Questions raised over re-appointment of wildlife crime fiscal Tom Dysart

Well, well, well. It seems we’re not the only ones to raise an eyebrow about the re-appointment of fiscal Tom Dysart as one of three new specialist wildlife crime prosecutors.

You may remember we blogged about Mr Dysart’s new role at COPFS earlier this month (see here). What interested us was that these three new wildlife crime fiscal positions were announced in February 2011, when Mr Dysart led on wildlife crime for COPFS (see here). Later in 2011, COPFS announced that only two of the three available positions had been filled by August 2011 (see here), both managed by COPFS wildlife crime lead, Tom Dysart. In October last year, we blogged about these new appointments and noted that the third position was still vacant (see here). What’s interesting is that Mr Dysart took ‘early retirement’ in March 2012, and has now re-appeared and taken on that third wildlife fiscal role.

Yesterday, the Daily Record picked up on this story and wrote an article under the headline:

Prosecutor who retired with six-figure pay off takes on new fiscal position in old department“.

The article claims that Mr Dysart’s re-appointment “has caused a fair bit of resentment” because “there are plenty of able fiscals who were in for one of these much sought after posts [as a specialist wildlife crime fiscal]. An un-named source is quoted as saying:

The retirement dosh is tucked away and he’s laughing all the way to the bank. He trousered well into six figures“.

The Crown Office is reported to have said: “Mr Dysart was not involved in the selection process for his own appointment“.

That’s an interesting statement. Why was this third position not filled in 2011, and remained vacant until October 2012? How many other fiscals applied for this third specialist position back in 2011 when they were first announced? Why were they not offered the role? Was Tom Dysart involved in the selection process for those positions in 2011? According to the Daily Record article, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary Lewis MacDonald will be “seeking assurances about the process that was gone through“. That’s very good to hear.

We understand Mr Dysart reads this blog and he’s not a fan. We can’t say we’re admirers of his work, either.

Daily Record article here

Clap Trap

SNH is seeking input as it prepares to make changes to the 2013 General Licences.

This is a welcome move. The 2012 General Licences are not really fit for purpose, to say the least. We’ve blogged before about certain aspects of these licences, particularly those relating to the use of crow cage traps (see Crow traps: what you should know Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here) as well as clam traps (see here and here).

However, when you have a look at the consultation letter put out by SNH (see here) you’ll notice that they’ve carefully avoided many of the most concerning issues.

To better understand some of these issues, please read Crow Traps: What you should know Part 2 (here is the link again). These issues include (but are not limited to) compliance (or not) with European environmental legislation; welfare concerns; poor trap design that allows indiscriminate species trapping; year-round use (as opposed to seasonal use); ineffective regulation of crow trap users; ineffective monitoring of crow trap use (i.e. number and species caught/killed); inability to identify an individual trap user; and a lovely get-out clause for any General Licence user with an unspent criminal conviction.

The highly contentious issue of the ‘clam trap’ (also known as ‘Larsen mate trap’, ‘snapper trap’ and ‘butterfly trap’) has been raised in this consultation, although SNH’s plans for how to deal with it are astonishing. They recognise that welfare concerns remain about the use of these traps, but instead of banning them until independent research shows they are safe to use, they’ve decided to continue their use and commission research on their use “shortly”. They do suggest that they’ll require clam trap users to notify them of intended use, but really, what’s the point of that, other than being able to identify users as potential participants in their future ‘evidence gathering’ exercise?

When you consider the high level of training and accreditation required by those who want to trap wild birds for scientific research (i.e. bird ringing) and compare this with the very low standards required for those who want to trap wild birds to kill them (sorry, ‘control them for conservation purposes’), you realise what a joke the current system is.

The consultation is open until 9th November 2012. You can fill in the form (here is the link again), or, if you think that there are important issues that haven’t been addressed on the consultation form, why not write directly to SNH and explain your concerns? Email your comments to Robbie Kernahan, Head of Wildlife Operations, SNH:

SNH plan to publish a revised suite of General Licences for 2013 by early December.

