16
Jan
21

New Scottish wildlife crime investigator appointed

Press release from National Wildlife Crime Unit & Nature Scot (formerly SNH), 15 January 2021

Tackling raptor persecution, poaching and hare coursing will be the top priorities for a new wildlife crime specialist covering all of Scotland, appointed late last year.

As the Investigative Support Officer for Scotland for the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), PC Gavin Ross will be a source of expertise in wildlife crime at both the local and national level. He will work with individual police wildlife liaison officers, NGOs, the Scottish Government, NatureScot, RSPB, the SSPCA and Scottish Land and Estates. The position is funded by NatureScot.

PC Ross was the local community police officer for Dunbar, and has 21 years of police service and an extensive background in wildlife crime issues, community policing, problem solving and educational work.

Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Ben Macpherson, said: “Wildlife crime is despicable and tackling it has been a long-standing priority for the Scottish Government. We work closely with a number of agencies to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice. The Animals and Wildlife Act, which recently became law, increases the maximum penalties for the most serious wildlife crimes and extends the time available to Police Scotland to investigate.

The work of the National Wildlife Crime Unit is hugely valued by communities across Scotland and we are committed to supporting it. I look forward to working with PC Ross in the future and congratulate him on his new role.

PC Ross said: “When I was in Edinburgh, very early in my service, I became involved in investigating wildlife crime because of my interest and experience in this area. I’ve been a part-time wildlife crime officer throughout my whole service and the new job is the pinnacle of my career. I worked very hard preparing for my interview and was very keen to secure the job, which is a dream post. I am looking forward to settling into the role and working with all the different partner agencies which are so important in the fight against wildlife crime.

In the six weeks I’ve been in post I’ve concentrated on meeting many of the partner agencies we work with in wildlife crime. Unfortunately most of the meetings have had to be done virtually but I feel they have all been really positive and I look forward to building on these initial foundations, especially when we can meet face to face.”

The Head of the NWCU, Ch Insp Hubble said, “I was extremely pleased when PC Ross was successfully appointed as our new Scottish ISO and I am sure he is going to be a valuable asset to policing wildlife crime.”

Andy Turner, NatureScot Wildlife Crime Officer added: “Eliminating wildlife crime is huge priority for us, which is why we’ve provided funding for this post since 2014. Wildlife crime doesn’t just cause irreparable damage to Scotland’s nature: it also affects tourism, which in turn impacts on the economy. We are committed to working with NWCU, Police Scotland and other members of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW Scotland) to tackle this challenging issue.

We worked closely with Gavin’s predecessor Charlie Everitt to prevent wildlife crime and raise awareness.  I look forward to continuing to this important work with Gavin and the NWCU in the future.”

NWCU’s main role is to assist in the prevention and detection of wildlife crime by obtaining and distributing information from a wide range of organisations and by helping police forces investigate wildlife crimes. NWCU also produce analysis which highlights local or national threats.

The appointment of PC Ross comes after the retirement of PC Charlie Everitt, who had spent the last 11 years developing the role of Scottish ISO within the National Wildlife Crime Unit. Charlie furthered countless operations, provided expert advice to police wildlife liaison officers and acted as the key central point of contact between the police and a vast range of partner agencies. Charlie was well known throughout the Scottish wildlife crime arena and his professional knowledge, enthusiasm, and willingness to assist were beyond question. PC Ross recognised he had “big shoes to fill.”

ENDS

15
Jan
21

Scottish Government fails to appoint taskforce to consider increased powers for SSPCA

Ten years ago the Scottish Government was asked to consider extending the powers of the Scottish SPCA, to allow them to investigate a much wider remit of wildlife crime than at present, including raptor persecution.

Since then this issue has been kicked in to the long grass more times than is credible by a long line of seven (yes, seven!) Environment Ministers. For new blog readers please see the extraordinary timeline of events at the end of this blog.

[Buzzard caught inside a crow cage trap. It’s not illegal to trap buzzards in these traps but it becomes illegal if the trap isn’t checked by the operator at least once every 24hrs and the buzzard released immediately upon discovery. Under current legislation, if the buzzard is injured but still alive then the SSPCA can investigate. If the buzzard is dead (as a result of being caught and held illegally) the SSPCA do not currently have the power to investigate and would have to call the police. It’s simply bonkers. Photo by RSPB]

In June 2020, Environment Minister #6, Mairi Gougeon, committed to establishing a new ‘independent’ taskforce to consider, again, increased powers for the SSPCA (see here). This was in response to Mark Ruskell MSP withdrawing an amendment for increased SSPCA powers from the Animals & Wildlife Bill.

