Scottish gamekeepers in court: latest

Two cases against two Scottish gamekeepers have been heard recently at Perth Sheriff Court:

David Campbell, head gamekeeper at Edradynate Estate, Perthshire, is charged with various offences relating to firearms and explosives (see here). His case has been continued for an intermediate diet on 26 July 2012. At that hearing it will be decided whether the case proceeds to trial on 20 August 2012. This is an interesting one for several reasons which will become clear in due course.

Jonathan Graham, apparently a gamekeeper at Glenlyon Estate, Perthshire, is charged with three offences under the Wildlife & Countryside Act (Section 5 (1) (b) relating to the prohibition of certain methods of killing or taking wild birds. The hearing was continued today until 27 June 2012. Those of you interested in the topical subject of crow cage traps (see here) might want to follow this case.

DEFRA backs down on buzzard ‘management’ trial!!

News just in, from Defra’s twitter account, Richard Benyon says the following:

“We’ve listened to public concerns, so we are stopping current research and developing new proposals on #buzzards”

Fantastic news (well, at least until we find out what these ‘new proposals’ entail). A big, fat, massive WELL DONE to everyone who blogged, tweeted, emailed, petition-signed etc about this outrageous ‘study’. The people have been heard! It’s incredible to see how effective 9 days of campaigning can be!

By the way, it looks like GWCT had tendered for the buzzard ‘study’ (see here). They seem to be quite good at undertaking unpopular ‘research’ – they’re currently carrying out  a ‘study’ funded by those doyens of conservation, Songbird Survival, which involves a large scale corvid removal experiment (basically killing crows & magpies and calling it science….hmm, sound familiar? See here). If you’re not sure who Songbird Survival are, see here.

We’ll post responses about the DEFRA u-turn here as and when they are published:

Update on DEFRA website here (scroll down underneath the ‘mythbuster’ bit)

Article in the Guardian here (includes info about new research proposals)

RSPB response here

BBC news article here

Article in the Independent here

Article in the Telegraph here

Mark Avery’s thoughts here

Country Land & Business Association (CLA)  response here

British Assoc. for Shooting & Conservation (BASC) response here  (just a statement, no opinion offered)

Countryside Alliance response here (Benyon’s glum chums)

National Gamekeepers’ Organisation response here (not very happy either)

Glen Orchy poisoner: sentence deferred ’til July

Tom McKellar, a gamekeeper/farmer at Auch Estate in Argyll who was convicted last month of possession of the banned pesticide Carbofuran (see here and here) was due to be sentenced today. Sentencing has now been deferred until 23 July (we don’t yet know the reason for this further delay).

The Carbofuran was discovered at McKellar’s place nearly three years ago in June 2009 during a police raid in connection with the discovery of a poisoned golden eagle at Glen Orchy on 7 June 2009 (see here). Toxicology results showed the dead eagle had been poisoned with Carbofuran. McKellar reportedly admitted during a police interview that he had previously laid out poison baits to kill foxes (see here) but he wasn’t charged with poisoning that golden eagle.

Also discovered during that police raid was a stash of illegal handguns in McKellar’s loft. On conviction at the High Court in Glasgow in December 2010, instead of receiving the mandatory five-year prison term he was given a sentence of 300 hours’ community service (see here).

There is a lot more to the Glen Orchy eagle-poisoning incident than meets the eye but we’re unable to disclose further information until McKellar has been sentenced. Rest assured, we’ll be writing more about this in due course.

Buzz off Benyon, & other news from the murky underworld of raptor persecution

There are no signs of the public’s outrage subsiding over #Buzzardgate. You only have to type in the words ‘buzzard’ and ‘DEFRA’ into a search engine and the strength of feeling against DEFRA’s outlandish plan is almost palpable.

The best article we’ve read, so far, is that written by George Monbiot in the Guardian (here). There’s also a good article by Michael McCarthy in the Independent today, entitled ‘Richard Benyon: The bird-brained minister (see here). Although McCarthy seems to think that the buzzard-nest destroyers will start their shotgun antics as of this Friday (1st June), presumably because that was the proposed start date in DEFRA’s research tender document (see here). However, the buzzard breeding season is well underway and many nests now contain small chicks and the DEFRA ‘study’ suggests that nests will be destroyed during ‘construction’; it doesn’t say anything about destroying active nests containing breeding adults, eggs and/or young (not that that would stop the trigger-happy nest destroyers, of course).

