Suffolk police remove peregrine from falconer for return to the wild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Derbyshire Police criticised as prosecution collapses against alleged peregrine egg thief in Peak District

The trial of a man accused of stealing peregrine eggs from a nest site in the Peak District National Park in Derbyshire has collapsed after elements of the police investigation were ruled unlawful.

This case relates to the alleged theft of peregrine eggs in 2020, where video footage filmed by the RSPB showed an individual climbing to a peregrine nest and removing the eggs (see here, here, here and here for previous blogs).

[A peregrine with eggs. Photo by Barb Baldinger]

The trial began at Chesterfield Magistrates this week but collapsed yesterday as the defence lawyer challenged certain procedural aspects of the police’s investigation, namely the arrest and the subsequent search of the man’s property.

The judge considered the evidence and ruled in the defendant’s favour, i.e. that certain aspects of the police investigation were indeed unlawful. The defendant left court with a not guilty verdict.

I am awaiting the full details of this judgement before commenting on Derbyshire Police’s failure to follow police procedural rules but this does seem pretty basic stuff. And surely the lawyers from the Crown Prosecution Service should have picked up these errors before the case even reached court? Hopefully the court will publish the judgement so we can see the extent of the police’s apparent ineptitude in this case.

A BBC reporter, Simon Hare, tweeted this yesterday from the court:

This evening, the RSPB has published its video footage of a man stealing the eggs from the peregrine’s nest site.

It’s such a disappointing result. With excellent footage from the RSPB that will have taken a great deal of time and skill to procure, this is a case that should have been straightforward. It’s doubly frustrating because as you’ll all know, it’s so rare that good quality evidence is available in so many raptor persecution cases, so when it is available we all hope it will lead to justice being served.

Understanding what went wrong in this case will be important and lessons need to be learned, not least by Derbyshire Police’s Rural Crime Team.

Peregrine suffers appalling injuries after being being shot & trapped in Suffolk

This is grim.

Press statement from Suffolk Constabulary, 16th May 2022.

APPEAL FOLLOWS DEATH OF WILD PEREGRINE FALCON

A wild peregrine falcon found badly injured after being illegally trapped and shot has been put down.

The bird was discovered by a member of the public in a field in Cratfield on 15 March and taken to the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary at Stonham Barns. However, its injuries were too severe to save it. Both of its legs were badly broken and it was also found to have been shot. Police believe the bird was caught in an illegal trap and released alive but injured and officers would like to hear from anybody who could help find those responsible.

Sgt Brian Calver, head of Suffolk Police’s Rural Crime Unit, said:

These iconic birds are not a common site in Suffolk and are vulnerable to human interference. Populations are improving slowly but persecution by humans remains one of the biggest threats to them. These are schedule one birds and the fastest animal on the planet. To trap any bird in such a way is cruel but to release an illegally trapped bird with broken legs is horrible. This bird would not have been able to feed and if not found by a member of the public would have suffered a slow and painful death. The traps we suspect to have caused these injuries are indiscriminate when used unlawfully. I appeal to anybody who has any knowledge of this to get in touch with Suffolk Police, quoting crime reference 37/18491/22“.

ENDS

Police officer, gamekeeper & son in court for peregrine theft case

Three people appeared in court last week charged with a number of offences in relation to alleged peregrine theft in the Scottish Borders.

Serving police officer WPC Suzanne Hall, 43, part-time gamekeeper Timothy Hall, 46, and their 21-year-old son, Lewis Hall, are accused of breaching The Control of Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Enforcement Regulations and also face two charges under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 by being in possession of protected birds and eggs of wild bird, in this case, peregrines.

Timothy Hall also faces further charges of two firearms certificate offences and a culpable and reckless conduct offence.

[Photo by Getty]

This case relates to a joint Scottish SPCA and Police Scotland raid on the family home at Lamberton Holdings in Berwick-upon-Tweed in May 2021 as part of an on-going investigation into allegations of serious organised crime (see here).