Mairi Gougeon stated that she expected the taskforce to convene in the summer (of 2020) and to ‘be in a position to conclude their review and submit a report of their recommendations before the end of the current Parliamentary session‘, as long as Covid and Brexit didn’t impact on this plan. [The dissolution of Parliament is scheduled for the 5th May 2021].

Since that announcement in June, nothing else has been heard on this issue.

Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submitted two Parliamentary questions in December 2020 to find out the status of this taskforce, if it even exists. Newly appointed Environment Minister Ben Macpherson has now responded – and it looks like he’s going to fit right in to his new role:

I wonder how Mark Ruskell MSP feels about this continued procrastination. He only withdrew his proposed amendment to the Animals & Wildlife Bill on the basis of Mairi Gougeon’s commitment to appoint an independent taskforce in the summer of 2020.

The Covid pandemic and Brexit drama can legitimately be held responsible for a lot of delayed Parliamentary and Government business, of course, and nobody would dispute that. But seriously, in this situation, it looks simply to be being used as an excuse.

All the Scottish Government has to do is to appoint a taskforce Chair and committee. That’s it. Scottish Ministers don’t have to undertake the work of the taskforce, just simply proffer instruction and let the taskforce get on with it. It doesn’t take seven months to do that, unless you’re the Scottish Government that has consistently procrastinated on this particular issue, for ten years and now under seven Environment Ministers.

Here’s the timeline for those new to this blog:

February 2011: Increased powers for the SSPCA was first suggested by former MSP Peter Peacock as an amendment during the Wildlife & Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill debates. The then Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham rejected it as an amendment but suggested a public consultation was in order.

September 2011: Seven months later Elaine Murray MSP (Scottish Labour) lodged a parliamentary motion that further powers for the SSPCA should be considered.

November 2011: Elaine Murray MSP (Scottish Labour) formalised the question in a P&Q session and the next Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson MSP, then promised that the consultation would happen ‘in the first half of 2012’.

September 2012: Nine months later and nothing had happened so we asked Paul Wheelhouse MSP, as the new Environment Minister, when the consultation would take place. The response, in October 2012, was:

The consultation has been delayed by resource pressures but will be brought forward in the near future”.

July 2013: Ten months later and still no sign so we asked the Environment Minister (still Paul Wheelhouse) again. In August 2013, this was the response:

We regret that resource pressures did further delay the public consultation on the extension of SSPCA powers. However, I can confirm that the consultation document will be published later this year”.

September 2013: At a meeting of the PAW Executive Group, Minister Wheelhouse said this:

The consultation on new powers for the SSPCA will be published in October 2013“.

January 2014: In response to one of our blog readers who wrote to the Minister (still Paul Wheelhouse) to ask why the consultation had not yet been published:

We very much regret that resource pressures have caused further delays to the consultation to gain views on the extension of SSPCA powers. It will be published in the near future“.

31 March 2014: Public consultation launched.

1 September 2014: Consultation closed.

26 October 2014: We published our analysis of the consultation responses here.

22 January 2015: Analysis of consultation responses published by Scottish Government. 233 responses (although 7,256 responses if online petition included – see here).

We were told a decision would come from the new Environment Minister, Dr Aileen McLeod MSP, “in due course”.

1 September 2015: One year after the consultation closed and still nothing.

25 February 2016: In response to a question posed by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment Committee, Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod said: “I have some further matters to clarify with the SSPCA, however I do hope to be able to report on the Scottish Government’s position on this issue shortly“.

May 2016: Dr Aileen McLeod fails to get re-elected and loses her position as Environment Minister. Roseanna Cunningham is promoted to a newly-created position of Cabinet Secretary for the Environment.

12 May 2016: Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submits the following Parliamentary question:

Question S5W-00030 – To ask the Scottish Government when it will announce its decision regarding extending the powers of the Scottish SPCA to tackle wildlife crime.

26 May 2016: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham responds with this:

A decision on whether to extend the investigatory powers of the Scottish SPCA will be announced in due course.

1 September 2016: Two years after the consultation closed and still nothing.

9 January 2017: Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submits the following Parliamentary question:

Question S5W-05982 – To ask the Scottish Government by what date it will publish its response to the consultation on the extension of wildlife crime investigative powers for inspectors in the Scottish SPCA.

17 January 2017: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham responds:

A decision on whether to extend the investigatory powers of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will be announced in the first half of 2017.

