Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association condemns raptor persecution as new report shows some improvement.

Latest figures show that only two birds of prey were found deliberately poisoned in the Scottish Borders in 2011. The report can not say however how many birds were poisoned which were never found. The full report can be read here.

The raptors’ deaths and other abusive and accidental poisonings were revealed in a report for 2011 published by the Scottish Government’s Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) last Thursday.

Peeblesshire gamekeeper Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), said: “As far as we (SGA) are concerned, this is two too many. We cannot condone this outdated practice and we have worked extremely hard to ensure this message gets across.” Words are fine Alex, but its action that is required now. The findings mirror the previous year’s figures for the region when the tally was two poisoned buzzards.

Across Scotland the death toll of birds of prey the result of deliberate poisoning is down by half on 2010. But the total number of cases – accidental as well as abuse poisonings – needing investigation rose, from 233 in 2010 to 237 in 2011.

Confirmed abuse instances across the country are down from 32 in 2010 to 16 in 2011. But Scotland’s birds of prey remain the biggest number of victims of deliberate poisoning, with seven buzzards, a golden eagle, two peregrine falcons, four red kites and two sparrowhawks recorded as  killed in 2011. Understandably Mr Hogg is taking heart from good initial reports for this year, so far.

“We are really encouraged by SASA statistics for the first half of this year (which) show only two bird of prey poisoning cases across the whole of Scotland. None of these are in the Borders, an area where lots of sport shooting takes place. “It is really encouraging to see that efforts are beginning to pay off.  Alex can it be your sporting friends are becoming much better at concealing their actions when it comes to persecution and the birds that are being killed?

The progress from 2011 to now has been staggering, which is excellent news.” The 2011 figures mark a turnaround for the Borders which just two years ago was regarded as a “hot spot” for illegal raptor poisoning by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland, whose members include Scottish Natural Heritage, police, land managers, SGA and conservation organisations.

Two years earlier, in 2008, the region recorded the highest ever number of poisoned baits for the killing of birds of prey in the same location when 25 carcasses of rabbits and hares laced with deadly carbofuran were discovered within a square mile of countryside near Greenlaw, between March and September.

New Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, the Berwickshire-based south of Scotland list MSP who also chairs PAW Scotland, said: “Scotland’s natural environment is one of our most valuable assets. It is essential we protect it and ensure it is a safe place to be for all users, as well as wildlife and domestic animals. “Illegal and incorrect usage of pesticides is totally unacceptable.”

Mr Wheelhouse described illegal poisoning as an “outdated, dangerous and cruel practice” and said: “We should not rest until all such poisonings are eliminated.” All we can say Mr Wheelhouse its about time you started to put your money where your mouth is by changing legislation in Scotland which will ensure the courts are able to bring successful prosecutions.  

The SASA report records the Borders’ first illegal poisoning last year in January when a buzzard was found dead in an area where there is a history of raptor persecution. Analysis confirmed it had been poisoned.

In February a tawny owl and a buzzard were found dead in the same place within a week of each other. Testing showed rat poison in their bodies but investigators categorise the deaths as “unspecified”. The following month two buzzards were found dead below power lines. Testing showed low levels of poison in their bodies, but investigators say the cause of death was unknown.

In September a buzzard was found dead and, although tests showed low levels of poison in its body, officers again decided its cause of death was unknown. The same month a raven was found illegally poisoned with insecticide.

RSPB Scotland’s head of species and land management, Duncan Orr-Ewing said: “We welcome efforts by land management interests to reduce and hopefully, in time, eliminate the devastating impacts of illegal poisoning on protected bird of prey species. We call on the public to be vigilant and report suspected illegal poisoning incidents to the police.”

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said: “The systematic targeting and poisoning of birds of prey is a serious wildlife crime that is extremely difficult to identify and prove. Yes this point has already been noted Mr Flynn, however however despite what you claim with very few if any successful prosecutions throughout the last 23 years, we would conclude bringing any successful prosecution was impossible not just difficult.

Mr Flynn went on to say “We are pleased whenever an individual receives a criminal conviction for this offence and believe all convictions send out a clear message that this is a crime which will not be tolerated.” They may not be tolerated Mr Flynn but such wildlife crimes are continuing because the message being sent out is very clear, you will not be caught or prosecuted under current legislation.

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