What grisly fate awaits these two satellite-tagged hen harriers?

Bowland HH Jude LaneAs part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life+ Project, the movements of two satellite-tagged hen harriers can now be followed online – see here.

The two birds are called ‘Holly’ and ‘Chance’.

Holly had her satellite tag fitted in June this year by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group, assisted by the MOD Police and was one of three chicks from a nest located on high security MOD land at Coulport. She was named after a member of the production crew from BBC Scotland’s Landward programme after appearing in a special feature about hen harriers and the threats these birds face from illegal killing (see here). Holly fledged in August and has since left her natal area, moving in to the uplands of central Scotland.

Chance had her sat tag fitted in June last year by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group and was named by RSPB Scotland staff. She travelled south from her nest in SW Scotland to the RSPB Wallasea Reserve in Essex at the end of October (2014), before crossing the Channel to spend the winter months in western France. Chance came back to the UK in spring this year but has since returned to France via Wales.

The RSPB’s explanation for sat tagging these two hen harriers (and others) is: ‘To better understand the threats they face and identify the places they are most at risk‘.

To be frank, there is already a very good understanding of the threats they face and of the places they are most at risk; it’s been known for at least 20 years that these birds are illegally killed by gamekeepers on driven grouse moors. It’s no mystery and it’s no secret.

However, that’s not to say that continued satellite-tagging is without purpose. There’s a very important reason for continuing to do it, and that is to raise public awareness by getting people ‘involved’ with these individual birds (hence, giving them names) and showing people the birds’ movements (via online maps) so that when they are eventually shot, trapped, poisoned, or they simply ‘disappear’ in grouse moor areas (it’s inevitable), the public outcry will be considerable and the subsequent pressure on the authorities to actually do something about it will be greater. That is, assuming the police decide to publish the information, but it’ll be harder for them to keep quiet if we all know the birds have stopped moving.

There are already plenty of examples of satellite-tagged hen harriers either ‘disappearing’ or being found shot, so nobody should expect anything different for Holly and Chance. Here are some of the well-known individuals from the last few years:

Hen Harrier Annie – found shot dead on a Scottish grouse moor in April 2015 (here).

Hen Harrier Heather – found shot dead at a winter roost site in Ireland in January 2015 (here).

Hen Harrier Sky – ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Lancashire in September 2014 (here).

Hen Harrier Hope – ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Lancashire in September 2014 (here).

Hen Harrier Sid – ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire in September 2014 (here).

Hen Harrier Blue – ‘disappeared’ somewhere (location not revealed) in October 2013 (here).

Hen Harrier Bowland Betty – found shot on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire in July 2012 (here).

Hen Harrier Tanar – ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Aberdeenshire in June 2011 (here).

Hen Harrier (unnamed) – ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in southern Scotland in October 2011 (here).

And then there were the 47 hen harriers that Natural England sat-tagged between 2007-2014. Last year we were told that four were still known to be alive, six had been found dead, and a staggering 37 birds (78.7%) were ‘missing’ ‘somewhere’ (see here). Natural England has been persistently coy about telling us us where those 37 birds went missing, even though the satellite tagging project has been funded by us taxpayers.

Bowland Betty

And of course it’s not just hen harriers that we’ve watched meet a premature death. Other species have also been sat-tagged in recent years including Montagu’s harrier ‘Mo’, who ‘disappeared’ on the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk last year (here) as well as at least eleven golden and white-tailed eagles (listed here), including some very high profile cases such as golden eagle Fearnan (found poisoned on a Scottish grouse moor here), golden eagle Alma (found poisoned on a Scottish grouse moor here) an unnamed golden eagle that had been illegally trapped on a Scottish grouse moor before being dumped in a lay by (here) and the first fledged white-tailed eagle in East Scotland for over 200 years who ‘disappeared’ on a Scottish grouse moor (here).

So, contrary to the belief of the Hawk & Owl Trust who earlier this year told us that fitting satellite tags to hen harriers “would prevent any gamekeepers from shooting them in the sky” (see here), gamekeepers don’t give a toss whether the bird in their gun sight is carrying a transmitter or not because they know full well that they are highly unlikely to get caught, let alone prosecuted. Not one of the above cases has resulted in a prosecution. So, no, the purpose of tagging isn’t to directly save the bird, but indirectly it just might, if enough of us follow the online movements of Holly and Chance and all the other tagged harriers that will be part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life+ Project and then shout from the rooftops when each bird is illegally killed. It’s going to happen, and we are going to shout.

Top photo: Bowland Betty alive (photo Jude Lane).

Bottom photo: Bowland Betty dead (photo RSPB).

New report details grotesque mis-management of Scottish grouse moors

LACSreport cover - CopyA new report has been published today entitled The Intensification of Grouse Moor Management in Scotland.

Commissioned and published by the League Against Cruel Sports, the report provides a succinct overview of many aspects of grouse moor management, bringing these topics together in one place rather than the usual disparate report that focuses on just one or other particular aspect. This approach is useful for gaining the attention of policy makers within the Scottish Government who may be familiar with, say, raptor persecution or the unregulated construction of hill tracks, but perhaps may be unfamiliar with the whole suite of related problems that stem from this industry.

Topics covered in the report include the legal framework of grouse shooting, land ownership & tenure, peatland and burning, tracks and roads, medicated grit, tick management, fencing, lead ammunition, disturbance, raptor persecution, and economics and finance.

There are also eight recommendations, which are measured and reasonable, and all entirely ‘do-able’ without causing the grouse-shooting industry to collapse. There isn’t a recommendation to ban driven grouse shooting, although this may be a strategic political move more than anything else. For those of you who are tired of waiting for a properly regulated and lawful grouse-shooting industry, you can support a call for a ban on driven grouse shooting here.

The report has an accompanying video and press release (see here).

Andy Wightman (one of the report authors) has written an interesting blog on the report (here).

Mark Avery has also written an interesting blog on the report (here).

The report will be officially launched at the SNP Conference this Thursday at 6.30pm. It’ll be interesting to see which MSPs turn out in support or against.

Now sit back and wait for the grouse-shooting industry to dismiss the report out of hand for all sorts of spurious reasons rather than accept that their damaging and unregulated industry needs to change, and fast. Public awareness and scrutiny has never been greater and it’s only heading in one direction. This report will help push things along.

Further declines of breeding peregrines on grouse moors in NE Scotland

Following on from yesterday’s blog about the preliminary National Peregrine Survey results (see here), an important new scientific paper has just been published on the status of breeding peregrines in NE Scotland:

North East Scotland Raptor Study Group (2015). Peregrines in North-East Scotland in 2014 – further decline in the uplands. Scottish Birds 35(3): 202-206.

We’re not permitted to publish the full paper here, but we are able to publish extracts from it. To read the full paper you’ll either need to subscribe to Scottish Birds (published by the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club) or you can email the authors and ask if they’d be willing to provide a copy for personal use: nesrsg@gmail.com

Here is the abstract:

Peregrines in North-east Scotland were surveyed in 2014. Compared with previous studies there was an increase in coastal breeding Peregrines, but a decline in the uplands, trends persistent since 1991. Overall fewer Peregrines were recorded in 2014, but their breeding performance was relatively high. Low occupancy of nesting ranges, with more singletons than pairs, was associated with intensive management for driven grouse shooting. The results document a further decline in the Peregrine breeding population in the eastern Cairngorms National Park.

Here is the table of data:

Peregrines NE Scotland 2014_NERSG - Copy

And here is the discussion section:

The breeding population of Peregrines in the north-east of Scotland has been monitored in detail since 1975 with changes in both numbers and distribution well documented (summarised in Hardey 2011). Together with the earlier studies, the 2014 survey results suggest Peregrines in North-east Scotland have increased further on the coast and continued to decline in the uplands, particularly on intensively managed grouse moor where in 2014 only two pairs and four singletons were found.

Occupancy could be underestimated if not all alternative nesting sites are visited or if breeding attempts fail early and birds abandon the site. In 2014 this was unlikely because nesting ranges were well known, visits were not tardy, and most observers were both experienced and skilled using observations of faeces and prey remains as well as of birds. The survey’s key result involved fieldwork in areas that were easiest to search. Most nesting ranges on moorland were on relatively small rocks which were easily checked for both birds and prey remains. By comparison, birds on the coast were less easy to locate because of the continuous potential breeding habitat, including nesting sites that could not be viewed from above. That said, birds were often obvious as they perched high on sea cliff buttresses, with both droppings and plucked prey remains evident. The change in numbers on the coast might thus be complicated by birds obscurely shifting nest site, but the numbers inland are difficult to dispute. The decline of breeding Peregrines recorded in earlier studies is endorsed; in 2014 there were simply even fewer Peregrines to be found at traditional breeding places in the uplands, particularly on moorland managed for driven grouse shooting.

Both Hardey et al. (2003) and Banks et al. (2010) suggest the decline of breeding Peregrines on grouse moorland is the result of killing by game keepers in a sustained effort to reduce the numbers of grouse predators. It is difficult to argue otherwise. Amongst alternative explanations, for example, a reduction in Peregrine food supply is unlikely because Red Grouse Lagopus l. scotica (the main prey by weight) are superabundant on these intensively managed moors. Indeed, 2014 saw record-breaking grouse bags on many estates (www.shootinguk.co.uk/news/moorsreport-record-grouse-bags-6860). It is possible that some other aspect of management for grouse might be reducing the numbers of Peregrines, such as protracted muirburn or the persistent long term use of anthelminthic drugs (medicated grit), but such speculation lacks rational foundation; the most parsimonious explanation is that, as has been established for other birds of prey (Scottish Raptor Study Groups 1997, Whitfield et al. 2003, Fielding et al. 2011), Peregrines are killed on a broad scale and persistently, as newcomers repeatedly attempt to colonise untenanted breeding sites. Such killing reduces the chance of re-colonisation, and moreover reduces recruitment in nearby less intensively managed upland.

The history of the killing of Peregrines on grouse moors is well documented (Ratcliffe 1993, Hardey 2007) and the decline in breeding pairs since 1991 is well reported, initially published by Scottish Natural Heritage (Hardey et al. 2003) and several times since. Despite previous publication the results from 2014 show further decline. The context and scale of the decline is alone of major concern, but has further significance because the north-east of Scotland forms around 40% of the Cairngorms National Park designated in 2003, and currently claimed to be “a stronghold for Britain’s wildlife” (cairngorms.co.uk, accessed 13 May 2015). The eastern portion of the National Park has 53 known Peregrine nesting ranges and in 2014, 51 of these were visited, but only 17 were occupied, 12 by pairs and five by singletons. In 2014, the North-east Scotland portion of the park held less than a quarter of the number of Peregrines that bred in 1991.

END

This paper, like many before it, presents compelling evidence about the scale of illegal raptor persecution on driven grouse moors, and in this case, notably in the eastern portion of the Cairngorms National Park. We’ve blogged about this notorious raptor-killing hotspot several times before:

In May 2013 we blogged about the launch of ‘Cairngorms Nature‘ – an ambitious five-year action plan to ‘safeguard and enhance the outstanding nature in the Cairngorms National Park’. The proposals for raptor protection were unbelievable – see here.

In May 2014 the Convenor of the Cairngorms National Park Authority complained to the Environment Minister that continued raptor persecution in the area “threatens to undermine the reputation of the National Park as a high quality wildlife tourism destination” (see here). This resulted in a high-level meeting between the Env Minister and various landowners and their representative bodies in January 2015 – lots of talking and ‘partnership working’, natch – see here – but bugger all else.

Almost 45% of the Cairngorms National Park is covered by ‘managed moorland’. And just look at the damage that ‘management’ is causing. Inside a National Park for christ’s sake!

As an aside, on yesterday’s blog somebody asked whether peregrines prey on red grouse. Yes, they do. Below is a photo of a red grouse that was killed by a peregrine on a Scottish grouse moor. We watched the whole spectacular event. It’s what peregrines do and it’s why many grouse moor managers are doing their utmost to eradicate this species, as well as the hen harrier, golden eagle, and anything else with talons, a hooked beak, or sharp teeth that might affect the number of red grouse available to be shot by high-paying customers.

It’s time to ban driven grouse shooting. Please join over 22,000 other voices by signing this e-petition HERE.

IMG_6467 (2) - Copy

National peregrine survey preliminary results: those bloody grouse moors, again

Peregrine Steve WaterhousePeriodically there are synchronised national surveys for a number of raptor species in the UK, which help to build a picture of national and regional population trends. This year it was the national survey of breeding golden eagles, next year it will be hen harriers, and last year it was the peregrine.

The final results of the 2014 National Peregrine Survey are yet to be published – these things can take time, although we’d hope to see a publication in 2016. In the meantime, the project coordinator, Dr Mark Wilson (BTO Scotland) has written a short piece on the preliminary findings:

2014 National Peregrine Survey

The sixth UK breeding survey of Peregrine was carried out in 2014, providing a provisional estimate of 1480 pairs in the UK and Isle of Man. This initial figure indicates that the Peregrine population in the UK has remained largely stable since the last national survey in 2002. However, this overall stability belies marked variation in the trends of Peregrine populations in different parts of these survey areas over the past 12 years.

