Barn owl shot, red kite poisoned

Cheshire Consabulary logoCheshire Constabulary are appealing for information after a series of wildlife crimes, including the shooting of a barn owl, swan and heron, and the suspected poisoning of a red kite.

The crimes took place at Risley Moss Nature Reserve in Warrington, Cheshire, “in recent weeks”.

No further details available.

Article in the Warrington Guardian here.

New study suggests that killing crows is mostly pointless, most of the time

crows in trap Walter BaxterYesterday saw the publication of a new scientific research paper entitled: A review of the impacts of corvids on bird productivity and abundance. The paper is available for free download here.

If you want to skip over the technical details, the authors have helpfully issued a press release which provides a more general overview for the more casual reader. It reads as follows:

A MURDER OF CROWS?

They steal, raid nests, and keep the company of witches. But the unpopular crow may not be as big a menace as people think.

A new study has found that crows – along with their avian cousins the magpie and the raven – have surprisingly little impact on the abundance of other bird species.

Collectively known as corvids, these birds are in fact being menaced by mankind in the mistaken belief that removing them is good for conservation.

The new study was led by researchers at the University of Cape Town and published this week in the leading ornithological journal Ibis. It found that in the vast majority of cases (82 percent), corvids had no impact at all on their potential prey species.

“Many nature lovers have been distressed to witness a crow or magpie raiding the nests of their beloved garden songbirds, stealing their eggs or eating their defenceless chicks,” said study co-author Dr Arjun Amar from the Percy FitzPatrick Institute for Ornithology. “Although this predation is entirely natural, these observations can be upsetting to witness and often leave people wondering if these predators might be reducing bird numbers.”

“However, our global review suggests that we should be cautious before jumping to conclusions over the impacts these species may have. Just because a predator eats something occasionally does not always mean that they have an impact,” Dr Amar said.

The study, the first of its kind, reviewed all published evidence on whether predation by corvids actually reduces the overall breeding performance of birds or, more importantly from a conservation perspective, reduces their numbers. Data were collated from 42 studies of corvid predation conducted across the globe over the last sixty years.

Not only were corvids unlikely to have any impact on their potential prey species, if there was an impact it most often affected the breeding success of the prey species rather their subsequent numbers. Half of cases found that corvids reduced breeding success whereas less than 10% of cases found that they reduced prey numbers in the long term.

“These results have big implications for the likely benefits of corvid control,” Dr Amar said. “They suggest that killing corvids will be of most benefit to those interested in gamebird shooting rather than conservationists.” He added: “Bird hunters are usually most interested in increasing numbers of birds available to shoot immediately after the breeding season and this appears to be where corvids have most impact”. “Conservationists on the other hand, are usually interested in increasing a species population size and our results suggest that only in a very few cases did corvids have an influence on this aspect of their prey,” Dr Amar said.

The review analysed the impact of six corvid species on a variety of prey species including gamebirds, songbirds, waders, herons, cranes, sea birds, waterfowl and raptors. The 42 studies incorporated into the review included 326 cases of corvid – bird prey interaction Most of the data stemmed from field research in the UK, France and the United States. The impacts were determined partly by comparing bird counts before and after corvids were either removed or their numbers reduced.

The review also found large differences between the impacts of crows, historically considered the most ‘cunning’ corvid, and magpies which are sometimes killed by home owners hoping to protect songbirds in their gardens. Crow species were six times more likely to have an impact on bird prey species than Magpies.

Mistaken assumptions about corvid predation were possibly explained by the birds’ diurnal nature and the fact that they are conspicuous nest predators: “Their importance in prey population regulation is often assumed prior to any assessment of the evidence,” the study warned.

Chrissie Madden, the lead author on the paper, hoped that the review would challenge the perception that all corvids were bad, thereby preventing needless killing: “Our results suggest that this is a mistaken belief and that generally speaking people would be wasting their time killing corvids to increase bird numbers”.

“Overall therefore, our study points to the fact that we are often too quick to jump to the conclusion that crows and magpies may be the cause of bird population declines,” she said.

