Jim Shannon MP tells Westminster “there are too many birds of prey”

Dim-witted dinosaur Jim Shannon MP (DUP, Strangford, NI) is back making a fool of himself again.

Just a few weeks after being told that the UK Government “is not considering any further controls on the number of raptors” (see here), here’s what the Countryside Alliance member said in the Westminster Parliament yesterday:

From Hansard (2 Nov 2017)

The number of birds of prey across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has risen astronomically to the detriment of songbirds. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs does occasionally grant licences to cull birds of prey, but many country people and landowners who want to avail themselves of such licences in order to achieve a balance in the countryside find the process to be off-putting. Indeed, sometimes they cannot get a licence. There are too many birds of prey and too few songbirds and mammals, so will the Leader of the House grant a debate on that or call for a statement from DEFRA?

Here’s the response from Andrea Leadsom MP:

The hon. Gentleman shares with me a love of nature and wildlife, but we have seen a reduction in this country’s wildlife over many years. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [Michael Gove MP] has said, it is vital that we take steps as we leave the EU to improve our biodiversity and the prevalence of songbirds and mammals. He is taking steps to ensure that that happens, and there will be further opportunities as we leave the EU“.

There was a good feature about this on Northern Ireland’s BBC Newsline this evening, with a response from Dr Marc Ruddock of the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group, who managed not to laugh and instead calmly explained that the scientific evidence does not support Jim Shannon’s ludicrous claims. You can watch it on iPlayer here (starts 12:05) but it’s only available for 24 hrs.

Apparently Jim Shannon wasn’t available for interview. Too busy practising his lines for The Simpsons, perhaps.

Interesting bedfellows: 4

Every now and then we blog about who’s (figuratively) getting in to bed with whom within the grouse-shooting industry. Previous installments in this revealing series have included this, this and this.

Today’s fascinating bedfellows are the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and Mark Osborne, joint owner of William Powell and grouse moor management ‘guru’, who, according to our research, has links to at least 70 grouse and pheasant shooting estates across the UK, including some very familiar names to this blog such as Leadhills, Glenogil, Raeshaw, Glenlochy, Snilesworth, Abbeystead.

Last year in one of it’s never-ending fundraising drives, the GWCT held a raffle, with a pair of shotguns, a day’s driven grouse shooting and 500 cartridges on offer, all worth an estimated £25,000 and all donated to the GWCT raffle by William Powell. That was extraordinarily generous.

Here’s the happy raffle winner collecting his prize from Andrew Gilruth (GWCT) & Mark Osborne (William Powell) earlier this year:

A few days ago a blog apeared on the GWCT website (here) describing the winner’s ‘fantastic day’ on a grouse moor in Derbyshire called Ashop Moor.

Here’s a map showing Ashop Moor, which is part of the Park Hall & Hope Woodlands Estate inside the Peak District National Park:

And here’s a photo of Ashop Moor (photo by RPUK):

It looks lovely, doesn’t it? Just the sort of landscape where you might expect to see a pair of breeding hen harriers. But there aren’t any breeding hen harriers there.

The name of the estate and the name of the moor may not be familiar with blog readers, but you’re more likely to know it for what was filmed there on 24th February 2016 at around 11am:

A few months after we published this video, the National Trust announced it had pulled the shooting lease on this estate four years prematurely and the shooting tenant, believed to be Mark Osborne, was given notice to leave by April 2018.

Very interesting bedfellows indeed.

Chair of Nidderdale AONB condemns illegal raptor persecution

Don’t ever underestimate the power of public pressure.

You know that big solid wall of silence we’re all so used to looking at every time a raptor crime is discovered and reported? It looks like it’s finally beginning to crumble.

The latest to speak out, spontaneously (i.e. without prompting), about the continued illegal killing of birds of prey is the Chair of the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’s Joint Advisory Committee, Councillor Nigel Simms:

He’s obviously taken a lead from the spontaneous statement made by the neighbouring Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority yesterday.

