The first conviction in Scotland for fox hunting – in 2003!

A relaxing urban fox

The spotlight and battery pack used by the fox hunter on Broughty Ferry beach in 2003

It is great news that there is a public consultation under way in Scotland to look at means of improving the protection of wild mammals. In mid-2017 a stakeholder group was established to develop a new Code of Practice for hunting and also to look into the viability of a new hunt monitoring scheme. The consultation will now consider Lord Bonomy’s recommendations for legislative reform with particular regard to interpretation and enforcement of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002.

The conviction in June this year of two members of the Jedforest Hunt in the Scottish Borders has been cited in the media as the first conviction under the Act for foxhunting. While this is not strictly true it is certainly the first conviction that relates to mounted foxhunting. The first conviction under the Act where foxes were the target was in fact the year after the legislation was enacted and took place at Dundee Sheriff Court.

Here is the tale, as told in my first book, Wildlife Detective:

 

Foxhunting is a country pursuit that engenders vehement opposing views. For my own part I have never been an advocate of killing animals solely for sport. If the reason for the killing is pest control or where the animals or birds killed will ultimately be eaten I have no problems. Killing foxes for sport is how I see fox hunting on horseback. Though there must logically be a degree of pest control if a fox is killed by hounds during a mounted hunt in my view there are far more effective methods of fox control. I can make the clear distinction between mounted hunts and foot packs. Foot packs, where people on foot with a pack of hounds drive foxes forward to waiting guns and the foxes are shot as a means of pest control, are – at least to me – completely different. I am aware of an instance when nine foxes were driven forward from a wood by hounds and were shot by waiting guns. It cannot be argued that that is not good – and humane – fox control.

Though I don’t agree with mounted hunts, everyone is entitled to his or her own view so long as it does not colour their objectivity, judgement and fairness, especially in a role such as that of the police. Lord Watson caused considerable consternation (as opposed to causing a conflagration, which came later in his career) with his Private Member’s Bill on hunting with hounds. Though I have no doubt he started off with the intention of banning fox hunting, in my opinion he made the passing of the Bill much more difficult by trying to include the banning of the use of terriers in a fox den to bolt a vixen or to kill cubs. This no doubt doubled his opposition overnight by involving many gamekeepers, farmers and shepherds in a dispute that hardly, up to that point, affected them.

I had sight of the Bill at several stages in its early days. There were three very clear offences. The offences were to deliberately hunt a wild mammal with a dog (which included the use of more than one dog); for a person to knowingly allow his or her land to be used for the deliberate hunting of a wild mammal with a dog; and lastly for a person being the owner of a dog, to knowingly allow it to be used to deliberately hunt a wild mammal. As in much legislation, the offences are simple: it is the exceptions which complicate something that would otherwise be straightforward. And there were plenty of exceptions; pages and pages of them. Exceptions permitted the stalking, searching for or flushing of wild mammals with dogs above ground and under control for a variety of purposes but only if the person acts to ensure that, once the wild mammal is found or emerges from cover, it is shot or killed by a bird of prey once it is safe to do so. This allowed the hunting of foxes to continue provided the objective was to shoot the fox rather than to have the hounds catch the fox. We frequently have foot packs of hounds out after foxes in Tayside and this activity remains legal and unaffected by the new Act.

Another exception allowed a dog under control to flush a fox or a mink from below ground for various reasons, provided it is shot as soon as possible after it is flushed. This allowed the bolting of vixens from dens with terriers as has been carried out by gamekeepers and shepherds for generations. A further exception allowed the use of a single dog to enter the den after a vixen has been bolted and shot, in order to despatch the cubs. In effect the new Act made little difference to fox control at dens.

Though the exceptions I have cited would be the most widely used, there were many others.

I could see one immediate problem. The definition of mammal excluded a rabbit and a rodent. Where we did have a problem in Tayside was with illegal hare coursing (before the Bill was enacted hare coursing was legal with the permission of the landowner). Landowners, farmers and gamekeepers were contacting me every week regarding groups of men walking over their land with greyhounds and coursing hares. Prior to 2002 when the men had been challenged there were two standard excuses. ‘We were just letting our dogs stretch their legs. They had been cooped up in the car and we thought they needed out.’ Or ‘Our dogs just need the toilet. They just need out for a pee but they ran off. We’re doing no harm mister’ (or constable as the case may be).