END

SNH logo 2The paper itself is an interesting bit of science, but of more interest (to us at least) is the potential application of the research results. Basically, this review paper has shown that in the vast majority of cases, corvids (including crows and ravens) have little effect on their prey populations, and thus this raises an important question about the validity (and legality) of Government-issued General Licences which allow the mass killing of corvids, supposedly for the purposes of ‘conserving wild birds’.

General Licences have long been an issue of concern to conservationists, and we have blogged about this a lot (e.g. see here & scroll down through the posts and links). General Licences are routinely used by gamekeepers and land managers for the largely unregulated practice of killing so-called ‘pest’ species, especially corvids, in Larsen traps, clam traps and crow cage traps, or by shooting them. However, General Licences are not permitted to be used to kill ‘pest’ species for the purposes of protecting surplus stocks of gamebirds, even though that is exactly what gamekeepers have been doing, although they don’t admit to that – they simply claim they are ‘controlling vermin’ to protect wild birds such as waders.

How will SNH deal with the results of this latest study, given the overwhelming evidence that corvid predation isn’t having a significant impact on wild bird species in the majority of cases?

Don’t expect a quick response from SNH. We are still waiting for them to deal with other concerns that have been raised about the use of General Licences, some of which were raised in a publication dating back 15 years:

dick-stronach-1999-use-abuse-misuse-of-crow-traps

Interestingly, SNH has recently announced that their suite of 2015 General Licences will shortly (this week) be published on their website, WITHOUT conducting a public consultation and WITHOUT any substantive changes to their 2014 licences. Robbie Kernahan (SNH licensing dept) said:

From our previous consultations and discussions on the GL suite, I think we have a good understanding of the key issues and your outstanding concerns relating to General Licences“.

So that’s ok then. SNH understands the key issues and concerns but has decided not to address them. Brilliant.

Although, they are apparently addressing one aspect of trap use and have been conducting a questionnaire survey of trap-users (see here). As we blogged at the time, asking trap-users for a truthful account of their activities is, frankly, ridiculous. We all saw quite graphically last week, with the conviction of gamekeeper George Mutch, how some of these trap-users are operating.

We’ll be re-visiting this topic in the New Year.

Photo of trapped corvids by Walter Baxter

News round up

news 2There’s been a lot of interesting articles in the news media over the last few days. Unfortunately we’ve been too busy to blog about these in details so here’s a quick round up:

Balmoral’s nature award dismissed as a PR stunt

Balmoral, the Queen’s estate in Aberdeenshire, has won a “coveted award” (according to SLE) that recognises ‘exceptional work on game and wildlife management’. The estate has received accreditation under the Wildlife Estates Scotland’ (WES) banner – a scheme that was set up by Scottish landowners’ representative body Scottish Land & Estates in 2010, suspiciously timed to coincide with the Scottish Government’s then consideration of introducing estate licensing under the WANE Act (we blogged about it here).

However, WES has been described by environmentalists as “a mutual admiration society” and “little more than a public relations campaign that lacks credibility”. Balmoral’s award is difficult to understand given that five natural features on the estate (ancient Caledonian pine forest, bog woodland, blanket bog, dry heaths and wet heathland) have been categorised as being in ‘unfavourable condition’ by SNH.

Full story on Rob Edward’s website here.

If Prince William wants to be a conservationist then he must stop shooting

Simon Barnes has written an excellent piece in the Independent about Prince William’s recent statement on his visit to the US about zero tolerance on international wildlife crime, particularly elephant & rhino poaching. Barnes puts in to words what many of us are thinking – that if Prince William wants to be a credible ambassador for wildlife conservation (which would obviously be a good thing) then he must first address the criminality associated with driven grouse shooting in the UK (a pursuit in which he and other Royals participate). Full story in the Independent here.

Sporting estates criticised for failing wildlife in the Cairngorms

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has been reviewing moorland management practices within the Park and has highlighted many issues with which it’s unhappy. These issues are largely associated with the type of intensive management implemented by landowners to increase the number of grouse that can be shot each season. They include the illegal killing of birds of prey (an issue on which the CNPA spoke out against earlier this year, see here), the mass culling of mountain hares, bulldozing too many hill tracks, erecting fences across hillsides, and poorly managed heather burning.

