Suspected egg thieves on the Western Isles this weekend

A message has gone out on Twitter this evening alleging that two apparently ‘known’ egg thieves have arrived in the Western Isles, potentially targeting eagle eggs.

The origin of this alert is a Scottish journalist’s blog: see here.

According to that blog, the information has come from an un-named RSPB officer, who claims to have been given information from the RSPB’s Investigations Team. 

Three days ago it was announced that the National Wildlife Crime Unit had launched this year’s Operation Easter, aimed at targeting egg thieves and also those who steal chicks for selling on (illegally) to unscrupulous falconers (see here for a press release from the Scottish Government). Although last year the NWCU said that the number of known egg thieves has dropped to ‘an all-time low’ (see here).

Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be a police-led website to verify the details of any reported suspects so it’s not known how accurate the information is relating to the two alleged egg thieves reportedly in the Western Isles this weekend. However, if you see suspicious activity, you should report it immediately.

2013 wildlife crime conference: Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB

Duncan Orr-EwingThis is the third blog in our series about the 2013 Scottish Police Wildlife Crime conference. (NB: these are not being produced in the order the presentations were made at the conference). Here’s what Duncan Orr-Ewing of RSPB Scotland had to say on the topic of raptor persecution:

“Good morning everybody, I think most of you know me here, but my name is Duncan Orr-Ewing, I’m Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, based in Edinburgh. My talk today, what I plan to do is give a bit of an outline of the issue if you like, then cover some of the sort of on-going work that is underway to try and address the problems, and then take a bit of a forward view if you like, on what the next steps might be. I should probably also confess at this point that I’m also a Director of the Langholm Demonstration Project, which Simon’s just talked about. I’m not planning to talk a lot about that but obviously as a science-based organisation the RSPB is heavily involved with that and a range of other scientific projects to try and identify solutions to some of the issues on-going in this area. I should also say, just briefly at the outset, as a science-based organisation our focus is on the conservation of raptors, we’re informed by the science, our focus is on raptor populations. We are not opposed to hunting as an organisation provided it’s carried out sustainably and legally.

Taking us back to the beginning, I think the advent of the Scottish Parliament has seen political unity break out on this issue, and I’m minded to remind you all of Donald Dewar’s statement that the persecution of birds of prey in Scotland is a national disgrace, and subsequent Environment Ministers of all political persuasions that we’ve had in power in Scotland have also pretty well taken this sort of line. This is not a political issue, this is a significant conservation issue. The RSPB is involved with this because it is a conservation issue and we’re rightly standing up for the interests of raptors. And I would also remind you at this stage that there are no enlightened countries, shall we say, in the world, that I think I can point to, where people are allowed to illegally, or, in most cases I would also say, legally kill raptors. They’re rightly protected as I’ll come on to say.

So just talking about some of the issues, this is the Skibo Estate in Sutherland taking you back a few years, in the foreground you’ll see one of three golden eagles that were found poisoned on that estate. Why should we be concerned about this? This incident, in itself, has probably resulted in a set-back for that local golden eagle population for many many years to come, that one incident. So the question we ask ourselves here is, why has this been allowed to happen? The individuals that have been involved with this, why are they involved with the hunting industry? Why haven’t they been removed by the hunting industry? Why haven’t they been marginalised? Instead, we see some of these people held up as exemplars of best practice, in particularly in the grouse moor industry, and that is very disappointing and I think that has to be addressed.

I’ll also remind you that raptors are not just important as the Minister said, on their own volition, in their own right, they’re also important because they’re important to local economies. Need I say the story of the sea eagle, a reintroduced species, its value to the local Mull economy – £5 million per annum. People come to Scotland to see our environment, they’re attracted to seeing some of these iconic species that we have here, the sea eagle is one of those.

Another example, and there are examples across the whole of Scotland, the length and breadth of Scotland, the Galloway Kite Trail, also bringing in hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to a local Dumfries & Galloway economy. And some of these benefits that come from raptor conservation, supported it has to be said by local estates and enlightened land owners, they are now very important to the economies of some of our most rural areas in Scotland.

So why are raptors protected? And this is a very fundamental point which informs very much how we think about this issue. Firstly, they’re long-lived birds with slow reproductive rates, so illegal killing can be highly detrimental to their populations. Scotland also has a particularly poor history in conserving our raptor species. We have had national extinctions, I mean even birds like the buzzards, because of what we did two centuries ago, were driven to the edge of what should be their former range and only now are some of these species recovering their populations, and indeed, some have had to be reintroduced by humans with the support of local land owners because they were driven to extinction, and the red kite and the sea eagle being those. And we still, I’m afraid, based on some of this history, still have a prejudice in the UK and Scotland towards predators, and this isn’t just raptors, this is all sorts of predators, you know, big cats, wild cats, pine martens, otters, badgers, there is prejudice against these species as well, which persists in some places.

So I want to touch now just on what the impact of illegal killing has on three raptor species and I’m taking the golden eagle, hen harrier and red kite as examples, and we now have a very good body of science to support these assertions.

