Killing by Proxy: wildlife crime in the UK today

Killing by Proxy: wildlife crime in the UK today. Alan Stewart

My blogs have been less frequent of recent weeks as I’ve been putting the finishing touches to my latest book, Killing by Proxy. The description of the book contents, as per the back cover, is:

The author draws on half a century of experience in general policing, CID investigations, specialist wildlife crime investigation and criminal intelligence work to analyse and expand on wildlife crimes and incidents occurring right across the UK and reported in the media and on social media. He narrows the range to concentrate on cruelty to wild animals, such as fox hunting, hare coursing and crime committed against badgers. The main part of the book analyses crime associated with game management, especially that relating to intensive driven grouse shooting, and included is a chapter on the valued assistance in some police investigations by experts with relevant skills.

Is foxhunting pest control or simply a nice day out for garishly-dressed people on horses? What cruelty is involved? What is happening to the satellite-tagged hen harriers and golden eagles that have disappeared? Why is evidence obtained by covert surveillance by non-government organisations frequently disallowed by prosecutors or courts? Should shooting be licensed or should driven grouse shooting simply be banned? Who are the main people behind raptor persecution? How can rich landowners avoid prosecution? With all of these questions is the relevant legislation working? What, if anything, is being done to improve the situation? All of these, and more, are discussed in depth by an author who has experienced the complexities of these investigations.

The cover photo of the book is by renowned wildlife photographer Laurie Campbell and is of a female hen harrier about to take a chick offered as diversionary feeding at Langholm Moor. There are 16 pages of colour photographs elaborating on some of the content.

The book is at the printers and should be with me on 7 December at the latest. The cost is £9.99. Anyone wishing a signed copy is welcome to DM me on Twitter or email me at and I’ll post it out as soon as they arrive. If you would also like a copy of The Thin Green Line, seen on this blog under My Books, I’d post them both out at a total of £13.

My more-recent books are not available on Amazon, but as well as from my publisher, (Thirsty Books, Edinburgh), are available from Waterstones, many independent book shops and (signed) directly from me.

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Masked criminals with firearms – and salmon poaching equipment

A device for foul-hooking salmon – no fishing rod required.

The business end of the foul-hooking evice

There has been much discussion recently about the use of masks by people who, for a variety of reasons, want to conceal their identity. If a person is not breaking – or intending to break – the law why on earth would he (occasionally she?) want to wear mask or a balaclava. The most recent incidents in the news relate to a masked man on a named estate in England trying to free a badger from a snare by shooting through the snare with a shotgun. It is not surprising, carrying out such a barbaric act, that he wanted to remain anonymous. Just this week there was a belated report of two masked men, one of whom had a firearm, in public woodland at an unidentified location in Scotland. It is reported that the men were within 30 metres of an unspecified raptor nest, which makes it more likely that this occurred in spring or early summer. There seems little reason for someone to be (a) masked, and (b) carrying a firearm at a raptor nest unless a crime was being committed.

Naturally being masked makes it much more difficult for witnesses to identify the individual. It is also extremely alarming for members of the public to encounter a masked person with a firearm. In both cases the circumstances suggest the men were likely to be linked to game management. Even if in neither case they were identified, the incident in Scotland provides more grist to the mill for licensing to be applied to shooting. An own goal!

In one instance, in relating to salmon poachers, being masked did not work. I thought I would include a short story from my first book, Wildlife Detective.

In the 1970s, while I was with Tayside Police and working from Peth, we were plagued with salmon poachers using foul-hooking methods during the night on Moncrieffe Island, a large island in the centre of the River Tay at Perth. At this part of the river there is a deep holding pool, locally known as the Friarton Hole, that in autumn usually accommodated many hundreds of salmon. Here is this short excerpt –

The advance of modern technology changes all aspects of policing for the better, and the challenge of catching salmon poachers was no exception. The change for us was a piece of equipment that had been used by the Armed Forces for many years. Policing budgets are miniscule compared to those of the military and we, as the poorer relations, have to wait until prices are more acceptable to the public purse. This wonderful and expensive piece of ultra-modern kit went under the name of the image intensifier, now more commonly known as night vision equipment. I had first seen a very advanced form of this equipment demonstrated by the military during a high-power NATO conference at Gleneagles Hotel. It allowed us to see landscape on a hillside several miles away in different shades, depending on whether we were looking at woodland, grassland, ploughed land or even cattle grazing the hillside. The Irish song Forty Shades of Green came to mind as green was the predominant colour, with a wee bit of purple thrown in. The NATO equipment must also have had a heat-seeking capability. Looking a bit closer we could see rabbits sitting on the grass round the hotel, and I was amazed when they hopped off that their footsteps remained visible three or four hops behind them. Knowing how well insulated rabbits’ feet are with thick fur I could hardly believe that equipment could be so sensitive as to pick up this tiny amount of heat.

I later used a crude and elementary version of this equipment with a colleague, PC Vince Smith, when we spent a few nights hiding under bushes on a hillside. This was nothing to do with either poaching or wildlife but was in fact during the time in the late 1970s when we in Scotland were under a degree of threat by the Scottish Republican Army. At that time, because of the activities of a relatively few fanatics who, at any cost, wanted Scotland to be separate from the rest of the UK, police were on a raised level of alert. Amongst the threats of this small but determined group was that the oil pipeline running down through Scotland would be blown up. This gave the police additional responsibilities in maintaining regular patrols and checks, especially at the vulnerable points on the oil pipeline where there were valves above ground. Police checks were also regularly made at sites where explosives were stored as they were seen as likely targets to be hit by the Scottish Republican Army in its search for explosives with which it could further its violent aims.

Vince and I were watching one of these explosives stores one night as there had been intelligence that this particular one was to be targeted. None of the barmy brigade arrived but we spent our time watching roe deer, foxes, rabbits, owls, mice and other creatures of the night as they went about their business. It was late autumn and very cold but, between the night-time show and the quaffing of a quarter bottle of whisky we had taken with us, the cold and the time were forgotten as we marvelled at the secret lives of beasties that were unaware of the presence of two pairs of friendly eyes intruding on their privacy. Now having had the experience of night vision equipment I could see another very appropriate use for it.

Shortly after our stake-out in pursuit of the Scottish Republican Army, I borrowed the same piece of kit as we had used and went with another colleague down to the Friarton Hole. Instead of sneaking on to Moncrieffe Island, this time we sneaked down to the Perth side of the river and looked across towards Moncrieffe Island. The bank there was lined with nine or ten poachers, all of whom were casting into the river with their treble hooks and lead and ripping the line through the water with the eventual and inevitable consequence of striking a fish. We recognised most of them and had to pass the single piece of equipment back and forth between us since in Scotland every important piece of evidence has to be corroborated.

We watched all of them at various times foul hooking and landing salmon, and we were astonished how quickly the fish was on the bank. Clearly their line was ultra-heavy duty and none of the sporting ‘playing’ of the fish that is the real thrill of legitimate angling took place. The fish was hooked and pulled through the water to the bank just as hard as its captor could yank in the line.

We made notes as best as we could in the darkness of what was taking place and by whom, and had a good laugh at our efforts of trying to write in straight lines once we reached artificial lighting. The cases against those we had observed were almost foolproof since we had witnessed their deeds from start to finish. There was no need to trek on to the island to catch them: we simply knocked on their doors the next day and charged them.

The poachers were gutted and we were accused of using underhand methods to catch them. I suppose most of them thought the whole poaching scene was something of a game and it was fine by them so long as they were only caught occasionally. They were content to be on the winning side but when the tables turned and their substantial financial gains were under threat through technological aids they were thoroughly pissed off.

Pleased with our success we tried the same technique the following night but what we saw was completely different. The green, almost extra-terrestrial images in our night vision equipment were still there but were wearing balaclavas so that we could not see their faces. They wrongly assumed that if we could not identify them facially they would be safe to continue their nefarious practices. They really hadn’t thought through their anti-surveillance measures sensibly. If they had considered whether or not they could identify their brother, father, cousin or uncle from a distance of about 75 metres wearing a balaclava, the answer would have to be in the affirmative. We knew these characters just as well as they would have known their relatives or friends and there was little difficulty in identifying most of them. We knew them by the clothing they wore, by their height and build, by a number of idiosyncrasies that were unique to them, and in one case by the collie dog that regularly accompanied one of them.

For a second successive day many of them had a ‘chap at the door’ that was the forerunner to another court appearance and fine. The poachers were now on the back foot and their activities were severely disrupted. The situation on Moncrieffe Island became much quieter and any other poacher that we did catch was wearing a balaclava just as an extra precaution.