Peregrines are now distributed more widely and evenly than ever through the UK, due to decreases in Scotland, Wales and Isle of Man, and increases in England and Northern Ireland (see table). For the first time, the estimated number of breeding Peregrines in England is greater than that in Scotland, though these two countries still hold the majority of the UK’s Peregrines.

Peregrine survey 2014 prelim results - Copy

The country-level changes described above, together with regional trends in peregrine breeding numbers and territory occupancy, suggest that, broadly speaking, Peregrine numbers have decreased in upland areas, remaining stable or increasing in many lowland and coastal areas. The association of Peregrines with wild and remote places in the UK grows increasingly tenuous, as numbers nesting on traditional inland crags decline, and the numbers occupying lowland quarries and man-made structures continue to grow.

This ongoing redistribution of Peregrine numbers across Britain is probably being driven by multiple factors. Food supply is likely to be important; changes in numbers and availability of prey are likely to be having an effect in many areas. Illegal persecution continues to restrict numbers and productivity of breeding Peregrines in some regions, particularly where pigeon racing is practiced and where there is intensive management for red grouse shooting. In contrast, decreases in lowland persecution during the 20th century and the ban on organochlorines have had positive influences on numbers, and allowed Peregrines to expand into many areas where they were previously absent. But more work is needed, particularly on food supply and its role in limiting Peregrine numbers, in order to diagnose the cause of regional declines, and identify measures to halt or reverse them. [Mark Wilson, Research Ecologist, BTO Scotland].

END

So, not many surprises here. It’s been long-established that peregrines are routinely killed on many driven grouse moors but not so much in urban and coastal areas, where they’ve been doing well because, er, they generally aren’t poisoned, shot or trapped there, unless a dodgy pigeon racer happens to live nearby. These latest (preliminary) findings show it’s been business as usual on the grouse moors of northern England and Scotland.

The final sentence of Mark’s article is quite surprising though, and really should have been clarified. Food supply may be an issue for peregrines in some areas but it most definitely is not a limiting factor on driven grouse moors – those moors are heaving with red grouse! A brilliant paper written by Arjun Amar et al (2011 – we blogged about it here) showed pretty conclusively what was happening to peregrines on grouse moors in Northern England and it had absolutely nothing to do with lack of food and everything to do with illegal persecution.

Mark’s suggestion that ‘more research is needed to diagnose the cause of regional declines and identify measures to halt or reverse them’ may be true for some areas but not for areas that are managed as driven grouse moors. Extensive research, over many decades now, has shown exactly what the problem is and it’s high time it was addressed. Here’s the best way to address it – ban driven grouse shooting – please sign the petition here.

Tomorrow we’ll blog about another new paper, just published, that stemmed from the 2014 National Peregrine Survey. It’s about peregrine declines in North East Scotland, particularly in the Cairngorms National Park, and leaves no doubt that grouse moor management is central to the problem.

Peregrine photo by Steve Waterhouse

Case against gamekeeper William Curr, Glenogil Estate: part 3

Glenogil sign RPSCopyCriminal proceedings continued yesterday against Scottish gamekeeper William Curr of Glenogil Estate in the Angus Glens.

Curr, 22, is accused of several wildlife crimes alleged to have taken place on the Glenogil Estate in August and September 2014.

An intermediate diet has been set for 19th January 2016 and a preliminary trial date of 9th February 2016.

Previous blogs on this case here and here

The red grouse and medicated grit scandal: it’s hard to swallow

Just when you thought that all the detrimental environmental and health hazards associated with driven grouse moor management had been exposed, and just when you thought you understood the extent of corruption and/or incompetence by the government agencies responsible for preventing the detrimental environmental and health hazards associated with driven grouse moor management, along comes something else to make your jaw drop.

This time it’s medicated grit.

First, some background about medicated grit: what it is, why it’s used etc., for those who may be new to this.

The red grouse’s diet is predominantly heather. Heather can be quite fibrous and tough so the grouse ingest grit that can be found naturally on grouse moors to help digest their food. All perfectly natural. Red grouse also suffer from infestations of the parasitic Strongyle worm, which live in the gut and can cause cyclical ‘population crashes’ of red grouse every 4-5 years. Again, all perfectly natural. However, these cyclical population crashes are not very popular on intensively-managed driven grouse moors because they result in less red grouse available to kill. When your business model depends on a high density of red grouse to shoot, you want to avoid these natural population crashes at all costs. So in the 1980s the grouse shooting industry came up with a brilliant wheeze: they worked out that if they added a pharmaceutical wormer drug to the grit, they could ‘medicate’ the grouse without too much effort and halt the population crashes. Genius, eh?

The original drug used in medicated grit was Fenbendazole and this grit was placed in piles at regular intervals across grouse moors so the red grouse could eat it with easy access. The amount of grit put out depended on the density of grouse so sometimes these grit piles would be placed as frequently as every 75 m. The use of this grit was quite successful in that it reduced worm burdens in red grouse by an average of 44% and, more importantly to the grouse moor manager, increased grouse productivity by 40%. Great! More grouse available to kill! However, the drug and the fat used to bind the drug to the grit were temperature-sensitive, which meant that if there was an unseasonably mild spring, the drug would melt too soon and thus attempts to medicate the grouse during the crucial period would fail.

Not to worry, though. In 2007 the industry came up with a solution – switch to another wormer drug (Flubendazole) and another fat with a weather-resistant coating. This new grit contained 5% Flubendazole, the maximum strength permitted (licensed) for use in the UK. Tests showed that this new medicated grit would persist in the environment for much longer: 70% of the active drug remaining after nine months of being laid out, and 50-60% remaining after 18 months.

To comply with the law (which states that this drug must be withdrawn from use no later than 28 days before the start of the grouse-shooting season on 12th August to ensure the drug doesn’t find its way in to the food chain), some (but not all) grouse moor managers started to use ‘medicated grit boxes’ which comprise two compartments, separated by either a hinged or a sliding door. One compartment holds the medicated grit and the other compartment contains non-medicated grit. This allows the moorland gamekeeper to simply close off the medicated grit compartment at the appropriate time, assuming the gamekeeper is diligent and isn’t tempted to leave out the medicated grit for longer than the law allows.

Photo: medicated grit box. Image by Richard Webb.

Medicated grit tray by Richard Webb Lammermuirs

Not every moor uses specialist grit boxes though. Some moors use a home-made version:

Photo: breeze block grit dispenser. Image by Phil Champion.

Medicated grit Phil Champion

And some moors place the grit directly on to cut pieces of turf:

Photo: grit on cut turf. Image by Richard Webb.

Medicated grit upturned turf Richard Webb

Whilst the use of medicated grit boxes might seem a very good idea, they are not without their problems. When red grouse use the boxes, they can sometimes scrat around for quite some time while they choose which piece of grit they want to pick up. This can result in large amounts of faecal matter being deposited inside the box which in turn can spread disease to other grouse using the box. The ‘best practice guidelines’ issued by GWCT encourages the regular removal of all these faeces but it’s apparent that this isn’t happening on all moors. This may well explain the recent increase in the highly contagious ‘Bulgy Eye’ disease in red grouse that’s being reported on moors in northern England as well as Scotland.

Photo: grit box contaminated with grouse faeces. Image by Ruth Tingay.

IMG_5207 (3) - Copy

Although some grouse moor managers were using double strength medicated grit, they still weren’t satisfied with performance so a new ‘super-strength’ medicated grit has been developed which is ten times the strength (and according to grouse moor management ‘guru’ Mark Osborne, can be twenty times the strength). The ten times strength grit contains a suspension of 50% Flubendazole, which is far greater than the 5% limit permitted for use in the UK. The manufacturers get around this by using a Special Import Certificate.

In addition to the use of medicated grit, some grouse moor managers are also using direct-dosing methods whereby the grouse are caught in the middle of the night and have a tube shoved down their throats to deliver a few mls of an anthelmintic drug.

So, with all these pharmaceutical wormer drugs being given to red grouse, you might expect a high level of monitoring by the statutory agencies to ensure that these drugs are not entering the food chain when people are eating shot red grouse, right? Pretty much all other meat destined for human consumption is subject to rigorous testing so red grouse shouldn’t be any different, right?

WRONG!!

You may remember back in July we blogged a little bit about the use of medicated grit on driven grouse moors, in response to a ludicrous claim by SNH that red grouse are ‘healthy’ and ‘natural’ to eat (see here). We said we were interested in the testing regime and had read that the Food Standards Agency was responsible for testing shot red grouse as well as for randomly sampling medicated grit boxes.