Conservation status of the golden eagle in ScotlandSo I’m referring here to the SNH Golden Eagle Framework, and here the red areas that are on the map show the areas in Scotland where the golden eagle population is considered to be in unfavourable conservation status. And overlaid on that map are the incidents of illegal persecution, poisoning incidents, between 2006 and 2012. And you’ll see there’s a strong coincidence with illegal persecution of golden eagle poisoning in this case and where the bird is in unfavourable conservation status. And in 2012 alone, I’ll just highlight three cases of crime against golden eagles that were detected: one in the far north west of Scotland, one in the Angus area and the other in Dumfries & Galloway/Strathclyde border. And every time one of these cases happens, I would say, you know, the trust that should be there between land managers and conservationists takes a step back.

With hen harrier I take you back to 2000 and a case in Strathspey in Morayshire, and here was a case of a gamekeeper shooting a hen harrier at the nest, successfully convicted for this, and I’m afraid that this was the first successful conviction of a gamekeeper for killing a hen harrier, although this is considered to be widespread practice, and I’ve put this in really just to show how difficult it is to secure convictions in this kind of case because these cases occur in remote areas, in this case on a grouse moor, you know, far away from public roads, it is difficult to get access and bring these people to justice but in this case we were successful in doing that and subsequently there have also been a couple of other successful convictions. But we think this is still widespread practice, and following on from the Joint Raptor Study than Simon mentioned earlier, we do know that that resulted in an escalation of crime against hen harriers because people saw that hen harriers were blamed for suppressing grouse populations and as a result people saw justification for taking the law into their own hands. And in 2010, as a result of this, we’ve just carried out a national population survey with the Raptor Study Groups and others, into hen harriers, we have a national population decline of 20% in hen harriers. And if I tell you that on grouse moors, driven grouse moors in the UK, we only have five breeding pairs of hen harriers, and as many of you will know the hen harrier is on the verge of extinction in England as a result of human persecution. Other work that has been done by people in this room actually and GWCT and others has shown that there is room for 500 breeding pairs of hen harriers on driven grouse moors in the UK, so their population is being suppressed  and they are at very low levels. And I’ve just put this in to show that this is a species that isn’t affected really by illegal poisoning – most of the impacts on hen harriers are either by direct nest destruction, or in this case, illegal trapping. You can see a male hen harrier there, caught in a leg-hold trap.

red kite 12And red kite, a species which I have a fair bit of involvement with myself, again we’re in a unique situation here where we have an almost totally marked population of birds, because the bird was reintroduced, all the birds that were released were wing-tagged and we know the fate of these birds because we’ve been radio-tracking them and recording all the wing tag data. And we’re also in a position where we’re able to compare between two reintroduction areas so in the south of England, in the Chilterns, there was a similar reintroduction and we released the same number of birds, about 90 birds were released, also 90 birds in north Scotland and the population in 2006 of red kites in the Chilterns area, with similar productivity, same number of young produced compared roughly to north Scotland is over 300 pairs whereas in north Scotland the population has bubbled along and has stayed pretty well static at about 50 breeding pairs. Indeed the Chilterns population this year is nearly 1,000 breeding pairs whereas the north Scotland population is still stuck below 60 breeding pairs. And the main difference between these rates of growth is explained by the prevailing levels of illegal poisoning in the two countries, i.e. we have far higher levels of illegal poisoning. And last time I was here speaking to you was about red kites and I reported that since reintroduction we’d found 50 kites that had been confirmed as being illegally poisoned since reintroduction began in 1989 and that figure is now 75 in Scotland. And where is this happening? There is a strong coincidence, illegal activity in the east of Scotland in the areas shaded, which are grouse moors, hence the work we’re doing at Langholm and elsewhere to try and find some solutions to this problem. And increasingly it is looking like the driven grouse moor areas are the problem areas to focus on.

The big concern if you like with the driven grouse shooting set-up these days is that this sport seems to be moving into a new, more intensive phase. So over the past 10-15 years we’ve seen land management systems that have been employed for England for quite a number of years, coming up to Scotland, means more intensive management, more keepers, more predator control, killing as you’re aware of hares and deer tick hosts, increased burning, and we’ve mapped this and we know that there is a strong coincidence where this intensive management is coming in there is a prevalence also of illegal raptor persecution. And I would see this very much as the problem area to focus on in the forthcoming years. There have been some very notorious cases of course, that have occurred in these places where this intensification of management has taken place, in this case ‘Alma’, a golden eagle being radio-tracked and being found dead in the Angus glens a few years ago, illegally poisoned.

So is the situation improving? I think the answer is yes in some places, and this is a map of BTO data on the breeding bird survey buzzard trend, and you will see that the buzzard population, as many of you will know, has increased quite rapidly in recent years but now it’s plateau-ed off as you’d expect and we have a largely stable buzzard population but this species is still absent from some areas of its former range but I think the next breeding bird atlas, coordinated by BTO, will show that the buzzard has recovered large areas of its former range, which is good progress.

Earlier today we were talking about the illegal poisoning incidents in Scotland. This is a bar chart showing the number of reported poisoning incidents over the years since 1989, and as the Minister mentioned, over the past couple of years we have seen a significant decline in illegal poisoning and that is again very good progress. We would say this is informed by a few things perhaps as background which have helped us get to where we are today and this is work in progress, there’s no room for complacency here and we will work with Scottish Land and Estates and others to make sure that we continue to bear down on this problem.

