Hen harrier ‘missing’ on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park is ‘John’

Last month we blogged about yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier that had suspiciously ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here). We only knew about it because North Yorkshire Police mentioned it on Twitter and posted a few photographs from the search scene:

We made a general enquiry to Natural England and asked for further details (which hen harrier it was, where and when it was satellite-tagged, on which grouse moor it had ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park). Natural England refused to provide any detail, other than that ‘key stakeholders’ (i.e. the landowner!) had been notified. The landowner had probably been more than ‘notified’ – if Natural England was following the ridiculous ‘satellite tag protocol’, the landowner’s ‘permission’ would have been sought to conduct the police search! Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, back to the hen harrier. We weren’t happy that Natural England was withholding information on what was probably a publicly-funded satellite tag so we submitted a formal FoI to request this information. We managed to find out some details:

Why Natural England didn’t release this information when we first asked for it is anybody’s guess – just following its normal practice of putting obstacles in the way, hoping that we’d shuffle off and forget about it, probably.

Anyway, we now know that this missing hen harrier is ‘John’, who was tagged on 8 July 2016 in Northumberland. We blogged about John in February 2017 (see here) – he was the mystery hen harrier about which little was known. We still don’t know very much about him because Natural England has chosen to remain silent on his movements over the last 14 months, although from the updated spreadsheet that Natural England published in September, we know that his tag was transmitting in September 2017 in Northumberland. See: hen-harrier-tracking-data-2002-onwards

We also know that Natural England realised John’s tag was no longer transmitting on 5 October 2017 and that North Yorkshire Police conducted a search for him ten days later (15 Oct 2017) on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. What we still don’t know is the name of this grouse moor and whether North Yorks Police found any evidence such as a tag or a corpse.

We’ll be submitting an FoI to North Yorkshire Police to ask about this – it’ll be very interesting to see the response. North Yorkshire Police appear to have upped their game recently in terms of investigating suspected raptor persecution crimes – a very welcome and much-needed change of pace in England’s leading raptor-killing county. Let’s see how open they’ll be about this latest investigation.

Meanwhile, it’s time to update the list of what hapened to the satellite-tagged hen harrier class of 2016:

Hen harrier Elwood – ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths just a few weeks after fledging, presumed dead (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Brian – ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park just a few weeks after fledging, presumed dead (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Donald – missing in northern France, presumed dead (Autumn ’16).

Hen harrier Hermione – found dead on Mull, believed to have died from natural causes (Sep ’16).

Hen harrier Rowan – found dead in Yorkshire Dales National Park. He’d been shot (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Tarras – ‘disappeared’ in the Peak District National Park, presumed dead (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Beater – missing in Scottish Borders, presumed dead (Nov ’16).

Hen harrier Bonny – ‘disappeared’ in the North Pennines, presumed dead (Dec ’16)

Hen harrier Mick – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Dec ’16).

Hen harrier Carroll – found dead in Northumberland, PM revealed a parasitic disease & two shotgun pellets (Jan ’17).

Hen harrier John – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Oct ’17)

Eleven down, six to go (Aalin, DeeCee, Finn, Harriet, Wendy, Sorrel).



Police Scotland silent after armed masked men filmed at raptor nest in public forest

Forestry Commission Scotland staff routinely install cameras at the nests of several raptor species (e.g. goshawk, osprey, golden eagle, hen harrier, buzzard) to undertake dietary studies and to help identify individually-marked birds by their colour rings. If the cameras happen to film anything suspicious at these nests (e.g. unlicensed visits by armed criminals) the footage would be admissible in any subsequent prosecution because the cameras are placed with landowner permission and there are warning signs alerting visitors that cameras are in use in these public forests.

We submitted an FoI to Forest Enterprise Scotland to find out how many incidents of suspected disturbance had been filmed at raptor nests in Forestry Commission Scotland woodland this year.

According to the FoI response, one incident was captured this year involving “two masked people within 30m of a [raptor] nest site, one carrying a firearm”.

FES refused to name the forest and also withheld details about the raptor species involved, because “the disclosure of this information would adversely affect the protection of the environment to which the information relates“. The incident was reported to Police Scotland.

So, in spring this year, an armed, masked gunman and a masked accomplice were filmed in a public forest near a raptor nest site, and it’s now November and we’ve heard absolutely nothing about it from Police Scotland.

Suspected disturbance of a raptor nest site is one thing, but being armed and masked in a public forest takes this to a whole other level.

Have Police Scotland identified the masked, armed gunman and his masked accomplice? If not, why hasn’t there been a public appeal for information?

Why hasn’t the camera footage been released?

Doesn’t Police Scotland think that the general public should be warned that an armed, masked gunman and a masked accomplice have been filmed wandering around in a public forest? What about warning dog walkers, cyclists, runners, birdwatchers, families on recreational visits, that they are at risk of bumping in to someone wearing a balaclava and brandishing a firearm? Isn’t this a serious threat to public safety?

It just beggars belief.