So an FoI was sent to the FSA to ask them for the following information:

  1. How many individual birds (red grouse) were tested in England and Scotland in each of the following years: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014? Please provide a breakdown of each country in each year.
  2. From how many geographically separate grouse moors did these birds originate? Please provide a breakdown of county for each year.
  3. On what dates were these birds tested? Please provide a breakdown for each county in each year.
  4. How many of the birds tested in each year were found to contain the presence of illegal residues of Flubendazole? Please provide a breakdown of each county in each year.
  5. If illegal residues were detected in any bird, what action, if any, was taken?
  6. How many individual grouse moors in England and Scotland were randomly visited in each of the following years (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014) to test the contents of grit boxes for the presence of Flubendazole? Please provide a breakdown for each country in each year.
  7. How many grit boxes were inspected on each grouse moor of each year in each country? Please provide a breakdown of each moor, in each country, in each year.
  8. On which dates were these inspections made? Please provide a breakdown of each moor, in each country and in each year.
  9. How many of the inspected grit boxes were found to contain Flubendazole? Please provide a breakdown of each moor, in each country, in each year.
  10. If any illegal residues were detected in any grit box, what action, if any, was taken?

The FSA said they didn’t hold the information and recommended contacting the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) at DEFRA who should be able to help. It turns out that ‘the VMD are the competent authority for the National Surveillance Programme which is carried out in accordance with EU Directive 96/23/EC. This is implemented nationally under The Animal and Animal Products (Examination for Residues and Maximum Residue Limits) (England and Scotland) Regulations 2015 and The Animal and Animal Products (Examination for Residues and Maximum Residue Limits) Regulations 1997 as amended’.

So the same FOI was sent to the VMD. Their response was as follows:

“The VMD’s Residues Team haven’t taken any red grouse samples under the National Surveillance Scheme (NSS) in the years you cite, nor in any other year. We don’t therefore have the information you request”.

A further FoI was sent to the VMD to ask why they hadn’t collected any samples from any red grouse, ever. This was their response:

“The legislation does allow us to sample red grouse, but the issue is that we do not have any details of abattoirs processing this species. We continue to sample partridge and pheasants at abattoirs – these are from game shoots and taken to abattoirs to be gutted and cleaned. The abattoirs have to hold a licence to be able to do so.

In accordance with the Legislation, we must take samples at the primary production point – on farm or at abattoirs. But as we do not have any details of abattoirs processing red grouse, we have been unable to carry out any sampling under the surveillance programme.

If you do have concerns that there is use of an unauthorised substance or the withdrawal period is not being observed you should contact the Local Authority”.

Wed 6 May - CopyWe were fascinated by the idea of gamebirds being sent to “abattoirs” to be gutted and cleaned. We’d never heard of that, although we did know that some gamebirds are sent to game processing plants to be plucked etc. One such plant is Yorkshire Game, which we also knew processed red grouse. So another FoI was sent to the VMD to ask for a list of all “abattoirs” and processing facilities they had visited in the last five years to sample pheasant and partridge, as we were keen to see whether Yorkshire Game appeared on their list. Surely, if we, as ordinary members of the public, knew that Yorkshire Game processed red grouse, then the specialist team from the VMD would also know that….it’s kind of their job to know! We also asked why, if the legislation states that samples must be taken at the primary production point (“on farms or at abattoirs”) no samples had been taken at any red grouse ‘farms’ (grouse moors)?

This was their response:

“Under the programme samples are taken at abattoirs and some of these abattoirs also act as a processing facility.  Attached is a list of all game samples taken including the abattoir from 2011 to date. [Ed: this list did indeed include Yorkshire Game, as well as a number of other processing facilities in England and Scotland].

Samples taken on farms are from animals in a managed environment and the animals are usually housed to allow the sampling officer to target a specific animal to be sampled.  The practicalities of taking a sample from birds that are roaming free would be more difficult and take up additional resources.

However, since my last e-mail the VMD have now successfully identified a number of abattoirs where red grouse is processed.  As a result the National Surveillance Programme for 2016 will include sampling from red grouse and full results will continue to be published on gov.uk”.

So, it turns out that the VMD had been sampling pheasants and partridge at Yorkshire Game (and other game processing plants known by us to process red grouse), but were apparently unaware that red grouse were also available to sample there. That’s kind of hard to believe, isn’t it?

Their response to why they haven’t sampled red grouse directly at grouse moors is also hard to believe. They state that sampling free-flying birds would be difficult (yep, that would be true) but don’t say anything about why they haven’t sampled dead (shot) birds at the end of a day’s shooting.

It’s good to hear that this ‘specialist’ team “has now successfully identified a number of abattoirs where red grouse are processed” and we look forward to seeing the results of extensive sampling that should begin in 2016.

