Wildlife crime: key conservation organisations ‘excluded’ from Scottish Government’s review on increasing SSPCA powers

In July last year, the Scottish Government finally got around to establishing an independent Taskforce to consider whether the Scottish SPCA should be granted additional powers to help investigate raptor persecution and other wildlife crime (see here).

As a quick recap, the SSPCA’s current powers (under animal welfare legislation) limits their investigations to cases that involve a live animal in distress (including some wildlife crimes). The proposed new powers would allow them to also investigate wildlife crimes under the Wildlife & Countryside Act legislation, e.g. where the victim is already dead, and also incidents where a victim may not be present (e.g. if an illegally-set pole trap or a poisoned bait was discovered). See here for further detail.

Under their current powers, the SSPCA wouldn’t be permitted to investigate a crime like this because the buzzard is already dead

This Taskforce, chaired by Susan Davies FRSB, was established after 11 long years of political can-kicking by the SNP only because the Scottish Greens insisted on its inclusion in the historic Bute House Agreement, the power-sharing policy document published by the two parties in 2021:

The independent taskforce to consider whether the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Scottish SPCA) should be given extra powers to investigate wildlife crime will be asked to report back in a timeframe that will allow any changes to the Scottish SPCA powers to be delivered by legislation implementing changes to grouse and other wildlife management in the course of this parliamentary session‘.

It was expected that the Taskforce’s recommendations would feed into the forthcoming draft legislation on grouse moor licensing (the Wildlife Management (Grouse) Bill) that is expected to progress to Stage 1 of parliamentary scrutiny in the coming weeks (see here).

Indeed, in December 2022, the Scotsman ran an article suggesting that the Scottish Government had said the Taskforce’s review was complete and would be published ‘within weeks‘ (see here), just in time to be considered alongside the Wildlife Management (Grouse) Bill.

However, as has happened so often on this particular issue, it looks like the Scottish Government has moved the goal posts.

I submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Scottish Government at the beginning of January 2023, asking, amongst other things, for details of when the Taskforce’s review would be published.

The Government’s response, which I received yesterday evening, said the review had been submitted to the Government on 22nd October 2022 but wasn’t expected to be published until ‘prior to summer 2023‘. That’s quite a different response to the one the Scotsman reported of the Government expecting it to be published ‘within weeks‘.

Does that mean the Taskforce’s recommendations won’t be fed into the Scottish Parliament’s consideration of how the forthcoming grouse shooting licencing scheme will operate and be enforced? How does that meet the requirements laid out in the Bute House Agreement between the Scottish Greens and the SNP?

But that’s not the only concern uncovered by the FoI response.

I also asked the Scottish Government some questions about which organisations and individuals were invited and had contributed evidence to the Taskforce review. The answer is alarming to say the least, with invited participants heavily weighted to the game-shooting industry:

Apart from RSPB Scotland, where were the invites to other conservation and wildlife organisations such as Scottish Badgers, Scottish Raptor Study Group, OneKind, League Against Cruel Sports, REVIVE coalition, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Environment Link etc? Why were they excluded, when they all have legitimate and evidenced concerns about the poor level of wildlife crime enforcement that has led to the proposed extended powers for the SSPCA?

Why were the majority of invited non-governmental organisations those who have previously been vociferous in their opposition to increased SSPCA powers (e.g. see here, here and here) and who presumably, despite their rhetoric about having a ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution/wildlife crime, are still dead set against measures that would help tackle it?

I’ve gone back to the Scottish Government to ask for the ‘key list of stakeholders and those who had previously engaged with [the Scottish Government] on the matter of SSPCA powers‘ that was provided to the Taskforce Chair, to determine whether this bias was determined by the Scottish Government or by the Taskforce Chair.

Either way, if the Taskforce recommendations do not support increased powers for the SSPCA, this inherent bias in participation leaves the Government wide open to a potential legal challenge by conservationists who could argue that their exclusion from participating in the review has resulted in an unfair process.

There is an alternative view. Let’s say that the Taskforce review does recommend increased powers for the SSPCA, then by inviting an overload of anti-SSPCA game shooting organisations, the Taskforce Chair has cleverly covered off any opportunity for them to suggest their views were under-represented in the review process.

