Landowners & gamekeepers claim ‘misrepresentation’ on BBC’s The One Show

One-Show-smallScottish Land and Estates and the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association have written a letter of complaint to the BBC, claiming ‘misrepresentation’ on The One Show programme.

The programme (see here and here) included a feature on golden eagle persecution and during a studio interview, the RSPB’s Stuart Benn laid the blame firmly at the door of gamekeepers on Scottish grouse moors.

Doug McAdam, Chief Exec of Scottish Land & Estates, took great exception to that statement and wrote a hilarious letter of complaint, on behalf of SLE and SGA, to The One Show’s executive editor, Sandy Smith.

Here is his letter: SLE SGA complaint about BBC One Show

According to dear old Doug, there have only been four dead golden eagles found since 2010 and no charges [for these deaths] have been brought against anyone involved in grouse moor management. Conveniently, he failed to include the other known incidents of dead raptors turning up on grouse moors since 2010 (including white-tailed eagles, red kites, hen harriers, buzzards, short-eared owls, sparrowhawks, peregrines, kestrels), or the critically-injured golden eagle found shot and left to die on a grouse moor, or indeed the satellite-tagged raptors (particularly golden eagles and hen harriers) who have all gone ‘missing’ after their last known signal was received from, er, a grouse moor. There may well be more of these ‘missing’ birds but of course we’re no longer allowed to hear about them after the introduction of the new PAW Scotland ‘protocol’ that aims to keep these incidents away from the public’s gaze (see here).

Apart from trying to play down the extent of persecution incidents on grouse moors, and inferring that a lack of criminal convictions is a good indicator that gamekeepers are not involved with the illegal killing of golden eagles on grouse moors, Doug goes on to emphasise the SLE’s involvement with PAW Scotland, as though membership of that ‘partnership’ should be a measure of good behaviour. We’ve all seen how effective these ‘partnerships’ can be, following the near-extinction of breeding hen harriers on English grouse moors during the six-year Hen Harrier Dialogue ‘partnership’ designed to resolve the conflict. Indeed, three raptor conservation organisations have now resigned from that particular ‘partnership’ because they recognised it could be used as a convenient political cover by certain organisations with grouse-shooting interests.

Doug makes an astonishing claim about the PAW Scotland partnership: “Our combined efforts with the police, rural communities, the RSPB and over 120 other relevant stakeholders have been universally acknowledged as a key factor in reducing the number of raptor persecution incidents“.

Talk about misleading! For a start, there are not 120 ‘relevant stakeholders’ in relation to addressing raptor persecution. Many of the stakeholders have absolutely no involvement in directly addressing raptor persecution – they are there to specifically address other types of wildlife crime such as poaching, theft of freshwater pearl mussels, bat persecution and badger persecution.

Secondly, where does this notion come from that work by PAW Scotland has been ‘universally acknowledged as a key factor in reducing the number of raptor persecution incidents’? Has it been ‘universally acknowledged’? We don’t think PAW Scotland has had any demonstrable impact whatsoever on the number of raptor persecution incidents – where’s the evidence? Perhaps by ‘universal’ he means those with a vested interest in having people think that illegal raptor persecution is being dealt with effectively (e.g. the police, SNH, Scottish Government, SLE, SGA etc etc).

Doug finishes by saying, “Owners of moorland estates all over Scotland look after golden eagles” (ahem) and he invites Sandy Smith to visit a grouse moor “to find out for yourself the valuable conservation measures being implemented“. Let’s hope Sandy takes him up on his offer. Ooh, which grouse moor to choose? We could give Sandy quite a few suggestions….

Sandy Smith responded with a letter of his own: One Show’s reply to SLE

He says he’s sent an email to all One Show staff and suppliers “asking them to ensure they don’t make assumptions about gamekeepers based on out of date or inaccurate assumptions“.

Interestingly, Sandy Smith was the former executive editor of Panorama – a programme recognised for its investigative journalism and an ability to differentiate between fact and PR. Let’s hope he’s taken those qualities with him to The One Show.

We’ve sent a letter to Sandy, giving him the URL of this blog, to ensure his staff are kept up to date and are not basing their work on inaccurate assumptions (spin). You may wish to do the same – send your email, marked for the attention of Sandy Smith, to:

If you think grouse moor owners and their gamekeepers need to be held to account for their activities, please sign this e-petition and share it with your friends and colleagues: SIGN HERE.

Here’s a photo showing how well golden eagles are looked after on some Scottish grouse moors. This one was found critically injured on Buccleuch Estate last aututmn – he had been shot and left to die, although it is not known on whose land he was shot. He is currently recuperating with the SSPCA after undergoing life-saving surgery. Needless to say, nobody has been charged for this crime.

The shot golden eagle undergoing emergency surgery

RSPB Scotland: 2011 persecution report published

RSPB Scotland has just published its latest report, The Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland in 2011. You probably won’t be surprised or shocked by the content, especially if you’ve read the previous 17 annual reviews. In fact, when you read this 18th review, you might get a strong sense of déjà vu.

It opens with a Foreword by Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland. Apart from the new photo, this foreword looks like a cut and paste job from the 2010 report, with a few words or sentences added or adjusted. To be fair, not much has changed since the 2010 report was published so perhaps he felt justified in repeating what he’d written the previous year.

Then there are RSPB Scotland’s strategic recommendations for addressing raptor persecution. Again, these show a remarkable similarity to the recommendations made in the 2010 report, and also in the 2009 report. The recommendations were / are still good and to see them repeated again is a useful indicator of how little progress has been made by those with the power to push them forward.

Next come the tables showing the confirmed and probable persecution incidents recorded by the RSPB during 2011. It’s these tables that the game-shooting lobby usually object too – they’re especially reluctant to accept the ‘probable’ incidents although to date, they’ve failed to provide a convincing argument to account for any of them.

The data in the 2011 tables demonstrate once again that illegal raptor persecution is widespread, with incidents reported in Perthshire, Angus, South Lanarkshire, Aberdeenshire, Dumfries-shire, East Ayrshire, Borders and Inverness-shire. We counted 15 very familiar-sounding locations within these regions, although there are a few notable absentees this time. Have they stopped their criminal activities or have they just got better at covering up? Time will tell.

Just focusing on the confirmed incidents, in total 17 incidents of deliberate poison abuse were confirmed during 2011, involving 20 victims: 7 buzzards, 4 red kites, 1 golden eagle, 2 peregrines, 2 ravens and 4 other bird species. Sixteen other illegal incidents relating to shooting, nest destruction, and the use of uncovered spring traps or cage traps were confirmed. The victims included 8 buzzards, 2 peregrines, 1 goshawk, 1 sparrowhawk, 2 kestrels and 1 short-eared owl. As in previous years, not all of these incidents were publicised at the time they occurred. It’s a continual disappointment that several years have to pass before the public learns of these appalling crimes.

Once again the occupations and interests of those convicted for illegal raptor persecution crime have been analysed (data from 2003-2011 inclusive). 87% of them were gamekeepers (7% pigeon racers, 3% pest controllers, 3% farmers).

The report includes an interesting case study of poisoned raptors that have been found in recent years on the Glen Kyllachy and Farr Estate near Inverness. Very little of this information has been previously published and certainly this is the first time these photographs have been published. It’s a shame it’s taken several years for the info and images to reach the public domain but nevertheless it’s very encouraging to see RSPB Scotland highlight these cases, especially as Northern Constabulary hasn’t bothered.

All in all the report makes for grim reading, but nobody should be surprised by that. We all owe a large debt of gratitude to the RSPB’s Investigations Team for meticulously collecting these data and especially for making them publically available.


Here’s some media coverage:

RSPB Scotland press release here

BBC news article here

STV news article here

Herald Scotland article here

Scottish Gamekeepers Association: statement here

Scottish Land and Estates: nothing yet

@SNHMedia: “SNH report finds vast majority of gamekeepers highly qualified”. Link to this.

PAW Scotland: nothing yet

RSPB publishes 2010 raptor persecution report

The RSPB has just published its annual report on raptor persecution in Scotland. The report, ‘The Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland 2010‘ is the only known published record of all known persecution incidents including poisoning, shooting and trapping, in contrast to the PAW Scotland annual report which only details poisoning incidents. As well as the confirmed incidents of persecution, the report also provides information about ‘probable’ incidents (those where the available evidence points to illegality as by far the most likely explanation but where the proof of an offence is not categorical) and ‘possible’ incidents (where an illegal act is a possible explanation but where another explanation would also fit the known facts).

The report provides details of several confirmed and probable persecution incidents that didn’t make it into the public domain at the time they occurred, including two shot sparrowhawks (Dingwall, Inverness-shire & nr Dolphinton, South Lanarkshire), a goshawk killed in a pole trap (nr Dalwhinnie, Inverness-shire), a shot short-eared owl (Leadhills, South Lanarkshire), 5 separate incidents involving peregrines (Stirlingshire, South Lanarkshire and Dumfries-shire), ‘disappearing’ hen harrier chicks (nr Knockando, Moray), a member of the public witnessing the shooting of a buzzard (nr Leadhills, South Lanarkshire), the discovery of a heavily decomposed buzzard carcass found in a stink pit (nr Dornie, Inverness-shire) and the discovery of a suspected pole-trapping site (nr Dornie, Inverness-shire).

Interestingly, although the report doesn’t go as far as naming estates in most incidents (apart from the reports of successful prosecutions), it does go further than the vague information provided in the annual PAW statistics. For example, in the PAW Scotland ‘Bird of Prey Poisoning Incidents 2006-2010 – Incident Details’ report (that we discussed here in March 2011), there are several cases of buzzard poisoning that were just listed as ‘Tayside’. The RSPB report clarifies this a little bit, and lists the locations as ‘Glenogil’ and ‘nr Kinross’.

This annual report makes for grisly reading, but as the report says, these incidents no longer shock or surprise us. The evidence yet again points to the involvement of people within the game-shooting industry; the latest statistics show that of all those convicted for illegal raptor persecution in Scotland between 2003-2010, 88% were involved with gamekeeping (the rest involved pest controllers, farmers and pigeon racers at 4% each).

The RSPB makes several recommendations in the report that would considerably reduce the difficulty of bringing these criminals to justice. They include recommended action for the police, the crown office & procurator fiscal service, the Scottish government, and representatives from the game-shooting industry. Some of these recommendations have been made before but have apparently remained unheeded.

Well done to the RSPB for publishing this report and for keeping the issue high on the political and public agenda.

The report can be downloaded here

Gamekeeper fined for shooting short-eared owl on Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire

A Short Eared Owl

A gamekeeper was convicted of shooting a short-eared owl on a Lanarkshire grouse moor in May 2004.

The 23 year old gamekeeper (name removed under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974) who works for a shoot on Abington Farms Estate (often known as the Leadhills Estate), appeared at Lanark Sheriff Court on 31 July 2005. Two local bird of prey workers told the court how they had seen a short-eared owl fly up from the heather as the keeper drove across the moor on a quad bike. They saw the keeper stop the bike, take out his shotgun and walk towards the spot where the owl had settled on the hillside. When it flew up, he fired three shots at it and it fell to the ground. He collected the spent shotgun cartridges, but failed to find the owl.

After a search of the heather, the two witnesses found the bird, still alive but badly injured. It died a few minutes afterwards. They had recognized the keeper, and used a mobile phone to call Police Wildlife Crime Officer Phil Briggs. Within minutes the Strathclyde Police helicopter was searching the moor, but no one could be found. The keeper was later detained at his home, where clothing was recovered matching the description provided by the witnesses.

The keeper was convicted of killing a short-eared owl under section 1(1)(a)of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and fined £500. It was his first conviction.

He remained employed on the estate. The area has a long history of confirmed and alleged cases of bird of prey poisoning and persecution.

Short-eared owls nest on the ground and feed almost exclusively on small mammals such as voles. They pose no threat to game birds.

Sea eagle feared killed on Glenogil Estate, Angus

This is the missing sea eagle, known as 'Bird N'

A young white-tailed sea eagle, less than six months old, is feared to have been killed on Glenogil Estate, Angus in the autumn of 2007, according to an article published in The Scotsman. Tayside police apparently received an anonymous tip-off that suggested the eagle had allegedly been shot on the estate. The information correlates with radio tracking data from the bird, who was regularly tracked in the area but whose signal disappeared around the time of the alleged incident, although the signal could have failed as a result of a mechanical malfunction.The young eagle has never been seen again. No arrests have been made.

The sea eagle was one of 15 young birds that were donated by Norway for the East Scotland re-introduction project. The young birds were released in Fife in August 2007, fitted with radio transmitters and wing tags for identification.

Glenogil Estate is owned by multi-millionaire John Dodd, who is reported to take grouse moor management advice from Mark Osborne. Glenogil has been at the centre of previous investigations of alleged wildlife crime offences, and John Dodd was fined £107,000 in 2008 for the suspected use of illegal poisons on raptors.  Dodd is appealing the decision.

For further information about the missing sea eagle:

Record penalty for poison offence at Glenogil Estate, Angus

John Dodd at Glenogil Estate

In September 2008, John Dodd, the multi-millionaire owner of Glenogil shooting estate in Tayside, had his farming subsidy cut by £107,000 by the Scottish Executive because it was suspected that illegal substances found on the estate were being used to poison birds of prey. According to an article published in The Guardian, several raptors, including rare white-tailed sea eagles, have either been found dead on the estate or have mysteriously ‘disappeared’ on the estate, although to date, no successful prosecutions have occured. It is the largest ever civil penalty imposed under strict EU cross-compliance legislation, which makes protection of wildlife a condition of the subsidy. Dodd is reported to be contesting the decision.

According to The Guardian, the same illegal poisonous compound – which was withdrawn from sale as an insecticide in Ireland five years ago because of its toxicity – was also found on another grouse moor, the Leadhills estate, in southwest Scotland in the autumn of 2005. The estate, near Abingdon, was run at the time by Mark Osborne, one of the UK’s most successful managers of moor shoots. Osborne runs estates and advises shooting moor owners across Scotland and northern England, including Glenogil. Four of those estates – Leadhills, Glenogil, plus Glenlochy on Speyside and Snilesworth, north Yorkshire – have been raided in the past two years by police investigating claims of birds of prey persecution.

At the Snilesworth estate, near Northallerton, a head-keeper and two game keepers admitted illegally using traps baited with pigeons to catch protected birds of prey. The head-keeper was fined £1,250. A keeper at Leadhills was convicted of shooting a short-eared owl in 2004 and fined £500; Osborne refused to comment.

Further information: