I’ve had a pretty busy week, hence the lack of tweets on Twitter. I worked Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the National Wildlife Crime Unit (28 hours in the three days). The following day, Thursday, I gave a presentation at Scottish Natural Heritage, Battleby, outside Perth. They were running a seminar for some of their staff, who were very interested in the most common types of wildlife crime investigated by Police Scotland. I also went into detail of how to preserve evidence and, even more importantly, how to avoid destroying evidence. The presentation in the auditorium was followed in the afternoon by two practical exercises in the grounds of Battleby. These covered the poisoning of birds of prey and the legal and illegal use of Larsen traps, tunnel traps and snares. Since most of these SNH employees are outside in the countryside for at least part of their working day (and of course many of them take regular recreation in the countryside) it is important for them to recognise a wildlife crime and to know the best action to take, including how to report it to the police.
Many people have asked me over the years what upsets me most about wildlife crime. I think there is an easy answer to that: any crime that involves downright cruelty, whether this is baiting mammals with dogs or the use of poisons. In the course of my job I encounter some horrific Facebook sites. Many of these show photos depicting men involved in coursing foxes, badgers or deer with large dogs. Others show photos – and sometimes video footage – of foxes and badgers being dug out after a terrier has been sent underground to find the hapless victim and to engage with it, usually causing horrific injuries both dog and victim. The sickening fact is that this is all in the name of ‘fun’ or ‘sport’, which I see as completely different to a gamekeeper or shepherd putting a terrier into a fox den to bolt the fox to be shot to protect either lambs, poultry or game birds. I am sure that neither of the latter group take pleasure from killing a fox or their terrier killing a litter of cubs, simply that it is sometimes necessary (and legal) as part of their job.
I watched a Facebook site during the week that showed a group of men digging in to a terrier that was trying to back out of a hole while holding on to a fox. The extraction of the fox took some time, during which the terrier no doubt had hold of the fox by the throat. The terrier was eventually pulled out of the hole by the tail, while the one of the men gripped the fox with a long pair of pliers and pulled it clear of the hole. The fox at first looked as if it was dead. It lay, unmoving, at the end of the three feet-long pincers. Unfortunately it was still alive but must have been absolutely exhausted. It managed some slight movement before it was held aloft by a pretty horrible looking individual with a huge moustache. I wondered if it would then be released to be set upon again by dogs or even shot at. Another man appeared with a crate and the fox was unceremoniously dumped in the crate. The fox’s terrifying ordeal was far from over and I shuddered to think what its fate would be.
Because of the language and the dress of the men I am sure the filming of this hideous spectacle took place somewhere on mainland Europe. Having dealt with this type of wildlife crime for many years in the UK this was a stark reminder that this is not the only country that spawns such wicked people. How anyone can take pleasure on inflicting such pain and terror on an animal is beyond me. My gut reaction was that they should not be allowed to live, though of course there is similar pain and terror inflicted on humans by humans. I just pity their families.
I have had a complete change today, carting about 2 tons of best farmyard dung, digging some of it in and planting around 400 garlic cloves (our family like garlic). The wee tractor I had struggled with the load but I coaxed it along and it made it in the end. When I came home I disturbed a heron in the burn, which took off with much flapping of wings and rose almost vertically like a harrier jump-jet. I then met a red squirrel coming down the drive towards me with a nut in its mouth; a very nice welcome home.
I look forward now to next week. Monday at NWCU, Tuesday a talk to Crieff Probus Club, Wednesday and Thursday at NWCU, and a talk to Central Scotland Scottish Ornithologists’ Club at Bridge of Allan on Thursday evening. No more dung to deal with but I look forward to some gardening or hill-walking by the weekend.