Another massive penalty for raptor poisoning in Spain

Once again, the Spanish authorities have shown their utter contempt for those who illegally poison birds of prey.

They have just handed out the country’s highest ever penalty in relation to the illegal poisoning of 138 raptors and 4 crows in 2012. The victims included red kites, black kites, marsh harriers, Egyptian vultures and Griffon vultures.

Two hunting ground ‘presidents’ and a guard have been sentenced to two years and eight months in prison AND a five year & four month disqualification from the management of hunting reserves and the right to hunt AND a fine of 67,538.65 Euros AND to been told to ‘take measures to recover the damage caused’.

According to this roughly translated report from SEO Birdlife, the authorities used ‘wiretaps’ to obtain some of the ‘incriminating evidence’, which is presumably why it took so long to secure the convictions.

[One of the poisoned kites, from SEO Birdlife]

This isn’t the first time that the Spanish authorities have come down hard on raptor poisoners. We’ve blogged about two previous cases (here and here) where custodial sentences, massive fines and an extended disqualification from hunting have all been part of the sentencing package.

As we’ve written before, Spain is one of several European countries way ahead of the game when it comes to tackling raptor persecution. Amongst other measures, they have a dedicated dog unit that utilises specialist sniffer dogs trained to detect poison and poisoned baits. These dogs are so good they can even detect the location where a poisoned bait has been laid previously but has since been removed. These dog units are not just deployed to a site of a suspected incident; they are routinely deployed to undertake spot checks wherever they want and whatever time they want. There’s none of this ‘you need landowner permission’, or ‘you need a warrant’ or ‘that video camera placed out in the middle of a remote grouse moor infringes the owner’s privacy rights’.

Now THIS is what ‘we’re taking raptor persecution seriously’ really means.

Please take note, Westminster & Scottish Environment Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers. Your constant fiddling around at the edges, undertaking review after review after review (Scotland), or just flat out denials that it’s a problem (England) just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Perhaps we should crowdfund to send Ministers Gove, Coffey, Cunningham and Gougeon on a fact-finding trip to spend time with their Spanish counterparts and see how it can be done.

20 thoughts on “Another massive penalty for raptor poisoning in Spain”

  1. “THIS is what ‘taking raptor persecution seriously’ really means.

    Please take note, Westminster & Scottish Environment Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers. Your constant fiddling around at the edges, undertaking review after review after review (Scotland), or just flat out denials that it’s a problem (England) just doesn’t cut it anymore.”

    That statement goes right to the core of the problem in the UK. We have people in power in both parliaments who “talk the talk” but do not “walk the walk”. The majority of us know that they have their own reasons and agendas.

  2. The Spanish recently hosted a meeting for the Balkans anti poisoning teams.
    I’m sure they’d be keen to help more backward and undeveloped countries such as ours.

    Keep up the pressure !

  3. Oh that does make good reading!! A brilliant example of how these crimes should be dealt with.
    So…. Why is the UK apparently bending over backwards to avoid taking wildlife crime seriously!?

  4. I am expecting massive problems trying to urge the Scottish Government and MSPs to increase the maximum penalty for some wildlife crimes to 3 years in prison in my petition PE1705, which has now reached the environment committee. I am presently writing a possible later submission for each of the many potential changes in law I am be advocating, and modifying an existing submission. As part of that I must ensure that the government and MSPs understand that I am not advocating this increase purely to allow the police to have greater powers to investigate wildlife crimes in a more thorough manner, but they need to embrace the idea that some wildlife crimes really are serious crimes, defined as those attracting possible penalties of 3 years or more. I believe that these threaten not only the economic value which can come from our iconic wildlife, but to our international reputation. Scotland in the 21st Century needs to confirm that we truly value our wildlife to the extent that those whom we suspect kill such species as Golden Eagles will no longer be sure that they are unlikely to have a serious investigation conducted to detect their activities (possibly including ‘wiretaps’), are not so easily going to escape punishment in future, and any punishment will be more severe that presently the case. That would apply equally to those who have a duty to train and forbid those whom they control to refrain from committing crimes who may choose to turn a knowing blind eye or actively encourage criminality. I will be publishing draft extra documents for the petition in the next month or so. There may also be possibilities for other organisations or individuals to make submissions to the committee. I would certainly value comments on the next documents I am due to produce, but have not yet completed even in draft form. They need careful consideration, as well as the urgent attention of government.
    If only I was in Spain, they seem in at least some cases (but not all) to be of a like mind as myself……

        1. A dying pastime if you know anything about Spain, the younger generation are not interested in it. At least the bull has had 4 or 5 years of life almost entirely free before what the Spanish say is NOT as sport but an art form, not that I agree with it at all. Spain can hardly be defined by this minority activity, its a bit like saying Scotland is the land of deer stalking or England of grouse shooting true but not entirely relevant. Spain in the recent past and present is much better at large scale conservation than we are, their farmland is still full of birds and insects, not something we can claim.

