23
Feb
17

Buzzard shot dead in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire

nyorks-policeNorth Yorkshire Police have issued the following press release:

Buzzard shot in Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

North Yorkshire Police are investigating an incident in which a Buzzard was shot in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

A dead buzzard was found on 1 February 2017 in an area called High Skelding, near the village of Grantley It was in a small coniferous plantation close to where the Ripon Rowel footpath crosses the upper River Skell.

The police arranged for an x-ray at a local vet and this shows that the bird had been shot. It is thought to have been shot between 31st January and 1st February.

Buzzards, along with all wild birds, are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and it is a criminal offence to kill or injure any wild bird. The government has set persecution of birds of prey as one of their wildlife crime action priorities.

If you have any information about this crime please contact North Yorkshire Police on 101. After being connected to North Yorkshire Police select option 1 and quote reference number 12170018791 when passing on information. Alternatively contact the investigating officer PC820 Hickson by email: bill.hickson@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk

ENDS

A good, detailed press release and appeal to the public that has only taken three weeks, not three years, to come out (take note Police Scotland).

North Yorkshire is consistently rated the worst county in the UK for the number of reported crimes against raptors, and a lot of it takes place in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the neighbouring Yorkshire Dales National Park. We were only talking about this region two weeks ago in relation to the poisoning of red kites.

23
Feb
17

Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: donor countries

We’ve blogged quite a bit about the ridiculous proposed ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England, one of the six action points in DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan. Here’s a quick recap:

28 Nov 2016 – Hen Harrier reintroduction to southern England: an update (here)

3 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the feasibility/scoping report (here)

8 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the project group and their timeline (here)

9 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: who’s funding it? (here)

9 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: a bonkers proposal for Exmoor National Park (here)

12 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Wiltshire (here)

14 Feb 2017: Leaked email reveals Natural England’s views on Hen Harrier Action Plan (here)

This blog is about which countries might donate hen harrier chicks / eggs for this doomed reintroduction, assuming it goes ahead in 2020 as planned.

hhchicks-andrew-sandemanWe know, through a series of FoIs, that the reintroduction project team has been discussing potential donor countries for quite some time. Notes from their second meeting in May 2016 say:

Initial conversations have indicated that Spain may not be as likely source as had initially been thought. SR [Steve Redpath] is still waiting for replies from enquiries sent to both Spanish and French colleagues. JK [Jeff Knott] will follow up with BirdLife International partners and RC [Rob Cooke] will make initial enquiries with SNH“.

Notes from their third meeting in July 2016 say:

We acknowledged that we need to move this subject forward. We need to discuss with SR [Steve Redpath] when he’s back from Iceland but also AJ [Adrian Jowitt] to pick up with [redacted]. We also agreed to make some preliminary investigations about who or how one might approach sourcing birds from Russia“.

Notes from their fourth meeting in October 2016 say:

Contact has been made with Harrier workers in France and Spain but as yet detailed conversations have not happened – this is ongoing. We acknowledged the need to discuss whether we are looking to source chicks or eggs, although accepted that to a degree the source of the birds may influence this choice. PM [Philip Merricks] fed back that Russian counterparts had suggested that sourcing birds there was relatively straight forward provided that proper channels were followed. We agreed to pursue sources closer to home for now“.

We were particularly interested in the idea of sourcing birds from Scotland, a population in long-term decline, so we asked SNH whether there had been any correspondence on this, as suggested from the May 2016 meeting notes. SNH replied on 6 Feb 2017 with this:

We can advise there has been no approach from Natural England or others involved with this project, but that if SNH received such a request we would assess it by our own normal licensing processes and the Scottish Translocation Code, as it would relate to a reintroduction project seeking Scottish involvement / donor stock“.

SNH did, however, provide a copy of some 2011 meeting notes from the Environment Council’s six year-long failed Hen Harrier Dialogue, where there had been a discussion about sourcing hen harriers from Scotland. It makes for an interesting read: environment-council-hh-dialogue_reintroduction_june2011

So, sourcing donor birds from Scotland doesn’t appear to be on the cards. We also know that the reintroduction project team has approached the Netherlands (answer: no), Spain (answer: no) and Poland (no). Here are copies of the correspondence:

re_-hen-harriers-1_redacted_netherlands

re_-sourcing-harrier-chicks-or-eggs_redacted_spain

re_-hen-harriers-2_redacted_poland

We know that sourcing birds from Russia may be a possibility (see project team meeting notes from Oct 2016) but the most likely source, as of November 2016, appears to be France. Here is an email from Adrian Jowitt (Natural England) to the reintroduction project team, dated 3 November 2016: fw_-france-as-possible-donor-population-_redacted

We don’t have any further information on this at the moment. We submitted a further FoI in January 2017 asking Natural England for copies of correspondence relating to this project since our last request in November 2016. They replied on 19 January with this:

There has been no correspondence between 29 November 2016 and 19 January 2017“.

This apparent radio silence seems quite remarkable, given the project team is planning to submit a funding bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund in March 2017. Hmm.

More FoIs have been submitted and we’ll report in due course.

Photo of hen harrier nestlings by Andrew Sandeman

22
Feb
17

Overnight nest protection for hen harrier nests – RSPB recruiting

hh LAURIE CAMPBELLIn preparation for this year’s breeding season, the RSPB is looking to hire six people to work as part of an overnight nest protection scheme for any hen harrier breeding attempts in northern England.

It’s a pretty sad indictment that in 2017, even with the Government’s so-called Hen Harrier Action Plan in place, hen harrier nests still need 24-hour protection to stand any chance of being successful. And even with this round-the-clock nest security, the birds are still vulnerable to being killed while away from the nest on a foraging trip – five breeding males ‘disappeared’ in 2015 while away from their nests, resulting in failed breeding attempts.

The six roles are expected to be located in Northumberland, Cumbria or Lancashire, with the tiniest of tiny chances of also being in Yorkshire and Derbyshire (don’t hold your breath). But let’s be honest, given the grouse shooting industry’s abject hatred and intolerance of this species, and the wide range of options available to them to ‘get rid’ (shooting, pole traps, decoys, poisoning, gas guns, banger ropes, baited spring traps, inflatable screeching scarecrows, nest burning, ice cubes placed on eggs, putting terriers in to nests, chick trampling), with little prospect of being caught, we’ll be lucky to see any breeding attempts this year away from Forestry Commission (Northumberland) and RSPB (Cumbria) land.

And if we do see any breeding attempts away from these safe areas, the chances are those nests will be subjected to brood meddling (due to begin this year) so any eggs/chicks will be removed, reared in captivity and then released back in to the uplands just in time for the opening of the grouse shooting season. Their chance of survival? Virtually nil. Hopefully they’ll all be fitted with satellite transmitters and hopefully the public will be allowed to see these birds’ movements, although the reality is that this information, if being handled by Natural England, will be kept secret and away from public scrutiny.

At least we know that if any hen harriers breed successfully again this year on Forestry Commission and /or RSPB land, that the nests won’t be subjected to brood meddling and that the offspring will be fitted with satellite transmitters by the RSPB (paid for with funds raised via LUSH Skydancer bathbombs) and the public will be kept updated via this website on what happens to those young birds.

The closing date for applications for the role of Overnight Nest Protection staff is 27 Feb (next Monday).

Hen harrier breeding attempts in England, 2005-2016 (data source: RSPB)

hh-nests

21
Feb
17

Gamekeeper chat

The following conversation took place on a Facebook page called ‘Gamekeeper chat’ on 12 February 2017. They were discussing buzzards:

Not very bright, is he?

Shall we just remind ourselves what Dr Colin Sheddon (BASC) said in his recent evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee? He told MSPs that a licensing scheme to regulate gamebird hunting in Scotland wasn’t necessary as all those who shoot game are already regulated via their shotgun certificates and that “shotgun certificate holders are among the most law-abiding sector of society and any hint of illegal activity can lead to the right to hold a certificate, and the ability to shoot, being withdrawn“.

20
Feb
17

Raptor persecution data & golden eagle conservation status – anyone see a pattern?

This first map will be familiar to many of you. It’s from the excellent Golden Eagle Conservation Framework report (2008) and shows a summary of the golden eagle’s conservation status in Scotland.

Conservation status was assessed by looking at the data from three national golden eagle surveys (1982, 1992, 2003) and applying a series of regional-based tests such as occupancy, adult survival, sub-adult survival, reproductive output and predicted population projections.

Green = favourable conservation status

Amber = unfavourable conservation status (marginal, with failure in only one test)

Red = unfavourable conservation status (with failure in more than one test)

The results were pretty unambiguous (unless you suffer from willful blindness). In fact, the results were stark. Only three of 16 regions, where golden eagles have occupied territories since 1982, were considered to be in favourable conservation status (the green bits). The most serious failures to meet favourable conservation status tests were in areas largely dominated by grouse moor management (the red bits).

Now, since the Golden Eagle Framework was published there has been another national golden eagle survey (2015) and although the results have yet to be formally published, we do know that there has been an improvement in some areas and perhaps some of the map previously shaded in amber can now be turned to green. However, we also know that the 2015 survey results showed that golden eagles in the eastern highlands and southern uplands are still in serious trouble.

Now have a look at this map. We thought it’d be interesting to take the golden eagle conservation status map and overlay ten years worth of raptor persecution data, gleaned from the various ‘official’ persecution maps (such as those from PAW Scotland). It’s been done at a crude scale, because that’s how the official raptor persecution data have been presented over the years, but nevertheless it’s really quite interesting. Can anyone see a pattern?!

17
Feb
17

Police Scotland intend to withhold raptor persecution info for 3 years

police-scotland-logoA couple of weeks ago we blogged about Police Scotland withholding information about raptor persecution crimes from the RSPB’s 2015 Birdcrime report (here). Their approach was in sharp contrast to every other UK police force that had provided data for this report.

This wasn’t the first time we’d noticed a distinct lack of transparency from Police Scotland, and indeed we remarked that it was becoming something of a speciality of theirs, as they’d also withheld raptor persecution data from the ‘official’ PAW Scotland 2015 raptor persecution report (see here) and also from the Scottish Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report (see here, here and here).

One of our blog readers contacted Police Scotland to ask why information about raptor persecution crimes (a national UK police priority) was being withheld from the public.

Here’s Police Scotland’s response:

Primarily, the Police Scotland concern is about specialist knowledge becoming public knowledge in these cases. Police Scotland actually withholds the data from publication in relatively few cases and only after consideration against the agreed investigative strategy for a particular case. If Police Scotland is to make an appeal for information about a bird of prey killing and has chosen not to identify the substance as part of the strategy (or even identify that poisoning was the cause of death) this would be undermined by the identification of the chemical used in a public document. It would not take too much initiative to put the two together and that specialist knowledge tool is lost. A similar argument is equally as legitimate where other modus operandi (MO) are used in this form of raptor persecution.

On occasions, the decision is made not to make an investigation public at all for a variety of reasons (time of year, other ongoing investigations etc.). Publication of pesticide data or MO by HSE, RSPB or whoever else would ensure that Police Scotland loses control over this tool.

Differences in the legal system in Scotland is also another issue. The time bar for bringing wildlife crimes to court in Scotland is (in most cases) three years from the date of the offence. Police Scotland therefore expect to be able to legitimately withhold information relating to cases for that time period. This argument was supported by a specialist prosecutor from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s Wildlife & Environmental Crime Unit who also thought that this was particularly relevant in Scotland because we still have a requirement for corroboration.

Police Scotland cannot speak for the approach taken by forces in England and Wales but our commitment to wildlife crime ensures that we must ensure that we use every tool available and therefore on occasions this will include withholding information about a crime.

ENDS

Police Scotland’s justification for withholding information about raptor persecution crimes is technically legitimate. They have the right to withhold information when they think it is the most appropriate and/or effective approach to take.

However, just because we accept that this is a technically legitimate course of action for Police Scotland to take, it doesn’t mean that we agree with it. On the contrary, their approach raises some very serious concerns.

The first, and most important, concern is the issue of public safety. Public safety is the underlying objective of any police force, and Police Scotland even have it incorporated in to their logo. How on earth is withholding information about the use of a dangerous (potentially fatal) poison in a given area ‘keeping people safe’?

What happens if a member of the public visits that area with a child or a pet dog, ignorant to the fact that poisoned baits have been discovered there, and they stumble across the poisoned bait and, god forbid, the child (or adult) touches it, or the dog eats it, and dies as a result? These poisons have been banned for a reason – they are so highly toxic that even absorption through the skin (via touch) can be enough to cause death. Many pet dogs have succumbed in this way and it is only a matter of time before it happens to a human.

north-york-police-poisoning-poster-may-2015At the very least, the very, very least, Police Scotland should be screaming about the use of illegal poison, every single time they encounter it. It should be in the papers, on the radio, on the TV, all over social media, and warning posters should be prominently displayed in the local area (just as North Yorkshire Police are doing – see here). What Police Scotland absolutely should NOT be doing is hiding this information from the public for three years. What on earth are they thinking?

What’s more important to Police Scotland – protecting the public from a devastating consequence or clinging to a false hope that somebody might come forward with corroborating information that might lead to an arrest? It’s a bit of a no brainer, isn’t it?

And ‘clinging to a false hope’ is a deliberately chosen expression. How many times, in the last, say, 10 years, following a raptor poisoning crime, has anyone ever come forward with corroborating evidence that has enabled a prosecution? If you read RSPB Scotland’s recent written evidence to the ECCLR Committee (here), you’ll find this statement:

We note that a number of cases of confirmed raptor persecution have not been included in the Wildlife Crime Report. RSPB Scotland is concerned that increasingly, such data are being withheld from public scrutiny on the basis that cases remain under investigation and/or there is an anticipation that an individual will come forward, as a result of an appeal, with some specialist information that will identify a potential suspect. As far as we are aware, this has never happened, almost certainly due to the culture of silence outlined above‘.

Other concerns about the withholding of persecution crime data have been covered on this blog many times before. This lack of transparency not only undermines the public’s confidence in officially-cited (by Government) raptor persecution trends, but it also creates the false impression that raptor persecution is no longer an issue of concern. If the public isn’t reading about it, they’ll assume it’s not happening. Naturally, those with a vested interest in hiding the extent of raptor persecution crime will be all over this, using it in propaganda campaigns to indicate that the game shooting industry has finally cleaned up its act.

And of course, if raptor persecution crimes are not in the public domain, it makes it virtually impossible for people like us to track and assess the performance of Police Scotland and also that of the Crown Office in dealing with these offences. No public awareness = no public scrutiny.

How very convenient.

Police Scotland should be hung out to dry about this. Not only are they putting public safety at risk, but they are also demolishing public confidence in their ability to effectively tackle wildlife crime. We’ll be contacting several MSPs to follow up on this issue and we encourage you to contact your own MSP to make your concerns clear.

14
Feb
17

Leaked email reveals Natural England’s views on Hen Harrier Action Plan

The following internal email was written by Rob Cooke (Natural England Director) on 6 February 2017:

Hen Harriers

Hen harriers (HHs) are having a rough time in England. Although juvenile birds have a high natural mortality there is plenty to suggest that illegal persecution is ongoing, either through shooting or disturbance. The level of persecution is such that it is undoubtedly having an impact on the conservation status of the species in England.  Amongst a diet usually dominated by meadow pipits and voles can be red grouse, which is where the problem arises.  As a semi-colonial nester HHs can predate high numbers of grouse which can bring them into conflict with grouse shooting.

In early 2016 Defra published the Joint Action Plan to increase the English hen harrier population. The two new elements proposed a southern reintroduction and trialling a brood management scheme; Natural England chairs sub-groups on both.  Brood management is the most controversial element. Notwithstanding that, establishing a separate southern population has attracted criticism, even from some of those who purport to want to see more HHs, presumably as they fear that it will divert attention from persecution in the uplands. The notion that anyone wanting to see more HHs can argue against a reintroduction is I’m afraid beyond me (and as I type this I can see a red kite gliding by overhead).

Put simply brood management (BM) is removing eggs/chicks from vulnerable nests, rearing them in captivity and releasing them back into the uplands.  Of course if there was no persecution threat the nests wouldn’t be vulnerable (to human persecution at any rate) and therein lies the rub.  Those opposed to BM say it effectively condones persecution, and actually more effort should be put into stopping that.  I agree with that, but in practice despite the collective efforts of us, the police, RSPB and others it has not proved possible to stop persecution.  Radio tagged birds disappear, and even when recovered proving who fired the shot is very difficult in large remote upland areas.  There is an argument being made that driven grouse shooting should be banned (rejected recently by parliament), and the RSPB’s approach is that there should be greater regulation of shooting.  Effective regulation requires effective enforcement, and in Scotland where there is a stronger regulatory framework (incl vicarious liability and SNH’s power to remove General Licences) they still have a significant ongoing HH and raptor persecution issues.

The rationale behind BM is that if upland managers have a way of managing the density HHs (so that any impact on grouse is sustainable) then there will not be a ‘need’ to persecute the birds.  Whether this is the case or not time will tell (it is a trial after all), but we need to give it a go, since there is no Plan B on the table. Undertaking BM does not mean that anyone will put any less effort into enforcement, and there will continue to be tagging and rigorous protection of nest sites, where Stephen Murphy and his network of dedicated volunteers do wonders.  Since all the birds will be returned to the uplands there should be no impact on the population (and possibly even, more chicks will survive to adulthood than would otherwise have been the case as nests do suffer natural predation). It goes without saying that the trial will be subject to full veterinary, statutory assessment and licensing processes. BM would not require the removal of all birds from grouse moors, but would kick in when a published density threshold was reached.

rowan-x-rayRecent events have resulted in a large number of FoI requests and fair bit of resultant commentary on raptor blogs.  Much of this is commentators adding up 2 and 2 and coming to 5.  In particular the huge amount of space devoted to whether NE ‘watered down’ a media release concerning Rowan’s post-mortem to say ‘likely to have been shot’, as opposed to ‘shot’.  The simple truth is that the post-mortem did not say definitively that the bird was shot so nor did we (or the RSPB either – ‘injuries consistent with being shot’).  That prosaic point aside what is really disappointing is that this focus detracts from the spotlight which needs to be shone on the continuing plight of HHs and work underway to change that.  The lurid accusation that NE is in some way colluding with those responsible for hen harrier persecution is simply absurd.

Natural England leads much of this work and criticism is par for the course; constructive criticism is good and keeps us on our toes, but it is disappointing that much destructive criticism comes from the ‘wildlife sector’; rather darkly I wonder whether those who are responsible for persecution are sitting back smugly watching this internecine bickering.  The bottom line is that there are a number of people working extremely hard to improve the status of HHs in England.  We are all working to our strengths and membership organisations need to be able to take their members with them, to persuade them and win their support; hard line approaches can lead to alienation.  I believe in the sincerity of those involved in the plan, even if we might have differing motivations, but no one is blind to the challenges; persecution still happens and it needs to stop. If this plan does not deliver then we will need to look at other approaches.

But ‘How’ is the question? Simple enforcement is not enough so we need to adopt other approaches as well. After all, our experience over the last 15 years or so is that even reducing persecution is much easier said than done. There has been progress of sorts to date; the issue is very much in the public eye, we have the Moorland Association and other representative bodies openly condemning raptor persecution, we have tackling wildlife crime as a Govt priority and we have a Govt published plan. The proof of course will be in the eating; it won’t be easy but we do need to give it a try.

We need to be robust in our objective of restoring HHs to favourable conservation status in England, and not be distracted by those who, from whatever perspective, would derail us.

ENDS

There’s so much that could be discussed /debated /argued about the content of this email that we’d be here all day, so for brevity we just wanted to focus on two aspects.

First, the statement: “I believe in the sincerity of those involved in the plan“.

pole trapOn what basis does he believe in this supposed sincerity? The plan was launched over a year ago in January 2016, with the ‘partners’ supposedly all signed up. Since then we’ve seen an armed man sitting next to a decoy hen harrier on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park; a gamekeeper caught on film setting three illegal pole traps on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park; an endless number of raptor shootings, trappings and poisonings across England, many on or next to a grouse moor; an increase in the number of reported gas guns and banger ropes being deployed on grouse moors to deter breeding hen harriers; only three hen harrier nests in England (where there could be 330) and not one of them was on a grouse moor; and eight satellite tagged hen harrier fledglings from the 2016 season have already either ‘disappeared’ in the uplands or have been confirmed shot.

We haven’t seen any evidence whatsoever that the grouse shooting industry is sincere about stopping raptor persecution.

Secondly, we wanted to highlight Rob’s penultimate paragraph, because it really beggars belief. According to Rob, ‘there has been progress of sorts to date’ and he defines this ‘progress’ as follows:

  1. The issue is very much in the public eye. Well yes, it is, but that is no thanks to Natural England or their friends in the grouse shooting industry. Public awareness of hen harrier persecution has been increased thanks to (a) the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life Project and (b) a hell of a lot of effort by grassroots campaigners, notably Mark Avery with his book Inglorious and his three petitions to ban driven grouse shooting, Chris Packham, LUSH, hundreds of people getting involved in BAWC’s Hen Harrier Day events across the UK for the last three years, and thousands of ordinary people using social media to great effect, day in, day out.
  2. We have the Moorland Association and other representative bodies openly condemning raptor persecution. What we actually have is the Moorland Association and other representative bodies consistently denying that raptor persecution is a big problem; consistent attacks on the RSPB, particularly from the You Forgot the Birds propaganda machine, which is funded by the grouse shooting industry; consistent personal attacks on high profile campaigners; consistent attempts to discredit RSPB persecution data, and a consistent refusal to condemn confirmed raptor persecution crimes unless pushed hard by campaigners, and even then a response is rarely forthcoming (see yesterday’s blog about the poisons cache on East Arkengarthdale Estate as a classic example).
  3. We have tackling wildlife crime as a Govt priority. Do we? Is there any evidence of this?
  4. We have a Govt published plan. We do indeed, and it has been repeatedly and deservedly criticised by conservationists. As Mark Avery often says, it is not an action plan for hen harriers, it is an action plan for grouse moor owners.

Sorry Rob, but if you think the grouse shooting industry is going to stop killing hen harriers (or any other raptors) any time soon, based on the ‘evidence’ you’ve provided, then you’re delusional.

 




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