RSPB walks out of hen harrier ‘dialogue’

tec_logo_16271This isn’t especially new news, as it happened in the summer, but we were reminded of it today after reading something on Mark Avery’s blog – more on that later – and it does seem pertinent to blog about it now.

So, most readers will be aware of the Environment Council’s ‘Hen Harrier Dialogue’ – a process that started in 2006 that aimed to bring ‘stakeholders’ together to try and work out a way of resolving the hen harrier / grouse moor conflict in England (see here for website). Those stakeholders involved in these dialogue meetings included the usual suspects such as BASC, Countryside Alliance, Country Land and Business Association, GWCT, Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, RSPB, Hawk & Owl Trust, Northern England Raptor Groups etc.

The ‘dialogue’ process has produced an awful lot of documents (and a lot of awful documents, see here) and meeting reports (see here), and a strong interest in pursuing a trial on a ‘quota system’ for hen harriers – a controversial idea spawned by Steve Redpath several years ago. In simplistic terms, this quota system would mean that grouse moor owners would ‘allow’ a certain number of breeding pairs (number yet to be established) and once a ‘ceiling’ had been reached, then they would be ‘allowed’ to remove harrier broods (non-lethally) to other parts of the UK away from grouse moors. This idea is still being discussed, although it brings with it obvious ethical and legal debates.

Hen harrier being removed from illegal trap on Moy EstateSome argue that conservation groups shouldn’t be sitting at the table with representatives from an industry that has been responsible for killing off England’s breeding hen harrier population. Others argue that the quota scheme may be the best way forward because at least there’d be some harriers, which is a better proposition than having none. Others have suggested that the quota system would never get off the ground anyway because the grouse moor owners would have to ‘allow’ a certain number of breeding hen harriers on their estates and they’ve shown themselves incapable of tolerating any.

Whatever your point of view, the bottom line is that six years on from the start of the dialogue process, and after all that talking over egg sandwiches and coffee, the English hen harrier breeding population has been reduced to one known pair. That’s it. Just the one pair. In a country that has suitable habitat to support over 300 breeding pairs.

This summer, the RSPB made a bold move and decided to walk away from the dialogue process. They said that as hen harriers have been systematically eradicated from English grouse moors then there was no longer any conflict and therefore no point in spending any more time talking about it. Instead, they intended to get on with their own plans for hen harrier recovery.

It’s not yet known what will happen to the Environment Council dialogue process now a major player has walked away. As far as we’re aware, there are still many questions about the lawfulness of the proposed trial quota scheme so it’s unclear whether attempts will still be made to push that through.

So what next for English hen harriers? After the recent sad story of the illegal shooting of Bowland Betty (see here), in addition to all the other horror stories we keep reading about from English and Scottish grouse moors (e.g. see here, here, here, herehere), is it time for a different approach? It’s obvious that the authorities can’t, or won’t deal with illegal persecution, and the grouse-shooting industry can’t, or won’t put a stop to it either. An alternative suggestion has been put forward by Mark Avery – unless things miraculously improve for breeding hen harriers in Northern England in 2013 then it will be time to start the campaign, on 12 August 2013, to end grouse shooting (see here for Mark’s blog).

Up until now we’d been supporters of the idea of estate-licensing schemes rather than an outright ban. Licensing seemed a fair and reasonable approach to regulate an industry so clearly incapable of expelling its criminal elements. But now?  The time for being reasonable has long since passed. Count us in, Mark.

For our anagram fans: Grouse moor – morgue or so

Parliamentary questions asked about SNH’s decision on clam traps

Claire Baker MSPFollowing on from earlier blog posts about SNH’s latest baffling decision to authorise the use of clam-type traps in the 2013 General Licences (see here), a well-informed MSP has now asked the following excellent parliamentary questions:

Claire Baker (Scottish Labour, Mid-Scotland and Fife), Date lodged 7/12/2012

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

Expected answer date: 21/12/2012

Those answers should make for interesting reading. Well done Claire Baker MSP.

Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for SNH to publish ALL the responses they received on their 2013 General Licence consultation. They told us last Thursday that they were “currently preparing the information for publication” (see here).

A well-deserved award

Alan Smailes receives award‘Tis the season of award-giving. Here’s one that’s truly well-deserved.

Retired former Superintendent of Grampian Police, Alan Smailes, has received a lifetime achievement award from WWF Scotland and PAW for his work against wildlife crime.

