Job vacancy: ‘Engagement Trainee’ (peregrine protection), Derbyshire Wildlife Trust

The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (DWT) is pretty proactive when it comes to birds of prey, which is just as well given the appalling levels of raptor persecution in the county, not least those associated with the grouse moors of the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park (e.g. see here).

Enthusiastic supporters of, and contributors to, Hen Harrier Day, DWT also runs the Upland Skies Bird of Prey Project which is supported by funding from the National Lottery (here) and earlier this year DWT announced the recruitment of a member of staff dedicated to peregrine protection thanks to funding from the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund (here).

Now the Trust is advertising a position for a part-time Engagement Trainee (£19,047 per annum) to work within the Wilder Communities Team to help deliver a programme of work to inspire people to take action for wildlife.

In this role, you’ll:

• Support the Derby City Peregrine Project.

• Work on a Peregrine protection project in Derbyshire.

• Raise awareness and education of raptor persecution.

To be successful you will:

• Be passionate about inspiring people to care and act for nature.

• Have great communication and engagement skills.

• Be able to work with partners to deliver a project.

Responsibilities

In this role, you’ll receive training and support to:

• Assist in the planning and delivery of DWT’s Wilder Engagement work, specifically to develop and deliver an awareness raising programme of Derbyshire’s peregrines and other birds of prey.

• Recruit and coordinate volunteers for watch points and monitoring of sites.

• Develop an excellent understanding of bird of prey persecution in the UK for further educational awareness to the public.

About you

This role might be right for you if:

• You would like to deliver activities that are engaging and informative.

• You’ve had some experience working with volunteers.

• You have a good understanding of ecology and the wildlife of the British Isles.

• You have strong organisational skills and enjoy managing changing priorities.

This role will be based at DWT’s office in Middleton but candidates will be expected to work at various locations around the county. A balance of home and on site working will be allowed.

Interviews are planned for Monday 31st January 2022.

This is a part-time position of 25 hours per week and will involve working regular Saturdays.

The successful applicant will be required to undergo an enhanced DBS check as this role involves working with people under 18 year old.

Closing date is 16 January 2022. Interviews are planned for Monday 31st January 2022.

To apply please click here

Tony Juniper reappointed as Natural England Chair for second term

Press release from DEFRA on 21 December 2021:

Tony Juniper CBE reappointed as Natural England Chair

Environment Secretary George Eustice today confirms Tony Juniper CBE has been reappointed as Chair of Natural England.

The Environment Secretary, George Eustice, has today (21 December) confirmed that Tony Juniper CBE has been reappointed as Chair of Natural England for a second term. Tony Juniper’s second term will be for three years and will run from 23 April 2022 to 22 April 2025.

[Photo by Jason Bye]

Chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper, said:

I am honoured to be reappointed as Chair of Natural England. Our vital role in defending and enhancing our nation’s natural environment has never been more important.

Since I came to lead Natural England in 2019 we have made significant progress in restoring energy and direction to the organisation, created a clearer strategic plan and mission and secured a major increase in resources to implement it. We have made strides toward realising England’s ambition to create a Nature Recovery Network, supported the landmark Environment Act, declared new National Nature Reserves, helped the public connect with nature, advised government on nature-based solutions to climate change and how best to join up new farming policy with nature recovery, among many other things.

Looking to the future and there is a lot to do, and in this second term my focus will be even more firmly on the delivery of the Government’s ambitious goals for Nature recovery, including implementing biodiversity net gain, delivering programmes for key habitats, such as peatlands, gearing up species recovery programmes, initiating more landscape-scale nature projects, supporting government to deliver nature-based solutions to combat climate change and implementing new land management schemes, and harnessing all of that to establish the Nature Recovery Network which is so vital for overall success.

I want to thank all of our brilliant staff, partners and stakeholders for their support and dedication, and I look forward to continuing to work together to deliver the biggest possible positive impact for Nature that we can“.

Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said:

Tony has provided strong leadership to Natural England, bringing passion and a wealth of experience to the organisation, and I am pleased he will continue as Chair for a second term.

Natural England continues to play a key role in delivering the 25 Year Environment Plan, and I look forward to working closely together as we implement the Environment Act, build back greener from the pandemic and restore nature across the country“.

