South Yorkshire Police Chief urged to improve responses to wildlife crime

Stephen Watson, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police is coming under increasing pressure to improve responses to reports of wildlife crime in the region.

In July this year, Liz Ballard, Chief Executive of Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust held a meeting with Stephen Watson along with local MP Angela Smith (Hen Harrier Species Champion), Mark Thomas (RSPB Investigations) and Supt Nick Lyall (Chair, Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group) to discuss concerns about South Yorkshire Police’s apparent failure to follow up on a number of wildlife crime investigations, especially on grouse moors in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park, a national raptor persecution hotspot.

One such apparent failure involved the poisoning of a raven that had been found on a grouse moor in the Dark Peak. It was reported that Natural England refused to have the corpse tested for toxicology, so the RSPB paid for it to be done privately, and when the results were given to the police they did nothing for a year (see here).

Earlier this year there was also concern about the behaviour of a police officer reportedly working with gamekeepers from the Moscar Estate and who later had to apologise to a member of Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust for his actions (see here).

The July meeting with Chief Constable Stephen Watson was an opportunity for a frank exchange of views and this included letting him know that the perception is that South Yorkshire Police ‘are not interested or active in tackling wildlife crime as there is a conflict of interest between the officers leading on wildlife crime and their personal involvement in the shooting industry‘. CC Watson responded by saying it was ‘helpful for the police to have good community links with the shooting industry to be better able to tackle wildlife crime‘.

As a follow-up to the meeting, where a number of action points were identified, Liz Ballard and Mark Thomas have written an open letter to Stephen Watson as follows:

It’ll be interesting to see how Stephen Watson responds.

Kudos to Liz Ballard and her team at Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust for their determination to tackle wildlife crime in the region. Liz is one of several new faces to express an interest in joining the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) earlier this year and she told us recently that having now attended several meetings she is keen to have the Trust’s membership of that group formally ratified without any further delay.

As further evidence of the Trust’s commitment to this issue, Supt Nick Lyall has been invited to speak at the Trust’s AGM in September. This event is open to the public and further details/tickets can be found here.

UPDATE 9 September 2019: South Yorkshire Police commit to improved responses to wildlife crime (here)

Local community wants to transform Langholm grouse moor in to nature reserve

In May this year it was announced that the Buccleuch Estate was to sell Langholm Moor in the Scottish Borders (see here).

Most of us know Langholm Moor as being the focus of two long-term studies over a period of 25 years aimed at understanding better the conflict between raptors and grouse moor management, although the project ended prematurely three years ago (see here) and we are still waiting to see the project’s final report.

A group of locals are now planning to facilitate a community land buy-out proposal to transform the knackered old grouse moor in to a species-rich nature reserve to benefit local people, nature conservation and tourism.

Calling themselves the Langholm Moor Working Group, these local community members are currently crowd-funding to raise £5,000 to help cover the costs of putting together a feasibility study, needed to agree on a fair price and to establish a sustainable case for community ownership. The group has secured match funding for anything it manages to raise via the crowd fund.

This feasibility study includes an independent valuation of the land, the development of a business plan, an appraisal of assets, liabilities and opportunities, and payment of legal fees. The group is looking at the development potential and income sources in relation to a visitor centre, business development, buildings assets, agriculture, woodland management and development, a nature reserve, renewable energy, culture and heritage and art and the environment.

The Langholm Moor Working Group has been in discussion with the Scottish Land Fund and Community Land Scotland about preparing a bid to purchase the Dumfries and Galloway side of the moorland. This area is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Protection Area (SPA) for Hen Harriers. It also encompasses residential and farm properties.

Newcastleton District Community Trust is apparently preparing a separate complimentary proposal for the moorland on the Borders side.

The Scottish Land Fund has a two stage process, and to pass stage one the Langholm Moor Working Group needs to complete its feasibility study.

A fund-raising target of £5,000 seems remarkably good value for such an important opportunity. If you’re able to contribute a few quid to help this brilliant community take back ownership of this grouse moor and turn it in to a place of value for all, please support them by donating here.