But the VMD still hadn’t answered the question about testing medicated grit boxes on grouse moors, to see whether the anthelmintic drug had actually been withdrawn within the statutory withdrawal period or whether it was still freely available to the grouse at the on-set of the shooting season. So, another FoI was submitted to ask how many grit boxes on grouse moors had been tested over the last five years. This was their response:

“The prescribing of wormers in grouse grit is permitted under the rules of the prescribing cascade in the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2013. Use of medicines in animals under the cascade is down to the professional judgement of the prescribing veterinary surgeon, taking into consideration the impact on the animals concerned, in response to a specific animal welfare need. Therefore, the VMD does not specifically monitor such use.

A statutory withdrawal period when using medicines under the cascade has to be applied and that means that the medicated grit must be removed from the grouse moors at least 28 days prior to the shooting of the birds.  The Legislation referred to in my previous e-mail sets out that primary products of animal origin should be sampled and grit is not included in the programme. Samples of red grouse muscle will be taken as part of the 2016 programme”.

Amazing! So a pharmaceutical drug of at least ten times the licensed strength permitted (twenty times the strength if you believe Mark Osborne) is being used on grouse moors without ANY statutory monitoring whatsoever! Isn’t that astonishing? Do you think that the public would accept other meat industries (e.g. dairy farmers) getting away with this lack of regulation and scrutiny? No, of course they wouldn’t, so how come the grouse shooting industry is exempt?

The grouse shooting industry will probably argue that they have ‘best practice guidelines’ for the use of medicated grit – and indeed they do – but who will believe that they’re adhering to these guidelines? We don’t. This is an industry that routinely breaks the law so we’d fully expect them to ignore ‘best practice guidelines’, especially if they know the authorities aren’t checking.

Anyone still fancy eating a ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ red grouse? Go on, it’s good for you – as well as all that toxic lead, there’s free, high-dosage wormer included too! Yum!

And what about the environmental consequences of using this high persistence pharmaceutical drug in an open landscape of supposed high conservation value? What short and long-term effect is it having and how does it impact on other species? Nobody knows. Is anyone researching this or is it yet another case of turning a blind eye to the actions of the grouse shooting industry?

An argument could easily be made that shot red grouse is actually ‘hazardous waste’. The HSE’s definition of hazardous waste is this:

‘Waste is considered ‘hazardous’ under environmental legislation when it contains substances or has properties that might make it harmful to human health or the environment. This does not necessarily mean it is an immediate risk to human health, although some waste can be’.

It’s time driven grouse shooting was banned. Please sign the petition HERE

UPDATE 3 March 2017: Are red grouse safe to eat? Don’t rely on Government testing to tell you (see here).

UPDATE 1 January 2018: High risk of eating contaminated red grouse after inadequate safety checks (here)

UPDATE 12 July 2018: High risk of eating contaminated red grouse as inadequate safety checks continue (here)

Misleading conclusions from Scot Gov’s 2014 wildlife crime report

Wildlife Crime in Scotland 2014 reportYesterday the Scottish Government published its latest report on wildlife crime: ‘Wildlife Crime in Scotland: 2014 annual report’ (see here).

It was accompanied by a Government press release (here) with a headline statement claiming ‘ Recorded wildlife crime dropped by 20 per cent in the period 2013-2014‘. This claim has been regurgitated, without real examination, in much of the national press, which will give the public the impression that all’s going swimmingly in the fight against wildlife crime in Scotland. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let’s start with the report’s name. It claims to be the ‘2014 annual report’, but actually the period covered by the report is the 2013/14 financial year: April 2013 to March 2014. That means the majority of the data are from 2013 (9 months worth) – these are wildlife crimes that took place as long ago as 2.5 years and the most ‘recent’ took place 18 months ago (March 2014). Many more offences occurred during the nine months between April-Dec 2014 but they are not included in this report. Although the report itself does explain the reasons behind this odd time-frame selection, the report’s title does not, which means anyone just browsing the headline news will be given a false impression of how recent these findings are. It’s a small point, but it’s an important one.

However, there are bigger issues than just a misleading report title.

If you take the report’s data at face value (which we don’t – more on that in a second) and accept that it’s representative of all reported wildlife crime in Scotland between April 2013 and March 2014, you might also accept that the claim of a 20% reduction in recorded wildlife crime is accurate. But if you look at the data (Table 1), you’ll notice that this supposed broad reduction (i.e. reduction of recorded wildlife crimes in general) is actually almost entirely due to a large reduction in one particular area of wildlife crime: specifically, fish poaching. To then apply this reduction of a specific wildlife crime to all other types of wildlife crime in a broad sweeping statement is wholly misleading.

