Photo: clam trap – why haven’t these been banned?

This is a photograph of a clam trap, also known as a snapper trap, butterfly trap and Larsen mate trap. They are used to trap corvids, although obviously the traps are indiscriminate and can also be used to catch raptors and other protected species. We’ve recently blogged about clam traps and the controversy over whether they are a legal or an illegal trap (see here).

The clam trap photographed here shows a slight variation of use. Usually the trap will be held open by a false perch that collapses when weight is applied (e.g. when a bird lands on it) which causes the trap to snap shut. In this photo the false perch is absent and instead, the trap is set to snap shut when weight is applied to the base (e.g. when a bird lands on the bait).

It’s quite incredible that SNH has not yet banned the use of these traps on welfare grounds. Just look at the photograph. Imagine if a large raptor (e.g. buzzard, kite, goshawk, eagle) is caught in one of these things. Apart from the injuries that could be caused to the bird when the trap snaps shut (they are designed to shut with speed and force so it’s highly probable that the bird’s wings will still be open and thus caught in the jaws of the trap as it snaps shut), the trapped bird then has to endure up to 24 hours inside this cage before it is checked by the trap operator. Would it be able to move inside the trap? Does it have a perch? Does it have water? Does it have shelter? All these are basic requirements covering the use of crow cage traps and Larsen traps where a decoy bird is in use. Why should a clam trap be exempt from these welfare requirements? Is it because there isn’t a decoy bird in use? What about the welfare requirements of the trapped bird, whether it be a target or a non-target species? It’s probably fair to say that it would be stressful for any large raptor to be caught inside one of these things, whether it’s injured or not, and to be trapped like that for up to 24 hours? That’s assuming the trap operator bothers to do the 24 hour check. In our view it fails on all welfare considerations. The general licences used to permit the use of crow traps also explicitly ‘do not permit the use of any form of spring-over trap’. What’s this then if it isn’t a form of spring-over trap? Some organisations have argued that it isn’t a form of spring-over trap…no prizes for guessing who that was.

Unsurprisingly, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association supports the use of these traps (see here and here) as does Scottish Land and Estates [formerly known as SRPBA] (see here).

Whilst we all wait for SNH to make a decision on the legality of clam traps….if you see one of these traps you are advised to report it immediately to the police, SSPCA and RSPB. As with the other crow cage traps, the clam trap should have an identification code attached along with the telephone number of the local Police Wildlife Crime Officer. See here for a discussion on the legalities of other crow cage traps and what to do when you find one.

Police investigate attempted peregrine poisoning

Police are investigating the attempted poisoning of peregrines after the discovery of a live pigeon, covered in poison, was found tethered to a rock at a quarry in North Wales.

Well done to Sgt Rob Taylor, the local Police Wildlife Crime Officer, for highlighting the incident and for warning the public about the danger to walkers and dogs.

The newspaper report suggests this isn’t the first tethered & poisoned pigeon to be used as live bait at this site.

News report in the North Wales Daily Post here

Scottish birdfair: unaware or just dinnae care?

Some surprising news emerged this morning….an announcement has been made that the RSPB’s Scottish Birdfair will probably take place again next year (ironically 2013 is ‘The Year of Natural Scotland’) at the same venue: Hopetoun House (see here for announcement).

Why is this surprising? Well, for a start this choice of venue for the inaugural Scottish Birdfair 2012 raised plenty of eyebrows, and for very good reason (see here). If that wasn’t reason enough for RSPB management to reconsider their options (and it clearly wasn’t), then how about this:

Scottish Land & Estates (Andrew Hopetoun is a Director, remember?) issued a press release a couple of weeks ago that implied their support for buzzard ‘control’ (for control read ‘licences to kill buzzards’), basing their argument on the ‘evidence’ from that now infamous ‘buzzard snatches osprey chick’ video. The Chief Exec of SLE (Douglas McAdam) said:

 “This video provides the sad but clear and conclusive evidence of the serious impact that this growing population of Buzzards is now having“. [See here for SLE’s press release].

Actually Douglas, it provided no such thing. What it showed was an example of intraguild predation – a common and perfectly natural ecological phenomenon where a competitor kills and eats another competitor.

Come on, RSPB. Surely you can find a more suitable venue and partner for the next Scottish Birdfair? Sure, there are advantages to holding it at Hopetoun, e.g. the geographic location can catch punters from both sides of the border, then there’s……well actually it’s hard to think of another advantage. But maybe things like venues and partners don’t matter to the public? Another surprise this morning was to learn that this year’s Birdfair at Hopetoun House attracted almost 4,500 visitors. Were those visitors unaware of the Hopetoun/Leadhills connection, or was it just a case of knowing but not caring? You’d have to guess that if they were attending a Birdfair then they were probably into birds, in which case it’s probably likely that they were unaware of the connection, rather than not caring. You’d hope so anyway.

