Wildlife protection laws have had little impact on driven grouse moors

Fearnan Angus Glens Dec 2013There’s an excellent article in the Scotsman today, written by Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland.

He discusses the failure of wildlife protection laws to aid the recovery of several raptor species, including the hen harrier, golden eagle, red kite and peregrine, on land managed for driven grouse shooting.

Read the article here.

On a related issue, Mark Avery’s blog today is all about the e-petition for the licensing of grouse moors and gamekeepers (which ends today) – and hints at the growing frustration of those who have been relying on the authorities to ‘sort out’ the illegal persecution of raptors on driven grouse moors. There’s a particularly pertinent comment from Pete Cosgrove:

Has anyone assessed what other criminal enterprises get ignored by Government in this kind of way?

There’s a definite ‘something’ in the air…


SNH refuses to recommend golden eagle as national bird

Fearnan2Last month, the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee took oral evidence on the petition to designate the golden eagle as Scotland’s National Bird.

Evidence in support of the petition was provided by Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB Scotland) and wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan. The hearing descended into farce when Tory MSP committee member Jackson Carlaw suggested that the eagle was an unsuitable candidate as it was symbolic of the Nazi regime (see our blog here).

The hearing was available to watch on Scottish Parliament TV but for those who missed it, you can read the official report here: Public Petitions Committee official report 28 Jan 2014

The hearing ended with the Petitions Committee agreeing to seek written advice from key organisations including the Scottish Raptor Study Group and SNH.

That written advice has now been submitted.

SNH advice: SNH response to petition 1500 Feb 19 2014

SRSG advice: SRSG response to petition 1500 Feb 23 2014

SNH, the Government’s statutory conservation agency, has refused to recommend the golden eagle to be Scotland’s National Bird. They say it is a contender, but suggest that other species are also worthy of consideration, such as the Scottish crossbill, crested tit, various sea birds, golden plover, curlew, osprey, white-tailed eagle, and wait for it….the red grouse.

Yeah, brilliant suggestion – let’s have the red grouse, a species that is intensively managed on an industrial scale (kept at artificially high densities and repeatedly dosed with toxic medications) across wide swathes of the Central, Eastern and Southern uplands at the expense of every predator with teeth, claws or a hooked beak. Predators that are ruthlessly and systematically killed, both legally and illegally, just so some grouse moor owner can impress his cronies with a large ‘bag’ of dead red grouse.

In stark comparison, the Scottish Raptor Study Group expressly supports the designation of the golden eagle as Scotland’s National Bird and makes clear that this designation would go some way to reducing the current illegal persecution of this species.

SNH (who quite tellingly didn’t once mention persecution in their response) has missed an important opportunity to promote the conservation of the golden eagle and send out a clear message to those who continue to poison, trap and shoot this species as part of grouse-management activities. They have actually sent out a message, just not one that’s fitting of a conservation agency that knows, through its own commissioned research, that this species needs all the help it can get.

The next stage of the petition process will likely be a public consultation. We’ll post links in due course.

Photo of young golden eagle ‘Fearnan‘ taken in his Perthshire nest by Keith Brockie. Two years later (Dec 2013) he was found dead on an Angus grouse moor. He had been illegally poisoned.

Buzzard shot & critically injured in North Yorkshire

North Yorks Police logoA critically-injured buzzard has been euthanised after being found shot earlier this month.

The buzzard was found on Friday 14th February (Valentine’s Day) on Brownmoor Lane in Huby, near Easingwold in North Yorkshire. It had five shot gun pellets in its body and one had shattered its wing.

North Yorkshire Police are appealing for information and can be contacted by phone or email (see here for press release and contact details).

Well done to them for a timely and informative press release (published within 7 days of the injured bird being discovered).

Link between grouse moors & raptor persecution based on ‘ill-informed rumours’, apparently

Fearnan Angus Glens Dec 2013Last month a letter written by Logan Steele was published in the Scotsman, urging the government to introduce a licensing system for grouse shooting estates (see here).

This came on the back of the news that the Scottish Raptor Study Group and RSPB Scotland had written to the Environment Minister to call for estate licensing (see here) following the discovery of poisoned golden eagle ‘Fearnan’, found dead on an Angus grouse moor in December 2013 – the latest in a very long line of victims.

This month, the Scotsman published a response letter, penned by Tim Baynes, the Director of Scottish Land & Estates Moorland Group (a group chaired by Lord Hopetoun [Leadhills Estate] and comprising moorland owners and representatives of GWCT and the SGA – see here).

