‘Double standards’ over wildlife crime, claims Scottish gamekeepers

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. 


15 comments to ‘Double standards’ over wildlife crime, claims Scottish gamekeepers

  • Tony Warburton MBE

    What a fascinating site Raptor Politics is! Read the last three paragraphs of this report, then go to ‘Older Posts’ and read the following comment from RP in the report ‘Bowland Eagle Owls – Fantastic Success 2011′(June 7 2011). I quote: – Well done everyone concerned (re. the rearing of 4 Eagle Owlets (the best brood ever to be reared on the UU Estate), let’s just hope the present trend continues. Particular thanks must go to William Murphy and William Hesketh. Well done lads”.

    • admin

      Just to be clear, Mr Warburton MBE – are you accusing one or other of the gentlemen you named as being responsible for disturbing raptors in Bowland?

  • paul williams

    And many thanks to them for their nest twitching resulting in NO breeding Hen Harriers this year.

  • Kevin Moore

    As a member of the North West Raptor Group may i say losing my licence along with the rest of the group membership for use in the Forest of Bowland had more to do with reporting a number of clear breaches of licence conditions together with poor and inexcusable field etiquette undertaken by one particular licensed field worker.Together with a colleague we witnessed a number of visits by this person to Hen Harrier sites either as a nest was under construction, or just as eggs were being laid, a very critical period for any breeding raptor. On another occasion after the same licensed individual had been asked not to visit a recently located ground nesting Peregrine nest containing 4 freshly laid eggs, this sound advice was almost immediately disregarded.The nest visit which was then undertaken,contrary to the responsible advice given, was witnessed by one member of the NWRG together with a member of the public resulted in the pair of nesting Peregrines being disturbed and kept from their nest for over one hour by a person who should have known better. Because the visit had not been coordinated at all, after the police had been alerted, it was only then discovered the visit had been carried out by the same licensee who astonishingly had been accompanied to the nest by his young grandson.

    Looking back on theses events and how our subsequent reports were treated and then dismissed by Defras representative Natural England, I have to admit Natural England appeared more interested in covering up what had been reported rather than taking steps to ensure such inexcusable behaviour was not repeated.

    Having been advised of the uncoordinated and unnecessary peregrine nest visit,the peregrine coordinator requested the BTO to remove the name of the licensed individual from his licence which they did immediately. Curiously within days the BTO had been instructed by Natural England to reinstate the licence.

    Shortly after the events outlined above and a number of additional incidents which i have not provided had been reported, Natural England revoked peregrine and hen harrier permits for use within the Forest of Bowland which had been held by group members for over 45 years. In the two years which have now elapsed since licenses were revoked, the Forest of Bowland has witnessed the extinction of all breeding hen harrier and a substantial reduction in numbers of occupied peregrine territories throughout this important upland region of Lancashire. I know the reason but do Natural England or DEFRA care?

  • David Shaw

    Mr Burnett is right to criticise the poor performance of members of Conservation organisations who have not met the high standards expected of them. Such individuals should be appropraitely disciplend or dismissed.

    However he should not pretend that gamekeepers are treated harshly by the authorities. Many who have been caught in posession of banned poisons have been punished for illegally stocking such substances but although the same people have in many cases been almost certainly responsible for the deaths of eagles and other raptors they have usually escaped conviction on these more serious charges.

    They are thus free to continue committing crimes against threatened wildlife.

    It is also suspected that scottish gamekeepers are not only killing raptors over huge tracts of mountain and moorland but other animals that are seen to conflict with the interests of their clients – mountain hares – rare animals in need of protection.

    The elimination of large numbers of raptors throughout game rearing areas by the people Mr Burnett defends is a national disgrace and evidence of widespread and systematic flouting of wildlife protection laws.

    To sweep all this under the carpet and to concentrate on the purported damage caused by beavers is to equate two completely different issues.

    In the latter, it is important that compensation should be paid to landowners where it can be proven that damage has occurred and non-lethal ways of managing beavers should be adopted, as they are in other countries in Europe where these animals are much more common and their important contributions to the ecology and economies of the places where they live are recognised.

    in the meantime pressure should continue to be exerted on gamekeepers who impoverish our countryside and the people who employ them, and strenuous efforts should be made to counter the avalanche of wild claims made against raptors and conservation organisations – many of them displaying the kind of ignorance Burnett criticises in conservationists.
    For make no mistake, what we are now seeing is a concerted campaign of misinformation propogated by the enemies of nature conservation.

  • MJ

    Why would mountain hares be killed by gamekeepers?

    Editor’s Comment, it seems that they pass ticks to game birds and are therefore not welcome on grouse moors

  • MJ

    Thanks for reply Ed but I’d have thought that would leave more hungry ticks around to infest other creatures.

  • Well! Well!,what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to decieve seems to apply here.

    The two Bill’s were my two strongest supporters when I started the campaign to protect the Bowland Eagle Owls, saying that they were right behind me and supported me wholeheartedly but how things changed and it seems that the very people who were their friends soon changed into the enemy, I wonder why????

    When the North West Raptor Group reported that a small number of licensed people were visiting nest sites too many times and taking family members along to the nest, which by the way is breaking the rules of their licenses, the tables turned, it is obvious that what the NWRG reported was correct and nest sites were disturbed causing the failure of many sites. I thought the whole idea was to protect these raptors not become serial nest site visitors, shame on you.

    The very people who shout the loudest about these matters, I mention no names, draw your own conclusions, are the ones who have created a smoke screen and covered it all up to further their own ends.

    I find some of the reports with regard to the Bowland EO’s very bizzare to say the least, but then I am not a so called “expert”, but I do not believe that a pair of EO’s that had been disturbed so many times this year would go on to produce three clutches of eggs ending in the last clutch being successfu, or was it the first clutch? If the eggs hatched why were the chicks not rung, or were they? I can’t believe that these people would keep this a secret and lose even more publicity, but who knows what is going on. I also believe that the letter sent to me was a put up job to hide what was really going on which I find disgraceful.

    I do what I do because of my genuine love for these wonderful birds not for glory and fame, I know which comes first but it is obvious to me that some people don’t.

    • Skydancer

      Chrissie like you I have never been entirely convinced of the reliability of published events contained in the World Owl Trust report outlining the successful breeding of the pair of Bowland eagle owls in the Forest of Bowland this year. http://www.owls.org/Conservation/announcement.pdf

      Having spent most of the last evening re-reading the WOT press release, presumably written by Mr Warburton MBE, I am now firmly convinced there is more than some suspicion supporting your view that the anonymous letter you received was indeed contrived and bogus.

      Let’s just examine the events which took place according to the WOT report after the first nesting attempt had been disrupted by the shooting syndicate followed closely by the reported disappearance of the old female, paying particular attention to each of the dates.

      “On 11 March he (OLD MALE) was seen accompanied by what was easily recognizable as a new female by her exceptionally large size and dark russet-brown colouration. She was found to be incubating a single egg and from then on the nest wasn’t disturbed”.

      “On Sunday 25 March it was reported to RSPB Bowland Officer Jude Lane that two young men had called in at the nearby farm (why would they do this?) to report that they had just disturbed an adult Eagle Owl and had discovered a nest containing one smashed egg from which the yolk was still wet”.

      Here we have a situation where because two single eggs were found contained in different nests some 14 days apart, the report must be referring to two different nesting attempts made within separate territories. Eagle owls like most larger raptors lay their eggs 48 hours apart, I will leave you to do the simple maths.

      “It was therefore with a great sense of relief that on the 30 March the new dark female and a calling male (probably the usual breeder) were relocated at a new site which for obvious reasons we do not intend to disclose”.

      We are now being informed, if I am understanding correctly what the report says, the pair of EO’s consisting of the old male and the new exceptionally large female deserted the nest containing the single egg found on 11th March relocating once again to a second nest discovered on 30th March.

      “Because we were anxious not to cause the pair any further disturbance which would cause this marvellous area to be deserted completely, it was not until 19 May that we were able to confirm that the birds had continued breeding despite the trauma of losing their first egg(s). On that date a lone owlet was found at the estimated age of c.3 – 4 weeks-old, strongly suggesting that this individual was the product of a replacement or continuation clutch (not unknown in this species)”.

      After very careful examination of the detail and dates contained within the WOT report, taking account of the number of nests containing single eggs allegedly found, there are only three possibilities which fit the described scenario we are asked to believe.

      The first nesting attempt by the original pair resulting in the mysterious disappearance of the old female was caused by disturbance after a shooting syndicate had ventured into the territory. The WOT report accepts this assessment.

      Second after the loss of the original female (never explained) two pairs of breeding EO’s existed in the same territory, not very likely.

      Third, the details in the letter sent to Chrissie Harper describing the events which were alleged to have taken place over the weekend 24/25 March resulting in the location of a second nest containing a single freshly broken egg were completely untrue. These particulars were simply concocted to divert blame away from desertion of the first nesting territory caused by a shooting syndicate, together with the desertion of the first nest containing a single egg found on 11th March, each located on the United Utilities estate. Nor are these events in my opinion supported by the dates enclosed within the WOT report, or by normal EO breeding behaviour, unless at least one pair were feeding on steroids.

      The saving grace for everyone involved with this years EO project were summed up by the following sentence taken from the report:

      “It was therefore with a great sense of relief that on the 30 March the new dark female and a calling male (probably the usual breeder) were relocated at a new site which for obvious reasons we do not intend to disclose”.

  • paul williams

    Another cover up of persecution… UNCOVERED.

  • Like you Skydancer I find this tale of events to bizzare to be true, but then I have only been working with owls for twenty years so as I said I am not an “expert” as some profess to be, I have done the maths and also spoken to several other people who say this is not possible. What the hell is going on here? because the safety of these wonderful owls is certainly not high on the list of priorities, it is all about peoples ego trips, the day I put myself before the owls I work so very hard for and seek glory in every corner I will pack it all in, this is disgraceful, lies, lies and more lies, it makes me sick.

    It seems that even people who breed owls in captivity are not all squeaky clean either, myself and a few others, some who have first hand knowledge of this matter are looking into the export of owls to Japan from this country, where they lead a very sad and short life, this should be banned, the sooner the better.

  • Wendy Wilson

    Chrissie I am so very sorry to learn about all these problems and I know how you must be feeling. I am unable to understand why natural England removed licenses from the one group of people who could perhaps have made a difference, while on the other hand disregarding completely the unacceptable actions of a small number of people who appear to treat the birds with contempt. Surely the time has come for a complete investigation by an independent body to establish what has been going on instead of just leaving these important matters as they are?

  • paul williams

    Wendy, that is a very good point you made, an independent body to establish what is really happening in Bowland.And maybe they could ask for Diary Data to investigate nest visits.

  • nirofo

    While I agree it would be good to get an independent body to find out what is really going on at Bowland, (and elsewhwere for that matter), I am at a loss to know who would be so independent and unbiased with the required knowledge to carry out such a task. Unfortunately there are quite a few unscrupulous individuals with big ego’s involved in the Bowland shenanigans, (they know who they are), these people need to be brought down to earth and made to put the birds welfare before their own. If this doesn’t happen then I’m afraid this whole sad affair is likely to continue with the birds being the main losers as usual.

    Editor’s Comment. Thank you for this comment nirofo, you are right of course, but it does appear to us that because of who these individuals answer to its more important to protect them, continue to provide them with licenses allowing them to carry on their work irrespective of all the harm they have done and will continue to do to the birds in Bowland. Multiple nest visits into territories just as the birds are beginning to build their nests or lay eggs, visiting nests with small children and keeping birds from their nests for over one hour twenty minutes seems to be the norm here, says a lot about the kind of people responsible. We are convinced that if Micky Mouse applied for a licence Natural England would issue one. Meanwhile responsible people lose their licenses after four and a half decades of dedicated hard work, yes Bowland’s raptors are in a mess, little wonder we lost all our harriers. It looks possible peregrines will be next!

  • Just as I also said Nirofo, too many people with big ego’s just wanting to get a name for themselves at what ever cost, giving out far fetched information that anyone who knows these birds will immediately know is not correct, after all they were quick enough to shout about, and publicise all about the Eagle Owls when they went to the nest site to ring the young. I ask once again, if they did produce young this year why were they not rung? as I can’t believe they would miss out on the opportunity to blow their trumpets yet again if what they say is correct.

    If the old male has a new partner then what has happened to the older female, has she been shot, like a good many more in Bowland? I fear for these owls and I think I am correct to do so as keeping things “A Secret” indicates to me that nothing good has happened to these birds. Who is to say that the very people who are supposed to protect them once again visited the nest site once too often, which seems their common practice, and desturbed them? Why did the new pair move two or was it three times from their regular nesting site used for so many years? These are questions that need to be answered truthfully as what we have been led to believe is just to farsical for words. Perhaps it is time for some of these egotistical people to retire gracefully and let genuine people who really do care take over. I am now hearing that United Utilities are currently undertaking a major upgrade of a number of water intakes in both the Brennand and Whitendale valleys. What kind of impact will this work have on the eagle owls I wonder. Has any thought gone into this possibility or not?