Responses to missing hen harrier Thor

Yesterday we were hit with the news of two missing hen harriers – ‘Thor’, a young bird tagged by the RSPB who disappeared in a wildlife crime hotspot in the Bowland AONB (here) and then later in the day, ‘Mabel’, a young bird tagged by Natural England who disappeared in a wildlife crime hotspot on the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the North Pennines AONB (here).

So far there have been a couple of responses to Thor’s disappearance but nothing (yet) about Mabel.

[Hen harrier Thor, by Steve Downing]

NERF (Northern England Raptor Forum) has published a typically robust response on its website (here), pointing out the depressing predictablity of it all and highlighting the miserable performance of the Bowland AONB as an area designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) for hen harriers.

Also quick to respond was Supt Nick Lyall, the new Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) which was established in 2011 as a ‘partnership’ to tackle raptor crime but so far has achieved absolutely nothing of any use.

Nick has only been in post for what seems like a couple of minutes but we’ve been impressed with his openness and his willingness to share his thoughts via his newly established blog. Yesterday evening he posted his response to the news of Thor’s disappearance – read it here.

He talks about his plans to run the first national raptor persecution workshop in November and he also discusses his previously-stated intention to break the silence of many RPPDG ‘partners’ on each raptor persecution case as it emerges, starting with Thor’s disappearance. We’ll come back to that. First we wanted to look at what he had to say about Thor.

It’s a cautiously written piece:

While it hasn’t been confirmed that this is a result of persecution, the circumstances will naturally lead people to believe this to be the case. I say this because the disappearance has occurred in a location where other hen harriers, namely Hope and Sky also disappeared without trace a few years ago under almost identical circumstances“.

He’s right not to look at Thor’s disappearance as an isolated case and to put it in to context with the disappearance of two other hen harriers (Sky & Hope) who both vanished in the same small area in 2014. However, that’s not the only reason we believe Thor’s ‘disappearance’ is as a result of persecution. Our perspective is wider and we place Thor’s disappearance in the context of all the other young hen harriers that have disappeared in suspicious circumstances on or close to driven grouse moors, time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time again.

There is abolutely no doubt whatsoever about what’s going on here – it is serious and organised crime on a massive scale across the uplands of England, Wales and Scotland. The map below shows just a fraction of the scale in one small region of the UK. No sooner do these young birds fledge and leave their natal area, they are killed. It’s no wonder the English breeding population struggles to reach double figures when the next generation of potential breeders are so relentlessly destroyed. It’s also clear evidence why DEFRA’s ridiculous brood meddling scheme won’t work.

[RPUK map showing the last known locations of ‘missing’ Natural England satellite-tagged hen harriers in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Nidderdale AONB and Bowland AONB. Red star = HH found dead & confirmed illegally killed; orange star = last known location of missing hen harriers; Black star: missing hen harrier but grid reference withheld by Natural England; orange stars 1, 2 & 3 = last known locations of RSPB-tagged hen harriers Hope, Sky and Thor; Purple star last known location of hen harrier Mabel].

Nick did manage to get statements from two of the RPPDG ‘partners’ – NERF and the Moorland Association. He says he will update his blog as other responses come in.

The statement from the Moorland Association’s Director, Amanda Anderson, deserves special attention:

We join this appeal without hesitation and it is vital the police receive any possible information. This year we have been hugely encouraged by the best hen harrier breeding season in a decade and the fact that 60% of this year’s successfully fledged chicks had help from gamekeepers. At this stage it is not known if anything has happened to Thor beyond that the tag has stopped transmitting. It is widely recognised that that there is a high natural mortality rate for young hen harriers with only two out of every ten expected to survive their first year. We all know that collaboration is the key to successful conservation. As such, enhanced transparency and greater sharing of satellite tag data from the outset of birds’ lives would be a huge step in the right direction“.

It’s a masterclass in deflection and brass neck. She paints a picture that Thor is probably ok and it’s just that his tag has stopped working and besides natural mortality is expected, but that if anything had happened to him it wouldn’t be anything to do with gamekeepers because they’ve played such a big role this year in the successful fledging of some hen harriers.

She ignores the possibility that Thor’s disappearance might be linked to illegal persecution. She ignores the long history of hen harriers vanishing in suspicious circumstances on or near driven grouse moors. She ignores the decades of scientific studies that show illegal persecution is the main factor threatening this species with breeding extinction in England and shrinking the Scottish population’s distribution. She ignores the fact that the majority of those convicted of killing raptors are gamekeepers. She ignores the fact that we’ve all seen the video evidence of what gamekeepers do to raptors when they think nobody is watching.

She then suggests that sharing satellite tag data would be a great idea. A bit like suggesting G4S should publish its timetables and routes for bank cash deliveries.

We note that Amanda’s statement hasn’t yet made it on to the Moorland Association’s website. The current news headline on that site reads: ‘Real progress being made in the fight against wildlife crime‘.

We’ll keep an eye on Nick’s blog during the day and see if any of the other RPPDG ‘partners’ can be bothered to comment.

29 Responses to “Responses to missing hen harrier Thor”

  1. October 19, 2018 at 10:09 am

    Well done Natural England for hiding so well the data on tag id 94591 and tag id 58870 that they are not even recognised by the police.
    It is quite staggering the inefficiency of the Bowland/Lancashire police.
    Sorry i can’t continue giving them the benefit of the doubt when they still haven’t connected the dots in these 5 birds even though i have written to them and spelt it out. I thought there was a chance that although there has been no press release, at least they would have figured the closeness of these crimes years ago and done some covert investigation. This press release shows they haven’t and they are completely incompetent!
    I shall write to Lyall. I wrote to Cat Smith the MP for this area yesterday.

    • October 19, 2018 at 10:21 am

      As an after thought. There is another explanation. It could be that NE have not informed the police as they claim they have done. I shall ask the police and if that doesn’t work make another FOI from NE but i doubt that NE would lie so blatantly. Either way Bowland police have had the information from me of the similarity and closeness of these crimes for over a month. They don’t have the resources is the usual defence and i am sure there is some truth in that but they had the resources to send 3 police looking for me.

      • 3 lizzybusy
        October 19, 2018 at 11:58 pm

        Anandprasad – thank you for all the hard work you do and insightful comments you make on this blog. You are doing a great job. Keep up the pressure!

      • October 20, 2018 at 10:11 am

        I am not sure if many people realise how close these ‘missing’ birds are to habitation and public roads.
        This is the last known transmission of NE tagged id 94591.

        This map is of the 100msq gridef given by Natural England. It is 100m from a farmhouse and 100m from the public road which runs beside this farmhouse. It is only 50m form a habited dwelling to the south
        If there had been a press release by Natural England and the police at the time of the ‘disappearances’ of id 94591 and id 58870 3 days apart in 2010, if the police had gone knocking on farm doors i doubt very much if Sky and Hope and now Thor would have been killed. If the police had made a fuss backed up by a public outcry, word would have got around this valley and the person or persons who are still killing these birds might have had second thoughts. It is inconceivable that the people living at Haylott and the neighbouring house did not see something suspicious [Ed: unless they weren’t in!]. Did the police go knocking on doors?
        Bare in mind also the way the RSPB mapped Sky and Hope in 2014.
        In their map they give a large circle with a radius of about 1.5km. I don’t have the time right now to make a similar circle for id 94591 with Sky and Hope but when i do the circles will overlap as they did with Sky and Hope because Haylott Fram is 1km from the circumference of the circle of Sky And Hope.
        I hope you are getting the picture because certainly the police haven’t!

        • October 20, 2018 at 4:39 pm

          Here is a map of the 6 ‘missing’ Hen Harriers. I added a 1 mile radius (as the RSPB did for the Sky and Hope blog – link above).

          The 4 on the left are close to the end of the drivable public road at High Salter, Roeburndale. The public road continues to Slaidburn but it is not drive-able without an off road vehicle.
          The two on the right have easy access from the Bentham-Slaidburn road (which is within the 1 mile radius of 58870).

          • October 22, 2018 at 1:16 pm

            The reason i include id58870 in the Roeburndale cluster is that the Hornby-Slaidburn road is just over half a mile from the edge of that 1 mile radius circle (1.7 miles from the centre). Even without a quad bike this spot is very easy accessible from Roeburndale West.

        • October 20, 2018 at 5:06 pm

          True ED. Why would anyone risk shooting a Hen harrier within 100m of 2 dwellings when there could have been someone home. I know this valley and when i walk past these farm houses i always assume there is someone home.

        • October 22, 2018 at 1:08 pm

          Correction: the building to the south of Haylot is not now a dwelling but it is a used farm building. It looks like a fairly large barn with smaller outbuildings. When it was a farm it was High Haylot and i am sure locals still use that name. It is now part of Haylot Farm. It is not owned by the farmer.

  2. 9 frank hopkin
    October 19, 2018 at 1:04 pm

    RPUK-In your opinion why are these crimes against raptors never reported in the nation press ,tv or radio.The fact that they are not beggars belief.Either they think it is not news worthy OR they are co-operating with the powers that be in supression

    • 10 crypticmirror
      October 19, 2018 at 7:33 pm

      Because traditional media outlets are running by people who like to go shooting, or are from the traditional shooting classes.

  3. October 19, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    I want to commend the powerful and truthful statement above – “There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever about what’s going on here – it is serious and organised crime on a massive scale across the uplands of England, Wales and Scotland.”

    There really isn’t any doubt whatsoever about this. The speed with which these young and newly tagged Hen Harriers are killed says that many people are putting a massive amount of time and effort across a very large area of moorland managed for grouse, in killing raptors. The probability of a newly tagged Hen Harrier just flying within range of a so called bad apple gamekeeper is massively improbable. Only if there were a large number of people, on a very large proportion of managed grouse moor, putting a lot of time and effort into this, would this effect occur. Given this, there are a lot of people in the know. It tells us that the spokespeople for this industry know very well what is happening, and that they’re utterly disingenuous when they pretend it’s the odd bad apple. This is what makes it so difficult for us conservations to engage in constructive dialogue with people we know are lying to us, and are insulting our intelligence, by expecting us to believe these lies.

    It’s the sheer arrogance which gets me. Illegal raptor persecution is under massive scrutiny, and yet they just carry on with it, knowing very well the system will protect them. It’s exactly the same phenomenon which led the Saudi regime to blatantly murder a journalist in one of their consulates. They are just so used to Western politicians covering up for them every time they commit an atrocity, that they thought that they could get away with anything. Likewise these shooting interests are so used to government ministers covering up for them, and pretending this problem does not exist at this scale, “the odd bad apple lie”,that they think can do whatever they like, brazenly, because there will never be any consequences for them.

    Just like in the Saudi scandal, where Western leaders are struggling to know what to do, as they are complicit in turning a blind-eye to Saudi atrocities for decades, our authorities don’t know how to react. For instance, say Defra/Michael Gove suddenly accepted the reality of the situation, and how widespread this wildlife crime is. It would raise more questions than it would answer. It would beg the question of why they hadn’t accepted the reality of this situation previously, when conservation experts had been telling them what was happening and on what scale, for a long time. This is what makes it so difficult for the authorities to act appropriately, because if they do acknowledge the reality of situation, it raises very awkward questions about their previous denial of what was happening. This is how manipulative system criminals, corrupt the system. Once they have forced the authorities to turn a blind-eye to their criminal actions once, it makes it very difficult for the authorities to acknowledge it in the future, without tacitly admitting their own culpability in covering up this criminality, previously.

  4. October 19, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    Frank Hopkin RPUK….There was a brief piece on BBC North West Tonight yesterday evening, including footage of a Hen Harrier in flight whilst reporting about a bird gone missing in Bowland. I was as surprised as you will be Frank, but pleased about that.

  5. October 19, 2018 at 4:37 pm

    Plod’s never have been renowned for their IQ and this proves the point.

    [Ed: Chris, if you’ve got a specific complaint about a police officer/force then by all means provide the details, but please stop making these generalised derogatory comments. It amounts to trolling and you’ll be banned from this site if you continue].

  6. 14 Barney
    October 19, 2018 at 8:01 pm

    Well we know what Amanda Anderson was in a previous life, get your head out of the sand Amanda and realise that most game keepers associated with driven grouse shooting are killing raptors. I suspect she already knows that though but rather than admit it and do the right thing she chooses to back the criminals by writing silly statements defending them. If she truly believes what she is writing then she is very naive.

  7. 17 Les Wallace
    October 19, 2018 at 8:05 pm

    Apparently Amanda Anderson has a degree in zoology. When I heard that my first thought was does the Moorland Association pay her in bags of thirty pieces of silver?

    • 18 Paul V Irving
      October 20, 2018 at 8:25 am

      Whilst she would never admit it this is exactly why the MA pay her those 30 pieces of silver. She is generally very good at it , that’s why she is their spokesperson, one can only hope that Nick Lyall can make some progress against this wall of disinformation and bullshit. Me I despise what she stands for. Then the front line of protecting grouse shooting is of course protecting the very criminals elements within it ( the majority it seems looking at sat tagged harrier disappearance distribution or the lack of successful Peregrines on grouse moors) that in the end will destroy it when the politicians in power finally wake up from Brexit anal gazing.
      Interestingly the NE final fix data still has at least one error in it, the red star for Bowland Betty is north of Coverdale yet she was found to the south of Coverdale on Swinton Estates Thorney Grain Moor in Colsterdale. Another point of interest is that the areas with the higher density of lost sat tagged birds are also where many of the radio tagged birds were lost too. Makes the whole of the west side of Nidderdale look what it is, a harrier death trap.

  8. 19 Jimmy
    October 19, 2018 at 8:45 pm

    Sadly all to predictable and familiar. Only banning the grouse bothers from such places can they truely recover their natural heritage

  9. 20 Dylanben
    October 19, 2018 at 10:13 pm

    And then there are those which aren’t tagged. God only knows what might be happening to them?

  10. 22 Phil Lanczak
    October 19, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    it is quite perfectly clear that the area in which at least 4 young harriers have disappeared is frequented by criminals with a very effective modus operandi, they have obviously honed this technique based on their knowledge of harriers, tags and habitat, to upset this the only thing on the list that can be changed are the tags, the current frequency of transmission is programmed ( I assume) to prolong battery life, currently 2 years I believe, as these birds are not seeing their first summer as adults then maybe changing the transmission frequency, or adding a camera ( thus shortening battery life) may throw a spanner in their works. My feeling is that these birds are traced to roost and disposed of quietly, why risk being seen to shoot harriers in broad daylight ? Shortening the transmission frequency may shed some light on when these birds are being killed, that may provide some useful data to investigators. Sadly the timescale of any real meaningful action by the agencies tasked with protecting these birds can be counted by dead harriers !!

  11. 23 Iain Gibson
    October 20, 2018 at 7:44 am

    The extent to which Amanda Anderson obfuscates and manipulates the truth is quite shocking, coming from an individual and an organisation which pretends to be honorable – the Moorland Association. The part of her statement which appalled me particularly was:

    “We join this appeal without hesitation and it is vital the police receive any possible information. This year we have been hugely encouraged by the best hen harrier breeding season in a decade and the fact that 60% of this year’s successfully fledged chicks had help from gamekeepers. At this stage it is not known if anything has happened to Thor beyond that the tag has stopped transmitting. It is widely recognised that that there is a high natural mortality rate for young hen harriers with only two out of every ten expected to survive their first year. We all know that collaboration is the key to successful conservation. As such, enhanced transparency and greater sharing of satellite tag data from the outset of birds’ lives would be a huge step in the right direction.”

    Her first sentence is the usual bland whitewash, pretending to be on the right side of the law regarding illegal persecution of raptors. This is very difficult to take with any grain of credibility. She would then have us believe that 60% of this year’s successfully fledged chicks had “help from gamekeepers.” Without any elaboration, we can only assume she is referring to the killing of foxes, the most significant NATURAL predator of harrier chicks, which gamekeepers kill primarily to generate over-production of grouse for shooting. I suspect this allegedly caring, sensitive and loving help for harriers is greatly cancelled out by the number of harriers they kill for the same reason. Then an abrupt statement to emphasize the MA’s make-believe excuse that the disappearance of “Thor” is more likely to have been caused by a technical fault with the tag, rather than being “taken down” by a gamekeeper! Stretching credibility even further. We are then informed duplicitously that – “It is widely recognised” that that [sic] there is a high NATURAL mortality rate… with only two out of every ten expected to survive their first year.” Really Amanda, NATURAL mortality rate? Get real, woman! Then apparently, according to Amanda, she lectures us that “collaboration is the key to successful conservation.” We can look forward to that later this century.

    I’m sure we can all judge for ourselves the sincerity and honesty of this profound statement from the Director of the Moorland Association.

    • October 20, 2018 at 2:37 pm

      Yes, this is the big problem. What is being said lacks all credibility, and we know what nonsense it is. Yet if we spell it out we face the threat of claims of libel, just because of the difficulty of proving individual instances of illegal persecution. The very strong circumstantial evidence says wide scale illegal persecution, which may actually be going on over most managed grouse shoots i.e. it looks likely standard practise. However, because the authorities show a complete lack of interest in properly investigating this, giving proper resources and powers to investigate it, along with it happening on remote private land, it allows them to pretend it’s not happening.

      The natural mortality thing was the most egregious bull. This does not account for the transmitter stopping. This is the probability issue, the likelihood of the bird simultaneously dying of natural causes and the satellite tag stopping transmitting at the same point in time is improbable in the extreme. For it to keep happening within a short time of the bird being tagged, is astronomically improbable. What it points to is not merely very widespread persecution, but an enormous amount of effort being put into it. We all know just how unlikely it is that in normal circumstances, a tagged Hen Harrier would fly within shotgun range of someone out on the moors by chance. It just doesn’t happen. To make it happen means a lot of planning, and above all time and effort. The simple fact is, if there are a lot of employees putting a lot of time and effort into this activity, then there’s a lot of people in the know. There is simply no way an employer would put up with an employee spending such a lot of their paid time on an activity they did not approve of.

  12. 25 Tom Gun
    October 20, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    No consequences for committing these crimes results in no deterant to offenders.

    The systematic killing of our wildlife is a national disgrace.

    Police are part of the problem for a multitude of reasons.
    Politicians have wilful blindness
    Mainstream media give it a wide berth.

    Killing protected wildlife forms a major part of the grouse and pheasant shooting industry.
    The statement from the Moorland Association confirms the failure by the game bird industry to accept that there is a problem and reafirms why they cannot be trusted to self regulate.

    Banning driven grouse shooting is the only solution……and the attitudes of organisations such the Moorland Association are helping to do this.

  13. October 20, 2018 at 5:56 pm

    ‘At this stage it is not known if anything has happened to Thor beyond that the tag has stopped transmitting. It is widely recognised that that there is a high natural mortality rate for young hen harriers with only two out of every ten expected to survive their first year.’
    So where are the tags Amanda ‘if we let the Hen Harrier in’ Anderson?

  14. 29 Merlin
    October 21, 2018 at 4:37 pm

    If Amanda came in a room and said good morning what a lovely day, I’d check my watch and go outside before I’d believe her, she is a PR specialist, any company needing a PR specialist is generally in the shit, she polishes turds for a living, this is why the intensive grouse botherers love her, look again at what she wrote, nothing at all about the actual crime just utter bullshit

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