Police Scotland confirm red kite found poisoned on grouse moor had been killed with banned pesticide

Last month I blogged about a poisoned red kite that had been found dead, laying close to a poisoned bait (a Lapwing, of all things) on Dava Moor, a grouse moor in the Scottish Highlands, just outside the boundary of the Cairngorms National Park (see here).

The poisoned red kite laying dead next to poisoned bait (a lapwing)

The poisoned red kite and the poisoned bait had been found after the kite’s satellite tag indicated the bird was dead on 21st May 2021 and Police Scotland launched an investigation. They collected the kite and the bait and sent them off to a specialist lab for toxicology analysis and they conducted a search of the grouse moor the following week. Toxicology tests confirmed the presence of poison in both the kite and the lapwing.

Sixteen months later in September 2022, Police Scotland notified the finder that ‘enquiries are complete, nobody has been charged and the case is now closed‘.

However, the police withheld the name of the poison, failed to issue an appeal for information, and failed to warn the public that dangerous poisons were in use in the area. The crime was only made public after a tip off to this blog. If I hadn’t been told about it, none of us would be any the wiser.

After writing the blog and criticising Police Scotland’s decision to keep this crime a secret, a journalist from The Strathy decided to submit a Freedom of Information request to Police Scotland to ask for more details. Last week they received a response:

The poison used to kill the red kite was Bendiocarb, a dangerously toxic substance so lethal that it has been an offence to even possess it in Scotland, let alone use it, since 2005.

The police also revealed that, “One individual was arrested, interviewed and released without charge due to insufficient evidence.

No charges were ever brought because one of the main responsibilities of Police in Scotland is to investigate crimes and criminal offences and where there is a sufficiency of evidence, report the circumstances to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

Investigation of this particular incident did not provide sufficient evidence to charge any individual.

To clarify, corroborative evidence is required to liable any charge in relation to the poisoning of birds of prey. The decision not to issue a press release was an operational one, balancing risk versus reward.

To explain, the locus was remote, the bait and bird had been removed and no longer posed a risk.

Given there was no nearby path it was deemed highly unlikely that any members of the public would have been able to provide useful or relevant witness evidence.

From the main road nearest the locus any persons on the land would not have been able to identify any suspect given the distance involved. Further consideration was given in regards to the requirement not to alert the accused to the investigation at this time to aid further investigative strategies.

Any intelligence identifying the methodology or focus of this activity could have been used to the advantage of the perpetrator to frustrate such investigations and/or seek support other individuals to do so.

As such, any press release would have been detrimental to planned further enquiry and police activity.”

That’s just not acceptable. Yes of course, withhold details during the early stages of the investigation so as not to alert the offender, but not saying anything about it for 19 months after the offence was committed? That plays straight into the hands of the grouse-shooting industry whose representatives will (and have been) quite happily writing letters to national newspapers claiming that raptor persecution on grouse moors is an ‘historical issue’ and no longer a problem.

And even more importantly, it puts members of the public, and their pets, at risk of coming into contact with deadly poisons where they’d be least expecting it. Somebody had deliberately placed a deadly poisoned bait out in the open on that moor, with the intention to kill. Police Scotland stated, “the bait and bird had been removed and no longer posed a risk” but who knows how many more baits have been placed there? Where’s the duty of care from Police Scotland, to warn the public of this danger?

Police Scotland’s silence also misses an important opportunity to raise awareness amongst the public that these crimes ARE still being committed, and to encourage them to report anything suspicious that they may stumble across whilst out on the hills, as well as eroding public confidence and trust in the police’s interest in dealing with wildlife crime.

To be clear, I’m not criticising the initial police response to the report of the poisoned kite and the poisoned bait. By all accounts it was a rapid reaction and a thorough investigation by officers on the ground. This isn’t like Dorset Police’s botched response to a confirmed poisoning – where they refused to conduct a follow-up search to look for evidence after the discovery of a poisoned white-tailed eagle (see here). That the Dava Moor poisoning didn’t lead to a prosecution is not a reflection on the investigating officers at Police Scotland – everyone knows how difficult it is to get these despicable offenders into court.

But the decision, presumably made by senior officers, to keep quiet about it for so long? That sounds like a deliberate cover up to me.

I await with interest NatureScot’s decision about whether a General Licence restriction will be imposed on this grouse moor (see here).

