‘Wildlife crime cannot be tolerated in modern day Scotland’, says Environment Minister

Aileen McLeod MSP3Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod has written an article on wildlife crime that has been published in the Holyrood magazine:


In the past year, between April 2014 and February 2015, almost 250 wildlife crimes were recorded by Police Scotland.

That’s 250 too many.

The crimes included persecuting badgers, poisoning birds of prey and trading in some of the world’s most endangered species.

There is no room for complacency – last year saw one of the worst ever bird of prey poisoning cases, with the discovery of 12 dead red kites and four buzzards in Ross-shire, which were confirmed by SASA as having been poisoned.

I want to make it abundantly clear that the illegal poisoning of wildlife cannot – and will not – be tolerated in a modern Scotland.

This is one of our priorities which the Scottish Government is continuing to tackle head-on. I recently launched a scheme, with the support of PAW Scotland partners, to get rid of illegal pesticides which could be used to poison wildlife.

The scheme allows those who know, or suspect, they are in possession of certain pesticides which are illegal, to dispose of them safely and confidentially. Arrangements are also in place for SNH to restrict the use of general licences where there is evidence of wildlife crime.

Here in Scotland we have the strongest wildlife legislation in the UK, and in the last few months we have seen the first ever custodial sentence for the killing of birds of prey and the first conviction of a land owner under the vicarious liability provisions, for crimes committed in 2012.

I believe this sends out a clear message to those who continue to illegally target Scotland’s wildlife that their actions will not be tolerated.

Recently I helped Police Scotland launch its new awareness campaign to tackle wildlife crime in Scottish cities, towns and rural areas.

Figures reported by Police Scotland indicated that the detection rate for wildlife crime has increased from the previous year by almost 13 per cent to a 77 per cent detection rate and I’m pleased to see that more is being done to catch those offenders.

As the Chair of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland I am delighted to support this campaign. In Scotland we have long recognised the value of our wildlife and the importance of protecting it.

Police Scotland’s campaign will play a key role in raising awareness about wildlife crime and what people should do if they encounter it.

Investigations into wildlife crime can be difficult so it is essential that we work closely with our partners to get the message out there and raise public awareness to help us prevent it from happening in the first place.

Last year, the Scottish Government’s second annual wildlife crime report was published in a bid to develop the bigger picture of what offences are occurring in Scotland. Figures in the report showed that the largest volume of wildlife crime in Scotland is poaching related – fish, deer and coursing offences.

While poaching is the most commonly recorded offence, crimes against our rare birds of prey and vulnerable freshwater pearl mussel populations are of most serious concern in terms of damage to Scotland’s ecosystems and our reputation.

We must continue to work with stakeholders to raise awareness and therefore ensure prevention, so that these crimes decrease and stop. We are not there yet but with the help of the PAW Scotland partners and the actions of the public I am confident that we are moving in the right direction.

Dr Aileen McLeod, Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform


It’s good to hear from the Environment Minister on this issue. Five months in to her tenure as Environment Minister, she’s been relatively quiet. Perhaps that’s a bit unfair, as we’re comparing her perceived (public) involvement on this issue with that of her predecessor, Paul Wheelhouse, who clearly was very engaged with the subject. She also has a wider portfolio of responsibilities than Wheelhouse had, so of course her time is going to be squeezed. Nevertheless, we haven’t yet seen much evidence that Dr McLeod is coming in with all guns blazing.

Whilst the above article, and sentiment, is to be welcomed, what does it actually amount to? Not very much, to be honest. It’s the same old rhetoric that we’ve been fed for years: ‘it’s a priority’; ‘it won’t be tolerated’; ‘there’s no room for complacency’, yada yada.

Meanwhile, raptor persecution continues and Police Scotland are doing their level best to keep the details from the public domain. We’re aware of several crimes against raptors that have taken place within the last 12 months that still have not been publicised – and we probably don’t know the half of it. It’s interesting to compare this policy of secrecy with the policy of openness being displayed by North Wales Police. One of their wildlife crime officers, Sgt. Rob Taylor, is frequently telling his Twitter followers what wildlife crimes he’s currently investigating. More power to him. His openness doesn’t seem to be affecting the investigation of those offences so what’s the real reason for Police Scotland hiding the facts about the crimes they’re supposedly investigating?

