The Poisoned Golden Eagle and the Man from Lewis – an except from ‘The Thin Green Line’

Poisoned golden eagle (though not related to this case)

Tub of the banned pesticide carbofuran

The Thin Green Line

It’s too wet for gardening today and I’m stuck in the house. The car could do with a wash but it’s my least favourite job and I’d much rather do another blog. Since disappearing golden eagles and the illegal use of pesticides have been in the news recently here is a tale from my second book, The Thin Green Line:

THE POISONED GOLDEN EAGLE AND THE MAN FROM LEWIS

The Outer Hebrides, possibly because of the absence of commercial game management, is almost free from the scourge of poisoning wildlife that affects much of mainland UK. In October 2005 Constable Martin Macrae was stationed at the village of Balallan, (Gaelic: Baile Ailein meaning Allan’s town) which has the distinction of being the longest village in northern Scotland. It is four miles from end to end along the head of a sea loch and developed due to a mixture of crofting and fishing. As the wildlife crime officer for the Outer Isles, Martin was made aware of the tragic poisoning of a golden eagle at Coduinn on Morsquil Estate on the Isle of Lewis. Tests at the Scottish Agriculture Science Agency (now Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture) in Edinburgh confirmed that the bird had died from eating the pesticide carbofuran, the main pesticide of abuse in Scotland. The scientists at the lab were also able to state that the contaminated bait that had been eaten was a rabbit.

Martin suspected that the culprit had been a crofter trying to (illegally) control the raven population to protect his sheep flock. As would happen on any mainland poisoning investigation he called in some help, this taking the form of staff from the then Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD), now the Scottish Government Rural Payment Inspections Department (SGRPID). He also called in some help from Scottish Natural Heritage and RSPB Scotland. The estate was searched, as were some crofts, but after all this Martin was no further forward.

The following month Martin and a colleague were carrying out a completely unconnected enquiry on Lewis in relation to a firearm certificate renewal. Part of this process entails a check of the firearms held by the applicant, and also the security of the place they are kept. In this case this gentleman – we’ll call him the Man from Lewis – wished to renew his certificate to possess a .222 rifle. The rifle was examined by the officers and he was asked the reason he required it. ‘For deer control,’ was the answer. Only roe deer in Scotland can legally be shot with a .222 rifle, and under the Deer (Firearms etc) (Scotland) Order 1885 the bullet needs to be of an expanding type of not less than 50 grains, with muzzle velocity of not less than 2450 feet per second and muzzle energy not less than 1000 foot pounds. Worse, there are no roe deer on the Outer Isles, with the only species being the biggest, the red deer. This was the first of the Man from Lewis’s problems. This was explained to him, and he changed his mind. ‘It’s for shooting vermin. Ravens,’ he said. Ravens are one of the two members of the corvidae family that are completely protected, the other being the chough. He had no licence to shoot ravens and now had a second problem.

Martin and his colleague continued their questioning and asked the red-faced islander if he had shot any red deer with the rifle but the answer, not surprisingly, was in the negative. The same answer was given when he was asked if he had shot any ravens. The question then had to be asked as to why he needed authority to have a .222 rifle.

If there was some doubt beginning to emerge that the firearm certificate was close to being revoked and the rifle seized by the police, the next find sealed its fate. On a shelf at the back of the gun cabinet Martin spotted a jar that was half-full of dark blue granules, innocently labelled ‘celery.’ In the recoveries made by the police of illegally-held pesticides they are invariably decanted into a container such as a coffee jar, a juice bottle or a smaller receptacle such as a 35mm film tub. In many cases the label of the original product remains and in one case in Tayside in 1995, while still a police officer, I recovered the most deadly of all pesticides, the liquid pesticide mevinphos, in a Lea and Perrins sauce bottle, two products of a similar colour. In that case there was a real risk of death to anyone who ventured to open the bottle and I charged the person concerned with the common law charge of culpable and reckless conduct.