Photo: hiding the evidence

This is a photo of a dead buzzard inside a hole. How did it get there? Did the person who illegally killed the buzzard stuff it inside the hole to hide the evidence from casual passers-by? Or did the buzzard crawl inside the hole to die of natural causes? Yep, that must be it. Didn’t 13 of them do the same thing on a Scottish sporting estate a few years ago? Interesting that they all chose rabbit holes within close proximity to a crow cage trap. Oh and then there were the gunshot wounds…

Red kites have also been known to do it, funnily enough on another Scottish sporting estate. First they removed their wing tags, placed them in a hole and then covered the hole with moss. Then they severed their own legs, placed those in holes and also covered the holes in moss. Remarkable.

Wriggling out of vicarious liability?

Regular blog readers will be well aware that the concept of vicarious liability in relation to raptor persecution became enacted in Scotland on January 1st 2012 as part of the WANE Act. For new readers, some background can be found here. Vicarious liability has had its critics but until the first test case in court, nobody really knows just how strong, or weak, the new legislation will prove to be.

An interesting comment about vicarious liability was received on the blog at the end of last week; it suggests legal loopholes may be being exploited to avoid possible conviction. Given the interest in VL, we’ve decided to re-post the comment here. Thanks to Steve from OneKind for submitting it:

Information gathered by Onekind suggests how some estate owners may try to avoid vicarious liability in the future by sending their game keepers on all the trapping and best practice courses there are going. According to our intelligence, top lawyers are being hired to travel around the country lecturing to gamekeepers on the law related to wildlife crime. Our information suggests that the idea behind this action, being taken by landowners and worked on by these top Lawyers, is that if a wildlife crime were to occur on their land by one of their keepers then the landowner can say that he put his keeper through the relevant courses and that he doesn’t know why the keeper did what he did. They hope that this will be enough to persuade the court that they were not complicit with the crime carried out on their land. Further information we have acquired tells us that a well-known land owner has been urging other landowners to take this idea on and which will probably be up and running properly within the next few months“.

I guess we’ll wait and see whether this defence is used if/when charges of vicarious liability are ever brought against anyone. It’s an interesting one because what they are allegedly proposing to do is not illegal, but its hardly in the spirit of moving towards the elimination of raptor persecution from the game-shooting industry, is it? In its defence, some will probably argue that we should all be thankful that gamekeepers are receiving such excellent training, but some may argue that some of the training is far from excellent. For example, OneKind has concerns about the adequacy of the snare training courses and suggests there may be an ulterior motive for running them (see here).

The use of legal loopholes to avoid possible conviction is a well-known tactic in many areas of crime, not just wildlife crime, although wildlife crime does have its fair share of examples. A recent one was reported in a newspaper at the beginning of July (sorry, no URL available) concerning the case of a gamekeeper on the Airlie Estate at Kirriemuir, Angus. He was accused of alleged criminal activity after the discovery of three buzzards inside a crow cage trap. However, he was acquitted after Sheriff Kevin Veal decided that the keeper was not given proper information about why he was being interviewed by an SSPCA inspector and a Tayside Police wildlife crime officer. Some lawyers are very good at their jobs.

It certainly pays to employ a professional lawyer rather than a pretend one. An employee from a very well-known organisation recently sent an email to a group (no, not us!) who publish the names of convicted gamekeepers and other wildlife criminals on their website. The email suggested that certain names should be removed from the website because the convictions were considered spent. The email explained the relevant law under which the names should be removed and went into some detail about how the law applied. The employee signed off with an impressive number of letters after their name, including LLB (a law degree). Uncannily, the information that the impressively-qualified employee wrote about this particular law bore an incredibly close resemblance to a Wikipedia entry on the same subject. Hmm, not quite so impressive now!

Yet another dead golden eagle: poisoning suspected, again

The Press and Journal is reporting the following story:

Another dead golden eagle: poisoning suspected.

Poison fears after golden eagle found dead in prime island habitat.

Police are investigating another suspicious golden eagle death- this time in one of the heartlands of the species.

The bird of prey was found at Loch Langabhat on Harris at the end of last month. Scotland’s first year round observatory to allow the public to view golden eagles opened on the island earlier this year.

