Tuesday 27 January 2009

So what's the Gaelic for 'bloody sea eagles took my lambs'?

On the one hand, you have to applaud Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) for their new project Faclan Nàdair (Words of Nature) – a website to help people identify and understand Gaelic names for trees, plants and animals. It's great to see this lovely language being kept alive, particularly linked with the natural world which is so much a part of it. Check out the website here » Special credit to them for the mp3 sound files that accompany many of the word definitions in the online dictionary.

So I won't be too mean spirited and bang on about the dischordant entries, which I'm sure were never uttered by any native Gaelic-speaker, at least not without spitting. Such as pròiseact inntrigidh (access project), Seirbheisean Comhairleachaidh & Ro-innleachd Nàiseanta (Advisory Services & National Strategy) and adhartachadh (enhancement) alongside down-to-earth words such as liath-ruisg (fieldfare), sùlaire (gannet), fèidh (red deer) and gràineag (hedgehog). For some reason the dictionary does not include translations for 'bull' and 'shit', two essential entries for any guide to the modern heritage landscape.

Saturday 24 January 2009

Lost & found

I came across this notice in the woods today. A heartwarming tale summed up on a simple sheet of paper.

Friday 23 January 2009

Raptor poisonings - let's see the evidence

What happens when a bird of prey is found poisoned? It's a crime scene, with all kinds of forensic evidence ready to be discovered – or ignored.

All we hear is that Bird A was found dead on Estate B, and the lab says it was killed by Poison C. Estate B has a shoot, so the keeper is guilty, QED.

But that doesn't necessarily follow. If a murder victim was found poisoned, the police would investigate the possibilities. The victim might have been poisoned elsewhere, and staggered to that spot before falling dead. Or the body might have been carried there and dumped.

So it is with birds of prey. Some poisons (eg Yaltox [carbofuran]) will drop a bird in its tracks. But others act much more slowly. A bird eating a bait laced with alphachloralose, nitroxynil or mevinphos, for example, could fly a kilometre or more before dying.

And of course there are plenty of reasons why someone might want to 'plant' a dead bird to get an estate or an individual in trouble. It could be an ongoing squabble between individuals, or just an anti-shooting extremist.

I'm sure that the people investigating raptor poisonings are aware of all this, but do they carry out a thorough forensic job at the crime scene? Checking, for instance that the bird is still lying in the position in which it died? Taking detailed photographs and noting tyre tracks, footprints and any other evidence in the vicinity?

All we get to see is the bare statistics – and they raise more questions than they answer. For instance, bearing in mind that carbofuran causes instant death, why are there so many cases of dead birds found with no mention of a bait? And why so few multiple kills? You'd expect a hare or rabbit carcass poisoned with carbofuran to collect 4 or 5 buzzards, not to mention crows and flies.

Next time there's a poisoning incident, I'd like to see the forensic report that shows not just what killed the bird, but how it got there. Then perhaps we can start to answer the conspiracy theories about the 'planting' of poisoned birds by persons unknown.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Who's really poisoning birds of prey?

There's no doubt we are in the middle of a substantial PR campaign involving RSPB and others, focusing on persecution of birds of prey. It's an education to watch the reports and press releases roll out to a carefully prepared schedule.

Shooters and gamekeepers are feeling victimised by all this. They think it's a plot to attack shooting. I don't agree. I think we're just pawns in the game, collateral damage if you like. They didn't like us much anyway. I believe the campaign is more about raising funds, gaining press coverage and building political power.

The campaign is characterised by heavy hints about "gamekeepers" and "grouse shoot managers", as if they were the only people who ever poisoned anything.

But look at the campaign's own figures. The Scotsman reports the "map of shame" here. Scroll down to the table "the grim toll" and look at the figures for 2008: 2 kites, 13 buzzards and a sea eagle. Does that say gamekeepers to you? Or hard-pressed hill farmers looking to protect their lambs? Anyone hear the RSPB slagging off hill farmers?

Last February two sea eagles were poisoned in Co Kerry. Dr Allan Mee, in charge of the sea eagle reintroduction project, was reported (Irish Times 5 March 08) as having received a tip-off that farmers were dosing carcases to kill off foxes in advance of the lambing season. The dead eagles were picked up close to a sheep carcass that later tested positive for poisons. No keepers involved.

I find it hard to believe the same thing doesn't happen in Scotland. I know for a fact it did some years back. Spending time on the Isle of Skye in the Easter holidays, we were always careful to keep our dogs on leads, for fear of them picking up the poisoned eggs put out by the travelling 'fox man' hired by local farmers.

The chart from The Scotsman website

Then there's the mystery of what poisons are being used. The official data suggests it's virtually all carbofuran, with a few instances of alphachloralose and aldicarb. On the ground, it's acknowledged that newer, over-the-counter veterinary medicines are being abused, so why don't they show up in the data?

Conspiracy theories are rife. Privately, keepers say they suspect antis are dumping poisoned birds, then tipping off the authorities anonymously.

The truth behind all this will remain hidden. Keepers are fed up with being blamed, and won't even discuss the subject. And the PR campaign will roll relentlessly on.

Official stats for UK here, Scotland here.

Animal rights terrorists jailed

Good job too. BBC News story here. Paedophile smears, criminal damage and bomb hoaxes – all in the name of animal rights.

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Great gift idea

According to the Daily Star - so it must be true - Prince William has given Kate Middleton a £500 Swarovski rangefinder for her 27th birthday. Story here... Good choice.

Sadly, the paper has completely failed to grasp what a rangefinder is. They seem to think it's a telescopic sight. In tabloid-speak: "the sights are fitted on high-powered rifles used for deer hunting on the royals’ Highland hideaway Balmoral". Yeah, right.

And of course there's the obligatory hate comment from LACS about this "barbaric, unacceptable pastime." Er, that'll be the barbaric and unacceptable practice of culling deer, as required by the government, with a single shot placed to give an instant humane kill. Honestly, where do they find these morons? And why do journalists trot out their misinformed rubbish?

Monday 19 January 2009

Scottish venison on youtube

A great job by Playfair Walker, on behalf of the Scottish Venison Working Group, which includes the Association of Deer Management Groups, the British Deer Farmers Association, Cairngorms National Park Authority, the Deer Commission for Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and Scottish Quality Wild Venison.

Quick way to skin a squirrel

Now we all know it's a good idea to shoot grey squirrels, and that they can be good to eat. But getting one out of its fur jumpsuit can be quite a challenge. Unlike rabbits, a squirrel's skin is very firmly attached.

Browsing round the internet, I came across this method, which apparently comes from an old book called The Joy Of Cooking.

Has anyone tried it, and can tell me how well it works?

Friday 16 January 2009

Moron shoots Glencoe stag with air rifle

I'm disgusted by this story - sometime around Hogmanay, an idiot with an air rifle shot a semi-tame red stag several times in the head, leaving it for dead. The stag used to hang around the car park at Black Mount, scrounging food, and had become one of the most photographed deer in the country.

A passer-by found the stag lying by the roadside and told local stalker Alastair MacDonald, who is quoted as saying: "I put it down immediately and when we opened the head up we found five or six air rifle pellets. Obviously somebody had been taking pot shots at it."

I just hope someone catches the person responsible for this despicable act of wanton cruelty. Please pass any info to Strathclyde Police.

Antis' accounts

Here's an interesting thing. Since the League Against Cruel Sports is registered as a 'charity' (bit of a joke that, but stick with this) they have to publish their accounts. So you can go to this page on the Charity Commission website and see what income and expenditure they're owning up to.

What immediately struck me was that almost exactly half their expenditure goes on 'generating voluntary income' and 'governance'. So anyone foolhardy enough to give them a couple of quid can be sure that a big chunk of that will be blown on chasing more donations. Then there's the mysterious £675,000 'retained', presumably for a rainy day.

This page suggests that their income rocketed by a factor of 10 in 2007. Follow this link and you'll get a pdf which shows more detail. Including the fact that "The annual emoluments of one employee exceeded £60,000." I'm sure he was worth every penny!

I'm no expert on these matters, so perhaps a reader can shed more light on what all these figures mean. What I find sad is that, spent wisely, £1.7m could have made a real difference to animal welfare and the environment.

Brocock Contour

Who needs to go all the way to Florida for the Shot Show when you can stay in the office and people send in stuff like this? Just launched, from £375, 30 full 12 ft lb shots per charge, .22 or .177, 27.5in overall. I want one!

More on Brocock's website...

Webley - a sign of the times

Webley Senior from auction-net.co.uk

I have a special fondness for Webley – probably due to the hours I spent plinking with a Webley Senior air pistol as a youngster. In those days it was generally thought to be a good thing for kids to play with guns, although you were discouraged from actually taking them into school.

So I was sad to hear about the troubles Webley had got into over recent months. And then, like a proper Penny Dreadful hero, with one bound Jack was free...

As a simple journo, and a country one at that, I don't understand the workings of corporate finance and company law. But Webley seem to have pulled a stunt worthy of Paul Daniels.

On 31 Dec, while most of us were either shooting or stocking up at the offie, Webley Ltd – the grand old gunmaking name with a history going back to 1790 – was declared bust and then bought by a company with a very similar name, which plans to carry on trading. Minus, so far as I can see, the debts that were causing so much trouble.

It's all explained in the letter (below) that Webley boss Mike Hurney sent out to the company's customers on 2 January.

I wonder if I could do the same thing to my overdraft?!

UPDATE: Apparently this wheeze is known in the trade as a "Pre-Pack Deal". It's perfectly legal, but the government is said to be cracking down on the practice which has been criticised over its lack of transparency and fairness. New, tighter rules came in on 1 January – coincidentally the day after the Webley deal, under which, for instance, the administrators must "always perform their role in the interests of the company's creditors as a whole". More here... (you may have to register to read the full article) And here. And here. The Insolvency Service has stated they will be clamping down on "any directors who misuse the administration process to disadvantage creditors or seek to gain benefit for themselves"

A new blog to follow

A reader has launched a new blog, The Amateur Naturalist, which is worth a visit. I like his writing style, and the photos are lovely – like this one, on a post where he asks, what happened to those huge icicles we used to get in wintertime?

Friday 9 January 2009

Edward 'cleared of animal cruelty'

Well fancy that, the RSPCA has dropped its investigation into Prince Edward's alleged 'cruelty'. Still, it got them plenty of publicity for a week or two, which can't have done their fundraising any harm. As a PR stunt, it must rival Chessington Zoo's farting gorillas.

Much as I admire some of the sterling work done by the RSPCA, you have to wonder about their aspirations to become the Animal Police. And they take a very sanctimonious tone for an organisation that allegedly kills 80,000+ healthy animals each year.

Monday 5 January 2009

Kill it cook it eat it

Tonight sees the first in a new BBC series of Kill It Cook It Eat It – this series features wild game, starting tonight with deerstalking at Balavil.

Will it be any good, and will it show shooting in a positive light? I watched a previous series, and found the presenter's breathless style rather irritating - milking the situation for every last drop of sensationalism as farm animals were slaughtered and butchered in front of a studio audience, who were then invited to eat the results.

Still, there's a lot to be said for getting the public to face the facts about where their food comes from. Shooting has nothing to hide, and stands to benefit when people compare the life and death of a deer, pheasant, etc, with that of a farm reared animal.

We'll just have to wait and see... tonight, 10.30, BBC3.

UPDATE: And the verdict... Brilliant! If you missed it, you can catch it on BBC iPlayer here.

NOTE: If you're only reading this post on the front page, you're missing out on the lively comment thread here.

Sunday 4 January 2009

New use for a handwarmer

In this weather, the ferrets' water freezes overnight, and it never gets warm enough during the day to thaw again. Each day I've been bringing the bottles inside and running them under the hot tap until they're thawed - the ferrets love drinking the warm water afterwards. I suppose it's like me enjoying a hot cup of tea while I'm sitting in a chilly hide.

Then I had a brainwave - at least I think it is! I fired up one of the excellent Peacock handwarmers, and propped it between the ferrets' water bottles. So long as it doesn't go out overnight, it should provide enough heat to keep the water from freezing. I hope so anyway - I'll let you know if it works.

UPDATE: It worked a treat - the water stayed unfrozen, and was even slightly warm in the morning. On the other hand, Robin's simple commonsense solution (see comment below) is practical and cheaper!

Friday 2 January 2009

Another cheap shot from the antis

This photo appeared in the Daily Mail

Here's the latest example of animal extremists taking advantage of sloppy journalism, this time on Sky News (although the story was covered equally badly by the Mail and Express, among others):
Animal charities are accusing the Earl of Wessex of setting a "sickening example" by waving his stick at two dogs at a pheasant shoot.
Charities?? You must be kidding. Animal Aid and LACS don't qualify for charitable status, since they are extremist campaigning organisations, which may or may not be linked to the illegal activities of the so-called Animal Liberation Front. It would be interesting to know exactly what does happen to money donated by gullible members of the public to these scammers, but I don't suppose they'll be in a hurry to tell us.

Did you see the photos? It's a powerful image: Prince Edward apparently bringing his stick down on a pair of labs squabbling over a dead pheasant.

The papers went with the obvious knee-jerk response, helped along by the "shocked" quotes from Animal Aid and LACS spokesmen.

"People in blood sports tend to show a complete disregard for the welfare of animals," says Barry Hugill of the League Against Cruel Sports. What utter rot! Of course, he would like the public to believe that. But I'm quite sure that even he knows it's a lie.

And what about sticks and dogs? It's not a simple matter of black & white, right & wrong. When I'm walking my lab, I often carry a stick. It's useful to give her a gentle tap on the shoulder, to remind her to walk closely to heel when she's distracted by a scent. If my arm was longer I'd simply tap her with my hand.

On our walks, she seems unable to resist a steaming pile of fresh horse poo - she just has to rush in and start gulping it down in large mouthfuls, and isn't easily distracted by a stern "Leave it!" A smart tap with the stick helps to re-focus her attention on me, and re-establish who is in charge. If I don't have a stick with me, throwing my keys on the ground near her has a similar effect, although it's annoying when they land in the horse poo! It's certainly not cruel, and it helps to reinforce her training. (No doubt you could skulk in the bushes and snap a photo, and try selling it to the papers on the grounds it showed 'appalling cruelty' - but it wouldn't be worth much because I'm not even a tiny bit Royal).

At the other end of the scale, you hear cases of people thrashing a dog violently with a stick, causing it much pain and distress. I find it hard to imagine what goes through the mind of someone who would do that, but it seems to be a kind of 'punishment' for some misdemeanour - though I doubt the dog understands the connection. That's the kind of cruelty the public and shooters alike abhor. And it's what Animal Aid and LACS are disingenuously trying to associate with Prince Edward and, by implication, with shooters generally.

Shame on the lazy journalists of Sky News, the Mail, the Express and other papers who allowed the antis to pursue their extremist agenda through their pages.

Thursday 1 January 2009

Filming squirrels

This is the view from the inside of my hide. The squirrels are proving rather camera-shy today!

Update: Patience paid off and I got some nice sequences of the squirrels running through the tree, and sitting on the branches. Here's a couple of frame grabs: