Red kite shot in Wiltshire: Police appeal for information

A public appeal for information from Wiltshire Police Rural Crime Team (14th June 2022):

Information appeal

A dead kite was recovered from a public footpath close to Hens wood, Axford, Wiltshire on the 20/04/2022 following a report from the public. Further forensic work into the cause of death has found that the bird had been shot.

We are appealing for any information around the shooting of the Red kite or any person who may have been in the area on the 16/04/2022 who saw anything suspicious to contact the Wiltshire Rural crime team via 101 – quote crime report 54220038890

Another gamekeeper convicted for poison offences on a pheasant shoot, but not charged for poisoned kite & shot buzzard

David Matthews, a gamekeeper with 50 years experience, has been convicted at Wrexham Magistrates Court for poison offences uncovered on the McAlpine Estate in Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, North Wales, where he has worked for 25 years.

In February 2021 a dead red kite was found on the estate by a member of the public and a later toxicology analysis revealed it had been poisoned with Bendiocarb.

[The poisoned red kite. Photo by RSPB]

When RSPB Investigations Officers subsequently visited the McAlpine Estate they found a dead buzzard inside a pheasant release pen. When the body was x-rayed, a piece of shot could be seen lodged in the bird’s skull.

[The shot buzzard found inside the pheasant release pen. Photo by RSPB]

A multi-agency search in October 2021 by North Wales Police, the Welsh Government, RSPB and the National Wildlife Crime Unit uncovered an unlocked barn containing 18 highly toxic products, including Cymag which has been banned since 2004. They also found the remains of a pheasant, inside a game bag on a bonfire site inside a pheasant release pen. The pheasant tested positive for Bendiocarb. Another dead buzzard was too badly decomposed to be tested.

Gamekeeper Matthews pleaded guilty to one charge relating to the possession of unauthorised pesticides. He received a total fine of £219.

You can read the full details of this case on the RSPB’s blog here.

In that blog, the RSPB state, ‘It remains unknown who killed the buzzard and the kite‘.

I’m pretty sure that the RSPB investigators, just like the rest of us, have a pretty good idea who might have been responsible but presumably there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone. Such is the nature of this game that it would be libellous to suggest a suspect.

It seems odd to me, though, that a gamekeeper who had worked on the estate for 25 years wouldn’t have noticed someone laying poisoned baits, placing the bait inside a game bag and leaving it on a bonfire site inside a pheasant release pen, and shooting dead a buzzard and leaving its corpse inside a pheasant release pen.

His £219 fine makes a total mockery of the system. Had this case been in Scotland, the fine for possessing an unauthorised poison would now be £40,000. That’s a serious deterrent.

£219 is not.

This is the reality and I’ll be reminding DEFRA Minister Lord Benyon of this the next time he repeats the Westminister Government’s tediously predictable claim that raptor-killing criminals face ‘significant sanctions…including an unlimited fine and/or a six month custodial sentence‘ (e.g. see this from Environment Minister Rebecca Pow in September 2021, and this from Richard Benyon in February 2022, and this from Rebecca Pow in February 2022, and this from Richard Benyon in April 2022).

Matthews is the 7th gamekeeper to be convicted in seven months across England, Scotland and Wales. There are still multiple cases pending court in the coming months. Clear evidence then that the game-shooting industry’s supposed ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards raptor persecution is simply just rhetoric and that the Government’s so-called ‘significant sanctions’ are complete bollocks.

The other convicted gamekeepers in recent months are:

Gamekeeper Shane Leech who was convicted in November 2021 for firearms and pesticides offences after the discovery of a poisoned buzzard found close to pheasant-rearing pens in Lakenheath, Suffolk (here);

Gamekeeper Peter Givens who was convicted in November 2021 for causing the death of a goshawk and a barn owl which starved to death in an illegally-operated trap on the Cathpair Estate in the Scottish Borders (here);

Gamekeeper Hilton Prest who was convicted in December 2021 for causing a sparrowhawk to starve to death in an illegally-operated trap in Cheshire (here);

Gamekeeper John Orrey who was convicted in January 2022 for battering to death two buzzards he’d caught in a cage trap on a pheasant shoot in Nottinghamshire (here);

Gamekeeper Rhys Davies from the Millden Estate in the Angus Glens, Scotland, who was convicted in May 2022 for animal cruelty relating to badger baiting (he’ll be sentenced at the end of June – here);

Gamekeeper Archie Watson who was convicted in June 2022 for raptor persecution and firearms offences after he was filmed throwing 8 dead raptors down a well on a pheasant-shoot in Wiltshire (here).

Well done to the multi-agency search team involved in bringing David Matthews to court.

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

Press release from Gloucestershire Constabulary (13th June 2022)

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

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

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

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

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

[The shot goshawk. Photos via Gloucestershire Constabulary]

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

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

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

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

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

ENDS

Photos released of shot sparrowhawk found glued to a stick & dumped in a ditch in Doncaster

Three days ago, South Yorkshire Police appealed for information after a sparrowhawk was shot dead, glued to a stick, wrapped inside a plastic bag and dumped in a drainage ditch (here).

The grisly discovery was made by a member of the public in the Thorne area of Doncaster, close to the canal, on Sunday 10th April.

Photos have now been released, including an x-ray showing the pellet embedded in the bird’s body:

Investigating officer PC Sarah Barrowcliffe of South Yorkshire Police said:

Sparrowhawks are a protected species and it is an offence to harm themThis was a shocking act of violence against a beautiful and defenceless bird, and officers are working hard to identify those responsible.

South Yorkshire Police is committed to the investigation of serious wildlife offences, including the killing of birds of prey.

Anyone with information please call South Yorkshire Police on Tel 101, quoting incident number #918 of April 11th 2022.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting times ahead in the Peak District National Park.

Sparrowhawk shot, glued to a stick & dumped inside plastic bag in Doncaster

South Yorkshire Police is appealing for information after a sparrowhawk was shot dead, glued to a stick, wrapped inside a plastic bag and dumped in a drainage ditch.

The grisly discovery was made by a member of the public in the Thorne area of Doncaster, close to the canal, on Sunday 10th April. The bird is believed to have been shot with a pellet gun.

[Sparrowhawk photo by Getty]

Investigating officer PC Sarah Barrowcliffe of South Yorkshire Police said:

Sparrowhawks are a protected species and it is an offence to harm them. This was a shocking act of violence against a beautiful and defenceless bird, and officers are working hard to identify those responsible.

South Yorkshire Police is committed to the investigation of serious wildlife offences, including the killing of birds of prey.

Anyone with information please call South Yorkshire Police on Tel 101, quoting incident number #918 of April 11th 2022.

UPDATE 30th May 2022: Photos released of shot sparrowhawk found glued to a stick and dumped in a ditch in Doncaster (here)

Police Scotland changes its mind about ‘deliberately shot’ buzzard in Fife

Last month, Police Scotland issued a press statement and an appeal for information after what was described as a ‘deliberately shot buzzard’ was found in woodland at Monimail, near Ladybank, Fife (see here for original police appeal).

[Buzzard photo by Jerome Murray]

Today, Police Scotland has issued another statement, this time on the Fife Police Division’s Facebook page, stating that the buzzard hadn’t been shot at all.

Sometimes I despair. This isn’t rocket science. Why on earth did Police Scotland put out an appeal for information about a ‘deliberately shot buzzard’ without actually confirming that it had been shot?!

It’s good that they’ve now updated the information and clarified that it wasn’t actually shot at all, but the consequence of making the basic error in the first place is that it’ll be used by the raptor persecution deniers and apologists within the game-shooting industry to cast doubt on the veracity of other, genuine, raptor persecution incidents.

Another consequence is that these examples of ineptitude (and see yesterday’s report about Derbyshire Police’s basic procedural errors, here) don’t inspire public confidence in the police’s general ability to investigate these crimes properly, and that’s damaging when the police are often reliant on reports from members of the public about suspected raptor persecution and other wildlife crime offences.

Thankfully, these examples of ineptitude are relatively rare and certainly not the norm in the field of raptor persecution investigations, where there are many excellent, motivated and skilled officers leading on investigations.

Nevertheless, these mistakes simply shouldn’t be happening.

Buzzard shot & injured in south Derbyshire – police appeal for information

Derbyshire Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team has appealed for information following the discovery of a shot & injured buzzard and a magpie.

[Photo of the shot buzzard via Derbyshire Constabulary]

Both birds were found by a member of the public on 24th March 2022 at the cemetery, Newhall, Swadlincote. Both birds were alive and were taken for veterinary attention, where they were confirmed to have been shot.

Derbyshire Police published an appeal for information on 30th March 2022 which said, ‘Local enquiries are being made however should anybody have knowledge or information regarding who is responsible for shooting the birds please contact us quoting crime reference 22000171170‘.

Buzzard shot dead in Fife: Police Scotland appeal for information

Press statement from Police Scotland (21st April 2022)

[Photo by Jerome Murray]

Appeal for information after buzzard is shot in Fife

Officers are appealing for information after a protected bird of prey was found shot in woodland at Mominail, near Ladybank, Fife.

The dead buzzard was found by a member of the public in the morning of Sunday, 9 April, 2022.

Wildlife crime liaison officer, Detective Constable Ben Pacholek, said: “It is sad and disappointed to find this dead bird which would have suffered a lingering and agonising death after being deliberately shot.

Buzzards are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and I am appealing to anyone who may have seen anything suspicious in the wooded area to get in touch.

We reply on the public to help us tackle wildlife crime and I urge anyone in the local and wider community to come forward if they have any information about who may have been responsible.

If you can assist with our enquiries then please call us on 101, quoting incident number 2689 of Sunday, 9 April, 2022.

Police Scotland encourages anyone without [sic!] information about wildlife to report it. This can be done via 101 and always call 999 if it is an emergency.

ENDS

UPDATE 27th May 2022: Police Scotland changes its mind about ‘deliberately shot’ buzzard in Fife (here)

13% increase in recorded wildlife crime incidents in Scotland – new Government report

The Scottish Government has published its latest annual wildlife crime report, covering the period April 2019-March 2020, which reveals an increase of 13% in recorded wildlife crime incidents.

Raptor persecution offences increased during this period, with shooting and poisoning being the joint highest recorded crime type. Obviously, these figures only represent offences that have been discovered; there will be many more that went undiscovered, as acknowledged by the report’s foreword written by Environment Minister Mairi McAllen.

Here are a few excerpts from the Minister:

After a drop in recorded wildlife crime incidents of over 60% between the 2014-15 report and 2018-19, it is frustrating to see an increase of 13% in recorded wildlife crime incidents in 2019-20. Wildlife crime is not only abhorrent, it is also completely at odds with our work to address the biodiversity crisis, which is supported by so many people and organisations across Scotland.

While it is reassuring that incidents of wildlife crime have not returned to previous higher levels, we remain aware that recorded wildlife crime does not provide the full picture. This is an area where the victims are unable to speak for themselves and we know that many wildlife crimes are not witnessed and not reported. This has been especially true in the area of raptor persecution where tagged birds have disappeared in unexplained circumstances and where expected numbers of some species are not present in certain areas.

The Scottish Government has always been clear that wildlife crime is unacceptable, and we have brought forward a number of measures to tackle the issue over the years. These measures have included a poisons amnesty, vicarious liability, restrictions on general licences and most recently, significant increases in penalties for wildlife crimes. I am sure many of you reading this share my frustration that despite these measures there are some who continue to take a selfish, cruel and callous approach to our wildlife.

It is disappointing to see a rise in raptor persecution offences from the previous year. We have committed to taking forward the recommendations made by the Grouse Moor Management Group as a matter of urgency, to tackle this type of offence. We will bring forward legislation during this parliamentary term with the aim of putting in place a meaningful, effective and workable sanctions through a licensing system to deter and punish those who deliberately commit crimes in our uplands, without placing unworkable and disproportionate burdens on the majority who work within the law‘.

Yada, yada, yada. The Scottish Government’s idea of what constitutes ‘a matter of urgency’ is very different to mine. The Werritty report on grouse moor management, on which the Government made it’s decision to implement a licencing scheme for grouse shooting in Scotland, was submitted in November 2019. Here we are in April 2022 and nothing has happened except repeated statements from Ministers, now over a period of years, about it being a ‘matter of urgency’.

It’s obvious that raptor persecution isn’t going to stop without further statutory intervention, and depending on what that looks like and how it’s implemented and enforced, it probably still won’t stop without a ban on certain types of gamebird shooting. The longer the Scottish Government procrastinates, the longer these crimes will persist.

Pick a date and get on with it.

You can read/download the Scottish Government’s 2020 annual report on wildlife crime here:

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