The publication of this statement from the Nidderdale AONB is really, really welcome. The Nidderdale AONB in North Yorkshire is notorious as a raptor persecution hotspot and has been for many years. We’ve lost count of the number of red kites that never make it out of this particular hell hole, although the RSPB has been keeping track – 22 poisoned or shot in the last ten years, and that’s only the ones that were found.

Nidderdale red kite persecution incidents 2007-2017, map by RSPB:

Illegally-killed red kite (photo Marc Ruddock):

We also know that hen harriers rarely get out of Nidderdale alive – unfortunately we can’t show you a detailed map because Natural England wants to keep the details a secret. Natural England is supposed to protect hen harriers but it’s clearly more interested in protecting the reputations of criminal landowners and gamekeepers. Anyway, here’s a photo of an illegally-killed satellite-tagged hen harrier – something you might see if you visit Nidderdale AONB, assuming you get to it before the gamekeeper who shot it:

It’s interesting to see that these crimes are “starting to have a damaging effect on tourism businesses“, according to Cllr Simms. Good, not for the businesses affected, obviously, but good that it will drive increased local pressure to bring these crimes to an end.

Cllr Simms’ comment that illegal raptor persecution “undermines the work of law-abiding landowners and gamekeepers who are actively working alongside us to improve prospects for all forms of wildlife in the AONB” is slightly odd. Which law-abiding landowners and gamekeepers are those? Presumably not anyone involved with any of the aforementioned red kite killings or hen harrier disappearances, nor, presumably, anybody involved with the attempted shooting of a nesting marsh harrier and the removal of its eggs, as filmed on a Nidderdale AONB grouse moor by the RSPB earlier this year?

There’s much work to do in this AONB but this very public condemnation of illegal raptor persecution from the Chair of the AONB Advisory Committee is encouraging. Well done, Cllr Nigel Simms.

Now, who’s next to speak out and bring that wall of silence crashing down?

BASC Chairman Peter Glenser calls for “honesty” in raptor debate

Have we moved in to a parallel universe? It feels like it today.

First we have BASC’s acting chief executive, Christopher Grafficus, admitting there are “criminals among us” and urging his members to stop killing raptors (see here) before also admitting that the number of convicted gamekeepers “must be the tip of the iceberg” (see here).

And now BASC’s chairman, Peter Glenser, has written a short piece on BASC’s website calling for “honesty in the raptor debate”:

Hmmm. To be honest (as Peter Glenser wants), we’re not as convinced by Peter’s statement of intent as we were this morning with Christopher Graffius’ sincerity. There are a number of reasons for this.

Where was BASC’s ‘honesty’ in the evidence they submitted to last year’s Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting, about the extent of criminal behaviour on driven grouse moors? They claimed it was only undertaken by “a small minority of individuals”.

Where was BASC’s ‘honesty’ in December last year when a senior staff member was telling a Scottish Parliamentary Committee there was no need for game shoot licensing because

“Shotgun certificate holders are among the most law-abiding sector of society and any hint of illegal activity can lead to the right to hold a certificate, and the ability to shoot, being withdrawn”

when on the very same day, Peter Glenser (in his capacity as a barrister) was defending the right of a gamekeeper to have his firearms returned even though it was accepted by the court that this particular gamekeeper had been involved with storing poisons in a secret underground stash on a grouse moor?

Where was the ‘honesty’ last year when BASC’s Director of Northern England, Duncan Thomas, reportedly told a conference that it was ‘an absolute fact’ that disturbance from birdwatchers was the major factor in the losses of hen harriers from grouse moors and it wasn’t much to do with illegal persecution?

There are probably plenty of other examples we could cite if we could be bothered to look for them, and then there’s also BASC’s cynical attempts (e.g. hereherehere) to silence Chris Packham, on the pretence of being concerned about BBC impartiality but in reality probably being more concerned about Packham’s ‘celebrity’ status allowing him to reach a wide audience with his concerns about raptor persecution on driven grouse moors.

