Number of poisoned raptors in Scotland more than quadrupled in 2014

Persecution map 2010 to 2014 - CopyThe Scottish Government has today released the annual poisoning and persecution maps relating to crimes against raptors in 2014.

The accompanying press release is a careful study in damage limitation. We can’t blame them – it must be a constant source of embarrassment for them that raptor persecution continues with virtual impunity so of course they’re going to put out a statement that showcases the positives (there aren’t that many) and plays down the negatives (there are many).

The basic premise of their press release is that reported raptor crimes (incidents) have dropped from 23 in 2013 to 19 in 2014. Sounds like progress, eh? But wait – what if you look at the actual number of persecuted raptors – that tells a completely different story!

Let’s ignore the different types of persecution crimes (e.g. shooting, trapping, disturbance) for a minute and just start with poisoning. Here are the Government’s official number of reported poisoning incidents for the last three years:

2014: 6

2013: 6

2012: 3

So on the face of it, no change from last year and still double the number of reported incidents in 2012. But now let’s look at the number of reported individual raptors that were poisoned over those three years:

2014: 27 (17 x red kite; 7 x buzzard; 1 x peregrine; 2 x unknown because Police Scotland hasn’t released the data)

2013: 6 (1 x red kite; 4 x buzzard; 1 x golden eagle – data from Scot Gov annual report on wildlife crime)

2012: 3 (2 x buzzard; 1 x golden eagle – data from Scot Gov annual report on wildlife crime)

That’s quite an increase, isn’t it? Three reported in 2012, 6 in 2013 and a whopping 27 reported in 2014. Does that sound like raptor poisoning in Scotland is in decline? Nope, it shows that the number of poisoned raptors actually quadrupled in 2014.

However, the Government doesn’t agree that 27 raptors were poisoned in 2014. According to their data, only 16 raptors were poisoned in the Ross-shire Massacre (12 red kites + 4 buzzards). They seem to have conveniently forgotten that 22 dead birds were found, not 16. Even Environment Minister Aileen McLeod ignores the ‘missing six’ and just refers to the poisoned 16 in today’s press release! Sure, there may only be toxicology reports for 16 of those victims – we don’t know the cause of death for the remaining six victims because Police Scotland hasn’t bothered to tell us. But surely they and the Scottish Government aren’t trying to convince us that the remaining six victims (four red kites + two buzzards) weren’t poisoned at all, but that they all just happened to die of natural causes at the same time and in the same fields as the other 16 poisoned birds? Come on. Why try and diminish the extent of such an appalling crime?

And, once again, the poisoning maps exclude other crimes where bait was discovered but with no apparent raptor victim. We know of at least one of these incidents that occurred in 2014 – a poisoned rook found in January close to a poisoned rabbit bait and a poisoned hare bait (Carbofuran & Chloralose) (here). Why doesn’t this count?

Now let’s have a look at the other types of raptor persecution crimes reported in 2014. These include shooting, trapping and disturbance. According to the Government’s data released today, there were 8 reported shootings, 2 reported trapping offences, 1 reported disturbance incident and 2 listed as ‘other’.

Interestingly, they’ve excluded incidents where satellite-tagged raptors have (un)mysteriously disappeared in known persecution hotspot areas, such as the young white-tailed eagle (see here) and several others that Police Scotland has so far chosen to keep under wraps.

They’ve also excluded incidents where illegally-set traps have been found but without an apparent raptor victim. Again, the police have chosen to keep these under wraps. Why don’t those count?

So let’s now look at the Government’s ‘official’ three-year figures for all types of raptor persecution incidents in Scotland (including poisoning, shooting, trapping, disturbance, and ‘other’):

2014: 19

2013: 23

2012: 13

As we said at the beginning, on a superficial level it appears that reported raptor persecution incidents have declined since 2013, although we now know that the Government has excluded several known incidents, and we also know that these are only the reported crimes – many more will have occurred but weren’t detected. But let’s have a look at the number of known raptor victims during that three-year period:

2014: 40

2013: 23

2012: 13

That’s pretty clear then. Illegal raptor persecution continued in 2014 and the number of (known) victims rose considerably from the previous year and the year before that.

What an utter disgrace.

Scottish Government press release here

Scottish Government’s persecution maps and background data can be downloaded here:

Scottish Gov background raptor persecution data (released 31 Mar 2015)

More publicity needed for wildlife crime-related subsidy withdrawals

VL subsidy removal Sunday Mail 22 March 2015 - CopyRegular blog readers will know how difficult it is to find out whether farms and shooting estates that have a proven link with wildlife crime have had any of their agricultural subsidies withdrawn as a result of their non-compliance with the subsidy regulations.

A good example is the ridiculous on-going saga of Stody Estate in Norfolk – blog readers have, for the last six months, been asking the Rural Payments Agency about any potential subsidy withdrawal, ever since their gamekeeper Allen Lambert was convicted of poisoning 11 birds of prey last October (see here for blog posts). We’re still non the wiser.

You’d think, given the potentially large sums of money involved, that the authorities would be shouting about these penalties from the rooftops. The realistic threat of having thousands of pounds of public money removed from your business is an excellent deterrent and is far greater than the typically pathetic fine imposed by the criminal justice system.

