Long-eared owl illegally held in trap on same Strathbraan grouse moor where shot peregrine found

Further to yesterday’s blog about a shot peregrine being found dead on a grouse moor in the notorious raptor persecution hotspot of Strathbraan (see here), further news has just emerged of another offence being committed on the same shooting estate.

Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland has just tweeted the following:

The dead peregrine was found during a police/SSPCA follow-up to incidents of cage trap abuse on the same estate – eg. this LE Owl had been illegally held in a trap, in pouring rain, for >24hrs. IMO there is no legitimate reason for a grouse moor be using crow traps in October…

Here is a photo of the illegally-trapped Long-eared owl:

Crow cage traps are not illegal to use under the General Licences, as long as certain conditions are met. Birds of prey can often enter these traps and are then unable to escape. Catching a raptor is not an offence in itself. However, the trap operator has a legal obligation to check the trap at least once every 24 hours and if a trapped raptor (or any other non-target species) is found and it is uninjured, the trap operator MUST release it back to the wild immediately. If the trapped raptor is held for longer than 24 hours then the trap operator has committed an offence under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.

To not release this long-eared owl within 24 hours of capture is a clear offence and there may also be other welfare offences to consider under the Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 if the owl did not have adequate food, water and shelter.

Ian also raises the question of the legitimacy of operating a crow cage trap in October. He’s absolutely right to question this. Crow cage traps can be used under the General Licences in Scotland for three purposes:

  • GL 01/2021: To kill or take certain birds for the conservation of wild birds.
  • GL 02/2021: To kill or take certain birds for the prevention of serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables and fruit.
  • GL 03/2021: To kill or take certain birds for the preservation of public health, public safety and preventing the spread of disease

For what legitimate purpose was this crow cage trap being deployed on a Strathbraan grouse moor in October??

I’m very curious about why a charge has not been brought against the trap operator in this case. All crow cage traps now have to be registered with NatureScot by the trap operator and a sign affixed to the trap to show the trap operator’s registration number. Police Scotland can use this number to identify the trap operator and pursue a prosecution if an offence has been committed.

I’m even more curious to know why NatureScot has not imposed a General Licence restriction on this estate. The crow cage trap offence was committed in October 2020. The shot peregrine was discovered in November 2020. The Scottish SPCA is pursuing a case for alleged snaring offences also discovered in November 2020.

It’s now September 2021.

Just what is going on here? There are serious questions to be asked of Police Scotland and NatureScot.

Why no publicity?

Why no prosecution?

Why no General Licence restriction?

29 thoughts on “Long-eared owl illegally held in trap on same Strathbraan grouse moor where shot peregrine found”

  1. This is clearly an offence, one might ask Police Scotland why no prosecution is being pursued. Its a simple enough question under the law this trap must be registered with Naturescot or whatever SNH now call themselves, if it is not then that of itself is an offence by the estate and again should be being pursued. The whole thing sounds like a crock of shit either committed by this estate or one (or more) of its employees or by Police Scotland in failing to pursue said offence(s). Simple question for the police and/or Nature Scot WTF is happening over these offences? If the answer is nothing WHY,WHY,WHY, it is one of the things we pay you for!

  2. The truth is, whatever the motivation (if you can apply the term) of Police Scotland and Naturescot, we are all inured to accept that this behaviour is the norm in Scotland and we are powerless to fix this. Not surprising when you catalogue, as RPUK does, the track record of the authorities and our pariiament to fail to act on behalf of wildlife and the population at large.

  3. Is there a course of action planned? Surely the statutory bodies need to be held to account for this? It’s a breach of law so can’t we raise an action? Happy to contribute to a crowd fund.

  4. Could this be a case of an individual police officer neglecting their duty by failing to investigate and seek a prosecution on what on the face of it appears to be an offence, or possibly a number of offences relating to the use of this crow trap?
    If so are the Professional Standards Dept of Police Scotland aware, and what action are they proposing to take?
    As raptor persecution is supposed to be a national wildlife crime priority, then failure to investigate offences involving raptors is a serious matter, and not something which can be ignored.
    Even though I find it very wrong, I can understand wilful blindness when it comes to politicians.
    But if those in public office, who have a duty to investigate such matters, fail to meet the obligations and responsibilities that having such a position holds, then that is a very different matter, and something which is quite frankly unacceptable.
    The fact that such questions are being raised on public internet forum such as this, is potentially highly damaging to the public perception of both Police Scotland and NatureScot.
    Hopefully there will be a credible explanation as to why no prosecution appears to have occurred for what appears to be a blatant offence and misuse of this trap.

  5. If NatureScot have failed to follow up on what seem to be clear breaches of existing licences then I sadly don’t hold out much hope of them taking action when the licenses for driven grouse moors (whatever they end up being, and my bet is they’ll be pretty feeble) are inevitably broken.
    There is a very real danger that licensing of grouse moors will end up being nothing but a whitewash, i.e. the government can claim to have taken action but very little if anything will actually change.

  6. What seems to be missing in the comments is why these and other wildlife offences which are seen to benefit the estate are rarely prosecuted.
    These areas are scarcely populated and the majority of folk living in the area — not just the estate — are dependant in one way or another dependant on one of the estates in the area for their livliehood or housing or both. Estates present a united front and any employee working on one understands this — as do the local tradesmen, the local shop and most folk in the area. They fear that if they annoy one then the response will be unified when custom drops, bills are settled late, gates left open etc., etc., etc.
    Higher up the echelon and with a low density population then there are few “gentlemen’s clubs or chapters” around, so estate factors end up attending the same venue as others from that social strata, e.g. businessmen, mid level council employees, policemen and others where personal relationships are created — and, in some cases, exploited.
    Breaking these unspoken rules would literally mean one leaving the district. This leads me to a position where I must state that htough the laws have changed over the centuries these communities still operate in the same fashion because, unofficially, in terms of breaking or bending the law, little has changed over the centuries.
    It’s time that the footsoldiers were ignored and the spotlight focused on those directing operations and making what they must know, are irrational decisions in favour of power.

  7. It is difficult to the point of impossibility to imagine any reason for the lack of action in this case that does not reflect ill on the agencies involved in this matter. At the very least they owe the public some sort of explanation but whether one will be forthcoming is a different matter.

  8. I’d be curious to know why sort of mindset the person who reported this has where they have come across an owl in a (perfectly legal) trap, and rather than contact the owner of the trap to make them aware , they have deliberately waited 24hrs to see if the bird would be released.
    The only conclusion I can come to is that their primary interest is criminalising the person who owns the trap , and their secondary interest is the welfare of the bird within.

    Two wrongs do not make a right.
    In fact I’d argue that in the unlikely event the bird was in distress , knowingly leaving it in the cage just to make a point is intentionally cruel, whereas not checking the cage may have just been an oversight.

    Or could it be that they’re fully aware that with sufficient food and water, there’s almost zero risk to an accidently caught owl in a crow cage to be there for over 24hrs, which effectively makes the requirement to check the cage every 24hrs unnecessarily draconian?

    1. Allan,

      That’s a fascinating position to take.

      Has it occurred to you that the crow trap may have been under video surveillance and perhaps that is how the offence (‘oversight’, in your words) was uncovered?

      Whoever did report the offence (yes, a criminal offence) didn’t ‘criminalise’ the trap operator – the trap operator did that all by themselves when they failed to release the trapped owl within a 24 hour period.

      And whether there was sufficient food and water is irrelevant – how on earth would that amount to ‘zero risk to an accidently caught owl to be there for over 24 hours’??!

      The fact is, the owl WAS in the trap for longer than the legally permitted 24hr period and that responsibility lies solely with the trap operator.

      And if you think that the requirement to check the trap at least once in a 24hr period is ‘unnecessarily draconian’ then your commitment to, and interest in, animal welfare is pretty suspect.

  9. And while the authorities do nothing with this incident – itself a golden opportunity to show a bit of will to act & establish a principle…how many more ‘non-target’ species are stuck in crow traps around the country, or just up the road from this Estate or perhaps even on another part of this same Estate?
    I’m not referring specifically to Strathbaan, but
    I think the key to understanding the use of crow traps at this time of year is to accept that they are crow traps in name and basic design only. They are in my opinion just general purpose ‘avian predator / scavenger traps’, which maybe the RSPB chap seemed to me to be hinting at as well. If you are out walking it’s well worth walking a bit closer to see what might be in a crow trap at any time of year, and to form an opinion on the way any rabbit or bird carcasses or pigeon feathers have been laid out in & around it as bait. See what you think, and how it would appear from above.

    1. “I think the key to understanding the use of crow traps at this time of year is to accept that they are crow traps in name and basic design only. They are in my opinion just general purpose ‘avian predator / scavenger traps’,”

      Excellent point and one which has a parallel in the part of the planet that I haunt.
      Mink traps catch pine martens. Are they released ……. have a guess gals and guys.

      1. I was made aware of a dead badger being caught in a trap- apparently it was a juvenile which had got in, and the trap door shut behind it.. As it was dead, and appeared to have been dead for a few days, the trap clearly wasn’t getting checked, and it must also have died a horrible death of starvation.
        Clearly a number of potential criminal offences have been committed.
        Unfortunately the person who witnessed this didn’t take photos at the time- which is vital evidence for any investigation.
        (the advice is- photograph the trap, and identify the precise location using the What3Words app, and report to the police/RSPB. Ask for an incident number )

        Misuse of traps might also be an indication of the the person who set the traps propensity to commit other wildlife crimes, such as illegal raptor persecution.

        How many traps are being put out and then left contrary to the legislation, and non target species subsequently dying?
        With the introduction of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is time the whole issue of the use of traps was properly reviewed.
        I understand the arguments about the need for predator control to protect the nests of certain ground nesting birds.
        But in some areas has predator control become predator persecution?? And consequently how many protected species/non target species are dying as a consequence, and then secretly disposed of?

        If birds of prey are being deliberately persecuted by some individuals, what chance does this give non target species which inadvertently get caught in a trap, especially if the trap hasn’t been checked and the animal has died??
        It would seem the current legislation is simply open to abuse by those who wish to behave in this way.

        But I don’t have much hope the legislation will be reviewed- politicians can’t even accept the real issues surrounding raptor persecution!!

  10. All traps have significant animal welfare implications

    SSPCA need to be given appropriate powers to be able to investigate these tyoe of offences and ensure the welfare of animals and birds is not being compromised.

    Unfortunately police will never be able to give the time and resources to these matters.

    Sadly police scotlands woeful record speaks for its self……

  11. Is it not about time direct evidence was obtained? If large numbers of people exercised their right to roam responsibly in this land, make careful bivvies or hides and waited with cameras poised, then perhaps the individuals involved in these crimes might be caught in the act. If this is the only way of securing prosecution of particular individuals, then evidence of this must be secured. The very fact that this particular location appears so frequently is surely evidence of wrongdoing. This is scientifically incontestable. But locations cannot be found guilty of crimes. So surveillance must be the only way toward.

  12. If someone screws up in a business … it’s usually the guy at the top who is responsible and gets fired or the business gets fined !! Surely we should hold the landowner responsible for the behaviour of his employees…. He employs them! He sets the rules ??? Fine the landowners

  13. So when are you gonna start issuing apologies to all the people you got angry at for pointing out that the cops were corrput and incompetent to the core a couple of years ago? Because you got upset when it was pointed out that stanning for the cops was only providing cover for the crims, and started banning people. Time to admit you were the ones in the wrong and apologies.

    1. It’s not as black & white as that though, is it, Doug? Slagging off the cops is often a lazy, generalised knee-jerk reaction by the uninformed, usually as an understandable expression of frustration at the system.

      The truth of the matter is that there are some fantastic, diligent and hard-working police officers doing their very level best under difficult circumstances. There are others who are incompetent at best, and corrupt at worst.

      Being able to distinguish between them is a useful skill to develop.

  14. Corruption in high places is what I meant. The police are tied down by bureaucracy and it often appears to benefit those with great wealth and an over valued sense of privilege and reputation. The attitude of the rich landowners that want to kill things for fun is, I believe: Why do the lower members of society, bother them?
    What is behind gamekeepers that can get an acquittal? Those with the sufficient finance that can afford clever barristers to find loopholes in order to keep their doubtful reputations clean.

  15. Was the owl released? Is there evidence of this? If so how long after the 24 hour period of trapping did this occur?

  16. I don’t think licensing driven grouse moors will achieve anything if NatureScot are responsible for implementation. The can will continue to be kicked down the road.

  17. I might take a look at a couple of local traps and see if they have registration numbers, perhaps other readers should do the same?

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