It’s perhaps then of little surprise to read the content of Mr Baynes’ letter – read it here. Basically, Mr Baynes is suggesting that Logan Steele’s assertions of a strong link between grouse moor management and the illegal persecution of raptors is ‘probably based on ill-informed rumours’.

GE Cons FrThose ‘ill-informed rumours’ no doubt include the following peer-reviewed scientific publications, some dating back over ten years (so the results have been available for a long time), which have all shown a direct link between driven grouse moor management and raptor persecution (and this list is by no means exhaustive – it’s just the ones we have to hand):

Etheridge et al (1997). The effects of illegal killing and destruction of nests by humans on the population dynamics of the hen harrier in Scotland. Journal Applied Ecology 34: 1081-1105.

Stott (1998). Hen harrier breeding success on English grouse moors. British Birds 91: 107-108.

Green & Etheridge (1999). Breeding success of the hen harrier in relation to the distribution of grouse moors & the red fox. Journal Applied Ecology 36: 472-483.

Whitfield et al (2003). The association of grouse moors in Scotland with the illegal use of poisons to control predators. Biological Conservation 114: 157-163.

Hardey et al (2003). Variation in breeding success of inland peregrine falcon in three regions of Scotland 1991-2000. In Thompson et al [Eds] Birds of Prey in a Changing Environment. SNH.

Whitfield et al (2004). The effects of persecution on age of breeding and territory occupation in golden eagles in Scotland. Biological Conservation 118: 249-259.

Whitfield et al (2004). Modelling the effects of persecution on the population dynamics of golden eagles in Scotland. Biological Conservation 118: 319-333.

Whitfield et al (2007). Factors constraining the distribution of golden eagles in Scotland. Bird Study 54: 199-211.

Whitfield et al (2008). A Conservation Framework for Golden Eagles: Implications for their Conservation & Management in Scotland. SNH.

Summers et al (2010). Changes in hen harrier numbers in relation to grouse moor management. In Thompson et al [Eds] Birds of Prey in a Changing Environment. SNH.

Redpath et al (2010). People and nature in conflict: can we reconcile hen harrier conservation and game management? In Baxter & Galbraith [Eds] Species Management: Challenges and Solutions for the 21st Century. SNH.

Smart et al (2010). Illegal killing slows population recovery of a reintroduced raptor of high conservation concern – the red kite. Biological Conservation 143: 1278-1286.

McMillan (2011). Raptor persecution on a large Perthshire estate: a historical study. Scottish Birds 31: 195-205.

Amar et al (2012). Linking nest histories, remotely sensed land use data and wildlife crime records to explore the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations. Biological Conservation 145: 86-94.

Watson (2013). Golden eagle colonisation of grouse moors in north-east Scotland during the Second World War. Scottish Birds 33: 31-33.

Those ‘ill-informed rumours’ must also include all the reported incidents of illegally-killed or illegally-injured birds of prey that have been discovered on grouse moors over the last few decades (see here for a list of reported persecution incidents in the Angus Glens and here for a list of reported persecution incidents in South Lanarkshire).  These lists relate to reported incidents from grouse moors at Glenogil, Invermark, Millden, Airlie and Leadhills but don’t include other grouse moors in other parts of the country where illegally-killed raptors have been discovered, such as Farr & Kyllachy, Moy, Skibo, Cawdor, Corrybrough, Glenbuchat, Cabrach, Raeshaw, Invercauld, Glenlochy, Dinnet & Kinord, Glenfeshie, Dunecht, Strathspey and Glenturret, for example. And again, this list is by no means exhaustive.

Mr Baynes is being disingenuous at best to point to the  fact that two months on from the illegal death of Fearnan there is no evidence to link the crime to anyone on a grouse moor. While his assertion is technically correct, it is not an indication that anyone on a grouse moor was NOT responsible. Viewing one incident in isolation is also misleading – and the results of this police ‘investigation’ are more reflective of ineffective policing than anything else – there are many many examples of this ineptitude and include police actions such as delayed appeals for information (often up to 4-6 months after the discovery of a crime against raptors), issuing cryptic police statements about the type of crime and its location, arriving at scenes of crime in highly visible marked police vehicles instead of a covert entry, and failing to undertake timely follow-up searches of associated land, vehicles and buildings to search for evidence. This police ineptitude, followed by plea bargaining and failures to accept evidence by the Fiscals, means that few of the incidents listed above have resulted in a prosecution (although there are some notable exceptions including convictions of gamekeepers at Skibo, Moy, Dinnet & Kinord, Invercauld and Leadhills).

Added to this mix is the legal advice given to gamekeepers should they find themselves at the centre of a police investigation. This legal advice undoubtedly thwarts any attempt by the police to investigate an alleged raptor persecution crime. This from the SGA to their members:

Accordingly, it is the advice normally given by solicitors to clients that they need make no reply to any allegation and that they should not in fact give any further information than their name, address and date of birth in answer to any police questions“.

This advice is technically correct but is it what the public would expect from an organisation that is purportedly committed to partnership working to stamp out illegal raptor persecution?

We would suggest that Mr Baynes takes some time to read the above peer-reviewed scientific publications that demonstrate a clear and unequivocal link between driven grouse moor management and the illegal persecution of raptors, as well as taking the time to read up on the many reported incidents of raptor persecution on grouse moors, before he writes any more embarrassingly ignorant statements of denial in the national press.

Red kite shot dead in West Yorkshire – police appeal 4 months later

Red Kite shot N Yorks Oct 2013Police are appealing for information four months after the discovery of a dead red kite in West Yorkshire.

The one year old bird was found by a footpath on the River Wharfe between Wetherby and Harewood last October. It had been shot.

The news about this bird’s death emerged via the BBC Look North (Yorkshire) Facebook page a couple of days ago (as highlighted on the Birders Against Wildlife Crime Facebook page).

We’ve looked elsewhere for a press release but can’t find anything, either from October or now, including on the West Yorks Police website and police local community news sites.

What’s the point of waiting for four months before appealing for information? Why, after all the reassurances that ‘wildlife crime is a police priority’, are we still seeing these poor responses?

West Yorks Police have previously been applauded for their reaction to suspected raptor persecution in their area, and deservedly so (see here).


10,000 people petition for licensing of grouse moors in England

HH by Gordon LangsburyAn e-petition calling for the licensing of grouse moors and gamekeepers in the English uplands has reached a significant 10,000 signatures, thus triggering a requirement for the Westminster government to provide an official response.

The petition (see here) was launched almost a year ago by conservation ornithologist John Armitage and it will expire next week on 27th Feb. It was created in response to the continuing illegal persecution of raptors on English grouse moors, particularly the now virtual absence of breeding hen harriers, and reflects a growing frustration that the authorities are simply not doing enough (anything?) to combat the problem.

Although the target was 100,000 signatures (in order to qualify for a potential [but not guaranteed] parliamentary debate), 10,000 signatures means an automatic guarantee of a formal governmental response. This is good news as it keeps the issue ‘alive’ and even if 100,000 signatures had been secured, it might have built up false expectations, especially considering the government’s response to the 300,000+ signature petition calling for a halt to last year’s badger cull – the govt simply ignored all those voices (probably at their peril come the next general election).

In theory this particular petition doesn’t apply to Scotland, although we know that many folk in Scotland did sign it. We have our own lobbying efforts in place, with more and more organisations calling on the Holyrood government to implement a licensing system for driven grouse moors and the gamekeepers that work on them (e.g. see here and here). Our aim is the same as the petitioners in England, and given that many of our raptor species fly back and forth across the political boundary, licensing in England is just as important as it is in Scotland.

Well done, John Armitage, and the thousands of people who were prepared to stand up with him and say ‘enough’.

Hen Harrier photo by Gordon Langsbury

Lordy lordy, new Chairman elected at Scottish Land & Estates

Lord David JohnstoneLord David Johnstone has been announced as the next Chairman of landowners’ group, Scottish Land & Estates. He will succeed the current Chairman, Luke Borwick, in May.

Lord Johnstone owns and manages Annandale Estates (includes commercial game-shooting interests) in Dumfriesshire and is currently a Board Member of SLE.

SLE press release on his appointment here.

We’ve heard from Lord Johnstone a few times in the past, specifically about raptor persecution (in 2008 here, in 2011 here, and in 2012 here).

Senior SGA man calling for complete eradication of sea eagles?

Remember last week when we blogged about the calls from a former Crofting Commissioner, Donnie Ross, for the ‘complete eradication’ of sea eagles (see here)?

Well have a look at the response of George Macdonald, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association’s Development, Education & Training Officer – this is what he posted on his Facebook page (and we got a screen shot before he deleted it):

George MacDonald SGA sea eagles Feb 10 2014

To us, and to others, it seems, this looks like the senior SGA man is endorsing the former Crofting Commissioner’s view that sea eagles (and pine martens) should be ‘absolutely destroyed’.