But perhaps the destructive parts of this study won’t start this Friday (if they ever start at all, depending on how loudly we all shout our objections). According to the June edition of ‘Modern Gamekeeping’ (which could just as easily have been called ‘Victorian Gamekeeping’ because nothing seems to have changed except for new bits of kit designed to help the ‘keeper kill more wildlife), the trial’s start date is not that clear:

Though DEFRA insists it is too early to comment on the finer details of the study, it is expected to launch some time this year. A spokesperson said: “The tender for the research project on management techniques to reduce the predation of pheasant poults by buzzards closed yesterday. We will announce the successful bid later in the summer“”.

Modern Gamekeeping isn’t available online (another example of its misnomer) but a photograph of its buzzard trial cover story can be found on Alan Tilmouth’s blog (here). Incidentally, Alan Tilmouth has been one of the most prolific tweeters on this issue and we know he was directly responsible for directing some ‘important’ people to this blog when we led on this story last week, so many thanks Alan, and good luck with your DEFRA FoI request to find out which Northumberland estates are involved; we’re all VERY interested in those results.

Another DEFRA FoI request has been lodged by ‘SWBirdWatch’ which can be followed on the public website ‘What Do They Know?’ (see here).

Since the buzzard trial story hit the news last week, several commentators on various blogs and websites have mentioned that the game-shooting lobby may have shot themselves in the foot over their latest attempt to get rid of raptors, because now the full glare of the spotlight has been turned onto their industry, with mainstream media taking a real interest. Mark Avery’s blog this morning (see here) focuses on some of the questions now being asked by a wider audience where previously they were just being asked by a smaller minority of special-interest groups. All good stuff.

For those who haven’t already done so, there are two main petitions to sign to show your disapproval of the buzzard trial – please, take a minute to sign both of them and let Mr Benyon feel the full force of our discontent:

In other news, Tom McKellar is due to be sentenced today (he’s the gamekeeper from Glen Orchy who was convicted in April of possessing the banned pesticide Carbofuran, although he didn’t face any charges over the dead golden eagle found at Glen Orchy which had been poisoned by er… Carbofuran – see here). We’ve received some further information about that poisoned eagle and we’ll discuss it once McKellar’s case has ended.

Another hearing opening today concerns the head keeper at Edradynate Estate in Perthshire. More on that case in due course…

BTO backs out of buzzard plan

The following statement has appeared on the British Trust for Ornithology’s website:

Following recent discussion in the media on Defra’s proposals regarding Buzzards and Pheasants, Andy Clements comments on the BTO’s position.

“Alongside RSPB, Raptor Study Groups, GWCT & a range of other stakeholders, BTO has attended two meetings at Defra in a scientific advisory capacity. 

BTO has not tendered for the work and we have declined an invitation to be part of the Project Advisory Group. We have also indicated we no longer wish to be part of the ongoing stakeholder group.

If Defra ask us for specific independent scientific advice, for example up to date population estimates for Buzzard, we would provide that advice as normal.”

Andy Clements, BTO Director

Well done, BTO!

Add your name to petition against buzzard ‘management’

A petition has been set up against DEFRA’s outrageous plan to ‘manage’ buzzards. Please sign it! (It doesn’t matter which country you’re in, anyone can sign this) –

DEFRA responds to public outcry over buzzard ‘management’ trial

The weight of public pressure on DEFRA after it was revealed they were funding a ‘study’ to explore methods of buzzard ‘management’ (see here, here and here) has led them to put out a statement.

You can read it here

The statement is just as laughable as their study idea. They’ve completely missed the point of the public’s anger – DEFRA thinks that we’ve all misunderstood the proposal and we’re worried about them ‘killing’ buzzards; they don’t get it that we’re all opposed to the use of public funds to ‘control’ buzzards (native species just recovering from decades of persecution) for the benefit of 40 million non-native gamebirds that are released into the environment every year for the purposes of being shot for ‘sport’!

Here are some of the ludicrous sentences in their statement:

‘We work on the basis of sound evidence’ (er, you clearly don’t!)

‘This would only be in areas where there is a clear problem’ (how have you quantified a ‘clear problem’? Where’s the scientific evidence to back it up?)

‘…destroying empty nests…’ (note the inclusion of the word ’empty’ to try and convince us that adult birds, or eggs or chicks won’t be shot out of the tree).

