Ross-shire Massacre: police confirm banned poison involved

RK7The following statement has just been released by Police Scotland:

Police Scotland Highland and Islands Division are seeking to reassure the public that enquiries are still ongoing into a wildlife crime investigation regarding the death of birds of prey in the Ross-shire area.

The 22 birds (sixteen red kites and six buzzards) were located in the Conon Bridge area and following analysis of the birds’ remains, fifteen have been confirmed as having digested an illegally-held poisonous substance (twelve red kites and three buzzards). Post mortem examinations and toxicology work continues into all the birds seized.

Police Scotland is continuing to work in close collaboration with partner agencies. Landowners and farmers in the local area are also continuing to assist police with their ongoing enquiries.

Police are keen to speak to anyone who has any information about the incident and would encourage them to contact Police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.


So, finally, they’ve managed to confirm that a banned poison was involved. About time, too. They still haven’t named it, but the “illegally-held poisonous substance” will be one (or more) of those named on the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005. These are:

Aldicarb, Alphachloralose, Aluminium Phosphide, Bendiocarb, Carbofuran, Mevinphos, Sodium Cyanide, and Strychnine.

Now, which industry hates raptors and is known to have a close association with these banned poisons…let’s think hard….erm….

It actually doesn’t matter that the police haven’t named the poison(s). Just knowing it’s a banned poison and not a ‘mystery virus’ or an ‘accidental poisoning’ is enough to put a halt to what has recently looked increasingly like a coordinated campaign to associate the deaths with the feeding regime at the RSPB’s Tollie Kite Feeding Station rather than focus attention on the specific area where the poisoned victims, along with poisoned bait, had been found.

It’s funny, isn’t it, that of all the speculation that’s been aired, nobody seems to have wondered about whether there’s any (legal) ‘vermin control’ being done on those farms around Conon Bridge. Perhaps done on a casual basis in return for access for a spot of pheasant shooting by a small shooting syndicate? But then that’s such an obvious angle of inquiry, the police must have covered it months ago…..right?

The number of confirmed poison victims has reached 15 (it really is like pulling teeth trying to get information about this incident) and the police ‘investigation’ continues…..

Previous blog posts on the Ross-shire Massacre here

Natural England says no to buzzard-killing licence

buzzard 3A couple of days ago we learned that Natural England had received a licence application to permit the capture and killing of ten buzzards (well done to the RSPB for getting the info – see their blog on the subject here.)

The licence application was made by somebody who had applied for licences before and the justification for wanting to trap and shoot ten buzzards was to prevent so-called “serious damage” to pheasant poults.

Natural England has just made the following announcement about this year’s application:

Decision on buzzard control licence

On 23 April 2014 Natural England received an application for a licence to cage trap and shoot ten common buzzard (Buteo buteo) in the vicinity of a site which has experienced loss to pheasant poults in recent years.

The application had been made by the operator of a pheasant rearing and shooting business on the site and is supported by the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation. After careful consideration, Natural England has concluded that the application does not meet the criteria that would permit lethal control to be licensed.


Unlike last year, so far this year we haven’t seen the actual licence application, although we strongly suspect that this year’s licence applicant is the same individual as last year, working with the help and support of the National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO). We blogged a lot about this gamekeeper last year, and particularly about his previous criminal conviction for poison offences and questioned why the NGO were still supporting him instead of booting him out of their club for being a convicted wildlife criminal. Astonishingly, we were told that they hadn’t booted him out because the NGO apparently doesn’t see poison offences as either a ‘game-keeping activity’ or a wildlife crime! We also learned that having a wildlife crime conviction was no barrier to applying (and receiving) a licence from Natural England to destroy protected wildlife (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here). The whole affair was illuminating, to say the least, and that’s without even going in to the arguments against killing a protected native species in order to protect an exotic, introduced species that is bred and released into our countryside by the tens of millions every year so that they can be later shot for ‘sport’.

Today’s announcement is very welcome news indeed, although most (all?) of the game-shooting lobby will disagree. We expect them to launch a judicial review of Natural England’s decision, as they threatened to do last year if they didn’t get their way. That might be quite interesting, especially when they get to the bit where they’re asked to provide scientific evidence about the ‘serious damage’ caused by buzzards….