The reappointment has been made in accordance with the Ministerial Governance Code on Public Appointments and all appointments are made on merit and political activity plays no part in the selection process.

There is a requirement for appointees’ political activity (if significant) to be made public. Tony has declared that he has not taken part in any significant political activity in the past five years.

ENDS

In addition to this press release, Tony Juniper has published a blog where he reflects on his first term in post (see here).

Of particular interest to this blog is this bit about ongoing raptor persecution, particularly of hen harriers:

Linked with this [progress] has been the challenge of establishing the right mix of actions to assist the recovery of species such as Hen Harriers. These birds have suffered from persecution, to the point where their recovery, and indeed survival as a breeding species in England, has been in doubt. In the midst of highly polarized views, we have nonetheless for the last three years seen increasing breeding success in the English uplands, which I hope is a trend that will continue, despite setbacks seen in the continuing illegal killing of these birds‘.

Christ. How many times does this need saying? Increased breeding success is utterly, utterly pointless if those young hen harriers are subsequently killed by Natural England’s so-called ‘partners’ when the harriers venture anywhere near a grouse moor, which is exactly what’s still happening. At least 57 of them in the last three years (see here) and that figure has since increased…..that’s another blog to write.

Incidentally, talking of hen harriers and Natural England’s failure to protect them, there’s an excellent guest blog that’s well worth reading on Mark Avery’s blog today (see here).

Chris Packham fully exonerated of any wrong doing by the Fundraising Regulator

I’ll keep this brief.

In late 2020, a complaint was made to the Fundraising Regulator accusing Chris Packham and his partner Charlotte Corney, acting as trustees of the charity The Wildheart Trust, of alleged breaches of the Code of Fundraising Practice. The complaint related to a fundraising effort by The Wildheart Trust in April 2020 to rescue a number of ex-circus tigers and lions from the continent and re-home them at the Wildheart Animal Sanctuary on the Isle of Wight.

In May 2021, after a thorough investigation, the Fundraising Regulator fully exonerated Chris, Charlotte and The Wildheart Trust of any wrong doing. You can download the 18-page decision here:

The Wildheart Trust issued a statement in response:

Following an investigation into one of our recent campaigns, we are delighted that the Fundraising Regulator has fully exonerated The Wildheart Trust of any wrongdoing surrounding our fundraising efforts. We were more than happy to work with the Regulator to comprehensively vindicate the work we continue to do in protecting vulnerable and endangered species around the world.

We were always confident that the Regulator would find in favour of The Wildheart Trust. These were baseless and malicious claims driven by a group of individuals with a clear agenda to attack Chris Packham and individuals and organisations associated with him.

The fact that these people could claim that our beloved tigers were not rescued when there was irrefutable evidence of the harm and injury that they had suffered, gives us some insight into these people’s contempt for our most precious wildlife.

The announcement by the regulator vindicates us completely but, more importantly, it gives us the courage and inspiration to continue our campaigns to protect our planet and the animals we are lucky enough to share it with‘.

[Chris & Charlotte in 2019 on the day Chris was awarded a CBE for services to conservation. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Following this full exoneration in May 2021, the complainant refused to accept the Fundraising Regulator’s decision and in June 2021 asked for an external review.

The Fundraising Regulator obliged and an external review of the original decision was undertaken.

On 8th December 2021 the Fundraising Regulator published the findings of its external review and, once again, Chris, Charlotte and The Wildheart Trust were fully exonerated. See here and here for details.

Chris is currently suing a number of individuals for alleged defamation in relation to this case and the first court hearing is scheduled for February 2022.

If you’d like to find out more about the conservation work of The Wildheart Trust and support their efforts, please visit their website here.

UPDATE 10th March 2022: High Court rules allegations about Chris Packham are defamatory, trial to commence (here)

Natural England refuses to comment on whether hen harrier had its wings ripped off in horrific persecution incident

On 17th December 2021, I blogged about how Natural England (NE) had been keeping a terrible, terrible secret about the gruesome fate of one of its satellite-tagged hen harriers earlier this year (see here), preferring instead to sit back and watch its so-called ‘partners’ in the grouse-shooting industry claim false credit for ‘protecting’ this species.

I guess that’s what happens when NE accepts a £10K bung from grouse-shooting industry reps on condition that NE doesn’t publicly criticise them (see here). So much for NE being an independent regulator, eh?

In that pre-Xmas blog I asked NE to make a statement about this particular crime and I suggested they may like to include a comment about whether they thought the hen harrier’s wings had been ripped off while she was still alive, based on the evidence in NE’s possession.

You’ll note I was careful not to reveal any information in that blog that could potentially affect a police investigation, i.e. tag number, bird’s name, location of incident, habitat type, etc.

Natural England didn’t respond directly on the blog but instead published a comment on Twitter on 20th December in response to Chris Packham’s request for information:

This is a complete cop-out by Natural England.

Yes, there is indeed an on-going police investigation but it’s going nowhere, just like the other 57 police investigations into the illegal killing of hen harriers in the last three years (see here).

This particular investigation began over 9 months ago. Nobody has been interviewed, let alone arrested or charged, and the likelihood of a prosecution is precisely zero. That’s not necessarily the result of police ineptitude; as regular blog readers will be all too painfully aware, these crimes are notoriously difficult to prosecute given the remoteness of the location and the lack of witnesses, although in this case the police do have some explaining to do – details on that will be forthcoming in due course.

Saying nothing by hiding behind the excuse of a live police investigation is simply a convenient cover for Natural England not to have to admit that its hen harrier brood meddling trial is a conservation sham because hen harriers are still being brutalised by the industry with which NE has jumped in to bed.

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why NE cannot make a statement about this latest horrific crime – it can easily be done without compromising the police investigation.

Instead, we got this from NE Chairman Tony Juniper on Xmas Eve:

I intend to write more about this latest persecution crime in the near future.

UPDATE 7th March 2022: Natural England still silent, apparently on police orders, about hen harrier whose wings were torn off (here)

UPDATE 25th August 2022: Hen harrier’s ‘wings removed’ & its satellite tag fitted to a crow in sick ploy to disguise the crime (here)

“These crimes are being covered up”: RSPB Scotland speaks out as bird crime soars

Bird crime soared across the UK in 2020, and RSPB believes Scotland’s native birds of prey will continue to be persecuted, according to two new articles published yesterday in The Courier and The Press & Journal:

Birds of prey such as hawks, eagles, kites, buzzards, harriers, falcons and owls are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

The RSPB’s annual report revealed that 2020 was the worst year on record for bird crime across the UK.

There were 137 known and confirmed incidents of birds of prey being killed, the highest number in 30 years.

This trend has continued in 2021, according to Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations.

He said: “Bird crime covers a whole manner of crimes against wild birds, but what is particularly of concern are those crimes that have an impact on the populations and ranges of a variety of species.”

According to Mr Thomson, bird crime, also known as raptor persecution, is particularly rife in the north-east, with the hen harrier population being a fraction of what it was 20 years ago.

He also explained that golden eagles are only occupying around a third of the breeding territories that they ought to; meanwhile, peregrines have largely disappeared from the uplands in the north-east.

Mr Thomson believes that these low population numbers are largely down to the persecution of birds of prey for the intense land management of grouse moors.

Birds of prey are at the top of the food chain and they hunt and eat grouse and pheasants.

In an attempt to maximise the number of game birds available for clients to shoot, grouse moor managers will eliminate any threats to their birds.

This can include burning patches of heather moorland and releasing clouds of smoke into the air, leaving medicated grit out in the open and hare baiting.

The National Golden Eagle Survey shows that across Scotland the population as a whole is doing well and that there are significant increases in the west where there are no grouse moors.

Mr Thomson said it is the east of Scotland where the populations are a fraction of what they should be.

Scientific reports show that the illegal persecution of golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines are largely happening in areas managed for game bird shooting.

Unfortunately, these findings are largely happening in the middle of nowhere,” Mr Thomson said, “out of sight, out of mind, where witnesses are very far and few between.

But, occasionally, an incident occurs that is detected.

In 2020, about a week into lockdown when the entire population of the country was told to stay indoors or to exercise within five miles of your house, we had a young white-tailed eagle poisoned on a grouse moor in Strathdon, in an area with an appalling history of crimes against birds of prey going back 10-plus years.”

Mr Thomson explained there have been cases of birds of satellite-tagged birds disappearing under “suspicious circumstances”.

In March a golden eagle was illegally poisoned on the Invercauld Estate, a grouse moor in the Cairngorms.

Last year a satellite transmitter that had been fitted on a golden eagle was found at the side of a river.

It was wrapped in lead sheeting and thrown into the river where it lay for four years until a walker found it on the bank.

Mr Thomson said: “This is the efforts that people are going to cover up these crimes, they don’t want to be caught.

The problem is, as I say, these crimes are seldom witnessed; to actually get any idea of the scale of it we’re really depending on doing population studies.

We’re never going to find all the victims because, needless to say, if someone shoots a golden eagle they’re not going to leave it around for the RSPB or the police or a hillwalker to find.

These crimes are being covered up.”

The RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations explained that there are other factors that have impacted the populations of birds of prey.

He said that all birds face challenges “just surviving”, through natural mortality, starvation, and loss of habitat due to the intensification of land management or agriculture.

Because of this, populations are much lower than what would be ideal, and so deliberate and illegal killing is adding extra strain to the populations.

As well as being important for biodiversity, birds of prey are an attraction for tourists visiting Scotland.

People interested in photography travel from all over the world to capture Scottish wildlife, bringing millions to the economy.

Mr Thomson highlighted that, on the Isle of Mull, around £5 million a year goes into the island from people going to see white-tailed eagles.

The Scottish Government plans to introduce licensing to grouse moors, which Mr Thomson described as a “game-changer”.

He believes the loss of a license to shoot will introduce a significant deterrent to the estates that do persecute birds of prey.

There are places you wouldn’t want to take your dog for a walk in case it gets caught in a trap or eats something poisonous,” he said. “It’s not just birds that are dying, it’s people’s pets.

Perish the thought that some day some small child will come into contact with chemicals like this, it could have absolutely devastating effects.

It’s not only illegal but it’s reckless and indiscriminate.”

ENDS

Police release CCTV image linked to arson attack at Chris Packham’s home

Hampshire Constabulary have released a CCTV image of a man they wish to speak to in relation to an arson attack at Chris Packham’s home.

The image shows the man exiting the driver’s side of a vehicle at a petrol station:

The arson attack took place outside Chris’s home just after midnight on Friday 8th October 2021 (see here). Two masked men were caught on Chris’s home security cameras driving a Land Rover up to the gates of his home and setting it alight before escaping in a getaway vehicle.

The Land Rover exploded and the flames spread to the gates and fenceposts, totally destroying them and all the electronics attached to them.

Chris was at home, alone, at the time.

[Home security cameras captured the moment the vehicle exploded at Chris’s gates]

Police have been continuing to explore lines of enquiry to identify those responsible and now believe that the man pictured may hold key information to their investigation.

Do you know who this man is?

Any information, no matter how small or insignificant you feel it might be, could help aid the police investigation and identify those who are responsible for this crime.

If anyone has any information in relation to this incident, please call 101 quoting incident reference 44210403698.

Thank you

Pheasant breasts sold in Waitrose contaminated with high levels of toxic lead

In July 2019, supermarket Waitrose announced it was going to stop selling gamebirds that had been shot with toxic lead gunshot and said that from the 2020/21 shooting season it would only stock lead-free gamebirds (see here).

The following year, in February 2020, many (but not all) of the main shooting organisations announced a five-year voluntary transition away from lead ammunition, because they’d seen the writing on the wall and didn’t want to be forced into a compulsory ban. Not many of us had faith in the industry’s commitment (see here) and if you read the letters pages of the shooting rags you’ll see a torrent of raging shooters still arguing, two years on, about their reluctance (and in many cases refusal) to switch to using non-toxic ammunition.

Last year, Waitrose earned itself more kudos (amongst conservationists and health professionals, at least) by delivering a bold presentation at a game-shooting industry conference, where John Gregson, senior manager of agri-food communications at Waitrose, told delegates, ‘We don’t have five years to get rid of lead‘ (here).

