Parliamentary questions on poisoned peregrine in Pentland Hills

Earlier this month we blogged about the discovery of a dead peregrine in the Pentland Hills Regional Park just south of Edinburgh (see here). The dead adult male, part of a breeding pair, had been found in May and toxicology results confirmed he had been killed with a highly toxic banned poison, capable of killing a human.

[Photo of poisoned peregrine found dead next to footpath]

There was widespread concern that Police Scotland hadn’t bothered to mention this illegal poisoning incident for many months (not until prompted to do so by us). Given the toxicity of the posion and the frequency with which the public use the footpath where the poisoned bird was found, this silence was unacceptable.

The illegal killing of the peregrine is just the latest in a growing list of wildlife crime incidents uncovered close to grouse moors in the Pentland Hills. In addition to the poisoned peregrine and the subsequent disappearance of its mate and chicks in the nest, other incidents include a raven that was found shot dead on its nest, a merlin’s nest that had been shot out, and a satellite-tagged golden eagle (Fred) who had ‘disappeared‘ in highly suspicious circumstances.

It could be argued that there is political gain to be had from keeping quiet, especially at a time when the Scottish Government-supported South Scotland Golden Eagle Project is underway and project partners SNH are keen to pretend that raptor persecution “is no longer an issue” in the area, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

In addition to the incidents in the Pentland Hills, elsewhere in south Scotland there’s Raeshaw Estate, currently operating under a General Licence restriction and an Individual Licence restriction, due to evidence of alleged ongoing raptor persecution (here); there’s a forthcoming prosecution of a gamekeeper in the Borders for a long list of alleged wildlife crime (here); there’s the land managed for driven grouse shooting in South Lanarkshire (close to the golden eagle translocation area) where over 50 confirmed reported incidents of dead raptors and poisoned baits have been recorded since 2003, including a shot golden eagle in 2012 (it didn’t survive, here), the reported shooting of a short-eared owl in 2017 (here), the reported shooting of a hen harrier in 2017 (here), and the reported shooting of a buzzard in 2018 (here); and then there’s been at least four raptor poisonings in south Scotland this year alone (here), five if you include the Pentlands peregrine.

Fortunately not all MSPs are content to remain silent on this issue. Alison Johnstone MSP (Scottish Greens) spoke out earlier this month when news broke of the poisoned peregrine, stating that she would be asking questions of the Scottish Government’s failure to protect birds of prey (see here). She’s as good as her word. Alison has since lodged several Parliamentary questions as follows:

S5W-19574: To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the reported recent cases of illegal raptor persecution, what action it is taking to address wildlife crime in the Pentland Hills Regional Park.

S5W-19575: To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the risk to (a) the public and (b) wildlife of the use of banned poisons in the countryside, and what action it is taking to address this issue.

S5W-19576: To ask the Scottish Government, in light of it attracting an estimated 600,000 visitors annually, what its response is to reports that the public was not advised about the presence of a highly toxic banned poison in the Pentland Hills Regional Park

Expected answer date for all three questions is 7 November 2018.

Well done, Alison, and thank you.

Red kite shot in Ashwell, Hertfordshire

Press statement from Hertfordshire Constabulary (25 Oct 2018):

Red kite shot in Ashwell

Officers from Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Rural Support Team are currently investigating the shooting of a Red Kite.

The injured bird was spotted by a local gamekeeper on a bridleway called Green Lane, just off Northfields Road in Ashwell, on Saturday September 29. However he was unable to catch it until October 3. He then took the bird to a local vet where x-rays indicated that it had been shot and had also sustained broken wings. Sadly, it was therefore put to sleep.

Officers are appealing for anyone who has any information about the bird and its injuries to contact them as soon as possible.

Detective Constable Amanda Matthews said: “The reintroduction of Red Kites has been a fantastic success story and the expansion of the population into Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire has allowed more people to see these amazing birds.

The persecution of birds of prey is a National Wildlife Crime Priority and we treat all incidents of this nature very seriously. We are therefore urging people to come forward with any information that could assist us to progress this matter.

Anyone who has any information about the incident is asked to contact DC Amanda Matthews via the non-emergency number 101, quoting reference 41/47461/18. You can also report information online.

Alternatively, you can contact the independent crime-fighting charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or through their anonymous online form. No personal details are taken, information cannot be traced or recorded and you will never need to go to court.


Full credit to the gamekeeper whose persistence enabled this critically-injured kite to be put out of its misery.


At least Scottish Ministers are listening. Those at Westminster? Not so much

Today’s earlier blog post (here) on the hypocrisy of the Scottish Government’s reaction to #Goatgate took a bit of a side swipe at the length of time it’s taking the Scottish Government to introduce regulation, enforcement and accountability to the driven grouse shooting industry.

