Further to yesterday’s news from Police Scotland that a poisoned red kite had been found dead on a Scottish grouse moor at Moy (see here), news has emerged that this bird was also being satellite-tracked, which has implications for the police investigation and any potential sanction imposed on the estate as a result.
An article in today’s Strathspey and Badenoch Herald (here) published a photograph of the young kite with two of its siblings when they were fitted with satellite tags in 2019. The article also notes that this kite was from the first brood to fledge in the Cairngorms National Park, and the first successful brood in the Badenoch & Strathspey area since 1880 (thanks to blog reader Dave Pierce for posting this as a blog comment yesterday).
[The three red kite siblings, fitted with satellite tags, in the Cairngorms National Park. Photo Scottish Raptor Study Group]
It’s not often, these days, that a poisoned satellite-tagged raptor is found (although there are some notable exceptions, including this satellite-tagged white tailed eagle, found poisoned on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park earlier this year).
Since satellite-tagging became more routine, poisoning offences have dropped considerably, presumably because the presence of a satellite tag increases the probability of crime detection. Instead, the shooting and trapping of raptors have become much more prevalent killing methods because the perpetrator has more control over the crime scene (and can thus remove evidence quickly). What we usually get with satellite-tagged raptors these days is a sudden and inexplicable ‘stop’ in the tracking data, and both the tag and the bird ‘disappear’, never to be seen again (well, only if the criminal has hidden the evidence of the crime properly, unlike in this recent case where a golden eagle’s satellite tag was discovered cut off and wrapped in lead [to block the signal] and dumped in a river).
So the discovery of this poisoned satellite-tagged red kite at Moy is unusual, but also very helpful. Depending on the type of tag and it’s ‘duty cycle’ (i.e. the frequency with which the tag had been programmed to collect and transmit data), information should be available to Police Scotland to inform them of the kite’s recent movements. For example, had it been on this grouse moor for several days (in which case the likelihood of it being poisoned there would seem high) or had it travelled in from a distance elsewhere shortly before dying, which might indicate it was poisoned elsewhere?
Much will also depend on the type of poison used (which hasn’t been disclosed) and the dose and the toxicity. We know from the Police press release yesterday that it was a banned poison (one of eight listed on the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005, which are Aldicarb, Alphachloralose, Aluminium phosphide, Bendiocarb, Carbofuran, Mevinphos, Sodium cyanide and Strychnine) but some of these poisons are incredibly fast-acting and others are less so, which might also give clues to where the poison had been placed.
Information also hasn’t been released about whether a poisoned bait was found close to the poisoned red kite. Sometimes they are (especially if the poison used is fast-acting) but other times the bait is not present, which might suggest the bird was poisoned elsewhere and managed to fly some distance before succumbing to death.
In other cases bait has been found placed out on estate boundary fences – this has been a common ploy by some estates that aims to obfuscate a police investigation and point blame to an innocent, neighbouring estate where the poisoned bird may have been found dead.
For obvious reasons, the Police haven’t released much of the details because the criminal investigation is ongoing. However, it is these details that will inform the decision-making process at NatureScot (SNH rebranded) as to whether a General Licence restriction order should be imposed on Moy Estate after the discovery of this poisoned red kite.
As regular blog readers will know, General Licence restriction orders are pretty impotent because estates can simply circumnavigate them with applications for individual licences instead, but nevertheless, that’s not a reason for not imposing them where merited.
This’ll be an interesting case to follow.
UPDATE 22nd June 2022: General Licence restriction imposed on Moy, a grouse-shooting estate, after discovery of poisoned red kite (here)