However, last year campaign group Wild Justice bought some pheasants from Waitrose and had them tested for lead content. They were indeed again contaminated with toxic lead and Waitrose blamed the Covid pandemic for not being able to meet its promise of selling uncontaminated gamebirds. Waitrose made another commitment: ‘We are now pledging that by season 2021-22 all Waitrose & Partners game will be brought to bag without the use of lead ammunition‘ (see here).

Guess what? Wild Justice has tested more pheasant breasts from Waitrose (and Harrods and Sainsbury’s) this year and they are still contaminated with toxic lead shot. You can read the Wild Justice blog (here) for the detailed results and an article in yesterday’s Times can be read here:

Waitrose isn’t happy about the media coverage – in fact it’s fair to say some of its senior staff are very, very angry. I’m not surprised – it must be incredibly embarrassing when you’ve previously stuck your neck out and made commitments, twice, to not sell poisonous meat, only to have some pesky campaigners come along and, for the cost of a few hundred quid, have the meat tested and find it to contain toxic lead at levels which far exceed the legal limit for lead in pork, chicken and beef.

Waitrose is quoted in The Times:

We strongly refute any suggestion that our shoots are using lead ammunition. Our understanding is that no shot was found in the Waitrose game tested and we are confident that these results are explained by environmental residues“. [i.e. Waitrose thinks the pheasants ate the toxic lead from the ground before they were shot with non-toxic ammo].

Hmm. If the results can be explained away as ‘environmental residues’ (which incidentally, the senior scientist at the testing lab said is ‘unlikely’ given the high level of lead content in the birds), then the land from where these pheasants were shot should be sealed off and an intensive programme of detoxification should ensue with immediate effect by people wearing heavy duty biohazard protection equipment.

Some might argue that Waitrose is putting profit before customers’ health, but I’m not sure I agree with that. Waitrose has claimed to be using ‘rigorous segregation’ in its gamebird supply chains, only using shoots who use non-toxic ammunition. I don’t think there’s any reason to doubt Waitrose’s good intentions here – it has been leading on this issue for a number of years and is actively co-funding research to examine the shooting industry’s claimed transition from toxic lead ammunition (see here).

However, what I think Waitrose can legitimately be accused of is naivety. Waitrose has placed its confidence in a shooting industry that has demonstrated time and time again that it simply can’t be trusted (e.g. see links in this blog for starters). At the very least, Waitrose should be conducting its own testing on the gamebird meat it sells. It certainly shouldn’t have downgraded its warning labels before knowing with confidence that its gamebird meat doesn’t contain poison. And it would help consumer confidence if it would name its gamebird supplier so we can all assess the environmental credentials of the shoots rather than taking the word of a game dealer with a vested interest in selling the birds to a high-end retailer!

There’ll be more to come on this subject from Wild Justice.

Wild Justice is a not-for-profit organisation set up by Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery. It is entirely dependent on donations. To support its work – click here. To hear more about its campaigns and legal cases subscribe to its free newsletter – click here.

Hen harrier update – Natural England has been keeping a terrible, terrible secret

Natural England has been keeping a secret.

A terrible, terrible secret about one of its satellite-tagged hen harriers.

I’ve been waiting all year for Natural England to inform the public about what has happened.

I waited in the spring, but there was no news.

I looked at Natural England’s summer update on its satellite-tagged hen harriers, published in July, but Natural England said nothing was amiss with this bird.

I watched in August as the grouse-shooting industry paraded its hen harrier propaganda throughout the media, claiming that hen harriers were being worshipped by gamekeepers or something equally as implausible. Natural England said nothing to challenge that view, despite knowing the grisly fate of one of its tagged hen harriers.

I read an article in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago where gamekeepers were being ‘lauded’ as the hen harrier’s ‘friend’ by a straight-faced Natural England employee (Stephen Murphy), who also claimed that hen harrier Bowland Betty, who had been found dead with shotgun injuries on a grouse moor, had been shot away from the grouse moor, not on it – a statement for which he has absolutely no evidence whatsoever!

Now its December and two days ago Natural England published another update about its satellite-tagged hen harriers. Several more have apparently vanished this year, which is no surprise given we know that at least 57 have been killed/vanished in the last three years, but I’ll come back to an analysis of these latest victims in the New Year.

Right now I’m more interested in whether Natural England would say anything about the fate of this particular bird.

It hasn’t.

Sorry, but I am not prepared to sit and watch this pantomime any longer.

The authorities need to come clean and admit what has happened here. Cover-ups don’t instil confidence and besides the public has a right to know what is happening to these hen harriers, and especially to those that are fitted with public-funded tags.

Over to you, Natural England, and you might want to include a statement about whether you believe this harrier’s wings were pulled off, perhaps when she was still alive, based on the evidence you have.

UPDATE 29th December 2021: Natural England refuses to comment on whether hen harrier had its wings ripped off in horrific persecution incident (here).

UPDATE 7th March 2022: Natural England still silent, apparently on police orders, about hen harrier whose wings were torn off (here)

UPDATE 25th August 2022: Hen harrier’s ‘wings removed’ & its satellite tag fitted to a crow in sick ploy to disguise the crime (here)

Multi-agency raid following suspected raptor persecution in Humberside

Humberside Police led a multi-agency raid on 10th December 2021, executing a warrant in relation to suspected raptor persecution crimes after a number of dead buzzards were found with unusually high levels of rat poison.

The police were joined by staff from Natural England, National Wildlife Crime Unit and RSPB Investigation’s team.

The investigation is ongoing.

Photos from Humberside Police Rural Crime Team:

This is one of many multi-agency searches in the UK this year, all in response to raptor persecution crimes. On 18th January 2021 there was a raid in Suffolk (here), on 15th March there was a raid in Lincolnshire (see here), on 18th March a raid in Dorset (here), on 26th March a raid in Devon (see here), on 21st April a raid in Teesdale (here), on 2nd August a raid in Shropshire (here), on 12th August a raid in Herefordshire (here), on 14th September a raid in Norfolk (here), and a raid in Wales in October (here).

That’s a lot of raids in a relatively short space of time, in comparison to recent years. It’s testament to the agencies involved that they are being so proactive and working well together in a genuine multi-agency partnership, which is brilliant to see. It’s also testament to the fact that raptor persecution continues in many locations across the UK, despite what the game-shooting organisations would have us believe.

Whether these investigations result in prosecutions is another matter entirely (although we’ve already seen two successful convictions in recent weeks – here and here), but personally I’m delighted that at least this early part of the criminal justice process appears to have been re-energised after a long period of stagnation. Well done to all those involved.

Another gamekeeper convicted as another bird of prey starves to death in illegally-operated trap

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the conviction of a 53-year-old gamekeeper in the Scottish Borders, Peter Givens, who was responsible for an illegally-operated trap in which a barn owl and a goshawk had starved to death (see here). I’ll be blogging more about that case shortly as some interesting things have come to light.

Fast forward two weeks and today another gamekeeper, 58-year-old Hilton Prest, has been convicted for an almost identical offence, this time causing a sparrowhawk to starve to death inside an illegally-operated trap in Bosley, Cheshire, in February this year.

[The dead sparrowhawk inside the crow cage trap. Photo by RSPB]

The RSPB has published a press release about this latest conviction, which I’ll reproduce below, and then I’ll add some commentary at the end.

RSPB press release, 16th December 2021:

Man fined after sparrowhawk starves to death in trap

An amateur gamekeeper has received an £800 fine after a sparrowhawk starved to death in a trap in Cheshire.

At Manchester Magistrates’ court today (16 December 2021), Hilton Prest pleaded guilty to unlawfully using a trap on or before 10/2/21 contrary to Sec 5(1)(b) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. He was fined £800 (plus £85 costs and £80 victim surcharge). A charge against a second man was discontinued. 

On 10 February 2021, a member of the public found a sparrowhawk alive in a cage trap on land managed for gamebird shooting near Bosley. Cage traps are large mesh traps designed so a bird can get in but not out. They can be used legally, under license, to control crows, and must be checked every 25 hours. Any non-target birds caught accidentally must be released unharmed during daily inspections. When not in use the doors on such traps must be removed or secured open so birds cannot be caught.

There was snow on the ground and no shelter or water for the bird. The door to the trap was closed, so the member of the public opened it slightly, hoping the sparrowhawk would escape. Concerned for the bird’s welfare, they later provided the trap’s location to the RSPB.

