders will inevitably be in conflict with the use of quad bikes, 4x4s etc – the speed issue alone, coupled with the rugged terrain, blind summits, corners etc. offers significant cause for concern. Further to this, there may be times (shoot days, or when certain land management actions are being carried out) when we would require the closure of the Core Paths for H&S reasons. We are concerned about the cost implications to ourselves of undertaking such a closure and one would have to provide the manpower to police such closures during shoot days. Maintenance of the tracks are also a concern as horses and bikes can significantly break up the surface of the tracks which allows water to get into the body of the track and cause significant damage potentially making the track impassable for our Estate vehicles”.


Now, Hopetoun Estates were one of several formal objectors to the Core Paths Plan (see here). Others of interest here include Leadhills Sporting Ltd (sporting agents with land management responsibilities at Leadhills Estate – see here); Allershaw Farming Ltd (which is listed elsewhere as a company involved with ‘Hunting, Trapping & Game Propagation and Related Service Activities’ and whose two listed directors just happen to have exactly the same names as the two directors listed at Leadhills Sporting Ltd – imagine the coincidence of that!); and Lord Linlithgow’s Accumulation Trust, whose address on the objection statement is given as ‘Hopetoun Estates Office, West Lothian’!!

What is striking about all four of these objections is the similarity of (most of) the paths they object to, and the reasons they provide for their objections.

Here are the four PDFs – compare and contrast and draw your own conclusions:

Hopetoun Estates objection statement

Leadhills Sporting Ltd objection statement

Allershaw Farming Ltd objection statement

Lord Linlithgows Accumulation Trust objection statement

Does anybody still think that “Hopetoun Estate has no role whatsoever in the management of Leadhills Estate” ?

Naturally, we’d be happy to publish any clarifications that Hopetoun Estates may care to provide.

Red kite found poisoned in North Yorkshire

An article published in the York Press today reports that a poisoned red kite has been found near Pickering in North Yorkshire.

It was reportedly found in woodland at Cawthorn Roman Camp, and was rescued by a dog walker. The bird is now being cared for at Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation.

PC Stewart Ashton of North Yorkshire Police said: “Despite it being illegal to harm birds of prey, we have intelligence that people are still actively killing them in areas of Ryedale“.

According to the article, North Yorks Police are appealing for help in catching the person(s) responsible for this latest poisoning incident, although it is not known when the bird was found, what it was poisoned with, and no details are provided about who should be contacted. There isn’t a press statement on the North Yorks Police website either.

According to RSPB statistics, North Yorkshire was identified as having the highest level of reported raptor persecution incidents in the UK in 2010 (see here).

York Press news article here