Pesticide disposal scheme reveals massive stash of banned poisons

PoisonIn February this year the Scottish Government launched the latest ‘pesticide disposal scheme’ – a free service allowing those who are still in possession of certain banned poisons an opportunity to get rid of them without fear of consequence.

We had mixed feelings about this scheme (see here), not least a sense of frustration that ten years after many of these poisons were banned, the criminals still in possession would have yet another opportunity to escape justice. However, this feeling was outweighed by the importance of removing these substances so they could no longer be (illegally) held / used.

Two and a half months in to the scheme, the Scottish Government has today announced that the scheme will end on 29th May 2015 – press release here.

According to this press release, so far the scheme has received requests for 99 poisons to be collected. These are as follows:

Sodium Cyanide (44)

Strychnine (30)

Aluminium Phosphide (8)

Mevinphos (5)

Carbofuran (5)

(Alpha)Chloralose (4)

Unknown (2)

Aldicarb (1)

We were particularly interested in the amount of Carbofuran that had been handed in – apparently more than 80kg from just five sites.

sugar80kg of the gamekeepers’ ‘poison of choice’! That’s an incredibly large stash. To put it in context, the largest stash found to date was 10.5kg – recovered during a raid on Skibo Estate in 2010 after the discovery of three poisoned golden eagles. The RSPB calculated that that was enough to kill every single raptor in Scotland six times over (see here). Bear in mind that Carbofuran is so highly toxic that it only takes a couple of grains to kill; imagine how much damage 80kg of the stuff could do – imagine the equivalent of 80 bags of 1kg sugar and the hundreds of thousands of granules inside each of those bags!

It’s frightening to think how much more Carbofuran has been stockpiled on estates and farms across Scotland. If 80kg has been recovered from land users who have no intention of using it, imagine how much is being kept hidden by those who have no intention of handing it in but every intention of continuing to use it.

It’ll be interesting to see just how much more is handed in before the end of the disposal scheme, and even more interesting to see what sort of sentence the next inevitable poisoning case will bring.

The release of today’s information is interesting to us for another reason, too. On 27th March, one of our blog readers submitted an FoI to the Scottish Government to ask for the following information relating to the pesticide disposal scheme:

1. The type and number of poisons handed in since the scheme began on 23 February 2015 to date.

2. The cost of the scheme to date.

3. The first three letters of postcodes from where the poisons had been collected.

Our blog reader knew that all this information was being collated by the Scottish Government and he also knew that the scheme was on-going, so he qualified his questions by adding ‘to date’ at the end.

Here’s the reply he received last week:



Thank you for your request dated 27 March 2015 under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EIRs).

Your request

You asked to be provided with the following information:

  1. The type and number of poisons handed in since the scheme began on 23 Feb 2015 to date.
  2. The cost of the scheme to date.
  3. The first three letters of postcodes from where the poisons have been collected.

As the information you have requested is ‘environmental information’ for the purposes of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EIRs), we are required to deal with your request under those Regulations.  We are applying the exemption at section 39(2) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), so that we do not also have to deal with your request under FOISA.

This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’.  Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.  We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption, because there is no public interest in dealing with the same request under two different regimes.  This is essentially a technical point and has no material effect on the outcome of your request.

Response to your request

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance an exception under regulation 10(4)(d) (unfinished or incomplete information) of the EIRs applies to all of the information you have requested. This exemption applies because that information is still in the course of completion.  We are unable to provide the information you have requested because the scheme has not been concluded. As the scheme has not yet closed the data you have requested is still being collated, some of this work is being undertaken by an external administrator. We intend to publish some details in respect of your points 1 and 3 in a press release ahead of the closure of the scheme; this is likely to be issued before the end of May 2015.  When the scheme is formally closed and a final report is given to the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, further information, including costs related to the scheme will be published.

This exception is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exception. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exception. We recognise that there is some public interest in release as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and this will be met by our planned publication. However, this is outweighed by the public interest in ensuring that unfinished or incomplete information which is still in being worked on is not disclosed when it might misinform the public.


That’s a fascinating response. They refused to release ‘unfinished or incomplete information’ to an individual member of the public, and yet a week later they publish, er, ‘unfinished or incomplete information’ in an official government press release!

It’s also interesting to note that Scottish Land & Estates published a news article on their website, dated 9th April 2015, stating that more than 80 calls had been taken by the scheme (see here). The question is, how did SLE get that privileged information and did they get it from the Scottish Government?

One rule for one and one rule for another? Surely not.

Glen Orchy: a hollow victory

Last Friday, Tom McKellar, an employee of Auch Estate, an Argyll sporting estate in Bridge of Orchy, was convicted of possessing the illegal poison Carbofuran and was fined £1,200 (see here). This conviction should be a cause for celebration, and in some respects it is, but there is also an overwhelming sense of disappointment and frustration. We had all thought this was a pretty clear-cut case, with lots of investigative resources thrown at it, a strong evidential trail and a known suspect. We were further encouraged by a statement given by the then Scottish Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, who said:

I am truly appalled that yet another golden eagle has been illegally killed in Scotland – the second this summer. Illegal poisoning is simply inexcusable and while the perpetrators are certainly beneath contempt they are in no way above the law“.

Given the nature of the alleged offences (wildlife & firearms), we were certain that a custodial sentence was inevitable. How stupid were we?

It all started to unravel in December 2010, 18 months after the poisoned eagle was found dead in Glen Orchy. We learned that Tom McKellar had been convicted of possessing two illegal handguns, but instead of receiving the mandatory five-year prison sentence, he was given just 300 hours community service and a commendation from the judge who reportedly told him: “There is no doubt you are an outstanding individual” (see here). There was little mention in the media about the poisoned golden eagle or the stash of illegal poison that had been found at McKellar’s house during the original police search. We were suspicious that the wildlife crimes were being ignored and that COPFS had decided to just take on the firearms offences because, in the eyes of the law, these are greater crimes than the poisoning offences and would normally result in a custodial sentence.

Based on these suspicions, we blogged about the case in January 2011, and suggested that no charges were being brought against anyone for poisoning that eagle. We also encouraged readers to contact the Scottish Government to complain. Many did, and all hell let loose. The Scottish Government responded by saying that the firearms offences were being dealt with separately, at a court with a higher authority than a Sheriff Court, and that the wildlife offences were still ‘being dealt with’. A well-known prosecutor threatened us, indirectly, with legal action. For what? Expressing an opinion? As it turns out, we were right all along, nobody has been prosecuted for poisoning that golden eagle, although we’ve had to wait for over three years to have this confirmed.

It then all went quiet for a while, at least publicly. It’s not known whether COPFS bowed to pressure to take forward the wildlife crime prosecution or whether they had actually been pursuing the charge all along, but that it took over three years for the case to conclude is probably quite telling.  Not that it really matters now anyway; what matters is the outcome.

So, a conviction was eventually secured, although this was just for ‘possession’ of a banned substance; in our opinion this is the least significant charge of any that could have been brought. McKellar admitted during interviews that he had laid out poisoned baits ‘in the past’, and yet he wasn’t charged for that. Were the words ‘in the past’ significant in the decision not to press charges for that offence? What does ‘in the past’ mean, anyway? Two years ago? Two weeks ago? Two days ago? Two hours ago? In addition to the poisoned golden eagle, a Carbofuran-poisoned fox was found and also a dead sheep laced with Carbofuran. Someone was clearly still putting out poisoned baits, but COPFS accepted McKellar’s claim that he wasn’t responsible. It’s unfortunate that these types of offences are only dealt with as summary cases in a Sheriff Court. It would have been interesting to hear what a jury might have thought had the charges been heard in a higher court. Again, we’ll never know and we have to accept that McKellar is guilty of nothing more than possessing the banned poison Carbofuran (oh, and possessing two illegal handguns).

It’s hard not to think that McKellar has come out of all this relatively lightly. It’s also hard to believe that his punishments will act as any sort of deterrent to other would-be criminals. He avoided a mandatory five-year prison term for the firearms offences, and he was fined just a fraction of the amount that he could have been fined for possessing the illegal poison Carbofuran. It appears that he has also kept his job. Auch Estate is currently up for sale (for a mere £8.4 million) and a look at the sales particulars (Auch Estate sales brochure 2012), dated August 2012, indicates that the new owner has to take on the current Estate employees under the TUPE regulations, including Farm Manager Tom McKellar. These sales particulars also show that almost £700,000 was paid in grants and subsidies during 2011; it would be interesting to know whether there will be any forfeiture of these payments following McKellar’s conviction, although based on previous experience, this information is exceptionally difficult to access, even though it’s public money! It would also be interesting to hear whether McKellar’s employer is being investigated, after McKellar reportedly claimed it was his employer who had provided him with the Carbofuran (see here). Wouldn’t it also be interesting to find out whether Auch Estate is a member of Scottish Land & Estates? And whether McKellar, as an employee of a sporting estate, is a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association? Needless to say, neither of these organisations has made any public statements about McKellar’s conviction last Friday.

Other question marks include a strange bit of (non)-reporting by SASA. The poisoned golden eagle found at Glen Orchy was listed in SASA’s 2009 annual report. However, the dead fox found nearby that was reported to have been poisoned by Carbofuran did not appear in the SASA report. Neither did the dead sheep also found nearby that was reportedly laced with Carbofuran and used as poisoned bait. Why weren’t these two animals included in SASA’s list of confirmed poison cases for 2009? Perhaps SASA didn’t do the toxicology tests. If they didn’t, then who did? If SASA did do the tests, but failed to include the animals in their report, what confidence does this give us when SASA release their annual poisoning statistics? Are other cases missing? We only knew about the fox and the sheep because the RSPB had listed them in their annual report.

