Well-deserved awards for two police officers fighting illegal raptor persecution

Big congratulations to Sgt Stu Grainger (North Yorkshire Police) and Superintendent Nick Lyall (Chair, Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group) who have both been recognised for their work fighting illegal raptor persecution.

At the Wildlife Crime Enforcers Conference last weekend Stu Grainger received a Superintendents Commendation from Nick Lyall for his ‘tireless and outstanding commitment’ to this field.

[Stu Grainger receives his certificate from Nick Lyall. Photo by Mike Crockford]

Stu has been actively involved in Operation Owl since it began as a regional awareness-raising campaign in 2018 and this year he coordinated the roll-out of the national campaign. He’s been involved in the organisation and delivery of raptor persecution training events for national park rangers and others across North Yorkshire as well as giving talks to local interest groups. He also turns up to support other awareness-raising events that aren’t even in his patch, in his own time and at his own cost.

North Yorkshire Police are lucky to have him and we’re lucky to have such a dedicated and committed officer looking out for birds of prey. Well done and thank you, Stu.

Nick Lyall needs no introduction to the readers of this blog and he received the WWF Wildlife Crime Operation of the Year Award for his vision of turning Operation Owl from a regional to a national awareness-raising campaign.

[Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Nick’s written a blog about his and Stu’s awards here.

Nick’s brought an unprecedented level of energy, enthusiasm and transparency to his role as Chair of the RPPDG this last year and that’s been very, very welcome. It’s also meant he’s drawn unwanted and defamatory attention and harassment from some within the game-shooting sector. His first meeting of the RPPDG was boycotted by the tantrum-throwing BASC, Countryside Alliance, Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation and others (see here) and then his personal integrity was publicly questioned by the National Gamekeepers Organisation (see here), leading to further abuse from individuals on social media.

Most others would have thrown in the towel by now. Who’d want to put up with that sort of abuse, especially when volunteering to do this role in addition to full-time duties as a police superintendent? Fortunately, Nick Lyall is a resilient bugger and he’s also determined to make a difference for birds of prey in the UK.

Thank you, Nick.

Poisoned red kite in Nidderdale: two local businesses put up a reward

Following the news last week that yet another red kite had been found poisoned in Nidderdale (see here), the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) has published a statement.

It’s well worth a read, here.

[A poisoned red kite]

A selected quote from the NERF statement:

‘The population of Pateley Bridge and surrounding area is less than 3,000 people. Whoever put the poisoned bait out in the open countryside and killed the Red Kite is most likely to live locally, shop locally, use the local pub and may have children or grand-children in the local school. In short if you live in the Pateley Bridge area the person indiscriminately putting poisoned baits out in your countryside, putting your life, the life of your pets and local wildlife at risk is your neighbour.

In addition to the physical threats posed by the use of dangerous poison there is also the reputational damage caused to this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and local businesses. This potential reputational damage was recognised by Pateley Bridge businessman Keith Tordoff in 2017 when he and a fellow businessman, jointly offered a reward for information following the unlawful killing of another Red Kite. On that occasion the bird was shot near Greenhow‘.

[Photo by Ruth Tingay]

A few days ago RPUK was contacted by a local businessman from Pateley Bridge who has once again put up a £1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspected poisoner(s). The businessman prefers to stay anonymous at this point for fear of retribution but he told us that another local businessman has also agreed to put up a £1,000 reward if the information received leads to a conviction. There may well be other members of the local community stepping forward. The businessmen have been in contact with the RSPB and North Yorkshire Police to facilitate the reward process.

Ongoing concern about the level of wildlife crime in Nidderdale has been raised by residents and visitors alike for a number of years, particularly on the extent of illegal raptor persecution and such is the strength of feeling that the Nidderdale AONB Partnership has now included a specific objective on raptor conservation in its AONB Management Plan. As part of this work, an evidence report was published in September 2019 which placed grouse moor management firmly in the frame.

Incidentally, those of you who read last week’s report on this latest poisoned red kite will know that there was an inexplicable eight-month delay between the discovery of the poisoned red kite and a police appeal for information. It was the latest in a number of cases (as yet unpublished) in North Yorkshire that have caused raised eyebrows, not least because of the previous exemplary efforts (e.g. here) of the North Yorkshire Police Rural Task Force, a team which includes some of the UK’s most dedicated and knowledgeable police officers tackling raptor persecution crimes through Operation Owl.

Last weekend at the annual Wildlife Crime Enforcers Conference we were able to have some full and frank discussions about recent events, including the delayed appeal for information about this poisoned red kite, with some senior members of North Yorkshire Police. The response was impressive, the explanations plausible (it would be inappropriate to provide detail here), the admission of mistakes made admirable, and the determination and commitment to target the offenders was unquestionable.

We look forward to being able to report some more success stories from the UK’s worst raptor persecution hotspot.

Police warn public about potential buzzard poisoning in Tebworth

Bedfordshire Police issued the following statement yesterday:

This is good communication from the police. Although the alert doesn’t say when the buzzard was found it sounds as though it was a recent discovery and IF it does turn out to have been poisoned, the toxicology results may not be available for several weeks so this early police alert provides local dog walkers etc with due warning.

Good work, Bedfordshire Police.

SNH explains decision to impose General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate

Further to last week’s news that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has finally imposed a three-year General Licence restriction on the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire (see here and here), there is now an explanation, of sorts, from SNH on the decision to issue the restriction notice.

It wasn’t just one alleged incident of illegal raptor persecution that triggered this sanction, but a series of them.

Well done to journalist Charlie Parker at The Times (Scotland) for getting the information.

According to Charlie’s article, SNH’s decision was based on “clear evidence” of the ‘illegal killing of a short-eared owl, two buzzards and three hen harriers’ that were ‘shot or caught in traps’ on Leadhills Estate since 1 January 2014 (when SNH was given the power to impose a General Licence restriction on estates or individuals in Scotland). SNH has also claimed that ‘wild birds’ nests have also been disturbed’, although there is no further detail on this.

An unnamed SNH spokesperson is quoted in the article as follows:

The police have investigated each of these cases and while it is very clear that offences have been committed, as is often the case with these types of crime it hasn’t been possible to gather the evidence to identify the person responsible.

There is also similar historic evidence of incidents on this property pre-dating the incidents, although SNH’s decision is based on incidents which occurred since January 1, 2014“.

Most of the incidents listed by SNH have been well publicised –

However, the alleged incident relating to a third hen harrier is less clear. SNH may be referring to the discovery in 2015 of a satellite-tagged hen harrier called Annie who had been shot, although her corpse was found on a neighbouring estate, not on Leadhills Estate. Or, perhaps there is another alleged incident relating to the shooting or trapping of a hen harrier on Leadhills Estate that has yet to be publicised? Time will tell.

There are two more quotes in The Times article that are worth a mention. First, one from Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations, RSPB Scotland) who said Leadhills Estate had a “long and appalling history” of confirmed raptor persecution incidents and,

While this sanction is positive news, it is becoming increasingly clear that the threat of such a penalty is no deterrent to those whose sole motivation is the maximising of grouse numbers. Until sporting estates face the potential removal of the right to shoot, we do not believe there is a sufficient deterrent to those who continue to slaughter our birds of prey.

Meanwhile, an unnamed spokesperson for Leadhills Estate is quoted as follows:

The decision to restrict the general licence does make clear it is not inferring any criminal activity on the part of the estate. The estate condemns all forms of wildlife crime and all employees and agents of the estate are in no doubt as to their responsibilities“.

It’s our understanding that the General Licence restriction ‘does not infer any responsibility for the commission of crimes on any individuals‘ This is the exact wording from SNH’s restriction notice (see here). This statement is not the same as the one being claimed by Leadhills Estate, which argues that the restriction ‘is not inferring any criminal activity on the part of the estate’.

This sounds like real twilight zone material. SNH is holding the estate to account by imposing a sanction for alleged wildlife crimes because there is insufficient evidence to attribute the activity to an individual estate employee and the estate is saying that SNH’s decision to impose the sanction doesn’t infer any responsibility on the estate. Er….

All clear?

More to come on the Leadhills Estate case soon…


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