I had a variation on this theme in January 2007, when hare coursers alleged that they had to stop and let their two dogs out of the car as they were feeling car-sick. I was intrigued as to how word of this canine malady was transmitted to the human owners? In any event, when we were at the Bill stage I could see a new excuse; ‘We’re just after rabbits. They’re young dogs and they’re not fit for hares anyway.’

I made one or two recommendations for changes to the Bill. Some changes were made, possibly on my recommendations, but no change to the rabbit being deprived of its mammal status. Poor wee rabbits, being ousted as mammals by Lord Watson to join the ranks of the non-mammals. Frogs, snakes, newts, lizards, moths, earthworms, blowflies, beetles, centipedes. . . and rabbits. My prediction came true and a standard excuse now by hare coursers when they are caught is that they are just looking for rabbits. It is still an offence – to trespass on land in unlawful search or pursuit of game – but with a considerably reduced penalty and no power of arrest. At least (in 2003) the rabbits could take comfort that they were still afforded a degree of protection by many of the Game Laws of the 1800s, a privilege denied to worms and beetles!

Mike Watson’s Bill was enacted and became the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. Though it could be argued that it did not achieve what it set out to do, and despite my criticisms, it has been a benefit to us in policing hare coursing, mainly because of the power of arrest and the increased penalties including imprisonment for up to six months.

I was pleased that the first conviction in Scotland under the new legislation was in Dundee. What’s more it was for fox hunting! This remarkable case started off with a call on my mobile phone one evening from a man in Broughty Ferry, which is on the outskirts of Dundee. He told me that on several occasions he had seen someone hunting on Broughty Ferry beach. It was a spotlight that first drew his attention, especially when the spotlight sometimes showed a white light and sometimes a red light. The operator of the spotlight was walking along the beach and the beam was sweeping back and forth. My witness also said that he could hear a squeaking noise like a rabbit in distress.

The reason he had phoned me that particular night was that he had witnessed the man who was operating the light come off the beach on to the road. The man had with him two dogs, a greyhound and a golden retriever. Curious as to what had been taking place, my witness approached him and asked what he was doing. ‘I’m after foxes. There’s loads of them. I catch them in the beam of the light and squeak them in. When they come in a bit I change the beam to red so they’re not spooked. I keep squeaking them in and when they’re close enough I let the dogs go. The dogs go after the fox and catch it. They have great fun.’

My witness said that he was disgusted that this was taking place almost on his doorstep and could we do something about it. My instructions to him were to contact the Control Room in Dundee as soon as he saw the man on the beach with the spotlight again. He promised to do so and apologised for disturbing me in the evening. The next morning I prepared a briefing note for the Control Room and for the police officers covering Broughty Ferry. This was new legislation, it was a type of incident that neither the Control Room staff nor the police officers would have encountered and it was unrealistic to expect them to deal with it efficiently without some basic guidance. The briefing note outlined the type of incident, how it would be reported to the police, the legislation, powers the police officers had to deal with it and my suggestions as to how best to deal with it.

It worked perfectly. Several nights later the incident occurred again. My witness took the action I had requested and the police responded quickly, catching the man as he came off the beach. He had a spotlamp, a battery pack and two dogs and was arrested and charged under the new legislation with deliberately hunting a wild mammal, namely a fox, with two dogs. The witness had gone a stage further and had given the police the name of another person who had watched the evening’s events. It was an unusual case. No foxes had been seen either being caught or even hunted, though the witnesses and the police officers were able to say that foxes were regularly seen scavenging on the beach.

At the trial I and PC Harvey Birse, a Divisional wildlife crime officer, gave evidence. Over the years both of us had often used spotlamps and rifles to shoot rabbits, and also spotlamps, rifles and squeakers to shoot foxes. We described how foxes could be picked up in the beam of a lamp at a considerable distance and how they could be lured closer by the use of a squeaker that simulated the noise of a rabbit or hare in distress. We also explained the use of the red filter on the lamp, which could be used as the fox came closer. While a fox might be reluctant to continue towards a beam of white light they seem to disregard a light with a red filter which is possibly invisible to them.

