Gamekeepers are being prosecuted for wildlife crime while conservationists escape punishment for more serious offences thanks to “unacceptable double standards” by the countryside quango, it was claimed. Gamekeepers have questioned why the authorities are allowing illegally-released beavers to flourish in the wild.
Bert Burnett, a senior member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), reeled off a list of examples of animals and birds being disturbed through poor field practices or animals and birds being released into the wild illegally without any penalty.
He said Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the quango in charge, give self-styled conservationists a “get out of jail free” card and gamekeepers would never be treated so leniently The intervention by Mr Burnett, who recently retired after a lifetime of game keeping in the Angus glens, concluded by stating: “It’s pretty obvious there is a bias at work here.” His comments came after the SGA last week accused the authorities of inaction over growing numbers of illegally-released wild boar, which the organisation said are harming the countryside.
SNP ministers have also faced questions over beavers illegally freed in Tayside, which are also said to be causing “substantial damage”. The gamekeeper claimed SNH trappers could not tell the difference between beavers and otters.
“Several times our members have reported nest desertion of raptors (eagle and harriers) caused by photographers and monitors. When contacted, SNH referred the incidents to the police,” he said. Despite there being witnesses, no charges were ever brought. It would seem that if you hold a disturbance license it acts as a ‘get out of jail free card. He cited another example where an eagle owl was illegally released into the wild, an incident that was reported to the police after being witnessed by several gamekeepers. However, Mr Burnett said no charges were brought because officers said they could not prove it was an eagle owl despite the owners admitting its identity and it having been inspected by a vet.
The gamekeeper said he found raptors being disturbed by bird ringers and monitors on days of heavy wind and rain, thereby exposing the chicks to the elements.
Despite reporting the incidents to SNH, he said nothing was done. “This follows a pattern where, if you are connected to the recognised ‘conservation’ movement, no real effort is made to follow up allegation,” Mr Burnett wrote.
Mr Burnett questioned whether those releasing wild boar will be charged or “hailed as the heroes who have circumnavigated the legal introductions sought by a few conservationists.”
Nick Halfhide, SNH’s head of operations, welcomed the SGA’s help with and condemnation of wildlife crime. He said the quango takes all allegations seriously “and pass any reports to the police for investigation”.
The North West Raptor Group experienced similar activities in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland undertaken by two licensed field workers in 2009 and 2010. After reporting to Natural England the failure to coordinate nest visits, a licence requirement, one BTO ringer was stopped from ringing raptors in Lancashire, but retained his licence to visit nests in Cumbria. However after Natural England had been provided with several additional signed witness statements detailing the poor field craft of a second licensed field worker after he had made numerous uncoordinated visits to peregrine and hen harrier nest sites, including one uncoordinated visit to a peregrine nest accommpaiued by his young grandson resulting in the police being alerted, Natural England’s response was: “stop wasting our time.”
Sadly what happened next was totally illogical, creating even more problems for raptor within the Forest of Bowland generally. Instead of dealing with these serious allegations in a professional and unbiased manner Natural England revoked both hen harrier and peregrine licenses held by members of the North West Raptor Group who’s members had acted responsibly by reporting the unacceptable behaviour which had been observed by their members. Following the removal of licenses which had been held the members of the NWRG for over over four decades just two years ago, breeding hen harriers have been lost from the region and many historical peregrine territories are now known to have been abandoned throughout the same area.
Just as important these territorial desertions together with the disappearance of numerous pairs of breeding peregrines from the same nesting sites during the past three seasons, apart from the extinction of the hen harrier in Bowland, are not being recorded by Natural England or the RSPB as far as we know. If they are, these losses are being kept secret for one reason or another. Perhaps this is what Natural England’s former Chief Executive Helen Phillips called maintaining the biodiversity of England’s countryside! Prior to Helen Philip’s departure from Natural England she stated the then status quo relating to birds of prey in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland was unaccaptable. Since making that statement, without the work previously undertaken by the North West Raptor Group to protect Bowland’s raptors it has to be said the current situation since the group lost their licenses casts more than a dark shaddow upon Natural England’s agenda here.