Project Raptor – A warning, or something else? UPDATE

Having been told by phone that a warning regarding poisons on the Leadhills grouse moors was circulating, I posted a copy on Leadhills Notice Board (Facebook).

This drew some intriguing responses, the inevitable outrage, but also the suggestion that the find (back in March 2013) might actually have been maliciously planted to incriminate the local gamekeepers. This is sadly, not beyond the realms of reality.

There is a long history of raptor persecution in and around Leadhills, with a number of prosecutions already undertaken. But a few years back, there was a major change in the game keeping team. Since then, there has been a visible resurgence of raptors and other species, around Leadhills; raptors are now to be seen over the village, something unheard of a few years back.

So what of this poisoned bait find?

Well, it happened in March 2013 and was made public in June. The Police investigation ended inconclusively in November. That is, inconclusive as to who actually planted the baits. Where that leaves the Game Keepers is an entirely different matter, as conveyed to me by the Head Gamekeeper and the Estate Manager.

At the commencement of the investigation, the entire game keeper team voluntarily provided finger prints and DNA samples and thereafter, cooperated fully with the investigation; the outcome of which was that there was no evidence that the team had been in anyway connected with said poison baits. But is that enough?

Well the appearance of a somewhat belated “alert” would suggest otherwise, at least as far as Project Raptor is concerned. But the leaflet makes no mention of the fact that the poisons were found eight months previously, nor does it indicate that the Police investigation found no evidence suggesting the involvement of any gamekeeper. It does however, [seem to] imply [perhaps unintentionally,] that the Leadhills estate is “something to do with it.”  Guilt by association[?]

So, the fledgling peace enjoyed in Leadhills has been downgraded to “uneasy”. Whilst speaking with the Head Gamekeeper and the Estate Manager, the upset both are feeling is palpable – my gut reaction is that they are indeed the victims of malice; either through a rogue individual, not of their association, bent on the destruction of Leadhills’ now thriving raptors; or by an individual bent on tarnishing the reputation of the new game keeping team and with them, the Leadhills Estate.

Thus, it seems to me that as a community, we must not only look out for the well-being of our raptors, our pets and most certainly, our children; but also the reputations and well-being of our game keepers. And this because some idiot has seen fit to leave vast amounts of carbofuran lying about and may decide to do so again in the future.

I am no fan of shooting, but I can see no good reason for sullying the good names of innocent people, for the purpose of damaging the Leadhills Estate, or to satisfy some personal hatred of raptors; not to mention the fact that such actions risk human lives.

So I suggest that we all keep our eyes and ears open and report any suspicious activity or finds. Whoever is doing this (and right now, the evidence suggests it is NOT a Leadhills gamekeeper), will make a mistake eventually that will tie them to the crime – whatever that crime actually is.

 

Update:

I have been in discussion with a person in the raptor protection community (I don’t know whether or not he is associated with Project Raptor), who has raised the following:

  • That the leaflet does not name Leadhills or the Estate and therefore does not accuse them.
  • That there has been a further incident, the shooting of a Red Kite in August this year.

I have made the following reply (and have made some small amendments [] above):

I concede that the leaflet does not specifically accuse anyone by name or association, but given the context in which it was issued, the timing and specifically, this paragraph:

“In an area where there is persistent evidence of wildlife crime occurring, such as the unlawful targeting and killing of birds of prey, then this may have a significant and damaging impact on tourism and therefore the local economy. The reputation of a community can also be harmed by the actions of a criminal minority operating in your area.”

– it is hardly surprising that many Leadhills residents have interpreted it as being accusatory, as evidenced by the upset caused. It is conceded that this may not have been the intention and one must give the benefit of the doubt; I have also suggested a more diplomatic approach in future, given that interpretation is not on the words alone – we read between the lines. The fact is that the leaflet has been divisive, which in no way furthers the cause of eliminating raptor persecution in and around our village. It is the view of many in this village, that the current game keepers deserve the benefit of the doubt and that so given, this can further the cause of eliminating raptor persecution – we need to be on the same side.

