Something afoot at Leadhills Estate?

Rumours have been circulating for several weeks that ‘something’ is going on at Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire.

This estate, currently serving TWO General Licence restrictions after police found ‘clear evidence’ of wildlife crime (see here and here), has featured on this blog for years.

The rumours suggest that either the estate has been sold or the shooting rights have been sold, very recently. So far I haven’t seen any evidence to substantiate the claims but the rumours are persistent and are coming from multiple sources.

Leadhills Estate is hosting an ‘information day’ today at Leadhills Village Hall between 3pm-8pm, where the estate will ‘showcase ongoing plans‘. If any local blog readers happen to attend I’d be very interested to hear about it.

Goshawk monitoring in Scottish highlands features on BBC Landward

The BBC’s Landward programme last week included a six minute feature on goshawk monitoring in the Scottish highlands.

Presenter Rosie Morton accompanied Dave Pierce and Brian Etheridge, two long-standing members of the Highland Raptor Study Group, to a goshawk nest to ring three chicks.

The programme is available on the BBC iPlayer (here) for 11 months. Starts at 1.27 min and ends at 7.00 min.

Scottish Land & Estates still refusing to acknowledge extent of raptor persecution on grouse moors

In the last blog post where I wrote about the nine shot birds of prey found wrapped in bags on Millden Estate and just over the estate boundary, I included a quote from Tim Baynes of Scottish Land & Estates, who had written the following in a comment piece for The Field, published in August 2022:

Raptor persecution has been the stick with which grouse moors were beaten for two decades, but the past five years have seen a sea change. In Scotland, recorded crimes have effectively ceased on grouse moors, and raptors of all species have been increasing“.

I said I’d publish his outrageous comment piece in full, so here it is:

I really shouldn’t be surprised that The Field published this nonsense – that particular shooting industry rag has a track record of publishing patently inaccurate comment pieces (e.g. see here).

And I’m definitely not surprised that the author of this latest gibberish is Tim Baynes – his lengthy track record speaks for itself (for a small selection of the masses of examples see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).

Needless to say, his latest claim that raptor persecution on Scottish grouse moors has “effectively ceased” is demonstrably untrue. You’ve only got to read my last blog post to understand this. If that doesn’t convince you, have a look at the General Licence restrictions currently imposed on grouse moor estates after Police Scotland found ‘clear evidence of raptor persecution’ – Leadhills Estate (here), Lochan Estate (here), Leadhills Estate [again] (here), Invercauld Estate (here), and Moy Estate (here).

And if you still need convincing, have a read of the Scottish Government’s Environment Minister’s statement in 2020 when she announced that there could be no further delay to the introduction of a grouse moor licensing scheme because:

“…despite our many attempts to address this issue, every year birds of prey continue to be killed or disappear in suspicious circumstances on or around grouse moors“.

Perhaps Tim Baynes’ perpetual denial of the bleedin’ obvious explains why he is no longer employed as ‘Director of Moorland’ at Scottish Land & Estates:

Nine raptors found shot & dumped in bags outside gamekeeper’s houses on Millden Estate and at the nearby River Esk in the Angus Glens

News has emerged that a total of nine birds of prey (eight buzzards and a sparrowhawk) have been found shot dead and dumped in bags in the Angus Glens.

We already knew about three of those shot buzzards (see here and here). They were found in bags outside two gamekeeper’s residences during a joint Scottish SPCA/Police Scotland raid on Millden Estate in October 2019 as part of an investigation into the criminal activities of depraved gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies, who was convicted in May this year for vile animal abuse and received a custodial sentence in August 2022 (here).

Nobody was charged for the killing or possession of those three shot buzzards (although Police Scotland had identified a suspect, the Crown Office chose not to pursue a prosecution – see here) and the news about those three shot buzzards only emerged this year after I’d spent two and a half years asking Police Scotland for details. For unknown reasons, Police Scotland chose not to issue a public appeal for information about those three illegally-killed raptors.

I can now reveal that those three shot buzzards weren’t the only ones found dead in the Angus Glens that Police Scotland was keeping out of the news.

