The scourge of raptor persecution – again

Buzzard nest in an oak tree

Buzzard nest in an oak tree

The Moy area of Scotland is synonymous with raptor persecution. According to a BBC news report wildlife crime officers from Police Scotland are now investigating yet more bird of prey persecution incidents. These relate to late May, when four buzzard nests and a goshawk nest in the Moy Forest at Tomatin were found to be abandoned, with evidence at some of the sites of deliberate disturbance.

In most raptor persecution incidents it is extremely difficult for the police to gain sufficient evidence to convict the person responsible.  Even without knowing all the detail of the evidence available these latest incidents will probably be more difficult than normal. They occurred on land where individuals from the agency responsible for the land were monitoring the nests. One of the first elements the police consider is motive. In this case, where the agency is Forestry Enterprise Scotland, there would be no motive to get rid of birds of prey since they do no harm to trees.

I have seen, through information given to me over the years, a common practice developing where illegal activity such as this emanates from people responsible for neighbouring land, which must yet again point the finger of suspicion at game management.  The Moy area consists mainly of grouse moors so gamekeepers on at least one of these moors must be considered by the police as possible suspects. They have the motive, ability and opportunity, whereas farmers are unlikely to have the motive and someone ‘wandering in off the street’ is unlikely to have any of these three elements.  The missing – and crucial – element of course is identification.

Despite the effort of dedicated and well-trained police wildlife crime officers, with all forensic aids at their disposal, I doubt very much if this series of crimes will be solved. As I wrote in an earlier blog they may well be part and parcel of serious and organised crime, with the criminals (or at least their employers or supervisors) standing to gain large sums of money through increased grouse availability because of the illegal disposal of birds of prey. There is a reasonable clear-up rate with serious and organised crime, but adding wildlife into the equation makes it a completely different ball game, with the crimes taking place on what are effectively vast tracts of  ‘private’ land and no doubt often under cover of darkness.

In Scotland we have the best wildlife legislation in the UK. We have highly trained and motivated officers as I have already said, backed up by the National Wildlife Crime Unit. We have specialist prosecutors who now have years of experience under their belts, and we have specialist assistance from government agencies such as Scottish Government Rural Payments Inspections Directorate, and from ngos such as RSPB Investigations.

But all of this is not enough, as I have frequently said in earlier blogs.

Crime committed on shooting estates shows little sign of abating and in my view can only be beaten by sanctions being imposed upon the estate. There is little chance of this in England but it is time that Scotland showed the way and devised a penalty that prevents shooting taking place on an estate that is clearly flouting the law. This may be by banning driven grouse shooting (and already a petition to ban driven grouse shooting has 40,000 signatures) or licensing shooting, but in the meantime the risk of being caught and successfully prosecuted is negligible and of absolutely no deterrent value. Each incidence of raptor persecution must increase the chance of meaningful sanctions becoming a reality.

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