AlmaBut the high point [on the graph] in 2009 was when Alma, the eagle that I mentioned earlier, was found poisoned. We also had a case, the Skibo case also mentioned earlier, a seizure of 10kg of Carbofuran, one of the poisons most implicated in illegal poisoning. And then again, 2011, another satellite-tagged eagle found poisoned. And of course the introduction of vicarious liability making land owners more responsible for the actions of their employees. These welcome steps, apart from the poisonings of course, are helping to move the situation onwards but as I say, we’re not complacent and we will continue to work with partners in the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime to bear down on this problem. What we’ve learned through poisoning hopefully will transfer to other types of raptor crime in due course.

Ok, this is just to remind you also that there are quite a large number of birds that have been killed since 1989 through illegal poisoning – 930 birds and animals have been discovered poisoned and hopefully in the future we can make a dent in that situation. Ultimately, consign illegal poisoning to history, that’s what we want to do.

But also worth mentioning that birds of prey are killed in other ways, they’re shot, trapped or have their nests destroyed and we need to start progressing that as well, as was stated earlier.

So what are the solutions? As we’ve heard earlier, we’re developing legal alternatives to killing birds of prey, and diversionary feeding is one such method, which in the case of the hen harrier has been shown to be pretty effective and we hope over the next few years the grouse moor sector will start adopting this technique and rolling it out across driven grouse moors across Scotland and perhaps even in the north of England. These are legal techniques to solve problems.

I think we also need a model of how grouse moors can be managed more sustainably. It’s not acceptable that this continued intensification occurs and the people that are involved with it are held up as exemplars of best practice if that involves illegal activity. We need a model that fits more with 21st century public expectations and is not predicated on ever-increasing grouse bags. Some of the moors which we see now have the highest grouse bags they’ve had for many years. You would think there would be room for raptors there. They also don’t have the grouse cycle that they used to have because we have medicated grit and other methods developed by GWCT to prevent that from happening. So why can’t these places tolerate raptors? Many of the grouse moors that we’re talking about here don’t have any breeding raptors, let alone hen harriers and eagles, they are black holes for raptors. But we also need more land owners and their employees to work with the police and marginalise those who undermine other good practice and that is happening to a large extent now, through PAW and the work of Scottish Land and Estates and others and we very much welcome that.

And of course there has to be a deterrent out there and that includes effectively robust policing, enforcement, to deal with those serious incidents when they occur.

And I throw this open, but do we need more regulation of the sporting industry? It was discussed last time, the Wildlife and Natural Environment (WANE) Act went through the Scottish Parliament. We have one of the most unregulated shooting industry anywhere in the world. Does this contribute to this problem? In Germany, North America, Scandinavia, other countries, they have quite an established system of regulation for hunting.

But what it’s all about for us, and we will measure success of all of these actions, is through improved populations of the key species, in this case goshawks, ospreys, hen harriers. That is how we will measure progress. But this will be delivered through a range of partnership arrangements as well. It’s easy to knock these partnership arrangements but they are important. They build trust, they build dialogue and in Scotland as a small country of only 5 million people we have good communication between most of the key players here, and that can only help us move this along.

I’m delighted that Scottish Land and Estates are developing their Wildlife Estates initiative; some RSPB staff are involved with helping develop this and we will help Scottish Land and Estates encourage those good land owners who want to do the right thing as we move forward with that programme.

The Langholm Demonstration Project, I won’t dwell on that in detail because Simon’s covered a lot of it – a very important project. This is the model for sustainable grouse moor management going forward. Many of you  may not see that, and Simon said, it’s not without problems, the project, but we’re working our way through those problems as partners, and this less intensive approach to grouse moor management, within the law, with protected raptor species, has to be the way forward, and a combination of hunting and conservation occurs.

And of course I should mention the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime, which over the past few years has really developed into a solid partnership and we’re all working together in the same direction. Thank you very much”.

Another shot buzzard found dead: central Scotland this time

Another shot buzzard has been found dead, this time near Thornhill, Stirlingshire.

The bird was found on the road (A873) near Loch Ruskie on 2 February. A later examination revealed it had been shot.

Central Scotland Police have put out an appeal for information – see here, although this doesn’t seem to have been picked up by the press as the appeal is dated 14 Feb 2013.

We believe this is the same buzzard that was reported to us by a blog reader on 2nd Feb. The person who found the bird had noticed that its injuries looked to be consistent with being shot, and they took it home, put it in the freezer and wrote to us about it. We passed on the info to the relevant authorities and it’s pleasing to see it was followed up. Well done to all those involved and particularly to the person who found the bird and had the sense to collect it and report it.

So, in the space of 48 hours we’ve blogged about two police appeals for information about two illegally-killed buzzards. Neither of these birds will appear on the 2013 poisoning maps – giving a pretty clear example of how unrepresentative those maps are in terms of reflecting the extent of illegal raptor persecution incidents.

Welcome to the Year of Natural Scotland.

Again, Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, we ask you when you’re going to take the action you promised you’d take if persecution incidents continued? How about now?

Year of Natural Scotland: SNH cock up launch of ‘Big 5’

IMG_2300a2013 is the Year of Natural Scotland – a Scottish Government initiative aimed at getting people out and about to enjoy Scotland’s natural wonders (see here). 

As part of this, SNH has chosen five iconic species to act as the focus of attention. These so-called ‘Big Five’ were revealed today: otter, red deer, golden eagle, harbour seal and red squirrel.

SNH has helpfully produced various media so we can learn about each of these species, including a special app and a downloadable flyer giving detailed information about the Big Five (see here).

Unfortunately, somebody in SNH can’t tell the difference between a golden eagle and a white-tailed eagle. Have a look at the information sheet they’ve produced for the golden eagle (see photo above left). Looks lovely, eh? Oh, but what’s that on the second page? Is that a photo of a sea eagle labelled as a golden eagle?! Oops! That’s going to be expensive to fix.


It seems that someone in SNH has noticed this tiny error, as the downloadable leaflet for the golden eagle is no longer available. Here’s a copy in case you missed it this morning: Golden eagle high flyer

It’s worth a read – it tells us that one of the ‘likely areas’ to see breeding golden eagles is, er, on the grouse moors of the central and eastern Highlands!!!

You couldn’t make this up. SNH at its best.

Statement expected from Environment Minister on shot buzzard

Following yesterday’s story on the shot buzzard found dead in the Scottish Borders, we tweeted Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse and asked him this:

@PaulWheelhouse Minister, are you now ready to take the action you promised? Another raptor crime on your watch.

To his credit, he responded this morning:

@RaptorPersScot I will say more when I have a full briefing but my first reaction is instinctive – I’m both disgusted and very much angered.

We wait with interest…

Police appeal 3 weeks after shot buzzard found dead in Borders

6754Police in the Scottish Borders are appealing for information after a shot buzzard was found dead close to St Mary’s Loch.

The dead bird was found by a dog walker on 6th March and it’s believed to have been there for about three days.

BBC news article here

It’s good to see the police launch an appeal but why did it take three weeks? Good to see also that this incident features on their own website (here). Perhaps this is the influence of the new wildlife crime officer in this region, PC Hannah Medley? Good for her if it is.

Anyone with info about this incident, please call the police on 101.

Oh, and Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, we’re hope you’re watching. Here’s ANOTHER crime against birds of prey in Scotland – and another one that won’t show up on the annual poisoning maps. How many more incidents are needed before you take the action you’ve promised us you’ll take?

Pets killed by the bird poisoners

poisonThere’s an article in the Express today talking about pets that have been poisoned by gamekeepers (see here). According to the article, ‘new figures show 60 dogs and 28 cats have been poisoned in the last decade’. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t tell us who published these ‘new figures’ or on what evidence they’re based.

We do know that pets are poisoned, snared, shot etc by gamekeepers because we’ve read the stories in the newspapers and seen the toxicology reports –  we just aren’t sure about the accuracy of these ‘new figures’.

The article goes on to say, ‘over the past decade more than 250 protected birds such as golden and white-tailed eagles, peregrine falcons, red kites and buzzards have died and there are fears a child could fall victim if they touch the bait’. This figure, we know, is definitely an underestimate of the number of raptors poisoned over the last decade.

The main thrust of the article is based around last week’s news that the UK government has decided to ignore the Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendations for addressing wildlife crime (see here) and how the Opposition are now slagging them off for it.

If you think gamekeepers should be held accountable for what they get up, please sign this e-petition: HERE.

2013 wildlife crime conference: Nevin Hunter, NWCU

NWCUThis is the second blog in our series from the 2013 Scottish Police Wildlife Crime Conference. Here is what Nevin Hunter, Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit had to say:

“I’m going to talk about the National Wildlife Crime Unit, erm, and we’ll talk a bit about, I know many of you will know who we are, what we do, but there’ll be people who won’t be familiar necessarily about what we are, so we’ll talk about this.

We are a police unit, we cover Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, we have funding for another year now until April next year and you can see there the various funding streams that we get, erm, it is quite convoluted our funding which does mean I spend quite a bit of my time as did my predecessors, er, securing funding but we’re, we’re there for another year, er, there to support you, we, we’re a unit to support law enforcement across the UK, er, and we’ve now got 12 members of staff. Five of those are, er, new members, erm, part-time but we’ve got four intelligence officers, part-time intelligence officers, already you’ve heard mention of Alan Stewart, so Alan’s come to, to bring us his expertise as well from his wildlife crime background, er, as well as, er, being trained as an intelligence officer, erm, we’ve also got amongst those an internet intelligence officer for the first time, funded by DEFRA for 18 months, that’s gonna allow us to support, er, investigations, er, relating to internet and internet crime and we’ve also been joined by an analyst, erm, from, erm, Miranda from Strathclyde on secondment to us, erm, and it’s great to report that in addition to having, er, Miranda, who’s taken over from, er, Sarah who left us over a year ago, er, today marks the return Sue Eddy, er, back to the team, er, having been away, er, on maternity leave and that really does bring us back up to full strength now. But we are a free resource, there to support the law enforcement agencies.

Ok, so our role is, some of you here have heard this before, we’re there to provide intelligence, analysis and operational support to deliver the UK wildlife crime priorities. We’re there to try and provide coordination at local, regional, national and international levels and from a communication point of view we’re there to provide a direct link to all UK law enforcement agencies and that includes people like the Border Force, UK Border Agency, Serious and Organised Crime Agency, er, and south of the border National Crime Agency as that develops.

In terms of actual responsibilities, what we’re there to do, we’re there to support the UK government coordinating the international response to wildlife crime. And just to give you an example, er, I’m not going to steal any thunder but you can hear a bit later on about the unit’s involvement with Operation Prey which is an Interpol-led operation, erm, involving work that we’ve supported in Nepal.

Ok, we’re there to support the strategic and operational response to wildlife crime across the UK, on behalf of the UK, er, Chief Police Officers. Examples of that is we produce a, we’re now to produce again a UK tactical assessment, we produce strategic and tactical assessments, erm, for wildlife crime across the United Kingdom. And to give you an idea of, in terms of strategic way ahead of things that we’ve been involved with this last year, erm, I talked last year at this conference about us re-focusing on the UK wildlife crime priorities, er, we have a strategic review of the UK wildlife crime priorities, should have occurred in January this year but with various funding issues that’s now been put back to September, er, this year, so we’ll be looking at all those wildlife crime priorities. We’ve, we, we’ve reviewed how we deliver the national intelligence model processes, the, the focus in the past in the unit has been very much on trying to provide, er, a, a full picture but based around incidents, incident recording, and that’s caused us real problems and we, we’ve gone back to the core business of intelligence, dealing with intelligence and intelligence actions. Er, as head of unit, I said last year about wanting to drive deliveries and outcomes with the priority delivery groups, er, and we’re looking at, er, the work we’ve done of driving the consistency of approach across all of the priority delivery group areas. The Minister mentioned earlier on that the six priorities, you know, we’re trying to push ahead with those as much as we can in terms of consistency.

Ok, but we’re there also to support other types of criminal investigations across the UK and internationally and I’m just going to give one example. Erm, you know, you hear reference to wildlife crime but if you take wildlife out of it it’s still crime and to give an example of – the gentleman on the left-hand side there with the bird, er, he was prosecuted south of the border last year, er, during a series of investigations that we, we mounted on a link to an Interpol operation. Interesting he sold a bird, erm, to the gentleman on the bottom right-hand side there, erm, and during the course of that investigation we identified that that sale had occurred had been done through the use of a mobile phone. It was actually that use of that mobile phone that has now led to the, the gentleman on the bottom right-hand side now being linked and er, convicted of conspiracy to commit, er, multiple burglaries, erm, that was all found to result of intelligence submitted by wildlife crime officers, erm, linked to a mobile phone. That isn’t wildlife crime but it is crime, yeah? And it’s really important that people understand that’s a problem we’ve got as well.

Ok, we’re there also to support a network of police wildlife crime officers. Last year I talked about a black hole, erm, and that intelligence units from a policing point of view are often looked at as a black hole, that we got all of this information that comes in and actually people see very little that comes out from us, we’ve tried to turn that around over the last year.

Ok, so again last year, erm, in putting that in context, we talked about disrupting criminality, er, intelligence processing by NWCU increasing with new staff is aiding police officers so I’ve talked about the extra policing staff that we’ve got, er, we wanna make the NWCU relevant not only to police officers but to everybody else. Erm, we’re there to provide operational support, we’re a free resource available. Erm, and one of the things we put in place last year is, we talked about was, looking to do a weekly dissemination of key intelligence issues to police wildlife crime officers but when we reviewed that we actually looked at it, looked to get a, a fortnightly intelligence bulletin, er, and the 20th edition of that, er, actually circulated yesterday across the United Kingdom.

Ok, just to put it in context, the Minister mentioned earlier on about priorities and the areas we look at. Everything that we deal with now from the national intelligence model point of view is focused around three key areas: prevention, intelligence and enforcement, the ACC mentioned that as well. In terms of intelligence issues, er, Fresh Water Pearl Mussel is an example of something we’ve been involved with directly, er, many of you know Charlie Everitt has led on some of these issues and it’s about one of the issues that we have with Fresh Water Pearl Mussel is we have a gap, how do we close that gap, erm, and put into place an operation that involved visits to, er, a number of jewellers across Scotland and, er, down south as well, trying to establish was there a trade whether illegal or legal trade of Fresh Water Pearl Mussels. You know, what is that gap, is there, is there something going on there that may be driving that? So they’re the sort of areas that we focused on to try and fill these gaps.

Matthew Gonshaw Ok we’ve got other intelligence requirements as well, er, we’ve been looking at, to give you an example of other work that’s moved on, er, the illegal taking of wild bird eggs is one of those intelligence requirements, not a priority area but it’s something that’s been sat there causing us concern, er, from the intelligence we’ve received, so we’re looking actually now to a revamp of operations, we’ve been looking at, erm, and even taking wild bird eggs, case such as Matthew Gonshaw has been discussed over the last, er, year or two at different conferences, er, of the serial egg collector being convicted in Scotland, we’ve identified er, from intelligence reports and in addition to getting egg collectors we’re also getting people involved increasingly in nest disturbances. Interestingly some of those who are involved in nest disturbances are also, erm, people that have been previously convicted of egg collecting, erm, so we’ve revamped Operation Easter and Alan, Alan who led on that initially in his Tayside days is now going to be leading on that within the unit for us on Operation Easter.

We looked at considering other platforms, er, for the police as well particularly and we’ve put together, erm, through a number of different people, erm, a, a wildlife crime messaging process on the Police On-Line Knowledge Area commonly called POLKA and it’s about sharing knowledge and information, erm, we’ve now got 302 members of, er, wildlife crime community, er, we’ve got 72 active discussions that are on-going at the moment.

So going forward into 2014 2013, er, through the rest of the year, what are the challenges that we’ve got. We wanna look at, erm, better representation on, on POLKA, particularly er, in Scotland. We’ve got very good representation south of the border, we don’t have as many people as we’ll really like, er, up in Scotland and it’s available POLKA, although it’s called the Police On-Line Knowledge Area it is actually available to people who are on pnn email system but it’s also available to people in the gsi, that’s government agencies as well. Erm, particularly south of the border we do have a, a number of, of individuals from organisations like, er, Natural England, er, who signed up to that and actually take active part on and raise discussions as well there. It’s not available, POLKA is not available to non-government organisations but there is no reason why anybody from a non-governmental organisation if they want us to raise a query, er, to try and find out, er, issues, to try and gauge the views of people on there put it out to the full wildlife crime community.

We’re hoping over the next year to develop a partnership bulletin. I’ve mentioned the two-weekly intelligence bulletin that are prepared for police officers and law enforcement agencies, we’re hoping to produce that as a partnership bulletin that will highlight key issues and look for support there. We haven’t yet decided how we’re actually going to deliver that, er, but it may well be that we can do it from our live website, we’re in the process at the moment of actually developing, many of you will have seen it, we’ve had a website that’s sat there for a lengthy period of time, we’re trying to push ahead with that now and hopefully over the next month we’ll actually start to go live with the full new updated website.

Ok in terms of the enforcement challenges, you know, it’s really important, you’ve heard talk already, erm, from the Minister and, er, er, from the Assistant Chief Constable, you know, we’ve got challenges. We wanna be looking at opportunities, you know, our role from a policing point of view is that we have to support the majority who undertake lawful activities, we’ve gotta target the minority of people who undermine the, those operating at a local, national, er, serious and organised, international levels as well.

And a final idea I’ve just put on there, this is an issue particularly south of the border, erm, the badger cull, yeah? We, we, we need to be aware, erm, you know, we look at that, what’s going on south of the border, whether there be any type of implications of that, there are, there are political challenges with those but our role from the policing point of view obviously is to investigate crime and to support officers involved in that.

Ok, one of our big areas is absolutely key areas that we need to, need to address is bird of prey persecution. Key that we’ve gotta work with partners on all sides shooting and conservation organisations, you know, it is the role of the police to investigate wildlife crime and the NWCU and PWCOs work to very strict protocols relating to different issues such as surveillance, investigation, interviewing people, er, handling of productions, disclosure of evidence and with all of these as with any of the other priority areas intelligence is absolutely key. I’ve mentioned it throughout my talk, it’s absolutely key for us, it’s not about intelligence directly to the unit, it’s about getting it into your local wildlife crime officers who will then feed it to us. It’s a massive opportunities and massive advantages in, in Scotland, you’ve got a, the police have got a single intelligence data base, we don’t have that south of the border, yeah? You’ve got opportunities there for the intelligence does get fed in for wildlife crime, we’ll get to know about it and be able to work with the wildlife crime officers to, to progress that.

What we aim to provide is, provide support to Police Scotland in the new structures that the ACC has, has mentioned. Again, you’ve got massive opportunities and I see that over the next year that you’ve got real opportunities to work more closely. The unit is there not just for Charlie Everitt to provide support, er, you’ve got the whole backroom staff to provide support as and when we need to, you know, we can bring the resources from south of the border up to support investigations and, er, up here as well. We can provide that, that support to the new, er, new force.

Other things we’re thinking about is, you know, who are the top wildlife criminals in Scotland? From a policing point of view we often look at it, erm, general policing, you know, we have what we call target criminals, we have key people but who are the people that we need to be looking at in Scotland? We need to identify those people. We’ll support actions to target them, it’s not just about intelligence but taking intelligence, analyse it, we wanna look at how we can put disruption methods in, into place, erm, enforcement and then as the Minister said earlier on, we need to, we need to take successful prosecutions and support those.

What we need from everybody here is, is early contact. Intelligence from partners. As I said, that intelligence needs to come through police wildlife crime officers, feed it in in whichever way you can, er, that’ll get to us we will then work closely with forces, with the new, er, teams that are gonna be in place, erm, early contact from PWCOs as well, those of you that are out there that haven’t perhaps, er, dealt with, with me, investigations, you know, we are a free resource, we’re there to support you, erm, please I’ll reiterate it time and time again that we’ve found over the last year that officers get involved in enquiries that, erm, they don’t have experience, that they are not competent in and can make some poor judgements. What we aim to do is not, we don’t come and take over cases, we’re there to provide you with providing support to you from the earliest point, that’ll be not just from the first point of intelligence but it’ll be to take you right through the case. Once you’ve been through a case you understand how we work, you come back, people come back time and again to work with us.

Ok, as I said, my name is Nevin Hunter, I’ve just covered some of the key things that we’ve dealt with over the last year and, er, also where we’re looking to go ahead now. The role that we play is to supply support to the police, erm, it’s all about that provision of support from all the different areas that I’ve talked about. But wherever we go to with any type of investigation you can’t go anywhere thereafter without taking a case, er, successfully through court, and what I’m gonna hand on to now, erm, is to, to Craig Harris, erm, to, er, discuss issues in terms of the, er, the role that the Crown Office, er, have played over the last year, er, and it’s absolutely key to our role, the National Wildlife Crime Unit so for police officers to take cases forward successfully. Thank you”.


Another barely coherent presentation (for the second year running). You might forgive him that if you could see that the NWCU are delivering on tackling raptor persecution, but as far as we can tell, they’re still not. We can’t comment on whether they’re delivering on other types of wildlife crime because that’s not our area of expertise, but casual conversations with representatives of other specialist wildlife interest groups suggests that at least some of them are similarly dissatisfied. 

He asks who are the top wildlife criminals in Scotland? We reckon most regular readers of this blog would be able to answer that. Why doesn’t he already know?

He talks about re-launching Operation Easter (aimed at catching egg collectors) but openly admits this is not one of the six national wildlife crime priorities. Why re-launch it then? Yes, illegal egg-collecting is a serious wildlife crime and there is the odd high-profile case, but we all know that ever since custodial sentences were introduced several years ago, this particular crime has dropped significantly. The NWCU said themselves that last year the known number of egg-thieves had dropped to ‘an all-time low’ (see here). Could it be that getting convictions for this crime (which is a whole lot easier than getting a conviction for poisoning/shooting/trapping a raptor) reflects well on the NWCU in terms of annual success rates? Fine, catch the egg collectors and lock them up, they deserve it, but don’t do it at the expense of tackling the national priorities, notably the raptor persecutors.

Reading between the lines, we think this presentation subtly aims to marginalise the work of the RSPB and SSPCA in terms of addressing raptor persecution. There is much emphasis placed on reporting incidents to police wildlife crime officers (who he then slags off for being inexperienced and incompetent), but no mention of the ability and experience of these two non-police, non-governmental organisations, one of whom holds the only long-term database of raptor persecution incidents in the country and the other has its own law enforcement capabilities. We’ve blogged about this before when the new PAW Scotland raptor crime reporting protocols were published (see here). Many of us are no longer prepared to report incidents to the police, simply because we’ve had too many experiences of the report being ignored or mis-handled. The discovery of these crimes is a rare event, given the remoteness of most of the crime locations, so we simply cannot afford to have the police cock up the investigation. Yes, there are some excellent police wildlife crime officers out there, some of whom we’ve blogged about on here, but there are also some bloody crap ones. Unless you know who’s who, you run the risk that absolutely nothing will happen as a result of your report. At least if you report it to the RSPB and SSPCA you can be fairly confident that they’ll look into it, and, if necessary, bring in the police. Importantly, they’ll also chase up the police if they find that the investigation isn’t progressing as it should.

There’s nothing we’d like more than to be able to report NWCU successes in the raptor persecution field, but, as the recent Deeside golden eagle ‘investigation’ showed, we are still a long way from being able to do that.

Red kite poisoned, 20 months after its mother suffered the same fate

Poisoned kite photo Marc RuddockA young red kite has been poisoned in County Wicklow in the Republic of Ireland, 20 months after its mother was killed the same way.

The young bird was found in January and tests have confirmed it had been poisoned with both Carbofuran and Alphacloralose – the first time both chemicals have been found in an Irish kite. It’s mother was poisoned with Alphachloralose in December 2011.

The Golden Eagle Trust (the group behind the reintroduction of golden eagles, white-tailed eagles and red kites in the Irish Republic) described the poisoning of two generations of a red kite family as “totally devastating”.

The latest bird (Blue White 21) is the first of 21 Irish-born kites to be poisoned. It was found by a member of the public close to the golf club in the town. The bird was still alive but died shortly afterwards.

News article from Golden Eagle Trust here

News article in the Irish Independent here

2013 wildlife crime conference: Paul Wheelhouse, Environment minister

Paul-Wheelhouse-MSP betternation.orgThe 2013 Scottish Police Wildlife Crime conference took place last Thursday (14th March). Many of this year’s presentations were once again directly relevant to raptor persecution and we’ll be commenting on these in due course.

To start off this year’s blog series, here are excerpts from the Environment Minister’s speech. He started by thanking the organisers etc before moving onto the meaty stuff:

“We’re now more than a year on since the passing of the Wildlife & Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 and my predecessor, Stewart Stevenson, stood here last year and, amongst other things, talked about the new vicarious liability provisions. Now, we’ve not seen any prosecutions under the vicarious liability yet; I think it remains very likely that circumstances will arise in the future when these provisions can be brought into play and we will all be very interested to see how they work out in court.

In the meantime though, I am certain that whilst persecution of wild birds does exist in parts of our countryside, this change in the law has already had a deterrent effect as responsible land managers take a close look at management practices and training for employees and contractors. As Stewart said last year, we’ve never been out to get prosecutions; we just want to see an end to these criminal acts. However, if a conviction is what it takes to make those breaking the law stop, take notice and address their behaviour, then so be it. I shall be keeping an eye on this particular area with interest. A true test of course may be when we see raptors in all areas that should be their natural habitat and a disappearance of these ‘not spots’.

So what’s coming up in 2013? Legislative changes my team of policy officials have been working on which are of relevance to the conference include provisions relating to snaring, and invasive non-native species, and you will be hearing more from Catherine Murdoch about non-native species later today, and Kenny Wilmott from BASC will be talking about the importance of keeping up to date in relation to the use of snares and traps.