When giving my evidence I asked the court if they would like the two squeakers demonstrated. One was a large squeaker which I was sure would be used while the fox was still distant, while the other was a small, quiet, squeaker which would be ideal to encourage the fox to continue coming forward to investigate the intriguing sound for the last 100 metres or so. The sheriff agreed he would like the squeakers demonstrated and I started with the loud one. I unfortunately forgot about the microphone and the loudspeaker system in the court and nearly deafened everyone. The court dispensed with the need to demonstrate the second squeaker, however everyone was wide awake to hear the accused being found guilty. He was fined £250 and his spotlight and battery pack, worth about the same, were forfeited.

I was pleased at the result of this case. Though we in Tayside and one or two other forces have used the legislation frequently, this remains, at the beginning of 2007, the only Scottish conviction that relates to the hunting of a fox, the remainder all relating to the hunting of hares.

 

UPDATE:

This remained, until 2017, the only conviction in Scotland under this legislation relating to fox hunting. The outdated Game Acts have now been repealed and replaced with an amended Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This Act gives a better opportunity of a conviction for hare coursing as only one witness is required. The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 is used less often for hare coursing though it does have the benefit in that a person can be banned by the court from keeping animals.

 

See Wildlife Detective and other books on this blog. If you would like a signed copy, plus a free copy of another of my books, The Thin Green Line, contact me on wildlifedetective@gmail.com

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No court case for Hunt Investigation Team covert snaring surveillance

Masked gamekeeper ‘shooting’ off the snare from a snared badger. Surprising if badger not permanently deafened – if it lives! Photo courtesy of Hunt Investigation Team

I wrote on 11 July 2017 of incidents filmed on Moscar Estate in Derbyshire by the Hunt Investigation Team. This undercover team had filmed a snare that may have been a locking snare and claimed they saw a badger in a snare being shot and buried. Worst of all they filmed a masked gamekeeper with a shotgun trying to shoot a snare off a trapped badger. My concluding sentence at the time was:

If the police manage to put a case to the CPS I’ll watch with interest to see if they and the court accept the covert footage.

(see https://wildlifedetective.wordpress.com/2017/07/11/pest-control-practices-filmed-in-the-peak-district-national-park-analysis/ )

It transpires that in early September the police did manage to prepare a case and send it to the Crown Prosecution Service. The charges are not known though it is highly likely that one of the main charges would be a cruelty charge under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 for discharging a shotgun numerous times right beside the terrified badger’s ear then allowing it to run off with two snares round its neck.

On 1 October 2017 a BBC news report stated that the Crown Prosecution Service decided no charges would be brought. Before looking at possible reasons why, it is worth contemplating the view of the owners of Moscar Estate, the Duke and Duchess of Rutland. The BBC news item reported that they were ‘horrified by the allegations’. Does that mean they were horrified by what was filmed happening to the badger? I bet it doesn’t; the wording used indicates they were horrified that there was an allegation that one of their staff could be suspected of breaking the law.

It is also worth contemplating the quote from a spokesman for the estate: “Endangered birds like curlew and lapwing are flourishing in grouse moors because gamekeepers do such a good job at protecting them from foxes.” Maybe so, but for balance he omitted to say that endangered hen harriers were virtually non-existent on grouse moors because gamekeepers do such a good job of killing them.

Returning to CPS dropping the case, why would this be?

Was it not in the public interest? Surely the answer to that is that it is very much in the public interest. Deliberate cruelty to a trapped animal plus a man wearing a mask and with a shotgun.

Was there insufficient evidence? Hard to say without knowing all the facts, but unlikely. The incidents were filmed and the film most likely showed a time and date. It is also unlikely that there was only one observer, since it would be risky for the Hunt Investigation Team only to field one person for a job in the middle of moorland and where firearms may be a factor. There may well therefore have been corroboration.

Was the person with the mask and shotgun not identified? It seems likely that he was, since the police managed to send a report to the CPS. A report would not be sent without details of an accused person.

Did the CPS decline to use film or the evidence that was obtained covertly? There have been precedents where covert surveillance taken by ngos has been accepted, especially in England. However there is a real mixed message since, if this was the reason the case was not proceeded with, it is at least the second case this year in England plus there have been two in Scotland. Of the different reasons for CPS not to take the case to court, this seems the most likely.

Failure of prosecutors to take forward cases where there is apparently clear evidence but obtained through covert filming on ‘private’ land is frustrating for the public. It may even be frustrating for the prosecutor. It seems almost like the law versus common sense. The balance seems tipped hugely in favour of a suspect and against public interest. It is an aspect of the legal system that has intrigued – and annoyed – me for several years and I give it more consideration in my new book Killing by Proxy: an analysis of wildlife crime, due for publication in November.

The Hunt Investigation Team also filmed cruelty to a captive fox at another location. It is still under investigation by the police. Hopefully that one will get to court.

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Book review: Shorebirds in Action by Richard Chandler

For those with a general interest in birds Shorebirds in Action is a ‘must read.’ For readers with a particular interest in shore birds you will be guaranteed to learn a great deal. Even on what may be considered simpler wildlife matters I thought until I read this book that the flocks of oystercatchers regularly seen at times when they should be nesting had all lost their eggs or chicks due to predation or to farming operations. I know now that oystercatchers do not breed until they are at least four years old.

The book explains in depth the different plumage shore birds take on at different seasons and when breeding, their moult strategy, feeding habits, territorial behaviour, bird behaviour, predator avoidance and much more. What I particularly like are the countless and captivating photographs taken specially to illustrate the particular point being made by the author. Much of the text is an explanation linked to a single photograph or a series, which makes it far more easily understood by the layman.

The book includes fascinating case studies about shore bird migration, using data gained from GPS tags, platform transmitter terminals and light-level geolocators. This includes the migration of the bar-tailed godwit on its marathon 12,000 km flight from Alaska to New Zealand.

The full title of the book is Shorebirds in Action: an introduction to waders and their behaviour. The author clearly knows these birds inside out, not just in Europe but across the globe. It is doubtful that much more information could have been included.

 

Shorebirds in Action: an introduction to waders and their behaviour by Richard Chandler.

Whittles Publishing, Dunbeath, Caithness, KW6 6EG. www.whittlespublishing.com  £21.95

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General licence restriction on Edradynate Estate – comment

The remains of a poisoned buzzard found on Edradynate Estate in 2011

So at last there has been a result, albeit, minor, against the catalogue of wildlife crime discovered on Edradynate Estate at Strathtay, Perthshire. Scottish Natural Heritage has restricted the use on the estate of general licences which give the privilege of killing certain birds they may consider as pests. These licences allow landowners or managers to carry out actions which would otherwise be illegal, such as controlling crows by shooting or trapping them to protect wild birds.

For those who are unaware, Edradynate Estate at Strathtay, Perthshire, was one that the police had to visit regularly because of poisoned baits or their victims being found. Between 1993 and 2011 14 poisoned baits were collected, involving the banned pesticides mevinphos, carbofuran and alpha-chloralose; 31 poisoned victims were found which included 17 buzzards, 4 carrion crows, 2 sparrowhawks, 2 tawny owls, a domestic cat, a common gull, a red kite and a polecat. If these were the baits and victims recovered consider how many more were missed, or picked up and disposed of by the criminal involved in setting out the baits. In addition, traces of pesticides were found in the then headkeeper’s landrover, on his clothing and in game bags. On every visit by the police it was the same gamekeeper, David Campbell, that was in charge.

It was the most recent discovery by the police in 2015 of two poisoned buzzards that led to Scottish Natural Heritage removing the right of general licences being used on the estate. The restriction took effect from 15 September this year and will be in force for three years.

A new man took over gamekeeping duties around the end of 2016, so he could have had nothing to do with any illegality prior to that. He may be considered unfortunate that he has to pay the penalty for activities committed by someone else. Whether being unable to control crows will make any difference to the number of pheasants shown over the guns during the next three shooting seasons is open to debate.

Though I have a degree of sympathy for the new man on an estate that has such a high level of negative publicity, I have no sympathy for the owner of the estate. He has had plenty opportunity to ensure that wildlife laws were adhered to as there is no doubt he would be aware every time there was a police search on the estate and of what was found. It’s not as if there were just a couple of searches: there have been at least ten.

