Enough is enough

SOCThe latest edition of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club journal, Scottish Birds, dropped through the letterbox the other day. It contains an interesting article from Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland:

Raptor Persecution in Scotland: July 2014 update

The last article on the illegal killing of birds of prey in Scotland written for Scottish Birds (33:1) appeared at the beginning of 2013, a year designated “The Year of Natural Scotland” by the Scottish Government.

The year had dawned with some optimism. For the fourth consecutive year, we had seen detected cases of illegal poisoning decline, and although, again it is important to reiterate that these only represent what was actually found, the apparent reduction in these indiscriminate crimes was welcomed universally. In saying that, yet again, a Golden Eagle was one of the victims, with a satellite-tagged bird found dead in Lochaber in March. But, the year ended with the news that a young pair of White-tailed Eagles from the east Scotland re-introduction scheme had built a nest in an Angus glen, the first breeding attempt in the east of the country for a hundred years.

Within days of the New Year beginning, however, it was discovered that the tree had been deliberately felled, and the nest destroyed. Realism returned quickly. A police investigation was launched. The site was five miles from the nearest public vehicle access. The tree felled was the only one in the whole plantation. Full cooperation from the estate where the nest was felled was assured. Surely it would be easy to identify the culprit?

No. The police requests for information were met with “no comment” responses across the board, from all those employed in the area concerned. While the right to decline to answer questions is enshrined in Scots Law, few would agree that this amounts to “full cooperation”. But, with no suspect identified, that would ostensibly mean the end of the investigation.

Of course, this sad example was not the first time this has happened. Indeed, when it comes to the persecution of raptors, no-one ever seems prepared to say a word that may assist in the identification of the perpetrator.

In late May 2013, two members of the public witnessed the organised “hunt” of a pair of hen harriers that had just started nest-building on an Aberdeenshire estate. For almost three hours, two armed men stalked the protected raptors, guided to where they were perched or flying by a third man, communicating with those on the hill by radio. As darkness fell, four shots rang out, and the men were seen and heard celebrating the killing of the male harrier.

Of course, the killer did not leave the body lying around to be found, but at least there were the two other individuals he was with, fully aware that he had committed the crime. Again the police investigated; again, nobody was prepared to identify the criminal. Again, a raptor killer escaped justice.

This latest case was one of several, including the killing of another harrier, the poisoning of a red kite and shooting of another; and the shooting of four buzzards in other incidents, which led to the Scottish Government Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, to announce further measures to combat these crimes. This included a review of sentences given for convicted wildlife criminals, and instructing Scottish Natural Heritage to implement a means of restricting the use of General Licences (a legislative tool that allows an “authorised person” to kill certain species under specific circumstances eg. allows a gamekeeper to shoot a carrion crow, that would otherwise be protected).

It is perhaps ironic, that just a few weeks earlier, the SOC had been part of a delegation that met with the Minister to handover a petition, officially endorsed by the Club, that contained almost 23,000 names, collected in just over two weeks, calling on him to ensure that Buzzards continued to have full legal protection, and to resist calls made by some in the game-shooting sector to allow licences to control them.

Sadly, despite the Minister’s robust comments, this did not seem to deter those who seem intent on continuing to kill some of our rarest protected birds with further shootings of a red kite and several buzzards. But, on a positive note, a second pair of white-tailed eagles did manage to breed in the east of Scotland, successfully fledging a male chick.

Unfortunately, The Year of Natural Scotland ended, as inauspiciously as it had began, with the poisoning of yet another golden eagle in the Angus glens, just the latest incident of a litany of recent raptor persecution cases in this area.

2014 has been no better, with the massacre of birds of prey on the Black Isle grabbing a great deal of media attention. Twenty-two dead raptors – six buzzards and sixteen red kites – were found dead in a small area of farmland near Conon Bridge. Thus far, fifteen of these have been confirmed to have been the victims of poisoning as a result of consuming bait laced with a banned pesticide.

This incident, quite rightly, attracted universal condemnation, lead to the establishment of a reward fund and resulted in an unprecedented public demonstration in Inverness town centre. But, it is important to put this case into context. It was highly unusual in that it was on lowland farmland, close to a town and in an area frequently and easily accessed by members of the public.

The vast majority of raptor persecution incidents still happen away from the public gaze, in upland areas where visitors are few and where the chances of evidence of the crimes being found is very slim. These incidents may not be seen, the bodies may not be found, but the evidence is clear time and time again – large swathes of Scotland’s uplands managed intensively for driven grouse shooting continue to see virtually no raptors breeding successfully.

It is for this reason that RSPB Scotland is now calling for a robust system of licencing for grouse moors. The grouse-shooting industry has had decades to put its house in order, but has singularly failed to demonstrate that it can operate in harmony with protected birds of prey. Licenses should have sanctions for wrongdoers, with repeat offenders losing their license and thus the right to shoot all gamebirds for set periods. Estates that do practise sustainable management, and obey the law should have nothing to fear.

