New e-petition: licensing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers

Tired of waiting for the grouse-shooting industry to get its house in order? Frustrated that the government isn’t doing enough to address the widespread problem of illegal raptor persecution? Well here’s your chance to do something about it.

John Armitage has this morning started a new e-petition called ‘Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers’. The petition needs 100,000 signatures to trigger a parliamentary debate. Here is the petition text:

Given the continuing levels of illegal persecution of birds of prey the Government is called upon to introduce a system of operating licences for upland grouse shoots. Following any proven offence of persecution on the shoot concerned, i.e. illegal trapping, use of poisons, shooting or the interference with or destruction of nests, the licence would be revoked for a period of not less than two years and commercial shooting activity cease.

Linked to the above the Government is called upon to introduce an accreditation scheme or licencing system for all gamekeepers, be they employed in a full time or part time capacity. If an individual then has any proven involvement with raptor persecution, the licence would be withdrawn for a period of three years along with the right to hold a gun licence. Any repetition of an offence would result in the licences being withdrawn for life.

Please note: this petition refers to grouse moors and gamekeepers in England, not Scotland. We probably don’t need a petition in Scotland – one more high-profile killing will be enough to apply pressure on the Scottish Government to act. However, given that some of our raptors frequently cross the border, only to end up dead on an English grouse moor, this petition is equally as relevant to us.

Please, sign this petition (it takes less than 1 minute) and then tweet about it, facebook it, email it, talk about it – just do it. Our time to be heard is now.

Sign the petition here.

Northern England Raptor Forum walks out of Hen Harrier Dialogue process

In the last few days, many of us have been flabbergasted (or not) at the flat denials from several game-shooting industry representatives about the issue of illegal raptor persecution. Despite years, no, decades, of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, these industry leaders still refuse to accept the reality.

 In a way it’s good that they continue to display such open indifference because by doing so an increasingly-aware public are given an opportunity to see what the rest of us have been seeing for years. In the end, we firmly believe it will be the strength of public opinion that forces a change and finally puts an end to the decades of illegal killing. Nevertheless, as laughable as the industry’s excuses and explanations are, it is still frustrating to hear them because you know that as long as that’s what the leaders are thinking then the criminals within that sector won’t be inclined to stop the persecution.

nerf logo3So, take that sense of frustration you felt when you heard the latest denials, and multiply that by six years, and then add in the fact that over the same period the hen harrier breeding population has been reduced to a single pair in England, and it will come as no surprise to learn that the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) has resigned from the Hen Harrier Dialogue process. Indeed, you might well ask what took them so long!

For those who don’t know what the Hen Harrier Dialogue process is, you can read about it here. NERF, representing a suite of dedicated raptor study groups in northern England, has been involved in the Dialogue since day one, back in June 2006. Last summer, the RSPB were the first group to walk away from the process. Now NERF have walked, as of January 31st 2013. We understand that the Hawk and Owl Trust, the only other pro-raptor partner in the process, is still in it, for now at least.

Here are some excerpts from a NERF letter that leave no room to doubt their reasons for walking out:

Following the last meeting in June 2012, NERF members undertook a wide-ranging internal debate about continuing our involvement with the Hen Harrier Dialogue. At the conclusion of our discussions NERF members unanimously elected to resign from the Dialogue process with immediate effect. This decision has not been undertaken lightly. We believe that far from assisting the re-establishment of a viable and self-sustaining healthy English population of Hen Harriers that is free and able to share wild open spaces unmolested with red grouse the evidence reveals that the exact opposite has been achieved.

Despite many years of attempting to seek a resolution to the perceived conflict of interest between commercial driven grouse shooting and Hen Harriers, NERF can find no evidence of any progress towards that goal. Indeed the opposite is the case. In 2006 46 young fledged, four years later only 23 young fledged and in 2012 just one pair successfully reared young. Even the higher figure masks the reality that the successes are almost invariably located on the United Utilities Estate in Bowland or from nests that were guarded around the clock by volunteers. It should also be remembered that there is sufficient habitat in England to support 332 pairs. No matter how optimistic the analysis of the intervening years, this attempt at conflict resolution, from the Hen Harrier’s perspective, can only be judged to be a resounding failure.