The CNPA is concerned about the cumulative effects of these practices and their effect on wildlife within the Park. Grouse moor management is a dominant land use within the park, currently covering 44% of the land area. The CNPA suggests that this figure may need to be reduced in order to protect wildlife.

Full story, including a link to the CNPA’s report, on Rob Edward’s website here.

Britain would be big enough for the hen harrier and the grouse if it weren’t for politics

Charles Moore (not to be confused with Charlie Moores from Birders Against Wildlife Crime) has written a dull piece in the Telegraph which is basically just him slating the RSPB (yawn) and essentially claiming that hen harriers would be doing just fine if only the RSPB would leave the discussion re: brood management / shut up / go away. Interestingly, he cites some comments from a former RSPB employee (Alex Stoddart) to try and justify his criticism of the RSPB. He ‘forgot’ to mention that said former RSPB employee just happens to now work as the Ass Director of the Scottish Association for Country Sports (SACS) and who seems to have a bag of chips and a bottle of ketchup on his shoulder when it comes to the RSPB and other conservation charities – see here.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that Charles Moore likes a spot of grouse shooting – another fact he ‘forgot’ to mention in his article.

For anyone interested, Martin Harper (Conservation Director RSPB) has responded to Moore’s criticisms here.

Hare coursers’ cars are crushed after being seized by a court

An article on the Cambridge News website informs us that police seized two cars that were being used by hare coursers and that the vehicles have now been crushed after being confiscated by the court. Wouldn’t it be great if this tactic was applied to the vehicles of raptor killers….there’d be a few Landrovers and quad bikes heading for the crusher…

Scottish gamekeeper George Mutch: guilty on all 4 counts

George MutchThis is an historic day in the battle against the raptor killers.

Scottish gamekeeper George Mutch, 48, of Kildrummy Estate, Aberdeenshire, has been found guilty on all four charges, including the illegal killing of a trapped goshawk, which he clubbed to death, and the taking of two other birds, a goshawk and a buzzard.

No-one will be surprised to learn that yet another gamekeeper has been convicted of illegally killing raptors; Mutch is the 28th gamekeeper to be convicted of wildlife crime in the last three years alone (see here). The big surprise in this case has been the Sheriff’s ruling that the covert video footage, filmed by RSPB Scotland, was admissible evidence. This alone was a significant ‘win’ for those of us who have been exasperated, for years, that this type of evidence has been consistently rejected by the Crown Office, thus allowing The Untouchables to be, well, untouchable. Especially when covert video surveillance has been consistently used in England to secure convictions in similar cases.

So what prompted the change of heart? Undoubtedly, the efforts of former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, who said in July 2013 that he would be urging the Crown Office to consider the use of video footage in cases against those committing wildlife crime.

According to our journalist contacts, COPFS prosecutor Tom Dysart’s performance in court was dynamite, pressing for the admissibility of the video footage and then later shredding the evidence of defence witness Hugo Straker from the GWCT. He also then shredded the evidence of Mutch, resulting in the Sheriff saying that Mutch’s evidence was ‘not credible’ and that his explanation for killing the goshawk (because it was injured) was “a convenient lie”. We never thought we’d say this but Tom Dysart apparently played a blinder. Long may it continue.

The video nasty in this case, showing Mutch trapping and then clubbing the goshawk to death, can be viewed here. WARNING – CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES.

Sheriff McPartlin will pass sentence in January and has already said he is considering a custodial sentence. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, the SGA has put out a fascinating press statement. It turns out that Mutch was an SGA member and apparently “his membership of the SGA has been in suspension for some time, until the outcome of the case was known. Now that it is, he will no longer be a member of the SGA“.

That’s interesting. Mutch committed his crimes in 2012, but according to the SGA’s 2013 silent auction booklet, the SGA accepted a fundraising donation from Kildrummy Estate, with George Mutch listed as the contact:

SGA Silent Auction Booklet 2013 (see Lot #17)

So not only was the SGA still accepting donations from this estate the year after the crimes were committed, but it’s also apparent that Mutch was still employed by Kildrummy Estate after he’d committed those crimes. Fascinating.