There have been a couple of big success stories in Scotland – the first vicarious liability conviction of a landowner and the first custodial sentence for a raptor-killing gamekeeper. These were both excellent results, there’s no doubt about that, but they were both a long, long time coming and, so far, have proved the exception rather than the rule.

How about the Environment Minister telling us whether the SSPCA will be granted increased investigatory powers? The public consultation closed almost 8 months ago! What’s the decision?

How about the Environment Minister giving us an update on the Govt-commissioned report from Professor Poustie on his review of wildlife crime penalties? That was due ‘early in the New Year’. Where is it?

How about the Environment Minister telling us why SNH haven’t yet publicised any General Licence Restriction Orders for estates where raptor persecution is believed to be taking place? They’ve had the power to enforce such restriction orders since September 2014, for incidents that have taken place since 1st January 2014. What have they been doing for the last seven months? Have they imposed any restriction orders or not? If not, why not?

And please, Minister, will you stop implying that the Ross-shire Massacre only claimed 16 victims. Twenty two raptors were found dead in that one incident. Sure, only 16 have been confirmed as victims of poisoning but the remaining six birds did not all just die of natural causes at the same time, in the same fields where the confirmed poisoned corpses were found. And by the way, can you tell us why Police Scotland has not yet released the name of the poison(s) used to kill those protected species?

Henry’s Tour: Day 21

Tuesday 28 April Copy

Hmm, Snilesworth, that rings a bell.

A long time ago, there was some trouble at Snilesworth.

It’s been described as a ‘fantastic moor‘ and if Mr Osborne is still involved it should be amazing for hen harriers because apparently he wants to see more of them ‘on or near grouse moors’.

Henry headed up to the moor expecting a warm welcome from the gamekeepers and a bevy of potential mates who might be impressed with his skydancing moves….

Henry’s Tour: Day 20

Monday 27 April  Copy

Henry’s arrived in Yorkshire in his quest to find a mate. This should be interesting.

North Yorkshire (includes North York Moors National Park & Yorkshire Dales NP) is the worst county in England for recorded incidents of bird of prey persecution.

Between 2004-2013 there were 70 confirmed raptor persecution incidents. (2014 data not yet published).

These 70 incidents included:

  • At least 26 confirmed incidents involving the illegal use of pesticides – these include the illegal poisoning of 14 red kites, six buzzards, one goshawk, one peregrine plus the finding of a number of poisoned baits; several domestic pets were also poisoned.
  • The confirmed shooting of 25 birds of prey – consisting of 10 buzzards, three red kites, three kestrels, two goshawks, two peregrines plus singles of hen harrier, sparrowhawk, short-eared owl and eagle owl.
  • The illegal trapping of seven birds of prey plus another 11 illegally set traps for raptors.

In connection with these incidents six individuals, all gamekeepers, were prosecuted.

Hen harrier last bred successfully in North Yorkshire in 2007, despite huge areas of suitable habitat.

A Natural England study between 2002 and 2008 showed that of 11 HH breeding attempts recorded in North Yorkshire, only five sites reared any young and most of the sites that failed were believed to be due to human persecution.


Judicial review of Natural England’s refusal to issue buzzard-killing licence to be heard in June

High-Court-LondonThe judicial review concerning Natural England’s decision to refuse a gamekeeper a licence to shoot buzzards and sparrowhawks to protect his pheasants will take place during a three-day hearing at the High Court in London in June.

The gamekeeper, Ricky McMorn from Northumberland, has received financial support from the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation to bring this review and challenge Natural England’s handling of his licence applications.

A quick recap: in 2013, Natural England secretly provided Mr McMorn with a licence to destroy buzzard eggs and nests in order to ‘protect a pheasant shoot’ in Northumberland.

Later in 2013, Natural England received an application for four more licences, this time to shoot 16 buzzards and three sparrowhawks. Natural England rejected the application.

In 2014, Natural England refused another licence application, this time to shoot ten buzzards to prevent “serious damage” to pheasant poults.

It is these refusals that are being challenged in the judicial review.

Previous blogs on this issue:

25 November 2014: Buzzard licence applicant gets High Court approval for judicial review.

1 October 2013: Why we don’t trust the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.

26 September 2013: Buzzard licence applicant tries for four more licences.

13 August 2013: Natural England claims release of buzzard licence info ‘not in public interest’.

20 June 2013: Hand in of buzzard petition today at Holyrood.

5 June 2013: Natural England says no to buzzard-killing licence.

5 June 2013: Surely the buzzard licence applicant doesn’t have prior convictions for poison offences?

3 June 2013: Buzzard licensing: turning up the heat.

30 May 2013: Two important questions to ask about the buzzard licence applicant.

25 May 2013: New petition: SNH, do not licence buzzard culling in Scotland.

23 May 2013: Natural England issues licence to destroy buzzard eggs and nests to protect pheasants.

10 January 2013: The buzzard blame game.

13 June 2012: #Buzzardgate aftermath.

30 May 2012: DEFRA backs down on buzzard ‘management’ trial.

24 May 2012: DEFRA responds to public outcry over buzzard ‘management’ trial.

23 May 2012: RSPB response to DEFRA’s proposed (illegal) buzzard trial.

21 May 2012: Buzzard ‘management’ trial gets govt approval and £375K funding.

Henry’s Tour: Day 19

Fri 24 April Copy

Henry went for a skydance across the lawns of Holkham Hall in north Norfolk.

This place is home to Viscount Coke, Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of that well-known raptor-loving organisation Songbird Survival.

In 2000, a Holkham Estate gamekeeper was prosecuted for 17 offences including the shooting of two kestrels and the poisoning of a third. He kept his job on the estate. Case write-up here.

In 2009, a dead buzzard was found at Holkham. It had been shot. The Holkham Estate put up a £500 reward for information leading to a conviction, as did the RSPB. Nobody was ever prosecuted.

Henry didn’t see any female hen harriers during his visit but he did watch a buzzard and three red kites. One kite had what some would call the ‘Malta Moult’ – a large hole blown through the feathers of one wing.

Henry thought it was time to get out of Norfolk but not before he called in for tea and cake with the legendary Richard Porter, author of the 1974 classic Flight Identification of European Raptors. More recently, Richard’s studies on the local buzzard population helped to convict Stody Estate gamekeeper Allen Lambert. Lambert had claimed that the ten poisoned buzzards found on the Stody Estate had been killed elsewhere and then ‘dumped’ on his estate in an attempt to set him up. His defence was to claim that they couldn’t possibly have been poisoned at Stody because there weren’t that many local buzzards to start with. He hadn’t banked on the evidence of one of the world’s leading raptor ID experts, who had recorded 233 buzzard sightings and had counted 73 pairs. Oops.

Thurs 23 April  Copy


Mis-use of crow traps (again)

This week’s Landward programme featured a section on the (mis)-use of crow traps, quite often used by gamekeepers to target birds of prey.

The programme featured Hugo Straker from the GWCT and Ian Thomson from RSPB Scotland Investigations. It didn’t cover any new ground, mainly because the same old problems that have existed for years with the mis-use of these traps, still exist.


Here’s some stuff we wrote about crow cage traps three years ago. It was based on material that the RSPB and OneKind had produced years before that. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that SNH has still not addressed many of these issues:




The Landward programme is available on BBC iPlayer for 29 days: HERE (starts at 08.21).

Henry’s Tour: Day 18

Tues 21 April Copy

Henry’s back in Norfolk. If he follows that sign to its destination he may never get out of Norfolk alive.

Wonder whether, six months after the conviction of gamekeeper Allen Lambert, the Rural Payments Agency has made a decision yet on whether the illegal poisoning of 11 raptors merits a subsidy withdrawal for the minted Stody Estate?

Traditional sporting estates ‘outdated & ludicrous’

Dick Balharry pic from the timesTraditional sporting estates embody the selfish greed of a Victorian era, outdated and ludicrous“, said leading conservationist Dick Balharry during his recent acceptance speech for the RSG’s Geddes Medal.


There’s a good write up on this on Rob Edwards’ website here.