We’re also a bit suspicious of Peter Glenser’s use of the phrase “the raptor debate”. There is no ‘raptor debate’. This is about the criminal offence of killing of birds of prey, that’s it. What we suspect Peter might be getting at by the use of this phrase is perhaps he thinks there should be a debate and the focus of that debate would be how many licences gamekeepers can get for legally killing raptors.

That debate, if it ever comes, is a long way away. The immediate issue, as Christopher Graffius recognised, is getting gamekeepers and land owners to stop killing raptors. And while we very much welcome BASC’s apparent commitment to this objective, the immediate and dismal response of the two gamekeeping organisations (NGO and SGA) shows just how difficult that will be.

We don’t know what has sparked these sudden declarations from BASC, although we’d love to know, but it might just be too little, too late. Scotland is already well down the path towards the introduction of a licensing scheme, mainly because the gamebird – shooting industry has comprehensively failed to self-regulate, since 1954! They’ve shown time after time, for decades, they simply can’t be trusted.

Whether BASC can organise the other members of the shooting community (i.e. the non-gamebird shooters) to rally against the criminals within the grouse and pheasant shooters, which is what BASC appears to be trying to do, then maybe, just maybe, they can salvage something from the train wreck that’s thundering their way.

Convictions for raptor persecution “must be the tip of the iceberg”, admits BASC chief

Further to this morning’s blog about BASC’s acting chief exec Christopher Graffius urging his members to stop killing raptors (here), here’s some more detail.

The Times article had suggested that Christopher had written a letter to BASC members, in response to the publication yesterday of the RSPB’s 2016 Birdcrime report. It turns out that ‘letter’ was an opinion article in the Nov/Dec 2017 edition of BASC’s magazine, Shooting & Conservation:

For those struggling to read the small text, here’s a PDF of the article:

Christopher Graffius BASC Raptor Persecution threatens us all_Nov2017

How refreshing to see a senior member of the shooting industry acknowledge that convictions for illegal raptor killing “must be the tip of the iceberg“.

He writes: “I know it’s not all keepers, but the figures of those caught and convicted must be the tip of the iceberg and in 2017 the cases continue: a buzzard and a red kite in Yorkshire, a peregrine in Cambridgeshire, a buzzard in Hertfordshire, a peregrine in Lancashire, a red kite in Northern Ireland, a peregrine in Suffolk and a short-eared owl in Scotland. Those are some of the confirmed cases of shooting in the space of three months from July“.

This comes after years and years and years of denials from ‘leaders’ within the game-shooting industry who have argued that raptor persecution is an ‘historical’ problem and everything’s just fine now (e.g. see here and here).

Well done, Christopher Graffius. Until now, the shooting industry’s collective denial has been one of the main reasons (along with poor enforcement of the law) for the failure to make progress on this issue – there’s no point having dialogue with those who won’t admit there’s even a problem.

Is this the beginning of a new start? Time will tell….although the industry doesn’t have that much time left before change is enforced….

“There are criminals among us” – BASC chief condemns raptor killers

Christopher Graffius, acting chief executive of the British Association of Shooting & Conservation (BASC) has spoken out against the raptor killers within the shooting industry, according to an article in today’s edition of The Times.

For those who can’t read the small text, here’s a transcript:

SHOOTING CHIEF GUNS FOR RAPTOR KILLERS

By Jerome Starkey, Countryside Corrrespondent

For years shooting enthusiasts had refused to accept that some of the sport’s devotees were targeting endangered birds of prey.

Now the country’s biggest shooting group has broken ranks and admitted that its members have been killing harriers and falcons.

Christopher Graffius, acting chief executive of the British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC), said that killing the birds to protect pheasants and grouse was a “fool’s bargain” that his members had to stop or risk their sport being banned.

In a letter to his organisation’s 150,000 members he said that there were “criminals among us” who risked “wrecking shooting for the majority“.

All of us need to realise that the killing of raptors is doing us no favours. It risks terminal damage to the sport we love“, he said.

He made the comments after the RSPB’s annual Birdcrime report found that 81 raptors, including buzzards and kites, were killed last year. The charity blamed gamekeepers for trapping, poisoning and shooting the birds and called for driven grouse shoots to be licensed so that they operated “legally and sustainably”.

Mr Graffius said that expelling members who were convicted of raptor persecution was not enough. Shooting needed a cultural shift to make such people pariahs. “Peer pressure is a powerful force in shooting. We must make clear that wildlife crime has no place in our community“, he said.

Mr Graffius, 59, was appointed acting chief executive last year after his predecessor as head of BASC, Richard Ali, was suspended and then sacked over allegations of bullying.

Mr Graffius said that the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats had all raised concerns about raptor persecution at their party conferences this year. “This should matter to everyone who shoots, and particularly the keepers, shooting tenants and landowners who rely on their living from the sport. If the killing doesn’t stop, their jobs and the income they earn from shooting is at risk“, he added.

Hen harriers are among Britain’s most endangered birds after their population fell by 18 per cent in six years. There are fewer than 550 breeding pairs left, according to the RSPB, with only four pairs in England, down from 12 in 2010.

A spokesman for the National Gamekeepers Organisation, representing those in England and Wales, said that “very few stupid keepers and landowners” broke the law. “These dinosaurs sully the good name of modern shooting, putting at risk its long-term future“, he said. “The only effective solution lies in changing the collective mindset of those involved“.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said that it had expelled six members in five years over alleged wildlife crime but that the majority of its 5,300 members were law-abiding. “In Scotland, the greatest issue we wrestle with is the lack of access to legal measures to solve species conflicts. We feel this would have more impact than any other measure to prevent wildlife crime“, a spokesman said.

Patrick Galbraith, the editor of Shooting Times, said that some young gamekeepers felt pressured by their employers to kill raptors. “If the shooting community refuse to admit it, the future for our sport could be bleak“, he said.

Tim Bonner, head of the Countryside Alliance, which campaigns in favour of shooting, said that historically gamekeeping techniques had devastated hen harrier populations but that there was a “generational shift” taking place towards better conservation. “It’s our role to encourage that change of attitudes“, he said.

Jeff Knott, head of nature policy at the RSPB, said that it was “good to see BASC stand out from others in the shooting community. Decisive action is certainly harder to deliver than fine words, but this willingness to lead change is to be welcomed“, he said.

ENDS

Blimey. Christopher Graffius deserves real credit here – this is the first time we can remember that one of the shooting industry’s big organisations has admitted culpability for illegal raptor persecution and condemned it with any sincerity. It’ll be interesting to see how his BASC members respond and for how long he’ll remain in post.  We welcome his comments, with some caution because they’re just words after all, but nevertheless we think that his intentions are good and this could be the beginning of a significant positional shift.

However, the responses from the gamekeeping organisations (National Gamekeepers Organisation and Scottish Gamekeepers Association) do not give cause for such optimism. It’s just more of the same old, same old – a collective denial that widespread raptor persecution continues and that when it does occur, it’s just the work of a handful of gamekeepers. Unfortunately for them, the overwhelming evidence does not support this claim.

This pie chart was published yesterday in the RSPB’s Birdcrime 2016 report:

Have a close read of the SGA’s response – they say they’ve expelled six members in five years for ‘alleged wildlife crimes’, suggesting that these wildlife crimes might not actually have happened, even though those gamekeepers were expelled precisely because they had been convicted in a court of law. They had criminal convictions for actual raptor persecution crimes, not alleged crimes.

The SGA then argues that the only effective measure to prevent wildlife crime would be to give gamekeepers licences to kill raptors, bcause then killing raptors wouldn’t be a criminal offence any more. We’ve heard this many times before – the SGA has been lobbying for years to get licences that would enable them to kill species such as buzzards, sparrowhawks, and even red kites and white-tailed eagles (e.g. see here). So far they’ve been unsuccessful, although licences have been issued to a gamekeeper in England permitting him to kill buzzards ‘to protect pheasants’, even though the licence applicant, supported by the National Gamekeepers Organisation, had a prior conviction for having a stash of illegal poison.

Let’s hope that other industry chiefs follow Christopher Graffius’ example and start to apply pressure across the whole shooting community. He’s seen the writing on the wall and knows that the continued illegal killing of raptors will bring the game-shooting industry to its knees. Time’s running out……

UPDATE 11.45: Here’s a copy of the ‘letter’ from Christopher Graffius to BASC members to which The Times journalist refers. It’s actually an article from BASC’s Nov/Dec newsletter, Shooting & Conservation:

Christopher Graffius BASC Raptor Persecution threatens us all_Nov2017

Reactions to RSPB’s 2016 Birdcrime report: compare & contrast

Following this morning’s publication of the RSPB’s 2016 Birdcrime report (see here), it’s fantastic to see such widespread media attention on the continued illegal killing of birds of prey in the UK.

Guy Shorrock (RSPB Investigations) gave a cracking interview on BBC Breakfast (available to watch on iPlayer here, but only for the next 24hrs. Starts at 1:50:10).

Given North Yorkshire’s atrocious track record (again) for illegal raptor killing, we were particularly pleased to read a statement from the Chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA), which is featured prominently on the YDNPA website:

We should expect this level of condemnation from a National Park Authority as a given, but the fact we’re even blogging about it shows how rare an occurrence this is. But it’s very, very welcome, and probably a reflection of how public opinion is forcing the YDNPA to take note and act.

Kudos to Carl Lis – he clearly ‘gets it’ (see his reference to an increase in successful nests being the only indicator of real progress) and he didn’t have to say anything at all, let alone post it on the National Park website. Well done that man.

But not everybody’s happy about today’s high media coverage. In contrast to the statement from the YDNPA Chair, have a look at the Countryside Alliance’s twitter response to the publication of the Birdcrime 2016 report (interestingly, this hasn’t been published on the CA’s website):

It’s not the first time, and probably won’t be the last, that the Countryside Alliance has criticised the RSPB’s annual Birdcrime report. In 2014 they made a formal complaint to the Charity Commission. The Charity Commission rejected the complaint outright – well worth a read (see here).

Does anyone believe this organisation is intent on stamping out illegal raptor persecution? Perhaps if they put as much effort in to this as they do trying to silence the RSPB, or trying to get Chris Packham sacked just because he speaks out about wildlife crime, we might actually start to get somewhere.

RSPB publishes Birdcrime 2016 report

Press release from RSPB:

REPORT REVEALS CONTINUED PERSECUTION OF BIRDS OF PREY IN UK

  • RSPB’s Birdcrime report reveals a minimum of 81 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in the UK during 2016, but many illegal killings are going undetected or unreported.
  • There were no prosecutions for these persecution offences, the first time this has happened in 30 years.
  • Illegal killing is not only robbing people of the chance to see birds of prey in the UK but has serious consequences for their populations.
  • The RSPB is calling for police and other enforcing authorities to make full use of all existing powers to protect birds of prey as well as the introduction of a licensing system for driven grouse shooting to ensure shoots are operating legally and sustainably.

Without urgent action some of UK’s birds of prey face a bleak future after the latest Birdcrime report revealed a minimum of 81 confirmed incidents of illegal raptor persecution in 2016, without a single person prosecuted.

Birdcrime 2016 – the only report summarising offences against birds of prey in the UK – revealed 40 shooting, 22 poisoning, 15 trapping and four other incidents of illegal persecution against raptors. Among the victims were hen harriers, peregrine falcons, red kites and buzzards. However, evidence suggests these figures are just the tip of the iceberg with many illegal killings going undetected or unreported.

[Photo: this Marsh harrier was found shot next to a partridge release pen on a shooting estate in Yorkshire. Image via Jean Thorpe]

The report also revealed close to two-thirds (53) of the confirmed incidents took place in England, with particular concern for raptors in North Yorkshire. Over the last five years the county recorded the highest number of confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents in the UK, with 54 incidents since 2012 and 19 last year alone.