See Wildlife Detective and other books on this blog. If you would like a signed copy contact me on


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RSPB Birdcrime 2016 Report – a mixed response

The poisoning of wildlife is thankfully becoming less common

But the use of traps like this to take raptors seem to be increasing

A mixed response to the release of RSPB’s Birdcrime 2016 report as was expected. The figures do look a bit better in 2016 with (only!) 81 confirmed raptor persecutions but game management can’t boast an improvement until these figures have a sustained drop over a lengthy period. And of course until satellite-tagged golden eagles and hen harriers stop disappearing over grouse moors. And until male hen harriers provisioning females on nests in the north of England stop disappearing. And until ghostly figures with shotguns stop appearing in the middle of the night at goshawk nests. We must also bear in mind that in remote areas and in darkness many more crimes must remain undetected and unreported.

It is good news that the use of pesticides to kill wildlife has reduced. Unfortunately – and this can’t really be seen from the way RSPB have listed their statistics – the use of Fenn traps and similar traps seems to have correspondingly increased.

I have always had respect for BASC – at least in Scotland – and I was really pleased to see this organisation, the first time so far as I am aware for any shooting or game management organisation, to have led the field with a frank and honest statement. Their acting chief executive said that killing the raptors to protect game birds was a “fool’s bargain” and that his members had to stop or risk shooting being banned. He further made the admission that there were “criminals among us” who risked “wrecking shooting for the majority. All of us need to realise that the killing of raptors is doing us no favours. It risks terminal damage to the sport we love.”

He realises that expelling members who were convicted of raptor persecution was not enough, and that shooting needed a cultural shift to make such people pariahs. “Peer pressure is a powerful force in shooting. We must make clear that wildlife crime has no place in our community.”

I have been making similar assertions in my new book, Killing by Proxy: an analysis of wildlife crime (Thirsty Books, £9.99 and due for publication later this month), and the last BASC comment is worth reading in conjunction with one of the blogs written by freelance journalist James Marchington, who specialises in writing about Britain’s wildlife, the countryside and fieldsports. The blog is entitled Poisoned eagles and the Osborne connection, and Marchington writes

‘Another eagle falls victim to illegal poisoning. The story is reported in the Guardian. And once again the name of Mark Osborne is not far away. Osborne is known for his ability to take a poor grouse moor and turn it around, vastly increasing grouse numbers – and the moor’s value – in a few years. Of course it could be coincidence, but several moors run by Osborne have been at the centre of illegal poisoning scandals in recent years.’ 

‘Local keepers are hopping mad at the damage done to shooting’s reputation. And there’s no doubt where they are pointing the finger’.

‘Just a few greedy estates are trashing the damage done to shooting and undermining all the good conservation work done by the vast majority of shoot managers in Britain. Surely we are best placed to weed them out?’

This blog was written in 2009 after the poisoning of a golden eagle. Sadly the weeds are still thriving.

The editor of Shooting Times believes that some young gamekeepers feel coerced by their employers to kill raptors. “If the shooting community refuse to admit it, the future for our sport could be bleak.” This ties in nicely with the title of my new book.

The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation view is that “very few stupid keepers and landowners” broke the law. “These dinosaurs sully the good name of modern shooting, putting at risk its long-term future. The only effective solution lies in changing the collective mindset of those involved.” Could they be beginning to see the light?

The Moorland Association wants more to be done to prosecute people ‘who injure wild birds’.  Their director, Amanda Anderson, said: “Any incident of bird of prey persecution is unacceptable and the full force of the law should be felt by those breaking it.” She also said that more could be done to help restore the hen harrier population, which is a complete turn-around from her comment in the Sunday Times in August when she claimed that “If we let the Hen Harrier in, we will soon have nothing else.” Difficult to give credence to the Moorland Association’s views when they swing so widely from one view to another. Nevertheless she can now be held to her most recent opinion.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association claims to have expelled six members in five years over alleged wildlife crime but that most members were law-abiding. They said that “In Scotland, the greatest issue we wrestle with is the lack of access to legal measures to solve species conflicts. We feel this would have more impact than any other measure to prevent wildlife crime.” This seems to infer licences to kill raptors would be preferred rather than their members simply working within the current law and shows little promise for meaningful change or an admission that they are the architects of their own misfortune.

Tim Bonner, head of the Countryside Alliance, said that historically gamekeeping techniques had devastated hen harrier populations but that there was a “generational shift” taking place towards better conservation. “It’s our role to encourage that change of attitudes.” This is a strange comment on hen harriers and a complete lack of acceptance of what is taking place. There is nothing ‘historical’ about the devastation of hen harriers; it is very much ongoing and substantiated by the regular loss of satellite-tagged harriers over grouse moors.

