Wild Justice’s legal challenge on gamebird releases hits the headlines

Wild Justice’s latest legal challenge, seeking a judicial review of the unregulated release of millions of non-native gamebirds in 2020, has been attracting some attention.

Announced this morning, the news has hit the headlines at the Guardian with a particularly good article (here) from Phoebe Weston, who’s clearly taken the time to read the details of this case:

Good to see that Phoebe’s article is currently ranked as the paper’s most popular environmental story:

Wild Justice lodges court papers for judicial review of 2020 gamebird releases

Wild Justice has lodged court papers seeking a judicial review of pheasant and red-legged partridge releases in 2020.

[Seven week old pheasant chicks, often known as poults, in a release pen on an English shooting estate]

The three co-founders of Wild Justice said:

Chris Packham CBE:DEFRA has been dragging its feet on this issue since we first raised it. It is time to sort this out and Wild Justice is fully prepared for a court battle on behalf of UK wildlife.  Our challenge relates to Natura 2000 sites in England but the impacts will be felt right across the UK countryside“.

Dr Ruth Tingay:The lack of monitoring and regulation of gamebird releases is staggering. The Government doesn’t seem to know or care how many are released each year and even the figure of 60 million gamebirds may well be an underestimate.  Incredibly, there is nothing to stop the shooting industry releasing twice as many gamebirds next year. This has to stop and proper regulation brought in“.

Dr Mark Avery:These non-native gamebirds go around gobbling up insects,  other invertebrates and even snakes and lizards, they peck at vegetation, their droppings fertilise sensitive habitats which no farmer would be allowed to fertilise and they provide prey and carrion that swell the populations of predators that then go on to prey on other threatened species. And the biomass of Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges exceeds that of all native UK birds put together. This is a very serious ecological assault on the countryside which government is failing to assess and regulate“.

Wild Justice is represented by Tessa Gregory and Carol Day, solicitors at Leigh Day.

Carol Day:Wild Justice quite rightly held off issuing legal proceedings last year on the basis that the Government said it would review arrangements to consider the impact of the gamebirds’ release in future. It is now clear that the review has only just started and that no action will be taken that could affect the shooting season in 2020.

If Wild Justice waited until September to challenge the legality of the gamebird releases it would be too late. The Pheasants and Partridges would have left their breeding pens, and the damage could then be done. And so – responsibly and properly – the Claimant is acting now, at a time when it is still possible to head off the alleged illegality“.

To read the full press release please visit the Wild Justice blog here


Another pigeon fancier convicted for killing a sparrowhawk

Last week we blogged about pigeon fancier Duncan Cowan who was convicted for shooting a sparrowhawk in Stirlingshire and was fined a pathetic £450 (see here). Incidentally, there’s more to that story, coming soon.

Today, another pigeon fancier at the other end of the country has also been convicted of killing a sparrowhawk, this time with a catapult in his neighbour’s garden. Yovanis Cruz pleaded guilty at Portsmouth Magistrates Court and was fined £653 plus £85 costs plus £63 victim surcharge (£801 in total).

[The sparrowhawk victim. Photo via RSPB]

We await further details on this case. [See blog update below]

Unlike Scotland, where increased penalties for wildlife crime are about to be enacted via the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) (Scotland) Bill which is currently at Stage 1 of parliamentary scrutiny, there are no plans by the Westminster Government to consider an increase in penalties for wildlife crime.

After gamekeepers, pigeon fanciers accounted for a significant proportion of all those convicted for raptor persecution crimes between 1990 – 2018, according to RSPB data (BirdCrime Report 2018).

UPDATE 19.15hrs: The RSPB has now published a press statement about this case (here)


RSPB begins policy review on gamebird shooting

Last October the RSPB announced at its AGM that it was to undertake a policy review of gamebird shooting (see here).

[Dead pheasants, photo by Getty]

This welcome review had been prompted by ongoing environmental concerns including ‘the ongoing and systematic illegal persecution of birds of prey such as hen harriers on some sporting estates; the ecological impact of high numbers of game birds released into the countryside increasing the density of generalist predators; the mass culling of mountain hares in some parts of our uplands; the use of lead ammunition; the impact of burning peatlands and medicating wild animals for sport shooting’.

The review is now underway and the RSPB’s Global Conservation Director, Martin Harper, has laid out the planned process in a recent blog (here) as follows:

Review process

There are three stages to our review.

In this first phase we are seeking the views of members and those with an interest in gamebird shooting. This will help us develop nature conservation principles for gamebird shooting and associated land management to be approved by our Council this summer.

The second phase involves completing scientific reviews of the evidence of impacts from the two most intensive forms of shooting (driven grouse and gamebird releases) to help assess these shooting styles against the conservation principles.

The final phase involves reviewing the RSPB’s existing policy on driven grouse shooting and developing a new position on gamebird releases.

We plan to announce the results of this review of our policy at the AGM in October.


Martin’s blog goes on to explain how RSPB members can contribute to the review. Questionnaires have also recently been sent out to those of us known to have an interest in gamebird shooting, with an April deadline for responses. This all looks promising for the RSPB to keep to its anticipated timetable of announcing the policy review results in October this year.

As an aside, some of the shooting organisations will be looking at the RSPB’s membership consultation process with envy today – from what’s been posted on social media there is deep resentment from many shooters about the lack of consultation with members prior to yesterday’s announcement on the proposed phasing out of lead ammunition; BASC especially appears to be haemorrhaging members as a direct result of this poor communication. They’ve even stuck Duncan Thomas in front of a camera calling for calm (check out BASC’s Facebook page to get an idea of the carnage). This doesn’t bode well for the success of the planned voluntary ban on lead ammunition.

Scottish gamekeepers reject call for voluntary ban on toxic lead ammunition

This morning a load of game shooting organisations announced that they wanted to promote a voluntary ban on the use of lead ammunition and to see an end to its use within five years.

This announcement is hardly a surprise. The poisonous properties of lead ammunition and its devastating impact on wildlife has been known for years and years and years, and most of the previously significant sources of lead in the environment (e.g. lead-based paint and leaded petrol) were eliminated decades ago.

Lead-based ammunition has since been the most significant unregulated source of lead deliberately emitted in to the environment in the EU but recent recommendations from the European Chemicals Agency to the European Commission propose an outright ban in terrestrial as well as wetland environments (where it is already banned although testing has proved UK compliance is poor).

The game shooting organisations have seen the writing on the wall and have decided to jump before being pushed. If you don’t believe that then have a look at this video featuring Ian Bell, BASC CEO – it’s hilarious – “It’s us who sets the pace, not the people who challenge us“. Yeah, right, Ian. The shooting industry hasn’t just had its arse handed to itself on a plate by environmentalists, then? Try reading about the Lead Ammunition Group and its history of resignations.

Of course, we’ve been here before with the game shooting industry and voluntary bans – they don’t work. Of course they don’t work – this is an industry that struggles to comply with the law, especially on raptor persecution, let alone a voluntary commitment!

According to a statement from the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust (WWT), a group that’s been at the forefront of campaigning against lead ammunition for a very long time,

While the transition to lead-free ammunition is a positive move forward, conservationists stress that previous voluntary bans have been unsuccessful and without policy change at government level, there will still be risks to human health, wildlife and the market for game birds. A full restriction will contribute to the further removal of poisonous lead from our environment‘.

Of course, for a voluntary ban to have any chance of success all the stakeholders need to be on board to start with. And according to Ian Bell, “All the major shooting and rural organisations are calling for this change“. Are they? It doesn’t look like it – where’s the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s logo on that press announcement? It seems to be missing.

Ah yes, here’s why…..without any sense of irony about the neurological damage of consuming lead shot for years, here’s the SGA’s response to the call for a voluntary ban on lead ammo:

[Screen grab from the SGA’s website, this statement was posted there yesterday evening]

For as long as these dinosaurs are left to their own devices don’t expect to see a voluntary reduction in the use of lead ammunition in Scotland any time soon.

Grouse moor owners threaten legal action as DEFRA prepares to ban burning of peat bogs

Well, well, well.

Remember all the hysteria and abuse directed at Wild Justice last year for taking legal action against the Government to protect wildlife? Well would you believe it, according to this article in the Guardian the grouse moor owners lobby group, the Moorland Association, was threatening to do exactly the same (although not to protect wildlife, but to protect their ‘right’ to set the moorlands ablaze to increase red grouse stocks for shooting).

A bit of background……..In 2017 DEFRA agreed to allow grouse moor owners in England a two-year period of grace for them to voluntarily stop burning heather on blanket bog or face a compulsory ban following mounting pressure from environmental campaigners and from the European Commission (see here).

Apparently more than 150 grouse moor owners signed up to a commitment to stop this burning after a private meeting with Michael Gove but it didn’t take long for evidence of alleged breaches to emerge (see here).

DEFRA had given the grouse moor owners until mid-2019 to comply with the voluntary ban and had committed to introduce legislation for a compulsory ban if the voluntary agreements weren’t working.

According to new documents released under a Freedom of Information request by Guy Shrubsole (Friends of the Earth and author of the excellent Who Owns England), DEFRA began to prepare legislation to enforce a compulsory ban last summer and that’s when the Moorland Association threatened legal action, as discussed in the Guardian.

For an amusing commentary on this have a look at Mark Avery’s blog from this morning (here).

For even more amusement, have a read of some of the FoI documents below (thanks, Guy Shrubsole, for sharing these):

Moorland Assoc letter to DEFRA1

DEFRA response to Moorland Assoc

Moorland Assoc letter to DEFRA2

The sense of entitlement laid bare in this correspondence is staggering, even after the grouse shooting industry has apparently failed to comply with the voluntary ban. Credit to DEFRA for holding its ground here. (Incidentally, we’ll be coming back to the issue of ineffective voluntary bans in light of today’s news that the shooting industry is planning a ‘voluntary ban’ on lead ammunition).