It is understood that the creature was found by rangers working for the North Harris Trust, which runs the observatory.

The area has one of the highest breeding concentrations of the bird in Europe. About 20 pairs of golden eagles are resident on the island.

A police spokesman said: “We are investigating the death of a golden eagle. Its carcase has been sent for analysis to see if it had been poisoned.”

The same day as the Harris eagle was found, tests confirmed that a golden eagle found dead near Morar in Lochaber had been poisoned.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland said it was the third known poisoning incident in the area in 10 years. Two white tailed sea eagles were previously found poisoned.

The latest death in Lochaber was discovered in March and the results of a post mortem examination have now been released. They show banned pesticides were used.

So, if this latest dead golden eagle is found to have been poisoned, it will be the third illegally-killed golden eagle reported in the last three weeks. The first one was the incident we reported on 18 June in the Tayside/Grampian region (see here), which, incidentally, still has not been the subject of a formal press release by either the police or the RSPB. The second one was reported by the RSPB and the police on 28 June and related to a poisoned golden eagle found dead in Lochaber three months earlier (see here) [This is the eagle pictured above].

It seems that ‘someone’ has leaked the story of the Harris dead eagle to the Press and Journal as there doesn’t appear to be any formal press release on any of the other news sites or the Northern Constabulary website. Well done to whoever alerted the P&J. We’ll await the SASA lab tests with interest. It’s quite possible of course that this eagle hasn’t been poisoned, although pesticide-poisoned birds generally exhibit diagnostic signs (like clenched feet and dead insects on the body) – signs with which investigators will be very familiar.

North Harris Eagle Observatory webpage here

Photo: an illegal pole trap

Many of our readers will already know what a pole trap looks like, but for those who don’t, here’s a photograph of one (taken recently in Scotland).

These traps were outlawed in the UK in 1904 but are still in regular (illegal) use today. They are nothing short of barbaric. They are often positioned on posts close to game-rearing pens or on exposed posts on grouse moors with the sole intention of catching a perching raptor. When the raptor lands on the trap the spring jaws snap around the leg(s) with such force that the leg is usually broken. When the raptor tries to fly away it is prevented from doing so as the spring trap is nailed to the post. The raptor is left dangling from the post with appalling injuries and usually suffers a prolonged and agonising death (see Tuesday’s photo here).

If you see a pole trap you should report it immediately (to the police, SSPCA, RSPB). If you have to walk away from the trap (e.g. to get a phone signal), take a photograph of the set trap (preferably with a local landscape feature in the background so the photo can be used as evidence) and then disarm it. Use a stick to disarm it – not your fingers – the spring action of these traps is so powerful it can break an eagle’s legs.

The camera never lies: new photo gallery for the blog

We’ve added a new category to the blog called Photo Gallery. It can be accessed via the category list in the right-hand column. 

Photos will be added to the gallery periodically to create a useful resource of images in one location. The main focus of the photos will be raptor persecution, of course, but we’ll also include other related images.

You can join in! If you’d like to contribute any photographs for publication, please send them to:


Anonymity goes without saying but photo credit given if that’s what you’d prefer. Get snapping!

First photo to follow shortly…

Species Action Framework conference 2012

Scottish Natural Heritage will be organising a major conference later this year to discuss the results of their five-year Species Action Framework programme, which ended in March 2012.

‘Managing Species in a Challenging Climate: Scotland’s Species Action Framework’ will be held 22-23 November 2012 at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

There will be two presentations specifically on raptors; one on the white-tailed eagle and the other on the hen harrier.

The hen harrier presentation should be fascinating, especially as it’s being led by Des Thompson (SNH) and Simon Lester (head gamekeeper at the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project). A recent (2011) SNH-commissioned report (later attributed to JNCC, presumably for political reasons) on the conservation status of the hen harrier identified illegal persecution as one of the key constraints affecting hen harriers in Scotland, and particularly when associated with grouse moor management (see here). However, at the recent 2012 police wildlife crime conference in Scotland, Des Thompson claimed that “the great majority of these [grouse moors] are well managed” (see here). An interesting statement and completely at odds with the findings of the hen harrier conservation framework report as well as with the findings of the SNH-commissioned 2008 golden eagle conservation framework report (see here). Hopefully there will be an opportunity to question Des at this conference, and also Simon Lester – especially about the lack of transparency on the fate of all those satellite-tagged hen harrier chicks from the Langholm project (see here and here).

The Species Action Framework conference programme can be viewed here

Details on how to book your place at the conference can be found here. It’s worth noting that the registration fee rises after 13th July 2012.