I can see nothing from the Scottish Association for Country Sports (SACS) and indeed wonder if they are still in existence. If not, it is a pity as I thought they were quite a forward-thinking organisation.

Demonstrating how unlikely it will be for England and Wales to have any improvements in legislation that might curb raptor persecution, Jim Shannon MP (DUP, Strangford, NI), one of the bedfellows of the Conservatives, was quoted as asking Parliament on 2 November,

The number of birds of prey across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has risen astronomically to the detriment of songbirds. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs does occasionally grant licences to cull birds of prey, but many country people and landowners who want to avail themselves of such licences in order to achieve a balance in the countryside find the process to be off-putting. Indeed, sometimes they cannot get a licence. There are too many birds of prey and too few songbirds and mammals, so will the Leader of the House grant a debate on that or call for a statement from DEFRA?

Despite the encouraging views of BASC, with folk like Shannon in places of power, I think they have an uphill battle.

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The pleasures (and otherwise) on a walk along a country road

The four mattresses dumped at the side of a passing place

One of the hawthorn trees absolutely laden with berries

Part of the hawthorn hedge also laden with great winter food for birds

The carpeting and underlay dumped at another passing place

There is a narrow and very quiet country road near where I live and along which I often walk. There is never a time I am on that road that I don’t see something of interest, whether it be deer, birds, flowers or even cloud formations.

Today my first encounter was unpleasant; in fact it was disgusting. Some moron had dumped four mattresses at the side of a passing place. It seems almost unbelievable that someone would load up these on to a van or trailer and, rather than drive six miles to the nearest recycling centre, dump them at the side of the road. They are ‘household’ items rather than commercial waste, so the chances are there would not even be a charge at a recycling centre. An act of sheer selfishness, and left to be cleaned up by the council at our expense.

My spirits were lifted a bit further along the road. A cloud of over a hundred fieldfares rose from roadside hawthorn trees and bushes and flew into birch trees on the other side of the road. The trees were absolutely laden with berries, which are providing welcome feeding for these Scandinavian visitors. They were remarkably quiet, with none of the normal chacking usually associated with these birds. At the same time a skein of pink-footed geese flew overhead, having lifted from barley stubble a couple of fields away. A nearby field was also host last week to another migratory flock, whooper swans, this time journeying from Iceland. I counted 32 last Friday but there were even more at the weekend. On Monday I took my camera to get a photo, but they had gone. Typical.

Further along the road a female sparrowhawk came swooping towards me along the road side of the hawthorn trees. At the last minute it cut through the trees and continued its journey on the field side, heading towards where the fieldfares were. I’d be surprised if fieldfare was not on the menu, though maybe such a large flock would confuse the predator and make it miss out.

A couple of hundred yards further on there was more disgusting flytipping, again at a passing place but this time old carpeting and underlay. It looks as if the person involved had tried to turn his vehicle by backing up on to the damp verge and had got stuck. After much spinning and flattening of grass I think he had managed to get the vehicle out. What a pity!

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The first conviction in Scotland for fox hunting – in 2003!

A relaxing urban fox

The spotlight and battery pack used by the fox hunter on Broughty Ferry beach in 2003

It is great news that there is a public consultation under way in Scotland to look at means of improving the protection of wild mammals. In mid-2017 a stakeholder group was established to develop a new Code of Practice for hunting and also to look into the viability of a new hunt monitoring scheme. The consultation will now consider Lord Bonomy’s recommendations for legislative reform with particular regard to interpretation and enforcement of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002.

The conviction in June this year of two members of the Jedforest Hunt in the Scottish Borders has been cited in the media as the first conviction under the Act for foxhunting. While this is not strictly true it is certainly the first conviction that relates to mounted foxhunting. The first conviction under the Act where foxes were the target was in fact the year after the legislation was enacted and took place at Dundee Sheriff Court.

Here is the tale, as told in my first book, Wildlife Detective:


Foxhunting is a country pursuit that engenders vehement opposing views. For my own part I have never been an advocate of killing animals solely for sport. If the reason for the killing is pest control or where the animals or birds killed will ultimately be eaten I have no problems. Killing foxes for sport is how I see fox hunting on horseback. Though there must logically be a degree of pest control if a fox is killed by hounds during a mounted hunt in my view there are far more effective methods of fox control. I can make the clear distinction between mounted hunts and foot packs. Foot packs, where people on foot with a pack of hounds drive foxes forward to waiting guns and the foxes are shot as a means of pest control, are – at least to me – completely different. I am aware of an instance when nine foxes were driven forward from a wood by hounds and were shot by waiting guns. It cannot be argued that that is not good – and humane – fox control.

Though I don’t agree with mounted hunts, everyone is entitled to his or her own view so long as it does not colour their objectivity, judgement and fairness, especially in a role such as that of the police. Lord Watson caused considerable consternation (as opposed to causing a conflagration, which came later in his career) with his Private Member’s Bill on hunting with hounds. Though I have no doubt he started off with the intention of banning fox hunting, in my opinion he made the passing of the Bill much more difficult by trying to include the banning of the use of terriers in a fox den to bolt a vixen or to kill cubs. This no doubt doubled his opposition overnight by involving many gamekeepers, farmers and shepherds in a dispute that hardly, up to that point, affected them.

I had sight of the Bill at several stages in its early days. There were three very clear offences. The offences were to deliberately hunt a wild mammal with a dog (which included the use of more than one dog); for a person to knowingly allow his or her land to be used for the deliberate hunting of a wild mammal with a dog; and lastly for a person being the owner of a dog, to knowingly allow it to be used to deliberately hunt a wild mammal. As in much legislation, the offences are simple: it is the exceptions which complicate something that would otherwise be straightforward. And there were plenty of exceptions; pages and pages of them. Exceptions permitted the stalking, searching for or flushing of wild mammals with dogs above ground and under control for a variety of purposes but only if the person acts to ensure that, once the wild mammal is found or emerges from cover, it is shot or killed by a bird of prey once it is safe to do so. This allowed the hunting of foxes to continue provided the objective was to shoot the fox rather than to have the hounds catch the fox. We frequently have foot packs of hounds out after foxes in Tayside and this activity remains legal and unaffected by the new Act.

Another exception allowed a dog under control to flush a fox or a mink from below ground for various reasons, provided it is shot as soon as possible after it is flushed. This allowed the bolting of vixens from dens with terriers as has been carried out by gamekeepers and shepherds for generations. A further exception allowed the use of a single dog to enter the den after a vixen has been bolted and shot, in order to despatch the cubs. In effect the new Act made little difference to fox control at dens.

Though the exceptions I have cited would be the most widely used, there were many others.

I could see one immediate problem. The definition of mammal excluded a rabbit and a rodent. Where we did have a problem in Tayside was with illegal hare coursing (before the Bill was enacted hare coursing was legal with the permission of the landowner). Landowners, farmers and gamekeepers were contacting me every week regarding groups of men walking over their land with greyhounds and coursing hares. Prior to 2002 when the men had been challenged there were two standard excuses. ‘We were just letting our dogs stretch their legs. They had been cooped up in the car and we thought they needed out.’ Or ‘Our dogs just need the toilet. They just need out for a pee but they ran off. We’re doing no harm mister’ (or constable as the case may be).

I had a variation on this theme in January 2007, when hare coursers alleged that they had to stop and let their two dogs out of the car as they were feeling car-sick. I was intrigued as to how word of this canine malady was transmitted to the human owners? In any event, when we were at the Bill stage I could see a new excuse; ‘We’re just after rabbits. They’re young dogs and they’re not fit for hares anyway.’

I made one or two recommendations for changes to the Bill. Some changes were made, possibly on my recommendations, but no change to the rabbit being deprived of its mammal status. Poor wee rabbits, being ousted as mammals by Lord Watson to join the ranks of the non-mammals. Frogs, snakes, newts, lizards, moths, earthworms, blowflies, beetles, centipedes. . . and rabbits. My prediction came true and a standard excuse now by hare coursers when they are caught is that they are just looking for rabbits. It is still an offence – to trespass on land in unlawful search or pursuit of game – but with a considerably reduced penalty and no power of arrest. At least (in 2003) the rabbits could take comfort that they were still afforded a degree of protection by many of the Game Laws of the 1800s, a privilege denied to worms and beetles!

Mike Watson’s Bill was enacted and became the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. Though it could be argued that it did not achieve what it set out to do, and despite my criticisms, it has been a benefit to us in policing hare coursing, mainly because of the power of arrest and the increased penalties including imprisonment for up to six months.