[An illegally shot buzzard. Not one of the ones found on Millden Estate]

Rumours have been circulating for a while that even more dead raptors had been found in connection to the raid on Millden Estate so last month I submitted another FoI to Police Scotland to request confirmation and this is the response I’ve just received:

So that’s a total of nine shot raptors, all found in bags. Note Police Scotland’s careful wording that the third bag containing six shot raptors was found at ‘a second location‘. I understand that this bag wasn’t found on Millden Estate but was discovered nearby on the bank of the River Esk, beyond the estate’s boundary.

This is a shocking story for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the number of dead raptors found shot and dumped in bags in this area of the Angus Glens, but secondly the decision of Police Scotland to keep quiet about them all for almost three years.

Whose interests are served by such silence? Not the public’s interest, that’s for sure, but the interests of the grouse-shooting industry, whose representatives are busily claiming that, “In Scotland, recorded [raptor persecution] crimes have effectively ceased on grouse moors” (Tim Baynes of Scottish Land & Estates writing in the August 2022 edition of The Field – I’ll publish his outrageous opinion piece shortly).

It’s just not good enough from Police Scotland. And this isn’t an isolated case either. More on another case shortly….

New date for anti-snare demo at Scottish Parliament

Earlier this month animal welfare charity and REVIVE coalition partner, OneKind, along with the charity Scottish Badgers, had planned to host a demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament calling for a complete ban on the manufacture, sale and use of snares. However, the event was postponed following the death of the Queen.

A new date has now been announced – Saturday 29th October 2022 – and the demonstration will now run in conjunction with another demo, led by another REVIVE coalition partner, the League Against Cruel Sports, calling for a ban on fox hunting.

Thousands of snares are deployed on game-shooting estates every year, which maim and kill animals in order to protect stocks of red grouse, pheasants and partridge for ‘sport’ shooting. It’s currently legal to snare some species (e.g. foxes), despite the inhumane method, but as snares are indiscriminate up to 80% of species caught are non-target species, according to DEFRA figures, and these species include badgers, otters, deer and pet cats and dogs. This shocking report from the REVIVE coalition for grouse moor reform provides more detail.

The timing of this demonstration couldn’t be better as the Scottish Government is currently reviewing its snaring legislation and is also considering the new Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill which has the potential to introduce an effective ban on fox hunting.

A couple of days ago, the Welsh Government published its Agriculture (Wales) Bill which intends to introduce a ban on the manufacture, sale and use of snares in that country (see here and here).

Will Scottish Ministers follow? They will if enough people make their views heard and this combined demonstration is the perfect opportunity to do just that.

For more details about the demo and to register your interest, please click here.

Entries invited for art auction – proceeds to help support peregrine nest protection in Derbyshire

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust is inviting entries for its annual art auction.

This year’s theme is Fight for Flight and the Trust is looking for contributions that celebrate UK bird species. Entries can be any type of artwork, from photography to drawing, as long as it fits on an A5 size card (i.e. postcard).

Entries close on 31st October 2022 and the auction site will be live online from 21st November – 21st December 2022.

[A contribution from last year’s auction – sorry, artist’s name not known]

In previous years the funds raised from the art auction have been used to support hen harrier protection in the region. This year, the funds raised will be used to support Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s peregrine protection scheme.

As regular blog readers will know, peregrines are at high risk of persecution in Derbyshire, particularly in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park. Peregrines have been found shot (e.g. here), poisoned (e.g. here) and eggs have been robbed from nests (e.g. here).

This year a team of 22 volunteers from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust have kept daily watch on vulnerable, high-risk peregrine breeding sites throughout the breeding season, resulting in successful fledging at many sites. The art auction funding will help DWT repeat this effort again in 2023.

Further details about how to enter/contribute your art work can be found on the DWT website here and the actual auction will be available online in November here.

Public consultation on the issue of ‘wild take’ of English raptors for falconry

Natural England has launched an eight-week public consultation as it reviews its position on the licensing of falconers permitting them to remove [unspecified] raptors from the wild for falconry/captive breeding programmes.

The call for evidence was announced last week (see here) and although the online notice is illustrated with a peregrine falcon, I’m somewhat alarmed to note from the accompanying text that this review does NOT appear to be restricted to the licensed removal of just peregrines from the wild, but could apply to any other raptor species Natural England considers to have ‘recovered’.

This is a controversial issue, of course, not least because of the history (and in some cases, ongoing) illegal persecution of some raptor species in the UK, and the ‘sport’ of falconry in this country being largely unregulated. For example, anybody can buy a captive bird of prey in the UK, without having to demonstrate any prior level of knowledge, let alone proficiency, in the bird’s care and welfare.

This is very different from falconry in the US, where falconers are required to undertake several years of supervised training and examination before they are considered appropriately qualified and are permitted to take raptors from the wild, usually for a temporary period with the bird being released back to the wild after being flown for a few seasons. Inspections of the bird’s housing is even a requirement of the licence.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some very good falconers in the UK – there are, for sure, and their expert skills are often deployed to help rehabilitate wild-injured raptors and release them back to the wild. It’s also true to say that falconry techniques have been central to the conservation of some raptor species (e.g. Mauritius kestrel, the peregrine in the US after the DDT crash, vulture species in India after the Diclofenac crash) but these arguments are not relevant to what is currently being proposed for the wild-take of peregrines and other raptors in the UK for ‘sport’, even though several UK falconers point to these arguments as apparent justification.

The last time Natural England issued licenses for the removal of young peregrines from the wild, for a purported captive-breeding programme in 2020, the news generated heated arguments both for and against the licences, as reported on Mark Avery’s blog (e.g. see here, here and here).

The situation was even more confused when it became apparent that the falconers involved were based in Scotland, that SNH had refused to issue licences for the removal of Scottish peregrines, but that Natural England had issued licenses for the removal of peregrines in England, to be then held in captivity in Scotland.

However, according to the latest news from Natural England, although licences were issued in 2020, ‘the licenses expired earlier this year with no chicks having been taken‘. NE doesn’t explain why.

For me, the justification for permanently removing raptors from the wild to satisfy a human’s ‘sporting’ need is not a convincing argument. There are plenty of captive-bred raptors available for those who wish to pursue this sport without the need to plunder wild populations that in some cases are still recovering from decades of persecution.

In the case of peregrines, this is even more of a concern when you realise that on previous licences, NE authorised the removal of chicks from nests in ‘all counties’ [in England], despite the well-documented evidence that peregrine populations in the uplands have suffered massive declines as a direct result of illegal persecution, particularly on land managed for driven grouse shooting (e.g. see here, here, here and here). Just because the species is currently ‘green-listed’ nationally, this status does not take into account the regional difficulties for this particular species.

Natural England makes a further argument that peregrines ‘need to be taken from the wild’ as opposed to considering the alternative of placing wild-disabled birds into the care of falconers because:

Wild peregrine falcons which have arrived in captivity due to injury are also not likely to be suitable as breeding from a bird from the wild is much more difficult than one reared by humans – they are simply not used to humans and are not as likely to breed successfully as a chick taken from the wild and reared by a human‘.

This is a surprising statement from Natural England, given that NE intends to do exactly this for its planned controversial release of hen harriers in southern England – using wild-disabled hen harriers from the continent for a captive breeding programme whereby the injured birds’ progeny will be released into the wild. I’d argue that NE’s position on peregrines is thoroughly hypocritical.

The public call for evidence is open to anybody and is available for 8 weeks. You can participate here.

Feasibility study for proposed reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to Cumbria

The BBC News website published an article a few days ago about the proposed reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to Cumbria. The article was based on a recent BBC radio interview with Dr Alex Dittrich from the University of Cumbria who is reportedly involved with the project.

This project is in its infancy, with an initial feasibility study completed in April this year and now the group, led by The Lifescape Project, is seeking an eye-watering £120-150k to undertake 12 month’s worth of further ‘sensitivity testing’ in addition to consultation with stakeholders and the public. This funding request does not cover the cost of an actual reintroduction, only the preliminary stages up to submitting a licence application to Natural England.

I’m not sure why the results of a previous, extensive stakeholder consultation from 2013, undertaken by the University of Cumbria to establish the views of the farming, fieldsports and conservation sectors to the proposed reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to Cumbria, isn’t being utilised here?

The most recent reintroduction project report (see below) was published in April 2022 and lists the members of a newly-formed group called ‘White-tailed Eagles Cumbria Working Group’. Those listed include the Lifescape Project, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, RSPB, the Solway Coast AONB, University of Cumbria, University of Leeds and Natural England. The report states that this group will ‘oversee the development of the proposed feasibility study and any subsequent post-release activities’. If things go to plan, the report suggests that the first release of white-tailed eagles could take place in ‘summer 2024’.

