Last night’s Countryfile

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.

Duncan Thomas BASCNext 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.

13 thoughts on “Last night’s Countryfile”

  1. The persecution will not stop until the Moorons that own the land and give out the orders to kill raptors are hit where it counts. Money is clearly the only thing they understand and will hurt them if the supply is cut.

    If the penalties are big enough then, maybe, the gamekeepers will split on their bosses.

    The government shows their willingness to control these criminals by almost doubling their subsidy and not having vicarious liability.

    They will not even make the banned pesticides illegal to hold.

    What chance do the raptors have?

    We need a revolution to rid our country of these criminals.

  2. To all those who advocate the introduction of Vicarious Liability legislation in England. It should be borne in mind that although this legislation does shift responsibility for acts of illegal persecution of wildlife from employees to land owners, the law still requires the presence of an eyewitness to the crime (who would be willing to attest before a court of law and not be fearful of losing his or her job, tied home and future employment prospects), and evidence in the form of a carcass. Avoid witnesses by restricting estate access (which already exists), dispose of the carcass in a hole in the ground or a bonfire, and where is the crime? As has already been said, Vicarious Liability legislation is nothing more than another Red Herring from the sport shooting industry/aristocratic/rich land owning class designed to deflect calls for real and meaningful legal control of such criminal activity. While they remain in office, nothing will change for they control everything.

    Mike Watts.

    1. As earlier written in this article a 100 gamekeepers have been convicted , the cases in court always need witnesses, whether theres vicarious liability or not, and it will usually be the rspb who take or get most of the cases, so theres no bother about other folk losing jobs etc, it is definatly a good deterent vl.

  3. Mr Thomas left Lancashire Constabulary after a lot of criticism regarding raptors etc i.e. showing him [Ed: ALLEGEDLY] at a Schedule 1 species nest without any reason for being there and there was conjecture that because he was a shooter he couldn’t be unbiased in pursuit of raptor persecution – His name was also linked with xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx of the eagle owls in Bowland

  4. Typical BBC coverage, blow over the most pertinent facts so the punters don’t get time to let them sink in, don’t put too much emphasis on anything that might be construed as controversial, stand on the sidelines and appear to be fair to both sides. The article to me was rather condescending as a whole, but then I suppose it would seem that way to anyone who knows what’s really happening to our protected wildlife on the shooting estates. I found the piece on Polecats and sheepdogs far more interesting.

  5. I had the misfortune to cross paths with a wildlife crime officer, now retired and making a living as an author and wildlife consultant, while living in one of the Angus Glens. He appeared to be more interested in who was reporting the crimes rather than who was committing them. Furnished with a photographs of an illegal trap the police informed me that a warning had been issued and should it happen again action would be taken. Ten days later, furnished with a similar photograph, date stamped, nothing was done other than him telling a woman that I was the problem, not the trap.
    Now, I don’t tar them all with the same brush as I also knew another retired wildlife policeman in the same general area who was both conscientious and active in his attempts to bring these guys to justice.
    What I saw on Countryfile left me in no doubt as to which ex wildlife officer Duncan Thomas resembled, in rhetoric and mendacity, if not in the choice of flag.

  6. I watched the programme with particular interest as I had been contacted by Countryfile in my capacity as NERF chairman and had a long phone conversation about various aspects of persecution and poisoning in particular, in the end I was not interviewed on camera. I thought Bob Elliot did reasonably well but when asked how widespread is persecution he could have been more robust—- breeding Peregrines on grouse moors in the Yorkshire Dales (NP plus Nidderdale AONB) have not reared young since 1998 and that pattern is repeated from the grouse moors of the Peak District to Northumberland, or hen harriers breeding on those same moors are 30 times more likely to disappear than in non-persecuted populations and based on the satellite information from NE first year survival is ZERO. Then we have Duncan Thomas (man in ridiculous hat), ex police WCO and now BASC. When he was WCO he seemed much keener on the pursuit and restriction of raptor workers than the pursuit of those guilty of Peregrine or harrier disappearance, much of which he quite erroneously put down to over zealous raptor workers without any evidence. We also needed a context, the moor he was on is part of the UU estate in Bowland, yes it has a shooting tenant but in many ways this is run as an RSPB reserve plus shooting. The harrier nests still needed 24 hr watch to keep the neighbours off, yet good old Duncan claimed that this success showed persecution as described by RSPB is rare– Oh that it was! He should have been challenged on that but Tom Heap may not have been given the facts by the researchers–WHY not! Not a word about Sky and Hope gone on a neighbouring estate not long after fledging. Same with Amanda Anderson no challenge when she made ridiculous claims, for most of us brood management is a no go. Even if that were not the case the density suggested of nests at 10km intervals is ONE PAIR PER 314 SQ KM which is 30 times lower than the density grouse moors could support without damage! Not challenged! All they have to do to help harriers is stop killing them! All in all a wasted opportunity to put the grouse industry on the spot, the good guys should have had the last word surely.

  7. The piece should have started with the number of successful hen harrier nests. It would have set the tone for the questioning and alerted viewers to the situation and allowed them to see through the vacuous comments from the “it’s not us brigade”. Instead they closed the piece with it. Pathetic reporting.

  8. An article in The Times has declared, “A decline in grouse shooting has contributed to the loss of curlews, golden plovers, lapwings and other wading birds, a study has found.” findings of the Game and Wildlife Trust, published by the Welsh Ornithological Society, funded by the Moorland Association.

    Sounds dodgy to me?

    But then I found the flaw:

    The report says, “The study, which cites the loss of driven grouse shooting as being a possible reason behind these declines, together with afforestation, changes in upland farming and climate change, identifies that a reduction in vital moorland management for red grouse has been associated with changes in numbers of upland birds.”
    “possible reason” lays the emphasis where they want it, while the other causes are mentioned.

    I have searched the WOS site and find no mention of the publication.

    What will they come up with next?

    Do they employ the same “spin doctors” as politicians. People that can make lies become “truths”?

    I’m not sure this is in the right place and hope that the moderators place it where it should be.

  9. An interesting follow-up to the show can be found on the Countryfile website, in which the RSPB and the GWCT debate the issue of additional laws. Obviously, the GWCT’s Andrew Gilruth is wholeheartedly against the introduction of any law that could target the widespread criminal activity of his shooting industry. One has to wonder why?

  10. Tom Heap, claimed that there is “some evidence that vicarious liability has reduced the illegal killings of birds of prey” – I would say that the “evidence” he speaks of is more to do with the type of lawyer that can be purchased by an estate owner when they are at risk of losing face for the actions of their staff. I would bet that more persecution is covered up in Scotland and less cases actually get to court.

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