Grouse shooting season ‘irresponsible’ amid bird flu epidemic

Widespread concerns about gamebird-shooting during the current avian flu epidemic are repeated today in an article in the Press & Journal.

I argue that it’s irresponsible and selfish for grouse-shoots to take place when the full impact of this highly pathogenic virus on our wild bird populations is currently unknown, although we do know that it has killed tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of birds already, impacting on globally significant UK populations of some wild bird species.

In response, the Scottish Government is quoted: ‘…there have been no recorded cases of avian influenza in any grouse species, and there are no restrictions in place on grouse shooting’.

Hmm. And how much monitoring and surveillance has the Scottish Government undertaken to assess the extent of bird flu in red grouse? Given the authorities’ complete disinterest in the monitoring and surveillance of highly contagious Cryptosporidiosis, known to be present in high-density grouse populations on intensively-managed Scottish grouse moors and known to be affecting other species through cross-contamination, I’d say this Government response is poor. Especially when we know that many grouse moors are now infested with non-native pheasants and red-legged partridges which have been released for shooting (e.g. see here).

But don’t worry. Kenneth Stephen of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association told the P&J that the industry would “fully comply” with any restrictions imposed, “and it would be illegal not to”.

That’s reassuring, because gamekeepers are renowned for complying with the law, aren’t they?

Calls to ban gamebird release to avoid ‘catastrophic’ avian flu outbreak

An article in today’s Guardian focuses on the RSPB’s call for an immediate moratorium on the release of birds for shooting, such as pheasants, partridges and ducks, due to the risk of them spreading highly pathogenic avian flu to wild bird populations.

It seems a perfectly reasonable request to DEFRA to me, although there’s a quote in the article from Glynn Evans of BASC who accuses the RSPB of ‘political grandstanding’ and of ‘ignorance about the virus’s behaviour’ and instead wants to talk about ‘the substantial role shooting plays in the countryside’. I’m not sure what that’s got to do with the issue at hand – sounds like he’s doing a bit of political grandstanding himself.

There’s also a quote from Mark Avery of Wild Justice: “Given how little is understood about the spread of avian flu it makes no sense to release tens of millions of captive-bred birds into the countryside for shooting. They constitute an unnecessary threat to wild birds and domestic poultry“.

The full impact of this highly pathogenic virus on our wild bird populations is currently unknown, although we do know that it has killed tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of birds already, impacting on globally significant UK populations of some species, including Gannets and Great Skuas. There are also concerns about the impact the virus is having on a number of raptor species, notably the White-tailed eagle in Scotland. I’d argue that it would be wholly irresponsible, and selfish, for gamebird shoots to take place during such an epidemic.

I can’t imagine for a second that DEFRA will take this precautionary approach to avoid the potential spread of a devastating virus. We’ve been here before, remember? As DEFRA exempted gamebird shoots from Covid-related lockdown restrictions in 2020, despite the very obvious risk of spreading the virus amongst humans in the middle of a global pandemic, they sure as hell aren’t going to bother about a virus spreading from gamebirds to wild birds.

You can read the article in The Guardian here.

Millden Estate – plausible deniability or wilful blindness to gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies’ crimes?

Further to the conviction and jailing of Millden Estate gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies earlier this month for his crimes involving animal cruelty and firearms offences (see here), there’s been quite a lot of commentary about the role of the estate.

In the media coverage I’ve read on this case, an unidentified spokesman for Millden Estate has commented as follows:

The estate does not condone or tolerate any illegal activity relating to the welfare of animals or wildlife.

We were shocked to learn of all the allegations when they came to light.

The employee involved was suspended by the estate with immediate effect and resigned a few days later when the police investigation was still at an early stage. At no stage was the estate itself the focus of the investigation. These offences did not take place on the estate but happened at locations some distance away and unconnected to the estate“.

I want to examine the plausibility of the estate’s denial.

