61 hen harriers confirmed illegally killed or ‘missing’ since 2018, most of them on or close to UK grouse moors

For anyone who still wants to pretend that the grouse shooting industry isn’t responsible for the systematic extermination of hen harriers on grouse moors across the UK, here’s the latest catalogue of crime that suggests otherwise.

[This male hen harrier died in 2019 after his leg was almost severed in an illegally set trap that had been placed next to his nest on a Scottish grouse moor (see here). Photo by Ruth Tingay]

This is the blog I now publish after every reported killing or suspicious disappearance.

They disappear in the same way political dissidents in authoritarian dictatorships have disappeared” (Stephen Barlow, 22 January 2021).

Today the list has been updated to include the most recently reported victim, a young hen harrier whose satellite tag inexplicably stopped transmitting and whose corpse vanished in to thin air a few weeks ago on 10th February 2022 (see here).

The disgraceful national catalogue of illegally killed and ‘missing’ hen harriers will continue to grow – I know of at least one more on-going police investigation which has yet to be publicised.

I’ve been compiling this list only since 2018 because that is the year that the grouse shooting industry ‘leaders’ would have us believe that the criminal persecution of hen harriers had stopped and that these birds were being welcomed back on to the UK’s grouse moors (see here).

This assertion was made shortly before the publication of a devastating new scientific paper that demonstrated that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers were confirmed or considered likely to have been illegally killed, and this was ten times more likely to occur over areas of land managed for grouse shooting relative to other land uses (see here).

2018 was also the year that Natural England issued itself with a licence to begin a hen harrier brood meddling trial on grouse moors in northern England. For new blog readers, hen harrier brood meddling is a conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA as part of its ludicrous ‘Hen Harrier Action Plan‘ and carried out by Natural England (NE), in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England. For more background see here.

Brood meddling has been described as a sort of ‘gentleman’s agreement’ by commentator Stephen Welch:

I don’t get it, I thought the idea of that scheme was some kind of trade off – a gentleman’s agreement that the birds would be left in peace if they were moved from grouse moors at a certain density. It seems that one party is not keeping their side of the bargain“.

With at least 61 hen harriers gone since 2018, I think it’s fair to say that the grouse shooting industry is simply taking the piss. Meanwhile, Natural England pretends that ‘partnership working’ is the way to go and DEFRA Ministers remain silent.

‘Partnership working’ appears to include authorising the removal of hen harrier chicks from a grouse moor already under investigation by the police for suspected raptor persecution (here) and accepting a £10K bung from representatives of the grouse shooting industry that prevents Natural England from criticising them or the sham brood meddling trial (see here).

[Cartoon by Gill Lewis]

So here’s the latest gruesome list. Note that the majority of these birds (but not all) were fitted with satellite tags. How many more [untagged] harriers have been killed?

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa ‘disappeared’ in the Angus Glens in Scotland (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers Association later published wholly inaccurate information claiming the bird had been re-sighted. The RSPB dismissed this as “completely false” (here).

5 February 2018: Hen harrier Marc ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Durham (here)

9 February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn ‘disappeared’ near Moffat in Scotland (here)

18 April 2018: Hen harrier Lia ‘disappeared’ in Wales and her corpse was retrieved in a field in May 2018. Cause of death was unconfirmed but police treating death as suspicious (here)

8 August 2018: Hen harrier Hilma ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Northumberland (here).

16 August 2018: Hen harrier Athena ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

26 August 2018: Hen Harrier Octavia ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here)

29 August 2018: Hen harrier Margot ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

29 August 2018: Hen Harrier Heulwen ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

3 September 2018: Hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

24 September 2018: Hen harrier Heather ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

2 October 2018: Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

3 October 2018: Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Bowland, Lanacashire (here)

23 October 2018: Hen harrier Tom ‘disappeared’ in South Wales (here)

26 October 2018: Hen harrier Arthur ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here)

1 November 2018: Hen harrier Barney ‘disappeared’ on Bodmin Moor (here)

10 November 2018: Hen harrier Rannoch ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here). Her corpse was found nearby in May 2019 – she’d been killed in an illegally-set spring trap (here).

14 November 2018: Hen harrier River ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB (here). Her corpse was found nearby in April 2019 – she’d been illegally shot (here).

16 January 2019: Hen harrier Vulcan ‘disappeared’ in Wiltshire close to Natural England’s proposed reintroduction site (here)

7 February 2019: Hen harrier Skylar ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (here)

22 April 2019: Hen harrier Marci ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

26 April 2019: Hen harrier Rain ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Nairnshire (here)

11 May 2019: An untagged male hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set trap next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire. He didn’t survive (here)

7 June 2019: An untagged hen harrier was found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland. A post mortem stated the bird had died as a result of ‘penetrating trauma’ injuries and that this bird had previously been shot (here)

5 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 1 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park (here)

11 September 2019: Hen harrier Romario ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

14 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183704) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

23 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #55149) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

24 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 2 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

24 September 2019: Hen harrier Bronwyn ‘disappeared’ near a grouse moor in North Wales (here)

10 October 2019: Hen harrier Ada ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North Pennines AONB (here)

12 October 2019: Hen harrier Thistle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Sutherland (here)

18 October 2019: Member of the public reports the witnessed shooting of an untagged male hen harrier on White Syke Hill in North Yorkshire (here)

November 2019: Hen harrier Mary found illegally poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland (here)

January 2020: Members of the public report the witnessed shooting of a male hen harrier on Threshfield Moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

23 March 2020: Hen harrier Rosie ‘disappeared’ at an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (here)

1 April 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183703) ‘disappeared’ in unnamed location, tag intermittent (here)

5 April 2020: Hen harrier Hoolie ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

8 April 2020: Hen harrier Marlin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

19 May 2020: Hen harrier Fingal ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Lowther Hills, Scotland (here)

21 May 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183701) ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Cumbria shortly after returning from wintering in France (here)

27 May 2020: Hen harrier Silver ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on Leadhills Estate, Scotland (here)

day/month unknown: Unnamed male hen harrier breeding on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria ‘disappeared’ while away hunting (here)

9 July 2020: Unnamed female hen harrier (#201118) ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed site in Northumberland (here).

25 July 2020: Hen harrier Harriet ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

14 August 2020: Hen harrier Solo ‘disappeared’ in confidential nest area in Lancashire (here)

7 September 2020: Hen harrier Dryad ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

16 September 2020: Hen harrier Fortune ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (here)

19 September 2020: Hen harrier Harold ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

20 September 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2020, #55152) ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in North Yorkshire (here)

24 February 2021: Hen harrier Tarras ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Northumberland (here)

12th April 2021: Hen harrier Yarrow ‘disappeared’ near Stockton, County Durham (here)

18 May 2021: Adult male hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from its breeding attempt on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria whilst away hunting (here)

18 May 2021: Another adult male hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from its breeding attempt on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria whilst away hunting (here)

24 July 2021: Hen harrier Asta ‘disappeared’ at a ‘confidential site’ in the North Pennines (here)

14th August 2021: Hen harrier Josephine ‘disappeared’ at a ‘confidential site’ in Northumberland (here)

17 September 2021: Hen harrier Reiver ‘disappeared’ in a grouse moor dominated region of Northumberland (here)

24 September 2021: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2021, R2-F-1-21) ‘disappeared’ in Northumberland (here)

10 February 2022: An unnamed satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘disappeared’ in a grouse moor dominated area of the Peak District National Park (here)

To be continued……..

Oh, and we’re still waiting for Natural England to tell us the cause of death of two brood meddled hen harriers whose corpses were found in October 2021 (see here). Will they, too, be added to this list?

Another satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘disappears’ in Peak District National Park

Here we go again.

YET ANOTHER satellite-tagged hen harrier has ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances, this time in the Peak District National Park.

The unnamed harrier hatched in 2021 and was being tracked by the RSPB. It was reported missing on 10th February 2022.

[Hen harrier, photo by Pete Blanchard]

South Yorkshire Police have issued the following appeal for information today:

Disappointingly, the last known location of the bird has not been given other than ‘in the Stocksbridge area of Sheffield’. However, it can be narrowed down somewhat by a tweet published by a member of the RSPB’s Investigations Team, who said the harrier had vanished ‘in the Peak District’.

If you look on Google maps, Stocksbridge [red marker] is just outside the boundary of the Peak District National Park. If you cross the park boundary into the National Park, surprise, surprise, you’ll find a massive area of land managed for driven grouse shooting. A scientific study published in 2019 showed that hen harriers are ten times more likely to disappear/be killed over areas of land managed for grouse shooting relative to other land uses.

This area of the National Park is no stranger to reports of raptor persecution (see here) and another satellite-tagged hen harrier, called Octavia, also ‘disappeared’ here in 2018 (see here).

It looks like it’s time to update that ever-increasing list of ‘missing’ and ‘confirmed dead’ hen harriers….

UPDATE 26th February 2022: 61 hen harriers confirmed illegally killed or ‘missing’ since 2018, most of them on or close to UK grouse moors (here)

UPDATE 17th March 2023: Hen harrier goes ‘missing’ from a Peak District grouse moor – police confirm his satellite tag had been deliberately cut off (here)

New study shows pheasants still full of poisonous lead shot two years after ‘voluntary transition’ to non-toxic shot

Two years ago today, nine UK game-shooting organisations made a massive U-turn after years and years and years of defending the use of toxic lead ammunition, and said they wanted to drag the industry into the 21st Century by making a five-year voluntary transition away from lead ammunition (see here).

A lot of us were sceptical because (a) we rarely trust anything the industry tells us; (b) previous ‘voluntary bans’ by the industry on a number of issues have been unsuccessful (e.g. see herehere and here); (c) the ongoing failure of the shooting industry to comply with current regulations on many issues, including the use of lead ammunition over wetlands (here), means there should be absolutely zero confidence in its ability and/or willingness to stick to any notional voluntary ban; (d) the Scottish Gamekeepers Association refused to sign up to the proposed five-year transition period because they believe there is insufficient evidence to support the claim that lead can have damaging impacts on humans, wildlife and the environment (here); and (e) in the very same year that nine shooting organisations committed to the five-year transition, BASC announced it was set to fight a proposed EU ban on the use of lead ammunition on wetlands (see here).

Fortunately for us, a new project has been established to monitor the professed voluntary five-year transition from toxic lead to non-lead ammunition in the UK. Called SHOT-SWITCH, the project intends to test wild-shot pheasants offered for sale across Britain each year and determine if they have been killed using toxic lead or non-lead shotgun ammunition. Interestingly, the project is supported by funds from the RSPB, Waitrose (who you’ll recall were the first supermarket to be heading towards a ban on selling game meat shot with lead ammunition (see here, but who seem to have been duped by the shooting industry this season – here) and Lincolnshire Game.

To find out more about the SHOT-SWITCH project please visit the webpage here

[Lead shot pellets removed from a pheasant carcass. Photo by Rhys Green]

Last year, exactly one year after the shooting organisations’ announcement that the industry would make a five-year voluntary transition to non-toxic shot, scientists from the Shot Switch Project published research that showed of 180 pheasant carcasses examined from the 2020/2021 shooting season and found to contain shot, 179 of them had been shot with lead ammunition (99.4%).

Today, exactly two years after the shooting organisations’ announcement, the Shot Switch scientists have published another paper showing that of 215 pheasant carcasses examined from the 2021/2022 shooting season and found to contain shot, 214 of them had been shot with lead ammunition (99.5%).

And although the paper documents significant efforts made by at least two shooting organisations to educate their members (GWCT and BASC), it’s clear that they’re being ignored. You only have to read the letters pages of Shooting Times to see that, two years on, some shooters are still raging about what they see as an imposed ban and are refusing to engage. There’s even a new campaign group called ‘Save Our Lead Shot’!!

That’s hardly a surprise since the shooting organisations have spent decades arguing for lead ammunition and refusing to accept the toxic threat it poses to humans and wildlife. They only U-turned in 2020 because they could see the bans being implemented in Europe and knew it was only a matter of time before the UK followed. The industry wanted to be seen as responsible, forward-thinking and capable of self-regulation.

That’s not going so well, is it?

Why is Natural England sitting on post mortem results of 2 x brood meddled hen harriers?

On 28th October 2021, the corpses of two brood meddled hen harriers (hatched 2021) were found by Natural England staff, collected and submitted for post-mortems.

These are the two individuals:

Brood meddled male Hen Harrier R2-M2-21, tagged on 20th July 2021 from nest site ‘BM R2 Cumbria’. The date of last contact is given in NE’s data table as 27th October 2021 and the location is given as ‘Cumbria, site confidential, hen harrier roost site’. The notes section says, ‘Recovered dead 28th October 2021, awaiting PM results’.

Brood meddled male Hen Harrier R2-M3-21, tagged on 20th July 2021 from nest site ‘BM R2 Cumbria’. The date of last contact is given as 27th October 2021 and the location is given as ‘County Durham’. The notes section says, ‘Recovered dead 28th October 2021, awaiting PM results’.

We know about these two harriers because Natural England included a small paragraph about their deaths in a blog published on 15th December 2021. At the time, I commented how strange it was that the post-mortem results apparently weren’t available, even though the corpses had been collected some seven weeks earlier (see here).

So I submitted an FoI request to Natural England on 27 January 2022 and asked for the post-mortem results of those two young harriers.

[A young hen harrier. Photographer unknown]

The response was due tomorrow. However, today Natural England has sent me this:

It wasn’t a complex request at all. It was a simple, straightforward request. According to the pathologist’s report, how did these two young hen harriers die?

Now, why would Natural England want to delay the publication of these results?

And while we’re at it, Natural England, are you going to say anything about the dead hen harrier whose wings were undoubtedly pulled off, perhaps when the bird was still alive (see here and here)? Two months ago you said you couldn’t comment further as a police investigation was underway. How’s that going? It seems to have been underway for almost a year – it’s going nowhere, isn’t it? Nobody will be brought to justice, will they? Just like nobody has been brought to justice for the other 59 hen harriers that have been killed since 2018 (here).

UPDATE 7th March 2022: Natural England publishes post-mortem summaries of two brood meddled hen harriers (here)

NatureScot refuses to publish details of Leadhills Estate’s general licence restriction appeal

This is a long and sorry saga, and it’s not yet over.

As many blog readers will know, the notorious Leadhills Estate, a grouse-shooting estate in South Lanarkshire that has been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations at least 70 times since the early 2000s, is currently serving an unprecedented TWO General Licence restrictions imposed by NatureScot after ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime was provided to the statutory regulator by Police Scotland (see here and here), including the illegal killing of short-eared owls, buzzards, hen harriers and the discovery of two stashes of banned poisons.

Incredibly, Leadhills Estate with its double General Licence restriction is STILL a member of the lobby group Scottish Land & Estates, which claims to have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to raptor persecution. Convincing, eh?

[Grouse moor on the Leadhills Estate. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

The first three-year General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate in November 2019 (here). The estate appealed this decision, with an hilarious letter of objection (here), but its appeal failed.

The second General Licence restriction was imposed on Leadhills Estate in September 2021 (here) after Police Scotland reported even more wildlife crime while the estate was still serving its first restriction.

Once again, Leadhills Estate appealed the decision with a written objection letter.

It is this letter of objection that I have been trying to get from NatureScot since September 2021. Five months on, it is still being withheld, for what I have argued are spurious reasons.

Here’s a short summary of what’s happened so far:

On 30th September 2021 I submitted an FoI to NatureScot to request copies of Leadhills Estate’s appeal.

On 3 November 2021 NatureScot responded as follows:

We have withheld a letter from an agent acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, pending an appeal against NatureScot’s decision to restrict General Licence. This information is of a sensitive nature and disclosure into the public domain could prejudice the applicant’s right to a fair hearing’.

I didn’t see how public disclosure could possibly prejudice a hearing given that it’s all done in-house at NatureScot but fine, I could wait.

In December 2021 it was announced that Leadhills Estate had lost its appeal against the second General Licence restriction (here) so I wrote back to NatureScot on 3rd December as follows:

You told me in the letter dated 3 November 2021 that you were withholding a letter from an agent who was acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, and the reason you gave for withholding it was that releasing it may prejudice the applicant’s right to a fair appeal. As the appeal process has now concluded and therefore the applicant’s right to a fair hearing cannot be affected, please can you send me the agent’s letter that was previously withheld‘.

On 5th January 2022 NatureScot responded as follows:

We have completed our information searches, and we have identified eight documents comprising 126 pages relevant to your request. We shared a redacted version of these documents with the solicitors acting on behalf of Leadhills Estate, who have provided additional legal arguments as to why certain information should be withheld. We will need additional time to assess these arguments and, potentially, take further legal advice.

Regulation 7 of the EIRs allows public authorities to extend the time for compliance with requests for up to an additional 20 working days. This means we must respond to your information request by 3 February 2022 at the latest‘.

Hmm. Why might Leadhills Estate not want the details of its appeal to be made public? And what legal arguments might it use to block the transparency of the decision-making process of a statutory agency?

On 7th February 2022, NatureScot sent this explanation:

That’s all very interesting. Obviously, I’ve appealed this decision and asked for a review. I don’t believe there are further proceedings to ‘prejudice’ as Leadhills Estate has now exhausted the appeals process for the General Licence restriction. I also don’t believe that correspondence between an agent and a public authority qualifies as ‘legal privilege’ and especially when it’s in the public interest to understand how the statutory agency has reached its decision with transparency and fairness.

Let’s see. Another 20 working days to wait, which will take us to six months since I made the original request.

Does your elected representative ‘welcome birds of prey’?

Ten days ago, following the news (here) that two white-tailed eagles from the Isle of Wight Reintroduction Project had been found dead in suspicious circumstances (one in Dorset, one in Sussex), Dorset Conservative MP Chris Loder published an extraordinary statement on Twitter, whipping up some Victorian anti-eagle hysteria by declaring that ‘Dorset is not the place for eagles to be reintroduced‘ and suggested that Dorset Police shouldn’t waste ‘time and resources‘ on investigating (see here and here).

Twitter went in to meltdown and the story was picked up by several national newspapers, including the Independent and the Guardian.

The story prompted a new hashtag on social media, #BirdsOfPreyWelcome, with people from around the country sharing stories about how welcome birds of prey are in various locations.

Conservation group Wild Justice launched a Twitter poll (runs for three more days, here); the results so far indicate overwhelming support for birds of prey.

But given the ongoing persecution of raptors across the UK, Wild Justice is also asking members of the public to email/write to their elected representatives, whether they be in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, to ask whether they, too, support birds of prey.

Wild Justice has provided some guidance about what your email/letter might look like (here).

I’d encourage as many of you as possible to participate. We know that letter-writing campaigns like this can be incredibly powerful when enough people get involved. It sends a clear message to our elected representatives that raptor persecution is an issue of concern that needs addressing.

Thank you

Police officer, gamekeeper & son in court for peregrine theft case

Three people appeared in court last week charged with a number of offences in relation to alleged peregrine theft in the Scottish Borders.

Serving police officer WPC Suzanne Hall, 43, part-time gamekeeper Timothy Hall, 46, and their 21-year-old son, Lewis Hall, are accused of breaching The Control of Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Enforcement Regulations and also face two charges under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 by being in possession of protected birds and eggs of wild bird, in this case, peregrines.

Timothy Hall also faces further charges of two firearms certificate offences and a culpable and reckless conduct offence.

[Photo by Getty]

This case relates to a joint Scottish SPCA and Police Scotland raid on the family home at Lamberton Holdings in Berwick-upon-Tweed in May 2021 as part of an on-going investigation into allegations of serious organised crime (see here).

It is understood a search warrant was executed and officers seized a number of peregrine falcon chicks and eggs from the property.

All three defendants made no plea at this latest court hearing and the case was continued for further examination. They were granted bail by Sheriff Peter Paterson.

PLEASE NOTE: As this is a live case and charges have been laid, I won’t be accepting any comments on this article until legal proceedings have concluded. Many thanks for your understanding.

Parliamentary questions challenge absurd ‘sanction’ of General Licence restrictions

Mark Ruskell has submitted a couple of timely Parliamentary written questions on General Licence restrictions:

These questions are very relevant right now given the recent General Licence restrictions imposed on Lochan Estate in Strathbraan (here) and Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park (here) after evidence of wildlife crime was detected.

For new readers, a three-year General Licence restriction can be imposed on a game-shooting estate if Government agency NatureScot receives notification from Police Scotland that there is evidence of wildlife crime taking place on the estate but it is insufficient evidence to initiate a prosecution of a named individual.

The GL restriction does not affect the shooting of gamebirds on the estate but it does restrict the estate from undertaking any activity that would normally be covered by a General Licence, e.g. catching and killing certain so-called ‘pest’ species such as carrion crows.

Well, it’s supposed to restrict those activities, but in reality it does no such thing because the estate can simply apply to NatureScot for an Individual licence which allows the estate to continue its activities as if the General Licence restriction doesn’t exist!

It’s bonkers, and I’ve called it out many times in the past (e.g. see herehereherehere) and I even gave evidence to this effect alongside RSPB Scotland and others to a Scottish parliamentary committee in 2019 (here).

I believe this absurd situation is a legal quirk, outlined in the proceedings of a Judicial Review in 2017 of NatureScot’s decision to impose a GL restriction on Raeshaw Estate. I don’t believe it’s NatureScot’s fault that this situation has arisen, although NatureScot could be doing a lot more to point out the system’s failings to the Scottish Government.

