Bird Crime: introduction – December 2014


Over the years we've regularly featured individual cases of bird crime on our webzine, as we recognise the huge concern of our readers for the protection of our birdlife. It's crucial that these developments are given as much publicity as possible and that those committing such crimes don't go unpunished.

We've occasionally been at the forefront of finding news of bird crimes, tucked away in local newspapers or in birders' blogs as we search for bird news. Occasionally we've found ourselves in the middle of a developing saga, either because we've received the news direct from a birder looking for help dealing with an incident they've discovered, or even sometimes because we've chanced upon an event ourselves when out in the field.

In order to help raise the profile of bird crime we've decided to introduce a new, regular round-up to the webzine to summarise some of the key occurrences that have been taking place nationally, which we hope will be a useful reference. We've put together a report below for recent weeks to give you an idea of what to expect.

We all want to play a part in reducing these crimes and bringing criminals to justice, so we'll be featuring new incidents discovered in the previous month and updates on ongoing investigations. We'll have input from the RSPB Investigations team as well as first-hand accounts of cases discovered by you. If you have an incident of bird crime that you want to share, you are welcome to email us at contact@birdguides.com.

December 2014

East Lothian

Species: Tawny Owl Crime: shot

Police in East Lothian are investigating the shooting of an owl near Gifford. The bird appears to have been shot some time on the night of December 18. It was discovered near the B6355 road, south of Gifford, after a report of damage to a telephone line. The bird's remains have since been positively identified as that of a Tawny Owl. Police are asking for anyone with any information about this, or any other wildlife crime, to contact them on 101 or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.


Species: Barn Owl Crime: shot

An adult Barn Owl was discovered dead near Blaby on Boxing Day morning. The landowner, suspecting a crime had been committed, sent the corpse to a local vet who confirmed that several shotgun pellets were embedded in the body. A shooting party had been present in the area two days before the bird was discovered. The Barn Owl was one of a successful breeding pair this year fledging four young in one of two boxes erected in December 2013, the first to breed at the site in decades. Details have been forwarded to the local police for investigation.


Species: Common Buzzard Crime: shot

A Common Buzzard died after being found injured by gunshot wounds in Norfolk during December. The report by Raptor Persecution Scotland revealed that x-rays found three shotgun pellets.


Species: Red Kite, Barn Owl, Mute Swan and Grey Heron Crime: shooting and poisoning

A news report mid-month revealed that a Red Kite had been found dead in a suspected poisoning incident and the other three species had all been found shot in recent weeks at Risley Moss, Cheshire. PC Deborah Marshall, from Warrington South NPU, said: "People who carry out these cruel attacks on our wildlife don't understand the consequences of what they are doing. These birds are protected and killing them is against the law."

Other Stories

George Mutch

During December we featured a report on Scottish gamekeeper George Mutch, found guilty of killing a Goshawk and setting traps illegally to capture two others on an Aberdeenshire estate. Mr Mutch was found guilty of four charges at Aberdeen Sheriff Court, and Sheriff Noel McPartlin said he would consider a custodial sentence. It is one of the first times in Scotland that hidden camera footage, obtained by the RSPB, had been used in a case of this kind. Mr Mutch will be sentenced next month.

Video evidence illustrating Mr Mutch destroying birds of prey (Video: RSPB)

First 'vicarious liability' conviction

December also brought a landmark first conviction under the amendment to the Wildlife and Countryside Act in Scotland introducing 'vicarious liability'. Landowner Ninian Stewart was sentenced after pleading guilty to being vicariously liable for Peter Finley Bell's crime of poisoning and killing of a wild bird. Mr Stewart was convicted at Stranraer Sheriff Court on 23 December 2014 and fined a total of £675 today for four offences under Section 15A(1) and Section 18A(1) and (2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Section 18A(2) makes the accused guilty of the original offence and liable to be punished accordingly.This is the first prosecution and conviction in Scotland under section 18A of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This section came into force on 1 January 2012.

Stewart, the landowner of Glasserton & Physgill Estates, was convicted of being vicariously liable for the criminal actions of Glasserton gamekeeper Peter Bell on land owned by Stewart and on which he held the shooting rights. Bell was a full-time gamekeeper in the employ of Mr Stewart when he committed the poisoning offence on 23 December 2012 at Glasserton Home Farm. He had laced the carcass of a Pheasant with Carbofuran and set the bait in a field. A birdwatcher passing the farm saw something flapping in the field and on closer inspection found that it was a Common Buzzard, lying on the ground, in the last throes of life. Subsequent forensic work showed that the Buzzard had died as a result of ingesting the poisoned bait.

Wildlife Enforcer of the Year award

A policeman spearheading the fight against wildlife crime in Lincolnshire was awarded a top honour by the renowned campaign group WWF-UK. PC Nick Willey became Wildlife Enforcer of the Year for his outstanding work while tackling wildlife crime since joining the Lincolnshire Police force wildlife department in 1994. Speaking about his WWF-UK honour, Nick said: "I am honoured to have been awarded The Enforcer of the Year — the award not only recognises the work I have done in relation to the fight against wildlife crime, but the work of the rest of the team and the support I have received from the rest of my force. I would like to thank WWF for highlighting wildlife crime issues and supporting wildlife crime officers in the UK."

Sarah Goddard, species policy officer at WWF-UK, commented: "Over the last ten years Nick has significantly contributed to the way people in Lincolnshire view wildlife crime. "Nick's commitment to preventing wildlife crime is admirable and inspiring to the other wildlife officers he works with. The Wildlife Enforcer of the Year award is a tribute to Nick's dedication in raising awareness of wildlife crime."

Langholm Moor Demonstration Project

While not directly related to bird crime, the release of the seven-year review of the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project was of huge interest for the impact it could have on reducing the illegal persecution of Hen Harriers and other birds of prey on grouse moors in Britain. The report appears to show what RSPB Scotland Director Stuart Housden described as 'a resounding success' for the technique of diversionary feeding of Hen Harriers during the breeding season. Increases in the grouse population along with a number of other species such as Black Grouse and Meadow Pipit, as well as the spectacular breeding successes for Hen Harriers in 2014, point to the project being key in reducing future bird crimes on grouse moors. Read more of Stuart Housden's thoughts on the project here.

Written by: Alan Tilmouth, BirdGuides