Gamekeepers unfairly blamed for raptor persecution? Let’s look at the facts…

We regularly hear the bleatings of Alexander Simpson Hogg, 51, (known to many of us as simple Alex Hogg), chair of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, that gamekeepers, those “professional wildlife managers”, are blamed unfairly for raptor persecution events. Really, Alex? Let’s look at the facts, shall we?

Here is a pie chart compiled from RSPB data on raptor persecution incidents in the UK (reproduced from the RSPB publication Birdcrime 2008). From 1996 to 2008, 75% of people convicted of offences relating to bird of prey persecution have been linked with game interests; all 64 of these were gamekeepers, nearly all full-time.

In an article published in the Scotsman newspaper on 26 March 2004, Alex Hogg stated: “We [the SGA] have made it absolutely clear to our members that anyone found guilty of perpetrating these acts of serious wildlife crime will be expelled from our organisation immediately”.

And in an article published in the Independent on 7 October 2007, it was reported that the SGA had released the following statement: “If any of our members are convicted of a wildlife crime offence appropriate measures will be taken. Sanctions include the withdrawal of membership. In particular, conviction for poisoning offences will be treated with the utmost severity”.

So, Alex, here’s your opportunity to demonstrate that the SGA doesn’t merely pay lip service to the task of addressing wildlife crime- can you produce a list of members who have been expelled from the SGA for being convicted of a serious wildlife crime?

As a member of the government-led Partnership for Wildlife Crime (PAW), this should be the least you have to do to demonstrate your organisation’s sincerity.

Community action after golden eagle ‘Alma’ found poisoned on Millden Estate, Perthshire

Local residents are outraged at the poisoning of golden eagle ‘Alma’, who was found dead on the Millden Estate in Glen Esk in July 2009.

Members of Inveresk Community Council are now writing to the three Estates in Glenesk (Millden Estate, Gannochy Estate and Invermark Estate), as well as the Scottish Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham and the Chair of Scottish Natural Heritage, Andrew Thin, to express their concern about the alleged use of lethal illegal poisonous baits in the area.

Brechin Community Council vice-convenor, David Adam, who was at the meeting and raised the issue, said: “I think we are all quite shocked about this. I think it is fairly conclusive that the bird was poisoned and that the bird was poisoned in Glen Esk. These birds are an extremely important part of our heritage”.

Inveresk Community Council chairperson, Charlie Simpson, commented: “To poison such creatures goes totally against the nature of Scotland”.

At the time of the discovery of the dead eagle, police conducted searches, under warrant, of gamekeepers’ cottages and vehicles on the Millden Estate. No arrests have been made. Tayside Police claim this is an on-going investigation, which probably means this crime will remain unsolved and the criminal(s) unpunished, like so many other reported poisoning incidents in this region and elsewhere in Scotland.

This is Alma as a chick, at her nest on the Glenfeshie Estate in 2007, being tagged by Roy Dennis
Two years later, Alma is dead after visiting grouse moors in Glen Esk

The Mark Osborne Coincidences Continue…

Even casual readers of this blog will be aware of the frequency with which the name “Mark Osborne” occurs. His connection to locations with both actual and alleged raptor persecution incidents, which must of course be coincidental, is not confined to Scotland.

February 2008. Three gamekeepers working on the Snilesworth Estate, near Northallerton in North Yorkshire, have pleaded guilty to a range of charges relating to the use of cage traps containing live pigeons to take birds of prey.

In May 2007, following allegations of traps being set to catch birds of prey, the North Yorkshire Police, supported by the RSPB and RSPCA, visited the Snilesworth Estate. The estate is reportedly part of a network of shooting estates managed by Mr (John) Mark Osborne (56) of Banbury, Oxford, according to the RSPB link, below, and this link here.

James Benjamin Shuttlewood, the headkeeper of the Snilesworth Estate with 20 years experience, pleaded guilty to five offences, relating to the setting of illegal traps by his subordinates. He was fined £250 for each offence.

Charles Lambert Woof pleaded guilty to one offence of mis-using a cage trap. He was fined £100.

Eighteen-year old David George Cook pleaded guilty to two offences of setting cage traps. Cook, who was 17 at the time the offences were commited, was given a conditional discharge for 12 months.
Additionally, the three convicted keepers have each been asked to pay £43 costs.

Full story here:

RSPB story here:

RSPB Investigator’s blog about this case here

2006 article in the New York Times about Snilesworth Estate, with James Chapel listed as ‘manager of a Snilesworth Moor estate’ (here). James Chapel is Director of William Powell Sporting (see here), a company owned by Mr Osborne.

Ian West, Head of RSPB Investigations added: ‘As a major manager of shooting estates Mr Osborne has a real opportunity to show leadership and signal an end to the Victorian tradition of intolerance towards birds of prey.’
The illegal killing of birds of prey is a major factor limiting the range and populations of many species across the UK.

“Eagles have no place on my grouse moor”, allegedly said former Laird of Fordie Estate, Perthshire

Lord Anthony Tryon has an alleged dislike of golden eagles

It is often said that gamekeepers only persecute raptors because they are acting upon the orders of their employer, and fear losing their job and often a tied cottage if they refuse. Here is an example of an estate manager who refused.

Ian Thomas (42) had worked on the Fordie Estate near Comrie, Perthshire for 15 years, when the estate was bought by former banker Lord Anthony Tryon (former husband of Lady ‘Kanga’ Tryon). During an inspection of his newly-acquired grouse moor, Lord Tryon allegedly became irritated at finding piles of grouse feathers indicating kills by birds of prey. According to Ian Thomas, Lord Tryon allegedly said, “Eagles have no place on my grouse moor” and “I have bought an estate and I will do what I like”.

Thomas claims that he was instructed by Lord Tryon to shoot a golden eagle and use illegal poisons to rid the estate of other raptors. Thomas refused and reported him to the authorities, saying he felt “morally obliged” to blow the whistle. Thomas claimed he was constructively dismissed after being branded a trouble-maker by Tryon and took his claim to an employment tribunal.

To avoid giving evidence in court, Tryon made an undisclosed settlement to his former estate manager in 2004.

Full story:

The Fordie Estate was bought from Lord Tryon in 2009 and is now owned by designer luggage tycoon, Luis Vuitton. The Fordie Estate is one of eight estates in Perthshire who have joined the Countrywatch Partnership, working to protect three key raptor species in the area (golden eagle, hen harrier and peregrine).

Thomas has gone on to establish his own forestry consultancy business. Here is a man with whom it’s worth doing business.


Film footage of Gamekeepers on Leadhills Estate ruled inadmissable

Female Hen harrier at nest

On 30 April 2003, an undercover RSPB investigation team were filming at a hen harrier nest on the Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire (also known as Hopetoun Estate and Abington Farms Ltd). This estate has a shocking record of alleged persecution against hen harriers and peregrines.

According to an article published by a former RSPB investigator (see link below), a gamekeeper was filmed walking up the valley towards the hen harrier nest, and ‘finding’ the nest by throwing a training bag for his labrador dog. The keeper was also allegedly filmed picking up the dog by its throat and kicking it to the ground. He was later charged with a cruelty offence after SSPCA officers and a vet had viewed the evidence.

Later the same night, the RSPB team reportedly filmed a group of men approaching the hen harrier nest in the dark using torches.  They are reported to have shot the incubating female and removed the eggs from her nest. One of the RSPB team followed the men back to the road and took their vehicle registration number. The vehicle was allegedly found to be used by the estate’s head gamekeeper. A shotgun cartridge found next to the nest was allegedly matched to the gun belonging to the head gamekeeper’s son. The son was later charged in relation to killing the harrier and destroying the nest.

After prolonged legal activity, the charges against both keepers were all dropped. It is thought this was in connection to the use of undercover footage by the RSPB. (See our post about a similar incident at Haystoun Estate in 2003).


Gamekeeper guilty of offences on Stanhope estate, Peebleshire

Stanhope Estate

Following an anonymous complaint about alleged posioning offences on the Stanhope Estate, Peebleshire, police obtained a search warrant for a gamekeeper’s house. During the search they found Cymag gas, .275 ammunition and his shotguns were not secured inside a gun cabinet.

Following an appearance at Peebles Sheriff Court, the 31 year old keeper (name removed under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974) had his shotgun and firearms licence revoked. However, the court did not fine him or make him pay any costs, he was just admonished (given advice!) by the Sheriff.

Two Peregrine Chicks Poisoned in the Nest

 03 August 2007.  Grampian Police are appealing for information following the discovery of two poisoned four week old peregrine falcon chicks in their nest in the Inverurie area.

Peregrine chicks
The birds were discovered at the end of May when members of the North East Raptor Study Group visited the nest to ring and weigh the birds.

The two chicks had full crops and, following a post mortem examination and toxicology report, it was discovered that their food source was contaminated with an illegal pesticide, resulting in their death.

Peregrines are a “Schedule One” bird under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and are specially protected. New penalties for killing peregrines include up to a £10,000 fine or 12 months in prison.

Dave MacKinnon, Force Wildlife Crime Officer for Grampian Police said: “We are unable to give the exact location of the nest as these birds are specially protected. What I can say is that it appears the chicks had been fed poisoned bait by their parents, laced with a banned pesticide.

Red kites poisoned in Callander, Perthshire

A young male red kite found dead by the side of the road in Callander, Perthshire, in July 2007 had been illegally posioned. Sadly, it wasn’t an isolated incident. A few weeks earlier, two red kite chicks had been found closeby. Tests revealed that one chick had definitely been poisoned; the body of the 2nd chick was too decomposed for analysis. The chicks were unrelated to the dead adult kite.

Perthshire gamekeeper fined for possession of illegal poisons

On 15th Dec 2004, a 39 year old Perthshire gamekeeper (name removed under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974) of Taymist, Ballinluig, was fined £1200 after he was found to have two hazardous chemicals. The keeper, who runs shooting parties, admitted illegally storing alpha chloralose in his car and Cymag in his unlocked garage.

Chloralose has been used to kill thousands of birds, including golden eagles, kestrels and buzzards, in recent years. Two tins of Cymag were found in the keeper’s garage. The chemical, which gives off a lethal gas, has been used to clear mole and rabbit holes but will be banned at the end of the year.

Eight buzzards killed in suspected poisonings

Irish Times May 6th 2009. Eight buzzards have been killed in suspected poisoning incidents in the northeast in the last two months. The National Parks Wildlife Service (NPWS) said yesterday it was investigating the discovery of buzzard carcasses on farmlands in north Dublin, Louth and Meath.

buzzard soaring

The broad-winged birds of prey have only recently re-established themselves in Ireland after becoming extinct in the early 20th century through poisoning and hunting.