Guest blog – Two years on by Andrea Goddard

andrea pic-1

Andrea Goddard co-founded Let’s Get MAD for Wildlife in April 2014 and is a passionate wildlife enthusiast who has volunteered for the RSPB for five years in various capacities, but mainly at Tollie red kites. She is studying Environmental Science for a BSc (Hons) at Inverness University of the Highlands and Islands.

2nd Year Anniversary of the Ross-shire Massacre – A Catalyst for Change.

Exactly two years ago, one of the worst ever cases of illegal raptor persecution in the UK was playing out on farmland next to a sleepy Ross-shire village on the Black Isle in Scotland.

Sixteen red kites and six buzzards had unknowingly fed upon bait, laced with an illegal poison, deliberately and criminally placed out in the open in a field and very soon afterwards they were all dead. There may well have been more birds and animals which died as a result, but these were the victims that were found. Some of the victims were discovered in residential gardens, some of them in nearby woodlands and some on agricultural land, yet all of them were within an area of just a 2-3 square kilometres.

deadkites

It was an immensely sad and frustrating aftermath which ensued, beginning with police-led searches of land and farm buildings, then conflicting press reports, offers of rewards, rumours, accusations and gossip. The local public were so outraged there was a demonstration in the streets of Inverness.

Photo: Stuart Benn
Photo: Stuart Benn

As the 2-year anniversary passes, it remains a difficult time for everyone concerned as it is very disappointing that we will probably never see a conviction for this sickening crime, despite a reward for information leading to successful prosecution totalling £26,000. This incident was very unusual in that it happened on lowland farmland, close to a town, in contrast to the majority of crimes against birds of prey in Scotland which continue month after month, in less populated places, out of the public gaze.

As yet, the police have not divulged the illegal chemical that killed these birds, meaning that the ridiculous suggestions that they were poisoned at the RSPB’s red kite feeding station may continue to be peddled by those who may wish to divert attention from the real culprit. Or there is the mystery raptor virus theory…! We all know, and the police have confirmed in previous press releases, that what killed these birds was an illegal poison, not a virus, not a veterinary medicine and not a rodenticide. It was a fast-acting and deadly chemical, undoubtedly from a bait in the heart of the area in which all the victims were found.

But, depressing as the whole story is, there have been many positive developments which have arisen since the incident on the Black Isle. We believe that the massive amount of press coverage that the case has generated and the political fallout from this and other incidents have been instrumental in driving forward some positive developments. It has clearly been a catalyst for change.

Since March 2014, there is:
1. Increased awareness of wildlife crime among the general public and farming sectors, all helped along by the fantastic tool of social media.
2. We now have a full-time wildlife crime police officer in the north of Scotland, dedicated to his role and passionate about tackling wildlife crime in the local area.
3. There has been a Scottish pesticide disposal scheme allowing the removal of 700kg of illegal chemicals to be handed in. This will surely increase the sentences given to anyone who has held on to these chemicals.
4. A review of wildlife crime penalties has recommended increases in sentences available to our courts. These have been accepted by the Scottish Government. However, we believe there should also be a minimum penalty for such crimes.
5. We have seen the UK’s first custodial sentence for raptor persecution offences – in a landmark case gamekeeper George Mutch was sent to prison for four months for killing a goshawk and other offences.
6. There have been two vicarious-liability prosecutions of landowners following convictions of their gamekeepers for raptor persecution offences.
7. A Highland Partnership Against Wildlife Crime group has been established.
8. Birders Against Wildlife Crime, Wildlife Crime Aware, Let’s get MAD for Wildlife and other pressure groups have been established.
9. The police National Wildlife Crime Unit has been given 4 years funding to continue their important work.
10. A new veterinary laboratory centre is to be opened in Inverness to replace the older facility, which was previously threatened with total closure.

We are awaiting the decision by the Scottish Environment minister, Dr Aileen McLeod, as to whether the SSPCA will be given additional powers to investigate wildlife crime. This is vital, in our opinion, in terms of providing a huge increase to resources given to detecting and investigating wildlife crimes, increasing detections and the prosecutions.

There is still a long road ahead of us in terms of combating wildlife crime in Scotland, although we think that we are well ahead of the rest of the UK! It is a shame, however, that it takes the very public deaths of 22 kites and buzzards on the Black Isle to raise raptor persecution as an issue in the consciousness of the public and our politicians, when such killings, of red kites, golden eagles, peregrines and hen harriers, has been going on in our uplands for years and years.

Here is a link to Li Marley’s excellent short documentary about the case, its well worth watching!

 

 

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9 Replies to “Guest blog – Two years on by Andrea Goddard”

  1. Yes some very positive things have come out of this very ugly event but we need to be aware and more importantly make the public, politicians and police aware that the range and numbers of all raptors, raven and protected predatory mammals are restricted by persecution by the game industry.

    It's well beyond time it was brought to an end.

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  2. Agreed Paul.
    I could also have listed all the positives we would like to see happen next, such as banning or regulating in some way the grouse/game shooting industry, banning lead ammunition, banning snares, introducing top-tier predators, legally protecting beavers, banning the guga hunt (which I believe could be an achievable goal if more people were aware of the awful practice),etc, but I thought I'd leave that for a future blog.

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    1. Excellent post thank you. Agree with you entirely about the Guga hunt, just continuing with eating young gannets for the sake of it is pretty obscene. I've worked on Lewis and it's hardly a subsistence economy, would be interesting to know how the Guga 'harvest' compares with amount of food ending up in the bin on the island.

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  3. What is needed is young people to take up the challenge like my youngest and run their own business to promote wildlife showing the SNP that wildlife is certainly worth more and is supported by the majority of public not a small minority who want to destroy wildlife . http://www.sharenature.co.uk/

    How many shooting estates can prove that the public are being poisoned by chemicals like the Peregrine showed us and now the Barn owl and the Kestrel is proving in secondary poisoning. Wake up SNP.

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  4. All the points 1-10 made above are positive but I can't help thinking, cynic that I am, that they contain a degree of wishful thinking.
    In the end, you still need politicians to address the issues involved and that won't happen whilst there is such a high level of vested interest.
    What is needed is for a very high profile (star) naturalist to start a campaign, highlighting the issues involved to as many of the public that will listen. This would of course, potentially, be economic and professional suicide for that person. It would also need the backing of the media at all levels, which would again be prevented by vested interest.

    If you live on Mull you will be aware of how valuable your wildlife is to the local economy. Same on the Black Isle, near a kite feeding station in Wales, at Wells in Norfolk for the seals, near any large reserve. But all these together involve so few members of the public. We need to reach everyone. We need an anti wildlife crime march through the centre of London and all major cities the like of which has never been seen before. A hen harrier day x100000.
    Only someone with the standing of CP or DA could generate that kind of interest.
    It would be one shot. It would either work or it would be oblivion for that person.
    Has it been done before, well yes, Geldof did it years ago.....and it worked.

    Ok, I'm nuts. But what if?

    Giles Bradshaw made some interesting points on this blog yesterday. How each moor, mountain, NP, should have a good mix of wildlife, including top preditors or have their funding taken away. Great idea but the politicians that would have the final say are the ones that own these areas.
    We've talked for two long and got nowhere. Read the above blog again. It's about a crime that occurred two years ago. Nothing has happened and nothing will.
    Cover up after cover up. No vicarious liability, no landed gentry imprisioned, no nothing.
    We need to take this into our own hands. Someone has to show up the politicians for the bent bunch of greedy rabble that they are.
    Who is it going to be? Chris? David?

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  5. "Someone has to ..."

    ... put Procurators Fiscal under scrutiny for starters and assemble timelines and outcomes

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  6. This happened on the Black Isle - my home. Sickened. And angry. A lot of us are. And getting angrier. How much more of this constant war against wildlife can we take?

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  7. The Black Isle ..... isn't it time somebody simply dobbed somebody in? Someone somewhere on that island knows something do you not think?? I should imagine it's been pretty uncomfortable living there over the last couple of years - isn't it time that you all stood together against whoever ....... they can't hold that much sway can they?
    Forgive me if this sounds like criticism ...... I live outside a small community and know how horrible things can get ........ but I also know that I would have to speak up against anything like this despite any consequences.
    Please forgive me if I speak out of turn - I do not mean to offend ........

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  8. I suppose what I'm trying to understand is what is it that you live in fear of.........

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