Our main issue with this report, as with previous reports, is the Government’s insistence on only using crime data that has been recorded by the Police. Although this report does attempt to address this problem by including separate sections on data collected by others (e.g. Scottish Badgers, SSPCA), these data are still not included in the overall analysis of wildlife crime trends because these incidents weren’t recorded on the Police national crime database. A good example of this is shown in Table 10, which details the number of wildlife cases investigated by the SSPCA. The report accepts that cases investigated solely by the SSPCA (as opposed to cases where the SSPCA has assisted the Police) are not included in the ‘official’ recorded crime data because ‘they are not recorded on the police national crime database’. So in effect, 69 cases that were investigated solely by the SSPCA during the period covered by the report are absent from the national figures. It seems bizarre that even though these data are available (of course they are, they appear in this report, albeit in a separate section!) they are still excluded from the main analysis. This blatant exclusion immediately reduces our confidence in the robustness of the ‘national’ data.

Another blatant exclusion of data is demonstrated in Table 17 in the Raptor Persecution section. This table identifies only 16 bird of prey victims from the mass poisoning in March 2014 known as the Ross-shire Massacre, excluding the other six victims that were found. The report justifies this exclusion by explaining that evidence of poisoning was not found after examinations of those six raptors. That’s fair enough, but surely we’re not expected to believe that those six victims all died of natural causes, in the same small area, and at the same time, as the 16 confirmed poisoning victims? They don’t appear in the figures because a crime couldn’t be identified, but they still died as a result of this crime and to pretend otherwise is nonsense.

An additional problem that erodes public confidence in the accuracy of the ‘national’ data is the issue of how carefully wildlife crimes are recorded. A report published earlier this year (which includes part of the period covered by this latest Government report) revealed systemic problems with the under-recording of several types of wildlife crime as well as failures by the police to undertake follow-up investigations on reports of suspected wildlife crimes (see LINK report here). If the police don’t follow up with an investigation, the incident is unlikely to be recorded as a crime. Until these issues are suitably addressed, the accuracy of ‘official’ ‘national’ wildlife crime data will inevitably be viewed with suspicion.

So, we don’t have much confidence in this report’s data and we certainly don’t agree with the Government’s claim that (overall) recorded wildlife crime has reduced by 20%, but there are some positives. It’s clear that more thought has been put in to the material contained in this year’s report and there is definitely more clarity about the sources used. That’s good progress.

There are also a couple of things in this report that we are particularly pleased to see.

First, let’s go back to Table 10 (SSPCA data). You may remember (if you have a long memory) that in March 2014, the Government opened its consultation on whether to increase the investigatory powers of the SSPCA. That consultation closed in September 2014 and, over a year later, we’re still waiting for a decision. It’s our understanding that one of the main sticking points is with Police Scotland (who, as you’ll recall, strongly objected to an increase of powers – see here). Apparently, the current sticking point is that Police Scotland are worried that they’ll be excluded from wildlife crime investigations because the SSPCA ‘refuses to work with them’. However, if you look at Table 10, you’ll notice that 50% of all wildlife cases taken by the SSPCA during the period covered by this report were undertaken in partnership with the Police. That’s 50%. Does that look like an organisation that is refusing to work with the Police? It doesn’t to us.

The second point of interest in this report appears in Table 18b. This table provides information about recorded bird of prey crimes between April 2013 and March 2014. Have a look at the 7th entry down:

Species: Hen Harrier

Police Division: Aberdeenshire and Moray

Type of Crime: Shooting

Date: June 2013.

Why is this of particular interest? Well, cast your mind back to January 2014 when we blogged about a vague Police Scotland press release that stated a man had been reported to the Crown Office ‘in relation to the death of a hen harrier’ in Aberdeenshire that took place in June 2013 (see here). So it turns out this hen harrier had been shot. Amazing that it took over two years for this information to be made public. But that’s not the most interesting bit. For this unnamed individual to be reported to the Crown for allegedly shooting this hen harrier means that the Police have some level of evidence that they think links him to the crime. If they didn’t have evidence, he wouldn’t have been reported. So, the alleged crime took place 2.4 years ago. The Crown Office was notified 1.9 years ago. What’s happening with this case? Is there going to be a prosecution? Why such a long delay for a crime that is deemed a ‘priority’ by the Scottish Government?

%d bloggers like this: