Another huge penalty for raptor poisoning offence in Spain

There have been a number of raptor poisoning cases in the news recently, including the illegal killing of a white-tailed eagle found on a grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland (here), the mass poisoning of 23 buzzards in a field in Co Cork, Ireland (here), the poisoning of four peregrines on Guernsey in the Channel Islands (here), the poisoning of a family’s pet dog, believed to have consumed a poisoned bait intended for birds of prey in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire (here), the poisoning of a buzzard found dead on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here), the poisoning of a buzzard in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire (here) and the suspected poisoning of numerous raptors in Derbyshire including three peregrines, two buzzards and one kestrel, all pending toxicology results (here). More on some of those suspected cases shortly.

The connecting feature of all these incidents is that, in all probability, the poisoners will evade justice.

[Illegally poisoned sea eagle. Photo by Police Scotland]

It’s incredibly rare to secure a conviction for poisoning birds of prey in the UK, mainly due to the difficulty of securing sufficient evidence to link the crime to the actual individual who laid the bait. For example if the poisoned bait had been laid out on a large game shooting estate there could be numerous suspects (e.g. gamekeepers), who will all give ‘no comment’ interviews to the police, thus making it virtually impossible for the police to determine which one of them should be charged.

And even in a case where three golden eagles were found illegally poisoned on the same grouse moor, and an enormous stash of banned Carbofuran poison was found in the gamekeeper’s locked shed, reportedly to which only he had the key, he still wasn’t charged with killing those eagles, only for possession of the banned poison (see here).

There have been a few successful prosecutions for raptor poisoning over the years, but the subsequent penalties have been so utterly feeble they simply haven’t acted as a suitable deterrent for others (e.g. see here, here and here).

Meanwhile, over in Spain where tackling the illegal killing of birds of prey is taken seriously with, for example, the deployment of specialist poison detection dogs, resulting in massive fines, custodial sentences and extended hunting disqualifications for those convicted of laying poisoned baits (e.g. see here, here, here, here), another poisoner has just been sentenced this week.

According to these articles (here and here), an unnamed farmer has just been convicted of poisoning two red kites in Cabeza de Buey (Badajoz) in 2018 and has been ordered to pay a 20,000 EURO fine (the estimated value of the two red kites). He also received a two-year hunting disqualification.

Compare that response with what we’ve seen in Scotland this last week – an illegally poisoned white-tailed eagle, killed with a banned pesticide, found dead inside a National Park in an area where at least seven eagles have now been either illegally killed or have disappeared in suspicious circumstances.

There was a wholly inadequate response from a junior Environment Minister (here) followed by total silence from the Environment Cabinet Secretary and the First Minister, despite unprecedented public uproar urging action (see here and here).

Interesting, isn’t it?

26 thoughts on “Another huge penalty for raptor poisoning offence in Spain”

  1. Do Spanish laws, rules of evidence, use of video, etc differ to any significant degree to those in the UK? In short, apart from the use of sniffer dogs, is there anything else that we can learn from the Spanish?

      1. It may be that the increase in sentences for these wildlife offences in Scotland may make the use of covert surveillance acceptable without the land owner or or subjects consent. However, this will depend on the willingness of the police to use these powers, which requires political will and determination. As agreed by the Werrity review, licencing is the only way to tackle this problem. Further delay is unacceptable.

  2. It is a national scandal that we as a group of nations ( England Scotland, Wales, Eire and Northern Ireland) cannot be bothered officially to treat such crimes as important. We could have those poison detecting dogs, as the Spanish have it is a matter of training those dogs to do the job. We know how to do that we train dogs to find drugs and people, the problem is overcoming the apathy of officialdom to pay for it. Imagine the reaction of the criminals in grouse management to The moor where that WTE was found poisoned to the police arriving with half a dozen of those dogs sweeping the moor for more baits or hidden stashes of the poison used then all the estate premises and vehicles. I strongly suspect that such action would put the bastards firmly on the back foot and probably result in court cases. All we would need and still in fact desperately need is penalties to fit the crime, for me poisoners of specially protected wildlife would get 5-10 years in jail, compensatory fines as in Spain and banned from the shooting industry including bans on gun licences for life. It sounds like pie in the sky but is it really, its what we need to solve this problem if grouse shooting is not to be banned ( my preferred option) .

    1. Spot on Paul. Unfortunately, under a Conservative government, there’s zero chance of a Spanish-type reaction to raptor persecution.

      1. There’s a SNP government in Scotland which has proven over 14 years to be no better than the Conservitives at protecting raptors.

  3. Interesting indeed. Just shows what can be done if resources and enforcement coupled with hefty penalties are ruthlessly deployed. Let’s hope that SNH and the Scottish Government read this.

  4. You might say that the Scottish and English governments are small minded and weak individuals who suck up to the shooting fraternity. Who said crime doesn’t pay, it certainly does when you have cowards running the country

  5. The problem is that all of the people who can actually do something about it either see the landowners responsible as their peers, or they aspire to the same income and influence as those people. Be it politicians, judges, senior and middle-ranking policemen, COPF / CPS barristers: their heart isn’t in it because they, almost without exception, have more in common with the criminal overlords than the general public, who are rightly appalled by the on-going criminality.

  6. Spain treats these crimes with the seriouslness they deserve in a modern civilised country. In the UK we are a joke. The Westminster Etton Administration is in league with the land owners with denials and lies. At Holyrood the SNP attitude is just a sham with regard to wildlife whether hares, beavers or raptor protection. Just like the Torries they are in cahoots secretly with landowners and have over time proved they have no intention of making any meaningful changes.

  7. Why do you believe there is such a reluctance to deter in the UK, and enthusiasm to prevent in Spain……

    1. I may be wrong Steve but it is I think relatively simple. In Spain because of their history the vast majority of folk and their politicians have little respect or time for the aristocracy and the rich upper echelons of society. Whilst here in the UK we show them near complete deference, despite claims to the contrary they still own huge areas of the countryside and “our ” leaders are far too prone to forelock tugging. We never had a revolution or lost wars as much of Europe has to sweep the whole rotten lot aside.

  8. Quite possibly the most important thing about adopting a similar system to Spain would be that we would have a “value” for birds of prey. With White-tailed Eagles bringing in millions to the local economy on Mull:

    “””Based on these calculations, white-tailed eagles support a minimum of about £3 million and a maximum of about £5 million of tourist spend per year on Mull.”””

    the income generated from driven grouse shooting is meager by comparison.

    Source: WILDLIFE AT WORK: THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF WHITE-TAILED EAGLES ON THE ISLE OF MULL

    Click to access wildlifeatwork_tcm9-282134.pdf

    The report also mentions that the economic benefits are similar to a study carried out by the Scottish Government in 2010. So why are they dragging their feet and supporting, by inaction, a marginal industry when a more viable one exists and the success on Mull could be replicated, on a smaller scale, across the country.

  9. Yes, certain provinces in Spain come down really hard on wildlife crime. In this case, two hunting presidents and a gamekeeper were sent to jail for killing raptors. They also received large fines.

    Imagine that happening in the UK? No, neither can I. This is because the feudal system is so entrenched on these islands we cannot even think of imprisoning landowners, heads of shoots or gamekeepers for their intolerable CRIMINAL acts.

    Imagine a police officer or commissioner coming on national t.v. and saying ‘We intend to imprison anyone convicted of criminal acts against raptors, in particular estate managers, gamekeepers and landowners.’ You will never hear that out of the mouth of any current official in a position of power.

    https://www.4vultures.org/2019-05-25-harshest-wildlife-poisoning-penalty-spain/

  10. We simply have to enforce the law in this country, and until we do I’m afraid this dreadful state of affairs will probably persist. We need to write to our MPs, or make an appointment to discuss, and start a petition ASAP.

  11. What is the yearly revenue for the government from grouse shooting? , does this monetary gain far out way the cost to nature, and the amazing birds of prey?.
    Isn’t it time we humans learned a lesson as far as nature is concerned, after many years of persecution of the birds of prey in this country they had all but been made extinct, after much hard work some have been re-introduced, but again some people are choosing to continue with persecution, and in the persuit of a barbaric pass time referred to as a sport, how is this still being allowed.?
    Have we not learned from covid 19 that if we mess with nature it will bite back, Scotland, as with Yorkshire rely upon tourists to earn money, many people visit Scotland, and Yorkshire to see the amazing wildlife, and birds of prey, as well as the incredible scenery, but if this killing continues, the ground will be permanently stained with the blood of the very thing people are travelling to see, unless we act and stop this barbarian pass time the Scottish tourism industry will crash, and burn.
    Is breading grouse to then be killed for the rich to have enjoyment really worth sending these areas into the dark ages for?
    Or is it already a slippery slope of destruction, if there is a gamekeeper in posetion of an illegal poison, and birds of prey are dying as a result of such substance, why is it not possible to put 2 and 2 together and make 4?
    After all the only people to gain from the abhorrent killing of birds of prey over grouse shooting moors are the people who kill the grouse, and the people who breed the grouse, and sell licences for the killings, and run the estates.
    Because these people have proved that they can not be trusted to protect the endangered birds of prey over their persuit of money, we should at last ban all shooting of grouse, and turn the land over to the state for a much better use, ie areas to help wildlife, nature reserves, and bird sanctuarys, and similar.
    Those who currently murder grouse, and birds of prey would be better spending their time helping nature, and wildlife, and giving something back to the country the have been pillaging for centuries, over generations of their lineages, this barbaric pass time has no longer got a valid place on todays society.
    Keeping hare numbers down could be better handled, for example if they stopped persecution of the birds of prey, the hares could be controlled by nature, as it should be, grouse shoots only happen because they are breeding the birds for the sole purpose of letting idle rich people go kill them, after all it must be really difficult to shoot a slow moving, bird with a short flight time, and one that makes a lot of noise when it is chased into the air, these poor individuals who have nothing better to do with their time than go kill some wildlife, my heart saddens for them, NOT.
    These people obviously don’t keep up with technology, after all they could use a simulator if they feel they still have to go shoot something, it serves the same purpose, but saves wildlife.
    Killing birds of prey is no different to killing elephant, rhino, tiger, lion, there is no purpose to it but simple greed, and ignorance, and a lust for that egotistical bagging right to say I killed that..
    As the human race has developed, and improved upon itself these people have been left behind in the dark ages, continuing to live under rocks, and oblivious to the damage they are causing to nature, and human race, hell they might as well start felling all the trees in the world to add to their conquests, after all if they think killing fat slow moving birds, and birds of prey is a sport, then why not add destruction of the human race to their bag of trophies.
    The only thing I can take from the total lack of effort from the government regarding these atrocities is that they must be getting a fairly big back hander, sizable words of cash, why else would they sit back and allow it to continue.
    There was a time in this country that people would take to the streets to stand up for what we believed in, but sadly that has fallen by the wayside, along with the morals of the people with money who not only condone this act, but also earn a very good living from it.
    I am going to refrain from entering into recent protests, or the reason behind them, and the message they portrayed.
    The issue at hand is very important, and needs to be addressed, and this needs to happen before we have to say goodbye to more creatures made extinct by the hand of humans.
    I would have written human kind, but the kindness has left the human race, and has been replaced by aperthy, ignorance, and hatred.

  12. Any chance we can get all relevant agencies BTO RSPB bbc country file extinction rebellion etc etc with high profile figureheads David Attenborough, Chris Packham etcetc to collaborate in a protest comparable with the 1932 mass trespass of Kinder Scout perhaps on 1st day of shooting season thousands of people and dozens of grouse moors uk wide with flags air horns etc maybe 2021 to give time to get MASSIVE support?

    1. I would like to think that may be possible, but this cannot be done on the moors until lockdown rules are further relaxed. In the meantime we must rely on RPUK, who have been exemplary in keeping this campaign in front of our politicians, to present the case and others to support them. I have a feeling that the dam is about to burst. The delay in implementing Werrity is wrong, the legislation to protect mountain hares is delayed, and there is an election in Scotland in 2021. If the SNP do not stand up to the vested interests in our society, what are we fighting to become independent for?

  13. https://www.thenational.scot/news/18623669.bid-prove-birds-prey-seen-regularly-grouse-moors/?ref=fbshr&fbclid=IwAR3HceveGmgnMv4KkYgYryb_rFg5KLQQL6fLp3KwhvP4_cl1ZamlRtuUq1s

    This will be useful….so long as the keepers movement, recorded by the app are made public. I can see that the estate owners will want to track the keepers movements to check up on what and where they are “working”, however why should this data be kept from the public….surely this will hamper the police when the inevitable happens?

  14. When your royal family is one of the biggest hunters on the planet and they use an animal welfare organization as a front group…well, this is to be expected! How can Charles sit as president of WWF while his horrid activities of fox hunting and the family bagging LITERALLY hundreds of animals in a day, not to mention xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxxxxx … disgusting! The hunting is abhorrent and of course no one will respect the law. No one cares to enforce it when your own royals are the faces of hypocrisy.

  15. Will we ever have punishments for wildlife crime comparable with Spain?

    Probably never!

    It can be argued that the reason for this is most probably due to our parliamentary and political system, and how legislation is enacted.
    This system allows those with “vested interests”, wealth, or title to manipulate the legislative process either directly through the House of Lords or indirectly by influencing politicians in the House of Commons.

    If we take two relevant pieces of wildlife legislation as examples – Countryside and Wildlife Act or the The Hunting Act.
    Most probably one of the initial intentions of the Countryside and Wildlife act was a realisation that wild birds were being indiscriminately killed, bird numbers were declining, and they had to be protected from deliberate acts to kill them.
    As regards, the Hunting Act , this piece of legislation was a response to the public’s outcry against fox hunting, and the initial intention would no doubt have been to make it illegal to hunt foxes with dogs without exception.

    However, it would seem that as these pieces of legislation passed through parliament they were subject to various amendments and changes.
    In the end we arrived at a situation where in the case of the Countryside and Wildlife act the notion of General Licences were introduced so that various species of wild bird could be killed by those with “vested interests”- no questions asked under a GL scheme.
    The Hunting Act is such an awfully crafted piece of legislation that it makes prosecution of those who still hunt foxes with a pack of hounds extremely difficult, due to the legal loops created within the legislation itself.

    I would argue that these amendments were most probably influenced by those with “vested interests”.
    It is a form of corruption of the democratic process, by those with power, who can use that power to ensure their hold over society does not diminish. Countries like Spain, or France went through a period of revolution, which removed the power base held by the landed classes. Whilst these countries still have “ideological elites”, these elites are different from the landed class who still hold so much power in the UK.

    So will parliament ever introduce punishments comparable with Spain for wildlife crimes, highly unlikely, whilst the landed classes still have so much influence, and want to hold onto their morally indefensible and totally selfish position that the wildlife on their land is their property which they can do with as they like!
    Even though wildlife can not be owned, and the majority of the public find the killing of wildlife abhorrent.

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