‘The results of this scientific research will help guide our policy on this issue in the future’. (Just because you’ve used the term ‘scientific research’ doesn’t make this a valid scientific study. For it to be that, a hypothesis would first need to be tested (e.g. do buzzards have an impact on pheasant poults?) instead of going straight in with the assumption that they do have an impact and so let’s remove some to see what happens).

Interestingly, DEFRA doesn’t mention anything about the illegality of their methods (well, methods #3 & #4 anyway – permananent translocation [removal of adult birds] to captivity at falconry centres and shooting out nests with a shotgun). Hopefully the RSPB will get their lawyers on to this!

National press picks up on buzzard ‘management’ row

Following earlier posts on DEFRA’s ‘management’ plan for buzzards (see here and here)…..this outrageous proposal has now attracted the attention of the mainstream media.

BBC news article here

The Telegraph has it’s usual pro-shooting stance here (illustrated by a picture of a falcon! Now removed!). This article includes a fantastic quote from David Taylor of the Countryside Alliance, who insisted, “gamekeepers do not want to kill buzzards“. Of course they don’t, David, they despise themselves everytime they illegally shoot, poison or trap one, and they can’t look at themselves in the mirror after they make yet another application for a buzzard-shooting licence. [Hover your cursor over the image of the dead buzzard to find out how much love one member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association had for buzzards. Six months before he did this, he was convicted for having a buzzard inside an illegally-operated crow trap on the very same game-shooting estate!].

There’s a BBC news video (here) that includes an interview with the RSPB (also includes some footage of a Harris’ Hawk – these picture editors really need to get their acts together!).

The Independent has an article (here) with a statement from Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh, who has called for the government to drop the project: “The restoration of the buzzard population has been a real success in recent years. It is astounding that DEFRA are wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money disrupting this protected species. This out-of-touch Government’s priority is protecting the interests of large commercial shooting estates and non-native pheasants, rather than protecting our country’s native species. The Government should drop this plan now. This has all the hallmarks of another DEFRA shambles“.

And of course we are all able to have our say through social media. The tweets, blogs and emails continue….best tweet of the day goes to @WarwickSloss: “Buzzard management to protect pheasant farmers? Brilliant. We have a proud history of ‘managing’ raptors. What could possibly go wrong?”

Keep at it everyone. If you haven’t already emailed DEFRA Minister Richard Benyon MP (who just happens to be a grouse moor owner) to tell him what you think about his master plan to ‘manage’ buzzards, please take a minute to do it now: If you can copy in your own local MP then all the better; Benyon will get a double whammy effect when all these local MPs start asking him what on earth his department is doing!

UPDATE (24 May) – click here to read DEFRA’s response to public outcry and click here to sign a petition against the buzzard ‘management’ trial.

RSPB response to DEFRA’s proposed (illegal) buzzard trial

Following on from Monday’s story about DEFRA’s plan to fund a buzzard ‘management’ trial on pheasant-shooting estates in Northumberland (see here), the RSPB has published a response statement.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director said:

We are shocked by Defra’s plans to destroy buzzard nests and to take buzzards into captivity to protect a non-native game bird released in its millions. Buzzards play a minor role in pheasant losses, compared with other factors like collisions with vehicles.

Common pheasants are not native to the UK. Around 40 million birds are released every year for shooting. The impacts of this practice on wildlife have been poorly documented, but serious questions have been raised about the impact such a large injection of captive-reared birds might have on the predator-prey balance in our countryside.

Buzzards will take young pheasants from rearing pens, given the opportunity, but the RSPB believes the issue can be managed without destroying nests or moving buzzards. Measures include providing more cover for young pheasants in release pens, visual deterrents to discourage birds of prey and providing alternative food sources.

There are options for addressing the relatively small number of pheasant poults lost to buzzards. Destroying nests is completely unjustified and catching and removing buzzards is unlikely to reduce predation levels, as another buzzard will quickly take its place. Both techniques would be illegal under current wildlife laws, and I think most people will agree with us that reaching for primitive measures, such as imprisoning buzzards or destroying their nests, when wildlife and economic interests collide is totally unacceptable.

At a time when funding for vital conservation work is so tight, and with another bird of prey, the hen harrier, facing extinction as a breeding bird in England, I can think of better ways of spending £400,000 of public funds. This money could work harder for wildlife, and I hope the Government will therefore put a stop to this project.”

Full statement can be read on British Birds here

So what can you do? You can email DEFRA Minister Richard Benyon MP ( and tell him what you think about this illegal, scientifically-illiterate and unethical trial. You might want to ask him what scientific evidence was used to justify the proposal and ask him whether there was any consultation on the issue, and if there was, which organisations were consulted?

Go for it. There has been so much interest in this story and so many people expressing their outrage – let’s put it to good use and make sure Mr Benyon knows the strength of feeling on this.

UPDATE: Message sent to RPS readers from Nigel Middleton, Conservation Officer (Eastern Region) for the Hawk and Owl Trust:

Please Everybody , just to let you know the RSPB, Hawk and Owl Trust and Northern England Raptor Study Groups are aware of what is going on hence the press statement [today], all the groups are totally against the proposals and have representatives on the commitee that is fighting the cause of the buzzard, even if i have to chain myself to richard benyons office! i hope you will all back me. Please send as many letters expressing your disgust at such a move not just to him but also your local MPs. They will not win on this one.”

UPDATE (24 May) – see here for national media response to this ‘management’ proposal.

Buzzard ‘management’ trial gets govt approval and £375K funding

So, while we’ve all been busy asking what the government plans to do about the imminent demise of the English hen harrier breeding population, the government has itself been busy putting together some funding, at the behest of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, to set up a trial to evaluate ‘management techniques’ to reduce the so-called ‘significant’ effect of buzzards on pheasant poults.

Yes, you read that correctly. DEFRA is interested in finding measures of controlling a native species (at the request of gamekeepers) that not only is recovering from past persecution (by gamekeepers), but still is undergoing illegal persecution (by gamekeepers) in the interests of protecting a non-native species that is reared and released (by gamekeepers) for people to kill for sport. Amazing.

It’s been estimated that over 40 million non-native pheasants are released in to the countryside each year, although it’s difficult to assess the accuracy of this number as there aren’t any limits on the number that can be released and there aren’t any reporting requirements for this to be monitored. What is clear is that the game shooting industry is undisputably linked to the continuing illegal persecution of birds of prey in this country and yet here is a government department basing a research decision solely on the opinion of some within that industry without a shred of scientific evidence to support their claims. [Interestingly, GWCT did a study a few years back on the fate of released pheasants; “Of 486 radio-tagged birds, we think three were killed by raptors” – see here. That’s 0.6%! Is that ‘significant’?].

So what does this trial entail? Basically, whoever is given the contract to conduct the research has to evaluate four different methods of buzzard management techniques:

1. Cut vegetative or artifical cover inside and outside pheasant-rearing pens. Provide shelters/refuges in the form of brash piles or wigwams. Possibly also wooden shelters/ refuges.

2. Diversionary feeding. Whole carcasses left on posts out of reach of ground predators. Type of carcass to be agreed with site owners. Provide for limited periods to reduce risk of increase in local buzzard population.

3. Translocation (permanent). Permanent removal off-site, for example, to a falconry centre. NE [Natural England] would be able to provide assistance for researchers in planning and licensing negotiations with potential recipients.

4. Nest destruction. Breeding birds displaced by destroying nests under construction, for example, using squirrel drey-poking pole or shotgun from below thereby forcing the pair to move on to find another nest site or not breed that year. Care would be needed to avoid injuring birds.

The study is anticipated to last for up to three years and £125k per annum will be available to fund it. The study sites have not yet been formally identified but DEFRA is encouraging bidders to use ‘a site that consists of 6 shoots spread over an area of 2000-2400 hectares in Northumberland’. It is not yet known who has won the bid to conduct this research (bidding closed at the end of April) but we’ll be keeping a close eye out on that.

DEFRA does emphasise its interest in ‘non-lethal’ management techniques, at the moment at least, but I think we can all probably see where this is heading. Part of the justification DEFRA uses for this study is the increase in buzzard numbers from 1995-2009 (duh – of course they’re increasing as they recolonise areas where previously they had been wiped out). Are we getting to the stage where raptor fieldworkers should start thinking about witholding their field survey results? If this is what the government is using those data for then there’s quite a strong argument for it!

Here’s the background info provided by DEFRA to research bidders: Buzzard control experiment overview

STOP PRESS (Tues 22 May) – Many thanks to everyone who has tweeted and posted on Facebook and on their own blogs about this story. Our visitor numbers have sky-rocketed in response, no doubt helped by a certain Chris Packham (thanks, Chris!). Please keep spreading the word; DEFRA cannot be allowed to get away with this. RSPB will be issuing a statement tomorrow.

STOP PRESS (Weds 23 May) – go here to read RSPB response and find out what you can do to stop this trial.