Email correspondence between Chris Loder MP & Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner re: poisoned eagle

After a long delay and several reminder emails, I’ve finally received a response to my Freedom of Information request from the office of the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC), David Sidwick.

If you recall, in early March I’d asked for copies of all correspondence between the PCC and Chris Loder MP in relation to the (mis)handling of the police investigation into the poisoned white-tailed eagle found dead on a shooting estate in North Dorset in January 2022.

I was interested in finding out whether Chris Loder MP had interfered with / influenced Dorset Police’s decision to pull the plug on the investigation before a search had even taken place, given his outspoken objections to the investigation when it was still active.

You may also recall I’d asked for the same information in another Freedom of Information request to Dorset Police, which they have refused to answer. Their explanation for this refusal had zero credibility so I’ve asked for a formal review of their decision – I’m awaiting a response to that request.

The FoI response to me from the PCC’s office is here:

So there was correspondence between the two ‘good chums‘, as expected, and you can see Chris Loder’s exasperation at not receiving information to which he appeared to feel entitled.

I note with interest David Sidwick’s assurance to Chris Loder that he will receive ” a full briefing” after the investigation has closed. Given that Dorset Police closed the investigation (prematurely) on 29th March, exactly one month ago, I wonder whether that briefing to Chris Loder has now been provided? This was beyond the dates/scope of my original FoI request but it will be covered by Chris Packham’s later FoI request so I look forward to seeing what that briefing says.

Meanwhile, back to the FoI response sent to me from the PCC’s office, above. The eagle-eyed amongst you might have picked up that there appears to be some correspondence ‘missing’ from the bundle I’ve been sent:

That very first email from David Sidwick to Chris Loder (dated 15th February) appears to be a response to correspondence from Loder (Sidwick’s opening words are, ‘As requested…’) but Loder’s ‘request’ has not been provided in full in my FoI bundle. There are parts of Loder’s request incorporated in Sidwick’s reply, but the original, full email from Loder is missing.

In the same email, Sidwick also includes a line that appears to be taken from Loder’s (missing) email:

Presumably from Loder: “Could you also help with the earlier question about the name of the rural crime team? Rural Crime Team / Rural Crime Wildlife & Heritage Team

Response from Sidwick: “RCT is the form preferred and the long version will be dropped“.

Nowhere in this bundle is there a copy of the “earlier question” from Loder to Sidwick about the rebranding of the Rural Crime Team.

I have written back to the PCC’s office and asked them to check for these missing pieces of correspondence.

Another dead buzzard in Dorset – Police warn public of suspected poisoned baits

Yet another dead buzzard has been found in North Dorset.

Whilst the cause of death has yet to be ascertained (presumably the carcass has been sent for post mortem), yesterday PC Rob Hammond warned the public to keep their dogs on leads to avoid the risk of them coming into contact with potential poisoned baits.

Well done to PC Hammond for putting out this timely warning. Even though poisoning has not yet been confirmed, the potential risk to the public and their dogs is high so he’s done exactly the right thing.

Dorset is fast becoming quite the hotspot for raptor persecution. I’ve been looking through some reports from the last few years and have found the following incidents of raptor persecution recorded in the county:

May 2018: Buzzard found shot dead (here).

May 2018: Suspicious deaths of two barn owls and several more buzzards (here).

March 2020: Disturbance of nesting peregrines (here).

April 2020: Several buzzards were found dead within close proximity to each other in the Ashmore Wood area near Blandford. These birds were sent for testing and enquiries remain ongoing (here).

August 2020: Two buzzards, one dead, were found near the body of a rabbit. An owl and a further two buzzards were also found. Analysis has confirmed Brodifacoum in the buzzard which is likely to have caused the death. The second buzzard and the owl had background residues and the analysis on the rabbit was negative.

September 2020: A dead buzzard was found on a bridleway, it had been shot.

November 2020: A dead red kite and rat were found near a footpath. Analysis has confirmed Bendiocarb in the stomach contents of the red kite and in pots removed from a vehicle and a sachet in a shed, which is likely to be the cause of death. No residues were found in the rat.

