Golden eagle poisoned in Lochaber

A golden eagle is poisoned with banned pesticides in Lochaber and the police/RSPB wait for three months before appealing for information. What’s the point? Can anyone explain the purpose of this delay? Even the Scotsman comments on it (here). Can anyone think of another type of crime where these reporting delays are common?

RSPB press release here

Please note: this dead golden eagle is not the same dead golden eagle we reported on the 18 June (see here). We’re still waiting for an official press release about that one. But anyway, that’s two known illegally-killed golden eagles reported in the space of 10 days, and we understand that at least two others have been ‘missing’ since May, according to their sat tag data. Looks like we’re going to have to update our dead eagle page (here).

Gamekeeper convicted after trapped buzzard starved to death

Following the post we wrote on 31 May 2012 (see here), another Scottish gamekeeper has been convicted of a wildlife crime offence, this time for allowing a buzzard to starve to death inside a crow cage trap.

Jonathan Smith Graham (30), a gamekeeper on Glen Lyon Estate in Perthshire (see here), pleaded guilty to using a crow cage trap in which a buzzard was trapped and then starved to death. He has been fined £450 which is pretty pathetic when you consider the scope of available penalties (up to £5,000 &/or 6 months in prison), but perhaps more importantly he has now been banned from operating a crow cage trap for five years. Sheriff McCreadie’s comments about Graham’s actions (and in-actions) were also greatly encouraging and are welcomed. Credit to Tayside Police for undertaking the investigation on their own initiative and to wildlife fiscal Shona McJannett for a successful prosecution.

For the details of this case see here, here and here.

Some questions:

1. Will Jonathan Smith Graham be sacked from his gamekeeper job at Glen Lyon Estate now he has a wildlife crime conviction? Ask them directly:

2. Was he/is he a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association? (His defence lawyer was David McKie – the SGA’s solicitor – just coincidence?). If he is a member, will he be expelled now he has a wildlife crime conviction? Ask them directly: and while you’re there, ask them if they’re ready to say yet whether convicted gamekeeper Robert Christie (Lindertis Estate) is/was a member (see here).

3. Why hasn’t the SGA issued a public statement condemning the actions of this gamekeeper? Ask them directly:

4. Is Glen Lyon Estate a member of Scottish Land and Estates? Ask them directly:

What aren’t they telling us and why aren’t they telling us?

It seems blogger Alan Tilmouth was much more astute than us. Last week we blogged about Alan’s FoI to DEFRA to find out which Northumberland shoots were set to host the DEFRA buzzard ‘study’. DEFRA wrote back to Alan to ask whether he still wanted to proceed with his FoI even though the ‘study’ had now been cancelled. Alan saw this as a ‘concealment’ attempt by DEFRA – we saw it as just a delaying tactic (see here). We were wrong!

DEFRA has now written to Alan again, this time to tell him that yes, they hold the information he requested but no, they aren’t going to reveal it for ‘public safety’ reasons!!! See Alan’s blog here for their full statement.

Public safety my arse! Does anyone else smell the rancid odour of a cover up? Time to write to the Information Commissioner, Alan!

It seems DEFRA aren’t very good at responding to FoI requests, especially those relating to the game-shooting industry. Mark Avery has also been having trouble getting DEFRA to respond to his FoIs about Walshaw grouse moor (see here).

Talking of cover ups, still no official word from Tayside Police, Grampian Police or the RSPB on that dead golden eagle that we reported on Monday (see here). Hmmm…

Another dead golden eagle: surely not a cover up?

Information has been received about the recent discovery of a dead golden eagle in Scotland, whose injuries suggested it had been killed illegally (poison is not thought to have played a part in this one).

The discovery of the eagle’s body and an assessment of its injuries, along with tracking data from its satellite tag, led to a joint police/RSPB search of a well-known sporting estate last month.

Why hasn’t there been any public statement about this incident from the two police forces involved (Grampian & Tayside) or the RSPB? Fair enough for investigators to keep quiet prior to the search so as not to alert any potential offenders, but it’s now several weeks later and still no statement? Surely this incident is of significant public interest?