2013 will also see the publication of the first government report into wildlife crime. Policy officials are currently working on this and I’m sure it will make for an interesting read and it will no doubt provide a focal point to drive forward the debate on what is a very important topic. What we are looking to achieve with this report is an idea of what wildlife crime in Scotland looks like overall, the big picture if you will. This will not be easy because it’s the first report, there’ll be nothing to compare it with. However, like poisoning maps, once we have a few reports published we will hopefully start to see trends and pictures emerge. It will also be a challenge to compare data from all of the different agencies such as the police, National Wildlife Crime Unit, the Crown Office and the Scottish Government Justice Department. However challenging that may be, it is an extremely worthwhile cause. And unfortunately crimes and any resulting prosecutions don’t fall neatly into calendar years. They also are not always recorded in a manner which allows for obvious interpretation of the charges. So for example, where there is more than one charge, which so often occurs in the lesser charges of wildlife crimes, then the main charge is usually what appears in the records. We’ll therefore be looking to present the data as simply as possible, but with a view to ensuring any comparisons are meaningful, if indeed that is possible. And I’m looking forward to the publication of this report to act as a standard we can use going forward. I will leave the experts to talk to you about the legislative changes across the rest of today, however should you fancy a chat with a policy official over a sausage roll at lunch, please feel free to collar any one of them.

I’d like now to turn to the annual raptor poisoning maps which were published this morning. These maps generate significant media interest and many of you will already have seen the figures. There has been a major drop in confirmed incident numbers recorded for 2012 and this must be welcomed in the warmest possible terms. Whilst any poisoning is unacceptable, the fact that just three birds were confirmed poisoned in 2012 – a golden eagle and two buzzards – must represent progress. This is the second significant drop in two years and we hope it is evidence of the beginning of the end of poisoning of birds of prey in Scotland. We are now, however, facing a critical moment with the maps. The purpose of the maps is to highlight problem areas with an agreed and confirmed set of data, and to build the partnership working within PAW. So, so far we’ve made good progress on those objectives but we cannot now afford to see things slipping back. So let me make it abundantly clear: poisoning cannot be replaced with other types of persecution, and whilst it’s not appropriate for me to elaborate, I was heartened to hear that the police investigation into the 2012 poisoning case for a buzzard has made progress. And it does sicken me that unfortunately, once again, a bird has died as a result of Carbofuran poisoning, but I very much hope to see a positive outcome in that particular case. If we do continue to see a downward trend with the poisoning maps, but there is evidence perhaps of other types of persecution taking its place, as I’ve already said on the record, I will have no hesitation nor indeed very little option but to consider what other measures might be necessary.

optableLast year we lost two golden eagles – one was poisoned, another was found dead in suspicious circumstances, whilst a third which was shot is thankfully in recovery with the SSPCA, and I must thank Chief Superintendant Mike Flynn and his colleagues for their excellent efforts in caring for the eagle so far and I look forward to one day seeing that particular victim of a crime return to good health. These golden eagle incidents generated a huge amount of media and public interest and rightly so, as our golden eagles are part of what makes up our national identity. As a partnership we share a duty of care to work hard to stop wildlife crime and as I stated earlier, we will know if we’ve achieved success when we see the raptors return to areas where they are currently absent. And we must also recognise that this will not happen overnight.

Keeping on the raptor theme, the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, which is a key PAW Scotland group, has been continuing to look at a number of initiatives, latest being a hen harrier action plan. The members of this group have come up with a strategy to look at the status of this species across Scotland and see what can be done to help it recover. Whilst the plan is still being finalised I wanted to draw your attention to it and highlight what work is being done in the background. This is an exciting piece of work and I hope it will build on the partnership working approach by involving all those on the ground in monitoring and reporting on nesting birds. If I’m standing here this time next year, I hope that I’ll be able to give you an update as to what’s been accomplished and that genuine progress is being observed”.

The Minister then went on to discuss other areas of wildlife crime, police reform in Scotland and the Year of Natural Scotland. He ended by thanking everyone for their work and particularly on behalf of “the innocent victims of wildlife crime who clearly cannot speak for themselves”.


It’s tempting to make comparisons between Scotland’s Environment Minister and his UK equivalent. In light of the UK government’s appalling recent attitude towards dealing with wildlife crime, Wheelhouse looks like an environmental god. He isn’t that, but he is certainly a good way further ahead than his contemporaries south of the border. But although comparisons are useful, it’s also important to assess his presentation just within the context of Scottish wildlife crime, and particularly within the field of raptor persecution.

In our opinion, this presentation drew the battle line. Wheelhouse is exceptionally well-informed on the persecution issue (especially for someone who has only been in post for six months), he understands the important details of how these crimes are reported (or not reported) and he seems genuinely determined that raptor persecution will not be allowed to continue on his watch.

Wheelhouse is clearly not fooled by the superficial short-term results of the poisoning maps. He understands that other persecution methods are being used to achieve the same effect. He understands that despite vicarious liability and other measures, persecution will undoubtedly continue. He understands that the only true measure of success will be the return of raptors into areas where currently they are conspicuously absent. He understands the shambolic state of raptor crime reporting and the limitations of the data in their current format. He understands the fury and frustration we all experience when we hear of yet another persecuted bird of prey and he seems to understand that our patience has run out – we simply will not tolerate this disgraceful practice any longer.

Of course, it’s easy to give a rousing speech and to say the things the audience wants to hear. It’s fair to say that most of us have become jaded by the empty rhetoric that’s been heaped on us decade after decade while the raptor killing continues right under our noses. However, to be fair to Wheelhouse, he personally is not responsible for all those previous platitudes and promises. Is he going to be different and stick by his commitment to stamp out persecution? More than with any other Environment Minister of recent years, there is a sense that something is going to happen this time. As always though, it will be the actions that follow the words that we’ll be taking the most interest in. The battle line has most definitely been drawn and now it’s a question of watching and waiting. The next persecution incident is just around the corner…