The SGA’s statement continues:

On the separate, theoretical, issue of the use of covert video evidence, it is clear to us that it should not be acceptable for individuals from one particular profession to be under surveillance in their place of work, without their knowledge, and to have their right to liberty and privacy from such encroachment, removed.

If this is to be the direction of travel, it is not right for Scottish Government to deny people whose livelihoods come under pressure due to the activity of certain species or animals, recourse to a legal solution to solve that conflict.

Currently, there are no legal or scientific means by which people can protect their investments or jobs in situations exacerbated by conflicts with species. Scottish Government has never granted anyone from the game industry a licence to protect investments, which they have the power to do, although it does grant licences routinely to other industries. This, in our view, is a barrier to justice and does nothing to prevent wildlife crime.

In a society supposedly enlightened when it comes to tackling this issue, we believe this is untenable and we will be seeking talks with Scottish Government so that this anomaly is finally closed, removing once and for all the rationale for people to commit wildlife crime.”

So, the SGA doesn’t agree with the use of covert video footage to convict those within the gamekeeping industry of wildlife crime. Why ever not? Surely, they’d be thrilled to root out those individuals who are causing so much damage to the industry’s reputation? By their reaction, you’d be forgiven for thinking that that’s not the case at all. And as Mutch was an SGA member when he committed his crimes, what does that tell us about the SGA’s ability to provide adequate training for its members? They even admit that Mutch is the 5th SGA member in three years to have been convicted!

And then they go into the usual whine about how wildlife crime would stop if only the Government would issue licences to allow the killing of protected species, (although they don’t actually mention the word ‘killing’ – instead they say “licence to protect investments”). The bottom line is, if the leisure industry of killing millions of gamebirds is reliant on the killing of protected species then that industry has had its day.

This case has taken over two years to conclude. We had thought that because the crimes were committed in 2012, before the vicarious legislation was enacted (1st Jan 2013), that there wouldn’t be a vicarious liability prosecution because we didn’t think it could be applied retrospectively. However, one of our legal friends has since advised us that there still may be a vicarious liability prosecution as long as it’s lodged within the three-year time frame from the date the offence was committed (August 2012). So potentially then, if the Crown deems it appropriate and they get it in before August 2015, we could have another vicarious liability prosecution on the cards.

For now though, let’s just enjoy the successful conviction of another raptor-killing gamekeeper, and acknowledge the work of the people who got it to this stage. Huge congratulations to the RSPB Scotland Investigations Team, the SSPCA, Police Scotland, COPFS, Sheriff McPartlin and former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse. Real partnership working at its best.

Media coverage:

RSPB press release and video here

BBC news here

STV news here (this one is amusing!)

Reporting Scotland here [6.25 – 8.40] (this film only available for 24 hrs)

Herald here

George Mutch trial: sheriff rules video evidence admissible

scales of justiceSheriff Noel McPartlin, presiding over the trial of gamekeeper George Mutch (Kildrummy Estate, Aberdeenshire) yesterday ruled that the RSPB’s video footage is admissible.

His ruling was based on his view that the footage in question was a by-product of a legitimate survey (in to the use of crow cage traps) rather than the camera being placed with the sole intention of filming someone committing a criminal act.

This ruling doesn’t mean that covert video footage will be acceptable evidence in all criminal proceedings; each case will have to be considered based on its specific circumstances. But in this trial at least, the video evidence has been ruled lawful.

That is a big result. More often than not, this sort of evidence has not been accepted in Scotland, although it is routinely accepted in England. Credit is due to the Fiscal, Tom Dysart, and especially to former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse for all the political pressure he piled on to the Crown regarding the use of video evidence in wildlife crime prosecutions.

After two days of legal wrangling and following Sheriff McPartlin’s decision, Mutch’s trial got underway ‘properly’ yesterday, i.e. the evidence (video) was shown in court.

One recording filmed on August 14th 2012 showed a goshawk being caught inside a Larsen trap, which had been set inside a pheasant pen. A live Jay was being used as the decoy bird [illegally – the General Licences do not allow a Jay to be used as a decoy species in a Larsen trap]. Mutch was filmed approaching the trap the next morning at around 6am.