Liddell’s trial now postponed until March 2013!

Blimey. Talk about the wheels of justice moving slowly….

The trial of prison officer Keith Liddell, accused of 16 offences relating to alleged illegal egg-trading, will now be delayed for a further five months. We’ve been reporting on this case since July 2011, and the investigation itself has been running since at least 2009 when the police raided three houses and uncovered over 14,000 wild birds’ eggs. The alleged offences are said to stretch back  to the years 2004 – 2009. Liddell has denied the charges.

You have to wonder what sort of effect these delays might have on the outcome of these trials; surely it can’t be helpful for anyone concerned, from the police, the prosecuting fiscal, the witnesses, the defence, the sheriff and even the accused.

The trial is set to continue in March 2013.

Previous blog entries about this case here, here, here, here, here, here, here.

Liddell’s trial began last week at Inverness Sheriff Court and attracted a fair amount of media interest:

BBC News article here

Northern Times article here

The Herald article here

The Scotsman article here

Strathspey and Badenoch Herald article here

Highland News article here

Alleged wild birds’ egg trader is a prison officer!

The trial against alleged wild birds’ egg trader, Keith Liddell, continued at Inverness Sheriff Court yesterday. According to an article in The Scotsman this morning (see here), Liddell is an Inverness prison officer!!

The article in The Scotsman reports that three homes had been raided by police looking for illegal rare birds’ egg collections, including a house in Durham and a mansion in West Lothian (presumably this one, reported here). In total, over 14,000 eggs were seized in the three raids. According to the BBC, earlier this week the trial heard from a police officer involved with the Durham house raid who told the court that in addition to thousands of eggs found during that search were boxes labelled ‘K Liddell’ and with an Inverness postcode (read the BBC report here).

Liddell’s trial continues, after a series of lengthy delays (see here, here, here, here, here, here). He denies 16 charges involving illegal egg trading.

Another MSP calls for greater protection of golden eagles

Following on from the news that Nigel Don MSP has lodged a Scottish parliamentary motion asking the Scottish Government to consider what further measures it can take to protect golden eagles (see here), another MSP has ramped up the pressure by adding an amendment to the original motion. Here it is:

Motion S4M-04516.1: Claudia Beamish, South Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 25/10/2012

Death of Golden Eagle

As an amendment to motion S4M-04516 in the name of Nigel Don (Death of Golden Eagle), insert at end; “is further appalled by the shooting of another golden eagle in the south of Scotland; urges the Scottish Government to build on the initial work carried out by Scottish Natural Heritage in Commissioned Report No. 193: A conservation framework for golden eagles: implications for their conservation and management in Scotland to develop an action plan for the next steps for golden eagle conservation in Scotland, and further urges the Scottish government to use the Year of Natural Scotland as an opportunity to educate young people about ecology and the role of predators in a healthy ecosystem, especially since the golden eagle is identified by Scottish Natural Heritage as one of the five flagship species for this initiative.

The full text of the amendment can be read here. You may also notice that the number of supporting MSPs listed underneath the original motion has grown to 32. We understand that parliamentary motions are ‘live’ for up to six weeks, during which time MSPs can add their support. The motion can be called for a debate if the number of supporting MSPs passes 30 and are representative of at least two political parties. It looks like they’ll be debating this particular motion.

We are certain that this motion (and its amendment) was triggered by the number of people writing to complain about the two recent shocking incidents involving the illegal persecution of golden eagles in Scotland (see here and here). Don’t think for a minute that you can’t make a difference. Look at what happened with ‘buzzardgate’ – a complete u-turn due to massive public opposition. Look at what happened yesterday with the proposed badger cull – a complete u-turn (although Owen Paterson denies this) and an overwhelming majority parliamentary vote against the cull going ahead.