Another case in point is that of Ninian Johnston Stewart, the first landowner in Scotland to be convicted under the vicarious liability legislation. Johnston Stewart received a puny £675 fine for his crimes (see here). His gamekeeper, Peter Bell, convicted of poisoning a buzzard and having a stash of banned poisons capable of killing 10,000 birds received a £4,450 fine. Johnston Stewart’s miserable fine is hardly likely to see other landowners quaking in their tweeds.

However, in March we were able to blog about Johnston Stewart’s subsidy penalty, which amounted to almost £66,000 (see here). Now THAT’S a deterrent!

But where did we get this information from? We didn’t read about it in a Government press release. We didn’t read about it in the mainstream media. Nor did we read about it on SLE’s website.

The place we found it was in the RSPB’s Legal Eagle newsletter; an excellent publication but one of specialist interest that is probably mostly only read by those with a special interest in crimes against birds of prey.

Here it is: Legal Eagle 75 March 2015

Since then, we’re only aware of a couple of other publications that have mentioned it. One, authored by RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations Ian Thomson, appeared in another specialist journal, Scottish Justice Matters Vol 3(1). This can be downloaded here:

SJM Vol 3 March 2015

The other publication that we’re aware of was much more mainstream – the Sunday Mail (22nd March 2015) had a headline-grabbing article, ‘One poisoned buzzard costs landowner £65k’.

We were pleased to be quoted in this piece, as follows:

We welcome this landmark conviction, though the criminal sanction of a £675 fine was derisory and offers little deterrent to other potential offenders. However, the civil sanction of almost £66,000 subsidy removal is a more fitting deterrent and as such we’d like to see improved transparency and publicity when these sanctions are imposed“.

Well done to the RSPB for getting the info out there in the first place, and thanks to journalist Billy Briggs for reading this blog and taking the story to a wider audience.

Michael Johnston convicted for possession of banned poison

scales-of-justiceMichael James Johnston has been convicted at Dumfries Sheriff Court for possession of a banned poison.

Johnston, 45, of Pretoria Road, Eastriggs, Dumfriesshire, was disturbed at Dryfesdale Gate Farm in Lockerbie in April 2014. The Police were called and they found the banned poison Strychnine in his vehicle.

Strychnine is one of eight poisons banned under the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005. The other seven substances are Aldicarb, Alphachloralose, Aluminium phosphide,  Bendiocarb, Carbofuran, Mevinphos and Sodium cyanide. All eight poisons are known to have been used to poison wildlife. Anyone caught in possession of any of these can face fines of up to £5,000 and/or a six month custodial sentence.

At a hearing on 23rd March 2015 Johnston was fined £400.

Previous blogs on this case here and here.

Case against Scottish gamekeeper William Dick: trial update

scales-of-justiceThe trial of Scottish gamekeeper William Dick has been continued at Dumfries Sheriff Court.

Dick, 24, of Whitehill Cottages, Kirkmahoe, Dumfries is accused of bludgeoning a buzzard with rocks and then repeatedly stamping on it. The offences are alleged to have taken place in Sunnybrae, Dumfries in April 2014. He is also accused of alleged firearms offences. He has denied the charges.

Dick’s legal representative in court is Brian McConnachie QC, who has been described as ‘one of the country’s leading defence lawyers’.

The trial will continue on 2nd April 2015.

Previous blogs on this case here, here, here, here, here, here, here


Henry’s Tour: Day 4

Fri 27th March - Copy

Today Henry is visiting the Chatsworth Estate in the Derbyshire Peak District.

The bloke who lives in this mansion is called Peregrine and his late mum used to go grouse shooting with the late Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

Henry sky-danced all over the front lawns but unfortunately there weren’t any females around to see him.

So lonely.

Henry’s tour: day 3

Thurs 26th march sml - Copy

Today Henry is dancing around the National Trust’s High Peak Estate looking for a girl.

And wondering why he doesn’t feature as a ‘Sentinel of the Moors’ on that National Trust sign. Here’s what it says:

The strange cackling call of the red grouse

The mournful wail of the golden plover

The bubbling cry of the curlew

These sounds symbolise the wild mystery of the moors.

If you are lucky you might see a merlin, dashing low over the heather, or a short-eared owl floating ghost-like in the mist.

These birds inspired myths and legends in the past.

Today they tell us how important this fragile landscape is for some of our most threatened wildlife.

The National Trust is managing the habitat so visitors can enjoy forever the sights and sounds of this special place.

Meet Henry the Hen Harrier

Henry Peak District grouse moor (2) - CopyMeet Henry. Henry is a 6ft-tall Hen Harrier who’s very, very lonely. He’s struggling to find a mate because most of his potential girlfriends have been bumped off on grouse moors. Henry is flying around the British Isles in search of a significant other and you can follow his progress as he posts daily photographs from his travels. He’s being accompanied by several burly minders to protect him from those who’d like to shoot, trap or poison him.

Here he is last Sunday visiting a grouse moor in the Derbyshire Peak District National Park.

Where will he be tomorrow?

You can follow his progress via his Twitter account: @HenryHenHarrier

Regular updates will also appear on this blog, on Mark Avery’s blog (here) and the Birders Against Wildlife Crime website (here).