It is the opinion of NERF members that our continued participation in the Dialogue lends an air of respectability to a process that is fundamentally flawed. The Dialogue was tasked with seeking conflict resolution to what is a shameful situation where a species is being illegally persecuted to oblivion simply because it is perceived to threaten the sporting interests of a very small minority of individuals. To achieve the required outcome NERF accepted that there needed to be compromise. However despite our best efforts we can find no evidence that some of those organisations that represent the grouse shooting industry have either a genuine intention to accept anything other than a zero upland population or the ability to guarantee that the grouse moor managers they represent will implement any strategy agreed through the Dialogue.

There is ample evidence to show this to be the case:

  • The English Hen Harrier population is so perilously low that there is no longer any conflict with commercial driven grouse shooting and yet the birds continue to be persecuted, as evidenced by the recent death of ‘Bowland Betty’ in the Yorkshire Dales.
  • The continued public denial by grouse moor managers that persecution is widespread within the industry gives NERF members no reason to believe that participation of the industry representatives is anything other than a political gesture intended to divert attention away from that very persecution being undertaken by their members.
  • The scientific modelling developed specifically to aid the search for a resolution was originally rejected by the shooting community and further modelling was undertaken at their behest. The resultant data emphatically show that two pairs of Hen Harriers can be accommodated on 5,000 acres without any commercial impact. Indeed the same data reports that the impact by three pairs is insignificant. This scientifically based model was rejected with a counter offer of one pair per 10,000 acres. This offer represents a 75% shift away from the science and it is difficult to see it as anything other than yet one more delaying tactic.
  • In an effort to reduce the potential impact of grouse chick predation diversionary feeding was trialled and shown to work. The proposed expansion to the scheme was rejected by several of the shooting organisations for no discernible reason. Once again the search for a solution was stalled.
  • The proposal to introduce a brood capture, cage and release scheme was always going to be unpalatable to raptor workers; nonetheless NERF was prepared to leave the proposal on the table for discussion once the population had returned to ‘carrying capacity’. Years after the scheme was initially proposed and with no actual progress being made the National Gamekeepers Organisation announced in 2012, the same year that only one pair nested successfully in England, that the scheme may need to be implemented as soon as two pairs, or one polygamous male and two females, attempt to breed on the same ground. Thus the brood capture, cage and release programme would be implemented when the English population reached three individuals, less than 0.5% of the ‘carrying capacity’ of 332 pairs. This is completely unacceptable not only to conservationists but to all right-minded people. Any future discussions in respect of that scheme were halted with that single statement. More years lost in a pointless discussion, but perhaps that was the intention.

NERF is no longer willing to have its reputation tarnished by involvement with a process that is, in our opinion, being deliberately frustrated by organisations that have failed to demonstrate any willingness to find a solution to what is after all an irrational and outdated belief that Hen Harrier numbers must be subjected to lethal control for the benefit of the grouse shooting industry.

Deeside golden eagle fiasco rumbles on as SGA release their ‘report’

The shambolic investigation into the death of the Deeside golden eagle last year continues (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here for our previous blogs about this appalling case).

This morning, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association released a media statement and their investigatory ‘report’ into what they think happened to this eagle. It’s death was probably the result of a terrible accident, apparently. They say they only released their report because they became aware that it had been the subject of Freedom of Information requests to the Scottish Government.

At this stage, we are only posting their media statement, their ‘report’, and the RSPB’s response. We will be discussing the case as a whole, including the SGA’s conclusions, in a later blog, as we are awaiting responses from several FoI requests that potentially could be quite illuminating.

SGA media statement download: SGA RELEASE REPORT INTO EAGLE DEATH[1]

SGA investigatory report download: SGA Report, eagle death, Deeside[1]

RSPB media response:

RSPB Scotland responds to Scottish Gamekeepers Association eagle report

Responding to a statement released this morning by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, said:

“We reject absolutely these unprofessional assertions of the SGA in today’s press release concerning the case of the dead golden eagle found on Deeside in May 2012. Our previous media statement followed proper discussion and approval from the police, and was in full accordance with our joint working protocol. The official post mortem report concluded that the bird had suffered two broken legs due to trauma “that could be consistent with an injury caused by a spring type trap” and that the severity of these injuries “would prevent the bird from being able to take off.”

This is a rather desperate statement from the SGA, which seemingly does more to reveal their true nature as apologists for the worst types of wildlife crime, as they try to defend the indefensible. Indeed, it calls into question their very commitment to the aims and objectives of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAWS).

The illegal killing of golden eagles in Scotland is still a serious conservation issue, undermining the health of their population, and bringing international shame to our country. Over the past few years there have been a number of appalling cases involving the criminal killing of golden eagles, some of which have only come to light following the use of satellite tag technology. Rather than seeking excuses, we believe that the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s efforts would be better directed at tackling those within their sector who still encourage such outdated practices”.  

The dead golden eagle     

Some comments on last night’s ‘Inside Out’ programme on hen harrier persecution

hen harrier (by laurie campbell)So, what did we learn from last night’s Inside Out programme on the illegal persecution of hen harriers?

According to Martin Gillibrand, the Moorland Association’s secretary, there is ‘no evidence’ that gamekeepers have been involved in hen harrier persecution, and the cause of their near extinction as a breeding species in England is “as a result of some very bad springs, breeding productivity has fallen off and the numbers have gone down“. Ah, so climate change is the real problem then. So if we all turn down our central heating and get our lofts insulated the hen harriers will be ok. It’s the same old story – give any explanation for the demise of the hen harrier except for the most obvious one.

Funny that he didn’t mention an earlier Moorland Association statement, given as written evidence during the recent parliamentary audit on wildlife crime (see here) –

“Until a full set of special rules allowing the positive management of hen harriers breeding on grouse moors is forthcoming from the Environment Council’s Hen Harrier Dialogue, moorland owners are within their rights and the law to deter the birds from settling on their moors to breed.”

Nor did he mention previous correspondence between the Moorland Association and DEFRA minister [grouse moor owner] Richard Benyon, discussing the possibility of derogations from international law that would allow for the legal ‘management’ of hen harriers (see here).

What else did we learn? Well, as predicted, the recent introduction of vicarious liability legislation in Scotland was touted as the solution to end raptor persecution. Unsurprisingly, this view was presented by Des Thompson of SNH – an organisation with a vested interest in making everyone believe that they’re dealing with the on-going (59 years and counting) problem of illegal raptor persecution. According to Des Thompson:

We are seeing some real signs of success. There are indications now that the recorded incidents of poisoned birds of prey is declining“.

He went on: “We were despairing in Scotland a couple of years ago but things have got a lot better“.

Have they? Yes, the number of recorded poisoning incidents has dropped, but does that mean poisoning has dropped, or poisoning is still going on but it’s now better hidden, or that recorded poisoning incidents have dropped because other methods of persecution are now being employed? Here are three examples that suggest things have not ‘got better’ (see here, here and here).

spinning180It’s interesting that SNH should interpret the drop in recorded poisoning incidents as a ‘success’, when the only true measure of success will be if raptor populations (especially hen harrier and golden eagle) recover. If they do recover, it will take several years to see it. Sorry, but to suggest at this early stage that vicarious liability has been a ‘success’ is utter rubbish – it’s a statement with more spin than a Zanussi.

Yesterday we blogged about how vicarious liability isn’t the solution to solving the issue of illegal raptor persecution, mainly because the crux of the vicarious liability concept is that the individual criminal first has to be identified before his/her employer can be charged under the new legislation. However, this was written from a Scottish perspective, where evidence such as covert video surveillance (identifying an individual actually committing the crime) is so often banned as admissable evidence in court. However, in England, this type of evidence is frequently accepted in court and has been used very successfully to convict criminal gamekeepers. So, in this context, vicarious liability, if it was to be introduced in England, might just work.

If you missed last night’s programme you can watch it on iPlayer (here) for a limited period.

We’ll be blogging later today about the latest development from the Hen Harrier Dialogue…


‘No evidence’ of gamekeepers persecuting hen harriers, says Moorland Association

As a prelude to this evening’s programme about the illegal persecution of hen harriers, there was a short piece on BBC Radio Newcastle this morning.

In an astonishing interview, the secretary of the Moorland Association (the representative body of grouse moor owners) suggests that there is ‘no evidence’ of gamekeepers being involved with the illegal persecution of hen harriers.

Fortunately, Guy Shorrock of the RSPB’s Investigations Team was on-hand to provide an eloquent and well-informed rebuttal.

It’s remarkable that the Moorland Association are still in denial, even though we’re all well aware that this species is on the very brink of becoming extinct as a breeding species in England. It’s especially remarkable given that the Moorland Association have been party to the Hen Harrier Dialogue – the discussion process set up specifically to find ways of addressing the conflict between grouse moor management and hen harriers (now in its 7th year). We’ll be blogging about the latest news from the Hen Harrier Dialogue shortly – and given the Moorland Association’s flat denial that hen harrier persecution exists, you won’t be surprised to find out the latest development…

Meanwhile, listen to this morning’s radio interview (here, starts at 1.25.30 and ends at 1.31.06) and be sure to watch the tv programme this evening (here).

Photograph below shows a hen harrier being removed from an illegally-set trap on a Scottish grouse moor in 2010. This bird was lucky – he survived. Nobody was prosecuted for setting the illegal trap.

Hen harrier being removed from illegal trap on Moy Estate

Convicted gamekeeper has membership ‘suspended’

filesLast week we blogged about North Yorks gamekeeper Shaun Leslie Allanson, who was convicted of committing wildlife crimes on the Blansby Park Estate (see here). We wondered at the time whether Allanson was a member of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO), the English/Welsh equivalent of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association.

Well, it turns out that he was indeed a member at the time he commited those offences.

In a very welcome turn of events, the NGO have issued a public statement about Allanson (see here). Following his conviction, they immediately ‘suspended’ his NGO membership. Now, this isn’t as good as immediately booting him out and banning him from ever re-joining the organisation, but it is a good start.

shaun_allansonAccording to the NGO’s disciplinary procedure (see here), Allanson will remain suspended until the NGO’s National Committee have a chance to meet and discuss the details of his case, and based on that meeting he will either be expelled or re-admitted. We will watch with interest to see what decision they make.

The NGO deserve some credit here. Regular blog followers will know that after previous cases of convicted gamekeepers we have struggled to get the relevant ‘professional body’ (i.e. the NGO or the SGA) to make any public comment at all. On this occasion though, the NGO took very swift public action without us having to spend weeks badgering them to do so. We blogged quite recently about the need for greater leadership amongst the game-shooting bodies and it looks as though the message has finally got through, to the NGO at least. They don’t often give us cause to congratulate them but this time they have. Well done to them.

Hen harrier plight to feature on BBC this evening

BBCInsideOutBBC 1’s Inside Out programme this evening will feature the plight of the hen harrier.

The programme’s preview notes say the following: “And as hen harriers disappear from northern hills, might Scotland have found a way to stop persecution?”

Er, unless the Scottish Government has finally decided to implement a licensing scheme for so-called ‘sporting estates’, or mandatory prison terms have been brought in for those found guilty of raptor persecution, then the answer has to be a resounding NO! Scotland has not found a way to stop persecution, even though it’s almost sixty years since raptors were given legal protection.

We very much hope that this programme doesn’t try to suggest that vicarious liability is the answer. It isn’t. For vicarious liability to work, the individual who actually committed the crime still has to be identified before his/her employer can be charged. This is virtually impossible in too many cases, especially on the larger sporting estates where there are multiple gamekeepers who will all deny any knowledge of any criminal activity. Identifying the individual criminal would be possible if various legal obstacles were removed (like the admission of covert video footage showing the individual commiting the crime), but so far those with the power to implement such change seem unwilling to make an effort.

Nevertheless, it’s great that the BBC have chosen to highlight the shocking status of the hen harrier, and in a primetime viewing slot, so well done to them for that.

The programme is a regional one (North East and Cumbria) but will be available on iPlayer for those who miss the actual programme.

Click here to go to the Inside Out webpage and follow the links to watch the episode on-line after this evening’s show.

Shot peregrine released back to wild after treatment

_66033291_peregrineA peregrine falcon was found with a broken wing in January – apparently it had been shot. It has now been nursed back to health and released back into the wild at the location where it was found.

According to the BBC (see here), the injured peregrine was found ‘in a field near a local shoot’ in Salwick, near Preston. Kudos to Turbary Woods Owl and Bird Sanctuary for their efforts in this bird’s recovery.

This is a good news story, in that a wild peregrine has been successfully rehabilitated and released, but disturbingly, this incident can be added to what looks like a growing trend in a different method of persecution – shooting. Has anyone else noticed this? In recent months there have been quite a few reported shootings, including golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and buzzards. Is it a real trend or is the media just getting more savvy at reporting these incidents?

Reported poisoning incidents are dropping, of that there’s no doubt. Whether that’s a reflection of a downturn in actual poisoning incidents or simply an indication that gamekeepers are getting smarter at hiding the evidence remains to be seen. The cynical amongst us may believe that the method of persecution has simply been switched…

Northumberland gamekeeper cautioned for trap offences

Yes folks, here’s another one…

RSPB press release:

A gamekeeper from Northumberland has been cautioned by Northumbria Police after failing to attend and properly check a crow cage trap over a fifteen day period in December last year.  The trap had captured three buzzards on one occasion.

RSPB covert surveillance cameras monitored the trap belonging to a shoot in South West Northumberland and found that the trap operator had failed to attend the trap at any point during the filming. Footage showed the trap had captured three buzzards.  All three buzzards were released unharmed, two by passing members of the public and the third by the RSPB.  The video footage later showed the third buzzard had been in the cage trap for two days.

Investigations by Northumbria police, assisted by the RSPB, identified the trap operator, who during a police interview admitted to failing to check the trap properly each day and failing to release the third buzzard out of the trap. Failure to operate the trap lawfully is contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Howard Jones from RSPB investigations stated: “It is unknown how these buzzards would have fared if they had not been released.  It further highlights the issue of birds of prey being attracted to crow cage traps and the vital importance that operators responsibly manage their traps.”

PC Colin Heath of Northumbria Police who led the investigation added: “We will continue to work closely with the RSPB to promote and protect our wild birds and to deal with offenders accordingly.”

Unfortunately, we are unable to name the gamekeeper as he’s been cautioned. We also need to be cautious in naming the location, although we can say it was a family-run shoot.

The big question is, why did this keeper only get a caution? Why wasn’t he charged and prosecuted?

Would you believe it, another guilty gamekeeper!

shaun_allansonAnother day, another location, another criminal gamekeeper, another wildlife crime conviction, another shit sentence.

This time it’s gamekeeper Shaun Leslie Allanson (37), convicted of crow cage trap misuse on the Blansby Park Estate, nr Pickering, North Yorkshire.

Today at Scarborough Magistrates Court, this ‘professional’ pleaded guilty to intentionally taking a buzzard using a live pigeon in a cage trap on 28 Aug 2012, and using a cage trap with a live pigeon decoy between 31 Aug and 19 Sept.

His punishment? 120 hours community service and £85 costs. Wonder if he’s a member of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation? We’ll do some asking….

There’s a fuller story in the Telegraph here.

Well done North Yorkshire Police and well done to the Natural England employee who first recognised the crow trap was being used illegally and for releasing the buzzard to safety.