If it hadn’t appeared on this blog, would this incident ever have come to the public’s attention? It certainly wouldn’t be included in the ‘official’ annual persecution stats because those figures only relate to known poisoning incidents; they don’t include incidents where other methods of persecution have been employed such as shooting, nest destruction or trapping. It might get published in the RSPB’s list of ’probable’ persecution incidents in their 2012 annual review, but that won’t be published for at least 18 months (winter 2013) by which time this latest eagle death would be considered ‘old news’. How convenient, for one sector of society at least.

For the time being, specific details about this incident, including the nature of the eagle’s injuries and the name of the estate that was subsequently searched have been deliberately excluded from this post as it will be claimed the investigation is still ‘live’. Even if that’s true, what, or who is preventing the police/RSPB from issuing a preliminary press release about their investigation into yet another suspicious death of a golden eagle on yet another Scottish sporting estate?

Traps in our countryside: a walker’s guide

Thanks to Steve from the animal protection charity OneKind who has advised that his 2010 article, ‘Traps in our countryside: a walker’s guide’ has now been updated.

This excellent illustrated guide provides detailed information for the general public on how to distinguish a legal trap from an illegal trap. The updated version also includes information about a new trap which is known by several common names: clam trap, snapper trap, butterfly trap and Larsen mate trap. This particular trap is causing controversy: the game-shooting industry argues it is legal and safe whereas others strongly disagree and some have even suggested its use could be an offence under animal welfare legislation, although this has yet to be tested in a court of law. It is understood that SNH is still consulting about the lawfulness of this trap and more information should be forthcoming in the near future (see here).

The SGA’s views on the clam trap can be read here and here. A copy of their consultation response to SNH on the use of clam traps can be read here.

A copy of the SRPBA’s (now called Scottish Land and Estates) consultation response to SNH on the use of clam traps can be read here. Its interesting to compare this with the SGA’s response – copy and paste, anyone?

Click here to read OneKind’s updated article – Traps in our Countryside: a walker’s guide.

Click here to read our recent article – Crow Traps: what you should know.

Another peregrine site attacked

The BBC is reporting an attack on a peregrine site at a quarry in Staffordshire.

Someone tried to steal or kill three chicks at the site between Monday evening and Tuesday morning. Quarry staff found a rope above the nest site, and the three chicks were found scattered across the site. It’s understood all three are now safe. Police are investigating.

BBC news article here

Devon & Cornwall police issue bird poisoning alert

Devon & Cornwall Police continue their impressive proactive stance against wildlife crime by today issuing a press release to warn the general public to be on the look out for poisoned birds and poisoned baits.

The alert has been issued to the local community in an area with a history of raptor poisoning, including previous attempts to poison peregrines. The public have been warned about the potentially fatal consequences of coming in to contact with the poisons used, and have been reassured that regular police patrols will be undertaken in the area.

We don’t see enough of this sort of proactive approach (although last year West Yorkshire Police did send out a public warning after poisoned bait was discovered – see here, as did Northern Constabulary, see here).

Once again, Police Wildlife Crime Officer PC Josh Marshall deserves huge plaudits for his efforts. Earlier this year Josh was behind a scheme to attach covert cameras at vulnerable raptor nest sites that resulted in catching two men disturbing a peregrine site within 48 hours of installing the equipment (see here). Somebody needs to get him and his enlightened bosses up to Scotland to provide training workshops for every single police force.

See here for the police poisoning alert.

#buzzardgate aftermath

Following DEFRA’s recent u-turn on their planned ‘study’ that included blasting buzzard nests with shotguns and catching up adult buzzards and sticking them in an aviary for the rest of their lives (see here), questions are still being asked about the finer details of the ‘study’.

Blogger Alan Tilmouth, who was one of the most active in the campaign against the proposed ‘study’, wrote a FoI request to DEFRA to find out the names and locations of the ‘study’ sites. Today he received a response, which he suggests is an attempt by DEFRA to conceal the information (see Alan’s blog here). I’m not sure that I’d agree that it’s a concealment attempt, but perhaps a delaying tactic nonetheless. Well done Alan – looking forward to their next response!

