Ravens illegally shot on two Strathbraan grouse moors

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while but it kept slipping down the list. However, it’s timely to write it now because I’ll be focusing some attention on Strathbraan in some forthcoming blogs.

In November last year, RSPB Scotland published a blog about the Werritty Review of grouse moor management and how the Scottish Government had accepted the Review’s findings but hadn’t yet begun to implement any of the recommendations.

Within that blog, the RSPB highlighted the ongoing illegal persecution of birds of prey on Scottish grouse moors during 2021. Two incidents stood out to me, mainly because it was the first time these two crimes had been reported in the public domain. They concern the illegal shooting of two ravens on two different grouse moors in the Strathbraan area of Perthshire. Here is what the RSPB blog says about them:

Ravens continue to be illegally killed on grouse moors with a dead bird found in April, hidden under rocks below its nest high up a hill on a Perthshire estate that had no licence to control them. The post-mortem report indicated that it had been shot, and -previously recovered from its wounds.

The day it was killed, it was again shot, but again this was not immediately fatal. According to the SRUC vet’s report, it then suffered “severe, mostly blunt trauma characterised by broken beak, crushed cranium, fracture-dislocation of the neck, …fracture of the left wing at four sites, fracture of the left leg and massive internal haemorrhage.” As it flapped around on the ground, it appears that the person who shot this bird then stamped on it repeatedly.

Elsewhere, another raven was seen tumbling to the ground after being shot as it mobbed an eagle owl that had been tethered to a post on another moor in February’.

[Raven photo by Dieter Schaefer]

The post-mortem report on that first raven is chilling, and that crime deserves far more publicity than being tucked away half-way down an RSPB blog. As indeed does the shooting of the second raven, where once again the use of a tethered eagle owl deployed as a bait to lure in the victim has been central to the crime.

Regular blog readers will already know that Strathbraan is not only a raptor-killing hotspot, recognised as such in a Government-commissioned report on the illegal killing of golden eagles, but it is also well-known as the location of a five-year raven cull research licence, issued by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to gamekeepers in 2018 ‘just to see what happens‘ but then hastily withdrawn after the threat of a legal challenge by the Scottish Raptor Study Group and an admission by SNH (now NatureScot) that the research licence was was “completely inadequate“, “seriously flawed“, and “will fail to provide any meaningful scientific evidence“.

More on Strathbraan shenanigans shortly…

73 hen harriers confirmed ‘missing’ or illegally killed in UK since 2018, most of them on or close to grouse moors

For anyone who still wants to pretend that the grouse shooting industry isn’t responsible for the systematic extermination of hen harriers on grouse moors across the UK, here’s the latest catalogue of crime that suggests otherwise.

[This male hen harrier died in 2019 after his leg was almost severed in an illegally set trap that had been placed next to his nest on a Scottish grouse moor (see here). Photo by Ruth Tingay]

This is the blog I now publish after every reported killing or suspicious disappearance.

They disappear in the same way political dissidents in authoritarian dictatorships have disappeared” (Stephen Barlow, 22 January 2021).

Today the list has been updated to include the most recently reported victim, a young satellite-tagged hen harrier called ‘Sia’ that ‘disappeared’ on 10th October 2022 and is the subject of a police investigation (see here).

I’ve been compiling this list only since 2018 because that is the year that the grouse shooting industry ‘leaders’ would have us believe that the criminal persecution of hen harriers had stopped and that these birds were being welcomed back on to the UK’s grouse moors (see here).

This assertion was made shortly before the publication of a devastating new scientific paper that demonstrated that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers were confirmed or considered likely to have been illegally killed, and this was ten times more likely to occur over areas of land managed for grouse shooting relative to other land uses (see here).

2018 was also the year that Natural England issued a licence to begin a hen harrier brood meddling trial on grouse moors in northern England. For new blog readers, hen harrier brood meddling is a conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA as part of its ludicrous ‘Hen Harrier Action Plan‘ and carried out by Natural England (NE), in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England. For more background see here.

Brood meddling has been described as a sort of ‘gentleman’s agreement’ by commentator Stephen Welch:

I don’t get it, I thought the idea of that scheme was some kind of trade off – a gentleman’s agreement that the birds would be left in peace if they were moved from grouse moors at a certain density. It seems that one party is not keeping their side of the bargain“.

With at least 73 hen harriers gone since 2018, I think it’s fair to say that the grouse shooting industry is simply taking the piss. Meanwhile, Natural England pretends that ‘partnership working’ is the way to go and DEFRA Ministers remain silent.