The problem wasn’t confined to England, with the report highlighting confirmed cases in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, where there is growing concern over the repeated suspicious disappearance of satellite tagged birds of prey. This year, a study by Scottish Government examined the fate of 131 golden eagles fitted with satellite tags between 2004-16 concluding that ‘as many as 41 (one third) disappeared, presumably died, under suspicious circumstances connected with records of illegal persecution.’

Increasingly, people in the UK are being robbed of the chance to see these spectacular birds because of these illegal incidents, yet in 2016, there wasn’t a single prosecution arising from a confirmed incident, the first time this has happened in 30 years.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: “Birds of prey bring our skies to life. There is nothing like seeing a diving peregrine or a skydancing hen harrier. The sights of these spectacular birds are something we should all be able to enjoy, unfortunately illegal activity is stopping this and preventing the birds from flourishing. There are laws in place to protect these birds but they are clearly not being put into action. We need governments across the UK to do more to tackle illegal killing to protect our raptors for future generations to enjoy.”

Previous research has shown that illegal killing of birds of prey is associated with land managed for intensive driven grouse shooting, leaving vast areas of our uplands without raptors. A Natural England study revealed ‘compelling evidence’ that persecution of hen harriers – associated with driven grouse moors – was the main factor limiting their recovery in England.

The RSPB believes the introduction of a licensing system for driven grouse shooting would help tackle the ongoing illegal persecution that occurs on these grouse moors. This would also help tackle the wider problems of intensive management of ‘big bag’ driven grouse shooting, like the draining of and burning on fragile peat bogs. A fair set of rules in the form of a licensing system could help ensure shoots are operating legally and sustainably and introduce the option of restricting or removing a licence in response to the most serious offences, for example where staff on an estate have been convicted of illegally killing birds of prey.

The RSPB welcomes a recent announcement by Scottish Government that will see an independent panel established to review options for regulation of grouse shooting and to look at the economic and environmental costs and benefits of the industry.

Bob Elliot, RSPB Head of Investigations, said: “This latest Birdcrime report continues to highlight that in the UK we have a major issue with birds of prey being deliberately and illegally killed, despite having full legal protection. This type of crime has serious consequences for the populations of species, such as the hen harrier, and we must see a change in attitude and more effective law enforcement to protect these birds for years to come.”

ENDS

Read the online Birdcrime 2016 report here

Birdcrime 2016 data appendices here

Well done to the RSPB Investigations Team for once again compiling and publishing these annual data, which help to dispel the oft-cited myth from the game-shooting industry that raptor persecution ‘is a thing of the past’. Have a look at this useful graph and draw your own conclusions – the data don’t lie, unlike the game-shooting industry:

Of course, it comes as no surprise that those within the bird shooting industry would want to mislead the public – as this pie chart reveals, gamekeepers are responsible for the vast majority of UK raptor persecution crimes:

The county of North Yorkshire once again comes top of the raptor-killing leader board, way ahead of every other county. Many of these crimes have taken place on driven grouse moors:

Tune in around this time next year, to read more of the same. Nothing has changed and nor will it change until the filthy and unregulated driven grouse shooting industry has been closed down. You can help hasten its demise by signing this e-petition calling for a ban: please join over 10,000 others and sign here.

MEDIA COVERAGE

BBC Breakfast news: Great interview with Guy Shorrock (RSPB Investigations). Available on iPlayer but only for 24 hrs (starts at 1:50) here

BBC news: here

New Scientist: here

Guest blog by Bob Elliot, Head of RSPB Investigations: here

Daily Telegraph: here (including a quote from Amanda Anderson, Moorland Association)

The Times: here (behind paywall)

The York Press: here

Statement from Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority: here

Yorkshire Post: here

UPDATE 1.30hrs: Reaction to RSPB’s 2016 Birdcrime report, compare & contrast (here)

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