Are raptor-killing licences on the cards for gamekeepers in Scotland?

Rumours are circulating that licences to kill raptors (in order to protect ‘livestock’, i.e. pheasants & partridge poults) are being considered in Scotland.

It must be stressed that these are only rumours, but based on the sources, we’re treating them seriously.

Separate to these rumours, and perhaps more than coincidentally, Alex Hogg’s editorial piece in the latest edition (Dec 2018) of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s quarterly rag for its members focuses strongly on raptor-killing licences – something he claims would lessen the likelihood of gamekeepers “making bad decisions when it comes to raptors” (he means committing wildlife crimes).

Here’s the article – see what you think:

The timing and content of his editorial may well just be coincidental; it’s not like he and his sorry-arsed organisation haven’t been lobbying to be allowed to kill raptors for years. For example, here he is in 2010 bemoaning the impact of buzzards on his pheasant shoot, although he goes further and makes the totally unsubstantiated claim that “biodiversity is seriously threatened in Scotland by buzzards” but then later contradicts this claim when he argues that licences would only be needed to kill “a few rogue buzzards“.

But it’s not just Alex’s editorial that has raised our antennae. In December, licensing authority SNH sent around the following email about the 2019 General Licences, saying that a consultation is planned this spring, in readiness for its 2020 General Licences:

Hmm. Another coincidence? Perhaps, or could this be a planned ‘sweetner’ for the gamekeepers in anticipation that the Werritty Review will recommend licensing for grouse shooting estates when it reports later this spring?

We wouldn’t put it past the Scottish Government to try something like this – it pulled a similar trick when the Werritty Review was first announced in May 2017 by revealing that it would not consider giving additional investigative powers to the SSPCA to help tackle illegal raptor persecution (see here).

If issuing gamekeepers with licences to kill raptors is planned, it’s going to be pretty hard for the Scottish Government to defend such an action in this context. The Werritty Review was set up to examine grouse moor management precisely because of the ongoing issue of illegal raptor persecution; evidence of which Professor Werritty himself concluded was “compelling and shocking“. If the Scottish Government decides to address these crimes by simply legalising the killing of raptors by gamekeepers, it will undoubtedly face a serious backlash from the public and potentially a number of legal challenges.

Watch this space.

UPDATE 10.30hrs: SNH emailed us today and requested we post the following statement –

This is not true – we are not changing our policy towards licensing raptor control. We consult on General Licences on a regular basis; this is not new“.

We’ll be revisiting this statement, and this issue, in the very near future.

Serial international raptor egg smuggler faces lengthy custodial sentence

The name Jeffrey Lendrum will be familiar to many blog readers. He’s the criminal who was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison in 2010 when he was caught trying to smuggle peregrine eggs (stuffed inside socks taped to his stomach) out of Birmingham airport enroute to the Middle East (see here). Lendrum had stolen the eggs from nest sites in Wales and investigators believe he had collected them to order for an Arab falconer in Dubai.

[Jeffrey Lendrum at court in 2010, photo by Express Papers]

Prior to that 2010 conviction, Lendrum had been found guilty of similar offences involving stolen falcon eggs from nests in Zimbabwe (1984) and Canada (2002).

In 2016, Lendrum was sentenced to 4.5 years in jail in Brazil after being caught in possession of rare falcon eggs at Sao Paulo airport, enroute from Chile to Dubai (see here). However, in 2017 it was reported (here) that he was appealing his sentence and the Brazilian authorities released him on bail pending that appeal. Lendrum subsequently disappeared.

In June 2018 Lendrum was caught at Heathrow airport wearing a body belt that contained 19 eggs of various raptor species from South Africa (here). He initially pleaded not guilty which led to his trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court yesterday.

Lendrum eventually pleaded guilty on the first day of his trial to four charges of Evasion of a Restriction contrary to the Customs and Excise Management Act. He was remanded in custody and sentencing is expected today (Wednesday).

Coverage of this story can be found in the Daily Telegraph (here) and Daily Mail (here).

We’re interested in the legislation under which Lendrum was charged and convicted. Clearly not any wildlife-specific legislation and also clearly quite serious as his trial took place in the Crown Court rather than a lower Magistrates Court. This looks like a creative approach to tackling someone who commits serial wildlife crimes – good work by the UK Border Force and the National Crime Agency.

The judge reportedly warned Lendrum yesterday that he faced a lengthy jail term. Although according to this fascinating article written by Joshua Hammer, who has been researching Lendrum for a proposed biography, Lendrum is suffering from cancer so his apparent ill health may well be used in mitigation to influence (lessen) the severity of his sentence. We’ll see.

UPDATE 10 January 2018: Raptor smuggler Jeffrey Lendrum receives 3 year custodial sentence (here)

Marsh harrier found illegally shot

The RSPB Investigations Team is reporting the discovery of a shot Marsh harrier.

This bird was discovered critically injured on the river bank near Barton-upon-Humber in North Lincolnshire on 9th  September 2018. A dog walker reported it to the RSPCA and it was also reported to the police. An RSPCA officer took the harrier to the East Winch Wildlife Centre near Boston where an x-ray revealed it had been shot. The bird later died from its injuries.

[Photo by RSPCA]

Humberside Police investigated but were unable to identify the criminal responsible.

If anyone has any information relating to this incident, call Humberside Police on 101 quoting crime reference number 16/115793/18.