Top guy, many congratulations, and you are missed!

BBC news article here

Sea eagle ‘Irish Brian’ found dead in County Kerry

Rhian Evans with Irish BrianMore bad news from Ireland…

One of the reintroduced Irish white-tailed eagles, known as ‘Irish Brian’ after his exploits in East Scotland last year, has been found dead in County Kerry. Apparently his body, which was found on a hillside near Glencar, was too decomposed for any conclusive tests but this is an area where three other reintroduced sea eagles were found poisoned in 2008 (see the Golden Eagle Trust’s website here for details of the sea eagle reintroduction project).

Rhian Evans, the RSPB’s East Scotland Sea Eagle Project Officer has blogged about Irish Brian here.

Purdey Awards: “celebrating greatness”?

champagneThe annual Purdey Awards for Game and Conservation were established to celebrate those who achieve most in game conservation, according to the Purdey Awards website (here). These awards are viewed as the game-shooting industry’s most prestigious, giving recognition to those ‘who do most to help our flora and fauna, by improving biodiversity and developing better land management‘.

The 2012 Purdey Award winners were recently announced. We were particularly interested in the ‘Highly Commended’ category:

Brian Kaye of Redmyre Farm Shoot of Invergowrie, near Dundee, has been highly commended for his work in creating a high quality farm shoot and for enhancing the landscape and natural environment. Mr Kaye has not only dramatically improved the habitats and biodiversity for a wide variety of game birds and plant life, but has also demonstrated how shooting goes hand in hand with conservation. The award is made in recognition of outstanding work over 20 years in establishing an exemplary shoot over 320 acres of the Sidlaw Hills“.

Surely not the same Brian Kaye who owns Redmyre Estate near Invergowrie (according to the East of Scotland Association for Wildfowling and Conservation: see here)? Nah, it couldn’t possibly be. A gamekeeper on Redmyre Estate was convicted in 2010 of shooting dead a buzzard and for possession of the banned poisons Carbofuran and Alpha-chloralose (see here, here, and especially here).

Other ‘greats’ that have been celebrated with Purdey Award wins include:

Geoff Eyre, the sporting tenant on Howden Moor (2005 Purdey Gold Award). In 2011, the gamekeeper on Howden Moor was convicted of a series of wildlife crimes (see here).

Jimmy Shuttlewood, the head gamekeeper on Snilesworth Estate (2005 Purdey Special Award).  In 2008, Shuttlewood and two other gamekeepers were convicted of a series of wildlife crimes (see here).

Lochindorb Estate (2008 Purdey Gold Award). In 2010 a dead sea eagle that had been found on the estate mysteriously disappeared just before the police arrived (see here). In 2011, the trial against two Lochindorb gamekeepers began, accused of illegally snaring mountain hares. The case against one gamekeeper was dropped earlier this year; the trial against the other gamekeeper will continue in January 2013 (see here).

Buzzard shot in Ireland

Less than two weeks after BirdWatch Ireland reported the illegal shooting of a hen harrier in  Co. Wexford (see here), they are today reporting the illegal shooting of a buzzard in County Meath.

The buzzard was found alive near the Rossnaree area but had to be euthanised due to the extent of its gunshot injuries.

The press release from BirdWatch Ireland is critical of the lack of strategy, resources and enforcement of wildlife crime in Ireland. Sound familiar?

Read their press release here

Hen harrier found shot dead on Yorkshire grouse moor

A young hen harrier being fitted with a sat tag (photo: Natural England)A young hen harrier has been found shot dead on a Yorkshire grouse moor. Regular blog readers will not be surprised to learn that it has taken over 5 months for an appeal for information to be made by North Yorks police.

The harrier was raised in a nest in Bowland, Lancashire in 2011. She was nick-named ‘Bowland Betty’ and was fitted with a satellite tag as part of Natural England’s so-called ‘Hen Harrier Recovery Project’. During her first year of life she was tracked through the uplands of Northern England and as far north as Caithness in northern Scotland. In June 2012 she was back in the Yorkshire Dales. Predictably, by late June her sat tag data suggested she was stationary and her dead body was found on 5 July on Thorny Grain Moor in Colsterdale in the Yorkshire Dales. Post-mortem results confirmed she had been shot.

This area is dominated by moorland managed for grouse shooting. We understand her body was found on Swinton Estate, although it is not known where she was actually shot as she could have flown for several miles before succumbing to her injuries.

