H is for Hawk

Goshawkfem55Video evidence was used to secure a conviction of a Scottish gamekeeper for wildlife crime yesterday in an important case.

I don’t know any more about this case than you can read here, here and here. This killer killed a Goshawk.

The fact that video evidence was admitted, I guess making it a pretty straightforward case, was a bit of a departure in Scottish wildlife crime cases.  There may be more similar cases in future.

Scotland has vicarious liability for wildlife crime but these crimes were committed before the enactment of vicarious liability.

The statement by the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association was astounding even by their standards. It’s a bit incoherent but I think you can get their drift:

If this is to be the direction of travel, it is not right for Scottish Government to deny people whose livelihoods come under pressure due to the activity of certain species or animals, recourse to a legal solution to solve that conflict. 
Currently, there are no legal or scientific means by which people can protect their investments or jobs in situations exacerbated by conflicts with species. Scottish Government has never granted anyone from the game industry a licence to protect investments, which they have the power to do, although it does grant licences routinely to other industries. This, in our view, is a barrier to justice and does nothing to prevent wildlife crime.
They seem to be saying ‘Protected wildlife, like Goshawks, are inconvenient to gameshooting. If you made it legal to kill birds of prey then nobody would have to worry about illegal killing of birds of prey because…it would be legal killing of birds of prey.’. Well, you can’t, in a way, argue with that.
The same SGA website says that five of their members have been thrown out of SGA for wildlife offences in the last three years.
One has to wonder, and I do wonder, if you had a covert video camera on every Larsen trap in the UK how many birds of prey would you find being caught and then killed, and which profession would be caught doing that killing? Improved technology, whether it be better cameras and longer -lasting batteries for them, or satellite tags and longer-lasting batteries for them too, seems to lead us towards the conclusion that there is an awful lot of killing going on out there.
H is for Hawk, and horrific, horrendous and humiliating.
A is for appalling, antisocial and atrocious.
W is for when will wildlife crime end?
K is for ‘keepers are doing most of the killing.




27 Replies to “H is for Hawk”

  1. Courts use CCTV evidence all the time; shop and bank robberies, street fights, road accidents, even parking offences; what’s the difference with using it to trap perpetrators of Wildlife Crime??

    1. Howard – things are different in England from Scotland and this case sets a very useful precedent.

  2. How, in this day and age, can gamekeepers be considering the legal control of raptors for the sake of preserving a non-native game bird for shooting purposes?

    It defies belief.

  3. Increasingly the Gun Wielding Criminal Thugs (GWCTs) are becoming the Gun Wielding Convicted Thugs (GWCTs), thankfully.

  4. This crime was committed in Aug 2012 before the enactment of vicarious liability in Scottish law (1st Jan 2013) but apparently there is a three year time frame that can be applied retrospectively. That means there could be a vicarious liability case against his employers if it went to court before Aug 2015. The time left makes that unlikely though.

  5. I suppose at least it’s a more honest response from the SGA. The standard rhetoric of ‘We condemn the actions of this rogue minority…yada yada yada.’ barely raises an eyebrow anymore.

  6. This is a great result. I have added a comment on the RPS website about this case in relation to land reform in Scotland and acting in the public interest, about public support payments to the estate, and probably erroneously about vicarious liablilty.

    Anyway, there is a large amount of confusion on the RPS website, and now appearing on this about the admissability of video evidence. Can one of your better informed followers please explain to all, including me, the hows whys and wherefores of video evidence?

    My understanding is that you cannot normally use video evidence if it has been gathered covertly, unless there is police involvement. So all the talk about crims being caught using video in other more urban situations and why not out in the countryside is because the surveillance is not covert; there are signs telling us all that video is in use (usually ‘to protect us’ – apparently, but that’s a different debate).

    Such and explanation will head off a large amount of hot air and angst, if I can mix metaphors.

      1. I might be slightly of the mark…but…I believe that Scotland’s access laws enable the carrying out of research without the owners consent.
        There was an argument that the cameras were part of a research project designed to monitor the effectiveness of crow traps…they were not set up to monitor the activity of the game keeper…they merely caught the incident accidently.
        I would be willing to help fund the increase of data collection to help make the statistical output of this project more robust.