Mr Macdonald has denied the claims – see here. He says he ‘was meaning that people need to look at the issue’. If that’s what he meant, why not say, “People need to look at the issue” rather than say, “Mr Ross of Leault is absolutely correct with his observations”?

The SGA is a member of the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime, and they are also represented on the PAW Scotland Raptor Group – a consortium of organisations supposedly working towards the eradication of raptor persecution in Scotland (see here).

Is it any wonder that this group has been so utterly ineffective?

Isn’t it time that the SGA was booted off this group?

Birders Against Wildlife Crime

BAWCA new independent volunteer-led campaign group has been formed by five prominent birders and wildlife campaigners in an effort to encourage more birders to become actively involved in reporting wildlife crime.

This seems such an obvious initiative, given, as they say:

  • Every day, thousands of birders go into the field looking for birds;
  • Birders are skilled and alert observers;
  • Birders actively seek out areas that the general public often don’t visit;
  • Birders use powerful optics and many carry either a DSLR camera or a smartphone with a built-in camera.

The new group, Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) plan to launch a website within a few weeks and will provide material on how to recognise a wildlife crime, how to record it so that the chances of a prosecution are increased, and how to report the crime. They’re also planning events, training courses and other initiatives in the fight-back against the wildlife criminals.

For some initial information about BAWC see here, and you can also follow them on Twitter (@birdersagainst) and Facebook.

Gamekeeper convicted for setting illegal pole trap

Ryan Waite setting the pole trap.JPG-400x0Press release from RSPB:

A gamekeeper has been convicted of using an illegal trap on a shooting estate on two occasions.

At Harrogate Magistrate’s Court today (13 February) Ryan Waite, employed as a gamekeeper on the Swinton Estate in North Yorkshire was sentenced on two charges of illegally setting a spring trap between May and June 2013.

Waite had pleaded guilty to the charges at an earlier hearing on December 10, 2013.

However, he had denied that the trap was intended for birds of prey, as alleged by the prosecution, claiming rather that it was for catching squirrels.

The court today ruled that his conduct had been reckless.

He was fined £250 with an additional £105 costs and victim surcharge. 

Following an initial report from the League Against Cruel Sports, on the 2nd June, RSPB Investigations visited Ox Close plantation on the Swinton Estate, North Yorkshire, and discovered a spring trap that had been placed on top of a two-metre high tree stump. These are commonly known as pole traps and have been banned since 1904.

Birds of prey are usually the target of such devices as they use the elevated position as a vantage point and the traps are strategically placed where they will hunt.

RSPB Investigations disabled the trap and then set up covert surveillance of the site to monitor who was responsible and two days later, on 4th June, Waite was filmed re-setting the trap on top of the stump.

As a result of this footage, North Yorkshire Police executed a search warrant, assisted by the RSPB. Although the spring trap had been removed from the pole trap site, it was later found and seized at Waite’s property.  Waite was also caught on camera removing the trap.

Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “It is a disappointing reality that the use of pole traps still occurs in 2013 and that some gamekeepers are continuing to adopt these Victorian techniques. The device was deemed outdated and barbaric in 1904, yet a century on we are still finding these illegal traps being set in the countryside.  Sentencing needs to get tougher to ensure people are deterred from operating such devices in the future.

“We welcome today’s result as it shows that such barbaric practices will not be tolerated in today’s society.”   

There’s a good blog about this case written by the RSPB Investigations Team here.

There’s also an opportunity to view the covert footage showing Waite re-setting the pole trap here

Congratulations to the RSPB Investigations team for another job well done, and to the fieldworkers from the League Against Cruel Sports for identifying the illegal trap and alerting the authorities.

Bowland Betty (1)Swinton Estate has been described as “very well known and highly respected” by the author of The World’s Best Shoots (see here).

Swinton Estate is also ‘very well known’ for being the grouse moor location where hen harrier Bowland Betty’s shot corpse was found in 2012 (see here). Purely coincidental, obviously.

What interests us now is whether convicted gamekeeper Ryan Waite will keep his job, and whether he was/is a member of the National Gamekeepers Organisation. Let’s ask the NGO whether this criminal is from their ranks and if he is, whether they will continue to accept his membership. Emails to: info@nationalgamekeepers.org.uk

UPDATE 14/2: The NGO has issued a statement to say convicted gamekeeper Ryan Waite has never been one of their members (see here).

We’re still interested in whether this convicted gamekeeper will keep his job at the “highly respected” Swinton Estate. Emails to: swinton@stantonmortimer.co.uk