RSPB and government data show the Yorkshire Dales as a hot spot for illegal raptor persecution, with at least 20 birds of prey illegally poisoned, trapped or shot between 2007-2011. This figure includes 10 poisoned red kites, 4 poisoned buzzards, 2 shot red kites, 2 shot buzzards, 1 shot kestrel and 1 trapped sparrowhawk. In addition there were at least 4 incidents of poisoned baits and a number of dogs were also poisoned.

Hen harriers have been tracked from Bowland since 1999. Wing tags were used to monitor hen harrier dispersal and survival between 1999-2002 (data from at least 42 birds). From 2002-2010, 118 hen harriers have been tracked either via radio transmitter or satellite tag. Astonishingly, Natural England have released very little detail about the results of this project, ten years on. They did produce a report in 2008 (see here) although this related to hen harriers over a broad geographic area and didn’t include specific detail about individual birds. What happened to all those birds? Where are their data? Why, when a satellite tag suggests that a harrier’s movements are suspicious (i.e. it’s been stationary on a grouse moor for several hours), do NE researchers have to seek the estate owner’s permission before they can go and search for the (presumably dead) bird? We’ve used an analogy before but it’s worth repeating – would you expect a police officer to call ahead to a suspected drug dealer to ask permission to go and search his house?

We all know only too well what will happen now. The death of this harrier will be added to the never-ending list of illegally-persecuted raptors found dead on UK grouse moors. Nobody will be prosecuted for shooting it. The public will express outrage for a few days but it’ll soon be forgotten, just like all the others that have been illegally killed before and all the others that undoubtedly will be killed in the future. The people who hold the positions of power that could bring this disgraceful practice to an end will continue to show wilful blindness and downplay the extent of the problem. The police will continue to form ‘partnerships’ with organisations who harbour the criminals responsible for this systematic killing. Nothing will change. Tune in next month to read about the latest victim. (Actually, tune in later this month….)

What can we do? The only thing we can do is to keep publicising these incidents. We can all play a part; don’t leave it to someone else. Tweet it, Facebook it, blog it, talk about it, email your MP about it. Do it.

SNH to publish consultation responses

snh_logoFollowing yesterday’s blog and the request to SNH to publish all the consultation responses relating to the 2013 General Licences (see here), SNH have just sent us the following tweet:

We’re currently preparing the information for publication“.

Even if SNH redacts names in the documents, it should be obvious which response belongs to which group.

Credit where it’s due – thank you, SNH, we look forward to seeing this published.

Thank you and well done to all of you who publicised this request on Twitter and Facebook, and especially to those of you who made the effort and emailed SNH. We’ll blog again about the consultation responses once they’ve been published.

SNH announce changes to 2013 general licences

snh_logoIn October we blogged about how SNH was preparing to make changes to the 2013 General Licences via a public consultation process (see here).

They’ve now just published their proposed changes and by the looks of things, they’ve ignored almost every single recommendation except those made by the game-shooting lobby.

Their letter to consultees, in which they outline their proposed changes, can be read here.

Many concerns remain unaddressed, and particularly about the use of crow cage traps under the General Licence, including trap design (welfare issues), year-round use (as opposed to seasonal use), uncontrolled positioning of these traps, ineffective regulation of crow trap users and ineffective monitoring of crow cage trap use.

There’s one particularly strange ammendment:

Requirement for persons to have read and understood conditions: We will remove the requirement for people to have read the licences before using them. New licenses will require users to ensure that they have understood the conditions“.

What’s the significance of removing the requirement for people to have read the licences before using them? This sounds like the introduction of a very dodgy legal loophole…we wonder who made this recommendation to SNH?

The controversial clam trapHowever, the biggest concern is that SNH has officially authorised the use of ‘clam’-type traps (see above), even though they are fully aware of concerns that these traps are likely to cause injury to non-target species (e.g. see here and here). SNH acknowledges these concerns and proposes to “commission research in 2013 that will examine how these traps are currently being used“. Why authorise a trap before you’ve carried out research to assess the potential damage that trap could cause? By authorising its use without being able to define the trap, SNH has just opened up the floodgates for gamekeepers and other users to put out any trap, call it a clam-type trap, hang an ID tag on it and it’ll be legal. How will SNH control trap size, height, spring tension? It’s nothing short of disgraceful that these traps have been authorised without a proper, independent assessment of their use. SNH say they will work with the representative bodies of the trap users as part of their research. Brilliant – do they really think those users are going to tell them when they’ve caught a non-target species? Or when they’ve ‘accidentally’ injured or killed a non-target species? You only have to read the evidence given in the current hare-snare trial to know the answer to that.

What a total shambles. What we’d like to see now is a complete list of ALL the consultation responses that SNH received for the 2013 general licences. Why? So we can assess whose recommendations SNH has listened to, and whose have been ignored. SNH has not made these consultation responses available in the public domain, but it’s common practice for any public authority conducting a consultation to do so (just look at the Environmental Audit Committee consultation on wildlife crime – every single consultation response was made publicly available).

We urge our blog readers to write to Robbie Kernahan, SNH Head of Wildlife Operations, and ask for ALL of the 2013 general licence consultation responses to be put on the SNH website. Here’s his email address: licensing@snh.gov.uk

Tayside Police respond to questions about dead eagle investigation

The dead golden eagleLast month we encouraged blog readers to contact Tayside Police Chief Constable Justine Curran to ask for further clarification about the way Tayside Police had handled the investigation into the death of a golden eagle. This young eagle was believed to have been illegally trapped on an Angus grouse moor and then moved, in the dead of the night, to a lay-by in Aberdeenshire where it was left, with horrific injuries, to die a slow and undoubtedly agonising death. See here and here for earlier blog posts about this case.

Once again our blog readers stepped up and contacted Tayside Police and once again this has paid off; Tayside Police have responded. We’ll come to that in a minute, but first of all a big thank you to everyone who tweeted, facebooked and shared the story on their own blogs and websites – people power in action. We’re convinced that it was the sheer volume of emails that prompted the response from Tayside Police, so well done to all involved.

Tayside Police also deserve credit for responding. This is the second time they’ve posted a comment on this blog and to be honest, we didn’t expect them to do it twice. However, although they deserve credit for responding, the content of their response still leaves a lot to be desired.

As a quick re-cap, here is a summary of the questions that were asked of Tayside Police:

  • Is the death of this golden eagle being treated as a CRIME?
  • Were attempts made to recover evidence from a wide search area?
  • Were attempts made to recover evidence from vehicles and buildings?
  • Why hasn’t Tayside Police publicised the death of this eagle?
  • Did Tayside Police provide details of the post-mortem to any defence agent?
  • Did Tayside Police advise the Minister’s office that the eagle’s injuries could have been caused by anything other than a spring-type trap? If so, what did they say could have been the cause of the injuries?

We’ll come back to each question once you’ve read the full police response. As before, their response was made via the comments section of the blog and we’re reproducing it here in case anyobody missed it:

TaysidePolice-logoComment from Wildlife and Environmental Crime Officer Tayside Police

Thank you for bringing these matters to my attention and by way of assurance, on behalf of Tayside Police, I am now in a position to provide an update in regard to many questions asked through the Blog. In order to deal with this effectively in the future, I would ask that any further correspondence be directed to this email address in order that they can be dealt with appropriately – mail@tayside.pnn.police.uk

You will appreciate that it has taken some time to consider the issues raised. The following comments take into account the on-going investigation into the death of the Golden Eagle in May 2012, as we continue to attempt to establish the exact cause of the eagle’s death.

This reported incident was recorded as a crime in Tayside area and has been investigated as such. Along with our partners in Grampian Police and the RSPB Investigations Unit, I have carried out a full and comprehensive enquiry into this incident. The enquiry remains ongoing and we have unfortunately yet to identify those responsible.

In every investigation, Police and other partner agencies consider the use of the media. In this case utilising the media was indeed considered by the enquiry team and after discussion with partners, it was decided not to publish the incident. Be assured that the media are considered in every investigation by Police and other agencies but I am content that the correct decision was made in this case.

As per Karen Hunter’s (Scottish Government) letter of the 24th October 2012 “It is extremely frustrating (for all involved in the investigation of wildlife crime) that it is so difficult to detect, and in some cases to prosecute and convict those responsible for wildlife crimes. However while it easy to make suppositions about circumstances of an apparent offence as reported in the media, wildlife crime must be subject to the same standard of proof as any other crime. Police and prosecutors also apply the same stringent procedure for dealing with wildlife crime as for any other sort of crime.”

In Scotland, in all cases, sufficient and admissible evidence is required to report a case to the Procurator Fiscal.

A charge may be proved by purely circumstantial evidence, by accounts from two or more credible witnesses or a combination of the two types of evidence but, in order to be sufficient, the material facts and circumstances must point only to one conclusion, and that is, the guilt of the accused. It is not necessary to have corroboration of every fact and circumstance in a chain of circumstantial evidence but the more important circumstances should be corroborated.

Evidence must also be legally admissible which means it has to have been obtained by legal means. Only competent evidence will be admitted by the courts. The court alone decides what evidence in a particular set of circumstances is admissible.

To clarify Police procedures, there can often be sufficient evidence to suggest a crime has been committed to allow for further investigation, but this does not automatically infer there is enough evidence to report the matter to the Procurator Fiscal or indeed secure a conviction. This is the current situation.

Please be advised that in relation to some of the more specific questions, asked regarding the on-going investigation, we can not disclose information due to the risk of compromising the investigation. However we can confirm that Tayside Police did not allow any access to the Golden Eagle carcass to any defence agent.

Be assured that Tayside Police are eager to bring the perpetrators to justice and in conjunction with the other agencies referred, Tayside Police will continue to investigate all circumstances surrounding this incident with a view to identifying those responsible. Police and other agencies will apply appropriate and proportionate resources to this type of crime on every occasion and diligent enquiry will be carried out.

Tayside Police will also continue to support and develop all preventative measures available to us and our partners to minimise the threat of any further such incidents occurring in the future.

I trust my comments will be of use to all those who have contacted Tayside Police regarding this incident.

In regard to other general questions, I can advise that this information can be accessed via your own website, the SASA website and RSPB website.

For any further comments or information that can assist us in this investigation please contact: mail@ tayside.pnn.police.uk , call 0300 111 2222 or speak to any Police Officer.

So, let’s go back to each question in turn.

Q1. Is the death of this golden eagle being treated as a crime? A. Yes.

Q2. Were attempts made to recover evidence from a wide search area? A. We can not disclose information due to the risk of compromising the investigation.

Q3. Were attempts made to recover evidence from vehicles and buildings? A. We can not disclose information due to the risk of compromising the investigation.

Q4. Why hasn’t Tayside Police publicised the death of this eagle? A. In every investigation, Police and other partner agencies consider the use of the media. In this case utilising the media was indeed considered by the enquiry team and after discussion with partners, it was decided not to publish the incident. Be assured that the media are considered in every investigation by Police and other agencies but I am content that the correct decision was made in this case.

Q5. Did Tayside Police provide details of the post-mortem to any defence agent? A. We can confirm that Tayside Police did not allow any access to the golden eagle carcass to any defence agent.

Q6. Did Tayside Police advise the Minister’s office that the eagle’s injuries could have been caused by anything other than a spring-type trap? If so, what did they say could have been the cause of the injuries? A. No response.

So what have we learned?

That Tayside Police won’t provide detailed information about the nature of their search. We didn’t really expect them to and in any case we already know (from other sources) that a search warrant was not requested for this investigation. It’s hard to understand why not but we’re unlikely to get an explanation.

We’ve learned that Tayside Police considered using the media to publicise this case but chose not too. Actually we didn’t just learn that, we already knew they hadn’t publicised it – what we asked was why they hadn’t publicised it. No satisfactory answer was received.

We’ve learned that Tayside Police didn’t allow any defence agent access to the eagle carcass. What we specifically asked though was whether they allowed a defence agent access to the post-mortem results. No satisfactory answer was received. Our sources suggest that a defence agent did have access to the post-mortem results, although who gave him that access remains a ‘mystery’.

Environment Minister Paul WheelhouseThe most important thing we learned was that this incident IS being treated as a crime by Tayside Police. That is reassuring, but begs the question then, who advised the Minister’s office to put out this statement:

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“.

Tayside Police didn’t answer this question directly but we can infer that, as they were treating the incident as a crime, the advice to the Minister probably didn’t come from them. It’s also fair to assume that the advice didn’t come from the Police’s partner agency in this investigation, the RSPB, as they were the ones to put out a press release stating that they believed the eagle had been caught in an illegally-set trap. So who did advise the Minister? This is an important question; we need to be reassured that the Minister is not taking advice from anybody who has a vested interest in covering up this crime. Let’s ask him: “From whom did the Environment Minister’s office take advice that suggested this eagle’s death was anything other than a crime?” Email to: ministerforenvironment@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

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