  7. The SGA’s argument is from ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’. They should be arguing that gamekeepers shouldn’t be put under pressure by their employers to carry out illegal acts in order to protect game species and therefore preserve their livelihoods.

  8. Having worked with game keepers for many years I know there are a lots they can do to protect their livestock from predators without killing the predator. Cover and even supplementary feeding on plucking posts are just some ways of preventing and reducing kills. As I have said before all pheasants and red legged partridge need to be close ringed so any road incidents and prey related loss can be monitored properly.

  9. The response to my rally for nature email to Philip Dunne (Con, Ludlow) stated:

    (Standard first para about NEWP, followed by a couple responding to my raising Hen Harrier and raptor persecution):

    “Like you, I value the Wild Birds and habitat Directives, and in my view the best way to defend them is to ensure that the obligations they apply are being discharged. That’s why the Government reviewed the way these Directives are implemented in England: it found that generally they are working well, but identified 28 measures that would make compliance simpler, 25 of which had already been implemented as of last summer.

    Lastly I share your concerns over crimes harming birds and naturally I would encourage anyone with information about it to report what they know to the authorities. I believe that the Government’s commitment to tackling wildlife crime was highlighted in February, when £500,000 of funding was announced for the National Wildlife Crime Unit to help secure its future.”

    1. My MP (John Howell, Henley) gave me an identical paragraph to yours, John, concerning the Directives. Obviously not a very personalised response!

    2. John – word for word the reply I got from my Con MP. Astounding coincidence. He didn’t respond to the email I sent a week before the rally but after waiting about in vain for a couple of hours at the H,s of P hoping to speak to him, I arrived home to find a letter saying he wouldn’t be available followed by a copy and paste of the response you got. Patronising tosh.

  10. This gamekeeper, I am afraid, deserves everything he gets. English courts have accepted video evidence of this type for some time. Indeed this case gives the lie to the repeated claim that humans are good at avoiding CCTV. Given that fact, the number of video devices in use, the number of footpaths running across grouse moors in England, it is strange that there is no evidence whatsoever of any illegal killing of hen harriers by grouse shooting interests in England, despite this blog, the rspb and others, claiming that the practice is widespread.

    In fact only 5 out of 28 prosecutions for the illegal killing of birds last year across the whole of England had any connection with game shooting.

    I believe that the rspb, Dr Avery et al., have got things badly wrong.

    The latest evidence ( http://www.scribd.com/doc/233369217/Hen-Harriers-nest-failures-predation-on-Skye-From-Scottish-Birds-magazine-Feb-14 ) shows that predation, particularly by foxes, is far more likely to be responsible for the disappearance of hen harriers in England, as the latest instance evidences:


    1. Monro – you keep bleating away as much as you like. Although that is the last time I am going to let you quote that study in Skye as evidence for no Hen harrier killing by gamekeepers in England. If that’s all you’ve got then you’ve said it plenty of times.

      From memory, 69% of prosecutions (so you can go argue with the courts if you like) for bird of prey offences are by gamekeepers and those involved in game shooting. What 5 of actual offences do you think might come to court?

    2. Is there really a network of CCTV videos covering England’s grouse moors, Monro? If so, who operates them, and can I see the footage?

      1. Just about every walker on the Cleveland Way, a public right of way straight across some excellent grouse moors, teeming with birdlife, will have some kind of video capable device with them.

    3. Skye is not exactly renowned for its grouse moors, so what happens to hen harriers there doesn’t seem to be relevant to English moors, unless you think that the heavily-keepered English moors are heaving with foxes (which seems unlikely).

      1. The daffy petition to ban grouse shooting in England relies entirely on evidence from Scotland for its justification! There is no evidence from England of any illegal killing of hen harriers by English grouse shooting interests.

        The study from Skye, based on CCTV evidence, peer reviewed and published this year, a great deal more recent and authoritative than rspb non peer reviewed ‘birdcrime’ figures, is the most relevant and up to date science available.

        It cannot readily be dismissed, inconvenient though that may be.