The report, which can be read below, isn’t off to a convincing start. The eagle photograph on the front cover looks like a Bald eagle from North America, not a White-tailed eagle from Eurasia.

The good news is that a local Conservative MP, Mark Jenkinson (Workington) is fully supportive of the proposal to undertake further feasibility studies and consultations. This attitude is very welcome and in marked contrast to the well-publicised anti-eagle hysteria of another Conservative MP, Chris Loder (Dorset).

The Federation of Cumbria Commoners (representing hill sheep farmers) on the other hand is already questioning the justification for restoring the sea eagle to its former range (see here) but, to me at least, the Federation’s response does seem to reveal an air of inevitability about the potential release and reintroduction of eagles to this part of the country.

Consign snares to the history books: a demo outside the Scottish Parliament

UPDATE 12th September 2022: This event has been postponed due to recent events. It will be rescheduled and a new date will be announced shortly.

REVIVE Coalition partner OneKind, the animal welfare charity, is hosting a demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament on Saturday 17th September, from 11.30am to 1pm, calling for a complete ban on the manufacture, sale and use of snares in Scotland.

Thousands of snares are deployed on game-shooting estates every year, which maim and kill animals in order to protect stocks of red grouse, pheasants and partridge for ‘sport’ shooting. It’s currently legal to snare some species (e.g. foxes), despite the inhumane method, but as snares are indiscriminate up to 80% of species caught are non-target species, according to DEFRA figures, and these species include badgers, otters, deer and pet cats and dogs. This shocking report from the REVIVE coalition for grouse moor reform provides more detail.

The demonstration on 17th September is timed to coincide with the Scottish Government’s current review of snaring legislation and OneKind’s CEO Bob Elliot has written an excellent account of why a ban is needed and how this demo could help achieve that aim (see here).

For more information about the demo and to register your attendance, please see here.

If you’re unable to attend, please consider sending a letter to Environment Minister Mairi McAllan using this e-letter template from OneKind, urging the Government to introduce a full ban on the manufacture, sale and use of snares in Scotland.

More golden eagles released in South Scotland

Press release from South Scotland Golden Eagle Project (8th September 2022):

Pioneering conservation project reveals new record number of golden eagles soaring in southern Scottish skies ahead of UK’s only golden eagle festival

As part of a series of ground-breaking translocations to reverse the decline in numbers of golden eagles in the south of Scotland, the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project has today (Thursday 8 September 2022) revealed it successfully transported six more golden eagle chicks from the Scottish Highlands to a secret location in south Scotland this summer. The new additions bring the total population of golden eagles in the south to around 39 – more than tripling the population to the highest number recorded in the area for three centuries.

[Two of this year’s golden eagle cohort being released. Photo by John Wright]

News of the translocation comes as the initiative was named a finalist for this year’s National Lottery Awards Project of the Year for its “amazing conservation work” – a public vote, closing 9 October, will decide the winner.

The Project is now preparing to celebrate the new arrivals at the UK’s only Golden Eagle Festival in Moffat. The festival, taking place between 16 and 18 September 2022, has been organised to help secure vital support for the charity’s continued conservation efforts and celebrate the UK’s first Eagle Town of Moffat. It will showcase the project’s success and the ways in which people can help golden eagles to flourish in southern skies once again.

The Moffat Eagle Festival programme features a number of events and talks for all ages, many of which are free, including keynote speeches by wildlife cameraman and TV presenter Gordon Buchanan and renowned wildlife photographer Laurie Campbell, family fun workshops, an “Eagle Cliff” climbing wall and live music sessions.

Speaking about the news of the project’s latest arrival and his involvement in the Festival, Gordon Buchanan said: “It’s absolutely fantastic to hear that the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project has successfully released six more golden eagles this summer, bringing the total population to the highest number recorded in the area for three centuries! This is truly groundbreaking.

“The perfect predators, golden eagles are heart-stoppingly exciting to watch, so I’m not surprised that eagle fever is spreading throughout the south of Scotland, as more than 15,000 volunteers and project participants have taken this iconic bird under these wings. It is great to see widespread support from landowners and estates, scouts, schools and other community groups. I’m delighted to support this project as part of the fantastic programme for this year’s Moffat Eagle Festival.”

Cat Barlow, Project Manager for the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, which was awarded the prestigious Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) Tony Bradshaw Award for Outstanding Best Practice earlier this year, added: “It is thrilling to know that our six new arrivals bring the local population of golden eagles to the highest number recorded in the area for three centuries. As a top predator, this majestic bird of prey is fundamental to protecting our local eco system. Before our project began, only three pairs were nesting in the south of Scotland. We’ve now more than tripled the population, and though all seem to have settled in the south of Scotland, some of our birds have even travelled as far south as The Forest of Bowland in Lancashire, where the species has been extinct for a number of years.

“Our work has only been possible due to the support of National Lottery Heritage Fund, our project staff and partners, NatureScot licensing team, raptor specialists, Advisory Panel members, estates, CalMac Ferries, Visit Moffat, Moffat Eagle Festival revellers and of course the wider community in the south of Scotland. We would also like to thank all those who take the time to vote for us for the National Lottery Award Project of the Year – the £5,000 prize money could help us make an even greater difference.”

Francesca Osowska, NatureScot’s Chief Executive and a passionate supporter of the Project, said: “The key aim of this exciting project is to increase the number of breeding pairs in the south of Scotland, a vital part of our work to reverse biodiversity loss and combat the climate emergency. With wildlife declining across the globe, it is fantastic to hear that the project has translocated so many eagle chicks once again this year. Golden eagles are an exciting part of Scotland’s wildlife, and we’re passionate about returning them to places where they used to thrive.

“This is brilliant partnership working, and a great support for the local green economy. Already, we are seeing great success. The project’s many accolades really are very well deserved and we hope lots of people vote for them to win the National Lottery Awards Project of the Year.”

Earlier this year, led by the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, Scottish Raptor Study Group workers in the Scottish Highlands, carefully collected chicks from a number of supportive estates (including RSPB Abernethy and Rottal Estate Angus Glens) under license from NatureScot before taking them to the release site in a confidential location in the Moffat Hills. The birds were then cared for in specially-designed release aviaries and supplementary fed to help them adjust to their new habitat before their release this summer. Experts at the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies also provided considerable support throughout the process to monitor the health and wellbeing of the birds.

Caroline Clark, Director for Scotland, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “This translocation of six eagle chicks is fantastic news for the biodiversity of the South of Scotland, and for the country as a whole. It is because of groundbreaking achievements like this, and the project’s impressive partnership working and engagement with the local community, that the project has been shortlisted for The National Lottery Awards Project of the Year, which is now open to the public vote.

“Through our conversations with National Lottery players, we know that nature is incredibly important to them. The £1.5m funding given to the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project means they can help protect Scotland’s outstanding wildlife and landscapes.”

The six new arrivals have been named by a range of individuals, school children, organisations and supporters of the Moffat Eagle Festival including the Buccleuch Arms Hotel in Moffat, and the project’s lead charity partner, The Southern Uplands Partnership, who named one bird Merrick after the highest peak in the area.

South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE) received 300 entries from children and young people throughout southern Scotland in a competition to name one of the birds. The winner was two-year-old Zara Blackburn from Kelso, who suggested the name ‘Sula’.

Announcing the winner, Tracey Graham, SOSE’s Head of Marketing and Communications said: “SOSE is a supporter of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, so we were delighted to be asked to name one of the chicks that were released during the summer.

“As part of our plans to engage with the people of the South of Scotland, we thought this was a great opportunity to ask our local communities to help us and we got a fantastic response to our naming competition we held at Border Union and the Dumfries shows we attended during the summer. We look forward to hearing Sula progress and well done to Zara!”

Project partners the Southern Uplands Partnership, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates, Scottish Forestry and NatureScot worked on the project together for more than 11 years before releasing the first eagle chicks in 2018.  Funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, project partners and the Scottish Government, the initiative is a key project under ‘Scotland’s Biodiversity. A Route Map to 2020’, supporting the Government’s ‘2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity’.

For the latest project and festival news, or to donate to the charity initiative, visit: www.goldeneaglessouthofscotland.co.uk

To vote for South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project to win the National Lottery Awards Project of the Year go to lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/awards, use the hashtag #NLAGoldenEagle on Twitter and Instagram, and/or visit @lotterygoodcauses on Facebook and add the hashtag to the pinned post. Voting runs from 9am on 7 September until 5pm on 7th October. Each person can vote once on each platform (a total of four votes).

ENDS

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