It is understood a search warrant was executed and officers seized a number of peregrine falcon chicks and eggs from the property.

All three defendants made no plea at this latest court hearing and the case was continued for further examination. They were granted bail by Sheriff Peter Paterson.

PLEASE NOTE: As this is a live case and charges have been laid, I won’t be accepting any comments on this article until legal proceedings have concluded. Many thanks for your understanding.

Job vacancy: ‘Engagement Trainee’ (peregrine protection), Derbyshire Wildlife Trust

The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (DWT) is pretty proactive when it comes to birds of prey, which is just as well given the appalling levels of raptor persecution in the county, not least those associated with the grouse moors of the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park (e.g. see here).

Enthusiastic supporters of, and contributors to, Hen Harrier Day, DWT also runs the Upland Skies Bird of Prey Project which is supported by funding from the National Lottery (here) and earlier this year DWT announced the recruitment of a member of staff dedicated to peregrine protection thanks to funding from the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund (here).

Now the Trust is advertising a position for a part-time Engagement Trainee (£19,047 per annum) to work within the Wilder Communities Team to help deliver a programme of work to inspire people to take action for wildlife.

In this role, you’ll:

• Support the Derby City Peregrine Project.

• Work on a Peregrine protection project in Derbyshire.

• Raise awareness and education of raptor persecution.

To be successful you will:

• Be passionate about inspiring people to care and act for nature.

• Have great communication and engagement skills.

• Be able to work with partners to deliver a project.

Responsibilities

In this role, you’ll receive training and support to:

• Assist in the planning and delivery of DWT’s Wilder Engagement work, specifically to develop and deliver an awareness raising programme of Derbyshire’s peregrines and other birds of prey.

• Recruit and coordinate volunteers for watch points and monitoring of sites.

• Develop an excellent understanding of bird of prey persecution in the UK for further educational awareness to the public.

About you

This role might be right for you if:

• You would like to deliver activities that are engaging and informative.

• You’ve had some experience working with volunteers.

• You have a good understanding of ecology and the wildlife of the British Isles.

• You have strong organisational skills and enjoy managing changing priorities.

This role will be based at DWT’s office in Middleton but candidates will be expected to work at various locations around the county. A balance of home and on site working will be allowed.

Interviews are planned for Monday 31st January 2022.

This is a part-time position of 25 hours per week and will involve working regular Saturdays.

The successful applicant will be required to undergo an enhanced DBS check as this role involves working with people under 18 year old.

Closing date is 16 January 2022. Interviews are planned for Monday 31st January 2022.

To apply please click here

Update on raptor persecution investigations in Scotland from National Wildlife Crime Unit

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club’s (SOC) virtual annual conference. One of the speakers I was keen to hear was PC Gavin Ross, an Investigative Support Officer at the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU).

Gavin is the ISO for Scotland and has been in post for a year (see here).

His presentation opened with an explanation of the differences between the NWCU and Police Scotland (essentially the NWCU is an intelligence gathering unit but it also has other functions, particularly supporting the police with wildlife crime investigations). He went on to describe the seven national wildlife crime priorities and the importance of partnership-working in tackling wildlife crime. In fact he mentioned the importance of partnership-working quite a few times and encouraged attendees to report anything suspicious as this information all helps to build an intelligence portfolio around certain areas and individuals.

The subject of raptor persecution was prominent in this presentation, as you might expect for an audience with the SOC.

We learned that this year alone there had been police enquiries into the death and /or disappearance of 14 eagles: 11 golden eagles and 3 white-tailed eagles. It was emphasised that as only a small proportion of eagles are tagged, this figure was likely the tip of a much larger iceberg.

Six of the 14 investigations related to satellite-tagged birds (whose tags had stopped suddenly without any indication of a technical malfunction, and are therefore considered suspicious).