This case exemplifies the importance of the Government’s forthcoming Wildlife Management (Grouse) Bill, where there is a proposal to utilise the civil burden of proof (the balance of probability) to determine whether a sanction should be imposed (i.e. the estate’s grouse shooting licence removed), rather than relying upon the criminal burden of proof (beyond reasonable doubt). Police Scotland has admitted, in its FoI response, that in this case corroborative evidence was required to progress any sanction. Had a grouse-shooting licence scheme been in place, the licence would probably, and in my opinion justifiably, have been revoked.

24 thoughts on “Police Scotland confirm red kite found poisoned on grouse moor had been killed with banned pesticide”

  1. What’s that strange bubbling sound? Oh yes, it’s the sound of my bloody simmering. Once again…..
    Thank you for not allowing this cover up (as that may be what it was) to happen Ruth.

  2. ‘Given there was no nearby path it was deemed highly unlikely that any member of the public would have been able to provide useful or relevant witness evidence’.
    Are Police Scotland unaware of the open access situation in Scotland?
    Or are they confident (and unconcerned) that few members of the public dare exercise their right-to -roam on heavily-keepered grouse moors?

    1. There are all sorts of reasons public walk over moorland. Ecologists/raptor monitors, fauna and fauna surveyor’s, windfarm surveyors, dog walkers etc etc. Is it deemed acceptable to put those peoples lives at risk???????????It would seem so.

    2. A valid point and possibly with family enjoying the same privileges. These people seem able to commit the most horrendous acts of cruelty and stupidity to these beautiful birds with no shame.

  3. It’s not mentioned here that any premises were searched for said poison. Where they? How many more of these, apparent, cap doffing exercises are going to come to light in the future?

  4. Seems to me the police are trying to suggest to the uninitiated reader that their peculiar approach was all part of some deeply crafty labyrinthine “George Smiley” scheme to ensnare their culprit in the longer term. Who in their right mind is going to swallow that! And they recovered the bait and the bird, from a remote location that supposedly not many people visit – but is there an official risk matrix for levels of footfall of ramblers, eg per sq km for this decision to rest on? What do the ramblers / outdoor access groups think about not being told? I mean, you settle back in the heather to have your cheese and pickle and admire the view, put your hand down to support yourself and stick it right in the decaying corpse of toxic lapwing, kite or whatever else. It will become a routine like checking for adders before you sit down in a sunny spot – but without the charm of maybe seeing an adder.

  5. very poor…….Police Scotland clearly have major difficulties with investigating these types of crime.
    Hopefully SSPCA will given additional powers to help

    1. I don’t see how SSPCA would make any difference. The problem is the evidence requirements. It’s very difficult to get sufficient evidence to prove who carried out the offence. All having SSPCA involved would do is give more investigative resources. They are still bound by the same laws of evidence and investigations as the Police.

  6. There is so much wrong in that police statement. Do they think we are fools. I’m afraid their stance continues to erode our trust in them.
    Also how do they know how many people walk there or how many other poisoned baits there are lurking in the Heather!

  7. Well done to the journalist from The Strathy for getting this much out of the Police.

    But…. a suspect was arrested and interviewed, and then released because of ‘insufficient evidence’. However, no mention is made as to whether the property of this person was searched, or whether any properties were searched.

    Why?

    Would the Police have been so apparently blasé had illegal explosives been involved, instead of illegal, deadly poisons? Death was still the end result, after all. Does there remain (large?) quantities of this illegal poison somewhere in the locality – available to a person or persons unknown – ready to be indiscriminately employed again?

    (I don’t know what “to liable any charge” means. Typo? Dialect? Trying to sound competent?)

    “Given there was no nearby path it was deemed highly unlikely that any members of the public would have been able to provide useful or relevant witness evidence.”

    Does this Police force apply the same apparently defeatist approach to attacks upon members of the public in remote places?

    After all, it is not as if asking for potential witnesses requires a huge amount of effort and skill.

    Perhaps, the killing of a red-listed species, to be followed by the illegal spreading of deadly poisons about the countryside (with the intention of targeting scavengers and predators) is a ‘low priority’ rural crime in the minds of this force… so much so that they finally decide it is best to just keep quiet about it all?

    As an aside: when will a TV company decide to commission a series about what really happens inside certain Police forces and why?

    1. I’d be surprised if they didn’t search premises if they made an arrest. But if they didn’t find anything, not a lot they can do.

      1. Why did they not mention that they had searched premises for illegally-held poisons?

        “But if they didn’t find anything, not a lot they can do.”

