Last night’s Countryfile featured a section on raptor persecution and was actually fairly well balanced, in terms of the amount of air time given to both ‘sides’ of the debate.
First up was Bob Elliot, the RSPB’s Head of Investigations. He talked about the effect of persecution on certain raptor populations and the need for better legislation, vicarious liability, estate licensing and greater penalties for those convicted of illegally killing raptors. It was a well-delivered performance.
The presenter, Tom Heap, claimed that there is “some evidence that vicarious liability has reduced the illegal killings of birds of prey” in Scotland. Rubbish. That’s what the landowners would like everyone to believe because then it makes it more difficult for the Government to introduce even further measures against them. As the (now former) Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse said recently, there isn’t any evidence to suggest that vicarious liability has reduced raptor persecution. Indeed, the latest Government statistics show that raptor killing is actually back on the increase in Scotland, which demonstrates that so far, vicarious liability is not having the deterrent effect that we’d all like.
Next we heard from a poor guy whose dog had died after it had minimal contact with a poisoned bait whilst out on a walk on a Yorkshire moor. This was followed by North Yorkshire Police Wildlife Crime Officer Gareth Jones, who discussed another poisoning incident he’d investigated that involved a poisoned fox, crow and two red kites. This was a bit strange because he mentioned that a local gamekeeper had put out a poisoned rabbit bait to target a fox that had been eating his pheasant poults and that the keeeper hadn’t intended to kill the kites, only the fox. But then we heard that there wasn’t enough evidence to make a ‘definitive link’ to the culprit and so there wasn’t a prosecution. Eh? If the keeper had admitted putting out the bait to target a fox, surely that’s the link? If the keeper hadn’t admitted targeting the fox, how did the Police know the kites hadn’t been deliberately targeted? Very odd.
Next up was Duncan Thomas from BASC. What he had to say was quite interesting, but not as interesting as what he didn’t say (or maybe he did say and it was just edited out). For context, it’s worth bearing in mind that before joining the BASC payroll, Mr Thomas was a Police Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer with Lancashire Constabulary, and his patch included the Forest of Bowland, a well-known raptor persecution hotspot.
We were told that he’d been involved with game-bird shooting at Bowland for 20 years and he was filmed waxing lyrical about one of this year’s successful hen harrier nests in Bowland. But no mention of the ‘disappearance’ of two of the nest’s sat-tagged fledglings, Sky and Hope, both vanishing without trace on the Bowland moors just a few weeks after fledging (see here and here).
When asked about the RSPB’s call for game-shooting leaders to acknowledge the role of gamekeepers in raptor persecution, Mr Thomas said:
“I think that some of the press releases are quite unfair and they don’t represent a true and accurate picture of what goes on here. If you show me direct evidence that leads to the conviction of a gamekeeper for doing that then those people are not welcome within our community. All the shooting organisations, their stance is very clear, we would expel them from any of our organisations“.
So here we have a former police officer claiming that the only convincing measure of criminal activity is a conviction! On this basis, the UK should be considered as a virtually crime-free zone. All those murders, rapes, assaults, burglaries etc for which nobody has been convicted simply didn’t happen because, er, there weren’t any convictions.
Oh, and all that guff about convicted gamekeepers not being welcome….that’s simply untrue. A classic example is the gamekeeper who was convicted for having a banned poison in his vehicle, home and pheasant pen, and yet went on to enjoy the support of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation who helped him to apply successfully for licenses to destroy buzzard nests and eggs to protect his pheasants!
Mr Thomas was then asked how he felt “when the RSPB seems to be tarring the whole shooting industry“. He said:
“Frustrated. And angry. The RSPB appears to be using some EXTREMELY isolated cases to colour us all bad“.
Hmm. Those ‘extremely isolated’ cases actually amount to over 100 gamekeepers convicted of raptor persecution between 1990 – 2010. Not what we’d call ‘extremely isolated’. Our definition of ‘extremely isolated’ would be if, say, a District Nurse had been convicted. There she was, trundling over the uplands on her way to see another patient when she decided to pull over, whip out a shotgun from her medical bag and take a pop at a passing hen harrier. If that had ever happened, then it would clearly be seen as an ‘extremely isolated’ incident and not at all indicative as being representative of her entire profession. But over 100 gamekeepers? Well, those facts speak for themselves. In fact, in the last four years alone, a further 27 gamekeepers have been convicted of wildlife crimes, and at least a further five cases are currently pending. Knowing how difficult it is to actually secure a conviction for wildlife crime, these can only be considered the tip of the iceberg. Here are the latest 27:
Feb 2011: Gamekeeper Connor Patterson convicted of causing animal fights between dogs, foxes and badgers.
May 2011: Gamekeeper Ivan Mark Crane convicted of using an illegal trap.
May 2011: Gamekeeper Ivan Peter Crane convicted of using an illegal trap.
May 2011: Gamekeeper Dean Barr convicted of being in possession of a banned poison.
May 2011: Gamekeeper James Rolfe convicted of being in possession of a dead red kite.
June 2011: Gamekeeper Glenn Brown convicted of using an illegal trap.
October 2011: Gamekeeper Craig Barrie convicted of illegal possession & control of a wild bird
Dec 2011: Gamekeeper Christopher John Carter convicted of causing a fight between two dogs and a fox.
Dec 2011: Gamekeeper Luke James Byrne convicted of causing three animal fights and possession of three dead wild birds (heron, cormorant, buzzard).
Jan 2012: Gamekeeper David Whitefield convicted of poisoning 4 buzzards.
Jan 2012: Gamekeeper Cyril McLachlan convicted of possessing a banned poison.
April 2012: Gamekeeper Robert Christie convicted of illegal use of a trap.
June 2012: Gamekeeper Jonathan Smith Graham convicted of illegal use of a trap.
Sept 2012: Gamekeeper Tom McKellar convicted of possessing a banned poison.
Nov 2012: Gamekeeper Bill Scobie convicted of possessing and using a banned poison.
Jan 2013: Gamekeeper Robert Hebblewhite convicted of poisoning buzzards.
Feb 2013: Gamekeeper Shaun Allanson convicted of illegal use of a trap.
Feb 2013: Gamekeeper (un-named) cautioned for illegal use of a trap.
May 2013: Gamekeeper Brian Petrie convicted for trapping offences.
June 2013: Gamekeeper Peter Bell convicted for poisoning a buzzard.
July 2013: Gamekeeper Colin Burne convicted for trapping then battering to death 2 buzzards.
Sept 2013: Gamekeeper Andrew Knights convicted for storing banned poisons.
Dec 2013: Gamekeeper Wayne Priday convicted for setting an illegal trap.
Feb 2014 Gamekeeper Ryan Waite convicted for setting an illegal trap.
May 2014 Gamekeeper Derek Sanderson convicted for storing five banned poisons.
July 2014 Gamekeeper Mark Stevens convicted for setting illegal traps.
October 2014 Gamekeeper Allen Lambert convicted for poisoning 11 raptors, illegal storage and use of pesticides & possession of a poisoner’s kit.
The final contributor to the Countryfile piece was Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association, discussing DEFRA’s proposed Hen Harrier Recovery Plan and the ridiculous ‘brood management’ scheme, which we believe is nothing more than legalised persecution. We are supposed to believe that the Moorland Association loves hen harriers (ahem) and that the recovery plan would help prevent hen harriers “eating themselves out of house and home“. Good god. Somebody send her on a basic ecology course, please.
This episode of Countryfile is available on BBCiPlayer for 29 days here.
The petition to ban driven grouse shooting is here.