I was pleased that the first conviction in Scotland under the new legislation was in Dundee. What’s more it was for fox hunting! This remarkable case started off with a call on my mobile phone one evening from a man in Broughty Ferry, which is on the outskirts of Dundee. He told me that on several occasions he had seen someone hunting on Broughty Ferry beach. It was a spotlight that first drew his attention, especially when the spotlight sometimes showed a white light and sometimes a red light. The operator of the spotlight was walking along the beach and the beam was sweeping back and forth. My witness also said that he could hear a squeaking noise like a rabbit in distress.

The reason he had phoned me that particular night was that he had witnessed the man who was operating the light come off the beach on to the road. The man had with him two dogs, a greyhound and a golden retriever. Curious as to what had been taking place, my witness approached him and asked what he was doing. ‘I’m after foxes. There’s loads of them. I catch them in the beam of the light and squeak them in. When they come in a bit I change the beam to red so they’re not spooked. I keep squeaking them in and when they’re close enough I let the dogs go. The dogs go after the fox and catch it. They have great fun.’

My witness said that he was disgusted that this was taking place almost on his doorstep and could we do something about it. My instructions to him were to contact the Control Room in Dundee as soon as he saw the man on the beach with the spotlight again. He promised to do so and apologised for disturbing me in the evening. The next morning I prepared a briefing note for the Control Room and for the police officers covering Broughty Ferry. This was new legislation, it was a type of incident that neither the Control Room staff nor the police officers would have encountered and it was unrealistic to expect them to deal with it efficiently without some basic guidance. The briefing note outlined the type of incident, how it would be reported to the police, the legislation, powers the police officers had to deal with it and my suggestions as to how best to deal with it.

It worked perfectly. Several nights later the incident occurred again. My witness took the action I had requested and the police responded quickly, catching the man as he came off the beach. He had a spotlamp, a battery pack and two dogs and was arrested and charged under the new legislation with deliberately hunting a wild mammal, namely a fox, with two dogs. The witness had gone a stage further and had given the police the name of another person who had watched the evening’s events. It was an unusual case. No foxes had been seen either being caught or even hunted, though the witnesses and the police officers were able to say that foxes were regularly seen scavenging on the beach.

At the trial I and PC Harvey Birse, a Divisional wildlife crime officer, gave evidence. Over the years both of us had often used spotlamps and rifles to shoot rabbits, and also spotlamps, rifles and squeakers to shoot foxes. We described how foxes could be picked up in the beam of a lamp at a considerable distance and how they could be lured closer by the use of a squeaker that simulated the noise of a rabbit or hare in distress. We also explained the use of the red filter on the lamp, which could be used as the fox came closer. While a fox might be reluctant to continue towards a beam of white light they seem to disregard a light with a red filter which is possibly invisible to them.

When giving my evidence I asked the court if they would like the two squeakers demonstrated. One was a large squeaker which I was sure would be used while the fox was still distant, while the other was a small, quiet, squeaker which would be ideal to encourage the fox to continue coming forward to investigate the intriguing sound for the last 100 metres or so. The sheriff agreed he would like the squeakers demonstrated and I started with the loud one. I unfortunately forgot about the microphone and the loudspeaker system in the court and nearly deafened everyone. The court dispensed with the need to demonstrate the second squeaker, however everyone was wide awake to hear the accused being found guilty. He was fined £250 and his spotlight and battery pack, worth about the same, were forfeited.

I was pleased at the result of this case. Though we in Tayside and one or two other forces have used the legislation frequently, this remains, at the beginning of 2007, the only Scottish conviction that relates to the hunting of a fox, the remainder all relating to the hunting of hares.



This remained, until 2017, the only conviction in Scotland under this legislation relating to fox hunting. The outdated Game Acts have now been repealed and replaced with an amended Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This Act gives a better opportunity of a conviction for hare coursing as only one witness is required. The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 is used less often for hare coursing though it does have the benefit in that a person can be banned by the court from keeping animals.


See Wildlife Detective and other books on this blog. If you would like a signed copy, plus a free copy of another of my books, The Thin Green Line, contact me on

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No court case for Hunt Investigation Team covert snaring surveillance

Masked gamekeeper ‘shooting’ off the snare from a snared badger. Surprising if badger not permanently deafened – if it lives! Photo courtesy of Hunt Investigation Team

I wrote on 11 July 2017 of incidents filmed on Moscar Estate in Derbyshire by the Hunt Investigation Team. This undercover team had filmed a snare that may have been a locking snare and claimed they saw a badger in a snare being shot and buried. Worst of all they filmed a masked gamekeeper with a shotgun trying to shoot a snare off a trapped badger. My concluding sentence at the time was:

If the police manage to put a case to the CPS I’ll watch with interest to see if they and the court accept the covert footage.

