from Sunday Herald, 20 August 2006
ATTEMPTS by landowners and gamekeepers to kill eagles, buzzards and other birds of prey will reach a record high this year despite a bid by ministers to crack down on wildlife crime.
Figures prepared for the Scottish Executive show that there have already been far more confirmed poisoning incidents in 2006 than in the whole of 2005. Experts now expect the total for this year to be the highest for six years.
Rare birds of prey are being lost to “reckless and indiscriminate poisoning activities”, according to Ken Hunter, from the Scottish Agricultural Science Agency (SASA), which investigates wildlife crime for the Executive. Birds of prey are poisoned to stop them eating grouse and cutting the numbers available to be shot on sporting estates.
The latest statistics provided by SASA to the Sunday Herald reveal that 28 cases of pesticide abuse have been confirmed across Scotland so far this year. This compares to 19 cases in 2005.
The highest number of confirmed incidents in recent years was 33 in 2003. “It is probable that the number of abuse incidents in 2006 will exceed the total recorded in 2003,” predicted Hunter.
The incidents this year involve more than 40 dead animals, including 14 buzzards, four red kites, two golden eagles and a tawny owl. Ravens, crows, cattle, a dog and a cat were also poisoned.
Rabbit or pheasant baits laced with a highly toxic pesticide such as carbofuran are deliberately left out on the hillside to attract and poison birds of prey. But sometimes they are eaten by pets or livestock. In April, a cat died suddenly in Fife from carbofuran poisoning after “a short period of vomiting”, SASA reported. “At least two other cats in the area are believed to have died in similar circumstances,” it stated.
The poisoning incidents have taken place all over Scotland, though 10 were concentrated in particular areas in Strathclyde, Highland and Tayside. Eight are currently under investigation by the police and one has already resulted in a prosecution.
“It is abhorrent that in this day and age we have a number of individuals destroying our natural assets to meet their very narrow needs,” said Logan Steele from Scottish Raptor Study Groups, which monitor birds of prey.
Some of the fines imposed on gamekeepers convicted of breaking the law were as low as £100, he pointed out. “Until estates really feel the financial pain there is no incentive to cease the poisoning,” he claimed. “Maybe it is time to consider the suspension of shooting on those estates found guilty. Perhaps that will focus their minds.”
But the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association, which represents landowners, argued against a “heavy-handed” response. “We do not condone criminal behaviour by land managers, ” said Jackie McCreery, the association’s legal adviser. “But we hope that the response of the agencies is proportionate so that it doesn’t alienate people.”
The Scottish Executive condemned the deliberate poisoning of birds of prey as “dangerous and abhorrent”. New legislation had made it an offence to be in possession of the pesticides used without good reason, a spokesman said.
“We have been working to raise the profile of wildlife crime,” he added. “We will continue to work closely with a range of agencies to ensure poisoning incidents lead to prosecutions.”
Dave Dick, senior investigations officer with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Scotland, pointed out that the incidents were concentrated on shooting estates. This was “a continuing trend which implicates gamekeepers and landowners alike”, he alleged.
“This is not an outdated, old- fashioned crime. It is still current and flagrant in large parts of Scotland, and it’s a national disgrace. Despite publicised efforts to crack down on wildlife crime, the justice system clearly needs to do more.”
CONFIRMED BIRD POISONING INCIDENTS
2001 / 25
2002 / 23
2003 / 33
2004 / 23
2005 / 19
2006 to August / 28
Download spreadsheet of abuse incidents from Scottish Agricultural Science Agency here (xls).