According to the Guardian article, DEFRA says it intends to ban the burning of heather on blanket bogs and will publish its plans shortly.

Derbyshire police respond to criticism over poisoned buzzard investigation

In early February we blogged about an illegally poisoned buzzard that had been found dead in the Peak District National Park, next to an illegal poisoned bait (see here). The focus of the blog was the long delay from discovery (April 2019) to publicity (Jan 2020) and even then the publicity had come from the RSPB, not from the police.

[The illegally poisoned buzzard. Photo by Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group]

We then wrote a follow-up blog last week (here) after Derbyshire Constabulary had claimed, with straight faces, that the discovery of the poisoned buzzard next to the poisoned bait was ‘inconclusive’, even though the official toxicology examination had concluded that,

The evidence therefore suggests that the Buzzard died as the result of the deliberate and illegal use of a high concentration of chloralose on a partridge bait, rather than through secondary poisoning from a different legally applied source…..”.

Derbyshire Constabulary came in for some well-earned criticism and have now responded with the following post on Facebook:

First the good points. This post is more conciliatory and far less antagonistic than recent posts on Derbyshire’s Rural Crime Team’s Facebook page. That’s a smart move. It’s also helpful to explain to the public the high workload demands, the large geographic area and the small size of the team. Like most police forces, they’re up against budget cuts and lack of resources. It’s good for the public to be reminded of these things to help manage expectations.

It’s also good to hear that the new civilian coordinator has been invited to join the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) and that he’s working with partner agencies, including the RSPB’s Investigations Team, to develop a standard operating procedure investigation guide. Although it’s hard to believe that such an SOP doesn’t already exist, especially in a county that has such a long running history of bird of prey persecution in association with driven grouse shooting.

However, this ‘update’ from the Rural Crime Team doesn’t address the initial issue at all – that is, what appears to be a fundamental cock-up in to the investigation of a dead poisoned buzzard that was found next to a poisoned bait. There’s no acknowledgement that there has been a cock-up, certainly no apology, and no indication that anything further will be done.

Police Supt Nick Lyall, who Chairs the national Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group has been made aware of this case and he’s looking in to it:



Job vacancy: Hen Harrier Nest Protection Officer x 4

The RSPB is recruiting for four hen harrier nest protection officers in England this spring.

These are temporary, seasonal jobs and you’ll need to be flexible about location because it all depends on where the hen harriers are allowed to settle and breed – most likely in Northumberland, Cumbria or Lancashire according to the RSPB’s job advert.

[Photo by Laurie Campbell]

Basically the job is round-the-clock nest protection, to give the breeding harriers the best chance of success.

Why do they need this level of protection in the 21st century? Here’s a big clue.

Full details of these vacancies and how to apply can be found here


Badger hung from Chris Packham’s gate

Chris Packham spent yesterday evening at a Wild Justice event in London.

He and his family arrived home shortly after midnight to be confronted by this savagery:

This is an escalation in the harassment campaign that has previously included dead crows being hung from his gate, a snared fox being dumped on his drive, and excrement and death threats being sent to him in the post.

It’s part of a wider hate campaign, manufactured and perpetuated by some particularly nasty individuals from the shooting industry, who are trying to intimidate Chris in to stopping his wildlife and conservation campaigning work.

Chris’s response to this latest atrocity is a measure of his integrity –  a calm reply requesting restraint:

Pigeon fancier fined £450 for shooting sparrowhawk

A pigeon fancier has been fined a measly £450 after pleading guilty to shooting and killing a sparrowhawk.

60 year old Duncan Cowan from Cowie in Stirlingshire was observed coming out of his shed with an air rifle and firing at a sparrowhawk in the field behind his garden on 18 April 2019. He fired three or four times as the sparrowhawk attacked a pigeon.

The police were called and the Scottish SPCA took the shot sparrowhawk for veterinary attention but it didn’t survive its injuries.

[Cowan outside his shed. Media handout]

Yesterday at Stirling Sheriff Court Cowan pleaded guilty to a charge under Section 1(1)(a) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 resulting in the fine.

Sara Shaw, Procurator Fiscal, Wildlife and Environment, said: “I welcome today’s conviction and the message it sends to those who choose to commit acts of violence against wild birds. Wild birds are given strict protection under our wildlife laws and COPFS will continue to prosecute such cases where appropriate to ensure that offenders are brought to justice.”

The sooner the proposed increased penalties for wildlife crime are enacted, the better. Having said that, the current maximum penalty available is £5,000 and/or a six month custodial sentence so a fine of £450 is still incredibly lenient for the deliberate injuring (and subsequent killing) of a protected species.

After gamekeepers, pigeon fanciers accounted for a significant proportion of all those convicted for raptor persecution crimes between 1990 – 2018, according to RSPB data (BirdCrime Report 2018)