February 2021: A buzzard and a red kite were found in a wooded area. Analysis has confirmed Brodifacoum in the liver of the red kite which will have contributed to its death, the levels of Brodifacoum in the buzzard are borderline and uncertain if the exposure contributed to its death. 

March 2021: A multi-agency raid was carried out on a shooting estate in North Dorset. A number of dead birds of prey and several pesticides, including banned substances, were located at the premises. A firearm was also recovered (here).

January 2022: A dead white-tailed eagle was found poisoned on a shooting estate in North Dorset. The post mortem found its liver contained 7 x lethal dose of rodenticide Brodifacoum. Inexplicably, Dorset Police closed the investigation before conducting a search (here).

February 2022: Another white-tailed eagle was suspected to have been poisoned on another shooting estate in North Dorset. This one survived (here).

February 2022: A dead buzzard and a dead red kite are found dead on a shooting estate in North Dorset, suspected poisoned. Toxicology results awaited (here).

April 2022: A dead buzzard found dead in the Ashmore area. Toxicology results awaited.

It’s pretty clear that Dorset has a raptor persecution issue and I understand there are several more investigations that have yet to be reported in the public domain. Given these incidents, and more, it’s astonishing that the local MP, Chris Loder, thinks the police shouldn’t ‘waste resources’ on investigating wildlife crimes.

It’s even more astounding that Dorset Police shut down the poisoned eagle investigation, without conducting a search, and continue to refuse any explanation for their decision and yet still the top brass claim to be taking raptor persecution ‘seriously’, not that anyone believes them anymore.

It’s heartening then to see on-the-ground officers like PC Rob Hammond, trying to do the right thing. I wonder how long it’ll be before he’s told to drop the case and/or stop investigating wildlife crime, as has his colleague, PC Claire Dinsdale?

Operation Easter: UK police target bird egg thieves

Press release from the National Wildlife Crime Unit:

Wild birds are nesting and the national campaign to protect them across the UK is underway. Egg thieves will go to any lengths to raid the nests of rare wild birds but Operation EASTER is determined to stop them in their tracks.

Operation EASTER was developed in Scotland 25 years ago. The operation is now facilitated by the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) in conjunction with UK police forces and partner agencies. The operation targets egg thieves by sharing intelligence across the UK to support enforcement action.

In recent years the operation has also been expanded to cover some emerging trends of criminal behaviour such as the online trade in eggs and the disturbance of nests for photography.

The taking of wild bird eggs is a serious crime yet it remains the pastime of some determined individuals. Whole clutches of eggs can be taken from some of the UK’s rarest birds with potentially devastating impacts. The eggs are stored in secret collections.

[Part of the illegal egg collection of prolific egg thief Matthew Gonshaw, who targeted the nests of golden eagles, ospreys, red kites and peregrines before being jailed for a fourth time for his crimes]

Chief Inspector Kevin Kelly (Head of the NWCU) says: “Operation Easter is a yearly event that is ingrained within wildlife crime policing. The NWCU collates and disseminates the information that identifies the hotspot areas where the crimes are likely to be committed and we work with Police Officers and partners to ensure these areas of interest are given the attention they deserve, to protect the future of our wild birds. We have a number of skilled and dedicated Police Wildlife Crime Officers across the UK who have adopted this operation and will work with us to reduce criminality, and for this, I thank them greatly”.

If you have any information on egg thieves, or those who disturb rare nesting birds without a license, you should contact your local police by dialling 101 – ask to speak to a wildlife crime officer if possible. Nesting will be in full swing in April so please contact the police if you see anyone acting suspiciously around nesting birds.

Information can also be passed in confidence to Crimestoppers via 0800 555 111

ENDS

Dorset Police Chief Constable and the Police & Crime Commissioner on a futile damage limitation exercise

Right, moving away from this morning’s news about the illegally poisoned white-tailed eagle in Sussex, we’re back on the poisoned white-tailed eagle found dead in Dorset (it’s hard to keep up, I know).

This afternoon, Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) David Sidwick, and Dorset Police Chief Constable Scott Chilton, have both published statements in response to all the media attention brought to their doors by the failure of Dorset Police to fully investigate the circumstances of the poisoned eagle found dead on a shooting estate after it had ingested 7 x the lethal dose of a toxic rodenticide.

Here is what has appeared on the PCC’s website:

I’m sorry to say that I don’t see anything here other than a damage limitation exercise and an attempt to close down the public and media scrutiny to which both the police and the PCC’s office have been subjected (and rightly so, in my opinion).

It’s meaningless to talk about how ‘Dorset police continues to take any and all potential wildlife offences seriously and will act to prevent and detect offences wherever possible‘ when the investigation into the poisoned eagle was ended so abruptly and prematurely.

Why was the multi-agency search of the estate, planned for by Dorset Police’s award-winning wildlife crime officer, Claire Dinsdale, called off at the last minute? There still hasn’t been an explanation for that and neither of these two statements comes close to addressing it.

And why was that award-winning wildlife crime officer, Claire Dinsdale, removed from her post as wildlife crime lead?

And why was the word ‘wildlife’ removed from the title of the Rural Crime team if the team is still tackling wildlife crime?

There’s still more to come out in the public domain about this poisoned eagle case. Legal restrictions prevent me from publishing it right now but I’m hopeful that within a few weeks I’ll be able to do so once the wheels of justice have turned a bit further. And once this information is out, the public will be even more angry than they already are about the premature closing of the investigation. And I reckon Dorset Police know that. The PCC might not be aware of it but rest assured, he soon will be.

Meanwhile, this morning I finally received a response to my Freedom of Information request from the Dorset PCC’s office. I’ll be blogging about that very soon.

White-tailed eagle poisoned with banned pesticide on a game-shooting estate in West Sussex

In February this year, I blogged about the suspicious deaths of two white-tailed eagles on two separate game-shooting estates – one in Dorset and the other one rumoured to be in West Sussex (see here).

Both eagles were from the Isle of Wight Reintroduction Project – a Government-backed five-year project bringing young sea eagles from Scotland and releasing them on the Isle of Wight to re-establish this species in part of its former range.

[A juvenile white-tailed eagle. Photographer unknown]

The dead eagle found on a shooting estate in Dorset in January has barely been out of the news since then, not least because even though a post mortem found its liver contained 7 x the lethal dose of the rodenticide Brodifacoum, Dorset Police decided to shut down the investigation prematurely for reasons which are still to be established (see here).

The eagle rumoured to have been found dead on a shooting estate in West Sussex last October (2021) has received less media attention because, inexplicably, Sussex Police have failed to make a public statement about it.

Today, I can report that this white-tailed eagle was poisoned with the banned pesticide Bendiocarb, according to a recently published laboratory report. It reads:

A dog died and a sea eagle and buzzard were found dead. Analysis has confirmed bendiocarb in the stomach contents of the sea eagle which is an abuse of the product. Negative analysis for the buzzard‘.

Until recently, a product containing 80% Bendiocarb was available for registered use in England (it’s been banned in Scotland since 2005 and it’s so toxic that even possession of this pesticide is considered a serious offence there). However, approval for this particular product was withdrawn in England in December 2020. Another product containing a much lower concentration of Bendiocarb (1.25%) was re-approved for use in England in 2019 but with a significant caveat – it was for indoor use only.

So unless this sea eagle broke into secure premises, opened a few sachets with its nail scissors and scoffed the contents, it seems pretty likely that a serious wildlife crime has taken place, probably including the use of poisoned bait(s) laced with Bendiocarb.

The report mentions that the buzzard tested negative for Bendiocarb poisoning but it’s interesting that no results are provided for the dog. I wonder why that is?

The immediate questions, of course, are why Sussex Police have failed, after six months, to make a statement about such a high profile criminal investigation (I assume there is an investigation, but given what’s been going on in Dorset, then who knows?) and why Sussex Police have failed to warn the public that a dangerously toxic poison is in use in a particular area where the public may have access? (The banned product containing 80% Bendiocarb can have fatal consequences for humans [adults and children] if the product is swallowed or inhaled. You can expect the same result for a pet dog).