31 May 2017: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham rejects an extension of powers for the SSPCA ‘based on legal advice’ and instead announces, as an alternative, a pilot scheme of Special Constables for the Cairngorms National Park (here). It later emerged in 2018 that this pilot scheme was also an alternative to the Government’s 2016 manifesto pledge to establish a Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit as part of Police Scotland – a pledge on which it had now reneged (see here).

November 2019: The pilot scheme of Special Constables in the Cairngorms National Park was an absolute failure as a grand total of zero wildlife crimes were recorded by the Special Constables but plenty were reported by others (see here).

June 2020: Mark Ruskell (Scottish Greens) proposed further powers for the SSPCA at Stage 2 of the Animals and Wildlife Bill. The latest Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon persuaded him to withdraw the proposed amendment on the basis that she’d consider establishing a taskforce to convene ‘this summer’ to consider increased powers (see here).

December 2020: Mark Ruskell (Scottish Greens) submits two Parliamentary questions asking about the status of the taskforce and who is serving on it (see here).

January 2021: New Environment Minister Ben Macpherson says the taskforce has not yet been appointed but that it is “expected to be established later this year“.

15
Jan
21

New poll shows majority of Scots want stronger animal welfare laws

More for Scotland’s Animals (MFSA) is a new campaigning coalition formed by ten of the UK’s top animal welfare organisations.

Today, MFSA issued a press release showing the results of a recent YouGov poll which indicates that the majority of Scots want stronger animal welfare laws. One of the coalition members is OneKind and you can read the press release on the OneKind website here.

The poll mostly covered animal welfare issues relating to the pet trade, companion animals and farming, but interestingly The Herald’s coverage was illustrated by a photo of a red grouse:

This image choice may have been influenced by another poll result, which was that 76% of Scots want to see a ban on the use of snares, which are used routinely and indiscriminately on many grouse moors (e.g. see ‘Hanged by the Feet until Dead‘, a recent report published by the League Against Cruel Sports, here).

It may also have been influenced by the Scottish Government’s response to the MFSA poll. A Govt spokesman said:

The Scottish Government takes animal welfare and wildlife crime very seriously and is committed to ensuring the highest standards in Scotland.

That is why we have taken a range of actions over this Parliament, from banning wild animals in travelling circuses through to the recent Animals and Wildlife Act, which increases the maximum penalties for the most serious animal welfare and wildlife crimes, and offers more protection to animals, including service animals and mountain hares.

We are introducing a new modern licensing regime for dog breeders and pet sellers (including ‘Lucy’s Law’) to prevent the third party sale of puppies and kittens as pets, as well as licensing of animal rescue centres and rehoming activities, and cat and rabbit breeding.

We have also established the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission to provide independent expert advice on animal welfare matters and we are currently consulting on possible improvements to animal transport legislation.

In addition, as part of our response to the Werritty report, we confirmed we will bring forward plans to license grouse moors in a bid to tackle raptor persecution. We will continue to work with our partners and Scotland’s animal welfare organisations to ensure animals have the best possible protection.”

14
Jan
21

Forthcoming Westminster debate on grouse shooting postponed again

The forthcoming Westminster Hall debate on banning driven grouse shooting, triggered by Wild Justice’s successful 2019 petition and scheduled to take place at 6pm on 25 January 2021 has been postponed again, due to Covid, according to the Wild Justice blog.

This is completely understandable, of course. There doesn’t appear to be a system set up for MPs to participate online, and travelling to London to attend in person couldn’t possibly be described as ‘essential travel’.

For further updates on this and other Wild Justice news, please subscribe to their free newsletter here

14
Jan
21

3 kestrels shot dead in West Yorkshire since New Year

Three kestrels have been shot dead in West Yorkshire during the first week of January 2021, according to an article in the Yorkshire Post.

Is this the start of another lockdown surge in raptor persecution? Come on, who doesn’t want to start their New Year by illegally blasting a kestrel to bits?

[Kestrel photo by Annette Cutts]

The article reports that two kestrels were shot in the Huddersfield area and one in Leeds. Unfortunately there isn’t any further information such as date, specific location or type of weapon etc, although a tweet from the Leeds Wildlife & Rural Crime Team reports the shooting of a kestrel on 2nd January 2021 ‘in the Hebden Bridge area’.

In autumn last year West Yorkshire Police also recorded the fatal shooting of another kestrel, in the Pudsey area of Leeds (see here).

