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)

Gloucestershire Police appeal for info after goshawk found shot in Forest of Dean

Press release from Gloucestershire Constabulary (13th June 2022)

Appeal for information after birds of prey are found dead in the Forest of Dean

Officers are appealing for information after two birds of prey were found dead in the Forest of Dean.

A Goshawk and Sparrowhawk were found next to a bus stop just south of Aylburton near Lydney on the A48 by a member of the public on Monday 25 April.

The male Goshawk was just under 17-years-old and X-rays show that the bird had been shot with a shotgun.

The cause of death has not yet been established for the male Sparrowhawk however post mortems will take place for both birds. 

[The shot goshawk. Photos via Gloucestershire Constabulary]

PC Cath McDay said: “This is an awful crime under the Countryside and Wildlife Act 1981, to truly special birds

The Goshawk had managed to live to an exceptional age only for his life to be ended like this.”

Enquiries are ongoing and investigating officers are asking anyone with information on the incident to please get in contact.

Information can be submitted by completing the following form online and quoting incident number 130 of 25 April: https://www.gloucestershire.police.uk/tua/tell-us-about/cor/tell-us-about-existing-case-report/    

Alternatively, you can call 101 and quote the same incident number or speak to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

ENDS

Mail on Sunday blames ‘vigilantes’ for police investigation into alleged wildlife crime on Van Cutsem’s estate

The police investigation of alleged raptor persecution and associated wildlife crime at William van Cutsem’s Hilborough Estate in Norfolk is being kept in the public eye thanks to the Mail on Sunday (MOS).

However, instead of claiming that [Police] ‘Officers found no evidence of wrong-doing‘ [on van Cutsem’s estate] which is what the MOS published the previous weekend (here), this time they’re focusing on the ‘animal rights vigilantes’ who had secretly filmed the alleged offences on the estate and then passed on their footage to the police.

The full article can be read here.

It’s classic tabloid nonsense, designed to take the focus off the alleged offences and undermine the credibility of the people who discovered those alleged offences.

The article quotes ‘a source close to Mr van Cutsem‘ throughout, but conveniently doesn’t name that source. Quotes from this unidentified source include:

A source close to Mr van Cutsem condemned HIT as a vigilante group which had set up cameras on private land without his permission, saying there were questions about its relationship with police and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds‘.

and

William is baffled the police didn’t say anything or give him any information and he had to read about it [on their Twitter page],’ said the source.

and

‘What also is interesting is how close HIT works with the RSPB. It would be good to understand how a mainstream charity is working with a shady group. Police said nothing.’

and

The source added: ‘William doesn’t want to say anything else at this stage, but needless to say it’s bonkers that the first he finds out about details was not from the police but from the HIT story’. 

The same weekend this happened, a neighbouring estate had four traps vandalised and a buzzard was found in another one, which was then released by the estate owner. 

These were all reported to the police. I’m also surprised the RSPB, who attended the raid, seem to be getting information from a group with a long history of shady entrapments.

Interesting then that ‘the source’ didn’t apparently raise any concerns about what had been filmed, just who had filmed it and whether they had permission to do so.

This sort of commentary is a tried and tested routine, and one we’ve seen over and over again from the likes of You Forgot the Birds and C4PMC, even down to the slagging off of the RSPB. This is not quality journalism, it’s just laughable bollocks, designed to deflect attention from the alleged crimes filmed on this estate.

I particularly enjoyed the MOS’s sub-heading in this article:

They [that’ll be the so-called vigilantes] released a video purporting to show a Goshawk stuck in a trap on the estate‘.

Er, I think it was a bit more than showing ‘a goshawk stuck in a trap’! What the video actually showed was a masked man removing a goshawk from an illegally-set trap (baited with live pigeons) purportedly filmed on van Cutsem’s estate. The man was then filmed carrying the goshawk away, which is also an offence under the Wildlife & Countryside Act (the goshawk should have been immediately released).

Thanks for the laugh, MOS, and especially for the crap reporting which will just draw this police investigation to the attention of an even larger audience.

I look forward to reading an update from Norfolk Police in due course.