White-tailed eagle found poisoned on nest

WTEpoisoned Connemara April 2015

Press release from Golden Eagle Trust:

A White-tailed Eagle has been found dead in its nest at Connemara in south-west Ireland. The six year old female eagle was discovered on 1st April by Conservation Ranger Dermot Breen and recovered by a team from the National Parks & Wildlife Service on 2nd April. Subsequent post-mortem at the Regional Veterinary Laboratory in Athlone and toxicology analysis at the State Laboratory, Celbridge revealed the bird had been poisoned.

The female White-tailed Eagle was released in Killarney National Park in 2009 as part of a reintroduction programme for the species managed by the Golden Eagle Trust in partnership with the National Parks & Wildlife Service. The female eagle settled in the Roundstone area of Connemara in 2012 where she paired up with a male. In 2014 the pair laid eggs at a nest in a remote site but the eggs failed to hatch chicks successfully. Both birds were on the point of nesting again this year at the same nest when tragedy struck. Indeed the post-mortem found the female to contain two developing eggs, so this female was within a few days of laying eggs.

The loss of this breeding female comes as a serious blow to the reintroduction project. White-tailed Eagles reach maturity and begin breeding at about 5 years of age. Seven pairs laid eggs in nests in the wild in 2014, with one nest near Mountshannon, Co. Clare, successfully fledging chicks in 2013 and 2014. It was hoped that the Connemara pair would be one of a number of successful nests in Ireland in 2015. The loss of a breeding adult has been found to lead to the desertion of breeding sites with potentially serious implications for the long-term viability of the reintroduced population.

This is the 13th confirmed poisoning of a White-tailed Eagle in Ireland since the reintroduction project began in 2007. The use of poisons to control foxes and crows has been banned since 2010 but the illegal use of such substances remains a huge threat to wildlife including birds of prey which consume carrion. Over the five years of the release phase of the project 100 young eagles were collected from nests in Norway and released in Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry. Thirty one of the released eagles have since been recovered dead with illegal poisoning by far and away the greatest threat to the recovery of this once native eagle to Ireland. Despite these losses the number of pairs in the wild rose to 14 in 2014 with most birds now mature enough to breed.

This is a very disheartening incident as the killing of this breeding female has effectively put an end to any breeding attempt of this incredible species in West Galway for at least another five years” said NPWS Conservation ranger Dermot Breen. “To see the female lying dead on her nest was a very sad and sickening sight especially with the knowledge that she would have been due to lay two eggs. Historically up to 14 pairs were known to have bred in the Connemara region up 1838. Connemara lost its White-tailed Eagles shortly after this with the introduction of poison. It’s deeply frustrating to see history repeating itself. I’ve encountered no negative feedback from any local farmers with regard to the presence of the eagles over the last three years. Many landowners would ask how the eagles were doing and would tell me if they had been lucky enough to see them in the locality. The loss of this female is also a great loss to tourism in the area. Connemara is world renowned for being an area of unspoilt beauty. Unfortunately this illegal and irresponsible action is likely to tarnish Connemara’s green image, an area that relies heavily on tourism”.

Although all losses impact the project, the loss of this female is very difficult to take”, said Dr Allan Mee, Project Manager with the Golden Eagle Trust. “She and her mate had been resident in Connemara for the last four years and it was only a matter of time before they produced chicks. It is likely the nest site they chose had been used by White-tailed Eagles in historical times, so losing this pair is devastating. Although the male may remain on his territory for some time, to date we have found that the loss of a breeding adult results in birds deserting the area and remaining some years before they find a mate again. The female’s mate is one of our satellite tagged eagles (male Star) who has travelled the length and breadth of Ireland several times before settling in Connemara. It’s tragic to see him lose his mate just on the point of nesting”.

Over the years we have endured too many losses to illegal and indiscriminate poisoning. We have tried to address this by raising awareness both of the law and the threat posed by poisons to wildlife and farm dogs. While we believe our awareness efforts have been productive it is clear that some individuals are still resorting to using poisons on meat baits such as dead livestock. While their target may be foxes and crows we know to our cost the devastation this causes to our rare and protected birds of prey. We have to continue to get the word out there that this practice is no longer acceptable. We hope that all farmers and farming organisations will rightly condemn this practice which has no place in today’s supposedly more enlightened environment”.