‘Are buzzards now vermin?’ asks Country Life magazine

buzzard3The campaign against raptors is relentless. It seems barely a week goes by without someone having a go, whether it be a high profile politician, a high profile journalist, or a high profile [and self-appointed ‘countryman’, whatever that is] – see here for a few examples.

This week, following the astonishing claims of an MSP that the golden eagle reminds people of Nazis and is therefore an unsuitable choice for a national bird (see here), we come back to the more typical claim that buzzards are vermin and need to be ‘controlled’; a view (mantra?) repeated with tedious frequency by those with a vested interest in game-shooting and always, always based on prejudice rather than scientific evidence.

If you can be arsed to read it, it’s here. The first half of the debate is by a gamekeeper in southern England and the second half is by the RSPB’s Conservation Director.

See if you can spot the unintentional irony in the gamekeeper’s article – you’ll find it nestled in between all the inaccuracies.

Does this bird remind you of the Nazis?

Fearnan2This isn’t a spoof, although you would be forgiven for thinking it was.

A Tory MSP today attacked the RSPB’s petition to have the golden eagle formally recognised as our national bird because apparently this species is symbolic of the Nazis.

You really couldn’t make this up.

When Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB Scotland) and wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan were preparing for possible questions at today’s petition hearing at Holyrood, they probably never envisaged such a bizarre, aggressive and frankly absurd attack from Jackson Carlaw MSP, a member of the Public Petitions Committee. They handled it remarkably well.

Carlaw, who bears a striking similarity to Jim Davidson in more ways than one, is a member of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, representing West Scotland (see here).

We’re still waiting for the video of today’s proceedings to be published but when it is, we’ll add a link here so you can watch it yourself.

Meanwhile, just google ‘Jackson Carlaw eagle’ to get a flavour of how the press are reporting it.

The petition itself will now lead to a public consultation in due course.


Golden eagle as Scotland’s national bird: petition hearing today

Fearnan2Back in November 2013, the golden eagle was voted the nation’s favourite wild animal by a landslide majority (see here).

Shortly afterwards, RSPB Scotland launched an on-line petition to have the golden eagle formally recognised as Scotland’s national bird (see here).

The petition (#PE01500) collected 1,836 signatures and was lodged with the Scottish Parliament on 7th December 2013 (see here).

Today, the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee will take evidence in support of the petition from RSPB Scotland and from wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan.

You can watch these proceedings live on Scottish Parliament TV at 09.30hrs by clicking this link.

For those of you unable to watch the live proceedings, we’ll add a link to the archive video when it becomes available (usually within 24 hours of being filmed). This archive video will be available to view for one month. Check back to this post later to find the link.

Photo: Golden eagle Fearnan before he left the safety of his nest. Found poisoned on a grouse moor before reaching his 3rd birthday and a week before this petition was submitted to parliament. Photo by Keith Brockie.

UPDATE 29th JANUARY 2014: See here to find out what happened during this hearing. Unbelievable!

SNH says no to sea eagle control

WTE Mike WatsonA spokesman for SNH has told the BBC that the growing population of Scottish white-tailed eagles should not be a concern, in response to the recent call for sea eagle ‘control measures’ from the National Farmers Union Scotland.

The BBC article (here) reports that the NFUS, in return, appears to be wanting to distance itself from any calls for a cull, (perhaps in response to strong public opinion,  see here) but does still think that relocating individual ‘problem’ birds might be an option.

Quite what they think that would achieve is anyone’s guess – if you create a vacancy in a viable territory then another pair will simply move in; it’s basic ecology.

There’s also an interesting quote from a Skye farmer, who says that scientists [who disagree with the purported number of lamb losses to eagles] “would say anything to support the continuing rise of the sea eagle“.

Hmm, not sure scientists are renowned for ‘saying anything’, are they? Now who was it that claimed that sea eagles might eat small children….?

There was similar anti-sea eagle hysteria whipped up in Perthshire in 2012, when the Courier headlined with: “Farmers distressed by savage sea eagle attack on newborn lamb” (see here). A later post mortem revealed it was more likely the lamb had died from hypothermia rather than a ‘savage sea eagle attack’ (see here).

Expect to see much more of this nonsense until the new compensation scheme has been agreed. Let’s just hope this ignorant intolerance isn’t used as justification to poison, shoot or trap any more of these eagles, nor fell their nesting trees….

WTE photo by Mike Watson

Sea Eagle poll results: 92% against ‘control measures’

SF WTE pollThe results of the Scottish Farmer’s sea eagle poll have been published.

For anyone who missed it, last week the Scottish Farmer conducted a poll on the following question:

“Should the Scottish sea eagle population be controlled?” 

The result? 92% of respondents believed that the Scottish sea eagle population should not be controlled.

What’s amusing about this, apart from the obvious overwhelming support for sea eagles, is the Editor’s note published directly underneath the poll result. It seems that the editor is prepared to dismiss the poll result because he doesn’t think it’s representative of the farming industry’s views.

Now, had the poll result been different, i.e. ‘92% of respondents did believe that the Scottish sea eagle population should be controlled’, do you think the editor would still be dismissive of the result?

Elsewhere in the latest edition is an article on the NFUS meeting with SNH in Oban last week. It’s not that informative in terms of telling us the outcome other than “there were some constructive suggestions for the future” but it did include some information about the farmers’ specific concerns. These were divided into three parts:

1. “There’s not a lot of money in sheep farming and the weather has been particularly tough over the past years“.

2. “The vulnerable population of ground nesting birds, vulnerable sea birds and ground-dwelling mammals such as hares“.

3. “The expansion in the raptor population, which includes white-tailed sea eagles. With all these combined we have got serious conflicts“.

They also claim that, “In Lorne and Mull we are now looking at a population of 90 sea eagles“. Really? There aren’t even 90 breeding pairs in the whole of Scotland! There are, at a stretch, probably no more than 25 breeding pairs in the whole of Argyll, and being highly territorial they will be foraging on their ‘own patch’, vigorously defending their resource from neighbouring pairs and opportunistic transient juveniles. To imply that 90 sea eagles are descending on sheep farms in this area is just absurd.

As we pointed out in our previous blog on this subject (here), it is well recognised, through peer-reviewed science, that some eagles do eat some live lambs (although with minimal impact) but where this does occur then it is fair that the farmer receives compensation. What isn’t acceptable is grossly exaggerated claims of marauding eagles wiping out sheep flocks, ground-nesting birds, sea birds, hares and small children.

It seems that no matter how much evidence is put to them, it’s simply not enough to suppress an inherent prejudice against anything with talons and a hooked beak.


Environment Minister faces more calls for grouse shoot licences

SRSGWell now this is interesting.

The Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) has called for the Scottish Government to introduce grouse-shooting licences. Many of us have been asking for this action for some time, but to hear it from the SRSG is quite something.

The SRSG, which has been monitoring raptor populations in Scotland since the 1980s, is typically quite a restrained yet highly respected organisation, preferring to work quietly behind the scenes rather than make bold policy statements. You know that things are pretty dire when the SRSG is calling for grouse shooting licencing.

So what’s forced their hand? Well, if you read their letter to the Environment Minister (see here, scroll down to 18th January), it seems that the illegal poisoning of golden eagle Fearnan was the catalyst, as it has been for so many of us. But there’s more to it than that…

Take a closer look at their letter. They refer to a claim made by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association last July that gamekeepers are good for golden eagle conservation. We blogged about that claim here, and you really should read it to understand the context of what the SRSG is saying.

The SGA published a map that attempted to portray the notion that golden eagles were doing ok on keepered grouse moors in the East and Central Highlands (notorious raptor black spots). What the SRSG has done is provide some much-needed context to that map.

According to the SGA, there are ‘at least 55 active golden eagle nests’ in these ‘keepered grouse areas’; the SRSG is saying that there are 52 ‘active nests’ in the area, and of those 52, only 8 are on driven grouse moors. Crucially, the SRSG also includes information about the vacant golden eagle territories in the area – information that the SGA conveniently ‘forgot’ to include. According to the SRSG, there are an additional 57 ‘non-active’ golden eagle nests in this area, and 31 of them (54%) happen to be on driven grouse moors.

Hmm. The picture doesn’t look quite so rosy now, does it?

What also impressed us about the SRSG’s letter is their well-thought-out approach to licensing. They haven’t taken the usual route of calling for a blanket ‘estate-licensing’ system. Instead, they’ve proposed a system whereby the licensing would cover individuals as well as land-holdings (estates), thus side-stepping the predictable ploys that would probably be used by the grouse-shooting industry to avoid being licensed.

The BBC has covered this news story today (see here), and it looks like the RSPB has also called on the government to consider further sanctions.

The pressure is mounting.

Naturally, the SGA and Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) have responded against the proposed licensing sanctions (read the BBC article). Predictably, SLE claim that raptor persecution is in ‘significant decline’ – they are, of course, referring to 2012 figures which did show a drop in reported poisoning figures – and conveniently ignored the 2013 figures which show a 100% increase in poisoning. To be fair, the 2013 ‘official’ figures have not yet been released, but they know fine well what they show and they seem determined to ignore them for as long as possible (i.e. until they’re actually published, which will take place at some point this year).

The SGA meanwhile, suggest that there is ‘perpetual over-regulation’ (of estates) – the truth is somewhat different – game-shooting is probably one of the least regulated industries and what regulation is in place is rarely enforced.

Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse has responded to the SRSG’s letter and while he hasn’t ruled out licensing, he still seems to be clinging on to previous measures and wanting to give them time to take effect.

We’ll be blogging next week about Mr Wheelhouse’s response to the SRSG’s letter and his response to all those emails he received over Xmas about the death of golden eagle Fearnan. It won’t make for comfortable reading.

Dead bird & suspected poisoned bait found South Lanarkshire

police scotlandThe BBC is reporting the discovery of a dead bird (species unknown) this morning, found near to a suspected poisoned bait on what has been described as “open ground” in the Carmichael area of South Lanarkshire.

The bait (and presumably the carcass of the dead bird?) has been sent for forensic analysis.

The police are warning the public about the potential dangers of finding animal/bird carcasses and are urging people to report anything suspicious.

This is impressive stuff from Police Scotland – discovery made this morning, press release out by the afternoon. Long may this new approach continue.

BBC article here

It looks like the wildlife poisoners have started the year as they mean to go on….we couldn’t even get through January! This incident will simply add more pressure on an already beleaguered Environment Minister…how many more incidents does he need to see before he takes strong and decisive action?

MSP wants review of legislation concerning game management

Claire Baker MSPTen days ago we blogged about a new parliamentary motion (see here) that had been lodged by MSP James Dornan, concerning the illegal poisoning of golden eagle Fearnan, found dead on an Angus grouse moor in early December.

Yesterday, an amendment to that motion was made by MSP Claire Baker, calling for sufficient police and COPFS resources to address raptor persecution.

She also called for a review of the laws that cover game management to assess whether further measures could be taken against the criminals within the game management industry.

The original motion, along with the amendment, can be viewed here.

Well done, Claire Baker MSP. Hmm, the first step on the road to estate licensing? It’s long overdue.

Talking of long overdue (although technically he has until 31st Jan so it’s not overdue, it just feels like a very long time), has anyone yet had any response from the Environment Minister regarding the illegal poisoning of golden eagle Fearnan? We understand that hundreds of people bombarded his inbox just before Xmas, and indeed over the Xmas break, following the news of Fearnan’s death (see here). We’re looking forward to hearing what he has to say…or more to the point, what he intends to do.

Fearnan Angus Glens Dec 2013

Case against Stody Estate gamekeeper Allen Lambert: part 3

scales of justiceA case management hearing was heard today at Kings Lynn Magistrates Court regarding the remaining charges against Stody Estate gamekeeper, Allen Lambert.