14
Jan
21

Suspicious disappearance of hen harrier Harold features in Yorkshire Post

Many thanks to blog reader Grace Newton, who also happens to be a journalist writing for the Yorkshire Post, who has followed up by writing an article on Tuesday’s blog about hen harrier Harold, who disappeared in suspicious circumstances on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales in September 2020.

The article includes some commentary from Natural England, who said that the grouse moor from where Harold vanished ‘was searched by police several times and nothing was found‘ and that ‘the investigation remains ongoing‘.

The article also suggests that the lame ‘appeal’ (here) put out by Natural England on twitter refers to Harold.

Where is the Natural England appeal about the brood meddled hen harrier #55152 that also vanished in North Yorkshire in September 2020, and hen harrier Fortune who vanished at an undisclosed location in Northumberland, also in September 2020?

The full article in the Yorkshire Post is available here

13
Jan
21

48 hen harriers confirmed illegally killed or ‘missing’ since 2018

In September 2020 I blogged that at least 45 hen harriers were ‘missing’ in suspicious circumstances or had been confirmed illegally killed since 2018 (see here).

Today the list is updated to 48 hen harriers, ‘missing’ or confirmed illegally killed since 2018, after the recent news (here, here and here) that three more satellite-tagged hen harriers have ‘disappeared’ since September 2020.

Here’s the blog that’ll be published every time this list is updated:

It’s getting to that time of year when the grouse shooting industry pumps out its patently misleading propaganda relating to hen harrier conservation in the UK. The aim is to hoodwink the public in to believing that the industry loves hen harriers and is doing all it can to protect and nurture the tiny remnant breeding population (but conveniently forgetting to mention that the breeding population is only in such dire straits because the grouse shooting industry has been ruthless in its maniacal intolerance of this supposedly protected species).

And the industry’s pursuit of the hen harrier is not simply ‘historical’ or indicative of past behaviour, as some would have us believe. It is on-going, it is current, and it is relentless.

[This male hen harrier died in 2019 after his leg was almost severed in an illegally set trap that had been placed next to his nest on a Scottish grouse moor (see here). Photo by Ruth Tingay]

To illustrate this fact, I intend to keep a running tally of all the hen harriers that I know (because most of these victims had been fitted with a satellite tag) to have either ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances or have been confirmed as being illegally killed since 2018.

Why only since 2018 when we know that hen harriers have been a persecution target for years and years and years? Well, 2018 is the year that the grouse shooting industry ‘leaders’ would have us believe that the criminal persecution of hen harriers had stopped and that these birds were being welcomed back on to the UK’s grouse moors (see here).

This assertion was made shortly before the publication of a devastating new scientific paper that demonstrated that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers were confirmed or considered likely to have been illegally killed, and this was ten times more likely to occur over areas of land managed for grouse shooting relative to other land uses (see here).

I only started compiling this list of dead / missing hen harriers in June 2020 when I learned that all five of last year’s brood meddled hen harrier chicks were ‘missing’, presumed dead (see here). It has since been updated a few times as we found out about more satellite-tagged hen harriers that had vanished during lockdown in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors in the Cairnorms National Park (here), on a notorious grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (see here) and on a grouse moor believed to be involved with the brood meddling in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

It’s now time to update the death list again, as I’ve learned of yet another three satellite-tagged hen harriers that have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances, only revealed after an FoI request to Natural England who seem reluctant to let the public know about these ongoing losses. I can’t think why. Some might think NE’s silence was connected to a financial agreement it made recently with representatives from the grouse shooting industry. That would be a preposterous suggestion – as ridiculous as Natural England removing hen harrier chicks from the moors at the behest of the grouse shooting industry and calling it conservation. It’d never happen, right?

That brings the gruesome tally to 48 hen harriers. I’m still waiting to hear whether three hen harriers, satellite-tagged by Natural England this year and have since vanished (here), are being treated as suspicious disappearances by the police and if so, they will be added to this list. I’m also aware of at least one ongoing police investigation that has yet to be publicised so that bird will also be added to this list if the circumstances dictate it’s appropriate.

Four eight.

Forty eight.

In the space of two years.

Nobody has been prosecuted for any of these cases. We have every expectation that this list will be updated again in the near future.

For now, here are the 48:

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa ‘disappeared’ in the Angus Glens in Scotland (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers Association later published wholly inaccurate information claiming the bird had been re-sighted. The RSPB dismissed this as “completely false” (here).

5 February 2018: Hen harrier Marc ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Durham (here)

9 February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue ‘disappeared’ in the Lake District National Park (here)

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn ‘disappeared’ near Moffat in Scotland (here)

18 April 2018: Hen harrier Lia ‘disappeared’ in Wales and her corpse was retrieved in a field in May 2018. Cause of death was unconfirmed but police treating death as suspicious (here)

8 August 2018: Hen harrier Hilma ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Northumberland (here).

16 August 2018: Hen harrier Athena ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

26 August 2018: Hen Harrier Octavia ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here)

29 August 2018: Hen harrier Margot ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

29 August 2018: Hen Harrier Heulwen ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Wales (here)

3 September 2018: Hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

24 September 2018: Hen harrier Heather ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here)

2 October 2018: Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

3 October 2018: Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in Bowland, Lanacashire (here)

23 October 2018: Hen harrier Tom ‘disappeared’ in South Wales (here)

26 October 2018: Hen harrier Arthur ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park (here)

1 November 2018: Hen harrier Barney ‘disappeared’ on Bodmin Moor (here)

10 November 2018: Hen harrier Rannoch ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Scotland (here). Her corpse was found nearby in May 2019 – she’d been killed in an illegally-set spring trap (here).

14 November 2018: Hen harrier River ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB (here). Her corpse was found nearby in April 2019 – she’d been illegally shot (here).

16 January 2019: Hen harrier Vulcan ‘disappeared’ in Wiltshire close to Natural England’s proposed reintroduction site (here)

7 February 2019: Hen harrier Skylar ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire (here)

22 April 2019: Hen harrier Marci ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

26 April 2019: Hen harrier Rain ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Nairnshire (here)

11 May 2019: An untagged male hen harrier was caught in an illegally-set trap next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire. He didn’t survive (here)

7 June 2019: An untagged hen harrier was found dead on a grouse moor in Scotland. A post mortem stated the bird had died as a result of ‘penetrating trauma’ injuries and that this bird had previously been shot (here)

5 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 1 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park (here)

11 September 2019: Hen harrier Romario ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

14 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183704) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

23 September 2019: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #55149) ‘disappeared’ in North Pennines (here)

24 September 2019: Wildland Hen Harrier 2 ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

10 October 2019: Hen harrier Ada ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the North Pennines AONB (here)

12 October 2019: Hen harrier Thistle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Sutherland (here)

18 October 2019: Member of the public reports the witnessed shooting of an untagged male hen harrier on White Syke Hill in North Yorkshire (here)

November 2019: Hen harrier Mary found illegally poisoned on a pheasant shoot in Ireland (here)

January 2020: Members of the public report the witnessed shooting of a male hen harrier on Threshfield Moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

1 April 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183703) ‘disappeared’ in unnamed location, tag intermittent (here)

5 April 2020: Hen harrier Hoolie ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

8 April 2020: Hen harrier Marlin ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here)

19 May 2020: Hen harrier Fingal ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Lowther Hills, Scotland (here)

21 May 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2019, #183701) ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Cumbria shortly after returning from wintering in France (here)

27 May 2020: Hen harrier Silver ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor on Leadhills Estate, Scotland (here)

7 September 2020: Hen harrier Dryad ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

16 September 2020: Hen harrier Fortune ‘disappeared’ from an undisclosed roost site in Northumberland (here)

19 September 2020: Hen harrier Harold ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here)

20 September 2020: Hen harrier (Brood meddled in 2020, #55152) ‘disappeared’ next to a grouse moor in North Yorkshire (here)

To be continued……..

Anybody still wondering why the grouse shooting industry wants conservationists to stop fitting satellite tags?

13
Jan
21

Is this why Natural England doesn’t want to talk about ‘missing’ hen harriers?

Following a Freedom of Information request to Natural England, we now know that three satellite-tagged hen harriers vanished off the face of the earth in September 2020 – one next to a grouse moor in North Yorkshire (here), one on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here) and one at an undisclosed location in Northumberland which may or may not have been a grouse moor (here).

These disappearances follow the inevitable and now very familiar pattern of so many before them, which has led scientists to conclude that ‘hen harriers in Britain suffer elevated levels of mortality on grouse moors, which is most likely the result of illegal killing’ (see here).

What seems to have infuriated the public the most about this awful news is Natural England’s silence on the three disappearances. Although yesterday evening NE did manage to put out this vague and utterly unconvincing tweet, presumably in an attempt to save face:

Natural England has known about these three disappearances for four months and has said absolutely nothing about them. Why is that?

Would it have anything to do with the recent financial ‘agreement’ it signed with representatives of the grouse shooting industry? You know, the one where BASC bunged £10K to Natural England to support two NE fieldworkers to undertake hen harrier monitoring at winter roost sites?

The Memorandum of Agreement between the two parties is an extraordinary document. Drafted by lawyers, it’s turgid and seems to focus excessively on the use of BASC’s logo, but it’s also entertaining in parts.

It includes a clause that both parties agree not to slag off one another in public (!) and then a line about not saying anything ‘that is contrary to the principles of the Programme’:

I haven’t been able to find any definition of what the ‘Principles of the Programme’ are, but perhaps publicising the fact that three tagged hen harriers have vanished in suspicious circumstances, at least two of them on or next to grouse moors, would be considered ‘contrary to the principles of the Programme’?

For anyone interested, here’s the Memorandum of Agreement between BASC and Natural England, released under an FoI request:

Perhaps we should donate £10K to Natural England on the understanding that it WILL publicise, in a timely manner, embarrassing details like the loss of yet another hen harrier on yet another grouse moor? Oh but hang on, wouldn’t that be considered a bribe?

To be fair, Natural England’s reluctance to reveal these continued losses is probably absolutely nothing to do with any financial agreement it’s entered in to with representatives from the grouse shooting industry. Let’s face it, NE has been slow to publicise these incidents for years, it’s nothing new.

12
Jan
21

Satellite-tagged hen harrier Fortune ‘disappears’ at roost site in Northumberland

Another hen harrier has gone ‘missing’, the third to be reported in the last 24hrs.

As with the two most recent reports (see here and here), this information has had to be dragged out of Natural England via a Freedom of Information request.

This time it’s a young female, optimistically named ‘Fortune’, who was tagged (#162150) on 15th June 2020 at a nest site in Northumberland (site 1). In August 2020 she was reportedly in Dumfries & Galloway but on 16th September her tag’s last known fix came from an undisclosed site in Northumberland, listed by Natural England as, ‘Site confidential important hen harrier roost’. She was wearing a tag with known reliability, in contrast to the tag worn by recently-disappeared hen harrier Harold.

There’s no further information.

[A random photo of a young hen harrier by RSPB]

The illegal killing of hen harriers at winter roost sites has long been recognised by raptor fieldworkers as being of huge concern. In 2019 an armed man with dogs was filmed by the RSPB Investigations Team at an undisclosed roost site in Yorkshire (see here). The day before, satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘River’ vanished from the same roost site (here). Imagine that!

So that’s three satellite-tagged hen harriers that all vanished in September 2020, one next to a grouse moor in Yorkshire, one on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and one at an undisclosed roost site somewhere in Northumberland.

And they’re not the only ones – more details are yet to see the light of day.

12
Jan
21

Satellite-tagged hen harrier Harold ‘disappears’ on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park

Following yesterday’s news that one of the brood meddled hen harrier chicks had ‘vanished’ next to a grouse moor just beyond the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here), today I bring you news that another satellite-tagged hen harrier has vanished, this time on a grouse moor inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

This information has also come from a Freedom of Information request to Natural England.

Hen harrier ‘Harold’ was tagged (#57272) in the Yorkshire Dales on 4th June 2020. His tag’s last known fix came from a grouse moor at NY830036 on 19th September 2020.

Funnily enough, another young hen harrier called Dryad, tagged by the RSPB, was also reported ‘missing’ from the same place on 7th September 2020. Imagine that! (See here).

[Grouse moors rise above small villages and hamlets inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

[The last known fix from Harold’s satellite tag at grid ref NY830036, surrounded by the burnt strips of the grouse moors]

There is a caveat with Harold’s disappearance. The tag that Natural England fitted was one of the tags that has previously been identified as being unreliable due to its limited functionality (see here for a discussion) and has since been removed from the brood meddling trial at the insistence of the scientific advisory group. So why the hell is Natural England still using this tag on other hen harriers?

You’ll have to draw your own conclusions about the fate of Harold. And why Natural England hasn’t deemed it worthy of any publicity, despite me asking about it in December (here) and despite its own extensive research that demonstrates how often these young hen harriers are suspected to be illegally killed on or close to grouse moors (see here).

Harold’s disappearance will be added to the ever-increasing list of missing or confirmed dead hen harriers since 2018 (currently standing at 46 after yesterday’s news). But it won’t be added just yet because there’s more bad news about satellite-tagged hen harriers still to come.

Standby.

UPDATE 14 January 2021: This blog has been picked up by the Yorkshire Post (here)




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