Crowd out the wildlife criminals: appeal fund launched

Rare Bird Alert is the UK’s longest running instant bird news service. But more than that, this company has also become a strong ally in the campaign to raise public awareness of raptor persecution.

Following the news a few days ago that a red footed falcon, a scarce visitor to the UK, had been found shot dead in Cambridgeshire (see here), the team at Rare Bird Alert has launched a crowdfunding appeal to help boost the £1,000 reward on offer from the RSPB for information which leads to the conviction of the person responsible for killing this bird. It is hoped that a larger reward will encourage anyone with information to come forward, but the intention is also to send a strong message that people want to see an end to illegal raptor persecution.

If the reward is not claimed, Rare Bird Alert will donate the full amount raised to Birders Against Wildlife Crime – a voluntary group set up two years ago and who organise events such as Hen Harrier Day and the Eyes in the Field Wildlife Crime Conferences.

If you’d like to pledge your support, please visit the donations page HERE

Thank you.

red-footed-falcon_shot Sept 2015


Lead ammunition: time to get rid

Oxford Lead Symposium - CopyIt’s ironic that the latest scientific report detailing the harmful effects of toxic lead ammunition on both humans and wildlife has been published today, right in the middle of Great British Game Week.

The report is the Proceedings of the Oxford Lead Symposium: Lead Ammunition – Understanding and Minimising the Risks to Human and Environmental Health. The symposium took place at Oxford University in December 2014 and this report contains a series of papers, authored by some of the leading experts in this field. The report can be read here.

Despite what SNH and Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod would have us believe (e.g. see here), and what the Countryside Alliance would have us believe (e.g. see here), it’s long been known that lead is a highly toxic poison and its subsequent health risks have been documented over and over and over again (see here for excellent summary review of risks to both humans and wildlife, and see here for evidence of lead poisoning in European birds, including 17 raptor species, and see here for evidence of lead poisoning in North American raptor and non-raptor species).

The latest report includes even more evidence, if any more were needed, but also an interesting paper by Cromie et al. on why there is such opposition from the UK shooting community to the removal of lead ammunition. To many of us, based on the overwhelming body of scientific evidence, it seems such a simple thing to accept and get on with; just change your ammo to something that isn’t lead. It seems, however, according to this later paper, that resistance from the shooters is simply because they see it as an attack on shooting in general and that if lead ammo is banned, they think it’ll be the thin end of the wedge for bringing down hunting as a whole. That’s pretty much their justification for refusing to sign up.

Three eminent scientists have made damning comments about the continued use of lead ammunition. One of them, Professor Ian Newton, arguably the world’s leading raptor ecologist, said this:

My own view is that a legislative ban is needed on the use of lead in all ammunition used for hunting. At one stroke this would alleviate the problems created for people (especially the hunters themselves), for wildlife and for domestic livestock by this unnecessary but highly toxic material“.

If you agree, you can sign an e- petition to ban toxic lead ammunition. The RSPB and the WWT have been promoting this petition on social media today. If it reaches 10,000 signatures, the Westminster Government will have to respond, which would be very interesting indeed. SIGN HERE

Media coverage

BBC news here

Mark Avery blog (today’s posts here, here, here)

Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust article here

BASC statement here

Countryside Alliance statement here

UPDATE 27th November 2015: Excellent video produced by WWT about lead poisoning here

Shameful catalogue of raptor persecution revealed in RSPB’s Birdcrime 2014 report

Birdcrime 2014 cover - CopyThe RSPB has today published its latest annual Birdcrime report (2014), documenting the confirmed, probable and unconfirmed incidents of crimes against wild birds in the UK, including crimes against birds of prey.

In 2014, the RSPB received 179 reports of the shooting and destruction of raptors, including the shooting of 23 buzzards, nine peregrines, three red kites and a hen harrier. Confirmed victims of poisonings included 23 red kites, nine buzzards and four peregrines. These victims represent the tip of the iceberg – many more will have gone undetected.

The National Wildlife Crime Unit says, ‘Intelligence continues to indicate a strong association between raptor persecution and grouse moor management‘.

Sign the petition to ban driven grouse shooting HERE

Looking at the breakdown of incidents against birds of prey in 2014, the top five worst regions were:

North Yorkshire (36 incidents)

Highland Scotland (25 incidents)

Norfolk (19 incidents)

Derbyshire (16 incidents)

Northumberland (16 incidents)

The RSPB Investigations team deserves a huge amount of credit for their continued efforts to document these crimes and publish these annual reports. Without their meticulous work many of these cases would remain hidden from public view, which is what the raptor-killing criminals would prefer.

RSPB press release here

Download Birdcrime 2014 here: Birdcrime 2014

Bird of prey ‘initiative’ in Peak District National Park fails to deliver

IMG_5764 (2)In 2011, a five-year ‘Bird of Prey Initiative’ was launched which aimed to restore declining populations of some raptor species in the Dark Peak region of the Peak District National Park.

This ‘initiative’ was deemed necessary following years of evidence of wide scale raptor persecution within the region (e.g. see RSPB summary reports here and here).

The members of the ‘Bird of Prey Initiative’ comprised five organisations: The Moorland Association, The National Trust, Natural England, Peak District National Park Authority and the RSPB. Two local raptor study groups (the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group and the South Peak Raptor Study Group) were also involved.

Targets were set to increase the breeding populations of three key raptor species for which the area had been given Special Protection Area status, i.e. it was considered a nationally important site for these raptors.

The targets were set as follows:

Merlin: increase from 22 breeding pairs to 32 breeding pairs by 2015

Short-eared owl: maintain the average breeding population of 25 pairs to 2015.

Peregrine: increase from 13 breeding pairs to 15 breeding pairs by 2015.

These targets were not unreasonable – they reflected the number of breeding pairs that the SPA should have been able to support.

goshawk-legsInterestingly, the group failed to set any targets to improve the breeding populations of local goshawks and hen harriers; there was just an ‘expectation’ that these species would be encouraged to breed. Sure, neither are an SPA-qualifying species in this area but nevertheless the area used to hold historically important populations which have since been reduced, through illegal persecution, to an occasional successful pair, so why exclude them?

Anyway, the ‘initiative’ has now ended and surprise surprise, the targets set for merlin, short-eared owl and peregrine have not been met. And goshawks and hen harriers are still largely absent with just a couple of exceptions. You can download the project report here for details: PDNP-Birds-of-Prey-Report-2012-15

In response to the report’s findings, Rhodri Thomas, an ecologist with the Peak District National Park Authority, is quoted in this BBC article (here) as saying the report’s findings are “concerning and disappointing“. Mark Avery has described the findings as “entirely predictable and totally unacceptable” (see here).

Rhodri Thomas goes on to say that the decline in peregrine numbers (now at only four pairs) was the hardest to explain as numbers in other parts of the Park were increasing and there was no obvious reason why they were staying away from the Dark Peak. He said he was determined to “bottom-out” what was causing the decline.

Here’s an easy starting point for him – try reading the provisional results of the most recent National Peregrine Survey (see here) as well as the recent paper documenting peregrine declines in another region dominated by driven grouse shooting (see here).

Sorry, Rhodri, but it’s not that difficult to understand.

In a press release from the Peak District National Park (see here), there’s talk of ‘renewed commitment’ from the project partners as well as ‘new rigour and energy’ to restore the breeding success of raptors in the Dark Peak. This is, of course, utter bollocks.

Mark Avery has picked up on this in his blog from this morning (see here), and as he says, it’s just an opportunity for the National Park authorities to hide behind a failing project for a few more years and avoid taking any real action, like, for example, banning driven grouse shooting within the National Park.

We’re so tired of all this ‘talking’ and so-called ‘cooperation’. It hasn’t worked and nor will it work. How do you move on from a conversation that goes something like this:

Conservationists to the grouse shooting industry: “Stop illegally killing raptors”.

Grouse shooting industry to conservationists: “We’re not killing them”.

Meanwhile, the killing continues and The Untouchables remain untouchable. The time for talking is over.

Sign the petition to ban driven grouse shooting here

This dead goshawk (photo above) was found in the Peak District National Park in 2014 – both legs were broken and its injuries were consistent with being caught in an illegally set spring trap.

Rare red-footed falcon shot dead – police appeal

A young male red-footed falcon, a rare visitor to the UK, has been found shot dead in Cambridgeshire.

The bird’s carcass was discovered near Whittlesey, Cambs, in September. A post mortem has confirmed shooting as the cause of death.

The RSPB is offering a £1,000 reward for information.

RSPB press release here

red-footed-falcon_shot Sept 2015

Leadhills Estate featured in programme on Land Reform

The BBC’s Landward programme last Friday was a special edition focusing on land reform.

The Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate featured, including interviews with Pat Wilders, Chair of the Leadhills Community Company, and Donald Noble, the Edinbugh-based Leadhills Estate Factor.

The Leadhills Community Company (website here) was established in June 2014 as part of a formal process in readiness for registering an interest in a community buyout of Leadhills Estate.

Pat Wilders has got some guts. Well done that lady.

The programme is available to watch for the next 28 days here.

Leadhills village & grouse moor from Landward prog

New report highlights raptor persecution in Northern Ireland

PAWNI Report 2009-2013The first ever ‘official’ report on raptor persecution in Northern Ireland has been published.

The report was prepared by the Raptor Subgroup of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Northern Ireland (PAWNI) – group members include the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group (NIRSG), Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU).

The report details confirmed raptor persecution crimes between 2009-2013, including location maps. A total of 33 raptors were confirmed to have been illegally killed during this five-year period, with buzzards, red kites and peregrines the most frequent victims but other species included golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, merlin and sparrowhawk.

The report serves a useful purpose to focus attention on the extent of raptor persecution in Northern Ireland and to encourage members of the public to report suspicious activity in their areas. It is anticipated that an annual persecution report will be published in future years.

NIRSG press release here

Read the report here

Buzzard with bait NI

General Licence restrictions on Raeshaw & Burnfoot Estates last only six days

On 4th November, we blogged about SNH’s intention to restrict the use of General Licences in two areas, in response to alleged raptor persecution incidents. The two areas included parts of the Raeshaw and Corsehope Estates in the Borders (Restriction #1), and parts of the Burnfoot and Wester Cringate Estates in Stirlingshire (Restriction #2) (see here for our earlier blog about these restrictions, and see here for SNH’s explanation for the restrictions).

The General Licence restrictions were due to begin on 13th November 2015 and run for three years. They actually only ran for six days.

SNH GL restriction 1 SUSPENSION - Copy

SNH GL restriction 2 SUSPENSION - Copy

On 19th November 2015, the General Licence restrictions were suspended in both areas until further notice, because the Estates have lodged legal appeals, as they said they would last week (see here). While the appeals are underway, the Estates can continue to use the General Licences (i.e. continue to set crow traps and Larsen traps to catch and kill corvids, continue to shoot corvids, and continue to kill lots of other stuff that falls under the remit of activities permitted under the General Licences – see here for a list).

We don’t know what the basis of the appeals are, and nor do we know the procedural process of the appeals system, but presumably SNH now has a fixed period of time to respond. If SNH decides to uphold the appeals then the General Licence restrictions will be removed. If SNH decides to stick to its original decision and impose the three-year restrictions, then the restrictions would be re-instated. However, then these Estates would be entitled to apply for a judicial review to test whether SNH has acted fairly.

Settle yourselves in for a long legal battle.

Red kite found poisoned in the Highlands

rk by David TomlinsonPolice are appealing for information following the death of a red kite in the Nairn area. Police statement as follows:

The kite was discovered by a member of the public on farmland in the Glenferness area at the end of October. Police were contacted with immediate action being taken to establish the cause of death. Subsequently, test results returned this week have confirmed the bird had ingested an illegal pesticide.

Commenting on the investigation, Area Commander Chief Inspector Colin Gough said:

“Sadly it has been confirmed the red kite had died as a result of consuming a poisonous substance and an investigation is now taking place into the circumstances. It appears to be an isolated incident involving a single bird of prey. Police Scotland and partners are committed to tackling wildlife crime and will utilise all available resources to bring those responsible to justice.”

“Investigations into wildlife crime can be very complex and challenging, with a major part of our enquiries involving liaising with members of the local community who may hold essential information.

“We would appeal to anyone who has any information to make contact as a matter of urgency via 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111”

Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations for RSPB Scotland said:

“It is very disappointing to hear of yet another incident of raptor persecution in this area. It is thoroughly depressing that in 21st century Scotland, there are still those who have a Victorian attitude towards birds of prey, as well as a criminal disregard of the law.

“The continued targeting of our raptors is a stain on our country’s reputation and has no place in modern Scotland. I urge anyone who has information about this incident to contact the police as soon as possible.”


Well done to Police Scotland for putting out a timely appeal for information.

So, yet another illegally-killed raptor. Yet another poisoning with a banned pesticide. Yet more evidence that current deterrents are not working. Are you paying attention, Environment Minister?

Red kite photo by David Tomlinson

Stody Estate subsidy penalty confirmed

Following on from our blog five days ago about the subsidy penalty imposed against the Stody Estate as a result of their gamekeeper’s criminal poisoning activities (see here), the Rural Payments Agency has now clarified the actual size of the penalty:

RPA Stody Estate subsidy penalty - Copy

There’s something odd about this. Converting the penalty from Euros to Sterling using a currency converter app, the subsidy penalty amounts to £184, 745.08 (although the app used by Mark Avery has calculated the conversion to be £192, 160.63). Whatevs! Whichever calculation is accurate, it’s still a huge penalty and that’s good. And it still represents the highest known subsidy penalty imposed in the UK for cross-compliance breaches related to raptor persecution offences.

However, both of these amounts are considerably less than the amount we had calculated in our earlier blog five days ago.

We had previously calculated the penalty to be £221,946.75, which was 75% of the SPS subsidy that Stody Estate had received in 2014. We got the information about the amount of subsidy the Stody Estate had received in 2014 by doing a search on CAP Payments.

When you compare our first calculation of what the penalty was (£221, 946.75), with the amount the Rural Payments Agency now say the penalty is (£184, 745.08 OR £192, 160.63), it becomes clear that around £37,000 worth of potential subsidy penalty has apparently gone missing.

So either the data on the CAP Payments website are inaccurate, or the Rural Payments Agency has miscalculated and imposed a smaller penalty than they should.

Not sure we have the appetite for going back to the RPA to ask for clarification – it’s too much like hard work for a Friday afternoon. We’re quite content just to know that the penalty has finally been imposed and that the Stody Estate has had to suffer serious financial consequences as a result of the criminal actions of their gamekeeper. Good stuff.