In December 2013, Lambert was charged with seven alleged offences including the killing of 14 buzzards, 1 sparrowhawk and 1 tawny owl (see here).

Lambert, 64, of Old Lodge House, Stody, Melton Constable, Norfolk pled guilty to storing the pesticides Mevinphos and Aldicarb but denied killing and possessing the dead birds.

His case was adjourned today and is expected to continue in February 2014.

Leadhills Estate: “no plans to sell”

leadhills-contributedLast week we blogged about a forthcoming meeting at Leadhills Village Hall to discuss a proposal for a community land buyout scheme at Leadhills (see here).

That meeting took place on Saturday 18th January 2014 and a ‘community company’ has now been formed with the purpose of registering an interest in Leadhills Estate. [The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 provides an opportunity for rural communities to buy land. If a rural community is interested in buying land, the community can register an interest in buying the land, then if the landowner decides to sell, the community has first choice to buy that land – see here for further information].

However, a spokeswoman for Leadhills Estate is reported to have said there are no plans to sell.

Last September we blogged about the Leadhills Estate shooting lease being up for sale (see here). It would appear that the lease is still available, according to the listings on Savills website (see here). We wonder what’ll happen if nobody comes forward to take on the 10-year lease?

There’s an article in today’s Herald about the Leadhills community meeting that took place on Saturday (see here). We’re reproducing it here as the Herald likes to limit access to its on-line paper so there are some who may not be able to read the article on the Herald’s website. Here is the article:

A community is looking to buy-out all or part of a huge sporting estate amid claims more could be done to support the local population.

A packed public meeting in the village hall of Leadhills, in the hills of South Lanarkshire, has agreed to investigate a potential buy-out under land reform legislation.

This could give the community the right to first refusal if all or some of the Leadhills Estate comes on the market.

However, they do not have the absolute right to buy like crofting communities enjoy whether the owners want to sell or not.

For centuries the Leadhills Estate had been owned by the family of Lord Hopetoun. His main base is Hopetoun House on the outskirts of Edinburgh which is regularly cited as one of Scotland’s finest stately homes and is now owned by a charitable trust.

But Leadhills is run primarily for grouse shooting and has been linked to wildlife crime. Its sporting rights over 11,500 acres are being offered for lease for a 10-year period along with a head keeper’s house and up to six under keepers’ houses – price on application.

Many among the 350 people who live in and around Leadhills believe the estate could work better for the community.

As the name suggests, the area was a major lead mining centre, until the industry’s decline in the 1930s. Local people looked to the Highlands and Islands where their counterparts had taken control of their own destinies and most of the 500,000 acres now under community ownership. It was decided to see if something similar might work in Leadhills.

Freelance illustrator Andrew Foley, who attended the weekend’s meeting with his wife, said the houses in the village were “cradled in the middle of the estate”.

“The general feeling of the group that has put the community buyout proposal forward is that they would like a greater stake in that land.

“There was a lot of interest and there was a majority who wanted to investigate this. But I got a sense there were also some who were not totally on board,” he said.

Meanwhile Anjo Abelaira, who works freelance in the marketing and tourism sectors in Scotland and Europe, said: “I came here five years ago and fairly quickly realised there was a general feeling that the estate could provide a lot more opportunities for the local community than it did.

“A few of us got together and started to talk about what more could be done with this amount of land so close to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

“We had a lot of ideas from tourism to hydro to farming, instead of it just being for shooting playground. It is the size of the island of Guernsey, so it should be able to offer more than it has done as just a sporting estate.”

He said 57 people had signed forms agreeing for a community company to be formed with the purpose of registering an interest in the estate. This is well over the 10% legally required and a steering group has now been set up.

A spokeswoman for the estate said: “Leadhills Estate is very much part of the community and has always welcomed the opportunity to support local initiatives.

“Leadhills is a productive farming estate and grouse moor and marketing for a new sporting tenant is well underway. The Trustees are very much committed to Leadhills, have an ongoing programme of investment and there are no plans to sell.

“We are, however, interested in discussing ways in which all interested parties can work together to stimulate greater economic growth in the area.”