Fergus Ewing MSP & his shooting industry pals disregard sanctions imposed on Moy Estate for wildlife crime

Look at the state of this.

A tweet by Fergus Ewing MSP, former Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, posted yesterday at the Scottish Gamekeeper Association’s stand at the Moy Game Fair. I wonder who he’s referring to when he says ‘We’? Is he speaking on behalf of the Scottish Government?

The Moy Game Fair is hosted by the Moy Estate. That’ll be the disgraced Moy Estate that had a three-year General Licence restriction imposed on it in June this year (see here) after Police Scotland provided evidence to demonstrate wildlife crime had taken place on the estate, notably the discovery of a poisoned red kite and incidents related to alleged trapping offences, although the estate has long been recognised as a raptor persecution hotspot (e.g. see here, scroll down to below the press release).

An estate gamekeeper has recently been charged with the alleged shooting of a sparrowhawk and is due in court in September.

Here is a map we created way back in 2016 to highlight the extent of raptor persecution crimes in Fergus Ewing’s constituency and this shows the concentration of incidents on and close to Moy Estate. There have been further incidents since this map was created, hence the General Licence restriction imposed this year:

Also ignoring the sanction for wildlife crime on Moy Estate is Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the lobby group for game-shooting estates across Scotland, as demonstrated by this tweet yesterday from SLE’s North of Scotland Regional Coordinator, Fiona Van Aardt:

So here’s a senior politician from the SNP Government, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and Scottish Land & Estates, all effectively sticking up two fingers to the Government’s policy of sanctioning estates for raptor persecution.

When the policy of imposing General Licence restrictions as a tool for tackling rampant bird of prey persecution was first introduced in 2014, the then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse described the restrictions as being a ‘reputational driver‘. In other words, a sanctioned estate would not enjoy the benefits of being part of the shooting industry because the industry, with its claimed ‘zero tolerance’ approach to raptor persecution, would not wish to be associated with wildlife crime and this (hoped for) ostracization would stimulate a clamp-down on raptor-killing estates.

So much for that idea. It appears that the shooting industry, along with its political supporters, couldn’t give a monkeys. There’s been previous evidence of this on other so-called sanctioned estates (e.g. see here for examples).

Technically speaking, Mr Ewing and his shooting industry pals could argue that Moy Estate is not currently serving a General Licence restriction. How come? Well, because under the rules, if an estate appeals the GL restriction decision, the restriction is temporarily lifted whilst NatureScot considers the estate’s appeal. This is completely bonkers, of course, because a sanctioned estate has already had a chance to appeal the decision, when NatureScot first issues the notification for a restriction. But they’re then given another opportunity to appeal once the restriction has been imposed, and during that appeal process (typically four weeks) NatureScot removes the restriction so the estate can carry on as if the restriction never existed. I’m pretty sure that that’s what’s going on at Moy because the GL restriction decision notice for Moy Estate has been removed from the section of NatureScot’s website where currently-restricted estates are listed (here).

Although if Mr Ewing, the SGA and SLE were to rely upon this technicality, I don’t think that many people would view it as the shooting industry working in the spirit of wishing to stamp out raptor persecution, do you?

RSPB wants ‘action & delivery’ from Scottish Government on grouse moor licensing scheme

RSPB Scotland has published a blog today calling for ‘action and delivery’ from the Scottish Government on its promised grouse moor licensing scheme.

The Government announced in November 2020 that grouse shooting businesses in Scotland will need to be licensed to operate, under new proposals to tackle raptor persecution.

It also announced that muirburn will also only be permitted under licence, in order to protect wildlife and habitats, regardless of the time of year it is undertaken and whether or not it is for grouse moor management or improving grazing.

The Government stated there will also be a statutory ban on burning on peatland, except under licence for strictly limited purposes, such as approved habitat restoration projects.

Since that announcement in November 2020, there hasn’t been any further action, but there has been plenty more evidence of illegal raptor persecution, including the poisoning of this golden eagle on a grouse moor at Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park:

RSPB Scotland writes:

We have been very patient, but nearly 20 months on from this announcement, we want to see some action and delivery on these promises by the Scottish Government. Proposals must be brought forward in the forthcoming Programme for Government in autumn 2022 for the introduction of grouse moor and muirburn licensing legislation in the next Parliamentary year“. 

You can read the full RSPB blog here.

No prosecution for shot raptors found on Millden Estate, Angus Glens

On 8th October 2019, the Scottish SPCA executed a search warrant with Police Scotland on various properties on Millden Estate in the Angus Glens looking for evidence of animal cruelty and animal fighting, including badger baiting, after 58 gruesome photographs were reportedly sent to a printing shop in England by a Millden Estate employee.

Millden Estate is known for its grouse shooting (having been described in a sales brochure in 2011 as being ‘The Holy Grail‘ of grouse moors and ‘One of the finest sporting estates in Scotland‘) The estate also hosts pheasant and partridge-shooting on its low ground.

Millden Estate has also been described as a ‘savage, stripped, blasted land‘ by author and photographer Chris Townsend (here).

Millden Estate gamekeepers, along with others in the Angus Glens, have previously been feted by senior politicians, including former Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Fergus Ewing MSP, former Minister Graeme Dey MSP, and by Prince Charles who was photographed with Millden keepers as he opened a tweed workshop in Beauly in 2019.

Millden Estate was also visited by Professor Werritty and his colleagues in 2018 during the review of grouse moor management; they visited the estate apparently to see an example of ‘best practice for managing grouse moors’.

The estate, one of a number in the Angus Glens, is also long- known amongst conservationists as a raptor persecution hotspot after the discovery of poisoned and shot buzzards in 2009 and 2011 (here), a poisoned golden eagle (Alma) in 2009 (here), and a satellite-tagged golden eagle seemingly caught in a spring trap and then apparently uplifted overnight and dumped on Deeside with two broken legs & left to die (here). Nobody has ever been prosecuted for any of these alleged offences and Millden Estate has denied any responsibility.

In October 2019 during the morning raid at Millden Estate the SSPCA did find evidence of animal fighting and cruelty, including badger baiting, and after two and a half years of protracted legal process, in May this year 28 year old gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies was convicted of a number of animal cruelty, animal fighting, and firearms offences: (for previous blogs on this case see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). Davies is due to be sentenced on Monday.

Other evidence of alleged wildlife crime was also uncovered during that search of Millden Estate back in October 2019, including the discovery of a number of dead raptors wrapped in bags at at least three separate locations, apparently including at the residences of two estate employees.

Whilst the SSPCA led on the investigation into animal cruelty/animal fighting, Police Scotland led on the investigation into the dead raptors (because the SSPCA don’t, yet, have the powers to investigate cases where a wild animal is already dead – bonkers, I know – see here for the background on this).

I have spent the last two and a half years chasing Police Scotland about these dead raptors and asking for status updates on the investigation. I have to say I’ve been summarily unimpressed. The investigation has been conducted at a snail’s pace and communication has been dire. I understand that the dead raptors all underwent post mortems and it was determined they’d been shot. No information has been provided about the number of species involved (although it’s been reported that some were buzzards), nor the number of individuals confirmed to have been shot, although I know of at least three.

Earlier this week I asked the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) about this case and whether it was progressing (i.e. has anyone been charged?). To its credit, the COPFS response was fast, but the case outcome familiarly frustrating:

The Procurator Fiscal received a report relating to a 28 year old male and incidents said to have occurred between 1 January 2019 and 8 October 2019. After careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, including the available admissible evidence, the Procurator Fiscal decided that there should be no proceedings taken at this time. The Crown reserves the right to proceed in the future should further evidence become available‘.

I doubt we’ll ever be informed about the extent of the raptor persecution uncovered (even now, nearly three years after the raptor corpses were found, Police Scotland has failed to issue any press statement) and we’ll certainly not learn any more detail about why charges weren’t brought because the COPFS is not obliged to inform the public about its decision-making process. Apparently transparency doesn’t apply.

To be fair, a prosecution would depend on an individual suspect being identified but there are multiple employees at Millden Estate (16 were listed in the estate’s sales brochure in 2011) and a recent photo on social media suggests there are multiple gamekeepers (there’s a photo online showing 13 men dressed as gamekeepers in Millden Estate tweed at the start of the 2020 grouse season).

I think it’s fair to say that any employee could have the motivation, means and opportunity to commit wildlife crime – we now know that at least one of them, Rhys Owen Davies, was doing exactly that, apparently right under the noses of his colleagues and bosses on Millden Estate – but just having the motivation, means and opportunity isn’t sufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution. Having a carrier bag full of shot raptors at your house isn’t enough for a court of law to convict, although if there was a bag of dead raptors at my house I’m pretty sure I’d notice them and I’m pretty certain I’d have notified the police.

So where does that leave us? We await the sentencing of gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies on Monday but I don’t expect any of us have high hopes for a fitting sentence.

Millden Estate must surely now qualify for a General Licence restriction, a monumentally ineffective sanction but the only thing left on the table until the Scottish Government pulls its finger out and introduces the licensing scheme it promised to develop in November 2020.

But even if the authorities do decide to impose a General Licence restriction on Millden Estate, that won’t curtail the estate’s ability to continue to host grouse, pheasant and partridge shoots. The estate, which is run through a series of companies and limited liability partnerships (LLPs), including one called Millden Sporting LLP, reported tangible assets in 2021 of £17.5 million.

That’s a lot of money, and with it comes a lot of influence.

Investigative journalists discover more evidence of alleged raptor persecution on Queen’s Sandringham Estate

Investigative journalists from The Guardian newspaper have uncovered more evidence of alleged raptor persecution crimes, not previously reported, at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk.

They’ve also uncovered documents which reveal that the police have to seek the Queen’s permission before they are allowed to enter the estate and search for evidence if alleged wildlife crimes are suspected / have been reported.

Long-term blog readers will know that this royal estate has been at the centre of a number of police investigations into alleged raptor persecution, (e.g. see herehereherehere, here), including the most notorious incident back in 2007 where witnesses observed two hen harriers being shot over Dersingham Bog at the same time that Prince Harry, his mate William van Cutsem (whose Hilborough Estate is currently under police investigation for alleged raptor persecution), and an estate gamekeeper were out duck-shooting. No-one was charged, as with all the other reported incidents except one in 2005, where an estate gamekeeper was convicted for pole-trapping a tawny owl next to a pheasant pen (see here, page 3).

However, it now appears that at least two other raptor persecution incidents on the estate have been kept under wraps for years – a poisoned red kite found in 2006 and a dead Marsh harrier (cause of death not given) found on the estate border in 2007 – according to documents published on Friday by The Guardian – the article is well worth a read, here.

Why has it taken 16 years for these raptor persecution incidents to become public knowledge? And given the timings, wouldn’t it have been pertinent for them to have been in the public domain at the time that Prince Harry, his ‘high society’ mate van Cutsem, along with an estate gamekeeper, were all under police investigation into the alleged shooting of two hen harriers in 2007?

It’s no wonder ‘nothing was found’ during the police investigation into those alleged shootings, given that the police weren’t allowed on site until the following morning.

And surprise, surprise, none of the investigating authorities want to comment on any of these latest revelations. Too scared and too obsequious.

There is a follow-up article in today’s Guardian (here), including quotes from me about these very shady processes that amount to what I would call a massive cover-up.

Well done to journalists Sev Carrell, Rob Evans and David Pegg for having the balls to challenge this nonsense.

Scottish Gamekeepers Association plan awards ceremony at disgraced Moy Estate

Remember all those recent headlines from the game shooting industry, declaring a ‘zero tolerance’ stance against raptor persecution?

Well quelle surprise, it seems their interpretation of ‘zero tolerance’ isn’t quite the same as everyone else’s.

Last month Moy Estate, a shooting estate in the Monadhliaths was given a three-year General Licence restriction, imposed by NatureScot on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds, specifically the discovery of a poisoned red kite in 2020 (here).

It was just the latest in a long line of raptor persecution incidents reported on or next to Moy Estate for over a decade, and another court case is due to be heard this autumn.

For an example of the history, 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:

The General Licence restriction is a bit like putting a school into ‘special measures’ – a status applied by regulators to indicate the school has fallen short of acceptable standards, although the main serious difference here of course is that a General Licence restriction is imposed on the basis of wildlife crimes being committed on the estate, rather than merely a shortfall in standards.

The main idea behind the introduction of General Licence restrictions back in 2014 was that they would act as a “reputational driver” for those sanctioned estates, according to the then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse (see here).

However, there has been no evidence that the game-shooting industry takes any notice whatsoever of such sanctions. For example, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust hosted a guided tour and BBQ on ‘the renowned Corsehope Shoot‘ in June 2017, at the same time that this estate was serving a three year General Licence restriction for wildlife crime; Edradynate Estate bragged about “a belter season“ at the same time it was serving a three-year General Licence restriction for wildlife crime; and this estate was also endorsed by the British Game Alliance, the game shooting industry’s own ‘assurance’ scheme, membership of which is supposed to indicate ‘rigorous and ethical standards’, whilst the estate was under a General Licence restriction for wildlife crime (see here).

So it comes as no surprise to see that the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) is not only intending to have a stand at the forthcoming Highland Field Sport Fair hosted by Moy Estate (now rebranded as the Moy Country Fair, presumably in an attempt to make it more palatable), but the SGA is also planning an awards ceremony at the event to announce the winner of the SGA Young Gamekeeper of the Year Award as well as presenting various Long Service Medals!

You couldn’t make this up!

The Moy game fair has previously attracted the likes of former Cabinet Minister Fergus Ewing who used his attendance to give a rallying speech to the game-shooting sector (here) and Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) also usually has a stand. I can’t remember if Moy Estate is a member of SLE, but it’ll be interesting to see if SLE puts in an appearance this year.

Farmer receives pathetic fine for poisoning two buzzards & a raven

This article appeared in The Journal today:

Farmer fined €500 for poisoning protected bird species in Co Wicklow

By Lauren Boland

A FARMER HAS been fined for poisoning protected birds in Co Wicklow after pleading guilty to what a judge described as a “serious crime”.

Christopher Thomas Noel Doyle, also known as Noel Doyle Senior, with an address at Crehelp in Co Wicklow, came before the Carlow District Court over a breach of restrictions on the use of poisoned bait.

The judge imposed a €500 fine and €1,500 in expenses that he must pay within four months.

A conservation ranger told the court he had discovered two dead buzzards, a dead raven, and a sheep carcass on lands at Athgreaney, Co Wicklow.

[Buzzard, photographer unknown]

The court heard that the ranger first found a dead buzzard and after further investigation identified a second dead buzzard, a dead raven, and a sheep carcass placed near a fox den.

Post-mortems by the Department of Agriculture and testing by Dublin Regional Veterinary Laboratory and the State Laboratory found that the birds died due to high levels of poison (carbofuran) in their systems.

The sheep had been cut open and the wound was laced with large amounts of carbofuran.

The ranger said that the levels of poison were extremely hazardous to all forms of life and that it was very fortunate that no humans had been accidentally poisoned.

He said it was likely that other wild animals had scavenged the carcasses and died from poisoning but were never found. 

Judge Marie Keane said there was an “astonishing amount of poison” used in what she described as a “serious crime” and “a deliberate enterprise” to try to persecute the local wildlife.

In a statement, Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan called it a “particularly heinous and disturbing wildlife crime”.

Buzzards are a protected species and deliberate poisoning of them is an offence under the Birds and Natural Habitats (Restrictions on the Use of Poisoned Bait) Regulations 2010.

Carbofuran was previously used as a pesticide in agriculture but is now banned because of its toxicity to wildlife, especially to birds.

Approval for the use of carbofuran products was withdrawn throughout the EU in 2007, including in Ireland in December of that year.

After an 18-month period to use up remaining stock, it was banned fully from 2009.

ENDS

Raptor persecution “hasn’t been a problem for years”, claims Scottish Gamekeepers committee member

There was a jaw-droppingly half-baked article published in The Courier last week, featuring commentary from a Scottish gamekeeper.

Bob Connelly, who is reportedly a Committee member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), had been speaking at the Scottish Game Fair and the Couriers environment journalist Scott Milne took the comments at face value and wrote the following article, which has to be read to be believed.

People will not realise the importance of land management and the shooting industry until campaigners force the end of the sector.

That is the view of gamekeeper Bob Connelly, who works in an estate in north east Perthshire.

Bob was speaking at the Scottish Game Fair, which took place in Scone over the weekend.

The Scottish Government is preparing legislation that could see gamekeeper grouse shooting licenced.

This has come after a campaign by animal rights advocates [Ed: he’s referring to this blog!] releasing evidence which appears to show wildlife crimes such as raptor persecution and misuse of traps.

The theory goes that predators such as buzzards and hen harries are killed in order to protect grouse, which brings in a lot of money during shooting season.

ARE GAMEKEEPERS VICTIM OF A HATE CAMPAIGN?

Bob feels much of this evidence has been manufactured as part of a “malicious” campaign to turn public opinion against gamekeepers and the shooting industry.

He said: “They want to get rid of us.

“But people don’t understand what we do and why we do it.”

A case in point is the controversial practice of heather burning.

It has been criticised as unnecessary and potentially damaging to peatland, which can release large swathes of carbon.

But Bob has a different perspective.

“You have to accept that there are going to be fires in places like that if you let it overgrow.

“So if it’s inevitable, do you want to have a controlled fire or let a wild one get out of hand?

“That would be even more damaging.”

Bob also feels it’s important gamekeepers are allowed to control predator populations in order to protect smaller species.

He said: “What we do is we build it from the ground up. We make sure the right environment is in place for insects and other small species and then bigger ones can naturally thrive on top of that.

“There’s more and more red-listed birds. If you want to protect them, it’s important to control predators such as foxes and buzzards.

“There’s a lot of people who have been manipulated to feel a certain way on social media, but don’t fully understand what we do.

“They’ll will miss us when we’re gone.”

WILL LEGISLATION CHANGE THINGS?

Bob thinks the upcoming gamekeeper shooting legislation is not needed.

“There is already rules surrounding things like traps. I can’t see how it can be legislated anymore.

“Yes, there were problems in the past with raptor persecution and things like that.

“But if you discount one or two recent examples, it hasn’t been a problem for years.”

GAMEKEEPERS AND LAND MANAGERS ARE WORRIED

Tim Baynes is director of moorland with Scottish Land and Estates.

Also speaking at the Scottish Game Fair, he said many gamekeepers and land managers he knows are worried for their jobs.

“A lot of these people have a very specific skillset that has come down from generations.”

Tim wouldn’t go as far as Bob and say anti-shooting campaigners have adopted “malicious” practices, but he does feel they “have an agenda”.

“They want to remove shooting.

“But they are not involved in it or in managing land so they are coming at it from a different perspective.”

Tim hopes the shooting industry can work with politicians to have legislation that works for everyone.

However, he is concerned that last-minute changes might be brought in that would work against their favour.

“At the end of the day, we have to work with the government that has got the votes.

“There are people within the government who are pragmatic about the industry.

“But it can be difficult for them to publicly say so.”

ENDS

The level of idiocy in this article is quite staggering, even for an SGA committee member. I guess it’s what we’ve come to expect from the SGA though, who have been in denial about the extent of these crimes for at least the 12 years I’ve been writing this blog and probably for years prior to that, as their standard response to the most glaring of truths.

And it is that level of idiotic denial, combined with ongoing raptor persecution and the SGA’s inability to influence those within the shooting industry who continue to commit these disgusting wildlife crimes (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here), that has brought about the Government’s decision to introduce a grouse shooting licensing scheme.

That decision wasn’t based on so-called ” manufactured evidence“. It was based on the number of raptor corpses found dead and mutilated on game-shooting estates over many, many years, including poisoned eagles found on grouse shooting estates even inside our National Parks for God’s sake, combined with the massive weight of incontrovertible scientific evidence that all points to an outright refusal to abide by the law by many members of the game-shooting industry.

It’s not the fault of this blog, nor the fault of the many other campaigners who have been fighting against this abuse of our raptors for decades. The blame lies entirely, and obviously, with the criminals.

UK donating Red kites to Spain to boost dwindling population

Press release from RSPB (24th June 2022)

Flying kites: the UK’s most successful bird conservation project returns the favour – and chicks – to Spain

The UK’s most successful bird conservation project – for red kites – has come full circle and is now donating kite chicks to a similar project in Spain, the country that provided chicks for our red kite reintroduction project to England almost 35 years ago. 

In 1989, an ambitious project began to restore red kite populations in England and Scotland after they had become extinct around the 1870s, having suffered relentless human persecution by gamekeepers, skin and egg collectors. Now, conservationists are delighted that the project has been so successful that red kite chicks can be supplied in return from England back to Spain to help with important efforts to conserve the species in that country. This amazing turn-around also involves some of the key people involved in the original England and Scotland red kite reintroduction projects.

From the 1700s onwards red kites were killed alongside other birds of prey across the UK by game preservers and farmers, regarded as “vermin”, and 200 years of relentless human persecution followed. The red kite due to its close association with humans was one of the easiest raptor species to exterminate. At the turn of the 20th century, there were just a handful of red kites in the UK, and those birds that remained were confined to remote Welsh valleys.

With legal protection, reduced human persecution, and thanks in particular to the dedicated efforts of enlightened conservationists and farmers, the Welsh population of red kites began to expand slowly. By the 1980s though, they were still confined to the Welsh uplands and their population was considered fragile and vulnerable to extinction. A trial reintroduction of red kites to both England and Scotland was proposed as it was felt highly unlikely that these birds would return naturally and within a reasonable timescale.   

A jigsaw of red kite reintroductions at 9 sites across the UK began from 1989 to help bring the kite back to its former range. The rest is history, and this initiative then developed into one of the greatest UK conservation success stories. From being extinct in England and Scotland, 15-17% of the world’s red kite population is now estimated to be present in the UK.

Most of the birds that were reintroduced to England by Natural England (and its predecessors the Joint Nature Conservation Committee) came from the Navarra area in the north of Spain. About two hundred chicks were donated to the Chilterns and Forestry England woodlands in the East Midlands reintroduction during the 1990s. The RSPB led on the Scottish reintroduction and at a UK level the overall red kite reintroduction programme was overseen jointly with Natural England.  

These reintroduced birds first bred in 1992, just three years after the start of reintroduction, and their population has subsequently expanded rapidly, already recovering much of their former range. Red kites are now thriving again in England and Scotland with the UK population estimated at 6,000 breeding pairs with 4,500-5,000 breeding pairs in England. An amazing conservation success in just 33 years – and still with substantial scope for further population expansion and increase in range. During this time the red kite has become very visible to large parts of the UK population and hugely popular with the public.   

This year, all the chicks going to Spain – working with Accion por el Mundo Salvaje (AMUS) in Extremadura region (www.amus.org.es) – have been collected by Forestry England from nests in the nation’s forests they care for, as well as from the Boughton Estate in Northamptonshire, who have both supported red kite conservation efforts for many years. The project has been advised by RSPB and former Natural England staff involved with the original reintroduction and with huge background experience, One of the Forestry England wildlife rangers collecting the donor birds for the translocation was involved in the original reintroduction collecting chicks from Spain to be released in Northamptonshire woodlands. Local licensed raptor workers, Simon Dudhill and Steve Thornton who have been monitoring red kites for many decades in the East Midlands have provided essential support by locating nests and liaising with local landowners.   

The RSPB’s Duncan Orr-Ewing, who organised the first red kite reintroduction programme in Scotland, and is now advising the latest project, said “the red kite population is confined to Europe. Compared to most of our other native birds of prey it has a relatively small global population. Following concerted conservation action in the UK in recent decades this species’ population has greatly recovered. It is amazing that we are now able to support conservation action for red kites in Spain and to reciprocate their previous generosity in supplying donor stock for our original reintroduction project in England”.       

Tim Mackrill of Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation said “The success of the red kite reintroductions in the UK demonstrates the importance of this conservation technique for species which are naturally slow to expand their range. Restoring the red kite to areas of highly suitable habitat in the UK has enabled the population to recover from the impacts of persecution far more quickly than through natural recolonisation, and now means we are in a position to assist with the conservation of the species in Spain. It shows the clear benefits of a proactive approach to species recovery.”  

Karl Ivens, Forestry England Wildlife Ranger Manager involved in the original and current translocations, explained “I first spotted one of these magnificent birds in May 1994 after the Chilterns reintroduction. It was eating carrion near Wadenhoe Great Wood, ironically where the last nest site was recorded before they became extinct locally in the 1840s. Before I knew it, the following year I was in Spain collecting chicks to bring back to the nation’s forests!

“I’m delighted to see this conservation success during my career, and it is an honour to be collecting chicks again, this time from woodlands I work in, to return to Spain. Red kites are now so easily seen and enjoyed by everyone locally and further afield thanks to a great partnership and Forestry England’s commitment to reintroducing wildlife in the nation’s forests.”

Natural England Chair Tony Juniper said “The reintroduction of red kites to England is the most successful raptor conservation story in Europe. It’s a clear blueprint for the future of species reintroductions, particularly for some of our most endangered birds.”

“Through partnership working, new legally binding government targets for species abundance and the new environmental land management scheme, we increasingly have the means to turn the tide on Nature’s decline in England, bringing fresh promise for other native birds, including our beloved Hen Harrier and Curlew.

“I’m hopeful the red kite chicks bound for Spain will flourish in the same way the chicks that arrived to this country a generation ago did, as we support those helping to rebuild the population and the prospects of this magnificent bird in southern Europe.”

Sophie Common, ZSL (Zoological Society of London) said “It was important to assess the health of the red kites before they travelled back to Spain and the ZSL wildlife veterinarians were pleased to be able to give them the all clear.”

ENDS

There’s not much detail in this press release about the problems facing red kites in some areas of Spain but this BBC news article provides a bit more information, as does this article in The Guardian. Illegal poisoning is still an issue in some areas, just as it still is in parts of the UK, notably in areas managed for gamebird shooting e.g. see here and here.

However, according to Alfonso Godino, one of the reintroduction partners in Spain, tough measures including prison sentences for poisoning ‘have now reduced kite mortality’.

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)

Dorset Police continues its damage limitation exercise re: its botched investigation into the poisoned eagle

Dorset Police is still desperately undertaking a damage limitation exercise in relation to its botched investigation into the poisoning of a white-tailed eagle found dead on an unnamed shooting estate in January.

The following article appeared in the Dorset Echo yesterday, reproduced here:

DORSET Police said it has “never been in any doubt” the poisoning of an “extremely rare” white tailed eagle is a “serious offence”.

An investigation was launched in February after the bird had been found dead in North Dorset.

Despite finding high levels of rat poison brodifacoum in the eagle, named G461, Dorset Police dropped the investigation, a decision which “baffled” the RSPB.

Dorset Police said tests were “inconclusive” and it was not possible to confirm if a criminal offence had been committed.

Now, after large criticism and a Freedom of Information request revealed correspondence between West Dorset MP Chris Loder, who reportedly said the investigation should not be a priority, and Police and Crime Commissioner David Sidwick, a specialist investigator has been brought in by police.

A spokesperson for Dorset Police said: “We understand that concern has been expressed as to whether more could have been done in respect of the investigation into the death of the white-tailed sea eagle.

“Therefore, in the interests of transparency, it was important for a senior detective to review the investigation, seeking expertise from the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme and liaising with a specialist prosecutor from the CPS to ascertain if the evidential threshold for prosecution is met. We hope this will give confidence in decisions made.

“It has never been in any doubt for Dorset Police that if poisoned deliberately, this is a serious offence as the sea eagle is protected by the law.

“We have always been keen to secure a prosecution if at all possible and have been working with a range of partners to try and achieve this.

“We have increased the number of officers with knowledge of wildlife crime offences and are working with our partners to ensure we are able to utilise our different powers, expertise and resources to their best effect.

“We will of course reflect on any learning in respect of the initial or future investigations.”

The spokesperson added the force was always open to new information and hoped it could give “further transparency” to future decisions.

Correspondence between Mr Loder and Mr Sidwick showed the latter saying the pair needed to get their “ducks in the row on this one”.

In a statement on the PCC’s website, he said suggestions the investigation was politically impeded were “bizarre and entirely without merit”.

He added: “It is a plain and simple fact that the team continues to do what they have always done, which is to tackle all aspects of rural, wildlife and heritage-related crime in Dorset.”

Answering what was meant by getting “ducks in a row”, Mr Sidwick said: “All this meant was that was there was a need a for a mutual understanding about the independence of Dorset Police to carry out investigations as they see fit.”

The eagle was released as part of a reintroduction project by Forestry England in a bid to bring the breed back to the country after an absence of over 240 years, by releasing up to 60 birds over five years.

ENDS

It’s a nice try by Dorset Police, but, as I’ve said previously, asking a senior officer from the same police force to review the investigation is effectively just Dorset Police marking its own homework. Had it been a review undertaken by a senior officer from another force it might have been more credible, although of course that would depend on the integrity of that force/officer. As regular blog readers will be only too aware, there is huge disparity between how different police forces and different officers tackle wildlife crime investigations. Some are fantastic, some are not.

But anyway, the ‘review’ undertaken by the senior officer from Dorset Police has already been done according to comments made by Dorset Police Chief Scott Chilton in a Facebook live chat almost three weeks ago, and that officer had determined that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ and ‘no outstanding lines of enquiry’ to progress the case. Well of course, if you fail to conduct a search you’re not going to find any evidence, are you? It’s simply bonkers.

And increasing the size of the force’s rural crime team is utterly pointless if investigations are going to be closed down prematurely. Dorset Police could employ 3,000 wildlife crime officers but if they’re not allowed to undertake a search to look for evidence when an eagle has been found poisoned with 7 x the lethal dose, then what’s the point?

Besides, they don’t need 3,000 wildlife crime officers – they had one (Claire Dinsdale) who was brilliantly committed and effective and who was leading on the poisoned eagle investigation until senior officers pulled the plug and Claire left on long-term sick leave. They only need to employ a few like Claire (and Dorset Police does have some good officers in its rural crime team), and then support them in their investigations, and they’d get results.

And as for claiming ‘transparency’, good grief. Dorset Police continues to refuse to respond to Freedom of Information requests and has now been reported to the Information Commissioner for multiple breaches of the Freedom of Information Act.

If it wants to regain public trust and confidence, Dorset Police can start by explaining the real reason the poisoned eagle investigation was dropped (because this fundamental question still hasn’t been answered). And then it could highlight the ongoing investigation (running since 2021) into alleged raptor poisoning, on the very same estate where the poisoned white-tailed eagle was found(!!) and tell us whether anyone is being charged.

It can also provide an update on the toxicology results of the dead buzzard and red kite, picked up on another shooting estate in early March (see here), and the dead buzzard found on another estate in late April (here).

There is clearly a raptor persecution problem in Dorset, and Dorset Police needs the public onside to help detect these incidents, and we need Dorset Police to do its job properly and try and bring these criminals to the courts. Nobody is suggesting this is easy – we’re all well aware of the difficulties involved, but the least we should expect is that the police will take every opportunity to undertake a robust and thorough investigation, and not to drop it when a local MP kicks off on social media with ridiculous and outdated anti-eagle hysteria.

Well done to local Dorset Echo reporter Ben Williets for tracking this case and keeping it in the news.

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