Two of the 14 investigations are considered ‘historical’ in that they relate to the discovery of items (tags!) that had been cut off eagles and dumped in a river or a loch in previous years (e.g. see here and here for previous examples of this).

As these are ongoing investigations much of the detail was redacted from the presentation. That’s fair enough for a while, to protect the integrity of the investigations, but I hope Police Scotland will be publicising the circumstances of these incidents in due course.

Gavin also talked about what he called ‘Operation Stoop, aka Operation Tantallon’, which is the ongoing investigation into the theft and laundering of wild peregrines. This is a multi-agency operation involving the police, Scottish SPCA, NWCU and SASA, with additional support from members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group. So far three people have been charged, including a serving police officer (see here), but as it’s a live case many details are currently being withheld.

Gavin didn’t reveal any details but talked about the wide range of investigative techniques deployed so far, including surveillance, peregrine DNA analysis, searches under warrants, bankers warrants, cyber crime and the Proceeds of Crime Act.

I think the breadth of this investigation and the resources being thrown at it is testimony to the seriousness and extent of this particular crime, and from what I hear it’s certainly not just restricted to Scotland. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more in due course.

Overall this was an interesting and well-delivered presentation. I hope the NWCU will consider doing more of these and making them freely available on their website.

Rising levels of wildlife crime during pandemic, new report from nature experts warns

Press release Wildlife & Countryside Link (25th November 2021)

Rising reports of wildlife crimes during the pandemic spark fresh fears for beloved species

  • Reports of wildlife crimes against many species rose between 35-90% in 2020
  • At the same time convictions on key types of wildlife crime fell by 50%+
  • Nature experts are calling for improved recording and monitoring, better targeting of resources, and enhanced use of expert police and prosecutors to tackle wildlife crime

A new report published today (25 Nov) by nature experts has revealed a worrying increase in reporting of wildlife crimes against badgers, fish, birds of prey, and marine mammals during the pandemic. While a sharp decline in convictions for wildlife crimes including hunting, illegal wildlife trade, and fishing crime was also seen in 2020.

Reports of likely crimes against badgers rose by 36% in 2020, compared to 2019, with reports of potential fishing crimes up by more than a third (35%) and marine mammal incident reports (in Cornwall alone) rising 90%, according to data gathered by the NGOs. The number of confirmed raptor crimes in England & Wales in 2020 was almost double that in 2019, rising from 54 to 104 (the worst year for bird-crime ever as detailed by the RSPB in October).

At the same time fishing crime convictions fell by almost two-thirds from 2037 in 2019 to 679 in 2020, and illegal wildlife trade convictions halved to just 4 convictions. Hunting prosecutions also more than halved, from 49 in 2019 to 22 in 2020, with only 8 convictions. Hunting conviction rates have in fact steadily decreased for the last five years, falling from 54% of prosecutions being successful in 2016 to less than a third (32%) of prosecutions achieving conviction in 2020.

Martin Sims, Director of Investigations at the League Against Cruel Sports and Chair of Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Wildlife Crime group, said: ‘‘Wildlife crime is something that should concern everyone –it inflicts pain, harm and loss for much-loved wildlife and fuels wider criminality against people and property. Despite this the police still don’t gather centralised data on these serious crimes, leaving an incomplete picture from charities, which could be just a drop in the ocean of wildlife crimes. It is high time the Government steps in to treat wildlife crime with the seriousness it deserves. Making key crimes notifiable would enable police forces to better target resources, and track repeat offenders. While better police and prosecutor training and resources would help raise the pitiful 32% conviction rate for hunting prosecutions alone. The system must change to crack down on offences against nature once and for all.”

Dawn Varley, Acting CEO of the Badger Trust, said: Badger crime has been a UK Wildlife Crime Priority for more than a decade, due to the scale of persecution – but sadly this persecution shows no sign of letting up. 2020 saw reports of badger crime rise, driven in large part by a shocking 220% increase in reports of developers interfering with badger setts. A small minority seem to see badger habitat protections as an inconvenience to be quietly bulldozed over, rather than a legal requirement to conserve an iconic British mammal. 2022 must see renewed work by police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service to bring offenders to justice. This must be supported by better monitoring, new training to enable officers and prosecutors to demonstrate criminal intent, and consistently tougher sentencing to deter these crimes.”

Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations UK, said: In the wake of an emergency climate conference and with all life on earth facing an uncertain future, there has never been a more important time for urgent action to end the illegal killing of wildlife. Wildlife declines are already being felt, and species can ill afford to face the additional pressure of being brutally shot, trapped or poisoned; nor should the public have to put up with these crimes taking place in the wild places they go to for refuge.

Bird of prey persecution reached unprecedented heights in 2020, particularly where land was managed for gamebird shooting. And it is certain that more crimes will have been committed and simply gone undetected and unreported. We urge the public to report dead or injured birds of prey in suspicious circumstances to the police and the RSPB, or pass on any information which may help lead to a conviction.” 

[One of two dead peregrines found illegally poisoned near Tadcaster, North Yorkshire in 2020. Photo RSPB]

The lockdowns and restrictions of 2020 appear to have contributed to rises in reporting of wildlife crimes and falls in convictions in several ways. Opportunistic offenders may have felt that with the police busy enforcing social restrictions that wildlife could be harmed with relative impunity. With increased use of the countryside in the pandemic more members of the public were also present to witness and report incidents of concern. COVID-19 pressures around social restrictions and staff absences appear also to have unfortunately reduced the capacity of police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service, and their ability to both bring hunting and fishing cases to trial and achieve convictions.

While today’s report reveals worrying figures, with impacts for treasured species like badgers, buzzards, kestrels, seals, dolphins and bluebells, it gives an incomplete picture. These organisations all collect data in different ways, with many only holding figures on reporting and convictions for incidents where members of the public have directly contacted them. There is a huge lack of information on wildlife crimes due to police not being required to officially record wildlife offences. Most wildlife crimes are recorded as ‘miscellaneous’ offences and are therefore invisible in police records, with no duty to be reported upon. The scale of wildlife crime is therefore likely to be far greater than the data collected by NGOs suggests. 

The 16 wildlife organisations behind today’s report are warning that the way wildlife crimes are handled by both the police and Crown Prosecution Service must be reviewed and improved, if offences against treasured British wildlife are to be tackled. In particular, the new report highlights that the continued absence of dedicated recording for wildlife crimes means that resources cannot be effectively assessed and targeted. A lack of expertise and resource for police and prosecutors, and deficiency of sentencing guidelines, is also leading to failures in convicting criminals and inadequate penalties for crimes.

Nature experts and conservationists are calling for several key actions to better tackle wildlife crimes:

  • Make wildlife crimes recordable – A shortlist of wildlife offences (compiled by the National Wildlife Crime Unit) is being considered by the Home Office for notifiable status. This must be approved in 2022 to bridge the crippling wildlife crime data gap and help target resources effectively.
  • Ensure effective police & prosecutor action – Staff with expert training on wildlife crimes are critical to effectively building and prosecuting a case against these criminals. Also key is early coordination between the CPS and police on cases, and ensuring prosecutors have adequate preparation time for cases. Ensuring police and CPS training and process reflects this is vital.
  • Produce sentencing guidelines – Unlike most other crimes, the Sentencing Council provides no sentencing guidelines for wildlife crimes. This must be rectified to ensure sentencing consistently reflects the seriousness of these crimes and acts as a deterrent to criminal activity. 

ENDS

The full report can be downloaded here:

Notes:

The new report has been written and published by Wildlife and Countryside Link, the biggest coalition of wildlife and environment charities in England, and Wales Environment Link, a network of environmental, countryside and heritage non-governmental organisations with an all-Wales remit. Both operate as part of a UK-wide coalition – Environment Links UK

Organisations supporting today’s report include: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Badger Trust, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Four Paws, Humane Society International UK, IFAW, Institute of Fisheries Management, League Against Cruel Sports, National Trust, Naturewatch Foundation, Plantlife, RSPB, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Wild Justice and WWF UK.

UPDATE 12.45hrs: Coverage of this new report in The Guardian here

UPDATE 13.00hrs: Coverage on Farming Today (starts at 06.20min) interviewing Mark Thomas, Head of RSPB Investigations here

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

Peregrine found shot dead on grouse moor in Strathbraan – Police Scotland refuse to publicise

A peregrine falcon was found shot dead on a grouse-shooting estate in the Strathbraan area of Perthshire in November 2020.

The discovery was made during a police-led multi-agency raid following reports of suspected wildlife crime taking place on the estate. I blogged about that raid in February this year (see here).

This is an estate that has previously been under investigation for alleged wildlife crime offences.

My understanding is that the Scottish SPCA are progressing a case for alleged snaring offences but that Police Scotland were dealing with the shot peregrine (because it was already dead and so was beyond the (current) remit of the SSPCA)

Strathbraan is an area that has received much attention on this blog. Dominated by grouse-shooting estates, it has a very well-earned reputation as a wildlife crime hotspot, and is particularly notorious for the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged eagles (one of whose tags turned up in a river, its harness cut and the tag wrapped in lead sheeting to prevent transmission – see here). It is also the area where SNH issued a (flawed) licence in 2018 permitting the mass killing of ravens on the basis of ‘seeing what happened’ – but which was later withdrawn after a legal challenge by the Scottish Raptor Study Group.

[Evidence of intensive grouse moor management in Strathbraan. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Given the reputation of Strathbraan as a wildlife crime hotspot, and given that raptor persecution is a national wildlife crime priority, and given that Police Scotland has spent much of the last year with a dedicated campaign to try and raise public awareness of wildlife crime and encourage people to recognise and report suspected incidents, it’s difficult to understand why the police have deliberately withheld this crime from the public.

And it has been deliberately withheld. This wasn’t an oversight, or an admin error. It was a conscious decision not to say anything about it. How do I know that? Well, because I’ve been talking to Police Scotland about this crime since January 2021 and have asked, repeatedly, when they were planning on putting out the news / making an appeal for information because I believed it to be in the public interest to do so.

At first I was told that no press release was planned “until I have done a little bit more enquiry in to the circumstances“.

Fair enough.

Three months later I asked again but got no response. I tried again at four months and then finally five months later I was told, “There was no need for us to put out anything in the press from our perspective“, and “As you say from the evidence we have, we will never know where and when it was shot“.

Good grief.

Where’s the x-ray of the shot bird? An examination of its injuries (e.g. broken wings) would provide a pretty good indication of whether it was shot close to where it had been found dead, or whether it might have had the capacity to fly several miles before succumbing to its injuries. In which case, an appeal for information would have been a logical next-step, surely?

And if the police decide to say nothing, as they have in this case, where is the public record of this offence? It’s been almost a year since it was found.

How many more raptor persecution crimes are Police Scotland keeping quiet about? Quite a few, as it happens. More to come….

UPDATE 21st September 2021: Long-eared owl illegally held in trap on same Strathbraan grouse moor where shot peregrine was found (here)

Police attend suspected peregrine shooting near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

Yesterday, Thames Valley Police (Aylesbury Vale) posted this on Facebook:

I haven’t been able to find any follow-up information, e.g. whether the peregrine was x-rayed to confirm/rule out shooting and there isn’t an incident number or an appeal for information on the Thames Valley Police website.

Meanwhile, the local press are reporting this as a confirmed shooting. Eg. see this headline from the Bucks Free Press:

Wouldn’t it be good if there was a national standard on how to report suspected raptor persecution crimes, that every police force could follow? And a central location where these verified reports could be found?

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