More raptor persecution uncovered in the Scottish Borders

We’re still working our way through RSPB Scotland’s recently published twenty-year review (see here) and what a fascinating read it’s proving to be. We’ve already blogged about two things that caught our eye (see here and here), and now here’s the third.

On page 14 of the report, the following has been written:

Lines 5, 6 and 7 of Table 4 describe the finding at one site, in an area intensively managed for driven grouse shooting, of a set crow trap, hidden within a small area of woodland, which was found to contain two feral pigeons indubitably being used as illegal lures to attract birds of prey. Under a tree, only a few metres away, were found the decomposed carcasses of four buzzards that had been shot, while a short distance from the crow trap a pigeon was found in a small circular cage, with four set spring traps set on the ground, hidden under moss, attached to the trap“.

Here’s a copy of Table 4, with lines 5, 6 and 7 highlighted:

Nr Heriot 2014

Also included in the report is a photograph of the pigeon inside a small cage with the four set spring traps hidden under moss:

Pigeon in trap Heriot 2014

So, according to the RSPB report, these offences were uncovered in May 2014 on a driven grouse moor in the Borders, with the location given as “nr Heriot“. Funny, we don’t remember seeing anything in the press about these crimes.

Hmm. Could these wildlife crimes be in any way related to SNH’s recent decision to serve a General Licence restriction order on parts of the Raeshaw Estate and Corsehope Estate (see here)? Both Raeshaw Estate and neighbouring Corsehope Estate can be described as being ‘nr Heriot’; indeed, the recorded property address for Raeshaw Estate is given as ‘Raeshaw House, Heriot, EH38 5YE’ (although the owner is only listed as Raeshaw Holdings Ltd., registered in the Channel Islands, natch), according to Andy Wightman’s excellent Who Owns Scotland website. And according to SNH, the General Licence restriction order on these two estates was served due to “issues about the illegal placement of traps” (see here). It’s possible that they’re connected, but it’s also possible that these crimes are unconnected with SNH’s General Licence restriction order on these two estates because Raeshaw isn’t the only grouse moor that could be described as being ‘nr Heriot’. Unfortunately, the (lack of) detail available in the public domain doesn’t allow us to be conclusive. Perhaps there’ll be some transparency once the legal arguments (see here) about the General Licence restrictions have concluded (which should happen fairly soon). Then again, perhaps there won’t.

If these crimes were not uncovered on either the Raeshaw or Corsehope Estates, we hope there’ll at least be a General Licence restriction order served on whichever grouse moor these traps were found because there’s been a clear breach of the General Licence rules – pigeons are not permitted as decoy birds in crow cage traps; set spring traps are not permitted out in the open; oh, and shooting buzzards is also illegal. There should also be a prosecution of course, but that’s highly improbable given the track record of non-prosecutions for raptor crimes uncovered in this part of the Borders.

There’s been a long history of raptor persecution “nr Heriot“, dating back to at least 2001. Here’s a list we’ve compiled of confirmed raptor persecution crimes, all listed within RSPB annual reports:

2001 May: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot Dale”. No prosecution

2003 Feb: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2003 Mar: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2003 Apr: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2003 Nov: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2004 Feb: Carbofuran (possession for use) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2004 Feb: two poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2004 Oct: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2005 Dec: poisoned buzzard & raven (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2006 Sep: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2006 Oct: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “Heriot”. No prosecution

2009 Mar: two poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot”. No prosecution

2009 Jun: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot”. No prosecution

2009 Jun: 4 x poisoned baits (2 x rabbits; 2 x pigeons) (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot”. No prosecution

2010 Nov: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot”. No prosecution

2011 Jan: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot” No prosecution

2013 Jun: shot + poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) “nr Heriot”. No prosecution

2014 May: crow trap baited with two live pigeon decoys “nr Heriot”. Prosecution?

2014 May: four set spring traps beside live pigeon decoy “nr Heriot”. Prosecution?

2014 May: four shot buzzards “nr Heriot” Prosecution?

Not included in an RSPB annual report (because it happened this year): 2015 Jul: shot buzzard “found by side of road between Heriot and Innerleithen” according to media reports (see here). Prosecution?

Interestingly, also not included in the RSPB’s annual reports but reported by the Southern Reporter (here) and the Guardian (here), a police raid on Raeshaw Estate in 2004 uncovered nine dead birds of prey, including five barn owls, two buzzards, a kestrel and a tawny owl, described as being “poisoned or shot“. In addition, “a number of illegal poisons were discovered but no-one was ever prosecuted“. According to both these articles, during a further police raid on Raeshaw in 2009 ‘three injured hunting dogs were seized by the SSPCA on suspicion of involvement with badger baiting’. We don’t know whether that resulted in a prosecution.

Also not included in the above list is the sudden ‘disappearance’ of a young satellite-tagged hen harrier in October 2011. This bird had fledged from Langholm and it’s last known signal came from Raeshaw Estate. A search failed to find the body or the tag.

Fascinating stuff.

Going to the Scottish Birdfair? Read this first

PrintThere’s an article today in the Sunday Herald about the RSPB’s controversial choice of venue for next month’s Scottish Birdfair. For the second year running, the RSPB has chosen to hold this event at Hopetoun House, the stately home of Lord Hopetoun whose family also owns the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in South Lanarkshire, a grouse moor that has been at the centre of raptor persecution allegations for years. Sunday Herald article here.

Regular blog readers will know we’ve commented on this issue at length: see here, here, here, here, here and especially here.

In today’s article, veteran Scottish Raptor Study Group member Ronnie Graham urges potential Birdfair attendees to “make an informed decision” about going.

The following information might help. This is a list of confirmed persecution incidents listed at Leadhills/Abington between 2003-2011. This information has been sourced from the RSPB’s own annual persecution reports, in addition to Scottish Government data. The list does not include other ‘unconfirmed’ or ‘probable’ incidents, such as the discovery of skeletal raptor bodies found buried in forestry or dead raptors found shoved inside rabbit holes. Data are only available up to 2011, so any incidents that might have occured in 2012 or the first quarter of 2013 are not included. There are 41 confirmed incidents on this list; of these, only a couple have been successfully prosecuted (see here for a good example of why prosecutions fail). The list is a good example of why conviction rates should not be used to indicate the extent of criminal activity.

2003 April: hen harrier shot

2003 April: hen harrier eggs destroyed

2004 May: buzzard shot

2004 May: short-eared owl shot

2004 June: buzzard poisoned (Carbofuran)

2004 June: 4 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran)

2004 June: crow poisoned (Carbofuran)

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 February: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 April: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 February: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 March: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran)

2006 April: dead buzzard (persecution method unknown)

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 May: poisoned egg baits (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2006 June: 6 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned egg bait (Carbofuran)

2006 September: 5 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran)

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2007 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2007 April: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran)

2007 May: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2008 October: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’]

2008 October: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’]

2008 November: 3 x poisoned ravens (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’]

2009 March: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2009 March: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned magpie (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2010 October: short-eared owl shot

2011 March: illegally-set clam trap

2011 December: buzzard shot

Photo: a Scottish gamekeeper’s illegal gin trap

Thanks to the contributor who sent in this photo and the following information:

Given the appalling news story about a golden eagle found with injuries from a leg-hold trap…here’s my photo of a freshly used gin trap and stake seized by the police and RSPB from a keeper in 2003. One of a bagful.

To my certain knowledge these traps, outlawed finally in Scotland in 1974 (20 years after England…seems it was ok to torture foxes legally up to that point), have been used (and are probably still being used) under a bait to trap golden eagles, wild cats and foxes..

The most likely trap to have been involved in the recent golden eagle case. Eagles are strong enough to rip one of these up and fly or hobble away…if stake isn’t well tied down. They can snap bailer twine (the usual attachment for Fenn/Springer pole traps) like it was thread”.

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).


Dinnet Estate Gamekeeper convicted for offence

Hen harrier: the UK's most persecuted raptor

On the night of June 25 2003, a gamekeeper on the Dinnet Estate in Aberdeenshire was filmed by RSPB investigators as he left his Landrover carrying a shotgun, climbed over a fence on to the neighbouring Crannach Estate, and began to stalk a recently-fledged hen harrier for several hundred metres across the hillside. At one point he was seen to point his shotgun at the harrier but he did not shoot.

At Stonehaven Sheriff Court on 17 February 2006, the keeper was convicted of firearms offences and of trespassing with a firearm on the neighbouring Crannoch Estate. He was fined £500.

Haystoun Estate gamekeeper fined for offence

Peregrine chick

According to an article written by an RSPB investigator and published in  Scottish Bird News by the Scottish Ornithological Society (see link below), in June 2003, RSPB investigators received a tip-off that a peregrine nest site with a history of suspected deliberate interference was likely to be attacked imminently. Shortly afterwards, a 41 year old gamekeeper from the Haystoun Estate, Peebles, was allegedly filmed clambering across to the nest, removing the single peregrine chick, putting it inside a sack and walking off. The police arrived within minutes but the peregrine chick was never found.

The keeper was charged but when the case came to court on 24 March 2004, after two hours of legal argument Sheriff Farrell ruled that the video footage was inadmissable evidence because the RSPB did not have permission to be on the land for the purpose of detecting an offence.

It seems more than a little bit strange that a member of the public can be barred from telling a court about a crime, just because the landowner had not given permission for that person to be there! Surely, it is in any landowner’s interest to have criminals apprehended and dealt with by the courts? All very strange.

The gamekeeper was ultimately fined £300 and had his firearms certificates revoked after police officers found a weapon and ammunition in his unattended Landrover at the time of the incident.

The keeper later attempted to get his firearms certificates back:

Gamekeeper receives pitiful fine for poisoning offences on Fairnington Estate, Kelso

Poisoned baits can often be identified by the blue poison granules, found either on or inside the carcass

In August 2003, dead pheasant poults covered in blue granules were found on the Fairnington Estate, Kelso (owned by Mr Nigel Salvesen), close to a pen used to rear pheasants for shooting. Later tests showed the blue granules contained the banned pesticide, Carbofuran. Further searches revealed more carbofuran in a vehicle and in an unsecured shed, as well as alphachloralose and strychnine. The gamekeeper was charged with 48 offences under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 (FEPA), and the Firearms Act.

At Jedburgh Sheriff Court in June 2005, after plea-bargaining, the keeper admitted just 4 offences under FEPA and the Firearms Act. His pitiful fine was £190, after reference was made to his poor health and that it was his first known offence.

2 peregrines poisoned at Findochty, Morayshire

Dead peregrine

Two dead peregrines were found in June 2003, lying together below cliffs on a beach in an area known locally as the Three Moothed Caves in Findochty, Morayshire. Forensic testing showed that both had been poisoned with Carbofuran, and police believe the birds had been thrown off the top of the cliffs and dumped, as there wasn’t a known peregrine nest at the site.

Peregrine poisoned at Strathaven, South Lanarkshire

Peregrines are persecuted by gamekeepers, egg collectors, falconers and pigeon fanciers.

A peregrine falcon found dead close to its nest in Strathaven, South Lanarkshire in July 2003 had been poisoned with Carbofuran. The male adult was part of a breeding pair. His female mate has not been since and their eggs ‘disappeared’ from the nest.

Peregrines face persecution from several sources. They are targeted by gamekeepers, especially on grouse moors, and also by egg collectors, falconers and pigeon fanciers.

Farr Estate gamekeeper’s conviction quashed

peregrine falcon

A gamekeeper on the Farr Estate, Tomatin, Inverness-shire was fined £1,500 for attempting to trap rare birds of prey. The keeper was found guilty of laying traps to catch peregrine falcons and goshawks. The 37-year-old was convicted at Inverness Sheriff Court in January 2005 at the end of a trial which lasted two years.

Sheriff Donald Booker-Milburn found the keeper, of  Strathdearn, Tomatin, guilty of two charges under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

The first charge stated that he set a crow cage funnel trap in Kyllachy with the intention of trapping peregrine falcons and goshawks. He used the trap with the funnel open, the door wired shut and two live feral pigeons set within the trap as bait.

The second accused him of possessing nine illegal gin traps, which can be used to trap wild birds and mammals such as foxes and wild cats, for criminal purposes.

An illegal gin trap

RSPB Species Protection Officer Keith Morton said at the time: “We are very encouraged that the sheriff imposed a substantial penalty, as this will highlight the seriousness of this offence”. He added: “It will be interesting to see the reaction of the estate, we suspect there is a great deal of support about this activity among some employers.”

The keeper’s conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal later in 2005.