Unfortunately, it looks like we have many more months of waiting to find out what, exactly, the Taskforce review recommends. And if our experience of the Werritty Review is anything to go by, we may be waiting a further year for the Government to set out its response to the Taskforce’s recommendations.

For those new to this subject, here’s the political timeline, now in its 12th year, that has led to the current position:

February 2011: Increased powers for the SSPCA was first suggested by MSP Peter Peacock as an amendment during the Wildlife & Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill debates. The then Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham rejected it as an amendment but suggested a public consultation was in order.

September 2011: Seven months later Elaine Murray MSP (Scottish Labour) lodged a parliamentary motion that further powers for the SSPCA should be considered.

November 2011: Elaine Murray MSP (Scottish Labour) formalised the question in a P&Q session and the next Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson MSP, then promised that the consultation would happen ‘in the first half of 2012’.

September 2012: Nine months later and nothing had happened so I asked Paul Wheelhouse MSP, as the new Environment Minister, when the consultation would take place. The response, in October 2012, was:

The consultation has been delayed by resource pressures but will be brought forward in the near future”.

July 2013: Ten months later and still no sign so I asked the Environment Minister (still Paul Wheelhouse) again. In August 2013, this was the response:

We regret that resource pressures did further delay the public consultation on the extension of SSPCA powers. However, I can confirm that the consultation document will be published later this year”.

September 2013: At a meeting of the PAW Executive Group, Minister Wheelhouse said this:

The consultation on new powers for the SSPCA will be published in October 2013“.

January 2014: In response to one of this blog’s readers who wrote to the Minister (still Paul Wheelhouse) to ask why the consultation had not yet been published:

We very much regret that resource pressures have caused further delays to the consultation to gain views on the extension of SSPCA powers. It will be published in the near future“.

31 March 2014: Public consultation launched.

1 September 2014: Consultation closed.

26 October 2014: I published my analysis of the consultation responses here.

22 January 2015: Analysis of consultation responses published by Scottish Government. 233 responses (although 7,256 responses if online petition included – see here).

I was told a decision would come from the new Environment Minister, Dr Aileen McLeod MSP, “in due course”.

1 September 2015: One year after the consultation closed and still nothing.

25 February 2016: In response to a question posed by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment Committee, Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod said: “I have some further matters to clarify with the SSPCA, however I do hope to be able to report on the Scottish Government’s position on this issue shortly“.

May 2016: Dr Aileen McLeod fails to get re-elected and loses her position as Environment Minister. Roseanna Cunningham is promoted to a newly-created position of Cabinet Secretary for the Environment.

12 May 2016: Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submits the following Parliamentary question:

Question S5W-00030 – To ask the Scottish Government when it will announce its decision regarding extending the powers of the Scottish SPCA to tackle wildlife crime.

26 May 2016: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham responds with this:

A decision on whether to extend the investigatory powers of the Scottish SPCA will be announced in due course.

1 September 2016: Two years after the consultation closed and still nothing.

9 January 2017: Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submits the following Parliamentary question:

Question S5W-05982 – To ask the Scottish Government by what date it will publish its response to the consultation on the extension of wildlife crime investigative powers for inspectors in the Scottish SPCA.

17 January 2017: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham responds:

A decision on whether to extend the investigatory powers of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will be announced in the first half of 2017.

31 May 2017: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham rejects an extension of powers for the SSPCA ‘based on legal advice’ and instead announces, as an alternative, a pilot scheme of Special Constables for the Cairngorms National Park (here). It later emerged in 2018 that this pilot scheme was also an alternative to the Government’s 2016 manifesto pledge to establish a Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit as part of Police Scotland – a pledge on which it had now reneged (see here).

November 2019: The pilot scheme of Special Constables in the Cairngorms National Park was an absolute failure as a grand total of zero wildlife crimes were recorded by the Special Constables but plenty were reported by others (see here).

June 2020: Mark Ruskell (Scottish Greens) proposed further powers for the SSPCA at Stage 2 of the Animals and Wildlife Bill. The latest Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon persuaded him to withdraw the proposed amendment on the basis that she’d consider establishing a taskforce to convene ‘this summer’ to consider increased powers (see here).

December 2020: Mark Ruskell (Scottish Greens) submits two Parliamentary questions asking about the status of the taskforce and who is serving on it (see here).

January 2021: New Environment Minister Ben Macpherson says the taskforce has not yet been appointed but that it is “expected to be established later this year“ (see here).

September 2021: In the 2021 to 2022 Programme for Government it was announced that the ‘independent taskforce [Ed: still to be appointed] will report before the end of 2022’ (see here).

May 3 2022: In an interview with Max Wiszniewski of the REVIVE coalition for grouse moor reform, new Environment Minister Mairi McAllan said: “It’s imminent and I wish I could tell you today but we are just finalising the last few points for the membership but I’m hoping to be able to make an announcement about that in the next few weeks“ (see here).

1 July 2022: Scottish Government announces Susan Davies has been appointed to lead the taskforce review and will ‘publish a report later this year’ (see here).

27 December 2022: A Scottish Government spokesperson tells Scotsman journalist the taskforce has completed its review and its findings will be published ‘within weeks’ (see here).

31 January 2023: An FoI response from the Scottish Government to this blog’s author reveals the Taskforce review will be published ‘prior to summer 2023’.

Shot buzzard in Essex succumbs to its injuries

The buzzard that was found shot in Colchester, Essex, earlier this month has unfortunately not survived its injuries.

It was found on 11th January 2023 near to Hardy’s Green and Heckford Bridge and was picked up by a member of the public.

The buzzard had suffered a broken wing and internal injuries and was being cared for by professionals at Colchester Owl Rescue. It succumbed to its injuries over the weekend.

Thanks to Essex Police’s Rural, Wildlife & Heritage Crime team for the update.

Essex Police’s investigation into the shooting of this buzzard is ongoing. If anyone has any information please contact Essex Police on Tel: 101, quoting incident reference # 42/13298/23.

The shot buzzard. Photo: Essex Police Wildlife Team & Colchester Owl Rescue
X-ray showing at least 3 shotgun pellets (highlighted by RPUK). Photo: Essex Police Wildlife Team & Colchester Owl Rescue

Free online course for veterinary professionals to increase awareness & understanding of crimes against birds of prey

The RSPB’s Investigations Team has joined forces with a leading wildlife vet, Mark Naguib BVMS(Hons) CertAVP(ZooMed) MRCVS, to create a free, two-hour online course for veterinary professionals to help increase awareness and understanding of crimes against birds of prey.

An x-ray of a raptor containing shotgun pellets. Photo: Mark Naguib

The course, Birds of prey in veterinary practice: Clinical presentations of poisoning, shooting and trapping, includes the following modules

  • Introduction to birds of prey and identification
  • Overview of legislation (specific to each UK country)
  • Clinical presentations of shooting, trapping and poisoning
  • Guidance on appropriate agencies to contact
  • Free downloads to keep and use in the veterinary practice

The course is only available to veterinary professionals (i.e. veterinary surgeons and Registered Veterinary Nurses) and can contribute to the individual’s Continued Professional Development record.

For further information please read this RSPB blog (here) and to register for the free online course please visit here.

Barely-suppressed contempt for Scottish Environment Minister Mairi McAllan in petitions committee meeting on mountain hare protection vs falconry

The Scottish Parliament’s ‘Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee’ is currently considering a petition that was first submitted in February 2021 by a falconer, Barry Blyther, calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to amend the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 to allow mountain hares to be hunted for the purposes of falconry (Petition PE1859, here).

The basic premise of the petition (and I’m simply summarising here – if you want the full details please read the petition details) is that Barry wants to be able to hunt mountain hares with his golden eagle for ‘sport’. Barry argues that since the mountain hare received full legal protection in 2020 after a late amendment from Scottish Green’s MSP Alison Johnstone to the drafting of the Animals and Wildlife Bill (here and here), he can no longer legally hunt mountain hares for fun, and he wants the Scottish Government to amend the legislation to provide an exemption for falconers.

Some of you may recall the furore that erupted amongst the shooting industry after the mountain hare was given full legal protection, because it meant an end to the grotesque annual slaughter of thousands of mountain hares on some driven grouse moors. For example, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association said it was thinking of setting up a new political party “to ensure the working countryside is represented better” (here) and landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates wasn’t happy either (here).

The raw fury when their sense of entitlement had been so adeptly overridden was palpable, and that contempt was very much still in evidence by several pro-fieldsports MSPs during a Petitions Committee hearing on 21st December 2022, held to further consider Mr Blyther’s petition on ‘upland falconry’ and his desire to hunt mountain hares for ‘sport’.

I watched the archived video of that hearing this afternoon and would encourage you to do the same, if you have time (it’s here and it’s the first item on the agenda).

If you’d prefer to read the transcript, that’s here:

Environment Minister Mairi McAllan had been invited to this committee hearing to answer questions on this petition. She was accompanied by her senior civil servant Hugh Dignon and Stan Whittaker from NatureScot.

The rude, disrespectful and frankly unpleasant manner of some of the Petitions Committee members towards Mairi McAllan is quite shocking. I’ve seen behaviour like this, first hand, from the pro-grouse shooting MPs in Westminster (here) but I haven’t previously seen this in the Scottish Parliament. Convenor Jackson Carlaw MSP (Conservative), Fergus Ewing MSP (SNP) and Alexander Stewart MSP (Conservative) deserve particular rebuke for their style of questioning. Jackson Carlaw told the Minister the committee was “quite exercised” by the Government’s response to the petition – that’s one way of describing it.

Mairi McAllan handled it brilliantly, calling them out a few times and delivered a well-considered response, superbly supported by Hugh Dignon, explaining that the mountain hare is protected because there are concerns for its conservation status, that falconers could still practice falconry without the threat of prosecution if they take care to hunt in areas with a low density of mountain hare, and in a nature emergency, the conservation status of the mountain hare is of greater importance than sporting or recreational activity.

I particularly enjoyed her wry smile when the Convenor spoke over her (again) and instead turned his attention to Hugh Dignon for an answer:

I think the considered explanations from Mairi and Hugh fell on deaf ears though because at the next hearing of the Petitions Committee, held on 18th January 2023, the Committee decided to go back to the Minister for further clarification on a few points (they seem to have missed the main point about the conservation status of the mountain hare being the primary priority) and Fergus Ewing, who likes to get his own way, says:

I forgot to say that, at the very end of the letter to the minister, we could perhaps politely indicate that all members of the committee feel particularly exercised and concerned about this matter, and it is therefore our intention to pursue it. We should indicate that we are treating it very seriously indeed, and perhaps thereby inject a little bit of lead into the ministerial pencil“.

Here is the transcript from the hearing on 18th January 2023:

We’re all well aware of Fergus Ewing’s strong support for the fieldsports industry – I’ve blogged about it many times before (e.g. see here) so his position on this particular pro-fieldsports petition is no surprise whatsoever.

The other two, Jackson Carlaw MSP and Alexander Stewart MSP are both Scottish Conservatives so their positions shouldn’t come as a surprise either, although the evident vitriol in their questioning style is a bit more perplexing.

I note with interest that Alexander Stewart MSP attended this BASC lunch in November to celebrate Great British Game Week. Purely coincidental, I’m sure.

Hen harrier chicks stamped to death in nest: how the shooting industry manipulated the narrative

I’ve written many times about how the shooting industry is intent on manipulating the narrative surrounding the illegal killing of birds of prey. Whether that be by publishing blatant propaganda about the extent of these crimes, so distorted the truth is barely recognisable (e.g. here, here, here, here), or by simply choosing not to mention, let alone condemn, the ongoing criminal attacks on raptors by gamekeepers (e.g. see here, here, here). Sometimes there will be a condemnation but often it is quickly overridden by a sneering attempt to undermine the integrity and credibility of the investigators, usually the RSPB (e.g. see here and here).

Recently, this manipulation of the narrative around raptor persecution has manifested in attacks by the shooting industry on the police forces issuing appeals for information about suspected crimes (e.g. see here and here for two very recent examples).

Less obvious is the behind-the-scenes manipulation; the conversations that go on behind closed doors that the public rarely gets to see, usually within the so-called ‘partnerships’ such as the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative (e.g. see here and here) or the national Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG – see here). This sly under-handedness only comes to light after freedom of information requests by those of us who are unwilling to believe a word the shooting industry says when it comes to illegal raptor persecution.

And this leads me to the latest example of how the narrative is being manipulated. This time it relates to the media put out by the Yorkshire Dales Bird of Prey Partnership (another sham group) about the brutal stamping to death of a nest of hen harrier chicks last summer on a grouse moor on Whernside in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. To recap the details of that horrific story, which for some strange reason only emerged six months later in December 2022, please see here.

Hen harrier chicks in a nest (not the nest at Whernside where the chicks were stamped on). Photo: Ian Newton

North Yorkshire Police issued an appeal for information about this crime on 14th December 2022 (see here). I want you to pay attention to the unequivocal words used by the police to describe this incident (underlined in red, below): that they suspected the nest of hen harrier chicks had been “deliberately destroyed by human activity“:

Prior to this appeal for information being published, the previous week North Yorkshire Police had sent a final draft to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) so they wouldn’t be unsighted by the news when it was published. We know this because a Yorkshire Dales resident, who also follows this blog, submitted a freedom of information request to the YDNPA in December to ask about internal comms within the Yorkshire Dales Bird of Prey Partnership about this crime. Everything that follows is a result of that FoI (thank you to the blog reader!).

On 14th December 2022, just after North Yorkshire Police had published its appeal for information, Mark Sadler, Communications Manager at the YDNPA sent around a draft press release to the Yorkshire Dales Bird of Prey Partnership’s communications sub-group and asked if all the partners would sign up to it. Here is his draft press release (please pay close attention to the words I’ve underlined in red):

It’s a strong statement, unequivocal in its condemnation, just as North Yorkshire Police’s statement was.

Here is the email Mark sent around to the ‘Partnership’ sub-group:

The first ‘partner’ to respond to Mark’s draft statement was the Moorland Association (the grouse moor owners’ lobby group in England). Here’s its response:

The next partner to respond, shortly afterwards, was BASC:

Right on cue, the next ‘partner’ to respond was the National Gamekeepers Organisation, as follows:

You’ll note that all three ‘partners’ from the shooting industry are intent on watering down North Yorkshire Police’s statement, moving the focus away from the police’s assertion that the stamping and killing of the hen harrier chicks in their nest was “deliberate“, and instead suggesting that it was “apparently deliberate“. They also want to big up the increase in the number of breeding hen harriers in the Yorkshire Dales/Nidderdale area that has happened as a result of the ludicrous brood meddling trial, carefully omitting to mention the ongoing persecution of hen harriers (77 illegally killed or ‘missing’ since the brood meddling trial began in 2018, a number of them in the Yorkshire Dales/Nidderdale area – see here).

The fourth ‘partner’ to respond was the RSPB, as follows:

The RSPB’s response starts strongly but then caves in and accepts the ‘apparently deliberate‘ narrative because it thinks its more important that the Partnership issues a statement and it knows that without a conviction, the police’s assertion that it was a deliberate act is contestable, even though the police’s view is based on having full sight of all the evidence. The RSPB asks for ‘three further small amendments’ to the draft text but I don’t know what those entailed because they weren’t included in the FoI response.

Mark Sadler from the YDNP adjusts the draft statement to incorporate the manipulations requested by the shooting industry ‘partners’ and he sends the final version to North Yorkshire Police:

North Yorkshire Police responds to this with a very, very clear message, reinforcing the view that whoever disabled the nest camera and then inflicted horrific injuries to those young hen harriers by stamping them to death, did so deliberately:

Unfortunately there is no other plausible serious explanation for the injuries to all the 3 chicks and Natural England and the National Wildlife Crime Unit were all in agreement“:

Here is the Partnership’s final statement, which was published on the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s website on 15th December 2022. The parts I’ve underlined in red are the changes made between this final version and the original draft version:

As you can see, the changes are subtle, but are significant. The shooting industry representatives have introduced an element of doubt about the intention of whoever stamped on those chicks, despite North Yorkshire Police’s position (and that of Natural England and the National Wildlife Crime Unit) that the stamping was deliberate with the intention of killing the hen harrier chicks.

The insertion of a statement about increased breeding success for hen harriers and ‘focused efforts in the area to rebuild the population‘ leave the uninformed reader non the wiser about the ongoing illegal persecution of this species on grouse moors in the Yorkshire Dales, Nidderdale and beyond.

What does this charade tell us about the Yorkshire Dales Bird of Prey Partnership? Nothing we didn’t already know – despite a few earnest members, it’s another sham overrun by ‘partners’ with a vested interest in playing down the extent of raptor persecution in the area. It’s quite obvious that publicity about these crimes is bad news for the shooting industry – it damages their reputation and will, sooner rather than later, lead to statutory reform of game shooting as is now happening in Scotland, in large part because the public has been made aware of what’s going on and has demanded the Government takes action.

National Gamekeepers Organisation is latest from shooting industry to attack police & RSPB for raptor crime reporting

Last week I blogged about how a major shooting industry organisation, BASC, had attacked Suffolk Police for what BASC perceived to be an ‘offensive’ police appeal for information about the shooting of five young goshawks found dead at the edge of woodland near Thetford (here).

BASC complained that the police’s appeal was “disparaging to the shooting community” simply because the police had asked the shooting community for help to identify the shot gun-wielding criminal(!). Astonishingly, BASC’s complaint resulted in the police’s tweet/appeal for information being deleted.

Later, Suffolk Police released a joint press release with the RSPB, which seemed to enrage BASC even further. Bizarrely, BASC wrote on a blog:

Can we assume the RSPB has more information on the matter than BASC as they were very quick yesterday to offer a £5,000 reward for information leading to conviction; shortly followed by a similar pledge from Wild Justice? It would be useful to know whether RSPB are complainants, victims, witnesses or have any other relationship with Suffolk Constabulary“.

I would argue that this is a cack-handed but sinister attempt by BASC to try and influence the narrative on raptor persecution crimes. If the police are too scared to publicise a raptor persecution incident or appeal for information about it, because they’re scared of a backlash from the industry who are, let’s not forget, responsible for 73% of convictions for raptor persecution crimes, then it’s job done for the shooting industry. No reports = no publicity = no bad press = no public pressure on politicians to tackle these relentless, systemic crimes.

And it’s not just BASC that appears to be at it. The National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO) has recently written on its website its dissatisfaction with Lincolnshire Police and the RSPB about the reporting of raptor persecution offences in that county. It’s mostly about a recent incident where the remains of three barn owls, one tawny owl and one red kite were found dumped in a ditch (here), and the NGO incorrectly accuses RSPB Investigations Officer Howard Jones of ‘insinuating that a gamekeeper might be to blame for the Lincolnshire incident‘ in a BBC news article.

Actually, Howard Jones did no such thing, he was talking about raptor persecution crimes in general and he was simply stating facts – the “vast majority” of raptor persecution cases being dealt with by the courts involve gamekeepers. That is a factually accurate statement from Howard, however unpalatable/embarrassing that may be to the NGO. Neither the RSPB or Lincolnshire Police laid any blame on anybody after the discovery of those bird of prey remains in Lincolnshire – they simply said it was an ‘unusual’ case and were appealing for information (here).

The ridiculous NGO, though, has written on its website:

The NGO are in contact with DC Flint of Lincolnshire Police and are hoping to meet with him in the near future to discuss both this case and to highlight our concerns about the reporting surrounding this case“.   

Meanwhile, the NGO has failed (refused?) to publicise the recent conviction of Dorset gamekeeper Paul Allen, who pleaded guilty to multiple wildlife, poisons and firearms offences after the discovery of six shot buzzards, the burnt remains of three more buzzards, and three different types of banned poisons on his pheasant shoot and a loaded shotgun found propped up behind his kitchen door with rounds of unlicensed ammunition in an out-building.

The NGO has also remained silent about the discovery of the five shot goshawks found dumped in Suffolk last week.

Like BASC, you’ll know that the NGO is a member of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), a so-called partnership (it’s a sham) whose main objective is to help eradicate raptor persecution by highlighting these crimes and publicly condemning the criminals involved.

Long-term blog readers will know this attempted manipulation of the narrative by the game-shooting industry is nothing new and has been going on for years, mostly behind the scenes and only uncovered via Freedom of Information requests (e.g. see here and here).

I’ve just been sent yet another example of it, this time in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. More on that shortly…

Significant win for animal welfare as Scottish Parliament votes to pass new hunting legislation

Press release from League Against Cruel Sports (24th January 2023):

The Scottish Parliament has today (Tuesday) voted to pass the new Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill. The vote was passed by 90 for and 30 against, with no abstentions. 

The new legislation was introduced last year, two decades after a failed attempt by the Scottish Parliament to ban hunting with the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act, back in 2002.

The new Bill will bring into force a number of measures which significantly curtail mounted hunting activity, including reducing the number of dogs which can be used to hunt a wild mammal to just two, instead of a full pack, and reducing the number of dogs which can be used below ground to just one.

The Bill also includes a pre-emptive ban on trail hunting. Trail hunting is a sport which was created after hunting was banned in England and Wales following the passing of the Hunting Act in 2004. Its inclusion in the Bill means trail hunting can not be established north of the border.

Video footage from the League Against Cruel Sports shows a hunter throwing a fox to a baying pack of hounds (Credit: here)

The League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, has welcomed the new legislation. Director Robbie Marsland said:

As of today, Scotland has the most robust law anywhere in the UK to prevent the cruelty of chasing and killing wild mammals for sport – and this is something to celebrate. Despite a persistent campaign from those resolute to keep hunting alive in the Scottish countryside, the Scottish Government has been determined to end the sport of hunting, a sentiment which has today been supported by the Parliament.

The passing of the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill now provides an opportunity to right the wrongs of the last two decades and close the loopholes which allowed hunters to continue with hunting as though the law didn’t exist.

The inclusion of a ban on trail hunting is a significant victory for Scotland, meaning hunts will not be able to use this so-called sport as a smokescreen for traditional hunting.

The new Bill also includes a licensing system which will allow for a full pack of hounds to be used in certain circumstances. The detail of the scheme has yet to be developed but animal welfare campaigners have concerns this has the potential to be exploited.

Robbie Marsland added:

After twenty years of flawed legislation it is critical that this Bill is not simply a way of creating new loopholes for hunters to exploit, and the League is yet to be convinced the licensing scheme won’t do this.

Despite the best of intentions to ban hunting, the determination and deep rooted defiance among those who wish to chase and kill foxes should not be underestimated. The League will work closely with Nature Scot and other stakeholders to ensure the licensing system is robust, effective and fit for purpose.

The Hunting with Dogs Bill is expected to receive royal assent in the next few weeks and come into force in the autumn. 

ENDS

This is a significant win for campaigners in Scotland, including REVIVE coalition members the League Against Cruel Sports and OneKind, and will increase pressure on the Westminster Government to follow suit.

The proposed licensing scheme, which will allow the use of more than two dogs in “certain limited circumstances” has undoubtedly been brought in to help fend off any legal challenges but the details and effectiveness of the licences remain to be seen.

For example, will the licensing authority NatureScot think that footpacks running amok in public forests, killing foxes to protect gamebirds on grouse moors (e.g. see here) is an appropriate and licensable activity? We’ll see.

There’s plenty of media coverage of this story today:

Scottish Government (here)

OneKind (here)

Scottish Greens (here)

BBC News (here)

STV News (here)

The National (here)

Daily Record (here)

The Times (here)

Reward for info on who shot five goshawks has passed £14,000

The reward for information leading to the conviction of whoever shot five goshawks and dumped them in Suffolk last week (see here) has now passed £14,000.

The RSPB has provided £5,000, Wild Justice has provided £5,000, and Rare Bird Alert’s crowdfunder appeal has so far accrued over £4,000.

I haven’t seen any effort by any of the game-shooting organisations to contribute to the reward; most of them haven’t even drawn to their members’ attention the police appeal for information, let alone told them about the reward (apart from BASC, whose response was to wail, loudly, about how offensive it was for the police to ask the shooting community for help to identify a criminal with a shotgun, here)!

There may be coverage of BASC’s histrionics in The Guardian tomorrow.

If you’d like to contribute to the reward, please visit the crowdfunder here.

If you have any information about this appalling crime, please call Suffolk Police on 101 and quote crime reference 37/3027/23. Alternatively, you can provide anonymous information via the RSPB’s dedicated Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

Buzzard found shot in Essex – police appeal for information

A buzzard has been found shot in Colchester, Essex. It is still alive and is undergoing treatment for its injuries.

It was found on 11th January 2023 near to Hardy’s Green and Heckford Bridge. Essex Police’s Rural, Wildlife & Heritage Crime Team has put out an appeal for information on Twitter:

The shot buzzard. Photo: Essex Police Wildlife Team & Colchester Owl Rescue
X-ray showing at least 3 shotgun pellets (highlighted by RPUK). Photo: Essex Police Wildlife Team & Colchester Owl Rescue

This isn’t the first raptor persecution crime in Essex and certainly won’t be the last. Previous crimes against birds of prey in this county in recent years include the shooting of red kites (e.g. here and here), the shooting of a hobby (here) and the shooting of buzzards (e.g. here, here and here).

If anyone has any information about this latest shot buzzard, please contact Essex Police on Tel: 101, quoting incident reference # 42/13298/23.

UPDATE 31st January 2023: Shot buzzard in Essex succumbs to its injuries (here)

Reintroduced white-tailed eagle poisoned with banned pesticide Carbofuran

A young white-tailed eagle, released into the wild as part of a conservation reintroduction project, has been found poisoned with the banned pesticide Carbofuran.

The National Parks & Wildlife Service in Ireland is appealing for information after the discovery of the dead eagle in November 2022 on land between counties Cavan and Westmeath.

Juvenile white-tailed eagle. Photo: Piotr Krzeslak

The juvenile male white-tailed eagle who was just over a year old had been brought in as a chick in 2021 from Norway under phase two of a national re-introduction programme (e.g. see here and here).

It had been fitted with a satellite tag prior to its release on Lough Derg in 2021 and subsequent monitoring showed the eagle had been spending time around Lough Sheelin in Co Westmeath with two other white-tailed eagles, but tag data indicated the eagle had become stationary in November.

The corpse was retrieved and toxicology tests undertaken at the State Laboratory confirmed the eagle had been poisoned with Carbofuran, a deadly pesticide so dangerous it was withdrawn for use in Ireland over a decade ago.

NPWS regional manager, Maurice Eakin, said white-tailed eagles were a protected species under the Wildlife Acts. The death of the bird last November highlighted “once again” the extent of the illegal practice of using poisonous material as pest control.

“In this instance, it is particularly disturbing that the reckless laying of poison has resulted in the death of a white-tailed eagle, one of our largest and most majestic bird species, which had been persecuted to extinction by the early 1900s,” he said.

The NPWS is seeking any information from the public in the Westmeath/Cavan region, particularly anyone who may have seen anyone or any vehicles acting suspiciously in recent weeks in the area between Lough Sheelin and Lough Ramor.

Over 100 white-tailed eagles, donated by Norway, have been reintroduced to the Irish Republic since 2007, with the first successful breeding taking place in 2012 and there have been many successes over the last decade, bringing biodiversity and ecosystem benefits as well as a boost to local economies via ecotourism.

However, a scientific review of the reintroduction project in 2019 indicated that the small population was still vulnerable to illegal poisoning events so additional eagles have been reintroduced as part of phase two of the reintroduction to help bolster the population. It’s sadly ironic that one of those eagles has become the latest poisoning victim.

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