Ross red kites slaughter shows guard must be up as ‘crime maps’ unveiled

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THE shocking persecution of birds of prey in Ross-shire has been used to warn against complacency over new statistics showing a drop in offences revealed in new “crime maps”. The number of recorded bird of prey crimes in Scotland decreased from 23 in 2013 to 19 in 2014 — despite the Ross-shire poisonings which sent shockwaves around the world.

Species targeted included the red kite, buzzard, peregrine falcon, goshawk, golden eagle, hen harrier and tawny owl. The figures published by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland show six reported bird of prey poisoning incidents in Scotland in 2014, the same number as in 2013. Two of these cases are not included on the maps as they remain under live police investigation and no further details have been released.

The maps show that other methods of persecution in 2014 included shooting, trapping and disturbance. This is a clear reflection that birds of prey are continuing to be persecuted in the Scottish countryside, whether by deliberate or accidental means.

Although the well-publicised case in Ross-shire resulted in an increase in the number of individual birds confirmed poisoned, the figures show an overall reduction from 2010 where the five-year figures were at their highest level of 28 birds poisoned over 22 separate incidents.

Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Aileen McLeod, who is also chair of PAW Scotland, said: “It is good to see that there has been a reduction in the overall number of crimes in 2014 compared to 2013.

However, there is no room for complacency: 2014 saw one of the worst ever poisoning cases with the discovery of 12 dead red kites and four buzzards in Ross-shire, which is why the Scottish Government is continuing to take action to tackle raptor persecution.

“I recently launched a scheme to get rid of illegal pesticides which could be used to poison wildlife. The scheme allows those who know, or suspect they are in possession of certain pesticides which are illegal, to dispose of them safely and confidentially. I have also put in place arrangements to restrict the use of general licences where there is evidence of wildlife crime.

“In the last few months, we have seen the first ever custodial sentence for the killing of birds of prey and the first conviction of a land owner under the vicarious liability provisions, for crimes committed in 2012. This sends out a clear message to those who continue to pursue these illegal and cruel practices against Scotland’s birds of prey that this will not be tolerated.”

Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg said: “We, as an organisation, are delighted to see the figures falling. This is certainly not by accident but down to a lot of hard work, frank talking and education. As an organisation, we will continue to work with PAW partners and move towards fairness and equal access to sensible legal options for dealing with species conflict, in whatever form that takes. If this can be progressed in a mature way, we feel wildlife crime can be reduced even further, and faster.”

Tim Baynes, moorland group director for Scottish Land and Estates said the organisation was “delighted” to see the reduction  in bird of prey crimes, but warned: “The land management community can never take its eye off this issue, but we hope that there will be recognition of the efforts that have been made to ensure a continuing downward trend in incidents related to land management.

“We strongly support the scheme recently launched to get rid of illegal pesticides which will help to minimise the risk of any more incidents such as the one in Ross-shire in 2014, where farmers and landowners have offered rewards for information. Scottish Land & Estates will continue to work with other PAWS partners to play its part in ensuring that all types of bird of prey crimes will become a thing of the past.”

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations said: “While we acknowledge that numbers of detected poisoning incidents continue to be at relatively low levels, this is only part of the story. While occasionally there are high-profile incidents such as that on the Black Isle, there continues to be a campaign of illegal killing against our protected birds of prey in some areas, as evidenced by the recent film released by Police Scotland showing the systematic targeting of a goshawk nest, and the absence of successfully breeding hen harriers, peregrines and golden eagles in many areas of our uplands.”

Meanwhile  reacting to the announcement of a new police-backed campaign to raise awareness of wildlife crime, Let’s Get MAD for Wildlife and its associates, Wildlife Crime Aware, welcomed the initiative.

A spokeswoman said: “We hope it has substance and is successful in combatting wildlife crime in Scotland. We also hope that reported incidents are taken seriously, acted upon appropriately and quickly investigated, leading to more prosecutions.

“Last year’s awful poisoning incident at Conon Bridge, where red kites and buzzards were illegally killed, and the subsequent- some say botched- police investigation was a prime example of why this and other initiatives are needed.

“The next step, in our opinion, would be to make harsher sentencing available to our courts for these crimes, and even minimum sentences. The paltry fines given to wildlife criminals at the moment are no deterrent at all. We would also like to see the SSPCA be given further investigative powers to assist Police Scotland in these cases, as their expertese would be invaluable. This decision is expected very soon.

“All in all, it is good to see our police and politicians beginning to take a real stand on the side of the voiceless, our precious wildlife. It is vulnerable and needs to be cherished and better protected.”

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Fact file

The maps and further information can be accessed online at www.PAW.Scotland.gov.uk

The species of birds confirmed as poisoned in 2014 include: Red kite (13); buzzard (5); peregrine falcon (1).

Details of two of the six 2014 poisoning incidents, including the species involved, cannot be released at this stage due to ongoing police investigations.

The additional maps showing wider methods of persecution have been compiled as reported crimes demonstrated that other methods were in play and needed to be taken into account when talking about raptor crime.

Vicarious liability was introduced following a full debate on wildlife crime in the Scottish Parliament during the passage of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill in 2011.

It is a ground-breaking new provision to deal with landowners and managers who turn a blind eye to employees committing offences against wild birds on their land. Vicarious liability came into force on January 1, 2012. It does not have retrospective effect, and so applies only to offences committed after that date. The first vicarious liability conviction in Scotland was achieved in December 2014.

January 2015 saw the first jail sentence for crimes against birds of prey, when an Aberdeenshire gamekeeper was sentenced to four months in prison for killing a goshawk and other offences.

This article was first published in the Ross-shire Journal 7 April 2015

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