But here’s a bit of perspective on the matter. At least the Scottish Government is listening to concerns, even though it seems to perpetually cycle through reviews and consultations without actually doing very much.

But as for the Westminster Government – the following says it all:

Dr Therese Coffey MP is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA). She has special responsibility for the natural environment, including biodiversity.

Shameful wilful blindness, summed up in her one word response.

Trophy-hunting of goats is no less peverse than driven grouse shooting – New Statesman opinion piece

An opinion piece for the New Statesman today, discussing the Scottish Government’s quick reaction to the peverse trophy-hunting of goats and its less-than-quick reaction to the equally peverse trophy-hunting of driven red grouse.

Article available here

Buzzard caught in illegally-set trap near Moy

Once again, we’re having to report on the deliberate persecution of a protected bird of prey in the Moy area of Highland Scotland, a well-known raptor persecution hotspot.

RPUK map showing location of Moy:

Police Scotland has issued the following appeal for information this morning:

Appeal after buzzard reported trapped south of Inverness

Police Scotland can confirm that an investigation is ongoing following a report of a trapped buzzard near Moy south of Inverness.

The buzzard was discovered by a member of the public earlier in October. However, following a subsequent search of the area by police the bird has not been located.

The trap was close to a fence near to a rough, marshy grazing area close to the B9174 and the national cycle path between Moy and Craggie.

Inspector Mike Middlehurst said: “This unfortunately appears to be an example of deliberate unlawful use of a legal trap to cause suffering to a bird of prey.

A lot of good work has been done in the Highlands and this has been a good season for raptors locally, so any evidence of continued persecution is disappointing.

The location next to the national cycle network path will hopefully help us identify anyone seen acting in a suspicious manner in the area.

Anyone seen near the fence lines, walking up the fence lines, placing articles on the fence posts would be of great interest to us.

We are appealing for anybody who has information about this incident or any other wildlife persecution in the Highland area contact us on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”


The road number cited in the police press release appears to be inaccurate. The police say it is the B9174 but it looks like this should read the B9154 as this is the road that runs between Moy and Craggie.

Interestingly, Police Scotland has not published the pictures of the trapped buzzard, photographed by the member of the public who found the bird in distress. However, from the police press release, especially the penultimate sentence, it seems reasonable to conclude that this buzzard was caught in a pole trap. A pole trap is a spring trap that has been fixed to the top of a post. When a bird lands on it, the jaws of the trap smash the birds legs, often breaking them. As the trap is fixed to the post, the bird cannot fly away and it is left to dangle upside down, held by its legs, until it dies or until the trap operator comes along and kills it.

Here’s a photo from our archives of another buzzard that had been caught in a illegal pole trap. It didn’t survive its horrific injuries.

These are barbaric devices that cause immeasurable suffering and as such have been banned from use since 1904. However, pole traps are still routinely used as a weapon of choice on game-shooting estates as we see all too often (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here). Anyone caught using these traps deserves a lengthy custodial sentence. There is simply no excuse for such savagery in 21st Century Scotland.

We’ve blogged about raptor persecution in the Moy area many many times, including the illegal use of traps and reports of armed masked gunmen visiting the nest sites of protected species. Here are a few examples: here, here, here, here, here and just last year there was a report of another buzzard that had been caught in an illegally-set trap in this area (here).

[RPUK map showing the B9154 road between Moy and Craggie. The red dots are confirmed raptor persecution incidents in this area]

And of course, this grouse moor dominated area has also been identified as one of the hotspot areas where satellite-tagged golden eagles ‘disappear’:

New paper from Langholm study shows effectiveness of hen harrier diversionary feeding

Diversionary feeding of hen harriers (where alternative food is provided for breeding birds to reduce the number of red grouse chicks they might otherwise have taken) has long been an option for grouse moor managers who complain that hen harriers eat ‘too many’ grouse.

This practice has been studied in depth during the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (phase 1 and phase 2).

[Photo of diversionary feeding in action at Langholm, by Laurie Campbell]

It’s been known for a while just how successful this technique can be. For example, during the Langholm 1 study the proportion of red grouse found in the diet of hen harriers where diversionary feeding was NOT in place was 12%. During the Langholm 2 study, the proportion of red grouse found in the diet of hen harriers where diversionary feeding WAS in place had dropped to between 0 – 4% (see here and here).

These findings have now been formally written up and published in the scientific journal Bird Study. Unfortunately due to publishing restrictions we’re not permitted to publish the entire paper but here’s the abstract:

It’s good to see this paper finally out and especially good to see that the lead author, as well as several co-authors, is employed by GWCT.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if, at the forthcoming High Court challenge against hen harrier brood meddling (a management option of which the GWCT is one of the biggest supporters), lawyers acting on behalf of challengers Mark Avery and the RSPB presented this paper as evidence that Natural England’s decision to licence brood meddling was unlawful because all other management options (i.e. diversionary feeding) hadn’t been exhausted?

Werritty Review: evidence of raptor persecution on some grouse moors ‘compelling & shocking’

The Scottish Government-commissioned review of grouse moor management continues, with the Review Group, chaired by Professor Alan Werritty, taking evidence from a variety of individuals and organisations.

For new blog readers, this review was ordered in May 2017 by Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham after the publication of another review, ‘Analyses of the fates of satellite tracked golden eagles in Scotland‘, which showed clear evidence of deliberate and sustained illegal raptor persecution in some areas managed intensively for driven grouse shooting.

The Werritty Review is due to report next year.

[Golden eagle ‘Fearnan‘, found poisoned on an Angus Glens grouse moor. Nobody was ever prosecuted for killing this eagle. In fact nobody has ever been successfully prosecuted for killing a golden eagle in Scotland. Photo by RSPB]

A number of general updates about the Review Group’s activities have been published by Professor Werritty and we were especially pleased to read his comments about the evidence presented to the group on illegal raptor persecution. It’s not very detailed but there’s little ambiguity in his words:

“Whilst we noted that many raptor species in Britain have recovered in terms of their post-war population sizes and distributions (with some strikingly successful reintroduction/reinforcement conservation programmes for sea eagles, red kite and osprey) the evidence linking raptor persecution to some areas managed as grouse moors appears both compelling and shocking”.

Professor Werritty’s full report on that meeting, which also included evidence on legal predator control and mountain hare culls, can be read here.

There have been further evidence sessions, and also a ‘consultation’, of sorts, that took place over the summer. We’ll be blogging about that ‘consultation’ separately.

Revive: the coalition for grouse moor reform, coming soon!

An exciting new partnership will be launched in Scotland in early November – Revive: the coalition for grouse moor reform.

The Revive coalition is an unusual alliance of campaigners, scientists and policy advocates from the fields of social justice, conservation, animal welfare and environmental protection, coming together to present the case for the reform of Scottish grouse moors.

The coalition includes Common Weal, Friends of the Earth Scotland, The League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, OneKind, and Raptor Persecution UK.

The launch event will coincide with the publication of a new commissioned report outlining the arguments for grouse moor reform, authored by Ruth Tingay (RPUK) and Andy Wightman MSP. The Revive coalition will also unveil its proposed campaign strategies and plans.

More info to come but in the meantime you can follow the Revive coalition on Twitter (@ReviveCoalition) and on Facebook. Also keep an eye on the Revive website here.

Responses to missing hen harrier Mabel

We learned about the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier Mabel on Thursday (here), the same day we learned about the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier Thor (here).

As usual, we’ve been tracking the official responses of the so-called partners in the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), which was established in 2011 and one of its main objectives is to raise awareness of illegal raptor persecution.

Yesterday we blogged about the official statements made by ‘partners’ in response to Thor’s disappearance near a grouse moor in the Bowland AONB (here). These statements were made by the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF), Police Supt Nick Lyall (new Chair of the RPPDG) and Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association (although Amanda still hasn’t got around to publishing her brass necked statement on the MA website).

[Hen harrier Thor, by Steve Downing]

At the time of writing this, there are no official response statements about Thor on the websites of the other RPPDG ‘partners’ including the National Gamekeepers Organisation, Countryside Alliance and BASC. No surprises there, silence has become the norm in these situations (e.g. see here, here, here, here), even though these groups have signed up to raise awareness of this PRIORITY crime.

So how about official responses to the disappearance of hen harrier Mabel who vanished close to a grouse moor on the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Pennines AONB?

At the time of writing we’ve only seen one response, from NERF. It’s well worth a read (here).

As for the rest of the ‘partners’, well their continued silence speaks volumes.

Responses to missing hen harrier Thor

Yesterday we were hit with the news of two missing hen harriers – ‘Thor’, a young bird tagged by the RSPB who disappeared in a wildlife crime hotspot in the Bowland AONB (here) and then later in the day, ‘Mabel’, a young bird tagged by Natural England who disappeared in a wildlife crime hotspot on the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the North Pennines AONB (here).

So far there have been a couple of responses to Thor’s disappearance but nothing (yet) about Mabel.

[Hen harrier Thor, by Steve Downing]

NERF (Northern England Raptor Forum) has published a typically robust response on its website (here), pointing out the depressing predictablity of it all and highlighting the miserable performance of the Bowland AONB as an area designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) for hen harriers.

Also quick to respond was Supt Nick Lyall, the new Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) which was established in 2011 as a ‘partnership’ to tackle raptor crime but so far has achieved absolutely nothing of any use.

Nick has only been in post for what seems like a couple of minutes but we’ve been impressed with his openness and his willingness to share his thoughts via his newly established blog. Yesterday evening he posted his response to the news of Thor’s disappearance – read it here.

He talks about his plans to run the first national raptor persecution workshop in November and he also discusses his previously-stated intention to break the silence of many RPPDG ‘partners’ on each raptor persecution case as it emerges, starting with Thor’s disappearance. We’ll come back to that. First we wanted to look at what he had to say about Thor.

It’s a cautiously written piece:

While it hasn’t been confirmed that this is a result of persecution, the circumstances will naturally lead people to believe this to be the case. I say this because the disappearance has occurred in a location where other hen harriers, namely Hope and Sky also disappeared without trace a few years ago under almost identical circumstances“.

He’s right not to look at Thor’s disappearance as an isolated case and to put it in to context with the disappearance of two other hen harriers (Sky & Hope) who both vanished in the same small area in 2014. However, that’s not the only reason we believe Thor’s ‘disappearance’ is as a result of persecution. Our perspective is wider and we place Thor’s disappearance in the context of all the other young hen harriers that have disappeared in suspicious circumstances on or close to driven grouse moors, time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time again.

There is abolutely no doubt whatsoever about what’s going on here – it is serious and organised crime on a massive scale across the uplands of England, Wales and Scotland. The map below shows just a fraction of the scale in one small region of the UK. No sooner do these young birds fledge and leave their natal area, they are killed. It’s no wonder the English breeding population struggles to reach double figures when the next generation of potential breeders are so relentlessly destroyed. It’s also clear evidence why DEFRA’s ridiculous brood meddling scheme won’t work.

[RPUK map showing the last known locations of ‘missing’ Natural England satellite-tagged hen harriers in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Nidderdale AONB and Bowland AONB. Red star = HH found dead & confirmed illegally killed; orange star = last known location of missing hen harriers; Black star: missing hen harrier but grid reference withheld by Natural England; orange stars 1, 2 & 3 = last known locations of RSPB-tagged hen harriers Hope, Sky and Thor; Purple star last known location of hen harrier Mabel].

Nick did manage to get statements from two of the RPPDG ‘partners’ – NERF and the Moorland Association. He says he will update his blog as other responses come in.

The statement from the Moorland Association’s Director, Amanda Anderson, deserves special attention:

We join this appeal without hesitation and it is vital the police receive any possible information. This year we have been hugely encouraged by the best hen harrier breeding season in a decade and the fact that 60% of this year’s successfully fledged chicks had help from gamekeepers. At this stage it is not known if anything has happened to Thor beyond that the tag has stopped transmitting. It is widely recognised that that there is a high natural mortality rate for young hen harriers with only two out of every ten expected to survive their first year. We all know that collaboration is the key to successful conservation. As such, enhanced transparency and greater sharing of satellite tag data from the outset of birds’ lives would be a huge step in the right direction“.

It’s a masterclass in deflection and brass neck. She paints a picture that Thor is probably ok and it’s just that his tag has stopped working and besides natural mortality is expected, but that if anything had happened to him it wouldn’t be anything to do with gamekeepers because they’ve played such a big role this year in the successful fledging of some hen harriers.

She ignores the possibility that Thor’s disappearance might be linked to illegal persecution. She ignores the long history of hen harriers vanishing in suspicious circumstances on or near driven grouse moors. She ignores the decades of scientific studies that show illegal persecution is the main factor threatening this species with breeding extinction in England and shrinking the Scottish population’s distribution. She ignores the fact that the majority of those convicted of killing raptors are gamekeepers. She ignores the fact that we’ve all seen the video evidence of what gamekeepers do to raptors when they think nobody is watching.

She then suggests that sharing satellite tag data would be a great idea. A bit like suggesting G4S should publish its timetables and routes for bank cash deliveries.

We note that Amanda’s statement hasn’t yet made it on to the Moorland Association’s website. The current news headline on that site reads: ‘Real progress being made in the fight against wildlife crime‘.

We’ll keep an eye on Nick’s blog during the day and see if any of the other RPPDG ‘partners’ can be bothered to comment.