As I understand it, if a penalised estate isn’t provided with an opportunity to apply for an individual licence then the estate could argue the system was unfair and the legality of the General Licence restriction probably wouldn’t stand. If further wildlife crimes are discovered on the estate when an individual licence is in place, NatureScot can revoke the individual licence but the estate can simply reapply for another one. NatureScot may refuse to issue another individual licence, but then it risks a costly legal challenge.

I’m pleased Mark Ruskell has asked for clarity on this situation because it strikes me some clever legal minds should be looking to close this loophole so that when a GL restriction is imposed on an estate, it actually has a meaningful application.

I’ll blog again on this when Mark’s questions have been answered.

UPDATE 8th April 2022: Absurd & ineffective General Licence restrictions for wildlife crime are ‘fair and proportionate’, says Environment Minister (here)

‘Insane’: Outrage after gamebirds dumped in Angus

I’ve got a few blogs to write that were scheduled for last week but the news of the two dead eagles in southern England took priority, so now I’m playing catch-up.

Remember those shot pheasants and other assorted species that had been dumped in a lay-by in Angus a week ago (see here and here)? I’m pleased to report that journalist Peter John Meiklem picked up the story from this blog and ran it as a news item in The Courier last week, which will have reached a wide audience:

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association was asked to comment for the article and a spokesperson is quoted, “It is difficult to establish the truth or motivation from photographs appearing on an anti-shooting website, so we will not speculate“, which I think implies that they think it was a set-up.

That the SGA has drawn such a conclusion shouldn’t surprise anybody. These are the people who have also said:

Professional gamekeepers do not poison raptors” (May 2011)

It is unfair to accuse gamekeepers of wildlife crime” (June 2011)

Will these very large creatures [white-tailed eagles] differentiate between a small child and more natural quarry?” (September 2011)

Raptors are thriving on game-keepered land” (July 2013)

I strongly believe the goshawk was never indigenous to the United Kingdom and there is absolutely no hard evidence to suggest otherwise” (September 2013)

When asked whether gamekeepers are involved with the poisoning, shooting & trapping of raptors: “No they aren’t. We would dispute that” (March 2014)

In the last ten years we have stamped out poisoning. We’ve absolutely finished it” (October 2014)

We kill animals because probably we’re the doctors and nurses of the countryside” (January 2015)

Grouse moors are a birdwatcher’s paradise” (December 2020)

On the need to phase out the use of toxic lead ammunition within five years, “The SGA remains unconvinced by present evidence…” (September 2021)

Whilst the SGA is busy trying to out-dinosaur some of the other game-shooting organisations, another blog reader has sent in a photograph of some more dumped gamebirds, which he tells me he ‘found dumped over a roadside gate at Sutton Bingham Reservoir in South Somerset on 20th November 2021‘.

It’s a couple of pheasants and a red-legged partridge, tied together with baler string as they often are at the end of a shoot.

Perhaps a member of the shooting party was given the birds to take home but he/she wasn’t interested in eating them, just shooting them, so chucked them over a fence and drove off.

Or perhaps some anti-shooting extremists got hold of some weapons, did a bit of armed trespass and shot the birds without anyone seeing and then tied them together and lobbed them over a random gate in the vague hope that someone might come along and see them, take a photograph and submit them for publication on this blog.

8 million blog views

This blog passed another milestone over the weekend, reaching eight million views.

Here’s the photograph that I publish every time a new milestone is reached. This is a golden eagle that was found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in 2006. It had been illegally poisoned. It epitomises everything in its pitiful, poignant, senselessness.

Have attitudes changed since 2006?

No! The RSPB reported that 2020 was the ‘worst year on record‘ for bird of prey persecution in the UK. Eagles and other raptors are still being killed by poisoning, trapping, bludgeoning or shooting, even inside our National Parks.

A white-tailed eagle was found poisoned on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in 2020 (here) and a golden eagle was found poisoned on another grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in 2021 (here).

The toxicology results from two white-tailed eagles recently found dead in suspicious circumstances on two game-shooting estates in Dorset and Sussex are anticipated with grim inevitability.

Thank you to everybody who supports and contributes to this blog, including those who share its content on social media channels and in conversations with friends, family, colleagues and associates.

Eight million views is a lot, but it’s not enough. There’s still so much work to do. The Scottish Government has promised new regulatory powers, but 15 months later we’re still waiting for those to be implemented. The Westminster Government is still at the denial stage, although I suspect the death of these two reintroduced eagles is about to provide an effective wake-up call for Ministers.

I intend to keep writing this blog for a while longer and hope you’ll all stay with me.

Thanks for your continued support.