2018 worst year in more than a decade for illegal raptor persecution in England

Yesterday the RSPB published more data on its Raptor Persecution Map Hub, which now includes 12 years worth of searchable incidents. You can read about it here on the RSPB Investigations Team’s blog.

Coinciding with this release was a piece on the BBC’s Six O’Clock News followed up with a feature on BBC North West’s Inside Out programme.

The Inside Out programme is available to watch on iPlayer here for the next 29 days.

The feature runs for about ten minutes and includes interviews with the RSPB’s Investigations Team, North Yorkshire Police’s award-winning Wildlife Crime Officer Sgt Stu Grainger, and the Moorland Association’s top contortionist Amanda Anderson.

To be honest there’s nothing new here at all – it’s a well-rehearsed pantomime with claims made by the RSPB (based on evidential data) and counter-claims from the grouse shooting industry (pretending everything’s fine) but nevertheless, still well worth the airplay on national news that undoubtedly will have reached some people who’d previously been unaware of the level of criminality on many of the grouse moors of northern England.

The journalist, Gareth Barlow, did a reasonable job although just lacked the killer questions that would have exposed the Moorland Association’s nonsense with ease. For example, he picked up that 2018 was the worst year for recorded raptor persecution crimes in over a decade but he let Amanda Anderson get away with some snakeish slithering around the facts, as follows:

Gareth Barlow:A study from last year of data trackers showed that hen harriers are ten times more likely to die or disappear over land associated with grouse moors. How do you react to that data?”

Amanda Anderson:The study of tagged birds up to 2017 raises considerable issues. But actually since then 2018 saw 34 fledged hen harrier chicks in England and last year a record-breaking 47 chicks fledged, mostly from grouse moors“.

Let’s just analyse Amanda’s response. A casual and uninformed listener might think that, based on what she said, the grouse shooting industry has cleaned up its act since 2017, with ‘record-breaking’ [ahem] numbers of chicks fledging and everything’s fine now, nothing to see here, move along, gamekeepers love hen harriers too and the killing has stopped. But what happens to those ‘record-breaking’ number of fledged hen harriers once they leave the nest?

What Amanda ‘forgot’ to mention was the long list of satellite-tagged hen harriers that have either vanished in suspicious circumstances or been found illegally shot or trapped or poisoned, mostly on or close to land managed for game bird shooting, since 2018 (and since DEFRA’s so-called Hen Harrier Action Plan was enacted):

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa ‘disappeared’ in the Angus Glens in Scotland (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers Association later published false information claiming the bird had been re-sighted. The RSPB dismissed this as “completely false” (here).

5 February 2018: Hen harrier Marc ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Durham (here)

9 February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn ‘disappeared’ near Moffat in Scotland (here)

18 April 2018: Hen harrier Lia ‘disappeared’ in Wales and her corpse was retrieved in a field in May 2018. Cause of death was unconfirmed but police treating death as suspicious (here)

8 August 2018: Hen harrier Hilma ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Northumberland (here).

16 August 2018: Hen harrier Athena ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

26 August 2018: Hen Harrier Octavia ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here)

29 August 2018: Hen harrier Margot ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

29 August 2018: Hen Harrier Heulwen ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

3 September 2018: Hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

24 September 2018: Hen harrier Heather ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

2 October 2018: Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

3 October 2018: Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Bowland, Lanacashire (here)

26 October 2018: Hen harrier Arthur ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here)

10 November 2018: Hen harrier Rannoch ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here). Her corpse was found nearby in May 2019 – she’d been killed in an illegally-set spring trap (here).

14 November 2018: Hen harrier River ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB (here). Her corpse was found nearby in April 2019 – she’d been illegally shot (here).

16 January 2019: Hen harrier Vulcan ‘disappeared’ in Wiltshire close to Natural England’s proposed reintroduction site (here)

7 February 2019: Hen harrier Skylar ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (here)

22 April 2019: Hen harrier Marci ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

11 May 2019: A male hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set trap next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire. He didn’t survive (here)

7 June 2019: A hen harrier was found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland. A post mortem stated the bird had died as a result of ‘penetrating trauma’ injuries and that this bird had previously been shot (here)

11 September 2019: Hen harrier Romario ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

10 October 2019: Hen harrier Ada ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North Pennines AONB (here)

12 October 2019: Hen harrier Thistle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Sutherland (here)

November 2019: Hen harrier Mary found illegally poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland (here)

There are two more satellite-tagged hen harriers (Tony & Rain) that are reported either confirmed or suspected to have been illegally killed in the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project Report but no further details are available.

And then there were last year’s brood meddled hen harrier chicks that have been reported ‘missing’ but as they’re carrying a new type of tag known to be unreliable it’s not known if they’ve been bumped off or if they’re still ok. For the purposes of this mini-analysis we will discount these birds.

So that makes a total of at least 29 hen harriers that are known to have either ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances or have been found illegally killed in the last two years, during the period that Amanda Anderson was suggesting the killing had stopped.

That’s a lot of incidents for Amanda to ‘forget’ to mention, isn’t it?

And we’re supposed to trust the Moorland Association when it claims to have ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution!

Poisoned buzzard, next to poisoned bait: circumstances ‘inconclusive’ says Derbyshire Constabulary!

I don’t know what’s going on at Derbyshire Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team but someone needs to check that Amanda Anderson isn’t moonlighting.

You may recall a couple of weeks ago 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]

The story doesn’t end there.

On Friday (14th Feb), the following post appeared on Derbyshire Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team’s Facebook page:

Er….right oh.

The Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group has called out this nonsense with another blog and an open letter of complaint to the Derbyshire Police & Crime Commissioner – read it here.

Of particular note, this official toxicology report on the buzzard and the poisoned bait, written by Dr Ed Blane (National Coordinator for the independent Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme, HM Inspector Health & Safety Executive) who writes:

“…..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…..

And yet Derbyshire Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team claims “There are too many unknown variables to conclusively say that the buzzard has been poisoned deliberately“.

And guess who’ll be using that ‘official police statement’ to play down the ongoing problem of illegal raptor persecution in the Peak District National Park?

Supt Nick Lyall – you need to be looking at this with some urgency.

UPDATE 23 February 2020: Derbyshire Police respond to criticism over poisoned buzzard investigation (here)

Scottish Environment Committee asks probing questions of Animals & Wildlife Bill

The Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee has published its Stage 1 report on the proposed Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) (Scotland) Bill.

This Bill was introduced by Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham on 30th September 2019 (see here for associated docs) and will, amongst other things, increase the maximum available penalties for the most serious animal welfare and wildlife offences (see here for previous blog).

The ECCLR Committee has held a number of evidence sessions as this Bill passes through Parliamentary scrutiny at Stage 1, including this one where RPUK participated with a number of other organisations and whilst there was certainly some common ground, there was also a lame attempt by BASC to portray the General Licence restriction as an effective sanction against wildlife crime (see here).

The ECCLR Committee’s Stage 1 report reveals some careful and insightful thought on a number of issues and asks some probing questions of the Scottish Government to be answered before the Bill reaches Stage 2 and also makes several recommendations. Of particular interest to us are questions and recommendations on the consistency of categorising wildlife crimes, plans for further resources and/or collaboration on wildlife crime investigations, a full evaluation of the failed Police Special Constables scheme in the Cairngorms National Park, consideration (again) of increased powers for the Scottish SPCA, the need for pre-sentencing impact statements, the concept of vicarious liability being extended to other wildlife crimes, the need for more clarity and guidance from the Scottish Government and Crown Office on what is required for a vicarious liability prosecution, whether the principle of the Victims Right to Review could be extended to wildlife NGOs acting in the public interest to challenge decisions not to prosecute, more public information to be made available to help understand why video evidence is sometimes (too often) deemed inadmissible, whether General Licence restrictions are as effective as they could be and why the restriction is lifted during the appeal process, and the Government’s anticipated response to the Werritty Review.

There’s a lot of good stuff here and it’s well worth having a read of the Committee’s Stage 1 report, available to download here: ECCLRS0520R1

Wild Justice celebrates first birthday

Wild Justice is celebrating its first birthday today.

Here’s who we are and here’s what we’ve been doing.

It’s been quite a year, with several established cases ongoing and a number of others on the verge of launching. If you want to be among the first to know what’s happening, sign up to the free Wild Justice newsletter here. Newsletter #17 has just been distributed with, amongst other things, details about the changes to General Licences in England, Wales and Scotland which are the result of Wild Justice’s legal challenge.

Each case is crowdfunded (i.e. money is raised for that specific project and those funds are ring fenced so they can’t be used for anything else) and the two big ongoing cases (General Licences and the release of non-native gamebirds and their impact on wildlife) are already fully funded thanks to generous support from the public.

However, much time and effort is also spent researching potential new cases, some of which will develop in to a full-blown case and others won’t, for various reasons. This research costs money (even though the three Wild Justice Directors work unpaid) and Wild Justice is currently fundraising for a Fighting Fund to help support this work.

If you like what Wild Justice is doing and would like to donate to the Fighting Fund, please visit here.

Many thanks.

How much did the Werritty Review cost & why is it so difficult to find out?

You know, when you’ve spent a number of years submitting freedom of information requests left, right and centre, you eventually develop a sense of when something’s not quite right, of when the wool is being pulled, and of when obstruction is the name of the game.

The Scottish Government is no stranger to criticism over the way it handles FoI requests – have a look at this, for example, which includes a quote from a senior editor, “We frequently come across obstruction, poor practice and clear efforts to restrict access to information – experiences which undermine our confidence in the system“.

Now have a read of the following correspondence and see what you think.

It began with a straightforward FoI request, submitted to Scot Gov on 1 January 2020, asking for the full financial details of commissioning Professor Werritty to Chair the Grouse Moor Management Review Group.

Here’s Scot Gov’s response:

Here’s my response to Scot Gov:

And here’s Scot Gov’s response, telling me it’s not a valid request because I’ve only provided my first name (even though this is part of an ongoing correspondence chain and my surname is provided in my email!) and that they need my surname and title to proceed:

Here’s my response:

So far it’s been six weeks since the very simple question was first asked. Why is it so difficult for the Scottish Government to provide an answer?

UPDATE 19 May 2020: Full cost of Werritty Review finally revealed (here)

New rules for bird traps in Scotland

Last week Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) published some information about its proposed changes to the General Licences, effective from 1 April 2020.

Some of those changes include the removal of some bird species from some licences, and the removal of General Licences from some protected areas (to be replaced by individual licences) but we don’t intend to comment on any of that just now as Wild Justice’s legal team is currently evaluating the lawfulness of the proposals.

However, the news that ravens would NOT be added to the General Licences is very welcome, although we are hearing rumours that the so-called Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders (basically a load of gamekeepers) and GWCT might be preparing another application for a specific licence to kill ravens in Strathbraan. Freedom of Information requests have been submitted and we’ll keep you posted.

A considerable war chest is still available from the legal challenge made against the Strathbraan raven cull in 2018 and these funds are ring-fenced which means another legal challenge can be launched with immediate effect if necessary.

Another welcome aspect of SNH’s 2020 General Licences is the decision to register individual operators of bird traps.

[A multi-catch crow cage trap, baited with a live decoy bird and used to capture hundreds of birds which are then killed, often by being beaten to death with a stick. Photo by OneKind]

Previously in Scotland, the General Licence conditions have stated that live-catch corvid traps (e.g. Larsen traps, Larsen mate traps and multi-catch crow cage traps) have to display an identification number of the trap owner, but this number does not identify an individual trap operator, only the owner, typically the landowner or sporting agent. So if an alleged breach/offence has been detected, and the trap is located on a large grouse shooting estate where multiple gamekeepers are employed, it has been virtually impossible for the Police to identify an individual suspect (and thus charge anyone) because the estate and gamekeepers simply close rank, offer a ‘no comment’ response and fail to identify the actual trap user.

In reality this situation is laughable because very often on large shooting estates gamekeepers are employed specifically to manage a delineated area of an estate, known as a ‘beat’. Their job title is even ‘beatkeeper’ (as illustrated in this January 2020 advert, below) so the idea that, when an alleged offence has been discovered, an individual trap operator at a particular location on an estate can’t be identified is what might be called taking the piss.

Nevertheless, this apparent inability to identify a named suspect has happened time and time and time again, as regular blog readers will be only too aware. It’s why we (e.g. here) and especially the RSPB (e.g. here) have been campaigning for years to have this loophole closed.

The new registration requirements in the 2020 Scottish General Licences still don’t go far enough – there should at least be a requirement for trap operators to submit annual returns so that SNH, and others, can monitor the number of birds killed. But nevertheless, the requirement for individual trap users to be registered is a big step in the right direction. And this level of improved accountability, although still lacking, is way ahead of the General Licences in England and Wales as documented in this timely blog from the RSPB today.

For further information on the Scottish General Licences 2020 see these documents prepared by SNH:

General Licensing Changes Summary – February 2020

General Licensing Changes FAQs – February 2020

Buzzard illegally poisoned in Peak District National Park

A buzzard has been found illegally poisoned in the Peak District National Park.

A poisoned bait (a red-legged partridge) was found close by.

Toxicology tests revealed both the buzzard and the partridge contained the pesticide Alphachloralose.

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

The thing is, this illegally poisoned buzzard wasn’t found in January, or December, or in any other recent month. It was discovered on 14th April 2019.

The police decided, for whatever reason, that it was best to keep quiet about this. There were no public appeals for information and no public warnings that a poisoner was actively placing baits containing dangerous, highly toxic chemicals out in the countryside. Baits that if touched by a child, adult or a dog could result in acute illness and even death.

Two weeks ago the RSPB issued a press statement about this poisoning crime that reads as follows:

BUZZARD POISONED IN PEAK DISTRICT NATIONAL PARK

22 January 2020

A protected bird of prey has been illegally poisoned in one of the UK’s worst raptor persecution blackspots.

In April 2019 a member of the public found a buzzard freshly dead in woodland near Tintwistle, just north of Valehouse Reservoir, in the Peak District National Park. Close by were the remains of a red-legged partridge.

A post-mortem and toxicology tests under taken by Natural England showed that the buzzard and partridge both contained the pesticide Alphachloralose.

Natural England concluded that ‘abuse of chloralose, using a bird bait, has occurred at this location and at least one buzzard has been poisoned’.

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail. Derbyshire Police were made aware at the time of the discovery and informed of the toxicology result in August.

Alphachloralose is one of the most commonly abused pesticides for illegally targeting birds of prey.

The northern Dark Peak has been the scene of many crimes involving the poisoning, trapping and shooting of birds of prey, making it one of the UK’s worst blackspots, according to the RSPB’s recent Birdcrime report. A scientific article, Raptor Persecution in the Peak District National Park, cemented the link between raptor persecution and land managed for driven grouse shooting in the Peak District National Park.

[Confirmed raptor persecution crimes in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park, 2007-2019. Map produced by RSPB]

Howard Jones, Investigations Officer at the RSPB, said: “The relentless destruction of birds of prey in the Dark Peak needs to stop. This area has become a black hole for birds of prey like buzzards though this is exactly the habitat where they should be thriving. Deliberately poisoning birds is not only illegal but incredibly dangerous to other wildlife, not to mention people and pets. What if a dog or a child had found this and touched it? It doesn’t bear thinking about.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, call Derbyshire Police on 101.

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form.

ENDS

When you’ve read more of these types of press release than you care to remember, you get a feel for style and content. It seems quite apparent that this is not a joint press release between the RSPB and the police, as so many of them often are. There’s no quote from an investigating police officer, there’s no incident number, and there’s a pointed sentence that Derbyshire Police were informed of the incident in April and updated with the toxicology results in August.

And then there’s this recent blog about the poisoning incident from the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group, which is a bit difficult to follow because it references unsighted material and various unnamed email correspondents. However, what does seem clear is that someone from the shooting industry is claiming that a police officer said this poisoning incident was suspicious but ‘definitely not illegal persecution’.

Er…..right.

Haven’t we been in this position before, where it looked like deliberate attempts were being made to suppress confirmed raptor crimes in the Peak District National Park?

Let’s hope that isn’t what’s going on here, but nevertheless, there is absolutely no excuse for the police not to have warned the public about the presence of potentially lethal poisonous baits, at the time they were discovered, especially inside one of the country’s most visited National Parks.

UPDATE 16 February 2020: Poisoned buzzard, next to poisoned bait: circumstances ‘inconclusive’ says Derbyshire Constabulary! (here)

UPDATE 23 February 2020: Derbyshire Police respond to criticism over poisoned buzzard investigation (here)

Red Sixty Seven: show some love for the UK’s at risk birds

A new collaborative initiative is about to launch, aimed at raising awareness and funds to help protect the 67 vulnerable bird species currently listed on the UK Red List.

The brain-child of Kit Jewson (@yolobirder), the Red Sixty Seven book draws together 67 writers and 67 artists who have all donated their time and expertise so that 100% of the book profits can be shared between the RSPB and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to further their work on red-listed species.

You can read more about the book on the BTO website (here) and there’s a good write-up in the Guardian (here).

You can pre-order the book (£19.99) here and it’ll be shipped just after Valentine’s Day on 14 February 2020.

You can buy other Red Sixty Seven merchandise here

You can get a preview of the 67 artworks and find out who has written a piece for which species here

The Red List (and thus the Red 67 book) includes three raptor species – white-tailed eagle, merlin and hen harrier:

Show some love, order your copy now!

Revive coalition delivers post-Werritty briefing docs to every MSP in Scottish Parliament

Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform in Scotland has been busy delivering briefing documents to every member of the Scottish Parliament as we await the Government’s response to Professor Werritty’s recommendations for grouse moor management, published just before Xmas.

In addition to the briefing documents, each MSP received a copy of Revive’s latest report, Untold Suffering, written by coalition members OneKind and League Against Cruel Sports Scotland.

The Untold Suffering report was published in December 2019 and illustrates the industrial scale of animal suffering on Scotland’s grouse moors to sustain the grouse shooting industry. It is believed that tens of thousands of animals are snared, trapped and killed on Scotland’s moors just to ensure that there are more grouse available for sport shooting, although this is only a crude estimate; the precise figures aren’t available because there is no requirement for grouse shooting estates to report on the scale of the killing.

The Revive coalition wanted to highlight this aspect of grouse moor management to MSPs as animal welfare isn’t really covered by the Werritty review but absolutely should be part of the Government’s considerations.

For further information about Revive’s recent activities and how you can support the coalition, please visit here.

Members of the Revive coalition are OneKind, League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland), Common Weal, Raptor Persecution UK, Friends of the Earth (Scotland).

Daily Mail forced to apologise for publishing defamatory ‘extremist’ slur

Last month the Mail Online published a nasty, vindictive article, believed to have been sourced from the loathsome Countryside Alliance.

Written by ‘journalist’ Vivek Chaudhary, it was claimed that Police Detective Superintendent Lou Hubble, Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) had featured in a video with me and I was described as an “anti-hunt extremist“, as well as an “animal rights extremist“, five times throughout the article.

Here was the original headline:

It’s quite clear that the use of the term “anti-hunt extremist” was used in this context to create a [wholly false] impression of someone who advocates violent and/or illegal action. Add in the words ‘Police chief’ and ‘House of Commons’ and you’ve got a heady cocktail for hysteria.

I complained about the description and asked to see the evidence that’d been used to justify the use of this ‘extremist’ label but I didn’t get anywhere with either the journalist or his editor. After ten days I threatened to escalate my complaint to legal action for alleged defamation – and yes, I had every intention of taking this forward. This resulted in an almost immediate response from the editor, who didn’t apologise but did remove every description of me being an ‘extremist’ and instead referred to me as a wildlife campaigner and a conservation campaigner in a revised version of the article. Here was the new headline:

That was good but it still wasn’t an apology. The editor tried to dissuade me from seeking one because it would mean he would have to refer my complaint to his senior editorial team. I told him I didn’t think it was unreasonable to seek a written apology given the libellous commentary that had been published.

He did pass on my complaint and, presumably having realised they were in an indefensible position, the very next day I received a full written apology from a senior managing editor and the following footnote was added to the (revised) online article:

This is a good result and hopefully those who are routinely the subject of defamatory online commentary will be encouraged to take similar action in future.

However, although the article had included defamatory slurs against me, I was not the direct target of attack. Lou Hubble was the intended victim, presumably because she’s been working to make life difficult for the raptor-killing criminals within the game shooting industry. As a result of this spiteful article in the Mail Online, and the Countryside Alliance making a formal complaint to the Police about Lou’s ‘behaviour’, Det Sup Hubble has found herself at the centre of an investigation by the Police’s professional standards unit.

This is absolutely outrageous, especially as it was based on inaccurate and defamatory accusations. So a hard-working, dedicated and career-focused wildlife cop, whose job it is to develop partnership working relationships with everybody (including the Countryside Alliance!) decided to participate, in her own time, in a video with over 30 other wildlife campaigners and supporters, including BASC(!!), now faces the threat of disciplinary action, and all because the Daily Mail chose to publish some nasty and inaccurate accusations believed to originate from the Countryside Alliance.

The Mail’s subsequent retractions, amendments and apology will be forwarded to the Police’s professional standards unit and hopefully this will draw their investigation in to Lou Hubble to an immediate halt as they’ll see the complaint for the malicious, squalid witch-hunt it so obviously is.

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