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Scottish Government appoints taskforce to review SSPCA’s powers to investigate wildlife crime

Yesterday, the Scottish Government made the following announcement on Twitter:

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 was discovered). See here for further detail.

So the latest announcement from the Scottish Government that a review is underway sounds good, yes? Who wouldn’t want increased powers for the SSPCA to allow them to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crimes, including raptor persecution? Quite a few actually, mostly those connected to the game-shooting industry – quelle surprise (see here).

However, this announcement is just the latest move in a long and tedious 11-year saga, and whilst the news is welcome, it should be considered within the context of those 11 years of excruciating can-kicking by the Scottish Government on this issue.

For new blog readers, here’s the embarrassing timeline of events to date:

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’.

Mairi McAllan is the 8th Environment Minister to preside over this issue. It’s not her fault that it’s taken this long already and now yet another review has been commissioned; she was only 18 years old when this pantomime began and didn’t even become an MSP until 2021. Nevertheless, her party, the SNP, is responsible and it shouldn’t be surprised that this latest announcement will be met with an eye-roll and an accompanying yawn from those of us who have been waiting 11 years for any sort of progress.

If we can put that aside for a minute though, then we can probably appreciate the appointment of Susan Davies. She has masses of experience from the nature conservation sector (JNCC, SNH, Scottish Wildlife Trust, and currently CEO of the Scottish Seabird Centre) and acted as a special advisor to the Werritty Review on grouse moor licensing, so she’ll be very familiar with the extent of wildlife crime in Scotland. Most importantly, she doesn’t appear to have any links to the landowning/game-shooting sector so we may expect to see an unbiased and uncompromised review, unlike the Werritty Review.

The tweet from the Scottish Government indicates that her fellow taskforce members will be the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the Crown Office. That’ll be interesting. When the Government consulted on increased powers for the SSPCA back in 2014, COPFS said it would be inappropriate to respond but Police Scotland’s response was not in favour of increased powers for the SSPCA and this was discussed at length in a previous blog (here).

That was 8 years ago. Things have moved on, officers have moved on, relationships have improved and the SSPCA has been at the forefront of some impressive multi-agency investigations partnering with Police Scotland and others, leading to successful prosecutions (e.g. the conviction of shameless gamekeeper Alan Wilson in 2019 was notable and most recently, the conviction this year of depraved gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies of Millden Estate – here).

And the taskforce doesn’t appear to be infiltrated by anyone whose sole motivation is to disrupt or delay proceedings or dilute the review’s recommendations in favour of no progress at all. That’s promising.

Let’s see what it’s able to produce by December.

Scottish Parliament sees sense & closes SGA’s petition seeking ‘independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptors’

Hallelujah! After almost three years of wasting valuable parliamentary time, the Scottish Parliament has finally closed the petition lodged by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) calling for the ‘independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptors’.

I’ve blogged about this petition several times before (here, here), as has Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland – well worth a read here.

The petition has been closed because the cross-party committee scrutinising it recognised that adequate and proportionate monitoring is already in place. Contrary to the SGA’s ignorant and misinformed propaganda, there is already plenty of cooperative partnership-working between satellite taggers, the tagging licensing authorities, landowners and the police. We collaborate and share our data in order to improve conservation benefits for these iconic species across Scotland. What we don’t do is share data with those who would use the information to disturb and/or kill eagles or other tagged raptors.

Had the SGA not walked off from the PAW Scotland Raptor Group in 2017 when the damning results of the Gov-commissioned Satellite Tag Review Report was published, they’d have known that this petition was an utterly pointless waste of everyone’s precious time.

The SGA lodged this petition in September 2019 and it was seen by many as just the latest in a long line of efforts to undermine and discredit the use of raptor satellite tags, simply because the tagging of raptors like golden eagles, hen harriers, white-tailed eagles and red kites has exposed the previously hidden extent of illegal raptor persecution on many grouse moors and has finally led the Scottish Government to committing to the introduction of a licensing scheme for grouse shooting in Scotland.

[The satellite tag fitted to this golden eagle led researchers to a grouse moor in the Angus Glens where the bird was found to have been illegally poisoned. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Raptor persecution crimes attract huge media attention because it’s hard to believe that people are still killing golden eagles and other raptors in Scotland in the 21st century.

