The report of yet another poisoned bird, this time a peregrine in the Pentlands in south Scotland, is depressing for several reasons. First of all another magnificent bird of prey has been lost to Scotland. Secondly the incident demonstrates that crime committee against raptors in the uplands continues, despite assurances by various organisations representing shooting and land management that no further restrictive action on game management by the Scottish Government is necessary. Lastly – and disappointingly for me as a retired police officer and wildlife crime officer – Police Scotland appears to have shot itself in the foot by not making at least some details of this incident public until now, some five months after the event.
The police are certainly not obliged to make every wildlife crime public knowledge but the more incidents that are reported in the media the more the public appreciate how much crime is committed against our wildlife, and senior police officers are reminded of the public interest in its prevention and detection. The more serious the crime then the greater should be the need to make the public aware. The level of severity doesn’t come much higher than setting out a poisoned bait in an area frequented regularly by walkers.
The police have a balance to strike between keeping the knowledge of the discovery of the crime from the criminal involved until an investigation can be made and releasing a press statement asking for any witnesses to come forward. This balance is compounded when there is a risk to public safety and, while it is always difficult to make judgements without having all of the background knowledge, it is to be hoped this was taken into consideration. In the month of May it is less likely that the pesticide used was chloralose. This kills by lowering the body temperature and the victim dies of hypothermia. Late May this year was warmer than normal and it is doubtful if chloralose would have been effective. This suggests that the pesticide used would have been one considerably more dangerous than chloralose.
I was pleased to see that the police statement gave a reasonably precise location of where the peregrine was found. I was a bit puzzled though to read that ‘Our investigation has concluded that this appears to have been deliberate as we do not believe that under the circumstances the poison could have been used legitimately’. This suggests that the pesticide used was not one of the more-commonly abused ones where the licence for use was withdrawn some years ago, since there is no longer any legitimate use for these pesticides.
I was disappointed to read. ‘The investigation has now concluded and no further Police action is being taken at this time’. It’s maybe a bad choice of words but surely an investigation into any crime is never concluded until a person is charged and a report submitted for prosecution.
It’s interesting that the peregrine poisoned was known to be a male from a nest in the area (or a scrape in the case of a peregrine) with a brood of chicks. That puts paid to any allegation that the bird could have been poisoned elsewhere and dumped where it was found. It is also interesting that the female and chicks ‘disappeared’ soon after, though could this have been because the chicks were young and the female was unable to brood and provision them at the same time? That question should be able to be answered by a raptor worker.
Peregrines don’t come readily to a bait, but will return to a kill that they have made. The methods used to poison peregrines are either to place pesticides on a kill that a peregrine has made or to set out a poisoned bait which is, or looks to be, alive. The most likely bird on which this peregrine has fed could be a pigeon or a grouse. Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) are very good at examining the last meal eaten by the victim which in some cases can help a police investigation.
The peregrine incident is also reported as being ‘a few miles from where golden eagle Fred had ‘disappeared’ in highly suspicious circumstances in January.’ This tends to lend credence to the golden eagle having been the victim of crime, as has always been suggested, though has been disputed by some folks involved in game management.
Despite the public not being made aware of the latest poisoning there is no doubt that Roseanna Cunningham and the team looking at a variety of issues concerning the running of the uplands for grouse shooting would have been made aware at the time. It is very relevant to the conclusions the team will submit to the Scottish Government. I have always thought that at least driven grouse moors will be subject to some form of licensing as a result of the report. This makes that outcome even more likely.