Covert video footage published showing masked man with trapped goshawk on van Cutsem’s Hilborough Estate

Yet more evidence has emerged about the police investigation into alleged raptor persecution on William van Cutsem’s Hilborough Estate in Norfolk (see here, here, here for previous blogs).

Last night, the Hunt Investigation Team (HIT), a group describing itself as ‘anti-bloodsports’, published covert video footage it claims was filmed on van Cutsem’s estate. The footage shows a crow cage trap in woodland, the trap had been baited with live pigeons (this is an offence) and a young goshawk was attracted to the bait, entered the trap and then couldn’t escape. A masked man is then recorded entering the trap, pinning the goshawk to the side netting with a stick so he could grab the bird, and then removing it from the trap and walking away with it (also an offence). The goshawk’s fate is not shown.

[Screen grab from the HIT covert footage]

The video can be watched on YouTube here.

There are concerns amongst some conservationists, including me, that releasing this footage at this stage could jeopardise any potential prosecution. This is (was?) an active police investigation, the estate had been searched, police had seized various items and a number of employees are (were?) due to be questioned this week. Norfolk Police were doing a good job by all accounts and there wasn’t any reason to question their commitment to the investigation.

I doubt very much whether Norfolk Police gave their blessing to release this footage at this stage of the investigation.

The HIT team have already published potentially libellous commentary on Twitter (which I won’t repeat here, for obvious reasons) and they said this about releasing the footage at this stage of the investigation:

We do not believe in sitting on evidence for months and years on end, hoping for an unlikely prosecution whilst wildlife is relentlessly killed. People need to know what goes on within shooting estates and to be empowered to act‘.

I do sympathise with this view, and I guess it’s a reflection of the many police failures to investigate allegations of illegal fox-hunting (which is an area in which the HIT team are very experienced) and failures of some police forces to investigate raptor persecution. People get frustrated when the authorities repeatedly refuse to investigate what looks like clear criminal activity, and so they decide to do what they think is right. But from my point of view, with this particular investigation, Norfolk Police had responded well and were actively pursuing enquiries so the premature release of this footage by the HIT team is hard to comprehend. I wish they’d waited a few more days.

It’s out there now though. And the camera is well-positioned and the footage is very clear.

I hope the release hasn’t jeopardised this police investigation by compromising the planned employee interviews. Even if the case does reach court, a top QC (because let’s face it, that’s who would be representing the defendants) would make light work of drawing attention to this footage and the associated commentary and could argue the defendants wouldn’t get a fair trial.

Let’s see what happens.

UPDATE 16th May 2022: Mail on Sunday blames ‘vigilantes’ for police investigation into alleged wildlife crime on van Cutsem’s estate (here)

Goshawk nest camera streaming live from RSPB’s Abernethy Forest

Press release from RSPB Scotland:

Live camera at RSPB Scotland’s Loch Garten Nature Centre provides viewers with 24/7 goshawk footage

Visitors to RSPB Scotland’s Loch Garten Nature Centre have been enjoying live footage of an active goshawk nest within their Abernethy nature reserve.

A camera has been installed in a tree adjacent to the nest and the feed is also being streamed online to the RSPB’s YouTube channel. Infrared technology in the camera means that viewers from around the world can see what the birds are doing day and night.

[The adult female goshawk on the nest. Video grab by RSPB Scotland]

Jess Tomes, Abernethy Site Manager for People at RSPB Scotland, said, “Visitors to the Nature Centre are thoroughly enjoying such an intimate look at the goshawks. We’re also thrilled that we can share this amazing footage with people from all over the world through our YouTube channel. It’s been fascinating watching the pair setting up their rather bulky nest and noting the differences between them – while we’ve yet to see both birds together we’ve been telling them apart by their different coloured eyes.”

Goshawks have a wingspan of approximately 1.5m and larger females can weigh up to 2kg. Despite their bulk, they are known for being graceful fliers, even in dense woodland, where they weave between trees at high speed and capture prey in flight. Because of this, they are often referred to as ‘phantoms of the forest’. They were driven to extinction in the UK in the late nineteenth century before escaped falconry birds re-established a population from the 1960s onwards.

The goshawk camera has been set up in addition to Loch Garten’s long-established osprey camera and another which was recently installed near a white-tailed eagle nest in the Cairngorms Connect partnership landscape. Visitors to the Nature Centre can now view live footage of three of Scotland’s most iconic birds of prey in one place.

Fraser Cormack, Warden for RSPB Scotland’s Abernethy nature reserve said, “Goshawks are exactly the type of bird we’d expect to see in a healthy pine forest, so we’re delighted to have them at Abernethy. While the camera doesn’t allow us to see the nest cup, the behaviour of the female indicates that she may indeed be on eggs, so it would be wonderful if we could welcome some chicks in the coming weeks. We’ve a longstanding tradition of being a home for ospreys at Loch Garten, so hopefully the goshawks will see the same level of success.”

Goshawks often lay three or four eggs which take approximately 5-6 weeks to hatch. Young birds remain in the nest for a further 6-7 weeks beyond this, relying on their parents for food.

The camera was installed by Wildlife Windows with technical support from External Reality. Funding was provided by the European Regional Development Fund through NatureScot.

ENDS

The goshawk nest camera can be watched live here:

Dyfed-Powys Police appeal for information after ‘unexplained’ death of two goshawks in separate incidents

Dyfed-Powys Police are appealing for information from the public after two goshawks were found dead in ‘unexplained’ circumstances in two separate incidents over the last few weeks.

The first dead goshawk was found on Saturday 26th March 2022 in the ‘Llanidloes area’ of Wales. There are no further details about the location.

PCSO Gary Gwilt said: “After receiving the report, a Rural Crime Team officer attended the location and recovered the bird. We cannot speculate on the cause of death at this time (as it may well be natural causes) however the bird has been submitted to the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) for an autopsy to be carried out, in an attempt to confirm a cause of death.”

Anyone who has information that could help with the police investigation can contact the Rural Crime Team by phoning 101 and quoting incident reference number 205 of 26/03/22

[Goshawk, photo by Martha de Jong-Lantink]

The second dead goshawk was found in the ‘Brecon area’ on Sunday 10th April 2022. There are no further details about the location. The goshawk has also been collected by the Rural Crime Team and its death is currently being described as ‘unexplained’. Presumably it, too, has been submitted for a post mortem/toxicology analysis.

Anyone who has information that could help with the police investigation can contact the Rural Crime Team by phoning 101 and quoting incident reference number 288 of 10/04/22.

Raptor persecution ignored in North York Moors National Park draft management plan

The North York Moors National Park Authority (NYMNPA) is currently consulting on its draft management plan, which aims to set out a series of priority actions to help the Park tackle issues which include ‘recovery from the COVID pandemic, escalating climate and nature emergencies, increasing mental and physical health problems among the general population, and the need to change the way we look after our landscapes‘.

You can download the draft plan here:

I had a quick read through this document at the weekend and was surprised to see how little substance it contained and how vague its stated 22 priority objectives were. For example, whilst there was general commentary around ‘active restoration’ of degraded blanket bog and peat habitats, the only reference I found that might possibly allude to the massive environmental problems caused by intensive driven grouse shooting, which dominates the landscape of this National Park, was this:

Objective 8 – Work with our moorland community to support the sustainable management of moorland to ensure it retains a natural remoteness which supports a greater variety of species and habitats.

I didn’t find one single reference to tackling wildlife crime, and especially raptor persecution, which has long been recognised as an ongoing characteristic of this National Park. For example, just in the last few years alone we’ve seen a shot buzzard (here), a poisoned buzzard (here), deliberate disturbance of a goshawk breeding attempt (here), a satellite-tagged hen harrier vanish in suspicious circumstances (here), another shot buzzard (here), and another shot buzzard (here), a goshawk trapped, reportedly killed and taken away in sack (here), another poisoned buzzard (here), an illegally-set trap (here), and five shot buzzards found stuffed under a rock (here).

Nor did I find any reference to targeting the mass release of non-native gamebirds (pheasants and red-legged partridge) or assessing the damage they cause inside the National Park. It seems the North York Moor National Park Authority could do with taking a look at the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s management plan, which has recently included this issue as one of its priorities (see here).

The North York Moors National Park draft management plan is important, because it aims to set out its vision for how the National Park will be in 20 years time.

According to the NYMNPA website, ‘the draft plan is the result of a series of conversations with stakeholders and partners over the last year. The proposals it contains are not set in stone. Neither we nor our partners possess a monopoly of wisdom. This document invites discussion, input and feedback so that the final plan can properly reflect as wide a range of views as possible. It is an opportunity for everyone to collaborate with us to create a shared plan that will shape the future of the North York Moors National Park‘.

The Park Authority wants your views, whether you live in the Park or you are a visitor. Particularly, it wants to know whether it has ‘missed something that is important to you’:

If you share my concerns about ongoing raptor persecution in this National Park, and the unregulated mass release of non-native species for shooting, I’d encourage you to contact the NYMNPA and ask them to prioritise tackling these issues in the management plan. Contact details are shown in the image above.

Please note, the consultation closes this Friday (21st January 2022).

Thank you.

Convicted gamekeeper to escape 3-year General Licence restriction for killing birds of prey?

On 30th November last year, gamekeeper Peter Givens from the Cathpair Estate in the Scottish Borders was convicted at Selkirk Sheriff Court of recklessly killing a barn owl and a goshawk in September 2020.

The two supposedly protected species had become caught inside a cage trap operated by Givens but they starved to death because Givens had failed to release them as he was required to do by law.

Givens was fined a pathetic £300 and a £20 victim surcharge (see here).

[Photograph of the unlawfully operated trap on Cathpair Estate. Photo by Stuart Spray]

Givens’ sentence was derisory, there’s no doubt about that, especially when you consider raptor persecution is supposedly a National Wildlife Crime Priority.

But the £300 fine from the court wasn’t Givens’ only sanction. On conviction, Givens was automatically banned from using the General Licences, including those which permit the killing of some birds (especially corvids) but also GL14, the licence that permits a person to use certain traps to kill stoats in Scotland for the conservation of wild birds or the prevention of serious damage to livestock.

This automatic ban on using the General Licences came in to force the day gamekeeper Givens was convicted, because General Licences ‘cannot be used by those convicted of a wildlife crime on or after 1 January 2017 unless, in respect of that offence, they are a rehabilitated person (for the purposes of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and that conviction is spent), or a court discharged them absolutely‘, according to the terms of the General Licences.

If Givens is the only gamekeeper on Cathpair Estate (and I have no information about that) then being prevented from killing crows and stoats would probably have a negative impact on the estate’s ability to host a gamebird shoot, unless the estate employs other gamekeepers to conduct those duties. Although, as ridiculously as ever, a convicted gamekeeper may still apply to use an Individual Licence to carry on operating traps and guns to kill corvids and stoats as if he’d never committed his crimes at all.

When gamekeeper Givens’ sentence was announced, I was interested in how this automatic ban on using the General Licences would apply, and I especially wondered whether it would extend for three years, as per the usual General Licence restriction imposed on estates where evidence of wildlife crime is apparent but insufficient to result in a prosecution.

However, when I looked up how long it would be before Givens’ conviction could be considered spent, I found it was only 12 months (according to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 as amended by the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act 2019). So this means Givens would not be allowed to use the General Licences to kill corvids and stoats for a period of only 12 months (unless he applied for an Individual Licence) but after those 12 months had expired (30th November 2022) he’d be able to return to killing wildlife under the conditions of the General Licences.

Eh? That seems a bit counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? On the one hand, regulator NatureScot can impose a three-year General Licence restriction on an estate where the police have evidence of criminal activity but insufficient evidence to pin it on any named individual. But when the authorities secure an actual conviction for wildlife crime on an estate, then the General Licence sanction only applies for one year, instead of three, if the criminal has been convicted and handed a ludicrously tiny fine that is likely to have been paid by his employer anyway!

That didn’t make sense to me so I contacted NatureScot and asked them about it. They agreed that it was counter-intuitive and that this scenario hadn’t really been considered before, probably due to the incredibly low prosecution/conviction rates for raptor persecution, especially in recent years. However, now that this ridiculous situation had been brought to their attention, NatureScot advised that they would be looking at tightening up the terms of the General Licences to better reflect the lack of trust that a conviction for a wildlife offence implies.

This will probably come too late to be applied to gamekeeper Givens, and to be fair to NatureScot they can only work with the existing terms and conditions that apply at any one time, but I was encouraged to hear that part of the planned review will also be to consider how Fiscal Fines and Fixed Penalty Notices for wildlife offences impact the ability of an individual to operate under General Licences.

Meanwhile, if anyone is out and about for a walk on the Cathpair Estate in the next ten months it may well be worthwhile having a look to see whether any traps are being operated to kill corvids and stoats. If they are and you’re suspicious of their legality, take photographs and a grid reference/What3Words and report them to Police Scotland on 101. Please share your report with the RSPB’s Investigations team so they can follow up with the police.

[The Cathpair Estate boundary (in blue), from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website]

Gamekeeper convicted as birds of prey die in trap

A gamekeeper in the Scottish Borders has been convicted today after two supposedly protected birds of prey (a barn owl and a goshawk) died inside a trap which he neglected to check.

There’s an article about this case in the Border Telegraph this evening, which I’ll copy below, and then I’ll add some further commentary below that.

Here’s the Border Telegraph piece:

Borders gamekeeper ‘recklessly’ killed two protected birds

A GAMEKEEPER who recklessly killed two protected birds on a Borders estate by leaving open the door of a multi crow cage trap [Ed: see commentary at foot of this blog] has been fined £300 at Selkirk Sheriff Court.

An owl and a goshawk perished from exposure and a lack of food and water at Cathpair Farm near Stow on September 13 last year.

Fifty-three-year-old Peter Givens, of Keepers Cottage, Cathpair, pleaded guilty to recklessly taking and killing the wild birds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

[A barn owl. Photo by Anan Kaewkhammul]

His lawyer explained that Givens had used the crow trap for the lambing season earlier in the year but thought had had [sic] secured it properly when no longer required.

Wildlife and environmental crime depute fiscal Joe Stewart said: “An ecologist carrying out a survey on the estate came across a crow cage trap near some woodland.

“He noticed a barn owl lying deceased in the trap which was in an advanced state of decomposition and had obviously been there for a long time.

“The door was closed and the trap was in use.

“The local wildlife police attended carrying out a search and he found another bird in the trap which was a goshawk.”

An identification tag on the trap was traced to Givens.

Mr Stewart said the trap should have been removed.

Givens’ lawyer said his client had been a gamekeeper for more than 30 years and had no previous convictions.

He said around the start of the COVID pandemic in March 2020 the trap was put in place and checked on a regular basis in case other birds were trapped.

He explained that there had been a lot of crows at the start of the lambing season but this had tailed off by May.

The lawyer continued: “He thought the trap had been deactivated. There was no intention to keep the trap operating.

“What happened on September 13 came as a shock to him and a source of embarrassment and sadness for the damage he has caused.

“He has accepted he failed to deactivate the trap properly.

“He accepts his conduct was reckless but it was not intentional and he is very remorseful.”

Sheriff Peter Paterson said: “This was an oversight rather than an intentional act.

“It was not a deliberate act to trap predators with the unintended consequences.”

Sheriff Paterson added: “I take into account your spotless record and while this was reckless, it was not intentional.”

He reduced the fine from £375 to £300 to reflect the guilty plea with a £20 victim surcharge added.

ENDS

Ok, so first a technical correction on the court reporter’s write up in the Border Telegraph. The article states the gamekeeper had killed the two birds of prey ‘by leaving open the door of a multi crow cage trap’. This can’t be accurate. Had he left the door open, the barn owl and the goshawk would have been able to escape! What is more likely to have happened is the gamekeeper kept the cage door shut, which is an offence if the trap is no longer in use because, as we’ve seen, birds can enter the trap through a roof opening (either a ‘ladder’ or funnel design) but then they cannot escape back up.

Anybody who operates a multi-cage crow trap under the General Licences in Scotland MUST render the trap ‘incapable of use’ if the trap is not being used, and this means either removing the door entirely or padlocking it open. Leaving the door closed when the trap is not in use is an offence.

I was interested to read the gamekeeper’s lawyer’s defence: “…..the gamekeeper thought he had secured it properly when no longer required“. I’m not sure how someone can believe they’ve secured a cage trap ‘properly’ if they haven’t obeyed the General Licence terms and conditions and either (a) removed the door or (b) padlocked it open. There’s no possibility of ‘accidentally’ doing half a job here – you either remove the door or you don’t, or you padlock the door open, or you don’t.

I was also interested to see that the guilty gamekeeper was 53 years old and had been a gamekeeper for ‘more than 30 years’. These were details given by his lawyer in his defence. I’d argue that those details should have gone against the gamekeeper – he’s been in the wildlife-killing business for long enough to know the risks and certainly to know the law. Indeed, I understand Peter Givens was the former Head Gamekeeper on nearby Raeshaw Estate. This is an estate that has been at the centre of multiple wildlife crime investigations for many, many years and was the subject of the very first General Licence restriction in 2015, based on clear police evidence that wildlife crimes had been committed there, although there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any individual (see here).

Even after the General Licence restriction was imposed on Raeshaw Estate, even more alleged wildlife crimes were uncovered which resulted in the estate’s Individual licences being revoked by SNH in 2017 (here).

There is no evidence nor indeed suggestion that Peter Givens was involved in any of those alleged offences but the point of highlighting this background is that he would certainly have been aware of the police investigations and thus the importance of adhering to the law, which he failed to do in this latest case (which incidentally did not take place on Raeshaw Estate – Givens has since moved to a smaller shoot].

The lawyer also made a point of telling the Sheriff that Givens had no previous convictions, and his ‘spotless record’ was taken in to account by Sheriff Paterson when Givens was sentenced.

And the punishment for ‘recklessly’ killing two Schedule 1 birds of prey? A £300 fine and a £20 victim surcharge.

You can decide for yourselves whether this will be sufficient deterrent for other gamekeepers to ensure they adhere to the terms and conditions of the General Licences to prevent protected species being trapped in a literal death trap and starving to death.

Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority reacts to 2020 being ‘worst year on record’ for raptor persecution crimes

Last week the RSPB published its latest annual Birdcrime report which showed that 2020 was the ‘worst year on record’ for confirmed crimes against birds of prey in the UK (see here).

For the seventh year in a row, North Yorkshire had more confirmed raptor persecution crimes than any other county in the UK. Twenty-six of the 137 confirmed UK incidents occurred in North Yorkshire. Of these two thirds were directly related to grouse shooting and a further four incidents to other types of shooting. Victims in the county included 16 buzzards, two peregrine falcons, two red kites and one goshawk.

[Grouse moor landscape in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

In response to the damning Birdcrime report, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has issued this pretty unequivocal statement:

YORKSHIRE DALES NATIONAL PARK AUTHORITY REACTION TO LATEST RSPB BIRDCRIME REPORT

Commenting on the RSPB Birdcrime Report 2020, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority Chief Executive David Butterworth said:

“This report makes grim reading for all landscape authorities, landowners, managers and other partners who are working hard to call out and tackle illegal raptor persecution, and it’s embarrassing and humiliating to see North Yorkshire yet again topping the league table with the highest number of confirmed incidents.

“As we’ve said before, the continuing issue of bird of prey persecution in North Yorkshire demands maximum exposure, as do the activities of those who take part in this criminality. People need to know what is happening here and the devastating impact this is having on our protected species. This report lays that bare.

”The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority condemns raptor persecution in the strongest possible terms and, as highlighted in this report, we will continue to work closely with partners and others to stamp out this crime once and for all.

“I would appeal to anyone, local or visitor, who witnesses any suspicious activity while they’re out and about in the countryside, or anyone who is made aware of it through their networks, to contact the Police”.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Management Plan objective C5 on illegal persecution of raptors can be viewed here.

For concerns about a possible wildlife crime, you should call 101. If you witness a suspected wildlife crime in action, call 999 immediately and ask for the Police. Finally, you can speak in confidence about raptor persecution directly with the RSPB on 0300 9990101

ENDS

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