As a result of this ongoing publicity, the game-shooting industry has spent considerable time and effort trying to undermine the satellite-tagging of raptors, either by launching disgusting personal & abusive attacks against named individuals involved in the tagging projects, or by blaming tagged raptor disappearances on imaginary windfarms, or by blaming tagged raptor disappearances on faulty sat tags fitted to turtles in India, or by blaming tagged raptor disappearances on bird activist‘ trying to ‘smear gamekeepers’, or by claiming that those involved with raptor tagging projects have perverted the course of justice by fabricating evidence, or by claiming that raptor satellite-tagging should be banned because it’s ‘cruel’ and the tag data serve no purpose other than to try and entrap gamekeepers.

There have also been two laughable attempts to discredit the authoritative golden eagle satellite tag review (here and here), thankfully dismissed by the Scottish Government. The industry knows how incriminating these satellite tag data are and so has been trying to do everything in its power to corrode public and political confidence in (a) the tag data and (b) the justification for fitting sat tags to raptors, hence this latest petition from the SGA. Unfortunately for the SGA, its petition wasn’t enough to derail the Government’s response to the Werritty Review in 2020, as many of us suspected was the intention.

[A young golden eagle fitted with a satellite tag in Scotland prior to fledging. Photo by Dan Kirkwood]

Those of us involved in raptor satellite tagging in Scotland submitted evidence to the various committees that have scrutinised this petition (e.g. Scotland’s Golden Eagle Satellite Tagging Group, who described the SGA’s petition as ‘fact-free nonsense’ (here); RSPB Scotland (here), and me (here), although strangely, in the three years the petition has been active, none of us have been asked about our evidence or invited to attend any of the hearings.

The latest committee to review this petition was the Net Zero, Energy & Transport Committee, who considered the petition at its meeting on Tuesday (28 June 2022).

The Committee had received a submission from NatureScot identifying that new data-sharing protocols [between taggers and NatureScot] are now in place that perhaps were not in place when the petition was originally submitted. [Ed: This is not the case at all; data-sharing has been open with NatureScot for years, just not formalised in writing because none of us deemed it necessary, so all NatureScot has done is confirm what was already happening!].

NatureScot also told the Committee it believes that the data provides important oversight and that tagging is being done ‘competently, professionally and in an open way’.

The Committee had also received correspondence from Police Scotland who said it was also happy with the protocols in place.

On this basis, the petition was closed. It was also noted that in future, stakeholders will be invited to attend the committee to provide expert input. That is welcomed.

I did note, though, that hilariously, the SGA had submitted a last-minute note to the Committee on the evening before the meeting, crying about how its attempt to get involved with the satellite tagging of a golden eagle last year had apparently been ‘blocked’. Funny, I didn’t think the SGA supported satellite tagging?!

Is there no end to their hypocrisy?

It’s a beautiful irony actually, as it illustrates perfectly just how regulated the field of satellite-tagging is in the UK, contra to the SGA’s absurd claims in this petition. All satellite-tagging project proposals have to provide rigorous scientific justification for fitting these tags, which is then scrutinised by a special panel of experts at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO, the licensing body). If the proposal doesn’t meet these rigorous standards, the licence will be refused.

You can read the Committee’s decision to close the petition here:

You can read the SGA’s story of apparently being ‘blocked’ from fitting a satellite tag to a golden eagle last year:

And if you want a really good laugh, I’d encourage you to read the Golden Eagle Satellite Tagging Group’s expert evisceration of the SGA’s petition here.

Police seize three tawny owls during raid on Cheshire home

Three tawny owls have been seized at a house in St Helens as police carried out a raid as part of an investigation into an alleged wild bird disturbance in Cheshire.

[Photo of the seized owls, by Cheshire Police Rural Crime Team]

Officers in St Helens joined Cheshire Police Rural Crime Team to execute the warrant at an address in Newton-le-Willows on 20th June 2022.

The owls were reportedly found in poor conditions with a lack of documentation and they’ve been passed in to the care of the RSPCA.

The raid was in connection with allegations of possible offences at an unnamed Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Cheshire.

In a statement police said: “A number of partner agencies joined us, including Natural England, RSPCA (England & Wales) and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

At present Cheshire Police are still investigating. During the warrant three tawny owls were seized due to poor conditions and no relevant records being located, along with other related evidence and a quantity of class B drugs.

Wildlife Crime is a growing issue and it is important to tackle it with our partner agencies.

Cheshire Police Rural Crime Team confirmed a warrant was executed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act but added that limited details could be released because it is an ongoing investigation.

In a statement, the team said: “We executed a warrant in the Merseyside area. This was in relation to (possible) offences committed with regard to scheduled and wild bird disturbance at a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Cheshire.

This is now a joint investigation with Natural England and Cheshire Rural Crime Team. We will keep you updated with this investigation, as soon as we are able to release further information.”

£1,000 funding award available for early-career raptor conservationists

A funding award of up to £1,000 is up for grabs to help support early-career researchers working on projects that focus on the conservation of birds of prey.

The Marion Paviour Award is administered by the Hawk Conservancy Trust in Hampshire and is open to applicants from anywhere in the world.

The purpose of this award is to further research into the conservation of birds of prey and is intended to support early-career researchers working towards this goal. Please consider the following information before making an application:

  • The project must be focussed on conservation and/or research of birds of prey.
  • The maximum award amount is £1000.
  • Recipients will be required to provide a report about the use of the funds.
  • Recipients will be required to acknowledge the support of the Hawk Conservancy Trust in any related materials and presentations.
  • Copies of full project reports and publications will be provided to the Trust.
  • Recipients are required to communicate updates to the Trust for the purposes of publicising the project.

All uses of funds will be considered, however preference will be given to those applying for support for fieldwork, conference fees to present work, or travel costs (for fieldwork or conference attendance) over equipment costs.

Applications are required to submit the following:

  • Basic CV (one page maximum)
  • A short summary of the project (two pages maximum) which includes:
    • Objectives of the project, methods and any results if the project is ongoing;
    • Amount requested, how it will be used and how this fits into the overall project;
    • The research and/or conservation value to birds of prey (include species in question and reason for the project); and
    • A brief project timeline.
  • A letter of recommendation (e.g. Supervisor, manager, etc.)

The deadline for applications is 31 August 2022 at 23:59 BST. Applications received after the deadline will not be accepted.

To apply, please click here.

Sentencing deferred for convicted Scottish gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies

Sentencing has been deferred today for depraved Scottish gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies.

Davies, 28, had pleaded guilty at Forfar Sheriff Court in May 2022 to a number of animal cruelty offences relating to the keeping and training of dogs for animal fighting (badger baiting) and of failing to seek veterinary attention for dogs that had sustained serious injuries from those fights. He had also pleaded guilty to a number of firearms offences after the Scottish SPCA raided his home in 2019 on Millden Estate in the Angus Glens and found three unsecure guns and ammunition lying around inside the house.

[A screen shot of media coverage in May 2022 after Davies had pleaded guilty]

Davies was identified as part of a brutal dog-fighting ring when he submitted grotesque ‘trophy’ photographs to be printed, using his address on Millden Estate as the return address. Shop workers alerted the Scottish SPCA who then launched an investigation.

Sentencing was deferred in May for social reports after Sheriff Derek Reekie told Davies:

This is truly disturbing and stressful. It’s just horrendous. It seems to me I’ve got to consider a custodial sentence.

This was clearly an organised activity. It’s clear from messages a group of these people were engaging in organised fighting and killing of animals“.

Davies was due to be sentenced today but this has now been deferred until 1st August 2022.

There isn’t any further news yet about the separate case concerning sacks full of dead raptors that were also found during the SSPCA raid on Millden Estate. Police Scotland is apparently dealing with that case.

Convicted Millden Estate gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies due to be sentenced for animal cruelty offences

Sentencing is due tomorrow of convicted Millden Estate gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies for animal cruelty offences, as well as a number of firearms offences.

Davies, 28, pleaded guilty in May to a number of offences relating to the keeping and training of dogs for animal fighting (badger baiting) and of failing to seek veterinary attention for dogs that had sustained serious injuries from those fights. He also admitted a number of firearms and shotgun offences relating to unsecured guns and ammunition at his cottage on Millden Estate.

[Rhys Owen Davies photographed outside Forfar Sheriff Court in May. Photo by Ross Gardiner from The Courier]

The depraved crimes of this Angus Glens gamekeeper were uncovered by an investigation led by the Scottish SPCA that began back in May 2019. Unbelievably, Davies had submitted some photos to a printing company to be developed; those photographs contained images of horrifically injured, disfigured and dead animals, along with a number of clearly identifiable individuals posing with spades at what looked to be fox dens and badger setts. Davies used his address at Millden Estate for the photo order to be returned.

Fortunately, the print developer recognised the serious nature of the images and reported the order to the Scottish SPCA.

In October 2019, the Scottish SPCA led a multi-agency raid on Millden Estate, and at another property in Aberdeenshire, where multiple pieces of evidence were uncovered during searches of gamekeepers’ houses and the wider estate.

Amongst other things, eleven dogs were seized from kennels at Davies’ cottage and from an outbuilding. Some dogs showed evidence of injuries, some fresh and others sustained previously. These injuries included a torn-off lower lip, extensive scarring and the lower face of one dog was missing. A collar tested positive for badger DNA.

Davies’ phone was seized and more images were found of harrowing animal injuries, GPS locations of where he’d been, and conversations with others in the gang discussing the fights, injuries sustained and comments about DIY veterinary attention.

One of these gang members, 32-year-old Liam Taylor of Deyhill, MacDuff, Aberdeenshire, was convicted last year for his role in this savagery (here). He received a ten-year ban for owning dogs, a one-year supervision order, and was ordered to undertake 240 hours of unpaid work.

It’ll be interesting to see what sentence Davies receives tomorrow. His defence lawyer (a QC, no less – I wonder if Millden Estate paid for his services?), tried to plead for mitigation on conviction but the Crown Office Fiscal, Karon Rollo, made clear that Davies was a fully-trained gamekeeper (three-years college training) and had been employed as a gamekeeper for four years so knew exactly what he was doing. Sheriff Derek Reekie agreed and asked for social reports on Davies before sentencing.

Unfortunately, Davies committed his disgusting crimes prior to the Scottish Government’s introduction of tougher penalties for animal cruelty and wildlife crime. That legislation, 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. However, it wasn’t enacted until November 2020. Davies’ crimes were committed in 2019, and I doubt the increased penalties can be applied retrospectively.

Even after sentencing tomorrow, this case won’t be over yet. During the raid on Millden Estate in October 2019, a number of dead raptors were found stuffed in sacks at various locations. Police Scotland is dealing with this aspect of the case but so far the investigating officer has been very reluctant to provide updates on case progress. I’ll be returning to this in due course.

Previous blogs on this case can be read herehereherehereherehereherehere, here

UPDATE 28th June 2022: Sentencing deferred for convicted Scottish gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies (here)

New paper provides insight in to golden eagles in north east Scotland

A new scientific paper has been published in the journal Scottish Birds (the quarterly journal of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club) detailing the recent history of golden eagles in a north east Scotland home range, authored by two long term members of the North East Raptor Study Group, Alastair Pout and Graham Rebecca.

It’s a remarkable piece of work in that it details information collected over a 40-year study (all conducted under licence), providing a fascinating, multi-decade insight into the ongoing challenges these eagles face when trying to breed in some parts of the species’ range, especially in areas that are managed for intensive driven grouse shooting. The impact that a simple change of estate ownership can have on the level of disturbance to the eagles, especially when a home range might cover multiple estate boundaries as this one does, is sobering.

The paper also highlights the ineffectiveness of much of the legislation that’s supposed to protect these eagles, from development projects to those intent on killing eagles to protect their gamebirds. This won’t be news to regular blog readers and explains why many historical eagle territories remain vacant in large parts of NE Scotland and why there’s such a high turnover a young, immature eagles attempting to breed. The persecution is obviously continuing in these areas, on such a scale as to cause regional population level effects.

Again, this isn’t news – scientists have been warning of the impact of persecution on the Scottish golden eagle population for decades (e.g. see here) and although we’ve seen some small improvements in some areas of Scotland in the last few years, the problem still very much persists in others.

Many thanks to the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club for allowing me to publish the Scottish Birds paper here. Well worth a read:

Suffolk police remove peregrine from falconer for return to the wild

On Friday, Suffolk Police’s wildlife crime team posted a photo on Twitter of a young tethered peregrine wearing falconry jesses. The photo was accompanied by a statement about how a multi-agency team had executed a search warrant at an unknown address and removed the peregrine with the intention of releasing it back to the wild.

No information was provided about the circumstances of how the falconer came to be in possession of a wild peregrine or whether the falconer would face charges for unlawful possession.

After a bit of digging it turns out that the young peregrine had hatched at a monitored site and had crash-landed in to a lake post-fledging. It had been rescued and sent to a wildlife hospital for assessment and rehabilitation.

Somehow (it’s not clear to me how) two falconers became involved and one of them took the peregrine, perhaps also with the intention of rehabilitation before release, but perhaps not. The falconer had removed the plastic colour ring from the peregrine’s leg (why would you do that if you intended to release the peregrine?) although the metal BTO leg ring was still in place on the other leg (as you can see from the photo).

Somebody obviously had concerns about the falconer’s intentions because a tip-off led to the multi-agency search led by Suffolk Police and assisted by Norfolk Constabulary, RSPB Investigations and the National Wildlife Crime Unit. Search warrants aren’t usually granted without the police being able to show reasonable grounds to suspect a crime has been committed. The peregrine was seized, presumably to ensure it was returned to the wild.

Apparently the police dealt with the falconer by way of a community resolution order, probably because it would have been too difficult (virtually impossible) to prove criminal intent in this case.

Well done to the police and agencies involved in retrieving this peregrine and getting it back where it belongs.

Scottish Gamekeepers Association takes hypocrisy to the next level

There are hypocrites, and then there’s the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA).

Yesterday, the SGA threw a major tantrum over the police reporting of an investigation into a dead golden eagle, found in Strathbraan earlier this year. The SGA is claiming that the police report was ‘insensitive’ and ‘led to gamekeeper abuse’. In fact the SGA’s exact words were:

As a result [of the police appeal for information], this directed unwarranted public suspicion towards the estate and its staff“.

What utter tosh.

The reality is somewhat different. The police statement wasn’t ‘insensitive’ at all. It was factual and timely and didn’t infer responsibility for the death of the eagle on anybody, let alone on gamekeepers. It was simply an appeal for information/witnesses of a potential wildlife crime. It didn’t even name an estate so quite how the SGA can claim the police appeal directed unwarranted public suspicion towards the estate and its staff is anyone’s guess. It’s fantasy stuff.

Let’s look at the facts.

On 17th May 2022, the Tayside Police Division of Police Scotland made the following appeal for information on social media:

How is this appeal in any way ‘insensitive’? The Police, quite rightly, didn’t even claim the eagle had been killed illegally. They said it had been found dead and a post mortem would be carried out to establish the cause of death.

Police Scotland was perfectly entitled to consider the eagle’s death suspicious, given the ongoing illegal persecution of raptors, and particularly golden eagles, in this region. Strathbraan is an area where at least eight satellite-tagged eagles have ‘vanished’ in recent years, including one whose tag was found a few years later, wrapped in lead sheeting and dumped in the river (here). Strathbraan was identified as a raptor persecution hotspot by the 2017 Government-commissioned golden eagle satellite tag review. Strathbraan is circled in orange below:

In addition to ongoing golden eagle persecution in this region, there was also the suspicious disappearance of a white-tailed eagle (here), an illegally-trapped hen harrier called Rannoch (here), the suspicious disappearance of a hen harrier called Heather (here), the illegally shot peregrine (here), the long-eared owl held illegally in a trap (here), the ~100 corvids found dumped in a loch (here), the failed raven cull demanded by Strathbraan gamekeepers but thinly-disguised as something else (here) and most recently the General Licence restriction imposed on a Strathbraan estate for wildlife crimes (here), a decision based on evidence provided by the police.

Police Scotland updated the public on this investigation yesterday, with this statement on social media:

Now, I’m not the world’s greatest fan of Tayside Police when it comes to investigating suspected wildlife crime, and especially raptor persecution – they don’t have a good track record and few of us trust them to do a decent job – but on this occasion I don’t think they’ve done anything wrong at all.

I think the SGA is just using this incident as another opportunity to play the victim card, to force the Scottish Government into setting up a ‘gamekeeping taskforce’ to ‘achieve Government policy changes’ for an industry that claims to have been ‘marginalised’ (perhaps if the industry stopped killing raptors the public might look upon them more favourably).

The taskforce is something that shooting organisations have been pushing for for over a year but the Scottish Government has so far resisted. It seems to me like this latest incident has been hijacked by the SGA to apply pressure on Government, perhaps as a way in to water-down the forthcoming legislation on grouse shooting, which let’s not forget is only coming in because some gamekeepers continue to kill raptors, despite years of being warned of the consequences. It’s too late for tears from the SGA; the industry could have and should have done much, much more to stamp it out. Now they all have to deal with the consequences.

But what astonishes me the most about the SGA’s latest contrived melt down is the hypocrisy of it all. Here is an organisation crying tears at bedtime about what it claims to be ‘abuse’ (although the extent of this is contested – here), and yet some SGA directors, members, and committee members have played a central role, for years, in the online harassment and abuse of raptor conservationists or indeed anyone or any business seen to be supporting raptor conservation and grouse moor reform (e.g. here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).

The SGA is also the organisation that, in a nasty and vindictive attack on Chris Packam, hired what they claimed to be a ‘handwriting expert’ to allege that Chris had faked his own death threat. This made national headlines, presumably after a tip off by the SGA to the press. The SGA’s ‘handwriting expert’ was recently exposed as a graphologist willing to present knowingly inaccurate evidence in court documents – here.

And now they’re crying about the ‘abuse’ they allege to have received after a straightforward police appeal for information about a dead eagle?

Laughably pathetic.

UK donating Red kites to Spain to boost dwindling population

Press release from RSPB (24th June 2022)

Flying kites: the UK’s most successful bird conservation project returns the favour – and chicks – to Spain

The UK’s most successful bird conservation project – for red kites – has come full circle and is now donating kite chicks to a similar project in Spain, the country that provided chicks for our red kite reintroduction project to England almost 35 years ago. 

In 1989, an ambitious project began to restore red kite populations in England and Scotland after they had become extinct around the 1870s, having suffered relentless human persecution by gamekeepers, skin and egg collectors. Now, conservationists are delighted that the project has been so successful that red kite chicks can be supplied in return from England back to Spain to help with important efforts to conserve the species in that country. This amazing turn-around also involves some of the key people involved in the original England and Scotland red kite reintroduction projects.

From the 1700s onwards red kites were killed alongside other birds of prey across the UK by game preservers and farmers, regarded as “vermin”, and 200 years of relentless human persecution followed. The red kite due to its close association with humans was one of the easiest raptor species to exterminate. At the turn of the 20th century, there were just a handful of red kites in the UK, and those birds that remained were confined to remote Welsh valleys.

With legal protection, reduced human persecution, and thanks in particular to the dedicated efforts of enlightened conservationists and farmers, the Welsh population of red kites began to expand slowly. By the 1980s though, they were still confined to the Welsh uplands and their population was considered fragile and vulnerable to extinction. A trial reintroduction of red kites to both England and Scotland was proposed as it was felt highly unlikely that these birds would return naturally and within a reasonable timescale.   

A jigsaw of red kite reintroductions at 9 sites across the UK began from 1989 to help bring the kite back to its former range. The rest is history, and this initiative then developed into one of the greatest UK conservation success stories. From being extinct in England and Scotland, 15-17% of the world’s red kite population is now estimated to be present in the UK.

Most of the birds that were reintroduced to England by Natural England (and its predecessors the Joint Nature Conservation Committee) came from the Navarra area in the north of Spain. About two hundred chicks were donated to the Chilterns and Forestry England woodlands in the East Midlands reintroduction during the 1990s. The RSPB led on the Scottish reintroduction and at a UK level the overall red kite reintroduction programme was overseen jointly with Natural England.  

These reintroduced birds first bred in 1992, just three years after the start of reintroduction, and their population has subsequently expanded rapidly, already recovering much of their former range. Red kites are now thriving again in England and Scotland with the UK population estimated at 6,000 breeding pairs with 4,500-5,000 breeding pairs in England. An amazing conservation success in just 33 years – and still with substantial scope for further population expansion and increase in range. During this time the red kite has become very visible to large parts of the UK population and hugely popular with the public.   

This year, all the chicks going to Spain – working with Accion por el Mundo Salvaje (AMUS) in Extremadura region (www.amus.org.es) – have been collected by Forestry England from nests in the nation’s forests they care for, as well as from the Boughton Estate in Northamptonshire, who have both supported red kite conservation efforts for many years. The project has been advised by RSPB and former Natural England staff involved with the original reintroduction and with huge background experience, One of the Forestry England wildlife rangers collecting the donor birds for the translocation was involved in the original reintroduction collecting chicks from Spain to be released in Northamptonshire woodlands. Local licensed raptor workers, Simon Dudhill and Steve Thornton who have been monitoring red kites for many decades in the East Midlands have provided essential support by locating nests and liaising with local landowners.   

The RSPB’s Duncan Orr-Ewing, who organised the first red kite reintroduction programme in Scotland, and is now advising the latest project, said “the red kite population is confined to Europe. Compared to most of our other native birds of prey it has a relatively small global population. Following concerted conservation action in the UK in recent decades this species’ population has greatly recovered. It is amazing that we are now able to support conservation action for red kites in Spain and to reciprocate their previous generosity in supplying donor stock for our original reintroduction project in England”.       

Tim Mackrill of Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation said “The success of the red kite reintroductions in the UK demonstrates the importance of this conservation technique for species which are naturally slow to expand their range. Restoring the red kite to areas of highly suitable habitat in the UK has enabled the population to recover from the impacts of persecution far more quickly than through natural recolonisation, and now means we are in a position to assist with the conservation of the species in Spain. It shows the clear benefits of a proactive approach to species recovery.”  

Karl Ivens, Forestry England Wildlife Ranger Manager involved in the original and current translocations, explained “I first spotted one of these magnificent birds in May 1994 after the Chilterns reintroduction. It was eating carrion near Wadenhoe Great Wood, ironically where the last nest site was recorded before they became extinct locally in the 1840s. Before I knew it, the following year I was in Spain collecting chicks to bring back to the nation’s forests!

“I’m delighted to see this conservation success during my career, and it is an honour to be collecting chicks again, this time from woodlands I work in, to return to Spain. Red kites are now so easily seen and enjoyed by everyone locally and further afield thanks to a great partnership and Forestry England’s commitment to reintroducing wildlife in the nation’s forests.”

Natural England Chair Tony Juniper said “The reintroduction of red kites to England is the most successful raptor conservation story in Europe. It’s a clear blueprint for the future of species reintroductions, particularly for some of our most endangered birds.”

“Through partnership working, new legally binding government targets for species abundance and the new environmental land management scheme, we increasingly have the means to turn the tide on Nature’s decline in England, bringing fresh promise for other native birds, including our beloved Hen Harrier and Curlew.

“I’m hopeful the red kite chicks bound for Spain will flourish in the same way the chicks that arrived to this country a generation ago did, as we support those helping to rebuild the population and the prospects of this magnificent bird in southern Europe.”

Sophie Common, ZSL (Zoological Society of London) said “It was important to assess the health of the red kites before they travelled back to Spain and the ZSL wildlife veterinarians were pleased to be able to give them the all clear.”

ENDS

There’s not much detail in this press release about the problems facing red kites in some areas of Spain but this BBC news article provides a bit more information, as does this article in The Guardian. Illegal poisoning is still an issue in some areas, just as it still is in parts of the UK, notably in areas managed for gamebird shooting e.g. see here and here.

However, according to Alfonso Godino, one of the reintroduction partners in Spain, tough measures including prison sentences for poisoning ‘have now reduced kite mortality’.

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