Earlier this year the Spanish authorities raided a hunting estate in the province of Castilla y León after suspicions of illegal activity were raised.
The estate was being managed by a society of farmers and ranchers at the time, in an area designated as a Natura 2000 Special Protection Area (SPA) for birds.
The multi-agency search, which included the deployment of specialist poison-detection dogs, uncovered a pretty grim scene. This included the discovery of four Spanish imperial eagles, one Cinereous vulture, one buzzard, two red kites, one fox and one dog. Post mortems revealed they had been illegally poisoned and/or shot.
[Some of the victims found during the search]
It’s reported that almost all the victims had been hidden/buried, leading the authorities to state that they couldn’t be sure that all the victims had been found and that these ‘deliberate’ attempts to hide the corpses indicated that the poisoners/shooters were aware of the illegality.
The original news report can be read here (translated from Spanish) and there’s an easier translation to read via the Vulture Conservation Foundation website here.
What’s interesting in this case is the authorities’ decision to impose an immediate five-year hunting ban on the estate, before any prosecutions have taken place, ‘to facilitate the regeneration of the area’s wild fauna’.
We know, from a suite of prosecutions in recent years, that tackling the illegal poisoning of birds of prey is taken seriously in Spain with a multifaceted approach including the deployment of specialist poison detection dogs and investigators given the authority to conduct unannounced spot checks in areas of suspicion. In recent years successful prosecutions have resulted in massive fines, custodial sentences and extended hunting disqualifications for those convicted of laying poisoned baits (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here and here).
In previous cases the hunting disqualifications appear to have been applied to the individuals convicted of placing poisoned baits, rather than to the land where the offences took place, but this may be because those convicted were the actual landowners. This current case may differ in that the estate is reported to be managed by a society as opposed to an individual.
Whatever the circumstances, the five-year hunting ban is a very welcome move and hopefully criminal prosecutions of the individuals involved will also follow.
Compare and contrast to the illegal poisoning of birds of prey over here, which continues mostly without consequence.
These are some of the cases of illegal raptor poisoning reported this year alone, many during lockdown, and none of them are heading towards a prosecution:
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), the poisoning of a buzzard and a kestrel in Derbyshire (here), the poisoning of three peregrines and a buzzard in Staffordshire (here), the poisoning of a peregrine in South Yorkshire (here), the poisoning of two peregrines in North Yorkshire (here), the poisoning of a red kite in North Yorkshire (here) and the poisoning of a red kite found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland (here).
There may well be further poisoning cases that haven’t yet been publicised.
Let’s hope Scottish Ministers are paying attention to the Spanish model as they prepare to draw up the details of the new licensing regime for driven grouse shooting (here).