Prosecution expert witness David Anderson, a Conservation Manager for the Forestry Commission, was asked to tell the court what he could see in the footage, which was filmed in misty conditions. He said the man appeared to pick up an object to pin down the bird. “Then I saw the man got the bird, pulled it out and dispatched it with a stick or whatever they had in their hand”.

Another recording showed Mutch walking in to a crow cage trap (also set inside a pheasant pen) and catching a goshawk that had been caught in the trap. The bird was placed (alive) inside a white sack and removed from the cage.

Mutch has denied all the charges against him.

The trial continues at Aberdeen Sheriff Court and hopefully it’ll conclude today.

George Mutch trial: Sheriff to rule on admissibility of video evidence

scales of justiceThe sheriff presiding over the trial of Scottish gamekeeper George Mutch is due to rule today on the admissibility of covert video footage.

Mutch is accused of several offences relating to the alleged killing or injuring of two goshawks and a buzzard that had been caught inside traps in August 2012. He has denied the charges. The evidence against him is based on covert footage collected by RSPB Scotland.

Mutch’s trial began on Monday, after months of adjournments, but so far the trial has focused on whether the evidence is admissible. The defence advocate, Mark Moir QC, has argued that the footage is inadmissible because the RSPB has an agenda against the use of crow cage traps and didn’t have the landowner’s permission to film. The prosecution (Tom Dysart from COPFS!) has argued that the evidence should be deemed admissible because the RSPB were filming as part of a research study.

Sheriff Noel McPartlin is due to rule on the question of admissibility today. Whatever his decision, it will have significant ramifications for not only this trial but also for future potential prosecutions.

News articles on this trial here and here.

First vicarious liability prosecution: part 4

scales of justiceCriminal proceedings continued yesterday against Mr Ninian Robert Hathorn Johnston-Stewart in the first known vicarious liability prosecution under the WANE Act 2011.

Mr Johnston-Stewart, the landowner of Glasserton & Physgill Estates, is charged with being vicariously liable for the criminal actions of Glasserton gamekeeper Peter Bell, who was convicted in 2013 of laying poisoned bait which killed a buzzard (Carbofuran), and for possession of three banned pesticides (Carbofuran, Strychnine and Alphacloralose) (see here).

Yesterday’s intermediate diet was continued, with another intermediate diet scheduled for 23rd December 2014.

Previous blogs on this case here, here and here

Case against gamekeeper George Mutch: part 13

scales of justiceThe criminal trial of Scottish gamekeeper George Mutch is set to re-start today.

Mutch, of Kildrummy Estate, Aberdeenshire, is accused of a series of offences relating to the capture and subsequent killing or injuring of a number of raptors, alleged to have taken place in August 2012. He has denied the charges.

This case has dragged on for over two years. Eventually a trial date was set for October 2014 but it was quickly adjourned after the defence QC argued that the presiding Sheriff shouldn’t hear the case as she was a member of the RSPB (see here).

Presumably there’ll be a different sheriff in court today; one with absolutely no connection whatsoever with game-shooting, eh?

New venue announced for 2015 Scottish Birdfair – hurray!

Scottish BirdfairRSPB Scotland has announced its new venue for the 2015 Scottish Birdfair – Levenhall Links, east of Edinburgh.

Thank god they’ve finally ditched Hopetoun House, the controversial venue that hosted the Birdfair for the last three years.

The controversy centred on Hopetoun’s relationship with the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in South Lanarkshire – a driven grouse moor with a shocking record:

2003 April: hen harrier shot [prosecution failed – inadmissible evidence]

2003 April: hen harrier eggs destroyed [prosecution failed – inadmissible evidence]

2004 May: buzzard shot [no prosecution]

2004 May: short-eared owl shot [gamekeeper convicted]

2004 June: buzzard poisoned (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 June: 4 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 June: crow poisoned (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 February: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 April: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 February: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 March: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 April: dead buzzard (persecution method unknown) [no prosecution]

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 May: poisoned egg baits (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: poisoned raven (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: 6 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: poisoned egg bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 September: 5 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2007 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2007 April: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2007 May: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2008 October: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2008 October: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2008 November: 3 x poisoned ravens (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2009 March: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2009 March: poisoned raven (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2009 April: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [gamekeeper convicted]

