The gift of grouse: spectacular propaganda from the Angus Glens

Gift of GrouseWe love it when the grouse shooting community produces its propaganda pieces to spoon-feed to the (sym)pathetic right wing elements of the national press. It’s usually a masterclass in foot-shooting and provides us with ample material for a good laugh.

Take this month’s latest offering –  a published, commissioned report from the University of the Highlands & Islands:

Grouse Shooting, Moorland Management and Local Communities: Community Perceptions and Socio-Economic Impacts of Moorland Management and Grouse Shooting in the Monadhliaths and Angus Glens

and a video produced by the Angus Glens Moorland Group (basically all the gamekeepers that work there) entitled:

The Untold Story: Driven Grouse Shooting’.

The publication of these two pieces was celebrated at a Parliamentary reception last week (see here) hosted by Fergus Ewing MSP, Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism (a long-standing supporter of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association) and attended by gamekeepers and luminaries from the grouse shooting industry such as Doug McAdam from Scottish Land & Estates.

The report mostly suggests that there is great support for grouse moor management and all its ‘benefits’, from within the two communities surveyed. We’re not going to say very much about these findings at the moment other than to say that we are aware that someone has been analysing the survey questionnaire data and has discovered some fundamental flaws that basically render the report’s findings obsolete. We’ll return to this once the analysis has been completed. The report can be downloaded here: Grouse Shooting Moorland Management and Local Communities_2015

What we do want to blog about now is the hilarious video produced by the Angus Glens gamekeepers. This video (watch it here) was first published on the Inglorious 12th, timed to coincide with the opening of the grouse shooting season. It formed part of a new campaign called ‘The Gift of Grouse’, which is a one-year propaganda offensive, heavily promoted (and maybe even funded) by Scottish Land & Estates, and others, aimed at cleaning up the media image of the grouse shooting industry. Check out their website here.

For some reason, the video has now been re-launched this month, perhaps to coincide with the publication of the commissioned report. Whatever, that doesn’t really matter. This video really is a gift and an almighty own-goal.

You would think that if the grouse-shooting industry wanted to portray an image of lawful, environmentally-sensitive management, that they’d choose to focus on an area that wasn’t notorious as a massive wildlife crime scene, wouldn’t you? Well, apparently not.

This video is brilliant. It includes interviews with head gamekeepers from five grouse-shooting estates in the Angus Glens; some of these estate names will be very familiar to regular readers of this blog. The interviewees are: Jason Clamp (Millden Estate), Garry MacLennan (Invermark Estate), Martin Taylor (Glenlethnot Estate), Danny Lawson (Glenogil Estate) and Bruce Cooper (Glenprosen Estate). [Incidentally, one of these head keepers shares his name with a gamekeeper who was formerly employed on Skibo Estate in 2010 when three poisoned golden eagles were found poisoned. What an amazing coincidence. No prosecution for poisoning those eagles, natch, although the sporting manager was done for possession of a massive stash of banned Carbofuran].

The video provides a heart-warming narrative of the daily lives of gamekeepers in the Angus Glens, complete with a soothing musical backing track, where the keepers are keen to explain how they care for the welfare of all the wildlife in the Glens and how the emphasis is no longer on just the grouse, apparently.

Jason Clamp (Millden) says: “We’re not looking for massive bags of grouse” and “We’re not looking to kill thousands of grouse“.

That’s an odd statement coming from the head keeper of perhaps one of the most intensively-managed grouse moors in the area. According to the Millden Estate sales brochures (2010 and 2011) great emphasis is placed on the record number of grouse that have been killed / are available to be killed and this is a prime selling point. Record bag sizes are also apparently the main reason the estate owner decided to withdraw his estate from sale in 2011 (see here).

We’re also told by Garry MacLennan (Invermark) that the Angus Glens are great for raptors (ahem – see below) and the video bizarrely cuts to show what looks remarkably like a Gyr/Saker hybrid falconry bird….whatever it is, it certainly isn’t a native species and it certainly isn’t a wild bird living in those Glens.

Probably the most amusing thing about this video (and there is an awful lot to laugh at) is the title: ‘The Untold Story’. Oh, the irony.

Here are some of the untold bits of the untold story that, unsurprisingly, don’t feature in this film:

Known raptor persecution incidents in the Angus Glens 2004-2014 – 

2004 May, near Edzell: long-eared owl and two short-eared owls starved to death in crow cage trap.  No prosecution.

2004 May, Invermark Estate: peregrine nest destroyed. No prosecution.

2006 March, Glenogil Estate: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran). No prosecution.

2006 April, Easter Ogil: poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). No prosecution.

2006 April, Easter Ogil: poisoned tawny owl (Alphachloralose). No prosecution.

2006 May, Glenogil Estate: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran). No prosecution.

2006 June, Glenogil Estate: poisoned woodpigeon bait (Carbofuran). No prosecution.

2006 June, Glenogil Estate: Traces of Carbofuran found in estate vehicles & on equipment during police search. No prosecution. Estate owner had £107k withdrawn from his farm subsidy payments. This was being appealed, but it is not known how this was resolved.

2006 July, Millden Estate; poisoned sheepdog (Lindane). No prosecution.

2007 November, Glenogil Estate: Disappearance of radio-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘Bird N’ coincides with tip off to police that bird been shot. No further transmissions or sightings of the bird.

2008 May, ‘Nr Noranside’: poisoned white-tailed eagle ‘White G’ (Carbofuran, Isophenfos, Bendiocarb). No prosecution.

2008 May, ‘Nr Noranside’: poisoned buzzard (Bendiocarb). No prosecution.

2008 May, ‘Nr Noranside’: poisoned mountain hare bait (Carbofuran, Isophenfos, Bendiocarb). No prosecution.

2008 May, Glenogil Estate: 32 x poisoned meat baits on fenceposts (Carbofuran, Isophenfos, Bendiocarb). No prosecution.

2008 October, ‘Glenogil Estate: poisoned meat bait on fencepost (Carbofuran). No prosecution.

2009 March, Glenogil Estate: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). No prosecution.

2009 March, Glenogil Estate: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). No prosecution.

2009 April, Millden Estate: poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). No prosecution.

2009 July, Millden Estate: poisoned golden eagle ‘Alma’ (Carbofuran). No prosecution.

2009 August, Glenogil Estate: poisoned white-tailed eagle “89” (Carbofuran). No prosecution.

2010 May, ‘Nr Noranside’: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). No prosecution.

2010 September, Glenogil Estate: poisoned buzzard (Chloralose). No prosecution.

2010 October, Glenogil Estate: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). No prosecution.

2010 October, Glenogil Estate: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran). No prosecution.

2010 October, Glenogil Estate: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran). No prosecution.

2011 February, Airlie Estate: buzzard caught in illegal crow trap. (see below)

2011 March, Airlie Estate: 3 x buzzard caught in illegal crow trap. Prosecution (!) but dropped after statement from suspect given to SSPCA deemed inadmissible.

2011 April, Millden Estate: shot buzzard. No prosecution.

2012 April, ‘Nr Noranside’: Remains of buzzard found beside pheasant pen. Suspicious death.

2011 June, Rottal & Tarabuckle Estate: dead kestrel inside crow cage trap. No prosecution.

2012 February, ‘Nr Edzell’: spring-trapped buzzard. No prosecution.

2012 February, ‘Nr Bridgend’: remains of buzzard found under a rock. Suspicious death.

2012 May, Millden Estate: satellite-tagged golden eagle seemingly caught in spring trap, then apparently uplifted overnight and dumped on Deeside with two broken legs & left to die. No prosecution.

2012 May, Glen Esk: disappearance of sat-tagged red kite. No further transmissions or sightings of bird.

2013 January, Invermark Estate: white-tailed eagle nest tree felled. No prosecution.

2013 November, Glen Lethnot: poisoned golden eagle ‘Fearnan’. No prosecution.

2014 October, Nathro: shot buzzard. Prosecution? Unknown.

There’s also no mention of the massacre of mountain hares known to take place across the Angus Glens. This photo shows a pile of slaughtered hares photographed on Glenogil Estate in 2012:

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And no mention of the “savaged, stripped and blasted land” as portrayed in this photograph of Millden Estate in 2014 (by Chris Townsend):

Interestingly, a Parliamentary Motion has now been lodged (Jamie McGrigor, Tory) congratulating the Angus Glens gamekeepers on their video and welcoming the Gift of Grouse initiative. The motion hasn’t attracted a lot of support although some of the signatories are surprising, to say the least (see here).

Natural England to issue guidance on deployment of gas guns on grouse moors

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Here’s some excellent news….

In early September we encouraged blog readers to contact SNH and Natural England to ask whether they would provide urgent guidance on the deployment of gas gun bird scarers, particularly on grouse moors where we believe these devices have been used illegally to disturb hen harrier breeding attempts (see here).

SNH responded quickly in mid-September and said they would investigate the deployment of gas guns with regard to the law and may provide guidance on their use if it was deemed appropriate (see here).

Natural England has gone further. Their response (from Alan Law, Chief Officer of Strategy and Reform) confirms that the use of gas guns near Schedule 1 breeding birds is unlawful and that their use in Special Protection Areas would likely require written consent from Natural England, depending on the specific feature(s) for which the site has been designated.

Natural England says it is in the process of drafting guidance, which will be available prior to the start of the 2016 breeding season.

That’s brilliant news – well done to everyone who took the time to contact NE about this issue. The grouse shooting industry will be thrilled and will no doubt be wishing to thank us all for our help. No need, it was our pleasure. They’ll be even more thrilled if, come the next breeding season, anybody spots any gas guns being used on grouse moors and reports it to the police. Even better, report it to the RSPB Investigations Team who are more likely to follow up.

Here’s one of several responses we’ve seen from Natural England:

Thank you for your recent email relating to the use of gas guns within Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and expressing your concerns around the potential impact of the use of gas guns upon Schedule 1 birds.

For Schedule 1 species, it is an offence for any person to disturb any wild bird included while it is building a nest or is in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young. As a result, the use of gas guns outside the bird breeding season is not unlawful.

With respect to the use of gas guns within a SPA, depending on the specifics of what interest features the site is notified for, the land manager may be obliged to seek Natural England’s written consent prior to locating and using gas guns. Landowners and managers of SPA land are provided with specific guidance on what activities require a consent and we issue this on a site by site basis.

We have recognised that there is a need for some general guidance on the use of gas guns and are in the process of drafting this in collaboration with the relevant partners. I will arrange for you to be sent this guidance as soon as it becomes available, which will be in advance of next year’s breeding season.

Many thanks again for your interest in this matter.

Your sincerely

Alan Law

Chief Officer, Strategy and Reform

Natural England

Iceland: “Food you can trust”?

Iceland (the supermarket) really wants us to believe that the food they sell is “food you can trust“. It’s their tagline. It appears twice on the front of this store we recently visited. If the customer fails to notice it as they enter the shop they get another opportunity to read it as they walk away. It’s clearly an important marketing strategy for this company.

Iceland Food you can Trust - Copy

It’s an interesting word, ‘trust’. Synonyms include ‘confidence’, ‘belief’, ‘faith’, ‘sureness’, ‘certainty’, ‘assurance’. It implies ‘freedom from suspicion/doubt’.

Antonyms include ‘disbelief’, ‘doubt’, ‘uncertainty’, ‘distrust’.

Food you can trust” is certainly an interesting choice of tagline. As consumers, we might all expect the food we buy from high street supermarkets to be trustworthy, yes? Well, no, as the recent horse meat scandal showed. In fact it was as a result of the horse meat scandal that Iceland rolled out this tagline in a bid to reassure customers of the quality of its foods. Since then, Iceland has gone to great lengths to demonstrate that nay, their beefburgers do not contain horse (see here). Marvellous, what a comfort.

But what about trusting other food sold by Iceland? Say, red grouse for example? As regular blog readers will be aware, this summer Iceland began selling frozen red grouse that was shot last year. When this news broke in July, we had a number of questions to ask of Iceland (see here) about how the sale of this product fitted in with their published statement on corporate responsibility, especially as they claim to be “committed to providing safe, healthy and ethically sourced food”. We wondered how Iceland could meet these standards when Marks and Spencer had abandoned their red grouse sales for two years running (here and here) because they couldn’t meet their own ethical standards?

Sadly, Iceland CEO Malcolm Walker failed to respond directly to our questions – he was probably too busy being trustworthy – and instead Iceland published a rather vague statement on its website (see here). Incidentally, it was noted in the August 2015 minutes of the Lead Ammunition Group meeting that ‘the Iceland supermarket website information on game was not in line with current Food Standards Agency guidance’ (see here).

Following Iceland’s press statement, we asked more questions of Malcolm Walker, specifically about our concerns (distrust) that the red grouse being sold in his supermarkets could be described as safe, healthy and ethically sourced (see here). Alas, it seems that being ‘trustworthy’ doesn’t include being transparent about the food supply chain – Mr Walker has refused to answer the questions. So instead of being filled with ‘confidence’,’ belief’, ‘faith’, ‘sureness’, ‘certainty’ and ‘assurance’, we are left with ‘disbelief’, ‘doubt’, ‘uncertainty’ and ‘distrust’ of this product.

We’ve got a feeling this won’t be the last we hear about Iceland red grouse this year…..

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Environment Minister misses the point

annie-with-her-sat-tagIn August this year, over 300 blog readers emailed Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod in response to the news that Langholm hen harrier ‘Annie’ had been found shot dead on a Scottish grouse moor (see here). Well done to all of you who took the time to write.

The Minister issued a press statement within a few hours. The response time was impressive, the content wasn’t (see here).

Now a month later, the Minister has been responding to the individual emails that she received (well, one of her civil servants has been responding on her behalf). We’ve been sent a number of these responses and they’re all identical. Here’s what the response says:

Thank you for your letter of 11 August 2015 to the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Dr Aileen McLeod. I have been asked to respond on her behalf. Please accept my apologies for the delayed response.

Let me reassure you that the Scottish Government has been and remains committed to tackling wildlife crime. Since 2007 we have built a strong and broad-based Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime in Scotland (PAW Scotland) involving conservationists, land managers and law enforcement.

We also have a group dedicated to tackling raptor persecution – the PAW Scotland Raptor Group – which is made up of representatives from law enforcement and government agencies, RSPB, Scottish Raptor Study Groups, Scottish Land & Estates, Scottish Gamekeepers Association, British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

We have pursued a number of initiatives since 2007, including for example

  • the first restrictions on the use of General licences by those convicted of wildlife crimes
  • tightening up of law relating to trapping and snaring, including the introduction of training and registration requirements for operators
  • new provisions in the Wildlife and Countryside Act relating to the protection of the nests of birds such as white-tailed eagles and protection against harassment for birds such hen harrier
  • the introduction of vicarious liability provisions for offences related to wild birds

Some of these initiatives were ground-breaking in the UK and have now also been adopted by England and Wales.

There are also a number of pieces of current work which are underway, which I will take this opportunity to update you on.

Pesticides Disposal Scheme – this Scottish Government funded scheme ran from 23 February to 29 May 2015. The scheme has removed over 720kg of highly dangerous toxic chemicals from Scotland’s environment and ensured they cannot be used to poison wild birds. Details about what was removed from Scotland’s environment were published on 9 September. There remains no good reason for people to retain these substances.

Wildlife Crime Penalties Review – this review has taken a comprehensive look at whether the penalties available to the courts in wildlife crime cases are adequate and appropriate. The review has been submitted to Ministers and will be published shortly.

Further restriction of General Licences – this new procedure which has been recently introduced will see restrictions being imposed on the use of general licences over land where it is believed the wildlife crime has taken place. A number of cases have been under consideration and I expect further news to be made public imminently. SNH will publish details of imposed restrictions when it is appropriate to do so.

Law enforcement obviously has a key role to play. Since being established, Police Scotland has ensured that there is a wildlife crime liaison officer (WCLO) in each police division and has also already delivered and made significant commitment to ongoing training not only for existing WCOs, but also to other officers force wide. Police Scotland aim to bring a consistent and professional approach to wildlife crime investigations, including the use of modern forensic techniques.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has a dedicated Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit with four specialist Procurators Fiscal who have developed an extensive knowledge in this area, and have now secured the first prosecution in relation to vicarious liability. There has also been the first custodial sentence for a gamekeeper found guilty of killing wild birds.

The Scottish Government has previously stated that it would be prepared to consider the licensing of shooting businesses to further regulate this sector, however it is important that we are able to assess the impact of the measures that have been recently implemented, or are still to be fully implemented, before consideration is given to the introduction of any further regulatory measures. We do not consider it is appropriate to react to every instance of criminal activity with further changes to the law. Scotland already has some of the strongest laws to deal with wildlife crime. Appropriate action by the law enforcement agencies is the correct response to wildlife crime, as with any other criminal activity.

I hope that this response demonstrates the breadth of work that is ongoing in this area.

Yours faithfully,

Karen Hunter

Wildlife Crime Policy Officer


As you can see, it’s full of the usual guff about ‘commitment’ and ‘partnership-working’ yada yada. But there are a couple of things that particularly interested us –


We have pursued a number of initiatives since 2007, including for example

  • the first restrictions on the use of General licences by those convicted of wildlife crimes
  • tightening up of law relating to trapping and snaring, including the introduction of training and registration requirements for operators
  • new provisions in the Wildlife and Countryside Act relating to the protection of the nests of birds such as white-tailed eagles and protection against harassment for birds such hen harrier
  • the introduction of vicarious liability provisions for offences related to wild birds

Some of these initiatives were ground-breaking in the UK and have now also been adopted by England and Wales“.

Hmm. As far as we’re aware, only one of these “ground-breaking initiatives” has been adopted elsewhere, not “some of them”. The one that has been adopted is the restriction on the use of General Licences by those convicted of wildlife crimes. Although this can hardly be called a “ground-breaking initiative” when the person who is no longer permitted to use a General Licence on account of a relevant conviction can simply apply to the statutory agency (SNH or Natural England) for an individual licence to enable them to continue their trapping and killing activities as if they hadn’t been convicted at all!

The introduction of training and registration requirements for snare operators has not “also been adopted by England and Wales“. And how’s that going in Scotland, by the way? Ooops, looks like Police Scotland has cocked up big time by issuing duplicate tag numbers to 60 individuals, due to ‘an administrative error’ – see here. Brilliant.

The new provisions of the WCA relating to extra protection for white-tailed eagles and hen harriers  has not “also been adopted by England and Wales” because the enabling legislation is Scotland-specific (see here).

The introduction of vicarious liability provisions for offences related to wild birds has not “also been adopted by England and Wales“. Indeed, the Westminster Government has thus far refused to consider it as a serious option (see here and here).

