Search & Rescue dog dies after eating suspected poisoned bait

The Search and Rescue Dog Association (SARDA) has announced the death of one of its trainee dogs after consuming what is believed to have been a poisoned bait.

SARDA posted the following statement on social media yesterday:

Tragic news in the last few days, as Bonnie, a SARDA Ireland Trainee Trailing Dog died after she ate poison that had been deliberately put out on the hill with the intention of targeting wildlife. She and her handler Jim O’Brien were training in the foothills of the Knockmealdowns when the incident occurred.

Bonnie was a beautiful and talented dog who no doubt would have become one of our first SARDA Ireland Trailing Dogs. A tragic loss for Jim, who has lost his beloved pet, and a huge loss to the SARDA Ireland Trailing Dog Team.

There have also been reports in the media, such as this from Tipp FM:

Investigations are underway following the poisoning of a Search and Rescue Dog in Tipperary.

Bonnie – a Labrador/Collie cross – was being trained by a member of the Search and Rescue Dogs Association of Ireland.

The incident happened last Sunday week in woods on the foothills of the Knockmealdown Mountains near Clogheen. Sadly Bonnie passed away a few days later.

There are just 6 qualified dogs in the country with 4 of them part of the South Eastern Mountain Rescue Association.

Gerry Tobin is a dog handler with SARDA – he says there have been other incidents of poisoning reported in the area.

There are certain individuals who for whatever reason are putting out poisoned baits and targeting wildlife – buzzards, peregrines, badgers you know any animals like this are potentially going to be at risk of poisoning.

And you’re also in a situation where you could have a family dog being exercised on a Sunday afternoon along the Blackwater Way and the following day that family dog could be dead.”


The type of poison hasn’t been disclosed in this case but only a few weeks ago we learned that the banned pesticide Carbofuran had been used for the mass poisoning of 23 buzzards in neighbouring County Cork (see here).

Placing poisoned baits to target birds of prey is not only illegal, but it’s also barbaric and indiscriminate. Only last month we heard of the suspected poisoning of two dogs in the notorious raptor-killing hell hole of Nidderdale, a so-called protected area designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in North Yorkshire. One of those dogs subsequently died (see here).

If you see what you believe is a poisoned bait, DON’T TOUCH IT but call the police immediately.

Police appeal for information after buzzard found shot in Peak District National Park

Press release from Greater Manchester Police and RSPB (4 June 2020)

Buzzard found shot twice in Peak District National Park

Greater Manchester Police and the RSPB are appealing for information after a buzzard was found shot near Diggle, in the Peak District National Park, on 11 May 2020.

[The shot buzzard had to be euthanized due to the extent of its injuries. Photo by Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group]

A member of the public found the bird dying on the ground and contacted the RSPB. However it had to be euthanized at a vets the next morning due to the extent of its injuries.

The body of the bird was x-rayed, and found to contain six pieces of lead shot. Further post-mortem analysis revealed that the bird had also been shot at an earlier occasion, but survived.

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

However the northern Peak District is a known hotspot for the shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey. Nearby In 2018, a climber witnessed a red kite being shot out of the sky near Saddleworth, the same year that a tawny owl and a short-eared owl were found shot near Wessenden Head.

The RSPB’s Investigations Team recently reported a surge of potential and confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution since lockdown. It is believed that the absence of visitors and raptor workers from key parts of the countryside may have served as an invitation to some to increase their efforts to kill birds of prey.

Jack Ashton-Booth, RSPB Investigations Officer, drove the dying bird to the vets. He said:

To hold the body of a bird in your hands that’s been riddled with lead shot, knowing that you probably can’t do anything to save it, is devastating. That is the reality of raptor persecution.

We are grateful to the member of the public who reported this incident. If you find a bird of prey dead or injured in suspicious circumstances, please report it to the police. We’re certain that more birds will be killed than we ever find or hear about.”

A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Police, said: “Shooting a bird of prey is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and I would appeal to hear from anyone with information.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, call Greater Manchester 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 here


This is the buzzard that was featured in the BBC Look Northwest programme on Weds night (see here)

‘400% increase in illegal killing of birds of prey since lockdown’

Last night BBC Look Northwest had an excellent feature on the continued killing of birds of prey in the UK. It included interviews with Howard Jones from the RSPB Investigations Team, and everyone’s favourite persecution denier, Duncan Thomas from BASC.

The clip can be viewed here (starts 18.10 mins) but is only available until 7pm this evening (Thurs 4 June 2020). We’ve reproduced the transcript below:

BBC studio presenter: “The RSPB says it’s been overrun with reports that birds of prey have been illegally killed since lockdown began. It’s thought the quieter countryside has made it easier for criminals to target them. A recent case involved a buzzard which had been shot near Saddleworth. Here’s our environment correspondent Judy Hobson.”

Judy Hobson: “A buzzard, found in the Peak District three weeks ago. This x-ray shows it had been shot. It was found here on Saddleworth Moor. The RSPB say since lockdown began there’s been a 400% increase in the illegal killing of birds of prey”.

[The shot buzzard and its x-ray. Photo by Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group]

Howard Jones, RSPB: “Lochdown has kind of emboldened the criminals out there who want to kill birds of prey so they think with the restrictions that have been imposed there’ll be less people out in the countryside and there’s less chance of being caught”.

Judy Hobson: “Two birds were found dead in Cumbria last month, other birds targeted include hen harriers, peregrine falcons and red kites. It’s an issue that’s plagued the countryside for years and the RSPB has consistently pointed the finger at gamekeepers protecting young grouse”.

Howard Jones: “In two thirds of the prosecutions that have ended up in court for bird of prey persecution since 1990, two thirds of those have been gamekeepers”.

Judy Hobson: “The charity says the number of birds found dead since lockdown began equates to a bird being killed every single day”.

Duncan Thomas, BASC: “I really dispute these figures. I would love to have a proper investigation in to exactly where they’re coming from. The RSPB are using birds of prey as a cash cow. It’s not proportionate, effective investigation, we must let the police get on with their job. We will expel anybody who is convicted of a wildlife crime of this nature”.

Judy Hobson: “The RSPB says it stands by its figures and says the police are investigating every single incident. Campaign groups such as Wild Justice also believe more birds have been targeted since lockdown. But a row over figures perhaps distracts from an inherent problem which shows no sign of going away”.

Howard Jones: “These are majestic birds of prey and creatures that people come out in to the countryside to see and despite 65 years of legal protection they are still being targeted”.


UPDATE: Comment posted on blog 4/6/20 by Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations: ‘Whilst there has been 56 confirmed/potential raptor persecution offences during lockdown – RSPB did not make or recognise the 400% comment made by the presenter in this piece. We have sought clarification from the BBC‘.

Buzzard found shot in Norfolk during lockdown

Norfolk Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team has posted this on Twitter today:

We haven’t been able to find any further published information – status of the bird, crime ref number etc.

Here’s a map of the location:

Disgusting display of depravity on a Scottish game-shooting estate

Press release from Scottish animal welfare charity OneKind (29 May 2020)

Shocking footage shows pile of rotting animal carcasses set to lure animals into nearby traps

New footage passed through to leading animal welfare campaigns charity, OneKind, reveals snares set near a pile of rotting animal carcasses, apparently set by gamekeepers in Strathnairn, south of Inverness.

The footage can be viewed here

In order to maximise the number of red grouse and pheasants available for recreational shooting, gamekeepers target foxes. To lure foxes into snares, gamekeepers often lay snares around a ‘stink pit’: a place where the gamekeepers dump rotting animal carcasses. The smell of decomposing animals lures the foxes towards the dead animals, where they are then caught in the snares surrounding the pit.

The use of these stink pits is a fundamental part of intensive predator control on Scottish shooting estates.

OneKind’s Director Bob Elliot said:

The use of stink pits to lure animals into cruel snares, which inflict considerable mental and physical suffering upon the animals trapped in them, shows a fundamental lack of respect for Scotland’s wild and domestic animals.

Although snares are set to target predators to the red grouse, non-target species are often found among the animals dumped in stink pits, and during our work in the field we have discovered deer, geese, salmon and even cats in stink pits.

In this recent case, the animals discovered in the grotesque stink pit included rooks and fox cubs.  It’s a disgrace that this mass killing of rooks is still permitted and we were horrified to see that even young animals were treated as bait.  Some of the rooks appeared to be juveniles, hardly surprising given that this is the time when they emerge from their nests and perch on branches before fledging fully. The welfare issues of shooting rooks have not been fully researched but one can safely assume that they suffer.  Shooters seldom, if ever, use dogs to retrieve wounded birds and ensure they are despatched to put them out of their misery. Fox cubs are loved by so many of the Scottish public, and we know that the killing and dumping of them like this will be very upsetting to many.

We urge anyone out walking in Scotland to take photos and report any snares or snaring incidents through our dedicated snare awareness website, SnareWatch. We continue to raise awareness of the reality of snare use in our countryside, and the suffering these cruel traps inflict upon Scotland’s wild animals.

OneKind has long campaigned for a ban on stink pits and the sale, manufacture, possession and use of snares in Scotland and our petition for a review of snares and other traps is currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament. We have also produced a report, ‘Untold Suffering’, that details the scale and level of suffering inflicted on wild animals by these antiquated traps, highlighting why a ban is necessary.”

OneKind has notified Police Scotland about one snare photographed at the site, as it did not have a visible identification tag, which is a legal requirement. The question of whether stink pits are legal has been raised repeatedly by OneKind.


Notes for Editors (from OneKind)

  • Rooks were removed from Scottish General Licence GL01 in April, as there is little evidence that they impact negatively on populations of wild birds of conservation concern. They remain listed on GL02 and may be controlled to protect livestock. Game birds are considered to be livestock while they are under human control in rearing pens.
  • Snaring is legal in Scotland subject to detailed regulations under sections 11A – 11F of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, including a requirement for all snares to be tagged with an identification number to allow tracing of the operator. The tag must be displayed in a manner in which it will remain readable.
  • Stink pits have generally been regarded as exempt from animal by-product regulations but there is doubt about whether the animals’ bodies should be regarded as “bait” or “waste”, in which case other regulations would apply. Carcasses such as pheasants are not generally permitted to be dumped.  In June 2017, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment told the Scottish Parliament that she would ask the Scottish technical assessment group advising SNH on a review of snaring legislation to look at the use of stink pits as part of its consideration of the review’s recommendations. It is not known how far this has proceeded.

Scottish Greens call for increased enforcement as wildlife crime continues during lockdown

Press release from Scottish Greens (3 June 2020)

Concerns over wildlife crime during lockdown

‘Concerning’ wildlife crime during lockdown shows why greater protection and enforcement is needed, the Scottish Greens have said.

Speaking to Scottish Green environment spokesperson Mark Ruskell at Holyrood’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, Francesca Osowska, Chief Executive of Scottish Natural Heritage, said there has been reports of incidents concerning nesting birds, badgers and freshwater mussels during lockdown.

That is a concern,” she said, pointing out SNH have not been able to respond in normal ways due to restrictions and have been referring cases to Police Scotland.

Commenting, Mark Ruskell said: “We’ve seen reports across the UK of criminals exploiting the lack of normal monitoring during lockdown to kill animals. I agree with SNH that this is extremely concerning.

This is why current attempts to strengthen the law around wildlife needs to be stronger. I have proposed stronger protection for badgers and giving the SSPCA powers to investigate wildlife crime, both of which would prevent further crimes and make convictions more likely.

We’ve also heard that the RSPB has been ‘overrun’ by reports of birds of prey being illegally killed by those emboldened by the absence of walkers and hikers. Travel restrictions are necessary, but they also apply to private estates. This crisis is not carte blanche for wholesale slaughter of Scotland’s wild animals.”


On the topic of increased powers for the SSPCA, a subject that’s been covered extensively on this blog, Common Weal journalist Sean Bell has written an excellent synposis which includes this comment, hitting the nail on the head:

More broadly, the suggestion that, after nearly a decade of discussion and debate regarding expanded powers for the SSPCA, it is still somehow unclear “why the powers would be needed or what they are for” indicates either a severe lack of interest on the Scottish Government’s part, or an active attempt to roadblock progress on the matter‘.

You can read his article in full here

The Scottish Government chose not to expand the SSPCA’s powers in May 2017 (apparently based on ‘legal advice’) and this decision was buried in amongst an announcement that a review on grouse moor management would be undertaken (this later became known as the Werritty Review), for which we’re still waiting for a Government response.

With raptor persecution showing no sign of decrease since then (e.g. see here) and even continuing through lockdown, it’s good to see the Scottish Greens bringing the issue of increased SSPCA powers back to the Parliamentary table.

4 shot buzzards on a Bransdale grouse moor: shooting industry’s response

Last Friday afternoon, North Yorkshire Police appealed for information in relation to an ongoing investigation involving the discovery of five dead buzzards that had been shoved in a hole under a rock on an unnamed grouse shooting estate in Bransdale in the North York Moors National Park. X-rays have so far revealed that four of those five buzzards had been shot (see here).

[Police body camera footage captures the moment five dead buzzards are pulled from a hole where they’d been concealed on a grouse shooting estate in Bransdale, North York Moors National Park]

North Yorkshire Police has since released x-rays of three of those shot buzzards:

In relation to this incident and other ongoing investigations into raptor persecution, Inspector Matt Hagen from North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Crime Team told Channel 4 News, “All the shooting investigations that we’ve got going on at the moment are involving gamekeepers on grouse moors” (see here).

Given the game-shooting industry’s claims of a ‘zero tolerance’ stance to illegal raptor persecution (see here), you’d think this would be the perfect opportunity for the grouse shooting industry to offer its full support to the police investigation and encourage its members to step forward with information, especially if there was concern about dangerous unidentified armed criminals, killing protected species and running amok in a National Park, right?

Well apparently not. Having looked at the websites of the industry’s ‘leading’ organisations this morning, here’s what they’ve had to say about this latest crime:

Moorland Association: nothing

BASC: nothing

Countryside Alliance: nothing

National Gamekeepers Organisation: nothing

GWCT: nothing

Impressive, eh?

There is one group from the industry, however, who seems to have plenty to say, and it’s quite extraordinary.

The North Yorkshire Moors Moorland Organisation (NYMMO) is an apparently grassroots umbrella organisation that represents grouse moor gamekeepers in the North York Moors. It’s one of a number of regional moorland groups in the UK, established a few years ago as part of what looks like a propaganda exercise to promote grouse moor management in a favourable light. The NYMMO website doesn’t have a list of grouse-shooting estates on which its members work but we do know it has members that work in Bransdale (more on this in a future blog).

Here’s what the NYMMO posted on its social media channels on Sunday, in response to the news that five dead buzzards, four of which are confirmed as being shot, were discovered concealed in a hole on an unnamed Bransdale grouse shooting estate:

Does this strike anyone as evidence of an industry exhibiting ‘zero tolerance’ of raptor persecution? You can bet that some of those ‘leading’ organisations will be raging at the NYMMO for posting such an incredibly stupid and revealing statement in response to what is an horrific wildlife crime, especially as a number of those ‘leading’ organisations have a close and supportive relationship with the NYMMO. Although at least one BASC staff member (Gary Dockerty, BASC Upland Officer) has ‘liked’ this post on Facebook.

More on the NYMMO shortly….

BBC Countryfile highlights raptor persecution on grouse moors

Last night’s edition of Countryfile on the BBC included a ten minute slot on raptor persecution.

It’s available to watch on BBCiPlayer (here) for the next 11 months (starts 10.40 min).

To be honest, after watching the compelling piece on raptor persecution that featured on Channel 4 News on Friday (see here), Countryfile’s effort was a bit limp and underwhelming.

Having said that, we should bear in mind that to the average Countryfile viewer, the fact that gamekeepers are still killing birds of prey in 21st Century Britain will have been quite a shock so ten mins of exposure on such a prime time programme is to be welcomed. There was also some cracking footage of hen harriers.

But for those of us all too familiar with this subject, this programme grated in some areas.

Presenter Tom Heap pitched the subject as a ‘political war between gamekeepers and the RSPB’ – sorry, Tom, but you’re about ten years out of date. Look around, there’s an ever-increasing community of organisations and individuals who are fighting hard against the grouse shooting industry and not just on the raptor persecution issue.

Tom also repeated the wildly inaccurate but often cited claim that the game-shooting industry is worth £2 billion to the rural economy. It’s worth nothing of the sort – keep an eye on Mark Avery’s blog as we anticipate a forensic dissection of this particular topic. [Update: read Mark’s blog here]

Then we had Steve Bloomfield from BASC who was complaining about ‘sweeping statements’ being made about raptor persecution that, according to him, infer everyone in gameshooting is killing raptors. He might just as well have stamped his feet and said, ‘It’s so unfair!’ The so-called ‘sweeping statements’ that I’ve seen are nothing of the sort – they’re statements of fact. For example, that the RSPB has received an increase in reported raptor persecution incidents during lockdown and the majority of those have been on land managed for game shooting.

Another example, from a senior police officer (Insp Matt Hagen, North Yorkshire Police), who told Channel 4 News and Countryfile that reported incidents had certainly increased since lockdown and that ALL his investigations were currently centred on gamekeepers on grouse moors.

To be honest, I can’t be bothered to write anymore of a review. It’s just going over the same old ground, time and time again. Watch the video if you like but if you watched the Channel 4 News video on Friday you’ll not learn much new from this one.

Meanwhile, let’s get back to the Bransdale case and those industry connections…..