(see )

It transpires that in early September the police did manage to prepare a case and send it to the Crown Prosecution Service. The charges are not known though it is highly likely that one of the main charges would be a cruelty charge under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 for discharging a shotgun numerous times right beside the terrified badger’s ear then allowing it to run off with two snares round its neck.

On 1 October 2017 a BBC news report stated that the Crown Prosecution Service decided no charges would be brought. Before looking at possible reasons why, it is worth contemplating the view of the owners of Moscar Estate, the Duke and Duchess of Rutland. The BBC news item reported that they were ‘horrified by the allegations’. Does that mean they were horrified by what was filmed happening to the badger? I bet it doesn’t; the wording used indicates they were horrified that there was an allegation that one of their staff could be suspected of breaking the law.

It is also worth contemplating the quote from a spokesman for the estate: “Endangered birds like curlew and lapwing are flourishing in grouse moors because gamekeepers do such a good job at protecting them from foxes.” Maybe so, but for balance he omitted to say that endangered hen harriers were virtually non-existent on grouse moors because gamekeepers do such a good job of killing them.

Returning to CPS dropping the case, why would this be?

Was it not in the public interest? Surely the answer to that is that it is very much in the public interest. Deliberate cruelty to a trapped animal plus a man wearing a mask and with a shotgun.

Was there insufficient evidence? Hard to say without knowing all the facts, but unlikely. The incidents were filmed and the film most likely showed a time and date. It is also unlikely that there was only one observer, since it would be risky for the Hunt Investigation Team only to field one person for a job in the middle of moorland and where firearms may be a factor. There may well therefore have been corroboration.

Was the person with the mask and shotgun not identified? It seems likely that he was, since the police managed to send a report to the CPS. A report would not be sent without details of an accused person.

Did the CPS decline to use film or the evidence that was obtained covertly? There have been precedents where covert surveillance taken by ngos has been accepted, especially in England. However there is a real mixed message since, if this was the reason the case was not proceeded with, it is at least the second case this year in England plus there have been two in Scotland. Of the different reasons for CPS not to take the case to court, this seems the most likely.

Failure of prosecutors to take forward cases where there is apparently clear evidence but obtained through covert filming on ‘private’ land is frustrating for the public. It may even be frustrating for the prosecutor. It seems almost like the law versus common sense. The balance seems tipped hugely in favour of a suspect and against public interest. It is an aspect of the legal system that has intrigued – and annoyed – me for several years and I give it more consideration in my new book Killing by Proxy: an analysis of wildlife crime, due for publication in November.

The Hunt Investigation Team also filmed cruelty to a captive fox at another location. It is still under investigation by the police. Hopefully that one will get to court.

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Book review: Shorebirds in Action by Richard Chandler

For those with a general interest in birds Shorebirds in Action is a ‘must read.’ For readers with a particular interest in shore birds you will be guaranteed to learn a great deal. Even on what may be considered simpler wildlife matters I thought until I read this book that the flocks of oystercatchers regularly seen at times when they should be nesting had all lost their eggs or chicks due to predation or to farming operations. I know now that oystercatchers do not breed until they are at least four years old.

The book explains in depth the different plumage shore birds take on at different seasons and when breeding, their moult strategy, feeding habits, territorial behaviour, bird behaviour, predator avoidance and much more. What I particularly like are the countless and captivating photographs taken specially to illustrate the particular point being made by the author. Much of the text is an explanation linked to a single photograph or a series, which makes it far more easily understood by the layman.

The book includes fascinating case studies about shore bird migration, using data gained from GPS tags, platform transmitter terminals and light-level geolocators. This includes the migration of the bar-tailed godwit on its marathon 12,000 km flight from Alaska to New Zealand.

The full title of the book is Shorebirds in Action: an introduction to waders and their behaviour. The author clearly knows these birds inside out, not just in Europe but across the globe. It is doubtful that much more information could have been included.


Shorebirds in Action: an introduction to waders and their behaviour by Richard Chandler.

Whittles Publishing, Dunbeath, Caithness, KW6 6EG.  £21.95

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