Further details on the RSPB Investigations blog here

Marsh harriers are increasingly in the firing line, whether it’s on lowland game shooting estates (e.g. here), on land adjacent to an RSPB Reserve (e.g. here) or on upland grouse moors (e.g. here).

And let’s not forget (as several people did) the grouse shooting industry’s interest in obtaining licences to kill Marsh harriers to prevent the so-called ‘disruption’ of driven grouse shoots.

Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme: new research paper & a job vacancy

The Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme (SRMS) is a fine example of credible, effective & genuine partnership-working for the benefit of raptor conservation. That’s probably because its membership doesn’t include any representatives from the game-shooting industry.

Established in 2002, the award-winning SRMS now includes nine partner organisations (Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Scottish Natural Heritage, British Trust for Ornithology, Scottish Raptor Study Group, RSPB, Forestry Commission Scotland, Rare Breeding Birds Panel and the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club) who all collaborate to collect and analyse data on Scottish raptor populations. These data provide the Scottish Government with the information it needs to meet its international reporting responsibilities and they are also used to help inform local authority planning applications and a wide array of conservation applications.

A new scientific research paper on the SRMS’s experiences and approach to nationwide raptor monitoring has just been published in the journal Bird Study. The paper is available in full here: the scottish raptor monitoring scheme recent developments in good practice monitoring

Here’s the abstract:

The work of the SRMS has been coordinated in recent years by Dr Amy Challis but Amy is going on maternity leave from early March so the position of Scottish Raptor Monitoring Coordinator is now available for an initial period of one year.

Make no mistake, this is a challenging role, not helped at all by SNH’s disgraceful decision last year to licence the mass killing of ravens in Strathbraan ‘just to see what happens’. Aside from the very obvious scientific flaws with that licence, as described by SNH’s own Scientific Advisory Committee (here), SNH’s behaviour exacerbated a deep mistrust amongst many members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group, some of whom are now wondering whether to submit their hard-won raptor monitoring data to the SRMS because they can’t be sure that SNH won’t utilise the data for other dodgy ‘experiments’.

It’s quite telling that the job application form for the post of Scottish Raptor Monitoring Coordinator includes the following information about what will happen at the interview stage:

Candidates will be asked to imagine that they are giving a short presentation to a group of raptor workers and their aim is to convince them of the value of collaborating in a modernised and inclusive monitoring scheme, with particular focus on the benefits and risks of sharing data with a range of stakeholders (maximum 10 minutes; laptop and projector available for a presentation if desired)’.

Having said that, the SRMS is currently updating its data use and sharing policy which will hopefully provide a greater level of confidence to raptor fieldworkers that their data will only be used for genuine conservation purposes and only with their express permission on a case-by-case basis.

The deadline for applying for this job is 5pm on 10th January 2018 (this Thursday). A job description and details of the skills required and how to apply can be downloaded here:


Approx 100 dead pheasants dumped next to N Wales coast path

The bodies of approx 100 pheasants have been dumped next to the North Wales Coastal Path nr Mostyn, a popular walking and cycling spot.

It is believed they were dumped on the embankment, known locally as the ‘cob’, following a traditional Boxing Day shoot.

Resident Janice Scott said: “I came across the pile of pheasants on a walk, but in truth I smelt them before I saw them. I believe that they have been dumped following a traditional Boxing Day shoot, but there’s simply no excuse to just dump them like that. It really isn’t a nice thing to come across, in fact it’s horrendous.’’

Cllr Bob Hazlehurst said: “The cob has become a dumping ground, with people tipping all sorts down there, but nothing quite as strange as this. I’ve simply no idea where they’ve come from or who’s chosen to dump them there. I just hope they are removed as soon as possible.

We are trying to take steps to prevent the persistent fly tipping in the cob area. CCTV has been touted, but how effective that would be with the size of that area is questionable.’’

Steve Jones, chief officer Streetscene and Transportation said: “Flintshire County Council have been made aware of a number of dead pheasants deposited on the Coastal path near Mostyn and have arranged for Streetscene to collect and remove the birds.

This practice of dumping shot game birds is becoming a common practice in the UK. We’ve previously blogged about it over the last couple of years (e.g. see herehereherehereherehereherehere), and undoubtedly it’s driven by an over supply of birds and little demand by consumers for purchasing game bird meat. The game shooting industry is well aware of the PR disaster this practice brings to its door but it seems unable to do anything about it.

This is hardly a surprise when you consider that an estimated 50 million non-native gamebirds (pheasants & red-legged partridge) are released in to our countryside EVERY YEAR, to provide live targets for people with guns. This is barely regulated – they can release as many of these alien species as they like and kill as many of them as they like, as long as they’re killed within the shooting season. The Code of Good Shooting Practice says “shoot managers must ensure they have appropriate arrangements in place for the sale or consumption of the anticipated bag in advance of all shoot days“ but this, evidently, is not happening.

And of course sitting alongside these unregulated releases is legal and illegal predator control – the mass slaughter of native wildlife, including raptors, done to protect the gamekeepers’ ‘livestock’. And for what? Just so the shot game can be thrown down an embankment and left to rot?

Shooting industry representatives are doing their best to proclaim effective self-regulation and as recently as November 2018 BASC claimed that “the values and standards of the UK shooting community…is driven by strong ethics and respect for quarry“.

Images like this from Wales prove BASC’s claim to be just more hollow words.