2009 April: poisoned magpie (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2009 April: poisoned raven (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2010 October: short-eared owl shot [no prosecution]

2011 March: illegally-set clam trap [no prosecution]

2011 December: buzzard shot [no prosecution]

2012 October: golden eagle shot (just over boundary with Buccleuch Estate) [no prosecution]

2013 May: shot otter found on estate [no prosecution]

2013 June: significant cache of pre-prepared poisoned baits found on estate [no prosecution]

2013 August: red kite found shot and critically-injured in Leadhills village [no prosecution]

2014 February: poisoned peregrine (Carbofuran) [‘Nr Leadhills] [no prosecution]

Why RSPB Scotland ever thought that holding their prestigious event at Hopetoun House was a good idea remains a mystery – we blogged about it extensively and the RSPB’s decision to stay there caused many visitors, exhibitors and speakers to boycott the event (see here for an overview).

So we’re delighted, as probably are many others, to hear that the 2015 Scottish Birdfair will be at a new venue – Levenhall Links – a place with no known links to driven grouse shooting or any type of wildlife crime. Well done, RSPB Scotland.

RSPB press release here

Scottish Birdfair website here

RACCE committee writes to new Environment Minister re: wildlife crime

RACCEYou’ll recall last month that the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment (RACCE) Committee took evidence on wildlife crime, following the publication of the Government’s 2013 annual report on wildlife crime in Scotland.

We blogged about the evidence given by Police Scotland and the Crown Office (here) and the evidence from (now former) Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse (here).

We said at the time that the RACCE Committee were a pretty well-informed bunch and, with the publication of their letter to the new Environment Minister Aileen McLeod, we continue to be impressed.

It is clear from their letter that they are no push-over, and that they intend to hold the Minister, as well as Police Scotland and the Crown Office, to account. Good on them!

The letter sets outs their views on the issues that were discussed during the two hearings. These include their continuing concerns about the inconsistent presentation of data in the annual wildlife crime reports; their concerns about recorded wildlife crimes being ‘the tip of the iceberg’ and how this needs to be addressed; continuing concerns about police under-resourcing; and a suggestion that PAW Scotland should include incidents of poison baits and illegal traps in their annual wildlife crime mapping exercise. Excellent stuff.

There is a rather pointed comment about Police Scotland’s last press release on the Ross-shire Massacre, basically agreeing with the general view that their press release was ridiculous (although they’re a bit more diplomatic than that, obviously). Talking of that press release, has anyone had a response from Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham about his claim that other agencies had supported that press release (see here)? We haven’t heard a word from him, even though he was asked for information on 31st October – we’d be interested to know if anyone else has received a reply or if ACC Graham is ignoring everyone? If he is, then we’ll be encouraging you to contact the Information Commissioner to seek a review.

Staying on the Ross-shire Massacre for a minute, there’s also a claim in the RACCE’s letter that Police Scotland undertook “a full review” of the inquiry, including the investigative approach, the media strategy and the forensic investigation, and that “this process has involved partners including RSPB Scotland and the SSPCA”. Really? Disppointingly, the RACCE Committee didn’t ask to see the results of that “full review” and instead just commented that “once the case has concluded, Police Scotland and PAW Scotland are asked to consider what lessons are to be learned for the future”. Let’s be realistic here – this case isn’t going to ‘conclude’ – it’s been nearly nine months since 22 raptors were killed in a mass-poisoning with a banned poison and nobody has been arrested, let alone charged. The lessons need to be learned now, not in three years time when everyone has forgotten about it.

The letter also includes the Committee’s concerns about the poor detection and conviction rates associated with wildlife crime, and suggests that these crimes are “insufficiently prioritised” by COPFS. We’re greatly looking forward to the publication of a forthcoming report that will examine, amongst other issues, the detection and conviction rates of some wildlife crimes in Scotland. The report is due out shortly and apparently there’ll be a presentation on its findings at the BAWC Wildlife Crime Conference in March. Should be interesting.

All in all then, a promising letter from the RACCE Committee and we’ll wait with interest to read the new Environment Minister’s response.

Download the letter here: RACCE letter to Env Minister re Wildlife Crime Dec 2014

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