Dave Dick says those guilty of bird crimes in Scotland are being let off the hook.

Former RSPB investigations officer in Scotland has revealed he quit his job because landowners, police and even the judiciary were seriously undermining laws designed to protect birds of prey. In his new book Wildlife Crime, based on 25 years of undercover operations, Dave Dick says he resigned as head investigator for the RSPB because he was “sick to the back teeth” of gamekeepers getting away with killing raptors.

Dick’s allegations include landowners committing perjury and police tipping off gamekeepers that they were about to visit.

Despite the Wildlife Protection Act of 1981, which allows a £5,000 fine or six months in prison for killing a wild bird, 29 raptors were illegally poisoned in 2010 alone.

The number of breeding pairs of golden eagles has dwindled to 442 while goshawks are down to 410.

Dick had hoped the Scottish Parliament would crack down on the killing. But he said: “I fear that will never happen while the power and influence of estate owners and establishment interests, allied to an underfunded and unmotivated police force, reigns supreme.”

The grouse shooting industry in Scotland alone is worth £240 million a year and raptors often kill the game birds.

Dick’s book details how gamekeepers regularly escape prosecution for trapping, shooting or poisonings the birds. He claims that in one case a major landowner lied at the trial of a gamekeeper.

Dick called in police after discovering numerous traps set within a few hundred metres of the landowner’s home.

He said: “The owner of the estate turned up in court. He said, ‘I was there and everything was fine.’ He was introduced as being whiter than white. He just lied through his teeth in court.

“I knew this guy lied because I had seen the traps myself. He would have been on all the shoots, it was within 300 metres of his house. I don’t think nobility describes these people.”

Dick claims investigations and prosecutions could also be frustrated because police were too close to gamekeepers.

He said: “When I gave [police] the name of the local gamekeeper, I was told, ‘Oh he’s a nice bloke, it won’t be him,’ and that was the end of that case.

In the book, Dick writes: “When trying to follow up a blatant case of peregrine persecution… in the Borders I was told by a policeman in the first police office I visited to go to the next village office because his colleagues were too friendly with that keeper.”

Dick, from Moffat, said the police would often discreetly inform gamekeepers the RSPB was onto them.

Dick claims that, in some cases, even members of the judiciary are failing to bring the full weight of the law to bear.

In one case, a gamekeeper was in court for setting a trap to catch a goshawk. Dick said: “We then watched the Fiscal stand up and begin to outline the prosecution case and charges. The sheriff quickly interrupted him. ‘What? You mean I can’t kill these birds if they are taking my pheasants?’

“The sheriff then merely admonished the head keeper – giving him a warning but no financial or other penalty – and we left the court, stunned and angry.

“A man had admitted intentionally catching a goshawk, a Schedule 1 rarity and could have faced a fine of up to £5,000. But a law whose very existence was the result of perhaps a century of struggle by conservationists had just been trampled on.”

Dick added: “I had 25 years of this crap! I was sick to the back teeth of it. That’s why I left. I wasn’t being allowed to do what the public wanted me to do.”

A spokesman for OneKind, which monitors wildlife crime, said: “In our experiences wildlife crime is not given the weight it should be given, and it’s not pursued as vigorously as we would like it to be.”

A law of “vicarious liability”, which means landowners are now responsible for crimes carried out on their estates, only entered the statute book last month. The spokesman said: “The acid test will be when a landowner is taken to court.”

An RSPB spokesman praised Dick’s “important contribution” to combating wildlife crime, saying: “We will be pressing for the resources devoted to wildlife crime enforcement to be maintained, and increased where possible.”

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) said statistics show wildlife crime is on the decline, and is informing its members of the law around wildlife crime. “As an active member of Partnership Against Wildlife Crime, and as an organisation, the SGA takes its responsibilities in educating its membership and supporters about the law very seriously.”

4 comments to Dave Dick says those guilty of bird crimes in Scotland are being let off the hook.

  • North West Raptor Protection Group

    Dave we sympathise with you and know just how bad you must feel. The same lack of support for experienced raptor workers and the important work they carry out is currently taking place in Lancashire. After the North West Raptor Protection Group had raised one issue after another with United Utilities plc at joint raptor meetings regarding the persecution of peregrines and hen harriers on their Forest of Bowland estates, following a unanimous group refusal to sign a company confidentiality clause regarding these issues, the group was banned from taking any further active part in raptor conservation throughout the Bowland estate owned by United Utilities. This strategy was carried out by the company in cooperation with Natural England to conceal the criminal persecution of raptors taking place and save company embarrassment caused by these important disclosures. Realising the NWRPG would still be free to make public these criminal incidents by using their licenses to visit and monitor Schedule 1 nests throughout the UU estates, Natural England agreed to a UU request to revoke licenses which they had issued to group members for over four decades. Yes Dave we know just how you feel because we all feel the same way. We now understand and accept how politics and maintaining estate relationships is undermining raptors throughout the UK, placing these relationships first rather than the other way around.

    • Steve

      As a keeper I have read what the North West Raptor Protection Group had to say (26/02) regarding the reasons for the removal of their licenses used on the United Utilities estates with a great interest. If Natural England has removed licenses following a request from a landowner, estate owners who until now have been powerless to restrict raptor monitors entering their property must be eligible for the same treatment?

  • Falcoscot

    I have been involved with falconry for 40 years, in the 80’s the courts gave out a clear message to anyone taking eggs or young from the wild, there were two or three high profile cases in which people were found guilty and then went to PRISON. This was a strong message to anyone thinking of breaking the law and in the main has stopped any wide spread thefts of eggs and young for falconry purposes.

    Until the Courts impose stronger sentences for raptor persecution it will continue.

    Editor’s comment. We could not agree more but sadly we are now fighting the establishment who run our country.

  • Jimmy

    I’m amazed given the scale of this problem that no organization or media outlet in the UK has attempted to go under cover and get some hard evidence on these Lord Muck shooting estates.Its clear they are simply laughing in the face of those trying to stem the widespread illegal killings of protected raptors in the North of Englands and Scotland.Why not use their obvious sense of arrogance and invinciblity to take some of the big players in this dirty business??