The frequent frustrations expressed on this blog, by us and by you, could easily lead to an apathetic position of ‘What’s the point?’ That’s understandable, but it’s not a workable position. We may not be able to influence change as quickly as we would like, but we stand a much better chance of doing so if we’re still in the game. Will this latest motion (and its amendment) make any difference in the long term? Who knows, we’ll have to wait and see. The cynics amongst us will say ‘No, of course it won’t’. But even if it doesn’t, the issue is still kept in the public eye and the pressure is still building. One of these days that pressure is going to explode.

Crap sentence for egg-theft policeman

Following on from yesterday’s news about the policeman with the illegal egg collection (see here), he’s now been sentenced.

Brace yourselves….Michael Upson received a 14-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months. He must also pay £120 in legal costs and complete 150 hours of community service.

That’ll learn him.

Watch out egg-thieving criminals, you too could cause immense damage to wildlife and get a suspended sentence. And without the benefit of enjoying a police pension.

BBC news here.

4 people in hospital after exposure to banned poison on an estate

Four people on the Isle of Lewis, including two estate workers and two paramedics, were sent to hospital last night after fears they’d been exposed to the banned pesticide Cyanide.

According to a local blogger Iain Maciver (here), Uig Lodge estate owner, Dickon Green ‘accidentally sucked up a bag of cyanide powder‘ with his vacuum cleaner and ‘the deadly poison then shot through the cleaner and came out the other end in a cloud of dust which showered the businessman’.

According to the BBC, “The poison is understood to have been in storage and was for pest control“. If this was Sodium Cyanide, it was banned under the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005 (see here).

The local blogger claims Mr Green was vacuum-packing the deadly powder ‘ready for it to be transported for safe disposal at a mainland poisons depository‘. He goes on: “He’d found it in the lodge where it was thought to have been for many years since previous owners used it for exterminating rats and he had failed to get a local agency to take responsibility for its safe disposal”.

If this version of events is accurate, it raises important questions about the safe disposal of these banned poisons. Who takes responsibility? The local authorities? Or the hapless landowner who may not have the required expertise to safely handle these highly dangerous substances, putting themselves, and others, at great risk?

A spokesman for Northern Constabulary said: “The incident has involved a number of agencies working together and there is not believed to be any further risk to the public“.

More reports on the BBC (here) and STV news (here)

Earlier this year there was another scare involving this banned posion, when gamekeeper Graeme Thompson claimed (falsely) that he’d swallowed Cyanide, along with some razor blades. It resulted in a huge operation involving the emergency services for fear he could contaminate hundreds of nearby residents (see here and here).

Police officer guilty of egg theft

A police constable amassed a collection of 649 rare birds’ eggs by stealing from nests, sometimes while on duty for Suffolk Police, according to the BBC (see here).

Michael Upson, 52, admitting having the eggs in his possession, including those of several Schedule 1 species such as the marsh harrier. He is due to be sentenced at Norwich Magistrates Court tomorrow (Thurs).

It’s a fascinating story, described by the BBC here. He apparently kept detailed notes describing how and where he collected the eggs, including instances when he was working on nightshift. He apparently also travelled throughout the UK on his egg-thieving expeditions, if his diaries are to be believed, including to the Western Isles to help an un-named collector steal golden eagle eggs.

Following his arrest in June, Upson was suspended but he retired from the police force in August before being convicted, so he will keep his pension.

Well done to the RSPB’s Mark Thomas for leading the investigation and securing a conviction.

Good photographs in the Daily Mail here

New motion lodged in Scottish Parliament: “Death of golden eagle”

A new motion was lodged in the Scottish Parliament on Monday 22nd October 2012 concerning the death of the Glen Esk golden eagle:

Motion S4M-04516: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party.

Death of Golden Eagle

That the Parliament condemns what it sees as the recent brutal killing of a golden eagle in Glen Esk, Angus; considers that the golden eagle is one of Scotland’s most iconic species and understands that 11 golden eagles have been illegally killed since 2007; notes also that 2013 will be the Year of Natural Scotland; urges the Police Service of Scotland to ensure that police officers have the training and resources required to tackle wildlife crime effectively; considers that golden eagles more than earn their keep by attracting tourism to rural Scotland, and asks the Scottish Government to assess what further measures it might take to protect what are considered these magnificent birds.

Here is a desciption of what a Scottish parliamentary motion is.

Here is the full text of this particular motion.

While very welcome (and probably a direct result of all the letters of complaint and media coverage) this motion raises some interesting questions:

It was proposed by 1 MSP (whose constituency includes Brechin) and was supported by 26 others. There are 129 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. Where’s the support of the other 122? Did your MSP support it? If not, why not?

Note the phrase, “….what it sees as the recent brutal killing of a golden eagle in Glen Esk, Angus” and then compare it with the official line given by Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP:

The reports may suggest that the circumstances of this incident were suggestive of an offence however there is no hard evidence and it remains possible that there is an alternative explanation“.

It seems Nigel Don MSP and the 26 MSPs who supported his motion do not share the Environment Minister’s view on what happened to that eagle. Apparently nor do the police (see here). We would encourage you to write again to Mr Wheelhouse and ask him to provide the evidence that leads him to suggest that this eagle’s death was not the result of criminal activity. Email: It’s important that this issue is clarified; any doubt that this eagle did not die as a direct result of criminal activity will be used by the Dark Side to support their continual denial about the extent of illegal raptor persecution.

Another interesting question concerns the number of known illegal deaths of golden eagles. The motion says 11 golden eagles have been illegally killed since 2007. Our figures suggest that ten have been discovered (see here):

Peebles (2007); Glen Orchy (2009); Alma (2009); Skibo 1 (2010); Skibo 2 (2010); Skibo 3 (2010); Farr (2010); Glenbuchat (2011); Lochaber (2012); Glen Esk (2012).

 So where’s the information about the 11th one? And why limit the figure to golden eagles? What about white-tailed eagles? If they’re included during this time frame, then the number of eagles known to have been illegally killed is at least 14:

GlenQuoich (2007); Glenogil (2009); Farr (2010); Skye (2011).

If the time frame was increased one year further, to 2006, then at least 16 eagles are known to have been illegally killed:

Dinnet & Kinord (2006); Glen Feshie (2006).

And then there’s all the known ‘missing’  eagles, which brings the total to at least 25:

WTE radio-tagged Bird ‘N’ disappeared in Angus Glens (2007); WTE carcass removed in suspicious circumstances from Lochindorb (2010); 4 x golden eagle leg rings found in gamekeeper’s possession on Moy Estate (2010); sat-tagged golden eagle ‘disappeared’ in Monadhliaths (2011); sat-tagged golden eagle ‘disappeared’ in eastern glens (2012); sat-tagged golden eagle ‘disappeared’ NE of Cairngorms (2012).

And then the most recent one, the shot golden eagle found on the border of Buccleuch Estate (2012) – that brings the total to 26.

And we haven’t included any other of the known persecuted raptor species in this list!

So, well done Nigel Don MSP for highlighting a significant and on-going problem – we look forward to seeing a response from the Scottish Government.

Police wco earns well-deserved recognition

For the benefit of those not on Twitter…

Devon & Cornwall Police Wildlife Crime Officer P.C. Josh Marshall has received a Commander’s Commendation at the South Devon Police Awards for his work on Operation Wilderness.

According to the RSPB’s recently published 2011 Birdcrime report, Devon had the worst record for bird of prey persecution in England last year, when fifteen goshawks, peregrines and buzzards were found poisoned or shot.

We’ve previously blogged about Josh’s innovative and successful Operation Wildnerness (see here, here, here, here and here) and it’s fantastic that his efforts have been recognised at the top police level. The word we’ve most often used to describe his work is ‘pro-active’, and his approach is even more impressive when you realise his role as a Police Wildlife Crime Officer is only part-time; something he has to fit in alongside his other policing duties.

Congratulations, Josh, on your very well-earned award! Hope you don’t mind that we’ve nicked your photo from Twitter!

Josh’s blog here