Here comes 2013….the year of natural scotland

imagesHappy Hogmanay!

Tomorrow marks the start of another Scottish government themed year: The Year of Natural Scotland, in which we’re encouraged to celebrate Scotland’s stunning natural beauty and biodiversity. Good job it wasn’t this year’s theme as there might have been some red faces in the government:

  • SGA gamekeeper Whitefield sentenced for poisoning four buzzards (he already had an earlier wildlife crime conviction). His sentence this time? 100 hours community service.
  • Scottish gamekeeper McLachlan, convicted for possession of the banned poison Carbofuran. Fined £635.
  • Scottish gamekeeper Barrie lost an appeal for his sentence of £520 for illegal possession and control of a wild bird.
  • COPFS choosing not to prosecute a Scottish gamekeeper who had been filmed beating birds to death with a stick inside a crow cage trap.
  • Scottish gamekeeper Christie convicted for wildlife crimes relating to the illegal use of a crow cage trap. His sentence? An admonishment (a telling off).
  • Scottish gamekeeper Graham convicted for allowing a buzzard to starve to death inside a crow cage trap. Fined £450.
  • Scottish gamekeeper McKellar convicted for possession of banned poison. Fined £1,200.
  • Scottish gamekeeper Scobie convicted for using banned poison. Fined £270.
  • A satellite-tagged golden eagle mysteriously ‘disappeared’ in the Angus glens.
  • A satellite-tagged golden eagle mysteriously ‘disappeared’ to the North East of the Cairngorms National Park.
  • Peregrine chicks mysteriously ‘disappeared’ from a nest site in Dumfries & Galloway.
  • A golden eagle was found dead, poisoned in Lochaber.
  • A golden eagle was found dead in suspicious circumstances on the Isle of Harris. Still awaiting results.
  • A satellite-tagged golden eagle mysteriously ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths.
  • A poisoned raven, crow, and three poisoned baits were found in the Borders.
  • A satellite-tagged golden eagle was found dead near a lay-by in Aberdeenshire. Its injuries and its sat tag data suggested it had been illegally trapped on an Angus grouse moor and then dumped during the night and left to die.
  • A golden eagle was found shot and critically injured on a grouse moor in Dumfries & Galloway.
  • Barry, the sat-tagged hen harrier from Langholm mysteriously ‘disappeared’.
  • Buzz, the sat-tagged buzzard mysteriously ‘disappeared’ in the Angus glens. (More on this case in the New Year).
  • Willow, a sat-tagged marsh harrier mysteriously ‘disappeared’ in Galloway.
  • A hen harrier was found shot dead on an Aberdeenshire grouse moor.

These are just a few of the ‘highlights’ from Scotland this year – there are a few more that we can’t yet report but we will in the New Year. And of course this list doesn’t include other confirmed incidents from other parts of these fair isles such as England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic; a list that includes shot and poisoned sea eagles, buzzards, kites, harriers, peregrines and sparrowhawks. Nor does it include the incidents that went undiscovered.

We’ll be blogging quite a lot about the Year of Natural Scotland, which hopefully won’t be just a banner-waving exercise by the government but an opportunity for them to put their money where their mouths are. You don’t think so? No, neither do we. Why should 2013 be any different from the previous three decades of ineffective action?

A hint of what’s to come is the revelation that the theme will be highlighted during several events throughout the year. Two particular locations caught our attention: the Scone Game Fair and the Moy Game Fair.

The Scone Game Fair is of course organised by the GWCT. That’s the same GWCT that has recently asked for the addition of buzzards and sparrowhawks to the General Licences (that means they want permission to kill them…we’ll be blogging about that shortly). It’s also the same Game Fair that has previously attracted sponsorship from some very, how shall we put it, ‘surprising’ sources.

The Moy Game Fair is held on the Moy Estate near Inverness. If you’re unaware of this place, try googling it.

Thanks for all your interest and support in 2012…we’ll see you soon. Sláinte!

This golden eagle was found shot, critically injured &left to die on a Scottish grouse moor. Photo SSPCA
This golden eagle was found shot, critically injured and left to die on a Scottish grouse moor. Photo SSPCA

Farewell to one of the good guys

One of the leading lights in the fight to protect sea eagles in Western Scotland has sadly passed away.

Finlay Christine was a police officer with Strathclyde Police when he set up the Mull Eagle Watch initiative in 1991. The project was designed to protect the recently reintroduced white-tailed eagles from illegal egg-thieves and other forms of disturbance by providing around-the-clock protection of their nests.

Working in partnership with other agencies (Strathclyde Police, RSPB, Forestry Commission Scotland, SNH and the Mull & Iona Community Trust), as well as hoards of volunteers (both from local communities and from far-afield), this project has gone from strength to strength and the high density of breeding sea eagles on Mull today is testament to their success. Mull is now known as ‘Eagle Island’ and visitors flock to the Sea Eagle viewing hides every year, bringing in over £5 million to boost the local economy (see here).

In his retirement year of 2009, Finlay’s work was deservedly recognised when he was awarded the RSPB President’s Award (see here) and PAW Scotland’s Wildlife Crime Coordinator of the Year Award (see here).

Those of us fortunate to have known him enjoyed the company of a warm, passionate and dedicated man who didn’t seek the limelight or plaudits; he just wanted the sea eagles to be given every chance. He achieved that with some style.

Our sincere condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

Sgt MacDonald presented a WTE print to Finlay on his retirement in 2009. Photo C. Davies.
Sgt MacDonald presented a WTE print to Finlay on his retirement in 2009. Photo C. Davies.

Gamekeeper’s acquittal upheld by appeal court

A Scottish gamekeeper whose trial collapsed earlier this year on a legal technicality has had his acquittal upheld by the Appeal Court.

Anstruther Peter Smith, a beat-keeper on Airlie Estate near Kirriemuir, Angus, was originally charged with several alleged wildlife crime offences after three buzzards were discovered in a crow cage trap at Wellbank Wood in March 2011. It had been argued that allegedly the trap didn’t meet the standards required under the General Licence. Two buzzards were immediately released but one was treated for several days before release for injuries believed to have been sustained by the buzzard’s attempts to escape from the trap.

The case went to trial at Forfar Sheriff Court in June 2012, where Smith’s defence agent argued that an SSPCA inspector’s evidence should be ruled inadmissable on the basis that the defendant’s interview was ‘unfair’. Sheriff Kevin Veal agreed and Smith was acquitted.

The Crown appealed this decision but an appeal committee (Lady Paton, Lady Smith and Lord Wheatley) recently upheld it and refused the appeal. The full details of the case and the decision can be read here.

An overview article in the Courier here.

An injured buzzard inside a crow cage trap

Environment Minister answers parliamentary questions on clam traps

Environment Minister Paul WheelhouseFurther to our blog on 12 December (here) where we reported that MSP Claire Baker had lodged several parliamentary questions about SNH’s controversial decision to authorise the use of clam-type traps in 2013…..Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse has responded.

Presumably, his answers are based on the advice of the Scottish Government’s nature advisors….er, SNH.

Here they are in full:

Question S4W-11729 To ask the Scottish Government what independent testing has been carried out to evaluate the risk of injury to birds and other animals from (a) Larsen Mate and (b) Elgeeco cage traps.

Answered by Paul Wheelhouse (21/12/2012):

The Scottish Government are not aware that any independent testing of the welfare impacts of these traps has yet been carried out since 2009 when these traps were first used in Scotland. The Scottish Government are also not aware of any evidence of adverse welfare impacts of these traps. Some conservation and animal welfare organisations do have concerns about the potential welfare impacts and so Scottish Natural Heritage intend to commission independent research in 2013 to gather objective evidence in this respect.

Question S4W-11730 To ask the Scottish Government what independent testing has been carried out to evaluate the impact of (a) Larsen Mate and (b) Elgeeco cage traps on (i) protected species and (ii) species not targeted by the devices.

Answered by Paul Wheelhouse (21/12/2012):

I refer the member to the answer to question S4W-11729 on 21 December 2012. The Scottish Government are similarly not aware of any independent testing of the impact of these traps on protected species or any non-target species. Scottish Natural Heritage also intend to commission independent research in 2013 to gather objective evidence in this respect.

It is the responsibility of any operator of any trap to ensure that they are not used in such a way so as to likely catch any protected species other than those specified under a specific or general licence. Intentionally or recklessly catching any protected species that is not covered by a specific or general licence is an offence.

Question S4W-11731 To ask the Scottish Government what provision must be made for (a) food, (b) water and (c) shelter for (i) birds and (ii) other animals caught by a (A) Larsen Mate and (B) Elgeeco cage trap before a general licence for its use can be granted.

Answered by Paul Wheelhouse (21/12/2012):

No such provision is currently (or has previously been) made for any animals caught by any trap under the general licence.