          1. I think we are a little naive if we label Spain as a paragon of conservation virtue in contrast with the foot-dragging backwardness of the UK. There are various reasons for the wealth of wildlife in Spain compared to the UK, not all to do with more enlightened attitudes to conservation. For starters Spain is approximately twice the size of the UK with only about 70% of the population size. Add that to the facts that it is on the continent and significantly to the south of us and it would be shocking if it did not have more biodiversity than the UK. Spain clearly has its own environmental issues – a highly developed coast-line that leaves little space for wildlife along hundreds of kilometres of its length, deforestation, competition for water resources between agriculture and wetland sites and – as this case illustrates – serious issues with persecution of birds of prey. 138 raptors poisoned is hardly a trivial crime and while the Spanish authorities are to be applauded for treating the crime with the seriousness it demands, it surely shows that within the Spanish rural community there remains a nucleus of people with the same ugly attitudes to our wildlife as the moorland managers we deplore here in the UK. The authorisation of the use of diclofenac on cattle in Spain can also be regarded as an example of the Spanish government taking cavalier risks with its internationally important vulture populations.

            Of course there may well be things that the Spanish government does better than ours (and I recognise that some of the issues I alluded to above are historical and cannot be laid at the door of the present government) and we would be foolish to pretend that we cannot learn from what Spain and other countries do better than us. But I fear that if we kid ourselves that only the UK is a problem case for conservation and everything is going swimmingly elsewhere we run the risk of downplaying the serious problems that exist elsewhere. There is plenty of evidence that illegal killing of birds remains a problem in many parts of Europe both north and south – see the reports of CABS for example. We should be condemning it wherever it occurs and be wary of being lulled into a false sense of optimism when we travel abroad and marvel at the greater abundance of wildlife we encounter – in many cases it is declining just like our own.

            On a completely different point, I would say that it is immensely frustrating when apparently open and shut cases get thrown out by the courts because of the inadmissibility of evidence. However, the laws relating to covert surveillance were drawn up with other areas of activity largely in mind and surveillance of hen harrier nests was probably not at the forefront of the minds of the people who drafted them. They are in the legislation as important measures to uphold and protect our human rights and place limitations on the ability of the authorities to pry into our lives. However frustrating it is to see a clearly guilty man walk away scot-free we should be careful about wishing away these protections. How would people feel about covert surveillance of members of ‘Extinction Rebellion’ or the directors of ‘Wild Justice’ for example? Those are not fanciful scenarios and we should be careful about demanding that legislation that (at least in principle) places controls on such surveillance is thrown out. We certainly need to look carefully as to whether the law has been correctly interpreted by the Courts and the CPS and whether there are ways in which changes can be made either in the processes followed by the police and the RSPB or careful amendments can be made to the law that will limit the extent to which criminals can abuse these protections in a way that was surely never intended but we should be very careful not to thrown the human rights baby out with the bathwater.

  5. Such a shame that all we get from our MPs are platitudes and inaction – because they are a big part of the problem. On the whole our MPs are too rich, too privileged and too remote from the lives of ordinary people to care – not just the Tories, but whole swathes of Parliament. When you add into the mix that the people running the police and the judiciary themselves are not exactly paupers, and have more empathy with the class that are either directly involved as wildlife criminals, or are their employers, than with the conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts / campaigners trying to protect our dwindling and impoverished fauna, it is no wonder that we have so much wildlife crime in this country. Equally, it is why we have such pathetic penalties should anyone by mischance be so blatantly stupid as to leave no room for doubt that they are the criminal and they have committed the offences. Look at what happened to Allen Lambert? Nothing you could call a punishment. Shame he didn’t steal a bottle of water from a supermarket as well!

  6. Your sentence on the Westmister & Holyrood parliaments is spot on. Initially I had faith in the Scottish Government to legislate effectively ( like powers for the SSPCA for instance & accepting video evidence) but they’ve not addressed the issues one jot. So much for a progressive party.

  7. The Wildlife Penalties Review Group made the lead recommendation in its report of November 2015 that penalties for the more serious offences should be raised to at least a £40,000 fine and up to 12 months imprisonment. The Minister accepted this in February 2016, stating that it would be taken forward in a suitable legislative vehicle in the next Parliament. (See It is unfortunate that after such a clear commitment there has apparently been no action.

    1. Yes, but it is unrealistic to expect that to happen. There is no reason to believe the UK parliaments will do anything that will come close to hurting wildlife criminals. Their track record speaks for itself.
      As for fines and prison sentences – set them at any level. Makes no difference. No one ever gets fined the maximum amount (for any offence). Prison sentences are paltry and subject to almost automatic 50% reduction.

  8. All the while the criminals behind the mass poisoning of Kites on the Black Isle walk around free

  9. Exactly what is needed. Perhaps the Spanish govt aren’t reliant on Grouse moor land owners don’t donate to that Government! Haven’t written to Gove for awhile as I never get a reply but I might spend time today doing just that.

  10. Hmmm… Spain, where animal torture is a popular spectator sport. Still, they seem to have got something right in this case.

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