A further question mark hangs over a related issue. The media has reported that the poisoned golden eagle found dead in Glen Orchy had been killed with the banned pesticide Carbofuran. However, if you look at the 2009 SASA report, the following chemicals are listed as being detected in this bird’s body: Carbofuran, Methiocarb, Sodium Cyanide and Strychnine. Now, we have it on good authority, although this has not been formally verified, that a second individual was searched during the police raid back in June 2009. This individual, XXXXX XXXXX is believed to be a gamekeeper in Perthshire but is not an employee of Auch Estate; he was just there on the day the police arrived to conduct their search. We understand that the police found Mr XXXXX to be in possession of a bottle of Strychnine and a container of decanted Cyanide. Now look again at the chemicals detected in the body of the dead golden eagle. As far as we are aware, no charges have been brought against Mr XXXXX, not even for possession. If this turns out to be an accurate report, then something has gone seriously wrong with this investigation. A lack of resources can’t be blamed on this one, given the array of organisations involved with the investigation, including multiple police forces with specialist wildlife crime officers as well as the National Wildlife Crime Unit. So what happened? Did Mr XXXXX slip through the net and if so, how? Do you think we’ll hear anything about this or do you think it’ll be quietly pushed under the carpet?

In summary then, yes, a conviction was secured (McKellar) and we should be pleased about that. McKellar’s illegal stash of Carbofuran and his illegal cache of handguns have been taken out of circulation and so we should also be pleased about that, too. But this is not what could be called a successful outcome; far from it. It’s deeply unsatisfactory and shares striking similarities with other recent, high-profile cases which also concluded unsatisfactorily, such as Moy Estate and Skibo Estate. In all three cases, and in countless other lower-profile cases, sporting estate employees have only been charged with the lesser offence of possession. Charges have not been brought against anyone for the illegally-killed raptors found in each location, nor for laying the illegal poisoned baits or for putting out the illegal traps. On a superficial level then, the convictions for possession look good and the authorities can claim they are successfully addressing the issue of wildlife crime. Scratch below the publicity gloss though and you find that very little progress has been made; charges, if they’re brought at all, are not reflecting the full extent of the crimes uncovered, and on conviction the sentences are not reflecting the seriousness of these crimes.

Another poisoned raptor, another well-kept secret?

Last week we blogged about Des Thompson’s presentation at the Scottish Wildlife Crime Conference (see here). Here’s a reminder of what he had to say about Northern Constabulary and the problem of red kite persecution in northern Scotland:

So 40% of the dead, just over 100 red kites were poisoned in north of Scotland, without poisoning we should have had 300 plus birds, poisoning of red kites in the north of Scotland is attracting a lot of criticism nationally, and we now know the location of the hotspots problem areas where red kites have been found, poisoned, and we’re working closely with the police to tackle this. And I want to put on record here how grateful we are to Northern Constabulary, er, senior staff at Northern Constabulary for meeting with us to discuss the scientific issues and for taking forward the very ambitious programme of work to tackle this problem“.

So what is this “very ambitious programme of work” and why is it that Northern Constabulary appear to need persuasion to carry out what is its statutory duty to investigate wildlife crime?

If you look at the Force’s website you’ll see that they have 13 police Wildlife Crime Officers (see here) who are overseen by a Force Wildlife Crime Coordinator, Chief Inspector Matthew Reiss. The website also includes a ‘statement of intent’ in relation to tackling wildlife crime and the Force says it is committed to tackling wildlife crime (see here). Further, Chief Inspector Reiss is on record (according to Highland News) as saying Northern Constabulary treats wildlife crime “extremely seriously” (reported here after the convictions of Skibo Estate and Moy Estate employees for wildlife crime offences).

All sounds very convincing and reassuring, doesn’t it? Why is it then that Northern Constabulary has remained tight-lipped about the discovery, 15 months ago, of a poisoned red kite allegedly found on moorland at the boundary of Skibo Estate? We have been told that the satellite-tagged kite was allegedly found in February 2011. SASA documents show that only one red kite from the Highland region was tested in February 2011  and  it had been poisoned by Alphachloralose and was the subject of on ongoing police investigation (SASA ref #11020, see here).

Was there any publicity about this bird? We think we might have remembered if there had been, but we checked back to Northern Constabulary’s archived news items on their website for the month of February 2011 in case we’d missed it – but no, plenty on there about theft of handbags and damage to tractors but not a whisper about the discovery of a poisoned red kite.

Was there a police raid on the surrounding properties where this bird was allegedly found poisoned? If it was found at this location, and given that this is one of the supposed ‘hotspot’ areas for raptor poisoning (three golden eagles and a sparrowhawk found poisoned in 2010 – no convictions; a staked-out poison-laced grouse bait found in 2010 – no convictions) wouldn’t a police raid be the obvious first step in an investigation?

So is that it? No further action? If we hadn’t received a tip-off would it ever have come to light? Where was the RSPB in all of this? Did they know that one of their satellite-tagged kites had allegedly been found poisoned? If they did, why wasn’t the incident publicised? Where was SNH and PAW Scotland in all of this? Did they know that one of the satellite-tagged kites that they’d helped fund had allegedly been found poisoned? Where was their publicity? Where was the NWCU in all of this? Were they notified? Was this alleged incident the trigger for setting up the meeting with senior staff at Northern Constabulary to discuss the red kite persecution ‘science’?

This is the second time in the last few weeks that Northern Constabulary has been at the centre of allegations of secrecy and cover-up when it comes to wildlife crime (see here for earlier report on the suspected shooting and decapitation of a white-tailed eagle on Skye that went unpublicised). How many more incidents are there left to be uncovered? To be fair, Northern Constabulary does sometimes get it right, with current ongoing court cases including the alleged hare snaring at Lochindorb (here) and alleged egg theft (here), but ‘sometimes’ just isn’t good enough. Nobody’s suggesting these investigations are easy – we’ve all seen how difficult it can be to get COPFS to agree to a prosecution – but Northern Constabulary (and others) don’t help themselves when they choose not to publicise, or sometimes even investigate these alleged crimes.

How about everyone stops all the politically-motivated soundbites about commitment and very ambitious work programmes and just focuses on getting the basics right?

21 eagles, 6 years, 0 prosecutions

Ever since that poisoned golden eagle was found in Glen Orchy in June 2009, we’ve been assured by the authorities (including in an email from a spokeswoman of the former Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham) that, despite our concerns to the contrary, the alleged wildlife crime uncovered that day was being ‘dealt with’.

We’ve had to wait for almost three years to find out that, according to a statement in The Herald attributed to RSPB investigator Ian Thomson, nobody has been charged with poisoning that golden eagle (see Herald article here).

It’s just the latest in a long line (21 eagles in six years!) of both confirmed and suspected eagle deaths for which nobody has ever been prosecuted.

In fairness, some of the 21 examples shown below may not be a result of criminal behaviour (i.e. the bodies of seven of the eagles listed have never been recovered so foul play, whilst suspected, cannot be verified, but neither can it be ruled out). However, there have been 14 confirmed eagle deaths (13 poisoned and one shot), that we know about, for which nobody has been charged. There are probably more confirmed deaths that we don’t know about because for some reason, some confirmed deaths are not being publicly reported. And without a shadow of a doubt, there are other deaths that are attributable to criminal behaviour that never see the light of day.

Here’s the list of the ones we do know about:

MAY 2006: A dead adult golden eagle was found on the Dinnet & Kinord Estate, near Ballater, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation. Five years and 11 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.


JUNE 2006: A dead golden eagle was found on Glen Feshie Estate in the Cairngorms. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary launched an investigation. Five years and ten months later, nobody has been prosecuted.




AUGUST 2007: A dead adult female golden eagle was found on an estate near Peebles in the Borders. She was half of the last known breeding pair of golden eagles in the region. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Lothian & Borders Police launched an investigation. Four years and eight months later, nobody has been prosecuted.




AUTUMN 2007: Tayside Police received a detailed tip-off that a young male white-tailed eagle (known as ‘Bird N’) had allegedly been shot on an estate in Angus. The timing and location included in the tip-off coincided with the timing and location of the last-known radio signal of this bird. Four and a half years later, the bird has not been seen again. With no body, an investigation isn’t possible.


MAY 2008: A one year old male white-tailed eagle hatched on Mull in 2007 and known as ‘White G’ was found dead on the Glenquoich Estate, Angus. Tests revealed he had been poisoned by an unusual concoction of pesticides that included Carbofuran, Bendiocarb and Isofenphos. A police search in the area also revealed a poisoned buzzard, a baited mountain hare and 32 pieces of poisoned venison baits placed on top of fenceposts on the neighbouring Glenogil Estate. Laboratory tests revealed the baited mountain hare and the 32 poisoned venison baits contained the same unusual concoction of highly toxic chemicals that had killed the white-tailed eagle, ‘White G’. Three years and 11 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.


JUNE 2009: An adult golden eagle was found dead at Glen Orchy, Argyll, close to the West Highland Way. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Strathclyde Police launched a multi-agency investigation. Two years and ten months later (April 2012), Tom McKellar pled guilty to possession of Carbofuran stored in premises at Auch Estate, Bridge of Orchy. Nobody has been prosecuted for poisoning the golden eagle.


JULY 2009: A two year old female golden eagle known as ‘Alma’ was found dead on the Millden Estate, Angus. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Alma was a well-known eagle  – born on the Glen Feshie Estate in 2007, she was being satellite-tracked and her movements followed by the general public on the internet. Tayside Police launched an investigation. Two years and nine months later, nobody has been prosecuted.


AUGUST 2009: A young white-tailed eagle was found dead on Glenogil Estate, Angus. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Tayside Police were criticized in the national press for not releasing a press statement about this incident until January 2010. Two years and 8 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.


MAY 2010: Three dead golden eagles were found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. One year and 11 months later, nobody has been prosecuted for poisoning the three golden eagles.


JUNE 2010: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: A golden eagle and a white-tailed eagle were found dead on an estate near Farr, Inverness-shire. Tests revealed they had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary apparently did not search the property until July 2011. One year and ten months later, nobody has been prosecuted.


DECEMBER 2010: A decomposing carcass of a white-tailed eagle was found and photographed on Logie (Lochindorb) Estate, Morayshire. It was reported to Northern Constabulary. By the time the police arrived to collect it, the carcass had disappeared. The police said they couldn’t investigate further without the body.


MARCH 2011: The body of a young golden eagle was discovered on North Glenbuchat Estate, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation and raided the property in May 2011. One year and one month later, we are not aware of any pending prosecutions.


APRIL 2011: The body of a white-tailed eagle was found at the base of cliffs on Skye. The person who discovered it (a professional medic) considered it to have been freshly shot with a rifle, decapitated with a sharp implement and thrown from the cliff top. He took photographs and alerted Northern Constabulary and RSPB. There was a delay of two weeks before the now probably decomposed carcass was collected. A post-mortem was inconclusive. This incident was not made public until one year later after a tip off to this blog. We are not aware of any pending prosecutions.


NOVEMBER 2011: The signal from a satellite-tracked young golden eagle (hatched in 2010) stopped functioning when she was at a location in the Monadhliaths, a well-known raptor persecution black spot in the Highlands. Her last known location was checked by researchers but there was no sign of the bird. Another ‘disappearance’ in suspicious circumstances or a technical malfunction of the satellite transmitter?

2012 wildlife crime conference: Charlie Everitt (NWCU)

The 2012 annual police wildlife crime conference took place a couple of weeks ago. Quite a few of this year’s presentations were relevant to raptor persecution so we’ll be commenting on these in due course. To start off the series we’ll focus on what Charlie Everitt had to say. Charlie is the Scottish Investigative Support Officer at the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU). See here for more details.

Charlie Everitt: Update on Raptor Persecution

Scottish Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, and that’s a mouthful, erm, has been concentrating more on poisonings just at the moment, and also on processes so that we can get things right in order to take things forward for core purposes. Consequently we’re just finishing off and hoping to sign off at the next meeting an evidence gathering protocol. Now this is guidance and best practice for organisations who are likely to come across raptor persecution victims, er, giving advice and guidance on who they should contact, how the, er, any carcasses should be recovered and where they should be handed in to, so it’s giving best practice in order to maximise our chances for convictions in court so we get the process right. So that should be signed off, er, at the next meeting.” [See here for a previous blog about an earlier draft of this protocol. We haven’t seen the final version yet but look forward to seeing it in the near future].

“And similarly we’re looking at, er, another protocol with regards to satellite tagged birds, and this is a case where we have birds that have been satellite tagged and maybe the tag, er, stops giving off a signal, erm, or the signal remains stationary, just a protocol as to what we should do, er, in order to take the next step in order to recover the satellite and to investigate what’s happened. So just to make sure that we are lawful in what we are doing. So that’s a protocol as well that should get signed off very soon.

And the third angle, and it’s taking up a fair bit of time, is looking at a very new approach to the whole raptor, erm, raptor persecution issue. Now I can’t really say a great deal more on this at the minute, it’s in its early stages of development just now but when it is it will be put through tests and if it is fit for purpose it will be rolled out and, erm, yes you’ll all be made well aware of it when it does emerge.

We’ve also been looking to the use of science to try and benefit from what science can deliver to us. Now the science of course can back up intelligence and information crucially and the science has been used to good effect when combined with information and intelligence in a presentation to Northern Constabulary last year about the red kites on the Black Isle and their failure to manage to expand from there. So I think that was a good example of just how the two can sit together.” [Eh?]

“The Raptor Study Group of course do a lot of good work with regards to monitoring, erm, raptors and are able to work out where black holes might appear where we should have raptors and where there might not be some. Now there might be good reason for these black holes appearing, [no shit, Sherlock!] er, but what it does do, as I say, when you mix the intelligence and information with the science we get the fuller picture of what might be happening on the land there.

And the final thing we’re looking at doing is to ensure that we can capture all the information from the Raptor Study Group because they’re the people who are out on the land and if they do have any snippets of information we want to make sure that we capture all that intelligence and information in the National Wildlife Crime Unit through the five X five X five system, so that’s, er, er, another area which I’m looking to address very soon.

Now we’ve had some prosecutions, er, either concluded, erm, or, er, occurring during 2011, er, just run through some for you just as an update. In May a shoot manager in Skibo was fined £3,300 for possessing 10.5 kilograms of carbofuran, er, that was the biggest haul we’ve ever recovered in Scotland. And also in May last year a keeper from Moy was fined £1,500 for the possession of a dead red kite. On in October a ‘keeper from Huntly was fined £250 for the illegal use of a cage trap and possession of an illegally trapped buzzard. In November two photographers from London and Norwich were fined £600 and £500 respectively for recklessly disturbing a pair of white-tailed sea eagles at a nest in Mull. In January of this year a former gamekeeper from Biggar was ordered to carry out 100 hours of community service for poisoning four buzzards with alphachloralose and this is a guy who had been convicted before back in 2008. And also in January of this year a, er, another keeper from Lamington was fined £635 for possession of carbofuran. Now for me I think that’s a really good return for one year’s worth of work, er, and there used to be years when we only got two or three convictions in a year, now we have a good number and, er, I think buried inside all of those results is excellent partnership working which I think we must recognise with all our partner agencies.”

[We believe it’s misleading to use these cases as an indicator of success. What Charlie failed to mention is that in some of these cases (Skibo, Moy and Lamington) the only successful charges related to ‘possession’. Nobody was actually charged for poisoning the raptors that were found at each of these sites (and in the Moy case, there were also other offences that related to the illegal use of spring traps, for which nobody was charged). It looks like the Crown Office has gone for the minimum charge possible (i.e. possession) just to secure a conviction. To put this in context, it would be like claiming a success if someone had gone on a killing rampage using a car but was only convicted for not having any road tax. One of the other cases mentioned (Biggar – i.e. David Whitefield from Cullter Allers Farm, who already had a previous conviction for wildlife crime) was given a pathetic 100 hours community service order for poisoning four buzzards! Not good enough and certainly not an indication of ‘a really good return for one year’s worth of work’].

“The 2011 poisoning figures as the Minister suggested was significantly down, er, er, which is great news and very, very welcome to us to hear. Erm, all I’ll say is let’s see if we can continue that downward trend for the next three to five years and actually, and then, erm, solidify into a trend so that we do have this downward movement in poisonings but very grateful for anything where we have a drop in poisonings and that is, erm, excellent news.”

[Charlie failed to distinguish between reported poisoning incidents and actual poisoning incidents. There’s quite a difference and this should put the 2011 poisoning figures into context. He also failed to acknowledge the other methods of illegal killing and their impact on the overall issue of raptor persecution in Scotland. See here for previous blog on this].

“The hotspot maps meantime continue to help the police to focus their attention and, erm, identify where the areas need to be for resources to be deployed.

Now a few years back Lothian & Borders police had a pesticides dog that was able to sniff out carbofuran but it was very quickly withdrawn after there were some health and safety concerns. Well I’ve been having this chat with some of the dog handlers across Lothian & Borders and, er, they have told me that that dog is now available again for any searches, er, which Scotland want to undertake with regards to carbofuran. So that’s I think a positive move they’ve managed to sort out any health and safety issues there and just to put a little bit of context into that, Spain now have 15 dogs that can sniff out carbofuran and other poisons. Carbofuran poisoning has dropped by 40% since the early 2000s so we can think about the impact of the dogs.”

[Again, Charlie has only given half the story here. Yes, in parts of southern Spain (but not all!) the number of reported poisoning incidents has dropped by 40% since sniffer dogs were employed from 2004 onwards. However, crucially, there has also been a concurrent effort to increase enforcement against the poisoners. This includes the use of fines that have a real deterrent (up to €200,000 [~£167,000!]) as well as prison sentences; the temporary closure of the hunting area where poison has been detected; the suspension of hunting rights where the hunting methods are considered to have an unsustainable effect on natural resources; the employment of specialised units (x 3, containing 18 dogs) to patrol areas for the detection of poison – these patrols include ‘emergency inspections’ after poison has been reported, as well as ‘routine inspections’ of hotspots where the use of poison is suspected; and the use of three toxicology labs for poison testing. This is particularly interesting as when poison has not been detected in the first lab, but the use of poison is still suspected based on forensic evidence found at the crime scene (e.g. presence of certain insects), then the carcass/bait is submitted to one of two other labs that use more powerful techniques. In 2010, poison was detected in 38% of these carcasses/baits even though it was undetected at the first lab.

So yes, Charlie, the use of one single sniffer dog in Scotland is a positive move, but without the wider enforcement measures as outlined above, we’d be exceptionally naïve to expect that what has been achieved in parts of southern Spain will be replicated here in Scotland].

“Vicarious liability is also, erm, very much in discussion at the moment and I think last year I described myself as being cautiously optimistic about it. Well this year I’m very optimistic about it, er, with all the work that has been going on, er, behind the scenes and, er, what I would say is that this is not something that is just going to be a case of well we can’t get the person who has put out the poison so let’s just go and charge the landowner, this is going to require a lot of work, er, by any police forces looking into it, er, and looking to, to, er, look at charges of vicarious liability. The industry have also looked into it and have indeed a number of organisations in order to understand what they need to do to fulfil their obligations and that is to be welcomed because it does give us a minimum standard across the, er, industries which is as I say very, very welcomed.

So I was interested in the Minister’s comment as well that, erm, I got the impression that he wasn’t really looking for many prosecutions from this, erm, he was hoping that this would sort of be a Sword of Damocles if anybody was to continue poisoning so, er, I think with some of the work that’s been going on in the Raptor Priority Delivery Group that I think that is a very realistic possibility that we will get things sorted before we ever have to resort to vicarious liability.

One final thing, well another thing I’d just like to, er, just bring to your attention is a egg collector who was, lived down in London, erm, and his house was searched, a number of eggs removed including some golden eagle and osprey, erm, eggs which had been taken from Scotland. The CPS did some work, er, with one of the partner organisations and sought an ASBO against him and although he’s currently in jail, when he re-emerges he will not be allowed to enter Scotland during the nesting season for the next ten years. Now that’s a very powerful piece of legislation and a powerful condition to put on him and it’s something which I’ve asked for them to see if we can get hold of the paperwork to look at the procedure to see if we can do some, mirror something like that up in Scotland because it’s not just for, erm, for egg collecting that this is relevant, I can see other angles of hare coursing, er, deer coursing and the like so, er, that is going to be an interesting development to see what how it transpires.

Finally on the raptor persecution side, these are the guys who make up the Scottish Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group. Now there have been articles that are out in the public domain where we actually have organisations, people from organisations that are representative of the group, trying to drive wedges in against other organisations which, er, are in that group as well, which is often very disruptive and really doesn’t help us with the trying to take the full raptor persecution debate forward. What I would say to you is that if you do have an issue which you would like to discuss in, er, er, in an appropriate forum, rather than having a, er, er, a rant shall I say for a better word in, er, other media, here is a foum which you could bring this to through your representative in order to get a good full informed debate amongst all the organisations that need to be consulted in it. So that’s what I’d urge you to do if you do have any issues and you want to bring forward then please do not hesitate to contact them through your, through your representative.” [We think this rebuke was aimed at the Scottish Gamekeepers Association who recently published an article that suggested raptor workers could be laundering eggs and chicks on the black market – see here for previous blog on that].

A recent history of golden eagle persecution in Scotland

Two years ago in July 2009, Alma, a two-year golden eagle who had been satellite-tracked across Scotland from her birth place on the Glenfeshie Estate, was found dead. She was discovered lying face-down in the heather on Millden Estate, Angus and later tests showed she had been poisoned by the banned pesticide Carbofuran.

The police conducted a search of Millden Estate and the local community responded with anger to Alma’s death. They wrote letters of concern to the local estates, the Environment Minister and the Chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage. On the second anniversary of her death, has anybody been brought to justice for killing her? Not that we know of.

Alma’s death is not a stand alone case, as we are all too aware. Prior to her killing in 2009, 17 golden eagles were confirmed victims of shooting, trapping or nest destruction in Scotland, between 1989 and 2009, according to this RSPB report. In addition, in the same report a further 24 golden eagles were confirmed victims of illegal poisoning in Scotland during the same period, including Alma.

The killing didn’t end with Alma. Since her death in 2009, a further 5 golden eagles have been confirmed killed – four of them last year (3 of them at Skibo Estate and one on an un-named grouse moor near Inverness ) and at least one known death so far this year, on North Glenbuchat Estate. That makes a total of 46. And these are only the ones we know about. There are other suspicious incidents, such as the four golden eagle leg rings reported to have been found in 2010 in the possession of convicted gamekeeper James Rolfe of the Moy Estate. As this report points out, these rings were originally fitted to golden eagle chicks prior to their fledging from nests in Sutherland, Grampian, Mull and Skye. These rings must have been removed from the dead eagles but how they came to be in Rolfe’s possession is unclear.

Add these four to the grand total and you get a minimum of 50 golden eagles illegally persecuted in Scotland since 1989. Nobody has ever been convicted for any of these reported crimes.

Sleeping gamekeeper fined over guns on table

A GAMEKEEPER who was found asleep in a chair in his kitchen with a shotgun and rifle lying on the kitchen table was fined £160 at Inverness Sheriff Court this week.

Martin MacKenzie has been suspended from his job and also faces losing his firearms licence.

Depute Fiscal Karen Smith said police had to attend the house at Mains of Aberarder and found Mackenzie asleep at the kitchen table.

The rifle and shotgun were lying on the table, she told Sheriff Ian Abercrombie.

Mackenzie (36) of Craggan Valley, Kiltarlity, admitted on May 18 last year failing to comply with conditions of his firearms certificate that he failed to keep the guns in a secure designated place.

Craig Wood, solicitor, said Mackenzie was married with two children, and had been a keeper at Arberarder for 10 years. “Since this incident he has been suspended by his employers.”

Mr Wood added that a letter had been received from the Chief Constable asking for Mackenzie’s certificate to be revoked, but this was the subject of an appeal.

He had been using his guns and intended to clean them,” said Mr Wood. “He took several phone calls and when the police attended he accepts he should have dealt with it more expeditiously. He is a perfectly reasonable human being.”

So, it appears that Northern Constabulary consider falling asleep in your home in charge of unsecured firearms an offence serious enough to revoke a certificate. No complaints here and well done to the newly-appointed Chief Constable of Northern Constabulary, Mr George Graham. It follows then surely that the Moy and Skibo gamekeepers, convicted last week, should also have their firearms certificates revoked given the seriousness of their crimes? If you measure seriousness in terms of the court’s punishment, then both James Rolfe (Moy Estate) and Dean Barr (Skibo Estate) committed crimes far more serious than the one committed by Martin MacKenzie at Aberarder:

Rolfe = £1500 fine; Barr = £3300 fine; MacKenzie = £160 fine.

I also wonder whether MacKenzie is a member of the SGA, and if so, whether he faces sanctions in light of his firearms conviction? Incidentally, there’s still no public statement of condemnation from the SGA over last week’s convictions of the Moy & Skibo keepers. They also haven’t said whether Rolfe or Barr are SGA members and if so, whether their SGA membership has been terminated after their criminal convictions. Hopefully the SGA’s bed-fellows at PAW Scotland will be asking these questions.

Many thanks to the contributor who brought this article to our attention.

Highland News

Skibo Estate results

Dean Barr, a gamekeeper (and reported elsewhere as being the sporting manager) on the Skibo Castle Estate, has been convicted of having enough illegal poison “to wipe out the entire Scottish golden eagle and red kite populations several times over”. Barr, 44, of East Lodge, Clashmore, Dornoch, admitted possessing 10kg of the banned pesticide Carbofuran. He admitted carrying the poison from his previous job as head gamekeeper on the Raeshaw Estate to Skibo Castle Estate in 2008, because he had ‘not known how to safely dispose of it’.

The Carbofuran haul was discovered in a locked store on the Skibo Castle Estate, for which Barr had the keys. According to the Northern Times and Northern Constabulary, the poison was discovered within premises operated and solely accessed by Barr on Skibo Estate land.

Today he was fined £3,300 “to mark the court’s disapproval”. This was apparently reduced from a £5,000 fine for his early plea.

Despite this conviction, the Crown accepted he had ‘no part’ in the deaths of two poisoned golden eagles and a sparrowhawk (killed with Carbofuran) found on the estate in May 2010 (along with a dead buzzard and a third poisoned golden eagle killed by Aldicarb).

Barr’s defence lawyer said Barr was well regarded personally and professionally by his current and previous employers. “If it was thought that he was involved in the use of this material, they would not be so supportive”.

This is not the last we will write on this case.

The Scotsman news story

BBC news story

STV news story

Case against Skibo Castle gamekeeper opens at Inverness Sheriff Court

Following blog post 12 May 2010…

A year on from the discovery of THREE poisoned golden eagles, 1 buzzard and 1 sparrowhawk in or close to the grounds of Skibo Castle Estate, the case against one of the gamekeepers opened today at Inverness Sheriff Court.

The case against Dean Barr, originally from Northern Ireland, is to be continued on 26 May 2011. The charges against him are not yet being reported as he has not yet entered a plea. Last year, Mr Barr made a public statement in The Daily Record suggesting that the dead birds had been ‘planted’ by the RSPB – see blog post 22 June 2010 here:

eagle killers getting away with it: Skibo update

Given the deafening silence on the progress of the Skibo case (see blog report 12 May 2010, where it was reported that three golden eagles, one sparrowhawk and one buzzard had been found on the Skibo Estate in north Scotland), we’ve done some digging around.

Last month (see blog post 20 September 2010), we noted that the results from the toxicology investigation on the dead birds had not been made public. We also noted that the results of the police investigation had not been made public. Infact, since the police raid in early May, the only press coverage was that on 21 June 2010, where Skibo gamekeeper Dean Barr had accused the RSPB of planting the dead birds:

We have discovered that the three golden eagles and one sparrowhawk  had all been killed by eating poisoned baits, according to scientific analysis undertaken by government scientists. Their results conclude that two of the golden eagles, plus one sparrowhawk were killed by the banned pesticide Carbofuran. They state the third golden eagle was killed by the banned pesticide Aldicarb. Click here for the SASA report detailing these incidents: SASA poisoning positive results 2010

Given the confirmation that these  raptors that were found dead on Skibo Estate in May 2010 had been killed by illegal poisons, it is worrying that there has been no formal notification of any charges brought against anybody for these crimes.

Does this mean that, along with every other single case of eagle persecution in this country, the eagle killer(s) in the Skibo case will be getting away with it?

It is perhaps timely that the WaNE bill is currently being reviewed by the Scottish parliament. Measures proposed in that bill will, if implemented, help to stop these criminals getting away with murdering our iconic birds of prey. For example, if the concept of vicarious liability is accepted, then the Estate Owner/Manager will take full legal responsibility for the actions of their staff.

Right now, nobody takes responsibility and we’re all sick of reading these news stories about yet another eagle/kite/buzzard/peregrine/goshawk/osprey/sparrowhawk/tawny owl/hen harrier/kestrel being persecuted.