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Crackdown on illegal coursing, hunt trial failure and support for deer managers – this week in fieldsports

We're bringing you all the latest news that you might have missed this week from the world of fieldsports

Another hunt trial collapses

Mr Finnegan’s case is one of many to fail under the Hunting Act

The case against a member of the Quorn Hunt has been dropped after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) offered no evidence. John Finnegan had been due to appear before Leicester Magistrates’ Court on 20 June charged with hunting a wild mammal with dogs.

The charge against Mr Finnegan related to an outing of the Quorn that took place near Belton in January this year. The CPS offered no evidence against the defendant and the case was dismissed by the magistrates.

In a separate case, a former whipper-in of the Pytchley with Woodland Hunt is to face a Crown Court trial after he was accused of seriously injuring a hunt saboteur.

Chris Mardles, 25, is accused of grievous bodily harm after his horse is said to have crushed a saboteur at a meet in September 2020. The saboteur required emergency medical treatment for fractures and a collapsed lung. Mardles, who denies the charges, has been committed for trial at Northampton Crown Court today (29 June).


Victory in coursing scourge

It is hoped the new measures will be in force by 1 August, before the next coursing season begins

A crackdown on hare coursing called for by Shooting Times will start before the end of the summer, with the full set of powers in place for the next coursing season.

Police have struggled to contain the scourge of illegal hare coursing in recent years and, despite frequent arrests and seizures, existing penalties have not served as a deterrent.

After a protracted campaign by Shooting Times contributor Ed Coles, the Government amended legislation this year to give police new powers and to increase the penalties for poachers under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act (News, 11 May).

However, questions remained over when these powers would be ‘enacted’ by the relevant minister.

Now Shooting Times has been sent a formal Government business circular that states: “Preparations are in hand to bring all of these measures into force on 1 August 2022 ahead of the start of the hare coursing season at the end of that month.

“As part of that work, Operation Galileo, the national policing initiative jointly led by Lincolnshire Police and the National Wildlife Crime Unit, is preparing detailed operational guidance on the use of these measures.”


Deer managers call on NatureScot for support

Red deer numbers in Scotland need to be reduced further

NatureScot has been asked to step in amid accusations that estates have not done their bit to manage deer properly. The demand for all landholdings to step up and reduce deer numbers came from the South Grampian Deer Management group.

Douglas McAdam, the independent chairman of the group, explained: “Red deer numbers in the area from a recent count in March 2022 sit at around 6,974, down nearly 24% from a population of 9,135
in January 2019.

“This represents the result of sustained culling in the area over the past four years but, for the group to achieve what is required and deliver for both the public and private interest, more needs to be done and deer numbers will have to be reduced further. However, red deer are an iconic Scottish species as well as a valuable food and economic resource and this, as well as their welfare, should always remain an important underlying consideration.”

He added: “To achieve this, all estates in the group area need to play their part and fulfil their deer management obligations and responsibilities.”

The group has now asked NatureScot to draw up a ‘Section 7 agreement’ — a legally binding agreement that would force holdings to reduce numbers or face a compulsory cull under Section 8 of the Deer Act.


Keepers urged to join survey

Keepers’ practical experience of gamebird releases could be vital

Gamekeepers and land managers are being encouraged to take part in an RSPB survey.

Despite extensive and authoritative work by the GWCT, the RSPB has decided to commission its own research into the effect of gamebird releasing on protected sites. This has proved to be a significant area of contention after Wild Justice launched, then withdrew a challenge on releases in 2020.

While the RSPB’s move was met with a cynical response from many keepers, the GWCT expressed its support and encouraged the shooting community to engage with it.

Dr Roger Draycott, director of advisory and gamebird policy at the GWCT, said: “This is an opportunity for game managers in and around these sites to provide the RSPB with their views and practical experience of gamebird releasing and management and how these activities affect the conservation of habitats
and species.

“We encourage game managers to contribute to the survey to ensure the views of all relevant stakeholders are captured,” he added.



News in brief

Poachers guilty

Three men accused of committing offences under Section 1 of the Night Poaching Act 1828 have pleaded guilty at Northampton Magistrates’ Court.

Kieran Hindley, Carl Maguire and David Bradshaw were charged with trespassing on private land for the purpose of taking wildlife. Following an extensive search by officers, they were found in a field with four lurcher-type dogs and a Harris hawk.

The men were also found to be in possession of equipment commonly used for the purpose of poaching, including numerous animal call whistles that encourage the prey out and a lamp to spot them. Hindley, Maguire and Bradshaw were each ordered to pay £463 in compensation and the hawk and other gear were ordered not to be returned to them.


Catastrophic losses due to bird flu

The bird flu pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the UK’s shooting season is taking a terrible toll on seabird colonies. Mass deaths of gannets from the disease have been confirmed from the Bass Rock off Scotland’s east coast and the Shetland Islands, and the great skua colonies of the St Kilda archipelago are reportedly at risk of extinction due to the outbreak. The close packed nests of seabirds make them particularly vulnerable to the disease.


Toxic algae danger

The British Veterinary Association has issued its annual warning over blue-green algae. The warning follows reports of algal blooms in lakes, ponds or rivers in locations across the UK, including Milarrochy Bay and Pullar’s Loch in Scotland and around 50 other confirmed locations. The algae may appear as green or greenish-brown scum on the surface of water. Dogs can ingest it by drinking affected water or while licking their fur after going for a swim. It is highly toxic to dogs and leads to fatalities every year.