Scottish Natural Heritage is proposing to work with practitioners to develop a code of practice for use of traps under general licence during 2013. The Code of Practice will provide detail on trap design and use and will aim to ensure greater clarity about what general licences do and how they are used. It is likely that issues such as this will be covered in the development of the code.

Question S4W-11732 To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on issuing general licences for untested cage traps.

Answered by Paul Wheelhouse (21/12/2012):

Species licensing functions, including the issue of General Licences was delegated to SNH in July 2011.

The general licences list the types of traps that can be used for the purposes set out in the licence. SNH policy is that decisions made about the inclusion or exclusion of certain traps should be evidence-based. Where the available evidence is not available, Scottish Natural Heritage will commission research to provide evidence.

Larsen Mate and Elgeeco cage traps, have been used in Scotland since 2009, and in the absence of any evidence indicating adverse welfare effects, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) believe that it would be disproportionate to prohibit the use of these traps. SNH propose to rigorously and independently test these traps in 2013. If evidence does come to light indicating that they pose unacceptable risks, then any General Licence permitting their use could be revoked at any time.

Question S4W-11733 To ask the Scottish Government whether independent evidence establishing a need to supplement a trap with a (a) Larsen Mate and (b) Elgeeco cage trap is required before a general licence for its use can be granted.

Answered by Paul Wheelhouse (21/12/2012):

No such evidence is required. It is the responsibility of anyone using a general licence to be satisfied that their actions are compliant with the terms of that licence. Scottish Natural Heritage proposes to work with practitioners in 2013 to develop a Code of Practice for use of traps under general licence. The Code of Practice will provide detail on trap design and use and will aim to ensure greater clarity about what general licences do and how they are used. It is likely that issues such as this will be covered in the development of the code.

So, it’s pretty evident that unless there is a legal challenge against the use of clam-type traps (and that may well take place…more on that in the New Year), it is down to us, as concerned members of the public, to find any evidence that these traps pose unacceptable risks to raptors and other species.

SNH say they will be conducting ‘rigorous and independent tests’ on their use in 2013, but they’ve already said they intend to include trap-users in that research. We would argue that this would not equate to independent (nor reliable) research. It’s already known that many trap-users are operating their traps illegally (see the various prosecutions of so-called ‘legal trap users’ over recent years). Nobody in their right mind would accept the views of these users as being trustworthy, let alone independent. It’s appalling that SNH, and the Scottish Government, would consider such an approach as suitable.

We would urge anyone with an interest in seeing clam-type traps banned to pay close attention to any that they find out in the countryside and REPORT THEM. Please see here for details about what to look for and how to report them.

More on this issue in the New Year.

Clam trap use in 2013: what you should know

Illegal use of a clam trap

So, it appears that SNH have ignored the pleas from several organisations to reconsider their policy on allowing the use of clam-type traps in 2013 – they’ve just published their 2013 General Licences (e.g. see here for GL #1). This general licence, “to kill or take certain birds for the conservation of wild birds” is effective January 1st 2013 until December 31st 2013.

Whether or not the content of this new general licence, and the others (see here for the list of the rest of them), is legal, remains under dispute. We’ll come back to that, probably in the New Year, after we’ve had the chance to review all the material.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting the conditions laid out in this general licence for the use of clam traps. Please note: this general licence is only applicable in Scotland; England has its own set of regulations.

Things to look out for if you come across a clam-type trap in Scotland 2013 and you want to know whether it’s being used lawfully:

1. Eggs or bread are the only permitted baits for use with Larsen Mate or Larsen Pod traps (i.e. clam-type traps). If you see one of these traps in use with any other bait (e.g. rabbit & squirrel have often been used), it is being used unlawfully.

2. Any Larsen Mate or Larsen Pod trap must be firmly pegged or staked to the ground before use. If it isn’t, it is being used unlawfully.

3. The trap must carry a tag or sign that gives the number of the local police station or wildlife crime officer for the area. The tag or sign must also carry a unique code that allows the owner to be identified by the police. If it doesn’t, it is being used unlawfully.

4. When open (i.e. set), the minimum distance between any two corners of the Larsen Mate trap must be 39 cm. If it’s less than this, the trap is being used unlawfully.

5. The Larsen Mate trap must not shut tightly along the majority of the length of the meeting edges. (Yes, the defence lawyers will rip this to shreds as they argue about the definition of ‘tightly’).

All the other usual conditions apply (i.e. any non-target species not listed in the general licence must be released unharmed immediately on being found in any trap; any trap while it remains in use must be checked once every day at intervals of no more than 24 hours; when not in use, the trap must be immobilised and rendered incapable of use by either removing from site or securing shut with a padlock) etc.

Illegal use of a clam trap
Illegal use of a clam trap

If you happen to come across one of these clam-type traps, whether you think it’s being used lawfully or not, please report it to the SSPCA and RSPB. Why? Because who wants to rely upon the word of the trap user that it’s being used lawfully? You should try and provide details of the trap’s location (grid ref is best) and preferably a photograph of the trap in-situ. Try and get a photo with some landscape in the background to help the evidential link between the trap and location.

The Environment Minister has confirmed that “if evidence does come to light indicating that they [clam traps] pose unacceptable risks, then any general licence permitting their use could be revoked at any time” (see here). Ok, let’s call his bluff and provide that evidence.

Contact: SSPCA (24 hr line) 03000-999-999

Contact RSPB Scotland 0131-317-4100

For further information about reporting suspect traps, please read this.

SNH fail to deliver

1340845155095That headline could relate to oh so many things.

In this instance though, we’re talking about SNH’s failure, so far, to publish all the correspondence they received in relation to the 2013 general licence consultation.

They said it would be published on their website on either Wednesday or Thursday (see here). Today is Friday and we can’t see it. We did see a notice saying ‘essential maintenance’ was being carried out on the website. Hmm.

If I was a cynical gambler I’d have odds on for publication today at 16.59hrs…

Eagles demand lighter children

Modern children are simply too fat to lift, according to eagles.

After faked footage of an eagle attempting to carry off a child went viral, the birds commented that they wished this were still possible.

Golden eagle Roy Hobbs said: “These days you simply can’t get human infants off the ground. Honestly, the average toddler weighs more than a sheep. What the hell are you feeding them?

For the gullible, not mentioning any names, this story is fake. We nicked it from The Daily Mash (a satirical website, here).

Row escalates over SNH’s decision to authorise clam traps

The controversial clam trapEarlier in December we blogged about SNH’s decision to authorise the use of clam-type traps under the 2013 General Licences, despite the concerns of a number of organisations that these traps are likely to cause injury to non-target species, especially raptors (see here).

This story has now been picked up by the BBC (see here). According to this article, at least two organisations (SSPCA and RSPB) have called on SNH to reconsider its decision on clam traps. Judging by the comment attributed to SNH’s Licensing Manager, Ben Ross, a U-turn looks unlikely:

We will commission objective research on these traps; if the research shows they pose unacceptable risks, we will then prohibit them“.

Surely this is the wrong way around? You do the research to assess their suitability BEFORE you decide to approve their use, not afterwards!

But that’s not the end of the story. When we first blogged about SNH’s decision to approve these traps, we also raised concerns that SNH had appeared to ignore the recommendations made to them by all groups except those with an interest in game-shooting (blog article here). We asked blog readers to contact SNH and ask to see ALL the consultation responses they’d received, so that we could assess which groups’ recommendations had been accepted and which had been ignored. This was a successful tactic – in a letter to consultees yesterday, SNH wrote this:

Following our response letter to the consultation we received a number of information requests for us to publish all responses that we received to the consultation. This email is to let you know that we are legally obliged to provide this information and as such will be publishing it on our website either later today or tomorrow……..As we have received a number of requests for the information, we will make the responses available on our website“.

So well done and thank you to those of you who made the effort to send an email request to SNH. We look forward to seeing the consultation responses published on the SNH website later today.

Let’s also not forget that the written answers are due tomorrow in response to MSP Claire Baker’s parliamentary questions about the use of these clam-type traps (see here).

Fake video stokes anti-eagle rhetoric

article-2250416-1693BE92000005DC-649_634x423A YouTube video that purports to show a golden eagle attempting to carry off a small child in a semi-urban park in Montreal has gone viral on social media networks. Unfortunately, for the eagle-haters, the video is clearly a fake. It’s not even a golden eagle! Watch the video here.

Unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail pounced on the story, with the headline: “Kidnapper from the skies”  and described the golden eagle as “the feathered beast, one of the world’s deadliest birds of prey” (see here). They later updated their story, perhaps realising it was all an elaborate hoax.

Bert Burnett of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association was also on hand to offer his customary insightful analysis. Here’s what he posted on the SGA’s Facebook page:

I have no doubt that the usual idiots will brand this video as a fake but then again they probably don’t believe the holocaust took place either“.

No surprises there – last year the SGA wrote to the Scottish Government about the threat of reintroduced sea eagles eating children in Scotland (see here and here).

Another YouTube video of equal authenticity, showing a baby being carried to an eagle’s nest, can be watched here.