The following copies of correspondence have been received from one of our readers Dr Hugh Webster who, like many additional followers of Raptor Politics, took the time and trouble to try to contact Mr. Richard Benyon at Defra regarding the ongoing shame and lack of action to bring raptor persecution in England under control.
Dr Webster goes on to say he e-mailed Mr Benyon on 14 August ( copy below) regarding the Minister’s strange praise of gamekeepers together with raising other issues associated with raptor persecution which concerned him. We have copied Dr. Webster’s subsequent correspondence with Defra, however it would appear Mr Benyon himself apparently was unable to comment on a single issue raised by Dr. Webster.
Copy of Dr. Webster’s e-mail 14 August sent to Mr.Richard Benyon which the Minister did not even see.
If they are not being effectively enforced? I wonder how else you account for the single remaining golden eagle in England? (Impressive biodiversity you’ll agree – well done gamekeepers. Incidentally which European country would you point to as having LESS biodiversity than ours and by what measure? I.e by what benchmark are we lauding our gamekeepers?)
If the circumstantial evidence isn’t convincing enough for you then you need only look at the RSPB report on bird crime and raptor persecution (http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/birdcrime_tcm9-260567.pdf), in particular pp. 36-37 which catalogues the woeful record of convictions for the “very good laws” we have. These laws may be good but surely this amounts to abundant evidence that they are not being effectively enforced and possibly cannot be effectively enforced. Vicarious liability seems to me a solution to this problem since risking the wrath of employers disincentivises this criminal activity.
I hope you can provide answers which will fill me with hope.
Copy of Defra’s reply sent to Dr. Webster in response to his e-mail dated 14 August he sent to the Minister for the Environment and Fisheries, the Rt. Hon. Richard Benyon MP. Anyone reading Defra’s reply received by Dr. Webster written by Kevin Woodhouse Defra – Customer Contact Unit, will immediately realise none of the issues raised by Dr. Webster have been addressed.
Dear Dr. Webster
Thank you for your email of 14 August to Richard Benyon, raising concerns about the illegal killing of birds of prey. I have been asked to reply and apologise for the delay in doing so.
The offences in section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and enforcement action against offenders, has resulted in a number of successful prosecutions in England over the past few years but clearly while crimes against wildlife, and raptors in particular, continue to be committed we must continue to take the right steps to tackle these.
The Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime, for example, works to reduce offending through education and awareness-raising to help people know what, and to whom they should report, if they witness or find evidence of an offence. It also encourages effective enforcement through partnership working to help ensure that wildlife enforcers have access to appropriate expertise and experience.
To help target enforcement effort the UK sets wildlife crime priorities every two years, following a strategic assessment of UK wildlife crime carried out by the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU). The priorities are set taking into account the conservation status of the species concerned and the number of reports of incidents submitted to the NWCU.
In March 2011 the UK Wildlife Crime Tasking and Co-ordinating Group, based upon recommendations from the NWCU, identified raptor persecution (focusing on the golden eagle, goshawk, hen harrier, red kite and white tailed eagle; and additionally from 1 April 2011 – the peregrine falcon) as a UK wildlife crime priority. A ‘plan owner’, responsible for leading work to tackle the priority, has been appointed together with ‘prevention’, ‘enforcement’ and ‘intelligence’ leads. Each ‘plan owner’ sets an overarching objective for tackling the priority and compiles an action plan to steer activity to meet that objective. The plan owner is accountable to a group of senior Government and enforcement officials.
You mention hen harriers in the uplands. It is concerning that this species remains on the brink of extinction as a breeding bird in England. Evidence suggests that this is largely due to illegal persecution. Hen harriers as you may be aware are mobile birds that inhabit large remote upland areas and enforcing the legal protection of hen harriers is incredibly problematic.
A number of measures are being taken to help improve the status of hen harriers and clearly more needs to be done. Defra Officials are involved with the Environment Council facilitated Hen Harrier Dialogue Working Group where RSPB is also a member. The Dialogue provides an opportunity to engage Government and non-government organisations, with the objective of finding a sustainable solution to improve hen harrier population growth alongside the needs of grouse moor managers. The Environment Council is commissioning a scoping study to investigate the potential of using rearing facilities as a tool for improving the conservation status of hen harriers and Defra has allocated £10,000 to this work in the 2011/12 financial year.
In addition, the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, supported by many of those involved in the Dialogue, is trialling methods, such as diversionary feeding, that might enable an economically viable grouse moor and healthy hen harrier population to co-exist.
In relation to vicarious liability, and the persecution of raptors, I am aware the Scottish Executive intends, through the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act (Scotland) 2011, to introduce vicarious liability for certain offences by an employee or agent. I understand these offences will come into force in Scotland later this year, or early in 2012. It is important however that such measures are able to deliver a real improvement in the enforcement of wildlife offences and as yet it is not possible to assess whether the recent amendments in Scotland will do this. We will, however, be looking closely at how the new offences in Scotland work in practice and will consider this when shaping future policy in England in relation to vicarious liability for certain wildlife offences.
I can assure you that we take any persecution of raptors very seriously and remain committed to ensuring the strict protection afforded these wild birds under our wildlife legislation is effectively enforced.
Defra – Customer Contact Unit
Copy of Dr. Webster’s reply sent Tuesday September 13 to Kevin Woodhouse at Defra – Customer Contact Unit copied below:
Dear Mr Woodhouse
Thank you for your reply, although I am somewhat confused as to why my complaint to Mr Benyon has been shuffled on to you. Perhaps you can make him aware of my disappointment.
You are right, there have been a number of prosecutions for raptor persecution over the past few years (141 counts between 1990 and 2009 according to the RSPB’s 2009 birdcrime report), but given the difficulty of collecting evidence of crimes of this nature we may safely assume these represent merely the tip of the iceberg. Furthermore these prosecutions sadly all too often result only in paltry fines and have never to my knowledge punished the landowners who fund this persecution. This is where vicarious liability could make a difference and it is lamentable that in England we lag behind Scotland’s example on this issue.
Whilst the efforts of PAW and others are laudable and well-meaning, it is all too clear then that the underlying culture of raptor persecution remains in rude health.
I am intrigued by your reference to the tackling of raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority. Should this step fail to bring about a significant improvement (forgive any scepticism about government set targets) may we hope/expect to see stronger legislation introduced so as to aid law enforcement in tackling this endemic problem?
I am glad to hear you recognise that illegal persecution is the cause of the hen harriers’ alarming decline. Would that Mr Benyon would make a similar admission of some shooting estates’ undoubted culpability in this decline, but such a move would undoubtedly seem impolitic given the abundance of keen “sportsmen” amongst his peers and supporters. It is too sad.
I am afraid that your announcement of £10,000 to investigate the potential of using rearing facilities is palpably absurd. The sum of money is meaningless and the stated aim ill-advised. There is little point breeding birds if they will inevitably be shot, trapped or poisoned upon release. Diversionary feeding is a stop-gap measure at best, one that is clearly unsustainable in terms of supporting a healthy, wide ranging harrier population.
I hope the vicarious liability legislation proposed in Scotland is enacted and is then successful in reducing the shameful ongoing persecution of the UK’s natural heritage. If it is I hope England will swiftly follow Scotland’s example. However, I fear the underlying difficulties in collecting conclusive evidence of raptor persecution and the slim likelihood of catching anyone in the act of leaving out poison mean prosecutions will remain rare.
A better solution would be a cultural change – something which I understand is beyond your remit! Never the less I will outline my feeling that driven grouse shooting (a Victorian mode of entertainment) must be consigned to the dustbin of “sporting” history in much the same way as tiger shooting is now deemed unacceptable. The slaughter of hundreds of birds in a day demands the exclusion of any competitors, be it raptors or mammalian predators. Walked up grouse on the other hand could still provide revenue to moorland estates, would not demand the same factory production of huge numbers of grouse and would be an experience offering more physical reward for an overweight nation! A day’s walked up grouse shooting would only be enhanced by the magical sight of a hen harrier quartering the heather in low graceful flight.
Dr Hugh Webster.