Scottish gamekeepers ‘striving to be the best in Europe’

Land_Of_Make_BelieveScottish Gamekeepers’ Association Chairman Alex Hogg has published his latest blog today. It’s a classic.

It gives me great pride to know that we, as professional wildlife managers, are striving to be the best in Europe. Nowhere else will you find such a rich diversity in such a small area. This is down to Keepers protecting Scotland’s flora and fauna“.

Unfortunately he doesn’t specify what they are striving to be the best at.

He also mentions a recent police wildlife conference held in Galashiels, and suggests that the large turn-out “showed that Keepers are keen to gather information and the take-up on courses such as snaring and deer competence is very high“.

That’s interesting, because according to a recent parliamentary question and answer session, less than one third of the snaring operators in Scotland have attended the compulsory two-hour snaring course required to comply with new regulations that begin on 1st April 2013. As Libby Anderson of OneKind put so succinctly:

“1,376 snare users have attended, out of a shooting industry estimate of 5,000 snare operators. Will the remaining 3,624 be trained by 1st April, given that it has taken over two years to train the first third?”

Sounds like the courts may be busy this year if visitors to the countryside notice any snares that do not have an ID tag attached (the ID tag is issued by the police to the individual snare user, but only if the user can produce a certificate to show completion of an approved snaring training course). If you spot a snare in use in Scotland after 1st April, check to see whether it’s got an ID tag attached. If it hasn’t, report it to the police!

He also mentions ‘the fact that Keepers must read the conditions of the General Licence before trapping any crows“. That’s not actually a true ‘fact’, Alex. SNH, in their wisdom, decided to drop the requirement that the GLs must be ‘read’ – instead, the user must simply ‘understand’. This change was the result of lobbying from a number of game-shooting organisations, who claimed that the old requirement (to read the conditions) was discriminatory against anyone who couldn’t read. We suspect the real reason was to exploit some sort of legal loophole to avoid a future conviction for misuse, but that remains to be seen.

Anyway, the latest Hogg blog can be read here – we only wish he’d write more frequently….

Derbyshire police & crime commissioner backs fight against wildlife crime

alan-charlesSome good news! The new Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Charles has met with the RSPB and re-iterated his manifesto pledge to tackle wildlife crime and cruelty to animals.

This is excellent news, considering his area covers the notorious raptor persecution hotspot in the High Peak, including the Derwent Valley where the populations of several raptor species have crashed after years of relentless persecution.

Alan Charles said: “I am determined that Derbyshire Police should provide a robust response to incidents of wildlife crime reported to us. We should all be able to enjoy the fantastic spectacle of birds of prey like peregrines, goshawks and buzzards soaring overhead when we are out enjoying the beautiful Derbyshire countryside. Those who destroy these amazing birds are diminishing our quality of life“.

For the full press release, see here.

wildlife estates scotland initiative: credible or crap?

untitled1There’s been a bit of a buzz on Twitter this evening about the Scottish Land and Estates-led initiative, Wildlife Estates Scotland. Apparently the accreditation scheme was launched today by Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse and SNH Chairman Andrew Thin. Nothing yet on the Scottish Land and Estates website but no doubt they’ll be making a big song and dance about it in the coming days.

Hmm. So what do we know about this grand scheme? We blogged about it in 2011 (see here).

We know the main objective is “to demonstrate unequivocally that estates and farms across Scotland are producers of integrated solutions for positive land management and biodiversity“. (Producers of integrated solutions? Christ, who writes this stuff?)

We know that the scheme was first mooted at the end of 2010, just when it looked like the Scottish Government might have been persuaded to endorse an estate-licensing scheme to combat the continuing problem of illegal raptor persecution, as part of the WANE Bill discussions. Coincidental timing? Probably not. The game-shooting industry were up against the ropes and recognised they had to do something to prevent an estate-licensing scheme being forced upon them. Da-da! The Wildlife Estates Initiative was born and the Scottish Government dropped any thoughts of an estate-licensing scheme, for the time being at least.

Since then it has been run as a pilot scheme on a few named (safe) estates in Scotland (see here for the SLE aims and objectives) and now, apparently, it’s being rolled out for other estates to sign up to.

We also know that the WES already has “250 signed up members, from small and medium-sized farms, up to large estates and reserves” (see SLE briefing note here).

It could be a credible scheme, but some answers need to be provided before anyone believes it:

1. Who is going to undertake the biodiversity evaluation of these signed-up estates to ascertain whether they merit accreditation as a Wildlife Estate Scotland?

2. Will the evaluator(s) be an independent body or an organisation with close links to the game-shooting fraternity?

3. Who are the ‘250 signed up members’? Unless the names of these 250 are released for public scrutiny, then this scheme has zero credibility. There needs to be 100% transparency for anyone to take this seriously. Without it, it looks like just another failed attempt at making the game-shooting industry look like they’re cleaning up their act (a bit like this).

We look forward to Scottish Land and Estates publishing the details of the 250 signed up members in due course and we especially look forward to scrutinising each and every one of them.

UPDATE 21st Feb: Scottish Land & Estates have put out a press statement about their ‘conservation crusade’ here.

Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse’s full statement can be read here.

Update on case against 3 Morvich Estate gamekeepers

00143855Last November we blogged about three Scottish gamekeepers facing charges of alleged wildlife crime on Morvich Estate, Sutherland; charges which they all denied (see here).

There was an interim diet heard today at Dornoch Sheriff Court in the case against Mathew Ian Johnston (20) of Morvich House, Morvich Estate, Rogart, Jamie Robert Neal (37) of The Bothy, Morvich Estate, Rogart and William Robert Docharty (57) of 10 Elizabeth Court, Dornoch.

Previously, a trial date had been set for 19th March. This has now changed. There will be a further diet (a procedural hearing where a number of things are checked) on 13th May, and based on the outcome of that hearing, the trial will begin on 9th July 2013.

2 buzzards shot & dumped in ditch

4571243Two buzzards have been shot and dumped in a ditch in East Yorkshire.

The birds were discovered by members of the public on Tuesday, on the edge of Burton Constable estate near Sproatley. The RSPB has offered a £1,000 reward for information leading to a conviction.

Well done to Humberside police for publicising this incident so quickly, and particularly well done WCO Sergeant Dave Jenkins who made a short video to increase awareness about this crime.

Full story (and video) here.

And for posterity, the video can be watched on YouTube here

And here’s coverage of the story on BBC News website here

Raptor poisoning map England & Wales 2007-2011

A poisoning map of England of Wales has just been published by DEFRA, detailing confirmed poisoning incidents between 2007-2011.

This map is a welcome source of information, similar to the poisoning hotspot maps that have been produced for Scotland in previous years. What would be even better is the production of maps (for Scotland as well as England & Wales) that included other types of raptor persecution incidents, not just poisoning. But they might be a bit too embarrassing, eh?

To accompany the map, DEFRA has issued a press release here.

The National Gamekeepers Organisation has also released a press release (here). They tell us not to worry, poisoning is a ‘very rare crime’. Judging by this map, which don’t forget is just the tip of the iceberg – how many incidents go undetected? – poisoning is a lot more frequent than they would have us believe: 30 poisoned raptors in 2011 alone. Oh and they also tell us that “nearly all species now at or near their highest populations since UK records began“. Er, hen harriers, red kites, goshawks, golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, kestrels, peregrines……? Morons.

Poisoning map 2007-2011

SNH species action framework conference: presentations & podcasts

species action frameworkSNH have been under fire in recent weeks over their controversial decision to authorise the use of clam traps. (Thanks, by the way, to all of you who took the time to contact SNH on this issue – we await their latest response with interest).

However, sometimes SNH do things well and this blog entry reflects that. Last November (2012), SNH held a Species Action Framework Conference in Edinburgh to discuss the results of their five-year programme focusing on the conservation and management of 32 species (see website here). Kudos to them for recently publishing the presentations, both as downloadable PowerPoints as well as Podcasts.

The following presentations may be of particular interest to RPS readers:

Managing Species Conflicts (Steve Redpath, Aberdeen University). Powerpoint presentation here; podcast here.

Sea Eagle (Andrew Stevenson, SNH and Rhian Evans, RSPB). Powerpoint presentation appears to be unavailable; podcast here.

Hen Harrier (Des Thompson, SNH and Simon Lester, Langholm Moor Demonstration Project). Powerpoint presentation here; podcast here.

The hen harrier presentation and podcast is particularly amusing, with head gamekeeper Simon Lester brushing over the reasons why none of the 34 Langholm harrier chicks raised during the current Langholm project have ever returned to breed at Langholm (er, because they’re dead?). Can’t blame the hen harrier anymore for failing grouse stock so instead he concentrated on buzzards and ravens as the prime culprits, although without producing supporting evidence. He did say that 78% of tagged red grouse had been ‘killed or eaten by raptors’. That’s quite a misleading statement – there’s a massive difference between ‘killing’ and ‘eating’. Who’s to say that the ‘eating’ wasn’t the result of scavenging the dead grouse as carrion? Anyway, we look forward, hopefully in the near future, to seeing some hard data rather than having to rely upon Simon Lester’s ‘beliefs’.

We’ll be blogging more about the demonisation of buzzards at Langholm in a later post – we’re currently reviewing some fascinating data that show, fairly conclusively on first appraisal, that red grouse are not a major component of the buzzards’ diet at Langholm. Watch this space…

Red kite shot in Shropshire

_65765793_red_kite_xray_224A red kite is lucky to be alive after being blasted with a shotgun in Shropshire. The kite is currently being cared for by the RSPCA.

A member of the public watched the bird ‘spiralling out of the sky’ before it crash landed into an electric fence in a field in Sleap, near Shrewsbury, on Saturday. The bird was taken to the RSPCA Stapely Grange Wildlife Centre where an x-ray revealed shotgun pellets in its body.

The RSPCA say the bird is responding to treatment but it’s still too early to know whether it will survive.

Anyone with information about this shooting is urged to contact the RSPCA on: 0300-123-8018

News story here

Clam traps: SNH in the last chance saloon

snh_logoOn Tuesday we blogged about SNH’s response to our concerns over the on-going clam trap fiasco (see here). We said we would outline what we thought the next step should be. Here are our thoughts:

There are two main issues. The first one is that the consultation process was flawed. It did not meet the standard required by the Scottish Government’s ‘Consultation Good Practice Guide’, which is applicable to an agency like SNH (see here).

For example, consultations should allow “at least 12 weeks to respond”. This particular consultation opened on October 1st 2012 and closed on November 9th 2012, thus only allowing 5.5 weeks in which to respond. In addition, in order to be transparent, SNH should have provided feedback on how each and every point raised during the consultation was treated. As far as we can tell, this has not taken place. Instead, it appears that the majority of points raised have been ignored (in terms of the final outcome of the consultation). In which case it could be argued that the whole consultation was pointless; SNH had already decided what they were going to do, regardless of the majority view of respondents, and they were just going through the motions of holding a public consultation to appease those of us who might object to their proposals.

The second main issue is the basis of evidence that SNH used to approve the use of clam-type traps. According to SNH, the consultation did not provide any evidence that clam-type traps were unsafe for target and/or non-target species, or a threat to protected species. Instead, they argued that as clam-type traps had previously been in use (albeit probably illegally!) it would be “disproportionate to ban their use outright”. There are several problems with this argument.

First of all, it is clear that no independent testing has taken place to provide evidence that these traps are safe. If SNH are using the ‘lack of available evidence’ to show that the traps are unsafe, then surely that mandate should also apply to demonstrate that the traps are safe before they are authorised for use? Is there any evidence to show that the traps have no welfare or lethal impacts to either target or non target species, which may include protected species, to justify their use? If there is evidence, it has not been made available to the public, in which case, SNH should have applied the precautionary principle and not authorised these traps until such time as independent testing shows they pose no threat to animal welfare as well as no impact on non-target species, some of which may be protected species.

Secondly, SNH have argued that by restricting the type of bait for these traps (bread and eggs only), they have “minimised the risk to non-target species”. Whilst this may be applicable to raptors, it certainly does not minimise the risk to other protected, non-target species, including the pine marten, a species that loves to eat eggs! According to SNH’s own website, it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly capture a pine marten unless you have a special licence to do so (see here). So why authorise a trap that, depending on its location, is highly likely to capture a pine marten?!

Thirdly, SNH said that it would be “disproportionate to ban their [the traps] use outright”. But, if you read the responses to the consultation, the majority of respondents were not asking for an ‘outright ban’ – they were asking for independent testing prior to the traps being authorised. Furthermore, there are alternative traps (Larsen trap) that could be used if clam-type traps were not approved this year or until such time as a trial showed that they are safe. So for SNH to say that not approving their use is ‘disproportionate’ is overstating the reason for approving the use of these traps.

So, where to go from here? In the first instance, we propose that people contact SNH and ask them to provide evidence to show that clam-type traps have no welfare or lethal impacts on either target or non-target species, and if they can’t provide such evidence then they should pull the clam-type trap from the General Licences until such time as that evidence is available.

This is SNH’s last chance to act. If the evidence is not forthcoming and SNH still refuse to withdraw the clam-type trap from the General Licences, then the next step would be to go to the Ombudsman and ask whether SNH has carried out this consultation appropriately.

If that fails, then we think there is a very strong case for making a formal complaint against SNH to the EU, for failing to protect the very species that they have a statutory duty to protect. This complaint wouldn’t just be limited to the clam-type trap issue – it would cover other traps that SNH have authorised, including crow-cage traps, without addressing the legitimate concerns about their use. These concerns have been raised over and over again during the last few years (see the current and previous consultation responses of groups such as RSPB, SRSGs and OneKind for examples) and SNH has consistently ignored them. They may argue that they’re going to address these concerns in their proposed ‘Code of Practice’ that they say they will develop ‘early this year’. The problem with that is it has not been made clear whether they will actually address all the concerns, and even if they do, whether this ‘Code of Practice’ will be a voluntary code (in which case it’ll be worthless) or whether breaking this code will be considered a formal breach of the conditions of the General Licence (and therefore should result in a prosecution).

It’s time to get serious. Please consider emailing SNH. It only takes a minute. The complaint should go right to the top again: Ian Jardine, (Chief Executive SNH) –

If you’re not sure what to write, either copy the blog URL into the body an email, or you could use the following text as a guide – simply cut and paste or adapt it to your own words:

Dear Dr Jardine,

Re: the recent SNH consultation which led to the authorisation of clam-type traps in the 2013 Open General Licences.

Please can you provide the evidence you have used to demonstrate that clam-type traps have no welfare or lethal impacts to target or non-target species. If the evidence is unavailable, please consider withdrawing the use of clam-type traps from the Open General Licences until such time as independent and rigorously tested evidence is available.


Two more sea eagles poisoned in Kerry

Two more white-tailed eagles have been found dead in Ireland. One, found in January 2013, has been confirmed poisoned. Another one is currently undergoing toxicology tests, although it too is suspected of being poisoned.

Full story in the Irish Times here

WTE Kerry 2013