Sunday, August 14, 2016

Persecution of Raptors must end!

Saddened by the recent news that yet another tagged Golden Eagle had mysteriously vanished without trace in the Scottish Highlands & knowing that Hen Harriers have been persecuted, almost to the point of extinction in England, I felt that now was a good time to speak out against the sort of illegal activities I know were carried out in secret on many keepered estates. Sadly, the evidence points to there being little change since my days as a Keeper.

To speak openly now about the sort of persecution I saw with my own eyes, might just help to convince some people that now is the time to vote for serious change to the way our countryside is being managed for shooting interests, but actually mismanaged in so many ways.

At the very least, a serious debate needs to take place at the very highest level & to ensure this debate takes place I would urge anyone reading this to follow the links below and sign the Petitions.

Very Poor Historical Record!

Gamekeepers have a very poor historical record, when it comes to the toleration of other species of wildlife on their estates. For example, an often quoted example from the Highland estate of Glengarry, gives a clear indication of the standard attitude at that time, amongst Gamekeepers, towards any other species of wildlife on a keepered estate & makes for very sad reading indeed.

"In the four years between 1837 and 1840 the estate keepers killed 11 red foxes, 198 wildcats, 78 housecats, 246 pine martens, 106 polecats, 301 stoats and weasels, 67 badgers, 48 otters, 98 peregrines, 78 merlins, 462 kestrels, 475 ravens, 285 buzzards, 3 honey buzzards, 15  golden eagles, 27 sea eagles, 18 ospreys, 63 goshawks, 275 red kites, 68 hen harriers, 109 owls as well as 1,432 hooded crows and 475 ravens." 

See: Let's Ban Driven Grouse Shooting

Most of these species are of course now protected by the law, but unfortunately clear evidence points to the fact that there are still a number of gamekeepers working on estates today who still kill protected species. They do so, safe in the knowledge that it is very, very difficult for anyone, even today, to obtain enough evidence to actually bring about a prosecution against anyone involved in such illegal activity.

Most of the species listed above weren't actually present on the estates I worked on, in the early 1970s, but if they had been I have absolutely no doubt that they would have been killed, too.

My Own Experience!

As an Underkeeper myself in the early 1970s. I was trained by an English Gamekeeper in the ‘Noble Art’ of using illegal Gin Traps, & Pole Traps, shown how to shoot protected Raptors, instructed on how to lace baits with poisons like Strychnine & Alphachloralose. I witnessed Sparrowhawks being shot & poisoned, attempts made to destroy Barn Owl nests, Long Eared Owls caught in Pole Traps and even Otters caught in Gin Traps, despite the fact that nobody actually fished the estate river.

2.5" Gin Trap

One year, the Head Keeper shot a pair of Sparrowhawks at their nest, which contained 4 quite well developed youngsters. He intended to just  leave the young birds to simply starve to death, but having experience as a Falconer I persuaded him to let me rear them. So those 4 young Sparrowhawks were actually reared, on mostly dead Pheasant poults, in a pen on the Rearing Field! I then passed them on to a full time Falconer who hacked them back into the wild, many miles from our estate. 

4 Rescued Sparrowhawks

We snared around 100 Foxes each year but not surprisingly, I hated the use of these barbaric weapons of pain & suffering. As well as the untold agony & suffering these disgusting tools of the trade caused to so many Foxes, especially those which weren’t caught cleanly around the neck, we always caught numerous harmless Badgers in them too & the odd stray dog.

From my own observations, it appeared that Keepers were often ingrained almost, with a sort of pathological hatred of anything with a hooked beak or a talon, no matter whether it actually posed any real threat to any of their game charges or not. As an example of this uncontrolled hatred of raptors, I once witnessed my own Head Keeper jumping out of his van & running with a loaded Shotgun across private fields in pursuit of a Sparrowhawk which had dared to fly across the road in front of him ~ all this, Ten Miles from our own estate. Such obsessive, driven and clearly illogical behaviour, demonstrated to me at least, that the old instinctive & deep rooted negative attitude towards Raptors in the mind of Gamekeepers, had actually changed very little, if at all, since those far off days of mass slaughter on the Highland Estate of Glengarry!

The final straw for me was the day a Peregrine actually flew right out across the line of guns on the day of a shoot. As a flanker that day I had a clear view of the whole scene & couldn’t believe it when at least one gun tried to shoot the Falcon. This all took place long before any Pheasants were flushed from the wood so there was absolutely no doubt what the gun was shooting at. I immediately shouted – “Don’t shoot, it’s a Peregrine” but no action was taken and all that happened was that I was severely reprimanded after the drive, by the Laird, for causing him to feel embarrassed. He actually claimed, in the gun's defense, that -"it was only a Kestrel", as if that made it alright. Of course both species are protected by the law & in any case, any keeper worth his salt would recognise a Peregrine at a glance, especially one like myself, who had experience as a full time Falconer, not to mention being a life long Birdwatcher. 
Anyway, that was the day I decided to get out of Gamekeeping!

Peregrine Falcon

So it was my understanding that the illegal persecution of protected raptors was rife and commonplace amongst Gamekeepers at that time. In fact, such activity was talked about quite openly, even bragged about, amongst keepers, even on shooting days. I would like to think that things have improved since those days, but sadly, because so much evidence of raptor persecution still appears regularly each year, up and down the country, I have absolutely no reason to believe that those outdated & deep rooted attitudes towards Raptors have changed very much amongst Gamekeepers in general, since my own days as a Keeper. It is for this reason that I would urge people to sign the petition for change.

The Rearing Field

Raptors deserve our respect .. & help!

Young Ospreys being ringed at Loch Garten, late 1960s 

The author with a rescued, hand-reared, Tawny Owl

The author with a Lagger Falcon

The author holding a Serpent Eagle, while giving a guided tour of a Falconry Centre.

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N.B. All photos on this Blog are the property of 
Dick Glasgow

Please sign the Petitions!

#1New Petition to Ban Driven GrouseSign the petition here:Ban Driven Grouse Shooting

"Grouse shooting for 'sport' depends on intensive habitat management which increases flood risk and greenhouse gas emissions, relies on killing Foxes, Stoats, Mountain Hares etc in large numbers and often leads to the deliberate illegal killing of protected birds of prey including Hen Harriers."



Sign the petition here:
State regulated licensing system for gamebird hunting in Scotland

"Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to implement urgent action to introduce a state regulated system of licensing of gamebird hunting, that addresses the potentially adverse environmental impact of gamebird hunting, provides for the revocation or amendment of licences where a licence-holder fails to comply with their terms and conditions, and to implement the recommendations of the Review of Wildlife Crime Penalties in Scotland."
[ Closing Date for this 2nd Online Petition:
22 August 2016 ]

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