‘Partnership working’ according to Natural England appears to include authorising the removal of hen harrier chicks from a grouse moor already under investigation by the police for suspected raptor persecution (here) and accepting a £75k bung from representatives of the grouse shooting industry that prevents Natural England from criticising them or the sham brood meddling trial (see here). This is in addition to a £10k bung that Natural England accepted, under the same terms, in 2021 (here).

[Cartoon by Gerard Hobley]

So here’s the latest gruesome list. Note that the majority of these birds (but not all) were fitted with satellite tags. How many more [untagged] harriers have been killed?

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa ‘disappeared’ in the Angus Glens in Scotland (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers Association later published wholly inaccurate information claiming the bird had been re-sighted. The RSPB dismissed this as “completely false” (here).

5 February 2018: Hen harrier Marc ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Durham (here).

9 February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here).

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park (here).

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn ‘disappeared’ near Moffat in Scotland (here).

18 April 2018: Hen harrier Lia ‘disappeared’ in Wales and her corpse was retrieved in a field in May 2018. Cause of death was unconfirmed but police treating death as suspicious (here).

8 August 2018: Hen harrier Hilma ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Northumberland (here).

16 August 2018: Hen harrier Athena ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here).

26 August 2018: Hen Harrier Octavia ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here).

29 August 2018: Hen harrier Margot ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here).

29 August 2018: Hen Harrier Heulwen ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here).

3 September 2018: Hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here).

24 September 2018: Hen harrier Heather ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here).

2 October 2018: Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

3 October 2018: Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Bowland, Lanacashire (here).

23 October 2018: Hen harrier Tom ‘disappeared’ in South Wales (here).

26 October 2018: Hen harrier Arthur ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here).

1 November 2018: Hen harrier Barney ‘disappeared’ on Bodmin Moor (here).

10 November 2018: Hen harrier Rannoch ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here). Her corpse was found nearby in May 2019 – she’d been killed in an illegally-set spring trap (here).

14 November 2018: Hen harrier River ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB (here). Her corpse was found nearby in April 2019 – she’d been illegally shot (here).

16 January 2019: Hen harrier Vulcan ‘disappeared’ in Wiltshire close to Natural England’s proposed reintroduction site (here).

7 February 2019: Hen harrier Skylar ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (here).

22 April 2019: Hen harrier Marci ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here).

26 April 2019: Hen harrier Rain ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Nairnshire (here).

11 May 2019: An untagged male hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set trap next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire. He didn’t survive (here).

7 June 2019: An untagged hen harrier was found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland. A post mortem stated the bird had died as a result of ‘penetrating trauma’ injuries and that this bird had previously been shot (here).

5 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 1 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park (here).

11 September 2019: Hen harrier Romario ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here).

14 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183704) ‘disappeared’ in the North Pennines (here).

23 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #55149) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here).

24 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 2 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld in the Cairngorms National Park (here).

24 September 2019: Hen harrier Bronwyn ‘disappeared’ near a grouse moor in North Wales (here).

10 October 2019: Hen harrier Ada ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North Pennines AONB (here).

12 October 2019: Hen harrier Thistle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Sutherland (here).

18 October 2019: Member of the public reports the witnessed shooting of an untagged male hen harrier on White Syke Hill in North Yorkshire (here).

November 2019: Hen harrier Mary found illegally poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland (here).

14 December 2019: Hen harrier Oscar ‘disappeared’ in Eskdalemuir, south Scotland (here).

January 2020: Members of the public report the witnessed shooting of a male hen harrier on Threshfield Moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

23 March 2020: Hen harrier Rosie ‘disappeared’ at an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (here).

1 April 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183703) ‘disappeared’ in unnamed location, tag intermittent (here).

5 April 2020: Hen harrier Hoolie ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

8 April 2020: Hen harrier Marlin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here).

19 May 2020: Hen harrier Fingal ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Lowther Hills, Scotland (here).

21 May 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183701) ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Cumbria shortly after returning from wintering in France (here).

27 May 2020: Hen harrier Silver ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on Leadhills Estate, Scotland (here).

2020: day/month unknown: Unnamed male hen harrier breeding on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria ‘disappeared’ while away hunting (here).

9 July 2020: Unnamed female hen harrier (#201118) ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed site in Northumberland (here).

25 July 2020: Hen harrier Harriet ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

14 August 2020: Hen harrier Solo ‘disappeared’ in confidential nest area in Lancashire (here).

7 September 2020: Hen harrier Dryad ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

16 September 2020: Hen harrier Fortune ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (here).

19 September 2020: Hen harrier Harold ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

20 September 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2020, #55152) ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in North Yorkshire (here).

24 February 2021: Hen harrier Tarras ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Northumberland (here)

12th April 2021: Hen harrier Yarrow ‘disappeared’ near Stockton, County Durham (here).

18 May 2021: Adult male hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from its breeding attempt on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria whilst away hunting (here).

18 May 2021: Another adult male hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from its breeding attempt on RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, Cumbria whilst away hunting (here).

24 July 2021: Hen harrier Asta ‘disappeared’ at a ‘confidential site’ in the North Pennines (here). We learned 18 months later that her wings had been ripped off so her tag could be fitted to a crow in an attempt to cover up her death (here).

14th August 2021: Hen harrier Josephine ‘disappeared’ at a ‘confidential site’ in Northumberland (here).

17 September 2021: Hen harrier Reiver ‘disappeared’ in a grouse moor dominated region of Northumberland (here)

24 September 2021: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2021, R2-F-1-21) ‘disappeared’ in Northumberland (here).

15 November 2021: Hen harrier (brood meddled in 2020, #R2-F1-20) ‘disappeared’ at the edge of a grouse moor on Arkengarthdale Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

19 November 2021: Hen harrier Val ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park in Cumbria (here).

19 November 2021: Hen harrier Percy ‘disappeared’ in Lothian, Scotland (here).

12 December 2021: Hen harrier Jasmine ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor (High Rigg Moor on the Middlesmoor Estate) in the Nidderdale AONB in North Yorkshire (here).

9 January 2022: Hen harrier Ethel ‘disappeared’ in Northumberland (here).

26 January 2022: Hen harrier Amelia ‘disappeared’ in Bowland (here).

10 February 2022: An unnamed satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘disappeared’ in a grouse moor dominated area of the Peak District National Park (here).

12 April 2022: Hen harrier ‘Free’ (Tag ID 201121) ‘disappeared’ at a ‘confidential site’ in Cumbria (here).

May 2022: A male breeding hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from a National Trust-owned grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here).

May 2022: Another breeding male hen harrier ‘disappeared’ from a National Trust-owned grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here).

14 May 2022: Hen harrier ‘Harvey’ (Tag ID 213844) ‘disappeared’ from a ‘confidential site’ in the North Pennines (here).

10 October 2022: Hen harrier ‘Sia’ ‘disappeared’ near Hamsterley Forest in the North Pennines (here).

To be continued……..

Not one of these 73 incidents has resulted in an arrest, let alone a prosecution. I had thought that when we reached 30 dead/missing hen harriers then the authorities might pretend to be interested and at least say a few words about this national scandal. We’ve now reached SEVENTY THREE hen harriers, and still Govt ministers remain silent. They appear not to give a monkey’s. And yes, there are other things going on in the world, as always. That is not reason enough to ignore this blatant, brazen and systematic destruction of a supposedly protected species, being undertaken to satisfy the greed and bloodlust of a minority of society.

Please consider sending a copy of this list of dead/missing hen harriers to your elected representative. Ask them for their opinion, tell them your opinion, and demand action (politely please). We know where these crimes are happening and we know why they’re happening. The Government’s own data, published three years ago, have provided very clear evidence (see here). MPs need to know how many of us care about this issue and how we will not be fobbed off by disingenuous platitudes from DEFRA Ministers (e.g. see hereherehere and here for repeated recent examples of this).

Not sure who is your MP? Click here to find out.

Don’t be put off by thinking, ‘Well my MP is a grouse shooter, he/she won’t bother responding so why should I bother?’. Do not give these politicians an easy option out. As your elected representative they have a duty to listen to, and respond to, constituents’ concerns, whether they agree with them or not.

If you use social media, please share this post.

If you fancy scribbling a few sentences to your local newspaper or even a national one, please do.

Please talk to friends, family and colleagues about these 73 birds. They will be horrified about what’s being allowed to go on.

We MUST increase public awareness. It’s up to all of us.

RSPB Investigations Officer reflects on conviction of Norfolk raptor-killing gamekeeper Matthew Stroud

Last month, Norfolk gamekeeper Matthew Stroud, 46, of Fengate in Weeting was convicted of multiple offences including:

  • Three counts of using poisoned bait on or before 19 August 2021 and 14 September 2021.
  • Six counts of killing a Common Buzzard (a non-Schedule 1 wild bird) at Weeting between 10 August and 14 September 2021.
  • One count of intentionally killing a Northern Goshawk (a Schedule 1 wild bird) at Weeting on or about 10 August 2021.
  • One count of possessing a regulated substance – Strychnine Hydrochloride – without a licence on 14 September 2021.
  • One count of possessing 4 shotguns to kill a Schedule 1 wild bird on 14 September 2021.
  • One count of releasing 3,400 Common Pheasants into the wild between 1 June and 14 September 2021 contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
  • One count of incorrectly storing a biocidal product – Rentokil Phostoxin – on 14 September 2021 contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

[Photo of gamekeeper Matthew Stroud and one of the six buzzards he shot and killed. Photo via Eastern Daily Press]

Even though Stroud’s crimes easily passed the threshold for a custodial sentence, he received a 12-month Community Order and was ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work, fined £692 and ordered to pay costs of £145, compensation of £288.72 and a victim surcharge of £95. The court also ordered the forfeiture and destruction of all Stroud’s firearms, mobile phones and any chemicals (see here and here for previous blogs on this).

Stroud’s prosecution and conviction was the result of a well-run multi-agency investigation involving Norfolk Constabulary, Natural England, National Wildlife Crime Unit, Crown Prosecution Service and the RSPB Investigations Team.

Today, the RSPB has published a blog written by RSPB Investigations Officer Tom Grose, reflecting on the investigation and the subsequent sentence. You can read it here.

Grouse moor management in Scotland: Government launches public consultation

Today, the Scottish Government has launched a public consultation as the start of its commitment to introduce a licensing scheme for grouse moor management, following the publication of the Werritty Review in 2019, which was commissioned in 2017 after unequivocal evidence was published of the on-going illegal killing of golden eagles on some Scottish grouse moors.

That illegal killing continues, as evidenced by this young golden eagle recently found poisoned on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park laying next to a dead mountain hare that had been used as the poisoned bait (photo by RSPB Scotland).

As is so often the case, nobody has been charged or prosecuted for this hideous wildlife crime, which is a fundamental reason why the Govt is introducing a licencing scheme, presumably as a means of sanctioning an estate (by withdrawing its licence) when evidence of wildlife crime is discovered. Without knowing the exact details of how the licensing scheme will operate, it’s impossible at this stage to predict its effectiveness. There are many sceptics, and I’m one of them, but I’m also certain that the status quo is untenable and so I view licensing as a step in the right direction, but definitely not the end of the road.

The Government’s licensing consultation preamble reads as follows:

‘A Stronger & More Resilient Scotland: The Programme for Government 2022-23 which was published on the 8 September 2022 committed to introducing the following Bill:

Wildlife Management (Grouse)

The Bill will implement the recommendations of the Werritty Review and introduce licensing for grouse moor management to ensure that the management of driven grouse moors and related activities is undertaken in an environmentally sustainable manner. The Bill will also include provisions to ban glue traps.

In November 2020, the Scottish Government published its response to the recommendations made by the Grouse Moor Management Group (“Werritty review”).  That report was commissioned by the Scottish Government in response to a report from NatureScot (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage), published in May 2017, which found that around a third of satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland disappeared in suspicious circumstances, on or around grouse moors.

The Werritty review made over 40 recommendations regarding grouse moor management. The recommendations, which were accepted by the Scottish Government, seek to address raptor persecution and ensure that the management of grouse moors is undertaken in an environmentally sustainable manner.

As well as proposals relating to grouse moor management, this consultation also considers glue traps. A report from the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission, published on 23 March 2021 stated that

‘……the animal welfare issues connected with the use of glue traps would justify an immediate outright ban on their sale and use. This is our preferred recommendation‘.

This consultation is therefore seeking your views on the Scottish Government’s proposals on:

*Grouse moor licensing

*Muirburn

*Trapping (wildlife traps, glue traps, snares)

You can complete all the sections in the consultation or only those sections which are of interest/relevance to you’.

ENDS

The Government’s proposals for its grouse moor licensing scheme are laid out here:

I haven’t yet looked at the consultation paper so I can’t offer any comments or suggested responses yet but I will do very soon. The consultation will close on 14th December 2022.

The link to the consultation questionnaire can be found HERE.

UPDATE 26th October 2022: REVIVE coalition cautiously welcomes Scot Gov’s consultation on grouse moor licensing (here)

UPDATE 27th October 2022: Grouse shooting lobby quietly seething over proposed licensing scheme (here)

Raptor persecution crime fighters win national awards

I attended the UK Wildlife Crime Conference over the weekend, where law enforcers, statutory agencies and NGOs gather to hear the latest views, approaches, successes and challenges of combating wildlife crime in the UK. 

A feature of this annual event is the WWF-sponsored awards given to those whose work deserves national recognition.

This year, I was delighted to see two of those awards being won by teams whose work has focused on tackling the illegal persecution of birds of prey.

First up was Dr Eimear Rooney and Dr Marc Ruddock from the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group, who won WWF Wildlife Crime Partner of the Year 2022:

To say their award was richly deserved is a massive understatement. I’ve watched them pour their hearts and souls into raptor conservation in Northern Ireland for many, many years and I can’t think of more deserving recipients.

Without their efforts, providing help, advice and training to an army of raptor monitoring volunteers, as well as doing their own fieldwork, as well as writing grant applications, as well as writing reports, as well as producing educational material, as well as fundraising, as well as hosting conferences, as well as political engagement, as well as engaging in multi-partner initiatives to tackle raptor persecution, often at the expense of spending time with their young families, and still managing to be the most upbeat and fun-loving people to be around, then raptors in Northern Ireland would be in a far more perilous state than they are currently.

I’m thrilled to see their efforts recognised at long last; well done Eimear & Marc!

The second team to win an award for its work tackling raptor persecution was a multi-agency team working on ‘Operation Tantallon’, which is a huge, ongoing investigation into the alleged theft and laundering of wild peregrines in Scotland and northern England.

This investigation team includes Police Scotland, Scottish SPCA, NWCU and SASA, with additional support from members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group. So far three people have been charged with offences, including a serving police officer (see here) and a part-time gamekeeper (here).

Members of Operation Tantallon received the Wildlife Crime Operation of the Year Award 2022 from Megan McCubbin (photo by Guy Shorrock):

The case is ongoing, the defendants are reportedly facing over 100 charges, and a wide range of investigative techniques have been deployed including surveillance, peregrine DNA analysis, searches under warrants, bankers warrants, cyber crime and the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The scale of this effort to bring a prosecution in a raptor persecution case is virtually unheard of in the UK and the ramifications, should the defendants be found guilty, will be huge. Further details of the case will be made available as the case progresses through the courts.

The dedication and determination of those involved in the multi-agency investigation has been outstanding and it’s good to see their hard work recognised. Well done, all!

Book review: The Hen Harrier’s Year by Ian Carter & Dan Powell

For anyone who wants to learn more about the life history and ecology of the hen harrier, but has been put off by dry, academic scripts, this is the book for you.

Ian Carter has done a wonderful job of assimilating the scientific knowledge about the hen harrier and presenting it in such an engaging format that you’re left deciding whether to turn the page or grab your coat to go in search of this precious species.

The book’s title is an accurate reflection of the content, explaining what the hen harrier is likely to be doing during each month of the year. The text is beautifully and copiously illustrated by Dan Powell’s watercolours, with additional field notes from Dan.

No book about the hen harrier would be complete without a commentary on the illegal persecution it suffers at the hands of the grouse-shooting industry and Ian provides a good overview of this with a whole chapter entitled ‘Conflict on the Grouse Moor’, cleverly sandwiched between the months of June and July when young hen harriers should be fledging and dispersing had their parents not been targeted by the gamekeepers.

As an aside, prior to this book the main text available for those seeking to learn about the hen harrier was Donald Watson’s classic Poyser monograph, published in 1977, where he, too, wrote about the illegal persecution wrought on this species. It’s very telling that 45 years later, the carnage continues and at such a scale that Ian’s figures on it are already out of date:

Since 2018, more than 50 birds have been killed or have disappeared in suspicious circumstances (based on reliable data from their tags)” (p.99).

Presumably Ian wrote this text in 2021. One year later and the current number of hen harriers known to have been killed or to have disappeared in suspicious circumstances is 72 (see here).

I’ve followed Ian on Twitter for several years and have admired his clarity of thought and reasoning. This book mirrors that style and he writes with the understated, gentle authority of someone who’s not only read widely, but has also spent time in the field. His description of the ‘appealing ritual’ of attending a communal winter roost in search of harriers in December (p.145-147) will resonate with those who have congregated on the bone-chilling edges of saltwater mashes and fens in the hope of catching a glimpse of the elusive grey ghost.

The Hen Harrier’s Year by Ian Carter and Dan Powell is now available from Pelagic Publishing (here) for £26.

Conviction of gamekeeper Matthew Stroud: statement from Norfolk Constabulary

Following yesterday’s news that 46-year-old gamekeeper Matthew Stroud had been convicted, amongst other things, of shooting and poisoning at least five buzzards and a goshawk on a pheasant shoot in Norfolk (see here), Norfolk Constabulary has issued a press statement which provides a bit more detail about the case.

[One the buzzards that gamekeeper Matthew Stroud shot dead]

Press release from Norfolk Constabulary:

Gamekeeper admits killing birds of prey

A Weeting gamekeeper appeared in court today (Wednesday 5 October 2022) and admitted shooting and poisoning several birds of prey.

  • Three counts of using poisoned bait on or before 19 August 2021 and 14 September 2021.
  • Six counts of killing a Common Buzzard (a non-Schedule 1 wild bird) at Weeting between 10 August and 14 September 2021.
  • One count of intentionally killing a Northern Goshawk (a Schedule 1 wild bird) at Weeting on or about 10 August 2021.
  • One count of possessing a regulated substance – Strychnine Hydrochloride – without a licence on 14 September 2021.
  • One count of possessing 4 shotguns to kill a Schedule 1 wild bird on 14 September 2021.
  • One count of releasing 3,400 Common Pheasants into the wild between 1 June and 14 September 2021 contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
  • One count of incorrectly storing a biocidal product – Rentokil Phostoxin – on 14 September 2021 contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

He received a 12-month Community Order and was ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work, fined £692 and ordered to pay costs of £145, compensation of £288.72 and a victim surcharge of £95. The court also ordered the forfeiture and destruction of all Stroud’s firearms, mobile phones and any chemicals.

The court heard how the investigation started when RSPB officers found a young pheasant dead in Belvedere Wood, Weeting, on 19 August 2021. Tests later confirmed the pheasant had been poisoned with Strychnine Hydrochloride.

Further intelligence led Norfolk Police to execute a warrant at Stroud’s home, Belvedere Wood and Oisier Carr Wood on 14 September 2021 where the following discoveries were made:

  • Three dead buzzards were found at two release pens in Oisier Carr Wood. Tests later confirmed they had been shot.
  • Two pheasant carcasses with extremely high levels of Strychnine Hydrochloride and a poisoned Common Buzzard were found in Belvedere Wood – a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of its internationally important population of Stone Curlews
  • Two bottles of Strychnine Chloride were found in the glovebox of Stroud’s all-terrain vehicle, and a bottle of Phostoxin discovered by officers in a lean-too style shed attached to his house.

In addition, Stroud’s mobile phone contained photos of a dead Goshawk and five dead Common Buzzards. He later confessed to officers that all the photos were of birds he had killed.

PC Chris Shelley, Norfolk Constabulary’s Rural Crime Officer, said: “This investigation is one of the biggest cases of its kind that we have dealt with in Norfolk.

Stroud actions were dangerous and inhumane – he shot and poisoned birds of prey as he saw fit, and at will, because it suited him to do so. He also used a highly dangerous poison – one that has been banned in the UK for the last 15 years – indiscriminately, which could have had a disastrous effect on other local wildlife and showed a scant disregard for the safety of others.

We’re committed to working with all partners to tackle rural crime and have worked closely with colleagues from the RSPB, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Natural England throughout this investigation. It is because of this close collaboration with them that we have been able to bring this case to court.

Tom Grose, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “Laying poison baits out in the open is not only illegal but extremely dangerous and irresponsible. Baits like those being used present a deadly risk to any animal or person that might come across it.

It is particularly troubling that this was happening on an SPA, a designated area where wildlife and nature should have the highest legal protection.

We would like to thank Norfolk Police for leading such a thorough investigation, and to Natural England, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Crown Prosecution Service for their support.”

Ashley Petchey of the Crown Prosecution Service said: “This was a case where Mr Stroud has, whilst in his position as a gamekeeper, killed wild birds by shooting and poisoning. He has also released non-native species into a SSSI.  

The scale of the offences in this case demonstrates the lengths people will go to in order to persecute raptors.   

The Crown take all cases of raptor persecution seriously and where the full code test is met, bring offenders to justice.”

ENDS

UPDATE 4th November 2022: RSPB Investigations Officer reflects on conviction of Norfolk raptor-killing gamekeeper Matthew Stroud (here)

Norfolk gamekeeper convicted after shooting & poisoning multiple birds of prey

Press release from the RSPB today (5th October 2022):

Gamekeeper escapes jail after killing birds of prey

*Six buzzards and a goshawk were found illegally killed on a gamebird shoot near Thetford, along with lethal poison baits.

*Gamekeeper Matthew Stroud pleads guilty to multiple offences

*The RSPB is increasingly concerned about raptor persecution linked to pheasant and partridge shoots, and the impact of large-scale gamebirds releases.

Today (5 October 2022) at Norwich Magistrates’ court, gamekeeper Matthew Stroud received a 200 hour community order and was fined £692 for offences connected with raptor persecution. Stroud was ordered to pay £145 costs, £288.72 compensation and a £95 victim surcharge.

[Convicted criminal gamekeeper Matthew Stroud and one of his victims, a shot buzzard. Photos via RSPB and Eastern Daily Press]

Offences included shooting five buzzards and one goshawk, the poisoning of another buzzard, the laying of poison baits and illegal possession of poisons including strychnine.

Stroud also became the first person convicted for the unauthorised release of gamebirds on a Special Protection Area (SPA) – an internationally important site for conservation under the Habitats Regulations.

[Another of Stroud’s victims – he shot this goshawk. Photo via RSPB]

[Two containers of the banned poison strychnine found in the glovebox of Stroud’s all-terrain vehicle]

Sentencing Stroud, Magistrates said that he was lucky to escape jail today.

The court heard from the defence that Stroud was under pressure to produce game birds for the shoot after two poor years, that he had taken no pleasure in killing the buzzards and that he should have been informed that the law had changed around pheasant releases.

This is one of many incidents of raptor persecution identified on lowland pheasant and partridge shoots, which the RSPB says is an area of increasing concern. There is also evidence that large-scale releases of pheasant and partridge for shooting is having a detrimental impact on native wildlife.

The RSPB Investigations team conducted lengthy enquiries on an area of land managed by Stroud for pheasant shooting at Fengate Farm in Weeting, within the Breckland SPA. Following a number of visits, on 19 August 2021 they discovered a pheasant carcass – later found to contain the banned toxic chemical strychnine. The use of a poison bait such as a pheasant, laced with pesticides, is one of the most common methods of illegally killing birds of prey.

A subsequent search with Norfolk Police and partners uncovered further poison baits plus shot and poisoned raptors. Stroud’s phone also contained the photo of a goshawk and several buzzards which he admitted to shooting. They also found the deadly banned poison strychnine and phostoxin, a dangerous fumigant which was stored improperly.

In 2021 it became illegal to release gamebirds on or adjacent to an SPA without a licence, which Stroud had not sought, making him the first person to be prosecuted and convicted for this offence.

In 2020, Wild Justice issued proceedings in the High Court challenging the annual release of millions of non-native pheasants and red-legged partridges into the countryside and their potential impact on sites designated for nature conservation. DEFRA conceded the case and introduced General Licence 43 in an attempt to ensure that the impacts of those birds on those sites would be regulated.

Mark Thomas Head of RSPB Investigations UK, said:

It is difficult not to be disappointed with the outcome today considering the significance of the offences and combined efforts of the agencies involved. Laying poison baits out in the open is not only illegal but extremely dangerous and irresponsible. Baits like those being used at Fengate Farm present a deadly risk to any animal or person that might come across it. It is particularly troubling that this was happening on an SPA, a designated area where wildlife and nature should have the highest legal protection.

The RSPB’s most recent Birdcrime report in 2020 made clear that raptor persecution is not just an issue confined to grouse shooting estates: it is increasingly correlated with pheasant and partridge shoots.”

Mark added: “We would like to thank Norfolk Police for leading such a thorough investigation, and to Natural England, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Crown Prosecution Service for their support”.

Guilty pleas were entered to the following charges:

· Six charges in relation to killing of six different buzzards (five by shooting and one poisoned) during August and September 2021

· One charge in relation to killing a goshawk listed under schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside act 1981 in August 2021

· Three charges in relation to laying poison baits in August and September 2021

· One charges in relation to the possession of the banned pesticide, strychnine in September 2021

· A charge in relation to a firearm being an item capable of committing an offence in September 2021

· A charge in relation to the usage of the chemical phostoxin in September 2021

· One charge in relation to releasing pheasants illegally during 2022

ENDS

UPDATE 6th October 2022: Conviction of gamekeeper Matthew Stroud – statement from Norfolk Constabulary (here)

UPDATE 4th November 2022: RSPB Investigations Officer reflects on conviction of Norfolk raptor-killing gamekeeper, Matthew Stroud (here)

Scottish Land & Estates still refusing to acknowledge extent of raptor persecution on grouse moors

In the last blog post where I wrote about the nine shot birds of prey found wrapped in bags on Millden Estate and just over the estate boundary, I included a quote from Tim Baynes of Scottish Land & Estates, who had written the following in a comment piece for The Field, published in August 2022:

Raptor persecution has been the stick with which grouse moors were beaten for two decades, but the past five years have seen a sea change. In Scotland, recorded crimes have effectively ceased on grouse moors, and raptors of all species have been increasing“.

I said I’d publish his outrageous comment piece in full, so here it is:

I really shouldn’t be surprised that The Field published this nonsense – that particular shooting industry rag has a track record of publishing patently inaccurate comment pieces (e.g. see here).

And I’m definitely not surprised that the author of this latest gibberish is Tim Baynes – his lengthy track record speaks for itself (for a small selection of the masses of examples see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).

Needless to say, his latest claim that raptor persecution on Scottish grouse moors has “effectively ceased” is demonstrably untrue. You’ve only got to read my last blog post to understand this. If that doesn’t convince you, have a look at the General Licence restrictions currently imposed on grouse moor estates after Police Scotland found ‘clear evidence of raptor persecution’ – Leadhills Estate (here), Lochan Estate (here), Leadhills Estate [again] (here), Invercauld Estate (here), and Moy Estate (here).

And if you still need convincing, have a read of the Scottish Government’s Environment Minister’s statement in 2020 when she announced that there could be no further delay to the introduction of a grouse moor licensing scheme because:

“…despite our many attempts to address this issue, every year birds of prey continue to be killed or disappear in suspicious circumstances on or around grouse moors“.

Perhaps Tim Baynes’ perpetual denial of the bleedin’ obvious explains why he is no longer employed as ‘Director of Moorland’ at Scottish Land & Estates:

Nine raptors found shot & dumped in bags outside gamekeeper’s houses on Millden Estate and at the nearby River Esk in the Angus Glens

News has emerged that a total of nine birds of prey (eight buzzards and a sparrowhawk) have been found shot dead and dumped in bags in the Angus Glens.

We already knew about three of those shot buzzards (see here and here). They were found in bags outside two gamekeeper’s residences during a joint Scottish SPCA/Police Scotland raid on Millden Estate in October 2019 as part of an investigation into the criminal activities of depraved gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies, who was convicted in May this year for vile animal abuse and received a custodial sentence in August 2022 (here).

Nobody was charged for the killing or possession of those three shot buzzards (although Police Scotland had identified a suspect, the Crown Office chose not to pursue a prosecution – see here) and the news about those three shot buzzards only emerged this year after I’d spent two and a half years asking Police Scotland for details. For unknown reasons, Police Scotland chose not to issue a public appeal for information about those three illegally-killed raptors.

I can now reveal that those three shot buzzards weren’t the only ones found dead in the Angus Glens that Police Scotland was keeping out of the news.

[An illegally shot buzzard. Not one of the ones found on Millden Estate]

Rumours have been circulating for a while that even more dead raptors had been found in connection to the raid on Millden Estate so last month I submitted another FoI to Police Scotland to request confirmation and this is the response I’ve just received:

So that’s a total of nine shot raptors, all found in bags. Note Police Scotland’s careful wording that the third bag containing six shot raptors was found at ‘a second location‘. I understand that this bag wasn’t found on Millden Estate but was discovered nearby on the bank of the River Esk, beyond the estate’s boundary.

This is a shocking story for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the number of dead raptors found shot and dumped in bags in this area of the Angus Glens, but secondly the decision of Police Scotland to keep quiet about them all for almost three years.

Whose interests are served by such silence? Not the public’s interest, that’s for sure, but the interests of the grouse-shooting industry, whose representatives are busily claiming that, “In Scotland, recorded [raptor persecution] crimes have effectively ceased on grouse moors” (Tim Baynes of Scottish Land & Estates writing in the August 2022 edition of The Field – I’ll publish his outrageous opinion piece shortly).

It’s just not good enough from Police Scotland. And this isn’t an isolated case either. More on another case shortly….

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