The Donald & Jeff Watson Raptor Award is awarded annually by the Scottish Raptor Study Groups, in memory of two outstanding raptor ecologists.
The winner of the 2012 Watson Award is George Smith, from the Lothian and Borders Raptor Study Group. The following information was provided by Alan Heavisides and Mike McGrady of the Lothian & Borders RSG.
George Smith joined the Lothian & Borders Raptor Study Group twenty years ago, and at his very first meeting was appointed as buzzard records coordinator, documenting the population’s gradual recovery in this region. Very soon George was also working with the one and only late George Carse on peregrines, as they also expanded across the region. Over the next few years George became one of the key members of the group and is presently species coordinator for three key species peregrine, buzzard and raven. He also manages to fit in various other raptor monitoring activities along the way. It is difficult to exaggerate just how much time and effort George manages to put into this each season despite having a fulltime job, a wife and a family of three daughters.
George spends an enormous amount of time in the field each year, especially studying peregrines. His time is filled finding nests, searching for new sites, trapping, ringing and pit-tagging adults and chicks across the region as part of a long-term study. Despite the exceptionally busy schedule it seems that in every year he manages to search in new areas, find new nests and where necessary contribute to things like nest site monitoring at locations where persecution is suspected. While his main focus is on peregrines, he always has some other things going on with buzzards or owls etc. In the ‘off’ season he spends time gathering information on sites he might have missed, and modifying sites to make them more secure from the elements or from disturbance.
Although George has a strong suspicious streak fitting any raptor worker in Scotland, he has been successful in getting new workers involved in raptors, something critical to ensuring that raptor work extends past the current generation. Over the years he has been extremely generous with his time and data, and this is leading to a better understanding of peregrine demography and the level and effect of persecution on peregrines in our region.
George always promptly produces excellent summary data and accounts on the three species at the end of every season; co edits with Andrew Sandeman the LBRSG annual report, provides data on several other species and contributes to raptor conservation, LBRSG and SRSG in several other ways. George Smith is a very worthy recipient for the 2012 Donald and Jeff Watson Award.
The Scottish Raptor Study Groups held their 2012 annual conference in Perthshire on Saturday 25th February. Over 100 RSG members packed into the Battleby conference centre to listen to a suite of presentations by an excellent line-up of speakers. These included Chris Rollie on peregrines in SW Scotland, Gordon Riddle on sparrowhawks (on behalf of Ian Todd) and kestrels in Ayrshire, Andrew Stevenson on the raptors of Uists and Barra, David Jardine on recent trends in Colonsay’s raptors, Bob McMillan on hen harriers on Skye, Mark Wilson on hen harriers and land use changes in Ireland, Tim Hipkiss on GPS tracking of golden eagles in northern Sweden, and Patrick Stirling Aird, Brian Etheridge and Duncan Orr-Ewing on various SRSG/SRMS/RSPB updates. John Love gave the prestigious Derek Ratcliffe Memorial Lecture, discussing the white-tailed sea eagle reintroduction project in Scotland. The Donald and Jeff Watson 2012 Raptor Award was presented to George Smith (Lothian & Borders Raptor Study Group) for his outstanding long-term monitoring of peregrines in southern Scotland. Congratulations to the South Strathclyde Raptor Study Group for hosting a terrific conference, and particular thanks to Gordon Riddle and Ricky Gladwell for all their hard work.
From the BBC website: An egg collector from London has been banned from travelling to Scotland during the nesting season for ten years. An anti-social behaviour order was issued against Matthew Gonshaw because of his repeated trips to take eggs of birds like golden eagles and ospreys. He had previously admitted 10 charges of theft and possession of rare eggs. Gonshaw, 49, was jailed for six months last December at Thames Magistrates’ Court. The Asbo prevents him travelling to Scotland between 1 Feb and 31 August. He has also been prevented from visiting RSPB and Wildlife trust land for the next decade. RSPB Scotland said the order would strengthen the penalties he would face for any future wildlife crimes. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, he could receive a £20,000 fine and a five year jail term for breaking the conditions of the Asbo. RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations Ian Thomson said: “Matthew Gonshaw is a serial criminal, and has repeatedly targeted the eggs of some of our rarest species. Over the decades he has plundered hundreds of birds’ nests, feeding his selfish desire to add to his egg collection. We welcome this decision by the English courts for the strong signal it sends out and as an effective measure to protect our breeding birds.” Gonshaw, of Bow, east London, is currently serving his fourth prison term for egg collecting.
The animal protection charity OneKind has written an open letter to the Environment Minister to seek an urgent review of how willdife crime reports are handled. This follows a decision by the Crown Office, who decided not to prosecute after a gamekeeper was filmed, reportedly on Glenlochy Moor, beating crows to death with a stick inside a crow cage trap. The video evidence was ruled inadmissable as it was suspected it formed part of a covert ‘surveillance’ operation by a field officer working for OneKind. The wider implications of the decision not to prosecute are worrying, especially for raptor fieldworkers who legitimately visit sporting estates to monitor raptor breeding attempts, but whose evidence in a suspected wildlife crime report may be classed as part of a ‘surveillance’ operation. Members of the public are being encouraged to sign the open letter.
From the BBC:An osprey raised at a nest site in the Highlands and tracked using satellite tagging technology may have perished in West Africa. The male bird called Bynack hatched at Loch Garten near Aviemore in May last year and later migrated to Africa.
RSPB Scotland said the osprey had not moved for about 11 days and worry it may have died. Staff remain hopeful that the lack of movement may be because its tag has slipped off.In 2009, another young Loch Garten osprey called Nethy was thought to have died after reaching Africa.The year before, the female’s brother Deshar died after making a “navigational error” and missed landfall in the Azores.
Craig Barrie, a 30 year old gamekeeper from Aswanley Estate, Aberdeenshire, has lost his job after failing to appeal his conviction for using a pigeon-baited larsen trap. He had been fined £520 but appealed his sentence in order to keep his job. He claimed he would lose his ‘gamekeeper licence’ (there’s no such thing – presumably he meant general licence) and would not be able to work. Two appeal court judges rejected his appeal yesterday.