#Buzzardgate continues to receive media attention and today a letter was published in the Independent calling for a pledge on buzzard protection, as well as calls for action to stop the continued illegal persecution of birds of prey. The letter was signed by an eclectic mix of organisations, some of whom have not previously entered into the arena of campaigning directly for raptor protection (RSPB, National Trust, Greenpeace UK, Friends of the Earth, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Hawk & Owl Trust, Mammal Society, Badger Trust, People’s Trust for Endangered Species, Northern England Raptor Forum, Humane Society International, Butterfly Conservation and the British Mountaineering Council). Good on them and let’s hope we hear more from them all in the coming months. We’re stronger together. Letter here.

Case against alleged wild-bird egg trader continues

The lengthy legal proceedings against Inverness man Keith Liddell (see here for background), who is accused on various counts including trading in wild-bird eggs, has continued at Inverness Sheriff Court today.

Liddell, who has denied all the charges against him, will now stand trial on 22 October 2012, with an intermediate diet on 25 September 2012.

According to an earlier STV report, the list of raptor species whose eggs he is alleged to have handled includes merlin, lesser kestrel, snowy owl, griffon vulture, Egyptian vulture, red kite, tawny owl, rough-legged buzzard, black kite and booted eagle. The report states that Liddell was alleged to have been found with 136 wild birds’ eggs at his Inverness home on Holm Dell Drive on June 24 2009 (see here).

English hen harriers flying around in invisible cloaks

‘Given the population of hen harriers in Europe, it is wrong to talk of “extinction”‘ [in relation to the single hen harrier breeding attempt in England this year], claims Alasdair Mitchell in his latest article for Shooting Times. He goes on to say, “To talk in emotive terms about “a second extinction” is a tad over the top“.

I don’t think there’s anything emotive or over the top about stating that England’s HH breeding population is on the verge of extinction – it’s a biological fact! With only one known nesting attempt in 2012 (and rumours circulating that the attempt has failed), the species is most definitely on the brink of an extinction as an English breeding species. What else would you call it? Birds-now-wearing-invisible-cloaks?

The term ‘extinction’ is a valid, scientific term that can be used to describe the loss of a species (in this case a breeding species) at a local, regional, national or international level. In this case, the first three levels are applicable. Perhaps Mitchell objects to the word because he knows it is a word the general public can understand far more easily than other scientific terms such as ‘population decline’, which just infers a loss but doesn’t explain the extent of that loss. The public understands that ‘extinction’ means curtains, lights out, elimination, end of the line. This is probably of concern to the game-shooting industry as they realise there’ll be no place to hide once the public understands the full impact of all that illegal killing.

Mitchell points to the hen harrier’s international conservation status as a species of ‘least concern’ to support his view and says: “There are many thousands flying around Western Europe – including several hundred pairs breeding happily in Scotland“. What he (deliberately?) fails to mention is that Scotland’s breeding HH population fell by more than 22% between the 2004 and 2010 national surveys (633 pairs recorded in 2004; 489 pairs recorded in 2010) (see here). He also fails to comprehend the concept of biological diversity and it’s importance on various scales, including, again, local, regional, national and international scales. It’s illogical to ignore the loss of local, regional and national biodiversity just because the species’ international status is still ok. Yeah, let’s kill all our native wildlife – we don’t need it ‘cos it’s all doing fine in other parts of Europe.

Mitchell is a hill farmer in Northumberland. In addition to his weekly column for Shooting Times (under the heading ‘Sharpshooter’) he has also written for the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation as well as acting as their media advisor. In May 2012 (see here) Mitchell was appointed as the Northern Regional Director for BASC (British Association for Shooting and Conservation). That potted bio probably explains Mitchell’s failure to grasp the principles of biodiversity conservation, although to give him his due, he ends his article by saying:

I am not pretending that illegal persecution has not had an impact, over the years, on the hen harrier population. It has – and that’s bad. We need to find ways of hosting more hen harriers but without destroying the commercial grouse shooting that actually pays for their moorland habitat“.

It’s certainly refreshing to hear someone from the shooting industry admit that persecution has affected HHs – it’s usually just outright denial, and it’s also encouraging to hear him calling for more hen harriers, although that now seems an unlikely prospect without formal government intervention. In the meantime, while we all argue about the semantics of extinction, the UK’s breeding hen harrier population continues to fade.

Mitchell’s full column can be read on the Shooting Times website (although it appears that this one hasn’t yet been posted).