With respect to the shooting of the red kite, I have observed that according to the SSPCA report, the find was in the village (i.e. not on the Estate proper). We are also not privy to the type of fire arm used, which increases the likelihood that this incident is entirely unrelated to the estate and/or it’s employees – it might have been perpetrated by an ignorant teen with a powerful air rifle.

I have indicated that as a community, we need to be fully and sensitively informed as to what precisely has happened along with where, when and if possible, how. If we are to respond effectively and maybe, finally get at the “who”, we need to be in the know, not flailing about in the dark. We need to be united. The head keeper and the estate manager have told me that they and their staff have nothing to do with these crimes or any other illegal activity; so it seems to me that this is the time for all those whose stated wish is to see the law upheld, to unite in making every effort of vigilance and cooperation, to discourage and prevent further incidents – that is all of Leadhills – including its game keepers.

Finally, I have asked Marco (the person who posed the observations), if he is able to flesh out details of recent incidents, such that they may be better understood and sensible reaction formulated. I am also in touch with others with interests in this matter and possibly salient information. We’ll see what turns up. In the mean time, we keep eyes and ears open as a community.

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6 Responses to Project Raptor – A warning, or something else? UPDATE

  1. Andy Dickson says:

    This sounds like quite a complicated subject but in fact it isn’t.
    The Langholm project on Buccleuch Estates proved different things to different people with different agendas but one thing is beyond argument, when the persecution of raptors stopped there the number of Hen Harriers increased very swiftly

    A well managed grouse moor ( which Langholm was emphatically not BTW it was mostly rank grass caused by decades of overgrazing by sheep ) but a properly managed moor with patches of long and short heather produced by years of careful burning is perfect habitat for two species, Grouse and Hen Harriers.
    Both Harriers and Grouse like the long heather for nesting and the Harriers like short heather for predating their favourite food – voles. Certainly they also collect some unwary young grouse at the same time.

    If there is no persecution of raptors at Leadhills then there will be at least 10 pairs of Hen Harriers nesting and producing young every year. This will make the Leadhills area the single most productive nesting area for Hen Harriers in the whole UK by a HUGE margin. If that’s not the case then persecution is continuing.

  2. Kenny Sludden says:

    In reply to the blog posted by Mike Fuller.

    Whilst I am sure that Mike Fuller has the interests of the wider Leadhills community at heart he is sadly very naïve and misinformed by the comments he has made and the conclusions he draws on the Raptor issue.
    He points out the lack of fingerprints!! from the latest crime scene. Of course there would be no fingerprints on the poisoned bait or its containers. Nobody in their right mind would handle poisonous substances with their bare hands and would take all necessary precautions to avoid getting it on their clothes
    He has a chat with the Estate Manager and Head Keeper and decides that some individual or group has ‘planted’ the poisoned bait in order that the blame is put on the Estate keepers.
    Are these the same individuals or groups who have been going around the estate for years shooting and poisoning Raptors, for the sole purpose of incriminating the estate?
    The increase in Raptors he refers to is attributable to the increase in Buzzard numbers which applies across the whole country, and the increase in Red Kite sightings which is the product of the Kite release project south of the estate. Where are the Peregrine Falcons and Hen Harriers?. An estate of this size should hold a sizeable number of breeding pairs of both – there are none. The lack of these particular species paints a truer picture of the unabated persecution on this estate for decades.
    The only reason that this has now become a wider issue is through the vigilance and determination of conservation individuals and bodies determined to halt the continued persecution of Raptors on Leadhills Estate
    If Mike Fuller wants to become involved in this issue perhaps he could go back and speak to the estate management with a view to setting up a programme of raptor survey and monitoring which would provide the necessary data on Raptor numbers and breeding, in an open and transparent manner.
    The Raptor Study Group and other conservation bodies would be very willing to assist the estate in this survey, and maybe then we will get a genuine portrayal of the Raptor situation in Leadhills Estate. The new season will be upon us soon, I await his/the estates response to this initiative

    Kenny Sludden
    Sec. South Strathclyde Raptor Study Group

  3. Mike says:

    Hi Kenny.

    Just clear up a few points.
    1. I make no reference to a lack of finger prints, in the above or any other piece or comment I have written, here or elsewhere. I refer to a lack of evidence.
    2. I have not decided that recent events are the responsibility of an individual or group aiming to incriminate gamekeepers; I have conceded that this is a possibility – which it is.
    3. I have also noted that the Estates lousy reputation is deserved, as evidenced by the convictions of previous keepers; however, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no conviction under the watch of the current head keeper.

    Thus to make my position entirely clear, I am not about to condemn anyone, on either side of this decidedly fraught fence, in the absence of substantiated evidence. Whilst I do concede that the history of the estate is shoddy and that in the light, one might be forgiven for assuming the latest team to be as bad as previous teams, I do not and never have, held with the notion that “balance of probabilities” is a sound basis for making life impacting judgements upon others.

    I am seeking to drive a smooth path for the benefit of my community – I live here. I am keen to see meaningful cooperation between the estate, the village and conservationists in the development of raptor populations, to wit, I would welcome the direct involvement of the estate in surveying those populations.

    I do not believe however, that any offer of “help” is likely to be welcomed with open arms if accompanied by an accusatory tone rather than a metaphorical olive branch – a bit like the one I have been trying to draw attention to.

    If someone would care to detail for me what would be involved, I would be more than happy to take any proposal to the current estate team; but please keep in mind that it is proposals that interest me, not confrontation.

  4. kenny sludden says:

    Hi Mike, I think you should read again the first piece that you posted
    In reply to two of the points you make
    1 You did state that there were fingerprints taken and then you linked this to lack of evidence
    2 You state that you have not made your mind up re incrimination yet you say ‘my gut reaction is that they are indeed the victims of malice’ and ‘ sullying the good names of innocent people’. It is a strange version of the neutrality that you plead.

    We can bat these points back and forward forever, so if you are keen to try and move this issue on, I would suggest that we have a chat, if you have the time. I can come and see you at your convenience

    Regards
    Kenny

  5. Mike says:

    Hi Kenny,

    Back to the finger prints – the paragraph refers to the provision of finger prints by the gamekeepers to the police; which the Police would then have to compare with any finger prints found – if indeed any are found. As you rightly observed, that is highly unlikely.

    With respect to making my mind up, I would point out first the distinction between gut reaction and verifiable truth; I think that distinction is pretty obvious and needs no further explanation. This moves naturally to an understanding of the notion of presumed innocence. Definitive judgement requires definitive information, so until that information is there, one way or the other, I will decline the opportunity to damn any players in this theatre.

  6. Steve says:

    Thanks Kenny, I couldn’t have put it better myself. The points you make are spot on and with respect Mike I think that your article is somewhat a naïve assessment of the incident relating to the two game bags as well as the general issues covering wildlife crime that continue to take place on the hills surrounding the village of Leadhills.

    As a field Officer for the animal protection organisation onekind, one of my jobs is to gather general material of snares and the various methods used to snare wild animals. I have visited Leadhills estate on a number of occasions and here are a few examples of what I have found. I don’t know when the new game keeping team arrived on the estate, which you refer to Mike, but I will take the past five years of my occasional visits to this estate and give you just some examples of incidents I have come across. Whether they are related to the operational work of game keepers employed by Leadhills I leave that for the reader to decide. I only relay the facts.

    All examples here were video recorded and dates, times including locations to each incident were confirmed. Measures are always taken to prove status of an incident. Police, SSPCA or RSPB were also notified.

    By Scottish law snares in Scotland must be checked every twenty four hours.

    Live badger with snare around its neck. There was injury to the badger’s neck area and SSPCA were less than four minutes from getting to the badger. A game keeper arrived before the SSPCA and he cut the snare and the badger stumbled off, even though I protested and informed him that the badger was injured and that two SSPCA inspectors were walking up the hill and almost at the scene. He tried to persuade me that there were no injuries to the badger before jumping on his quad bike and leaving the area before the SSPCA arrived.

    Half a rabbit cut open and staked to the ground on top of a hill. The meat had been laced with Carbofuran poison. Illegal to keep and use.

    Second poisoning incident I witnessed was when I observed a Leadhills game keeper set out a dead rabbit on the top of a hill and cover the carcass with Carbofuran poison.

    Another live badger is found snared. I discover it by a stink pit (A snaring method used where dead animals are dumped in a pile and a ring of snares are constructed around the rotting animal flesh to draw animals into the wire traps). This badger was removed by the SSPCA and later put down due to its injuries. The vet estimated that the badger had been in the snare for over four days.

    A third badger found close to an active legal crow cage trap. This time the snares were set on a fence line. The badger was alive, but had caused enormous devastation to its surroundings in an attempt to free itself from the snare. The SSPCA arrived and as they lifted the animal up to place it in a carrying crate its internal organs fell out from a hole in its abdomen made by the wire of the snare. It was put down on the spot. Estimated time that the badger had been in the snare was four to five days.

    On two separate occasions I have discovered dead deer caught in snares. I have also found several incidents of foxes dead in snares and at different levels of decomposition. They would have all died a slow death over days.

    A snare was found on an animal track running alongside a river. This snare was attached to a thick tree branch. If any animal had been snared on this steep river bank then the heavy, but movable branch would have dragged the animal into the river and it would have drowned. This is effectively a drag pole which is now an unlawful method of snaring and has been for a number of years.

    On one visit to the estate, a snapper/clam trap that I had found on a previous occasion, positioned by a stone wall and woodland, had now been removed. Up until recently these traps were not a recognised trap in Scotland, which was still the case when I had found this trap. I had been finding them on other estates and feared that some were being used to capture raptors. During this visit my fears were confirmed when yards from where this trap had been active just weeks before, inside some woodland, we discovered three shallow graves containing raptors. They were too decomposed to be able to confirm cause of death, but there was no doubt that somebody had placed them there.

    Walk within the forests of Leadhills today and you will find dozens of snares. These snares may not be set, but they are positioned in the ground and so therefor should be registered by law and have identification tags on them, but they don’t and so they should be removed.

    I have to also comment on the suggestion that the two game bags may have been placed on Leadhills estate in a malicious attempt to get them into trouble. Kenny Sludden covers this issue nicely in his reply and Project Raptor remarks on this kind of suggestion on their website. These kinds of accusations of evidence being planted are historic in the world of crime and investigation. Accusations like this may be used to try and deflect the blame from a particular party and also to confuse and muddy an issue. However, often when the facts of a case are carefully looked at then these accusations become ridiculous and smack of desperation.

    If anybody was to go to the projectraptor.org.uk website and look at the story of the two game bags that were discovered full of meat chunks covered in illegal carbofuran poison then they would see a grid reference given where these bags were found. Looking at this location on google mapping the area is pretty remote and going by the photos of the bags taken by Project Raptor the bags are inside woodland surrounded by undergrowth. I would suggest that if somebody wanted to plant something to discredit this estate then they would probably not put it where it was highly unlikely to be found.

    am sure that Project Raptor are very skilled at what they do in gathering information from a scene of an incident and every suggestion from their evidence which they have presented tells me that these bags were well hidden and being used as storage. We will never know who was involved in this sickening and unlawful act that could have put the lives of the public in serious danger as well as caused untold suffering to so many animals, but one thing is for sure, that these people, these criminals MUST be stopped.

    Recent incidents not related to my own discoveries include a shot red kite found close to Leadhills Village and a shot otter discovered on the estate itself. Both occurred this year.

    Let us be mindful that wildlife crime can be extremely difficult to detect due to the remoteness of where these incidents take place and any incident which is uncovered will just be the tip of the iceberg.