If you’re a West Sussex resident, may I suggest you contact your MP and ask what the hell is going on? Why are you being exposed to such risk without any public warning being issued? The police are supposed to be there to protect the public, not the poisoners.

If you’re a responsible game-shooter thinking about booking to attend a pheasant or partridge shoot in West Sussex this coming season, I hope you’ll carry out due diligence and boycott any estate involved.

UPDATE 16.50hrs: The Independent has picked up on this blog and published an article (here)

UPDATE 25th May 2022: Wildlife Crime Working Group seeks (& receives) assurance from Sussex Police re: poisoned eagle investigation (here)

The office of the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner: incompetent or something more sinister?

On 4th March I submitted a Freedom of Information request to the office of the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC), Conservative David Sidwick, in relation to Dorset Police’s investigation into the poisoning of a white-tailed eagle that had been found dead on a shooting estate in January 2022 (see here).

I asked for copies of all correspondence relating to this matter between the PCC and (a) Dorset Police and (b) Chris Loder MP. You’ll recall that Mr Loder was the Conservative MP who took to Twitter to attack Dorset Police’s Rural, Wildlife & Heritage Crime team’s investigation into the poisoned eagle (see here and here).

By law (the Freedom of Information Act), the PCC’s office had to respond within 20 working days (by 1st April 2022) to either (a) provide the information I’d requested, (b) ask for an extension of a further 20 working days to send their response, or (c) refuse my request (and explain the legal grounds for that refusal).

I asked for this information because David Sidwick had previously described Chris Loder MP as his ‘good chum’ in February 2020:

The FoI response from the PCC’s office did not arrive by 1st April. I gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed it would arrive shortly afterwards.

On 7th April 2022 I wrote to the PCC’s office again, to remind them their FoI response was overdue. I just received an automated response.

On 11th April 2022 I wrote again, and again I received another automated response.

On 13th April 2022 I did receive an actual response from someone in the PPC’s office, apologising for the delay and saying:

The response is just being pulled together and we will come back to you asap“.

That was two weeks ago and I haven’t heard anything more. It must be a massive file. Or something.

It’s been 53 days (35 working days) since I submitted my original FoI request. I know that there has definitely been communication between the PCC David Sidwick and Chris Loder MP about this issue because Mr Sidwick tweeted about it in February:

In this tweet, David Sidwick is clearly supportive of Dorset Police’s investigation into the poisoned eagle, despite his ‘good chum’ Chris Loder MP going ballistic on Twitter about ‘wasting police resources’.

A few weeks later, the police investigation was prematurely shut down, the Force’s award-winning wildlife crime officer was off on extended sick leave and is reported to have been told if/when she returns she’ll no longer be the wildlife crime lead, and the Force dropped the word ‘wildlife’ from the title of its Rural Crime team with a counter-intuitive explanation that simply doesn’t add up (i.e. “to reflect the broader work we are undertaking“). Surely if you’re increasing the scope of your work you add words to the title, not remove them?

So what went on in those few weeks between a live investigation supported by the PCC, to a complete shut-down of the case?

And why is the office of the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner, David Sidwick, unlawfully delaying providing me with a response to my FoI request?

It could be incompetence. But it’s looking increasingly like something else, especially when Dorset Police refused my FoI request with the most ludicrous fob-off (here).

Today I emailed the PCC’s office, again, and asked them to respond to my FoI without further delay.

Goshawk nest camera streaming live from RSPB’s Abernethy Forest

Press release from RSPB Scotland:

Live camera at RSPB Scotland’s Loch Garten Nature Centre provides viewers with 24/7 goshawk footage

Visitors to RSPB Scotland’s Loch Garten Nature Centre have been enjoying live footage of an active goshawk nest within their Abernethy nature reserve.

A camera has been installed in a tree adjacent to the nest and the feed is also being streamed online to the RSPB’s YouTube channel. Infrared technology in the camera means that viewers from around the world can see what the birds are doing day and night.

[The adult female goshawk on the nest. Video grab by RSPB Scotland]

Jess Tomes, Abernethy Site Manager for People at RSPB Scotland, said, “Visitors to the Nature Centre are thoroughly enjoying such an intimate look at the goshawks. We’re also thrilled that we can share this amazing footage with people from all over the world through our YouTube channel. It’s been fascinating watching the pair setting up their rather bulky nest and noting the differences between them – while we’ve yet to see both birds together we’ve been telling them apart by their different coloured eyes.”

Goshawks have a wingspan of approximately 1.5m and larger females can weigh up to 2kg. Despite their bulk, they are known for being graceful fliers, even in dense woodland, where they weave between trees at high speed and capture prey in flight. Because of this, they are often referred to as ‘phantoms of the forest’. They were driven to extinction in the UK in the late nineteenth century before escaped falconry birds re-established a population from the 1960s onwards.

The goshawk camera has been set up in addition to Loch Garten’s long-established osprey camera and another which was recently installed near a white-tailed eagle nest in the Cairngorms Connect partnership landscape. Visitors to the Nature Centre can now view live footage of three of Scotland’s most iconic birds of prey in one place.

Fraser Cormack, Warden for RSPB Scotland’s Abernethy nature reserve said, “Goshawks are exactly the type of bird we’d expect to see in a healthy pine forest, so we’re delighted to have them at Abernethy. While the camera doesn’t allow us to see the nest cup, the behaviour of the female indicates that she may indeed be on eggs, so it would be wonderful if we could welcome some chicks in the coming weeks. We’ve a longstanding tradition of being a home for ospreys at Loch Garten, so hopefully the goshawks will see the same level of success.”

Goshawks often lay three or four eggs which take approximately 5-6 weeks to hatch. Young birds remain in the nest for a further 6-7 weeks beyond this, relying on their parents for food.

The camera was installed by Wildlife Windows with technical support from External Reality. Funding was provided by the European Regional Development Fund through NatureScot.

ENDS

The goshawk nest camera can be watched live here:

First Osprey breeding attempt in southern Britain for nearly 200 years

Press release from the charity Birds of Poole Harbour:

First Osprey breeding attempt in southern Britain for nearly 200 years

A pair of Ospreys has laid an egg at a secret nest site in the Poole Harbour area, making it the first nesting attempt in southern Britain in nearly 200 years. The striking bird of prey was once widespread across Western Europe, but was routinely persecuted until it became extinct in the early 1800s. The nesting attempt is the result of an Osprey reintroduction project which began in 2017, carried out by the charities Birds of Poole Harbour and Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation in an effort to restore a population across its historical range.

The pair, known as CJ7 and 022, first met last spring having made their migration back to Poole Harbour from their wintering grounds in West Africa. The female, CJ7, first visited Poole Harbour in 2017 during the first year of the reintroduction project, but has shown interest in nesting here every year since, visiting purpose-built nesting platforms installed to attract Ospreys to breed. The male, 022, was released as part of the reintroduction programme during 2019, before making his first migration and spending two years maturing in his wintering grounds. He then returned for the first time on the 18th May 2021 which is when he first met CJ7, although he was too young to breed at the time. The couple spent the summer of 2021 pair bonding and establishing nesting territories, indicating that they were keen on breeding here in the future. Both left Poole Harbour in early September 2021 and those involved in the project kept everything crossed for their safe return this spring.

Paul Morton from the Birds of Poole Harbour charity explained:

“When 022 and CJ7 left on migration last autumn, we then had an anxious time waiting 7 months to see if they had survived the journey. Flying from Britain to West Africa and back again is incredibly dangerous, with the birds facing many challenges along the way including the Sahara Desert, adverse weather conditions and illegal hunting. Luckily they both returned safely earlier this month, with CJ7 arriving on April 5th and 022 a few days later on April 10th. Having spent the whole of last summer together their instincts to breed this summer kicked in straight away and the pair settled on a nest, which is exactly what we were hoping to see.”

[Video grab of 022 (left) and CJ7 (right) meeting on April 10th having arrived back from West Africa]. 

The diet of Ospreys consists solely of fish, which is one of the reasons Poole Harbour was selected for the reintroduction project. Ospreys that breed in Scotland and Northern England pass through the harbour on migration each spring and autumn, feeding on species like Grey Mullet and Flounder, before continuing on their journey. With the harbour’s large shallow channels and bays, Ospreys find hunting in here incredibly easy. 022 can now regularly be seen hunting in the harbour. Should the breeding attempt be successful, he will be responsible for providing fish for the whole family throughout the rest of the season. 

It’s hoped that CJ7 could lay two more eggs over the next week, which will then see a 35-40 day incubation period begin. If all goes to plan, the team hopes for a hatching date of around late May. Paul Morton concluded:

“To know there’s now an Osprey egg in a Poole Harbour nest is just amazing. This is the culmination of seven years hard work. Projects like this are always going to take time, but it’s such a great feeling to know that the birds have reached this important milestone, and to see CJ7 incubating her first egg is stunning. There’s still a lot for them both to learn as new parents, and breeding success is certainly not guaranteed. However, everything we’re seeing at the moment is looking really positive, and hopefully by late May we’ll begin to see them feeding their newly hatched fledglings.”

Anticipating this historic moment, Birds of Poole Harbour installed a livestream camera on a favoured nest platform over the winter to be able to capture these moments. The charity didn’t, however, anticipate that the camera view would be slightly altered, thanks to several mating attempts from the Ospreys over the last two weeks on top of the camera. The livestream camera can be watched on the Birds of Poole Harbour website and YouTube channel, which means that the public can now tune in and watch the story unfold from their own homes.

ENDS

You can watch the nest webcam live here:

Police lead another multi-agency raid after more suspected raptor persecution in Suffolk

Suffolk Police’s Wildlife & Rural Crime Team posted this photograph on Twitter yesterday and said:

With support of RSPB Investigations, National Wildlife Crime Unit, Natural England & colleagues, we carried out some searches today. Raptor persecution is something taken seriously in Suffolk and we’ll continue to target this evil criminality. Help us stamp this out for good. #233 1639 1238‘.

That’s a pretty unequivocal statement from the police, isn’t it? And in stark contrast to Dorset Police who don’t appear to be taking raptor persecution seriously at all, having demoted their award-winning wildlife crime officer and closed the investigation into a poisoned white-tailed eagle.

This multi-agency raid in Suffolk is the latest in a surge of multi-agency investigations in response to raptor persecution crimes over the last 15 months, including another raid in Suffolk on 18th January 2021 (here), a raid in January 2021 in Nottinghamshire (here), on 15th March 2021 a raid in Lincolnshire (see here), on 18th March 2021 a raid in Dorset (here), on 26th March 2021 a raid in Devon (see here), on 21st April 2021 a raid in Teesdale (here), on 2nd August 2021 a raid in Shropshire (here), on 12th August 2021 a raid in Herefordshire (here), on 14th September 2021 a raid in Norfolk (here), a raid in Wales in October 2021 (here) a raid in Humberside on 10th December (here) and a raid in North Wales on 8th February 2022 (here).

So far only two investigations have concluded: the Nottinghamshire case where gamekeeper John Orrey was sentenced in January 2022 for battering to death two buzzards he’d caught inside a trap (here), and the Suffolk case (from January 2021) when gamekeeper Shane Leech was convicted of firearms and pesticides offences in November 2021 after the discovery of a poisoned buzzard found close to pheasant-rearing pens in Lakenheath (here).

However, I was at a wildlife crime meeting this week when it was announced that at least 12 raptor persecution cases are pending court, some of them dating back to 2019. That’s indicative of the hard work of these investigators and they deserve full credit for their efforts. It’s been a long, long time since that number of raptor persecution cases have got anywhere near a court room. Well done all.

More questions asked about Dorset Police’s mishandling of the poisoned eagle investigation

If Dorset Police think this issue is going away, they’d better have a re-think.

There’s a good article in The Guardian today, discussing the rebranding of Dorset Police’s Wildlife Crime Team, which now excludes the word ‘wildlife’, and the news that the team’s former, award-winning investigator, Claire Dinsdale, has apparently been told that she will no longer be a wildlife crime team lead when/if she returns from long-term sick leave.

You can read the Guardian article here.

%d bloggers like this: