Tag Archives: Wildlife Crime

A weekend to inglorify

Last week Natural England issued a license which permitted the killing of up to 10 buzzards to ‘prevent serious damage to young pheasants’.

Pheasants which are going  to be shot anyway, in the name of fun.

So killing a national treasure so there’s ‘enough’ birds for them to go out and have a jolly. Enough birds out of the 35 million they release into the British countryside each year for this purpose.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 killing buzzards is illegal, as is killing any other wild bird. What makes this an exception though?

After reading Patrick Barkham’s article in The Guardian last night it made me think about what the bigger impact could be. For example, look at the badger cull. Since that was given the go ahead in 2013 incidents of badger persecution have rose and many believe this is due to the green light the slaughter taking place in the South West of England gives. Making it the ‘norm’ to go out and pointlessly kill badgers to please a minority and in the case of the cull; who believe badgers are to blame for passing Bovine TB to cattle. However, just this morning there’s been numerous reports in The Guardian, Independent and on the BBC website that new research has found badgers don’t spread Bovine TB. Well there was no real evidence in the first place to suggest they did but I hope this story gets a lot of coverage and isn’t pushed out of the way.

Anyway, buzzards are an amazing success story. Every time I visit my patch I’m guaranteed to see one or two circling above. Their numbers have boomed over recent years which is fantastic and should be celebrated. Instead though, a minority want to ‘control’ them for their own benefit. Stripping our landscape. It’s terrible and it does make me very angry. This is only one example though.

One thing I decided to do to get all my energy into something was write a letter to our new Secretary of State for DEFRA, Andrea Leadsom. I imagine she won’t get back to me until the end of her summer break but here is what I said.

Dear Ms Leadsom

Congratulations on your new role as Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs. There is no doubt that this is a very important department in government at the moment, especially after the recent Brexit result. I am writing to you today though about an issue which needs addressing to halt the destruction of our landscape due to the draining of well-loved symbols.

The pheasant shooting season begins at the start of October and continues through to February. As a result, so that the season is successful with plenty birds to be shot over 35 million are released into the British countryside even though they are in fact a non-native species. This is done with little or even no valuable contribution to conservation or our landscape and even less so when a gamekeeper is given a license to kill national treasures for the sake of a bit of fun for a minority. 

Natural England’s recent decision (29th July 2016) to issue a license that permits the ‘control’ of up to 10 buzzards to ‘prevent serious damage to young pheasants’ is of serious concern. First of all, it is very ironic. Why must buzzards be killed to protect birds that will be slaughtered in great numbers just for the sake of a minority to have a bit of fun. Buzzards are a bird which has climbed back from the brink and are now an icon across the British countryside. They matter much more than the interests of a few.

A ridiculous point of this license is that its been made clear that the control can only be of ‘up to’ 10 buzzards. I find it difficult to understand how this will work regarding how it is monitored to ensure that only up to ten birds are shot. Some may also argue that 10 birds is a very small proportion and would have no damaging effect on their overall population but the fact that the license was issued is a worry in its own. What is going to stop the same gamekeeper from being granted the same license next year or now that the ice has been broken, other gamekeepers from different pheasant shoots. Just like on grouse moors where driven grouse shooting is practised, we could see national treasures wiped from pockets of our countryside.

A similar comparison is the badger cull. Since the cull first began badger persecution incidents have increased across England and not just in the South West where the slaughter is taking place. This indicates that those wanting to either eradicate badgers from their land or for entertainment purposes are being given the green light to do so. As well as this, the persecution of these animals is horrendous and totally unacceptable within today’s society. We live in the 21st century, not back in dark ages.

Obviously badger persecution or disturbance of any kind is illegal. Unfortunately, it still happens though and so does other methods of wildlife crime including raptor persecution. A bird of prey that has suffered unimaginably from being illegally ‘controlled’ for a minorities interest is the Hen Harrier. This year there has been only three breeding pairs when in fact there should be over 300 pairs in England. It is a disgrace and what’s worse is that DEFRA are not doing anything to stop it. Instead on the 12th of August grouse moors will be rampaged by shooters in the hope of a successful year after their ‘hard work’ to prepare. This ‘hard work’ included shooting our birds of prey and trapping wildlife they like to call ‘pests’, burning peat which is in fact contributing to climate change and increasing flooding downstream, and overall sucking our upland areas dry of any life.

Your Hen Harrier plan isn’t working and won’t work. Our Hen Harriers don’t have time on their side and need big change now. This year two radio tagged birds disappeared, both over grouse moors.

Please take a look at the petition to end driven grouse shooting, signed by a majority – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/125003

Yours sincerely,

Georgia Locock

In the letter I couldn’t not include about what’s happening with our Hen Harriers. I really hope she already knows about the danger they’re in but maybe not the true trouble. This also fits in well with me writing my blog about Hen Harrier Day this year. The third year, in fact! Which is amazing, and the growth since that rainy day in the Peak District is also amazing with 12 events taking place across the UK, more people getting involved, more people aware and most of all, more change.

It’s also been incredible to see so much going on. From Mark Avery’s petition, to short films from Chris Packham, The League Against Cruel Sports, boycotting of supermarkets, many individuals doing their bit and all (mainly) from the power of social media. Of which is going to be very important over the weekend with many tweeting, hashtags, images, videos and much more circling round. As the title of this blog says, it’s a weekend to inglorify driven grouse shooting by spreading the truth and clearly stating why it must end.

I’m looking forward to it and will be up at the Peak event in Edale on Sunday.

Below are some more links to take a look at.

Thunderclap (1) – https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/45248-inglorious-12th

Thunderclap (2) – https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/44802-ban-driven-grouse-shooting

Mark Avery’s petition – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/125003

The League Against Cruel Sports Crowdfunder – http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/bangrouseshooting

The truth of driven grouse shooting videos – http://www.chrispackham.co.uk/news/the-real-price-of-grouse-traps

Hen Harrier Day information – http://henharrierday.org/2016-events.html

BAWC16 – eyes continue to grow

On Sunday afternoon when the conference had finished I headed to Temple Meads to catch the train home. Walking along the docks, I was taking a last look at this area of Bristol where I’d never been to before but had spent the weekend. From the distant colourful terraced houses and what looked like allotments that stacked up on the hillside to the left of Brandon Hill and the Cabot Tower, to the docks I was walking alongside. However with the thoughts from two days of talks and experiences still circling my mind, I was strangely alarmed.

One of the first wildlife crimes I think I was told about when I was a kid is that no one can kill a swan. It’s a bit odd how I remember this, perhaps because I was very young and with it being a well recognised species, but it obviously made an impression on me. As I watched them, unlike my normal reaction which is just to make an acknowledgement, images and accounts from some of the conference talks suddenly came to mind. From the issues involving fishing hooks cutting into them, an accidental but nevertheless careless act, to the x-ray we were shown after one had been shot and the case when 46 were found shot dead within just one area. Something so recognised by all and popular in urban areas yet still threatened by persecution.

Wildlife crime can happen anywhere. Whether it’s a rural or urban place. This was presented throughout the weekend at the Birders Against Wildlife Crime’s ‘Eyes in the Field’ conference in Bristol, starting off with some personal accounts from David Lindo, the Urban Birder. Someone who focuses his time observing urban wildlife and shares that enjoyment and importance with others to inspire them too. I really enjoyed his talk. His enthusiasm was relatable to when I’m out in my city centre watching the peregrine falcons at the cathedral. I often go down, at least once a week, and can spend hours standing around with my binoculars. Across the UK, as Keith Betton told us in his talk, peregrines are doing great in urban areas as their numbers have boomed. However even though they’re considered ‘safer’ here they still face threats. I’ve had a few first hand accounts of this with the pair in my local city centre. A very recent one made some national news and was mentioned a few times over the weekend. This was about a racing pigeon that had been found in a nearby garden with a hook tied to its feet. Another was when a very healthy looking peregrine, one we presume was from the cathedral, was found dead on a nearby school playing field.

From the enjoyment of watching these birds on a regular basis and being fascinated by them, to learning of what some think is acceptable to do which could, and is in other areas, causing incredible harm wakes you up. It motivates you and this was so rightly put by Craig Jones, wildlife photographer, in his talk. His message being we all have motivation to do what we do, fighting against wildlife crime. In his talk whilst showing a selection of simply fantastic images he spoke his mind and of his passion which was an extremely powerful combination and set a lot of the audience to tears. As well as this he gave some very well deserved praises to Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Mark Avery. I was very, very pleased to see the BAWC team receiving the award of ‘Wildlife Success Story of the Year’ for the hen harrier from the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards too. As mentioned, this was not necessarily to do with bird numbers as they are still very much endangered but public awareness and understanding of the issue has soared.

It goes without saying how important public awareness is. Spreading the message far and wide educates those who didn’t know before about the injustice which is going on. With this they may take action by perhaps showing their face at events or on social media, telling others or even just being aware of what goes on, able to recognise this then report. The theme of reporting and being eyes in the field was mentioned by many speakers and is an important motto of BAWC. Without being outside, recognising then reporting wildlife crime nothing will happen to prevent it from taking place and catching the criminal. Bob Elliot, RSPB Head of Investigations, shared an example about a lady who reported a golden eagle she found dead. She wasn’t exactly a wildlife expect but she’d been told about these sorts of crimes in a talk a few years back. Spreading the message is a vital ingredient however in some cases doing this can be an issue. On Sunday morning the fantastic Mike Dilger opened the second day of the conference and spoke about how wildlife crime is all too often seen as ‘turn off TV’ therefore not broadcasted. His presenting on The One Show reaches a very broad audience, from those who may have interests in the environment to those who have little knowledge of it. Although he told us that including pieces about wildlife crime can be difficult, Mike explained how it is becoming a much more common thing on our TV screens. He even showed us two examples which were a piece on The One Show with peregrines and on Inside Out about deer poaching.

In the clip about deer poaching on Inside Out, forensics at the scene examined the ‘unwanted’ parts of the deer that the poachers left at a road side. They were able to extract human DNA from the animal which was very useful in tracking down who had committed the crime. This put part of what Dr Louise Robinson and her third year student Sally Smith, both from Derby University, had spoken about on Saturday into visual context. Obviously investigating the killing of an animal is going to be different to that of a humans. However this use of forensics is used in a very similar way with a similar purpose which is fascinating stuff and quite exciting in the development of advancing the ways in which wildlife criminals can be caught.

Going back, another type of media and method of spreading the word which was spoken about a lot over the weekend was the use of social media. Someone who was really promoting it was Sargent Rob Taylor in his talk. I’ve followed him on Twitter for quite some time and when I heard he was going to be speaking at BAWC I was quite excited. Just by reading his tweets and dedication to the account you can tell how committed he is to stamp out wildlife crime. The work him and his rural policing team in North Wales has done is incredible and has been so successful, overall in the past eight years they have reduced wildlife crime by 84%. Something even more incredible would be if other police forces in the UK could follow suit but unfortunately that isn’t completely the case just yet. If you take a look at his account you’ll see that throughout the day he tweets about everything from incidents he’s dealing with to giving his followers an opportunity to ask him questions.

As well as the ongoing success story of North Wales, another celebration of the weekend was about the National Wildlife Crime Unit. After the all-too-close threat of this vital unit shutting down completely a few weeks back, it has now been secured until 2020. A talk was given by Ian Guildford from NWCU about how their work goes hand in hand with that of wildlife crime officers by obtaining and distributing information from a wide range of organisations and by assisting police forces in wildlife crime investigations. Many of the speakers went through case studies and examples of what they have to deal with, for some these are on a daily basis. And of course all were infuriating examples, why would anyone begin to think of doing such things. But that’s the thing, they’re examples and as Geoff Edmond, RSPCA, questioned, are there more issues then we realise? Putting the word ‘wildlife’ before ‘crime’ doesn’t make the crime invalid or different to any other offences. Therefore it shouldn’t be acted upon or treated any differently.

Depending on the nature of the crime or how it’s responded to could mean the specie involved isn’t dead but does need urgent care. Preventing further suffering was the key theme of the wonderful Pauline Kidner’s talk. I first properly met Pauline last September at The Badger Trust conference, she is such a lovely lady who does incredible things to help wildlife when in need within her area of the South West. The incidents she spoke about weren’t all related to wildlife crime but many were and she told us about some pretty horrific things she’s had to deal with. From badgers being shot, stuffed in bin bags then dumped to a deer that had been hit by a car and had the back half of its body ripped away. She really does have a first hand experience from these dealings. In her talk, Pauline also spoke about next generations and their understanding and consideration for nature. A very articulate point she made was about young people being able to play shooting games without hesitation to what it actually means as they turn it off and then turn it back on again another time, and everything’s back to normal.

Birders Against Wildlife Crime are very enthusiastic and interested in inviting young people to their conference and other events as well as encouraging them to be the next generation of eyes in the field. This year they managed to get hold of more sponsors to allow more young people to attend as their ticket costs were covered. This is such a big help as for many, including myself, without it they probably wouldn’t of been able to attend the conference. For a student still in education I simply can’t afford it. Therefore being encouraged and supported to go along to events like the BAWC conference is brilliant. Not only making it accessible for more youngsters to come and bring fresh faces, but spreading the message amongst next generations. These are the ones who will be required to carry on the work of protecting nature in years to come to prevent further terrible consequences. Education is the key and unfortunately we do face some battles as young people are influenced by what they see on the TV or on the internet from an early age. Some do believe it. Not only this but the growing disconnection from nature, and organisations that send out almost entirely opposite messages whilst visiting schools, for example the Countryside Alliance. Growing awareness amongst younger generations is just, or if not more so, important then older ones. Lets hope next year there’s even more youngsters at BAWC17!

One campaign that got into schools across the country last year and spread a positive message about a national treasure was National Badger Day with their short film. The day was nothing to do with what is all too often linked to badgers, e.g. the cull, but for the specie they really are. A fabulous striking creature which has lived in the British Isles for thousands and thousands of years. This year the day has been prolonged and changed around a bit by becoming a week and moving to the end of June. The number of activities, engagement and popularity is also hopefully going to grow with a lot more going on. Over the weekend they began to start it all off with a selfie opportunity – ‘I support #NationalBadgerWeek because…’ then photos are and hopefully more will be shared across social media in the coming weeks and months. Below is my contribution.

NationalBadgerWeek

Unfortunately the media’s presentation of badgers is almost always linked to either TB, cows or the cull. Too many think of a badger then think about TB or cows when in fact badgers aren’t to blame, therefore don’t deserve this.

On day two of the conference it was a bit of a badger bonanza with many of the speakers giving a mention to badgers and discussing crimes associated with them. From Mike Dilger pronouncing his opinion of the cull to Geoff Edmond, RSPCA, talking about badger digging incidences and Ian Guildford, NWCU, who stated that badger baiting is amongst those wildlife crimes they focus on. Many will know that badgers are amongst the most persecuted animal in the UK. Even with the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 in place, thousands are still persecuted each year and suffer terribly in the process. They have a real tough time as tens of thousands are also killed on roads each year and of course the ignorant cull. However, again, public awareness has been a massive step forward in protecting this species which has been tied up in a political ball game. This has been from many individuals, organisations, charities (etc) but someone who has led a way has been Dominic Dyer. I’ve mentioned him quite a few times on my blog before from the talks he’s given on marches, all equally as eloquent as the speech he gave to mark the end of the BAWC conference 2016.

After Geoff Edmond from the RSPCA finished his talk he held up his glass of water. What does it show? There was a silence before someone answered with ‘it’s half full’. Obviously, keep positive was his message from this. Which is very true. Another point I enjoyed from one of the speakers, who I can’t remember, was that if you compare current day wildlife crimes to 40/50 years ago there are certain issues which no longer occur. For example, egg collecting. Just like many wildlife crimes today, it’s a trend which originated from many years ago, but is now almost none existent. Let us hope this is the case with other crimes against wildlife in the near future. As Mark Avery so rightly said, we will win!

Herd bovine TB risk factor – badger persecution (data)

Today I came across this data map and table which I found very interesting. They both show wildlife incidents involving badgers during 2013 that were reported, but in different formats.

2013 badger persecution incidents 22013 badger persecution incidents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just a couple of weeks back the cull in Gloucestershire and Somerset finished after the third year. In Dorset it was the first year of culls. If you look at all three of these areas, the numbers are very high. In fact if you compare the data to the map you will see that three out of six of the highest zones of reported badger incidents by county are in the West Country.

Many may interpret this data in different ways but for this short post I’m going to contrast this data with a report that I also read today. The report is about herd-level bovine tuberculosis risk factors and assessing the role of low-level badger population disturbance. This study was carried out by Queens University Belfast and found that badger persecution IS implicated as a risk factor which contributes to the persistence of Bovine TB hotspot.

Could there be a link between hunting, illegal sett interference (etc) and the persistently high incidence of bTB in the recent cull zones, of which are areas with high levels of persecution rates?

Some very useful and interesting data:

http://www.scottishbadgers.org.uk/userfiles/file/Main_folder1/UK-BADGER-CRIME-2013-final-version-1.pdf

http://pure.qub.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/herdlevel-bovine-tuberculosis-risk-factors-assessing-the-role-of-lowlevel-badger-population-disturbance(50f39952-8d8b-4791-9287-5d2db32d3ce4).html

September’s uproar

Right then. So no-one’s allowed to speak out about the persecution of Hen Harriers any more, even though it’s a crime, or the negative impacts of driven grouse shooting, even though they scale out the positive ones, or how all science about the cull says it won’t work, even though there’s no science suggesting it will, or the horrific cruelty to species like the fox if the Hunting Act was to be repealed, even though they’d probably be killed in unimaginable ways, and so on.

Sounds morally wrong to me but these are the suggestions of those at the Countryside Alliance and some more, who are trying to silence us ‘tree-hugging townies’ that know nothing about the countryside. Don’t even mention that ‘prada wearing, muddled’ guy, Chris Packham! As Robin Page has put it, the ‘Packham Loop’.

As many will know, in the September issue of the BBC Wildlife Magazine, like most issues, Chris Packham published, once again, a very interesting and thought provoking article. However this one was like no other. I don’t think anyone was expecting to find that the result of it would be such a bash up from those on the opposite side of the table. After the Countryside Alliance got wind that was when it all set alight.

They were furious that not only was he speaking out against a lot of the things their organisation believes in but people were listening to him! How dare they?! By this I mean they were rather annoyed that he was allowed to speak about things when he has a job like he does. Where people do follow him, support him and listen unlike you Mr Bonner. What attention do you get apart from mainly bad? Then again I suppose any attention is good attention for him, this is illustrated nicely by a few of his tweets.

This afternoon I came across another article from someone who never seeks to surprise me, Robin Page. A ludicrous man and a perfect example that people ‘like him’ are on a completely different page to a lot of people, especially those who CARE and want the best for the countryside in the way that it can thrive. I’ve read a few articles about this issue like this but I’ve also read some very positive ones too, along with comments on various articles which say it all really. Those at the forefront may be a minority but we are growing and when we do get the message out there people will realise.

It has become quite a twisted issue though. From a regular column in the BBC Wildlife Magazine, which was primarily about the work of Britain’s conservation charities, it has turned into something where the CA are lobbying to get Chris the sack and basically find someone to pick on. We’ll never be silence though and this is obvious by the uproar that’s happened in support of Chris and the work that he does.

So, thank you for all of your targeting as, if anything, you brought an army closer together. With over 70,000 signatures in just a matter of days on a petition, what can I say. Except it’s a shame they haven’t all signed this one too! – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/104441

As well as that, I think at this point it could be a good idea to write to the BBC Wildlife Magazine expressing your opinion and views on it all. I imagine they’ve probably been sent some negative comments and we need to make sure that the comments in support are overpowering those against. It wouldn’t surprise me if they do a page on the feedback or just for the normal comments page. Not only to make it clear that we support Chris but to make sure they know we aren’t going anywhere and what he says is agreed with by many. An email to do so with would be – wildlifeletters@immediate.co.uk