Lying in wait: gamekeepers trying to lure raptors to within shotgun range in Peak District National Park?

Some of you may remember the footage of an armed man, believed to be a gamekeeper, lying in wait close to a decoy hen harrier on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park, back in 2016 (see here).

The footage was so disturbing, and the public reaction so strong, it prompted the National Trust (the landowner) to pull the shooting lease early and replace the shooting tenant with someone else (see here). Incidentally, that new tenant hosted a successful hen harrier breeding attempt last year (see here), even though some of the offspring didn’t survive for very long after leaving the safety of this moor (e.g. Arthur, see here and Octavia, see here).

We’ve also blogged before about what was believed to be the use of a tethered live eagle owl as a decoy on a grouse moor in the Lammermuirs (see here), although the suspected gamekeeper took off pretty sharpish once he realised he’d been spotted.

Well, it seems this method of using to decoys to lure in birds of prey to within close range of a shotgun is more prevalent than we’d thought.

Today the RSPB Investigations Team has published a video of several armed men (identified as gamekeepers by the RSPB) over a period of months spending hours and hours and hours of their time sitting in specially-dug holes in close proximity to a plastic peregrine and a plastic hawk, believed to have been used as decoys to attract other birds of prey. The location? A grouse moor in the Peak District National Park.

Hmm, it’s really no surprise that the Peak District National Park was identified in the recent scientific analysis of hen harrier sat tag data as one of the grouse moor areas where hen harriers were most likely ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances (see here).

The RSPB has also written a blog about this footage, and similar evidence of decoy use that has been recorded on other grouse moors in the north of England. Read the eye-opening blog here.

Fantastic investigative work from the RSPB to get such close and clear footage and there’s a strong chance that these gamekeepers won’t be using those particular decoy sites again in the near future!

24 Responses to “Lying in wait: gamekeepers trying to lure raptors to within shotgun range in Peak District National Park?”

  1. March 21, 2019 at 12:23 pm

    Much of the media, the bodies actively supporting driven grouse shooting, the MPs an MSPs who continually speak in support of these people should be squirming at the sight of this evidence, but I doubt that they are.
    I need to pay thanks to the estate who took over the NT shooting rights, which shows that there is another way. These people are the tiny minority, not the criminals, as the evidence of what happened to the fledged birds demonstrates.. I hope that if Nick Lyall continues to see empty chairs, but if not, he holds those representatives who missed his first session to account. He was accused of bias. Ludicrous! Perhaps he is biased, but against criminality I’m sure.

  2. March 21, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    Several different gamekeepers using the same hide and decoy. If that isn’t proof of organized crime, i don’t know what is.

    [Ed: I get what you’re saying but please remember no crimes have been committed in that video. Perhaps better described as organised suspicious behaviour!]

    • March 21, 2019 at 1:00 pm

      Yes agreed legally, along with the suspicious behaviour in the RSPB blog
      ‘ sometimes several in a line and perhaps using dogs, can simply walk into roost sites with shotguns, ready to shoot birds as they are flushed.’
      What is extremely worrying is that their new techniques could be much more effective. What if shooting roost sites totally exterminates species. The title of the RSPB blog is very apt ‘the arms race.’ And yet they have the support of the establishment except a few good apples.

  3. March 21, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    This proves what I’ve been trying to explain for many years now. That is to kill raptors with the efficiency they are being killed on grouse moors requires a huge amount of time and effort.

    Think about it birders. A shotgun has a maximum range of about 50m. This isn’t any old shotgun, it’s one with a tight choke, and a heavy load of shot. With the average shotgun used for game shooting, it is more like 40m. Ask yourself birders, when was the last time you got within this sort of range of a raptor on moorland? You’re lucky to get within 150m normally. In other words to shoot raptors with this sort of efficiency means lures of some sort, staking out a nest, in some sort of cover. Where you’d have to wait out all day, day after day, week after week.

    In other words, if keepers are putting this sort of time and effort into killing raptors, then their employers know darn well what they are up to. They don’t pay their employees for doing nothing. If these keepers were doing this without the knowledge of their employers you’d think their employers would want to know where they were, because they might just be spending all day down the pub. It is just not credible that keepers are doing this sort of thing off their own bat. This is what makes it crystal clear that a lot of people are in the loop with this type of raptor persecution. It isn’t just a few bad apple gamekeepers as the recent Hen Harrier paper shows, it’s happening across the majority of grouse moors and as shown here they put a huge amount of time and effort into it. At the very least their employers and the whole chain of management must be aware to some extent what is happening. It’s much more likely that these keepers are being asked to do this.

    This is a massive scandal. It is organized crime. When these landowners and the organizations representing grouse shooting estates claim it’s just a few bad apples, they know what they say isn’t true. The “few bad apples” narrative is deliberate misdirection, to give the false impression that a handful of gamekeepers are killing raptors in secret without the knowledge of anyone else. The very strong circumstantial evidence entirely contradicts this narrative. It suggest that there is wide scale knowledge of what is happening, and that when these vested interests say they condemn this illegal raptor persecution, that they are being utterly disingenuous, and are effectively lying to us.

    Overall, what has changed is the efficiency with which raptors are now being killed. Not too long back some Hen Harriers, some Peregrines etc, successfully bred on managed grouse moors, but no longer.

    • 5 Reece Fowler
      March 21, 2019 at 1:07 pm

      I thought the same. I usually wear dull green/brown stuff if I go out with my zoom lens, sometimes with camouflage stuff depending on where I’m going. I’ve concealed myself using bracken and tree branches and sat quietly for hours watching birds. Kestrels sometimes fly close but most raptors keep their distance a lot of the time, enough to get what birders might call a “record shot”, but well out of shotgun range. And with rifles you may have longer range but are restricted to on the ground shooting.

      Anyone setting out to shoot them must have to put in a lot of time doing it, it’s not like they’ll stumble on a chance to shoot a buzzard or peregrine while out doing their day to day stuff, except on one or two “lucky” occasions. They must have to set out specifically for that purpose and spend a decent amount of time at it, as opposed to opportunistically shooting a bird of prey that flies over them when they’re checking traps or grit trays or something like that.

      Also worth noting that this method in this blog post has some plausible deniability to it. Someone could find a hidden seat like that, thought nothing of it and not bothered to report it. Unlike something blatant like a pole trap or a poison bait with dead raptors nearby.

      • March 22, 2019 at 12:03 am

        That’s what my reasoning was based on. I’ve put some serious time in trying to have close encounters with Hen Harriers and other raptors with my camera. Getting 200m away is difficult. Mind you I’ve never used decoy raptors.

    • 7 Keith M
      March 25, 2019 at 10:39 am

      Yes, would agree with all that. Of course, the trad method of HH shooting was simply to visit an active nest and rely on the species’ tendency to mob intruders to bring a bird within shotgun range. But not all individuals are sufficiently aggressive to come within range; it requires allowing birds to get at least to egg stage, maybe further; the risk of being caught us higher including for S.1 disturbance. So the ‘arms race’ requires the huge extra effort described. It is very revealing that this is considered necessary/worthwhile

  4. 8 Jeff P
    March 21, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    I seem to recall that the convicted SEO-killing criminal Tim Cowin had a plastic Peregrine decoy and calling device in his pickup when he was arrested.

    • 9 Reece Fowler
      March 21, 2019 at 1:35 pm

      Yes he did. Peregrine decoy plus an electronic calling device that had peregrine, buzzard, goshawk and sparrowhawk calls added onto it.

  5. 10 Bill Badger
    March 21, 2019 at 1:15 pm

    That hiding place had clearly been there for some time – years? They wouldn’t keep using it if it wasn’t a successful ploy. On the basis of what we’ve seen on this blog in recent months and my own personal witnessing of keepers turning up at a Hen Harrier roost site at dusk this winter (reported to the Police and RSPB), I have little doubt that any opportunity to shoot a raptor, anywhere at any time, is going to be taken. Bastards!

  6. 11 dave angel
    March 21, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    Whilst that video doesn’t show anything illegal it does suggest behaviour which, in the absence of a satisfactory explanation, would probably justify revocation of a licence, should a licensing scheme be introduced.

  7. 12 Andrew
    March 21, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    It’s not only the dugout. They had a nice hole prepared for the decoy pole to go onto and they could walk up and place it without searching. Very practised behaviour. Could you find a 2″ wide hole on a grouse moor?

  8. 13 Loki
    March 21, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    I wish the RSPB could afford to pay raptorkeepers to live in these remote areas and look out for our raptors in direct opposition to the estate owners that are paying gamekeepers to kill our wildlife to look after their game. We need people out there 24/7 protecting our wildlife.
    I would fund what I could afford of such a venture. It’s surveillance like this footage that is having a positive effect.

  9. 14 benbitterndesign
    March 21, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    Hen harriers rare in Suffolk I sometimes see harriers or owls on the rail routes to Norwich or along county to Ipswich
    Reydon marshes used to have hen harriers as did other Suffolk [places now rare
    I see abandoned badger carcases and fox carcases on the a12 near Lowestoft quite often
    I suspect them to be shot or gassed then left to look like random road kill? Or maybe the drivers are car-less!

    • 15 Andrew
      March 22, 2019 at 1:20 am

      Your comment about badgers etc at the roadside is almost certainly incorrect. If you shoot a badger and walk away and no one has seen you, there is virtually zero percent chance of being prosecuted. Pick it up, put it in your vehicle and drive around with it and you increase the risk enormously. At this time of year young male badgers leave the family group and seek out new territory and suffer from lack of traffic awareness more than at other times.

      I am making no comment on whether or not badgers are shot illegally.

  10. 16 Gerard Hobley
    March 21, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    They will argue that this is a ploy to attract crows. What’s the argument to counter this?

    • 17 Jeff P
      March 21, 2019 at 6:53 pm

      Simply bear in mind the following easy-to-remember maxim:
      Q: How do you know a gamekeeper is lying?
      A: His lips are moving

    • March 22, 2019 at 11:49 am

      If you mean in a court probably none.
      But if there were heavy licensing rules they should have to explain why they were getting paid for spending many long hours sitting in a hole when there were no crows around and if there were a larsen trap would do the job for them.
      The RSPB blog is a must read.

  11. 19 Paul V Irving
    March 21, 2019 at 6:36 pm

    I’ve known that something like this has been happening for quite sometime. The first keeper I knew who kept an eagle owl was in 1995! I’ve seen quite a number since and one keeper in the Nidderdale AONB has a snowy owl ( Mr Angry !) I’ve tried plastic decoys for ringing purposes but they essentially don’t attract enough birds or bring them close enough to trap, to shoot yes though. I was told some years ago that the keepers on one well known estate in the north west each had a fortunes worth of night sight/vision equipment and its only a small step from using it for fox control to raptor shooting. Shooting is the most difficult of wildlife crimes to pin because there is little to no evidence to find if you didn’t witness it, we need to be vigilant and report to investigations if you find or see any evidence at all or know of keepers with big owls.

  12. 20 Douglas Malpus
    March 21, 2019 at 8:43 pm

    All this xxxxx xxxxx is sickening.

    As Paul says, technology is available to track birds at roost. We only have to see BBC’s Autumn or Winter Watch programmes, where such instruments give us such wonderful views of nature at night.

    I asked my MP, “What measures is he taking to eradicate the criminals within the shooting industry that he supports? He sent back the usual MP waffle about brood meddling and that was all.

    They hope that by ignoring the issue, we will stop working towards stopping it.

    A very sad Doug

  13. 21 Gerard
    March 22, 2019 at 1:53 am

    Can they swab his bag for DNA? Once they have there is sufficient evidence for an arrest I imagine.

    • March 22, 2019 at 11:56 am

      Add that to my list of what the GWCT could do to stamp out raptor crime as opposed to copy and paste sound-bites. Demand that keepers submit their DNA to a database. That should be another condition of licensing. Extreme maybe but it will take Leakey-style measures to stop this. That and enhanced technology.

  14. 24 Douglas Malpus
    March 22, 2019 at 4:47 pm

    I have experienced close viewing conditions of hen harriers from a small tent. While sitting having my breakfast ready for another day of sea kayaking, with the tent door open but midge net drawn closed. I have had many minutes of pleasure watching hen harriers on a few occasions. An ordinary green outdoor camping tent, no camouflage and no arsenal of guns. The locations have not been chosen for seeing raptors that’s just a bonus.

    My conclusion is that hiding in a hole would probably produce the opportunity for close encounters with raptors add a decoy – does this make the encounter is much more likely?


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