Goshawk found shot in Staffordshire had to be euthanised

[Goshawk photo by Colin Bradshaw]

Staffordshire Police are appealing for information this evening after the discovery of a shot goshawk.

Unfortunately the details of this latest wildlife crime are vague, even though raptor persecution is supposed to be a national wildlife crime priority. This is what was posted on the Rural & Wildlife Crime team’s Facebook page:

The post doesn’t say when this bird was found, but the incident reference number suggests it may have been on 21st July 2021. There isn’t any information about the type of weapon used (e.g. shotgun, air rifle) nor any specific detail about the location. I couldn’t find any press statement/appeal on the police website.

If you can assist the police investigation, please get in touch with them.

Police searches as peregrine confirmed illegally poisoned with Carbofuran

Back in March this year there were reports that two dead peregrines had been found underneath the iconic Samson & Goliath cranes in Belfast. Experts from the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group suspected the birds had been poisoned but there was also a potential issue with Avian Flu in the area which hadn’t been ruled out.

[One of the poisoned peregrines. Photo by the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group]

Fast forward four months and an article has appeared today on the Farming Life website as follows:

Police confirm peregrine falcon poisoned

Police have confirmed that a bird of prey found dead in the Queens Island area of Belfast earlier this year was poisoned.

It was reported in March that a Peregrine Falcon was found dead. The bird was retrieved and underwent testing to ascertain the exact circumstances. Enquiries have been ongoing. Today (July 28th), officers, accompanied by colleagues from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), carried out searches at two premises.

Con. Phelan said: “We can now confirm the Peregrine Falcon was poisoned with Aldicarb and Carbofuran. This is very concerning. These are dangerous substances. We would remind the public if there is a suspicion of poisoning on any bird of prey to leave the bird/s and/or bait in situ and call the PSNI as soon as possible.”

PSNI Wildlife Liaison Officer, Emma Meredith, said: “We have been working with our partner, NIEA, and our enquiries are ongoing. If anyone has information then we would be really keen to hear from you.”

Anyone with information can contact police on the non-emergency number 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.


There seems to be some confusion here about whether it was one or two peregrines poisoned, but nevertheless, the detection of Aldicarb and Carbofuran in at least one peregrine is a clear indication of criminal activity.

Presumably the police didn’t release the toxicology results until today as they’d have wanted to undertake their searches without alerting any potential suspects, just in case those poisons were still on the premises.

Peregrines have long been persecuted in Northern Ireland, mostly linked to pigeon racing rather than gamekeeping, and the species has suffered population decline as a result (see here). Undertaking searches is a big step forward there so today’s searches are a very welcome move by the police and their partners at the NIEA.

Hopefully there’ll be some progress that’ll lead to a prosecution in this case. The illegal poisoning of any raptor in this day and age is an outrage, but to do this so close to Belfast city centre, with such dangerous poisons, is reckless beyond belief.

Raptor persecution highlighted in Cumbria magazine

Raising public awareness of ongoing raptor persecution crimes is probably the single, most important thing that just about anybody can do.

You don’t need to be an expert on birds of prey, nor work in the conservation sector, nor to have a massive following on social media. All you need is an understanding that birds of prey are still systematically killed in the UK, almost 70 years after they became protected species, and that this killing most often takes place on land managed for gamebird shooting, where raptors are being poisoned, shot or trapped.

Nobody in their right mind is ever going to support this brutal slaughter, and yet many are still oblivious that it continues in 21st century Britain. Many assume it stopped back in the Victorian era. The more people that know that it still goes on today, the more pressure can be put on politicians to take meaningful action against it.

With this in mind, it’s great to see this opinion piece by Fiona Heslam, published in the August edition of the Cumbria magazine.

Thanks to Jamie Normington (@TLWforCumbria) for sharing it on social media.

Young golden eagles actively avoid wind turbines in Scotland: new scientific research paper

There’s a fascinating new scientific research paper just published in Ibis, the journal of the British Ornithologists’ Union, relating to the flight behaviour of young satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland in and around windfarms.