Aileen McLeod MSP3The other statement in the Minister’s response that interests us greatly is this:

The Scottish Government has previously stated that it would be prepared to consider the licensing of shooting businesses to further regulate this sector, however it is important that we are able to assess the impact of the measures that have been recently implemented, or are still to be fully implemented, before consideration is given to the introduction of any further regulatory measures. We do not consider it is appropriate to react to every instance of criminal activity with further changes to the law“.

In our opinion, the last sentence indicates that the Minister has completely missed the point. Nobody is asking, or expecting, further changes to the law in response to every instance of criminal activity. That would be ludicrous. The point that we, and everyone else who sends her emails is making, is that every criminal raptor persecution incident is yet further evidence that the current measures are clearly not working!

Since the latest ‘new measures’ were first announced by former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in July 2013 (see here), many of which are still to be implemented over two years later, we have seen a continuous number of reported crimes (which undoubtedly will be the very tip of a very large iceberg). Here are some of them, all detailed on this blog, and we expect there to be many more that haven’t yet made it in to the public domain:

June 2013: Shot buzzard found close to a grouse moor in the Borders, later revealed to have also been poisoned.

July 2013:  Buzzard shot in the throat in North Ayrshire.

August 2013: Red kite found shot close to a grouse moor in Leadhills.

September 2013: Poisoned buzzard found in Stirlingshire.

October 2013: Langholm hen harrier ‘Blue’ disappears.

October 2013: Half-made raptor trap discovered on a sporting estate in Angus.

December 2013: Buzzard died of ‘unnatural causes’ close to a grouse moor ‘near Tomatin’ [we now know it had been shot].

December 2013: Golden eagle ‘Fearnan’ found poisoned on Angus grouse moor.

January 2014: Man reported for hen harrier death in Aberdeenshire.

January 2014: Dead bird (species unknown) & suspected poisoned bait found in South Lanarkshire.

February 2014: Poisoned peregrine found close to a grouse moor in Leadhills.

March 2014: 22 poisoned raptors (16 red kites + 6 buzzards) found on farmland in Ross-shire.

April 2014: Man arrested for alleged attempted raptor trapping in Aberdeenshire.

April 2014: ‘Illegally-killed’ peregrine found near Stirling [we now know it had been shot].

April 2014: East Scotland sea eagle chick ‘disappears’ on Aberdeenshire grouse moor.

April 2014: Gamekeeper charged with allegedly bludgeoning & stamping on buzzard on a sporting estate in Dumfriesshire.

April 2014: Poisoned buzzard found in Fife.

May 2014: Masked gunmen caught on camera shooting at active goshawk nest in Cairngorms National Park.

June 2014: Allegations emerge of ‘coordinated hunt & shooting’ of a hen harrier on a grouse moor in Aberdeenshire last year.

June 2014: Hen harrier died on a grouse moor near Muirkirk “as result of criminal act”. We later discover it had been shot.

June 2014: Red kite found on railway line, shot in the head.

July 2014: Red kite found poisoned on a grouse moor in Stirlingshire.

September 2014: Red kite found poisoned on a grouse moor in Morayshire.

November 2014: Buzzard fatally injured after being shot & stamped on in the Borders.

December 2014: Tawny owl shot dead in East Lothian.

February 2015: Peregrine found poisoned on a grouse moor in Stirlingshire.

March 2015: Kitten found poisoned (Carbofuran) close to a grouse moor in the Borders.

March 2015: Hen Harrier ‘Annie’ found shot dead on a South Lanarkshire grouse moor.

May 2015: Red kite fatally injured after caught in illegal spring trap on a grouse moor in Stirlingshire.

July 2015: Buzzard fatally injured after found shot close to a grouse moor in the Borders.

August 2015: Buzzard shot dead in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park.

August 2015: Red kite fatally injured close to a grouse moor ‘near Tomatin’ – cause of death “not due to natural causes”. [Was probably shot].

The Minister points to two recent notable successes – the vicarious liability conviction and the custodial sentence given to a raptor-killing gamekeeper. They were indeed huge results and were warmly welcomed at the time. However, they are still the exceptions to the rule and we have since seen a number of convictions this year that have resulted in the usual derisory sentences (e.g. Michael Johnston fined £400 for possession of banned poison Strychnine; Gamekeeper James O’Reilly given a 240 hours Community Payback Order for four offences including the use of a banned gin trap; Poultry farmer Michael Harrison fined £600 for shooting and stamping on a buzzard; Gamekeeper William Dick fined £2,000 for bludgeoning and stamping on a buzzard). We have only seen one vicarious liability conviction in three and half years since the new legislation was enacted.

We keep being told that ‘we need more time to assess the impact of the new measures’. Why do we? Isn’t it bleedin’ obvious that raptor persecution is continuing despite all the so-called partnership-working, new measures and deterrents? The Minister may well be irritated that her inbox gets bombarded after each raptor crime but she can expect more of the same each and every time we hear of yet another crime. And there will be more, mark our words.

She should also know that if and when she decides to make a stand with something forceful and tangible, she’ll be deluged with emails of appreciation and support.

Ross-shire Massacre: 18 months on

sleeping policeman 2It’s been 18 months since the corpses of 22 birds of prey (16 red kites and 6 buzzards) were found in a small area around Conon Bridge in the Highlands.

We know that 16 of these birds were illegally poisoned (12 red kites & 4 buzzards). Still no word on the other six victims.

Still no word on the type of poison used, although Police Scotland did eventually admit that it was an “illegally-held poisonous substance” (see here). Carbofuran is suspected by many of us (see here).

The details of this illegal mass poisoning have still been deliberately excluded from the quarterly SASA reports – the Government reports that are supposed to inform us about recent illegal poisoning crimes in Scotland.

Police Scotland still maintains that the birds “were most likely not targeted deliberately but instead were the victims of pest control measures” (see here) – even though they can’t possibly know this unless they have a suspect who has given a full confession.

We’re still waiting to hear whether MSP Dave Thompson’s request, back in November 2014, for a review of Police Scotland’s handling of this investigation will be undertaken (see here).

We’re still waiting to hear when the thousands of pounds worth of reward funds, that many of us donated, will be released by Police Scotland so that RSPB Scotland can redistribute them to support the work of their investigations team (see here).

Two months ago in July 2015 MSP Bill Kidd called on Police Scotland to tell the public more about the investigation (see here). We’re still waiting.

18 months on and still no arrests.

18 months on and still no charges.

18 months on and still no prosecution.

18 months on and still no conviction.

18 months on and still no justice.

18 months on and still no confidence in Police Scotland’s ability to solve this appalling crime.

Previous posts on the Ross-shire Massacre here.

SNH notifies two estates of intention to restrict General Licences

SNH GL restrictionIn July 2013, the then Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP announced a series of new measures to tackle the raptor killers. One of these new measures was to give SNH the authority to issue a (temporary) restriction order on the use of General Licences on land where evidence of raptor crime was apparent. The restriction order could be applied retrospectively to incidents that had taken place since 1st January 2014. (See here to read SNH’s framework for implementing such restrictions).

In October 2014, this measure was finally rolled out and we blogged about these General Licence restriction orders, outlining our view on the pros and cons of this approach (see here).

Since then we’ve wondered a number of times about when we might see the first restriction order, because let’s face it, there have been numerous opportunities to apply it. In January this year we asked SNH whether a restriction order had been applied to an estate where a poisoned red kite had been found in July 2014 (see here). A response came back from SNH in February that said no restriction orders had yet been implemented for this case or for any other case (see here).

Roll forward six months to August 2015 (two years after Wheelhouse first announced this new measure) and an FoI was submitted to SNH to find out if any progress has been made. It seems it has.

According to SNH’s response, two (unnamed) estates have been notified of SNH’s intention to restrict the use of General Licences; one was notified on 11th June 2015 and the other on 22nd July 2015. As predicted, and judging by (a) the number of letters SNH says it has sent in relation to these two estates (five), and (b) the length of time that has elapsed since the notification letters were sent, it would appear that both estates have challenged the notification of intent. This was to be expected, of course, especially as SNH can use the civil burden of proof rather than the criminal burden of proof as evidence of suspected raptor crime.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all pans out.

In the meantime, here is SNH’s response to the FoI questions:

How many letters of intention to restrict the use of a General Licence has SNH issued to date?

SNH has issued five letters notifying our intention to restrict the use of General Licences on certain areas of land. These five letters relate to two specific proposed restriction areas.

The name of the estate(s) that has received a letter of intention to restrict the use of General Licences.

We have considered this part of your request very carefully, and we have concluded that we are unable to provide this information in response to your request.

The framework for implementing General Licence restrictions is set out on our website, Although letters have been issued, we have not reached final decisions on whether restrictions on the use of General Licences should be implemented in those cases. After we issue a notification letter, the recipient (the Affected Parties) has the opportunity to submit a response setting out any reasons why they consider that a restriction should not be imposed. SNH will review any submission before reaching a decision on whether or not a restriction should be imposed.

Whilst this decision making process is still underway we consider that it would be unfair to release the names of the estates/land holdings that have received letters. The Affected Parties have not yet had full opportunity to make representations, or for those representations to be considered. We are therefore withholding the names of the estates/land holdings under EIRs Regulation 10(5)(b) (The course of justice), and we have concluded that, in this case, it is in the public interest to do so.

At the end of the decision making process, where we recommend a restriction is imposed, the Decision Notice(s) will be published on our licensing web pages,, and the information will be fully in the public domain.

The reason(s) given for the intention to restrict the use of General Licences on the landholding(s).

In each of the cases the reason has been that we have received evidence of wild birds being killed illegally, or that there have been attempts to take wild birds illegally either on that land or by persons responsible for managing that land.

The date(s) the letter(s) of intention was sent.

The notification letters were sent out on 11 June 2015 and 22 July 2015 for each respective proposed restriction area.

The start date and end date of the General Licence restriction period (in each case).

These cases are ongoing – no Decision Notice has been issued as of yet.

What measures will be taken to monitor compliance with any General Licence restriction order.

When a restriction is implemented this will mean that General Licences will not be permitted to be used on the land in question. This would mean that any control of wild birds on the land in question would be unlawful (unless covered by an individual licence). As is the case with any area of wildlife crime the policing of this would fall to the appropriate enforcement body, and particularly the Police. We would of course continue to engage with the Police and others in the event of a restriction being put in place to ensure that all were aware of the details of any restriction in this respect.


Case against gamekeeper William Curr, Glenogil Estate: part 2

Glenogil sign RPSCopyCriminal proceedings have continued against Scottish gamekeeper William Curr.

Curr, 22, is accused of several wildlife crimes alleged to have taken place on the Glenogil Estate in August and September 2014. His case was adjourned at Forfar Sheriff Court on 10th September 2015 and will continue on 8th October.

Previous blog about this case here.

SNH to investigate deployment of gas guns on grouse moors

Bird scarer 1 - CopyOn Wednesday last week (4th September) we encouraged blog readers to contact SNH and Natural England to ask whether they would provide guidance on the lawfulness of deploying gas gun bird scarers on grouse moors (see here).

SNH responded quickly (9th September) with the following statement:

SNH will soon be publishing a review of sustainable moorland management written on behalf of the SNH Scientific Advisory Committee, and a formal response to that report.  Although not raised in the preparation of the review report the issue of gas guns has since been raised.  We will be investigating the deployment of these scaring devices with regard to the law, and specifically with regard to recent guidance we have issued on Schedule A1 and 1A species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981: here.  Depending on our investigations we may provide further guidance, as we did in June this year in relation to helicopter flights: here.

SNH’s prompt and positive response is welcomed. Now we just have to monitor the situation and ensure they follow up on their commitment.

Natural England has yet to respond.

Three more poisoned red kites

WT J 1 as I foundThe following press release has been issued today by FoRK (Friends of Red Kites) –


Three red kites have been found illegally poisoned in a blow to efforts to re-establish a thriving population across north east England.

One found near a grouse moor died from Carbofuran poisoning despite the use of the chemical being banned in Britain since 2002. The two others were found together and died as a result of poisoning by Aldicarb, a widely-used pesticide which has been implicated in deliberate poisonings elsewhere in Britain.

The bodies of all three were recovered and sent for post-mortem examination after tip-offs from the public.

The three deaths, revealed by Friends of Red Kites (FoRK), the voluntary group set up to protect and monitor the population, brings the region’s total number of known kite casualties from illegal poisoning to ten in recent years.

FoRK has condemned the killings but fears that the known deaths are just the tip of the iceberg and that many more dead birds are never found. It believes that persistent persecution, mainly through illegal poisoned baits, is among factors preventing the birds from spreading from their core Derwent Valley sites.

The bird killed by Carbofuran was found near Edmundbyers, Co Durham. The two others were found at High Spen, Gateshead, and included a wing-tagged female from a nearby breeding site which had produced young for the previous four years.

Previous poisoning involved two kites found dead in Hexhamshire and a breeding pair killed near Whittonstall whose chicks then perished in the nest. Other local kites were found poisoned in Teesdale and Wharfedale, Yorkshire. Another bird, which moved to Scotland, was found poisoned in the Cairngorms. Other kites have been found in suspicious circumstances but have been dead too long for scientific examination.

Allan Withrington, FoRK Kite Welfare Officer, said: “These poisonings are appalling and totally unacceptable. Carbofuran has been illegal in this country for many years but is still apparently the poison of choice of those who illegally put out poisoned baits to target raptors, crows and foxes. 

Leaving poisoned baits in the open is not only illegal but completely indiscriminate as the deaths of many bird and animals, including dogs and cats, has shown over the years.

We will be continuing to do everything possible to expose those responsible and work with the police, farmers, landowners and other conservation organisations to protect the red kites and other species.”

The most recent available figures from the RSPB show that there were 76 confirmed cases of illegal poisoning in Britain in 2013, including 19 from Carbofuran and 5 from Albicarb. Twenty-one red kites were among the victims which also included buzzard, white-tailed eagle, golden eagle and marsh harrier. Raven, magpie, sparrowhawk and even a collared dove also died along with two dogs and two cats.

Britain’s single worst recorded wildlife poisoning incident occurred in April 2014 with red kites being the main victims. 16 kites and six buzzards were found dead near Inverness. Despite a major investigation by Police Scotland and rewards totalling £32,000 being offered no-one has been charged.


There are a number of interesting facets to this press release. Firstly, no dates are given for when these birds were found poisoned. We can’t be certain, but the press release may refer to three poisoned kites that were discovered in Co Durham in 2014: two in November 2014 and one in December 2014, according to government statistics. It’s possible that the three kites mentioned in the above press release were poisoned this year, but the published government stats only cover the first quarter of 2015 (up until March) and no poisoned kites in Co Durham are present in those figures. These days we have to wait more than six months to find out what’s actually been going on more recently so if they were poisoned after March 2015 we might find out about it ‘officially’ sometime after Christmas.

The second interesting point about this press release is it has come from FoRK. Here’s how FoRK describe themselves:

The Friends of Red Kites (FoRK) is a constituted, membership-based, community organisation which was formed by volunteers in 2009 to continue to encourage an active interest in the conservation of the red kite population in Gateshead’s Lower Derwent Valley and to continue to monitor their health & welfare.

FoRK is the successor to the funded Northern Kites Project which was responsible for the re-introduction of 94 young red kites in the core area between 2004 – 2009. In 2006 red kites began to breed in the region for the first time after an absence of 170 years.

Interesting then that a voluntary, community-based organisation has issued this press statement, and not the police and not Natural England. Has FoRK issued this press statement because they’re tired of waiting for action by the authorities? Was there a police follow up? Was there a follow up by Natural England? If these three birds were poisoned in November and December 2014, why haven’t the police or Natural England said anything? Could their (apparent) silence / inaction have anything to do with the localities of the poisoned carcasses? Check out the village of Edmundbyers on a Google Earth map – see all those weird rectangular shapes on the hills surrounding the village? They’re the tell-tale muirburn strips (burnt heather) that indicate that this area is dominated by driven grouse moors.

Say no more.

Petition to ban driven grouse shooting – PLEASE SIGN HERE

Friends of Red Kites (FoRK) website here



Red kite dies after persecution incident ‘near Tomatin’

rk by David TomlinsonReports have emerged this afternoon that a red kite has died after it was found injured ‘near Tomatin’ on 30 August 2015.

According to a BBC news article (here), ‘Police said its injuries did not appear to have been as a result of natural causes’.

According to an article in the P&J (here), ‘Early examinations of the bird have found its death is not due to natural causes’.

In other words, this kite has been illegally killed but apparently Police Scotland is ‘unable to disclose the nature of the bird’s injuries’ (according to the P&J). So the cause of death has not been revealed, and neither has the location where the injured kite was picked up, other than ‘near Tomatin’. Tomatin is in the heart of driven grouse moor country – just put it in to google maps and look at the amount of muirburn strips that surround the village – this region also has a long track record of raptor persecution on a par with other grouse moor regions such as the Angus Glens.

So, another example of an embarrassingly vague Police Scotland statement in relation to the illegal killing of yet another raptor. It’s the latest in a series of similar cryptic police statements relating to the illegal persecution of raptors:

In September 2010 the police issued a vague appeal for information following the discovery of an osprey in the Highlands that died from what they described as “deliberately inflicted injuries“. It was later reported that the bird had been shot (see here).

In June 2013 a similarly cryptic press release followed the discovery of a dead red kite in Aberdeenshire: “After recovery of the carcass, a post mortem was carried out. This revealed that the bird’s death was not by natural causes“. It was later reported the kite had been shot (see here).

In January 2014, we got more of the same after the discovery of a dead buzzard ‘near the village of Tomatin’. Ooh, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The press statement said: “Police said an examination of the buzzard suggested it had not died of natural causes” (see here). We still don’t know how it was killed.

In June 2014 there was another one, this time a hen harrier found dead near it’s nest in Muirkirk. The police said: “Whilst at this time we cannot divulge how the bird was killed, we do believe it was the result of a criminal act and we need to establish why this has happened” (see here and here). Guess, what? Turns out it had been shot (see here).

Police Scotland will claim that withholding information about the cause of the death is part of their investigative strategy, because it is ‘specialist knowledge’ that only the perpetrator and any potential witness will know. That’s a legitimate strategy, of course, but given the low likelihood of actually catching anyone for this type of offence it seems like a fairly pointless exercise. It will, though, allow the game shooting lobby to deny all knowledge and refute any suggestion that the bird was killed by anyone associated with that industry.


So what do you reckon? Is the illegal killing of this red kite going to be the crime that finally jolts the Scottish Government in to taking the oft-promised ‘further action if necessary’? Probably not. We’re still waiting to hear the Minister’s response to a question we posed three weeks ago following the discovery of a shot buzzard in the Borders. We asked her how she defined ‘if necessary’? (see here). Her response should make for an interesting read.

Whatever she says, she really does need to start delivering something tangible, and fast.

Red kite photo by David Tomlinson