Because of the infamy of carbofuran as a killer of wildlife it is well-known to all wildlife crime officers. Martin asked the Man from Lewis what the substance in the jar was, but he said he couldn’t remember the name. Maybe, maybe not, but Martin knew that he would be aware of its illegal use. He asked him what he had the granules for. ‘It was for the turnips.’ was the answer. It was the stock answer, sometimes varied to ‘It’s for the carrots.’ He elaborated. ‘You spread it on the turnips.’ Wrong! ‘You hand-spread it on the turnips when the stem is about four inches tall.’ Worse! Whatever you would do with carbofuran you wouldn’t want to handle it. Whatever other outcome there may be he could now safely say goodbye to his firearms certificate.

There have been countless instances throughout the UK where the police have recovered pesticides in circumstances where they are perfectly well aware that they were held for an illegal purpose. The main legislative difficulty was that until recently this was not an offence in itself. It was an offence to use the pesticide in circumstances outwith its government approval, or to store it outwith the terms of approval on the container, most usually violated by transferring it into another container. Even so, these offences were under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 and only incurred a moderate monetary penalty. It was not until 2005 – and only in Scotland – that possession of the most commonly abused pesticide became an offence in its own right, though there was an exception if the person could show that he had a good reason for possessing it. Carbofuran is top of the list of ‘prescribed’ pesticides, as they are termed, because of its widespread abuse.

So Martin had a coincidental recovery of carbofuran while investigating the poisoning of a golden eagle, the very bird many visitors go to the Western Isles to see. Whether or not the Man from Lewis had played any part in this crime his excuse that the carbofuran was for nurturing turnips was a lie. Though the approved use for the chemical was as an insecticide on root crops, including of course turnips, it requires to be drilled into the ground by machinery to place it in a position to kill soil-dwelling pests.

The charge of possession of a banned pesticide now carries a penalty of £5000 and/or 6 months imprisonment. The Man from Lewis was fined £50. Had there been evidence he was involved in the killing of the golden eagle this penalty would have been considerably increased, though in fairness to him he may not have been in any way involved and his possession of carbofuran purely coincidental. And unfortunate!

At least ravens and red deer would be safeguarded against being shot by a .222 rifle!

 

I’m happy to post out a copy of The Thin Green Line (RRP £11.99) free with the purchase of any other of my books. See https://wildlifedetective.wordpress.com/books/

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Ayrshire gin trap case; comments and a similar case.

Gin trap, offence to set or to possess with intent to use. Not offence simply to possess.

I was interested in the case reported in the recent Sunday Post where a gamekeeper in Ayrshire accused of using gin traps to catch fox cubs had the charges against him dropped because of a paperwork mistake – getting dates wrong, possibly the date of the offence on the copy complaint. The report in the paper suggested that the keeper was caught with gin traps covered in animal blood and that dead fox cubs had been seen near his traps in May 2016.

Following hot on the heels of four other wildlife cases being dropped this is infuriating. The report does not state whether this is a police mistake or a mistake by COPFS but it is not unique. I remember a salmon netting case being dropped just before trial as the date of the offence contravened, as given on the copy complaint, was out by a century. Though it would be more work, it could be well worth an experienced wildlife crime officer having a read of wildlife cases as prepared by the prosecutor well in advance of trial. I know as an author my editor (and family) pick up many mistakes that I miss. While fiscals make very few mistakes like this, every one is a disaster for complainers, witnesses, the investigating officer and indeed the public. It is also an embarrassment for COPFS.

The case reminded me of an almost identical one we dealt with around 2002. It started with a poisoned buzzard, which had been killed by carbofuran, being found on a Perthshire estate, intelligence that the keeper was bragging about killing about 30 buzzards a year and culminating in a search that we, as former Tayside Police officers and staff, carried out with assistance from, at that time, SEERAD, now renamed Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate, plus RSPB Investigations.

The increased powers of search without warrant for the police in wildlife cases only came about in 2004, so rather than request a search warrant we decided to use powers given to SEERAD (and subsequently SGRPID) officers to carry out searches without warrant in relation to the use and storage of pesticides. The search of outbuildings resulted in the recovery of a small egg collection which included a buzzard egg, a small quantity of strychnine, which at that time the keeper was entitled to have for mole control, a film container with traces of carbofuran and a number of gin traps with blood and fur being visible on the jaws of one of the traps.

The explanation for the egg collection was that it had been collected prior to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, apart from the buzzard egg, which the keeper admitted he had added to the collection in much more recent times. He also claimed that the carbofuran had been used on carrots in his garden! Despite the use of gin traps being banned since the 1950s, the keeper admitted he used them to catch fox cubs in springtime.

The land search turned up a dead crow, which had also been killed by carbofuran, near a pheasant release pen operated by the keeper.

Charges against the keeper were (1) having an article in his possession (the film container with traces of carbofuran) that could be used to commit a crime; (2) setting out an unknown bait laced with carbofuran to kill a wild bird; (3) intentionally (there was no option of reckless until 2004) killing a carrion crow and a buzzard; (4) possessing a buzzard egg; (5) storing carbofuran in a container other than its original marked container; (6) possessing 11 gin traps for a purpose for which they were unlawful.

The case went to trial and part-way through the trial the accused offered a guilty plea to charged 4, 5 and 6. He was fined £250, which was a moderate fine and no doubt considerably less than his lawyer’s fee would be.

I strongly suspect that had the trial run its course we would have lost all the charges. Through a lack of police search powers still two years distant we were using the powers of another agency, SEERAD. With hindsight and a lot more experience I’m sure we were stretching SEERAD powers well beyond their legal limits. SEERAD powers certainly didn’t include egg collecting and the use or possession of gin traps and on finding these items we should probably have gone for a warrant.

The modernisation of wildlife law has made a difference. In view of the recent cases that have been binned is it time now for some of the case law in Scotland to reflect modern times?

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A week of mixed fortunes for raptors

Captive golden eagle

Young peregrine falcons (photo courtesy of Neil Macdonald)

I was delighted with the news earlier in the week that, following the report by SNH into the disappearance of satellite-tagged golden eagles which concluded that almost a third of the tagged birds have died in suspicious circumstances, mainly on intensively-managed grouse moors, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced a package of measures to combat this totally unacceptable situation. Over 40 sat-tagged golden eagles have disappeared in suspicious circumstances in a 12-year period. There must be a similar proportion of eagles that were not tagged met the same fate. That can also be extended to hen harriers, goshawks and several other birds of prey. Grouse management can no longer hide behind lame excuses and lies.

The measures, as listed in a Scottish Government press release, are to:

  • Set up an independently-led group to look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls, and to recommend options for regulation including licensing and other measures which could be put in place without new primary legislation;
    • Immediately review all available legal measures which could be used to target geographical areas of concern;
    • Increase resources for the detection and investigation of wildlife crime and work with Police Scotland to pilot the use of special constables in the Cairngorms National Park;
    • Rule out giving the Scottish SPCA more investigative powers, in light of legal advice;
    • Examine how best to protect the valuable role of gamekeepers in rural Scotland;
    • Commission research into the costs and benefits of large shooting estates to Scotland’s economy and biodiversity.

I think licensing – at least of grouse moors – will be inevitable. Withdrawing a licence from an individual would not work; the licence would need to be withdrawn in relation to land, for example a whole grouse moor. I think that simply withdrawing the right to shoot over the land would hit landowners hard in their deep pockets but I wonder if that would be enough. If they were still able to continue land ‘management’ for grouse they could still burn heather, including rank heather suitable for nesting hen harriers. They could also continue predator control, which on some moors would leave raptors and some protected mammals at risk. Whether a licence could be tailored to permit (or in the case of withdrawal, to ban) identified activities related to game management I don’t know.

The SNH report identified hotspots in which tagged eagles appeared to have been vaporised. I wonder if a licence could have the condition that spot checks on licensed estates could be carried out by the police. This would allow the police to ‘target geographical areas of concern’. Bearing in mind the need for corroboration, this would be an ideal use for special constables acting along with a regular officer, which I don’t think needs to be restricted to the Cairngorms National Park.

I don’t think that increasing the powers of the SSPCA was ever going to work. If a situation arises where a member of SSPCA staff is attending an incident that he or she thinks requires an extended search it could be passed to the police, with SSPCA guarding the evidence until the police arrive. SSPCA are simply not equipped to carry out a major investigation involving 5 or 6 suspects who need to be visited simultaneously, probably also in conjunction with a land search and maybe even the detention of suspects. These are difficult enough for the police with the considerable resources at their disposal. If SSPCA had the same powers of search as the police it would have been inevitable that incidents were reported to them that they would need to pass on to the police, in other words picking and choosing the cases they would undertake and with any associated delay in passing on the investigation. The SSPCA do an excellent job with animal welfare and not taking on additional work with wildlife crime will allow them to concentrate more on puppy farming in particular.

I know many gamekeepers who do indeed carry out a valuable role and I think that they deserve some credit and support. They have been operating in the dark shadow of the criminals in their midst for years and it is unfair to group them with the landowners, sporting agents and gamekeepers who have brought their occupation to the situation in which it is now immersed. This bullet point no doubt stems from Ms Cunningham’s comment,

“The continued killing of protected species of birds of prey damages the reputation of law-abiding gamekeepers, landowners and indeed the country as a whole. Those who carry out these crimes do so in defiance of the will of Parliament, the people, and their own peers. That must end”.

It is interesting that she has omitted ‘law-abiding sporting agents.’ Was that intentional or was it a mistake?

I don’t know how the Scottish Government would protect the gamekeepers’ role but many of them certainly do not warrant being lumped in with their criminal colleagues. The land on which they operate may be subject to licensing but apart from the necessities licensing may bring they should have nothing to fear from the police or any other authority.

The last bullet point is interesting in view of the many detriments (rather than benefits) some of the large shooting estates have foisted on Scotland. I’ll be interested to read, in due course, how much these estates cost the public purse in subsidies and how much better use may be made of some of the land and of the subsidies.

Despite the elation of Ms Cunningham’s announcement, the week has ended on a sad and frustrating note. RSPB revealed that they had recovered two dead peregrines at a nest site at Clee Hill in Shropshire. They also found a pigeon that had all the signs of a poisoned bait. The police, Natural England, a vet and a raptor rehabilitation centre are now involved.  Three half-grown chicks were recovered from the nest ledge and in due course will be fostered on to other broods.

I know nothing of this area but somehow suspect this could be the work of pigeon fanciers rather than gamekeepers. I hope that the publicity brings in some information that results in a conviction and a substantial sentence.

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A really interesting day in the garden

The remains of the young blackbird. Note the speckling on the tuft of feathers.

The bat close to the surface of the burn (almost in centre of pic)

The dipper in the burn

The tame blackbird (note the speckling on the breast that made me think it had been the victim of the mystery predator)

I’d a really interesting day in the garden on Sunday. First off there was an unfortunate find: the feathers of a blackbird that had appeared overnight on a strip of grass beside the burn. There were no body parts, simply some feathers including a tuft of feathers that initially made me think that they were from our tame blackbird that has been with us for four years. She has a speckled breast and the feathers on this tuft were speckled. Closer examination showed they were from a young blackbird, so even though it was unfortunate, I was slightly relieved. The feathers had not been plucked, so that made the predator less likely to have been a sparrowhawk. I settled on the bird having been killed by a cat, though events later in the day gave me an alternative……

The interest was centred on the burn that day as, for the second time recently, I watched a bat hunting over the deepest pool in the burn. A dozen times it came swooping towards me just above the water, sometimes creating a small concentric ripple as it took an insect off the surface. Like the last time it was a small bat, probably a pipistrelle. I took several photos but only one showed the bat, and it could easily have been mistaken for a small fly with whirring wings. I wondered afterwards why it always hunted with the flow of the water, not that there was much flow in any case due to the long dry spell. I also wondered why it had the need to hunt in daylight.

I’d been planting leeks in the garden and had been to the house for a cup of tea. I was returning down the drive to the vegetable part of the garden again and started to cross the bridge over the burn when a movement slightly downstream caught my eye. I’ve caught half a dozen or so mink in the burn in the 23 years we’ve been in the house, the last being just over a year ago.  I’ve only ever seen two eels in the burn, the last being at least ten years ago. Here in front of my eyes was a chocolate brown coloured mink struggling with a decent-sized eel. The eel was wrapped round the mink like a spring and would take a bit of killing. I hoped that would give me time to run – well, trot –  to the house for the camera. Unfortunately, even in these few minutes, predator and prey were gone on my return. Why do I ever leave the house without my camera?

I’ve never got around to setting a trap yet but really the mink is too close for comfort to my ducks (10 metre away) and hens (50 metres away). If it attacked them and I was not around to intervene it could devastate my flock of 22 khaki campbell ducks. I’ll need to find a bit of smelly fish somewhere to bait a trap. The mink, of course, could have been the guilty party in relation to the young blackbird.

Later in the day I heard a commotion at the top of the wood. There was the screeching sound of a young blackbird or song thrush in distress. I immediately thought it had been caught by a cat, then wondered about the mink. A small flock of birds had gathered in the trees and bushes chattering in desperation and swooping down on whatever was causing the problem. I could see blackbirds, song thrushes, chaffinches and various tits.  These were joined by half a dozen starlings that strangely didn’t stay the full course of the action and flew off just before I saw the cause of the mayhem: a carrion crow. It may have been robbing a nest of chicks but the sound of whatever bird it got hold of indicated a chick of around fledging stage.

A short time later I was crossing the bridge again and looking downstream in case the mink was still around. Almost at the same place as the mink had been killing the eel a dipper was sitting on a rock in the centre of the burn. My camera was in my pocket and the dipper was kind enough to wait to be photographed.

Lastly I was joined in the garden by the tame blackbird, also photographed. The speckling on its breast explains how I was initially confused by the speckling on young blackbirds. I’m glad it is still here.

And I eventually got my leeks planted out….

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Fourth wildlife crime case dropped by Crown – comment

Two rabbit baits found on Edradynate Estate. One was laced with carbofuran; the other with alpha-chloralose

Buzzard poisoned with carbofuran found on Edradynate Estate

Carrion crow poisoned with alpha-chloralose found on Edradynate Estate

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….

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Brewlands Estate pole trap case – comment

RSPB Scotland have now released a second video recorded covertly by them which filmed a man setting a pole trap. The recording has been released since the Crown Office has decided not to proceed with the case.

Briefly the background is that in July 2015 RSPB Scotland staff discovered an illegally-set spring trap placed on top of a pheasant carcass which had been placed on a pole. This effectively made it a pole trap and was most likely to catch a bird of prey by the leg as it landed on the trap.  The estate involved was Brewlands Estate in Angus, though the same criminal scenario is likely to be being played out almost anywhere in the UK.

The RSPB staff sprung the trap and deployed a video camera (which they happened to have with them?) covertly. They made contact with the police and a few days later attended with the police to recover the trap and check the camera.

The camera showed that the trap had twice been re-set and the police managed to identify the person setting it, who was charged with the offence. A report was submitted to the procurator fiscal but the case was eventually abandoned before proceeding to trial on 15 May 2017. Though no reason was given for discontinuing the case it seems likely that it was for the same reason as the first case: the use of covert surveillance on ‘private’ land without permission of the owner of the land.

When there is clear evidence of a crime being committed it is infuriating that the perpetrator is not brought to justice. I’m sure RSPB Scotland investigations staff are aware that their evidence might not be accepted for prosecution for the reason above so are they right to continue to use this method?

What were the alternatives for the RSPB?

They could have made contact with the police as soon as possible and reported the incident. The police then had various options to try to detect the criminal involved. The police MAY have managed to obtain permission under RIP(S)A to deploy covert surveillance; even the use of the RSPB’s equipment under police direction, but that takes form-filling and can’t be done quickly. However the offence may not have been deemed serious enough to warrant RIP(S)A authority. If that is the case then the level of severity of offence and accompanying penalty might need to be reconsidered.

Recovery of DNA might have been an option, but that cannot be guaranteed, especially when a trap had been exposed to the elements. There is also another possible method which I am not going to elaborate on since it will alert the people who are involved in this criminality.

None of these methods is straightforward and there is no doubt that the action the RSPB took was the most likely to obtain evidence, though of course it may well be deemed inadmissible.

So we return to the question of whether RSPB Scotland took the correct action. I do not blame them for taking that route. It brings the crime to the attention of the public, and there can be no argument from the game management side that the incident was a ‘plant’ to get the estate into bother. It demonstrates yet again that wildlife crime is still taking place on shooting estates, though it stands to reason that it must be far more common than the few that are discovered. It may also change criminal justice procedures in due course due to the swell of public anger generated both by the crime and the failure to see justice done.

Throughout my time as a detective officer I was very aware, through case law, that the interests of the accused must be balanced against the interests of the public. These last two cases show a very strong bias towards the accused. Something needs to change to redress the balance.

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Abandoned hen harrier case – comment.

The RSPB press release of today’s date states that ‘court proceedings against a former gamekeeper, accused of shooting a protected hen harrier, have been dropped by the Crown Office, who have indicated that after considering all of the relevant material they could not use RSPB Scotland video evidence to support the prosecution in court’.

This incident relates to the shooting of a nesting hen harrier on Cabrach Estate, Morayshire in June 2013.  RSPB released the surveillance footage of the shooting. The female harrier was seen rising from the heather at the nest site and clearly being shot. A few seconds later a man carrying a shotgun came in to view, walked towards where the harrier fell and is seen coming back into the frame again carrying what looks very like a dead hen harrier.

It is incredibly frustrating that this case has been discontinued. A statement released by Crown Office following the RSPB press release gives the reason for dropping the case as the footage being obtained by RSPB entering the land, presumably without the consent of the landowner, for the purpose of gathering evidence for prosecution.

It stands to reason that the landowner would not be contacted by RSPB for permission otherwise the chances are that no crime would have been carried out or -maybe more likely – the perpetrator would have taken steps to ensure that he was either not filmed or was not identified. It is exceptionally frustrating for the public that a crime has clearly been filmed taking place, presumably the person involved had been identified, yet there is no prosecution. It is also very odd that it has taken since 2013 to make the decision to abandon the case.

I know better than most the rules under which COPFS must work but that does not make the clear commission of a crime by a presumably identified person any less frustrating. It is even more frustrating when a gamekeeper covertly filmed shooting a hen harrier in Morayshire in almost identical circumstances in 2001 was convicted and fined £2000.

If anything positive can be taken out of this infuriating incident it demonstrates even more strongly the need for effective sanctions against wildlife crime on grouse moors. It is to be hoped that Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, will consider this as yet another extreme difficulty in convicting wildlife criminals, especially on driven grouse moors. I am so fed up with repeated wildlife crimes related to shooting estates that I’d much rather driven grouse shooting was banned altogether, though if this incident and the absence of a satisfactory outcome helps licence driven grouse shooting then we may consider there has been some sort of a result.

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