General Licence restriction imposed on Moy, a grouse-shooting estate, after discovery of poisoned red kite

Press release from NatureScot, 21st June 2022:

General Licence restricted on Highland estate

NatureScot has restricted the use of General Licences on Moy Estate for three years

The decision was made on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

This evidence included a poisoned red kite found on the estate in 2020, and incidents in relation to trapping offences.

[Red kite. Photographer unknown]

Donald Fraser, NatureScot’s Head of Wildlife Management, said: “We consider the information from Police Scotland provides robust evidence that wild birds have been killed or taken or there has been intention to do so illegally on this land.

“Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the use of general licences on this property for three years until June 2025. They may still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

“NatureScot is committed to using all the tools we have available to tackle wildlife crime. This measure will help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, although under tighter supervision.

“We believe this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime. We will continue to work closely with Police Scotland and consider information they provide on cases which may warrant restricting general licences.”

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out control of common species of wild birds, such as crows and magpies, to protect crops or livestock, without the need to apply for an individual licence.

In addition to this restriction, there are currently three other restrictions in place on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park, Lochan Estate in Perthshire and Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire.

ENDS

The restriction notice reads as follows:

In line with NatureScot’s published General Licence restrictions: Framework for Implementing Restrictions we hereby give notice that a restriction has been applied to the land outlined in red overleaf. This restriction prohibits the use of General Licences 01, 02 and 03 on that land between 21st June 2022 and 21st June 2025.

Please note that this restriction does not imply responsibility for the commission of crimes on any individuals.

This one has been a long time coming. Moy is one of those estates where if its name comes up in conversation amongst raptor conservationists in Scotland, eyes tend to roll and knowing looks are exchanged. It has been identified as a raptor persecution hotspot for many, many years.

Here is a map we created way back in 2016 to highlight the extent of raptor persecution crimes in former Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing’s constituency (given his strong support of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association) and this shows the concentration of incidents on and close to Moy Estate:

Here is a selection of examples, but this is by no means an exhaustive list:

Moy Estate was raided by police in 2010 after the discovery of poisoned bait and dead raptors and illegally set traps. A gamekeeper was later convicted of possession of a red kite after its bloodied corpse was found in the back of his vehicle. It had two broken legs, consistent with being caught in spring traps, and a head injury. A bloodied shinty stick was also found in the back of the vehicle. Notably, the gamekeeper wasn’t convicted for killing the kite, just for having possession of it. Nobody was charged with killing this kite.

These baited traps were discovered on the moor (the illegally-set spring traps were originally disguised under moss, removed here for evidential purposes). No charges were brought.

The remains of two further red kites were discovered on the moor, including a severed red kite leg and some wing tags that had previously been fitted to a kite, all found buried in holes under some moss. No charges were brought.

A jar in one of the gamekeeper’s houses contained the leg rings of four young golden eagles – nobody could account for how they had ended up inside that jar. Perhaps he’d found them whilst ‘metal detecting at his uncle’s farm’ like gamekeeper Archie Watson, who recently gave this implausible explanation to the court for how he’d come to possess BTO leg rings from a buzzard and a red kite attached to his keyring.

This male hen harrier was found caught by its leg in an illegally-set spring trap on Moy Estate in 2010. No charges were brought. It survived after being rescued by raptor workers from the Scottish Raptor Study Group.

In May 2011 a satellite-tracked red kite ‘disappeared’ on Moy, and another one ‘disappeared’ in August 2011.

In 2016 Police Scotland issued an appeal for information following the discovery of disturbed and abandoned buzzard and goshawk nests in the Moy Forest. One goshawk and four buzzard nests were abandoned in suspicious circumstances, with some evidence of illegal disturbance. These nests were being monitored by staff from Forestry Enterprise Scotland (see here). No charges were brought.

In 2017 masked gunmen were caught on camera at a goshawk nest in Moy Forest. A few days later the nest and a clutch of four eggs was found abandoned (see here). No charges were brought.

In 2018 Police Scotland issued an appeal for information after a buzzard was found caught in an illegal pole trap in the Moy area (see here). No charges were brought.

In 2020 a poisoned red kite was found dead, containing traces of a banned pesticide, leading to a police appeal for information (here).

In 2021 an individual was charged with the alleged killing of a bird of prey in this area. This case is believed to be progressing through the courts so I can’t comment further at this stage.

Of course, a General Licence restriction doesn’t amount to much of a sanction in real terms, as I’ve discussed on this blog endless times before (e.g. see here). However, it’s currently the only tool available to the authorities until we finally see the introduction of the promised grouse moor licensing scheme by the Scottish Government. Had that scheme been in place already, we’d hopefully have seen the removal of Moy Estate’s licence to shoot for a number of years, if not permanently.

Meanwhile, what will be really interesting to see is whether the Moy Game Fair goes ahead this year, given that the shooting organisations have all claimed to have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to raptor persecution. I don’t think the likes of Scottish Land & Estates, Fergus Ewing MSP and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association can expect anything other than high-level criticism if they attend this event on an estate that has now been sanctioned for wildlife crimes by the statutory nature conservation advisor, based on e

Evidence provided by Police Scotland. Mind you, the conviction of a gamekeeper on Moy Estate in 2011 didn’t stop them attending (see here and here).