Edradynate is the third estate in Scotland to have been hit with a restriction on the use of general licences, though, unusually, at the same time as the imposition on Edradynate, an un-named gamekeeper from the north-east of Scotland was also given a restriction. This man had been filmed by RSPB ‘allegedly setting illegal traps, baited with a dead woodpigeon, very close to a goshawk nest.’  The film, which is dated March 2014, had been passed to the police.

This is the first time a restriction has been imposed on an individual, and it is even more unusual in that he is not named. The fact that there is a restriction on a person rather than on a piece of land suggests to me that the illegality took place on land for which the gamekeeper had no responsibility. This is even more likely since the target is suspected to be a goshawk, a bird that normally nests in mature woodland. If the gamekeeper was ‘trespassing’ to commit this crime there is maybe even more need for the public to know his identify. One reason not to identify the man is if there is a case pending in relation to the setting of the trap, but Ian Thomson, head of RSPB Scotland Investigations, said he was “disappointed” no prosecutions had arisen from either case.

It is a great pity that SNH were not (or could not be?) more open about this second restriction.

There is a suggestion of the location of the trapping incident at https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2017/09/27/more-on-the-mystery-gamekeeper-with-the-general-licence-restriction/

As a postscript, an article in The Courier of 22 June 2017 showed that David Campbell appeared at Perth Sheriff Court charged with maliciously damaging crops on Edradynate Estate between April 14 and 16, 2017 by spraying them with an unknown substance, causing them to rot and perish, plus the theft of a thermal imaging spotting scope. He made no plea or declaration and his case has been continued.

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Book Review – Running South America with my Husband and other animals by Katharine Lowrie

RUNNING SOUTH AMERICA with my Husband and other animals is written by Katharine Lowrie, who ran, unsupported, the full length – 6477 miles – of South America with her husband, David. The pair ran for 332 days, with 113 days of rest and giving presentations. They shared the pulling of a home-made cart with their provisions, which weighed between 60 and 140 kilos. Their average running day was 20 miles and they went through ten pairs of shoes each, even though they ran part of the distance barefoot.

This was a remarkable achievement, especially considering Venezuela is one of the most violent countries in the world and the pair were in real danger of being shot; part of the Brazilian rain forest is controlled by indigenous people who let no-one on foot through their part of the jungle; and they were discriminated against in Argentina because they were English, causing them to pretend they were Scots.

Most nights Katharine and David camped outside, enduring stings and bites from termites, mosquitoes, flies, wasps and ants, including painful bites from fire ants. When they did get hotel accommodation it was often so dirty that the only obvious advantage was that it was dry. When they were running they endured extreme temperatures ranging from arctic conditions in Patagonia to extreme heat and excruciating humidity in Argentina, with shortage of water one of their main concerns. In Argentina they also ran through a hurricane and were pelted with sand and grit.

Their days were lightened by the variety and volume of wildlife that they encountered. Both being ecologists, they recorded 453 bird species and many unusual mammals. Their list included guanacos, rheas, macaws, capybara, king vultures, Amazon river dolphins, hoatzin, snakes, Darwin’s frog, humming birds, toucans and giant anteaters. One of the highlights was when a wild parrot landed on Katharine’s shoulder.

Katharine and David were amazed at the beauty of the Andes and the friendliness of many folks they encountered, especially in Patagonia. On the negative side they were aghast at the devastation caused to the rainforest by ‘improvement’ of land for farming, tourism and road building.

There will be few authors with so many talents. Katharine relates the story of their run in fascinating detail and with frankness and humour. She is also an athlete, a naturalist (having formerly worked with RSPB) and a quality artist, which is demonstrated in the beautiful sketches of wildlife throughout the book.

Running South America is an enthralling book and without doubt one of the best I have read.

(Whittles Publishing, Dunbeath, Caithness, KW6 6EG, Scotland.  £19.99)

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Does shooting benefit rural areas?

Grouse moor in Perthshire. This habitat suits comparatively few bird species.

One of the many poisoned buzzards recovered on Edradynate Estate, Perthshire

I read an incredibly interesting article the other day by Dr Steve Carver, director of the Wildland Research Institute. I thought the article very fairly responded to the views of Peter Glenser, chairman of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation in an article written to show how shooting benefits rural areas.

Having read Dr Carver’s comments on various paragraphs of Mr Glenser’s article that he copied in to his response I agreed with many of them. I could neither agree nor disagree with others as I don’t have sufficient knowledge. It was unfair in any case to take sides without having read Mr Glenser’s article, which I got time to do this morning.

Over the years I have worked closely with BASC at many training days and meetings. I have found the organisation and the staff with whom I have worked to be fair, knowledgeable, professional and helpful. I agree only in part with Mr Glenser’s comments that,

Where land is managed for the benefit of game, other species naturally flourish. Songbirds are more common on land managed for shooting. They benefit from the hedges, game cover crops, predator control and the food put out for game birds.

At the weekend I was on land extensively managed for driven grouse shooting. I saw plenty of heather, one or two black grouse, a number of red grouse, one or two carrion crows, some meadow pipits and …… no other birds. Others can argue this better than me but a monoculture of heather suits relatively few birds.

Where there is a mixture of habitat, whether managed for shooting or not, there is generally a far higher mix of wildlife. Trees and hedges attract many bird species and I don’t doubt that game crops and the feeding of pheasants add considerably.

One of Dr Carver’s arguments is that unnaturally high number of prey species increases predator numbers, and the killing of the predators simply creates a vacuum into which other predators move. Predators and prey have co-existed for hundreds of years but it stands to reason that creating habitat and conditions favouring thousands of game birds must increase predators.

An example of personal experience of this comes from dealing with issues on Edradynate Estate in Perthshire over many years. It is the estate on which I have picked up more victims of poisoning than on any other, with buzzards being the main victims. Nevertheless during searches there were always buzzards soaring overhead. This was hardly surprising since an exceptionally high number of pheasants were released, making the estate the equivalent of a game bird supermarket for predators. To make life for the predators even easier there was a sickening number of dead game birds lying around, probably pricked or unpicked birds from the estate’s many shooting days. Hardly surprising that there were many more predators than normal, despite predator ‘control.’ The ecosystem in fact was completely artificial and totally unnatural. It may have benefited song birds but it certainly didn’t benefit raptors.

There has recently been a change of gamekeeper on this estate so maybe this will make a difference.

This brings me to another line in Mr Glenser’s article where he states,

Those who shoot are the true custodians of the countryside.

And in a later paragraph,

The countryside is a national treasure. Maintained by those who shoot for game birds and other quarry species, they benefit us all. We cannot let celebrity campaigners and those who want to ban shooting succeed.  Without it all of us would be impoverished.

It is unfortunate for those who shoot who do try to be genuine custodians of parts of the countryside for which they are responsible that their endeavours are tarnished and their good work completely negated by the criminal activity that goes hand in hand with some shooting estates. I’m afraid this completely invalidates the oft-heard remark that shooters (or gamekeepers) are ‘custodians of the countryside’. There are many parts of the countryside maintained by those who shoot which are most certainly not a national treasure, with many of us being impoverished through the killing of protected wildlife.

Shooting and conservation can co-exist. They can be of mutual benefit and, more importantly, could even be of benefit to the wider public.  Regretfully we are still a long way from that stage.

Dr Carver’s and Mr Glenser’s articles can be accessed from this link and are well worth a read:

https://countrysquire.co.uk/2016/11/25/right-to-reply-to-those-who-shoot/amp/

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A nasty individual (not the beaver)

One of the earliest beavers trapped in Tayside

I saw the other day a BBC news article from away back in October 2016 which read,

‘A landowner has put a £1,000 bounty on the heads of beavers he claims are felling trees on his estate’.

Briefly the landowner was complaining that there were beavers on his land and that they were felling trees. The article claimed he put up posters on his land stating,

Beaver sightings! At Woodlands Castle. Wanted dead or alive. £1,000 reward! For crimes against trees. Beavers have been cutting down our trees!

A beaver expert visited the estate and disputed that the trees had been felled by beavers.

The point is that even in mid-2017 there is no legislation as yet in any part of the UK that gives beavers protection from being shot. They have by and large been accepted by the Scottish Government as part of the fauna in Scotland and there has been at least one authorised release of beavers to the wild in England.

I tweeted in response to the article,

Beavers need legal protection as a matter of urgency

Various studies have shown that beavers can increase biodiversity by creating wetlands, can slow water flow, reducing flood risk downstream, have little negative effect on migratory fish travelling upstream and are vegetarian (see for instance Guardian article https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/19/eager-beavers-experts-at-recreating-wildlife-rich-wetlands-study-reveals?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Tweet )

It is accepted that in some cases there may be a downside to farming if they burrow through flood banks or flatten parts of crops. None of this should negatively affect gamekeepers but some have to stick in their tuppence-worth if there is any possibility that they might be able to kill a creature.  However this is all by way of introduction.

An ex-gamekeeper clearly took exception to my support for beavers. He hides on social media under the pseudonym of Rural Voice (@voice_rural) and claims to be,

Ex headkeeper now conservationist looking to protect rural workers jobs & lifestyles.

In five consecutive tweets directed to me he asked,

Is that why no prosecutions were made under your watch against Bamff estate?

Whilst you’re here Alan. Did you ever have problems with buzzard whilst trapping rabbits when you was a full time cop? Salt & pepper?

Come on @WildlifeBlog don’t be twitchy did you have problems with buzzards? Did you take DNA samples from Bamff beavers? Open up. Tell truth

Simple yes or no will be ok. Yer reputation is on the line here.

We don’t want to add you to bent cop who facilitated beaver release in Tayside do we. Tell us exactly your position.

These are too many questions or claims to answer on Twitter; much better for a response on my blog. I have nothing to hide and I will treat it as a poor attempt to blackmail me into giving up my support of environmental issues and condemnation of wildlife crime.

That the beavers originated from Bamff Estate is a statement from him, without evidence, that the beavers in the Tay catchment came from this estate near Alyth which was one of three locations in Perthshire where there are or were captive beavers. That is an issue of civil litigation that Bamff Estate might like to take up. I’m not going to elaborate on my thoughts on where the Tay beavers originated but along with one of the part-time wildlife crime officers from the former Tayside Police we made an extensive investigation, liaised with the specialist wildlife crime prosecutor at Perth and submitted a case to her against an individual charged with unlawfully releasing or allowing beavers to escape in to the wild. She made the decision that because of the wording in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 the case would not prove. Amendments introduced through the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act addressed these issues and had the same case been submitted subsequent to the 2011 Act the outcome would have been different.

No DNA was taken during the investigation. This approach was considered and we would have attempted it (with some difficulty) if the fiscal had considered it would help the case, but the stumbling block was always going to be the wording of the legislation.

This answers the other beaver-related points and is a classic example of how a police officer (or in my case at the time, a member of support staff) must work within the wording of the law; despite the fact that I was pleased to see beavers back in the wild in Scotland again it was our duty to investigate the possibility – even probability – that they had been deliberately allowed to escape or in fact released.

Rural Voice makes reference to rabbit trapping which I carried out in the 1970 and early 1980s. I’m puzzled as to why someone catching rabbits would have any problem with buzzards, but I see where this has come from. His reference to ‘salt and pepper’ is an inference to the use of pesticides on a bait. In 2015 I was at a meeting which was also attended by Alex Hogg, chair of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association. Hogg approached me and claimed he had been told by another gamekeeper (surprise surprise) that years ago I had used pesticides on baits. I forget what he claimed the baits were for but he threatened that I should ‘watch this space’, an inference that he would make this public. Since this was total nonsense I challenged him to go ahead which, at realisation of the risk of being sued, he never did.

So Rural Voice claims to be a conservationist. I see little on his Twitter account that shows this. It is full of hate against those who support almost any form of conservation or who speak up against wildlife crime committed on shooting estates. His tirade against me, especially the use of the term ‘bent cop’ (even though I don’t understand the context in his tweet) confirms to me he is a bitter and nasty individual and doubt very much if he is the voice speaking on behalf of very many in the rural community. If he thought I wouldn’t respond I will go even a stage further and include the contents of this blog in my next book, A National Disgrace: wildlife crime in the UK, due for publication later this year.

I met a really friendly and competent gamekeeper just yesterday which thankfully reminded me to keep my views on gamekeepers in perspective. They are not all the same.

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