        1. Monro – you’re one of the few people who deny, outright, that hen harriers in England are being persecuted. At least Andrew Gilruth et al. agree that there’s a problem with persecution, proposing an increase in surveillance as one part of the solution. The stance you adopt encourages people like me to lose faith, and sign Mark’s petition for an out-right ban – http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/65627

    4. Monro has got his facts all wrong. The 28 convictions listed in the RSPB’s Birdcrime 2013 report cover all types of wildlife crime, including trade in CITES species, disturbing rare seabirds and egg collecting. Hardly crimes you would expect many gamekeepers to commit. However, if we look at the eight convictions for offences related to persecution of raptors in 2013 we find that five of the criminals were gamekeepers i.e. 63%. That’s pretty much in line with the percentage convicted for raptor persecution crimes since 1990 i.e. 69% gamekeepers. So not much change there then. It’s also not surprising that no-one was convicted of a hen harrier crime on English moorlands given the vast remote area that is almost impossible to police and the fact that there are hardly any harriers left anyway because of persecution. The evidence that it is persecution on grouse moors that is responsible for this shocking situation is found in the two government reports by JNCC and Natural England.

    5. Up to your usual standard ie Utter and possibly deliberate misinformation. So foxes are responsible for English harrier loss.

      so foxes are killing our harriers in a habitat where foxes are exceedingly scarce as the keepers main job is killing them. Also when such does happen there is always some evidence— bitten off feathers, eaten eggs, nestlings etc. Yet currently there is just a disappeared bird with an intact but deserted nest or a sat tagged bird just disappears, no predation signs at all. Please don’t tell me the tags are unreliable because at £2000+ they are not, many many other studies show them to be reliable. Yes foxes take harriers but never enough to make them essentially extinct, what you are saying is tosh. Try putting a covert video in the middle of a grouse moor with no appropriately high cover to hide it– the first thing the wildlife criminal, sorry keeper will do is destroy, steal or point the camera away before he commits his crime. you say it doesn’t happen yet lots of conversations with keepers and estate owners/agents says it does.
      Oh and Much will hopefully be jailed.
      What the SGA say is essentially as Mark says but they also have a go a covert surviellance apparently it infringes the keepers rights– really we are all videoed all the time elsewhere. Video evidence should always be admissible and if keepers obey the law then there is no problem. However the problem is MANY of them don’t and don’t want to get caught.
      I echo RPS, the shooting industry organisations have no place at PAW in England or Scotland under present circumstances.

      1. You clearly have not bothered to read the Skye report referenced above before replying.

        The Skye report has been peer reviewed and published.

        It clearly demonstrates, with CCTV footage, that foxes frequently leave no evidence behind whatsoever, clean lifting hen harriers from their nests.

        Satellite tag signals cannot be picked up if the tag is underground in a foxes earth.

        The only evidence available this year of hen harriers being killed in England cites natural predation as the cause:


  11. Skye is irrelevant to England there are virtually no foxes on grouse moors it is the keepers main task to kill them and you cannot lay the blame for the near extinction of harriers at the door of the fox. You fail to answer the point in many conversations Iand many others have had with keepers and agents and owners they all say they will not tolerate harriers.
    There are several harriers satellite tagged this year in England on the missing disappeared in dodgy circumstances on estates with lots of keepers and no foxes.
    the very same places that peregrines fail to breed on and if they try disappear, in fact there are no regularly successful peregrines on any grouse moor in England—–must be foxes.
    utter bollocks!

  12. Here’s an idea. Those video cameras that police officers have or are going to have on their uniforms to record what happens.

    Get all gamies in England to wear them all the time and see what happens to birds of prey populations!

  13. Monro,

    I’ve taken the time to read the Skye paper that you cite – very interesting it is too. It certainly highlights the need to consider every threat to breeding harriers and take a holistic approach to their conservation.

    I do have one question for you however. Having spent a lot of time surveying and working on upland estates, I have seen for myself how much predator control goes on. Foxes are usually shot on sight. If we follow your argument that the loss of hen harriers is due primarily to fox predation, why do we not see large numbers of hen harriers successfully nesting on grouse moors where foxes are heavily controlled? Predator control is often cited by the shooting community as being a huge benefit to ground nesting birds on grouse moors – so why isn’t this reflected in hen harrier numbers?

    I’d be interested in your reply and to know if there are any other factors that should be taken into account in hen harrier conservation, alongside nest predation and illegal persecution.

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