Tuesday 16 March 2010

Time for a rethink on bird of prey poisonings?

Figures released today show that poisonings of birds of prey in Scotland have risen again: a total of 22 poisoning incidents recorded in 2009 resulting in 27 dead birds of prey including 19 buzzards, four red kites and two golden eagles.

The Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland (PAW) website has this map showing the 'hotspots' which, unsurprisingly, show a strong correlation with commercial grouse shooting:

So, what now? We can expect to see the predictable responses from the usual suspects. The RSPB will condemn the awful behaviour of the rogue estates. Gamekeepers' and shooting organisations will distance themselves, saying that poisoning is unacceptable. The police and the odd politician will promise to enforce the law vigorously. Whiny spokeslentils from Animal Aid and Advocates for Animals will bang on about how it just proves shooters are evil and should be consigned to the dustbin of history in a civilised society in the 21st century and did you know spent cartridges actually kill 20 dolphins every day and anyway the world will all die of global warming from cow farts if we don't stop eating meat right this minute.

And then it's business as usual, and the killing of birds of prey will go on.

I wonder what would happen if all these organisations could put aside their need to score political points, just temporarily, and put their heads together on actually solving the problem. (Of course, for some of them, solving the problem is the last thing they need; they'd have to find another stick to bang the collecting bucket with. But that's another story.)

Let's ignore the possibility that some of these cases involve sheep farmers dealing with crows and foxes or whatever, and concentrate on grouse moors.

Fact is, the keepers do as they're told, directly or indirectly, by their employers - the estate owner, estate manager and, to a degree, the paying guns who they hope will be digging in their pockets at the end of a good day for a generous tip.

Apocryphal stories abound of beatkeepers sacked on the spot because a harrier flew over the guns, or a drive was spoiled by an eagle. No doubt there is some truth and some exaggeration in these tales. But faced with that attitude from your employer, wouldn't you do what's required? And if that meant you ran the risk of being caught and prosecuted, well, you'd just make sure you weren't caught.

Let's face it, we're talking about gamekeepers doing things on their own ground, which they know like the back of their hand. And don't tell me any old tosh about satellites and CCTV cameras. They're irrelevant in the huge areas of wild country where this sort of thing goes on. A 'bad' keeper would have to be very unlucky, or very careless, or both, to get caught. If they are, the estate can hire another one in a flash, especially in the current climate.

The keepers are the victims in all of this. Imagine the stress. And yet all the focus of the RSPB, the police and the rest is on the keepers. That's like trying to wipe out pickpocketing in Dickens's London by chasing Fagin's boys through the streets. If you do catch one, it might make a good headline in the papers, but you're no closer to your objective.

So how do we catch Fagin, or at least persuade him to go straight? Ah, well, that's the big question. But these are people for whom grouse are £50 notes on wings. Money is the language they understand, and lots of it.

I can see only two routes to making a difference. 1) Pay estates to look after birds of prey, or 2) Convince the owners that if they don't, it'll cost them more than the birds cost them now. Option 2 requires the owners to believe that there's a fair chance of them getting caught, which at the moment they clearly don't.

Is either of these options achievable and politically acceptable? Perhaps not, but what's the alternative - other than finding ourselves still wringing our hands over the latest figures in 10 years' time?


Alan Tilmouth said...

I've said for some time I would be happy to see some of my taxes go to protecting Birds of Prey via a compensation scheme. If the price of having a pair of Hen Harriers breeding is equal to the loss of 500 grouse and each grouse is worth £20 (?)say then pay the £10k. At the same time the law should be amended to make landowners responsible for the actions of their employees and the penalties increased. Carrot & stick.

James Marchington said...

If we took into account the money spent on trying to combat poisoning, it be cheaper than first appears.

Vicky said...

I think a compensation/reward scheme really could work. After all farmers are rewarded for conservation work which helps farmland birds. I have suggested before that birders/bird charities should pay estates for he priveledge of watching birds of prey to give them a value to the estate.
This must be coupled with decent fines for landowners for illegal persecution BUT I feel here should be a way excess or problem raptors could be legally culled or removed, just as excess and problem ground predaotrs can be controlled.

Sooty said...

Hi James first of all what a really great blog and for sure it is only a very small minority who commit these crimes probably across a wide range of society.I find it really good that you a shooting person wants to see a solution and if only all sides could come to a satisfactory agreement,surely there has to be a way if the will is there and it is understandable that Grouse shoots and others do not like to lose what they consider their birds.Pesonally I would agree to any reasonable proposal that cut down on raptors getting killed.Feel sure you would be embarresed by it but probably the best chance of change is from people like yourself putting a good case across and I may be castigated by some quarters but found your blog full of common sense.

Meconopsis said...

The goverment told us today that % was up and % was down. I wonder how many % of raptors are killed by Keepers each year and how many % raptors are killed by the pigeon guys ?

Now we have Trodax licenced to treat sheep I wonder how many birds are killed by eating dead lamb,s ???

Midgedog said...

Today I drove in to work. I stayed within the speed limit all the way. If I had gone faster, I could have got here 15 minutes earlier and got some overtime. Should I be paid compensation because I didn't break the law. Of course not!!!

Many landowners are in receipt of Single Farm Payments. Claimants must comply with specified legal requirements, including not killing protected species.

There is the carrot. Sadly, the stick is not being used effectively.

James Marchington said...

Midgedog, it sounds fine in theory doesn't it. Fact is, it's not working, and it will continue not working. Do you want results, or is occupying the moral high ground sufficient?

Many estates do comply fully with the law, and indeed go further to provide extra environmental / biodiversity benefits. Maybe that's enough, and we should simply see rogue estates in the same category as wind turbines, traffic etc - a kind of unnatural predation that we just have to live with. Personally, I wouldn't be comfortable doing that.

But don't forget, the owners of such places probably have an expense account that dwarfs the region's police budget. They actually believe they're above the law - and in many ways they are.

James Marchington said...

Perhaps every era has its super-rich vandals. Imagine if Capability Brown started 'improving' landscapes today - what an uproar there would be!

Sooty said...

James another great observationabout occupying the moral high ground,personally i like it but in the real world it gets us absolutely nowhere.The sad fact is it is virtually impossible to catch the culprits.Would really like a anonymous person tell us what is acceptable that would mean less raptor losses.Idon't think that what midgedog says about single farm payments is accurate as most of the suspects of raptor killing probably do not get much in the way of SFP.Suppose he had driven over the speed limit he may have killed a child did he consider that.

Vicky said...

Midegdog; An extra carrot is needed because estates are being asked to suffer loses to their crop (grouse). An arable farmer growing wheat is allowed to shoot/ trap/ ferret rabbits as in large numbers they danage his crop but the grouse moor owner can't do the same. Like it or not grouse are a crop which is harvested in years where there is a surplus and which bring large financial benefits to communities in areas where other opportunites are scarce. If grouse moors can't make money through grouse shooting, and to a smaller extent bird tourism they will be let go to ruin. Some would welcome the increase in scrub and then to native woodland, but there are many species which would lose out once the moorland habitat was lost.
I don't agree with raptor poisoning at all, but agree with James et al that the current methods of controlling the problem few aren't working and new thinking is the only way.
Bird watchers can be part of that; you could help support the local industries which suffer if there aren't enough grouse for shooting by booking into hotels and having large meals rather than camping and making sandwiches!!!!