Gamekeeper convicted for pole-trapping offences

tawny owlMark Stevens, a self-employed gamekeeper who worked on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sydmonton Court Estate in Hampshire, has been convicted of setting two illegal traps and has been fined £700 with £650 court costs and a £50 victim surcharge.

Stevens, 42, admitted setting the two pole traps at a pheasant release pen in August last year but claimed he was targeting a grey squirrel that had been eating the pheasants’ food. The traps, which were not set on Lloyd Webber’s estate but on land at nearby Echinnswell, were discovered after a member of the public found a tawny owl hanging upside down with its leg caught in one of the traps. Its leg injuries were so severe it had to be euthanised by a vet.

According to Stevens’ solicitor, the setting of the traps was ‘accidental’.

Well done to the RSPB Investigations Team, Hampshire Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service for securing a conviction.

Pole-trapping has been illegal for over 100 years. Stevens is the latest of a number of gamekeepers recently convicted for this barbaric practice (e.g. see here and here). Unsurprisingly, all of them have claimed the traps were targeting squirrels and not birds of prey (as if that makes a difference).

RSPB Investigations video here (WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT)

RSPB Investigations blog here

News story in Daily Mail here

News story on BBC here


Poisoned bird found on former DEFRA Minister’s grouse moor: why no publicity?

BenyonIn February 2009, a dead raven was found on a Scottish grouse moor. Nothing surprising about that.

The dead raven was sent off to SASA for toxicology tests and their investigation concluded the bird had died from ingesting the banned poison, Carbofuran. Nothing surprising about that.

There wasn’t any subsequent publicity about this incident. Nothing surprising about that.

There wasn’t any subsequent prosecution. That’s kind of what we’ve come to expect so no surprises there, either.

However, this wasn’t just any old Scottish grouse moor. This was a grouse moor on Glenmazeran Estate in Inverness-shire. Glenmazeran Estate is, according to Andy Wightman’s brilliant website ‘Who Owns Scotland‘, owned by the Englefield Estate Trust Corporation Ltd, c/o Englefield Estate Office, Theale, Reading.

According to further information provided by the Who Owns Scotland website, “Englefield Estate Trust Corporation Ltd is a company registered in England No. 02065923. One of the beneficial owners is Richard Benyon, the Environment & Fisheries Minister in the UK Government (data accurate at August 2011)”.

At the time of this poisoned bird’s discovery, Mr Benyon MP was the Shadow Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, until the 2010 general election when he entered Government. He was subsequently appointed the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DEFRA, with special responsibility for biodiversity and the natural environment, amongst other things, until he was booted out in Cameron’s reshuffle in October 2013.

While Mr Benyon was in post at DEFRA, the government sanctioned the controversial buzzard ‘management’ trial and committed £375k of taxpayers money to help support it (see here), although they swiftly backtracked after a huge public outcry against the plan (see here). However, the following year Natural England, acting on behalf of DEFRA, decided to go ahead and issue a licence (to a gamekeeper with a past conviction for wildlife crime) to destroy buzzard eggs and nests to protect pheasants (see here).

Mr Benyon also decided there was no need to introduce vicarious liability to England because “there are very good laws in place to punish the illegal killing of any animal. If they are not being effectively enforced, they must be and we will take steps to make sure that happens. However, this is a good opportunity to applaud gamekeepers for the wonderful work they do in providing excellent biodiversity across our countryside” (see here and here).

Mr Benyon also refused to criminalise the possession of the poison Carbofuran in England (see here and here).

These actions can be seen in a whole new light given what we now know was discovered on Glenmazeran Estate back in 2009.

Of course, the discovery of the poisoned raven on Glenmazeran doesn’t mean that Mr Benyon or anyone else connected with the estate was responsible. Some gamekeepers on some estates are known to place poisoned baits along the boundary of an estate, presumably to make any police investigation that much more difficult and to potentially deflect attention on to someone else. Glenmazeran is not known to us as an estate where frequent raptor persecution takes place, but it is situated in a notorious raptor persecution area and several other estates in the area are suspected to be regularly involved with criminal activity and some of them even have convictions for these offences.

What’s intriguing about the Glenmazeran incident is the complete silence about this case. Did the police (it would have been Northern Constabulary at the time) investigate? Did they search Glenmazeran or other nearby estates? Why didn’t they issue any media statements about this discovery? Would public knowledge of this incident have jeopardised Mr Benyon’s political career? It shouldn’t have, as he was never implicated in the crime, so why was it kept quiet?

What we do know is that the ‘landowner’ (whoever that was) was informed about the crime. This from the SASA report:

Raven found dead in remote area. The analytical investigation established that carbofuran poisoning was responsible for the bird’s death. The police have informed the landowner of the incident but the source of the chemical has not been established“.

Fascinating stuff.

Hello, Westminster!

WestminsterIt seems that somebody in Westminster is spending a lot of time reading this blog. An awful lot of time, actually.

Take a look at the stats from our ClustrMap – this is an app that keeps track of where our site visitors are coming from. It shows a breakdown of all the countries, and then within each country it shows which cities/areas our visitors have logged in from.

The UK visitor stats show 154,070 visits between 14th September 2013 to date. Of those, 48,609 visits have come from Westminster. That accounts for almost almost one third of all UK-based visits in the last ten months.

It’s in sharp contrast to the number of visits from Orkney (3)!

Hmm, can’t think why anyone in Westminster would be so interested, unless of course they have a vested interest in what happens on driven grouse moors in northern England and Scotland….

Ross-shire Massacre: the pig’s ear of an investigation continues

RK5Ten days ago we blogged about the progress (or apparent lack of) being made in the Ross-shire Massacre case, four months on from the discovery of 22 dead raptors in one of Scotland’s worst raptor poisoning incidents (see here).

A couple of days ago, somebody told us that the ‘official’ number of birds confirmed poisoned was now 16 (12 red kites + 4 buzzards), according to Police Scotland.

We found this news intriguing. Did it mean that the remaining six carcasses (4 red kites + 2 buzzards) had not been poisoned?

No. What it turned out to mean was that toxicology tests on those remaining birds are still “continuing”, according to a news report in The Press and Journal (see here).

Still continuing, four months after discovery? Is that because the poison is proving difficult to detect, or is it because the tests have not been given priority? If not, why not?

What a shambles. And that’s only the start of it…..

Previous posts on the Ross-shire Massacre here

Game over: M&S abandons grouse sales

m&s shop frontMarks and Spencer will not be selling red grouse this year after fears of a consumer boycott, according to an article in The Times. (We haven’t read it because we refuse to pay to get past Murdoch’s pay wall but you can read the first few lines here).

[Update: article in Telegraph here, also reporting this story]

This has undoubtedly come about because of the consumer pressure that began last year and has continued this year (from Mark Avery’s blog readers, our blog readers, Ethical Consumer magazine’s readers) and also some behind-the-scenes work from a couple of organisations including the RSPB.

Thanks to everyone who got involved and thanks especially to Marks and Spencer!

Previous blog posts on this issue here, here, here, here and here.

BBC agrees “too many quotes from McAdam”

McAdam 3Two days ago we blogged about some disproportionate BBC coverage given to serial raptor persecution denier, Doug McAdam, CEO of Scottish Land and Estates (see here).

The BBC article in question was about the publication of a new SNH-funded report detailing the recovery prospects for golden eagles in south Scotland (currently clinging on by their talons).

We felt that the article was biased as McAdam was given much more space than the other contributors, and we also objected to at least one of McAdam’s statements in which he tried to downplay the effect of illegal persecution by suggesting it was an historical issue and that the latest government figures show a ‘significant’ decline – which is, as McAdam well knows, patently untrue.

We encouraged blog readers to complain to the BBC and thanks to all of you that did (we reckon, from our site stats, that over 40 of you made the effort). The BBC has now responded:

Thank you for your contact. Your comments were passed to the Editor of News Online Scotland, who has asked that we forward his response as follows:

“Thank you for being in touch about the article called: Golden eagles ‘can return to south of Scotland’ –

Our Environment Correspondent, David Miller, highlighted that a Scottish Natural Heritage report indicated the south of Scotland could once again become a stronghold for golden eagles. He included the views of Prof Des Thompson of Scottish Natural Heritage; Paul Wheelhouse MSP, The Minister for Environment and Climate Change; Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations and Douglas McAdam, Chief Executive of Scottish Land and Estates.

During our routine and ongoing review of articles published, we felt that there were too many quotes from Mr McAdam. As a result, we decided to modify his contribution to the piece. Overall, I am happy that we have reported this story in a fair and balanced way.

Thank you, once again, for taking the time to contact us.”

Kind Regards

BBC Complaints.


So, some success at least, although the modifications that were made did not include the removal of the ‘significant decline’ quote.

Wonder if the PAW Scotland committee members will be having a quiet word with McAdam about the importance of not mis-representing PAW Scotland persecution data….

Ross-shire Massacre: 4 months on

It’s been four months since 22 birds of prey (sixteen red kites and six buzzards) were killed in one of the worst poisoning incidents uncovered in Scotland in recent years.

Here’s the latest information about how the police investigation is progressing:

nothing 2

Great, eh?

The Untouchables get away with it. Again.

Tune in next month for more of the same. Probably.

For previous posts on the Ross-shire Massacre click here.

Golden eagles in southern Scotland: the facts and the fiction

A new report has been published today detailing the recovery prospects for golden eagles in southern Scotland.

The SNH-commissioned report has been written by two undisputed experts (Alan Fielding and Paul Haworth), both of whom were involved with the impressive Golden Eagle Conservation Framework report that was published in 2008.

The report has only just been made available on SNH’s website so we’ve not had a chance to thoroughly digest its findings – although we intend to come back to it in due course.

Having skimmed through it, it looks like a very detailed analysis of the various issues that could affect the recovery of this tiny population (see here for a previous blog entry on the perilous state of the golden eagle population in southern Scotland), including, of course, the effect of illegal persecution. This photo below shows the graphic effect of persecution on golden eagles in south Scotland – this one was found shot and critically injured on a driven grouse moor in 2012 – it later died from its injuries – see here.

Wanlock Head GE Oct 2012

If you haven’t read the new report (and let’s face it, not many people will), you might just base your opinion of it on what has been written in the mainstream media, which would be fine if the media reports were accurate, balanced and didn’t contain any lies.

For example, if you read the BBC report, you’d be forgiven for thinking that golden eagles in southern Scotland are only constrained by impoverished habitat and potentially by climate change, lack of prey (apparently due to a loss of gamekeepers!) and afforestation. You’d read that illegal persecution ‘may have been an historical factor’ but apparently it isn’t any more.

Hmm. Is that what the report actually says? Er, no. The report mentions persecution in several areas (Lowther Hills, Tweedsmuir Hills, Ettrick Hills and Moorfoot Hills) and suggests that it needs to be brought under control if golden eagles are to once again survive in these areas.

So if the report didn’t say that illegal persecution ‘may have been an historical factor’ but apparently isn’t any more, then who did?

McAdam 1No surprises…..Doug McAdam, CEO of the landowners’ organisation, Scottish Land and Estates. We  blogged about SLE’s persistent denial of raptor persecution only yesterday (see here) in relation to comments made by SLE’s Moorland Director Tim (Kim) Baynes during a radio debate. It looks like McAdam was sent the same memo – just deny, deny, deny.

This time, however, we intend to do more than just make fun of him – we’re going to complain to the BBC about publishing such nonsense and we’d encourage as many of you as possible to join in. We’ve even prepared some suggested text that you can simply cut and paste if you’re short of time or not sure what to write. Here it is:

Dear BBC,

I wish to make a complaint about the content of an online article about a new report about Golden Eagles in the south of Scotland:

In my opinion, a disproportionate amount of space in the written article is given over to comments made by Mr Doug McAdam, the chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates. This is in complete contrast to the amount of space given to the comments by Prof Des Thompson “who led the research” and Mr Ian Thomson of RSPB Scotland.

In addition I am very concerned that the comments attributed to Mr McAdam reflect a falsehood that is frequently stated by his organisation and others who have a long-term political agenda to downplay the issue of persecution of birds of prey. Mr McAdam is quoted as saying, “Where persecution may have been a historical factor, it is clear from the official government data – published alongside our partners in PAW Scotland in March – that the number of such incidents has dropped significantly in recent years.”

In fact, the figures published by the Scottish Government show the opposite to be the case. In the Scottish Government’s wildlife crime report for 2012: thirteen birds of prey are listed as being the victims of persecution.

In 2013, twenty three birds of prey were listed as victims:

These figures are nowhere near being indicative of “a significant” decline – in fact they are wholly contradictory of such a claim.

I urge the BBC to remove these erroneous comments from the article, given that they suggest to its readers a picture which is patently untrue.

Yours faithfully, (your name).

