An article in today’s Sunday Herald exposes a fourth raptor persecution case which has recently been dropped by the prosecution. The Crown Office has abandoned a case submitted by Police Scotland where three allegedly poisoned buzzards were found at Edradynate Estate near Aberfeldy in Perthshire.
This has been the fourth case in relation to the poisoning of raptors submitted to the fiscal against the same accused. I submitted the first Edradynate case in 1994 but it was always going to be short of evidence of identification. The fiscal sat on it in case anything further was discovered that would help the case but had to drop it at the end of the time bar, which at that time was 6 months.
I forget the date of the next case, which included charges under Health and Safety regulations in addition to the poisoning of wildlife. Evidence of identification of the accused was still going to be an issue and I was not surprised that the fiscal did not proceed.
The next was in 2011 just before I retired as Tayside Police wildlife crime officer. I was involved in a further search, which I think was in the month of March. Two or three dead (poisoned) buzzards were found and there were a couple of pheasant baits recovered as well. No pesticides were found but we took samples from the accused’s vehicle and from various items of his clothing. Traces of pesticide were found in the vehicle and on several items of clothing, including from an item he was wearing when he was detained. It was a reasonable circumstantial case, which I thought would be clinched with the pesticide traces on the clothing worn by the accused. I suspect that identification, which is always crucial, was again considered to be the stumbling block. This case was eventually dropped as well.
I was aware of the latest case (the one that is the subject of the newspaper article) and know that part of it again related to poisoned birds of prey, but I don’t know the details. Similarly I don’t know whether, if these latter two cases were run in court, there would have been a conviction. Clearly the fiscal thought not, and it is the fiscal’s decision that is final.
Between 1993 and 2011 I am aware of 14 poisoned baits involving the banned pesticides carbofuran, mevinphos and alpha-chloralose being found on Edradynate estate. There have also been 31 poisoned victims including 17 buzzards, 4 carrion crows, 2 sparrowhawks, 2 tawny owls, a domestic cat, a common gull, a red kite and a polecat found either on the estate or very close to its boundary. I doubt if anyone would disagree that this number of baits and victims were the very tip of the iceberg. I doubt also if anyone would think that someone was ‘coming in off the street’ and dumping all these dead creatures on the estate to cause trouble.
These cases on just this one estate in Scotland, demonstrate how difficult it is to get identification sufficient to gain a conviction beyond reasonable doubt in a court. This was a comparatively small estate which in essence was a pheasant shoot with a headkeeper and normally an underkeeper or trainee keeper. The difficulty is multiplied considerably on a large driven grouse moor of several thousand acres and with maybe six or seven keepers.
Wildlife law in Scotland is far ahead of the rest of the UK and well serviced by around 100 police officers trained in wildlife crime investigation. Despite this I hope that these four cases, failed either by lack of identification or evidence considered to have been improperly obtained, serve to show the Scottish Government that the answer – as I have said many times – lies outside all of this. We are close to the time when Scottish Government must grasp the nettle and licence at least driven grouse moors. (It would be much better to ban driven grouse shooting altogether but I doubt that will happen). Removing the right to shoot over land for a number of years will make the landowner ensure that employees stay within the law.
It is maybe time (though probably too late) for the many decent folks involve in game shooting and game management to compile a list of those landowners, sporting agents and gamekeepers who have brought their sport or occupation to this stage. I could give them a starter for ten. Or twenty….