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.