Authored by a number of experts from Scotland’s Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group (GESTG), this study demonstrates how young golden eagles actively avoid operational wind turbines.

Here is the abstract:

The notion that young dispersing golden eagles in Scotland appear to avoid wind farms was discussed in the Government-commissioned report published in 2017: Fielding & Whitfield, Analyses of the Fates of Satellite Tracked Golden Eagles in Scotland (see Chapter 8), when the authors were examining whether any of the tagged eagles that had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances were within the vicinity of a wind farm.

The report concluded that no, they weren’t, and it was recommended that further detailed research be undertaken to examine the movements of young satellite-tagged eagles in and around operational vs non-operational windfarms, which is the focus of this latest paper.

Unfortunately this paper is behind a paywall (a particular gripe of mine but that’s for another day) so I can’t post the full paper on here. However, I do have a related graphic that I think helps to illustrate some of the research findings of the paper.

This map shows the flight lines (red) of one of the young satellite-tagged golden eagles that Chris Packham and I are monitoring. It shows, quite clearly, how this young eagle is generally avoiding flying over / through the footprints of three large windfarms (blue) in the Monadhliath Mountains (thanks to Alan Fielding for the data analysis).

Why this avoidance technique seems so prevalent in young Scottish golden eagles, in sharp contrast to findings in some other countries where certain raptor species have been recorded in high incident turbine collisions, is really interesting.

Raptor collision with turbines depends on a wide number of variables including site and habitat-related issues as well as the behaviour and ecology of the particular raptor species. It is a well-studied subject in a number of countries and has demonstrated that just because one raptor species has been killed at one wind farm at one location, it doesn’t automatically mean that every raptor is threatened by every wind farm, everywhere. I’m afraid that’s just simplistic nonsense, trotted out by those who are either (a) anti-wind farm or (b) desperate to deflect attention away from the continued illegal poisoning, shooting and trapping of raptors by gamekeepers in the UK (e.g. see here and here).

In their discussion about why young Scottish golden eagles might be avoiding wind turbines, in addition to the finding that habitat suitability inside and outside of the wind farm is important, the authors in this latest paper refer to a concept known as ‘the ecology of fear’ and discuss the evolutionary history of golden eagle persecution in the UK and how this may be leading to a genetic predisposition to wariness of humans, with wind turbines being used as the ‘cue’ for eagles to express their fear (i.e. by avoidance).

This latest paper from the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group is yet another significant contribution to our understanding of how golden eagles use the landscape and, along with this earlier paper from the GESTG, will greatly help planners and statutory agencies to make decisions that will have the least impact on this protected species and its preferred habitat.

It shouldn’t be necessary but apparently it is, to point out that this research is conducted by highly experienced conservationists, under licence, whose sole motivation is the protection of the golden eagle. They sacrifice time with their families and volunteer an enormous amount of personal time, personal funds and technical expertise to undertake this research. In any other country their efforts would be celebrated, applauded and appreciated (as indeed they have been in Spain!). But in Scotland, they are slandered, abused and attacked (e.g. here) by those who are desperate to corrode public and political confidence in raptor satellite-tagging because they know how incriminating these satellite tag data can be, exposing time and again the areas where birds of prey are being illegally killed.

There are a number of other peer-reviewed scientific papers from the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group, due imminently.

Author Cameron McNeish criticises SNP’s slow progress on raptor persecution, grouse moors & land reform

Award-winning author, mountaineer and broadcaster Cameron McNeish has quit the Scottish National Party after ten years of membership, claiming the party has done ‘zilch’ on environmental issues and land reform. He specifically spoke out about raptor persecution and grouse moors.

Mr McNeish told The Times:

It’s been coming for a while. The party has done absolutely zilch on land reform and the environment since Nicola Sturgeon came to power, and I have had a deep frustration over issues like raptor persecution, grouse moors all over Scotland, and what muirburning is doing to the environment.” 

He also described progress on land reform as being “glacier slow” and argued that the previous environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham’s efforts in that area had been frustrated.

He said: “There is no real interest in the SNP on these issues.”

The story was first reported in the Sunday Times and has since been picked up and published elsewhere (e.g. Press & Journal, Herald, National).

Game-shooting industry offers to mark its own homework

Back in 2019 when DEFRA was forced into a review of the ecological impacts of releasing millions of non-native gamebirds on or near protected sites following a legal challenge by campaign group Wild Justice, the gamebird-shooting industry’s self-appointed ‘official marketing board’, the British Game Alliance (BGA), wrote to DEFRA minister Lord Gardiner and offered up industry inspectors to undertake the work, according to an article by Tess Colley published yesterday by the Ends Report.

It’s a bit like offering to mark your own homework. Sure, the industry inspectors used by the British Game Alliance are bona fide independent auditors, but the ‘shoot standards’ which they use to assess shoots as part of their auditing scheme have been ‘developed in-house’ by the British Game Alliance and the assessors have been ‘trained by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT)’!

The strength of this auditing has been called in to question a number of times as some estates, apparently ‘assured’ under this scheme by the BGA, either have been, or currently are, under investigation by the police for alleged wildlife crime (e.g. see here, here, here, here) and at least one apparent member is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction imposed by NatureScot on the basis of ‘clear evidence’ of ongoing wildlife crime, according to Police Scotland. What’s particularly fascinating is that once questions were being asked about the suitability of some of these estates to be described as ‘BGA-assured’, the BGA removed its list of member shoots from its website!

The BGA’s stance on credibility and traceability was also recently questioned when Wild Justice discovered that a so-called ‘healthy’ game meat product being sold by Sainsbury’s, and ‘endorsed’ by the BGA, was found to contain levels of toxic lead more than 200 times the legal limit for lead in other meat products and without any health warning for consumers (see here).

The British Game Alliance is one of the nine organisations involved in the recently-launched game-shooting coalition ‘Aim to Sustain’, which I have described as a ‘propaganda supergroup’ which should more aptly be called ‘Aim to Hide the Stains’ (see here).

So yes, the Ends Report is quite right to query the proposal from the BGA that DEFRA use the same inspectors to audit the ecological impact of releasing millions of non-native gamebirds in to the countryside as those used by the game-shooting industry itself in an effort to be seen to be self-regulating.

Did DEFRA agree to this proposal?

Well here’s the article for those who don’t subscribe to the Ends Report:

The British Game Alliance (BGA) offered to carry out environmental inspections for DEFRA during a review of gamebird release management, a freedom of information release has revealed.

While names are redacted, the FOI release also shows that a senior policy advisor at DEFRA responded to the BGA’s letter taking it up on the suggestion of having a meeting to discuss the proposal. 

In September 2019, the BGA wrote to Lord Gardiner – then parliamentary under-secretary for the department – to highlight a “new opportunity” for it to make use of the gamebird industry body’s inspectors to monitor the sector’s environmental impact and compliance.

The offer was made during a review period when the government was looking into how releases of common pheasant and red-legged partridge are managed on or near European protected sites.

DEFRA had been pushed into the review following legal action from campaign group Wild Justice, over the government’s alleged failure to assess the ecological impacts of releasing the gamebirds.

“As DEFRA modernises its policy framework for the shooting sector it faces the perennial problem of finding reliable evidence while navigating vociferous campaigners and entrenched landowners”, reads the letter, before going on to say that the public benefit of such policy work is “undermined by lack of enforcement across millions of acres of remote countryside”.

It continues: “This letter is to alert you to the new opportunity provided by the hundreds of annual inspections now being carried out by Lloyds Register on behalf of the BGA.

“Its inspectors started work last year and have been trained to monitor the 23 land and animal welfare standards required by the BGA. These standards are closely aligned to DEFRA policy.”

The BGA is an industry body which, according to its own website, is focused “exclusively” on the promotion of British game.

The BGA notes in its letter how “profoundly grateful” it is to the government for its help in finding new markets for British game, and says the department’s “thoughtfulness to us deserves reciprocation”.

Neither DEFRA nor the BGA were able to confirm to ENDS at the time of publication if the proposed meeting took place, or if the proposal had been developed.

The government is currently facing fresh legal action on the issue of gamebird releases from Wild Justice, a campaign group formed by Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery.

Commenting on the BGA letter, Mark Avery said: “This isn’t so much poachers turned gamekeepers, it’s gamekeepers staying as gamekeepers”. He added that it looked like an industry that should be being regulated simply offering to regulate itself.

The group had previously claimed an “historic environmental victory” following the gamebird review last year after DEFRA announced it would bring certain gamebirds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

DEFRA committed to a number of actions, including creating a buffer zone around protected sites in which no gamebirds will be released.

However, in June this year Wild Justice issued pre-action protocol letters to DEFRA and said it would be revisiting the issue as it does not consider the government to have done what it told the court it would do.


Goshawk found shot dead in notorious persecution hotspot in Scotland

Press release from Police Scotland (23 July 2021)

Appeal for information after protected bird of prey found shot in Loch Farr, Inverness-shire

Officers in Inverness are appealing for information after a bird of prey was found dead in the Loch Farr area of Inverness-shire.

A female goshawk was found in a tree in nearby Forestry Land Scotland (FLS) woodland on Saturday, 10 July. The bird was recovered with assistance from the FLS and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Following a post mortem, it was established that the bird had been shot.

[Goshawk photo by Martha de Jong-Lantink]

Wildlife Crime officer Constable Daniel Sutherland said: “This was a cruel and callous act against a protected bird of prey which will simply not be tolerated.

I am grateful to the member of public who came across the bird and reported it to us. Wildlife crime can be challenging to investigate and we work closely with a number of partners to investigate and bring those who seek to destroy or harm wildlife to justice.

I am therefore appealing to anyone with information about this incident or who may have seen anything suspicious in this area to please contact police on 101, quoting reference NM/3907/21. Alternatively, if you wish to remain anonymous, you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “It’s both depressing and worrying that in 21st century Scotland, rare and protected birds of prey are still being routinely killed. Goshawks are regularly targeted, even in publicly-owned forests, despite their role as predators of crows and pigeons, species that some people regard as pests.”

Graeme Prest, Regional Manager, North, Forestry and Land Scotland said: “We work hard to safeguard all protected species on our land so it is extremely disappointing to find an incident such as this has taken place on land managed by FLS. We carry out regular monitoring of sites in this area and will continues to work with local police officers, the Highland Partnership against Wildlife Crime and RSPB to ensure that all incidents of wildlife crime are reported and investigated.”


First of all, well done to Police Scotland for this relatively speedy appeal for information. There have been a number of cases recently (on which I’ll blog shortly) where there has been a deliberate attempt to withhold information from the public about raptor persecution crimes, in some cases for months and months. That’s not good enough, especially when raptor persecution is supposedly a wildlife crime priority, so I’m very pleased to see this timely press release.

But what about this latest crime? The goshawk was found shot dead on land managed by Forestry and Land Scotland (previously known as Forestry Commission Scotland) and as Ian Thomson says in the press release, this is not a new tactic in areas where goshawks are a perceived threat to gamebirds (e.g. see here, here and here).

Nobody will be at all surprised to learn that the land close to this latest location is managed for gamebird shooting (grouse and pheasants) and that this area of the northern Monadhliaths is recognised as a notorious raptor persecution hotspot, and has been for years and years.

That so-called ‘zero tolerance for raptor persecution’ is going well, then?

UPDATE 18th August 2021: Shot goshawk in notorious persecution black spot: police investigation reaches dead end (here)

Game-shooting industry announces propaganda supergroup

In a desperate attempt to appear relevant and pretend that it has a future, the game shooting industry has announced a so-called ‘new’ formal partnership designed ‘to highlight the crucial role that sustainable game shooting plays in delivering biodiversity net gain through preserving and protecting cherished rural landscapes and a tremendous array of wildlife‘.

Calling itself ‘Aim to Sustain’, (and not to be confused with another group calling itself the same thing), this propaganda supergroup is nothing new at all. It’s the usual suspects, posturing and claiming with straight faces that modern game shooting is ‘sustainable’ and ‘has the highest standards of self–regulation’ (cough).

Er, if it was sustainable and able to demonstrate self-regulation, it wouldn’t find itself at the centre of so much controversy, scrutiny, police investigations, and calls for enforced regulation and therefore there’d be no need for this supergroup to form!

The partners in the new supergroup include the Countryside Alliance, British Game Alliance, British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Country Land & Business Association, Game Farmers’ Association, Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers’ Organisation and Scottish Land and Estates. The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust are acting as ‘scientific advisors’.

Interestingly, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association is not involved – that speaks volumes, doesn’t it? Are their ideas too crazy even for this lot to tolerate?

All new members signing up to the partnership will receive a unicorn bubble gun like this one:

They won’t of course, I’ve just made that up, but they might as well distribute unicorn bubble guns for all the credibility they’ll bring. This is the industry that has failed to self-regulate on a wide range of issues, including the continued illegal killing of birds of prey, the mass unregulated use of veterinary drugs spread across the uplands, the burning of vegetation on peatlands, the continued use of toxic lead ammunition, the casual, unregulated killing of hundreds of thousands of so-called ‘pest’ species and the release in to the countryside of millions upon millions of non-native gamebirds every year.

Pretending to be the champions of self-regulation just by saying it loudly and often, isn’t going to cut it, I’m afraid.

As a fantastic example of the propaganda we might expect from this lot, have a look at the very first press release they issued yesterday, which opens with the line:

The creation of Aim to Sustain has already received widespread support within the political world‘.

The press release goes on to provide a single quote of support from one elected politician – Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown – who also just happens to be BASC’s Vice President!

The other two ‘politicians’ quoted are unelected members of the House of Lords – Ian Botham and Nick Herbert. Botham is well known for his close links to the game-shooting industry (have a listen to his notorious car-crash radio interview on the subject) and Herbert just happens to be the Chairman of the Countryside Alliance who will be co-chairing this new supergroup with the chair of BASC!!!!!!

It’s hardly ‘widespread’ political support and it’s hardly impartial, is it?!

It looks to me like just another expensive greenwashing exercise. It might as well have called itself ‘Aim to Hide the Stains’.


Ex-Minister Fergus Ewing’s plans for pine martens explains a lot about Scottish Government’s approach to raptor protection

Fergus Ewing MSP was the Scottish Government’s Rural Cabinet Secretary from 2016-2021 until he was sacked by Nicola Sturgeon in May (see here).

He has long been viewed with suspicion by conservationists, and many would argue justifiably so (e.g. see here, here and check Google for plenty of other reports) although we did manage to get him to condemn ongoing raptor persecution on Scottish grouse moors after pointing out his long silence on this issue (here).

Many have believed that Fergus Ewing was partly responsible for the Scottish Government’s glacial approach to tackling raptor crime, with oft-heard rumours from within Holyrood circles that he and Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham were often at loggerheads over how the Government should respond. I don’t know if those rumours were true or not but I do know that the Government has dragged its feet on this issue for years and years and years (and is still doing so now).

Last week I read a comment piece from Fergus about pine martens, published in The Times, and it did nothing to change my view of what I’d call his dodgy conservation credentials. He can’t expect to be taken seriously when he proposes we should trust the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, GWCT, NFU Scotland and Scottish Land & Estates to carefully manage protected predators, when many of these organisations have either lobbied hard for licences to kill various raptor species perceived to threaten gamebirds and/or lambs, or have repeatedly denied that raptors continue to be killed by criminals within the industry, despite the evidence being clear for all to see.

Here’s what he wrote:

Ask any local farmer, keeper or land manager about the future of the capercaillie and they will talk about the impact of predators upon this bird, whose population in Scotland is under threat. From what I have learnt over two decades as the constituency MSP for much of the Caledonian pine forest, the capercaillie’s preferred habitat, it seems unlikely that the species can survive unless its predators are tackled.

Over the last two decades, millions of pounds of public money and lottery funding have been devoted to saving the caper. But, like other ground-nesting birds such as lapwing and plover, its eggs are breakfast, lunch and dinner for a large variety of predators. In this month’s edition of The Scottish Gamekeeper, there is a photograph of a pine marten holding an egg in its mouth.

Ten years ago the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust proposed a scheme not to control pine martens but to capture and transport them from Strathspey to places without such easy meals. This, sadly, was not approved. I have lodged in the Holyrood Parliament a motion that the Scottish Government and other funding sources must urgently discuss, with the bodies that understand land management best, how to avert the loss of the caper with sustained and effective predator management programmes. Other funding providers include NatureScot, the Cairngorm National Park and the lottery, who have a programme in Carrbridge seeking to preserve the caper.

Who knows what to do? Primarily those closest to the ground – keepers, farmers, crofters and land managers. If the public and funders are willing to trust those with the knowledge – the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, the National Farmers’ Union Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates, Scottish Crofting Federation and others – it may be possible to save this species.

If not, then in addition to more than £10 million already spent on the capercaillie without success, any further public money devoted to it will be wasted. Indeed, the eight-figure sum already spent will be seen as ‘the great caper-caper’ as it were, and expose any public bodies who are shown to have ignored practitioner advice to serious criticism and ridicule.


Recently I was shown this photograph of what might also be described as ‘the great caper-caper’ – the result of a capercaillie shoot on a Scottish sporting estate in 1980. It does make me wonder about the motivation of some organisations to ‘save’ the capercaillie. Save them for what? Another shooting party?

Anyway, I digress. Let’s get back to Fergus’s grand plan for ‘driving out the pine marten’.

He mentioned that he’d lodged a parliamentary motion on this issue but I couldn’t find it listed on the Scottish Parliamentary website.

Fergus will be delighted to learn though, that a new long term strategic recovery plan for pine martens in Britain has just been published by the Vincent Wildlife Trust, funded by NatureScot and Natural England, and it’s a very impressive piece of work.

You can download the report here:

Interestingly, I couldn’t find a single recommendation for ‘driving out the pine marten’ from the Caledonian Forest. Funny that.

What I did read was that the pine marten population is still slowly recovering in Scotland, largely thanks to full legal protection and improved habitat availability, but that the population is still vulnerable. As such, the report authors recommend protecting the integrity of existing populations to promote natural recolonisation and, where appropriate, limiting the removal of individual pine martens for potential translocation and reintroduction projects elsewhere in the UK.

There you are, Fergus. A properly-researched, evidence-based, scientific research report written by actual experts on which to base future discussions about pine marten conservation – far more appropriate than the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s quarterly rag, even though it does have a photo of a pine marten with an egg in its mouth (Shocker! Predator caught eating something!).

Hen Harrier Day 2021 (Saturday, 7th August)

Hen Harrier Day, established in 2014 as a way to raise public awareness about the widespread killing of hen harriers on the UK’s driven grouse moors, is now entering its 8th year!

In previous years supporters have organised events at various venues across the country where people have gathered at rallies to listen to speeches by campaigners, conservationists, politicians, police officers, educators, film makers and many others. Last year, the pandemic forced us all online instead and we’ll be doing the same again this year.

In the run up to this year’s Hen Harrier Day, there will be an additional online event on Sunday 1st August, organised by the charity Hen Harrier Action. You can find out about that event here.

Hen Harrier Day itself takes place on Saturday 7th August, scheduled as always to take place the weekend before the start of the grouse-shooting season on the Inglorious 12th August.

Wild Justice is organising a live, online event bringing together a wide range of contributors from across academia, conservation and the world of campaigning, to deliver what it hopes will be an interesting, informative and entertaining programme. Hosted by the brilliant pairing of Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin, in addition to live interviews there will also be films pre-recorded recently by Wild Justice & colleagues in northern England and Scotland.

Hen Harrier Day 2021 is a free event, as ever, and it’s recommended you sign up for notifications as the big day approaches, to find out more about the programme of events and who’s on, and at what time.

For more information about the event and to sign up, please click here.