The #Buzzardgate saga continues. Mr Buzzard Licence Applicant (the one who successfully applied for licences to destroy buzzard nests and eggs to protect pheasants earlier this year – see here) has applied for four more licences, this time to kill (by trapping and shooting) 16 buzzards and three sparrowhawks.
The details of these latest applications (well, heavily-redacted versions) have only been revealed after the RSPB again applied under FoI for the information from Natural England. The RSPB’s Conservation Director, Martin Harper, has published these redacted applications and has written a good blog about them (see here). Well done to the RSPB, and particularly to Jeff Knott (who wrote the FoI requests) and to Martin for publishing the results.
This time, Natural England rejected all four applications.
There are a number of issues that are a cause for serious concern, not least the secrecy of the full application material – given the huge public interest in this issue, and the potential for setting precedents that would allow other licences to be issued, the details should be available for public interest and scrutiny, not redacted under heavy black ink. Martin writes eloquently about this in his blog.
But what interests us the most is the involvement, again, of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO). The latest licence applications were again made by the NGO “on behalf of our member”. We have blogged extensively about Mr Buzzard Licence Applicant and our strong suspicions that he has a recent conviction for possession of banned poisons, including the gamekeepers’ so-called ‘poison of choice’ – Carbofuran (e.g. see here).
Why do we have these suspicions? Well, we know Mr Buzzard Licence Applicant’s real name, and we know that someone with the same name, working as a gamekeeper, in the same region, was convicted for possession of banned poisons. There is a very slim chance, of course, that it is purely a coincidence that Mr Buzzard Licence Applicant shares the same name, occupation and location as the convicted criminal, but there is also every chance that these two people are one and the same.
According to the NGO’s disciplinary policy (available on their website, see here), they ‘automatically condemn any illegal gamekeeping practice’ and ‘In circumstances where an NGO member is convicted in court of a wildlife crime, that person’s membership will automatically be suspended forthwith, pending the decision of the NGO National Committee. The National Committee will at its next meeting decide, in the light of the court’s findings,…..whether the suspended member shall be expelled or re-admitted”. We and many of you (thank you) emailed the NGO after the first buzzard licence had been issued, seeking clarification about whether Mr Buzzard Licence Applicant was a member of the NGO or whether he had ever been previously suspended. The NGO responded with complete silence.
A few days ago, the NGO’s Political and PR Advisor, Charles Nodder, wrote a comment on this blog concerning another convicted gamekeeper (Andrew Knights). Mr Nodder wrote to advise us that he could find no record of Andrew Knights ever being a member of the NGO (see here). We again asked Mr Nodder for clarification about whether Mr Buzzard Licence Applicant had a previous conviction for wildlife crime and if so, how that fitted in with the NGO’s claimed stance of zero tolerance of illegal acts?
Mr Nodder replied: “Sorry but I am not sure what you are getting at here. The NGO is for best practice and against law-breaking. Is that not clear? Please understand that not all people calling themselves ‘gamekeepers’ are members of the NGO.
This website is implacably against raptor persecution and so too is the NGO. We are members of the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime and active participants in the Raptor Persecution Wildlife Crime Priority Group. We supported and publicised the official maps produced earlier this year showing where birds of prey had been confirmed poisoned.
So far as I know, only two members of the NGO (out of 16,000) have ever been convicted of crimes against raptors have both been publicly condemned on conviction and chucked out. The organisation’s disciplinary policy and unequivocal statement opposing raptor persecution are on the NGO website.
The NGO, and the firm stance it is taking on this subject, can probably achieve more in cleaning up game management practice and encouraging people to follow legal routes than any amount of sniping from the sidelines. You should regard us as a key part of the solution, not part of the problem. An organisation to be supported, not attacked.
And on the buzzard licence applicant, we cannot comment on spent convictions any more than you but I can assure you that he has never been convicted of any crime against wildlife”.
It would seem Mr Nodder has chosen his words carefully, but not carefully enough. You see, possession of banned poisons IS considered a wildife crime and in England, this crime can be prosecuted under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. Or perhaps the NGO don’t consider the illegal possession of banned poisons (usually used to illegally poison wildlife) a legitimate wildlife crime?
So, back to the same question. Is the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation harbouring a convicted criminal amongst its membership? And if so, why is the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation allowed to serve on various wildlife crime committees (e.g. PAW and the Raptor Persecution Wildlife Crime Priority Group)? The legitimate members of these committees should be asking the NGO for clarification and transparency on this issue.
What’s the point of sitting around a table to discuss ways to resolve raptor persecution crime if one of those groups is representing someone with a conviction for wildlife crime? Come on RSPB and the other members of the Raptor Persecution Wildlife Crime Priority Group, ask them the bloody question!
We can also ask them the question: Email to – email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Charles Nodder/NGO, does Mr Buzzard Licence Applicant, an NGO member whose application to kill buzzards and sparrowhawks you are supporting, have a previous conviction for possession of banned poisons? If so, how does this fit in with the NGO policy of zero tolerance of illegal gamekeeping activities? Thanks.
By the way, we’re still waiting for a response from the Information Commissioner about whether Natural England can refuse to release the name of Mr Buzzard Licence Applicant because they believe it’s in the public interest to keep it secret (see here). We’ll report on that when we’ve had a response.