UPDATE 14th July 2022: Scottish Gamekeepers Association plans award ceremony at disgraced Moy Estate (here)

UPDATE 6th August 2022: Fergus Ewing MSP & his shooting industry pals disregard sanctions imposed on Moy Estate for wildlife crime (here)

Big decisions for National Trust’s policy on grouse moors in Peak District National Park after latest loss of hen harriers

Earlier this month the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group (PDMG) announced the suspicious disappearance of two male hen harriers, and the subsequent failure of two hen harrier nests each containing five eggs (see here).

[One of the abandoned hen harrier nests. Photo by PDRMG]

Both nests were situated on a grouse moor owned by the National Trust and leased to a tenant. The grouse moor isn’t currently being used for driven grouse shooting (the tenant is believed to be focusing his energy on another moor that he owns) but the nests were close to the National Trust’s boundary and the moor is adjacent to other, privately-owned and intensively managed driven grouse moors, many that have been at the centre of other raptor persecution investigations for a number of years in what is a well-known raptor persecution hotspot (e.g. see here).

The Peak District National Park Authority has issued a statement in response to this latest incident:

Responding to reports of the failure of two hen harrier nests following the disappearance of male hen harriers thought to be supporting the nests in the area, the Peak District National Park Authority said:

“We share the immense frustration and disappointment of the National Trust and all those involved in monitoring our birds of prey, that the opportunity for not one, but two potentially viable nests for the iconic hen harrier has been lost again in the Peak District this year. This is a species which is emblematic of our uplands and where their haunting and often enigmatic presence should be welcomed.

“The fact that successful nesting attempts for the hen harrier in the Peak District remains firmly in single figures across almost two decades, demonstrates the significant challenge that remains for all those working to see their return in a long-term and sustainable way – addressing both conservation needs and the potential impact of wildlife crime.

“We understand a police investigation is ongoing into the matter and stand ready to provide any support to this”‘.

The National Trust has a new General Manager in the Peak District, Craig Best, and his reaction to the suspicious disappearances of the two harriers was as follows:

It’s deeply concerning to learn of the disappearance of two male hen harriers from the High Peak and subsequent abandoning of nests by the females. While the circumstances around this incident are not yet clear, it is indefensible that these beautiful birds still face persecution. The incident has been reported to the police and we’re working closely with statutory agencies and the RSPB to find out what happened.

We want to see a landscape that is full of wildlife, including birds of prey, and we work hard with a range of expert partners to create the right conditions for these species to thrive. Over the past few years we have seen several instances of successful hen harrier breeding in the Peak District“.

The disappearances attracted a lot of media attention, some of it accurate, some of it not so much, but it made local and national news and I was pleased to see that a couple of them had picked up on the fact that now 70 hen harriers are confirmed missing or illegally killed in the UK since 2018. Here’s some of the coverage in Sheffield Star, BBC News, and The Times, reproduced below:

There was also a feature on the BBC’s East Midlands Regional News, where BBC journalist Simon Hare interviewed Mike Price from the PDRMG – you can watch the video here:

The loss of two more hen harriers and their nests sparked a number of calls for the National Trust to ban driven grouse shooting on its land. I think that’s because many people assumed the harriers had been killed on the grouse moor where they were attempting to breed. The NT faced similar calls for a ban in 2016 when I posted footage of an armed gamekeeper who had been filmed crouching in the heather next to a decoy hen harrier on another NT-owned grouse moor in the Peak District National Park, presumably trying to entice a harrier to come in close so he could shoot it (see here).

That footage was so disturbing and the public reaction to it so strong, it prompted the National Trust to pull the shooting lease early and replace the shooting tenant with someone more conservation-focused, in what was a significant response at that time although some campaigners saw it as a lost opportunity to remove driven grouse shooting altogether (see here).

Since then, the NT has modified its tenancy agreements (e.g. see here), at least one new tenant has been and gone, and at least one current tenant is hosting a number of successfully breeding raptor species whilst moderately managing a driven grouse shoot (far less grouse shot last year compared to the thousands shot on some of the more intensively-managed moors). It has been reported recently that the NT has agreed to introduce even more modifications on its moors such as the removal of medicated grit, burning restrictions and the removal of traps and snares, although I haven’t yet seen a formal statement on this from the National Trust.

Some may argue that banning driven grouse shooting entirely from National Trust land is the only way forward, but some local raptor workers suggest the situation is a bit more nuanced than that and that just banning it on NT moors could actually lead to an increase in raptor persecution. They argue that as long as the NT has raptor-friendly shooting tenants, those tenants’ gamekeepers are acting as a sort of shield against gamekeepers from neighbouring, privately-owned estates from entering NT land and killing whatever they want. Of course, that doesn’t stop the raptors being killed if they fly from NT land on to neighbouring private estates to hunt, which is what many suspect has happened with these latest two ‘disappearances’.

It seems to me that the Peak District National Park Authority should be the organisation banning driven grouse shooting across the entire National Park. That would seem to be a far more effective prospect than a piecemeal approach by the National Trust, at least in terms of tackling the rampant raptor persecution taking place inside this National Park.

That’s not to say that the National Trust shouldn’t be banning driven grouse shooting, though. As we know, raptor persecution is only one of many environmentally-damaging issues associated with driven grouse shooting – burning, widespread and unregulated use of an environmentally toxic veterinary drug (medicated grit), and the lawful killing of thousands of native animals (e.g. foxes, stoats, weasels, corvids etc) to name just a few, all to create an artificial environment to maximise the production of red grouse for paying guests to shoot in the face for a bit of a laugh. That the NT still supports this management in what are supposed to be enlightened times, is quite remarkable.

However, if the National Trust has recently changed its policy, as has been reported, this could effectively lead to an end of driven grouse shooting on NT land without a formal ‘ban’ having to be introduced. But where will that leave the raptors trying to nest on NT land, still surrounded by privately-owned intensively-managed driven grouse moors?

Interesting times ahead in the Peak District National Park.

Multi-agency searches in raptor poisoning hotspot in Derbyshire

Multi-agency searches were conducted last week at a raptor-poisoning hotspot in Derbyshire.

Since 2015, at least eight illegally poisoned birds of prey including buzzards and kestrels, as well as poisoned pheasant baits, have been uncovered on farmland in the Glapwell / Ault Hucknall / Rowthorne / Pleasley area of north east Derbyshire. Toxicology analysis has confirmed they were killed by the poisons Aldicarb and Alphachloralose (see here).

[A dead buzzard found in the area. Photo by Derbyshire Constabulary]

Last week police officers from Derbyshire Police’s Rural Crime Team were joined by staff from the RSPB Investigations Team, Natural England and the National Wildlife Crime Unit to undertake a series of land searches. A number of follow-up investigations are now continuing as a result of those searches.

Derbyshire’s Rural Crime Team posted the following statement on Facebook yesterday:

Consider this post both an appeal for information and a public safety warning.

Over recent years there has been a concerning number of dead buzzards found to have died as a result of poisoning on land around the Glapwell / Ault Hucknall / Rowthorne / Pleasley area.

In response to this issue, last week Derbyshire Rural Crime Team, RSPB Birders , the NWCU and Natural England were involved in a day of action in the area. Land searches were conducted and other lines of enquiry pursued in what proved to be a very positive day.

Clearly these beautiful birds are being targeted. Killing birds of prey in any way is ILLEGAL but laying poison on land that can be easily accessed by the public poses a significant risk to public safety.

When out and about, should you find anything suspicious it is important that you contact the Police immediately. DO NOT touch or handle anything and do not let children or animals go near.

If you have any information that may aid this enquiry please contact Derbyshire Rural Crime Team’.

This is the latest in a surge of multi-agency investigations in response to raptor persecution crimes over the last 14 months, including a raid in Suffolk on 18th January 2021 (here), another raid in Nottinghamshire in January 2021 (here, resulting in a conviction of a gamekeeper in 2022 here), a raid in Lincolnshire on 15th March 2021 (see here), a raid in Dorset on 18th March 2021 (here), a raid in Devon on 26th March 2021 (see here), a raid in Teesdale on 21st April 2021 (here), a raid in Shropshire on 2nd August 2021 (here), a raid in Herefordshire on 12th August 2021 (here), a raid in Norfolk on 14th September 2021 (here), a raid in Wales in October 2021 (here), a raid in Humberside on 10th December 2021 (here) and a raid in North Wales on 8th February 2022 (here).

Poisoned golden eagle: will a General Licence restriction now be imposed on Invercauld Estate?

Earlier this month it was reported that police had conducted a raid, under warrant, on several properties on the Invercauld Estate following the discovery in March of a deliberately poisoned golden eagle and some poisoned bait (see here).

I’ve since blogged about why I think the golden eagle killer will evade criminal prosecution (see here) and a little bit about NatureScot making noises about considering a potential General Licence restriction on this estate (see here). A General Licence restriction is nowhere near as serious as a criminal prosecution but it is, in the words of former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse who worked hard to get this apparent sanction introduced, a ‘reputational driver’ (see here).

It’s my view that a General Licence restriction is long overdue here, given the history of alleged wildlife crime offences, and a blog that was published yesterday has further strengthened that view, of which more in a minute.

This area around Ballater in the Cairngorms National Park has been at the centre of a number of alleged wildlife crime offences over many years.

[Estate boundaries based on data from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website]

There was the discovery of three poisoned buzzards on Invercauld Estate in 2005 (here), the discovery of an illegally shot peregrine at the Pass of Ballater in 2011, the reported coordinated hunt and subsequent shooting of an adult hen harrier at Glen Gairn on the border of Invercauld and Dinnet Estates in 2013, the illegally-set traps that were found near Geallaig Hill on Invercauld Estate in 2016, the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier Calluna ‘on a grouse moor a few miles north of Ballater’ on 12 August 2017, the opening day of the grouse shooting season (here) although it’s not clear whether this was on Invercauld Estate or neighbouring Dinnet Estate, the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘Blue T’ on Invercauld Estate in May 2018 (see here), the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier Stelmaria ‘last recorded on grouse moor a few miles north west of Ballater, Aberdeenshire on 3rd September 2018 (see here), the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged hen harrier (Wildland 2) on Invercauld Estate on 24 September 2019 (here) and now the discovery of a deliberately poisoned golden eagle and poisonous baits on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in March 2021 (see here).

The suspicious disappearance of three satellite-tagged hen harriers and one white-tailed eagle in one small area managed for driven grouse shooting should raise lots of eyebrows given the unequivocal scientific pattern that has been identified for such occurrences (e.g. see here and here) and especially in an area where the alleged hunting and subsequent shooting of a hen harrier was witnessed and reported several years earlier.

However, according to NatureScot’s current Framework for how it makes decisions on whether to impose a General Licence restriction, the suspicious disappearance of a satellite-tagged raptor is not, in itself, considered sufficient evidence, even when there’s an emerging pattern in one particular area:

Unexplained ‘stopped no-malfunction’ satellite tags may be considered by NatureScot as supporting information in making a decision, particularly where multiple losses have occurred on the same land. However such instances will not be considered as evidence under the terms of this Framework unless recorded as a crime by Police Scotland‘.

The most significant, and indeed tangible, wildlife crime incident that could be linked to Invercauld Estate was the discovery of illegally-set traps on the estate in 2016, which led to the horrific suffering of a Common Gull whose legs were caught in two of the traps (see here).

[Photo of the Common Gull after being released from the traps. Photo by Graeme Rose]

Long-term blog readers may recall this incident and the farcical non-existent enforcement measures that ensued. The SSPCA attended in the first instance and had to euthanise the gull due to the extent of its injuries but because of their ridiculously restricted investigatory powers, they were not permitted to search the area for more traps – this had to be done by the police, who conducted a search several days later where it was discovered that other traps (i.e. evidence of potential crime) had been recently removed prior to the police search (here).

Then there was an odd statement of denial from Invercauld Estate, bizarrely issued by the GWCT on behalf of the estate (a strange activity for a so-called independent wildlife conservation charity, see here) and incidentally, this denial is not that dissimilar to the one we saw recently from the estate in relation to the deliberately poisoned golden eagle – see here.

I challenged the estate’s claim that Police Scotland had not found any evidence of illegal activity back in 2016 and Police Scotland issued a statement in response (see here).

I then submitted a series of FoIs that revealed what looked like some very odd goings on between the estate, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Government, which resulted in ‘secret action‘ apparently being taken against a gamekeeper but no prosecution followed, and nor did NatureScot impose a General Licence restriction for this incident (and NatureScot has refused to discuss its decision saying ‘it’s not in the public interest‘ to tell us).

I did wonder whether NatureScot had not imposed a General Licence restriction due to a technical issue – the fact that the SSPCA, not the police, attended the scene and found the evidence of the illegally-trapped gull. If you look again at NatureScot’s Framework for decision-making on restrictions, it says that evidence must be provided by the police. It doesn’t say anything about evidence from the SSPCA being acceptable. I hope I’m wrong on that because as a statutory reporting agency, the SSPCA’s evidence should be considered just as robust as any evidence put forward by Police Scotland – I’ll check with NatureScot about it.

However, yesterday a blog was published on the excellent ParksWatchScotland blog, written by Graeme Rose, one of the guys who had actually found the critically-injured gull on Invercauld Estate in 2016. It’s a harrowing tale, but it’s incredibly enlightening in that he pursued the enforcement authorities for several years after the incident and by doing so uncovered all sorts of shenanigans. He says he received a text in July 2020 from the former Convenor of the Cairngorms National Park Authority who told him that a gamekeeper had indeed ‘been let go’ after the gull incident in 2016, despite the estate’s protestations at the time that any offence had even taken place. I believe this is the information that was deliberately redacted by the CNPA and the Scottish Government when I’d asked them about it in those FoIs.

What a pitiful state of affairs.

Will we see anything different in response to the discovery of the deliberately poisoned golden eagle? Well, we’ve already seen that Invercauld Estate has ‘left’ the Eastern Cairngorms Moorland Partnership, although there was absolutely zero indication whether the estate was expelled or left of its own accord (see here) so it looks like the Cairngorms National Park Authority is staying true to form and not wanting to be explicit about any action that may or may not have been taken. Why is that, do you think? Could it be anything to do with who sits on the CNPA’s Board? There are some interesting characters with some interesting connections to the grouse-shooting world, and even to Invercauld Estate itself.

And what about NatureScot and its deliberations about whether there is sufficient justification for a General Licence restriction on Invercauld Estate? That’s going to be VERY interesting and is something I’ll definitely be tracking. Watch this space.

Gamekeepers responsible for more illegal raptor killing than any other profession

Somebody sent me a screen grab the other day of a statement posted on social media by the Southern Uplands Moorland Group (SUMG), which is one of a number of regional groups representing grouse moor estates around the country and designed to persuade the public that birds of prey are warmly welcomed and that gamekeepers love having birds of prey on their ground.

The statement published by the SUMG is fairly typical of the misrepresentation of facts that we’ve all come to expect from certain quarters of the grouse shooting industry. It reads as follows and I’ve underlined the sentence of interest:

Now, I can’t recall EVER saying on this blog that a dead raptor is automatically linked to the [game]keepering profession and there are numerous examples of illegal raptor killing offences that I’ve reported on here over the years where gamekeepers have quite clearly not been responsible (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here etc).

As a co-director of Wild Justice I’m also pretty certain that WJ has NEVER made such a claim. If there is such evidence, the SUMG are challenged to provide it.

I can’t speak for the RSPB but I can’t imagine they would EVER make such a ridiculous claim either.

Speaking for myself, I don’t even believe, as some do, that ALL gamekeepers are raptor killers. A lot of them are, of that there’s no doubt whatsoever, and some other gamekeepers will benefit from that killing even if they’re not doing the actual killing themselves, but I also know of some decent, law-abiding gamekeepers who are as thrilled at seeing a raptor as I am. I’ve met them and have worked with them, so I know they exist.

However, there’s no getting away from the undeniable evidence that shows overall, gamekeepers in the UK are responsible for more illegal raptor killing than any other profession. If you want to see the evidence, have a look at this pie chart published by the RSPB last year in their annual Birdcrime report:

Interestingly, one of the individuals included in the convicted gamekeepers section of this pie chart was a certain Alan Wilson, a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association who was convicted in 2019 of a catalogue of horrendous wildlife crimes he committed on the Longformacus Estate, a grouse/pheasant shooting moor in, er, the Southern Uplands (see here).

It strikes me that the Southern Uplands Moorland Group would do well to concentrate on ousting the criminals within the gamekeeping industry rather than smearing those of us who report on such crimes and who, quite legitimately, campaign for the Government to clamp down on the criminals involved.

The eagle’s satellite tag found in the river: poetic injustice

Further to last Friday’s shocking news that a missing golden eagle’s satellite tag had been found in a river in Strathbraan, with aerial and harness cut and the tag wrapped in lead sheeting, presumably in an attempt to block the tag’s signal and conceal any evidence of criminal behaviour (see here), there’s an interesting background story to this particular eagle.

Cast your minds back three and half years to this blog (here) written in March 2017.

Here are the, ahem, ‘highlights’:

This photograph has been repeatedly posted on Facebook and other social media platforms as an example of ‘bad practice’ at a raptor tagging event. It shows a group of people at an eagle nest site in Perthshire in 2014. According to Bert Burnett of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, who has posted this image several times, these people, including Duncan Orr-Ewing of RSPB Scotland, are “having a picnic underneath an eagle nest” for several hours and thus by implication are causing unnecessary disturbance at the site and causing the adult birds to desert.

What’s actually happening here is a group of people, including four licensed experts and their invited guests, have climbed to an eagle nest site and while the climbers have gone to retrieve the eaglet from the nest so its satellite tag can be fitted in safety on the ground, Duncan is eating a sandwich. That’s it. It’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic, or is that just Bert?

Another photograph that Bert has circulated was also taken at this site on the same day. It shows Duncan quite rightly checking the fit of the young eagle’s sat tag harness before the bird is put back in its nest.

This photograph elicited all sorts of comments on social media, with suggestions that sat tagging golden eagles is harmful to the birds, that it’s detrimental to their survival and one person even claiming that “they [the raptor fieldworkers] are a far greater threat to birds than any shooting interests“.

He posted another photograph (which we won’t post here for legal reasons) that shows a woman and her son on the nest ledge after the eagle had been returned to its nest. Bert said this about it: “What happens to birds after tagging is very questionable. Allowing your families and friends to climb up intae the nest just for photo shoots is totally out of order and shows no concern for the birds future welfare“. On a later post he also claimed the woman had been “hoisted in to the nest“. What the photo actually shows is a Schedule 1 licence holder and her son who have just climbed to the nest to return the eagle after tagging. It’s probably hard for Bert to comprehend that a woman might actually be a Schedule 1 licence holder and that she’d be capable of climbing to the nest without being “hoisted in” (surely her breasts would get in the way?) but when your mindset is firmly stuck in the 18th century then it’s probably no surprise at all.

As for Bert’s comment, “What happens to birds after tagging is very questionable“, well, it’s not questionable in this case. This eagle was satellite tagged in Perthshire in 2014. The bird fledged successfully and its movements were tracked until 2016 when its tag signal suddenly stopped transmitting and the eagle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Perthshire. We’d respectfully suggest that this eagle’s disappearance (probable death) was not caused by Duncan eating a sandwich at its natal site two years earlier nor by it being put back in to the nest by a woman, but was more than likely caused by illegal poisoning, illegal trapping or illegal shooting on or near a grouse moor in the Highlands.

ENDS

Little did we or Bert Burnett, then a Director of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, imagine that this eagle would hit the headlines three and a half years later when its tag was found cut and wrapped in lead sheeting having been dumped in the river in one of Scotland’s most notorious raptor-killing hotspots – the grouse moors of Strathbraan, where eight satellite-tagged eagles have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in recent years.

This background information clearly exposes the desperate lies and false accusations used by some in the grouse shooting industry to deflect attention from the bleedin’ obvious and instead used to undermine the integrity and professionalism of those conservationists working hard to protect this species in the face of relentless persecution.

These fabrications were made in the build up to the publication of the Government-commissioned Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, which was published in May 2017. It’s findings were damning.

Unbelievably, the lies from the grouse shooting industry continue. Over the last few days there have been a number of so-called ‘explanations’ from within the grouse shooting industry for what might have happened to this eagle and how it’s satellite tag ended up in the river wrapped in lead sheeting. They seek to have the public believe that this is ‘a set up’ – that conservationists (and some of them named, libellously, as perverting the course of justice) found the dead eagle several years ago after it died of natural causes and they apparently decided to ‘plant’ the tag in the river to make it look suspicious.

Fortunately, the public, the police and Government Ministers are not fooled.

All eyes on the Scottish Government’s imminent response to the Werritty review on grouse moor licensing.

Missing eagle’s satellite tag found cut & wrapped in lead, dumped in river at Strathbraan

Well, well, well.

Press release from RSPB Scotland (25th September 2020)

Shocking discovery reveals lengths raptor killers will go to to conceal crimes

Recovered satellite tag provides answers to what happens when birds of prey ‘disappear’ on Scotland’s grouse moors

A satellite tag removed from a ‘disappeared’ golden eagle has been recovered from a Highland river.

The discovery sheds new light on the activities that criminals will go to in a bid to cover up the illegal killing of protected birds of prey.

[The eagle satellite tag #129014, wrapped in lead casing, found at the side of the River Braan. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

In 2016 the bird’s tag stopped transmitting suddenly on a grouse moor in Perthshire and despite searches by Police and RSPB Scotland, it was never traced.

Now the tag has been found – wrapped in heavy lead sheeting and disposed of at a popular beauty spot just a few miles from the last known location of the bird.

The recovered tag is further evidence in just how far criminals who routinely kill birds of prey are going to in a bid to cover their tracks and to present driven grouse shooting as a clean industry.

The object was spotted by a walker and his son on the banks of the River Braan near Dunkeld in Perthshire on 21st May.

On closer examination, they found the tag wrapped in a piece of lead sheeting. The tag bore a label bearing contact details and a serial number, subsequently allowing the police and RSPB to jointly attend recover and identify the object.

Police Scotland have since held the tag for several months to conduct forensic analysis, which is ongoing.

After fledging from its nest, this young eagle had remained on its parents’ territory until November 2014. Over the following 18 months, it explored Scotland’s uplands before it moved into Strathbraan. Within a few days of arriving here, on 1st May 2016 his tag, that had been functioning exactly as would have expected, suddenly and inexplicably stopped. It was suspected that the bird had been killed, and the tag destroyed.

[The young golden eagle fitted with the satellite tag #129014 in 2014. Photo Scottish Raptor Study Group]

As with all such cases, this suspicious disappearance was reported to the police. A search of the land around the bird’s last known location on a remote hill took place and the disappearance was discussed with local land managers. No evidence of what had happened to the bird was uncovered.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “As is the case in virtually every raptor persecution investigation, nobody seemed to know anything and, as is the case with every suspicious satellite tagged raptor disappearance on a grouse moor, spurious alternative theories as to what may have happened to the bird and tag were suggested. However, now we know the truth.

This young eagle was killed illegally. The tag was clearly removed from the bird, its antenna was cut off, and the tag was then wrapped in a piece of lead sheeting, presumably because the perpetrator thought this would stop it transmitting. The package was then cast into the river, never to be seen again. Or so they thought.

This discovery gives unequivocal proof not only of what is happening to these birds, but also the lengths to which the criminals involved in the killing of our raptors will go to dispose of evidence and evade justice. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the vast majority of other birds of prey and their tags that have disappeared on Scotland’s grouse moors have suffered similar fates.”

Satellite-tags are used by biological researchers throughout the world to track the movements of animals and birds, from vultures to elephants, and have a proven high reliability. In the UK, their use on birds is strictly regulated by the British Trust for Ornithology and the Government’s statutory nature conservation agencies, with individual projects and taggers requiring demonstrable training and experience and only then under specific licences.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, a member of the Central Scotland Raptor Study Group and RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management, said: “The number of satellite tags fitted to raptors, functioning exactly as expected, only to have stopped suddenly on a grouse moor, is an issue of increasing public concern, as evidenced by the Scottish Government commissioning of a review of the fates of satellite-tagged golden eagles, published three years ago.”

It has long been suspected that tags are routinely destroyed by wildlife criminals in a deliberate attempt to conceal evidence. There is no other reasonable explanation as to why this tag has ended up in the river where it was found, wrapped in metal, and with the harness and antenna cut. For me this incident is doubly distressing as it is a bird that I tagged with a colleague in 2014, and it originates from a nest site in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park where there has been a long history of local community protection from egg collectors.

More disappearances of tagged birds this year, as well as shooting and poisoning cases, destroy any pretence that the grouse shooting industry is able to self-regulate, even during a national pandemic. It is abundantly clear that the only way to stop this culturally ingrained and organised criminality against Scotland’s protected raptors is through robust, and immediate, regulation. We call upon the Scottish Government to prioritise this as their response to the Werritty Review.

ENDS

RSPB Scotland has also produced a video:

This tag is not one of the ones that RPUK and Chris Packham have fitted as part of our golden eagle tagging project, but the area where this eagle ‘disappeared’ and where the tag was subsequently found in the river is an area where three of our satellite tagged golden eagles have ‘disappeared’ (Adam, Charlie and Tom), probably suffering the same fate as this one. It’s actually an area where at least eight satellite-tagged eagles have ‘vanished’ in recent years, and was identified as a raptor persecution hotspot by the 2017 golden eagle satellite tag review. Strathbraan is circled in orange below:

We’ll be saying a lot more about this later today.

The Scottish Government has been dragging its feet on raptor persecution for years and years and years. We are expecting a response to the Werritty Review (on grouse moor reform) ‘this autumn’ and in light of this evidence, the latest in a long long line of evidence, we expect a meaningful response. If you’d like the First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon) and her Environment Cabinet Secretary (Roseanna Cunningham) to know how much you expect from them, please send POLITE but strongly-worded emails to:

firstminister@gov.scot

and

CabSecECCLR@gov.scot

UPDATE 25th September 2020 10.30hrs: RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations Ian Thomson has written a blog about this incident and he puts the discovery of this tag in to a wider context – read here.

UPDATE 30th September 2020: The eagle’s satellite tag found in the river: poetic injustice (here)

Buzzard & kestrel confirmed illegally poisoned in Derbyshire

In March 2020, just after the start of lockdown, Derbyshire Constabulary reported the suspected poisoning of a kestrel and a buzzard, both found dead next to the remains of a pigeon at Ault Hucknall near Chesterfield (see here).

[Photo via Derbyshire Constabulary]

Samples were sent for toxicology analysis and last week the police received the findings. Both birds had been illegally poisoned with the banned pesticide Aldicarb.

This news was published on the Rural Crime Team’s Facebook page (see below). We haven’t been able to find any further news reports, for e.g. on the Derbyshire Constabulary website or in the local press.

These latest illegal poisonings are not the first in this area. A total of six buzzards were also illegally poisoned in neighbouring Glapwell between 2015-2016 (2 x buzzards, March 2015; 1 x buzzard & pheasant bait, February 2016; 3 x buzzards & pheasant bait, March 2016). Alphachloralose was the poison used in those cases.

[Some of the poisoned buzzards and a pheasant bait found at Glapwell in 2016, photos via RSPB]

There is a record of those poisonings in the RSPB’s 2016 BirdCrime report (here) and a short video, here:

It is quite clear that somebody in this area has access to banned poisons and is not afraid to set out poisonous baits that could kill anyone unfortunate to come in to contact with them, let alone wildlife and domestic animals and pets.

Let’s hope we see a continued publicity drive from Derbyshire Constabulary – these crimes warrant maximum awareness and exposure.

UPDATE 15th March 2022: Multi-agency searches in raptor poisoning hotspot in Derbyshire (here)

Cairngorms National Park Authority statement on hen harrier persecution

Hen harrier persecution is a National Wildlife Crime Priority and the population in Scotland has suffered a 27% decline in the last 12 years. Losing over a quarter of the population in such a short period is a significant conservation concern and as such, we expect a strong response from the authorities whenever these crimes are exposed.

Earlier this month we learned that two satellite-tagged hen harriers (Wildland hen harrier 1 and Wildland hen harrier 2) had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on two grouse moors in September 2019, one within the Cairngorms National Park and one right on the Park boundary (see here). We don’t recall seeing any statement from the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

Yesterday we learned that two more satellite-tagged hen harriers, Hoolie and Marlin, had both ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances from grouse moors in the Cairngorms National Park in April 2020 (see here). We also learned that they both vanished on exactly the same grouse moors from where two other satellite-tagged hen harriers had also disappeared without trace (Hen harrier ‘Lad‘ in 2015 and Hen harrier Marci in 2019).

It’s bad enough that these birds continue to be persecuted even though they’ve had legal protection in the UK for 76 years, but when this keeps happening inside a so-called National Park and nobody is ever held to account, you have to wonder, in terms of species conservation, what’s the point of National Park status?

We asked Grant Moir, CEO of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, for a statement about these latest two suspicious disappearances and this is what he provided this afternoon:

It’s a strong statement in as much as the CNPA CEO recognises and fully accepts that these wildlife crimes continue in some areas of the National Park, which is in stark contrast to statements made by the grouse shooting industry reps today (more on this later) but it doesn’t offer a solution. It’s more of an exasperated shrug of the shoulders and a heavy reliance on the Scottish Government to respond well to the Werritty Review.

Is that it, then? Is the CNPA so impotent it can do nothing more than bemoan the persistent criminality within its boundary? This has been going on since 2002 (the Park wasn’t formally established until 2003 but we’ve included 2002 data as the area had been mapped by then). This list includes just the crimes we know about. How many more went unreported/undiscovered? How many more will we have to read about before the criminals are held to account?

ILLEGAL RAPTOR PERSECUTION INCIDENTS CAIRNGORMS NATIONAL PARK

2002

Feb: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Tomintoul (No prosecution)

Mar: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + 2 rabbit baits. Cromdale (No prosecution)

2003

Apr: 3 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + 2 grey partridge baits. Kingussie (No prosecution)

Jun: Attempted shooting of a hen harrier. Crannoch (Successful prosecution)

2004

May: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cuaich (No prosecution)

Nov: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

2005

Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Mar: 3 x poisoned buzzards, 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Crathie (No prosecution)

2006

Jan: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Dulnain Bridge (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned raven (Mevinphos). Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Morven [corbett] (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned raven + 1 x poisoned common gull (Aldicarb) + egg bait. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

May: egg bait (Aldicarb). Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenfeshie (No prosecution)

2007

Jan: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Glenshee (No prosecution)

Apr: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: Pole trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Tomintoul (No prosecution)

May: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit & hare baits. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jul: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Ballater (No prosecution)

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Newtonmore (No prosecution)

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

2008

Jan: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Mar: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

2009

May: 2 x poisoned ravens (Mevinphos). Delnabo (No prosecution)

Jun: rabbit bait (Mevinphos). nr Tomintoul (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Strathdon (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x illegal crow trap. Nr Tomintoul (No prosecution)

2010

Apr: Pole trap. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x pole-trapped goshawk. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Jun: Illegally set spring trap on tree stump. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Sep: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenlochy (No prosecution)

Oct: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Nr Boat of Garten (No prosecution)

2011

Jan: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Bridge of Brown (No prosecution)

Mar: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Apr: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran & Aldicarb). Nr Bridge of Brown (No prosecution)

May:  1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

May: 1 x shot short-eared owl, found stuffed under rock. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x shot peregrine. Pass of Ballater (No prosecution)

Aug: grouse bait (Aldicarb). Glenlochy (No prosecution)

Sep: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

Nov: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

2012

Apr: 1 x shot short-eared owl. Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Apr: Peregrine nest site burnt out. Glenshee (No prosecution)

May: Buzzard nest shot out. Nr Ballater (No prosecution)

2013

Jan: White-tailed eagle nest tree felled. Invermark (No prosecution)

May: 1 x shot hen harrier. Glen Gairn (No prosecution)

May: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat

2014

Apr: Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat

May: Armed masked men shoot out a goshawk nest. Glen Nochty (No prosecution)

2015

Sep: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Lad’ found dead, suspected shot. Newtonmore (No prosecution)

2016

May: 1 x shot goshawk. Strathdon (No prosecution)

Jun: Illegally set spring traps. Invercauld (No prosecution)

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Brian’ ‘disappears’. Kingussie

2017

Mar: Satellite-tagged golden eagle #338 ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Calluna’ ‘disappears’. Ballater

2018

May: Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle Blue T ‘disappears’. Ballater

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Athena’ ‘disappears’. Nr Grantown on Spey

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Margot’ ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

Sept: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Stelmaria’ ‘disappears’. Ballater

2019

April: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Marci’ ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

April: Four geese poisoned and Carbofuran bait found on an estate nr Kingussie (no prosecution)

August: Golden eagle photographed with a spring trap dangling from its foot, nr Crathie, Deeside

September: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Wildland 1 ‘disappears’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal

September: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Wildland 2 ‘disappears’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld

2020

April: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Hoolie ‘disappears’ on grouse moor nr Newtonmore

April: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Marlin ‘disappears’ on grouse moor nr Strathdon

In addition to the above list, two recent scientific publications have documented the long-term decline of breeding peregrines on grouse moors in the eastern side of the National Park (see here) and the catastrophic decline of breeding hen harriers, also on grouse moors in the eastern side of the Park (see here).

 

New Chairman for Scottish Land & Estates

Scottish Land and Estates (SLE), the grouse moor owners’ lobby group (amongst other things) has announced its new Chairman will be sporting estate owner Mark Tennant.

Mark will begin his new role in April 2020 when the current Chair, Lord David Johnstone, steps down.

We don’t know much about Mark other than what SLE has written in its announcement (here) but let’s be honest, he’s not exactly got big shoes to fill. His predecessor, ‘Dumfriesshire Dave’ has spent the last five years pretending everything’s fine and suggesting there’s really no need to do anything about the illegal killing of raptors on grouse moors because it’s no longer an issue, it’s mostly just the RSPB trying to smear the good name of the industry and/or ‘activists’ trying to ‘set up’ law-abiding estates. (E.g. see here, here, here, here, here). Talk about dial ‘D’ for denial.

It’s hard to think of a single example where Dumfriesshire Dave has inspired any confidence in the industry’s willingness, let alone ability, to clean up its act, so Mark Tennant has a bit of an open goal to get off to a good start, should he choose to take it.

According to the SLE announcement, Mark will be working ‘to help fight climate change’. Excellent. Can we expect all SLE-member grouse moor owners to commit to stopping their routine heather burning regimes, including on deep peat, in the interests of addressing the climate emergency?

What we do know about Mark, from the SLE announcement, is that his ‘family business Innes Estate in Elgin has been a member of SLE for over 40 years‘. That’s really interesting. So SLE didn’t expel the estate when the then head gamekeeper was convicted in 2007 for poisons and firearms offences, then? NOTE: there is no suggestion that those historical offences were part of a wider pattern of continued wildlife crime on the estate – as far as we are aware there are no further reports of alleged offences at this estate – we’re just interested at SLE’s apparent lack of action in response to wildlife crime.

Speaking of which, here’s something Mark could sort out for us. We’re still waiting to hear from SLE whether the Longformacus Estate (the location of a catalogue of horrific and violent wildlife crimes for which a gamekeeper was recently convicted) was, and if so still is, a member of Scottish Land & Estates? We asked SLE this specific question in August, after the Crown Office chose not to pursue a prosecution for alleged vicarious liability and SLE had until then avoided commenting on the estate’s membership status. We had a quick response from the Membership Department who told us, ‘I have forwarded on your email to our Senior Management Team who will respond in due course‘. Needless to say, silence since then.

Over to you, Mark. Was/is Longformacus Estate a member of Scottish Land & Estates?

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