        And you think that is good enough reason for not reporting the crimes?

      2. Not a lot they could do!!!
        Notify the public there’s a deadly poison
        Notify the public and all the relevant authorities that yet another grouse moor is killing birds of prey.
        Reported on “Dava Moor”,, I heard locally that it was xxxxxxxxxxx

  8. There is some interesting stuff in that. To arrest someone, they must have had some evidence, as they require reasonable grounds to suspect the commission of an offence.

    The use of the phrase “ equirement not to alert the accused to the investigation at this time to aid further investigative strategies.” – the use of the word accused is strange because the accused is usually someone who has been charged – suspect or suspected perpetrator would be the expression for someone who is being investigated.

  9. Assuming that SNH apply a licence restriction on the estate…… Normally this would run for 2-3 years.

    When the grouse moor licence scheme is launched (within2-3 years) will this moor be eligible to apply?

  10. So the message this ends out to the perpetrators is that; if you do this really well, cover your tracks, and away from where anyone might see it, Police Scotland will just pretend it never happened.

  11. The journalist who did the FOIA request fared better than I did:

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/information_on_poisoning_of_red#incoming-2203436

    It just goes to show how corrupt Police Scotland is in the events surrounding wildlife crime.

    There is a pattern of Police Scotland failing to notify the public, or issue press releases, where wildlife crime is concerned. This means that people are unaware of these incidents and won’t be able to come forward with information which might be useful to police. It appears there is a denial to admit a crime has been committed in dismissing any investigation at the outset. It is a fact that the poison used is a banned substance and a crime has been committed. We can conclude that Police Scotland fail to reveal crimes that are committed and decline to pursue matters.

    [Ed: Thanks Archie, I think you’ve misunderstood. Police Scotland hasn’t “dismissed any investigation at the outset” – an investigation did take place. The criticism is against Police Scotland’s subsequent decision not to issue a public appeal for information, not to name the banned poison, and not to warn the public that dangerous (lethal) poison had been found laying out on the hill]

  12. It occurs to me that if this poison is banned and illegal, how is it available in this country?
    It appears that the sole importer is a company called Kenagrow in Nairobi. On their site it is possible to track shipments using simple information which the police could easily obtain if they had a suspect, even without the suspect knowing. Doesn’t look like rocket science to me, just plain straightforward police work, you know, the sort of stuff they get paid for.If I had the suspects name I could try it myself. Alternatively, in collaberation with the Nairibi Police,Police Scotland could track any shipments to the UK recent years, and investigate where they appear to go to commercial shooting estates, or gamekeepers in that employ. Or if banned, anywhere else in the UK.
    Is this too simple? Help me out here…….

  13. The importation of this stuff should of course be investigated and put out of business, and prosecutions made if possible. But I am confident myself that there will already be tonnes (perhaps even literally) of this, and the other of the usual ‘flavourings’ ‘sugars’ ‘spices’ that we hear about, tucked away in farm back sheds amongst piles of other crap, and in bags inside tubs and inside other innocent looking containers under rocks and in little hiding spots all over the place. There was plenty being horded before the bans started coming, and it is well known that people stocked up massively while they still could. The keepers of any given area will all know who among them has a supply, or can be relied on to get his hands on x, y, z from a contact. The import of new stuff probably keeps the price of the old stuff from going through the roof – but if these foreign imports were stopped tomorrow, there will still plenty lurking around for the next thirty years. New laws with a walloping sentence for possession and use will have to come in I think. ‘Rabbit gas’ too – cymag / generic pellets and powder. There will be enough of that crap stashed away illegally for use doing the rounds of fox-holes to see this century out.

    1. Indeed. Look at the infamous Skibo Castle Estate case back in 2011 – the ‘sporting manager’ was caught with 10kg of the banned substance Carbofuran, kept inside a locked shed (to which only he had the key) – enough illegal poison “to wipe out the entire Scottish golden eagle and red kite populations several times over”, it was reported at the time. The cops needed wheelbarrows to remove the bags.

      Skibo Estate results

  14. I was surprised and delighted when I saw a red kite on the Dava last year as it and Darnaway are normally wildlife deserts. It was probably this one. Landowners and keepers should have the proverbial book thrown at them if any illegal poisons are found in their premises.

  15. This site should identify the estate and the ownership where these offences take place. WE need to know who is doing this and condoning it!!!

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