Here’s where to send your complaint:  [click on ‘Make a complaint’]

Some links:

BBC news article (and accompanying video) here

SNH press release about the new golden eagle report here

RSPB Scotland press release here

Download the new report here: Fielding & Haworth 2014_Golden Eagles in south Scotland an overview

UPDATE 17.40: Interestingly, the BBC appears to have retracted some of McAdam’s quote, but not the offending part! (Many thanks to those of you have already complained – we can see from our site stats that quite a few of you have done so).

Here’s McAdam’s quote from this morning:

Douglas McAdam, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “We have been involved with Scottish Natural Heritage and other partners in this study since its inception as we felt it was crucial to understand the real underlying reasons why Golden Eagles were struggling in certain parts of Scotland.

This thorough and detailed study makes clear that SNH believes that habitat improvements are needed to encourage more breeding golden eagle pairs in the south of the country. We fully support this conclusion and we will encourage land managers to work in partnership with SNH and other bodies to make improvements to these habitats wherever possible.

Other factors, including climate change, lack of availability of prey base for eagles – often because these areas are no longer actively managed by gamekeepers – as well as expansion of forestry and changing land use may also be inhibiting eagle presence in these areas. Where persecution may have been a historical factor, it is clear from the official government data – published alongside our partners in PAW Scotland in March – that the number of such incidents has dropped significantly in recent years. However, everyone remains resolute that where persecution exists it must be eradicated.

Golden Eagles are iconic Scottish birds, adding greatly to Scotland’s natural landscape and welcomed by estates as part of our natural heritage. This study will add greatly to our understanding of what limits the presence of these magnificent birds and should therefore help us to understand how best they can be conserved.”

And here’s what’s currently online at 17.40: 

Scottish Land and Estates chief executive Douglas McAdam said: “Where persecution may have been a historical factor, it is clear from the official government data – published alongside our partners in PAW Scotland in March – that the number of such incidents has dropped significantly in recent years.

However, everyone remains resolute that where persecution exists it must be eradicated.

Golden Eagles are iconic Scottish birds, adding greatly to Scotland’s natural landscape and welcomed by estates as part of our natural heritage.

This study will add greatly to our understanding of what limits the presence of these magnificent birds and should therefore help us to understand how best they can be conserved.”

Come on BBC editors, get your act together!

“Very little proof” of raptor persecution, says Scottish Land & Estates

There was a radio debate on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme today, with RSPB Scotland Director, Stuart Housden and Scottish Land & Estates’ Moorland Group Director, Tim Baynes.

If anyone still needs evidence that the grouse-shooting industry is in hopeless denial about the link between driven grouse moors and the illegal killing of raptors, this was it.

denial 2

The debate centred on whether there was a ‘need’ for the introduction of a licensed regulatory system for driven grouse moors, as recently called for by the RSPB, both in England (here) and in Scotland (here).

According to Tim (Kim) Baynes, the RSPB’s data on raptor persecution are “out of date” and there is “very little proof” of raptor persecution. In Tim’s world, driven grouse moors are great because waders do a lot better on them than they do on moorland managed by the RSPB. Unsurprisingly, he failed to acknowledge that if you kill every predator that dares to even look at a driven grouse moor then of course waders (and grouse) are going to thrive but at a significant cost to the wider biodiversity, such as that that you’ll find on an RSPB-managed moor. He also tried to use the woeful rate of criminal convictions as evidence  that persecution wasn’t happening, and ignored the massive pile of scientific papers that tell a different story. Oh dear.

It’s astonishing that such a PR-savvy organisation such as SLE has not yet grasped the idea that the recent up-swell of public interest and anger against driven grouse moor management is largely thanks to the shooting industry’s failure to accept that there is an issue.  Ah well, never mind, you keep denying it, Kim – you’re doing wonders for our cause!

Well done Stuart Housden for not guffawing out loud on national radio.

The radio debate can be heard here (01:52:08) for the next seven days.

Dog dies after consuming poisoned bait

dyfed_powysA dog has died after consuming a bait that had been laced with the banned pesticide, Aldicarb.

The dog was being exercised in a popular dog-walking area in the Tanat Valley in Powys, mid-Wales, in May. It suddenly became ill and died within minutes.

Toxicology results have now confirmed the dog had been killed from ingesting Aldicarb on the body of a black-winged bird believed to have been used as a poisoned bait, probably for targeting birds of prey. A red kite was found poisoned with Aldicarb less than a mile away in March 2013 and the police believe the two incidents are connected.

Police are appealing for information and warning dog-walkers in the area to be extra vigilant.

Article in the Shropshire Star here.