UPDATE 7pm: The NGO has issued a statement about Natural England’s decision (here). In it, they claim the gamekeeper involved is “close to financial ruin”. Here’s a tip for that gamekeeper – if your business is reliant on the killing of protected species, it ‘ain’t viable in the long term. Try another ‘profession’.

Ross-shire Massacre: RSPB denies ‘accidental poisoning’ claims

Tollie Red Kite CentreThe Ross-shire Massacre fiasco continues, with yet another claim that the 22 dead red kites and buzzards were ‘accidentally poisoned’ by contaminated meat put out at the Tollie Red Kite Feeding Station.

This latest claim was made by a local farmer (who wishes to remain anonymous) who believes the birds were fed sheep carcasses containing legal treatments used to prevent fluke, which can be toxic to birds.

The claim has been strongly denied by RSPB Scotland (see here).

It’s not the first time this claim has been made. Jamie McGrigor MSP gave credence to it when he mentioned it during a parliamentary debate last month (see here), although he did admit it was based purely on rumour.

We think the claim is as plausible as the ‘mystery virus spoof‘ we wrote in response to Conon Bridge farmer Ewan MacDonald’s suggestion that the birds had been killed by a ‘mystery virus’. Incredibly, there were some people who actually believed the spoof, and thus it follows that there will be some who are gullible enough to believe the ‘accidental poisoning’ claim, just as there are those who believe the ridiculous claims that gamekeepers don’t put out poison baits – they’re just the victims of an elaborate set-up designed to blacken their reputations; set-ups that apparently include planting poisoned carcasses as well as planting jars of poison in gamekeepers’ vehicles, game bags, out-buildings and even in their homes.

Far more plausible is the suggestion put forward by the RSPB’s Red Kite Officer, Brian Etheridge, that the Ross-shire Massacre was caused by “somebody who knew what they were doing” when they placed small poisoned baits in various locations around Conon Bridge (see here). It has previously been reported that poisoned bait had been found at the crime scene, and, given the small area of farmland in which the majority of the birds were discovered, the poison was obviously fast-acting and highly toxic. Hmm, whatever could it be?

Meanwhile, as speculation rages, Police Scotland remain tight-lipped about their ‘investigation’. Two weeks ago they managed to say that 14 of the 22 dead raptors were now confirmed to have been “illegally poisoned” (11 red kites and three buzzards) but they were still apparently waiting for post mortem results on the remaining eight victims – see here. They are still refusing to name the poisons discovered by SASA scientists during their toxicology analyses, because the investigation is apparently ‘ongoing’.

Two and a half months down the line, nobody has been charged.

Previous blogs on the Ross-shire Massacre here.

Sea eagle poisoned in Northern Ireland: police appeal for info one year later!

WTE Mike Watson2Last week, at the end of May 2014, the Police Service of Northern Ireland issued a vague press release calling for information about the discovery of a poisoned white-tailed eagle in the Armoy area of Northern Ireland. Toxicology results revealed the bird had been killed by the banned poison, Carbofuran.

The thing is, this bird was discovered in April 2013 – over a year ago – and yet this is the first time the PSNI have published anything about it.

Here’s what their press release said:

“Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of a sea eagle.

During April 2013 police received a report from a member of the public regarding a dead sea eagle found within the Armoy area.

Subsequent toxicology reports confirmed Carbofuran poisoning to be the cause of death.

Carbofuran is a banned substance which is highly toxic and poses a serious risk to public health and safety.

Police are appealing to anyone with information in relation to this incident to contact them on the new non-emergency number 101″.

It’s not known if this was an adult or a juvenile bird, or whether it was from the Kerry reintroduction project in SW Ireland or whether it was a Scottish bird.

It’s also not known whether this appalling delay was due to the toxicology lab, or whether it was due to the police, or both. It’s not the first time that such chronically long delays have occurred here – see here and here for previous blogs. Whichever agency is responsible, it’s shocking that it has has taken over a year for an appeal for information.

It’s worth asking some questions about this. Let’s email the following people to ask about why it has taken so long to (a) appeal for information about this crime, and (b) warn the public in the Armoy area of Northern Ireland about the serious risk of a banned and highly toxic poison lying around in the countryside:

Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan (who incidentally has recently pledged improved action against wildlife crime – see here). His email address:

Minister for Agriculture Michelle O’Neill (who is directly responsible for overseeing the process of toxicology sampling). Her email address:

The local police office of the Armoy area:

Photo of a white-tailed eagle by Mike Watson