The one light that had shone from the gloom of 2013 was that first white-tailed eagle chick to fly from a nest in east Scotland for 200 years. It thrived and survived the challenges of its first winter. But that light too was extinguished, when the satellite-tagged bird “disappeared” on a grouse moor in upper Donside. At the same location, four tagged golden eagles have similarly vanished. The only eagle body recovered confirmed it had died due to illegal poisoning.

Enough is enough.

Full reference: Thomson, I. (2014). Raptor persecution in Scotland: July 2014 update. Scottish Birds 34(3): 232-233.

7 thoughts on “Enough is enough”

  1. Gamekeepers and their so called ‘profession’ stink. Those that aren’t actively killing protected wildlife are protecting those that do.

  2. The estates and gamekeepers are so entrenched in their attitudes against birds of prey and all other carrion or predatory animals that they will not stop until the conviction rate is high. They know they can hide in the vastness of the estates.

    Mpney holders seem to condone the crimes committed by their employees and probably order them to be done.

    We need to catch the b*******s.

    Keep watching, record and report anything suspicious.

  3. I think entrenched attitudes from a bygone age is very true.
    I live south of the border and have a neighbour who is an ex-gamekpper who likes to “keep his hand in” to save the community from being over-run with pest & vermin. God knows I’ve tried to convince him that he’s wrong in his belief that it’s the lack of gamekeepers removing predators that’s behind why UK wildlife is suffering. He thinks we need more gamekeepers and despite what the law says, admits to removing a whole range of species he considers pests whilst most people would know better. He knows how to operate where he won’t be seen and heard.
    There is no educating those with such deeply misguided and entrenched attitudes – they think the world is flat and there is no way that anyone is going to convince them that they are wrong.

  4. Without being too much of an apologist for the estates. Full cooperation by a company and by individuals are very different things. A company, which the estates are in this case, can order its employees to fully cooperate, but that simply means they are not to demand search warrants for documents and access to company property. No company can order its employees to give statements if they do not wish to, in fact it would be unlawful for them to even try and may even render any such statement inadmissible in court. Its frustrating, but the estate may (I say may because I have no familiarity with what happened in this case) have fully cooperated in terms of access and evidence on site even if the employees kept their mouths shut. Frankly I’d recommend they’d do that even if they are totally innocent. The jails have plenty of innocent men who tried to help the police in them. Its a terminology conflict, what full cooperation means to a layman is not the same as what it legally means. Sorry :o(

    Having said all that, I hate this bloody sodding nasty mindset within estates, farms, and allied trades, where it is seen as fine to cut a swathe through our wildlife and wave the flag of tradition or just try and justify one of the slickest industrial processes in Europe (the shooting industry) as being under threat. For tuppence I’d staple-gun a set of antlers to the heads of everyone of those keepers, estate managers, and the absentee lairds, turn them out at twilight and tell them we’d be coming for them in the morning. Then as soon as their backs were turned I’d start handing out the night vision goggles…

    Oh, have you seen the latest Countryman magazine (the one with Puffins on the cover) the letters page has some more moaning about badgers, and some people complaining about the previous issue’s hatchet job piece on raptors with some spurious editorial comments in reply to justify them. Again, I’ve no scanner but I can post if you have a snail-mail address. Next month the magazine will be doing a full on editorial on Hen Harriers across the UK, so bet that sucks too. Ach, where’s my staple-gun.

  5. I also have the experience that most people who kill raptors are ´non- rewritable´ harddisks. Education? Useless at a certain age, it´s almost like it´s in their family culture, in their beliefs, in their genes. Just like many people who discriminate, who think violence is OK, who think war is necessary etc. The problem is, that they have a free will of their own and you really need the government to help them stop (a problem on it´s own). The only thing people who are earth-friendly can do, is act, by reporting, demonstrating, helping the animals which suffer, shaking politicians awake. Never stop doing this.

  6. Might be easy for me to say, but if anyone knows someone who boasts of killing wildlife it should be possible to record and report them to the police. Of course nothing may happen and it may have repercussions, but the alternative is to let them get away with it. As Rob says, logic and facts have no impact.

    I am continuing to bombard Paul Wheelhouse with requests to licence grouse moors and go further with detection and prosecution – measured by actual convictions. Might work…

  7. The licensing of Red Grouse shooting estates throughout the UK, not just Scotland is a non starter, the only thing that will stop the diehard Raptor murdering criminals on these estates dead in their tracks is the threat of a complete ban if they don’t toe the line. If they have this hanging over their heads it just might, I say just might start them thinking they had better put a stop to their rampant illegal Raptor persecution activities. But then again, these people are well known for their inability to think straight and are usually directed by their inbuilt instinct to act illegally and kill anything that remotely threatens their Red Grouse and their antiquated Victorian attitudes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s