First of all, of course the estate is going to state that it ‘doesn’t condone or tolerate any illegal activity relating to the welfare of animals or wildlife‘. It’s hardly going to say, ‘Oh yes, officer, we encourage all our employees to break the law and inflict sadistic cruelty on wildlife‘, is it?! And I would imagine, given the potential for a vicarious liability prosecution for raptor persecution these days, an estate of this size and prominence will have all its paperwork in order (e.g. statements in its employees’ contracts, evidence of on-going training etc) that it could produce to defend itself if an employee was caught committing wildlife crime.

This sort of paper trail is now commonplace on Scotland’s large shooting estates and has been encouraged by various shooting organisations who have provided advice (e.g. BASC here, Scottish Land & Estates here) and in some cases training (e.g. GWCT here). Ironically the document produced by SLE on vicarious liability acknowledges the help of someone believed to be linked to the sporting management of Millden Estate!

Whilst arse-covering paper audits might convince the authorities, what actual effect does it have on the activities of an estate’s employees?

Very little, judging by the criminality undertaken by gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies, working on a estate that has a ‘horrendous catalogue‘ of wildlife crimes according to Alan Stewart, a former Police Wildlife Crime Officer who’s patch included the Angus Glens.

But the spokesperson from Millden Estate said: “We were shocked to learn of all the allegations when they came to light”.

How plausible is that? How plausible is it that Rhys Owen Davies’ injured and scarred dogs, kennelled next to his cottage on the estate, weren’t seen by any of the estate’s other employees, including the multiple gamekeepers he worked alongside, for the 18 month period when he was using the dogs to inflict sadistic cruelty on foxes and badgers?

In my opinion, that’s pretty implausible. Have a look at this photograph of two of Davies’ mutilated dogs. It was published in the Daily Record and appears to show the dogs tethered to a vehicle that it would be reasonable to assume is a work vehicle:

In court, Davies’ defence barrister told the Sheriff that the dogs’ injuries were as a result of lawful ratting and foxing, which are part of a gamekeeper’s regular duties. It seems implausible to me that his work colleagues didn’t notice these injuries or that the extent of the injuries didn’t raise any suspicion as to their cause. They’d also know, I’d argue, that Davies wasn’t seeking professional veterinary advice on the treatment of those injuries.

Gamekeeping duties often involve the use of the keepers’ own dogs (e.g. see photo below) and the multiple gamekeepers employed on Millden Estate would have had ample opportunity to see Davies’ dogs at work and to ask him about what the Crown Office described as ‘obvious injuries’. Any concerns could have been raised with the Head Gamekeeper and /or the sporting agent / estate Factor.

The estate’s statement also included the line:

At no stage was the estate itself the focus of the investigation. These offences did not take place on the estate but happened at locations some distance away and unconnected to the estate“.

The estate WAS the focus of the investigation as the search warrant included a provision to search various sites on Millden Estate looking for evidence of badger sett disturbance. And Davies’ tied cottage and associated outbuildings on the estate were also searched, under warrant, where a number of serious firearms offences were uncovered, specifically, an unsecured Benelli shotgun was found propped up against a wall near the front door; two unsecured rifles were also found: a Tikka .243 rifle on the sofa and a CZ rifle in the hall cupboard next to the open gun cabinet;  and an assortment of unsecured ammunition was found including 23 bullets in a pot on the floor, five in a carrier bag behind the front door and one on top of a bed, according to a statement by the Crown Office.

As Davies was employed as an under-keeper, I’d argue that Millden Estate should bear significant responsibility for these serious breaches on the estate of shotgun & firearms legislation. Where was the supervision from Davies’ immediate supervisor, the Head Keeper? Davies’ estate cottage was unlocked and unattended when the SSPCA and Police Scotland arrived to execute the search warrant. Imagine who else could have walked in, found those firearms, shotgun and ammunition. If, as we’re led to believe by the shooting industry’s propaganda machine, that most if not all illegal behaviour on sporting estates is perpetrated by ‘unknown criminals’ totally unconnected to the estate, you’d think that the security of firearms, shotguns and ammunition would be of uppermost importance, wouldn’t you?

You can draw your own conclusions, of course, but it’s my opinion that Millden Estate’s efforts to distance itself from having any knowledge of Davies’ crimes are predictable but implausible. Especially after I’ve recently learned that there was another investigation into alleged badger baiting on this estate about 13 years ago; an investigation that didn’t go anywhere because apparently the procurator fiscal at that time refused to advance the case.

As for the bags of dead raptors found during the search in October 2019 at three different locations on the estate, and reportedly containing at least three shot buzzards, we now know that the Crown Office is not pursuing a prosecution (although the detailed rationale for this decision has not been divulged, see here) which means that Millden Estate will avoid a prosecution for alleged vicarious liability. I wait with interest to see whether NatureScot imposes a General Licence restriction in relation to the discovery of these dead raptors.

Fergus Ewing MSP & his shooting industry pals disregard sanctions imposed on Moy Estate for wildlife crime

Look at the state of this.

A tweet by Fergus Ewing MSP, former Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, posted yesterday at the Scottish Gamekeeper Association’s stand at the Moy Game Fair. I wonder who he’s referring to when he says ‘We’? Is he speaking on behalf of the Scottish Government?

The Moy Game Fair is hosted by the Moy Estate. That’ll be the disgraced Moy Estate that had a three-year General Licence restriction imposed on it in June this year (see here) after Police Scotland provided evidence to demonstrate wildlife crime had taken place on the estate, notably the discovery of a poisoned red kite and incidents related to alleged trapping offences, although the estate has long been recognised as a raptor persecution hotspot (e.g. see here, scroll down to below the press release).

An estate gamekeeper has recently been charged with the alleged shooting of a sparrowhawk and is due in court in September.

Here is a map we created way back in 2016 to highlight the extent of raptor persecution crimes in Fergus Ewing’s constituency and this shows the concentration of incidents on and close to Moy Estate. There have been further incidents since this map was created, hence the General Licence restriction imposed this year:

Also ignoring the sanction for wildlife crime on Moy Estate is Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the lobby group for game-shooting estates across Scotland, as demonstrated by this tweet yesterday from SLE’s North of Scotland Regional Coordinator, Fiona Van Aardt:

So here’s a senior politician from the SNP Government, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and Scottish Land & Estates, all effectively sticking up two fingers to the Government’s policy of sanctioning estates for raptor persecution.

When the policy of imposing General Licence restrictions as a tool for tackling rampant bird of prey persecution was first introduced in 2014, the then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse described the restrictions as being a ‘reputational driver‘. In other words, a sanctioned estate would not enjoy the benefits of being part of the shooting industry because the industry, with its claimed ‘zero tolerance’ approach to raptor persecution, would not wish to be associated with wildlife crime and this (hoped for) ostracization would stimulate a clamp-down on raptor-killing estates.

So much for that idea. It appears that the shooting industry, along with its political supporters, couldn’t give a monkeys. There’s been previous evidence of this on other so-called sanctioned estates (e.g. see here for examples).

Technically speaking, Mr Ewing and his shooting industry pals could argue that Moy Estate is not currently serving a General Licence restriction. How come? Well, because under the rules, if an estate appeals the GL restriction decision, the restriction is temporarily lifted whilst NatureScot considers the estate’s appeal. This is completely bonkers, of course, because a sanctioned estate has already had a chance to appeal the decision, when NatureScot first issues the notification for a restriction. But they’re then given another opportunity to appeal once the restriction has been imposed, and during that appeal process (typically four weeks) NatureScot removes the restriction so the estate can carry on as if the restriction never existed. I’m pretty sure that that’s what’s going on at Moy because the GL restriction decision notice for Moy Estate has been removed from the section of NatureScot’s website where currently-restricted estates are listed (here).

Although if Mr Ewing, the SGA and SLE were to rely upon this technicality, I don’t think that many people would view it as the shooting industry working in the spirit of wishing to stamp out raptor persecution, do you?

RSPB wants ‘action & delivery’ from Scottish Government on grouse moor licensing scheme

RSPB Scotland has published a blog today calling for ‘action and delivery’ from the Scottish Government on its promised grouse moor licensing scheme.

The Government announced in November 2020 that grouse shooting businesses in Scotland will need to be licensed to operate, under new proposals to tackle raptor persecution.

It also announced that muirburn will also only be permitted under licence, in order to protect wildlife and habitats, regardless of the time of year it is undertaken and whether or not it is for grouse moor management or improving grazing.

The Government stated there will also be a statutory ban on burning on peatland, except under licence for strictly limited purposes, such as approved habitat restoration projects.

Since that announcement in November 2020, there hasn’t been any further action, but there has been plenty more evidence of illegal raptor persecution, including the poisoning of this golden eagle on a grouse moor at Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park:

RSPB Scotland writes:

We have been very patient, but nearly 20 months on from this announcement, we want to see some action and delivery on these promises by the Scottish Government. Proposals must be brought forward in the forthcoming Programme for Government in autumn 2022 for the introduction of grouse moor and muirburn licensing legislation in the next Parliamentary year“. 

You can read the full RSPB blog here.

Langholm community buy-out successfully doubles size of Tarras Valley Nature Reserve

Joint press release from the Langholm Initiative and Buccleuch (5th August 2022)

Community makes history as South Scotland’s biggest land buy-out gets over the line to double size of nature reserve

The South of Scotland’s largest community buyout is set to double in size having defied the odds and “achieved the impossible” for a second time in two years, following one of the most ambitious community fundraising campaigns ever seen. 

[Tarras Valley Nature Reserve being transformed from a knackered, privately-owned grouse moor. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

A historic agreement for 5,300 acres of land and three properties between The Langholm Initiative charity and Buccleuch will now go ahead, after the Dumfriesshire town of Langholm successfully reached its goal of £2.2m by the 31 July deadline. 

This will double the size of the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve, created last year after the buyout’s first stage raised £3.8m to purchase an initial 5,200 acres and six residential properties from Buccleuch. The reserve aims to help tackle the nature and climate crises, while boosting community regeneration.

Success for the buyout’s second stage was only confirmed as the deadline was reached. In the closing days, thousands of pounds continued to pour into the public crowdfunder. There were significant donations of £300,000 from Alex Gerko, Founder of algorithmic trading firm XTX Markets, £100,000 from Anne Reece of the Reece Foundation, and £50,000 from John Muir Trust. 

Jenny Barlow, Tarras Valley Nature Reserve’s Estate Manager, said: “We are so grateful to every single person who has backed this beacon of hope for people and planet – together we have achieved the impossible. It’s been a rollercoaster, but the generosity and unwavering support of so many wonderful donors and volunteers have got us over the line in the nick of time.

This is about a grassroots fightback against the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis, and helping to create a better future. We are doing something so special here, and our expanding reserve is an amazing opportunity for people to visit this part of the world and be inspired by the wonders of nature.

Benny Higgins, Executive Chairman of Buccleuch, said: “We are absolutely delighted for The Langholm Initiative and have been pleased to work with them and support their project every step of the way. This successful outcome is testament to what can be achieved by people working together constructively. 

When Buccleuch launched its community consultation on the proposed sale of 25,000 acres of land on Langholm Moor, we couldn’t know what the community’s aspirations would be. To see The Langholm Initiative grow the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve from the initial 5,200 acres to almost double that is fantastic, and we look forward to seeing the evolution of the project over the coming years.

On the reserve, globally important peatlands and ancient woods are to be restored, native woodlands expanded, and a haven ensured for wildlife including rare hen harriers. Community regeneration through a nature-based approach is a central aim, with six new jobs already created. Langholm was once a thriving textile centre, but the industry has declined in recent years.

[Thirteen hen harrier chicks fledged successfully on the moor this year. Two have been fitted with satellite tags by the RSPB thanks to a crowdfunding effort by the charity Hen Harrier Action]

In June, the Scottish Land Fund awarded The Langholm Initiative £1 million towards the buyout, while an anonymous private donor made a donation of £500,000 at the appeal’s launch last October.

Nearly 3,000 people have donated to the crowdfunder since it launched nine months ago, taking it past its £200,000 stretch target to reach over £242,000. Tens of thousands of pounds poured in during the final weeks alone.

Margaret Pool, Trustee of The Langholm Initiative, said: “The generosity of so many people locally, nationally and worldwide has been amazing. Our heartfelt thanks go to every donor, supporter and volunteer who helped us overcome what so often felt like impossible odds. We are also very grateful to Buccleuch for their ongoing positive engagement, which was absolutely crucial.

Every single pound donated to the crowdfunder counted. Each donation kept this impossible dream alive, while major donors could see from the outpouring of support that this was an inspiring, serious project of hope.

This is a historic result for our community now and for future generations. We also hope our story will inspire other community-led nature recovery projects across Scotland and beyond. We know that communities can be powerful forces for positive change.

Buccleuch has supported the community bid, agreeing with The Langholm Initiative a fixed purchase price in 2019 and extending purchase deadlines to give more time for fundraising. The purchase will be legally finalised between the community and Buccleuch over the coming months.

Leading charities that have backed the buyout include Borders Forest Trust, John Muir Trust, Rewilding Britain, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Trees for Life, and the Woodland Trust.

The Langholm Initiative was formed in 1994 as one of south Scotland’s first development trusts. It facilitates projects making a lasting difference to the local area and people. See langholminitiative.org.uk.

ENDS

This is brilliant news! Huge congratulations to the community buy-out team for an impressive fundraising-drive to support their vision for this land.

I have to say it’s more than galling to see Buccleuch trying to take some credit in all of this given the feudal history of this land (e.g. see here and here).

Nevertheless, I’m delighted that so many people have shared and supported this effort by the local community and that the buy-out has been completed (all bar the final paperwork).

Good riddance to Langholm Moor, a privately-owned grouse moor managed for the benefit of the privileged few and hello to the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve, publicly-owned and managed for the benefit of all people and wildlife.

Expert witness for the prosecution of gamekeeper Rhys Davies brands Millden Estate a “wildlife sink”

An expert witness whose evidence was used in the successful prosecution of gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies has branded Millden Estate a “wildlife sink“, according to an article in The Daily Record.

Mammal ecologist Andy Riches provided an expert report for the Scottish SPCA based on a number of surveys and visits to Millden Estate.

His report summary reads as follows:

The ecology of this area of land has been driven out of balance by its management. The direct effects of this have been outlined above but there is an indirect effect as well. By reducing the numbers of ‘prey’ species the management greatly increases the risk to the game birds from ‘predatory’ species. In the absence of adequate natural prey game birds are the principal available source of food. Because much of the neighbouring land (including the Cairngorms National Park) is wildlife rich this estate acts as a ‘wildlife sink’. Population pressure and natural inquisitiveness encourages wildlife to try to explore this area. Those that make it in will rarely leave alive. Land mammals are mostly either successfully excluded by fencing or killed by trapping or shooting. Birds are the only group that can regularly successfully cross the fencing. They find an area with extremely limited prey apart from the game birds.
I can best describe this estate as a zoo with three compounds. Each one is excellently managed for the species it was intended to contain but to the total exclusion of everything else‘.

This summary will come as no surprise to anyone who has read the report I co-authored with Andy Wightman for the REVIVE coalition in 2018 about the increased intensity of grouse moor management in Scotland, a report in which Millden Estate featured. This increase in management intensity has occurred in the last decade or so because the so-called ‘success’ of a grouse moor (and its economic value) is measured by the number of red grouse shot each season (known as the ‘bag size’).

This photograph was posted on social media in October 2017 and was labelled ‘Team Millden’. It shows Millden Estate gamekeepers, including someone bearing a strong resemblance to Rhys Owen Davies, posing with a lot of dead red grouse that presumably had been shot on the estate.

But as regular blog readers will know, in order to produce artificially-high densities of red grouse for shooting, other species on the moor are ruthlessly and systematically killed. Much of this killing is lawful.

The intensity of moorland management at Millden Estate was further exposed in another report by REVIVE, this one commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports and published in 2020.

Hanged By the Feet Until Dead‘ was a report analysing the extent of lawful traps and snares that had been recorded during a field survey of a number of Scottish moorland estates between June 2018 and September 2019, including Millden Estate.

The findings on Millden Estate were damning.

This image shows the extent of the legal traps and snares across the estate and the table below documents the data produced from the field surveys:

There’s a good quote at the end of the ‘wildlife sink’ article in the Daily Record, provided by Robbie Marsland, Director of the League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland) and a partner in the REVIVE coalition:

The case of [Millden Estate gamekeeper] Rhys Davies is utterly appalling but if any positives can be drawn from it, it’s the scrutiny this estate and others will now be under, making the Scottish Government’s proposed licensing of grouse moors even more timely and necessary.

There’s also a quote from an unnamed spokesman for Millden Estate:

The estate does not condone or tolerate any illegal activity relating to the welfare of animals or wildlife. We were shocked to learn of all the allegations when they came to light“.

I’ll be blogging about this statement shortly.

Two others involved in animal fighting ring with Millden gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies escaped jail

Further to the news that Rhys Owen Davies, 28, a gamekeeper employed by Millden Estate in the Angus Glens, has been jailed for sadistic animal cruelty crimes (see here and here), there has been quite a lot of comment about the perceived leniency of his sentence and questions about whether his dog-fighting associates are being prosecuted.

Although an eight-month custodial sentence, plus an £1800 fine for firearms offences and a 15-year ban on keeping or owning dogs does seem quite lenient given the depravity and cruelty of his crimes, Rhys Owen Davies has actually received the most severe punishment, so far, of those involved.

Two of his associates have already been convicted and sentenced:

Antony Holloway, 28, was given a 270-hour community payback order at Dumbarton Sheriff Court in June 2021 and banned from owning dogs for just four years – despite ­prosecutors and the Scottish SPCA seeking a lifetime ban. There’s an article about his conviction here (and no, I don’t know why his identify has been hidden).

Another criminal associate, Liam Taylor, was sentenced in November 2021 for his role in this particular gang with a pathetic 12-month supervision order and 240 hours of unpaid work. He was banned from keeping dogs for ten years.

Prosecutors are apparently considering cases against others identified in the appalling photographs found on Davies’ phone.

It seems that Davies received a custodial sentence principally because he was employed as a gamekeeper and Sheriff Reekie noted this as an “aggravating factor” because Davies would have known that what he was doing was illegal. Crown prosecutor Karon Rollo had made a point of emphasising this when Davies’ barrister tried to suggest that Davies was simply ‘naïve’.

So on balance, a custodial sentence in this case is a significant result, and full credit to the Scottish SPCA and Crown Office for securing it, although for many of us eight months is simply not enough.

The good news is that tougher penalties are now in place in Scotland for animal cruelty and wildlife crime. New legislation enacted in December 2020 (the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020), increased the maximum penalty for the most serious animal welfare and wildlife crimes (including badger baiting) to five years imprisonment and unlimited fines.

Depraved Millden Estate gamekeeper jailed – SSPCA statement

Further to the news that Rhys Owen Davies, 28, a gamekeeper employed by Millden Estate in the Angus Glens, has been jailed for sadistic animal cruelty crimes (see here and here), the Scottish SPCA who led this investigation has issued the following statement:

Former gamekeeper sentenced for animal fighting

A gamekeeper who indulged in sick animal fights has been sentenced to eight months in prison and a 15-year ban on owning or keeping animals.

Rhys Davies, 28, who now resides in Wales, was convicted at Forfar Sheriff Court today. Under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, Davies was found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering to four dogs under his care and keeping or training dogs for the purposes of animal fights.

With support from Police Scotland, the Scottish SPCA executed a warrant at Turnabrae house on Millden Estate in Angus in October 2019, where Davies worked as a gamekeeper at the time.

The Scottish SPCA’s special investigations unit (SIU) had received intel that Davies’ was heavily involved in using his dogs to fight and bait wild animals. Davies sent over 50 pictures featuring severely injured dogs and individuals posing with dead animals to be printed in May 2019. A member of staff at the company flagged these to the Scottish SPCA.

The SIU visited Davies’ address in October 2019, where eleven dogs were being kept in kennels and an outbuilding. A vet in attendance confirmed some of the dogs had fresh and historic injuries and disfigurement likely caused by fighting wild animals such as badgers and foxes. A collar inside the property tested positive for badger DNA.

Patterdale terrier Lola had fresh injuries to her mouth and lower jaw. Pip, another Patterdale, had older scars across her muzzle, face and chest and a fresh wound still healing.

At the address, investigators found evidence to suggest Davies’ had attempted to treat injuries himself. This included syringes, staplers and prescription-only medication for animals. An analysis of Davies’ phone found messages where he discussed both the fights he was involved in and the attempts to treat the injuries his dogs had sustained from these.

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said: “All of the hallmarks of a person involved in animal fighting can be found in this case. This includes attempting to treat serious injuries without a vet, bragging to others about those injuries and trying to get ‘trophies’ such as photos as keepsakes of those fights.

“Our special investigations unit lead the way when it comes to taking on these organised, brutal groups involved in animal fights. This was an incredibly sophisticated investigation which made it plain as day the accused was guilty and helped to uncover a wider network of individuals involved in heinous animal fights.

“A custodial sentence sends a real message to anyone who wants to use dogs to bait and maim wildlife that they will be punished for it.

“Wildlife persecution is a scourge. No animal deserves to be subjected to any pain or suffering, let alone at the level Mr. Davies subjected his own dogs and wild animals to. Today, Mr. Davies has found that animal abuse is unacceptable and comes with major consequences.”

The Scottish SPCA investigates hundreds of reports of serious animal welfare issues such as animal fighting every year. Anyone with concerns or information on this issue can contact the charity’s free animal helpline in confidence on 03000 999 999.

ENDS

I’ll be blogging more about this case shortly…

Sparrowhawk shot and another suspected shot – Police & SSPCA investigate

Police Scotland and the Scottish SPCA have launched an investigation after the confirmed shooting of a sparrowhawk and the suspected shooting of another, found in the same area of Renfrewshire in April, one week apart.

The following article is from the Daily Record (dated 15th July 2022):

Two birds of prey ‘shot dead’ in Renfrewshire as probe launched.

Animal welfare chiefs say they suspect that two birds of prey have been shot dead in the space of a week.

The Scottish SPCA is working with Police Scotland as they look into the incidents after a firearm was confirmed as being used in one of the Sparrowhawk’s death.

One bird had to be put to sleep, while another was found dying with suspicious injuries which the SSPCA believe may be linked. A bird initially thought to have been stunned was found on Lochwinnoch Golf Course, Renfrewshire, on April 5 but its injuries were unsurvivable.

An undercover Scottish SPCA special investigations unit inspector said: “It was initially thought that the bird had been stunned but upon examination at the Scottish SPCA National Wildlife Rescue Centre in Fishcross, it was discovered that they had been shot.

This caused a catastrophic shoulder injury and sadly resulted in the bird having to be put to sleep.

Another member of the public also reported finding another sparrowhawk the week before, which was bleeding from the wing. Unfortunately, that bird died before help could be called for.

It is unknown if they had also been shot but it’s certainly very suspicious that two sparrowhawks with similar injuries were found in the same area only a week apart.

We are working closely with Police Scotland to establish the circumstances around the bird’s injuries due to the use of a firearm in the incident.

We would like to find out what happened to this sparrowhawk.

If anyone witnessed anything or has any information they feel may be relevant they can contact our confidential animal helpline on 03000 999 999 or Police Scotland on 101, quoting incident number KB01540722 of 5 April 2022.”

ENDS

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