Conservation project records new hen harrier behaviour
14 September 2018
A Scottish conservation project has recorded activity never seen before in a rare bird of prey, the hen harrier. Using nest cameras, the project has filmed two rarely recorded activities: male hen harriers standing guard over nests, and a hen harrier brood being hunted by two species of owl.
The discoveries were made as part of Heads Up for Harriers, a Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAW) Scotland project, led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Figures released today also show 30 young birds have successfully fledged on participating estates.
On two occasions, a male harrier was recorded spending up to 35 minutes standing over or beside a nest, guarding the chicks when the female harrier was away from the nest. This is believed to be highly unusual harrier behaviour: usually, the only time a mother leaves a nest for the first six weeks is to briefly catch a food drop from the father. The male calls the female off the nest and drops food, which the female then catches to feed their chicks.
As well, after a hectic night of activity involving a fox and a short-eared owl, five chicks were eventually killed by a long-eared owl. The attack happened early in the morning this spring in the Langholm area of South Scotland.
Professor Des Thompson, Chair of the PAW Scotland Heads up for Harriers group and SNH’s Principal Scientific Adviser, said, “This is exceptional. It’s the first time we’ve observed such behavior by a male hen harrier, and the first time we’ve seen a hen harrier nest under attack by two other raptors, one after the other.”
“As ground-nesting birds, hen harriers already face extra obstacles in order to protect their chicks. That’s why it’s so important that we crack down on persecution against these vulnerable birds, which already face so many challenges to survive.”
Heads up Harrier project field worker, Scott Smith said, "These pictures tell an amazing story that helps us understand the kind of hurdles which hen harrier chicks encounter to survive. Nests can fail for many reasons: the Heads up for Harrier project is keen to learn everything we can to help hen harriers flourish in the future. The more information gathered about why some hen harrier chicks don't survive, the more we can find ways to safeguard them.”
According to the pictures from the nest camera, before the owl attack, the mother spent eight days taking care of her five newly-hatched chicks, until she was scared off the nest by a fox. The fox probably played a crucial part in the night’s events, as harriers aren’t likely to be flushed off nests by owls. The unattended chicks are surveyed first by a short-eared owl, and then killed by a long-eared owl. The long-eared owl ate three of the chicks. The mother then returned to recover and remove the remaining dead chicks just before dawn.
The other field worker for the project, Brian Etheridge, added, “We’re also seeing new behavior as part of the project. We’re surprised in this case that the long-eared owl didn’t take its prey away, but instead stayed at the nest for almost an hour. We haven’t seen an owl behave in this way before and can’t explain it at this point. We also don’t know why the fox and the short-eared owl didn’t eat the chicks when they had the chance.”
The Heads Up for Harriers project aims to help conserve hen harriers with nest cameras by monitoring nesting hen harriers and helping determine reasons that affect chick survival.
New figures for this year show a total of 27 Scottish upland estates took part in 2018, with 17 nests monitored. This year, 30 young birds successfully fledged from eight successful nests. Four nests failed at egg stage and another five nests failed with chicks. The primary reason for failure (at chick stage) was fox predation, accounting for the death of six chicks; however, owl predation and starvation due to adult birds not being able to provide enough food, also played a part.
Drones and Wildlife: Operators warned against misuse
31 August 2018
Specialists have warned that those operating drones could be causing stress to wildlife.
Drones have become increasingly popular for taking aerial photographs and for conservation work, such as scientific surveys. But your drone could put you on the wrong side of the law, if you fly it too close to wildlife. The Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland says there are some important do’s and don’ts to avoid disturbing protected species.
On Thursday August 30th, at Battleby in Perthshire, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) staged a demonstration of the best use of drones, with experts on hand to explain how to avoid disturbing wildlife. PAW Scotland have issued advice for drone operators, with a reminder that people must have a license for photographing some particularly vulnerable birds.
The law protects the nests of wild birds from any form of damage or obstruction, including even our most common garden birds. Some birds, like the golden eagle and mammals, like dolphins and whales, are protected from disturbance at any time, not just within the breeding season.
Andy Turner, Wildlife Crime Officer with SNH, says, “There have been several incidents involving drones disturbing seals at designated haul-out sites. Likewise. there have been anecdotal reports of drones being used to film sea bird colonies and raptors. While the footage from drones in these circumstances can be very spectacular, the operator must be mindful of the effect on wildlife. Birds of prey in particular can see drones as a threat and act aggressively towards them, causing both injury to themselves and damage to the drone. We would encourage anyone wishing to film wildlife with a drone to contact SNH for advice and, if necessary, apply for a licence.”
PC Charlie Everitt, of the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit, says: “Wildlife crime is treated seriously by Police Scotland and can result in a criminal record for offenders. Breeding wild birds, dolphins, whales and seals are all protected from harassment or disturbance by law that currently imposes fines up to £5,000 or imprisonment for up to six months on those who break it. Irrespective of whether the offender is an egg collector, boat skipper or drone operator, the possible sentences are the same. It is therefore essential that drone operators understand the law, research the legal status and behaviour of any wildlife they intend to film, and obtain the necessary licences to keep on the right side of the law.”
Further guidance: Good Practice Advice - Drones and Wildlife
Eggs removed from golden eagle nest in Badenoch & Strathspey
15 June 2018
Police Scotland is appealing for assistance from the public after a golden eagle nest was disturbed in the Badenoch & Strathspey area.
It is believed that someone has climbed to the nest in the Kincraig area and has stolen eagle eggs from within it.
The incident was reported to police on Monday, June 11.
Wildlife crime officer Constable Daniel Sutherland said: "We can confirm that after having visited the nest, the tree has been climbed and the eggs stolen from within the nest. We are working with the landowners who are supportive of wildlife and are extremely disappointed that eagles nesting on their ground have suffered at the hands of egg collectors.
"It is frustrating that once again criminals believe they can get away with thieving from the nests of this iconic species in the Highlands. Stealing from the nest of a wild bird is illegal and anyone found to be involved in egg collecting will be robustly dealt with.
"I appeal to anyone that maybe aware of anyone involved in this incident or the criminal business of egg collecting to report the circumstances to police on 101, quoting incident NM1843/18 or alternatively to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."
Please note - no further information can be given regarding the location of the nest, to protect the eagles from further disturbance.
Appeal for information after dogs and buzzards poisoned in Perthshire
8 May 2018
Police Scotland is currently investigating a number of illegal poisoning incidents which have happened in the Perthshire area over the last seven months.
Sometime between October 2017 and April 2018, three working dogs and two buzzards have died as a result of poisoning in and around the Edradynate and Pitnacree Estates area in Highland Perthshire.
A Police Scotland Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer said:
"The owners are understandably extremely upset at the loss of their dogs. Once again, we also find ourselves investigating the illegal killing of raptors and this is extremely disappointing. The poisons which have been used in both cases are illegal poisons and have been banned from use in the UK for many years. We have searched the areas and our investigations to date would suggest that there is not a wider threat to public safety. However, all members of the public in the area are asked to remain vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour, especially during the hours of darkness. Anyone with information that may assist our enquiries should contact Police Scotland on 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.'
DNA breakthrough for wildlife crime
Recovery of human DNA to help solve bird of prey offences
20 April 2018
Wildlife crime investigations could be supported by new research into retrieving human DNA found at the scene, even days after the incident has taken place.
The research was initiated by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland and carried out by the Scottish Police Authority’s (SPA) Forensic Services, the Scottish Government and the University of Strathclyde.
It found DNA can be traced on traps that have been outside for at least 10 days, and from rabbit baits and bird carcasses at crime scenes after at least 24 hours.
Read the full press release...
Wildlife Special Constables take up duties in Cairngorms
16 March 2018
An initiative to tackle wildlife crime in the Cairngorms was launched today when the first Police Scotland Special Constables to tackle wildlife and rural issues within Cairngorms National Park formally took up their duties.
The Scottish Government and the Cairngorms National Park Authority is funding the pilot project, which will see five officers, who are all currently Special Constables and based across the three Police Scotland divisions which are covered by the National Park area, concentrate on wildlife and rural crime issues. They will engage with other agencies to prevent wildlife crime and build on existing relationships with those living and working in the Cairngorms National Park.
Detective Chief Superintendent David McLaren from Police Scotland said, “Tackling wildlife crime in Scotland is something that Police Scotland takes very seriously. Our priority should be preventing these crimes in the first place and we can only do this through strong partnership working and with the help of the public.
“It is our hope that by having this additional policing resource within the Cairngorms National Park we will be able to deter wildlife criminals. By building good relationships with those using the park, for work or leisure, we will also seek to better educate the public in identifying and reporting suspicious activity.”
Grant Moir, CEO of Cairngorms National Park Authority said, "Wildlife crime is unacceptable and damages the reputation of the Cairngorms as an outstanding National Park for nature. I am pleased to see the start of the special constable pilot with Scottish Government and Police Scotland to tackle this issue, but of course I would much prefer that this sort of resource was not needed to tackle an issue that should not be happening in 21st century Scotland.
“This is just part of the work that we are all undertaking to tackle this issue and the CNPA look forward to working closely with the Special Constables and Police Scotland.”
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said, “Scotland’s wildlife is precious and a huge part of our national identity, and these additional officers will be a valuable resource in tackling wildlife crime in the Cairngorms National Park.
“I announced this programme following a report that found many of our golden eagles are disappearing in suspicious circumstances. Golden eagles are in the news again with reports of another missing bird, which further underlines the importance of this work.
“It is my hope that the success of this pilot scheme will allow us extend it more widely across Scotland. We are absolutely determined to crack down on those who commit crime against our wildlife.”
Anyone with any relevant information on the fates of missing golden eagles or suspected wildlife crime in general, is urged to report this to Police Scotland on 101.
Notable wildlife crime convictions - Hare coursing and CITES
21 February 2018
The past week has seen a couple of notable convictions for wildlife crime offences.
James McPhee, of Angus, admitted two charges of hare coursing on farmland near Forfar in 2017, and was sentenced to 195 days in prison last week. Hare coursing (the hunting of hare with dogs) can cause considerable suffering to the animals targeted, and is illegal in Scotland under the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. Laura Buchan of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said:
"This custodial sentence should send a message to anyone involved in hare coursing in Scotland.
"The Crown will continue to work with Police Scotland to ensure that anyone who is involved in the cruel and illegal practice of hunting hares with dogs is brought to justice.
"We would encourage anyone who may have information on hare coursing to contact the police."
And on Monday this week, a man who was found in possession of protected animal parts including raptor feathers and barn owl heads, was fined. The National Wildlife Crime Unit issued the following statement:
An Inverness man was fined fined £750 for keeping parts of protected species for sale at Inverness Sheriff Court on Monday 19th February 2018. Gordon Taylor ran an on-line business under the name "Wild Wizard Crafts" selling products for the shaman and pagan market from an address in Leyton Drive, Inverness. On 4 November 2015, the premises was searched under warrant by Police Scotland officers, assisted by the National Wildlife Crime Unit and a Wildlife Inspector from Animal & Plant Health Agency. The search revealed a small workshop within a cupboard and quantity of items containing bird derivatives. 11 of these items contained parts of protected species including buzzard, barn owl and tawny owl, carrying a possible sales value of £695, for which the court also issued a forfeiture order.
The Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997 prohibit the sale of certain species of bird or their derivatives. The highest category of protection under this legislation is afforded to Annex A species which are considered threatened by extinction due to trade. All Scotland's raptors fall into this category, including buzzards, barn owls and tawny owls.
Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, Lou Hubble, said, "There is a world-wide campaign to stop the illegal trade in endangered species which can have an enormous impact on animals living in the wild. Legislation exists to protect those species. Members of the public should understand that some of the UK's iconic wildlife is protected by this legislation and need to ensure trading in any animal parts or derivatives is lawful."
Cabinet Secretary interview with Chris Packham about raptor persecution
15 February 2018
PAW Scotland Chair and Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, spoke to wildlife broadcaster Chris Packham, in a film made following the recent suspicious disappearance of a satellite tagged golden eagle in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh, on the morning of 21 January 2018.
Watch the film, including an interview with Roseanna Cunningham...
Anyone with any information about the fate of this eagle is urged to contact Police Scotland on 101.
UPDATE - A longer version of the interview is also available...