Sparrowhawk shot on Isle of Man: Local bird charity & police appeal for info

Joint press release from Manx Wild Bird Aid, police & local Government (20 Aug 2019)

Manx Wild Bird Aid, Police Wildlife Crime Officers and the Isle of Man Government are seeking information in relation to a juvenile female sparrowhawk that was found injured at Ballure, Ramsey on the 13th August 2019.
The sparrowhawk was discovered with a single gunshot wound and was recovered alive by a member of the public who passed it over to the charity Manx Wild Bird Aid, who care for sick and injured wild birds.
Unfortunately the bird died of its injuries soon after.
Manx Wild Bird Aid informed the Police Wildlife Crime Officers and Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFA) Biodiversity Officers. Analysis of the bird’s injuries by a vet showed that the bird had an entry and exit wound consistent with being shot. The bird also sustained broken bones when it fell to the ground and would not have been able to move far from the location where it was found.
Geoffrey Boot MHK, Minister for Environment, Food and Agriculture, said: “I would urge anyone with any information about this incident to get in touch with the Biodiversity Officers at DEFA. It is illegal to kill or injure sparrowhawks on the Isle of Man. Protecting our wildlife is immensely important and our department and local charities work hard to ensure these animals are protected“.
A spokesperson for Manx Wild Bird Aid, said: “Not only has this wild bird been shot illegally, it is particularly upsetting that it has been injured in such a way to cause a lengthy period of unnecessary suffering prior to dying“.
Wild birds are legally protected under the Wildlife Act 1990 and it is an offence to kill or injure wild birds with the exception of game species. Penalties of up to £10,000 can be imposed.
Anyone with information relating to this case is being asked to contact Louise Samson, Biodiversity Officer DEFA 685835 or Crime Stoppers 0800 555 111.

Scottish Gamekeepers Association fails to influence the criminals within its membership

Gamekeeper Alan Wilson, 61, sentenced yesterday for his appalling crimes against protected raptors and mammals on the Longformacus Estate in the Borders (here) was a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA).

[Convicted criminal gamekeeper Alan Wilson photographed outside court yesterday, photo by Daily Record]

As an SGA member, Wilson cannot possibly claim that he wasn’t aware of the laws protecting birds of prey and mammals such as badgers and otters, nor that the deadly poison he had in his possession, Carbofuran, has been banned for approx 14 years, because although the SGA can be viewed as a bunch of raptor-hating Victorian throwbacks who lobby to have birds of prey added to the lists of ‘vermin’ that can be killed with impunity (e.g. see here), it has always made it clear that the illegal killing of these species is unacceptable. It wants to kill raptors, yes, to stop them interfering with game bird stocks, but acknowledges that so far, this is still unlawful unless the Scottish Government decides to issue licences to kill birds of prey.

Wilson carried what looks to be his SGA member’s log book in the same bag as he kept one of his bottles of Carbofuran.

Here’s his bag, with the bottle of Carbofuran in the front pouch [SSPCA photo]

Here’s the small bottle of Carbofuran (remember only a few granules are enough to kill a human) [SSPCA photo]

Here’s his SGA member’s log book, contained in the side pouch [photo SSPCA]

The irony of this is not lost on us.

The SGA issued a statement yesterday, after months of refusing to say anything, confirming that Wilson was indeed a member and his membership has now been terminated. Expelling criminals from within its ranks is a relatively recent endeavour by the SGA (in the last five or so years) and undoubtedly is a result of public and political pressure. The organisation has to at least make an effort to appear civilised and expelling criminal members is one way of doing this.

It begs the question, though, how many more criminals are hiding in plain sight within the SGA’s membership? It’s worth bearing in mind that, despite the industry’s claims, gamekeeping is not a profession in the sense that potential candidates don’t have to pass a formal qualification process to enter the ‘profession’ (although increasingly they do need to be certified in certain areas of their work) and absolutely anybody can become a member of the SGA unless, it seems, you have a recent conviction for wildlife crime. There’s no independent register of gamekeepers and nor is there a professional body to whom members of the public can complain about a gamekeeper’s behaviour or conduct, which when you think about it is pretty odd, given the job mostly involves killing things. Those responsible for caring for animals have to be highly qualified and are answerable to their professional bodies (e.g. vets) and yet those who kill animals for a living can do so without any professional oversight.

It’s pretty clear from the criminal activities of SGA member Alan Wilson that the SGA had absolutely no influence or control over his behaviour whatsoever. Did the SGA know about Wilson’s crimes? It seems unlikely, given the risk he posed to the SGA’s reputation.

So how many more Alan Wilsons are out there, fully-signed-up members of the SGA but with a huge appetite for killing protected wildlife with impunity?

How can the SGA possibly claim that gamekeepers are law-abiding members of society (e.g. see here) when the SGA hasn’t actually got a clue what its members are up to?

We won’t know, of course, until the next time. And there will be a next time, and another one, and another one, and another one….

Meanwhile, the SGA will be kept busy on a damage limitation exercise for the next few months trying to counter the media coverage of Wilson’s atrocities:




Monumentally inadequate sentence for convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson

In July this year, Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson, then 60, pleaded guilty to nine of 12 charges of wildlife crime at Henlaw Wood on Longformacus Estate in the Borders (see here).

[Convicted wildlife criminal Alan Wilson, a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. Photo by ITV Border]

Wilson’s crimes included the shooting and killing of two goshawks at Henlaw Wood between March 2016 and May 2017, three buzzards, three badgers and an otter. He also pleaded guilty to charges of setting 23 illegal snares and possession of two bottles of the highly toxic (and banned pesticide) Carbofuran (see here).

[SSPCA photos]

Following Wilson’s guilty plea, the Sheriff adjourned sentencing for a few weeks to allow reports to be submitted.

Soon after his conviction, Scottish Land & Estates issued a statement of condemnation and claimed the Longformacus Estate was being managed for low ground pheasant shooting but in its desperation to avoid any bad publicity of grouse moor management, completely failed to mention that part of the estate was also managed as a grouse moor. Here’s a photograph of Henlaw Wood (now felled) and its proximity to the grouse moor:

[Original photo by Richard Webb; additional text by RPUK]

Alan Wilson, now 61, was sentenced at Jedburgh Sheriff Court this afternoon. Astonishingly (or not!), despite his litany of violent crimes against protected raptors and mammals which easily passed the threshold for a custodial sentence, Wilson has dodged jail, has dodged a fine, and instead has been issued with a 10-month curfew and an instruction to carry out 225 hours of unpaid work as part of a Community Payback Scheme. His firearms and other equipment was confiscated (it’s not clear for how long).

This monumentally inadequate sentence is in no way a reflection of the severity or extent of Wilson’s crimes, nor does it offer a suitable deterrent for other would-be offenders. According to this article in the Guardian by Sev Carrell, Sheriff Peter Paterson acknowledged that Wilson’s offending warranted a custodial sentence but said that as the Wildlife & Countryside Act only allowed sentences of up to six months, and Scottish Ministers had recently introduced a presumption against jailing offenders for less than 12 months, he felt he had no choice but to impose a different sentence.

This doesn’t make sense to us. Sure, the W&CA does, currently, impose a limit of six months but that’s six months per offence, so in Wilson’s case, where he had pleaded guilty to multiple offences, this would have amounted to much more than one six-month sentence and so in our opinion, he should have received a custodial sentence. We don’t know if this sentence will be appealed by the Crown Office – it must first be satisfied that the sentence was unduly lenient (e.g. see here). We’ll have to wait and see.

What is absolutely crystal clear is that the Scottish Government needs to get on and implement the penalty increases for wildlife crimes that it agreed to do way back in 2016.

This is Wilson’s second conviction in relation to offences at Longformacus Estate: in February 2018 he was sentenced to a £400 fine and disqualified from keeping birds of prey for ten years after he was convicted of animal welfare offences in relation to an Eagle Owl he had kept in appalling conditions (see here).

We don’t know whether Wilson’s employer (which may be a landowner or a sporting agent) will face a charge of alleged vicarious liability. We know that two individuals were originally charged with alleged offences at Longformacus Estate (e.g. see here) but we don’t yet have any more details. We will be following up on this and will report here if there is news. [Please note: if you are commenting on this aspect of the crimes at Longformacus Estate, remember there is a potential defence to any allegation of vicarious liability – Wilson’s employer is not automatically guilty just because he was Wilson’s employer].

Interestingly, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association has, after months of refusing to comment, now finally admitted that Wilson was indeed an SGA member when he committed these wildlife crimes. Here is the SGA statement posted today:

We’ll be discussing Wilson’s SGA membership in a later post.

It is not clear to us whether the Longformacus Estate is a member of Scottish Land & Estates. So far SLE hasn’t issued a statement about today’s sentencing. Instead, it’s website is leading with an article with the unfortunate headline, ‘Making it Happen’.

More on this soon.

It only remains to acknowledge the huge efforts of all those involved in detecting, investigating and prosecuting this case. This successful conviction was the result of genuine partnership working between the League Against Cruel Sports, Scottish SPCA, RSPB Scotland, Police Scotland and the Crown Office, along with experts from the Scottish Raptor Study Group, SASA, and veterinary pathologists from Scottish Agricultural College. Well done and thanks to all those involved in exposing this filthy criminal activity on yet another grouse moor.

Wildlife crime is endemic on many grouse moors. We see it over and over again and we also see the offenders escape justice time and time again. If you’d like to help bring it to an end, please consider signing this new petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting – PLEASE SIGN HERE

UPDATE 30 August 2019: No vicarious liability prosecution for Longformacus Estate (here).

Charlie Jacoby (FieldsportsChannelTV) interviews Wild Justice at Bird Fair 2019

You may remember last month, Chris Packham and Mark Avery had accepted an invitation to be interviewed by Charlie Jacoby of FieldsportsChannelTV at the Game Fair, only for that invitation to be revoked after several shooting organisations (including BASC, GWCT and the Countryside Alliance) objected and the Game Fair organisers were also fearful of ‘violence from shooters’ (see here).

In response, Charlie Jacoby was invited to conduct his interview at the Bird Fair (many thanks to Bird Fair organiser Tim Appleton for facilitating this). Charlie accepted the invitation, he and his film crew came along on Saturday, there was no violence(!), just a warm welcome from a 1000-strong audience.

Here’s the video, filmed by Charlie’s team:

The so-called ‘fact checks’ (ahem) were added later and Wild Justice wasn’t offered an opportunity to read those nor to comment/contribute.

It’s good that Charlie has begun to introduce a fact checking process in to his productions – that’s definite progress, although judging by some of the ‘facts’ he’s used here he still needs to learn how to separate fact from opinion.

It’s pretty clear from Charlie’s questions and commentary, if you accept that he represents the majority view of the game-shooting industry, that the state of denial is as strong as it ever was, particularly around the issue of illegal raptor persecution. That’s nothing new, of course, and is actually the main driver of this blog (i.e. to demonstrate that yes, illegal raptor persecution is still going on despite claims to the contrary) and is one of several drivers behind the latest petition to ban driven grouse shooting, which currently has 66,369 signatures and is still less than a week old.

If you’d like to sign the petition, and encourage others to sign it, please CLICK HERE.

Grouse shooting industry ‘experts’ unable to identify a hen harrier!

This is amusing.

The Moorland Association (a wealthy lobby group for grouse moor owners) has published a slick video where they’re trying to claim credit for ‘Bringing back our English Hen Harriers’ (you know, the hen harriers that have been brought to the verge of breeding extinction by, er, criminals on grouse moors).

Except it’s not as slick as they would have liked. Thanks to Nick Williams (@TheFalconBirder) for noticing this:

This production must have cost a fair bit – the Moorland Association members must be thrilled with the result! And isn’t it interesting how the Moorland Association wants the credit for the success of a few hen harrier breeding attempts and yet refuses point blank to ever, ever, ever accept any responsibility when hen harriers (and other raptors) are either killed or ‘disappear’ on Moorland Association members’ grouse moors?

It’s not just the Moorland Association that can’t identify a hen harrier. Natural England also seems to be struggling:

An inability to identify an easily-recognisable species is a common theme amongst grouse moor ‘experts’. Here’s Scottish Land & Estates (the Scottish lobby group for landowners) using an image of a white-tailed eagle to illustrate a call for help to find two ‘missing’ golden eagles:

These organisations should take BASC’s lead and forget about trying to craft an image of concern for threatened raptors. Instead, just get your PR department to produce a statement that portrays conservationists as a security risk:

Incidentally, the ‘triumph’ BASC is referring to is the news that this year England holds just 5% of the number of breeding hen harriers it should have. It’s telling that BASC takes pride in such a failure.

So, BASC, who is it that decides whether we’re ‘extremists’, as you described Chris Packham & Mark Avery when they were banned from the Game Fair a few weeks ago? Are they on MI5’s watch list, or something? Or is this a word you’ve chosen in a pathetic attempt to smear their reputations and dissuade people from listening to them?

What’s ‘dangerous’ about using the democratic process to call for a ban on driven grouse shooting? Have you reported us to the police? The public need to be protected from such ‘dangerous’ activity!

And what, exactly, is our ‘animal rights agenda’? Could you explain this, please?

Less than 48 hours ago, Wild Justice launched a new petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting. So far more than 40,000 so-called ‘extremists with a dangerous animal rights agenda’ have signed it. You can too –HERE.

Wild Justice launches new petition to ban driven grouse shooting

Just in case anyone has missed this, yesterday Wild Justice (Mark Avery, Chris Packham & Ruth Tingay) launched a new petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting.

The petition was actually submitted six weeks ago but strange goings on at Westminster led to it being inexplicably delayed. By sheer coincidence, it went live yesterday afternoon at the same time as distressing news was emerging about a young golden eagle that had been photographed flying around Deeside in the Cairngorms National Park with an illegal trap clamped to its leg.

This is probably the fifth (I think) petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting – Mark Avery has previously raised three, then Gavin Gamble raised another one. This time though, it seems to have struck a chord with the British public. In just 24hrs of going live, the petition has received an incredible 27,000 signatures. People are clearly very very angry.

The speed with which people are signing this petition is sending a strong message all of its own:

We’ve had enough.

If you’d like to support it, please SIGN HERE and then share the petition with others.

Thank you

Young golden eagle flying around Cairngorms National Park with an illegal trap clamped to its leg

This is beyond what is tolerable.

Police Scotland have issued the following statement this evening:

Appeal to trace golden eagle in Aberdeenshire

Officers are appealing for information to help locate a Golden eagle which was seen flying in the Crathie area of Deeside with what appears to be a trap attached to its leg.

Concerns were raised about the first-year eagle on Thursday August 8, 2019, by a tourist and there are serious concerns for the bird’s welfare.  Enquiries are ongoing in conjunction with our partner agencies including the RSPB.

Sergeant Kim Wood said: “We would encourage anyone who has information which could help to locate this eagle to contact the Police on 101 or another relevant authority as soon as possible.”


This is an area where illegally-set spring traps were found on a driven grouse moor in 2016 (here). There was no prosecution (see here).

The photograph of this eagle has re-ignited a fury that’s been gathering strength for several months.

It began with the suspicious disappearance of two of our satellite-tagged golden eagles, Adam and Charlie, who vanished on the same April morning, on the same grouse moor, within a few hours of one another.

A short time later we learned that an RSPB-satellite-tagged hen harrier had been found dead on a nearby grouse moor with its leg gripped by an illegal trap.

A few weeks later we learned of another hen harrier caught in an illegally-set spring trap. This time it was a breeding male and the trap had been set by his nest. He was still alive when raptor workers found him but in great distress. His trapped leg was almost severed. A specialist wildlife vet from the SSPCA did his very best to save this bird, but unfortunately the harrier’s injuries were just too severe and he didn’t make it. A second trap was found actually in the harrier’s nest, placed next to two eggs. There was no sign of the breeding female.

The Scottish Government’s response to these horrendous crimes? Absolute silence for weeks, and then acting under huge public pressure, a pathetic statement that said ‘We’ve got to wait for the Werritty Review‘ – that’s the report on grouse moor management that we’ve been waiting for since May 2017.

And now this. A young golden eagle flying around with an illegal trap clamped to its leg. It’s quite likely this eagle is already dead.

I’m sorry, Nicola Sturgeon, Roseanna Cunningham and Mairi Gougeon, as much as I admire you as strong, intelligent female politicians, I am no longer prepared to make excuses for you. It is your collective failure to act decisively that has led to these continuing atrocities.

If any blog readers share this sense of fury and exasperation, now is the time to act. Here are two things you can do:

  1. Send an email to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and let her know, clearly but politely, that as the leader of the Scottish Government she needs to step up, show some leadership and take immediate action. Please send your emails to:
  2. Sign this new petition (launched tonight by Wild Justice) calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting – see here.

Thank you

See you at Hen Harrier Day tomorrow!

Wild Justice (Chris Packham, Mark Avery & Ruth Tingay) is hosting this year’s Hen Harrier Day event at Carsington Water Visitor Centre, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, 12 noon to 5pm Sunday 11th August 2019. Huge thanks to Severn Trent Water for their support, enthusiasm and help.

This is a family-friendly event with loads of kids activities and stalls and a fantastic line up of speakers who’ll be telling the ugly truth about what’s happening to hen harriers.

[This hen harrier was caught in an illegally set trap that had been placed next to his nest on a grouse moor. The trap practically severed his leg. Despite the best efforts of a specialist wildlife vet, he didn’t make it. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

The speakers will be on stage throughout the afternoon in three blocks:

Early speakers: Iolo Williams (Conservationist and broadcaster), Hardyal Dhindsa (Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner), Gill Lewis (author), Tim Birch (Derbyshire Wildlife Trust).

Mid-afternoon speakersRuth Tingay (Wild Justice and Raptor Persecution UK), Cathleen Thomas (RSPB Hen Harrier Life project), Dan Rouse (conservationist, Wales), Ian Thomson (RSPB Investigations, Scotland)

Late afternoon speakersNick Lyall (Police Superintendent, chair Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group), Tessa Gregory (lawyer, Leigh Day), Dom Dyer (conservationist), Natalie Bennett (Green Party), Chris Packham CBE (Wild Justice, broadcaster etc).

We know that many supporters are travelling across the country to be there. Safe travels and look forward to seeing everyone.