Concerns about toxic lead ammunition “nonsense” according to Botham

A few weeks ago Ian Botham featured in an article published by The Times, in which it was reported Botham had accused the RSPB of being “dishonest” (see here).

The Times article was apparently based on an interview that Botham had done with the Shooting Gazette. Thanks to one of our blog readers, we now have a PDF copy of that Shooting Gazette interview:

Shooting Gazette Nov 17 Ian Botham Article

It’s well worth a read to find out Botham’s views on what changes he would make to the RSPB and how the You Forgot the Birds campaign will “never stop“.

But the question and answer we were most interested in was this:

Shooting Gazette question: Are there any issues about shooting in the UK that concern you?

Botham’s answer:One of the things that needs to be looked at is the nonsense about lead [ammunition]. It’s been blown totally out of proportion“.

Unfortunately, Botham doesn’t identify which part of the vast expanse of scientific evidence about the danger of toxic lead to humans, wildlife & the environment he thinks is “nonsense”.

Perhaps its the findings of this eminent group of international scientific professors and researchers?

Perhaps its the findings of this eminent group of international scientific researchers?

Perhaps its the findings of this eminent group of scientific researchers?

Perhaps its the findings of the international scientific experts who contributed to the Oxford Lead Symposium?

Perhaps its the findings of the Lead Ammunition Group?

Perhaps its the advice of the Food Standards Agency?

Perhaps its the guidelines of Fareshare?

Perhaps its the findings of the European Food Safety Authority?

Hmm. Should we believe the evidence of hundreds of scientific experts, including The Lord Krebs kt, MA, DPhil, FRS, FMedSci, Hon DSc, or should we believe the opinion of the King of Bollocks?

It’s a tricky one.


Scot Gov’s grouse moor management review: Chair announcement imminent

It looks like the Scottish Government is about to announce the Chair and members of the much-anticipated independent review group that will be tasked with considering the environmental impacts of grouse moor management techniques and to recommend options for regulation, including licensing.

Back in October 2017, the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee agreed to write to Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham to ask for an update on the establishment of this review group, which had first been announced on 31 May 2017. They asked her to respond by 10 November 2017.

Last Friday (10 Nov), the following letter was published on the Environment Committee’s website:

The Cabinet Secretary told the Committee, “I can inform you that I expect to announce the chair and members of the group within the next couple of weeks“. We groaned a little bit, thinking we’d have to wait until late November for this announcement, but then we noticed the date of Roseanna’s letter: 1 November 2017.

That means we can expect this announcement either today (13th) or tomorrow (14th), if she keeps to her word.


More crayons than credibility at GWCT HQ

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) has responded to the publication of the RSPB’s 2016 Birdcrime report with an extraordinary blog, attributed to Director of Communications, Andrew Gilruth.

Read it here.

Someone’s been busy with the crayons, creating a bizarre graph showing the number of incidents reported to the RSPB, but totally ignoring the main graph in the Birdcrime report which shows an increasing long-term trend in the number of confirmed raptor persecution incidents.

GWCT graph:

Actual graph from RSPB’s Birdcrime report:

And clearly, Andrew was so busy with his colouring crayons that he lost concentration for a while and mis-read the number of confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in 2016 (which was 81) and instead wrote, “The RSPB report reveals that there were 46 confirmed incidents involving birds of prey & owls last year“.

He then goes on to misrepresent the objectives of the Langholm Project (and is taken to task by the RSPB’s Duncan Orr-Ewing in the comments section below the blog) and then talks about how GWCT is working to understand “what management approaches, including additional licensed management, would lead to less crime“. What he means by ‘additional licensed management’ probably isn’t the introduction of a regulatory system to licence game shoots; he’s probably talking about getting licences that would allow gamekeepers to kill raptors, which has been a long-held ambition of the GWCT (e.g. see here)

We shouldn’t really be surprised by the GWCT’s response to the Birdcrime report; GWCT has, in our opinion, moved so far away from being a recognisably credible and respected scientific organisation that we don’t expect anything but spin these days. However, this latest response just serves to isolate the GWCT even further, especially with the recent outpouring of condemnation of illegal raptor persecution from authorities like the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (here), Nidderdale AONB (here), Peak District National Park Authority (here) and the Forest of Bowland AONB (here). Even the British Association of Shooting & Conservation (BASC) has acknowledged that raptor persecution is game-shooting industry-driven problem (here), which leaves GWCT lagging well behind.

Still, credit where it’s due, the GWCT is helping the economy by maintaining jobs in the crayon manufactoring industry.


Buzzard shot in Barnsley: South Yorks Police abandons case, RSPB appeals for info

RSPB press statement:

Buzzard shot in Barnsley sparks investigation

A buzzard found illegally shot in a wood near Barnsley has prompted concern by the RSPB and police.

A local birder saw the bird fall out of a tree in Warren Wood, Stainborough on 9 August and reported it to the RSPB’s Investigations unit (crime@rspb.org.uk). An RSPB investigator recovered the bird and it was taken for an X-ray. The X-ray identified a broken wing and a shotgun pellet lodged in the wing, which was deemed to have caused the break.

The wound was thought to be several days old and had become infected, so sadly the bird had to be euthanized.

It is illegal to intentionally kill or harm any bird of prey, which are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

The incident was reported to police immediately, and last week the RSPB was informed that the enquiry had concluded with no prosecution. The RSPB is now appealing to the public for information.

The RSPB’s recent Birdcrime report, published on 1 November 2017, revealed that the illegal shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey is a big problem in Yorkshire. Last year the RSPB received reports of 153 incidents of wild bird crime in the North England Region: this was 33% of the total incidents for the UK and the highest number for any region. 10 of these occurred in South Yorkshire, and many more are suspected to have taken place unseen and undetected. The report also revealed that there were no prosecutions for bird of prey persecution in the whole of 2016.

David Hunt, RSPB Investigations Officer, recovered the body.

David said: “It is sickening to think that this bird was deliberately shot. Seeing a buzzard soaring high in the sky or picking up worms from a freshly-turned field is part of the joy of a walk in the countryside. However majestic birds like these are, more often than people realise, being intentionally and brutally killed in Yorkshire, and is a cause for local concern. This is not the first time I have been called out to a case like this and unfortunately it is often very hard to find out who is responsible. If you do have information, please come forward.”

The RSPB is offering a £1,000 reward for information that leads to a successful conviction. If you have any information relating to this incident, call South Yorkshire Police on 101 quoting reference number 617 10082017.


Warren Wood, where the injured buzzard was found is within the grounds of Stainborough Park and Wentworth Castle. Warren Wood forms part of Broom Royd Wood (see point 8 on this map) where visitors are encouraged to “visit in spring for a beautiful display of bluebells“.

Wentworth Castle and its parkland was open to the public but now appears to have closed to visitors, according to the website.

What’s really interesting about this case though is how South Yorkshire Police have responded to it. The RSPB press statement says the “incident was reported to the police immediately“, which presumably means on 9th August 2017 when the bird was found. And yet now South Yorkshire Police have told the RSPB that the enquiry has concluded and there’ll be no prosecution.

So how come South Yorkshire Police didn’t launch a public appeal for information back in August? How come the Police enquiry ‘has concluded’ without asking for the public’s help to identify a suspect? That’s pathetic, and only serves to highlight the importance of reporting suspected raptor persecution crimes to the RSPB as well as to the Police. Had the RSPB not been informed about this particular crime, we’d all be none the wiser and the crime probably wouldn’t have made it on to the ‘official’ list of reported wildlife crimes.

Well done RSPB for keeping the public informed.

UPDATE 14.50hrs:

South Yorkshire Police haven’t got a clue. This has just appeared on Twitter:


Chair of Bowland AONB condemns illegal raptor persecution

Following the recent publication of the RSPB’s 2016 Birdcrime report, it has been very encouraging to see a steady stream of public statements of condemnation of illegal raptor persecution from various organisations that previously have been pretty quiet on the subject, unless prodded with a large stick. This is indicative of increased public awareness of the issue, and subsequent public pressure demanding change.

First there was the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (here), then the Chair of the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) (here), then the Peak District National Park Authority (here), and now the Chair of the Forest of Bowland AONB has joined in:

Statement on Persecution of Birds of Prey

7 November 2017

The Forest of Bowland AONB is an important area for the birds of prey that we associate with the English uplands, such as hen harrier, peregrine, merlin and short-eared owls.  However, the RSPB Birdcrime Report 2016 published last week highlights how some of these iconic species continue to be the subject of illegal acts of persecution throughout much of England and particularly the northern uplands.

The Chair of the Forest of Bowland AONB Joint Advisory Committee, County Councillor Albert Atkinson stated:

“It is particularly concerning to the Committee that these acts of illegal persecution continue; badly affecting the populations of birds of prey that are synonymous with the Forest of Bowland. These acts undoubtedly have an impact on the reputation of Bowland as an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’.   The Committee unreservedly condemns all illegal persecution of birds of prey.  The AONB will continue to work closely with landowners, the police, RSPB and Natural England to help protect and conserve birds of prey across the area.”

If you wish to report any crimes against wild birds, we would suggest contacting the police by calling 101.


We don’t remember ever seeing a public statement on this issue from the Forest of Bowland AONB, despite this being an area notorious for illegal raptor persecution.

Bowland AONB sign, as adapted by Mark Avery

And yes, we have been critical of the actual content of some of these recent public statements (e.g. see here and here), but we’re not going to criticise the intention behind the statements, nor the fact that these statements have been published on these organisations’ respective websites. By announcing these statements on the National Park and AONB websites, the messages of condemnation will reach a wide audience, including many who may previously have been unaware that illegal raptor persecution was even a ‘thing’, let alone a ‘thing’ going on inside these supposedly protected areas.

Well done, Cllr Albert Atkinson of the Forest of Bowland AONB. There’s still a LOT more to do at Bowland, and it will need more than just words, but this is an excellent start.

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