[The juvenile sparrowhawk caught inside the trap during freezing weather in Feb 2021. Photo by RSPB]

RSPB Investigators attended the following day, 17 February, however they found the sparrowhawk (later confirmed as the same bird) dead inside the trap. There were also the remains of a blackbird, which had presumably attracted the sparrowhawk inside, and some grain, which had presumably attracted the blackbird. Despite the door being ajar, it appeared the sparrowhawk had been unable to escape and starved to death.

Cheshire Police were notified and the body of the bird sent for post-mortem examination. A veterinary pathologist confirmed the bird had died of starvation and would have experienced considerable unnecessary suffering inside the trap. (The veterinary work was funded by money from Wild Justice’s Raptor Forensic Fund, provided to support such cases, and administered by the PAW Forensic Working Group.) Two men were later interviewed by the police and reported for offences in relation to the unlawful use of the trap. 

District Judge Mr Jack McGarver said that he accepted that the act was careless rather than reckless or intentional, but that the degree of carelessness was high, and that it was well below the standard that was expected.

He added: “The sparrowhawk is a beautiful native creature which is entitled to be protected.”

Tom Grose, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “An unattended set trap in sub-zero temperatures was a death sentence for both birds.

If a trap is no longer in operation, it must be disabled in such a way that no bird can become caught. The operator has a duty of care to ensure that this happens, and that no birds can become caught inside. This duty of care was not met.

This is yet another example of why Natural England must improve the general license conditions for disabling these traps, in line with conditions in Scotland. We are aware of a number of other birds, including buzzards and a goshawk, that have starved to death inside cage traps which appear not to have been properly disabled. In this case, a simple padlock securing the door wide open would have saved the life of this blackbird and this sparrowhawk. This needs to be addressed to ensure no more birds perish in this sad and wasteful way.”

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, or a trap with a bird of prey caught inside, phone the police on 101, email RSPB Investigations at crime@rspb.org.uk or fill in the online form: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/our-positions-and-campaigns/positions/wildbirdslaw/reportform.aspx

ENDS

First of all, well done to the RSPB’s investigations team, working with Cheshire Police, to bring this case to court and secure a conviction.

The penalty given to gamekeeper Prest (£800 fine plus £85 costs and £80 victim surcharge) is higher than that given to gamekeeper Givens (£300 fine plus £20 victim surcharge) even though two Schedule 1 species had died as a result of Givens’ offence so once again sentencing consistency is lacking.

What’s really interesting though is the difference in the trapping rules between Scotland and England. In the Scottish case, it could be shown quite easily that Givens was operating an unlawful trap because (a) in Scotland the General Licence requires that the trap user be identified by a code attached to each trap (this is not a requirement in England because statutory agency Natural England hasn’t bothered to introduce it), and (b) in Scotland, when the trap is not in use the trap operator MUST do the following, as a condition of the General Licence:

Any trap not in use must be immobilised and rendered incapable of use. For multi-catch cage traps, the access doors must be removed from the site or securely padlocked open so that no bird can be confined‘.

This is a clear instruction – you either padlock the door open or you remove it completely if the trap is not in use. It’s unambiguous.

However, the equivalent General Licence condition in England is nowhere near as clear cut and can lead to all sorts of ‘accidents’ and excuses.

In England, the General Licence condition says this:

When you are not using a trap, it must not be capable of holding or catching animals.

You must secure trap doors in a fully open position, or remove the doors completely from the site‘.

Then there’s an add-on bit of ‘advice’ underneath, that says:

Padlocks are the most secure way to secure trap doors open, but cable ties or wire may also be suitable‘.

Crucially, this ‘advice’ is not legally binding, so a trap operator in England could legally use a rock or a piece of baler twine to ‘secure trap doors in a fully open position’ but both these techniques, and others, are not bomb proof and a door could ‘accidentally’ close, preventing a trapped bird from a means of escape. Padlocking the door or removing the door completely provides a trapped bird with a route to escape.

Quite why Natural England hasn’t incorporated this very simple but effective condition into its General Licence is a matter of bemusement for many of us. It’s really not that difficult, is it?

And if game-shooting organisations were as interested in protecting birds of prey as they claim to be, they’d be pushing for this very simple measure, too.

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